information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

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

The Forgotten Effects of Disasters

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

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

The Importance of Female Disaster Responders

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

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

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

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

Femlink Pacific

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

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

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

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

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

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr

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

Intimate Portrait of Kenya’s Female Maasai

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

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

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

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

Organizations Empowering Kenya’s Female Maasai

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

The Story of Nice Leng’ete

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

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

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Flickr

Malaysian WomenIn the country of Malaysia where 30 million people are affected by widespread poverty, human trafficking, crime, a growing Islamic movement, as well as numerous other misfortunes, women are the most affected by these problems. In some Islamic cultures, there is an outlook that Muslim women should be subservient, submissive and should not have equal rights. However, compared to other Islamic countries, women’s aid in Malaysia has been a much greater success.

In this Southeast Asian country, there have been significant developments in the fight to protects women’s rights. One such organization that has joined this fight is the Women’s Aid Organization. This organization is challenging the antiquated views of women as well as helping to end violence against women and work towards equality between men and women.

The Women’s Aid Organization

The Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) was started, courtesy of Tan Siew Sin, the first Minister of Commerce and Industry in Malaysia, who donated a cash reward of RM 30 thousand to establish a shelter for battered women and their children in 1979. This shelter was eventually made into what is today the Women’s Aid Organization.

The vision of this organization is for violence against women to be eliminated. Its mission statement is “to promote and create respect, protection and fulfillment of equal rights for women. To work towards the elimination of discrimination against women, and to bring about equality between women and men.” Women’s aid in Malaysia has been largely influenced by this organization.

The objective of the Women’s Aid Organization is to provide protection, shelter and counseling to women and their children in the case of mental, physical or sexual abuse at any given time. The WAO also takes on research into the factors that play a part in the inequality of women.

Additionally, the organization advocates with government organizations and NGO’s to abolish factors contributing to the subordination of women through law, policy and organized reforms. It strives to provide a better understanding of the issues of violence against women and the underlying inequalities that they face on a daily basis.

Programs in the Women’s Aid Organization

The Women’s Aid Organization has three main services available to help women and their children in times of need.

  1. The first service is the Refuge, which operates as a shelter for abused women and their children. The Refuge is the center for WAO activities to educate women about domestic violence and women and family concerns, which are inevitably associated with this issue.
  2. The second service is the Child Care Centre, which is a place for children of former WAO’s residents who are going back to work and starting their lives over. The children of these women are cared for, either full-time or during the mother’s work hours, and provided an education at local schools along with recreational activities.
  3. The third service is social work, which is the center for advocacy on behalf of the women and children needing help. This section provides services to help women through legal, medical and welfare departments and ensure they are being treated fairly.

These services give women and their children the support and protection they need. Through the combination of these programs and several other services offered through the WAO, an extremely supportive system is created for maltreated women to use whenever it is needed.

Women’s aid in Malaysia has come a long way because of the WAO. Compared to other Islamic countries, this country is more progressive in its approach to the issue of women’s inequalities. Through more organizations like this one, women’s rights will become more of a priority for the authority figures of Malaysia. Aid is very much so needed in this Southeast Asian country, but much more so for women, whose odds are stacked up against them because of the way they have been seen in society for so long.

– Megan Maxwell
Photo: Flickr

Women in TajikistanFor a small country in Central Asia, Tajikistan makes U.S. news relatively frequently, often because the lives of women there differ from the U.S. norm. Those living in the area have suffered from political turmoil and poverty. While the news often focuses on the modern oppression of women, the mistreatment of women in Tajikistan stems from a larger injustice, centuries of poverty in the country that has affected women more than men.

Religious Oppression for Women in Tajikistan

Recently, the news has highlighted that Tajikistan’s Ministry of Culture published a “Book of Recommendations” for women’s attire. In the book, models display what the country deems appropriate attire for many occasions, setting standards for work and many social events.

What particularly incited opposition from many was the book’s overt advisement against Muslim and Islamic clothing, like the hijab, as well as Western clothing, which was deemed too scandalous. Furthermore, in 2017, the Tajikistan government instituted a policy of texting women reminders about wearing traditional clothing. This followed the government’s efforts in 2016 to close shops selling women’s religious clothing.

Additionally, the Tajikistan government created a law requiring traditional attire and culture at important events, such as weddings and funerals, officially banning “nontraditional dress and alien garments.” In August, the month it became law, 8,000 women wearing hijabs were stopped by government officials and told to remove their religious garments.

Maternal Mortality Rates for Women in Tajikistan

Tajikistan is one of the world’s poorest countries. Thirty-two percent of Tajiks live in poverty, but in rural areas, that number rises to 75 percent. Consequentially, women face staggering maternal mortality rates with 65 women out of every thousand dying from pregnancy or childbirth. In fact, mortality rates for both mother and infant are higher than any other country in Central Asia, a region already significantly behind Western standards.

This lag correlates with the upheaval faced by Tajiks since the responsibility for healthcare had changed hands so many times in the past. Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union from 1929 to 1991. Then, shortly after gaining independence in 1991, Tajikistan suffered from a brutal civil war that not only claimed tens of thousands of Tajik lives but also crippled the healthcare system, contributing to such high maternal mortality rates.

Caring for the Home and Family

Political upheaval abruptly caused women to become household managers without any aid, leaving them to struggle with poverty. The civil war crippled industrial and agricultural production, the latter of which the country’s economy depended on almost entirely. Since then, nearly 1.5 million Tajik men have left the country to seek employment elsewhere, often leaving wives in charge of the home and children. But, unfortunately, households headed by women are significantly poorer than those headed by men.

Representation and Education for Women in Tajikistan

Female representation in government has remained below international standards because of the poverty caused by political upheaval. Only 12 of the 62 legislators in Tajikistan are women. Those who do make it into politics are often stuck in the lower ranks with little to no opportunity to rise to levels where they can create change.

Private Muslim schools educated the majority of the country’s population from early 1800 until the 1920s when The Soviet Union secularized education. However, with independence came a decreased government budget for education as the private funds disappeared. Moreover, women either have to marry young or are too busy working and, therefore, do not have an opportunity to receive an education.

Improvements Being Made For Women in Tajikistan

Due to The Soviet Union’s systemized education, literacy rates grew, and that shift in norms has continued to benefit men and women in Tajikistan. Additionally, in the two decades following independence, poverty rates have dropped, suggesting a growing stability. In fact, in 1999, 81 percent of the country lived in poverty, and in ten years that number has almost halved to 47 percent. Additionally, extreme poverty decreased from 73 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2013.

The U.N. has been working in Tajikistan to improve conditions for women since 1999 by empowering women and promoting gender equality. Furthermore, local and international stakeholders have been given a way to provide activities for women, such as the Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team (REACT), which helps train women to respond in disaster situations.

Hope for a Better Future

Therefore, beyond the uproar over women’s clothing being regulated by the government lies a deeper historical injustice due to poverty. Women have had little control over Tajikistan’s laws that have targeted them and a lack of access to education that prevents this fact from changing.

Despite concerning media coverage, possible improvements for the lives of women in Tajikistan exist. As stability grows, the potential exists to improve the budget for healthcare and education and, therefore, reduce poverty. Backed with proper healthcare and educational opportunities, women will have the ability to gain access and opportunities to dictate the laws of their country, such as those about their clothing, by becoming more active in the political sphere.

– Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr

 

female entrepreneursIn countries like the United States, female entrepreneurs account for 46.8 percent of the total businesses. The majority of these businesses are classified as small businesses, having fewer than 500 employees, but they generate almost $500 billion in payroll annually. This situation is worse in developing countries since women’s rights are not fully achieved and the opportunities for women to develop their own businesses are much more difficult to come by.

The reasons for Fewer Female Entrepreneurs

Why are there still fewer amounts of businesswomen than men not just in developing but in developed countries as well? Although developing countries may advocate more for women’s economic development, little is actually being done to provide more opportunities to change it. Since women’s failure rates are not that significantly different from those of men, researchers believe that gender bias is at fault and, thus, inhibiting the growth of women in the economy.

There is evidence that suggests that there are many reasons for the differences in the attitude about gender in business. One reason is that women and men often have different socioeconomic characteristics. If economists were to reform education, wealth, family and work status, those differences would disappear.

The Obstacles for Female Entrepreneurs

Africa remains one of the most successful leaders for efforts regarding female entrepreneurs. But, even the most successful countries still lack leadership, capital and professionalism, not to mention the inability to find affordable solutions in regard to childcare.

Countries like Japan have taken these shortcomings and transformed them into positive aspects of the economy. Womenomics is the idea that the advancement of women and economic development are necessarily linked. This philosophy is becoming widespread among developing nations. In Japan, these sorts of reformations can be credited to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Since taking office, Abe has generated a larger female labor force rate than that of the United States.

Some other countries have also made several reformations propelling womenomics. Jordan has increased women’s enrollment in schools by 37 percent. Turning these rates into economic success, however, still remains a challenge. Many studies suggest that economic growth for women needs to be viewed as desirable and attainable for the majority of society.

Female entrepreneurs also struggle with the duality of a society that places more value on a familial lifestyle. For example, a woman may own a business, but her time at work is often limited by her duties at home. Data in developing countries assert that many women leave the business lifestyle to return to familial duties.

A study regarding the results of holding executive positions for women in Norway revealed that the majority of people believe there should be established quotas to include women in management in companies. The results of the pole were 74 percent in favor of those quotas. Later studies showed that as women in the workplace reach a certain age, the stigma associated with their work duties do too.

Curbing the Stigma

Shifting the thought process among thousands of different demographic structures isn’t easy, but it is clear that the majority of the world needs higher female entrepreneurial participation rates. Reforming education, wealth, family and work status are not projects that take only months to complete, rather they need a comprehensive and flexible government that is willing to take on the challenge for years to come.

There are several ways to start thinking about reforming the factors for female entrepreneurs. Creating workshops to propel female economic empowerment is a start. The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is doing just that. They are working to find projects for investment as well as provide training to work under the Women’s Economic Empowerment Index (WEEI).

By ending the stigma associated duties deemed appropriate for females, both developing and thriving countries can further increase the chances of positive economic outcomes. Education and awareness programs are important components to overcoming these gender-related stigmas.

Financial Inclusion

Governmental structure and large economic aid can advance female economic empowerment too. We’ve known for a long time that access to financial services can be a powerful driver to help people lift themselves out of poverty. With a concerted push from governments, the private sector, and multilateral institutions including the World Bank Group, we believe we can close this gap,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in a meeting attempting to accelerate the growth of women’s empowerment.

The World Bank also states that simple financial education can greatly increase the chances of creating female entrepreneurs. There are so many aspects that can improve. For example, according to the World Bank, fewer than 10 percent of women in developing countries own a bank account. Access to financial institutions is an essential part of a successful business, which is why the organization started the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative. This initiative will provide financing opportunities for women who own businesses in developing countries.

Donations from the World Bank Group, education and female empowerment workshops to end stigmas are some of the best ways in which the women can become involved and empowered in the workforce. It won’t happen quickly, but when it does, the economic benefits will surpass previous stigmas surrounding women in business.

– Logan Moore

Photo: Flickr

GuyanaIn April 2018, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), an international organization devoted to advancing childhood education, reaffirmed its commitment to improving education in Guyana with a $1.7 million grant. This grant intends to strengthen the Early Childhood Education Program, which strives to improve literacy and numeracy levels in several remote regions of the country. Backed by the GPE and The World Bank, this grant will also positively contribute to girls’ education in Guyana.

Literacy and Numeracy Results

The results of these efforts are notable in literacy and numeracy scores among nursery school students. The percentage of students attaining a level of “approaching mastery” or higher in emergent literacy assessments rose from 39.58 percent to 68.30 percent between 2016 and 2017. Similar gains occurred in emergent numeracy levels, in which the percentage of students achieving a level of “approaching mastery” or higher rose from 41.91 percent in 2016 to 77.03 percent in 2017. These gains indicate significant improvements in boys’ and girls’ education in Guyana.

A Gender Gap in Education

According to certain indicators, girls’ education in Guyana has grown stronger than boys’ education. In June, the University of Guyana hosted a symposium on the underperformance of boys in the Guyanese education system. During the symposium, Dr. Mairette Newman, representative of The Commonwealth of Learning, noted three key statistics, which indicate a widening gender gap in Guyanese education:

  1. Girls outperform boys in literacy tests, once they transition into higher grade levels.
  2. Boys are more likely to drop out of secondary school than their female counterparts. (In early education, the ratio of boys to girls is one to one. However, at the secondary school level, the ratio is two to one, in favor of girls).
  3. Boys are less likely to transition into tertiary education programs.

According to Dr. Newman, girls normally have an advantage, since teachers prefer “female” qualities in the classroom, such as the ability to work well in groups and be introspective. All of these factors contribute to girls outpacing boys in the Guyanese education system.

Gender Barriers

While the symposium touched on this gender inequality in education, it did not address how these inequalities and gendered expectations also affect girls’ education in Guyana or limit girls in society. Though growing numbers of Guyanese women succeed in school and participate actively in public life, significant gender-related barriers still exist.

The Guyana Empowered Peoples Action Network (GEPAN) explains that children take on specific gender roles early in life. While girls take on household tasks, society encourages boys to be independent, as future “providers.” These gender roles continue into adulthood and expose women to limitations and violence in Guyana. For example, in 2014, UNICEF reported that at least one-third of Guyanese women experience sexual violence. These barriers and violence make it difficult for women to reach their full social and economic potential.

Women’s Empowerment

Luckily, Guyana’s First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger, has already begun to address these gender-related issues. Last month, she held a Girls’ Empowerment Workshop, designed to inspire and empower girls (ages 10-15), encouraged girls to pursue non-traditional career paths and fight through prejudices to achieve their goals. As the First Lady emphasized, education is the first step to empowerment for women, which will strengthen economic development. For the First Lady, women’s empowerment and girls’ education in Guyana are crucial to the future success of Guyana. This movement for women’s empowerment also goes beyond the First Lady’s initiatives.

In April 2018, the Ministry of Public Telecommunications launched a program for girls and women in Information and Communications Technology, a field dominated by males in Guyana. The program, Guyanese Girls Code, is a free, three-month course which teaches beginning coding and programming to girls (ages 11-14). Over forty girls enrolled in the initial class. According to Cathy Hughes, the Minister of Public Telecommunications, the classes strive to bring women into the ICT sector and give them opportunities to gain the education they’ll need to succeed. Hughes hopes that bringing girls into the ICT sector will offer new perspectives and talent, which will be crucial for advancing Guyanese society.

Thus, education and women’s empowerment in Guyana are intimately linked. For women’s empowerment to advance in Guyana, education must remain a priority. With the support of organizations such as GPE and World Bank, Guyanese leaders strive to continue strengthening education and addressing gender inequalities in the classroom and society.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurs in Latin AmericaThe entrepreneurial spirit is catching in South America. According to the World Bank, 63 percent of Latin Americans believe they have what it takes to start a successful business. Meanwhile, local governments are offering support to local entrepreneurs. In Chile, the environment is so strong for startups that it has been dubbed “Chilecon Valley.”

Despite this, there is still widespread poverty in the region. An estimated 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $4 a day. The situation is even worse for women, as only 53 percent participate in the labor force. Fortunately, three women are aiming to change that by helping their local communities and being role models for prospective female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

Leila Velez

Leila Velez is a Brazilian entrepreneur who is aiming to bring the efficiency of waste management in the fast food industry to beauty salons. She started her business, Beleza Natural, at 19 years old with the hope of bringing the accessibility of places like McDonald’s to the beauty industry. Now, her company has locations all over Brazil and employs 3,000 people, many of whom Velez says are single mothers in their early 20s.

While Velez may have modeled aspects of her salons after fast food, she did not want them to become another low paying job people take on temporarily. She wanted to provide career opportunities that give her employees sustainability in life. She says working at her salon is the first job of 90 percent of her employees and she wants her company to offer the opportunity to build a career rather than be a temporary stop.

Jimena Flórez

When Jimena Flórez began her initiative to educate rural farmers about sustainability, she had no idea it would lead to an international snack food company. Chaak Healthy Snacks, originally called Crispy Fruits, works closely with local Colombian farmers to provide healthy snack foods like low sugar brownies to 90,000 kids per month.

Flórez’s company started out trying to help out local Colombian farmers by helping them use organic techniques she learned from relatives in Germany. When she visited her family’s German brewery after college, she knew she could bring the information back to help Columbians. This led to a dry fruit company that later rebranded to healthy snack foods to appeal to an international audience.

In 2015, former President Barack Obama invited Florez to attend a Global Entrepreneurship Event where he thanked her for “helping to lift up his community.” As one of six young entrepreneurs invited, Florez is primed to expand and continue to provide healthy snacks all over the world as one of the many rising female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

Marian Villa Roldán

Being a female entrepreneur is difficult anywhere, but in Latin America, where a certain level of masculinity called “machismo” is integral to the culture, it is more difficult. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found that 40 percent of Latin American women have been on the receiving end of violence in their lives. This negative attitude toward femininity goes all the way to the top, where only 17 percent of executive positions are held by women.

Marian Villa Roldan and her company Eversocial are out to change that. Eversocial, an online marketing and design company, has supported numerous initiatives that empower Latin American women, including PionerasDev, which helps teach young women how to code. Eversocial has also supported Geek Girls LatAm, a similar organization that helps Latin American women get into STEM fields.

Success for Female Entrepreneurs in Latin America

Latin American women pursuing careers in entrepreneurship are succeeding in a tough environment, but they do not let that stop them from giving back to their communities. Whether it be through providing employment, offering a helpful product, or supporting noble causes, these women fight poverty and serve as role models for the next generation of female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

Examples of Gender InequalityThe fight for gender equality is an ongoing struggle for men and women throughout the world. Many aspects of gender inequality are events that men will never face, but that constantly shape women’s mental health and opportunities. Listed here are the top 10 examples of gender inequality found in the daily lives of women across the globe.

10 Examples of Gender Inequality

  1. Infant Life Expectancy: In India and China, the two most populous nations in the world, there is significant data that shows a survival disadvantage for girls under five years of age. In China, girls have a seven percent higher infant mortality rate than boys, and in India, a study conducted in the first decade of the 2000s found that the risk of death between the ages of one and five was 75 percent higher for girls than for boys.
  2. Access to Prenatal Care and Maternal Mortality: As of 2017, there are 1.6 billion women of reproductive age in the developing world. Of the 127 million women who gave birth in 2017, just 63 percent received a minimum of four antenatal care visits and only 72 percent gave birth in a health facility. Among women who experienced medical complications during pregnancy or delivery, only one in three received the care they or their newborns needed.

    In 2017, an estimated 308,000 women in developing nations died from pregnancy-related causes and 2.7 million babies died in their first month of life. Many of these deaths could have been prevented with full access to healthcare.
  3. Education: Less than 40 percent of countries offer girls and boys equal access to education and only 39 percent of countries have equal proportions of the sexes enrolled in secondary education. By achieving universal primary and secondary education attainability in the adult population, it could be possible to lift more than 420 million people out of poverty. This would have its greatest effect on women and girls who are the most likely to never have stepped foot inside a school.

    Even once girls are attending school, discrimination follows. One in four girls states that they never feel comfortable using school latrines. Girls are at greater risk of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation in school. School-related gender-based violence is another major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls.
  4. Illiteracy: There are approximately 774 million illiterate adults in the world and two-thirds of them are women. There are approximately 123 million illiterate youths and 61 percent of them are girls. Women’s share in the illiterate population has not budged in 20 years. These facts not only affect women but their children as well. A child born to a mother with the ability to read is 50 percent more likely to survive past age five.
  5. Economic Independence: Increases in female labor force participation result in faster economic growth, but women continue to participate in labor markets on an unequal basis with men. In 2013, the male employment-to-population ratio was 72.2 percent compared to 47.1 percent for women, and women continue to earn only 60-75 percent of men’s wages globally. It is estimated that women’s income could increase globally up to 76 percent if the employment participation gap between men and women was closed, which could have a global value of $17 trillion.

    Women also carry a disproportionate amount of responsibility for unpaid care work. Women devote one to three hours more a day to housework than men, two to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly and the sick) and one to four hours less a day to income-based activities. The time given to these unpaid tasks directly and negatively impacts women’s participation in the workforce and their ability to foster economic independence.
  6. Violence Against Women, Sexual Assault and Rape: The mental health effects of sexual assault and rape can have jarring results on women’s stability and livelihoods. Women who have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of their partners are twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to have depression and, in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV compared with women who have not experienced partner violence.

    The prevalence of sexual assault and violence against women is deep and systemic, making it one of the most important examples of gender inequality. Worldwide, around 120 million girls, a number which represents slightly more than one in 10, have experienced forced intercourse or another forced sexual act in their lifetime.
  7. Female Genital Mutilation: At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. In most of these cases, the majority of girls were cut before age five. In these instances, proper anesthesia is rarely used or is ineffective, causing severe pain. Excessive bleeding is also possible, resulting from the accidental cutting of the clitoral artery or other blood vessels during the procedure. Chronic genital infections, reproductive tract infections and urinary tract infections are common.Female genital mutilation is also associated with an increased risk of Caesarean section, postpartum hemorrhage and extended maternal hospital stay. All of these subsequent complications along with the shock and use of physical force during the procedure are some of the many reasons why survivors describe the experience as an extremely traumatic event.
  8. Child Marriage: Globally, almost 750 million women and girls alive today married before their eighteenth birthday. Those who suffer from child marriage often experience early pregnancy which is a key factor in the premature end of education. As mothers and wives, girls become socially isolated and are at an increased risk for domestic violence. Child marriage is one the most devastating examples of gender inequality, as it limits women’s opportunities and their ability to reach their full individual potential.
  9. Human Trafficking: Adult women and girls account for 71 percent of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Girls alone represent nearly three out of every four children trafficked. Women and girls are clearly the disproportionate victims of human trafficking with 75 percent trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
  10. Representation in Government: As of June 2016, only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians were women. There is growing evidence that women in positions of leadership and political decision-making improve the systems in which they work.

These are 10 of the countless ways in which women are oppressed, abused and neglected. These top ten examples of gender inequality cannot begin to do justice to the discrimination and obstacles that women around the world face each day. Women’s rights are human rights and affect every person in every community.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

Mother of Orphans
Some life stories have the strength to change our outlook towards the world. They reveal the power of empathetic gestures and prove that even one person can bring about a huge transformation in the society irrespective of their position in life.

While we often hear about the works done by the government, world organizations and celebrities towards uplifting the poor, we rarely hear about the lesser-known superheroes who lack a paparazzi trail. One such human being is Sindhutai Sapkal, who devoted her entire life towards the welfare of the poor orphans in India.

Sindhutai Sapkal

Affectionately known as mai which means ‘mother’ in Marathi, Sapkal is a born fighter with strong levels of determination and willpower. She did not attend school and does not know much about feminism or politics, but her thinking and understanding of social issues has always been well beyond the realms of any modern educated person’s understanding. She personifies what “selfless love” stands for and has come to be known as the ‘Mother of Orphans.’

Early Life

Sapkal’s story might be unbelievable to many. She was born on November 14, 1948 in Pimpri Meghe village in the Wardha district of Maharashtra, India. She wanted to pursue an education and although her father was very supportive of it, the village tradition and patriarchy shattered her dreams. She was married off at the age of 12 to a 30-year-old man with whom she had an abusive relationship; by the time she was 20, she was already a mother to three children.

Over the years, she struggled to battle the abject poverty in her life. She was fearless and voiced her opinions against the corrupt practices of a local strongman who sold dried cow dungs, which are used as fuel in India, without providing profit to the villagers. This action created a huge uproar in the village and the district collector had to intervene and put an end to the illegal practice.

Out of strong contempt for the woman, the strongman urged her husband to leave her. Since patriarchy is deep-rooted in the society, Sapkal’s husband did exactly that. Little did she know then that this ending was actually the beginning of her calling to become the ‘Mother of Orphans.’

Journey towards becoming the Mother of Orphans

Sapkal started her journey as a social activist in her early twenties when she was abandoned by her husband and thrown out into the streets. She was nine months pregnant when the world rejected her and left her to die. But, without the help of a single person, this indomitable woman survived despite all odds and gave birth to a baby girl in a cow shelter and cut the umbilical cord using a sharp stone.

She then walked several kilometres to her mother’s house but was unwelcomed there. Setting aside the thoughts of suicide, this woman started begging on the streets of Maharashtra to feed herself and her newly born child.

While struggling to survive on the streets, Sapkal was pained to see the plight of poor orphan children who lived their life begging sans any touch of care or warmth. Having lost her own childhood to patriarchy, this young mother took it upon herself to embrace these young people and provide them with whatever little she could.

Sapkal then started begging in earnest for these kids by singing in the local trains of Mumbai as she was determined to bring about a change in their lives. She slowly realized that taking care of them gave her a purpose and satisfaction in life, and thus decided to become the ‘Mother of Orphans’ by being a mother to every child in need of love and care.

Recognition

After years of effort and struggle, Sapkal’s work slowly caught public attention and people started recognizing her efforts. In the year 2016, the D.Y. Patil College of Technology and Research, Mumbai conferred upon her the degree of Doctorate in Literature. So far, she has been honoured with more than 750 awards for her relentless and selfless social work. On March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day, she was awarded the Nari Shakti Award 2017 by the President of India.

Sapkal spends all the money from the awards towards uplifting those in need. She not only helps poverty-stricken children, but also offers her care to abandoned women. She now has a huge family of 36 daughter-in-laws, 207 son-in-laws and over 1000 grand kids. Many of her children went on to become lawyers and doctors and others run their own orphanages to help the poor and assist her in her noble goals.

Impact Through Film: Mee Sindhutai Sapkal

Sapkal’s life became an inspiration to many, and to celebrate this ‘Mother of Orphans,’ a Marathi filmmaker decided to make a film on her life. The film, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, was released in the year 2010, won several national awards and was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.

This warrior woman who started her life’s journey with nothing at all has proved that one does not have to be rich or in a higher political position to bring about a change in society. She has made possible the impossible, created history and won her personal battle against poverty. Sapkal’s actions made her a hero in regard to her own life, and also for the thousands of lives she changed with pure love and affection.

– Shruthi Nair
Photo: Flickr

women in poverty
Economic inequality is an issue that has existed for years around the world, especially in developing countries. Sometimes dubbed “global capitalism,” this inequality can be argued to have, in turn, created social classes that have ultimately influenced women in poverty around the world.

Such women often find themselves in situations of informalization, flexibilization and feminization as capitalism causes a high discrepancy between earning wages and living affordability in certain countries. Developed countries could arguably do more to help those in developing countries so that women in poverty do not find themselves relying on the informal sphere to survive and make a living.

What is Informalization?

Any economic activity that isn’t regulated, legal or outside of the formal sphere is considered work in the informal economy. This work usually isn’t ideal as it is not monitored, regulated or taxed by the government; it is considered a labor activity lacking authority where cash is barely exchanged. This work ranges from household child- and elder-care, to domestic labor and community projects, which are often seen as examples of “invisible” informal work.

Interestingly, it can be irregular activities where payment is expected that legal regulation is difficult to enforce. These activities can range from street vending, petty trade, home-based industries, sex work, drug dealing and arms trade — most of which are seen as illegal informal work. Since it’s usually dangerous or precarious work, these scenarios lack major benefits to the employee other than an income. Women working in this sphere lack protection, labor laws or even social benefits. In fact, they often work in unsafe working conditions with risk of sexual harassment.

This type of work environment also has long-term effects on women — if workers don’t have pensions globally, many find themselves in situations of poverty in their old-age as well; in other words, this system creates a never-ending cycle for women in poverty. In fact, “today researchers estimate that informal activities constitute more than one-half of all economic outputs, and equal 75 percent of the GDP of some countries.” According to U.N. Women, 95 percent of women in South Asia, 89 percent of Sub Saharan Africa and 59 percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean work in the informal sphere.

How Does Informalization Lead to Flexibilization and Feminization?

Flexibilization and feminization are sources of inequality that derive from informalization. Flexibilization is usually non-permanent or part-time work that ends up feminizing the workforce. People in these situations tend to be women, which is where feminization comes into play.

These minimum wage jobs require docile but reliable workers who are available for part-time/temporary work and willing to labor for low wages. Although women generally aren’t most of these qualifications, gender stereotypes depict women as perfect candidates for these informal jobs, especially in developing countries.

How Can the Women in Poverty be Alleviated From These Situations?

When women in poverty aren’t getting paid enough for their labor, they aren’t able to support themselves and their families. Consequently, these women then need to get second jobs or find themselves in situations of informalization, flexibilization and feminization. Thankfully, many are finding ways to help women out of these jobs through news outlets, organizations or simply word of mouth.

Often, developed countries are viewed as not doing enough to help developing countries. Increases in the wealth gap lead to an increase of women in these precarious jobs. Therefore, organizations like the U.N. Women, Me to We, The Borgen Project and numerous others try to address this inequality and help women around the world.

U.N. Women started a project towards this goal that trains women and families to become entrepreneurs by creating their own businesses. This is an example of just one organization and project working towards improving the lives of women in poverty working in the informal sphere.

– Negin Nia
Photo: Flickr