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International Women's Day

Monday, 8 March 2010

Monday, 8th March is International Women's Day

We speak to Irish author Cathy Kelly about International Women's Day. Cathy was appointed a UNICEF Ireland Ambassador in 2005. We speak to her about her role within UNICEF and the struggle of women internationally, that she has encountered in her role as ambassador.

International Women's Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies

Cathy Kelly

Cathy Kelly was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, brought up in Dublin and started her working life as a journalist in an Irish national newspaper. She worked as both news and feature reporter, and worked as the paper's film critic for five years, as well as being the agony aunt for seven years.

In 1997 she published her first book - Woman To Woman which was an instant bestseller, spending eight weeks at number one on the Irish bestseller charts. Her subsequent novels have been number ones all around the world and are published in many different languages. Cathy is married to John, and they have twin sons, Murray and Dylan.

Cathy has been supporting UNICEF since 2004 and was appointed a UNICEF Ireland Ambassador in 2005.

That year, Cathy visited Mozambique to highlight the impact that HIV/AIDS was having on children in sub-Saharan Africa and helped launch UNICEF's Global Campaign "Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS" in Dublin.

Cathy also supported UNICEF 2006 Pampers Neo-Natal Tetanus Campaign and in 2007, Cathy visited Rwanda to highlight UNICEF's "Schools for Africa" Campaign.

In her last two novels, Cathy has also highlighted her work with UNICEF and encouraged her readers to get involved.

A passionate advocate for children and for UNICEF, Cathy rarely misses an opportunity when speaking with the media to highlight UNICEF's work - most recently, Cathy is one of

1. How did you become an ambassador for UNICEF?
My family and I were asked to pose for a family picture for a UNICEF book in 2005 to help raise funds for Global Parenting, a UNICEF programme to help children orphaned by AIDs and because I was so involved with it, UNICEF asked me to be an Ambassador for them.

2. Cathy what does being an ambassador actually involve?
I attend lunches, meetings, conferences and all types of fundraising events to generate funds and awareness for UNICEF. I also do a massive amount of media work for UNICEF - not just in Ireland but in all the countries, where I am known as an author - including the UK and Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand

3. Cathy, this is International Women's Day, in your work with UNICEF, what kind of struggles have you seen on an international level for women in poverty-stricken countries?
International Women's Day is nearly 100 years old and yet while women in the West have come so far in that time, there are millions of women who in other countries
*For example, the fastest growing group of people developing HIV/AIDs are women and children. This is directly linked to lack of women's rights in many countries (patriarchial societies where men use prostitutes and come home to their wife, have condom-less sex with her and giv e her HIV) and women's lack of education. In many countries, women are denied education or else, boys are sent to school instead of girls, and without education, women don't learn how to protect themselves from HIV.

*In the West, we can have babies safely - while every day around the world in under developed countries, almost 1,500 women die from childbirth complications.
*millions of women spend hours every day collecting water because there's no safe water supplies for them to use.
UNICEF is fighting all these injustices - I can go into details on all.

4. You want to refer to a recent article on Germaine Greer?
My Germaine point is that many people in our world assume the battle of feminism is won - referenced by nasty Germaine Greer article today. But this looks at a type of feminism that includes the concept of 'we are free if we can go out and drink as much as any guy.' I think we must look at what freedom is to all women, and that means access to medicine, health care for themselves and their children, clean water, education, and the right not to be abused or treated violently.

5. if you can also talk about the cases studies of women whom that you might have met in Rwanda and Mozambique?
I can talk about sitting in a clinic in Mozambique when my own sons were less than a year old and watching women just like me with their children, and realising that one in every five of those women would be burying that child before they reached the age of 5.

6. In your last two novels, you highlighted you work with UNICEF and encouraged readers to get involved, can you explain this?
I explained that if it takes you four days to read one book, by that time, 5,700 children would have died of AIDs and 7,014 children under 15 will have been infected with HIV. I write about UNICEF in my website all the time because I want to keep getting the message home.

7. Has the struggles of women influenced your writing differently, for example, characterizations?
I've always written about strong women with a sense of moral justice. In my current book, one of the heroines works for a Vincent' De Paul type charity.

8. Who do you think is the most inspirational women in history?
I have a soft spot for Marie Curie. Also Rosaline Franklin who was one of the unsung heroes behind the discover of DNA.


UNICEF works in over 150 of the world's poorest countries, supporting programmes aimed at saving and improving children's lives.

In Rwanda, UNICEF is working on building "child friendly schools"
The child-friendly school is UNICEF's approach to promoting quality education for all children - especially among the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations - both in everyday circumstances and in emergencies. Child-friendly educators focus on the needs of the 'whole' child (which include his or her health, nutrition and overall well-being) and care about what happens to children in their families and communities before they enter school and after they leave.

Funding Cathy visited Busasamana and Umubano Primary Schools in Rwanda, which is one of the most recently built child friendly schools and met and spoke with pupils and teachers at the schools.

At the Rubingo Primary School, which Cathy Kelly visited, they have attempted to address the issue of participation of girls who tend to drop out of school much faster than boys. The main barrier initially was the fact that the school water and sanitation system provided little privacy for girls - with separate latrines not provided for boys and girls. With UNICEF's support, nine dilapidated latrines have now been replaced with 2 latrine blocks of 45 toilets.
Cathy joined in the singing with the pupils at the Nemba catch-up Centre in Rwanda - the children were singing to welcome her and the UNICEF Ireland visitors. This UNICEF supported-centre provides a basic education for children aged between 9-16 , who have either dropped out or never attended school. Many of the children attending the centre are orphans, unaccompanied children or children living in child headed households as well as working and street children.

Cathy also visited the primary school in Munanira, Rwanda. With holes in the roof, a broken concrete floor, no running water, very few desks and chairs and no safe area for the children to play and exercise outside, the school is in urgent need of rehabilitation. Children lack classrooms or sit on the floor without adequate furniture. The school also lacks water and sanitation facilities. The schools have over 1,000 children enrolled and a pupil classroom ration of 70 to 1. The schools is urgent need of approximately 7 news additional classrooms and a rehabilitation of all existing classrooms.

Cathy said following her visit that there's a lot of hope for the future of Rwanda and children are the hope.

A short background on to Cathy's last trip to Rwanda:

Rwanda has come a long way since 1994. That year, Rwanda was plunged into a violent genocide that saw at least 937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus representing 10 per cent of the population killed in the 100-day genocide, according to Rwandan Government figures. The violence of 1994 cast a long shadow on this land. Rwanda today is home to over one million orphaned children. In addition to the legacy of the genocide, AIDS has taken a grim and steady toll on the population, leaving many young people to fend for themselves. More than 160,000 households are headed by children and 57 per cent of the population still live on less than one dollar a day. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, making natural resources scarce; more than half of the nation's population is comprised of children (over four million children).