Poverty in the Fashion IndustryFashion as a feminist movement is a powerful force to lift women out of poverty. Brands that provide their female garment workers a living wage empower them to lead a dignified life. Fashion consumers advocate for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes through ethically produced clothing. Consumer brand choices have the power to uplift ethical brands that support labor sustainability and female garment workers experiencing oppression. Considering these facts, poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement means supporting women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. They produce the t-shirts with feminist quotes found in stores all over the globe. However, in 2019, Oxfam reported that 1% of Vietnamese garment workers and 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by underpaid female Bangladeshi garment workers. These workers earned 35p an hour during 54-hour workweeks amounting to 8,800 takas — well below the living wage estimate of 16,000 takas. Furthermore, the workers were exposed to harassment and abuse. The business practices of fast fashion brands highlight the imbalance between the feminist movement, consumer actions and the grim reality of garment workers.

The Feminist Movement and Fast Fashion

Fashion brands are a powerful force in ending cycles of poverty. But, fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing made by overworked and underpaid garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks for seven days a week, ranging from 10-18 hours a day. On average, the wages paid are two to five times less than what is needed for a worker and her family to live above the poverty line. The Juniper Research study predicts that online shopping fueled by COVID-19 will increase fashion sales to $4.4 trillion by 2025. Top fashion CEOs earn in four days what garment workers spend their whole life trying to make. The unfortunate truth is that fast fashion has made the richest men in the world at the expense of the most vulnerable women.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia reported that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. In other words, a living wage and fair working conditions are reasonable consumer expectations. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also reported that increasing the cost of clothing by 20 cents would allow Indian garment workers to earn a living wage. By investing more in clothing production, brands and consumers can support the global development of garment workers. This will allow workers and their families to invest in education, healthcare and their local community.

Ethical Fashion

Garment workers employed at ethical brands are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and are treated fairly. On the other hand, fast fashion workers face gender discrimination through mandatory pregnancy tests, abuse and sexual harassment. Fashion as a feminist movement has the power to address the main human rights abuse in the industry — the non-payment of a living wage.

Female empowerment is a catalyst for prosperity. The United Nations reports that investing in the education of girls and women helps global transformation. It contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty through increased productivity and improves health outcomes. Studies have shown that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family size, provide better care to their family and send their children to school.

However, poverty is an important factor in whether girls and women obtain an education. Without a living wage, poverty-stricken workers cannot afford to send their children to school and the cycle of poverty continues. Education has the power to help improve the lives of women and reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Therefore, education for girls fosters the development and empowerment of women.

Moving Forward

Poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue. Brands that invest in the talented and skilled female workforce acknowledge that living wages empower women and their local communities. Garment workers need to be placed at the forefront of the industry to negotiate better pay and working conditions. Being in leadership roles ensures that fashion as a feminist movement represents the most vulnerable around the world. The fashion industry and consumers have the power to help end global poverty, improve access to education and empower women through conscious consumerism.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

gender wage gap In “one of the most substantial moments for gender equality in New Zealand in decades,” the Equal Pay Amendment Bill was passed by the New Zealand parliament and took effect in November of 2020. This legislation intends to address pay equity, advance previous work toward pay equality and address the gender wage gap. Rather than just addressing gaps between men and women’s wages in the same professions, this bill targets differences between wages in female-dominated professions as compared to male-dominated ones.

How Equal Pay Addresses Poverty

Addressing gender wage gaps is key to fighting global poverty for numerous reasons. Not only do women tend to be in lower-paying occupations, but they also lack employment opportunities. Females are also tasked with two to 10 times the care work (housekeeping, childcare, etc.) than men. Research in developing countries shows that women lose out on $9 trillion annually due to economic inequality. As the number of women in paid work increased between 2000 and 2010 in Latin America, overall poverty fell by approximately 30%.

To truly appreciate this victory in fighting the gender wage gap in New Zealand, we can take a brief journey through the nation’s history of work toward equal pay.

New Zealand’s Work Towards Equal Pay

New Zealand National Tramways Union afforded equal pay to women in 1942. As women entered the workforce during World War II due to the shortage of male workers, the New Zealand National Tramways Union insisted women received the same pay as men. It became the nation’s first union to win equal pay for females working as tram conductors.

Almost two decades later, The Government Service Equal Pay Act was passed in 1960, thanks in part to the lobbying of the Council for Equal Pay and Opportunity (CEPO). The New Zealand government began to investigate equal pay in the country more holistically. The findings of that investigation led to the Equal Pay Act of 1972. This act gave women in both “private and public sectors” equal pay opportunities. By 1985, the gender wage gap diminished by 22%.

During that time in 1957, the collaboration among multiple New Zealand unions including the Māori Women’s Welfare League and the National Council of Women formed CEPO. The group began advocating for equal pay through raising awareness and educating people, political lobbying and more. CEPO was then revived in 1986 as the Coalition for Equal Value, Equal Pay and began work to disrupt male-dominated professions and fight for truly equitable pay for all New Zealanders.

In another effort to move the country toward pay equity as opposed to equality, the New Zealand Government formed the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles (JWG). The JWG developed principles and formal processes through which the government would field pay equity claims.

National Organisation for Women

One of the more structured groups of the women’s liberation movement in New Zealand was modeled after the National Organisation for Women in the United States. Founded in 1972 New Zealand’s National Organisation for Women (NOW) fought not just against the gender wage gap, but for gender equality in all areas of life. This includes legal protections.

Unfortunately, the organization in New Zealand didn’t have the same impact that it did in the U.S. so members decided to help in different ways. Many feminists took to community projects or attempted to tackle the gender wage gap in the corporate world.

New Zealand ranks 6th place in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2020. The Equal Pay Amendment Bill is not only an important step toward eliminating the gender wage gap in New Zealand but a great step toward narrowing gender gaps across multiple national benchmarks. This includes economic, educational, health, or political areas.

Despite a three-year stall in the nation’s gender pay gap, the New Zealand government’s continued focus on equal pay for work of equal value is bound to chip away at that gap and foster poverty reduction.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

Biden’s “Feminist Foreign Policy”The Biden administration has made gender equity a cornerstone of its domestic and foreign policy. About 61% of White House employees are women. Furthermore, the administration’s intention is to “protect and empower women around the world.” The government aims to do this by making women’s rights a key component of foreign policy. Biden’s “feminist foreign policy” would redirect national attention from military dominance to global equality by instituting new changes to systems of defense, foreign aid, immigration, trade and diplomacy.

Studies on global gender and security suggest that if the United States increases its effort to improve women’s rights abroad, countries with a greater emphasis on gender equity will be less likely to experience instability and civil war. As such, the Biden administration has the power to advocate for a more just, inclusive and peaceful world.

Feminist Foreign Policy in Other Countries

Canada and Mexico have adopted a women-friendly stance on foreign policy. Thus, Canada began a “feminist international assistance policy” that focuses on supporting the global health of women, children and adolescents in 2017. The Canadian government pledged an annual $1.4 billion to foreign governments and international organizations. This money will be used to increase access to education, healthcare and nutrition in developing countries. Approximately $700 million will go to ending gender-based violence and promoting sexual health. Furthermore, $10 million will be allocated for UNICEF to reduce female genital mutilation.

In January 2020, Mexico became the first Latin American country to adopt a feminist foreign policy. The government aims to increase global gender equity, combat gender-based violence and end inequality in social and environmental justice. In addition, Mexico plans to increase the foreign ministry staff to have at least 50% women by 2024. Moreover, the nation wants to ensure equal workplace conditions.

Additionally, France, Norway and Sweden have adopted an official feminist foreign policy overseas. Now, the U.S. will join a growing list of nations committed to promoting gender equality.

Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States

The departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and the U.S. Agency for International Development have each announced a plan to advance women empowerment in 2020. This plan promotes women’s participation in foreign diplomacy, advocates for women’s rights and ensures access to humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, Biden’s feminist foreign policy aims to establish a cohesive foundation across trade, aid, defense, diplomacy and immigration that prioritizes equality for women. The strategy would emphasize peace and security as methods of conflict resolution. It will also increase the representation of women across all branches of government.

One of President Biden’s first actions in office was to eliminate the “global gag rule.” This global gag rule limits the type of healthcare services organizations receiving U.S. foreign aid are allowed to perform. The funding restrictions limited access to all types of healthcare in low-to-middle-income countries. Moreover, this restriction exposed women to a greater risk of disease and forced them to seek unsafe health services. A major goal of the Biden administration is to reallocate financial resources in a way that levels the playing field for women. Furthermore, the administration aims to provide greater support and opportunities for women. Additionally, the U.S. government plans to use foreign aid to increase support for women in the areas of healthcare, education, workplace protections and conflict zones.

The United States is unlikely to replace a focus on military strategy with a strictly feminist foreign policy. However, promoting gender equity at home and abroad can set the stage for an increased global emphasis on women’s rights. The U.S. can reallocate more financial resources to women’s access to education, healthcare and human rights and increase women’s participation in government and diplomacy. This dual strategy aims to combat existing inequality and create a more peaceful and equitable global future.

– Eliza Browning
Photo: Flickr

Empower Indigenous WomenAt the dawn of the 21st century, women entered the world of Bolivian professional wrestling for the first time. Known as the Flying Cholitas, this group is made up entirely of indigenous women from the city of El Alto. Encapsulating the revolutionary spirit of El Alto, the Flying Cholitas act as positive role models who empower indigenous women.

The City of El Alto

El Alto is the largest city in Latin America with an indigenous majority population. Throughout Bolivia’s history, El Alto and its cholitas have been known for their revolutionary spirit. The term “cholita” is derived from “chola,” a phrase used to refer to indigenous or mixed-race women in a derogatory manner. The word “cholita” is now used in a positive light when referring to indigenous women throughout Bolivia.

El Alto, situated on a mountain overlooking Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, laid siege to it in the 1700s. It did so again in 2003, during the Bolivian Gas War, which led to the ousting of then-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Afterward, the support of El Alto’s indigenous population saw the first indigenous president, Evo Morales, elected in 2005.

The indigenous population of Bolivia has fallen victim to various forms of institutionalized racism throughout history. They have been denied various civic services, such as the right to vote and the chance at higher education. However, during his time in office, Evo Morales opened government positions to cholitas. As a result, the indigenous women were enabled to play a role in drafting the new constitution. The Flying Cholitas empower indigenous women by embodying this revolutionary spirit of the everyday cholita, making them quite popular.

What is Cholita Wrestling?

When The Flying Cholitas first formed, they served as a novelty act to increase ticket sales for the male-dominated “Titans of the Ring.” Both the male and female acts draw heavily from Mexico’s professional wrestling, known as “lucha libre.” The use of signature moves, entrance music and the hero versus villain dynamic — known as “técnicas” and “rudas,” in this case — display the influence of this format. Fans often join in the fun by jeering and splashing water on “rudas” and cheering for the “técnicas.”

The uniqueness of the cholitas helps attract sizable crowds. The wrestlers’ clothing noticeably deviates from that of “lucha libre” and other professional wrestling formats. Instead of bikinis and spandex, The Flying Cholitas wear clothes similar to ones they wear in the streets and at home. In the ring, the wrestlers will commonly wear bowler hats, long braids, shawls and pleated skirts. Cholitas display these garments to show pride in their heritage and distinguish themselves from the pants-wearing, non-indigenous women.

To become a female wrestler, candidates must undergo a year of training before receiving their certificate. In addition to allowing them to fight, the certificate is a symbol of pride: proof that they can earn money through skill and hard work.

Gender in Bolivia

Bolivia has the highest rate of domestic and sexual abuse in Latin America. In 2015, 70% of women reported having faced some form of physical or psychological abuse. The lack of financial opportunities for women often causes them to stay in these harmful relationships.

The original Flying Cholitas were abuse victims who joined the sport as an outlet for their anger. Now, these wrestlers empower indigenous women in similar situations. The wrestling matches provide a public space to witness the strength of women, especially in mixed matches where women battle men. However, the cholitas had to fight outside of the ring as well to gain more equality in the sport.

When the Flying Cholitas first started wrestling, they were unpaid and barred from using the locker room. As their popularity grew, the female wrestlers gained greater autonomy. They formed the Association for Fighting Cholitas. This allows them to organize their fights and use the facilities. Furthermore, the Flying Cholitas are now paid for their work, around $20-$25 per match. This extra income helps the wrestlers put their children through school and grants them greater freedom from their husbands.

After 20 years, the popularity of the Flying Cholitas has spread, with hotels in the area offering packages that include tickets and transit to their shows. The Flying Cholitas even travel throughout Bolivia to bring their rowdy fights to the masses and empower indigenous women across the nation.

Overall, the Flying Cholitas are a powerful influence in changing the perception of indigenous women in Bolivia. Hopefully, this group will continue to have a significant impact in the coming years.

– Riley Behlke
Photo: Flickr

Sweden’s Feminist Foreign PolicySweden, one of the Nordic countries known for its economic stability, high education rates and social mobility, has also been serving as a prime example of humanitarian-focused foreign policy. The Scandinavian nation has not participated in a single war since 1814 and is currently running one of the world’s most revolutionary foreign policies. Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is the first of its kind.

Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy

With regard to foreign policy, minority groups and underrepresented populations are often unintentionally overlooked. Sweden’s foreign policy, on the other hand, takes a modern approach, becoming the first country in the world to launch a feminist foreign policy in 2014. Sweden has a feminist government and the approach was inspired by years of efforts to promote gender equality and focuses and take heed of the voices rarely heard in the distant wars and conflicts.

Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is based on the justification that lasting peace, security and development cannot be achieved if half the world’s population is excluded. The policy is a response to the discrimination and systematic subordination that endless women and girls face daily, all over the world. By taking this approach, the Swedish government hopes to change the way the world perceives the structure of international relations in today’s globalized world.

Sweden’s International Aid

Sweden is one of the only nations that has surpassed the goal of giving 0.7% of its GNI to foreign aid and has been providing around 1% consistently since 2008. Prior to COVID-19, the developmental aid from Sweden had been mainly directed to Afghanistan, Somalia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.

What is Sida?

Sweden’s foreign policy is dedicated to helping nations worldwide accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aid provided and how it is utilized depends on the needs of each nation and the nation’s SDG standing. Sida is a Swedish government agency that works globally to fight for the improvement of SDGs in every nation and creates long-term projects that aim to do so. Strategies and policies for each country that Sweden aids are selected in accordance with each country’s needs, ensuring that foreign aid is personalized and effective.

A leader in Foreign Policy

For more than a decade, Sweden has been acting as a leader of humanitarian international relations and is now one of three nations running a feminist foreign policy. The country ensures in its every step that its actions on foreign grounds and the aid provided have positive long-term influences, rather than acting as a momentary band-aid. This type of foreign policy is an inspiring example of what is needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030 and fight global poverty, hunger and inequality worldwide.

– Anna Synakh
Photo: Flickr

Period poverty in ChinaThe monthly cost of purchasing menstrual sanitary products is not a small amount for females worldwide. “Period Poverty” refers to the inability to afford access to pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. A campaign in China, is working on addressing period poverty for its girls and women. However, it still remains a women’s rights issue globally.

The General Problem

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) reports that around 10% of young women around the world are now unable to afford period protection. FIGO also found that 12% of women have to improvise with devices that are potentially ineffective and unsafe. According to UNICEF, there are more than 500 million females that lack a proper place to change their sanitary protection during their period. Period poverty causes long-term impacts of health and hygiene for girls and women. Time management, the chance of receiving education and employment are also affected by period poverty. All of these factors influence a woman’s lifelong development and wellbeing.

Period Poverty in China

The situation of period poverty in China is not much different. Many women and young girls, especially in rural areas, cannot afford feminine hygiene products. Instead of sanitary pads, impoverished women have to use toilet paper or old cloth. Any available yet unsafe materials on hand — even bark for some women in extreme poverty — are substituted to get through the period. Unfortunately, the lack of basic menstrual knowledge and the common menstruation taboo in China only worsen the situation. It is difficult and embarrassing to practice optimal hygiene with dignity in China. As a result, many girls in rural China skip classes or even leave school once they start menstruating.

Campaign for a lower tampon tax

In recent years, the Chinese public is growing more aware of period poverty in China. They are calling for more affordable sanitary products. Additionally, the public advocates for more humanitarian public health policies that take women’s biological needs into accounts. As of 2020, the Chinese government regulates a 13% sales tax on feminine sanitary products. That is 4% higher than the 9% tax for essential daily necessities such as grain, water and contraceptives.

Many other countries, including India and Malaysia, have either exempted or reduced the tax on sanitary products. They have done so for the sake of gender equality. In response, a couple of online campaigns emerged in China in the past few years. The campaigns appeal for a lower tampon tax in the country.

The “Stand by Her” Project

Before the national public health policy can ameliorate, some philanthropists and social organizations have jumped to the cause. They have stood up first to help the low-income women in underdeveloped regions. So far, the “Stand by Her” is one of the most well-known and large-scale projects that deal with period poverty in China.

Liang Yu Stacey, a 24-year-old Chinese feminist activist, initiated the “Reassurance for Sisters Fighting the Virus” online campaign in early 2020. She aimed to raise money to provide feminine sanitary products for the health care workers fighting against COVID-19. The project then extended to a broader scale and evolved into “Stand by Her.”

“Stand by Her” is a voluntary foundation that coordinates donation, procurement and distribution of hygiene products to under-age girls in impoverished provinces. The foundation regularly sends sanitary pads to women around China. In addition, the project also hands out brochures and holds lectures in middle schools to popularize menstruation and sex education. In the first phase of 2020-2021, the team continues to plan to help more than 6,000 girls from 33 schools across China. Within 3 days of opening the donation portals, “Stand by Her” raised 368,700 RMB (54,500 USD).

The online conversations, campaigns and donations display some positive signals in the area of menstruation. Feminine hygiene is gradually breaking away from the conventional social taboo. Reducing tax on women’s menstrual products would be a win for women’s rights in China.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

female empowerment through U.N.
When Gaby Aghion founded the French fashion brand Chloé in 1952, she desired to give young women control of their destinies. While Aghion attached destiny to elegant clothing, Chloé’s recent partnership with UNICEF will expand her company’s mission. Chloé seeks to mobilize young women beyond the runway by endorsing UNICEF’s #GirlsForward campaign. All this, to increase female empowerment through U.N. partnership.

What is #GirlsForward?

The #GirlsForward campaign will optimize educational opportunities for 6.5 million girls. Chloé’s partnership with UNICEF will equip young women “with [the] digital and technology skills, entrepreneurial capacity, spirit and confidence” they need to succeed in the workforce. In March, UNICEF began implementing the #GirlsForward program in Bolivia, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Tajikistan.

Both UNICEF and Chloé recognize global gender disparities and will attempt to correct them through quality education. UNICEF claims that “one in three girls are not enrolled in secondary school” as “girls aged 10–14 tend to spend 50% of their time doing chores.” Their families do not prioritize their education but confine them to domestic spaces.

As girls mature and grow, they remain outside the educational system and do not receive equal employment opportunities. If they dare venture into the workforce, Chloé contends that women remain segregated from networks and capital, receiving only 77% of what men earn. Chloé’s efforts to remedy this disparity center in female empowerment through U.N. partnership (specifically, with UNICEF) — and seeking to amend these systemic barriers by making girls’ education a worldwide priority.

Voices of Youth Pushes for Girls’ Education

Chloé hints that “supporting girls education could help us all;” however, the organization Voices of Youth specifically outlines the potential benefits. Like Chloé and UNICEF, Voices of Youth believes girls’ education is a lifeline to their development. An affiliate of UNICEF, Voices of Youth argues that supporting girls’ education will:

  1. Decrease Both Infant and Maternal Mortality Rates: Educated women often seek proper medical care throughout their pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies.
  2. Decrease the Prevalence of Domestic Violence and Child Marriages: Voices of Youth claims, “On average, for every year a girl stays in school past fifth grade, her marriage is delayed a year.” Education enables women to marry later, giving them time to mature as they learn to care for themselves and their families.
  3. Improve Socioeconomic Growth: Educated women can escape poverty and live healthier, more productive lives. In turn, they can raise the standard of living for their families and communities. Patty Alleman, UNICEF’s Senior Gender and Development Advisor adds that girls’ education boosts economic growth by offering women resources to enhance or start businesses.

A Promising Future for All

The #GirlsForward campaign understands these benefits and yearns to educate every adolescent girl in the developing world. As Voices of Youth suggested, education will ultimately improve the lives of young girls and their communities. Chloé’s initiative to support young girls in the developing world pushes forward the agenda of female empowerment, through U.N. partnership. With UNICEF as a partner, Chloé’s mission stretches beyond fashion and will help transform young women into successful entrepreneurs, scientists and coders.

The three-year partnership began on International Women’s Day during the Paris Fashion Week — a fitting time for Chloé to expand its mission statement. Although its goals might be shifting from clothing to education, Chloé will hold fast to the teachings of its founder, helping young women around the world gain control of their destinies.

– Kyler Juarez
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ghanaian women in poverty
It is undeniable that, right now, the makeup, skincare and haircare industries are flourishing globally and are predicted to continue their economic rise well into the future. According to Euromonitor International, in 2020, the beauty industry’s net profit reached $500.5 billion — a more than 5% increase from 2019. Broken down by category: general cosmetic care earned $307 billion, skincare acquired $145.2 billion, haircare collected $79.2 billion and premium beauty earned $139 billion. The industry’s forecast predicts an annual net profit of $756.63 billion by 2026

Right now in Ghana, the beauty industry is experiencing a cultural role shift and growth in profit. The increasing population of young people is beginning to explore skin, beauty and hair care — and they’re looking locally. As this industry grows, Ghana-based brands are looking to do more than just provide beauty products. Through outreach programs and innovative business plans and programs, personal care companies are working to provide financial aid, job opportunities, equitable support and empower Ghanaian women. Here are three Ghana-based beauty brands empowering Ghanaian women in poverty.

3 Beauty Brands Empowering Ghanaian Women in Poverty

  1. FC Beauty Group Limited: Established more than 30 years ago in Ghana, FC Beauty Group Limited (FCBGL), not only provides and distributes high-quality hair and beauty products at a wholesale price to local salons but also hosts extensive outreach programs for impoverished women. FCBGL launched the Grace Amey-Obeng Foundation International in the summer of 2007. This foundation has made it a priority to aid Ghanaian women in poverty, with the purpose of providing young women an education, training and a sense of self. Through this program, FCBGL has focused its outreach to young homeless women, some of whom must engage in prostitution to financially support themselves. For women who engage in transactional sex consensually, the foundation provides them with skills to prevent difficulties in their profession. These skills include preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and exploitation. For women who do not wish to continue this work, the brand offers job prospects and training that allow them to change their economic direction. The brand continues its outreach work by partnering with the Osu Girls’ correctional facility to provide inmates with hirable skills for future economic success. FC Beauty Group Limited hosts another program titled the “Tutsi Project.” The Tutsi Project’s agenda is to act as insurance for the women who have completed FCBGL’s training programs and are now pursuing a career. Since its conception, the FC Beauty College has trained more than 6,000 economically successful students. Seed money is provided to women looking to start their own businesses. Many trainees are full-time mothers as well as entrepreneurs and FCBGL’s investment at the beginning of their career allows them to feel financially supported.
  2. Nokware Skincare: With old-school natural products and innovative ideas, the brand Nokware, meaning “truth,” creates all products from recipes and raw materials passed down through Ghanaian women’s lineage. Remaining local is an important piece of Nokware’s business plan and the brand solely uses materials that can be found and farmed by local African women. By practicing fair trade and pricing deals, Nokware can work towards its overall mission: economic inclusion. Recognizing the financial disparity many Ghanaian women face, this brand works to exclusively buy locally to put money back into the community and create a space for those who have been neglected in the workforce. By situating “community commerce” at the forefront of its company, Nokware works to stimulate the Ghanaian economy from the inside out. Empowerment of Ghanaian women in poverty is very important to Nokware Skincare. The brand works to accomplish that goal by primarily hiring women who face a substantial wage gap. Recognizing them as powerful resources, Nokware also staffs its executive boards and factory floors with Ghanaian women in an effort to minimize the prevalent wage gap in the country. The company’s “Nokware for Women” fund is an educational scholarship program available to the daughters of Nokware employees to diminish gender inequalities in education.
  3. True Moringa: Named after the extensive benefits of the plant found in northern Ghana, True Moringa is a brand that creates a diverse selection of products that all contain the oil of the True Moringa tree. On a trip with MIT’s D-Lab to Ghana, Kwai Williams and Emily Cunningham learned about the aforementioned tree, known as the “miracle tree,” from local farmers. The plant contains high levels of Vitamin A, calcium and protein. It also has the ability to grow and strengthen other crops in any climate. After learning this, Williams and Cunningham realized that the plant could minimize poverty and malnutrition in the country, and bring economic opportunities to farmers while providing consumers with high-quality skin and hair care products. The founders were aware of the lack of training, reliable commerce and income insecurity Ghanaian farmers face. As a result, they created a business plan that could compete with more established beauty brands and source locally to raise the monetary value of the brand’s contributing farmers. The company’s website states that the creation and application of the True Moringa brand has served more than 5,000 farming families, planted more than 2 million trees and increased local Ghanian farming revenue tenfold. In addition to the economic growth created through local sourcing, True Moringa allows customers to make an impact. With every purchase made, True Moringa will plant a tree which, in turn, combats deforestation and malnutrition in the small farming communities the brand works with. The True Moringa skin and hair care brand not only works to contribute to the beauty industry and empower Ghanaians by providing high-quality products, but also looks outside to create sustainable incomes and resources to empower Ghanaian women in poverty and their families.

All of these brands have created a positive impact on Ghanaian women in poverty. They have done so by looking beyond the cosmetic aspects of their products and focus on empowering women through their incomes, access to food and financial well-being. These brands have given hope to women and families for a better future, and have continued to walk alongside them as they move into a more financially secure future.

– Alexa Tironi
Photo: Flickr

poverty in BangladeshLocated next to India and Myanmar, the South Asian country of Bangladesh has the eighth-highest population in the world. In Bangladesh, more than 20% of the population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than $5 a day. Japanese clothing company UNIQLO, founded in 1949 and owned by the holding company Fast Retailing, is working to fight poverty in Bangladesh. UNIQLO is committed to the idea that creating and selling high-quality clothes can help create a sustainable society.

Social Business of Grameen UNIQLO in Bangladesh

In 2010, along with a microfinance organization called the Grameen Bank, Fast Retailing founded Grameen UNIQLO to solve health issues, unemployment and poverty in Bangladesh. Local factories that produce all goods for Grameen UNIQLO provide a safe and secure workplace that is not common in Bangladesh. The company educates partner companies on safe workplaces as well. The entire process of Grameen UNIQLO’s business, from producing and marketing to selling, takes place in the country. Moreover, all of Grameen UNIQLO’s revenue goes toward investing in local businesses, and the company distributes clothes for people in need due to poverty or natural disasters. Through creating jobs and reinvesting money for local business, Grameen UNIQLO has fought against poverty in Bangladesh.

Empowering Women to Be Independent

Grameen UNIQLO also focuses on empowering women and helping them be financially independent. Women traditionally tend to be financially dependent because of their limited opportunities in Bangladesh. The company provides job opportunities for women, who are referred to as the “Grameen Ladies.” These women get a low-interest loan from Grameen Bank to become financially independent, and they also work with UNIQLO to design clothes.

U.N. Educational Program for Women

The company also offers an educational program in collaboration with U.N. Women. In the program, female workers get training regarding workers’ rights, health and gender equality. The advanced training program for selected workers provides the class with the necessary skills for higher positions. The companies participating in this program believe that empowerment for women increases the competition and the overall quality of the community, helping to reduce poverty in Bangladesh. Importantly, Fast Retailing tries to gain a better understanding of the situation and the difficulties women face, so that it can address these issues more effectively.

$1 Million Scholarship Program

Fast Retailing launched a scholarship program at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh to help students who struggle to afford higher education. In addition to the scholarship program, the company also provides an internship opportunity for students to work at Grameen UNIQLO and visit the company in Tokyo. These students can gain experience in marketing, market research and management during the internship program.

Grameen UNIQLO and Fast Retailing have made efforts to fight against poverty in Bangladesh through retail business. They have created job opportunities, a scholarship program, investments in local businesses and programs to help women to be financially independent. Grameen UNIQLO has developed a great model for other businesses to support local communities, fight poverty and help people develop self-sufficiency.

– Sayaka Ojima
Photo: Flickr

Sonita Alizadeh’s Feminist Advocacy
Sonita Alizadeh is a 22-year-old rapper from Herat, Afghanistan. She became an advocate for humanitarian issues such as child marriage in 2014 after winning $1,000 in a U.S. music competition where she wrote a song encouraging Afgan people to vote. Sonita’s music video “Brides for Sale” also premiered in 2014 on YouTube, kickstarting her career and garnering over one million views as of 2019. This article will focus on Afghanistan’s policies on child marriage, Sonita’s history and how Sonita’s advocacy is making an impact. All of these aspects highlight the importance of Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Afganistan and Child Marriage

In 1997, the Republic of Afghanistan permitted girls under the age of 16 to marry with the consent of their father or a judge under a civil code. In 1994, the Afghanistan government set the minimum age of marriage to 18, and in 2009 passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law; yet people often do not implement protections. The advocacy organization against child marriage, Girls Not Brides, cites UNICEF’s statistics for child marriage in Afganistan as of 2017: 9 percent of girls marry by 15 and 35 percent marry by 18.

Child marriages that still happen in Afghanistan often occur for several reasons including a lack of female education, displacement, dispute settlements for rival families and traditional family values and practices.

Afghanistan has made progress such as making ending child marriage a sustainable development (SDG) goal by 2030. Afghan women, such as Sonita Alizadeh, are speaking out when the government is not helping them effectively. That is why Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy is vital; it gives the people that child marriage affects a chance to speak for themselves.

Sonita Alizadeh’s History

Sonita Alizadeh and members of her family escaped Taliban rule in Afghanistan and journeyed to Tehran, Iran. There, Sonita began creating music, although it is illegal for women to sing a solo in the country. Her music was about the hardships she had seen her friends endure in Afghanistan when their parents encouraged them to marry as young as 12.

Sonita had to advocate for herself at 16 when her mother visited her from Afghanistan. Sonita received the opportunity to return to her home country if agreed to marry. Her mother planned to have a dowry set with a man for $9,000 for Sonita as a bride. This prompted Sonita to make her first YouTube video in response to her predicament, the video “Brides for Sale.” The video got the attention of the Strongheart organization in the U.S. The group sponsored 17-year-old Sonita in 2014 with a student visa to attend Wasatch Academy in Utah on a full scholarship. Sonita’s first concert in America was in May 2015, and she began sending money home to her mother living in Afghanistan.

Sonita’s Activism

After moving to the U.S., Sonita Alizadeh used her platform to speak about child marriage. Her YouTube channel has 12 videos that range from her music to interviews to Sonita’s graduation speech from Wasatch Academy in 2018. Sonita uses her platform to educate the 11.1 thousand subscribers she had as of 2019. BBC listed Sonita as one of its 100 women people should recognize in 2015 and inspired a European documentary based on her life that premiered in 2016 and won a NETPAC Award.

Recently, Sonita debuted a new song at the 2018 Social Good Summit concert in New York City. As of 2019, Sonita attends Bard College in New York where she represented her school in the Women Warriors: The Voices of Change concert event at the Lincoln Center in September 2019. Organizations such as the Strongheart Group, Global Citizen and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization support Sonita’s Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy.

Conclusion

The voices of Afghan women are vital in battling injustice. Sonita Alizadeh’s feminist advocacy highlights the determination of one woman to empower women forced into child marriages. The light Sonita sheds on the hardships Afghan women are also valuable as a form of advocacy, making those who did not grow up with her background understand the needs of women in dire situations.

Natalie Casaburi
Photo: Flickr