programs through the US embassy in cambodia
The purposes of embassies around the world are to represent different country’s governments in another country and facilitate relationships between them. It is the responsibility of government agencies to address current global issues. As a result, many embassies assist in development initiatives in the countries they are based in. Embassies do this in many ways, especially through collaborating with local organizations, sponsoring organizations or creating new embassy-based programs. Below are two of the most sustainable and beneficial programs that the U.S. embassy works on in Cambodia.

SHE Investments Incubator Program

Women run 65 percent of the micro-businesses in Cambodia and most of those businesses do not have the resources or the engagement to propel them to their higher potential. In fact, women only account for one percent of formal business owners, whether small or large businesses. The mission of SHE Investments is to support women business founders in a male-dominated industry with the goal of impacting Cambodian communities both socially and economically.

SHE investments started as an idea in 2013 and fully launched in 2014. USAID Cambodia sponsors this organization through the Development Innovations (DI) Cambodia project, one of the programs through the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia.

In 2016, the organization applied for the DI grant through USAID. SHE Investments received a small grant that went towards the development of Ngeay Ngeay, a free database to help women-led businesses register with their local government agencies, such as the Ministry of Commerce. This helped to transform the organization’s possibilities with technology because it had not tried to utilize those resources to the fullest extent prior to the grant. The DI grant also provided workshops in social media and branding, which opened the organization’s network to different corporate partners.

“I didn’t have any skills for video before. It looked really hard. But [the DI trainers] made it really simple for someone who has never edited before,” said Seng GeachLeang, the Communications and Community Engagement Officer.

With the support of USAID and the programs through the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia, SHE investments was able to expand its inaugural program, the SHE Incubator Program. It works to assist micro-businesses with five paid employees or less in order to give them personal training and preparation for running a larger scale business one day. The workshops, delivered over the course of six months, are in the Khmer language.

In order to create sustainable change, SHE investments tracks the growth of the small businesses over time to determine the impact of their assistance, whether or not there is an increase in household income, women’s empowerment and comfort with decision-making as a result of their assistance.

Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI)

Another one of the programs through the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia not only reaches the country’s own youth but also those in neighboring countries. The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) supports and provides opportunities for youth across all Southeast Asian countries.

In 2013, YSEALI began its movement to engage young adults from 18 to 35 years old in leadership development and relationship making. The program is unique because it connects young adults from different countries in the region with each other. This is to promote unity and belonging as well as strengthen diplomatic ties between Southeast Asia and the U.S.

The leaders can apply to become members at any time. Once in the group, they focus on topics and issues that youth in the regions determine themselves. This has included but has not limited to, professional women empowerment, food security and foreign relations. Programs within YSEALI include professional and academic fellowships to the United States, regional workshops and grant funding.

It is evident that the benefits of YSEALI are on an even larger scale than it seems. According to the Huffington Post, during the 2015 and 2016 academic year, over 55,000 Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) students studied in the U.S. and their economic contribution to the U.S. economy was $1.7 billion. This mutually beneficial relationship ensures the prioritizing of the future of personal development of ASEAN youth. These young adults are the future change-makers in their region of the world.

Still, including these programs, there are a number of other programs through the U.S. embassy in Cambodia and each is unique. Many of the programs provide avenues of support for young adults as they make up approximately 65 percent of people in the Southeast Asian region. With the help of organizations and programs like those in this article, there are opportunities to make lasting change for the better in Cambodian communities.

– Melina Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

Women in Peace and SecurityIn 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

Menstrual Hygiene for RefugeesWhen looking at menstrual hygiene for refugees, imagine for a moment, having a period while fleeing political violence or natural disaster when sanitary products and private sanitation facilities are scarce. In the Syrian refugee crisis alone, there are more than one million girls and women between the ages of 12 and 59 in need of access to menstrual hygiene. This means that 29 percent of the more than four million Syrian refugees are in need of access to menstrual hygiene.

While refugee camps make sure to provide food, shelter and clean water, many personal items are not provided. Too often, menstrual hygiene for refugees such as disposable products and private facilities not given adequate attention. In turn, many women and girls often have to rely on reusing rags or garbage, which can lead to infections. However, there are organizations working to improve access to menstrual hygiene for refugees.

Rwanda

In refugee settlements in Rwanda, more than 10,000 women and girls from Burundi struggle with maintaining menstrual hygiene. Plan International Rwanda is working to improve access to menstrual hygiene for refugees by providing 3,668 women and girls with underwear and sanitary pads. By providing them access to sanitary products, Plan International Rwanda allows girls to go to school, play with other children and feel more confident.

Uganda

The nation of Uganda has been attacking the problem of menstrual hygiene for refugees from multiple angles. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), for example, has been distributing menstrual hygiene supplies such as reusable pads, buckets, soap, towels and undergarments. In addition, they are building latrines and carrying out community sensitization activities to destigmatize menstruation.

Reusable menstrual hygiene products have proven to be an important option for refugees. Just four reusable pads provided by the DRC can last a refugee a year. Another reusable option that has grown in popularity thanks to the NGO WoMena is the use of menstrual cups. These medical-grade silicone cups can be worn up to 12 hours at a time and are less likely to leak. One cup can also be reused for up to a decade. The organization provides training to teach refugees how to use them. This aids in destigmatizing misconceptions around its use and losing one’s virginity. Of those who decided to try these reusable cups, 81 percent reported satisfaction with the product.

Jordan

In Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp, the U.K.-based non-profit, Loving Humanity has been working to not only provide sanitary products but also job opportunities. Jobs are being created by implementing 12 machines that assemble low-cost sanitary products in 2016. These machines were pioneered in India by Arunachalam Muruganantham after seeing his wife hoarding rags because she could not afford menstrual hygiene supplies. His design creates inexpensive pads by breaking down tree bark cellulose. It is very popular among rural women in India because it costs approximately 30 cents for a 10-pack of pads.

The cost of one machine is $2,000 and a month’s worth of materials is $360. This will produce 30,000 pads. In Zaatari, these machines aim to employ women in the community. This gives them a sense of empowerment and control over their bodies as well as a paycheck.

When it comes to disaster management, it is vital to include menstrual hygiene for refugees. While these methods have helped improve access to menstrual hygiene products, many refugees still have to choose between food and hygiene. Access to these supplies, though, opens a world of opportunities for girls. They can play with other kids and pursue their educations without the anxiety of stigmatization.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Womenkind WorldwideInternational organization Womankind Worldwide is working to unify gender equality campaigns globally.
To achieve its aims, Womankind Worldwide teams up with local organizations to create action plans that will help meet the local needs as well as follow cultural traditions. By partnering with local organizations and movements, it can quickly identify the needs of the community and strategies on how best to interact with the social and political climate.

Womankind Worldwide

Womankind Worldwide has finely tuned its approach over the past three decades based on what is most effective and what will create sustainable change. It currently works in Africa, Latin America and Asia, tailoring its plan of action to each country with the aim of meeting three universal goals.

  1. End violence against women and girls in any and all forms
  2. Increase women’s rights for economic freedom and land ownership
  3. Ensure that woman have an equal voice in politics and policy decisions.

The organization has found that the goals are best achieved through three approaches. First, in collaboration with local partners, it creates a variety of projects and services to support and uplift women. Not only does the organization create shelters for women in need but it also develops workshops to help women uncover new career paths.

Second, it believes supporting and strengthening existing local women’s rights movements is critical to creating sustainable change. It works to support the growth of local organizations through technical support, communications, shared learning, advocacy and funding opportunities. Lastly, Womankind Worldwide works on an international level to create change. As a leading authority on global women’s rights, it uses its influence and expertise to ensure women’s development is at the heart of international advancement work.

Challenging Initiatives

Part of its commitment to creating change on international levels is challenging initiatives that may be approaching the problem incorrectly. Womenkind Worldwide has continually argued that the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, launched in 2017 and managed by the World Bank, ultimately undercuts economic growth for women.

Through the initiative, the World Banks targets so-called “high-growth women,” which Womankind Worldwide argues will most likely not reach the poorest women. It also argues that it undermines women’s access to “decent work” and fails to address the structural issues causing the disparity. It continues to emphasize the importance of expanding the program and digging deeper into the roots of the problem.

Connecting Women

Womenkind Worldwide is currently focusing on strengthening Women’s rights movements across Africa by connecting them. It has partnered up with the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), the National Association for Women’s Action in Development (NAWAD) and local legal organizations to develop legislation promoting equality and access.

In 2017-18, Womankind Worldwide directly benefited 103, 705 women and indirectly supported more than 12.7 million women. It currently focuses on Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe with smaller programs also in Tanzania Zambia, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Ethiopia, Womankind Worldwide has given more than 2,000 women business training, provided more than 3,500 women with legal aid and supported the education of 4,000 girls.

Womankind Worldwide believes that long-term collaboration is the most effective way to create lasting change, but small steps can make significant changes for individuals. For many women, the spaces created by Womankind Worldwide and their partners are the first time women are brought together and asked what difference they want to see. As many organizations look to implement short term solutions or projects for women, Womankind Worldwide is looking to change the way they interact with their world.

Carly Campbell
Photo: Flickr

BARKA FoundationBurkina Faso is a small, land-locked country located in western Africa. Due to recurring droughts and the lack of efficient infrastructure, access to clean water remains an issue in Burkina Faso, especially during the dry winter months when two of the country’s three rivers dry up. In addition to water scarcity, many areas still do not have the sanitation facilities necessary to ensure drinking water is clean and safe. An organization called the BARKA Foundation is working to change that.

Barka is an African word meaning gratitude, blessing and reciprocity. These three words embody the mission of the BARKA Foundation, an American non-profit that strives to bring clean water to all parts of Burkina Faso. In 2015, 93.3 percent of the rural population and 80.3 percent of the total population did not have improved sanitation facility access. Nearly half the country still lives without clean water. Dirty water can spread diarrheal diseases and other infections to the public. Below are descriptions of the BARKA Foundation’s current clean water projects, and the positive effects these projects have had on communities in Burkina Faso.

WASH

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education (WASH) is a long-term initiative that not only supplies rural villages with clean water but also educates the villagers on important sanitation and water purification practices. The goal here is sustainability. By giving village members lifelong sanitation skills, BARKA can be confident that their positive impact will continue after they have left. WASH objectives include digging wells, building latrines and educating members of the community.

Part of what makes the BARKA Foundation special is its culturally sensitive and community-based approach to clean water. Before any project starts, BARKA makes sure it is in accordance with the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ Principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). This principle ensures that all beneficiary communities agree to the non-profit’s presence and initiatives, have the right to negotiate the terms of the agreement and can withdraw consent at any time.

BARKA also makes a point of developing sustained personal relationships with each village, so the two groups can develop trust and collaborate effectively. The foundation establishes water and sanitation committees in each town, which are run by the villagers and must be made up of equal parts men and women. These principles are central to WASH’s desire to create a sustainable system of clean water and sanitation. So far, more than 25,000 rural villages have been improved by WASH. The organization has drilled 6 wells and built 14 bathrooms in 5 primary schools in rural areas.

Social Art

BARKA recognizes the cultural importance of song, dance and performance in Burkina Faso. Therefore, to engage village members, the BARKA Foundation uses theater to relay information to the public. These performances involve a portable stage along with light and sound equipment. The plays often contain themes such as female empowerment and sustainable agriculture. After a performance, the audience and the actors on stage have a lively debate where questions may be asked or points challenged. The goal is to create an immersive and interactive learning experience in which everyone can participate.

The adult literacy rate in Burkina Faso is only 34.6 percent. For this reason, engaging and participatory education is extremely important in rural areas. BARKA wants to get the necessary information out there in an effective way that does not exclude illiterate members of society. BARKA has involved 10,023 people in villages and public performances to date, benefiting more than 16,000 people. The average audience size per performance is 432 people.

Walk for Water

A great way for people in their home countries to get involved with the BARKA Foundation is to do a Walk for Water. When there are no wells close by, villagers must travel to a water source to fill up heavy jugs of water and lug them home. The chore typically falls on the shoulders of women and girls in the village, so they usually have to attend to small children while making the journey. Often, those going to get water are barefoot or equipped with poor footwear. This practice is physically tiring and time-consuming and takes time away from girls’ education.

Walks for Water are an imitation of this daily burden. Classrooms, schools and clubs raise money and awareness by carrying water jugs and walking for a set distance (usually 6 kilometers). The fundraiser engages the entire community and is a great way to get everyone involved in an important cause.

Ceramic Filters

Ceramic water filters are a cheap, environmentally sustainable and generally effective way to purify household water. The CDC found that people who used ceramic filters were 60 to 70 percent less likely to contract diarrheal diseases from their drinking water. While these filters are useful for removing most protozoa and bacterial pathogens, they are typically not as effective at removing viruses. For this reason, filters should not be considered a long-term solution but rather an important step.

The BARKA Foundation uses a “cross-subsidization” model to distribute filters to impoverished areas. Essentially, BARKA sells the filters to NGOs and the Burkinabe middle class that can afford them. They then use those profits to distribute ceramic filters to poor areas, often visiting rural villages with little to no sanitation facility access. These filters represent a simple and effective way to ensure every household has at least some method of water purification.

The Future of Clean Water in Burkina Faso

Although the federal government recognized the importance of clean water distribution with the Water Act in 2001, Burkina Faso’s local governments largely do not have the money or resources to maintain filtered water and sanitation practices. The BARKA Foundation seeks to fill these gaps, and its efforts have no doubt resulted in success on the ground.

While it can be difficult to quantify exactly how much improvement BARKA has brought about, they are headed in the right direction. In 2005, a year before BARKA was founded, the life expectancy in Burkina Faso was 53.3 years. Today, the country’s life expectancy is about 61 years. BARKA’s various projects will continue to fight poverty by bringing clean, safe and sustainable water to Burkina Faso.

Morgan Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Jewelry Brands That Give BackEvery day, people around the globe wear jewelry to either symbolize a personal significance or to complete any outfit. Whether it is worn as an accessory or to make a statement, jewelry has been around for centuries. There are thousands of jewelry brands in the world, but only a small fraction of them give back to people in need. This article will focus on five jewelry brands that give back to exploited women and children in need.

5 Jewelry Brands That Give Back

  1. Half United– Siblings, Christian and Carmin Black founded Half United back in 2009 as a way to merge their passion for fashion and philanthropy. Using recycled bullet castings, Half United’s unique jewelry designs empower consumers to fight against hunger. Each product purchased creates seven meals for a child in need. At the end of each month, Half United divides the number of meals raised equally between their local and global partners. One of their global partners is Elevating Ministries, which feeds more than 5,000 students a day. In the past eight years, Half United has supplied over 800,000 meals for children in need.
  2. AccountABLE- After witnessing the hardships Ethiopian women endured in extreme poverty, Barrett Ward was on a mission to end generational poverty when he created AccountABLE. The organization presented women with an alternative opportunity that would provide them with a living while empowering them out of poverty. Women in Ethiopia, Mexico, Peru and the U.S. create items from handmade jewelry to footwear. AccountABLE is one of the few companies that have published their wages. By making their worker’s wages public, AccountABLE is hoping other companies will do the same and realize the difference between minimum wage and a living wage.
  3. Akola – Akola is a local Ugandan dialect that translates to “she works”. Each piece of jewelry is handcrafted by women across East Africa and the U.S. Akola employs women who care for an average of 10 dependents. Through their nonprofit partners, Akola Project and Akola Academy, the organization creates jobs for women in unstable situations in both East Africa and the U.S. They create a community to assist, teach and empower women to become self-sufficient and free from poverty. Akola is not only helping women but also the environment through upcycling Karatasi beads, horn and natural raffia.
  4. PURPOSE Jewelry- For the past 11 years, PURPOSE Jewelry has been helping and employing young women around the world who have been rescued from human trafficking. Every stage of production involves one of these women and enables them to earn a living, learn valuable skills and gain a sense of security. Each handcrafted piece of jewelry includes the artisan’s signature, forever connecting her story of hope to the consumer. With each purchase, a portion of the proceeds goes toward their nonprofit, International Sanctuary. International Sanctuary provides women with education, health care and counseling. In the past year, they have provided over 9,600 hours of professional training and nearly 3,800 hours of education and tutoring.
  5. Starfish Project- The Starfish Project provides care for exploited women in Asia through its social enterprise of handcrafting jewelry and Holistic Care Programs. The Holistic Care Programs provide women with career training, healthcare, counseling, safety and education grants for children. Each month, the Starfish Project serves over 400 women by making weekly visits to local brothels. These visits provide women with medical services, education and even birthday celebrations. Nearly 150 women have been employed by the Starfish Project with thousands more participating in their Community Outreach Services. One hundred percent of the proceeds are reinvested into the Starfish Project’s mission of restoring hope to women and girls.

These five jewelry brands that give back are more than just selling accessories, they are helping those in need. These five jewelry brands give women back their freedom and give children back their childhood.

– Emily Beaver
Photo: Flickr

girlsinsouthafrica
From June 24 through July 5 2019, Vodacom initiated its Code Like a Girl program in South Africa. In South Africa 70 girls were provided with the opportunity to take classes in engineering, math and coding. While one purpose of the communications company’s program was to narrow the gender gap, it means more for the country as a whole; it means the chance for sustainable jobs and prepares South Africa for the industrial revolution affecting all developing countries.

Early Stages of Code Like a Girl

Vodacom is a company based mainly in South Africa and nearby countries that is focused on mobile communications. It manages phones and data much like other companies, such as Verizon and Sprint, but on a more local scale. Even back in 2018, the company made plans to offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects to girls in different provinces and hopefully spark an interest in these courses.

The inspiration for this plan derived from a lack of female participation in STEM courses because only 35 percent of girls pursued any kind of career in these fields. Women are also underrepresented in STEM careers, as most of them are male-dominated.

Steven Barnwell, an executive manager for Vodacom, commented that while this career gap is beginning to close globally, “in many countries, including South Africa, the gap is widening in STEM careers.” Girls in South Africa with the backing of Vodacom’s coding program might be encouraged to pursue these daunting careers, now equipped with the know-how to prosper.

Initiating the Initiative

Phoenix, a township in South Africa, documented the course of the Code Like a Girl initiative in its local news. Managing executive Chris Lazarus detailed the process and how the girls chosen benefitted.

Firstly, 70 girls in the province of KwaZulu Natal, ages 14 through 18, had been selected to learn code. They were also advised to study communications as well as science and technology subjects. Participating in both STEM subjects and Vodacom’s initiative would foster problem solving and creative thinking.

Throughout the one-week course, the girls in South Africa learned the language of the computer and how to operate programs for developers such as GitHub and JavaScript. Finally, at the end of the week, each girl presented a website she developed by herself.

Lazarus proposed that providing coding skills allows girls to thrive in the transition to a technologically developed nation, saying “we aim to have young girls excel in the fourth industrial revolution. Through our project, we want a future free of the gender inequality, more so when it comes to jobs of the future.”

Looking at the Other Benefits

Currently, South Africa boasts one of the highest information, communications and technology (ICT) markets in Africa. ICT products and service cultivates in the markets. IT jobs, therefore, are currently sought after as the economy begins to focus on its thriving industry. Girls in South Africa pursuing coding now have the opportunity to jump into the influx of jobs, securing a sustaining and well-paying future.

While the economy prospers, 30.4 million citizens still remain in poverty. Nearly half of South Africa’s black females live below the poverty threshold, and many schools remain under-resourced. However, with Code Like a Girl spreading across provinces, girls living in poverty are presented with a unique opportunity and education when the program reaches their school. A gap then not only lessens between gender, but economic class as well.

South Africa is also on the brink of a digital revolution. Communities still remain in the process of transitioning to cellphones and schools are adopting technology in their classrooms, requiring both teachers and students to adapt. Girls inspired by Vodacom’s program may find themselves with an edge, already accustomed to the confusing languages of technology while the rest of society is still getting used to it.

Matimba Mbungela, Vodacom’s Chief Officer of Human Resources, commented to ITWeb Africa in regards to the students’ situation, saying, “it [is] necessary for us as the country’s leading digital telco to take it upon ourselves and launch this initiative to prepare young females, so they can adapt skills of the future and contribute in taking our economy forward.”

Inspired by ‘Code Like a Girl,’ girls in South Africa will find a unique position in society amidst the ever-changing world of technology.

– Daniel Bertetti
Photo: Flickr

Jobs for Refugee WomenLara Shaheen, a Syrian woman in Jordan, has managed to create jobs for refugee women while taking advantage of pre-existing skills. The Syrian Jasmine House in Amman, Jordan allows displaced women to monetize their crafting abilities by giving them the resources to create and sell handmade items, most commonly artisan soaps. According to the Jordanian Ministry of Planning, Jordan hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees who migrated after a civil war broke out in 2012. The conflict between the Syrian government and rebel forces destroyed significant infrastructure and caused the displacement of 13.5 million Syrians.

The Origins of Syrian Jasmine House

Shaheen fled Damascus in 2012, settling in Jordan with the common mindset that the displacement was temporary. But as the war continued, she decided to create a business that would help her break free of the aid dependence many refugees find themselves reliant upon. The initial team comprised of Shaheen and five other Syrian women who left Zaatari camp in 2014 to work on expanding their marketing of hand-sewn goods.

Since that time, the Jasmine House has created jobs for over 40 refugee women and trained thousands of women of all ages in tailoring, embroidery, stained glass, wool knitting, crochet and natural soap making. Females head over 30 percent of Syrian displaced households. As many women have lost husbands or sons due to the war, the need for female financial independence is critical. 

Although Shaheen named the company in honor of her home Damascus, often called “the capital of Jasmine,” her objective is to give Syrian women a way to integrate into Jordanian society so that they can be both productive and dependent on themselves. According to The Jordan Times, she has also trained numerous Palestinian and Jordanian women to create handmade Syrian goods, promoting independence for all vulnerable women in Jordan. 

How Syrian Jasmine House Benefits Others

 Once Shaheen realized the situation in Jordan might not be temporary, she created a for-profit initiative to help women become less dependent on aid agencies. The women first sell their products to Shaheen, making an average of $280-560 a month, according to National Geographic. Shaheen then uses her contacts and social media platforms, such as her Facebook page, to sell the goods to the general public. The income women can make through the Syrian Jasmine House is higher than the average $218 a month UNHCR gives refugee families in Jordan.

The Syrian Jasmine House helps bring in an income which can be difficult since work permits are challenging to obtain in Jordan due to already scarce jobs for Jordanians. In February 2019, Shaheen received her first large international order from the United Kingdom. The Jasmine House also offers workshops through the Airbnb Experiences network for tourists to learn new Syrian skills. A writer for The Medium, Ashlea Halpern, learned the craft of making Aleppo-soap while listening to the story of Maya Albabili who is part of the Syrian Jasmine House.

As conflict dies down in Syria and the country stabilizes, organizations have begun to look at repatriation as an option. UNHCR has labeled repatriation as the only durable solution for Syrians in Jordan, however, they are still not able to safely recommend return. Until it is absolutely safe for Syrians to return to Syria, larger organizations, such as UNICEF, are focusing on providing education and employable skills to people. Smaller organizations emphasize small business building through workshops and microloan services. 

In June 2019, Shaheen opened her second location in Istanbul, Turkey. According to UNHCR, Turkey hosts 3.2 million Syrians and Shaheen is hopeful that she can provide jobs to more refugee women and enable them to become self-dependent. The Syrian Jasmine House denotes the motto “we are producers, not refugees,” and continues to work at breaking the aid-dependent cycle countries post-conflict often find themselves in.

 
– Carly Campbell
Photo: Flickr

Women in ZanzibarIn Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, many women struggle to overcome gender inequalities. Women are more likely to be illiterate, uneducated and unemployed in addition to being prevented from owning land and lacking opportunities to obtain leadership positions. Some women are fighting back against these barriers, however, by helping themselves and others increase their social and economic status. Furthermore, supporting female empowerment in Zanzibar has become a priority for a few local and national organizations.

The Situation for Women in Zanzibar

Women in Zanzibar are “twice as likely as men” to be uneducated. This has contributed to increasing employment inequalities since an education is becoming more essential to obtaining a job. Approximately 32 percent of female youths in Zanzibar are unemployed in comparison to only 10 percent of male youth. Women who do have jobs often earn less with 73 percent of women being paid at a lower rate than their husbands.

Additionally, only 16 percent of women in Zanzibar have bank accounts, and 91 percent do not own land, making it hard for women to become economically self-sufficient. When women do own land or other assets, these things are often controlled by their husband or male relatives. Female empowerment in Zanzibar involves women gaining financial and economic freedom as well as increasing their social status. The following are a few ways women’s lives in Zanzibar are improving.

Female Entrepreneurship

In response to high youth unemployment, many young women are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to make a living. At least 47 percent of women who are self-employed stated that their reason for doing so was the inability to find other employment. The majority of those who become interested in entrepreneurship are women with 82 percent of working women being self-employed. Self-employment and entrepreneurship offer women the opportunity to become financially independent, which is difficult in the low-paying formal sector.

Entrepreneurship is difficult, however, and many women who are self-employed still struggle economically. According to the Ministry of Labor, there are initiatives that support female entrepreneurs, but these do not reach all women. The most marginalized women do not have these opportunites. Moving forward, it is crucial that female entrepreneurs receive more support from the government and NGOs, otherwise, many will remain financially dependent on male relatives.

Seaweed Farming

For other women, seaweed farming has helped decrease economic inequalities and increase female empowerment in Zanzibar. In coastal villages, women have long been sequestered in their homes, only leaving for funerals, weddings or to care for sick relatives. Seaweed farming was taken up by women from these villages as a way to enter the public sphere and earn money for themselves.

According to marine biologist Flower Msuya, “At the beginning some husbands threatened divorce if their wives went out to farm seaweed… But, when they saw the money women were making, they slowly began to accept it.” Women’s social statuses in the villages have increased, and many have helped their families rise out of poverty. The work has also been crucial for women who were divorced from their husbands as they need to be able to support themselves.

Solar Training

Barefoot College, an organization that spread from India to East Africa, is offering a training program for women in Zanzibar, teaching grandmothers and single mothers in rural villages how to be solar engineers. The program focuses on this demographic of women because many are often illiterate and lack other opportunities. Solar training is also beneficial to the community as a whole since rural areas often lack adequate electricity.

Women are trained at Barefoot College for five months after which they return to their villages to set up solar lighting systems for family and neighbors. This is a cheaper option for most families, and the price they pay helps support the female engineers who help maintain the solar equipment in their village. Salama Husein Haja, a single mother, praised the program, stating, “When I go back I will have status. I will be knowledgeable and I will be proud.”

Reclaiming Public Spaces

A project in Zanzibar called Reclaim Women’s Space is working towards female empowerment in Zanzibar by helping women overcome cultural and religious constraints that require them to stay in the private sphere. There are few public places for women to gather socially in Zanzibar, so women generally go to work and then return home, in part because they are also responsible for domestic tasks.

Reclaim Women’s Space seeks to give women spaces in the public sphere where they can meet and work together to solve community problems. One of their projects was the creation of a community center, which has become a symbol of women’s economic, social and political power. Madina Haji, an engineer involved with the project stated that the goal is to “empower women to stand on their own” by improving their social status and giving them opportunities to come together.

It is crucial that initiatives such as these continue, and that women who are trying to obtain more autonomy are supported by local, national and international organizations and programs. Female empowerment in Zanzibar will take time to achieve, but persistent efforts to help these women become economically independent in a way that is also personally and socially empowering for them are an important part of making gender equality a reality.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

STEM Education in Sri Lanka
On March 8, 2019, Microsoft hosted a #DigiGirlz conference for International Women’s Day at the Office of the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to inspire 500 women to become more active in science, technology, engineering, math or STEM fields. The conference, which is a part of the company’s #MakeWhatsNext campaign, involved keynote speakers, group workshops and coding exercises with Microsoft MakeCode. #DigiGirlz helped create a voice for female role models for the students and worked to inspire teachers and parents to encourage STEM education in Sri Lanka.

Barriers to Women’s STEM Education

Microsoft’s goal for the conference was to show female students of Sri Lanka that entering STEM fields is a possible and attainable goal despite the country’s current workforce statistics. Currently, only one-third of the women in the country have entered the workforce, and the country holds the 14th largest gender pay gap in the world. Marriage also hampers women’s ability to hold a paying job in Sri Lanka’s workforce, decreasing odds by 26 percent.

One of the issues preventing women’s STEM education in Sri Lanka is the subject itself. Many educators view STEM courses and careers as masculine, citing that female STEM work is of a lower quality than male work. Many of the current teachers believe that female students lack the desire to learn about technology, citing this factor as the driving force for lower rates of female STEM students instead of family values or problems surrounding the teaching of materials. Most women are also unable to enter the STEM workforce because nearly 40 percent lack the educational qualifications needed to succeed in these career fields.

The Conference

The #DigiGirlz conference featured Andrea Della Mattea, President for Asia Pacific at Microsoft, as one of the key speakers. Mattea held small group workshops throughout the day to help empower women to learn and participate in STEM fields around the country. Sook Hoon Cheah, General Manager for the Southeast Asia New Markets, Daiana Beitler, Philanthropies Director for Asia and other female leaders looking to improve girls’ motivations for coding, engineering and education joined her.

More women are beginning to enter post-secondary education with 9,506 males and 15,694 females enrolling in higher education in 2014. Sook Hoon Cheah noted that the enrollment numbers are not an accurate depiction of progress for female STEM education in Sri Lanka, although they are promising to female progress. Cheah mentioned during Microsoft’s panel discussion that more women are entering into liberal arts and social majors than STEM programs in universities. Therefore, Microsoft is finding new ways to draw women into higher-paying STEM careers. The female conference leaders also shared encouraging tips for problem-solving to the students, like breaking down problems into manageable steps to make issues more approachable.

After the panel’s discussion, the 500 students went on to solve group challenges using coding for the rest of the conference. The programs encouraged young women to solve real-world issues using technology and coding formats such as Python, JavaScript and Blocks. Overall, the conference goal was to encourage female curiosity and development into the STEM field through role model representation, hands-on experiences with technology and problem-solving strategies for real-world scenarios using coding and educational technology. Microsoft’s leaders are hopeful that the #MakeWhatsNext campaign and other events will help inspire women to branch into technology-based careers throughout Sri Lanka.

Microsoft’s vision for the #DigiGirlz conference was to include women from all over Sri Lanka, including less developed areas, and to inspire them to participate in STEM education and advancement. The company plans on continuing work in women’s empowerment through workshops and programs in Sri Lanka, and throughout South Asia. For more information on Microsoft’s mission to close the gender gap in STEM fields around the globe, visit its website.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr