Today is International Women’s Day, a day to reflect on the plight of women worldwide. Women’s rights have come a long way since the first International Women’s Day in 1911 but we still have a very long way to go. Here are just a few random statistics:
- one in ten women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been the victim of rape, many of them more than once
- women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive
- in Afghanistan a woman is 200 times more likely to die during childbirth than from warfare
- women perform 66% of the world’s work but only receive 11% of its income
- 66% of the world’s illiterate adults are women
- women own only 1% of the world’s land
- 20 to 50% of married women worldwide experience some degree of domestic violence
- every year an estimated 2 million girls are subjected to genital mutilation
In spite of the fact that Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, stated publicly yesterday that “Men are fundamental and women are secondary” that country is not considered the worst place in the world to be a woman. Apparently that honour goes to Yemen where women are not only the property of men, unable to leave the house without the permission of a male relative and vulnerable to arbitrary arrest on the street even once they have that permission, but are also likely to be illiterate, to be married before they reach puberty, and to die in childbirth.
In comparison, we have it easy here in Canada. So easy, in fact, that we have a hard time imagining what life is like for our sisters in other parts of the world. On the other hand, when my grandmother was a young woman, married and raising two children, she was not, according to Canadian law, a person! It wasn’t until October 18, 1929 due to the persistence of five Alberta women — Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards — that women were legally declared persons in this country and given the right to vote.
How have we done since that time? Not as well as we might like to think. Canada ranks 40th in the world for female political representatives, better than both the US and the UK but tied with Iraq and far below many other nations including both Cuba and Afghanistan!
Recognizing that rural women play a key role in both developed and developing countries, the United Nations chose Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty as the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. Women make up 43% of the agricultural workforce worldwide. Estimates reveal that if they had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30%, lifting 100 to 150 million people out of hunger. Lack of adequate education and health care, gender inequality and limited access to credit are some of the challenges that face rural women in many parts of the world today. What can we do to change that?
Given the right resources, women are powerful agents for change. Research shows that when a woman is able to contribute to her family’s income, she uses the majority of her earnings to build a better future for herself and her children. I choose to make a difference though contributing to Kiva loans. I loan specifically to women, many of them rural women. For example, my most recent loan was made to Lucia, a cattle breeder in Nicaragua, who borrowed money to purchase two oxen which she will use to till the soil and plant grain.
What will you do?