malawian farmersAs a small, landlocked country in East Africa, Malawi relies mainly on agriculture for its economic stability and subsistence. In 2011, agriculture formed 31% of Malawi’s GDP and employed more than 80% of the workforce. Despite the bountiful resources that agriculture offers the people of Malawi, food insecurity is still a very present reality for a significant portion of the population. Farmers in rural villages struggle to attain the income needed to survive. To compound this issue, Malawian farmers heavily divide agricultural and domestic labor along gender lines, placing the brunt of domestic and farming burdens upon the shoulders of women. However, thanks to the efforts of researchers and global activists, educational programs have proven effective in getting Malawian men involved in the process of feeding the family, leading to increased gender equality within the household.

Poverty and Agriculture

Although Malawi has been on a steady upward trend toward increased childhood education and greater access to healthcare, half of the overall population suffers from poverty due to negative factors such as droughts, floods and lack of sustainable farming methods. A majority of Malawian farmers can produce only enough food to survive and cannot grow the extra crops needed for future food supplies or trading opportunities. Thus, rural communities often live from harvest to harvest without a stable supply of fresh food and produce.

The Role of Women in Malawian Agriculture

Within the small rural communities of Malawi, societal norms divide the household responsibilities along gender lines, with the men of the household taking charge in plowing the fields, tending to crops and performing other farming duties. In addition to taking on agricultural tasks, women within the community complete household chores and watch over the children. Although the amount of female participation in Malawian farming practices is commendable compared to other small countries with similar economic conditions and demographics, the farming system is strenuous on women, who must perform double duties to ensure that the household runs smoothly.

With the economic fragility of Malawi, patriarchal structures have proven detrimental to the well-being and security of the community. It is difficult for Malawian female farmworkers to reach their full production potential and devote their full energy to sustainable farming practices and education. Families cannot produce enough food to sustain themselves and others in the village due to unequal task divisions.

Supporting Women in Malawi

A team of researchers recently undertook an experimental project to subvert the rigor of gender roles in Malawi and take some of the economic pressure off of Malawian women, often affected the most by poverty. One practice that researchers implemented to dismantle gender roles is to change the public perception of cooking and food practices in Malawi. Due to the reliance on starchy grains and roots that must be cooked in the Malawian diet, processing and cooking foods take up most Malawian women’s time. Seeing this phenomenon, researchers developed cooking tutorials to educate men on how to cook and also converted cooking into a fun activity by proposing it as a kind of competition in which different villages could contest who had the best male chefs.

Dismantling Gender Norms

As Raj Patel recounts in his lecture on transparency in the food system, although the social experiment that researchers conducted in Malawi initially seemed like a trivial novelty, its impact carried through into the daily lives of Malawian farmers. This small change in daily habits encouraged the men to shoulder more domestic tasks and act beyond the scope of traditional gender norms. In the short four-year period that researchers observed, Malawian malnutrition decreased and the women surveyed reported feeling more fulfilled and supported in their homes. Although there is still far to go in destabilizing the patriarchal structures present in Malawian society, small steps in the food system are the key to achieving bigger milestones such as reducing poverty and promoting gender equality.

Luna Khalil
Photo: Flickr

How Promoting Gender Equality Can Help Fight TerrorismA 2020 brief by the U.N. Office of Counter-Terrorism denotes a reciprocal relationship between gender inequality and terrorism, whereby terrorism underpins gender inequality by inspiring violence against women. In the same manner, gender inequalities fuel terrorism and gender equality fights terrorism, as most terrorist groups exploit gender norms to violate women’s rights. Research by The Brookings Institution revealed that societies that prioritize gender equality are less likely to engage in internal and external violence. Consequently, gender equality and female empowerment are two of the most critical strategies to put in place to fight terrorism.

The Correlation between Gender Inequality and Terrorism

A study examining the in-depth link between gender, terrorism and foreign fighters hypothesized that countries that tolerate domestic violence against women are more likely to experience political violence and extremism. The same study found that the majority of radicalized individuals have a past history of domestic violence and crimes against women.

A strong correlation coefficient of 0.6 exists between lower levels of violence against women and higher democratic quality. As a higher level of democracy implies a lower prevalence of terrorism, this implicitly indicates that promoting gender equality strengthens efficient and effective democracy, which weakens terrorism. Democratic efforts further support the societal benefits of efforts where gender equality fights terrorism.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for why both men and women engage in terrorism, compounding factors that primarily affect women may be one of the answers. In a cruelly cyclical manner, such factors include a lack of decision-making power over household finances and a desire for greater independence.

Furthermore, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) lists rape and coercive familial relationships as among the factors that push women into terrorism.

Case study: Bangladesh & Morocco’s Success Stories

The strong correlation that exists between gender inequality and terrorism leaves no doubt that promoting gender equality and female empowerment is one of the best strategies to put into place to deter terrorism. This strategy has successfully worked in countries like Bangladesh and Morocco.

Since 2005, Bangladesh has not experienced any significant non-political terrorist attacks. Since 2011, Morocco has not either. A similarity between the two countries, apart from success in suppressing terrorism, is an emphasis on women’s empowerment and integration of counter-terrorism efforts.

As a Bangladeshi representative at the country’s Washington Embassy disclosed, the country substantially owes its success in countering terrorism to the inclusion of female empowerment in its local Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts.

Measures that the Bangladeshi Government has taken to empower women include employment efforts. The Ready-Made Garment (RMG) Industry is the largest employer of women in Bangladesh. For self-employment measures, the government established micro-credit and micro-lending programs for women, which have significantly improved the standards of living of Bangladeshi women. These lending programs have helped women start and successfully run small businesses.

The newfound sense of independence, self-esteem and self-worth among Bangladeshi women has increased their economic participation, furthered their education and boosted their social empowerment. Bangladesh has also worked to inspire girls through education by ensuring that 60% of remote primary school teachers are women.

Likewise, Morocco has implemented various measures which have successfully helped the country to curb extremism and terrorism. These include raising the minimum marriage age to 18 for women; allotting shared property rights through marriage; introducing restrictions on polygamy, which significantly lowered its incidence; allowing women to initiate divorce by law; and making it possible for women to retain custody of children after divorce.

Looking Ahead

Former Secretary to the U.N. Kofi Annan declared, “There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole — women and men alike — than the one which involves women as central players.”

Promoting gender equality and female empowerment has proven to be a crucial measure to fight terrorism. The level of success at which this strategy has helped control terrorism in countries clearly signals its efficacy. Ultimately, gender equality fights terrorism, weakening it across the board and limiting those who engage in it in a variety of ways. Based on national examples, promoting and developing gender equality promises the same — or even better — results if enacted at a global level.

– Divine Mbabazi
Photo: Flickr

ICTsIn recent years, studies have shown that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have proven to be helpful for vulnerable communities on many different fronts. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been observed that women have increasingly used ICTs, especially those in developing countries.

Hear Her Voice Project

Hear Her Voice is a research project that stemmed from the pandemic itself, allowing 25 girls from five different countries, Bangladesh, India, Malawi, Nigeria and the United States, to share their experiences during COVID-19. These firsthand narratives are insightful as they vlog their daily lives from various different technological platforms. These intimate conversations equip the women with the tools to better educate the public on the struggles they face with menstrual health, relationships, mental health, isolation and livelihoods during COVID-19.

The platform showcased the struggles women had when it came to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), especially in Jaipur and Munger. One of the Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors (TEGA) is Carol, a 23-year-old woman from Munger, India, who shared her struggles with obtaining sanitary pads due to restricted mobility. When she first got her period during the lockdown, she was unable to obtain pads in time and was therefore left with no feminine hygiene products whatsoever.

Women Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19

A study done by the U.N. found that women’s economic resources in Asia and the Pacific are being hit the most. The pandemic has made gender inequalities more prevalent than ever, with the discrepancy highest in family businesses, remittances, property and savings. On top of this, it has been found that COVID-19 governmental aid is not as readily available to women as they are for men. The report stated 84% of women outside of formal employment lack social protections like unemployment support or government financial help. Women are suffering more than men all across the charts: 61% saw decreases in their income, savings and investments; 66% saw their mental health plummeting and  63% saw increased time spent doing unpaid domestic work.

Similar Scenarios During Ebola and Zika

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, women had consistently been the sole caretakers and health care providers, putting them at a higher risk of contracting these highly contagious viruses. The Zika virus in Latin America displayed how reproductive health services were limited and overlooked due to health care services allocating all of their resources into combating the epidemic. These unequal gendered patterns are yet again repeating themselves with COVID-19, the disadvantages being most pronounced for women.

The Impact of ICTs

Overall, information and communication technologies have been utilized by vulnerable minority groups ever since the rise of their prevalence in recent years. These innovative technological modes of communication are reshaping and expanding the uses of social media. The Hear Her Voice project is one of the many initiatives that have been using ICTs in the wake of a pandemic, to give a voice to women and the unique challenges they face and bring global awareness, support and assistance.

Additionally, ICTs provide helplines, applications, resource centers and more, so that women so can access the help and support they require. These platforms are transforming lives by amplifying and uplifting the voices of women during COVID-19.

– Mina Kim
Photo: Flickr

Virginity tests
On January 5, 2021, the Punjab province of Pakistan voted to outlaw the common tradition of virginity tests. The tests involve those conducting them to manually insert two fingers into a woman’s vagina to check for an intact hymen. In the case of victims of rape, a court-appointed medical examiner conducts these tests. Some also refer to virginity tests as the “two-finger test.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the test has no scientific basis and is both painful and traumatic. The eradication of these tests marks a momentous advancement towards gender equality in Pakistan.

Pakistan Law

Justice Ayesha A Malik of the Lahore High Court is the first person to order the immediate suspension of these tests. While the procedure is not legally mandated, it was a routine practice in rape cases. According to The News International, reports occur of at least 11 rape cases in Pakistan each day, and victims do not report cases in many instances. Of the 22,000 reports of rape in Pakistan in the last six years, only 0.3% of the perpetrators have received a conviction.

Premarital sex is a crime in Pakistan. As a result, the purpose of the test is to discredit victims based on their suspected sexual history. According to the Humanitarian Response, the procedure tests the laxity of the vagina to determine whether a woman was sexually active before the rape occurred. Furthermore, the outcome of virginity tests has a significant impact on judicial proceedings, with the results often leading to acquittals and a loss of credibility to victims.

Justice Malik states that women suspected of indulging in sexual activities habitually received harsh judgment before the courts, and the courts often discounted their abuse. These tests often have physical, mental and social repercussions. Virginity tests often aggravate injuries that women sustain during the rape. Women undergo exposure to the harmful stigma of dishonor and shame that this trauma brings onto their families.

Gender Inequality

Sahar Bandial, a lawyer in Pakistan, advocated for the establishment of new protocols to protect women from legal abuse and discrimination. The banishment of virginity tests as a means to control women is only the first step in achieving gender equality. Women often have to take a virginity test before marriage and employment. Historically, virginity tests have never had scientific justification. The color of urine, shaping of the nipples or the circumference of a women’s forehead are examples that have forced the taking of such tests.

Gender inequality has been a significant challenge in South Asian countries, with families continuing to commit honor killings throughout these regions. Justice Malik hopes that other provinces will follow the Punjab province in advocating for gender equality throughout Pakistan.

According to the United Nations, the practice of virginity tests has persisted in at least 20 countries today. However, significant developments in the banishment of this invasive practice have occurred. In 2013, India outlawed these tests, followed by Bangladesh in 2018. Although many nations have banned virginity tests, it is still common practice in many regions.

Similar petitions to outlaw virginity tests are pending in other regions. Many people hope that establishing the invalidity of the tests will set precedents in other areas. As more South Asian countries take note of the Lahore case, the gap in gender equality should begin to close.

– Nina Eddinger
Photo: Flickr

Computers in Ghana
As one of the world’s poorest countries, Ghana’s poverty rate rests at around 55% with only 24% of Ghanaians possessing access to the internet. As a consequence, this lack of access otherwise imposes economic stagnation on its youth population due to the mere lack of computers within the country’s education system. However, educators have recently begun utilizing this powerful resource of computers in Ghana access and information technology within communities — with its positive impact already beginning to show. While computers evolve and improve Ghana’s education system, upward economic mobility grows with it. Here are three ways that computers and new technologies are improving the standard of living in Ghana:

Teaching 21st-Century Job Skills to Teens

Including computers in the Ghanaian education system helps teens develop valuable 21st-century technology skills. In an era that places great emphasis on phones, laptops and wireless communications, technological proficiency is essential. Programs like the Ghana Code Club have taught nearly 1,700 students and trained over 300 teachers. However, the Ghana Code Club cannot replace computer science classes. Moreover, for Ghana’s youth to learn valuable computer skills such as coding, the Ghanaian education system will need to create more computer, science classes and further boost access to computers in Ghana.

Increasing Earning Power and Incomes

A Pew Survey showed that computer users with an internet connection are more likely to have higher incomes. To that end, the University of Ghana offers a dedicated computer science course, nurturing software programmers who have the potential to earn up to three times as much as their professors. However, only expanding these systems will truly allow them to reach a wider demographic of people. Currently, only around 36 people graduate from the University of Ghana’s technology program annually. Many other areas of the country still do not experience these positive impacts.

Breaking Gender Stereotypes

Although computers in Ghana are expanding social and economic standards, many traditional African communities profile against women and girls. New non-governmental organizations like STEMbees, a Ghana-based organization, allow young girls to learn coding in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other organizations – such as UNESCO’s Girls Can Code – also work to fight the battle against girl stereotypes in the African educational sphere. For example, UNESCO builds computer stations in Ghanaian villages and new schools equipped with the latest technologies.

Ghana is on the verge of a technological revolution as well as an industrial revolution. These two events will pull the country into a better future with greater opportunity for its children. As more computers get into the hands of Ghanaian students, the country’s standard of living continues to improve.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Digital Gender GapAs the world becomes more technologically advanced and digitally connected, access to technology remains an issue, especially in developing countries. More so, the digital gap between women and men continues to expand, with 300 million fewer women than men using mobile internet, creating a 20% gap. The lack of access to digital devices for these women means being denied essential services including employment opportunities, financial resources, educational resources and medical information. There are several global initiatives trying to bridge the digital gender gap between women and men.

Safaricom

In Kenya, women are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet despite women making up 51% of the Kenyan population. Safaricom, a mobile network in Kenya, therefore created a partnership with Google to offer an affordable smartphone, the Neon Kicka with Android GO, compromising 500 megabytes of free data for the first month. The mobile network believes that empowering a woman empowers an entire community and focuses on the following three barriers: affordability, relevance and digital skills. The company ensured that the price point was the lowest it could be and featured important content including access to health information and educational content to highlight the smartphone’s daily relevance for women. Safaricom recognizes that many women are not familiar with Gmail accounts and therefore developed a guide covering the basics of smartphone use.

Novissi

Togo, a country in West Africa currently run by its first female prime minister, launched a digital cash transfer program called Novissi. Its goal is to provide aid to informal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, covering residents of three urban areas under lockdown. Many underserved women tend to be excluded from COVID-19 relief digital cash transfer programs launched by governments since they either do not have access to digital bank accounts or are uninformed. Through Novissi, women receive a monthly sum of $20, whereas men receive $17, to support the cost of food, communication services, power and water. The three additional dollars allocated to women account for the fact that women are more likely to be informal workers and take care of a family’s nutritional needs.

Wave Money

In Myanmar, Wave Money has become the number one mobile financial service, with 89% of the country benefiting from its agents. Since Wave Money deals with 85% of rural areas in the country, money enters and leaves from nearly every state and facilitates familiarity with the service. The financial service created a partnership with GSMA Connected Women to allow greater access to financial services for women. Through this partnership, women are encouraged to run Wave Money shops in Myanmar, providing them with extra income even if they live in very remote areas of the country.

Telesom Simple KYC Account

It can be challenging for women to acquire the identity documents necessary to open accounts with service providers. In Somaliland, Telesom created a simplified know-your-customer (KYC) account, allowing women that do not possess an ID to sign up for mobile money services. The service solely requires a name, date of birth, image and contact details, favoring accessibility and reducing the digital gap between women and men.

Equal Access International Partnership with Local Radio Station

In Nigeria, women and girls are denied access to technology due to the fear of moral decline that accompanies the widespread culture. Equal Access International recognizes the need to address societal norms for women and amplify women and girls’ voices. In an effort to do so, Equal Access International partnered with a local radio station in order to create a show that tackled cultural taboos and promoted women and girls using digital technologies. The episodes last 30 minutes and cover weekly themes including common misconceptions about the internet, internet safety and moral arguments regarding women and the internet.

Closing the Digital Gender Gap

Despite a digital gender gap that exists between women and men, organizations around the world are making an effort to foster a sense of inclusion and empowerment for women and girls to become familiar and encouraged to take on the digital world that is constantly emerging.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in Ethiopia

Ethiopia faces many struggles, but the land where coffee originated has many accomplishments as well. The continuous progression made for gender equality in Ethiopia is one of them. Gender-based roles constitute a significant part of the Ethiopian culture. It is also the primary reason for many families’ extreme poverty. However, through policy reform and promoting women’s political participation, there has been a noteworthy change in bridging the gaps between women and men.

Policy Reforms Encourage Gender Equality in Ethiopia

Thanks to two reforms, research suggests that promoting gender equality in Ethiopia has become very feasible.

One reform is the Family Code, which was revised in 2000 with new developments. The re-evaluated version of the Family Code states that women receive equal rights throughout the marriage. This pertains to the entire term of their marriage, the duration of the divorce, and after the finalization of the divorce. The revisions also note that the individuals must equally split all assets. As a result, the report states that women were less likely to involve themselves in domestic work. Instead, women found more sustainable employment outside of the household, which encourages their independence.

The second reform is the community-based land registration, which was initiated in 2003. Ethiopia’s population has strong gender norms that tend to favor men and subordinate women in power roles. Research results have shown that as women migrate from the north of Ethiopia to the southern region, they tend to lose societal and household status. Women also have their “bargaining power” revoked from them, which can relate to property rights and ownership. However, this reform emphasizes the implementation of property rights for married women by creating “joint certification.”

A significant sign of independence in Ethiopia is property. However, men typically have land ownership in marriages. This reform opposes that gender-based norm in Ethiopia and allows women to access economic and political opportunities. When women own land, it increases their chances of earning money and controlling their own life. Rules set by their husband no longer have to confine them. They are also less likely to be victims of domestic violence. Ethiopian women who own property are significantly less likely to experience domestic violence within their marriage than women who do not own property.

Women’s Political Participation Rises

Women currently make up 37% of congress in Ethiopia. Considering only 22% of women represented congress in 2010, there has been significant progress ever since. However, the Ethiopian government’s accuracy and trustworthiness will remain in question until women account for at least 50% of the parliamentary seats.

The country also needs to make political careers more accessible to women. The “motherhood penalty” requires women to attend to constant family duties and responsibilities, such as breastfeeding and always being present for the children. Endless motherly duties can hinder their potential political career due to the amount of time it takes. This is especially true if a women’s marriage is based on strong religious beliefs. Certain religious beliefs in Ethiopia tend to prohibit women from having the independence they deserve and hinder their decision-making abilities.

DCA

In Ethiopia, women are perceived as those to be led, not to be the ones leading. However, recent years’ progression contradicts that idea. The organization DCA (Dan Church Aid) emphasizes the idea of women empowerment. They hold and spread the belief that every woman deserves fundamental human rights “economically, socially, and culturally.”

DCA was created in 1995 to promote gender equality in Ethiopia. Since then, the organization has helped over 3.2 million people in the world’s most impoverished countries deprived of everyday opportunities. Due to the continuous contribution of DCA and recognition from Ethiopia’s government regarding the encouragement of gender equality, the women of Ethiopia can seek more political positions and close those gender gaps within communities.

Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Women's Economic EmpowermentA whole two billion impoverished people worldwide, particularly women, are financially and economically excluded. Females are the poorest in the world and women earn on average only 60 to 75% of what men earn. Investing in women’s economic empowerment plays a crucial role in reducing poverty and establishing equality between men and women.

Gender Equality for Global Economic Advancement

The 2017 National Security Strategy states that societies that empower women in their civic and economic lives are more prosperous and peaceful. Studies show that gender equality contributes to advancing economies and sustainable development as well as overall poverty reduction.

CARE defines women’s economic empowerment as the process by which women increase their right to economic resources and power to make decisions that benefit themselves, their families and their communities. It is the transformative process that helps females move from limited economic power to possessing skills, resources and opportunities to compete equitably in markets and control economic gains. Women’s economic empowerment involves transforming the historically-limiting laws, policies, practices and norms through change and advocacy.

Women remain disproportionately affected by discrimination and exploitation. Women often end up in low-wage jobs and fill very few senior positions. Without secure employment, women lose access to economic assets such as land and loans, which limits opportunities to participate in economic and social policies.  Furthermore, many women are responsible for the majority of housework, which leaves little time to pursue employment or other economic opportunities. On average, women devote between one and three hours more a day to housework than men and two to 10 times the amount of time a day to child, elderly and sick care.

Additionally, laws in many countries determine what jobs women can do or give men the right to prevent their wives from accepting jobs.

Call to Action on Women’s Economic Empowerment

In October 2020, U.S. officials and 31 U.N. Member States virtually signed the Call to Action on Women’s Economic Empowerment, which encourages countries to address legal restrictions regarding women’s economic participation. Predictions are that if an equal number of men and women participate in the global economy, the gross domestic product (GDP) could increase by $12 trillion by 2025.

Improved financial security means women can afford healthcare, purchase essentials for their children and play a leadership role in their communities. Typically, women who decide where, when and how to spend their money see improvements in their social and economic status. Financially independent women also increase the level of resources devoted to their children.

Girl Power and the Future

There is strong evidence showing positive links between women’s economic empowerment and health outcomes for women and their families. This includes benefits in nutrition, better family planning and decreased maternal and child mortality. Other studies have found that increasing the share of income for women may provide greater investment in children’s education and result in reductions in gender-based violence. Overall, women’s economic empowerment benefits not just women but the entire world.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr

EMPOWERING WOMEN IN AGRICULTUREThe agricultural sector is a critical facet of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) economy. As of 2015, women make up around 40% of the SSA’s agricultural labor force. Although their contribution is critical, due to discriminatory laws and social norms, a large gender gap within this sector continues to persist. However, many have come to realize the potential that lies behind empowering and educating female agriculture workers in Africa. By decreasing the gender gap and expanding females’ access to land and resources, these women have the potential to increase agricultural output in developing countries by between 2.5 and 4%. Organizations are prioritizing empowering women in agriculture in order to reduce poverty.

The Gender Gap

Regardless of their active role in agriculture, women own fewer assets, have less access to necessary agricultural yields and receive less education and training in these areas compared to men in Sub-Saharan Africa. The main cause of this persistent gap is established traditional gender roles. Gender roles continue to negatively impact women across Africa. Women often face more difficulties in owning land, establishing credit and gaining access to proper resources. When given the proper tools, these women could have a substantial positive effect on both the economy and SSA’s agricultural output.

The Benefits of Gender Parity in Sub-Saharan Africa

Closing the gender gap is imperative to making progress in SSA’s economy and increasing agricultural output. By empowering female agricultural workers and increasing their access to finances, land rights, resources and training, there could be a significant positive effect for the whole of Africa. Ruth Meinzen-Dick explains that in Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture is two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. She explains further that because women are more likely than men to invest resources into meeting their children’s educational and nutritional needs, investing in women is crucial.

Making Women a Priority

Although the benefits of female empowerment are clear to see, in order to make these benefits a reality, it is imperative that programs and policies target three main factors: land rights, equal access to agricultural resources and finances and equal power in decision-making. Furthermore, as more women become educated and empowered, these investments and knowledge will not only be passed on to their children but throughout the community. As explained by Slyvia Tetteh, “When mothers are educated, they keep their education in their home and use it to educate their children. If you educate a woman, you educate her home and to some extent, the community.”

Women Who Farm Africa

Across the world, efforts are being made to educate and empower female agricultural workers in Africa. Policies and programs are all pushing to further female agricultural workers’ rights and power. A clear example of this is Women Who Farm Africa. This alliance was created in order to provide resources for women farmers to learn about agriculture through empowerment. By involving them in decision-making and access to finances, women farmers can increase their income, develop a stable rural livelihood and contribute to ensuring food security.

The Promise of Female Farmers

It is clear to see why female empowerment and closing the gender gap should take priority across Africa. Doing so would not only increase the lives and quality of living for these women but would also positively impact the agricultural output and the general state of Africa’s economy. Furthermore, this could also create more stability for the children growing up in rural communities. With the knowledge that mothers gain, this knowledge can then be passed down to their children and the rise in income can be invested in the children’s future. If properly prioritized and applied, empowering women in agriculture could break intergenerational cycles of poverty, reduce hunger and malnutrition rates and improve Africa’s economy as a whole.

– Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Education in Guinea-BissauWith a population of 1.8 million, about 69% of people in Guinea-Bissau live below the poverty line and 25% experience chronic malnutrition. In addition to working toward reducing poverty, there is a focus to improve education in Guinea-Bissau, which faces many struggles, including low enrollment rates, limited financial support and gender inequality.

Education Statistics in Guinea-Bissau

In Guinea-Bissau, the literacy rate is around 53%. Only 30% of children begin school at the specified age of six. According to a study conducted by UNICEF, as a result of late enrollment, a significant proportion of children in lower primary grades are overage. As of 2010, 62% of children finished their basic education. About 14% of those in grade one end up completing grade 12. Additionally, out of the 55% of children who attend secondary school, about 22% complete it. As of 2014, the net primary school attendance was 62.4%. Lack of accessibility to school, especially in terms of secondary education outside of urban areas, contributes to these statistics.

Schools also receive insufficient funds for quality education and have to rely on families for support. Adequate standards for physical school buildings and textbooks are also lacking. Teachers tend to lack a proper level of competency in regard to the subject they teach and have insufficient teaching materials. According to a text published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “At a level corresponding to the fifth year of primary education, teachers fail to answer a quarter of the questions on Portuguese and under a half of those in mathematics arising from the syllabus for their pupils.” Furthermore, many schools fail to offer a full curriculum and 46% of teaching days from 2016 to 2017 were lost because of teacher strikes. More than 20% of students aged 7 to 14 years old reside over half an hour from a school and distance decreases their likelihood of attending. Furthermore, many students, the majority being girls, drop out of school due to early marriage and child labor.

Gender Inequality

A gender gap is prevalent within Guinea-Bissau’s education system. Of children aged 10 to 11 years old, 17.5% of boys are not attending school as opposed to 25.7% of girls. Among impoverished families, boys are 1.8 more likely to reach grade six than girls. In general, boys are 1.5 times more likely than girls to take part in General Secondary Education. Moreover, boys obtain 59% of public resources for education, while girls get 41%.

The gender inequality in Guinea-Bissau’s education system leads to consequences, such as child marriage among girls. About 54% of women without an education experienced child marriage, as opposed to the 9% of women who achieved secondary education or higher. The average age of a woman without education for the first delivery of a child is 18.2 years old as opposed to 21.4 years old for a woman who studied for 14 years. Women who received an education of 14 years have an average of about 1.2 kids. On the other hand, women without education have an average of 3.3 children.

Decreasing the gender gap in Guinea-Bissau’s education system would lead to benefits for not only women but the entirety of the population. Women who achieve higher education are 50% likely to vaccinate their children under the age of 5, whereas the likelihood for women without an education is 26%. Furthermore, the likelihood of women who did not attend school using a net to prevent malaria for their children under the age of 5 is 71%, as opposed to 81% among women who studied for at least six years.

The Quality Education for All Project

In July 2018, the World Bank developed the Quality Education for All Project in Guinea-Bissau. The goal of the Project is to improve the overall environment of schools for students from grade one to grade four. Through the Project, the World Bank aims to reduce teacher strikes by providing training. The World Bank also plans to update the curriculum taught as well as educational supplies and materials. Furthermore, the Project encourages greater community involvement in the management of schools.

UNICEF’s Educational Efforts

UNICEF aims to improve the quality of education in Guinea-Bissau, especially with regard to early childhood, through partnership and the rehabilitation of classrooms. Alongside PLAN international, Handicap International and Fundação Fé e Cooperação (FEC), UNICEF monitors schools by training 180 inspectors who are responsible for over 1,700 schools. The monitors focus on teacher attendance as well as the process in the classroom. In order to establish standards, such as National Quality Standards and Early Learning Development Standards, UNICEF also partnered with the Ministry of Education. UNICEF launched Campaign “6/6” to encourage the enrollment of children in school beginning at age 6 and maintaining their attendance throughout primary education.

Response to COVID-19

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which coordinates with UNICEF, allocated $3.5 million to Guinea-Bissau for a COVID-19 response from 2020 to 2021. Through its grant, GPE plans to achieve greater health standards in schools and training among community members to increase awareness of COVID-19 prevention. GPE also supports a radio distance education program as well as a distance program that addresses gender-based violence and the inclusion of children with disabilities. UNICEF broadcasts programs three times a day for radio distance learning. Additionally, GPE aims to assess preschool and primary age students to gather further information about learning loss and to create a program for children out of school.

– Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr