treating hiv in west and central africa
As of 2017, 1.8 million adolescents around the world are living with HIV. This accounts for five percent of total HIV cases. Approximately 1.5 million, or 85 percent, of these adolescents, live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of this, 61 percent live in Eastern and Southern Africa and 24 percent live in West and Central Africa. The region with the second-highest HIV rates for adolescents in the world is West and Central Africa. Ending HIV in West and Central Africa requires strong national and international efforts to protect and treat children and adults.

One of the largest problems in the region is a lack of HIV testing. According to Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, a majority of children living with HIV are not receiving the proper care because they have never been tested and do not know they have the disease.

One way to resolve this is to ensure testing is being done at primary health facilities in communities, with a family-centered approach. It is equally important to increase testing and treatment for pregnant women. Only 47 percent of pregnant women with HIV in West and Central Africa were able to use antiretroviral medicines, which prevent transmission to the unborn child.

Gender Matters

Among adolescents, there are often gender disparities in HIV infections. In many parts of the world—including South Asia, East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa—more boys than girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were newly infected in 2017. Whereas in West, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa significantly more girls than boys were infected. In West and Central Africa, 66 percent of the new were girls, while only 34 percent were boys.

Women and girls in this region are particularly at risk of HIV because of cultural, social and economic inequalities. They are less likely to attend school. Girls that are uneducated are twice as likely to become infected with HIV than girls who have attended school. Additionally, uneducated girls are at a greater risk for partner violence, increasing the risk for HIV.

Access to healthcare is also a significant issue. Women’s inability to see a healthcare provider prevents life-saving testing and treatments. Approximately 50 percent of girls and young women in Sub-Saharan Africa are not allowed to make personal health decisions.

International Efforts

Ending HIV has long been a focus of international humanitarian organizations. Recently, with the increased focus on preventing HIV infections among adolescents, UNAIDS created ALL IN! This collaboration improves knowledge about HIV, as well as how it can be prevented and treated. The goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent by 2020, aiming for ending the epidemic by 2030.

UNAIDS reports that HIV has already decreased in some of the most severely affected countries due to the adoption of safer sexual practices by adolescents. Often, school is crucial to providing the necessary sex education.

Efforts to reduce HIV in West and Central Africa is not only being done by international organizations such as UNAIDS; governments and their partners are taking initiatives to better prevent and treat HIV in youth and adults.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the government made the decision to stop charging people for HIV testing and treatment services. Fees have long been a barrier for those who live in poverty. Currently, only 46 percent of those in Côte d’Ivoire living with HIV were accessing treatment. Hopefully, this initiative will begin to increase this number, helping nearly half a million people.

Treatments and Strategies

Those who are at a high risk of HIV in West and Central Africa but have not yet contracted the disease can take the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) regimen. A pilot study is taking place in Burkina Faso, focusing on providing this preventative treatment to the most vulnerable. This includes homosexual men, who often avoid medical treatment due to the stigma surrounding their sexuality.

Once the study, which began at the end of 2018, is completed the plan is to expand PrEP across the nation and, eventually, the entire region. Benjamin Sana, a participant in this pilot study, is thankful for the treatment and believes that PrEP has the potential to save lives.

In response to a new survey, Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president led the development of a Revised National HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework for 2019 to 2021. Since 2010, Nigeria has tripled the number of people who receive HIV treatment and adopted an effected test and treat policy in 2016.

The new strategy aims to ensure services are being delivered to the people who need them the most, even in remote areas with less health care access. One of their primary goals is to ensure that no more children are born with HIV in Nigeria, according to the president.

These efforts in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Nigeria, as well as other countries in the region, will hopefully have a significant impact on the future of HIV in West and Central Africa, saving thousands of lives.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Norwegian Airlines and Unicef
Since 2007, two organizations, Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF,  have been working together to raise money and support for UNICEF’s humanitarian aid missions. Everyone from the flight crews up to Norwegian Airlines CEO, Bjorn Kos, participates. The partnership started in 2007 when Norwegian airlines began transporting supplies for emergency aid to Yemen on their planes and making yearly donations to UNICEF. In the 10 years since they began working together, Norwegian Airlines raised over $2.5 million for UNICEF.

The ‘Fill A Plane’ Program: Central African Republic

The partnership between Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF escalated in 2014 with the maiden voyage of their first “Fill a Plane” program. Norwegian and UNICEF boast that they fill every inch of a 737 Dreamliner with humanitarian aid. This humanitarian aid includes medical supplies, medication and education supplies. The destination of “Fill a Plane’s” first flight was to Bangui, the capital city of the Central African Republic.

Norwegian Airlines posted a touching Youtube video in 2014 about their first humanitarian flight. In the video, they noted that 8.5 tons of humanitarian aid were loaded onto their 737 in Copenhagen and flown to Bangui in the Central African Republic. This aid went to the thousands of internally displaced people under the care of UNICEF.

The ‘Fill A Plane’ Program: Jordan and Yemen

In 2015, Norwegian Airlines again sent another flight under their “Fill a Plane” partnership program. This time the plane was sent to Jordan to deliver humanitarian supplies to Syrian refugees in the Za’atari refugee camp. Norwegian Airline’s CEO, Bjorn Kos, opens the video by stating that, at the time, Za’atari was the world’s second-largest refugee camp. The contents of this flight focused heavily on educational aid.

There were no flights in 2016, so in 2017 Norwegian Airlines sent two. The first mission was to Bamako, Mali in March 2017. Here school supplies were an important part of the mission. The video shows Norwegian Airline employees taking part in classes as well as bringing food from the flight to the children’s hospital. The second mission was to bring aid to Yemen. Tons of food and cholera medication for 300,000 children were loaded onto the 787 Dreamliner, a much larger plane than the previous 737’s. The aid had to be offloaded in Djibouti due to the dangerous conflict in Yemen.

Future Flights

The future of the partnership between Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF looks promising. In 2018, Norwegian Airlines sent its largest “fill a plane” flight to Chad. The plane held over 13,000 kilos, over 28,000 pounds, of humanitarian aid to Chad. This flight also included the Norwegian Minister of International Development, who is shown in the video helping the Norwegian Crew members and other employees load the cabin with boxes of supplies.

In every video, the Norwegian Airlines CEO, Bjorn Kos looks genuinely happy to help his company do its part in humanitarian aid around the world. The CEO does not charge when he gives speeches and seminars; he only asks that a donation is made to UNICEF. With recognition from his own government and on the world stage, hopefully, the partnership between Norwegian Airlines and UNICEF will continue to grow and more flights can be sent each year, helping those in need.

Nicholas Anthony DeMarco

Photo: Google

children in Ecuador
A simple Google search for “Ecuador orphans,” expected to provide factual information, instead it presents a plethora of pages touting orphanages to donate to, opportunities to volunteer in Ecuador, children to adopt and personal fundraising pages. Even with some keyword tweaking, clearly orphans in Ecuador have abundant needs, but very few scholarly or news articles provide coverage of the issues. In an effort to fill that apparent statistical lack, orphans in Ecuador relate to the country’s poverty and crime rates in eight factual ways.

Eight Facts About Poverty, Crime and Orphans in Ecuador

  1. Ecuador is part of a global crisis for children born in poverty. Of the children who live in orphanages worldwide, about 80 percent have at least one living parent. Since AIDS took the lives of so many parents, UNICEF changed its definition of an orphan in the 1990s to children, those under 18 years old, who have at least one deceased parent. Under this new lens, there are about 140 million orphans worldwide. Many of them, unsurprisingly, are located in some of the poorest countries in the world. Asia has 61 million orphans, and Africa has 52 million. Ecuador falls into the geographical location in third place for most orphans, as Latin America and the Caribbean have 10 million between them. The most common reason cited for living parents placing their children in orphanages is an inability to afford food.
  2. Developed countries have responded to poverty and orphans in Ecuador incorrectly because of this nuanced terminology. Countries like the U.S., that only consider children with two deceased parents to be orphans, tend to interpret global statistics about orphans as reflecting the number of children who need homes. Many well-intentioned efforts then provide for the needs of individual children instead of combating the poverty in their families that sent them to orphanages. Thus, parents continue sending their children away to these homes because that is where the resources are funneled.
  3. Ecuador’s government had historically attempted to respond to poverty by channeling money in the wrong places. It too has tried to help needy families by funding orphanages instead of providing social programs for individuals and families to eventually be able to take care of their families without having to send children away. This would prevent perpetuating the orphan crisis by discouraging parents who believe their children will be better provided for in orphanages than at home.
  4. Institutionalizing children has proven to have negative effects on their development behavior, causing many to remain in poverty after they leave their orphanages. The government makes little effort to monitor harsh punishments and sexual abuse, leaving children psychologically damaged and creating a barrier to fending for themselves. Even for those who do not live in abusive situations, orphanages often constrain children socially, keeping them insulated among a relatively small group of peers, and then release children suddenly into the world, with little training and life experience to prepare them emotionally or academically for obtaining jobs and housing.
  5. Restore17 connects orphans in Ecuador with the country’s crime rates. Restore17 is a charity that does not pop up in the initial onslaught of Google results for “Ecuador orphans,” but deserves to be highlighted. Their mission statement reads: “Restore17 seeks to prevent boys from being exploited by providing them with hope and a future through holistic Christ-centered care.” Tangibly, they do this by working with orphans in Ecuador at a children’s home because 70 percent of males who grow up in orphanages eventually become criminals as well as face elevated rates for suicide and depression and heightened risk of involvement in human trafficking and gangs.
  6. Restore17 seeks to interrupt this progression from orphans in Ecuador to criminals by partnering with a children’s home for boys to provide holistic care. This involves attempts to meet spiritual needs, providing hygiene products, meals, healthcare, help with homework, technical training and attempting to give them a fun childhood with outings and birthday parties. Restore17 is also attempting to provide for male orphans in Ecuador after they turn 18 by building Casa Esperanza. This home will allow them an opportunity for transition past when orphanages will house them, giving them time to enter full adulthood. The vision is to help both the truly parentless young men who still need a place to live and those who have moved back with their families. By providing a space where wifi, school supplies and tutoring and mentoring are available, Restore17 hopes to reduce the necessity of turning to lives of crime.
  7. The total rate of orphans globally is declining, and Ecuador has contributed to this by allocating more funds relieving poverty through different means than funding orphanages. Since estimates about the number of orphans peaked in 2001, the rate has decreased on an average of 7 percent a year. Ecuador has shifted to combating poverty at its root instead of after children that have already been affected to such an extent that they end up in orphanages. A government spokesperson specifically cited efforts to make homes safe for those who could not afford to do so independently. The United Nations has applauded their commitment of resources, and the numbers seem successful. The country’s poverty rate has dropped by 14 percent since 2006. Extreme poverty has decreased by 50 percent since then, boding well for the creation of fewer orphans in Ecuador.
  8. However, orphans in Ecuador from rural regions that face higher poverty rates remain at a disadvantage. Poverty is concentrated in rural areas in Ecuador, where 70 percent of the population was poor in 2000, as opposed to 13.7 percent of the urban population. The numbers of children in poverty in these rural regions are staggering. For example, in the province of Bolivar, 91 percent of children and adolescents are poor, with Chimborazo and Esmereldas following close behind. This reveals the need for Ecuador to keep addressing poverty at the source for the sake of all of these children who could become part of the orphan crisis.

Clearly, such a system that inadvertently funnels non-orphans into institutions and perpetuates poverty must be directly combated. However, organizations like Restore17 enter into the present reality to provide stable homes and equip boys to overcome poverty as men. It is a good beginning. Such efforts should help create a new financially capable and empowered generation that will be able to raise their children at home and above the poverty line.

– Charlotte Preston

Photo: Flickr

ending child deaths
Each year pneumonia and diarrhoea kill 1.4 million children under the age of five, which is an amount greater than the deaths from all other child illnesses combined. Children in poorer nations are more likely to be victims of these illnesses, hindering long-term growth and development in these countries.

UNICEF and WHO Are Trying to Save Children’s Lives

Created by UNICEF and The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009, The Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD) seeks to reduce the number of children affected and, ultimately, end preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea. Progress has been slow, but over the past few years, UNICEF and WHO have increased their commitment to focus on these illnesses, hoping to significantly reduce deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea by 2025.

Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that primarily affects the lungs and can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. For those who have pneumonia, the alveoli in their lungs fill with fluid, making breathing both difficult and painful. Infants with HIV have an increased likelihood of dying after contracting pneumonia.

Diarrhoea, often caused by Rotavirus or Escherichia coli (e-coli) bacteria, is a symptom of an infection of the intestinal tract caused by viruses, bacteria or other parasitic organisms. This bacteria spreads easily through water, food or from person to person. According to UNICEF and WHO, diarrhoea causes extreme dehydration, which can lead to death. Poor sanitation and hygiene increase the risk of becoming infected.

Younger children are the most likely to die from pneumonia and diarrhoea, with 80 percent of deaths from pneumonia and 70 percent of deaths from diarrhoea occurring during the first two years of life. Additionally, over 90 percent of child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea occur in low income countries.

Progress Made So Far

Overall, between 2000 and 2015, significant global progress was made with diarrhoea deaths decreasing by 57 percent and pneumonia deaths decreasing by 47 percent. In spite of this progress, there is still much more that needs to be done.

South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are disproportionately affected, as child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea in these regions have been increasing. In 2000, 20 percent of pneumonia deaths and 24 percent of diarrhoea deaths occurred West and Central Africa. In 2015, however, these regions accounted for 32 percent of pneumonia deaths and 34 percent of diarrhoea deaths.

By 2025, UNICEF and WHO would like to reduce mortality from pneumonia to fewer than three per 1000 births, reduce mortality from diarrhoea to fewer than one per 1000 births and reduce the incidence of severe pneumonia and diarrhoea by 75 percent, compared to 2010 levels. Additionally, they are working towards 90 percent full-dose coverage of all relevant vaccines and at least a 50 percent increase of exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life.

What Steps the GAPPD Are Taking to Reach its Goals

To help meet these goals, the GAPPD uses a Protect, Prevent and Treat framework in their efforts to decrease the incidence of these infections. Protection initiatives focus on ensuring that all infants are exclusively breastfed for six months, that all children under the age of five are well nourished and that they receive vitamin A supplementation.

Prevention tactics include improving the quality of drinking water and overall sanitation, encouraging everyone to wash their hands with soap, providing vaccines (specifically for pertussis, measles, hib, PCV and rotavirus), reducing household air pollution and preventing the spread as well as treating HIV-infected and exposed children.

In order to treat children, the number of families who seek medical attention after their child has become ill due to pneumonia or diarrhoea needs to increase. Globally, only three out of every five children are seeking care for pneumonia symptoms. GAPPD hopes to provide medical centers supplies they need to be better equipped, including ORS (oral rehydration salt solution), which prevents the dehydration that occurs with diarrhoea, and oxygen, which is needed for oxygen therapy for children with severe pneumonia.

Technology to Aid in the Efforts

New innovations from the past few years have contributed to efforts to prevent child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea. Gravity-fed water supply schemes, which transport river water through pipes using gravity, help reduce the labor required to carry water long distances and, thereby, increase access to water. UNICEF helps communities in Afghanistan, Madagascar, Timor-Leste and Lao People’s Democratic Republic operate and maintain these systems.

In order to ensure infants and young children have access to breast milk, a small feeding cup has been developed by PATH to help infants with breastfeeding difficulties get the breast milk that they need. There has also been a push for breast milk to be donated to hospitals for premature and sick babies. Brazil now has over 200 milk banks and more than 150,000 Brazilian mothers have arranged to donate their breast milk.

In 2016, the GAPPD developed a Monitoring Visualization Tool that allows them to monitor progress toward 2025 goals both globally and for specific nations. With the knowledge gained from this tool, UNICEF and WHO can more strategically coordinate their efforts

It remains to be seen whether UNICEF and WHO will achieve their 2025 goals. However, with new innovations and continuing progress, the elimination of preventable child deaths from pneumonia and diarrhoea can be achieved, hopefully in the near future.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

global orphan crisis
In 2015, there were 140 million orphans worldwide: 61 million in Asia, 52 million in Africa, 10 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 7.3 million in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. This constitutes a global orphan crisis and poverty is the leading cause.

The UN defines orphans as children who have lost either one or both parents. The vast majority of orphans still have a living parent and while many orphans live in orphanages, some still live with another family member. The UNICEF and numerous international organizations began classifying children with only one parent as orphans in the 1990s when the HIV/AIDS pandemic spread and began killing millions of parents around the world.

How Poverty Creates Orphans

HIV/AIDS is much more prevalent in impoverished countries than in developed countries. Single parents living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries may not have access to proper healthcare and subsequently may struggle to care for themselves and their children. Losing a parent can negatively impact a child’s access to food, shelter, education and healthcare. Losing the income of a parent, particularly that of the primary breadwinner, can be disastrous for a family and leave the living parent without enough money to care for his or her children.

Many parents living in poverty are unable to care for their children as they cannot afford food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education. They are not able to adequately provide for their children, which leaves some to resort to placing their children in orphanages in the hopes that they will have better lives.

However, children in orphanages do not typically fare better than children raised in loving homes. Institutionalization can have many adverse impacts on a child. Orphanages often do not have enough caregivers to provide children with the amount of attention and love that children in healthy families receive.

Children are more likely to experience neglect or abuse when they grow up in institutions. They may experience malnutrition and stunted growth. They are also more likely to experience delayed development and behavioral problems. This stems from the trauma of their parents dying, leaving their birth families and from the lack of permanence in their lives.

How to Solve the Global Orphan Crisis

UNICEF and numerous organizations including Save the Children, World Without Orphans and Orphan Outreach argue that orphanages are not the best solution for children. They instead encourage governments to support families and communities that care for orphans and allocate less funding to orphanages.

The costs of running orphanages are typically much higher than what is needed to support families struggling to provide for their children. Not only is it less expensive, it is also more beneficial for the children to be raised in their family or community rather than in an institution. For children who have no parents, UNICEF and organizations that focus on the global orphan crisis promote foster care and adoption.

Countries all over the world have been following this advice, establishing family-style care centers and foster-care services and reuniting children with family when possible. Since 1989, the number of children in Romanian orphanages has dropped from 100,000 to about 7,000. Bulgaria’s orphan population decreased from 7,500 in 2011 to 1,200 today. Out of 460,000 orphans in China, only 88,000 now live in orphanages. Since 2012, all but 235 of Rwanda’s 3,323 children in orphanages have been reunited with their families, adopted or placed in foster families.

These numbers show great progress. However, the global orphan crisis is still a serious problem. Millions of children are still living in orphanages. To give these children a better chance to thrive, governments and private organizations around the world must support family-care. In addition, governments can provide medical care to areas with high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates, helping parents living with the disease to care better for their children.

Programs that pull families and communities out of poverty will help reduce the number of parents who send children to orphanages. Poverty alleviation efforts have a crucial role to play in relieving the global orphan crisis.

– Laura Turner
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation Goals in Rural CommunitiesAbout 2.3 billion people lack access to a clean and safe toilet. Exactly 892 million people have no option but to defecate in the open. The technology to increase access to a clean toilet is available, however, the collaboration between partners and the solutions is missing. That’s why UNICEF and LIXIL are now converging their complementary skills to give 250 million people access to clean water and sanitation by 2021.

The Current Sanitation Situation

Areas lacking access to clean, effective toilets lead to open defecation. Waterways become polluted, thereby perpetuating diarrheal diseases. Around 288,000 children lose their lives annually to these preventable conditions. At that rate, about 41 deaths can be prevented every hour.

A few countries pay as much as 5 percent of their GDP for various issues arising due to poor sanitation. In addition, the global economy lost approximately $223 billion due to poor sanitation issues in 2015. Therefore, it is in the world’s interest to boost efforts in reaching sanitation goals in rural communities.

UNICEF and LIXIL Partnership  

UNICEF and LIXIL will begin their work in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Supplementing LIXIL’s initiative of building more toilets, UNICEF will take advantage of its presence in these countries to run educational campaigns as well as collaborate with communities that lack access to proper toilets. They will reach out to other countries in need when more fundraising campaigns provide them with the means to do so.

“Outreach will focus mainly on rural parts of the country,” Andrés Franco, UNICEF’s deputy director of Private Sector Engagement according to a Fast Company article.

The deliberate focus of achieving sanitation goals in rural communities is necessary for eradicating outdated ideas of sanitation, as “cultural circumstances and barriers to behavior change in a community” according to Franco, are difficult to overcome. In fact, once communities understand prioritizing sanitation infrastructure for the health of the community, it is not guaranteed that they will even possess the necessary resources to implement the change.

UNICEF’s partnership with LIXIL is key to delivering these rural communities with the needed materials. LIXIL typically produces high-end toilets, but it has also developed a more affordable line of toilets called SaTo, short for “safe toilets”. These toilets function independently of a sanitation infrastructure so that they do not require extensive construction in the community before usage. What they do require is only half a cup of water to rinse after each use. They also feature a self-sealing trap door that removes odor and flies. The simple and affordable design accommodates easy installation.

With funding from the Gates Foundation, SaTo has also been able to release toilets into circulation across Asia and Africa thereby helping 6 million people. It has sold around 1.8 million toilets in 15 countries since its product’s release in 2013. Specifically for the targeted countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, LIXIL is deliberating with the communities the appropriate models for them. For these three countries, LIXIL will provide the funds for hundreds of thousands of SaTo units.

“By working together and going community by community, we’re going to be able to address the issue much better than we were able to before, by working independently off individual company targets and just hoping for the best, that our product was reaching people in need,” says Jim Montesano, chief public affairs officer at LIXIL, acknowledging the benefits of working with UNICEF’s network and global credibility.  

Sanitation Goals in Rural Communities

Although UNICEF and LIXIL’s collaboration is attempting to achieve specifically SDG 6 regarding sanitation goals in rural communities, its success will translate to the success of other Sustainable Development Goals too.

Beyond the sector of health, lack of sanitation often interferes with girls’ regular education when matters such as periods cannot be properly attended to during school. By addressing the sanitation issue for 250 million people, UNICEF and LIXIL will make a dent beyond just the number.

By accelerating these sanitation goals, the partnership will facilitate the achievement of many other goals by 2030. It will be able to impart reasonable and sustainable solutions to organizations for problems such as this global sanitation crisis.

– Alice Lieu
Photo: Flickr

Everything You Need to Know About Girls' Education in Samoa and PrincipeGirls’ education is an important facet of an impoverished country. An educated female population lowers birth rates, improves children’s well being, grows the size of the country’s workforce and increases household incomes. This impact holds true in the small island countries of Samoa and Principe. While both countries are making improvements, there are still obstacles that face girls’ education in Samoa and Principe.

Statistics of Girls’ Education

According to UNICEF data, a majority of females between the ages of 15 and 24 in Samoa and Principe read. In Samoa, the literacy rate for young females is 99 percent. Comparatively, the rate of literate females in Principe is 77 percent.

While the majority of females attend primary school in Samoa, the case is not the same for secondary school. Eighty-nine percent of Samoan females enrolled attend primary school, which is roughly 1 percent higher than male attendance. In secondary school, only 69 percent of girls enrolled attend class. In addition, the gap between male and female participation grows; girls’ attendance in secondary school is 19 percent higher than boys.

In Principe, a drop off in secondary attendance for girls is also seen. However, it is much more dramatic. Roughly 85 percent of females enrolled in primary school attend a school which is at parity with the male population. In secondary school, female attendance drops to 30 percent while male enrollment drops to 29 percent.

Child Marriage

There are many reasons that girls do not seek education beyond primary school. One of these is child marriage, which affects both Samoa and Principe. In Samoa, seven percent of adolescent females are married, and in Principe, almost 20 percent of adolescent females are married. Child marriage ends a girl’s education since she is expected to take care of the household. Once a girl gives birth, the responsibility of a child makes it even more difficult for her to return to school.


The largest obstacle to girls’ education in Samoa and Principe is poverty. In Samoa, the per capita income has risen to 5,038 talas or roughly $2,000, meaning the country has moved out of the least developed country category. However, the country’s infrastructure and the economy are vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2009, Samoa was hit by a tsunami that affected its economy and destroyed four primary schools and one secondary school, leaving over 1,000 children without a classroom.

Poverty poses a larger problem for girls’ education in Principe. Roughly 29 percent of the country’s population is reported to live in extreme poverty. In Principe, there is a severe lack of opportunity for its people, which discourages education. In 2015, the country’s human development index was .574, which placed it 142 out of 188 countries. In addition, the unemployment rate was roughly 13 percent.


Geography also affects girls’ education in Principe. Girls who live in urban areas are more likely to go to secondary school than girls who live in rural areas. Roughly 19 percent of girls who live in urban areas attend secondary school. Comparatively about 7 percent of girls who live in rural areas attend secondary school.

Improving Girls’ Education

Despite roadblocks facing girls’ education in Samoa and Principe, there are several organizations working in both countries to help improve conditions, including the World Bank. In Principe, the World Bank Group approved the Quality Education for All project. The goal of this million dollar project is to improve the quality of education that students receive. Since the project was approved in 2014, the number of qualified primary teachers has risen from 0 to 372. In addition, 50 percent of female students in primary school have benefited from the program.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is another group aimed at improving girls education in Samoa. After the tsunami in 2009, UNICEF and the Samoan Ministry of Education worked to move displaced children to host schools. UNICEF provided tents to the host schools to use as classrooms since the schools were receiving an influx of new children. Teachers also received psycho-social training from UNICEF to help students recover from any trauma that was a result of the tsunami.

The Government of Samoa has also taken action to improve girls’ education. In 2015, the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi opened National Literacy Week, which encourages parents to read to their children and for children to take their education seriously. The week also includes reading and writing competitions and a book fair. Students from all over Samoa represent their schools in four zones and compete against each other in order to promote reading inside and outside the classroom.

Girls’ education in Samoa and Principe faces many challenges, including child marriage and poverty. However, a majority of females in both countries are literate and attend primary school. There are also several organizations in both countries working to improve the quality of education girls receive and that natural disasters do not get in the way of girls attending school. Organizations like UNICEF and the World bank give girls in Samoa and Principe hope for a brighter future.

– Drew Garbe
Photo: Flickr

How to Measure Women's Empowerment for EqualityInvesting in gender equality has proven to stimulate economic growth and create safer and healthier communities. If a woman is given the opportunity to work, her entry into the labor force initiates economic expansion. When given equal access to education, girls are able to become educated mothers and, in turn, create a more stable environment for the family.

Reasons to Invest in Gender Equality

With such good benefits, why wouldn’t someone invest in such equality? The problem is that the world needs an accurate way to measure women’s empowerment so it’s possible to create prosperous and efficient programs.

Multiple theories have arisen attempting to address this issue. Some believe a good way of assessing the level of empowerment in a woman’s society is to gauge how much she is able to participate in formal and informal social institutions.

Ability to make one’s own life choices is always emphasized as a factor of measurement. Having agency over decisions is an important part of everyone’s life that women in impoverished countries are often deprived.

Women’s Empowerment Framework

UNICEF uses its own method called the Women’s Empowerment Framework (WEF) that includes control, social participation, access to resources and welfare. According to this measurement system, supplying women with welfare will have a domino effect that will turn into mobilization and finally, control.

The WEF promotes women having careers and leadership positions so that they have an equal place in society to that of men. It also emphasizes the importance of having access to maternal healthcare and closing the gender wage gap.

J-PAL Approach

The most recent developments in methods to measure women’s empowerment comes from MIT’s Poverty Action Lab called J-PAL. This approach takes into account the local context of the girl’s community and how that affects her ability to makes choices in her own life.

According to J-PAL’s plan, there needs to be a logical way of measuring the amount of impact a program has on a woman and her community. Surveys are an option, but researchers acknowledge that sometimes women do not know how or cannot answer the question well. However, phrasing questions in simple, easy-to-answer ways can increase the accuracy of survey results.

Research studies to measure gender bias in communities is also a good way to gauge women’s freedom. J-PAL also addressed the gravity of properly collecting data from this research. Without an accurate and easy way to track results, it will not be possible to construct effective programs.

Achieving Gender Equality

J-PAL’s outline for conducting gender analysis can ultimately help a lot of women living in oppressed communities. Reliable systems need to be put into place in order to measure women’s empowerment and thus create real equality.

The approach is far from perfect, but with a constantly changing subject of research, it is near impossible to pin down a way to measure with 100 percent accuracy. Despite some flaws, the invention of this method helps women today and has the promising potential to change how people view and react to women’s empowerment across the world for years to come.  

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

Democratic Republic of CongoDuring the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from 1998 to 2003, more than 5.2 million children did not receive an education. Although the situation has improved since then, the legacy of the war remains, especially its effect on the female population.

In 2012, it was reported that approximately 62.92 percent of female youth aged 15 years and older were literate compared to an 87.91 percent literacy rate for young males.

Factors Impacting Girls Education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The overarching traditional outlook about the role of females in society: Many families believe that girls have a responsibility at home, while boys should work outside as the main breadwinners. This thinking leads people to discredit education as an important part of girls’ lives, whereas boys are encouraged to attend schools.

Poverty: According to the World Bank, although the poverty rate in the DRC declined from 71 percent to 64 percent between 2005 and 2012, the country still remains one the poorest countries in the world with a ranking of at176 out of 187 countries per the United Nation’s 2015 Human Development Index. As a result of high levels of poverty, many girls take up jobs to support their families.

