An endless cycle of cooking, cleaning and caregiving at home can adversely affect a woman’s health, a recently published report by the UN has shown.
Written by special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, she argued that the unequal care responsibilities heaped on women was a “major barrier to gender equality and to women’s equal enjoyment of human rights, and, in many cases, condemns women to poverty”.
Strong words indeed. But is enough being done by governments, charities and aid agencies to change this global problem?
Moreover, in a poverty-stricken area such as the region of Bodhgaya in Northern India – an area close to the hearts of all of us at the Shining Hope Foundation – what can we do to ensure women are better supported there?
Having recently returned from Bodhgaya, we saw how the majority of women and girls spend considerably more time than men undertaking unpaid work – such as collecting water and fuel, preparing food, cleaning and caring for children and sick and elderly relatives.
But we also saw how the kind donations from 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.
Since June 2013 the Bodhgaya clinic has also been introducing a ‘Sanitary Hygiene Programme’ introducing women to the idea of using proper sanitary napkins. The clinic buys packets of sanitary napkins at a subsidised government price of six rupees per packet which contains six sanitary napkins. These are then offered to the women for five rupees. The Shining Hope Foundation subsidises each packet by one rupee.
Rousan Ara, one of the Community Health Worker in Bodhgaya, admits that the lack of education and the upbringing for many local women can be a difficult challenge to overcome. She told me: “Considering how most of them have been brought up in difficult conditions that are alien to many in the western world, it is often difficult for them to understand and accept the benefits of these sanitary hygiene products that we are offering, to make their lives easier.”
On Shining Hope Foundation’s recent visit to India, staff in the Bodhgaya Clinic told me of several ways they spread the word. Firstly, women who have been to the clinic for a general check-up are told about the availability of sanitary products. Secondly, the Community Health Worker holds meetings and health talks with women and girls in the villages. And thirdly, a village motivator spreads the word in the villages that these sanitary products are available.
To date, the feedback from the local women who have used the clinic has been very positive. The nurses have treated a range of infections. For many who have previously used old rags and bits of cloth, from old clothes with buttons and hooks and such, this is life changing.
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 stories like this in Bodhgaya that we can all refer to in setting a benchmark for how we can create more equal healthcare provisions for men and women around the world.
Vanessa Challinor is Communications Associate at the Shining Hope Foundation.
She has recently joined the team and will manage the charity’s relationships with its current partners abroad. She has travelled extensively in Asia and lived in Hong Kong and later in Vietnam where she worked on various humanitarian projects.