information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

recovery after human traffickingWhen the organic protein bar company Square Organics found a new CEO in co-founder Sarah Gordon, female empowerment quickly became one of the brand’s driving missions. In 2013, Square Organics embraced a new partnership with the renowned charity group Not For Sale as a means to assist life recovery after human trafficking.

Origins of Not For Sale

Not For Sale began in 2000 when co-founder David Batstone discovered a human trafficking ring in a neighborhood restaurant. While researching for a book entitled Not For Sale, Batstone met a woman in Thailand named Kru Nam who was helping usher children out of slave labor into safety. At the time, the children were living in a field. This compelled Batstone to raise funds to build a house for Kru Nam and the children she saved. When the number of rescued children rose to 150, Batstone expanded housing plans into aspirations for an entire village.

Not For Sale has since developed its focus to aid life recovery after human trafficking. Currently, Not For Sale serves as a fully-fledged campaign to provide housing, access to clean water, and professional skills for survivors of trafficking in twelve different countries.

Thailand

In Thailand, Kru Nam continues to work as a minister at Not For Sale’s two main facilities. Not For Sale’s shelter center offers balanced, nutritious meals; the education house guides victims to healthy, productive lives through therapeutic and educational services. In 2019, Not For Sale Thailand’s rescue center served a total of 500 people, including 235 children.

In general, Children without a defined nationality are denied a government education and, therefore, are vulnerable to exploitation. For these reasons, Not For Sale centralizes the protection of stateless children located in cities around Myanmar and Northern Thailand. Thailand’s Not for Sale program is especially inclusive. For example, the programs’ centers are the first in the country to aid young male survivors.

Above all, Not For Sale Thailand prioritizes children’s education, providing primary, secondary, and even university level schooling. Not For Sale’s learning centers, which include several boarding schools, equip hundreds of child victims of human trafficking with a proper educational environment. The Thai government has praised Not For Sale Thailand as a model program.

Amsterdam

In 2012, Not For Sale started the Netherlands Project, with a strong emphasis on the capital city of Amsterdam. The Netherlands Project trains survivors of human trafficking in culinary skills. Survivors begin the program by cooking and selling soup to women working in the brothels of Amsterdam’s red-light district.

As trainees advance through the program, they transition to paid internships and job placements. One placement opportunity is Not For Sale Amsterdam’s very own restaurant Dignita, which hires graduates directly. Since its opening, Dignita has served over 180,000 meals. By coupling the therapeutic power of cooking with the opportunity of a career in the culinary industry, rehabilitated survivors are equipped with skills that aid life recovery after human trafficking.

In 2020, Not For Sale Netherlands will open its third restaurant in the country. The new restaurant is in partnership with Not For Sale Netherlands’ Buddy Program, which teaches participants to read and write Dutch or English.

Peru

Not For Sale put roots down in Peru with several special projects. Peru sees a massive, detrimental amount of forced servitude. For instance, several thousand individuals in the Amazon region are subject to forced labor across the mining, logging, and agricultural industries. Not For Sale first teamed up with Peruvian abolitionists to create a shelter system for Peruvian survivors. Since it began operation in Peru, Not For Sale has shifted its focus towards creating legitimate work opportunities. This plan will, most importantly, serve to eliminate one of the root causes of Peru’s glaring slave labor issue.

In an attempt to improve the exploitative conditions of Peruvian work culture, Not For Sale partnered with Palo Hawken for the REBBL herbal extract launch. This project hired survivors and at-risk individuals to produce a tonic made of roots, berries, bark, and leaves. A portion of the proceeds made from each bottle sold is used to fund Not For Sale Peru projects. These projects include a new school, a scholarship program, community green spaces, and clean water systems for the Santa Teresita Native Community. REBBL has generated over $1 million for Not For Sale Peru to date.

Square Organics and Not For Sale

Square Organics donates to the Not For Sale campaigns quarterly based on net sales. These steady donations help reintegrate victims of human trafficking into society by stabilizing their life recovery process. The Square Organics company also encourages its consumers to donate directly. Certainly, the increased attention and donations help improve the lives of human trafficking victims and fight to dismantle an industry that still enslaves 45 million individuals around the world today.

