girls in Malawi
The United States Agency for International Development will spend between $4.5 million and $10.4 million to encourage girls in Malawi to use birth control.

This plan intends to prevent pregnancy and STDs, especially HIV.

Part of USAID’s “Girls’ Empowerment through Education and Health Activity” plan, this grant will endow sexual and reproductive health and family planning education for young girls in Malawi. It seeks to combat the lack of HIV and sexual and reproductive health education and services.

The grant explains that “sexual acts that resulted in a pregnancy also place girls at risk for leaving school and/or contracting HIV.” Females, especially young girls, are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to men. In 2010, the HIV occurrence rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 was 4.2 percent as opposed to 1.3 percent for males.

The grant calls for more resources to teach about sexual reproductive health, HIV and family planning. USAID has stated it is important for young women to know correct information about these topics.

However, the 2010 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey exposed that even though there has been an increase in the use of modern family planning in Malawi, the HIV rate has remained.

Access to birth control and other methods does not appear to be a problem for women in Malawi.  However, Malawi ranks tenth in the world for the number living with HIV/AIDS, and ninth worldwide for the number of fatalities from HIV/AIDS.

The grant also aims to improve literacy skills for girls and access to schooling. The grant states that this will lead to more achievement for girls in school.

This initiative in Malawi is one more step in encouraging Family Planning 2020’s aim to provide 120 million more women and girls with contraceptives by 2020.

Colleen Moore

Sources: CNS News, Life Site
Photo: USAID

poverty
Poverty has many causes. While some factors exacerbate poverty, there are five predominant causes of poverty: social inequality, conflict and political instabilities, education, debt and environmental conditions. Here is a closer examination of three of these causes.

Social Inequality

The United Nations Social Policy and Development Division reports that “inequalities in income distribution and access to productive resources, basic social services, opportunities, markets, and information have been on the rise worldwide, often causing and exacerbating poverty.” Countries where inequality is rampant display poor social indicators for human development, insecurity and anxiety. Inequality keeps the poor from moving out of their socioeconomic status.

Inequality limits access to opportunities that can provide the means to escape poverty. In a speech by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kahn explains that Adam Smith, often considered the founder of modern economics, “recognized clearly that a poor distribution of wealth could undermine the free market system.” An example of this is the former apartheid government in South Africa.

Apartheid laws assign rights and space to individuals on the basis of race. In South Africa this meant that while one group was persecuted and forced into poverty, the other group was given access to opportunities that allowed them to advance economically. This increased the gap between economic classes and the amount of people in poverty.

Environmental Conditions

Environmental degradation is the decline in the quality of the natural environment through its atmosphere, land, oceans and lakes. Indigenous groups are among the worsetaffected by such degradation. These groups often depend on the environment to survive and easily fall into poverty when that environment is harmed. A major cause of environmental degradation is climate change.

One of the outcomes of climate change is hunger. The changing climate is responsible for the destruction of harvests and other resources critical to survival. Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University explains, “crop yields have detectably changed. As time goes on the poor countries that are in the warmer and drier parts of the planet will feel the crop yield decreases early.” In Oxfam’s report Suffering The Science: Climate Change, People, and Poverty, the organization warns that “Without immediate action 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost.”

Recent U.N. reports on climate change noted that “for the first time” that climate change is a threat to human security. The UN notes that the increased migration and the decrease in food are conditions that lead to conflict. The reports warn also that unless the issue is addressed, “nobody would be immune to climate change.” The report reads, “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.” Environmental degradation can not only result in poverty, but can also lead to war.

Lack of Education

Education has lifted people out of poverty and empowered communities to grow economically. A lack of education could maintain or create poverty. Senior Fellow of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Jared Bernstein explains, “economists may disagree a lot on policy, but we all agree on the ‘education premium’—the earnings boost associated with more education.”

According to the Network for international policies and cooperation in education and training, a main priority for poverty reduction is primary education. In developed countries almost all children have access to primary education, while in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa approximately 40 percent of children do not attend primary school due to poverty and a lack of access to education. Many people living in poverty in undeveloped countries must give up an education in order to make “a minimal living.” Furthermore, many families cannot afford school fees to send their children to school. This limits skill development and opportunities to escape poverty and create generational poverty.

There are many situations that lead to poverty. As we understand the causes of poverty, we can eradicate it more strategically. These are only three of many causes that must be understood to successfully meet the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. We created poverty, so we can eliminate it as well.

– Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: Poverty at Large, The Borgen Project, Oxfam, The American Prospect, The Guardian, NORRAG
Photo: The Daily Star

A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that girls have consistently achieved better grades in school than boys for decades. Despite this revolutionary finding, there is still a disproportionate amount of girls around the world who are not granted equal access to education.

What was thought to be a recent “boy crisis” of boys falling behind girls in school has proven to be false. Girls have consistently done better in school for decades without any significant change.

Data collected between 1914 and 2011 in over 30 countries has shown that girls have persistently achieved better grades in every subject across the board. The regions included range from North America, to Europe, to the Middle East and Africa, with the grades of 538,710 boys and 595,322 girls from 308 studies.

Grades given by teachers and official grade point averages were used from elementary, middle and high school, as well as undergraduate and graduate levels. The largest gap was found to be in languages and the smallest gap in math and science. Although boys tended to score higher in math and science in standardized tests, this is only the test of aptitude for a given moment, whereas school grades require hard work over longer periods of time.

Co-Author of the study, Susan Voyer, notes that this phenomenon of girls out-performing boys appears to be a well-kept secret considering how little global attention it has received.

In 2011, UNICEF found that there were 31 million primary-school-aged girls and 34 million lower-secondary-school-aged girls who were not enrolled in school. That the study took place in countries across the globe, and not exclusively in one country or even one region, proves that there is a great deal of untapped potential. Imagine how much more could be achieved globally if every girl had access to education.

The benefits of allowing girls equal access to education are endless. When girls attend school, they delay marriage and in turn delay the age of child bearing. This saves the lives of both women and their children, because there are fewer risks when girls wait until after adolescence to bear children. UNESCO found that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, maternal deaths could be reduced by 70 percent, and child deaths reduced by 15 percent if all girls completed primary school.

The benefits continue to the next generation, as girls that attended school are far more likely to send their children to school. Girls can also earn higher wages and therefore gain economic independence as a result of receiving an education. When girls complete one year of secondary education, their wages later in life increase by 25 percent.

According to UNESCO, women make up two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate people. This is unfair given the existing research that shows that if given the opportunity, girls will continuously perform better in school than boys. Although girls should not have to prove themselves in order to receive equal access to education, this study is a testament to the mass amount of potential being lost by denying girls this human right.

– Kim Tierney 

Sources: UNICEF, PsyBlog, APA, UNESCO
Photo: She Knows

cedaw
Despite having been proposed during the Carter administration, the Global Women’s Treaty (CEDAW) was never approved by the Senate. Under the current Obama administration, attention has been brought back to the United Nations treaty for ratification. Many human rights organizations have criticized the United States’ inaction with this treaty for decades.

The treaty hopes to attain full gender equality, specifically in areas of domestic violence, maternal health, economic opportunities and human trafficking. Although the U.S. prides itself on being at the forefront of human rights activism and campaigns, not ratifying the treaty seems contradictory. Only seven nations, including the U.S., have not ratified the treaty.

The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee has supported the treaty twice, but there has not been substantial support in the Senate as a whole. CEDAW acts as a guideline for countries to follow in order to eliminate gender inequality. In past years, many advancements in women’s rights have been attributed to the CEDAW framework.

With barriers to economic and social equality, countries are functioning at a fraction of their potential. CEDAW helps to alleviate these barriers, tailoring guidelines for each country based on its current landscape. For these reasons, the U.S.’ ratification would not only help solidify domestic efforts to foster gender equality, but also promote gender equality in other nations.

With nations including China, Russia, the UK and many of our NATO allied nations participating, the U.S. is one of the few to not cooperate on this issue. With U.S.’ leadership and resources, the international alliance toward improving global living conditions for women can prosper. With the approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hopefully CEDAW will pass through the Senate this year.

– Kristin Ronzi

Sources: Human Rights Watch, CEDAW 2014
Photo: Ratify CEDAW Facebook

Educating_Women

Education is the single most impactive weapon to empower women and save them from the cycle of poverty. While the gender gap in primary education has decreased over the past two decades, significant inequalities still remain. With women comprising two thirds of the illiterate population, and 2.6 million more girls out of school compared to boys around the world, now is not the time to deny females the right to a decent education.

That’s why USAID recently launched Let Girls Learn, an effort to give girls around the world access to quality education, backed by $230 million in new programs.

Based on statistics from USAID and the World Bank, here are five reasons why an investment in a girl’s education is an investment in a better world:

1. Educating Women Saves Lives
According to USAID, 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in the developing world. However, based on data from the World Bank, child mortality is reduced by 18 per thousand births with each additional year of female education. Giving young women access to education will decrease birth related deaths, as well as safeguard the health of all families. Women who complete primary school education are more likely to ensure their children are immunized, meet their children’s nutritional requirements and practice better sanitation.

2. Educating Women Increases GDP
Family earnings are increased when a wife has received an education. Educated women are better able to provide for their families, and help make smarter financial decisions. USAID reports show that one extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s future wage 10 to 20 percent. On the larger scale, USAID data reveals that when 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases on average by 3 percent.

3. Educating Women Limits Overpopulation
Investing in women’s education keeps girls in school longer. In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls will marry before they are 15. If a girl stays in school for seven or more years, on average, they will get married four years later and have two fewer children. Additionally, when women are educated about birth control, they are equipped to practice safe family planning.

4. Educating Woman Decreases Disease
Women make up nearly 52 percent of the global total of people living with HIV. A girl who completes a basic education is 3 times less likely to contract HIV/AIDS.

5. Educating Women is the right thing to do
The bottom line is: every child deserves the right to a quality education, and girls are no exception. With programs that ensure safe, quality and empowering education –like those implemented by USAID and Let Girls Learn –the world is one step closer to being a more just and equitable place.

– Grace Flaherty

Sources: USAID, USAID 2, USAID 3, World Bank
Photo: Colorado Chamber of Commerce

France's face veil ban
The European Court of Human Rights upheld France’s face veil ban on the wearing of face-covering veils in public settings. The ban, which went into effect three years ago, has caused widespread backlash from Muslim communities in France, which claim the ban imposes on their religious freedom and identity. Labeled as a means to help protect public safety and bridge social gaps, the imposition of the ban was strictly “due to the concealment of the face” and had no correlation with religious animosity, according to the Court.

A woman by the alias of S.A.S. testified against France’s face veil ban in court. A university-educated woman and French citizen, S.A.S. told the courts that she voluntarily wore the veils (the niqab, which leaves the eyes exposed, and the burqa, which covers the body from head-to-toe) and felt no pressure from her husband to wear the dress in public. S.A.S. wished to wear the veils during certain circumstances and felt the ban imposed on her religious obligation to do so.

At the time it was enacted, the Interior Ministry in Paris estimated only around 2,000 women in France still wore the niqab. This is a considerably low number for France’s Muslim community, which — at up to six million — is Europe’s largest. Only about hundreds of women have been fined for wearing the veil, which is usually at around 150 euros, or $215 US dollars.

The European Court, while aware the ban did affect certain members of the Muslim community specifically, upheld it on account of the veil’s restriction from those wearing it to show their face, which is considered a social right and safety concern. While the court denied the ban’s justification on improving public safety or women’s rights, they did agree that it improved social cohesion.

“Some people now feel entitled to attack women wearing the veil even though the infringement is no more severe than, say, a parking ticket,”  Ray said.

Nevertheless, the French government has remained satisfied with the ruling, claiming it a victory for “gender equality.”

Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Mail Online, The New York Times
Photo: Telegraph

Feminism in China
In an attempt to raise awareness about the overall inequality women in China face, various groups have been performing an assortment of “stunts” in the hopes to provoke a positive response in favor of feminism in China.

Within the past few years, displays have included women wearing wedding dresses covered in red in an effort to stand up to domestic violence, disapproving of the lack of female facilities by participating in “Occupy the Men’s Toilets” and shaving their heads to address the more demanding requirements women need to meet to attend college.

While feminism is not as widespread in China as some of these activists would like, it is by no means a new movement. In the 19th and 20th centuries, women such as Lin Zongsu fought for female suffrage and women such as Qiu Jin wrote and spoke out about the practice of footbinding and the limited education of young girls.

Li Mizai explains to a Guardian reporter that despite the plethora of past feminist figures the activists use for inspiration, “gender discrimination is getting worse.”

Only two women serve on the politiburo and “the proportion of women on the party’s 200-strong central committee has slipped to less than 5 percent, lower than in Mao’s day.” Less than a fifth of land use contacts are in or include the name of the wife, and in 2011 rights to marital property were legally reduced. Moreover, the percentage of urban working women has decreased from 77 percent to 61 percent in the past two decades.

Part of the discrimination starts at birth, and while the gender gap has decreased in the past two years, there are still 118 male births for every 100 female births.

Interviewee Xiao Men comments that although sex discrimination is illegal in the work place, companies are unlikely to receive legal punishment for such actions. She comments that “when women face discrimination they don’t fight against it because they weren’t raised this way, and even if they try to, they don’t know how to do it. I think all women know something’s wrong, but they don’t know what it is or why.”

Activists, however, have not been discouraged thus far, and keep advocating for women’s equality across the country by trying to make women recognize their right to advocate for themselves.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Global Times

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, Turkmenistan was granted independence for the first time in over 100 years.

According to data gathered by the Soviet government officials in 1991, at that time Turkmenistan’s population was nearly completely literate. Since its independence from the Soviet Union, education in Turkmenistan has significantly changed. Here are five facts about education in Turkmenistan.

1. Reform

President Berdimuhammedov, appointed in February 2007, encouraged hope for the people of Turkmenistan that reforms in education would occur. In addition, in 2007, Turkmenistan underwent an over 500 percent increase in their gross domestic product (GDP) due to increased oil and gas prices. Since 2007, the Turkmenistan government has made a number of educational reforms, such as raising the amount of compulsory education, the proliferation of “model schools” and the creation of curriculum guides.

2. Attendance

In Turkmenistan, there is a primary school attendance rate of 97 percent. However, there is only an 85 percent attendance rate for secondary schools.

3. Equality

Despite the relatively high percentage of attendance, education in Turkmenistan is not equal for all citizens. While there is near gender equality, there is significantly higher attendance in urban instead of rural areas. Enrollment in primary education is at 67 percent for Turkmenistan’s capital city, Ashgahat, but only 11 percent for Lebap, a rural region.

4. Completion

Only 0.1 percent of students who attend primary school in Turkmenistan drop out, while 0.8 percent of students in Turkmenistan repeat a grade. However, 99.8 percent of students who attend, finish primary school.

5. Infrastructure

A challenge that education in Turkmenistan is facing is the quality of its educational buildings. Due to the lack of investments in education prior to 2007, many school buildings are deteriorating. Around 15 percent of schools have structural problems that make them too dangerous to use for classes.

While there is a greater wealth access to education in Turkmenistan than in surrounding countries, there is still a necessity for further educational reforms in Turkmenistan.

— Lily Tyson

Sources: BBC, CountryStudies, UNICEF
Photo: Flickr

June 6 is the 48th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech. On this day Kennedy gave his speech at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He called it a day of affirmation, defined by the freedom for which it stood. It was an incredible statement at the time to come to a third world country ruled by apartheid and express to the people that they are human beings, and that they do matter.

Senator Kennedy went on to talk of equality and its vital importance to progress and a better world. He noted the sad reality of discrimination, and that as a result, many never reached their full potential. As Kennedy notes, it is for this reason that we lost many great contributions to the world.

It was Senator Kennedy’s desire that equal opportunity exist for all and for the simplest of reasoning: “We must do [this] for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”

Where do we stand today? Have we eliminated discrimination and the poverty and suffering it brings with it?

Ideally, we would like to think we have, but there is much work still to be done. The best way to combat this ongoing struggle is to continue to create opportunity. We do this by empowering every man and woman on earth to lift themselves out of poverty so that they may realize their potential as well.

We have had many successes with eliminating poverty, including a reduction in extreme poverty by over half since 1981. However, with 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty, there is no doubt that there is much more potential to be realized.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Kennedy spoke 48 years ago, there lives more than one-third of the world’s extreme poor. That is the equivalent of more than 400,000,000 people living in extreme poverty. The average income of these individuals is 84 cents a day.

It is discouraging to realize that of all the wealth we have amassed, we still have not eliminated extreme poverty. A 2012 report by Oxfam showed that, in 2012 alone, the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals earned enough money to end extreme poverty four times over.

This distribution of wealth does not represent the equality that Kennedy and so many others sought. The term equality encompasses more than rights and protection. It encompasses access to resources, income equality and fairness in general.

However, it is too early to get discouraged. In 2010, the world achieved Millennium Development Goal One, which was to decrease poverty in developing countries by half. The number of those living in poverty is still declining and if we as an international community keep working toward this goal, then ending extreme poverty is possible in our lifetime.

In the words of Kennedy on this day 48 years ago, “they are hoping and they are gambling their progress and their stability on the chance that we will meet our responsibilities to them, to help them overcome their poverty.”

– Christopher Kolezynski

Sources: Day of Affirmation Speech, The Huffington Post, Policy Mic
Photo: NPR

hadd
It is an age of progress for LGBT communities across the globe — 16 countries now federally recognize the right to marry. Eleven of those countries legalized same-sex marriage within the past five years. To be openly gay in countries like Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Spain still may not be easy. But to be openly gay in Iran is nearly impossible.

As discussion of Sharia law becomes more and more pertinent in western political spheres, it is important to be aware of its relationship to human rights. Sharia law heavily influences the Iranian constitution, which puts many on their guard. But Sharia law is not the stuff of extremism, nor is it meant to apply especially to governing bodies. It is a collection of thoughts and traditions rooted in Quran, Muslim communities by region and contemporary Muslim scholars. It is to be observed in the daily lives and prayers of practicing Muslims. It is both dynamic and open to interpretation.

Under current Sharia law, homosexuality is considered a “Hadd crime,”  a crime for which the Quran suggests a specific punishment. Proponents of more progressive thinking in Islam say that many Hadd crimes are at odds with another Islamic concept. Tajdid calls for the reform of Islamic society, in order to keep the religion pure.

Three chapters of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran relate to the punishment of homosexuality specifically. Chapters one and two define sodomy, called lavat, and the almost-as-condemnable tafkhiz.

Chapter two details the methods of proving sodomy (by confession, or the testimonies of four male witnesses. The testimonies of female witnesses are apparently unacceptable and dismissed.)A man or woman who confesses and repents may be pardoned.

Chapter three defines lesbianism and its punishments, which are slightly less than those of sodomy. A man of “age and sound mind” who commits lavat will be executed. A woman is not executed for lesbianism until her fourth offense. The method of execution is left to the judge’s discretion, but it is almost always death by hanging.

2013 saw the election of President Hassan Rouhani, a man many hoped would encourage tolerance toward minorities. Rather than adopting the vitriol of his predecessor, who claimed that, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in [the USA],” he promised to end hostility.

But a year has passed with no improvement. No efforts have been made to lessen the persecution of the LGBT community. Holistically, in fact, the number of executions in Iran has risen.

Heavy punishments for “homosexual behavior” are still firmly in place; the social climate is hardly conducive to frank discussion of sexual rights. LGBT Iranians are left with two options: to live in secrecy, or to seek asylum as refugees, leaving their country, their homes and their families behind them.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: MEHR, New York Times, Council on Foreign Relations, IRQR, Freedom to Marry
Photo: DIP Note