International Women’s Day is March 8, and this year I was given the opportunity to attend a conference at the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) here in Rome. The conference, “Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality and Zero Hunger,” revolved around the idea of gender equality for rural women and how achieving it would bring an end to hunger, malnutrition, and even boost the economy.
It was so humbling and inspiring to be at the United Nations, surrounded by influential people — mainly women — from all around the world. For example, one of the panel members was the founder of the Women’s University in Africa, who talked about how vital education is for nearly every social battle we are fighting. Another panelist was the founder of fair-trade shoe company, Solerebels, who discussed the importance of having daycares and other resources at work for working moms. Every speaker at the event had something enlightening to say, whether in Spanish, English, or Arabic.
Many women in Africa and Latin America especially do not have the right to property or the right to participate in discussions about family — both rights that are fundamental, according to the speakers. Lack of educational opportunities for women and girls also is a major obstacle.
The World Food Program has initiated several projects to combat educational, social and economic inequality. The presenters showed us one that took place in Rwanda, where members of the WFP coach and train women — and their husbands — to share housework and agricultural work, as well as income and decision-making for the family. The idea of a family being a unit and of the wife having a voice changed this family’s dynamic. Now that the wife is equal to the husband, the household is peaceful and has been doing better economically.
The experience of being in an environment that I aspire to work in, surrounded by people whom I look up to, was very empowering. I am so grateful to have had this inspiring, eye-opening experience.
I learned that the fight for equality is not for women to battle alone. In order to achieve true equality, men need to speak up for women’s rights. We are all in this together for the improvement of everyone’s lives.
WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin left us with a question for ourselves as he closed the event. “We must each ask ourselves what step must I take, both today and throughout the year, to ensure I will make a difference for girls by removing a barrier or opening a door?”
My step? I will spread the knowledge about the cause. What about you?