In many locations around the world women are offered equal rights and privileges to men in their countries. Whether the society believes women are less important, less able, that they are a father or husband’s property or that their expected role is not a choice, it can lead to women being denied education, being trapped in abusive situations, not given access to health resources, and having very low self-worth.
A history of discrimination is difficult to break, especially when it is so ingrained to a culture. It is not uncommon for other women within the community to be resistant to those who want change and reinforce current norms. And there is an ethical and social responsibility to look for ways that women’s rights can be restored without destroying the fabric of that culture.
All these reasons are why work in the area of women’s empowerment is so important yet so complex.
The empowerment of women and girls has been identified as an important priority in development by the UN and there are now many local and global initiatives working with this focus. At Kaya, we work with a number of locally-led projects that take a sensitive approach to tackling issues and opportunities for women and girls in a range of ways. You can be part of that process and this is how.
How can I help?
You can share your skills and time with women and girls, enabling them to learn new skills that offer them access to employment, enable them to understand their rights, offer ideas of how they can help themselves and enable them to express their feelings, and build their confidence. Typical areas of work include:
- English speaking, reading and writing skills
- Computer and word processing skills
- Providing knowledge on Health and well-being
- Financial skills such as budgeting, saving and pricing goods
- Self esteem and confidence building
- Sharing information about staying safe and sexual rights
- Counselling and social work support for women and girls
How will I do this?
Whether you come with existing experience and skills or are just interested in helping wherever possible, your project orientation will provide a clear idea of the immediate needs and challenges of the women and girls you are supporting. You will work with local staff, or use your initiative to identify ways you can help in activities such as:
- Working with a local team running English and Math lessons for complete beginners to more advanced students
- Developing workshops on topics such as childcare, nutrition, maternal health, sexual and reproductive health
- Playing sports, games and arranging art and music activities that encourage girls and young women to express themselves
- Running sessions on topics such as life plans and addressing specific issues (for those with skills and training to do so)
- Designing and running workshops in a range of business and competency based topics
- Assisting with or developing skills based development in crafts such as weaving, knitting, bag making etc.
How might the women benefit from this work?
Some of our initiatives work with women who may have been removed from a bad domestic situation. Other initiatives work with groups of regular women of a particular community. Both these groups are looking for ways to improve their lives as part of the communities to which they belong, which makes it essential for any project to respect and understand the realities of the local culture and the roles these women hold.
Often the women rely on their husbands or extended families and their priority for must be to continuing to supporting their husbands and children. Many have not been exposed to any information on basic nutrition, healthcare or their human rights. At a practical level, your help can empower them to do more by being able to bargain for a fair price for goods at the market, help their children with their homework, consider the nutritional needs of their diet and, for some women, in raising the income for their families.
What might I learn?
You will certainly gain an insight into the challenges facing girls and women in poorer communities and in different cultures from your own. If you are studying, you will learn how the theories apply in practice and that not all theories apply to all communities. You will see steps being taken to empower women and the importance of society on these initiatives and progress. And most of all, you will realise how fortunate you are and the enormous amount of work that is required globally to improve the lives of women and girls.
What challenges might I face?
The reality is that most women and girls from a very early age already have a lot of responsibilities especially in and around the home. Empowering women and girls is not about finding a replacement for these activities but identifying ways to be the best possible mothers, wives and daughters while having opportunities to study or work (should they wish) and recognizing their importance and worth as a woman. This does mean that you may encounter the following:
- Women and girls not always able to attend regular sessions as they have home tasks to take care of it, or children to care for
- Resistance from other members of the community who feel that the social order is being challenged
- Having girls as young as 8 years old presented as “women” and having responsibilities of an adult
- Understanding the impact that even very small thing can have, and how slowly progress sometimes has to move to be accepted
- The importance of social relationships and social interaction to the success of the initiative – sometimes sitting and chatting can be valuable to information sharing, confidence building and openness to change
- That initiatives may need to operate early or late in the day to accommodate for school or work-days
- The lack of resources available
- The need for us as Westerners to hold judgement and try to understand some cultural norms that we do not practise, such as arranged marriages, teenage weddings and traditional roles to name just a few.
With this in mind you do need to be flexible, patient, resilient and open minded – but know that your support is part of a slow, strong movement to shift the balance of inequality for the women of the world.
If you’re passionate about Women’s Empowerment and would like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you! For many of our projects, you don’t need to have any particular skills and experience but if you do have any particular skills that you feel could be beneficial to our projects, please do let us know so that we can see how we can best utilise them
To read about Kaya’s women empower projects that you can get involved with, click the button below.