– Grace Kim
Photo: Flickr

Eritrean Women Fight Gendered PovertyThe Eritrean War of Independence oversaw a liberation on two fronts. The first was a divergence from Ethiopian colonial rule and the creation of a free Eritrea. The second was a women’s emancipation from culturally embedded subordination and the development of a semi-feminist state. The women’s movement began alongside the Eritrean War of Independence in 1961. It was quick to gain support and traction. The movement allowed women freedoms they did not have pre-revolution. However, as the state transitioned its focus towards a restructuring of administrative processes, the women’s movement lost steam and support. Now the Eritrean women fight gendered poverty. They are fighting issues such as malnutrition, the pan-African AIDS epidemic and limited access to education and health resources.

Poverty and Eritrea

According to the World Health Organization, 53% of Eritreans are living below the poverty line. Further research conducted by UNICEF reported that female-headed households in Eritrea tended to be the poorest. Many long-standing traditions in Eritrean society, pre-dating the civil war, are sources of this income disparity between male and female-headed households. An example of these gender norms is the fact that Eritrean women were not allowed to own property; this often led to unemployment and as a result, a lower income. These outdated expectations cause female ex-combatants a great deal of difficulty in readjusting to gendered cultural norms.

The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW)

Poverty hit the women of Eritrea women hard, but that has not stopped them from fighting. The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) is a direct response to the feminist movement born out of the liberation war.

As an organization, the NUEW works with communities of women, including demobilized women fighters. The organization lifts women out of poverty through a combination of literacy programs, vocational training, income-generating activities and micro-credit schemes. In addition, another big part of the NUEW’s mission is promoting women’s participation in local and national government. In working closely with the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE), the NUEW secured a hold on 30% of elected positions for women. After additional advocacy, the NUEW is working with the GSE to increase that number. The NUEW provided more than just relief programs to women in poverty; it created a space where women were able to have their voices heard.

While Eritrean women have had to overcome numerous hurdles in post-independence Eritrea, they did not do so alone. Eritrean women are fighting gendered poverty. The NUEW provides an invaluable service to Eritrean women through advocacy, education and relief programs. Today, the NUEW is working towards the total emancipation of women and continuing their efforts to raise their country up one woman at a time.

Elizabeth Price

Photo: Flickr

women are more affected by global poverty
Women often make up the backbone of home and society, however, global poverty often affects women the most. Women across the globe are still fighting for equality in their workplaces, general society and in their own homes. This inequality is a significant factor why women make up the bulk of the impoverished population in the world.

According to data that the U.S. Census Bureau released in 2017, the maximum rate of poverty for men was 7% while the minimum poverty rate for women was 9.7%. Depending on the race and demographics, this rate only tends to increase. Here are five ways that global poverty affects women.

5 Ways that Global Poverty Affects Women

  1. Gender Wage Gap: The availability of equally paid jobs is critical in making women independent and hence improving any economy. According to the World Economic Forum, the annual average earnings of the men around the world was $23,000 in 2018. In contrast, the global average of annual earnings of women was only $12,000. The international intergovernmental economic organization G7 inferred from collected data that the gender wage gap is prevalent throughout the world. Furthermore, G7 determined that the gender wage gap does not depend on the current financial status of any country. The G7 claimed that the global average gender wage gap was still 17% in the year 2016. Moreover, discrepancies in the wages that employers paid to women, even in developed countries, affected women in economically weaker countries and low-paying jobs significantly.
  2. Job Segregation:  The International Labor Organization (ILO) found that nearly 80% of the female labor force works in the service sectors and less-paid clerical jobs contrary to managerial, professional or leadership roles. More women in administrative positions would bring in diverse and complementing perspectives into the idea pool. An increase in females in administrative positions would also allow an insight into the female consumers’ psyche. All of these benefits, plus an increase in creativity, would consequently increase revenue. In most countries, including many developed countries, the number of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is unquestionably lesser than men. Only 28% of employees in STEM fields, which are the fastest-growing with higher paid jobs, are women. In addition to conservative social norms and gender bias, the lack of female role models also contributes to the smaller women labor force in STEM fields.
  3. Motherhood: Pregnancy can often be the tipping point in any woman’s career path. While women may face wage penalties, men might win salary premiums. Women frequently choose to take time off to stay at home and care for their children. However, the career break adversely affects their salaries even after they return to work. From the data that a study in Denmark conducted, a country with high gender equality measures, the salary of women sharply dropped nearly 3% after the birth of the first child and never recovered.
  4. Unpaid Caregiving: Another way that global poverty affects women is that they often don the role of caregivers for the elders and children in a family more than men, which is unpaid work. This extra work, nearly twice to 10 times the work that men do, is worth almost $11 trillion per year. Although women’s unpaid work amounts to nearly four years more work than men, women still earn less at their paid jobs. This is most likely due to the fact that women prefer part-time and easily transferable jobs after having a baby, in order to provide proper care for the child. Policies targeting lower childcare costs might help women in the long run. Additionally, policies focusing on incentives for men in sharing the childcare and domestic chores would also help women greatly. In general, providing any sort of assistance to alleviate the extra work of women would help in the long run. For example, women in Malawi spend 54 minutes a day on average collecting water. Providing labor-saving infrastructure results in less time obtaining water and more paid hours for women. Gender inequality in developing countries costs their economies $9 trillion per year. In Latin America, women’s paid work increased between 2000 and 2010. This resulted in a 30% reduction in poverty.
  5. Gender-biased Illiteracy: In low-income countries, the average literacy rate of men is 70% and 50% for women. In the 2014 World Value Survey, 26% of people across the world said that university education is comparatively more essential for a boy than a girl. A 2016 study in Nepal revealed that the poorer households sacrificed the literacy of daughters for better job prospects for sons.

How Organizations are Helping

Countries around the world have begun to realize that the inclusion of women, especially in leadership roles, is necessary for sustained, overall development. LivelyHoods, a nonprofit organization, noticed that the women were mainly the ones who dealt with household energy. In Kenya, indoor pollution due to smoke from conventional stoves causes 13,000 deaths per year. In an effort to combat indoor pollution, LivelyHoods employed the rural women population in Kenya to distribute life-improving, affordable, clean-energy products to the local population. The network of saleswomen that the organization employed distributed eco-friendly products like solar products, clean-burning cookstoves and many others. Of the top 10% of the salesforce, 90% are women who earn up to $1,000 per month. Over 1,500 trained women employees have distributed 26,000 clean energy products so far. This is an inspiring example of how indispensable women are to global development.

Ideas for Moving Forward

To help impoverished women improve their quality of life, governments could offer publicly financed schemes of extended leaves of absence for new mothers; replace individual taxation with family taxation so that the burden on the secondary earners, who are mostly women, lifts; provide tax benefits for low-wage earners; reduce the childcare cost for working women; encourage businesses to develop better practices like pay transparency and regular wage assessment based on gender; conduct free workshops for women to impart vocational skills as well as to spread awareness of various available job opportunities; offer equal job opportunities to women; conduct workshops in the men’s workplaces to show them how their personal and nation’s economy will flourish by sharing the childcare and domestic duties. Even implementing just a few of these tactics could help reduce the inequality women around the world face.

– Nirkkuna Nagaraj 
Photo: Flickr

 Sexual Violence in Kenya
Sexual violence exists in all societies and impacts all kinds of people. It does not discriminate based on gender, sexuality or race. Globally, it is estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical abuse. However, sexual violence in Kenya is even more frequent due to its high poverty levels. In 2018, 36.1% of the population was living below the poverty line.

The Relationship Between Poverty and Sexual Violence

There are many reasons for and consequences of the correlation between poverty and sexual violence. Here are five facts about this relationship.

  1. Women of all ages living in poverty are more susceptible to being sexually exploited and trafficked. There are at least 20.9 million adults and children who are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sex slavery and forced labor.
  2. Women who work on the flower farms are at higher risk of rape and sexual assault. In Kenya, they make up 75% of the industry workers. One female worker, Julia, shared that the men she worked with closely claimed that if females wear skirts, men want to have sex with them. Because of this, women feel they must be careful and dress “appropriately.” Julia even left a job because she refused to have sex with her superior.
  3. The poverty girls experience increases their exposure to abuse, specifically during walks to and from school. In poorer, rural areas, girls often have to travel further distances to access education, putting them at an increased risk of sexual violence.
  4. Young girls and adult women living in poverty are often reliant on men to financially support them. Therefore, due to lack of funds, shelter and/or adequate education, sexual violence victims in Kenya can find themselves in situations where they are dependent on their abusers.
  5. Sexual assault impacts the lives of women and girls in various ways. Many experience injuries or other health consequences, leaving some unable to work or care for their loved ones. Survivors can also battle mental and emotional trauma, including fear, anxiety, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

Efforts to Fight Sexual Violence

Although these heinous acts cannot be diminished overnight, progress has been made in the fight against sexual violence in Kenya. For most of its history, Kenya has failed to bring rape cases to court and punish those who have committed these crimes. This is mainly due to corruption in the legal system, families of the victim making deals with the accused or the victim staying silent because the perpetrator is a member of their family.

However, over the last eight years, the Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Program (REEP) has brought more than 500 child rape cases to court and has seen abusers punished. Another important component is providing girls with safe space to speak about what has happened to them and building up their confidence to report abuse. ActionAid, an organization that seeks to end violence and extreme poverty around the world, established Girls’ Clubs in nations like Kenya to provide this crucial support.

The Next Steps

While some progress has been made, sexual violence in Kenya remains prevalent. This is something that will not just go away; for survivors to feel safe and heard, further action needs to be taken.

One way to make headway is to end the stigma that victims are at fault for what happened to them. No one should be blamed and shamed for the trauma they endure. Even the authorities have this attitude and often turn accusers away. Instead, Kenyan authorities should make certain that health care workers follow a distinct protocol to make sure referrals are given to victims. Further, doctors and police should properly collect, document and store all evidence in cases of sexual violence presented to them.

Another way to mitigate the issue is to support organizations that are helping survivors. After an instance of sexual violence in Kenya, less than 10% of victims receive any sort of professional help. This is either because they are fearful of speaking up or they cannot afford it. Support organizations that aid in the prevention, protection and response of addressing sexual violence, including such as ActionAid and the Wangu Kanja Foundation, are essential to helping survivors.

 

Moving forward, more work needs to be done to decrease sexual violence in Kenya. Recognizing the correlation between poverty and sexual violence is essential to understanding where and how to concentrate efforts and make the greatest impact. Hopefully, the coming years will see a decrease in sexual violence in the country.

– Stacey Krzych
Photo: Flickr

AFRIpads in Uganda
Sophia and Paul Grinvalds created AFRIpads in Uganda while they were living in a remote village there in 2010 and saw the lack of accessible menstrual products firsthand. To combat the scarcity of menstrual products and the stigma periods carried in the country, the Grinvalds invented an affordable and reusable menstrual pad. AFRIpads in Uganda promote hygienic and accessible menstrual health in order to educate and empower young girls in the nation and across the world to feel comfortable and safe during their periods.

AFRIpads in Uganda

Today, AFRIpads employs over 200 Ugandans in the country’s full-time, formal employment sector. In addition, it has impacted millions of girls all over the world with its sustainable and affordable products. The company has helped the environment by eliminating the use of approximately 190 million disposable pads, as women can use each AFRIpad for up to a year.

In addition to helping the environment and giving back to the country’s economy, AFRIpads is helping empower the women of Uganda by focusing on educating schoolgirls about healthy and natural period habits. Menstrual health education is a taboo topic in Ugandan culture, and schools have never formally taught it. However, AFRIpads is helping to turn this around by providing use and care guides, as well as an educational comic in all of the brand’s menstrual kits. The company also offers online training for adults to learn how to teach young girls about the menstrual cycle.

Co-founder Sophia Grinvalds told the Irish Times that “There’s misconceptions about losing your fertility if you do certain things when you have your period…In one part of the country there’s a belief that if a girl on her period, or a woman on her period, walks through your garden when you’re growing vegetables, that everything in your garden will die.”

Employment

Grinvalds and her team decided to base AFRIpads in the Ugandan village Kitengeesa in order to deliberately boost the rural economy. Women make up 90% of the company’s employees, giving these women an opportunity for greater independence with their own incomes. “They have bank accounts at Barclay’s, have savings accounts, are saving for the government pension plan, [and are paying taxes],” Grinvalds told NPR in an interview.

The Kitengeesa manufacturing base for AFRIpads in Uganda provides a sense of community for the workers who feel proud to involve themselves in the organization’s impactful mission. In addition, it empowers women by allowing them to economically support their goals. A testimony by AFRIpads’ production supervisor Judith Nassaka stated that “The best thing about AFRIpads is that there is strong teamwork among the employers and employees…They also pay me the best salary. My future plan is to buy a plot of land and build my own home.”

Future Plans for Outreach

AFRIpads also collaborates with several other international nonprofit organizations such as Girls Not Brides, an organization that advocates to end child marriages and seeks to empower young girls. Through partnerships like these, women are able to access educational resources, affordable products and advocate for themselves.

AFRIpads stated on its website that it has reached more than 3.5 million girls and women across the globe with reusable and affordable products. AFRIpads continues to educate girls and women about the menstrual cycle and safe hygiene practices, in addition to providing employment in developing areas of Uganda. This, in turn, can help combat environmental waste across the world.

– Myranda Campanella
Photo: Flickr

Women in the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis
The Borgen Project has published this article and podcast episode, “Inside the Lives of Women Living Through World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis,” with permission from The World Food Program (WFP) USA. “Hacking Hunger” is the organization’s podcast that features stories of people around the world who are struggling with hunger and thought-provoking conversations with humanitarians who are working to solve it.

 

Hunger is cruel to everyone, but it’s not completely blind. Women – especially in times of war – are more at risk of the suffering it bestows. Women are 60 percent more likely to suffer from hunger and its consequences. They eat last and least and are often forced to drop out of school or marry early when there isn’t enough food.

Yemen is no exception to this rule, and as the nation’s conflict drags into its fifth year, women find themselves in increasingly difficult circumstances. But women are resilient, and despite their suffering, they find ways to remain hopeful and strong.

In this episode of Hacking Hunger, we spoke with Annabel Symington, head of communications for WFP in Yemen. She’s been working in Yemen for the past year and offered us insights into the unique challenges, stories and strength of women living through this war.

Click below to listen to Annabel Symington provide stories about women in Yemen during the present war.

 

 

Photo: Flickr

 

Known for its tropical vistas and banana plantations, Costa Rica has also developed a well-deserved reputation for stability. Indeed, since abolishing its military in 1949, the small Central American nation has celebrated seven decades of uninterrupted democracy. While this stability has allowed Costa Rica to make great strides in alleviating poverty, however, nearly 21 percent of the country still remains impoverished. To this end, many in Costa Rica are increasingly turning to microfinance as a potential remedy.

Why Microfinance?

Microfinance is a banking service that focuses on delivering small loans to communities underserved by traditional banks. These ‘microloans’ can be as low as $100 and are specifically designed to help meet the needs of low-income families.

Because the principal of a microloan is much smaller than that of a traditional loan, lenders can afford to take on risks they otherwise could not. This means less stringent requirements on things like documentation and property, which are traditionally the largest obstacles to acquiring credit for those living in poverty. As a result, microfinance has become a favorite tool of activists in the developing world.

Costa Rica is no exception in that regard. With more than half of Costa Ricans unable to raise needed funds in an emergency, microfinanciers provide the country a crucial service.

Keeping Small Farmers and Rural Communities Afloat

One reason microfinance has been able to take off so quickly in Costa Rica lies in the country’s history. In the 1980s, a prolonged economic crisis prompted traditional banks to retreat en masse from Costa Rica’s rural areas. This left many small farmers suddenly lacking access to badly needed credit.

To help combat this issue, organizations like FINCA began seeking ways to encourage sustainability in rural financial markets. One such solution was microfinance.

Beginning in 1984, FINCA Costa Rica set about building a series of ‘village banks’ in the areas hit hardest by the loss of financial services. These were largely community-run, shared-liability ventures whose purpose would be to offer microloans to farmers. It did not take long for the model to become a success. Village banks quickly began to attract Costa Rican farmers, many of whom would have had difficulty acquiring a standard loan. In fact, the village banks would prove so popular that within a decade they had already become self-sustaining.

Others in Costa Rica soon took note of FINCA’s success. Though not all would copy the village bank model, many other microfinancing operations began to sprout up around the country.

Empowering Costa Rican Women

While FINCA’s village banks primarily served a demographic consisting of rural, male farmers, modern microfinanciers pursue a more diverse client base. Women in particular are a focus for many.

Research demonstrates a sharp gap in financial access along gender lines in Costa Rica. Thirty-nine percent of Costa Rican women lack a bank account, for instance, compared to 25 percent of men. This is a pattern that largely holds consistent across the developing world. Although in many cases women provide necessary income for their families, they often lack the means to build upon those earnings. This leaves them more vulnerable to the sudden economic shocks that can devastate a household, like personal medical emergencies and unexpected changes in consumer trends.

Microfinance institutions empower these women, however, by offering them the credit needed to start a business of their own, and by providing them with a newfound resiliency.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Fundación Mujer, women now own more than 22 percent of Costa Rican businesses. And, as the number of women gaining access to loans and other financial services increases, that percentage is only expected to grow. This means greater social mobility for Costa Rican women and a stronger ability to weather the storm in times of crisis.

The Future of Microfinance in Costa Rica

Microfinance in Costa Rica has come a long way from its first experiments with village banks in the 1980s. As it stands, Costa Rica is now one of the world’s largest microfinance markets. And, with the industry expected to grow by a further 5-10 percent in Latin America over the next decade, it is unlikely that will change any time soon.

While experts caution that microfinance cannot be seen as a ‘miracle cure’ for poverty, it is undeniable that it can provide real benefits to those in need. To see that, one only has to consider the success of microfinance in Costa Rica.

– James Roark

Photo: Pixabay.com

Women in the Garment Industry
Breaking the ceiling of the minimum living cost per day remains a challenge for millions of the poorest people on the earth, especially women. Amongst the causes of poverty, the fact that women are often not part of the labor force is one of the biggest quagmires that keeps them struggling. However, one area that women in the developing world often work in is the garment industry. In fact, there are many women working in the garment industry in Bangladesh today.

Bangladesh’s garment industry’s products make up the majority of what it exports. The expansion of the garment industry is quickly pulling people out of poverty in Bangladesh. Women are the major source of labor, where they make up 80 percent of workers. One might ask whether the garment and textile industry could be a gateway for women in the rest of the world to escape poverty.

Demand for Growth

Despite the fact that international trade has recently encountered uncertainty, a report from Mckinsey pointed out that the demand for growth from major populated countries, such as India and Indonesia, will continually saturate the market. With the demand continually persisting, many expect that the supply will continue to expand as well.

Beyond Asia, many in Africa see opportunities in the rising garment industry. Case studies from the African Development Bank Group indicate that women make up a significant part of the garment industry in Africa. In Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire, the two major cotton cultivators in the world, 80 percent of garment workers are women. Moreover, these countries’ start-up entrepreneurs are largely women.

Lifting Women Out of Poverty

The rising figures of women in the garment industry excite people’s outlook on the economy, but this is not the final answer to lifting women out of poverty. The problems of delayed or no and low payment, forced labor, dangerous working environments and other exploitation of women pull the world’s attention and push for reform. From a global perspective, the campaign for humanitarian improvement is one major goal of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Beyond economic growth, acquiring decent work conditions, gender equality and opportunity for education matter when it comes to empowering women workers.

In Bangladesh, the international garment industry used to benefit from cheap labor because of loose legislative regulations and awful working conditions. More recently, the situation of underpayment has received challenges. For example, garment workers in Bangladesh raised their issues of low wages and poor working conditions, causing unrest and subsequently leading to Bangladesh increasing the minimum wage by 5 percent. This may seem minor, but it greatly impacted the garment industry in Bangladesh and started the process of reform. Consequential bills, including the signing of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, constantly forge the formal framework to ensure the well-being of women in the garment industry.

The development of the global garment industry is a good hammer for women to smash the wall of poverty, but they still require more. The problems rooted in the most impoverished countries are not only “money concerned.” Social injustice and gender bias also influence the liberation of women. Luckily, the action of women and their social power is opening another window for reforms and improvement.

Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Issues in West AfricaMany different factors undermine women’s public health issues and political power in West Africa. Many of these factors, such as gender inequality, weak economic capacity and gender-based violence disproportionately affect women in the region more than men. Gender-based social stratifications have resulted in a disparity in the benefits women receive when compared to their male counterparts, and this undermines their social status and power as well. Here is more information concerning women’s issues in West Africa.

Women’s Issues in West Africa

While certain factors do continue to impede upon the growth of women’s social status in the region, the region has made some small steps regarding women’s roles in society. The West African countries of Sierra Leone, Cabo Verde, Mauritania, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Senegal have recently been able to close the gender gap in primary school enrollment, making early childhood education more accessible to young girls within the region. Senegal has made even more progress in terms of women’s rights with increased representation in its parliament. The number of female parliament members has almost doubled in the past few years, which is a particularly good start in giving more political power to women in the West African region. Women’s equal political participation still remains a challenge in the majority of these countries, but following in the steps of Senegal could make for increased inclusion of women in politics throughout the region. Even though such changes will take time, the progress that Senegal has made has provided women with more representation for the time being.

Women’s Issues in the Workplace

Women in West Africa face issues in the workforce within the region as well. Struggles with infrastructure and fully-functional public services in the region push women into more domestic and care work. In the West African region, women spend approximately six times more than men on unpaid care work, which typically involves household tasks and caring for children and the elderly. This disparity leads to economic and social issues for women in West Africa. Since their work is unpaid, they often have little to no economic mobility and are instead reliant on members of the family that work for pay, and this lack of economic status pushes them further down in societal ranks. These two combined make for even more difficulties in addressing the issues that specifically affect women in West Africa.

With economic inequality disproportionately affecting women in West Africa, it is important to emphasize not only the issues at hand but also the ways in which people can change them for the better. The economy does not always legitimately count the household and family-centered work that women in West Africa typically perform because people deem it to be an informal sector of work where workers do not earn wages. In some cases, women will contribute substantial amounts of labor in the agricultural sector but lack access to credit and markets, making attaining a profit and higher economic status difficult once again.

Moving forward, people must put development policies into place and carry them out properly in order to engage women in the workforce in a way that will count in the formal economic sector. It may be in the best interest of women in West Africa for their countries to adopt the same sorts of policies that countries like Tanzania and Uganda have already proved successful. These countries along with several others have adopted a tool called gender budgeting which analyzes government spending and its impacts on gender and age subgroups. The goal of using this tool is to better understand where economic disparities arise and adjusting the government’s spending choices to alleviate adverse effects.

Child Marriages in West Africa

Aside from economic disparities affecting women in West Africa, another problem has arisen concerning the younger population. Previously, arranged marriages adversely affected young girls because little to no policies were in place protecting their rights. This practice is particularly salient in the West African region, where the rates of child marriage are more than double the world average.

Now, all West African countries are signatories of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Youth Charter and finally the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. These show commitment to national campaigns looking to end child marriage and protect the rights of young girls, creating a great step in the direction of progress. Now that some legal loopholes have closed, new cultural customs must also put the rights of young girls and women first, therefore elevating their status and importance in greater society.

The Future for Women’s Issues in West Africa

Women in West Africa are not simply accepting these issues as unchangeable but are instead taking stances to improve their lives. The development of women’s organizations in West Africa has helped spark attention and change in certain areas thanks to the collective efforts of these women. From grassroots campaigns to highly professional and organized non-governmental organizations, these organizations have focuses ranging from specific women’s rights to even broader agendas. For many, the idea of gender equality in the region is at the forefront of its mission.

While all of these organizations tackle different issues and call for a response from the public in varying ways, each organization gives refuge for women to join together and learn about their rights. These organizations act as a support structure for women in West Africa and help to provide them with the resources to better themselves socially, economically and politically. By joining together, these women are creating unstoppable numbers that are currently pressuring political and structural change to rectify the issues women in West Africa face every day. With their perseverance and dedication, they will continue empowering women for generations to come and bring resolve to the issues that have adversely affected women in the region for decades.

Hannah Easley
Photo: Flickr

Women Writing About Global Poverty
Due to an array of causes, including unpaid maternity leave and lower wages, women are statistically more likely to struggle with poverty than men. This imbalance has driven many female authors to speak up about the issue through writing. The publication of material to inform readers of the realities of poverty is extremely beneficial to the cause. Fiction or nonfiction books can play a major hand in urging the world to take action against this social injustice. Here are five women writing about global poverty.

5 Women Writing About Global Poverty

  1. Katherine Boo is an American journalist, whose reports on disadvantaged populations earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. People know her best for her book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” a compilation of interviews and observations from Boo’s time in India. The book follows the stories of several different residents of Annawadi, a slum dwelling in close proximity to Mumbai. The village is home to roughly 3,000 people who experience a life of scavenging through airport waste and residing next to a sewage lake. Boo’s accounts of Annawadi provide a jarringly honest look at life inside of a community struggling to battle poverty within a developing nation. She believes that shedding light on underlying issues is imperative to initiate real change in impoverished communities, like Annawadi.
  2. Shobha Rao was merely 7-years-old when she moved to the United States from India. Her novel, “Girls Burn Brighter,” and her short story collection, titled “An Unrestored Woman,” have received critical acknowledgment for the representation of varying social issues, including poverty. “Girls Burn Brighter” centers on two young Indian women who attempt to escape slavery, sex trafficking and prostitution. The novel distinctly describes various aspects of poverty in Poornima and Savitha’s intertwined tales. Both girls’ families are extremely poor, forcing them to scavenge junkyards; the family sends the children to work the spinning wheel, where the two characters meet. As one of many women writing about global poverty, Rao’s writings demonstrate the dark and brutal effects poverty places on those who endure it.
  3. NoViolet Bulawayo is a native of Zimbabwe, now living in the United States, who uses childhood experiences as inspiration for her writings. The Man Booker Prize shortlisted her literary debut, “We Need New Names;” Bulawayo was the first black African woman and Zimbabwean to receive this award. “We Need New Names” follows a 10-year-old Zimbabwean girl on her journey to escape the impoverished, corrupt conditions of her homeland and seek refuge in America, which does not end up offering any solace to the young immigrant. Bulawayo’s compassion for human rights, particularly of her fellow Zimbabweans, has driven her to become one of the most prominent women writing about global poverty today.
  4. Tsitsi Dangarembga is also a native to Zimbabwe; born and raised in the nation, her creative voice has traveled across oceans to reach the hearts of people everywhere. One of her books, “Nervous Conditions,” earned a place on BBC’s list of 100 Stories that Shaped the World in 2018. Further, the novel’s debut was the first time that a book that a black Zimbabwean woman wrote received publication in English. This story follows a young Zimbabwe girl’s struggle for a better education after her brother’s death. In addition to the other women writing about global poverty, Dangarembga also utilizes this theme as a primary element throughout the novel. Dangarembga’s writing captures an authentic view of the life that impoverished Zimbabweans lead, resulting in a raw story that emphasizes the struggles that millions of women in developing nations face.
  5. Anne C. Bromley is an American poet and children’s book author. In 2010, she published “The Lunch Thief,” a children’s book about poverty. The story focuses on Rafael, a boy who plots revenge against the bully who has been stealing his lunch. Rafael soon discovers that local wildfires had recently impacted the thief and the thief’s family, pushing the family into poverty thus fueling the boy’s theft. In the end, Rafael and the thief become friends through him sharing his lunch. Bromley is one of the few women writing about global poverty in children’s books, which is an engaging and efficient way to introduce children to such issues and how to properly react to them.

Books have the ability to spread information, teach children literacy skills and send hope to a person dealing with social, physical or other circumstances. Further, one could argue that books are one of the world’s ultimate weapons against poverty. These five women writing about global poverty have proven that adversity can give rise to a powerful voice. In a world where women are statistically more impoverished than men, such a voice is essential to starting a movement for change.

– Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr