International Women’s Day: Invest in Women, Ignite Change
“When I was 13, people were lining up at my wedding. Now, people line up outside my house for health services. I’ve helped to save hundreds of lives.”
―Nilufar Yasmin, BRAC Community Health Worker, Bangladesh
BY ELIZABETH WRIGHT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, BRAC USA
When she was a child, Nilufar Yasmin dreamed of being a doctor. But she became a child bride at 13. As a mother of two at the age of 19, she discovered an opportunity to train as a BRAC community health worker. A patriarchal society and her abusive husband tried to stop her. But she pursued her “second chance” anyway.
Today, Nilufar provides vital frontline health services to 300 households in her community and has helped deliver at least 500 babies. She divorced her husband. And she completed training as a barefoot lawyer to help safeguard other women against gender-based violence and violations of their legal rights.
Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day elevates the remarkable achievements of women like Nilufar, while also bringing attention to the injustice and threats that undermine their safety and status all over the world.
Today, we have reason to celebrate the increasing numbers of women who are excelling in business, sports, government, academic institutions, science, technology, medicine, the arts, journalism, and far more. And the COVID pandemic highlighted the unpaid, unrecognized, but vitally important work that so many women do at home as caregivers of children and managers of their households, which often limits their ability to participate in the formal workforce.
We also have far too many reasons to be outraged. Today, there is no country on earth where women have the social, economic, and political power that puts them on equal standing with men. Huge barriers deprive women of basic economic rights, workplace rights, and equal ownership rights to property. Violence against women and child marriage are rampant worldwide, and there are many other rising threats to women’s rights that we cannot ignore.
International Women’s Day is a time for celebration and outrage. It’s also an opportunity to take action.
Catalysts of change
Investing in women sparks positive change in their lives—and in the world. When women have greater social and economic power, and better access to healthcare, education, and livelihoods, the benefits go far beyond a single individual. Women become “impact multipliers” by creating better lives for themselves and the people around them.
A large body of evidence shows that when women and girls gain choices, opportunities, and power, they become agents of change to build stronger, healthier communities and economies.
That is why women and girls are at the heart of all our work. We expand opportunities and resources available to them, break down barriers that harm them and hold them back, and connect them to support networks that build their skills and agency.
- In Bangladesh, BRAC operates 400 local human rights and legal aid clinics to uphold and protect women’s rights at home, in communities, and in the workplace. We provide a range of legal assistance, including access to lawyers, human rights and legal education classes, and workshops with local community leaders to help shift attitudes and practices.
- In 15 countries, BRAC’s Graduation approach has equipped millions of women with the tools, knowledge, and support to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.
- Through a combination of social empowerment, economic empowerment, and education, BRAC helps increase the power of adolescent girls in 11 countries to finish school, reduce teen pregnancy, boost their earning potential, and pursue futures full of possibility.
- BRAC’s financial inclusion, microfinance, and livelihoods programs help women earn income, save money, and expand small businesses to build a pathway out of poverty.
Voices. Choices. Action.
It is not enough to talk about gender equality. We must embrace it, invest in it, and fight for it.
When we stand up for women, invest in their potential, and strengthen their voices, choices, and access to opportunities, we create a chain reaction that benefits all of humanity. This is not easy work. But nothing this important is ever easy. We will never stop fighting to increase the power of women and girls.
Over the next month, we will be sharing the stories of four powerful women who are part of BRAC’s fight to end poverty. Stories that inspire us to take action to create a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together, we can make it possible.