International Women’s Day is a day for the world to reflect on the role on women and an occasion to congratulate all women around the world. At Wells Bring Hope we are honored to work with the women of Niger and to empower them through microfinance programs that transform their lives.
Two-thirds of Niger is covered by vast swathes of the Sahara desert. It’s hydro-climatic and geographic characteristics create difficult conditions for the country’s population of nearly 18 million. Droughts are common, food security issues are endemic, and are further exacerbated by the increasing arrival of refugees fleeing northern Nigeria and northern Mali. These conditions, when coupled with prevalent infectious disease and one of the lowest sanitation coverage rates in the world, leave the West African nation of Niger with some of the highest rates of malnutrition and mortality in the world. Niger, a country roughly twice the size of France, is the poorest country on earth.
in Natal, South Africa,
a woman carries water on her head.
After a year of drought,
when one child in three is at risk of death,
she returns from a distant well,
carrying water on her head.
It’s impossible not to feel outrage at what has happened in Nigeria: 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in mid-April, and the government has been ineffectual in getting them back. The international community is finally paying attention after Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau threatened to “sell them in the marketplace” as slaves or child brides.
These were girls, ripe with hope and striving to get an education, who risked their lives to come to school for one day to take an exam, despite the fact that many schools in their region had closed because of the Boko Haram threat.
ut Niger was different. It was raw. It took that knowledge I had in my head and moved it to my gut. As I rode hour after hour through a barren landscape, the needs became simpler and more gut wrenching. Water is life. Water is everything. There are no other needs if there is no water. There are no other choices if there is no water.
Saturday, March 8th is International Women’s Day. Over the last couple of decades the UN, who first officially observed this day in 1977, has promoted different themes each year. This year’s theme is ‘Equality for Women is Progress for All.’ This theme can certainly be recognized in Niger, and it is only fitting to look at a Nigerien woman who embodies the truth of this statement. Hadijatou Mani Koraou is an inspiring Nigerien figure who managed to break free from the shackles of slavery and gain her independence, making a better life for herself and her family. Crucially, her case shows not just the importance of personal independence, but also the necessity of financial independence for women.
South Africa has historically been a nation that sets examples. Within Africa, which as a continent is experiencing new economic growth, South Africa leads the way in international and open-door economic policies. It rebelled against apartheid to become one of the most multi-cultural and multi-ethnic countries in the world; it hosts anti-homophobia symposiums; it was home to the first human-to-human heart transplant; and now, South Africa is continuing its trend this year by honoring prominent female leaders at the Women, Inspiration & Enterprise symposium in Cape Town.
Women across sub-Saharan Africa suffer from inadequate access to safe water. In addition to the personal struggles this creates, their children often suffer from life-threatening bouts of diarrhea and many are malnourished. President Sirleaf summed up the problem when she spoke before at a summit on international poverty reduction, “Without more progress in providing access to safe water and effective sanitation, children will continue to miss school, health costs will continue to be a drag on national economies, adults will continue to miss work, and women and girls, and it’s almost always women and girls, will continue to spend hours every day fetching water, typically from dirty sources.”
There are roughly three and a half billion people in the global talent pool whose earning capacity is restricted due to one simple factor – gender. This is a huge problem throughout the world; with women in developed countries such as the U.S. earning nearly 20% less than their male counterparts. In less developed countries, poor families already struggling for survival are hamstrung by limitations on the earning capacity of the female population.
Throughout rural Niger, in fact-across all of sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls are left with the responsibility of spending hours each day collecting water from remote, dangerous, not to mention often- contaminated sources. Beyond this, they are responsible for purchasing increasingly expensive food, and looking after the home and children amongst many other tasks. This means that women not only suffer economic poverty but also an incredible time deficiency. As a result of this massive burden, young girls spend less time in school than boys, and women spend the majority of their time attempting to scrape together the bare essentials of life, dependent on money brought in by the males of the family.
When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.” -Kofi Annan