Female Genital Mutilation in the Central African Republic
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM has no health benefits, and in fact, it can lead to extreme health complications. This includes severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts and infections as well as complications in childbirth and the added risk of newborn deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced mutilation in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. About three million girls per year are at risk of undergoing FGM before their 15th birthday without interventions to combat the prevalence of FGM. Female genital mutilation is a common practice in the Central African Republic.

The Prevalence of FGM in the Central African Republic

FGM is widespread in the Central African Republic. The average portion of women undergoing FGM in the Central African Republic is 24% but can range from 3%-53% depending on the province, according to UNICEF. Of those cut, 52% of girls underwent the procedure between the ages of 10 and 14.

The Orchid Project’s Work to End FGM

The Orchid Project is an NGO that focuses on ending FGM throughout the world. It does this by “catalyzing the global movement to end female genital cutting,” particularly by advocating among global leaders and governments to make sure that the elimination of FGM is a priority. The Orchid Project has a goal of eliminating all FGM by 2030. The project spreads awareness of the dangers of FGM through its website.

The Murua Girl Child Education Program

The Murua Girl Child Education Program is an organization that raises awareness of child rights and promotes children’s protection from harmful practices like FGM. Seleyian Partoip, the program’s founder and director, gave a speech at the International Conference on Population Development in Nairobi, Kenya. She says, “Every time I speak about FGC [female genital cutting], I speak as a survivor of the practice… My daughter will never speak as a survivor.” The program’s vision is to preserve, promote and protect cultural practices while stopping harmful traditions. It does this by reaching out to schools and communities and educating them on the dangers of harmful practices like FGM, while also teaching people about proper hygiene, their bodies and their rights. The program is based in Kenya but also reaches out to youth in other African countries.

28 Too Many’s Work to End FGM

28 Too Many is an organization that spreads awareness of female genital mutilation in the Central African Republic and other African countries. “The more we talk the better . . . [b]ut to fully eradicate FGM we need to have the authorities on our side enforcing the law,” said Marguerite Ramadan, president of the Central African Republic Committee of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices. 

Female genital mutilation is prevalent in the Central African Republic, but, the Orchid Project, the Murua Girl Child Education Program and others are working to end it. With the right education, outreach and awareness, communities will abandon the practice of female genital mutilation. Thanks to donations, these organizations can continue working toward their goal of eliminating the practice of female genital mutilation by 2030.

Neve Walker
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria
About 20 million girls and women in Nigeria have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Female genital mutilation in Nigeria is prevalent as the country has the third-highest number of FGM cases in the world, accounting for 10% of the global total. A 2020 U.N. brief states that 20% of Nigerian women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM.

Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described FGM as the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or damage to other female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is still prevalent in about 30 countries around the world. Although FGM creates many painful long-term complications for women and girls, it continues because it provides supposed benefits for men.

“Traditionalists in Nigeria support the practice because they see it as a necessary rite of passage into womanhood which ensures cleanliness or better marriage prospects,” says Public Health Nigeria. In certain cultures, women must undergo FGM so that others consider them suitable for marriage. The fear is that women will become sexually promiscuous or unfaithful to their partners if they do not undergo FGM. Since Nigerian men pay a dowry for their brides, it is common for the bride’s father to encourage some form of FGM to make his daughter more marketable to bachelors.

FGM in Nigeria is a tradition that has been upheld for centuries to maintain male dominance. It is performed to ensure women keep their virginity, to provide men with greater pleasure during sexual intercourse and to remove genitalia that appears unattractive to the male eye. Men make decisions regarding women’s bodies without considering how their choices negatively impact women and girls.

Types of FGM

People practice multiple types of FGM worldwide. During an interview for Hello Nigeria, a medical practitioner, Nesochi Okeke, classified the various forms of female genital mutilation in Nigeria. In Type I, FGM practitioners cut off part or all of the clitoris. In Type II, the clitoris is removed and part or all of the labia minora. Type III is even more extensive, with FGM practitioners removing most of the external genitalia, including the clitoris. After the procedure, a midwife sews together what remains, leaving only a small hole for urination. The sutures symbolize that a young girl has found her husband, staying in place until she consummates her relationship.

The Dangers of FGM

The majority of FGM procedures occur with unsanitary cutting tools. Women and girls of varying ages are held down while a midwife cuts the genitalia. After the procedure ends, it is common for midwives to use dried cow dung to halt the bleeding.

According to Public Health Nigeria, the short- and long-term side effects of FGM include but are not limited to:

  • Inability to heal
  • Abscesses
  • Cysts
  • Excessive scar tissue
  • Painful sex and menstruation
  • Hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Infertility
  • Increased risk of bleeding during childbirth

Preventing FGM

In 2015, Nigeria passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act against FGM and all other gender-based violence. Although FGM is illegal in Nigeria, it is still prevalent. The patriarchal ideology has begun to shift in some countries, but the ancient value of male dominance remains.

Education plays an essential role in curbing FGM cases around the world. In 2019, UNICEF began taking action to eliminate FGM in Nigeria by 2030. To educate the Nigerian public on the harmful effects of FGM, UNICEF has organized a series of workshops. Christianah Fayomi has performed FGM procedures for nearly 29 years, charging between 500 and 1,000 nairas to circumcise an infant or child and 5,000 nairas to circumcise an adult woman. Because of UNICEF’s workshops, she no longer practices FGM. “I saw the diagrammatic representation of the female genitalia and was tutored about the ills of the practice and I am now promoting its abandonment,” Fayomi says.

Organizations like UNICEF are working to implement change across Nigeria and put a stop to patriarchal traditions that occur at the expense of women and girls around the world. When educating and mobilizing communities, it is important not to criticize tradition, but rather to help people understand the negative impacts of the practice. Education efforts must emphasize that women and girls are an integral part of society. They are mothers, wives, daughters, nurturers, innovators and changemakers. When people see women as they truly are rather than viewing them through a material lens, the patriarchal ideology may begin to shift.

Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Mali
Mali currently has no legislation that criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM). In 1997, the government committed to criminalizing FGM. Two years later, the Ministry of Health issued a directive banning it in public health facilities. However, despite a comprehensive reform plan, Mali did not implement any laws against FGM.

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is the practice of removing some or all of the external female reproductive organ for no medical purpose. The World Health Organization (WHO) divides FGM into four types. Type I is the removal of the clitoral hood and/or the clitoral glans. Meanwhile, Type II is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, possibly accompanied by the removal of the labia majora. Type III involves narrowing the vaginal opening, leaving only a very small hole for menstruation and urination. Finally, Type IV is any other mutilation to the external female reproductive system, such as piercing or cauterizing. The most common forms of FGM in Mali are Types I and II, although some southern regions of the country practice Type III.

The Dangers of FGM

FGM has no health benefits and many side effects, some of which are deadly. It can cause chronic pain, mental health issues, scarring, future surgeries, risk of childbirth complications, urinary, vaginal and menstruation problems and other issues.

The History of FGM

Research traces the origin of FGM to Egypt in the fifth-century B.C.E. The original reasons for the practice are unclear, but evidence from Somalia and Egypt ties it to preventing female slaves from reproducing. Today, the practice is widespread across the northern half of Africa.

FGM is largely a cultural practice, and in Mali, societal pressures often result in mutilation before 5-years-old. Communities practice FGM for a variety of reasons, from decreasing girls’ and women’s libido to fulfilling a prerequisite for marriage. Although no religion endorses FGM, 70% of Malian women aged 15-49 believe that it is a religious requirement, and 75.8% believe it should continue.

Nearly 90% of Malian women and girls aged 15-49 have at least one type of genital mutilation. The regions with the highest rates of FGM are Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou and Bamako, the capital. All have rates above 90%.

The Path to Legislation Banning FGM

As of June 2021, Mali has not criminalized female genital mutilation despite the harm that the procedure does. Millions of girls remain at risk not only in Mali but across the world. Thirty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia still have not outlawed FGM.

However, advocacy groups and global governments are working to end FGM, and they have made great progress over the past 20 years. Since 1997, 26 countries in Africa and the Middle East have outlawed FGM. Furthermore, members of communities that practice FGM have begun to oppose the procedure in increasing numbers.

Communities abandoning FGM of their own volition is the fastest way to end the practice. Since 2019, the organizations Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman have worked to end female genital mutilation in Mali by changing minds. With the help of donations, they have renewed three anti-FGM billboards in Bamako and also created a TV trailer, “In the Name of Your Daughter,” which shows how Tanzanian police officers, courthouses, and safehouses protect young girls from FGM.

Despite the existence of FGM in Mali, the fact that many nearby countries in the area have banned it shows promise for the country. Hopefully, through the work of organizations like Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman, Mali will soon eliminate FGM as well.

Ana Golden
Photo: Flickr

Combat Gender-Based Violence
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that as many as one in three women experience physical and sexual violence across their lifetimes, amounting to roughly 736 million worldwide. COVID-19 has increased those numbers. The pandemic has been a gruesome lens of sorts, revealing the weaknesses in many emergency-response and social service systems worldwide. One particular view into the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic has highlighted the disturbing rate at which women experience gender-based violence, often in their own homes. The need to combat gender-based violence has become inherent during the pandemic because it has forced many victims into lockdown with abusers.

To make things worse, vital victim support programs, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have had to close or limit operations. Therefore, fear exists that the pandemic may erase the progress that countries previously made on addressing social norms that harmed women and girls.

Gender-Based Violence and Poverty

Gender-based violence disproportionately affects impoverished women and girls, furthering negative socioeconomic outcomes for generations. Unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and medical complications all negatively impact the future-income potential of already financially strained women and girls. The unprecedented breakdown in social-response programs and victims’ services highlights the need for the transformative power of education to combat gender-based violence. Nations, nonprofits and other international organizations need to utilize education tools to combat gender-based violence to fight the ‘shadow’ pandemic.

The Education Transformation: Knowledge = Personal Power

Nonprofits worldwide tout education at-risk individuals as a way to reduce and more accurately report instances of violence in all communities. A focus on providing educational tools can help combat gender-based violence by offering a long-term way to identify and eliminate biases in the identification, reporting and prosecution of abusers.

Educating health professionals and law enforcement also plays a role in reducing gender-based violence; advanced, continuing education leads to increased compassion and empathy that is essential in properly addressing the needs of victims after trauma. Furthermore, educating authorities and communities on what constitutes gender-based violence may also limit the stigma associated with reporting it.

A recent UNESCO study found that Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) was lacking in parts of the world with high rates of gender-based violence. The issue is a double-edged sword, as gender-based violence both causes and is a product of a lack of education. UNESCO’s Senior Programme Specialist in Health Education, Joanna Herat, concluded that a lack of quality education was contributing to the ‘shadow’ pandemic. Many countries, Herat says, poorly addressed sexual abuse, exploitation and rape. The trends are changing, Herat continues, and UNESCO will continue to support countries embracing quality CSE.

Social Services Superstars: International Initiatives to Combat Gender-Based Violence

The United Nations Security General’s Campaign to End Violence Against Women (UNiTe) calls for international awareness and advocacy to end gender-based violence and address the pandemic factors leading to a rise in domestic violence. As of July 2020, the Interagency Statement on violence against women and girls in the context of COVID-19 highlighted six critical areas for action:

  1. Make urgent and flexible funding available for women’s rights organizations and recognize their role as first responders.
  2. Support health and social services to operate and remain accessible, especially to those most likely to end up behind.
  3. Ensure that people regard services for violence against women and girl survivors as essential.
  4. Place a high priority on police and justice responses.
  5. Put preventative measures in place.
  6. Collect data to improve services/programs and help meet ethical and safety standards.

Several other organizations have attempted to use educational tools to combat gender-based violence. Here are a few.

McCann Worldgroup’s “The Shadow Pandemic PSA”

This one-minute-long public service announcement, narrated by Kate Winslet, highlights the upsurge in domestic violence during COVID-19. The UN Women Unstereotype Alliance developed the project to highlight homes in over 14 countries and raise awareness. “It’s a proud moment when the power of advertising is used not just to build awareness of a critical issue but also to empower people to do something about it,” says Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic Group.

The World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) Partnership

The Development Marketplace launched this program to address gender-based violence. The organization awards international teams up to $100,000. Winners use the money to fund evidence-based research, interventions and other activities related to gender-based violence prevention. To date, the program has given $5,000,000 to teams.

– Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Dominican Republic
Over 10 million people reside in the Dominican Republic, which is located on the island of Hispaniola between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country offers beautiful beaches and exquisite cuisine, however, beyond the resorts and tourist hot spots are many gender inequalities. Underlying machismo ideologies violate women’s rights in the Dominican Republic and marginalized groups especially face maltreatment. Gender-based violence limits women to be active participants in society.

Femicide in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic had the third-highest rate of femicide in 2013. Although the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women underwent ratification in the Dominican Republic over 20 years ago, violence against women has prevailed. In 2012, reports determined that one woman suffers murder every two days, revealing the economic dependence women have on men, as well as prevalent machismo ideologies.

The government approved a National Human Rights Plan for 2018-2022. It includes plans to initiate anti-discrimination legislation, it still had not fulfilled the commitment by the end of 2019. In fact, 58 women died because of their gender, including attorney Anibel Gonzalez, whose death initiated widespread protests that called for reforms in regard to femicide. By 2017, the country had one of the highest rates of femicide with more than 100 reported cases. Additionally, 5,417 reports of sexual offenses existed in 2019, including 1,106 reports of rape. According to Amnesty International, the Dominican Republic fails to properly collect data that would help determine the scope of ill-treatment toward women, especially inappropriate actions by police. As a result, police brutality has become normalized and authority figures regularly violence women’s rights in the Dominican Republic with no repercussions or justice.

Marginalized Groups

Women who are sex workers are even more prone to face ill-treatment and beatings. According to Amnesty International, “police in the Dominican Republic routinely rape, beat, humiliate and verbally abuse women sex workers to exert social control over them and to punish them for transgressing social norms of acceptable femininity and sexuality.” This routine criminalization of sex workers violates women’s rights in the Dominican Republic.

Gender-based violence remains a problem in Latin America and the Caribbean with marginalized groups. “By passing a law to prevent discrimination against some of the country’s most marginalized women, the Dominican Republic could set an example for the rest of the Caribbean to follow in the fight against stigma, machismo and other drivers of extreme violence against women,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas of Amnesty International. By doing so, they challenge deep-seated cultural gender ideologies and start new structural change and reform ensues.

Fighting Gender Inequality

Additionally, nonprofit organizations have the potential to greatly impact gender inequality and promote women’s rights in the Dominican Republic. For example, Mariposa DR works to “create sustainable solutions to end generational poverty by educating and empowering girls.” In 2012, the organization developed an institution that offers a space for young women to engage in sports, receive academic tutoring and other life skill training, connect with peers and develop meaningful relationships with mentors.

According to the Mariposa DR Foundation, “Girls who were once seen as only domestic laborers, caretakers of younger siblings and financial burdens on their families, are now reading, surfing, swimming, going to high school, graduating, earning income and following their passions. They are the untapped talent pool for economic reform and the mothers of our future.” In 2019, Mariposa DR raised over $1,443,954. Of this amount, 87% contributed to the development of programs and activities for the girls. During the same year, the organization sent three of their own off to college in the United States. Additionally, Mariposa DR provided an annual week-long health fair where 57 girls had wellness checkups with a 95% attendance rate.

Looking Forward

Through investment in educational training, young women have the potential to challenge machismo and misogynistic ideologies, as well as lower rates of femicide and other forms of abuse. Marginalized groups are especially susceptible to experience abuse, however, organizations like Mariposa DR, equip girls with the tools needed to empower themselves, along with their family members.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in the Central African Republic
The year 2020 was turbulent for the entire world. From high stake elections to a global pandemic, much change has occurred in a short amount of time. Yet, while many worry about COVID-19 and economic downfall, a shadow pandemic is raging across sub-Saharan Africa. Recent lockdowns and socioeconomic turmoil have resulted in a sharp uptick in sexual violence and femicide across several African states. Countries such as Liberia and Nigeria saw a 50% increase in rape and killings. Experts attributed a large number of said cases to mandatory curfews. However, limited women’s rights in the Central African Republic (CAR) is also a cause.

The Situation

The Central African Republic revealed a 27% increase in rape and a 69% increase in cases with violence dealt against women and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women’s rights and safety have always been a longstanding issue for the Central African Republic. Besides having the rank of one of the least healthy and developed nations, the CAR ranks second highest for gender inequality globally. According to the U.N. Development Programme, COVID-19 presents a particular issue because “school and business closures, have meanwhile increased the domestic burdens borne by women and girls and sharply reduced their earnings, increasingly the existing vulnerabilities, confining them to homes they often share with their abusers and limiting access to support and health services.”

Since 2017, the CAR has reached out to donors and international organizations such as the U.N. and The International Development Association (IDA) to make longstanding changes. In that period, one can see progress in the fight for women’s rights in the Central African Republic.

Overview of Progress

While the CAR still struggles with women’s rights, generally, nonprofit organizations and international actors have taken action to help change the tide. Take, for instance, the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, which, since 2008, has provided local women’s activist information regarding the Rome Statute for Human Rights, resources to protect vulnerable women better and help in communicating with other women’s rights organizations. The organization has also promoted the training of lawyers and victims’ trust funds.

Another example of progress toward attaining better women’s rights in the CAR is the partnership with the Human Rights Council to host a series of hearings. These hearings focused on recent abuses and acts of extreme violence, especially those targeting women. The attendees were a series of international organizations such as U.N. Women and representatives from over 15 countries.

With the upcoming electoral season, the CAR has an even greater chance of radically transforming women’s rights in the country. The Secretary-General of the U.N., António Guterres, emphasized how, “All segments of the population of the Central African Republic, in particular women, young people, internally displaced persons and refugees, must be at the center of efforts to consolidate democracy and, consequently, of this electoral process.” Currently, the U.N. manages dialogue channels for opposing parties and interest groups to ensure the election is fair and peaceful. In essence, with the prospect of a new leader and parties coming to power, this could be the perfect opportunity to reform women’s rights.

Persisting Challenges

Although the U.N. and the CAR recently signed an agreement promising to tackle sexual violence by armed groups, the country still has a long way to go. For instance, rape victims in the CAR have little to no legal avenues to seek out reparations or any form of justice. Furthermore, medical aid for assault victims and women’s care, in general, is mostly underfunded and incredibly difficult to access.

Moreover, as the military conflict continues to destabilize the country, more and more women and young girls become victims of sex slavery and weaponized rape. Women in rural villages are primarily targeted, as rape is a psychological tactic in violent conflict. Many experts have argued that a specialized court dealing with said sexual crimes against women would be extremely effective at delivering justice.

Future Policy Recommendations

Aside from creating a network of specialized courts dealing with women’s rights and sexual violence, the CAR can still implement many policies and initiatives to promote women’s rights better. For instance, whistleblowing procedures should be put in place to protect aid workers who report sexual assault cases and violence amongst vulnerable populations. SOFEPADI, a Congolese NGO, has argued that development agencies need to better coordinate with each other to assist women caught in conflict and appoint women to positions of power within their organizations.

By reforming the way aid workers conduct with women in the CAR and funding more women lead organizations, the CAR and international actors can significantly improve the fight for women’s rights. However, another reform that the Central African Republic should consider is creating more economic development zones for marginalized peoples, such as women.

At a recent U.N. general assembly meeting, several African leaders advocated creating fiscal spaces to invest in social needs, especially in regard to women. Reforms such as this can significantly improve women’s livelihood, educate young girls and grant women in the CAR significant socio-economic autonomy. The CAR may not rank the best in women’s rights, but as time passes and international actors continue their efforts, hope exists for change.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Gender-Based Violence
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee defines gender-based violence as any harmful act that a person perpetrates against another’s will and that occurs due to socially ascribed differences between females and males. This includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty inflicted both in private and publicly. More than 700 million underage marriages occurred in 2020. Furthermore, approximately 137 women die at the hands of a partner or member of their family each day. Moreover, poverty and gender-based violence intertwine.

Poverty and Gender-Based Violence

Poverty exacerbates gender-based violence in many ways. This violence interrupts opportunities for education and employment. In addition, women and girls are more prone to experiencing poverty and exploitation. Children who are a product of child marriages are less likely to receive an education. Also, these children have a higher chance of living in extreme poverty. Moreover, women and girls living in poverty are more vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behavior, including the use of violence. Norms can protect against violence, but they can also support and encourage the use of it. Research that the World Bank Group and Sexual Violence Research Initiative conducted suggests that interventions targeting gender norms are some of the most effective in addressing gender-based violence.

Social and Gender Norms

Many social norms exist that perpetuate gender-based violence. These norms often vary by region, religion and other factors. Thus, the norms are very difficult to influence.

Families emphasize the sexual purity of women. As a result, female genital mutilation is prevalent. The value of family honor is above the safety of women. This can lead to honor killings. Domestic violence can stem from the disproportionate authority of men in disciplining women and children.

Gender-Based Violence Scale

A collaborative team from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, UNICEF and other organizations developed a scale for analyzing changes in beliefs and social norms. Researchers wanted to provide a way to measure the impacts of primary prevention programs in humanitarian settings. About 30 items exist across three categories. Researchers administer this scale to communities to help them understand attitudes towards acts of sexual violence, the importance of family honor and the authority men employ.

Addressing Child Marriage

A collaborative team from Queen’s University and the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality found benefits in enforcing interventions focused on precipitators to child marriage, such as poverty and a lack of legal protections. The researchers proposed the tailoring of interventions to the varying attitudes and beliefs within a community. This team learned that men attributed an increase in rates of child marriage to poverty. However, women attributed it to an increase in a lack of security through laws and social services. This research contradicts a one-size-fits-all program design that suggests adaptive interventions to be the most impactful.

Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Peru

Community engagement and gender-based violence interventions are an invaluable aspect of humanitarian development. Peruvian community health workers employed participatory methods to gather community insights and found seven key aspects of engagement: community leaders’ support, conversations with community members, bystander intervention data for gender-based violence, shared ownership among health workers and leaders, connections with broader stakeholders such as government officials, understanding of what encourages and causes gender-based violence and support from trusted and influential people outside the community.

Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Bill in Iran

The Iranian government passed the Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence bill to provide support for survivors of gender-based violence. This bill includes provisions for educational programs on vulnerability detection, expanding mental health support for victims of gender-based violence, an evidence-based plan for advancing gender equity and offers an important acknowledgment of this step on behalf of Iranian women.

Poverty undeniably intertwines with gender-based violence. Its connection can be complex and difficult to influence, but research and programs such as these demonstrate successful approaches and the invaluable nature of their effects.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Panama
Panama has a world-class financial and banking sector. However, its steady economic growth has not been proportionate with the reduction of economic, social and political inequalities. Panama’s parliament does not represent the country’s women. As a result, they are subject to high levels of violence and injustice. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Panama. 

Gender Party Initiative

Panama launched the Gender Parity Initiative (GPI) to form alliances between the public sector, private sector and multilateral agencies to close economic gender gaps in 2018. The GPI allowed Panama to add resources, energy and proposals towards three core objectives. These objectives are to increase the number of women in leadership positions, increase women’s participation in the labor workforce and close gender wage gaps. These three objectives increase women’s rights in Panama through 15 different measures. The measures include building the personal and professional development of vulnerable women, assessing women’s decision-making in companies, supporting women in education and promoting women as property owners.

Voices of Indigenous Women

The Comprehensive Development Plan for Indigenous Peoples of Panama project published the Diagnosis of the Situation of Indigenous Women in Panama in 2017. This elevated indigenous women’s voices in development projects and policies. The contribution included seven indigenous ethnic groups in Panama to provide greater visibility to the concerns, challenges and proposals of indigenous women. Additionally, the diagnosis addressed political participation, female indigenous migration, sexual and reproductive health, violence, education and economic conditions. Therefore, this created an institutional framework for Panama to support women’s rights, women’s wellbeing and the local community.

International Women’s Strike

An International Women’s Strike occurred in Panama’s capital in March 2019. Women marched with posters that stated, “We are all workers.” They symbolically stopped at the Attorney General’s Office to demand respect and equality. The Mayor of Panama’s office and the National Institute of Women elevated the strike by organizing Divas del Mundo concerts, featuring entertainers Emeline Michel, Patricia Vlieg and Lila Downs. Furthermore, the National Institute of Culture held the Women’s Space Exhibition fair through the Office of Equal Opportunities. This opportunity uplifted women entrepreneurs by providing them a space to display and sell their goods.

In addition, the presidential candidate of the Panama Podemos Alliance José Blandón signed the V Pact Women on the same day as the march. This pact proposed to have a cabinet with half women and half men. Moreover, this would be a first in Panamanian history. Organizations including the Forum of Women in Political Parties, Panama Women’s Alliance and the National Coordinator of Indigenous Women in Panama convened V Pact Women. Blandón also added that he would enforce that women receive the same pay as men. He also wants to combat domestic violence.

The “Quarantine Without Violence” Campaign

Panama’s Ombudsman Maribel Coco alerted the authorities about the prevention, care and punishment of violence against women during COVID-19. Additionally, he launched the information campaign “Quarantine without violence.” The violent death and the femicide of women have steadily increased in Panama’s overcrowded communities due to difficulty in social distancing.

Panama’s Public Ministry registered 20 femicides in 2019. However, numbers have increased and the violent death of women has risen by 57.8%. The “Quarantine without violence” information campaign aims to protect women’s rights in Panama by raising awareness of their vulnerability to domestic violence, informing women about their rights, providing advice on how women should handle domestic violence and encourage reporting domestic violence cases. Furthermore, it aims to elevate women to work with the justice system, the media and members of the public force. This allows the authorities to remove the aggressor or the woman from the house.

Panama Government’s Steps to End Gender Discrimination

Panama implemented gender-based quarantine schedules in June 2020. These schedules allowed anyone to leave their homes with protective masks during permitted hours. In addition, they declared that people must remain two meters away from others. This gender-based quarantine schedule was an important step in addressing discrimination against transgender people. Others often profile or target people who identify as transgender because the system does not account for their gender identity and expression. As a result, many victims experienced arrest, received fines or could not buy essential goods. However, Panama announced a total lockdown in early 2021. As such, it re-implemented national gender-based measures stating people can only leave their homes based on their registered gender.

Panama’s national government is currently working with the United Nations through a five-year agreement called the Development Cooperation Framework. It aims to address and respond to Panama’s sustainable development. Contributions include access to quality services, governance, institutions, justice, environment, climate change and human rights. It is critical that women’s rights in Panama become a part of the development and growth of the nation moving forward.

– Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Failed Humanitarian AidSeveral failed humanitarian efforts can be attributed to the fact that some programs developed with good intentions fail to take into account the local context in which they are implemented. Others are simply poorly executed. But, no matter the type of failure, failed humanitarian aid projects teach valuable lessons. If heeded, these lessons can ensure the success of future programs.

Unanswered Calls to a GBV Hotline in Kenya

Research shows that domestic violence affects 35% of women worldwide. Additionally, male partners are responsible for 38% of the murders of women.

Furthermore, gender-based violence across the globe perpetuates poverty. For example, violence and the fear of violence, affect the performance of girls and women in their educational pursuits as well as employment. It often results in girls dropping out of school and women leaving their jobs, thereby limiting their independence.

In 2015, NGOs like Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee implemented a toll-free hotline in Kenya. The hotline intended to make it easier to file reports of gender-based violence (GBV) and speed up criminal investigations and litigation.

Investigative reporting revealed that for parts of 2018, the gender violence hotline was out of order. When it was working, sometimes the experts manning the hotline were not escalating reports to the police. In addition, there were other staffing and technical issues. Also, several police officers were not aware that such a hotline existed.

Abandoned Cookstoves in India

Indoor air pollution is a leading risk factor for premature deaths globally. Global data reveals that death rates from indoor air pollution are highest in low-income countries.

In 2010, former U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves initiative. The U.N. backed the $400 million initiative with the intention of reducing indoor air pollution in India.

Most of the clean cookstoves built were abandoned four years later, despite initial success. There are several reasons for the abandonment. Research found that the clean cookstoves required people to pay closer attention while cooking and necessitated longer cooking times. The stoves would also break down and then went unrepaired. Households also found it restrictive that the stoves could not be moved outside.

Repurposed Public Restrooms in Kenya

One in three people worldwide do not have access to improved sanitation and 15% of the world resort to open defecation. Lack of proper sanitation increases the risk of infectious diseases and diarrhoeal diseases. It is important to acknowledge that unsafe sanitation accounts for 5% of deaths in low-income countries.

On World Toilet Day in 2014, the Ministry of Devolution launched a program to construct 180 public toilets in the Kibera slum. The arm of government involved in construction built the toilets and sewer lines that would connect to the main sewage line. Local youth groups managed the restrooms. Water shortages and sewer lines in disrepair quickly decommissioned multiple toilets. The youth groups did not have the resources to address these issues so they then decided to rent out the restroom spaces for other purposes.

Focusing on the Lessons

These failed humanitarian aid projects were well-intentioned and there are key lessons to learn from each case.

The failed hotline in Kenya demonstrates the importance of program monitoring and investment follow-through. Efforts to foster awareness had little impact and staffing and technical issues went unaddressed.

The unused cookstoves in India show the importance of understanding the day-to-day needs of the people the program intends to help. The desire to cook outside while avoiding extended cooking times swayed people away from using the stoves.

The restrooms in Kenya lacked sufficient monitoring once handed over to youth groups. The youth groups also did not have the necessary support or resources to address the challenges that quickly became insurmountable financial obstacles for the groups.

By taking these lessons forward to new projects, people can leverage the understanding of failed humanitarian aid projects of the past as a way to promote future success.

Amy Perkins
Photo: pixabay

Mental Health in Yemen
Mental health in Yemen requires attention due to the country’s ongoing troubles. For six years now, Yemen has been facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world—more than 80% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children who have no hand in the fight for power and status. To make the matter worse, the outburst of COVID-19 drove the country into “an emergency within an emergency.”

Only half of Yemen’s health facilities are capable of functioning in the worst of circumstances, and amidst the shortage of masks, gloves, clean water and sanitation, the number of cases rose up to 2,221 as of February 25, 2021, with 624 losing their lives due to the lack of supplies to treat the virus. The country is facing a huge crisis, and the crisis is affecting the mental health of its citizens as much as their physical bodies. Amidst the lack of functioning facilities and death surrounding them from every direction, the increased pressure on the Yemenis worsened their mental health further. Here is some information about mental health in Yemen.

Mental Health in Yemen

Due to the crippling stress on the backs of the Yemeni people, an estimate of one in five people in Yemen suffer from a mental health disorder, according to a study that the Family Counselling and Development Foundation conducted in 2017; this includes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, due to the lack of education and facilities, the number of psychiatrists is small with almost 0.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people as of 2016. This amounts to 40 psychiatrists for the entire population. Additionally, to add to the misery and the deteriorating mental health in Yemen, some of the few existing mental health services closed due to the pandemic.

UNFPA and Psychological Support Centers

However, amidst all the odds, and all the difficulties that Yemen is facing in trying to stay afloat, UNFPA has not ceased to offer its mental health services to the survivors of gender-based violence and improve the mental health in Yemen. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the United Nations sector that works
to protect youth’s potential and ensures that every childbirth is safe.

In the beginning, social workers carried out the work, however, in 2018, the UNFPA offered its help and assistance through psychological support centers as well. These centers were capable of providing “specialized and clinical mental health care, including through telephone assistance.” Currently, even during the coronavirus outbreak, six UNFPA- supported psychological centers are operating and helping those in need—the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid provides support to two of these centers that provide crucial assistance to the Yemenis when they need it most.

Due to the increased demands for mental support, UNFPA increased the number of counselors available for people’s convenience. The counselors became available to deliver telecounseling services via 18 toll-free telecounseling hotlines in order to assist survivors of gender-based violence and educate the population on COVID-19 prevention. The results were so impressive: nearly 18,000 people received specialized psychological support through the toll-free hotline from 2018. Moreover, more than 25,000 survivors of violence received psychological support in the form of in-person counseling. UNFPA aims to help assist 5.5 million people via essential and life-saving services by 2019.

The Internationational Organization of Migration (IOM)

Moreover, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) provides a safe place for children to escape from the blood and hunger in the country they must reside in—a place to feel a sense of normalcy and to live in the beauty of their childhood, even for a few hours. The children participate in a variety of activities to help them learn and play, such as storytelling, artwork and more.

Beginning in March 2016, IOM offered community-based psychosocial support to nearly 400,000 children. More than half of these children watched their homes getting destroyed and had to live in informal sites.

Yemen has been facing a depilating economic and social crisis until now, and this has been affecting mental health in Yemen every day. However, with the help of various organizations, the citizens of Yemen will receive sufficient treatment and care to help rebuild their country gradually.

– Reem Agha
Photo: Flickr