women’s rights in UzbekistanA former Soviet Union territory, Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million. In recent years, there have been governmental and societal changes along with a new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Women, who play a pivotal role in the Uzbek family structure, have experienced different issues related to their rights in the country. There are several key facts to know about women’s rights in Uzbekistan.

Societal Views Oppress Women

Women faced new setbacks after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets, who colonized the region in the latter half of the 19th century, promised women that they would be emancipated from the patriarchal customs of society, viewing them as oppressive against women. This movement encouraged female education, and in the 1980s, an estimated 41% of university students were women. However, after the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, in a push to reestablish the Uzbek tradition, the progress of women’s rights in Uzbekistan took a hit when conservative social customs were reintroduced. Only six years later, in 1997, the number of women in higher education institutions dropped to 37% and it is estimated to have fallen even more drastically in recent years.

The Prevalence of Child Marriage

Child marriage is still prevalent. Most Uzbek families believe that the role of women is to marry and run the household. This social concept encourages child marriage throughout the country, particularly in rural regions. With girls marrying at younger ages than boys, female education is directly impacted by child marriage, as women are generally confined to the home after marriage. Furthermore, it is expected that women are to give birth within their first year of marriage, despite a lack of education about reproduction and childbearing. With young brides, female bodies are often not prepared or mature enough to give birth healthily. This has led to health complications such as infertility and chronic conditions. Women’s rights in Uzbekistan are hindered by child marriage, as it limits female educational opportunities and leaves women with little chance to escape a life of housework and childrearing.

Domestic Violence is Not a Crime

Domestic violence is deemed a family issue and not an actual crime. Since independence from the Soviet Union, the push to reaffirm traditional values has meant that women have a subservient role within the household, and to a further extent, within society. Outside of their homes, women face restrictions on how to live their lives, with limits on educational and work opportunities in favor of marriages and children. With women in rural areas at particular risk for domestic violence, Uzbekistan has largely ignored women’s rights within the home. Violence against women has reportedly increased in recent years.

Women’s Rights Reform at Governmental Level

President Mirziyoyev has taken promising action to address the lack of women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Elected in 2016, Mirziyoyev spoke about the importance of women within Uzbek society, noting their problem-solving skills and administrative capabilities. He urged for their involvement in government and industrial factions and even appointed Uzbekistan’s first female Head of Senate, Tanyila Narbaeva. With men dominating government positions for years, a female in an authoritative government position was a progressive shift and a promising result of political changes.

Legislation to Protect Women

The fight for women’s rights in Uzbekistan is becoming more of a priority. In 2019, two new laws were introduced to protect women’s rights. The first is to ensure equal opportunities and freedoms for men and women and the second is to safeguard women from domestic violence and assault. Also, almost 200 shelters have been set up across the country to provide for women escaping violence. Unfortunately, there is very little funding for the subsistence of these shelters. While this is undoubtedly progress from the country’s more traditional views on the role of women in society, more significant action needs to be taken to defend these newfound rights and sustain protective services.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Uzbekistan

The push for women’s rights in Uzbekistan has been made more difficult by the country’s history as a Soviet Union colony and their subsequent counterreaction to reestablish their traditional cultural values. In recent years, women have been restricted by societal pressures to marry young and spend their lives taking care of the household. With limited opportunity to decide their own futures, women in Uzbekistan have not truly attained their human rights. Fortunately, however, President Mirziyoyev has expressed his desire to transform women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Hopefully, with a new female government official and progressive laws, women’s rights in Uzbekistan will continue to improve.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

Children in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso, a small, landlocked country in Western Africa, is one of the least developed countries in the world. About 45% of the over 20 million who live in the nation face poverty. Nearly 2.2 million people live in dire need of aid, with children half of those in need. This crisis has only worsened due to the ongoing conflicts in the Sahel region of Western Africa, which have displaced millions of Burkinabé people and put them at a higher risk of poverty.

Children in Burkina Faso, who make up 45% of the population, face more challenges than nearly any other group of children on Earth — many of them have low access to nutrition, education, and healthcare, and are often subjected to child labor and marriage.

Hunger and Malnutrition

While Burkina Faso has always struggled with hunger, with 25% of children stunted from malnutrition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. The number of people in need of food aid has tripled to 3.2 million, and many of those suffering from malnutrition are children. Doctors and nurses in Burkina Faso are reporting extremely high numbers of malnourished children entering their healthcare facilities each day. Prior to the pandemic, Burkinabé children experienced hunger as a result of displacement from the conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region.

