information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

Las Damas de BlancoLas Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White) is a peaceful civic movement of wives and female relatives advocating for the release of jailed political protestors in Cuba. The group has been active since 2003 and is internationally acclaimed for its dedication to human rights advocacy, having won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005. Currently, the movement is the subject of a resolution on the Senate calendar.

History of Las Damas de Blanco

Las Damas de Blanco formed in 2003 following an event known as the Black Spring. The Black Spring was a mass arrest of 75 journalists and political protestors in Cuba. Each of the arrested had either spoken out against the Castro regime or advocated for democracy in some way. The people arrested ranged from librarians to human rights activists who were all peaceful in the dissent and yet were arrested for threatening Cuban national security. In response to the arrests, the wives and sisters of the protestors decided to band together and form a countermovement. Every Sunday, the women gather and attend mass wearing white, and then, march silently through the streets. The white clothing symbolizes peace and the message is centered on family and freedom.

Overcoming Barriers

As a women-led movement, Las Damas de Blanco faces many challenges in its advocacy efforts. The movement is agitated by other citizens and particularly by Cuban authorities. The Cato Institute reports that the women “are routinely harassed, threatened, beaten and arrested” for the peaceful protest. Despite this, the movement has never weakened. The Ladies in White continue to march every Sunday and the members have brought global awareness to the issue. All 75 of the protestors arrested in the Black Spring were freed by 2011, in large part due to the efforts of the Ladies in White. The women-led movement still protests consistently and will not cease until all Cuban political prisoners are freed.

US Recognition

In March 2021, Sen. Mark Rubio introduced a resolution honoring Las Damas de Blanco and adding the Senate’s voice to the call for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba. The resolution acknowledges the efforts of the women-led movement and the Cuban regime’s consistent attacks on the movement. It particularly honors the legacy of the movement’s founder, Laura Ines Pollán Toledo, on human rights advocacy.

A more recent event highlighted in the resolution is the second arrest of Las Damas de Blanco member, Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, which took place in 2018 and resulted in Miranda developing a rare skin disease in prison. Miranda’s health deteriorated and she was hospitalized in Cuba for more than six months. In 2020, the U.S. government granted Miranda a humanitarian visa and transferred her to a hospital in Miami.

The resolution’s direct calls for the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and allow Las Damas de Blanco to attend mass in peace are vital actions of solidarity. If it is agreed to in the Senate, the resolution will further amplify the voices of Las Damas de Blanco and all peaceful Cuban dissidents hoping for liberty.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

The Benefits of Investing in Women
Gender equality, or rather a lack of gender equality, is not simply a historical problem. To this day, women all around the world face inequality. One of the most notable issues pertaining to gender inequality is the gender wage gap. Its impacts affect not only women but society as a whole. To end the gender wage gap and other inequalities, society must start to recognize the benefits of investing in women.

The Gender Wage Gap Explained

There are two types of gender wage gaps. The controlled wage gap refers to when a man and a woman have the same exact job in the same exact industry with the same exact qualifications. In this situation, as of 2021, women earn 98 cents per $1 that men earn. This seemingly small upfront difference builds up over time, and the pay discrepancy leads to very dissimilar outcomes for these two genders.

An uncontrolled wage gap is the second type. The uncontrolled wage gap refers to the overall difference between men’s and women’s wages. It does not matter what job it is, what industry one works in or if one works full- or part-time. The measurement takes into account how much each worker makes on average per hour each year. This gap is much more prominent—a woman makes 82 cents to a man’s $1 as of 2021.

Companies provide several “justifications” for why women receive less pay than men within the organizations, but actual reasons include employers’ implicit biases, a wage penalty that accompanies motherhood and a higher likelihood of women working part-time. This is based on if women have the opportunity to obtain higher-wage jobs within such companies. Often, women are unable to attend school to receive the qualifications necessary for high-skilled work.

These inequalities in labor compensation become more glaringly obvious when it comes to unpaid labor. Women are more than twice as likely as men to participate in unpaid work. Notably, the most frequent unpaid jobs women take on are domestic work and child care. In impoverished communities, women must sacrifice their education to fulfill the expectation to manage the household and raise children.

The Importance of Investing in Women

Beyond equality, investing in women provides a multitude of economic benefits. The unpaid labor women often take on can actually hinder the economy. Economists estimate that unpaid domestic workers—if paid—could constitute approximately 40% of a nation’s GDP. A lack of education for women also plays a role in stunting economies. When women receive education, economies tap into a whole new sector of individuals that bring new, innovative ideas to the table, which help economies grow. Further, studies show that for every 10% of girls enrolled in school in a developing country, the GDP increases long-term by 3%.

In addition to paying women for labor and educating women, it is imperative to give women advancement opportunities. Women make up approximately half of the agricultural labor force but less than 13% of landholders globally. If women obtain the same amount of land, technology and capital as men, there could be an estimated 30% increase in food production. In this way, empowering women could help to substantially reduce world hunger. On the more industrial side, studies show that both efficiency and organization significantly increase when three or more women enter senior positions at companies.

A Better Society For All

Decreasing the wage gap begins in three main areas: women’s unpaid work, education and health. When women in developing countries receive aid and money, the aid does not stop at just the direct beneficiary. Women are likely to extend the benefits to those around them; women tend to invest their earned money into their children’s education and health as well as their own. Giving women financial tools has economic gain for all and promotes economic justice.

The best way to ensure a fair economy is to invest in women, particularly in developing countries. Women should have the opportunity to work the same jobs, receive the same qualifications and have the same economic opportunities as men. Society’s way forward is through taking advantage of the benefits of investing in women.

– Becca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Biden’s “Feminist Foreign Policy”The Biden administration has made gender equity a cornerstone of its domestic and foreign policy. About 61% of White House employees are women. Furthermore, the administration’s intention is to “protect and empower women around the world.” The government aims to do this by making women’s rights a key component of foreign policy. Biden’s “feminist foreign policy” would redirect national attention from military dominance to global equality by instituting new changes to systems of defense, foreign aid, immigration, trade and diplomacy.

Studies on global gender and security suggest that if the United States increases its effort to improve women’s rights abroad, countries with a greater emphasis on gender equity will be less likely to experience instability and civil war. As such, the Biden administration has the power to advocate for a more just, inclusive and peaceful world.

Feminist Foreign Policy in Other Countries

Canada and Mexico have adopted a women-friendly stance on foreign policy. Thus, Canada began a “feminist international assistance policy” that focuses on supporting the global health of women, children and adolescents in 2017. The Canadian government pledged an annual $1.4 billion to foreign governments and international organizations. This money will be used to increase access to education, healthcare and nutrition in developing countries. Approximately $700 million will go to ending gender-based violence and promoting sexual health. Furthermore, $10 million will be allocated for UNICEF to reduce female genital mutilation.

In January 2020, Mexico became the first Latin American country to adopt a feminist foreign policy. The government aims to increase global gender equity, combat gender-based violence and end inequality in social and environmental justice. In addition, Mexico plans to increase the foreign ministry staff to have at least 50% women by 2024. Moreover, the nation wants to ensure equal workplace conditions.

Additionally, France, Norway and Sweden have adopted an official feminist foreign policy overseas. Now, the U.S. will join a growing list of nations committed to promoting gender equality.

Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States

The departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and the U.S. Agency for International Development have each announced a plan to advance women empowerment in 2020. This plan promotes women’s participation in foreign diplomacy, advocates for women’s rights and ensures access to humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, Biden’s feminist foreign policy aims to establish a cohesive foundation across trade, aid, defense, diplomacy and immigration that prioritizes equality for women. The strategy would emphasize peace and security as methods of conflict resolution. It will also increase the representation of women across all branches of government.

One of President Biden’s first actions in office was to eliminate the “global gag rule.” This global gag rule limits the type of healthcare services organizations receiving U.S. foreign aid are allowed to perform. The funding restrictions limited access to all types of healthcare in low-to-middle-income countries. Moreover, this restriction exposed women to a greater risk of disease and forced them to seek unsafe health services. A major goal of the Biden administration is to reallocate financial resources in a way that levels the playing field for women. Furthermore, the administration aims to provide greater support and opportunities for women. Additionally, the U.S. government plans to use foreign aid to increase support for women in the areas of healthcare, education, workplace protections and conflict zones.

The United States is unlikely to replace a focus on military strategy with a strictly feminist foreign policy. However, promoting gender equity at home and abroad can set the stage for an increased global emphasis on women’s rights. The U.S. can reallocate more financial resources to women’s access to education, healthcare and human rights and increase women’s participation in government and diplomacy. This dual strategy aims to combat existing inequality and create a more peaceful and equitable global future.

– Eliza Browning
Photo: Flickr

Women-Only Ride Service
In South Africa, many stories have emerged from women experiencing sexual assault while being in a taxi. Reports determined that there were more than 53,000 sexual assaults in March 2020, though the number might be far higher according to women’s rights groups. Luckily, Bolt has launched a women-only ride service to provide women safe transit in South Africa.

Women-Only Ride Service

With technology constantly progressing, safer transportation for women has become very vital. As recently as January 2021, Bolt has launched a women-only ride service. This service allows women passengers to request female drivers only; this also prohibits male drivers from viewing this request. This is possible through the registration process for drivers with Bolt; verifying if they are female or male, and their identity, makes it possible that only female drivers can access the Bolt Women Only category.

In November 2020, Bolt’s women-only ride service entered a pilot phase in East London and Rustenburg. Made possible through Bolt’s partnership with national safety platform Namola, an app-integrated SOS emergency button protects drivers and passengers. The functions this button offers enables the passengers and drivers to private armed response teams, private emergency medical services and roadside assistance if they are involved in any medical or security emergency while on a Bolt ride.

Bolt App

Bolt is a transportation app that women can use to request affordable and fast conveyance. Reviews for the app are mostly positive, and the new service is now available in various locations, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth, Mthatha, Polokwane, Thohoyandou, Mbombela and Emalahleni.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Bolt had taken into consideration the dwindling economic activity and rising poverty. To benefit those with low income, bolt introduced a new low-cost category called “Bolt Go” for its South African customers. The new affordable service trialed successfully in the Eastern Cape cities of East London and Port Elizabeth. In South Africa, the 35 cities and towns where Bolt is active started utilizing the service.

Increased Safety for Women

The woman-only ride service was a long time coming, but highly necessary. Just like anywhere else, women are in danger of being targets for assault or harassment, including in transit environments. This new service emerged out of a series of complaints and petitions from users who have experienced sexual harassment from male drivers. Both women and e-hailing drivers have the right to feel safe and protected while driving around and working. In sub-Saharan Africa, unsuitable transportation—”transport poverty”—inordinately impacts women and young girls due to abuse and sexual assault.

Less than 5% of female drivers using Bolt are women. In fact, around 64% of women have mentioned “security” as the reason that they are not lining up to be e-hailing drivers. The woman-only ride service will exclusively be available during 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., though the small number of female drivers might impact the waiting time for potential passengers. Even though the lack of female drivers might bring a setback, the woman-only ride service is much more beneficial if it comes out sooner rather than later.

Thomas Williams
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Awareness About Honor KillingsHonor killings and honor violence are still common practices in patriarchal societies. The practice involves an act of violence, usually murder, perpetrated against a woman by a male family member as punishment for bringing “dishonor” to the family. Behaviors that bring dishonor almost always relate to the woman’s sexual activity or relationship: sex outside of marriage, seeking a divorce, refusing an arranged marriage and being a victim of rape. These are all actions that supposedly justify honor killings because of the shame they bring to the family. Though archaic and cruel, honor killings happen all the time. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that, in 2017, intimate partners or family members killed roughly 50,000 women, many of them victims of honor killings. Several books hope to raise awareness about honor killings in order to reduce the occurrence and bring about change.

“I Should Have Honor: A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan”

This memoir by Khalida Brohi reflects on honor violence and related systems Brohi witnessed growing up in Pakistan. Her mother was an arranged marriage child bride. Brohi was nearly subject to a similar fate. Brohi was part of an arranged marriage before she was even born. Her father refused to let her become a child bride because he believed in education. The honor killing of her cousin by her uncle prompted her journey to helping women become empowered. Brohi’s uncle murdered her cousin for being in love with a man she was not married to. Brohi tells this story in her memoir and the story of her subsequent activism: empowering women and educating men on how and why these systems must undergo dismantling.

“Honor and Violence against Women in Iraqi Kurdistan”

Unlike Brohi’s deeply personal memoir, this book by Minoo Alinia focuses on applying an intersectional perspective to research concerning honor violence in Kurdistan. Alinia analyzes cultural notions of masculinity and the individual actions that stem from it. This text offers a socio-political perspective and participates in a larger conversation about global gender studies and how colonial history, religion and poverty have an influence. Though less personal, the researched approach to a subject as urgent as honor violence is vital to change advocacy. Alinia attempts to understand the origin of the practice in this region in order to create a cultural conversation about eliminating the practice.

“Inside an Honor Killing: A Father and a Daughter Tell Their Story”

In this book, Lene Wold brings a journalist’s perspective to the subject of honor killings, particularly in Jordan. Wold chose to immerse herself: she spent years in Jordan documenting as many stories as she could. While she witnessed the gender and socioeconomic dynamics of daily life firsthand, she interviewed young women, village elders and men who had murdered a female family member in the name of honor. This book uniquely presents not only the victim’s perspective but the perpetrator’s. It is central to the advocacy surrounding honor violence because it tries to share every side of the story, allowing for the most holistic education and understanding.

“Bliss”

This novel by O.Z. Livaneli is unique because, unlike the others, it is fictional. Livaneli tells the story of a character who experiences rape by her uncle before his son arranges for her death as her rape has dishonored the family. The fictional story set in Turkey hopes to reflect the experiences of Turkish women and families. The most important aspect of this story is the overwhelming hopefulness it conveys. Education and understanding are essential to advocacy but so is hope. Livaneli’s novel brings hope as well as awareness to the issue of honor killings.

By bringing awareness to the issue of honor killings, these writers hope to reduce its occurrence and inspire advocacy and change.

Samantha Silveira
Photo: Flickr

The Sophia SocietyIn an area of the world fraught with conflict and tension, Kurdish women continue to fight for equality and rights. Achieving this requires a united commitment to changing the perspective and understanding of culture and the role women hold in society. As a historically conservative society, change sometimes poses a challenge for Kurdistan. The Sophia Society fights for the protection and empowerment of women in Kurdistan.

Women in Kurdistan

Incidents of violence against women are rampant in Kurdistan. Many advocates and women’s rights activists continue to speak out against gender-based violence to lobby for change. Many of the protests and advocation for expanding women’s rights stem from a series of honor killings, domestic violence and human trafficking. Much of the violence thus begins at the family level and the law shrouds it. In a nation where forced marriage is a common practice, a woman’s refusal can thus lead to her death.

Honor killings are justified as a way to quiet a rebellious woman who refuses the will of the man who controls her life. Additionally, these women end up in unmarked graves as a symbol of shame. The Sophia Society aims to put an end to honor killings and other injustices experienced by women, including sexual violence.

Women in Government

The Kurdish government continues to work toward the expansion of rights and the integration of women into leading roles. With a 30% quota of women in parliament and a complete High Council of Women’s Affairs, it appears that the Kurdish government is well advanced on integration. However, critics argue that many of these women serve only as a token and their roles hold no substantial political power.

Political inclusion is a great success for Kurdish women, yet there continue to be cultural aspects that need improvement. From an outsider’s perspective, the number of women in political positions tells a tale of growth and modernization but the lack of domestic safety also makes this questionable.

The Sophia Society

Lanje Khawe established the Sophia Society in 2016, primarily to increase the literacy of Kurdish girls. Since then, the scope of this organization has expanded because it looks to address the multidimensional struggles of women. The members of this Society travel to remote villages via bicycle to deliver books to young girls and women so that they can become literate, educated and empowered in a country that oppresses them. Furthermore, the Society aims to raise awareness about sexual violence against women.

In a patriarchal society, others often deny girls access to books and education because of the misguided fear that they might rebel against patriarchal expectations. However, in many cases, it is this patriarchal society that threatens the security and safety of these girls, as one can see through honor killings.

Impact of the Sophia Society

The Sophia Society continues to use its voice to highlight the horror of honor killings and challenge the status quo within the Kurdish region. The Society, therefore, pushes for acknowledging women’s voices both politically and socially.

The challenge these women face in organizing this group is that if they do anything to bring shame to their families, death becomes a potential outcome.

What Needs to Change?

The most challenging aspect of change in these Kurdish regions is the transformation of societal normalities and cultural expectations. This will therefore require progressive laws and policies as well as public gender equality campaigns. Women learn to be passive and submissive. Because of this, the Sophia Society, therefore, wants to uplift and educate women as the feminine voices of the nation.

The national growth is slow-moving yet hope exists for the future of women’s rights as the Sophia Society commits to change. This group creates an organization of role models for other women who no longer want gender norms to define them. The Sophia Society stands alongside Kurdish women to prepare for a changed future.

Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

Female Farmers In Ghana
Ghana has endured volatile floods and droughts over the last decade. Detrimental weather is especially harmful to countries like Ghana as many of its citizens depend on farming to make a living. Only 10% of the northern half of the country is able to sustain itself without agriculture. Estimates have determined that up to $200 million has disappeared annually from the country’s earning potential. This is due to frequent floods and droughts in the last few years. These unstable swings in weather greatly compromise farmers’ ability to grow crops. This instability often hits female farmers in Ghana the hardest. It is often difficult for them to find other avenues of income during periods of erratic weather.

As a result, an international relief fund called the Adaptation Fund has channeled a portion of its money to teach female farmers in Ghana how to turn crops into finished goods. Finished goods allow the women to have an array of products to sell when floods and droughts occur.

Milling Machines

The milling machine is perhaps the most useful piece of machinery that the Adaptation Fund introduced. Milling machines make popular products like flour, cereal and granulated sugar. In Ghana, many women use milling machines to make shea butter, soy milk and kebabs.

When weather conditions prohibit the harvesting of crops, women can work at milling machines to minimize wasted time and maximize income. Milling machines make it possible for women to earn higher margins on their products. A bottle of shea butter will sell for more than raw shea since it is a finished good. All of the labor and cost of the machinery factor into the final price.  Thus, women actually have the potential to earn a little more when selling finished goods.

The Progress

More than 7,000 women have gained access to milling facilities with the Adaptation Fund’s contribution. Women are able to earn more money and diversify their diets. A lot of the women choose to bring some of the products home so that their families can experience a wider range of food than was available to them before the milling facilities. Moreover, white rice and corn are popular milled goods in Ghana.

The Adaptation Fund has also introduced farmers to other special skills and techniques for when the weather is not ideal. For example, volunteers offer courses on how to process honey and farm fish. By opening up new opportunities, women become more confident that they will be able to provide for their families.

The Importance of These Projects

As weather patterns continue to change, projects like the Adaptation Fund are crucial in ensuring a smooth transition into a new world. Traditional methods of making a living, such as farming, are no longer sufficient for people to earn an adequate wage. As the name suggests, it is critical to teach workers across the globe how to adapt to a constantly changing planet.

The Adaptation Fund has pledged almost $800 million to projects just like this since 2010. Fortunately, more than 100 projects are currently aiding people. Overcoming the challenges ahead will not be easy, but like female farmers in Ghana, every human is capable of adopting and implementing new solutions.

– Jake Hill
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Gender-Based Violence
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee defines gender-based violence as any harmful act that a person perpetrates against another’s will and that occurs due to socially ascribed differences between females and males. This includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty inflicted both in private and publicly. More than 700 million underage marriages occurred in 2020. Furthermore, approximately 137 women die at the hands of a partner or member of their family each day. Moreover, poverty and gender-based violence intertwine.

Poverty and Gender-Based Violence

Poverty exacerbates gender-based violence in many ways. This violence interrupts opportunities for education and employment. In addition, women and girls are more prone to experiencing poverty and exploitation. Children who are a product of child marriages are less likely to receive an education. Also, these children have a higher chance of living in extreme poverty. Moreover, women and girls living in poverty are more vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behavior, including the use of violence. Norms can protect against violence, but they can also support and encourage the use of it. Research that the World Bank Group and Sexual Violence Research Initiative conducted suggests that interventions targeting gender norms are some of the most effective in addressing gender-based violence.

Social and Gender Norms

Many social norms exist that perpetuate gender-based violence. These norms often vary by region, religion and other factors. Thus, the norms are very difficult to influence.

Families emphasize the sexual purity of women. As a result, female genital mutilation is prevalent. The value of family honor is above the safety of women. This can lead to honor killings. Domestic violence can stem from the disproportionate authority of men in disciplining women and children.

Gender-Based Violence Scale

A collaborative team from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, UNICEF and other organizations developed a scale for analyzing changes in beliefs and social norms. Researchers wanted to provide a way to measure the impacts of primary prevention programs in humanitarian settings. About 30 items exist across three categories. Researchers administer this scale to communities to help them understand attitudes towards acts of sexual violence, the importance of family honor and the authority men employ.

Addressing Child Marriage

A collaborative team from Queen’s University and the ABAAD Resource Center for Gender Equality found benefits in enforcing interventions focused on precipitators to child marriage, such as poverty and a lack of legal protections. The researchers proposed the tailoring of interventions to the varying attitudes and beliefs within a community. This team learned that men attributed an increase in rates of child marriage to poverty. However, women attributed it to an increase in a lack of security through laws and social services. This research contradicts a one-size-fits-all program design that suggests adaptive interventions to be the most impactful.

Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Peru

Community engagement and gender-based violence interventions are an invaluable aspect of humanitarian development. Peruvian community health workers employed participatory methods to gather community insights and found seven key aspects of engagement: community leaders’ support, conversations with community members, bystander intervention data for gender-based violence, shared ownership among health workers and leaders, connections with broader stakeholders such as government officials, understanding of what encourages and causes gender-based violence and support from trusted and influential people outside the community.

Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Bill in Iran

The Iranian government passed the Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence bill to provide support for survivors of gender-based violence. This bill includes provisions for educational programs on vulnerability detection, expanding mental health support for victims of gender-based violence, an evidence-based plan for advancing gender equity and offers an important acknowledgment of this step on behalf of Iranian women.

Poverty undeniably intertwines with gender-based violence. Its connection can be complex and difficult to influence, but research and programs such as these demonstrate successful approaches and the invaluable nature of their effects.

– Amy Perkins
Photo: Flickr

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

Pura Utz

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

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

Empowering Women at Pura Utz

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

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

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

The Future for Women in Guatemala

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

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Female leaders in India
In 2020, Priya Periyasmy became the leader of her village council in Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state that 68 million people populated. Despite gender quota laws in village council elections, female leaders in India are the vast minority and women must fight to do their jobs in a hostile work environment. Additionally, women who run for office often face sexual harassment and slanderous attacks. Following Periyasmy’s brave example, 15 female village council leaders in Tamil Nadu state have filed complaints about discrimination in the past six months.

Village Councilwomen Fight Discrimination

Periyasmy tolerated daily annoyances, with other council members not greeting her and asking her to sit on the floor during meetings. She initially ignored the discrimination, but the abuse she faced interfered with her ability to work. The panchayat vice-president regularly threatened her and once attacked her for sitting on a chair at work. Periyasmy went on strike and organized a sit-in protest with her husband. She and 15 other Dalit women in the same situation are demanding action under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Dalit female leaders in India face heightened discrimination. They belong to the lowest caste in India’s social hierarchy.

In another village in Tamil Nadu called Attupakan, V. Sasikumar quit his factory job to support his mother when she became the first female Dalit village council president. After other members stopped her from talking at meetings and hoisting the flag on Independence Day, she asked the Madras High Court to protect her family.

Sasikumar points out the daily wage earner status of his parents. After the struggle of getting into a leading position, his mother now faces discrimination. Other council members would not allow her to do her job. Still, she has the full support of her family.

India reserves half of each state’s village council posts for women, resulting in the election of 1 million female village councilors. However, proposals for similar legislation for state and federal elections exist for 20 years already. The bills did not pass yet. The bipartisan Girls LEAD Act challenges this, increasing global female participation in democracy, human rights and governance.

Girls LEAD Act

About 132 million girls between 6-17 years old are not enrolled in school and only 24% of all national parliamentarians are women, which are two highly connected problems. Women largely have underrepresentation in politics, allowing men to sway important decisions, many of which only women. Through U.S. foreign assistance initiatives, the Girls LEAD Act identifies and addresses barriers to female political participation, providing support for civil society organizations that women lead. The act ensures that each foreign organization engages girls under 18, introducing them to political leadership early.

Promoting girls’ education and political engagement will reduce violence against women and transform more societies into democracies. Women’s leadership supports democracy through cooperation between parties and the understanding of citizens’ needs. According to research, female inclusion in peace negotiations decreases corruption. Additionally, the likelihood of childhood marriage will decrease by 5% for each year of a girl’s continued secondary schooling.

Normalizing women’s leadership in politics will break the stigma and negative cultural attitudes behind it, which is the root of the bigotry that Periyasmy faces. Passing the Girls LEAD Act would protect marginalized politicians, including the 16 female leaders in India who actively fight discrimination.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr