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I am often invited to pose as an example of how far women can go. And I am typically asked how I feel about my career having worked in positions that were often exclusively held by men. I am of course proud of my achievement, fully aware that at no time in my upbringing was I told that I could not do certain things because I was female. But I am also aware that many women around the world face barriers and challenges that prevent them from succeeding in politics, from earning a living, from looking after their families, from running successful businesses or even from opening a bank account.
I “googled” the words “women and barriers” and I got 48,500,000 results. The World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development says clearly: Gender equality is smart economics. So leveling the playing field is not only about doing the right thing, it will help economies to develop. Our work on development should help us aspire to get less hits when we search for “women and barriers” on the web. Removing barriers to access to finance for women and making finance equal is not a small weapon in this battle.
One Sunday, I was invited for a late lunch at the house of Dorcas Wanjiku Njoroge in Thika. Deeply seated in armchairs in the living room, we enjoyed sukuma wiki, ugali and a bit of cooked meat while she told me the story of her life.
Today is International Women’s Day, and the empowerment of rural women is the theme of the ongoing 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. At the World Bank, it is a day to “think equal and to act equal.”
It is in this context that I share the life of Wanjiku, as told by her.
Wanjiku was born on in 1933 at a tea farm in Kiambu where her parents worked. As she grew up, she took care of the many children at the farm and was not taken to school, as her father did not see the use of education to a girl.
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We were sitting on floor mats in the hot and dusty Quartier Moustiquaire, the poorest neighborhood of Djibouti City, observing a group of new mothers and their children discussing child feeding practices. All of a sudden, there was an uproar in the group. One woman had her head bent down in shame, and several other women shouted and pointed fingers at her.
My Djiboutian counterparts told me the embarrassed woman was being criticized because her 5-year-old son still doesn’t speak. Rather than follow the ancestral tradition of giving water to her newborn, she chose to exclusively breastfeed her last child until he was 6 months old. The group asserted that this choice had led to the child’s developmental problems.
My immediate reaction to the scene was, “Peer pressure is a true obstacle to promoting optimal breastfeeding in Djibouti!”
Cũng có ở Tiếng việt
This Thursday, March 8, people will be celebrating International Women’s Day all around the world. Vietnam is no exception—there will be numerous events arranged by the Government, donors, mass organizations, NGOs, colleagues, and husbands. But what are we celebrating—and how will we celebrate the event?
Last year I went to a celebration of women’s day here in Vietnam where the women’s male colleagues had written little poems about how beautiful and sexy the women looked and how the men appreciated their beauty and femininity. This was such a new and intriguing way of celebrating Women’s day to me.
“Anything men can do, we can too.”
Shernette Chin of Jamaica could not imagine how her life would be without her job, which provides food on the table for her kids. To Shernette, men and women are equal. “A woman can do the same thing as a man can do. If men do carpentry, women can do it.”
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Thứ Năm tuần này, ngày 8/3/2012, toàn thế giới sẽ cùng kỷ niệm ngày Quốc tế Phụ nữ. Việt Nam cũng không phải ngoại lệ - Chính phủ, nhà tài trợ, các tổ chức đoàn thể, tổ chức phi chính phủ, đồng nghiệp và các ông chồng sẽ tổ chức hàng loạt sự kiện nhân ngày này. Nhưng chúng ta ăn mừng điều gì – và chúng ta sẽ kỷ niệm sự kiện này như thế nào?
Dịp này năm ngoái, tôi được tham dự một buổi lễ kỷ niệm Ngày Quốc tế Phụ nữ tại Việt Nam, tại đó, các đồng nghiệp nam đã viết các vần thơ ca ngợi sự xinh đẹp và quyến rũ của phụ nữ và đàn ông trân trọng vẻ đẹp cũng như sự nữ tính của họ thế nào. Đối với tôi, đây quả thực là một cách mừng ngày phụ nữ rất mới và thú vị.
Imagine things are looking up for you. You are running your own business transporting and selling charcoal to retailers in the area, your husband has a steady job, and together you own real estate which you rent out. Then, your husband dies – your in-laws and your husband’s kinsmen take all of the assets and are entitled to do so under law. You are left with nothing to rebuild your life and provide for your child. This is what happened to Anna in Kenya. Her story is not uncommon. Women’s rights groups in Kenya have been pushing for change and finally, with the institution of a new Constitution in August of 2010, their rights will be protected. This Constitution, the main purpose of which was to limit the powers of the executive, has risen from the ashes of ethnic violence following elections in 2007 in which over 1,100 people are believed to have been killed.
In terms of broad legal principles relating to women’s rights, Kenya’s new Constitution has two reforms. The first, is that customary law, still recognized in Kenya alongside codified law and common law, is no longer exempt from constitutional provisions prohibiting discrimination based on gender. As a result, discriminatory inheritance practices such as those that disinherited Anna will come under increased legal scrutiny. The second, is that in addition to gender being a prohibited ground for discrimination, protections were strengthened with a clause mandating equality based on gender, and a clause providing that parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during marriage and at the dissolution of marriage. In addition, Kenya has instituted specific provisions, so that Kenyan women can now pass citizenship to their spouses and children on equal footing with Kenyan men. The latter, a huge achievement as it empowers the other half of the population with the same right, is something many countries still continue to prohibit wives and mothers to do.