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

10 Facts About Girls' Education in Malaysia 
There is a jarring gender gap within Malaysia’s workplace despite the fact that there are more women than men in higher education institutions in the country. Girls are also more successful in primary school than secondary school because of teaching tactics and gender stereotyping they encounter in schools. Below are 10 facts about girls’ education in Malaysia.

10 Facts About Girls Education in Malaysia

  1. Literacy Rate: The literacy rate between boys and girls is unequal. Malaysia measures its literacy rate by how many people over the age of 15 can read and write. The population’s literacy rate is 94 percent. Meanwhile, it is 96.2 percent among boys and 93.2 percent among girls.

  2. The Women’s Aid Organization (WAO): The Women’s Aid Organisation in Malaysia advocates for gender equality and provides refuge for domestic abuse victims. It emerged in 1982 and works to raise awareness in order to increase Malaysia’s understanding and respect for women. The WAO has reached over 3,000 women and has provided 154 women and children refuge in 2018. It understands that education is important and at its shelters, it provides educational programs for children as well as lessons about domestic abuse.

  3. Gender Stereotyping: Malaysia is reviewing its current textbooks from gender equality yielding perspective. A social media post in 2018 triggered this by bringing attention to gender stereotyping within Malaysian textbooks in elementary schools. The textbooks taught girls how to be wives, weave and sow. Malaysia is now trying to ensure boys and girls do not have stereotyped life roles.

  4. Gender Parity in Secondary Education: Based on data from the EFA Global Monitoring Report in 2008, Malaysia will likely not achieve total gender parity for enrollment in secondary education in Malaysia by 2015 or 2025 based on past trends. This report also determined that there are more boys enrolled in secondary education than girls, however, the drop out rate is higher for boys. This information stands true today.

  5. Girls Education Improvements: Still, there have been improvements. In 1957, only 33 percent of girls enrolled in secondary school, but in 2018, girls’ enrollment rose to 75 percent. Both society and education institutions changed their attitudes about whether girls should receive education or not, which influenced this increase. It is no longer as unusual for girls to seek an education to gain a career, so schools started changing the curriculum to include girls.

  6. Likelihood of Dropping Out: According to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report in 2015, boys are three times more likely to drop out after secondary school than girls. Many dropouts come from impoverished families because boys receive encouragement to do manual labor jobs so they can make money at a young age. Meanwhile, girls are more likely to go to higher education institutions than boys.

  7. Gender Disparity at University: The only Malaysian public university with extreme gender disparity against women is the National Defense University of Malaysia. Thirty percent of those attending the university are female because Malaysians do not typically see jobs within the uniformed forces as suitable for women. The uniformed forces, which include the military, police and fire and rescue forces, reported that 10 percent of the military are women. Additionally, the percentage of female cops in high ranking officer positions rose from 59 percent (2012) to 74 percent (2016) because the country is gradually finding it more acceptable for women to work these jobs.

  8. Merit Rather than Discrimination: In Malaysia, colleges choose applicants based on merit and women do not receive any discrimination. The gender gap within STEM fields seems to be based on gender stereotyping within society. Malaysian society has often thought that girls should be mothers and wives, and until recent years, that was what many expected. This, in turn, caused a lack of interest among women and girls to seek out education.

  9. Absence of Women in Leadership Positions: Women make up 62 percent of the total enrollment in higher education institutions. However, women are still absent from many leadership, business labor market or decision-making positions. MiWEPs, a nonprofit that works with Malaysian Indian women from three categories including employed women of blue or white-collar professions, self-employed or entrepreneurs, advocates for and helps women to be in manager, Board of Director and C-suite positions.

  10. Policies to Increase Girls Participation in STEM Education: The Malaysian government has placed STEM education as a focus in the process of becoming a developed nation. It acknowledges the role of women and has formulated policies such as the Malaysia Woman Policy in 2009 and the National Policy on Science, Technology, & Innovation in 2013-2020. These policies have increased women researchers form 35.8 percent in 2004 to 49.9 percent in 2012.

These 10 facts about girls’ education in Malaysia show that women are taking over universities and higher education institutions, but secondary school girls are still struggling with gender bias. Government policies veered towards economic education, women’s welfare and STEM fields are leading Malaysia to have more gender equality and women in leadership positions.

– Taylor Pittman
Photo: Flickr

Girl Determined Promotes LeadershipA program called Girl Determined promotes leadership among adolescent girls through a multi-faceted, engaged approach. In Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia, it is common for young girls to grow up wishing they had been born boys. Despite progress and distribution of equal rights in developed nations, women and girls living in Myanmar still face extreme oppression today. Unfortunately, they continue to fight for some of their most basic human rights.

Women and girls regularly face issues such as gender inequality, violent relationships and extreme prejudice. 2016 Demographic and Health Survey found that 21 percent of women had reported experiencing physical, sexual or psychological violence from their partner. Researchers even believe that, given the authoritarian-style government in Myanmar, the real number is actually much higher.

Part of the problem is that girls between the ages of 12 and 17 lack the confidence and empowerment needed to speak up for their rights. In a nation where females are born into the expectation that they will remain subdued, gaining the courage to challenge the norm can be difficult. Girl Determined is working to change that.

The Program

The program is structured primarily around Circles. Circles are weekly after-school peer groups that provide young girls with a place to share their experiences and learn from one another. Currently, more than 2,000 girls across Myanmar participate in Circles. The meetings follow a curriculum that addresses five categories:

  1. Decision-making
  2. Self-confidence
  3. Building friendships
  4. Understanding cultural and religious differences
  5. Girls’ rights and planning for one’s future.

During the group sessions, topics can range from universal experiences among adolescents, like puberty and chore lists, to challenges exclusive to the female Myanmar community. For example, shared fears concerning the risk of sex trafficking, lack of education and violence witnessed in war.

To provide support for Circles, Girl Determined hosts an annual Girls’ Leadership summer camp, a Girls’ Conference and a number of athletic programs and campaigns. They are encouraged to keep a journal, plant seeds and participate in team sports. All of these opportunities are designed to put girls at center stage. Furthermore, the program intends to create an outlet to advocate for issues that inherently affect them.

The Impact

Through something as simple as open discussion and encouragement, participants are paving a brighter future for girls in Myanmar. Adolescent girls have become a marginalized group after decades of being taught to follow cultural norms and remain silent. Girl Determined promotes leadership, while also functioning as a platform for real change. Many of the girls who have participated in the program say it taught them to speak up, specifically against gender-based violence and has mobilized them to spark change in their communities.

In 2013, over 800 participants gathered for a conference in Rangoon to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. Teenagers from Girl Determined advocated for policy change in the social welfare department. The local news even covered their statement. Since their statement, women’s organizations working closely with the government have implemented protection for girls into Myanmar’s National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women.

The Circles program is entirely voluntary, so the program measures its overall success is by retention of attendance. Across various project sites in Myanmar, attendance averages at 90 percent. Overall, this speaks to the power in how Girl Determined promotes leadership among young women.

– Anna Lagattuta
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Health in East AfricaMenstrual health products are fairly expensive across the globe. Safe measures of menstrual health in East Africa are difficult to come by since many women cannot afford to purchase feminine hygiene products, which often cost approximately half of their daily pay. ZanaAfrica is working to combat this injustice by providing sanitary pads and education regarding menstrual health.

The Problem with Menstrual Health in East Africa

Due to the exorbitant cost of menstrual health products, girls in Africa often have to resort to using potentially unsafe means of coping with menstruation. Some young women use cloths and rags to deal with menstruation, but they also use unconventional approaches such as twigs, mattress stuffing and even mud. These practices founded out of necessity can have detrimental impacts on the health of adolescent girls. Infections and diseases can result from these measures.

Additionally, female students are likely to miss school as a result of menstruation. Due to stigma, lack of hygiene products and harassment, many girls are unable to attend school during menstruation and miss up to 20 percent of school days as a result. Another aspect affecting adolescent girls is the pain and discomfort associated with menstruation.

Sexual and reproductive health education is lacking in Kenya. In an interview on March 25, 2019, Linda Curran, the Senior Communications & Development Consultant at ZanaAfrica, told The Borgen Project, “Their lack of access to SRHR educational resources exacerbated by the negative external pressures they face leaves girls susceptible to inaccurate information and unsafe influences that often hold deep and lasting negative implications for their sense of voice and agency, their confidence and self-determination, their sexual activity and health, and their education.”

In Kenya, 50 percent of girls cannot openly discuss menstruation at home. Additionally, 68 percent of schools do not have a private area for adolescent girls to address their hygiene needs.

An Organization Helping Improve Menstrual Health in East Africa

Based in Washington D.C., ZanaAfrica is a nonprofit organization that provides sanitary pads and menstrual health education to girls in Kenya. Its efforts in Kenya center around the town of Kilifi, along the East African coast. Kilifi was home to 1.2 million residents as of 2012. Since then, its population has grown.

A large portion of the population in Kilifi, 47 percent, is under the age of 15. In addition, compared to the national average, fewer students enter secondary school. Kilifi also has staggering numbers of violations of women’s rights, including high incidences of teen pregnancy, child marriage and sexual predation. In Kenya, 527,000 girls are child brides. The work of ZanaAfrica in Kilifi is pivotal in providing positive changes for the adolescent girls of Kilifi.

Supplementing sanitary pads, ZanaAfrica also has a publication aimed at educating girls about their changing bodies, Nia Teen. This magazine has a rights-based focus and ZanaAfrica distributes it alongside its health education program, Nia Yetu.

ZanaAfrica is truly making a difference in Kilifi with programs educating nearly 4,000 girls regarding their sexual and reproductive health. Also, the organization distributed 35,600 sanitary pads to the girls of the region. With Nia Yetu, ZanaAfrica is extending its reach by working with World Vision and The Kenyan Ministry of Health to provide sexual and reproductive health education in 40 schools that will reach a total of 1,600 girls.

ZanaAfrica accepts donations to further its mission of providing adolescent girls with access to sanitary products and eliminating the taboo surrounding menstruation. While ZanaAfrica only sells its sanitary pads in Kenya, the organization’s brand partner, Cora, is available in the United States. A portion of each purchase helps support the work of ZanaAfrica in Kenya.

– Carolyn Newsome
Photo: Google

CARE International

From Europe to Everywhere

CARE International is one of the foremost aid organizations in the world. It has a long and distinguished history, having been established in 1945 to help survivors of World War II in Europe. Today, CARE operates in more than 90 countries, runs 1,033 projects that serve more than 80 million people, and holds more than $584,161 in financial resources.

The beginnings of CARE were very different than the organization that exists today. Many people today may not realize that the term care package, now part of the everyday English lexicon, began as a registered trademark of CARE—an acronym that originally stood for “Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe.”

But CARE—which now stands for “Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere”—has changed dramatically over its more than 70 years of operation. Not only has it grown in size, but it has also changed focus. While CARE started by sending commodities to hungry people in Europe, it has evolved into an organization that is both more global and more local, both broader and more focused.

International and Local

One of the biggest changes CARE has undergone since its inception is a change in scale. In 1979, CARE changed its name to Care International and transitioned from a U.S. organization to an international organization with 14 branches around the world. While the largest branch is CARE USA in Atlanta, CARE International’s central headquarters is in Geneva.

At the same time, CARE International has moved away from one-size-fits-all aid, like the CARE package, and toward locally focused aid. It makes an effort to hire employees from the localities that receive the benefits of aid projects, so the people tasked with implementing programs have a deep understanding of local needs and obstacles.

In the words of CARE USA’s previous CEO, Helene Gayle, “Now instead of just focusing on the consequences of poverty and lack of access to basic needs, we also focus on the underlying causes… We look at how you have a longer-term impact on the lives of the communities in which we work… and we work not only on relief and emergency situations but continuing from relief to recovery to development, and building resiliency so communities that are affected from time to time by emergencies are able to respond and bounce back better.”

Helping Women and Girls

Gayle, as CEO of CARE USA, ushered in another major change, this one a change of focus. Under her leadership, CARE starting focusing its efforts on women and girls.

This is because, in Gayle’s view, “Girls and women bear the brunt of poverty around the world.” She explains elsewhere, “if women and girls have an opportunity, there’s this catalytic effect. A girl who is educated is more likely to marry later, have fewer children, have a greater economic future for her children, get them into school, etc.”

CARE’s focus on the wellbeing of women and girls has generated impressive results. For instance, in one CARE program in Bangladesh designed to reduce malnutrition in children, aid workers realized that the program was most effective “when households also participated in activities that contributed to women’s empowerment.” CARE began by creating programs to increase educational access to women and fight domestic violence, and the nutrition benefits followed.

CARE International is a storied organization that could have continued along the path it started in 1945. In order to have an impact on a changing world, though, the organization decided to change. In the process, it has provided a lesson in flexible, dynamic global aid work in the 21st century.

-Eric Rosenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Period PovertyWhen discussing poverty and the effects it can have on people, basic hygiene supplies that come to mind are items such as toothpaste, toilet paper and soap. Rarely does anyone think feminine hygiene supplies. Period poverty is the term used to describe a lack of access to feminine sanitary products. All around the world women and girls face the same dilemma regardless of country or culture, with a reported 500 million girls living in period poverty, a number that is beginning to take its toll on women in society.

Period Poverty Is Everywhere

In developed countries, the greatest challenge is fighting the stigma and taxes that accompany what should be a basic healthcare product. The European Union’s five percent tax on sanitary products, known as the ‘tampon tax’, is one of the biggest indicators that something has to change, with 1 in every 10 girls currently unable to afford sanitary products. A nationwide study done in the U.K. showed that over 137,000 girls skipped school regularly due to period poverty. Until 2018, U.S. federal prisons were charging for feminine products. New laws are being passed mandating that menstrual products be provided in public settings, showing change on the horizon but there is still a long way to go.

While women in the U.S. and Europe are fighting stigma, unfair taxes and unequal treatment in regard to period poverty, in underdeveloped countries the situation is even worse. Women and girls in poor countries struggle to gain access to sanitary products on a regular basis.

A study conducted in Uganda showed that close to two-thirds of girls missed at least one day of school each year due to period poverty. In addition to supplies being a commodity, the stigma women face in certain countries borders on taboo. Some cultures believe that those who are menstruating are considered ‘unclean’ or ‘bad luck’, leading to ostracizing and ridiculing these women and girls. In certain regions of Nepal, girls are banished to ‘menstrual huts’ where they must remain shunned until their cycle has ended.

Negative Effects of Living in Period Poverty

Women and girls living in period poverty suffer from more than just embarrassment and societal stigma. In addition to girls missing school, there are physical repercussions to not having sanitary supplies as well. According to the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), poor menstrual hygiene can lead to reproductive disorders, urinary tract infections and urogenital diseases, and the risk for infections in those living in period poverty is much higher than those who aren’t.

Fighting Period Poverty

Organizations such as PERIOD, Freedom4Girls and HappyPeriod are working to address the stigma behind menstrual products and to end period poverty through advocating, educating and serving girls across the U.S. Founded by women who understand what it’s like to live in period poverty, these companies are committed to fighting for girls around the world. By providing sanitary products and supplies, they are allowing young girls and women to continue education and lead their lives unaltered by this natural biological occurrence.

Despite being a natural biological occurrence shrouded by stigma for hundreds of years, period poverty is finally coming to the forefront of the public’s concern. It is demonstrating itself to be a worldwide issue that does not discriminate amongst class or culture. PERIOD founder Nadya Okamoto describes the importance of this issue perfectly, “If we invest in women’s empowerment as a key to global development, we need to unite around a universal menstrual movement to ensure that all women and girls are able to discover and reach their full potential.”

– Olivia Bendle
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Albania
Albania is one of the poorest of the European nations. Recently, the Albanian Government has been making strides towards economic growth, but it has only now come to realize the importance of empowering and supporting women in the country. The government is empowering women in Albania by taking a stance against violence towards women, encouraging girls’ education and increasing access for women in the workforce.

Violence at Home

The National Strategy for Gender Equality campaign was launched in 2016 to help the Albania Government implement a policy to help women achieve real equality. As it stands now, most of the women are working in agriculture on family farms, often without pay. According to the U.N., almost 60 percent of Albanian women have direct experience with in-home violence.

A woman named Tone from a village in north Albania shared her story of endurance after being in a 10-year arranged marriage full of abuse. Her family had suggested she stay with her husband in spite of the abuse because there were no support systems available for Tone and her children if they left their abusive home. When she finally had had enough, she reported the violence and, to her surprise, the police were timely, responsive and positive. They referred her to the National Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Domestic Abuse The Centre is up and coming and is currently aiding around 100 women victims annually.

Tome’s story is just one of several stories of women’s suppression in this poverty-riddled nation. In fact, one in two women are victims of abuse in Albania. For those that have not found a helping hand and been able to escape the harsh realities of inequality, the story acts as a cycle. Children who come from uneducated mothers are less likely to complete schooling if it is even available to them in the first place. The influences of home life, such as violence, inadequate funds, illness, excessive children in the home or lack of transportation, make it hard for children to succeed in school.

Promoting Education for Empowering Women in Albania

Because children from these homes require more support to make it through school without the heightened risk of drop-out, UNICEF has joined forces with the Albanian Government to promote Child-Friendly Schools (CFS).  These CFCs encompass a holistic education based on the needs of children who need the most help, especially girls. The projected outcome of the CFS plan is to make education in Albania more readily available by increasing the country’s GDP budget towards education up from 3.27 percent to 5 percent. The hope is that, with education and proper emotional support, these girls will grow up better educated and better equipped to enter the workforce.

Sociologists are quickly realizing that empowering women through education is crucial for national growth in any developing country. In 2006, Albania joined the Global Partnership for Education and has since implemented strategies for equality such as gender quotas that will make girls’ education in Albania more accessible and better equipped to serve these young ladies. The program has already seen an increase in primary and secondary school completion rates.

Many girls in Albania don’t have the same access to education due to conflict or crisis, poverty or because so many young girls are married. With access to primary and secondary education that is made more available by USAID and other activists, women will be empowered and, therefore, be able to make better choices that support their individual needs and dreams.

Improving the Future for Women in Albania

Women make up half of the Earth’s population, which equates to half of the human capital. Rigid gender roles and cultural tradition have delayed the realization of equality for some women in countries like Albania, but as change happens, government officials are seeing the benefits of humanity and equality along with the need to act. Together with the Government of Sweden, U.N. Women is raising awareness of women’s rights across each of the 10 municipalities in Albania. The good news is that in 2014 there was a 51 percent increase in female participation in the labor market.

The majority of Foreign and Domestic aid for Albanian women is geared toward equality as a whole, which means progress for women and girls in Albania. Escaping violence, becoming educated and empowered and gaining access to the workforce are all necessary for achieving equality and truly empowering women in Albania.

– Heather Benton

Photo: Flickr

Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan’s developmental capacity is, to some extent, contingent on the inclusion of young girls and women in the formal education system. Though work is being done to improve girls’ education in Uzbekistan, there is still a long way to go. Access to early education for girls is scarce in Uzbekistan. The U.N. uses a mechanism called gross enrollment ratio (GER) to analyze the education levels of its member states.

Pre-primary Education

Pre-primary school enrollment ratios for girls (ages 3-6) have been around 26.5 percent in the last 10 years. While pre-primary education may seem to be an inconsequential aspect of education for young girls, a study from the World Bank linking preschool attendance to employment outcomes in Uzbekistan shows that it is rather important to girls’ futures.

The Government of Uzbekistan and The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) have both recognized the need to improve pre-primary education. With financial support from the GPE, The Ministry of Preschool Education plans to expand early childhood care and education, with the ultimate goal of achieving 100 percent enrollment by 2021.

Education and the Role of Women

The foundational laws and reforms in Uzbekistan have created an education system that is compulsory for primary school (ages 7-10) and secondary school (ages 11-18) boys and girls. However, practice school attendance, particularly for girls, has not been universal due to socio-cultural and socio-economic barriers. In recent years, the government has worked to remove those barriers and integrate underserved populations into the education system; a majority of those populations includes girls.

Between 2008 and 2017, the GER for girls’ primary education increased from 92.6 percent to 102.28 percent, remaining relatively equal with that of male students during the same time period. In 2017, the enrollment ratio for females in secondary school was 92.42 percent, lower but still relatively equal to their male counterparts.

Girls’ education in Uzbekistan is lacking most at the tertiary, or university level. The GER for females in tertiary schools (ages 19-23) is just 6.33 percent. However, this meager statistic is not a reflection of young women’s unwillingness to pursue higher education or a satisfaction with the status quo. It is, rather, a reflection of a lack of funding, high tuition costs and an outdated societal expectation that young women take on traditional, household roles after secondary school.

The Future of Girls’ Education

Changing the landscape of girls’ education in Uzbekistan requires structured and integrated reforms at every level. Extracurricular activities are another tool that can be used to expand and strengthen girls’ education in Uzbekistan. Encouraging girls to explore activities and career paths seldom held in the past can have an empowering effect. This was exemplified in early 2017 when the UNDP held a “technovation challenge,” in which hundreds of young female programmers collaborated to tackle social issues, including education, using their programming and innovative skills.

“The idea that ‘it is too hard for girls and women’ is as outdated as it is offensive, and yet we still hear it,” according to the event’s press release. At the end of the challenge, the girls in attendance were able to meet and hear from the Uzbek women that make up a small portion of the tech workforce now. In terms of cultural change, events like the technovation challenge are some of the most impactful as they dispel the notion that investing in these girls’ education is unnecessary. It puts on display the untapped potential within the Uzbek female population and changes the perceptions of those who still hold “outdated” understandings of the role of women in society.

The UNDP and the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan have also put their monetary resources to use in order to provide grants to female university students. Monetary investment will prove to be a vital part of expanding girls’ education in Uzbekistan given the high tuition costs. This, alongside the structural and cultural changes being implemented, can break down barriers to girls’ education in Uzbekistan in the short-run and the long-run, expanding the potential paths of all women in Uzbekistan.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr