WEN Café: Global Women’s Rights

Thursday January 14th, 2021

Last month, Women’s Equality Network Wales hosted an online WEN Café panel event with a series of guest speakers to discuss global women’s rights.

By Elle Redman.

For December’s online WEN Café event, we were delighted to invite guest speakers Aminat Ayodele, Barbara Davies Quy, Martha Musonza Holman and Joys Violette Njini to join us for a discussion on global women’s rights.

Hosted by WEN Wales Director Catherine Fookes, panellists were invited to share their thoughts on the work going on in Wales to support women’s rights around the world and eliminate gender inequality in the wake of pressing global issues.

Speaking within the context of the Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015), which focuses on Wales as a globally responsible nation working to make long-lasting and positive change, we explored questions surrounding the climate crisis, migrant women’s rights, equal representation, the power of fair trade and the recent government budget cuts to overseas aid funding.

The relationship between climate change and gender inequality

Beginning with Barbara Davies Quy, head of programmes at Cardiff-based climate change charity, Size of Wales, we looked at the impact of climate change on women around the world.

Describing the mission of the charity, Barbara explained Size of Wales was set up over 10 years ago with the aim of protecting two million hectares of tropical rainforest. This mission is carried out by supporting local indigenous communities and other forest communities to protect rainforests in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Additionally, with the help of the Welsh Government, the charity aims to plant 25 million trees in Uganda by 2025.

“Not only do we work overseas, but we work here in Wales to inspire young people, businesses and communities to take action on climate change and address the deforestation crisis,” Barbara added.

When it comes to the ever-growing and undeniable effects of climate change, Barbara highlighted its intrinsic relationship to poverty and noted the crisis greatly impacts the lives of the world’s poorest people. Given that women and girls make up the majority of the world’s poor, the impact of climate change is disproportionately felt by women.

For example, Barbara explained women are more likely to be displaced from their homes by the changing climate, face greater risk of gender-based violence when they are displaced and are also more dependent for their food and income on the land that is changing as a result of the crisis.

“Unfortunately, women are excluded from decision-making around climate change, but have huge amounts of knowledge and expertise that could be used,” she concluded.

Women seeking sanctuary and diversity in public life

Next, we heard from project development officer of Women Seeking Sanctuary Advocacy Group (WSSAG), Joys Violette Njini.

Based in Butetown and founded in 2009, the lobbying, advocacy and support group works locally to empower female refugees and asylum seekers by creating a safe environment for migrant women in Wales to rebuild their lives.

“[WSSAG] is like a family,” Joys began, “We’ve seen women grow from strength to strength from the moment they walk in through the door until they go onto further their education and carry on with their careers,” she said.

Having seen first-hand how helpful the organisation’s services have been for women in the community, Joys hopes the Welsh Government will do more to support migrant women by providing more funding for important services.

For women who have arrived in the UK as sanctuary seekers, the challenges to participate in public life are great, noted WSSAG founder, Constance Nzeneu, who also attended the WEN Café event. The work to empower them starts at the grassroots level which requires both resources and funding, she added.

“If this kind of funding is made available for more organisations and services such as ours are spread out across the country, we can eventually have the representation that we want in public life and public office,” Joys explained.

Speaking up and calling for education

Following Joys, we heard from Aminat Ayodele, advocate for the rights of women and girls and creator of The Female Speak Up.

Aminat moved to Wales from Nigeria one year ago where she worked for leading non-profit Oxfam and helped with the organisation’s Village Savings and Loan Scheme (VSLA) which was adopted by Oxfam as an empowerment strategy to eliminate poverty in rural areas of Nigeria.

Discussing her Facebook group, The Female Speak Up, Aminat explained the network was formed to create a safe space and platform for women to share their personal stories confidentially and without judgement. Through the group, Aminat encourages women, irrespective of tribe, religion, race, and background to ‘speak up’ about the issues affecting their lives instead of staying silent.

Inspired by her experience with a group of young girls she met in Nigeria who were afraid to talk about the personal challenges they were facing surrounding menstruation and female hygiene, she hopes to bring together a passionate team of women from the Facebook community to encourage girls in primary and secondary school to speak up about bullying, abuse, harassment and other important issues.

Aminat affirmed, “If I was in the position to be the first minister, I would prioritise supporting other countries in assuring every girl child gets educated…When people are educated, they are able to understand the importance of health care, realise that they can participate in decision-making and own their own property and land.”

Overseas aid funding cuts and the power of fair trade

Lastly, Martha Musonza Holman teacher, charity founder and one of WEN Wales’ 100 Women, shared her thoughts on the power of fair trade and the vision behind her two organisations, Love Zimbabwe and Love Zimbabwe Fair Trade.

Creating community projects in both Zimbabwe and Wales, Love Zimbabwe aims to engage communities in sustainable living and encourage practical changes to support fair trade. The charity also works with schools to help children learn more about sustainability and African culture.

Growing up in a village, Martha knows and understands what it looks like to live in poverty. “I know the difficulties women go through in Africa, particularly in the patriarchal system,” she said.

Supported by the Welsh Government and partnering with Fair Trade Wales, Love Zimbabwe is based in Abergavenny and was created for the love of the people – especially women and mothers of disabled children, Martha noted.

Drawing further on the theme of education, Martha explained Love Zimbabwe has established a community centre to educate mothers about health and caring for their children with disabilities.

Speaking of the government’s budget cuts to overseas aid, Martha added, “The reduction is going to affect a lot of organisations…It’s a bullet for African people to bite and I think the time has come for deeper and more direct involvement for us as Africans.”

Martha concluded, “We need to get together and start thinking, ‘What’s the best way [forward]?’ and ‘What can help us come out of poverty?’ We need to speak to our governments.”