Female Changemakers in India
Many women in India are making a difference, whether they are wealthy philanthropists giving away large portions of their fortunes to various causes or activists using their voice and creativity to advocate for matters they care about. Three of these female changemakers in India include Garvita Gulhati, Priti Adani and Daya Bai, who each stand as an example of individuals who are steadfast in their charitable ambitions.

Garvita Gulhati

Among the many notable women in India is Garvita Gulhati. Distressed over the fact that restaurant customers wasted 14 million liters worth of semi-drunk glasses of water, Gulhati, at the age of 15, founded Why Waste?, a youth-driven organization focused on preserving water in India and beyond. Why Waste?’s efforts include educating people on water conservation and motivating individuals to become advocates of the cause, connecting with volunteers globally to extend efforts internationally and creating simple solutions to resolve intricate issues, among other objectives.

Through the initiative #GlassHalfFull, Gulhati collaborated with restaurant owners to encourage waiters to only fill water glasses halfway. This movement led to less water wastage and savings for restaurants. In fact, Gulhati and the team at Why Waste? have reached 500,000 restaurants as a result of their collaboration with the National Restaurants Association of India. These efforts have preserved more than 10 million liters of water.

Gulhati’s Accomplishments

Why Waste? has grown to include an application, a nonprofit book called “The Sustainability Stories” and a video series with UNICEF. Among her accomplishments, Gulhati joined Ashoka, “a global network of social entrepreneurs,” to establish the Lead Young program across schools in India. Through this initiative, she empowered 2.5 million learners with the knowledge and inspiration to become India’s next changemakers.

On the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia-Pacific list of Social Entrepreneurs, Gulhati was the youngest person to receive recognition. Gulhati also stood as one of 17 Youth Climate Leaders at the Climate Change Conference (COP26). She also participates in efforts regarding UNICEF’s youth climate strategy. At only 21 years old, Gulhati is one of the female changemakers in India working to protect the world’s water.

Priti Adani

The current chairperson of the Adani Foundation, Priti Adani, is also the wife of Gautam Adani, the founder and chairman of the Adani Group. As chairperson of the Adani Foundation, Priti Adani is determined to help the disadvantaged.

The Adani Foundation, with the aim of creating lasting results throughout India, has dedicated itself to making “strategic social investments” in India since 1996. Having a unit of “670 full-time and 600 part-time professionals,” the Adani Foundation’s influence is broad. Presently, the organization impacts 7.6 million individuals and works in 5,675 villages across 19 Indian states.

Major Projects

The Adani Foundation works to provide communities with “education, health, sustainable livelihood, skill development and community infrastructure,” its website says. Priti Adani, through the Adani Foundation, has created four main programs to reach these objectives. The Saksham initiative works to advance skills development while SuPoshan seeks to treat and prevent malnutrition/anemia. Additionally, the Udaan initiative centers around education and the program Swachhagraha prioritizes cleanliness.

SuPoshan aims to address malnutrition among vulnerable groups, including young children and pregnant women, The SuPoshan initiative trains village health volunteers, also known as SuPoshan Sanginis, to visit homes. The Sanginis activities include “spreading awareness, referrals and promoting behavioral change among the target groups to achieve the project objectives,” the Adani Foundation website says. Currently, 418 Sanginis are servicing 239,211 households and almost 35,000 undernourished children are now in better health.

Daya Bai

Daya Bai, originally named Mercy Matthew, was born in Kerala, India, and grew up in a wealthy Christian family. Initially, Daya Bai wanted to become a nun, but after she observed the struggles Indian tribal people faced, including the lack of education and health care, she dedicated herself to uplifting and empowering them.

Daya Bai has offered services to each and every village she has visited. Depending on the needs of each village, she would give medical, educational and political assistance. With a strong belief that education may support individuals in living better lives, Daya Bai has coordinated non-violent protests and other operations to push authorities to open up schools for tribal people. She also set up a school in Barul Village.

Additional Endeavors

At age 81, in October 2022, Daya Bai’s endeavors included a hunger strike that commenced after the banned pesticide endosulfan was sprayed into the air, killing more than 500 people in Kasaragod district, Kerala, and injuring 6,728 others.

The hunger strike lasted 17 days and ended only after she was handed a written pledge from the government conceding to her demands. These demands included that the government gives the best possible treatment to the endosulfan victims.

Resolutely, Daya Bai has worked to preserve the traditions and principles of the communities she supports. Often, Daya Bai gives speeches to uplift people, which has earned her even more appreciation. In 2007, Daya Bai received the Vanitha Woman Of The Year award, and in 2012, she received the Good Samaritan National Award. Daya Bai has fought for meaningful causes for many years, and at the age of 82, she is as tenacious as ever.

Garvita Gulhati, Priti Adani and Daya Bai, in their own distinct ways, are three female changemakers in India contributing to beneficial causes. Their inspiring efforts, with support, have the potential to give rise to even more progress, in India and beyond.

– Megan Roush
Photo: Flickr

Women Entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa
In September 2021, Visa, a large virtual payment and financial services company expanded its She’s Next program to help women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). In August 2022, Visa announced that the development will include a $3.5 million grant to organizations that support small and micro businesses (SMBs), such as the African Women Impact Fund (AWIF), a U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) cause. The grant will “fund the working capital needs of women fund managers” and support “55 women who responded to AWIF’s call to action.”

Empowering Female Entrepreneurs in Africa

First introduced in 2019 in the United States, the She’s Next program advocates for women entrepreneurs globally through all stages of business growth. This newly expanded program provides these business owners with “access to insights via research and engagement with small businesses, private and public sector communities and educational resources. ”

Visa’s partnership with She Leads Africa, an online platform that connects African women entrepreneurs, provides users with access to a network of more than 700,000 female business owners, resources for digital accessibility and funding.

Gratifying an Essential Market

According to Forbes, Africa is “the fastest-growing continent” in the world as of 2021. As digital literacy becomes increasingly desired, and mandatory for some, it is imperative that African countries prepare their citizens. The International Finance Corporation has reported that in eight years’ time, digital skills will be essential to “230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa.”

As of 2019, only half of the nations in Africa provide computer skill training as a subject in their education curriculums in comparison to “85% of countries globally.” This paired with a high demand for digital skills creates a skill shortage, making it more difficult for companies to hire locally.

The World Bank said that “This translates into an opportunity estimated at $130 billion to provide digital skills through a combination of business-to-consumer, business-to-business and business-to-government training services.”

The Rise of Digital Commerce

Through a research study called “Understanding Women-Owned SMEs,” Visa aims to understand how technology affects women-led businesses’ success in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. This study found that, in addition to pandemic-related struggles, “a lack of technological infrastructure,” economic volatility and a “regulatory environment” are the most prominent obstacles to business growth for women entrepreneurs.

The study found that 83% of survey respondents who implemented digital payments experienced increased revenue. About 70% of women foresee their customers using “e-commerce platforms” more frequently post-pandemic, further encouraging these women entrepreneurs to establish an online presence.

Women Entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa

As of 2017, SSA had the “highest rate of women entrepreneurs” globally (27%). In fact, Uganda and Botswana had the highest percentage globally at 34.8% and 34.6% respectively. However, female entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa garner profits 34% lower than males.

A lack of education and skills reduces women’s access to employment opportunities. As a result, women may look to entrepreneurship as a way out of poverty. Initiatives such as Visa’s She’s Next program address the barriers that women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa face, furthering their economic independence and prosperity.

– Aishah French
Photo: Flickr

Supporting leaders to end poverty
In 2019, the World Bank stated that approximately 700 million people lived in extreme poverty, surviving on $1.90 daily. The future is optimistic though as extreme poverty decreased from 35% in 1990 to 8.6% in 2022. Thanks to the persistent efforts of governments, foundations, international non-governmental organizations and many others, global poverty is diminishing. In 2008, Anne Welsh McNulty established the John P. McNulty Prize “in honor of her late husband” in partnership with the Aspen Institute with the aim of supporting leaders to end poverty. Each year, leaders who address significant world problems, like global poverty, receive funding and “support to amplify their efforts.” Here are five women leaders and McNulty Prize winners who focus on global poverty reduction.

Navyn Salem, Edesia

Navyn Salem’s philanthropy journey began with a trip. In 2007, during a visit to Tanzania, her father’s home country, she witnessed child malnutrition firsthand. “A mother was crying inconsolably over the loss of her child. The child had starved to death,” the Edesia website described. Since that day, Salem made it her mission to prevent global malnutrition. In 2009, she founded Edesia Nutrition, which is the reason why she stood as one of the winners of the John P. McNulty Prize in 2022. Edesia Nutrition is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that produces ready-to-use therapeutic food, like Plumpy’Nut, to end malnutrition. This organization has addressed hunger and malnutrition among more than 16 million children in 60 nations through successful collaborations with UNICEF, USAID, the World Food Programme (WFP) and more.

Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen Global Fellowship Program

Jacqueline Novogratz gave up her career on Wall Street in 1986 to assist with launching Rwanda’s first microfinance institution. According to the McNulty Foundation, she “continued her work of using creative methods of financing to encourage development by starting Acumen” in 2001, an impact investment organization that invests in companies and individuals, working on global poverty with its “Patient Capital” model.

For her, this is a bridge between philanthropy and markets. Also, the Acumen Academy provides courses, fellowships and accelerators to support next-generation role models, innovators and leaders who focus on social change in different ways. The Acumen Global Fellowship Program is a one-year program that helps individuals to master the required “skills, attributes and values of moral leadership values”necessary to ignite social change. Through this program, Novogratz won the 2018 McNulty Prize Catalyst Fund, which “builds on a decade of the impact of the John P. McNulty Prize, a $100,000 award given annually to honor the visionary work of individuals moving the needle on intractable global challenges.”

Alexandra Kissling & Maria Pacheco, Vital Voices Central America

Vital Voices Global Partnership is a nonprofit organization that has supported women leaders all around the world since 1997. The organization has supported more than 20,000 women in more than 180 countries and regions. It supports women leaders because it believes “women are the key to progress in their communities and nations cannot move forward without women in leadership positions,” the Vital Voices website said.

Under this partnership, Maria Pacheco developed the Vital Voices Chapter in Guatemala in 2008. With her invitation, several other leaders attended the first Vital Voices conference in Central America. This led to the development of six chapters in the region and the founding of the Vital Voices Central America coalition by Pacheco and Alexandra Kissling.

Kissling is also the co-founder of Vital Voices Costa Rica. Overall, “the Vital Voices Central America network has touched the lives of [more than] 100,000 women and their families” through different programs. Women are now able to gain important skills in communication, entrepreneurship and leadership, career-building and community work. This is a crucial contribution considering that in this region, women are more likely to live in extreme poverty than men. Kissling and Pacheco won the 2019 McNulty Prize thanks to their dedicated efforts to fight against poverty in Central America.

Réjane Woodroffe, Bulungula Incubator

Réjane Woodroffe witnessed the utmost opposite conditions during commutes between Cape Town, South Africa, and a secluded community of villages on the southeast coast of the country. In one place, there were luxurious cars, fancy buildings and many job opportunities, whereas, on the other side, she saw extreme poverty and underdevelopment. The villages lacked roads, proper health care access, schools, electricity and sanitation.

After this eye-opening experience, she started to work on trying to end rural generational poverty. In 2007, Woodroffe founded Bulungula Incubator, which is the reason why she won the 2014 prize. Bulungula Incubator is a nonprofit organization that has goals to end poverty while improving community life through several programs. For instance, early childhood education, health and nutrition, sport, art, culture and economic programs through collaborations with government, non-governmental organizations and other associations. This is another example of supporting leaders to end poverty.

All in all, awards like the John P. McNulty Prize play a significant role in supporting leaders to end poverty. These types of awards not only provide monetary support to further leaders’ humanitarian work but also stand as motivation for future leaders who would like to play a role in poverty reduction. Announcing these types of awards to recognize winners is crucial for motivating the next generation of leaders.

– Irem Aksoy
Photo: Flickr

MujerProspera Challenge
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) introduced MujerProspera (WomanProsper) Challenge on January 13, 2022. The challenge encourages applicants to propose innovative ways to promote gender equality in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Overall, this project addresses the relationship between gender and poverty and forms part of a long list of ongoing USAID projects that bolster the opportunities of the world’s impoverished.

Gender and Poverty

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras noted high levels of extreme poverty even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, although the spread of the virus prompted rises in poverty levels throughout the region. According to the Center for Strategic and Management Studies, the Northern Triangle, of which Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras form part, stands as “one of the [most impoverished] regions in the Western Hemisphere.” Migration patterns and environmental disasters also exacerbate the struggles of those living below the poverty line. As of August 12, 2021, USAID estimated that 8.3 million citizens across these three countries require humanitarian aid.

These facts do not exist in isolation of gender inequality. In fact, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras stand out as nations where gender and poverty intertwine. Data from the Gender Equality Observatory shows that extremely high percentages of women in Guatemala (51%), El Salvador (39.4%) and Honduras (43.5%) had no “incomes of their own.” All of these rates are higher than the regional average, which stood at 27.8% as of 2019.

Evidence proves that changing these statistics leads to positive change. A World Bank report on women’s role in Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) economies notes that “an increase in the number of women in paid work between 2000 and 2010 accounted for around 30% of the overall reduction in poverty and income inequality.” Women in these countries receive fewer opportunities and face more challenges than many men in the same social and economic situation. As such, U.S. efforts to combat global poverty must also combat global gender inequality.

Developments in Central American Women’s Rights

Local activists, politicians and international organizations in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras continue to make significant progress in women’s rights. One group, the IM-Defensoras, has launched several campaigns throughout Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras since 2016 to protect women and provide a cooperative network for female humanitarian activists.

In addition, the Regional Office of U.N. Women for LAC launched the Women, Local economy and Territories (WLEaT) program in 2018 with a specific focus on the Northern Triangle countries. WLEaT “contributes to the creation of new and better employment and income opportunities for women entrepreneurs and businesswomen” by strengthening their access to business services and promoting inclusive financial practices in the private sector. The program, therefore, contributes to multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as ending global poverty (SDG 1),  combating gender inequality (SDG 5) and promoting “decent work” and economic expansion (SDG 8).

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in June 2021, USAID and several partner organizations provided resources for women in need of humanitarian aid. This includes a total of $60 million spread across the three Northern Triangle countries to encourage employment, train Indigenous women for midwife careers, prevent gender-based violence and more. Most recently, on January 13, 2022, USAID introduced another important program: the MujerProspera Challenge.

What is the MujerProspera Challenge?

The MujerProspera Challenge stands as one of many U.S. programs pushing against multiple levels of inequality. The program’s official request for applications documents states that the project seeks to “advance women’s economic security, employment, and/or entrepreneurship” in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The lofty document lists different types of solutions that draw from training initiatives in the private sector to the implementation of gender-inclusive legislation. However, overall, MujerProspera provides another way for women in these countries to protect their agency and independence.

Applicants can win funding awards ranging from $150,000 to $500,000 in value. Through these awards, applicants can fund necessary initiatives or solutions that acknowledge the relationship between gender and poverty and promote women’s involvement in the economic sector. The MujerProspera Challenge thus empowers women, local activists, entrepreneurs and organizations to develop solutions to improve situations of gender inequality and poverty in their home countries.

– Lauren Sung
Photo: Flickr

Women in Sierra LeoneGender-based violence, discrimination and genital mutilation are some of the many challenges that women in Sierra Leone face. In comparison to males within the nation, a woman’s “voice, visibility, participation and representation in elective and appointment positions” is substantially less. Women in Sierra Leone face severe marginalization despite their significant “contributions to the economy” and the sustenance of their households.

Genital Mutilation

Active membership in “secret societies” has detrimental impacts on girls and women in Sierra Leone. These inconspicuous societies stand as  significant “cultural institutions” steeped in ancient rituals that Sierra Leoneans believe “protect communities against evil and guide adolescent girls to womanhood.” Sierra Leone holds “one of the highest rates of [female genital mutilation]” globally with 90% of girls and women aged 15 to 49 enduring the violating procedure. Female community members often perform genital mutilation procedures “without anesthetic,” using knives, razors and even shards of glass. Female genital mutilation, in addition to risks of extensive hemorrhaging, can result in a multitude of medical problems ranging “from infections and cysts to infertility and complications in childbirth.”

Gender-Based Violence

Almost 50% of Sierra Leonean females endure “sexual or physical violence during their lifetime.” Throughout the Sierra Leone Civil War, “widespread and systematic sexual violence against women and girls” was a common occurrence. This extreme brutality, often at the hands of rebel groups and Civil Defense Forces, affected girls and women of all ages. In terms of violence within domestic relationships, several factors play a role.

The first is that Sierra Leonean society sees certain types of violence in a relationship as warranted and acceptable. In addition, women who report cases of domestic violence face harsh judgment and shame from the community, which is why many choose to remain silent. The legal system also does not see cases of violence involving married women as a priority, but rather, a personal matter that requires a resolution within the confines of a home. In general, many citizens do not have faith in the legal system. The lack of competency within the fragmented legal system continues to generate leniency for perpetrators, contributing to the prevalence of abuse toward women.

Marginalization in the Workforce

Women in Sierra Leone have long generated significant advances in the economy and frequently serve a key part in ensuring their households’ survival. In rural Sierra Leone, women perform more than 60% of the agricultural work necessary for food production in the nation. Males, however, continue to have stronger opportunities for management and influence of the industry, ultimately demoting females to inferior jobs, according to USAID.

Barriers to Education

Girls are less likely to remain in school in comparison to boys due to factors such as child marriage, early pregnancy and gender roles that dictate a female must take on household responsibilities. Additionally, it is extremely rare for a female to continue her education after marriage or pregnancy — “less than 2%” of married females between the ages of 15 and 19 attend school. Due to these cultural norms, women in Sierra Leone are chronically undereducated, a factor that has far-reaching impacts.

Lack of Political Representation

Women in Sierra Leone confront significant challenges when joining the political arena. They face difficulty when navigating disproportionately male-dominated political structures, such as in “accessing male-dominated political networks and making allies, in financing election campaigns and in commanding respect.” Women also often face gender-based discrimination within the political domain. Lower levels of literacy as well as inadequate knowledge of rights and “political processes” further limits females’ capacity to participate on an equal ground alongside males and successfully advocate for fellow women.

The Good News

The Lady Ellen Women’s Aid Foundation (LEWAF-SL) is an autonomous, international non-governmental organization developed in 2008 but formally “established in 2014.” This group was formed in remembrance of Ellen Pauline Kise, a philanthropic humanitarian who died of cancer in 2008. LEWAF’s objective is to eradicate gender-based violence in Sierra Leone, dissolve inequality and ensure that societies treat women as valuable contributors deserving of dignity and respect. To accomplish this, the organization supports women through a four-pronged response:  prevention, protection, response and advocacy. LEWAF seeks to help women in Sierra Leone achieve equality and become empowered.

Despite the discrimination they endure, women in Sierra Leone can look to a brighter future as organizations empower them with the resources and skills to rise up against women’s rights violations and lift themselves out of poverty.

– Tiffany Lewallyn
Photo: Unsplash

Women's Rights in Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, with a population of 6.6 million inhabitants. Women in Nicaragua face many challenges such as increased poverty and violence. The following will present several areas where women’s rights in Nicaragua require improvement.

Violence Against Women

In Nicaragua, violence against women in the form of abuse is one of the most serious social issues that the country faces. Among married women in Nicaragua, 52% have reported cases of spousal abuse, with a median duration of five years. Additionally, 21% of these women reported an overlap between both emotional and sexual violence, with 31% of these women being sexually and/or violently abused during their pregnancy.

Needless to say, these statistics are disheartening and scary. With such high rates of abuse around the country, there seems to be little or no hope for Nicaraguan women to escape this abusive cycle. However, there are several organizations that have contributed to the decrease of sexual abuse in southern countries, such as Self-Help International. It is the largest global organization that works to prevent torture and abuse of all sorts by educating and empowering women in developing countries. Misinformation about abusive relationships is very common among Nicaraguan women. Organizations like this allow women to escape this kind of relationship.

The Gender Gap

The Human Development Report has ranked Nicaragua 124 out of 189 countries based on Gender Equality Index in 2017. Additionally, women are more likely to face poverty in Nicaragua than men. With facts like these, it is evident that there is a disparity between men and women in Nicaragua.

Family members are often the ones who push women in Nicaragua to the sex trafficking industry. Additionally, 28% of Nicaraguan women give birth before they are 18, which is mostly due to sexual violence. This is the issue of society not discouraging violence against women.

Women’s Rights and Poverty

The 2016 poverty rate in Nicaragua was 24.9% with an average salary being $265. A large number of women in Nicaragua experience pregnancy at a young age. They usually stay at home and care for their children rather than working and garnering an income. However, the income that their male counterparts provide for their families is frequently insufficient. In fact, about 78% of households in Nicaragua live in ‘substandard’ conditions, the highest rate in all of Latin America.

This problem returns to the roots of the gender gap and women’s treatment in Nicaragua. It means that the cycle of women having children at a young age and caring for them with a low household income will only continue across the years, even affecting future generations. This means that one of the most important places to start with solving this problem is encouraging education about abuse.


Though there are certain difficult cases that prevent the maximum execution of women’s rights in Nicaragua, hope still exists for the country. With a declining number of abuse cases due to the exposure of organizations like Self-Help International, women’s rights in Nicaragua are beginning to solidify. Self-Help has been working to solve global issues like hunger and poverty since 1999, and it provides education and opportunities for women in these countries. In 2019, Self-Help was able to offer clean drinking water to 3,600 Nicaraguan residents in nine communities. With this preceding success, it is likely that Self-Help’s initiative to alleviate the women’s rights issues in Nicaragua will quickly gain traction.

Self-Help is currently working on a project to educate and empower 200 Nicaraguan women through workshops and microloans. This could lead to a reduction in young women entering and staying in abusive relationships. It is the success of the organizations like this one that can bring hope to women and influence the policymakers when spreading awareness about women’s rights.

Though Nicaragua’s statistics regarding women’s rights and abuse are not yet within positive measures, the work of NGOs should result in the improvement of conditions for women in Nicaragua over the next decades.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Liberia
Although there have been steps toward equal rights for women, some countries are struggling more than others. In Liberia, gender disparities and imbalances are common. To put it another way, there is little appreciation or recognition for the contributions of women to the Liberian community. However, progress has occurred in regard to improving women’s rights in Liberia and gender equality.

The Root of Inequality

In Liberia, traditional and religious insight impacts gender inequality and the neglect of women. This leaves women underrepresented, uneducated and undermined. Gender inequality plays a major role in the rights of women. They have no one to advocate for their rights but themselves. This would not be as unfortunate if women had a right to equal education. While contributing all of their time to family and working, women have less time to focus on education and social life. Furthermore, the stringent roles and responsibilities of women have prevented them from being able to partake in society and benefit development.

The Roles of Women

Women account for more than 50% of the labor in agriculture, cash production and food crop production, along with marketing and trading in Liberia. Despite their heavy role in the workforce, private and public sectors do not even honor the law of allowing pregnant women to go on maternity leave. They are also responsible for taking care of the household and doing additional work on the side, such as gathering wood and water. Despite their roles in agriculture, women own less property and have no other option than to be dependent on male relatives. The discrimination in land ownership is due to biases in the formal legal framework and customary law. Men are also more likely than women to inherit the land, control decision-making, allocation, management and the use of land.

Besides a woman’s role economically, they also experience a high risk of violent behavior against them in Liberia. These acts of violent behavior can include female genital mutilation, wife burning, dowry-related violence, rape, incest, wife battering, female femicide, female infanticide, trafficking, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, execution and prostitution. Any violence against women is a human rights violation according to the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions and their protocols provide protection against discrimination against women, allowing women to be equal to men under the Humanitarian Law, subsequently improving women’s rights in Liberia.

Aid and Hope

Another aid established is the 2009 National Gender Policy, which fights to abolish all gender issues. The main goal is to form a fair society where girls and boys along with women and men enjoy their human rights equally on a basis of non-discrimination. In other words, where the full potentials of all, regardless of sex, are harassed toward achieving unprejudiced rapid economic growth which includes equal access to social, financial and technological resources.

Inconsistency in the national legislature has delayed the implementation of the National Gender Policy. After President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first female president, men began to recognize the possibility of a woman in power. As the President of Liberia from 2006 to 2018, she secured millions of dollars in foreign investment. She also formed a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to investigate corruption and heal ethnic tensions.

The history and roles of women in Liberia are what drive the ongoing evolution of women’s rights. The more women who have representation, the better the chances are for their rights. Changes start as small policies and fill bigger shoes such as presidencies. Although improvements are still necessary, any is better than none at all.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

The Past and Present of Women’s Rights in Iran
The state of women’s rights in Iran has fluctuated throughout the past century. From the early to late 20th century, there was steady progress for gender equality. However, in 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, women’s rights in Iran took a drastic step back. Currently, activists are trying to restore fundamental rights for women within Iran.

History Before the Revolution

In the 1920s, women’s rights in Iran began to make significant progress toward gender equality. Education was more accessible to girls when it became free for both girls and boys. In addition, Iran’s first university allowed the enrollment of women. By the mid-1900s, the suffrage movement made significant headway, especially politically. Women’s organizations underwent implementation and the Iranian Women Party began in 1942. Despite the large opposition and obstacles, women’s organizations and the Women’s Party lobbied for improvements in women’s rights.

It was also helpful that the Shah of Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) had a twin sister, Ashraf Pahlavi. She worked in the High Council of Women’s Organizations of Iran. At the beginning of 1963, the Shah proposed a reform program “primarily aimed at land reform” but also incorporating “a provision for extending suffrage to women.”

He allowed women to vote on the referendum, which passed. This monumental moment eventually led to Iranian women gaining the right to vote. A handful of laws passed around this decade, including raising the minimum age of marriage from 13 to 18, the ability to request for a divorce, gaining the ability to fight for child custody and other marriage and child custody rights under the Family Protection Law.

By the late 1970s, several women served in Iran’s parliament and hundreds took up positions in local councils. Iranian women were also a considerable part of the workforce. However, in 1979, Iran’s revolution led to a regression of women’s rights in Iran that is present to this day.

After the Revolution

The change in political structure in Iran also changed women’s rights in the country. Rollbacks in family law rights occurred. Iran enforced strict laws and punishment regarding Islamic dress codes. Itan reduced the legal marriage age to just 9 years old and women had to leave several government positions. Women “held on to the right to vote and run for parliament,” however, officials ignored their voices.

Even with severely stricter laws, activists still persevered and fought for women’s rights in Iran throughout the years. Because of this activism, more women attended schools, there was a slight increase in women in office and the minimum age of marriage increased to 13 years old. However, even though women gained some rights, they continue to suffer misogyny and discrimination under Iranian law.

Men continue to have significant legal authority over women. The government disregards violence and sexual assault against women. Women experience punishment for standing up for themselves and, in some cases, they even experience execution. Despite women making up more than half of the student body at universities, they only make up 15.2% of the Iranian workforce. From these facts, it is clear that there is a dire need to improve women’s rights in Iran.

The Atena Women Life Quality Improvement Institute

The risk of facing punishment does not deter activists from fighting for gender equality within the country. One NGO that has made a significant impact on women in Iran is the Atena Women Life Quality Improvement Institute. It began in 2006 unofficially, however, after years of work and recognition, in 2013, it officially underwent registry under the State Welfare Organization of Iran. The organization empowers women in several different ways, including supporting them in different fields of work and increasing public awareness for women’s rights. The organization’s impact is widespread, currently supporting more than 200 families with its services and even helping domestic violence victims through education and support. One of Atena’s current projects includes an entrepreneurship initiative that focuses on helping Iranian women earn an income through entrepreneurship. Atena is one of the many impactful NGOs that empower women in Iran.

While activists can face severe punishment in Iran, the fight for women’s rights is essential and advocates stand strong in their commitment to advance women’s rights.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Aiding Nepalese Women
Landlocked between India and China and considered the modern-day birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. One in four families lives in poverty in a country where food shortages, natural disasters and severe weather are extremely common. Women’s rights in Nepal are also limited due to lack of education, high rates of violence against women and historical patriarchal practices within their government. Here is more information about the situation in Nepal and how some are aiding Nepalese women.

The Situation

The United Nations recognizes Nepalese women’s need for aid. As a result, it has implemented volunteer programs centered around solving food insecurity and improving health education and much more to provide assistance and sustainable, long-term solutions to Nepalese communities.

Because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, approximately 41% of women in Nepal lost their jobs and main sources of income. Women who were once financially independent now faced a reality that meant relying on others to provide for their families. Seeing this widespread problem, the women of Nepal united during this trying time and established women-managed community kitchens centered around aiding Nepalese women in poverty and eliminating the food insecurity crisis the country has been facing.

UN Women

U.N. Women and the Government of Finland are working with local women to develop these community kitchens and provide a sustainable source of food. Only 20% of land in Nepal is capable of being cultivated. These community kitchens are not only providing food for the people of Nepal, but they are also empowering these women to combat local food insecurity due to their weather conditions.

The meals include “rice, daal (lentil soup), spinach, vegetable, pickle, fruits, ladoo (sweets), and a bottle of water.” Daily, these community kitchens cook up to 250 meals, but sometimes they have even produced more than 500 requested meals in a day. Women for Human Rights, Maiti Nepal, Nagarik Aawaz and Nari Bikas Sangh have all created women-run community kitchens in Nepal serving 95,000 meals and providing baby food to 30,000 people since June 2020.

In total, more than 100 women work for and run the Nepal community kitchens and are making a real impact in their communities through their work. By building trust and uniting a community, vulnerable groups of women like migrants, dwellers, ill or sick women, pregnant women or women with disabilities have been able to find leadership roles in their communities. Nepal’s women-run community kitchens show the impact women can have against poverty in their own country.

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV)

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) program began in 1988 in Nepal. The all-female volunteers are also advocates and educators on maternal health, newborn caretaking, childhood health and nutrition. The implementation of programs like the “National Immunization Program, Birth Preparedness Package, Community-Based Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness (CB-IMNCI), Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition, Infant and Young Child Feeding, and Family Planning program” are all possible because of the U.N.’s FCHV program. The program also provides frontline workers during polio vaccine campaigns and other communicable disease advocacy efforts.

Clean cooking is also a problem in Nepal, so besides community kitchens, Nepal has rerouted the FCHV program to help combat this issue. FCHVs go from home to home to educate local women on the harms of certain fuels used when cooking. Alternating from wood and kerosene with an open flame to biogas, petroleum gas and electric stoves lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of pneumonia. The long-term health effects are detrimental, and these volunteers are working hard to keep their communities safe and healthy through their FCHV programs.

Maiti Nepal

Besides providing food for the community and a living wage for the women running the kitchens, groups like Maiti Nepal have used these community kitchens as an opportunity to educate locals on the dangers of COVID-19. Providing masks and sanitizer along with the meals has also promoted better public health for the country which the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. Women in the FCHV program aid in any area of the community that needs help, so they became frontline workers and educators during the pandemic.

Looking Ahead

The U.N. is constantly working to improve women’s leadership and empowerment in countries facing low rates of women’s involvement in politics and places of power. By 2022, Nepal is aiming to graduate from the least developed country status, and the work these women are doing is directly contributing to the completion of this goal.

The United Nations is aiding Nepalese women in more ways than one and is constantly developing programs like the community kitchens and the FCHV program to fit the needs of each specific community. The women volunteering in these programs are working towards a better tomorrow for their local people and nation as a whole.

– Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr

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