information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

Sitting on the eastern African coast, Comoros is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Though Comoros is experiencing steady economic growth, government debt could cause a decline in the growth rate as time goes on. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Comoros.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Comoros

  1. Poverty: One household-conducted survey from 2014 found that approximately 18 percent of Comoros’ population lives below the international poverty line. The government is continuously funding infrastructure projects with non-concessional loans aimed to improve the island’s living conditions.
  2. Unemployment: Rates of unemployment in Comoros currently rest at 14.3 percent. With about 38.4 percent of people working in agricultural zones, employment is one of the country’s top priorities. 
  3. Education System: One aspect of living conditions in Comoros is that students are required to attend Quranic schools for two to three years from the age of 5. Then, students will advance to primary and secondary school, which is modeled on the French system. Subsequently, students receive six years of primary education and seven years of secondary education. Comoros does not have any post-secondary education in place, like universities, therefore students will either pursue higher education abroad or partake in business, teaching, or agricultural training.
  4. Political Unrest: Much of the living conditions in Comoros, specifically the education system, are negatively affected by political unrest and instability. This often results in teacher and student strikes across the island, which has affected student performance and completion rates. In 2004, education indicators showed that while 85 percent of children were enrolled in primary education and only 35 percent continued to enroll through secondary school.
  5. Life Expectancy: Comoros has a life expectancy of nearly 64 years, a significant improvement from 41 years in 1960. The country currently spends approximately $57 per capita on health care which falls below the average of sub-Saharan Africa ($98) but is significantly higher than that for lower-income countries overall ($37). According to the World Bank, public financing for health makes up 8.7 percent of total government spending.
  6. Clean Water Access: Over 90 percent of Comoros’ population has readily accessible potable drinking water. Clean water supply and access have been improving tremendously because of programs like UNICEF, which has received funding of almost $1.3 million from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid’s office. This funding supports endeavors such as cleaning and protecting roughly 1,500 reservoirs across the nation.
  7. Human Development: In 2016, Comoros ranked 158 out of 188 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. This low number indicates a dire need for focusing on initiatives that combat hunger and malnutrition. Further, a report by the World Bank found that nearly 30 percent of children face chronic malnutrition and stunted growth.
  8. Malaria: The government has developed a goal to fight malaria, where the aim is to reach zero cases on the island. A surge of malaria cases has hit Comoros over the past two years, primarily due to the weak health system. In 2018, nearly 16,000 indigenous malaria cases were reported.
  9. Child Labor: In an effort to improve living conditions in Comoros, the government has recently launched an initiative to reduce child labor rates. Children often perform domestic and agricultural work in order to provide support to the family. Often, these children are sent to wealthier families if the parent is unable to properly care for the child. It has been found that 20.8 percent of children between the ages of seven and fourteen work while in school.
  10. Working Women: Over a third of women in Comoros are in the labor force, providing financial support for a majority of the home bills and school fees for the family. There are strong matrilineal traditions present across the island. Women represent approximately 20 percent of key positions in the government, like the minister of telecommunications and labor minister.

As one of the world’s poorest countries, these top 10 facts about living conditions in Comoros are essential in understanding the importance of economic growth and reduction of poverty on the island.

– Brittany Adames
Photo: Flickr

 

Vietnamese Mail-order Brides
The term mail-order bride is an uncomfortable term for many. The idea of ordering one’s spouse through the internet certainly goes against the established romantic norm that many people adhere to. However, the mail-order bride market is an international industry that one cannot ignore. Men and women, mainly in South East Asia, East Asia and Eastern Europe, employ the services of numerous matchmaking agencies and marriage brokers to search for their special someone. In South Korea, for example, some bachelors utilize these services because they are unable to find romantic relationships and partners in their country. Women from Vietnam, the Philippines, Russia and Ukraine constitute the majority of the brides in these services. These women often come to these international matchmaking agencies because they are trying to escape the poor economic realities of their home countries, such as being in danger of sexual and economic exploitation. This article will highlight the reality of Vietnamese mail-order brides in particular.

Is it legal?

Perhaps this is the first question that comes to mind when one hears the term mail-order brides. The answer is that it is legal so long as all parties involved are going through the proper channels. This is part of the reason why many international matchmaking agencies shun the term mail-order brides. Despite what the term might suggest, no one is ordering another human being for shipment to their doorsteps. Instead, many clients of these matchmaking agencies have to work with international marriage brokers (IMBs) to connect and meet their potential spouses.

Accusations Against the Industry

There are certainly many accusations that people make against the mail-order bride industry. Critics accuse the industry of being another form of human trafficking for three main reasons. First, many women who become mail-order brides come from countries with limited economic access for women. Second, some marriage brokers and agencies in the business are more concerned with profit than they are about the well-being of the women they claim to help find love and new life. Lastly, people do not hold IMBs responsible for the safety of the mail-order brides they introduce their clients to, leaving many mail-order brides in danger of violence and exploitation from their spouses.

When looking at the language that IMBs use to describe their brides, the critics’ concerns toward IMBs are understandable. In The Atlantic’s report on Vietnamese mail-order brides, there is a picture of a poster in Ho Chi Minh City which advertises a marriage broker’s service. The poster reads, “She is a virgin, she will be yours in only three months, fixed price, if she escapes in the first year, guaranteed to be replaced.” This kind of attitude toward women, which treats them as commodities, is also prevalent in online mail-order bride services. Bestasianbrides.com, one of the biggest online IMBs, highlights the submissiveness of the Vietnamese mail-order brides. Under “Reason 2: Submissiveness,” the website writes, “There are literally millions of Vietnamese singles, and almost each of them will easily remind you what a real woman is. A womanly woman, you know, feminine.”

About the Women

The majority of the women who sign up with matchmaking agencies do so voluntarily. For these women, marrying a foreign man is one of the sure-fire ways to escape poverty in their country. This, however, does not eliminate the possibility of these women receiving false information about their future husbands. This could lead to further exploitation and violence once these Vietnamese brides arrive in their husbands’ home country. In 2010, for example, a South Korean man murdered his Vietnamese bride after eight days of marriage. The husband did not disclose his schizophrenia when he met his bride through a matchmaking agency. In the BBC’s 2019 report, it reported on a South Korean man who physically abused his Vietnamese wife. Many Vietnamese wives in South Korea sometimes find themselves at the mercy of their husbands because their immigration status depends on them.

Improving the Brides’ Safety

South Korea, the U.S. and Vietnam are taking measures to improve the safety of these brides. South Korea requires all IMBs to register with the state and provide background checks and criminal history of their clients. If the IMBs do not comply, it revokes their licenses. In the U.S., the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) regulates international marriage services. This protects foreign women marrying American men by requiring the husband to disclose their prior marital, financial and criminal history in order to obtain consent for marriage from their spouses. Meanwhile, Vietnam has entirely outlawed IMBs.

The mail-order brides industry certainly paints a very ambiguous picture. On one hand, there are men and women who are desperately looking for their special someone. These men and women, driven by their desire to start a family, climbing the socio-economic ladder or simply finding love, turn to many international matchmaking agencies to find their special someone. There are certainly some heartwarming love stories that came out of these mail-order bride marriages. This still does not change the fact that there are people who treat Vietnamese women like tradable commodities. This attitude puts many Vietnamese women in danger of violence, exploitation and abuse. Countries such as South Korea, the U.S. and Vietnam are making efforts in improving the conditions of these Vietnamese mail-order brides.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Empowering 50 million women
Women face many barriers when it comes to entering the workplace, especially in developing countries. Societal norms in developing countries often prevent girls and women from pursuing an education. When women do not have an education, they cannot enter the labor force as easily and help cultivate the economy. This cultural practice hinders a developing country’s ability to procure economic growth and reduce poverty rates. The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative is empowering 50 million women.

The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative

The Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP) is an initiative committed to delivering tangible results concerning women in developing countries. The three pillars of the initiative are: women prospering in the workforce, women succeeding as entrepreneurs and enabling women in the economy. It has been proven that when women have economic empowerment, there is a multiplier effect throughout the region. They invest more in their families and communities, which then promotes economic growth.

United States President Donald Trump established the W-GDP Initiative in February 2019 as the first total government movement to promote the economic empowerment of women across the globe. Funding for the initiative began in July 2019.

14 W-GDP Projects

This introduced 14 new projects and around 200 private-public partnerships from across more than 20 countries. The partnerships consist of foreign governments, multilateral donors, non-government organizations, the private sector and universities. These partnerships will allow the W-GDP to influence more than 100,000 women. The 14 projects are throughout developing countries.

In Papua New Guinea, Cardno Emerging Markets leads its partners in working to grow 40 enterprises led by women. It also plans to reform any discriminatory laws in the region that affect some 50,000 businesswomen. In Indonesia, Cargill and its partners are working together to increase the salaries for 2,000 enterprises led by women.

In the Philippines, UPS and its partners are increasing the salaries of 3,800 women and are working to remove obstacles that block full economic participation. In Chile, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Colombia, big-name companies such as Citi and Google have formed a partnership within the private sector in order to provide efficient training for some 8,700 women.

In Liberia, Zambia, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Mozambique, Landesa and its private sector partners work to change any laws that limit women’s property rights. In Côte d’Ivoire, the International Rescue Committee and partners work to give job training to around 750 women in the solar energy industry.

In Benin, the Management Sciences for Health and its partners work together to reintegrate more than 170 female victims of gender-based violence into the workforce. This is going to happen via entrepreneurship and employment opportunities.

Ivanka Trump and the U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator (USAID), Mark Green, are going to run the initiative. Green strongly supports investing in women. He will oversee that the resources of the U.S. government will go towards helping women as much as possible.

The Future

By 2025, the W-GDP wishes to help in empowering 50 million women in the developing world. The plan is to achieve this through a new fund, private-public partnerships and U.S. government activities. The W-GDP will focus its resources on these five main points.

  1. Traveling Freely: Limit restrictions on passports and movement for women.
  2. Accessing Institutions: Limit restrictions for women on legal documents.
  3. Removing Restrictions on Employment: Prohibit restrictions on women and their tasks, hours and jobs.
  4. Owning and Managing Property: Prohibit restrictions on women owning or managing property.
  5. Building Credit: Do not allow gender discrimination in accessing credit. Level the playing field for women including equal access and capital.

With these ambitious objectives, empowering 50 million women will be observable. It is propitious that in the coming years, women living in developing countries will enjoy abundant access to the economic sector.

Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Support Women in PovertyHelping those in need begins with the basics. The same is true when it comes to helping women in poverty. There are simple, actionable ways to change the lives of these marginalized groups. Becoming mindful consumers, giving to reputable charities and raising an impactful voice are ways to support women in poverty.

Mindful Consumption

One should be mindful of where their purchases come from when they purchase food, drink or clothing. Becoming a conscious consumer can directly support women in poverty. It is a simple lifestyle choice that results in purposeful outcomes.

Many jobs and markets exploit women by giving women unfair prices for the goods they produce or work in unsafe environments. Fairtrade is one of the leading establishments coming together to ensure women around the world are not taken advantage of. This cooperative set forth stringent standards on what qualifies as responsibly sourced goods. Items that qualify carry the “Fairtrade Mark,” which allows consumers to know they are spending money where it counts the most.

The sourcing of general products may originate from human trafficking rings. In these rings, forced labor produces goods. When consumers purchase items that have unethical roots, they inadvertently fund those crimes to continue. More than 70 percent of individuals that endure trafficking are females and they must work under horrifying conditions without pay. Consumers can download and use applications like Free2Work, which informs the public of the behind-the-scenes of where their money goes.

Charity

Financially supporting nonprofits with missions to uplift women out of poverty is crucial. Various reputable nonprofits focus on a wide range of obstacles that women face. A core issue is making sure these women have the available resources necessary to receive an education. Funding for schools in impoverished rural areas is one battle. However, females encounter other challenges that cause them to miss or stop attending school altogether.

Girls around the world who lack access to menstrual education and products miss at least one week of schooling every month during her period. This holds girls back and can lead to them dropping out of school altogether. The organization AFRIpads recognizes this crisis and has made it its mission to address it. AFRIpads supplies reusable menstruation pads to regions where girls do not have access to sanitary products. With this simple and effective solution, many girls can attend class no matter the time of the month. Small donations to a cause like AFRIpad’s will help the continued support of women in poverty.

Another reason girls drop out of school is due to unplanned pregnancies. Nonprofits like Global Health Partnerships (GHP) prioritize providing birth control to women and empowering family planning. When The Borgen Project had a chance to speak with the Vice President of GHP, Dr. Ruth O’Keefe, she spoke about the impact that providing Depo shots to villages in Kenya makes. “I’ve never seen a calendar in anyone’s house, but they all know exactly when it’s time to get their next shot,” she said. It is evident that GHP has empowered women to utilize family planning. Meaningful causes to support women in poverty like GHP’s become sustainable through donations.

Voice

When it comes to fighting for the underdog, every voice matters. Writing to members of Congress lets leaders know how significant funding for vital poverty acts is. Breaking the cycle of poverty starts at the education level. Providing this betterment opportunity for women allows people to help them so they can help themselves. Reaching out to local and national media channels is another useful action. Sending messages to news sources is a great way to have one’s voice heard. The increase in coverage of women in poverty will raise greater awareness and support for this humanitarian matter, and in turn, bring more legislators attention to it as well.

Raising a voice to support women in poverty costs little time and effort. Meanwhile, it can change the lives of so many women. Straightforward actions support women in poverty. Voicing opinions on this issue helps legislators focus on this matter. Financially supporting those who make a difference every day in marginalized communities is crucial.

Ariana Kiessling
Photo: Flickr

Six Facts About Women’s Health in Madagascar
Madagascar is the world’s second-largest island country off the coast of East Africa. It is also among the poorest countries in the world with a poverty rate of over 75 percent. This poverty rate has inevitably affected the accessibility and quality of health care and the consequent overall health of Malagasy women. These are six facts about women’s health in Madagascar.

6 Facts About Women’s Health in Madagascar

  1. Maternal mortality rates are high. With 335 deaths per 100,000 live births, Madagascar falls well below the average among Sub-Saharan Africa, which stands at 534 deaths per 100,000 live births. On the other hand, it is well above the worldwide average of 211 deaths per 100,000 live births.
  2. Maternal health clinics often do not have adequate access to necessities or properly trained health professionals. Only 19 percent of health care providers in Madagascar have an education in the basics of emergency obstetric and neonatal care. Only 56 percent of primary health centers have electricity and only 53 percent have access to clean drinking water.
  3. Malnutrition is a problem among mothers in Madagascar. According to a study in 2018 by BMC Nutrition, 17 percent of Malagasy mothers between the ages of 18 and 45 suffered from maternal malnutrition and 38.3 percent of pregnant women suffered from anemia. More than 76 percent of Malagasy women have abnormally little weight gain during pregnancy.
  4. USAID is working to help. With its 12,000 volunteers armed with training and medical supplies, it works to provide for maternal health clinics in rural areas of Madagascar. It has even invested in mobile clinics or groups that travel to areas that have no easy access to health care to reach women and mothers with no other options.
  5. Another organization reaching out to women in Madagascar is Jhpiego, formerly the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics. Across the 815 health clinics it supports, it has aided in more than 130,000 births and provided care to 679,000 new mothers.
  6. Female life expectancy in Madagascar is increasing. In 2019, the female life expectancy among Malagasy women was 68.68 years. While they still rank low in comparison to the 2019 worldwide average of 72.6 years, they have come a long way in the past few decades. With an average rate of increase of 0.83 percent each year, they have greatly improved their life expectancy which stood at 45.73 years in 1970.

These six facts about women’s health in Madagascar show that with one of the world’s worst poverty rates, women in Madagascar are struggling to maintain their health and find safe places to deliver their children. However, groups like the Jhpiego are working to reach out to the women who need help the most in Madagascar. As a result, many women are receiving prenatal and antenatal care for the first time as well as access to health clinics with experienced health care workers. Overall female health in Madagascar is improving and USAID and Jhpiego show no signs of stopping their aid to women’s health in Madagascar.

– Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Health Care in Syria
Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a war-torn country in Western Asia. These war efforts have caused a series of attacks against women’s health care in Syria and made female health care more difficult to come by. In Syria’s civil war, violent attacks continue to target health care workers and clinics, and particularly female health clinics.

Fear of Attack

Fear of attack also plays a role in keeping women from what health resources they do have. Many of the childbirth centers that remain are located in rural areas, making them difficult for many women to reach. Fear of attack in the vicinity of health clinics inhibits patients and health professionals alike. The regime’s campaign of gender-based sexual violence is a large contributor to this fear. The vulnerability that comes with the travel necessary to reach the available health clinics put women at further risk of attack.

These attacks and the consequent shutdown of many maternal health facilities are seriously threatening maternal health. Between 2011 and 2017, more than 320 health clinics suffered attacks. These attacks have resulted in the deaths of at least 826 health workers, 85 of whom were women. By the end of 2015, only 16 of the 43 childbirth centers previously available in Syria remained. The lack of access to these facilities and health professionals leave many women with no safe conditions to deliver their children. Moreover, they have no opportunity for checkups or preventative shots once they deliver their children.

Overall Health Care

The conflict also threatens basic preventative care for women. Things like mammograms and regular checkups are no longer available and few female health professionals remain in Syria, making health care even more difficult for practicing Muslims to find. Gynecological services and even menstruation pads are incredibly difficult to come by. Women who do survive the hardships of the war suffer from malnutrition and struggle with even the basic necessities for survival.

The Molham Volunteering Team

In the midst of the conflict, however, there are efforts to preserve and improve female health care. Groups like the Molham Volunteering Team are working to fill in the gaps in women’s health care in Syria. A group of Syrian students brought this group together to provide necessities, such as food and medicine, to Syrians in need. When crises emerge, the Molham Volunteering Team assembles emergency campaigns to help, such as its campaign to raise money to support victims of the attacks targeting Maarat Al-Numan. The campaign has nearly reached its goal of $250,000.

Another focus of the Molham Volunteering Team is to raise the funds necessary to cover hospital fees for women and other costs of childbirth. It has even begun a campaign to raise money in support of health workers and clinics against the attacks. To date, the campaign has raised about a quarter of its $10,000 goal.

The Violet Organization

The Violet Organization, a nonprofit organization in Turkey, has opened a health center in rural Idlib where women have access to maternal and reproductive health care. A group of young volunteers, with the goal of helping secure the basic needs of families through food and cash donations, founded The Violet Organization. Today, The Violet Organization focuses not only on immediate aid but also on long-term projects like the Idlib health center, which offers treatment for ovarian and breast cancer, as well as basic checkups and consultations.

The Mazaya Center

The Mazaya Center attempts to educate women about their health issues. The Mazaya Center, which volunteers started to empower women, is another nonprofit organization that focuses on women’s issues in northern Syria. It provides paramedic training and first aid classes. These two-month training sessions, which female nurses lead, aim to educate women about reproductive and maternal health as well as family issues.

In the face of the Syrian civil war, civilians are struggling to find the basic necessities for survival, and safe access to women’s health care in Syria has become yet another casualty. Despite the looming threat to women and health professionals, it is evident that there are people continuing their work to ensure that health care and education are available to the women who need it most.

– Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr

 

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Palestine
Despite Palestine’s constant immersion in conflict as a result of Israeli occupation, there are some positives in regards to girls’ education. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Palestine that showcase both the good and the bad of the country’s education system.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Palestine

  1. Literacy Rates: Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the world with 96.9 percent of its population being literate. In particular, there have been great strides in improving women’s literacy rates. The literacy rate went from 78.6 percent in 1995 to 97 percent in 2018. Female literacy rates are at their highest in the West Bank and their lowest in Salfit.
  2. School Infrastructure and Teachers: The education system is struggling due to insufficient school infrastructure and a lack of teachers with adequate training, as well as the existence of schools in marginalized areas. During the first 10 years of the Israeli occupation, the government built no new schools and classrooms of existing ones were overcrowded. The lack of schools led to an emergency-like situation in education, which resulted in some positive achievements, such as the regaining of the credibility of the Tawjihi, a secondary school matriculation exam. There has also been an improvement in extracurricular activities for students.
  3. The Effects of the Israeli Occupation: The Israeli occupation is mostly responsible for the struggles of the education system, given that it continually causes the exposure of schools to rockets and bombs. Building restrictions that Israeli rule implemented in places such as Area C and East Jerusalem are primarily responsible for the shortage of infrastructure. There are also movement restrictions, such as checkpoints and the Barrier, which can pose challenges to accessing services like education. The Barrier is an Israel-approved physical barrier in and around the West Bank in Palestine.
  4. Enrollment in Early, Primary, Secondary and Higher Education: There is a comparable amount of enrollment in primary education when it comes to boys and girls. Still, admissions are higher for female students to both secondary and higher education institutions. However, when it comes to Early Childhood programs, only 14.9 percent of girls are enrolled. Therefore, the U.N. has made it a priority to start investing in early childhood education, focusing on funding both teacher education and gender equality awareness.
  5. Raising Awareness About Female Education: Some of the U.N.’s planned interventions include raising awareness about the disadvantages of early marriage and the importance of female education. This effort is on-going, as women still struggle with early marriage, and gaining education and employment in Palestine. A female Palestinian student interviewed by the L.A. Review stated that “we have this thing in our society that is like, your house, your kids are [more] important than anything else. Your job is not so important because it’s like, your husband is working.”
  6. Education and Conflict: Education is critical in Palestine because it can be a non-violent form of protest against the on-going conflict. UNICEF enforces this ideology by using a behavioral change approach towards students. It encourages students, parents and teachers to challenge the acceptance of violence. It enforces this mindset by providing education and raising awareness.
  7. Women and Unemployment: Women in Palestine experience marginalization despite their education, suffering from a high rate of unemployment when compared to the rest of the world. The unemployment rate among women with 13 years of schooling or more was 50.6 percent in 2016, which was a significant increase from the 21.9 percent recorded in 2000.
  8. Women’s Participation in the Labor Market: Palestinian women have the lowest participation in the labor market within the MENA region. When it comes to labor force participation, women have a 19 percent participation rate compared to 71 percent of male participation. There is a joint effort to find and apply solutions to this problem. One solution is the U.N.’s policy to encourage girls to have Technical and Vocational Education Training, which the U.N. has partially implemented to date.
  9. Dangers on Route to School: Approximately half a million children in Palestine require humanitarian assistance to receive a quality education. The violence in the West Bank poses threats and challenges, which lead to children to experience distress and fear, even when going to and from school. This is because they might pass high-risk locations or checkpoints.
  10. Electricity Shortages: Electricity shortages that constant conflict causes are affecting access to education, both at school and at home, by striking study time and concentration. These shortages are a result of the sole electric company facing a lack of fuel, which is a consequence of the closure of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. To reduce the reliance on fuel, organizations such as the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been working on providing alternative energy sources.

Foreign aid and raising awareness about the importance of girls’ education in Palestine have enabled some progress. However, as a conflict-ridden area, there is more that the country requires to ensure long-lasting development and enforce quality education. By looking at these 10 facts about girls’ education in Palestine, one can begin to see some of these efforts and realize how it should be a priority to find additional solutions.

– Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr

Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act
Malala Yousafzai is a Noble Peace Prize laureate. After surviving a Taliban encounter, she wrote the memoir, “I Am Malala.” She advocates for education and against discrimination.

On September 26, 2019, Hakeem Jeffries introduced the Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act. Communities of Pakistan and the United States have aligned with Malala’s text, principles and initiatives while many support her opinions on terrorism and poverty. The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act intends to ensure that young adults and Pakistani students live without fear of discrimination, and can successfully garner an education.

The Malala Yousafzai Act

There are government programs that guide access to education throughout the diaspora communities of Pakistan. The Malala Yousafzai Scholarship Act is pushing for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to support education initiatives for all in Pakistan, but in particular, for women and children. In Pakistan, approximately 22.8 million children under 16 are not enrolled in school. There is a significant gender disparity too as boys tend to outnumber girls.

This is the main reason for the Malala Yousafzai Act and Congress intends to uphold the very nature of equality. The purpose of the bill is to enhance opportunities for women to obtain a scholarship. If the bill passes, USAID will leverage the number of scholarships available to women in Pakistan.

Rurally, Pakistani women face many obstacles. The development of health, nutrition and the overall labor force is a determinant in the education of women. Issues such as early marriage, transportation and societal pressures as housewives prevent women from enrolling in higher education. The World Bank states, “The benefits of education go beyond higher productivity for 50 percent of the population. More educated women also tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labor market, earn more income, have fewer children, and provide better health care and education to their children, all of which eventually improve the well-being of all individuals and lift households out of poverty.”

The Malala Yousafzai Act continues to mitigate discrimination and gender inequality. Malala Yousafzai frequently discusses the war on terrorism and how violence is a harsh reality for the vast majority of Pakistani women. These women continue to face seclusion and exclusion on the basis of patriarchy. Terrorists actively threaten girls and women to remove them from advancement opportunities in higher education and the public sphere.

Conclusion

For her 16th birthday, at the United General Assembly, Malala said, “So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism. Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

Currently, Malala is a student at the University of Oxford. She is studying politics, economics and philosophy. She continues to engage with women from across the globe, inspiring emerging adults to voice opinions. Anyone can make a direct impact by sending an email to Congress via The Borgen Project. For more information on how to advocate for the bill, visit here.

– Zach Erlanger
Photo: Flickr

Women in Africa
In recent years, people have made many efforts to help women in Africa complete their daily tasks faster and more efficiently by providing tools and technology. However, there is still a long way to go until these extraordinary women will have tools on par with what is available to women in western countries.

Water Collection

In 24 sub-Saharan African countries, adult females are usually responsible for water collection. About 14 million African women trek over 30 minutes, either barefoot or in rubber sandals, across rough terrain daily. Many of these women carry a bucket or Jerry Can, which is a container to carry fuel or water. These can hold around 40 pounds of water that they balance on top of their heads.

Recently, a project in Mozambique helped nearly 4,000 people by allocating an innovative technology called the Hippo Roller. The Hippo Roller is a South-African-made drum that helps users roll up to 20 liters of water on the ground instead of carrying it on their heads. This allows women in Africa to carry or roll up to five times more water than they usually would. This technology empowers women in Africa by allowing them more time to focus on other necessary tasks, like education, social development and local entrepreneurship. Hippo rollers go to the neediest in the communities first, but with a cost of $125 each, there are rarely enough to go around.

The Search for Firewood

African women walk for hours each day to collect branches and roots for firewood. Over 80 percent of Africa’s energy supply comes from wood and African women spend more than 20 hours per week collecting it. This wood is necessary for women in Africa to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for their families. African women may spend several hours searching for wood which prevents them from accomplishing other tasks that would benefit and empower them.

Green Energy BioFuels is a company that produces the KIKE Green Cookstove and an ethanol cooking gel that is safe for women in Africa to cook meals for their families without creating the health hazards that current traditional methods do. So far, Green Energy has sold over 200,000 cookstoves in West Africa. Cookstoves that do not rely on wood fuel can help save over 4 million lives annually. In addition to this, African women can worry less about their health and have a more positive outlook on the future.

Investing in African Women

In sub-Saharan Africa, female entrepreneurs hold the highest rates of entrepreneurship globally at 25.9 percent. Many of these women have small businesses that can help them accrue enough income for survival. African women account for nearly 40 percent of the SSA workforce.

The Economic Commission for Africa and its partners started the African Women Leadership Fund which aims to aid the growth of African women-owned and operated businesses and provide services that will help these women be successful. Over the next 10 years, the fund will invest in over $500 million into African Women-led companies.

African women have extraordinary abilities that help them complete difficult daily tasks. However, they cannot achieve these tasks without great risks to their health and well-being. The support that many are implementing to innovatively assist African women will empower them and enrich their lives.

– Lisa Di Nuzzo
Photo: Flickr

VisionSpring Supports Women While Spreading SightFor every $5 donated to VisionSpring, a low-income adult gets their eye prescription, a pair of glasses expected to last two years, and an estimated 120 percent increase from their initial income directly due to the glasses. This organization’s strategy zeroes in on the local: optometrists; female vision entrepreneurs as saleswomen; wholesale partnerships with government agencies, local hospitals and NGOs; and corporate social responsibility projects with large businesses. VisionSpring supports women, local business and helps create sustainable supply chains in the countries it works in.

Jordan Kassalow is the founder and visionary behind this organization that has already generated over $1.2 billion of economic impact. In 2019, he published his book “Dare to Matter,” in which he describes his journey. Starting as a mediocre student due to a rare eye disease, he had a post-graduation epiphany that people’s lives have meaning through their work to make the world better. While on a volunteer medical mission in the Yucatán Peninsula, Jordan gave an extremely nearsighted child a pair of glasses – and his sight.

Seven years later, Dr. Kassalow founded what would become VisionSpring today, to return productivity and livelihoods to the 2.5 billion sight-impaired people in the world who lack glasses. From the beginning, the organization has sought to empower women in the communities where it works. The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Kassalow about how VisionSpring supports women in its sight-focused mission.

When you first had people on the ground, how did you reach people – and specifically women – to let them know about the vision entrepreneur opportunity?

There are a few reasons why we select women. One was because there was a higher rate of unemployment or underemployment with women. So, they are a natural, existing workforce that was underutilized. That was the whole root of the idea, to create livelihoods for the women and sustain livelihoods for their customers. (Microcredit research) showed pretty clearly that when you gave women access to resources that a lot of virtuous things started happening in society: their fertility rates would go down, the health of their children would go up, their housing conditions would go up and so forth.

We partnered with microcredit organizations and eye hospitals (for more advanced cases and to) give some credibility to the women who worked for us. The microcredit organizations were already in the communities where we worked (and) had a whole list of good customers who had exhibited their capacity to pay back their loans. So, it was largely through local credit organizations that we started identifying women and continued to source people.

I read in your book about one vision entrepreneur, Rama Devi, who has her husband driving her on a motorcycle so she can reach more people. It seems to upset traditional gender roles and has vision entrepreneurs stepping out of their traditional jobs at home (and) making more money than their husbands. Did you ever see any conflict of interest or anything like that?

Particularly in that area of India where we were working which had a Muslim culture primarily. It was somewhat antithetical to the historical-cultural norms for women to take on these more entrepreneurial roles, so we lost some of our best salespeople. We found that women would come, educated, supported somewhat by their husbands and fathers-in-law. But there seemed to be almost an expectation that they wouldn’t succeed. So, they would let them (work) while the stakes were low. But for those who would start to succeed, and the money would start to flow in, we saw many cases where they had to withdraw from the program, not because of a lack of their interest, but because of pressure from their husbands or fathers or so forth. So, we definitely did experience that.

I wanted to ask how (the See to Learn) strategy of providing glasses to schoolkids differs from adults. What initially drew you to this sector of the population?

I’ve always looked at vision as an input to global development and human development. The two areas most impacted by poor vision are productivity in work and learning in school. When you start an organization that has basically no human and financial resources, it’s good to try to take the really big problem and break it down to its component parts and strategically start with the place (that) execution-wise is the simplest. So, we started with See to Earn because it only required four different prescriptions.

Now, in kids, there is no similar corollary to simple, ready-made non-prescription reading glasses. Each kid has their own unique kids’ glasses (and) unique prescription, so it gets more complicated and you need higher trained people.

What we do is training teachers to do the work of the vision entrepreneur. (They do) the vision acuity test and figure who can pass and fail. And kids who fail, which in India is usually about 10 percent, get seen by a team of (local) optometrists who come once all those kids are identified. We can make about 70 percent of those glasses on the spot and (the rest) we custom make in the lab.

You mention in a 2017 interview with Mary Magistad from PRI that you encountered the issue of girls thinking they are less marriageable if they wear glasses. How have you amended your practice to account for cultural differences in the different countries you’ve worked in?

The cultural context is very important in our local operations. Particularly with girls, we find that almost the parents look for an excuse to take them out of school. If they are nearsighted and not thriving in school, they’ll be pulled out of school more quickly than the boys will. That’s a huge injustice.

Studies have shown that girls in India believe that, if you wear glasses, you are less marriable. We recently did a film that tracks a girl through identifying that she can’t see all the way to getting glasses and using them in school. We are trying to normalize, if you will, glasses through this film. It’s meant to be used as part of the curriculum before the team of optometrists comes to the school.

Dr. Kassalow’s newest breakthrough was the founding of EYElliance, a multinational coalition working towards integrating innovations into public and private sectors of countries around the world. Currently, with more than 40 member organizations (including USAID), EYElliance is Dr. Kassalow’s next big step towards achieving his original goal: getting eyeglasses to everyone who needs them. Hopefully, Kassalow’s ongoing priority that VisionSpring supports women will demonstrate to other international aid organizations that women are the building blocks to international development.

Daria Locher
Photo: Wikimedia