Coding in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is primarily an agricultural country, with more than 80 percent of its citizens living in rural areas. More than 108.4 million people call Ethiopia home, making it Africa’s second-largest nation in terms of population. However, other production areas have become major players in Ethiopia’s economy. As of 2017, Ethiopia had an estimated gross domestic product of $200.6 billion with the main product coming from other sources than agriculture.

Today, 1.2 million Ethiopians have access to fixed telephone lines, while 62.6 million own cell phones. The country broadcasts six public TV stations and 10 public radio shows nationally. 2016 data showed that over 15 million Ethiopians have internet access. While 15 percent of the population may not seem significant, it is a sharp increase in comparison to the mere one percent of the population with Internet access just two years prior.

Coding in Ethiopia: One Girl’s Success Story

Despite its technologically-limited environment, young tech-savvy Ethiopians are beginning to forge their own destiny and pave the way for further technological improvements. One such pioneer is teenager Betelhem Dessie. At only 19, Dessie has spent the last three years traveling Ethiopia and teaching more than 20,000 young people how to code and patenting a few new software programs along the way.

On her website, Dessie recounts some of the major milestones she’s achieved as it relates to coding in Ethiopia:

  • 2006 – she got her first computer
  • 2011- she presented her projects to government officials at age 11
  • 2013-she co-founded a company, EBAGD, whose goals were to modernize Ethiopia’s education sector by converting Ethiopian textbooks into audio and visual materials for the students.
  • 2014-Dessie started the “codeacademy” of Bahir Dar University and taught in the STEM center at the university.

United States Collaboration

Her impressive accomplishments continue today. More recently, Dessie has teamed up with the “Girls Can Code” initiative—a U.S. Embassy implemented a project that focuses on encouraging girls to study STEM. According to Dessie, “Girls Can Code” will “empower and inspire young girls to increase their performance and pursue STEM education.”

In 2016, Dessie helped train 40 girls from public and governmental schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia how to code over the course of nine months. During those nine months, Dessie helped her students develop a number of programs and projects. One major project was a website where students can, according to Dessie, “practice the previous National examinations like SAT prep sites would do.” This allows students to take practice tests “anywhere, anytime.” In 2018, UNESCO expanded a similar project by the same name to include all 10 regions in Ghana, helping to make technology accessible to more Africans than ever before.

With the continuation of programs like “Girls Can Code” and the ambition of young coders everywhere, access to technology will give girls opportunities to participate in STEM, thereby closing the technology gender gap in developing countries. Increased STEM participation will only serve to aid struggling nations in becoming globally competitive by boosting their education systems and helping them become more connected to the world in the 21st century.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Cups in Africa

Today, about 10 percent of African girls miss school because of menstruation-related issues and complications. As many individuals cannot afford feminine hygiene products from the store, they often have to resort to using rags, socks and even paper. To make matters worse, many of these adolescent girls also lack access to private toilets at school. However, things are looking up as multiple nonprofit organizations are collectively working to provide all female students with free menstrual cups in South Africa.

What is the Menstrual Cup?

Menstrual cups are a little known, but effective, feminine hygiene products made out of medical-grade silicone. Their shape resembles a small beaker. As the product can be washed, reused and can last up to a decade, it is a far more sustainable alternative, both financially and economically speaking, to its more conventional counterparts (sanitary napkins and tampons). The cups generally cost between $15 to $40. The price depends on factors such as brand, material and size.

Menstrual Cups in South Africa

Currently, there are multiple initiatives and partnerships in South Africa related to providing school girls with free menstrual cups. Perhaps most notable is the MINA Foundation.

Launched in 2015 by three women in Johannesburg, South Africa, the foundation has now partnered with over a hundred schools and distributed over 30,000 menstrual cups. By working with girls’ clubs at schools, the organization has also succeeded in delivering comprehensive menstrual and sexual health education to adolescent girls. A lively purple cartoon girl presents the information in educational videos and books.

Other Places

Menstrual cup campaigns have also sprung up in many other developing countries. Some countries, for example, are the Philippines, Nepal and India. Much of this progress has been led by a similar organization called Freedom Cups.  A team of three sisters founded the organization in 2015. It operates on a buy-one-give-one model and has since distributed over 3,000 cups in seven countries.

In addition, many for-profit companies also have their own projects and partnerships that work to support feminine hygiene. For instance, both Saalt Co. and the Diva Cup are currently partnering with various organizations. Their partnerships allow them to donate a portion of their profits to feminine hygiene advocacy organizations.

Challenges and Future Directions

The majority of data collected regarding the usage of menstrual cups has been anecdotal. However, various studies have made it quite apparent that many girls remain hesitant about the usage of the product. According to a survey conducted by the University of Chicago, 74 percent of South African school girls interviewed “were hesitant to use any product that had to be inserted into their vagina.” This is likely because many cultures consider topics surrounding menstruation and the female reproductive system to be taboo. Additionally, 79 percent of participants in the same study reported that they could not fully focus on their schoolwork when menstruating. This lack of concentration was due to the shame they felt about their condition.

Henceforth, an increase in the usage of menstrual cups among school girls would likely prove to be effective in providing an open discussion regarding the usage of the product. Furthermore, it could provoke increased dialogue about menstruation in general.

Conclusively, menstrual cups in South Africa have proven to be a force for good among adolescent girls. However, there is still work to be done to address the taboo surrounding these products for their potential to be fully exercised.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr

5 Organizations That Empower Women
Women’s empowerment in the developing world is a major tool that countries can use to alleviate socioeconomic issues like poverty and corruption. Here are the top five organizations that empower women.

5 Organizations That Empower Women

  1. Women’s Global Empowerment Fund
    The Women’s Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) is an organization committed to creating opportunities and addressing inequality, strengthening communities and families and using political, social and economic programs to support women. WGEF’s programs provide frameworks for women to create opportunities for themselves at the grassroots level. As of January 2017, WGEF’s Credit Plus Program provided more than 10,000 microcredit loans, which help women create and expand sustainable, viable businesses in developing countries. That same year, many of the WGEF’s clients applied for their fourth or fifth loans to further grow their businesses. Since its inception, WGEF’s literacy program reached more than 1,500 women in rural or poor communities, and 416 women were reached in 2016 alone. The literacy program takes place twice a week over the course of six months and costs $80 per person annually. Ten of WGEF’s clients, many of whom benefitted from the literacy program, ran for local and regional offices during national elections in 2016.
  2. Panzi Hospital
    Panzi Hospital is located in Bukavu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since its founding in 1999, it has served as a general hospital for local residents. Still, the hospital has become a well-known organization that empowers women because of its efforts to help victims of sexual violence and women suffering from complicated gynecological issues. Panzi Hospital is now comprised of four departments: obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, internal medicine and pediatrics. In 2012, the team at Panzi Hospital implemented a project to provide cervical cancer screenings to patients, the first of its kind in the region. Patients at Panzi Hospital also have access to psychological care, socioeconomic assistance and legal assistance. From 1999 to 2015, Panzi Hospital served 85,864 women. As of the end of 2015, 48,482 of the hospital’s patients were victims of some form of sexual violence. Forty to 60 percent of the women treated at Panzi Hospital cannot return to their home communities because of conflict and the stigma surrounding sexual violence and reproductive injuries. These women are housed at the hospital’s aftercare center, Maison Dorcas.
  3. Her Farm
    Her Farm is located in Nepal and supports women in the rural areas at the base of the Himalayas. The organization’s mission is to provide women with the tools they need to be self-sufficient, including access to healthcare, economic opportunities and education. Her Farm is owned and operated by women and for women; the women freely farm the land and make all the decisions regarding Her Farm themselves. Currently, Her Farm provides employment and safe living conditions for 30 women and children, and they educate 12 children daily. As a result of Her Farm’s efforts, 300 people have access to an emergency center. Annually, Her Farm has 150 visitors.
  4. Orchid Project
    Orchid Project is an organization battling female genital cutting (FGC). FGC refers to a practice that involves removing parts or all of a girl’s external genitalia, or any injuries associated with the practice. Usually, girls go through FGC before the age of five, but it can occur at any time between birth and adolescence. The practice of FGC is largely cultural; there are no religious obligations associated with FGC. Globally, the practice of FGC impacts over 200 million women and girls, with 3.9 million girls at risk annually. Today, FGC occurs in at least 45 countries worldwide. The practice is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights. Orchid Project, like other organizations that empower women, focuses on education and advocacy to eliminate FGC. The organization partners with other nonprofits like Sahiyo and Tostan on the ground in countries where FGC is still practiced to host knowledge-sharing workshops within impacted communities. This approach recognizes that FGC is a cultural phenomenon and allows the members of the community to come together and choose to abandon the practice. From 2015, Orchid Project has held 12 workshops across Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Somaliland.
  5. Equality Now
    Equality Now is committed to changing laws to promote socioeconomic change for women and girls around the world. The organization’s network of lawyers and activists are currently fighting to end female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence, human trafficking, child marriage and gender inequality. In 2017, 11 laws that Equality Now had been fighting for were changed or strengthened. The organization also provided training to 50 lawyers and judges and its supporters sent more than 21,300 advocacy letters.

