Women's Rights in IndonesiaWomen in Indonesia are working hard and fighting for their rights. Recently, Indonesia ranked second in the most dangerous countries for women in the Asia-Pacific. Violence against women can happen anywhere from the slums to the richest neighborhoods. However, this has not stopped the women of Indonesia, as they continue to march — closing the inequality gap. Importantly, women’s rights in Indonesia have fierce advocates.

Child Marriage

Concerning Indonesian girls, 14% marry before their 18th birthday. This is in part, due to their society’s view of women and discriminating legislation. The Marriage Law, established in 1974, states that parents can marry their daughter off as young as 16 years old. In April of 2018, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, came forth and said that he was drafting a presidential decree that would ban child marriage. However, there has been no timeline set for the decree to be passed. Child marriage indirectly takes away a girl’s future and exposes them to a greater chance of being a victim of sexual violence. This can be directly related to the percentage of women in the workforce (51%) and the percentage of women experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime (33%).

UN Women

U.N. Women give girls and women in Indonesia the voice they deserve. This organization advocates for an end to the violence wrought against women while actively pursuing partners to respond to it. U.N. Women do so much for the women of Indonesia, from giving them access to entrepreneurship classes to directly fighting the government. This, in an attempt to hold authorities accountable for women’s rights in Indonesia. In the mix of their many programs, there is WeLearn and WeEmpower Asia, which both give women resources to integrate into the workforce. WeLearn’s goal is to improve equal learning opportunities and empower women to start their businesses. Where WeLearn encourages women into the workplace, WeEmpower Asia aims to achieve a business environment that empowers women and urges companies to adopt the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Women Making Progress

Women’s rights in Indonesia have come a long way. Women in Indonesia now march freely in their opposition to the rights they have (or lack, rather). As backstory, the reason that this big (yet slowly closing gender gap) exists is because of the country’s second dictator, Suharto. He ruled for 32 years and widened the gap exorbitantly. However, most notably, he put the mindset in place that women and men garner different treatments. Now, the gap is closing and for the better. In political parties, 30% of the cabinet must be comprised of women. Further, as mentioned above, President Joko Widodo has the highest number of women in his cabinet in the country’s history. Now, those women in the cabinet are pushing for bills like the Sexual Violence Bill, to be passed.

Thanks to Suharto, the women in Indonesia have a lot of work to do. Fighting for women’s rights is not an easy battle. As for the support of men, Gitika Bhardwaj says that “I do think there are a large number of men who are supporting gender equality in the country but unfortunately there have not been enough high-level public awareness campaigns.” In the next few years, these women leaders hope to see the inequality gap as not a tangible thing, but a thing of the past.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Flickr

ngos in lebanonBordered by Syria, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is a Middle Eastern nation of almost 7 million citizens. Its history has only grown in complexity since it gained independence from France in 1944. Lebanese people have faced civil war, political and economic instability, border disputes and human rights violations into the present day. Thankfully, many NGOs in Lebanon work to address these issues. NGOs have supported the Lebanese people in suppressing terror, promoting gender equality, ending militarization, advocating for human rights and recovering from the Beirut explosion. Paramount to Lebanon’s security and future are not just improved government and policies, but also these NGOs on the ground.

Terrorism

In 2019 alone, four major terrorist groups posed an ongoing threat to Lebanon’s national security. Three acts of terrorism that year sparked an unprecedented governmental and legislative response. Lebanon is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and recently launched a national Preventing Violent Extremism Coordination Unit. However, the Lebanese people’s long-standing lack of trust in government remains. This is where NGOs in Lebanon come in.

Since 1985, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American NGO, has promoted peace in Lebanon. The NGO identifies Lebanese entities actively promoting terror from within the government, such as Green Without Borders. The institute proposes counteracting these entities from abroad by publishing research and pushing policies for financial transparency. Its work is therefore vital to an effective government free from ties to terrorism.

Gender Inequality

Even though Lebanese women got the right to vote in 1952, gender inequities and violence remain among Lebanon’s most critical issues. In 2020, Lebanon ranked 145th among 153 countries in closing the gender gap. This ranking represents variables such as economic participation, educational attainment, health, survival and political empowerment. With women holding just 4.7% of parliamentary seats, NGOs in Lebanon are working to pave the way for female representation in government to empower marginalized citizens.

While global humanitarian groups have funded many gender equity campaigns in Lebanon, NGOs in Lebanon, like the feminist collective Nasawiya, spearhead much of the cultural change. Nasawiya advocates not just for the humane treatment and representation of women, but also for all genders and identities within Lebanon. With 11 projects underway, Nasawiya lobbies the Lebanese government and provides resources for women affected victimized by gender violence.

Militarized Justice Systems

Although Lebanon is officially a unitary multiparty republic with a parliamentary system of government, its justice systems are increasingly militarizing. Lebanon’s controversial pattern of suppressing peaceful civilian protests has garnered international attention as its use of military courts grows. In Lebanon, trials in military courts lack qualified judges, permit torture-induced confessions as evidence, issue inconsistent and lengthy sentences and fail to deliver due process. This affects more than just adults. Indeed, the Union for Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon identified 355 children tried before the military courts in 2016 alone.

As the line between the Lebanese justice system and the military blurs, prosecutors have even brought charges against human rights lawyers and activists who oppose them. NGOs like Helem, which advocates for LGBT rights, are working to hold courts accountable to their victims. The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law and other NGOs in Lebanon have launched further investigations into Lebanon’s militarized courts. By publicizing records and providing credible research, they promote justice in Lebanon.

Migrant and Refugee Rights

An estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees and over 250,000 migrant workers from neighboring countries reside in Lebanon. Unfortunately, exclusionary immigration and refugee policies have created a human rights crisis. Migrant workers and refugees in Lebanon work in unregulated conditions, lack permanent residency and are victims of mass evictions. In 2017, 76% of refugee and migrant households lived below the poverty line. Additionally, 77% experienced food insecurity and 36% lacked an employed family member.

NGOs in Lebanon like International Alert advocate both for reforming the justice system and improving refugee and migrant rights. International Alert promotes policies targeted at improving legal conditions for these marginalized populations in Lebanon. Care, another NGO, also works on the ground to provide interim resources and housing for refugees and migrants in Lebanon.

The Beirut Explosion

When 3,030 tons of ammonium nitrate stored near a port in Beirut caught on fire and exploded in early August 2020, at least 200 people died, over 6,000 were injured and several hundred remain missing. The severe damage inflicted on some 70,000 homes left an estimated 300,000 Lebanese homeless. The Lebanese Red Cross met a large part of the urgent need for humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people affected by the explosion. This NGO has provided free medical care to over 23,700 people  through 36 health centers and nine mobile medical units.

The Lebanese Red Cross is also providing shelter for 1,000 displaced families and is expanding to help a projected 10,000 families. Additionally, the organization provides families with food, water, masks, gloves and other supplies. Another facet of this NGO, the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, reconnects separated families. It also provides mental health and counseling resources for victims.

NGOs in Lebanon Continue the Fight

While the Lebanese people continue to suffer from a legacy of conflict, instability, inequality and oppression, NGOs are working hard to help mitigate these critical issues. NGOs in Lebanon strive to improve human rights to help bring peace and prosperity to this Middle Eastern nation.

– Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hunger in BelizeGovernment efforts have begun to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in Belize. However, a lack of focus on the wellbeing of the nation’s poor has rendered this aid ineffective. Thus, widespread poverty and poor nutrition remain pressing issues in a country whose GDP has grown steadily for nearly two decades. Since the year 2000, the government of Belize has participated in working toward eight Millennium Development Goals concerned with improving the quality of life and bolstering economic stability throughout the world. While Belize is making headway in numerous other categories, such as in providing universal education and promoting gender equality, a lack of attention given to the needs of vulnerable groups hurts this progress. In particular, hunger in Belize continues to be an issue for many marginalized groups.

The Impact of Gender Inequality on Hunger in Belize

Gendered differences in economic opportunity contribute directly to poor nutrition and hunger in Belize. Though the country has made efforts to improve equal participation of men and women in the economy, the women of Belize continue to suffer from employment discrimination. This makes many statistics concerning the nation’s economic condition somewhat inaccurate.

While Belize’s economy may seem to be flourishing based on statistics like GDP, the nation suffers from a high national unemployment rate of about 8%. Gender inequality exacerbates this for the women of Belize, whose unemployment rate is nearly three times higher than the national average.

Women in Belize participate in the labor force at a rate of only 62.5% to that of their male counterparts. As a result, gender inequality has deprived mothers of the resources necessary for raising healthy children. On top of the disproportionate difficulty of finding work as a woman in Belize, women also lack education about proper diet and exercise. Perhaps more importantly, they lack access to healthy food options, which tend to be more expensive than foods high in sugar and salt. Thus, women’s inequality exacerbates hunger in Belize.

Children’s Hunger in Belize

Belize’s economy depends directly on seasonal agricultural exports, such as rum, to support the economy. This means that fruits, vegetables and other natural products are among the most expensive in the nation’s domestic marketplace. The result of this limited access to healthy food has been a high rate of stunted growth and poor nutrition among children. This is particularly important as this demographic has grown the last two decades.

A Selective Humanitarian Response

The government of Belize has helped some of its more vulnerable demographics. The Belize Social Security Board, for example, has helped many elderly people avoid poverty. Additionally, programs like the Conditional Cash Transfer Program provide vulnerable communities in Belize with monetary security.

A reduction in the poverty rate amongst elderly Belizeans indicates that these programs have achieved some success. However, the government of Belize issues this aid on a selective basis. It therefore leaves women, children and members of the LGBT population without relief. This makes hunger in Belize a serious issue among these populations, lacking the financial means to secure access to nutritious food.

Though the Belizean government has helped some groups overcome hunger, discrimination has left some of the most vulnerable groups of Belizeans poor and hungry. Marginalized groups in Belize continue to suffer from the weakness of their nation’s economy. However, they are often those most excluded from relief. If hunger in Belize is to be eradicated, the government must first address social inequality in the population.

Anthony Lyon
Photo: Pixabay

Women’s Rights in South Korea
Historically, women’s rights in South Korea have had limitations and have handicapped the country’s progression. In all realms of society – socially, politically, economically and culturally – women have ranked lower and had fewer rights than their male counterparts. However, there are significant advancements in improving the status of women in South Korea. Specifically, efforts in closing the country’s gender gap could allow for the economy to flourish, and in return, lower overall poverty rates.

Gender Inequality in South Korea

Traditionally, South Korea previously used Confucianism to rule its moral codes and societal structure. For women, these codes determined that they should be obedient to the men in their lives – fathers, husbands and sons. Until the 21st century, men had the title of the head of the household for their families, which reinforced the deep inequality between South Korean men and women. For women, the continuation of familial lines was the primary societal expectation. These historical-cultural expectations set precedence regarding women’s rights in South Korea in modern times.

In 2005, South Korea’s Constitutional Court made the decision to officially retire the tradition of “hoju,” which placed the man at the head of the household. The abolishment of this system had intentions of uplifting South Korean women by improving their daily lives and shows the country heading towards a more inclusive society. In modern-day South Korea, men and women now have equal rights, and furthermore, female employment rates have risen to over 52% since 2018. These significant improvements in women’s rights in South Korea have the potential to create a future with a flourishing economy.

Despite best efforts, South Korea still continues to rank towards the bottom for economic opportunities for women. South Korea ranks at 115 for the country’s economic gender gap, ranks at 124 for economic participation and female opportunity and has the largest pay gap among OECD countries. In addition, South Korean’s working population has started declining and expectations have determined that birthrates will begin to decrease by 2028. A simple, straightforward solution to these issues would be a higher integration of women in the workplace. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an increase in female labor would also increase South Korea’s GDP by 7%, a substantial amount. So, the question is, what is South Korea doing to support female involvement in the workplace?

Solutions

In a 2015 interview, Kim Hee-Jung, the minister of gender equality and family, discussed the ways South Korea is attempting to close its gender gap. Kim Hee-Jung first corrected a common misconception that people have in regard to increasing women’s opportunities by stating an increase in opportunities for women does not decrease men’s opportunities. She proved her point by stating that “the statistics show that in OECD countries with high rates of female economic participation, birthrates and economic growth rates tend also to be higher.” Furthermore, there are policies to aid in creating a sustainable work-life balance for both South Korean men and women. For example, the government initiated the “two-track support for paternity leave,” where men will receive their entire month’s salary if they decide to take paternity leave after their wives have. Kim Hee-Jung ended the interview on a promising note for the future of female power in South Korea’s economy.

Overall, women’s rights in South Korea have greatly improved in this past century. Although South Korea began by placing social expectations and limitations on its women, it has made great efforts in changing these traditional roles. For the South Korean economy to truly thrive, others must continue to recognize and reduce inequality in the workplace. With this acknowledgment, South Korea has the ability to uplift its women in order to enhance its entire economy.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
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

Women's Rights in Bolivia
Bolivia has a rich history and emerged on the idea of respecting its ancient cultural traditions. As the country developed, it has been difficult to stray away from traditional values that place importance on strict gender roles. The patriarchal ideologies that Bolivia originated with have silenced women for centuries. One aspect of these ideologies has created the idea that women take up positions in politics solely to take away the jobs of men. Here is some information about the challenges regarding women’s rights in Bolivia as well as how the country is trying to improve.

Gender Inequality in Bolivia and Latin America

Gender inequality and violence against women have been pervasive issues across Latin America for centuries. In the modern-day, women in politics continually face harassment and assault due to their fight for parity and equality. As a result, Bolivia and many other Latin American countries have experienced diminished economic growth due to increased poverty rates and a lack of female participation in the labor markets. A 2009 study showed that 63% of women worked as apprentices without pay or were family workers and only 9% of Bolivian women had formal employment with access to social security benefits. However, the country of Bolivia, despite its deeply ingrained traditions and cultural history, is now setting the standard for gender parity across Latin America.

The Effects of Gender Disparity

The World Bank has explained that evidence has shown that gender disparities can hinder economic growth, facilitate an increase in poverty rates and undermine well-being outcomes for men and women alike. The educational enrollment gap is an example of the challenges regarding women’s rights in Bolivia. For example, a 2014 survey showed that one in five female students aged 15 to 24 reported having felt discriminated against in academic environments. Because of this and other factors (lack of economic resources, pregnancy, domestic and care work, etc.), the education gap has increased between men and women leaving more women uneducated and limiting them from joining the labor market. Regardless of these economic consequences due to gender disparity, many Bolivian men, including politicians, have continued to insite physical and psychological violence against women in order to prevent them from taking up political positions to improve such issues.

Gender Parity: A Movement

The Bolivian government originally began its mission toward gender parity in 1997. It began with the passing of a law that required 30% of political candidates to be women. Since then, the development and creation of laws have continued in order to increase female political representation and participation.

Beginning in 1997 into the present day, gender disparity within the Bolivian government has changed dramatically. Only a few decades ago, people thought of most women as second-class citizens with only a 4% rate of holding municipal assembly posts. Today, Bolivia now ranks second in the world for the most gender-equal government with a council which is 53% female.

Although these women continuously face backlash for this increase in representation, this has not stopped the mission towards true gender equality. With the increase in the number of laws fighting against the physical and psychological abuse that these women have faced, these changes have aided in creating awareness of the violence these women have experienced and implementing the plan to further address topics relating to women’s sexual health.

Aiding Women in Poverty

Furthermore, programs aimed toward aiding women in poverty have begun emerging. For example, the Joint Programme on Productive Patrimonial Assets Building and Citizenship Programme for Women in Extreme Poverty (the Programme) targets aid to indigenous rural women from the poorest areas of Bolivia. The Programme aims to assist these women in attaining sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families through a two-element strategy. The first element involves a non-reimbursable direct monetary transfer component that provides seed capital, startup grants, joint venture and risk capital. Meanwhile, the second element focusses on providing training and advisory services to these women. Furthermore, the Programme aims to strengthen Women’s abilities to fully exercise their citizenship and political rights. The results have led to a decrease in poverty rates by providing financial support and financing to women entrepreneurs. The Programme has aided over 4,000 Bolivian women by giving them access to services such as savings accounts and credit lines, among others.

It is clear that the mission to end gender disparities in the Bolivian government is a movement that will not end abruptly due to long-standing patriarchal ideologies. However, Bolivia’s mission to end gender discrimination and improve women’s rights in Bolivia has set forth a movement across Latin America. Addressing such issues will not only aid in the country in achieving gender equality but also help reduce poverty amongst women and improve female participation in the labor market.

– Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

pandemic-induced inequality in latin americaFrom 2002 to 2018, Colombia, “one of the most unequal countries in an extremely inequitable region,” cut its poverty rate in half. This reduction of poverty accompanied massive economic uplift throughout Latin America that saw wealth inequalities diminish rapidly. Before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, economic and social inequality in Latin America had reached its “lowest point in recorded history.” Millions of families lifted themselves out of poverty, job opportunities soared and the quality of education increased. However, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to destroy this new progress toward equality. Although the situation is dire, there are simple steps that anyone around the globe can take to help reverse the trend of pandemic-induced inequality in Latin America.

Economic Inequality

The World Bank predicts that due to the pandemic, the economies of Latin American countries will contract by 9.4%. This will cause 53 million Latin Americans to fall below the poverty line of less than $5.50 earned per day. With further reduction of jobs, COVID-19 will undoubtedly continue to destroy opportunities vital to the incomes of Latin America’s poor. This “setback of two decades” will further inequality between the rich and poor in Latin America, because it eliminates many jobs that poor daily wage workers depend on while hardly touching the incomes of the rich.

Francisco Ferreira, Professor of Inequality Studies at the London School of Economics, stated in an interview that “the inequality of COVID doesn’t just take place between the states of nations, but rather in neighborhoods of the same city.” Francisco commented further that “when this type of disaster arrives, poverty necessarily rises because the rich are better equipped financially to deal with it, and this causes inequality.”

Manual laborers in Latin America constitute 53% of the overall employment force. However, these individuals face especially high unemployment risks because of COVID-19. If they do manage to keep their jobs, these workers also face a higher risk of getting infected with the virus. Infection could lead to medical bills that can plunge people further into poverty and thus increase pandemic-induced inequality in Latin America.

Unequal wages also lead to worsened living conditions, like a lack of piped water and sanitation. In Brazil, as much as 50% of the population has no access to improved sanitation. For Bolivia, 30% of the population has no access to piped water. A lack of adequate sanitation facilities has the potential to start a vicious cycle of poverty and poor health conditions. This is especially concerning during a pandemic.

Gender Inequality

The pandemic also has the potential to severely reduce gender equality in Latin America. Women hold 55% of the most vulnerable informal jobs in Latin America. This means that when economies crash, women may be among the first to lose their financial independence. Unemployed women may be forced into care roles in communities, which may lead women to permanently leave the labor market. In the long term, this will greatly damage the economic capabilities of Latin American countries.

Overall, the pandemic stands to cause catastrophic long-term damage to the progress of equality in Latin America. By eliminating jobs and reducing the number of financially independent women in Latin America, the COVID-19 crisis has begun to retrench economic gains and further steepen earnings gaps between the rich and poor. However, those outside of the region can quickly and easily contribute to the reversal of pandemic-induced inequality in Latin America.

How to Help

Even though the pandemic stands to undermine decades of progress towards social and economic equality in Latin America, there are simple steps that every person reading this article can take to help reduce the impact of pandemic-induced inequality in Latin America.

  • Raise Awareness: By spreading awareness of pandemic-induced inequality in Latin America, anyone with a phone or social media account can draw attention to how decades of economic progress are being reversed. Taking this step towards combatting inequality is as simple as posting a link to this article. Making more people aware of how the coronavirus stands to eliminate jobs in Latin America makes policy and aid attention toward this problem becomes more likely.
  • Contact Congress: By contacting Congressional representatives and telling them to support foreign aid initiatives, anyone reading this article can help direct funding toward reducing pandemic-induced inequality in Latin America. Only by contacting senators and representatives can individuals demand increased foreign aid spending. This money would go toward creating economic stimulus, expanded shelters and better healthcare.
  • Donate to The Borgen Project: By donating to The Borgen Project, one can contribute to a cause working to increase foreign aid spending and by extension working to reduce pandemic-induced inequality. Donating to The Borgen Project means contributing to an organization that will continue to fight for U.S. legislation that will increase foreign aid spending and funding. This is vital to eliminating social and economic inequality in Latin America.

Overall, COVID-19 threatens to reverse decades of progress toward equality in Latin America by eliminating jobs that create social mobility. Nevertheless, anyone can quickly and easily help reverse the trend of pandemic-induced inequality emerging in Latin America. It’s as easy as spreading awareness, contacting their congressional representatives and donating to The Borgen Project.

– Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Microfinance on Gender Inequality
Many women around the world struggle to stay afloat and support their families. However, the effects of microfinance on gender inequality are significant in that a loan could help women start businesses to financially support themselves.

The Story of Nicolasa

At the age of 4, Nicolasa’s mother died, leaving her in the care of her father and older sister. Though Nicolasa’s father did his best to provide for his daughters, they both had to abandon their education in order to keep the family afloat. Nicolasa and her sister worked on the streets of San Antonio Palopó, Guatemala selling a variety of food items.

As Nicolasa grew up and married, she vowed that her child would not live the same life as hers. She wanted to be present for her children, yet the only place she had worked was far from home. To care for her children both physically and financially, Nicolasa decided she would start her own weaving business from home. With no capital or collateral, and no banks to borrow from in her small town, Nicolasa faced an immense obstacle.

Microfinance

Nicolasa’s problem is one that many women in Guatemala and other developing nations face every day. Guatemalan women want to become financially independent but often have nowhere to obtain even a small loan. Without the aid of a financial institution, these women have minimal opportunity to start a business, make small investments or simply support their families.

In 1976, Muhammad Yunus recognized the difficulties these women face and started the first modern run microfinancing bank. His goal was to lend small amounts to those in developing countries who did not have access to banks or had little collateral to support their endeavors. A microloan as small as $60 could now go to a woman opening a fruit stand, for example. Microloans may not cover large purchases, but just a small amount of money can go a long way for women in developing nations. A successful loan may help a woman jump-start her business and become financially independent. Therefore, the effect of microfinance on gender inequality could be very significant.

The Effect of Microfinance on Gender Inequality

Studies have proven microfinance to be a great tool for economic development and the promotion of gender equality. When women are financially independent, they often meet with greater decision making power within their households. Gender equality within households often results in women taking a more prominent stance on societal issues, which in turn, further promotes equality around the world.

Gender equality can also create a healthier and more robust global economy. A study that the McKinsey Global Institute conducted claims that if each country had equal opportunity for women, the global GDP would increase by $28 trillion, or 26% by 2025. From individual households to the global economy, gender equality results in a healthier balance of power across developing nations.

Criticism

Not everyone agrees with the impact that microfinance could have on gender equality. Many critics claim that a country’s cultural disapproval of women who work can minimize the positive effects of microfinance and prevent women from obtaining microloans. To combat these cultural norms and their negative effects on gender equality, many microfinance banks offer loans to women who are hoping to start a business from home. Nicolasa is one of these women.

Nicolasa Now

Nicolasa obtained a loan of $400 from the Foundation for International Community Assistance. She used the money to buy a loom, from which her success was significant enough to seek investment for a second loom. She currently weaves fabric and rents out her other loom to women from her village. Nicolasa is now proudly saving to send her daughter to college.

Nicolasa is one of many women in developing countries experiencing the positive effects of microfinance. She has provided herself with a sustainable income and is giving her daughter the wonderful gifts of higher education and financial support. If one small loan can change a woman’s life for the better, it is easy to see how microfinance is providing the same benefits to women across the world.

– Aiden Farr
Photo: Flickr

 

Indian women
The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting women across the globe, setting back progress for global gender equality. Confined inside homes, women are shouldering more of the housework and childcare than their husbands, fathers and brothers. In India, a country where women are expected to fulfill homemaking roles, the gender disparities in housework between men and women are only growing more apparent, especially as more women exit the workforce. For Indian women, domestic unpaid labor consumes hours of their days and limits them to a life of financial dependence on their partners or a life of poverty. In India, two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. With the unemployment rate being as high as 18% for Indian women, compared to 7% for men in India, it’s inevitable that women make up a large percentage of this impoverished population.

Women’s Unpaid Role in India

While men in India complete less than an hour of unpaid labor each day, Indian women spend six hours of their day on unpaid labor. In comparison, men around the world typically spend around two hours a day on unpaid labor, while women spend four and a half hours.

Although the time and energy women put into cleaning and caring for children and the elderly are essential roles in economies, housework isn’t widely recognized as a form of labor. As part of their domestic responsibilities, Indian women must also retrieve water from wells, a chore that spans several hours and multiple trips in one day. Often lacking the aid of technology, Indian women must cook, clean and do laundry by hand.

Because women in India bear the burden of housework, they can’t maintain stable jobs outside their homes. This requires them to rely on their partners. This is in part due to the traditional patriarchal system India upholds. From a young age, Indian women are trained to fulfill roles inside the home. As a result, Indian women are excluded from the workforce, and young girls are pulled from schools to work inside the home, jeopardizing their education.

This reality has only grown over the years, as more and more women have exited the workforce. Over the past decade, the percentage of women in the workforce has dropped from 34% in 2004 to 25% in 2018, compared to the nearly 80% of men who work.

Why Female Employment Is Declining

The decline in female employment directly impacts Indian women’s risk of falling into poverty, as they are unable to financially support themselves. But up to 64% of women said they had to be responsible for housework as there were no other family members who would perform these responsibilities.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people, it’s increasingly difficult to secure a position in the Indian job market, and work positions designated for women are slim. On top of this, upon completing the same job as men, women earn 34% less in wages than their male coworkers. For women who manage to secure a job, their time is stretched thin as they complete both paid work and unpaid work. As a result, they are less likely to spend time on education, cultural and leisure activities.

There are exorbitant economic losses, though, when women are not welcomed into the workforce. According to an Oxfam report on female unpaid labor, the value of global unpaid labor performed by women amounts to at least $10.8 trillion annually, or, as the study suggests, “three times the size of the world’s tech industry.” By putting into context the monetary value of unpaid labor in society, the true economic loss of excluding Indian women from the workforce is undeniable.

In a step toward creating a more inclusive workforce environment for Indian women, the country passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act in 2017. The amendment increased the number of weeks for paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. But this act hasn’t led to a significant change in female workforce employment. Instead, the act could continue to negatively impact female employment. Newly responsible for covering the cost of additional paid maternity leave, companies may be less inclined to hire female workers.

Combined with the recent growth in female education and declining fertility rates, India’s economy is primed for welcoming women into the workforce. But the country must strike a balance between paid and unpaid labor, a gendered expectation rooted in Indian tradition.

Closing the Gender Gap: One Indian Woman’s Petition

One Indian woman is especially determined to redefine gender roles in India. Juggling unpaid labor at home along with her involvement in a charity for reproductive justice, Subarna Ghosh realized she was shouldering the majority of housework —particularly since the pandemic forced her family to stay home.

In July 2020, Ghosh decided to draft a petition on Change.org and describe her experience as a working woman in India expected to perform the majority of the housework. “Unequal distribution of unpaid household work has rendered the harshest blow to women across India during this lockdown. Yet, women’s care work continues to be invisible and no one wants to address this gross imbalance,” she wrote.

Directing her efforts at India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ghosh concluded her petition by calling on Modi to encourage Indian men to equally fulfill their share of housework. The petition has received over 75,000 signatures, mostly from women who stand in solidarity with Ghosh and relate to her experience.

Ghosh’s petition reflects the persistent struggle for female equality in India, as one woman’s experience echoes the experience of thousands. Only when women in India are given the same opportunities as men will they be able to earn their own financial independence.

Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

Gender Gap in STEM CareersDigital technology has become a core asset to everyday life. The mind-boggling contributions that it affords the world are the closest to magic that we can get. This rapid progress has required the world’s workforce to evolve as well. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is crucial to supply every member of the future workforce with the skills needed to occupy future careers. Despite this necessity, many countries –particularly those in Africa–experience a gender gap in STEM careers and education, leaving female workers far behind their male counterparts.

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects, over 60% of Africa’s population is currently under the age of 25. Because of this, countries in Africa have the incredible opportunity to elevate their economies by producing a workforce of skilled STEM professionals. Despite this opportunity, there is still a worrisome gender gap in STEM careers in Sub-Saharan Africa–in order to take full advantage of advances in technology, this must be rectified. Here are five things to know about this gender gap in STEM careers.

5 Things to Know About the Gender Gap in STEM Careers in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Inconsistent Access to Electricity: Only 22% of primary schools have reliable access to electricity. This instability in electrical infrastructure makes it difficult for teachers and students to utilize technology to facilitate learning. This is a missed opportunity to expose children, including young girls, to technology and to spark a potential interest in STEM careers.
  2. Lackluster Enrollment Rates: Many children are out of school. According to the 2018 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Global Education Monitoring Report, 21% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are not enrolled in primary school. The rate of unenrolled students surges up to 57% for upper secondary education.
  3. Gender Gap in Leadership Positions: There are few examples of women in leadership positions. In most African countries, leadership positions for universities and research facilities are occupied by men. Men employed in these positions of power influence the decision-making process and tend to enjoy a higher salary than their female counterparts. Women in science typically work primarily in academic and government institutions as lecturers and research assistants. Very few women become professors or are able to contribute to major studies.
  4. Household Burdens: There aren’t sufficient frameworks or policies in place to encourage and protect women in science. Women are less likely to enter and more likely to leave STEM fields than their male counterparts. In many African societies, women shoulder the majority of the household burdens. They don’t receive the support they need to simultaneously juggle their academic ambitions and care for their families. Many women find it difficult to find adequate childcare. Additionally, if a woman decides to take a break to start a family, she may find it difficult to resume her career because of a lack of re-entry programs.
  5. Weak Support Systems: There are a lack of female mentors. In a challenging career path dominated primarily by men, it’s necessary for women to have a support system. Mentorship helps provide the potential to establish networks and grow professionally. The absence of this support system is a big deterrent for women who may find themselves feeling isolated or diminished in their field.

A country’s ability to fight disease, protect its environment and produce necessary products for its citizens is largely dependent on its citizens’ technological prowess and skill. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have a wonderful opportunity to tap into their youth and produce a workforce of highly skilled professionals. Women’s participation in sciences and technologies will be a key driver in this development. There are many organizations taking a stance to address the gender gap. The African Ministers of Education adopted the Gender Equality Strategy for CESA 16-25, a detailed strategy and plan to bridge the gender gap. The future is looking brighter with each passing day. If African governments continue to support ambitious young women, the gender gap in STEM careers in sub-Saharan Africa will surely begin to close.

Jasmine Daniel
Photo: Flickr