INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Salesian Missionaries Focus on Gender Equality Providing Young Women Education and Workforce Development Programs
(MissionNewswire) Each year, March 8 marks International Women’s Day. The day celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women around the globe while focusing the world’s attention on areas requiring further action. Humanitarian organizations, human rights groups, governments and the United Nations come together around important women’s issues that affect all people. Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco, joined the international community in observance of International Women’s Day.
This year’s theme, “Make It Happen,” celebrates the achievements of women while calling for greater equality and effective action for advancing and recognizing women.
To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, senior United Nations (UN) officials highlighted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments 20 years ago that set the agenda for realizing women’s rights. While the UN noted that there have been many gains in education and healthcare for women, there is still a long way to go.
“We must acknowledge that the gains have been too slow and uneven, and that we must do far more to accelerate progress everywhere,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in a statement on International Women’s Day. “From Nigeria and Somalia to Iraq and Syria, the bodies of women have been transformed into battlegrounds. Women have been attacked for trying to exercise their right to education and basic services; they have been raped and turned into sex slaves; they have been given as prizes to fighters, or traded among extremist groups in trafficking networks.”
Salesian missionaries living and working in more than 130 countries around the globe are focused on achieving gender equality though education and workforce development programs targeted specifically for young women and girls. These programs strive to empower young women and girls by providing opportunities for education and training that lead to livable wage employment.
“Young women and girls face many disadvantages and barriers to accessing education and achieving financial independence despite their huge potential,” says Father Mark Hyde, executive director of Salesian Missions. “It is very important for girls to attend school and gain an education. Girls that are empowered though education are more often able to achieve financial independence, marry at an older age and make better and healthier choices that affect not only themselves, but their families and communities as well.”
In honor of International Women’s Day, Salesian Missions is proud to share some of its programs around the globe that empower young women and girls.
Started in 1992, the Casa Maín girl’s home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, provides shelter, nutritious meals and schooling for girls and young women with little access to education and those who were once living on the streets. Currently, there are more than 160 girls living and being educated at the home. Casa Maín is comprised of three houses and the girls are divided among them by age. The youngest girls, attending elementary school, live together in one house supported by several volunteer students from the secondary school. A second house provides shelter and peer support for girls attending secondary school while a third house is for young women attending the local university.
The university students enjoy a setting that allows them to finish their degrees in higher education in a stable environment while learning how to live independently. In addition to academic classes, the young women and girls at the home learn skills in communication and conflict management. Additional classes in dance, gymnastics and crafts are provided in the evenings and on weekends. Most recently, the organization offered a three-week technology workshop to teach the girls basic computer skills including typing, word processing and drawing.
The Salesian Polytechnic University which started in 1994 and has campuses in Cuenca, Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador, provides education to more than 35 indigenous students, many of whom are women. These students are taking degree coursework in communications, biotechnology, management and leadership and psychology.
The Salesian Polytechnic University provides educational programs in biology, social science and human behavior, education, science and technology, animal science, literature, administration and finance and religion. Many students attending the university take part in hands-on research and job training in addition to traditional coursework. In addition to offering classroom lessons, the University has become a place for the meeting of cultures and the exchange of knowledge for both students and teachers. It offers real opportunities for education and progress for disadvantaged youth coming from indigenous communities.
In the state of Tamil Nadu, India, the Salesian “New Beginnings” program helps to educate Sri Lankan refugees while giving their families the chance to achieve stability in their new country. The program offers technical and vocational courses and skill training as well as job placement support to aid refugees in finding employment.
For women with children who are unable to leave the refugee camp and attend traditional classes, a special program has been developed within the camp. Through it, women receive training in skills such as jewelry-making and sewing and are also provided entrepreneurial workshops. In addition, they are eligible for financial assistance to start up new businesses where they can use their new skills while continuing to take care of their families. One such business is a cooperative that utilizes sewing machines and equipment financed through a micro-credit program. To date, close to 2,500 refugees have received vocational training scholarships through the program and 550 women are benefiting from the refugee camp-based small business incubator program. In addition, Salesian missionaries are currently serving 550 individuals by providing vocational training through a network of nine Salesian-run Don Bosco schools spread across Southeast India.
Center Kër Don Bosco officially opened at the end of January in Dakar, the capital and largest city in Senegal. The new center will provide education, vocational training and apprenticeship opportunities to disadvantaged youth and women living in the Yoff district on the outskirts of the city.
Focused specifically on helping women gain opportunities in the workforce, the center is offering two literacy classes as well as a safe space for studying. Women in Senegal are often heads of households but lack the training and confidence to try to enter the workforce or advance into higher paying jobs. The center’s goal is to help women connect with their peers and provide access to employment training to boost confidence and improve employment prospects.
Salesians at Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown, Sierra Leone, have been running a Girls Shelter for the past two years. Here, professional social workers and pastoral workers provide crisis intervention and follow-up care for girls and young women who have been the victims of sexual assault. Those that access services at the shelter are also able to enroll in educational programs that are a part of the broader Don Bosco Fambul network. These programs train young women in the skills necessary to find and retain employment.
As part of the rehabilitation program at the Girls Shelter, young women take coursework in hotel management, hairdressing and tailoring. This training helps to empower them to overcome the discrimination they have faced, gain a greater awareness of their rights and boost their work prospects. It also helps to build character while allowing the young women the freedom to make decisions that affect their lives and their health. Recently, both the trainers and the students in these programs were able to present their skills and products to the general public at an exhibition in Freetown.