child marriage in iraq
Child marriage consists of a formal or an informal union between two participants where at least one participant is younger than 18, according to UNICEF. Forced child marriage mostly occurs in countries where poverty is prevalent such as India, Africa and the Middle East, including Iraq.

Child Marriage Statistics in Iraq

According to The World, a public radio program, Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by $38 million from 2013 to 2017 due to decreasing oil prices and economic collapse in its struggle against ISIS. Many associated the decrease in GDP with an increase in the percentage of child marriages, which rose to 24% in 2016, surpassing the percentage of child marriages in 1997 by 9%. The trends in these percentages indicate that there is a correlation between the percentage of child marriage in Iraq and the country’s economic state.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the percentage of women aged 20-24 who married before the age of 18 was 27% in 2018, indicating that the current female population of those married before the age of 18 in Iraq consists of 5.6 million out of 20.7 million women. FIGO also reports that child marriage is more common among impoverished families who reside in rural areas, rather than among wealthy families who live in urban areas. The percentage of child marriages in rural versus urban areas differs by 1%, signifying that approximately 207,000 more young girls enter into early marriage in rural areas than urban areas.

Iraq’s Personal Status Law

Iraq’s Personal Status Law forbids child marriage and increases women’s marriage and custody rights. Despite the sound solidarity of this law, article 8 of Iraq’s Personal Status Law allows for a judge to authorize an underage marriage if the judge concludes that the action is urgently necessary or if the father of the bride gives his approval of the marriage.

Child marriage supporters in Iraq continuously push for proposed amendments to the Personal Status Law to abolish legal difficulties when forcing children into marriage. The parliament in Iraq has rejected these proposals, including an amendment that would allow for families to have their own laws in religious communities, thereby authorizing the families to offer their 8-year-old daughters for marriage.

Article 8 of the Personal Status Law allows a loophole for judges to authorize underage marriages with or without permission from a father, even though the article is noncompliant with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which works to gain equality for women and eliminate patriarchal norms that discriminate against women.

Risks Associated with Child Marriage

Young girls who enter child marriage are not only susceptible to physical health risks including rape, early pregnancy and early delivery, but they are also vulnerable to psychological risks, including experiencing social shielding from their families and domestic violence. Due to substandard responses by officials, violence and rape continue to present themselves as consistent issues in child marriages.

Although Iraq has criminalized rape, the government can drop charges as long as the victim and perpetrator get married. Since Iraq has not criminalized rape between spouses, the government receives few reports of domestic violence issues and families of the two spouses usually discuss resolutions.

Reasons for Child Marriage in Iraq

Oftentimes, families force young female family members into marriage for financial benefit or to settle feuds and make amends with another family. Additionally, the monetary benefits that follow a marriage may reduce an economic burden or provide more income to a family living in poverty. In communities where schools are available for women, families may marry off their daughters earlier to avoid payments for schooling. On the contrary, some parents believe that marrying their daughters early will protect them and ensure that their futures are stable.

Organizations Fighting Child Marriage

In 2016, the United Nations announced an initiative called the Global Programme to End Child Marriage, which has assisted 7.9 million girls from 2016 to 2019. The program increases education and healthcare access for young girls, educates families about the risks of child marriage and supports governments in developing strategies to end child marriage.

Additionally, Girls Not Brides is a program that has committed itself to put an end to child marriage. Girls Not Brides ensures that girls in more than 100 different countries, including countries in the Middle East, are able to achieve their life goals. Girls Not Brides consists of approximately 1,500 member organizations that raise awareness about child marriage, hold governments accountable to create national strategies to end child marriage and share solutions with communities and families. UNICEF reports that the combined efforts of organizations that combat child marriage, including Girls Not Brides, have prevented 25 million arranged child marriages.

The Road Ahead

Child marriage in Iraq is a controversial, ongoing practice despite Iraq’s Personal Status Law that emerged to prevent the occurrence of underage marriage. Young girls in Iraq who enter into marriage provide monetary gain for their families, especially those living in poverty, but experience physical and psychological damage that lasts a lifetime. Organizations such as the United Nations and Girls Not Brides continue to aid victims of child marriage in Iraq by providing healthcare, education and support. Hopefully, with the continued efforts of various NGOs, incidents of child marriage in Iraq will significantly reduce.

– Lauren Spiers
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in ChadThe World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation as “any procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Despite constituting an international human rights violation, FGM remains a pervasive issue affecting the lives of many women, especially in developing countries. According to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation globally. FGM is particularly prevalent in Chad, a landlocked country in Northern Africa, despite laws banning female genital mutilation in Chad. Over the years, steps have been taken to reduce the prevalence of FGM in Chad.

The Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in Chad

BMC Public Health explains that, in Chad, the citizenry continues FGM practices in both religious and traditional contexts. FGM is a hazardous practice, often done without anesthetic, putting girls and women at risk of both short and long-term health effects. These effects include genital swelling, bleeding, the inability to pass feces and urine, urinary tract infections and birth complications, among other consequences.

A BMC Public Health research article based on data from 2014-2015 indicates that, in Chad, 50.2% of women and 12.9% of girls have been genitally mutilated, endangering their health. There are multiple conditions that affect this staggering statistic. First, BMC Public Health explains that women with lower levels of education are more likely to experience FGM. Poverty levels also drive the practice as impoverished families have their daughters undergo FGM with the intention of marrying them off, granting impoverished families dowries and the benefits of marrying into a wealthier family. The practice of FGM tends to follow ethnic and religious traditions and is most common among the Sara ethnic group and other Muslim tribes.

Addressing FGM in Chad

While FGM prevalence has been decreasing throughout much of the world, Chad, Mali and Sierra Leone have seen an increase of 2–8% over the last 30 years. This increase in prevalence demonstrates the importance of efforts addressing FGM in Chad, especially now, when poverty rates are heightened due to COVID-19. With the help of NGOs, the U.S. government and tribal leaders, Chad is fighting the deeply entrenched traditions of FGM to protect the well-being of young women and girls.

NGOs play a vitally important role in the creation of long-term programs aimed at changing societal and cultural norms surrounding female genital mutilation in Chad. These NGOs can expand their reach with support from the Chadian government. For example, the Chadian government aided the Chadian Association for Family Well-Being in its work surrounding FGM education and awareness. This education includes seminars, campaigns and conferences explaining the dangers of FGM.

The Role of the US

Not only has Chad’s government stepped up to combat FGM but the U.S. has played a critical role in education surrounding FGM practices. From 1997 to 1999, the U.S. Embassy’s Democracy and Human Rights Fund supported a locally implemented FGM education program to change norms surrounding FGM in Chad. This resulted in a roundtable meeting with “doctors, judges, parliamentarians and NGO representatives, a national seminar” and four regional seminars, all of which helped spread awareness of the dangers of FGM in Chad.

Mobilizing Tribal Leaders to Fight FGM

Due to the cultural and ethnic ties surrounding the practice of female genital mutilation in Chad, tribal leaders have played an important part in the movement to end FGM. Because of the trust bestowed upon tribal leaders, they can increase awareness about FGM’s consequences and generate support for the laws banning its practice among ethnic groups throughout the country. In order to motivate and educate tribal leaders, the Red Cross of Chad set up an advocacy program that creates initiatives and training sessions for tribal leaders to combat FGM in their communities.

While the inhumane practice of FGM continues in Chad due to deeply entrenched cultural roots, the U.S. and Chadian governments play consequential roles in combating the prevalence of FGM. This support is crucial as female genital mutilation in Chad severely harms girls’ and women’s health, impacting their futures and their abilities to rise out of poverty.

Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Flickr

SKHMOperating in the red-light districts of Kolkata in India is the organization South Kolkata Hamari Muskan (SKHM). SKHM works to secure safe shelter, basic needs and education for women involved in prostitution and the children of these women. Since 2009, it has supported women and children living in red-light districts. The organization provides women and children with the resources and skills needed to become self-sufficient without having to resort to red-light district activities.

The Dangers of Impoverished Red-Light Districts

The impoverished red-light districts of Sonagachi and Bowbazar are notorious for dangerous and often illegal tertiary trades. These include prostitution, gambling halls, marijuana bars, brothels and liquor stores. Unique to red-light districts is the fact that where civilians conduct their services is most often also where they live. Women working as prostitutes will almost always work out of their homes. This exposes children and other family members to the dangers of these jobs, which include violence and abuse.

Prostitution is the main occupation for women in red-light districts and is traditionally a trade passed down through generations.  Many women involved in prostitution come from impoverished backgrounds. The trade has become a hallmark of life in these areas, making it harder for women and young girls to escape the vicious cycle. Children growing up in this environment often witness or endure violence, abuse and neglect. The resulting trauma impacts a child’s mental, emotional and social abilities, which in turn, impacts their development and progress in life. These children are often not in school, leaving them illiterate, uneducated and forced to participate in red-light district activities.

According to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India has more than three million prostitutes. Roughly 1.2 million prostitutes are estimated to be children. Red-light districts are at the epicenter of these trades and impoverished communities are often targeted for prostitution rings because of their vulnerabilities.

SKHM’s Work

SKHM strives to break the cycle of prostitution and poverty by protecting women and children through educational programs, safe centers, vocational training and psychosocial therapy. SKHM works directly in red-light districts with the belief that change can only come from within when it is demanded by the community itself. During the last 12 years, SKHM has helped hundreds of women and children in Kolkata acquire a better life.

  • The organization has placed nearly 200 children in formal schooling. Giving children access to education introduces them to what SKHM calls “the mainstream world.” Education shows children that there is a life outside of the red-light district and teaches them to aspire toward a better life. Proper education gives children the knowledge and skills to rise out of poverty. It also helps break the cycle that holds them to a life of poverty and violence.
  • SKHM is the first NGO in Kolkata to use play and art-based therapy with children. The innovative therapy allows specialists to determine the trauma and psychosocial needs of women and children living in red-light districts in a relaxed and non-confrontational way. This is important when dealing with children who have been severely abused. Since 2009, SKHM has opened four safe centers. With two centers in Sonagachi and two in Bowbazar, the safe centers act as shelters and education centers for women and children. The centers help rehabilitate women who wish to escape prostitution and children seeking education and safety.
  • SKHM has implemented successful programs such as Project Dignity. Project Dignity is a rehabilitation program exclusively for women in prostitution. The goal of the program is to encourage women to leave the dangerous job of prostitution and work to become successful heads of households. Through Project Dignity, women can seek mental health counseling, learn about finances, enjoy new hobbies, take literacy classes and learn various occupational skills. They can do so through driving classes, computer classes, jewelry making classes and cooking classes. The program gives women the skills and confidence to qualify for work outside of traditional red-light district occupations. The mother’s group also strictly enforces keeping children in school, which decreases the rate of second-generation prostitution.

Making a Difference

SKHM’s work in Kolkata’s red-light districts has exponentially improved the lives of hundreds of women and children. Society deemed areas like Sonagachi and Bowbazar impoverished, unsafe and beyond help. This left the communities within them helpless and victimized in a vicious environment of prostitution and violence. South Kolkata Hamari Muskan started a mission with the belief that vulnerable people in these red-light districts could be supported by the strength of the community itself. Today, women and children in Kolkata’s red-light districts are dreaming of a better life and they have the skills and education to help them get there.

Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

Women and Children in YemenThe impacts of the war in Yemen continue to cause tremendous humanitarian suffering, with more than 24 million people in need of assistance. The persisting armed and political conflicts in Yemen have already reversed human development by 21 years, leaving around 19.9 million lacking sufficient healthcare and 16.2 million experiencing food insecurity. The humanitarian crisis disproportionately impacts women and children in Yemen as they are more vulnerable to mortality, malnutrition, violence and health issues.

Women and Children in Yemen

In 2019, more than 12 million children in Yemen needed humanitarian assistance and 2 million children were not attending school before COVID-19 even set in. In 2020, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition analysis analyzed 133 districts in southern Yemen. The analysis reveals a 15.5% increase in young children experiencing severe acute malnutrition. This fact puts 98,000 children at risk of death unless an urgent intervention exists.

In 2018, Yemen’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) value was 0.834 compared to the world average of 0.439. This reflects the female struggle to improve well-being due to gender disparities that affect reproductive health, education, employment and more. The conflict and impact of COVID-19 in Yemen have increased food insecurity and affected nutrition and access to health services, leaving at least 250,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women requiring malnutrition care in 2020.

The crisis in Yemen has disproportionately affected women and increased their rates of poverty, hunger and displacement.

The Effects of the Crisis in Yemen on Women and Children

  • Increased gender-based violence and sexual violence.
  • Roughly 75% of the displaced population consists of women and children.
  • Increased widowhood leaving women susceptible to poverty.
  • Lack of adequate healthcare access can severely damage women’s reproductive health.
  • Increased incidents of child marriage.
  • Lack of educational access due to destroyed infrastructure and school closures.

Save the Children

Save the Children is the largest aid organization in Yemen. Its teams are assisting children in receiving essential care. The organization, which began responding to the crisis in Yemen in 2015, has provided more than 3 million children with life-saving care. The teams attend to children younger than 5 years old who are experiencing malnutrition. Save the Children also has temporary learning programs in place to address the lack of education during the conflict. The organization has also supported nearly 100,000 parents to secure the basic needs of their children.

UNICEF

UNICEF responded to the crisis in Yemen by providing physical, mental and medical health care services to children and families. In 2019, UNICEF reached more than 390,000 children and parents/guardians with psychosocial support. UNICEF also gave measles inoculations to more than 556,000 children and reached 2.3 million children under 5 with primary healthcare services.

Women, Peace and Security (WPS)

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda aims to strengthen women’s participation, reallocate power and protect women’s rights in various countries. Women’s organizations, civil society, government agencies and U.N. entities collaborated to develop a National Action Plan (NAP) for Yemen in 2019 that aligns with the WPS Agenda to protect women and increase women’s involvement in political, economic and social expansion. The NAP should meet its goals between 2020-2022. The main objectives are:

  • Increase women’s engagement in decision-making roles.
  • Prevent violence against women and increase women’s protection from violence.
  • Provide support to girls and women affected by violations and abuse.
  • Make efforts for women’s empowerment and education.
  • Include women in humanitarian aid and relief programs.

The above organizations and strategies work to ensure the health, protection and well-being of millions of women and children in Yemen. This support can safeguard the world’s most vulnerable groups during times of crisis and conflict.

Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

South Sudan ActWhile Sudan is home to beautiful landscapes and countless wildlife, women in the country face several issues. Activists in South Sudan say parties to the 2018 peace deal are violating a particular provision that calls for 35% of legislative positions to consist of women. In light of the ongoing struggles of women in South Sudan, the Equal Rights and Access for the Women of South Sudan Act was introduced to Congress.

H.R. 116

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee introduced H.R. 116, also known as the Equal Rights and Access for the Women of South Sudan Act, to the House of Representatives on January 4, 2021. It is currently under review by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill requires “that activities carried out by the United States in South Sudan relating to governance, reconstruction and development and refugee relief and assistance support the basic human rights of women and women’s participation and leadership in these areas.”

Women consist of 60% of the population in South Sudan but still face the most hardships. Furthermore, more than 80% of Sudanese women are illiterate and 50% of girls under the age of 18 are married, contributing to a higher rate of maternal mortality. Gender-based violence is prevalent for women in South Sudan and abortion is still illegal even in circumstances of rape. The law of the country does not protect women due to the prevalent use of customary law, which often discriminates against women and minorities.

Current Challenges in South Sudan

South Sudanese women still face a violation of their human rights but continued support from the U.S. can ensure that women’s progression, since July 2011 when the Republic of South Sudan gained independence, will continue. The U.S. has already made considerable contributions to emergency relief and humanitarian efforts in South Sudan. Still, to ensure the protection and advancement of women as well as overall stability in the country, there needs to be a long-term investment in the development and reconstruction of South Sudan. A significant concern is that inadequate healthcare in the country means a high maternal and infant mortality rate. The maternal mortality rate is 1,054 deaths per 100,000 live births, one of the highest rates globally.

South Sudan faces issues with its infrastructure, which hampers human development and marginalizes women. Due to high illiteracy rates in the country, it is essential to secure and inform women of their rights. International aid can support local women’s organizations and can include equality in efforts for the country’s development. Humanitarian and development programs that the U.S. sponsors can help girls and women exercise their human rights. The U.S. can also help South Sudan include more women in politics.

Proposals of the South Sudan Act

South Sudanese women should be integral to policy-making efforts relating to the governance of South Sudan. This equates to the involvement of more women in all legislative bodies and ensuring that women’s rights form part of the constitution and other legislative policies. Furthermore, regarding post-conflict reconstruction and development, the U.S. should guarantee that a significant portion of  U.S. developmental assistance and relief aid goes to women’s organizations in South Sudan.

The U.S. should also promote female-centered economic development programs, including programs that support widows, female heads of household, rural women and women with disabilities. Furthermore, it is important to “increase women’s access to ownership of assets such as land, water, agricultural inputs, credit and property. ”

These are just some of the directives of the Equal Rights and Access for the Women of South Sudan Act. Overall, the Act calls on the U.S. as a global leader to take action to prioritize women in South Sudan so that women can advance and progress. Women form an integral part of poverty reduction, which is why gender equality is so important. Uplifting women in South Sudan means reducing poverty in the country. For truly lasting global change, women’s empowerment is essential.

– Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Afghanistan Afghanistan currently faces a large-scale human trafficking crisis that is rooted in centuries of abuse. Children and women are sold or kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery or armed forces. With the Afghani Government failing to properly protect victims and prosecute perpetrators, the U.S. Department of State and a network of NGOs are working to alleviate the problem.

The Systemic Issues

One of the major issues contributing to the human trafficking crisis within Afghanistan is the continued practice of bacha bazi, or “dancing boys”, in which sexual abuse against children is performed by adult men. Although technically illegal, the centuries-old custom has been proven hard to get rid of, with many government and security officials being complicit with its continuation.

The U.S. Department of State has declared Afghanistan Tier 3, the highest threat level, meaning that it does not meet the minimum requirements for combatting human trafficking and is not making a significant effort to do so.

This has a significant impact on Afghanistan because according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the United States will not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related foreign assistance to a country that is ranked on Tier 3. According to the June 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, the use of child soldiers and bacha bazi has continued. Although there have been investigations and arrests made in an attempt to end bacha bazi, no police officers involved were prosecuted.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Afghanistan

The Afghani Government has shown efforts to end human trafficking within its borders. In 2019, it joined the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on a global initiative to stop human trafficking. This initiative aims to allocate resources to countries in the Middle East and Asia that need assistance in the battle against human trafficking.

USAID reported that in 2019,  Afghanistan increased the number of Child Protection Units within national police precincts, preventing the recruitment of 357 child soldiers. Furthermore, the National Child Protection Committee (NCPC) was created to respond to the practice of bacha bazi.

USAID has worked to assist the Afghani by training government officials to prosecute human traffickers and abusers as well as giving assistance to shelter workers that give legal and social resources to victims. It assisted in the creation of the Afghanistan Network in Combating Trafficking in Persons (ANCTIP), a network of Afghan NGOs that work with victims of human trafficking.

NGOs within the country have provided most of the assistance to victims of human trafficking. Approximately 27 women’s shelters in 20 provinces provided protection and care for female victims of trafficking. NGOs also operated two shelters for male victims under the age of 18.

Eradicating Human Trafficking

In order for Afghanistan to efficiently combat its human trafficking crisis and move to a lower tier level, Afghanistan needs to increase criminal investigations and prosecutions of suspected traffickers, especially in law enforcement and the military. Furthermore, traffickers must be convicted and adequately sentenced. This can be done by increasing the influence and powers of the NCPC and allowing the committee to remove public servants found practicing bacha bazi. Additional support from the country’s government must also be given to survivors of human trafficking. Only by rooting out the systemic abuse within the top institutions of the country can Afghanistan effectively address its human trafficking crisis.

– Christopher McLean
Photo: Flickr

reaching out romaniaIn Romanian, ‘Lavandelina’ means comfort or soothing. The definition is quite fitting for one small NGO that has utilized selling lavender-based essential oils to raise funds for its mission to fight sex trafficking. Since it opened in 1999, Reaching Out Romania has provided psychological, medical and legal assistance to more than 470 victims of sex trafficking. 

Reaching Out Romania

The organization was founded by Iana Matei, a trained psychologist who was approached by authorities and asked to intervene when three young girls were rescued from a trafficking situation. The girls told Matei that they had been sold by a gypsy and then sent out on the streets. Matei was shocked to learn that there were no organizations in Romania to fight the illicit sex trafficking industry and decided to start her own.

Sex Trafficking Rings

According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the majority of human trafficking victims detected in Europe have come from the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. Romania is one of the countries with the highest levels of sex trafficking reported. Many of the women pulled into the industry come from poor households and have limited options to earn an income.

Most of the girls who end up staying with Matei have returned from Italy or Spain, which are the two main destinations for young Romanians who fall victim to prostitution rings.

Lavender Farming for Essential Oils

As more young women sought refuge at Reaching Out Romania, Matei had to think of a way to fund more housing and secure medical coverage for the girls. When a 15-acre parcel of land was donated to the organization, Matei was initially unsure what to make of it. She met with Creative Nova, a design thinking agency, that helped Reaching Out Romania create a business plan. Its idea was simple: plant lavender and make essential oils to sell.

Over the last few years, the market for essential oils has been on the rise. Reports indicate that the U.S. essential oil market will expand at an annual growth rate of 9% through 2024. Recent preferences for alternative medicine and reports on the therapeutic benefits of essential oils have triggered the growing demand. The timing was right for Reaching Out Romania as few farmers were planting lavender yet the demand for essential oils was on the increase.

In addition to raising funds, the girls at Reaching Out Romania are encouraged to secure paid work in order to secure their independent futures. Roughly 30% of the victims come from rural areas so the organization tries to assist them in searching for a job in the agricultural field. The lavender fields were a perfect starting place. Over the summer, many of the girls staying at Reaching Out Romania visit the lavender farm to learn from experts and receive training in farming.

Addressing Human Trafficking in Romania

Matei and her organization, Reaching Out Romania, have received multiple recognition awards. The lavender farm proves mutually beneficial as a source of employment for the girls and a source of funding for the organization.

– Miska Salemann
Photo: Unsplash

Suaahara II ProjectIn Nepal, 36% of children who are under the age of five remain underdeveloped in terms of growth and health despite progress in recent years. Through cooperation with USAID, the Nepalese Government and local private sector groups, Hellen Keller International (HKI) has provided impactful services that have helped rectify the systematic obstacles causing these health issues. Hellen Keller International is a non-profit organization that aims to reduce malnutrition. The Suaahara II project takes a pivotal role in these efforts.

What is the Suaahara II Project?

One of HKI’s most notable services is the Suaahara II project, which started in 2016 and was initially set to end in 2021. However, it will now extend to March 2023 due to COVID-19. Operating in 42 of Nepal’s districts with a $63 million budget, HKI partnered with these six organizations for the project:

  • Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. (CARE)
  • Family Health International 360 (FHI 360)
  • Environmental and Public Health Organization (ENPHO)
  • Equal Access Nepal (EAN)
  • Nepali Technical Assistance Group (NTAG)
  • Vijaya Development Resource Center (VDRC)

Hellen Keller International’s primary role in the Suaahara II project deals with the technical assistance of child and maternal nutrition. This means that its tasks are oriented around building the skills and knowledge of health workers. This includes teaching health workers how to adequately measure and evaluate assessments; additionally, another technical facet relies on promoting governance that invests in nutrition.

A Multi-Sectoral Approach

Kenda Cunningham, a senior technical adviser for Suaahara II who works under HKI, told The Borgen Project that the Suaahara II consortium has taken a “multi-sectoral approach.” She believes in the importance of this as it pushes individuals to “learn and think beyond their sector.” The Suaahara II Project’s demonstrates its integrated strategy in the initiatives below:

  1. The WASH program focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene through WASHmarts, which are small shops dispersed across districts that sell sanitary products like soap and reusable sanitary pads. Kenda explained how this has helped “bridge a gap” so that poorer households can access hygiene enhancing products. This also allows assistance from private actors, who can expand their markets in rural areas.
  2. The Homestead Food Production program (HFP) encourages households to grow and produce micronutrient-rich foods through vegetable gardening and raising chickens, for example. As a result, 35 districts have institutionalized HFP groups.
  3. The Bhancchin Aama Radio Program is a phone-in radio program that runs twice every week. It hosts discussions among marginalized communities and demonstrations for cooking nutritious foods. It has encouraged the Nepalese to socially and behaviorally alter their health habits.

Advancements from Suaahara I

The Suaahara II project’s contribution to improved health and nutrition in Nepal is also illustrated in its progression from the Suaahara I project’s framework. In addition to understanding the changes made in household systems and at a policy level from Suaahara I, Cunningham told The Borgen Project that technological developments have elevated the Suaahara II Project’s impact in Nepal.

Specifically, smartphones expedite the data collection process when studying trends pertaining to the 2 million households across the districts. The development of new apps provided more households with access to smartphones and key information. This therefore allowed officers to transition from pursuing “a mother-child focus to a family focus” in terms of the Suaahara II project’s accommodations and services.

Challenges with Suaahara II

While the Suaahara II Project has led to institutional and social enhancements regarding health and nutrition, some districts had access to the project earlier. This created a dissonance in the rate of health improvements amongst the districts. Cunningham reported that “far western areas are much more remote and therefore disadvantaged and food insecure.”

This inconsistency was largely due to the “Federalism” that took place in Nepal in 2017, which was a decentralization process that created 42 municipalities for 42 districts. Since every municipality has a different political leader, some districts had the advantage of assistance from foreign NGOs while others did not because their leaders rejected involving foreign NGOs. In these cases, as Cunningham explained, it is like “you are creating your own NGOs from the ground up.”

Suaahara II Achievements

These obstacles, however, have not been pertinent enough to counter the consortium’s efforts in fulfilling the Suaahara II project’s objectives. For example, a primary objective for Suaahra II is to increase breastfeeding amongst babies under six months of age. Exclusive breastfeeding of children under six has increased from 62.9% in 2017 to 68.9% in 2019, according to data that Cunningham shared with The Borgen Project.

Expanding children’s access to diverse and nutritious foods is another objective that has been achieved under the Suaahara II project. The dietary diversity among women of reproductive age (WRA) has increased from 35.6% in 2017 to 45.3% in 2019, according to Cunningham. Given the efficient rate of improvement in women and children’s health, governance and equity in only the first two years of the Suaahara II project, it can be inferred that the consortium will continue to progress in achieving its targets among the Nepalese in the three years that remain.

Regarding how HKI has responded to challenges with the Suaahara II project, Cunningham said  “[We] don’t use a one size fits all approach.” The advancements in Nepal’s health and nutrition systems can be largely attributed to HKI’s multifaceted and integrated strategy, a model that could yield prosperity in the rest of the developing world.

Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

5 Ways COVID-19 is Disproportionately Impacting Women WorldwideThe COVID-19 pandemic has socially, mentally and economically impacted billions of people across the world. However, COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women worldwide, including factors such as mental health, income loss and inadequate food provisions. As the pandemic continues to affect populations, it is becoming more apparent that women are facing greater hardships and systemic inequalities. This article discusses how COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting women across the globe, and how governments can go about fixing these inequalities. Although women have persevered and have adapted in inspiring ways, this pandemic has exposed structural gender inequalities in health, economics, security and social protection.

5 Ways COVID-19 is Disproportionately Affecting Women

  1. According to a survey by the non-profit CARE, 55% of women reported that they lost their jobs and/or their primary source of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, women are more likely to be employed in service and informal sectors, such as vendors and traders, that COVID-19 is hitting the hardest. Even within the formal sectors of employment, women are facing the impact of unemployment at greater rates than men. For example, in Bangladesh, women are six times more likely to lose paid working hours than men. Women also have fewer unemployment benefits. In Zimbabwe and Cameroon, women make up 65% of the informal workforce—a workforce not entitled to unemployment benefits.

  2. A lack of access to online education is significantly affecting Indigenous, refugee and low-income household communities and greatly adding to education inequalities. Young women and girls are greatly impacted by gender-based violence due to movement restrictions, especially without access to schools and public services. This gender-based disparity is largely due to boys being prioritized in many poverty-stricken countries. Because of this, girls are likely to be pulled out of school before boys in order to compensate for increased domestic work and care and to alleviate the economic burden of schooling.

  3. Women are nearly three times more likely to report mental health impacts from COVID-19. This statistic is backed by multiple reasons, including how women are facing the burden of unpaid care work, increasing mobility restrictions and increased threats of violence. In fact, the CARE survey showed that 27% of women are experiencing an increase in mental health issues, anxiety and stress due to COVID-19, compared to 10% of men. In Lebanon, 14% of men spend their time on housework and care, as opposed to 83% of women. Gender roles and expectations of women have increased during this pandemic, thus causing a greater gap in mental health issues between men and women.

  4. Female refugees are at greater risk of violence, income loss and mental health impacts. Refugees are already living in precarious situations with a lack of food, income, health security and home safety. When considering various countries, especially those with a large migrant population, it is clear that vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, in Afghanistan, 300,000 refugees have returned because they have lost their jobs and income. In Thailand, migrants report losing 50% of their income. Both of these statistics also offer an idea of why mental health issues have increased during this pandemic. COVID-19 has led to a loss of income and jobs for the 8.5 million domestic migrant workers, as well as the dismissal of their health and safety.

  5. As compared to 30% of men, 41% of women reported having an inadequate supply of food as a result of COVID-19. This difference reflects the gender inequalities in local and global food systems, as well as the expectation of women to buy and prepare the food for their families. Additionally, this pandemic is causing many disadvantaged households to make less nutritious food choices. In Venezuela, 61% of people have access to protein-filled foods and vegetables, while 74% only have access to cereal.

Although it is clear that women and girls typically endure a greater burden from the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, there are ways governments and individuals can help alleviate COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women. These include investing in women leaders, funding non-profit organizations that work to promote women’s rights and committing to organizations that work to close the gender gap.

– Naomi Schmeck

Photo: Flickr 

Pandemic’s Effects On Women
As COVID-19 forces the world into lockdown, people are scrambling to provide medical services and save toppling economies. The pandemic affects schools and workplaces, and everyone is struggling to adjust to this new way of life. In the midst of all the chaos, some problems are forgotten. The pandemic’s effects on women, which are especially bad, are buried underneath the plethora of other challenges. Two of the greatest issues they are facing are period poverty and domestic violence, both of which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Period Poverty

Period poverty manifests in a lack of access to restrooms, sanitary products, education on menstrual hygiene and improper waste management. Now, with disrupted supply chains of period products, increased financial strain and lockdowns making it difficult to go out and purchase basic amenities, women are having a harder time than ever accessing these necessities. Forced to make do with what they have, they put themselves at risk of infections and diseases, including cervical cancer.

High costs and taxation are also major contributors to period poverty. In the U.S., menstrual products are subject to tax in many states. Though every bit as important, they are eligible to be taxed while other essentials, like food and medicine, are not. Only nine out of 50 states in the U.S. have policies against taxing menstrual products. Even without tax, the cost is too much for those living in poverty to afford. Approximately 12 million women between the ages of 12 and 52 in the U.S. are living below the poverty line and unable to purchase the products they need.

Fortunately, there are people and organizations dedicated to making period products more affordable. Under the CARES Act, menstrual products are covered under health savings and flexible spending accounts, which set aside pre-tax income that can be spent on important health services. However, where legislation and policies fall short, nonprofit organizations and charities are stepping in. Groups distributing products to women in need include I Support the Girls and PERIOD. They are also helping to raise awareness about the pandemic’s effects on women.

Domestic Violence

Increased domestic violence is another appalling result of the pandemic. Due to stay-at-home orders, many women and children are stuck with their abusers. An estimation by the United Nations Population Fund predicts that six months of lockdowns will cause 31 million more cases of gender-based violence. According to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence, calls increased by 25% during the first two weeks of quarantine. Lockdowns also make it difficult for survivors and victims of domestic abuse to receive the treatment and consolation they need.

Luckily, people have begun to take note of these issues. Actress Charlize Theron’s campaign, Together For Her, is working to address the additional cases of gender-based violence resulting from the lockdowns around the globe. In an interview with Vogue, Charlize stated that she is distributing funds from the Together For Her campaign to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention, and advocacy work to address gender-based violence.”

More than 50 prominent female celebrities in the fields of film, sports, music and more have shown support to Charlize’s campaign. Fellow actress Mariska Hargitay has contributed to Together for Her and says about the movement, “As someone who has worked on gender-based violence issues for two decades, I am proud to join such a powerful group of women to shine a light on the challenges facing survivors of domestic violence–not just during this pandemic but every day.” Together for Her is giving women a voice and uniting them in the face of difficulty.

Moving Forward

COVID-19 has affected lives around the world but has hit some groups harder than others, especially women. Global lockdowns have greatly amplified the issues of period poverty and domestic violence, and women and children are more vulnerable than ever. Fortunately, organizations are working to address the pandemic’s effects on women, supplying menstrual products and giving support to those who need it. Moving forward, it is essential that these efforts continue. Though times are hard, the persistence and dedication of the people behind these movements can prevail.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr