Ahead of International Women’s Day, Lyndsey Rae and Lewis Ryder-Jones acknowledge that their sector has to work to regain public trust. But they argue that the current negative headlines shouldn’t eclipse acknowledgement of the vital work that international NGOs do. The various projects driven by Scottish charities offer a fine example of what the sector can deliver. 

The work of international NGOs is under a lot of scrutiny at the current time. But whilst the events being detailed each day in the media are extremely disturbing and must be addressed comprehensively, they should not eclipse the important work that NGOs are involved in across the globe, work which greatly improves the lives of many vulnerable people.

The nature, and extent, of this work can be seen right here in Scotland, where a wide network of organisations is working hard every week of the year to transform lives, and create opportunities, for individuals and communities who are most in need. Indeed, as International Women’s Day approaches, a number of such Scottish-based organisations highlight how their work is empowering women across a variety of locations and circumstances to make lasting, sustainable change to their lives, through addressing challenges such as access to education and training.

Today, 131 million young and adolescent girls worldwide are out of school. Those who are in school often struggle to receive a quality education in overcrowded schools, with substandard sanitary provision and social norms that prioritise boys’ learning. The Global Partnership for Education states that ‘education is essential to the success of every one of the 17 [sustainable development] global goals’ – yet education’s share in total aid fell for six years in a row, from 10 percent in 2009 to 6.9 percent  in 2015. Millions of girls enter early marriages, and bear children at a very young age. Some have no opportunities for training or a career: this situation perpetuates poverty, disease, and suffering.

Today, 131 million young and adolescent girls worldwide are out of school. Those who are in school often struggle to receive a quality education in overcrowded schools, with substandard sanitary provision and social norms that prioritise boys’ learning.

Clearly, there is much to be done, but Scottish charities are committed to breaking this cycle. By working with communities around education and training, they work holistically to address the gender imbalance, promote the well-being and protection of girls, and ultimately transform communities, offering a sustainable, long-term escape from poverty.

Link Community Development (Link) and the Mamie Martin Fund (MMF) are supporting girls in sub-Saharan Africa to get a quality Secondary Education. MMF provides schools fees and support including uniforms, sanitary pads and notebooks to girls most in need in northern Malawi, where just 34 percent of classes are female. Through a partnership with Soko Fund, some girls are awarded further funding to pursue tertiary education and university studies.

Girls at school in northern Malawi supported by the Mamie Martin Fund. Image: © Moira Dunworth.

Link are working directly with 63,000 marginalised girls in rural Ethiopia. They provide material help, but girls’ needs beyond the classroom are also addressed as they are connected with role models, taught financial and other life skills, and are offered guidance and counselling. Crucially, Link also works extensively with communities to create attitudinal change, helping parents and teachers to see the importance and rewards of educating their girls, which is essential to achieve long-term transformation. Child protection training, implementation, and sustainability are thoroughly interwoven through the project design.


These charities empower girls to gain a quality education, creating an environment where all women and girls in the community face reduced risk of discrimination, exploitation, abuse, and neglect. Beyond the classroom, there are many Scottish charities which provide vocational training to provide careers and livelihoods for women.

Starchild works with vulnerable women and children in Uganda providing training in animal husbandry, poultry, horticulture and tailoring. Sewing machines, fabrics and threads have also been provided. Having a trade means the women can earn an income making school uniforms, bedding and clothes for the community. Starchild encourages the women to save and teaches them life skills, encouraging them to be innovative and develop business ideas and activities that can help transform their lives and those of their children.

Beyond the classroom, there are many Scottish charities which provide vocational training to provide careers and livelihoods for women.

Similarly, in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, Renew SCIO supports the orphans and widows of park rangers who, due to political instability, economic and social struggle, have lost their lives whilst protecting irreplaceable natural resources and wildlife. These women and children are more likely to be economically and physically exploited. Renew SCIO, alongside its grassroots partner organisation the Park Rangers Widows and Orphans Project, provides access to education for the children and training in sewing, support to create local cooperatives and investment in rearing livestock for the women. The training and support provided by Starchild and Renew brings about sustainable, transformative change for women, giving them a source of income, and a voice, protecting them from exploitation and discrimination.

In middle-income countries such as India, it is still the case that girls can get left behind. EMMS International and Scottish Love in Action are two Scottish charities which recognise this. Both work to support projects in India specifically aimed at helping girls to access education and achieve a brighter future.

EMMS International partners with the Duncan Hospital, which works specifically to reach women and children in the northern state of Bihar, while in southern India, Scottish Love in Action works with the ASRITHA Rainbow Home, which cares for 100 girls formerly living on the streets of Hyderabad. To help address limited access to education and healthcare, EMMS holds workshops specifically for girls, educating them at rural health clinics. These teenagers, who are typically kept out of school by their families, are being taught practical skills that promote independence, such as tailoring, and basic computing.


A teenage girl learning to tailor clothing in a rural area of the northern Indian State of Bihar. Image: EMMS International.

In Hyderabad, Rainbow convert underused rooms in government schools into residential homes for girls who have been living rough on the streets. Providing this base allows these girls to enter mainstream education in these same schools. Many of the girls who come to the home have never before attended school. SLA work intensively with these girls to improve their social skills empowering them to take charge of their own education and future in a safe and loving environment.

Similarly, by facilitating online access and group research projects on the role of girls in society, EMMS also aims to raise awareness about the exclusion that many girls experience through to adulthood, and to challenge negative cultural practices by educating children and teenagers.

These innovative projects demonstrate the valuable and varied work Scottish charities are undertaking with the aim of creating lasting change and opportunities for women and girls across the globe. By providing a formal education, vocational training, and material help and support, communities are lifted out of poverty and the risks of sexual discrimination and abuse are greatly diminished. It is only by recognising and unlocking the huge potential and power of women and girls that this is possible.


It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the work that international NGOs do. Whilst the current bad headlines need to be taken extremely seriously and addressed with urgency, they should not be allowed to dominate the conversation on what charities can achieve, and the people they can help across the world.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we have many clear – if dispiriting – reminders of the work which needs to be done; not only to improve the lives of women and girls, but also to make sure that whole families and communities are able to contribute to societies where equality and respect are taken seriously. We still have a long way to go.

But at this pressing juncture, where some seek to discredit the achievements of international charities for their own agenda, let’s not be blinded by cynicism but celebrate the positive work and progress made so far.

Lyndsey Rae is the Communications and Administration Officer at Link Community Development. For more information on their work please visit www.lcdinternational.org. This piece was written in conjunction with Lewis Ryder-Jones, Policy, Advocacy and Communications Officer at Scotland’s International Development Alliance, with input from Alliance members.

Feature image: a school girl in rural Ethiopia. Image: Link Community Development.