Monday, March 08, 2010

International Women's Day

International Women's Day celebrates not only the achievements of women around the globe but also the goals and the vision of what we still need to accomplish.

Nicholas Kristoff
in the New York Times highlights the need for girl's education.

It’s cheap, it opens minds, it gives girls new career opportunities and ways to generate cash, it leads them to have fewer children and invest more in those children, and it tends to bring women from the shadows into the formal economy and society. It’s not a panacea, of course. Lebanon and Sri Lanka were leaders in girls’ education, and both ended up torn apart by conflict. In India, the state of Kerala has done a fine job in girls’ education, but its state economy is still a mess and dependent on remittances. But overall, educating girls probably has a greater transformative effect on a country than anything else one can do.

Then there are financial loans. In Ghana, there's Jennifer Mwesigye. After years of struggling to support her seven children by working as a seamstress in Uganda, in 1997 Jennifer took a small loan to buy her own sewing machine. This enabled her to expand her sewing business, which in turn led her to diversify into other areas. First, she opened a motorcycle taxi business, before purchasing land to build properties to rent out. Today, Jennifer's combined businesses employ 57 people, and, besides her own children, she has taken on the care of five adopted AIDS orphans. Meanwhile, her natural leadership skills have led to her being elected to the town council; now she is changing the local culture for women, overturning barriers for them to own property and start their own businesses.

"When you train your women, you train a whole nation" comments Memory Nsinga, who has worked for Opportunity International Bank of Malawi for six years. She describes how scared women were to even enter the bank when the Limbe branch first opened. "We went out and talked to them in the community and ran a radio campaign" the first to come in were real pioneers; they shared their experiences with other women. Before, a bank account was for rich, privileged people.

What about making public spaces safe for women? Here's a report from Asia:
Violence against women in the home is increasingly been seen as a development issue in addition to being a core rights one. But, threats to physical security in public spaces continue with impunity, and the same geographical band that shows poor health, education and employment outcomes for women and girls – namely, extending from Afghanistan, through Pakistan, north India and parts of Bangladesh – is also the band where women and girls are often too scared to venture out.
Today, on our Computer Day
Come let’s place our hand on the button
This very own history of women
From illiteracy to

Once upon a time from this woman
You snatched the chance of reading the Vedas
All of you said women were just housewives
Men had the right to Sanskrit
Women’s language, the language of the Sudras was different.

After a thousand years when the girl
Prepared herself for a girls’ school
Bethune and Vidyasagar stood by her
All of you said
Women who read and write
Are bound to become widows.

Then when the woman entered the office space
Mother-in-law’s sullen face, and the husband was suspicious
All of you said
What’s the use of a family run with a wife’s money?
The woman had to fight the storms and tempests.

Inch by inch in the thousand years the woman
Has earned knowledge and power
Inside a fiery heart, tranquil outwardly
Today half the sky is in the woman’s palm

The world is an amlaki held in the woman’s fist
Just a touch of a button
One day you who had denied her knowledge of alphabets
In her hand today is the computer world.

This is a poem by Mallika Sengupta.

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