More needs to be done to promote equality for women and girls

7 Mar 2013   |   Media release   |   Uganda   |   Bangladesh   |   Women


Caritas Australia, the international aid and development organisation of the Catholic Church, said empowering women might be one of the Millennium Development Goals, but Australia needs to do more to promote opportunities for women and girls to access justice and have their dignity and rights respected globally.

On International Women’s Day March 8, Caritas Australia CEO, Jack de Groot said globally women still account for nearly 70 percent of the world’s poorest people, two-thirds of those unable to read and write; and one third of women experience physical and sexual violence.

“More than 11 million women and girls are in forced labour and every hour, 32 women die giving birth or for reasons related to pregnancy,” Jack de Groot said. “These deaths are easily preventable with access to maternal healthcare, before, during and after labour.”

“But on the other hand, women are incredibly resilient and often the champions of development in their communities.

“Women are more likely to spend their earnings on their household’s needs and increasing women’s education level greatly improves mothers’ and children’s health.

Caritas Australia’s partners in nearly 200 programs in over 30 countries around the world focus on of the most vulnerable in society including women. Many such programs are funded through Project Compassion, Caritas’s major fundraiser currently being held in Catholic schools and parishes across Australia.

“These programs in health, water and sanitation, education, livelihood and much more are changing lives for many women and opening doors into education, sustainable livelihoods, affordable healthcare and supportive, safe environments,” said Mr de Groot.

Safe motherhood in Bangladesh

Salma holding her 3 week old daughter Maya.

One of the programs that Caritas Australia is supporting is the Safe Motherhood Project (SMP) that is making a huge difference to women in rural Bangladesh.

Up to 70 percent of pregnant women in Bangladesh are anaemic, a condition which affects the nutrition of the unborn child and makes the mother more likely to develop a postpartum haemorrhage, the main cause of maternal mortality in Bangladesh.

A recent woman in the SMP, Salma, felt frightened and unsure when she fell pregnant, as some villagers told her that sickness and a loss of appetite was a sign that the baby could be abnormal.

Thanks to the program Salma was supported by a local midwife who was trained through the Safe Motherhood Project and gave birth to a healthy baby girl called Maya.

Sister Julienne Hayes-Smith, former SMP coordinator, said that the number of maternal deaths has greatly decreased in rural Bangladesh.

“Maternal mortality is still high in Bangladesh, but not one mother has died while under the care of a midwife trained by this project,” Sister Julienne said.

This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”

Violence aganst women, Uganda

In Uganda, where Caritas Australia is supporting Caritas Lira, violence against women is common. Janet Oyee knows firsthand.

In 1996 the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) abducted 139 teenage girls from St Mary’s School Aboke in Northern Uganda. Janet Oyee from Caritas Lira was among the first 109 to be released shortly after their abduction, but the LRA retained 30 girls who became soldiers and sex slaves.

This experience has shaped her life and impacted her work today with Caritas Lira in Uganda.

“Like my fellow captives, I was beaten and given heavy loads to carry,” Janet said. “Over two nights, we encountered government ambushes and risked being hit by stray bullets from the ground and from helicopter guns. Barefoot, hungry and exhausted, we were led through thick forests, bushes and swamps by fierce child rebel soldiers.

“I was one of the lucky ones, but life was never the same. That’s why in 2005, I started working with Caritas Lira. My work with the organisation is vital; it has empowered me in many ways and helped many others too.”

Janet Oyee (based in Caritas Lira, Uganda) and Sister Julienne Hayes-Smith (based in Australia) are available for media interviews.

Media contact: Nicole Clements 0408 869 833 or

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