information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

women's education in the gambiaAcross the developing world, millions of women and girls in poverty receive little to no education. Women learn to cook, clean and care for children. Men, in contrast, often receive an education from a young age. With this advantage, men can work toward opportunities beyond the reach of their female counterparts. When girls have access to education, they can forward the benefits to their community. One educated girl can impact generations. This is why women’s education in The Gambia is important.

In The Gambia, a small West African country, girls face problems common in developing countries. The average family lives on a daily income of $1, but education after grade six costs $100 per year. Families frequently invest their small income in educating boys, whom they think will support them in adulthood. As a result, women struggle to find opportunities beyond domestic labor.

In addition to these limitations on women’s education in The Gambia, other barriers include cultural biases and teenage marriage. The culmination of these obstacles prevents nearly 50% of the Gambian population from accessing education and economic empowerment. Consequently, the lack of women’s education in Gambia hurts the country’s development.

Why Does Education Matter?

For women living in poverty, including those in The Gambia, very few opportunities wait for them. These girls face the expectation from a young age that they will grow up to become mothers and homemakers. Early on, girls learn about domestic skills and how to raise children. Men, on the other hand, have the opportunity to dive into their education and accelerate their careers.

The education of women in developing countries is absolutely critical to their personal growth. When young girls receive the same opportunities as boys, they learn essential skills that go far beyond the classroom. Health classes teach young women about the spread of illnesses and the importance of nutrition. Math lessons provide analytical skills that they can apply to household finances. Language courses allow them to communicate better with others and read the news.

For women in The Gambia, these skills would allow them to improve their own quality of life. In a nation that often undervalues gender equality, women’s education in The Gambia is a critical first step to leveling the playing field.

Women’s Education and Economic Development

The smallest country in mainland Africa, The Gambia faces limited economic development. The current regime has harmed business freedom and has contributed to the weakening labor force. With a population of around 2.1 million, the country has a limited workforce. Most jobs center on agriculture and crop exports. However, excluding women from the workforce cuts the number of potential workers in half.

Additionally, since the nation’s economy depends on crops, The Gambia’s GDP fluctuates with farmers’ production. This means that in dry seasons, when people struggle to water their crops, the economy struggles as well. In fact, the Gambian economy recently contracted by 10% as a result of erratic rainfall, according to The World Bank.

Including women in the workforce would increase the available amount of labor, which would help in cultivating crops. Additionally, more labor would allow other sectors of the economy to grow, creating a more diverse and stable economic system. If women received an education, making them more employable, more businesses would develop and the economy would grow exponentially.

Education Brings Hope

Over the past several years, efforts around the globe have worked toward improving women’s education in The Gambia. Women in The Gambia are now achieving higher levels of education, and experts predict this trend will continue. Many charities and NGOs are raising money and bringing awareness for this cause. Some are even increasing education through international programs. One of these NGOs is Janga Yakarr, which uses exchange programs in the United States to increase women’s education in The Gambia.

Janga Yakarr, which directly translates to “education, hope,” is a charitable organization founded by sisters Alexandra and Erica Chalmers in 2011. After learning about the lack of opportunities for women in The Gambia due to limited education, they decided to help. The sisters arranged a shipment of desks, chairs, whiteboards, chemistry equipment and educational materials to The Gambia. This effort meant to help children in The Gambia complete their education.

An Educational Exchange

The Chalmers became inspired by how their school supplies supported young girls and the relationships they formed with these students, who lived nearly 4000 miles away. From this point on, the Chalmers sisters wanted to enhance the relationship between students in the U.S. and in The Gambia. They now create an educational connection between the two countries.

To do so, they started the nonprofit Janga Yakurr in partnership with grassroots organization Starfish International. The organization’s aim is to raise money for women’s education in The Gambia. Additionally, it aims to foster relationships between U.S. high schoolers and students in The Gambia, as well as run exchange programs between the schools.

Alexandra Chalmers told The Borgen Project, “Looking at the struggle that many women go through in The Gambia in order to feel empowered, it opened our eyes to how much we take for granted in the United States. Our own education has provided us with so much opportunity to pursue, and we wanted to share that with these girls as well.”

The Future of Women’s Education in The Gambia

Over the past several years, many organizations like Janga Yakurr have helped make progress on women’s education in West Africa. This is important not just for women but for these countries as a whole. When young girls receive the same opportunities as young boys, they can get higher-paying jobs. From there, the labor force will continue to grow, which will improve economic stability.

Additionally, as women are more highly educated, they may help fight for women’s equality. They can use their education to fight for equal representation, for example, and to reduce female circumcision and domestic abuse. With a higher level of education, many women and girls may also gain respect and equality in other facets of life.

Education fuels empowerment. For women in poverty, they likely cannot feel empowered without education and financial support. However, women’s education in The Gambia will provide ample opportunity for them to thrive and for the whole economy to prosper.

Daniela Canales
Photo: Flickr

Glamour BoutiqueThere are a number of advancements in legal gender rights across the world. However, social norms still play a large role in preventing women from attaining economic independence. Globally, women are almost three times more likely than men to work in the unpaid sector—namely domestic work and caring for children. When the women who are confined to this lifestyle are able to find paid work, it is often part-time and low-wage. This sets them at a significant financial disadvantage. They must depend on their husbands and families to provide for their basic needs.

The Fix

The Inclusive and Equitable Local Development (IELD) sector of the United Nations Capital Development Fund fights to right these wrongs. They invest in small businesses in developing countries that are largely run by women. Through their investments, these businesses expand, hire more people, increase their consumer market and earn more money. When women achieve financial independence, the reward is multiplied. Economically secure women are likely to invest in education, health and their community.

The Entrepreneur

One of these businesses that the IELD benefits is Glamour Boutique—a fashion business in Jessore, a small town in southwestern Bangladesh.

Glamour Boutique was officially founded in 2007 by Parveen Akhter. Akhter had been kidnapped and forced into child marriage when she was in the ninth grade. Her husband—her kidnapper and a drug addict—made it a habit of abusing her throughout their seventeen-year marriage. Encouragement from her oldest son, 16-years-old at the time, led her to file for divorce and set up the Glamour Boutique House and Training Centre. It was based in her home and capitalized on the embroidery and tailoring skills Akhter had taught herself over the years. Once business picked up, she moved into a rented space.

This is when the IELD stepped in. Akhter had little money, a small market and limited machines. They loaned her nearly 30,000 USD to expand. Since then, Glamour Boutique has employed over 50 women and consistently trains around 20 in tailoring and embroidery.

More than anything, the company is female-friendly. It helps to lift women out of poverty and give them a purpose and community. Additionally, she is sensitive to her employees having outside commitments. She offers short four-hour shifts for women who are enrolled in school, have children or have other situations warranting a flexible schedule.

Mussamad Nafiza, an employee at Glamour Boutique, testifies to the beauty of working there. She describes her own and others’ financial gain and independence as well as her dreams of opening a business similar to Akhter’s. Dipa Monjundar, a friend of Akhter’s and fellow small business owner, commends Akhter’s work and celebrates the economic empowerment of women across Bangladesh.

Next Steps

Although important, investing in women’s businesses is not the only way to help women achieve economic prosperity. Commitments from men and the government are essential. They need to respect, uphold and uplift women’s rights to sustainably change the way communities approach gender disparity.

Jessore’s mayor participated in several gender equality training sessions before starting any major projects. If other community leaders encourage participation in similar training courses, economic gender parity may no longer be a far-fetched dream.

Rebecca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Women's Month in South AfricaIn August 2020, South African women celebrated their 65th Women’s Month. The 30-day event originally celebrated for one day on August 9, 2020, commemorates the 1956 march of approximately 20,000 women who protested against the newly enacted laws. These laws required black, South Africans to carry an internal passport and they are part of the legacy of Women’s Month in South Africa.

The legislation, known as the Population Registration Act, perpetuated apartheid by controlling urbanization and maintaining population segregation. Girls and women across the country came together in Pretoria, non-violently congregating in its Union buildings for 30 minutes of silent protest. They also brought a petition against the law, which included 100,000 signatures. This powerful display of strength and unity continues to inspire South African women. Here are a few highlights from this year’s Women’s Month in South Africa.

“This is Gold” Awareness Campaign

Several South African gold producers, including AngloGold Ashanti and Sibanye-Stillwater, used Women’s Month to pivot attention to the key role women play in the mining industry. Specifically, they called for an end to gender-based violence and sexism. The lockdowns caused by the spread of COVID-19 have increased violence against women, an issue already prevalent in South Africa. For instance, sexual assault increased by 10% in 2019 alone and national femicide rates ranked five times the world’s average.

The gold-mining companies sought to help alleviate these issues by appointing more women to higher job positions. Also by demanding accountability from male leadership in their treatment of women and establishing a Women in Mining forum. This forum’s purpose would be to encourage interested women to join the industry. Lastly, these companies called on their stakeholders to use their funds to take action against gender-based violence by reporting these incidents.

Girls Skate South Africa

The organization Girls Skate South Africa hosted an event in Johannesburg, one of the nation’s largest cities. More than 30 girls attended, engaging in activities such as skating and skateboarding at Tighy Park. Because skating is typically considered a masculine sport, Girls Skate South Africa aimed to acknowledge skating’s growing popularity among girls. In this way, they aim to break gender norms by organizing a girls’ skating day during Women’s Month.

Nubian Music Festival

Bonang Matheba, a premier South African television personality, partnered with the Nubian Music Festival to host a virtual concert for Women’s Month. Hosted by Matheba, the event featured a group of talented female performers in the country, including jazz singer Judith Sephuma and singer Lady Zamar. The show was broadcasted live from Sun City a city within Matheba’s home province — and fans could stream it online. Mpho Mathope, the founder of the Nubian Music Festival, praised the event for promoting social unity to a broad audience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All-Female Shakespeare Festival

James Ncgobo, the artistic director of the famous Market Theatre in Johannesburg, enacted an all-female theater event. He noted that COVID-19 did not stifle theater, but simply adjusted it. He chose to highlight speeches by Shakespeare originally meant for male actors but called upon women to perform them. The 44-year-old theater, with more than 300 awards, is famous for producing work that centralizes African voices. This recent production was dubbed “Chilling with the Bard,” and is available on YouTube.

In 1956, thousands of South African women rallied against an unjust law, armed with staggering amounts of signatures and sheer will. Decades later, women in the nation continue to channel their strength, talent and resilience to honor Women’s Month in South Africa and the legacy of generations past.

– Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Wikimedia

Women's Rights in IndonesiaWomen in Indonesia are working hard and fighting for their rights. Recently, Indonesia ranked second in the most dangerous countries for women in the Asia-Pacific. Violence against women can happen anywhere from the slums to the richest neighborhoods. However, this has not stopped the women of Indonesia, as they continue to march — closing the inequality gap. Importantly, women’s rights in Indonesia have fierce advocates.

Child Marriage

Concerning Indonesian girls, 14% marry before their 18th birthday. This is in part, due to their society’s view of women and discriminating legislation. The Marriage Law, established in 1974, states that parents can marry their daughter off as young as 16 years old. In April of 2018, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, came forth and said that he was drafting a presidential decree that would ban child marriage. However, there has been no timeline set for the decree to be passed. Child marriage indirectly takes away a girl’s future and exposes them to a greater chance of being a victim of sexual violence. This can be directly related to the percentage of women in the workforce (51%) and the percentage of women experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime (33%).

UN Women

U.N. Women give girls and women in Indonesia the voice they deserve. This organization advocates for an end to the violence wrought against women while actively pursuing partners to respond to it. U.N. Women do so much for the women of Indonesia, from giving them access to entrepreneurship classes to directly fighting the government. This, in an attempt to hold authorities accountable for women’s rights in Indonesia. In the mix of their many programs, there is WeLearn and WeEmpower Asia, which both give women resources to integrate into the workforce. WeLearn’s goal is to improve equal learning opportunities and empower women to start their businesses. Where WeLearn encourages women into the workplace, WeEmpower Asia aims to achieve a business environment that empowers women and urges companies to adopt the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

Women Making Progress

Women’s rights in Indonesia have come a long way. Women in Indonesia now march freely in their opposition to the rights they have (or lack, rather). As backstory, the reason that this big (yet slowly closing gender gap) exists is because of the country’s second dictator, Suharto. He ruled for 32 years and widened the gap exorbitantly. However, most notably, he put the mindset in place that women and men garner different treatments. Now, the gap is closing and for the better. In political parties, 30% of the cabinet must be comprised of women. Further, as mentioned above, President Joko Widodo has the highest number of women in his cabinet in the country’s history. Now, those women in the cabinet are pushing for bills like the Sexual Violence Bill, to be passed.

Thanks to Suharto, the women in Indonesia have a lot of work to do. Fighting for women’s rights is not an easy battle. As for the support of men, Gitika Bhardwaj says that “I do think there are a large number of men who are supporting gender equality in the country but unfortunately there have not been enough high-level public awareness campaigns.” In the next few years, these women leaders hope to see the inequality gap as not a tangible thing, but a thing of the past.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Flickr

Leblouh in MauritaniaThe Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a West African nation with a population of more than 4 million people. The country is a “deeply patriarchal society” in which women and girls are taught that they are inferior to men and must please men in order to have a fulfilling life. One manifestation of this culture is the standard of beauty for women, which emphasizes obesity as a sign of wealth, status and desirability. The importance of achieving this beauty standard has resulted in the practice of leblouh, or the force-feeding of girls as young as five until they become obese. The practice of leblouh in Mauritania has serious health effects, but women are fighting against it. Here are five facts about leblouh in Mauritania.

5 Facts About Leblouh in Mauritania

  1. Force-feeding is a relatively common phenomenon: Nearly one out of five women in Mauritania have been force-fed. Leblouh is much more prevalent in rural areas, where traditions and customs are practiced more strictly. A 2007 study found that 75% of rural women had experienced leblouh in Mauritania. At the same time, less than 10% of women and girls in cities and urban areas had experienced force-feeding.
  2. Leblouh has severe consequences on the health and safety of women. During two months at a feeding camp, girls must consume up to 16,000 calories of meat, milk, grains and oils per day. Refusal to eat often results in physical repercussions. Of women in these camps, 60% reported physical punishments like beating. More than a quarter had their fingers broken as punishment. However, the health effects of obesity are a punishment on their own. Overweight women risk conditions like cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea. They also often face harmful psychological effects as well as a short life expectancy. Additionally, obesity puts women at risk for complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
  3. The Mauritanian government is working to combat obesity. It started a media campaign encouraging weight loss and healthier living habits in 2003. Doctors and experts throughout the country supported the campaign, which emphasized the health effects of obesity. However, the lack of media access in rural areas made it hard to communicate these messages to rural communities, where leblouh is more common. Only one-quarter of Mauritanian women watch TV. Additionally, just 27% of women listen to the radio on a weekly basis, and 11% read newspapers. This made it difficult for the government’s campaign to reach its intended audience.
  4. Women-only gyms have opened to encourage weight loss and healthier living habits among Mauritanian women. The first women-only gym opened in the capital city of Nouakchott. As of 2011, it had 300 members. Women joined the gym for various reasons, including doctors’ orders, self-image and the infiltration of Western culture and its emphasis on thinness.
  5. Women-led NGOs have been founded to fight against the practice of leblouh and advocate for women’s empowerment throughout Mauritania. One such organization is Espoire. The leader of Espoire is Fatma Sidi Mohamed, who experienced force-feeding as a child. The organization aims to provide women with more opportunities to earn an income. Mohamed believes that if women can earn their own incomes, they will be less likely to pull their daughters out of school in order to “fatten them up for early marriage.” Espoire teaches women to read, provides classes on health and grants microcredit to women in Nouakchott. This all has the end goal of encouraging women to join the workforce and live healthier lives.

As these five facts about leblouh in Mauritania demonstrate, force-feeding is a widespread and serious issue. The cultural emphasis on obesity poses severe threats to women’s health and social wellbeing. However, this culture seems to be changing in favor of healthier lifestyles, especially in cities.

Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Israel

In Israel, the battle for gender equality continues to rage. Despite being the third country in the world to have a female head of state, women were forced to sit at the back of the bus as recently as 2018. In the face of gender equality legislation, religious figures continue to promote and enforce gender segregation in public spaces.

Israel, a fairly new country in the Middle East, identifies as a democratic state. The country gained its independence in 1948, passing the Women’s Equal Rights Law in 1951 to ensure gender equality. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that the nation “…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” However, the Israeli government has found it difficult to combat gender segregation.

Women’s Rights in Israel Today

Presently, Israel ranks 25th on the Gender Inequality Index. Although the Israeli Declaration of Independence sought to establish gender equality, there has been an increasing demand for enforcing gender segregation in public spaces by Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. There have been instances in which women have been denied access to a public bus for wearing shorts deemed “immodest.” In many situations, if women can access a bus, they are forced to sit in the back. In some universities, women are even forced to drink from separate water fountains.

Many lawsuits in Israel have been filed in the name of gender inequality. Although gender segregation in cemeteries is illegal, the Israeli government and the Ministry of Religious Affairs do not uphold the law. As a result, women sit separately from their male family members and are not permitted to be a part of funeral ceremonies.

Women hold esteemed positions in Israeli society. As of 2017, women comprised 59% of the university student population and  53% of the Ph.D. student population. Israel’s Supreme Court has had three female presidents, with women comprising 54% of judges in Israel as of 2017.

Despite the prevalence of female leaders, female lawmakers have been deemed “indecent” by their religious associates and admonished for wearing sleeveless dresses. Although the majority of college degrees are held by women, women academics are not allowed to instruct ultra-Orthodox men at universities. Female lawyers are seated separately and at the back of the room for training programs. Female army cadets are separated from their male counterparts by partition during graduation ceremonies. However, several organizations are advocating for equal treatment.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Israel

Many organizations are fighting for gender equality in Israel. For example, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) fights gender segregation and religious extremism. IRAC has made great progress in the field of anti-segregation legislation, including filing a class action suit against public radio stations for refusing to put women on-air. IRAC’s work has also lead to a Supreme Court ruling making gender segregation on public transportation illegal.

Founded in 1984, The Israel Women’s Network advocates for gender equality through education and awareness. They are currently advocating against gender segregation in public transportation and gender violence. The Women of the Wall are fighting to secure women’s religious rights to pray at the Western Wall through education, empowerment, and advocacy. When gender equality laws will be upheld, the visions for gender equality can be achieved.

The Future is Equality

As the first woman to serve as president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch said, “We are commanded to act with tolerance and to promote the protection of human rights.”

The gap between the visions for gender equality and the reality women face is vast. Gender inequality is crucial to the advancement of Israel and the rest of the world, being essential to peace and development. Ultimately, the work of organizations such as IRAC and The Israel Women’s Network continues to empower women and allows Israel to look toward a brighter future.

– Tara Hudson
Photo: Pixabay

Maternal Mortality
Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman due to causes related to or aggravated by her pregnancy and/or childbirth. Almost all (99%) of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, and 68% occur in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. The Trends in Maternal Mortality 2000-2017 report is a joint effort by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group and the United Nations Population Division. Its statistics showcase huge global health disparities that leave African mothers extremely vulnerable, showing that maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa is a prevalent issue.

Health Inequality in Maternal Healthcare

Almost all maternal deaths are preventable, yet in 2017, Sub-Saharan Africans suffered from the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 200,000 maternal deaths a year. All three countries with the highest MMR globally with over 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births, considered an extremely high rate, are in Sub-Saharan Africa: South Sudan (1,150), Chad (1,140) and Sierra Leone (112). In comparison, the 2017 MMR in North America and Western Europe was 18 and five.

The fact that MMR is under 10 in many countries means that current technology and medical knowledge are already capable of reducing MMR to almost zero. The global imperative is to improve health infrastructure and education in developing nations so that they, too, can access services and resources available to protect mothers in the developed world.

The Importance of Access

Lack of access to health facilities and medical professionals is among the main reasons for maternal deaths. Currently, in Africa, there are 985 people for every nurse/midwife and 3,324 people for every medical doctor. This means that many pregnant women do not receive antenatal, delivery and newborn care, which greatly increases their risk of dying from severe bleeding, infections or other complications. Ensuring that there are accessible and affordable health facilities for all women would eliminate risks of preventable and treatable deaths.

Adolescent Pregnancy

Improving sexual health education is key to eliminating adolescent pregnancies, which account for a significant portion of maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Adolescent girls, especially those under 15, have a higher risk of maternal mortality compared to older women. In 2014, there were 224 adolescents per 1,000 cases of pregnancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world, followed by Liberia (221) and Niger (204). Improvements in sexual health education would inform young girls of contraceptive options, family planning methods and safe abortion facilities.

Progress Tracker

Significant efforts have succeeded in reducing maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. From 2000 to 2017, Sub-Saharan Africa has achieved a substantial reduction of 39% of maternal mortality (from 870 to 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births). A significant number of countries in this region have reduced their MMR by more than half, such as Rwanda (79%), Mongolia (71%), Eritrea (63%), Zambia (60%) and Cabo Verde (51%).

WHO has stated that improving maternal health remains one of their key priorities. In 2015, the global health organization launched the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health aimed at ending all preventable deaths of women, children and adolescents. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal target 3.1, also launched in 2015, aims to reduce global MMR to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. While the current MMR in Africa is still seven times less than the target, promising results from past and current campaigns indicate that a better future is within reach.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

After the war
Bosnia and Herzegovina, more commonly known as Bosnia, used to be a part of former Yugoslavia and went through one of the most horrific genocides in 1992. Since the war, Bosnia has had one of the highest poverty rates in the world and an unemployment rate of 15%.

This article examines the perspectives of three Bosnian women from different generations and how difficult it is or was for them to get a good education, proper healthcare or make a comfortable living after the war. Naska is a 64-year-old retired house cleaner who has lived in Bosnia all her life. Elma is 40-year-old working as a dialysis nurse in the Nakas General Hospital in Sarajevo. And finally, Adna is a 20-year-old currently attending The Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo.

Living in Bosnia Now

Naska was only 38 when the war started. She was born and raised in Sarajevo and still lives in her old childhood home in the middle of the city. She says living on a pension fund in Bosnia is very difficult. She receives only 300 marks, which is equal to $182 a month. “If I didn’t receive help from my sister back in the United States I would not have enough to pay for all my groceries. I’m really lucky because my friends do not have family away to help and it gets really hard, especially in the winter.” The retirement age in Bosnia is 60 years, but due to health issues Naska was forced to retire early. In our interview, Naska explained that there was a train she used to take on her way to school when she was young. The station she used was bombed during the war and has not been repaired or rebuilt since 1995. She says that times felt happier before the war; her and her neighbors are tired of seeing constant reminders of the worst time of their lives.

Elma was in elementary school during the Bosnian War. She attended class in a basement with her friends. In Bosnia, after secondary school students are required to pick a specialty in high school that they carry on through university. Elma has been studying medicine since she was 16 and works in one of only two state hospitals in Sarajevo. A registered nurse for close to 10 years now, Elma believes that the healthcare system is not the same as it was before. Bosnia has a shortage of good healthcare professionals, and the private sector for medical supplies has taken over hospitals causing treatment to become more expensive for residents. Not only has the healthcare system gotten worse after the war, the possibility of finding a decent job has also worsened. “I have been applying for a job at hospitals for five years now. I could not even get an interview. [My mom] called me a year ago to tell me that her friend has an open position in his hospital. I honestly believe that if it was not for him I would not have a job right now.” Elma thanks her mother for a lot of the good things in her life. She says before finding a long-term job, she worked part-time night shifts at a nursing home and her husband’s job wasn’t stable either. They both live in the apartment her parents had bought previously so they have the luxury of not worrying about paying rent, only utility and groceries. Elma feels her life right now is good, but she worries this could change at any moment.

Adna was born in Sarajevo in 2000. She doesn’t know much about life before the war, only what her parents have told her. She told me in the interview that students in Bosnia don’t learn about the war in schools and everything they know about it comes from stories that get passed down. Her parents tell her it’s because the country is still in mourning and it’s hard for people to talk about what happened. The education system is very different in Bosnia compared to the United States. Primary school lasts for nine years while high school lasts for four. University education can take up to three to five years depending on the college. When I called her to talk one of the first questions I asked was if going to college was worth it. She said, “It depends. It is hard to find a job here with a degree, but it is also hard to find one without. Everybody knows that you need connections to find long lasting jobs. I have plenty of friends who have graduated college and work waitressing job for three years now. My cousin graduated with a sports medicine degree and had a friend who worked at this clinic in the city, but after six months she was let go because it was too expensive to keep her.” Her cousin now works at a boutique in the city’s mall.

COVID-19 in Bosnia

Working in a hospital during COVID-19 hasn’t been the easiest for Elma, but she does applaud her hospital for taking the necessary precautions. At her job, it is mandatory for workers to enter a tent before they enter the building to have their temperatures checked and get sterilized. Then workers must put on a suit complete with additional masks and gloves before being allowed to begin their shift. The only time workers can take the suit off is while they’re eating and after their shift when they are required to take a mandatory shower, change clothes and exit the hospital from the opposite side. Every night she comes home she is exhausted and says that there is too much work to do, but just not enough people to help. However, Elma, Naska and Adna all agree on one thing: the government is too corrupt to do anything that will help the people. And there is evidence that backs them up.

A scandal hit the news about Bosnia’s Prime Minister Fadil Novalic and his involvement with fake ventilators. The government had given $5 million to the Civil Protection firm of Bosnia to buy a hundred ventilators from China. When the ventilators arrived, officials were quick to learn that they were useless and not equipped to handle the virus. The Prime Minister and Head of the Civil Protection firm were arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering on top of an embezzlement charge.

Life in Bosnia has not been easy after the war. The government is ranked 101 out of 180 countries on the Corruption Perception Index and citizens of Bosnia hold out hope that times will change, especially those who remember life before the war. It is very clear however, that life in Bosnia is a long way away from where it used to be.

Hena Pejdah
Photo: Flickr

colorism in IndiaImagine, for a moment, that you’re a five-year-old girl growing up in India. All around you, the standards for beauty are pretty, light-skinned Indians: they’re in all of the movies, splashed across billboards and magazines, on promoted ads and videos. Every drug store sells multiple brands of skin-lightening creams, and your favorite actors all endorse skin-lightening products. Your family members tell you not to spend too much time in the sun, just so you won’t get too tan. That’s what colorism in India was like for Rajitha Pulivarthy, now 20 years old and living in the United States.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced [colorism] myself, because I’m more on the lighter-skinned side, but I definitely adopted a colorist attitude when I was younger,” she said, recalling her experiences with colorism. “I wanted myself to look lighter or not get tanned in the summer.” Even with supportive parents who rarely mentioned colorism and told her to stay away from skin-lightening products, colorism still shaped Pulivarthy’s worldview growing up and even after moving to America. Sadly, Pulivarthy’s story is just one of millions. For many women growing up in India, this is the norm.

What is Colorism?

Colorism occurs when some people are discriminated against more than others of the same race, simply due to the shade of their skin. It is very prevalent in India, and it’s a gendered phenomenon, affecting Indian women more than men. Sometimes, colorism is obvious, but often it manifests in more subtle ways, like in everyday behavior. Something like commenting on how someone is “beautiful and fair-skinned” is commonplace in India. While those comments don’t necessarily insult those who have darker skin, they do show society’s preference for those with lighter skin.

Colorism in India

Colorism is so ingrained in everyday life and society, in fact, that skin-lightening products make up a multi-billion dollar industry in India. Bollywood, India’s movie industry, casts predominately light-skinned actors, which perpetuates beauty as light-skinned. Many Bollywood actors also endorse skin-lightening creams.

While the media plays a large role in these notions of lighter skin aligning with beauty, colorism in India can trace its roots all the way back to British colonization. The British ruled many South Asian countries, including India, for over 200 years. Their colonization embedded the idea that fair skin people were the ruling class, and darker-skinned people were the subjects. British rulers treated lighter-skinned Indians more favorably than their dark-skinned counterparts. They gave light-skinned Indians access to government jobs, while constantly demeaning dark-skinned Indians. This discrimination also bled into India’s caste system, where people perceived higher castes as fairer and superior and lower castes as darker and inferior. As such, these lasting colonial legacies mean that skin color still affects the socioeconomic status of Indians today.

How Colorism Affects Poverty

Poverty and colorism in India go hand-in-hand. Because the caste system still affects socioeconomic status, people with darker skin tend to be lower in socioeconomic status as well. Colorism makes social mobility harder for Indians in general. There is systemic discrimination against dark-skinned people in education systems and the labor market. Educators and employers still prefer light-skinned Indians over dark-skinned Indians, which plays greatly into the opportunities for social mobility that darker-skinned Indians do and do not have.

A basic link between poverty and colorism in India is that impoverished people are not able to take care of their appearance and diet. Though they don’t have access to skin-lightening products, they are seen as “dirty” and “dark.” Over time, these connotations begin to blur, and socioeconomic status and skin tone become connected to social and financial status.

One of the most unique effects of colorism in India is how arranged marriages, common in India, discriminate against dark-skinned people. Marriage ads allow people to filter out women on every condition under the sun, including skin color. A study done at the University of New Delhi, India found that dark-skinned men and women were consistently rated lower on marriage ads. This demonstrates yet another way that colorism in India inhibits social mobility, which makes it harder for impoverished people to change their circumstances.

Combatting Colorism in India

Anti-blackness and anti-darkness together ultimately create discriminatory systems that disenfranchise dark-skinned people in India and across South Asia. However, protests over summer of 2020 in the U.S. have prompted calls for equity and justice around the world, especially in India. In particular, there has been a new wave of conversations surrounding colorism in India and how to fight it.

Many Indians are asking themselves and their family members how they can continue to support “Black Lives Matter” while also perpetuating harmful colorism within their own communities. Some people are starting the fight against colorism by talking to their friends, families and community members about colorism. Others are using social media to create movements, like #UnfairAndLovely, which takes the name of a popular lightening cream and uses it to brand positivity posts for dark-skinned Indians. Still others are calling for accountability from notable Indian celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, who has promoted skin-lightening products in the past.

No matter the level of activism, combatting colorism in India needs the work of all of society to make India equitable for all Indians, regardless of skin color. Fighting colorism in India also helps fight poverty, and vice versa. Ultimately, colorism in India shows us that the fight for poverty is not just a fight for living wages, but a fight for global human rights.

Hannah Daniel
Photo: Flickr

innovations in poverty eradication in zimbabweLocated in southern Africa, Zimbabwe is characterized by impressive landscapes and diverse wildlife. Currently, Zimbabwe is suffering from immense poverty. In 2019, extreme poverty was at 34% in Zimbabwe, an increase from 29% in 2018. Furthermore, this represents a change from 4.7 million to 5.7 million people living in poverty. The cause of this swift increase was an economic contraction of around 8%. The World Bank expects a continued increase in extreme poverty in Zimbabwe in 2020. Fortunately, many organizations are working on innovations in poverty eradication in Zimbabwe to combat this problem.

Hyperinflation and Drought

In addition to a general economic downturn, several droughts across Zimbabwe have caused the prices for food and other essential goods to rise. These same droughts slumped agricultural production, especially in rural communities, where people were hit the hardest by this downturn.

The African nation has also been struggling with hyperinflation for more than a decade. This problem results from economic mismanagement by the nation’s previous president, Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwean dollar lost 85% of its value against the American dollar between February and December of 2019. According to Trading Economics, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was 737.3% in June 2020, growing to 837.5% by July 2020. As such, Zimbabwe faces severe hyperinflation, which does not help with its fight against widespread poverty. Here are two innovations in poverty eradication in Zimbabwe that are aiming to solve this problem.

Children in the Wilderness

One of these innovations in poverty eradication in Zimbabwe is a project by Children in the Wilderness (CITW), which started in February 2020. The project’s goal is to generate income within rural regions by creating businesses for women to operate. In northern Matabeleland, poverty levels are high due to a lack of diverse income-generating fields. Previously, this land relied on farming to produce income; however, unreliable rainfall and poor soil have made this method ineffective. Families now rely on an average monthly income of $9. This makes it a challenge to survive and prohibits many families from sending their children to school, which could help lift them out of poverty.

In response, CITW hosted classes that educated women on business and budgeting. The women who participated learned how to apply their innovative ideas, make money from their crafting skills and sell their work. CITW’s teachings have also promoted sustainability and self-management amongst the community. For example, the project provided a way to recycle unwanted waste by having women use it in basket weaving. To help women sell these goods, CITW pitches the crafts to businesses around Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls. As these businesses grow, poverty in northern Matabeleland will decrease. Importantly, CITW’s project has not only worked to eradicate poverty but has also brought women together and built pride in their local culture.

The Shoe That Grows

In 2020, CITW arrived in Tsholotsho, an area heavily affected by poverty, to act on a donation made by Melissa Cabrera Wilson. Wilson aims to ease the effects of poverty on children by providing them with another of many innovations in poverty eradication in Zimbabwe. The Shoe That Grows brand has provided children in Tsholotsho with something that most of them will never receive: new shoes. Without this donation, children would have to use shoes that have been passed down to them or nothing at all. So far, CITW has donated more than 45 shoes. The shoes can adjust from sizes one to four, allowing them to be used as the children grow. This innovation has given children relief from the harsh terrain they must walk miles on to get to school every day.

Hit by poverty and hyperinflation, Zimbabwe’s citizens are struggling. With these innovations in poverty eradication in Zimbabwe, they are beginning to overcome poverty step by step. The income-generating groups in northern Matabeleland will have a lasting effect on citizens, as a reliable and creative source of income is game-changing. Additionally, the shoes given to children in Zimbabwe and all over the world have also softened the harsh results of poverty on kids. In all, these innovations in poverty eradication in Zimbabwe have made life more tolerable for many of those affected.

Emma Green
Photo: Flickr