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#BeBoldForChange on International Women's Day

International Women's Day, which takes place this Wednesday 8th March, celebrates the achievements of women in all fields and calls for gender equality around the globe. So why is there still a need for International Women’s Day?

School girls at Kasimeri Primary School in Moroto, Uganda who have been positively impacted by VSO's education programming.

The answer is simple - because gender equality does not exist. Women still earn less than men and are not represented in equal numbers in business or politics. Globally, education and health services for women are worse than men. They are also more subject to gender-related violence, particularly in developing countries. International Women’s Day offers us a chance to come together to address gender inequality and celebrate the achievements of women around the globe. The theme of International Women's Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange and that’s exactly what we have to do if we want girls and women to have the same chances in life as their male counterparts.

What is VSO doing to address gender inequality?

Gender is one of VSO's Core Approaches, a key consideration in all of our health, education and livelihoods programmes. That’s because we’ve seen the disadvantage marginalised women are at globally. Women perform two-thirds of the world’s work and produce 50% of all food, yet earn only 10% of world income and own only 1% of property. This is not right.

VSO's development programmes address issues that specifically affect women and girls to ensure they access improved services and have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. Here are just some examples of such projects… 

Our girls’ education programme in Uganda

In Northern Uganda, only one in ten girls are able to finish primary school. If they’re not already married, these girls are working hard to increase income for their families. Shockingly, the “bride price” a girl receives actually decreases the longer she stays in school. VSO volunteer Pauline Faughnan from Dublin recently carried out research, “From the Ground Up”, on the societal norms and attitudes stopping girls’ education in Karamoja. This will inform future VSO education programming in sub-Saharan Africa. Speaking of her placement, Pauline said, “Hopefully I am able to give a voice to those people on the ground, who usually aren’t heard.”

Paediatric Nurse Stephanie Galvin training nurses in resuscitation techniques at Jinka Hospital, Ethiopia.

Our maternal and neonatal health programme in Ethiopia

Women in countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda are at a much greater risk of dying in childbirth as a result of poorly trained staff and a lack of resources. Volunteers, like Stephanie Galvin from Westmeath, have trained local doctors and nurses so they can provide a higher standard of care to mothers and babies. They have also helped to establish Neonatal Intensive Care Units, which led to a massive 40% reduction in neonatal deaths in one hospital alone. “I believe my presence allowed for change to begin, change that I know the local people will bring forward into the future,” Stephanie said.

Our female entrepreneurship scheme in Ghana

VSO volunteers have supported the skills and knowledge of marginalised women to help them establish their own businesses and earn more money. The Cocoa Life programme, developed with Mondelēz International, involved mentoring Ghanaian women on farming techniques, business development and investment. After receiving training from a VSO volunteer, Juliana Aboaagyewa formed a group of female entrepreneurs who now work together to support each other and grow their businesses. Other similar projects are currently being run in Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh.

So what can you do to get involved?

Whatever issue you feel passionate about, whether it’s the wage gap, female genital mutilation, women’s reproductive health, political representation or the other issues that women face, in Ireland or in other countries, use International Women's Day as a platform to raise awareness and encourage support. It might be as simple as sharing an interesting article with your network on social media, finding out more about Agenda 2010 or attending a local event where you can meet like-minded individuals. 

The VSO team are taking this week as an opportunity to increase our own understanding of gender issues, by looking at online courses, like this Gender Justice one from Oxfam, and participating at external events such as TIDI’s Female Participation in Politics event. We’ve also pledged to help women and girls reach their potential on the International Women's Day website, and urge you to do the same.

Change can happen. Let’s not forget that not too long ago Irish women couldn’t vote, collect child benefit or own property on their own. Gender inequality issues still exist here but we’ve come a long way and positive change is possible. So join in the conversation and #BeBoldForChange this Wednesday. Together, we can empower more marginalised women and girls to share their voices and make the world more equal.

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