Small Steps in Women’s Rights

Small Steps in Women’s Rights April 26, 2010

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson: I loved this book. I was so inspired that a man can give up so much and have such a passion for helping out people who live thousands of miles away from him, who have no ‘physical’ connection to him.  Give up his home?!  Not just his cup of Starbucks, but his home!  Amazing.

Here was a scene from the book that really touched a chord with me. When Mortenson returned to Korphe after the bridge had been built, he noted that a dozen Korphe women were dressed in their finest clothing and heading out to neighboring villages for their day off, Friday. He wrote,

Now that they could be back in the same afternoon, Korphe’s women started regular Friday visits to their families… The bridge strengthened the village’s maternal ties, and made the women feel a whole lot happier and less isolated.  Who knew that something as simple as a bridge could empower women?

That last line of Mortenson’s touched a chord with me.  I was in Baghdad when an election law was stipulated that one third of all Parliament seats must be given to women. I’m not fully supportive nor defensive of this law. I don’t think it’s the most effective way to win women their rights. I don’t know that it’s best for a country.

But I do feel that these small steps, as described by Mortenson, can sometimes bring about much more amazing freedoms to women.  Over a year ago, I heard a short talk by the former CEO of Islamic Relief.  He was once sitting on a meeting of world-renowned women leaders, discussing relevant ways of bringing women in developing countries their rights.  He mentioned to us a story he told these women leaders, a simple story of women’s rights success carried out by a relief organization.

One of the steps that Islamic Relief believed in was relieving women of basic needs to free them up for other pursuits. In one village in Africa, Islamic Relief found that women were traveling, by foot, 25 kilometers daily to bring in water from a far away source to their homes. After a trip like that, most women did not have surplus time to do much more than basic tasks. They were overwhelmed by their everyday tasks, meeting their basic needs, and had no time for such things as participating in the village council. At that time, 12 men sat on the ‘board’ of village leaders.

Islamic Relief  moved in and worked on building wells in this village. Four years later, when IR members went back to this village, they found that seven of the twelve members of the village council were now women. They had more time for the ‘extras’ in life.

Sometimes it really is the little things that bring rights to women worldwide. I can’t claim that this is true everywhere, or a cure-all solution, but it is one more thing that makes Three Cups of Tea a must-read.

Fatima Abdallah

Fatima lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two daughters.  She is currently a full-time mother and part-time youth worker with MAS Youth

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