Information and news about woman issues

Money Lending System
Displaced women in Somalia have been using an age-old money lending system to help each other. The system is known as Ayuuto, which is Somali for “help.” The informal program allows small communities of women experiencing poverty in Somalia to access money for needs and emergencies.

How Ayuuto Works

The concept of Ayuuto exists in different countries across the globe. It is a type of informal money lending system that can help provide people in impoverished communities with money in emergencies. Ayuuto primarily functions in small groups; in this case, small groups of Somali women who live in camping settlements across Somalia. The women meet once a month in their respective camps and add a fixed amount of money to a pot. The manager of the group selects one person to lend money to each month, which is usually whoever is experiencing the direst need for funds. As Al Jazeera sums it up, Ayuuto is “an interest-free rotating savings scheme based on mutual trust.”

Since Ayuuto is an informal system, it is completely separate from any official banking system. This can make it riskier, but also faster and less complex to provide monetary help in an emergency. Aid from formal agencies has decreased and there are very few opportunities for formal work within the cities. Ayuuto allows the women to purchase day-to-day necessities and provides funds for the women to start their own small businesses.

Utilizing the Ayuuto system has also allowed women in these camps to support each other in other ways. The women come together and bond through conversation, listen to each other’s needs and support each other emotionally. Overall, the system helps foster a community of trust and security.

Poverty in Somalia

A 2019 World Bank Group report indicates that about 70% of people in Somalia live in poverty, making the country one of the most impoverished in sub-Saharan Africa. A notable number of people in Somalia are living just above the poverty line. About nine in 10 households in Somalia suffer deprivation in a minimum of one dimension, either “monetary, electricity, education or water and sanitation.” Urban areas experience less extreme poverty than rural communities and displaced people experience the most extreme poverty.

Since 1991, Somalia has experienced extreme levels of famine, political instability and droughts that have caused almost three million people to become displaced. Surveys show that the consequences of drought and the COVID-19 pandemic stand as the most significant difficulties for impoverished communities in Somalia. These conditions have forced families, most of them from rural areas, to abandon their homes and livelihoods and flee to camps that are inside and around cities in the hopes of finding a way to survive. In fact, three-quarters of displaced people live in cities. The camps that displaced Somali people settle in are often overcrowded and do not have sufficient resources of food and water for everyone.

How Poverty Disproportionately Affects Women

Most displaced women in Somalia do not meet the requirements to apply for a formal bank account, such as existing credit history or financial identity. Data also shows that almost twice as many women as men have no source of income.

Since the pandemic began, an increasing number of girls have dropped out of school. Data also shows that only about a quarter of female heads of households has had any type of formal education compared to more than 40% of male heads of households.

Reports show that more than a third of girls living in camps have said that their greatest worry is experiencing sexual violence, followed by difficulty accessing resources and violence in the household. Females head about four in 10 Somali households and only 37% of women are active in the labor market in contrast to 58% of men.

All of these challenges contribute to the fact that poverty in Somalia disproportionately affects women. Ayuuto serves as a safety net for women who are experiencing many barriers to establishing a stable income and livelihood.

– Melissa Hood
Photo: Flickr

Gender Digital Divide in Kenya
In March 2022, LakeHub, a “Kenyan tech innovation hub,” partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to equip 300 Kenyan girls with “digital literacy and technical skills.” As the Kenyan government has been making strong efforts to improve digital literacy, this partnership will be useful in bridging the gender digital divide in Kenya.

Digital Literacy in Kenya

In recent years, Kenya has made efforts to grow its digital economy and empower Kenyans with digital literacy skills. For example, in 2016, Kenya launched its Digital Literacy Programme, an initiative dedicated to providing digital devices to primary school children and training educators to give lessons through “digital learning content.”

These devices are “pre-loaded with interactive digital content in Math, English, Science and Kiswahili” in order to facilitate learning. Within the first phase of the initiative, the program distributed more than one million devices to more than “23,000 public primary schools” across Kenya.

Additionally, approximately 81,000 Kenyan educators received through the program. With such progress, the Digital Literacy Programme began its second phase in July 2019.

The Gender Digital Divide in Kenya

Despite the commendable strides of the Kenyan government in promoting digital literacy, there are concerns about equal access to digital devices and knowledge, particularly in the area of gender inclusivity. As the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report of 2019 reports, “women in Kenya are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet” and “are also 23% less likely to own a smartphone.”

