International Women's Day (8 March) celebrates and highlights the achievements of women around the world. It also puts a spotlight on the inequalities women still struggle against. IWD is a national holiday in over 25 countries. Australia isn’t included, however we also have a male Minister for Women, so we probably have bigger questions to ask ourselves.
For IWD 2015 I want to encourage Australians to renew (or commence) their commitment to the empowerment of women in developing countries through everyday actions.
Obviously this one is close to my heart as the founder of Change Merchants. We are a business, however we have unapologetically prioritised stocking products made by women wanting to empower themselves economically. Those of our producers who are not solely women, are often mostly women, particularly in handicrafts.
Economic empowerment is the most reliable path to the improved status of women. When women are in control of their own incomes, and their income is steady and sufficient, whole families are lifted out of poverty.
This is backed up by research. According to the International Center for Research on Women, where women's participation in the labour force grew fastest, the economy experienced the largest reduction in poverty rates across the board. Furthermore, economic empowerment means more women can own property, which means they can have more bargaining power at home. The research says that this in turn can help reduce their vulnerability to domestic violence and HIV infection.
You can buy most of your day to day consumables from fair or ethical suppliers, and many of them are projects that directly work with, or benefit women. A few notable retailers are mentioned below. So back up your commitment to women with your wallet and seek out products that support producers as well as your shopping habit.
Women’s human rights need to be upheld internationally to address inequality. Our ‘human rights’ include almost all aspects of our lives, the laws we are governed by, our range of life opportunities and the basic services we access. What is less commonly acknowledged is that women also have a right to live their life according to their culture and religion. They have a right to analyse the cultural issues affecting them, and to change their cultures from within if they choose. They also have the right to reject what is imposed upon them by other cultures.
As Australian women we need to support women in our own country and all over the world to express their identities in ways chosen by them. If this means wearing hijab, observing a cultural or religious holiday, or wearing a short skirt, we should support the rights of all women to live as they choose and have their voices heard. The key is to make sure the voices we are listening to are those of women themselves, not male gatekeepers speaking on their behalf (Ahem! Mr Abbott: “Minister for Women”…)
Actually, this one is good for every member of poorer communities, including men. The statistics show that the level of women’s financial security, education and health are the factors that most directly correlate with the wellbeing of poorer families.
Most international non-profits recognise this, which is why there are multitudes of programs specifically designed to benefit women’s economic participation. From supporting women’s cooperatives, to small business training, mum’s and bub’s nutrition and human rights education, female-focussed initiatives benefit entire communities. When I donate cash, it’s usually to a charity focusing on women’s development.
Which leads us to:
Our foreign aid used to be a source of pride for Australia. We were the little country that punched above its weight in terms of giving back to the world and being responsible global citizens. Now we have slashed our aid budget, which is a mere 0.22% of GDP, and the lowest level it has been in our history. This puts us behind countries such as the UK, the United Arab Emirates and our neighbours in New Zealand, and well below the recommended level of 0.7% of GDP for developed countries. Despite our status as the fourth-wealthiest member of the OECD, we are not pulling our weight, globally, and we need to let our politicians know how we feel about it.
Why is this a women’s issue? The slashing of Australia’s aid budget directly affects projects that support women’s economic development, as even Australian aid that is not targeted at women incorporates strategies that specifically promote the equal development of women, as a policy imperative. The effect of program cuts is therefore disproportionately felt by women.
It is through women’s education and the empowerment of mothers, that children and families benefit. Foreign Aid works! According to Oxfam, with aid assistance, 11 (of 29) countries in our region (Asia-Pacific) are significantly reducing their child mortality rates. Or they were, before the last budget was handed down.
Increased education for women and girls correlates with higher levels of economic development for communities, and higher levels of empowerment for women. So when you do donate to your favourite charity this year, think about the significant impact that better education can have on women, children and whole communities.
You should also consider supporting social enterprises that provide women with a business education, such as those helping them to set up their own small businesses. This takes us back to Point 2: Buy more products from female fair and ethical traders.
If you’re looking to use your purchasing power to support women artisans and micro-entrepreneurs, here are a few websites where you can find gifts, home wares, jewellery and clothing that benefit women:
Seven Women – Aussie based, they work with women in rural Nepal. You can buy clothing made from silk saris and super cute felt kids toys. The finger puppets might even be as much fun for adults as kids!
Global Mamas – seriously funky clothing for men, women and kids, accessories and home wares. They ship to Australia, and sizes are compatible with Aussie sizing (I have a great cotton dress made by these talented women that I just love).
Oxfam Shop – probably Australia’s largest range of Fair Trade products, and they stock lots of products made by women.
Dharma Door – beautiful and high-end Fair Trade home wares, many of which are made by women in developing countries. Their jute bags are really gorgeous.
Of course, it’s easy to find products benefiting women on the Change Merchants website, and we support these producers by paying fair prices and paying upfront, never on commission. Some producers to note are:
Art Camp Mexican Jewellery – beautiful silver jewellery made by women artisans. They use centuries old techniques to create modern earrings using polished stone and abalone shells, and the hooks are hypo-allergenic so won't turn your ears green or irritate them.
International Princess Project – the makers of PUNJAMMIES™, which are PJs and lounge wear made by women who have escaped sexual slavery, and learnt new tailoring skills to support themselves and their families. They're 100% cotton and super comfy.
Starfish Project – stylish and modern jewellery and accessories, made by women who have escaped exploitation. I just love their basic but elegant onyx wire wrap earrings.
Bottom line is that there are myriad ways to support the rights and empowerment of women both at home and abroad through our everyday actions. Start today by making this International Women's Day count for women everywhere, and then lets think about doing the same tomorrow and everyday after.
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