Salesian Missions joins the United Nations and its international partners in celebrating International Women’s Day, celebrated each year on March 8. The day celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women around the globe while focusing the world’s attention on areas requiring further action.
The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.” This year the U.N is reflecting on how to accelerate and build momentum for the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its new commitments under the UN Women’s Step It Up initiative. This new initiative asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investments.
Some key targets of the 2030 Agenda include: ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes; ending all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere; eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation; and eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
“On this International Women’s Day, I remain outraged by the denial of rights to women and girls – but I take heart from the people everywhere who act on the secure knowledge that women’s empowerment leads to society’s advancement. Let us devote solid funding, courageous advocacy and unbending political will to achieving gender equality around the world. There is no greater investment in our common future.”— UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon statement on International Women’s Day.
Salesian missionaries living and working in more than 130 countries around the globe are focused on achieving gender equality though education and workforce development programs targeted specifically for young women and girls. These programs strive to empower young women and girls by providing opportunities for education and training that lead to livable wage employment.
“Young women and girls face many disadvantages and barriers to accessing education and achieving financial independence despite their huge potential,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions. “It is very important for girls to attend school and gain an education. Girls that are empowered though education are more often able to achieve financial independence, marry at an older age and make better and healthier choices that affect not only themselves, but their families and communities as well.”
In honor of International Women’s Day, Salesian Missions is proud to share some of its programs around the globe that empower young women and girls.
Started in 1992, the Casa Maín girl’s home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, provides shelter, nutritious meals and schooling for girls and young women with little access to education and those who were once living on the streets. Currently, there are more than 160 girls living and being educated at the home. Casa Maín is comprised of three houses and the girls are divided among them by age. The youngest girls, attending elementary school, live together in one house supported by several volunteer students from the secondary school. A second house provides shelter and peer support for girls attending secondary school while a third house is for young women attending the local university.
The university students enjoy a setting that allows them to finish their degrees in higher education in a stable environment while learning how to live independently. In addition to academic classes, the young women and girls at the home learn skills in communication and conflict management. Additional classes in dance, gymnastics and crafts are provided in the evenings and on weekends. Most recently, the organization offered a three-week technology workshop to teach the girls basic computer skills including typing, word processing and drawing.
Women from the slums of Mumbai, a densely populated city on India’s west coast, graduated from a Salesian-run 45-day skills training course. The women took courses in basic computing, English, tailoring, garment making, beauty care, hair dressing and mehndi (henna) application. The goal of the training was to help participants become better prepared for employment.
The Don Bosco Development Society in Mumbai which works to empower women in poverty to gain the skills and confidence they need to seek work, facilitated the training. For many of the participants, this was the first time they received educational training since the basic education they received when they were young. Salesian missionaries conducting the program modeled it after Skill India, an initiative by the Government of India’s Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. After the course was completed, many of the students noted that through the course they gained a sense of self-worth that they had not had before. They also felt that the skills and confidence they gained would enable them to earn a living and support their families.
Center Kër Don Bosco officially opened at the end of January in Dakar, the capital and largest city in Senegal. The new center will provide education, vocational training and apprenticeship opportunities to disadvantaged youth and women living in the Yoff district on the outskirts of the city.
Focused specifically on helping women gain opportunities in the workforce, the center is offering two literacy classes as well as a safe space for studying. Women in Senegal are often heads of households but lack the training and confidence to try to enter the workforce or advance into higher paying jobs. The center’s goal is to help women connect with their peers and provide access to employment training to boost confidence and improve employment prospects.
Salesians at Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown, Sierra Leone, have been running a Girls Shelter for the past two years. Here, professional social workers and pastoral workers provide crisis intervention and follow-up care for girls and young women who have been the victims of sexual assault. Those that access services at the shelter are also able to enroll in educational programs that are a part of the broader Don Bosco Fambul network. These programs train young women in the skills necessary to find and retain employment.
As part of the rehabilitation program at the Girls Shelter, young women take coursework in hotel management, hairdressing and tailoring. This training helps to empower them to overcome the discrimination they have faced, gain a greater awareness of their rights and boost their work prospects. It also helps to build character while allowing the young women the freedom to make decisions that affect their lives and their health. Recently, both the trainers and the students in these programs were able to present their skills and products to the general public at an exhibition in Freetown.