Tuesday, March 6, 2012

March 8: Education can win the future

It’s March, the month when the international community marks International Woman’s Day (IWD) by virtue of the economic, political and social achievements of women.
In the 21st century, with nearly half the world’s population of seven billion -- or 3,386,509,865 -- being female in figures published in 2009, one would have expected women issues and rights to become mainstream. Although we’ve come a long way since the first IWD event was run in 1911, there are still too many opportunities, injustices and inequalities to redress.

The United Nations, recognizing the critical role and contribution of rural women, has set the theme of International Women’s Day 2012 on March 8 as “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.”

In adopting its resolution on observing Women's Day in 1977, the General Assembly cited two reasons: (1) to recognize the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women, and (2) to recognize the contribution of women to the consolidation of international peace and security.

For the women of the world, the Day's symbolism has a wider meaning. It is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilize for meaningful change.

On this year’s theme, the UN says: “Key contributors to global economies, rural women play a critical role in both developed and developing nations -- they enhance agricultural and rural development, improve food security and can help reduce poverty levels in their communities. In some parts of the world, women represent 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, comprising 43 percent of agricultural workers worldwide.

“Estimates reveal that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent, lifting 100-150 million out of hunger.

“Healthcare, education, gender inequality and limited access to credit, however, have posed a number of challenges for rural women. Further, the global food and economic crisis and climate change have aggravated the situation. It is estimated that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls. Yet, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates reveal that productivity gains from ensuring equal access to fertilizers, seeds and tools for women could reduce the number of hungry people by between 100 million and 150 million.”

International Women’s Day, also under the slogan “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” hopes to include girls in some way and inspire minds globally.

This led to a long discussion with friends one evening last week about how this inspiration and change will come through background, upbringing, family and most importantly education. I believe the first step on the long road to equal opportunities and development has to be through education.

I remember an incident that marked me very early in my school years.

I didn’t like studying much and preferred to be out in the school courtyard playing. I must have been around eight and my grades were getting worse with each end-of-month report card. One day, after another bad monthly performance, my mom Vicky decided that as long as I was not interested in studying and learning, she could do with someone to help her around the house. So in coordination with the convent I was then attending in Tunis, Tunisia, she took me out of school and had me work as a housemaid. This went on in earnest for three days. On the fourth, I begged to go back to school.  The lesson was learnt and my grades picked up after that.

There are innumerable admirable women around the world who have achieved so much and who help others accomplish even more. I would feel hypocritical in trying to preach about “ending hunger and poverty” from the comfort of my urban couch. But maybe each one of us could in our respective circles, try to lift a small burden, enrich a mind, encourage attainments and help “connect girls and inspire futures.”

As with compass points that never change, so have the women in my life remain points of reference, love and inspiration.(The women in my life – 8 March 2011)

Although mom Vicky has been gone for 20 years, thanks are always due to her for being the strong, intelligent and outspoken women that she was. She taught me to have a voice but to be tolerant, understanding and without prejudice. Mom had class, insight, wisdom, courage and humor -- in health and in sickness -- until her last hours. Vicky is still my reference for a great woman.

For those of us women, who have had the privilege of an education and who are making their way through change and emancipation, let’s celebrate International Women’s Day by “educating forward” and inspiring a new generation. Let’s try and secure a bright, equal, safe and rewarding future for girls and women.

And as always, let’s not forget to thank and celebrate the men in our lives who help realize these goals.

Related posts:
Dearest Mom… -- 21 March 2011
Soulmates for life --  2 November 2010
Emma’s star -- 20 August 2010