Saturday 8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD). Worldwide, the day is celebrated in many different ways – from talking about women’s achievements and contributions to society, to honoring female family members, to raising awareness of gender inequality and the many ways it still affects women – something that’s particularly important for the international development community. We’ve been sharing more about gender equality in the countries where we work on Twitter and Facebook this week.
The power imbalance between men and women has been a key thing for us to consider when we’ve planned many of our projects. For example, women affected by leprosy are often more vulnerable to violence from their husbands or other family members. Sometimes they have felt that sex work is their only option if they want to earn enough money to get by. And girls are more likely than boys to drop out of education and fail to finish school, let alone go on to further education or training.
In a male-dominated society like Bangladesh, women are particularly affected by poverty – especially if they find themselves heading up their households due to being widowed or abandoned by their husband, or if their husband is unable to work. This is a key concern for families affected by leprosy, where disability is common and the stigma attached to it means many women end up alone. At the same time, women are generally primary carers – for their children, for elderly parents, or for other family members with disabilities. Simply getting by can be a struggle.
For the past five years, we’ve been an integral partner in the Food Security for Ultra-Poor Women project in Bangladesh, working with 40,000 women to ensure that they can provide for themselves and their families, stand up for their rights, address their health issues, and improve their standing in their communities. The project ended in December 2013 and has been an excellent example of an initiative that not only tackles leprosy, but also addresses the numerous other problems the disease can cause. Project activities have included leprosy awareness and disability training, reconstructive surgery, measures to improve maternal health, income generation and supplying mobility aids.
The testimonies of the women helped by the project show just how vital it is that we work with those who are most marginalised. Many spoke of being abandoned by their husbands once they developed disabilities – but earning money proved to be an empowering exercise for them. Often seen as nothing more than a burden to their family, learning a trade and setting up their own businesses meant they gained respect in their communities. In turn they found their self-confidence improved. Raising awareness of leprosy and disability proved to be an effective way of reducing stigma and for some women, meant the end of verbal abuse and being treated like outcasts.
The final report from the project is packed full of encouraging statistics showing how our work, the dedication of those who donate to us, and the determination of those we work with has transformed thousands of lives. Take a look at the infographic below to find out more!