International Women’s Day

By Paul Jeffrey, Life on Earth Pictures

Today is International Women’s Day, when we pause to honor the struggle to eliminate discrimination against women and to encourage the full and equal participation of women and girls in global development.

Along with my colleagues Sean and Albin, for years I’ve used photos to tell the stories of women’s struggles.

Young-mi Jang, 70, who for nearly two decades earned her living as a sex worker outside a U.S. military base, sits in her tiny one-room home in the Anjeong-ri neighborhood of Pyeongtaek, South Korea. She and other retired elderly sex workers, who still live close to a giant U.S. base, participate in the church-sponsored Sunlit Sisters Center. Two rescue dogs live with her. She’s holding Poptori (“Lucky”), who she found one day as he was searching through the trash for food. “I gave him that name because he was lucky I found him,” she said. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Vilma Maldonado holds a photo of her son Jesus Humberto Sanchez Maldonado in the street near her home in La Lima, Honduras. The young man left for the United States in 2010, but Maldonado hasn’t heard from him since his last phone call home in 2011 from the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. Maldonado is a member of a group of mothers of migrants who have disappeared on their journey north. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Indian women work building a highway in the northeastern state of Assam. Women, particularly women of low castes, are often employed at low wages in such dirty jobs. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Cecilia Aguinaldo talks to her family back in the Philippines from her bed in a Hong Kong shelter run by Bethune House. The ministry supports women who have suffered abuse or have other problems with their employment. There are about 370,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong–about 5 percent of the population–almost all from Indonesia and the Philippines. More than 98 percent of the workers are women, most of whom leave their families behind so that they can earn money to help their families survive. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Bewen Yuot, a Dinka woman who was displaced by fighting near her home in Bentieu, South Sudan, now lives with relatives in Ajuong Thok, on the edge of a camp filled with thousands of refugees from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. Her facial scarring reveals her tribal identity, which complicates survival in a country that has been torn by tribal violence. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)

We’ve also paid attention to the particular stories of girls trapped in economic exploitation or sexual abuse.

A girl works as a scavenger in a huge garbage dump in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Jennifer Wedgworth, a play therapist and certified forensic interviewer, conducts a forensic interview of a three-year old child sexual abuse victim in the East Mississippi Child Advocacy Center, part of the Wesley House Community Center in Meridian, Mississippi, United States. The interview is monitored by a video and audio feed into a nearby control room where law enforcement personnel and other child advocates listen and can suggest questions by phone to Wedgworth. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)

The climate crisis has made things worse for women and girls, who pay a much heavier price for climate change.

A woman walks by a dead cow in Dong Boma, a Dinka village in South Sudan’s Jonglei State. Most villagers recently returned home after being displaced by rebel soldiers in 2013, and they face serious challenges in rebuilding their village while simultaneously coping with a drought, provoked by climate change, which has devastated their herds. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Rehena Akter shows the level to which 2017 floods rose in Suihari in northern Bangladesh. The devastating floods–exacerbated in part by the climate crisis–affected thousands of families across the region, and Akter and her family lost their home. They moved in with a neighbor, and she hopes to borrow money from a local savings group in order to start construction of her own home. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Jabeda Begum stands in her rice field in Kunderpara, a village on an island in the Brahmaputra River in northern Bangladesh. Severe floods in 2017, provoked in part by climate change, eroded the bank, washing away part of her farm. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
In order to raise her home a few inches, Shosida Begum carries dirt in a basket in West Fasura, a village on an island in the Brahmaputra River in northern Bangladesh. Severe floods in 2017, provoked in part by climate change, destroyed the island’s crops. RDRS Bangladesh provided emergency cash grants to vulnerable island families so they could reestablish their household economies and restart their lives. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Imelda Balan, a Kakchiquel Maya woman, picks ripe coffee beans in San Martin Jilotepeque, Guatemala. Coffee rust, a devastating plant fungus which has spread through the region because of climate change, has affected coffee farms throughout the region. This farm used heavy spraying of chemicals to control the fungus for a while, but the farm owner predicted it would soon become no longer profitable to grow coffee in the location. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)

There is a lot of good news to report. Women are fighting back, in their homes and in the streets, and it’s been a privilege to document their struggles against climate change, exploitation, sexism, and political repression.

The Rev. Hikari Chang (second from right) and other protesters from throughout Asia block the main gate of a new U.S. Marine Corps airbase being constructed at Henoko on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Dozens of protesters, who want the construction halted, had to be physically removed in order for trucks of fill to enter the base, which is filling in a huge section of sea in order to build a new airfield. Chang and the women with her were in Okinawa to participate in a regional consultation on women and militarization sponsored by United Methodist Women and the Wesley Center in Tokyo. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
A woman pushes back at police as she and other women, left homeless after the government allowed a private developer to move them out of their homes on Boeung Lake in Phnom Penh, attempt to protest in the Cambodian capital. They planned to take their protest to the prime minister’s office, but police stopped them far short of their goal. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
A protester offers a flower to a police officer during a demonstration of domestic workers, joined by tuk-tuk drivers, in Phnom Penh. They were calling for the Cambodian government to ratify ILO Convention 189 guaranteeing the rights of domestic workers, and planned to take their request to the prime minister’s office, but police stopped them far short of their goal. Protesters also called for police pay to be increased, and offered water and flowers to the police who were blocking their passage. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo reiterate their demands for justice in a plaza in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo joined together four decades ago to demand information on what happened to their disappeared children during Argentina’s Dirty War. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Norma Dollaga leads a protest against government-sanctioned violence against women in a Valentine’s Day protest in Manila on February 14, 2019. The demonstrators called for an end to all violence, especially violence against women and the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users that have plagued the Philippines since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte. Dollaga is a United Methodist deaconess and human rights activist. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Chamsi Djuma (left), a survivor of gender-based violence, practices writing with tutor Katungu Sivayirwandeke Darlose as part of a basic literacy program in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where rape is epidemic. The Tushinde Ujeuri Project, supported by IMA World Health, offers survivors of sexual and gender-based violence a new start on life, including helping them learn to read and write. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
One of Israel’s “Women in Black” discusses with passersby during the women’s their weekly peace vigil at a busy Jerusalem street corner. The women oppose Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
In a gathering of Lutheran leaders in Geneva, Switzerland, many dressed in black as a way of witnessing against injustice through the Thursdays in Black campaign. (Albin Hillert/Life on Earth Pictures)
Women proudly display school uniforms they have sewn at the church-run women’s center in Gidel, a village in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. The area is controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, and frequently attacked by the military of Sudan. The Catholic center helps women earn incomes that increase their status in the family and community. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Women march together in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016, in Dhawa, a village in the Gorkha District of Nepal. The banner reads, “106th International Women’s Day” and “Implement the Constitution and Guarantee Women’s Rights.” (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
G is for Girl. A student holds a sign for the letter “G” during a class in the Catholic Church-sponsored St. Daniel Comboni Primary School in Lugi, a village in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. The area is controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, and frequently attacked by the military of Sudan. The church has sponsored schools and health care facilities throughout the war-torn region. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Khady Waylie, a cotton farmer in Sitaoulé Bananding, Senegal throws freshly picked cotton onto a heap. The harvest is a celebration that marks the end of a season’s hard work. Khady grows cotton that is certified Fairtrade, what she believes is an important element in forging an economy that treats her and other producers justly. (Sean Hawkey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Indigenous people march through the streets of Atalaia do Norte in Brazil’s Amazon region on March 27, 2019, protesting a central government plan to turn control of health care over to municipalities, in effect destroying a federal program of indigenous health care. Indian rights activists are worried that the government of President Jair Bolsonaro is reducing or eliminating protections for the country’s indigenous people. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
The sheroes who do cervical cancer screening in the Shirati Hospital in Shirati, Tanzania. From left to right, they are Elizabeth Peter, Joyce Agutu, Moureen Mbise, Grace Adebi and Sophia Nyosingo. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Picture)

In many settings, women have taken upon themselves a unique role as peace builders.

Women dance during a conference on peacebuilding in Abyei, a contested region along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Under a 2005 peace agreement, the region was supposed to have a referendum to decide which country it would join, but the two countries have yet to agree on who can vote. In 2011, militias aligned with Khartoum drove out most of the Dinka Ngok residents, pushing them across a river into the town of Agok. Peace remains elusive, but women have taken a lead role in demanding respect for human rights as a predecessor to full peace. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)
Women hold a sign at a church-sponsored women’s peace rally in Juba, South Sudan. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)

On this International Women’s Day, we rededicate ourselves to telling herstory, using images to illumine the challenges that women and girls continue to face, while also capturing some of the persistence that women today bring to social and political struggles around the world.

A year after a hurricane ravaged their farms and homes, these women in Bombardopolis in Haiti’s poverty-wracked northwest have rebuilt their agricultural base with help from a church-sponsored organization. Yet they’ve been the ones to do the hard unrelenting work, which has allowed them and their families not just to survive, but to thrive. (Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures)