Across India and other parts of the world 11 May is celebrated as Mothers Day. We support many mothers and grandmothers in our projects in India. All too often the fundamental and basic needs of women across the developing world are neglected. Just one day of celebration is not enough. We should be celebrating women, mothers and grandmothers every day.
After all if you read statistics surveys from 45 developing countries show that women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection in the vast majority of households (76%). This is time not spent working at an income-generating job, caring for family members, or attending school if they have the chance..
How do we continue to still highlight the challenges and problems that many women continue to face on a daily basis? They simply don’t disappear through a day of celebration – they demand concerted action, in order to make a positive long-term difference.
As many of you will know, the Shining Hope Foundation’s work in the poverty-stricken region of Bodhgaya in Northern India seeks to not only go some way to highlighting and supporting the underprivileged people in the region, but to make positive social and cultural differences – particularly in empowering women.
For instance, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around the world, women make up 50 percent of people living with HIV. This remains a prevalent issue in India too, where Aids and HIV affects many of the women in remote villages, especially as men travel off to the cities to look for work, often meeting prostitutes and return to their partners, passing on infections in the process.
Moreover, gender discrimination and child mortality remain serious issues, which this account highlights in alarming ways.
India has a Gender Inequality Index ranking of 132 out of 148 countries in 2013, according to UNDP’s Human Development Report. Its child sex ratio (the number of females per thousand males from 0 to 6 years of age) has declined rapidly in recent years – meaning fewer girls are being born. According to the 2011 Census, from 927 girls for every 1000 boys in 2001, the ratio has dropped to 919 girls in 2011. Much of this is due to India’s female infanticide and son preference, which is based upon deeply rooted patriarchal cultural and religious beliefs that have been pervasive for centuries.
Moreover, according to the 2005-2006 National Family Health Survey, in India, about 37 percent of married women have experienced violence at the hands of their spouse.
It is this domestic violence during pregnancy that is a major contributor to child mortality. Research shows that in these instances there is an increased likelihood of premature labour, lower infant birth weight and stillbirths.
There is hope, however. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), there are 31 FDA-approved antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV. While not a cure, these medications can significantly suppress the virus. Because of improved treatment, people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives.
In addition, a new UN Women report, Hearts & Minds: Women of India Speak, sheds light and raises awareness on gender discrimination and child mortality by sharing the stories of just a few of those who have suffered.
On the Shining Hope Foundation’s recent visit to Bodhgaya, we saw how the kind donations from you – our charitable supporters – have allowed us to start investing and working hard in opening access to medical care facilities for an increasing number of women in recent months – the sort of care that all women should have an equal right to.
Take the Bodhgaya Clinic (which is supported by humanitarian charity Karuna Shechen) and its Womens Health Education classes, for instance. Since we started to support this previously small initiative, they are now teaching more and more women about how to better look after themselves. Held in both the Bodhgaya Clinic and its outreach clinics, these classes are now making contact with even the smallest, most remote villages.
Led by a dedicated Community Health Worker, they start by teaching a basic level of intervention and explain how to deal with a range of health and hygiene problems, such as menstrual hygiene and Aids/HIV.
Through projects such as our solar engineers programme, we’re also offering more equal opportunities for women to make an active difference to their families and local communities.
There are considerable challenges that lie ahead in delivering equal rights for women, whether it be in healthcare, education or other basic human rights. But thanks to our charitable supporters, it is accounts such as those above, coupled with the solutions and results we are delivering, in Bodhgaya that we can all refer to in setting a benchmark for how we can create more equal rights for women around the world.
This is where the Shining Hope Foundation – and your support – can truly make a lasting difference.
By empowering women, we can help to literally save lives.
Vanessa is Communications Associate at the Shining Hope Foundation and manages the charity’s relationships with its current partners abroad.