International Women’s Day is 8 March – Socialist Worker celebrates the day with some words from women who have led radical movements or fought for women’s liberation and socialism
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT 1759-1797
‘HOW MANY women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practised as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre.
It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion, that they were created to feel rather than reason, and that all the power they obtain must be obtained by their charms and weaknesses. What were we created for? To remain, some say, in innocent: they mean in a state of childhood. We might as well never have been born.’
From her famous book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. One of the first feminists, she was deeply inspired by what she witnessed during the French Revolution in 1789.
SOJOURNER TRUTH 1797-1883
‘THAT MAN over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man-when I could get it-and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne 13 children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?’
An ex-slave who blasted the hypocrisy and double standards in society’s treatment of women.
ELIZABETH DMITRIEFF 1851-1910
‘PARIS IS being blockaded. Paris is being bombarded. Do you hear the cannon roaring, ringing out the sacred call-to arms! Citizens of Paris, descendants of the women of the Great Revolution, the women who, in the name of the people and justice, marched upon Versailles and carried King Louis off as captive-we, the mothers, wives and sisters of the French people, will we go on allowing poverty and ignorance to make enemies of our children, allowing them to kill each other for the whim of our oppressors? Citizens, the gauntlet is thrown down. We must win, or die.’
Dmitrieff issued this declaration from Paris in 1871. Workers had seized control of the city, forming the Paris Commune. She played a key role organising women of the city. They defied all convention-defending their commune on the barricades.
CLARA ZETKIN 1857-1933
‘WE CARRY on our war for this measure, not as a fight between the sexes, but as a battle against the political might of the possessing classes, as a fight which we carry on with all our might and main.
The aim of that fight will be that one day the proletariat in its entirety, without distinction of sex, shall be able to call out to the capitalist order of society, “You rest on us, you oppress us, and see how the building which you have erected is tottering to the ground”.’
Zetkin was a leading socialist in Germany. She led the calls to establish International Women’s Day.
ANNIE BESANT 1847-1933
‘WHO CARES for the fate of these white wage slaves? Born in slums, driven to work while still children, undersized because underfed, oppressed because helpless, flung aside as soon as worked out, who cares if they die or go on the streets, provided only that the Bryant and May shareholders get their 23 percent, and Mr Theodore Bryant can erect statues and buy parks?’
From her article “White Slavery in London”, which publicised the appalling exploitation of young women working at the Bryant and May match factory in east London. When the teenage workers read it, they went on strike, won major concessions-and sparked the rebellion known as New Unionism.
ELISABETH GURLEY FLYNN 1890-1961
‘THE “QUEEN of the parlour” has nothing in common with the “maid in the kitchen”; the wife of a department store owner shows no sisterly concern for the 17 year old girl who finds prostitution the only door open to a $5 a week wage clerk.
The sisterhood of women, like the brotherhood of men, is a hollow sham to labour. Behind all its smug hypocrisy and sickly sentimentality are the sinister outlines of the class war.’
She was a leading organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World, a militant union that broke with tradition and organised both men and women workers. In 1951, at the height of the McCarthyite witch-hunts, she was jailed for two years.
SYLVIA PANKHURST 1882-1960
‘WHEN I arrived in the East End, mothers came to me with their wasted little ones. I saw starvation look at me from patient eyes. I knew then that I should never return to my art.
Many times I have endured the vile brutalities of imprisonment and force feeding for the crime of working for women’s suffrage. I have gone to war too, and my life will be shortened for it. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving. Capitalism is a wrong system of society and it has got to be smashed. I would give my live to smash it.’
From her 1920 courtroom speech while standing trial for sedition. An artist and a militant Suffragette, she organised women in London’s poverty-stricken East End. Inspired by the Russian Revolution, she broke with her family and declared herself “proud to be a Bolshevik”.
ROSA LUXEMBURG 1871-1919
‘VIOLATED, dishonoured, wading in blood, dripping filth-there stands bourgeois society. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretence to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law-but the ravening beast, the witches’ Sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form. The madness will not stop, and the bloody nightmare of hell will not cease until the workers of Germany, France, Russia and England wake out of their drunken sleep, clasp each other’s hands in brotherhood and drown the bestial chorus of warmongers and the hoarse cry of capitalist hyenas with the mighty cry of labour, Proletarians of all countries, unite!’
Luxemburg was among the greatest revolutionaries of the 20th century, leading the left wing of the German socialist movement. She wrote these words during the First World War.
FREDERICA MONTSENY 1905-1994
‘AS LONG as any woman is kept as an object and prevented from developing her personality, prostitution continues to exist. Prostitution presents a problem of moral, economic and social character which cannot be resolved juridically.
Prostitution will be abolished when sexual relations are liberalised, when Christian and bourgeois are liberalised, when women have professions and social opportunities to secure their livelihood and that of their children, when society is established in such a way that no one remains excluded, when society can be organised to secure life and right for all human beings.’
Montseny was an anarchist activist in the CNT trade union during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-9.
ANGELA DAVIS 1944-
‘I AM totally committed to the eradication of the oppression of black people. I cannot separate myself as a black woman from overthrowing the system which consigns millions of black children to starvation. Prisons are instruments of political control. There are thousands of black men and women in prison today, not because they are criminals but because they resisted. People talk about moderation. If I see a comrade or friend being attacked by a pig with a machine-gun, I can’t respond with moderation, I can’t say, hold on there while I wonder what to do. You can’t tell a mother to moderately rescue her child from a burning building. We can be non-violent, but only if our enemy is non-violent. If our enemy has napalm and machine guns, we have to do everything to try and destroy that enemy.’
Davis was a black activist sacked from her teaching job at the University of California for being a Communist. In 1970 the FBI put her on their most wanted list, accusing her of supplying guns for a breakout from Soledad prison. She made this speech just before she was caught and locked up for 18 months.
ARUNDHATI ROY 1961-
‘IF ALL of us are indeed against imperialism and against the project of neo-liberalism, then let’s turn our gaze on Iraq. We have to become the global resistance to the occupation. Our resistance has to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the US occupation of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially impossible for empire to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should refuse to fight, reservists should refuse to serve, workers should refuse to load ships and aircraft with weapons. We must consider ourselves at war.’
An award-winning Indian novelist and leading figure of the global movement against capitalism and war. Her speech is from the World Social Forum which took place in January this year.
Iraqi women on 8 March, International Woman’s Day, called for an end to violence against women nationwide and for equal status with men, especially in top jobs, including ministries and embassies.
“Iraqi women are now crying out: stop killing, stop violence,” said Nariman Othman, minister of women’s rights, who led a delegation to the head of Iraq’s parliament. She bore a list of women’s rights issues which they wanted to discuss.
“We demand protection from killing and intimidating women in the cities of Basra, Diyala, Mosul and other Iraqi cities, and consider the anti-women violence a crime against humanity,” Nariman said.
“A bigger role must be given to qualified women in political decision-making positions and other governmental posts such as ministries… and embassies,” she said.
Nariman also asked for more help from the government to meet the needs of the increasing number of widows, and find solutions to their problems, which include unemployment.
Iraq’s constitution reserves 25 percent of the 275 seats in parliament for women, but not all of these have been filled because in some cases female candidates were not available.
In a recent report(*) on the state of Iraqi women since the US-led invasion in 2003, the US-based Women For Women International said it had become a “national crisis”.
The report, released on 6 March, showed that two-thirds of the 1,500 women questioned said violence against them had increased.
“When asked why, respondents most commonly said there was less respect for women’s rights than before, that women were thought of as possessions, and that the economy had got worse,” it said.
A similar survey by the organization in 2004 found that despite the fact that none of the women felt their families’ most basic needs were entirely met, 90.6 percent were optimistic about the future.
But in late 2007, the report said, the nationwide poll of 1,513 Iraqi women found only 26.9 percent continued to be optimistic about the situation in their country.
