Friday, November 13, 2015

The Fight For Women's Rights Continues Today

Since its release in mid-October, the film Suffragette has been dominating the box office with its tale of women’s suffrage in the UK. The suffragette movement was a huge force in the early 20th century, as women from all over the country from all types of social backgrounds came together to campaign for the right to have the vote. This film does a fantastic job of bringing this historical story to the modern generation, but what lessons can we take from the real life campaigners for women alive today?

We celebrate strong women here at Ripples Foundation and the suffragettes are a great example of women deciding to make change happen for themselves, sometimes by any means possible. The suffragettes’ campaigning was very controversial to some, and they often used violent means to gain attention to their cause including setting fire to letterboxes, chaining themselves to railings and even detonating bombs. Obviously we would not condone that behaviour in today’s society but at that time the suffragettes saw that as the only way they could bring their cause into the public light. Many say that by committing these violent acts the Suffragettes actually turned people against their cause. There was another women’s suffrage group, the Suffragists, that used more peaceful means to campaign for the right to vote. They were democratic and believed that holding meetings and forming local committees would be more effective in getting support, and men were even allowed to join the movement!

Whatever their tactics, both of these groups of women had similar principles; they saw an injustice and actively got involved to overturn it and improve their own lives and the lives of others. They strongly believed that women have a voice and that voice needed to be heard by the government. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragettes summed up their campaign in this powerful quote:  “You must make women count as much as men; you must have an equal standard of morals; and the only way to enforce that is through giving women political power so that you can get that equal moral standard registered in the laws of the country. It is the only way.”

Here at Ripples Foundation we empower the women that we work with in Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana to encourage them to take responsibility and make change happen in their own lives. Of course we provide them with the resources that they need in order to make this happen, including business loans, healthcare and equipment, but they need to work hard themselves to sustain their development. We find that this philosophy means that the women that work on our Women’s Enterprise projects have a greater sense of pride in their work and the reward tastes that much sweeter when you know that you have made the change happen for yourself.

During our work we have seen women who come to us with no husband and 5 children all living on around $1 a day and begging us to help her make life better for her children. With a helping hand from our programmes, we come back months later to discover the same women with a huge smile on her face. When we ask her how she is; she tells us that because she is working on an enterprise project she can now afford to send all her children to school, she is able to feed them properly and she has a sense of purpose and achievement. There is no greater feeling than seeing that smile on someone’s face and knowing that you have helped that happen.

After decades of campaigning the Suffragettes and Suffragists finally got their wish and today women in the UK have exactly the same voting rights as men. However in many countries in the world, women are still oppressed by archaic laws that put them on an unequal stand to men. In Africa, shocking statistics show that 1 in 4 girls in northern Nigeria are married under the age of 15 against their will. In Ghana’s 2012 elections only 11% of the seats were won by women. In Zimbabwe 30% of women have experienced violence at the hands of a partner. The list just goes on and on.

It seems as if the women of the world need to follow the lead of the Suffragists and make join forces with men who also believe in women’s empowerment to make the world a more equal place. Women’s empowerment isn't just a women’s issue; men need to get involved to give the campaign a louder voice in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria that are patriarchal societies. The UN’s recent #HeForShe campaign is a fantastic example of the push to involve more men in this issue, reminding them that improved women’s rights will make life better for their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.

Add your voice to the campaign and help us change the lives of more village women in Africa by donating towards the Women’s Enterprise Programme and give communities the chance to stand on their own two feet and support their children. You can help us improve local economies and start a ripple effect of empowerment and change across Africa!

As one suffragette, Susan B. Anthony once said: “I think the girl who is able to earn her own living and pay her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth. The sense of independence and security is very sweet.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

You can make change happen.

Donate to the Women’s Enterprise Programme today using our Total Giving fundraising page. Every penny counts!
*Please note that Ripples Foundation is registered under the name BME Concern in the UK, which is reflected on our Total Giving profile.
Alysha Bennett Web Developer

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