human trafficking during COVID-19The United Nations has warned of a recent increase in human trafficking taking place through social media. According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) perpetrators are approaching victims on social media and messaging platforms. Experts correlate this surge of online human trafficking with the lockdowns governments have implemented to combat COVID-19 that has left millions of people jobless and struggling to survive.

The Human Trafficking Crisis

Human trafficking has long posed a threat to the safety and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The U.N. has stated that between 2017 and 2018, approximately 75,000 trafficking victims were identified in 110 countries. During this period, 70% of victims were female, 77% of whom were then trafficked for sexual exploitation and 14% for forced labor.

There are several factors that make a person more vulnerable to human trafficking. The most pressing factor, however, is financial struggles or poverty.

Online Human Trafficking and COVID-19

Human trafficking is on the rise as millions are made desperate by the economic consequences of COVID-19. People employed in informal sectors have been particularly impacted by layoffs, while earlier this year migrant workers were left stranded far from home when borders closed and travel bans were implemented. According to the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic will result in global extreme poverty increasing for the first time in two decades, pushing as many as 150 million people into poverty by 2021.

The impact, however, will be felt the hardest by females. As a result of the pandemic, 47 million more women and girls will be pushed into extreme poverty. Estimates even predict that globally, for every 100 men living in poverty in 2030, there could be as many as 121 women.

Besides  COVID-19’s economic consequences, traffickers have also benefited from the fact that people are spending more time online during lockdowns. While traffickers have usually operated with a great deal of impunity, the internet allows for easier access to vulnerable populations as well as the benefits of anonymity and false identities.

Addressing Human Trafficking During COVID-19

Human trafficking is a global problem but despite the scale of the threat and the advantages that perpetrators have during COVID-19, governments can take action to protect vulnerable groups, especially women and girls.

In an appeal to social media and messaging companies, CEDAW recommended that safety controls be set up to reduce the risk of exposing women and girls to trafficking and sexual exploitation. CEDAW has called upon online platforms to use data, artificial intelligence and analytics to identify possible patterns that could lead to trafficking. It also urges platforms to “put in place the appropriate governance structure and procedures which will allow them to be reactive in their response and provide the relevant level of information to the concerned authorities.”

CEDAW also urged governments to resolve the underlying issues that allow human trafficking to flourish. These issues include sex-based discrimination, economic insecurity, conflict and unsafe conditions for migrants and displaced people.

In addition, the United Nations has urged national governments to ensure that services for trafficking victims and survivors stay open during lockdowns and that the rights of migrant and informal workers are protected by labor laws. Finally, investments in programs for women’s economic empowerment are encouraged as a means of mitigating the disproportionate economic impacts on females. With the appropriate measures in place, human trafficking during COVID-19 can be prevented.

– Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Combat Poverty in RomaniaIn an effort to combat the nation’s longstanding battle with poverty, the Romanian Government passed 47 measures in 2015/16 to combat poverty in Romania through to 2020.

Poverty in Romania

At the time these measures passed into law, 40.2% of Romanian people were at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Furthermore, absolute poverty in Romania increased from 23.4% in 2008 to 27.7% in 2012. Low educational attainment, intergenerational transmission of poverty and lack of inter-regional mobility all contribute to the integral causes of poverty in Romania.

However, the Romanian government set a substantial and significant new precedent on how the nation combats poverty by adopting The National Strategy and Strategic Action Plan on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction for 2015-2020. These measures hope to reduce the many causes of poverty in Romania.

Key Measures:

  • Increasing employment rate through labor market activation programs
  • Increasing financial support for low-income individuals
  • Improving social inclusion of marginalized communities
  • Improving the functionality of social services
  • Reducing school drop-out rates
  • Scaling-up of national health programs
  • Integrating social assistance benefits with social services, employment services and other public services.

These measures were an encouraging shift in political focus that revolved around social benefits and a more community-based and integrated approach that generated widespread support. The World Bank supports these measures, commenting that these measures will strongly contribute to narrowing poverty gaps in the country.

Impact of Poverty Reduction Strategy

Since the adoption of these measures, monthly income per person increased by 10% between 2016 and 2017 and by 16% between 2017 and 2018, in part due to the increases in public-sector wages and improved minimum wages and tax cuts. As a result, poverty rates fell from 28.4% in 2014 to 15.8% in 2017.

Currently, the employment rate at 68.8% is approaching the EU 2020 target and is just below the EU average of 72.2%. Additionally, the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU at 4.9%.

Implementation Delays Cause Concern

Although clear steps toward improving Romania’s struggle with poverty have emerged, these measures have received criticism as expectations have determined that many measures could have delayed or minimal results. These concerns were further exacerbated in 2017 when a change in government occurred. The political change delayed implementation and altered the original plan, putting full implementation in jeopardy.

In addition, more legislation is necessary to address the growing condition of the Roma minority group residing in Romania. A whole 78% of Roma are at risk of poverty compared to 35% for non-Roma citizens. Furthermore, 84% of Roma households do not have access to a water source, sewage or electricity. To successfully combat poverty in Romania, the Roma need to be prioritized.

Poverty Reduction Progress

While no single piece of legislation will be the end all be all to combat poverty in Romania, the anti-poverty measures passed in 2015/2016 have shown that a top-down, legislation-focused approach to fighting poverty can lead to progress, poverty reduction and improved social inclusion.

– Andrew Eckas
Photo: Flickr

Cuts Increase PovertyIn November of 2019, amid sanctions that resulted in extreme inflation, the three branches of Iran’s government announced a fuel subsidy cut. Officials raised the price of gasoline to 15,000 rials/liter (0.5 $/gallon) for the first 60 liters of gas purchased in a month.  The subsidy cut was intended to generate money for about 18 million low-income families. This increase, however, was unwelcome and resulted in protests and a rise in oil smuggling. Interestingly, Iran’s poorest citizens engaged in these protests. Although the goal of the cuts was to raise money for Iran’s poor, the reform disproportionately hurt Iran’s poorest citizens and statistics suggest the cuts have actually increased poverty.

Case Study: Subsidy Cuts in Tehran

When measuring how drastically the cut affected Iranians at an individual level, it can be useful to evaluate the importance of cars to Iranians. For this, consider Iran’s capital city, Tehran. Iran’s average household had 3.5 members and Tehran’s population was about 8.7 million at the cut’s announcement, indicating there should have been ~2.5 million households in the city of Tehran. Yet the city deals with four million vehicles and 17.4 million trips each day. At first, these numbers may seem unusually high. However, Tehran has many commuters.

Those coming from outside the city rely on cheap gasoline to hold their city-based jobs. It is cheaper to live outside the city, so the average commuter is relatively poor compared to those living within the city. Consequently, the poor are often the most affected by the fuel subsidy cut.

Cuts Increase Poverty

The Iranian government claimed the increased price of gasoline would generate an extra 300 trillion rials per year for around 18 million families— or $395 per family. However, the extra rials that each low-income family receives per year was overshadowed by the high levels of inflation and the increased cost of living. In short, the extra rials received under the cut have not supplemented the more expensive gas.

However, only highlighting the cut’s effect on those living near large cities would ignore one of the subsidy cut’s greatest consequences— cuts increase poverty near Iran’s borders. Higher gas prices had immense implications for provinces that border other countries such as Sistan and Baluchistan. Oil smuggling serves as a reliable source of income for citizens living in border regions; this occupation is especially popular today due to high unemployment rates. Experts have even estimated that oil smuggling in Iran is a multi-billion dollar business. Iranian citizens living in these areas travel to Pakistan to sell their subsidized fuel for a profit. Therefore, these Iranians saw lower profit margins with the arrival of the subsidy cut.

Alternative Strategies to Combat Poverty

Some experts believe that tax incentives or increasing law enforcement would decrease oil smuggling in Iran. Alternatively, a Brookings study on youth unemployment programs suggests that improving education systems could serve as a better long-run solution to poverty.

The success of an education-based initiative would depend on collaboration between education-focused NGOs and the government of Iran. Increasing investments in education are likely to strengthen the economic resilience of border communities. Additionally, it has the potential to generate employment opportunities and to eliminate oil smuggling by creating higher-paying jobs. Improving the quality of jobs will lead to higher wages. In turn, this could prevent people from falling into poverty and remove the financial justification for oil smuggling.

