Women’s Rights in Botswana
Botswana, considered one of Africa’s most politically stable countries, has seen a recent victory in the fight for women’s rights and gender equality. Here is some information about women’s rights in Botswana.

A Recent Victory

In September 2020, President Mokgweetsi Masisi amended the 2015 Land Policy to give married women in Botswana the right to own land. Previously, married women were only eligible to own land if their husbands did not. The policy excluded not only married women but widows and single mothers as well, which left millions of women affected.

Tshegofatso Mokibelo, a 38-year-old widowed financial analyst, received a denial when she applied for a residential plot of land, as her late husband had owned a plot previously and his family had since claimed it. “Women also have the right to own land,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This recent amendment gives both men and women equal rights to own land.

More Good News

“Botswana will be a society where all men and women have equal opportunity to actively participate in the economic, social, cultural, and political development of their country.”

Botswana’s Vision 2036, one of its various initiatives towards improving the republic, promises progress for women’s rights. Since the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, the country has made several commitments to gender equality and women’s rights in Botswana. These commitments include its ratification of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, The Women’s Economic Empowerment Programme and the adoption of the National Policy on Gender and Development in 2015.

The progression toward women’s rights in Botswana has led to notable successes in education. Botswana has almost equal enrollment rates for girls and boys at every level in school. In fact, a Gender Parity Index report in 2012 favored girls at both the secondary school and tertiary education levels. More recently, UNICEF reported the GPI for primary education in 2014 as favoring girls, indicating improvement. However, according to the Sustainable Development Report, challenges remain in this area.

Other positive strides include equality within the labor force, reported as achieved in the Sustainable Development Report and having one of the lowest adolescent birth rates in Africa at 50 per 1,000 population, ages 15-19.

Gender Equality

According to the Sustainable Development Report, significant challenges remain in the effort to achieve the gender equality goal. Seats that women held in parliament, for example, are reported as stagnating with “major challenges remaining.” According to statistics from the World Bank, the proportion of seats that women held in parliament has decreased from 17% in 2000 to 9.5% in 2018.

The dual legal system in Botswana, a consequence of colonization, also creates complications in achieving gender equality. Customary laws that currently exist in Botswana discriminate against women. However, Botswana’s government has engaged itself in talks with traditional leaders since 2012 on how to bring women’s rights into customary law. This has resulted in several community groups establishing Gender Committees to open discourse around gender inequality.

Gender-based Violence

One of the greatest remaining challenges, which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated, is gender-based violence. In July 2020, the current Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Anna Mokgethi, revealed an unprecedented increase in reports of gender-based violence since the April 2020 lockdown.

According to The United Nations Population Fund, over 67% of women in Botswana have experienced abuse. In order to combat this, the UNFPA is working with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and several organizations to provide gender-based violence prevention and access to services for those at risk.

One of the NGOs working to eradicate gender-based violence in Botswana is the Botswana Gender Based Violence Prevention and Support Centre. It offers prevention programs such as community outreach and education, as well as several services that gender-based violence personally affects. Kgomotso Kelaotswe, Counselor Supervisor for the NGO reported that during the lockdown period, 155 clients sought shelter at the organization, 67 clients received hotline counseling services and a further 50 obtained assistance through the short line message service.

Botswana continues to face challenges in the fight for women’s rights. However, the government’s commitment to tackling these challenges remains promising.

– Emma Maytham
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in the Netherlands
Gender-based discrimination takes on many masks around the world. However, in recent years, activists and legislatures have made strides for the advancement of women’s rights in the Netherlands.

Advancing Women’s Rights in the Netherlands and the World

Women’s rights in the Netherlands are a central focus of local politics as people work for the betterment of women not only in the Netherlands but around the world. Through lobbying and the passage of legislation, the Netherlands is ahead of many countries around the world in terms of the betterment of women, and women’s rights. Betterment of women includes, but is not limited to:

  • Eliminating child brides
  • Educating young girls
  • Combating intimate partner violence and violence against women
  • Enforcing the necessity of women in negotiating peace talks in U.N. Resolution 1325
  • Promoting a woman’s involvement in the economy and politics

The Nuclear Family and Poverty

It is true that for many years, the Netherlands trailed behind much of the world in women’s rights and advancements. Women received encouragement to stay home with house and child and occasionally hold small jobs, with no opportunity for advancement in the profession or in Dutch society. As of 2013, 24.2% of women with children lived below the poverty line in comparison to 0% of men with children.

The nuclear family model around the world has been promoting the idea that the male in the family has to be the one to provide for the family, while the mother stays at home to take care of the children and the house. This frequently leaves women in a financially unstable position without the ability to provide for themselves and creating a gendered financial disparity.

Dismantling Gender Roles

The Netherlands has spent time working to dismantle the gender roles that people associate with the nuclear family. By better incorporating Dutch women into the labor market and government positions, women are finally finding ways to support themselves and their families. Organizations like the McKinsey Project work to advance women’s participation in the labor market through lobbying and creating opportunities for the betterment of women.

Beginning with the Work and Care Act implemented in 2001, part of supporting families for Dutch women include up to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave in which they were entitled to 100% of their median earnings as calculated over the previous year. Meanwhile, their partners can take one week with pay, and up to five partially-paid weeks.

Parent leave is another beneficial measure that a parent can take up until a child’s 8th birthday. Parental leave is when parents can take up to 26 times their working hours. Take, for example, if a parent works 40 hours per week, they have 1,040 working hours to take for the sake of their child in the event they need to take time for/with their child. Additionally, they can spread the time out however they may need.

The implementation of programs like the Work and Care Act, and work with organizations like the McKinsey Project are just a few of the ways the Netherlands has been making strides in promoting the economic, political and social advancement of its women over the last several years. It is important to acknowledge that while gender-based oppression still exists around the world, the Netherlands included, the strides the country has made is admirable.

Jessica Raskauskas
Photo: Flickr

Investing in WomenIn 2018, the U.S. International Development Financial Corporation (DFC) launched the 2X Women’s Initiative. This initiative focuses on financially empowering women across the world, especially in regions in which women face challenges in reaching economic success.

The DFC works in tandem with the private sector to finance various projects across the globe that relate to development. With the goal of spurring economic development and ensuring global stability, the DFC funds all kinds of industries, from healthcare to agriculture to alternative energy solutions.

What is the 2X Women’s Initiative?

The DFC created the 2X Women’s Initiative with the understanding that women face unique economic challenges and that by investing in women, the global economy would be better off. Across the world, significant cultural, structural and legal hurdles stand in the way of women participating in the economy to the same degree as men. By closing this gender gap, however, global GDP could expand by 26%.

According to Kathryn Kaufman, the DFC Managing Director for Global Women’s Issues, women who make good livings reinvest 90% into their families as compared to men who only reinvest 30%. Therefore, by investing in women, the DFC also invests in families and these women’s communities.

In order to invest in women around the world, the 2X Women’s Initiative funds projects that are run by women, owned by women or empower women. Since its founding in 2018, the initiative has successfully catalyzed $3 billion in investments towards these projects.

Investment Success Stories

  1. Goyol Cashmere: Founded by Ariunaa Byambakhuu, Goyol Cashmere is a small wool and cashmere business operating in Mongolia. Since its founding in 2005, the company has grown from just a handful to greater than 100 employees, more than 75% of which are women. In order to continue production expansion, the DFC loaned more than $5 million to build a new factory and purchase new equipment. By investing in Goyol Cashmere, the DFC invests not only in women but also in diversifying the Mongolian economy.
  2. Increasing Access to Water in El Salvador: El Salvador struggles with consistent water shortages and since the time-intensive task of collecting water often falls on women, improving access to water directly benefits women. In affiliation with the 2X Women’s Initiative, the lending vehicle Azure Source Capital is investing in new water pumps, storage tanks and other equipment. Azure Source Capital’s investment in improving water access in El Salvador will benefit Salvadorans for decades to come.
  3. Improving Access to Markets for Artisans: In cooperation with the 2X Women’s Initiative, Global Partnerships has many initiatives aimed at improving the lives of women. Through the Global Partnerships’ Artisan Market Access Initiative, Guatemalan artisan Zandra Sajbin was able to quickly grow her business. By means of the initiative, Global Partnerships partners with social enterprises that buy goods and then make them available for purchase online. Due to this assistance, Zandra can now reach a significantly larger market.

The 2X Women’s Initiative has a new goal of an additional $6 billion in private sector investments over the next three years. Based on the initiative’s successes since its launch, the future of investing in women across the world is quite promising.

– Alanna Jaffee
Photo: DFC

Women’s Rights in CambodiaOfficially, Cambodia is a democratic nation with legislation in place to protect women from domestic violence and trafficking. Cambodia’s economic development and restructuring of its government that creates such protections for women cannot be ignored considering its very recent history of a devastating genocide that destroyed almost all state and private institutions. Despite this transformation and progress for Cambodian women, they still do not receive the same rights, access and protections as their male counterparts. Here are seven of the most important things to know about the current state of women’s rights in Cambodia.

7 Things to Know about Women’s Rights in Cambodia

  1. The Positives: The literacy rate for adult women increased from 57% to 75% between 1998 and 2015. Women also own 61% of businesses in Cambodia even though they make up only about 51% of the population.

  2. Representation: The percentage of women in politics has increased dramatically since Cambodia rebuilt itself in the 1990s, but women still hold less than 20% of positions. Women only make up about 14% of Cambodia’s judges and 20% of its lawyers.

  3. Sex Trafficking: A 2018 Global slavery index reported that Cambodia has over 260,000 victims of human and sex trafficking. The capital city of Phnom Penh is home to almost 20,000 prostitutes, many of whom are underage. One rescue organization claims that 40% of victims they worked with were minors. Virginity is sold for $800, which is more than 20 times the weekly wage, according to UNICEF, leaving poor families with impossible choices. Lack of enforcement for this practice is suspected to be a result of law enforcement’s connections with brothels.

  4. Domestic Violence: According to U.N. reports, one in five women ages 15 to 49 in Cambodia experiences physical violence. Migrant workers and sex workers are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence. Women with disabilities are also more at risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence. Despite this systemic issue, one national human rights group reported in 2017 that because domestic violence isn’t considered a criminal offense in many Cambodian courts most women drop complaints or do not press charges at all. From 2014 to 2016 only about 20% of national domestic violence cases were being monitored. Also, although acid attacks are illegal now, Cambodian women still fall victim annually and the Human Rights Watch calls for more protections.

  5. The Chbap Srey: The “law for women” or a set of rules taught to girls by their female family members, or even in schools, is based on a poem by male poet Krom Ngoy that has been recited for hundreds of years. The poem, which includes instructions for how to respect one’s husband and places boys’ education over girls’, is still regarded as the basic foundation of gender roles in Cambodia. Until 2007 it was part of the national curriculum, but many schools, having only removed some of the rules, continue to teach it to boys and girls. One critical aspect of this rulebook is it encourages women to not speak about the inner workings of a home and a marriage to the outside world. Both the U.N. and other women’s’ rights groups have spoken out against the Chbap Srey for perpetrating domestic violence.

  6.  The Law on Public Order: In 2019 a national legislation draft was introduced that could allow police to fine or arrest women who are dressed “inappropriately” in public spaces. The law would police how modest or “see-through” women’s’ clothes are and prevent men from going merely without a shirt. The law is responding to state officials complaining that women are using sexy clothes to sell products online. The prime minister said this goes against traditional Cambodian values and traditions. One minister spoke in favor of the legislature to media outlets and claimed that “it is good to wear something no shorter than the middle of the thigh” and that the law is “not entirely a matter of public order, it’s a matter of tradition and custom”. While provincial officials have responded with support for this law, women’s rights groups vehemently reject it. They challenge the oppressive aspects of traditional dress and culture and argue that legalizing the policing of women’s outfits will normalizing the blaming of domestic and sexual violence victims rather than the perpetrators.

As Cambodia makes major development strides and women contribute to its emerging economy and reject their imposed inferiority, they face pushback from a culture grappling with its own traditions. A lack of support and transparency also prevents women from speaking out about abuse. But more and more women are being educated and fighting for each other each year. Representation in politics for Cambodian women is higher than ever. Alongside international organizations, they are working to make women’s rights in Cambodia a priority and end the predatory systems of sex trafficking.

– Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

women's education in the gambiaAcross the developing world, millions of women and girls in poverty receive little to no education. Women learn to cook, clean and care for children. Men, in contrast, often receive an education from a young age. With this advantage, men can work toward opportunities beyond the reach of their female counterparts. When girls have access to education, they can forward the benefits to their community. One educated girl can impact generations. This is why women’s education in The Gambia is important.

In The Gambia, a small West African country, girls face problems common in developing countries. The average family lives on a daily income of $1, but education after grade six costs $100 per year. Families frequently invest their small income in educating boys, whom they think will support them in adulthood. As a result, women struggle to find opportunities beyond domestic labor.

In addition to these limitations on women’s education in The Gambia, other barriers include cultural biases and teenage marriage. The culmination of these obstacles prevents nearly 50% of the Gambian population from accessing education and economic empowerment. Consequently, the lack of women’s education in Gambia hurts the country’s development.

Why Does Education Matter?

For women living in poverty, including those in The Gambia, very few opportunities wait for them. These girls face the expectation from a young age that they will grow up to become mothers and homemakers. Early on, girls learn about domestic skills and how to raise children. Men, on the other hand, have the opportunity to dive into their education and accelerate their careers.

The education of women in developing countries is absolutely critical to their personal growth. When young girls receive the same opportunities as boys, they learn essential skills that go far beyond the classroom. Health classes teach young women about the spread of illnesses and the importance of nutrition. Math lessons provide analytical skills that they can apply to household finances. Language courses allow them to communicate better with others and read the news.

For women in The Gambia, these skills would allow them to improve their own quality of life. In a nation that often undervalues gender equality, women’s education in The Gambia is a critical first step to leveling the playing field.

Women’s Education and Economic Development

The smallest country in mainland Africa, The Gambia faces limited economic development. The current regime has harmed business freedom and has contributed to the weakening labor force. With a population of around 2.1 million, the country has a limited workforce. Most jobs center on agriculture and crop exports. However, excluding women from the workforce cuts the number of potential workers in half.

Additionally, since the nation’s economy depends on crops, The Gambia’s GDP fluctuates with farmers’ production. This means that in dry seasons, when people struggle to water their crops, the economy struggles as well. In fact, the Gambian economy recently contracted by 10% as a result of erratic rainfall, according to The World Bank.

Including women in the workforce would increase the available amount of labor, which would help in cultivating crops. Additionally, more labor would allow other sectors of the economy to grow, creating a more diverse and stable economic system. If women received an education, making them more employable, more businesses would develop and the economy would grow exponentially.

Education Brings Hope

Over the past several years, efforts around the globe have worked toward improving women’s education in The Gambia. Women in The Gambia are now achieving higher levels of education, and experts predict this trend will continue. Many charities and NGOs are raising money and bringing awareness for this cause. Some are even increasing education through international programs. One of these NGOs is Janga Yakarr, which uses exchange programs in the United States to increase women’s education in The Gambia.

Janga Yakarr, which directly translates to “education, hope,” is a charitable organization founded by sisters Alexandra and Erica Chalmers in 2011. After learning about the lack of opportunities for women in The Gambia due to limited education, they decided to help. The sisters arranged a shipment of desks, chairs, whiteboards, chemistry equipment and educational materials to The Gambia. This effort meant to help children in The Gambia complete their education.

An Educational Exchange

The Chalmers became inspired by how their school supplies supported young girls and the relationships they formed with these students, who lived nearly 4000 miles away. From this point on, the Chalmers sisters wanted to enhance the relationship between students in the U.S. and in The Gambia. They now create an educational connection between the two countries.

To do so, they started the nonprofit Janga Yakurr in partnership with grassroots organization Starfish International. The organization’s aim is to raise money for women’s education in The Gambia. Additionally, it aims to foster relationships between U.S. high schoolers and students in The Gambia, as well as run exchange programs between the schools.

Alexandra Chalmers told The Borgen Project, “Looking at the struggle that many women go through in The Gambia in order to feel empowered, it opened our eyes to how much we take for granted in the United States. Our own education has provided us with so much opportunity to pursue, and we wanted to share that with these girls as well.”

The Future of Women’s Education in The Gambia

Over the past several years, many organizations like Janga Yakurr have helped make progress on women’s education in West Africa. This is important not just for women but for these countries as a whole. When young girls receive the same opportunities as young boys, they can get higher-paying jobs. From there, the labor force will continue to grow, which will improve economic stability.

Additionally, as women are more highly educated, they may help fight for women’s equality. They can use their education to fight for equal representation, for example, and to reduce female circumcision and domestic abuse. With a higher level of education, many women and girls may also gain respect and equality in other facets of life.

Education fuels empowerment. For women in poverty, they likely cannot feel empowered without education and financial support. However, women’s education in The Gambia will provide ample opportunity for them to thrive and for the whole economy to prosper.

Daniela Canales
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in ZimbabweZimbabwe is a country in Southern Africa with more than 6.6 million people living in extreme poverty. Despite its struggles with issues such as economic trouble and food insecurity, there have been significant improvements in women’s rights in Zimbabwe over the past few decades.

Legal Rights

Concerning the official laws, the national government has made some progressive changes to its constitution and policies to improve women’s rights in Zimbabwe. The official Constitution of Zimbabwe promotes gender equality by stating that men and women are equal, as well as outlawing sex or gender-based discrimination and behavior.

Throughout the 2000s, lawmakers passed numerous pieces of legislation to protect women and girls. This legislation banned marital rape in 2006 and further, legislators passed another domestic violence act in 2007. The 2007 act outlawed many traditions considered harmful to women.

However, many of these laws remain disregarded in practice due to the format of Zimbabwe’s government. Most of the laws passed are statutory, but there are also customary laws that function on a smaller scale. It is common for obedience to customary laws to occur. Yet, often, citizens disregard statutory laws or there is little to no enforcement in the first place.

Child Marriage

One of the most concerning issues in women’s rights is the high rate of child marriage. Unfortunately, many under-aged girls find themselves in early marriages, typically by force. It is estimated that “one in four girls aged 15–19 are married.”

Most of these marriages occur because of the divide between statutory and customary law. Other than civil marriage, an additional two types of customary marriage exist: registered and unregistered. These latter two types often disregard child marriage laws and force young girls into marriage.

On a positive note, Zimbabwe’s government strives to end child marriage by 2030. Additionally, various organizations such as Girl Child Network and UNICEF have provided resources to help combat these forced marriages with successful outcomes.

Women in Politics

Zimbabwe has a patriarchal, societal system that often oppresses women in both the home and the workplace. Society expects these women to follow traditional, gender roles. Thus, encouragement for women to pursue careers in politics or other influential positions is scarce.

Zimbabwe formerly had a goal of “50% representation of women in all decision making bodies by 2015,” as women are greatly underrepresented in government. However, the country has not met these quotas. Women who announce a political campaign are often met with harassment, threats and other acts of violence. These pressures discourage women from running and even force some to end their campaigns, altogether.

One organization that strives to fight this issue is the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU). Its main goal is to train and empower women in Zimbabwe to successfully run for office. To do so, WiPSU provides leadership-development workshops and other resources, as well as a group of supportive women to stand beside one another. This initiative has helped create successful campaigns and increased opportunities for women.

Looking Forward

While there is still an urgent need to improve women’s rights in Zimbabwe, it is also important to recognize the progress that has been made thus far. The women’s movement in Zimbabwe is strong and shows no sign of wavering as parties nationwide work to gain the gender equality promised by their constitution.

– Hannah Allbery
Photo: Flickr

gender inequality during covid-19Pandemics have far-reaching impacts, such as economic downturns and overburdened healthcare systems. Previous outbreaks, such as Zika and Ebola, revealed that infectious diseases tend to highlight existing structural problems in countries with regard to age, race and gender. In fact, recent data from the pandemic has shown that the outbreak is deepening already existing gender inequalities. According to the U.N. Women’s current analysis of the situation, there are five critical areas where women are impacted the most that must be addressed immediately. These areas include the increase in the risk of gender-based violence due to lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates. COVID-19 has also exacerbated unemployment the unequal distribution of care and domestic work. Additionally, despite the increase in gender inequality during COVID-19, many policy responses to the pandemic do not involve gender-based planning.

Gender Inequality During COVID-19

According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “Already we are seeing a reversal in decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights. And without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains.” Guterres also touched on the rise of unpaid care work due to school closures. The care of seniors and children disproportionately falls on women who must abandon paid work to care for these individuals. This is one example of gender inequality during COVID-19, as an existing inequality has worsened amidst the pandemic.

Inadequate PPE is another pre-existing condition that has worsened for women during the pandemic. About 70% to 90% of healthcare workers are women, yet protective equipment is usually made to fit men. This means that women who are putting their lives at risk every day to care for those infected with COVID-19 are at a higher risk of infection. Guterres put out a call to action to protect women’s rights globally and make sure that the pandemic does not reverse progress on gender equality. The U.N.’s response to this has three phases. These include the health response, the mitigation of the social and economic crises and building a more equal future for women after the pandemic.

U.N. Women’s Response

U.N. Women is focusing on many different areas to respond to gender inequality during COVID-19. It is working to raise awareness about these issues and supporting data collection and assessments. U.N. Women also provides access to essential services, supports women-run enterprises and engages the private sector for aid. With these actions, U.N. Women hopes to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on increased domestic violence, unpaid care work and economic inequality. U.N. Women also hopes to involve women affected by COVID-19 in decision-making and leadership positions to fight for gender equality.

A Global Effort

U.N. Women has offices around the globe that connect with as many countries as possible. For example, U.N. Women Afghanistan has launched a COVID-19 prevention program called Salam for Safety. This program engages women as central leaders in containing the spread of the disease. U.N. Women Vietnam is working with UNICEF to ensure the safety of women and stop the spread of COVID-19 in quarantine centers. Similarly, U.N. Women China has created programs to engage women and raise awareness about gender inequality during COVID-19. U.N. Women also has existing programs that it is scaling up to support women during this time.

It is clear that this pandemic is harming progress made on gender equality in the past few decades. However, the support of the private and public sectors globally can help maintain this progress. The inequalities highlighted by COVID-19 may provide a good opportunity to recognize all the work that remains before we can achieve total gender equality.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr

Saudi women empowermentThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has struggled with issues regarding women’s rights for a long time. Saudi Arabia ranked 146 out of 153 in the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index. The country also did not allow women to drive until the government lifted the driving ban in 2018. In 2017, the country allowed women to apply for passports and allowed women above the age of 21 to travel independently without permission from male guardians. Saudi women even gained the right to vote and run for public office in 2015. Saudi Arabian women celebrate women’s empowerment due to the country’s recent progress toward gender equality.

Challenges Women Still Face

While Saudi Arabia is making progress, the country is not without its issues. The country still requires male guardians, usually fathers or brothers, to make decisions for Saudi women. To this day, the government also limits women when it comes to choosing whom to marry or initiating a divorce. This caused some Saudi women, such as Rahaf Alqunun, to flee because of the strict male guardianship system.

Additionally, several women’s rights activists, such as Loujain al-Hathloul, have been arrested by Saudi officials for encouraging Saudi women empowerment. Al-Hathloul posted videos of herself driving during the driving ban with her hair uncovered. She also ran for office but her name was never added to the official ballot.  Al-Hathloul was arrested in 2018 with 11 other activists on charges of promoting women’s rights and collaborating with foreign organizations and media. However, her trial was indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loosening Restrictions: Women Moving Forward

Saudi Arabia made the largest improvement globally in women’s rights at work, according to The World Bank. The strides are credited to greater freedom of movement for women and reforms for women at work. The country criminalized sexual harassment and established work protection to prohibit employers from firing pregnant women. Saudi Arabia also equalized the retirement age for both men and women at 60, which allows for more financial freedom. Finally, the country outlawed gender-based discrimination in financial services to increase female entrepreneurship.

These reforms were a part of the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the economy by promoting the private sector. The plan also includes increasing women’s labor force participation from 22% to 30%.

Street Style and Women’s Empowerment

Marriam Mossali, a Saudi entrepreneur, launched her second edition of “Under the Abaya: Street Style from Saudi Arabia” celebrating Saudi women empowerment on June 24. The book, a partnership with LUX Arabia and Niche Arabia, exposes the kingdom’s unknown fashion scene. The first edition introduced progressive Saudi women while this second edition exposed the challenges these women face.

All of the book’s proceeds go toward scholarships for women to pursue higher education. To Mossali, the book is a celebration of Saudi women empowerment because it allows women to share their own stories. The book has a forward by Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, the country’s first female ambassador to the U.S. Al-Saud told Arab News that the book tells stories and embodies the principle of women supporting women.

“Our participation in the #WomenSupportingWomen movement is much more than just a hashtag,” the book’s website says. “We believe in giving voice to these talented women in Saudi and the opportunity to pursue their aspirations.”

The first edition of the book fundraised enough to award five aspiring photographers a yearlong scholarship to Future Academy in Jeddah. The second edition aims to award women aspiring to pursue a Bachelor’s in fashion design.

Despite strides made in women’s empowerment, women in the kingdom still face many challenges. However, Saudi women continue to fight for change and equality. From filming videos to photographing street fashion, Saudi women are taking a stand for gender equality and celebrating women’s empowerment.

– Grethel Aguila
Photo: Flickr

women in developing countriesInternational trade is arguably the most significant economic development of the last century. Its growth has been roughly exponential due to technological advancements and specialization, and exports today are more than 40 times the amount they were in 1913. Although this growth contributes to higher wealth and more stable economic systems for many countries, it simultaneously can exasperate already-existing inequalities, particularly those concerning women. International trade has contributed to the creation of new workforces containing more women. However, the employment opportunities in developing countries are typically low-paying positions with little prospects for skill development. Women in developing countries are limited to such positions due to social and cultural dynamics, policies and other country-specific contexts.

Employment of Women in Developing Countries

Women in developing countries oftent act as a cheap source of labor for firms. In manufacturing, women are mainly employed in jobs involving the production of goods, rather than higher-paying jobs involving management positions. If an economy is predominantly agricultural, women are often subsistence farmers or members of family businesses. In these situations, many women in developing countries do not get paid for their work. In service-based economies, women occupy low-skill positions such as street vendors. However, increasing the pay women receive for these jobs and successfully closing the gender gap could add about $28 trillion to global GDP.

The tendency of women to work in low-skilled jobs results from ingrained social norms designed to limit women’s economic mobility. Societies that expect women to assume the full responsibility of childcare often give them few opportunities to receive education or reduce the burden of their domestic labor. Consequently, these women are less likely to have the same access men do to land, credit and labor markets.

Little Access to Opportunities

Women in developing countries often also experience disproportionate rates of unemployment or remain in low-paying positions because they are unable to learn more about job opportunities in other locations. Robert Jensen, a former professor from the University of Texas at Austin, examined this phenomenon. He concluded that women living in rural areas in India who were contacted by recruitment campaigns providing information about job opportunities in urban areas ultimately participated more in the labor force. As a result, they experienced increased mobility.

