Here Come the Girls!

As you probably know, we have been tracing how COCO is helping to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This week, we are investigating inequality. Many of the SDGs target inequality in some form, but two goals in particular focus on this issue. 1a Shelter

SDG 5 is all about achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. Feminism and the concept of empowering women has played an influential role in international relations and public policy over recent years; you will probably remember the popular #heforshe twitter campaign kick-started by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson, and the passing of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 which modernised and expanded the ban on the practice in the UK.

Discrimination against women and girls both in the public sphere and in their own homes is still ongoing. COCO works in a variety of developing countries, and in some communities, there are serious challenges for women and girls.

Across Africa, the legal minimum age for marriage varies from puberty upwards, and in many countries the legal minimum age for marriage is higher for boys. It comes as no surprise then that some girls are unable to continue going to school as they are forced into marriage.

Another huge challenge is the widespread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). In one of our previous blog posts, ‘Education Removes Ignorance: Listening to Lekrumuni’ , our research team explored how students in Tanzania regarded education as an effective way of tackling issues concerning FGM and women’s rights. By promoting education, it is clear that we can make a real difference to the lives of women and girls across the world.

SDG 10 is also concerned with equality. Here, the UN aims to reduce inequality within and among countries. Although this may sound extremely ambitious, and probably something that needs to be worked on from a governmental level, international development charities like COCO can also help to promote this goal. Group smiling kids

Some of the main targets of SDG 10 include empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status, and ensuring equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action. Many of COCO’s overseas projects are in extremely remote areas, where long-held myths surround discriminatory practices, such as FGM. As a matter of practicality, remote communities are less likely to come into contact with new ideas or scientific advances which disprove stereotypes surrounding gender, sex and social roles.

Education gives girls and women a valuable resource. As noted in the previous blog post, one student summed this up neatly; “education tackles ignorance.” The work that COCO does in our overseas projects aims to create safe, inclusive learning environments to help provide a sustainable future.

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Inspirational Women: Inspiration in the face of abject poverty

Today is International Women’s Day and as we reflect on the role of women in our society, celebrate their achievements and acknowledge their importance, COCO’s Director Lucy Philipson recalls her visit to one inspirational woman she met in Uganda recently...

As its International Women’s Day today I thought I’d share a story about an inspiring woman that I met whilst on my 10 week project evaluation last year. I have to tell you I have a few to choose from but one in particular stands out. In November, I posted a message on my Facebook page, so sorry to those of you who have already seen it but I thought it was important to share it again with all of COCO’s supporters.

I had been visiting a farming cooperative that COCO support in Uganda and after speaking to John who runs the project, he asked me if I would mind visiting a neighbouring community that also needed support with food security . I told him that funding was in short supply and I couldn’t promise financial assistance but would be very keen to visit. After a very uncomfortable 40 minute ride on a motorcycle, we arrived at a small village and my experience there prompted me to write this:

“I met a 62 year old lady today, who is HIV positive, widowed and has nothing. Her cataracts mean she is almost blind and the virus has made her small and frail. All she wants is a mattress to stop the bed springs from digging in her frail skin and a mozzie net because if she gets Malaria it will almost definitely kill her. My Dad is 62 next year and I can’t imagine him suffering like this. Despite this, the lady smiled, welcomed me into her home and asked if she could have her picture taken with me. It cost me 72,000 Shillings (£17) to buy her a mattress and a net but what she really needs is the ability to buy her own mattress and net, giving her the choice and dignity to live her life free of pain. COCO is a children’s charity but women like this suffer because their children were not given the opportunity to improve their lives to care for themselves or their parents.  By giving children access to education and basic health now, we can make sure that they do not have to live like this when they are 62.”

Empowering women is key to addressing global poverty and something that COCO is very aware of in all of our projects. This Women’s Day, we will be thinking of all those women and girls that we work with who show strength and dignity even in the face of abject poverty and give us the privilege of working with them to establish long term poverty alleviation.

If you are a woman, what would your life have been like if you had been born in Uganda or any of the countries that COCO work in? Would you have had the same opportunities and expectations for your life? At COCO we are proud of the women we work with and support, they are our inspiration and they are the driving force behind so many of our projects.