By Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE
Every day, women and girls in developing countries walk an average of about four miles — many much farther — to collect water, food, firewood and other basics their families need to survive. Each step takes time that could instead be spent going to school, managing households or earning income.
Today, on International Women’s Day, I will walk 10,000 steps in solidarity with these women and girls. So will thousands of other CARE supporters across the country participating in Walk in Her Shoes, a virtual campaign whereby people walk wherever they are to raise awareness and funds for women and girls leading their communities out of poverty and, in some cases, through humanitarian disasters. We have all taken the pledge to walk these 10,000 steps for seven consecutive days — March 8-14 — raising funds on our own or in groups.
Today, on Day 1, I’ll be walking in solidarity with Sarah, whom I met in Malawi last year during an El Nino-driven drought. She walks several miles to sell her drought-resistant cassava — a new crop that had doubled her family’s income from the previous year. She told me people just want to “stand on their own two feet” as they try to withstand the effects of climate change. Today I will stand — and walk — with her.
On Day 2 I’ll walk with Salamatou Dagnogo. Forced to marry at age 13 in Côte d’Ivoire, she was a mother of five by the time she turned 20. Salamatou told me how her 60-year-old husband abused her regularly. But she remained strong and courageous. She joined a CARE Village Savings & Loan Association, or VSLA, from which she borrowed money to start a business selling salt and eventually was able to walk away from her abusive husband, re-marry and support her children to attend school. She grew that business, built her confidence and — by trekking untold distances to launch 175 additional savings groups — laid a foundation for more than 3,000 other women to break through the barriers that held them back, too.
On Day 3 I’ll be walking with Fatchima Aboubaca, a spirited 80-year-old I met last year in Niger. She and 20 other women started the very first VSLA group 26 years ago. In Niger the groups have grown into a movement of more than 200,000 people that supports women for elected office and acts as a safety net in times of drought. The groups are called “Women on the Move.” The least we can do this week is join them — to be “on the move” for women in Niger and around the world.
On Day 4 I’m planning a 15-mile trek through Atlanta, CARE’s hometown. This, my longest walk, will be in solidarity with the women who have had to flee their homes because of conflict or hunger, from Syrian and Yemen to Afghanistan and, most recently, South Sudan. In fact, today South Sudanese refugees are walking for days through thick bush to avoid attacks, arriving barefoot, hungry and exhausted in Uganda. An estimated 90 percent of them are women and children.
On Day 5 I’ll be walking with Maria Landa, of Peru, whom I had the privilege to meet last year. She turned stereotypes on their head when, as a girl, she trained to be an expert welder. Then, with a loan from CARE, she started her own business. Today, she is the CEO of her own successful welding and scaffolding company, one that even built tents for CARE’s response to an earthquake there.
On Day 6 I’ll be walking with Shabnam Jahan, 16, whose dreams were nearly derailed when her parents pulled her out of school in the second grade, saying they couldn’t afford it. Shabnam persisted in her love of learning, however, and was able to return to the classroom with help from CARE. She has excelled there ever since, even placing first in a science and math competition.
On Day 7 I’ll walk with Sethambaram Annaletchumy, a tea picker I met in the highlands of Sri Lanka. Like her mother and her mother’s mother, she was born on the tea plantation. She lives there now, every day walking to and from her job harvesting tea shoots. With each step, she envisions a much different path for her 17-year-old daughter — who has graduated from high school and plans to attend college. “My expectation,” she said of her daughter, “is that, unlike me or my mother, she will leave the plantation to find work.”
That’s ultimately why we Walk in Her Shoes this week, taking steps together toward a better future.
Photo Credit: Josh Estey/CARE
Caption: On International Women’s Day, CARE President and CEO Michelle Nunn will walk 10,000 steps in solidarity with women like Salamatou Dagnogo from Cote d’Ivoire. Salamatou joined a CARE Village Savings & Loan Association, or VSLA, from which she borrowed money to start a business selling salt and eventually was able to walk away from her abusive husband, re-marry and support her children to attend school. She has since started 175 VSLA groups, empowering some 3,000 women.