Looking Ahead

With an increasingly strained government budget due to sanctions and coronavirus, it may be a long time before Iran reintroduces the previous fuel subsidy. Partnerships between NGOs and Iran’s government will likely have a larger role in reducing poverty. It will be essential for stakeholders to implement future policies that better protect Iran’s poorest citizens.

Enacting policies where the benefits are not instantaneous is difficult but necessary for Iran. Legislators should aim to develop education and employment prospects despite today’s many economic pressures including sanctions and COVID-19. The development will bolster at-risk communities and provide alternatives to illegal, unsustainable jobs such as oil smuggling.

Eliminating poverty will not happen overnight. Iran’s efforts will require patience and trust. In order to absolve the world of poverty, legislators and NGOs alike must maintain an unwavering commitment.

Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Rwanda
Rwanda, the land of mille collines as the French would say, harbors countless picturesque hills. Unfortunately, the breath-taking landscapes of the Central African country are also witnesses of major crimes against humanity. Human trafficking in Rwanda consists of one of the most disquieting concerns for human dignity.

The Situation

Over the years, there has been substantial economic growth in the landlocked Sub-Saharan country. However, Rwanda has still not ceased to be a destination country for human traffickers taking advantage of high rates of unemployment, homelessness and gender inequalities.

Umutesi is one of the many girls who fell victim to human trafficking in Rwanda. In 2018, an elderly woman approached her and offered a job that seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Desperate for a job, she accepted the offer and traffickers sent her to Nairobi, Kenya under strict orders to hide her passport. Instead of the job at a supermarket she expected to find, she found herself in a slave market, called the office, where prospective buyers browsed.

“We were sold off like mere commodities,” is how she described what had happened to her at the office.

She ended up working in heavy labor, experiencing sexual and physical abuse and surviving in inhuman conditions. Additionally, she changed homes three times with each worse than the one before. When she succeeded in reaching a Rwandan diplomat via a phone she kept discretely, she made an escape plan that required patience and incredible endurance.

Finally, with the help of her government, she escaped and was able to fly back to Rwanda. Like many other victims, she also received free access to health care services and a little funding. Now, she manages a local grocery market and always expresses her gratitude for the second chance she got in life.

Unemployment in Rwanda

Umutesi’s story is very common in Rwanda. Men, women and children, especially those who are vulnerable due to unemployment and homelessness, frequently become targets of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

According to the 2020 data, the number of unemployed Rwandans surpassed 900,000 in May 2020. In fact, unemployment numbers were below 550,000 in February 2020. On top of the overall rates, 20.6% of the youth in Rwanda remain unemployed. Needless to say, this situation is likely to only exacerbate human trafficking in Rwanda.

Never Again Rwanda (NAR)

Never Again Rwanda (NAR) emerged in 2002 in Kigali in response to the 1994 Tutsi genocide. The NGO that initially aimed to establish a safe environment for youth expanded its scope to address its current core pillars: peacebuilding, governance & rights, research & advocacy, sustainable livelihood, education and youth engagement. The organization cooperates with USAID, the Global Fund for Children, the E.U. and other counterpart organizations. Recent research that the organization conducted showed that around 77.67% of human trafficking victims in Rwanda are female. Despite employment being higher among women than men in Rwanda, women are still more likely to become targets due to lower rates of education among them and the demand for sexual slavery.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking in underdeveloped countries like Rwanda may experience an increase. While many countries are pushing for a digital transformation, human traffickers use aggravated unemployment as an opportunity to pick the most vulnerable. According to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, the increasing rates of unemployment, malnourishment and school closures will result in increased human trafficking.

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) conducted the RECOVR Survey in July 2020 to provide data and evidence to decision-makers to reduce the detrimental effects of COVID-19. The survey found that 74% of the households in Rwanda consider themselves at high risk during the pandemic, showing the highest rate among other surveyed Sub-Saharan countries. Additionally, 70% of the agriculture-workers reported suffering from altered harvests and sales.

Human Trafficking in Rwanda increased to 96 cases in 2019, whereas there were reports of only 33 cases in 2018. Considering the aggravated unemployment and declined social standards with the arrival of the pandemic, 2020 likely give way to increased human trafficking in Rwanda.

The Rwandan Government

Though there is light at the end of the tunnel for girls like Umutesi, the Rwandan government has assumed a plan called Vision 2020 to tackle poverty through strategies to boost sustainable economic growth. Additionally, Rwanda aims to boost its knowledge-based economy, investments in the private sector, agriculture and infrastructure development. The Government of Rwanda adopted policies to make labor recruitment companies register for a license from the Ministry of Labour and submit monthly reports. The anti-trafficking law that Rwanda introduced in 2018 penalizes sex and labor trafficking with up to 15 years of imprisonment, although the President of Rwanda is yet to sign the legislation for it to undergo full enactment.

There have been notable constructive developments to combat unemployment and human trafficking in Rwanda, yet scarce resources, lack of testimonies, capacity and cooperation continue to complicate the situation. As such, there are still several commitments that the Rwandan government ought to strengthen to reach the minimum standards in eliminating human trafficking. These include:

  • Participation and communication with international communities to increase awareness campaigns and information sharing.
  • The development of a more centralized systematic screening mechanism to identify victims.
  • The provision of training to anti-trafficking units and divisions.
  • Cooperation with the international community to boost education and employment opportunities.
  • Work to ensure gender equality in access to education.

Currently, Rwanda remains at Tier 2 status according to the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report for 2020. This shows that Rwanda has still not fully complied with the minimum standards to reduce trafficking, though it has implemented positive efforts. Through increased commitment and consistent assistance from the international community, the risks of Rwandan girls like Umutesi should reduce so that they do not become victims of human trafficking in Rwanda.

– Berrak Rasool
Photo: Flickr

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to nations all over the world, but especially in the global south. India, for example, has an enormous population of 1.3 billion people, with labor forces large enough to create the world’s fifth largest economy. However, as of September 3rd, total confirmed cases across the country had reached 3.85 million, with 67,376 total deaths. As COVID-19 spreads throughout India, it leaves behind long-term effects on issues from medical resources to economic scarcity. 

Income and Unemployment

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic in India, economic disparity existed in many forms. In 2019, the average per capita monthly income was approximately 10,534 Indian Rupees. To put this in perspective, 10,534 Indian Rupees equals $143.42 USD, meaning the annual income of the average Indian citizen was just $1,721.04. Over the past 5 years, India’s unemployment rate has been increasing steadily, but in April 2020, skyrocketed to 23.5%. Factories and construction sites, known for housing and feeding temporary employees, threw their workers onto the streets. 95% percent of employed women worked in informal positions, many let go as households and businesses determined outside workers were too dangerous. As restrictions are slowly lifting across the country, frightened people return to work, since the fear of starvation holds more weight than fear of infection. 

Lack of Medical Resources

For those in need of COVID-19 medical care, options for help are slim. According to reports from the New York Times, public hospitals are so immensely overwhelmed that doctors have to treat patients in the hallways. For those with non-COVID related medical needs, options are almost nonexistent. On March 24th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that to “save India”, a nationwide lockdown on all nonessential surgeries was necessary. For Ravindra Nath Singh, a 76-year-old man with Parkinson’s, this meant being discharged from the ICU in a hospital in Lucknow, just minutes after becoming stable on a catheter and feeding tube. For a young woman in New Delhi, this meant eight hospitals turning her away while in labor for 15 hours, only to die in the back of an ambulance.

Child Labor and Education

The spread of COVID-19 in India forced schools to shut down, proving unhelpful to their already existing struggle for attendance. According to a study in 2018 by DHL International GmBH, India hosts the highest population of uneducated children with an intimidating 56 million children not in school. As restrictions across the country lift, one of the biggest hurdles will be encouraging enrollment, especially with uncertain learning conditions. Enrollment hesitation enables another widespread issue in India: child labor. Experts claim the biggest spike in child labor is yet to come, as immense economic losses will compel large corporations to seek cheap labor.  

The lack of in-person education has also proven to have a significant impact on child mental health. 12-year-old Ashwini Pawar once dreamt of being a teacher, but now must reconsider her life’s ambition. In an interview with TIME magazine, she considers her family financial burdens, “even when [school] reopens I don’t think I will be able to go back…”. This mentality pushes concerns of economic inequality, as this pandemic might destroy great strides made over the past decade.         

Deaths and Infection Rates

In very little time, India has become the new epicenter of the Coronavirus. The daily number of confirmed cases shot from about 40,000 to 80,000 in just a few weeks. Unlike most of the world, this virus is heavily affecting the workforce demographic. More than 50% of COVID-19 deaths in India have occurred between the ages of 40 – 64, an interesting contrast to developed countries where 70% of deaths have occurred in age groups 70 and older. According to Sanjay Mohanty, a lead scientific author from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, this contrast is due to India’s age distribution. Mohanty states, “the median age in the country is 24 years and therefore more younger people are available for virus transmission…”. Unfortunately, the road to recovery is a long one, as millions of people are still susceptible to infection. 

The Good News

Despite the seemingly daunting situation, there are many reasons to have hope for India. Well-known charities such as Unicef and Give2Asia have focused aid on India, pushing their needs into the limelight. Newly-risen charities are also making impressive strides on the ground. Snehalaya ‘Home of Love’ is a charity based out of Ahmadnagar dedicated to feeding poor families during the pandemic. In Ahmadnagar’s 17 official slums, Snehalaya has fed over 17,000 families and raised over $80,000 of aid in just 6 months.

Hope also goes beyond organized help. As seen in various reports, neighbors are sharing all types of resources, from food to hygiene products. Global pandemic or not, India’s path to healing is futile without charity aid and attention.

—Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

How Poverty Affects Everyday Life in MoldovaPoverty in Moldova is a common reality for those that live there. Many have had to leave their family, friends and homes to find a job because it is nearly impossible to find one in Moldova due to high unemployment rates. Now imagine being the ones left behind: the family members and life-long friends who are left in a politically torn country. Since Moldova gained its independence in 1991 it has struggled to fight poverty within its borders, affecting everyday life in Moldova. Moldova’s main causes of poverty are immigration due to high unemployment and governmental strife. These factors especially affect the children of Moldova.

Immigration and High Unemployment

Many of Moldova’s citizens are moving out of the country. There are simply not enough jobs for everyone. Doina Grecu, a woman born in Moldova who moved to the U.S. to further her education, said that her father had to find work abroad for several years when she lived in Moldova. Electricity was not stable and was expensive then, so people would only be able to talk to their loved ones every now and then and waited to hear that they were alright. Grecu also recounted that some people traveled from Moldova all the way across Europe to France. Poverty in Moldova has caused many people to leave their homes.

Governmental Strife

Even though Moldova has strengthened its relationship with the EU, it still struggles with poverty because of its conflicting interests in trade. Half of the country believes that they should exclusively trade with Russian because of their history together, and the other half have seen that Europe has prospered in trade and believe that Moldova should trade with them.

To further complicate things, Russia has been known to retaliate if Moldova trades with other countries. Doina Grecu stated that there were videos of Russians destroying apples from Moldova for this very reason. Moldova has uniquely rich soil that makes it an agricultural economy, so this kind of retribution is extremely harmful to these farmers. And while farming is Moldova’s main source of income, the rural areas have an almost five times higher poverty rate than Moldova’s urban areas.

Moldova’s Impoverished Children

Child poverty is significantly high. UNICEF states, “Children in Moldova remain disproportionately poor.” Some children were sent to orphanages, not because they had no parents, but because their parents were unable to care for them, as recounted by Grecu. Other children had to live with their grandparents, who may be unable to properly care for them, while one or both of their parents went abroad to find a job to send money home.

Poverty in Moldova has improved over the years. The non-governmental organization EcoVillage Farms has come up with a way to help Moldova capitalizes on what makes it special. As mentioned before, Moldova’s fertile soil is definitely an asset to Moldova. As such, the country is making the transition to the “quality over quantity” mindset when it comes to what they eat, states Grecu. Since Moldova is mainly an agricultural country, investing in farmers and small businesses will help boost Moldova’s economy and improve everyday life in Moldova. EcoVillage’s goal is to give these upcoming businesses a place to start. A furnished kitchen space will be available for rent for these business owners to practice their craft. Renters can also pay to use other renters’ equipment so as to build a sense of community and learn from each other. In addition, EcoVillage will provide counseling in finance and the logistics of how to start a business.

This NGO’s dream is still in the works, but they are more than halfway to their fundraising goal. When they are finished, this opportunity for small food businesses in the country with help reduce poverty in Moldova by building its economy on its biggest asset: a quality grounds for agriculture.

—Moriah Thomas
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Poverty in Canada
Statistics dating back to 2011 indicate that Canada ranked 21st out of 27 Organisations for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of the level of poverty. In fact, one in seven people or 4.9 million total live in poverty in Canada. Out of those estimated 5 million people, 1.34 million children are in poverty. The indigenous population of Canada has a prevalent poverty rate with one in four aboriginals, Métis and Inuit living in poverty. Of these, four in 10 of Canada’s indigenous children live in poverty making indigenous poverty in Canada a serious issue.

The Situation

Many Native Americans within Canada’s borders are trying to maintain their customs, traditions and lifestyle, but they frequently have limited access to resources. In total, around 1 million indigenous people, Inuit and Métis live in Canada.

In 2016, the chief for the Attawapiskat First Nation, on James Bay in Ontario, Canada, sounded the alarm about a spike in suicide attempts in the indigenous community. Over 116 people attempted suicide within 12 months and this does not account for unreported attempts. A report from Health Canada stated that suicide is the number one cause of death for indigenous young people and adults up to 44.

Indigenous groups in Canada frequently face poorer health, lower education levels, housing that lacks quality and crowded living conditions. Additionally, lower levels of income, high rates of unemployment, strong levels of incarceration and high death rates among the youth due to accidents and high rates of suicide are issues as well.

Reducing Unemployment Among Indigenous People in Canada

Currently, in 2020, the Canadian employment rate is at 59% and its unemployment rate is at 9%. Canada’s government grants the opportunity for indigenous people to find employment through one of its webpages. All they have to do is declare themselves an indigenous person when they apply to receive various public service-wide job opportunities and jobs from specific departments. The Indigenous Student Employment Opportunity program is open year-round to indigenous students and can help support and train them as they garner employment.

Providing Employment Through Natural Resources

Canada has a wide range of natural resources including lumber, uranium, lead, zinc, oil and diamonds. Luckily, Canada gives aboriginal people constitutional rights and all the agreements on their lands must be fair to them and provide jobs.

Diavik, Canada’s largest diamond mine, initiated mining endeavors northeast of Yellowknife in 1999. Diavik aims to aid local indigenous people by providing them with employment, scholarships, training and business opportunities. As of 2013, it provided employment to 171 aboriginal people in the area. Diavik also promised to return the mine areas back to the lake and improve the habitat for fish at the end of the contract.

If more companies include indigenous people in their businesses and policies, there will be a chance for Native Americans to increase their economic status and reduce indigenous poverty in Canada. There is still a long road to equity in Canada, but there are signs of improvement based on some economic successes for aboriginal peoples. Hopefully, with continued aid, indigenous poverty in Canada will become nonexistent.

– Elhadj Oumar Tall
Photo: Flickr

Norway’s Prison System
Norway has consistently ranked number one on a number of lists entailing the best, most comfortable prisons in the world. Since the 1990s, Norway’s prison system has evolved into spaces that represent comfort, healing and inclusivity. Changing its approach and attitudes towards prisoners, Norway is molding high-functioning members of society. In return, former prisoners are gaining the necessary skills in order to contribute to Norway’s economy. Here is some information about Norway’s prison system.

Norway’s Prison System

As of 2014, Norway’s incarceration rate was at only 75 per 100,000 people. In addition, since developing its new prison system in the 1990s, its recidivism rate has decreased from around 60-70% to only 20% in recent years. The main reason for these statistics is due to a focus on “restorative justice,” an approach that identifies prisons in the same category as rehabilitation facilities. Rather than focusing on the punishment and mistreatment of its prisoners, Norway has the primary goal of reintegrating its prisoners as stable contributors to communities. The first way it is accomplishing this is by creating jail cells that closely resemble small, dorm rooms. Many prisons in Norway have completely banned bars in their architectural design and have “open” style cells. At the maximum-security Halden prison, each prisoner has a toilet, shower, fridge and a flat TV screen with access to kitchens and common areas.

Along with its innovative architectural style, Norway’s prison system ensures that it provides a multitude of programs and courses that one could find at traditional recreational centers. The Halden maximum facility allows its prisoners to enroll in yoga classes and at other places, inmates can choose to learn woodworking or even have access to studios. These programs ensure jails create a peaceful atmosphere, rather than a place for hatred and violence. Furthermore, Norwegian jails highlight the importance of education. Its primary goal is to encourage prisoners to not simply survive, but to live a full life once their sentence time reaches completion.

The Elimination of Life Sentences

Norway has banned life sentences, and one inmate at the Halden facility is serving 15 years for committing murder. In a 2019 interview, Fredrik opened up about his time at the prison and his accomplishments since starting his sentence. He is currently publishing a prison cookbook, received a diploma in graphic design, aced multiple exams, currently studying physics and hopes to pursue higher education once his sentence reaches completion.

At another facility, prisoners spoke of the impact educational programs had on their mental health and hopes for the future. They admitted they had felt a sense of hopelessness because they believed the only real skill they held was selling drugs. However, after taking several courses, they felt accomplished and realized they could master different, proactive skills. Now, through their time in prison, they gained valuable life skills that can assist them in gaining legal jobs that will ensure they do not land back in prison.

The Benefits of Norway’s Prison System

In a research paper published in 2019, the authors focused specifically on the impact of prisoners on the economy. The paper highlighted Norwegian ideologies and the results of their unique prison system. First, reducing the population of prisoners that are reincarcerated means more individuals are able to contribute to Norway’s economy once their sentence is complete. Second, among the prison population that was unemployed prior to being arrested, there was a 34% increase in this group partaking in job training courses and a 40% increase in employment rates. Lastly, Norway’s prison system equips its prisoners with education-based knowledge and labor skills that have long-term benefits to its country’s economy and also improves their personal lives.

With all these positive outcomes, Norway’s prison system may well become the leader for other countries across the globe to follow. One mission that is consistent throughout all of Norway’s facilities is the rehabilitation and reintegration of its prisoners into society. These prisons’ accepting, caring and empathetic approach has paved the way for many prisoners into becoming fine citizens supporting their country’s economy.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

Microsoft's Global Skills InitiativeIn the wake of COVID-19, economies across the world have been hit hard. Countries alike have seen decreases across all economic sectors as quarantine and stay-at-home orders were mandated in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. People transitioned to working remotely, while millions of others lost their jobs entirely due to market crashes. In an effort to cushion the economic travesty that the pandemic has bought, Microsoft is launching a global initiative, partnering with LinkedIn and Github, to teach 25 million people across the world new digital skills. Microsoft’s global skills initiative aims to remedy the global economic impact that has come with COVID-19.

Digital Skills

Microsoft believes these newfound digital skills will give people the ability to take on jobs where digital skills are necessary in order to be successful. The initiative targets those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic, as well as minorities, women and others affected by poverty.

Recent statistics predict that over 250 million people globally may be unemployed by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. Microsoft found that in the U.S. alone, in May 2020, women had an unemployment rate of 14.4% compared to men who were at 12%. Additionally, Latinx populations had unemployment rates of 16.7%, which is much higher than other groups. These statistics indicate why the initiative particularly targets populations such as women and minorities.

By learning digital skills, those who are at an economic disadvantage will be able to take on jobs in the digital age and improve their economic status. Those who attain these newfound skills might even be able to teach others and distribute their knowledge to uplift an entire community.

Three-step Process

The three partnered companies have come up with a three-step process that they hope will encourage economic growth in communities across the globe. The first part relates to the Linkedin Economic Graph. The Economic Graph is a digital representation of the global economy based on more than 690 million professionals, 50 million companies, 11 million job listings, 36,000 defined skills and 90,000 schools. In short, it is data that shows available jobs and their required skills as well as global hiring rates. These insights will help create economic opportunities for the global workforce.

The second part consists of free tools, programs and content that people will be provided with, in order to learn the skills necessary for job applications. This initiative will give people free access to content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and the GitHub Learning Lab.

Thirdly, low-cost certifications and other cost-free job-seeking tools will be available to help people pursue new jobs with their newly developed skills.

Along with this digital skills initiative, Microsoft will be backing $20 million worth of cash grants that will be distributed across the globe to different nonprofit organizations. These grants will help nonprofits to combat the effects of the pandemic and allow the nonprofits to further extend reach in order to help more people.

Microsoft believes that global shutdowns and social distancing have accelerated the path to digitalization in all fields and economies. The company knows that digital tools are now necessary regardless of the field of work and will continue to be relevant far after the pandemic has passed. Microsoft’s global skills initiative may help the world’s economic recovery and may possibly uplift the entire globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

George Hashemi
Photo: Flickr

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Akola_women_in_Uganda.jpgDiva Taxi, an all-female transportation company, recently launched in Uganda. As Uganda’s female-run rideshare, it is distinct because of its strict rule of hiring only female drivers. Diva Taxi hopes to alleviate the demand for taxis in the Ugandan capital city, Kampala while providing women with a safe method of transportation. While the company expects to thrive in the rapidly developing capital, Diva Taxi also hopes to expand to other regions in Uganda. Its emphasis on female entrepreneurship, strict screening and affordability will positively affect the transportation sector in the Ugandan economy. Moreover, it will employ women struggling financially. Here are 5 ways in which Diva Taxi will positively influence Ugandan women.

5 Benefits of Diva Taxi: Uganda’s Female-Run Rideshare

  1. Hiring Women. Diva Taxi focuses on hiring women, a demographic typically overlooked on other driving applications. Gillian Kobusingye, one of the managing partners of Diva Taxi, observes that other companies are male-dominated. She estimates that men make up 80% of transportation companies in Uganda. Because of this, companies are less likely to hire women drivers, favoring the status quo. This gender disparity is not restricted to the transportation sector alone: 14.4% of working-age Ugandan women are unemployed. This, compared with 6.2% of men. Diva Taxi eliminates this selection bias as Uganda’s female-run rideshare.
  2. Affordability. Becoming an employee of Diva Taxi is completely affordable. For women struggling financially, the need to purchase technology or equipment often restricts access to desperately-needed jobs. Like Uber and Bolt, Diva Taxi is an application, which means office registration and other bureaucratic red tape is avoidable when joining. Employees only need a functioning car to join the team. Diva Taxi drivers note how the company’s flexibility provided them the opportunity to quickly make money for their families. This is critical during the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, jobs shrank in Uganda, enhancing the significance of jobs that remain open to female employees.
  3. Employee Safety. The application prioritizes safety for its employees. New hires are taught basic self-defense skills to guard themselves against potentially dangerous clients. One precautionary measure for drivers includes “Panic Alerts,” a protective in-app function that safeguards employees from potential thieves. Additionally, employees and customers receive a unique registration number when they create their profile. This enables their tracking if things go awry. Lastly, customers must book rides two hours in advance so no relative trip requests can occur that may endanger the driver.
  4. Client Safety. Diva Taxi offers a safe ride home for girls and women. Despite newly-passed laws and policies to protect victims and survivors of abuse, violence against women increased by 4% in Uganda. According to the Uganda Police Force’s annual report, as of 2016 — 22% of Ugandan women between the ages of 15–49 experienced some form of sexual violence. This percentage is equivalent to more than 1 million Ugandans. A safe, female-run company like Diva Taxi is an essential form of transportation for women. This group is among the vulnerable in the bustling streets of Kampala, especially at night.
  5. COVID-19 Precautions. Diva Taxi takes the necessary precautions against COVID-19. All drivers must clean their cars routinely, as well as wear a mask to maintain the safety of the customer and themselves. As of August 2020, Uganda has 2,362 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which means these precautions are still necessary.

By Women, For Women

Diva Taxi was created by women, is run by women and protects women. Although Diva Taxi was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic (an uncertain era for transportation companies) it is a positive influence on female Ugandans which will hopefully keep it afloat.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Wikimedia Commons