Advances of Somali women
Located on the eastern seaboard of Africa, Somalia is a country synonymous with strife and civil unrest, with a civil war raging on since 1991. The country has endured continuous hardship, and, as is often the case, women carry an unfair proportion of the burden. The advances of Somali women in recent years demonstrate the progress and possibility for the future of Somalia.

The State of Somali Women

Due to a combination of cultural and religious practices, Somali women always existed in a state of subservience. The traditionally patriarchal society grew worse in terms of gender equality as political tensions and divides grew in the 1980s and reached a state of full and outright oppression with the start of the nation’s current civil war. The average Somali women lives only 58 years, 16 years less than the world average. This is in large part due to the lack of medical treatment women receive. Somalia has the seventh-highest maternal mortality rate in the world and the ninth highest birth rate. The country’s lacking health care and infrastructure worsen these statistics. Somalia’s state of civil war and lack of a set government for almost 20 years caused nearly all progression to stop and fall back.

Somalia ranked the fourth worst country to be a woman. This ranking came from a poll of 213 women’s rights experts. It judged countries on the factors of poverty, violence, rape, human trafficking, lack of health services and a variety of other criteria. Cases of genital mutilation and child marriage are also extremely common.

Inequalities and Poverty for Somali Women

The nation’s impoverished state likely plays a large role in the oppression of women, with little work of worth for them to take on. Somali women often need to tend to children, the home and herds of cattle. This typically starts at a young age, which therefore excludes Somali girls from attending school. A great barrier in relation to gender equality in Somalia comes by way of political representation. Due to the constant oppression women face, very few Somali women hold political office, nor do they hold roles with any substantial power. In Somaliland, a region in the north of Somalia in the grips of a fight for its independence from Somalia, there are only two female members of parliament out of 86. Moreover, only one female minister out of the 28 currently holds the position. When Somali women do speak out against the bias of the system, they often face violence.

Even with odds bent against them, Somali women are fighting for their equality. The advances of Somali women largely go overlooked, but this may change. A visit of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed put the recent advances of Somali women at center stage. Somalia served as a stop on the joint UN-African Union trip to countries in the Horn of Africa. While in Somalia, Mohammed met with the African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop. The trip highlighted the strides Somalia took as a nation in the years since the bloodiest stages of its civil war, as well as addressing the progress and advances of Somali women in recent years. These advances lay somewhat in the abstract, more in effort and aspiration than drastic reform. Somali women fought for equal participation in elections, worked to redevelop Somalia’s economy and pushed against the rise of extremism.

Somalia’s state of instability leads to much guesswork when predicting what may be to come. However, the civil war that brought destruction to the nation seems to be in its waning phase. If the efforts and advances of Somali women tell of anything, they tell of the possibility to change, to grow and brighten the future with the better days to come.

Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

closing the gender gap in Southeast AsiaGender equality is an important factor in determining the future of civil and social development in a country. However, gender norms and traditional roles in Southeast Asia, sustained by historical-cultural contexts such as religion and village class systems, create a preference for boys and a belief that motherhood is a woman’s primary role. This perception diminishes the skills of women, affecting the way they view their own capabilities and futures.

On average, women in the Southeast Asian region are 70 percent less likely than men to have a career. While it is difficult to assess the full economic standing of women in Southeast Asia, it is evident that countries with higher poverty rates experience greater barriers to gender equality.

Listed below are some of the ways countries at the forefront of gender equality are closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia.

Job Opportunities

According to the Asian Development Bank, most women in Southeast Asia earn between 30 and 40 percent less than men. In addition, the average percentage of workforce female participation in Asia is only 55 percent.

In contrast, Vietnam’s informal and formal workforce holds 80 percent of the country’s women. Influenced by the rise of working women during the Vietnam War, Vietnam’s current rate of participation is due to increasing numbers of self-employed women, especially as the manufacturing industry becomes more prominent than farming. For example, according to the Mekong Development Research Institute, new road development in the Mekong Delta has allowed more women to travel to work in nearby textile factories while their husbands stay in town to farm. As a result, women in the delta have gained equal standing and in some cases even higher pay, thus balancing power dynamics in the family unit.

In environments like this, women are even attaining more positions as executive officers. The Boston Consulting Group reported that 25 percent of CEOs in Vietnam are women. Vietnam boasts a 17.6 percent rate of female board members in a survey of 50 companies, compared to more developed countries like South Korea and Japan, which have some of the lowest rates of female board members.

With 13 million members throughout the country, the Vietnam Women’s Union is an organization that is closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia and implementing gender equality policies in the private sector. VWU has helped to increase the rate of female employment in Vietnam by collaborating with SNV to support activities under the Enhancing Opportunities for Women Enterprises (EOWE) project that assists women in both Vietnam and Kenya. By supporting small and medium enterprises led by women, one of the initiative’s key focus is to ensure 20,000 women in Vietnam gain greater business and workforce techniques by 2020.

Political Participation

The rates of female representation in Asia’s parliaments and political bodies differ from region to region. However, the Philippines boasts some of the highest numbers of female lawmakers. The WEF Global Gender Gap Report in 2018 listed the Philippines 13th place, out of 149 countries, based on its empowerment of women in politics. Female participation rates in Philippines politics is still relatively slow growing with an overall ratio of one woman to every two men holding top positions in government. Yet, in the Philippines Lower House, women occupied almost 30 percent of the seats in 2016 and overall, more than 40 percent of positions in civil service were filled by women. The growing push toward closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia through female representation in Philippine politics is attributed to some of the organizations that are mobilizing more Filipino women.

The Philippines’ future goal is to have more women engage in conversations about gender equality. The Philippine Commission on Women assists that goal by focusing on strengthening areas of women’s empowerment. One of its specific focus areas is the Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda, which creates thorough policies that stand before the government for consideration and also removes existing discriminatory laws that hinder the abilities of all Filipino women.

Education

The narrative around girls’ education has been improving in some countries of Southeast Asia. For instance, in Malaysia, women in Malaysia surpassed men in primary, secondary and tertiary education enrollment rates in 2017. Female enrollment rates in secondary school topped 78 percent compared to male enrollment which stoood at 72 percent.

Since the 1970s, National Union of the Teaching Profession Malaysia has sustained the futures of teachers. With a total membership of 172,995, it has reached many Malaysians nationwide. Its different branches host member activities and local committees. A few of the union’s accomplishments have been establishing counselor positions in schools, extending maternity leave time from 60 days to 90 days and increasing the basic salary of teachers by 13 percent. These successes challenge the systemic problems around education and push the government to make necessary changes to support the nation’s educators.

Final Thoughts

Over the past two decades, several countries have already made progress in closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia through employment, politics and education. While female participation rates have increased in the region, improvement is still needed to ensure that equality policies are being created in all areas of Southeast Asian life and that opportunities are not withheld from women.

After all, continuing to uphold gender discrimination could result in worldwide economic loss. The OECD estimates a 7.5 percent loss of GDP. In addition, ADP found, via a simulation model, that closing the gender gap in Southeast Asia and across the world could contribute to a 30 percent increase per capita income of an average Asian economy in one generation and reduce poverty rates. Therefore, increasing women’s standing in the Southeast Asian region will also increase the region’s economic prosperity.

– Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Burundi
Located in Africa’s southeastern region, Burundi, a heart-shaped nation bordering Lake Tanganyika and Rwanda, is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a poverty rate of nearly 75 percent, the nation is largely underdeveloped. In terms of women’s rights, life in Burundi could be better, as many of the country’s citizens cling to discriminatory perspectives that hold their women back. Despite this, the country has made great strides toward cultivating a more equal nation, such as in 2005 when it included gender equality in its reformed Constitution.

Pregnancy and Sexual Health

In Burundi, discussing sex is generally viewed as a taboo subject. Without the occurrence of these necessary conversations, sexual education is often replaced by false information, and many of the country’s citizens fail to understand their own bodies; an issue most dangerous when it comes to young women and girls. Without knowing the way their bodies work, many Burundian women experience unplanned extramarital pregnancies, and because of Burundi’s negative prejudice toward non-marital pregnancy, many of these girls are often ostracized from their communities, kicked out of their homes and forced out of their schools.

Pamella Mubeza, a native to Burundi, fell victim to this system at a young age. Though, after seeing the prevalence of her issue among other Burundian women, she began an organization known as l’Association des mamans célibataires (the Organisation for Single Mums). Through the organization, Mubeza travels to some of the most impoverished places in the city of Bujumbura, such as Kinyankonge and Kinama, and works with young single mothers to not only re-enroll them in school but to rebuild the self esteem their homeland formerly shamed out of them. By 2019, Mubeza’s organization was able to re-enroll 40 young women in schooling and instilled 250 with a newfound desire to learn.

CARE Burundi, a non-profit organization that works to improve the impoverished realities of women and young girls, is also working to help solve the issue. In 2016, the organization launched an initiative known as the Joint Programme, a 4-year-long project that provides Burundian girls with comprehensive sexual and reproductive education through a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum called “The World Starts with Me” (WSWM). The program educates young women about their rights and their bodies, and after its first year of implementation, it was taught in 76 Burundian schools and educated 6,007 young women.

Access to female hygiene products is another one of Burundi’s sexual health problems. With sanitary napkins costing up to 2,000 Burundian francs and the country regarding menstrual periods as shameful, many of the nation’s women turn to unhygienic sources, such as grass and plastic bags, during their menstrual cycles. However, the Organisation for Single Mums is working to combat the problem, as they hand out 1,500 free sanitary napkins to Burundian women each month.

Gender-Based Violence

Sexual violence against women is a growing problem in Burundi. With nearly 23 percent of Burundian women experiencing sexual abuse, and 50 percent of these victims being under the age of 13, the prevalence of gender-based violence in Burundi is undeniable.

Due to the nation’s connection between shame and sexuality, many sexual abuse cases often go unreported, so the number of women experiencing them is likely much higher.

However, through the help of UNICEF and NGO partner Caritas Burundi, Burundian sexual violence is being challenged. Through an initiative known as the Giriteka project, UNICEF and Caritas Burundi are bringing together the nation’s doctors, psychologists, nurses, community leaders, local authorities and religious leaders and teaching them how to best care for their nation’s sexually abused women. From training psychologists on how to prevent gender-based violence to working with religious leaders on how to direct victims toward help, thanks to these organizations, women’s rights in Burundi are not only being protected but defended.

Economic Opportunity

When it comes to the workforce, Burundian women make up 90 percent of the country’s food and export jobs and  with 55.2 percent of the nation’s workforce being female, Burundian women are making substantial contributions toward the advancement of their national economy.

However, this same level of equality cannot be seen in the country’s distribution of land.

Access to property ownership is the largest barrier Burundian women face when seeking economic equality. While 80.2 percent of the country’s people own land, women make up only 17.7 percent of them since the country lacks proper legislation that prohibits male succession traditions from overriding women’s rights.

Public opinion may be partly responsible for these discriminatory practices since 57 percent of the nation’s people believe women and men should not have equal land rights when it comes to inheritance.

Despite this prejudicial reality, U.N. Women is making women’s pathway to land ownership easier by providing them with monetary loans.

Also, the Zionist Organization of America has created an initiative meant to advocate for female land rights in Burundi by urging the nation’s women who do own land to register it.

By working at the community level, these organizations are advocating for the economic endeavors of Burundian women, and actively challenging the misogynistic gender norms that have been placed upon these their lives.

While women’s rights in Burundi are far from equal, the good news is that great work is being done to better them. Thanks to organizations like U.N. Women and initiatives such as the Giriteka project, women in Burundi are not only being cared for but heard. By advocating for women’s rights, these organizations are not only providing Burundi’s women with the freedom to hope for a better life but also to live one.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Access to Clean Water
Around 844 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. The lack of access to clean water affects all aspects of life from drinking to agriculture and hygiene. Furthermore, the lack of clean water perpetuates gender inequality and traps communities in poverty. However, the world has made significant progress. Between 1990 and 2015, the percent of the world’s population with access to clean water rose from 76 percent to 91 percent. That means that millions of people have felt the benefits. Here are six ways that access to clean water changes lives.

6 Ways Clean Water Changes Lives

  1. Improved Sanitation: Around 2.4 billion people worldwide do not have access to toilets or basic sanitation. In Sub-Saharan Africa, just 24 percent of people in rural areas have access to a modern toilet. With no running water, villagers must go out into isolated fields in order to find privacy, leaving women and girls especially at risk of attack. A lack of bathrooms also means that girls often miss school while they are menstruating. When communities gain access to improved sanitation systems, quality of life improves, women and girls are safer and girls are more likely to go to school consistently.
  2. Improved Health: Currently, 80 percent of illnesses in developing nations are related to contaminated water and poor sanitation. This particularly affects children due to their weak immune systems. One-fifth of all deaths which occur under the age of 5 are from water-borne illnesses. When children are sick, they cannot go to school and often another family member has to miss work to take care of them. When people are healthy, children can go to school and adults can have steady employment, leading to continued economic development. The elimination of deaths from water-related illnesses alone would lead to an added $18.5 billion in economic gains for affected countries. Families also save money on health care costs with the elimination of water-borne illnesses.
  3. Increased Gender Equality: Eighty percent of the time, women and girls are responsible for collecting water when it is not available at home. Worldwide, women collectively spend 200 million hours daily collecting water, sometimes walking six kilometers a day. This means they have little time to work, go to school and take care of their families. The long walks also leave women vulnerable to assault and rape. Additionally, the long journey and heavy loads can be dangerous for pregnant women. Access to clean water at home increases the educational and economic opportunities available to women and girls. With increased water access, women could have time to work or even start small businesses. Additionally, girls could go to school, which would have a life-long impact. In fact, for every year a girl spends in school, she increases her anticipated income as an adult by 15 to 20 percent.
  4. Education: Walking to fetch water can take hours every day. Children, particularly girls, are often responsible for doing it. Access to clean water changes lives because when children no longer have to spend most of their day fetching water, they are free to go to school. Drinking dirty water can also cause students to fall behind in their studies as they deal with the symptoms of water-borne illnesses. Education generally becomes a low priority as people struggle to survive. With clean water at home, children can stay in school and build better futures for themselves.
  5. Food Security: Without clean water, it is difficult to grow crops and prepare food. While one might think of water mostly as something to drink, worldwide, people use 70 percent of water resources in agriculture. Eighty-four percent of people who are without modern water systems also live in rural areas, where many rely on subsistence agriculture. Improvements in water management lead to increased agricultural production and allow community members to start small gardens to grow food to eat or sell.
  6. Escaping Poverty: When people no longer have to spend a significant portion of their days fetching water, children have time to go to school and adults can work and learn trades. When people no longer get sick from water-borne illnesses, they can go to school and work uninterrupted. Clean water also allows people to grow more food and practice better sanitation. Access to clean water has a proven position impact on development. The World Health Organization estimates that every dollar that people invest in water and sanitation brings an economic return of between $3 and $34. The U.N. estimated that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, people spend 40 billion hours a year retrieving water. In fact, the world loses $260 billion of potential income each year due to a need to find water.

Many groups succeded in bringing clean water to communities and showing how access to clean water changes lives. For instance, Water.org helped more than 21 million people gain access to clean water through small loans. Millions worldwide spend more than 20 percent of their income on water, as a lack of clean water at home means they must go to a water merchant or pay exorbitant rates to have someone install plumbing. Giving people small loans allows them to quickly pay for plumbing, which eliminates costs in the future.

The Water Project addresses the water crisis by directly donating clean water sources. This organization builds and repairs wells, installs rain catchment tanks and constructs sand dams to improve irrigation. So far, the Water Project has helped close to 500,000 people gain access to clean water for drinking and agriculture.

The World Bank, UNICEF and the World Health Organization determined that providing basic water and sanitation infrastructure to those that need them would cost $28.4 billion a year for 15 years. Right now, the U.S. spends around $600 million on the military each year. A readjustment of federal priorities, taking into account the ripple effects which clean water has on communities, could make a drastic difference for the world’s poor.

– Clarissa Cooney
Photo: Flickr

Gender equality and nutritionWomen are disproportionately affected by malnutrition in developing countries, and as such it is now the focus on many global food programs to simultaneously improve gender equality and nutrition by providing better education and resources for female small farm holders.

Impact of Sociocultural Norms

Sociocultural norms have placed many women in secondary decision-making roles in their families. Women are less likely to receive any education on general health and nutrition, less empowered in financial decision-making within their families and less able to control what food they put on the table. Oftentimes, the main breadwinner in a family is male, while women are reduced to more supporting and complacent roles.

Additionally, many programs are male-centric, neglecting the specific nutritional needs of women. As a result, women in developing countries have more iron deficiencies and have higher rates of being an unhealthy weight (obese or underweight). When women suffer from more chronic illnesses, it further reduces their ability to contribute meaningfully, and they further relinquish control on financial decisions. Gender equality and nutrition both improve when women are the focus of food security initiatives.

Integrating Gender Equality and Nutrition

Antonelle D’Aprile, the country director for the World Food Programme in Nicaragua, is a leader in combining gender equality and nutrition into a cohesive program that truly empowers women farmers. The WFP Women Economic Empowerment Strategy was first implemented in 2016 and has helped 300 female farmers reach higher financial independence and economic development.

The strategy ensures that women are the decision-makers by providing them with proper agricultural training and access to agricultural equipment that optimizes their crop yields. There are courses for women to improve their financial education and business planning skills so that they can begin growing above the sustenance level and sell excess crops for income. This program to improve gender equality and nutrition also focuses on a man’s role in sharing domestic chores with women and supporting the economic development of their wives. It has been so successful, officials in El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru are replicating the program in their own countries.

The Role of the Private Sector in Gender Equality and Nutrition

While nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are the backbone of nutrition-improvement programs, private sector companies are also necessary if female farmers are to reach their true potential. CARE has partnered with the PepsiCo Foundation to implement one of the largest gender equality and nutrition programs in the world called “She Feeds the World.”

With the help of the PepsiCo Foundation, CARE has initiated several projects throughout the world, such as one in Peru, which teaches women how to test soil quality to optimize crop yield. Other initiatives to improve gender equality and nutrition, focus on teaching women to more efficiently use natural resources like water, seeds and natural fertilizer. With this boosted production, these female farmers have enough extra income to send their children to school, feed their family nutritious meals, expand their business, employ others and make substantial savings.

Private sector companies are also very important in terms of collecting data and analyzing information to improve gender equality and nutrition. It is very difficult to measure an abstract concept like “decision-making power,” but private sector companies have the financing, personnel and expertise to collect adequate data so that resources are making the largest impact.

Empowered Female Farmers Feed Others

Empowering women is the key to improving nutrition for everyone. According to studies, the relationship between gender equality and nutrition is strong. Giving women equal access to basic resources and services could increase yields on female-owned farms by 20-30 percent. This would translate to an increased agricultural output of 2.5-4 percent in developing countries.

A 20-30 percent increase in agricultural output on female-owned farms would lift 150 million people out of poverty.

Women are the backbone of many developing countries. In Sierra Leone, an initiative has focused on empowering grandmothers to be the champions of improved nutrition practices in families. As very respected members of their families, they are teaching and cultivating healthy habits in infants and young children, an approach which has already seen success.

Female small farm holders are central to improving nutrition security in developing nations. World food initiatives are ensuring that women are not left behind – in fact, they are making sure that women lead the fight to improve gender equality and nutrition around the world.

