International Women’s Day: History and #BalanceforBetter

On Friday 8th March African Initiatives celebrates International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day that marks women’s progress and gender equality around the world. This year, we are honouring IWD with our #BalanceforBetter 2019 Appeal which is raising funds to help support our Land Rights and Gender Equality project with our long-standing partner Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT).

In this blog, I delve into the history of IWD which began in 1911. I reflect on how African Initiatives has celebrated IWD since 2011, discuss our #BalanceforBetter 2019 Appeal and explain how we are making a difference to the lives of pastoralist women living in Simanjiro, Ngorongoro and Longido districts, northern Tanzania.

International Women’s Day: History

Beginning in 1911, IWD is celebrated every year on 8th March and honours the political, cultural, social and economic achievements of women globally.

The beginning of the twentieth century saw a rise in unrest and debate amongst women. Consistent inequality and oppression motivated women to become more active in the campaign for change, sparking movements around the world. In 1908, 15,000 women demonstrated in New York, demanding better pay and the right to vote. In 1909, the first National Woman’s Day was observed across the United States on the last Sunday of February. At the Second International Conference of Working Women in 1910, the idea of a global ‘Woman’s Day’ was tabled and met with unanimous approval. In the following year, IWD took place for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Today, IWD is celebrated by multiple NGOs, charities, corporations, governments and academic institutions across the world. If you are interested in learning more about the history of this important day, click here.

African Initiatives and International Women’s Day

Between 2011 and 2016, African Initiatives hosted an annual International Women’s Rights Conference in Bristol, attracting speakers from diverse backgrounds in academia, development and the not-for-profit sector. Our conferences featured talks and workshops on topics affecting millions of girls and woman around the world. Conference themes included women’s rights, education, equality and empowerment.

Our 2014 conference, for example, was entitled ‘Reflections on Rights and Reasons’ and its underlying message was ‘Equality for Women is Progress for All.’ Workshops included discussions on acid violence, forced marriage, women and sex work, as well as the importance of women’s representation in politics.

Reading back over African Initiatives’ conference publications, I was shocked to learn that in 2010 in the UK, there were nearly 2,000 cases of early forced marriage, with 30% of the cases involving girls under 18 year-of-age; the youngest being 2 years old. The conference was a fantastic opportunity to highlight issues like these, creating a space in which awareness could be raised through debate and discussion. If you would like to read more about the 2014 conference topics, click here for our conference publication.

We also participated in an International Women’s Day event in 2016 which was organised by Bristol Women’s Voice. Through an African drumming workshop and a talk by the Pastoral Women’s Council (our oldest partner), we communicated the need for girls’ education and how African Initiatives improves access for girls in the poorest communities.

Since 2016, we have been running annual fundraising and awareness raising appeals on IWD, centred on securing better opportunities for women in terms of education, health and well-being, and economic development.

Our #BalanceforBetter 2019 Appeal

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” In line with #BalanceforBetter, our appeal is raising funds to support pastoralist women suffering extreme gender inequality to become financially independent, empowered in their communities and to enjoy a dignified way of living.

Context: Land dispossession and gender inequality are serious challenges facing pastoralists in Tanzania. Land disputes between communities, as well as an institutional preference towards wildlife and conservation land use exacerbates the problem of land displacement. Despite their involvement with toiling the land and cattle rearing, women are often denied the opportunity to make decisions about land or livestock, meaning they have little power or say in traditional decision-making processes.

Project: In collaboration with UCRT, we are working to improve community resilience for 22,303 pastoralists (including 11,364 women) in 13 villages across 3 districts of northern Tanzania by legally securing land so these villages are able to have shared grazing land and use it in a way that suits them.

Your support will help African Initiatives work towards redressing the sharp gender imbalance in Tanzanian pastoralist communities by supporting community sensitisation training on women’s rights, Women Rights and Leadership Forums (a platform for female representatives to discuss women’s issues in their communities), and the set up of Village Community Bank (VICOBA) schemes (provide microloans to women, providing them with access to credit, means of production and financial independence). Read more about our livelihoods work

Meet Namayan

Namayan has lived in Terrat village in Simanjiro district, northern Tanzania for most of her life. She is mother to 11 children and has many grandchildren. Namayan was democratically elected as a representative of her local Women’s Rights and Leadership Forum, and she is now Chairperson of the forum. Our project is having a profound impact on the life of Namayan, her fellow representatives, and the women in the surrounding communities.

“The training that my fellow members and I have received has helped us understand our rights as women and equals in both our households and communities. Our VICOBA group meets every Thursday and the loans it provides helps women obtain the capital they need to start small businesses of their own and earn a stable, independent income.”

Donate and help women like Namayan achieve gender equality

Let’s change women’s lives this International Women’s Day. Click here to donate and make a difference in African Initiatives’ mission to strengthen the capacity of women and girls to realise, demand and exercise their human rights.