Listen: Compassion Australia CEO Clare Steele chats to Hope 103.2's Laura Bennett about International Women's Day
Women living in poverty face many difficulties and challenges, but some have gone out of their way to help other women throughout their community.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Clare Steele, CEO of Compassion Australia, and Allison Alley, President and CEO of Compassion Canada, had a discussion, which was broadcast live on Compassion Australia’s Facebook page on Monday, to share the stories of these women.
“Poverty doesn’t hold back, and it’s really amazing to just be able to enter into their stories, and to understand their struggles and really to be able to understand that in some ways we’ re so much the same but their lives are so hard,” Ms Steele said during the live stream.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, and Ms Steele is asking people to challenge the everyday situations they find themselves in.
“How do we right the challenge of women around the world? How do we speak into that? How do we change our lives to help them?,” she told Hope 103.2.
“We really want to ask communities of women to step up to support women in poverty throughout the world.”
Challenges of women in poverty
“It’s not just about providing the structural needs like food and water; it’s about bringing hope and dignity to women across the world.” – Clare Steele, CEO of Compassion Australia
The gender pay gap is having a huge impact on women in poverty, according to Ms Steele and Ms Alley.
“Females in general, certainly female entrepreneurs, often don’t have access to the same financial services and resources that their male counterparts do,” Ms Alley said during the live stream.
“All these things are what we call a gender poverty gap and it means that more women than men live in poverty for these multifaceted reasons.”
Ms Steele believes the pandemic has further complicated this.
“Women have had to pull out of their roles because they’ve had to look after children at home,” Ms Steele told Hope 103.2.
“And so we’re seeing the gap of unemployed women growing, and often the pay that they’re offered significantly decreasing as well.”
Women in poverty are also facing challenges of education and access to clean water and sanitation, and these have been further exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We’ve seen many girls pull out of education because they can’t access their schools or they’re locked down,” Ms Steele said.
Women giving back to the community
Eskedar, a community leader and activist in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, lost her husband to HIV in 2013. Her son Eyasu was registered with the Compassion program in their village.
“The program helped her with funeral arrangements, rebuilding her house, giving them food and water,” Ms Steele said.
Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, Eskedar was also diagnosed with HIV and had to stop her business.
“She used to bake bread and sell it but, because of the stigma of HIV, people wouldn’t buy from her anymore,” Ms Steele said.
Compassion’s small scale business training program helped her get back on her feet.
“We really want to ask communities of women to step up to support women in poverty throughout the world.” – Clare Steele, CEO of Compassion Australia
“Through the program, we were able to teach her how to start a new business, she was taught how to manage her finances and plan for the future.”
Eskedar then saw a need to help others in her community and began teaching women about HIV and Aids.
She later took the initiative to improve the recycling waste system in her community as part of a community cleaning project.
Her work was recognised by the Ethiopian Minister for Women and Children, who presented her with a national award.
Made in the image of God
As a Christian organisation, Compassion believes that every person is made in the image of God.
“We really believe that every person has the image of God and that they are valuable and deserve to have hope and really restore their hope and dignity,” Ms Steele said.
“That underlies all the work we do; it’s not just about providing the structural needs like food and water; it’s about bringing hope and dignity to women across the world.”
A better future for women
“What you find when you visit women in poverty is that they often have no ability to dream because all they’re worried about is surviving.” – Clare Steele, CEO of Compassion Australia
Ms Steele would like to see a future where women in poverty are able to dream.
“What you find when you visit women in poverty is that they often have no ability to dream because all they’re worried about is surviving,” she said.
Rather than day-to-day survival, women should be able to hope and build a future for themselves and their family, Ms Steele said.
“Then, I think, as we see that we’ll see communities grow and flourish and change, and gradually we’ll be able see nations grow and flourish and change as well, so that’s my hope for women.”
However, Ms Steele said during the live stream discussion that she was encouraged to see Christ-centered women when she visited the field.
“Their hope was so strong in their lord and saviour that they could dream because they knew their future was certain, so they really really did dream,” she said.
Diverse gifts and skills
As a woman in a leadership position, Ms Steele had to learn how to flourish in the workplace.
“For me, starting in male dominated industries, I struggled to understand how my leadership style worked,” she said.
“I’m not a very big woman, I’m not a very loud woman, and I would walk into rooms with men who are louder and taller and just have bigger presence.”
However, she learnt to not apologise for being a woman and leading differently, but rather saw it as an opportunity to bring diverse gifts and skills to the workplace.
“I love how diverse our creation is that God made, and how that diversity brings great beauty,” Ms Steele said.
“I think as women and men working together, we bring that great diversity, and that’s when we find the most beauty in our teams.”
The discussion between Compassion Australia CEO Clare Steele and President and CEO of Compassion Canada Allison Alley was broadcast live on Compassion Australia’s Facebook page on 8 March at 11am AEDT.