“Equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all” is the 2010 theme of International Women’s Day (IWD)
celebrated globally on March 8 since 1911. Hundreds of events occur not just on this day but throughout March to mark the achievements of women.
Although much progress has been made in women’s equality, on a global scale women’s education and health is worse than that of men. Females are also the victims of violence more often than males.
To combat these issues, ChildFund programs seek to empower women through education and skills training.
In Sierra Leone, Mamie was about 8 years old when rebels attacked Kenema in 1998. She lost contact with her biological parents during this attack. The chaotic situation made it difficult for her to trace her parents.
Eventually, a woman in her community assumed care-giving responsibilities, enrolling Mamie in school through grade six. Although Mamie passed the National Primary School Leaving Examinations in 2006, her caregiver could no longer afford school expenses.
Needing income for the family, the caregiver put Mamie to work rice farming. Although Mamie was determined to somehow continue her education, she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. Schooling no longer seemed attainable.
That is until the day the Girls Rights and Reintegration (GRAG) project officer from ChildFund visited Mamie and asked whether she was willing to continue her schooling while balancing her duties as a teenage mother. When Mamie joyfully said yes, the project officer gained acceptance for the plan from Mamie’s caregiver.
The following day, Mamie enrolled in a Junior Secondary School fewer than 2 miles from her resident village. GRAG, working with generous donors, paid the first term’s tuition and covered the cost of school materials, uniforms and shoes.
Mamie is thrilled to be in school once more. A dedicated student, she has set a goal of becoming a qualified nurse to serve her community in the future. Mamie is equally focused on ensuring the healthy development of her young daughter — and passing on the benefits of her experiences and education.
Listen to the Grandmothers
In developing its programs, ChildFund has found that women helping women is an effective means of support and knowledge sharing. The grandmothers in the Senegal village of Louly Ndia are a case in point.
In this village of more than 1,100 inhabitants, malaria has been a persistent problem. A health hut was established to treat malaria and provide general health care.
But ChildFund discovered that women were not embracing the clinic because the grandmothers in the village — who traditionally advised the younger generations on childbirth and health — were skeptical of modern medical practices.
So ChildFund began to hold educational sessions for the grandmothers to explain how improved health practices can save the lives of children and infants. Gradually, the wise grandmothers became less resistant to “modern ways” and advocates for the health huts.
Today, Louly Ndia has a thriving health committee. The health hut offers a variety of services including treatment for malaria and acute respiratory infections, childbirth assistance, vaccinations and health and nutritional education.
When women take leadership roles, lives improve.