UNICEF's pledge to help children The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it physical, social and economic impacts that have been felt worldwide. Developing countries, in particular, are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. Furthermore, women and children are disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19. In September 2020, UNICEF called on the international community to take action “to prevent this health crisis from becoming a child-rights crisis.” UNICEF’s pledge to help children during the COVID-19 pandemic targets 192 vulnerable countries.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children’s Health

Children are not as vulnerable to the direct physical impacts of COVID-19, but nevertheless, children worldwide suffer from the indirect impacts of COVID-19. The BBC reports that in South Asia, the disruption of essential services such as nutrition and immunization programs has led to 228,000 deaths of children younger than 5. During COVID-19, “the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition fell by more than 80% in Bangladesh and Nepal.”

Furthermore, “immunization among children dropped by 35% and 65% in India and Pakistan respectively.” In 2020, across South Asian nations, India experienced the highest increase in child mortality at 15.4%. The COVID-19 virus has abruptly halted many essential programs and services that helped safeguard the lives of vulnerable children in developing countries.

The disruption of health services has also affected adolescents battling diseases such as typhoid, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The BBC reports almost 6,000 deaths across South Asia stemming from the inability to access the required treatment. The deficiency in medical services also resulted in 400,000 unwanted pregnancies in teenagers due to inadequate access to contraception.

Child Labor and Child Marriage

The COVID -19 pandemic has resulted in widespread unemployment and reduced household income, causing a rise in cases of child labor, reports Human Rights Watch. Parental deaths stemming from COVID-19 leave children orphaned, unable to have their basic needs met. UNICEF warns the international community that “school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.” The organization estimates that 10 million more girls are now at risk of child marriage due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Impacts of School Closures

At the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, 91% of all students across more than 188 countries could not receive an education due to school closures. School closures deprive children “of physical learning opportunities, social and emotional support available in schools and extra services such as school meals.” Children from disadvantaged backgrounds face more barriers than children from more affluent families. These vulnerable children are at risk of losing the most in terms of educational progress.

The UNICEF Pledge

UNICEF has committed to work alongside “governments, authorities and global health partners” to ensure medicines, vaccines, nutritional resources and other vital supplies reach the most vulnerable people. UNICEF is prioritizing safe school reopenings, ensuring all safety protocols are in place. Where schools cannot reopen, UNICEF is working to develop “innovative education solutions” and provide remote learning support.

Since a lack of internet connectivity and electricity presents a barrier to online learning in impoverished communities, UNICEF has committed to ” bridge the digital divide and bring internet connectivity to 3.5 billion children and young people by 2030.” UNICEF is also working with governments and partners to ensure that children’s rights form a central part of COVID-19 response plans.

As the pandemic continues, the future is still unclear. During an unprecedented global crisis, UNICEF’s pledge to help children during COVID-19 shows its ongoing commitment to upholding children’s rights globally.

– Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

child marriage in iraq
Child marriage consists of a formal or an informal union between two participants where at least one participant is younger than 18, according to UNICEF. Forced child marriage mostly occurs in countries where poverty is prevalent such as India, Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq.

Child Marriage Statistics in Iraq

According to The World, a public radio program, Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by $38 million from 2013 to 2017 due to decreasing oil prices and economic collapse in its struggle against ISIS. Many associated the decrease in GDP with an increase in the percentage of child marriages, which rose to 24% in 2016, surpassing the percentage of child marriages in 1997 by 9%. The trends in these percentages indicate that there is a correlation between the percentage of child marriage in Iraq and the country’s economic state.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the percentage of women aged 20-24 who married before the age of 18 was 27% in 2018, indicating that the current female population of those married before the age of 18 in Iraq consists of 5.6 million out of 20.7 million women. FIGO also reports that child marriage is more common among impoverished families who reside in rural areas, rather than among wealthy families who live in urban areas. The percentage of child marriages in rural versus urban areas differs by 1%, signifying that approximately 207,000 more young girls enter into early marriage in rural areas than urban areas.

Iraq’s Personal Status Law

Iraq’s Personal Status Law forbids child marriage and increases women’s marriage and custody rights. Despite the sound solidarity of this law, article 8 of Iraq’s Personal Status Law allows for a judge to authorize an underage marriage if the judge concludes that the action is urgently necessary or if the father of the bride gives his approval of the marriage.

Child marriage supporters in Iraq continuously push for proposed amendments to the Personal Status Law to abolish legal difficulties when forcing children into marriage. The parliament in Iraq has rejected these proposals, including an amendment that would allow for families to have their own laws in religious communities, thereby authorizing the families to offer their 8-year-old daughters for marriage.

Article 8 of the Personal Status Law allows a loophole for judges to authorize underage marriages with or without permission from a father, even though the article is noncompliant with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which works to gain equality for women and eliminate patriarchal norms that discriminate against women.

Risks Associated with Child Marriage

Young girls who enter child marriage are not only susceptible to physical health risks including rape, early pregnancy and early delivery, but they are also vulnerable to psychological risks, including experiencing social shielding from their families and domestic violence. Due to substandard responses by officials, violence and rape continue to present themselves as consistent issues in child marriages.

Although Iraq has criminalized rape, the government can drop charges as long as the victim and perpetrator get married. Since Iraq has not criminalized rape between spouses, the government receives few reports of domestic violence issues and families of the two spouses usually discuss resolutions.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Iraq

Oftentimes, families force young female family members into marriage for financial benefit or to settle feuds and make amends with another family. Additionally, the monetary benefits that follow a marriage may reduce an economic burden or provide more income to a family living in poverty. In communities where schools are available for women, families may marry off their daughters earlier to avoid payments for schooling. On the contrary, some parents believe that marrying their daughters early will protect them and ensure that their futures are stable.

Organizations Fighting Child Marriage

In 2016, the United Nations announced an initiative called the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which has assisted 7.9 million girls from 2016 to 2019. The program increases education and healthcare access for young girls, educates families about the risks of child marriage and supports governments in developing strategies to end child marriage.

Additionally, Girls Not Brides is a program that has committed itself to put an end to child marriage. Girls Not Brides ensures that girls in more than 100 different countries, including countries in the Middle East, are able to achieve their life goals. Girls Not Brides consists of approximately 1,500 member organizations that raise awareness about child marriage, hold governments accountable to create national strategies to end child marriage and share solutions with communities and families. UNICEF reports that the combined efforts of organizations that combat child marriage, including Girls Not Brides, have prevented 25 million arranged child marriages.

The Road Ahead

Child marriage in Iraq is a controversial, ongoing practice despite Iraq’s Personal Status Law that emerged to prevent the occurrence of underage marriage. Young girls in Iraq who enter into marriage provide monetary gain for their families, especially those living in poverty, but experience physical and psychological damage that lasts a lifetime. Organizations such as the United Nations and Girls Not Brides continue to aid victims of child marriage in Iraq by providing healthcare, education and support. Hopefully, with the continued efforts of various NGOs, incidents of child marriage in Iraq will significantly reduce.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Palestine
In 2014, the State of Palestine ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These treaties aim to protect children from child marriage in Palestine. However, child marriage is still a threat to children due to gender discrimination and economic struggle.

The Main Causes of Child Marriage in Palestine

Gender discrimination is among the causes of child marriage in Palestine. Children living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, especially girls and women, suffer gender-based violence throughout their communities and even in their families. Some girls face physical, sexual and psychological abuse. In 2015, the Women’s Affairs Center (WAC) reported that 65% of women married before 18 experienced at least one act of violence in the Gaza Strip. Although Palestine produced laws and treaties to help women and children, many of them are incredibly broad. In addition, they are subject to varying degrees of interpretation by the police and legal institutions. Because of the number of gender-based attacks, families use marriage to protect these girls from poverty, sexual harassment and assault. However, marriages frequently lead to more negative effects for these child brides.

The necessity for economic survival also ties in with the prevalence of child marriage in Palestine. Political instability has led to widespread poverty with more than half of families in Palestine living below the poverty line. A 2019 survey showed that the highest rate of child marriage exists in encampments and the Jordan Valley. These areas also struggle the most with education. According to this report, families in this area have turned away from the socioeconomic and demographic transitions that have taken place in the West Bank over the past two decades. While the rate of child marriage has decreased through Palestine, certain areas still have issues keeping their children safe.

The Effect of Child Marriage in Palestine

Child marriage is a violation of basic human rights. Consequently, it often results in early pregnancy and social isolation. In addition, many child brides have minimal school experience, which is reinforcing the cycle of poverty. In the West Bank, 21.3% of girls have had a live birth below 18, and in the Gaza Strip, the number is 23.8%. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of death in both married and unmarried girls below the age of 18.

Child marriage has many long-term effects on children’s psyche. It negatively affects any likelihood of a future healthy relationship and employment. This forceful engagement brings out trust issues, leaving victims of child marriage isolated and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Many of these child brides do not receive any support. Furthermore, child brides’ social wellbeing frequently declines as well. Child marriage has many long-term effects on a child’s physical, psychological and social health.

The Men Who Stand Against Child Marriage in Palestine

Freeh Abu T’ema is one of the first 20 ambassadors of change working to persuade their community to stop early marriages. After two of the ambassadors came to his house to stop his daughter’s wedding, he realized that the marriages of young girls is unethical and decided to join the ambassadors to advocate for change. The two ambassadors who visited him were Mossa Abu Taema and Wael Abu Ismael. These men had undergone training from a community-based organization, the Future Brilliant Society, as part of the U.N. Women’s Regional Men and Women Gender Equality Programme.

This organization focuses on educating men on gender equality issues to promote gender equality. This training helped them become advocates for change. As a result, the group expanded to more than 30 men in eastern Khan Younis (and the Gaza Strip) and prevented 50 marriages and counting.

Freeh Abu T’ema and the rest of the ambassadors raise awareness by educating people in their communities. Teaching people, protesting early marriage and donating to charities are ways to raise awareness about early marriage in Palestine.

– Aahana Goswami
Photo: Flickr

4 Organizations Fighting Forced Marriages in IndiaIndia is known as a country that has supported child marriages for centuries. However, the issue of child marriage in India has exacerbated in recent years. As such, humanitarian organizations are increasing their efforts to bring awareness to the issue of forced marriages in India. Here are four organizations fighting forced marriages in India.

4 Organizations Fighting Forced Marriages in India

  1. Vasavya Mahila Mandali — Vasavya Mahila Mandali (VMM) works to prevent abuse against children and women by creating a shift in patriarchal behaviors and attitudes. This charitable organization is active in the Andhra Pradesh community and the surrounding areas. VMM aims to foster inclusive social, economic and cultural advancement for women, children and young people in dangerous situations. It does this by motivating populations to enhance the quality of life and to create a stronger civil society in India.
  2. Saarthi Trust — The Saarthi Trust’s goal is to make society free from all oppression against women and children, such as forced marriages. It aims to spread happiness to survivors and move them on to the recovery route. With the help of the government, Saarthi allowed child bride victims to legally cancel their arranged marriages. This was the first time in India.
  3. Girls Not Brides — Girls Not Brides (GNB) educates the public of the risk of child marriage and therefore protects girls’ human rights. This allows for schooling and the freedom for girls to reach their full potential. It believes that 18 should be the minimum marriage age for girls and boys. GNB increases awareness of the negative effects of child marriage through community education, holding local, national and international discussions, as well as encouraging collaborative learning among organizations working to prevent child marriage. GNB also provides assistance to those already married. The organization partners with other agencies to end violence against women and to effectively develop government policy and funding to eliminate forced marriages.
  4. Breakthrough — Breakthrough works directly inside the communities in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, which have the highest incidences of child marriage in India. The program Breakthrough continues its work in the hope to end child marriages. The organization communicates with its diverse audience in a language they understand and via media platforms. This includes music, digital technology and pop culture. The music album “Mann ke Manjeere” was born out of this modern approach to problem-solving. What began as a music video has since taken on a life of its own. It has now evolved into a movement. Breakthrough concentrated its attention on breaking down barriers and initiating honest conversations about gender, crime and inequality.

Looking Ahead

Great measures are being taken to stop forced marriages in India. In the coming years, if this progress continues, amazing changes will be made in the lives of many forced marriage victims.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Theresa Kachindamoto’s Activism
Malawi operates under a democratic chiefdom system, which has been in existence for hundreds of years. Theresa Kachindamoto is the youngest of 12 siblings and the mother of five children. She works as a tribal Malawian chief in the district of Dedza. This district consists of nearly 900,000 people and 551 headmen. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children stems from the cultural practice of child marriages.

Kachindamoto has been working to annul child marriages and ensure that the female victims of it can receive an education. In Malawi, one in two girls will marry before 18, preventing them from completing their education. Kachindamoto uses her voice to explain the practicality of arranged marriages with healthy boundaries. She also advocates for safe environments for the betterment of all parties involved. Here is some information about Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children.

Empowerment of Children

Some call Theresa Kachindamoto the terminator of child marriages. In fact, she has annulled over 1,000 marriages and immediately aided in getting individuals back to school afterward. Kachindamoto has said she will be chief until she dies, giving the children of Malawi a solid and long-term advocate. She is accomplishing change through the creation of a reliable support network to alter traditions.

U.N. Women has been a big supporter of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children and how she brings attention to the issue of child marriages.

Many young women end up having to enter child marriages since their families are in poverty and cannot provide for their basic needs. Benedeta Matinson talked about marriage and finishing school in a U.N. Women video before she received employment. She conveyed information about experiencing marriage and pregnancy at the age of 15. Benedeta stated that marriage not a suitable solution for the lack of basic necessities.

The Problem

Malawi is the sixth most impoverished country in the world. Girls who marry before the age of 18 make up 18% of the country. Kachindamoto has expressed that motherhood and wifehood often take precedence over girls’ education. Thus, the chief is working towards altering traditions. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children empowers young women. It grants the girls understanding of their value and what they deserve. This includes quality education before marriage arrangements.

Child marriages lead the way to more significant problems. An example of a problem is sexual initiation camps. These are places where young women learn how to sexually please men and understand their “duties” as wives. The tradition translates as “kukasa fumbi,” which basically means sexual cleansing. Girls either graduate the program by having relations with their instructor or go home virgins. Meanwhile, if they return home as virgins, their parents force them to lose their virginities to local men. This cultural practice makes girls more susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and the spread of HIV. In fact, statistically, every one in 10 Malawians becomes ill with HIV/AIDS.

With the teen pregnancy rate rising during the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.2% of girls ages 15 to 19 are mothers. In addition, 63.5% of girls are mothers-to-be.

The Importance of Education

As part of Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children, she created and signed an agreement for her district to end child marriage along with sexual initiation camps. This was the result of conversing with 50 sub-chiefs who gave Kachindamoto significant pushback. In response, she firmly said, “these girls will go back to school” and the other tribal members slowly worked towards sticking to the new law. In her reign, Kachindamoto raised the age of consent for marriage from 15 years old to 18 years old.

The Mpapa mothers’ group is an organization that seeks out victims of child marriages. Members go door to door in search of those who have dropped out of school due to early marriage, and they attempt to return the girls to school. Mpapa Primary School is a school that the girls then attend, where drop-out rates were at 6% in 2020 and attendance was at 87%. Nationally, only 51% of girls finish primary school.

The Joint Programme on Girls Education (JPGE) trains the Mpapa mothers’ group. The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency supports the group as well. The group encourages to complete education by mentoring teens on pregnancy issues, marriage and their rights as women.

A 15-year-old girl and Mpapa Primary School attendee, Aisha Kayima, benefited from mentoring sessions two times a month. The mothers’ group has taught Kayima to be better informed about her choices so that she can have a quality future.

Looking Ahead

Putting a stop to child marriages can change the economic status of young girls while ensuring entire communities’ safety by inhibiting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Theresa Kachindamoto’s activism for Malawi children also helps reconnect girls with their warranted educational paths. In Kachindamoto’s words, “If you educate your girl, you will have everything in the future.”

– Libby Keefe
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Sudan
In Sudan, authorities have declared that they will ban female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, a monumental push forward for girls and women’s rights. Sudan will adopt the eradication of child marriage into all articles of the African charter on the rights and welfare of a child, reported The Guardian. Sudan’s authorities hope that these new additions allow for more protection for Sudan children. Here is some information about FGM in Sudan.

FGM in Sudan

Female genital mutilation involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. Different types of FGM procedures exist, however, the core purpose is that it is a rite of passage into adulthood and a pre-requisite for marriage.

As of July 2020, laws in Sudan are making the practice of FGM punishable by up to three years in jail. By enforcing stricter laws against FGM, Sudanese government officials project a decline in FGM rituals. According to an in-depth analysis conducted by UNICEF in 2016, nearly two-thirds of circumcised women experienced FGM as early as ages 5 and 9 years and more than one-tenth of women married before 15 years of age.

Child Marriage in Sudan

People in Sudan commonly practice child marriage and about a third of Sudanese girls marry before the age of 18. Child brides are prevalent in Sudan due to several factors such as poverty, level of education and harmful traditional beliefs that younger girls are easier to socialize into obedience. Some Sudanese families believe they must marry off their daughters when they reach puberty to “protect” their chastity.

The Psychological Effects of Child Marriage and FGM

Child marriage and FGM can be detrimental to girls in Sudan as they can experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Sudanese girls are 23% more at risk of suffering from cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Child marriage can also often lead to domestic abuse due to a potential imbalance in the power dynamic. The inequality in power threatens young girls’ ability to negotiate contraception, risking frequent early pregnancies. As the Sudan government and world leaders fight to put an end to child marriage and FGM in Sudan, this could, in turn, decrease potential long-term damaging psychological and physical effects on vulnerable Sudanese girls and women.

Plan International

Plan International is one of the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helping to end gender-based violence amongst vulnerable children and young people in Sudan. Since 1977, Plan International has been working towards inspiring girls and young women of Sudan to reach their full potential instead of entering into a cycle of violence and poverty. Through advocacy, academic opportunity, leadership outreach and mentorship programs that address child marriage and gender-based violence, Plan International has been inspiring girls and young women to obtain new opportunities. Helping advance children’s rights and equality for girls through its programs and projects is how Plan International aims to aid in the fight to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation.

As a new era in girls’ and women’s rights is present in Sudan, the road is still full of challenges. The process of complete abolishment of these crimes against humanity might be extensive but world leaders have pledged that these crimes will no longer exist by 2030. Fortunately, the future looks promising as Sudan’s government officials begin to consider how to improve female’s living conditions.

 – Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a major tourist destination, reeling in an estimated 6.5 million visitors in 2018. However, it also hosts a largely divided society with 40% of its population falling under the poverty line. Due to this poverty, Dominican children struggle considerably, dealing with several issues that do not allow them to succeed and confine them to a life of poverty. Here is some information about child poverty in the Dominican Republic.

Limited Access to Proper Education

One of the hardest struggles Dominican children must deal with is a lack of proper public education. These children in poverty attend public schools which often provide low-quality education with a lack of resources and poorly trained professionals. Due to a lack of financial resources, these schools also suffer from ill-suited scholastic programs and buildings in need of repair. Consequently, “more than 40% of Dominican children are uneducated,” and just 60% of enrolled children complete their primary education. Another problem worth addressing is the Dominican Republic’s high rate of repetition, especially in rural areas, with 44% of students in grades one to five, being three or more years older than the appropriate age and 60% of students in grades six to eight, again being older than the age they should be. 

Child Labor

 These children are then must work in order to support their struggling families. In fact, 2.1% of Dominican children from ages 10-14 are obliged to join the workforce. In fact, 28.1% of working children work in agriculture, 8.6% work in industries such as construction and producing baked goods and 63.4% have employment in public services. Many of these jobs are unsafe for children and some even suffer sexual trafficking and exploitation, especially Haitian children who traffickers frequently send to the Dominican Republic. 

Mistreatment and Abuse

Due to a lack of enforcement and prohibition, Dominican children frequently suffer from abuse. As of 2014, reports determined that 62.9% of children experienced physical or psychological mistreatment by their caregivers. This treatment of children in the Dominican Republic is concerning and leads to adults who deem it right to use violence to solve conflict and gain power. In fact, 8% of Dominican men from ages 15 to 49 consider it justified to physically abuse their wives for at least one reason, while 2% of Dominican women in the same age range agree with this justification of abuse. 

Child Marriage

Another significant issue young Dominican women struggle with is the regularity of child marriage. In fact, 36% of Dominican girls must marry before they turn 18 and 12% marry before they turn 15. Furthermore, as of 2014, 21% of girls from ages 20-24 reported having given birth before the age of 18. These marriages are harmful to these young women, who must place their own education and goals to the side to become wives and mothers against their will. 

Lack of Identity

Another huge problem for Dominican children is the number of births that are not on the official record. “More than a quarter of births in the Dominican Republic are not officially reported,” concluding in a large number of children with no identity or nationality. This leads to huge difficulties for these children who will never be able to fully enjoy their rights as citizens. For example, the Ministry of Education requires students to have a birth certificate to graduate high school, forcing all unidentified children to be unable to get a degree, leaving them with the least amount of opportunities to succeed. 

Solutions

Several organizations have emerged and the Dominican Republic is passing legislation to aid and raise awareness on these critical issues regarding child poverty in the Dominican Republic. Some of these organizations include Save the Children and UNICEF, which raise money to support poor communities by providing potable water and promoting health and hygiene.

Save the Children also focuses on improving education for Dominican children, using its platform to refurbish school buildings, build gardens, enhance teacher’s knowledge and improve sanitary infrastructure. It has protected 1,665 children from harm and provided 27,318 children a healthy start to their lives. Furthermore, The Ministry of Labor has increased the number of hired inspectors from 148 to 205 in 2019, demonstrating moderate improvement in decreasing child labor. More than anything, the Dominican Republic has made considerable improvements in healthcare, providing healthcare to 366,236 poor citizens who had previously lacked it through the Health Sector Reform APL2 (PARSS2). These improvements target the Dominican Republic’s most critical issues, including education, child labor and sanitation, helping alleviate the prominent issue that is child poverty in the Dominican Republic.

– Juan Vargas
Photo: Flickr

Equal Rights for Women
Throughout history, women have not always had access to the same rights as men. More recently, women are increasingly demanding and fighting for equal rights, especially by women who witness the oppression or have lived subject to the inequalities. Here are five women who are taking leadership in advancing equal rights for women.

5 Women Advancing Equal Rights for Women

  1. Malala Yousafzai, alongside her father, established the Malala Fund. In 2012, the Taliban targeted Malala, a vocal advocate for a girl’s right to education, and shot her on the left side of her head on her way home from school. When Malala recovered, she decided that she wanted to continue fighting for education for girls around the world. With the allyship of her father, she established the Malala Fund. It supports educators in eight different countries with $22 million invested in Malala Fund campaigns. Malala Yousafzai is a woman advancing equal rights for women by advocating for every girl’s right to an education as well as financially supporting schools for women in various countries.
  2. Gabby Edlin is the founder of The Bloody Good Period Campaign. While volunteering at a refugee center, she noticed that women did not receive menstrual products with their kit of essentials. Gabby started a small campaign on Facebook, and the interest in helping women grew. This led to her creating The Bloody Good Period Campaign, overcoming resistance from men who did not believe that the resource was a necessity. Bloody Good Period focuses its efforts on asylum-seeking women who are unable to purchase food or other necessities because of their need to purchase menstrual products; it seeks to educate women and destigmatize menstruation. Gabby Edlin is a woman advancing equal rights for women by educating and garnering the support of the public. She also uses the funds to provide menstrual product needs to refugees.
  3. Forgotten Women is an organization that women run for women. They founded the organization after witnessing the abuse of vulnerable women around the world. Forgotten Women developed the LIFT Model which stands for “Leveraging Investment for Transformation.” Through this model, it provides the means for women to be permanently self-sufficient and provides emergency aid to women in vulnerable positions. Forgotten Women has a sexual trauma clinic that currently reaches an average of 105,000 women per year; it continues to advocate for equality, defending women who stand for this value. Forgotten Women is a group of women advancing equal rights for women by imparting unconditional aid to vulnerable women and supplying them with the means to be self-sustained providers.
  4. Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin founded Pearls Africa. Abisoye lost her mom when she was 4 years old, and at a young age, she learned about computers through a family friend’s support. Her tech skillset enabled her to intern with EDP Audit & Security Associates, an IT auditing firm in Lagos, Nigeria. She noticed the underrepresentation of women within the industry of tech and determined to change this disparity. In an interview with Unearth Women, she said, “In Nigeria, there are very few girls in STEM fields, as they have been made to believe that tech is not something that they can pursue due to their sex or gender. This is a lie, and it’s something we’re trying to change systematically through the GirlsCoding initiative.” One of the successes of GirlsCoding took place in the impoverished Makoko slum in Lagos. After the young women left GirlsCoding, they became leaders in their communities. Then, they started Makoko Fresh, an e-commerce platform that supports and improves the livelihoods of local fishermen. GirlsCoding is just a part of the work that occurs through the organization Pearls Africa. Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin is a woman whose intellectual leadership advances equal rights for women by expelling doubts and stigmas about female capabilities and equipping girls with the resources to pursue a meaningful career.
  5. Sonita Alizadeh is a champion and advocates on the behalf of Girls Not Brides. At the age of 16, Sonita found out that her parents were going to sell her into marriage. Despite her family’s disapproval, she recorded music about her experiences as a woman and a refugee. Sonita released her song­, “Daughters for Sale” on YouTube. The video went viral, and her parents decided not to sell her into marriage. Sonita Alizadeh now lives in the United States and continues to fight on behalf of child brides. She works as an advocate with Girls Not Brides and speaks with global authorities on the issue. The organization urges countries to develop laws, policies and programs that end child marriage; Sonita Alizadeh is a woman whose creative leadership advances equal rights for women, specifically young girls, who would otherwise be sold into marriage before maturity.

The leadership of these women advances equal rights for women across the world. Their personal experiences and courage, often in the face of insurmountable odds, led them to activism on behalf of vulnerable or oppressed women. The example that they set serves as an inspiration to all people that each person’s voice has value, meaning and power. The impact of each organization demonstrates the importance of advocacy and activism.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Zimbabwe
According to UNICEF, child marriage is “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.” Although rates of child marriage have declined, the practice remains widespread. Unfortunately, child marriage impacts approximately one in five girls today. According to UNICEF, about 12 million child marriages occur each year. Consequently, more than 120 million girls may marry before they turn 18 years old by 2030. Child marriage in Zimbabwe is especially prevalent.

How it Impacts Children

Child marriage is a human rights violation. Additionally, it restricts girls from achieving their potential in education, social bonding, friendship, simple maturation and the right to choose a life partner.

Moreover, girls who marry young face great health risks. Dr. Nawal M. Nour, an Obstetrician/Gynecologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital explains “child marriage is driven by poverty and has many effects on girls’ health: increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, cervical cancer, malaria, death during childbirth and obstetric fistulas.” Many nations such as Zimbabwe are working to implement policies and programs to educate and ban the practice of child marriage.

Solutions

Zimbabwe banned marriage for children under 16 years old in 2016. As a result, the practice is on a steady decrease. However, child marriage continues to persist in most impoverished areas in the country.

Many low-income families choose to marry off their child due to a lack of income to support their basic necessities such as food and clothes. According to Girls Not Brides, many marriages result in some type of transactional agreement. Oftentimes, the husband gives the family money in exchange for their daughter. Unfortunately, many families use this money to survive.

Many organizations exist that are trying to prevent child marriage by creating safety nets that protect vulnerable families from the economic factors that predicate child marriage. Furthermore, young women are fighting against child marriage in Zimbabwe. In particular, one 17-year-old martial arts fan is showing girls that they have a fighting chance.

Vulnerable Underaged People’s Auditorium Initiative

Natsiraishe Maritsa started a taekwondo program called the Vulnerable Underaged People’s Auditorium Initiative to fight child marriage in Zimbabwe. Despite her limited resources, Maritsa was able to carve out a community of young fighters in the face of an oppressive system.

Young children gather at Maritsa’s home to practice taekwondo. She leads her people in drills and teaches them how to stretch kick and punch. After each class, they discuss the dangers of child marriage in Zimbabwe. Many cases of child marriage result in marital rape. However, Maritsa’s group sessions provide girls with a safe place to heal and reach catharsis. According to the Associated Press, she hopes to “increase the confidence of both the married and single girls through the martial arts lessons and the discussions that follow.”

Child marriage in Zimbabwe is a problem that continues to hurt communities in impoverished areas. Fortunately, many people are working to prevent these circumstances. The future for children in low-income households is steadily improving in Zimbabwe.

– Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Sexual Violence in India
Sexual violence is hard to quantify as it comes in many forms. Addressing sexual violence in India is difficult due to stigmas around gender and sexuality. Furthermore, victims of sexual violence are primarily children. Educating youth and providing resources for victims is crucial to reducing sexual violence in India.

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

India has a much lower rate of sexual assault cases than the United States. However, it is likely that most sexual assault incidents go unreported. This is due to social stigma, cultural expectations of marriage and the prevalence of sexual violence against children.

Less than 10% of sexual assault victims seek assistance from law enforcement. Due to limited law enforcement in rural areas, the police neglect around 100,000 reported rape cases per year. Additionally, only one-third of these cases lead to a conviction.

Sexual violence against children is rampant in India. A Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment study estimated that 53% of boys and 47% of girls experience sexual abuse during childhood. Girls are at high risk of suffering from sexual violence between the ages of 15 and 17. As a result, it is much less likely that victims will report the abuse they experience.

Child Marriage and Violence

It is common in India for girls to enter into arranged marriages at a young age. Around 45% of girls marry before reaching 18 years of age. Additionally, 22% have their first child before the age of 18. Victims of sexual violence often know their perpetrators. Furthermore, most husbands consider their wives property. As such, police frequently overlook cases of domestic violence.

Information Barriers

Schools often neglect to teach students about sexual violence due to its taboo nature. A 2017 survey found that 15% of adolescents felt comfortable discussing sexuality with their parents. However, over half of the sample could not define what sex was.

Sexual education programs are becoming more common throughout India. Yet, these programs often do not discuss the nuances of sexual relationships and power dynamics between genders. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends implementing comprehensive sex education into curriculums. This curriculum helps delay the age at which young people enter into sexual relationships and reduces the number of sexual partners. This aids in preventing unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The YP Foundation – Empowering Youth

The YP Foundation emerged in 2002 and works to educate young people in “feminist and rights-based leadership.” Know Your Body Know Your Rights (KYBKYR) is a program that provides a series of workshops for young students. This program is led primarily by young women who educate students about gender issues and safe sexual behavior. Every year, around 1,500 young people attend KYBKYR workshops that cover gender expression, relationships, violence, anatomy, body image, puberty, HIV, sexual orientation and discrimination.

SNEHA – Resources For Domestic Violence Victims

SNEHA is a nonprofit that emerged in 1999 with outreach programs that prevent, address and monitor abuse against women and children across India. One program includes five crisis centers and four women’s hospitals in Mumbai that provide counseling, medical attention and legal assistance. About 16,328 women have received counseling from this program.

Furthermore, SHENA uses mobile phone technology to collect data before, during and after treatments at these counseling programs. Thus, data points allow statisticians to assess the programs’ effectiveness.

Additionally, SNEHA has trained 7,915 law enforcement officers, 10,722 hospital staff and various other professionals on how to handle cases of sexual assault appropriately. SHENA has also helped pass the Women Against Domestic Violence Act in 2005 and the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses in 2012.

Combatting sexual violence in India requires refined education and adequate access to counseling for adolescents. Breaking down the communication barriers about sexuality and domestic violence is important in addressing this issue. An open discussion about cultural norms and the pervasiveness of sexual assault against children is necessary to create a safer place for everyone.

 – Elise Brehob
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