Female entrepreneurs in AfghanistanIt is no secret that women’s rights in Afghanistan have been suffering due to decades of war and Taliban rule in the country. Afghan women have been denied employment, education, healthcare and basic freedoms for years and were punished violently by the Taliban for attempting to find work or go to school. Years after Taliban rule, women are picking up the pieces of a broken society that drove them and many other Afghans into severe poverty. Organizations such as the Women’s Economic Empowerment Rural Development Project (WEERDP) and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), both funded and backed by the World Bank, set up savings and loan associations in different communities to allow Afghan women to start their own business. Female entrepreneurs in Afghanistan have the potential to help the economy and poverty within the country.

Women’s Empowerment Projects of the World Bank

International Aid to Afghanistan is essential for empowering its women and bringing communities out of poverty. The World Bank has a variety of programs dedicated to poverty eradication. It implemented the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project to support Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA). VLSAs operate as a community bank that gives out micro-loans to women to create employment opportunities to sustain economic growth. Examples of businesses that have been started are hair salons, tailor shops and bakeries.

While the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program closed down in 2018, it was replaced by the WEERDP and continues to be backed by the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) to ensure steady funding.

VSLA’s are funded by the World Bank and the IDA to ensure sustainable financial institutions are available in Afghanistan, with the hope that they will partner with larger commercial banks in the future.

Benefits of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

There are roughly 275,684 Afghan women beneficiaries of the WEERDP.  Many of them have had access to financial services for the first time with the program. Many others have taken loans, learned how to repay them and have begun saving for the future. These are valuable life skills for women who were not able to enter the workforce or gain an education in the past.

With the increase of women-run businesses in Afghanistan’s rural communities, VSLA’s can begin to partner with larger banks to begin serving bigger loans to women after seeing the success of the businesses that started with micro-loans. The support of financial institutions is important to give women the confidence to become entrepreneurs, especially in a country where the percentage of women in the workforce has been statistically low. Skills like leadership, management and problem-solving are derived from starting a business and they can be spread throughout communities to strengthen the role of women in the economy.

Skills can even be passed down through generations. Building a structure with programs like the WEERDP is vital for long-term economic growth and success because it can open doors for creativity and innovation for an economy that would benefit.

The Future of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Increasing the number of women entrepreneurs with savvy financial skills can benefit the communities of Afghanistan in many ways. Successful women can begin to venture out into local politics and healthcare fields to build on their skills while sharing their talents with the community. Women have important input on what types of businesses are needed for their community and can reduce poverty in specialized ways.

Afghan women make up roughly half of the nation’s population, so their representation is needed to drive economic and societal progress. Having women be visible in the business sector can allow for gender equality to improve in Afghanistan over time, improving the development of the nation as a whole.

– Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

How the Disha Project Empowers Women in IndiaIn India—a country surging with sustained economic growth—more than two-thirds of women don’t have a profession or are outside of the workforce. This level of engagement also varies between rural and urban areas due to a divide in, among other things, access to training and schooling. Despite the growth in the past few decades in terms of education rates, as well as a similarly important decline in birth rates, women in rural India are still not as able to pursue or secure a job as their male counterparts. The Disha Project was an international effort that acted as a catalyst for improvement and provided diverse resources and plans to empower underprivileged Indian women across the nation.

The Disha Project’s Mission

The Disha Project was set out to be a three-year united effort between the United Nations Development Programme, the India Development Foundation and the IKEA Foundation. The three groups, together with their networks of experience and assets, came together to provide women in India with opportunities for income growth and management. Skills training remained the primary tool of the Disha Project and teaching women essential skills alongside separate enterprise teachings, participants were able to gain valuable and diverse knowledge that set them apart from other job seekers.

The original goals of the project included a target goal of a million women in India being introduced and linked to a growing chain of economically independent job seekers and makers. Beyond applying skills that would greatly increase the possibilities for job acquisition, the Disha Project also marked replicability and scalability as its goals, which explained the strong focus on self-sustained community growth.

The Models Used

To fulfill the intentions the Disha Project laid out for itself, planning and execution were paramount. Clement Chauvent led the Disha Project and served as the United Nations Development Programme’s chief of skills and business development. In his capacity as Disha Project’s head, he outlined four principal models by which the project would take shape. Clement detailed how model one is primarily educational, providing advice and direction for female job seekers. By surmounting this first barrier to self-sustainable economic growth, the program’s participants can begin to pursue their own aspirations much more aggressively.

The second and third models rely on the market and social networks, leading women seeking to fill these roles to established needs in professions. Additionally, by connecting mentors and those with guidance to women who wish to start with “micro-entrepreneurship,” the UNDP initiative directly provides resources and support. The final and fourth model is that of production and economic efficiency. This model seeks to unite women in India to make sure those producing salable products and practicing profitable skills can expand their reach and value as a part of the system.

Meaningful Success

For the Disha Project, countless personal stories of women in rural India initiating businesses, gaining greater social power and supporting their households and communities financially stand as testimony of success. On a larger scale, Chauvet reports, “With the support of IKEA Foundation, since 2015, 800,594 women in Delhi NCR, Haryana, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra have been enabled with employable skills.” These women in India also act as a greater example of societal change. Due to the sheer scale of the Disha Project’s impact, small systematic changes, carved in the footholds of agricultural villages and towns, will slowly become more noticeable. Each woman among the almost 900,000 participants carries within herself the tools to inform her family, engage her neighborhood and teach other women in the community. Through the efforts of organizations like the Disha Project, women are becoming more empowered worldwide, which contributes to a more secure financial future for all and paves a way forward to a world that is more equally accessible, regardless of sex.

—Alan Mathew

Photo: Flickr

Livelihoods in Brunei are ImprovingBrunei is an independent Islamic sultanate on the northern coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Some statistics about the country still remain unknown like the percentage of Bruneians that live in poverty. This is due to the fact that Brunei still does not have a poverty line as of 2018. However, one can use other means to measure Brunei’s poverty. Additionally, other data can help ascertain whether or not livelihoods in Brunei are improving their unquantified impoverished situations.

One way to look at this is the Economic Freedom Index Score (EFIS). One can think of this as Bruneians’ freedom of choice as well as their ability to acquire and use goods. Brunei’s EFIS is 66.6, and it ranks 61 out of 180 countries. Singapore, the top country, comes in at 89.4, making it the world’s most free economy in the 2020 Index. Then there is North Korea, the bottom country, which has a score of 4.2. Despite Brunei’s moderate EFIS score, the country is working to boost that number. Here are three ways livelihoods in Brunei are improving.

1. Self-Empowerment Initiatives

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah says Brunei has drafted “self-empowerment initiatives” to create more job and entrepreneurship freedoms. Oil and gas production supply 90% of government revenue and 90% of exports. However, these industries have limited job opportunities.

Now, the country strives for economic diversification to reduce reliance on oil and gas. To support these endeavors, the administration will simplify the processes to start a business and develop business regulations. The most significant changes were amending certain laws allowing businesses and investors to operate without a license and reducing the wait times for a business to open.

2. Employment

Unemployment rates — regardless of education level — are high. Although, Bruneians with a vocational background have the highest rates of unemployment. The youth are also at risk of higher rates of unemployment. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the unemployment rate among young Brunei increased from 25.3% to 28.9% in 2019 — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was the highest percentage.

A suggestion from the IMF is to invest in technology and digitalization to capitalize on the tech-savvy generation. Also, the Manpower Planning Council is setting up a labor-management information system to lower unemployment among college graduates. This will be a cooperation between government agencies, the private sector and education institutions to ensure the turnout of employable graduates.

3. Welfare

The Sultan also says that people’s welfare is of utmost importance. This assertion stems from taqwa, the basic Islamic principle of God-consciousness together with brotherhood, equality, fairness and justice. This concept is the basis of true Islamic societies.

With this in mind, livelihoods in Brunei are improving by adjusting the financial aid requirements. This effort attempts to lift benefit recipients out of poverty and continue to provide assistance to citizens who need it. With these new rules, the government will be able to map welfare recipients and learn where there is a need to advance workforce skills and job opportunities. The implementation of this new system is more important than ever before due to COVID-19 and an expected increase of benefit recipients. Now, however, Brunei authorities can better prepare themselves to leave no one behind, per taqwa.

Overall, livelihoods in Brunei are improving. The administration has focused itself on economic diversification to be less reliant on oil and gas. The unemployment rate has increased, but the country is undergoing steps to combat that with education and jobs. Also, Brunei is updating welfare programs to include further applicant information. This will assist in financial help as well as learning where education or job options are a factor in poverty.

These changes could create a cycle of prosperity and bring more Bruneians out of poverty. However, Brunei needs to create a poverty line. That way, it can more accurately assess its poverty situation and how much progress it still needs.

Heather Babka
Photo: Flickr

 Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa is a NGO based in Kenya that works to empower young Africans. They provide people with the skills necessary to become innovative and ethical leaders of Africa. The group created several leadership programs and research programs to renovate Africa. Their new program, LEAP, is a mobile phone training platform designed to train employees and students about health precautions and safety outside of the classroom setting.

Who is Amref Health Africa?

Amref Health Africa is an African led organization that works to train African workers. The NGO works to improve health care from the people in Africa while also strengthening health care systems. They partner with different organizations around the world to promote power and unity. Amref Health Africa currently collaborates with 22 global offices and 35 different programs in Africa to bolster health care efforts.

Through Amref Health Africa’s partnership with Accenture, Kentan Ministry of Health, M-Pesa Foundation, Safaricom and Mezzanine, LEAP — the mobile health learning application — was created. The application has allowed health care workers and students to work effectively outside of a classroom setting.

LEAP during the Pandemic

Recently, LEAP users employ the site to train in order to craft a COVID-19 response. The program instructs community health workers on how to raise awareness about the virus. LEAP also provides information on the best precaution methods for the community. Thanks to LEAP, health care workers have learned to take the necessary steps to promote safety and awareness in Africa. So far, over 78,000 community health workers and health workers have been trained and are using their education to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

In response to the pandemic, LEAP launched a two-month campaign in Kenya. Through the campaign,  health care workers were trained to identify, isolate and refer suspected COVID-19 cases. Participants were also taught how to identify high-risk areas and suppress the transmission of the disease.

Results

The app allows customization of the training content to fit the needs of the audience. It takes into consideration the skill level of the people using the app and modifications can be made to the language and audio section depending on user preference. LEAP allows personalization to ensure that the user has the best results with the program.

LEAP has strengthened the health care system in Africa by helping to stop the spread of the virus. The mobile training app also diminished the spread of misinformation on the virus. LEAP has provided Africa with the knowledge necessary to arm and defend themselves against COVID-19.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

DouglaPrieta Works
In many cases of migration, dangers from gangs and community violence force people to leave their homes. Migrants also tend to flee because of economic challenges and persecution. A few women in Mexico who were part of these forced removals did not want to move to a new country. It was important for these women to stay where their families, cultures and traditions existed despite difficulties like finding sustainable jobs in Mexico. As a result, they decided to move to Agua Prieta, Mexico and become a part of the family at DouglaPrieta Works.

The Beginning

DouglaPrieta Work is a self-help organization that women founded to help the poor. Specifically, the founders had the dream of procuring the means to stay in their home country through the creation of a self-sufficiency co-op. To fund this, the women sell handmade goods such as reusable bags, earrings, winter accessories, dolls and more. They sell these beautiful crafts throughout Agua Prieta, neighboring cities and even in the United States. Their efforts all center back to the main goal of promoting “a mutual-aid ethic among community members, with the goal of economic self-sufficiency.”

How it Works

The first step in economic security is education. The women at DouglaPrieta Works understand this and all self-teach. They work together to learn how to sew, knit, craft, cook and read. The women utilize these skills to then sustain themselves, their families and the co-op. To further support themselves, the group incorporated a farm next to their co-op. They use the fruits and vegetables they grow for cooking. The women encourage sustainable food security through culturally-appropriate foods based on the needs of the people in their community. The group also built a woodshop to craft furniture for the community to maximize the benefits of their surrounding resources. The co-op does not exclude the children in all of this work either. Oftentimes, their children learn the skills along with them and work with each other in school.

Actions

In 2019, they led an initiative where people in their town could donate canned goods and receive a handmade reusable bag in return. This program allowed the women of DouglaPrieta Works able to donate hundreds of canned goods to those in need. Additionally, they were able to provide reusable bags to the community in order to encourage limited plastic bag use to better the environment.

DouglaPrieta Works often provides migrants working at its co-op with funds to help them and their families survive the journey of migration. There is a nearby migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, C.A.M.E, to house the travelers. While at the co-op, many migrants work in the woodshop at AguaPrieta Works in exchange for meals, funds and friendship.

Students and groups interested in learning about the U.S./Mexico border are welcome to join the women at DouglaPrieta Works for a meal, as the women provide stories and information about the border. The power of education and inclusivity is a core value at DouglaPrieta Works.

Helping Out

Overall, incredible work is occurring in the town of Agua Prieta, Mexico. These women are sustaining themselves to stay in the country they call home and they are providing food, resources and work for migrants. Their children are able to learn and grow together, as well as eat healthy, organic meals from the garden. To learn more about the co-op, visit its website.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Young South African Artists
Since the Disney animated film debut in 1997, “The Lion King” franchise has grown to over 24 on-stage productions worldwide, grossing almost $9 billion and being experienced by over 100 million audience members. Today, the KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP) has provided support to young South African artists and helped them make their way to global stages in productions of “The Lion King.”

About “The Lion King”

Having won six Tony Awards, including for best musical, many have hailed “The Lion King” as one of the most daring and impressive musicals of all time. The success of the performance owes to the innovation of director Julie Taymor, whose experimental theatre and puppeteering experience brought the story to life through signature costume designs. All the characters of the story are animals, which headdresses, masks and puppetry represent. However, the actors are just as visible to the audience as their animal costuming with the “duality” of the characters foregrounding the talent of the actors, who are the heart of the show.

The acclaim of The Lion King also lies in its soundtrack, which the South African choral style inspired. When casting for the musical, Taymor and her producers wanted to retain the inspiration by returning to its source; in most productions of “The Lion King,” at least eight cast members are South African. In South Africa, one of “The Lion King’s” casting partners is Edmund Mhlongo, who shared in a recent interview with The Borgen Project that for South African performers, “It’s job creation for them that is permanent. As long as they are alive and healthy, they are employed by The Lion King.”

K-CAP Empowers Youth through Arts Education and Employment Opportunities

Edmund Mhlongo is the Artistic Director and founder of KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP), a nonprofit organization that aims to use the creative arts as a tool for youth empowerment, sustainable employment opportunity and community development. Founded in 1993, K-CAP centers around KwaMashu, a township 20 kilometers from the eastern seacoast that has historically experienced high crime and poverty rates. Mhlongo explained his focus on the youth of the community saying that, “I realized that most people who are involved in crime are youth. The majority of youth are very talented, and if you don’t keep them busy with something positive, they end up using that energy negatively.”

In 2003, Mholongo opened his own education center with K-CAP, the Ekhaya Multi Arts Center (K-CAP EMAC) to support young South African artists. Auditions for the school occur annually to find the most talented of the local youth, and since its founding, the center has expanded to cultivate 156 primary and secondary students, 32 of whom are full-time residents. While a full-time program director, Mhlongo himself also teaches script writing, directing and acting courses. Meanwhile, other teachers develop students’ dancing, music, drama, film or visual arts skills. Mhlongo expressed, “They are very creative. Each day I learn a lot from them. I enjoy arts education, especially for kids, I wish every school could have an arts education.”

K-CAP has prepared its students for employment in entertainment outlets such as music recording and South African TV. In fact, 23 of its alumni have gone on to perform for “The Lion King” at different international venues, including the Broadway stage in New York City.

K-CAP Festivals and Celebration of South African Culture

While training students for professional artistic careers, K-CAP EMAC also hosts annual festivals that celebrate different aspects of performance and South African culture. For example, in April, the organization hosts a Freedom Month festival, commemorating the liberation of South Africa by Nelson Mandela and the birth of constitutional democracy in 1994. In December, the annual programs conclude with K-CAP’s African Film Festival, a whole week of films that concludes with a weekend of workshops that South African artistic celebrities lead.

These festivals and partnerships serve to both inspire and enrich youth’s understanding of their craft and culture, as Mhlongo detailed, “I view arts as development and a basis of life, it starts with culture. I regard a person who doesn’t know his or her own culture like a tree without roots. For me, culture is the starting point, then arts. Arts makes you connect with the world. It speaks all languages. It has no boundaries. And during these times, I have seen arts comforting people when they are in bad situations. Arts is a critical component of society. That’s why we have TVs. People, when they’re stressed, they go and watch TV, and that is art. Or they listen to music, and that is art. Art is part of life, a way of life. The most active communities in arts are the communities with less social problems.”

A Global Arts Education: Virtual Learning and Travel

Mhlongo also sits on the National Arts Council Board of South Africa, where he acts as a development counsel and lobbies to ensure that the arts have the necessary funds and resources to continue supporting developing young artists or create the dance studios, recording studio and computer lab at K-CAP EMAC. Adjusting artistic programs to virtual platforms has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Mhlongo shared, “We’ve learned a lot through the pandemic. We never saw technology as a part of arts. But now we’ve learned. We know that technology is important, it can be easy for us to use in the arts, which opens the world for us because they can be accessible, even internationally.”

As K-CAP continues to grow in popularity and impact by helping young South African artists, Mhlongo envisions greater global opportunities for his students. He explained that “My biggest dream is that these kids can maybe annually go international. I’ve seen the kids I have taken overseas. When they come back, they come back different people. They change. They see the world differently. They learn to admire their own country, their own world, in a different way.” For these young artists, a global and artistic education prepares them for a world of creative opportunities.

– Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Cotopaxi Foundation
The Cotopaxi llama, featured on backpacks, jackets and beanies, has come to stand for more than just a brand; it is also an ideal. Cotopaxi, named after an Ecuadorian volcano, is a Utah based company that produces gear, whether that is hiking gear or clothing. Cotopaxi equips customers to face their environment. However, Cotopaxi’s impact extends far past gear. Its company regards ethical production, sustainability and humanitarian efforts as pillars of its business model. Cotopaxi sends a message with its products for people to “Do Good” through its products and the Cotopaxi Foundation.

What Sustainability Means to Cotopaxi

Angie Agle is Cotopaxi’s Director of Impact and Community Marketing. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she defined sustainability as “operating in a way that will allow future generations the resources they need to secure happy and complete futures.”

Cotopaxi pushes a conscientious business model that limits its environmental impact. It exclusively uses materials with a design to limit waste, such as its signature llama fleece or recycled fabrics. These recycled fabrics mesh together to make each product unique. The results are backpacks or coats with bright colors that stand out in any crowd.

A rip or tear in a Cotopaxi product does not mark the end of its use. Instead of encouraging customers to replace older products with new purchases, Cotopaxi implements a repairs program. The damaged item is fixed and then either resold or donated. Any profits go to the Cotopaxi Foundation. The repairs program allows materials to stay useful and significantly reduces company carbon emissions.

Sustainability, per Cotopaxi’s definition, is consideration for the future. It is not limited to environmental issues but encompasses any and all efforts to help upcoming generations. Cotopaxi’s humanitarian efforts, for example, demonstrate a second way to be “sustainable.”

The Cotopaxi Foundation

Davis Smith, CEO and co-founder of Cotopaxi, cites his childhood as the inspiration behind his company’s philanthropic purpose. Before moving to Utah, he grew up in South America witnessing firsthand how poverty can affect a community. He told Deseret News, “The people I saw every day were just as smart as me, just as hardworking and just as ambitious, but had no opportunity.” He set out to address global poverty in his own unique way; through gear. Five years after Smith founded Cotopaxi, he created an adjacent foundation called the Cotopaxi Foundation to combine giving with hiking.

Cotopaxi allocates 1% of its funds to the Cotopaxi Foundation, which then distributes those funds among carefully selected grantees, meaning that a portion of every consumer purchase goes toward doing good. Cotopaxi’s grantees cover a wide array of well-deserving causes. These include:

  1. International Rescue Committee: Cotopaxi partners with the IRC to help refugees displaced from their home countries. Due to Cotopaxi’s location, its work with IRC generally focuses on the Salt Lake area, holding educational events and contributing to the Cotopaxi Refugee Scholarship Program. To go even further, Cotopaxi connects with refugees through the IRC to offer them employment. This idea originated with Cotopaxi’s long-held tradition of writing thank you cards to customers. As the company grew, thank you cards became an unmanageable task for the existing employees. Smith turned to refugees in need of employment to fulfill the card writing task and has not looked back. The card-writing program through the IRC now includes resume help, interview training and coding instructions to facilitate further employment opportunities.
  2. Fundación Escuela Nueva: FEN is working to address educational inequities around the world. It firmly believes in the power of education to give confidence and hope to an individual and community, fighting to make sure everyone has access to those benefits. With Cotopaxi’s help, it has successfully provided education to over 45,400 children around the world.
  3. UN Foundation-Nothing but Nets: Nothing but Nets is making a big impact with a simple solution. Bed nets protect people from mosquitos while they sleep and have saved millions of lives from malaria. Cotopaxi works with Nothing but Nets to expand its organization to include more Latin American countries and save more lives.
  4. Mercy Corps: Mercy Corps’ impact extends all over the world. However, Cotopaxi’s work with the Mercy Corp centers in Columbia and Venezuela, again paying homage to Cotopaxi’s Latin American roots and namesake. Its partnerships provide Columbian and Venezuelan refugees with assistance ranging from money to medicine.
  5. Utah Refugee Services: Cotopaxi works with Utah Refugees Services to help acclimate refugees to their new environment. Cotopaxi also takes crucial steps to make refugees feel at home and find work. It regularly employs refugees through its repairs program in order to welcome refugees to the community.

The Cotopaxi Foundation allows Cotopaxi to have a two-part function: gear and good or “gear for good” as it puts it. Its donating process, being revenue-based, is special because it creates customer involvement. In fact, the buying of a hiking backpack initiates the purchaser into the giving process. This involvement does not simply make the customer temporarily satisfied with themselves, but it also sets the example of giving back and inspires further change.

Ismael: A Life Touched by Good

Ismael arrived in Utah after fleeing his home country of Uganda and spending two years in a Kenyan refugee camp. His new home offered a new set of challenges as he adjusted to the newness of everything. However, Cotopaxi met him with support, offering him a position as a thank you card writer while he looked for a more long-term occupation.

Ismeal now works as a supervisor over multiple Paradies Lagardère–owned stores. In regards to the help he received from Cotopaxi and its IRC partners, Ismael said that “They showed love for refugees … I was so amazed. Without them, it would be very hard because you know nothing.”

His story is one of many. Cotopaxi continues in its mission to leave the world better than it found it. It sustainably produces gear that hikers trust and give back to their community through the Cotopaxi Foundation. Every backpack or tent with the Cotopaxi llama emblem is inspiring change and doing good.

Abigail Gray
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

The protection of women’s’ rights and access to opportunities for economic empowerment are vital pieces to the reduction of extreme poverty. Indian women continue to face major challenges in gender equality as inferiority persists between men and women through familial relations and cultural norms. Emphasis on traditional gender roles such as taking care of the home, children, elders and religious obligations often leave women with little time to pursue educational opportunities. As a result, India has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. With a lack of education, finding employment that provides a livable wage can seem hopeless, but organizations like Shakti.ism are creating new hope.

Economic Empowerment as a Solution – Shakti.ism

Shakti.ism, a female-led social enterprise, aims to dismantle these cultural norms through economic empowerment. The organization provides employment opportunities for women in India, many of whom are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. The women work to create unique hand-crafted accessories and develop and establish themselves as artisans. The social enterprise partners with NGOs throughout India to reach as women and girls as possible. Shakti.ism is also committed to abiding by and promoting the 10 Principles of Fair Trade and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Founded by Jitna Bhagani, a survivor of gender-based violence herself, she hopes to encourage self-sustainment, independence and entrepreneurship in efforts “to break the cycle of poverty.”

Bhagani recognizes that cultural norms continue to largely impede upon the achievements and rights of women living in India. In a featured post by the Harvest Fund, Bhagani shares the stories of some of the women that Shakti.ism has helped. Many of these women are victims of discrimination as a result of the caste system. Although outlawed in 1950, it still remains deeply culturally embedded today. She notes that a lack of education, sex trafficking, familial relations and religious and cultural beliefs are some of the most prevalent causes of poverty and gender-based violence in India.

Impact

In collaboration with several NGOs, Bhagani’s Shakti.ism aims to tackle these issues by providing women with training focused on strengthening livelihood skills, compensating for a lack of formal education, a safe place to work, and alleviating dependence on male family members which reinforce societal norms. Another core goal of Shakti.ism’s mission is to provide women with the opportunity to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, granting them access to a global market, financial and emotional support and secured wages.

Shakti.ism’s partnership with several NGOs has allowed the organization’s mission to reach women living in many parts of India, including Pondicherry, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Chennai. The nonprofit organization has also partnered with another social enterprise called Basha Enterprises, allowing the mission to expand its reach to women in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Many of the women that have been employed by Shakti.ism have pursued entrepreneurship and are now participants in a global market, and working to ensure economic prosperity and a decrease in global poverty.

Future Directions

The United Nations cites that “empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Growth” which strives to end poverty. As demonstrated by the work and reach of Shakti.ism, the economic empowerment of women is vital in the mission to end global poverty.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Photography Fights Child MarriageTwelve million girls a year—or 23 girls every minute—are married before their 18th birthday. The most common factors that contribute to child marriage are poverty, lack of education and gender norms. Around the world, 21% of young women were married as minors. The prevalence of child marriage is even higher in sub-Saharan Africa, at 37% of young women. Various art forms, including photography and music, have been used to advocate for the eradication of this harmful practice. Photography fights child marriage by raising awareness for this pressing issue and empowering women to take action.

Costs of Child Marriage

When young women and girls are forced to marry, they are less likely to attend school. They are separated from their family and friends, and they are also more likely to experience life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth, suffer domestic violence and contract HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, child marriage traps these girls in a cycle of poverty, in which they and their children are less able to access opportunities for education and economic empowerment.

Photography Fights Child Marriage and Empowers Girls

Too Young to Wed, a nonprofit founded in 2012 by photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, uses photography to raise awareness of the prevalence of child marriage. This organization creates media campaigns focusing on child marriage and uses compelling photojournalism to show that the practice is a violation of human rights. The photographs have been seen by billions, and one media campaign that focused on child marriage in Nepal reached more than 9.7 million people. The photographs, alongside firsthand accounts from girls at risk of or impacted by child marriage, “inspire the global advocacy and policy-making communicates to act,” according to Sinclair.

In addition to organizing photo workshops, this organization provides leadership scholarships, vocational training and other support. The Leadership Scholarship program is especially crucial because education is vital to preventing child marriages. In the last eight years, Too Young to Wed has directly helped 600 girls, and much more indirectly, in its fight against child marriage. Sinclair told Global Citizen, “[Girls] can do all kinds of things that they can bring back to their community and then also bring them out of a level of poverty where the most extreme forms of child marriage are definitely happening.” When young women are educated, their children are more likely to be educated as well, which helps take the family out of the cycle of poverty.  Overall, Too Young to Wed uses visual evidence and storytelling to highlight the harmful impacts of child marriage, empower girls and inspire change.

Tehani Photo Workshop

Since 2016, Too Young to Wed has provided a week-long photography workshop that also functions as an immersive art therapy retreat called the Tehani Photo Workshop. Partnered with the Samburu Girls Foundation, Too Young to Wed held the first workshop in Kenya, where about 1 in 4 girls are married before the age of 18. During this workshop, 10 girls who had escaped their marriages learned how to shoot portraits, and they were able to form friendships and reclaim their narratives. To conclude the workshop, the girls presented their photographs and told their stories to more than 100 members of their community.  According to Sinclair, the workshops aim to “help [the girls] better realize their self-worth and the value of their voice.”

Music as a Tool in the Fight Against Child Marriage

In Benin, where more than 25% of girls are married before they are 18 years old, artists collaborated in 2017 to release a song and music video that highlighted this issue. UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassadors Angélique Kidjo and Zeynab Abib, along with seven other artists, composed the song as part of the national Zero Tolerance Campaign against child marriage. The song is titled “Say No to Child Marriage” and includes multiple languages so its message resonates with people within Benin and in neighboring countries. “Child marriage is a negation of children’s right to grow up free,” said Kidjo. “Every child has the right to a childhood.”

In 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund worked with music producer Moon Boots and vocalist Black Gatsby to produce a music video to speak out against child marriage in Niger, where 76% of girls are married before the age of 18. Also, according to UNICEF, Niger has the world’s highest rate of child marriage. The song, titled “Power,” promotes education as a positive alternative that can empower girls and reduce poverty in their communities. According to a Félicité Tchibindat, a UNICEF representative in Niger, it also fights against the practice of child marriage by raising awareness that “ending child marriage is possible,” even though it is a long-held social norm.

Conclusion

Although the rates of child marriage are gradually declining worldwide, it is estimated that 120 million more girls under the age of 18 will be married by 2030 if current trends continue. The coronavirus pandemic has also put up to 13 million more girls at risk of child marriage because of rising poverty rates, school closures and hindered access to reproductive health services and resources.

Twenty-five million child marriages have been prevented in the last ten years, and UNICEF attributes the decline of the practice in part to “strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes.” While photography fights child marriage, further far-reaching and powerful art initiatives, along with the work of national governments and international organizations, can continue to raise awareness, empower girls and reduce the prevalence of this practice around the world.

– Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr