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

Women in UzbekistanAfter the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, like many post-Soviet nations, experienced a surge of conservative culture amongst the ruling elites and the general population. This surge led to the implementation of policies that were more restrictive to women than the previous Soviet policies had been. Women in Uzbekistan have long been excluded from policymaking. Now, women in Uzbekistan are taking to activism to ensure their voices are heard.

ACTED Uzbekistan

ACTED Uzbekistan is an organization that works to uplift the voices of women and girls throughout the country. It is a European Union-funded project that raises awareness for women’s issues and helps to mobilize women who otherwise may have been unsure how to begin. In addition to fieldwork, ACTED Uzbekistan also works to generate a report every year that analyzes the gender equality status in the country and offers suggestions on how to increase equality. Through the implementation of this project, a greater number of female activists have been able to claim platforms and affect policy.

Child Brides in Uzbekistan

One of the largest issues for activists currently is child marriage within the country. Though the law requires that girls be at least 17 years old before they are married, families have begun to pursue more religious ceremonies that legally eliminate the need for a civil union. As more girls are married off young, the amount of women in higher education and public office decreases and the cycle of discrimination continues. To combat this, organizations such as UNICEF and Girls Not Brides have partnered with the country’s Committee of Women to raise awareness of the detriments of child marriage, help young brides in danger and push for legislation that will end this practice once and for all.

HIV/AIDs in Uzbekistan

Another issue that has generated a lot of female activism has been the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country. Roughly 50,000 people in the country are currently living with the disease, according to UNAIDS, but through activism, the numbers have come down in the past few years. Organizations such as the Day Center for HIV Affected Families gather volunteers, many of them HIV positive themselves, and they work to provide assistance to struggling families while also providing educational material on HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it. Many of these activists are young women who were born HIV positive and who are committed to helping others like them.

Domestic Violence

In addition to the aforementioned activist initiatives, a large movement has begun in the country to identify and counter domestic violence. Like many nations, domestic violence in Uzbekistan is still seen as a personal issue and there are no provisions in the law that prohibit violence perpetrated by a spouse or parent. Both the official Women’s Committee and nongovernmental organizations have worked to combat this issue, with the Women’s Committee focused mostly on establishing crisis centers and shelters and NGOs promoting awareness and education on the issue. With both of these measures applied in conjunction, the country is slowly starting to recognize domestic violence as an issue.

The Necessity of Women’s Activism

As the United Nations and many NGOs have stated, women’s activism is necessary for progress. In Uzbekistan, this is evident by all of the work women have done to increase female participation, counter disease and help other women in need. The work gives evidence to a brighter future for women in the country but also for the people of Uzbekistan at large.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Women PeacemakersSince the beginning of the Sudanese civil war in 1983 that split the north from the south, the conflict in South Sudan has cost thousands of civilian lives and fractured the society in the region. The fallout from the civil war led to tribal conflict that is still ongoing and oftentimes the victims of these “total wars” are women. For this reason, women peacemakers in South Sudan are very important.

Feminist Movements in South Sudan

Prior to the civil war, feminists movements were gaining ground in South Sudan, so much so that South Sudan was seen as the center of African feminism during the 60’s and 70’s. These activists secured legal equality for all women across the country, though, with a change of leadership in the late 70’s, women saw their positions in society diminish. With the beginning of the civil war, South Sudanese feminists began to pursue outside avenues to affect policy.

One such group was a collective of female South Sudanese refugees who fled to Nairobi, Kenya. There they drafted a document that outlined how women were essential to the peacemaking and governing process. These women called for the government to acknowledge that “It is first and foremost women who suffer during wars or conflicts. Because of this, they are best placed to act as agents for a conclusive peace process and to spread a culture of peace in the country.” This was the first declaration of its kind, and its message has continued to be influential in how South Sudanese women advocate for increased involvement of women.

Feminist Organizations

Throughout the war period, multiple feminist organizations emerged that called for peace and women’s rights, such as Nuba Women for Peace, Women Empowerment for Peace and Development Network and the National Democratic Alliance. At the turn of the century, many women who had previously participated in these groups came together to form the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), which is an organization with branches in North and South Sudan that collaborate to empower women in the region and promote the role of women peacemakers in South Sudan.

Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP)

SuWEP’s main goals are to promote the inclusion of women from all layers of society, train women in conflict resolution and mediation, raise awareness, write position papers on its work to be presented to international bodies and advocate for and publicizing its message of gender equality. Due to these efforts, peace centers have now been established throughout both North and South Sudan, food aid has been able to reach the most vulnerable populations throughout the region and the legislature of South Sudan met its quota of 25% of its seats belonging to women.

UN Women Africa

U.N. Women Africa has also been one of the larger advocates for gender equality in South Sudan, with its focus primarily being on increasing female involvement in democracy, increasing literacy and protecting women and girls from gender-based violence. The organization has come before the Security Council to demand greater protections for women because it believes women are essential to the peacemaking process as they have been the greatest advocates of peace since the inception of the conflict. In addition, in a report to the Security Council, it was brought up that the women of these warring tribal and ethnic factions have been able to cooperate and make change together, meaning they can help the rest of the country do so.

Moving into the future, many women peacemakers in South Sudanese see the Revitalized Agreement as the best option for lasting peace because it would require that women hold 35% of government seats and the country would transition towards an expanded democracy. With more women in positions of power, feminists believe there would be an increased focus on women’s issues as well as a greater emphasis on diplomacy and peace.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Women Leaders in Cambodia
Cambodia is a Southeastern Asian country bordering Laos and Thailand with a population of over 16 million. The people of Cambodia have struggled in recovering from immense losses caused by the rule of the Khmer Rouge government from 1975-1979. Despite its challenges, Cambodia has made incredible strides in decreasing poverty rates and enhancing its economy. From 2007-2014, the percentage of the population living under the national poverty line decreased by 34.3%. Despite the country’s successes, the people of Cambodia realize they must unite and put in their best efforts to achieve national prosperity. Behind the scenes, remarkable women leaders in Cambodia are continuing their country’s fight against poverty.

Khong Sokin and Oxfam America

Rural areas in Cambodia account for the majority of populations living in the highest rates of poverty. One of these areas is near the Mekong River in Rogniev Island, where two long-time friends and neighbors are making a difference in their community. In 2019, Chris, an Oxfam America member, interviewed the two women – Tep Srey Neang and Khong Sokin. Srey Neang leads a youth group with the primary goal of promoting efficient utilization of her community’s limited natural resources. By supporting decent management of their resources, the farming and fishing industry in her neighboring areas will greatly improve. With success, Neang and her group can boost the socioeconomic status of families and the agriculture industry of the rural areas surrounding the Mekong River.

Khong Sokin has worked closely with Oxfam America, a nonprofit organization with the goal of alleviating global poverty. Together, they have aided women in Sokin’s surrounding areas by providing educational sessions on cultivation and agriculture. Sokin is aware agricultural knowledge is valuable for Cambodia’s economy and for the prosperity of their future generations. Furthermore, Oxfam and Sokin have empowered the women of their community to find their voices and to speak out, and the men are listening. Members of the community have recognized they could not fully thrive without supporting their women as well. This inclusivity has led to a female holding the position of the village assistant chief and four other female members on the community fishery committee. Srey Neang and Khong Sokin are just two fine examples of women leaders in Cambodia cultivating the future for their country.

Women-Led Organization in Battambang and Siem Reap

In the Battambang and Siem Reap provinces in Cambodia, there is a women-led organization supporting the most impoverished, vulnerable women across five rural districts. The program received support from the UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality and started in 2016. The local NGO offers valuable training sessions for women to gain skills in agricultural techniques. For example, members have learned how to use non-chemical fertilizers, raise chickens and pigs, properly grow vegetables and use other farming techniques. As of 2017, out of the 100 women that have worked with the organization, about a third increased their incomes by 50%. In addition to personal financial benefits, the organization is empowering and supporting women, which promotes Cambodia’s resources and enhances the country’s economy.

Vannary San and Lotus Silk

Expanding outside of the farming sphere, Vannary San is a Cambodian fashion designer and the founder of the company Lotus Silk. After the Khmer Rouge, the culture’s fine silk industry was almost entirely destroyed. Vannary has worked towards reintroducing and promoting Cambodia’s silk, while also supporting impoverished communities in Cambodia. In every single step of production, Vannary ensures to support the most marginalized women of Cambodia. She supports rural Cambodian silk farmers by utilizing their silk for her clothing production. Vannary is committed to employing only impoverished Cambodian women and provides benefits, accommodations, decent working hours and safe working conditions. In addition, Vannary offers internships for local college students and encourages student members of Global Children Cambodia to apply for jobs with her company. Vannary San has single-handedly revived Cambodia’s silk culture and has inspired others to become women leaders in Cambodia through her preservation and entrepreneurship.

These are only a few stories of the amazing work several women in Cambodia are accomplishing. It is important to celebrate these stories and to acknowledge that there are people quietly working in the background to help others. Cambodia has faced major turmoil and devastation, but these women provide hope and inspiration for the country’s future. Not only are they fighting poverty and improving the economy, but they are also empowering people to join women leaders in Cambodia.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr