gender discrimination in niger
Niger is a country located in West Africa that spans more than 1.3 million square kilometers and is home to approximately 22.3 million people. It is ranked the lowest out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). A prominent issue is its weakened education system, where children in Niger spend a mere two years on average. Additionally, there exists a gender gap that exacerbates discrimination against girls’ education. To combat this burgeoning issue, a variety of organizations have been working towards eliminating gender discrimination in Niger to provide better quality education for girls.

UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been focusing on reform of Niger’s education system for five years. Starting in May 2015, the project targeted several schools in the town of Torodi. While this small town has been left out of many national development programs, UNESCO is working to successfully implement accessible schooling services to all girls in the region. The program also facilitates tutoring sessions and encourages female teachers to be employed in local schools.

UNESCO recognized that due to the rapid population growth, empowering the youth through education would go a long way towards improving the country’s socioeconomic standards. Moreover, with organizations like UNESCO teaming up with the government of Niger, the country is seeing positive developments in girls’ education. They reported a jump from 27 % to 65 % in girls’ primary school enrollment between 2000 and 2014.

UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also played an active role in reducing gender discrimination in Niger’s education system since 2012. Through significant investments and thorough management, enrollment into primary schools has increased remarkably, especially with girls. Approximately 66% of the 71% of children enrolled in primary schools are girls. While these numbers are promising, factors like child marriages and safety concerns remain to be a significant barrier to girls’ education. UNICEF has laid out several objectives and solutions to overcome these issues.

According to a UNICEF representative in Niger, “only one in two girls goes to primary school, one in ten to secondary school and one in fifty to high school.” UNICEF partners with Niger’s government at the ministerial level to ensure that that access to girls’ education is a policy priority. In doing so, UNICEF monitors how Niger is meeting its education goals. Additionally, UNICEF works at the community level to monitor that both boys and girls receive quality education. For girls, UNICEF realizes the cultural and societal issues at play, like the expectation of housework and child marriages, and works with those effected to overcome these obstacles.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has signed a ten year deal  (2014-2024) with Niger’s national education sector to help decrease the gender discrimination present in its education system. USAID also promotes parental education to the community as a whole. Well-educated parents are more likely to enroll their children in school as well as encourage the completion of their curriculums.

International organizations are continually working to help Niger’s government through funding and managing the country’s education sector. Reform of the country’s education system has been progressing over two decades and has made notable improvements in terms of enrollment rates. As the country progresses into the next decade, organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF, and USAID plan to further support children in Niger by working to provide them with equal and quality education. Such improvements in education and gender discrimination can have a ripple effect, bringing positive change to Niger’s social, political, and economic systems.

– Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

3 Lessons the World Can Learn From Mexico’s New Feminist Foreign PolicyIn January 2020, Mexico shattered barriers by announcing its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing “structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities” at home and abroad. This commitment made Mexico the first country in Latin America and the Global South to require that “gender equality be at the core” of all foreign policy decisions. Mexico’s new policy initiatives intend to help foster the reduction of women’s economic and social issues through representation and the elimination of structural differences. Here are three lessons that every country can learn from Mexico’s groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives.

Representation Matters

Developing foreign policy necessitates introspection within a government. How can a nation help foster gender equality abroad when it fails to do so within its borders?

In establishing its new feminist foreign policy, Mexico saw the potential hypocrisy of sponsoring gender equality worldwide while failing to address inequalities present in some of its governmental organizations. For this reason, many of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy initiatives focus on the creation of “a foreign ministry with gender parity.” The Mexican government believes that to ensure equitable feminist foreign policy gets passed into law, the ministry which creates such law must have “visible equality of women” within its ranks. This part of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy entails hiring even more women into positions of leadership in the foreign ministry. This hiring shift aims to create an influx of female voices in the Foreign Ministry to instill the opinions of women in policy areas ranging from foreign aid to defense.

Already, the Mexican government has become one of the most gender-equal in the world. As of 2018, Mexico had 246 women in congress occupying 48% of congressional seats. This places it at fourth in the world for its number of women in congress. By committing to include more women in the process of drafting foreign policy legislation, the Mexican government seeks to amplify the voices of women in the legislation process even further. This means increased advocacy for women worldwide, especially those living in poverty.

Mexico’s commitment to include women in the process of foreign policy creation demonstrates to the world that equitable foreign policy requires equal representation of men and women in the lawmaking process. 

Equality and Economics Are Inextricable

Globally, women earn 24% less than men and are more likely to live in poverty than men. High poverty rates among women signal a disparity between the wages of men and women. Any attempts by a government to ensure the equality of women on a global scale must be focused on reducing the number of women in poverty. Mexico recognizes this fact, and many of its groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives involve tackling structural inequalities like the gender pay gap.

The Mexican government has committed to joining with the HeForShe organization, which champions social and economic equality between the sexes throughout the world. By orienting its foreign policy goals toward fulfilling the promises of women’s rights on a global scale, Mexico commits itself to economic initiatives like “microfinancing and small loans for women,” as well as the dismantling of antiquated trade laws and tariffs that put women at an economic disadvantage to men.

Through these initiatives, Mexico aims to reduce the number of women in poverty by helping to dismantle systemic inequalities and by giving women the resources needed in order to create economic equality. Microfinancing creates limitless economic opportunities for women all over the globe and allows them to independently develop their own businesses. Global communities lose around $9 trillion a year due to the gender pay gap. By committing to reduce this inequality, even the poorest of nations can decrease their poverty rates and bring tangible economic benefits to communities in need.

Mexico’s commitment to reducing the number of women in poverty makes it evident that if the systemic economic barriers to equality are to be dismantled, women must be given the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and to earn wages and jobs at equal rates to men. Equality cannot simply be declared. Rather, social and political equality arises from equal economic opportunity.

Anyone Can Try It

Before Mexico announced its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing women’s poverty and encouraging a “feminist agenda abroad,” the only other countries to have oriented their foreign policies toward feminist initiatives were Sweden, Canada and France. These other three nations have an average poverty rate of 9.7 % and an average GDP per capita of $49,907. Comparatively, Mexico has a poverty rate of around 17% and a GDP per capita of $10,065. Although Mexico’s peers in the field of feminist foreign policy have more national wealth than it does, this did not prevent the nation from adopting and maintaining policy objectives with women’s rights at their core.

Mexico’s new foreign policies demonstrate that it does not take an extreme amount of national wealth to launch feminist initiatives at home and abroad. Regardless of GDP, any government can make commitments to ensuring tangible gender equality. 

Overall, although Mexico still has progress to make with respect to ensuring women’s equality at home and abroad, its commitment to a feminist foreign policy sets a strong example for other Latin American countries. With any luck, other Latin American countries will soon follow Mexico’s lead and begin to implement similar feminist foreign policies that not only work to lift women out of poverty and assure social and economic equality but that also recognize that “women’s rights are human rights.

 – Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

women's rights in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a conservative and religious country where the existence of mistreatment of women still exists. In October 2011, an article published by Oxfam pointed out that the women who lived under the Taliban regime were not allowed to work outside their homes and were forced to wear a burqa. Women’s rights in Afghanistan suffer under these policies. However, as an act of resistance, Afghan women started an online campaign in 2017, titled #WhereIsMyName. The focus of this campaign is for women in Afghanistan to have the right to publicly reveal their names. These women want their names recognized. Despite facing repercussions for their mobilization, some Afghan women are still campaigning for their rights and the free use their names through the slogan “Where’s My Name”.

The Campaign Begins

The campaign started three years ago when Laleh Osmany realized that she was fed up with women being denied what she thought was a basic right — the right to publicly use their names. Shortly after Ms. Osmany started her campaign, Afghan celebrities began supporting it, including singer and music producer Farhad Darya and singer-songwriter Aryana Sayeed.

In July 2020, demand has resurfaced yet again. This time, the right to have mothers’ names listed on their children’s documents was the key issue. For years, women’s rights activists demanded their names mentioned in official documents, including their children’s birth certificates. Similar to Afghan identification, birth certificates only carry the father’s name and even on a woman’s wedding card, her name does not appear. Only the woman’s father and future husband’s names appear. Moreover, the woman’s name also does not appear on her grave. This led the activist Wida Saghari, a single parent, to speak out and denounce her difficulties in obtaining custody of her child’s identity documents.

Progress Ensues

Due to the efforts of these activist women, many more people recognize the campaign, #WhereIsMyName, and its imposition is now much greater in Afghanistan. It is quite a common occurrence for family members in Afghanistan to coerce women into hiding their names from non-family members. The use of a woman’s name in public is an offense, per Taliban law. #WhereIsMyName recently made a big stride forward in its cause. The right of women to use their names is being studied to amend the Population Registration Law. This will allow women to issue their names on identification cards and birth certificates.

Campaign members have explained that they intend to identify issues before the Afghan government and enact rights to protect women. They also stressed that the movement worries that only 38% of women possess Tazkera, the country’s main identity document. Since the start of the campaign, organizations such as the Revolutionary Association of Women joined the cause by declaring their opposition to the current state of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Challenges & Continued Progress

Although Osmany welcomes an amendment, she says that the country is very conservative and male-dominated. It is due to these circumstances, that many women would still face challenges in society, even if the law passes. One of these challenges is the gender-based violence seen in the country as 87% of women experience some type of violence.

Mobilizing #WhereIsMyName is an advancement for women’s rights in Afghanistan. The campaign enables women and creates at the very least, a space for opportunities for women’s rights advancement. This is a critical step in achieving gender equality in a conservative country.

– Juliet Quintero
Photo: Pixbay

Flaviana Matata FoundationInternational fashion model Flaviana Matata survived malaria and studied electrical engineering in college. In 2007, Matata was the first-ever Tanzanian woman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. In 2016, after learning that house paint is often passed off and sold as nail polish in Tanzania, she founded Lavy Products, a nontoxic nail polish company whose products appear online and in stores and salons across Tanzania. As she breaks records and embarks upon entrepreneurial endeavors, Matata has made philanthropy a priority, founding the Flaviana Matata Foundation in 2011.

Matata’s foundation is a nongovernmental organization that supports women’s education in Tanzania. The foundation also helps women establish their own businesses and find employment opportunities.

Education in Tanzania

In Tanzania, less than 56% of children move onto secondary school after completing their primary school education. While the Tanzanian government abolished school fees for primary and secondary school education in 2015, costs such as transportation, lunch and exams still make it three times less likely that students from poor families will attend primary school when compared with children from wealthy families. As of 2016, the poverty rate in Tanzania is estimated to be 26.8%, meaning that more than 13 million Tanzanians live in poverty.

“A lot of kids do very well in school but have to quit or stop because they can’t afford school fees, uniforms or even books—the little things we take for granted,” Matata said in an interview for the Diamond Empowerment Fund, which has helped sponsor many of the Flaviana Matata Foundation’s initiatives.

The Foundation’s Approach to the Gender Gap

Girls are less likely than boys to receive a secondary-level education in Tanzania. The literacy rate for adult women in Tanzania was approximately 67% in 2009. Laws banning child marriage and fee-free education at the secondary level have been important steps toward increasing access to education in Tanzania, but more progress still needs to be made.

The Flaviana Matata Foundation aims to achieve this progress and make education in Tanzania more accessible for women. To date, the Flaviana Matata Foundation has helped over 5,000 students in Tanzania, providing school supplies, improving school infrastructure, adding desks and giving toiletry boxes for girls to use while on their menstrual cycles.

