Information and news on advocacy.

Disability and Poverty in Liberia
Not everyone with a disability is poor, but countless studies have shown that a large number of those in poverty have at least one disability, ranging from physical to mental types of disabilities. Since those with disabilities require significant access to healthcare, the cost of medical treatments can pose a challenge. Additionally, disabled people frequently find it challenging to access housing, find employment or afford food. A strong connection exists between disability and poverty in Liberia, as is the case with other countries.

Disability and Poverty in Liberia

Liberia is a country along the southern part of the west coast of Africa, which Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire surround. It has a population of approximately 4.9 million. The country is Africa’s first republic and is the only African country to never have experienced colonial rule.

From 1999-2003, Liberia endured a harsh civil war. Public Services International believes that this war may have contributed to the increase of disability in Liberia from an initially reported 16% in 1997 to nearly 20%, which is significantly higher than the world’s average at 10%. Of those with disabilities in Liberia, “61% have a mobility disability, 24% are visually impaired, 7% are deaf, and 8% have an intellectual or psychosocial disability.” According to Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope, 99% of the 48% in poverty in Liberia are those with disabilities.

Non-accommodating infrastructure and social attitudes based on stigmas play a large part in disadvantaging the disabled community in Liberia. Many cannot exercise the basic right to an education, leading then to unemployment. The author Morgan Ashenfelter wrote that “educational facilities do not cater to their needs, employment is difficult to find, sidewalks barely exist in the city and most businesses and government buildings do not even have a ramp. . . . in addition, some disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or missing limbs, are stigmatized, as they are associated negatively with the war.” 

Addressing Disability and Poverty in Liberia

In the years since the end of Liberia’s civil war, the country has taken steps toward listening to and protecting its disabled population. Liberia established the National Commission on Disabilities in 2005, an organization focused on creating policies to aid disabled Liberian people. In the 12th Session of the United Nations Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, Liberia announced that it adopted a National Action Plan for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. The goal of this plan was to promote the welfare and rights of the disabled in Liberia, while also aiming to include them in the governance process and provide them with financial assistance through social security. Liberia is also planning on including sign language as a required course from elementary school to college.

In December 2018, the Liberia Labor Congress held a joint workshop with the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities to discuss the issue of providing work for those with disabilities. Ideally, this work should be able to lift the majority out of poverty, while addressing the lack of significant progress in the last decade and the discrimination that kept many with disabilities out of the workforce.

Looking Ahead

A significant link exists between disability and poverty in Liberia, though it is evident that Liberia is working to change that. The disabled community is among the most vulnerable communities, and it is important that they receive equal opportunities to their non-disabled peers. Liberia is continuing to take steps toward addressing the social stigma and disadvantages that its disabled community experiences.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Flickr

Afghan women under the Taliban
In 1996, the Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Almost exactly 25 years later, on August 15, 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul once again. Women in Afghanistan fear what the new Taliban regime means for them. However, advocacy groups are helping Afghan women under the Taliban to seek safety and refuge.

The Climate in Afghanistan

In 2020, former President Donald Trump signed a peace agreement with the Taliban. According to this agreement, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops if the Taliban stopped attacks on Americans. In April 2021, President Biden kept that promise and announced that the U.S. would withdraw the rest of its troops by September 11. A month later, the Taliban started gaining control in the northern part of the country. By August, the Taliban seized control over all the major cities and conquered most of the land, aside from Kabul.

Shortly after, the government in Afghanistan collapsed as President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban took over the capital. The Taliban control prompted nearly 250,000 Afghans to flee their homes in seek of refuge. During a press conference on August 17, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid promised “an inclusive government, security for aid agencies and embassies and women’s rights to work and go to school.” However, many Afghans are skeptical because of previous Taliban rule in the late 1990s.

The Effects of Taliban Control on Afghan Women

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women did not enjoy much freedom. The Taliban banned women from attending school or working outside their homes. Also, women had to wear a burqa, an article of clothing that encompasses their entire body besides their eyes and a male guardian had to accompany them whenever they left their house. Current female employees will not be able to have a source of income if the Taliban upholds previous restrictions once again. While the Taliban promised that they will respect women’s rights, many Afghans are uncertain of their promises.

