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March 8 is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate the gains women are making in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It’s also a day to inspire us to continually work for a future filled with hope and opportunity for women and girls.

Many women around the world live in poverty. They live in places where they do not have access to education or fair credit. They live in places where they face persistent food insecurity, inequality and discrimination. Too often these limitations prevent women from making a positive difference in their lives and in the lives of those around them.

Together we can help women everywhere gain momentum and become agents of lasting change in their communities.

Through Presbyterian World Service & Development, our church is actively supporting programs that benefit women in places like Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Malawi, Mozambique, India and Guatemala. With this help women are realizing their potential, achieving economic independence and advocating for their rights.

Economic Empowerment

Pushpa with her vegetable cart

PWS&D partners with community organizations to empower vulnerable and marginalized women to transform small loans and savings into promising futures. Women are supported as they form self-help groups and receive literacy, business and vocational training to improve their livelihoods.

With their earnings, women are able to take control of their futures and build better lives—they can send their children to school, access medical care and save for the future. Earnings provide women, who were previously economically dependent on men, with newfound independence and confidence.

After losing her husband in an accident, Pushpa wondered how she would support her two daughters without a source of income. It was not until she discovered a PWS&D-supported program assisting hundreds of women in the slums of Chennai, India that she was able to take control of her future. Puspha joined a self-help group and received an initial loan of 20,000 rupees (about $375). With this money, she purchased a cart to sell vegetables and used the profits to send both of her daughters to school.

Ending Discrimination

Maya women in Guatemala are learning about savings and human rights.

Economic empowerment programs specifically target the most vulnerable including women from the Dalit and tribal caste in India, indigenous women in Central America and differently-abled women in Ghana.

Indigenous women in the western highlands of Guatemala have endured many decades of civil war and an even longer history of discrimination due to gender, race and poverty. Working with local partner the Fraternidad of Maya Presbyterials, PWS&D is supporting groups of women by providing small loans for businesses and skills training in health and nutrition.

As the Maya women receive training in literacy and business skills, and increase their household incomes, they exceed the expectations of men and are slowly ending years of gender discrimination. “We’re changing and our families are changing,” said Carmelina, a program participant.

Agents of Change in India

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In India, self-help groups and women’s associations are doing much more than saving; they are mobilizing women to advocate for their rights, become active participants in their development and ultimately transform their society.

Through self-help groups, women meet regularly to discuss family, home life and larger societal issues such as women’s rights and gender equality. Women learn about their rights, as well as how to safeguard themselves against violence and domestic abuse. Through women’s associations, they are also able to engage in broader mobilization activities, lobby local bodies and advocate for change.

Help remember the struggle of women and ensure women continue to gain momentum by recognizing International Women’s Day with your congregation. Together we can empower women to become agents of meaningful change in their communities, striving to overcome poverty and injustice.

You can make a donation to PWS&D through your congregation, by mailing a cheque to the PWS&D office, donating online or calling 1-800-619-7301 ext. 291.

Click here to see what women and organizations around the world are doing to recognize International Women’s Day.