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

period poverty in new ZealandOn February 18, 2021, New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and associate education minister, Jan Tinetti, announced that all schools in New Zealand will offer free menstrual products starting in June 2021, expanding on a pilot program that started in 2020. This announcement aligns with the country’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and is a major step toward eliminating the barriers created by period poverty in New Zealand.

Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy

The New Zealand government’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) launched the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy on August 29, 2019, with the vision of New Zealand becoming “the best place in the world for children and young people” to reach their full potential.

The six expected outcomes of this strategy are for children and young people to feel loved and safe, meet their material needs, be physically and mentally healthy, have access to education, receive acceptance for who they are and develop a sense of autonomy. These outcomes stem from the principle that children and young people are intrinsically valuable human beings with rights that must be respected. Furthermore, individuals and communities should act together as early as possible to promote the multifaceted well-being of children and young people.

Addressing Period Poverty in New Zealand

New Zealand’s free menstrual product program in schools aligns with the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy because period poverty is a significant barrier to a young person’s education. Prime Minister Ardern points to research showing that approximately one in 12 young people in New Zealand miss school because of being unable to manage their menstruation. Tinetti notes that many students who have their period while in school face embarrassment, stigma and discomfort and risk missing classes or not having the proper menstrual hygiene products.

Research from the New Zealand charity, KidsCan, found that up to 20,000 students at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels were at risk of period poverty. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights and exacerbates challenges associated with period poverty, including the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure and inadequate access to menstrual education as well as disrupted access to menstrual products.

The government’s new program expands on a pilot program that started in 2020 in which the government provided free menstrual products to more than 3,000 students in 15 schools in the Waikato region, located in northern New Zealand. Government officials used the feedback from the successful pilot program to inform its approach, with Tinetti noting that students wanted more information about the different kinds of menstrual products and how to manage their periods.

Other Period Poverty Programs

Private sector initiatives are also responding to period poverty in New Zealand by providing free menstrual products. For example, The Warehouse, one of the largest retailers in New Zealand, partnered with The Period Place to set up menstrual product donation boxes in several of its locations and provide free menstrual products in its store restrooms.

The Period Place is a New Zealand-based advocacy group whose vision is for New Zealand to be the first country to achieve period equity by 2030 in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Positive Periods is a coalition of 25 period poverty advocacy groups in New Zealand that advocate for the provision of free menstrual products in schools. In 2019, it released a discussion paper highlighting period poverty in New Zealand and its effect on educational outcomes. It also circulated a petition calling for free menstrual products in schools, which received more than 3,000 signatures.

The Road Ahead

Period poverty in New Zealand is an issue that affects the health and well-being of thousands of girls and women. The government’s free menstrual product program in schools is an important step toward ensuring that all girls and women can pursue an education and manage their menstruation with dignity.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

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