Information and news on advocacy.

Billions to Charities
It is no surprise that Forbes named Charles “Chuck” Feeney the James Bond of Philanthropy. After 38 years, Feeney achieved his lifetime goal: giving away all his $8 billion amassed wealth to charity and being alive to see its impact. When someone donates billions to charities, the impact should be substantial.

Charles “Chuck” Feeney

Chuck Feeney amassed his wealth from establishing a franchise of stores within thousands of airports known as the Duty-Free Shoppers Group. He also launched the General Atlantic, an American growth equity firm. Yet, the man, with this immense fortune lives in a rented San Francisco apartment. Moreover, he has even been found riding public transit. Feeney has credited his life philosophy to the Andrew Carnegie essay, “The Gospel of Wealth.” The essay declares that the millionaire’s sole duty is to give back to the poor. As Feeney donates billions to charities, he certainly obliges. Carnegie’s influence is extremely apparent within Feeney’s life. His coined phrase and mantra in life, “Giving While Living,” is essentially saying that you should give all you can to charity now rather than later. This, which closely resembles the messages behind The Gospel of Wealth.

Atlantic Philanthropies

In the early ’80s, the Duty -Free Shoppers franchise was at its peak. This is when Feeney decided to be the one who donates billions to charities. Without anyone’s knowledge, he secretly handed over all his shares and formed his new foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies. Since 1982, the Atlantic Philanthropies has focused on issues of health, social and public policy throughout Australia, Bermuda, Ireland, South Africa, the U.S. and Vietnam. Within these countries, the foundation has addressed many important issues. Among them include facilitating the peace process in Northern Ireland, reducing the number of children without health insurance in the U.S., providing millions with HIV/AIDS medication in South Africa and helping modernize Vietnam’s health care system. While the foundation has officially dissolved recently, Feeney has one last message to relay: “To those wondering about Giving While Living: try it, you’ll like it.”

3 Countries Impacted

  1. South Africa: In the early years after Apartheid, Atlantic Philanthropies saw the opportunity to help advance South African society from its previous suppression. During the ’90s, the foundation assisted young black South African attorneys in getting their law degrees. In the 2000s, Atlantic made funds to advance nursing and health services. By the end of 2016, Atlantic Philanthropies had totaled $442 million in investments toward building democratic institutions and organizations. Overall, the foundation brought 2 million South Africans access to HIV medication. Also, it convinced the government to pledge $1 billion toward school improvements. Finally, it increased the number of nurses between 2005 and 2013 by 44%.
  2. Vietnam: The Atlantic Philanthropies have invested $381.5 million towards improving Vietnam’s public health system and renewing old libraries and universities. With Feeney’s contribution of billions to charities, Vietnam modernized its healthcare system, resulting in 9 million citizens receiving better and improved treatment. Further, the foundation focused on efforts that advocated for healthier behaviors. These included the widespread anti-smoking campaign and the passed mandate that forced motorcyclists to wear helmets. Also, in the education sector, Atlantic Philanthropies improved Vietnamese university libraries.
  3. Cuba: In the early 2000s, Cuba’s healthcare, although seen as one of the best worldwide, was suffering from a lack of resources. This, in turn, sparked the Atlantic’s activism. Overall, the foundation invested $66 million into organizations that work toward improving the care and treatment of Cubans. Moreover, these bodies spread knowledge about Cuba’s effective public health practices in nations with impoverished communities.

An Inspiring Message

Feeney’s extreme display of generosity via contributions of billions to various charities has inspired many notable philanthropists and entrepreneurs to do their part to help the less fortunate. An example of wealthy business moguls following in Feeney’s footsteps is the “Giving Pledge.” Warren Buffet and Bill Gates launched the Giving Pledge in 2010 as a campaign that seeks to persuade wealthy figures across the world to donate close to half of their wealth before they die.

Maya Falach
Photo: Flickr

Glasses for developing countries
A variety of NGOs have been working for decades to provide glasses for developing countries. Most models for this operate in similar ways, either by donating glasses or offering low-cost glasses for communities to purchase. These programs have been successful in helping people correct their vision, as well as creating more education and economic opportunity. They only lack one thing — innovation. Choosing to apply a solution designed for a developed country to a remote village is not always the best option. This is where Child Vision comes in.

The Statistics

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 80% of all persons in Africa have unaddressed vision impairment. Additionally, 33% of the world’s poor population suffers from vision impairment. There are 123.7 million people with a refractive error, which can be solved with glasses that have the correct strength. On average, glasses cost approximately $343, despite the average manufacturing cost of $10. Clear vision drastically reduced education access for children, which in turn created less economic opportunity as they moved into adulthood. Lack of clear vision loses $202 billion in global productivity each year.

The Standard

Some of the biggest names in glasses for developing countries are NGOs like Eyes on Africa, Vision for a Nation, VisionSpring and the WHO.

The WHO has been working on the Global Action Plan for eye health since 2014. The plan has one main objective — to encourage and enhance global eye health. The Global Action Plan has several initiatives. These include identifying what is causing vision impairment, understanding where the gap is in eye health access and bringing cataract surgery to developing countries. VisionSpring works by allowing those in developed countries to purchase glasses for developing countries through the VisionSpring website. VisionSpring donates those as well as letting communities purchase low-cost glasses. It also provides bulk purchase discounts and sell glasses individually and by the box. On average, one pair of bifocals in a box set costs just 85 cents. The price point is low, but still unmanageable for many villages, especially in areas with little to no internet access.

Child Vision

Child Vision is a program within the Centre for Vision in the Developing World (CVDW). The CVDW looked at the statistics of vision impairment then accepted the challenge of creating a solution that worked for the developing world. The main struggles the CVDW found in the traditional programs were a lack of optometrists and the high cost of traditional glasses. There is one optometrist per 1 million people in the population in developing nations. While 85 cents for a pair of glasses may seem affordable, it is a great financial strain for the world’s poor, many of whom survive on less than a dollar a day.

Child Vision, after identifying the root problems with getting glasses to developed countries, created a successful prototype within two months. The CVDW created an inexpensive, adjustable lens that sets into durable frames.

How the Glasses Work

The round lens is composed of two walls made of a flexible plastic membrane that the wearer fills with liquid silicone. The lens is then set into plastic frames that have dials on both temples of the glasses. The plastic frames are filled with the same liquid silicone that is in the lens. The wearer puts on the Child Vision glasses, covers one eye and using a tumbling “E” chart, adjusts a side knob to move more or less fluid into the lens until they can see clearly. They then repeat on the other side.

The wearer simply removes the knobs from the glasses and throws them away after the lens is set. They now have durable, functional, cost-effective glasses. With a $20 donation, CVDW can provide a pair of self-adjusting glasses to a developing country. A 1–2-hour training session with a local community leader to show them how to use the tumbling “E” charts to check vision and make sure the glasses are adjusted correctly is also provided. This is not only an immediate solution and innovation to provide glasses to developing countries but it creates generational empowerment of checking eyesight and promoting educational and economic growth within each community.

– Madalyn Wright
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Health in Yemen
The Yemen civil war, which began in early 2015 and still devastates the nation today, has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. A total of 24 million people require assistance. This crisis affects all aspects of life in Yemen, including healthcare. Millions are without access to life-saving medical treatment and supplies, leading them to die of preventable diseases, such as cholera, diabetes and diphtheria. Pregnant women and infants are particularly vulnerable during this health crisis as adequate medical care throughout pregnancy and birth is essential. Maternal health in Yemen is of the utmost concern now.

Yemen has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with 17% of the female deaths in the reproductive age caused by childbirth complications. Maternal health in Yemen has never been accessible to all women. This crisis has escalated even further during the Yemeni civil war. However, global organizations are acting to save the lives of these pregnant women and infants who desperately need medical care.

Yemen’s Maternal Health Crisis: Before the Civil War

Even before the war began in 2015, pregnant women were struggling to get the help they needed. Yemen is one of the most impoverished countries in the world — ranking at 177 on the Human Development Index (HDI). Poverty is a large factor in the insufficiency of maternal health in Yemen as impoverished women lack the finances, nutrition, healthcare access and education to deliver their babies safely.

Many Yemeni women are unaware of the importance of a trained midwife during childbirth. Of all the births in rural areas, 70% happen at home rather than at a healthcare facility. Home births increase the risk of death in childbirth as the resources necessary to deal with complications are not available.

The Yemeni Civil War Increased the Maternal Health Crisis

Since the civil war began, the maternal mortality rate in Yemen has spiked from five women a day in 2013 to 12 women a day in 2019. A variety of factors caused this spike. The war has further limited access to nearly every resource, including food and water. This, in turn, depletes the health of millions of women and thus their newborns.

Also, the civil war has dramatically decreased access to healthcare across the nation. An estimated 50% of the health facilities in the country are not functional as a result of the conflict. Those that are operational are understaffed, underfunded and unable to access the medical equipment desperately needed to help the people of Yemen. This especially affects pregnant women — who require medical care to give birth safely.

Organizational Aid

Though the situation in Yemen remains dire, various global organizations are acting to assist pregnant women and newborns. The United Nations Children’s’ Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is taking the initiative to help millions across Yemen, including pregnant women. The organization has sent health workers and midwives into the country’s rural areas to screen and treat pregnant women for complications.

Similarly, USAID trained more than 260 midwives and plans to send them into Yemeni communities to help pregnant women and infants. USAID is partnering with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Yemen Ministry of Public Health and Population and other organizations to ensure that maternal health in Yemen, as well as all types of healthcare, are adequate and accessible for all affected by the civil war.

Maternal health in Yemen, while never having been accessible for many, is now in crisis as a result of the Yemeni civil war. While the situation is still urgent, organizations such as USAID and UNICEF are fighting to ensure that all pregnant women and infants in Yemen have access to the medical care they desperately need.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Brazil Indigenous coronavirusThe coronavirus has resulted in deaths all over the world, but some communities are more heavily affected than others. In Brazil, the coronavirus in Indigenous communities has taken an especially hard toll. COVID-19 disproportionately affects these often-isolated groups, which struggle to access the support systems needed to withstand this threat.

The Vulnerability of Indigenous Communities

Some Indigenous tribes living in Brazil have limited or no contact with the rest of the world. However, this isolation may render some tribes unaware of the pandemic in general or of its full seriousness. The coronavirus in Indigenous communities may also put tribe members at a greater risk, because they lack exposure to many illnesses. This means that their immune systems are often not strong enough to fight COVID-19.

Additionally, isolated Indigenous communities only have limited access to unreliable testing, contact tracing and communication of quarantine protocols. Some would have to travel for days to reach modern medical facilities providing such resources.

In particular, Indigenous communities fear the village elders contracting the coronavirus. Elders are not only the most vulnerable members of the community but may also experience the most serious effects of the disease. Additionally, many refer to these elders as “living libraries” or “living encyclopedias.” They hold tribal knowledge of culture, mythology and natural medicine, and many speak endangered languages. If coronavirus in Indigenous communities wipes out this generation of elders, their tribe’s cultural history and knowledge will die with them.

Why Outsiders Pose a Threat

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in indigenous communities often results from outsiders who visit these communities without taking the proper precautions. For example, doctors working in remote Indigenous regions have tested positive for the coronavirus. They only entered quarantine after they possibly spread the disease to multiple villages. Additionally, other medical teams have failed to follow proper quarantine protocol before entering an Indigenous reserve to care for those vulnerable to the disease.

Miners and poachers tapping resources on Indigenous lands have also spread the virus to these isolated communities. In Brazil, an estimated 40% of Yanomami people who live near these mining operations are now at risk of contracting COVID-19. Leaders from the Yanomami Indigenous Territory have spoken out, creating the hashtag #MinersOutCovidOut. Their aim is to raise awareness and demand an end to illegal gold mines and other land invasions.

The budget cuts and staff reassignment faced by FUNAI, a government agency that defends the boundaries of Indigenous land in Brazil, have made it possible for illegal miners and poachers to enter these protected regions. Indigenous people in certain tribes have also claimed that FUNAI only gave food supplies and assistance to tribes on officially demarcated land. However, even this aid was not enough to feed the large families of the tribe.

The Government in Brazil

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire in the past for dismissive statements about Indigenous communities in Brazil. He has also allowed illegal logging, mining and land grabs to continue. Currently, Bolsonaro’s administration faces criticism for its response to the pandemic. The Brazilian government’s conflicts with Indigenous communities have resulted in inadequate support required for these communities to fight COVID-19.

The Brazilian Supreme Court ordered in July 2020 that the government must create a crisis response team and develop a plan to control the coronavirus. However, Bolsonaro recently vetoed proposed laws to provide vulnerable Indigenous communities with designated intensive care beds, clean water and essential supplies. Bolsonaro defended this decision by citing excessive costs that he claimed would go against public interest.

Fighting the Coronavirus in Indigenous Communities

To fight this crisis, Brazilian Indigenous communities and outsider organizations are joining forces. The NGO Brazilian Health Expeditionary, or Expedicionários Da Saúde, has helped Indigenous people from over 700 isolated communities in the Amazon by setting up temporary medical facilities with necessary supplies. Local officials and Indigenous groups collaboratively gather money and distribute food supplies in place of the unfulfilled promise of government assistance.

Many individual tribes are also protecting themselves from the spread of the virus by remaining in isolation from the rest of the world. This means that they seek medical care within their own communities. As such, though the severity of the coronavirus in Indigenous communities in Brazil is dire, it is not without hope.

Allie Beutel 
Photo: Pixabay

Women's Rights in TurkeyTurkey is located in the Mediterranean between Europe and the Middle East. Once part of the Ottoman Empire, this transcontinental country became autonomous in 1923 and is formally named the Republic of Turkey. After achieving sovereignty, the Turkish government immediately enacted legislation to ensure equality for men and women within politics and society. Despite these reforms, women’s rights in Turkey could still see improvement.

A Brief History of Women’s Rights in Turkey

Women’s rights in Turkey have come a long way since initial equality legislation in 1923. By the 1980s, women’s rights movements had gained more momentum when the Turkish government responded to protests regarding violence against women. In 1985, Turkey ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), thus giving women’s rights issues the political focus they deserve. Through the 1990s, the passage of laws to protect domestic violence survivors granted more fundamental rights to women. However, the Turkish government did not stop there in their fight for women’s rights.

In 2011, the Republic of Turkey—along with many other European countries—drafted and signed a resolution known as the Istanbul Convention to further solidify and protect women’s rights. This resolution provided strict legal action against those who committed violence towards women.  The status of women’s rights in Turkey has improved significantly since 1923, but the existence of said rights are currently at stake.

Women’s Rights Today

On August 13, 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated the government’s plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention altogether. Erdoğan explained that the convention’s resolution, “puts a dynamite on the foundation of the family” and is “not legitimate”. His decision has sparked outrage among women’s rights supporters in Turkey as this convention was a major milestone for women’s equality not only in Europe but across the world. Many have taken to the streets to protest Erdoğan’s declaration, but this has not reversed his proposal.

Turkey’s femicide rates have also increased in recent years. Femicide is known broadly as the murder of women and girls, and more specifically is the intentional killing of women simply because they are women. In 2019, 417 women were killed in domestic violence incidents and in 2020, 207 women were killed in homicides. This rise in femicide rates is attributable to both domestic violence and “honor killings”. Honor killings are when relatives or partners kill a loved one if they feel they’ve dishonored them in some way. Turkey has seen an increased rise in honor killings since 2018.

Won’t Back Down

Worldwide domestic violence against women has increased significantly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—and Turkey is no exception. The recent femicide of 27-year-old college student Pınar Gültekin sparked outrage among women’s rights advocates in Turkey. Many have taken to the streets to call attention to rising femicide rates and domestic violence against women. Protests against President Erdoğan’s decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention have also reignited in the aftermath of Gültekin’s murder.

Today, activists in Turkey are continuing to support organizations and campaigns working to strengthen and protect women’s rights. There is still much work to do to ensure to protect women’s rights in Turkey.

– Sadat Tashin
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Thailand
Thailand is a country of hundreds of islands in Southeast Asia with a population of nearly 70 million people. Thailand has a history of political instability and economic uncertainty along with rising poverty rates. However, the country has made great strides to improve its healthcare. Nearly 7 million of Thailand’s citizens live in poverty and a wealthy few control a large majority of the country’s wealth. With one of the most extreme wealth gaps in the world, universal healthcare in Thailand creates a meaningful movement toward equality for all its citizens.

Switching to Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

In 2002, Thailand made the transition from a combination of various healthcare policies to an all-encompassing, universal health coverage (UHC) system. Under the UHC system, every Thai citizen is entitled to health services — including preventative, curative and palliative care, at any age. Under this system, financial protection for high-cost services also improved.

Challenges in Financing the UHC System

Though universal health coverage in Thailand has allowed increased access for all ages and classes of citizens, the country still faces challenges with funding the program. The UHC system is a predominantly publicly funded program, meaning that it functions mainly through taxation. Because the nearly 7 million Thai citizens live no more than 20% above the poverty line, the UHC budget coming from taxes is relatively inflexible. Therefore, funding the growing demands for healthcare in Thailand often requires reaching into other public funds.

Access to preventative medicine has decreased the rates of many illnesses by keeping them from occurring in the first place. However, medical expenses in other categories are on the rise. As the average age of the population increases, healthcare in Thailand faces an influx in elderly patients needing more care. Unsafe road conditions and unenforced traffic laws in many regions also contribute to high rates of road accidents and result in excessive trauma cases. Also, air pollution in cities and extreme weather conditions in various regions across the many islands contribute to increased utilization of the UHC system. For the UHC system to be an equitable, effective and sustainable service for the country, other avenues of funding must be explored.

Challenges and Looking Ahead

Healthcare in Thailand has had many positive improvements since the national transition to universal coverage in 2001. Yet, like any system, it often faces continued challenges. The system is considered popular among lower-paid citizens that did not previously have access to care. Albeit, higher-income communities hold some distaste for the system due to increased access leading to more crowding in hospitals. Universal healthcare in Thailand has created a much more inclusive environment for the Thai people as it helps to bridge the immense wealth gap. A gap between the nearly 7 million living in poverty and the wealthy 1%.

Positive Impact of the UHC System

This alteration of the previous healthcare system has led to an increase in the utilization of health services and decreased the prevalence of unmet needs in the country. Overall, healthcare in Thailand is improving. Not only did rates of care increase with the introduction of the UHC system, but other metrics of improving healthcare also rose.

Life expectancy from birth rose from 71.8 years before the introduction of the UHC system, to 77.2 years in 2020. Infant mortality rates similarly fell from more than 100 per 1,000 births in 1970 to 7 per 1,000 births in 2020. As citizens have been able to access preventative care and more expensive intervention at lower personal cost, out-of-pocket spending on healthcare needs have decreased. Meanwhile, household savings increased. Though the switch to universal healthcare certainly faces challenges, it has created quantifiable positive change for millions living in Thailand.

Jazmin Johnson 
Photo: Unsplash


When most Indians think about the rainy season, they think about the viable crops that will grow and the economic prosperity that will ensue. The rainy season takes on a completely different meaning, however, for one of India’s most overlooked groups: the homeless. Homelessness in India is a significant problem on its own, with an estimated 1.8 million homeless people living on the streets. When this large homeless population endures months of exposure to rain and winds, health complications and even deaths can occur. Due to its detrimental effects on health, homelessness during India’s rainy season is a significant issue to address.

Housing Shortages

In addition to India’s homeless population, another 73 million families lack access to sufficient housing. Many families have recently lost their homes as a result of forced evictions. In 2017, the national government tore down more than 53,700 homes. Approximately 260,000 people were forcefully evicted due to motives like city beautification projects and infrastructure development. Many of the evicted will now have no choice but to endure the hardships accompanying the rainy season.

India’s Rainy Season

India’s rainy season lasts from June to September. Rain and wind are very frequent, with some areas in central or western India receiving approximately 90% of their total annual precipitation during this time period. Southern and northwestern India tend to receive between 50-75% of their annual precipitation during these months. In 2005, the monsoons were intense enough to trigger floods throughout the country. These floods marooned villages and affected more than 800,000 people.

Homelessness During the Rainy Season

Homelessness in India actually increases during the rainy season. In August 2018, the Times of India reported floods left 54,000 homeless. As more people suffer these poor weather conditions, the homeless population increases.

During monsoon season, the homeless face increased difficulties. Homeless shelters often close during the summer months, leaving many to endure the hazardous weather conditions. Even if homeless people were able to find shelter during this season, they would still be forced to spend a significant amount of time on the streets in order to feed and maintain themselves financially.

Julia Wardhaugh, a senior lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at Bangor University, who has researched homelessness in India, stated, “Even if some shelter is found, then subsistence has to be on the streets, finding casual work (e.g. recycling materials) or begging for alms.” She also went on to note that “the health consequences could be severe, especially for vulnerable adults and for children.”

Unfortunately, data on this topic is limited, largely because it is difficult for the government to keep record of the homeless. As a result, their deaths are hard to track. One study, however, examined the deaths of homeless and unclaimed people in North India between 2008 and 2012. The study ultimately found that the majority of reported deaths occurred during the rainy season.

Finding Solutions

In response to persistent homelessness in India that is often worsened by the rainy season, several organizations are working to provide aid. Aashray Adhikar Abhiyan (AAA) is an organization working in Dehli to advocate homeless people’s rights and provide basic necessities such as food, clothes and shelter. AAA has provided more than 12 million beds, as well as health care to one million homeless Indians.

URJA Trust is an organization seeking to protect the rights of homeless women in India. The group has brought more than 400 women out of homelessness and into safe spaces, offered mental health support to more than 300 women and raised awareness of female homelessness in civil society.

Salaam Baalak Trust is an NGO that works to support homeless children. The organization conducts a variety of initiatives aimed at improving the lives of homeless children, including educational activities, outreach events and mental health programs. So far, they’ve supported 108,014 children.

 

Although homelessness during India’s rainy season is a significant contributor to the struggles faced by thousands, it is often overlooked. The lack of research on the effects of prolonged exposure to dangerous weather suggests the country has yet to fully acknowledged the gravity of this issue. However, once this aspect is further studied and understood as well, there is hope for alleviating poverty in India and improving life for millions.

– Sophia Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in AlbaniaFor years, women have struggled to obtain equality in the developing European country, Albania. Recently, however, this topic has received greater publicity as it becomes an increasingly pressing issue for thousands of citizens. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Albania that illustrate Albanians’ struggles. Moreover, these facts highlight organizations and initiatives that are inspiring positive change.

5 Facts about Women’s Rights in Albania

  1. The number of Albanian women in the workforce is rapidly increasing. Women now comprise the majority of agricultural workers in Albania, yet they are still paid lower wages than their male counterparts. On average, women receive 18% lesser salaries than men. To promote gender equality in the workforce, the U.N. Economic Empowerment Program in Albania provides resources for programs and initiatives. Such initiatives aim to expand vocational training and encourage female entrepreneurship throughout the country.
  2. Over 50% of Albanian women have experienced sexual violence. According to a study performed by the Swedish government, U.N.D.P. and U.N. Women, more than 50% of Albanian women have been victims of some form of “sexual, physical or psychological violence.” This most commonly occurs as a result of a partner’s perpetration. Additionally, a recent combination of economic struggles and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 has caused an increase in domestic violence in Albania. This leaves women with little protection from violent situations. Under these circumstances, U.N. Women is initiating social media campaigns to spread awareness about resources providing security and shelter for domestic violence victims throughout Albania.
  3. Traditional customs prevent women from owning property. Under Albanian laws, women can purchase and own property. However, these laws often go ignored. Because women are traditionally unable to sign as a “head of the household” in legal affairs, it is incredibly difficult for women to become property owners. As of 2018, only 8% of Albanian women owned land. The Center for Civic and Legal Initiatives in Albania is working to boost this figure by encouraging women to purchase property. Also, they provide legal support to help navigate the obstacles that traditional customs present.
  4. More women participate in Albanian politics. Aiming to lessen the country’s multitude of gender inequalities, many women have successfully run for office. As of 2017, “women make up 23% of members of parliament, 35% of local counselors, 9 in 61 mayors and 8 in 20 cabinet ministers.” Though the numbers fall short of achieving proper representation, initiatives by the Albanian Parliament are encouraging women to run for various political offices.
  5. Women and girls struggle to access safe reproductive health care amid COVID-19. Albanian law severely limits access to abortion. Coupled with restricted access to healthcare due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many women find it impossible to receive access to safe abortion care. According to Amnesty International, governments in the region deem abortion care as an inessential health service. Leah Hoctor, the Regional Director for Europe’s Center for Reproductive Rights, has called on many governments, including the Albanian government, to intervene. She states “European governments must act urgently to guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Continuing the Fight

Women in Albania struggle to lead independent lives due to the prevalence and severity of gender inequality. Sexist laws and cultural norms limit women’s rights in Albania. This, in turn, prevents many women from achieving equality in health, safety and prosperity. Though organizations like U.N. Women and the Center for Legal and Civic Initiatives, improving the quality of life for these women has become a real possibility.

– Courtney Bergsieker
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

cultural survivalThere are about 476 million Indigenous people in the world, just over 6% of the global population. Also known as First Peoples and Tribal Peoples, they are present on every continent except Antarctica. Indigenous people belong to about 5,000 distinct groups. Though the term “Indigenous” is not an exact science, it generally refers to groups of people who originally inhabited an area prior to colonial influence. Despite colonialism, they have achieved varying degrees of cultural survival by preserving the use of their languages, ancestral traditions and ways of knowing. Organizations like Cultural Survival also support this preservation.

Cultural Survival was founded in 1972. Its work now follows the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007. Based in Massachusetts, this organization aims to streamline social justice efforts by connecting Indigenous people’s needs to resources. Indigenous people often have a hard time accessing resources due to isolation, linguistic barriers or lack of political representation. Here are five ways that Cultural Survival empowers Indigenous people.

5 Key Ways Cultural Survival Empowers Indigenous People

  1. Advocacy: When it comes to advocacy, Cultural Survival responds to real needs expressed by a particular community. According to the UNDRIP, “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for … Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” An example of such dispossession might include state-sanctioned projects involving mining or deforestation, which threaten a community’s land. In these instances, the Indigenous community on its own may not have direct access to policymakers. Cultural Survival, on the other hand, has had the privilege of consultative status with the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC) for the past 15 years. It also has offices in North, Central and South America, as well as South Africa and Nepal. This wide reach provides quicker access to resources that can more effectively enforce the UNDRIP.
  2. Grants for community development: Cultural Survival also makes grants accessible for development-focused programs. These programs may relate to environmental justice, female empowerment, language preservation, Indigenous representation in policymaking and more. The Keepers of the Earth Fund makes these grants available in amounts between $500 and $5,000. In March 2020, the Keepers of the Earth Fund went exclusively toward the COVID-19 response in Indigenous communities. So far, it has been able to provide direct aid amounting to more than $81,000. This has reached Indigenous communities in 16 countries.
  3. Fair trade partnerships: Cultural Survival connects Indigenous artisans and creators directly to consumers through their annual “bazaars.” These bazaars showcase Indigenous music, jewelry, household items, art and other products. Usually, New England hosts the events. However, in 2020, Cultural Survival opted for a “virtual bazaar” to keep people safe from COVID-19. This allowed it to connect Indigenous makers to a wide audience of consumers.
  4. Media: Additionally, Cultural Survival publishes a magazine called Cultural Survival Quarterly (CSQ). This publication brings matters of concern of Indigenous communities to the attention of the public. The organization also nurtures expertise in radio journalism and broadcasting by connecting young Indigenous people with conferences. By training them, the organization prepares Indigenous youth with the skills they need for a career in media and advocacy. In particular, the Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Project offers fellowships up to $2,500 for young people to learn about broadcast journalism. The Community Media Grants Project also makes funding available to bolster already-existing community radio projects. These projects benefit communities all over Latin America, East Africa, South Africa and South Asia
  5. Community Radio: Cultural Survival’s funding for COVID-19 includes community radio. This has recently made a difference in Indigenous communities of Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and others. These programs are vital not only for language preservation but also to ensure that correct information about the pandemic reaches Indigenous communities. This is important, as these communities may not be proficient in the country’s official language or may have limited broadband connection. To complicate matters, Indigenous community radio has been outlawed in several places. In Guatemala, for example, the government claims there are not enough frequencies to accommodate Indigenous radio stations. Cultural Survival continues to fight to support community radio programs and policy changes in Guatemala. Importantly, it also offers legal representation to individuals when necessary. Indigenous leaders have officially requested that a law, Bill 4087, legalize an Indigenous-language radio station for each municipality. Cultural Survival continues to support this effort.

The Future of Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival requires continuous support to maintain its mission to defend the UNDRIP. Although every Indigenous group possesses the right to be both autonomous and involved in state affairs that affect them, political leaders do not always observe these rights. Cultural Survival is one-of-a-kind in its commitment to defending Indigenous ways of life. With support, it can continue to use its global reach to fast-track solutions to the unique needs of Indigenous people around the world.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Israel

In Israel, the battle for gender equality continues to rage. Despite being the third country in the world to have a female head of state, women were forced to sit at the back of the bus as recently as 2018. In the face of gender equality legislation, religious figures continue to promote and enforce gender segregation in public spaces.

Israel, a fairly new country in the Middle East, identifies as a democratic state. The country gained its independence in 1948, passing the Women’s Equal Rights Law in 1951 to ensure gender equality. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that the nation “…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” However, the Israeli government has found it difficult to combat gender segregation.

Women’s Rights in Israel Today

Presently, Israel ranks 25th on the Gender Inequality Index. Although the Israeli Declaration of Independence sought to establish gender equality, there has been an increasing demand for enforcing gender segregation in public spaces by Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. There have been instances in which women have been denied access to a public bus for wearing shorts deemed “immodest.” In many situations, if women can access a bus, they are forced to sit in the back. In some universities, women are even forced to drink from separate water fountains.

Many lawsuits in Israel have been filed in the name of gender inequality. Although gender segregation in cemeteries is illegal, the Israeli government and the Ministry of Religious Affairs do not uphold the law. As a result, women sit separately from their male family members and are not permitted to be a part of funeral ceremonies.

Women hold esteemed positions in Israeli society. As of 2017, women comprised 59% of the university student population and  53% of the Ph.D. student population. Israel’s Supreme Court has had three female presidents, with women comprising 54% of judges in Israel as of 2017.

Despite the prevalence of female leaders, female lawmakers have been deemed “indecent” by their religious associates and admonished for wearing sleeveless dresses. Although the majority of college degrees are held by women, women academics are not allowed to instruct ultra-Orthodox men at universities. Female lawyers are seated separately and at the back of the room for training programs. Female army cadets are separated from their male counterparts by partition during graduation ceremonies. However, several organizations are advocating for equal treatment.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Israel

Many organizations are fighting for gender equality in Israel. For example, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) fights gender segregation and religious extremism. IRAC has made great progress in the field of anti-segregation legislation, including filing a class action suit against public radio stations for refusing to put women on-air. IRAC’s work has also lead to a Supreme Court ruling making gender segregation on public transportation illegal.

Founded in 1984, The Israel Women’s Network advocates for gender equality through education and awareness. They are currently advocating against gender segregation in public transportation and gender violence. The Women of the Wall are fighting to secure women’s religious rights to pray at the Western Wall through education, empowerment, and advocacy. When gender equality laws will be upheld, the visions for gender equality can be achieved.

The Future is Equality

As the first woman to serve as president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch said, “We are commanded to act with tolerance and to promote the protection of human rights.”

The gap between the visions for gender equality and the reality women face is vast. Gender inequality is crucial to the advancement of Israel and the rest of the world, being essential to peace and development. Ultimately, the work of organizations such as IRAC and The Israel Women’s Network continues to empower women and allows Israel to look toward a brighter future.

– Tara Hudson
Photo: Pixabay