gender-based poverty in the DRC
Poverty levels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are incredibly high, and women tend to suffer deeper economic violence and injustices. Limited access to education, reproductive and care responsibilities, gender-based violence, unequal laws and the lack of representation of women in decision-making contribute to gender-based poverty in the DRC

Women’s Limited Access to Education 

Limited access to education and economic opportunities poses significant challenges for girls in the DRC. Although girls’ enrolment in school has increased from 50% to 78% between 2000 and 2017, women still face challenges to higher education and economic access. The main reason for Congolese girls’ struggle to pursue an education is social norms and expectations — marriage and motherhood. 

Addressing this issue is crucial to guarantee girls’ access to education and therefore reduce gender-based poverty in the DRC. Indeed, providing Congolese women with the opportunity and means to obtain an education increases their chances of obtaining better-paying jobs and allowing women to participate more fully in the political sphere. 

Increasing women’s access to education requires advocacy, improving school infrastructure, providing financial support and combating gender-based discrimination and violence. For instance, the United Kingdom’s new Women and Girls Strategy helps 36,000 girls in the DRC access education in the Kauai province. 

Empowering girls will contribute to social and economic development, fostering a more equitable and prosperous society in the DRC.

Reproductive and Care Responsibilities 

Reproductive and care responsibilities burden Congolese women, hindering their economic empowerment. Women’s value in Congolese society is often reduced to the roles of wife and mother. According to the 2017–18 MICS, nearly 30% of women are married under the age of 18 years old

This phenomenon deeply impacts women’s economic agency and thus gender-based poverty in the DRC. Indeed, women’s caregiving roles limit educational and workforce opportunities. 

Actively fighting gender stereotypes and expectations could not only allow women to pursue education but also encourage the equitable sharing of caregiving responsibilities in marriage and provide comprehensive support to women in managing their work and family commitments. 

Gender-based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is prevalent in the DRC, particularly in conflict-affected regions, impacting women’s physical and mental well-being, as well as partially causing gender-based poverty in the DRC. Indeed, one in two women in the DRC report having experienced physical or sexual abuse at least once in their lives. 

Firstly, fear of violence discourages girls’ education and limits economic opportunities. In fact, girls face increased risks of violence, sexual exploitation and harassment by teachers and harmed forces in school settings. 

Secondly, the economic consequences of gender-based violence are closely linked with harmful conceptions of gender roles. Because the value of women is based on their capacity to marry and bear children, people often view survivors of sexual abuse as “unfit” for such roles, and their socioeconomic status suffers as a result. 

In order to fully address gender-based violence in the DRC, national and international institutions need to implement legal reforms, provide secure learning environments and encourage community engagement to combat harmful norms. 

Unequal Laws and Discriminatory Practices Towards Women 

Unequal laws and discriminatory practices reinforce gender-based poverty in the DRC. Inheritance laws favor male heirs, denying women their rightful property share. Limited access to land ownership and financial services further hampers economic opportunities. Despite their critical role in agriculture, rural development and food security, women own just 25% of land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

In response to unequal laws and discriminatory practices towards women in the DRC, a range of active solutions have emerged. Advocacy for legal reforms is driving the transformation of discriminatory legislation, ensuring women’s equal rights to property ownership and inheritance. 

The Lack of Representation in Decision-Making 

The lack of representation of women in decision-making perpetuates gender-based poverty in the DRC. Women’s voices are often overlooked in political and community leadership, hindering gender-sensitive policy development. Despite the fact that articles 5, 14 and 15 of the DRC constitution provide a legal foundation for equality and equity policies, women currently hold only 7.2% of positions at the highest level of decision-making at the national level in the parliament and administration. 

Promoting gender equality is a critical objective in the DRC to increase women’s participation in decision-making processes. Gender equality creates a way for women to participate in decision-making arenas by removing deeply ingrained gender inequities and discriminatory standards. 

Trócaire and partners — with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) — have implemented programs to enhance Congolese women’s participation in decision-making processes in more than 27 communities. Following this program encouraging gender equality, 65% of women now participate in and are represented in decision-making organizations in the communities concerned by the project. 

Despite progress, significant challenges persist in ensuring women’s economic empowerment, requiring sustained dedication to create lasting change and put an end to gender-based poverty in the DRC. Addressing gender-based poverty in the DRC demands comprehensive solutions: education access, ending discrimination, combating violence, elevating voices and fostering an equitable future. 

Hannah Klifa
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Asia
The World Bank estimates that at least 500 million women and girls across the world live in period poverty. They lack access to menstrual products and safe, hygienic spaces to use them due to financial restraints. This is certainly prevalent across Asia in high and low-income countries where cultural taboos and attitudes towards women and girls prevent many from accessing the help they need to manage their periods. However, more and more governments and organizations in Asia are beginning to acknowledge the issue of period poverty. They are taking the initiative to help erase the stigma surrounding periods and improve access to menstrual products. Below are four areas of Asia that are tackling period poverty in Asia.

Southeast Asia

In Southeast Asia, Plan International has collaborated with a sustainable period brand Modibodi to empower almost 5,000 women and girls to safely manage their periods with dignity. Over the course of three months, the NGO has provided 1,000 pairs of reusable menstrual underwear to 333 women and girls in Indonesia alone. While in Laos, 4,500 female students have received reusable period underwear packs. Plan International reports that this initiative has come about after access to menstrual products has become increasingly limited for low-income people across the globe due to widespread inflation as well as the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both have greatly exacerbated living costs.

Despite the increase in period poverty over the past few years, women and girls in Southeast Asia have always faced challenges when it comes to accessing menstrual products and education surrounding menstrual health. Indeed, a 2015 report for UNICEF Indonesia found that only two-thirds of school-aged girls from urban areas in Indonesia changed absorbent menstrual products every four to eight hours or when the material was dirty. This is usually due to the fact that they could not afford to change their menstrual products when necessary. This issue has only been amplified in rural areas, where the amount decreased to less than half of the girls surveyed.


Women in China are also working to end period poverty. Despite living in high-income countries, many women and girls across China face financial difficulties and stigmas when it comes to managing periods. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this, which has led to a rise in poorer women such as students, cancer patients or women from rural areas having to buy low-cost period supplies that do not meet safety standards.

Period Pride, a Chinese NGO focused on menstrual health, has started a series of initiatives to combat period poverty and shame. This has included inviting university students to propose prototypes for products and services which address period poverty for experts and investors to review. In 2020, they also partnered with a range of women’s organizations to create a series of policy recommendations for the China State Council Women and Children Working Committee, which included ensuring that women have access to clean water and can dispose of menstrual waste in a safe and dignified manner.


In Japan, efforts have also occurred to reduce the cost of period products, making them more accessible to all. This is particularly important because despite being an affluent country, Plan International found that one in three women in Japan had hesitated or were unable to buy menstrual products due to financial reasons when surveying 2,000 Japanese women aged 15-24.

Like many of the campaigns tackling period poverty in Asia, grassroots groups, such as the student organization using the hashtag #EveryonesPeriod, which began a petition in 2019 to lessen taxes on menstrual products, led much of the drive to end period poverty in Japan. However, members of the legislature have also begun to acknowledge the problem, with Sayaka Sasaki and Renhō Saitō, two members of the House of Councillors Budget Committee, pushing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to agree to include sanitary products in Japan’s COVID-19 emergency relief plan in 2021. As a result, local governments have started to distribute free menstrual products across their constituencies in Japan.

South Korea

Similar to Japan and China, despite residing in a high-income country, many women in South Korea also struggle when it comes to managing their periods. This issue particularly came to light after a 2016 report found that one low-income South Korean girl could not afford menstrual products and had to use a shoe insole instead.

Stories like these pushed the Seoul Metropolitan Government to launch a pilot program to dispense free menstrual products across 10 public facilities across the city in 2018. These facilities include major attractions such as the Seoul Museum of Art as well as women’s spaces such as the Seoul Women’s Plaza. This program received support from 92% of the 1,475 Seoul residents surveyed about the pilot, indicating an overwhelmingly positive attitude from the public in regard to improving access to menstrual products. Using data collected from the pilot program, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has now expanded the drive to alleviate period poverty across the city, with around 300 institutions in Seoul now providing free menstrual products.

A Better Future Ahead

Whilst a lack of access to menstrual products continues to be a major issue facing women across the globe, these programs and campaigns that are tackling period poverty in Asia provide many a reason to be optimistic about eradicating period poverty. Grassroots, NGO and government-led initiatives to improve access to menstrual products have been instrumental in uplifting the lives of low-income women across Asia. It will continue to do so with further efforts to expand awareness of and end period poverty in Asia.

– Priya Thakkar
Photo: Flickr

Walk for Water
Turning an everyday walk into vital support for the world’s most vulnerable is possible through the United Kingdom’s WaterAid campaign, Walk for Water. The campaign encourages the public to participate in a walking challenge that raises funds for pipe installations, well constructions, menstrual hygiene sessions and the building of school toilets in countries with a high count of people living in poverty. Clean water is vital for good health, thriving communities and flourishing economies. Challenging people to walk this month will contribute to improving the lives of women and girls who have to walk up to 12 kilometers every day to collect clean water.

Inequality in Access to Water

A 2019 report by UNICEF and World Health Organization reveals that “2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities.”

These statistics make it clear that mobilization efforts need to pick up the pace in order to meet the U.N. drinking water, sanitation and hygiene targets by 2030. The U.N. asserts that the world’s progress in this area must increase fourfold in order to meet these goals.

Water and Poverty

Rapid population expansion, urbanization and growing water demands from the “agriculture, industry and energy sectors” have put a strain on global water resources. Access to safe and affordable water and sanitation plays a key part in poverty reduction and well-being. Meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this area would safeguard the lives of 829,000 people per year, who would otherwise die from illnesses arising from contaminated water, improper sanitation and inadequate hygiene.

According to Healing Waters, about 84% of people who lack access to clean water live in rural areas, meaning they rely on agriculture to meet their nutritional needs and secure an income. In cases of water contamination, crops are detrimentally affected and communities end up consuming contaminated food, exposing them to a multitude of preventable diseases and illnesses.

The obvious way that clean water reduces poverty is by improving physical health and well-being. Proper water and sanitation access prevents the spread of water-borne illnesses — the cause of 80% of illnesses in poverty-stricken countries, Healing Waters says.

Access to clean water also reduces poverty by easing the physical burden placed on females of all ages as gender roles prescribe that girls and women bear the role of water collectors. Females must undertake strenuous journeys, sometimes of up to 12 kilometers, carrying heavy buckets of water back to their homes after collection. One of the goals of the Walk for Water initiative is to lift this burden off of females so that young girls can engage in education and women can rest or partake in other productive tasks rather than spending hours collecting water, thus improving the lives of women and girls.

Looking Ahead

It is becoming more and more obvious that properly managed clean drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services are essential to maintaining human health as the COVID-19 pandemic carries on. However, billions of people would still lack these basic amenities in 2030 unless progress accelerates significantly. Many other aspects of sustainable development depend on water, and in order for the current trend to change, immediate action is necessary.

– Ralitsa Pashkuleva
Photo: Flickr

Girls in Africa
On July 18, 2022, the leaders of 11 sub-Saharan African countries officially announced the launch of the Education Plus initiative, marking a significant stride forward for girls’ education and the empowerment of women. At a recent summit meeting of the Africa Union in Zambia, these leaders expressed and guaranteed their support. Ultimately, the initiative empowers girls in Africa by promoting education for women in hopes that this increased access to education will mitigate HIV/AIDS in the region.

HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa

Unfortunately, the stigma around HIV in Africa creates social barriers that impede an infected person’s access to treatment. Historically vulnerable populations, which typically include those who live in countries where HIV is a major epidemic, consistently struggle to access treatment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), The HIV epidemic most affects the WHO Africa Region.

About 25.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have HIV infections, according to SOS Children’s Villages. However, populations in Africa face structural barriers “that increase their vulnerability to HIV and impede their access to prevention, testing and treatment” resources, according to the WHO. This includes “laws that criminalize their behavior, stigma, discrimination and violence.”

The Impact of COVID-19 on Girls in Africa

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced almost 20 million girls out of school in low and middle-income nations. In particular, sub-Saharan Africa noted a high rate of out-of-school female students, even before the onset of the pandemic. Though in some countries, like Ghana, many students re-enrolled in school, girls accounted for the majority of the students who did not re-enroll.

The financial strain of the pandemic meant many families could not afford the costs of education and the gendered norm of females bearing the burden of household chores and caretaking also prevented girls from re-enrolling. The COVID-19 pandemic also increased the risk of HIV/AIDS. The Education Plus initiative will strive to protect the inherent rights of adolescent girls and women to feel safe, maintain good health and have access to education.

Reducing HIV Prevalence

The Education Plus initiative’s primary purpose is to help end Africa’s HIV pandemic. Helping girls stay in secondary school and teaching essential life skills is crucial to achieving this. According to several studies, an adolescent female who completes her secondary education is 50% less likely to contract HIV. Additionally, a combination of this emphasis on education with additional services that empower women can further decrease this risk.

The Education Plus initiative especially advocates for cost-free high school education for both males and females in sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. In addition, the initiative calls for schools to incorporate “comprehensive sexual education” into their curriculums. The initiative calls further for protection from gender-based violence and programs that help students make the transition from school to the work environment, among other priorities.

