Inequality in ChileChile is one of the fastest-growing and most prosperous countries in South America. Chile successfully reduced its poverty rate from 7.4% of people living on less than $3.20 a day in 2006 to 1.8% in 2017. Some of Chile’s development growth comes from its free-market economy, which has also been a source of protests due to the inequality that has followed. Chile’s economic growth and poverty reduction made it an “economic miracle.” However, the success of economic growth covered up the growing inequalities in Chile. The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Paul Kubik from DePaul University in Chicago for insight on the growing threat of inequality in Chile.

Problems in Chile’s Growing Economy

The Chilean transition to a free-market economy raised the quality of life for many of its citizens and increased foreign investment into the nation’s businesses but made life harder for Chileans living under the poverty line. Tackling poverty and inequality in a country usually occurs in tandem but the Chilean government has historically focused on reducing poverty while overlooking the inequality issues that come soon after.

In 2019, the Chilean government raised subway fare prices that sparked protests. Why would protests occur due to a small change in subway fare when Chile has a high GDP of $282.3 million? Dr. Kubik states that a high GDP is not the sole indicator of economic development. Long-running inequality in Chile has influenced the rise in protests. Dr. Kubik states further that “It is important to recognize as well that protests over inequality are about more than the economics of the day. Inequality has social dimensions as well, that when considered, help to explain events.”

Gender Inequality in Chile

Besides income inequality, Chile is experiencing gender and quality of life discrepancies based on the types of jobs available to different genders working in the lower class. It is no secret that quality of life diminishes with poverty but women in Chile are experiencing gender-based violence with severe income disparities as they hold one of the lowest unemployment rates in South America.

Legislation exists that prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace but there are no criminal implications for perpetrators and no remedies for victims. Furthermore, the legal system does not require equal pay for equal work. It also does not forbid gender discrimination in credit access. Another challenge Chilean women fact is that the default marital property regime automatically makes the husband the head of the house, giving him control of the marital property.

It is possible to have rising rates of inequality in Chile with decreasing poverty rates because experts measure these two rates differently. They measure inequality by the extent to which an economy deviates from an equal distribution of resources, and they look at a variety of marginalized social groups.

Combating Inequality in Santiago and Beyond

Inequality in Chile has reached such an extent that the city of Santiago possesses “high and low class” parks. Public spaces that people can only access due to their income is directly discriminatory against impoverished Chileans.

“Santiago-style inequality” makes poverty harder to track in official statistics. Families that are living above the poverty line are doing so with access to informal credit, which only pushes them further into poverty since they pay 20% more for basic goods. One can blatantly see inequality in the fact that Santiago’s pharmacy chains do not want to operate in impoverished areas of the city. A communist local politician resorted to setting up a “state-run people’s pharmacy” to fill the void.

Some saw the expansion of education as the key to increasing economic growth and opportunity in Chile. As a result, Santiago has multiple universities. However, the existence of stable educational institutions does not mean they are accessible, making it hard to produce the wanted economic expansion. The Chilean government commits just 0.5% of GDP to higher education. Furthermore, “the average university course costs 41% of the average income.” Some university graduates regret the pursuit of tertiary education stating that it did nothing for their job prospects and only increased their debt.

To address this educational barrier, Chile has made some colleges tuition-free for households with the lowest 60% of income. This addresses the issue of high tuition costs that prevent students from enrolling but the secondary costs of education, such as textbooks, transportation and food, do not receive coverage. This still presents a barrier to inclusion and can make completion difficult for many students.

An Inclusive Approach to Development

Dr. Kubik states that development is a complex process. It requires a “coordinated approach that involves political, social and economic dimensions to be successful in the long run.” By focusing less on inequality and more on raising Chile’s GDP, the Chilean government risks different policy conclusions, which can result in clashes between the government and its citizens.

Social and political dimensions include steps the government took to remove all barriers to the completion of education, enforcing inclusionary governmental policies, and in Chile’s case, allowing lower class citizens the same privileges as upper-class citizens. Progress in gender inclusion, education improvements, social acceptance and more, can reduce inequality in Chile.

Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Cambodia
Women in Cambodia make up over 50% of the population but are still fighting for basic rights and gender equality. Cambodian women are struggling to participate politically, socially and economically because the country’s history and cultural traditions frequently value women less than men. Here is some information about women’s rights in Cambodia.

The State of Women’s Rights in Cambodia

Women’s rights in Cambodia have come a long way in the past years, but the country has not completely abolished gender inequalities. Women in Cambodia still struggle with the wage gap, finding opportunities for higher education, gender-based violence and erasing stigmas and stereotypes. Due to these issues, many NGOs have stepped in to help create change and spread awareness.

The Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Cambodia emerged as a country from conflict and unequal power dynamics between sexes. Since 1992, Cambodia has slowly been pushing toward improving women’s rights along with empowering women to exercise their rights. Implementing CEDAW into its constitution was the first step to put Cambodia on the right track.

The Cambodian government ratified CEDAW in article 31.1 of its constitution in 1992. CEDAW, also known as the “Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” is an international treaty protecting women from discrimination. It takes precedence over laws in Cambodia and many consider it a “fundamental legal basis for implementation.” The constitution also includes further efforts to end discrimination against women in article 45.1.

NGO-CEDAW

The implementation of CEDAW led to the creation of NGO-CEDAW in 1995. NGO-CEDAW is a nonprofit organization that ensures the implementation of CEDAW by creating a good relationship with the government and training all Cambodian women on CEDAW. The organization persuaded the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to adopt the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims in 2005 and the Anti-tracking law of 2008. NGO-CEDAW also works with the government to “recommend amendments to the domestic violence law.”

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

Besides NGO-CEDAW, human rights groups like the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) advocate for women’s rights in Cambodia. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights emerged in 1992 and focuses on two programs; monitoring and protecting, and promotion and advocacy. LICADHO is responsible for investigating human rights violations against women and children by the state, providing medical assistance and social work to victims, monitoring prisons to ensure living stable conditions and providing legal advice and representation to unions and victims. LICADHO also creates public reports about human rights cases to inform the public and educates and informs at-risk youths. LICADO brings reform to a national level by working with other NGOs to influence the government.

The Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW)

One in five women in Cambodian report experiencing physical violence since age 15 and half of those women disclosed that they had never told anyone because they believe “there are conditions that justify violence against women.” The Cambodian Committee for Women (CAMBOW) promotes the protection of women by educating, training, advocating, researching and working with national and regional networks to address serious issues that are common in Cambodia such as domestic violence, rape and human trafficking. CAMBOW emerged in 2000 and is an alliance of 35 NGOs and networks that participate in activities involving ending violence against women and children, raise awareness on women’s rights through popular media campaigns and coordinate the exchange of information between the 35 NGOs.

The Asia Foundation

The Asia Foundation has worked in Cambodia for decades, focusing on increasing women’s and girl’s rights and security, creating economic opportunities and advancing women’s involvement in politics and everyday decision making. The Foundation has discovered that helping empower women is one of the best ways to eliminate poverty and increase development. The Foundation works with local organizations and community leaders to create positive change and teach women the skills they need to reach their full potential. Specifically, the Foundation has provided 116 scholarships to young women in poor families to go to college, offered 1,800 victims of trafficking legal and social support and trained 778 officials from the Royal Government of Cambodia on the National Minimum Standards for the Protection of the Rights of Victims of Trafficking. The Foundation also creates worldwide networks for female councilors and meets with government representatives to inform them of everyday challenges that women face.

International Women’s Day

On March 8, 2019, five NGOs joined Cambodian women to celebrate International Women’s Day at Olympic Stadium after security forces shut their march down earlier. The Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), Women’s Information Center (WIC), The Cambodian Centre for Human rights (CCHR), Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) and Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC) encouraged all women to come together to highlight women from all classes, ages and sexualities to share their personal stories. The celebration wanted to show the government that Cambodian women are demanding greater respect and representation; specifically asking for new policies and improved living conditions for all women. On International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020, Cambodian civilizations celebrated by coming together at Democracy Square in Phnom Penh and putting together a fashion show with slogans to promote respect for women’s rights.

Many more NGOs are working to make women’s rights in Cambodia a priority that people respect, uphold and protect. Progress does not occur in one night and as long as these NGOs continue to encourage women to break cultural and social norms, come forward and stand up for themselves, Cambodia as a nation will come to see that men and women are equal.

– Lauren Peacock
Photo: Pixnio

Updates on SDG Goal 10 in ArgentinaIn Argentina, the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic unrest has stalled efforts to close the inequality gap. Before the pandemic hit, Argentina was making progress on a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is a framework of global objectives created by the United Nations, designed as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030. The country was “well-positioned” compared to its Latin American counterparts, according to the Argentine Network for International Cooperation (RACI). The onset of COVID-19 has impacted updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina.

Achieving SDG 10: Reducing Inequality

Argentina had been struggling to achieve SDG 10, which focuses on reducing inequalities within a county’s population and among different countries around the world. To measure inequality, the SDGs use a scale of 0 to 100. The lower the score, the closer the country is to achieving economic equality. The goal is to achieve a ranking of 30 or lower by 2030. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Argentina had a ranking of 51. The pandemic has siphoned resources out of the government and stalled updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina and other progressive reforms. On top of that, millions of Argentinians have lost their jobs and inequality is expanding as a result.

President Alberto Fernández

In December 2019, President Alberto Fernández won the presidential election over conservative incumbent, Mauricio Macri. President Fernández’s political style is that of his mentor, former president, Néstor Kirchner. However, “the COVID-19 pandemic might very well shatter the center-left president’s dreams of following in his mentor’s footsteps and bringing social progress and economic growth to Argentina,” writes Hugo Goeury.

Despite Fernandez’s progressive goals for his administration, reforms have all been put on the back burner since the arrival of COVID-19 in Argentina.

Poverty, Unemployment and the Wealth Gap

In the first half of 2020 alone, the poverty rate among Argentinians increased to almost 41%, the Americas Society/Council of the Americas reported, nearly a 5% increase from the previous year. The Central Bank is also predicting the GDP to contract by nearly 11%.

With almost a third of Argentine workers facing unemployment, President Fernandez is scrambling to financially support his unemployed constituents, while also negotiating the country’s debt owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

According to the World Inequality Database, as of 2019, the top 10% wealthiest Argentinians controlled nearly 40% of the country’s income, while the bottom 50% only possessed 17.9% of the nation’s income.

Better Days Ahead for Argentina

Even though updates on SDG Goal 10 in Argentina seem especially challenging right now, Argentinians are still
pushing forward to make their country more equitable for everyone. The U.N. says, “In the post-pandemic world, Argentina must strengthen its productive apparatus and continue to eliminate inherited social inequities and those aggravated by COVID-19.”

– Laney Pope
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Poverty and Inflation
Inflation refers to an increase in the prices of goods and services. Poverty and inflation have a close relationship in that a country with high inflation is likely to have high poverty rates as well. An inflation rate measures how much the prices of goods and services change over a year. Many countries struggle with high inflation rates. Most countries have experienced high inflation at some point in history. The U.S., for example, has maintained an inflation rate of around 0%-3% for over a decade. During World War I, however, the U.S. reached an inflation rate of nearly 20%. Today, some countries have negative inflation rates while others have inflation rates over 100%.

Highest Inflation Rates in the World

As of August 2020, the 10 highest inflation rates in the world ranked as follows:

  1. Venezuela – 2,030%
  2. Zimbabwe – 747%
  3. Lebanon – 388%
  4. Syria – 275%
  5. Sudan – 127%
  6. Iran – 99%
  7. Argentina – 66%
  8. Libya – 47%
  9. Brazil – 40%
  10. Turkmenistan – 35%

*There are varying estimates between experts, as inflation can be difficult to measure at higher rates.

Consequences of High Inflation

Dr. Prince Ellis, a professor of economics at the University of Cincinnati, spoke with The Borgen Project about the relationship between poverty and inflation. He explained that Zimbabwe and Venezuela have some of the highest inflation rates in the world. “These are two extremes,” he notes. “The price of goods and services can increase almost about 200% a day.” He used the example of a gallon of milk. If the milk is $2 one day, the very next day, the same gallon could be $6.

Dr. Ellis shared his own experience with inflation in Ghana, where he grew up. “I remember my mom had a store, like a convenience store at my house… And we used to sell general convenience items – bread, rice and milk and stuff like that… We are changing prices each week… She goes to the wholesaler… They change the price [of the goods] like price goes up by 20%. We have to also change it by 20%.” Unsurprisingly, this upsets consumers. Consumers may go to the market expecting an item to cost the same as it did last week. Of course, this is not the case, and they may find themselves suddenly unable to afford the item.

Causes of Inflation

Economists use the term aggregate demand to describe the total amount of demand in an economy. Sometimes the aggregate demand in a country increases too quickly for the country’s production. Because there is so much demand for goods and a scarcity of goods, prices increase. This type of inflation is called demand-pull inflation. Demand-pull inflation is often the result of central banks rapidly increasing the money supply.

Another type of inflation is cost-push inflation. This type of inflation comes from a decrease in aggregate supply. The term aggregate supply describes the total amount of goods or services that people are selling in an economy. When the cost of inputs (resources a producer uses to create the final product they sell) or wages increase rapidly, cost-push inflation may occur. This type of inflation was occurring in Dr. Ellis’s anecdote about his mom’s store. Dr. Ellis said that this type of inflation is common in developing countries because “they rely too much on international markets.” In fact, countries overseas import most of the resources developing countries use for production. If a spike in the prices of international goods occurs, a developing country that relies on the goods will experience a severe drop in aggregate supply.

How Inflation Contributes to Poverty

Poverty and inflation have a connection due to the fact that money has value, and its value can grow or diminish. Poverty is a lack of financial resources, leading to an inability to afford basic needs. In other words, as the cost of basic needs increases, the amount of financial resources necessary to afford those needs also increases. Dr. Ellis described this concept as “purchasing power.” He explained how increasing costs lead to decreasing purchasing power. If a person’s income level does not increase at as high a rate as the inflation increases, they will become poorer.

Poverty and Inflation Inequality

One of the issues regarding poverty and inflation is that high inflation has a disproportionately large negative effect on those struggling with poverty. Inflation inequality describes the disparities between the effects inflation has on middle and upper-class people and lower-class people. There are multiple reasons why inflation affects people with lower incomes more than those with higher incomes. One of the main reasons has to do with the types of jobs these two types of people have. Lower-income people often don’t have much opportunity to negotiate their wages. When prices rise, wages for these individuals tend to stay stagnant for a while. Consequently, their purchasing power plummets. Higher-income people, on the other hand, tend to have jobs with inflation-adjusted benefits. When inflation occurs, these benefits limit the decrease in the individuals’ purchasing powers. This disparity is why during inflationary periods, income gaps widen.

Lessening the Effects of Inflation

There are two important ways entities can decrease the negative effects of inflation.

  1. Using another country’s currency – In countries with extremely high inflation rates, the currency practically loses all value. “What happened to Zimbabwe, for instance, is that the currency is now useless. Now, they are using what the U.S. currency is,” Dr. Ellis explained. Using a foreign currency is a temporary fix. Since different countries have different economic systems and ways that they operate, this method fails to be effective long term.
  2. Inflation-adjusted payments – Dr. Ellis also pointed out that sometimes government payments, like Social Security, undergo adjustment for inflation. Many employers also adjust wages based on inflation. These policies do not decrease inflation, but they increase the amount of money people have, increasing their purchasing power.

Permanent solutions to high inflation require drastic changes to fiscal and monetary policy. Political instability, dependence on foreign nations and unpopular side effects are some of the many reasons countries struggle to curb inflation. However, nations can recover from hyperinflation. One of the most well-known examples of this is Germany after World War I. For 16 months, Germany’s prices quadrupled every month. Now, Germany maintains a yearly inflation rate of just under 2%.

– Jillian Reese
Photo: Flickr

Women in EgyptEgypt has a long way to go when it comes to equality for women in nearly any aspect of life. According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report (pg. 149), women in Egypt consist of just 26% of the labor force. Their literacy rate is similarly low at 65%. This predisposes girls and women to life in poverty, especially if they are unmarried. The report ranks Egypt 134 out of 153 countries based on the disparities in gender gaps.

Women in Egypt Experience Inequality

The country’s traditional society not only allows for this inequality, but encourages it. Human Rights Watch reported that female social media influencers were targeted and jailed by their own government for “undermining values.” For example, in April 2020, Hanin Hossum, 20, was arrested for “indecent” photos and videos of her singing and dancing fully-clothed. The Prosecutor’s primary evidence to charge Hossum: suggesting to her women followers that they should earn money posting videos on Likee, an app similar to TikTok. Cairo’s Economic Court sentenced her to two years in prison. It also charged her 300,000 Egyptian Pounds, the near-equivalent of $19,000.

Women in Egypt must also worry about walking down the street. For example, Arab Barometer’s 2019 survey showed that 90% of women aged 18 to 29 experienced some form of sexual harassment in a twelve-month period. Cairo was ranked the most dangerous city for women in a 2017 Thomson-Reuters Survey, in addition to being third-worst when it came to sexual violence.

With all these problems, several non-profit organizations have stepped in to empower women in Egypt.

HarassMap

Founded in 2010 by four local women’s rights activists, HarassMap is a non-profit volunteer organization with a goal to end sexual harassment and foster a zero-tolerance society in Egypt.

The initiative’s website displays a world map dotted with reports of sexual harassment made by anonymous volunteers who are encouraged to intervene on the survivor’s behalf if possible. Other activities include educating others on the myths surrounding harassment through film and literature and conducting studies based on the data collected. Along with normalizing public discourse on the subject, HarassMap has influenced policies in Egypt as well. Due to the organization’s efforts, Cairo University adopted its first anti-sexual harassment law in 2014. It influenced Uber Cairo to tighten its harassment policies, making the company a safer alternative to city taxis.

HarassMap has even assisted the development of other tracking websites in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

USAID

The U.S. Agency for International Development is an independent government agency that has focused on committing resources towards eliminating poverty and inequality around the world since 1961.

The USAID works directly with the Egyptian government to address the gender gap and empower women living there. The agency awarded scholarships for Master’s degrees in STEM-based fields through the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative. As of 2014, USAID granted over 600 scholarships to STEM-focused undergraduate and graduate women as well. Its programs have also provided pathways for women to launch businesses and enter male-dominated industries like agribusiness.

USAID influenced policy, starting with its help drafting a 2010 framework for Egypt’s National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women. In coordination with NGOs, the agency worked to influence Egypt to regard sexual harassment as a crime in 2014. In October 2020, USAID committed to providing Egypt with $28.2 million to support economic governance and women’s empowerment.

ADEW

The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW) was first formed in 1987 with the expressed purpose of serving Egypt’s female heads of households and their families with regard to economic and social standing. ADEW specifically focuses on impoverished communities in cities, towns and villages.

It utilizes a wide variety of projects in the areas of health, employment, law awareness, education, financial assistance and more. One such initiative is the Micro-Credit Program, which provides small loans to women to start their own businesses. Through peer lending, groups of women guarantee their own loans without being forced to depend on a male guarantor. The program has yielded great success, boasting a loan repayment rate of 99%. ADEW has helped 500,000 individuals in its 33 years of fieldwork.

Women in Egypt often struggle to live dignified lives. There are limitations imposed by both the government and by society at large with regards to financial stability, privacy or even the freedom to walk down a street without being harassed. However, with the increase in awareness and activism surrounding women’s empowerment, life in Egypt may soon change.

Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Social and Economic Mobility
Social and economic mobility in a developing country becomes possible by examining the socio-economic inequalities that exist within a country due to the improved mobility of other social classes. This is a noticeable issue in South Korea amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of revenue due to forced closures out of precaution and safety has impacted South Korea’s entrepreneurial workforce. Business owners who share the same sentiment have expressed that their government has been short on loans to cover business expenses. They also mentioned their preference toward establishing a tax cut. Additionally, the resulting dependence on technology for social-distancing purposes has further divided social classes and vulnerable groups like the elderly in South Korea. Fortunately, increased investment and trade have strengthened South Korea’s social and economic mobility amid COVID-19.

Elderly and Technological Advancements

One of the main issues in socio-economic inequalities is the wealth gap, which the pandemic has exacerbated. There are individuals who have been able to maintain a steady income while working from home. However, others have had to sell their assets to repay loans in order to keep their businesses thriving. The prospect of job security is low since workplaces have frequently turned workers away from their work, causing a hindrance in receiving income.

The pandemic has particularly impacted the elderly due to the shift in technology to follow the no-contact rule of the social guidelines. A 61-year-old experienced a QR code for the first time at a bakery, not knowing what it represented or how it became the new “normal” in facilitating a transaction in a business.

Future Economical Advancements

The new issues that have surfaced because of the pandemic have opened a potential source of income. This source boosted the South Korean economy in regard to social and economic mobility. The job market in South Korea is focusing on advanced technological fields, specifically working on the future of the car industry, as well as the low-carbon emission industry.

According to the 2020 GDP forecast, South Korea is less likely to take an economic hit compared to other countries. This is great news, specifically for the industries focused on bringing in revenue for the country.

North and South Korea Inter-Economy

Social and economic mobility is prevalent with the help of companies such as KPMG International. Recently, an investment guide has emerged to help with the economic cooperation of both North and South Korea. It aims to bring in more job opportunities to both countries and provide South Korea with information on the investment environment in North Korea. The president of South Korea mentioned that revenue would expand by combining both North and South Korea through “trade and infrastructure links.”

South Korea’s Trade Business

South Korea’s revenue will increase due to the new trading shift. The country also experienced an economic boom with the help of its exports and manufacturing activities. South Korea’s exports have grown by 4% in 2020 because of the high demand for technology. Exports are significant to South Korea’s economy, especially with strict lockdowns during the pandemic to help control the virus. With the increased investment plans and trade, hope exists that South Korea can continue to diminish socio-economic inequalities amid COVID-19, helping to advance its social and economic mobility efforts.

Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in PanamaPanama — the narrow bridge of land that connects North and South America. The tropical country is renowned for its natural beauty and diverse plant, animal and bird life. Yet, all that sparkles, is not glitter. Panama’s economy is highly unequal and there’s a wide gap between the rich and the poor. Poverty in Panama is as much of a prominent feature of the country as its landscape.

Rural Poverty

Ethnicity and geographic location determine one’s poverty in Panama. Panamanians who live in rural areas do not have adequate access to resources, such as hospitals and schools. This is a result of the lack of professional doctors and teachers or mentors in rural areas.

Panama is the second worst in income distribution in Latin America, which leads to sector-specific poverty. Unpaved roads in the country make it are especially difficult for farmers. Accordingly, they do not end up selling their crops in big cities where they can earn a large income. Thus, begins a chain of poverty in Panama that devolves into poor hygiene, sanitation, child labor, malnutrition and eventually yet another generation submerged in loans.

Child Poverty

About 27.7% of Panamanian children live in poverty and 12% experience malnutrition. Failure to register children at birth causes many to go without citizenship. Thus, the government is ignorant on its exact child population and cannot justly allocate money to the “nonexistent.”

Around 15% of children are victims to early marriages. The legal age to marry in Panama is 16 for boys and 14 for girls. However, most of these children are not registered with the government, so kids are married off at ages as young as 10.

The minimum age for working in Panama is 15. Even with this being the case, 5-year-old children can be seen carrying bricks in construction sites. Severally underage workers — child laborers — even appear in big cities like Panama City and Tocumen. To earn a few dollars more, families force their children to work. However, it’s at the cost of children being mentally and physically exploited.

The Rays of Light

Panama has done much to fight poverty. From 2015-2017, poverty in Panama declined from 15.4%  to 14.1%. In the same time span, extreme poverty decreased from 6.7% to 6.6%. Additionally, there are currently multiple NGOs working to help poverty and other problems in Panama. One is to Educate Women in Panama. The organization’s goal is to help lower poverty in the future through more women and girls getting their education. Education will help these women find jobs easier, lowering the poverty rate.

The country, with aid of NGOs and the government, has the potential to bridge the income inequality gap and make itself an equitable society for all, regardless of class, region or ethnicity. Panama can be as bright and colorful as its beaches for not only the urbanites but also the rurals.

Riddhi Bhattacharya
Photo: Flickr

How the Caste System Affects People in IndiaIndia has its own form of racism. We refer to it as “Casteism.” India’s caste system was formed based on socio-economic factors or ideological factors. In 1500 BC, Aryans arrived in India and disregarded local groups. They formed three groups, namely warriors, priests and farmers. Warriors and priests fought for the leadership role. Out of which priests emerged victorious to supreme their power over India. In the end, farmers, craftsmen, warriors and locals were led by Brahamans or priests. Like many societies, a son will inherit his father’s job in India. This inheritance continued for a long time and it ended up as a community, jaati or a caste in the Indian system. Brahamans encouraged socialism only within their respective groups that created inequality in this diversified country. A caste looking down on the other is a common occurrence and it is publicly accepted. People who clean drainage are aligned to the “Scheduled Caste” and they are termed as “untouchables.” Those who live in forests as tribes are aligned to “Scheduled Tribes.”

The caste system is a significant social system in India. One’s caste affects their options regarding marriage, employment, education, economies, mobility, housing and politics, among others.

How the Caste System Affects Citizens

  • Marriages: Most Indian marriages are arranged by parents. Several factors were considered by them for finding the ideal spouse. Out of which, one’s caste is a significant factor. People do not want their son or their daughter to marry a person from another caste. Just like the word “untouchables” suggests, a Brahmin would never marry a person from an SC or ST caste.
  • Education: Public universities have caste-based reservations for students coming from underprivileged backgrounds. A person from this background can secure a seat in a top tier college with par or below par academic scores based on reservation. However, impoverished Brahmans are disadvantaged with this reservation system. For example, a Brahman has to score 100% on certain exams to get into a top tier university. While the lower caste applicant can even bypass the exam for getting a seat in the university.
  • Jobs: A significant amount of public sector jobs are allocated based on caste reservation. Impoverished communities from Brahman backgrounds get affected significantly because of this reservation.

It is just as Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar said, “Caste will stand in your way for political and economical reforms within India.” According to him, eradicating such a strong foundation is extremely difficult yet doable. However, the path to reform has many roadblocks in it.

How Can the Government Solve this Caste Issue?

The government has come to the conclusion that segregating people across castes and aligning them to a particular caste by offering special quotas will solve the caste problem. In fact, the Indian government provides incentives to people of lower caste to make them feel better about their poor inheritance. However, the caste system still lurks in the minds of Indian citizens.
According to Ambedkar, the annihilation of the caste system can be done by supporting these actions:

  1. Intercaste Marriage: Cross caste marriage can possibly eradicate the upper and lower caste mentality. Around 5% of marriages in India are between different castes. Around a quarter of the population on matrimonial sites are open to intercaste marriages at the moment.
  2. Intercaste Dining: Addressing caste-related issues at large public events can contribute to diversity and inclusion efforts. Several dining events were organized by local state governments to incorporate people from all around the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political agenda includes caste elimination from the country. India has improved to some extent in this 21st century on several fronts. However, there is still lots of room to grow. The Indian government has an effective plan of bringing people together from all walks of life. Yet, certain inherent ideological contradictions will stand in the way while solving this issue. Regardless, that should not deter our hope in escaping the shackles of casteism.

– Narasinga Moorthy
Photo: Flickr

Infertility in Developing CountriesAn estimated 49 million to 180 million couples  suffer from infertility, globally. Moreover, the majority of those affected live in developing countries. The most common cause of infertility in developing countries are STDs and pregnancy-related infections. With the focus of most poverty reduction efforts aimed at lowering overpopulation the health concern of infertility is often overlooked. Women who suffer from infertility in developing countries often face ostracization and struggle to get the healthcare they need. Thankfully, there has been an emergence of programs to help these women.

Causes of Infertility in Developing Countries

The most common cause of infertility in developing countries is untreated STDs since treatment is often unavailable or costly. In Africa, more than 85% of women’s infertility resulted from an untreated infection compared with 33% of women, worldwide. The most common STDs involved are chlamydia and gonorrhea. Other risk factors increasing the chance of infertility are poor education, poverty, negative cultural attitudes towards women. Finally, a lack of access to contraception is a huge risk factor.

The Sexist Effects of Infertility

The burden of infertility in developing countries falls on women although male infertility is the cause in 50% of cases. When a woman is unable to conceive, her husband will often divorce her or take another wife if permitted in the country. Women who are deemed infertile also suffer discrimination from the community.  In some cultures, society views these women as having a “bad eye”, which can pass on infertility from person to person. This results in infertile women missing important events such as weddings and other social gatherings since they receive no invitations.

Combating Infertility in Developing Countries

A campaign initiated by the Merck Foundation, “Merck More than a Mother,” seeks to heighten access to education and change the stigma for infertile women in developing countries. The program has provided training for fertility specialists and endocrinologists with more than 109 specialists trained since 2016.

Also, the foundation has created music videos, songs and fashion shows in African countries to send the message that women should not be blamed if they cannot have a child. More than 14 songs have featured singers from Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

Women Deliver

In 2016, women’s infertility was a topic of discussion at Women Deliver — the world’s largest women’s health and rights conference held in Copenhagen. There were more than 5,500 conference participants, including government ministers, policymakers, business leaders, NGOs and activists. The WHO brought the topic to the conference, with the Director of Reproductive Health and Research giving a speech about the detrimental effects of infertility.

The WHO and Women Deliver, along with the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have partnered to increase global advocacy for infertility in developing countries. The partnership aims to achieve this through advancing education and research in the field.

Hopefully, with these increased advocacy efforts, the world will start to recognize the health concern of infertility in developing countries.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women's Rights in IndonesiaWomen in Indonesia are working hard and fighting for their rights. Recently, Indonesia ranked second in the most dangerous countries for women in the Asia-Pacific. Violence against women can happen anywhere from the slums to the richest neighborhoods. However, this has not stopped the women of Indonesia, as they continue to march — closing the inequality gap. Importantly, women’s rights in Indonesia have fierce advocates.

Child Marriage

Concerning Indonesian girls, 14% marry before their 18th birthday. This is in part, due to their society’s view of women and discriminating legislation. The Marriage Law, established in 1974, states that parents can marry their daughter off as young as 16 years old. In April of 2018, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, came forth and said that he was drafting a presidential decree that would ban child marriage. However, there has been no timeline set for the decree to be passed. Child marriage indirectly takes away a girl’s future and exposes them to a greater chance of being a victim of sexual violence. This can be directly related to the percentage of women in the workforce (51%) and the percentage of women experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime (33%).

UN Women

U.N. Women give girls and women in Indonesia the voice they deserve. This organization advocates for an end to the violence wrought against women while actively pursuing partners to respond to it. U.N. Women do so much for the women of Indonesia, from giving them access to entrepreneurship classes to directly fighting the government. This, in an attempt to hold authorities accountable for women’s rights in Indonesia. In the mix of their many programs, there is WeLearn and WeEmpower Asia, which both give women resources to integrate into the workforce. WeLearn’s goal is to improve equal learning opportunities and empower women to start their businesses. Where WeLearn encourages women into the workplace, WeEmpower Asia aims to achieve a business environment that empowers women and urges companies to adopt the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Women Making Progress

Women’s rights in Indonesia have come a long way. Women in Indonesia now march freely in their opposition to the rights they have (or lack, rather). As backstory, the reason that this big (yet slowly closing gender gap) exists is because of the country’s second dictator, Suharto. He ruled for 32 years and widened the gap exorbitantly. However, most notably, he put the mindset in place that women and men garner different treatments. Now, the gap is closing and for the better. In political parties, 30% of the cabinet must be comprised of women. Further, as mentioned above, President Joko Widodo has the highest number of women in his cabinet in the country’s history. Now, those women in the cabinet are pushing for bills like the Sexual Violence Bill, to be passed.

Thanks to Suharto, the women in Indonesia have a lot of work to do. Fighting for women’s rights is not an easy battle. As for the support of men, Gitika Bhardwaj says that “I do think there are a large number of men who are supporting gender equality in the country but unfortunately there have not been enough high-level public awareness campaigns.” In the next few years, these women leaders hope to see the inequality gap as not a tangible thing, but a thing of the past.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Flickr