Students research hardships of rural N.C. women

avaughn@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2012 

Several Triangle college students have looked beyond the comforts of their own lives to delve into the hardships facing women in rural areas of North Carolina and the rest of the globe.

Anuja Acharya, a senior at N.C. State University, is one of five women who have received fellowships to present their research at an upcoming United Nations event. They will offer previews of their presentations at a forum and dinner Thursday at the N.C. State University Club.

“This is exploring an issue we see right here in our own backyards and how it can be applied on a larger scale,” she said. Acharya studied political participation of rural women for her fellowship.

Hannah Nemer, a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill whose research was on technology education for girls, said she was struck by the fact that each of the fellows were able to find local issues facing rural women that apply on a global scale.

WomenNC, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization has sponsored fellowships for students to present at the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. Headquarters in New York since 2010.

The theme of the CSW this year is the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication and development. Each of the fellows chose an issue based on this theme that affects women in North Carolina and a local organization or program that addresses it. They will share their research at a panel at the CSW March 1.

Mariamawit Tadesse, a senior at Meredith College who researched agriculture and rural women farmers, said seeing women oppressed while growing up in Ethiopia made her passionate about human rights. She said she hopes to share what she has learned on future visits to Ethiopia.

Many of the topics the fellows chose were challenging in part because research specific to rural women in North Carolina is not often conducted and statistics were not readily available, said Sue Ellen Rosen, communications chairwoman of WomenNC.

Becca Bishopric, a recent graduate of NCSU, had to gather information from several organizations for her research on human and sex trafficking in rural North Carolina. The homeless and runaway youth are among the groups vulnerable to these crimes, which makes gathering data more difficult, she said.

“It’s kind of underground,” she said. “People want to turn a blind eye and not believe modern day slavery is going on, even in North Carolina.”

Cumberland County served 595 youth that were sexually abused last year, many of which were trafficked and prostituted, Bishopric said.

According to WNC, North Carolina ranks 8th for human trafficking in the U.S.

Abby Bouchon, a junior at UNC Chapel Hill, said that being aware of public health issues in North Carolina and how they are connected to what is happening nationally and globally helps to create a network that she can explore in future work. She researched rural women and community health systems, focusing on obesity and breast cancer.

WNC founder and Executive Director Beth Dehghan said the dinner is an opportunity for the fellows to share the knowledge and enthusiasm they have gained with community members before they go to the U.N. The News & Observer is a sponsor of the program.

North Carolina is the only state that presents organized research of local women’s issues and programs at the CSW, according to WNC.

Anita Sivakumar, President of WNC and 2010 fellow, said their group is now recognized at the U.N. not only by representatives from other states but by those from countries such as Taiwan, Uganda and India.

Tickets for the dinner forum can be purchased until Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 at www.womennc.org/csw or call 919-744-4778.

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