The Importance of Education for Girls in Africa

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema stressed the importance of learning, stating that education is “the greatest equalizer” and that “with appropriate education, everyone receives the opportunity to explore their full potential and be able to participate in the development process.” This also means that people have better access to jobs, which will alleviate poverty and reduce HIV risks in vulnerable environments.

At the Africa Union Summit, leaders highlighted the necessity of promoting women’s rights, especially in such a way that would help combat gender-based discrimination and violence. Member states of the Africa Union hope that implementing the Education Plus initiative will help combat HIV/AIDS. According to the World Bank, educated females are more knowledgeable about nutrition and health care, enter marital unions later in life, have healthier children and “are more likely to participate in the formal labor market and earn higher incomes.”

The countries involved in the initiative are Benin, Cameroon, Eswatini, Gabon, Gambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uganda. The initiative will run till 2025 and five U.N. agencies lead it: UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF and U.N. Women. Empowering young women and reducing gender equality is a key strategy to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

Specifically, the initiative will encourage government-level decision-makers to prioritize health and education policies that place women at the forefront. Additionally, it will pressure governments to provide universal and free secondary education for their citizens. Completion of secondary education, which is an even more urgent concern in the wake of the COVID pandemic, will ultimately reduce the risk of HIV by as much as half in some countries.

Looking Ahead

This rights-based initiative is essential because it responds to gender-based abuses and inequalities. It will ensure that adolescent girls and young women have equal access to an education that will benefit them in many ways — reducing the risk of domestic abuse, promoting good health and establishing financial stability, among other advantages. Leaders hope that this will make the promise of gender equality a reality while also addressing a significant epidemic.

– Shiloh Harrill
Photo: Flickr

School Enrollment Rates for Girls in Malawi
Malawi’s average literacy rate for adults 15 and older stood at 62% in 2015, according to the latest available World Bank data, which is lower than its neighboring countries. According to the latest estimates, Tanzania’s literacy rate stands at 78% and Mozambique’s literacy rate equates to 61%. In addition, the average literacy rate across sub-Saharan Africa stands at 66%. In 2014, Malawi noted a male adult literacy rate of 75% in comparison to 55% for females of the same group. Due to these gender disparities in literacy rates, several initiatives are working to improve school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi.

Reasons for Female School Dropout Rates in Malawi

In sub-Saharan Africa in general, roughly 33% of school-aged children do not attend school. Furthermore, for every 100 male sub-Saharan African students out of primary school, there are 123 female sub-Saharan African students not attending primary school. In Malawi particularly, research shows that female students are more likely to drop out of school than male Malawian students. Data indicates that “Malawi has one of the highest school dropout rates in Southern Africa.” Among females particularly, “three in every [20]” Malawian girls leave primary school “between Standard 5 and 8.”

According to a 2018 Malawi Government’s Education Management and Information Systems (EMIS) survey, girls in Malawi drop out of school for several reasons. Among these reasons are circumstances of poverty, child marriage, early pregnancy, “parents’ negative attitudes toward the education of girls” and household responsibilities. According to the survey, about 7% of female students abandoned their education due to marriage and 5% due to pregnancy.

Another factor is poor academic performance, which links to low quality of education. Living far away from schools also plays a role — 82% of Malawians live in rural areas, which often have few schools in close proximity. A lack of female teachers in schools means female students do not have female role models within the education sector. A 2015 study noted that “female teachers who also act as role models” to female students help keep girls in school. Poverty plays a significant role too as many impoverished families cannot afford school expenses and tend to prioritize the education of male children over female children due to societal perceptions.

Programs to Improve School Enrollment Rates for Girls in Malawi

In 1994, the Malawian government made primary education free to increase enrollment rates, especially among girls. The issue arises with secondary education, which is dominated by boys because many girls drop out before fully completing high school. Girls’ completion of secondary education is one of the most effective ways to combat other problems in Malawi, such as child marriages and early pregnancies.

The Improving Secondary Education in Malawi (ISEM) program is a four-year initiative running from 2017 to 2021, “which is supported by the European Union and implemented by GENET in partnership with OXFAM.” ISEM aims to improve secondary school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi, among other goals.

The program has funded school attire and learning supplies as well as bursaries. For rural students who walk long distances to reach school, sometimes more than two hours, ISEM donates bicycles as a transportation method. By eliminating these long travel times to school, ISEM aimed to improve the energy levels of students, increase punctuality and improve school performance while maintaining students’ interest in attending school. Fifty-one girls at Chibanzi Community Day Secondary School received these benefits through ISEM’s provision of bicycles. In the Golong’ozi Community Day Secondary School, the program has helped 177 girls who, thanks to this project, are able to continue their secondary education.

ASPIRE Project

Save the Children created the Girls’ Empowerment through Education and Health Activity (ASPIRE) project in 2015 with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In Malawi, the ASPIRE project seeks to improve literacy levels and reduce school dropout rates while improving school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi. ASPIRE achieves this by teaching mothers the importance of girls’ education. By doing this, mothers prioritize girls’ education more and are less likely to force their daughters into early marriages. Mothers are also then more likely to encourage girls to go back to school after pregnancy. Data shows that, in 2015 and 2016, 786 students re-enrolled in schools in three particular districts that the ASPIRE project covered, “suggesting an impact from the ASPIRE project.” Female students accounted for 504 of these students.

Education is not only a fundamental right but is also a proven pathway out of poverty. For this reason, several organizations are committing to improving school enrollment rates for girls in Malawi, recognizing that education is the basis of global development and gender equality.

– Ander Moreno
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in HondurasIn 2019, almost half of the Honduran population lived on less than $5.50 a day, placing Honduras in the second-highest spot for poverty prevalence among countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Poverty in Honduras disproportionately affects women — the female unemployment rate is nearly double that of males. Due to high levels of poverty, many Honduran women and girls struggle with period poverty in Honduras, which stands as an economic and social barrier to accessing feminine hygiene resources.

Period Poverty and Education

Lack of adequate menstrual hygiene products causes girls to miss school. A 2017 study found that 66% of Honduran students dropped out of school between sixth and 10th grades. In Latin America, 43% of students with periods prefer to skip school while menstruating. Another component of period poverty is the lack of menstrual education. A 2015 study found that 48% of mothers and 40% of adolescent girls in Honduras had not received education on why women menstruate. Despite the prevalence of period poverty in Honduras, organizations are working to eradicate this issue. One such organization is Pink Box Purpose.

What is Pink Box Purpose?

Pink Box Purpose is a Christian nonprofit organization, founded by sisters Heather Wittig and Jenni Patnode, that provides hygiene, medical care, food, housing and schooling to Hondurans in need. A significant portion of Pink Box Purpose’s work involves providing free feminine care products and menstrual hygiene education to Honduran women and girls.

Wittig’s first-ever trip to Honduras inspired her to found Pink Box Purpose. While handing out feminine hygiene kits to women in the town of Olanchito, Wittig met a local teacher named Alba Carcamo who wanted to make the kits more accessible to her community. Two months later, Wittig, along with Patnode and three other women, returned to Olanchito to establish a reusable pad workshop, the “Hygiene Headquarters,” in a local community center. The Hygiene Headquarters employed five local women who took on the responsibility of sewing and distributing the pads.

Since the establishment of Pink Box Purpose in 2017, the organization has uplifted women and helped reduce period poverty in Honduras. Pink Box Purpose has distributed more than 8,000 pads to women and girls across the country. The team of local women has expanded from five 12 members, with the organization also employing three in-country liaisons.

How Does Pink Box Purpose Receive Support?

Many Pink Box Purpose supporters host pad-cutting parties during which the host and the host’s guests help cut fabric that will be sent to Hygiene Headquarters for the team to turn into pads. Pink Box Purpose provides a party kit, which includes fabric patterns to follow. The cost of the pad party kit helps support the women working at the Hygiene Headquarters.

Pink Box Purpose accepts donations directly on its website. Additional financial support through its “Gifts2Give” page helps to provide specific resources to the organization, such as sewing machines and feminine hygiene bags.

Although period poverty is still prevalent throughout Honduras, through Pink Box Purpose’s work, fewer women face this barrier. As this organization and other similar initiatives continue to do this important work, period poverty in Honduras may decline in the years to come.

 – Aimée Eicher
Photo: Flickr

Study Hall Educational Foundation
Numerous studies have indicated a strong association between poverty and education. Out-of-school rates are the highest in poor countries such as India. Poverty and a lack of education have an inextricable connection, creating a vicious cycle difficult to escape. Illiteracy and lack of schooling keep young people from obtaining better-paying jobs as adults, making it near impossible to ever rise up from poverty. In low-income countries, girls are more likely to withdraw from school — or never attend — than boys. However, the organization, Study Hall Educational Foundation (SHEF), is transforming the lives of girls in India.

Daughters Cannot Attend School

There are several reasons why many girls in India do not have access to education. In rural areas, even if school is free, parents must pay for books and transportation. Parents typically believe educating girls is a waste of money, and would rather have them contribute to family income.

Often, girls stay home to look after younger siblings. Additionally, many end up in early marriages as soon as they reach puberty against their will. These factors could explain why the literacy rate for males 15 and older in India is above 82%, while for girls and women, it is barely 66%. Yet just one extra year of schooling can increase a woman’s earnings by up to 10%, thereby helping to raise her out of poverty.

Help for Girls in India

A nonprofit organization is working to change these daunting statistics. Study Hall Educational Foundation has a history of transforming the lives of Indian girls. Through a network of model schools and outreach programs, it promotes girls’ rights, enabling their access to schooling. Foundation administrators believe a lack of education directly affects a girl’s future ability to earn good wages and to escape poverty.

Urvashi Sahni, Study Hall’s founder, is an activist who became married as a teenager. She had two daughters by her early 20s, and later lost her sister tragically — burned to death over a dowry dispute. It was that anger and frustration that inspired Sahni to found Study Hall. Her work to promote gender equality and education has impacted more than 5 million children, according to the Foundation.

A prime example of Study Hall’s pioneering work is the Prerna Girls School in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Founded in 2003, its enrollment has grown to more than 1,000, providing accessible and affordable education to girls from marginalized, low-income communities — most of whom would not have the opportunity to study otherwise. Many of the girls come from local slums, working as domestic help for neighbors. Although many also come from abusive homes, that fact has not abated their excitement to study and eventually join the professional workforce.

From Slums to Orchards

Another Study Hall program is GyanSetu — or Bridge of Learning — a network of support centers operating from small huts in slums and rural mango orchards. Children attend an accelerated learning program before enrolling in formal schools while continuing to receive supplementary education and support.

Increasing schooling among those 15 or older by just two years would allow nearly 60 million to rise out of poverty, according to UNESCO. That has a better chance of happening thanks to programs like those administered by Study Hall Educational Foundation, helping Indian girls have a better life.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Hippopx

Girls’ orphanages in IndiaIndia’s people have long struggled with poverty as a developing country, despite being one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Coupling overpopulation with a lack of resources, poverty is a common sight on India’s streets. Circumstances of poverty particularly exacerbate the conditions of girls’ orphanages in India.

Poverty in India

According to a 2016 report from the World Bank, one in five Indians suffers from poverty, totaling 270 million people. These Indians have less access to water and sanitation, job opportunities and education in comparison to their wealthier counterparts. A ramification of this level of poverty is that there exists an entire untapped population of Indians who could be contributing to the economy and the country in several ways, but instead, are forced to live on the streets with their basic needs unmet.

In the last few years, India has made some progress in addressing one of its greatest issues. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported that, from 2006 to 2016, India’s poverty rate almost halved from 55% to just 28%. Since then, India has been working toward lifting more people out of poverty and adding jobs to its economy.

However, COVID-19 has set the country back in its poverty alleviation efforts. As one of the countries particularly hard hit by the pandemic and the Delta variant, India has taken a step backward as more people descend into poverty.

Girls’ Orphanages in India

Because of gender-based cultural bias and economic pressures, the majority of orphans in India are girls. According to UNICEF, India is home to 31 million orphaned children. The Times of India reports that nine out of 10 abandoned children are girls. In some parts of India, parents view girls as burdens because, for one, their dowries for marriage are costly.

For this reason, some girls face abandonment and are put into orphanages, adding to the already high number of existing orphaned girls. Shockingly, “nurses have been known to accept bribes to exchange baby girls for baby boys.” Furthermore, activists draw attention “to eight million missing girls” — the estimated “number of female fetuses” possibly “aborted over the past decade due to their sex.” Due to the extensive number of orphaned girls, orphanages often do not have enough resources to adequately take care of the girls.

Association for India’s Development

One organization is doing the important work of helping India’s most impoverished. The Association for India’s Development (AID) has programs throughout different sectors in India, with a network of volunteers helping to uplift and empower Indians.

One of AID’s programs, in particular, surrounds helping girls’ orphanages in India. The Borgen Project spoke to AID’s Project Manager Sid Muralidhar to talk about his experience and how individuals, and the nation at large, can better address poverty in India. “A few of the biggest factors that contribute to India’s high poverty rate are social inequality and lack of access to quality education,” Muralidhar says. “There are very rigid class divides and remnants of the caste system still exist,” which limits social mobility. Without intervention or aid, an individual that is born in poverty is typically likely to remain in poverty.

As project manager, Muralidhar worked with an all-girls orphanage in the village of Badlapur to provide the girls with resources and raise money for the organization. He says the orphanage has suffered negatively from demonetization and the girls live in poor conditions because of the lack of resources.

Taking Action and Hope for the Future

When asked about what steps to take to address poverty and help girls’ orphanages in India, Muralidhar provides a comprehensive answer. “Poverty in India is a pernicious problem that requires broad-based and creative solutions.” Further, in spite of India’s status as “one of the fastest-growing global economies” before COVID-19, “the economic gains” are not “shared equally,” he says.

Muralidhar explains that the Indian “government can attempt to alleviate this widening gap by boosting social welfare programs as well as investing in public education.” He suggests that, in the meanwhile, “people interested in the issue and those who want to be conduits of progress should continue to educate themselves and others to grow the grassroots effort.”

Despite barriers to progress, Muralidhar adds that there is still hope. He said one of the most striking observations he made was the girls’ “extreme resiliency” and “eternal optimism” despite their situations. While COVID-19 has no doubt exacerbated the country’s poverty and negatively affected girls’ orphanages in India, AID exemplifies that there is still potential to continue previous progress made.

– Laya Neelakandan
Photo: Flickr

women in sub-Saharan AfricaEducation has long been an uphill battle for women in sub-Saharan Africa who disproportionately lack the opportunity to go to school. The U.N.’s Education Plus Initiative aims to empower adolescent girls and young women, particularly in regard to HIV/AIDS prevention, through secondary education. A recent UNAIDS study suggests a correlation between HIV education and completing school, which also leads to a better socioeconomic future.

Education and Disease Among Young Women

Sub-Saharan Africa has become a hot spot of population growth. With more than 60% of the region’s population aged 25 and younger, a new generation of African citizens waits to meet the world on a global scale. But, educational attainment has long presented a hurdle for many sub-Saharan countries.

Relatively few African children receive higher education, with young women being the least likely. According to a recent study from the United Nations, more than 80% of the world’s women (aged 15-24) with HIV/AIDS are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Such health issues create a barrier to pursuing further education. A 2014 Millennium Development Goals Report shows a strong correlation between disease and missed educational opportunities, reporting that more than 33 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school, with 56% being girls.

The Millennium Declaration, a set of goals adopted by world leaders to reignite education and fight disease, says that incorporating education into young women’s lives in sub-Saharan Africa promotes poverty reduction, improves mental health and decreases rates of HIV/AIDS.

AIDS and HIV in Africa

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has ravaged entire countries in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 50 girls die from AIDS-related women’s illnesses every day worldwide and more than 90% of adolescent HIV/AIDS deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2019 study from UNAIDS, young women in Africa generally lack sufficient sex education. Thus, young women in sub-Saharan Africa face disproportionate exposure to many diseases. This includes two of the most threatening in terms of both education and life expectancy: HIV and AIDS.

HIV/AIDS has become prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa because of arranged child marriages and early pregnancies. A recent study from UNESCO found that nearly 52% of Sudanese girls older than 18 were already married, numbers that are mirrored throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Empowerment at the legal level decreases women’s chances of forced marriages and pregnancies, thus reducing rates of HIV and AIDS.

Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS, stated, “When girls can’t uphold their human rights — especially their sexual and reproductive health and rights — efforts to get to zero exclusion, zero discrimination, zero violence and zero stigma are undermined.”

More than 79% of new HIV infections occur among girls aged 10-19, according to a 2019 UNAIDS research study. Young women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa need educational and health support. Fortunately, several organizations are working to empower them.

The Education Plus Initiative

UNICEF, in collaboration with UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA and U.N. Women, has created a new initiative in sub-Saharan Africa called Education Plus. Education Plus focuses on empowering young women and girls and achieving gender equality through secondary education. According to UNAIDS, sexual education has helped empower tens of millions of young women throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Education Plus aims to revolutionize policies related to women’s sexual education in order to improve their quality of life. Education Plus will begin in 2021 and run through 2025. It plans to create policies that add sexual education to young women’s school lessons, launch tech-based publicity programs to promote women’s rights and expand upon HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and recovery, among other initiatives.

A UNICEF study revealed just how important education is to empower young women in sub-Saharan Africa. When young girls finish secondary school, they are six times less likely to marry young. The study also found that if a child’s mother can read, the child has a 50% better chance of survival.

Moving Forward

Education Plus is set to run for five years to help women and girls achieve social, educational and economic success. UNICEF, UNAIDS and several other organizations have come together to make supporting young women in Africa a priority.

Moving forward, empowering young women in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world’s highest poverty areas, requires an array of solutions. Organizations like UNAIDS hope the area can one day flourish as an oasis for young women and girls, who will, in turn, have the educational and social resources to create a more stable Africa.

Mario Perales
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Myanmar
Myanmar, once known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia with a population of around 52.4 million people. Of the population, 26.6 million people are women. Over the last decade, Myanmar has embarked on an accelerated socioeconomic and political transition. However, it has fallen short in correcting the gender inequality ravaging the nation’s laws and policies. Despite the country’s development, there is still room for improvement in upholding women’s rights in Myanmar.

Gender Disparity in Myanmar

Global indices and national data show the disparities between Myanmar citizens on the basis of sex. The 2020 Gender Inequality Index ranked Myanmar 147 of 189 countries, while the 2021 Social Institutions and Gender Index identified Myanmar as the eighth-most discriminatory country out of nine Southeast Asian nations.

Despite the country’s 2008 Constitution guaranteeing equal rights and equal legal protection to all persons, a subsequent report from the CEDAW Committee voiced concerns. Namely, the constitution contains references to women mostly as mothers. This reinforces their stereotypical role as caretakers in need of protection. It also states that “nothing in this section shall prevent the appointment of men to the positions that are naturally suitable for men only.” Despite equal rights in areas such as inheritance law or marital property, Myanmar’s deeply rooted patriarchal values still shape families and restrict women’s participation in all levels of decision-making.

Key Areas of Discrimination

One area that severely limits women’s participation in decision-making is economic activities. According to the 2014 census, only 50.5% of working-age women were part of the labor force, nearly 34% less than men. Moreover, women tend to have employment in lower-skilled jobs and lower-level posts, which suggests that Myanmar’s society values men’s work more than women’s and pays accordingly, creating a gender wage gap.

Other key areas of concern include the high maternal mortality ratio and insufficient access to reproductive health services. As of 2017, Myanmar had the highest maternal mortality ratio in Southeast Asia, with 282 per 100,000 live births. One can mainly attribute these maternal deaths to Myanmar’s crumbling healthcare system.

Hospitals lack basic equipment because of funds that the military junta appropriate, resulting in poor coverage of reproductive health services. In fact, to date, there is very little known about the patterns of maternal health service utilization in Myanmar. High fertility rates and delays in reaching emergency care also contribute to the problem. A further concern is the heightened discrimination of women in ethnic minority groups. Also worrisome, the most impoverished rural areas suffer from an exacerbation of these issues.

Action to Improve Women’s Rights in Myanmar

Several organizations are now taking action to improve women’s rights. A top priority is educating people on the importance of women’s rights and addressing the surrounding myths and misconceptions. Of these organizations, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is extremely important. As a governmental organization working toward gender equality, it launched the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (2013-2022) to promote and protect women’s rights in Myanmar.

The plan, which aligns with the 12 areas outlined in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, presents a significant strategic opportunity to integrate women’s rights in Myanmar’s reform agenda. Although Myanmar is not yet at the level of its Southeast Asian neighbors, women’s political participation has increased since the plan’s implementation. According to the Department of Social Welfare, 10 domestic vocational centers were established to support women’s development and security in top conflict areas.

The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, which emerged in 1991 to promote the quality of family life, is Myanmar’s largest NGO. It is also the leader in providing sexual and reproductive health services across the country to more than 200,000 clients annually. Additional bodies include Myanmar’s Women Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA), a strategic alliance established in 1995.

The MWEA is composed of more than 1,600 businesswomen highlighting the capabilities of Myanmar’s women entrepreneurs. The MWEA actively engages foreign donors and potential investors to create business opportunities for women entrepreneurs. An example of this is the 2020 India-Myanmar agreement to create a roadmap for collaborative opportunities between women entrepreneurs of both countries.

A Hopeful Future for Women’s Rights in Myanmar

All of these organizations and measures advocate for the advancement of women’s rights in Myanmar. The most crucial areas are improving women’s education and health, advancing women’s roles in the economy and ending violence against women. The progress of these bodies and organizations reflects Myanmar’s evolving socioeconomic landscape.

However, these gains have been under threat since the military takeover in February 2021. But, while the military junta attempts to regress the country back to its repressively patriarchal roots, the women of Myanmar are on the front lines, representing 60% of protestors and some 80% of the movement’s leaders.

Myanmar’s women embrace the opportunity to not only change the present after a long history of military oppression but also secure a brighter future. Although Myanmar has a long way to go before it reaches gender equality, these protests make it clear that Myanmar’s women are the voice of the revolution, committed to achieving gender equality.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno
Photo: Flickr