information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

fighting poverty in nepalNepal, a small landlocked country about the size of Iowa, is home to Mount Everest and over 100 ethnic groups speaking 90 languages. However, Nepal, like many developing countries, is also one of the poorest in the world. Many citizens live on about $2,700 a year, and the majority of the population lives in poverty. Fortunately, many organizations are fighting poverty in Nepal. Here are five local groups fighting poverty in Nepal, their home country.

5 Local Groups Fighting Poverty in Nepal

  1. Aasaman Nepal (ASN): A nongovernmental organization, ASN is a strong advocate for social integration, eradicating child labor, and women’s health in over 60 municipalities in Nepal. ASN achieves some of these goals through increasing community awareness and stressing the importance of schools through social mobilization. It has already helped more than 80,000 children with their education. ASN has also been able to secure national and international partnerships with U.N. Women, U.K. Aid and Street Child. Securing these partnership allows ASN to provide quality education and protection to children and marginalized groups like women and the disabled.
  2. Nepal Fertility Care Center (NFCC): This organization first started as an NGO to decrease Nepal’s total fertility rate from six to just over two. NFCC is now an internationally credited organization focused on providing available, accessible and affordable reproductive healthcare across Nepal. It engages with girls in remote areas in efforts to end child marriage, establishes family planning centers and provides free HPV screenings. Given that these are just a few programs undertaken by this organization, NFCC is central to fighting poverty in Nepal.
  3. Community Development Forum (CODEF): CODEF is a leading NGO in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector of Nepal. It has completed over 30 projects in organizing infrastructure for WASH programs critical to the health and safety of the people and the environment. In these projects, CODEF has addressed research, development, implementation and local government accountability across 50 different Village Development Committees (VDCs), districts and surrounding urban areas. This makes it one of many key local organizations fighting poverty in Nepal.
  4. Global Action Nepal (GAN): A social organization, GAN provides comprehensive primary education and health services for all children in Nepal. It has also established over 10 different programs. GAN accomplishes these goals through cooperation with local school districts in establishing management, support and up-skilling strategies. In total, GAN has helped well over 10,000 children and women, thus decreasing poverty in Nepal. GAN also supports other important empowerment initiatives. For example, it provides microcredit for women in agriculture-based programs to support gender equality and financial independence.
  5. X-Pose Nepal: This organization works to end all sexual abuse and exploitation of young girls and women. Currently, gender inequality only furthers poverty in Nepal. To combat this, X-Pose Nepal has organized awareness programs in over 40 schools to educate young women and men about sexual abuse and exploitation. It has also hosted several other training programs, like making reusable sanitary pads for women in remote villages. Its established Charity Shop helps raise money for the cause through painting exhibitions and musical programs done by and for women.

These five local groups are only a fraction of organizations working hard to foster progress in Nepal. Nonetheless, setbacks like the 2015 earthquake and internal political strife have hindered growth in recent years. Many critics of foreign aid deem it useless due to corrupt government, insufficient infrastructure and a supposed lack of initiative. However, this criticism fails to account for the impact of deep-seated cultural conflicts, geography and natural disasters on poverty in Nepal. Critics also fail to recognize local organizations making significant changes in smaller communities throughout Nepal. Despite the country’s internal conflicts and fragile geographical location, these five local groups are valiantly fighting poverty in Nepal.

Mizla Shrestha
Photo: Pikist

gender gap in malawiFemale education has been an ongoing challenge for the East African country of Malawi. With 50.7% of the population living below the poverty line, the nation is one of the poorest in the world, and a large percentage of the poor are women. A significant reason why is that girls often fall behind early in their education especially in areas like math and reading and end up dropping out. Also, the average elementary classroom in Malawi has 76 students meaning faculty are frequently overburdened and unable to address the delicate situation many young women find themselves in.  The London based nonprofit organization Onebillion has developed the Onecourse technology that is closing the education gender gap in Malawi.

A Girl’s Challenge

While both boys and girls face high dropout rates in Malawian schools, girls are less likely to return due to factors such as labor demands at home, being discriminated against as the perceived weaker gender, absence of female role models and harassment by male teachers and fellow students. With typical teaching practices concerning math and reading in Malawi early grade schools, boys usually pull ahead of girls in math by second grade while girls pull ahead of boys in reading, but this advantage in reading disappears by sixth grade and girls are behind in both subjects.

The Onecourse Experiment

Onecourse is unique in its approach in that it is an all-digital platform where students are guided by a virtual teacher through a strategically crafted set of activities. Students are given a Onetab tablet loaded with Onecourse apps in their native language. For Malawian students this was Chichewa. One of the biggest challenges for developer Onebillion is to prove in trials that significant learning can happen in the absence of a teacher. “For the Onebillion trial, children were taken out of their huge classes, put in groups of 25 and given tablets loaded with math software; similar-sized groups were given tablets without the math software, to control for the possibility that children might benefit from any instruction given in smaller groups.”

Promising Results

Onebillion’s software has helped Malawian girls make significant advances. Evaluations by the University of Nottingham and the University of Malawi demonstrate that digital intervention can not only educate students but prevent girls from falling behind in their learning. Specifically, eighteen 30 minutes sessions with Onecourse early grade math apps prevent girls from falling behind early in mathematics. Early mathematics intervention may also promote girls more likely going to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses in the future.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Onecourse technology is closing the gender gap in Malawian early education. Digital learning platforms like Onebillion’s Onecourse have helped aid undertrained and over burned faculty in many developing countries like Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania and is also being used to help marginalized children in the United States. The Onebillion organization, in a tie with the Kitkit school (a similar digital program developer), was awarded the Global Learning Xprize that promotes organizations that create programs allowing children to educate themselves in reading, writing, and math. This program, and others like it, will be essential in ending the educational gender gap in Malawi.

– Joseph Maria
Photo: Flickr

Women improving global healthBreaking down barriers preserved by societies for centuries, these inspiring scientists and doctors are among the many women improving global health. As they make the world a better place, these four revolutionary women are inspiring females of every generation to do the same.

Hawa Abdi, MD

Human rights activist and one of Somalia’s first female gynecologists, Dr. Hawa Abdi was committed to providing free health care to her community and fighting for the rights of women and children. Fearlessly helping others and persevering despite countless dangers, she helped thousands of people seek refuge in her lifetime.

Her mission started as a child when she watched her mother grow ill and pass away during childbirth. Feeling helpless, she was determined to prevent others from feeling the pain she felt as a child. Abdi began working as a physician and caring for people in a one-room clinic she founded on her family’s land.

Abdi created a haven for thousands of Somalis who were fleeing from fighting and famine during the Somali Civil War. As problems grew, so did her tenacity and force. Soon, the one-room clinic turned into a 400-bed hospital. Studying law, education and agriculture, Abdi fought against poverty and inequality in her community. She set up farming to secure food for Somalis, fished to feed children and fought for justice and equal rights.

She lived through wars, was taken hostage and witnessed up to 50 people die a day. As a winner of the BET Social Humanitarian Award and a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, she is celebrated for her work as one of many women improving global health. Her legacy lives on through the Hawa Abdi Foundation and her two daughters, who are also physicians.

Godliver Businge

A strong and influential woman from Uganda, Godliver Businge was the only female in her civil engineering program and graduated at the top of her class. A childhood with struggles like hauling water daily, having to miss class and experiencing inequality as a girl motivated Businge to make a difference in her community and empower women.

Determined to eliminate polluted water and reduce the hours women spent collecting it, Businge co-founded the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative with Comfort Jarja. As head technology trainer, she taught over 300 women in Gomba, Uganda to construct rainwater harvesting tanks and Biosand filters. Thanks to these filters, fewer children suffer from diseases normally found in contaminated water like hepatitis A and typhoid. With healthier kids, Gomba’s school absenteeism rate has dropped by nearly two-thirds.

Businge also works in hygiene technology, building specialized toilets, promoting WASH programs and developing hydro-electric schemes to generate electricity. She is devoted to inspiring women to be independent and resourceful while shattering gender stereotypes. In addition to training women and girls to build sanitary toilets for their communities, she encourages females to pursue education and engineering professions and become women improving global health.

Hayat Sindi, PhD

Dr. Hayat Sindi of Saudi Arabia recognized the staggering amount of people dying around the globe without tools to detect, monitor and treat medical conditions. Sindi became the first woman from the Persian Gulf to receive a doctorate in biotechnology and now works to solve this problem.

As the co-founder of Diagnostics For All, Sindi helps create and deliver low-cost diagnostic tools to developing communities. These tools include a Magnetic Acoustic Resonance Sensor (MARS) and a device that can detect breast cancer. Because the devices don’t require electricity or even a trained doctor, the most isolated and impoverished communities can utilize Sindi’s life-saving inventions.

As a key figure in the science community, Sindi serves as senior advisor to the Islamic Development Bank’s president of science, technology and innovation. She has won many awards, including the Makkah Al-Mukarama Prize for Scientific Innovation, and was chosen as an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic Society. Through her work, Sindi aims to empower women to pursue education and science careers and join her as women improving global health.

Segenet Kelemu, PhD

In an Ethiopian village where girls were married off young, Dr. Segenet Kelemu chose education instead and became the first female from her village to get a college degree, despite coming from a humble farming family. Kelemu made it her mission in life to improve agriculture in Africa and better the lives of others.

Kelemu is now a molecular plant pathologist and scientific leader. Her analysis uncovered how plants survive common threats like changes in climate, drought and pests. This trailblazing research led to new applications of biotechnology, helping farmers yield more crops and secure ecosystems. In doing so, Kelemu’s work improved food security and helped break the cycle of poverty, making her one of many women improving global health.

Dr. Kelemu holds many accolades, including the Woman of the Decade in Natural and Sustainable Ecosystems Award from the Women Economic Forum and the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. She is also recognized as one of the Heroes in the Field by Bill Gates for using her talents to fight hunger, disease and poverty.

Working for a Better Tomorrow

Despite many challenges and social constructs, these women made new things possible for the benefit of their communities. Although they come from different regions, their missions are similar: to empower women to educate themselves, enhance the community and help others at all costs. These brilliant women improving global health are also fighting global poverty in turn.

– Tara Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Women's Rights in Syria
For nearly a decade, the Syrian Civil War has left the Middle Eastern nation desolate, impugned with violence, and, more importantly, divided. However, when it comes to mainstream coverage on the Civil War’s effects, women are not usually in the spotlight, at least until recently. With the Syrian Civil War coming to a close, rebuilding and drafting a new constitution has commenced. This transition period is giving nonprofits and international organizations a unique opportunity to elevate women’s rights in Syria.

Overview

One can define women’s rights as women having the same legal protections and economic opportunities as men, along with an equal footing in the rebuilding process. Essentially women in Syria should have fair access to nonprofit and IGO resources as well as food, water and medicine.

Currently, Syrian women suffer from food insecurity, loss of education, lack access to clean water and medical supplies and gender-based violence at a disproportionately higher rate than men. In fact, in 69% of communities, early and unwanted marriage is a prevalent concern.

Moreover, before and during the war, societal roles of marriage and domestic abuse escalated dramatically. One report noted that “even though the state endowed women with rights to education, employment, etc., society ignored those rights. They saw society as a mechanism that reproduces the privileged position of men through customs and traditions.”

Since marriage is a cultural safeguard against rape and kidnappings, more women entered marriages only to become victims of abuse. Thus it is vital that nonprofits, International organizations and the global community as a whole, emphasize women’s rights in the initial rebuilding phases.

Women Now for Development

While the past decade presented several obstacles for obtaining women’s rights in Syria, local actors, nonprofits and international organizations are paving a solid foundation for the future.

In December 2018, when the U.S. announced its departure from the Syrian Civil War, the international organization Women Now for Development (otherwise known as Women Now) kicked-started a series of humanitarian centers in non-state controlled regions in Syria.

These centers served to provide educational skills and medical assistance to Syrian women, particularly those fleeing violence. Additionally, Women Now’s help centers assisted with:

  • Fighting illiteracy, especially among women and young people.
  • Empowering women economically through training and providing them with support to create income-generating activities.
  • Providing education through classes in technology, communications and foreign languages.
  • Supporting women’s access to society and building civic engagement.
  • Providing children’s education and protection.

What makes Women Now different from other international organizations is that rather than excluding Syrian Women from the development conversation, it is emphasizing their voices and perspectives. As a result, it is allowing for a more effective and streamlined localization effort.

UN Women

Another instance of international organizations assisting women’s rights is U.N. Women. For the past two years, the group helped women participate in a cash-for-work program that taught the women skills while giving them a stable revenue stream. Additionally, the U.N. Women’s project in Syria created safe-spaces and skill training seminars, allowing women to escape abuse both due to the war and normalized oppression in Syrian society.

Regional analysts predict that with a new wave of protests and emphasis on failed human rights campaigns, Syria will either fail as a state or work within a globalized system to strive for a better future.

The Middle East Women’s Initiative has lead the battel for female representation in the new Syrian government so far, both in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ability to win influence over the people and in Syrian Women’s international representation. The Initiative noted in a recent index how “Women in the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces hold senior leadership roles across policy functions and institutions. Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, acts as the region’s de facto head of state, speaking before the U.S. Congress and meeting U.S. President Donald Trump last year. Further, the SDF operation to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control was led by a woman commander, Rojda Felat.”

Reforms for the Future

In order for Syria to build a foundation that genuinely upholds women’s rights, it needs to introduce and expand on new policies. A highly recommended reform would be to restore compliance to CEDAW laws regarding discrimination against women.

While Syria signed onto CEDAW, an international framework against female discrimination, it conveniently left out several key provisions. In the transition, Syrian government officials must consider re-instating said provisions to grant women a stronger foundation of civil liberties and elevated socio-economic status.

Another critical step is to increase funding for feminist nonprofits. Under the current status quo, feminist nonprofits are quintessential to providing women with protection and critical resources.

“This[assisting women in Syria] was difficult without proper funding. Women Now was only able to compensate staff for their work with a minimum wage due to feminist organizations’ funding, who understood the importance of care to staff working in difficult circumstances. When centers had to shut down, and programs could not be delivered, the remote management team also lost funding for their salaries.”

Finally, both regional and global actors must pursue international diplomatic coordination. As stated previously, military conflict disproportionately impacts women. However, international and regionally based specialized committees are already making progress on de-escalating violence and creating safety mandates. Thus, increased diplomatic coordination should be a primary priority.

While many would call Syria a failed state and lost cause for any form of human rights, past and current reforms are starting to paint a different narrative. Now it is up to the rest of the world to decide whether they are willing to support said vision.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Nepal
Just like the rest of the world, COVID-19 is significantly impacting Nepal. With an actual existing poverty rate of 25.2% and low literacy rates of 75.1% for males and a 57.4% rate for females, the pandemic has further challenged Nepal through forced school closings and shortages of necessary household items. In particular, period poverty in Nepal has become a dilemma for many Nepalese women and girls. The lack of access to menstrual sanitary products as well as the cultural stigma of chhaupadi, an outdated tradition of isolating menstruating women and prohibiting them from touching others and communal objects, combine to make period poverty in Nepal a pressing issue for women.

The Problem: Existing Stigmas and Disparities

The Nepali government technically outlawed chhaupadi in 2005; however, 18 women died because of chhaupadi since this policy’s creation. Additionally, a 2019 study found that 77% of west-central Nepali girls had undergone menstrual exile. In the context of the pandemic, discriminatory ideals are on the rise. Many fear that contact with menstruating women increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. Traditionally, a majority of girls receive menstrual hygiene products from schools. Without access to school due to the pandemic lockdown, however, many Nepalese girls have been deprived of essential resources like tampons. These closings increased demand for sanitary products in retail stores, causing many businesses to deplete their inventories following the announcement of quarantine quickly.

This deficiency forced women to begin relying on unhygienic alternatives such as old pieces of clothes and even leaves to manage their periods. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, roughly 83% of women used alternate forms of hygiene rather than a sanitary pad, while only 15% used actual hygienic pads. Furthermore, 47% of girls admitted to missing school because of menstruation. The use of these unhygienic methods increases the risk of reproductive tract infections as well as cervical cancer. Around 77% of young girls claimed that, due to hygiene products’ lack of accessibility and affordability, they resorted to making their pads.  The financial difficulties that COVID-19 has created have only exacerbated the inability to purchase sanitary pads.

Organizations Helping to Overcome Period Poverty in Nepal

Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) is pouring its efforts into combating period poverty in Nepal by educating young girls on how to make reusable, hygienic and sanitary pads. VSO initiated a program called Sisters for Sisters that paired young Nepali girls with mentors. Before the pandemic, this mentorship program had informed 2,000 girls on how to construct their sanitary pads. These pads can last up to five years, making this solution appealing to the majority of Nepali families. The Sisters for Sisters program has also focused on debunking discriminatory menstruation ideology.

Action Aid is another organization working to combat period poverty in Nepal. This organization distributes sanitary menstrual kits following emergencies or disasters, with a commitment to helping every woman and girl manage their periods safely. The organization’s efforts to tackle period poverty include various tactics. Similar to the Sisters for Sisters campaign, Action Aid trains girls to make their reusable sanitary pads. It also offers educational services better, informing girls about their periods and how to navigate menstrual cycles healthily. Finally, Action Aid aims to eliminate period shaming ideologies such as chhaupadi in Nepal.

Hope for a Better Future

Period poverty is a continual issue for many impoverished countries with preexisting discriminatory stigmas surrounding the topic, and the pandemic has only amplified these issues. With the help of organizations working to aid women and girls in their communities and eradicate period poverty in Nepal, however, there is hope for a safer and more sanitary future.

– Adelle Tippetts
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Sudan
For decades, the subject of women’s rights has been at the forefront of media and politics. While progress has been made, women’s rights in Sudan still lag behind other countries. Women in Sudan are fighting for equal rights amid new legislation such as the Personal Status Law of 1991, which allows child marriages and states that women can only marry if they have consent from a father or male guardian. Here are five facts about the women’s rights movement in Sudan.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Sudan

  1. Women make up 70% of protesters. As women band together to protest against laws and government officials that want to limit women rights, Global Fund for Women estimates that women account for nearly 70% of protesters in Sudan. The women taking part in these protests have labeled their movement “the women’s revolution.” Although many women have been beaten or flogged, they stand strong and continue to protest.
  2. Many of the laws women are protesting stem from long-lasting traditions. Tradition is important in Sudan’s culture — but tradition does not justify oppressive laws. Laws in Sudan restrict women from wearing pants, enjoying equality and representation in government and escaping child marriage. Modern women demand equal rights; however, rights are difficult to attain when women have a limited voice within government and law.
  3. Women in Sudan have been fighting for their rights for over 30 years. Under the oppressive rule of dictator Omar al-Bashir, women in Sudan have had to fight for basic equal rights since 1989. While inequality did not start with Al-Bashir, he did support and enforce laws that limit women’s rights. Military and government officials beat, rape and murder women for speaking out against years of abuse and inequality.
  4. The women’s revolution movement helped overthrow Al-Bashir. In 2019, women refused to stay silent as Sudan began to rise up against Al-Bashir. Even though they had to deal with persecution from the military, women continued to rise up against their oppressors. According to Harvard International Review, protesters such as Alaa Salah and Lina Marwan stood strong to tell their stories of inequality, continuing to protest even after being harassed by Sudanese military officials.
  5. The “No to Women Oppression Initiative” promises a better future for women in Sudan. As of January 2020, West Kordofan started its first “No to Women Oppression Initiative.” Though currently the only initiative of its kind, this may spark further collaborations between women’s rights organizations across Sudan. These organizations are also continuing to discuss violence against women with Sudan’s government, in hopes of attaining equal rights.

These five facts about women’s rights in Sudan indicate that the country has a long way to go in achieving equal rights for women. But as protests continue and women persist in fighting for their rights, this country can hope for a stronger, more equitable future. Moving forward, it is essential that women in Sudan receive international support for their protests. By working together, conditions for women in Sudan can improve.

Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr

Ghanaian women in poverty
It is undeniable that, right now, the makeup, skincare and haircare industries are flourishing globally and are predicted to continue their economic rise well into the future. According to Euromonitor International, in 2020, the beauty industry’s net profit reached $500.5 billion — a more than 5% increase from 2019. Broken down by category: general cosmetic care earned $307 billion, skincare acquired $145.2 billion, haircare collected $79.2 billion and premium beauty earned $139 billion. The industry’s forecast predicts an annual net profit of $756.63 billion by 2026

Right now in Ghana, the beauty industry is experiencing a cultural role shift and growth in profit. The increasing population of young people is beginning to explore skin, beauty and hair care — and they’re looking locally. As this industry grows, Ghana-based brands are looking to do more than just provide beauty products. Through outreach programs and innovative business plans and programs, personal care companies are working to provide financial aid, job opportunities, equitable support and empower Ghanaian women. Here are three Ghana-based beauty brands empowering Ghanaian women in poverty.

3 Beauty Brands Empowering Ghanaian Women in Poverty

  1. FC Beauty Group Limited: Established more than 30 years ago in Ghana, FC Beauty Group Limited (FCBGL), not only provides and distributes high-quality hair and beauty products at a wholesale price to local salons but also hosts extensive outreach programs for impoverished women. FCBGL launched the Grace Amey-Obeng Foundation International in the summer of 2007. This foundation has made it a priority to aid Ghanaian women in poverty, with the purpose of providing young women an education, training and a sense of self. Through this program, FCBGL has focused its outreach to young homeless women, some of whom must engage in prostitution to financially support themselves. For women who engage in transactional sex consensually, the foundation provides them with skills to prevent difficulties in their profession. These skills include preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and exploitation. For women who do not wish to continue this work, the brand offers job prospects and training that allow them to change their economic direction. The brand continues its outreach work by partnering with the Osu Girls’ correctional facility to provide inmates with hirable skills for future economic success. FC Beauty Group Limited hosts another program titled the “Tutsi Project.” The Tutsi Project’s agenda is to act as insurance for the women who have completed FCBGL’s training programs and are now pursuing a career. Since its conception, the FC Beauty College has trained more than 6,000 economically successful students. Seed money is provided to women looking to start their own businesses. Many trainees are full-time mothers as well as entrepreneurs and FCBGL’s investment at the beginning of their career allows them to feel financially supported.
  2. Nokware Skincare: With old-school natural products and innovative ideas, the brand Nokware, meaning “truth,” creates all products from recipes and raw materials passed down through Ghanaian women’s lineage. Remaining local is an important piece of Nokware’s business plan and the brand solely uses materials that can be found and farmed by local African women. By practicing fair trade and pricing deals, Nokware can work towards its overall mission: economic inclusion. Recognizing the financial disparity many Ghanaian women face, this brand works to exclusively buy locally to put money back into the community and create a space for those who have been neglected in the workforce. By situating “community commerce” at the forefront of its company, Nokware works to stimulate the Ghanaian economy from the inside out. Empowerment of Ghanaian women in poverty is very important to Nokware Skincare. The brand works to accomplish that goal by primarily hiring women who face a substantial wage gap. Recognizing them as powerful resources, Nokware also staffs its executive boards and factory floors with Ghanaian women in an effort to minimize the prevalent wage gap in the country. The company’s “Nokware for Women” fund is an educational scholarship program available to the daughters of Nokware employees to diminish gender inequalities in education.
  3. True Moringa: Named after the extensive benefits of the plant found in northern Ghana, True Moringa is a brand that creates a diverse selection of products that all contain the oil of the True Moringa tree. On a trip with MIT’s D-Lab to Ghana, Kwai Williams and Emily Cunningham learned about the aforementioned tree, known as the “miracle tree,” from local farmers. The plant contains high levels of Vitamin A, calcium and protein. It also has the ability to grow and strengthen other crops in any climate. After learning this, Williams and Cunningham realized that the plant could minimize poverty and malnutrition in the country, and bring economic opportunities to farmers while providing consumers with high-quality skin and hair care products. The founders were aware of the lack of training, reliable commerce and income insecurity Ghanaian farmers face. As a result, they created a business plan that could compete with more established beauty brands and source locally to raise the monetary value of the brand’s contributing farmers. The company’s website states that the creation and application of the True Moringa brand has served more than 5,000 farming families, planted more than 2 million trees and increased local Ghanian farming revenue tenfold. In addition to the economic growth created through local sourcing, True Moringa allows customers to make an impact. With every purchase made, True Moringa will plant a tree which, in turn, combats deforestation and malnutrition in the small farming communities the brand works with. The True Moringa skin and hair care brand not only works to contribute to the beauty industry and empower Ghanaians by providing high-quality products, but also looks outside to create sustainable incomes and resources to empower Ghanaian women in poverty and their families.

All of these brands have created a positive impact on Ghanaian women in poverty. They have done so by looking beyond the cosmetic aspects of their products and focus on empowering women through their incomes, access to food and financial well-being. These brands have given hope to women and families for a better future, and have continued to walk alongside them as they move into a more financially secure future.

– Alexa Tironi
Photo: Flickr

The protection of women’s’ rights and access to opportunities for economic empowerment are vital pieces to the reduction of extreme poverty. Indian women continue to face major challenges in gender equality as inferiority persists between men and women through familial relations and cultural norms. Emphasis on traditional gender roles such as taking care of the home, children, elders and religious obligations often leave women with little time to pursue educational opportunities. As a result, India has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. With a lack of education, finding employment that provides a livable wage can seem hopeless, but organizations like Shakti.ism are creating new hope.

Economic Empowerment as a Solution – Shakti.ism

Shakti.ism, a female-led social enterprise, aims to dismantle these cultural norms through economic empowerment. The organization provides employment opportunities for women in India, many of whom are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. The women work to create unique hand-crafted accessories and develop and establish themselves as artisans. The social enterprise partners with NGOs throughout India to reach as women and girls as possible. Shakti.ism is also committed to abiding by and promoting the 10 Principles of Fair Trade and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Founded by Jitna Bhagani, a survivor of gender-based violence herself, she hopes to encourage self-sustainment, independence and entrepreneurship in efforts “to break the cycle of poverty.”

Bhagani recognizes that cultural norms continue to largely impede upon the achievements and rights of women living in India. In a featured post by the Harvest Fund, Bhagani shares the stories of some of the women that Shakti.ism has helped. Many of these women are victims of discrimination as a result of the caste system. Although outlawed in 1950, it still remains deeply culturally embedded today. She notes that a lack of education, sex trafficking, familial relations and religious and cultural beliefs are some of the most prevalent causes of poverty and gender-based violence in India.

Impact

In collaboration with several NGOs, Bhagani’s Shakti.ism aims to tackle these issues by providing women with training focused on strengthening livelihood skills, compensating for a lack of formal education, a safe place to work, and alleviating dependence on male family members which reinforce societal norms. Another core goal of Shakti.ism’s mission is to provide women with the opportunity to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, granting them access to a global market, financial and emotional support and secured wages.

Shakti.ism’s partnership with several NGOs has allowed the organization’s mission to reach women living in many parts of India, including Pondicherry, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Chennai. The nonprofit organization has also partnered with another social enterprise called Basha Enterprises, allowing the mission to expand its reach to women in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Many of the women that have been employed by Shakti.ism have pursued entrepreneurship and are now participants in a global market, and working to ensure economic prosperity and a decrease in global poverty.

Future Directions

The United Nations cites that “empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Growth” which strives to end poverty. As demonstrated by the work and reach of Shakti.ism, the economic empowerment of women is vital in the mission to end global poverty.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Microfinance on Gender Inequality
Many women around the world struggle to stay afloat and support their families. However, the effects of microfinance on gender inequality are significant in that a loan could help women start businesses to financially support themselves.

The Story of Nicolasa

At the age of 4, Nicolasa’s mother died, leaving her in the care of her father and older sister. Though Nicolasa’s father did his best to provide for his daughters, they both had to abandon their education in order to keep the family afloat. Nicolasa and her sister worked on the streets of San Antonio Palopó, Guatemala selling a variety of food items.

As Nicolasa grew up and married, she vowed that her child would not live the same life as hers. She wanted to be present for her children, yet the only place she had worked was far from home. To care for her children both physically and financially, Nicolasa decided she would start her own weaving business from home. With no capital or collateral, and no banks to borrow from in her small town, Nicolasa faced an immense obstacle.

Microfinance

Nicolasa’s problem is one that many women in Guatemala and other developing nations face every day. Guatemalan women want to become financially independent but often have nowhere to obtain even a small loan. Without the aid of a financial institution, these women have minimal opportunity to start a business, make small investments or simply support their families.

In 1976, Muhammad Yunus recognized the difficulties these women face and started the first modern run microfinancing bank. His goal was to lend small amounts to those in developing countries who did not have access to banks or had little collateral to support their endeavors. A microloan as small as $60 could now go to a woman opening a fruit stand, for example. Microloans may not cover large purchases, but just a small amount of money can go a long way for women in developing nations. A successful loan may help a woman jump-start her business and become financially independent. Therefore, the effect of microfinance on gender inequality could be very significant.

The Effect of Microfinance on Gender Inequality

Studies have proven microfinance to be a great tool for economic development and the promotion of gender equality. When women are financially independent, they often meet with greater decision making power within their households. Gender equality within households often results in women taking a more prominent stance on societal issues, which in turn, further promotes equality around the world.

Gender equality can also create a healthier and more robust global economy. A study that the McKinsey Global Institute conducted claims that if each country had equal opportunity for women, the global GDP would increase by $28 trillion, or 26% by 2025. From individual households to the global economy, gender equality results in a healthier balance of power across developing nations.

Criticism

Not everyone agrees with the impact that microfinance could have on gender equality. Many critics claim that a country’s cultural disapproval of women who work can minimize the positive effects of microfinance and prevent women from obtaining microloans. To combat these cultural norms and their negative effects on gender equality, many microfinance banks offer loans to women who are hoping to start a business from home. Nicolasa is one of these women.

Nicolasa Now

Nicolasa obtained a loan of $400 from the Foundation for International Community Assistance. She used the money to buy a loom, from which her success was significant enough to seek investment for a second loom. She currently weaves fabric and rents out her other loom to women from her village. Nicolasa is now proudly saving to send her daughter to college.

Nicolasa is one of many women in developing countries experiencing the positive effects of microfinance. She has provided herself with a sustainable income and is giving her daughter the wonderful gifts of higher education and financial support. If one small loan can change a woman’s life for the better, it is easy to see how microfinance is providing the same benefits to women across the world.

– Aiden Farr
Photo: Flickr

 

afghan womenAlthough Afghanistan’s Constitution, ratified in 2004, forbids discrimination and declares that “man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law,” gender inequality still persists. Women are repeatedly denied opportunities for social, educational and economic advancement, leaving 80% out of the workforce and only 8% with more than a primary education. Gallup surveys conducted in 2018 identify Afghan women as the “least satisfied women in the world,” with more than half reporting that they would permanently leave the country if given the opportunity due to discrimination, food insecurity and violence. The good news, however, is that the United Nations Mine Action Service has enacted a new initiative in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province that mobilizes women to escape poverty and empowers them to clear war-torn communities of the remnants of war.

Poverty and Conflict

The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in areas overwhelmed by conflict has doubled since 2007, a rate that has increased alongside poverty expansion. People living in fragile and conflict-affected situations, or FCS, are 10 times more likely to be poor. Forty-three of the world’s most impoverished countries are classified as FCS regions. Proximity to conflict directly affects education, infrastructure, health and the economy. In violent areas, children are less likely to travel to school, families are more likely to suffer long-term medical conditions and communities lose valuable opportunities for monetary mobility and advancement.

The Taliban has sustained a significant presence in Afghanistan for over a decade and has remained a constant threat. More than 1,400 people were killed or injured by landmines in Afghanistan in 2018, a number that has tripled since 2012. Mines and other explosives are certainly detrimental to infrastructure after detonation, but unexploded devices can be equally as destructive. Construction projects are largely avoided for fear of encountering an explosive during the building process. This leaves many areas without roads, essential buildings and airports, all assets that could play a role in reducing poverty.

Dauntless De-Miners

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) began a de-mining pilot program in 2018, featuring 14 brave Afghan women in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province. After receiving training from the UNMAS de-mining experts, the women strap on Kevlar vests and sport protective face shields that enable them to search the soil using massive metal detectors. Once a detector beeps, the team member will kneel and sift through the dirt until the mine or explosive is found and deactivated.

The primary goals of the program are to clear mines, educate villagers and equip Afghan women with the tools they need to escape poverty. The team works approximately nine hours per day, but depending on location, mine removal projects may be short-term. In circumstances where land can be swiftly searched, the team uses the remaining time to learn vocational skills taught by UNMAS workers, training that has the potential to change their status. Additional education for Afghan women, who would otherwise receive very little, is crucial to broadening their job opportunities, increasing household income and helping them rise out of poverty. UNMAS also requires women to participate in meetings that decide how to use the land that is newly mine-free, which showcases their growing presence and immense contribution to their historically war-torn communities.

Fatima Amiri was one of the Bamiyan province’s first team members, and she is frequently highlighted for her dedication. She works tirelessly for her team after witnessing the devastating effects of hidden and unexploded devices. A member of her community traveled to a mountain on the Day of Eid, or the end of Ramadan, and never returned. Amiri realized that day she wanted to rid the surrounding area of mines, and she notes that now, “no one says that women are weak.”

Brace for Impact

Afghanistan’s fearless team is looking to expand its efforts beyond the Bamiyan province in the coming years. Since its inception, the team has covered more than 51,500 square meters and is projected to clear their land of mines and explosives by 2023. Most of the cleared region is now being used to build infrastructure or for farming, a lifestyle that boosts community economies and indirectly improves Afghan women’s social status. The de-mining women are recognized for their success and newly respected for providing their fellow community members with safety, food security and ways to maintain a steady income, three things crucial to overcoming conflict-induced poverty. The community’s appreciation erodes traditional gender norms that have restricted Afghan women for centuries by proving their value as productive members of society capable of protecting thousands in war-torn communities.

Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr