Saturday 8 March 2014

Inspiring women: International Women's Day #lastingchange

On my radio show this morning I shared some virtual postcards from Annie Spratt containing stories about the work funded by Comic Relief in Tanzania to support women running their own small businesses. Annie was in Tanzania with Tanya Barrow and Penny Alexander to visit women who are supporting their own families and bringing a helping hand to others who they employ and supply goods and services to. This is part of my involvement with Team Honk and the wonderful fellow bloggers who are currently carrying a baton from Lands End to John O'Groats to raise money for Sport Relief.

I thought I'd share my #lastingchange virtual postcard with you below: 
Dyeing fabric safely
  • Eliafura makes the most beautiful batiks and tie dyed material.  With the support of the Gatsby Trust Eliafura has registered her business and learned important health and safety rules around the chemicals she uses.   Eliafura now also trains other women in the village who bring material to her and she shows them how to create these beautiful patterns.   They sell easily to not only local schools where teachers like to buy them but also overseas. We bought her entire stock because we loved them all so much and are now working out how to sell them on so we can complete the circle of donation, funding, training, selling, donating. 

You can be sure I'll be buying some of those fabrics and giving them pride of place in my home :)

In my career I've worked with various overseas charities and I've seen how amazing and life changing it can be to give someone an opportunity to support themselves. Women like Bertha or Eliafura who have the drive to work for themselves and to succeed in business with the additional benefit of employing others. It is the principle on which the Grameen Bank was based. This is the microcredit scheme that gave small loans to women in Bangladesh who then went on to feed not only their own families, but to employ others who were then able to feed theirs and so on. 

When it was started the basis of lending to women was explained by Grameen founder Mohammed Yunus as being about giving the power to those who were marginalised either by virtue of poverty, gender or lack of education. The Nobel Laureate also reported that not only did the loans have an exponentially higher rate of early repayment than bank loans (which were not available to most of the women), but on a cultural level there was also a higher chance that the money would benefit the community. Where men were borrowing money and using it for themselves woman were using a smaller amount of money to bake bread to sell then reinvest in more ingredients to bake more bread which eventually became a bakery business employing other women. This is a simplistic explanation, but it worked. 

One of the stories I told on my show today was a revelation to me. It began in 2010 led by women from the neighbouring countries Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have been torn apart by the worst atrocities of war that the world has seen in recent years. Women from opposing sides of war in these communities came together on a bridge adjoining the two countries in a plea for peace and to show that they could build bridges of hope for the future. Their action sparked a massive global movement to stand in solidarity with women around the world touched by war. It is a beautiful and touching idea. 

It reminded me of an organisation of women that I worked with in Rwanda that began when one widow of the genocide sat under a tree. The next day another woman joined her and the next day another until eventually many women came together to sit under the tree and share their tears, fears, hopes and dreams of how to go on when they had seen so much bloodshed and pain. Community organisations are an amazing force for good and for women who have been disempowered, brutalised and left to fend for themselves they can provide a lifeline.

I've concentrated on women overseas, but I am - of course - aware that women in the UK also benefit from the work of charity and support each other and achieve amazing things. I'll share with you a quiz by one of my favourite feminists that might help put International Women's Day into context. 

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