Opportunities in armed groups: About 30 to 40 percent of children in the armed groups are girls. Girls are often lured into joining local militias because of enticing factors like wages. However, the NGO Child Soldiers International interviewed over 200 female former child soldiers, who reported that instead of finding opportunities within these groups, they were drugged, raped or forced to commit crimes.

For those who are able to escape, they attempt to matriculate into school but are unable to because of the stigma associated with the former sexual relationships between the girls and male soldiers. The same girls who were interviewed cited how they were called “prostitutes” and “HIV carriers” by schools and were not allowed to enroll.  


To resolve the issue of lack of girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the nation is reforming its system so that more children are able to pursue an education. For example, the DRC has increased its education budget from 7.9 percent in 2012 to 14.7 percent in 2015. In addition, the government has received a $100 million grant from the Global Partnership for Education to continue its efforts. 

Moreover, USAID and the United Kingdom Department for International Development have funded a five-year education program that focuses on reading outcomes in the DRC. It is the largest implemented education program in the DRC and plans to improve the reading outcomes of 1.5 million grades 1-4 students.

Furthermore, USAID has worked to create safe school environments, especially for girls, by training teachers and administrators on how to assess safety and security at the school. Through this, girls will not have to fear for their safety, the lack of which also caused them to join militias.

The results of these actions are clear in the numbers. In 2016, UNESCO reported that approximately 66.5 percent of females aged 15 years and older were literate. Although a small increase, this is still an improvement from 2012. 

Girls’ education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has faced many obstacles. However, the country is combating this crisis and ensuring that all children are provided with this opportunity, an action that other underdeveloped countries should follow.

Sheharbano Jafry
Photo: Flickr

Child Soldiers in SyriaSince 2011, war has ravaged Syria and drastically changed the lives of millions, especially for children. An estimated 2.6 million Syrian children now live in other nations as refugees. More than one million of the refugee children do not have access to education, and an additional 1.75 million children who remain in Syria also do not attend school. Millions of Syrian children live in extreme poverty, which drives them to become soldiers in an extremely dangerous conflict.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Syria

The recruitment of children under the age of 18 by armed groups has been rising in Syria as the war continues. In 2016 alone, 851 children were recruited to be child soldiers in Syria. In that same year, 652 children died and 647 were maimed, and these numbers are rapidly rising. In January and February of 2018, 1,000 children were killed or injured in the Syrian conflict.

Some of these child soldiers have been kidnapped by armed groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS). Others are young Arabs or Muslims from Europe who have been convinced by radical groups like ISIS to leave their homes and join the fight against the Syrian government. Many, however, are children in Syria or in refugee camps in neighboring countries who have volunteered to become soldiers.

Syrian children often volunteer to become soldiers because of the dire situations in which their families live, situations caused by the war. By 2015, 80 percent of Syria’s population lived below the poverty line, and the situation has continued to worsen. With the unemployment rate in the country at 57.7 percent at the beginning of 2015, millions are struggling to survive. In addition, more than 90 percent of refugee families in Lebanon are at risk of food insecurity, and 80 percent in Jordan live in poverty.

For these families that are struggling to survive, the benefits that armed groups offer child soldiers in Syria can be life-saving. Some parents believe their only option is to send their children to fight for ISIS or ISIS-affiliated groups in return for financial subsidies. Other children join the Free Syrian Army (FSA), one of the main rebel groups fighting the Syrian government. The FSA provides its fighters with monthly benefits including salaries. Additionally, the FSA offers refugees in the Zaatari refugee camp precedence in receiving food aid and cash assistance that are crucial to their survival.

Providing a Solution

Alleviating Syrian poverty could be a crucial step in reducing the number of child soldiers in Syria. This could be done by providing Syrians with humanitarian aid, like helping them get food and homes and jobs. Children will be less vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups if they and their families are living in more stable situations.

The United States is mobilizing humanitarian aid to provide food, water, education and medical services to Syrian children and their families. International aid and the acceptance of refugees are also key. However, the “humanitarian needs inside Syria continue to outpace the international response.” Increased aid from the U.S. and other nations is key to relieving poverty in Syria and surrounding nations and reducing the number of children that are recruited to be soldiers.

– Laura Turner
Photo: Flickr