Imagine if every time you
wanted to leave home, you had to ask your husband for permission.
freedom of mobility is a basic human right, millions of women in South Asia
have to ask their husband’s permission to leave home for anything but agriculture
or childcare. When they leave, they must be accompanied by a male
A lack of freedom makes it hard
for women to make independent decisions about their lives.
autonomy, women can’t choose whether they go to school; what kind of food or
medicine they buy for their kids; what family planning methods they use; or even
whether they can visit their friends and neighbors.
Human Rights Education Association puts it:
While free movement may seem on
the surface to be a fairly minor and obvious human right, it actually is one of
the most basic rights that in many nations around the world, when violated,
causes numerous problems and cases of suffering.
This is what life was like for Chuna Devi, who once said that, "being born as a girl is worthless." As a girl in rural Nepal, her education was never a priority. She grew up herding animals, and was married off at sixteen.
So what can we do to help women
gain freedom of mobility and increased decision-making power?
1. Create a safe space
Most women in South Asia
have no safe, public spaces to gather and learn.
at READ Global, a grantee of the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation, establish libraries (called READ Centers) in
rural communities of South Asia.
“The READ Center is a safe space for women, and we don’t
really need approval from our family to visit.” – Women’s focus group
Our metrics show that providing a
dedicated safe space for women in a library improves mobility, increases
self-esteem, and boosts decision-making power.
of women surveyed in India and Nepal reported being able to travel outside of their home more often without
having to ask permission because of the Center.
of women reported that they can now make decisions on healthcare, their
children's education, spending, and family planning.
READ Centers provide access to essential information and trainings in health, agriculture, and more.
A large majority of Center visitors surveyed - 99% in Bhutan, 75% in India, and 67% in Nepal - said they would not otherwise have access to the information they obtained there. These libraries are often the only educational resource available in a community.
Centers give women the opportunity to learn about and take trainings on issues that are most important to their everyday decision-making: family planning, maternal and newborn health, and agriculture.
3. Enable women to earn and save
that women's autonomy is much greater if they earn an income.
READ Centers provide livelihood
skills training to enable women to earn a living through beekeeping, sewing,
vegetable farming, and more.
skills training participants in India reported that since the training, they
have increased their income. 73% can pay for more food, 68% can access healthcare,
and 63% can now send their children to school.
Women’s access to financial
services is important in South Asia, because men typically control the family’s
Centers in Nepal offer savings cooperatives so that women can make decisions
about their finances. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of women surveyed at these
Centers increased their savings or income, and one-fifth started micro-enterprises.
a recent Science Magazine article, Melinda Gates stressed the need
for innovative models that empower women on multiple fronts, including "education, control over resources, decision-making authority, and physical safety."
Libraries are a solution: they offer an "integrated delivery" model that provides women with a safe space and access to essential information on health, livelihoods, rights, and more.
For women like Chuna, having access to a library can mean finding a worth in life: "After receiving an education, I have courage and self-confidence that I can achieve something," she said, "I want to tell other women that you're never too old to learn."
Watch a 3-minute video of Chuna’s story.
a pledge to stand up for women’s right to mobility and share with your
family and friends. To learn more about READ Global’s monitoring and evaluation
work assessing the impact of libraries on women’s empowerment, visit www.readglobal.org/impact. You can follow READ’s work at @READGlobal.