3.08.2012

This One is for the Ladies

Some of the hardest-working women I know - Fatu, Mata, and Fatmata
I'm not one of the bra-burning feminists, but I do recognize the substantial power and importance of women in today's world. As most of you know, it's International Women's Day (and if you didn't, well now you do). The official UN theme this year is empowering rural women through the eradication of poverty and hunger.

Women are crucial for alleviating poverty and encouraging development. The UNDP notes that "when women and men have equal opportunities and rights, economic growth accelerates and poverty rates drop more rapidly for everyone". Despite the fact that women play such a vital role, there are still gross disparities between men and women in the developing world. Even though 66% of the world's work is done by women and they produce 50% of the world's food, they continue to only make 10% of the income and hold 1% of land, according to UNDP.

My lovely sister, Jariatu, and my headstrong mother, Nurse Mary
I've had the great pleasure to meet many wonderful and strong women over the past couple years, ranging from some of my ballsy female professors to strong-headed clinic and development staff in Sierra Leone. Two such women that recently inspired me are two of my good friends and 'family' members in Sierra Leone, Jariatu and Mary. Jariatu is not only a full time finance student at a university in Bo, Sierra Leone and achieving the top grades in her class, but she also manages all the finances of the clinic I interned at. In an extremely patriarchal society, Jariatu serves as a sign of what the future can (and will!) hold for women in Sierra Leone. Not afraid to speak up, take lead, and always provide comic relief - Jariatu has continued to inspire me. I look forward to seeing where life takes her when I visit this summer!

Another great source of inspiration is my 'mum', Nurse Mary. Although most think that the doctor is the backbone of the clinic, in reality it is Nurse Mary who is the spine and engine of the entire facility. Without her work, nothing would ever get done. She not only processes and registers patients, prescribes medicine, and sees patients, but she also serves as the clinic's mom and works double the hours of everyone else (she literally makes the place run!). My favorite memory of mum Mary is when she delivered a baby on the side of the road. Who does that!? Sierra Leone's maternal and infant mortality rates are among the worst, if not the absolute worst, in the world - so Mary's successful delivery was a miracle by Sierra Leonean standards. Rock on, Mary!

An infographic depicting the percentage 
share of formal firms that are owned by 
women in Africa. Data from the World Bank.
 Source: Afrographique
There are stories like Mary and Jariatu's all over the world, and I wish I could highlight them all here because they all deserve attention. But despite all of their inspirational stories, there's still much progress to be made in Sierra Leone and worldwide.

In Sierra Leone, not only is it among the world's worst in terms of maternal/child mortality rates, but it's also a tough place to be a woman in general. Nearly all women will suffer sexual or domestic violence in their lifetime, and in 2009 there was not one single conviction of perpetrators of rape (womankind). While I was there, there was an uproar in the women's development office over a man who believed hitting his wife was his right as a husband. Clearly, although there has been progress, much more needs to be made. But because there are cries for greater equality, I am hopeful. 

Worldwide, the status and equality of women is improving significantly, but there are still great disparities. The map to the side shows female African entrepreneurship - illustrating that in some places, like Ghana, there is near equality in the workplace, but in others, like Morocco, men still hold the power. The Economist released a chart today on women's economic opportunity worldwide. It showed Sweden, Finland, and Norway leading the world in women's economic and entrepreneurial equality (Scandanavia has got to have something in their water, because they lead the world in everything! I swear, it's a utopia up there!), and Sudan, Chad and Iran bringing up the rear. 

To recognize the huge contribution that women make to the world, and to encourage further development and equality, here are three suggestions you can do today:

1. Give a Loan to a Woman through Kiva - for Free: I love Kiva - they have a great concept and I firmly believe that microfinance is a key to development. Today, Dermalogica is giving out free loans for the first 4,000 registrants to Kiva (it's still going on!). All you have to do is sign up for Kiva and choose someone to donate to (choose a woman!) and Dermalogica will give a $25 loan to the person of your choice. I donated to Salimata in Senegal - when I registered and donated 2 hours ago, she had only 70% of her $1,025 loan funded, but now it is completely funded. $25 dollars at a time really does make a difference! Kiva is fantastic, mostly because microfinance is sustainable, encourages the growth of local businesses and decreases the dependence on foreign countries, which is one of the keys to development.

2. Give a donation to Womankind. This NGO partners with local women's rights organizations in Latin America, Asia, and Africa to provide expertise, training, connects them with resources they need, and brings their demands to the international level. Again, this is a more sustainable aid organization because it partners with grassroots organizations, which brings about better change. 

3. Thank the women in your life. It's free, it's easy, and it means a lot. 

On that note, happy International Women's Day!

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