Acid Attack Survivors
Terrifying acid attacks in India are rising in number according to ABC News. Advocates for acid attack survivors estimate that around 1,000 attacks take place per year in the country. However, only 300 cases get reported due to fear of retribution. It can take up to 10 years for an abuser to face justice, and still, some get off scot-free.

Gender-Based Violence

India has more acid attacks than any other country in the world. With patriarchal arranged marriages common, unsatisfied husbands are often the perpetrators. In these attacks, a person throws acid on the woman’s face and body with the intent to disfigure her permanently. Men commit these gendered acts of violence out of jealousy, for retribution or for any “wrongdoing” that they believe has occurred.

Once a woman endures such an attack, she is expected to cover her face in public. Oftentimes, she must hide in the home of a family member since it is difficult to find employment under these circumstances. Society tends to reject disfigured acid attack survivors, who are then unable to find employment due to the prejudicial belief that they deserved the violence. As a result, it is nearly impossible for a woman to support herself or her children, which throws them into abject poverty.

An NGO for Survivors

In 2014, Make Love Not Scars (MLNS) launched in Delhi as the first nonprofit center for the rehabilitation of acid attack victims. Ria Sharma is the founder of the organization. After completing graduate work in the United Kingdom, Sharma came back to India to make a documentary film on acid attack survivors. Her work on the film inspired her to start an NGO to assist the survivors with recovery

Psychological and Physical Recovery

Sharma has stated that the main focus of the organization’s efforts is to enable acid attack survivors to recover both psychologically and socially. The survivors need to regain confidence, which is a difficult task after enduring an attack that often disfigures a person for life. The women suffer immense physical trauma as well as long-term psychological repercussions. MLNS addresses the impact of such an attack by encouraging the victims to enroll in courses that will enable them to earn a regular income. The organization also helps pay for these courses. In this way, MLNS works to alleviate global poverty by helping the victims make a living. Otherwise, the survivors would have difficulty in finding a job after such a devastating and disfiguring experience.

Funding for Medicine and Legal Aid

In addition to offering psychological aid, MLNS raises money to provide for women’s medicine, surgery and vital post-operative care. The charity also helps survivors of acid attacks connect with leading pro-bono lawyers who volunteer to help victims in India.

New Laws Help Prevent Acid Attacks

Some countries are enacting laws and restrictions that reduce the number of acid attacks. For example, in Bangladesh, these attacks have gone down in number after the death penalty was introduced for the crime. Additionally, the sale of common chemicals used in the attacks is now restricted in Bangladesh. Advocates for victims hope that similar laws will be instated in India.

MLNS Founder Honored

In 2016, Make Love Not Scars ran a campaign named #EndAcidSale, which called for a universal ban on acid sales. The campaign won a Gold Cannes Lion award in the category of film. Then in 2017, Sharma won the United Nations Bill and Melinda Gates GoalKeepers Global Goals Award, becoming the first Indian to receive the honor. Sharma has stated that MLNS would like to expand its work into other areas of gender-based violence and burn victims.

Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Abuse in South AfricaThis fall, Microsoft and other NGOs will host a hackathon aiming to create solutions for women and children facing domestic abuse in South Africa. The announcement came out during Women’s Month, with the hope to spread awareness about issues surrounding women in South Africa. South Africa has always had an alarming presence of domestic violence, and the coronavirus quarantine has increased abuse reports. Microsoft’s hackathon, however, might produce an app that has the capability to save countless women and children in South Africa from violent households.

Statistics about Domestic Abuse in South Africa

South Africa has the “highest statistics of gender-based violence in the world, including rape and domestic violence.” Domestic violence incidents were scarcely reported before the last three decades because it was considered a private affair to be sorted out among households. However, available data affirms the severity of domestic abuse in South Africa. A 1998 study by the South African Medical Council revealed that 50% out of almost 1,400 men “physically abused their female partners at their homes.”

The World Health Organization found that “60,000 women and children were victims of domestic abuse in South Africa” in 2012. On average, women in South Africa who face abuse are usually unemployed and have an almost non-existent educational background. Moreover, the same study found that the women who were victims of violent relationships were usually from rural areas. The latter piece of information is important because most help-centers or other valuable resources for abuse victims in South Africa are located in urban areas. With Microsoft’s new app, the goal is to disseminate the necessary resources and information regarding abuse to those victims who live outside of South African cities.

Domestic Abuse: The Second Pandemic

As the coronavirus runs rampant across the globe, South Africa faces a second pandemic: a massive increase in domestic violence. Following the country’s lockdown procedure in March, South Africa’s national helpline for victims doubled its usual volume, putting the number of calls from afflicted women and children over 120,000. With fewer places to seek refuge during the lockdown, women and children facing domestic violence are trapped at home. The Jones Safe House is a non-profit shelter group for abuse victims in South Africa. It has been overwhelmed by the increase in abuse cases. Every day they try to make room for another victim who managed to escape from his or her violent residence.

Microsoft’s Hackathon Against Domestic Violence

Microsoft’s [email protected] hackathon will run from September 22 to October 19. The objective is to create apps that help those who are in abusive relationships or face any form of gender-based violence. The organization will account for South Africa’s gender-based digital divide, which leaves many women with less access to certain technologies. Namely, the hackathon has a list of considerations that developers need to keep in mind:

  • “Many of those facing gender-based violence are using 3rd or 4th generation phones that are obsolete
  • Users may not have access to applications like Whatsapp or other one-touch SOS tools or applications
  • Data is expensive and not always readily available – especially in emergency situations
  • Regular load shedding means that cell towers are not always operational
  • Many women in South Africa have limited or no airtime to make calls or send SMSs
  • Many women and children do not have access to transport to find a place of safety”

Also, Microsoft has outlined some possible directions app developers can take, which include assistance, empowerment and recovery. At the end of the hackathon, the top three teams of developers will win monetary prizes. Additionally, Microsoft will grant the first-place team a contract in order to collaborate for the app’s further development.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the plight of South African abuse victims, but people have not given up hope. Those facing domestic abuse in South Africa have allies who will be working tirelessly toward virtual solutions. And by the end of the year, one might find an app online that can save thousands of lives. Microsoft’s initiative to develop an app-based solution to domestic violence is a step in the right direction, and their actions will hopefully spur other corporations to get involved.

Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in Rwanda
Rwanda started the journey to women’s empowerment earlier than the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goal 5, which encourages gender equality. Rwanda started encouraging gender equality after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and during its rebuilding. The country, therefore, developed a system that led to the appointment of more women in governmental leadership positions. This system also intensively invested in girl education. More women received encouragement to join the army and national security departments. After these interventions, the government started creating business opportunities and training for women. They were able to participate in activities that could provide them with an income. The following are some of the campaigns for gender equality that have been helping with achievements in Rwanda.

Isange One-Stop Center (IOSC)

IOSC is a national police-led center where victims of gender-based violence receive treatment and protection. Doing this helps to make sure that they can live healthy and developed lives. The program aims to provide psychosocial, medical, police and legal services. The Center provides these services to adult and child survivors of gender-based violence and child abuse occurring in the family or in the community at large. The U.N. office in Rwanda reports that there are currently 44 operating IOSCs in the country.

Parents’ Evenings (Utugoroba tw’Ababyeyi)

Parents’ Evenings are local evening gatherings that connect parents so they can discuss the community’s wellbeing. These evenings encourage conversations about fighting against gender-based violence in families. Additionally, these gatherings have discouraged different stereotypes about women and girls who faced discrimination in the local villages. These gatherings have also encouraged women to join together and invest in economic activities to generate income for them.

HeForShe Campaign

HeForShe is a U.N.-based campaign that aims to achieve global gender equality. The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, joined this campaign and committed to bridging the gender gap in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) access. This tripled the number of girls enrolled in Technical and Vocational Training and also eradicated gender-based violence. These fields are crucial for achieving gender equality in Rwanda since economic development depends on them. In 2018, HeForShe reported that the number of women with access to mobile phones increased from 35.1% in 2010 to 84% in 2016. Additionally, there was an encouragement to start different campaigns granting mentorship and career guidance to girls in technology. Examples of these campaigns include Smart Village, Girls in ICT and the Miss Geek competition. All these campaigns for gender equality supported the cause of the HeForShe campaign in Rwanda by empowering women and girls.

Rwanda is one of the few countries that is substantially improving gender equality. This is the result of intensive investments in women empowerment, girls’ education and the fight against gender-based violence. Rwanda is showing progress because its campaigns for gender equality support the nation as a whole.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in AfricaOn a world map of the distribution of COVID-19 cases, the situation looks pretty optimistic for Africa. While parts of Europe, Asia and the United States are shaded by dark colors that implicate a higher infection rate, most African countries appear faint. This has created uncertainty over whether or not the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is as severe as other continents.

Lack of Testing

A closer look at the areas wearing light shades reveals that their situation is just as obscure as the faded shades that color them. Dark spots indicate more infections in places like the U.S. However, in Africa these are usually just cities and urban locations, often the only places where testing is available.

Although insufficient testing has been a problem for countries all over the world, testing numbers are much lower in Africa. The U.S carries out 205 per 100,000 people a day. Nigeria, the most populous country, carries one test per 100,000 people every day. While 8.87% of tests come back positive in the U.S, 15.69% are positive in Nigeria (as of Aug. 4, 2020). Nigeria was one of 10 countries that carried out 80% of the total number of tests in Africa.

As a continent that accounts for 1.2 billion of the world’s population, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is even more difficult to measure without additional testing. To improve this, the African CDC has set a goal of increasing testing by 1% per month. Realizing the impossibility of reliable testing, countries like Uganda have managed to slow the spread by imposing strict lockdown measures. As a result, the percentage of positive cases in Uganda was only 0.82% (as of Aug. 4, 2020).

A Resistant Population

COVID-19 in Africa has had a lower fatality rate than any other continent. Fatality rates may even be lower than reported. Immunologists in Malawi found that 12% of asymptomatic healthcare workers were infected by the virus at some point. The researchers compared their data with other countries and estimated that death rates were eight times lower than expected.

The most likely reason for the low fatality rate is the young population. Only 3% of Africans are above 65 compared with 6% in South Asia and 17% in Europe. Researchers are investigating other explanations such as the possible immunity to variations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as higher vitamin D in Africans with more sunlight exposure.

Weak Healthcare Systems

Despite these factors, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is likely high. Under-reporting and under-equipped hospitals contribute to unreliable figures. Most hospitals are not prepared to handle a surge in cases. In South Sudan, there were only four ventilators and 24 ICU beds for a population of 12 million. Accounting for 23% of the world’s diseases and only 1% of global public health expenditure, Africa’s healthcare system was already strained.

Healthcare workers have the most risk of infection in every country. In Africa, the shortage of masks, equipment and capacity increases the infection rate further amongst healthcare workers. Africa also has the lowest physician to patient ratios in the world. As it can take weeks to recover from COVID-19, the recovery of healthcare workers means less are available to work.

Additionally, those that are at-risk and uninsured can rarely afford life-saving treatment in Africa. For example, a drug called remdesivir showed promising results in treating COVID-19. However, the cost of treatment with remdesivir is $3,120 – an unmanageable price for the majority of Africans. These factors will determine the severity of COVID-19 in Africa.

Economic and Psychological Factors

Strict lockdowns have helped some nations in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Africa but at a very great price.

Lack of technology often means that all students stop learning and many lose their jobs. More than three million South Africans have become unemployed due to the lockdown. The lockdowns have also resulted in much higher rates of domestic violence, abuse and child marriage. Many such cases go unreported and mental health services for victims or those struggling through the pandemic are unavailable. In Kenya, the U.N. has appealed for $4 million to support those affected by gender-based violence.

The slow spread of COVID-19 in Africa has allowed the continent and leaders to prepare, and the young population will lessen the impact. Although there’s reason to be hopeful, there’s no doubt that there will be an impact on Africa’s economy and future. This calls for the need of foreign assistance – not only in controlling COVID-19 in Africa but in the recovery of the continent for years to come.

Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr

Gender Violence and Domestic Abuse in AfghanistanGender violence in Afghanistan has reached epidemic levels. Due to a healthcare system in a state of crisis, victims are unlikely to come forward, and even less likely to receive care for injuries sustained from long-term abuse. Thankfully, many organizations are working to address this problem in Afghanistan.

The Facts about Gender Violence in Afghanistan

Eighty-seven percent of women have experienced one form of gender violence in Afghanistan, and 62% have experienced all 3 forms: psychological, physical and sexual. Impoverished victims are more likely to remain silent because they lack the ability to speak to a healthcare professional. Plus, they are less likely to be taken seriously. Long-term physical abuse can lead to burns, disabilities, internal bleeding and gastrointestinal disorders, among other physical and mental health problems. Sexual violence also often leads to STDs and unwanted pregnancies.

An often overlooked form of gender violence in Afghanistan is child marriage, which is extremely prevalent despite the multiple laws in place to prevent it. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that one in five girls will be forced into a union by age 18, with 5% forced to marry by age 15. The biggest concern for forced child marriages is the chance of a high-risk pregnancy, which often puts the victim’s life at risk and hinders any possibility of growth or education. Child marriage is born of poverty because impoverished families will marry their daughters off in exchange for money, or the chance of the girls marrying someone financially stable enough to provide for them. This practice dehumanizes young girls and effectively denies them human rights.

Working Against Domestic Abuse

The World Health Organization, in a new healthcare protocol for gender-based violence, defines 22 forms of abuse and sets the standards of care for healthcare professionals. The report emphasizes the seriousness of gender-based violence. However, the lack of healthcare workers in Afghanistan limits its ability to respond to this problem. Healthcare professionals are the first witness for most victims, which means that they are extremely important in making sure that the victim doesn’t go home to an unsafe situation. Witnesses are also valuable to the prosecution of the offender.

The UNFPA has trained more than 2,500 new recruits in how to spot signs of violence and respond with sensitivity to victims in Afghanistan. Along with these recruits, the UNFPA trained 875 judges and 850 healthcare staff. The UNFPA has multiple Family Protection Centers with hundreds of trained counselors, whom they dispatch to hospitals and centers for emergency care. These new centers, which allow women and girls to make discreet reports, saw over 1,400 disclosures of violence in just one year after their foundation. This is a big step forward, since Afghanistan’s government did not formally make violence against women illegal until 2009.

The Future of Girls in Afghanistan

Violence against women in Afghanistan not only common but expected. In the current environment, it is up to the country’s health ministry and the public to take women seriously and give young girls a chance to thrive. However, solutions to domestic violence don’t just have to focus on the health care and justice systems. For example, by funding STEM and political programs for young girls, the Girls LEAD Act would give girls a chance to climb out of poverty and craft a future where violence does not belong. In addition to the work being done by the UNFPA and the WHO, this act shows the potential for international action to help reduce gender violence in Afghanistan.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Pixabay

Together for Her
Over 50 female celebrities have pledged funds and support to actress Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign. The campaign’s goal is to address additional cases of gender-based violence resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns around the globe. When these lockdowns began, Charlize’s thoughts immediately turned to the people in her native South Africa. She had concerns that conditions would worsen for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

The Effects of Staying at Home

According to the United Nations Population Fund, “Six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.” Although estimates, these numbers reveal the startling consequences that women could face. There are two main ways in which this increase in domestic violence can occur. The first is disruptions in services like crisis centers and helplines. These resources can prevent abuse and help those who have experienced it. The second is the lockdowns. Women must stay at home with their abusers, forcing close contact with those who are harming them.

An Increase in Abuse

Already, there have been increases in abuse. In only the first two weeks of quarantine, calls to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence in Ukraine increased by over 25%. Ghadeer Mohammed Ibrahim Qara Bulad, the director of the Women’s Development Project at the Islamic Charitable Association in Homs, Syria, has seen cases firsthand. While raising awareness for disease prevention, she witnessed husbands beating their wives, sometimes openly in front of their children.

Together for Her

The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation and CARE to address the issue of increased domestic violence during COVID-19. Both organizations were very supportive of the cause and Together For Her. So far, the outreach project has donated $1 million to fighting the coronavirus. $500,000 of that was dedicated to the Together For Her Campaign. These funds are being distributed to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention, and advocacy work to address gender-based violence,” said Theron in an interview with Vogue.

Together for Her has united women across the fields of film, entertainment, sports and more. Some other figures who have pledged their support include Octavia Spencer, Amy Schumer, Lauren Conrad, Reese Witherspoon and Viola Davis. Many are survivors of abuse themselves. Viola Davis stated “I am a child survivor of domestic violence. It is the last of the acceptable abuses. It thrives on silence and metastasizes into lifelong trauma that can’t be quantified.” Victims of domestic abuse are continually harmed and even killed. Together for Her’s campaign to provide funds and emotional support is crucial. It lets victims know that they deserve better.

In the midst of a chaotic pandemic, issues like domestic violence often go overlooked. Fortunately, Charlize Theron’s Together For Her Campaign is working to ensure that abuse victims can receive the help and protection that they need.

Alison Ding
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women’s Access to Healthcare in Iraq
Iraq, a nation that war and devastation have plagued, has a healthcare system in a state of crisis. Doctors are fleeing the country and drugs are running low. Of a nearly $107 billion budget in 2018, only about 2% went to Iraq’s health ministry. As a result, healthcare quality is very poor, and women’s access to healthcare in Iraq is particularly limited. Many doctors attempt to purchase supplies and technology from private manufacturers, but laws require that the government provide all medical supplies.

Violence Against Women

About 96% of Iraqi citizens do not have health insurance, but 85% of women over the age of 15 are unemployed and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Iraq’s long history with misogyny, honor killings and religious ideas promoting the use of violence against women exacerbates the situation for Iraqi women, 37% of whom will experience violence from a partner or acquaintance.

Women in Iraq have little to no access to female-centered health such as OB-GYNs, counseling and crisis centers, which are generally secret or hidden. WHO has called the issue of violence against women a “global health issue of epidemic proportions,” and has created effective measures so that doctors can become more aware of abuses. In Iraq, where women are unlikely to see doctors sensitive to women’s issues, there is no guarantee of receiving assistance.

Access to Education

Another issue affecting women’s health is a lack of female doctors due to a very low rate of education among girls in Iraq. Unfortunately, little data is available to measure the number of girls who attend in school in Iraq — which is itself proof of the lack of attention to girls’ education. As of 2010, according to the last published report about female education in Iraq, only 44% of girls were enrolled in school. The report also revealed that 75% of girls dropped out before the end of primary school, and only 25% of girls who stayed in primary school made it to intermediate school.

Women’s lack of access to education has proven to be a direct link to child marriage and the exploitation of young women. About 33% of girls who have to marry have no education, and 13% only have a primary school education. Girls who are educated are more likely to recognize the signs of abuse, which gives them a chance to escape, pursue careers and experience lower risks of poverty.

US Efforts to Help

The Girls Lead Act (S.2766) aims to make education more accessible for girls in nations like Iraq. This bill will strengthen young girls’ involvement and participation in education, specifically in math, science and politics. A lack of women in leadership roles is a major factor behind misogyny and sexism in developing nations, as well as in women’s health. According to the bill, “Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision making. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.”

Writing to leaders in support of the Girls Lead Act, participating in initiatives to ban child marriage and raising awareness of gender-based violence are key ways to increase women’s access to healthcare in Iraq. These efforts may be the greatest chance that Iraqi girls have at living a prosperous life.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr