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Friday November 1, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday November 1, 2013 MYT 8:59:37 AM
by gayathri nair
Standing united: Soroptimist International Ambassadors (L-R) Rachael Taylor, Philomena Piamari, Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam, Soroptimist International Friendship Link Coordinator Chris Knight and Keshvi Lal.
Women activists from South West Pacific Soroptimist International came together recently to educate, exchange and connect.
IN Fiji, women and girls are fighting for equal education rights and helping one another acquire specialised skills to improve their earning capacities.
In Papua New Guinea, women still die during childbirth due to inadequate medical attention.
In New Zealand, women are fighting against violence and championing women’s rights.
One of the ways women activists are tackling these various issues is by forming alliances to support and help one another.
Soroptimist International is a global women’s organisation whose members volunteer to improve the lives of women and girls through social and economic empowerment programmes.
A group of goodwill ambassadors from the South West Pacific chapter were in Kuala Lumpur recently as part of an exchange programme called Educate, Exchange, Connection.
The South West Pacific Soroptimist president Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingam, organised the exchange programme to build good will, understanding and friendship.
Participants shared the work and challenges they face in fighting for women’s wellbeing in their respective communities and countries. Even though each country faces its own unique challenges, it was an opportunity to learn about one another’s experiences and best practices.
Fijian Keshvi Lal highlighted her organisation’s efforts to educate women.
“In general, Fiji is a rather low income country. We have either very highly educated women or the complete opposite,” says Lal who is working on a microfinance project to give women income-generating skills.
“We’ve recently formed a microfinance group called ‘Shady Cool’. Its purpose is to gather women with different work specialities such as sewing, cooking, creative arts and so on, and help spread and exchange these skills with each other.
“This way, the women learn more than one specialised skills to help them start up businesses and sustain themselves.”
Apart from economic empowerment, Lal is also passionate about educating Fijian women on their rights
“Violence against women is one of our major concerns. We also have people and volunteers who go into smaller villages and educate the women there about domestic violence or violence in general.
“We want to share with women how and where they can come forward to lodge reports, and how to protect themselves.
“We try to spread the awareness to children. We also encourage schools to incorporate violence awareness in their curricular so children know their rights and which authorities to approach in case of a complaint and so on,” adds Lal who has been a member of the Soroptimist International (SI) for over five years.
Like in Fiji, violence against women is also a top concern for women’s organisations in Papua New Guinea (PNG) which have lobbied for legislative reforms.
“Most recently, with the support from Port Moresby’s Soroptimist International, the Family Protection Bill was passed through the Parliament and officially became an act in September last year.
“With that, domestic violence can now be charged as a criminal offense, as compared to just being prosecuted as an assault case previously,” says Philomena Piamari, who is based in Port Moresby, PNG.
Poor maternal health support services is another issue women in PNG face. According to a 2010 report by the World Health Organisation, seven women in every 1,000 die during childbirth due to inadequate information and medical knowledge as well as supplies.
Only 40% of births take place in healthcare facilities.
“We are in the midst of increasing the knowledge of birthing within the community and have fully trained midwives. In rural areas, women are dying while giving birth and this should not be happening,” stresses Piamari, who is advocating for better maternal health facilities, improved access to education and higher political participation from women.
As part of the Soroptimist exchange and connect programme, the New Zealand chapter is sharing its knowledge on improving maternal health with its Papua New Guinean counterparts. They are collaborating on projects to train midwives through a Midwife Consulting group.
Soroptimist New Zealand representative Rachael Taylor shared how they are also working on programmes to help mothers – in their case, teenage mothers.
“In 2007, we discovered the need to help young teenage mothers, aged 14 to 20.
“They come from various backgrounds such as broken families and so on, and we realised there needed to be an avenue for these women to come together and gain shared knowledge from those in similar situations.
“The unit was formed after many years of investigation by my organisation ‘Soroptimist Nelson’, and we did a survey and conducted interviews with teachers and parents of younger mothers and realise a pressing need to form such a unit.”
The project, called “Nelson’s school for young parents”, provides a safe environment for teen mothers. The school offers sewing and cooking classes amongst others, as well as lessons on how to run a household.
“The school has made it possible for most of these young women to go on and lead their lives normally, gain further education and pursue jobs.
In the Soroptimist spirit of Educate, Exchange, Connection, Taylor believes their Nelson school model could also be used in other countries to support teen mothers.
“As Soroptimist representatives, we of course want to spread our findings and knowledge internationally,” says Taylor who adds that they are willing to help other Soroptimist organisations start such projects in the local communities.
Tags / Keywords:
Women, Women, Soroptimist International; Women's Rights; Global
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