information and Stories about woman and female empowerment.

Afghan Women Cycle for EqualityThe Afghan women cycle for equality. Although women throughout Afghanistan are rarely permitted to even drive cars, a group of Afghan females has been changing minds by riding bikes. The Afghan National Cycling Team, led by 16-year-old Salma Kakar, hopes to be the face of a new phenomenon in the country – more women riding bikes, and possibly even representing their country in the Olympic games.

A nonprofit started by U.S. cyclist Shannon Galpin, called Mountain2Mountain, helped give the team their initial bikes and other gear to get them started. Galpin, no stranger to Afghanistan herself, was involved in volunteer work in the country and during her time there had a chance to cycle throughout Afghanistan’s mountain trails.

Despite aid from Galpin and support from team coach Abdul Seddiqi, the women still face immense hurdles. Afghan men still hold the belief that women do not have a place in society outside of the home, and for this reason, the riders are often heckled and have even received death threats. Although the women cover their heads, wear long pants and sleeves when they ride, Seddiqi usually has them train in secret to avoid any danger.

Salma maintains that despite what many Afghan men may think, a few have actually shown support and Salma is confident that their cycling team will be able to create lasting change, with cycling being just the beginning of the road to Afghan women achieving new freedoms.

Galpin hopes that not only will the bicycles be a vehicle for the women to get around, but also a “vehicle for social change.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: NBC News

More Midwives Needed in NepalNepal’s maternal mortality rate (MMR), or the ratio of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for reasons related to pregnancy or birth, has declined in Nepal over the last fifteen years. It is estimated that between 1996 and 2005, Nepal reduced its MMR from 539 deaths to 281. It was estimated in 2010 to be around 170.

These declines, similar to those seen in countries such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Thailand, are cause for hope. However, health care experts say the gains in Nepal are unsustainable if the country does not address its need for more health care professionals, especially midwives, to prevent women from dying in childbirth.

Declines in maternal mortality rate are attributable to a number of factors other than improved health care access or services. Nepal’s paradox is that even though the MMR is decreasing, access to skilled birth care is still very low. In general, improved health care positively correlates with reduced MMR, but sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have not demonstrated a strong correlation so far due to lack of skilled birth care.

Experts in maternal health do not have the data necessary to determine the exact causes of the decline, but there are multiple factors involved. The top reasons are the social empowerment of women, reduced fertility, and government health care programs. Nepalese women are now having fewer children on average, and have more access to contraception and family planning tools. Women’s life expectancies and literacy rates have increased as MMR has declined. Women are now also offered financial incentives to seek medical care during pregnancy and have more access to affordable, life-saving health care such as blood transfusions.

Nepal is on track to meet its Millennium Development Goal of reducing MMR by 75 percent, to 134 deaths per 100,000 live births. When it reaches that point, the country will require the help of more midwives and health care workers trained in birthing to further reduce maternal mortality. A 2012 UN study found that a midwife in attendance during birth can reduce up to 90 percent of maternal deaths.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN
Photo: Midwife Ramilla

USAID Funds Partnerships for Women's LeadershipUSAID funds partnerships with Higher Education for Development (HED) to encourage women’s leadership throughout a number of developing countries, including South Sudan, Rwanda, Paraguay, and Armenia. As part of the new Women’s Leadership Program, five American universities will partner with universities and colleges throughout the select countries.

The partnership between universities aims at encouraging women’s status in a number of vital sectors for economic development, including agriculture, business, and education. The goals of the program also fall in line with previous goals laid out by USAID as part of the Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, which was released in 2012.

HED will be in charge of administering the programs, which will total one in each country and two in Rwanda. Funding for the program from USAID will total $8.75 million.

Some of the more specific goals of the Women’s Leadership Program will include increased access to higher education and advanced degrees for women, increases in foreign universities research on women’s leadership, and encourage women’s leadership through advocacy in struggling communities. The American universities that are participating in the program are Arizona State University, Michigan State, Indiana University, UCLA, and the University of Florida.

USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Carla Koppell, said “USAID is very excited to be collaborating with academic institutions in the United States and abroad in advancing women’s leadership. These partnerships offer a meaningful and important opportunity to ensure women are empowered and advance in economies and societies globally.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: USAID


The end of a ten-year war seems like a time of hope, of rebuilding and starting over. Yet, for Iraqi women, hope does not seem like it’s in the cards. The last ten years have not been a time of progress for them. Rather, it has been a time of regression, in which many of their rights have been taken away, either by law or by the increasing amount of violence occurring in Iraq.

On paper, it looks like the women of Iraq are increasingly engaged with civil society. With elections happening in April, pictures of Iraqi women of different political parties are appearing throughout the city of Baghdad, giving a glimpse of equality amongst men and women. However, in reality, women are not making much of a political appearance, though not through the fault of their own. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not elected a female to a single Senior Cabinet position and only one Department is headed by women: The Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Violence in the streets of Iraq is also resulting in a loss of freedom for Iraqi women. It is no longer safe for them to walk in the streets alone, leaving many stuck inside their homes. According to many women’s groups, the increase in violence and poor security for women is the result of “the social and economic pressure that families face, the lack of public and political will to stop it, and the increased religious conservatism that often justifies the violence”. The lack of political will to stop it can be seen in the replacement of the Family Statutes Law, with one giving cultural and religious groups control of regulating family affairs, meaning that tribal leaders and religious groups can decide on issues involving divorce, marriage, custody, and inheritance using religious laws or cultural ways of living. Often times, these laws and ways of living do not favor women. This is a large setback for women because it means that women are not guaranteed equal treatment under the law.

The Iraq of today is worse for women than the Iraq of 1980. Yet, this has not discouraged Iraqi women from still standing up for women’s rights and hoping for change. Political participation is one way for women to gain freedom, yet, much more must be done to ensure equality is in their future.

– Angela Hooks

Source: CNN
Photo: CNN

L'Occitane Supports Women's Fair TradeIn honor of International Women’s Day, L’Occitane has created a fair trade soap that supports women in their efforts to achieve economic independence. The soap is produced in Burkina Faso in a completely female-run factory, for which L’Occitane has provided support and training. The company has been working with women in Burkina Faso in efforts to achieve economic emancipation since 2006. By working with Aide et Action, they have helped put in place literacy centers throughout Burkina Faso, resulting in the strengthening of income-generating activity for women.

All proceeds made from the shea butter soap (that retails for just $8) will go towards building literacy programs and centers in Burkina Faso. Every soap bar sold can be considered as donating 3 bricks that will be utilized to build a new literacy center. From soap sales, L’Occitane, with its partners in Aide et Action and women in Burkina Faso, hopes to collect €63,000, which is equivalent to approximately $831,364.5, in the year 2013.

The soap can be seen as something that brings women together and helps empower them separately from their male counterparts. Since 2006, L’Occitane has helped almost 2,000 women become literate and even more (approximately 5,000 more) improve their literacy skills. With the building of even more literacy centers in Burkina Faso, these numbers can only go up.

If interested in buying a bar of soap in support of women achieving economic emancipation, visit L’Occitane’s website.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: L’Occitane Foundation, L’Occitane
Photo: L’Occitane

afghanistan art gallery
Art is a powerful form of expression and has been a tool artists have used to document the world around us for ages. Created by ART WORKS Projects and co-presented by UN Women, ten international photojournalists entered the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan to document and photograph their everyday lives in a country of conflict and fear. This was their way of presenting  development through art in Afghanistan.

Behind the camera lens, these photojournalists were able to depict these women and girls by revealing the immense courage they have for strengthening women’s rights. The highlight of these photographs are representative of how much the world has changed, depicting the status of these women in focuses of healthcare, education, peace and security, and economic development.

This women’s rights focused exhibition is a powerful contribution for the celebration of International Women’s Day in March. Joining in on the exhibition includes a collection of essays and writings by journalist Elizabeth Rubin and curator Leslie Thomas.

Some of the photographers includes Jean Chung, with one of her images above, Jared Moossy, Ron Haviv, and Moises Saman are just a few of them who have their work in this gallery. The exhibition is already open for public viewing at the Rayburn Foyer in Washington, DC. For more information on the artwork and project, visit the website here.

Jada Chin

Source: UN Women

USAID Takes Part in New Child and Maternal Health Initiative in IndiaThe U.S. Agency for International Development has partnered with two other philanthropic organizations to improve health care for mothers, adolescent girls, and children throughout India. Along with USAID, the Kiawah Trust and Dasra have created a $14 million collaboration to tackle the health issues that women face. Currently, nearly 67,000 women in India die annually due to childbirth or pregnancy, and nearly 50 percent of children under five years old experience continuous malnutrition. The three organizations hope to commission various other parties in creating new solutions that fight current maternal and child mortality rates.

The administrator of USAID, Dr. Rajiv Shah, said that although India has made great strides towards eradicating hunger and poverty, innovation alone will not be enough to completely end the issues that plague the poor in the country – local collaboration and partnerships are crucial “to achieving unprecedented gains in human health, prosperity, and dignity.”

Dr. Shah went on to address India’s various businesses, financial organizations, and investors aid in the fight against barriers to increasing development by creating alliances between the private and public sectors and asserted that solutions created in India could also be put into practice in other developing nations in order to fight poverty.

Dasra, India’s largest philanthropic organization, published a report on female health in India showing that “the root cause of maternal and child mortality is closely linked to the age of marriage and first pregnancy.” Other crucial factors for health affected by age of marriage and pregnancy are hygiene and sanitation, level of education, and access to clean drinking water.

Dasra’s representative, Deval Sanghavi, said that many types of involvement and capital are needed “to collectively find impactful and scalable solutions for the millions of women and children living in poverty in our country.  This collaboration has the potential to build collective action and attract like-minded parties.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: USAID
Photo: UNICEF

women
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day deals with ending violence against women. So did the theme in 2009 (“Ending impunity for violence against women and girls”) and in 2007 (“Women and men united to end violence against women in girls”). While International Women’s Day can choose a theme that highlights different issues plaguing women in rural and urban areas, the UN seems to keep going back to violence against women.

Why?

Violence against women is still a huge issue across the world and looking at Zimbabwe, how large of an issue it is becomes apparent. In Zimbabwe, women may be faced with abuse from their spouses, family members, and even their children. Reported cases of domestic violence have risen from 1,940 cases in 2008 to 10,351 cases in 2011, according to AllAfrica.org. The number of domestic violence cases in 2012 are said to surpass even that number, showing that domestic violence is not going away and bringing attention to the issue, which the UN’s International Women’s Day is doing, as necessary.

Even though the country has taken great strides to end violence against women, a 2010-2011 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey shows that 30 percent of women have experienced some form of domestic violence since the age of 15. This violence, most often, comes from the people that women should be able to trust, who are supposed to protect them. Women are asking questions now – “what has to happen for violence against women to end, what are the challenges, who will stand up and look straight in the eyes of perpetrators to say enough is enough?” – and demanding answers.

Women in Zimbabwe are using International Women’s Day to denounce all types of violence against women, and are coming together to demand answers.

– Angela Hooks 

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: AllAfrica

farmer
Women in Kenya are going back to a traditional practice to help hold communities together. The practice is that of communal agriculture and through a woman-led initiative, neighbors helping neighbors in farming will hopefully save the lives of over 700,000 Kenyans over a period of 20 years who would have died from inadequate nutrition.

The traditional practice used to be the norm, yet, climate change has made the outcomes of crops unpredictable and scarce resources threatened economic prosperity, forcing many to seek jobs in more urban areas. This weakened bonds between village members, which made maintaining peace within a village difficult and brought up other issues, such as problems between ethnic groups that had been living in harmony before. Weakened bonds between community members predisposed many Kenyan communities to violence in the elections of 2007 and into 2008. According to Nyokabi Wamuyu, a member of the women-led farm initiative, “Some people say they [we]re fighting for land while others do it to take political sides.”

Over the next three years, the women-led farm initiative is aimed at 3,400 women farmers in the eastern areas of Kenya and in the Rift Valley. The mission of the initiative “is to equip the women with skills to make income-generating farming more attractive than subsistence agriculture.” This will be done by teaching women to bond with other women over shared activities, providing activities that will give women the tools and techniques to negotiate prices and access agricultural activities via mobile devices.

This initiative succeeding will hopefully help bridge the gap between genders in Kenya. Even though the new Kenyan Constitution gives women rights to land and property, gender inequality still exists in many rural farm areas.

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: Calista Jones

Mexico's First Midwifery SchoolIn Mexico, traditional midwifery services have been fallen steadily as women choose to have their babies in hospitals. However, many citizens who still live too far from hospitals need midwives. To meet this demand, Mexico has established its first public midwifery school, and young women are learning this ancient practice with the intent to graduate.

Guadalupe Maniero, the school’s director, explains that in Mexico, “hospitals are oversaturated, and so it’s a big problem.” Since the 2011 law that grants midwives a place among the country’s legally accepted medical professions, age-old stigmas have begun to fade. By helping to deliver babies, doctors have much more time to spend focusing on dangerous births in which the child and/or mother are in danger.

The four-year program grants its graduates certificates that allow them to practice in legitimate health centers. By interweaving longstanding cultural traditions with modern-day needs and practices, Mexico’s first midwifery school has the potential to benefit the entire country for years to come.

Jake Simon

Source: NPR