Tag Archives: International Women’s Day

A Sister Among Mothers

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

“Not today, Sister,” the woman whispered to Jo-anne. They had the street to themselves, but the woman spoke in hushed tones. “You shouldn’t go today,” she repeated.

A nun in front of art painting in the Philippines

Sister Jo-anne’s love for children has won the respect of local mothers, who now welcome and watch over her.

Jo-anne understood the advice. Danger was afoot, according to the woman, who is a member of the Tausug indigenous communities in the southern Philippines. Jo-anne is a nun who works for a local organization that partners with ChildFund.

Jolo is the largest island in the Sulu archipelago, which comprises the southernmost tip of the Philippine Islands. There, rolling hills give way to pristine coastlines of crystal clear water and fine white sand. In the provincial capital, also named Jolo, the exotic durian fruit is found in such abundance that a mere breath of air yields a trace of the fruit’s distinct yet controversial smell (imagine garlic plus old garbage).

Despite Jolo’s beauty, the island is not a tourist destination because of abductions and frequent clashes between government and armed groups. Private investors and even development agencies have withdrawn to the safety and convenience of cities like Davao and Cagayan de Oro in nearby Mindanao.

Jo-anne was born in the Mindanao mainland. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was a public school teacher. Growing up in a community of Christians and Muslims, she developed an appreciation for different beliefs and cultures. Jo-anne worked as a government agricultural technologist for five years until 1999, when she decided to join a religious order.

As a nun, Jo-anne served in different provinces in Mindanao. Her assignment to Jolo in 2011 as a project manager posed unique challenges.

Jo-anne had to learn the Tausug language and its culture, which is different from the mainland’s. “Children were my first tutors in the local language,” she says.

Another concern was safety. On her commute to work, Jo-anne often saw curious crowds flocking to fresh crime scenes. Other times, the motorcycle taxi driver would share news of an armed clash between government and militia the night before. “That kind of thing always used to scare me,” she says. “It came to a point where I confronted myself, asking if I would let fear keep me from my work.”

Working in partnership with ChildFund did much to help Jo-anne allay her fears. “ChildFund’s reputation for working in some of the most difficult circumstances in the Philippines lends me much credibility,” she says.

Also, Jo-anne’s work with Tausug children endeared her to their families, particularly mothers, who grew protective of her. When possible, one or two mothers accompany Jo-anne when she travels to rural villages to visit ChildFund project sites or the homes of sponsored children.

Sometimes, Jo-anne hears, “Not today, Sister. You shouldn’t go. You should stay in town today.” This is the warning mothers share whenever news of troop movements, incursions or other dangers reaches their ears. When Jo-anne is already in the field, the women make sure she is properly accompanied and escorted home or to town. Jo-anne’s thankful to be included in the local “warning chain,” despite being an outsider.

“I’ve learned being a woman in these circumstances is an advantage,” Jo-anne says. “The Tausug regard women highly, mothers particularly.” Though Jo-anne has chosen a religious life, the Tausug mothers identify with her because she has devoted herself to the wellbeing of their children.

Today Jo-anne continues to travel all over Jolo. She remains cautious, but because of this web of protection, she is no longer as scared.

“When I arrive home at the end of the day, I exclaim my thanks, not for making it back safely, but for the mothers who’ve adopted me as one of their own.”

Beyond Price: An Afghan Girlhood

Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

A young girl stood before a panel of adults in a government office in northern Afghanistan. It was not her first visit.

What is your name, and how old are you?
My name is Nazifa, and I am 12 years old.

Are you happy with your family?
Yes, I am. My mother is a kind woman, and my father is often away from us, working.

Why are you in the district governor’s office?
I presented a written complaint to get out of being married to an old man.

~~~

Afghan girl in purple dress

Nazifa, 12, spent nearly a year trying to get out of her arranged marriage.

How much is a 12-year-old girl worth?

To Nazifa’s grandfather, $2,000 sounded about right. This was the offer from the pair of community elders who approached him a year ago about arranging a marriage between his eldest granddaughter and a young boy from their rural village.

The three men, says Nazifa, showed her a picture of the boy and made her agree to the marriage despite her objections, which included her desire to continue school.

On the wedding night, she was taken to a room where an old man sat. She kissed his hands, the traditional demonstration of respect for elders by Afghanistan’s young people. And then she was made to sit next to him. She began to cry, harder and harder as she came to understand that this elderly man was her new husband ― that she had been deceived, and that there was nothing she could do. Finally, she fell quiet, and the man did as he wanted. He was 72 years old.

Nazifa’s grandfather left immediately after the wedding on a pilgrimage funded by Nazifa’s bride price.

Within two weeks, Nazifa’s husband began to abuse her.

The moment she saw an opening, Nazifa ran home to her mother and told her everything, and they submitted a complaint to district authorities. Eight months later, there was still no resolution.

ChildFund learned of Nazifa’s case through its Social Work Coaching project in Takhar province, which aims to improve child protection systems to address the needs of children at risk. In addition to working with local and national government authorities, the project trains social workers and community outreach workers on child rights, child development and protection, referrals and other social work services. ChildFund is one of several partner organizations in the project, which is supported by UNICEF.

After Nazifa told her story, the room fell quiet, her listeners struck by her tender age, her sweet face, her directness, her passion for education. Her questioner changed the subject.

~~~

Do you go to school?
Yes, when I am not coming to court.

When you go to school, does anyone bother you?
Yes, on the way to school and in class, they all laugh at me and say unpleasant words.

Do you want to continue going to school?
Yes. I will never stop going, even though it’s hard.

If you don’t succeed in getting out of this marriage, what will you do?
I am sure the government will decide in my favor. Otherwise, I can’t accept life with an old, disturbing man, and I will end my life somehow.

~~~

Nazifa was finally able to leave the marriage, and school is easier now, thanks to some support from social workers trained by ChildFund.

Authorities had no good answer as to why this case had taken so long, and there are many more such cases throughout Afghanistan due to the cultural breakdown following the country’s two decades of conflict. Social work is not really a formal profession in Afghanistan, but this is beginning to change as authorities recognize the need for it, thanks largely to awareness raised by ChildFund and others working to strengthen child protection systems in Afghanistan.

We work to expand people’s knowledge about the rights and worth of children, and we help protect as many children as we can from becoming victims.

Because a 12-year-old girl is priceless.

Building an India Where Women Count

By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India

On International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Dusk was settling over a suburban neighborhood in southern India, but Stella Leethiyal wasn’t ready to go home. The 47-year-old teacher was busy visiting shanties to meet women and educate them about good parenting — the key to a child’s successful development.

Indian woman talks to a parent about her child

Stella, 47, works as an ECD teacher in a suburban area near Chennai.

Aside from teaching women about parenting, Stella also focuses on educating them about their individual rights and convincing their male partners to understand and respect the value of the women in their households. Stella, who works as a teacher at a ChildFund-supported early childhood development (ECD) center in Chennai, India, does this out of a desire to see her fellow women become aware and empowered.

“Personally, I have seen many setbacks faced by women in my locality since my childhood,” Stella says. “I have always dreamt of a society where women and men are treated equally in all aspects of life. My association with ChildFund India has given my dream a direction, and I have tried my best to achieve this goal.”

Currently, Stella works with children whose families often migrate to find work, a population that faces serious obstacles to a full education.

Before becoming an ECD teacher in 1997, Stella was a community mobilizer for ChildFund; her prime focus was educating and empowering women. Her efforts helped convince nomadic families to send their children to school for the first time.

Stella is very happy about her work, but she is dissatisfied with the general condition of women across the country. “People say India is now a powerful country,” she says, “But how can you be powerful when one section of your population is so weak?”

According to latest U.N. Human Development report, India is ranked 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. However, many people in India like Stella are working to improve the state of women and girls through education, health care, sanitation and political participation. The government also runs several programs aimed at empowering women.

In the past year, ChildFund India has reached out to more than 142,000 women and engaged them in various issues ranging from their health and sanitation to economic empowerment.

To assist women who wish to earn income, ChildFund India promotes women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) that manage microloans at a village level, which helps women become more self-sufficient. India has more than 5,600 such groups across the country, with 18,000 members.

ChildFund is also committed to helping youths become involved community members, and toward this goal, we support more than 700 clubs for boys and girls.

Teenage girl from India

Durgesh has led a campaign to stop child marriage.

Female youth clubs, also known as Kishori Samuha, have proven to be a major success in creating an informed and confident new generation.
Durgesh, 15, is a testimony to this success. A sponsored child from Uttar Pradesh’s Firozabad district, Durgesh led a campaign against child marriage and managed to bring the number of early marriages to almost zero in her community.

As a leader of her youth club, she generated great awareness about the ill effects of child marriage and managed to gain broad community support .

“Initially, it was very difficult for us to convince parents to say no to child marriage, which has been going on in our community since ages,” says Durgesh, who is in 10th grade. “But with the support and guidance from ChildFund India program staff, we continued our campaign for months. And we finally succeeded. Parents are now not in favor of getting their young daughters married. Rather, they are sending them to schools.”

Stella and Durgesh are two of hundreds of committed individuals in India who are giving hope to women across the country. They aspire to build a new India where women are respected and allowed to lead.

Women Pick Up the Pieces of War-Shattered Lives

By Sumudu Perera, ChildFund Sri Lanka

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Woven baskets, vases and hats made with multi-colored palm leaves are piled on a hall table as women go about their work in the Sri Lankan district of Jaffna.

Some women weave hats, while others work on baskets or bags. Some sit in chairs, but many prefer to sit on the floor. Now and then everyone has a break to chat with others nearby.

Jaffna, in the northernmost region of Sri Lanka, is highly populated and busy, but this production center is tranquil. Five women who work here are war widows, following the 26-year civil war that ripped apart the country.

Sri Lankan woman makes basket

Sopa, a war widow in Sri Lanka, weaves a basket at a production center in the Jaffna District. She was trained through ChildFund and a partner organization.

Sopa is a widow and has a 4-year-old son, Methayan, to support. After losing her husband, Sopa suffered psychologically and had to depend on her elderly parents for months, which made all of their lives more difficult. Coming to accept that her husband was gone, she started to think about how to feed Methayan and educate him.

This production center, which uses materials from local palmyrah trees, was started in 2011 through a partnership between ChildFund and a government board to help provide employment opportunities after the war ended in 2009. During the resettlement phase, 35 women were initially trained. Now the center employs 45 women between the ages of 18 and 40.

The woven products have a high demand in other countries. Every two weeks, a large truck comes to the center and picks up the craft items. The center has attracted the attention of many unemployed women in the region, mainly because they would not have to travel long distances or move away from home to find work. Since its start, the center has trained an additional 80 women.

The women working here have bigger dreams now. They hope to expand the business and provide employment opportunities to more women in the area.

After attending training, Sopa found a job she liked, and she is still available to Methayan, who stays with other family members at home a 10-minute walk away. She attends to his needs in the morning, goes home at lunch time to feed him and then returns home before dark. Sopa makes US$110 a month, and she can earn more if she weaves more pieces. With her income, she’s able to support herself and her son.

“It was devastating to lose my husband,” she says. “I lost all my hopes. I was suffering for months without doing anything. This job brought me some hope. Also, spending time with other women in the community here has helped me to forget about my problems. Now I want to educate my child and ensure a good future for him.”

Weaving a New Life in Uganda

By Sharon Ishimwe, ChildFund Uganda

As we prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, our posts for the remainder of the week are dedicated to the amazing girls and women we’ve encountered in ChildFund-supported communities. We honor their struggles and cheer their successes.

Ugandan woman at shop

Justine once struggled to feed her family.

Without an education, Ugandan mother Justine could only dream of being employed. Her family of five depended entirely on her husband’s income from driving people on his motorcycle. And yet, his income was too low to cover all their needs: food, medical care, clothing, housing and the children’s education.

When Justine heard about ChildFund in 2007, she enrolled her daughter, who soon received a sponsor. For Justine’s family, this was the beginning of a new life.

woman at sewing machine

Learning to sew has brought income and opportunity.

An opportunity arose through ChildFund and a local partner organization for Justine to learn how to make clothes. “I knew it was my opportunity to acquire a skill that would get me out of my helplessness,” she says. After the training, Justine received sewing machines, which have helped her family’s income.

The mother of three now makes a living by sewing sweaters and school uniforms that she sells in her shop, as well as training other women to sew.

womand displays clothing at shop

Justine makes and sells children’s school uniforms at her roadside shop.

“In the beginning, I made the sweaters and sold them from my house, but I had very few buyers,” she recalls. “So I was determined to save and get a shop by the roadside, which has enabled me to sell more.”

The income from her shop has helped Justine’s family pay school fees and also have enough money left over for a plot of land and construction materials to build their own house. Justine has also helped her husband buy two more motorbikes, which he rents to other drivers and has increased the family’s income. She is the chairperson of the local home visitors committee, a program that sends volunteers to the homes of ChildFund-enrolled children to make sure they are healthy, studying and happy. As chairperson, Justine mobilizes and leads the team.

“ChildFund’s impact on my life is more than just my financial independence,” Justine says. “ChildFund has given me a confidence I would never have known. I can now comfortably speak before many people. I’m also able to relate to people better and with ease, which wasn’t the case before. Most of all, I now share ideas with my husband, which has enabled my family’s progress.”

Tweets Help a Young Woman Return to School

Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia

When Mekdes was just 3 years old, her father passed away and her mother was unable to take care of her daughter on her own. So Mekdes went to live with her grandmother in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopian teen

Mekdes at home in Addis Ababa.

Today, 14 years later, Mekdes should be enrolled in grade 10 at Ketchene Secondary School, but times have been tough in recent years.

Mekdes was making good grades and enjoying her classes. Then her grandmother lost her job—their only source of income. Mekdes was forced to drop out of school and start working before she completed the national high school leaving examination that would open the door to advanced education.

Fighting back tears, she explains her situation: “We have no income at this time for our living. We have no one to help us. Our lives [have] become strange and gloomy. We are passing the day without food and go to bed with hunger.”

Since dropping out of school, Mekdes worked as a hairdresser and a day laborer for a small company, but her real dream is to finish school and become a doctor.

Thanks to ChildFund’s International Women’s Day Twitter campaign, that dream now has a better chance of becoming reality.

In March, we asked our Twitter followers to post 200 tweets and retweets focused on girls and women during a four-day time period culminating on International Women’s Day. As an incentive for the awareness-building campaign, we would honor our Twitter followers by awarding a one-year scholarship to a deserving Ethiopian girl (one of the items available in ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog).

ChildFund’s Twitter followers surpassed the goal, unleashing 275 tweets like: “Secure girls = strong women,” and “Being a student makes a girl unavailable for marriage.”

Mekdes is the recipient of the scholarship gift. She plans to work during the day and take evening classes so that she can complete her secondary education.

“Now with the help I got from ChildFund, I will start to train in hair dressing and make money,” she says of her near-term goals. “For me, ChildFund is my life. My grandmom is also so happy with the chance I got. She cried first when she heard the news, delighted with the hope we get from ChildFund.”

Thank you, ChildFund Tweeps!

View From Afghanistan on International Women’s Day

by Julien Anseau, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Asia

Afghanistan is one of the toughest places in the world to be a woman. On International Women’s Day, we talk with ChildFund’s country director, Palwasha Hassan, about the plight of women in her war-torn country and how ChildFund is helping.

ChildFund Afghanistan's national director

Palwasha Hassan, ChildFund Afghanistan

Palwasha, what is the status of women in Afghanistan today?
There are many challenges to face as a woman. Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth. Life expectancy is only 45 years. Only 18 percent of girls age 15 to 24 can read and write. One in three Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence. And many women are forced into marriage.

Although there are encouraging signs of improvement such as women’s participation in activities outside the home and the number of girls enrolled in school, there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination, lack of education, domestic violence and poverty are a fact of life for many Afghan women.

What are the challenges in women’s education and getting girls to go to school?

Afghan girls studying

Afghan girls embrace learning. Photo: Leslie Knott

Only 40 percent of girls attend primary school, and only 15 percent go on to attend secondary school. Traditionally, there is little awareness in Afghanistan on the importance of girls’ education. Many poor families cannot support their daughters’ education; girls are expected to stay home and help with housework rather than attend school. Schools are also often far away. Security is also an issue. It’s not safe for parents to send their children to school.

Education, however, helps women claim their rights, and it is also the single most powerful way to lift people out of poverty. ChildFund recently surveyed children in Afghanistan, and girls tell us they want to learn; they want more and better schools for all children.

Girls learning to sew

Skills training is one component of ChildFund's work in Afghanistan. Photo: Leslie Knott.

Over the years, with support from UNICEF and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained teachers, provided educational materials to schools, run literacy classes, opened community libraries to promote reading and supported social mobilization efforts encouraging children to go to school. Particular focus has been on girls.

What is the situation regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan?
Although legislation has been passed, in reality, the implementation of women’s rights remains patchy. Many women in Afghanistan face physical, sexual and psychological abuse, forced marriage, trafficking, domestic violence and the denial of basic services, including education and health care.

With support from UN Women and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize gender-based violence and promote women’s rights, as well as strengthen referral mechanisms so that women can seek help.

Can you tell us how else ChildFund is helping women in Afghanistan?

mother and child

One key priority is improving maternal and child health. Photo: Leslie Knott

We educate mothers on the importance of their children’s education, health, hygiene and nutrition. We train parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize child-protection issues. We have provided livelihood training and support to women for income-generating enterprises, including carpet weaving and tailoring so that they can support their families. We also provide reintegration support to internally displaced and refugee families, including the construction of shelter and wells. All told, our programs provide thousands of women and their families with the support they need to take greater control of their lives.

Looking ahead, what are ChildFund’s priorities in Afghanistan?
ChildFund’s priorities and expertise in Afghanistan lie in early childhood development, raising literacy rates and improving child protection. In addition, we are focusing on youth vocational and leadership skills development, gender-based violence and reintegration support to internally displaced people and refugee families.

As an Afghan woman, is there anything else you want to tell ChildFund supporters about your country and the women there?
ChildFund has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, assisting more than half a million children and family members. We operate in more than 150 communities within Badakshan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Nangarhar and Takhar. Yet, the needs of the Afghan people are still great. For sustainable development to happen in Afghanistan, there needs to be a long-term global vision for the country. Then, conditions will improve for women – and everyone.