COVID-19 has challenged us all, and women around the world have picked up a disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting as a result of the pandemic. The effects on their lives are far-reaching and unpredictable, from being extremely affected by job losses and poverty globally to an increase in domestic violence, which is a direct result of the lockdown.
This is why, this International Women’s Day, more than ever before, we must unite to ensure that women can take up their rightful place at the heart of their communities.
The Mothers’ Union is committed to empowering women to become leaders, in order to build a better world. With four million members, in 84 countries, we are steadily making progress towards a brighter future by working together in faith to end gender-based violence (News, 27 November 2020), promote self-reliance, and strive for peace and safety for women, their families, and their communities. Every step of this journey gives women the knowledge, confidence, and self-esteem to step forward and become the leaders of tomorrow.
ALTHOUGH the challenges of Covid-19 are many, there are excellent opportunities, too. We are looking more closely at the sort of society we want in the wake of this terrible time.
The Mothers’ Union is at the forefront of this, as a charity in its own right and in partnership with other organisations, at home and internationally. In the UK, we work closely with the Together Coalition, who, on 1 March, released their report, Our Chance to Reconnect. The report focuses on what divides and unites us in the UK, and highlights ways of bringing us closer together for healing.
As a worldwide Christian movement, we are focused on building a better future at a global and a local level, and sharing God’s love, which teaches that women and men are created equal. The Mothers’ Union is also a delegate at the 65th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW65), and we have already submitted evidence to the commission on the increase in gender-based violence which resulted from pandemic lockdowns.
Giving women a voice
OUR work with the UN is an opportunity to demonstrate further the unique part that faith and faith-based organisations play in bringing about positive change for women at every level of society.
The aims of UNCSW65 fit closely with those of the Mothers’ Union, and our submission to the commission for 2021 reflects this. It makes women’s participation and decision-making in public life a priority, calling for the elimination of violence in all its forms, the achievement of gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls. The aim of the Mothers’ Union’s international and UK-based projects exemplify this, led, as they are, by women acting as community volunteer facilitators and leading by example.
This informs our projects at the grass roots. For example, our literacy projects in Burundi are much broader than learning to read: they also cover relationships, nutrition, crop-growing, and hygiene. Self-reliance programmes in Tanzania help women to become independent by offering financial guidance to help them to set up businesses, escape poverty, and feed their children. And more than 30,000 women in Africa have changed their lives after being part of a Mothers’ Union savings-and-loans group.
The Mothers’ Union also runs Early Marriage Groups, for example in Ethiopia. The focus of these groups is on preventing early marriage, which can have devastating effects for young women. These include a lack of educational opportunity, obstructed labour, and an increased risk of death in childbirth. Teaching about puberty, menstruation, and the importance of completing their education is key to giving young women an informed say in their future, and encouraging them to become the leaders of tomorrow.
In one instance, a class leader, Awar, was forced to marry at 17. She says: “I use my life as an example. I didn’t get an education, I got married young. This group helps the girls learn, and that is very important to me. If I had got training like this, my life would have been different.”
This approach is typical of all our projects, which are rooted in faith, but address the issues and challenges identified by communities. As you change the world for one person, this builds the movement, growing it beyond the individual, their community, the region, and the country, until it is a global force of change for women.
For the first time this year, UNCSW65 will be virtual, and the Mothers’ Union delegation will be attending and helping to make a difference. It is our largest-ever delegation: 29 women from 12 different countries.
THE period from International Women’s Day to Mothering Sunday (14 March) is a significant time in our calendar, as we unite in seven days of prayer for women’s recognition, equality, and empowerment throughout the world.
I will be leading the first day, and I will be joined by other women in leadership over the following days, including the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek; the Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Marsha de Cordova; and the Anglican Church of Kenya’s first female Bishop, the Rt Revd Emily Onyango (News, 22 January).
I do hope that you can join us today and every day at 12 noon. Our prayers will be streamed on Facebook and YouTube.
As we come out of the pandemic, our driving force is to make a better world for everyone through faith and the empowerment of women. To this end, we will continue to empower women and girls everywhere to have a better life, and to take up their rightful place as leaders around the world.
Sheran Harper is the Worldwide President of the Mothers’ Union.