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By Miracle Nwankwo

“I’ve dedicated my life to empowering girls of colour to get into surfing and to find the peace that they need through the sport”

Imani Wilmot

We all make decisions at some point in our lives that could determine our future and that of other people. When the decisions we make affect the lives of other people positively, we contribute to the global sustainable development goals thus making the world a better place.

By Miracle Nwankwo

“If someone as privileged as me is worried about managing her periods during the lockdown, you can only imagine how tough it is for women in containment zones with no new income.”

On hearing the announcement on the governments’ decision to instigate the lockdown policy early this year, we all ran into panic buying, but a few persons rather swung into a panic over the poor and less privilege. We cannot imagine the kind of pain and lack these set of people must be facing especially the women and girls who have to deal with stereotyped issues like menstrual hygiene.

Women continue to play a critical role towards reducing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an effort to raise awareness of the deadly pandemic, Coronavirus, Mrs. Betty Anyanwu – Akeredolu, First Lady of Ondo State, Southwest Nigeria, has organized a training for town criers within five autonomous communities in her hometown, Emeabiam, Umuokpo, Eziobodo, Eziokele, and Okolochi – Imo state, Nigeria.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health issue. It is a profound shock to our societies and economies, and as mostly evident in the face of pandemics and crisis, women’s role are extremely critical in all care and response efforts. A 2019 Analysis carried out in 104 Countries by the WHO on Gender Equality in the Health Workforce found that Women form 70% of workers in the health and social sector.

 

As frontline responders, health professionals, community volunteers, transport and logistics managers, scientists and more, women are making critical contributions to address the current COVID-19 pandemic every day.  A report by the Shanghai Women’s Federation states that more than 90 percent of the nurses and 50 percent of the doctors combating the epidemic are women, and in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, there are an estimated 100,000 women working as frontline medical staff.

Likewise, the majority of caregivers, at home and in our communities, are also women. A report by Family Caregiver Action Network stated that approximately 66% of family caregivers are women, and according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the percentage of family or informal caregivers who are women range from 53 to 68 percent.

This leaves them at an increased risk of infection and loss of livelihood, not to mention less access to sexual and reproductive health and rise in domestic violence during crisis. 

In addition to caregiving responsibilities at home and in the communities, women still comprise the majority of health and social care workers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women in the U.S. hold 76% of health-care jobs, and in nursing, where workers are on the front lines of patient interactions, women make up more than 85% of the workforce, and are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. 

Hence, this article looks at the many contributions of women in the frontline of combating the COVID-19 epidemic.

One of the measures put in place worldwide to stop or reduce the spread of the virus is massive school closures. This have particularly affected women because they still bear much of the responsibility for childcare, and home tutoring of their kids. Nearly 300 million students globally are currently missing class due to virus-led school closures, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The mass shutdown of childcare centers and schools across 15 countries, as well as localized closures in a further 14 countries, has left many working parents with little choice but to take time off, or to try to work from home while caring for their children.

As The New York Times reports, the closing of schools’ hits women particularly hard because much of the responsibility for childcare still falls on them.

Those who are poor, working in service jobs that cannot be done from home, and those without paid leave are especially vulnerable. Another unintended consequence of school closure is strain on health systems, according to UNESCO, with many medical professionals struggling to find childcare.

Women already do three-times as much unpaid care work than men – and caring for relatives with the virus adds to the burden.

Research from China suggests that while COVID-19 is infecting men and women in about equal numbers, women appear less likely to die from the virus than men. A study of some 44,600 people with COVID-19 from the Chinese Center for Disease Control showed the death rate among men was 2.8%, compared with 1.7% for women. Scientists say there could be a number of reasons for this difference, including biological and lifestyle factors. For example, Chinese men are much more likely than women to smoke, which harms the immune system. Also, women tend to produce stronger immune responses against infections than men.

However, in other, perhaps less obvious ways, the virus appears to disproportionately affect women. As the fight against COVID-19 continues, an increasing number of women around the world are in the front lines. Many of them will be expected to work longer hours, while juggling domestic responsibilities such as childcare.

Women and girls already do most of the world’s unpaid care work and are more likely to do so during this global pandemic.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), globally, women perform 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three-times as much as men. In Asia and the Pacific, that figure rises to 80%.

As health systems become stretched, many people with COVID-19 will need to be cared for at home, adding to women’s overall burden, as well as putting them at greater risk of becoming infected.

As we all strive to stay safe during this global pandemic, we laud those women on the frontline of caregiving this period.

Watch this space as we bring you more inspiring stories of the World’s Heroines in the fore front of the COVID-19 battle.

 

Sheba Nyam

By Miracle Nwankwo

In commemoration of the International Women’s Day we would like to appraise the efforts of women philanthropist and humanitarians in war-torn areas and refugee camps all over the world, working towards making life worth a living for most refugee women.

As such, we bring you the story of the inspirational activities of two women in Jerash Refugee camp in Jordan.

In a world where women are compelled to carry the burden of providing for their families in refugee camps as a result of war, Noora Sharrab and Jacqueline Sofia founded a women-led social enterprise, Sitti Soap – to empower women in Jerash Refugee camp.

It all began when Noora started working in a refugee camp and she founded an NGO called Hopes for Women in Education. Through her NGO she got connected with many other refugee camps, including Jerash, where Sitti is currently located. She soon met Jacqueline, who just arrived Jordan as a Fulbright Fellow and they immediately bonded. During the same period, the Italian Embassy had empowered a group of women with the skill of cold-pressed olive oil soap making. Of which most of the women were from the Jerash camp.

Having learnt the art of soap making, the women were disadvantaged in terms of lack of means to market the product or to make any money out of their newly acquired skill. Fortunately, they met Noora and expressed their concerns. It was on hearing about the situation that Sitti began to take form in the hearts of Noora and Jacqueline.

Noora and Jacqueline decided to partner and join forces to help these women achieve something with their lives. They knew these women needed to find a source of sustainable income to help their families.

When Sitti was conceived these two women began to work hard to make the idea a reality, not for their own gains or for the advertisement of the soap itself, but most importantly “to amplify the stories of these women whose desires are now geared towards finding purpose. 

The soap making business whether produced from natural or chemical, handmade or machine-made is not new to the business world or the manufacturing industry. However, what is somewhat new is a bunch of refugee women making and selling handmade olive oil-based soap which is now a multi-national brand and can be found in various outlets across the Middle East and North America.

The zeal of these resilient refugee women, who, out of nothing, wanted to make something out of their lives ignited hunger in Noora and Jacquiline who are now spending the significant parts of their lives creating employment for refugee women.

Some of the women had never worked before and they did not have access to jobs outside of the refugee camp. So Noora and Jacquilie concluded that if they have to help these women achieve their dreams then it would require creating a conducive environment for them to work. So they found a place in the refugee camp and renovated it from start to finish.

They did not stop at that, they went further to organize a crowdfunding campaign and they were fortunate to gather enough fund that covered the salaries of three full-time workers for about a year. As result Sitti came to into existence.

 

According to Noora, ‘Sitti’ is an Arabic word which means ‘my grandmother’. The idea for the company stems from the traditions of how grandmothers used natural ingredients to make household materials with their hands.

Currently, Sitti product line has grown from a signature square bar of cold-pressed olive oil soap to a line of over 10 skincare and home good items. Sitti has also continued to provide fair wage employment to its all-female staff as well as creating several beneficiary programmes that contribute towards the company’s mission, throughout the past years.

In pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals, Sitti aims to support other areas of the Jerash economy.

A great philanthropist once said: “It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved.” –Mother Teresa

As years and decades pass by new troubles and problems continues to unfold all around the world. From hunger to war, climate change, gender inequality, female genital mutilation, poverty, deteriorating health care, insecurities and the list is endless. 

As such various international organisations and non-governmental organisations are continuously established and launched to help solve these problems for a better and peaceful world. 

However, what is more striking and inspiring are the individual responses and reactions through aids and supports channeled towards saving humanity from the various problems that they face daily.

In Nepal Rita Thapa founded Tewa after returning from Beijing, where she spoke on a panel at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing. (The same conference where Hillary Clinton famously declared “women’s rights are human rights.”)

She had been granted a full scholarship to study at a university in New Zealand, but on returning from Beijing she quit her job, declined her scholarship and cleared out a room in her house to start what is now known as Tewa.

Twenty-two years later, Tewa is a well-established nonprofit in Nepal, driving out discrimination and injustice through women’s empowerment programs. Unlike most nonprofits in the country, Tewa, which means support in Nepali, strives to collect more than half of its funds from within Nepal. It is a radical vision for a nonprofit in one of the world’s poorest countries, where the average annual income per person is $2,520 and foreign aid in 2015 totaled $1.2 billion.

Thapa’s decision to launch Tewa may have appeared abrupt. But it was in fact the culmination of a lifetime of events, starting with Thapa’s forced marriage to an older man at the age of 18. Her husband later died in an accident, and Thapa was plunged into the harsh world of Hindu widow rituals, which range from wearing all white to verbal abuse to solitary confinement.

“If a privileged woman like me in Nepal was suffering so many discriminations and backlashes on account of being a ‘Hindu widow’—quote unquote, that’s what everybody thinks I am—I felt that … I had really no choice,” said Thapa of her decision to start Tewa.

Thapa’s struggles as a widow were followed by a period of professional struggles, also central to Tewa’s conception. After her husband died, Thapa went into the field of development to support her children and moved into a house her parents owned in Kathmandu.

To get Tewa off the ground, Thapa asked her girlfriends to sell their best jewelry and donate the proceeds to her fledgling operation. She recruited affluent housewives and influential women in Nepal to become Tewa advisors and support the organization through membership dues. She referred to herself not as an executive director, but as a coordinator, eschewing the hierarchical structures that she would see thwart progress at large INGOs.

Thapa envisioned an organization that would be free from the flaws that she would encountered again and again in her early career. In most of her positions prior to Tewa, she was managed by white, male foreigners who she said disregarded the advice of their Nepali staff at the peril of their programs. The more time she spent in aid and development, the more concerned she became. At a refugee camp in Nepal, she found out that men in charge were distributing extra supplies to women who lived at the camps in exchange for sexual favors. In the grantmaking sphere, she saw nonprofit leaders crafting proposals to cater to the whims of funders; others received grants only if they promised a kickback to the granting officer.

“I could not be part of a system which was contradictory to the very thing it was offering to do. Working to eradicate poverty and injustices from within structures where poverty and injustices were reproduced on a daily basis seemed a little short of schizophrenic to me,” Thapa wrote in her essay, “Feminist Action in Aidland: Experiences in Nepal.

“I felt development had to be done differently,” she wrote, “with more heart, respect and compassion.”

Empowering women through grantmaking

Tewa has done things differently. To date, the organization has awarded nearly 600 grants, typically to registered women’s organizations in remote Nepalese communities.

“That group takes the money for whatever their greatest need is. It may be a beekeeping project that they want to do with the community women. It may be a goat-raising project. It may be a vegetable-farming project. But basically, they are building a small infrastructure for income generation or capacity building projects,” Thapa said.

The value of Tewa’s locally rooted approach crystallized in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015.

The quake killed nearly 9,000 people, destroyed more than 500,000 homes, and left some 2.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Major aid organizations scrambled to reach the hardest-hit communities. But Tewa reached 120 communities in 15 affected-districts within 70 days, often delivering the first wave of relief in struggling remote villages.

While many INGOs struggled with bureaucratic trappings, Tewa mobilized a group of 22 Nepalese women named “Shadow Barefoot Volunteers.” They carried cash to earthquake-devastated communities and gave it away to survivors in $100 batches.

“We were told it would not be secure, but we felt whenever disaster strikes suddenly people become victims. But people are like you and I. Yes, we’d be in shock for a little while, but how would we lose our common sense and our integrity and whatever we hold dear? So, we just trusted that they knew what they most needed for themselves,” Thapa said.

Tewa’s disaster relief model quickly evolved to include asking grantees if they would be willing to redirect $1 of their $100 grant to another earthquake survivor in need. Almost universally, they agreed.

“We met with the same success everywhere. You treat people like people and not victims, and they’ll respond like that,” Thapa said.

Tewa’s success stands in stark contrast to earthquake recovery as a whole in Nepal. The Accountability Lab, a nonprofit that operates in Nepal, reported earlier this year that barely 5% of earthquake-destroyed houses have been rebuilt.

Direct giving programs that follow similar models to Tewa’s have also yielded promising results. MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, in partnership with an American charity, GiveDirectly, found that people don’t waste direct cash grants on cigarettes and booze. They use it to buy better food for their families, invest in their children’s education and start profitable businesses.

Institute of Cultural Affairs, another nonprofit in Nepal, also distributes grants to women with entrepreneurial goals. High above Kathmandu valley, in a hilltop village called Changunarayan, an ICA-funded women’s center is transforming the community. When I visited Changunarayan a few months ago, I met a woman who makes sanitary napkins, by hand, to distribute to other rural communities where menstruation is still taboo. I met a woman who manages a thriving candy-making enterprise, using a fruit native to Nepal. I met Devaka Shrestha, who runs the center, including its new library, and the grant program that is fueling it all.

“The community has changed a lot,” Shrestha told me from a tidy room on the top floor of the center. “Instead of the men, the women are taking initiative. They’re not limited to household activities.”

Backed by Tewa, women in a village hit hard by the 2015 earthquake, Sindhupalchowk, are also stepping into new roles. One woman in the village recently ran for public office. This is exactly the kind of locally led progress that Rita Thapa has fought her whole life trying to foster.

“It’s women who are holding the peace in their communities. It’s women who are holding their communities together, and without focusing on them, there is nothing,” Thapa said from Kathmandu, where she remains determined to change the aid system in Nepal, no matter how long it takes.

Source: Forbes