Despite ongoing progress in the fight for equal rights, women remain at an economic, social, and political disadvantage in many areas of the world. Gender issues volunteering is a broad term for volunteering activities meant to help victims of gender-based discrimination and violence, including transgender women.
Gender inequality is a fundamental issue: it affects half the population of the world, yet is firmly embedded in most cultures. With women’s issues being an increasingly hot topic in the West, many volunteers are turning to other places around the world, where there is even more work to be done, and achieving incredible results.
No country can say to have achieved the perfect gender balance, but some places do require more focused efforts to address the issues behind gender inequality.
Despite great progress in areas such as health and education, women in India are still widely subject to violence and sexual abuse. Young girls are still less likely to be literate, and adult women made up only 25% of the workforce as of 2011. There is plenty of work to be done, and a wide range of NGOs throughout the country are addressing these issues, from urban hubs such as Delhi and Mumbai to rural villages.
Despite recent legislation designed to protect women and grant them equal rights, women in South Africa continue to be disproportionately targeted for violence. The country has high rates of gender-based violence as well as the fourth-highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world, with 21.1% of women aged 15-49 being infected. Volunteering opportunities cover health, education, agriculture, empowerment, and protection.
One in five Cambodian women between the ages of 15 and 49 has suffered physical violence, and 30% of women have experienced domestic abuse at the hands of a partner. A variety of programs exist to protect these women and give them a chance at an independent livelihood, with similar opportunities existing in neighboring countries such as Thailand and Laos.
Volunteering in gender issues encompasses anything that addresses discrimination or violence based on someone’s gender. This includes a wide range of issues and variety of volunteering roles. Most organizations need admin staff, such as marketers, accountants, and project managers, as well as front-line people like engineers, teachers, or doctors.
Programs in this area provide education to girls and women in developing countries. Most of these organizations focus on basic literacy and numeracy skills, although some offer more specialized or advanced education. This is a popular type of volunteering for those with teaching experience or qualifications who want to work with children or people in general.
This type of volunteering is based on providing healthcare and health education to disadvantaged women and, in some cases, men. The main focus is women’s reproductive health as well as sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. For the latter, organizations tend to target both women and homosexual/bisexual men, as both groups are disproportionately at risk. Volunteers in this area will mostly have a medical background or a degree in medicine or health policy.
This is a broad category of NGOs that focus on empowering women by providing them with the skills and resources to support themselves and be independent. They range from agricultural projects, where you will be invited to roll up your sleeves and help a woman work her land, to helping women make and sell traditional crafts. This category can also include working with local microfinance institutions that offer loans to women to help them start or grow their own business.
How to Choose a Gender Issues Volunteer Program
There are thousands of NGOs tackling gender issues around the world, and hundreds of agencies organizing volunteer programs. Choosing the right project and program for you can seem overwhelming, so it is good to start by asking yourself a few questions:
- What issue do I want to tackle? Gender issues is a broad area, and you need to focus your goals and interests into something more specific. Do you care about education, financial empowerment, health, childcare, or something else? Do you want to work with a particular group, such as victims of domestic violence or transgender women?
- What can I bring to the role? A good volunteer program will effectively use your skills and experience. Think about what these are, just like you would when applying for a job, and look for volunteer roles that make the best use of them.
- Where do I want to go? Some volunteers don’t have a preference for their destination, but many do. Ask yourself whether any particular places hold more appeal for you, and whether there are some you would rather avoid. Be honest with yourself: there is no point applying for programs in a place you don’t want to go to.
Health & Safety
Make sure you have appropriate travel insurance before setting off. Some volunteer agencies will point you towards a good insurance provider, but if they do not, or if you are volunteering independently, make sure you shop around carefully before deciding.
You should be completely honest with the insurance provider when discussing your policy. Things you need to consider include whether your role is likely to take you to other countries and what activities you plan to do while overseas (that includes anything you intend to do in your free time, such as diving or adventure travel).
Note that many providers will not insure travel to any area that has been subject to an advisory travel warning in your country, so you will need to keep an eye on your destinations’ status if you are going anywhere potentially volatile.
Other Need to Know
Due to the very nature of your work, you may be traveling to areas that are potentially dangerous or uncomfortable for women. If you are a female volunteer, read up on the culture of your destination and make sure you know what precautions to take when there.
Check if your destination has any particular cultural norms around women's dress, like having your head, shoulders, or knees covered, for example. As a general rule, try to dress modestly so as to not attract attention, and avoid being out by yourself at night. Ask other women if they have any advice or warnings -- the people running your charity of choice will probably have some valuable insight.
Make sure you are comfortable traveling to your final destination by yourself, or ask your organization whether they can arrange for you to partner up with another volunteer on the way.