Why Women’s Rights?
At ActionAid, we provide long-term support to women living in poverty so that they will be able to realise their rights and overcome the challenges that they face. The majority of those who live in poverty are women, which makes them more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, and in some cases, Child Marriage. At some point in their lives, 1 in 3 women around the world experience violence, with six women being killed every hour by men, who they very often know. ActionAid’s Women’s Rights Programme works on changing the opinions, attitudes and ultimately behaviours of communities so that women and girls can live their lives safe from discrimination, oppression and abuse. The Programme is funded by Irish Aid, the Irish Government’s programme for overseas development aid, and operates in communities in three countries, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal.
In particular, the programme focuses on “hard to reach women” or the women who are most marginalised in their communities.
The main aim of the Women’s Rights Programme is to empower these women, make their communities physically safer for them and ensure their economic security. This includes supporting women in preventing and responding to Gender Based Violence, improving their financial lives, and advocating for their rights at a local and national level, so that they can bring positive and sustainable change to their communities.
Root causes of poverty and inequality
Poverty rose in 2020 for the first time in 20 years. This can be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the impact climate change and conflict are having on communities around the world. Because of the pandemic, around 100 million additional people are living in poverty globally. The Gender Wage Gap is quite significant, and globally, women on average earn at least 24% less than men. The rate of domestic violence has also increased in many countries since the beginning of the pandemic. For example, France has seen an increase of 30% of reports of domestic violence, and Argentina has seen an increase of 25%. Programmes designed to improve the lives of women are more essential than ever to lift women out of poverty, and to empower them with the skills that they need. Also, in times in crisis, the ones who feel the brunt of this the most, are women.
Behaviour Change Approach
Over time, the programmes have evolved and changed, adapting to the needs of the communities that we work with. The ‘Behaviour Change’ approach is used in the Women’s Rights Programme. This approach aims to better analyse and understand what drives behaviour so that we can intervene to change behaviours that have a negative impact. Adopting the Behaviour Change Model has given us a deeper understanding of what causes people to behave in the way they do. It ultimately helps us to change people’s attitudes towards issues impacting women and girls, such as Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation. By going to the root causes of what motivates people, looking at their opportunities and capabilities to change, we can have a long-lasting impact on the future and lives of many women and girls.
Benefits of Women’s Rights Programme
There have been many people who have personally benefitted from partaking in ActionAid’s Women’s Rights Programme. One woman whose life was forever changed by the Women’s Rights Programme is Sandya.
Sandya lives in Nepal with her mother and father. Where they live, the female literacy rate is quite low, and a large proportion of the local population are children, because of girls getting married and becoming pregnant young. Sandya joined the Girl’s Group in her area, and her mother joined the Women’s Group. These were organized by the Samunnati Project through the Divya Yuva Club and ActionAid Nepal. By attending the Girl’s Group, Sandya learned skills to enable her to stand up against Child Marriage, and the impacts getting married young would have on her physical and mental health. She can now continue with her education, which she very much loves. As she says, ‘I am now able to speak out loud against child marriage.’ The programmes were based on the principle of Behaviour Change and focused on the safety and economic empowerment of women and girls. The causes of child marriage were also examined, and discussions were held on the high dropout rate of girls in schools.
Following these discussions, Sandya and her mother both decided to speak with Sandya’s father. A
st first he was resistant to what they had to say to him. But after he joined the Men’s Group, his mind and opinions changed. He now is against Child Marriage, and Sandya is continuing with her education.
The Women’s Rights Programme is vital in achieving Gender Equality
By addressing and getting to the root of discriminatory and sexist behaviour, it is possible that the oppressive structures that hold up the patriarchy can be shaken, and the goal of achieving Gender Equality can appear a reality. With the Women’s Rights Programme continuing to educate and empower communities, hopefully women and girls will be able to achieve their hopes and aspirations and be free to live their lives whichever way they choose.
Photo credit: Sandya with her mother (ActionAid Nepal)