Beyond the rhetoric: little, no change in rural women’s lives
International Women’s Day, March 8 has come and gone, but practically addressing the plight of women burdened by discrimination and inequality remains a serious challenge.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his message on this year’s 101st anniversary of the Day that “while tremendous progress has been made, no country can claim to be entirely free from gender-based discrimination.”
Now that the pomp and pageantry of Thursday’s celebrations are over, the real challenge is to actualize this year’s theme: “Empowering rural women and their role in eradicating poverty and hunger, development and challenges.”
This challenge includes finding concrete ways to address the plight of rural women, the inequality between men and women, boys and girls, as well as giving women access to basic service towards reducing poverty.
The West Africa Regional Dircctor of the UN Women office, Joséphine Odéra responded to these concerns in an interview with WADR’s Awa Diedhiou.
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The UN Women office is very young. It was created by the UN General Assembly in July 2010. Its coming to being was seen as “an historic step in accelerating the organization’s goals to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.”
Statistics from the United Nations say rural women constitute one quarter of the world’s population, but that proportion is much higher for Africa.
If empowered, these women can significantly contribute to ending hunger and poverty, the UN says.
With countless number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which claim to be working in women’s interest, one wonders, what’s the level of progress they are making in helping to address the plight of rural women.
“There has been progress in terms of conventions,” but “on the ground that progress has not been translated into actual change in women’s life,” said Maxime Houinato, Deputy Regional Director of UN Women.
This is the response he gave when asked by WADR about the level of progress made so far, amid an array of NGOs and INGOs supposedly engaged in various women’s empowerment projects across West Africa.
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It’s difficult to keep track of the workshops, seminars, symposia and other roundtables being held in the name of women empowerment and gender mainstreaming across Africa.
While some are vague, there are others that hit the core of some of the real issues and problems confronting rural women and keeping them entrenched in poverty.
Judging by what many women say, providing practical training for them in an area like business and later empowering them through financial and technical assistance can go a long way in helping to ease their plight.
In the West African island nation of Cape Verde, some 25 women in the small village of Tras-os-Montes on the Island of Santiago have been trained to improve their pottery skills for increased economic opportunities.
According to UN Women, “the training covered all phases of the craft from the preparation of the clay to ways to diversify designs and make market-oriented products.”
As the old adage goes, the best way to help an individual is not to keep giving fish, but to teach him/her how to fish.
It’s no doubt that some efforts are being made, but many say a lot more is needed to bring real and lasting change in the lives of rural women across the sub-region and Africa. Written by WADR’s Frank Sainworla,Jr and Awa Diedhiou