Video Advocacy in AfricaWITNESS Media Lab, a nonprofit based in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City, protects human rights. How? By providing victims of social injustice with technology resources, verification platforms and video curation methods. Global internet users have increased by approximately three billion between 2005 and 2019 due to increasing access to mobile technology. Video advocacy in Africa is now being used to expose gross injustices, across the continent.

Platforms like WITNESS extend human rights advocacy toward the field of technology. WITNESS uses film footage to publicize global crimes against humanity. Also, impoverished communities reach a large audience through film resources that help contextualize and disseminate eyewitness documentation.

The Borgen Project spoke with Adebayo Okeowo, WITNESS Africa Program Manager and human rights lawyer, to gain insight on WITNESS’s involvement in Africa. In 2017, internet access in sub-Saharan Africa increased to 25%, providing approximately 25% of the population with access to online, human rights resources.

A Digitized Form of Advocacy

Video advocacy is film footage used to publicize humanitarian issues that require international attention. WITNESS provides resources on video production and curation, allowing documented forms of injustice to reach a wider audience. Once issues of injustice receive global attention, influential policymakers and human rights lawyers are more likely to intervene.

According to The World Bank, “eight of the ten most unequal countries in the world, when looking at the Gini coefficient, are in sub-Saharan Africa.” Socioeconomic conditions such as income inequality, government corruption and inequitable tax systems lead to high levels of disparity in impoverished African nations. As inequality rises in Africa, remote villages face an increased likelihood of war and violence. Here, video advocacy in Africa holds great potential for change. WITNESS helps reduce inequality by assisting in the publication and preservation of videos that expose injustices.

Capturing Global Attention

Although internet access has risen in sub-Saharan Africa, remote communities face challenges in bringing global awareness to humanitarian issues. For instance, inadequate IT infrastructure and poor Wi-Fi connection can lead to a decline in internet access. This, in turn, decreases the number of users who document and publicize acts of injustice. This presents a challenge for video advocacy in Africa. Furthermore, rural African communities lack global attention, to begin with. This, in turn, makes it difficult for humanitarian crises to gain traction in the media.

Okeowo stated that when the 2015 Baga massacre occurred in the same week as the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, hashtags like #JeSuisCharlie trended on Twitter while the mass killing of approximately 2,000 Nigerians failed to reach global news. Okeowo told The Borgen Project that “we must double our efforts in prioritizing interventions in every corner where there is injustice, but more especially in the forgotten places.”

Justice for Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

In 2012, WITNESS partnered with AJEDI-Ka, a local nonprofit in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The aim was to assist in the conviction of militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. WITNESS and AJEDI-Ka presented two films comprising video documentation of Lubanga recruiting child soldiers to the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a result, the ICC sentenced Lubanga to 14 years in prison for the war crime of enlisting child soldiers under the age of 15.

The video documentation, ranging back to 2003, initiated an ICC investigation by providing general information on Lubanga’s war crimes. WITNESS, AJEDI-Ka and the ICC protected the human rights of potential child soldiers by holding Lubanga accountable for breaking international law. The 2012 ICC verdict and the 2014 upheld conviction signaled a warning to future militia leaders planning to recruit children for military purposes.

Okeowo told The Borgen Project that film publication “is not so much about how many eyes see the video, but that the right set of eyes see the video.” WITNESS is one of the leading organizations using video documentation to bring justice to impoverished areas, representing approximately 135 countries globally.

– Madeline Zuzevich
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Microsoft's Global Skills InitiativeIn the wake of COVID-19, economies across the world have been hit hard. Countries alike have seen decreases across all economic sectors as quarantine and stay-at-home orders were mandated in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. People transitioned to working remotely, while millions of others lost their jobs entirely due to market crashes. In an effort to cushion the economic travesty that the pandemic has bought, Microsoft is launching a global initiative, partnering with LinkedIn and Github, to teach 25 million people across the world new digital skills. Microsoft’s global skills initiative aims to remedy the global economic impact that has come with COVID-19.

Digital Skills

Microsoft believes these newfound digital skills will give people the ability to take on jobs where digital skills are necessary in order to be successful. The initiative targets those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic, as well as minorities, women and others affected by poverty.

Recent statistics predict that over 250 million people globally may be unemployed by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. Microsoft found that in the U.S. alone, in May 2020, women had an unemployment rate of 14.4% compared to men who were at 12%. Additionally, Latinx populations had unemployment rates of 16.7%, which is much higher than other groups. These statistics indicate why the initiative particularly targets populations such as women and minorities.

By learning digital skills, those who are at an economic disadvantage will be able to take on jobs in the digital age and improve their economic status. Those who attain these newfound skills might even be able to teach others and distribute their knowledge to uplift an entire community.

Three-step Process

The three partnered companies have come up with a three-step process that they hope will encourage economic growth in communities across the globe. The first part relates to the Linkedin Economic Graph. The Economic Graph is a digital representation of the global economy based on more than 690 million professionals, 50 million companies, 11 million job listings, 36,000 defined skills and 90,000 schools. In short, it is data that shows available jobs and their required skills as well as global hiring rates. These insights will help create economic opportunities for the global workforce.

The second part consists of free tools, programs and content that people will be provided with, in order to learn the skills necessary for job applications. This initiative will give people free access to content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and the GitHub Learning Lab.

Thirdly, low-cost certifications and other cost-free job-seeking tools will be available to help people pursue new jobs with their newly developed skills.

Along with this digital skills initiative, Microsoft will be backing $20 million worth of cash grants that will be distributed across the globe to different nonprofit organizations. These grants will help nonprofits to combat the effects of the pandemic and allow the nonprofits to further extend reach in order to help more people.

Microsoft believes that global shutdowns and social distancing have accelerated the path to digitalization in all fields and economies. The company knows that digital tools are now necessary regardless of the field of work and will continue to be relevant far after the pandemic has passed. Microsoft’s global skills initiative may help the world’s economic recovery and may possibly uplift the entire globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

George Hashemi
Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid Policies In 2019, the Overseas Development Institute came out with the principled aid index to assess the degree to which donor countries are contributing to a prosperous world. According to the report, the principled foreign aid policies not only benefit the country that receives the aid, but it also serves the interests of the donor country. Below is a list of how this report’s top five countries are using their foreign aid:

5 Countries Foreign Aid Policies

  1. Luxembourg is a small country in Western Europe that has pledged 0.96% of its gross national income (GNI) to go towards development and aid. It is one of the few countries that meet a goal set by the U.N. to dedicate 0.7% of a country’s GNI to foreign aid. Luxembourg starts by targeting some of its partner countries, which include Burkina Faso, Nicaragua, Mali and Senegal. With remaining funds, Luxembourg helps provide humanitarian assistance in Kosovo, the Palestinian territories and Vietnam. The country also focuses on private enterprises through microfinance and inclusive finance to help promote productivity. In 2020, Luxembourg joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative which motivates the government to share data about foreign aid spending with the public. Accountability is an important factor in creating sustainable aid.
  1. The United Kingdom is another country that has met the U.N. goal of 0.7% of GNI for foreign aid. The U.K. set the goal back in 1974 but recently achieved it in 2013. Additionally, the government inscribed the goal into law in 2015 so that the country now has a legal duty to achieve it. Around 64% of the U.K.’s foreign aid goes to countries for bilateral aid. The main recipients of bilateral aid include Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Syria and Afghanistan. The remaining 36% of the U.K.’s foreign aid goes to multilateral institutions like the E.U. and the U.N. Additionally, the U.K. has also provided humanitarian aid for Liberia and Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak. Also, the country offered assistance to Nepal and Indonesia — following natural disasters and Somalia during the hunger crisis.
  1. Sweden has continuously met the U.N. goal since 1976. The country even made its own goal to dedicate 1% of its GNI to foreign aid in 2008. In 2019, Sweden allotted 0.98% of its GNI for foreign aid. Along with Norway, Sweden is considered to be a “humanitarian superpower.” The Swedish development cooperation, also known as Sida, is Sweden’s leading agency for providing foreign assistance. Sweden has 33 partner countries that it helps by creating income opportunities and strengthening democracy. Sweden is dedicated to helping achieve the U.N., 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The country’s primary goals include human rights, democracy and the rule of law, gender equality, the environment and climate change, health equity and education and research.
  1. Norway has met the U.N. goal for providing foreign aid since 1976. In 2019, Norway apportioned 1.02% of its GNI for foreign aid and development. Norway’s foreign aid policies use an approach that follows the 2005 Paris principles. These principles value ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for results and accountability. Norway provides foreign aid funding for civil society organizations and budget support. The country also uses a large part of its budget to help people inside its borders. For example, Norway has used part of its budget to provide for its refugee population, which included more than 50,000 refugees in 2019.
  1. Ireland currently does not meet the U.N. goal, but the country is hoping to double its impact by 2025. In 2017, 0.36% of Ireland’s GNI went toward its foreign aid budget. Ireland’s foreign aid focuses on developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The country hopes to combat the issues of displacement and conflict, which Ireland’s main concern — climate change, tends to exacerbate. Additionally, developing countries are more likely to feel the effects of climate change disproportionately as compared with developed countries.

Striding Forward

These five countries’ foreign aid policies are impressive examples of how developed nations can make valuable contributions to global well-being. Hopefully, more undeveloped countries continue to benefit from foreign aid policies of more developed nations. Likewise, it is important these developed countries continue their efforts to achieve the U.N. goals, for theirs and the world’s greater benefit.

Camryn Anthony
Photo: Pixabay

Hunger in maldivesThe Maldives, a series of islands bordering both India and Sri Lanka, has faced increased obstacles with food security and hunger. With a population of 515,696 citizens, it is estimated that over 10.3% are battling with hunger. However, increased efforts have been made to combat this rise in hunger in the Maldives.

Problem in Numbers

With various scattered islands in the Maldives, it must be noted that a majority of citizens live in urban areas. However, despite this setting, 17.3% of children in the Maldives are underweight while 10.6% are wasted — a condition where a child’s muscle and fat tissues dissolve away to the bone.

It is also estimated that 36% of babies are not exclusively breastfed in their first six months of life, leading many to not receive the necessary nutrients to develop. This heavily contributes to serious health problems in the future.

In addition to the youth being affected by malnutrition, it must be noted that the adult population is also facing a malnutrition burden, with 42.6% of women of reproductive age having anemia.

Causes of Hunger and Poverty

Food insecurity in the Maldives points towards a variety of factors. A recent cause is resultant poverty caused by a lack of tourists. It is estimated that tourism accounts for two-thirds of the nation’s GDP. However, recent border closures due to COVID-19 have severely impacted citizens on a national scale. With one-third of adult males and a quarter of females engaged in tourism-related occupations, thousands have lost their jobs, making it harder for people to provide food and other basic necessities for their families.

Climate change, environmental degradation and declining ocean health severely threaten food security in the Maldives. Rapid changes in temperatures, flooding and drought, impact agricultural yields, reducing the ability to locally produce food.

Another factor that contributes to hardships is the decline of exports in the fish sector. With fishery accounting for another large portion of the nation’s GDP, many families who depend on fisheries as their main source of income have experienced serious financial impacts.

Road to Change

Despite the increased rates of hunger among the Maldivian population, organizations have stepped up to aid the needy. A prominent organization is the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which has dedicated itself to developing both fisheries and agriculture in the Maldives.

The main course of action for the FAO was to reassess the situation in the Maldives and open opportunities to grow the fishery and agriculture sector. Through promoting a stable framework, the organization enabled thousands to enter new jobs in the agriculture industry while accelerating demand for certain goods.

Another course of action was teaching sustainable practices to hundreds of Maldivian farmers. By helping with smaller-scale farms, FAO was able to heavily accelerate growth, boosting production in underprivileged communities. The FAO also helped equip farmers to thrive during climate change. The organization provided farmers with knowledge and methods to increase the productivity of their crops, livestock and fisheries in the face of adverse climatic conditions.

Despite great aid from the FAO, the Maldives continues to face problems in feeding the entirety of its population. Organizations like the FAO can help in the short-term but the Maldives needs government assistance to see long-term change. For the Maldives to see a reduced hunger rate, the government must act alongside nonprofit organizations to increase food security in the country. With the help of NGOs and the Maldivian government, the overall hunger rate in the Maldives can be reduced.

Aditya Padmaraj
Photo: UNDP

Treat Sickle Cell DiseaseCRISPR gene-editing technology is now being used to treat various illnesses. This holds the potential to be a life-changing development for many people and may treat those plagued with sickle cell disease around the world.

What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is most prevalent in African countries, where having one copy of the sickle cell gene helps protect people against malaria. However, having two copies of this gene results in sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease occurs because of a genetic mutation that causes red blood cells to develop a sickle-shape and this obstructs healthy blood flow. The condition can cause serious pain and negative health effects, usually resulting in early death. When considering children with the disease, 70% are born in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, these countries do not have adequate resources to properly alleviate the symptoms of this condition, let alone treat them.

A Potential Cure

In recent months, it has been discovered that CRISPR gene-editing technology may be the key to curing sickle cell disease. CRISPR–Cas9 is a naturally occurring defense system that edits DNA sequences to fight viruses in the human body. In the past decade, scientists have discovered how to harness this system’s ability to manipulate DNA in chosen ways. The result of this is CRISPR gene editing is a powerful technology that can correct genome defects and even alter entire genomes.

CRISPR technology works by editing genes, which modifies how the body functions. First, medical professionals remove patients’ bone marrow and treat it. Then, CRISPR allows scientists to “cut and paste” bits of the genome by either cutting or adding a sequence of DNA into the genome. This can correct genetic mutations, ultimately improving a patient’s health.

In the U.S., a trial of using CRISPR to cure sickle cell disease is yielding promising results. The treatment uses CRISPR technology to activate a gene that instructs the body to produce fetal hemoglobin instead of adult hemoglobin. The presence of fetal hemoglobin prevents the blood cells from sickling. In this way, the treatment alleviates the health complications typically resulting from sickle cell disease. The subject of this trial is much healthier and has made exceptional progress in her recovery. These spectacular results have left many people hopeful that CRISPR technology could successfully treat sickle cell disease, with more widespread results by 2022.

The Future of CRISPR Treatment

For CRISPR treatment to reach its full potential, it must become more accessible to those who need it most. Therefore, the underprivileged in sub-Saharan Africa would benefit greatly. One suggested way to overcome accessibility barriers is through a tiered-pricing system. This system would offer gene therapy treatment to patients in developing countries at a reduced price, while patients in high-income countries would be expected to pay for the treatment in full.

There are currently logistical barriers to this solution, as gene therapy can cost thousands of dollars. The cost of CRISPR treatment would have to be greatly reduced (beyond the normal price drops of tiered pricing) to be successfully made available to the underprivileged. Additionally, this treatment requires consistent doctor visits. Much of sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to health clinics and other essential resources, such as refrigeration.

Breaking Down Barriers

Organizations are helping to eliminate the barriers blocking CRISPR treatment for sickle cell disease in developing countries. The National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $200 million to this cause in 2019. This money will help make gene therapy accessible throughout the world and improve the quality of life for thousands. With the promise of affordable CRISPR gene modification therapy, there is hope for individuals worldwide to treat sickle cell disease. Permanently improving the quality of life is the end goal. Those living in developing countries, the global poor and those vulnerable to falling into poverty will be the most to benefit from this exciting, technological development.

– Hannah Allbery
Photo: Flickr

Left-Behind ChildrenChina has undergone swift urbanization and development in recent years. However, reaping the rewards of this progress has not been easy for everyone. In search of better job opportunities, millions of Chinese parents in poverty have left their communities in hopes of creating a better future for their children. However, these parents must leave their children behind to do so. These left-behind children (LBC) may remain with a caregiver, family member, friend or institution, or they can be left entirely on their own.

There are about 70 million left-behind children in China, and they experience many effects of poverty. The average ages of LBC range from 6 to 17. While LBC are more prominent in rural China, the number of LBC has risen in urban areas as well. As a result, many children in China are mentally and physically ill, don’t receive a proper education and are essentially stuck in the cycle of poverty. Parental absence contributes to all of these factors.

Poor Quality of Education

While their parents seek more money in the city, left-behind children are left in inadequate school buildings with limited supplies and ill-prepared teachers. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Lijiah Zhang, an author and journalist who examines China’s left-behind children, stressed that education is the largest problem these children face. “Without their parents, the children are more likely to lose interest in their studies and sometimes drop out of school, the opposite of what their parents hope for,” she said. Indeed, over 13% of left-behind children drop out by the eighth grade. Another reason for dropouts is the household responsibilities some left-behind children must take on, such as agricultural work, which leaves them with no time for academics.

For those who do continue their education, the quality is waning. With teachers lacking incentives and resources, education is a large obstacle for LBC. Educators hired for rural teaching positions are often fresh out of training and possess little teaching experience to offer a proper education. But because they are cheaper to pay, schools that lack funding hire them constantly. The staff is overworked and tremendously underpaid, with some rural educators working over 12 hours a day. This poor teaching quality combined with cramped classrooms and a lack of technology sets rural children up for failure.

High Dropout Rates

Left-behind children dropping out of school perpetuates cyclical poverty. China’s economic expansion over the past 40 years has brought about 800 million people out of poverty, but it has also widened the gap between rural and urban communities. Families in poverty continue to struggle with money, and the number of parents deciding to leave children behind is rising. These children are stuck living with the effects of poverty, and with no parental guidance, they have little means of digging their way out.

Zhang stated that many LBC feel powerless in their situations, which leads to them losing interest in their schooling and dropping out, thus reducing their chances of climbing the employment ladder. Because of the difference in economic opportunities between rural and urban communities, poor children remain poor while the rich stay rich.

Lack of Safety and Health

Because left-behind children do not have parents to protect or guide them, they are more vulnerable to abuse. Forms of abuse include harassment from peers and guardians, sexual abuse and criminality. For example, in 2015 a teacher was sentenced to life in prison for raping 12 of his students, 11 of whom were left-behind children. Many children also experience extremely long walks to and from their schools, some of which take multiple hours. This leaves them alone and vulnerable to anyone passing by.

Living without parental guidance also takes a mental and physical toll on children. Left-behind children are much more likely than non-LBC to have depression, anxiety and behavioral issues due to parental absence. They are also more likely to suffer from chronic loneliness. In a survey of six Chinese provinces, 25% of LBC reported high levels of loneliness, which can worsen mental and physical health. While parental migration offers a chance at economic improvement, child development often deteriorates.

The diets of left-behind children are often also insufficient. According to a 2015 study, left-behind boys consumed more fat and less protein in their diets. This puts them at an increased risk for obesity and stunted growth. Zhang said: “I think the LBC’s diet is worse than non-LBC. Their guardians, usually their grandparents, are mostly very frugal. They also don’t have any idea about healthy diet or nutrition.” Limited nutrition can lead to poor school performance in addition to long-term health risks.

Helping Left-Behind Children

This crisis is well-known, and many organizations are working to aid these millions of children. Save the Children, OneSky and Humanium advocate for and offer direct assistance to left-behind children. So far, Save the Children has helped 310,000 vulnerable Chinese children. Specifically, it provides educational improvements and services to keep them from harm. UNICEF also offers services to LBC in multiple Chinese provinces, including social and emotional development and health administration. UNICEF continues to initiate projects to help these children.

Each year, millions of Chinese children suffer without their parents. The mental and physical health consequences along with the inadequate education they face make their everyday lives an uphill battle. Humanitarian assistance helps thousands of these children, but the causes underlying the crisis continue challenge poverty eradication. 

– Radley Tan
Photo: Flickr

CBT Eliminating Violence
Although humans’ basic needs must be met to set the foundation for healthy behavior and break the cycle of poverty, some have already been affected by various mental conditions. Due to the side effects and social stigmatization associated with many of these mental health issues, individuals can feel forced to engage in crime or violence to make ends meet. In the African country of Liberia, this is an issue facing thousands and it prompts many questions. How do these individuals gain access to care? What effect do these conditions have on future generations? How do we break the cycles of crime and violence already apparent in Liberia? To approach answers to these questions, it is essential to understand therapeutic options. Particularly, people can learn many lessons by observing CBT eliminating violence in Liberia.

What is CBT?

According to the American Psychological Association, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological treatment that aims to change behavioral and thinking patterns. CBT centers on the understanding that complications in psychological makeup can be a result of learned behavior — hindering the thought processes.

Recipients of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy work on improving self-confidence, adopt effective coping mechanisms and alter the thinking patterns that contributed to negative behavior. Clients also learn to modify their habits such as confronting, rather than avoiding difficult situations. Additionally, patients practice self-control and prepare for real-life scenarios they may find challenging.

One distinguishing factor of CBT is its focus on the current and future aspects of the patients’ life. While medical professionals take into account a person’s past, the main goal of this therapy is to create effective techniques to deal with the patients’ present issues.

Current Prevalence of Crime In Liberia

The Overseas Security Advisory Council’s (OSAC) 2020 Liberia Crime and Safety Report states that the country has seen increases in violent robberies and home invasions. The council also reports that “sexual assault and rape are the most commonly reported violent crimes.” In addition to this rise in crime, Liberia experiences greater social upheaval (than previously) due to escalating difficulties in the economy, healthcare and employment.

As urban poverty surges among Liberian cities, homelessness, pollution and deteriorating infrastructure have become increasingly concerning issues. Impoverished citizens face coinciding problems concerning lack of opportunity and inequality. Discrimination, poor education and epidemics such as Ebola all impact the poor most severely. Moreover, these unstable environments catalyze crime and violence rates in Liberia especially in young men.

CBT & Cash Impact Violence in Libera

One study in the nation’s capital of Monrovia revealed the benefits of CBT on eliminating violence in Liberia. More than 1,000 men participated in this experiment, all of whom researchers considered at-risk for crime and violence. Researchers placed the men in one of four groups. I.e., one that received only therapy, one that received only cash, one that received both, and one that received nothing. Notably, the cash incentive provided to designated participants was enough to start a small business.

Therapy alone improved behaviors significantly, decreasing many of the men’s objectionable behaviors. However, the most lasting effects were seen in the men receiving both therapy and cash. The men were able to practice what they learned in therapy while taking advantage of the opportunity to feel like a “normal” member of society. These men received means, motives and opportunities. However, this time, it was all in favor of improving their lives and their influence on the community.

CBT eliminating violence in Liberia is not the only approach necessary to ending poverty. Yet, it does offer promise for positive change and highlights the importance of the long-term measures needed for vulnerable communities.

Amy Schlagel
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Bulgaria
The past three decades have resulted in a fluctuating economy within Bulgaria. Specifically, the global financial crisis of 2008 has left the country with insolvency. Despite this hardship, Bulgaria continues to rise on the Global Competitiveness Report, coming in at 49 out of 144 countries. Advancements in the information communications technology (ICT) sector has played a large part in their resiliency and may be the key to innovations in poverty eradication in Bulgaria.

The Global Competitiveness Report

The Global Competitiveness Report measures a number of pillars. Since the implementation of its national strategy for poverty eradication in Bulgaria in 2015, Bulgaria has significantly improved its Global Competitiveness Report ranking in the 12th pillar: innovation capability. In 2015, it ranked 94 out of 140 countries. In 2019, its ranking jumped to 48 out of 141 countries.

In 2018, the Global Competitiveness Report added an additional pillar for ICT adoption. Bulgaria currently ranks 30 out of 141 countries on this pillar. From 2016 to 2018, there was a 300% growth in the Bulgarian ICT workforce. To paint a more detailed picture, the industry went from 5,000 to 20,000 workers.

What is ICT?

People may best know Bulgaria for its software industry, namely educational software, financial services software, analytical software and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) management software. Of the E.U. members, many regard Bulgaria as having the best performing ICT sector. In addition, Bulgaria houses approximately 10,000 ICT companies. This may be due to the low corporate tax rates of 10%.

ICT Organizations for Marginalized Citizens

A subsequent factor of poverty is social exclusion. Gaps in employment and educational opportunities create social barriers for poverty-ridden areas. Despite 71% of Bulgarian homes having access to high-speed internet, only 41% of citizens have basic computer skills. The following organizations have devoted themselves to mending this gap:

  • Telerik Academy: Telerik Academy is a free educational program for Bulgarian citizens that teaches computer literacy and key digital competencies for careers in the ICT software sector. Its founders, Svetozar Georgiev, Boyko Iaramov, Vassil Terziev and Hristo Kosev, created Telerik Academy in 2009 as a way to train people for their company’s ICT needs. Shortly after, Telerik expanded its services to reach anyone wanting to develop skills for future ICT careers. Telerik Academy has serviced over 115,000 Bulgarian children and professionals in its first 10 years.
  •  The Bulgarian Centre for Women in Technology (BCWT): The Bulgarian Centre for Women in Technology (BCWT) is another important organization in the ICT sector. Since its start in 2012, the BCWT has devoted its efforts to diminishing gender stereotypes in the ICT realm by motivating females to pursue careers in science and technology. In 2015, Bulgaria had the highest percentage of EU female ICT workers with 27.7%. The BCWT has a number of past and ongoing initiatives that have contributed to this ranking. Enterpregirl, for example, is a competition that invites young Bulgarian women to present their innovative ICT-related projects. The goal is to develop confidence in young women’s entrepreneurship skills in a field that has been historically reserved for men.

Bulgaria’s ICT sector has remained on a steady incline for the past five years, with no intention of slowing down. Bulgaria’s growing software industry proves to aid with innovations in poverty eradication. Organizations like Telerik Academy and BCWT are crucial in closing the employment and educational gaps that ultimately fortify poverty. Despite the country’s insolvency, Bulgaria remains dedicated to poverty eradication in Bulgaria through ICT education and opportunities.

– Sage Ahrens-Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Indonesia
Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia and the world’s third-largest democracy. It is a nation of economic and cultural crossroads, yet the country has made little progress in women’s health, rights and education. One can define period poverty as inadequate access to hygienic, proper menstrual products and proper menstrual education. The prevalence of period poverty in Indonesia continues to lead to discrimination against girls and adversely affects their health, education quality and empowerment. However, some are making progress towards ending the stigma and improving menstrual health management (MHM) for the 24 million adolescent girls who have or will soon reach menarche in Indonesia.

Overview of Period Poverty in Indonesia

Women and girls in Indonesia face numerous challenges during menstruation. They often have poor access to comprehensive information about menstruation, lack of appropriate materials to manage menstrual bleeding, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities (WASH) and harmful socio-cultural taboos. These barriers engender reproductive health risks, low self-esteem among adolescent girls and school-drop out and absenteeism, cultivating vast gender disparities within Indonesia.

Access to Resources

In Indonesia, commercial products, such as tampons and pads, are much less available and are prohibitively expensive. In Indonesian culture, there are many misconceptions surrounding tampon use leading to loss of virginity and blocking the menstrual flow. As a result, women and girls rarely use them. After disposable pads, reusable cloths were the next most frequently used sanitary item, and these were more commonly used in rural areas. It is common for young girls to make their own absorbent hygiene products at home, using materials such as cloths or towels, leaves, newspaper, tissue paper, sponges, sand, ashes and others. Greater access to menstrual products as well as information about menstrual hygiene and management is necessary in Indonesia, and especially in rural communities.

The Stigma and Lack of Knowledge About Menstruation

Many Indonesian communities commonly view periods as dirty and not socially acceptable to discuss. UNICEF Indonesia found that 25% of adolescent girls had not discussed menstruation with anyone before first menses and 17% were not aware that menstruation was a physical sign of puberty. Furthermore, cultural taboos persist in disposing of menstrual products: 78% of girls and mothers washed their disposable pads before wrapping them in a plastic bag and then finally disposing of them. They explained that they washed disposable pads because they considered menstrual blood dirty and wanted to remove the smell and prevent others from discovering that they were menstruating.

Along with the lack of open communication about periods, data from Plan International has shown that many female students do not receive the correct information on how to manage their hygiene and health during menstruation. In the UNICEF study, only two-thirds of urban girls and less than half (41%) of rural girls changed absorbent materials at least every four to eight hours or whenever the material was soiled. Nearly all of the girls interviewed reported that they never or rarely changed materials at school, due to shame and embarrassment about having their period.

Impact on Education

About 80% of girls reported as missing one to two days of school during their last menstruation. School absenteeism due to periods induces large gender disparities in the quality of education. Girls lack the ability to manage menstruation hygienically in most Indonesian schools. In 2015, UNICEF Indonesia conducted a study that found that nearly every girl never changed menstrual pads or cloths at school due to a lack of suitable latrines, inadequate water for washing pads, uncertainty about how to dispose of pads or lack of discrete means of disposal. Fear of others finding out they were menstruating also contributed to girls not bringing pads to school and reluctance to dispose of soiled pads in school bins where other students could see them. Improving MHM among adolescent girls in Indonesia and implementing effective MHM interventions in school is key in ending the stigma and disparities that periods elicit.

PERIOD Indonesia

Despite these barriers, people are taking many strides towards ending period poverty. One teen, A 16-year-old Indonesian youth activist, Alisha Syakira Triawan, founded the Jakarta chapter of PERIOD in October 2019,  in an effort to end the stigma around periods and eliminate period poverty in her conservative community. In an interview with the Malala Fund, Alisha called on the government, schools and families to “provide menstrual education in communities and schools” to address the gender and health disparities that periods incite. She has also led her chapter in participating in Women’s March Jakarta 2020, where it distributed pads to those in the homeless and young girls who could not access or afford menstrual products.

In addition to Alisha’s advocacy work with PERIOD Jakarta, Plan International Indonesia has been working to destigmatize periods and increase educational resources available in Indonesia since 2017. Collaborating with local school committees and government agencies, Plan International Indonesia is implementing a menstrual hygiene management program across five schools in Ende district, Indonesia. When the MHM program first emerged in schools, communities were uneasy and apprehensive to discuss such tabooed topics. However, students were thankful to learn about these topics. Keeping children informed about reproductive health issues leads to a more inclusive and safe environment for girls in schools.

UNICEF and the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars

Following UNICEF’s stance that “no adolescent girl or woman anywhere should be denied the right to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified, healthy way,” in 2018, it implemented a comprehensive initiative in Indonesia to address period poverty. UNICEF teamed up with the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars and is currently developing tools and guidance for girls on period health and hygiene based on religious teachings. It is empowering boys and girls with knowledge about MHM creatively through a storybook to provide education about menstrual hygiene and puberty through classrooms throughout the country.

Ending Gender Disparities and Empowering Girls

Promoting menstrual equity is fundamental to supporting women and young girls. The tenacity of girls in Indonesia fused with the work of organizations, such as UNICEF and Plan International Indonesia, are aiding in breaking down the stigma and cultural barriers oppressing young women. Yet, there is still much more that people can do to curtail period poverty in Indonesia. Indonesia and the world must eradicate period poverty to empower women and girls, and allow them to fully participate in all aspects of society.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Qatar
Ever since the International Federation of Association Football’s (FIFA) announcement that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup, migrant flows to the country have exploded. Since 2010, Qatar has sought to bring thousands of workers to its shores in order to assist in the construction of stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure necessary to facilitate the tournament. To meet this demand, migrants from all over the Persian Gulf region, we well as South Asia, have flooded into the country. Migrants hoped to escape dire straits in order to find a stable job and a stable income. In fact, 700,000 workers came from India alone. However, migrant poverty in Qatar has become a significant issue.

Migrants in Qatar

According to Human Rights Watch, the migrant labor force has reached over 2 million, making up approximately 95% of the labor force. However, despite being the second richest country in the world with a GDP per capita of $124,500 in 2017, a lack of labor rights has created widespread poverty in Qatar, especially among migrants.

The reason poverty persists among workers is the kafala sponsorship system. Migrants have to apply for visas from employers, often incurring costs through recruiters to do so. Even if workers do manage to pay enough to get access to a job, employers have broad controls over what workers can do. Employers often take passports from workers, preventing them from escaping brutal conditions. Additionally, some workers have gone with little to no pay. This has led to hundreds of thousands of people living in labor camps, where disease and poverty are rampant.

Solutions

In 2017 and 2018, Qatar’s government passed policies intended to reduce migrant poverty in Qatar. In October 2017, the government established a temporary minimum wage for migrant workers in the hopes of improving the conditions of laborers. One year later, in October 2018, Amnesty International reported that Qatar implemented a support and insurance fund in order to protect workers from lost wages.

However, Human Rights Watch reports that both of these reforms were implemented unevenly, and thus have not had much of an effect. Employers still have a lot of control over workers, and poor enforcement has meant that the kafala structure is still in place.

On August 30, 2020, Qatar announced two new reforms in order to rectify this issue. The first was an increase in the existing minimum wage. The law will take effect in January 2021, and also requires employers to pay workers a stipend for food and housing. The second was a law to allow workers to leave their jobs without having express permission from their employers. This mobility could allow workers to escape dangerous conditions and find better work.

Such reforms could even save lives, as even the lowest estimates indicate that at least 1,200 people have died working on World Cup stadiums due to harsh conditions. International watchdogs have applauded these reforms. Amnesty International argues that these small steps provide some hope that migrant poverty in Qatar, as well as worker exploitation, will soon be on the decline.

– Thomas Gill
Photo: Flickr