W.T.O Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala On Ending Poverty
On March 1, 2021, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala took office as the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She is the first woman and the first African to hold this office. After experiencing the Nigerian Civil War, she came to the U.S. and studied development economics at Harvard University. She also received her doctorate in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2003, she served as Nigeria’s finance minister. After a second appointment ending in 2015, she also served as a foreign minister and worked for the World Bank for 25 years, overseeing an $81 billion portfolio. In her newly appointed role, Okonjo-Iweala promises to influence and implement policy in order to restore the global economy.

What is the World Trade Organization?

The World Trade Organization is an international organization that deals with the “rules of trade between nations.” Member governments negotiate trade agreements that are then ratified in their own parliaments. All major decisions are made by the membership as a whole, either by ministers, their ambassadors or delegates.

The WTO plays an important role in reducing global poverty. Studies show that free trade helps impoverished countries “catch up with” developed nations. More than three-quarters of WTO members are developing countries. Every WTO agreement holds particular provisions for these countries, including longer time spans to carry out agreed-upon policies, “measures to increase their trading opportunities” and assistance to support these countries in building the necessary infrastructure to improve their economies. Least-developed countries are often exempt from many provisions.

The WTO also aims to reduce living costs and improve living standards by mitigating the effect of protectionism on consumer costs. This means that products are more affordable for those with a lower income. In addition, lowering such trade barriers stimulates economic growth and employment, creating opportunities for the impoverished to increase their incomes.

Okonjo-Iweala and Poverty

Okonjo-Iweala’s long list of achievements includes many in the realm of poverty reduction. As the minister of finance in Nigeria, she helped Africa’s largest economy “grow an average of 6% a year over three years.” She also helped create “reform programs that improved governmental transparency and stabilizing the economy.”

As the board chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, she contributed to ensuring vaccine equity. During her 25-year career at the World Bank, she rose to the second-most prominent position of managing director. Okonjo-Iweala ran for the office of director-general of the WTO with the strong belief that trade has the power to lift people out of poverty.

Okonjo-Iweala is also a supporter of COVAX, aiming to resolve vaccine nationalism. During the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine nationalism is a problem that disproportionately affects impoverished countries. COVAX is a global vaccination effort launched by Gavi and leading partners to ensure vaccine equity.

In a January 2021 article, Okonjo-Iweala writes that “All manufacturers must step up and make their vaccines available and affordable to COVAX,” in order to ensure equitable and timely vaccine distribution to low-income countries. She also warned against repeating history.

In 2009, a small number of high-income countries bought up most of the global supply of the H1N1 flu vaccine, which left the rest of the world lacking. If history were to repeat itself during the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on impoverished countries, and the world at large, would be devastating.

Okonjo-Iweala’s Plan

As director-general of the WTO, Okonjo-Iweala’s immediate plans focus on ending the COVID-19 pandemic with vaccines for all. In a statement outlining her vision for the future of the WTO, she says “the WTO can and must play a more forceful role in exercising its monitoring function and encouraging Members to minimize or remove export restrictions and prohibition that hinder supply chains for medical goods and equipment.”

She also says that member nations of the WTO need to adopt a stronger stance in preventing vaccine nationalism and protectionism. International cooperation, in her opinion, is the only way to come up with the vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics needed to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Okonjo-Iweala has promised to face the economic and health challenges presented by the novel coronavirus head-on. Importantly, she notes that “a strong WTO is vital if we are to recover fully and rapidly from the devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Okonjo-Iweala promises to work in a collaborative effort to “shape and implement the policy responses” necessary to restore the global economy.

Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of Pura Utz
Anna Andrés has always admired jewelry. When she traveled to Guatemala at the age of 10, she learned how she could create jewelry and volunteer to create change. In 2019, she and her partner Bernabela built the brand Pura Utz, which has been helping women sustain themselves in tough economic times. The impact of Pura Utz makes women not only look but also feel beautiful.

Pura Utz

The name Pura Utz means “pure good” in the Mayan language. Since the culture of Guatemala reflects strong Mayan and Spanish influences, these details go into every handmade piece Pura Utz sells. Recently, Pura Utz has collaborated with the bag manufacturer M2Malletier. As a result, the team of artisans, designers and distributors expanded to 100 women.

The details in the Pura Utz products demonstrate the talent of the artisans. The collection features glass beads in bags, handwoven sweaters, earrings and necklaces that artisans delicately shape into an assortment of fruits like strawberries, grapes and lemons. This collection also includes ornamental features, such as handmade flowers like poppies, white nun orchids and blue cornflowers.

Empowering Women at Pura Utz

Even though dramatic changes in the Guatemalan economy are stabilizing, the gap between the wealthier and impoverished citizens is not. The yearly minimum wage in Guatemala is $2,734. However, the impact of Pura Utz is significant because women’s pay with the company is four times more than what they would make working for a corporate manufacturer. The Pura Utz website even provides consumers a breakdown of where the money goes when they purchase an item: one-third of the price goes toward the salary for the working women, one-third goes toward indirect costs like shipping and packaging materials and one-third covers the margins.

Working to empower women has always been a goal for Andrés. In an open letter to supporters, she wrote that “Many of the women in our group and here in the village do have an education, but there are no jobs for them and if there is, they are being paid very poorly.” The essential goods that families need are medicine, food, clothes, electricity and housing. Guatemala is the fifth poorest country in Latin America, making some of these essentials hard to come by. Working at Pura Utz gives these women a way to sustain their lives, through flexible working hours and an empowering community environment.

The impact of Pura Utz has been expanding since helping Bernabela and her daughter Elisa—the first people the brand empowered. Bernabela was the first official team member of Pura Utz. Her current role is as the supervisor of production. She thoroughly enjoys her work and thoroughly enjoys being a part of a company that creates change for women. Bernabela’s daughter Elisa now also works at Pura Utz as an assistant while attending college.

The Future for Women in Guatemala

Poverty brings unimaginable hardships, which makes creating change in the community so important to Andrés. Andrés labeled her brand as an empowerment project because she wanted the economic prospects for women in Guatemala to have no limits.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Equal Rights for Women
Throughout history, women have not always had access to the same rights as men. More recently, women are increasingly demanding and fighting for equal rights, especially by women who witness the oppression or have lived subject to the inequalities. Here are five women who are taking leadership in advancing equal rights for women.

5 Women Advancing Equal Rights for Women

  1. Malala Yousafzai, alongside her father, established the Malala Fund. In 2012, the Taliban targeted Malala, a vocal advocate for a girl’s right to education, and shot her on the left side of her head on her way home from school. When Malala recovered, she decided that she wanted to continue fighting for education for girls around the world. With the allyship of her father, she established the Malala Fund. It supports educators in eight different countries with $22 million invested in Malala Fund campaigns. Malala Yousafzai is a woman advancing equal rights for women by advocating for every girl’s right to an education as well as financially supporting schools for women in various countries.
  2. Gabby Edlin is the founder of The Bloody Good Period Campaign. While volunteering at a refugee center, she noticed that women did not receive menstrual products with their kit of essentials. Gabby started a small campaign on Facebook, and the interest in helping women grew. This led to her creating The Bloody Good Period Campaign, overcoming resistance from men who did not believe that the resource was a necessity. Bloody Good Period focuses its efforts on asylum-seeking women who are unable to purchase food or other necessities because of their need to purchase menstrual products; it seeks to educate women and destigmatize menstruation. Gabby Edlin is a woman advancing equal rights for women by educating and garnering the support of the public. She also uses the funds to provide menstrual product needs to refugees.
  3. Forgotten Women is an organization that women run for women. They founded the organization after witnessing the abuse of vulnerable women around the world. Forgotten Women developed the LIFT Model which stands for “Leveraging Investment for Transformation.” Through this model, it provides the means for women to be permanently self-sufficient and provides emergency aid to women in vulnerable positions. Forgotten Women has a sexual trauma clinic that currently reaches an average of 105,000 women per year; it continues to advocate for equality, defending women who stand for this value. Forgotten Women is a group of women advancing equal rights for women by imparting unconditional aid to vulnerable women and supplying them with the means to be self-sustained providers.
  4. Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin founded Pearls Africa. Abisoye lost her mom when she was 4 years old, and at a young age, she learned about computers through a family friend’s support. Her tech skillset enabled her to intern with EDP Audit & Security Associates, an IT auditing firm in Lagos, Nigeria. She noticed the underrepresentation of women within the industry of tech and determined to change this disparity. In an interview with Unearth Women, she said, “In Nigeria, there are very few girls in STEM fields, as they have been made to believe that tech is not something that they can pursue due to their sex or gender. This is a lie, and it’s something we’re trying to change systematically through the GirlsCoding initiative.” One of the successes of GirlsCoding took place in the impoverished Makoko slum in Lagos. After the young women left GirlsCoding, they became leaders in their communities. Then, they started Makoko Fresh, an e-commerce platform that supports and improves the livelihoods of local fishermen. GirlsCoding is just a part of the work that occurs through the organization Pearls Africa. Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin is a woman whose intellectual leadership advances equal rights for women by expelling doubts and stigmas about female capabilities and equipping girls with the resources to pursue a meaningful career.
  5. Sonita Alizadeh is a champion and advocates on the behalf of Girls Not Brides. At the age of 16, Sonita found out that her parents were going to sell her into marriage. Despite her family’s disapproval, she recorded music about her experiences as a woman and a refugee. Sonita released her song­, “Daughters for Sale” on YouTube. The video went viral, and her parents decided not to sell her into marriage. Sonita Alizadeh now lives in the United States and continues to fight on behalf of child brides. She works as an advocate with Girls Not Brides and speaks with global authorities on the issue. The organization urges countries to develop laws, policies and programs that end child marriage; Sonita Alizadeh is a woman whose creative leadership advances equal rights for women, specifically young girls, who would otherwise be sold into marriage before maturity.

The leadership of these women advances equal rights for women across the world. Their personal experiences and courage, often in the face of insurmountable odds, led them to activism on behalf of vulnerable or oppressed women. The example that they set serves as an inspiration to all people that each person’s voice has value, meaning and power. The impact of each organization demonstrates the importance of advocacy and activism.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Qatar
Qatar resides in the Middle East, just east of Saudi Arabia. The country boasts high economic prosperity, ranking among the highest in the world. It also occupies a low spot on the global list on gender gap — Qatar’s global ranking is 0.629 out of one. Qatar upholds female education and proactively attempts to improve women’s rights. However, women’s rights in Qatar need continued advocacy to decrease the country’s gender gap and increase equality.

Attempted Improvements

In 2009, Qatar became a member of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Despite membership, the country did not fully commit to all portions of the convention. Qatar refuses to maintain the following: gender equality in domestic laws and policies, equality with regard to nationality, equality before the law, freedom of movement and of residence and domicile and equality in marriage and family life. These requirements contradict Islamic law.

Discriminatory Laws

Qatar’s legal system centers around Shari’a, Islamic law. When Qatar enacted a (discriminatory) law, it crafted it upon the government’s interpretation of a religious belief. In this way, women’s rights in Qatar experience subjection to possible sexist ideas based on misreadings or outdated practices.

In family events or in a court of law, people do not view the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man’s. If a Qatari woman has children with a non-Qatari man, the children are unable to assume the Qatari nationality; whereas, if the man were to be of Qatari nationality, the children would be able to assume citizenship. Women seeking a divorce have far less ability to appear in court and receive a fair settlement.

Representation in Parliament

As of 2015, Qatar’s 29-member municipal council had only two female members and its legal system included just one female judge. In 2017, the Inter-Parliamentary Union elected four female representatives to serve on the Shura Council of Qatar (Qatar’s parliament) for the first time. The Shura Council of Qatar looks over government policy, creates proposals for new laws and renews the country’s financial allocation.

Women’s Education Rights

In contrast to the lack of women’s rights in Qatar, gender discrimination has consistently remained out of the education system. The government supplies education at no cost for all citizens between ages 6 and 16. It is one of the most generous countries in its fiscal allotment per-student and allocates a large majority of its funds toward education.

The youth literacy rate rests at about 98% and close to 96% of girls attend secondary school. Further, there are more women than men attending Qatar’s University College of Law. Qatar University also provides adult courses. The class offerings improve national literacy rates and help maintain women’s educational rights. After graduation, Qatari women have the complete freedom to enter the business and financial sectors.

Conclusion

A struggle for equality and women’s rights in Qatar still exists despite its progressive nature. The country is aware of this issue and is continuing its work to further the rights of women in Qatar. There have already been achievements in creating equal opportunities and legal reform for female citizens. More are sure to come with Qatar’s commitment to increased gender equality.

Adelle Tippetts
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

Two young women in the Middle East2020 has taught the world a series of valuable lessons. Still, one that strikes most potent is the importance of women’s presence in critical fields, such as conflict resolution. For years this issue has received a poor reputation for ineffectiveness and persistent recidivism, specifically due to continued violence. However, the recent inclusion of women has changed this and transformed the field as we know it. Since 2016, women’s inclusion in conflict resolution has shown a 64% prevention rate for failed peace negotiations and a 35% increase in likeability for long-term peace.

While women are beginning to shine on the world stage, there are still conflict-ridden regions where they are kept away from the negotiating table. One of these regions is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Conflict in MENA

In addition to the US’ recent departure under the Trump Administration, the MENA has been riddled with conflict. There are longstanding ideological tensions between Saudi-Arabia and Iran. A bloody civil war in Yemen and the recent Assad-Putin take over of Syria. Libya is becoming a failed state and more terrorist organizations are rising to power.

This is an integral time for women to be included in conflict resolution, as said previous conflicts will require new models of engagement and unique perspectives. If women are to achieve an equal socioeconomic standing to men in the MENA, now is the time for action.

Overview of Progress

Since the early 2000s, women have begun playing an active role in conflict resolution. A prominent example is the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. In both the first and second Liberian Civil Wars, the movement’s women hosted communal activities, such as prayer gatherings, to unite the warring Christian and Muslim populations. Eventually, they gained so much momentum that they advanced their organization to more direct advocacy and activism. This was during a time of rampant sexual violence and the murders of child soldiers. In 2005, the women helped ensure one of the nation’s first free and fair elections, which resulted in the first female African president.

Another way in which women have fought for change in the MENA is through women-led nonprofits. Take, for instance, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assitance (CEWLA). Under current dictator Abdel Al-Sissi, Egypt has faced a series of religious violence, economic corruption, and denial of fundamental human rights. Nevertheless, since 2013, CEWLA has worked with local grassroots organizations in Egypt to promote female rights. It has fought several legal battles to improve ongoing “legal, social, economic and cultural rights.”

In addition to inter-regional violence, mass immigration and displacement in MENA has resulted in severe economic losses. In response to such conflict, female entrepreneurs in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine banded together to form Ruwwad. Ruwwad is a community engagement organization that focuses on providing women with education, income generation methods, and social justice.

Nonetheless, even when it comes to complex matters such as Intra-State Conflict, women have shown up to unite deeply divided communities, often struggling with severe poverty. The Wajir Association for Women’s Peace embodies the said fight for justice. The Association is a group of local women in Wajir, Kenya. They lead conflict resolution initiatives between the clans’ Elders and the at-risk youth. Wajir’s women’s power has even reached the desks of local parliamentary offices. Nationwide reforms have begun to take aim at resolving much of the turmoil occurring in this region as a result of these efforts.

A Plan for the Future

While women’s leadership in the MENA is far from perfect, there have been massive improvements over the years. This provides an ample opportunity to transform the region. Analysts have found that Women need political and economic backing from international organizations in order to help promote their localized mediation initiatives and garner stronger support for future peacebuilding. Bills such as the Girls Lead Act, currently being negotiated in Congress, is a step in the right direction and will help develop future female leaders in at-risk developing countries. The MENA region has seen conflict and ethnic violence for decades, but when we empower women, we empower change.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

SunBox Solar Kits For the 1.9 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza strip, electricity is a privilege. Due to a lack of available energy, people experience regular blackouts that disrupt their daily lives. These blackouts keep residents from fully enjoying the benefits of electricity, such as regular internet access and lighting. Fortunately, local engineer and entrepreneur, Majd Mashhawari is bringing cheap electricity to families through her new invention, SunBox. Mashhawari’s SunBox solar kits provide clean solar power to households, providing off-the-grid energy and internet access.

Electricity in Gaza

One diesel power plant produces almost all electricity for Gaza but it is not able to produce enough electricity to power the region at all times. Because of restrictions on exports and imports in Gaza, the plant only has access to a restricted amount of imported fuel. As a result, it has been forced to implement a system of rolling blackouts. According to SunBox founder, Mashhawari, hospitals in Gaza receive 10 hours of electricity a day, which the hospitals can afford to supplement with private generators. Everyone else lives on three to five hours of electricity a day unless they can pay for a generator.

If people in Gaza had reliable access to electricity, they would be able to cook, refrigerate food, run businesses effectively, access the internet and study after dark. The first two activities boost health, while the latter three increase earnings and success. Access to electricity has a strong impact on reducing poverty.

SunBox Solar Kits

SunBox solar kits could be the key to ending Gaza’s electricity crisis. SunBox has provided solar energy for 300 families since the company’s launch two years ago. Its solar kits have produced 600,000 watts of energy so far. As a small business, it employs 35 people, helping to combat Gaza’s high unemployment rates.

SunBox solar kits consist of one or two solar panels, a battery and a solar device. The panels are attached to the roof of a building and the solar device provides internet access and a plug-in for electrical devices. These kits provide 1,000 kilowatts of solar energy to consumers in a region where most days are sunny. The battery typically takes only three hours to recharge fully.

Business-wise, SunBox has profited from its “sharing is caring model.” People who cannot afford to pay for the $350 kits can buy the kit with other families, sharing the costs and the electricity. SunBox has also installed kits at desalination plants, helping to power the creation of clean water.

Female Entrepreneur: Majd Mashhawari

SunBox is the brainchild of Mashhawari, who understands the need for better electricity in Gaza because she grew up there. The territory began conducting electrical blackouts when she was 12. Mashhawari went on to attend the Islamic University of Gaza, where she majored in civil engineering. She has put her degree to good use, developing two products so far that help tackle Gaza’s unique infrastructure needs. These products are GreenCake and SunBox.

Mashhawari’s first product, GreenCake, was a building block made from ash and rubble. The Israel-Hamas war in 2014 had damaged many buildings in Gaza and rebuilding was difficult because of limits on cement imports. Mashhawari saw the need for cheap building materials that could be made from domestically available substances. Her team conducted experiments, eventually designing a cheap, durable building block made from ash and rubble, two elements that were abundant in Gaza. After her success in launching GreenCake in 2016, Mashhawari went on to create SunBox in 2018.

Mashhawari’s work has come to wider attention because of a TED Talk she gave in 2019 about her inventions. During her TED Talk, Mashhawari touted the success of her products and the need to find creative solutions to difficult problems. She also recalled that when she attended university, her school’s civil engineering program had a female-to-male ratio of one to six. Mashhawari stressed her devotion to supporting other female scientists, proudly describing how SunBox was hiring and training both female and male engineers.

Local Inventions Address Poverty

Mashhawari’s products show the inventiveness of local entrepreneurs and their ability to create solutions that are tailored to their region. She developed her products to address the specific needs of her fellow people, granting them a better way of life. Her designs are cheap and environmentally friendly and because of her dedication to hiring female engineers, her company supports female education and economic empowerment. In the fight against global poverty, it is encouraging to be reminded that there are locally developed, environmentally friendly and cost-effective solutions.

– Sarah Brinsley
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in Ethiopia

Ethiopia faces many struggles, but the land where coffee originated has many accomplishments as well. The continuous progression made for gender equality in Ethiopia is one of them. Gender-based roles constitute a significant part of the Ethiopian culture. It is also the primary reason for many families’ extreme poverty. However, through policy reform and promoting women’s political participation, there has been a noteworthy change in bridging the gaps between women and men.

Policy Reforms Encourage Gender Equality in Ethiopia

Thanks to two reforms, research suggests that promoting gender equality in Ethiopia has become very feasible.

One reform is the Family Code, which was revised in 2000 with new developments. The re-evaluated version of the Family Code states that women receive equal rights throughout the marriage. This pertains to the entire term of their marriage, the duration of the divorce, and after the finalization of the divorce. The revisions also note that the individuals must equally split all assets. As a result, the report states that women were less likely to involve themselves in domestic work. Instead, women found more sustainable employment outside of the household, which encourages their independence.

The second reform is the community-based land registration, which was initiated in 2003. Ethiopia’s population has strong gender norms that tend to favor men and subordinate women in power roles. Research results have shown that as women migrate from the north of Ethiopia to the southern region, they tend to lose societal and household status. Women also have their “bargaining power” revoked from them, which can relate to property rights and ownership. However, this reform emphasizes the implementation of property rights for married women by creating “joint certification.”

A significant sign of independence in Ethiopia is property. However, men typically have land ownership in marriages. This reform opposes that gender-based norm in Ethiopia and allows women to access economic and political opportunities. When women own land, it increases their chances of earning money and controlling their own life. Rules set by their husband no longer have to confine them. They are also less likely to be victims of domestic violence. Ethiopian women who own property are significantly less likely to experience domestic violence within their marriage than women who do not own property.

Women’s Political Participation Rises

Women currently make up 37% of congress in Ethiopia. Considering only 22% of women represented congress in 2010, there has been significant progress ever since. However, the Ethiopian government’s accuracy and trustworthiness will remain in question until women account for at least 50% of the parliamentary seats.

The country also needs to make political careers more accessible to women. The “motherhood penalty” requires women to attend to constant family duties and responsibilities, such as breastfeeding and always being present for the children. Endless motherly duties can hinder their potential political career due to the amount of time it takes. This is especially true if a women’s marriage is based on strong religious beliefs. Certain religious beliefs in Ethiopia tend to prohibit women from having the independence they deserve and hinder their decision-making abilities.

DCA

In Ethiopia, women are perceived as those to be led, not to be the ones leading. However, recent years’ progression contradicts that idea. The organization DCA (Dan Church Aid) emphasizes the idea of women empowerment. They hold and spread the belief that every woman deserves fundamental human rights “economically, socially, and culturally.”

DCA was created in 1995 to promote gender equality in Ethiopia. Since then, the organization has helped over 3.2 million people in the world’s most impoverished countries deprived of everyday opportunities. Due to the continuous contribution of DCA and recognition from Ethiopia’s government regarding the encouragement of gender equality, the women of Ethiopia can seek more political positions and close those gender gaps within communities.

Montana Moore
Photo: Flickr

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s Former President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, made history in 2006 as the first female head of state in Africa and the first black woman head of state. Since then, the world has witnessed a tremendous increase in female political leadership in Africa. This article examines the extraordinary progress in expanding women’s leadership in Africa, the importance of such leadership and the challenges that remain before full equality can be achieved. 

Increased Representation in Women’s Leadership

Rwanda now has the highest percentage of women in parliamentary positions in the world, along with South Africa, Senegal, Namibia and Mozambique in top 20, according to 2020 data from the IPU-UN Women Map of Women in Politics. Despite this relative success, Africa still needs to double representation rates to achieve gender equality. Contemporary scholarship regarding women’s leadership also underscores that increased representation does not necessarily mean increased influence: the types of role women undertake, such as the portfolios they oversee as ministers or the nature of their work in a company, often reveal more about their real influence.

African Women in Political Office

Recent successes of women-led nations in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted further investigation into the benefits of women’s leadership and political representation. A NYTimes article proposes that women leaders tend to value varied information sources and diverse perspectives, while The Guardian cites evidence suggesting that female leaders are more likely to employ risk averse strategies to protect their citizens. Regarding the success of African women leaders in handling the COVID-19 health crisis, Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf remarks: “Women leaders are better placed to draw on informal networks to mobilize rapid responses and community support. They are used to finding alternative resources and building ingenious partnerships to solve problems.” Indeed, given the outstanding challenges Africa faces––population density, limited health infrastructure and inadequate sanitation, to name a few––the containment of the virus in Africa is proof of talented, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership.

Rising female leadership in Africa reflects an encouraging global trend. The proportion of women ministers worldwide is at an all-time high at 21.3 percent, which is up 7.1 percentage points from 2005. However, only 14 countries in the world have 50 percent or more women in their cabinet, and Rwanda is one of them at 53.6 percent. Rwanda also has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world with 61.3 percent. Other African countries with high percentages of women are South Africa (46.3), Senegal (43.0), Namibia (42.7) and Mozambique (41.2). The regional average for Sub-Saharan Africa is 24.4 percent, which closely follows the world average of 24.9 percent. However, this number masks wide disparities: some African countries rank at the bottom of the list, for instance Nigeria (3.4 percent), Benin (7.2 percent) and Gambia (8.6 percent). Further progress is necessary in expanding the range of portfolios held by women. Fifty percent of African female cabinet members hold social welfare portfolios while only 30 percent are in charge of finance, infrastructure, defense and foreign affairs – departments that have more political influence and more often lead to higher senior positions, such as head of state. Expanding women’s presence in these areas would ensure that women voices are heard at the highest level of decision-making and governance.

African Women in Business

Research has found a correlation between women’s representation and profitability. The Women Matter Africa report by McKinsey&Company found that the earning margin from companies with at least a quarter share of women on their boards was, on average, 20 percent higher than the industry average. Findings from a Peterson Institute for International Economics report, “Is Gender Diversity Profitable?”, show that moving from a no-women board to 30 percent representation corresponds with a 15 percent increase in profitability. Research has found that executive boards with more women tend to manage risks better, which directly improves finances. Experts agree that women’s participation in decision-making processes fosters openness to new perspectives, collaboration and inclusiveness, and strength in ethics and fairness.

In the private sector, Africa performs well globally with a higher-than-average proportion of women CEOs, executive committee and board members. However, statistics vary widely by region. At board level, African women held 14 percent of seats compared to the world average of 13 in 2016. However, this number was 20 percent in Southern Africa and 9 percent in North Africa. Women are most poorly represented at the highest level: A 2017 South Africa Census found that while 20.7 percent of Directors and 29.4 percent of Executive Managers were women, women accounted for only 11.8 percent of CEOs or Chairpersons.

Challenges & Outlook

Contemporary literature about women’s leadership in Africa underscores persistent barriers and systemic challenges such as early socialization, gender stereotyping, limited educational attainment, and discriminatory policies and procedures. Gender norms in Africa emphasize the primary role of women as mothers and wives, which discourages them from joining the workplace and ascending to higher positions. At work, recruitment and promotion procedures often work against women’s success, and normative perceptions of women as incompetent subject them to more rigorous standards of performance. Going forward, women’s leadership in Africa would benefit from continued theoretical research, advocacy and discussion that embrace the complexity and diversity of African women leaders. The African Women Leaders Network, the premiere advocacy group with the mission of elevating the status of women’s leadership in Africa, outlines key priorities in their fight: eradicate violence against women an girls; increase access to education; promote a women-driven care economy; and encourage young female leadership. In the words of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “Now is the time to recognize that developmental transformation and true peace cannot come without fundamental change in who is leading and the ways of leading.”

—Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Empowerment in ThailandIn Thailand, chief executives of 110 companies have signed an important pledge that agrees to the implementation of U.N. principles regarding women’s empowerment in its economy and businesses. Some of these principles include equal pay for equal work, improved workplace conditions in terms of safety and inclusivity as well as gender equality with a heavy emphasis on executive positions.

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs)

This pledge is known as the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), which was founded by the U.N. Global Compact and U.N. Women in 2010 and is funded by the European Union. The aim is to push businesses to be responsible for women’s empowerment and gender equality. The pledge is part of a wider movement established by U.N. Women, known as the Promoting Economic Empowerment of Women at Work in Asia (WeEmpower Asia) Initiative.

The WEPs are made up of a total of seven principles. These principles encompass several key areas which include gender equality in corporate leadership, equality, respect of human rights, nondiscrimination, health and safety of all workers including women, training and professional development of women, equality through advocacy efforts and the public reporting on the progress of these principles.

WeEmpowerAsia

Currently, the movement is working towards helping private businesses and organizations increase women’s participation in leadership positions with an overall aim of gender equality. Currently, the WeEmpowerAsia Initiative is working in a number of Asian countries including India, Thailand, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Another country that is participating in the WeEmpowerAsia Initiative is Malaysia. The Initiative is being led by a company known as LeadWomen. LeadWomen’s partnership with U.N. Women has cemented its work toward increasing women’s representation in leadership in Malaysia. As per the pledge, LeadWomen will be running webinars for the 300 Malaysian companies that signed. LeadWomen will also be providing support to these companies in order to make sure that the WEPs are being implemented in all aspects. In Malaysia, over 30% of women in public sector companies are in executive positions.

In Thailand, approximately 24% of CEOs are women, which makes them the third-highest in the world in terms of the percentage of female CEOs. This is comparatively better than both the Asia-Pacific average and global average which stands at 13% and 20% respectively. Thailand also has the world’s highest percentage of female CFOs, which equates to 43%.

Female Inequality Issues in Thailand

Even though Thailand is doing well in terms of female representation in executive roles, that is not the case in government administration, including parliament and judiciary. Only about 24% of executive civil roles are filled by women. In rural areas, female equality is even worse. Many rural women, especially those that belong to ethnic minorities, deal with poverty, exploitation and discrimination, according to the Commission on the Status of Women. Employment of women in these areas is mostly in the informal sector where they hold vulnerable jobs with only a handful in senior positions. Moreover, violence against women is also prevalent in Thailand which hinders opportunities for women’s empowerment.

The Future of Women’s Empowerment in Asia

To combat these challenges and put an end to gender-based discrimination, U.N. Women introduced the Women Empowerment Principles under the WeEmpowerAsia Initiative. The Initiative hopes that by promoting women’s engagement in economic activities in Thailand, it will empower women and put an end to the discriminatory practices that remain in the country.

– Abbas Raza
Photo: Flickr