Nari Bikash SanghPatriarchal values have long dominated Nepali culture. Prevailing attitudes have led to the belief that women in Nepal are inferior to men. As a result, Nepal has long suffered from high gender inequality, which has hampered the country’s overall development. Deeply entrenched views regarding the role of women in society have held back government initiatives, causing progress to be slow. Nari Bikash Sangh, a Nepali NGO, hopes to address gender inequality by directly aiding women in Nepal.

The Status of Women in Nepal

While women’s rights in Nepal have improved over the years, women still face many obstacles in their daily lives. Social values dictate a woman’s every move and women’s needs are often subservient to men’s needs. As a result, most social indicators for women lag behind those of men. The most striking example is Nepal’s literacy rate. As of 2011, the literacy rate for women was 44.5% compared to 71.6% for men, showing the vast disparity between the two genders. This disparity in literacy rates displays the challenges that Nepali women face in achieving upward social mobility as illiteracy inhibits one’s ability to acquire an education and eventually obtain gainful employment.

The patriarchal values that dominate Nepal can explain the disparities in social indicators between men and women in the country. These values mean a woman’s actions and wishes are often subject to the whims of the men in her life. For example, women are often discouraged from pursuing higher education or traveling abroad because of the idea that a woman’s role is to be a homemaker and caregiver.

Nari Bikash Sangh

Several initiatives have been developed with the aim of promoting women’s rights in Nepal. Nari Bikash Sangh (NBS) was founded in 1980 as an NGO whose goal is to help rural, disadvantaged women in Nepal become empowered and aware of their civil rights. With 89 paid staff and more than 2,200 volunteers, NBS reaches more than 100,000 women in Nepal.

Partnering with World Literacy of Canada, NBS started the Women Empowerment Project in 1999. The objective of the program is to encourage the social and economic empowerment of women from certain disadvantaged communities who have been unable to access formal education and employment opportunities. The project raises awareness about violence against women and also provides information on tools and services for victims of violence. Furthermore, this project includes a program to teach marginalized women vocational skills and how to generate income.

NBS also runs developmental programs seeking to promote self-sufficiency among impoverished, rural communities. The Participatory Integrated Poverty Alleviation Program involves developing rural infrastructure as well as improving agricultural standards. The program also consists of initiatives to mobilize disadvantaged people to create self-sufficiency through skills development and income generation programs.

The Road to Gender Equality

Nepal’s deeply entrenched patriarchal values have necessitated a response from ordinary Nepali citizens to ensure gender equality. Nari Bikash Sangh is an example of an organization that seeks to do just that. By raising awareness of women’s rights and initiating self-sufficiency programs, NBS is aiding women in Nepal in a crucial way.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Health in NamibiaOn March 17, 2021, Namibia made the decision to no longer tax menstrual products beginning in the 2022-23 financial year. Currently, these products are taxed 15%, which makes it difficult for many to afford these essential items. The removal of this tax is an important change wherever it takes place. It is especially significant in places like Namibia where 73% of households do not even have adequate handwashing facilities. The tax elimination will not fix all issues related to the inaccessibility of menstrual products, however, it is a major step toward improving menstrual health in Namibia.

The Cycle of Period Poverty

Menstrual health is vital to one’s overall health. Globally, one in five girls misses school due to limited access to menstrual products. This means girls are missing up to one week of school every month. Consequently, students may find it difficult to keep up with their classmates and succeed in school. As getting an education is one of the most effective ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty, this puts girls at an even greater disadvantage and maintains the cycle of poverty.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as period poverty. Period poverty is an unfortunate reality in Namibia and across the world. The goal of eliminating tampon tax and increasing the availability of menstrual products is to ensure no one misses opportunities simply because they are menstruating. Moreover, no one deserves to have to choose between buying sanitary products or buying food. Furthermore, no one should have to miss work or school simply because they cannot afford menstrual products. Making these products more easily available will reduce poverty and improve menstrual health in Namibia and around the world.

Women resort to alternatives such as rags, paper towels or old pads when they do not have access to menstrual products. The use of these items puts girls at risk of infections. The inaccessibility of sanitary products has also been linked with poor mental health and overall distress. These effects are easily preventable when menstrual products become accessible.

Menstrual Stigma

Many people do not consider menstrual health when trying to improve overall health. In many parts of the world, menstruation is considered unclean and shameful. This prevents many women from participating in society while menstruating. Access to menstrual products, like any other products that improve sanitation and health, is a human right. Regulations removing menstrual tax make these products more affordable and accessible. The removal of tampon tax will not take away the stigma surrounding menstruation, however, it will help protect people from disease, improve mental health and ease the completion of daily tasks while menstruating.

Namibia’s deputy minister in the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Emma Theofelus, states, “Period poverty is one of the undignifying processes women and young ladies have to experience. Your period is such a natural process and not something they can opt out of. There are not enough social and economic circumstances to create safety for young women.” Since menstruation is a natural experience for nearly half of the population, equitable access to sanitary products should not be negotiable.

Addressing Period Poverty Globally

Namibia is not the first country to eliminate tampon tax, countries such as Kenya, India, Australia and South Africa have also done so. Other countries, such as Germany, have decreased the amount of tax. However, in most of the world, including most U.S. states, these essential items are still taxed, which makes menstrual products unavailable to many. The state of menstrual health in Namibia is sure to improve now that tampon tax is done away with. The rest of the world should look to Namibia as an example and make similar changes. Every girl and woman deserves to menstruate with dignity and Namibia is one step closer to making this a reality.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in EthiopiaThe ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has become another challenge for Ethiopia as the East African country faces civil conflict, food scarcity and increasing poverty. For the first time in 22 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally may increase due to the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia has been substantial. Roughly 42% of registered businesses in Ethiopia’s capital closed down completely and other businesses saw drastically reduced or no income. The COVID-19 pandemic may potentially reverse Ethiopia’s poverty progress over the last two decades.

COVID-19 in Ethiopia

As of May 14, 2021, Ethiopia had almost 265,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and almost 4,000 recorded deaths, straining an already fragile health system and delaying access to other crucial medical care. The pandemic has also caused delays in distributing childhood vaccines for polio and measles. Furthermore, it is also likely to increase the morbidity rates of other common diseases. In April 2020, half of all households in Ethiopia saw their incomes reduce or disappear entirely. Urban areas were formerly the foundations for Ethiopia’s economic growth. These areas have been the most affected by COVID-19 as employment and income have fallen.

The economic setback of COVID-19 may have lasting repercussions for Ethiopia’s future. The pandemic’s impact on education has become an even more significant concern. Schools in Ethiopia closed in March 2020 and an estimated 26 million students lost access to primary and secondary education. Such a halt in education puts many children at risk of dropping out or being forced into child labor or child marriage. According to a survey in 2018, roughly 16 million children between 5 and 17 are involved in child labor across Ethiopia. While schools began to reopen in October 2020, there are still concerns over the lost time and how it might affect students’ success later in life.

COVID-19 and Civil Conflict

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia may be the highest in the Tigray region. Conflict erupted in November 2020 as tensions rose following a delay in national elections. By January 2021, about two million people were displaced by the violence, many of whom have fled to neighboring Sudan. The fighting has negatively impacted the availability of healthcare. At one point, only five out of 40 hospitals in the region were accessible. This dramatically increases the challenge of responding to the pandemic and makes it difficult to assess the full extent of COVID-19 in the area.

Food scarcity is another significant problem following extensive crop losses caused by swarms of desert locusts. Some farmers lost up to half of their harvests due to locust plagues. At the same time, the conflict has made it very difficult to procure food from outside of the region. Malnutrition is a real risk, especially for children. Many families are already experiencing decreased income and are unable to afford the rising food prices. The effects of the conflict, pandemic and food insecurity have placed an estimated 4.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian Aid

Through a partnership with the World Bank, the Ethiopian government has been able to fund a comprehensive response plan to improve the country’s ability to address the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. The Ethiopia COVID-19 Emergency Response Project’s primary focus is increasing resources and testing capacity. Now, there are 69 testing laboratories across Ethiopia. This is in addition to the establishment of contact tracing systems, 50 quarantine facilities, 332 isolation wards and 64 treatment centers. Public awareness and health education are prioritized with door-to-door campaigns to reach vulnerable populations.

It is also vital to stimulate the economy by focusing on supporting the small businesses that the pandemic has hit hardest in order to see true poverty reduction. Because of the uncertain nature of the outbreak, a recovery plan will have to be adaptable. Addressing poverty in Ethiopia, and Tigray specifically, will also require a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in the region, an act that multiple world leaders encourage. These goals can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ethiopia, furthering recovery progress.

Nicole Ronchetti
Photo: Unsplash

Social Ecology in RojavaRojava, also known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, is a region in Northeastern Syria. It was born out of the political instability that started at the beginning of the civil war in 2011. Surrounded by conflict, Rojava represents a rare success story of a war-torn region determined to help its local communities by reducing poverty through social ecology.

Rojava in Action

Rojava functions as a confederated system of local communities. Political decisions are implemented by democratic means and policy is decided from the ground up. Members of the immediate community have the first and final say on policies and practices that affect their communities directly. This political method of local autonomy relies on a specific degree of local sustainability and social responsibility. Communities take an active role in ensuring each member can access essential resources such as food and clean water.

Ecological sustainability is strong at play. Communities in Rojava aim to transform the landscape back into a more ecologically diverse and fertile area. This will mean reversing land practices inherited from the Assad regime. Groups such as the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, and its project, Make Rojava Green Again, focus efforts on this transformation. This is the crux of how Rojava hopes to reduce poverty through social ecology.

The Problem

Under the Assad regime, Northern Syria became deforested and transformed into monoculture croplands. One example of the practice is the deforestation of Afrin in favor of planting olive trees. This practice, along with the use of chemical fertilizers and unnatural water sources, destroyed the quality of topsoil and degraded the overall fertility of the land. Such practices also forced the population to rely on supermarket-based systems of distribution to purchase food and other essentials, decreasing local access to resources in favor of international markets. This form of politically-induced scarcity increased poverty rates in the Kurdish regions of Northeastern Syria.

Making a Change

After the withdrawal of the Syrian Government in 2011, lands once used for monoculture cultivation were expropriated by local farming cooperatives. These cooperatives form the basis of the economic system that now functions in Rojava. Each cooperative includes roughly 25 to 35 people. The priority of each cooperative is to provide for the basic needs of the region’s most impoverished citizens. The reallocation of resources and land back to local communities has seen success.

The localization of food production has notable environmental and social benefits. According to a study conducted in 2019, eggs supplied by local cooperatives required less than 2% of the monetary cost and energy needed for eggs supplied by modern supermarket supply chains. This means the people in Rojava have improved access to food, and, at a substantially reduced cost.

The Make Rojava Green Again project has spearheaded multiple ecological initiatives throughout Northeastern Syria aimed at reducing poverty by encouraging practices of ecological sustainability at the local level. Examples of such initiatives include efforts to rebuff rivers with the reforestation of native plant species. This will create wider access to clean water for communities that rely on such rivers. Other examples include reusing water for irrigation and planting urban gardens in order to grow food for impoverished members of the community who cannot grow their own. This will increase food security for otherwise vulnerable areas.

Continuing Forward

Despite the threat of military annihilation, Rojava continues to implement a green future for its citizens. Ecological initiatives have increased access to natural resources for populations in both urban and rural environments. The effort to reduce poverty through social ecology in Rojava is an ongoing initiative that requires international support if it is to survive. Nevertheless, Rojava has already demonstrated the effectiveness of such measures, and in doing so, has provided the rest of the world with a model for a green future.

Jack Thayer
Photo: Flickr

Oil and Poverty in Kazakhstan
Oil and poverty in Kazakhstan have an inextricable link. Kazakhstan is located in Central Asia with a population of over 19 million people. The last country to declare independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan spent its first years as an independent nation focused on nation-building rather than economic policy. However, thanks to the development of the country’s oil and gas resources and a focus on exports at the turn of the century, the country became one of the top 10 fastest-growing economies in the world as recently as 2015.

This dependence on oil exports has created challenges for the country. In 2014 and 2015, large drops in oil prices cut export revenues in Kazakhstan by almost half. The deficit that followed caused the government to take quick action. It reduced or delayed previously planned spending on infrastructure and tightened exchange rate policies.

Poverty in Kazakhstan

The statistics on poverty in Kazakhstan are hopeful. In 2018, only about 4.3% of the population lived below the poverty line and the unemployment rate was only 4.8%. This is an impressive improvement from the 48.9% poverty rate in 2005. The improvement is largely due to new employment opportunities from the oil industry that have allowed more people to have a steady income.

While this decrease in poverty has been inarguably a good development, the rate at which the increase has happened has led many to worry that the country could just as quickly fall back into decline. With so much of the economy dependent on oil prices, a very volatile industry, the impact of oil and poverty in Kazakhstan is something that experts are very concerned with.

On top of the regular fluctuations in oil prices, the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the economy of Kazakhstan. The pandemic brought activity across the globe to a halt. As stay-at-home orders went into place, the demand for oil dropped significantly, which caused oil prices to drop. 

The Good News

Despite the link between oil and poverty in Kazakhstan, there is good news. According to the World Bank, the life expectancy in Kazakhstan is 73 years. This has been steadily rising since the country became independent in 1991. Infant and maternal mortality rates have also been in decline in recent years. 

Kazakhstan has also improved the basic necessities of its citizens. About 97.4% of the population now has access to clean drinking water and 99.9% have access to sanitation facilities. Meanwhile, 100% of citizens have access to electricity. Education, which has a direct link to economic growth, is doing well with 99.8% of people over 15 being able to read and write. 

Looking to the Future

Looking forward, there are ways for Kazakhstan to mitigate the damage fluctuations in oil prices can cause to its citizens. Oil and poverty in Kazakhstan will always have a link. However, diversifying the economy is a major step to reducing the impact of changing oil prices on the country. The country must focus on the non-oil economy by implementing new policies that will focus on investing in infrastructure and human capital. By focusing on expanding the economy, decreases in oil prices will not result in such massive deficits in the future.

Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid in the PhilippinesAs of 2021, the Philippines is the 12th most populated country, with a population of approximately 109 million people. Industrialization in the country has increased, poverty has decreased — from 23.3% in 2015 to 16.6% in 2018 — and the Philippines has one of the lowest household debts in Asia. However, it has been historically known as a frequent recipient of foreign aid.

Top Aid Givers

Some notable givers of foreign aid in the Philippines are Japan, the United States, Australia, Korea, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). As of 2018, Japan was still the largest source of foreign aid in the Philippines. The aid comes in the form of grants and loans that total $5.98 billion for projects throughout the country. One notable project is a subway in Manila, Philippines. The World Bank comes in next with $3.13 billion, followed by the ADB with $2.24 billion.

The United States is another large investor of foreign aid in the Philippines. The aid provided is used to advance democratic values, promote peace and security and improve education and health. Disaster relief and recovery have become a large part of aid to the Philippines. The U.S. donated more than $143 million to help the country recover from the devastating typhoon in 2013.

The Philippines and Papua New Guinea

In 2018, the Philippines, usually a receiver of foreign aid, had the chance to give foreign aid to another country. Papua New Guinea struggled with the drop in oil prices worldwide; oil was a major export for the country. Papua New Guinea needed to diversify its economy, and the government of the Philippines agreed to give aid to the struggling country through a partnership. The aid took the form of helping with industrial crops, inland fish farming and agriculture, particularly rice production.

Growing rice in tropical countries can be particularly tricky. The Philippines, however, has expertise in many different strains of rice — some of which can even hold up in severe weather like typhoons — and has even previously passed on knowledge to other countries in Africa and Brunei. Through the cooperation between the Philippines and Papua New Guinea, President Duterte believes food security can be ensured.

COVID-19 Aid to the Philippines

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, 14 countries sent foreign aid to the Philippines, either in cash or through in-kind aid, such as medical supplies. These countries include Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, France, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, among others. Many of the countries donated personal protective equipment (PPE), face masks, test kits and ventilators to help the Philippines combat the novel coronavirus.

China sent a team of experts to help treat patients and shared packs of rice in remembrance of the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties. Japan sent experts as well, and the U.S. made monetary donations of approximately $4 million and $5.9 million respectively to help prepare labs to process novel coronavirus test kits and to help local governments respond to the outbreak.

South Korea has donated more than $5 million in humanitarian assistance to the Philippines during the pandemic. Korean Ambassador Han Dong-Man said this was to honor what the Filipino soldiers did to help in the Korean War. South Korea has helped with foreign aid in the Philippines for the past 70 years, for disasters both natural and man-made.

The Philippines has been knocked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still potential for the country to recover. There is a vast, young workforce and a growing middle class to bolster efforts to regain footing in the country. Foreign aid in the Philippines can help the country regain the progress it had been making leading up to 2020.

– Courtney Roe
Photo: Flickr

The Gender Wage Gap in Iran and COVID-19 Vaccines
Today, the gender wage gap in Iran is so large that, on average, a woman can expect to make just 18% of what a man does. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the already severe gender wage gap in Iran. According to the 2021 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, the pandemic has made a major impact on gender inequality, as “closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.” This shift disproportionately targets countries with large pre-existing gender wage gaps, such as Iran. As a result, gender wage gaps will only continue to persist and worsen until the end of the global pandemic. While the outlook for closing the gender wage gap in Iran is currently grim, the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine offers a ray of hope for restarting the movement towards gender equality.

Gender Inequality in Iran

Many consider the Islamic Republic of Iran to be an authoritarian state and it has notably restricted the rights of women since undergoing an Islam-oriented Cultural Revolution in 1980. As a result, Iranian society has since relegated women to domestic roles. Women’s political power in Iran has severe limitations. According to the World Economic Forum, the number of women in Parliament is a paltry 5.6%. Additionally, the number of women participating in the labor force stands at a mere 18.9% in 2021, compared to 39% in 2006.

With restricted rights and limited representation in politics, intervention is critical in reducing the massive gender inequality that is present. A paper that the United Nations published on the subject argues just that, saying, “remedial policy is required if Iran is to pursue socio-economic development and redistributive justice.”

One organization fighting for gender equality in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries is the Women’s Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE). This NGO fights against unjust interpretations of the Quran. This includes the idea that men should be above women in society and relationships in Islam. Through the promotion of a more just interpretation of the Quran, WISE helps nations create legislation that will open doors for women in the workforce, politics and society.

How the Gender Wage Gap in Iran has Changed Over Time

While the situation in Iran is far from ideal, some societal improvements lend hope for a better future. Particularly, the increases in education. Education lays the foundation for an elevation of the role of women in society. In the past 15 years, literacy rates for women have increased from 70% to 80.8%. This is due to increased educational resources for women in the country. Women have also increased their presence in parliament, which increased from 4% to 5.6%.

The movement towards gender equality is making modest headway in some regards, despite the widening gender wage gap in Iran in that same timeframe. However, the ongoing pandemic is stalling much of this progress. The World Economic Forum estimates that since 2018, Iran’s Gender Gap Index, a scale of one to seven showing how severe the gender gap in a country is, has fallen from .589 to .582. This is mostly due to the impact of COVID-19. It shows how the pandemic is turning the tides away from gender equality.

Despite some success in recent years, COVID-19 has undone much of this positive change. The impact of COVID-19 is especially harmful to women in the workforce. Solving the issues presented by the pandemic is key for closing the gender wage gap in Iran. Since the gap is actively widening, it is crucial to stop the spread of COVID-19 as soon as possible.

How COVID-19 Vaccines Can Help Close the Gender Wage Gap in Iran

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing open the gender gap in Iran rather than closing it. The good news is that vaccines present a route out of the pandemic for the country. If Iran can vaccinate according to WHO’s critical mass figure of 80% of the population, the country can achieve herd immunity and return to functioning as normal.

In fact, the devastation of the pandemic has left a greater demand for labor. The roughly 34 million unemployed women in Iran could meet this demand. The sheer volume of unemployed women demonstrates the overwhelming disadvantage women are at in Iran’s workforce. However, the need for mass vaccinations to allow for more women to work is clear as well.

As of May 20, 2021, only 2.4% of the population has received a dose and only 0.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. Iran has a long way to go to vaccinate enough people to return to normal and increase the chances of women in the workforce. It is important for world leaders to prioritize the distribution of vaccines worldwide. This will not only help to end the pandemic but help stop the rising gender inequality that has stemmed from it.

Looking Ahead

Data from the World Economic Forum proves that the pandemic has created a devastating impact on the gender wage gap in Iran. The data shows why vaccinations must experience as much promotion as possible to stop the spread. Without swift action, the gap will only widen. Change in legislation can help bring gender equality in Iran. As of now, though, the next step in working toward that goal is to end the pandemic.

– Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

The Tigray Conflict
Thousands of refugees have fled the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia since early November 2020 to seek safety in eastern Sudan. This has resulted in a full-scale humanitarian crisis. Refugees, many of whom are children and women, have been arriving at remote border points that take hours to enter from the closest towns in Sudan. Most of them do not have any possessions and arrived exhausted from walking long distances over harsh terrain. The steady influx of daily arrivals is exceeding the existing capacity to provide assistance.

The Tigray Conflict

The Tigray conflict is an ongoing armed conflict between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. According to the International Crisis Organization think-tank, the violence in Tigray has left thousands dead and sent tens of thousands of refugees into Sudan. Estimates have determined that the conflict has displaced more than 222,000 people, in addition to the 100,000 people who experienced displacement prior to the conflict. Moreover, the loss of livelihoods, destruction of homes and lack of resources have affected local neighborhoods. As a result, people living in those areas urgently need shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as health and protection.

Humanitarian Efforts

While humanitarian efforts are emerging to provide aid after the Tigray conflict, they remain challenged by the insecurity and bureaucratic constraints throughout the region. As a result, it can be challenging for humanitarian groups to access countrysides as well as Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps.

The U.N. is working with Ethiopia’s government and all relevant interlocutors to aid in the safe passage of humanitarian personnel and the provision of supplies to all parts of the Tigray region. Meanwhile, health facilities in major cities are partially working with limited-to-no stock of supplies and the absence of health workers and facilities outside major cities are not operational.

In addition, UNHCR and Sudan’s Commission for Refugees are continuing to relocate refugees from the border to designated refugee camps. These are further inland in Sudan’s Gedaref State, in support of the government-led response in Sudan. Um Rakuba refugee camp is approaching its full capacity. UNHCR and its partners are swiftly relocating refugees to a newly opened refugee camp, Tunaydbah, in order to keep refugees safe and offer them better quality living conditions.

Humanitarian Funding

In 2020, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, launched an appeal for $147 million to support as many as 100,000 people fleeing Ethiopia’s Tigray region into neighboring Sudan. In its appeal document, UNHCR said that it took an anticipated increase of refugees into account during its planning. At the minimum, it planned to be able to help a total of 100,000 by April 2021, whereas at the maximum, it intended to be able to provide aid to an influx of 200,000 refugees.

In November 2020, UNHCR began airlifting aid to refugees, sending the first of four planeloads of supplies to Khartoum. One of the flights to Khartoum brought 100 tonnes from Dubai comprising mosquito net, blankets, plastic sheets, solar lamps, tents and prefabricated warehouses. The intention behind the appeal for $147 million was to fund UNHCR so that it could help Sudan manage the humanitarian crisis over the following six months.

Looking Ahead

CSW’s founder and president, Mervyn Thomas, urged Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to prioritize the protection of refugees within Ethiopia’s borders. These refugees’ forcible return to a country that many deem to have committed crimes against humanity is an appalling violation of international law and humanitarian norms.

Abiy Ahmed needs to take immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict and enter into meaningful dialogue with regional representatives who the people of Tigray recognize. People can also call on the government of Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray immediately and end its egregious violations of the rights of Eritreans, both at home and abroad. More nations also need to step up their humanitarian support for the region, including Sudan, which is suffering the brunt of the refugee wave from Tigray.

Aining Liang
Photo: Flickr

soap operas fight povertySoap operas are a staple not only in U.S. television but abroad as well. Soap operas in several countries are going beyond entertainment by focusing on critical social issues in a particular country. The popularity of these television dramas has raised the possibility that soap operas can fight global poverty. Furthermore, “edutainment soaps” have often triggered important behavioral changes in the people who watch them.

Television’s Role

Television has become an integral part of people’s daily lives and an everyday accessory for every household. Televisions provide access to entertainment, but they also keep societies informed about events in other parts of the world. Additionally, technology allows people around the world to support one another and celebrate historical moments. Television programs, such as documentaries, provide information and education. Specific programs aim to promote intellectual growth in children. These shows also teach children moral values and social skills. Through movies and TV shows, people spark new conversations and begin to form new communities. Television creates a safe way to introduce different values into foreign countries. Storytelling is the easiest way to challenge social norms, which makes soap operas valuable tools.

Soap Opera’s Rising Influence

In the United States, soap operas may have lost their place as a popular type of television program. However, soap operas are a viable option in other countries, drawing in most of the community. Soap operas can attract a broad range of people, from those with high to little education. From Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Casablanca, Morocco, 80 million people regularly watch at least one soap opera episode. The number of people viewing increases during Ramadan, a time of fasting. In the past, after the fast, people would traditionally listen to a “hakawti,” or storyteller, who recounts old tales. Soap operas have now taken the place of these storytellers.

These soap operas follow the same ideas as U.S. soap operas, with intricate plot lines and dramatization. Moreover, people can relate to the main characters because the characters battle adversities people see in their current societies. Topics that are considered too taboo or sensitive are often turned into storylines. The dramas have taken the place of fables by providing entertainment and education. These types of shows can bring about behavioral change within a culture and break stereotypes.

How Dramas Raise Awareness

Several television dramas have affected various issues using characters and plotlines to raise awareness. For example, one drama increased the use of condoms in South Africa after highlighting sexual practices and risks. Viewers of the program were four times more likely to use condoms to protect themselves. Another soap opera expanded involvement in literacy classes in Mexico City by nine times because the storyline involved a relatable character who was learning how to read. Additionally, a soap opera discussed the importance of children’s health insurance for low-income households and how to go about accessing it, which then increased applications for the specific insurance in the U.S. state of Colorado.

Soap operas have an important place in the Middle East. One can tackle a range of issues through television dramas, and in Arab societies, poverty is an important issue. The World Bank reported that more than 25% of children in poverty in Syria, Egypt and Morocco suffer from malnutrition. Unfortunately, the subsidies used to protect impoverished people end up in the hands of those that do not need them. Although the effectiveness of subsidies has shown itself in other countries, people in these areas resist subsidy reform. Introducing poverty reform education into soap operas could help the government educate people about how society can better fight poverty.

By introducing poverty-related reforms within television dramas, soap operas can fight global poverty. Employing these ideas in television dramas can break down the walls between different classes and introduce new ways to improve society.

Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in LiberiaThe 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 4,800 people in Liberia and infected thousands of others. However, these data points only scratch the surface of Ebola’s effect on healthcare in Liberia. Ebola’s devastation affected the provision of healthcare services in West Africa and caused an additional 10,600 deaths due to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. In countries such as Liberia, more medical training and equipment means healthcare in Liberia has strengthened since the Ebola outbreak. Ebola exposed the weaknesses in the healthcare system of Liberia and showed the Liberian government and international aid organizations particular areas needing improvement and reform.

The World Bank’s Involvement

After recognizing the struggles of Liberia’s healthcare system during the Ebola epidemic, the World Bank devised specific ways to assist Liberia. For example, in May 2020, the World Bank approved the Institutional Foundations to Improve Service for Health Project for Liberia (IFISH). The four-component program focuses specifically on improving health services and outcomes for women, children and adolescents. The six-year program costs $84 million, of which $54 million of funding comes from the United States. Roughly 50% of the budget will be dedicated to health facilities and construction in Liberia. The program also attempts to lay the groundwork for future Liberian healthcare officials. The program includes training health workers and financing certain undergraduate and postgraduate faculties.

The Yale Capstone Project

For multiple years, the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs has worked alongside the Yale Global Health Institute to create a project-based global health course for Yale seniors. The program allows students to explore the intersection of public health and policy. The students of this program have contributed to recovery efforts in Liberia. The program has assisted in establishing proof to encourage partners and policymakers to undertake significant changes in Liberia’s main medical school. The 2015 class conducted case studies on Rwanda and Ethiopia to generate targeted policy solutions in Liberia. Overall, the partnership was deemed a “win-win” for Liberia and the students involved.

CDC Field Epidemiology Training Program

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been actively aiding healthcare in Liberia since 2007. However, it did not expand its Liberian focus until the Ebola outbreak. Accompanied by more traditional CDC programs such as malaria intervention and the provision of vaccines, Liberia receives assistance through the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP). The three-tiered educational initiative aims to equip Liberian healthcare workers with the knowledge and tools to investigate and respond to disease outbreaks. At the close of 2016, Liberia had 115 FETP-trained staff. The FETP graduates will go on to provide field support in response to disease outbreaks across Liberia. With graduates from all 15 counties and 92 health districts in Liberia, fellows of FETP work to contain outbreaks and prevent them from turning into local or global epidemics.

Room for Improvement

Healthcare in Liberia is improving due to Liberia’s coordinated recovery efforts with multiple organizations. Nevertheless, Liberia still battles with increasing civilian access to healthcare and the funding of critical health institutions. For example, two-thirds of rural families need to travel for more than an hour to access a health center. These extended travel times can significantly impact the healthcare outcomes of Liberians. Moreover, hospitals are struggling to survive because funding from donors has slowed since the Ebola outbreak. In Liberia’s health system, primary healthcare facilities are largely underfunded.

While these struggles persist, they should not overshadow the significant improvements made since the Ebola outbreak. With aid, commitment and effort, healthcare in Liberia can improve further.

– Kendall Carll
Photo: Flickr