Did you realise International Women’s Day was celebrated earlier this month?

Was it acknowledged or observed in some way that you were aware of?

I saw several posts on Instagram and Facebook but I’m not sure the wider community were aware of it. Another day another cause. However, I think this is an issue which needs addressing and not just a once a year mention that can easily pass by un-noticed.

This quote is one of the many I saw and is specifically about the cotton industry but the issues are the same for the garments workers (also predominantly women) and all sorts of other industries too. The principles are also relevant to our society too.

“Gender inequality is often seen as a women’s issue. Wrong! Gender is not about women – it’s about power balances between men and women, and relationships which are free from prejudice. Achieving gender equality in agriculture means empowering farmers, farm workers and their employers to build communities where everybody feels equally valued.”

To read more…

Gender equality is a huge issue with the potential to have a profoundly positive impact on our communities, societies and globally. This is an issue close to my heart with the work that we are doing with marginalised women, who I prefer to see as the vibrant and talented female artisans they are.

They are also mothers, who given a chance to make a viable living, can keep their children living with them and not have to send them home to the villages where relatives look after them and they see them maybe twice a year.

If the power balances between men and women are changed through empowering women to earn a fair wage they will also have more of a say in breaking the poverty cycle, getting their children educated and the girls not married off aged 12 due to financial constraints.

They have the potential to be not just valuable assets to society but be critical changemakers in the way their societies are currently run and they are capable of, if given a chance.

Many of the women we support are based in developing countries where the above issues are their everyday reality and gender imbalance is even more exaggerated than it is for those of us in countries like New Zealand, Australia, UK, USA… They are often from marginalised groups in their societies and need a ‘hand up’. This is why we have chosen to partner with NGO’s and Fair Trade accredited suppliers in these developing countries.

Our first major supplier is based in Bangladesh. Their CEO is (hallelujah) a woman – Kohinoor – picture below during my buying trip last July.

We have an interview with her coming soon. What an inspirational lady she is, rescuing women from partners who are also their pimps, are in abusive arranged marriages, abandoned, widowed…the list goes on.

Their vision is “to build a just and poverty-free society in Bangladesh through the empowerment of women”. They work with some of the most marginalised women in the country, assists them with entrepreneurship development, marketing facilitation and personal and family services. These include a Safe House with a skills training programme and a crèche for their children.

Our society certainly has plenty of scope for improvement too. In many workplaces there is significant imbalance in female representation. Female CEO’s often have a rough time in comparison to their male counterparts, women struggle to be represented in many male dominated industries including ones which are surprising.

On the night of International Women’s Day (IWD) my 24 year old daughter went to a function where she and her design partner are contenders for an industry award. She has been dismayed at the gender imbalance and found it fascinating that the panel of seven judges are all men and all white middle class men.

As we cleaning up the kitchen that night, we compared notes on our observations of our days. I had been at a work industry networking evening for the first time. A fabulous night, but as I chatted with a few women after the formalities concluded, we were all aware that no acknowledgment had been made about the fact that it was IWD. We were chastising ourselves for not saying something. However, on reflection there weren’t any women given an opportunity to present from the front at that function. Don’t get me wrong, the speakers were very good on the whole and entertaining – it certainly wasn’t boring. However, like I said, no female representation verbally.

I was far more impressed that my millennial daughter HAD taken the opportunity when they had a Q&A at the end. “Time for one more question!” they announced…and heart pounding she piped up.

“Will there be any female judges included on the panel any time soon?”

After a couple seconds stunned silence, applause erupted!

I for one, plan to put March the 8th in my diary for 2017 and plan to do something to celebrate International Women’s Day next year.