– Julian Mok
Photo: Flickr

10 International Issues to WatchWith the world always changing, there are some issues that remain constant. Some of these issues are directly related to poverty while other events increase the likelihood of creating impoverished communities. Here are 10 international issues to watch in relation to world poverty.

10 International Issues to Watch

  1. Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa
    The good news is that global poverty rates have been dropping since the turn of the century. Nevertheless, there is still work that needs to be done. Approximately 10 percent of people in developing areas live on less than $2 per day. Poverty rates have declined in Eastern and Southeastern Asia, but more than 40 percent of residents of sub-Saharan Africa still live below the poverty line.
  2. Lack of Access to Clean Water
    There are more than 2 billion people in the world who cannot access clean water in their own homes. Lack of access to clean water increases the likelihood of contracting illnesses. When people get sick, they have to spend money on medicine, which can cause families to fall into extreme poverty. In other cases, people have to travel extremely far to collect clean water. Altogether, women and girls spend approximately 200 million hours walking to get water daily. Access to clean water is one of the 10 international issues to watch in relation to world poverty.
  3. Food Security
    By 2050, the world will need to feed 9 billion people, but there will be a 60 percent greater food demand than there is today. Thus, the United Nations is taking steps to address the problem. The U.N. has set improving food security, improving sustainable agriculture and ending hunger as some of their primary focuses by the year 2030. The U.N. must address a wide range of issues to combat these problems. These issues include gender parity, global warming and aging populations.
  4. Improving Education
    Most impoverished communities around the world lack a solid education system. Some common barriers include families being unable to afford school, children having to work to support their family and the undervaluing of girls’ education. UNESCO estimates more than 170 million people could be lifted out of poverty if they had basic reading skills.
  5. Limited Access to Jobs
    In rural and developing communities around the world, there is often limited access to job opportunities. There is a multitude of factors that can lead to a lack of adequate work or even no opportunities at all. Two common roadblocks are a lack of access to land and a limit of resources due to overexploitation. It is obvious that no available means to make money ensures that a family cannot survive without outside help.
  6. Limiting Global Conflict
    When conflict occurs, it impacts the poor the hardest. Social welfare type programs are drained, rural infrastructure may be destroyed in conflict zones and security personnel moves into urban areas, leaving smaller communities behind. At the state level, impoverished communities have lower resilience to conflict because they may not have strong government institutions. Poverty and conflict correlate strongly with one another.
  7. Gender Equality
    From a financial standpoint, gender equality is vital to improving the world economy. The World Economic Forum states that it would take another 118 years to achieve a gender-neutral economy. In 2015, the average male made $10 thousand more a year than their female counterparts. However, there has been an increased amount of awareness on the issue that may lead to an improved economy for all.
  8. Defending Human Rights
    In 2018, the world saw a decline in global freedom. However, over the last 12 consecutive years, global freedom rights have decreased. More than 70 countries have experienced a decline in political and civil liberties. However, in 2019, steps are being taken to limit this problem. At the International Conference on Population and Development, there will be a focus on human rights. France will also align its G-7 efforts at limiting a variety of inequalities.
  9. Responding to Humanitarian Crises
    The 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview shows a large number of humanitarian crises around the world. Between Syria, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are more than 19 million internally displaced people. In 2019, approximately 132 million people have needed humanitarian help, costing the world economy almost $22 billion.
  10. Climate Change
    From a scientific standpoint, the land temperature has increased by 1 degree C. in the last half decade, and greenhouse gas emissions have risen to their highest levels in more than 800,000 years. This has led to increased storms and droughts throughout the world. In the last 39 years, weather-related economic loss events have tripled.

Even though the world still has many issues to address, progress is being made in a variety of areas that may help limit global poverty. These are but 10 international issues to watch in relation to global poverty. The global awareness of poverty-related issues is something that continues to be extremely important for the advancement of our world.

Nicholas Bartlett
Photo: Google Images

Ending Energy PovertyLarge portions of the developing world do not have access to electricity. Instead, they have to rely on energy sources that are inefficient, toxic and expensive. Financing universal energy access is urgent. Ending energy poverty is therefore in everyone’s best interest.

Here Are Five Reasons to Care About Ending Energy Poverty:

  1. Energy poverty is one of the developing world’s greatest struggles.
    Approximately one billion people around the world live in energy poverty. An additional one billion people have unreliable access to electricity. Of those living without electricity, 84 percent live in rural areas where resources are scarce. Nearly all individuals suffering from energy poverty, which is over 95 percent, live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. In fact, only 14 percent of people living in rural sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity.
  2. Energy poverty causes serious health problems.
    Much of the developing world lives in energy poverty. Billions of individuals each day are ingesting dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals from their cooking appliances. For instance, biomass-fueled stoves release pollutants in the air that can have serious health consequences. Women and children are the most exposed to these harmful pollutants. If the developed world provided energy access to all, they would be able to lower the premature death toll by 1.8 million people per year.
  3. The burden of energy poverty falls disproportionately on women.
    Currently, many women in the developing world rely on biomass-fueled stoves in order to cook their meals. As a result, these women spend, on average, 1.4 hours each day collecting firewood and then several more hours inefficiently cooking on their biomass stoves. Due to the amount of effort it takes to simply cook a meal, many women do not have the time to go to school or obtain a job to become financially independent. In that sense, energy poverty fosters gender inequality. If the developed world invested in universal energy access so that impoverished women could use efficient and cost-effective cooking appliances, women would have significantly more time and money to invest in their futures.
  4. Renewable energy can end energy poverty.
    The price of renewable energy continues to decrease, making renewable energy an optimal investment from both a financial and sustainable perspective. Currently, much of the developing world relies on kerosene and candles. This is because these energy sources do not require installation costs. However, kerosene and candles are not cost-effective, long-term. In fact, they are quite expensive. If the developed world invested in the installation costs for the developing world, more people have access to electricity. Furthermore, people would pay less on energy than they currently do. Thus, financing renewable energy projects is a worthwhile investment because renewable energy reduces costs in the long-term. As a result, it creates opportunities for economic growth in the future.
  5. Ending energy poverty can lead to job growth.
    Financing renewable energy development would provide a new market in the developing world that would provide many new jobs for workers with undeveloped skills. These jobs would provide not only steady incomes and safe working conditions but also skill-building opportunities. India, for example, is working toward creating 330,000 jobs in the renewable energy market by 2022. India is doing this to provide electricity and jobs to its poor, rural communities while simultaneously combating climate change. By promoting job growth through the renewable energy market, the world can achieve its goal of economic and environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the sustainable economic development of the developing world would promote the global economy, serving everyone.

Looking Ahead

Although the UN has pledged to provide universal energy access by 2030, the current initiatives the UN has in place to promote this goal is insufficient. In order to achieve its goal of ending energy poverty, the UN would have to invest a total of $52 billion per year. The UN has failed to match even half of this goal in a given year. The importance of financing this mission, however, is essential for the long-term benefits of renewable energy projects in the developing world. By investing in universal energy access through global renewable energy development, women’s rights, world health, clean energy and economic development can all be better promoted. All of this can create a more sustainable world.

– Ariana Howard
Photo: Flickr

Women in ZanzibarIn Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, many women struggle to overcome gender inequalities. Women are more likely to be illiterate, uneducated and unemployed in addition to being prevented from owning land and lacking opportunities to obtain leadership positions. Some women are fighting back against these barriers, however, by helping themselves and others increase their social and economic status. Furthermore, supporting female empowerment in Zanzibar has become a priority for a few local and national organizations.

The Situation for Women in Zanzibar

Women in Zanzibar are “twice as likely as men” to be uneducated. This has contributed to increasing employment inequalities since an education is becoming more essential to obtaining a job. Approximately 32 percent of female youths in Zanzibar are unemployed in comparison to only 10 percent of male youth. Women who do have jobs often earn less with 73 percent of women being paid at a lower rate than their husbands.

Additionally, only 16 percent of women in Zanzibar have bank accounts, and 91 percent do not own land, making it hard for women to become economically self-sufficient. When women do own land or other assets, these things are often controlled by their husband or male relatives. Female empowerment in Zanzibar involves women gaining financial and economic freedom as well as increasing their social status. The following are a few ways women’s lives in Zanzibar are improving.

Female Entrepreneurship

In response to high youth unemployment, many young women are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to make a living. At least 47 percent of women who are self-employed stated that their reason for doing so was the inability to find other employment. The majority of those who become interested in entrepreneurship are women with 82 percent of working women being self-employed. Self-employment and entrepreneurship offer women the opportunity to become financially independent, which is difficult in the low-paying formal sector.

Entrepreneurship is difficult, however, and many women who are self-employed still struggle economically. According to the Ministry of Labor, there are initiatives that support female entrepreneurs, but these do not reach all women. The most marginalized women do not have these opportunites. Moving forward, it is crucial that female entrepreneurs receive more support from the government and NGOs, otherwise, many will remain financially dependent on male relatives.

Seaweed Farming

For other women, seaweed farming has helped decrease economic inequalities and increase female empowerment in Zanzibar. In coastal villages, women have long been sequestered in their homes, only leaving for funerals, weddings or to care for sick relatives. Seaweed farming was taken up by women from these villages as a way to enter the public sphere and earn money for themselves.

According to marine biologist Flower Msuya, “At the beginning some husbands threatened divorce if their wives went out to farm seaweed… But, when they saw the money women were making, they slowly began to accept it.” Women’s social statuses in the villages have increased, and many have helped their families rise out of poverty. The work has also been crucial for women who were divorced from their husbands as they need to be able to support themselves.

Solar Training

Barefoot College, an organization that spread from India to East Africa, is offering a training program for women in Zanzibar, teaching grandmothers and single mothers in rural villages how to be solar engineers. The program focuses on this demographic of women because many are often illiterate and lack other opportunities. Solar training is also beneficial to the community as a whole since rural areas often lack adequate electricity.

Women are trained at Barefoot College for five months after which they return to their villages to set up solar lighting systems for family and neighbors. This is a cheaper option for most families, and the price they pay helps support the female engineers who help maintain the solar equipment in their village. Salama Husein Haja, a single mother, praised the program, stating, “When I go back I will have status. I will be knowledgeable and I will be proud.”

Reclaiming Public Spaces

A project in Zanzibar called Reclaim Women’s Space is working towards female empowerment in Zanzibar by helping women overcome cultural and religious constraints that require them to stay in the private sphere. There are few public places for women to gather socially in Zanzibar, so women generally go to work and then return home, in part because they are also responsible for domestic tasks.

Reclaim Women’s Space seeks to give women spaces in the public sphere where they can meet and work together to solve community problems. One of their projects was the creation of a community center, which has become a symbol of women’s economic, social and political power. Madina Haji, an engineer involved with the project stated that the goal is to “empower women to stand on their own” by improving their social status and giving them opportunities to come together.

It is crucial that initiatives such as these continue, and that women who are trying to obtain more autonomy are supported by local, national and international organizations and programs. Female empowerment in Zanzibar will take time to achieve, but persistent efforts to help these women become economically independent in a way that is also personally and socially empowering for them are an important part of making gender equality a reality.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Ending Child MarriagesEven in 2019, child marriage remains a global problem. Every year, 12 million girls from all around the world will get married before the age of 18. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and poverty because in many communities’ girls are still seen as a burden on the family. Marriage is often considered the best way to assure their future. However, there are many organizations and individuals tackling the problem of gender inequality and child marriage. Below are

Five activists whose work is ending child marriages

  1. Nada Al-Ahdal defends children’s rights.
    Nada Al-Ahdal is a Yemeni activist with a personal connection to escaping child marriage. In 2013, at the age of 11, Nada Al-Ahdal ran away from her family’s home in order to prevent a forced marriage to a 26-year-old man. During her escape, Nada Al-Ahdal made a video explaining how, if the marriage had gone through, she would have lost her chance at an education and ruined her life. Furthermore, she would have lost her childhood.
    In the first month of the video being posted, it received more than 8 million views. Nada Al-Ahdal has appeared on Lebanese and Yemeni television, spreading her message for ending child marriages. In 2018, at just 15 years old, Nada founded the Nada Foundation to protect and defend children’s rights. The foundation offers to safe havens. Additionally, it has a number of awareness programs focused on protecting children.
  2. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete speaks out against child marriage.
    At eight years old, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete ran away from her home village in Kenya. She did this in order to avoid undergoing female genital mutilation. As an adult, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete has become an activist that negotiates with village elders in Kenya to convince them to adopt alternative rites of passage for girls. She is an officer with Amref Health Africa. Additionally, it is estimated that her work has saved more than 15,000 girls in Kenya for genital mutilation and child marriage. Nice Nailantei Leng’ete now speaks out on a global stage against mutilation and child marriage in Africa. In 2018, she even was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
  3. Fatoumata Sabaly enacts change as an activist.
    Fatoumata Sabaly is from Senegal, where child marriage and female genital mutilation is still fairly common. She is a respected member of her community as a grandmother and mother. She leverages this position as an activist through the Grandmother Project. The Grandmother Project is an NGO that uses the status of elders in communities to enact change and improve the well-being of women and children.
    Fatoumata Sabaly has explained the important work she does in the project: “Sometimes, girls come to tell me their parents are marrying them off, even though they want to stay in school. When this happens, I go to their parents. Out of respect for me, the parents listen to my advice and let their daughters stay in school.” Her activism and authority are helping girls stay in school and out of unwanted marriages.
  4. Arvind Ojha leads an organization fighting child marriage and violence against females.
    Arvind Ojha is the head of URMUL Trust, an organization active in the Indian state of Rajasthan for more than 25 years. Rajasthan has one of the worst child marriage rates in all of India. URMUL Trust works hard in ending child marriage, female genital mutilation and female foeticide. Arvind Ojha has said that “[URMUL Trust doesn’t] just focus on engaging women and children in programs but also older people and even religious leaders. Change is happening. The average age of marriage for girls is increasing.”
    In 2005, URMUL Trust launched a program in the districts of Sri Ganganagar, Hanumangarh and Jaisalmer called “Dignity of the Girl Child”. The program was aimed at ending child marriages, domestic violence and female infanticide. In 2011, URMUL Trust became partners with Girls Not Brides in order to strengthen their work to ending child marriage.
  5. Isatou Jeng defends women through advocacy.
    At 15 years old, Isatou Jeng found herself pregnant and with enormous pressure to get married. What she did next broke many societal norms in her home country of Gambia. She demonstrated her passion in ending child marriages by saying, “I stood my ground, refused to marry, and saw education as the best chance for a better life for me and my child.”
    Presently, she leads The Girls Agenda, a nonprofit she founded. The purpose of the organization is to fight for other girls facing gender-based violence and child marriage. Throughout her career as an activist, she has also worked as the advocacy and campaign officer for the Network against Gender-Based Violence. This is a group of organizations that works to defend women and girls in Gambia.
    In 2018, at a conference for women who transform the world, Isatou Jeng said about her involvement with The Girls Agenda, “I did not become a feminist, I was born a feminist.”

Every minute, 23 girls under the age of 18 are married around the world. Consequently, this is the reason that the work these activists and their organizations do is so important and urgent. Even in an era where child brides seem to be a relic of the past, ending child marriages is still a critical issue.

– Isabel Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Turkmenistan
Central Asia displays memories of ancient ruins and powerful empires. Turkmenistan is no exception due to its most recent invasion by the Russian Empire (1881-1998) which is what shapes most of its modern history. Today, the world knows the country for its natural resources, dictatorial leader and marble cities. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Turkmenistan

  1. Authoritarian Media
    The close eye of Presiden Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow administers daily life in Turkmenistan. The government oversees all media outlets to determine what can and cannot be published. Only 17.9 percent of the population uses the internet due to the high expense. People have access to little online information as authorities ban websites against the government. Since 2006, the government imprisoned two journalists (Sapardurdy Khadjiyev and Annakurban Amanklychev) for not complying with government media regulations.
  2. An Ongoing Economic Recession
    Turkmenistan was the poorest nation during the USSR. Today, the country’s GDP per capita is $6,587 and 10 percent of 5.8 million Turkmen live in extreme poverty. However, this is a massive stride for the nation. In 1990, more than a third of the country lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) making 10 percent the lowest poverty rate the nation has ever seen.
  3. Developing Education
    Nearly 100 percent of Turkmenistan people are literate. The country has a 12-year educational system, however, the average student drops out of school after 10 or 11 years. The government has partnered with UNICEF to continue the development of its education through the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) model. This framework aims to help children not only in terms of education but also in terms of their well being.
  4. Gender Equality on the Rise
    Only 40 percent of women in Turkmenistan will attend tertiary school. Women often marry by the ages of 20 or 21 and will thus have few opportunities to obtain a higher education or career. Luckily, the United Nations has aided in the recent 2017 presidential decree of Turkmenistan’s first national action plan on gender equality. This plan includes improved legislation, equal access to health services and data collection to monitor progress.
  5. Poor Health
    The state does not widely fund health care. Turkmen are likely to spend more money on health care than the government. In 2017, the average citizen spent $2,052 on health care in comparison to the government which only spent $741. The lack of accessible public health care leads to an average life expectancy of just 67.8 years, with the highest cause of death being lower respiratory infections.
  6. Urban vs. Rural Life
    There are 5.8 million people living in Turkmenistan and 49.2 percent of that population living in urban areas. The sale of cotton, silk, Karakul sheep and homemade carpets and rugs are essential to rural development. Ashgabat remains the capital city and is the center point for business and government officials. Cars and railways connect the cities and towns within the country.
  7. Jail Brutality
    Prisoners within Turkmenistan and political prisoners especially are often abused. The exact number of political prisoners held by the government is not public knowledge, however, Prove They are Alive, an international organization fighting to reduce disappearances within Turkmenistan, states that 121 people remain forcibly disappeared. Ovadandepe is the most infamous jail and was the point of death for former government official Begmurad Otuzov. Mr. Otuzov’s body was returned to his family weighing just 99 pounds after having been missing for 15 years.
  8. Natural Resources and the Economy
    Turkmenistan’s economy is largely dependent upon hydrocarbon resources. The country leads as the world’s fourth-largest natural gas distributor and had 265 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in 2016. Its largest customers include China, Russia and Iran. Petrofac is one of the largest energy producers in the country and employs 1,700 people across the nation.
  9. Environmental Resolutions
    Turkmenistan has no renewable energy sources and 13.9 percent of the population does not have access to clean water. However, UNICEF developed a strategy in 2017 to help the country promote sustainable practices. The project aims to raise awareness around environmental sustainability through education in schools.
  10. A Housing Crisis
    In 2015, the government evicted 50,000 people from their homes in the capital. The government forcibly removed people from their houses so they could build new buildings for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Forced evictions are a common and recurring issue within Turkmenistan. Amnesty International is combating this housing crisis by publicizing homes that continue to be demolished.
  11. Low Unemployment Rate
    Last on the list of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan is employment. The country maintains a low GDP and a minimum wage of just 535 Turkmenistani ($152.55) per month. However, it also maintains a rather low unemployment rate. Only 3.8 percent of the country was unemployed in 2018, even lower than the United States’ unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Turkmenistan, like any country, has its challenges. As displayed in these top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan, the government’s high levels of surveillance and poor infrastructure can make life challenging at times. On the other hand, several NGOs such as the U.N. and Amnesty International are fighting to create a more equal society. Overall, the country has seen progress and today it maintains an improved education system as well as higher employment rates.

– Anna Melnik
Photo: Flickr