We Walk in Solidarity With Women and Girls Across the Developing World

What's the best way to get involved in international development from the UK - both to make a difference in developing countries and at the same time involve supporters in the UK? How do we do this without sounding cringingly paternalistic?

What's the best way to get involved in international development from the UK - both to make a difference in developing countries and at the same time involve supporters in the UK? How do we do this without sounding cringingly paternalistic? How in one initiative can you combine raising awareness amongst the general public, lobbying for policy change amongst influencers, and raising money? These and associated questions have been bugging me for many a year and I have seen different attempts to square the circle. CARE International's Walk In Her Shoes is one such attempt, and one that I think is beginning to achieve results.

In some ways it's a straight-forward fundraising challenge, one which takes place in March every year to encourage people to walk 10,000 steps a day for a week and raise funds by doing so. But the walking aspect is in solidarity with women and girls across the developing world who, because of the traditional division of labour, are the ones who have to collect water for the household, often from great distance.

As a result, girls sometimes miss school, or are late or exhausted when they get there. Older women are also constrained by this daily chore in ways that reduce their opportunities for paid employment or income generation, and both young and old are exposed to dangers, including physical attacks and abduction during the daily water collection routine.

The daily walk aspect of this initiative draws attention to the amount of time and energy involved - even without actually carrying the water. So beyond the direct fundraising element, there is also a request for the individual or groups doing it together to identify with the walking that women and girls have to do - i.e. a call for connection and commitment. There is also a certain irony in the fact that for most people in the developed world, the daily walk that the do through the challenge is probably good for them.

Furthermore, Walk In Her Shoes will be launched this year on Mother's Day, Sunday 6 March, and two days ahead of the main target moment, International Women's Day - two celebratory days, both focused on women but with different emphases. The launch takes the form of a public march right in the heart of London, along the Thames, on Mother's Day.

For the launch itself some of us, myself included, dress up as Suffragettes, creating a link to the UK's very difficult struggle for women's political representation. The re-enactment element adds colour and meaning - the embodying of the past through the costumes, through my ancestry, and much more than all that, through a sense of continued purpose.

We will be joined by very different kinds of feminist organisations working in the UK including Girl Guides, the Women's Institute, Refugee Women, Forward and Women's Aid; by international organisations; by MPs, Peers and politicians in local government from different parties; and with women's rights activists adding their voice to the mix including Annie Lennox and Bianca Jagger. People - women and men - will come together as a global movement, with their own feminist local and/or global perspectives, but also in support of CARE.

Meanwhile, this year the funds that we raise will be matched by the UK government, doubling the funding that CARE receives, with the extra funds going to a water, sanitation and women's rights project in Ethiopia, which CARE will monitor and support with technical advice. The fundraising and the project implementation work on the ground is therefore joined up.

So back to my initial questions. It seems to me that with Walk In Her Shoes we have a development initiative that people in the UK can relate to in a more multi-dimensional and reflective way. Linking to the Suffragette movement and embedding it within a range of wider domestic and international women's rights struggles provide a sense that we are working within a wider context - within the global women's rights movement. We have combined raising awareness of the overall context with a specific ask around lobbying and raising money. And finally, although CARE works in many countries on many different issues affecting women and girls, we have linked the initiative to a specific project in Ethiopia.

Hear more about these issues by joining Helen Pankhurst and a host of leading activists and performers such as Annie Lennox, Bianca Jagger, Bridget Christie, Leyla Hussein and Natasha Walter at CARE International's Walk in Her Shoes rally and walk by City Hall, this Sunday March 6 at 10am.




HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about.

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