What hopes and dreams do you hold for your children’s future? Perhaps it is a hope that they will find a loving relationship, a meaningful job or financial security. Perhaps it is simply that they will find a path that makes them happy.
In my line of work as a gender advisor for World Vision Australia, I hear a lot about the hopes and dreams of girls and women in the developing world. And yet, when World Vision recently asked female staff from around the world to share their aspirations, I still found myself a little surprised by how much their answers resonated with my own views of the future.
“I need to give my children a good education so they look after their own lives in the future,’’ said one woman from the Solomon Islands.
“I hope to be someone who can make a difference in people’s lives, whether through my work or through my personal relationships,” said another from Lebanon.
“I’d like to save to build my own house in my village,” said another.
And my personal favourite — “I would like to be less careful and more carefree in my life. I want to love, be loved and live.”
Doesn’t every woman want a bit of that?! And yet the challenges facing many of these women differ so drastically from the challenges I struggle with.
I’m not suggesting that we don’t have work to do here in Australia; pay inequality is still an issue; we have not eradicated domestic violence; and some women in our society still don’t experience a true sense of freedom. But these are all problems that we see magnified in the developing world.
To give you the big picture, wrap your head around this – globally, women do 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of the world’s food, but only earn 10% of the world’s income and own only 1% of the property. The figures are even more staggering when you look at particular sections of the population. In sub-Saharan Africa, women own less than 2% of the land but produce 90% of the food!
This is aside from all their other responsibilities. Everywhere I travel I hear stories of women at work from dawn to dusk: cooking, cleaning, gardening, caring for children, selling produce at markets, collecting water and firewood. The amount of effort this takes is astonishing.
Just this week in Honiara (Solomon Islands) I spent a couple of hours with some youth after work, cutting grass with bush knives. The area we worked in was not huge but the task was exhausting, back-breaking stuff and I was amazed to hear that women are responsible for doing this task in large fields.
In some ways, it’s the micro-level challenges that shock us most – domestic violence, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, high rates of death during child birth, obstetric fistula and other birthing complications.