New Delhi: As the world marks International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political, and socio-economic achievements of women, team Banega Swasth India speaks with Susan Ferguson, UN Women India Representative, who is working on the issues related to women and gender for nearly 30 years.
This year, women’s Day is being celebrated with a unique theme – ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’. The aim of the day is to highlight the contribution of women and girls around the globe, who participate in their communities promoting climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, in order to build a more sustainable future for everyone.
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Here’s is what we discussed with Susan Ferguson:
NDTV: Why does March 8 holds so much importance? Tell us a bit about the theme this year for Women’s Day?
Susan Ferguson: It’s just not about March 8, women should be celebrated every day. But this is still a special time of the year, where we specifically focus on the contribution that women make to everyone’s life – at home and in the public sphere. This year, the theme is about gender equality within the context of sustainable development. So, it is such an important issue to look at as it has connections with women empowerment.
NDTV: What is the impact of climate change on women and why is gender equality important for a sustainable tomorrow for each one of us?
Susan Ferguson: As everything, climate change has a specific impact on women, men, girls and boys, differently and that is because in many places, men and women life is different. So, it has a differential impact. If you look at the impact of climate change, women are very badly affected. For example, in many parts of the world, women have to collect water for the family that means they have to walk further to find water holes or sources. This means they have less time for earning a living or looking out for their household.
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NDTV: What is the way ahead, how can we centerstage women, when we talk about climate change?
Susan Ferguson: Women are often poorer than men, so climate change effects are far worse for them as they are already behind. It is very important for women to have a say in climate response, so women in decision making is absolutely crucial, both within the families and outside in the community on what needs to be done in order to adapt to climate change. If they are not involved or are not sitting in the decision-making table, the solutions that will be coming up will not necessarily meet their needs. So, women in decision making is extremely crucial and that requires changes in social norms for women in families and communities. On the other hand, we also need to start thinking of investing in women’s interest, especially in young women, as often it is the younger generation that becomes the incredible change makers of tomorrow.
We also have to move beyond ideas to actually enacting solutions and all this requires investment and expertise. I think, women collectively need to raise their voices and get involved in the constructive dialogues on how to make this world a better place and all of this together only will lead to much more lasting solutions to sustainable development.
NDTV: How can we create an equal society for women?
Susan Ferguson: I think, there has been an amazing movement over the last years. We can see enormous changes on gender equality around the world, including India. So, there is some very basic thing we all can do around gender equality and in bringing forward equality for all because women still lag in some of these statistics like sharing the care at home for elderly and kids or sharing the household chores because all this have a huge impact on women’s ability to look outside the domestic sphere. I think, collaborating with other women and men is also equally important to advocate this change. Gender equality is just not the fundamental human right but also a very necessary foundation of a sustainable, peaceful world and we need this more than ever.
NDTV: How important is to educate our girls and women?
Susan Ferguson: Educating girls and women is almost number one priority. In the developing world, it has always been recognised that equal education for both girls and boys is really transformative. If you can get girls in schools and also keep them in school, then it really opens up so many opportunities. Education has a lasting effect on the girl’s life. For instance, it increases the age when they are likely to have children, which opens more opportunities. It is more likely that she will get a job and earn income and reinvest that in her child with better food. So, education has a ripple effect on girls and also on families, which will help us achieve our sustainable development goals.
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NDTV: When we talk about leaving no one behind – women are the key. What are your thoughts on this?
Susan Ferguson: Women are the 50 per cent of the population. We really are the force for change and a force for economic development. So, it is really important to have women energy and unlock the barriers so that they can really help bring country’s forward in its growth and development.
NDTV: Has COVID-19 made access to things for women even more challenging?
Susan Ferguson: Around the world, COVID-19 has had varied impact, it has slowed our economic development and because women are often not in the most secure position, they are the first ones to lose their jobs and the last ones to get them back. Let’s hope, these innovations that we are talking about change this current scenario and women become an important part of unlocking the barriers.
NDTV: How is UN helping change lives of women in India?
Susan Ferguson: UN is doing a range of different things. For instance, one of the programmes that really is relevant in today’s scenario is the second chance education programme, which involves women who had to leave school early for one or another reason. The programme is helping them get back to school and it also involves people who don’t really want to go back to school but want to get trained for employment opportunities. So, the programme basically provides such individuals skill and entrepreneurial training.
NDTV: Your message for women’s day..
Susan Ferguson: Firstly, men are the key for the solution because we are the half of the population and the other half is men. It is so important for men to understand the involvement of women in all of the things that life has to offer and it is equally important for men to support women to be able to get access to things or live their life in a way that is positive and healthy. So, we really have to welcome men’s support and partnership in this road to equality.
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NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.