Period Poverty in Iran
Menstruation is a normal, healthy part of life. However, for women and girls worldwide, having a period can be a barrier to attaining true gender equality. Period poverty in Iran is the result of many factors including misconception, lack of training and education, stigma and traditional, conservative religious beliefs. With “millions of women and girls [continuing] to be denied their rights to water, sanitation, hygiene, health, education, dignity and gender equity,” some are directing attention and resources to the menstrual equality movement.

Misconception and Restriction

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, taboos, misconceptions and social and cultural restrictions shadow menstruation for many women. A study among school girls in West Iran found that “41.2% of girls understood that menstruation is a normal physiological process in women,” leaving the majority of pubescent girls in this study to form inaccurate perceptions about this normal bodily function. In a similar study, 48% of Iranian girls stated they believed that menstruation was a disease. The feelings of confusion, panic and fear that accompany such beliefs can inhibit girls from experiencing true dignity and comfort in their bodies.

Cultural, religious and traditional beliefs have a significant impact on norms and attitudes. Islamic rules dictate various prohibitions for menstruating women. During menstruation, women cannot bathe, pray, enter a mosque, fast during Ramadan, touch the Quran or have sexual intercourse. Certainly, the level of restriction varies amongst communities and families, however, much of these restrictions predominate.

A study that occurred in secondary schools in the city of Tabriz, the most populous city in northwestern Iran, indicated that the majority of female students were able to access menstrual hygiene products. Specifically, out of the 1,000 students included in the study, two-thirds reported a favorable economic status and 95.6% reported using disposable pads during menstruation. Though these rates are encouraging, Iran’s poverty rates remain very high. After the last census in 2016, an Iranian economist estimated that 30 million Iranians were living in relative poverty and 12 million in absolute poverty. High poverty rates correlate to less access to water, sanitation and hygiene resources, including menstrual pads.

The Impact of Education

While organizations and governments can best tackle the complex issue of combating period poverty in Iran through collaboration across disciplines of education, urban planning, water and sanitation, a study out of Iran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services states that “health education is among the fundamental and successful approaches to health promotion.” It is promising, then, that in early 2019, a group of officials from the Iranian Ministry of Science and Health as well as the Vice President for the Women’s and Family Affairs, collaborated to create a document aimed at promoting sexual health awareness and education. The document provides guidance to empower teachers and parents, implement education packages and establish policies and interventions to promote indirect sexual education through media. This document is the first of its kind and marks a critical undertaking of improving adolescents’ sexual health education in Iran.

Training and education have a considerable influence and can help mitigate period poverty in Iran. One study found that the use of sanitary pads, as well as bathing and washing after urination or defecation during menstruation, were practices significantly elevated in groups of young girls that received training. The stakes of proper training are beyond fostering hygienic practices; education has a direct impact on health outcomes. Young girls who are first learning about menses are a particularly vulnerable group. Lacking information about menstruation can lead to anxiety and lowered self-esteem but also reproductive tract infections and pelvic inflammatory diseases. The International Journal of Pediatrics found that “young girls with better knowledge and practice toward menstrual hygiene are less vulnerable to adverse health outcomes.”

The Importance of Mothers

Iran can best take on the task of providing reproductive education to its youth by utilizing a critically helpful source: mothers. Countless studies state that the most efficient, culturally and religiously sensitive strategy to convey information to girls about menstruation involves families, mothers in particular.

A study by the International Journal of Preventive Medicine compared different training sources for adolescents’ menstrual health education. Its findings indicate that partnering parents and school trainers as equal stakeholders “leads to more successful results in health implementation.” Another study based out of Iran suggests that education to mothers could be even more effective than directly training adolescent girls themselves. With 61% of Iranian girls reporting that their mothers are the best source of information about menstrual hygiene, it is critical that mothers receive sufficient education so they can share accurate information with their daughters. It is urgent, ethical and resourceful to prioritize education and training for menstrual health management.

Organizations Addressing Women’s Health

While there are over 2,700 NGOs working in Iran on women and family affairs, including Relief International and Center for Human Rights in Iran, the work of Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society, IAPSRS, has been substantial in the area of reducing period poverty in Iran. This prominent group includes 12,000 volunteer university students and graduates. It aims to promote social and economic justice by supporting marginalized children and women in the most problematic, marginalized neighborhoods in Iran. The organization has provided workshops about personal hygiene, birth control, maturity and sexually transmitted disease prevention, as well as deployed volunteer gynecologists for biannual disease screenings.

The work of this group is currently in jeopardy, however. In early March 2021, a court verdict dissolved the NGO, stating that it “deviated from [its] original mission and insulted religious beliefs.” The Human Rights Watch has already called on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to reverse this action and reinstate the organization.

The Period Equity Movement

The last decade has illuminated the need for a growing focus and global movement on menstrual health management. Significant developments have occurred to address the barriers facing girls and women all over the world, but the need for major overhauls in programming and policy agenda persists.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in SudanAlthough six African states issued legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation, the north African state of Sudan was lagging behind in these efforts. Female genital mutilation ( FGM) was illegal in some Sudanese states but the bans were widely ignored. Under the leadership of Omar al-Bashir, parliament rejected recommendations to ban the practice.

Female Genital Mutilation

FGM is defined as procedures that deliberately alter or cause injury to female genital organs. It is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and adolescence and occasionally performed on adult women. These procedures are nonmedical and provide no health benefits, only harm to the female. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, therefore, it interferes with the natural functions of the female body.

The reasons behind FGM vary between regions due to a mix of sociocultural factors. The procedure is routinely executed by a midwife without anesthesia. There are four types of FGM. Type one is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Type two is the removal of the clitoris and inner labia. Type three is the removal of all the external genitalia or narrowing of the vaginal opening. Type four is any other type of damage to the female genitalia, such as burning, scraping or piercing.

Females experience either short-term or long-term effects. The short-term effects include severe pain, excessive bleeding (hemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infections, wound healing issues. The more dangerous and life-altering long-term effects include urinary problems, menstrual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, the need for later surgeries or psychological problems.

According to UNICEF, 87% of Sudanese women aged between 14 and 49 have undergone a form of FGM. FGM is also more prevalent among the poorest women.

Actions to End Female Genital Mutilation

In 2008, the National Council of Child Welfare and UNICEF joined together to launch the Saleema Initiative, which focused on abandoning FGM at a community level.  The initiative educated women about the health risks and encouraged females to say no to the procedure.

Additionally, the United Nations General Assembly took action in 2012 by calling on the international community to enhance efforts to end FGM. In 2015, the global community agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include a target under Goal 5 to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation by 2030.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is addressing the issue by implementing guidelines, tools, training and policy to allow healthcare providers the opportunity to offer medical care and counseling to females suffering the effects of FGM.  The WHO also aims at generating knowledge to encourage the abandonment of the FGM procedures. One final measure by the WHO is increased advocacy through publications and tools for policymakers.

Criminalizing Female Genital Mutilation in Sudan

In May 2020, the Sudanese Government criminalized FGM and made it punishable by up to three years in prison. But, experts remain concerned that a law is not sufficient in ending the practice due to religious and cultural ties to the procedure.

The sociocultural and religious ties surrounding female genital mutilation in Sudan complicate attempts to end the practice. Criminalizing FGM in Sudan may not be enough to end the practice. The National Council of Child Welfare, UNICEF, the United Nations General Assembly and the WHO are taking major steps to eliminate FGM or assist those already affected by the practice.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr

all-girls Afghan roboticsAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to stretch across the globe, all areas of the world have been impacted in various capacities and have been approaching the virus in numerous ways. With growing numbers and many hospitals at full capacity, innovation and new technology become a much-needed crutch. In early March of 2020, the virus began to spread in Afghanistan and the cases steadily increased to almost 1,000 new cases in early June. As of December 2020, Afghanistan had more than 50,000 confirmed cases. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) had been providing personal protective equipment to Afghanistan since February 2020, there was still a strain on doctors and nurses who lacked sufficient resources to treat patients. An all-girls Afghan robotics team aims to reduce the strain on the healthcare system with a ventilator prototype.

The Afghan Dreamers

In June 2020, the demand for oxygen was higher than the supply and many doctors and hospitals expressed concerns about both costs and scarcity. An all-girls Afghan robotics team saw the severity of this issue and took action to attempt to combat this shortage and fight against COVID-19.

The “Afghan Dreamers” are a robotics team from Afghanistan comprised of all girls between the ages of 14 and 17. The group has reached impressive heights including winning a silver medal in 2017 for “courageous achievement” in an international robotics competition called the FIRST Global Robotics Competition in Washington D.C. In light of the pandemic and increasing ventilator prices, the Afghan Dreamers decided to utilize their skills to design effective and more low-cost ventilators to combat the lack of affordable oxygen in Afghanistan.

Ventilator Prototype

One prototype they produced was based on a model from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and another utilized car parts. The gear-based model based on designs from MIT is low-tech, meaning that it can be duplicated from machine parts that are more easily sourced and widely available. The team’s ventilator designs are estimated to cost around 200 to 300 dollars, which is a 99% decrease from the original cost of $30,000. If the prototype does get approved, the ventilators will be used for emergency cases when there are no alternatives.

Car Parts for Ventilator Model

The Afghan Dreamers faced many obstacles during the course of the building process. While in the middle of a pandemic, the girls were also fasting during the month of Ramadan. In addition, they also had to look for
ways to source materials efficiently and effectively, which led them to look at car parts as Toyota Corollas are a common car driven in Afghanistan. Despite these potential barriers, the all-girls Afghan robotics team was determined to continue researching and problem-solving all while trying to keep themselves safe and healthy.

The Afghan Dreamers: Breaking Barriers

In Afghanistan, as many as 85% of girls do not receive a proper education. Due to many cultural barriers and stigmas, girls typically do not engage in endeavors as ambitious as the Afghan Dreamers. The all-girls Afghan robotics team has changed the narrative for many girls and hope to continue to help others and achieve more in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic crippled many across the world, it certainly served as a large source of motivation and inspiration for the Afghan Dreamers.

– Grace Wang
Photo: Flickr

improve girls' educationAll around the globe, young girls are forced to end their educational careers early as gender inequality is still quite common. Lack of schooling for young girls limits female participation in the workplace and reinforces patriarchal societies. As of 2018, worldwide totals of illiterate girls from the ages of 5 to 25 outnumbered illiterate boys in the same age group by 12 million. Yet,  global female participation in schooling has grown by 16% since 1995. The momentum gained in the past 25 years looks to continue as three important organizations have released plans to improve girls’ education in 2020 and beyond.

The World Bank

As a global economic institution, the World Bank joined the fight to preserve girls’ education years ago. In fact, the bank launched a seven-year plan in 2016 that focuses on improving all women’s rights, going beyond just education. However, the World Bank identified educational opportunities as a key way to break the cycle of injustice and has subsequently created separate funding solely based on female schooling.

In May 2020, a total of $1.49 billion had already been allocated to improving education for women of all ages, both primary and secondary. This will not only help girls learn to read and write but will also lead to women entering the workplace in countries where men are the ones to hold jobs.

The United Nations (UN)

Many know the U.N. as the global agency where countries discuss peace deals and trade contracts. While this is true, the U.N. also has sectors dedicated to human rights advocacy. An entire branch, known as the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI), works with developing countries to devise plans that enhance educational opportunities for girls. Being under the umbrella of the United Nations adds a level of legitimacy that some nonprofits who want to improve girls’ education are unable to achieve. The UNGEI has a wide range of contributors and currently consists of 24 global and regional partners, four regional partnerships and nearly 50 associated country partnerships. Recently, the United Nations released the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and worked with the UNGEI to add equal educational opportunity for girls as a part of this vision. Girls around the world, especially those living in developing countries, are at the center of this vision, which can lead to powerful change.

Girls Education Challenge (GEC)

Back in 2012, the government of the United Kingdom made global equal education a primary focus. The government joined forces with U.K. Aid to tackle this issue. Together, the two created a groundbreaking 12-year commitment called the Girls Education Challenge (GEC). The first phase of the GEC, which was a huge success, ended in 2017. For the second phase, which will continue until 2024, the U.K. is looking to expand its impact to encompass over 40 projects in nearly 20 nations. With hundreds of millions of dollars now raised for the GEC, its own research suggests that over 800,000 young girls are learning in schools and on the path to finish their education. With four years remaining in the GEC, the United Kingdom’s impact on girls’ education will continue to bring equal opportunities well into the 2020s.

Education, Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction

The World Bank, the U.N. and the U.K. are trying to create fair schooling policies but are also breaking down social barriers in the developing world. Global society is trending in the right direction for gender equality and much more work is left to be done. The work being done to improve girls’ education can and will be a catalyst for change.

– Zachary Hardenstine
Photo: Flickr

She’s the First Across the globe, women face harsh inequalities in education and the promotion of other crucial rights. Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population, receive lower wages, experience gender-based violence and are forced to adhere to strict societal gender norms that prevent their progression. This is especially the case in developing countries. She’s the First is an organization where the progression of women is a central focus.

She’s the First

She’s the First, a nonprofit organization, recognizes the benefits of prioritizing women and gender equality. When females are educated and empowered, they can earn up to 20% more as an adult for each additional year of schooling completed. They are also then more likely to be in healthy relationships, have fewer but healthier children, are less likely to marry early and are more likely to make an impact in the world. These reasons are why She’s the First puts girls first by promoting women’s equality and education.

Putting Girls First

She’s the First promotes girls’ education and equality. It provides funding to different community-based organizations that can implement culturally efficient ways for girls to attend school as well as afterschool programs where they can further their education while simultaneously learning about life skills and reproductive health. She’s the First also runs training and conferences around the globe. These conferences amplify girls’ voices around the world, inspiring them to become leaders in their own communities. As of the end of 2019, She’s the First reached 11,000 girls, had a presence in 21 countries and provided training for 52 community-based organizations.

Girls’ Bill Of Rights

She’s the First is a co-organizer of the Girls’ Bill of Rights, a declaration of the rights all girls are entitled to, written by girls, for girls. More than 1,000 girls from 34 countries contributed to the list, created on the 2019 International Day of Girl and presented to the United Nations. The Girls’ Bill of Rights advocates for the promotion of girls’ rights like quality education, equality, leadership, sexual education and reproductive rights, protection from harmful cultural practices, free decision-making and more. To support the Girls’ Bill of Rights, supporters can use the hashtag “#GirlsBillOfRights”, co-sign the bill or make a public pledge of support.

Women’s Empowerment and Poverty Reduction

She’s the First is an organization that works toward complete equality for women worldwide, especially in regards to education. Currently, women face a significant disadvantage, especially those who are uneducated. If women are given education and equality, they can lift themselves out of poverty since education is directly related to lowering poverty levels. She’s the First spreads this idea by creating culturally efficient ways for girls to go to school and further their education in developing countries. The organization also advocates for women’s rights through the Girls’ Bill of Rights. She’s the First plays a crucial part in empowering women and helping them to lift themselves out of poverty.

– Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr

The Nike Foundation’s Girl EffectAround the world, many young girls are without access to basic health and educational resources. Research has shown that gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives are key to alleviating global poverty. Over the years, organizations have developed across the globe committed to providing such resources in order to improve the quality of life for millions. One of those organizations is The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect. This organization is a creative nonprofit working where girls are marginalized and vulnerable.

4 Facts About Girl Effect

1. Girl Effect has been in operation for 12 years. The Nike Foundation launched Girl Effect in 2008 at the World Economic Forum. According to its website, “The Girl Effect is about the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.” Nike designed the organization to inspire the most influential leaders in the world to get girls in vulnerable nations on the global development agenda and help increase the drive of resources to them. Girl Effect also aims to create media resources for girls around the world in order to increase their access to resources surrounding education and healthcare. Through partnerships with prominent organizations and creating branded media content, Girl Effect has provided millions of girls access to life-saving information.

2. It uses media and the internet to reach girls in developing nations. Girl Effect creates branded media for girls around the world that helps to “navigate the pivotal time of adolescence so they can make positive choices about their health, education and economic future.” Girl Effect currently operates seven different digital programs to reach girls around the world; Chhaa Jaa, Ni Nyampinga, Springster, TEGA, Tujibebe, Yegna and Zathu. The Chhaa Jaa program, which means “go forth and shine” in Hindi, is a “digital-first youth brand that inspires, informs and equips girls in India with the right skills and confidence to navigate adolescence.” These resources include helping girls access information about sexual and reproductive health, how to negotiate with parents about their choices for continuing their education, and how to prepare for their first job. Tujibebe is a program that was born from Tanzanian culture and is a mobile-based brand focused on helping provide adolescent girls with information and resources they need to make positive choices about their future. This includes how to finish their education and setting up their own small business.

3. It partners with numerous organizations to share its message. Girl Effect has worked with organizations from a variety of industries, from nonprofits to social media networks, to help effectively spread its message to girls across the world. One of the largest nonprofit organizations that it partners with is UNICEF. Together the organizations support and promote the Ni Nyampinga program in Rwanda. Through this partnership, UNICEF and Girl Effect have been able to make Ni Nyampinga a nation-wide movement with 80% of the population of Rwanda aware of it, which is almost 6.6 million Rwandans. Another prominent partner of the organization is Facebook. Through the use of Facebook’s Free Basics platform, which provides people with full access to services on their mobile phones, Girl Effect is able to promote its Springster program on a worldwide scale. Through this partnership, Facebook and Girl Effect have been able to reach over 12 million users in the past year alone. The program is available in over 50 countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, the Philippines and Indonesia. A few additional Girl Effect partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi and Mastercard Foundation.

4.  The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect made great strides reaching developing countries. Since its introduction in 2008, Girl Effect has been able to reach millions of girls in developing nations to provide education and resources. In India and South Africa, its online chatbots have responded to over 1.2 million messages asking for advice on sex and healthy relationships. It has helped connect over 15,000 girls in India with efficient sexual and reproductive health information and services online. In Malawi, girls who read Girl Effect magazine are 32% more likely than non-readers to go to a medical provider and receive their first dose of HPV medication. In Indonesia, those who have seen Girl Effect’s digital nutrition campaign are 32% more likely to make healthier food choices than those who did not view it.

Girl Effect Closes the Gender Gap

Since its beginning, The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect has helped to create media for girls around the world to provide resources on how to improve their education, healthcare and well-being. For years, the world has struggled to include girls in the many advances that have been made in healthcare and education. However, organizations like Girl Effect help to close this gap.

– Sara Holm
Photo: Flickr

Social Skills to Young Girls
Asante Africa Foundation, which Erna Grasz co-founded in 2007, is a Foundation to alleviate poverty and encourage the development of youth through quality learning in the classroom, gender equity and work-life skills. Its motto is to “Educate and empower the next generation of change agents, whose dreams and actions transform the future for Africa and the world.” Here is some information about how Asante Africa Foundation is working to promote health knowledge and education for young girls.

About Asante Africa Foundation

The Foundation comprises a global team that connects youth from Kenya, Tanzania, California and Uganda through three effective interconnected programs that work to promote education through low-cost resources and train teachers how to educate youth. These programs, called Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Incubator (LEI) Program and Wezesha Vijana Program, are active in East Africa in Narok, Kenya; Arusha, Tanzania; Livermore, California and Kassanda, Uganda.

The LEI Program, founded in 2010, is a three-year program that provides students with job readiness skills, entrepreneurship skills and personal development skills that will allow students to enter the job market and start their own businesses in the future. The Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program is a program that works to provide intensive teacher training and utilization of technology in the classroom to better prepare students. In this way, both students and teachers gain the necessary skills to thrive and excel in modern academic fields.

The Wezesha Vijana Program, also known as the Girls’ Advancement Program, is a school-based program that works to provide a safe space for young girls to discuss their challenges and to create solutions to those problems. This program allows community support, parental engagement and peer mentoring. Young girls become armed with the knowledge and recognition of their rights and their collective power. The Foundation has changed over 600,000 youth lives by encouraging the development of cognitive skills, decision-making capacity and leadership qualities for the next generation.

Providing Education for Girls

In a virtual event that took place on October 17, 2020, called Creating Opportunity from Chaos, people received opportunities to create changes in their communities and voice their understanding of the struggles that young girls face. Participants had to describe what implementations they were making in the community to foster change and growth. The theme of the panel was to create solutions for the predicament of a young girl facing issues such as gender-based violence and limited educational and economic opportunities. Simon Kinyanjul, the representative from Asante Africa Foundation, answered that he was promoting change in the community through providing education for girls about their sexual rights, hygienic practices and financial/business knowledge.

Kinyabjul emphasized how the start of after-school clubs and activities play an important role in functioning as a safe place for girls to learn how to obtain skills such as financial education, skills training and community support. Some afterschool activities that Asante Africa Foundation has created involved building peer support networks through the administration of girl-led school clubs that educated girls in sexual maturation, reproductive health, financial knowledge, social skills and personal rights. These afterschool clubs allowed greater communication among the girls and also taught the boys to act as a support system and ally to the girls. The implementation of after-school activities and clubs has led to fewer early unintended pregnancies, reduced early marriages, increased school attendance/completion and increased financial earnings/savings for girls.

The Wezesha Vijana Program

Simon Kinyanjui took the time to explain the Wezesha Vijana Program, a program to give young girls knowledge about hygiene, finances and business, along with social skills to help them in their communities and their lives. The help gained from the local government, local chiefs and schools serve as important constituents that will aid as a support structure for young girls to pave their way into the world. This program has impacted over 125,000 youth lives and the number continues to grow. The average attendance rate in schools in Africa has increased by 7%, academic performance in schools has increased by 38% and pregnancy dropouts have decreased by 75% in 2019 alone.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, young girls and children do not have the opportunity to gather and learn these important lifelong skills. Therefore, Asante Africa Foundation has been reaching out to communities and distributing Youth Essential Kits which contain feminine hygiene products and learning products that allow these girls to become healthy women in their business and their lives.

The prolongation of the COVID-19 pandemic has denied youth the ability to attend sessions in the community that served as a place for the girls to meet regularly and discuss and share issues. It is also impeding the process that allowed girls to discuss their knowledge of financial stability, hygiene and personal health. However, through the creation and distribution of the hygiene kits, adolescent girls have the feminine hygiene products that will allow them to stay clean and that they may not have been able to afford. The pandemic has resulted in reduced earnings and increased unemployment in the African economy which, in turn, has increased poverty. As a result, these Youth Essential Kits are providing adolescent girls with the feminine products that they cannot afford due to the economic decline.

To help ease the trouble that the pandemic caused, Asante Africa Foundation has also been working with students and alumni to identify what is necessary within different communities. The effort of Asante Africa Foundation to provide a source of outreach and connection among the students through the pandemic has allowed students to remain active in their endeavors and have a positive outlook for their futures.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

3 Lessons the World Can Learn From Mexico’s New Feminist Foreign PolicyIn January 2020, Mexico shattered barriers by announcing its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing “structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities” at home and abroad. This commitment made Mexico the first country in Latin America and the Global South to require that “gender equality be at the core” of all foreign policy decisions. Mexico’s new policy initiatives intend to help foster the reduction of women’s economic and social issues through representation and the elimination of structural differences. Here are three lessons that every country can learn from Mexico’s groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives.

Representation Matters

Developing foreign policy necessitates introspection within a government. How can a nation help foster gender equality abroad when it fails to do so within its borders?

In establishing its new feminist foreign policy, Mexico saw the potential hypocrisy of sponsoring gender equality worldwide while failing to address inequalities present in some of its governmental organizations. For this reason, many of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy initiatives focus on the creation of “a foreign ministry with gender parity.” The Mexican government believes that to ensure equitable feminist foreign policy gets passed into law, the ministry which creates such law must have “visible equality of women” within its ranks. This part of Mexico’s feminist foreign policy entails hiring even more women into positions of leadership in the foreign ministry. This hiring shift aims to create an influx of female voices in the Foreign Ministry to instill the opinions of women in policy areas ranging from foreign aid to defense.

Already, the Mexican government has become one of the most gender-equal in the world. As of 2018, Mexico had 246 women in congress occupying 48% of congressional seats. This places it at fourth in the world for its number of women in congress. By committing to include more women in the process of drafting foreign policy legislation, the Mexican government seeks to amplify the voices of women in the legislation process even further. This means increased advocacy for women worldwide, especially those living in poverty.

Mexico’s commitment to include women in the process of foreign policy creation demonstrates to the world that equitable foreign policy requires equal representation of men and women in the lawmaking process. 

Equality and Economics Are Inextricable

Globally, women earn 24% less than men and are more likely to live in poverty than men. High poverty rates among women signal a disparity between the wages of men and women. Any attempts by a government to ensure the equality of women on a global scale must be focused on reducing the number of women in poverty. Mexico recognizes this fact, and many of its groundbreaking feminist foreign policy initiatives involve tackling structural inequalities like the gender pay gap.

The Mexican government has committed to joining with the HeForShe organization, which champions social and economic equality between the sexes throughout the world. By orienting its foreign policy goals toward fulfilling the promises of women’s rights on a global scale, Mexico commits itself to economic initiatives like “microfinancing and small loans for women,” as well as the dismantling of antiquated trade laws and tariffs that put women at an economic disadvantage to men.

Through these initiatives, Mexico aims to reduce the number of women in poverty by helping to dismantle systemic inequalities and by giving women the resources needed in order to create economic equality. Microfinancing creates limitless economic opportunities for women all over the globe and allows them to independently develop their own businesses. Global communities lose around $9 trillion a year due to the gender pay gap. By committing to reduce this inequality, even the poorest of nations can decrease their poverty rates and bring tangible economic benefits to communities in need.

Mexico’s commitment to reducing the number of women in poverty makes it evident that if the systemic economic barriers to equality are to be dismantled, women must be given the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and to earn wages and jobs at equal rates to men. Equality cannot simply be declared. Rather, social and political equality arises from equal economic opportunity.

Anyone Can Try It

Before Mexico announced its adoption of a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing women’s poverty and encouraging a “feminist agenda abroad,” the only other countries to have oriented their foreign policies toward feminist initiatives were Sweden, Canada and France. These other three nations have an average poverty rate of 9.7 % and an average GDP per capita of $49,907. Comparatively, Mexico has a poverty rate of around 17% and a GDP per capita of $10,065. Although Mexico’s peers in the field of feminist foreign policy have more national wealth than it does, this did not prevent the nation from adopting and maintaining policy objectives with women’s rights at their core.

Mexico’s new foreign policies demonstrate that it does not take an extreme amount of national wealth to launch feminist initiatives at home and abroad. Regardless of GDP, any government can make commitments to ensuring tangible gender equality. 

Overall, although Mexico still has progress to make with respect to ensuring women’s equality at home and abroad, its commitment to a feminist foreign policy sets a strong example for other Latin American countries. With any luck, other Latin American countries will soon follow Mexico’s lead and begin to implement similar feminist foreign policies that not only work to lift women out of poverty and assure social and economic equality but that also recognize that “women’s rights are human rights.

 – Nolan McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Photography Fights Child MarriageTwelve million girls a year—or 23 girls every minute—are married before their 18th birthday. The most common factors that contribute to child marriage are poverty, lack of education and gender norms. Around the world, 21% of young women were married as minors. The prevalence of child marriage is even higher in sub-Saharan Africa, at 37% of young women. Various art forms, including photography and music, have been used to advocate for the eradication of this harmful practice. Photography fights child marriage by raising awareness for this pressing issue and empowering women to take action.

Costs of Child Marriage

When young women and girls are forced to marry, they are less likely to attend school. They are separated from their family and friends, and they are also more likely to experience life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth, suffer domestic violence and contract HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, child marriage traps these girls in a cycle of poverty, in which they and their children are less able to access opportunities for education and economic empowerment.

Photography Fights Child Marriage and Empowers Girls

Too Young to Wed, a nonprofit founded in 2012 by photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, uses photography to raise awareness of the prevalence of child marriage. This organization creates media campaigns focusing on child marriage and uses compelling photojournalism to show that the practice is a violation of human rights. The photographs have been seen by billions, and one media campaign that focused on child marriage in Nepal reached more than 9.7 million people. The photographs, alongside firsthand accounts from girls at risk of or impacted by child marriage, “inspire the global advocacy and policy-making communicates to act,” according to Sinclair.

In addition to organizing photo workshops, this organization provides leadership scholarships, vocational training and other support. The Leadership Scholarship program is especially crucial because education is vital to preventing child marriages. In the last eight years, Too Young to Wed has directly helped 600 girls, and much more indirectly, in its fight against child marriage. Sinclair told Global Citizen, “[Girls] can do all kinds of things that they can bring back to their community and then also bring them out of a level of poverty where the most extreme forms of child marriage are definitely happening.” When young women are educated, their children are more likely to be educated as well, which helps take the family out of the cycle of poverty.  Overall, Too Young to Wed uses visual evidence and storytelling to highlight the harmful impacts of child marriage, empower girls and inspire change.

Tehani Photo Workshop

Since 2016, Too Young to Wed has provided a week-long photography workshop that also functions as an immersive art therapy retreat called the Tehani Photo Workshop. Partnered with the Samburu Girls Foundation, Too Young to Wed held the first workshop in Kenya, where about 1 in 4 girls are married before the age of 18. During this workshop, 10 girls who had escaped their marriages learned how to shoot portraits, and they were able to form friendships and reclaim their narratives. To conclude the workshop, the girls presented their photographs and told their stories to more than 100 members of their community.  According to Sinclair, the workshops aim to “help [the girls] better realize their self-worth and the value of their voice.”

Music as a Tool in the Fight Against Child Marriage

In Benin, where more than 25% of girls are married before they are 18 years old, artists collaborated in 2017 to release a song and music video that highlighted this issue. UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassadors Angélique Kidjo and Zeynab Abib, along with seven other artists, composed the song as part of the national Zero Tolerance Campaign against child marriage. The song is titled “Say No to Child Marriage” and includes multiple languages so its message resonates with people within Benin and in neighboring countries. “Child marriage is a negation of children’s right to grow up free,” said Kidjo. “Every child has the right to a childhood.”

In 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund worked with music producer Moon Boots and vocalist Black Gatsby to produce a music video to speak out against child marriage in Niger, where 76% of girls are married before the age of 18. Also, according to UNICEF, Niger has the world’s highest rate of child marriage. The song, titled “Power,” promotes education as a positive alternative that can empower girls and reduce poverty in their communities. According to a Félicité Tchibindat, a UNICEF representative in Niger, it also fights against the practice of child marriage by raising awareness that “ending child marriage is possible,” even though it is a long-held social norm.

Conclusion

Although the rates of child marriage are gradually declining worldwide, it is estimated that 120 million more girls under the age of 18 will be married by 2030 if current trends continue. The coronavirus pandemic has also put up to 13 million more girls at risk of child marriage because of rising poverty rates, school closures and hindered access to reproductive health services and resources.

Twenty-five million child marriages have been prevented in the last ten years, and UNICEF attributes the decline of the practice in part to “strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes.” While photography fights child marriage, further far-reaching and powerful art initiatives, along with the work of national governments and international organizations, can continue to raise awareness, empower girls and reduce the prevalence of this practice around the world.

– Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Girls’ Education in YemenYemen is currently undergoing one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. In recent years, the nation’s warring conflicts have badly affected girls’ education. The year 2020, however, is looking more optimistic for the nation’s future. Change is on the horizon with peace talks in session and a vote passing in congress to end military involvement in the war. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Yemen.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Yemen

  1. Girls’ education in Yemen is in dire need of support. Seventy-six percent of internally displaced persons in Yemen are women and children, many of whom lack basic medical care, economic opportunity and access to education. Yemen’s ongoing civil war has worsened pre-existing living conditions for girls and women in the country. Educational opportunities for girls are also at risk of disappearing from the continued conflict in the region.
  2. Conditional cash transfer programs have enabled poorer families to send their daughters to school. From 2004 to 2012, the Yemeni government collaborated with other organizations to give stipends to girl students in grades four to nine, under the conditions that they maintain a school attendance of 80 percent and receive passing grades. The result of the monetary aid showed a shift in the cultural norms of the recipient communities. Adults began to change their perspectives on girls’ education and allowed more girls and women to attend school. The program has helped enroll over 39,000 girl students into primary education.
  3. In 2007, The World Bank organization implemented a rural female teacher contracting program effectively training 550 new teachers, with 525 going on to receive certification. Providing girls with access to trained female teachers greatly increases the chances of classroom retention and enrollment in the rural regions of the state, according to World Bank education specialist Tomoni Miyajima.
  4. More than two-thirds of girls marry before they turn 18. Families cope with economic hardships by selling their daughters into marriage. Early marriage has crippled girls’ education in Yemen. Instead of pursuing studies, girls take on household roles and often become victims of abuse by their husbands.
  5. In 2018, a Yemeni teacher opened his private home to over 700 students as a primary school. In the war-torn city of Taiz, both boys and girls can attend classes that Adel al-Shorbagy teaches free of charge. Most schools in the city are private and cost up to 100,000 Yemeni riyals a year to attend.
  6. Many private elementary and secondary schools teach the Chinese language to Yemeni girl students. Private school teachers believe Chinese is the language of the future, with increasing technological, scientific and industrial development taking place in China. Yemeni teachers and students aspire to become part of China’s growing economy.
  7. In 2019, UNICEF started to pay more than 136,000 teachers who had not received salaries in over two years. The program offered the equivalent payment of $50 a month to school teachers and staff to help address the low attendance rates of students in the country.
  8. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has set target goals to improve conditions for girls’ education in Yemen in 2020. UNICEF plans to provide individual learning materials to one million children, create education access to 820,000 students and ensure 134,000 teachers receive incentives to continue to teach.
  9. Yemeni authorities are taking action to ensure that children have safe access to education by agreeing to the Safe Schools Declaration. The declaration is an international commitment that 84 countries adopted to protect students, teachers and universities from armed conflicts. Yemen’s endorsement of the declaration’s guidelines commits to a future where “every boy and girl has the right to an education without fear of violence or attack.”
  10. The Too Young To Wed organization helps to provide daily breakfasts to 525 girl students to keep them enrolled in school in Sana’a, Yemen. The meals help students remain in classrooms and avoid early child marriages. Providing nutrition to students keeps them from falling further into poverty, and prevents them from becoming at risk of their families selling them into marriage. The price of one breakfast per student is $0.48.

Yemeni girls have many obstacles to attaining quality education. However, the ending of a drawn-out war and continued aid and support from organizations across the world is bettering the situation. These are small and steady steps, helping to ensure that the nation’s girls will lead lives full of learning and progression. These 10 facts about girls’ education in Yemen shed light on the issue of Yemen’s education system.

Henry Schrandt
Photo: Flickr