Ongoing Activism

The foundation has prioritized various projects since 2011. The Clean and Safe Water Project, completed in 2018, provides 319 students and teachers with a supply of clean water. The Stationery Back to School Project, completed in early 2020, equipped 304 students with stationery kits to last the academic year. The foundation’s ongoing project, Education Sponsorship for Young Girls, currently sponsors 25 girls from secondary school to college or university age with full scholarships and vocational and educational training.

Matata, whose Instagram following is 1.5 million as of July 2020, regularly shares information about Lavy Products and the Flaviana Matata Foundation online. Her work proves that social media can be used to make a positive impact and combat education inequality. As 24 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa remain unable to afford an education, the Flaviana Matata Foundation’s initiatives continue to play a crucial role in bridging education gaps.

Zoe Engels
Photo: Pixabay

Education in Sierra LeoneMany important improvements in educational outcomes have occurred in Sierra Leone since 2015, especially for women and children. The country is bouncing back from the civil war, Ebola crisis and other serious challenges. This progress is partially owed to organizations that help children go to school. Several NGOs and community-based actors support education in Sierra Leone. Here is a small glimpse into the work of many.

4 Organizations Improving Education in Sierra Leone

  1. Street Child: Street Child’s goal is to improve the educational prospects of the world’s poorest and most marginalized children. Since its founding, the organization has helped more than 250,000 children escape poverty and go to school.  It originally started by improving education in Sierra Leone, where it began a project for 100 children in a small northern village. It has since expanded to serve children in ten other countries. Some of its work involves providing young girls with school supplies and giving families financial support. The organization also trains teachers and supplies classroom materials.
  2. Mother’s Club: After setbacks and challenges from the Ebola outbreak, mothers in Sierra Leone began organizing to ensure their children would receive a full education. Mother’s Clubs are village and community-based networks that sell products to fund their children’s schooling. Profits from farming, tye-dyeing, gardening and soap making pay for school supplies, books and uniforms. Thanks to these self-starters, with aid from international partners like UNICEF, communities can help drive positive educational outcomes.
  3. Girls Access to Education (GATE): Funded by U.K. Aid and its partners, Girl’s Access to Education (GATE) aims to help girls from disadvantaged households go to school and enables out-of-school girls to resume their education. Importantly, it also empowers communities to create their own solutions. The net enrollment rates in both primary and secondary education have consistently increased since 2013, due in part to their work. Where the literacy rate for girls ages 15-24 was less than 40% in 2005, that figure rose to 62.7% in 2018. The gap between male and female literacy rates continues to drastically decrease as well. This speaks to an overwhelmingly positive impact on Sierra Leone’s children and youth.
  4. Teach for All: Teach for All is a network of education partners and nonprofits who work together to help inspire change on a global scale. The organization announced Teach for Sierra Leone as its latest partner in July 2020. Similarly to other actors, Teach for Sierra Leone is community-driven and recognizes educational disparities in the country as an urgent issue. They aim to bridge education gaps by recruiting women and teachers from under-resourced schools whose efforts will help break the cycle of global poverty.

A Brighter Future

Overall, these organizations play a critical role in improving access to education in Sierra Leone. Currently, many schools have been disrupted due to COVID-19, but now radio lessons bridge the learning gap until reopening. So long as outside actors continue to provide foreign aid, assist in educational outcomes and empower communities, children in Sierra Leone will be able to reach their fullest potential.

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

Female Peacekeepers
Major social change starts with a shift in mentality, support from the top, persistence and structure. That is why male allies are key to the full realization of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Without support and encouragement from male leaders, which are often lacking, women will be harder pressed to participate in important political decisions. Women cannot make this change on their own, and neither can men– thus, the solution lies in working together, with men as partners.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325

UNSCR 1325 is a landmark resolution that was adopted by a unanimous vote on October 31, 2000. The resolution stresses the importance of female peacekeepers in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, the humanitarian response in war zones or impoverished areas, peace negotiations, and post-conflict civil reconstruction. This resolution brings to light the urgency of providing women a seat at the political table and calls on everyone to protect women and girls from gender-based violence.

The Positive Effects of Female Leadership

Women’s leadership is essential in ensuring long-lasting peace and conflict resolution. In fact, studies show that the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years goes up by 35% when women participate in its creation. Additionally, there are more agreement provisions for political reform and gender provisions in peace agreements signed by women. Typical peace agreements often do not address gender equality: in fact, of the 1,789 agreements made between 1990 and 2018, only 353 included provisions that address women, girls, or gender whatsoever. Thus, women’s involvement in these agreements could be crucial in addressing more social and gender inequalities.

Female Peacekeepers

Women are vital in peacekeeping. They are necessary in every role, from monitoring human rights to political reconciliation to operational analysis. Women are often first responders during or after conflict and are fundamental in helping to repair devastated economies. Why, then, are they still not totally equal when it comes to political roles in maintaining peace and security? How can this problem be resolved?

The Importance of Men as Partners

One important strategy is to mobilize men. Men acting as partners to women in issues of peace, conflict, reconciliation, and post-conflict reconstruction is essential to closing this gender gap, as men currently have more seats at the political table. Our Secure Future, a nonprofit dedicated to this strategy, is taking the necessary steps to build this partnership in an effort to fully realize the potential of UNSCR 1325.  Their project, Mobilizing Men as Partners for Women, Peace and Security, began in 2018 in the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. It engages global figures who agree that men must be a part of the solution in the full realization of the 1325 agenda. The project has drafted a Charter and call to action to encourage the full implementation of UNSCR 1325, along with the US Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017. This partnership of men and women will help ensure that women are equally engaged as leaders, planners, and peacekeepers in post-conflict societies.

There is still much work to be done, but the increasing trend of male support for UNSCR 1325 is certainly a step in the right direction. Tackling big issues like gender-based violence and post-conflict reconstruction are not easy feats. They require strong leaders and peacekeepers. They also require both male and female perspectives for optimal success, so conflict-ridden societies cannot prosper until the political playing field is as equal as possible.

Rochelle Gluzman
Photo: Flickr

Ghana, a small country located in West Africa, has dealt with tremendous economic struggles since the 1990s. Positive strides are being made to alleviate the economic crisis and improve the situation today, specifically for people experiencing poverty in Ghana. For example, in recent years, Ghana has achieved astronomical progress toward alleviating the economic burdens on its citizens. In the last two decades, Ghana has lowered its poverty rate by more than 30%. Its GDP increased 8% by 2006, the highest it has ever been. Significant changes were made to facilitate this progress in Ghana. First, the nation diversified its economy to create more products and services in different sectors. This led to increased consumerism and employment amongst the residents, which allowed Ghana’s economy to flourish.

Ghana Still Faces Poverty Challenges

Although many improvements were made to foster a steady economy in Ghana, many of its citizens still face significant challenges. Similar to the United States, when Ghana adopted a consumerist culture it consequently increased the wealth disparity within many regions. This affected the Upper West and the Upper East Regions, where the poverty rate has either increased or remained static.

The disparities among poverty rates in Ghana are a direct effect of geographical locations and climate. The lack of infrastructure, such as roads, in the Northern Region of Ghana, makes it difficult to transport goods and products. Despite these disparities, many families in both the Upper West and Upper East Regions have found creative means of accumulating extra income, such as the production of Shea butter. Some businesses, like Star Shea, provide loans for women as a means of starting production and accommodating transportation costs. 

In fact, many women believe these loans were advantageous in pursuing more educational opportunities. For example, Mrs. Atorneygene, a local resident in Ghana, utilized the proceeds from her Shea butter production to provide educational tools for her granddaughter. Changes being made on a local level, such as the production of Shea butter,  have proved to be beneficial in providing opportunities to marginalized regions.

Big Changes for Ghana

Changes on a national scale have also been instrumental in Ghana’s progress toward poverty reduction. According to the United Nations, Ghana plans to enact a Development Fund for its northern regions, especially areas with limitations in technology and other resources. In contrast to past politicians, John Nabila, former President of the National House of Chiefs, reinstated $1 billion toward the Development Fund. The government plans on prioritizing funds toward infrastructure and communications in order to unify Ghana and limit the economic disparities between these regions.

In addition, external organizations, such as The Hunger Project, are working toward alleviating poverty in Ghana. Since 1995, The Hunger Project has aided over 300,000 people by focusing on improving infrastructure, education reform and sanitation. The project focuses on building community centers, or “epicenters”, in order to collectively unify communities within Ghana and provide resources, such as electricity and clean water. As of now, over 40 epicenters receive clean water and sanitation, and almost all of them have health committees and clinics.

Even with the problems that Ghana has faced in the past, the nation has reached tremendous milestones and has made effective improvements within the last decade. With the help of the government, The Hunger Project and people in the community, Ghana has been able to make positive changes relating to its economy and wealth disparities. Now, a precedent has been set by Ghana regarding the instrumental changes needed to alleviate poverty.

– Aishwarya Thiyagarajan
Photo: Flickr

USAID and UNESCO are working to change gender normalities in Zimbabwe by normalizing men’s contributions to household activities that are traditionally perceived as feminine. Equal division of domestic duties leads to improved child health and nutrition, as well as advancements in women’s rights. These social benefits are instrumental in alleviating poverty in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe and Gender Norms: An Overview

A country of 14 million, Zimbabwe has recently faced declines in public health, education, infrastructure and standard of living. Of the population, 63% of households live in poverty. Government policies and climate issues hamper farming and impact food insecurity. In addition, the country has a high burden of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and maternal and childhood disease.

Women traditionally hold an inferior position in Zimbabwean cultures, which are often patriarchal. Women often work for no pay in the home or in subsistence agriculture; alternatively, they perform low-paid wage work. Women cannot own or claim land except through their male relatives or husbands.

Gender Norms and Food Security in Zimbabwe

USAID and UNESCO are working to transform gender normalities in Zimbabwe, and the positive effects of these efforts extend far beyond women’s rights. Empowering women and normalizing men’s participation in the domestic sphere effectively increases the household labor force and children’s access to nutritious food. In rural Zimbabwe, one-third of children are malnourished, largely because of gender norms that lead to unhealthy feeding practices for young children.

As USAID reports, there is a close connection between women’s lack of assistance in the domestic sphere and child nutritional status. USAID wrote, “In a typical day in rural Zimbabwe, a mother must collect water, search for firewood, make a fire, cook and wash dishes, repeating this cycle for every meal. She must also spend a large proportion of the day tending to the family’s crops. Mothers simply do not have the time in the day to focus on all their responsibilities, including the childcare and nutrition necessary for the healthy growth and future productivity of their children.”

USAID’s program Indoda Emadodeni (“A Man Among Men”) holds monthly dialogues in which advocates, or Male Champions, challenge social norms and discuss the benefits of expanding men’s roles with both traditional leaders and the community as a whole. Participants in the program reported great pride in their domestic skills, including cooking, feeding and dressing infants and doing their daughters’ hair. The fathers enjoyed the closer relationships that they developed with their children. 

The program has yielded excellent results in many areas. A survey found statistically significant improvement in behaviors and support like fetching water and firewood, childcare, taking their wives to medical (including prenatal) appointments and cooking. There was also a 52% increase in joint decision-making among spouses. Rather than being stigmatized, these supportive and beneficial behaviors now elicit high praise in their communities, “uyindoda emadodeni” which translates to “you are a man among men.”

UNESCO’s Impacts

The United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization agency is also running a project entitled “Challenging constructions of masculinity that exacerbate marginalization of women and youth,” in which the organization focuses on women’s empowerment through male engagement with gender issues. By conducting trainings and dialogues, the program leads men to reframe masculinity and reconsider their behavior.

One participant, Tichaona Madziwa, described how he “started to see [his] wife as a partner, a shareholder in this household…[and] really started to respect [his] wife’s decisions and perspectives—something that was not considered the norm.”

As he began to cook and care for his daughter, his relationship with her grew stronger. Madziwa, like the other program participants, found that the change of perspective greatly benefited him and his family.  

Normalizing men’s performance of domestic work lightens women’s workload. This, in turn, both empowers women and improves child nutrition. These USAID and UNESCO programs are effectively addressing the issues of both food security and gender normalities in Zimbabwe.

– Isabelle Breier 
Photo: Wikimedia

In the past decade, Cambodia has made progress in reducing the inequality gap between men and women. In partnership with the UN and USAID, gender barriers and negative social norms surrounding women’s place in society are being broken.

Women have taken the lead in various areas of poverty reduction, such as participating in the democratic process and spearheading efforts against water insecurity and climate disaster.

Here are some ways in which gender equality in Cambodia is improving.

Changing Societal Norms

During the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, violence against women escalated, including rape. The UN has worked to support victims and correct assumptions and inattention surrounding violence against women in Cambodia. Through the UN Joint Global Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence that began in 2017, survivors of rape and violence are receiving help and support. They focus on various needs of victims.

Through such programs, the UN has made efforts toward openly discussing and reducing violence against women, promoting gender equality in Cambodia.

A UN survey found that 82% of men and 92% of women accept that a woman’s main role lies only in overseeing the home. By using media, the UN is educating the public about negative social norms surrounding the role of women. For example, UNDP Cambodia and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia (MoWA) developed an initiative that focuses on improving gender equality in Cambodia. Between 2017 and 2020, this initiative focused on three areas:

  • Refining various institutions in the health, legal, and economic sectors to implement policies that empower women.
  • Using media to educate and engage the public to break societal norms and gender barriers.
  • Advance efforts to place women in positions of leadership and decision-making.

Women Lead Efforts Toward Water Security

Not only is the conversation surrounding gender equality in Cambodia changing, but women have stepped into positions of leadership in poverty reduction. For example, women are instrumental in efforts to achieve water security. In Cambodia, women are the main members of the household to fetch and handle water.

In addition to daily water needs, women also depend on water for its use in farming. Almost two-thirds of Cambodians are farmers, many of whom are women. The USAID Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP) recognizes the leadership skills of women and trains them to aid efforts toward water security. For example, in 2018, this program trained 17 women in the Stung Chinit Watershed and placed them in positions of leadership. These women gained knowledge in various areas, including conflict resolutionteamwork, communication and overseeing finances. In future years, the SWP plans to continue to include women in the fight for water security.

Women in the Democratic Process

The USAID has also worked toward including women in the democratic process. Through grassroots organizations, women are now becoming part of various civil rights causes. The USAID has promoted the participation of women in lobbying for workers’ rights and human rights.

Cambodia’s National Assembly is still composed of 80% men, but efforts to place women in political leadership positions are being undertaken. For example, a Cambodian NGO SILAKA is focused on partnering with political parties to engage women in politics. In 2017, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) focused on including qualified women candidates on candidate lists during council elections.

Women and Climate Disaster

In 2019, UNDP Cambodia increased efforts to prevent climate disasters and protect communities from these disasters. The UNDP has emphasized the role of women in disaster management. They are equipping local women with leadership and decision-making skills as a part of the Charter of Demands for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation.

Looking Forward

With the aid of the UN and USAID, Cambodia has made crucial efforts toward reforming negative societal norms. This has come through media campaigns and through involving women in poverty reduction efforts. To achieve greater gender equality in Cambodia, further efforts are needed to empower women politically, economically and socially.

– Anita Durairaj
Photo: Needpix

Women in ZimbabweThe magnitude of gender inequality in various African countries is still an ongoing concern. The Republic of Zimbabwe is a promising example of progress. The Zimbabweans’ determination to end the continued inequality in their country encourages many and provides hope for women in Zimbabwe.

5 Encouraging Signs for Women in Zimbabwe

  1. Changes in the Zimbabwean Constitution to implement multiple laws on gender equality. After gaining independence from Britain in 1980, the newly formed Republic of Zimbabwe drafted its first constitution. When the constitution began to see disadvantages toward women, it caused not only local but global disapproval. These changes, along with public activism in recent years, show encouraging signs that Zimbabwe is getting closer to gender safety. Women in Zimbabwe became legally protected in having equal status and rights as men 33 years after the original constitution. Zimbabwe’s Bill of Rights states that all “laws, customs, traditions and practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this constitution are void to the extent of infringement.” In 2015 the government went on to initiate an institutional framework to continue working on women’s rights and gender equality. The Ministry of Women Affairs and Community Development carry out this role. However, steps taken by the nation are still not near full efficiency.
  2. Despite the late start, a rise of employment for Zimbabwean women shows great success in achieving equal status to men. Zimbabwe ranks number seven out of the 195 countries worldwide in the number of women above the age of 15 holding jobs. In this ranking, Zimbabwe even surpasses first world countries including the United States, France and Canada. Data collected on March 1, 2020, by the International Labor Organization shows women make up 78% of Zimbabwe’s working population. Although this high ratio does leave concern for possible ramifications, the benefits coming from the largely female workforce are showing promising signs of self-sustainment.
  3. The U.S. and Canada have teamed up with local Zimbabwean groups to become a part of their positive movements. The Embassy of Canada to Zimbabwe promotes Zimbabwe’s projects challenging gender inequality. Canada’s main mission is encouraging male allies to join the women’s rights movement. Canadian Ambassador to Zimbabwe René Cremonese shares the important role men play in challenging social norms by standing in solidarity with women. The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe participates in public affairs forums with citizens to provide direction on how the U.S. could support women advocates. For example, in one forum, embassy employees and officials heard from women in Zimbabwe who work in education, health, government, civil society and private sectors about the daily obstacles they face from sexism. These women are setting the bar for women’s involvement in Zimbabwe’s society. The movement is considered to be important to advance U.S. foreign policy.
  4. There are continuous breakthroughs for women activists thanks to the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), a network of organizations and activists. Women, both independent and members, representing different rights organizations go into specific fields including education, peace-building, constitutional rights and media to improve all sectors of life for women and girls in Zimbabwe. The WCoZ, formed by women in Zimbabwe themselves, has been influential since the congressional reform in 1999. In the 2013 redraft, WCoZ’s work helped achieve the 75% of edits on gender provisions. This victory ensures women’s rights will be protected by the country’s highest level of the law. The WCoZ continuously commits to pressure local governments when gender laws are ignored. The coalition also supports campaigns led by women who lack funding for election compared to their male opponents. Platforms run by the WCoZ that respond to various gender issues continue to be a safe haven for local women to seek support.
  5. Women in politics are catching on. The minority of women who were able to hold government positions during the first constitutional redraft in 1999-2000 did not successfully pass needed gender provisions. Women who were active in advocacy and lobbying for women’s rights thought it best to form coalitions with movements focused on broader civil society movements. This was not supported by voters due to the women’s movement involvement with government-led committees, which were not trusted at the time. Women activists had to wait nearly 10 years before regaining the opportunity for legal gender protection. This time, during the 2009-2013 redraft, they singularly promoted women’s rights and concerns so that no alliances could create political divides among voters. Women who hold seats in Zimbabwe’s Parliament today continue this work. The constitutional revision from 2013 that sets aside parliamentary seats for women is due to expire in 2023. Zimbabwean advocates continue to work on solutions to create new provisions on how to include young women in Parliament since many lack resources to even get elected.

Zimbabwe is only one example of an African country that has made improvements within the last few decades and continues to do so successfully. The encouraging progress of equality for girls and women in Zimbabwe still has issues that need to be overcome. Even the successes of constitutional change, employment, international aid, women’s groups and political adaptations are laced with pitfalls. Yet, they signify valuable change. Global attention on the struggles in Africa is key to promoting change. Global attention also brings light to the important changes that have already been made.

Grace Elise Van Valkenburg
Photo: Flickr