information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

The International Women's Coffee Alliance
The International Women’s Coffee Alliance aims to empower women to achieve sustainable, meaningful lives through international coffee communities. IWCA recognizes the integral part women play in both a business and an economic aspect. As such, IWCA believes women need to be involved in both family sustainability and economic choices. When this happens, multiple aspects typically leading to poverty in a community decrease.

“When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is true of communities and, eventually, whole countries,” states Kofi Annan, as quoted on IWCA’s homepage.

Strong Women = Strong Coffee

IWCA’s motto is “Strong Women = Strong Coffee: Connect. Empower. Advance.”

According to IWCA chapter manager Blanca Castro, “The chapters have very localized issues that they centralize their work around to be a collective force. The common denominator for the groups is that they are all mothers, daughters and workers and share many of the same challenges around the world, not just specific to coffee, such as the price of coffee but the also laws and customs that make women earning a dignified living that much more of a challenge.”

Now how is the IWCA taking action to implement and empower women?

IWCA Ethiopia

Strong Partners Build Economic Empowerment

IWCA is involved in multiple parts of the world, including Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Women in Coffee (EWiC) partnered with the International Trade Center, which brings platforms for corporations to empower companies to connect with women-owned supply companies. As a result, the EWiC and ITC are working together to build a foundation for the same goal.

The EWiC is one branch under IWCA. It moves to improve the economy and the importance of women within a community. Through the incorporation of women in international trade, IWCA believes that poverty within Ethiopia will soon be alleviated.

IWCA Burundi

Working Together Grows Quality and Premiums

The IWCA also has a chapter in Burundi, specifically in the regions of Ngozi and Kayanza where they have seen a growing impact of empowering the women of this region. Since their start in Burundi in 2012, there has been an increase in job opportunities for the community. Moreover, this has led to improved livelihoods based on coffee bonuses and pay raises.

In Burundi alone, there has been an increase in green coffee bags. In 2012, 94 green coffee bags were produced, as compared to 2,065 green coffee bags in 2017.

WCA-India

Building Awareness, Strengthening Communities

Coffee Santhe (Coffee Market) is held annually in India’s coffee capital, Bangalore. Santhe is a program that helps raise funds for communities. It also unites different states within India’s massive demographic to come together and learn how they can impact and improve their communities.

Santhe generates funds and provisions for children who are in government-run schools in coffee regions. These funds and provisions support their education. It also teaches them how they can impact their own lives and those around them.

The IWCA has a presence in 22 different countries. And it promotes economic sustainability by empowering women to enter the workforce of international trade, specifically through the coffee industry. Ultimately, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance believes by uniting different nations and closing the gender gap in the workforce, the issues of global poverty will disperse.

Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Google Images

Social Entrepreneurship in Developing CountriesToday, social entrepreneurship is growing rapidly in size, scope and support. An unprecedented number of organizations are using entrepreneurship as a strategy to address social problems like poverty, at-risk youth and hunger. Social entrepreneurs are developing creative and innovative organizations that give people the tools, education and resources to become an entrepreneur. As entrepreneurs, they can serve their own communities, improving health, decreasing hunger, creating safer environments and accessing clean water. Here are five organizations using social entrepreneurship to help create jobs in developing countries.

5 Examples of Social Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries

  1. The Adventure Project
    The Adventure Project works in developing countries seeking out partnerships with organizations creating jobs for their communities. Some organizations include KickStart, LifeLine, Living Goods, Water for People, and WaterAid. The organization chooses partners based on their measurable social impact, a proven track record of success, and readiness to scale. Since its inception, the Adventure Project has empowered 798 people to find a job. This has led to thriving local economies, improved environmental conditions and even reduced mortality rates. In Kenya, cooking over an open fire posed a huge health risk to both people and the environment. Now, stoves are made and sold locally. Masons create stoves and vendors earn commissions for their sales. And because they’re using 50 percent less charcoal, families are saving 20 percent of daily expenses. In other countries, villagers have been trained as health care agents, selling more than 60 products at affordable prices. These health care agents also care for more than 800 people in their communities.
  2. Indego Africa
    Indego Africa is a nonprofit social enterprise that supports women in Rwanda through economic empowerment and education. This enterprise aims to break intergenerational cycles of poverty. To do so, Indego Africa provides female artisans with the tools and support necessary to become independent businesswomen and drive local development.Partnering with 18 cooperatives of female artisans, Indego Africa sells handcrafted products through an e-commerce site, collaborations with designers and brands and at boutiques worldwide. To develop their entrepreneurial skills, Indego Africa provides artisans with training in quality control, design and product management. Indego currently employs over 600 women, 58 percent of whom make over $2 a day. According to the World Bank, $2 a day marks the entry point into Africa’s growing middle class.
  3. Mercardo Global
    Mercardo Global is a social enterprise organization that links indigenous artisans in rural Latin American communities to international sales opportunities. As a result, this organization helps provide sustainable income-earning opportunities, access to business training and community-based education programs. Mercado Global also increases access to microloans for technology, such as sewing machines and floor looms. Mercado Global believes income alone cannot solve long-term problems. Therefore, the organization focuses on both business education and leadership training. In doing so, Mercado Global enables artisans to address systemic problems within their communities. Artisans are given microloans, ideally to purchase equipment that allows them to work more efficiently. They then pay back their loans, allowing another artisan to attain one. Forty-four percent of Mercado Global entrepreneurs held a leadership position within their cooperatives in the last three years. Ninety-six percent participate in the finances of their households. And 77 percent of women voted in their last community election.
  4. Solar Sister
    Everyone should have access to clean energy. And the team behind Solar Sister believes women are a key part of the solution to the clean energy challenge. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 600 million people have no access to electricity. Moreover, more than 700 million must rely on harmful fuels. However, women bear the majority burden of this energy poverty and disproportionately shoulder the harmful effects. In order to address this issue and create more equity around clean energy and economic opportunities, Solar Sister invests in women’s enterprises in off-grid communities. By doing so, the Solar Sister team builds networks of women entrepreneurs. Women are first given access to clean, renewable energy. Then, they participate in a direct sales network to build sustainable businesses. Centering local women in a rapidly growing clean energy sector is essential to eradicating poverty. This allows helps achieve sustainable solutions to climate change and a host of development issues. Evidence shows the income of self-employed rural women with access to energy is more than double the income of those without access to energy. For rural female wage or salary workers, access to energy is correlated with 59 percent higher wages. Solar Sister is currently helping over 1,200 entrepreneurs. The team is also partnering with Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Sustainable Energy for All, U.N. Women and Women in Solar Energy.
  5. United Prosperity
    United Prosperity is a nonprofit organization providing an online lending platform connecting lenders to poor entrepreneurs across the globe. A Kiva-like peer-to-peer loaning system allows anyone with spare cash to guarantee loans to entrepreneurs in need. Lenders select the entrepreneur they want to support and lend any amount they wish. United Prosperity then consolidates the loan amount and passes it on to the entrepreneur through a local bank. For every $1 given by the lender, the bank makes a nearly $2 loan to the entrepreneur through a partner Microfinance Institution (MFI). Once a loan or a loan guarantee has been made, the entrepreneur’s progress is tracked online. When loans are repaid, lenders get their money back. They then have the opportunity to recycle it by lending or guaranteeing the loan to another entrepreneur. These microloans aim to help entrepreneurs, mostly women, grow their small businesses. United Prosperity has transferred more than $280,000 in loans to 1,300 entrepreneurs. Moreover, MFI helps build entrepreneurs’ credit history with local banking systems, thus encouraging more banks to lend to them.

These organizations are wonderful examples of how social enterprises have effectively empowered locals in the social entrepreneurship space. Through innovation, investment in local resources and talent, and measurement practices, these organizations have helped social entrepreneurs around the world to scale and grow. In doing so, they also address social problems like poverty, at-risk youth and hunger in their community. The results have been improved health, increased economic opportunities, safer environments and increased access to clean water and energy.

Leroy Adams
Photo: Flickr

girls education in SyriaThe ongoing civil war in Syria has had a serious impact on many aspects of Syrian life. Syria once contained a highly educated middle class, but since the start of the civil war, this has significantly declined. Women have experienced a large reduction in their access to education. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Syria.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Syria

  1. During the 1990s, primary and preparatory schools were built to combat low literacy rates in Syria. Parents were legally required to send their daughters to school. This created equal enrollment ratios in primary schools for male and female students that reached around 92.61 percent enrollment in 1996. The war in Syria has drastically decreased opportunities for children to attend school, dropping the overall enrollment rate in secondary schools down to 44 percent by 2013 from 72 percent just four years before in 2009.
  2. Conflict in Syria has caused countless families to flee from rural areas to neighborhoods of 1070, Tishreen and Al-Riyadeh. These are areas where urban planning has worked to create apartments. A need for more classrooms arose due to a population increase and people taking refuge within these neighborhoods. UNICEF built a new 1070 school in 2013, the only girls’ intermediary school in the neighborhood, providing safety for students from the conflict in their neighborhood. However, in 2016, residents of the neighborhood fled due to an increase in mortars and bombardment. The school was abandoned and destroyed. This is common in Syria, where one in every three schools are damaged or destroyed, severely limiting student’s access to educational facilities.
  3. With 2 million children out of school due to the war, the amount of young displaced Syrian girls who get married before 18 has reached 41 percent. Education limits girls’ vulnerability to early marriage. However, with limited opportunities for girls to attend school, they have no way to learn the skills and obtain knowledge to advocate for themselves against child marriage.
  4. Regions controlled by Islamic extremists follow a curriculum outlined in “Women of the Islamic State”, a manifesto defining the role of women in society. This curriculum discourages women from attending institutions of higher education. It also supports a domestic-based education and marriage by the age of 16.
  5. Under the guise of an educational opportunity, young girls are often recruited for armed conflict. In 2017, 89 girls were recruited and used for armed conflict. Recruitment removes children form educational opportunities and puts them at severe risk.
  6. The Syrian Government has also worked to diminish the role of female teachers in the education system by denying the salaries for women teachers located in conflict zones. This often eliminates the primary income of a family and disproportionately affects young girls working towards achieving an education. Without female role models as teachers, young girls are often displaced from the education system, putting them at a higher risk for sexual and economic exploitation.
  7. Efforts made by the Malala Fund are working to provide technology that does not require internet access for Syrian girls to continue their education after seeking refuge in surrounding countries. Specifically, the Malala Fund paired up with Fadi Hallisso, the CEO of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, a Lebanese organization that works with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. The organization works to expand educational opportunities for Syrian refugee girls in those regions. The Malala Fund and Basmeh and Zeitooneh have worked to create accelerated learning programs and cultural centers to assist girls in getting up to speed on the educational standards of the local schools.
  8. U.N. Women started working to increase skills building and educational opportunities for girls displaced by the conflict in Syria. Sixteen-thousand female Syrian refugees benefit annually from the Oasis centers created by U.N. Women. These centers offer 400 cash-for-work opportunities as well as skill-building training to improve their opportunity for increased incomes. Syrian girls are also benefiting from the “SADA Women-only Centre,” which teaches technological skills, provides language courses, offers counseling services and connects women with jobs. U.N. Women is also working to build advocacy and leadership by Syrian women. A meeting was convened in June 2018 where 200 Syrian women convened to discuss the advancement of women’s rights in Syria.
  9. UNICEF started working to increase educational access for children in Syria, providing more than two million children with textbooks, stationery and school bags. UNICEF has also provided almost 80 thousand children with informal education opportunities. UNICEF’s focus on educational access for young Syrian children reaches across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with the goal of providing equitable educational access to 1.2 million children.
  10. Countries with high numbers of Syrian refugees are actively working to lift restrictions for school enrollment that disproportionately affect young Syrian girls and implement systems that are accessible for Syrian refugees. In 2014, Jordan recently lifted the requirement for Syrian refugee children to hold a residency card to attend their schools. Syria also introduced a temporary education system that offers Syrian students an education taught in Arabic.

These 10 facts about girls’ education in Syria present the lack of access and safety for Syrian girls attempting to obtain an education in Syria and in refugee areas. Many organizations are working to improve the educational inequality for Syrian girls. These efforts are improving educational conditions; however, as the conflict in Syria persists, there is still a necessity for progress towards equitable education in Syria.

Claire Bryan
Photo: Flickr

period poverty in IndiaPeriod poverty is often described as a lack of access to menstrual education and sanitary products. With 800 million women and girls menstruating daily, this is a subject that concerns half the population around the world. However, the issue is particularly prevalent in India where only 42 percent of women have access to sanitary pads. What is being done to alleviate this common problem? Here are the top five facts about period poverty in India.

Top Five Facts About Period Poverty in India

  1. Increased risk of disease: In India, an estimated 70 percent of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Women often use dirty rags as a replacement for sanitary pads. Even rags that are cleaned can still develop bacteria if not dried properly. Furthermore, 63 million adolescent girls in India, do not have access to a toilet in their homes. Without a clean and private space to change menstrual products, girls are less likely to properly manage their own hygiene
  2. Cultural stereotypes have a huge impact: Menstruation in India is often seen as a shameful conversation. Studies estimate that 71 percent of girls have no knowledge about menstrual health until after their first period. Women are often described as “dirty” while menstruating and are commonly separated in the home when dining, praying or participating in other activities. Some studies suggest that this is due to gender norms that become more prevalent at puberty. In addition, there is no required curriculum surrounding menstrual health in school.
  3. The high cost of sanitation facilities: Third on the list for the top five facts about period poverty in India is the expense of menstrual products. Approximately 70.62 million people in India live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 dollars per day. The average Indian woman needs 300 rupees ($4.20) per month for menstrual products. For low-income households, the cost of sanitary pads is often unattainable. Furthermore, Since most adolescents do not have access to toilets at home, girls are more likely to pay for restrooms in public, which is another unaffordable expense.
  4. Period poverty in India affects education: On average, girls miss six days of class each month due to shame surrounding their periods or a lack of sanitary products. This contributes to the number of girls in India who drop out of school each year, around 23 percent. Girls that leave school are stunted in their careers and are more likely to become child brides. India has the highest number of child brides in the world, with 15.5 million children being married by the age of 18.
  5. Removal of taxes: While some parts of period poverty seem daunting, other parts seem hopeful. In 2017, the Indian government labeled menstrual products as luxury goods. Quickly after the announcement of the new tax, the public gathered to campaign against it. In July of 2018, the government removed the tax, thus making sanitary products more accessible to low-income households.

Working to Improve Conditions

The good news doesn’t end with the removal of taxes. Many positive strides have been taken to address the issues of period poverty. Binti is one organization in India (as well as 11 other countries) aiming to minimize the issue. The nonprofit is fighting for menstrual equality through education, distribution of sanitary products and government advocacy. The World Bank and WASH partnered together to create Menstrual Hygiene Day to spread awareness about the importance of sanitary products for women and girls around the world.

Documentaries have also aided in global education surrounding period poverty. For example, “Period. End of Sentence.” partnered with Action India (a nonprofit aiming to create gender equality) to create a documentary about the situation. The Netflix original was successful in fundraising enough money to install a vending machine of menstrual products in Hapur, India. It was also awarded an Oscar for “best documentary short film, gaining public recognition for its efforts.

Ultimately, when looking at the top five facts about period poverty in India, one can see it is a very prevalent issue. Menstrual inequality is often caused by shame around the conversation as well as the high cost of feminine products. This creates challenges in education and an increased risk of disease. However, many positive strides are being made, and governments are starting to see that this is a cause worth advocating for.

Anna Melnik

Photo: Flickr

Women’s Representation in RwandaRwanda has a higher percentage of representation of women in government than any country in the world. In 2017, there were 49 women in the lower house of parliament, which is more than half of its 80 seats, and 10 women in the upper house of parliament consisting of 26 seats. The high proportion of women in government came after the devastating Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the country has made significant strides since then.

A Shift in Gender Representation

The genocide in Rwanda marked a change in gender representation because, after the violence had subsided, 70 percent of the surviving population was women. This was a result of the practice of killing men and allowing women to survive as sex slaves during the genocide. However, it was not only the new gender disparity that caused an increase in women’s roles in government, but the country also introduced quotas requiring 30 percent of candidates for public office to be women.

It is important to note that the Rwandan government decided to increase the representation of women in government through candidate quotas in political parties rather than seat reservations in parliament. According to a study by Mala Htun published in Perspective on Politics, “Women and men belong to all political parties; members of ethnic groups, by contrast, frequently belong to one only.” By using quotas, the Rwandan government is acknowledging the bipartisan nature of women in government.

Therefore, the most efficient way to establish a higher representation of women in government is to promote their representation within political parties because they are a cross-cutting group, meaning that women have an active political presence across the political spectrum. This thoughtful approach to increasing women’s representation in the Rwandan government has resulted in record-breaking numbers of women becoming involved in political life in Rwanda and setting positive examples for young girls throughout the country.

The Difficulties Women in Government Face

The presence of women in such politically powerful positions in Rwanda has not come without difficulties. Many women face backlash from their families or husbands for sacrificing domestic work in order to become political leaders. In fact, Berthilde Muruta, Executive Secretary in the Rubavu District noted that “there are people who think that we come to meet men, or for other business, which makes it hard to be trusted by our husbands.” Additionally, female politicians in Rwanda are oftentimes not seen as equals to the men in similar positions.

According to Claudette Mukamana, a District Vice Mayor, “When people see you holding any of those [elected] positions as women, the very first question asked by everyone is: Will she be able to perform her duties? Is she capable of holding such a position?” Despite these difficulties, the presence of so many women in the Rwandan government has resulted in the passing of several key pieces of legislation to improve the lives of women and girls throughout the country.

These reforms include legislation to alter the Civil Code to allow women to have equal inheritance rights as men, equal pay, consequences for gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace and further prevention and consequences for violence against women and children. In addition, with 7 of the 14 supreme court justices in Rwanda now being women, new laws were passed requiring that both boys and girls must attend primary and secondary school.

Areas to Improve

A lot still needs to change in regards to the perception of women’s roles in society. Furthermore, there is still more progress to be made, especially in terms of violence against women. The Rwandan government performed a study that showed that two out of every five women ages 15 and older had been physically abused at least one time in their lives. As more women are elected to office, hopefully, more people will change their perspective in these areas and these statistics will represent that improvement.

The representation of women in the Rwandan government has led to significant advancements for the rights of women and girls throughout the country. Globally women only hold 21.9 percent of all elected seats in government. Promoting the equality of men and women in political positions in Rwanda and around the world is integral to solving many of the issues governments face. Although the system is not yet perfected, the world could learn a lot about the importance of women in government from Rwanda.

Alina Patrick
Photo: Flickr

Addressing Gender Equality in IndiaIt’s clear that improvements are immensely needed in order to bridge the gap in gender equality in India. The country ranked 130 out of 168 for the Gender Development Index. Fortunately, the United Nations Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, attended the #WeSeeEqual summit in Mumbai on Feb. 18 to address issues of addressing gender equality in India, the Middle East and Africa as well as potential solutions.

Puberty and Hygiene

Many adolescent girls in India are not educated about how their body changes during puberty or the importance of having adequate hygienic methods. Discussing the topic of menstruation is taboo, which leads to many misconceptions. According to a report conducted by the Dasra Foundation, 71 percent of girls had no knowledge about menstruation until their first period. It was also discovered in this report that 70 percent of the mothers surveyed believed menstruation was “dirty,” which further perpetuates shame felt by young girls when puberty starts.

Young girls and women who menstruate are also treated differently, one cultural tradition that remained until recently was that women who have reached menstruation age were not allowed to visit temples. Poor sanitary facilities in schools and other public areas is also a pressing issue. However, at the #WeSeeEqual summit, U.N. Women and Procter & Gamble (P&G), an American multinational consumer goods corporation, teamed up and pledged to educate more than 23 million adolescent girls over the next three years on puberty and hygiene in India, the Middle East and Africa.

Women-Owned Businesses

Although the economy in India is impressive, it could improve even more if women were more involved in the workforce. Only about 26 percent of women in India work. There are many social and religious constraints preventing more women from working, including household chores and motherly duties, which are normally placed on women. More than 70 percent of home-makers in India stated that they would prefer at least part-time work if given the chance.

If the employment rate of women were raised to the same level of employment for men, about 240 million more women would be included in the workforce. This would also mean that the world’s biggest economy would be 27 percent richer. P&G revealed at the #WeSeeEqual summit that it would aim to spend $100 million on working with women-owned businesses and improving female education in India, Middle East and Africa over the next three years. At this summit, P&G and U.N. Women also committed to using their voices to spark conversation and motivate change.

Looking Ahead

It’s important for organizations to use their resources and power to encourage equality in areas of the world that need it the most. U.N. Women and P&G addressed gender equality in India in an impactful way by discussing important issues, such as women in the workforce and adolescent girls being educated about menstruation and proper hygienic methods. Summits like #WeSeeEqual encourage change and help address important issues and potential solutions that will hopefully improve the situation around the world.

– Maddison Hines
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of HIV on Women in GhanaIn Ghana, a nation in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, approximately 190,000 women and girls above the age of 15 are living with AIDS. This high number can be attributed to the lack of necessary resources and education. The social and gender norms for females in Ghana also put girls at a higher risk. In fact, women are two to four times more susceptible to HIV infection than men. Some organizations are working to educate and empower women in Ghana and reduce the transmission of HIV.

Gender Roles in Ghana

The expectation that women and girls stay apathetic and quiet about intercourse leads to their inability to speak up about safe sex. These stereotypes and expectations mean that women in Ghana have less access to education and information than men, which minimizes their ability to negotiate and argue the need for condoms and other forms of safe sex. Even if a woman has the necessary education, it is a stereotype that married women who want to use contraceptives are having an affair.

Symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are often asymptomatic for women even though they are not for men. The existence of an STD puts an individual at higher risk of HIV infection. So, when women go untreated they become more susceptible without being aware of it. Also, women have a higher surface area that is exposed to contact during unprotected sex than men, which leads to a greater risk of infection. These are just some of the reasons why education about safe sex is so important.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on women in Ghana also comes from their role as caretaker to those suffering from the illness. This is especially impactful when a family member becomes sick. When a woman has to spend much of her time caring for a family member with HIV/AIDS, this takes away from her work, household tasks, time for self-care and time that she could be spending with her children.

WomenStrong International in Ghana

A community of organizations, WomenStrong International, works with women and girls to end extreme poverty. Their goal is to “find, fund, nurture and share women-driven solutions that transform lives.” Women’s Health to Wealth, an organization within WomenStrong International, started a women’s clinic in Kumasi, Ghana. One of their goals is to deliver more information about reproductive and family health to women in Ghana. More information and education for women and girls would give them the ability to voice their wants, needs and opinions about their sexual health.

As one of the top diseases in Ghana, HIV/AIDS education and prevention is extremely important regardless of gender, but in the current climate, especially for women. Although leaps and bounds still need to be taken towards progression, there has been movement in the right direction through organizations such as Women’s Health to Wealth. With organizations fighting for equality and raising awareness, there is hope for improved health for women in Ghana.

Malena Larsen 
Photo: Unsplash

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Togo
Togo is a small country in West Africa. Like other developing countries, many people in Togo have made the realization that gender equality and women’s rights would lead to a thriving, more prosperous community. Although recognizing the issue is a crucial and necessary step, actions are needed to see real change. This article examines 5 facts about women’s rights in Togo.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Togo

  1. In 2007, Togo adopted a law that prohibits sexual assault, early and forced marriage, exploitation, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. Yet, women are still lacking in information and education when it comes to their rights, which means marital rape and domestic violence are still common in Togo regardless of the law.
  2. There is a 10-day national conference held every year in Togo called the Women’s Wellness and Empowerment Conference (WWEC). The conference brings women leaders from across Togo together. The Peace Corps’ goal for the WWEC is to empower women, advocate gender equality and education and encourage the community to engage with one another.
  3. For women, there is a substantial drop in literacy rates from primary education (72 percent) to secondary education (14 percent). One of the reasons for this extremely high drop-out rate is because of early pregnancies. The high number of early pregnancies is because sex education, contraceptives and family-planning are all non-existent in Togo, making it extremely difficult for women to take charge of their bodies and futures.
  4. According to the World Bank’s country report, women lack economic opportunities and are rarely represented in high-level positions. This hurts society as a whole. The International Labour Organization stated that more female participation in the workforce would result in faster economic growth. Although there is a law in Togo that constitutes equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, women’s rights activist Berthe Adjoavi Tatey stated that this law is not acted upon. She claimed that women continue to have inadequate access to financial services. Sophie Ekue, a journalist in Togo said, “women are the belt that holds men’s trousers. And it is high time that this changes–for the benefit of the whole society.”
  5. Women are becoming more involved politically. As of 2010, nine members of the National Assembly and seven ministers in the Cabinet were women. In 2012, Togolese women organized a week-long “sex-strike.” The goal of the strike was to pressure President Faure Gnassingbe to resign. Women who wanted to take part in the strike were asked to withhold sex from their husbands. The goal was to convince men to also take action against the president. Togolese women have also led two naked protests. The first was following the sex-strike in August 2012, and the second was in September 2017. The goal of the protests was the same as the sex-strike: mobilize men against the president.

With the uprise of gender equality laws, female-led protests and national women’s conferences, Togo is looking toward a better future as far as gender equality and women’s rights are concerned. These 5 facts about women’s rights in Togo show there is still room to improve. It is essential that Togo continues to focus on advancements for women so there can be political, educational and financial equality between both genders in Togo, creating a strong flourishing community.

– Malena Larsen
Photo: Flickr

The Importance of Female Disaster Responders
Within the aid sector, female disaster responders are essential to ensuring the concerns of women and girls are heard and met. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable during crises, facing risks that male responders may not even consider that can happen. Additionally, a lack of local female responders may reinforce gender inequalities. In certain regions of the world, however, women are coming together, taking charge of disaster response efforts and helping their communities prepare for and respond to crises.

The Forgotten Effects of Disasters

A recent study by the International Federation of the Red Cross on three Southeast Asian nations- Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines, found that sexual and gender-based violence increased after disasters. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, child marriage, child sexual abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking all increased in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Often, those in charge of the disaster response do not take into account these risks when designing shelters and evacuation centers. It is crucial that these facilities have separate areas for men and women, provide separate, lockable bathroom facilities and have adequate lighting.

The Importance of Female Disaster Responders

Having female disaster responders increases the likelihood that these issues will be considered and addressed. International aid groups need to work to increase the number of women who are deployed to participate in the disaster response. Having female staff can help make communication with local women easier, and ensure that women’s concerns are being met.

This can be difficult, however, as female responders face additional risks and concerns, including safety, security and access to personal hygiene products. To mitigate these concerns, the safety of female responders always needs to be taken into account when designing living arrangements and women need to be encouraged to speak up about sexual harassment or assault. Women should also be encouraged to speak up about hygiene needs, and all staff needs to be trained to be open and understanding about these issues.

Involving local women in response efforts is also crucial. Suzy Madigan, the senior humanitarian advisor for gender and protection with CARE International, stated: “By not understanding what are the protection risks facing women and girls and, crucially, what are the solutions that they themselves would suggest, then we’re failing 50 percent of the population that we’re trying to serve.”

Madigan also warns that not including women in disaster response efforts can “reinforce barriers and discrimination.” In certain communities, women may already be generally excluded from decision-making, so if humanitarian groups are only working with men, they are both reinforcing this inequality and ignoring the needs of women.

Femlink Pacific

In certain areas of the world, women have started forming female-led disaster response organizations for their communities, breaking down gender barriers and ensuring the needs of women are met. Female disaster responders in Fiji provide a perfect example of this and their work can potentially be used as a model for other locations. The southwestern Pacific averages seven tropical cyclones every year between November and April. Recent cyclones have been particularly devastating, with three Category 4 cyclones in the Pacific between November 2016 and April 2017.

The Women’s Weather Watch program, run by a women’s media organization in Fiji, Femlink Pacific, maintains a network of 350 women across the nation. They use this network to communicate weather reports to women in different communities and provide advice for preparing for the coming weather. Women working with Femlink Pacific connect with other women in their communities and may even lead meetings for local women to help educate them. For example, Fane Boseiwaqa leads monthly meetings for 60 women in the area. She says that women are leaders, but they have to have access to adequate information and communication.

It is not always easy for female disaster responders to get their voices heard by the wider community, however. While doing their part to prepare for disasters and help their neighbors, women are often sidelined. Sarojani Gounder, a member of the Femlink Pacific network and local district councilor, stated: “Nobody comes and asks the women what you want or what you need. There’s nothing.”

In response to this, women have begun organizing on their own, taking the initiative to form women-based groups. When there are shortages in food and supplies, women have proven themselves to be the most effective first responders, as they are more likely to work together for the betterment of the whole community. Selai Adi Maitoga, a member of the Femlink Pacific network, stated, “Men don’t ask the neighbors. But the women, we talk to each other. That’s why women are the first responders.”

The initiatives of female disaster responders in Fiji can provide a model for disaster response elsewhere, exemplifying the importance of getting local women involved in preparing for storms and providing aid in their aftermath. The knowledge that local women have about the needs of their communities is crucial to any disaster response. Where possible, efforts to include local women should be made, helping to bring women’s concerns and needs to light and adequately address them in the aftermath of a disaster.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

Kenya’s Female Maasai
As is often the case in many poor global communities, Maasailand has a culture of gender inequality. The majority of Kenya’s female Maasai are enslaved by cultural belief systems, denying them from achieving basic human rights. Fortunately, there are advocates working to change this reality and improve women’s rights in Maasailand, Kenya.

Intimate Portrait of Kenya’s Female Maasai

Even in the 21st century, many Maasai women are not educated or only have a partial education. Young women are usually forced into marriage by their fathers into more privileged communities in exchange for cattle and cash. All Maasai girls are subject to a cultural tradition known as the cutting ceremony. It is an annual rite of passage in which girls’ clitorises are cut to signify their transition into womanhood and to mark daughters eligible for marriage. Despite the fact Kenya has outlawed genital cutting to prevent the deaths of even more young Maasai girls, male tribal elders continue to enforce the ritual.

According to the Lööf Foundation, a Swedish nonprofit organization working to improve the lives of international youth, the Kenyan Maasai community lacks adequate health care and Maasai women must travel long distances to receive medical treatment or give birth. The foundation reported that approximately 75 percent of Maasai women give birth on roadsides because the nearest health centers are too far away and that each year one out of every 10 Maasai women and an estimated 20 percent of Maasai infants die during roadside deliveries.

Maasai women can never divorce, except in extreme cases of physical abuse. They are prohibited from remarrying, even if they are widowed in their teens, and merely become the property of one of their husband’s brothers. They will be one of many wives and bear many children, regardless of their health or ability to provide for them.

However, there are various organizations that are working for improving the rights of Kenya’s female Maasai.

Organizations Empowering Kenya’s Female Maasai

  1. The Lööf Foundation is constructing the Kenswed Maternity and Health Center in Ngoni, Kenya. The center will provide both prenatal and antenatal care, as well as general health care to the public and sexual education to youths. The foundation hopes the center will reduce the high maternal and infant mortality rates.
  2. The Maasai Education, Research and Conservation (MERC) Institute works to preserve the Maasai culture and community. It partners with various types of organizations and the Kenyan government to ensure Maasai people’s empowerment and to establish social policies that will create benefits like universal clean water access. MERC co-founded the Maasai Girls Education Fund and also supports schools dedicated to girls’ education.
  3. The Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF) provides scholarships to all Maasai girls. Scholarships are all-inclusive and cover everything from uniforms and books to personal hygiene supplies. MGEF also offers performance monitoring, counseling and provides community education workshops to address the social customs and cultural beliefs inhibiting girls’ education. Workshops are open to anyone with the authority within the community to influence cultural change. MGEF provides business training and seed grants to rural Maasai women. Upon completing their educations, girls have the economic independence and ability to assert their rights as women. The goal is to increase female education enrollment by giving them the necessary tools to economically better their families and educate their children.
  4. Katy Leakey, the proprietor of Fair Trade Winds, started The Leakey Collection, a line of jewelry created by Maasai women to help their families combat the financial hardships resulting from prolonged droughts. The jewelry is made from reeds that would otherwise be burned to plant grass for cattle feed. The reeds are cut, dyed and crafted into bead-like pieces called Zulugrass. Her business model enables Maasai women to be entrepreneurs, not employees. These women take Zulugrass kits back to their communities and employ others to assist them. This newfound empowerment is enriching the lives of Kenya’s female Maasai by making them happy, independent and resilient.

The Story of Nice Leng’ete

As children, Nice Leng’ete and her older sister, Soila Leng’ete, would flee their homes during genital cutting season. Then one year, Soila did not run. Nice kept reminding Soila they were fleeing for a purpose, but despite Nice’s pleas, Soila still surrendered herself to the centuries-old custom. The trauma Soila endured ingrained itself in Nice’s memory. She made her life’s mission to protect other Maasai girls from the same fate by founding a program that travels to villages throughout Maasailand collaborating with elders and girls to form new, symbolic rites of passage in place of cutting. According to a January 2018 New York Times report, Nice Leng’ete had saved 15,000 girls from genital cutting thus far.

Kenya’s female Maasai experience heartbreaking living conditions that are a direct result of cultural beliefs and traditions that consider women as less valuable. Due to these reasons, the Maasai women are forced into marriage and a life of manual labor. However, the power of change shall not be doubted, and for Kenya’s female Maasai, the proof lies in the advocates working to improve their lives forever.

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Flickr