The Progression of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Before Taliban control in 1996, Afghanistan was making progress in women’s rights. King Amanullah Khan’s reign, beginning in 1919, discouraged polygamy and did not require women to wear a veil. In 1964, women helped write a new constitution that gave them the right to vote and run for office. However, when the Taliban took control in 1996, it restricted women’s rights. Women could not attend school, work or speak in public. As punishment for breaking any of the laws, women suffered public lashing or stoning, which led to higher suicide rates among women. When the U.S. ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001, women again enjoyed rights like joining the armed and police forces as well as being part of the political process.

Despite the progress made, 90% of women in Afghanistan experience abuse in their life. The latest Taliban regime stated that it will respect women’s rights within the structure of sharia (Islamic) law. However, jurists, clerics and politicians interpret sharia law differently. These discrepancies allowed justifications for the Taliban’s previously harsh laws against women’s rights.

Help from Advocacy Groups

Despite the new ruling of the Taliban, advocacy groups from around the world are helping women in Afghanistan seek safety. One organization aiding Afghan women is Women for Women International. This nonprofit organization aids female survivors of war. It is currently collecting donations to help women in Afghanistan find safety, as well as a place to meet and stay connected.

The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security is lobbying the U.S. government to better protect Afghan women under the Taliban. Its Protect Afghan Women Project raises funds specifically to support at-risk female Afghan activists. Melanne Verveer, the institute’s director, co-wrote an opinion article in the Washington Post to push the U.S. government to create ways to better protect Afghan women. Verveer and her co-author, Tanya Henderson, lobbied the U.S. to get evacuation flights for women activists in Afghanistan and relocate funds for Afghan refugees.

Looking Ahead

Although the Taliban control is worrying for most Afghans, advocacy groups are finding various ways to help. These groups have a particular committment to helping Afghan women under the Taliban to seek safety and safeguard their rights in this chaotic time of uncertainty and political turmoil.

– Kyle Har
Photo: Flickr

Jarawa tribe
“Dance,” pressured the policeman to the tribal women who were naked from the waist up. “Dance for me,” he pestered, offering them food in exchange for coercing the semi-naked tribe members to put on a performance for his entertainment. This was a viral video from 2012 that brought mainstream attention to the Jarawa tribe. The video shows a tourist fantasy for those who encroach upon the land for a “human safari” experience. The Jarawa, a tribe that some once hunted down during colonial British rule, now runs the risk of extinction due to growing modern-day threats.

About the Jarawa Tribe

According to scholar George Weber, the Jarawa tribe are Pygmy Negrito people living in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India who are “a remnant population representing perhaps the earliest migration out of Africa of modern Homo Sapiens.” This Paleolithic tribe that still lives a Stone Age hunter-gatherer lifestyle has around 450 members in total. The tribe represents one of the four tribal communities (Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese) living in the region who for the longest time refused contact with modern society. Unlike the Sentinelese tribe who refuse contact violently, the bow and arrow-wielding Jarawa tribe first established peaceful contact with the Indian government in 1997.

The Threats the Jarawa Tribe Faces

While making half-naked women dance is common, poachers similarly lure young tribal women with groceries, alcohol and meat to harm them physically and sexually exploit them. The government-approved “contact” resulted in alcohol and smoking addictions as well as the spread of diseases (the tribes lack the immunity of modern people) with COVID-19 now becoming one of their gravest threats. Additionally, a growing number of settlers is encroaching on tribal land. With one Jarawa for every 1,000 settlers, the wealthier settlers tend to deplete tribal land of resources.

But the most threatening thing to the Jarawa tribe today is “mainstreaming.” Mainstreaming refers to the policy of pushing a tribe to join the country’s dominant modern society. This most notably strips the tribe of its self-sufficiency and identity, leaving them struggling at the margins of society. The Borgen Project spoke with Yash Meghwal, the spokesperson of Tribal Army, a leading organization in India that has been fighting against tribal injustice. According to Meghwal, hunter-gatherer, tribal populations like the Jarawas are “not equipped to survive in a market-based economy.” Elaborating on this, he stated that “to move into the upper echelon of society, one must have proper education and then the adequate business or job opportunity” which governments have failed to provide to the tribes.

The Latest Threat: Human Safaris

Interactions with modern society increased after the construction of the Andaman Trunk Road. The road cuts through the Jarawa tribe’s reserve forests and brought in a large population of refugee settlers. Tour companies now allow “human safari” experiences along this road. This does not just exacerbate abuse, addictions and the spread of diseases from interaction with modern people. It also encourages the treatment of tribes as if they are zoo animals. This cultivates the dehumanization of tribal people. As Meghwal put it, “we are failing if our citizens are equated with wild animals.” Human safaris exist to profit from the poor, powerless tribal population. Thus, the tourism industry has emerged at the expense of their privacy, dignity, health and human rights.

