For 2020’s recognition of International Day of Rural Women, the focus is on building women’s resilience in the wake of Covid-19. It cannot be stressed enough the importance at this time of recognising global gender inequality, particularly in rural communities. We are at a pivotal moment in the world to respond to the urgent need to “build back better” to generate sustainable change.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, of employed women, 92% are informal compared to 86% of men. Informal employment leaves women subject to poor working conditions, low pay, little social protection and without job security. Women make up a staggering proportion of the agriculture labour force as well as performing much of the household childcare and domestic duties in rural areas. While women farmers are just as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts they are less able to access land, markets, high-value agrifood chains and obtain lower prices for their crops. The UN estimates that if women in rural areas had the same access to agricultural assets, education and markets as men that agriculture production would increase. In turn that this could lead to the reduction of hungry people by 100 – 150 million.
Worldwide, nearly 1 in 4 girls aged 15–19 years is neither employed nor in education or training compared to 1 in 10 boys of the same age. All around the world children and youth are out of education as a result of COVID. Even before 2020, youth classified as NEET (Not in education, employment or training) was on an upward trajectory, however, as of this year, it was reported to have reached 267 million of which 181 million are women.
Over the years, Workaid has been able to support amazing projects in East Africa that have equipped people with vocational skills. One such project is Spotlight on Africa’s (HSoA) tailoring and seamstress course. In November 2017 we sent HSoA ten manual sewing machines with accessories and two knitting machines. This highly popular course has had four sets of graduates since then! Previously, classes took place outside with students carrying the sewing machines back and forth from storage three times a week. However, with a grant from P&G, they now have a purpose-built Design and Tailoring Centre designated for their classes. Additionally, students can display and sell beautiful handmade garments such as clothes, bags, table clothes and furnishings. Furthermore, several graduates have also gone on to set up Saving Schemes to support one another.
Another wonderful example is the Mitooma Women’s Dignity Foundation (MIWODIF), Uganda. They received Workaid’s donations back in May 2017. At the time of providing feedback, they reported that as a direct result of our support that they had 60 new trainees. Forty of whom trained as tailors and 18 in knitting. Understandably, it is even more motivating for Workaid to get a chance to hear the personal stories of trainees in these projects. Take Hellen, a 20yr old school dropout who once graduating started a tailoring shop. Now financially stable and able to support herself and her family. Or Malius, an orphan turned knitting trainee, now, employed using her skills to teach others. With her earnings, she paid for her two sisters school fees. These are perfect cases that highlight why we do what we do and the direct impact it will have in generating sustainable change.
In the wake of COVID, reports show that women are losing their livelihoods at a faster rate than men. Before the pandemic, women did nearly three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. With an overstretched healthcare system and school closures, this demand has increased. All of which are compounded by existing gender norms. Young girls are already at greater risk of dropping out of education and not returning which is likely to jump. Furthermore, as a women’s land and property rights are often dependent on her husband, many women now widowed due to COVID are at risk of disinheritance. These structural barriers impact all aspects of their lives including access to education, healthcare and sanitation and food security.
Gender equality is essential to the achievement of all SDG’s. We must take this opportunity as we attempt to re-build. Recognising, the structural problems that have been embedded in society and acting to dismantle them. It is crucially important that women are in leadership positions and empowered to have their say. Particularly on the development of existing and new laws, policies and strategies that will affect their lives. With meaningful changes, this could be a vital turning point in combatting global gender inequality.