In many developing countries women and girls bear the brunt of poverty, with more girls out of school than boys and more women out of work than men.
But women and girls are an immense source of untapped potential, and Anglican Overseas Aid, a relief and development agency of the Anglican Church of Australia, has gender equality programs across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific.
Their women’s empowerment work includes HIV and AIDS prevention in Mozambique and Kenya, maternal and child health programs in Ethiopia and Kenya, safe and effective solar lighting contributing to safer homes and income independence for women in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and breast cancer diagnosis and management in Gaza.
Although he’s worked for aid agencies for 15 years, AOA Church and Community Engagement Officer Nils von Kalm only recently experienced project work for the first time when he travelled to South Africa and Mozambique in March to visit communities supported by AOA.
“I was staggered to hear that the rate of HIV infection in South Africa is at 20 per cent, unemployment in some rural areas is up around 80 per cent, and there is an epidemic of violence against women,” Nils says.
Nils was also introduced to the “stories behind the statistics” when he visited the Women’s Empowerment Program run by the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown.
“One of the brave women, Noluthando, has been trained to talk to village chiefs, most of whom are male, about the fact that they can no longer turn a blind eye to violence against women.
“In this project I saw the power of transformation at work – women who used to be weighed down with oppression will no longer be dictated to by anyone.”
In a different part of the world, Peter Routley, on the ABM Provincial Committee and part of the St Peter’s congregation, has been a generous supporter of AOA projects in Kolkata for more than 20 years.
In India, women face systematic discrimination and exploitation, and AOA’s partner, Cathedral Relief Services (CRS), battles entrenched attitudes in a huge population to support at-risk women in slums.
“I support them because I feel they make money go a long way, they’re scrupulous with the way they do things,” Peter says.
“And they go by invitation to help already established organisations out in the suburbs of Kolkata in the very poorest areas.”
Peter felt a connection to Kolkata during a month-long holiday decades ago when he came across the Anglican Cathedral, and has been supporting the work of CRS ever since.
He has returned at least six times to visit the projects and says, “It’s not a hand out, it’s not just bags of rice, it’s so much more”.
“They’re interested in educating women and girls, they teach them skills they can use to make a living,” he says.
“They learn to make things or become beauticians because there’s a big market for it in India and it provides an income.”
To learn more and support Anglican Overseas Aid projects visit www.anglicanoverseasaid.org.au