International Women’s Day (IWD) first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.
So, it’s not surprising that the theme of this year’s IWD, celebrated on March 8th, focuses on ending poverty for women and girls through economic empowerment.
According to the The Global Poverty Project, women make up half the world’s population and yet represent a staggering 70 per cent of the global poor and earn less than 10 per cent of wages worldwide.
From poor education and nutrition to vulnerable and low pay employment, they face gross inequalities and injustices because of their gender.
Bolivia is home to the highest levels on inequality of any country in its region – but it is indigenous women who are the main victims of exclusion.
An indigenous woman in Bolivia earns an average $97 a month, compared to a non-indigenous man who earns more than four times that. One third of all adult women in the country have had no access to formal education, further entrenching them in the cycle of poverty.
“Our husbands’ work is not enough anymore; we women have to support our homes and, particularly, (support) our children more.” argues Marina Carbalo, leader of the Jatun Rumi Women’s Trade Union.
Thankfully, the United Nations Semilla, or Seed, programme is helping to lift thousands of women out of poverty through microloans and training.
Financed by the Spanish Government and supported by the Bolivian Ministry of Justice, more than 4,000 indigenous Bolivian women have been able to open small businesses from sewing and craft shops to small-scale production of cheese, honey, ice cream and yoghurt or raising hens, chickens and pigs thanks to the $9 million initiative.
Whole communities are also benefiting by investing in large-scale agricultural production of quinoa and honey. More importantly the programme has enabled 12,817 women to enjoy their citizen rights for the first time, helping them to obtain birth certificates and other forms of identification that are required to access banks and to enable them to vote.