Be Bold For Change is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (celebrated around the world on 8th March). So here’s a look at one change that’s helping women in developing countries to achieve the equality that IWD was set up to promote – of earnings, influence and opportunity.
Helping women to economic independence is well-understood, by governments, development agencies and charities, as a successful way to benefit the woman herself, her immediate family, and the community she lives in.
Often the simplest way to do this is look at women’s roles at home. When they have limited education and need to stay at home for their children, it can be hard to make the sort of bold changes that would improve their lives. A small area of land, plus tools, seeds and training, so they can start to grow vegetables, grains and fruit, can be just the boost that these women need.
From a tiny seed . . .
Initially they may just grow extra food for their families. That can make rapid improvements to their health as they eat more nutritious and varied foods. The big differences come when they start to produce more than their family can eat. The women, often with their children, can start to sell the extra food to other villagers or at local markets.
Soon they gain in confidence and financial independence. And that’s when women like these can really start to make huge and positive changes to their own lives and the lives of their families. This can be their first real taste of independence, and they take pride in their ability to transform family fortunes.
Studies by the OECD show that women are more likely to invest their extra income for the good of their families. They look for ways to make the bold changes that can give their families, and especially their children, longer, healthier lives with more opportunities to learn and progress.
. . . grows a better life
So they choose to pay for better health care, including vaccinations against common childhood diseases and trained midwives to support them during pregnancy and childbirth. They choose to improve family health by upgrading their homes, perhaps by replacing thatched roofs with metal roofs that will help keep them warm and dry throughout the year or by installing their own toilet. And they choose to give their children the best possible start in life – ensuring they get a good education by paying for fees, books and uniforms.
When women start to work together in co-operatives to pool their skills and resources they can extend benefits to improve the health, stability and prospects of the whole village. The extra income they create together can make massive changes across their community – for years to come.
Organic benefits . . .
One of the boldest changes that many women and cooperatives in developing countries are making is to grow organic crops rather than conventional crops. They’re choosing to grow organic not only because of the health benefits of the crops, but also because they can see that growing organically is a better way for them to farm.
Growing organic means they:
- Need to spend less on seeds, as they can buy from local farmers and seed merchants
- Can keep back seeds from one harvest to grow for next year’s crop rather than buying new, genetically modified, seeds each year
- Don’t need to spend money on chemical fertilizers, soil improvers and pesticides
- Avoid harming their local environment and contaminating local water supplies with chemicals
- Grow using methods such as crop rotation and companion planting which conserve water, help replenish the soil and protect wildlife
- No longer use of chemicals that are harmful to their health
. . . for women and our world
These women are choosing organic farming because they know that it’s better for them, better for their community and better for the environment. The UN agrees – in a study from 2008 they say that, “organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and that it is more likely to be sustainable in the long term.”
That means they can carry on improving the health, nutrition and education of their children, girls and boys alike. So their daughters will grow up with the skills and the ability to have their own economic independence, and enjoy the same opportunities as their brothers, without help from outside agencies.
How you can support Be Bold For Change
If you’d like to help women throughout the world to achieve equality you may need to make your own bold changes.
If you’re interested in organic: Swap your some of usual shopping for organic products, preferably ones that are fairly traded, from developing countries. They may cost more but chances are you’ll be supporting women farmers.
If you’re interested in women in farming: Divert some of your earnings to sponsor development projects that specifically target women in farming – Lifeplus Foundation, World Vision and Plan International are trustworthy examples.
If you’re interested in all aspects of women’s progress to equality: Donate your time to a female-focused charity, mentor a woman as she starts out or try other ideas from the International Women’s Day website: www.internationalwomensday.com