Friday, March 8, is International Women’s Day. It seems to me, unfortunately, that women in the United States do not observe this important date as much as we should. Maybe it’s because, even with the inequalities that remain in our country, we still have it pretty good — good enough to make us complacent and forgetful even, of how much we have to be grateful for and celebrate.
But as the “lucky ones,” relatively speaking, I think we owe it to our sisters in other parts of the world that don’t have it so well, to observe this day and do something to help those women with less opportunity.
From my travels, experience, reading and just years of life on the planet, three of the things that strike me as core issues for women today, particularly in countries with emerging economies are:
* Water (and subsequently health)
* Literacy / Education
Lack of Clean Water – and therefore health
Of the 1.3 billion people living in abject poverty, the majority are women and children. With this poverty, most often comes a lack of access to clean water. In addition to the physical harm that comes with having to carry heavy loads of water (and its often not even somewhat clean water) long distances, women in poor regions with no access to running water lose a lot of time – time to take care of their children, educate themselves and their children, and time to to spend on a livelihood to improve their lot in life.
But, they also lose their health, which continues the cycle of poverty because they are too sick to work at jobs or raising food.
According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP), “37% per cent of the developing world’s population – 2.5 billion people – lack improved sanitation facilities, and over 780 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services, coupled with poor hygiene practices, kills and sickens thousands of children every day, and leads to impoverishment and diminished opportunities for thousands more.
In fact, every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of poor sanitation. That’s 1.5 million preventable deaths each year.
Poor sanitation, water and hygiene have many other serious repercussions. Children – and particularly girls – are denied their right to education because their schools lack private and decent sanitation facilities. Poor farmers and wage earners are less productive due to illness, health systems are overwhelmed and national economies suffer. Without WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), sustainable development is impossible.”
Violence Against Women
It is when trying to transport water to their villages on unprotected trips down to water sources that women are often subjected to violence via regional conflict. This violence against them often involves sexual brutality and horrendous acts. But, one of the biggest segments in violence against women is domestic violence. Statistics from the United Nations state that in far too many countries 7 in 10 women can expect to be beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their lifetimes. Aside from the obvious results – death or obvious injury – this violence can result in physical, mental, sexual, reproductive health and other health problems, and may increase vulnerability to HIV.
The World Health Organization has concluded that violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence against women – are major public health problems and violations of women’s human rights. A World Bank report, which estimates that more women aged 15-44 are killed violently than die of malaria, HIV, cancer, accidents and war combined.
Studies have shown that for both perpetrator and victim, attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality, and low education or illiteracy, play a major role in the problem.
Which brings us to illiteracy. In my neighborhood, we just celebrated the opening of the new long-awaited Gum Spring Library. On the first day over 6,500 people visited the library – many of those were women and couples with young children. More than 14,500 materials were checked out the first weekend. But, in way too many countries, a library – even the ability to read – is a luxury people will never live to see. And this lack of literacy fosters not only conditions that lead to violence, but help to keep women, and men, in a cycle of poverty that includes a lack of access to clean water, which makes people sick and keeps them from working to pull themselves out of that poverty.
In spite of the fact that most development agencies identify women’s literacy as the single most important factor in development, one out of every three women in the world cannot read and write. And, in some countries, men would like to keep it that way. Remember the attack in October by the Taliban on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai for her attempts to promote girls’ education in Pakistan.
Lack of water. Violence. Illiteracy. They are intertwined in keeping women around the globe from achieving their potential and contributing to the betterment of the human race, the environment, and the planet.
On Friday, March 8, please observe International Women’s Day – make a vow to take a step – even just one small one within the next week – for the benefit of a woman somewhere who’s suffering, and for women everywhere. Make a donation, write a Congressman, talk to your daughters or a class at school or church about women’s issue such as domestic violence … if we all did SOMETHING, we could make a difference
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