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

Women’s Access to Healthcare in Iraq
Iraq, a nation that war and devastation have plagued, has a healthcare system in a state of crisis. Doctors are fleeing the country and drugs are running low. Of a nearly $107 billion budget in 2018, only about 2% went to Iraq’s health ministry. As a result, healthcare quality is very poor, and women’s access to healthcare in Iraq is particularly limited. Many doctors attempt to purchase supplies and technology from private manufacturers, but laws require that the government provide all medical supplies.

Violence Against Women

About 96% of Iraqi citizens do not have health insurance, but 85% of women over the age of 15 are unemployed and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Iraq’s long history with misogyny, honor killings and religious ideas promoting the use of violence against women exacerbates the situation for Iraqi women, 37% of whom will experience violence from a partner or acquaintance.

Women in Iraq have little to no access to female-centered health such as OB-GYNs, counseling and crisis centers, which are generally secret or hidden. WHO has called the issue of violence against women a “global health issue of epidemic proportions,” and has created effective measures so that doctors can become more aware of abuses. In Iraq, where women are unlikely to see doctors sensitive to women’s issues, there is no guarantee of receiving assistance.

Access to Education

Another issue affecting women’s health is a lack of female doctors due to a very low rate of education among girls in Iraq. Unfortunately, little data is available to measure the number of girls who attend in school in Iraq — which is itself proof of the lack of attention to girls’ education. As of 2010, according to the last published report about female education in Iraq, only 44% of girls were enrolled in school. The report also revealed that 75% of girls dropped out before the end of primary school, and only 25% of girls who stayed in primary school made it to intermediate school.

Women’s lack of access to education has proven to be a direct link to child marriage and the exploitation of young women. About 33% of girls who have to marry have no education, and 13% only have a primary school education. Girls who are educated are more likely to recognize the signs of abuse, which gives them a chance to escape, pursue careers and experience lower risks of poverty.

US Efforts to Help

The Girls Lead Act (S.2766) aims to make education more accessible for girls in nations like Iraq. This bill will strengthen young girls’ involvement and participation in education, specifically in math, science and politics. A lack of women in leadership roles is a major factor behind misogyny and sexism in developing nations, as well as in women’s health. According to the bill, “Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision making. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.”

Writing to leaders in support of the Girls Lead Act, participating in initiatives to ban child marriage and raising awareness of gender-based violence are key ways to increase women’s access to healthcare in Iraq. These efforts may be the greatest chance that Iraqi girls have at living a prosperous life.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Yemen Women in Yemen are enduring one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. After a 2011 Arab Spring uprising forced longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office, deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi took power and enlivened Yemenis with hope for change. In contrast to these expectations, however, civil unrest and development setbacks like corruption crippled Hadi’s government. The Houthi movement, a militant Shiite group, capitalized on this political disarray in 2015 and seized huge territories throughout the country, including the capital in Sana’a. Soon after, a coalition of U.S.-backed, Sunni-majority countries deployed troops to eradicate this Shia influence in Yemen. A brutal war followed that has expelled Hadi from the country, killed thousands and deepened extreme poverty and food insecurity for millions. The conflict has subjected women, who are already victims of deeply rooted prejudice, to increasingly unjust gender roles and violence. Fortunately, numerous organizations and legislation are working to advance women’s rights in Yemen.

Gender Inequality in Yemen

Patriarchal norms have long prevailed in Yemen. For 13 years, the Global Gender Gap Index has identified women’s rights in Yemen as the worst in the world. As the fighting continues, widespread instability is magnifying the country’s vast gender inequality.

Educational and economic opportunities for Yemeni women are severely limited. According to the World Economic Forum, only 35% of women are literate compared with 73% of men. While a majority of women receive primary education, only 40% continue on to secondary schooling. Such educational gender disparity, coupled with misogyny in the job market and burdensome responsibilities at home, contributes to women’s shockingly low labor force participation rate of 6.3%.

Beyond economic injustice, Yemeni women face a bleak social landscape. Tasked with managing the domestic sphere, women strain to procure even basic necessities such as food. This is especially true recently, as the civil conflict has subverted conventional supply lines. The concept of males as female guardians further jeopardizes women’s safety in Yemen, as a woman is considered safer when escorted by a male. With working husbands and pressing needs at home, however, women are forced to venture out unaccompanied. Without effective laws to defend them, women are left vulnerable to sexual assault and physical violence.

Years of conflict have eroded the institutions that once might have protected these women. The urgency of national stability has also relegated women’s security to a position of low priority. Even in previous times of peace, however, women had little means to voice grievances and even less power to enact change. Today, Yemeni women’s political participation remains low, with women making up a paltry 0.3% of parliament.

Amid the global push for gender equality, traditionalist insecurities drive men to violent retaliation against societal change, exacerbating the challenges women already face. But the outlook is not entirely hopeless. Here are four forces that are working to advance women’s rights in Yemen.

4 Forces Advancing Women’s Rights in Yemen

  1. Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security. Formed in 2015 after collaboration with U.N. Women, the pact is an association of Yemeni women aimed at ending the country’s protracted civil war. Beyond its aspirations for peace, the group has spearheaded women’s involvement in civic activism, paving the way for long-term political empowerment.
  2. Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG). Also working to redress women’s exclusion from politics, the TAG comprises women from various areas of vocational expertise and serves as an advisory body. In addition to conferring on policy, TAG members participate in various peace talks. One such conference was the 2018 Stockholm consultation, in which the warring parties arranged to remove troops from Hudaydah, where fighting threatened to close off a crucial port to the Yemeni population. Though both sides have yet to observe this consensus, the Stockholm agreement set a precedent of women’s involvement in the civil negotiation of a violent, divisive conflict.
  3. Keeping Girls in School Act. Already passed in the House of Representatives, the Keeping Girls in School Act would combat global gender disparities in education. Under this act, USAID would execute a procedure to circumvent common obstacles to girls’ education, such as child marriage and patriarchal norms, and to boost female enrollment in secondary schooling. If passed, this act would abate Yemen’s severe educational inequality and equip adolescent girls with the knowledge and skills for future occupational success. Not only would the Keeping Girls in School Act enhance women’s rights in Yemen; according to Congressional findings, increasing girls’ education sparks development and economic progress. Thus, the act is both a form of social reform and a strategic necessity.
  4. Girls’ Leadership, Engagement, Agency, and Development (LEAD) Act. Referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in late 2019, the Girls LEAD Act has the potential to advance adolescent girls’ political involvement and civic engagement. The bill provides for USAID’s implementation of a comprehensive plan to educate and empower girls in developing nations. The Girls LEAD Act, if passed, would extend unparalleled political opportunity to Yemeni girls, helping to dismantle restrictive gender norms and molding once-disenfranchised women into agents of meaningful change.

As the civil war rages on, women’s conditions in Yemen may appear an irremediable predicament. Yet determined organizations, dynamic legislation and a country of women eager to escape society’s shackles are working to advance women’s rights in Yemen and make gender equality a reality.

– Rosalind Coats
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women and Pandemics
Most healthcare workers on the front lines are female, but there is another pandemic that plagues women during times of health crises: gender inequality. Epidemics and pandemics further gender inequality as women struggle socioeconomically and in healthcare. Gender equality can combat world poverty, but diseases can slow societal advancement for women.

Society and the Economy

Globally, 740 million women work low-paid and informal jobs, which they are quick to lose during pandemics and epidemics. The livelihoods of women are at risk with an increase in job insecurity and job loss during times of crisis. During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, closed borders caused women to face much higher unemployment rates than men since 85% of cross-border traders are women.

In the developing world, 70% of women work informal jobs, but women’s unpaid labor boosts global economies and should not be ignored. According to the United Nations Foundation, “women on average do three times more unpaid care work than men.” Women who work to care for their families bring in $1.5 trillion to the world GDP. Jobs without pay create even more inequality as women stay at home, complete domestic tasks and care for the sick. The burden of caring for the ill in the family puts women at a greater risk of falling ill. More West African women were affected by Ebola because they worked in hospitals or aided the sick at home.

A shelter-in-place due to pandemics can result in girls dropping out of school and puts women at a higher risk for violence. As seen from the Ebola outbreak, closures of schools put young girls at high risk for pregnancy and child marriage. During country-wide lockdowns in 2020, women have to remain with their abusers. Domestic violence against women tripled in China and increased by 30% in France. Even more shocking, some use the exposure of COVID-19 as a means of suppression against women.

Healthcare

Although 70% of health workers are women, men make most of the decisions in the healthcare sector. Only 27% of women are executives in world healthcare. This gender segregation in healthcare leaves women in lower roles and creates a bias towards men. Personal protective equipment uses male sizes and thus does not protect female workers as effectively. In Spain, 5,265 out of 7,329 health workers infected by COVID-19 were women. Data collection may ignore gender in some studies, which makes it harder to understand the current trends and how they affect women.

While most healthcare resources are focused on fighting pandemics, women’s health may be overlooked. More women in Sierra Leone died from obstetric complications than from Ebola. COVID-19 will likely cause 18 million women to not be able to acquire contraceptives in Central and South America. Providing fewer health services during pandemics has detrimental effects on women’s health.

Operation 50/50

Pandemics affect both men and women, but 80% of the WHO Emergency Committee on COVID-19 are men. In order to provide women with more representation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has created the campaign Operation 50/50. The campaign aims to accomplish five goals: recruiting more women for leadership roles, valuing women’s unpaid care work, providing better conditions for health care workers, utilizing gender attentive data and funding NGOs for women. Around the world, women have a high risk of exposure to disease, whether that be in the healthcare field or staying at home with the sick. Elimination of gender inequality in healthcare will increase safety for women during global pandemics.

Hannah Nelson
Photo: Pixabay

Treating Female Genital MutilationWith female genital mutilation (FGM) victimizing more than 200 million women and girls worldwide, organizations across the globe are combatting and treating the practice through surgery, awareness, education and mental health treatment. FGM – a non-medical procedure that involves cutting, sewing or removing parts of a woman’s genitalia – creates serious health issues for women who undergo the procedure including menstrual/urination/vaginal problems, complications with sex and childbirth, mental health issues, HIV infection and in serious cases, death.

Why Practice FGM in the First Place?

FGM is a medical issue, but it is also a cultural battle. FGM’s roots are steeped in patriarchal tradition and gender inequality positioning it as a purely traditional practice with no health benefits or reasoning. Practiced mostly in Africa, the procedure also exists in the Middle East, Asia and several South American ethnic groups. Documentations have also shown that some practice it in the U.S., Australia and Europe.

As a global public health crisis, FGM is highly difficult to eradicate. Females also often undergo the practice without consent. Additionally, if females choose to remove themselves from the practice, they may experience more risk as their community may ostracize them or they may not be able to marry.

FGM is also a direct result of poverty. In largely impoverished and uneducated societies, violence against women is highly prevalent. A United Nations report from 2015 stated that “Half of countries in developing regions report a lifetime prevalence of intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence of at least 30 percent” and cited Africa as one of the most susceptible regions for this violence. Developing regions in Africa, Asia and Oceania also are more accepting of wife-beating and domestic violence according to the report. With women deliberately unable to participate in the economy and household decision-making, they often meet with the dominant group’s traditions, including FGM.

While FGM is a largely immovable force in many civilizations around the world, measures of education/advocacy, surgical reconstruction and mental health counseling are helping the practice’s victims.

The On-site Approach: FORWARD

FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is an African women-led organization that emerged in 1983. It works to end all types of violence against women and girls. FORWARD works on-site in African communities with girls and women to support, speak with and educate them on gender-based violence and women’s issues. In this way, FORWARD utilizes a bottom-up approach to ending FGM. By mobilizing students at a local level, communities can hopefully eradicate the practice due to enough people opposing it.

In just the last five years, FORWARD has educated 36,000 U.K. students “about their body and rights” and has “mobilized” 24,393 African “school girls and boys.” FORWARD is also unique in its quest to educate not only young girls but also young boys, encouraging them to defend the women in their lives and progress their rights.

The Surgical Approach

While one organization does not solely specialize in surgical and counseling solutions to FGM, various medical treatments for survivors are in existence around the world. The most experimental and ambitious procedure is clitoral reconstruction surgery. France’s health care system is notable in its wide-scale endeavors to create a successful surgical procedure for FGM survivors. Since 2004, the country has allowed women to undergo surgery for free.

However, the surgery is still highly complicated and is by no means a widely successful operation. Since the initial process of FGM is so variable (four main types of cutting exist within the practice), the surgical reconstruction results in similarly variable effects.

One of the largest studies and testings of clitoral/vaginal reconstruction surgery took place in France. More than 2,900 women who survived either Type II or Type III FGM received the operation. While “almost all of the women [who returned for post-op assessment] reported improvements with pain,” the effects were noticeably diverse. Some experienced clitoral pleasure while others experienced decreased pleasure. Some experienced minor complications following the surgery and some returned to almost completely normal genitalia.

Though reconstructive surgery is still potentially dangerous and may not be the best option for many women, endeavors to create a solidified and routine procedure prove promising.

The Education and Rehabilitation Approach: Desert Flower Foundation

The Desert Flower Foundation uses education to solve FGM. Its mission statement reads, “Education is the most powerful weapon in the fight against female genital mutilation.” Just as the most impoverished countries in the world are also the most dangerous, the least educated also hold the highest rates of FGM. 

The Desert Flower Foundation has distributed 10,062 “education boxes” to children in various African nations, primarily in Sierra Leone. Complete with workbooks, pencils, rulers and backpacks, Desert Flower furthers women’s education in order to make them more aware of their intersectional roles in health and gendered societies as well as help them question the archaic practice.

In addition to education boxes, Desert Flower is treating female genital mutilation through various campaigns and projects that include opening a Desert Flower School in Sierra Leone and creating a sponsorship program called Save a Little Desert Flower. The organization has also opened various Desert Flower centers in major European cities offering FGM reconstructive surgery and support groups for survivors. Mental health is also a large focus at these centers since women who have undergone FGM can experience depression, PTSD, anxiety and overarching struggles with relationships and self-worth.

The Law and Research Approach: 28 Too Many

28 Too Many emerged in 2010 and is an advocacy and research organization based out of the U.K. The 28 African countries heavily practicing FGM inspired the charity’s name and the organization hopes to stop the FGM practice completely. Through research and law expertise, 28 Too Many uses this knowledge to implement more effective legislation, policy and education systems in these countries.

In 2019, 28 Too Many published individualized reports of 29 countries, complete with extensive research on FGM. It found that a reported 22 out of the main 28 FGM countries have legislation in place banning the practice – but the countries rarely enforce these laws.

28 Too Many is looking to perform more research into how legislation is failing women in FGM countries. It is also actively working towards creating new legislation and education programs in these areas in order to protect women and girls in each country.

The Future

FGM is still a complicated and daunting issue, but advocates all around the world are actively devoted to ending the practice for good. Any of the organizations that this article lists are performing valuable work in treating female genital mutilation. Through their continued work, hopefully, the practice of FGM will reduce and all women and girls will receive the treatment they need.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

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

Gender Inequality in MalawiWhile the idea of women being denied property may seem antiquated, it is a modern norm furthering gender inequality in Malawi. In the central and southern regions of Malawi, land is intended to be passed down to women through generations; however, Bridget Matinga-Katunda, a researcher at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, explained that this matrilineal system is not as good as it may sound. She stated, “Even under matrilineal systems, decision-making power on land ownership usually lies with male clan leaders who decide who gets a piece of land.”

Excluded from Ownership

Ministry of Hope Malawi, a nonprofit helping orphans and other at-risk communities, spoke to The Borgen Project on this issue. The Program Director for this organization, Daniel Moyo, recalls his personal experience with gendered land laws in Malawi. He describes a “patrilineal culture” where “men own the land and women have no access to land.” According to U.N. Women, around 70% of women work in agriculture. Therefore, despite taking care of the land, they are still not entitled to its ownership.

Additionally, the United Nations states that Malawian legal codes do “not provide for the division of matrimonial property upon dissolution of the marriage. This matter has been left entirely to the courts to decide.” Even if modern legal codes attempt to address the gender inequality in Malawi regarding land ownership, societal trends – often discriminatory – determine who inherits the land. This is especially true if the woman in question is not in a position of power in the community.

Moyo commented, “Personally, after the death of my Dad, all the land we had was confiscated by people we did not even know, leaving us and mum with no land.” His situation is not unusual. Reuters News uncovered that only around 17% of Malawian females are landowners. This parallels the lack of power and representation, as the World Bank reports that in 2019, only 23% of parliamentary seats in Malawai were held by women.

Advocating for a Cultural Shift

While there are legal protections in place for women, the land delegation and nuptial divisions are vague. Groups within the culture are open to interpret them and often adhere to sexist traditions and thought processes. Furthermore, less than one percent of land in Malawi is purchased. Almost all of it is inherited or acquired through marriage. Women report deep insecurity on their land ownership especially if something were to happen to their husbands. Malawian society’s cultural attitude toward women as more inferior to men is often used to justify the sexist land laws.

In order to correct these injustices, a policy shift is necessary to help widows survive and take care of children. Updating the territorial legislation in Malawi could vastly improve its gender equality and the overall economy. Moyo explains that “decision making in the homes is often left to the men. This is one key issue [and at] Ministry of Hope we have been championing women leadership and helping the women to have a voice and not just take everything that the man says…how to use money, how many children to have…they say women in Malawi produce seventy percent of the food but they consume only thirty percent of the same.”

Similarly, organizations such as the Malawi Law Society are fighting for a legal system that is more modern and just. However, an all-encompassing solution must go beyond legality and address the nuances of Malawian agriculture and its connection to gender. Providing social, economic and ownership protections for these laborers is crucial for correcting sexist land laws in Malawi.

Moving Forward

Organizations such as the Ministry of Hope are fighting the discriminatory land laws and working toward ending gender inequality in Malawi by shifting cultural perception. Individuals can help by funding nonprofits based in southern Africa that provide guidance along with financial assistance. Moving forward, continued work by these groups will hopefully help end discriminatory practices.

– Annie Bennett
Photo: Flickr

women are more affected by global poverty
Women often make up the backbone of home and society, however, global poverty often affects women the most. Women across the globe are still fighting for equality in their workplaces, general society and in their own homes. This inequality is a significant factor why women make up the bulk of the impoverished population in the world.

According to data that the U.S. Census Bureau released in 2017, the maximum rate of poverty for men was 7% while the minimum poverty rate for women was 9.7%. Depending on the race and demographics, this rate only tends to increase. Here are five ways that global poverty affects women.

5 Ways that Global Poverty Affects Women

  1. Gender Wage Gap: The availability of equally paid jobs is critical in making women independent and hence improving any economy. According to the World Economic Forum, the annual average earnings of the men around the world was $23,000 in 2018. In contrast, the global average of annual earnings of women was only $12,000. The international intergovernmental economic organization G7 inferred from collected data that the gender wage gap is prevalent throughout the world. Furthermore, G7 determined that the gender wage gap does not depend on the current financial status of any country. The G7 claimed that the global average gender wage gap was still 17% in the year 2016. Moreover, discrepancies in the wages that employers paid to women, even in developed countries, affected women in economically weaker countries and low-paying jobs significantly.
  2. Job Segregation:  The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that nearly 80% of the female labor force works in the service sectors and less-paid clerical jobs contrary to managerial, professional or leadership roles. More women in administrative positions would bring in diverse and complementing perspectives into the idea pool. An increase in females in administrative positions would also allow an insight into the female consumers’ psyche. All of these benefits, plus an increase in creativity, would consequently increase revenue. In most countries, including many developed countries, the number of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is unquestionably lesser than men. Only 28% of employees in STEM fields, which are the fastest-growing with higher paid jobs, are women. In addition to conservative social norms and gender bias, the lack of female role models also contributes to the smaller women labor force in STEM fields.
  3. Motherhood: Pregnancy can often be the tipping point in any woman’s career path. While women may face wage penalties, men might win salary premiums. Women frequently choose to take time off to stay at home and care for their children. However, the career break adversely affects their salaries even after they return to work. From the data that a study in Denmark conducted, a country with high gender equality measures, the salary of women sharply dropped nearly 3% after the birth of the first child and never recovered.
  4. Unpaid Caregiving: Another way that global poverty affects women is that they often don the role of caregivers for the elders and children in a family more than men, which is unpaid work. This extra work, nearly twice to 10 times the work that men do, is worth almost $11 trillion per year. Although women’s unpaid work amounts to nearly four years more work than men, women still earn less at their paid jobs. This is most likely due to the fact that women prefer part-time and easily transferable jobs after having a baby, in order to provide proper care for the child. Policies targeting lower childcare costs might help women in the long run. Additionally, policies focusing on incentives for men in sharing the childcare and domestic chores would also help women greatly. In general, providing any sort of assistance to alleviate the extra work of women would help in the long run. For example, women in Malawi spend 54 minutes a day on average collecting water. Providing labor-saving infrastructure results in less time obtaining water and more paid hours for women. Gender inequality in developing countries costs their economies $9 trillion per year. In Latin America, women’s paid work increased between 2000 and 2010. This resulted in a 30% reduction in poverty.
  5. Gender-biased Illiteracy: In low-income countries, the average literacy rate of men is 70% and 50% for women. In the 2014 World Value Survey, 26% of people across the world said that university education is comparatively more essential for a boy than a girl. A 2016 study in Nepal revealed that the poorer households sacrificed the literacy of daughters for better job prospects for sons.

How Organizations are Helping

Countries around the world have begun to realize that the inclusion of women, especially in leadership roles, is necessary for sustained, overall development. LivelyHoods, a nonprofit organization, noticed that the women were mainly the ones who dealt with household energy. In Kenya, indoor pollution due to smoke from conventional stoves causes 13,000 deaths per year. In an effort to combat indoor pollution, LivelyHoods employed the rural women population in Kenya to distribute life-improving, affordable, clean-energy products to the local population. The network of saleswomen that the organization employed distributed eco-friendly products like solar products, clean-burning cookstoves and many others. Of the top 10% of the salesforce, 90% are women who earn up to $1,000 per month. Over 1,500 trained women employees have distributed 26,000 clean energy products so far. This is an inspiring example of how indispensable women are to global development.

Ideas for Moving Forward

To help impoverished women improve their quality of life, governments could offer publicly financed schemes of extended leaves of absence for new mothers; replace individual taxation with family taxation so that the burden on the secondary earners, who are mostly women, lifts; provide tax benefits for low-wage earners; reduce the childcare cost for working women; encourage businesses to develop better practices like pay transparency and regular wage assessment based on gender; conduct free workshops for women to impart vocational skills as well as to spread awareness of various available job opportunities; offer equal job opportunities to women; conduct workshops in the men’s workplaces to show them how their personal and nation’s economy will flourish by sharing the childcare and domestic duties. Even implementing just a few of these tactics could help reduce the inequality women around the world face.

– Nirkkuna Nagaraj 
Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands, one of the third largest archipelago countries, consists of nearly 900 islands with a total population of 400,000. It is located between the sea routes of the South Pacific Ocean, the Solomon Sea and the Coral Sea. Given its unique landscape and dispersed population, there is limited banking and credit access in the Solomon Islands. Currently, there are about 300 islands that are inhabited and within those islands, there are only 14 bank branches.

Current Status of Financial Inclusion

Limited banking and credit access in the Solomon Islands impact the way Solomon Islanders handle their finances. According to the Solomon Islands’ financial demand-side survey, the following statistics reveal the involvement in the Solomon Islands’ financial sector.

  • 8 percent own a bank account in different financial institutions such as a credit union or loan company
  • 26 percent of adults over the age of 15 own a bank account
  • 31 percent are not able to access any type of financial services
  • 35 percent of Solomon Islanders use services such as a moneylender or a savings club

It is important to note the barriers that Solomon Islanders face when they attempt to enter the financial sector. One of the many barriers includes the country’s mountainous and rainforest-covered landscape which constrains their ability to access financial services such as banks or ATMs.

It was reported that those without bank accounts live an average of 6 hours away from a bank while those with bank accounts must travel about 2 hours to access banking services. The farther away Solomon Islanders are from accessible financial services the more costly it is to participate in the financial sector.

Understanding the Gender Gap

It is important to address gender disparity when it comes to the financial involvement between men and women in the Solomon Islands. Only 20 percent of adult women have a commercial bank account compared to 32 percent of males. The Solomon Islands National Financial Inclusion Strategy 2016-2020 (NFIS) notes that “Banked adults now average 4.5 years more schooling than the unbanked: a factor that helps explain the widening gender divide.” The gap is also evident in terms of literacy rates as 89 percent of men in the country are able to read and write compared to only 79 percent of women.

Solutions for Financial Exclusion

The government is prioritizing efforts to provide accessible banking and credit access in the Solomon Islands and though it has been a tedious process there has been some progress. The updated NFIS strategy has a goal of helping men, women and young people “to be financially competent and have access to a full range of financial services that help them achieve greater financial security and financial opportunity.” Overall, the goal is to ensure that 300,000 adults to have a form of formal or semi-formal financial accounts by 2020. The NFIS also seeks to ensure that 90 percent of the population will be able to access financial services within one hour of ordinary travel from their homes.

The Solomon Islands Government also launched the Women’s Financial Inclusion in the Solomon Islands which focuses on empowering women to realize “their full potential, importance, and status, and be increasingly recognized and heard in Solomon Islands society.” The program also seeks to provide women with the necessary tools to become business owners and participate in the private sector. A number of initiatives have been spearheaded under the Women’s’ Financial Inclusion program:

  • Jorio Java Dovele Women’s Association Saving Club
  • Gizo Environment, Livelihood and Conservation Association
  • West Are’Are Rokotanikeni Association

Overall, promoting financial inclusion through greater credit access to the Solomon Islands has the potential to bridge the gender gap in the country while creating economic opportunity for those in rural areas.

– Jocelyn Aguilar

Photo: Unsplash