Walk In Her Shoes + National Walking Month

Walking isn’t considered a feminist act. And that’s ok. Too many issues are shoehorned into restrictive categories of “feminist” or “not feminist”, when really, feminism is a woman’s freedom to choose to do anything she so desires. Yet for women across the world, something as simple as walking can present its own obstacles.

Temp worker Nicola Thorp made international headlines this month after petitioning the Government to make it illegal to force a woman to wear heels at work after being denied work on the basis of her wearing flats. Her petition has not only gained 140,000 signatures, and so will be debated in Parliament, but the support of several female MPs from across the Commons, including Equalities Minister Caroline Dinenage, Margot James and Tulip Siddiq. It will be remarkable to note who votes in favour of women’s choice of footwear being withheld, but until then, the feminist issue of walking goes so much deeper than heels. 

Over 2,500 British people have signed up to take part in Walk In Her Shoes, a campaign from charity Care International. Launched on Mothering Sunday with a march in central London and speeches from Helen Pankhurst (Emmeline’s great-granddaughter) and MAKER Annie Lennox, the idea is to walk 10,000 steps a day for a week in order to raise money for girls and women who must walk for hours every day to fetch water. In developing economies, women and girls’ daily search for fresh water diverts their time, physical energy and attention away from fulfilling their own human potential. In her speech, Annie said: “There is still so much more to be done in terms of creating transformative change towards a fairer and more equitable world. That is why I’m joining the Walk In Her shoes, in solidarity with women and girls worldwide who bear the brunt of the burden of poverty.”

Monies raised from the #WalkInHerShoes campaign will go towards providing sanitation to people in Afar, a remote region of Ethiopia. Should the target of £400,000 be raised, people living in Afar will be given better access to water, meaning there will be a 50% reduction in time spent by women and girls fetching water there. All donations made before June will be matched by UK Aid funding and any excess will go towards the Help Her Live Learn and Earn campaign. 

Care International’s work sheds further light on the widespread reality; that where a lack of infrastructure leaves women behind, a country as whole will be affected. Ethiopia’s GDP is ranked 70th in the world. As the IMF’s Christine Lagarde put it, women’s independence is vital to a thriving economy: “Women’s empowerment is not just a fundamentally moral cause, it is also an absolute economic no-brainer…boosting growth, raising overall incomes, reducing inequality, and tackling poverty.”

By connecting the literal movement of British women with those in developing economies, it’s easy to draw comparisons. May is National Walking Month in the UK, and the organisation behind it, Living Streets, wants to get more people walking. While statistics from the Government’s 2014 National Travel Survey show that the amount men and women are walking has decreased proportionately from 1997 (by 22% and 21% respectively), men are more likely to make up for their lack of walking by going to the gym, or playing team sports. According to Sport England, two million fewer women than men are exercising weekly, making them “inactive”. While campaigns like This Girl Can have been geared specifically towards getting women to play sport, for those with busy lives, sport might be a step too far. So simply going out for a walk could be incredibly beneficial. According to Living Streets’ spokesperson: “Being physically active can lower the risk of developing heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, depression and stroke. It can also reduce levels of stress and help us maintain a healthy weight.”

Inequality across the world might seem disparate and unrelated, but if busy lives attending to unpaid labour - such as water-fetching, childcare, or household chores - are stopping women, no matter where they are, from truly fulfilling their potential, it just goes to show that what harms us can unite us in our goals.

NEXT: Get to Know Kathrine Switzer »

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Photo Credit: Getty Images/Jorge Fernández