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Women’s Empowerment

“Communities should rise up for girls”

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Daisy Owomugasho, Regional Director of The Hunger Project Uganda, wrote the following article that featured in Uganda’s leading newspaper, ‘The Newvision’.

I believe that there has never been a moment in time more important than today when all forms of community systems are being called upon to rise up and protect our children, especially the girls, from any form of abuse. As we continue the fight against COVID-19, it is everybody’s call to ensure that we do not lose the gains we have laboured so much to realise.

Since March, when schools were ordered to close, we have seen an increase in cases of child marriage in different parts of the country. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uganda was struggling, but working steadily in its efforts to deliver on a number of international obligations regarding sexual and reproductive health among girls and young boys.

The closure of schools in March as a result of COVID-19 was a good intervention, but it also had a big impact in the area of sexual and reproductive health for girls mainly. Schools play a very big role in protecting girls from a lot of sexually related crimes that are ever present in our communities.

According to the UN and our own observations at The Hunger Project Uganda, if girls were to be allowed to complete the entire primary and secondary education cycle in school, this alone reduces their chances of catching HIV by 50%. Staying in school further insulates the girls from many other sexual and reproductive health situations such as early marriage, domestic violence and all other forms of abuse.Schools, therefore, indirectly contribute to more than 70% of the girl’s chances of a healthy and productive future.

UNFPA estimates that the total effect of the COVID-19 pandemic could mean approximately 13 million additional child marriages globally. This means as a country we need to scale up efforts in building and providing safety for girls. Now that schools are closed, the responsibility of keeping our children safe, especially the girls, has shifted to the communities. Unfortunately, information that has been received regarding the first few months of the girls being at home shows that communities have not been doing a good job.

Since March, when schools were ordered to close, we have seen an increase in cases of child marriage in different parts of the country. We have seen an increase in all forms of abuse targeting the girls such as rape and defilement. Suddenly, the number of new HIV infections amongst young people has also started to rise again.

For years, The Hunger Project Uganda has invested a lot in building strong community systems that work to protect girls from any form of abuse, including early marriages. We have a vibrant network of community animators with local knowledge that are able to identify such abuses when they occur. The community animators also act as early warning systems against any form of abuse likely to happen to any girl.

Communities have the intelligence and are usually in the know regarding what families may be planning to do. When such abuses are identified, the necessary interventions are done to ensure that the girls are protected. I, therefore, believe that there has never been a moment in time more important than today when all forms of community systems are being called upon to rise up and protect our children, especially the girls, from any form of abuse.

There are some good community innovations we can borrow from; case in point is the community of Kalamba sub-county in Butambala district. As a way of dealing with the rampant cases of child marriage in their area, the local community with support from The Hunger Project Uganda and area leaders mobilised and adopted a community bylaw through their local council.

The bylaw gives communities the power to detect and prevent any form of child marriage by identifying and shaming individuals who continue to engage in this form of abuse. Communities work closely with all local enforcement agencies, including the Police to ensure that cases are thoroughly investigated and victims are protected throughout. As we continue the fight against COVID-19, it is everybody’s call to ensure that we do not lose the gains we have laboured so much to realise. The responsibility of keeping our girls safe from any harm should never be left to schools alone.

In order to contribute to attaining the global development goals, specifically goals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,10 and 17, The Hunger Project Uganda through its Women Empowerment programme, is implementing Her Choice Project that seeks to create child marriage free communities in 9 districts of Uganda and safe choices for deaf girls in Mbale. Through gender-focused community led development (GFCLD), The Hunger Project Uganda has invested significantly in building capacity of girls, both in and out of school, to participate in decision-making processes through peer clubs.

The Hunger Project Uganda has also built and supported community systems and structures to provide an enabling environment for girls to thrive and reach their full potential Communities should rise up and be safe zones for all our children during this pandemic. We are continuing with our advocacy of ensuring safe places for our girls.

Why Women are Key to Ending Hunger

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By Rita Sarin, Global Vice President and Country Director of The Hunger Project India.

As a development practitioner working in the field of social development for over 40 years, I am convinced that women-focussed and women-centred strategies are key to ending hunger, poverty and inequity across the globe.

Why do I say so? Let us unpack this.

A major part of my work has been with the elected women representatives to village councils in India and this work has proven that when more women occupy decision-making positions, a mindset of concern and inclusive development for all starts; where women look out for the last person in their communities. Equipped with the right skills, knowledge and processes so they can access systems, women leaders not only become articulate in their vision, thoughts and action but they also strive to leave no stone unturned in achieving the ‘last mile delivery’. By adopting inclusive and equitable development strategies, women leaders tackle the issues of extreme hunger and poverty in their communities, as well as help create and sustain an equal and just society.

Why is it that women leaders adapt certain strategies over their male counterparts?

We all know that women have always centred their actions and lives around their families and communities. As primary caregivers they have always taken actions to meet the basic nutritional needs and health of their families. Therefore, there cannot be a more potent and direct relationship between women’s thoughts, concerns and actions and the wellbeing of their family/community.

Our work has shown that whenever women are in decision-making positions, their first action is to address hunger, malnutrition, hygiene and sanitation in their families and communities, followed by safe drinking water and education. These are the basic needs for any community to survive and develop. Be it food security and nutrition, health, education, sanitation, and now, awareness and support for COVID-19, women leaders are the frontline workers and will remain so no matter what.

Let me state unequivocally that when you empower a woman, the whole village and community develops. If you do not invest in her skills and capacities as the changemaker, generations will suffer from hunger and malnutrition, as is evident today.

To quote one woman leader “We do not allow even our neighbour’s child to sleep without food”. Therefore, the narrative of investing in women to end hunger is as clear as existence itself!

Jeremy Meltzer on his trip to Bangladesh.

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Jeremy Meltzer is the Founder of i=change, a tech platform for online retailers that makes it simple for brands to give back to women’s empowerment projects with every sale. So far, i=change has donated an incredible $111,169 (and counting) to The Hunger Project’s programs empowering women and girls in Bangladesh via 23 brand partnerships. 

Jeremy recently travelled to Bangladesh to see how the organisations i=change support are making an impact. Travelling with The Hunger Project Bangladesh team, he spent two days in an area called Manikganj, about 1.5 hours drive out of Dhaka, a very remote area that does not often host foreigners. He met with our village partners to gain an insight into the issues they face in Bangladesh and how our work is enabling people to transform their communities.  

We chatted to Jeremy after he returned from his trip to hear what he learnt on the ground. 

 

i=change has raised over $1.7 million for causes since it began. As the Founder, what is your vision for connecting customers, causes and brands in this way? 

It started from a desire to make an impact and create change for women and girls. I saw a lot of violence in Latin America in my early twenties and was very moved and upset by what I saw. I travelled around the world and met with NGO leaders and gained an insight into how extraordinarily complex these issues are. Of course, the NGO’s need more funding to do more of their work. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, I thought about how to bring these two worlds together. How could they exist in a way they haven’t before? It was about feeling, instinctively, that it must be possible to unite these two worlds in a way that could create significant benefits and, ultimately, create a new sustainable funding stream for women’s empowerment projects. 

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience in Bangladesh and how you saw The Hunger Project’s work in the communities? 

For all potential investors wanting to accelerate change, I believe the best thing you can do is visit these countries and communities; sit with the people, listen, learn and be immersed in their culture. It provides a remarkable insight into the complexity of the work — just sitting with the local teams who have been committed to working within their communities for decades. They have a deep pool of knowledge about how to create change in communities that have have entrenched beliefs which, regardless of the harm it may cause, are often unyielding and fixated to a practice as it’s simply “the way it’s always been done”. Like all of us, we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s about how to take communities on a journey that unlocks their own potential and growth and delivers significant benefits to the whole community.  

 

Pictured: A woman passing on the knowledge she learnt in a THP program.

 

Seeing the work The Hunger Project is doing in Bangladesh was very inspiring. What I really appreciate is how THP is committed to the process of unlocking the potential that people already have — they may simply need more skills and understanding in order to see the benefits for themselves. It’s about investing in long-term, community-led development, which we now understand is best practice in international development. This means working with what the community already has, which is their knowledge of the land and what works, and the nuances of their religious and cultural beliefs. We can think about working within that framework to help them see the greater possibilities when, for example, their cultural lens shifts and they don’t marry off their girls, or they work just as hard to keep their daughters in schools as their sons and understand their daughter’s wellbeing is intricately tied to the social and economic prosperity of the entire community.  

 

The cycle of subjugation of women and girls is severe in Bangladesh, and child marriage is common. What was your insight into those issues when you were there? 

I met a girl named Keya who was determined to stop her own marriage. Her parents had found a boy in their village and were preparing for her marriage. 

She worked with the male elders in her community so they could see the benefits of not marrying her off as a fifteen-year-old. In a very poor, remote Bangladeshi village, here was a girl with fire in her eyes. She realised she had to bring the male leaders in the community on this journey with her in order to change her destiny.  

She looked us deeply in the eyes and said, “I was determined not to be married.” 

She heard the work THP was doing and had been to one of the meetings about child marriage in her village. She understood it was her right to not be married, and that child marriage would harm her and her community.  

It’s an important story because girls are often painted as victims, but the girls we met were strong. Keya was strong.  

Her eyes lit up when she told us what she was doing. She was now still at school and doesn’t plan to be married for a long time. When she does, she explained she will have a small family only. 

I also spoke with one man in particular who you wouldn’t, on first glance, assume as someone who stood for women’s empowerment. He spoke very gently about how marrying off girls was not in the Quran and is actually a cultural practice that needs to be stopped. The engagement of men in the community and how they had become quite passionate advocates for change was very inspiring to see. In patriarchal communities — indeed, in most countries in the world — this is where it has to begin. Men need to be taken on the journey and understand how these practices do harm to everyone.

 

Pictured: Keya. 

How could you see THP’s programs in Bangladesh transforming communities? 

In a school we interviewed a number of women who were working in the community on a number of levels. One was a doctor in a poor, rural clinic, making sure young women could give birth safely (which in these communities often means not dying). We met another woman who is a counsellor, working with women survivors of sexual and physical abuse. 

It was inspiring to see such strong women stepping up to be the change. There were girls who went on a march that we participated in who chanted ‘we must end child marriage’. These school-aged girls, the average age probably 15 or younger, were passionately marching while the men led in front and behind, chanting equally as passionately for the end of child marriage. 

 

Pictured: School students lining up to protest child marriage.  

 

Of course, there’s no silver bullet to any of these complex issues. Yet even in this distant, rural community which most foreigners will never see, there was this galvanising, community-driven sense that the way we treat women and girls must change if we wish to thrive. It’s a global message that, while it filters slower to the poor and more rural corners of the world, is still a message that is being delivered and, slowly, being heard.

Even in those few days we spent in that community, there was a sense of change. The women we met were strong, proud, and less prepared to accept a patriarchal world view — and the ideas that hold them back — more than ever.

 

See the full list of i=change brands that support The Hunger Project.
If you’re an online retailer and wish to find out more about making an impact with your business and the benefits it can bring, check out the i=change website

 

Image credits: i=change   

Stella’s Story.

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We will never forget the look on Stella’s face when she described having no choice but to marry off her 14-year old grand-daughter, Emilida, to keep the other three children in her care alive. Stella’s eyes were heavy. The shame she felt was etched on her face. No choice. What would you do? Save three children or potentially lose four?

Stella’s daughter and son-in-law had died of HIV and Stella had taken on the care of their children. Suddenly, she had four children she couldn’t afford to raise.

Stella’s grand-daughter, Emilida, was married off at 14 to a man twice her age. One day, while Emilida was at the markets, she was approached by two Women’s Empowerment Animators (local volunteer leaders) trained by The Hunger Project. The Animators asked Emilida why she wasn’t at school and why she was so dirty. After confiding in them about her marriage, the Animators and Emilida returned to her Grandmother’s house and spoke to her about the negative impact of child marriage and the importance of education. The group decided that it was time to take action.

They went to the village chief and had Emilida’s marriage annulled.

The Women’s Empowerment Animators empowered Stella with the knowledge and resources she needed to transform her family’s life. Now, Stella farms maize and sells firewood to earn an income. She re-enrolled Emilida in school and is an advocate for girls education.  Stella has also become a Women’s Empowerment Animator, so that she can empower other women and girls in her community.

Emilida’s vision is to one day become a teacher so that, she too can empower others through education.

This is not a story of despair. This is a story of hope, courage, transformation and possibility for the future. Leadership is not about having influence or power. Leadership is having a clear vision and having the determination, courage and passion to achieve it.

Find out more about our Leadership Immersion Programs.

An Interview with Olivia Ruello, CEO of Business Chicks

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Olivia RuelloCEO of Business Chicks, Australia’s largest and most influential community for women, is a passionate and long-time supporter of The Hunger Project’s work 

At Business Chicks, they know that every woman has the capacity to do amazing things. Whether you run your own business or work in an office, they provide connection and support for women to propel themselves forward.  

Business Chicks have been one of our amazing partners since 2011. Together, we created The Business Chicks Leadership Immersion Program, an overseas trip where Business Chicks members travel with us to experience the incredible leadership and resilience of our village partners in our program countries.  

Their first ever Leadership Immersion Program in 2012 took them to Bangladesh. They were immersed in the culture and learnt leadership lessons from our village partners who are combating hunger in Bangladesh. Over the years, Business Chicks and The Hunger Project have built an amazing partnership, raising over $2 million, which has impacted the lives of women in Australia and in the communities we work in.  

Olivia Ruello shares why our partnership is such an important part of what the team at Business Chicks does every day.  

Interview with Olivia Ruello

What does the Business Chicks’ partnership with The Hunger Project mean to you? 

It’s one of the most important things we do at Business Chicks. For me personally, it is the work I feel most proud of. When you step foot in countries in which The Hunger Project work and witness first-hand the impact this work has on families, communities and more broadly in society, it’s impossible to not be inspired to do more. The Hunger Project Australia are a true partner in every sense of the word. The relationship is built on trust, shared values and a vision to see women really stepping into their power and playing a bigger game in the world.

Why is it important to the Business Chicks community to be involved in social causes? 

I think it’s important that we all play a small part as global citizens in impacting change and driving more equity in the world. It would be a missed opportunity to not mobilise the community to give back, whether that be on a very small scale or a much larger one. We all have something that we can contribute, whether it be time, money, expertise. We find in our community an abundance of generosity and many members wanting to give back and have a voice in important issues.

Why do you think that empowering women is key to creating change? 

Empower a woman and you create generational change. Women invest in their families and communities and are amazing at inspiring others to do the same. We work collectively to drive initiatives. Women are strong and resilient and fierce in the face of adversity.

Can you tell us about one inspirational leader you’ve met on a Business Chicks Leadership Immersion Program, what you learnt from her and how you have applied this back in your life?

I remember the first time I went to India with The Hunger Project. We were in a small village called Lahora, in Rajasthan. I met the village leader — her name was Badam Devi. She was an illiterate agricultural worker from a marginalised community who lowered her veil when she spoke. Against chronic corruption within the bureaucracy, as well as centuries-old patriarchy and gender inequality, Badam Devi had a vision for her community. She had built a succession plan for her tenure through the sponsorship of younger women in her village, she was courageous and determined, and she had followship like nothing I had ever witnessed. She took risks and fought hard for the rights of women and girls in her community.

I witnessed the rawest form of leadership I had ever encountered. In meeting Badam Devi I knew that anything was possible for me in my life. I knew I could do better, that I could be better, and that I had an opportunity to unlock my own leadership in a real and tangible way. It changed me and transformed my mindset from one of limitation to one of expansive abundance. I became more confident to try things and determined to keep going when things sometimes get tough. She has been a constant source of inspiration in my life.

Tell us about one outstanding moment for you where something magical happened for the Business Chicks members.

Gosh there are so many, this year was the first time I’ve gone on a Business Chicks Leadership Immersion Program. I think the most powerful moments come in the quiet conversations, on the train or around a dinner table, where there is a real breakthrough in self worth, or possibility, or something that has been holding that woman back. There were dozens of these moments in India this year.

Looking back over the years, what has the partnership created that makes your heart sing?

Hundreds of meaningful connections, lifelong friendships, an abundance of possibility and lives transformed both in Australia for our members and overseas in the countries in which the more than $2m that we have raised has gone. We’ve seen our members quit jobs that were making them unhappy, start businesses, leave marriages, commit to becoming global investors of The Hunger Project, support other causes, stand up for their rights, and support others to do the same. It’s a privilege for Business Chicks to play a small part in that.

 

Join Business Chicks on their next Leadership Immersion Program in Ghana here

Meet Razia: Protesting Child Marriage

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In Bangladesh, boys are typically valued more than girls. Girls are often pulled out of school at a young age to be married off. They aren’t able to earn an income for themselves or have a say in family decisions. They are made to look after their siblings and families, do the household chores and other manual labour instead.  

After being forced to marry at 15 years old (three years before the legal age of 18), Razia was denied an education and was forced to stay at home and provide for her new husband and start a family. No one protested her marriage. Like other girls her age who were being married, Razia soon gave birth to a boy and a girl.   

“I thought child marriage was my fate,” she says. 

She couldn’t see a way to break out of the cycle of poverty and stop own daughter from becoming a victim of child marriage just like she had been. 

The Hunger Project runs programs such as Women’s Leadership Workshops in rural communities in Bangladesh. These workshops empower women with knowledge and skills they can use to develop their own businesses to transform their situation, lift their families out of poverty, and enable other women in their village to do the same

After receiving training from The Hunger Project, Razia began a new enterprise from home — sewing — which has brought in an income. She also started a women’s self-help group to help other women save money to reinvest in their family on important things like education.  

Razia now works from home earning her own income. As she earned more income, her confidence grew. She looked to use her newfound influence to shift the perspective on local issues close to her heart, and now protests against child marriage in her village.  

I’ve learned how to raise poultry and livestock, and sew. Because of this, I now have enough savings to easily support the health and education of my children. I’ve also been able to send my own daughter to The Hunger Project’s Youth Leadership Training. Now she collaborates with other young people around here to create a harmonious society free from child marriage.  

In addition, I’ve set up my own compost plant to produce organic fertiliser for my home garden. I’ve now encouraged 20 other women in my neighbourhood to set up their own organic compost plants too.” 

The women’s group have written a list of children who have dropped out of school in the village. They are working to support them to return to studying.   

“Now, I work to protest against child marriage and make people aware of its consequences,” Razia says.  

An Unleashed 2019 Update

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We are already halfway through Unleashed 2019!

Currently, 820 million people live in hunger globally. Studies show that when women are empowered and earn an income, they spend a significant portion of it on their families. This may be on things like education, health and food.

We started Unleashed as a powerful, global movement to empower these women to end hunger for themselves, their families and their communities.

Some amazing initiatives kicked off Unleashed and there are many more fundraisers in the calendar. Our incredible partners have helped make a huge impact in empowering the women we work with in villages in India, Africa and Bangladesh.

Every $1000 raised could could fund Adult Literacy training for 25 women, like Louise, in Africa, so that they can learn how to read and write.

Together, we can empower women to end their own hunger.

The Highlights So Far

Voices Unleashed

For a unique night of entertainment, Sydney’s two top acapella choirs, Cafe of the Gate of Salvation and Honeybees Choir, hosted an amazing performance. Their gospel singing perfectly captured the theme of ‘Unleashed’ – empowering, positive and fun!

NOVA Toastie Truck

NOVA Entertainment met us at the finish line of the City2Surf in Sydney. They served up delicious toasties for a post-run feed.

Office Pop-Up

We’ve also seen some clever workplace fundraising, including this mini office pop-up selling freshly grown fruit and herbs. Who doesn’t love fresh and locally grown produce?

Speed Dating for Hunger

Over 300 Sydneysiders searched for love at CitySwoon’s Speed Dating for Hunger event in Sydney. The night was a whole lot of fun raising funds for Unleashed (still being tallied)! A huge thank you to the CitySwoon team — Chris, Brett and Louise.

Elle Macpherson on the Business Chicks Stage

Successful model and businesswoman Elle Macpherson has been travelling around Australia with the awesome ladies at Business Chicks, and they have been doing a raffle at each event to raise funds for Unleashed!

Still to come

From finding your zen in a yoga flow, to eating at the best restaurants in your city, there are so many more exciting fundraising events for Unleashed. Stay tuned for more details to come about a special series of events across WeWork office spaces around the country!

Join us at an Unleashed event by checking them all out here.

We are so excited to see what’s still to come for Unleashed. Join us in empowering women to end hunger for themselves, their families and their communities by heading to our Unleashed page here.

If she can, we can. What will you unleash?

International Women’s Day 2019 – Better the balance, better the world!

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On 8 March The Hunger Project will be celebrating International Women’s Day and the theme of ‘Balance is Better’. It is a day on which we stop and reflect on the milestones made to date for women, and also look to the next actions required for achieving gender equality.  

We are working to creating a future free from hunger and in doing so we believe in building a gender-balanced world.  

Hansa from India demonstrating the balance pose for International Women’s Day

Come along to an event!

The Hunger Project will be taking part in a number of events across the country in celebration of International Women’s Day: 

  • 7 March – Melbourne at the Global Citizen After Hours event. Tickets are free but you need to register HERE 
  • 8 March – Sydney at THE LOFT x HER Global Network event. Get your tickets HERE 
  • 14 March – Brisbane at THE LOFT x HER Global Network event. Get your tickets HERE.  

Can’t attend an event in person? Join us online! 

It is really easy to get involved!

  1. Either take a photo of yourself in the ‘balance pose’ or film a selfie video answering the question: “How do you celebrate balance?” At the end of the video, state that this International Women’s Day, “I stand for equality.”
  2. Copy the hashtags #IWD2019 #thinkequal #balanceforbetter #thehungerproject #THP #Istandforequality #MorePowerfulTogether
  3. Be BOLD and post your photo or video, with the hashtags, and tag The Hunger Project. And you’re done!