Women's Rights in Burundi
Located in Africa’s southeastern region, Burundi, a heart-shaped nation bordering Lake Tanganyika and Rwanda, is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a poverty rate of nearly 75 percent, the nation is largely underdeveloped. In terms of women’s rights, life in Burundi could be better, as many of the country’s citizens cling to discriminatory perspectives that hold their women back. Despite this, the country has made great strides toward cultivating a more equal nation, such as in 2005 when it included gender equality in its reformed Constitution.

Pregnancy and Sexual Health

In Burundi, discussing sex is generally viewed as a taboo subject. Without the occurrence of these necessary conversations, sexual education is often replaced by false information, and many of the country’s citizens fail to understand their own bodies; an issue most dangerous when it comes to young women and girls. Without knowing the way their bodies work, many Burundian women experience unplanned extramarital pregnancies, and because of Burundi’s negative prejudice toward non-marital pregnancy, many of these girls are often ostracized from their communities, kicked out of their homes and forced out of their schools.

Pamella Mubeza, a native to Burundi, fell victim to this system at a young age. Though, after seeing the prevalence of her issue among other Burundian women, she began an organization known as l’Association des mamans célibataires (the Organisation for Single Mums). Through the organization, Mubeza travels to some of the most impoverished places in the city of Bujumbura, such as Kinyankonge and Kinama, and works with young single mothers to not only re-enroll them in school but to rebuild the self esteem their homeland formerly shamed out of them. By 2019, Mubeza’s organization was able to re-enroll 40 young women in schooling and instilled 250 with a newfound desire to learn.

CARE Burundi, a non-profit organization that works to improve the impoverished realities of women and young girls, is also working to help solve the issue. In 2016, the organization launched an initiative known as the Joint Programme, a 4-year-long project that provides Burundian girls with comprehensive sexual and reproductive education through a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum called “The World Starts with Me” (WSWM). The program educates young women about their rights and their bodies, and after its first year of implementation, it was taught in 76 Burundian schools and educated 6,007 young women.

Access to female hygiene products is another one of Burundi’s sexual health problems. With sanitary napkins costing up to 2,000 Burundian francs and the country regarding menstrual periods as shameful, many of the nation’s women turn to unhygienic sources, such as grass and plastic bags, during their menstrual cycles. However, the Organisation for Single Mums is working to combat the problem, as they hand out 1,500 free sanitary napkins to Burundian women each month.

Gender-Based Violence

Sexual violence against women is a growing problem in Burundi. With nearly 23 percent of Burundian women experiencing sexual abuse, and 50 percent of these victims being under the age of 13, the prevalence of gender-based violence in Burundi is undeniable.

Due to the nation’s connection between shame and sexuality, many sexual abuse cases often go unreported, so the number of women experiencing them is likely much higher.

However, through the help of UNICEF and NGO partner Caritas Burundi, Burundian sexual violence is being challenged. Through an initiative known as the Giriteka project, UNICEF and Caritas Burundi are bringing together the nation’s doctors, psychologists, nurses, community leaders, local authorities and religious leaders and teaching them how to best care for their nation’s sexually abused women. From training psychologists on how to prevent gender-based violence to working with religious leaders on how to direct victims toward help, thanks to these organizations, women’s rights in Burundi are not only being protected but defended.

Economic Opportunity

When it comes to the workforce, Burundian women make up 90 percent of the country’s food and export jobs and  with 55.2 percent of the nation’s workforce being female, Burundian women are making substantial contributions toward the advancement of their national economy.

However, this same level of equality cannot be seen in the country’s distribution of land.

Access to property ownership is the largest barrier Burundian women face when seeking economic equality. While 80.2 percent of the country’s people own land, women make up only 17.7 percent of them since the country lacks proper legislation that prohibits male succession traditions from overriding women’s rights.

Public opinion may be partly responsible for these discriminatory practices since 57 percent of the nation’s people believe women and men should not have equal land rights when it comes to inheritance.

Despite this prejudicial reality, U.N. Women is making women’s pathway to land ownership easier by providing them with monetary loans.

Also, the Zionist Organization of America has created an initiative meant to advocate for female land rights in Burundi by urging the nation’s women who do own land to register it.

By working at the community level, these organizations are advocating for the economic endeavors of Burundian women, and actively challenging the misogynistic gender norms that have been placed upon these their lives.

While women’s rights in Burundi are far from equal, the good news is that great work is being done to better them. Thanks to organizations like U.N. Women and initiatives such as the Giriteka project, women in Burundi are not only being cared for but heard. By advocating for women’s rights, these organizations are not only providing Burundi’s women with the freedom to hope for a better life but also to live one.

– Candace Fernandez
Photo: Flickr

Lobbying for a Global Treaty to End Violence Against Women
With the #MeToo movement sweeping the United States, Portland-native Lisa Shannon is pushing for an end to violence against women around the world. Shannon is CEO and Co-Founder of the Every Woman Treaty, a campaign to establish a global treaty to end violence against women. At a recent discussion panel hosted by Global Washington, Shannon spoke out about the consistent violations of women’s rights pervading every corner of the globe and explained how Americans can make a lasting impact.

Defining Violence Against Women

Violence against women, whether psychological, physical or emotional, is “the most pervasive human rights violation on earth.” Sex trafficking, forced marriage and domestic violence are three of its most common forms, and all are prevalent globally. While the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979, suggests establishing protective legislation for women, the agreement has not sufficiently fueled action to prevent violence. There is a need for a more direct global treaty to end violence against women.

Sources of Violence

Human trafficking causes significant violence against women due to how it damages each person involved and the expanse of the industry. Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman from the International Rescue Committee shared at the Global Washington event that “40 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking.” A recent U.N. report adds that 79 percent of trafficking consists of the sexual exploitation of women and girls, which means that there is a total of around 30 million women being sex-trafficked today. That is greater than the population of Australia. In addition, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world.

Forced marriages represent another preventable source of violence against women. They eliminate a woman’s freedom of choice and frequently result in violent partnerships. According to UNICEF, although international law and many national legislations prohibit it, forced marriage is still a widespread practice. One in five women enters marriage without offering full, free and informed consent. This is mostly due to lack of government crackdown on forced marriage cases.

Even when a relationship is consensual, domestic violence is frustratingly frequent. The World Health Organization estimates that about 35 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetimes. It does not help that an estimated one billion women lack legal protection from domestic violence, according to a World Bank Study. Domestic sexual violence is only a crime in one in every three countries.

What Needs To Change

The establishment and enforcement of legislation related to protecting women have been lax. A lack of accountability leads to millions of women suffering. UNODC Director Antonio Maria Costa lamented that “while the number of convictions for human trafficking is increasing, two out of every five countries covered by the UNODC Report had not recorded a single conviction.”

People are not holding governments accountable for protecting women within their borders. However, many professionals agree that lasting change will stem from the political realm. Data easily shows the benefits of legislation. Shannon pointed out countries that, in the past, experienced a reduction in female mortality by 32 percent with a ban on domestic violence. There is a need for a global treaty to end violence against women to improve the accountability of governments that create and enforce laws protecting women. That is exactly what Every Woman Treaty is striving to accomplish.

The Global Treaty To End Violence Against Women

The Every Woman Treaty requests a partnership between every country in the global community to bring accountability to protecting women. Countries that sign the treaty would ensure they have sufficient legislation to prevent the most common abuses of women, provide services for victims, promote prevention education and contribute towards a global implementation fund with a goal towards ending violence against women. As the movement gains traction, the Every Woman Treaty is asking individuals to sign onto its platform to show governments that it has the support of the public.

Several of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals released by the U.N. focus on protecting women from violence. Voices across the global community scream for change on this issue. Despite this, governments are still not providing the legislative changes necessary to end the violence once and for all. A global treaty to end violence against women, like the one the Every Woman Treaty proposes, could be the answer—the final push to make this issue a priority. Lisa Shannon made clear at the event that violence against women is horrible, but an “absolutely solvable problem. We just have to decide we’re ready to (solve it).”

To sign onto the Every Woman Treaty’s cause, visit https://everywoman.org.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Violence against indigenous women
Recently, activist groups in the U.S. have brought attention to a staggering problem: the increasing number of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls. Violence against indigenous women and girls does not only occur in the U.S. Native women all around the world also find themselves trapped in the margins of justice, vulnerable to various forms of violence. This article will consider three common threads that perpetuate these patterns and the initiatives taken to stop them.

Economic Exploitation

Due to centuries of displacement and disenfranchisement that nation-state expansion caused, many indigenous communities around the world have limited access to economic opportunity. As a result, indigenous women must often work in highly exploitative labor, which can take the form of slavery and/or human trafficking.

In Nepal, girls of Tharu origin or Kamlaris frequently find themselves in a coordinated system of bondage. While the Nepal government prohibited this system in 2000, the economic scarcity that some Tharu families face allows for this exploitation to survive, according to the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network.

Violence against indigenous women takes the form of debt bondage in several other Asian countries. Cases have popped up in China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and other countries in the region. In Latin America, economic exploitation is a detriment to the well-being of indigenous women and girls, with life-threatening child labor forced upon many native communities.

Encroachment onto Indigenous Land

Land-grabbing for economic or political reasons threatens many indigenous communities around the world. In many cases, this weakens the solidarity instrumental in ensuring the well-being of community members, leaving women and girls more vulnerable. Seventy-six percent of people living on tribal land and 96 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against indigenous women in the U.S., for example, are of non-native identity.

In Asia-Pacific countries, the appropriation of land for private or public use met with resistance and has led to the increased terrorization of indigenous communities, according to the U.N. The military forces of the Philippines, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have all used rape and murder of women and girls as a war tactic.

Governmental Negligence

Combating the multifaceted forms of violence against indigenous women and girls is a tall task; political negligence of the problem makes it even harder.

Consider one particularly harmful U.S. policy which states that tribes do not have legal jurisdiction over criminal acts that nonmembers commit. In 2013, this law changed to allow prosecution in cases of domestic violence, but sexual assault and trafficking crimes still lie outside tribes’ legal power. Of course, the federal level could try these crimes, but law enforcement often fails to respond in an adequate or timely manner. Even in urban settings, nearly a third of perpetrators of violence against indigenous women do not receive justice in the U.S., according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.

There is a similar dynamic playing out in New Zealand, where Maori women often face discrimination. If they bring a complaint to the government, it may not be fruitful, as “[t]he government has a poor record of recognizing and protecting Maori rights and interests generally,” says indigenous legal scholar Kerensa Johnston.

Confronting the Challenge

To address violence against indigenous women and girls, two different types of solutions are necessary. First, governments must implement immediate-relief policies: the U.N. notes that many countries have invested in support services for women and girls affected by violence and in awareness campaigns to prevent violence from even occurring. Policies can also work to improve data collection to ensure that fewer cases go unaddressed; Washington state just passed a bill with this aim.

As the U.N. warns, however, solving this problem will require more than tinkering around the edges. Histories of inequities make justice elusive, putting native women and girls at a higher risk for gender-based violence. The U.N. report suggests that communities and countries will find a path forward only once they recognize this history.

– James Delegal
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Patriarchy
While poverty and patriarchy may seem like separate issues, the two connect deeply. As long as poverty exists, women’s rights and livelihoods will suffer. Likewise, women’s oppression leads to their inability to contribute to the economy and prevents a family’s escape from cycles of poverty. Here are some examples from around the world of poverty and patriarchy reinforcing each other, and some ways humanitarian aid can improve these situations.

Microcredit in Bangladesh Has Left Millions of Women At High Risk For Domestic Violence

From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, people thought that micro-loans would be the future of international development. In Bangladesh, most of these loans went to women on the belief that women could handle money more responsibly than their male counterparts. They received a small amount of money to invest in materials to start a business and earn an independent livelihood in order to bring their families financial stability. Unfortunately, when these women were unsuccessful at lifting their families out of poverty and their families plunged into greater debt as a result of the loans, they often suffered spousal abuse. For other women, as soon as they received the money, the men and their families took it and used it, leaving them to pay off the loans by themselves. As a whole, micro-credit has not had the intended impact on the people of Bangladesh that the international community once hoped for, and rates of violence against women have climbed, increasing the correlation between poverty and patriarchy

Solution: Investing in women’s education will provide them with the knowledge they need to become financially independent and ensure greater legal protection for victims of domestic violence could greatly combat this issue.

Poverty As a Weapon Against Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sixty-one percent of women living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo live in poverty, compared to only fifty-one percent of men. This is because people have systematically excluded women from peace-building efforts in the country. Because there are no women’s voices at the decision-making table, countries set policies that prioritize men, often at women’s expense. Disturbingly, women’s rights activists in the country are often a target for violence. Many think that those who advocate for women-centered poverty-relief efforts are distracting from larger issues within the country.

Solution: Studies that researchers conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrate that in areas with high levels of poverty, there are high levels of violence against women. Providing food security, as well as funding institutions and organizations to empower women, are important steps in relieving both poverty and oppression in the DRC.

Time Poverty Makes it Nearly Impossible for Indian Women to Contribute to the Economy

In India, the average man works seven hours per day. Although women usually work for nine hours a day, the vast majority of their labor is unpaid housework and childminding. This means that they have little time to earn any outside wages, and therefore, remain financially dependent on the men in their families.  The power dynamic that this situation creates is extremely dangerous. Women lose any agency they may have because they depend on their fathers, husbands or brothers for everything. This means that they have no power to go against their male relative’s wills. It also hurts the Indian economy, as women have little ability to contribute to it.

Solution: In rural India, women spend upwards of four hours each day gathering fuel and cleaning utensils to cook with. Providing them with solar or electric cookers could save them three hours of unpaid labor, giving them more time to do what they want to do or contribute to the economy as an untapped workforce.

These examples display just how poverty and patriarchy intertwine and push women and their families into poverty. If women could gain an education, receive food security or use alternative cooking equipment to limit labor, they might be able to improve their situation and lift themselves out of poverty.

Gillian Buckley
Photo: Wikimedia

10 facts about violence in honduras
In Honduras, the homicide rate is currently 43.6 per 100,000, meaning for every 100,000 of Honduras’ inhabitants, about 44 people will be murdered every year. With this statistic alone, it is easy to see Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. However, by evaluating the implemented solutions working to combat violence, homicides in Honduras appear to be dropping; raising the possibility of losing its position as the murder capital of the world. Here are 10 facts about violence in Honduras.

10 Facts About Violence in Honduras

  1. Murder – In 2011 Honduras experienced a peak in murder rates making Honduras the holder of the highest homicide rate in the world. Between 2011 and 2015, the murder rate in Honduras decreased by 30 percent. Homicides went down from 88.5 per 100,000 residents to 60.0 per 100,000 and have remained constant or decreased slowly depending on the year. However, in Honduras, only 4 percent of reported homicide cases result in arrest showing there is still lots of room for improvement.
  2. Lack of Trust – Police and judicial systems in Honduras suffer from corruption, lack of training and a list of cases so long that even honest, well-equipped officials struggle to keep up. As a result, members of the most vulnerable Honduran communities often do not trust the police, public prosecutors or judges to do their jobs. Fearing retaliation from violent perpetrators, they often refuse to provide witness testimony necessary to bring about a conviction. This causes Honduran judicial officials to lose trust in victims. This lack of trust and support fuels a vicious cycle of violence and impunity that has contributed to Honduras’ status as one of the most violent countries in the world. The Special Commission to Purge and Reform the Honduran Police is working to rid the force of corrupt leaders, strengthen public and police relations and reorganize their internal and external goals. Today, the Special Commission to Purge and Reform the Honduran Police has put in nearly 15 months of work and suspended or removed 5,000 police from the force.
  3. Poverty – Poverty and violence are directly related, and they work together to generate difficult living conditions in Honduras. As of 2017, 64 percent of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. Further, Honduras has the second smallest middle class in Latin America, at only 10.9 percent of the population. A larger middle class would result in stronger public institutions, stronger economic growth and greater societal stability. Therefore, Honduras would see lower levels of violence because of stronger societal relations. Working to stem both violence and increase economic opportunities is the key to sustainable development.
  4. Illegal Drug Trade – Central America serves as a transit point for at least 80 percent of all cocaine shipments between the Andean region and North America. Criminal groups in Honduras are very aware of this and profit primarily from drug trade and extortion as well as kidnapping for ransom and human trafficking. In February 2019, authorities in Honduras arrested four Colombian citizens caught in an attempt to smuggle over 100 kilograms of cocaine into the United States through a remote region of the country’s eastern coast. This is one example of thousands.
  5. Gangs – Gang presence in Honduras is common in poor urban areas and where territory is controlled by members of rival gangs, the most powerful being the Mara Salvatrucha and the Barrio 18. The most common age for Honduran gang members is between 12 and 30. Gangs constitute a real but often misunderstood feature of these 10 facts about violence in Honduras. While there is little doubt that they are involved in significant levels of violence, gangs are highly diverse and linked more to localized insecurity rather than the transnational danger ascribed to them by the media and certain policymakers. It is understood that 40 percent of gang members claim to be involved in gangs to ‘hang out,’ 21 percent because they had gang member friends and 21 percent to evade family problems. There is also a correlation between youth unemployment and gang membership: only 17 percent of gang members were employed and 66 percent actively characterized themselves as unemployed.
  6. Domestic Violence – One woman is murdered every 16 hours in Honduras, and the country has the highest femicide rate in the world. Shocking numbers of rape, assault and domestic violence cases are reported. However, 95 percent of cases of sexual violence and femicide in Honduras were never investigated in the year 2014. As mentioned above, widespread underreporting is likely to be linked to the lack of trust in governmental figures such as police and judicial systems. Rape is widespread and is employed to discipline girls, women and their family members for failure to comply with demands. In Honduras, there is a 95 percent impunity rate for sexual violence and femicide crimes and the lack of accountability for violations of human rights of women is the norm rather than the exception.
  7. Honduras Youth – The expansion of gangs and the increase in violence is linked to the lack of opportunities for the youth of the country. Many young Hondurans turn to gangs for their welfare protection and identity construction because they see no other way. Gangs emerge in this context as an option that is often desired for the marginal youth as it provides a form of transition from adolescence to adulthood. About 2 percent of females go completely uneducated, compared to 3 percent of males. Likewise, secondary school lasts between two to three years between the ages of 13 and 16, and 38 percent of females drop out compared to 33 percent of males.
  8. The Public and Prevention – In areas with low levels of violence, residents have taken incidents of crime and made an effort to minimize conditions that might allow violence to thrive. Kindernotheilfe has partnered with the community-formed group Sociedad más Justa (ASJ). They are dedicated to improving the living conditions of children and young people in Tegucigalpa and protecting them from violent abuse. Since 2004, parents, children, young people, teachers, churches, justice officials, city administrations and other NGOs have gotten involved. Some of their help include psychological and legal counseling, neighborhood patrolling and organized children’s clubs and activities.
  9. USAID and Honduras Citizen Security – On Sept. 30, 2016, the U.S. Agency for International Development programs for Honduras invested in a $34.17 million project lasting until Feb. 13, 2021. They are working to support the Government of Honduras’ efforts to improve the service delivery of justice institutions; increase the capacity of police to work with targeted communities; and incorporate respect for human rights to help reduce violence, decrease impunity and implement human rights standards within government institutions. During the third quarter of year one, they achieved key targets, including launching five city events, holding an international conference, instituting a Supreme Court Innovation Committee, connecting with the LGBTQI committee and collaborating with other donor programs.
  10. The Peace and Justice Project – The Peace and Justice Project provides investigative, legal and psychological support for people with few resources who have been victims of violent crimes and push for structural change in Honduras’ security and justice systems. The project has a 95 percent conviction rate, almost 24 times the national average. This has reduced the impunity rate in key communities from 4 percent convictions to 60 percent convictions for violent crimes, while also reducing the overall homicide rate drastically. Over the last 10 years, 600 lives have been saved through interventions in these violent communities.

These 10 facts about violence in Honduras prove that while strides have been made, violence in Honduras is still a major global concern. Communities and citizens of Honduras should continue to make a difference by demanding higher standards and continuing prevention actions. Furthermore, other nations should continue to support by becoming involved in helping strengthen institutional, governmental and police and judicial systems to see long term change.

Grace Arnold
Photo: Flickr

Following­ the eruption of violence in 2018, Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, has seen its economic progress stagnate and its domestic life falter. The additional unrest is making Nicaraguans more vulnerable to violence and instability. While Nicaragua’s overall crime rate is low, certain areas, like the rape of minors and political violence, are high. These 10 facts about violence in Nicaragua provide a glimpse after one year of conflict.

10 Facts About Violence in Nicaragua

  1. Political violence occurred in 2018 in response to the government’s social security reforms. Protests occurred between April and July, and the government responded brutally. More than 300 people were killed and hundreds detained during three-month anti-government protests where citizens demanded that President Daniel Ortega — who has been in power since 2007 — step down. In the subsequent six months, the government arrested and jailed opposition leaders and those who challenged his authority, his human rights abuses, his consolidation of power and his low 10 percent approval rating.
  2. Sixty thousand Nicaraguans have sought asylum from the violence in Costa Rica. In July 2018, Costa Rica alone received about 200 requests by Nicaraguans for asylum per day. The U.N. is seeking to support countries who take Nicaraguan refugees.
  3. Violence between protesters and government-sponsored paramilitary groups disrupts access to resources. Roadblocks appear without apparent reason, mostly around cities, and limit the availability of food and fuel.
  4. Civil unrest continues unpredictably. Although protests are forbidden, they occur and government forces respond with violence. The poor infrastructure in parts of the country limits the potential of international assistance.
  5. Access to healthcare is limited due to the unrest. Government hospitals are understaffed and frequently deny treatment to suspected protestors. Ambulances are unreliable, denying treatment or not visiting certain areas.
  6. Sexual assault, especially against girls, is common. More than two-thirds of the 14,000 rapes reported between 1998 and 2008 were committed against girls under the age of 17, and nearly half of them were under the age of 14. More recent statistics during Ortega’s presidency are unavailable, but anecdotal reports suggest that gender-based violence is widespread. A stigma follows survivors of rape, but not perpetrators. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed grave concern.
  7. Domestic violence against women is controversial in Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan Constitution contains both protections against and provisions for violence against women under certain circumstances, like marriage. Legal dialogue has fluctuated through the 2010s. In 2012, in response to high levels of femicide and little legal response, a women’s rights group pushed through Ley Integral Contra La Violencia Hacia Las Mujeres (Law 779) expanding the legal definition of violence against women, establishing specially-trained prosecutors to hear gender-based violence cases and further protect victims. Since then, 779 has been systematically weakened by a series of legislative and presidential decrees. Local conservative legislators and religious leaders see 779 as potentially destructive to families if women could seek reprisal for domestic violence. Although rape is illegal, domestic/intimate violence, child-marriage and dating violence is still high.
  8. Violence is hurting Nicaragua’s economic growth. Between 2014 and 2016, poverty in Nicaragua decreased from 29.6 to 24.9 percent and extreme poverty from 8.3 to 6.9 percent. But due to the social and political unrest since April 2018, the economy contracted in 2018 by 3.8 percent. The World Bank supported Nicaragua through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, to support poverty reduction measures in the country.
  9. Violent street crime is spotty, but regional, and is greater in urban areas after dark. Street crime is more prevalent in Managua, Puerto Cabezas, Bluefields, San Juan del Sur, Popoyo, El Transito and the Corn Islands.
  10. The homicide rate is low and falling. The homicide rate held steady with 15 in 100,000 people 2014-16, but it fell to 6 in 100,000 in 2018—far lower than comparable economies. Men commit homicide six times more frequently than women and people ages 15-26 are the most likely to commit homicides.

Heather Hughes
Photo: U.N.

Pregnant in Niger
Pregnancy can be challenging anywhere, but being pregnant in Niger is often life-threatening. Around 14,000 women in Niger die every year as a result of pregnancy-related complications, with only 29 percent of births attended by skilled medical professionals. Because giving birth at home is a deeply ingrained cultural tradition in Niger, only 17 percent of women give birth in health facilities.

Challenges in Being Pregnant in Niger

The difficulties of being pregnant in Niger are exacerbated by the persistence of gender inequality. Women are often treated as property, with girls being married or even sold off before reaching puberty. Violence against girls and women remains a huge problem, especially because victims have often been conditioned to expect and tolerate these abuses.

Due to limited national resources and inadequate funding, the health care system in Niger is unequal to the task of providing universal care for all Nigeriens and relies heavily on assistance from charitable organizations. In 2015, an evaluation of Niger’s national health policy, led by the World Health Organization, revealed that only minimal progress had been made in the area of maternal health. To address this need, nonprofit groups such as Nutrition International are taking action.

Nutrition International

Nutrition International is an organization “helping more pregnant women and their newborns receive access to essential health care services, medicines and other commodities, including vitamins and minerals.” This initiative includes assessing the prenatal and antenatal care as well as pregnancy outcomes and evaluating the potential barriers to care for Nigerien women. These barriers range from a lack of confidence that prenatal and antenatal care is as important as they are being told to more practical concerns such as being able to afford transportation to medical appointments.

The period of time during and shortly after birth is a crucial one for both mother and newborn child. Unforeseen complications can arise, and without adequately trained health providers as well as the proper medicine and equipment, too many mothers and babies needlessly die. Nutrition International is also making materials available to facilities in Niger to provide care to pregnant and postpartum women as well as to train health personnel to give improved care and counseling to their patients. Furthermore, they are utilizing volunteers within the community to impart to pregnant women and their families the importance of antenatal care.

UNICEF and UNFPA

In 2017 alone, 81 out of every 1,000 live births resulted in the death of the infant before reaching one year of age. UNICEF provides support to the government of Niger to ensure that mothers and their babies receive a “continuum of care,” from prenatal to antenatal and promotes the education of girls, which can decrease the odds of childhood or adolescent pregnancy.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) implemented a program in 2014 called Action for Adolescent Girls. This has played an important role in helping to improve conditions for women who are pregnant in Niger. One important mission of the organization is to ensure that the women, and not young girls, are entering into marriages of their own volition and not being impregnated before they are physically and emotionally ready.

UNFPA sought out and trained local women to serve as mentors to young Nigerien girls, teaching them the basics of female hygiene, reproductive health, literacy and the basics of how to manage money. They were taught that child marriage is illegal and were informed of their other rights as citizens and human beings. Within the first eight-month cycle of the program, this initiative had already resulted in an increase of contraceptive use from 19 percent to 34 percent.

Looking Ahead

The government of Niger continues to work with global organizations to improve the health of prospective and new mothers as well as their children. USAID contributes to this effort with development and humanitarian programs in Niger, all of which are aimed at making the country more self-sufficient. The more financially solvent the country is, the better educated its population will be, ensuring that fertility rates continue to decline while the Nigerien economy continues to improve. With assistance from the U.S. and other wealthy nations, Niger can fulfill its potential and all of its citizens can thrive.

Raquel Ramos
Photo: Unsplash

Malaysian Women
In the country of Malaysia where 30 million people are affected by widespread poverty, human trafficking, crime, a growing Islamic movement, as well as numerous other misfortunes, women are the most affected by these problems. In some Islamic cultures, there is an outlook that Muslim women should be subservient, submissive and should not have equal rights. However, compared to other Islamic countries, women’s aid in Malaysia has been a much greater success.

In this Southeast Asian country, there have been significant developments in the fight to protects women’s rights. One such organization that has joined this fight is the Women’s Aid Organization. This organization is challenging the antiquated views of women as well as helping to end violence against women and work towards equality between men and women.

The Women’s Aid Organization

The Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) was started, courtesy of Tan Siew Sin, the first Minister of Commerce and Industry in Malaysia, who donated a cash reward of RM 30 thousand to establish a shelter for battered women and their children in 1979. This shelter was eventually made into what is today the Women’s Aid Organization.

The vision of this organization is for violence against women to be eliminated. Its mission statement is “to promote and create respect, protection and fulfillment of equal rights for women. To work towards the elimination of discrimination against women, and to bring about equality between women and men.” Women’s aid in Malaysia has been largely influenced by this organization.

The objective of the Women’s Aid Organization is to provide protection, shelter and counseling to women and their children in the case of mental, physical or sexual abuse at any given time. The WAO also takes on research into the factors that play a part in the inequality of women.

Additionally, the organization advocates with government organizations and NGO’s to abolish factors contributing to the subordination of women through law, policy and organized reforms. It strives to provide a better understanding of the issues of violence against women and the underlying inequalities that they face on a daily basis.

Programs in the Women’s Aid Organization

The Women’s Aid Organization has three main services available to help women and their children in times of need.

  1. The first service is the Refuge, which operates as a shelter for abused women and their children. The Refuge is the center for WAO activities to educate women about domestic violence and women and family concerns, which are inevitably associated with this issue.
  2. The second service is the Child Care Centre, which is a place for children of former WAO’s residents who are going back to work and starting their lives over. The children of these women are cared for, either full-time or during the mother’s work hours, and provided an education at local schools along with recreational activities.
  3. The third service is social work, which is the center for advocacy on behalf of the women and children needing help. This section provides services to help women through legal, medical and welfare departments and ensure they are being treated fairly.

These services give women and their children the support and protection they need. Through the combination of these programs and several other services offered through the WAO, an extremely supportive system is created for maltreated women to use whenever it is needed.

Women’s aid in Malaysia has come a long way because of the WAO. Compared to other Islamic countries, this country is more progressive in its approach to the issue of women’s inequalities. Through more organizations like this one, women’s rights will become more of a priority for the authority figures of Malaysia. Aid is very much so needed in this Southeast Asian country, but much more so for women, whose odds are stacked up against them because of the way they have been seen in society for so long.

– Megan Maxwell
Photo: Flickr

Kenya In the current climate of American culture, one has most likely heard or participated in a discussion about consent; but, in many nations and cultures, having a conversation about sexual consent can be quite foreign.

Global Conversations on Consent

Rape and sexual assault are pervasive parts of all societies. Currently, about 120 million girls worldwide, or roughly 1 in 10 of the women on Earth, have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts in their lives.

Contrary to many popular beliefs which imagine the perpetrators of these crimes to be strangers, it is most common that the person who commits sexual violence against girls and women are current or former boyfriends, partners or husbands.

Often women who suffer sexual violence at the hands of intimate partners do not consider these acts to be crimes. It can simply be seen as innate to such partnerships due to the cultural normalization of sexual violence. In 37 countries, perpetrators of rape are exempt from prosecution if they are married or subsequently marry their victim.

Ending the Silence

The historical power inequity between men and women has shown long-standing connections to sex. Interpersonal violence against a weaker partner is widespread and systematic, but sexual violence is rarely discussed within professional or familial relationships. Such silence occurs due to shame from the social stigmas attached to victims and widespread inexperience in conversing on such difficult and painful topics.

Global conversations on consent are amazing ways to lift the burden on survivors and victims of sexual assault and rape. In many countries with available data, less than 40 percent of women who experience physical or sexual violence seek help.

Education and Support

In so many instances, victims internalize these assaults through culturally induced practices of self-blame. Opening platforms where survivors have room to share their narratives is a paramount aspect in the struggle to end violence against women.   

An incredible example in the fight to begin global conversations on consent can be found in the education programs provided by the non-profit, No Means No Worldwide in Kenya and Malawi.

No Means No

No Means No Worldwide is training instructors in high-risk environments to teach a rape prevention curriculum to girls and boys aged 10-20 in both schools and clubs.

Education has major links to the perpetration and susceptibility to violence in both men and women. No Means No Worldwide’s curriculum empowers both girls and boys to create cultures of mutual respect. Girls are taught to identify risk and that they have the choice to say “no.”

If that “no” is not respected, girls and women can also learn physical skills to defend themselves. Boys learn to challenge their perceptions by questioning rape myths. Boys are also taught to ask for consent and to intervene if they expect or witness predatory behavior.

The Right Direction

The results of these programs are astounding. In the areas where their curriculums have been implemented, No Means No Worldwide has seen a 51 percent decrease in the incidence of rape and a 46 percent decrease in pregnancy-related school dropouts.

Fifty percent of girls stopped a rapist within the first year after training, and there was a 73 percent success rate of boys who intervened to prevent an assault.

Speaking Up

Poverty and sexual assault are experiences that are inextricably intertwined; the existence of each fuel the other and back again. People living in poverty and lacking in economic power and resources are at greater risk for sexual violence. In a world where women continue to be economically dependent, less educated and poorer than men, their sexual dignity and human rights are eternally at risk.

Rape is preventable, but first, we need to admit that sexual assault is happening. Global conversations on consent are one step in the road to ending violence against women — so start talking.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

Global Prevalence of Femicide
Femicide is defined as the killing of women. It has also been called gendercide and it is the most severe form of violence against women. The global prevalence of femicide is evident within all regions and cultures.

The Current Situation

Four of the five regions with the highest levels of femicide also have the highest rates of overall homicides, but in Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation, femicide rates are disproportionately high in respect to general homicide rates. In India, 8,093 cases of dowry femicide were reported in 2007. In China, female children are twice as likely to die in their first year of life compared to male children and the risk of death is three times higher for second born female children than first born.

Furthermore, in Guatemala, two women are murdered on average every single day. In Mexico, an estimated seven women were murdered every day in 2016. In South Africa, the rate of femicide for 2015 was 9.6 per 100,000 women, 4 times more than the global average that same year.

Cultures facilitate femicide through the normalization of violence against women. Dowry femicide, the murder of a woman by her in-laws over dowry-related conflicts, and honor killings, the murder of a woman by a member of her family for a behavioral transgression, can be considered “traditions” in the Middle East and South Asia. Intimate partner femicide is relabeled as a “crime of passion” in Latin America.

The pressure to desire male children for their dominant advantages over female children is a major cause of femicide in many nations. In societies such as China and India, girls are seen as burdens due to their inability to help support their families financially. The expense of dowries makes female infanticide a viable option for families seeking a more lucrative future.

Combatting the Global Prevalence of Femicide

Governments have a responsibility to protect women’s rights to life and liberty. By creating and enforcing laws that protect women from violence and discrimination, a precedent can be set and the complacency shown to the oppression of women can cease.

In Central America, femicide has been criminalized and prosecutors have been trained to take cases to trial. In Pakistan, sweeping new legislation has been passed to prevent the use of acid on attacks on women. Meanwhile, in Palestine, the first national strategy to combat violence against women in the Middle East was adopted with survivors of violence taking part in the legislation’s drafting. These are important positive steps toward legal recourse and representation in instances of femicide and violence against women.

Improving Female Representation in Government

As of June 2016, only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians were women, and as of June 2017, only two countries have 50 percent or more women in parliament. Room for women is slowly growing. 11 countries in Latin America and 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have applied for some form of gender quotas to open more space for women in governmental positions of power and influence.

Evidence has shown and continues to show that women’s leadership and inclusion in political decision-making processes improves governments. Female empowerment in government creates room for a discussion of many issues connected to gender equality and puts people with deep personal connections to these issues in positions with the power to fight the global prevalence of femicide.

The Causes of Femicide

Two of the largest risk factors for femicide and sexual violence are a lack of education and poverty which, in many cases, are intertwined afflictions. Education is a two-way street when seeking to end violence against women. It has been found that both men and women with higher levels of education are less likely to commit or experience violence.

By making education available to women, they have more opportunity for economic independence, are less likely to be forced into early marriage and learn skills that make them valuable members of society. In conjunction with educating women, educating men on the human rights of women can stunt the normalization of violence against women in the minds of young men and boys.

A perfect example of such an education can be seen in Nairobi, Kenya, where the nonprofit organization No Means No Worldwide implemented a program to prevent sexual assault on girls and women. The curriculum for males aimed to shift attitudes that lead to the acceptance of assault and rape of their female peers. Those male students in the experimental group who received the aforementioned curriculum were twice as likely as those in the control group to successfully halt instances of verbal harassment and physical or sexual violence against women.

Female empowerment and the re-education of both men and women to the equal rights of women and in culture and society are the keys to ending the abhorrent levels of violence against women and the global prevalence of femicide. Nina Simone once said, “I’ll tell you what freedom means to me. No fear.” Equal power and equal space are a route out from under the oppression of eternal fear, and released from that fear, women can find freedom.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr