Key articles and information on global poverty.

disability and poverty in Israel
Nearly 2 million Israelis, half of them children, live below the poverty line. They experience disabilities disproportionately. While Israel’s national poverty rate sits at roughly 19%, the poverty rate of Israelis with disabilities is 24%. Disability and poverty feed into each other in Israel and worldwide.

Cyclical Poverty and Disability

Poverty can cause disability because it frequently leads to polluted environments, unsafe working conditions and lack of access to medical care, proper nutrition, safe drinking water, hygiene supplies and education. Disability also causes poverty. According to the United Nations, discrimination causes many disabled people to receive “limited access to education and employment,” causing disabled people to disproportionately live in poverty.

According to the U.N., “For every child killed in warfare, three are wounded and acquire a permanent disability.” These children have a 1.7 times greater risk than children without disabilities of becoming victims of violent crime. Furthermore, without proper education and employment opportunities, it is unlikely that disabled children living in poverty will escape it as they grow older.

How Israeli Innovations are Revolutionizing Accessibility

Accessibility is not only a human right, it is also the means by which disabled people achieve equal opportunity. Lack of accessibility often means inequitable treatment for people with disabilities, and assistive technologies are a major component of accessibility. Today, several Israeli companies are at the forefront of assistive technology development. A few innovations that have come out of Israel in recent times are:

While all these innovations are changing the landscape of accessibility, they are not cheap. Not only do those hoping to acquire innovative accessibility options have to worry about affording them, but these technologies’ creators also have to worry about funding their production. Finding funding for a startup or development project is not an easy task.

Assistive Technological Solutions for the Disabled

Assistive Technological Solutions for the Disabled – “Ezer-Tech” is a collaborative program between the Innovation Authority and the National Insurance Institute that seeks to encourage research and development of assistive technologies. Through Israel’s Innovation Authority, the program supplies grants to Israeli companies and nonprofits who are working to develop assistive technologies. A grant from the program can cover up to 75% of a project. The Innovation Authority also works to establish partnerships between start-ups and small businesses and international partners. Companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Amazon Web Services to name a few, have benefitted from the funding that the Innovation Authority provided.

Through grant programs like Assistive Technological Solutions for the Disabled – “Ezer-Tech,” Israeli developers, like those who created The Sesame Phone, ReWalk, EyeMusic, Lola and Playwork, can receive funding for research and development of assistive technologies. Providing assistive technologies to people with disabilities opens up many possibilities in the job market, which in turn contributes to economic growth and lifts disabled individuals out of poverty. Access to funding for developing assistive technologies would allow the brutal cycle of disability and poverty in Israel to cease and create ways to prioritize accessibility for citizens with disabilities. Through assistive technologies, many disabled people could achieve full integration into both society and the labor market, allowing a reduction in the correlation between disability and poverty in Israel.

Michelle Schwab
Photo: Flickr

Vocational education centers in Afghanistan
After spending nearly 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. is withdrawing from the conflict with Taliban insurgents by August 31, 2021. The U.S. withdrawal is leaving the Afghan people and government susceptible to a Taliban takeover or all-out civil war, which could lead to the souring of Afghan-American relations. Perhaps U.S. support of new and improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan could help provide Afghans with the skills to repair the infrastructure that war has ravaged and maintain positive relations between the two nations.

History of Afghan Vocational Training

Afghanistan established its first institutions for technical and vocational training in the 1950s, with the help of countries such as the U.S., USSR, Germany and the United Kingdom. The Afghan education system integrated technical education with the creation of the Faculty of Agriculture and Engineering in 1956 and Kabul Polytechnic in 1968. However, following the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Communist Regime in 1979, many male students were unable to pursue technical education. These students either entered the military, fought with Mujahideen freedom fighters or fled the country. Additionally, many intellectuals who others associated with vocational education centers, opposed the Soviets and either went to prison, died from violence or had to flee.

The Soviet invasion severely hampered Afghan economic development and destroyed much of Afghanistan’s infrastructure, including many technical education centers. However, Afghanistan did not rebuild the infrastructure that experienced destruction in the civil war after the Soviet Union left and since the U.S. entered Afghanistan in 2001. Additionally, much of Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure, including clean water, proper sanitation and electricity, has experienced damage from the country’s previous conflicts. More vocational education centers in Afghanistan may increase access to trained individuals who could remedy these infrastructure issues.

Benefits of Vocational Education Centers

As of 2020, the World Bank reported that Afghanistan has an unemployment rate of 11.7%. According to UNICEF, 3.7 million Afghan children do not attend school. The formation of additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan could create more employment and educational opportunities for the Afghan people. Additionally, it could potentially provide the centers’ graduates with the capability to repair the infrastructure of a country that war has ravaged. Providing Afghan citizens with more vocational education centers would aid in the alleviation of poverty throughout the developing country. As UNESCO stated in a report concerning the development of Afghanistan’s Vocational Education programs, “education is one of the keys to sustainable development, peace and stability.”

U.S. institutions and Afghan vocational education centers have worked together successfully in the past. Prior to the Soviet invasion, Afghanistan had a rapidly developing set of vocational education centers. The Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University received almost all of its training in the U.S. and used U.S. textbooks for their classes. From the school’s formation in 1956 until 1978, the school had a significant affiliation with U.S. institutions through USAID support. As of 1977, the admission rate of the Faculty of Engineering at Kabul University grew from 300 to 1,000 per annum.

Additional vocational education centers in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion included:

  • Kabul Polytechnic Institute
  • Kabul Mechanical School
  • Afghan Institute of Technology
  • Kandahar Mechanical School
  • Khost Mechanical School
  • Mazar-i-Sharifi Technicum
  • Kabul Technicum

The Soviets methodically dismembered these vocational education centers following the 1979 invasion. Soon, the communist ideology took precedence over all aspects of education. This lasted until the collapse of the communist government and the subsequent civil war in 1992. After that, all technical colleges and schools in Afghanistan underwent severe damage.

How USAID Assists With Development

The U.S. has been helping with the development of Afghanistan’s vocational education centers more recently as well through the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program (AWDP). USAID conceived the program in 2012 and sought to expand employment and wages in Afghanistan. It did this by increasing the employability of Afghan citizens in areas where skilled labor was necessary. This task reached completion through a four-step process. Firstly, a “labor market demand assessment” occurred to identify the skills in demand by the Afghan private sector. Following this assessment, USAID guided the curricula of the Afghan training providers to meet the demand of the private sector. After establishing the curriculum, USAID provided subsidies to help local training centers educate trainees in lacking areas. Finally, USAID provided pre-employment, job placement and follow-up services to ensure that those who completed training programs found work.

Positive Results

The AWDP was effective in many ways. As of 2018, 48,873 Afghans, 36% of them women, received training in competency-based technical and business management skills. Additionally, 28,790 participants of the program obtained assistance in finding work as a result of the AWDP. To ensure progress following the program’s completion, USAID also allowed private institutes to open career counseling centers. These five institutes trained 1,758 university graduates and landed 807 trainees jobs as of 2019. Furthermore, the program provided Master Training of Trainers (MToT) training to 1,401 master trainers attending institutes of higher learning. About 1,060 of those trainees earned jobs relevant to their expertise or received a promotion at their current jobs.

Since the U.S. military is withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2021, it may be beneficial for the U.S. government to support vocational education centers in Afghanistan further. Continuing to provide resources and increase funding may help maintain positive relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Furthermore, new or improved vocational education centers in Afghanistan would increase employment opportunities and empower more Afghans with the ability to repair infrastructure and further develop the state.

– Wais Wood
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Environmental Solutions to PovertyChanging ecosystems from economic development have increased the risk of poverty and food insecurity around the world. Informal sectors, which mostly exist in lower-income countries, sidestep environmental regulations. This further degrades the environment and puts more people at risk of poverty. However, these high-risk environments also provide an opportunity to implement environmental solutions to poverty and lower the risk of environmental destruction.

Demi-Lune Agriculture to Stop Desertification

In the past century, deserts have expanded rapidly due to industrialization and rising global populations. This threatens millions of people living on the periphery of deserts who farm for a living, people who may see their crops dry up in coming years. Environmental solutions to poverty often focus on stopping the expansion of deserts.

For example, farmers on the periphery of the Sahara Desert have adopted a new style of farming to adapt to the desertification of their farmland: half-moon agriculture. This environmental solution to poverty, introduced in the 1980s, has many benefits.

Half-moons retain water much more efficiently than traditional agricultural techniques, an important feature in water-scarce climates. Farmers can easily understand and execute the process, which only requires basic tools, increasing its usability in communities with poor education and literacy.

In West Africa, half-moon agriculture has led to an incredible transformation of the landscape, with formerly arid land now covered in grass, trees or crops. Binta Cheffou, a farmer in Niger, planted half-moons in the 1990s when her community’s land was bare and unproductive.

Now, according to Cheffou, “Many people are no longer hungry” due to increased livestock yields and more agriculture. Communities using this environmental solution to poverty have witnessed a large increase in biodiversity as well, a useful safeguard against ecological disasters.

Planting Trees to Reduce Landslides

Natural disasters pose a large barrier in the fight against poverty, causing $210 billion in damage in 2020, according to major insurers. Landslides, a common disaster in developing countries, kill nearly 4,500 people each year, according to earth scientist Dave Petley. There are several environmental solutions to poverty and natural disasters, including a simple one: planting trees.

Landslides largely occur in environments where erosion is widespread and the ground can no longer hold its weight. These conditions often emerge just after deforestation and unregulated mining, where people extracting resources leave hillsides barren and organic structures rotten.

The lack of organic structure holding the slopes together leads to these tragic natural disasters. Reverting the hillside to its natural state with biodiverse trees can provide the structure necessary to prevent landslides while also providing revenue to those caring for the trees.

This strategy, popularized worldwide in the past few years, has seen major success in preventing landslides and reducing poverty. In Ethiopia, studies in communities with tree-planting initiatives noted a dramatic increase in community income and food supply. In Indonesia, research confirmed a decrease in landslides where trees were present. The study found that coffee trees prevent landslides especially well with the added benefit of providing coffee beans for communities to harvest and sell. This would decrease the motivation for unregulated logging and mining, further reducing landslide risk.

Cleaning Rivers for Clean Water

Rivers serve as key assets for countries to fuel their development. Rivers can provide power, food, drinking water and trade routes. Furthermore, recreational activities on rivers provide economic stimulation. However, many of the world’s key rivers, especially in developing countries, are experiencing a crisis of pollution and wastewater. This pollution costs countries billions of dollars. As such, key environmental solutions to poverty should focus on cleaning rivers and ensuring proper wastewater systems to prevent pollution.

In Indonesia, where riverway pollution costs $6.3 billion each year, or 2.3% of GDP, the government aims to make river water drinkable by 2025. Indonesia is implementing several strategies to address river pollution and protect the environment, including tree planting to combat erosion and regulations to ensure water factories produce drinkable water from rivers. Indonesia also focuses on environmental education as many people discard domestic trash in rivers without considering the consequences.

India also suffers from polluted rivers. The Ganga River, sacred to Hindus, serves almost 400 million people, providing water for drinking, irrigation and industry. It also deposits significant amounts of plastic into the Bay of Bengal and is filled with damaging pollutants which cause waterborne diseases that kill 1.5 million children per year.

The Indian government is focusing on the tributaries to the Ganga, ensuring clean water flows into the major river for a long-term cleaning strategy. So far, the government has spent $3 billion on cleanup initiatives since 2015 and has doubled sewage capacity.

The Future

These environmental solutions to poverty can increase both wealth and living standards. Studies show that access to a green and clean environment can boost mental health and life expectancy. Clean rivers, green hillsides and re-purposed desert land can provide access to these benefits worldwide. Going forward, governments should focus on innovative solutions to both improve the environment and reduce poverty.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Flickr

TusseThe 19-year-old singer Tusse recently represented the country of Sweden at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. Tusse first rose to fame after advancing to the semi-finals of Sweden’s Got Talent and later winning Swedish Idol in 2019. With the song “Voices,” Tusse took 14th place at Eurovision. As a Congolese refugee, Tusse uses his platform to educate and empower young people facing similar challenges as he has.

Tusse’s Journey

Tusse, whose real name is Tousin Michael Chiza, was born in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2002. At 5 years old, Tusse and his family fled to a Ugandan refugee camp due to the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He left with his aunt, siblings and cousins. The escape effort separated Tusse from his parents. The family spent three years in the refugee camp until Sweden granted them asylum. The family then settled in Kullsbjörken, Sweden, in 2015 when Tusse was 13 years old. Tusse says that retaining his Congolese culture, filled with music and dancing, is what drove him to become a performer and singer, ultimately leading him to the Eurovision stage.

Civil War-Torn Country

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the second-largest African country and has faced conflict for decades. The country experienced its second civil war from 1997 to 2003, only a year after the end of the First Congo War. Sometimes called the “African World War” due to the involvement of several neighboring countries, the war claimed close to six million lives directly through the effects of fighting or indirectly through malnutrition, financial despair or disease. Economic and political reasons surrounding the nation’s vast mineral wealth fueled the war.

Despite a peace deal at the war’s conclusion, violent conflict continued in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This conflict was due to poor governance, weak institutions and rising corruption. Armed conflict rose among dozens of rebel groups, consequently affecting and disrupting civilians’ lives. More than 2.1 million people were newly displaced in 2017 and 2018, nationally. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest number of internally displaced people at more than five million.

Overall, the conflict has subjected Congolese residents to significant human rights violations, extreme poverty and widespread rape and sexual assault. Efforts from the African Union and the United Nations to help implement sustainable development and defuse tensions have struggled to see success. As a result, most civilians are forced to flee and seek asylum elsewhere.

Sweden’s Relationship with Refugees

Sweden has one of the most generous refugee policies in Europe. Sweden has actively welcomed refugees seeking asylum in the country. However, there has been some domestic pushback to this hospitable policy, particularly in 2015, following the migration crisis when Sweden received more than 160,000 refugees, the most per capita in the European Union. This tension was heightened when many other European countries were unwilling to accept the influx of refugees. As a result, the Swedish government passed a temporary measure limiting refugee rights to the bare minimum of what the country had previously agreed to under international conventions. Despite this, Sweden continues to receive significantly more refugees than the rest of Europe.

Tusse’s Advocacy

Tusse uses his platform and story to empower other young refugees and educate his fans on refugees’ challenges. He works with UNICEF and recently performed at Sweden’s UNICEF Gala. UNICEF utilizes partners on the ground to deliver assistance to displaced families and support children’s needs and rights. Among other projects, the organization provides and distributes hygiene kits, clean water, vaccinations for children and treatments for malnutrition.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) supported Tusse and two other Eurovision performers with refugee backgrounds prior to the competition. Manizha, a singer representing Russia, fled Tajikistan in 1994, and Ahmad Jodeh, a Dutch ballet dancer, is a Syrian refugee.

Tusse uses his music to share and voice his experiences as a refugee. At Eurovision, he sang “Voices,” which is about “fellowship, freedom and the importance of all voices being heard.” By gracing the Eurovision stage, Tusse brought awareness to the struggles of his home country, the challenges of adjusting to life as a refugee abroad and the resilience of young refugees.

– Simran Pasricha
Photo: UNHCR

period poverty in the U.K.
Period poverty happens when people are unable to afford or access proper period products due to low income. The average period lasts around five days, costing Scottish people around $10 a month for period products. Period poverty is a global issue that is not receiving enough attention. The U.K. is the first country to take significant steps to reduce period poverty. Here is some information about period poverty in the United Kingdom.

Period Poverty in the United Kingdom

In 2020, more than 2,000 people took a survey in schools, colleges and universities around Scotland. The results showed that one in four respondents was unable to access period products.

According to a Plan International report from 2017, a British children’s charity, period poverty affects one in 10 British girls aged 14 to 21. Furthermore, 49% of girls across the U.K. admitted to having missed a day of school because of their inability to access period products.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Period Poverty

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, period poverty in the U.K. has increased. Before the pandemic, low-income British residents often accessed period products through schools or community centers. However, after the lockdown, they no longer had such access.

Bloody Good Period and Freedom4Girls, founded in 2016 and 2017, respectively, are two national charities that focus on improving the accessibility of period products and reducing the stigma around periods. Bloody Good Period distributes products to 40 drop-in services and groups in the U.K. and to more than 2,000 people each month. In 2020, both charities saw drastic increases in their products’ distributions. Before the pandemic, Bloody Good Period typically distributed around 5,000-period packs a month, but the number grew to 23,000 in the three months after March 2020. Similarly, Freedom4Girls’ production increased fivefold.

Scotland’s Efforts to Alleviate Period Poverty

In 2020, Scotland made history as the first country to make period products free for all. Monica Lennon, a member of the Scottish Parliament, introduced the Period Products Bill, which passed in November 2020. Lennon has been fighting for an end to period poverty since 2016 and was finally able to gain significant attention for the cause in 2020, when more girls began to suffer from period poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Scottish government funded the period poverty campaign with 5.2 million euros. Of this money, the government set half a million euros aside to deliver free period products to residents of low-income neighborhoods.

Additionally, the U.K. government has created its own period poverty task force. The task force’s main goals are to destigmatize periods, educate people on periods and ensure that period products are widely accessible.

The Red Box Project

Similarly, in Portsmouth, England, three women decided to start a movement to end period poverty. They sympathized with low-income teenage girls who could not afford period products and recognized that period poverty impacts both current and future mental health and well-being. It started its campaign, the Red Box Project, in March 2017. The Red Box Project fills red boxes with pads and tampons and gives them to schools. The Red Box Project has placed boxes in more than 2,200 schools, colleges and youth clubs. As word of the project spread, its founders started to push for governmental action against period poverty. As a result of national efforts, in January 2020, Britain’s Department for Education made period products freely available to all state schools and colleges in England.

The actions that some are taking to reduce period poverty in the United Kingdom should provide other countries hope as they fight similar battles. With passionate, driven residents and new legislation, women around the world can begin to live in peace.

Shamolie Panjwani
Photo: Flickr

Mental health in ItalyThe nation of Italy is the fourth most populous nation in Europe, with 60.36 million people as of 2019. As it stands, Italy remains one of the countries that COVID-19 has most affected, and the resulting lockdown has had a noticeable impact on the mental health of the Italian population. However, there is more to the story of mental health in Italy than the effects of the pandemic.

Italy’s Past Relationship with Mental Health

Italy passed Law Number 180 in 1978. Law Number 180 blocked all new admissions to Italian mental hospitals. This subsequently led to all mental hospitals in Italy closing by the year 2000. This change came about so that mental patients would receive similar treatment to other patients with physical ailments. Psychiatric wards that still exist in the country are located inside general hospitals with roughly 10 available beds in these wards per 100,000 people, and only 46 beds per 100,000 people in community residential facilities. These numbers can also vary significantly between geographical areas.

The State of Mental Health in Italy

In the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy had been doing relatively well in terms of mental health. In 2016, Italy had one of the lowest suicide rates among G7 countries, at 6.3 suicides per 100,000 people. This is less than half the rate of the United States in 2016, which was 13.3 suicides per 100,000 people. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that in 2017, 5.1% of the Italian population suffered from some form of depressive disorder, and 5% of the population suffered from an anxiety disorder.

The Effects of COVID-19

The full effects of COVID-19 on mental health in Italy are unknown. However, psychological studies conducted while lockdown measures were in place provide some clarity on the subject. One online survey issued approximately four weeks into lockdown measures in Italy showed notably increased rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome, symptoms of depression, insomnia, symptoms of anxiety and perceived stress.

The Future of Mental Health in Italy

According to experts, there are going to be psychosocial as well as economic ramifications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the trauma associated with being a frontline worker, there is a projected decline in the mental health of frontline doctors and nurses. This decline will also affect members of the Italian population that have undergone any psychological distress because of the pandemic.

Steps forward have already occurred to help those suffering from COVID-19-related stress. The U.S. CDC has already developed potentially helpful guidelines on how to cope with the stress that COVID-19 inflicted, including instructions on how to take care of one’s body, as well as suggestions to take breaks from news stories and to safely connect with others. The “Living with the Times” toolkit that the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support made also helps to provide adults with the tools needed to support one’s mental health, as well as the welfare of those around them.

Italy has a unique relationship with mental health treatment, and COVID-19 presents an unusual challenge for the nation. Efforts by the CDC and others aim to reduce the damage that COVID-19 caused, including regarding mental health in Italy. The fact that Italy is opening to tourists again suggests that brighter days may be in its future soon.

– Brendan Jacobs
Photo: Unsplash

Human Trafficking in Saudi Arabia
In April 2021, a young migrant worker named Caroline Aluoch requested permission to return to her home in Kenya. However, her employer denied her due to his rights under the kafala system. A few months later, Aluoch’s family received a report that she had died during her employment sponsorship. Devastated by their loss, Aluoch’s family recently spoke out about how the kafala system renders migrant laborers particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. Here is some information about the problem as well as efforts working towards ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

Foreign Labor in Saudi Arabia

Workers from low and middle-income countries often seek better wages by taking on foreign jobs. The migrant laborer population in Saudi Arabia is around 13 million people. It consists of people from South and Southeast Asia and Africa working at jobs in construction, agriculture and domestic service.

Most of these workers enter the country through legal labor channels. These workers must adhere to certain restrictions under the employment sponsorship system. This system, known as kafala, began in the 1950s to promote labor sharing in the Gulf Nations. Without reform, though, restrictions through kafala can force laborers to remain in potentially unsafe and exploitative work environments.

Problems with Kafala

The kafala sponsorship system requires foreign workers to obtain a Saudi sponsor in order to work. The sponsor, who is most often the Saudi employer, has the right to decide if and when a foreign worker can transfer jobs or leave Saudi Arabia. According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIPS) report, one of the most common complaints from exploited migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is that of non- or delayed wage payment. Under the kafala system, workers can become trapped in the unpaid situation.

When laborers face delayed and non-payments, they become more susceptible to economic coercion into other exploitative employment, such as organized begging or commercial sex. As an employment requirement, the kafala system creates a cycle of potential exploitation for foreign workers.

Saudi Government Efforts

In the past few years, officials have developed a legal infrastructure suited to dealing specifically with human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. These specialized courts and screenings intend to protect domestic and foreign trafficked victims and prevent future trafficking. Here are some of the Saudi government’s efforts so far:

  • Law enforcement investigated, prosecuted and convicted human traffickers.
  • Workshops and seminars instructed recruitment agencies on how to teach foreign workers about their rights.
  • The new National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is giving identified trafficking victims the choice of staying in Saudi Arabia and transferring jobs or returning home.
  • The Expansion of the Wage Protection System allows the government to monitor delayed or non-paid wages.

Saudi Arabia and many of its labor-sending countries agree that government oversight of labor has improved, which has benefitted domestic and foreign workers.

Reform to Kafala System

While the Kingdom has made great strides to create safeguards and systems to protect potential trafficking victims, stories like Caroline Aluoch’s demonstrate the current dangers of the kafala system. Sponsorship reform is one of the prioritized recommendations for ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia, according to the TIPS Report.

Because the kafala system is a decades-old, multinational system, progress has been slow. As global labor organizations have pushed for reform of the sponsorship system, some Gulf Nations have altered the employee restrictions within specific countries. In 2021, Saudi Arabia enacted plans to reduce employee restrictions and protect migrant laborers.

Two big changes to the Saudi implementation of the kafala system seem extremely promising; first, laborers will be allowed to leave the Kingdom without explicit permission from their employers. Second, workers will be able to transfer jobs without their employers’ permission once an employment contract ends. These changes should protect workers like Caroline Aluoch, who wanted to return home when she deemed her work environment too dangerous. Reform to the kafala system is a crucial step towards ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

Hayley Welch
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries in Europe. It is also the last country in Europe to grant women suffrage. On July 1, 1984, by a small majority (51.3%) at the all-male national referendum, women legally received the right to vote with the Constitution being amended to include women citizens above the age of 20. Over 37 years later, women’s rights in Liechtenstein have a way to go in comparison to its neighboring European countries.

Lack of Women’s Rights

Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy that observes a hereditary line of succession. This means the first-born male inherits the throne, excluding all female descendants. Criticism of this tradition has echoed throughout the country. However, it is unlikely a change will occur with this long-standing practice of the country.

Conducted by the U.S. Department of State, a 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices found gender-based discrimination in the workplace for women in Liechtenstein. Immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQIA+ and women with disabilities have come forward with their experiences of harassment in the labor market. The report identified that there were 32 cases of domestic violence towards women in 2019. In addition, the country has only one women’s shelter, Frauenhaus, which housed 13 women that year.

The report continues to also disclose that women in Liechtenstein face a significant pay difference from men. On top of the pay gap, women in Liechtenstein, specifically in private sector upper-level management, face underrepresentation with little-to-no opportunity for promotion.

Making a Change

Research on wage inequality in Liechtenstein in both private and public sectors shows that there is an average 16.5% pay gap between men and women. Analytics show that one cannot explain almost 7% of this pay gap by “objective characteristics” including training, professional status and qualifications. Reporting wages to the National Administration is one possible way to combat the gender pay gap. However, this initiative faced dismissal.

Groups like the Women’s Network argue Liechtenstein’s government delegates the responsibility of gender equality policies to NGOs. However, political and social action to improve women’s rights in Liechtenstein is progressing. While the change has been slow, growth has been evident over the last few years.

Raising Awareness

Founded in 1997, the Women’s Section of the Liechtenstein Employees Association advocates for gender pay equality. This is by creating awareness campaigns, increasing national wage transparency and promoting equal pay between men and women across Liechtenstein. The economic empowerment of women is crucial in reducing any level of poverty and fighting the gender equality women in Liechtenstein face.

At the 23rd session for the United Nations General Assembly, Liechtenstein endorsed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This progressive plan works to advance women’s rights for decades across 189 countries. The Platform for Action focuses on closing the gender pay gap while enabling access to decent work for women, creating an end to violence against women, lowering maternal mortality rates and increasing women’s ability to participate in places of power in various industries across each country.

In 2016, Liechtenstein, along with all other 46 members of the European Union, signed the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention, a treaty centered around the prevention and fight against violence and domestic abuse towards women. The Convention focuses on prevention, protection, prosecution and coordinated policies. Liechtenstein did not ratify the Convention until June 17, 2021, so it will not take effect until October 21, 2021, but it is hopeful progress regarding gender inequality will result from the enactment.

Seeing Results

In the country’s most recent election cycle, seven women will now serve in the parliament, setting a record of 28% female representation. During the government elections, Sabine Monauni set out to become Liechtenstein’s first female prime minister, but she will now serve as the Deputy Prime Minister. However, the totality of the newly sworn-in government is a majority female with three women and two men.

As recently as a few months ago, a historic moment for women’s rights in Liechtenstein occurred. In April 2021, the Liechtenstein women’s football team competed in its first international match. While the team lost to Luxembourg, the match was a victory for the women of Liechtenstein.

Women’s rights in Liechtenstein are an evolving topic and one that will hopefully continue to move in a forward motion over time. Liechtenstein is approaching four decades of women’s suffrage, and systemic change is beginning to take real shape.

Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Saudi Arabia
Mental health in Saudi Arabia is an urgent concern for the Kingdom’s government. Nearly one-fifth of those seeking healthcare assistance show signs of mental health challenges. In some areas, almost half of the population is in need of mental healthcare services. The government recognizes its shortcomings and is taking steps to reduce such numbers and serve the needs of its citizens.

Reducing Stigma

The stigmatization of mental health in Saudi Arabia is slowly decreasing. In past years, many Saudi Arabians have been ashamed to seek mental health treatment. Many frowned upon therapy as they considered mental illness a sign of weakness.

In a 2016 study to measure the rate of depression in the country, 14.3% of prospective participants declined for the reason that the survey was about mental health. When seeking therapy sessions, many patients were afraid to show their faces. These sentiments have left mental health conditions untreated, leading to economic challenges and causing individuals to fall into poverty.

In the past few years, the younger generation has stepped up and taken a stand in favor of mental healthcare. The attitude towards mental health is changing due to a variety of factors including upbringing and the awareness that is spreading throughout the nation. Both the Internet and contact with patients who suffer from mental conditions serve to increase awareness and confidence towards mental health. Now, when attending therapy sessions, many young Saudi Arabians are unafraid to show their identity.

Improving Mental Healthcare Services

The government began improving mental healthcare services in 1983. In an effort to address the country’s mental health crisis, the Saudi Arabian government created the General Department for Mental and Social Health (GDMSH) in 1983. The Department has the task of improving access to and the quality of mental healthcare throughout the nation.

Primary healthcare centers (PHCs) became available with the purpose of opening up these services to Saudi Arabian citizens. Additionally, GDMSH uses the First National Strategic Plan to modernize psychiatric facilities and provide well-trained staff for mental healthcare institutions. Maintaining the privacy of individuals who seek therapy became an issue left for the GDMSH to resolve. In response, the GDMSH has been working to protect the rights of each patient in the mental healthcare system.

Mental Health Law

In 2014, Saudi Arabia established a mental health law. The government sought out assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) to compile data on the state of mental health services in the country. Saudi Arabia converted its findings into legislation with the passing of the Mental Health Law.

The law incorporates many parts of WHO’s United Nations Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care. It provides a clear definition of mental health and emphasizes the need to seek voluntary mental healthcare rather than involuntary. It outlines special cases when involuntary healthcare may become used.

The law also adheres to the Saudi Arabian custom of involving family in all healthcare matters. Patients and their relatives receive information on how their rights will undergo maintenance throughout the treatment process. Should the treatment breach patients’ rights, they will have the entitlement to bring their case to court with a lawyer to represent them. The law remains dedicated to maintaining security throughout the treatment process.

Moving Forward

Saudi Arabia has made great steps towards improving its mental healthcare. Today, the nation has a 55% ratio of psychiatric nurses to overall mental healthcare professionals, which is 37% higher than that of most developed countries.

Additionally, through the GDMSH’s efforts to improve the quality of mental healthcare, the country has a ratio of 18.4 beds to 100,000 citizens. The amount of beds is greater than the number of therapy appointments, which is a goal that many developed countries hope to achieve. The nation has more progress to make in its mental health journey, but Saudi Arabia is on the right track.

Mariam Kazmi
Photo: Flickr

Iran's poorIn the past decade, Iran’s poor have floundered due to an overwhelming bombardment of economic sanctions. Documented human rights violations and insincere promises to slow its uranium enrichment program have garnered the Iranian state’s pariah status. Iran’s tumultuous relationship with the West has only worsened following President Trump’s decision to abandon the multilateral nuclear agreement and impose harsher sanctions in 2018. Forced to pay the price of their government’s politics, Iranians have found themselves virtually isolated from the West.

However, Iran’s reintegration into the international economy may be coming sooner than expected as the Biden administration has made concerted efforts to restore the nuclear deal and implement some stability in the region. Following initial negotiations, Iranian chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi proclaimed to state media that over 1,000 sanctions would be lifted. “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by Trump,” said Vaezi on Wednesday, June 23rd. If sanctions are to be lifted, Iran’s poor will see their economic outlooks drastically improved.

Loss of Jobs

While U.S. sanctions are intended to target the hardliner regime, it has been Iran’s most marginalized communities that have paid the biggest price. Iran’s energy, shipping and financial sectors have been completely stifled, causing essentially all foreign investment to dry up. President Trump explained that the strict sanctions were “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.” Since 2018, Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by nearly 15%. In addition, the unemployment rate has risen to nearly 20%. Unsurprisingly, the IMF reported zero growth in Iran’s economy in 2020.

Economic Downturn

The stagnancy of the economy can be felt everywhere, most notably in the rapid devaluation of the Iranian currency. The reinstatement of sanctions in 2018 has caused the Iranian currency to lose 50% of its value against the U.S. dollar. As a result, the rial (the Iranian dollar) is increasingly worthless. The effects of such extreme inflation have been disastrous, to say the least.

While the regime and its key supporters have been able to subsist due to rampant corruption, Iran’s poorest citizens have not been so lucky. In Tehran, it is commonplace for the children of Iran’s poor to wait in a government-subsidized queue for free food. Parents simply cannot afford to feed their children at home due to the rapid increase in daily costs. The costs of essential items such as meat and vegetables have more than doubled. Equally concerning, the price of healthcare has skyrocketed. Iran’s poor have no resources to access affordable health care, unable to pay the rising medical prices for tests. Even the prices of tobacco have increased by nearly 80%.

Reactions to Vaezi’s Claim

Understandably, Iranians were ecstatic upon hearing Vaezi’s claim that the infamous sanctions would be brought to an end. However, the U.S. has since denied that an official agreement has been reached. An unnamed spokesperson for the U.S. has emphasized that “During negotiations of this complexity, negotiators try to draft text that captures the main issues, but again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” While there is still work to do, it seems that the conversation between the two countries is headed in the right direction. If not, Iran’s poor may have even more struggles ahead of them.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr