Happy International Women’s Day! Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day that was birthed out of poor working conditions for women in Europe in 1911 but blossomed into a yearly celebration to honor women around the globe. Go ahead and tell a special woman in your life how great they are! (And if you are a woman, include yourself!). There are countless reasons to celebrate women and the contribution they’ve made to our lives and society as a whole.
The theme for 2011 is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”. This is relevant for all nations, including the US, but what stands out in my mind is a trip to Bangladesh for work about a year ago. I was in the countryside sitting in a circle with Bangladeshi women along with a Kenyan colleague of mine, Winnie. The purpose of the gathering was to observe a unique women’s savings and credit group model popular in Bangladesh (similar to micro-financing). With the help of a translator, we were able to ask questions and exchange ideas. The village women asked for our opinion on their program and for any suggestions we may have. When Winnie spoke, one thing that I found powerful was, “You educate a girl, you educate a village. You then educate the world”. The women around the circle had a moment of understanding and nodded in agreement. I have fortunately grown up in a society that allows equal education to women and girls, but I am keenly aware this is not the case for many women around the world, particularly in developing countries. Women who are educated are able to contribute to the family income. This also increases their status and decision-making process within the family unit. They are often the primary caretakers of children and most likely will invest their income into their children’s health, well-being and education. This unfortunately is not always the case with their male counterparts. In addition, educating a woman reduces child mortality, reduces , prevents the spread of HIV/AIDS. Through time, this eventually leads to broad social impacts and positive change within the family, community, nation and hopefully the world.
The Bangladeshi women eventually asked me what “advice” I had to give them. They wanted to know how is it that the US is such a wealthy country. In other words, what have we done right? All I could think was: how in the world am I supposed to answer that question? I had no idea. What came out of my mouth was: the US invests in education for both boys and girls and this allows for increased economic earning potential and higher standards of living. This is an extremely broad statement and I am well aware that in the US, women’s salaries are on average still lower than men’s, executive positions are mostly occupied by men, working conditions are not always fair, and that there is still a long way to go for . The US also has its own fair share of poverty and injustices. But in that moment I grasped the understanding of how access to education for both girls and boys has and does make a difference. It was right in front of me. In places like Bangladesh and Kenya, the correlation between education and poverty is almost palpable. So in my perspective, the theme for this years’ International Women’s Day is a worthwhile cause indeed.
What I wanted to say to the women and never did is that what they had, who they were, and how they were transforming their community was perfect. That they didn’t need to strive for what the US had, but to instead strive for more. And that they were extraordinarily amazing.
Thank you to miss Connie Grace Winterstein for writing today's post. How inspiring!