International Women's Day - a day in the life of a womanBy Cathy Burke | Mar 08, 12 08:43 AM
Cathy Burke, the phenomenal CEO of The Hunger Project Australia reflects on what it’s like for hundreds of millions of women around the world.
I’ve just returned from spending time with grass roots women leaders in the villages of southwestern Rajasthan. They are fiercely courageous. Against enormous obstacles they are standing up to corruption, bringing water to their villages and starting schools. They rock!!
In the lead up to International Women’s Day its good to reflect on the status of women and hunger, and consider both how far we have to go, and how doable the distance is. Ending hunger in our generation is truly possible.
Having women empowered is critical to ending hunger and poverty.
Did you know, that in the countries where hunger still persists, there is a huge paradox? On one hand societies entrust the birthing, raising, feeding and educating a family to women. And then on the other hand, this same society systematically denies women the education, voice, freedom of movement, opportunity and safety to be able to carry out this duty. It’s bizarre.
This is why the UN and considerable research conclude that the key to solving the remaining hunger and poverty is to empower women. What does empower mean? It includes giving women a voice in decisions that affect their lives, educating them on their rights, and valuing girl children.
It can be hard to understand just the sort of drudgery and low status hundreds of millions of women still face even in the 21st century. Whilst we complain about our busy lives, consider the following typical day for many women alive today.
A woman rises first, before dawn. She goes to the toilet and this might be her time throughout the whole day. There is no privacy for ablutions and outrageously a woman can be assaulted as she tries to go to the toilet.
She walks some distance to collect wood for the fire and starts it to prepare a small meal. She feeds the animals. She walks to get water, often miles. Now let’s stop and look at what’s in this one small sentence. Fetching water is a tiresome, burdensome and essential part of a woman’s day. Often they carry 20L containers, sometimes for miles. I dare you to carry this weight to your letter box and back. It’s bloody heavy. And before she even gets to take it home she may have to haul the water up by a bucket from the well. I’ve done this and its very heavy and the rope burns. It can take 30 or more goes to bring up the water from the well, and sadly it is often so cloudy and dirty as to be not fit for human consumption. Of course, this water is bought home to the family because even dirty water is better than no water. Sadly the fuel or the education may not exist to let the women know that the water needs to be boiled before it is drunk. (Hence the prevalence of deaths by diarrhea, all completely avoidable if we made safe drinking water a priority.)
When she gets back from the well she may be beaten by her husband. Yes its true! It seems inconceivable that after walking some miles to fetch water you could be beaten, but if the husband thinks she has taken too long he may beat her, accusing her of stopping off and having sex along the way.
The woman wakes the family, feeds the baby and serves some small food if there is some there, otherwise tea.
She prepares a meal for her husband’s lunch and then goes to work in her small patch where she produces food for the family, or she may go to the field she works in as a labourer, earning half of what her husband earns.
At the end of the day she walks to the well again to fetch more water. She then fetches firewood and begins cooking the meal her family will eat. In Africa this might be a meal of corn (maize) or sweet potato and cassava. In South Asia this meal usually consists of boiled rice, some onion and chili.
She serves the meal first to her husband and he will eat his fill. Then the sons, then the daughters, and finally herself. She breastfeeds the baby.
She then cleans the dishes and tidies up the hut. She retires to bed after everyone else and awakens the next morning to start this routine all over again.
What is incredible is that even with this daily life as a backdrop, women are rising up. I’ve just come home from India and spoken to women who though non literate, are getting water to their villages. They are ensuring the right people are on the Below the Poverty Line lists for subsidized rice and not the rich families who corrupt the system. They are making sure girls and boys attend schools. They are fearless in the face of threats and unpleasantness.
There is an incredible up swell of leadership and consciousness emerging around the world. Let’s keep adding our energy to those women who wake up every day and figure out not just how they are going to feed their families, but how they will transform the system.
Cathy Burke is the CEO of The Hunger Project Australia.
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