information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

Empowering Women Through Local Libraries
Digital literacy, career training and access to the internet are all becoming more commonplace throughout the developing world. While the majority of the population reaps the benefits of these programs, however, some certain groups, particularly women, are staggering behind. In order to combat this, various organizations have taken a unique and innovative approach in sharing these essential resources and empowering women through local libraries.

READ Centers in Nepal

In countries like Nepal, the men in women’s lives often control their level of education, knowledge of finance and mobility. These men expect women to ask permission to leave their own homes and women must always have male accompaniment when they do. This lack of personal freedom makes it hard for these women to know how to go about making their own decisions. Luckily, organizations like READ Global aim to circumvent such barriers with innovative programs with the hope of empowering women through local libraries.

READ Global, a nonprofit organization in South Asia, achieves this by creating safe centers for women through local libraries in Nepal. Known as READ Centers, these places not only provide free educational and financial programs, but they also provide a safe, public spot for women to gather and learn.

Livelihood skills training and other offered lessons enable women to pursue careers like beekeeping, sewing and vegetable farming. When women have the opportunity to earn and save for themselves, they become empowered to distribute their money in ways they see fit. A 2010 study indicated that the ability to earn their own income positively affects women’s autonomy and READ Centers programs have supported this finding.

Eighty-six percent of women who participated in the center’s skills-training programs reported that they were able to increase their income after taking the training classes. In the same survey, 73 percent of participants reported being able to buy their own food, 68 percent reported easier access to health care and an amazing 63 percent of all participants could afford to send their children off to school after completing one of the training programs. READ Centers are a striking model of empowering women through local libraries with innovative and affordable programs.

The National Library of Uganda (ICT) Project

A case study indicated that 83 percent of Ugandan women work in the farming and agricultural industry. This means that women alone contribute 70 to 75 percent of farm produce in the country. Since women are responsible for such a large chunk of the farming industry, it is quite alarming that most of these women have extremely limited access to modern farming resources. One library in Uganda saw the need for these resources and made empowering women through local libraries a top priority.

Kyangatto, a rural village in Uganda, serves as a hub for the farming community of the Nakaseke district. In this particular village, women carry the majority of the farming workload and must depend on traditional farming techniques. The women’s reliance on less effective farming methods stems from limited access to information about modern farming, plant and animal disease, and knowledge of market prices.

To combat this deficit in information, The NLU (National Library of Uganda) collaborated with the Nakaseke district’s multi-purpose community telecenter on a project that could provide proper resources and offer solutions for these challenges. In 2012, the partnering organizations launched The Electronic Information Empowering Women Farmers Service (EIFL). Through this service, women could participate in an information and communication course, which included computer/internet researching skills training, and a feature that sends farmers educational messages to mobile devices via SMS in various languages, including Luganda, a native language to a majority of participants.

The partner organizations also benefited greatly from a generous grant of $15,000 from the EIFL Public Library Innovation Programme. Through the grant, they were able to purchase four new computers and 15 mobile phones for trainees. Among other accomplishments, the program developed the first-ever women’s ICT training course in the Nakaseke district and trained 64 female farmers in digital literacy for the first time. The service has also expanded to Bulkalabi Primary School in Kyangatto, has successfully organized follow-up courses for 60 previous participants and recently registered 15 men in the program due to community demand.

While there is a lot of work necessary to improve life for women in the developing world, local libraries and the innovative programs they are launching have made a huge impact already. In fact, empowering women through local libraries has become a global trend that continues to grow.

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

Ending Child MarriagesChild marriage is one of the biggest problems affecting young women in third world countries. Roughly 15 million girls under age 18 are married every year. That translates to around 41,000 girls every day. Child marriage affects young girls throughout third world countries by cutting off their access to education, harming their health and making them more susceptible to cases of domestic and sexual violence. Child marriage also puts a strain on a country’s economy and will end up costing them trillions of dollars over the next 10 years. Though the statistics appear devastating, several organizations are dedicated to ending child marriages in third world countries.

Africa, Asia and the Middle East have the highest percentages of child marriage. Research done by CARE, an organization fighting global poverty, provided the top 26 countries where girls under the age of 18 are more likely to get married rather than enroll in secondary school. The country with the lowest percentage of girls enrolled in secondary school is Niger with only 10 percent. However, 76 percent of girls in Niger are married before age 18. Other countries with significantly low enrollment rates include Somalia, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Girls Not Brides

Girls Not Brides became an independent charity in 2013. It is an organization committed to ending child marriages. There are 1,300 civil organizations from 100 countries involved in the organization. The sole intention of Girls Not Brides is to end child marriage so girls can live a fulfilling and healthy life. Its main goal is to bring global attention to child marriage and support laws or programs that will protect girls worldwide from the dangers of child marriage.

Girls Not Brides also offers support to those who were already married all over the world. They believe that the minimum age for marriage should be 18 years old for both boys and girls. This is in accordance with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Girls Not Brides aims to encourage an open dialogue about the dangers of child marriage, work with other organizations to end child marriage and help to introduce different policies and funding to end child marriage.

In 2016, Girls Not Brides published a strategy set on their plan to tackle child marriage from 2017 until 2020. The plan is an overarching blueprint of what the organization wants to do that is based on their successes in its 2014-2016 plan. Its number one goal is to work with governments to get child marriage legislation passed as well as bring it to the attention of lawmakers. Other goals include globalizing, engaging communities, increasing their funding and donations, using facts and evidence to further their claims about child marriage and setting up partnerships with other organizations.

Other Organizations Fighting Child Marriages

Even though Girls Not Brides is one of the only organization that is dedicated specifically to fighting child marriage, there are other organizations that have made ending child marriages a part of their mission. CARE focuses on ending global poverty through women’s empowerment. Breakthrough uses more artistic and creative means to fight for social justice, which includes children’s rights. Humanim is an NGO fighting for children’s rights and protections.

On a more local level, some organizations focus nationally. In Egypt, the Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions works under the Childs Rights International Network to protect the basic human rights of children. Seya, in Yemen, is a children’s rights organization that puts protecting children as its most important mission. Vasavya Mahila Mandali, which is one of two organizations based in India that believes in empowering women and children.

Child marriage is a huge issue for girls and young women globally. It is one of the top three things holding girls back from obtaining an education and living their lives to the fullest potential. Child marriage violates a young girl’s autonomy and puts her in danger of being seriously injured or, at worst, killed. The existence of Girls Not Brides and the other organizations that are dedicated to ending child marriages and working to educate the public about it are making the world a better place for those who are at risk of becoming a child bride.

Sydney Toy
Photo: Flickr

Hiring Refugee Women Can Boost Global GDP
Women and girls make up about half of the refugee population worldwide, but less than half have a paid job. In some countries, such as Germany and Lebanon, females make up just 6 percent of the working world compared to the United States’ 40 percent. Even in the United States, the number is low. Many refugee women do not have paid work because they face violence and discrimination in workplaces, including sexual assault and exclusion. However, if accepted into the working world, hiring refugee women could boost the global GDP by $1.4 trillion.

How Hiring Refugee Women Could Boost the Global GDP

More workers mean more hands to create products. Companies can sell more if they produce more. The global GDP is an annual measurement of all the final goods sold worldwide. Statistically, only four out of 10 migrant women are getting paid to work compared to seven out of 10 men. As mentioned earlier, the gap in women workers is partly due to workplace discrimination and partly to pay gap. In places such as Turkey,  where the pay gap between women and men is highest, the difference in salaries is about 94 cents per dollar. In the United States, where the gap is lower, the difference is 29 cents per dollar. By increasing women’s pay and making workplaces more accessible, women could not only become more motivated to enter the field, but the hiring of refugee women could also boost the global GDP to a total of $2.5 trillion.

Effect of Businesses Hiring Refugee Women

The hiring of refugee women could have a positive impact on the economy and local businesses as well. In 2017, Starbucks Coffee pledged to hire around 10,000 refugees by 2022, which will help give more opportunities for refugee women to go out and seek work. With hiring refugee women, Starbucks hopes to help “a population who seeks a chance to rebuild their lives and have a fresh start.” By giving refugee women a paid job, they are able to start over and put the money towards their families. 

The Pay Gap Status

The way to help employ more refugee women would be to close the pay gap between men and women. Worldwide, only 63 percent of the wage gap has closed, meaning men are making more than women in over half of the world. This rate is highest in countries such as Germany, Lebanon and Jordan. By closing the pay gap, refugee women in these countries will have a steady income to support their families, and make them less dependent on aid from their governments.

Besides economic growth, refugee women can make improvements in society, as well as make personal improvements. In Baalbeck, Lebanon, a Syrian woman refugee named Bushra makes her living by fixing electronic devices. Not only does it bring in a source of income, but it is also making an impact on the world around her, “The role of an electrician is mostly for men,” Bushra says. “But it shouldn’t be exclusively for men. We can work even better than them.” Bushra is one of the few women in the village that has a paid job. She is using her skills to help improve the society around her, while still providing for her family.

Over half of the world’s refugee women do not hold a paying job. If brought into the working world, hiring refugee women can boost global GDP by $1.4 trillion, bringing the total to $2.5 trillion. There will not only be an economic increase but an increase in societal empowerment as well. By encouraging women to use the skills that they have, they will not only improve the production of goods but can use their skills to help others.

– Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

Women in Peace and SecurityIn mid-June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the importance of women in peace and security, a follow-up to the Women, Peace, and Security Act (WPS) passed in 2017. This particular hearing responds to the recently published White House Strategy that sets various objectives and goals to diversify the roles women play in the peace process and increase women’s leadership by providing them with the resources, skills, and support needed to secure successful peace agreements.

The members of the committee, as well as the testimonies, emphasized the opportunity to put these plans into immediate action in Afghanistan. The U.S. has committed to peace negotiations with the Taliban but each agreement has failed due to miscommunication, stalemates, or other political reasons. Palwasha Kakar, Senior Program Officer for the U.S. Institute of Peace, stated that including Afghan women in peace and security negotiations is essential to the success and sustainability of peace and recovery in Afghanistan.

Women in Afghanistan

The Taliban government of Afghanistan held power from 1996 to 2001, during which Afghan women were stripped of natural rights–they were prevented from obtaining an education and job, showing skin in public and leaving the house without a male chaperone. Rape and violence against women were widespread until U.S. military action overthrew the regime. A driving factor of U.S. intervention 18 years ago was to protect Afghan women from threats and actions against their human rights. Despite the tremendous gains women have achieved in political, economic and social life since 2001, women still struggle to have a seat at the peace talk table.

However, Afghan women have found ways to participate at a local level. Women have brokered local deals by negotiating directly with Taliban leaders; for example, Afghan women’s communication with the wives of the Taliban helped facilitate the release of hostages several times. Second, Afghan women use their access to information to act as informants for the U.S. and its partners. Third, Afghan women mobilize the public by increasing public awareness and support for the peace process. Fourth, Afghan women have mobilized support across various ethnic lines to push for a unified commitment to equal rights for all Afghan citizens.

Impact of Women on the Peace Process

On a local level, Afghan women in peace and security positions have made significant achievements for Afghanistan and its cities. However, on a global level, women were only included in two out of 23 rounds of negotiations with the Taliban between 2005 and 2014. Yet research shows that women are a necessary asset at the negotiation table. When women are involved in peace agreements, they are 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last more than 15 years. In her testimonial, Jamille Bigio argues that women in peace and security negotiations are more likely to deescalate tensions and stabilize their communities. Therefore, closing the gender gap will improve a country’s conditions.

Four Focus Areas Outlined in the WPS Strategy

The outcome of this hearing suggests that women’s participation in Afghanistan is essential to create a stable and sustainable agreement. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to simultaneously use and revise the following four goals from the WPS Strategy to encourage multi-agency resources and support for women’s participation in Afghanistan peace talks.

  1.  “Seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in decision-making processes related to conflict and crises.”
  2. Three activities to support this goal includes: Incentivizing women to participate in security-sector programs that train foreign nationals in male-dominated courses, integrating local women’s interests into conflict prevention and resolution, and leading by example by increasing American women participation and making local women partners.
  3. “Promote the protection of women and girls’ human rights; access to humanitarian assistance; and safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation around the world.”
  4. Women are often the targets of violence, and therefore experience unique consequences of conflict. To increase the role of women in peace and security, the U.S. must identify and eliminate obstacles that generate sex-based discrimination and gender-based violence and include medical care and psycho-social support for women as part of humanitarian aid.
  5. “Adjust U.S. international programs to improve outcomes in equality for, and the empowerment of, women.”
  6. Train U.S. diplomats, military and development personnel on the needs and perspectives of women to increase their ability to prevent and mediate violence and support the involvement of women in peace and security negotiations.
  7. “Encourage partner governments to adopt policies, plans, and capacity to improve the meaningful participation of women in processes connected to peace and security and decision-making institutions.”

Women peacekeepers receive more trust from their communities and therefore have more power to increase participation among other women. Further, research shows that women are more likely to address social issues during negotiations, which helps communities recover. Women’s participation increases the likelihood of reaching a sustainable agreement.

Women are essential for achieving peace and security in Afghanistan, and vice versa. The U.S. is more likely to bring peace to a hostile environment with women’s participation. As Sen. Tim Kaine said at the hearing, “We [U.S] have incredible power to give people hope and inspiration, and I hope we will continue to do it. And I think there’s a lot of women in the world who really have grown to count on us during the years, and I hope we don’t let them down.”

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Women in TechGlobally, information and communications technology (ICT) is rapidly becoming more and more important to the economy. However, ICT is leaving women and girls behind. In the world today, there is a gap of 250 million women compared to men using the internet. In developing countries, the gap is even bigger, with a 31 percent difference. There are 200 million fewer women than men in the world who own a mobile phone.

In the corporate world, only 3 of the Fortune 500 tech companies are run by women. These companies are IBM, Xerox and Oracle.  Barriers to the tech field for women include poverty, gender stereotypes and discrimination. It is important that these barriers be eradicated so that women can be included in the increasing digital economy. “Digital skills are indispensable for girls and young women to obtain safe employment in the formal labor market,” said the founder of Women’s Worldwide Web, a charity that provides digital literacy training for women in tech.

A Possible Solution: Tech4girls

In March 2018, GSMA, a company that represents the interests of mobile operators, started a program called Tech4Girls. Part of its programming is educational workshops for girls between the ages of 7-18. So far, it has reached more than 100 girls in North America, Latin America and the Carribean.

These workshops are designed for girls to have hands-on experience with technology, to come away with a sense of knowledge and accomplishment and to developing interpersonal skills. The goal of these workshops is to increase the confidence of girls in their technological abilities so that they may aspire to pursue technological careers.

Another objective of these workshops is to increase interest and involvement from other tech companies to involve girls in technology. They do this by building local and global awareness through “events, SDG tie-in, and external communications.” This is part of the effort to develop relationships with tech companies, groups and schools to create a sort of pipeline for girls in technology.

Implications for the Future

A 2017 study by the Brookings Institute found that since 2002, 517 of 545 occupations have increased their use of digital tools. With the future of the economy going digital, it is important that women have the opportunity to participate in order to prevent the impoverishment of women. According to U.N. Women, an estimated 90 percent of future jobs will require ICT skills. There is currently a shortage of 200 million ICT-skilled people in the job market. There is plenty of room for women in the economy; it’s just a matter of lowering their barriers to entry. An Intel study found that access to the internet for women could “contribute between $13-18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries.” The implications for encouraging women to become more involved in technology go beyond helping women, but also improve the economy.

While there is a shortage of women in tech, companies like GSMA and their Tech4Girls programs are beginning to close the gap. Encouragement and resources for women and girls to gain digital literacy skills are vital in our ever-digitizing world. There is certainly more to be done, but these workshops that build confidence and improve skills are a great way to start.

– Sarah Faure
Photo: Flickr

Gender equality and nutritionWomen are disproportionately affected by malnutrition in developing countries, and as such it is now the focus on many global food programs to simultaneously improve gender equality and nutrition by providing better education and resources for female small farm holders.

Impact of Sociocultural Norms

Sociocultural norms have placed many women in secondary decision-making roles in their families. Women are less likely to receive any education on general health and nutrition, less empowered in financial decision-making within their families and less able to control what food they put on the table. Oftentimes, the main breadwinner in a family is male, while women are reduced to more supporting and complacent roles.

Additionally, many programs are male-centric, neglecting the specific nutritional needs of women. As a result, women in developing countries have more iron deficiencies and have higher rates of being an unhealthy weight (obese or underweight). When women suffer from more chronic illnesses, it further reduces their ability to contribute meaningfully, and they further relinquish control on financial decisions. Gender equality and nutrition both improve when women are the focus of food security initiatives.

Integrating Gender Equality and Nutrition

Antonelle D’Aprile, the country director for the World Food Programme in Nicaragua, is a leader in combining gender equality and nutrition into a cohesive program that truly empowers women farmers. The WFP Women Economic Empowerment Strategy was first implemented in 2016 and has helped 300 female farmers reach higher financial independence and economic development.

The strategy ensures that women are the decision-makers by providing them with proper agricultural training and access to agricultural equipment that optimizes their crop yields. There are courses for women to improve their financial education and business planning skills so that they can begin growing above the sustenance level and sell excess crops for income. This program to improve gender equality and nutrition also focuses on a man’s role in sharing domestic chores with women and supporting the economic development of their wives. It has been so successful, officials in El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru are replicating the program in their own countries.

The Role of the Private Sector in Gender Equality and Nutrition

While nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are the backbone of nutrition-improvement programs, private sector companies are also necessary if female farmers are to reach their true potential. CARE has partnered with the PepsiCo Foundation to implement one of the largest gender equality and nutrition programs in the world called “She Feeds the World.”

With the help of the PepsiCo Foundation, CARE has initiated several projects throughout the world, such as one in Peru, which teaches women how to test soil quality to optimize crop yield. Other initiatives to improve gender equality and nutrition, focus on teaching women to more efficiently use natural resources like water, seeds and natural fertilizer. With this boosted production, these female farmers have enough extra income to send their children to school, feed their family nutritious meals, expand their business, employ others and make substantial savings.

Private sector companies are also very important in terms of collecting data and analyzing information to improve gender equality and nutrition. It is very difficult to measure an abstract concept like “decision-making power,” but private sector companies have the financing, personnel and expertise to collect adequate data so that resources are making the largest impact.

Empowered Female Farmers Feed Others

Empowering women is the key to improving nutrition for everyone. According to studies, the relationship between gender equality and nutrition is strong. Giving women equal access to basic resources and services could increase yields on female-owned farms by 20-30 percent. This would translate to an increased agricultural output of 2.5-4 percent in developing countries.

A 20-30 percent increase in agricultural output on female-owned farms would lift 150 million people out of poverty.

Women are the backbone of many developing countries. In Sierra Leone, an initiative has focused on empowering grandmothers to be the champions of improved nutrition practices in families. As very respected members of their families, they are teaching and cultivating healthy habits in infants and young children, an approach which has already seen success.

Female small farm holders are central to improving nutrition security in developing nations. World food initiatives are ensuring that women are not left behind – in fact, they are making sure that women lead the fight to improve gender equality and nutrition around the world.

– Julian Mok
Photo: Flickr

Women with Disabilities in UgandaFour out of every 25 people in Uganda have a disability, meaning that roughly seven million people are suffering from a disability. Women with disabilities in Uganda face lives of abuse, fear and longterm poverty, such as employers excluding them from employment opportunities, communities harassing them and the state neglecting them. Send a Cow’s program, Agriculture for Women with Disabilities Activity (AWDA), is giving women with disabilities in Uganda the resources they need to build hopeful futures.

A History of Disability in Uganda

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15 percent of the global population are persons with disabilities (PWD), with that number rising drastically for people living in poverty and for post-conflict countries. Since the late 1980s, Uganda has endured multiple civil wars and violent conflicts, primarily against the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north. Not surprisingly, the incidence rate of disabilities is highest in Northern Uganda, with the region reporting over 16 percent of its population suffering from disabilities compared to only 12.5 percent in other regions. This history of conflict coupled with poverty has left a population suffering from loss and limited use of limbs, hearing difficulties and malnutrition-related disabilities like stunting and learning difficulties.

Trapped in Poverty

With very little access to education, suitable housing or employment, roughly 80 percent of disabled people in Uganda live in conditions of longterm poverty. The situation is even worse for women with disabilities in Uganda. As one of the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups in the country, disabled women in Uganda not only struggle to survive financially but their communities often ostracize them, their families do not always support them and they often endure frequent abuse and discrimination from strangers and neighbors.

One woman with a disability from Northern Uganda shared with Human Rights Watch that her community told her, “You are useless. You are a waste of food. You should just die so that others can eat the food.”

This type of discrimination coupled with gender inequality keeps women with disabilities in Uganda from understanding their basic rights, gaining the skills and education necessary to get jobs and from accessing resources like land for agricultural production.

The Importance of Agriculture

The number of people living in poverty in Uganda has dropped substantially over the last fifteen years, with only 21.4 percent in poverty in 2016 compared to over 31 percent in 2005. The World Bank reports agriculture is to thank for this progress, with 79 percent of national poverty reduction occurring in households working in agriculture.

Knowing the critical role agriculture plays in lifting people out of poverty in Uganda, Send a Cow, a U.K.-based organization that works throughout Africa to end rural poverty by helping people grow their own futures “on their own land, on their own terms,” launched the Agriculture for Women with Disabilities Activities project (AWDA) in Uganda in 2016. With roughly 80 percent of women with disabilities in Uganda unemployed and the majority suffering from discrimination and abuse, Send a Cow designed its program to not only give women with disabilities the skills and resources they need to access land and grow food but also teach them about their rights and give them the training and confidence they need to occupy places in their communities.

“One of the major benefits of AWDA is being trained in our rights as people with disabilities. We are confident and know that we are people and can achieve whatever we set ourselves to,” shares Alice, a 47-year-old partially blinded woman from Luuka District, Uganda.

AWDA’s Impact

“We were people nobody bothered about. Now we are very happy! As people with disabilities, others thought we couldn’t dig, but Send a Cow believed in us and gave us knowledge. I can crawl and dig!” ~ Joy Nabirye (45)

Before Send a Cow’s AWDA program, Joy Nabirye, who cannot use her legs, let the community’s views of women with disabilities dictate her life. Now, thanks to AWDA, she knows the unique capabilities she possesses as a woman with disabilities and is able to work her own land, providing for herself and her family. Joy also uses the AWDA training to teach other women and farmers in Uganda about agriculture and disabilities.

“I am chair of the sub county – an instructor on disability issues and I spoke at council level with officials. This community needs more enlightenment on disability – other farmers need to know about the issues,” she shares.

Send a Cow projects that AWDA will help 1,500 women and girls with disabilities. This will happen by women gaining access to land and increasing their income, while also creating a much larger impact through the formation of community groups and teaching rural communities about gender, land and human rights.

– Sarah Musick
Photo: Flickr

Image result for female artisans
In poverty-stricken nations across the globe, local artisans have the power to help to improve not just the economy but also the living conditions and education levels of their countries. When artisans have the financial and organizational support that they need to firmly establish a business of their own they can earn a steady income which allows them to provide their families with a stronger financial base. The Artisan Alliance, a subset of the Aspen Global Innovators Group, works in alliance with Kiva and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues to create resources for artisan support so that artisans can build and sustain their businesses.

How the Artisan Alliance Makes a Difference

The Artisan Alliance works to create a network of artisan support in four main ways. The Alliance first focuses on financing small artisan businesses with the capital that they need to create and maintain their businesses. Once a business receives financial aid, the Alliance provides artisan business coaching to ensure that the artisans can sustain their businesses and grow in the future. The Alliance focuses on building and maintaining a network of artisan businesses, social enterprises, NGOs and government agencies around the world to ensure that artisan businesses continue to receive the support that they need from global markets and investors to sustain their businesses. Finally, the Alliance curates and hosts global events to showcase the artisan entrepreneurs in their network to “share best practices, and uncover solutions to common barriers in the artisan value chain.”

The network within the Artisan Alliance includes 161 members that range from artisan businesses to online marketplaces. Of the more than 100,000 artisans in the 127 countries within the Artisan Alliance network, 82 percent of these are women. From the efforts of the Artisan Alliance and other organizations like it, the growth of artisan businesses plays a significant role in making the artisan sector the second-largest employer in the developing world.

Member Profiles

  • Himalayan Naari – The Himalayan Naari is an artisan business of a network of women based throughout three villages in the Indian Himalaya mountains. “Naari” is the Hindi word for a woman of strength and resolve and the women of Himalayan Naari are just that. Created in 2013, there are already over 100 artisans involved in Himalayan Naari. The artisans focus their work on knitting and weaving. The women combine traditional Himalayan weaving techniques with modern designs, creating beautiful wool pieces for sale in the U.S. and other global markets. The Himalayan Education Foundation (HEF) provides a network of artisan support for Himalayan Naari by supplying the women with the wool they need to create their products. Before the founding of Himalayan Naari, the women in these remote mountain villages saw a limited opportunity for economic growth and betterment for the lives of their families. One artisan in the Himalayan Naari network, Basanti Karki, has seen an improvement in her own life and that of her family since she joined the network as a knitter in 2010. She told the Himalayan Naari network, “Since joining [the network] I have grown in my self-confidence and can work very hard now. Naari is a breakthrough for women’s empowerment and I hope it will thrive in the future.”
  • Caribbean Craft – Caribbean Craft began in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1990. From its creation, Caribbean Craft quickly became a major provider of Haitian handmade goods for the tourist shops in Port-au-Prince. In 2006, the network became female-owned and in 2009 it purchased a showroom in Atlanta’s Americas Mart where stores such as HomeGoods and Anthropologie picked up its goods for sale in the U.S. In addition to providing a source of strong financial support for its artisans, Caribbean Craft also strives to look after the well-being and health of its artisans. Following the devastating earthquake in 2010, the organization began to provide a free meal a day to over 300 artisans. In 2011, Caribbean Craft began a literacy program with support from the Clinton Foundation, West Elm and Prodev finding success in 2014 by reaching 100 percent literacy among its artisans.

It is organizations such as Himalayan Naari and Caribbean Craft that the Artisan Alliance is proud to support. To see the meaningful growth of artisan businesses, small artisans require meaningful financial investment and organizational support to see a lasting positive impact on themselves and their communities.

Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr

women's empowerment in nigeria
Hajiya Amina Ahmed inspires women all over Nigeria to become more involved in making decisions that affect their daily lives. She believes that women should have a role in decision-making processes concerning peace and security. Women in Nigeria are often on the receiving end of conflict situations, but people do not give them a voice in rectifying such situations. Ahmed is a voice that empowers women in Nigeria; she acts against the inequality that women face by empowering women and building communities across religious and ethnic lines.

A Long Way Toward Women’s Empowerment

Achieving women’s empowerment in Nigeria is a very difficult task, especially considering that Nigeria has been violently divided by sex for so long that even some women are against complete equality. There are prominent women in Nigeria who believe that men and women should be different, but equal. Some believe that women should have careers, but that men are the heads of the house and are in control of their wives in the home. Ahmed is counteracting the notion that men and women cannot have equal rights in Nigeria.

Some believe that men and women cannot be completely equal thinking as it will not end gender-based and may increase it. This is why education is the most important aspect of Ahmed’s initiative to involve women and girls in their communities.

Ahmed’s Work

Ahmed is the Executive Director of the Women Initiative for Sustainable Community Development in Plateau State, Nigeria. She has been working in peace and conflict transformation since the 2001 ethno-religious crisis in Plateau State. Since 2001, the recurring communal violence in Plateau State has killed at least 4,000 people.

Ahmed’s work involves countering this violence, specifically the violence against women and girls, as well as promoting their involvement in development processes. She believes that the more women and girls involve themselves, the more they will want to continue and be a voice in their communities. The end goal is for men and women to have equal voices in their communities. Slowly, but surely, she is seeing the difference that she is making as she empowers women in Nigeria.

Ahmed, along with her co-workers, also believes that the most important aspect of women bridging the gap between men’s and women’s roles in their communities is education. When women know what is at stake and what could be different about their lives, they are much more likely to take action and to become models of their communities.

The Nigerian Parliament

In Nigeria, men are disproportionately in control of leadership positions. Even though women make up 49 percent of the Nigerian population, they do not make up even close to 49 percent of Nigerian leadership positions. There are seven female senators out of a total of 109 senators and there are 22 female representatives in the House of Representatives out of 360 total. Nigerian women are trying their best to be a part of their government, but it is difficult when others force them into their cultural and religious obligations of ceding governance to men. Ahmed’s work is an important aspect in giving women more of a say in the Nigerian government.

Ahmed’s Impact

Ahmed is one of the many women who contributed to the Promoting Women’s Engagement in Peace and Security in Northern Nigeria Programme. The E.U. funds the program and supports the Nigerian government strengthening women’s leadership, gender equality and protection of women and children from violence. This program exists in three northern Nigerian states, including Ahmed’s home state of Plateau. Women that are tired of conflicts in which innocent people have perished are leading and carrying out this plan.

Nigeria’s government lacks female representation, but Ahmed, along with her fellow peacemakers, is making a difference by achieving women’s empowerment in Nigeria. Hopefully, more people will join the cause in making Nigeria a country that men and women lead equally. Peacemakers are the starting point of making Nigeria a country that does not divide itself based on sex.

– Megan Maxwell
Photo: Flickr

fast fashion and poverty
In recent years, brands like Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo, H&M and Forever 21 have come under fire for creating fast fashion. Fast fashion products are clothing and accessories that companies price significantly lower than the competition, produce more quickly and make of lower quality. Like many products, the world’s poor produces fast fashion, and thus, helps continue the cycle of poverty. Here are three facts about fast fashion and poverty.

Sweatshops

People create fast fashion in dangerous sweatshops. To provide cheap, ever-changing inventories for customers, fast fashion companies perpetuate fast fashion and poverty by relying on factories in countries with poverty wages, where safety, sustainable practices and suitable working conditions are nearly nonexistent.

One such factory complex was Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where the collapsing of a building in 2013 killed over 1,100 people and injured thousands more. Rana Plaza housed five garment factories that manufactured products for almost 30 major European and North American fashion companies.

Today, however, there has been an increasing demand for company transparency and ethical manufacturing practices. In the wake of the Rana Plaza Tragedy, the Bangladeshi government has sought to improve safety measures in garment factories and had 38 people charged with murder in 2016 for their roles in the building collapse. Along with the Bangladeshi government’s efforts, companies and trade unions signed two major safety agreements: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Brands like Nike and Patagonia committed to adhering to higher transparency standards after the tragedy.

Environmental Impact

The business model of fast fashion companies emerged from the idea that consumers always want to stay on top of trends, and thus, will buy new clothes as trends change. To change trends more quickly, fast fashion brands release new clothing once a week or more, which creates a great deal of waste. Instead of the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer clothing seasons that were once prevalent, fast fashion companies have created 52 micro-seasons.

Since the clothes are only trendy for one week or less, companies do not create them to last. Often, fast fashion clothing falls apart in the washing machine or dryer after only one or two wears. If the clothing falls apart in one wash and was no longer trendy anyway, consumers automatically go back out to buy new, cheap pieces from the fast fashion brands. The clothing is so cheap to buy that consumers may not realize that they are spending more money in the long run in terms of cost-per-wear on a fast fashion garment compared to a more high-quality one.

The destroyed and unwearable fast fashion, which contributes to nearly 70 pounds of textile waste per person, per year in the United States, ends up in U.S. landfills or ships, along with other garbage, to developing countries. Many of these developing countries do not have the capacity to deal with all of this additional waste, and therefore, cannot prevent pollution or other waste-related problems.

To combat the issue of the fast-fashion causes, retailers like Asos and Gap, along with dozens of others, signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment in 2017; the Commitment encourages brands to use monofibers instead of mixed-fiber and synthetic fabrics. These practices make it easier for people to recycle fabrics and garments going forward.

Chemicals in Clothes

Fast fashion products often contain lead to create bold colors and shiny accessories. Vinyl and plastic products that are red, green, orange and yellow are more likely to have high contamination than products in darker or more muted hues.

Even in low concentrations, lead is extremely dangerous to human health. When it comes to fast fashion merchandise, experts are concerned that these products will leave microscopic particles of lead and other chemicals on consumers’ hands; without proper sanitation practices, these particles can end up on food, drink and other accessories, which can create an environment for repeated exposure.

The Dangers of Lead

Lead contamination, even at low levels, can cause kidney failure, nervous system issues and cardiovascular risks. Lead accumulation in bones and tissues can also cause reproductive issues in women, such as infertility; lead released during pregnancy puts both the mother and fetus in danger. Many experts, considering these risks, have stated that there is no safe level of lead contamination.

The women and children charged with producing these garments and accessories are in danger of lead contamination, just like the women purchasing and wearing these products. For these workers, treatments for health conditions related to lead contamination are either too costly to afford or unavailable. Often, workers may die from complications related to lead contamination in the products they manufacture.

To combat these problems, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is fighting against fast fashion companies to eliminate lead contamination on clothing and accessories. In 2010, the CEH sued retailers regarding toxins in accessories; since then, the CEH has been testing accessories sold in-store and online by fast fashion brands for lead contamination.

As more disturbing facts come to light about the fast fashion industry, consumers continue to demand change. With the rise of ethical fashion brands and the increased popularity of secondhand shopping, both fast fashion and poverty may disappear in the future.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay