Perspectives: Talks On International Women's Day

By Trilby Goouch
Blogs Editor

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Queen’s Half The Sky dessert night. The event featured 3 speakers who spoke about women’s rights in third world countries. Suffice to say I was incredibly moved and inspired by what I took away from the night. When it comes to coping with third world issues, I’ve learned a lot while attending Queen’s.

Many of you may remember my post featuring ‘Why You Should Volunteer Abroad,’ and I was surprised at how people reacted to it. Here I was thinking I’d made a difference and encouraging others to do so as well, meanwhile my fellow students (in particular, those in the DEVS programs) challenged this, explaining that volunteering abroad may not be as impactful as people may think in some cases.

At first I was taken aback, but as I did more research, I’ve learned to look at third world issues in a different light.

One of the most interesting things I took away from the event was what I learned about Kiva, a microfinance charity that started in 2004. Kiva is an online platform that allows borrowers from 67 countries around the world to seek out loans to support their enterprises by posting their needs virtually through a microfinance institution (MFI). Lenders are essentially providing capital while the loan itself is provided by the MFIs. The idea is that the more capital supplied, the more funding these MFIs will give out (which are funded mostly by charities). The speaker recommended that lenders focus on manufacturing or agricultural loans, as these tend to be more prosperous than smaller vendors or retailers. Unfortunately interest rates on loans are very high, and there is controversy over whether the rates exceed local moneylenders or not.

But what I found most inspiring was gynaecologist Marina Stratszak-Suri’s presentation on third world maternal mortality. She focused on her experience in Africa; her photos revealed sanitation methods such as washing bedding on the floor with a wet mop, broken anaesthetic machines and rooms packed with clustered cots. Sometimes it takes visual evidence to understand the degree of disparity between third world conditions and those we experience at home. The photos gave me a sudden appreciation for the privacy, cleanliness and hospitality of the hospitals we have in Canada.

She also addressed the issue of Western countries’ efforts in improving hospital conditions; many hospitals donate technologically advanced machines, which fail to make any impact. The machines are foreign to the doctors, and they don’t have the tools to fix them. This result in machines acting as ‘coat hangers’. Her solution is education; she and a team of doctors travel to the hospitals and give hands on training on proper stitching, infant delivery and crisis management.

Marina summarized the night quite eloquently: Though microloans and educational trips may seem like drops in a bucket, the drops are falling into the same bucket.

As someone new to the study of international development, I’m curious as to what people think of these proposed solutions. Do these speakers offer pivotal insight?

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