by Nikki Massie
On March 8, International Women’s Day, we celebrate the theme of empowering rural women to end poverty and hunger.
Rural women in developing countries face many challenges to building better lives. Lutheran World Relief is proud to work side-by-side with women to address the root causes of their communities’ poverty and work toward lasting promise.
Here, and in LWR eNews, we share just a few of the ways LWR, and you, empower rural women around the world.
India: “We have reclaimed our names.”
Annu Devi, from India, remembers a time when “signing” her name meant giving her thumbprint because she did not know how to read or write.
According to the United Nations Development Program, women like Annu make up two-thirds of the world’s 796 million people who are illiterate.
Illiteracy, in general, makes women more vulnerable to having their rights violated and makes it difficult to conduct business. There are psychological implications as well.
Annu recalls that when she went to provide her thumbprint to sign an official document, she often encountered male workers who would grab her hand and force her thumb onto ink and paper. “I hated that,” she says.
Things began to change for Annu when she joined an LWR supported self-help group in her community. There, she found support from other women also working to improve their lives. Through these groups, women are learning new income generating skills, how to manage their money and can even access loans to start businesses.
Through Annu’s group, she received literacy training. Now when she conducts official business, she’s proud to say, “I can sign my name myself.”
In India, when a woman is married, she is often not called by her name anymore, but instead “wife or mother of…” Literacy, Annu explains, has far deeper meaning for Indian women.
“Now that we can write our names, we have reclaimed our names.”
Colombia: “We are all leaders.”
Last year, on a visit to the Bolivar province in northern Colombia, a staff member asked Ana Lara Pojaro, of the Rural Women’s Network, who are the leaders in her group. Ana replied, “All the women in the group are leaders, each and every one.”
In a country where the signs of war are visible and abundant — homes crumbled by combat, schools and even entire towns abandoned — the women’s leadership and drive is essential to ending their poverty and disenfranchisement.
Decades of conflict in Colombia has left a rift between rural people, the government and the private sector. The rift leaves the people — especially the women — largely without a voice in the decision-making processes that keep them steeped in poverty.
But the women of the Rural Women’s Network and a handful of other women´s groups are trying to change that. With the support of LWR and its partner, the Corporation for Sustainable Development (CDS), 48 families take part in women led-groups that are helping improve incomes by selling beautiful handcraft jewelry and crafts.
Before this project, the women had few means of earning income and even fewer ways to speak up for their rights. Now the women are leaders, actively involved in every aspect of running the group, from the creation of crafts and jewelry to the selling of it.
The group is also helping the women find their voice and influence public policy. Through trainings on women’s rights and leadership development the women are better equipped to speak up for themselves in the face of great adversity. These leaders are even reaching out to young women, working with them to develop and propose programs to the Mayor´s office that would meet the specific needs of girls and women.
While the women’s income will no doubt pay for medicine and food, housing and education, their partnership will also reap many long-term benefits. In a community weakened by war, torn apart by violence, these bold women are creating a model for cooperation and paving the way forward, toward a more peaceful and just future.
Want to learn even more about how your support of LWR helps women? Check out our Women Thrive Series.