Facts About Women’s Health in EthiopiaWhile gender equality has been a significant issue in the sub-Saharan African country, recent steps have been taken to ensure the health and safety of Ethiopian women and girls. Below are seven facts about women’s health in Ethiopia.

7 Facts About Women’s Health in Ethiopia

  1. The maternal mortality rate has been cut in half between 1990 and 2010. One reason for this is the implementation of the Health Extension Program (HEP) in 2005, which aims to provide all families with clean and safe spaces to deliver their babies both at home and in medical facilities.
  2. In 2015, the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT) was founded in order to increase the number of medical professionals that could provide reproductive care to rural areas of Ethiopia. Students are completing the program in three years, compared to 12 years of similar advanced programs in other African countries. The program also works to destigmatize reproductive health and merge it into mainstream health care. Partly as a result of this program, the number of Ethiopian women making four or more doctors’ visits during their pregnancies has tripled between 2000 and 2014.
  3. Ethiopia has a long history of gender-based discrimination which impacts the wellbeing of women and girls in the country. In February of 2019, the Ethiopian government held a meeting with civil society organizations (CSOs) as a part of African Health Week to prioritize gender-sensitive policymaking objectives in the health care sector.
  4. The use of contraceptives has increased by almost six times from 2000 to 2016. The introduction to modern contraceptive methods had helped prevent unwanted pregnancies and disease among married women in Ethiopia.
  5. Twice as many women in Ethiopia have HIV than men, but in 2016, 49 percent of women had knowledge of HIV prevention methods, compared to 32 percent in 2000. This has contributed to a 45 percent decrease in AIDS-related deaths in the country between 2010 and 2018, as well as a decrease of 6,000 new cases in the same timeframe.
  6. In both rural and urban communities, the percentage of female genital mutilation has decreased by at least 10 percent. Though progress still needs to be made, both settings have seen a significant decrease in the act between 2000 and 2016.
  7. In 2018, the first two urogynecology fellows in Ethiopia graduated from Mekelle University. Oregon Health and Science University partnered with Mekelle to launch the first urogynecology fellowship program in the country. Urogynecologists treat pelvic floor disorders in women, many who suffer in silence in Ethiopia, as this group of disorders is not well known.

While Ethiopia has severely struggled with gender inequality throughout its history, it is encouraging to see that the Ethiopian government is making concrete changes. Between the creations of programs and institutions, as well as improved education, women’s health in Ethiopia will continue to make great strides.

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pixabay

Keeping Girls in School ActThe House of Representatives passed the Keeping Girls in School Act in January 2020. The main focus of the Keeping Girls in School Act is to make sure that girls around the world are supported in staying in school despite the numerous hurdles they face. There are young girls around the world who are still being forced to leave school due to early marriages and pregnancies. This bill guarantees that the U.S. will ensure foreign assistance to break the barriers that are keeping almost 130 million girls worldwide from getting an education. 

The Keeping Girls in School Act

By focusing on their education, girls are not only gaining academic knowledge but they are also growing up with the right resources and knowledge to lead prosperous and successful lives. If countries could definitively end child marriages, they could save 5 percent or more on their budgets for education by the year 2030. The following four facts describe how the Keeping Girls in School Act will help girls stay in the classroom instead of having to stop their education to go take care of a household:

  1. Result-based financing– The Act authorizes USAID to create grant-based programs that are designed to reduce the obstacles that interfere with young girls and inhibit them from completing school. Programs like Cash on Delivery Aid and Development Impact Bonds directly link the funds obtained to deliver the specified outcomes.
  2. Ending gender-bias stigma– Sexism still exists and it is still a major factor affecting young girls. In some cultures, girls are expected to be housewives while the men go out and work. In India, students are becoming aware of gender equality and by discussing it in classrooms. These discussions are improving girls’ attitudes and behaviors on education and gender equality. 
  3. Ensuring safety for all children– At least 25 percent of students in Liberia have reported sexual abuse by teachers. In India, 21 percent of students have experienced abuse in an academic setting. One of the top priorities of this bill is to ensure that all children feel safe and comfortable while learning. 
  4. Making education affordable– In many countries, higher education is a privilege for the rich. The Keeping Girls in School Act highlights the role of USAID in supporting an education system that is affordably financed by governments domestically. The key is to focus on improving the affordability of primary and secondary schooling to promote higher learning.

Supporting Girls’ Education and Rights

More importantly, the purpose of this bill is to ensure that girls are allowed to be children and not become mothers and wives at young ages. According to recent data by UNICEF, 12 million girls are becoming wives at a young age. By marrying young, their childhoods come to a screeching halt and they are forced to grow up. In sub-Saharan Africa, 66 percent of girls who have not received an education become wives at an early age. However, for girls who have a secondary or higher education, that number drops to 13 percent.

The Keeping Girls in School Act supports the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls. Its main purpose is to focus on girls’ rights, education, health and safety. The House passed the Act. Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced a version in the Senate in April of 2019. With enough support, the Act will pass in the Senate.

Paola Quezada
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Southern Russia
Women’s rights are an international concern. The state of women’s rights in Russia is challenging, particularly in Southern Russia, where the police and government treat feminists as extremists. Southern Russia includes Adygeya, Astrakhan, Kalmykia, Krasnodar, Rostov and VolgogradThis article will mainly inform on the gender pay gap in Russia as well as violence in the form of domestic violence and harassment. Additionally, it will shed light on some solutions and progress that women and the government have made. The solutions that have been working highlight that it is possible to outline new ones and effectively fight for women’s rights. 

Gender Pay Gap

A significant topic when discussing women’s rights in Southern Russia is the gender pay gap, which is significant. Back in 2015, men earned $670, while women earned $452. The pay gap percentage is smallest in the educational sector, while it rises in the IT sector with a 33 percent difference. Still, Olga Golodest, a Russian politician and economist, says that the gap has narrowed in the past decade, when women’s salaries were 40 percent lower than those of men, compared to a current 26 percent.

Violence

In 2018, Russian journalists accused influential lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment through the #MeToo movement. The parliament’s ethics committee held a hearing, but later on dismissed the complaints, calling them a conspiracy that sought to smear Slutsky’s image. He never admitted any wrongdoing. A year before, in 2017, the parliament also decriminalized domestic violence as long as it does not cause any serious bodily harm that requires hospitalization. Many saw this move as a step in the wrong direction because domestic violence is rampant in Russia, and so much so that around 12,000 women suffer killing as a result of it every year.

Taking Action

 In St. Petersburg, two women opened Russia’s first exclusively female co-working space called Simona. One of the co-founders, Svetlana Natarkhoba, explained that she “got tired of sexism and mansplaining at work, especially when [she] found out that [her] male colleague, who worked just as much as [she did], had a salary up to 15,000 rubles ($230) higher than [hers].” Simona allows any female customer to stay and work there for only $2.2 per day. Another positive development has been the spread of feminism. Women have been demanding new legislation to restrain abusers and innovative ways to tackle outdated gender attitudes.
There is also a significant representative in politics for feminism named Oksana PushkinaPushkina became an elected member of United Russia in 2016 and is campaigning to get the law that decriminalizes domestic violence overturned. She is also seeking to get Russia to pass its first-ever domestic violence law.

The pay gap between men and women, as well as violence against women and how the population perceives it, are vast indicators of how women’s rights are doing in a particular place. By looking at Simona and the efforts of Oksana Pushkina, it is clear that some in Russia are fighting these injustices and obtaining results. Learning about the solutions that have been working shows that it is possible to outline new ones and effectively fight for women’s rights in Southern Russia and around the world.

– Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Gender Inequality in HaitiHaiti is one part of the isle of Hispaniola and located in the Caribbean Sea. It was born out of imperialism and enslavement by European powers. Haiti won its independence from foreign powers in 1804 although it wouldn’t be officially recognized until several years later. Today, the women of Haiti make up the pillars of the Haitian economy, yet still, there is an undoubted disparity between men and women. Women in Haiti face gender-based discrimination and violence. Here are 10 facts about gender inequality in Haiti.

10 Facts about Gender Inequality in Haiti

  1. While women and girls stand at the heart of the Haitian economy and society, they still face much gender-based violence. Organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are committed to creating gender equality in developing nations such as Haiti. One in three Haitian women ages between the ages of 15 to 49 has experienced some form of gender-based violence.
  2. For many Haitian girls ages 13 to 17, school was the second most common location where they reported some kind of sexual abuse.
  3. Due to a feeble judicial system in Haiti, there were no laws in place declaring rape and domestic violence a punishable offense until 2005. Furthermore, women and girls in Haiti are given far less legal protection than men. This results in no penalties for criminals who commit these atrocious acts.
  4. USAID supports the introduction of a gender-specific legal strategy that would grant women better access to quality legal protection. USAID’s Projustice Program has provided legal services and justice to at least 50,000 people between 2009 and 2016. Projects like the Projustice Project are crucial to the improvement of the lives of many Haitian women.
  5. Beyond Borders is an NGO with the goal of preventing violence against women in Haiti. It launched a project in June of 2010 called “Rethinking Power.” Rethinking Power is a project that works closely with five Haitian communities to reeducate the participants about violence against women. Rethinking Power uses mediums like theater and comic strips to convey the message that a man should not commit violence against women. As a result of this project, 94 percent of participants agreed that a man has no right to strike a woman when he is angry. Additionally, one in three community members has reported someone from his or her community who discusses Rethinking Power regularly.
  6. Women have a 20 percent higher chance to be unemployed than men, according to a 2015 World Bank report. Unfortunately, many employers in Haiti discriminate when it comes to sex. It favors men over women for employment, furthering gender inequality in Haiti.
  7. Women in Haiti often live in poor, low-quality housing. Many single mothers and women live on low wages with little means of social and economic advancement. Some women are forced to live with their parents to make ends meet.
  8. Only 22 percent of women are married in Haiti. In Haiti, a woman’s social standing is higher if there is a man in her life, especially for low-income women. Single women and single mothers are often frowned upon in society.
  9. Non-governmental organizations like the Pan American Development Foundation have helped fund 11 women-owned businesses through its LEAD program. This created 9,000 jobs. This is a crucial step in the rebuilding of Haiti, allowing women to attain better jobs in a male-dominated workforce.
  10. Most women in Haiti work in the informal sector. The informal sector often includes makeshift marketplaces and low-income jobs. An article in the 2010 MIT journal about the rebuilding of Haiti after the earthquake suggests that Haiti should be rebuilt with women at the forefront of the rebuilding process. Focusing and raising the power of the informal sector and the work the women of Haiti do should be an integral part of the rebuilding of the Haitian economy.

Despite the fact that the country that has been ravaged by gender inequality, it is arguably on a road to a better future for Haitian women. Many advocacy groups work to lessen the burden women face in Haiti. Groups like Rethinking Power and USAID have helped to change the violent, victim-blaming attitude men harbor toward women in Haiti. Organizations like these are working to change these 10 facts about gender inequality in Haiti.

William Mendez
Photo: Flickr

10 Improvements in Women’s Rights in Bangladesh
Bangladeshi women are no strangers to fighting for what they believe in. In 1952, the women of Bangladesh fought against the patriarchal regime alongside their husbands for the recognition of the Bengali language. Below are 10 improvements in women’s rights in Bangladesh.

10 Improvements in Women’s Rights in Bangladesh

  1. Health. The USAID assisted in joint communication between husbands and wives regarding women’s health. Therefore, decision-making is mutual and focuses on the future of the family, including healthier pregnancies for both mother and child. Bangladeshi women formed NGOs to mobilize and provide door to door health services, family planning and income-earning opportunities.
  2. Agriculture. Bangladeshi women are not only homemakers, but they are also income earners. Female farmers utilize a new technology, known as the fertilizer deep treatment method. This method uses less fertilizer and produces a higher return on investment. Additionally, Bangladesh also encourages women to sell in markets and pursue other areas of earned income, such as culturing fish and shrimp.
  3. Gender-Based Violence. The USAID works to implement the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act of 2010 in training 50 percent of Bangladeshi women. Further, Bangladesh also supports grassroots efforts of social protection groups as well. Groups act as the ears and eyes of the community, as well as enforcing current human rights laws and providing resources to legal channels. Groups include social workers, doctors, religious leaders, teachers and students.
  4. Voting Rights. The country has set an example of women’s equality in voting. In 1972, the Constitution of Bangladesh guaranteed women the same voting rights as their male counterparts. The constitution also guaranteed equal opportunities, such as serving in parliament. For example, in 1991, there was the election of the first female Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia. Today, Sheikh Hasina holds the seat as Prime Minister. Furthermore, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury holds the seat as House Speaker.
  5. Women and Children Repression (Special Act). In 1995, Bangladesh passed the special act for severe punishment for anyone guilty of forcing women to marry against their will, as well as marrying for dowry. In 2018, the high court also banned and prohibited the two-finger test; it deemed this test irrational and belittling to rape victims. Instead, the government adopted a more appropriate form of health care protocol in line with the World Health Organization.
  6. Education. Research finds that access to education and employment plays a positive role in helping women avoid becoming victims of dowry-related transactions. Illiteracy stifles the opportunity for growth and empowerment for women. The Centre for Policy Dialogue completed a study and found that if homemakers received pay for what people believe is
    non-work, they would receive 2.5 to 2.9 times higher pay than paid services income.
  7. Mass Awareness. Bangladesh also encourages mass discussion, debates and programs to bring awareness to gender inequality. According to lawmakers, mass public initiatives must include legislations and policies; this includes awareness that people teach and model at home.
  8. Working Women. Bangladeshi working women increased from 16.2 million in 2010 to 18.6 million in 2016-17. In 2017, the Gender Gap Index reported Bangladesh in the first spot amongst South Asian countries.
  9. Education. In 1990, the implementation of stipends exclusively for female students in efforts to end gender disparity for secondary schools occurred. Also, 150,000 primary school girls improved their reading skills. Participation increased from 57 percent in 2008 to 94.4 percent in 2017. Moreover, 10 million rural and underprivileged women in 490 Upazilas of 64 districts gained technology access. Bangladesh tops the Gender Gap Index in education in the primary and secondary education category.
  10. More Achievements. Bangladesh initiatives thus far include a reduction in infant and child mortality, poverty alleviation, increased female entrepreneurs and increased education and health. Other initiatives include strengthening workplace treatment and security for women against violence. There have also been income-generating initiatives to train over 2 million women at a grassroots level. Finally, Prime Minister Hasina created the Reserve Quota aimed at increasing the number of women in government, judiciary and U.N. peacekeeping missions and roles.

These 10 improvements in women’s rights in Bangladesh continue to set an example for other countries where inequality is extremely pervasive. While Bangladesh still requires significant work, these improvements bring more opportunities for Bangladeshi women to succeed in the future.

Michelle White
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Yemen

Yemen is located in the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula between Oman and Saudi Arabia. Getting access to education has been one of the major challenges children in Yemen face in recent years, especially girls. Here are eight facts about girls’ education in Yemen.

8 facts about girls’ education in Yemen

  1. In Yemen, about 32 percent of girls are married before the age of 18 with 9 percent being married before turning 15. Due to poverty, girls in Yemen are being married off as a source of income. Marriage will reduce the cost of looking after girls and is believed to offer girls the safety a husband can provide. However, Girls Not Brides is an organization dedicated to ending child marriage. This organization aims to raise awareness of the negative impact of child marriages through open discussions with communities. It mobilizes policy to bring child marriages to an end and works to empower girls and offer them a support network.
  2. According to UNICEF, there is a significant gender gap in education in Yemen’s youth with males enrolled in primary school at 79 percent and females at 66 percent. However, UNICEF is working with the government of Yemen on decreasing this gap and improving the quality of education. The goal is to increase the number of girls enrolled in school. It is also working with other organizations to improve conditions for teachers in Yemen, which will increase access to education overall.
  3. The goal of the Secondary Education Development and Girls Access Project is to improve gender equity and quality of secondary education with a specific focus on girls in rural areas. This project works on improving and furnishing school facilities, providing learning equipment and resources and offering schools community grants. The project also aims to improve teaching and learning practices in classrooms and increasing girls’ participation. The project helped increase enrollment from 0.43 to 0.63 and increased the retention rate of 10 to 12-year-old girls to 85 percent from 78 percent.
  4. In Yemen, public schools are co-ed until grade four though girls and boys are usually seated apart from each other. Due to cultural and traditional beliefs, co-ed classrooms are not acceptable. Some families decide not to enroll their daughters in school because of the lack of separate classrooms.
  5. In Yemen, about 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas. In rural areas, school accessibility is a challenge. Some students must walk for more than an hour to get to the nearest school. The distance becomes longer in higher grade levels because some schools do not offer both primary and secondary education. For girls, schools must be at a culturally acceptable distance and location in order to attend classes.
  6. Due to violence and closed schools that began in 2015, more than 350,000 children couldn’t go to school that first year. A total of about 2.2 million children have been left out of school. However, in 2016, UNICEF was able to provide about 575,000 children with educational resources and psychological encouragement.
  7. Save the Children is an organization that protects children’s rights. It has programs such as education, protection, health and more. Save the Children was the first worldwide aid group in Yemen. This organization has set up temporary learning spaces for children, trained teachers and provided equipment. It runs learning programs for children who did not attend school to help them catch up. In addition, the organization runs educational programs for displaced children in camps.
  8. USAID is working with the government of Yemen to improve school attendance by make schools cleaner and safer. USAID is working to rebuild schools, improve curriculum and provide “safe and equitable access to education” through Yemen’s Transition Education Plan. USAID is dedicating $36 million to education in Yemen.

Education for girls still remains an unsettled issue today. However, through the efforts and determination of the government of Yemen and organizations such as USAID and Save the children, there is hope that all girls may get an education in the near future.

Merna Ibrahim
Photo: Flickr

 Female Weaving Co-op in Mexico
Female weaving co-ops began to proliferate in Mexico in the late 20th century, especially in the country’s most impoverished areas. Indigenous Mexican women living in these areas found it imperative to collectivize to navigate an oppressive socio-political landscape. Vida Nueva is one example of a co-op that grew out of this context. This female weaving co-op promotes gender equality in Mexico in ways that people never before imagined.

How This Female Weaving Co-op Promotes Gender Equality in Mexico

Oaxaca is the second-poorest state in Mexico, with historically low GDP growth relative to the national average. In Oaxaca, 28 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, a statistic due mainly to income disparities between rural and urban centers and the region’s low manufacturing capacity. In the small township of Teotitlán del Valle, Zapotec women feel social and economic marginalization the hardest, because they must contend with a communal infrastructure that favors men and limits their participation in municipal government. Until the 1990s, women could not pursue education or obtain a drivers’ license.

Today, many Zapotec women are still illiterate and bound to male intermediaries so they may engage meaningfully with the economy. This is especially the case regarding the textile industry, their principal export. Under these conditions, even their own reproductive health can present a source of ignorance.

Weaving Cooperatives as a Means of Social Change

The establishment of weaving cooperatives has benefitted Zapotec communities like Teotitlán in confronting the onset of globalization and neoliberal economics in Mexico. This phenomenon has proven to be damning to rural indigenous communities throughout the country. However, the biggest impact changes in textile production have been in improving gender relations in otherwise patriarchal contexts.

Since Zapotec women began weaving, their stake in local politics has increased, as well as their lobbying ability. Exposure to new markets through access to technology and travel has led to instances of financial and ideological independence. They have placed new importance on education and female empowerment, reshaping social norms to value female labor and domestic contributions at home.

Vida Nueva

Vida Nueva (New Life in Spanish) is an all-female weaving cooperative changing the social geography for women in Teotitlán for the better. The group comprises of solteras or unmarried women, widows and the wives of migrants, who banded together in an attempt to circumvent merchant control over their products. When starting, the women struggled to sell their rugs independently due to a language barrier (most do not speak any Spanish), stigmas against indigenous Mexicans in the city, exploitative bureaucracy and male backlash within their community.

A chance encounter with Flor Cervantes, a social justice promoter in Oaxaca with over eight years of self-esteem workshops under her guidance, gave Vida Nueva the architecture to develop into what it is now. Under Cervantes’ guidance, the women learned about their bodies, their business potential and how best to advocate for themselves. With this knowledge, Vida Nueva began to expand. It eventually gained recognition from the United Nations and the licensure to sell its goods worldwide. Through education and cooperative production, Vida Nueva regained control over the production and sale of its work.

While Vida Nueva’s biggest impact on gender equality in Mexico is qualitative, concrete change also exists. By 2004, nearly 15 percent of households in Teotitlán participated in textile cooperatives. This is a considerable increase since Vida Nueva’s inception in 1996.

According to the New York Times’ measure last year, the textile industry involves almost all of Teotitlán’s 5,500 residents in some way. Since the early 2000s, higher volumes of female co-op members received invitations to attend community assemblies. Now, it is commonplace for whole collectives to receive written invitations. This serves as evidence that a once-rigis, patriarchal local government is finding women to be more valued assets.

Giving Back

At no point in becoming independent artisans did the women of Vida Nueva compromise their practice. They continue to use the natural dyes (made from pomegranate, marigolds, pulverized insects, etc.) and the arduous weaving techniques that predated colonization. Vida Nueva is a community-driven project with a localized vision. Every year, the collective sponsors a new initiative to improve the quality of life in Teotitlán for all residents. Since starting, the group has championed recycling and forestation efforts, senior care services and feminism.

Elena Robidoux
Photo: Taken by Elena Robidoux

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