The Northern Triangle
Latin America is in a vicious circle of crime, poverty and corruption. High crime rates thwart economic opportunities and crime rates push people into poverty, all cumulating into corrupt leaders who use the pain for their power and self-interest. Nevertheless, nowhere is crime more prevalent than in the Northern Triangle.

The Northern Triangle is region in Central America that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has experienced the worst problems such as poor economic growth, rampant gang violence and political corruption. This three-prong nightmare has fueled an estimated 265,000 people toward the Southern U.S. Border and will continue to grow into the foreseeable future. While some do attempt to find safety in Europe and elsewhere in South America, others take the risk and traverse their way to the U.S-Mexico border, where they risk entering the country illegally. Others surrender to U.S. border patrol and seek asylum. However, it is unlikely that they will receive asylum. On average, only 13% of individuals receive asylum and experience integration into the United States.

Gang Corruption

In 2017, a survey asked the people in El Salvador, “who runs the country?” About 42% of respondents said “Delincuencia/Maras.” For non-Spanish speakers, this translates to gangs, like MS-13.

These answers have visible ramifications that strike at the core of the government. Governments in the Northern Triangle are weak, and the people know this; the gangs know this. People understand the country’s power lies in gangs’ hands, not in the government’s.

For example, in 2012, the Salvadorian government agreed to sign a truce with the criminal organizations to address skyrocketing homicide rates. The profoundly unpopular legislation did lower the homicide rate but the people still had to continue to pay gangs. Tactics like homicide and racketeering are not the only ways these organizations flex their might.

Throughout the Northern Triangle, gangs rely on drug and human trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping and theft to export their criminal enterprise well beyond the Northern Triangle. Issues in the Northern Triangle are not just an inter-state problem but also a problem for the entire Western Hemisphere.

Governance Problem

Northern Triangle nations have made some progress when it comes to corruption. But the total damage that such corruption caused is still in the billions: $13 billion to be precise.

In 2006, Guatemala successfully combated corruption when it appealed to the U.N., which established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). This independent body investigates the infiltration of criminal groups within state institutions. Such an organization resulted in the conviction of hundreds of officials and reduced the homicide rate.

In El Salvador, in 2019, the country created its own independent body called Commission against Corruption and Impunity in El Salvador (CITIES), which could yield the same results as CICIG. Over in Honduras, the hopes of establishing such independent oversight do not seem to be gaining the same traction. After the resignation of President Lobo Sosa in 2013, an investigation into the Honduran Institute of Social Security revealed a scandal that cost the people over $200 million. It also implicated President Orlando Hernández, who admitted to unknowingly using some of the money to fund his presidential campaign.

Unlike Guatemala and El Salvador, the Honduras legislature rejected a proposal to create its own CICI. Instead, it created Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Although intended to fight corruption, it does not have the same autonomy as CICIG and CITIES. MACCIH is not autonomous and cannot investigate Honduran Public Ministry. Instead, it relies heavily on its relationship with the Attorney General and Congress, which could shield the people committing corruption. This inability to pass support for CICIH instead of settling for MACCIH might be signaling that the $200 million white-collar crime is the beginning of a giant iceberg.

A Path Forward

In Washington DC, support exists for CICIH and CITIES. Congresswoman Norma Torres and others released a statement in 2019 supporting these institutions. Reinstating the CICIG and implementing the same structure in CICIH and CITIES would stop corruption. This would allow the state to use its monopoly on violence to fight crime and allow positive economic growth. In April 2021, the State Department announced $740,740 in available funding for “competition for organizations interested in submitting applications for projects that empower civil society to combat corruption and protect human rights.”

– Diego Romero
Photo: Flickr

Land Reform in South Africa
White South Africans accounted for less than 10% of the population after the apartheid in South Africa ended in 1994. However, 90% of white South Africans owned the land. In addition, about 72% of white South Africans owned farmland in 2017. Meanwhile, black South Africans owned only 4% of land and Indian South Africans owned about 5%. As such, poverty and land reform in South Africa remain large issues.

The African National Congress (ANC) assisted the South African government in initiating land reform efforts to further digress from historical injustices, achieve equitable land distribution and stimulate economic development. However, land reform in South Africa has yet to significantly benefit the victims of land dispossession and marginalization.

Assistant Professor of African Studies in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver Dr. Singumbe Muyeba told The Borgen Project that South Africa is the most unequal society in the world in terms of economic racial disparity. Muyeba’s passion to eradicate urban poverty in Africa has guided his research in poverty and land reform in South Africa.

The Land Reform Process

The Natives Land Act inaugurated the apartheid in South Africa in 1913. This left nearly 70% of black South Africans unable to purchase or occupy the land. Furthermore, this legislative order dispossessed and forcibly removed thousands of black families from their land. Black people had to go to impoverished areas throughout the country. Furthermore, they were unable to financially support their families. Moreover, the Act initiated the ongoing social and economic inequalities that prevail today.

The South African government initiated The Land Reform Process to deviate from the oppressive regime of the apartheid. In addition, it aimed to reinstate fundamental civil rights for all. This process involved:

  1. Restoring land to, or financially rectifying, titled landowners who were forcibly removed during the apartheid.
  2. Enabling Africans to collectively buy farms with government aid.
  3. Protecting the rights to own and control land.

South Africa recognized that land justice is crucial when addressing poverty, livelihood security and racial discrimination. Thus, it implemented land reform. However, the new land titling procedures and the authority of local land-owning elites in the system were obscure. It blurred the lines of the true beneficiaries. About 148 land reform programs in South Africa carried out fraudulent ventures between 2011 and 2017. Moreover, this highlighted political corruption as a contributor to the lack of land reform benefits.

Property Rights and Poverty

Land reform in South Africa initially relied on the disposition of white land-owners selling their land. The land redistributed to black farmers has been meager parcels with insignificant economic benefits. Additionally, black farmers in the repossession of land often lack farming knowledge, practical skills, government-supported financial aid and suitable equipment that would enable profit. The Economist proposed that up to 90% of redistributed farms were not profitable in 2015. One can attribute this to deficient funding, development training and resource allocation. In addition, South Africans who choose restitution in cash compensation instead of land often receive insufficient amounts. This conduces poverty and constrains black farmers’ economic development.

Problems with the Movement

Muyeba explains how South Africans’ perception and lack of trust in their institutions, harbored from the apartheid’s colonialist regime, contribute to the barriers of achieving economic security and escaping poverty. He said, “If the poor who possess urban land rights perceive that they cannot rely on the effectiveness of institutions such as the rule of law, political leadership, public services and economic institutions, their property will sit idle as an economic resource. The poor will not use their land and housing in their efforts to build wealth and get out of poverty.” Although urban property rights strengthen employment opportunities, the potential monetary burdens can lead to property loss.

Despite the general consensus that property rights economically advantage low-income individuals, the structural barriers of the reform system leave impoverished South Africans challenged. Thus, they are unable to achieve economic security and elude poverty. Muyeba’s research findings indicate that “property rights for the urban poor empower the poor with ownership, the security of tenure, instill a sense of freedom and of belonging to a community and increase self-esteem among owners.” This empowerment can improve health and play an instrumental part in decreasing the effects of poverty.

Expropriation Bill

South Africa became a constitutionally democratic country in February 1997. During this transformation, the Expropriation Act, which determined how the government handled previously privately owned land for public uses, mandated the government pay compensation that best served the public. It declared three attempts unconstitutional in October 2020. As a result, the Expropriation Bill proposed that “just and equitable” compensation will go to the expropriation of property for public use or interest. Furthermore, expropriation without compensation can receive justification in court depending on the acquisition, quality, use and value of the owner’s land.

South Africa’s Deputy President David Mabuza states that the Bill aims to correct the historic injustices, reinstate land rights, strengthen long-term food security and achieve equitable land rights. Many are concerned that the negative effects of expropriation could perpetuate injustices for communities. Additionally, land expropriation without compensation threatens the agricultural sector’s productivity and employment opportunities. Moreover, this will increase poverty rates. Muyeba says that the expropriation of farmland in South Africa will inevitably cause regional and international economic impairments. This is due to South Africa’s significant role in agricultural exports throughout the continent.

Hope for the Future

Land reform in South Africa plays a crucial role in achieving equitable land distribution and reducing poverty. Pre-existing victims must be the beneficiaries of the land reform movement. Muyeba believes that policy-makers should modify land reform programs according to previous national attempt outcomes while being mindful of South Africa’s vulnerable political and economic state.

Furthermore, his research indicates that securing property rights in South Africa does not inherently produce conventional economic benefits for impoverished populations. Instead, impoverished South Africans’ sense of empowerment from land ownership yielding greater economic benefits should be taken into account when confronting structural barriers. Equitable land distribution in South Africa is complex. However, accountable and honest corruption-free government legislative frameworks can help achieve it.

– Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Qatar
Qatar resides in the Middle East, just east of Saudi Arabia. The country boasts high economic prosperity, ranking among the highest in the world. It also occupies a low spot on the global list on gender gap — Qatar’s global ranking is 0.629 out of one. Qatar upholds female education and proactively attempts to improve women’s rights. However, women’s rights in Qatar need continued advocacy to decrease the country’s gender gap and increase equality.

Attempted Improvements

In 2009, Qatar became a member of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Despite membership, the country did not fully commit to all portions of the convention. Qatar refuses to maintain the following: gender equality in domestic laws and policies, equality with regard to nationality, equality before the law, freedom of movement and of residence and domicile and equality in marriage and family life. These requirements contradict Islamic law.

Discriminatory Laws

Qatar’s legal system centers around Shari’a, Islamic law. When Qatar enacted a (discriminatory) law, it crafted it upon the government’s interpretation of a religious belief. In this way, women’s rights in Qatar experience subjection to possible sexist ideas based on misreadings or outdated practices.

In family events or in a court of law, people do not view the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man’s. If a Qatari woman has children with a non-Qatari man, the children are unable to assume the Qatari nationality; whereas, if the man were to be of Qatari nationality, the children would be able to assume citizenship. Women seeking a divorce have far less ability to appear in court and receive a fair settlement.

Representation in Parliament

As of 2015, Qatar’s 29-member municipal council had only two female members and its legal system included just one female judge. In 2017, the Inter-Parliamentary Union elected four female representatives to serve on the Shura Council of Qatar (Qatar’s parliament) for the first time. The Shura Council of Qatar looks over government policy, creates proposals for new laws and renews the country’s financial allocation.

Women’s Education Rights

In contrast to the lack of women’s rights in Qatar, gender discrimination has consistently remained out of the education system. The government supplies education at no cost for all citizens between ages 6 and 16. It is one of the most generous countries in its fiscal allotment per-student and allocates a large majority of its funds toward education.

The youth literacy rate rests at about 98% and close to 96% of girls attend secondary school. Further, there are more women than men attending Qatar’s University College of Law. Qatar University also provides adult courses. The class offerings improve national literacy rates and help maintain women’s educational rights. After graduation, Qatari women have the complete freedom to enter the business and financial sectors.

Conclusion

A struggle for equality and women’s rights in Qatar still exists despite its progressive nature. The country is aware of this issue and is continuing its work to further the rights of women in Qatar. There have already been achievements in creating equal opportunities and legal reform for female citizens. More are sure to come with Qatar’s commitment to increased gender equality.

Adelle Tippetts
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in Ethiopia

Ethiopia faces many struggles, but the land where coffee originated has many accomplishments as well. The continuous progression made for gender equality in Ethiopia is one of them. Gender-based roles constitute a significant part of the Ethiopian culture. It is also the primary reason for many families’ extreme poverty. However, through policy reform and promoting women’s political participation, there has been a noteworthy change in bridging the gaps between women and men.

Policy Reforms Encourage Gender Equality in Ethiopia

Thanks to two reforms, research suggests that promoting gender equality in Ethiopia has become very feasible.

One reform is the Family Code, which was revised in 2000 with new developments. The re-evaluated version of the Family Code states that women receive equal rights throughout the marriage. This pertains to the entire term of their marriage, the duration of the divorce, and after the finalization of the divorce. The revisions also note that the individuals must equally split all assets. As a result, the report states that women were less likely to involve themselves in domestic work. Instead, women found more sustainable employment outside of the household, which encourages their independence.

The second reform is the community-based land registration, which was initiated in 2003. Ethiopia’s population has strong gender norms that tend to favor men and subordinate women in power roles. Research results have shown that as women migrate from the north of Ethiopia to the southern region, they tend to lose societal and household status. Women also have their “bargaining power” revoked from them, which can relate to property rights and ownership. However, this reform emphasizes the implementation of property rights for married women by creating “joint certification.”

A significant sign of independence in Ethiopia is property. However, men typically have land ownership in marriages. This reform opposes that gender-based norm in Ethiopia and allows women to access economic and political opportunities. When women own land, it increases their chances of earning money and controlling their own life. Rules set by their husband no longer have to confine them. They are also less likely to be victims of domestic violence. Ethiopian women who own property are significantly less likely to experience domestic violence within their marriage than women who do not own property.

Women’s Political Participation Rises

Women currently make up 37% of congress in Ethiopia. Considering only 22% of women represented congress in 2010, there has been significant progress ever since. However, the Ethiopian government’s accuracy and trustworthiness will remain in question until women account for at least 50% of the parliamentary seats.

The country also needs to make political careers more accessible to women. The “motherhood penalty” requires women to attend to constant family duties and responsibilities, such as breastfeeding and always being present for the children. Endless motherly duties can hinder their potential political career due to the amount of time it takes. This is especially true if a women’s marriage is based on strong religious beliefs. Certain religious beliefs in Ethiopia tend to prohibit women from having the independence they deserve and hinder their decision-making abilities.

DCA

In Ethiopia, women are perceived as those to be led, not to be the ones leading. However, recent years’ progression contradicts that idea. The organization DCA (Dan Church Aid) emphasizes the idea of women empowerment. They hold and spread the belief that every woman deserves fundamental human rights “economically, socially, and culturally.”

DCA was created in 1995 to promote gender equality in Ethiopia. Since then, the organization has helped over 3.2 million people in the world’s most impoverished countries deprived of everyday opportunities. Due to the continuous contribution of DCA and recognition from Ethiopia’s government regarding the encouragement of gender equality, the women of Ethiopia can seek more political positions and close those gender gaps within communities.

Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Bhutan Over the last 14 years, poverty in Bhutan has substantially decreased. This is a result of the nation’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness and its developmental Five Year Plans. Support from other nations has also helped make Bhutan’s successes possible. With further support, the nation could eradicate poverty within its borders. 

History

Bhutan, officially named the “Kingdom of Bhutan,” is a small nation in South-Central Asia. Historically, poverty in Bhutan has been an ongoing struggle. In 2003, the poverty rate in Bhutan was well above 25%, and the proportion of the population in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 a day) was 17.6%. 

However, there have since been major successes in the fight against poverty in Bhutan. As of 2017, poverty in Bhutan was 8.2%, less than a third of what it was 14 years prior. More impressively, the proportion of Bhutan’s population living in extreme poverty dropped to 1.5%. 

Gross National Happiness

The key to success in fighting poverty in Bhutan can be attributed to the nation’s developmental philosophy. The nation does not believe in measuring its progress through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) lens used by other countries. Rather, Bhutan evaluates its success through Gross National Happiness (GNH) indexing.

The GNH system directs Bhutan’s government to step in and present the country with the best path to maximize the happiness of its citizens. The nation places a high priority on taking the initiative to fight poverty and inequality for this reason. In the country’s 1629 legal code, it states: “If the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist.” This sentiment still stands today in Bhutan. The government continues to direct its focus on allowing more and more people to pursue happy and healthy lives. 

Five Year Plans

To combat poverty in Bhutan, the country began a series of five-year development plans in 1961. Fittingly named “Five Year Plans,” each successive half-decade strategy sets forward a targeted initiative to address the largest assessed proponent of poverty in Bhutan.

Part of the success of the Five Year Plans was derived from its flexibility. As Bhutan continued to develop and change, the development strategies were able to shift with it. Each new implementation of the Five Year Plans would involve recreating the successes of the previous plan. Thus, any practices that proved to be inefficient could be replaced.

Nevertheless, all of the Five Year Plans initiatives had some commonality that greatly boosted the fight against poverty in Bhutan. The strategies all pushed for increased sources of income generation, expanded social resources, and rural development.

Bhutan’s strategic development planning, in combination with its GNH philosophy, was crucial toward its successes against poverty. However, Bhutan’s vast success would not have been possible without assistance from foreign nations. Further global efforts will continue to play a large role in the fight to eradicate poverty in Bhutan. 

Asa Scott
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Taiwan 
Taiwan is an island off the coast of China. Globally, it has received praise for its exceptionally low household poverty rate, which is under 1%. While child poverty in Taiwan is rare, further reducing it is a priority for the Taiwanese government.

Measurement Methodology

Taiwan uses an absolute threshold to calculate the poverty rate. The country uses estimated monthly living expenses calculated in each province for its measurement. For example, residents in Taipei, a highly urbanized city, must earn over $337 for them to be over the poverty line. On the other hand, residents only need to earn above $171 monthly on the small island of Kinmen County. Such geographically-adjusted measures help ensure that Taiwanese families in expensive areas can afford basic necessities, including food, clothing and shelter.

Successful Tactics

Economic downturns do not render Taiwan helpless, such as the one in 2013. Instead, the Taiwanese government quickly raised welfare spending to help people who lost their jobs when factories relocated to China. Additionally, Taiwanese banks gave out microloans with extremely low-interest rates to help families start businesses. To this day, organizations outside of the government also participate in the fight against child poverty in Taiwan.

The Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF) is an NGO dedicated to eradicating child poverty in Taiwan. This fund sponsored 48,601 children in Taiwan, and 66, 417 children abroad. TFCF began helping children in Taiwan in 1964 by building orphanages. It has since introduced Family Helper Programs and other programs to deliver donations to families in need of assistance. Similarly, TFCF has provided thousands of families with cash, supplies, emergency relief, vocational training and house repairs or reconstruction. Already, the TFCF appears to have helped successfully alleviate child poverty in Taiwan.

The global community can learn from Taiwan’s anti-poverty programs, which have almost completely weeded out child poverty in Taiwan. A recent study found that only 6% of Taiwanese children living in poverty — an already smaller group comparatively — experienced persistent poverty compared to 13.8% in the U.K. and 15.9% in Canada.

Room for Improvement

Child poverty in Taiwan is incredibly low due to effective country policies. However, there are a few areas where the state could improve. One problem is that many citizens make just above the poverty rate and are struggling to get by. Some of these families could earn more if they found lower-paying jobs and went on welfare.

Another problem is that a lot of immigrant families, particularly Southeast Asian immigrant families, primarily find low-skilled jobs and experience persistent discrimination. Similarly, many Aboriginal Taiwanese are also victims of racism, which can make it difficult to find jobs. This led to an approximated 60% poverty rate for Indigenous peoples in Taiwan. Every country, Taiwan included, could improve its anti-poverty strategy. Fortunately, the Taiwanese government is actively trying to help many of the groups that experience high levels of poverty.

Taiwan is one of the few countries in the world that retains a low poverty rate, particularly such a low child poverty rate. Taiwan can implement further improvements, but the country is a model for the international community in eradicating poverty.

Madelynn Einhorn
Photo: Flickr

Biden's USAID Chief
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the U.S.’s federal agency for fighting international poverty. Now, many are interested in learning about Biden’s USAID chief candidates. USAID offers development assistance to countries to promote self-reliance. In 2019, the agency spent over $20 billion across 134 countries in 28 different service sectors including agriculture, basic healthcare and emergency response.

The actions of USAID are central to the U.S.’s actions on international poverty as a whole. President-Elect Joe Biden’s presidency is looming. Who he appoints as the head of USAID will be influential in shaping the agency’s actions for years to come. This role is particularly important as the world continues reeling from COVID-19. No formal nominee has been announced yet, but over the past few weeks, some have provided several names of who is on a shortlist to become Biden’s USAID Chief. These names include Ertharin Cousin, Liz Schrayer, Frederick Barton and Jeremy Konyndyk.

List of USAID Chief Candidates

  1. Ertharin Cousin: Ertharin Cousin served as executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP) from 2012 to 2017. WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization. Before this, in 2009, former President Barack Obama appointed her as ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome. In this role, she represented the U.S. in international talks regarding humanitarian issues. She also has experience with domestic humanitarian issues, having served as CEO of Feeding America, an organization of 200 food banks across the U.S. As of now, she tops the shortlist and many presume her to be a favorite to become Biden’s USAID chief.
  2. Liz Schrayer: Currently, Liz Schrayer is president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Commission, a coalition of hundreds of NGOs and businesses advocating for U.S. action and leadership through international development. She is also an advisor on multiple committees including USAID’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation’s Development Advisory Council. This prospective candidate for Biden’s USAID Chief has prior experience working with USAID and is another expert in the field of international development.
  3. Frederick Barton: Frederick Barton is the recent author of a 2018 book, “Peace Works – America’s Unifying Role in a Turbulent World.” He has experience as the U.S. Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in New York from 2009 to 2011. He also served as an advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies from 2002 to 2009. He has a long history of work in the field, having been USAID’s founding director of its Office of Transition Initiatives in 1994, serving until 1999.
  4. Jeremy Konyndyk: Jeremy Konyndyk also has prior experience with USAID, having served as director of its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance from 2013 to 2017. In this role, he oversaw a team of 600 staff. He and his staff managed responses to disasters like the West African Ebola outbreak and the ongoing Syrian civil war. Konyndyk is currently on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee. He also served in the past as an advisor to the WHO Director-General.

Conclusion

Each of the above candidates is well qualified to become Biden’s USAID chief. Although no nominee has received an announcement yet, the future of the U.S.’s largest organization fighting international poverty seems to be in good hands.

– Bradley Cisternino
Photo: Flickr

PEPFAROne of the most effective programs in the fight against AIDS is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The program was first authorized by Congress in May 2003. It initially started as a way to help the people of Africa, where the AIDS epidemic was most concentrated. Now, PEPFAR has international and domestic programs that fight AIDS in over 50 countries.

Poverty and HIV

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is widely recognized to correlate with impoverished rural and urban areas. Poverty is not a necessary condition for contracting HIV. However, it can be related to risky sexual behaviors, such as participation in sex at a young age and prostitution. Poverty can also lead to inadequate sexual education or resources that would assist in preventing AIDS.

The underlying factors in poor areas that increase the risk of AIDS —  violence, social mobility, economic strain and access to education — need to be addressed. Tackling risk factors as a method of prevention has already proven to be largely successful in fighting AIDS internationally. Further, that approach has helped families simultaneously fight sources of intergenerational poverty.

PEPFAR

When President George W. Bush announced PEPFAR at the State of the Union, he said of the program: “seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many… And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa. This comprehensive plan will prevent seven million new AIDS infections, treat at least two million people with life-extending drugs and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS.”

Today, PEPFAR has far exceeded its once lofty goals. The program has provided over 18 million people with HIV treatments and helpful services, like cervical screenings and education programs. To celebrate its incredible success, PEPFAR launched a new website in July 2020. It provides a timeline of scientific discoveries, legislation and social outreaches pivotal in the worldwide fight against AIDS.

Starting in 1981, the timeline explores the first known cases of AIDS in the U.S. and Africa. It moves on to facts about school education about AIDS and global programs like the World Health Organization’s Global Program on Aids (1987). A few tabs later, it relates the explosion of Congressional funding and legislation for PEPFAR and allied programs circa 2006 all the way to present day, 2020.

Additionally noted are milestones, such as PEPFAR’s 10th anniversary marking one million HIV-free babies born due to PEPFAR programs. This corresponds to the increased financial investment by the U.S., which proves the initiative’s substantial success.

Continued Efforts

PEPFAR is not satisfied with resting on its existing laurels, however. The same month PEPFAR released its celebratory website, PEPFAR also announced its latest report and upcoming budget. The new budget doubles funding for its HIV program that helps adolescent girls and young women to $400 million.

The program has so far helped over 1.5 million women and girls in only six months in 2019 and decreased HIV cases in that demographic by 25% since 2014. The new budget additionally increases PEPFAR’s cervical screening program, Go Further, by 70%. Together these effective programs are only a small piece of PEPFAR’s astonishing $85 billion total investment over the past 17 years of its existence.

Elizabeth Broderick
Photo: Flickr

sorcery killings in Papua New GuineaSorcery — like something out of Harry Potter movies— receives a lot of focus around fall, especially on Halloween. It is a common lighthearted joke of the season. However, sorcery, magic and witches are a strong legitimate belief in some cultures, especially in Papua New Guinea. Sorcery, also known as “sanguma,” is a life or death issue in Papua New Guinea — sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea are all too common.

These murders rarely make the news, and police protection is unreliable. Those mainly accused of witchcraft and sorcery are women, which leads to gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. Since 2013, Papua New Guinea’s government has been attempting to stop this modern-day witch hunt. Despite their efforts, it’s harder than it seems. One main obstacle is the lack of awareness. This problem only gained global attention in 2017. The people of Papua New Guinea accused Justice, a 7-year-old girl, of using dark magic.

The History

Sorcery killings have been occurring in Papua New Guinea for centuries. For a period of time, their law even legalized the killings. In 1971, the Papua New Guinea government passed the Sorcery Act. This law made sorcery an illegal and criminalized act. It also made sorcery a legal defense when it came to murder trials. The act affirmed that magic is a real, plausible belief in their culture, which can be punishable by death.

Between 1980 and 2012, sorcery killings resulted in only 19 charges of murders or willful murders. Then in 2013, the Sorcery Act was repealed (the part about sorcery as an acceptable murder defense). Witchcraft practitioners were (and are) still imposed with the death penalty — although, there have been no executions since 1954.

Additionally in 2013, the government passed a Family Protection Act. The new act criminalized domestic violence and allowed women to acquire protection orders. But according to Human Rights Watch, the implementation of the law is weak.

Despite the new legal repercussions, death rates have continued to increase. Locals believe up to 50,000 people have been accused over the years, and there are 200 sorcery killings annually.

Recent Occurrences

Sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea continue today is because of the lack of punishment and law enforcement. Many public events have occurred when it comes to sorcery killings, many of which fly under the media’s radar.

In a 2016 case, four women were accused of stealing a man’s heart. After condemning the women for witchcraft, villagers attacked the women and forced them to return his heart. The man made a full recovery with his “returned” heart. While the man lived, a video surfaced of the burning, torture and death of all four women. Justice, the 7-year-old girl who gained global attention, was accused of the same act. Likewise, her village captured and tortured her for five days.

Positive Change

Papua New Guinea’s government has been upholding their decision to hold individuals accountable for sorcery killings. In 2017, The National Council agreed that eight men were to receive the death penalty for a sorcery-related killing. Further, the government raised $2.9 million for “sorcery awareness and education programs.”

There are even foundations, such as the PNG Tribal Foundation, dedicated to helping Papua New Guinea. The organizations fight to change the country’s societal views on women, engage in new health care programs, open women’s forums and help at-risk youth. The PNG Tribal Foundation actually helped create a plan to save 7-year-old Justice from her village.

Hopefully, change is on the rise when it comes to sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea and the associated gender-based violence. Papua New Guinea can begin to turn things around if they put into place more properly enforced laws.

Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

sex education in the PhilippinesThe general purpose of sex education is to inform youth on topics including sex, sexuality and bodily development. Quality sex education can lead to better prevention in STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, it decreases the risks of having unsafe sex and increases responsible family planning. To help address issues, like overpopulation, high rates of teen pregnancy and the rise of HIV, the Philippines is gradually implementing sex education and accessibility to contraceptives.

Reproductive Health Act

The Philippines passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 (RH Act) after a 14-year wait. Through the act, the government integrated sex education into the public school curriculum for students ages 10 to 19. The Philippines also gave funding for free or subsidized contraceptives at health centers and public schools.

The government passed the RH Act in response to the many health issues impacting the country, such as infant mortality, pregnancy-related deaths and a rise in HIV/AIDS cases. Moreover, teen pregnancies in the Philippines are common, where 9% of women between the ages of 15 and 19 start child bearing.

Lack of knowledge about reproductive health is significantly associated with poverty, especially in regard to overpopulation. Therefore, the RH Act aims to help the population make informed decisions about their reproductive health. It provides more equal access to sex education, while also ensuring that the government reaffirms its commitment to protecting women’s reproductive rights, providing accessible family planning information, and hiring skilled maternal health professionals to work in both urban and rural areas of the Philippines.

Opposition from the Catholic Church

Around 80% of the Philippine population identifies as Roman Catholic. Accordingly, the Catholic Church largely influences the state of sex education in the country. The Catholic Church opposes sex outside of marriage and fears sex education will increase sexual relations. The Catholic Church consequently remains critical of the RH Act, increasing difficulties in putting the RH Act into concrete action.

Additionally, the Catholic Church opposes implementing sex education in schools as well as the distribution of contraceptives. The Church prefers to rely on parents to teach their kids about reproductive health. However, many families are either unequipped to do so or will not address the subject directly with their children.

The Implementation of the RH Act

In an effort to reduce the country’s rate of poverty, Philippine President, Rodrigo Duerte, ordered the government to provide access to free contraceptives for six million women in 2017. Duerte aimed to fulfill unmet family planning needs. This came after a restraining order was placed on the RH Act in 2015. However, the government appealed to lift the restraining order to continue applying the RH Act and addressing issues due to overpopulation.

In 2019, Save the Children Philippines — an organization with the purpose of supporting Filipino children — advocated for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention bill. The organization also fought for requiring schools to fully integrate Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) into their curriculum. Save the Children Philippines hopes to combat the country’s high rate of teen pregnancy. CSE in the Philippines includes topics such as consent, sexual violence, contraceptives and others. The bill would also advance access to reproductive health services, further supplementing the goals of the RH Act.

Increased Conversation Surrounding Sex Education

In addition to greater governmental action, there are various organizations that are working to increase access to sex education and services in the Philippines. The Roots of Health is a nongovernmental organization that provides sex education to women in Palawan and Puerto Princesa. Started in 2009, the founders, Dr. Susan Evangelista and Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, initially provided reproductive health classes at Palawan State University in Puerto Princesa and have since expanded into free clinical services for young women. The Roots of Health provides services that assist with birth, reproductive healthcare, contraceptives, prenatal and postpartum check-ups, and ultrasounds. By 2018, they served 20,000 women and adolescents in the Palawan and Puerto Princesa communities, demonstrating that there is a growing grassroots movement towards reframing reproductive health in the Philippines.

Sex education will remain a controversial subject in the Philippines. Nonetheless, it is a developing matter that is expected to evolve with continued conversations between governmental, faith and nongovernmental actors.

Zoë Nichols
Photo: Flickr