Photo: Helen Manson, Tearfund New Zealand
A self-help group and gender training helped Grace improve her life.
Photo by Helen Manson, Tearfund New Zealand

Grace, a wife and mother in Uganda, found herself in an unbearable situation at home. Daily life surrounding household chores and caring for children, with little support from her husband and few resources available to her, was holding her back.

Faced with unequal decision-making opportunities and unequal workloads, Grace said it was like living in “total slavery” — a seemingly never-ending cycle of toil, exhaustion, and inequality.

Throughout the first full week of February (Feb. 3-9, 2019), Canada will celebrate International Development Week (IDW) to recognize the nation’s contributions in creating a better future for people like Grace and in guiding communities worldwide through international development efforts. IDW is also a time to inspire Canadians to consider what they can do to reduce poverty and suffering in the world’s most broken and needy places.

While there has been much to celebrate in creating more prosperous, equitable communities, this year’s theme of “Together for Gender Equality” reminds us that the work is not yet done.

Women such as Grace are all too often disproportionately burdened with the effects of illiteracy, food insecurity, violence, and increased vulnerability in areas affected by disaster or conflict. This gender inequality has many limiting and debilitating effects for women in the developing world.

Two statistics are perhaps the most sobering: two-thirds of the world’s poor are women, and 75 percent of the world’s illiterate are women and girls. Gender discrimination, lack of educational opportunities, and poverty remain intrinsically linked and prevent women from having fulfilled, flourishing lives at home and in their communities.

As Grace shared about her own situation, “All the family roles were left in my hands. I would work from the morning hours for the whole day without any rest.”

Grace was responsible for all of the household chores along with cooking, fetching water, harvesting her own portion of the field, and even caring for the animals. Being poor, Grace has no access to convenient time-saving devices, so her work was always done by hand, and each task was time consuming.

Often her husband would look on while Grace worked without food or rest. Even if a wayward goat was destroying their produce, Grace’s husband would not chase it away because that was “her job.”

Then Grace’s life took a turn for the better. World Renew started a “self-help” group in her community, which acts as a Village Savings and Loans program, giving people in poverty an opportunity to save money and take out loans at reasonable rates.

A number of women in the community had joined the group, and many of them had also taken part in World Renew’s gender justice training. When they heard about Grace’s living conditions at home, they called on her to take the gender training as well, to become a “gender champion.”

For the first time, Grace felt empowered to speak to her husband. At first he dismissed her, but then slowly and over time he began to listen. He felt touched by her words, and he began to understand how much she had suffered by his actions.

Now Grace is happy to report that because of her gender training, not only has her marriage improved, but also her burdens at home have lessened. She and her husband are sharing roles and responsibilities, and they offer each other support in their daily work.

She proudly explained, “Even if there are other responsibilities, my husband gives me a helping hand. . . . If he sees we don’t have firewood, he will also help me. If we need to pick some green vegetables, we do it together to save time so we can both come back early. We are now working together. This has brought a joy in my life at home.”

Grace no longer feels like a slave exhausted by her workload, and now she is flourishing in both her marriage and in her work. Most importantly, through World Renew’s programs and gender justice training, Grace understands that she is uniquely created and loved by God.

Please join World Renew this International Development Week (Feb. 3-9) in celebrating how God has helped women and men discover their gifts and God’s vision for their lives. You can follow World Renew on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and their website as each day they share stories and photos of how they are working to promote the theme “Together for Gender Equality.”