Happy International Women's Day!
What stereotype or problem faced by women would you #ChooseToChallenge? We asked the global women who lead Christian Aid to share their thoughts on the theme for #IWD2021.
Christian Aid works with the poorest and vulnerable communities across the world to help people lift themselves out of poverty.
Unequal distribution of power and unfair abuses of power are at the heart of poverty. And one of the most pervasive inequalities in the world is that between women and men.
Gender justice is, therefore, at the heart of Christian Aid’s work.
This International Women's Day I #ChooseToChallenge the stereotype that the face of hunger and poverty in Africa is female.
I celebrate the tenacity and resilience of millions of African women who literally ‘put food on the table’. They are the continent’s primary food producers, often under very difficult circumstances. And they contend with issues such as a lack of land ownership, failing rains and unpredictable weather patterns, poor roads and transport to take their produce to market.
I celebrate the banter of the market women who make food shopping a social event rather than a chore. We need to support and advocate for climate-smart agricultural policies, practices, and technologies that enable women farmers to produce more efficiently and profitably.
I #ChooseToChallenge the notion that African women wait for ‘saviours’. I celebrate their self-organising and mobilising power as they support each other by regularly contributing to a kitty owned and managed by themselves. This enables each of them to meet their household needs such as medical expenses for a family member who is ill, school fees and uniforms for their children, or capital for their businesses.
The importance of women’s savings groups for social protection and economic empowerment cannot be underestimated. We need to recognise and support their potential to build resilient and thriving communities.
I #ChooseToChallenge the idea that the average male body is a fit-for-purpose template for us all.
From crash car dummies and Personal Protection Equipment, office temperature settings and speech recognition software, numbers of loo cubicles and grocery shelf heights, our surroundings are based on the assumption that we all look, act, sound and have the needs of the average middle-aged man.
A first-world problem some may say, but it is indicative of the invisibility women experience across our global neighbourhood and the expectations that leave us vulnerable.
A problem I #ChooseToChallenge: The Stained-Glass Ceiling
When it comes to leadership at the highest levels of the church, I hear this phrase …’isn’t it wonderful, she’s a woman!’ God bring the day when a woman in church leadership is not seen as a phenomenon! When our presence, much less participation, in those spaces is pass-remarkable.
In my own experience, it still shocks me when I find myself in a minority of one or two. Historically erased from scripture, excluded by liturgical language and still underrepresented, we rob the body of Christ of part of its heart, mind, soul and strength when we deny women’s God-given gifts.
I would like to challenge the idea that those women who choose to have a family are less committed to their careers.
We have come a long way, with women having much more choice in the workplace – at least in the global north. As a mum of a toddler, I’m all too aware of the challenges of juggling work and home life and the toll that it takes on many women’s careers and family lives.
But I choose to challenge the perception that mothers become less inclined to climb the career ladder and strive for excellence in their careers. For many mothers – myself included – having a family actually means that we only stay in roles and organisations/companies that make it worth the potential extra challenges that come with being parents.
I would choose to challenge the often monochrome nature of feminism. The feminist movement needs to ensure that it includes the voices of black and brown women around the world.
This intersectional approach should also ensure that it includes voices of black and brown women in the global south – our sisters who are facing a whole host of different injustices, from extreme poverty to sexual and gender-based violence, to facing the full force of climate change right now, not in some distant future.
While reading to my granddaughters from Goodnight stories for rebel girls, they listen in disbelief about the barriers that many women have overcome in fulfilling their ambitions.
In fact my experience shows that women are often able to achieve great things in what are traditionally thought male roles. And I choose to challenge anything other than this. I call to mind Brindhawathie a woman blacksmith in rural Orissa, India. She crossed the gender divide in taking on an occupation traditionally held by men.
I believe all roles should be open to both men and women, be it as a CEO, a Vice-President or blacksmithing in rural India. Life is full of challenges but with a faith that is strong we can overcome the highest hurdles.
I am moved by seeing so many women on the streets of Myanmar as they join the Civil Disobedience movement and call for a restoration to democracy and their rights. These women (and men) are sacrificing the safety and security of their families and themselves, in search of a just and peaceful resolution for all their peoples.
In an article written by former Director of the Metta Foundation, Laphai Seng Raw, she says of the current situation in the face of the military coup,
‘The tunnel that we have had to pass through is a very long one…70 plus years, and there is still no sign of light that we are nearing the end. The leaders have staunchly blocked the exit…the question is what should we do to get out of that tunnel for better tomorrows?’
Every tomorrow begins today so I would join in solidarity with Seng Raw and the women of Myanmar in challenging the unlawful military coup and calling the International community to become active for justice, equality and dignity in Myanmar.
Amanda Khozi Mukwashi
The idea that the expression of emotions when women leaders make interventions is somehow a poor reflection on their leadership abilities is one that I choose to challenge.
Emotions, whether openly expressed or suppressed, affect the choices that are made in many board rooms and leadership spaces. Indeed, it is a sign of confidence, self-awareness and humanness to be able to reflect those emotions.
It is not the expression of emotions in decision making that is the issue, to the contrary, it is the lack thereof or the expression to the detriment of those around you that must be checked. Women should not feel bad nor be made to feel less than, because of occasionally expressing their emotions about decisions.
Being angry about injustice, being outraged about millions of people who are displaced and are in danger of starvation cannot all be bottled up and packaged. Women’s ability to share those emotions when they choose to speaks of people who are free, secure in themselves and powerful.
This International Women's Day I also wish to challenge the idea that an angry black woman is necessarily irrational.
Millions of black women worldwide have experienced and continue to experience multiple disadvantages. Constantly having to fight for their dignity and for their human rights to be respected, they carry the burden of generations of oppression, mistreatment and multiple injustices.
When they are angry, they are not irrational. They are angry full stop. Does that make them less than? No, it does not. They continue the quest for justice, they are producers of the food that we all depend on in many countries, they educate our children, they work in our hospitals and care homes, looking after our elderly making life and death decisions on a daily basis.
I ask that instead of dismissing their anger, that we learn to respect them, support them and stand with them to create a world where that anger will no longer be necessary.
I choose to challenge the stereotype that women in the Middle East are passive and weak. The reality is much different: the women we work with, in our partner organisations and the communities they serve, are heroic.
Some of the strongest, most outspoken and formidable women I know are from the Middle East. Some cover their heads and some do not. Some believe and some do not. Whatever the perception of Middle Eastern women, the day to day experiences they endure under occupation and protracted conflict require them to be heroic.
We should rise to the challenge of supporting these women, as equals.
I was recently overjoyed to learn that a maternity hospital that Christian Aid Kenya constructed with our partner Anglican Development Services of Mt Kenya East (ADSMKE) with funding from Bread for the World has saved many lives of pregnant women and new born babies, and has become the maternity hospital of choice in Isiolo county.
However, I am pained when statistics are read, and stories highlighted in the media of many women dying while giving birth in other marginalised communities in Kenya, despite this proof of concept that county governments can emulate.
There is clearly lack of political will to prioritise the health of women and girls, and their lack of voice and agency and systemic gender discrimination and patriarchy makes the situation worse. This is despite so much work and advocacy by gender advocates like me.
I choose to raise my voice for the rights of women and girls to be granted their sexual reproductive health rights and the right to health. I choose to challenge county governments and ministry of health to allocate budgets and raise resources to improve health facilities and staffing and address the plight of these pregnant women and girls who remain at the mercy of traditional birth attendants. This should stop!