When referring to the road, Meghwal said that “the state is only interested in making new roads as infrastructure. Modern society does not care about the ecological and environmental balance; their focus is more on the extraction from the tribal land.”

Larger Problem of Tribal Discrimination

Discrimination in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is emblematic of a larger problem of tribal discrimination. Unfortunately, this level of discrimination is far bigger than the confines of the Islands. Meghwal claimed that this discrimination comes from conflating the tribal population with the Dalits. The Dalits are among the Indian lower caste. The Indian caste system is a hierarchal system that ascribes supremacy to one group and untouchability to the other. “Both Dalits and tribes suffer similar nature problems such as deprivation, discrimination and exclusion,” Meghwal claimed.

The Borgen Project also spoke with Jarken Gadi. He is a former sociology professor who is now a fellow for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. According to Gadi, this discrimination is a product of “the lack of awareness supplied by educational institutions and media houses.”

Tribal Army as a Solution

Hansraj Meena, one of the most prominent tribal activists in India, founded Tribal Army. This organization may hold the solution to the discrimination of the Jarawa tribe and other tribes across the country. Meghwal claimed that people should grant tribes rights in the case of land and forests. He also mentioned that “we should avoid [letting] too many outsiders into tribal territory.” Additionally, he stated that there is also a need for constitutional measures to protect tribes as they participate in the market economy. Tribal Army has also called for requirements of “reservation in the private sector and in business,” stating “it is the most necessary step for tribal welfare.”

Gadi’s solution to discrimination and threats is a call for awareness programs which the government initiated. These programs would teach the public about the different tribes and how they should treat them. The education system and media can influence thought, change negative attitudes and stop harmful actions toward the tribal community.

Organizations like Tribal Army constantly advocate for policy change. People are challenging the status quo of tribal discrimination. With advancements like these, positive change can come for the Jarawa tribe and for overall tribal welfare.

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr

Mental health awarenessMental health is an issue that, until recently, people shied away from talking about. While it can be a sensitive topic for people, it is one that society needs to talk about. By discussing mental health, people can help raise awareness of the issue. Celebrities are known to have an influence on their fans, so when they speak about a cause they care about, people tend to listen. Here are a few celebrities who are known mental health awareness advocates.

5 Celebrities Advocating for Mental Health Awareness

  1. Demi Lovato. Actor and singer Demi Lovato has frequently spoken about their struggles with mental illness. Lovato has been a mental health activist since 2015 when they revealed they were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Wanting to help others struggling with mental illness, Lovato started the Mental Health Fund, which provides people with free counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic. In society, asking for help can be seen as a weakness. Lovato believes otherwise. In an interview with Deseret News, Lovato said, “The strongest thing someone can do is take that first step in getting help, whatever shape or form that is.” This charity raises money for the Crisis Text Line and crisis counseling options in Canada and the United Kingdom. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the public’s mental health so organizations like these have a significant impact on society.
  2. Kristen Bell. Actress Kristen Bell is a longtime and well-known advocate of mental health awareness. Fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness, Bell believes mental health check-ins should be as common as going to the dentist or doctor. Bell has struggled with depression and has spoken about why mental health screenings should be taken more seriously. There are often stereotypes surrounding depression, but like Bell said in an interview with NAMI, “You can’t tell someone has depression just by looking at them, especially since it’s such an internal battle.” With celebrities like Bell speaking about their own struggles with mental illness, fans will better see that there is no shame in asking for help.
  3. Simone Biles. Simone Biles is the most awarded gymnast in history. The Olympian also has her own battles with mental illness. Biles goes to therapy on a regular basis and takes anxiety medication. These revelations arose after Biles stood up as a survivor of Larry Nassar’s abuse. Victims of sexual assault have an increased risk of developing PTSD, depression and anxiety. In 2017, Biles partnered with the #BeUnderstood campaign, which advocated for learning disabilities and ADHD awareness during the month of October. Biles has also spoken out about her experience with ADHD.
  4. Chyler Leigh. Chyler Leigh, known for her roles on Grey’s Anatomy and Supergirl, has not shied away from sharing her experiences with bipolar disorder. As the new face for the Be Vocal: Speak Up campaign, Leigh shared her experiences of growing up without a diagnosis. Leigh says that she did not have an environment where she could speak up, so she kept quiet. She also spoke about self-medicating with alcohol and the struggle she went through with getting help. Joining Be Vocal was a way of opening up to the public. By sharing her story, Leigh hoped for people to hear her experience and relate, knowing that they are not alone in feeling that way.
  5. Justin Bieber. In his YouTube docuseries “Seasons,” Justin Bieber gave his fans an inside look at his struggles with addiction and mental health challenges. His addiction to marijuana became so serious that he became dependent on it. He also spoke about his use of stronger substances like MDMA or hallucinogenic mushrooms. Bieber got help and replaced illegal substances with antidepressants. In his efforts to help advocate for mental health, Bieber gave a fan $100,000 to support her career in social work. Part of the donation helped the fan attend grad school while the rest of it went to Active Minds, an organization that raises mental health awareness for college students.

Global Mental Health

Though raising mental health awareness domestically is essential, there are many people without access to proper mental healthcare globally. As of 2016, high-income nations spent around 5% of their health budgets on mental health. For lower-middle-class nations, that number fell to less than 2%. There are fewer trained psychiatrists in developing countries, which makes it hard to address everyone’s illnesses.

In Indonesia, there was one psychiatrist for every 350,000 people. Haiti, a country with roughly 10 million people, has only about “10 licensed psychiatrists.” Without the proper funding, developing countries struggle to make mental health a priority.

Spreading Awareness

Mental health issues are very common in society, but they often do not spark the necessary discussion. Part of this reason is because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Everyone is capable of contributing to mental health awareness. By posting about mental health on social media, donating to mental health organizations or supporting people with resources, an ordinary individual can contribute to improving mental health globally.

– Ariel Dowdy
Photo: Flickr

Save the Children Aids Nepal In 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc in Nepal. The devastation left more than 22,000 people injured and almost 9,000 people dead, with hundreds of thousands of more people facing extreme poverty. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be an even more severe humanitarian crisis for the country. With more than 600,000 reported cases as of July 2021, the severity of the pandemic in Nepal is significant. In an effort to improve the country’s dire state and protect vulnerable populations such as children, Save the Children aids Nepal during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Impact of COVID-19 in Nepal

Nepal’s status as a landlocked nation with a medical system closely tied to India has resulted in serious healthcare concerns. Chief among these concerns is a lack of essential medical resources like oxygen tanks and COVID-19 testing kits, both of which are critical in the fight against COVID-19. Nepal normally obtains these supplies through India, however, the severe COVID-19 outbreak in India means India has minimal resources to spare.

Maggie Doyne is the co-founder and CEO of a nonprofit in Nepal, BlinkNow. Doyne, tells CNN Canada that “All of our medicines, all of our oxygen tanks, our ambulances, our food supply relies on India. So, you really can’t have a landlocked Himalayan country so reliant on another country that’s really struggling.” The nonprofit operates a school and a children’s home, among other facilities, in Nepal. It has also been one of the groups attempting to provide aid on the ground. In direct response to the country’s surge in cases, BlinkNow increased emergency food bank supplies available for vulnerable families and people out of work.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children in Nepal

One particularly vulnerable population in Nepal is children. The Human Rights Watch and two partnering organizations released a report in May 2021 examining how COVID-19 impacts children. After speaking with 25 working children in Nepal, nearly all of them agreed that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their family’s financial stability. The children interviewed ranged from 8 to 16 years old.

The children worked jobs in construction, carpentry, mechanics and more, in an attempt to financially support their families. Many of the children work long hours, sometimes totaling 12 hours per day, which causes them pain, dizziness and fatigue. The use of child labor has increased in the country since the pandemic has forced lockdowns and school closures. Even as schools reopen, many children remain working to help supplement their parent’s income.

Save the Children Aids Nepal

Save the Children is taking action in Nepal to minimize COVID-19’s impact on children. The global nonprofit is dedicated to preventing child suffering, with efforts ranging from malnutrition prevention to emergency response measures. The nonprofit recently expressed concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on children in Nepal. School shutdowns hold back Nepalese children educationally and socially.

Not receiving an education hinders the chances of breaking free from poverty, according to Jennifer Syed, the country director for Save the Children in Nepal. Syed says that “The economic impact on households hurts children the most — they’re the ones who suffer the worst malnutrition; it’s the young girls who are forced into child marriage to reduce the financial burden on their family.”

To assist, Save the Children is donating more than 50 oxygen concentrators and 20,000 rapid testing kits. This will help Nepal’s government in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, Save the Children’s website states, “a further 100,000 PRC test kits, 200,000 rapid test kits and 1,000 oxygen concentrators will be given to the Ministry of Health and Population under agreement with the Global Fund.”

The Road Ahead

Save the Children’s efforts are essential to assist a country that has now surpassed India in COVID-19 related deaths per capita. The organization is also supporting Nepalese children through campaigns that promote personal protection measures and offer mental health support. Hopefully, Save the Children’s efforts will inspire aid from others in the near future as Nepal continues to fight the devastating repercussions of COVID-19.

Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

Fight Against Homelessness in Italy
Italy is located along the Mediterranean coastline. The European country has a population of more than 60 million people with an average of 95 million tourists visiting every year. What many are not aware of is that immigrants, women and children are especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness in Italy. The fight against homelessness in Italy has become a more prominent issue. Police began fining homeless people in the street for not following the lockdown measures that the country implemented. Thus, the Italian Federation of Organizations for Homeless People has appealed for greater leniency from the state.

The organization wrote, “They cannot stay at home because they do not have a home. There is an economic sanction which they cannot pay, and they have to go to the magistrate. They are not on the street for fun.”

Historical Context of Homelessness in Italy

Though worsened by the pandemic, homelessness in Italy has long been an issue. Italy is a developed nation with a GDP that expectations have determined will be around $1920 billion in 2021. However, homelessness has worsened due to the economic crisis. In 2016, homelessness impacted 50,724 people in Italy. Since 2013, this number has increased by roughly 3,000. Furthermore, 5.1 million people were living in extreme poverty in 2017. Due to its geographical location, Italy receives an influx of immigrants. As a result, 58% of Italy’s impoverished population are immigrants. In 2017, 117,153 people arrived in Italy by ship. About 67% of these migrants use Caritas, a counseling service offering advice regarding homelessness. Homelessness impacts the region of Lombardia in northern Italy the most. According to Italian Caritas, there is an increase in youth homelessness as well.

The Good News

There are various organizations that are striving to fight homelessness in Italy. For example, the Baobab Experience is an organization that previously aimed to find shelter for 120 people who slept in Piazzale Spadolini (Tiburtina Station) and has continued to provide hospitality for the homeless population in Rome. Additionally, it has advocated that the homeless receive health checks, beginning with migrants who do not have residency permits. Many of these migrants avoid hospitals in fear of detainment, so this would allow them to check their health without those consequences.

The Baobab Experience emerged in 2015 as a result of a migratory emergency when 35,000 migrants passed through Baobab, located in Via Cupa, Rome. More than 70,000 people have passed through the camps that the organization has since established. Thanks to private donations, the Baobab Experience also supports individuals with medical and legal assistance. Furthermore, the organization provides water, food, clothing and an opportunity for leisure. Many of the migrants travel through Italy to reach other countries, however, others are asylum seekers, often must wait in the streets for months before any legal practice can begin.

Further Efforts

Other NGOs such as Asgi, Naga, Magistratura Democratica and Fondazione Migrantes have called on the government to protect vulnerable migrants and homeless people. The organizations argue that these people lack sufficient protection from COVID-19 and protecting them will improve public health. Additionally, the NGOs have requested authorities shut down large migrant reception centers, enable access to the international protection system, accept homeless people into appropriate facilities and create alternatives to detention centers.

Although the fight against homelessness in Italy remains a serious problem, especially for marginalized groups such as migrants, women and children, NGOs and similar organizations keep the government accountable and provide hope for all of those impacted. By supporting such organizations that positively impact the lives of thousands, we can all contribute to eliminating homelessness in Italy.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality Issues in Moldova
Massive advancements in the quest for gender equality have filled the Modern Era. In the early 20th century, suffrage was pivotal in allowing women to obtain the right to vote. No-fault divorce, maternity leave, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act served to further advance the position of women. Around the world, these acts and ones like it have served to acknowledge and reform many factors limiting women’s role in society.

Need for Change

Despite many of these advances, a great deal more progress is necessary. Women are far more likely to be victims of sexual, spousal and physical abuse than men. Additionally, women still make approximately 60% of what their male counterparts earn per hour. If one acknowledges gender inequality now more than ever, why is gender equality progress so difficult to achieve? The answer may lie in the many problems the Republic of Moldova has seen. Specifically, the state of gender inequality in Moldova epitomizes that of countries gender inequality plagues, due to its deep-seated history of gender prejudice, as well as the limited effectiveness of implementing gender-based reforms.

Current Reform Efforts

Gender equality issues in Moldova have long struggled under the reign of communism. As a former member of the Soviet Union, the nation faced many limitations on expanding its people’s liberties and its economy. As a result of regressive economic situations, much of Moldova’s social culture relies on predicated, traditional gender roles. This makes the achievement of gender equality difficult, as society expects women to remain in their traditional gender roles.

Currently, Moldova’s gender equality efforts have appeared to be keeping up with those of other countries. In 2006, the government passed the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In 2016, the Republic of Moldova executed the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda which attempted to provide social and economic freedom to all human beings. Additionally, it adopted Law No. 71, which introduced paid paternity leave of 14 days and banned the use of sexist imagery and rhetoric in advertisements. Furthermore, it promoted the empowerment of womens’ status in politics at the national and local levels as well as introduced a minimum 40% Parliament gender requirement in order to enact decision and electoral college processes.

Is it Enough?

Despite the implementation of these and similar protocols, the work is far from complete regarding solving gender equality issues in Moldova. Many of the changes are protocols and they do not reflect immediate, or even effective action towards gender reformation.

Flaws in gender equality within Moldova’s government exemplified the need for further action. Gender equality in Moldova is incredibly hard to achieve when there is a huge limitation on Moldovan womens’ political power, as they possess only a fraction of representation in government in comparison to their male counterparts.

Additionally, despite the passing of these legislations years ago, Moldova still ranks 23rd in countries with the highest gender gap. This gap is so pervasive that women still experience prejudice in the form of severe wage differences, segregation of economic level, finite aid for childcare and unequal partner support for childcare.

Moldova also has a continued issue with domestic violence towards women. A family study on violence against women found that 63% of women suffered from violent partners. The study also showed that one out of 10 women experienced some form of economic violence.

A Hopeful Future for Women

While much more work is necessary, hope exists for gender equality in Moldova. While many countries around the world have yet to seriously acknowledge or even pass legislation toward the issue of gender equality, the aforementioned legal efforts show a much more profound commitment to its cause. Furthermore, there have been sizable steps in executing the issue of gender equality. Parliament, though not yet at 40%, has reached 25.7% representation and 36% in local municipalities. Moreover, Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Oleg Tulea, suggests the decrease in maternal mortality rate and successful birth rates were a result of a decrease in female-directed violence.

Outside intervention has also played a role in assisting women who experience violence. For instance, the U.S. NGO Global Rights for Women taught and created manual addressing how to approach cases of domestic violence. In addition, the document covers other issues, like gender gaps, human trafficking and overall advancement. Recently, Moldova elected the country’s first female president. Maia Sandu won an impressive 57% of the vote and stands as a staunch Europeanist. This also serves as a dramatic change to the isolationist policies, previously popular in Moldova.

The path to solving gender equality issues in Moldova is a long and formidable process. However, with recent successes, the idea of profound advancement is no longer just a dream, but an ever-evolving reality.

James Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

Thai Fishing Industry
In recent weeks, Thailand experienced a new wave of COVID-19 cases originating from a large seafood market near Bangkok. The Prime Minister of Thailand wasted no time in blaming the outbreak on human smuggling networks and illegal immigrants. Most of those working at this particular market are from neighboring Myanmar. This ongoing outbreak brings Thailand’s fishing industry back into focus. The industry faces international pressure to address findings of horrific working conditions, unfair wages and forced labor. This article discusses the importance of the Thai fishing industry, the human rights abuses uncovered in recent years and what some are doing to address these issues.

Thai Fishing Industry

The Thai fishing industry exports more than $6 billion worth of products annually and employs more than 800,000 people. It is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter and the world’s leading exporter of shrimp. The industry came under fire in the E.U. in 2014 due to reports uncovering widespread forced labor, worker abuses and environmental degradation in the industry.

Burmese immigrants represent a majority of those working in the Thai fishing industry, followed by a smaller percentage of Thais, Cambodians and Laotians. Workers on fishing vessels are exclusively men, while men and women each work in the seafood processing sector. There is a mixture of regular and irregular workers, which makes ascertaining the true number of immigrants in the fishing industry difficult. About 3 million labor migrants legally live in Thailand and an estimated two million more are undocumented.

Poor Working Conditions

Working conditions on Thai fishing vessels are notoriously challenging. In multiple reports, workers discuss working 18-20 hour days with inadequate food, water and medical supplies. Between 14% and 18% of migrants report being victims of forced labor. Among these victims of human trafficking, over half report seeing a coworker killed in front of them. Threats from employers and beatings are common, along with working at sea for years at a time without being allowed to leave the vessel. These conditions affect all nationalities in the Thai fishing industry, but undocumented immigrants are the most vulnerable to mistreatment.

Solutions

Although much work is necessary to address issues in the Thai fishing industry, Thailand has been largely receptive to suggestions that organizations such as the ILO and other national and international human rights NGOs have made. The government has improved legal frameworks and compliance measures for fishing companies. Additionally, wages have increased and housing conditions are improving, according to respondents in a recent ILO survey released in 2020.

Specific laws that have gone into place include the elimination of recruitment fees that workers pay, banning the practice of employers withholding identity documents from workers and banning child labor in the fishing industry. Going forward, regional compliance will be essential in enforcing these legal frameworks. Thailand is attempting to set that precedent in the ASEAN region. In response, the E.U. lifted its “yellow card” rating for the industry and continues to accept seafood imports.

The Labor Protection Network

For more than 15 years, the Labor Protection Network (LPN) has been spearheading efforts to clean up the Thai fishing industry. LPN conducts direct action raids on illegal fishing boats, provides short- and long-term shelter for victims and educates children in its centers. Additionally, LPN has brought international attention to the industry through its advocacy campaigns. A notable part of these efforts is the appearance of co-founder Patima Tungpuchayakul in the documentary “Ghost Fleet.” In 2017, Tungpuchayakul received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in human rights.

Each year, LPN also provides legal assistance to more than 3,000 migrants. It provides assistance in Thai, Burmese, Khmer or Lao, depending on migrants’ needs. Victims of human trafficking in Thailand have a right to government protection and legal assistance. LPN plays a crucial role in identifying victims of human trafficking that grants these protections, as the Thai authorities sometimes struggle to identify victims through its enforcement procedures.

Through the work of the government, LPN and other NGOs, the Thai fishing industry is improving its standards to meet international demands. With this spotlight on the human rights issues involved in the industry, funding and monitoring remain critical to building on current progress.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in The Dominican Republic
HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic is on the agenda of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and HIV/AIDS has been the focus of the Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections 2016-2021. The goal of the plan is to end HIV/AIDS in many regions of the Americas, including the Dominican Republic, by 2030.

From 2010 to 2019, HIV cases have reduced to 13 a year and the number of deaths has gone down by 4,000 over the years. Female sex workers are a portion of the population the epidemic affects; they accounted for 37% of new infections in 2019. Less than 30% of individuals do not know they have an infection and about one-third receive a late diagnosis. Over 200,000 were getting antiretroviral treatment in 2019.

HIV Diagnosis Decline

HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic has seen an advancement in health through more testing and the option of antiretroviral treatments. The options of PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis, have contributed to the decline of infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in the success of the decline of HIV/AIDS.

The pandemic is changing the social landscape and interaction of people through social distancing measures. Access to medical personnel has also experienced strain because of rising and new COVID-19 infections. When comparing 2019 to the current pandemic, the diagnosis of HIV has reduced by the thousands in the Dominican Republic. According to PAHO, “Self-testing is a key strategy for reaching the U.N. goal of having 90% of people with HIV know their status.”

PrEP and PEP

PrEP and PEP are two types of antiretroviral treatments that people can use to prevent HIV transmission. Individuals can take the antiretroviral treatment PrEP before HIV infection and it is available through two brands. Meanwhile, one can take PEP after an HIV infection and must take more than one medication. The CDC suggests that individuals consult with a doctor for more information. While both treatments are important, PEP offers more because sexual assault victims can use PEP or those who had a workplace accident. Advisories state that one should take PEP within three days of a dire situation and complete treatment within a month. Both treatments are highly effective with PrEP reducing HIV transmission from sex by 90% and PEP reducing risk by 80%.

HIV Self-Testing Market

The HIV self-testing market looks promising on a global scale especially with  HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. Globally, there is a necessity and high demand for rapid diagnosis of HIV in many regions including Latin America. Self-testing is a better alternative because one can do it privately and it is less risky because it will prevent exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. The self-testing market will grow more between 2020 and 2025. Self-testing will experience a great impact through government investments in healthcare worldwide. The HIV self-testing kit collects samples through blood, saliva and urine. In HIV testing, blood samples provide the most accurate read. According to MarketWatch, “The self-testing market in Latin America is anticipated to reach a value of 51.24 million USD in the year 2025.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. However, despite HIV/AIDS’ prevalence, antiretroviral treatments and opportunities to self-test should result in improvements.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

Way to Support Albania
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Albania increased from 12.33% to 12.81%. As thousands of Albanian people have entered poverty, UNICEF Albania and other humanitarian organizations are leading the way to support Albania during these trying times.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Albania started its COVID-19 response on March 9, 2020, by helping the Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD). The ReLOaD program helps update projects that deliver hygiene packages to vulnerable households. It also supports Albanian farmers with seeds and Albanian children with online learning materials. Support has reached 11 areas from Tirana to Lezhë, Albania. The UNDP even created an International Romani Day campaign where approximately 1,150 Albanian households received food and hygiene packages in April 2020.

UNICEF Albania

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Albania works to protect child rights with government and organization partners. Through programs supporting social and child protection, education and early childhood development, UNICEF Albania has three priorities: respecting child rights while implementing social inclusion through maintaining family access to the Albanian justice system, reforming the social care system and keeping children in school with NGO support.

In April 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Albania supported a child protection organization statement about how thousands of children can receive protection from violence. This can occur through phone helplines, temporary shelters and professional workforces in Albania. In response to the call to action, child protection helplines underwent initiation in June 2020 through UNICEF and The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPIHA) support.

Educational Support in Albania

World Vision Albania and Kosovo Education and Youth Technical Advisor Brisida Jahaj told The Borgen Project that, “There was a huge challenge with families in poorer households.” This is because the families do not have the IT equipment or the internet for children to continue their education in Albania. The Ministry of Education in Albania found that 10,000 children lost educational resources over COVID-19.

Regarding education, UNICEF Albania has partnered and supported the Akademi.al online learning platform since 2019. Plans intend to implement it online and on television for all students by 2021. Funding from UNICEF and support from the Ministry of Education in Albania gave Akademi.al the opportunity to put approximately 1,100 lessons online for students taking Matura exams in Albania. Jahaj describes the platform as a “backup plan that if we go into the third level scenario,” wherein Albanian schools shut down in 2021.

In August 2020, UNICEF Albania worked to combat poverty due to COVID-19 by initiating its first Albanian cash transfer program to approximately 1,700 vulnerable families in Shkodër, Korçë and Durrës, Albania.

UNICEF Albania and the World Health Organization (WHO) also established an online training program to teach professionals about Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and how to implement support to vulnerable populations during emergencies from May to July 2020. The eight module training course helps professionals master how to support mental health and psychosocial issues during emergencies. Approximately 230 frontline professionals obtained certification by September 2020.

Red Cross and World Vision

Albania experienced a series of earthquakes on November 26, 2019, which impacted approximately 200,000 Albanians. The Albania Red Cross responded to the earthquakes by sending 160 volunteers and providing 4,500 shelter relief packages to families who lost homes. The Albanian Red Cross received a 2020 Coca-Cola Company $100,000 grant in the wake of the pandemic to give community food aid and medical equipment to Albanian hospitals.

The Qatar Red Crescent Society partnered with the Albanian Red Cross to provide food package relief to 700 vulnerable families as a way to support Albania. Following the initial response, the Albanian Red Cross collaborated with Better Shelter. A total of 52 Better Shelters underwent construction in Durrës, Krujë, Laç, Shijak and Tirana, Albania, while home reconstruction continues through 2021.

World Vision Albania also helped with the earthquake response in Durrës, Lezhë, Kamëz and Kurbin, Albania by giving food and hygiene aid to 1,019 families and materials to help 27 families with home reconstruction. Jahaj told The Borgen Project that food and hygiene aid will continue in 2021 as World Vision and other humanitarian organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF provide “a lot of the masks and hand sanitizers for the schools” in Albania.

Where is Albania Now?

As of 2021, several humanitarian organizations are working to protect children and vulnerable individuals from the impact of the Albanian earthquakes and COVID-19 on the ground and online. Jahaj explained how World Vision Albania utilizes the Building Secure Livelihoods economic development program to help alleviate poverty while helping parents provide for their children from 2019 until 2023.

On all fronts, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and the Albanian Red Cross responded to Albanian communities. By providing everything from medical care, earthquake shelter, child protection and online learning directly to families, these organizations have found a way to support Albania. As of January 2021, humanitarian organizations continue to work on home reconstruction, mental health support and flood response. Furthermore, Albania acquired 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to distribute in 2021.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr