Information and news about woman issues

Women’s Health Care in Syria
Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a war-torn country in Western Asia. These war efforts have caused a series of attacks against women’s health care in Syria and made female health care more difficult to come by. In Syria’s civil war, violent attacks continue to target health care workers and clinics, and particularly female health clinics.

Fear of Attack

Fear of attack also plays a role in keeping women from what health resources they do have. Many of the childbirth centers that remain are located in rural areas, making them difficult for many women to reach. Fear of attack in the vicinity of health clinics inhibits patients and health professionals alike. The regime’s campaign of gender-based sexual violence is a large contributor to this fear. The vulnerability that comes with the travel necessary to reach the available health clinics put women at further risk of attack.

These attacks and the consequent shutdown of many maternal health facilities are seriously threatening maternal health. Between 2011 and 2017, more than 320 health clinics suffered attacks. These attacks have resulted in the deaths of at least 826 health workers, 85 of whom were women. By the end of 2015, only 16 of the 43 childbirth centers previously available in Syria remained. The lack of access to these facilities and health professionals leave many women with no safe conditions to deliver their children. Moreover, they have no opportunity for checkups or preventative shots once they deliver their children.

Overall Health Care

The conflict also threatens basic preventative care for women. Things like mammograms and regular checkups are no longer available and few female health professionals remain in Syria, making health care even more difficult for practicing Muslims to find. Gynecological services and even menstruation pads are incredibly difficult to come by. Women who do survive the hardships of the war suffer from malnutrition and struggle with even the basic necessities for survival.

The Molham Volunteering Team

In the midst of the conflict, however, there are efforts to preserve and improve female health care. Groups like the Molham Volunteering Team are working to fill in the gaps in women’s health care in Syria. A group of Syrian students brought this group together to provide necessities, such as food and medicine, to Syrians in need. When crises emerge, the Molham Volunteering Team assembles emergency campaigns to help, such as its campaign to raise money to support victims of the attacks targeting Maarat Al-Numan. The campaign has nearly reached its goal of $250,000.

Another focus of the Molham Volunteering Team is to raise the funds necessary to cover hospital fees for women and other costs of childbirth. It has even begun a campaign to raise money in support of health workers and clinics against the attacks. To date, the campaign has raised about a quarter of its $10,000 goal.

The Violet Organization

The Violet Organization, a nonprofit organization in Turkey, has opened a health center in rural Idlib where women have access to maternal and reproductive health care. A group of young volunteers, with the goal of helping secure the basic needs of families through food and cash donations, founded The Violet Organization. Today, The Violet Organization focuses not only on immediate aid but also on long-term projects like the Idlib health center, which offers treatment for ovarian and breast cancer, as well as basic checkups and consultations.

The Mazaya Center

The Mazaya Center attempts to educate women about their health issues. The Mazaya Center, which volunteers started to empower women, is another nonprofit organization that focuses on women’s issues in northern Syria. It provides paramedic training and first aid classes. These two-month training sessions, which female nurses lead, aim to educate women about reproductive and maternal health as well as family issues.

In the face of the Syrian civil war, civilians are struggling to find the basic necessities for survival, and safe access to women’s health care in Syria has become yet another casualty. Despite the looming threat to women and health professionals, it is evident that there are people continuing their work to ensure that health care and education are available to the women who need it most.

– Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr

 

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Palestine
Despite Palestine’s constant immersion in conflict as a result of Israeli occupation, there are some positives in regards to girls’ education. Here are 10 facts about girls’ education in Palestine that showcase both the good and the bad of the country’s education system.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Palestine

  1. Literacy Rates: Palestine has one of the highest literacy rates in the world with 96.9 percent of its population being literate. In particular, there have been great strides in improving women’s literacy rates. The literacy rate went from 78.6 percent in 1995 to 97 percent in 2018. Female literacy rates are at their highest in the West Bank and their lowest in Salfit.
  2. School Infrastructure and Teachers: The education system is struggling due to insufficient school infrastructure and a lack of teachers with adequate training, as well as the existence of schools in marginalized areas. During the first 10 years of the Israeli occupation, the government built no new schools and classrooms of existing ones were overcrowded. The lack of schools led to an emergency-like situation in education, which resulted in some positive achievements, such as the regaining of the credibility of the Tawjihi, a secondary school matriculation exam. There has also been an improvement in extracurricular activities for students.
  3. The Effects of the Israeli Occupation: The Israeli occupation is mostly responsible for the struggles of the education system, given that it continually causes the exposure of schools to rockets and bombs. Building restrictions that Israeli rule implemented in places such as Area C and East Jerusalem are primarily responsible for the shortage of infrastructure. There are also movement restrictions, such as checkpoints and the Barrier, which can pose challenges to accessing services like education. The Barrier is an Israel-approved physical barrier in and around the West Bank in Palestine.
  4. Enrollment in Early, Primary, Secondary and Higher Education: There is a comparable amount of enrollment in primary education when it comes to boys and girls. Still, admissions are higher for female students to both secondary and higher education institutions. However, when it comes to Early Childhood programs, only 14.9 percent of girls are enrolled. Therefore, the U.N. has made it a priority to start investing in early childhood education, focusing on funding both teacher education and gender equality awareness.
  5. Raising Awareness About Female Education: Some of the U.N.’s planned interventions include raising awareness about the disadvantages of early marriage and the importance of female education. This effort is on-going, as women still struggle with early marriage, and gaining education and employment in Palestine. A female Palestinian student interviewed by the L.A. Review stated that “we have this thing in our society that is like, your house, your kids are [more] important than anything else. Your job is not so important because it’s like, your husband is working.”
  6. Education and Conflict: Education is critical in Palestine because it can be a non-violent form of protest against the on-going conflict. UNICEF enforces this ideology by using a behavioral change approach towards students. It encourages students, parents and teachers to challenge the acceptance of violence. It enforces this mindset by providing education and raising awareness.
  7. Women and Unemployment: Women in Palestine experience marginalization despite their education, suffering from a high rate of unemployment when compared to the rest of the world. The unemployment rate among women with 13 years of schooling or more was 50.6 percent in 2016, which was a significant increase from the 21.9 percent recorded in 2000.
  8. Women’s Participation in the Labor Market: Palestinian women have the lowest participation in the labor market within the MENA region. When it comes to labor force participation, women have a 19 percent participation rate compared to 71 percent of male participation. There is a joint effort to find and apply solutions to this problem. One solution is the U.N.’s policy to encourage girls to have Technical and Vocational Education Training, which the U.N. has partially implemented to date.
  9. Dangers on Route to School: Approximately half a million children in Palestine require humanitarian assistance to receive a quality education. The violence in the West Bank poses threats and challenges, which lead to children to experience distress and fear, even when going to and from school. This is because they might pass high-risk locations or checkpoints.
  10. Electricity Shortages: Electricity shortages that constant conflict causes are affecting access to education, both at school and at home, by striking study time and concentration. These shortages are a result of the sole electric company facing a lack of fuel, which is a consequence of the closure of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. To reduce the reliance on fuel, organizations such as the World Bank and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been working on providing alternative energy sources.

Foreign aid and raising awareness about the importance of girls’ education in Palestine have enabled some progress. However, as a conflict-ridden area, there is more that the country requires to ensure long-lasting development and enforce quality education. By looking at these 10 facts about girls’ education in Palestine, one can begin to see some of these efforts and realize how it should be a priority to find additional solutions.

– Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr

Women in Africa
In recent years, people have made many efforts to help women in Africa complete their daily tasks faster and more efficiently by providing tools and technology. However, there is still a long way to go until these extraordinary women will have tools on par with what is available to women in western countries.

Water Collection

In 24 sub-Saharan African countries, adult females are usually responsible for water collection. About 14 million African women trek over 30 minutes, either barefoot or in rubber sandals, across rough terrain daily. Many of these women carry a bucket or Jerry Can, which is a container to carry fuel or water. These can hold around 40 pounds of water that they balance on top of their heads.

Recently, a project in Mozambique helped nearly 4,000 people by allocating an innovative technology called the Hippo Roller. The Hippo Roller is a South-African-made drum that helps users roll up to 20 liters of water on the ground instead of carrying it on their heads. This allows women in Africa to carry or roll up to five times more water than they usually would. This technology empowers women in Africa by allowing them more time to focus on other necessary tasks, like education, social development and local entrepreneurship. Hippo rollers go to the neediest in the communities first, but with a cost of $125 each, there are rarely enough to go around.

The Search for Firewood

African women walk for hours each day to collect branches and roots for firewood. Over 80 percent of Africa’s energy supply comes from wood and African women spend more than 20 hours per week collecting it. This wood is necessary for women in Africa to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for their families. African women may spend several hours searching for wood which prevents them from accomplishing other tasks that would benefit and empower them.

Green Energy BioFuels is a company that produces the KIKE Green Cookstove and an ethanol cooking gel that is safe for women in Africa to cook meals for their families without creating the health hazards that current traditional methods do. So far, Green Energy has sold over 200,000 cookstoves in West Africa. Cookstoves that do not rely on wood fuel can help save over 4 million lives annually. In addition to this, African women can worry less about their health and have a more positive outlook on the future.

Investing in African Women

In sub-Saharan Africa, female entrepreneurs hold the highest rates of entrepreneurship globally at 25.9 percent. Many of these women have small businesses that can help them accrue enough income for survival. African women account for nearly 40 percent of the SSA workforce.

The Economic Commission for Africa and its partners started the African Women Leadership Fund which aims to aid the growth of African women-owned and operated businesses and provide services that will help these women be successful. Over the next 10 years, the fund will invest in over $500 million into African Women-led companies.

African women have extraordinary abilities that help them complete difficult daily tasks. However, they cannot achieve these tasks without great risks to their health and well-being. The support that many are implementing to innovatively assist African women will empower them and enrich their lives.

– Lisa Di Nuzzo
Photo: Flickr

Breast Cancer in Senegal
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide—it affects 2.1 million women each year. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer caused 15 percent of cancer-related deaths among women in 2018. While developed countries have higher rates of breast cancer, the disease is on the rise globally. Here are six facts about breast cancer in Senegal.

6 Facts About Breast Cancer in Senegal

  1. Breast Cancer Cases: The prevalence of breast cancer in Senegal is on the rise. A study by the Global Cancer Observatory in 2018 shows that the incidences of breast cancer reached 1,758 cases per year. This is in comparison to 869 cases in 2012. The disease ranks second in terms of new cases. In terms of mortality rate, it falls only behind cervical cancer.
  2. Chemotherapy Training: There is only one medical oncology specialist in Senegal. Therefore, general practitioners, as well as oncology surgeons, carry out chemotherapy. The government is working to improve on this by trying to ensure 50 percent of doctors undergo chemotherapy training by attending seminars as well as doing practical internships. The government also offers fellowships for people to fully specialize in medical oncology.
  3. Cancer Treatment: There is only one center dedicated to cancer in Senegal—the Joliot Curie Institute which is the cancer department of the Le Dantec Hospital. Most breast cancer patients receive treatment at the Hospital Center University Aristide Le Dantec which sees 350 new patients every year. Others attend the Principal Hospital, which is the second-largest university hospital in Dakar, or to smaller private centers and public hospitals. There is low accessibility for those in rural areas as these facilities congregate in Dakar and other major cities.
  4. Challenges: A challenge that people face when it comes to the treatment of breast cancer in Senegal includes late consultation, with most patients only finding out they have breast cancer when it is in the advanced stages. People might also face a lack of human resources and adequate equipment. Additionally, both the public and health care providers require further education on available treatments.
  5. Funding for Free Chemotherapy: The government of Senegal announced that it have set aside an estimated $1.6 billion to provide free chemotherapy in public hospitals for those with breast and cervical cancer starting in October 2019. By doing this, it is following in the footsteps of other African countries such as Rwanda, Namibia and Seychelles. While this is a positive step in the right direction to see the mortality rate drop, a challenge remains as women often require both radiotherapy and chemotherapy to control the spread of breast cancer.
  6. Benefits of Free Chemotherapy: The introduction of free chemotherapy treatment for patients of breast cancer in Senegal will surely help reduce the mortality rate as the high cost of treatment refrained patients. The expenses of breast cancer treatment were wholly the responsibility of the patients. While a few covered the expenses themselves, the families foot most expenses for a vast majority of patients. The high cost of treatment and debt faced that patients and their families faced meant that they typically did not attend follow-up treatment after the initial sessions.

Senegal is taking important steps to ensure that it improves the outcome and survival rates of those breast cancer affects. Beyond providing free treatment, there is an urgent need to ensure that the disease receives an early diagnosis. By providing education, free treatment and increasing the number of trained practitioners, the deaths that breast cancer causes in Senegal will hopefully decrease.

– Sophia Wanyonyi
Photo: Pixabay

Rape Epidemic in India
The rape epidemic in India garnered international attention in 2012, when several men brutally raped and beat a woman, Nirbhaya, on a bus. The event immediately spread across the globe and sparked massive international outrage. This pushed the government to promise new laws. However, it did not make any tangible changes. A minor positive change was a social shift resulting in more women finding the strength to report cases of sexual assault. Perhaps the most gruesome fact from this brutal event is the regularity of gang-rape in India. Nirbhaya’s case, while one of the most horrifying stories of rape, is only one among thousands.

Solutions in Bangladesh

There is a precedent for solutions to these types of problems. One solution is for the law to change in a way that punishes those who physically or sexually abuse women. Bangladesh has effectively lowered its acids attacks on women to just 75 in 2014 whereas it was previously 492 cases in 2002. It accomplished this by mandating the death penalty as the crime for acid attacks. Since Bangladeshi men now fear the severe ramifications for an acid attack, they refrain from hurting women with this method. However, if Bangladesh and India enacted rigorous laws for all types of abuse on women, then at the very least, those particular men would not be able to abuse women at as drastic of a level as they are currently.

Snehalaya Provides Aid to Abused Women and Children

Women who suffer abuse can still have hope since many NGOs are actively working to support the victims and help them get back their dignity and return to a normal life. One example is Snehalaya, which provides a safe space for women and children who are suffering abuse, and helps over 15,000 people per year. Snehalaya strives to use “grassroots outreach and education” to lower the amount of domestic abuse and violence that occurs in India. Women who are victims of sexual abuse can count on Snehalaya to provide the proper support group to push them towards a normal life, which is even more important because sometimes a woman’s parents may not accept her after she has become a victim due to social stigma.

Another solution for the rape epidemic in India is women’s empowerment through properly educating women, which is what Sayfty strives to do. It strives to provide women the tools to be safe from acts of sexual violence and to teach women how to defend themselves. While the first solution provides a legal means for female empowerment and the second provides a way to help them after they become victims, Sayfty is essential because it empowers women to stand up for themselves while suffering abuse or at least provides them with knowledge of how to get away from predators and get help.

The efforts of millions of women who are finding the bravery to call out abusers are defeating the rape epidemic in India. The laws in India are slowly changing to match modern social attitudes. NGOs are empowering women to lead their own fight. Though change is slow, it is inevitable, and more women are getting the justice they deserve every day.

Anish Kelkar
Photo: Flickr

 

Poverty and PTSDCommonly associated with combat veterans, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacts more of the global population than maybe expected. Recent studies have found a link between poverty and PTSD that reveals that socioeconomic status contributes to the majority of anxiety disorders.

How Poverty Contributes to PTSD

Mental disorders manifest in distinct ways for many people. However, the common underlying origin of Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) remains a terrifying or traumatic life event. Living in poverty often means surviving daily in vulnerable conditions, and with financial instability that limits access to necessities such as food, shelter and water. The inability to pay for expenses starts to become emotionally and mentally taxing. Poverty acts as a traumatic experience in many people’s lives and even after graduating in class status, difficulty persists to enjoy day to day life.

Symptoms of PTSD can appear within months of the traumatic event and include:

  • Avoiding: Detaching from the traumatic event by avoiding triggers such as places, situations or people.
  • Reliving: Flashbacks and nightmares due to memories that force reliving the traumatic experience.
  • Increased Arousal: An increased blood pressure or heart rate accompanied by outbursts of anger and difficulties sleeping

Some people with PTSD may exhibit all these symptoms, while others exhibit just a few. The severity of PTSD also varies from person to person. PTSD can be broken down into subtypes such as:

  • Delayed on-set PTSD: This variation refers to when symptoms of the disorder develop many years after the traumatic event.
  • Complex PTSD: This type of PTSD usually surfaces after ongoing childhood physical or sexual abuse.
  • Birth Trauma: This type occurs after traumatic childbirth.

Women with PTSD

Research estimates that 284 million people globally suffer from anxiety disorders such as PTSD. About 63 percent of people that suffer from anxiety disorders are women. In addition, women living in poverty tend to face PTSD at higher levels than any other group within the general population. The relationship between poverty and PTSD embodies that of the domino effect. Poor women’s PTSD symptoms often worsen due to the fact that living in impoverished neighborhoods risk ongoing exposure to triggers of the traumatic incident. A study undertaken by the Social Cognitive Theory also reveals that most of the women living in poverty with PTSD share a history of domestic violence and lack social support.

Treatments

It can feel nearly impossible to live a normal life with PTSD. Luckily, effective treatments exist that minimize the symptoms of the disorder. One of the best treatments for PTSD is Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy allows PTSD victims to talk about their cognitive behavioral process to a mental health professional to reduce and change reactions to triggers. Another important tool for managing PTSD is having a strong support system. The help of friends and family means everything during a mental health crisis. A support system of others that have suffered from PTSD also helps signify that a person is not alone in the experiences of the mental disorder. There are also organizations such as the PTSD Alliance, who work to educate and empower people with PTSD psychologically, economically and emotionally to thrive beyond environmental barriers. The organization currently has five international partners that provide programs to help improve the lives of those living in poverty with PTSD.

Overall, poverty and PTSD remain two prominent issues impacting people on a global scale. The connection between poverty and PTSD only further emphasizes that the more work that is done to reduce global poverty also diminishes the mental health crisis.

Nia Coleman
Photo: Wikimedia

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

How Hiring Refugee Women Could Boost the Global GDP

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

Effect of Businesses Hiring Refugee Women

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

The Pay Gap Status

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

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

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

– Destinee Smethers
Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurship in Mexico
According to a 2016/2017 study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Mexico is one of the five countries in the world where the number of women starting their own businesses is equal to or greater than men. This is fantastic news because if men and women participate equally in the economy, Mexico’s GDP could increase by 43 percent or $810 billion. From 2000 to 2010 alone, women’s participation in the workforce decreased extreme poverty by 30 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. With that increase in female entrepreneurship in Mexico, women are able to become more independent, but many women still face powerful barriers in starting their own business.

Many women, especially in subsistence settings, lack access to training, financing and markets, and face physical, sexual and economic violence. The average female-headed household earns $507 a month in urban areas and $273 a month in rural areas while male-led households earn $780 a month in urban areas and $351 a month in rural areas. The burden of domestic tasks also falls mostly on women. A 2009 survey found that men spend an average of 53 hours a week on economic activities and 12 hours on domestic tasks while women spend an average of 40 to 45 hours a week earning money and 20 hours maintaining the family and household.

The Marketplace Literacy Project

Elena Olascoaga, a gender and development consultant and former project manager for the Marketplace Literacy Project in Mexico, is very familiar with the challenge successful female entrepreneurship in Mexico faces. Olascoaga describes the Marketplace Literacy Project as an initiative to help people in subsistence settings become entrepreneurs by acknowledging the skills they already have in the marketplace and giving them the tools to build on and market pre-existing skills.

According to Olascoaga, the founder of this methodology and workshop program, Professor Madhu Viswanathan, tried to bring this program to Mexico for a long time before finding a U.S. State Department grant intended for breaking cycles of violence against women due to economic dependency. He initially designed the program to be gender-neutral so Olascoaga came in because her background in gender consultancy allowed her to effectively factor the unique challenges female entrepreneurship in Mexico faces to the workshops. She added a new program to the methodology that she called autonomy literacy, because, although the program teaches participants to create their own income, it is often difficult for people in abusive situations to start a business, even if they have the know-how.

The Need for Female Entrepreneurship in Mexico

While Mexico has made great strides to improve gender equality, there is often still a cultural emphasis for women to become mothers and housewives, to a point where Olascoaga describes economic dependence as romanticized. Many consider women lucky if they do not have to work because their husband provides food and shelter. However, this kind of love can be a trap. If the husband is the only provider, then the wife is not building her own savings or gaining experience in the workforce. “If something goes wrong in the relationship, then they have nowhere else to go,” she said.

In an interview by Forbes Magazine, hotel owner Gina Lozada said that “…Most parents don’t educate their girls to succeed in business. On the contrary, it is normal that women are raised to believe that their goal should be to marry and take care of the family.” Often, because female entrepreneurship in Mexico does not receive emphasis, women feel that they do not have many options and lack the confidence to start their own company.

Olascoaga observes that, because women in subsistence settings feel that they cannot strike out of their own, they often stay with their abuser. “A common phrase is no se hacer nada which is I don’t know how to do anything,” she says. Autonomy training, when combined with marketplace literacy training, teaches women that they do know how to do something. For example, they might be good cooks or skilled embroiderers. The methodology of the Marketplace Literacy Project is to build on preexisting knowledge and teach women to recognize their skills and to think strategically about their resources.

Autonomy Literacy

“We want women to be aware that they can create their income,” said Olascoaga. In the workshops, the Marketplace Literacy Project works with women in two age groups, women older than 18 and girls 14 to 18 years old. In her experience, almost all the women older than 18 had been in violent relationships where they stayed with their aggressors because they did not have economic independence. Some among the younger group were already mothers and in violent relationships where they had the potential to work and build skills, but their partners would not let them.

As the younger group went through the program, though, many of them began to realize that their mothers, aunts and other relatives were living in similar situations. One struggle that she noted when working with women is that they will not recognize that they are living in an abusive situation, especially to a group of strangers, so they instead speak in hypotheticals. The participants may know someone in this situation, and if they did, they would express how they could help.

The Marketplace Literacy Project, though, has helped give more than 4,500 women tools for economic independence since its start in 2016. Olascoaga said that those who participate have two major takeaways. The first is that autonomy becomes a very important concept and the second is that they do not need money to start a business. Olascoaga was happy to report that women will often come up to her and say that, after the workshop, they started businesses by selling cookies or embroidering. “It might seem small to us,” Olascoaga said, “but for them, it’s a really big deal.”

With female entrepreneurship in Mexico on the rise, more and more women are not only finding empowerment in their lives but changing the world around them by challenging a culture that often devalues their work.

Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

 

Women in Peace and Security

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

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

Women in Afghanistan

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

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

Impact of Women on the Peace Process

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

Four Focus Areas Outlined in the WPS Strategy

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

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

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

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

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Building Schools Using Recycled Plastics
Education in Cote d’Ivoire continues to be a major challenge in the country which has had a literacy rate of 53.02 percent among 15 to 24-year-olds as of 2014. In fact, more than 2 million children are out of school due to a lack of infrastructure. Classrooms are often full beyond capacity with more than 100 students. Fortunately, West Africa is building schools using recycled plastics as a ground-breaking initiative to change the status quo.

The Fighting Women

Abidjan, a city in Cote d’Ivoire, produces about 288 tons of plastic waste every day. The country recycles only 5 percent of the waste, and when it is, it is usually women that do so informally. These women recover the waste and use it to make money.

A women’s group called The Fighting Women makes a living from collecting plastic and selling it for recycling. However, The Fighting Women is now a part of a project that will not only clean up the environment but will also help improve education. The Fighting Women is an organization of 200 women that collect plastic. A woman named Mariam Coulibaly runs the organization and she has been collecting trash for 20 years. Coulibaly’s organizational skills are what made the project possible. The plastic that these women collect go into bricks in order to build schools.

Conceptos Plasticos

UNICEF in Cote d’Ivoire has partnered with Conceptos Plasticos, a for-profit plastic recycling Colombian company that will turn plastic to bricks and build schools for children. This project will help reduce the issue of overcrowded classrooms and give children the opportunity to attend school.

In 2018, the first African recycled plastic classroom emerged in Gonzagueville. It only took five days to build this classroom as opposed to the nine months it would take to build traditional classrooms. In addition, within the first year, two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo, constructed nine demonstration classrooms. These new classrooms included bricks that are cheaper and lighter than traditional ones, and also last longer.

Before the new plastic classrooms, children would go to school in traditional mud-brick and wood buildings. The mud-brick would erode from the sun and rain, and require repairs constantly. However, the newly built plastic classrooms are way better and longer-lasting. The classrooms are fire retardant and stay cool in warm weather. In addition, the classrooms are waterproof, have excellent insulation and can fight off the heavy wind. UNICEF and Conceptos Plasticos are planning to build 500 classrooms for more than 25,000 children with the most urgent need in the next two years.

Further Success of the Project

On July 29, 2019, a plastic converting factory opened in Cote d’Ivoire, which is also the first of its kind. This factory produces easy to assemble, durable and low-cost bricks others can use to build classrooms. The factory will solve a lot of major education challenges that children in West Africa face. According to UNICEF, kindergarteners from poor areas will be able to join classrooms with less than 100 students for the first time. Once the factory is fully functioning, it will recycle 9,600 tons of plastic waste a year and provide a source of income for women that collect trash. Moreover, there are plans to expand this project to other countries where there is a high percentage of children that are out of school.

Now, children are able to sit comfortably in classes that were once too overcrowded. This project of building schools using recycled plastics has not only constructed classrooms, but it has also reduced plastic waste in the environment. Although there is still a large number of children out of schools, this innovative project to help build schools in West Africa has been tremendously successful and has impacted the lives of many women and children.

Merna Ibrahim
Photo: Flickr