08 March 2019 // Written by: Milimo Ninvalle, Darja Markek and Desiré Lewis
On Friday 8 March, the United Nations marks the 108th International Women’s Day (IWD) ‒ an occasion to celebrate women’s social, economic, political and cultural achievements around the world, as well as to advocate for gender parity. This year’s theme, Balance for Better, focuses on creating action towards achieving a gender-balanced world in all aspects of society.
While we’ve seen significant improvements in recent years with regards to women’s political empowerment, participation in decision-making and education, in some areas of the world, women are still unable to access basic services, freedoms and protection that are often taken for granted. From governments to classrooms, local to global economic opportunities and gender mainstreaming policy to practice – more needs to be done. ADRA-UK has been actively engaged with the goal by implementing gender-equitable programmes to make these things possible.
Below we share a few stories of women engaged in ADRA’s work in Thailand, eSwatini and Myanmar. Through education, farming and advocacy, they each share their challenges and achievements, exploring what it means to be a woman where they live and work, the difficulties they face, showing that more still needs to be done to achieve gender-balance around the world.
Learning to stand
Advocating for Migrant Workers’ Rights ‒ Thailand
Khin Than Oo had been employed at the Omega garment factory in Ban Saung Kweer since 2004. Originally from Myanmar, she moved to Thailand in 2001 for work. When the factory suddenly reduced workers’ hours to 10-15 days a month in 2017 (due to a planned relocation), many workers struggled to make ends meet. Unable to relocate, her employer forced her to resign from her job, but Khin Than Oo refused. Instead, she participated in paralegal training, reported her case to the Labour Protection Office and took legal action against the factory, dismissing bribes from her employers to withdraw the case. She says,
“I really want to let factory owners know about how much difficulties migrants have faced after they lost their job without prior notice to close down the factory. Also, I want to prove to my co-workers [that] this is [how] we could fight for labour justice.”
Eventually, Khin Than Oo won her case, and received 25,000 Thai Baht in compensation, but more importantly, was able to keep her employment until 2018, which gave her enough time and security to find a new job. She emphasised how important her training was in helping her understand her rights, and now she uses her experience to teach others about what they can do to advocate for labour justice.
Leading on the Farm
Food security – eSwatini
Women farmers make up eight per cent of the world’s population, yet women still face inequality in their profession. Lack of access to land ownership, credit for seed, fertiliser and farm technologies results in women farmers producing lower yields than men, which impacts both food security and income.
Nonhlanhla Magalula is the Lead Farmer in a group of 49 farmers in Shiselweni region, eSwatini, and part of a Community Food and Nutrition Garden close to her homestead. Living in a region that experiences chronic food insecurity, Nonhlanhla also previously struggled to put food on the table, particularly after the 2016 drought. However, having gained access to a maize plot and being involved in the community garden, Nonhlanhla now smiles about her achievements. She has won first prize in local agricultural competitions for the quality of her cabbages, green peppers, beetroot and maize. She is also training 49 farmers in producing maize, sweet potatoes and vegetables to enable them to increase their yields and generate income. In addition, Nonhlanhla has been appointed as the vice chairperson of the local council and plays a key role in advising the local chief.
Not Just a Luck of the Draw
Education – Myanmar
Lway Arm Saw Hlaing is part of the worldwide network of women making a change in their local community. Her life was determined by a Student Youth Union draw. The paper she drew would reveal her teaching post. She was the new teacher of the Man Kyaut village. Except, when she arrived at the village, there was no school, no pupils, no school building, no resources and no place for her to sleep. “I was 21 when I arrived at the village. I was anxious! My parents were angry with me for going so far away from home, but I just wanted to teach; it’s my passion. I swore to myself
that no matter the consequences, I will improve the community with education. I had to agree rules with the Village Head because girls my age were getting married and many of the boys were taking amphetamines. Rule #1: Boys could not visit me after 7:00 pm. Rule #2: Boys could not touch me, not even my arm. I needed the community to respect me as a teacher, despite my age,” she says.
Lway met with the Village Head every day until he became weary. She forced his hand, to convince the community to open a school. She then convinced the Village Head to send donkeys on a three and a half, one-way journey, to collect the school resources and teaching aids. When the school opened, only ten attended but at the end of the school term, she had fifty-eight children attending. Her secret weapon: biscuits and sweets!
It’s hard not to be moved listening to Lway talking about her vision for education. Women like Lway have big dreams, but it’s those dreams that will expand the number of classes and teachers at the school and have every child in the community in school and learning!
ADRA-UK will officially celebrate International Women’s Day on Wednesday 13 March with a special programme.