Without empowering its women, no country can hope to eliminate issues like poverty. These 5 organizations that empower women are committed to ending inequality in the developing world.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG) encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands, sharing the globe’s second-largest island with Papua and West Papua. The country supports a diverse populace and variety of languages; 8.2 million Papua New Guineans speak 820 distinct languages, giving rise to various local communities and rich cultural histories. But PNG faces a number of challenges including stifling economic conditions and persisting gender inequalities. These two factors, along with others, contribute to low rates of girls’ education in Papua New Guinea.

The Gender Gap

Only 73 percent of primary school-aged and 30 percent of secondary-aged girls attend school in PNG. One can understand these strikingly low numbers in light of the country’s broader educational context; many schools lack quality equipment and while very few teachers receive adequate training, almost all manage overstuffed classrooms, according to Professor Ravinder Rena of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology. As a result, total net enrollment rates for primary and secondary school sit at 76 percent and 33 percent.

Still, Papua New Guinean boys are much more likely to enroll in school than their female counterparts. According to the U.N.’s Gender Parity Index, PNG’s most recent ratio of girls to boys in school was .91 for primary education and .76 for secondary education. This gender gap undermines Papua New Guinean girls’ access to crucial literacy, numeracy and social skills. In turn, the bulk of the country’s economic opportunities, especially in the formal sector, go to men.

Reasons for the Gap

For PNG women, economic disparities exacerbate other debilitating gender inequities. Tragically, a majority of PNG women fall victim to rape or sexual assault during their lifetime and the country’s police forces neglect most of their cases. Moreover, traditional, gender-based expectations often mean scant autonomy for females in PNG, where almost a quarter of all girls marry before the age of 18.

This subjugation of women directly relates to girls’ education in Papua New Guinea. As Carolyn Benson, Professor of International and Comparative Education at Columbia University, argues, “The need to move away from home to enroll in schools partially explains lagging rates of female enrollment, as many families fear their female children will become more vulnerable to sexual assault by moving away.”

The need to be at school, in the midst of potentially predatory teachers and male classmates, discourages families from allowing female children to pursue an education. Finally, norms encouraging and/or enforcing early marriage lead to the rigidification of traditional views that disvalue female education. Thus, girls’ education in Papua New Guinea is caught in a vicious cycle since the gap between female and male rates of enrollment contributes to the continuation of oppressive gender relations, which in turn makes the task of getting girls in school even more difficult.

The Solutions on the Table

Many are challenging this vicious cycle. Indeed, girls’ education in Papua New Guinea is a central focus in a number of recent policy initiatives.

One example is the PNG government’s decision to join the United Nations’ campaign to end violence in schools. In so doing, the PNG government will raise awareness around violence against its school attendees and encourage schools to take protective measures. If adequately resourced, these measures may make families feel better about sending their girls to school.

Another initiative is the PNG government’s comprehensive National Education Plan (NEP), which passed in 2015. The NEP has six major goals, including the improvement of teaching quality and the strengthening of local school systems. If the government reaches the former goal, it will probably experience an uptick in overall school enrollment. If it reaches the latter, female enrollment rates will likely receive a special boost, since local schools represent a safer choice for PNG families choosing where to send their daughters. The most exciting feature of the NEP is that gender equality is a cross-cutting theme throughout, meaning that the NEP will implement gender equality into each of its six goals.

Evidence suggests that rates of girls’ education in Papua New Guinea will continue to rise considering that the net rate of female primary enrollment rose six points from 2012 to 2016. If the government’s recent policies are successful and if international organizations continue to help along the way, those rising rates of enrollment will be met with better, safer schools. Thanks to the help of many, the path to gender equality in Papua New Guinea is finally coming into view and it starts with girls’ education.

– James Delegal
Photo: Flickr

Michelle Obama Quotes

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has dedicated her life to her own education and the education of others. From growing up in the slums of Chicago, to going to Princeton University, Obama’s hardwork and determination is truly inspiring.

After her time at Princeton, Obama traveled back to Chicago to work with the mayor as an assistant. Then, in 1993, she became the exclusive director for the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit organization that helps young people develop leadership skills. Her resume is extensive and includes many different titles, but Obama has kept one thing consistent: her desire to better the lives of children.

Whenever she is giving a speech, Obama makes a point to speak about education and giving back to the community. These Michelle Obama Quotes demonstrate her commitment to focusing attention on the issue of girls’ education around the world.

Michelle Obama Quotes Girls Education

  1. Obama’s initiative Global Girls Alliance, which helps women around the world receive an education, was inspired by a conference she attended in the U.K. in 2009 to speak to a group of schoolgirls about education. In the Penguin Talks U.K., an interview series with Penguin Publishings’ most influential authors, Obama answered questions about her life and her work in bettering girls’ education around the world.

    “The visit (in 2009) set my course in one of my initiatives: to work on girls education,” Obama said. “It was after that visit that I went back and said ‘we have to find a way to have these conversations around the world’ because meeting with the girls here and the girls at Mulberry just reminded me of how much talent and how much courage and how much hope there is in our girls who are struggling to do everything right, when they have so much working against them.”

  2. In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Obama was asked about the initiative she announced on the Today Show. The initiative is a clear indication of the type of platform the former First Lady wishes to take: girls’ education worldwide.

    “We want to lift up the grassroots leaders in communities all over the world who are clearing away the hurdles that too many girls face,” Obama said. “Because the evidence is clear: educating girls isn’t just good for the girls, it’s good for all of us.”

  3. In 2014, Obama gave a speech at the Brookings Institution, an institution that has been helping girl around the world receive an education. Obama not only discusses the importance of girls’ education, but the external forces that prevent girls from participating in education.

    “We really can’t take up the issue of girls education unless we are also willing to confront all of the complex issues that keep so many girls out-of-school. Issues like early and forced marriage, genital cutting,” Obama said.

  4. “A few years ago, when I had the honor of meeting Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head just for trying to go to school, this issue got really personal for me… That’s why I decided to work on global girls’ education as first lady: because right now, there are tens of millions of girls like Malala in every corner of the globe who are not in school- girls who are so bright, hardworking and hungry to learn. And that’s really the mission of the Let Girls Learn initiative.”
  5. At a conference held by Glamour entitled “The Power of Educated Girls” Obama, actress and activist Charlize Theron and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard discussed the importance of girls’ education globally.

    “If we want to end poverty, educating girls is key to all of that. You were able to leave and shine and to learn and to teach,” Obama said.

  6. Michelle Obama delivered a powerful keynote speech at the Wise 2015 World’s Innovation Summit For Girls’ Education. In her speech, she discussed the importance of girls’ education and the importance of their protection. She explained that getting girls into school is a great stride, but it’s keeping girls in schools and supplying them with resources that poses a challenge.

    “We cannot address our girls’ education crisis until we address the cultural norms and practices that devalue women’s intelligence, that silence their voices and limit their ambitions,” Obama said.

These Michelle Obama quotes encapsulate who she is, before and after being in the White House. Her work to better the education of girls all around the world is ambitious but doable. Obama gives everyone hope that making education available to girls everywhere is achievable. By using her platform and her personal story to promote girls education worldwide, Obama continues to uplift and drive girls and women all over the world.

– Andrew Valdovinos
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Brazil
In Brazil, the fight for women’s rights is still a developing movement that has not become a priority of the nation. When it comes to education, the reasons why many girls do not enroll in or stay in school goes hand in hand with the government’s slow progress in providing a sustainable foundation for the opportunity of education for all. The following 10 facts about girls’ education in Brazil show some of the triumphs and setbacks in seeking higher enrollment of girls in Brazil’s educational system.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Brazil

  1. In Brazil, the average rate of schooling among women is one year more than men. Even though women are becoming more involved in education, they experience fewer employment opportunities and lower wages than men. Women continue to earn 30 percent less than men for performing the same tasks. On a political level, women only occupy 56 seats in the Brazilian Congress while there are 594 seats total.
  2. Women are increasingly closing gender gaps in education. There are many teenage girls subject to poverty who are victims of early pregnancies that keep them from continuing their education and entering the workforce. The adolescent fertility rate in Brazil, reported in 2013, was 70 which is above the average level of 67.7 for Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the World Bank.
  3. Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and an advocate for young girls, has been working on outreach to girls in Brazil through the Malala Fund. She has rallied up a team of around 460 students as part of Apple’s coding and web development academies in Brazil that her fund launched with Apple as part of Apple’s campaign to influence the education of technical coding. The partnership between the Malala Fund and Apple strives to give girls the opportunity to create change for other girls in their communities. The Malala Fund aims to help girls increase their enrollment in schools and equip teachers and students with real-life skills to succeed.
  4. Though the investment in early childhood enrollment in schools has increased, percentages of enrollment still drop in general. The 2018 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development states that access to pre-primary and primary education has become universal among five-year-olds and six-year-olds, girls included (97 percent and 100 percent). However, later in the educational journey, only 69 percent of 15 to 19 year-olds enrolled in education. Among those adolescents, girls hold the majority for out-of-school students at 254,202 girls compared to 209,507 boys, reported in 2016 by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
  5. Gender ratios in schools in Brazil are varied. More often, in STEM-related schools, there is a larger number of boys than girls who stay enrolled. Beatriz Magalhães, a teacher at one of Apple’s developer academies, saw the issue of gender ratios first-hand at the location in Rio. She said, “there was a giant line for the men’s bathroom and not the women’s bathroom.” This might seem like a simple observation but it is significant in the conversation towards improving the educational system for girls in various fields.
  6. Some of the main reasons for why girls drop out of school and do not continue their education are that they are too busy working to support their families, they are in abusive situations or experience child marriage or prostitution. A 2015 OECD study found that 32 percent of Brazilian women do not attend secondary education.
  7. A barrier to access to education for rural girls has to do with transportation. Concerns are over whether a commute to school is safe as well as the wait for new construction of highways and roads. A program to improve the efficiency of transportation in Tocantins, Northern Brazil is called the Tocantins Integrated Regional Sustainable Development project. It aims to strengthen and develop the state and rural road networks as well as reduce gender-based violence along highways.
  8. More schools are adopting programs to combat girl drop-out rates. A 2018 article by the World Bank said that the Upper School Darcy Ribeiro “will adopt a program to raise awareness about gender and physical, psychological or sexual violence.” This school, along with five others, in particular, will be partnering with the World Bank to jumpstart the program to show the correlation between these topics. The program’s purpose is to address and educate students of the dangers in close proximity in order to prevent students from having to face them. Since their specific school is by a busy highway, girl students are especially subject to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases and prostitution rings.
  9. There is a better chance of keeping girls in school when the administration tries to engage them. For example, Principal Elizete Batista Viana, of the Upper School Darcy Ribeiro, personally contacted students who decided to leave school and tried persuading them to come back, mentioning the beneficial outcomes if they were to come back. Her efforts were successful and influential as some did arrive back to classes.
  10. The benefits of literacy among women in Brazil have proven to have lasting effects. The benefits include “greater participation in the labour market, delayed marriage and improved child and family health and nutrition.” These changes in lifestyle help reduce poverty rates and expand life opportunities.

Like many countries facing difficulties and barriers in advocating for its young girls, the origin of the problem lies in the continuation of cycles of poverty in families. Girls are often too afraid to break away from this cycle and pursue a life of their own. These 10 facts about girls’ education in Brazil show what has been possible and what more can come to fruition. Instilling the idea of education and literacy in girls at a young age has the potential to give girls the push to seek their rights to that education.

– Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Zimbabwe
Various organizations have made it a priority to increase access to girls’ education in Zimbabwe. Previously, many girls did not have the opportunity to pursue an education. However, initiatives dedicated to increasing girls’ education, particularly in Zimbabwe, are working to change that.

Zimbabwe and Education

Zimbabwe has been a progressive country in terms of providing educational opportunities for its children which shows by the significant rise in the number of children enrolled in school over the years. However, in recent decades, an increase in enrollment is becoming less common as poverty rates continue to plague the country’s rural population. The result is that girls’ education is declining in Zimbabwe, as parents are more likely to opt to send their young boys to school if given the opportunity.

While high poverty rates have led to a decrease in both male and female students, young girls are especially at risk of losing their access to education. This is because families can use girls as a source of income if they choose to marry them off.

Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) Program

Zimbabwe’s government has a program to aid poor families in funding education, though the program is often lacking in funds. This program is called the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) program.

Zimbabwe’s constitution has required that children have access to free elementary and basic education as of 2013. While enrollment increased, a report states that more than 1.2 million children between the ages of three and 16 are not enrolled in school. Additionally, a 2017 report found that at least 63 percent of children were unable to pay for their schooling and that the school subsequently sent them home.

The DREAMS Partnership

In an effort to reduce the number of children without access to school, USAID has created an initiative known as the DREAMS partnership. DREAMS stands for determined, resilient, empowered, AIDS-free, mentored and safe, and strives to keep children healthy and decrease new outbreaks of HIV/AIDS. Through this initiative, schools in rural parts of Zimbabwe have seen changes that ignite hope. One school in a rural area previously had a 40 percent enrollment from girls, but with the implementation of the DREAMS program, it has increased to a 51 percent enrollment rate.

Introducing educational family programs is a significant first step towards increasing girls’ enrollments in school. While a portion of Zimbabwe’s budget goes toward education, it largely focuses on human resources instead.

UNICEF and Girls Speak Out (GSO)

In 2016 alone, UNICEF and many of its partners took an initiative to combat the obstacles preventing many from the chance to be educated. Ninety-eight percent of the schools that UNICEF set out to help improve ended up receiving funding, meaning that more than 750,000 children received an enhanced education opportunity. More children were able to access education through improved learning materials and decreased costs for poorer students.

Anoziva Marindire, founder of the Girls Speak Out (GSO) movement, has taken a unique approach to enable girl’s education in Zimbabwe by teaching them to code. Searching for girls ranging from 14 to 24 years of age, Marindire says that computer and technology skills are more useful than one may think. The GSO program has reached over 160 girls in various cities and regions of Zimbabwe, and it is looking to expand further.

The goal of this coding initiative is to take young girls from underdeveloped communities and teach them how to create apps and use technology to their full advantage. Not only does this directly benefit these girls, but their communities as well. Because of the exploding job market in science and technology, giving girls the opportunity to learn how to code in a hands-on approach will prove to be highly beneficial to them.

Zimbabwe has and continues to make strides in the name of education for children, particularly the opportunities that are opening up for young girls throughout the country. Through multiple organization’s continued efforts, many hope that the 1.2 million children out of school will one day become zero.

– Emily Cormier
Photo: Flickr

Girls' education in Vietnam

“Girls’ education…is a primary issue in terms of breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and CEO of the group Save the Children, and this is especially true of girls’ education in Vietnam. Save the Children works in more than 120 countries to improve the lives of children and young people.

In Lao Cai province, one of the poorest regions in Vietnam, a significant number of girls lack access to basic needs. These needs include clean drinking water, toilets and basic education. Moreover, many women in the province suffer heinous human rights violations and have the highest illiteracy rates in Vietnam. Data show at least half of children 10 years old and older in Vietnam are illiterate. In fact, the illiteracy rates for girls are higher when compared to boys.

In primary school, girls’ education in Vietnam sees a high enrollment rate. However, it also sees a low attendance rate. In addition, many girls ultimately drop out of school. In more rural areas of Vietnam, low attendance rates increase due to lack of transportation. Transportation faces challenges like distance and damaged roads from wars. Furthermore, costs prevent many girls from continuing education in Vietnam. These costs include tuition and fees, plus textbooks, which are not free at secondary and tertiary levels. Instead of sending girls to school, many families more them to work and help the family. As a result, the Vietnamese government has been prioritizing gender equality and strategizing to improve girls’ education in Vietnam.

Making Improvements

The government of Vietnam has shown commitment to prioritizing and promoting gender equality. Nevertheless, the improvement of girls’ education in Vietnam remains a work in progress. To improve this, the Vietnamese government partnered with UNESCO and other developmental organizations. In particular, the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training worked with UNESCO to establish the Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam under the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

The Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam gives girls and women a platform in Vietnam to fight for their human rights. For instance, the initiative provides education, raises awareness and teaches leadership training.

As listed on the UNESCO page, the objectives of the initiative are:

  1. “Reinforce gender equality in the Education Sector planning and management to empower girls and women.”

  2. “Enhance the capacity of education officials, teachers and experts to mainstream gender equality in curriculum and teaching practices.”

  3. “Raise awareness of students, parents, community members and the media to support the enabling environment for girls’ and women’s education and gender mainstreaming.”

UNESCO and other development organizations contribute to fostering a supportive environment for girls and women in Vietnam, especially within the educational setting. In Vietnam, UNESCO aims to create a fair environment where males and females both have a future and benefit from an equal-gender system of education.

Fifita Mesui
Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in Developing CountriesThe fight against global poverty starts by investing in women.

Under the Millennium Development Goals, the world has made progress toward gender equality and women’s empowerment through equal access to primary education. However, discrimination against women still happens in every part of the world.

Current statistics show only 24 percent of women sit in national parliaments internationally. Only 13 percent of women are agricultural landholders, and over 19 percent of women from ages 15 to 49 have experienced physical and sexual violence. If this is not enough reason to treat women as equals in developing nations, consider that women make up a disproportionate 70 percent of the world’s poor.

Interventions by the United Nations, World Bank and USAID are pushing women’s empowerment projects. However, more can be done. The health and education levels of women and girls in developing countries continue to trail behind men and boys due to a lack of investment.

Economic Opportunities for Women’s Empowerment in Developing Countries

One of the most important ways to promote peace and stability is to provide economic opportunities to empower women. Through economic partnerships between public and private sectors that enable women to be part of a nation’s growing economy, research has shown a ripple effect against poverty that will extend across families and societies.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Rwanda’s pro-women empowerment reforms after the 1994 genocide have contributed immensely to the country’s recent economic success. Between 2000 and 2015 average income in Rwanda more than doubled, outpacing the average development of sub-Saharan Africa. These reforms require a 30 percent quota for women in decision-making positions, including 24 out of 80 seats reserved for women in the Lower House of Parliament. Rwanda’s women parliament members are also focused on ensuring that their girls are being educated so that they are able to lead economically.

Educational Opportunities for Women’s Empowerment in Developing Countries

Empowerment aims to move persons from oppressed powerlessness to positions of power. Education is a vital component in empowering women in developing countries. Through the provision of confidence, knowledge and skills, women can rebuild impoverished communities. Studies by the World Bank have shown that across 18 of 20 countries with the highest levels of child marriage, girls have no access to education.

Educating adolescent girls about their rights has been a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in developing countries such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

In Indonesia, the International Center for Research in Women has worked on making public spaces safer for women by creating women empowerment programs. The programs advocate for safer spaces and a workplace integrated with men and boys.

In Sri Lanka, the World Bank had been raising awareness to reduce the stigma of HIV and AIDS. Because of this, women can obtain the help that they need and decrease infant mortality associated with early child marriage.

Technological Opportunities for Women’s Empowerment

Worldwide, 200 million more men have internet access than women. Women are also 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone, a key resource in developing countries where phones provide security, mobile health care and facilitate money transfers.

Technology has great potential in closing the gender gap and empowering women in developing countries. Educating girls in STEM and IT will help women and girls pursue opportunities in these fields. For instance, in Egypt, women have developed an application called HarrassMap. The application maps out areas of high sexual assault and allows women to feel secure within their communities.

Poverty Alleviation through Women Empowerment

By empowering women to participate in growth opportunities, developing countries will accelerate their economic and social development. Working women invest 90 percent of their earnings back to their families, leading to greater health and education for their children. This, in turn, creates a cycle that sustainably alleviates poverty.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is located in sub-Saharan Africa just west of Somalia. Poverty levels have been decreasing in the country since the early 2000s, but the female education levels are still struggling to raise their percentages. The main cause of the female dropout rate, menstruation, is high in pre-teen and early teen ages. Approximately one in ten girls in Ethiopia and sub-Sahara Africa as a whole begin missing school during their menstruation cycles. The total amount of days missed adds up to an average of around twenty percent of the school year. Girls miss school during this time because of lack of access to proper menstruation hygiene products. Many girls drop out during this time while those who stay struggle to keep up in their studies. Because of this, one company aims to protect girls’ education in Ethiopia.

Stigma Attached with Menstruation

The UNICEF records that the topic of a women’s menstruation is not taught in most schools and girls do not talk with each other about it, either. Along with these factors, sanitary hygiene for women is expensive or unavailable, and more than half of Ethiopian women do not have access to the necessary menstrual supplies needed to manage their periods. Instead, most girls use dried grass or rags to deal with their periods.

Dignity Period and Freweini Mabrahtu

The company advocating practically for girls’ education in Ethiopia is called Dignity Period. Its founders are Dr. Lewis Wall and his wife. The company receives its products from the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, which is run by Freweini Mebrahtu. Mebrahtu designed a fully washable pad that can last up to two years and costs around ninety percent less than a year’s worth of disposable pads. The pads have cotton linings and waterproof backings, and they are secured to underwear with a small button and come in a discreet package that folds securely to keep them clean. Mebrahtu claims that in Ethiopia, most girls do not speak of their periods because it is considered a taboo subject and is particularly shameful.

Education on Menstruation

Not only does Mebrahtu run the factory that produces these reusable pads, but she also educates students on women’s menstruation. Her goal is to defeat the stigma around a women’s period so that girls can feel comfortable and safe about their bodies’ natural processes. Mebrahtu also educates boys for this reason. She holds an educated gathering of students at school where she teaches boys and girls about the naturalness of a woman’s period. Afterward, Mebrahtu teaches individual girls how to use the pads and keep themselves clean during their periods.

Changing the ways in which society thinks about a woman’s period is how Dignity Period is influencing girls’ education in Ethiopia. Mebrahtu wants girls to no longer feel ashamed about their body’s natural processes and to give them the freedom and ability to stay in school and be able to achieve their dreams.

– Chelsea Wolfe
Photo: Flickr