empowering women in Israel
Founded in 1925, NA’AMAT is an organization that provides support, education and service to Israeli women. The women who originally started the organization believed in equality: that women were equal to men and deserved equal chances at life. The organization began in New York with the purpose of empowering women in Israel. Eventually, the organization spread to nine countries in total.

Israeli women fought for the right to receive equal treatment in the workplace and community long before the 1960s feminism movement. They demanded respect for all they did as wives and mothers. NA’AMAT played a large role in providing resources for these women. Its mission statement reads: “[NA’AMAT provides] vital educational and social services for women, children and families in need, in Israel.” Here are three ways NA’AMAT fulfills its mission statement.

Nurturing Children

NA’AMAT has 200 facilities to provide childcare to over 17,000 children, so their parents are able to work. The families who enroll pay based on a sliding scale fee, depending on their income. Because so many families live below the poverty line, the NA’AMAT U.S.A. branch raises funds to help pay for these children to attend.

On top of providing early education, NA’AMAT is also a safe haven for children who have suffered abuse or neglect, become an orphan or experienced terrorism. These children receive counseling and special attention.

Empowering Women

In 2004, 18,000 women in Israel reported experiencing abuse, but authorities believe the actual number was closer to 140,000-200,000. One out of three women will experience sexual assault according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. However, most women with conservative or religious backgrounds do not file a complaint.

NA’AMAT focuses on empowering women in Israel by operating legal aid bureaus. Its purpose is to help women who have been victims of workplace discrimination and domestic abuse. It provides counseling and programs that give women a sense of pride and self-worth.

Education For At-Risk Youth

Not everyone without an education lives in poverty, but people who experience poverty are far more likely to not have an education. Education opens doors: it provides more job opportunities, helps fight gender inequality and allows people to develop social skills.

NA’AMAT provides education and vocational training for low-income children. Some of the schools are girls-only, and each student receives personalized care and attention. Whether the children have come from underrepresented groups in Israel or are migrants, NA’AMAT gives them a second chance at developing skills to contribute to society and feel a sense of empowerment.

Empowering women in Israel is a clear focus of the organization. Through NA’AMAT, Israeli women can progress forward in their lives. Whether they have been victims of abuse or neglect, the organization helps them stand on their own two feet. NA’AMAT gives women the support they’d otherwise lack with helping care for children, so they can have a career and provide for their families.

Each woman truly receives personalized care. Additionally, positive role models surround their children and provide support through their adolescence. With NA’AMAT on their side, Israeli women have had an ally for almost 100 years to help fight for equality for themselves and their children.

Tawney Smith
Photo: Flickr

Education Inequality in Pakistan
Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country and home to over 221 million people, is trying to get girls the education they deserve. Education inequality in Pakistan exists primarily because of a lack of funding from the government, unsafe transportation, early marriage and poverty. Families living in poverty in Pakistan frequently choose between sending their children to school, hoping they get there safely, or buying household necessities. According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch article, “32% of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared with 21% of boys.”

The Current Situation in Pakistan

Today, the youth population in Pakistan is larger than it has ever been. With 64% of individuals now under the age of 30, this new generation may be able to change Pakistan’s economy and education system, according to World Education News and Review. However, how can girls make a societal change when only 39% out of that age group, 2% of whom are female, have employment?

Women in Pakistan often do household chores such as cooking and taking care of the children while men in Pakistani culture are the breadwinners. Many in Pakistan see them as worthy of a proper education because they need those skills to create a prosperous life for their family. This adds to the gender and education inequality that exists in the patriarchal society of Pakistan.

For the girls who have the opportunity to go to school, they often face obstacles such as rape and discrimination. The gender-based violence present in Pakistan often occurs through child marriage, domestic abuse and maternal mortality rates. Many girls marry before they turn 18, and according to a 2018 article by TheirWorld, “In 2012 and 2013, 53.7% of married girls between 15 and 19 had never been to school.”

The gender discrimination that girls face in the educational system is an intergenerational problem. The United States has been working to aid Pakistan in furthering its educational system and obtaining education equality for girls.

Solutions

USAID aims to help girls in developing areas gain access to education, diminish the gender gap and keep girls in school when they are at high risk of dropping out. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, 22.7% of children drop out of primary school. In an attempt to change those statistics, USAID has constructed and repaired 1,607 schools and awarded scholarships to 19,000 students in Pakistan in the past decade.

Education in Pakistan is often poor. School budgets are frequently low, infrastructure is improper and teachers are illegitimate. Change must begin on the inside, starting with the intentions of the Pakistani government.

In past years, Pakistan has fallen short when it comes to financing education. In 2000, Pakistan spent 1.8% of its gross domestic product on education. In 2017, Pakistan spent only 2.9% on education. According to the Pakistan Alliance for Girls Education, “The government has allocated Rs. 83.3 billion for Education Affairs and Services in the federal budget for 2020-21.” While there are plans in place to help Pakistan’s economy and promote education, some organizations are working on a more personal level.

Save the Children

Save the Children is an organization that strives to create a better future for children by providing aid to healthcare, education and disaster relief. In Pakistan, the organization’s goal is to raise awareness about girls rights, work towards gender equality and help improve the country’s education system.

“We want to help every child, each one is important but we know girls need more help breaking down those barriers,” said Save the Children’s Vice President of Public Policy and Advocating, Nora O’Connell, in an interview with The Borgen Project. Save the Children’s Choices, Voices, and Promises program aims to educate children about gender and social norms to move towards equality. The program intends to teach boys about the obstacles that their sisters and friends in order to create a supportive, less divided community. “In some cases we see boys helping their sisters with their chores so they have more time to focus on their school work,” said O’Connell.

Save the Children also has programs about sexual and reproductive health, teachers as role models and a mentor program. According to O’Connell, the mentor program is a great way for adolescent girls to stay in school when they are at risk of dropping out. Save the Children pairs girls with mentors who may have dropped out of school due to marriage or pregnancy, in order to show girls they are capable of moving past social barriers.

Through continued work, education inequality in Pakistan should become a part of the past. Everyone deserves the right to an equal and proper education no matter their gender. As the African proverb goes, “if you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

– Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in Rwanda
Rwanda started the journey to women’s empowerment earlier than the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goal 5, which encourages gender equality. Rwanda started encouraging gender equality after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and during its rebuilding. The country, therefore, developed a system that led to the appointment of more women in governmental leadership positions. This system also intensively invested in girl education. More women received encouragement to join the army and national security departments. After these interventions, the government started creating business opportunities and training for women. They were able to participate in activities that could provide them with an income. The following are some of the campaigns for gender equality that have been helping with achievements in Rwanda.

Isange One-Stop Center (IOSC)

IOSC is a national police-led center where victims of gender-based violence receive treatment and protection. Doing this helps to make sure that they can live healthy and developed lives. The program aims to provide psychosocial, medical, police and legal services. The Center provides these services to adult and child survivors of gender-based violence and child abuse occurring in the family or in the community at large. The U.N. office in Rwanda reports that there are currently 44 operating IOSCs in the country.

Parents’ Evenings (Utugoroba tw’Ababyeyi)

Parents’ Evenings are local evening gatherings that connect parents so they can discuss the community’s wellbeing. These evenings encourage conversations about fighting against gender-based violence in families. Additionally, these gatherings have discouraged different stereotypes about women and girls who faced discrimination in the local villages. These gatherings have also encouraged women to join together and invest in economic activities to generate income for them.

HeForShe Campaign

HeForShe is a U.N.-based campaign that aims to achieve global gender equality. The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, joined this campaign and committed to bridging the gender gap in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) access. This tripled the number of girls enrolled in Technical and Vocational Training and also eradicated gender-based violence. These fields are crucial for achieving gender equality in Rwanda since economic development depends on them. In 2018, HeForShe reported that the number of women with access to mobile phones increased from 35.1% in 2010 to 84% in 2016. Additionally, there was an encouragement to start different campaigns granting mentorship and career guidance to girls in technology. Examples of these campaigns include Smart Village, Girls in ICT and the Miss Geek competition. All these campaigns for gender equality supported the cause of the HeForShe campaign in Rwanda by empowering women and girls.

Rwanda is one of the few countries that is substantially improving gender equality. This is the result of intensive investments in women empowerment, girls’ education and the fight against gender-based violence. Rwanda is showing progress because its campaigns for gender equality support the nation as a whole.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in the DRC
Congolese-Cypriot model Noëlla Coursaris Musunka is not just an international, fashion superstar. In addition to her successful modeling career, her charity Malaika is changing the lives of young girls and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Through her philanthropy, Coursaris Musunka aims to empower and thus, help improve girls’ education in the DRC, so they can have the most opportunities for future success.

Noëlla Coursaris Musunka

After Coursaris Musunka’s father died when she was young, her mother sent her to live with relatives in Belgium and Switzerland so that she could have a stable education. Though Coursaris Musunka succeeded academically and completed a degree in Business Management, she had little contact with her mother back home in the DRC. Their communication at that time consisted mainly of occasional letters or phone calls. As Coursaris Musunka herself said, “When you have nothing, you know that if you fall there’s no one to pick you up. So you have to stand. I resolved very early on that I would study and work and be independent.”

Realizing that many girls back home did not have access to education, she decided to start a charity to help girls’ education in the DRC. Coursaris Musunka, inspired by her own experiences and the lack of opportunity she witnessed at home, began this endeavor.

Malaika Foundation

Malaika Foundation (named after the Swahili word for “angel”) is a grassroots organization working to improve girls’ education in the DRC. Coursaris Musunka acts as the charity’s president and founder.

According to Coursaris Musunka’s personal website, Malaika “empowers Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs.” The Malaika School currently educates more than three hundred young girls with a rigorous syllabus. Notably, 100% of students have passed their year six exams since 2017. Additionally, Malaika has created 20 wells in the DRC to supply residents with drinking water. Moreover, she founded a community center that “provides education, health and sports programmes to over 5,000 youths and adults per year.”

The Malaika School in Kalebuka

Currently in its ninth year of operation, the Malaika School (located in Kalebuka) advances girls’ education in the DRC at no cost to its hundreds of students. Also, the institution serves both primary and secondary school-aged children. The school educates students on a variety of topics, including multiple languages, STEM fields and the arts. Malaika particularly emphasizes the importance of leadership to teach girls to strive for success. The school also commits itself to sustainability — providing students with breakfast and lunch every day. Importantly, these meals include fruits and vegetables, grown in the school’s own garden. Additionally, the school is “100% powered by solar energy.” After graduation, Malaika matches students with internships while other students choose to continue their education at universities or specialized colleges.

A Model Beyond Fashion

Coursaris Musunka continues to invest her free time into the charity she founded. “My message to every child,” she says, “to every young girl, is this: take your opportunity, go to school. Educate yourself. Become pioneers of education and pioneers of Africa and the world.” Coursaris Musunka is a model in the world of fashion, female leadership and educational, charity initiatives. Inspirational and influential figures such as Coursaris Musunka are doing important work in the advancement of education, especially for young girls.

Jackie McMahon
Photo: Flickr

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

UNESCO

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

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

UNICEF

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

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

USAID

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

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

– Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

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

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

4 Organizations Improving Education in Sierra Leone

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

A Brighter Future

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

Rachel Moloney
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Malawi
Malawi, a small country in Southern Africa, is known for its rich culture. Unfortunately, their economy is still very poor. There are many factors that lead to poverty, but education, specifically girls’ education in Malawi, is a major source of financial turmoil that is often overlooked.

Girls’ Education and Poverty

World Bank has found that girls around the world are consistently enrolled in school at lower rates than boys. Malawi is no exception. While around 67% of boys in the country complete primary school, that number is 8% lower for girls. This gap stays consistent throughout different stages of schooling. Low-income households have a larger divide between male and female education. When analyzing upper-class families in Malawi, researchers found little difference in the percentage of girls and boys attending school.

The Malala Fund discovered that improving girls’ education has the potential to unlock trillions of dollars in revenue, while also increasing human rights. Therefore, the barriers to female literacy must not be overlooked. Data analysis proves that nations that discourage education for girls also have higher rates of financial struggle and a larger wage gap. As proven by the aforementioned connections between class and school enrollment, economic barriers are a factor to illiteracy. However, attempting to combat poverty without working toward equal access to education for girls will not yield results.

Barriers to Girls’ Education in Malawi

Daniel Moyo spoke to The Borgen Project on the relationship between education inequality and economic strain in Malawi. As the program director for Ministry of Hope Malawi, he witnesses these issues firsthand. The entrenched cultural norms that Moyo says “look at girls as sexual objects and not as equal human beings” are much more difficult to overcome than the financial burdens. Moyo explains that sexism in schooling directly impacts the economy by “creating a situation where most women are not only housewives, but also left to suffer in acute poverty.”

When charities provide economic funding for girls’ education in Malawi without understanding cultural barriers as well, their efforts are futile. Moyo cites an example of aid that went wrong due to this oversight. An NGO sponsored a secondary school in Phalombe and provided every girl with economic support. However, this backfired because it neglected to tackle the surrounding issues. Moyo discusses how the money gave the students freedom without guidance, resulting in their newfound status being used to “compete for boyfriends and men and not necessarily for financial or material gain.” Thus, “at the end of one year, almost half of the girls at this one high school became pregnant.”

Holistic Approach to Improving the Economy

The efforts by organizations such as Ministry of Hope are helping to improve poverty by recognizing its connection to girls’ education in Malawi. This nonprofit, dedicated to helping vulnerable communities, takes a holistic approach to aiding Malawians that has assisted in making tangible change. Between 2000 and 2018, almost 9% more girls were enrolled in secondary school.

Ministry of Hope encourages organizations to not blindly give money to improve the economy. Rather, “it calls for a lot of factors including policy shifts, cultural beliefs, behavior changes, and a lot of investment in girls’ education.” This is why supporting bills such as the Keeping Girls in School Act (S.1071) is so crucial for tackling poverty in the Global South.

There tends to be a narrative that poverty causes illiteracy. However, if that approach is flipped, there comes a new solution with additional potential for forging change. By advancing education, poverty can also be lowered. Those fighting for change must help organizations on the ground who are providing guidance along with their scholarships. By addressing the cultural and economic barriers of educational inequality, poverty can begin to decrease in Malawi.

– Annie Bennett
Photo: Flickr

Women and Girls in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso is a landlocked, Sub-Saharan country in West Africa. Of the 20 million people residing there, 50.3 percent are female. Women and girls in Burkina Faso are likely to suffer from sexual or violent assault, experience forced marriage, be sold as property, die from unsafe pregnancy or abortion and/or undergo genitalia mutilation.

More than 85 percent of the population in the area supports the idea that these practices should discontinue. The government reformation of the constitution in 2016 claiming to strengthen women’s and children’s rights reflects this support. Unfortunately, women living in West Africa are still in immediate need of medical aid in order to live safe and healthy lives.

The organization Lighting the Path launched a new Women’s Aid Fund (WAF) to accomplish just that by helping women and girls in the fight for life. To gain further insight into how WAF is changing the lives of those living in Burkina Faso, The Borgen Project interviewed Dawn Malcolm, founder of Lighting the Path.

Life for Females in Burkina Faso

While the country’s government has put a policy into motion that promotes gender equality, the women and girls in Burkina Faso still face many unfair and cruel practices.

According to a Country Gender Profile by Japan International Cooperation Agency, when it comes to education, it is “socially ingrained that girls should be doing household chores rather than going to school.” In 2018, Burkina Faso saw a mere 32 percent of the female population enroll in schools.

Additionally, it is likely that women and girls in Burkina Faso will experience sexual assault from other students or teachers. In 1998, a Medical Research Council Survey found that 37.7 percent of girls in South Africa said that a school teacher or principal had raped them.

Additionally, there is an issue of forced marriage, including underaged young women. Families force more than half of all girls under the legal age of 17 into unregistered marriage.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is also extremely prevalent in Burkina Faso. Specifically, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common practice for the nation. Despite the fact that Burkina Faso banned this practice in 1996 and the majority of the population is aware of the harmful effects, 76 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone mutilation.

Finally, women’s economic status in the country is far below that of men’s status. This occurs for three main reasons. Firstly, many in the country do not value women’s right to own property. Secondly, the right of succession does not apply to women. Thirdly, women cannot seem to buy or inherit the land. All of these economic issues make women reliable for men for a sustainable way of life, continuing the suppressive cycle.

Behind Lighting the Path

Dawn Malcolm founded Lighting the Path with the main goal of ending extreme poverty. The organization works with outreach programs and finds people in poverty who suffer from a lack of food, health care or education. The organization offers support through teaching business and entrepreneurship skills, which Malcolm believes is the best way to help. “Women and the people in poverty have to be empowered to help with the process of writing them out of poverty,” she says. “It can’t just be hand-outs all the time.” One example of this enterprise production model was teaching the women and girls in Burkina Faso to make soap out of the shea butter readily available to them in the village.

LTP is currently working on five fundraising projects: The Girls for Girls Project, The School for Girls Project, The Giving Hope Project, Empowerment Work in Burkina Faso and Microfinancing projects. For sustainable development, building the school for girls is the main focus of LTP’s future, as of now.

The Women’s Aid Fund

The Women’s Aid Fund is a new project that Lighting the Path has had success with. It formed while Malcolm was in Burkina Faso teaching women to make the shea butter soap. While working there, she recognized that women and girls had untreated medical issues. “Women there are husbands’ property, so they’re not always taken care of. Plus, if there’s any money, [the women] would take care of their children before they would get themselves cared for,” Malcolm told The Borgen Project. She typically saw injuries that occurred from FGM or injuries that occurred from fistulas that had not received treatment. Fistulas develop when the body is not ready for birth; in this case, the underaged girls who entered marriage unwillingly commonly developed fistulas.

Most of the things Malcolm witnessed were widespread, occurring on a daily basis and would likely require more than one group’s intervention for eradication. During her time, Malcolm encountered one woman with an injury she knew she could help with if she had the right amount of resources.

A woman named Elizabeth had lost her arm in a domestic dispute with her husband. “Life is very, very difficult [there]. It’s a lot of work, and it’s very hard there already, so when a woman has an injury, or an illness or wound that compromises her further, it just compounds the difficulty of life,” she said. Malcolm saw that by simply purchasing a prosthetic arm, she and Lighting the Path could change Elizabeth’s life for the better.

The WAF formulated with the goal of buying Elizabeth the prosthetic arm. The arm cost about $1,700 but Lighting the Path decided that was not enough. Not stopping at the prosthetic, WAF is continuing to help other women and girls in Burkina Faso who have disabilities or need medical attention. Malcolm says that even small things—a cut on the finger, for example—can sometimes become septic and lead to death if it does not receive treatment. There will always be ways we can help the women and girls in Burkina Faso. Malcolm said, “There’s always going to be women in need of some support to get some treatment or some care that they can’t otherwise afford.”

 Sadly, things like sexual assault, FGM, illegal marriage and unsafe abortion still happen to women and girls in Burkina Faso. Change may come in the future, but it is likely that everyday women and girls in the country are experiencing harm while waiting for that change to arrive. Thankfully, organizations like Lighting the Path and funds like the WAF are improving the way these women heal.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr