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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 28 2015 (IPS)
Rotary will honour six women members of Rotary clubs from around the world during the 2015 Rotary Day at the United Nations.
Lucy Hobgood-Brown, co-founder of HandUp Congo, working with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Scheduled to take place on Nov. 7, Rotary Day brings together over 1500 Rotary members and civil society organizations to inspire and discuss its humanitarian services.
This year, the event will recognize the achievements of six women in assisting thousands of people in need in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.
“The honorees are strong leaders in their communities, having achieved professional success and engaged in volunteer activities that are making the world a better place,” Rotary International President K.R. Ravindran told IPS.
“It’s particularly important for women in developing countries to play a role in providing humanitarian support, as they are uniquely poised to serve as trusted voices,” President Ravindran continued.
Though there has been some improvement, women and girls continue to be left out of development and decision-making processes.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, women make up 22 percent of parliamentarians. Even fewer women are in legislative bodies.
However, studies have revealed the positive influence women have on development when included in decision-making.
For instance, research on local councils in India found that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62 percent higher than in areas with male-led councils.
The failure of governments in engaging women and girls can also be seen within the humanitarian community, which continues to exclude them in the creation and implementation of peace and development operations.
UN Women found that between 1992 and 2011, only four percent of signatories in 31 major peace processes were women. Women also only made up 2.4 percent of chief mediators and 9 percent of negotiators.
When asked about the significance of women receiving Rotary’s award, Stella Dongo, one of the honorees, told IPS: “For me I think it is the recognition of women’s contributions in humanitarian and leadership. I am just but one woman who is doing what I am able to do, there are thousands of women out there who are doing incredible work and making a difference in their communities. I want to salute them too.”
Similarly, Kerstin Jeska-Thorwart, another honoree, told IPS: “The award first and foremost strengthens the position of women in third world countries, and thus their work, in the area of humanitarian service.”
Following the 2004 Asian tsunami, Jeska-Thorwart rebuilt and equipped a hospital in Galle, Sri Lanka with the support of 200 Rotary clubs. The project, known as Baby Hospital Galle, has since helped more than 150,000 children and provided healthcare services to over 2.2 million women.
Dongo leads a community empowerment project in Zimbabwe, teaching business and computer skills to over 6000 women and youth affected by HIV.
Another honoree, Razia Jan, is the founder and director of the Zabuli Education Center, a school serving over 430 girls in Deh Sabz district of Afghanistan, an area where a school for girls never existed before.
“Investment in girls’ education is essential to disrupting the self-perpetuating cycle of poverty and illiteracy that leaves a population vulnerable to oppression and extremist control,” Jan told IPS.
“[The school] is a symbol and a catalyst for an evolving society, one in which girls and young women are slowly being treated with more respect and dignity,” she continued.
Globally, approximately 62 million girls around the world do not attend school.
The new World’s Women Report 2015 also revealed that illiteracy rates are higher among women than men. An estimated 781 million people over the age of 15 are illiterate; nearly two thirds of them are women, a ratio that has remained stagnant over the last two decades.
Evidence has shown that education delays early marriage and thus pregnancy complications as it gives girls more choices and opportunities.
Dr. Deborah Walters, who will be honored on Rotary Day, also provides education, health and social services to children and their families in Guatemala through her organization, Safe Passage.
In Bangladesh, honoree Hashrat A. Begum has been at the forefront of women’s health, implementing numerous projects delivering health care services to underserved communities. In addition, she provides vocational training to girls and empowers women to earn livelihoods as seamstresses.
Lucy Hobgood-Brown, another honoree, has also been working in healthcare, developing public health infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Highlighting the role of women and its link to Rotary International, Dongo told IPS: “Through [Rotary’s] humanitarian work…women have a big role to play and greater chance of influencing change. This recognition will encourage the many women who are already touching lives to continue and improve quality of life to those in need.”
Since its founding over 100 years ago, Rotary’s 34,000 clubs and 1.2 million volunteers have supported humanitarian efforts globally. Its six core areas of focus include fighting disease; providing clean water; saving mothers and children; supporting education; growing local economies and; promoting peace.