Womens Rights in Ecuador
Through the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maria Amor Foundation, a nonprofit domestic violence shelter, has housed more than 80 women and 120 children as protection from the threat of domestic and sexual violence. The Borgen Project spoke with the director of the Maria Amor Foundation, Blanca Pacheco Lupercio, to learn more about the fight for women’s rights in Ecuador.

Violence Against Women in Ecuador

More than 40% of Ecuadorian women are victims of domestic and sexual violence and 70%  have experienced interpersonal violence in their lifetimes. Women’s rights in Ecuador were making steady progress until the COVID-19 pandemic when unemployment peaked in July 2020 at 16.8%. Despite the subsequent trend toward pre-pandemic rates and a new conservative president focused on economic prosperity, many women still lack the resources to leave violent situations in a nation where machismo, or traditional gender roles, are the status quo. “Violence is structural and systemic,” says Pacheco Lupercio. “We can’t say that all violence ends for women once they enter the shelter.”

The Maria Amor Foundation’s Services

The Maria Amor Foundation offers three major services to abuse victims: a 24-hour emergency hotline, two domestic violence shelters for women and children and a support program to help survivors create a new and independent life according to their dreams and aspirations.

The Foundation created its first domestic violence shelter in 2004 to provide women with a safe and resourceful space to stay. In 2005, the Foundation created a crisis hotline for victims and reprioritized community outreach to rural areas where victims may lack access to technology. By 2014, the Foundation had also opened an alternative shelter in the outskirts of the city to better serve rural women.

When someone calls the hotline, the Foundation interviews the caller and collects facts to identify a victim. After a risk assessment, the Foundation invites the individual to stay at the Casa Maria Amor, where the individual and their children receive psychological, emotional and medical assistance. The Foundation then provides victims with technical training to sustain an independent lifestyle once they leave the shelter. It offers entrepreneurial skills, legal advice and holistic skills like sewing.

Children exposed to violent situations can also be a casualty in the cycle of domestic and sexual violence. Pacheco says the Foundation’s aid programs for children are vital to those who may carry trauma. Child care services and Zoom learning classes for children help survivors build a new life.

How Victims of Violence Regain Independence

When victims leave the shelter, they receive social and legal support to help them form a plan to live independently and without fear of their abusers. The Foundation then connects them with other organizations and support groups like Mujeres Con Exito to assist them as they rediscover independence. “Our job is to… support these women so that one day they can leave independently,” says Pacheco.

More than 80 women stay in one of the Foundation’s shelters over the course of a year. Pacheco says approximately 15 women and their children live at the Casa Maria Amor for about five to six months at a time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, women are staying in shelters for longer. Pacheco says the pandemic worsened conditions on the ground. As healthcare facilities were overwhelmed and quarantine was underway, mothers struggled to care for and educate children during the workday.

Women’s rights in Ecuador experience violation at all social strata, so the Casa Maria Amor accepts survivors from every walk of life. Pachecho says that although survivors of greater means may have the ability to more easily create a new and independent life, the Casa Maria Amor will not turn away a person in need. In order to keep women out of violent situations, the nation needs to create concrete economic opportunities, Pacheco explains.

Poverty and Women’s Rights in Ecuador

Instilled gender roles and a meager education, particularly in rural regions, typically yield low employment prospects for women. Dr. Bernardo Vega, a professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the University of Cuenca, said in an interview with The Borgen Project that women in Ecuador tend to conform to the expectations of the rigid patriarchal system.

Rigid gender roles affect women in tangible ways such as increasing women’s likelihood of discontinuing their education. Vega says the average education for an Ecuadorian woman is approximately nine years. He says patriarchal gender roles expect women to forgo schooling and instead get married, have children and work in the home.

Vega says poverty, especially in rural areas, drives the inequality and marginalization of Ecuadorian women. He explains that poorly educated and poverty-stricken women tend to be economically dependent on their husbands. Therefore, they are more likely to suffer domestic and sexual violence. Vega says the social stigma women face for leaving their husbands also motivates them to stay silent in their suffering.

Early Pregnancy in Ecuador

Access to reproductive health and information is not equal across Ecuador. Only recently have educational institutions like high schools begun to provide sexual education. Vega says only 40% of adolescents have a general understanding of sexual and reproductive health and 80% of adolescents do not know where to access a sexual healthcare facility. Furthermore, only 5% of adolescents have ever visited healthcare facilities for information or treatment.

“Early pregnancy is like a door into poverty,” says Vega. “Violence and insecurity lead to poverty, like a circle.” According to Vega, Ecuador has the second-highest teenage pregnancy rate of all Latin American countries, trailing behind only Venezuela. He says that approximately 52,000 adolescents become pregnant each year in Ecuador, meaning that two out of 10 mothers are adolescents, a number that has risen in recent decades.

Political Involvement and Education Impacts Women’s Rights

While the push for women’s rights in Ecuador is a long way from guaranteeing egalitarianism, the feminist movement has galvanized women to empower themselves by entering the political sphere. Vega believes a new wave of women politicians can have tangible results in curbing inequity.

Furthermore, a push for educational programs in high schools, like the Plan Nacional de Salud Sexual y Salud Reproductiva, seeks to teach gender roles and sexual reproductive health in order to deconstruct conservative machismo and create a more egalitarian, educated population. This program received a renewal in 2017 and is continuing into 2021.

Andre Silva
Photo: Flickr

Women’s rights in FranceWith the rise of women’s rights movements in recent years, French citizens have mobilized to address gender issues, especially the prevalence of femicide and domestic violence. France has made much progress in the realm of gender equality, including the establishment of policies and programs promoting women’s rights in France under the Macron administration. However, there is still much to be done to reach true equality and to end gender-based violence.

Violence Against Women

In France, femicides —  the killing of women by a relative or significant other — have been a significant reason for protest in recent years. La Fondation des Femmes, or the Women’s Foundation, is one protest group that has formed around the issue as it believes government efforts to curb the violence are not enough to keep citizens safe. In a recent article from the BBC, the Women’s Foundation criticized the lack of adequate gun policy as firearms are one of the most common weapons used in femicides.

Additionally, pandemic-induced lockdowns have forced many women to be confined in the same space as abusers, resulting in a 30% increase in domestic violence reports, according to France24. Due to its continued prevalence, gender violence is a central concern for activists advocating for women’s rights in France.

The #MeToo movement also gained traction in France in 2017 under the French name #BalanceTonPorc. Though there were no significant convictions or resignations of perpetrators of sexual violence at first, the rise in protests and social media movements greatly increased the visibility of victims in 2020.

Efforts to Combat Gender-Based Violence

President Emmanuel Macron’s emphasis on gender equality provided much hope for feminist voters during his 2017 presidential campaign. As part of his pledge to support women’s rights in France, Macron implemented protective policies for women and has established the position of Secretariat of Equality between Women and Men, a role currently held by Marlène Schiappa. Under Macron’s administration, France scored 75.1% in 2020 in terms of the Gender Equality Index, ranking third-best among all members of the EU.

In response to protests and the advocacy of groups such as the Women’s Foundation, the French government implemented several pieces of legislation addressing gender violence. According to the BBC, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held a domestic violence conference in 2019, during which he pledged to increase the number of temporary shelters for victims, improve the procedures of domestic violence cases and contribute more than $6 million to the cause. French parliament added to these measures by approving a law permitting doctors to reveal the identity of a patient if domestic violence is putting the patient’s life at risk.

Women’s Rights Progress

There has been some improvement as between 2019 and 2020 the number of domestic murders of women decreased from 146 to 90, a historically low number that the government believes to be a result of the work of its policies and law enforcement.

Despite government efforts to decrease gender violence, many individuals are still concerned by the alarming numbers of femicides. Protest groups in France are creating street collages highlighting femicide and sexual harassment. Caroline De Haas, the founder of the feminist movement NousToutes, told the Guardian that “nearly 100 deaths is no reason to celebrate.”

There are several hopeful developments for gender equality in France. However, despite an explicit government commitment to equality, the government must take additional steps to conquer disparities in female employment and leadership, gender violence, harassment and wage gaps. The continued protests asserting an end to violence against women demonstrate the need for more policy and execution of legislation for women’s rights in France.

Sarah Stolar
Photo: pixabay

Honor-Based Violence
In 2020, family members murdered two women after a video from the previous year surfaced online of the women kissing a man. This murder is just one of 5,000 “honor-based” killings that happen every year. Girls as young as 15 have died just for helping neighbors elope. Here is some information about honor-based violence.

What is Honor-Based Violence?

Honor killings are one type of honor-based violence. Honor-based violence is any violence that occurs with the purpose of restoring the honor of a family or community, and thus, the victim’s family members or community members usually commit it. Violence, in this case, includes any physical or psychological attack. The most common forms of honor-based violence are acid assaults, genital mutilation, forced marriage and murder. Girls or women typically face the most honor-based violence, but men can be targets as well.

Honor-based violence frequently occurs due to the desire for female purity. The practice stems from cultural ideologies that women belong to men or are a symbol of their family’s honor.

Traditionally, some cultures consider men “guardians of female value,” and therefore, experience dishonor if a woman becomes worthless by destroying her virtue. A woman can experience condemnation for ruining her “value” even if she suffers rape or assault.

History and Statistics of Honor-Based Violence

The practice of honor killings dates back to ancient Babylon, connecting to tribal traditions of burying baby girls alive. Although honor killings have undergone justification in the name of Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, the practice does not have any basis in religion. On the contrary, religious leaders frequently condemn this violence.

Estimates have determined that about 1,100 people die in honor killings per year in Pakistan. This is only slightly more than in India, which is about 1,000 people. While Pakistan and India record the most honor killings, they are not the only places where these murders happen. Records of honor killings exist in the U.K., the U.S., Sweden, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey and Uganda. Many places do not document honor killings or record them under other types of violence. Therefore, it is hard to know exactly how many honor killings occur and where they happen.

Activists and Artists

While thousands of honor killings happen each year, many activists have been working to change the culture. For one, they are trying to end the legal and colloquial use of the phrase “honor killing” and instead make sure people use the word murder.

Activists and artists throughout the world have made documentaries about honor killings. In 2016, journalist and activist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for her film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.” The movie follows the story of Saba, a young woman from Pakistan who survived an attempted murder against her after she married without her family’s permission.

The film was so influential that the Pakistani Prime Minister vowed to change the laws surrounding honor killings. In fact, that same year, the government passed the Anti-Honor Killing Bill. The bill states that families can no longer pardon people who murder their family members due to “honor.” Before the enactment of this bill, a family could forgive someone for murdering their family member out of honor. In such a case, the murderer would not receive a charge or penalty.

Obaid-Chinoy is not the only one who has created influential documentaries. In 2021, filmmaker Safyah Usmani worked with MTV and Obaid-Chinoy on her documentary “A Life Too Short,” which follows the life of Pakastani star, Qandeel Baloch, and her death by her brother. While many well-known documentaries have emerged in Pakistan, it is not the only country that features in these films. ITV aired a documentary in 2020 about the murder of a London woman, Banaz Mahmod.

Honour-Based Violence Awareness Network

In addition to films, activists have collected resources to help teach people about the tradition. One such project is the Honour-Based Violence Awareness Network that “intends to advise professionals in how to identify and provide an effective response to these forms of violence, and to provide links to [organizations] with expertise in providing help to people at risk.” Founded by activists Deeyah and Joanne Payton, the website provides training and other informational resources for anyone interested in learning more about honor-based violence.

With films and advocacy groups, awareness about honor-based violence has increased. Increased awareness of the issue, along with an increased pressure to cease such harmful patriarchal practices, will hopefully continue to include policy change.

Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality Issues in Moldova
Massive advancements in the quest for gender equality have filled the Modern Era. In the early 20th century, suffrage was pivotal in allowing women to obtain the right to vote. No-fault divorce, maternity leave, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act served to further advance the position of women. Around the world, these acts and ones like it have served to acknowledge and reform many factors limiting women’s role in society.

Need for Change

Despite many of these advances, a great deal more progress is necessary. Women are far more likely to be victims of sexual, spousal and physical abuse than men. Additionally, women still make approximately 60% of what their male counterparts earn per hour. If one acknowledges gender inequality now more than ever, why is gender equality progress so difficult to achieve? The answer may lie in the many problems the Republic of Moldova has seen. Specifically, the state of gender inequality in Moldova epitomizes that of countries gender inequality plagues, due to its deep-seated history of gender prejudice, as well as the limited effectiveness of implementing gender-based reforms.

Current Reform Efforts

Gender equality issues in Moldova have long struggled under the reign of communism. As a former member of the Soviet Union, the nation faced many limitations on expanding its people’s liberties and its economy. As a result of regressive economic situations, much of Moldova’s social culture relies on predicated, traditional gender roles. This makes the achievement of gender equality difficult, as society expects women to remain in their traditional gender roles.

Currently, Moldova’s gender equality efforts have appeared to be keeping up with those of other countries. In 2006, the government passed the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In 2016, the Republic of Moldova executed the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda which attempted to provide social and economic freedom to all human beings. Additionally, it adopted Law No. 71, which introduced paid paternity leave of 14 days and banned the use of sexist imagery and rhetoric in advertisements. Furthermore, it promoted the empowerment of womens’ status in politics at the national and local levels as well as introduced a minimum 40% Parliament gender requirement in order to enact decision and electoral college processes.

Is it Enough?

Despite the implementation of these and similar protocols, the work is far from complete regarding solving gender equality issues in Moldova. Many of the changes are protocols and they do not reflect immediate, or even effective action towards gender reformation.

Flaws in gender equality within Moldova’s government exemplified the need for further action. Gender equality in Moldova is incredibly hard to achieve when there is a huge limitation on Moldovan womens’ political power, as they possess only a fraction of representation in government in comparison to their male counterparts.

Additionally, despite the passing of these legislations years ago, Moldova still ranks 23rd in countries with the highest gender gap. This gap is so pervasive that women still experience prejudice in the form of severe wage differences, segregation of economic level, finite aid for childcare and unequal partner support for childcare.

Moldova also has a continued issue with domestic violence towards women. A family study on violence against women found that 63% of women suffered from violent partners. The study also showed that one out of 10 women experienced some form of economic violence.

A Hopeful Future for Women

While much more work is necessary, hope exists for gender equality in Moldova. While many countries around the world have yet to seriously acknowledge or even pass legislation toward the issue of gender equality, the aforementioned legal efforts show a much more profound commitment to its cause. Furthermore, there have been sizable steps in executing the issue of gender equality. Parliament, though not yet at 40%, has reached 25.7% representation and 36% in local municipalities. Moreover, Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Oleg Tulea, suggests the decrease in maternal mortality rate and successful birth rates were a result of a decrease in female-directed violence.

Outside intervention has also played a role in assisting women who experience violence. For instance, the U.S. NGO Global Rights for Women taught and created manual addressing how to approach cases of domestic violence. In addition, the document covers other issues, like gender gaps, human trafficking and overall advancement. Recently, Moldova elected the country’s first female president. Maia Sandu won an impressive 57% of the vote and stands as a staunch Europeanist. This also serves as a dramatic change to the isolationist policies, previously popular in Moldova.

The path to solving gender equality issues in Moldova is a long and formidable process. However, with recent successes, the idea of profound advancement is no longer just a dream, but an ever-evolving reality.

James Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

Laxmi Agarwal
On April 22 of 2005, 15-year-old Laxmi Agarwal waited patiently at the Khan Market bus stop. Moments later, she found herself losing consciousness. India ranks number one on the global charts when it comes to acid attacks on women. Each week, an estimated three individuals fall victim to this crime. Acid attacks against women, like other forms of violence against women, have roots in a deep level of misogyny. This is evident in Laxmi Agarwal’s story.

Laxmi Agarwal

Laxmi recounted the events of her acid attack in an interview with Vogue, “… A 32-year-old man proposed marriage to me. I said no. On April 19, he sent me a text proclaiming that he loves me and wants to marry me, and I didn’t respond. He texted me again, demanding a response, but I never did… He, along with his brother’s girlfriend stopped me outside the bus stand in Khan Market. The girl pushed me and threw the acid she was holding on my face.”

After undergoing a series of reconstructive surgeries, Laxmi could barely recognize herself, but this did not infringe on her perseverant drive to bring awareness to what had happened to her.

Change in Policy

The survivor took her case to India’s Supreme Court. Her case resulted in the institution of new regulations and penalties. Now, both federal and state governments are required to monitor the sales and purchases of acid. Laxmi Agarwal’s bravery prompted new, long-overdue conversations regarding the violence against women in India. As a result, legislation passed that continues to give harsher repercussions to rapists and offenders.

Change in Society

Laxmi fought long and hard to reclaim her face and life after her attack. She addressed the difficulties and struggles of trying to find a job after having society ostracize her for the burns on her face. To further normalize the rehabilitation process for acid attack survivors, Laxmi Agarwal joined and established numerous rehabilitation groups. One such group is a cafe that acid attack survivors run entirely. She works passionately to provide a safe space in which the girls who experienced acid burns can make friends and regain confidence without fear of societal judgment. She offers additional assistance, and encourages others to do the same through offering support to groups such as “Make Love, Not Scars.” This group hosts events such as fashion shows specifically for victims of acid attacks.

Besides donating to such organizations and educating people on the causes and effects of acid attacks, Laxmi Agarwal has entirely dedicated herself to spreading awareness. She worked alongside Bollywood superstar Deepika Padukone to turn her story into a movie, “Chhapaak,” released in Jan. 2020. Since then, Laxmi Agarwal has turned this seemingly negative experience into a learning opportunity. She has gone on to receive awards such as the International Women Empowerment Award. Her activism to better the treatment of women in her country has yielded tangible results, which have aided victims and raised awareness about the issue of acid attacks on women at large.

Meghana Nagendra
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Awareness to Honor KillingsThe Human Rights Watch (HRW) defines honor killings or honor crimes as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.” The practice is not specific to any region but is instead an international issue that goes largely unrecognized and is sometimes even condoned by the apathy and inaction of certain governmental bodies. Advocacy efforts by groups like the HRW have made strides in educating the public on the prevalence of this issue. Through filmmaking, individuals are also bringing awareness to honor killings. Films about honor killings detail the many facets of the practice and its impact on families and communities.

“A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” (2015)

In this 40-minute-long documentary, director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy tells the story of Saba, a Pakistani woman who was sentenced to death for falling in love and marrying a man who was once promised to her. Her story of survival is harrowing and heart-wrenching and the aftermath offers one of the most scathing indictments of honor killing in recent years. This Oscar-winning short film is undoubtedly one of the best stories about honor killings in the cinematic canon and is a must-see for anyone interested in international women’s rights.

“Sairat” (2016)

This popular Indian film tells the story of two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of the economic and social spectrum. Parshya is the son of a fisherman while Aarchi is the daughter of a powerful politician who will not sacrifice his status in the caste system under any circumstances. This romantic tragedy is a slightly more macabre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but accomplishes more than simple entertainment. The film takes place in the progressive state of Maharashtra, disrupting the common narrative that honor killings occur exclusively in traditional states.

“A Regular Woman” (2019)

Based on a true story, “A Regular Woman follows a young, self-determined German woman of Turkish descent. Her deeply patriarchal family frequently stands in the way of her living her own life, rejecting her lifestyle as improper. Eventually, tensions escalate to the point where she no longer feels safe at home so she runs away with her child. She then reports her brother, the chief agitator, to the police. While primarily a story about an honor killing, the film also examines the greater threat of patriarchal oppression and a women’s struggle to be heard.

Artistic expression plays a pivotal role in giving voice to people silenced by oppressive forces in the world. It offers perspective and situates observers in a world that they would not otherwise understand. Cinema offers viewers visceral and visual experiences which become more and more important as we hear stories about the unimaginable. These three films are examples of how artistic expression can bring awareness to honor killings and give voice to victims as well as survivors.

Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Samoa Samoa has had a long history of being considered a place where women’s rights have been hindered. Women’s voices in Samoa are often brushed aside when it comes to major issues such as domestic violence and politics. That being said, improvements on the basis of women’s rights in Samoa have occurred. U.N. Women has also worked to set up programs to support women’s equality in Samoa, which provides hope for the creation of more inclusive Samoan communities in the future.

The Samoan Woman’s Voice

Within the islands of the Pacific, where Samoa is located, the lowest rates of women’s participation in politics are found. Women within the Samoan culture are not encouraged to discover a sense of independent thought that they are willing to express. Because of this, women’s representation in governmental positions is a mere 10%. This minimum of 10%, however, will remain consistent due to an amendment of the Samoan constitution that was passed in 2013. The amendment states that women’s seats will be added into parliament if women are not elected, in order to ensure that at least 10% of parliamentary representation is women.

There are many cultural structures that greatly impact women’s rights when it comes to the expression of political opinions. One of these structures is the Matai councils that are in charge of local decision-making. Although women are allowed to join the Matai council, it is mainly considered a male council because of the low level of female members. The cultural family structures in Samoa also discourage women from reaching for political positions like becoming a Matai. Women mainly answer to their husbands within households so they feel a disconnect between having a desire for political power and their familial positions.

Violence Against Samoan Women

Only 22% of women that live in Samoa have not been a victim of some kind of domestic violence within their lifetime. Within the 78% of women who have experienced abuse, 38% said that the abuse was physical. Overlooked violence is one of the largest setbacks to obtaining more holistic women’s rights in Samoa. Women believe that the violence they face is not of importance. This can be justified by the fact that domestic violence was only reported to the police by 3% of women who experienced it.

3 Programs Improving Women’s Rights in Samoa

As many setbacks as there have been in gaining women’s equality in Samoa, U.N. Women has set up programs in order to empower women in Samoa.

  • The Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs: These programs work to ensure that women in Samoa can secure proper employment and are getting paid for the work they are doing. It also makes sure that women have access to assets and increased economic security.
  • The REACH Project: This program has worked to educate the general rural public of Samoa about general rights, including those of women. Although the goals of this program were extensive, one of them was to create equality of gender and to empower young girls for a better future. REACH accomplished its goals through the creation of sessions meant to increase awareness of rights and gender equality that citizens in rural areas could attend.
  • The Ending Violence Against Women Program: This program has created a fund in order to support women victims of violence within Samoa. It also works to change government policies that could support violence against women in any way. The information and support that this program gives to women who may not be aware of their right to speak up against violence against them is invaluable.

Overall, women’s rights in Samoa are progressing with the help of organizations like U.N Women fighting for the well-being and empowerment of women. Samoa has come a long way with regards to gender equality and the future looks hopeful for women in the country.

– Olivia Bay
Photo: Flickr

Native American WomenThe 2017 film, Wind River, based on actual events, riveted the public with its reported death rate of Native American women on American reservations. Writer-producer Taylor Sheridan aimed to raise awareness of the overlooked death rate and has succesfully done so since.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Where poverty is the greatest, indigenous women experience domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average for all races. In addition, 84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes or one in three each year. The perpetrators are most often non-Native men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.

Murdered indigenous women numbers rose to 500 in 2018, which is a low figure compared to the actual number of missing persons on reservations. Women have silently died and gone missing, underreported, for years. This is due to the discordance that exists between tribal, federal and local law enforcement. However, changes are being made ever since the 1978 ruling of Oliphant v. Suquamish, where it was ruled that Indian courts have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives. In November of 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to investigate the matter of unsolved cases of missing or murdered Native Americans.

Legislatively Addressing the Issue

Several major changes have since been underway. For example, the Not Invisible Act of 2020 will increase national focus on violent crime against indigenous people and intergovernmental coordination on the high death rate of Native American women. This bill began in 2019 as the Not Invisible Act of 2019; the first bipartisan bill in history to be introduced by four tribal representatives: Deb Haaland, Tom Cole, Sharice Davids and Markwayne Mullin.

To complement the Not Invisible Act, Savanna’s Act became public law in October 2020. Named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a murdered young indigenous woman whose fetus was cut from her womb, Savanna’s Act will ensure the Justice Department reports statistics on all missing/murdered native women and reform law enforcement. In addition, the National Institute of Justice has created the National Baseline Study which is a study on the health, wellbeing and safety of Native American women, to also provide more accurate data on femicide.

Safe Women, Strong Nations

In addition, the Safe Women, Strong Nations project partners with native nations to combat abductions and murder. The project provides legal advice to the tribes in restoring authority and holding perpetrators responsible. The project works to raise awareness to gain federal action to eliminate the violence against native women.

Poverty makes it easier for native women to be overlooked. One in three Native Americans suffer from poverty, living off on average $23,000 a year. “Poverty is both the cause and the consequence of all the ills visited upon Native Americans.” It is common knowledge that poverty provides leeway for criminality, and with Native American reservations being economically disadvantaged, this is no exception. Addressing systemic poverty instead of turning a blind eye will help lower the death rate of native women. The reservations only need opportunity and U.S.  juridical attention. It is hopeful to see that the United States’ legislative representatives are addressing violence against minority groups but more work needs to be done to protect the well-being of Native American women.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Protecting African Women from a “Shadow Pandemic” During COVID-19By 2063, The African Union (AU) hopes to accomplish a “socio-economic transformation” across the continent where poverty is eradicated. This is impossible without achieving gender inequality. Although Africa has made significant progress toward this foreseeable future, progress is still painfully slow. Several countries’ progress is stagnant and only addresses the issue by “acknowledging” that girls’ and women’s empowerment is key to improving Africa’s economy. There are many factors prolonging the AU’s vision coming to fruition. Some of the significant factors are violence against women in Africa and the perpetuation of poverty in the continent. Now, with COVID-19, violence against women or the “shadow pandemic” in Africa is reported at a higher number than before, possibly undoing all the continent’s progress.

The Gender Gap and Violence against Women

Violence against women in Africa is primarily fueled by the “gender gap,” which is the difference in opportunities, status and attitudes between men and women. This gap fosters violence against women. Unfortunately, violence is so embedded within African culture that 51% of women’s reported beatings from their husbands are justified.

This attitude toward women promotes poverty because it denies basic human rights and support for mental and economic hardship. Women account for more than 50% of Africa’s population, yet only contribute approximately 33% of the continent’s domestic gross product (GDP). As a result, Africa loses approximately $95 billion each year due to the gender gap.

The “Shadow Pandemic”

Africa has called the violence against women an epidemic long before COVID-19. However, violence against women in Africa has been on an alarming rise since the start of COVID-19 and the subsequential lockdowns. The United Nations calls it a “shadow pandemic,” or “in the shadow of the pandemic.”

During COVID-19, countries across the continent have reported much higher cases of violence. In Kenya, nearly 4,000 girls became pregnant during the lockdown from sexual assault. The main issue is that women and girls have such low status in Africa. Women are seen as easily disposable objects for men’s use and pleasure. With the loss of jobs, decreasing resources and being contained inside homes for lockdowns, women are at the mercy of husbands, fathers or other males living in their homes.

Organizations Fighting to End Violence Against Women in Africa

Several organizations have risen up to end the violence against women in Africa. These organizations are working hard to protect and empower women with economic opportunities. Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are a couple of organizations that are doing tremendous work to lead Africa into their 2063 vision amid COVID-19.

Spotlight Initiative is a partnership between the United Nations and European Union, whose goals are to eradicate violence against women by 2030. It is the largest global initiative working to eliminate violence against women and girls. Currently, the Spotlight Initiative advocates for interventions for African women, such as integrating prevention efforts for violence against women in COVID-19 response plans and addressing gender gaps in legislation and policy on COVID-19.

Alliances for Africa (AfA) is an international African-led organization advocating for human rights, peace and sustainable development. Its vision is to contribute to eliminating the causes of poverty in Africa. The organization’s six focus areas are poverty, hunger, health and well-being, quality education, gender inequality and clean water and sanitation. All of these focus areas are a part of the AU’s 2063 agenda mentioned earlier. AfA partnered with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa to support 120 rural women farmers during COVID-19. Each woman could revive and sustain their production, have access to markets and stay informed on COVID-19 preventive measures.

Countries worldwide are struggling to manage the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, issues like violence against women have risen during the COVID-19 lockdowns, affecting millions of women around the world. In Africa, the “shadow pandemic” is a growing concern amid an unprecedented crisis. Organizations like Spotlight Initiative and Alliances for Africa are working to alleviate the “shadow pandemic” but there is still much to be done to end violence against women and achieve gender equality. African governments and humanitarian organizations must continue their efforts to save women from facing another epidemic amid COVID-19.

– LaCherish Thompson
Photo: Flickr

Dalit Poverty
The Indian caste system is a hierarchical social system that Hindu Indians are born into. India adopted the caste system over 3,000 years ago. The system consists of four main categories including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Meanwhile, each group possesses hundreds of castes and subcastes. The Brahmins are at the top of the caste system and consist of intellectuals and teachers. The warrior and ruler class, the Kshatriyas, are next in the hierarchy. Below the Kshatriyas are the Vaishyas who are traders. Lastly, the Shudras are at the bottom of the caste system. These people do unfavorable jobs. However, a group exists outside the caste system that is below the rank of Shudras. These people are known as Dalits or the untouchables. Here is some information about Dalit poverty in India.

The Dalits

While the government officially banned the caste system in India in 1950, its remnants still remain socially. To this day, the caste in which one is born determines their social status, job and marriage under unofficial social guidelines that Hindu Indians follow. Dalits still experience segregation from other castes in many aspects of society including education, healthcare and worship.

Dalits are severely disadvantaged when it comes to education. In fact, only 10-20% of Dalits can read or write and only 2-3% of Dalit women are literate. With over 50% of the general Indian population being illiterate, the education disparity between Dalits and other castes is apparent. Dalit children especially struggle with inequality when it comes to their education. Segregated from the rest of the classroom, other students often bully or ridicule Dalit students because of their caste. Female Dalit students must also perform certain tasks around the school that other students do not have to do like cleaning the bathroom for instance.

Poverty disproportionately affects the Dalits, or untouchables, in comparison to the other castes even though India has disbanded the caste system. About half of the Dalit caste are living in poverty and 60% of Dalit children are chronically malnourished. Most of the Dalit caste work in low-paying jobs that other castes do not look highly upon. Since their jobs do not receive respect, employers underpay the Dalits for the work they do, thus causing the high poverty rate.

Violence, Poverty and COVID-19

Hate crime and violence against Dalit women is very high in contrast to violence towards women of other castes. A woman suffers rape in India every 20 minutes and a large majority of these cases are against Dalit women. In India, people often see Dalit women as inferior and weak in comparison to women of other castes. As a result, men of other castes who see Dalit women as inferior specifically target these women for these violent crimes.

Recently, the women of the Dalit community have been the victims of a surge of rape and murder in India. Authorities make little to no arrests regarding crimes against the Dalit people and the government has not addressed or made any attempts to help end this crisis of violence.

The untouchables are struggling with poverty and inequality, especially in the wake of COVID-19. The untouchables must perform certain jobs that put them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Also, the untouchables have very little access to protective equipment while performing these high-risk jobs. The Dalits live on the outskirts of villages where they have limited access to healthcare resources, making the untouchables more likely to have complications or die from COVID-19.

The Dalit Foundation

Many NGOs are attempting to help the discrimination and poverty-stricken Dalit caste including the Dalit Foundation. Established in 2003, the Dalit Foundation’s main objective is to secure equality for the Dalit caste. The Dalit Foundation provides education, scholarships and empowerment to members of the Dalit caste. This foundation, among many others, strives to help end this discrimination against Dalits until the Indian government can provide equal rights for their Dalit community.

The enforcement and security of equal rights of all Indian citizens are crucial to helping the Dalits end their oppression and poverty. The Indian government has yet to enforce equal rights for the Dalits so they continue to experience violence and segregation. Once the Indian government protects the Dalit people, gives them equal rights and ends segregation, Dalit poverty should reduce and the Dalit people should be able to receive equal pay, work in jobs they desire, marry outside their caste and get a quality education.

– Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr