So why should we empower women halfway across the world in Northern India? Why should we care? Why not on our own soil?
We started the empowering women program in Bihar, India, as part of the Renew Bihar, India project because women were having to make the choice between feeding their children or putting clothes on their back. Literally.
Things like paying for the children's school supplies let alone paying for them to attend school or shoes to protect their feet from the rough, hot ground are basic needs that aren't even within grasp sometimes.
As parents in the U.S., thinking about having to make these kinds of decisions for our families eats away at us. As mothers, the thought of sending our little ones outside with no shoes covering their precious little toes breaks our hearts. The fact that our kids don't go to bed hungry every night suddenly feels like the greatest luxury we've ever experienced.
Poverty and a "difficult life" don't seem to come anywhere near describing what these women face on a day to day basis. Sometimes we think we know what poverty means, how it feels to be living below the poverty line, but do we really?
In 2011, the population of Bihar was 104 million. That's the population of Germany, Austria, and Belgium combined plus 3 million people; all living in an area about the size of Maine. Of those people, about 69 percent (2005 data, most recent) are living below the multidimensional poverty line (which considers education, health, and living standards). Compared to the U.S., about 13 percent (2015 data) of the country lives below the poverty line. (And in Bihar, poverty itself means something completely different; it means lack of access to clean water, for example.)
And it's not like the U.S. where one could "essentially" pull themselves up "by their boot straps" and climb the income ladder making it out of poverty and into middle class or higher. The social castes in India make that near impossible. Add to that the illiteracy rate of 36 percent (2011 data) in Bihar. The illiteracy rate in the United States is 14 percent (2013 data). How far can you get in society and in providing for your family if you and no one in your family can read? (This is why our church planters also offer literacy training programs.)
On top of this, Bihar, India, isn't exactly vying for the top spot in gender equality. Women aren't seen as equal to men; instead, they're seen as not having much value at all. There's an index that has been developed to measure gender equality in different countries and states. It's based on factors like female income and positions held particularly in government and other decision-making positions by women. Bihar's gender empowerment measure is .379. The U.S. is .762.
For all these reasons and so much more, this is why our empowering women program in Bihar, India, is so needed. This is why we created it and why we desire to see it succeed and thrive for years to come. We want to see those numbers change for the better and for women to feel empowered in their businesses and as mothers.
We want to see a generation of women rise up, become empowered, and teach the next generation of women how to be empowered.
Join us in empowering women in Bihar, India and providing a better life for these women and their families.