Sophie Ellis-Bextor: The Walk4Women podcast is brought to you this International Women’s Day in collaboration with CARE International, a leading humanitarian organisation fighting global poverty in over 100 countries, with women and girls at the centre of their work. With thanks to partners Stylist Magazine. I’m Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
Helen Pankhurst: And I’m Helen Pankhurst, and we’re here to celebrate International Women’s Day and to celebrate women, worldwide, with you.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: This podcast is a celebration of the women worldwide who are leading their families and communities through devastating crisis, the kind we’re seeing more and more of in the news: the conflict, the chronic hunger, the displacement from homes, the climate catastrophe – they impact women and girls disproportionately. Today we’re going to explore why, and speak to some of the most incredible women who are on the frontlines of responding to these crises.
Segment: Happy International Women’s Day – spoken in several different languages
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: I was really keen to take part Helen when you asked me. I have a podcast myself called Spinning Plates where I speak to women who are sort of juggling all sorts of things while they are also raising a family. We’re about to speak to some women who are juggling the most extraordinary things in the most extreme of situations, and I feel very honoured that I get to spend some time talking to them today.
Helen Pankhurst: Yes, and we’re very honoured to have you with us, it’s lovely to bring people together across differences, isn’t it? So we will also have music from some of our favourite singers – so RAYE, Beverley Knight, Imelda May, Urban Voices Collective and the BOND quartet.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So whether you’re lacing up or sitting down get ready for a fabulous hour of inspiration.
Helen Pankhurst: And use the hashtag #Walk4Women with the number four in between – so Walk4Women – to join the global conversation on social media. If you’re in the UK, please support CARE’s vital work, donate £5 by texting the word WALK to 70507. That’s WALK to 70507. Texts cost £5 plus your standard rate, and don’t forget to ask the bill payer’s permission.
Neil Gaiman: Neil Gaiman here. It seems to me like there are more and more humanitarian disasters around the world. There are climate crises, conflict and hunger as well as natural disasters – like the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria. Thank you to all who are listening to the stories of the inspiring women who are leading their communities through crisis. I’m wishing you all a Happy International Women’s Day.
Bianca Jagger: I am Bianca Jagger. And I support a woman’s right to lead. Yes, we must celebrate the gains we have accomplished over the years, but in order for us to achieve gender equality we women must assume our rightful seat at decision-making tables. I stand in solidarity with everyone that is walking today.
[background music ends]
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So, Helen, first off can you tell us about the right to lead campaign and why humanitarian emergencies impact women and girls differently?
Helen Pankhurst: When environmental or other humanitarian disasters hit, women and girls suffer particularly badly from the fallout, because of the massive burdens of caring, not just for themselves but because they are also the prime carers for the young, the old and the infirm. I mean we know that, that’s a global factor.
It’s probably not surprising that mortality rates in these types of disaster therefore are higher for both women and unborn children. And as conflict and emergencies continue, health services tend to be affected, and so you’ve got this vicious cycle that comes through. Then if you look at chores, household chores, they become harder as well. So issues such as water collection, finding food, shelter, all of these basic needs are that much harder when you have an emergency, and the role of ensuring that they are covered predominantly falls on women and girls.
Then if you think about the economic impacts of emergencies, and how they specifically fall on women and girls in things such as girls being more likely to miss school, they’re the ones that tend to be pulled out of school if there’s an emergency, and also because of concerns for their wellbeing, but also for poverty reasons. If there’s a child that’s going to stop going to school it tends to be the girl.
The risk of child marriage also increases as families are forced to reduce the number of mouths to feed and girls get married off, often heart-breaking choices for families. At times of high stress, domestic violence also increases, that’s universal. In times of desperation, women and girls are more likely to be sexually exploited, and when they’re more vulnerable on the move, they are again at increased risk.
Moreover, humanitarian risks are thought about at the moment they are on our screens, that’s when we are aware of them, but the impact on people’s lives goes on and on. We see this time and time again, and we’ll hear more about that aspect of crises, the ongoing effects of them, from some of the women we’ll be talking to later on.
Despite the general and specific dangers that women face, they are often absent from policy tables. Again, we know that and we see that in the UK as well as globally. So their needs tend not to be prioritised, even although they’re engaged at community level in responses.
A special focus on women and girls is needed to address the reality that their interest and needs tend to be overlooked, their voices silenced. But not here, not now – and not if we can help it going forward. In this podcast we wanted to show listeners examples of women who lead in crisis, and who are making a difference.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: And making a difference they are, we’re going to speak to incredible women. And, I mean, that summary of what’s going on, it’s just so much to think about, and you’re right that we see things on our screens but actually the ongoing impact on people’s lives, that’s much more longer-lasting. And a lot of it’s just not widely covered, you know when there’s an emergency, we see the initial aftermath, and the cameras move on, and we don’t see the long-term repercussions in communities. And what about men and boys, what are their roles?
Helen Pankhurst: good question. It’s blatantly obvious that we will not get to equality and equity unless men and boys are involved in the conversations around social change; unless we’re also aware of and address intersectionalities, including those of LGBTQ+ communities. So in our celebrations of women today, you’ll be hearing primarily from women, but also you’ll hear the voices of a few male allies. And a huge thank you in particular to David Arnold for his ongoing support to CARE, and his work in producing this podcast. He supports our International Women’s Day efforts tirelessly year in and year out, and so a big shout out to him. And of course to all the men and boys listening to this podcast.
Our call to action is to use the hashtag #Walk4Women, with the number 4 – #Walk4Women – to join the global conversation on social media. And to support CARE’s vital work, donate £5 by texting the word WALK to 70507 for those of you in the UK.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Thank you so much Helen. I think we should kick things of don’t you, shall we start with a song? Yes? I think this one’s pretty apt for International Women’s Day.
Helen Pankhurst: Yes, this is a song from Beverley Knight, and from others who are singing with her from the musical Sylvia, which is now showing at the Old Vic about my grandmother. But I’ll let Bev introduce it. Over to you, Bev!
Beverley Knight: Hi Helen, Hi Sophie, Hello everyone! I’m Beverley Knight. I’m proud to share my voice for CARE and for a woman’s right to lead. Now Helen, as you know, I’m playing your Great-Grandma Emmeline Pankhurst in the new stage show Sylvia at the Old Vic in London, a show about the suffragette’s struggle for the right to vote and to participate fully in society. And ultimately to have an equal right to lead. And I think one of the song’s from that is particularly fitting, so me and some of the team have a special performance of it for you. Now if you’re walking in solidarity while you listen to this, I hope it makes you walk tall and walk proud. This one’s for the women who lead!
Song: March Women March
Performed by Beverley Knight and the cast of Sylvia
Michael Sheen: Hello, it’s Michael Sheen here. Use the hashtag #Walk4Women to join the conversation on social media. And please, support CARE’s work with women around the world by texting WALK to 70507, thank you.
Sue Perkins: Hello, Sue Perkins here. Please use the hashtag #Walk4Women to join the conversation on social media and please if you can support CARE’s work with women all around the world by texting WALK to 70507. Thank you very much.
Interview with Nada, Yemen
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Ok, let’s meet Nada from Yemen. And Helen, can you just tell us a little bit about the situation in Yemen?
Helen Pankhurst: Yes, Yemen is one of the world’s largest ongoing humanitarian crises. The Yemeni civil war has left more than two thirds of the population, that’s 22 million people, in need of emergency assistance, and around half of that number are in acute need. A collapsing economy, and non-existent public services mean that millions are struggling to access food, water, education and healthcare.
So in that context it’s really interesting to meet Nada. She found herself in her village, cut off from the rest of the country, when the road in her village was blocked by a siege. In the absence of any response from the authorities, Nada took action, mobilising other women in the process. She is an incredible cause for change in the community. So let’s speak to her!
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So hello Nada, what a pleasure to speak to you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your community, and how you’ve been affected by the conflict in Yemen?
Nada (speaking in Arabic, with an English voiceover): My name is nada Ahmed Thabit Alqubati. I'm 30 years old. I'm single. My family consists of 15 sisters and brothers, and I'm the breadwinner of my family. I live in Taiz area after becoming displaced from Alhodeda city because of the conflict.
My hometown in Alhodeda area was affected by the conflict and the fighting, and I lost one of my brothers due to a missile attack. My sister-in-law also passed away after she was wounded by shrapnel. We used to live in terror and we couldn't sleep. The situation was difficult.
We eventually decided to flee from the city to my mom's hometown village in Taiz area. And as a result, I lost my job, the job that had provided income for my family and me.
After displacing from the city to the village with some of my family members, we faced difficulty adapting to village life because the town lacked the minimum services for a decent life.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Thank you so much. And can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that your community were facing, and in particular, we’re really interested to hear from you about the road that you’ve cleared, it’s just incredible.
Nada: Yes, there are many challenges in my community. For example shortage of foodstuff, medical supplies, and essential services.
Dangerous roads and the difficulty of movement has caused these shortages. The main routes to and from Taiz area were blocked because of the conflict. And as the main roads were blocked, we used risky, unpaved secondary roads. We lack the minimum services for a decent life in this village. For instance, patients cannot reach health facilities to receive medical treatment. One female student decided to use a risky sub-road through the hills to shorten the distance to her school, but she fell off the hill, and her spinal cord was badly injured.
Another woman was in labour, and she lost her baby. She passed away with her baby. We couldn't save them and couldn’t send them to the health centre because of the long distance from the village to the nearest health facility. This is one of the main challenges we face in rural areas. We lack nearby health facilities. And even the available health facilities, they don't have enough supplies and equipment.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So can you describe what you did, I mean how did you get other women involved?
Nada: I called out to people to reopen the old sub-road, and the women responded to my call. The first woman to respond to my call and support my initiative was a woman who had lost her baby during delivery on her way to the hospital. Once she heard about my initiative to reopen the old, neglected road, she was the first woman to join, and that honestly gave me the strength to move ahead and call for more women to join us. We are in a situation where at least one woman should shout out and call for others to join.
Male leaders in my community mocked us and criticized our initiative. They said we would need millions of Rials to fix the road. They also said that we are just a few women incapable of doing anything. They said many things that hurt me, but we insisted on advancing this initiative. Many marginalised women from the Muhamashin community supported my initiative because they needed the wood we were picking and collecting while cleaning the road, for them to use for cooking.
We went there as a group, and came across trees that blocked the road looking like a forest. As we removed the trees, the old road began to appear, and more and more people began to recognise it as an important route. My dream was to reopen this road and I have achieved it.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: That is so amazing Nada. So what impact has clearing the road had for you in your community, and what changes have you seen?
Nada: I'm actually speechless. I don't know what to say; everyone here is delighted because of this road. It’s incredible; everyone is happy and satisfied with the road. I cannot describe how we feel when we see patients able to reach hospitals and pregnant mothers getting to hospitals on time to deliver their babies safely.
Now we can reach services, and the situation in our village has really improved. Also, one organisation intervened in our village and provided temporary job opportunities for jobless people. This gave us a new ray of hope, thank God. For me, I feel that I was able to save pregnant mothers and their babies and help patients reach the health centres on time. This road has become a lifeline that connects villages, districts, and governorates. My happiness is indescribable; my dream came true. I served my community, and I'm grateful for that.
Helen Pankhurst: This International Women’s Day, what you be your message to other women around the world who are making a difference for their communities?
Nada: My message on International Women’s Day is that women who love to do good deeds should never be fearful. They should never fear anything. We should keep trying and hold on to hope and determination. We should try hard to overcome the obstacles because there simply is no way to improvement without challenges, obstacles, and problems that have to be defeated.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Wow, Nada is incredible and I loved her message at the end there, yes, keep going – what an absolute inspiration.
David Tennant: Hello, this is David Tennant, supporting girl’s rights, supporting women’s rights. Today and every day, walk tall, walk strong, walk together. Happy International Women’s Day everyone!
Dr Shola Mos-Shogbabimu: This is Dr Shola Mos-Shogbabimu. A woman’s right to lead is not up for debate. Now is the time to change the narrative that thinks that our life, liberty and choice can be determined by anyone other than us. Enough is enough.
[background music ends]
Interview with Daria, Ukraine
Helen Pankhurst: Ok, next up Sophie I want to introduce you to the most incredible woman. One year ago, Daria fled her home in Kiev in Ukraine, and she’s now actually speaking to us from Poland. You won’t believe what’s happened to her, and what she’s achieved since that day.
So Daria hello, and thank you so much for joining us. You and I know each other, but I wanted to introduce you to Sophie who is keen to know your story. Can you please tell her about the moment you knew you had to leave your home and what has happened since?
Daria: It's been a year now, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. I remember how I woke up at 5am. I had this phone call from a friend who lived in the same neighbourhood as I did and she heard explosions, and she called me to tell me that the war has started. And the feeling of panic and not knowing what to do, it was the main [thing] … and the idea that I knew I had to flee, I had to leave my home. And I remember how I woke my son up, how we packed in about 20 minutes, just took whatever was on the shelves just took some documents and passports. I'm glad I took passports, because a lot of people forgot about it in panic. And I just… I sat in the car and we drove away from Kiev.
It was exactly, I remember, it was 20 minutes to get up, to pack, and to leave our home. We packed, and together with my mom and my son, we left Ukraine.
We were driving and discussing what to do next, what country to stay in. Because the feeling of not knowing what to do next, not knowing what is in front of you, not having a job or home or place to stay even, in a completely strange country and we were just discussing should we say in Slovakia, or should we go to Poland, what to do next?
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Daria, can I ask how old was your little boy when he had to leave?
Daria: So my son was 10 when we were leaving, and we celebrated his birthday in Warsaw in October. Now he's 11.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Wow, that's an incredible story. And you've really brought it to life there. Am I right that it's actually almost a year to the day, I think it's tomorrow, that this all happened? And you've recently been back to Kyiv to visit your elderly grandmother. Can you tell me a little bit about what it was like to go back to Kyiv and to see the home that you left as well?
Daria: It was bitter and sweet together at the same time, because I was returning home for the first time in over a year. And I was excited and happy and of course seeing my grandmother, she's 84, and my father who decided to stay to just defend the country. It was incredible emotions and I … it was a great joy for me, just to be with them for one day, it meant a lot.
I remember I entered my home and it was exactly the same I [as] left it a year ago. Now my cup with coffee that I didn't finish, and our just packing small things, some toys for my son. It was very important to be back… it is… when you leave a place unexpectedly and unwillingly, it is always good to be back home. Even though it's not safe yet.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: How typical is that of the other women that are going through the same experience, like where you are and the people you know?
Daria: Most of the refugees from Ukraine are women with children, because men are not allowed to leave. And how incredibly strong and brave these women are. I just admire each of them. Because leaving your home with your children and building your life again in a new place, very often not knowing the language and not knowing the place at all. It requires a lot of strong and braveness.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Definitely. And what are your hopes for the future, for the women that you're working with?
Daria: Of course my biggest hope for all of us is to return to a free, independent and safe country. I wish our children will never see the war again. And my biggest hopes for the women who have left and who had to leave their husbands, their families, their homes – for them to be reunited and to have a safe place, a safe home. And also, those who are now in all of the countries, in a complete strange place to find the strength inside them to continue on and to build – even if it's temporary – to build their lives in different countries.
Helen Pankhurst: But you haven't just faced that with your family, you've also then helped others. Can you tell us a bit more about what you've ended up doing because it's such a strong example of women leading through crisis not just sorting out their own lives, but also helping others.
Daria: I remember when I was going to Poland, on the way to Poland I had this understanding that I’m going to a country, I can speak the language so I can help other refugees, other Ukrainians who are in a worse situation. And I didn't know how or what I would be doing but I was sure that I wanted to do something to help. And when I came to Poland and I started with signing up my son to school, I talked to the principal of the school. And she was desperately needing teachers who would speak Ukrainian because there were almost 60 students, 60 pupils from Ukraine who had gone through different… who had witnessed things children shouldn't, and who had trauma. And she asked me to help, to assist in this, in helping children.
So she asked me to just help, and to talk to the children. And that's how I found out about this teaching programme sponsored by CARE that allows Ukrainian children to have Ukrainian teachers at school as a link between Polish education and Ukrainian children and Ukrainian parents as well. And I though it was a great idea, and I believe it still is, to help in this way.
And later on I joined CARE, and I was lucky to meet all these women-led organisations, all these incredible Polish women who have started small organisations and who have grown 500 times sometimes in this response to the crisis that we are facing now. So I would also, if you don't mind, I wanted to say that this help that people all over the world provide, this generosity that the world has towards Ukrainians, it's incredible. I admire all of them, all of you who have helped us and who are still helping. This year was extremely difficult for Ukrainians. And not only for Ukrainians, for the whole world. But this kindness and generosity of people it is incredible to me.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Absolutely. And can I wish my best to your little boy, I hope he and all the other children never experience any more conflict.
Daria: Yes, this is my biggest hope for no one to experience anything like that.
Helen Pankhurst: Thanks Daria, thanks a million.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Yes thanks a lot, it’s lovely to talk to you.
Daria: Thank you for having me. Thank you.
Angela Griffin: Hi, I'm Angela Griffin, and I support a woman's right to lead this International Women's Day, and every other day.
Lemn Sissay: Lemn Sissay here. Thank you to all those who are listening to the stories of the inspiring women who are leading their communities through crisis. Wishing you all a Happy International Women's Day.
[background music ends]
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So this is a real treat. Next up, the most acclaimed poet Nikita Gill, whose words have reached over 650,000 followers on Instagram. Especially for us, Nikita has written a powerful and poignant poem about the caring role of women. Welcome Nikita.
Helen Pankhurst: Nikita, so lovely to have you with us. We know the burden of unpaid care impacts on women and girls in emergencies in specific ways. It's also a daily burden the world over. Your poem is written from a very personal perspective, highlighting amazing women supporting family members generation after generation. Would you like to tell us a bit more about your poem before you recite it?
Nikita Gill: Thank you so much for having me and for inviting me. I wrote this poem quite fresh out of losing my grandmother. And I think it's really one of the first times that I've had to go through this with my family in this way, where we're saying goodbye to an elder but we're welcoming an ancestor as we like to say.
And I think what was incredibly powerful about this experience of, one – writing this down and archiving it, but also the experience of looking after someone in their last days – is that it's a privilege, but it was so obviously given to the women to do this. What really stood out to me was that this experience, like birth, was also given to women. It was our job to see her out on her final days.
And the poem basically tries to capture that, it tries to capture what we did and it tries to capture those final moments. And I felt that was really important. So that's what this poem is about.
Poem by Nikita Gill
What the women in my family did
for my grandmother on those final days.
When we first heard of the stroke,
it went without saying amongst the doctors and the menfolk
that this was women’s work.
When they say this, they mean the preservation of the world.
Birth, healing, nourishment.
And yes, now even this.
Death too, was women’s work.
But did it. We always do it because who else would pick up the pieces
and nurture them with hope in the end?
And so, we did the needful.
In the morning, when she woke up from fitful sleep
we made her turmeric chai.
There was always one of us in room
waiting for her to open her eyes.
We fed her with our own hands, her favourite breakfast:
peeled lychees and mangoes from the trees outside.
My mother and aunt helped her bathe every day.
Lavender soap always brought a piece of her back to us
that death was wrestling away.
I combed out her long hair,
shimmering silver in the light of day.
My mother tended to the garden my grandmother loved.
Her beloved roses grew sunny yellow and sky pink this year.
I held her arm over mine to steady her,
so we could sit on the sunshine together
on the wicker furniture out on the porch.
And those afternoons, we retold her
the stories of her own childhood that she had forgotten.
We made the food the doctor said –
healthy, free of anything rich.
Everything she loved.
But my cousin always snuck her her favourite chocolate.
We all saw.
None of us stopped her.
By late afternoon, when we saw her tiredness,
my cousin and I helped her back to bed.
We watched those old soap operas with her that she loved.
She always said the point of having a television
was so you could all watch it together.
We tried not to hate death
for stealing her away like this piece by piece,
memory by memory.
To bring her peace during the nights of pain
we learned the words to the lullabies
her mother sang to her.
We sang them through the nights
when she could no longer keep her food down.
We sang them to her when she could no longer speak to us any more.
That last day, we sat together in her room.
She gestured to the curtains,
so we let the sunlight in.
Outside she saw her roses,
sunny yellow and sky pink.
And she smiled one last time
as my mother took her hand,
whispered ‘thank you’.
And that was when her eyes closed
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So, some more music now. And this next song is based on the singer’s own story of sexual exploitation at the hands of someone in a position of power. It’s a song of defiance and courage from the wonderful RAYE.
Song: Ice-cream man
Performed by RAYE
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So remember the call to action, use the hashtag #Walk4Women, that's with the number four in the middle, to join the global conversation on social media. To support CARE’s vital work donate five pounds by texting the word walk to 70507 for those of you in the UK.
Interview with Amran, Somalia
Helen Pankhurst: Okay, let's meet our next guest. Amran Shire is in Somalia leading in response to the hunger crisis and much else besides. Hello Amran, we'd love you to tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
Amran: Thank you. My name is Amran, I work with CARE Somalia. In my current role, I focus on programme management coordinating with stakeholders and supervising field emergency response teams, and ensuring overall programme and operational excellence.
During my time as a humanitarian worker I have participated in various responses, including droughts, conflicts, coastal cyclones, and the COVID-19 pandemic. I have had challenging, demanding but also fulfilling, and heartwarming moments, in my career. As a female humanitarian worker I’m constantly conscious of the implications of my gender in the humanitarian field. Women and girls affected by disasters usually connect better with me as I am a woman, and I feel their needs priorities and feelings better than anyone else.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Thank you. Can you set the scene for us a little bit, I’ve heard that in East Africa 150 million more women than men are going hungry in a region already stricken by drought, conflict and chronically on the brink of famine. Can you tell us a little bit more about the key problems that the country is facing?
Amran: Somalia is actually lurching from one disaster to the next. The country is in the midst of the longest and most severe climate-related disaster in its history. Five consecutive poor rainy seasons have devastated the country, destroyed crops, demolished livestock and livelihoods, and pushed communities to the brink of famine. At this moment, more than 1.4 million people have been displaced while at least 3.5 million livestock have died, and some 8.25 million Somalis, which is nearly half the population, will likely experience high levels of acute food insecurity between April and June this year, 2023.
I just would like to add a bit about how this catastrophe is affecting women and girls. Women and girls are eating fewer meals, experiencing malnutrition and health issues. Also, women-led small-scale businesses have been negatively affected, forcing many women-headed households to lose their source of income. Women and girls are also forced to walk long distances to access water for their families, and sometimes they are failing to access water. Girls are also dropping out of school and are exposed to early marriages, gender-based violence, child marriage and child exploitation.
Helen Pankhurst: Thanks a lot, that explains a lot of the problems. And then, I know that you’ve been involved in and have seen other women make a difference. Can you give us some examples of what you’ve seen and what you’ve done?
Amran: Actually, despite the alarming circumstances, many women are trying hard to change their lives or those of others. Fadumo is among them. Fadumo’s journey started when she lost 100% of her livestock and ended up in the Aynabo Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in the Sool region, where she witnessed the idleness and lack of education of the IDP children. Fadumo went ahead and set up a school activity centre for 40 internally displaced children under the age of 8 years. She established the school because the majority of internally displaced children have no access to basic education.
Fadumo once said: “I want to be a role model for other Somali Internally displaced women because many people here think that internally displaced people are extremely vulnerable and can’t do anything meaningful for themselves, for their children, or for their society.”
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Amazing! Well, congratulations on all the incredible work you’ve been doing. I wanted to ask you about your aspirations for yourself, and for women and girls in Somalia?
Amran: Actually, my aspiration, is to become a renowned humanitarian leader, inside Somalia and beyond the boundaries of Somalia. I dream of a Somalia where women and girls are free from violence, and malnutrition.
Helen Pankhurst: And finally, what would your message this International Women’s Day to women around the world who are leading their communities through crises?
Amran: My word today is that, as women, we don’t have to wait for others to change our lives. Together, we can create incredible and lasting opportunities not only for ourselves but also for those around us.
Helen Pankhurst: Thank you!
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Amazing! Well, next up we have the wonderful Imelda May.
Imelda May: Hi, Sophie and Helen, and to everybody listening. I hope you're all well. I wanted to send you this song because it's inspired – well, without all of you it wouldn't have happened, basically. I was inspired to write it after attending March4Women back in 2019, and the whole thing blew me away, everybody there. And that's where I first heard Gina Martin and Dr Shola, I heard both of them speak and I was overcome. So after I wrote the song and I was recording, I asked them to join me on backing vocals, which they did, and we had the best time. They came with Graham Norton as well, and the three of us felt like we were on a quest together.
And this is a brand new version of the song, it’s a live version that I’ve recorded in Dublin, I haven’t released it yet, so it has all the energy from the people that are there. And this song is about fighting for love, and that we are made to love, and that love is worth fighting for. And we’re worth fighting for. So I hope it inspires you the way you've all inspired me. And it's for everybody that's listening and walking, and to all those incredible women that are pushing their way through. I hope you have the best day and thank you so much.
Song: Made to Love
Performed by Imelda May
Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro: I'm Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro, and I'm the Secretary-General of CARE International. Please use the hashtag #Walk4Women to join the conversation on social media. And please support CARE’s work with women around the world by texting, WALK to 70507.
Interview with Ame, Bangladesh
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Well, next up, we are meeting Ame from Bangladesh. So she's living in a part of Bangladesh which is among the worst places in the world affected by the climate crisis. I know we’ve all felt it here to a certain extent – we've seen heatwaves, floods, increasingly seen storms here in the UK. But around the world, millions of people are caught up in life-threatening climate crises.
Helen Pankhurst: Absolutely. And Ame is here to tell us about the impact on women in her community and what she's doing about it.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Hello, Ame, so nice to see you. We would love it if you could tell us a little bit about yourself please, your background and what motivated you to do the work that you're doing?
Ame: Thank you very much for having me today as your guest. I’m Kazia Rabeye Ame and I’m living in Bangladesh. If you don't know, Bangladesh is one of the South Asian countries, and living and being brought up in such a South Asian country is not that easy, especially as women. Because in the South Asian countries, women are being discriminated in every sector of their life, even since they are born. So, the girl child is married off at a very early age, even before completing their education, let alone their economic independence.
I felt motivated to work against these social norms and fight for women’s rights in my country. And as you all know, Bangladesh is very hit by the climate change and these crises. So, women are the first beings who are affected by this, I mean any kind of crisis actually. So being a woman in a South Asian country, I had to fight all these social, political and environmental scenarios to survive and work for the women in my communities.
Helen Pankhurst: So could you tell us a bit more about what the climate crisis looks like? And also, what the solutions are, what you've got involved in?
Ame: Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world. So, Bangladesh has been identified as the seventh most climate vulnerable country, according to the Global Climate Risks Index in 2021. According to the global reports, by 2050, one in seven people would become climate migrants due to the climate change situation. Due to sea levels rising, salinity intrusion is getting worse day by day. In the last 35 years, 26% of our total salinity has been increased. So the people living in these coastal areas, they had to change their livelihood options, because they are not being able to do the agricultural practices, that usually they were doing.
And also, if I can share two other major geographical location of our country, like the riverine islands and wetland areas. In the riverine islands, people are facing very frequent floods, especially the monsoon floods. And due to that, their livelihoods are being affected. And in the wetland areas, it's the same. The people are losing their livelihoods due to the frequent flash floods. And due to this change climate situation, the frequency has been increased at a severe level now.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Would you say that women have been disproportionately affected?
Ame: So even before they are born, they are being discriminated. And whenever the climate crisis is happening, any disaster is happening, it is the girl of the family who needs to do the sacrifice. So whenever the livelihood loss of any family is happening, it would be the girl who is married off earlier. Not only that, I mean, whenever the man of the family is losing their job, out of frustration, they are being violent, this is impacting violence on the intimate partner. So it is again the women and the girls who are less powerful in the society and in the family.
The area is far from the mainland. So the people have to travel two, three hours to reach the mainland. So the women, if they don't have any kind of important or valid reason to come to the mainland, they are not used to travelling to the mainland. So they do not have any existing information regarding any kind of climate crisis, they don't have any information regarding what changes are being happening in their own environment.
But she [the woman] is the person who has to prepare, who has to take early actions to reduce the losses and the impact of any disaster happening. So as the men are migrating already to the urban areas, and she is the one who is left alone at home in the village to take care of her family and fight with this disaster.
So this is how actually the women are facing disaster and the climate change impact disproportionately in our country. So it’s the women who are staying back at their locality or their community or their house, to take these early actions. But unfortunately, there exists for this early warning system, what information there is, is at a very, very poor level. As I was mentioning regarding the travel time, and of course, that women have to take all the care burdens of their family on themselves. So they get very less time to explore this kinds of climate-related information.
We have handpicked some of the women in the communities who have some kind of leadership qualities and who have any kind of devices where we can provide these early warning messages, so that they can be the change on behalf of our project, getting the early warning information to other women of the community. So we handpick these women leaders. They have been trained on how to translate this information into action.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Wow, congratulations Ame on all you're doing to empower other women in Bangladesh. It's incredible. I wondered on this International Women's Day, what message you might have for other women who are also leading their communities through crisis?
Ame: So for my cool warriors, my message is: Trust in yourself. You are the one who can make the change. Just have the courage and have the strength to change the world.
Someday, at some point, we will be coming to you to hear your story.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Oh Ame, that's so wonderful.
Helen Pankhurst: Brilliant, brilliant. Thank you, Ame.
Ame: Thank you very much.
Paloma Faith: Hi, I'm Paloma Faith and I support a woman's right to lead this International Women's Day and every day.
Melanie C: Melanie C here. Use the hashtag #Walk4Women to join the conversation on social media. And please support CARE’s work with women around the world by texting WALK to 70507.
Sadiq Khan: I’m Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and a proud feminist. I support a woman's right to lead in the home, in the community and in society, and in the route to a fairer world. Happy International Women's Day and happy walking!
[background music ends]
Interview with Sherine, Turkey
Helen Pankhurst: Sophie, I also wanted to introduce a voice from the dreadful Turkey-Syria earthquake. I know it's on everybody's mind at the moment with so many lives lost and homes destroyed. Obviously those responders have been really busy at the moment, but I managed to catch up with the brilliant Sherine Ibrahim, who is in Turkey, earlier and she was able to share some of her insights.
Sherine, thank you so much for finding time to share with us some of your experience and your thoughts and your work. Firstly, could you just introduce yourself briefly.
Sherine: Thank you, Helen. My name is Sherine Ibrahim. And I'm the country director of CARE in Turkey.
Helen Pankhurst: And you have faced this horror of the earthquake. Could you tell us a bit about what happened and what you have been doing to try and make a difference in this horrific context?
Sherine: You know, on the sixth of February, we all woke up to a major fright, and we realised that it was an earthquake. However many times we've practised to make sure that we are ready for a significant crisis, it's never the same as when you go through it.
And all of us very quickly, wanted to take care of ourselves and our families and our loved ones. And in doing so, we reached out to the many CARE staff who support others in times of crisis. But we found ourselves, you know, the ones who needed the help the most.
Very quickly over the course of the following several hours, we realised that buildings had collapsed; that people, our own people, our staff, were unaccounted for. Very quickly fuel had run out, electricity was out, hot water. The basics that we usually take for granted were no longer afforded to us.
And so for two or three days we were scrambling to get ourselves up back on our feet so that we could continue to serve others. It was hard because we were personally hit as humanitarians. And so it was almost like a double or triple whammy. An earthquake, with all of its pressures on you personally. We sort of found ourselves with the inability to really help others who we were hearing needed our help most. And, you know, with every alert, we were hearing about the incredible numbers of people were gradually you know, counted as dead. And so that psychological pressure on all of us was immense. Myself included.
Helen Pankhurst: Yes, there's no separation between the personal tragedy, the community tragedy, your own need to make a difference and to do what your work is telling you to do. How did you manage all of those, what you were the steps that you put through and how are you feeling now?
Sherine: Today I'm a little more confident that we are doing what we need to do to help those who need us most. I got a lot more confident when on day three, we started distributing the supplies that we had in our possession, first to people who we knew needed us in locations where we were.
And so gradually with time, when you start building that self-confidence again, and you start achieving little wins, you start realising that you are stronger than you actually believe, or believed you could be. And so day by day we gained strength and confidence, and we started to reorganise.
But as I said, we had to take care of our own first, and we did that by moving our team members to safety and their families to safety. And then we looked at what supplies we had and we made our initial distribution. And with time, as we got stronger, we then started obviously, mapping out where the needs were greatest, and then purchasing commodities and receiving in-kind support that allowed us to do outreach to communities and understand more what they needed.
And so, Helen, it’s a slow, but it's a steady climb back up. And I'm proud that we were able to do our first distribution on day three, and I'm proud that since then we've helped thousands of people with whatever we could.
Helen Pankhurst: And when you say distribution, what type of items were you distributing, what kind of support have you been able to give?
Sherine: So, I mean, the needs are vast, and they differ. In Turkey, it was clear that we needed to provide shelter, we needed to provide non-food items such as mattresses, blankets, and we needed to provide food. And so we had an immediate distribution of 14 tonnes of flour that went out to the food kitchens of Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Adana. And then we also distributed these non-food items that allow people to sort of, you know, use for their basic home needs. And we also distributed hygiene kits and these are basic kits that are pre-packed to allow people you to use basic hygiene support such as soap, sanitary items, cleaning items, et cetera.
But the greatest need is obviously for shelter, as I said, there are lots of collapsed buildings. And so people were struggling, and huddling in cars and in accommodation spaces provided by the government. But gradually you also want the privacy and the protection that is afforded by your own place.
Helen Pankhurst: And I think there's a global story there isn't there? There's a global need for better understanding about how people live their lives, the constraints that they're under, the opportunities that they have, when they can challenge social norms, when they have to live by them. It's, I mean, what I found really moving about your story is that issue about how you navigate those complexities.
Maybe last question then to you is on this International Women's Day, what would your advice, comments, thoughts be for women globally, what might you want to say to them? This is a platform where we will be reaching people from different places in the world.
Sherine: I have a strong belief that the resilience and the resourcefulness of women is much more, much stronger than we make it out to be. I have seen many documents that talk of women as being, you know, the most vulnerable and the most dispossessed, and the most incapable of standing on their own two feet.
But I've also spoken to women who have said to me, “I don't want your full basket. I want to be able to earn my own living and I want the tools. Just give me the tools. I will make it happen.”
And so my message is this. There is a power and there's a resourcefulness and there's a brilliance about women that is unparalleled.
There is no doubt in my mind that the solutions to our challenges are in the hands of women. And if we allow them to express their voice and to manifest their power, there is no stopping us from finding a peaceful solution to war, to famine, and to crises like the one we have faced in Turkey and in the northwest. This is my conviction.
Helen Pankhurst: Wow. Brilliant. I mean thank you so much. I'm just so moved by that because I think it's so true.
Sherine: Thank you Helen.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: So remember, if you want to support CARE’s vital work, donate £5 by texting the word WALK to 70507. That's WALK to 70507. The text costs five pounds plus your standard rate, and don't forget to ask the bill payer’s permission.
Okay, we've heard a lot today from some incredible women, like really incredible, and they've shown inspirational leadership against the odds. And that's the thing. They really are up against it. We've heard how individuals can support, and thank you so much to everyone who's texted to donate to CARE. But in the bigger picture, what needs to be done, what does CARE want to see from the UK Government regarding aid and women and girls?
Helen Pankhurst: So the UK Government used to be a lead player when it came to addressing gender issues, and we would like to see that restored as it releases its new women and girls strategy. This is much needed in the context of a global lack of progress towards Goal 5 of the global goals. This is one of the goals agreed to by every country in 2015 as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which promised to achieve gender equality by 2030. Now we're halfway through the deadline and we're still way off track to achieving it. So this year, and the government's new women and girls strategy, is a real opportunity for leadership.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Can you give us a little bit more information about what this means in practice?
Helen Pankhurst: Firstly, the government's strategy needs to come with clear financial targets. It's essential to pass from words to action, to match ambitions and commitments with adequate funding. From the government's own assessments, we know that women and girls are amongst those most affected by the aid cuts. CARE estimates that 1.9 billion pounds has been lost from UK government's programmes that supported women and girls due to the aid cuts. This is just not okay. We need to see this restored.
The second point, and it's linked, is that it’s essential that the implementation and success of the strategy includes funding for and consultation with women and girls rights organisations, and this needs to be measured.
Thirdly, the strategy needs to be beyond talking about women and girls to addressing power imbalances and discriminatory social norms and laws, i.e. clearly being feminist in its essence. At the moment, we've got three out of seven of the G7 countries that have feminist foreign policy commitments. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the UK made it the fourth?
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Well, hear hear to all of the above and thank you so much for having me on this podcast.
Helen Pankhurst: And thanks a million for co-hosting it, Sophie!
And David, thank you for all the work you've been doing with us year-in year-out around International Women's Day, and creating something truly magical. And to the team at CARE who pull out the stops all the time. I feel like saying, particularly as she's not here, to Jo Broughton for being such an amazing spirit behind it, colleague and friend, frolleague is the word we use!
To all of you listening, I hope you've enjoyed this podcast, the opportunity to celebrate women globally, and to hear from some amazing women leading in crisis in Yemen, Bangladesh, Ukraine and Poland, Somalia and Turkey. Thanks also to our fabulous singers – RAYE, Beverley Knight, Imelda May – Sophie, and to you.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor: Thank you. Well, listen, please share the podcast with friends and family. And join in the conversation on social media. You can tune in anytime and walk throughout March and beyond. You can also donate by text to support CARE’s work with women around the world. Women like Daria, Nada and Ame and Amran. Use the hashtag #Walk4Women with the number 4 to join the global conversation on social media. And to support CARE’s vital work donate £5 by texting the word WALK to 70507.
Helen Pankhurst: We have one final song that will leave you with. The fabulous Urban Voices Collective together with the world's best-selling string quartet ever, BOND, with what has become the International Women's Day anthem for CARE events, and produced by David Arnold. You don’t own me.
Song: You don’t own me
Performed by Urban Voices Collective and the BOND Quartet.