Current Trade and Employment Policies

In 2016, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development released a report stating that gender-blind trading policies exacerbate the inequalities women experience in developing countries. These gender-blind trading policies do not create equal opportunities. Instead, they allow men in the workforce to further benefit from existing economic advantages they enjoy.

However, the U.N. proposed two new global development frameworks to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through trade. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on combating gender issues. It links economic, social and environmental factors to address power structures and social dynamics that contribute to gender inequality. The Addis Ababa Agenda on Financing for Development requests equal gender inclusion into the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, environmental and social policies. It also aims to ensure women’s equal rights through access to economic activities that would combat gender-based violence and discrimination.

Together, these development plans are a holistic, firm course of action in the fight against women’s economic inequality. The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations recently reported on the progress nations have made in adopting plans, allocating funds and formulating policies. It found higher numbers of trade agreements with gender-related provisions in the last three decades. Although the global economic impact of COVID-19 may disrupt this progress, comprehensive plans and agendas will ensure that the pursuit of gender equality in trade continues.

Isabel Serrano
Photo: Unsplash

Mobile BankingMicrofinance programs are a popular development tool that gives poor households loans and access to formal banking and other financial services so that they can generate income and market their enterprises. Others have questioned the true extent of the effectiveness of this bottom-up approach to development in actually reducing poverty in recent years. However, the rise in access to mobile banking in the developing world brings hope of a new generation of microfinance.

Microfinance as a Development and Poverty Reduction Policy

Mobile phones have been one of the fastest-growing devices in the developing world. International reports found that global mobile phone ownership is growing exponentially, especially among young people in emerging economies. Although ownership is higher in developed economies, a median of 45% of people in developing countries now owns a cell phone compared to only about 25% 10 years ago. The new groups of people with access to technology have created opportunities both for investors and the world’s poor.

Mobile banking accounts and transactions are now accessible in two-thirds of the developing world. Moreover, they are beginning to exceed the number of traditional banking methods in some regions. This growing market is not only multiplying the success of banks but also giving entrepreneurs new ways of selling and profiting from their labors. Through mobile banking services, customers are also gaining access to loans and insurance to protect themselves and their families if they become vulnerable to falling back into poverty.

Mobilizing Myanmar

Mobilizing Myanmar is a prime example of the impact of these new financial programs. A woman from Myanmar started this program to increase tech and communication access for women and the poor with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was inspired by having limited connections during her childhood in Myanmar. In 2013, the program noted that SIM cards cost over $2,000 USD and now, thanks to its hard work and partnerships with the Myanmar government, over half of the adult population has a cell phone. The successes of this approach to microloans and development has gained the attention of major international aid organizations due to its potential to boost people out of extreme poverty. This is because reports have indicated that users had better health outcomes, more financial stability and security and new sources of income.

Benefits of Mobile Banking

Mobile banking has also been more accessible for users who are illiterate as many apps are pictorial, especially those pertaining to farming. Agricultural productivity is yet another opportunity for mobile finance services to increase market access and demands. Mobilizing Myanmar also cites access to a phone and mobile money as an opportunity for online learning for children unable to attend school. It also presents new opportunities for women in the developing world as approximately 42% of women across the globe are not incorporated into the formal financial system. Mobile banking can help women gain control of their household finances. It has also proven effective as a means for group savings in parts of Myanmar.

While questions remain in many regions of access to a cell tower of even basic electricity to power cell phones in order to operate mobile banking, the cost of setting up these systems is a relatively low-cost investment. Also, once set up, these financial systems and microcosms, with regulations in place, can sustain themselves and reinvest in their communities. Thus, although mobile banking is by no means a perfect solution to lifting the world out of poverty, it has proven to be an effective development tool and a reliable investment. Mobile banking is just one way that modern technology can help the world’s poor lift themselves out of poverty.

Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr