HIV/AIDS is profoundly concentrated in areas of extreme poverty like sub Saharan Africa. In order to help combat the spread of HIV it is important to understand how poverty and HIV are linked. While well-known factors like lack of education and stigma contributing to the epidemic, sexual risk is also an important factor to consider. Noel Dzimnenani Mbirimtengerenji studies poverty and HIV/AIDS in sub Saharan Africa, and found that sexual trade was an important predictor of HIV contraction in the area.

The situation is particularly bad for women. When women and their families are living in extreme poverty and suffering from food insecurity women may engage in risky coping mechanisms in order to feed themselves and their children. These coping mechanisms include informal sexual transactions and formal sex work. Sexual transactions occur when sex is within the confines of a marriage or a relationship. Women may trade sex for food and shelter or stay in violent relationship in order to maintain economic stability. It can also mean formal sex work, also known as prostitution. Most sex workers in Africa work individually rather than for a “pimp”. They often rent a room and receive immediate payment. Both of these situations put women at increased risk for contracting HIV.

Dzimnenani Mbirimtengerenji remarks “Poverty does seem to be the crucial factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS through sexual trade. The extreme poverty compels most of the young women to indulge into risky behavior that can easily bring money and resources for survival”.

The cultural subordination of women in Sub Saharan Africa means that women often do not have the power to demand condom use when they are having sex with men. Women are more concerned with the immediate survival of their families than they are with the possible threat of infection. Men are often also willing to pay more money if he doesn’t have to use a condom.

Most HIV prevention efforts are concentrated on providing women sexual education and access to health care services. However if women are not using condoms due to cultural and economic gender inequalities, education about condom use will fail to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Information and healthcare needs to be combined with initiatives that promote gender equity and women’s empowerment. Condition cash transfer programs, microcredit, and career training can empower women and give them more resources. Giving girls a formal education will also help prevent them from contracting HIV/AIDS as they understand how the infection is transmitted and have more power in their relationships.

– Lisa Toole



With over 800 distinct languages and thousands of unique traditional cultures and traditions, Papua New Guinea represents a heterogeneous culture. As Papua New Guinea embraces the global community, violation to women and girls human rights has increased.

Papua New Guinea is the world’s second largest island. It is part of the Australian continent and was once controlled by Australia. 37 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and women and girls make up half the population of over seven million in Papua New Guinea.

Women and girls in Papua New Guinea are facing gender based violence and discrimination, specifically in the form of domestic violence, societal and institutional sexual harassment, sorcery-related killings, denial of opportunities for advancement of women and girls in society and practices such as polygamy and bride price payment for women and girls.

It is estimated that two-thirds of women are victims of violence by their husbands or partners.

Many policies and programs are in place to address these injustices suffered by most women and girls throughout Papua New Guinea. Some examples include instituting a zero tolerance for gender-based violence, providing victim services and addressing women and girls affected by HIV/AIDS.

Additionally, the United Nations’ program for women in Papua New Guinea plans to introduce women-only buses on the streets of Port Moresby, the capital and largest city of Papua New Guinea.

A recent U.N. Women’s report indicated that 87 percent of women are sexually harassed on public transport in Port Moresby. Women and girls rely on the use of public transportation to meet their basic needs, as they buy and sell items at the markets. However, they are fearful of using the buses.

The U.N. is currently in the planning stages of the women-only buses program. If they find success in Port Moresby they will expand the program into other provinces facing the same issues.

Caressa Kruth

Sources: Radio Australia, CIA Factbook, UN
Photo: Eric Lafforgue

As teen pregnancies continue to decline in the United States, developing nations continue to see a disturbing trend of pregnancies in underage girls. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF,) nearly 19 percent of girls under the age of 18 will become pregnant this year and nearly 20 percent of them will occur in girls under age 14.

The greatest concentration of underage births occur in regions where women are seen as having less power than their male counterparts which is the case in West African, Latin American and Southern Asian countries.

Often girls become pregnant as a result of cultural traditions or economic hardship. For example, impoverished families may sell daughters for financial profit in areas where food and basic necessities are scarce.

Arranged marriages are still rampant in many cultures around the world and parents welcome the chance to lessen the financial burden of an additional child to feed. However, girls are often faced with physical or sexual abuse in addition to limited access to education and healthcare during their forced marriages.

UNICEF reports nearly 70,000 girls die from pregnancy and childbirth complications each year. In fact, pregnancies under the age of 15 significantly raise the risk of seizures, anemia, uterine infections and other life-threatening ailments.

In September, an eight year old Yemen girl named Rawan died from injuries suffered during her wedding night with her 40 year old ‘husband.’ She was rushed to a nearby clinic due to uterine rupture and bleeding, but was unable to be saved. Officials denied the event occurred, but local human rights activists are criticizing the cover-up. Despite efforts by human rights activists, over 50 percent of Yemen girls continue to marry before their eighteenth birthday due to societal and familial pressures.

The unfortunate trend continues to affect the lives of young women in India like Komol, whose plan to attend college was derailed when she became pregnant by her husband at age 16. The UNPF defines situations like Komol’s as human rights issues since girls are denied the freedom of governing their reproductive rights. UNPF executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin argues that such practices destroy the future of millions of girls.

As girls become pregnant, their severely limited access to education become non-existent as they become confined to running households. Moreover, other influences such as lack of reproductive healthcare, sexual abuse and poverty also contribute to underage pregnancies.

The extent of economic hardship and access to education are clearly related. In response to the practice, programs in Kenya and Guatemala have recently invested in raising girls’ access to education in order to decrease child pregnancies.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: CNN, Reuters
Photo: National Geographic

In September 2013, a YouTube video entitled “It’s Your Fault” went viral. The video, posted by All Indian Bakchod, satirized the idea that women are to blame for rape and sexual assault. In the video, a smiling woman denounces the female gender for being provocative by skirts, shorts, raincoats, astronaut sits and even burkas. Though the video discusses a hot button issue, it utilizes comedy to do so. G Khamba, one of the authors of the video, aimed to use comedy and humor as a way to prevent people from “getting put off when you’re talking about a social issue in a preachy or top-down way.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also implemented comedy into serious world issues this year. Their Stand Up Planet: The Revolution Will Be Hilarious initiative is a documentary of comedians from around the world talking about policy issues in a humorous manner. The purpose of implementing comedy in global issues is to help humanize the subjects of development in a unique way. By laughing with these people, individuals from more developed countries are able to empathize better and feel less tension. Emily Barker of The Guardian stated “comedy makes us face our fears, break through taboos, and say and hear things that people are trying to hide.”

Many of the issues that people across the globe face today are disheartening and painful to hear about. Comedy is a way to lighten the mood when discussing these issues while raising awareness to help solve the problems.

Lienna Feleke- Eshete

Sources: YouTubeStand Up PlanetThe Guardian
Photo: Al India Bakchod

In March of 2013 the UN Human Rights Council launched a year-long investigation into the human rights violations in North Korea.  Amnesty International calls this a positive step in addressing the situation in North Korea.  The investigation is still ongoing, but preliminary reports show the country is in dire need of aid.  The head of the commission says the report will address “large-scale patterns of systematic and gross human rights violations.”

“Torture, sexual violence, denial of food, arbitrary detention, abduction of foreigners, the return of refugees to certain imprisonment” and other abuses were cited by the commission members.  Committee members have heard testimony from witnesses, defectors, and survivors of the North Korean regime.

The council is looking into at least four prison camps that appear to be operational.  This number is down from six camps in previous years.  The shutdown of these camps raises questions about where the prisoners have gone.  These camps contain prisoners who may not have broken any laws.  In North Korea there is a practice of inter-generational guilt—imprisoning the family members of those accused of crimes.  People in prison camps may never know why they are held there.

Escaping North Korea is nearly impossible.  The Demilitarized Zone is riddled with IEDs and the guards maintain a shoot-on-sight policy.  For those that overcome the obstacles set up by the North Korean government, a meager existence awaits.  Defectors live in constant fear of deportation back to North Korea.  Many women have reported selling themselves to Chinese men to avoid returning to North Korea.  This past year there has been a considerable drop in the number of asylum seekers from North Korea to South Korea.

– Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Amnesty: Human Rights Crisis, Amnesty: North Korea, VOA News
Photo: Huffington Post

According to a report released by the United Nations, 32 percent of Kenyan girls younger than 18 have experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment. That number may even be higher due to the large number of unreported rapes, for fear of stigma, according to CNN.

A 16-year-old girl the media has nicknamed “Liz” was allegedly gang-raped and then left for dead in a sewage ditch earlier this year, according to CNN. After contacting the police, Liz named her attackers and was then forced to recount what happened to her in front of the men. Due to fear, Liz failed to mention the rape in front of her alleged attackers, but mentioned it to her mother, according to the Wall Street Journal.

According to an article published in Kenya’s Daily Nation, the attackers were sentenced to paying for some pain medication for Liz and cutting the grass outside of the police station.

After the case broke on social media, Kenyans as well as people all across the world were outraged. It didn’t take long for the hashtags #JusticeforLiz and #standwithLiz to be trending world wide, according to CNN.

More than 300 people marched on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya in protest of this case; also in tow was a petition calling for the arrest of the alleged attackers with over 1.3 million signatures, according to The Wall Street Journal. The marchers planned on walking from Uhru Park’s Freedom Corner and end at the Jogoo House Office of Inspector General Police to deliver the petition to Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo. The protesters also had with them a clothesline with ladies’ underwear.

“This is yet another example of blatant impunity and repeated noncompliance by the police and other government authorities. Rape and other gender crimes have consistently been treated as lesser crimes–this is unacceptable,” the Kenyan Coalition on Violence Against Women said in a statement to CNN.

The protest, which was dubbed “Keep Off Our Panties,” was organized by an organization that fights to end violence against women known as Africaunite, the Coalition on Violence Against Women, Africa Women’s Communication and Development Network, as well as Avaaz, according to The Daily Kenyan.

“The organizations have resulted to a radical measure to call for the attention of the State and the need for the State to ensure action in addressing rape and specifically amplify the call for arrest of perpetrators of the gang rape of the 16 year old Liz,’’ Saida Ali, executive director for the Coalition on Violence Against Women, said to the newspaper.

Organizations are also coming together to donate money to help pay for Liz’s hospital bills, according to CNN.

“Liz is sadly not the first nor the last victim of rape, but her case has to be the moment when we all rally together, express our solidarity, our outrage and demand public accountability and an end to the culture of violence and impunity that has become the norm,” Nebila Abdulmelik, a spokesperson at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network told CNN. “It is an absolute failure of the entire system and an absolutely shameful response by Kenya’s police,” she added.

Currently, the suspects’ whereabouts are unknown and certain reports have leaked that they have crossed the border into Uganda, according to an article published on CNN. However, police won’t let border crossing hinder their investigation.

“We are going to make sure that her case is attended to with the seriousness that is deserved,” said William Thwere, chief of staff for Kenya police. “And that we are making all efforts to make sure that the culprits are arrested wherever they are.”

Molly Mahannah

Sources: CNN, Nation
Photo: Daily News

As the crisis in Syria continues to unfold, President Bashar al-Assad, and the Syrian regime revealed their ambidexterity in murdering rebels and innocent civilians. Blocking humanitarian efforts to deliver food and supplies to villages and towns, Assad turns to the medieval tactics of using food as a weapon by starving his opponents to death.

As rape, starvation, and militaristic destruction continues to spread throughout the devastated region like wildfire, Assad officials and figures of local authoritya have imposed a virulent denial of the most basic of human needs.

From the town of Moadhamiya, for example, ravaged by sarin gas, heavy artillery and bombs, military checkpoints have turned away all aid trucks. A pro-regime fighter was quoted by the Wall Street Journal saying, “We won’t allow them to be nourished in order to kill us. Let them starve for a bit, surrender, and then be put on trial.”

The Syrian refugees and those trapped by Assad’s regime issue a cry for help from the international community. Aid must not only be sent, but to be put in the hands of those who are in dire need of it.

For thousands of innocent Syrians, their fate depends on heroic individuals braving sniper fire and dodging other military aggressions to deliver aid. More must be done by the international community.

The United States has taken up the issues with precedential urgency, totaling $2 billion in humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees and opponents to Assad’s regime. Moreover, President Obama has promised $339 million more in U.S. aid.

In London on October 22, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned such tactics in a press release following the London 11 Ministerial Meeting, “Assad continues to deploy ballistic missiles and other conventional weapons, and he’s using his air force to rain down terror on the people of his country. Innocent men, women, and children are starving…while the Assad regime continues to block humanitarian access.”

For the fate of Syria and its people, the world can no longer afford complacency nor rely on the abstract pressures of letters and phone calls. Aid, medical care, and food must be delivered to those people in need, and aid workers must be given enough political brunt in order to carry out their jobs.

– Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: State, Foreign Policy, Full Comment, Newser

Slavery is a global problem that is currently on the rise. It is defined as “owning another person such as child marriages and human trafficking among others” says Reuters. Recent studies have shown that out of the world’s 7 billion people, 30 million people are living in slavery across the globe. These studies have also shown that most of these 30 million people are women and children who fall victims to sex trafficking networks. According to surveys held by the Walk Free Foundation, 10 countries out of 162 accounted for more than 70% of the world’s slavery. The 10 countries which make up more than 70% of the world’s slavery include Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as rising nations such as China and India.

However, the West African Nation of Mauritania is known to have one of the highest proportion of slaves in the world.  Reports estimate that there are “around 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people in Mauritania” ( That is around 10% of the population in that nation alone. Despite this, reports have found that there is much higher amounts of enslaved people in other nations.   According to, India has been reported to have the most slaves. India is known to  have between 13.3 million and 13.7 million enslaved people. China is also not far behind. China’s enslaved population ranges from 2.8 to 3.1 million people. Pakistan recently moved up to third place on the list due to it’s large enslaved population which ranges from 2 to 2.2 million ( In these nations, slaves face poor working conditions, extreme gender differences, and extreme poverty (

Despite these worrisome reports, other nations have also reported a decrease in slavery. Britain and Ireland have been ranked as the “nations with the fewest slaves” ( UN officials have opted to use the cases of Ireland and Britain as models to provide a solution for slavery. Unfortunately, the United States is not ranked in the list of nations with the least amount of slavery. According to UN reports, the United States has been ranked as the 134th nation with the least amount of slavery. Hopefully,  these new studies will help eradicate slavery on a global scale.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: NPR, CNN, Reuters

Ranked the third largest source of slaves in the Western Hemisphere behind Mexico and Colombia, Brazil‘s human trafficking situation is grim. In 2009, the Brazilian Federal Police estimated that 250,000 to 400,000 children are exploited by domestic prostitution. An estimated 75,000 Brazilian women and girls work as prostitutes throughout neighboring South American countries, the United States, and Europe–most of them are trafficked. Additionally, around 25,000 Brazilians, mainly rural workers, are enslaved domestically each year.

As Brazil emerges as an economic powerhouse, it’s human trafficking situation only worsens. More migrants from neighboring countries and as far away as Asia are increasingly attracted to the promise of jobs in Brazil. Many of them are duped by traffickers into exploitative work situations. Preparations for the upcoming Olympic games and World Cup are significantly driving up labor needs and fueling exploitative labor practices. Just last month, an investigation into the expansion of Sao Paulo international airport discovered migrant workers in “slave-like” conditions.

Fortunately, this has not gone unnoticed by the Brazilian government. The government announced its first anti-trafficking plan in 2008 and introduced its second this year. The new plan includes tougher border controls, a revision of the penal code, and the training of 400 staff for victim services.

However, many are skeptical that the government’s funding and efforts will be enough. Enter: the Slavery, No Way! campaign. Since its launch in 2004, the Slavery, No Way! campaign has trained and provided on-going support to more than 2,200 educators and community group leaders, ultimately reaching over 60,000 people. Together with partners Reporter Brasil, Pastoral Land Commission, and Free the Slaves, Slavery, No Way! works to “enable communities to prevent trafficking of workers into slavery.”

In response to teachers’ asking for innovative approaches to engage children on the issue, Slavery, No Way! created a board game to teach children about trafficking and how to address it. In order to win, players must utilize dialogue, strategic thinking, and reason to end slavery outbreaks. The game emphasizes cooperation over competition and entails three lines of action: preventing vulnerable populations of Brazilians from becoming enslaved, aiding those already enslaved, and combating the root causes of slavery. Characters in the game include justice officials, activists, slaves, and traffickers.

Reports of human trafficking in Brazil have risen 1,500% in 2013 alone, according to government figures. Such a dramatic rise in reporting suggests that campaigns like Slavery, No Way! are bearing fruit in confronting Brazil’s stark slavery issue.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: Free the Slaves, U.S. State Department, In Sight Crime, BBC, UNODC, Slavery, No Way!

“I am 17 years old. In the relief camp, when I was sleeping in the night, I was raped. I did not know what had happened to me. I do not know the face of the man. I had heavy bleeding…now I see some disturbances in my body and when my mother took me to the hospital, I was told I am pregnant”.

This is what a young girl from Tamul Nadu in India experienced after a tsunami devastated her hometown. Like her, millions of other girls in developing countries are the hardest hit by disasters in comparison with other segments of the population. Not only do women receive non-preferential treatment during emergency rescues, but they are also at a greater risk of sexual exploitation, child marriage, and being deprived of an education.

According to a report released by Plan International, a child rights NGO, girls fare far worse during disasters than the rest of the population. Given their gender, age, and humanitarian status, girls and women experience a triple disadvantage during crises since pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities are exacerbated.

In this way, a 14-year-old girl in a slum will experience a flood or an earthquake differently from a 14-year-old boy in the same situation. Such is the case of a son and a daughter who were swept away by a tidal surge in a cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1991. The father of these children is cited as saying that he could not hold on to both and had to release his daughter because “his son had to carry on the family line.”

In other cases, adolescent girls and women are driven to sell sex because they have no alternative to feed themselves and their children. “I don’t work. I don’t have parents to help. So, for around a dollar, you have sex just for that…it’s not good to do prostitution, but what can you do?” said Gheslaine, who lives in a camp in Croix-de-Bouquets in Haiti.

Disasters also lead to an increase in child marriages. Research in Somaliland, Bangladesh and Niger found that child marriage is often used as a community response to crises in which girls are sold for income and food. In Niger, girls are taken out of school, wed and impregnated at the age of 13. Many of them suffer from fistula (a rupture between the birth canal and bladder caused by prolonged obstructed labor) and die.

One of the least prioritized issues during disasters is facilitating education for girls. Although most families would rather continue education for boys rather than girls, girls who receive an education are more likely to be healthy, marry later in life, and survive into adulthood. In fact, it is one of the most important determinants of practically all desired outcomes related to the Millennium Development Goals, from poverty reduction, to reduced infant mortality rates, and to enhanced democratization.

Despite the evidence that confirms that the empowerment of women has a transformative power in all types of societies, this study reveals that the rights to protection, education, and participation are still not granted to most women and girls, especially during crises.

– Nayomi Chibani
Feature Writer

Sources: IRIN, Plan International
Photo: UNHCR