Moreover, this gender digital divide appears to be growing with the gender gap in mobile internet use increasing from 34% in 2019 to 42% in 2020.

A 2021 study titled “Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s Perspective,” also found that only “35% of women use advanced digital services compared to 54% of men.” The factors that contribute to this gender digital divide in Kenya include “discrimination, harmful social norms, the education divide, geography and lack of motivation.”

LakeHub’s Partnership with the United Nations

LakeHub is one organization that is striving to close the gender digital divide in Kenya. In June 2020, LakeHub launched its FemiDev program which aims to “bridge the gender gap within the digital sphere.” The program provides incentives such as full scholarships to females to learn skills in “back-end web development, design thinking, entrepreneurship[and] graphic design,” among many other skills.

LakeHub’s partnership with the United Nations forms part of its FemiDev program. During the 12-month training program, participants receive “laptops and internet access in order to attend in-person training across three counties in Kenya — Kisumu, Busia and Migori.”

The program recruits participants through an online application that is released every three months “on all social media platforms.” So far, the program has “sponsored 200 girls between the ages of 18 to 35” with 80% of them achieving “relevant job placement and paid internships, both in the private and public sectors.”

The Importance of Gender Inclusivity in Digital Transformation

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of digital technology and connectivity has become even greater. Technology use has become the new normal with digital platforms becoming particularly handy in “facilitating remote learning, work-from-home, business and service provisions such as health, banking, market access and entertainment.”

Thus, for many female workers, the lack of digital literacy skills, to understand and gain access to new markets has led to a loss of income and livelihood. With the majority of Kenyan women working in manual jobs, characterized by “low pay and poor working conditions,” the restrictions and shutdowns from the pandemic hit female-dominated sectors hardest, meaning that women began losing their jobs first.

In addition, the 2021 Finance Corporation report indicates that 230 million employment opportunities in the African region “will require digital skills by 2030.” Therefore, equipping Kenyan women with digital literacy skills will grant them access to new employment opportunities and increase overall gender equality in Kenya.

While there is still work to do to fully close the digital gender divide in Kenya, initiatives like the FemiDev program lead the way to achieving gender equality in the digital arena.

– Divine Adeniyi
Photo: Flickr

Cash Transfers for Women in Poverty
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust about 124 million global citizens into the grips of extreme poverty, “the first increase in extreme poverty” in two decades. This pandemic-induced economic distress disproportionately affects women by essentially forcing them into unemployment or informal labor. Informal work is marked by insecurity and inadequate job protection. Before the pandemic, about 95% of working women in Asia and 89% in sub-Saharan Africa participated in informal work. The World Bank Group said that targeted cash transfers for women in poverty are essential to building a more stable economy after the pandemic.

D3 Framework for Women’s Economic Empowerment

As a response to the growing levels of financial distress globally, governments around the world have launched various social protection programs. Cash transfers made up about 33% of these protection responses. However, in low-income countries, cash-based assistance reached less than 5% of the population, “six times lower” than figures in high-income nations, according to Brookings.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, World Bank Group, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor and Women’s World Banking have curated guidelines for systems that will provide cash transfers for women in poverty. Developed in 2019 by a group of experts, the D3 framework aims to allow room for adaptation by countries according to their own specific situations.

D3 stands for Digitize, Direct and Design. The “digitize” aspect pertains to the systems of technology that would be most suitable for providing cash transfers directly to the women who need them. Digitizing the system involves using mobile phones or cards that belong to the women receiving the funds. Directing the payments into an account registered to the recipient would ensure that she has direct access and power over the funds.

The design of each cash transfer program will appear different in every country, depending on the current economic status and structure of systems, if existent. In every step of the process, it will be important to listen to the voices of the women affected and to appoint women to positions that will have an influence on decision-making.

Cash Transfer Systems in Multiple Countries

  • Brazil. Brazil’s Programa Bolsa Familia has registered more than 46.9 million people, making it “the largest conditional cash transfer [program] in the world.” Women account for 93% of registered participants.
  • Togo. The West African nation of Togo launched NOVISSI, a digital payment system that provided citizens with almost immediate payments at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the two phases of the program, NOVISSI gave $34 million worth of cash transfers to “a quarter of [Togo’s] adult population” in 200 of the most impoverished districts, according to the World Bank Group.
  • India. The South Asian nation of India has a cash transfer plan targeting impoverished women by transferring funds directly to a PMJDY account, which are accounts for unbanked citizens. In just the span of a week, India was able to “distribute three months of cash transfers to approximately 200 million low-income women,” according to the World Bank Group.
  • Pakistan. The country increased payment amounts during the pandemic for existing female beneficiaries in the country’s already established cash transfer program.
  • Turkey. The Middle Eastern nation also has a cash transfer program in place that directs money to women.  However, “new mothers and recent widows” would receive higher amounts, World Bank Group reports.

Evidence for Effectiveness of Cash Transfers

Data shows that disasters disproportionately affect women. Therefore, there should be disaster relief programs, such as government-regulated cash transfers, that prioritize helping women.

Currently, there is not a lot of sex-disaggregated data related to the benefits of cash transfer programs. However, there is existing data that supports the theory that direct cash transfers for women in poverty are beneficial.

Studies have recently proven that cash transfer programs help girls stay in school and help delay young marriage and early pregnancy. There is growing data that shows digital cash transfer programs lead to fewer reported cases of domestic violence against women and improve women’s independence and social status.

Researchers must still collect more sex-disaggregated data; more data will allow governments to plan more effective economic relief systems. By using the D3 network and the existing data, the World Bank Group is encouraging all governments, especially low-income countries, to establish effective cash transfer programs for women in poverty. The goal of these women-focused cash transfer systems is to ‌reach every woman in need, regardless of where they live or their technological capabilities.

– Melissa Hood
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Starbucks Foundation Continues Its Philanthropic Mission
Starbucks has consistently provided aid to numerous areas of the world through the Starbucks Foundation. Recently, the Starbucks Foundation announced that it would be expanding its aid to add more programs for women and girls to seek out entrepreneurial opportunities. In addition, the Foundation also announced it would be giving a $30 million grant to global nonprofit organizations. The Starbucks Foundation is continuing its philanthropic mission of ending inequities globally. Additionally, it is setting an example regarding the importance that all companies work to alleviate global poverty.

What is the Starbucks Foundation?

The Starbucks Foundation’s mission is to “strengthen humanity by transforming lives across the world, with a focus on enabling community resiliency and prosperity and uplifting communities affected by disaster.” The Starbucks Foundation offers a number of different programs to benefit communities in need. Here are its four main initiatives.

  1. Neighborhood Grants: The Starbucks Foundation offers neighborhood grants to allow partner organizations to nominate a local nonprofit organization to receive investments in their volunteer activities.
  2. Disaster Response: Starbucks supports initiatives that extend assistance to those in emergency crises.
  3. International Giving: The organization invests in global initiatives that respond to issues within local communities to provide aid and support.
  4. Origin Grants: Starbucks provides aid to tea- and coffee-growing communities, especially those providing assistance to women and girls.

Expanding Origins Program

The Starbucks Foundation recently announced that it is expanding its Origins Grant Program to help 1 million more women and girls. The Origins Program relies on three pillars which include promoting economic opportunity, promoting women’s leadership and increasing access to clean water and sanitation. Specifically, Starbucks is now working to establish childcare facilities that allow mothers to work while their children are getting the attention that they need in Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Starbucks is also currently establishing a new project with the Wakami Foundation. The Wakami Foundation comes from the brand Wakami, a bracelet company. The Wakami Foundation seeks to connect rural communities with the global marketplace, which coincides with the Starbucks Foundation’s mission of encouraging rural integration into markets abroad. It specifically focuses on the empowerment of female businesses as well.

The Starbucks Foundation and Wakami Foundation are teaming up to find women entrepreneurs in Guatemala to help them pursue their business goals. The two organizations are creating a women’s group to create products that will sell well in the global market. Also, the Starbucks Foundation is continuing its philanthropic mission by reintroducing agricultural measures including giving more chickens to rural areas to sell eggs in local markets.

Increasing Neighborhood Grants

The Starbucks Foundation also announced that it would be investing $30 million by 2030 in its newly established Global Community Impact Grants portfolio. This new addition to the Starbucks Foundation will impact communities around the world near Starbucks establishments, specifically in the Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Starbucks will extend its philanthropic mission by working with partner organizations in each region to promote a cause. In the Latin American and Caribbean region, Starbucks will work with the Alsea Foundation to support youth development and hunger. The Alsea Foundation is an extension of the restaurant Alsea, which seeks to combat child malnutrition, having served more than 2 million meals.

Rachel Reardon
Photo: Flickr

Skateboarding Girls in Bolivia
Skateboarding girls in Bolivia are challenging gender norms and stereotypes. Skateboarding is predominantly a male sport around the world. However, girls in Bolivia are trying to change that by learning to skateboard. They are not only learning how to skateboard but they are also doing it in traditional clothes.

Traditional Clothes

The traditional clothes of Bolivia include bright colored shirts, hats and long colored skirts. Some might find it difficult to skateboard in a skirt but these girls embrace it. These traditional clothes are a part of their culture.

This allows the girls to bring their culture into the world of skateboarding while also helping them connect to their culture. These colorful skirts are called “pollera.” They have learned from their grandmothers to wear these skirts with pride and they do so while skateboarding.

ImillaSkate

ImillaSkate is a female collective that three friends created in 2018. This collective has empowered women in one of the largest cities in Bolivia, Cochabamba. Dani Santivanez is one of the founders of ImillaSkate. They formed the female collective as a way to reclaim their roots and as a “cry for inclusion.”

“Imilla means “young girl” in Aymara and Quechua, two of the most widely spoken languages in Bolivia,” according to The Guardian. ImillaSkate also uses hairstyle as a part of cultural identity for skateboarding girls in Bolivia.

While brushing each other’s hair, the girls form a connection to each other. “The Imillias” the collective’s nickname compete in local competitions while empowering women and creating an acceptance of diversity.

Poverty in Bolivia

Bolivia has some of the highest poverty rates in South America and this is largely due to the lack of basic necessities. These basic necessities include a lack of food and clean water. This has greatly affected the children of Bolivia including young girls.

In Bolivia, one in three children suffers from stunted growth which prevents them from growing. This is due to the lack of healthcare systems and malnutrition. Skateboarding has become an outlet for many young girls as well as a way to empower them.

Empowering Women

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Bolivia has the highest proportion of Indigenous people in the region. This means that more than half of Bolivia’s population is Indigenous. However, these skateboarding girls are not only looking for a way to connect to their roots but also a way to empower women.

Skateboarding emerged in Bolivia over two decades ago, according to National Geographic. Dani Santivanez, one of the founders of ImillaSkate, shares a similar experience with many young girls in Bolivia. As a young girl, she learned how to skateboard and made it her hobby. However, as she grew older, her mother started complaining about her bruises which led her to quit skateboarding.

After college, she rediscovered her passion and started skateboarding again. This led to the discovery that many other girls also had a passion for skateboarding. It also brought to attention that while boys in Bolivia often get together to skateboard, girls rarely do. The question of why arose and this led to the creation of Imillskate which helps empower young girls to continue skateboarding. Many of the young girls in the group have stated they never imagined girls skateboarding.

ImillaSkate wants young girls to feel empowered to skate and it is no longer rare to see girls skateboarding. ImillaSkate hopes to see more skateboarding girls in Bolivia.

– Sierrah Martin
Photo: Flickr

Women in Senegal
Despite making some considerable progress in areas of political representation and educational enrolment, women in Senegal still have many challenges to surmount. Women in Senegal make up the majority of the population — 51% in 2020 — yet about 33% of employed Senegalese females 15 and older live “below the international poverty line.” In comparison, this rate stands at about 27% for males in the same category, a 6% lower rate. The financial inclusion of women in Senegal increases the likelihood of them rising out of poverty.

Gender Issues Women in Senegal Face

In an interview with The Borgen Project, retired U.N. Women regional director (West Africa), Cecile Mukarubuga, says that “in addition to a lack of education, [women face] structural barriers [such as] negative social norms that claim that women can’t make decisions or own property or assets.” Outdated gender norms see little place for women in Senegal outside household duties. Although women’s participation in the workforce is increasing as the years’ pass, standing at 40% in 2019, most women’s employment does not extend beyond the informal sector. In addition, men in this sector earn “82.9% more than women.”

Gender violence, female genital mutilation, underage marriage and cultural perceptions serve as significant hindrances to women’s autonomy and development and also impact their overall well-being and standing in society. According to a 2018 UNICEF report, in Senegal, 1.6 million girls and women faced childhood marriages. While there are laws and policies in place that protect women from violence, cultural traditions that value men and see a specific place for women hold more societal weight.

An example of this is the practice of female genital mutilation, which can lead to severe health complications or even death among girls and women in Senegal. Even though Senegal declared the practice illegal as early as 1999, the practice continues as it is a deeply entrenched cultural tradition. According to UNICEF data, “one in four women” between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced female genital mutilation in Senegal.

Financial Inclusion of Women in Senegal

In a world of gender inequality, financial inclusion can enhance women’s economic agency by equipping them with financial services and products that may improve their economic standing. This includes ensuring women have greater control of economic assets as well as equal access to opportunities and financial resources, such as bank accounts, inheritance, insurance and credit programs.

These financial resources are essential in ensuring women in Senegal are able to break poverty cycles. “For the short term, the best strategy would be to advocate for financial institutions to design financial products and services that meet the needs and capacity of women,” Mukarubuga says. However, she also notes that, first, “there’s a need to transform mindsets and change mentalities.”

Whether these advantages materialize as expanding small businesses, managing cash flow or even increasing assets, financial inclusion and opportunities would activate the untapped economic potential of Senegalese women, even setting the stage for them to be a part of the economic decisions in the household. Financial inclusion means families can look beyond “survival mode” and properly plan for their futures. “Women need a security net because when they do get a loan, most use it to feed their children or meet basic needs, so there is a need to adjust the supporting strategy to the most vulnerable women,” notes Mukarubuga.

United Nations Capital Development Fund

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) aims to address gender inequality in Senegal and increase the financial inclusion of women in Senegal. Primarily working with girls and women 10 years and older, the UNCDF looks to improve “awareness of, access to, use of and control over appropriate financial products and services.” Additionally, the organization works to address the socio-cultural environment in hopes of improving the agency of women and girls. In this way, the UNCDF strengthens female “economic empowerment and participation” in Senegal, which play an essential role in their ability to rise out of poverty.

The UNCDF runs various empowerment programs covering areas such as agriculture, digital finance and business management. In 2014, through a partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, UNCDF launched a Mobile Money for the Poor Programme(MM4p) that works to address the lack of digital financial inclusion in West Africa. The program was particularly successful in Senegal. From 2014 to 2020, the digital financial inclusion rate rose “from 13% to 29%.” In 2016 alone, women accounted for 10% of digital finance users in Senegal. The program also helped people set up digital wallets and connected local businesses to the digital payment service.

Looking Ahead

While the financial inclusion of women in Senegal is not an all-encompassing solution to dissolving the complex gender inequality issues within the nation, it serves as an empowerment tool to help women progress in society. The financial inclusion of women in Senegal stands as a potential pathway out of poverty for the nation’s female population.

– Owen Mutiganda
Photo: Flickr

Entrepreneurs in Liberia
Women who live in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa are more likely than their male counterparts to suffer from poverty. These women are unable to achieve their full potential due to inequalities. Because of this and a lack of resources, women have no other choice but to live in poverty. Structural poverty affects women in sub-Saharan Africa. This poverty stems from the economic, social and political background of the country. In 2018, Liberia ranked 155th out of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. Despite these challenges, many women are turning into entrepreneurs in Liberia through the help of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC).

The Situation

In rural areas of Liberia, women make up 60% of the population and stand as the backbones of the community. Despite continuous contributions to their families and the economy, women’s hard work rarely benefits them. Their work continuously goes unnoticed and bears no reward in the areas they live in. Agriculture and forestry are the foundations of Liberia’s economy. Women make up more than half of the agricultural workers. With no time for education, they end up vulnerable to the possibility of poverty. Household chores, caretaking and tasks such as fetching water, fuel and fodder take up the time of women.

How BRAC Helps Women Become Entrepreneurs in Liberia

With a mission to help, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed founded a nonprofit organization, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), in 1972 to empower people in poverty. Its mission is to empower people and communities in situations of poverty, illiteracy, disease and social injustice. This humanitarian movement has had an impact on Liberian women. About 750 women in Liberia received training to help them overcome poverty as part of BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Program.

With a focus on women, the approach successfully aided 750 Liberian women in becoming microentrepreneurs. The graduation approach of the program provides “consumption support” at the beginning of the program until students can afford food, a safe place to store their savings, training according to their aspirations and asset transfer. Lastly, the students go through technical and life skills training.

Improvement is Possible

As of 2021, 90% of the Liberian households participating in the BRAC program have multiple sources of income, savings have increased by $9.14, average loan size jumped from $17.10 to $57.14 and the average nutritious meal consumed has grown as well. The improvements are all results of the power of women and the well-deserved push the program gave them. The once poverty-stricken women that lived on less than $1 a day are now entrepreneurs in Liberia with their own businesses. Other women run farms and breed livestock for a living. All it took was a helping hand.

The Importance of BRAC in Liberia

The purpose of BRAC programs is to reduce poverty — these initiatives serve as stepping stones for the betterment of Liberia. The effect of BRAC programs spans 12 Liberian counties and serves several other countries around the world.

BRAC programs alone have ensured that 23.9% of participants have access to adequate amounts of food and increased monthly income by 36.8% after two years. Aside from improving food security, BRAC also provides employment opportunities. Out of 494 BRAC staff members, 94% of them are Liberians and 30% of the management team are women. Organizations like BRAC are useful in providing education, jobs, empowerment and livelihoods to the community. Although BRAC Liberia only began in 2008, it is continuing its mission to reduce poverty in Liberia.

– Destiny Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Violence Against Women in Cameroon
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make headlines, several other global challenges have come to light as a result. Like with many widespread concerns, crises often intensify the reality of serious issues. This is true regarding violence against women in Cameroon. While violence against women in Cameroon has attracted more attention since the beginning of the pandemic, its existence far precedes COVID-19. However, it is important to recognize that the implications of the current global pandemic worsen the intensity of gender-based violence.

Growing Violence Over Time

Data from 2012 reveals that 51% of women in Cameroon faced some sort of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. According to a 2019 research paper on gender equality in Cameroon, “56.4% of women in [a] union” face some form of violence. Furthermore, discrimination against women in Cameroon extends beyond gender-based violence. For example, 51.5% of women in Cameroon live below the poverty line in comparison to 39% of the general population. Moreover, 80% of women who live below the poverty line endure underemployment. Although COVID-19 is not a root cause of violence against women in Cameroon, it raises awareness regarding the severity of the matter. This growing global recognition draws attention to efforts addressing gender-based violence in the country and beyond.

WACameroon

Women in Action Against Gender Based Violence (WACameroon) began in 2005 as an organization centered around advancing human rights. WACameroon’s main focus is to advocate for a society in which everybody respects and upholds the rights of all. This includes improving the lives of impoverished women and other marginalized groups in Cameroon. WACameroon’s main objectives are:

  1. To encourage peacekeeping and the upholding of human rights.
  2. To create “action-oriented” initiatives to mitigate “gender-based violence and discrimination.”
  3. Improving the health of Cameroon’s population, specifically as it concerns HIV/AIDS.
  4. Ensuring the sustainability of both “natural and human resources.”
  5. Strengthening governance and democracy nationwide.

WACameroon’s efforts have seen success. The organization was able to improve girls’ access to education and female school completion rates while mobilizing “men as partners in the struggle for gender equality.” In addition, WACameroon helped facilitate “access to productive resources [for impoverished women].” With regard to gender-based violence, in particular, WACameroon “empowers perpetrators of [gender-based violence] to become advocates of gender equality.” The organization also empowers women with the confidence and assertiveness to enforce their rights. In 2010, the organization gained international recognition: International Service U.K. presented WACameroon with an International Human Rights award for its work in empowering people in Cameroon.

Opportunity Moving Forward

Violence against women in Cameroon brings more than just physical harm. The lasting effects of gendered violence bring along psychological challenges that can last a lifetime. While addressing these problems requires considerable time and effort, increased support from global organizations is an essential first step in demonstrating that individuals are not alone in their struggles. With the work of organizations like WACameroon, there is a growing awareness of the urgency for resources and aid in addressing violence against women in Cameroon.

– Chloé D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

Nigerian Women's Health
In a 2021 Brookings Institution report, Dr. Damaris Parsitau proposed that African women and girls remain at the forefront of recovery efforts from the COVID-19 pandemic. In explaining why, the Kenyan professor of religion highlighted that African females bear the brunt of the pandemic’s disasters, making up more than 60% of Africa’s health care workforce and essential services workforce. According to the report, this disproportionately high percentage of females reaches slightly more than 90% in some countries, such as Egypt. Women in African countries face not only an increased risk of death from COVID-19 but also poor working conditions, low pay and lack of voice due to androcentric leadership. The conditions that African women experienced during the pandemic raise questions surrounding African women’s health more broadly. Here is some information about how the Health Aid for All Initiative (HAFAI) is promoting women’s health at a holistic level for Nigerian women.

About the Health Aid for All Initiative

Health Aid for All promotes Nigerian women’s health in two different ways: by promoting women’s education concerning menstrual health and working to reduce maternal and infant mortality via disease control, immunization against common childhood diseases and population management. Dr. Ugochi Ohajuruka founded Health Aid for All on Valentine’s Day 2006. Today, she runs the executive operations of the nonprofit as its CEO.

About Dr. Ugochi Ohajuruka

Dr. Ohajuruka holds a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from the University of Ibadan; Ibadan claims its status because it is the capital of Oyo State in Southwestern Nigeria. She also holds a bachelor of medicine (MBBS) and a master’s in public health from the University of Liverpool in Northwestern England. In the English educational system, a bachelor of medicine is equivalent to the MD doctoral designation in the United States. To further qualify Ohajuruka’s expertise, she also took a course on international women’s health and human rights from Stanford University and studied leadership and management in health at the University of Washington in the United States.

The Origins of Health Aid for All (HAFAI )

The Health Aid for All Initiative began in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, and was fully registered as a nonprofit via the Integrated Tax Office of the Federal Inland Revenue Service on June 12, 2015. The organization also holds an office in the Bronx, New York.

Ohajuruka founded HAFAI to address the cognitive, interpersonal and structural problems that girls’ menstruation raises in Nigeria. Nigerian girls suffer from misconceptions concerning menstruation and have little bodily freedom during their menstrual cycles. In addition, the lack of proper menstrual products means that girls miss school for long periods of time, which affects the quality of life for the country as a whole. There is also an environmental impact as the sanitary pads used (up to 11,000 in one lifetime) are not biodegradable or environmentally friendly.

Nigeria suffers a lack of proper waste management resources. These concerns motivated Ohajuruka to found the organization. According to a story from Laureate, a nonprofit organization using education to promote changed lives, Ohajuruka was working on her dissertation to complete her online MPH. While working at her local health center one day, she saw a teenage girl rushed to the emergency room after suffering a pelvic infection caused by managing her menstruation with feathers and other unsafe alternatives. This was enough for the medical doctor to start the organization.

The Mission of Health Aid for All Initiative

HAFAI addresses women’s health holistically, targeting important issues like maternal and child health, menstrual hygiene management and adolescent health. Concerning maternal and infant health, Nigeria is the second-largest contributor to the global under-5 mortality rate and the global maternal mortality rate; daily, the West African country loses about 2,300 children 5 years old and younger and 145 women of childbearing age. To combat this, Health Aid for All provides educational opportunities on safe motherhood and the reduction of infant mortality rates.

Menstrual hygiene management is an important focus of HAFAI. HAFAI provides Nigerian girls information on menstruation to counter the misconceptions that religious and cultural influences promote. In addition, the nonprofit has produced an affordable, sustainable, washable and reusable sanitary towel for young women that lasts up to three years. As of date, HAFAI has distributed more than 22,400 reusable pads and has enabled 650 women to start pad-making businesses and thus earn a living. Abuja has seen a nearly 67% decrease in school absenteeism from 24% to 8%.

HAFAI has also shared success stories of individuals it has helped through its initiatives; readers can share the link to this webpage through their social media pages. The organization also has a blog through which readers can learn more about menstrual hygiene and other women’s health issues. Readers can also share links on social media to increase awareness.

The Health Aid for All Initiative has seen marked success in promoting Nigerian women’s health, which improves their quality of life, especially through education. This, in turn, provides hope for the reduction of poverty in the country as increased education causes fewer children to be born into poverty.

– Ozichukwu Ojukwu
Photo: Flickr

Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan, formally the Kyrgyz Republic, is a country in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has a population of approximately 6.5 million people, with more than 60% of the population living in rural areas. A practice of the Kyrgyz people, most prevalent in the country’s poor rural areas, is bride kidnapping, which occurs when men abduct women and force them into marriage with or without the consent of the woman’s family. Kyrgyzstan’s government and USAID are working to tackle this issue. However, one of the most effective ways to combat the practice of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan is addressing poverty in rural Kyrgyzstan.

The Connection Between Poverty and Bride Kidnapping

Because some of Kyrgyzstan’s population regard bride kidnapping as a traditional and romantic practice, men may “kidnap” brides with consent from the bride and her family. This is known as consensual bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnappings that occur without the bride’s knowledge or agreement are non-consensual bride kidnapping. The U.N. has condemned this practice of forced marriage as a violation of human rights.

Poverty and unemployment in recent years provide a source of frustration for young men in rural Kyrgyzstan seeking to marry. One characteristic of traditional Kyrgyz marriage is kalym, or the “bride price,” by which a man seeking to marry must pay the bride’s family in cash and livestock.

Poor men in rural Kyrgyzstan often do not have the money or resources to pay this price. Additionally, these men face pressure from their communities to marry before they reach a certain age. Thus, the quickest and cheapest way to do so is to kidnap a bride.

Other Factors in Bride Kidnapping

Aside from poverty, many other factors can also help explain why bride kidnappings occur. One reason why a man may kidnap a bride is simply that he cannot otherwise obtain her consent or because he is worried she may marry someone else.

Another factor that explains bride kidnapping is the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and Kyrgyzstan gained its independence, the young country sought to assert its nationalist dignity and separate its identity from the Soviet Union by reviving traditional practices, such as bride kidnapping.

The U.N. estimates that one in five marriages in Kyrgyzstan is the result of bride kidnapping. Poverty is one factor that incentivizes bride kidnapping. However, bride kidnapping can also cause further poverty, particularly for the few women who manage to escape their marriages. Often uprooted in the middle of their pursuit of education or professional opportunity, these women return to a society where they lack the skills they need to support themselves and their children.

Additionally, the state does not register marriages that are a product of bride kidnapping, as Girls Not Brides reported. Therefore, these women are not entitled to any assets or support they might have otherwise received in the case of legal divorce. Along with driving women further into poverty, negative effects of bride kidnapping on women also include domestic abuse, denial of educational or economic opportunities, high rates of depression and suicide.

What is the Government Doing About It?

In 2013, Kyrgyzstan’s government increased the prison sentence for bride kidnapping from a maximum of three years to a maximum of 10 years. The state also set forth a Criminal Code that prohibits bride kidnapping and forced kidnapping.

The government’s efforts to criminalize bride kidnapping are worth noting and encouraging further. Still, it needs to more consistently and effectively enforce laws that address bride kidnapping. Women who manage to file a complaint against their kidnappers often find that the crime remains unprosecuted. Additionally, the government does not yet sufficiently fund services for survivors of bride kidnappings and the domestic abuse that can result from such a practice.

The Five-Year Enterprise Competitiveness Project

However, the state is not alone in its efforts. Several USAID projects focus on helping the poorest regions of Kyrgyzstan by supporting job creation and economic growth. Since poverty is one factor that can potentially motivate bride kidnapping, efforts to relieve poverty may translate into deterrence from bride kidnapping.

For example, in 2018 USAID started the five-year Enterprise Competitiveness Project. It focuses on growing sectors that can quickly create more jobs such as the agricultural, manufacturing and apparel sectors. The project provides businesses in regions with high levels of poverty and unemployment with grants and technical advice, funds research and creates partnerships with financial institutions. USAID expects the project to create 19,000 new jobs.

The USAID Business Growth Initiative

USAID also works to support and empower the women of Kyrgyzstan in a variety of ways. The USAID Business Growth Initiative supports women-owned businesses in sectors such as tourism and apparel. Thus far, the project has provided 2,000 women with new technical skills.

USAID also provides professional training for female Members of Parliament. The agency sponsors conferences between these women and political activists. It is fostering connections that strengthen support for legislation that combats bride kidnapping and prioritizes women’s rights. Furthermore, USAID partners with civil society organizations to raise awareness about criminal liability for bride kidnapping. It also advocates for laws protecting women from domestic violence.

Thus, providing greater economic opportunity for men in rural Kyrgyzstan is one way to decrease the risk of bride kidnapping. Men who are more secure in their finances and assured of their employment will have less incentive to kidnap brides.

Additionally, providing greater state protections and services for victims of bride kidnapping as well as a greater guarantee for prosecution can also serve to deter this practice and rehabilitate the victims of this human rights violation. Finally, raising awareness for women’s rights could help dismantle traditional, misogynistic practices such as bride kidnapping.

– Savannah Algu
Photo: Flickr