The report also found that 76 percent of respondents said girls in their families were forbidden from attending school.
“Forgotten and silent victims”
On 8 March, the UN special representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, called for more support and help to meet the Iraqi women’s needs “as they are the forgotten and silent victims of the ongoing violence”.
He said 70,000 had been widowed in the past 4-5 years. In the south, over 100 women had been killed, and their bodies mutilated. In the north, at least 300 women and girls were victims of “honour crimes” last year, including being shot, strangled and beaten to death, he said.
(*) Stronger Women, Stronger Nations: 2008 Iraq Report
Read about the status of women and Iraq through the eyes of the women who live there. Click here for the full report. http://www.womenforwomen.org/documents/IraqReport.03.03.08.pdf
President Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest at this year’s celebrations to mark the the International Women’s Day, held at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds. Below is the speech in full.
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I salute all the women of Uganda upon this International Women’s Day. I, particularly, wish to congratulate the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development upon the successful hosting of the Commonwealth Eighth Women’s Affairs Ministers’ Meeting (8WAMM) in June, 2007, which was largely viewed as a precursor for the CHOGM meeting. It was, in fact, a test as to whether we could successfully host the main CHOGM event. Our women were, therefore, the vanguard of our effort to host CHOGM and publicise Uganda.
The theme for this year’s International Women Day Celebrations is “The Role of Women in Transforming Societies to Achieve Political, Economic and Social Development.” It seeks to consolidate the involvement of women in development. Before the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came into power, the majority of women had struggled, with immense difficulty, to transition from being second class citizens to becoming empowered and attaining gender equality. The NRM government has endeavoured to reverse this trend.
Women emancipation by the NRM Government
Not only is the African woman the child bearer; she cooks, farms, grinds grain, fetches water and firewood, teaches her children, nurses the sick, provides quality companionship to the husband, etc. It is only in a few African societies where this formula of burden sharing is reversed – men doing more work than women.
In order to enhance their role in the transformation process, the NRM government has liberated women through the following:
* Providing safe water, with coverage increasing from 10% to 63% in rural areas and from 17% to 65% in urban areas between 1986 and 2006;
* Introducing Universal Secondary Education; and
* Improving literacy from 50% to 70% between 1986 to-date. Additionally, 80% of learners in the government-led Functional Adult Literacy Programmes are women.
* Intervention in reducing HIV prevalence from 18% to 6%;
* Ensuring that all children are fully immunised, and;
* Increasing access to health units within the radius of 5 kilometres from 30% to 70%.
Women play a central role in society, right from the domestic to the international scene. Collectively and individually, they have the highest concentrations of human, economic and cultural resources necessary to occupy an enviable position in the global economy. However, the challenge is that only a few women are empowered; the majority still continues to be trapped in the low income category with unacceptable levels of political, economic, social and human development.
Gender based violence
The liberation and empowering of women, therefore, is a means of solving many socio-economic and political problems; especially for Africa. Among the major challenges faced by women globally is Gender-Based Violence, as is evidenced by almost daily media reports of resultant murder and child neglect. It should be noted that 78% of women experience some form of domestic violence such as sexual assault, physical violence, economic, verbal and emotional. (Ug. Law Ref. Com.2006)
Gender-Based violence has the following dire socio-economic and political consequences:
* It hampers women from using their skills in development activities;
* It prevents women from claiming their socio-economic rights e.g. property rights and inheritance;
* It leads to loss of human resource through death and maiming;
* It leads to increased rates of school drop-outs and teenage pregnancies;
* It aggravates social stigma, rejection and family breakdown which lead to negative forms of behaviours like prostitution and abuse of drugs.
In order to curb these negative socio-economic effects of Gender-Based Violence, there is need for legislation, awareness-raising on causes and consequences, increased resource allocation; and involvement of all stake holders in a holistic framework. The Domestic Relations Bill is currently on agenda for presentation to Parliament. We should expedite the passing of the legislation on domestic violence.
Decision making is one of the main indicators of women empowerment. Today, women’s prospects for formal participation in politics have greatly improved, in spite of the many challenges they are faced with. The NRM government has put in place conducive mechanisms which have enabled women to contribute to political transformation. We now have increased numbers in the political arena. The proportion of women in Local Councils rose from 6% in early 1990s to 44% in 2003; while in parliament it rose from 18% in 1996 to 30.4% to-date, which is the internationally recommended quota.
Government also established in 1988 what is now called Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development which, among others, caters for Women Affairs; it is headed by a Cabinet Minister. These milestones have promoted women’s visibility and voice in decision making processes at all levels, which is a key tenet of democratic governance.
The NRM Government regards Education as key in the liberation and emancipation of women. I am happy to note that since the introduction of UPE, in 1997, enrollment has increased from 2.5 million to 7.7 million in 2006 with a 50:50 female/male ratio. Likewise, affirmative action at Makerere University increased enrollment of females from 23.9% in the academic year 1989/1990 to 48.2% in 2005/06. While education has a positive effect on the earning capacity of both men and women, it is stronger for women. Similarly, households with such women are likely to have quality life in terms of education, health, nutrition, access to safe water and sanitation facilities etc.
As we work towards industrialisation in a bid to transform our society, I call upon parents to encourage and support the girl-child to study sciences. Young women who have attained other qualifications should go for further studies in order take up science courses.
Productivity as a function of economic growth and development heavily depends on the health status of a population. Countries with higher levels of economic growth and higher indicators of the quality of life have a corresponding high investment in health research and health infrastructure. The result is reduced morbidity and mortality, long life expectancy, improved child survival and high human development index. Other advantages include less expenditure on health. On the contrary, countries with the highest disease burden tend to invest less in health and health research, culminating into low productivity. There is, therefore, a clear relationship between health status of a population and its productivity.
Women in Uganda continue to experience high maternal mortality rate which still stands at 435 per 100,000 per annum and is among the highest in the world. The total fertility rate is at 6.7 children per woman. Sixteen percent (16%) of women are married by age 15 and 53% by age 18, according to the Uganda Health and Demographic Survey of 2006. Evidence from the Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2006 shows that infant mortality has come down to 76 deaths per 1,000 births; and under 5 mortality is 137 per 1,000 births. The high fertility rate at 6.9 has a bearing on the provisioning of health services for women. Those are too many children per woman. A lower figure would be better for the sake of her health as well as for family economics.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment are vital to the transformation of societies for political, economic and human development. There is clear evidence that gender equality reduces poverty (World Bank 2007, UNFPA 2007) and is a cause and consequence of economic growth.
A number of women still experience discriminatory gender biases and prejudices which inhibit their potential. There are still high school drop-out rates, particularly for girls. Similarly, most women lack ownership of productive resources, particularly land.
Through the transformative leadership of the NRM Government a number of women have changed their behavioural dispositions and attitude towards work. They now engage in hitherto male-dominated work such as road construction and maintenance. I continue to encourage women to aggressively embrace the world of entrepreneurship. Women have cultivated a culture of saving and investment. To-date, 55% of micro-finance institutions (MFI) borrowers are female, while 16% of the registered land in Uganda is owned by women.
Social transformation, however, cannot be a reality when households and individuals do not have adequate incomes. In this regard, as I have already said, Government’s efforts in the modernisation of agriculture are yielding good results.
The Government has been implementing the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) since 2001 to improve farmers’ access to advisory services and enable them to adopt profitable technologies and management practices. While there were some problems in the implementation of NAADS, there were also some visible successes. For instance, to-date government has been able to cover 346 sub-counties in 49 districts.
There is evidence of increased productivity and household incomes in areas where NAADS is functional when compared to areas where the programme is yet to be implemented; for example, in Manibe sub-county in Arua district, farmers have realised a five-fold increase in yield as a result of planting improved groundnut varieties-Serenut 2 and 3. In Mukono, over one hundred farmers have gone into production of upland rice after a huge harvest of 2000 kg per acre in one season.
Government plans to roll out the NAADS programme to the rest of the country over the coming years. Through the Bonna Bagaggawale scheme, we shall be able to advise farmers to maximise returns from their small bibanja, using the production models like those of Mrs. Kizza of Masaka. This is the ability to use small pieces of land to earn high incomes. The women, I am well informed, have been key players in the NAADS programme and have been more pro-active in forming farmer groups than the men and youth. I encourage you to continue.
One major impediment to the realisation of economic growth and development in most developing countries is the failure to access big markets. Until recently, the North American and European markets have been closed to most African countries. We, however, salute the gesture of America and Europe opening markets to some of our products through African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) and Everything But Arms (EBA), respectively.
In order for us to competitively access market for our produce, it is imperative that we work towards the industrialisation of our economy. While most of our population remains rural-based and using rudimentary methods of production, our transformation process will be very slow.
As we work towards industrialisation, we shall move towards the urbanisation of our society. Too big a population in the rural areas is a factor of under development and this greatly affects women more than men, because of their functional roles in society. urbanisation increases girls’ access to education and promotes cultural acceptance of their right to education.
With the establishment of the ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, women have a greater chance of accessing ICTs, thereby enhancing their competitiveness and participation in the global economy. Government will make all efforts to narrow the gender digital divide.
Peace in Northern Uganda
The peace prospects that started to prevail in Northern Uganda have created opportunities for resumption of social and economic activities in the region. This has made it possible for the internally-displaced people to return to their areas of origin.
At the same time, local governments and development agencies have intensified the emergency and development interventions that have led to improvements in people’s lives. All these efforts must be sustained and supported so as to increase outreach. The role of women in this process cannot be under-rated; it ranges from shouldering all household responsibility, since their husbands, brothers or sons were either butchered, taken as captives or engaged in armed conflict; as well as participating in the peace process as key negotiators.
To this end, government has prioritised the implementation of the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP) as a way of deepening service delivery and spurning development in Northern Uganda and the neighbouring districts. The Prime Minister should ensure that women play a visible role in this programme.
Corruption and fraud impede economic, political and human development. This is manifested in the lowering of tax revenue; inflated cost of public service and distortions in allocation of resources. I would like on this note to commend the women who hold key positions in Uganda’s economy.
I wish to once again congratulate all the women and men of Uganda on this auspicious occasion. I re-affirm government’s commitment towards the attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Uganda. I thank you.
The writer is the President of the Republic of Uganda
Dr Aja Isatou Njie-Saidy, Vice President and secretary of state for Women’s Affairs has said that the attainment of the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment not only in the Gambia but also in the world at large cannot be achieved without the availability of timely and adequate financil human resources and other resources.
According to her, since 1980, when the national machinery for the advancement of women and girls in The Gambia was created, adequate financing has been a challenge due to limited resources although, government supported by a development partner has endeavoured to ensure the availability of resources, in many and varied ways, but the desired levels are yet to be achieved.
VP Njie Saidy made this remarks last Friday in her office while delivery her goodwill meesage on the accasion of the International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2007 on the theme “financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women”.
Below we reproduce the full text of VP Njie-Saidy’s address;
Fellow Gambians, Fellow Women
You will recall that, every year, on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout the world with the objective of highlighting that achievements and challenges in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at the nationa and global levels.
This global event has grown from stength to strength and has become an event which brings women and all other stakholders together to promote and advocate for more cohesive and coordinated interventions towards effectively addressing the critical needs of women in the social, political and economic processes. Each year a relevant theme is identified globally that is deemed most appropriate. This year’s theme is: “financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women”.
Fellow Gambians, Fellow Women
In the Gambia, we cannot overemphasize the relevance ans timeless of this year’s theme on Gender equality financing which focus is given by the UN and its other development partners, particularly, during the 52nd session of the commission on the Status of Women in New York from the 25th of february to the 7th of March 2008.
Currently being attended by representative of the DOSWA & Women’s Bureau. The attainment of the goal of gender equality and women’s empowerment, not only in the Gambia but also in the world at large, cannot be achieved without the availability of timely and adequate financial human material and other resources.
Since 1980, when the national machinery for the advancement of women and girls, in The Gambia was created, adequate financing has been a challenge due to limited resourcesalthough, Government supported by A development partner has endeavoured to ensure the availability of resources, in many and varied ways, but the desired levels are yet to be achieved. In the early 90s a project was initiated by goverment in collaboration with the World Bank a six year multi- sectoral and multi- donor funded Women in Development Project, which aimed at imroving the status of women through the provision of resources to sectoral agencies and NGOs in the areas of health, agriculture, credit, community skills improvement, IEC, researc, M & E and training.
The project employed the concept of women in development although the strategy was proven to be only partly effective and helped strengthen women related sectors.
Fellow Gambians, Fellow Women
In light of the above, the concept, Gender and Development ( GAD) was adopted in 1995, which empoyed the strategy of mainstreaming gender perspectives in national programmes and policies at all levels by all actors.
The strategy was endorsed in the Platform for action during the Beijing, China, fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 for the promotion of gender equality which it emphasized as central to addressing all critical areas of concern to men and women. In the same document governments were called upon, together with other stakeholders to promote effectie policies of mainstreamning gender perspectives in programmes and policies at national and international levels, complemented by targeted interventions to ensure its full and effective implementation.
Fellow Gambians, Fellow Women
The achievements on the above mentioned areas, include the women in development project and other projects or interventions such as the formulation and ratification of Gambia’s first Policy for the Advancement of Women and Girls, Mainstreaming of gender and Poverty Project funded by DFID, the drafting of Women’s Bill, creation of gender unit at the Department of State for basic and Secondary Educationa s well as institutionalization of Gender focal Points at other sectoral levels, economic empowerment foucsed projects under the Department of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and natural Resource, Trade and Employment, Youth and Sports, the Gambia chamber of commerce and Industry, Commercial Banks, Public Institutions, NGO’s UN Agencies, other development partners and Civil Society Organisations.
For over 90 years, International Women’s Day has overcome cultural, linguistic and political barriers to unify people in the fight for human rights, equality, development and peace.
Endorsed by the United Nations, International Women’s Day marks a day for communities around the world to reflect on the social, political and legislative successes which have significantly improved the lives for millions of women around the world. But, there are still many battles to be won.
In his latest report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak called on states to fully recognise, punish and prevent violence against women. He referred to the lasting physical and psychological consequences for women victims of violence who are often powerless to escape the suffering imposed upon them.
In 2007, 667 women and 54 girls were referred to the Medical Foundation, comprising 37% of a total of 1,933 referrals. Clients came from almost 100 different countries, which reveals how torture knows no borders and how unsafe the world can be.
Rape and sexual violence were prevalent forms of persecution reported by clients of the MF. Although the resulting trauma experienced differs from woman to woman, panic attacks and nightmares are common. In addition, many of our clients contend with the practical as well as psychological difficulties of bringing up children with relatively little support and for some, an uncertain future given their insecure legal status.
While some women are able to speak about their experiences in individual counselling sessions at the MF, verbalising deep-seated feelings is not always appropriate or easy for others.
In the weekly sessions of the mother and toddler group, many women benefit from the relaxed social environment, which enables them to discuss concerns and share advice about health, parenting and adjusting to life in the UK.
A mother of two who fled from Sierra Leone said she is grateful for the group’s exclusivity, which never asks any questions nor expects explanations: “At other baby groups, there are ‘normal’ people without our problems, they are not like us. We come here and it’s safe – we all have similar experiences and everyone knows that.”
Isla Clough, a health visitor who manages the group, said: “It’s taken as read by all the mothers that everybody in the group has been through some awful experience, so for them to see each other coping is important. They also like to see their babies playing with each other.”
A core function of the group is education and each week a topic is presented, usually by Isla or an expert visitor, offering practical tips, answering questions and fostering discussions. The interactive nature of the group is as important as the expert advice Isla and her colleagues provide.
“I’m very keen that the mothers get involved and are partly responsible for each meeting,” she says. “This helps to build their confidence and gives them a bit of control in their lives where it is otherwise lacking.”
Established as an information forum for torture surviving mothers, the social dynamic of the group has seen it develop into a support network, where mothers are encouraged to share stories of discrimination, cultural barriers and feelings of isolation, and provide advice to one another about how to get by.
“My GP advised me to come to the Medical Foundation because of my past,” an Iranian mother said. “When I’m alone, I can have very bad feelings but every week I come here and it’s very good for me and my baby. We can talk about our problems and hear about other problems, it helps me.”
Isla says the group’s therapeutic disposition is key to its success and drives the regularity of the meetings: “Its very hard for many single mothers to access services, but when a person can’t speak English it is even more daunting. For mothers who find themselves in the UK as a result of circumstance rather than choice it’s worse, especially as they will often have come from very family-orientated societies.”
A 28-year-old mother from Darfur agreed that due to their common experiences – both the traumas in their home countries and the difficulties they face in the UK – the women naturally develop a strong bond: “This group is very special. There is a similarity between the mothers; we are all sharing the same difficulties. We can ask each other questions about anything, and because Isla knows everyone individually, she helps us all with whatever advice or information we need.
“This group gives us an idea about different cultures. We talk about our different backgrounds and how they affect our lives here.
“We come to this group and we make friends. We’ve had singing and dancing classes, and a musician comes from time to time. The children really enjoy coming here, and every two to three months photos are taken of them so that we can see them growing. Everyone is happy here.”
Speech by Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development, to the Gender and Development Network
Thank you. I’d like to begin by saying what an honour it is to share a platform with Professor Gita Sen. I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone in the room in saying that your passion for women’s rights and social justice is an inspiration to us all.
And it is a particular privilege to be here as a guest of the Gender and Development Network – the organisations you represent do important, indeed great work to support the rights of women.
Just over seven years ago, world leaders came together to pledge that they would, and I quote directly, ‘spare no effort’ to free men, women and children from extreme poverty.
Today, with seven years remaining to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, many lives have changed for the better. Indeed, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has fallen from almost a third in 1990 to a fifth today.
But we all know that the international community is failing to meet the targets that were set in 2000. And we know that above all, the world is failing women and girls.
Ten million more girls than boys are still denied the chance to a primary education.
In Pakistan and India, girls are up to 50% more likely to die before their fifth birthday than boys.
And as we’ve just heard from our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown – but it bears repeating – every minute, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth.
Everyone in this room will be familiar with these statistics. Many of you will know some of the personal stories that lie behind the grinding poverty I’ve just described. Ten days ago I visited a community health centre near the town of Makeni in Sierra Leone. I met a woman there called Teneh. She was not only caring for her own eight children, but also her sister’s two children. Why was she also caring for those children? Because her sister had died two weeks after child-birth – simply because she didn’t get the basic post-natal care that she required.
I believe we have a moral duty to help women break free from discrimination and lift themselves out of poverty. Indeed, we know that if we succeed, the benefits will not only be felt by women, but also their families and their communities.
To do so we must help women to realise their political, social and economic rights, indeed to take control of their lives.
And we are taking action to do exactly that.
My department, the Department for International Development, has supported work to promote improved participation and representation of women in parliamentary and local elections. In Sierra Leone we have supported an Oxfam ‘Women in leadership’ project which resulted in 58 women being elected as local councillors.
And we are providing voter education and leadership training for women’s groups in Nepal as they prepare for the Constituent Assembly elections. The result? More women represented in political parties, and the creation of women’s inter-party alliances.
My department is also supporting women to gain access to their social rights. For women and girls have the right to an education, to health care and, above all, to freedom from violence.
Just this afternoon, the Prime Minister confirmed that the United Kingdom will provide up to £150 million for India’s national programme for elementary education. This will enable the training of up to 300,000 more teachers, the building of 300,000 more classrooms, and give 4 million girls and boys the opportunity to go to school by 2011.
Yet in too many countries, rape and forced pregnancy have become weapons of war. In Rwanda and estimated 5,000 ‘children of bad memories’ were born as a result of rape during that genocidal conflict.
That is one of the reasons DFID provided £3.2 million to the United Nations last year to encourage women’s involvement in peace keeping and prevent sexual violence in Rwanda, Afghanistan and a number of other countries affected by conflict.
Women have the right to access contraception services and decent healthcare, and that’s why, this last October, the UK Government pledged to provide an additional £100 million over the next five years to the United Nations Population Fund. We know that £1 million invested in this way could save the lives of 1600 mothers and 22,000 infants. I want our investment of £100 million to have an impact on hundreds of thousands more lives.
Yet too often, women are not only denied their political and social rights, but also their right to economic participation – a point emphasised by the Prime Minister.
Many of you will have seen the report last week by Womankind that showed the terrible abuse of women that continues in Afghanistan. My department is working with Womankind to support the political rights of Afghan women. We’ve also supported improved access to antenatal care in rural areas, and helped to get more than two million girls into school since the fall of the Taliban back in 2001.
Our Afghanistan programme also supports women’s efforts to improve their economic prospects.
Indeed I can announce to you this evening that my department will provide an extra £5 million over the next two years to the Government of Afghanistan’s microfinance scheme. Added to the £10 million that our Prime Minister announced in December last year, this brings our total investment in the microfinancing scheme to £35 million.
This national programme has provided small loans to over 400,000 people so far – 280,000 of them are women. By the end of next year, as many as 400,000 women will have benefited.
These loans are, on a daily basis, giving women the chance to start or expand small businesses, engage in the economy, and gain a degree of financial independence that would otherwise simply be out of reach.
One woman, Zubaida, used a loan of just £70 to help expand her tailoring business and start a grocery. Now her business is flourishing and her income has risen from $40 a month three years ago to $200 a month today. That means she can now afford for her children to go to school rather than work.
We know what we need to do. And we know progress can be made. Therefore, how do we now, together go further, faster?
We need an international system that delivers on development, and that means delivering primarily for women. Two weeks ago I met with Bob Zoellick, the President of the World Bank. We agreed upon the importance of supporting women’s rights and he assured me that this is one of his express priorities for the Bank’s future.
We also need a step change in the United Nations delivery of gender equality and women’s empowerment, as called for by the UN High Level Panel on system-wide coherence, of which our own Prime Minister was a member.
Since then we have not seen the progress that we hoped for. But I believe that the opportunity is now better than ever to create a UN that works for women, championing and supporting their rights. The United Kingdom will support Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro’s efforts this year to broker agreement for a single, stronger gender agency within the United Nations.
But of course the UK Government and multilateral institutions cannot alone deliver the change that is needed to give women access to their rights.
That is why, as the Prime Minister made clear, we have joined UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in calling for a ‘global partnership for development’ that stretches beyond governments and multilaterals alone, to harness the talents of NGOs, businesses, faith groups and citizens right around the world.
This is a call to action to recognise that if the world is to keep the promise we made in 2000, we need a concerted effort this year to accelerate progress to the Millennium Development Goals
And because we know that women’s rights and gender equality are central to achieving the MDGs, the UK will join with the Danish Government to co-sponsor a high-level meeting in April on how better to release the tremendous potential of women in this development area.
International Women’s Day is a celebration of the progress that women have achieved around the world, and is a moment of hope for the future.
And it is in this spirit of celebration and hope that I am pleased to announce today that the my department and the Gender and Development Network will hold a series of roundtable events during 2008. I want those events to help us work more closely and better share our expertise in future efforts to help women realise their rights.
Because I know that in this room, there is that determination, that creativity and that expertise that we will need to help women around the world lift themselves out of poverty. Together, that is our challenge. But I believe that working together, it can be our achievement.