Education

While attending primary school is compulsory for children in Burkina Faso between the ages of seven and fourteen, this rule is not enforced, and about 36% of children do not attend. Additionally, 67% of girls over the age of fifteen do not know how to read or write. The high levels of poverty in the country lead to low levels of education. Furthermore, the conflicts in the area have only made it harder for children to access and attend their schools. Attackers have raided the schools, injuring teachers and putting Burkinabé children at risk.

Healthcare

Burkina Faso has the tenth-highest under-five mortality rate in the world, with 87.5 out of every 1,000 children in 2019 dying before their fifth birthday. About 54 infants die for every 1,000 live births . That majority of these deaths are from communicable diseases and malaria, which the nation has struggled to prevent and control. While the number of healthcare workers in the area has increased in the past few decades, particularly between 2006 and 2010, it has not been quite enough to combat the need of the ever-growing population, and many children in the area are left without healthcare access.

Child Marriage

Over half of Burkinabé children are married before their eighteenth birthday, and the country has the fifth highest rate of child marriage in the world. One in ten girls under nineteen have already given birth to at least one child. Girls with limited access to education have a higher chance of marrying as children. The same holds true for girls who live in impoverished households. Both of these trends remain common in Burkina Faso. The apparent social value ascribed to girls in the region is considered lower than their male counterparts. As a result, young girls who enter child marriages often do not have a choice in their future husbands.

Child Labor

42% of children in Burkina Faso are engaged in child labor rather than attending school. Though the government adopted a “National Strategy to End the Worst Forms of Child Labor” and raised the legal minimum working age to sixteen, these high rates of child labor have not decreased significantly over the past few years. These children work as cotton harvesters, miners of gold and granite, domestic workers, and in some rare cases, sex workers. Child labor puts children at risk of serious injury, and, in some extreme cases, even death.

While children in Burkina Faso face all of these challenges, work is being done to help them live safe, healthy and educated lives. Save the Children, UNICEF, Action Against Hunger and Girls Not Brides are just a handful of the organizations working in Burkina Faso to ensure that these children receive the care they need and deserve. Childhood in this region is, in fact, difficult. Yet, all is not lost as these groups work to improve the lives of children across Burkina Faso.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Combatting Child Marriage in NigerBoarding in between the African countries Algeria and Chad, Niger is ranked the world’s poorest country. Considering the country is home to a 16.3% urban population and 83.7% rural population, the lack of resources for those living on rural land is a primary reason for the severely high child marriage rate. This article will list why combatting child marriage in Niger continues to be a prevalent topic today.

High Birth Rate and A Young Population

Niger has the second-highest birth rate globally, which is caused by a high infant mortality rate. According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the current infant mortality rate is 80.4 per 1,000 live births. Malnutritionment plays a vital role in children’s health and the lack of proper food and clean water contributes to the mortality rate.

According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Niger is ranked the lowest at 189 out of 189 countries. More than 50% of the Niger population are under the age of 15, and approximately 89% of young girls marry prior to reaching the age of 18. Less than 30% of those children receive an education, which is an even more prevalent issue among girls. One of the main reasons children aren’t attending school is the extreme poverty within the country.

When a child is sick or suffering from starvation, they become malnourished, which makes them incapable of attending school, and the more often it happens, the less likely they are of going back to school. Combatting child marriage in Niger is seemingly difficult due to the extreme poverty and it makes human development, especially for children and women, extremely challenging to achieve.

A Lack of Independence With a Lack of Education

Niger has the second-highest birth rate globally, which is caused by a high infant mortality rate. According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the current infant mortality rate is 80.4 per 1,000 live births. Malnutritionment plays a vital role in children’s health and the lack of proper food and clean water contributes to the mortality rate.

According to UNICEF, married women become dependent on their husbands because their sense of independence is taken away. However, women are, more often than not, engaging in marriage during their teenage years before they are even fully mature, which would explain why their sense of independence is stricken away so early on.

Education plays an important role in child marriages in the country of Niger because the lack of knowledge makes a woman more vulnerable to risky decisions. According to UNICEF, “The link between education and the prevalence of child marriage is particularly evident in Niger: 81% of women aged 20-24 with no education and 63% with only primary education were married or in union at age 18.” The lack of children attending school is a primary reason for combatting child marriage in Niger.

Unstable Government

Niger lacks the ability to properly control and patrol its borders, making it more unprotected and defenseless to possible terrorism and criminals. The government lacks accountability in this area, making it the perfect hideaway for terrorists and drug traffickers. The more unstable the government is, the more vulnerable, yet welcoming it is to child marriages.

Although child marriage became illegal by law in 1999, it is still prevalent today and is plummeting young girls’ social and economic standing. However, with the continuous help from the organization Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), child marriages in Niger and all African countries will soon come to an end. Five female ministers in the education field created the organization in 1992 and are working toward combatting child marriage in Niger. According to FAWE, the goal is to strengthen young girls’ minds in multiple countries in Africa by increasing access to education and ensuring the caliber is up to par for them to benefit from its resources.

FAWE has expanded over the years by remaining in close contact with 34 national chapters to ensure female education grows substantially and it “relates to long-term economic development and its centrality and urgency in education sector planning.” With FAWE’s progression, among other organizations, and the government of Niger taking accountability for flawed areas within the system, young girls in Niger and in other African countries will become more educated and free of potential threats to their personal growth.

– Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in PanamaPanama — the narrow bridge of land that connects North and South America. The tropical country is renowned for its natural beauty and diverse plant, animal and bird life. Yet, all that sparkles, is not glitter. Panama’s economy is highly unequal and there’s a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Poverty in Panama is as much of a prominent feature of the country as its landscape.

Rural Poverty

Ethnicity and geographic location determine one’s poverty in Panama. Panamanians who live in rural areas do not have adequate access to resources, such as hospitals and schools. This is a result of the lack of professional doctors and teachers or mentors in rural areas.

Panama is the second worst in income distribution in Latin America, which leads to sector-specific poverty. Unpaved roads in the country make it are especially difficult for farmers. Accordingly, they do not end up selling their crops in big cities where they can earn a large income. Thus, begins a chain of poverty in Panama that devolves into poor hygiene, sanitation, child labor, malnutrition and eventually yet another generation submerged in loans.

Child Poverty

About 27.7% of Panamanian children live in poverty and 12% experience malnutrition. Failure to register children at birth causes many to go without citizenship. Thus, the government is ignorant on its exact child population and cannot justly allocate money to the “nonexistent.”

Around 15% of children are victims to early marriages. The legal age to marry in Panama is 16 for boys and 14 for girls. However, most of these children are not registered with the government, so kids are married off at ages as young as 10.

The minimum age for working in Panama is 15. Even with this being the case, 5-year-old children can be seen carrying bricks in construction sites. Severally underage workers — child laborers — even appear in big cities like Panama City and Tocumen. To earn a few dollars more, families force their children to work. However, it’s at the cost of children being mentally and physically exploited.

The Rays of Light

Panama has done much to fight poverty. From 2015-2017, poverty in Panama declined from 15.4%  to 14.1%. In the same time span, extreme poverty decreased from 6.7% to 6.6%. Additionally, there are currently multiple NGOs working to help poverty and other problems in Panama. One is to Educate Women in Panama. The organization’s goal is to help lower poverty in the future through more women and girls getting their education. Education will help these women find jobs easier, lowering the poverty rate.

The country, with aid of NGOs and the government, has the potential to bridge the income inequality gap and make itself an equitable society for all, regardless of class, region or ethnicity. Panama can be as bright and colorful as its beaches for not only the urbanites but also the rurals.

Riddhi Bhattacharya
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in KyrgyzstanPatriarchal culture and deep-rooted traditions within the country have contributed to child marriage in Kyrgyzstan. Despite the legal age for marriage being 18, an estimated 19% of girls in Kyrgyzstan are married before this age. Due to the country’s history and various social factors, child marriage in Kyrgyzstan remains an issue. Organizations such as the National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan, are fighting for girls’ rights in the country.

History of Child Marriage in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan was formerly a member of the Soviet Union. Under Soviet control, many of the traditions and values of the country were repressed. Following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, the government of Kyrgyzstan attempted to maintain power by appealing to nationalism and reviving the traditions of the country. One of these traditions was the practice of child marriage, which has seen increases in many Central Asian countries following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Factors Associated with Child Marriage

Social issues, including poverty, lack of education, cultural emphasis on honor and practices of bride kidnapping, contribute to the practice of child marriage. In Kyrgyzstan’s poorest households, 16% of girls are married as children compared to 9% of girls from families with higher incomes. Girls with primary or no education are more likely to be married by the age of 18 than girls with a more substantial education – 4% compared to 33%, respectively.

Kyrgyzstan culture emphasizes family honor and child marriage is linked to the desire to ensure that girls do not engage in premarital sex. Child marriage is also linked to the practice of bride kidnapping, where the girl is taken by force to the house of a man who wants to marry her and is slowly convinced by him and his family to agree to the marriage. An estimated 12,000 bride kidnappings occur each year and it is believed that many girls agree to child marriages in an attempt to avoid being kidnapped.

Effects of Child Marriage in Kyrgyzstan

Child marriage causes many hardships for women and girls in Kyrgyzstan. Due to the unequal nature of child marriages, domestic violence is common for child brides. Child brides often face difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth due to their young age and immature physical development. These marriages often put an end to girls’ education as they have to drop out of school to raise children and undertake domestic tasks. This limits their future ability to find jobs and become financially independent, putting them at risk of being unable to leave abusive relationships.

In addition, because child marriages are illegal under Kyrgyzstan’s laws, many of these marriages are not officially registered with the state until both parties are over the age of 18, the legal age for marriage. Since women in unregistered marriages do not have access to resources such as property, alimony and child support, they are limited in their independence and ability to leave a marriage.

The National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan

A key organization combatting child marriage in Kyrgyzstan is the National Federation of Women’s Communities of Kyrgyzstan (NFFCK). NFFCK is an organization created by teenage girls with the mission of giving girls throughout the country the tools and knowledge necessary to avoid child marriages and other forms of gender discrimination. The organization provides sex education and awareness programs regarding health issues, smoking and drugs, in addition to teaching leadership skills. NFFCK also is an advocacy organization, conducting awareness campaigns on social issues such as child marriage to create policy changes.

A grant provided to NFFCK by the U.N. Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women allowed the organization to create an educational program, Educating Girls Through Education, Art and Media, in three villages. The program had benefited 600 people as of 2016.

Over the course of just two years, NFFCK worked with 41 girls to avoid child marriage through its education and leadership-building programs. NFFCK provided nearly 500 girls with some form of “practical support” and more than 1,600 girls with “consultations on child marriage and bride kidnapping.” Overall, NFFCK has educated 12,000 girls on their rights.

Governmental Efforts to End Child Marriage

The government is also committing to do more to end child marriages. In 2016, President Almazbek Atambayev passed Article 155, which creates a legal basis for the punishment of adults who perform marriage ceremonies involving minors. The 2015-2017 National Action Plan on Gender Equality also included awareness programs for the public and the military on the harmful effects of child marriage. Still, an estimated 14% of girls under the age of 18 were married in 2019, indicating that child marriage in Kyrgyzstan remains a serious issue. With ongoing efforts and commitments from the government and organizations, child marriage in Kyrgyzstan can be successfully combated.

– Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Worldwide, governments register the identity and nationality of 73% of people at birth. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 75% of children are without birth certificates. This means that there is no record proving the identity of three in four Congolese children. Political unrest in the DRC has allowed the lack of documentation to go largely unaddressed, but the persistence of this problem deepens injustices that girls and women predominantly face. Here is some information about birth certificates and women’s rights in the DRC.

Child Marriage in the DRC

Thirty-seven percent of girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are subject to child marriage. One reason for the survival of this practice is the inability to prove that it has occurred. There is no proof of age for a girl without a birth certificate, which increases the risk that she could marry before the age of 15, the legal age for a girl to marry in the DRC. Child marriages are particularly harmful to women, as sexual violence is prevalent in the DRC. In fact, 52% of women have reported experiencing domestic violence. The DRC Family Code, enacted in 1998, details protections for women against domestic violence, but many women are unaware of the code and do not seek justice in cases of abuse. Instead, they often justify wife-beating. Documenting every child born in the DRC is a small step that could reduce child marriages.

The Benefits of Birth Certificates in the DRC

Birth certificates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo provide access to a wide range of services. For example, education and healthcare are unavailable without any proof of identity. The gender gap already limits the opportunity for women to receive an education with a primary enrollment rate of 54%, and the lack of birth certificates amplifies this injustice. Birth certificates also provide proof of ancestry, which is necessary to claim an inheritance. This flaw in the DRC’s system reinforces the disparity between men and women and the frailty of women’s rights.

Cost and accessibility are two factors that have contributed to the lack of birth certificates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Registration is reported as free within 90 days of birth, but the political and economic state of the country has complicated the provision of this service and there is a fee for late registration. Bribery is not uncommon when it comes to obtaining a birth certificate. Registration centers are scarce and many Congolese families find it difficult to travel from rural regions to the urban centers where they can obtain birth certificates, with some women living six miles from the nearest center. Meanwhile, if there are not any financial or geographical barriers to a birth certificate, a woman may find herself unable to register her child because she is a victim of rape and the identity of the father is unknown.

World Vision’s Recommendations

In 2009, World Vision made three recommendations to the DRC to guide the country in addressing the lack of birth certificates issued: removing all administrative costs for registration and having zero tolerance for bribery, implementing mobile registration services and campaigning to spread awareness about the importance of registration. Improvements such as these could lighten the burden of obtaining a birth certificate for a Congolese child and simultaneously make progress in the fight for women’s rights in the DRC. People may be more likely to uphold women’s rights in the DRC if girls receive recognition by the government from birth.

– Payton Unger
Photo: Flickr

Support the Keeping Girls in School
Congresswoman Jeanne Shaheen first introduced the Keeping Girls in School Act. The bill claims to “support empowerment, economic security, and educational opportunities for adolescent girls around the world.” Specifically, the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Relations will both work and engage in the implementation of providing opportunities for adolescent girls to obtain a secondary education. This is why support for the Keeping Girls in School Act is so crucial.

Assistance Needed

Congress will also need the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in managing and assisting international matters, such as providing global security for adolescent girls in vulnerable countries. Every five years, these federal committees will meet to monitor the progress of the bill and provide input on the upcoming protocols in improving the status of the situation.

As for quantitative costs, to support the Keeping Girls in School Act requires a large financial budget to be most effective in serving those countries at-risk. Cost estimates are about $340 billion, which is a substantial amount in providing lower-income countries access to secondary education, primarily for younger girls. However, with the economic benefits of this bill, it will prove to be a fulfilling investment.

The Problem At Hand

Every year, more than 130 million girls go unenrolled in school. The U.N. predicts that this rate will increase by up to 150 million girls by 2030. For example, in Yemen, 66% of women are illiterate. Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso, only 1% of girls complete secondary school.

One factor is how many girls enter into child marriages and are not able to obtain an education. In fact, in Ethiopia, 40% of girls are likely to marry under the age of 18. Similarly, in Bangladesh, at least 42% of girls marry younger than age 18 and 22% marry younger than age 15.

Many other external factors contribute to this global crisis. For example, girls with disabilities are less likely to enroll in school and only 1% of girls from the disabled community are literate.

Infections have also proven to hinder access to secondary education for girls under the age of 18. Especially through child marriage, girls are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. More than 380,000 girls, primarily from Africa, contract HIV or develop AIDS every year. In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 80% of HIV victims among adolescents are girls. A Harvard study noted that if an extra year of secondary education was available for adolescent girls, the risk of contracting HIV would decrease by 12%.

The Economic Benefits

Although it is a large investment, the benefits will far outweigh the costs. For example, if every girl attends school for 12 years, free of cost, estimates have determined that it will generate between $15 trillion to $30 trillion globally by 2030. Moreover, each year a girl attends school, the government saves approximately 5% of its educational budget. When girls have an educational background, they are more likely to obtain jobs and careers and thus, stimulate the economy.

What Now?

It is imperative to lobby support from local, congressional leaders to support the Keeping Girls in School Act, as it can help millions of girls obtain an education. Furthermore, the bill will substantially stimulate the economy in the future. A quick method to accumulate support is to email local representatives about endorsing the bill. With this template by The Borgen Project, emailing local congressional leaders will take less than one minute and benefit more than 130 million girls that do not have access to secondary education.

Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women's Rights in ZimbabweZimbabwe is a country in Southern Africa with more than 6.6 million people living in extreme poverty. Despite its struggles with issues such as economic trouble and food insecurity, there have been significant improvements in women’s rights in Zimbabwe over the past few decades.

Legal Rights

Concerning the official laws, the national government has made some progressive changes to its constitution and policies to improve women’s rights in Zimbabwe. The official Constitution of Zimbabwe promotes gender equality by stating that men and women are equal, as well as outlawing sex or gender-based discrimination and behavior.

Throughout the 2000s, lawmakers passed numerous pieces of legislation to protect women and girls. This legislation banned marital rape in 2006 and further, legislators passed another domestic violence act in 2007. The 2007 act outlawed many traditions considered harmful to women.

However, many of these laws remain disregarded in practice due to the format of Zimbabwe’s government. Most of the laws passed are statutory, but there are also customary laws that function on a smaller scale. It is common for obedience to customary laws to occur. Yet, often, citizens disregard statutory laws or there is little to no enforcement in the first place.

Child Marriage

One of the most concerning issues in women’s rights is the high rate of child marriage. Unfortunately, many under-aged girls find themselves in early marriages, typically by force. It is estimated that “one in four girls aged 15–19 are married.”

Most of these marriages occur because of the divide between statutory and customary law. Other than civil marriage, an additional two types of customary marriage exist: registered and unregistered. These latter two types often disregard child marriage laws and force young girls into marriage.

On a positive note, Zimbabwe’s government strives to end child marriage by 2030. Additionally, various organizations such as Girl Child Network and UNICEF have provided resources to help combat these forced marriages with successful outcomes.

Women in Politics

Zimbabwe has a patriarchal, societal system that often oppresses women in both the home and the workplace. Society expects these women to follow traditional, gender roles. Thus, encouragement for women to pursue careers in politics or other influential positions is scarce.

Zimbabwe formerly had a goal of “50% representation of women in all decision making bodies by 2015,” as women are greatly underrepresented in government. However, the country has not met these quotas. Women who announce a political campaign are often met with harassment, threats and other acts of violence. These pressures discourage women from running and even force some to end their campaigns, altogether.

One organization that strives to fight this issue is the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU). Its main goal is to train and empower women in Zimbabwe to successfully run for office. To do so, WiPSU provides leadership-development workshops and other resources, as well as a group of supportive women to stand beside one another. This initiative has helped create successful campaigns and increased opportunities for women.

Looking Forward

While there is still an urgent need to improve women’s rights in Zimbabwe, it is also important to recognize the progress that has been made thus far. The women’s movement in Zimbabwe is strong and shows no sign of wavering as parties nationwide work to gain the gender equality promised by their constitution.

– Hannah Allbery
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in IndonesiaWomen in Indonesia are working hard and fighting for their rights. Recently, Indonesia ranked second in the most dangerous countries for women in the Asia-Pacific. Violence against women can happen anywhere from the slums to the richest neighborhoods. However, this has not stopped the women of Indonesia, as they continue to march — closing the inequality gap. Importantly, women’s rights in Indonesia have fierce advocates.

Child Marriage

Concerning Indonesian girls, 14% marry before their 18th birthday. This is in part, due to their society’s view of women and discriminating legislation. The Marriage Law, established in 1974, states that parents can marry their daughter off as young as 16 years old. In April of 2018, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, came forth and said that he was drafting a presidential decree that would ban child marriage. However, there has been no timeline set for the decree to be passed. Child marriage indirectly takes away a girl’s future and exposes them to a greater chance of being a victim of sexual violence. This can be directly related to the percentage of women in the workforce (51%) and the percentage of women experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime (33%).

UN Women

U.N. Women give girls and women in Indonesia the voice they deserve. This organization advocates for an end to the violence wrought against women while actively pursuing partners to respond to it. U.N. Women do so much for the women of Indonesia, from giving them access to entrepreneurship classes to directly fighting the government. This, in an attempt to hold authorities accountable for women’s rights in Indonesia. In the mix of their many programs, there is WeLearn and WeEmpower Asia, which both give women resources to integrate into the workforce. WeLearn’s goal is to improve equal learning opportunities and empower women to start their businesses. Where WeLearn encourages women into the workplace, WeEmpower Asia aims to achieve a business environment that empowers women and urges companies to adopt the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Women Making Progress

Women’s rights in Indonesia have come a long way. Women in Indonesia now march freely in their opposition to the rights they have (or lack, rather). As backstory, the reason that this big (yet slowly closing gender gap) exists is because of the country’s second dictator, Suharto. He ruled for 32 years and widened the gap exorbitantly. However, most notably, he put the mindset in place that women and men garner different treatments. Now, the gap is closing and for the better. In political parties, 30% of the cabinet must be comprised of women. Further, as mentioned above, President Joko Widodo has the highest number of women in his cabinet in the country’s history. Now, those women in the cabinet are pushing for bills like the Sexual Violence Bill, to be passed.

Thanks to Suharto, the women in Indonesia have a lot of work to do. Fighting for women’s rights is not an easy battle. As for the support of men, Gitika Bhardwaj says that “I do think there are a large number of men who are supporting gender equality in the country but unfortunately there have not been enough high-level public awareness campaigns.” In the next few years, these women leaders hope to see the inequality gap as not a tangible thing, but a thing of the past.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Flickr

Schooling During COVID-19As COVID-19 started spreading, schools around the world shut down. For countries with already poor schooling systems and low literacy rates, the pandemic created even more challenges. The world’s most illiterate countries are South Sudan with a 73% illiteracy rate, Afghanistan with a 71.9% illiteracy rate, Burkina Faso with a 71.3% illiteracy rate and Niger with a 71.3% illiteracy rate. Schooling during COVID-19 has only increased the struggles these countries face as they try to promote literacy.

Literacy is an important aspect of reducing world poverty, as countries with the lowest levels of literacy are also the poorest. This is because poverty often forces children to drop out of school in order to support their families. Since those children did not get an education, they will not be able to get a high-paying job, which requires literacy. Thus, a lack of education keeps people in poverty. If countries with low literacy rates make schooling harder to access due to COVID-19, the illiteracy rate will increase, and the cycle will continue. Below are the ways that the four least literate countries are continuing schooling during COVID-19.

South Sudan

After almost a decade of fighting due to the South Sudanese Civil War, literacy rates are already low in South Sudan, as the war inhibited access to education. The government-imposed curfew in response to COVID-19 forced children to stay home. This especially challenges girls, whose families expect them to pick up housework at home due to gender norms. The government provided school over the radio or television as a virtual alternative to schooling during COVID-19. However, impoverished children who lack access to electricity, television and radio have no other option. This lack of access to education for poor Sudanese children will further decrease literacy rates. As a result, children may be at risk of early marriage, pregnancy or entrance into the workforce.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, there was already a war going on when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, creating a barrier to education. In 2019 alone, 200,000 students stopped attending school. COVID-19 has the potential to make this problem worse. Importantly, Afghanistan’s schooling crisis affects girls the most; by upper school, only 36% of students are girls. Further, 35% of Afghan girls are forced into child marriages, and not being in school makes them three times as likely to be married under 18. If they do not finish school, there is a high chance they will never become literate.

COVID-19 may exacerbate girls’ lack of access to school. When schools shut down, the schooling system in Afghanistan moved online in order to continue schooling during COVID-19. But only 14% of Afghans have access to the internet due to poverty. Since many parents are not literate, they cannot help their children with school. School shutdowns may also decrease future school attendance, especially for girls. As such, COVID-19 will perpetuate illiteracy in Afghanistan, with many children missing out on school due to poverty.

Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, school shutdowns have put children at risk of violence. Jihadist violence, tied to Islamic militants, has increased in the country. Violence forces children out of school, with many receiving threats, thus decreasing the literacy rate. Though school was a safe space for children, COVID-19 is making this situation worse.

As an alternative for schooling during COVID-19, Burkina Faso has broadcasted lessons on the radio and TV. However, many students do not have access to these technologies. Even if they do, staying at home does not protect them from violence, which could prevent them from going to school. In Burkina Faso, many children also travel to big cities to go to school. But without their parents being able to help them economically, many are now forced to get jobs, entering the workforce early. This lowers the number of children in school as well as the country’s literacy rate.

Niger

In Niger, 1.2 million children lost access to schooling during COVID-19, lacking even a television or radio alternative. Schools have since reopened, but children still feel the impacts of this shutdown. Before COVID-19, at the start of 2020, more than two million children were not in school due to financial insecurity, early marriage or entrance into the workforce. COVID-19 forced many children to give up schooling forever, as they had to marry or begin work and fell behind in school. As a result, this lowered the country’s literacy rate.

Improving Literacy Rates During COVID-19

While COVID-19 did prevent many children from accessing the education they need, many organizations are working to help them meet this challenge. One of these organizations is Save the Children. It is dedicated to creating reliable distance learning for displaced students, support for students and a safe environment for students to learn.

COVID-19 has left many students without access to education, jeopardizing the future for many. In the countries with the highest illiteracy rates, a lower percentage of children with access to education means a lower percentage of the population that will be literate. Improving literacy rates is key reducing poverty, as it allows people to work in specialized jobs that require a higher education, which then leads to higher salaries. If literacy rates drop, poverty will only continue to increase. This makes the work of organizations like Save the Children crucial during the ongoing pandemic.

Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr