Microfinance in Zimbabwe
Imagine a Zimbabwean woman trying to run a very small chicken farm amid the rising inflation of Zimbabwe’s unstable economy. Prices are constantly shifting, making it harder to buy the chickens and feed she needs to keep her business afloat. Her name is Nyachi and she is constantly struggling to stay ahead of the rocky economic situation in Zimbabwe.

Partners Thrive Microfinance and Whole Planet Foundation provided her with a loan of $50, equivalent to 500 Zim. Nyachi was able to buy more chickens and feed, allowing her to remain open for business. With the boost from the loan, she can pay back the money and even take out another loan. Thrive Microfinance also provides courses in business and economics, so Nyachi can be more prepared to handle the complex financing of being an independent entrepreneur. She is an example of how microfinance in Zimbabwe can change the country. Her story is just one of many featured on Whole Planet Foundation’s website, illustrating hard times for many small business owners as well as stories of hope.

The Situation in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing an economic crisis. Recent natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic and poor economic and financial leadership contribute to the country’s current situation. High inflation rates and the rapid devaluation of the Zimbabwean Dollar plunged the population into poverty and food insecurity. In 2015, The World Bank estimated that around 72% of Zimbabweans lived in poverty. In 2019, it was reported that 50% of Zimbabweans were food insecure and 49% were living in extreme poverty.

More and more women in Zimbabwe are taking on small-scale entrepreneurial roles. However, the male-dominated traditions make it difficult for women to get the loans needed to start and run a business. Without a bank account or the proper collateral for a loan, female entrepreneurs have a challenging road to success. These low-income businesses often struggle to profit since, without loans to start or expand a business, it is often impossible to procure necessary equipment and workers. In Zimbabwe, 52% of the population is female, yet women earn only 10% of the country’s income. This disparity is why most organizations for microfinance (MFIs) in Zimbabwe and worldwide cater specifically to women.

Simple Solution but Complicated History

Microfinancing is not an especially new concept, but its history is complex. In 1997, the wild success of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh sparked global attention. Unfortunately, many MFIs popping up in the wake of that success failed to improve or even worsened situations in their countries. Low-income borrowers in India and Nigeria were victims of MFIs with ultra-high interest rates and other issues that made paying them back difficult or near impossible, especially for those who were not financially literate.

Zimbabwe faced similar challenges when introducing MFIs into the economy and still struggles with some of those issues today. However, with more NGOs and nonprofits becoming involved in microfinance in Zimbabwe, interest rates and other predatory lenders are more scarce. Additionally, with organizations like Thrive working to teach financial literacy to aspiring entrepreneurs, the likelihood of borrowers being taken advantage of is much lower.

Today’s Goals

In 2018, the non-banking financial institution Thrive Microfinance partnered with Business Call to Action, an alliance bringing together multiple governments to address the need for low-income business owners to have the ability to engage in their country’s economics more fully. This alliance aims to provide loans and business management training to 16,500 women and girls in Zimbabwe.

The global nonprofit Kiva uses donated funds to finance small loans. Once a loan is repaid, donors can either withdraw their funds or recycle them back into the revolving lending system. Kiva is currently able to crowdsource an average of $2.5 million in renewable funds every week, making for a total of $1.4 billion in loans given to date. Their mission is a financially inclusive world where everyone is capable of improving their situation.

Programs like these lend more than money. The satisfaction of running a business, the empowerment that comes from education and the security of financial stability lend hope for the future, a loan that never has to be repaid.

– Kari Millstein
Photo: Flickr

The Benefits of Investing in Women
Gender equality, or rather a lack of gender equality, is not simply a historical problem. To this day, women all around the world face inequality. One of the most notable issues pertaining to gender inequality is the gender wage gap. Its impacts affect not only women but society as a whole. To end the gender wage gap and other inequalities, society must start to recognize the benefits of investing in women.

The Gender Wage Gap Explained

There are two types of gender wage gaps. The controlled wage gap refers to when a man and a woman have the same exact job in the same exact industry with the same exact qualifications. In this situation, as of 2021, women earn 98 cents per $1 that men earn. This seemingly small upfront difference builds up over time, and the pay discrepancy leads to very dissimilar outcomes for these two genders.

An uncontrolled wage gap is the second type. The uncontrolled wage gap refers to the overall difference between men’s and women’s wages. It does not matter what job it is, what industry one works in or if one works full- or part-time. The measurement takes into account how much each worker makes on average per hour each year. This gap is much more prominent—a woman makes 82 cents to a man’s $1 as of 2021.

Companies provide several “justifications” for why women receive less pay than men within the organizations, but actual reasons include employers’ implicit biases, a wage penalty that accompanies motherhood and a higher likelihood of women working part-time. This is based on if women have the opportunity to obtain higher-wage jobs within such companies. Often, women are unable to attend school to receive the qualifications necessary for high-skilled work.

These inequalities in labor compensation become more glaringly obvious when it comes to unpaid labor. Women are more than twice as likely as men to participate in unpaid work. Notably, the most frequent unpaid jobs women take on are domestic work and child care. In impoverished communities, women must sacrifice their education to fulfill the expectation to manage the household and raise children.

The Importance of Investing in Women

Beyond equality, investing in women provides a multitude of economic benefits. The unpaid labor women often take on can actually hinder the economy. Economists estimate that unpaid domestic workers—if paid—could constitute approximately 40% of a nation’s GDP. A lack of education for women also plays a role in stunting economies. When women receive education, economies tap into a whole new sector of individuals that bring new, innovative ideas to the table, which help economies grow. Further, studies show that for every 10% of girls enrolled in school in a developing country, the GDP increases long-term by 3%.

In addition to paying women for labor and educating women, it is imperative to give women advancement opportunities. Women make up approximately half of the agricultural labor force but less than 13% of landholders globally. If women obtain the same amount of land, technology and capital as men, there could be an estimated 30% increase in food production. In this way, empowering women could help to substantially reduce world hunger. On the more industrial side, studies show that both efficiency and organization significantly increase when three or more women enter senior positions at companies.

A Better Society For All

Decreasing the wage gap begins in three main areas: women’s unpaid work, education and health. When women in developing countries receive aid and money, the aid does not stop at just the direct beneficiary. Women are likely to extend the benefits to those around them; women tend to invest their earned money into their children’s education and health as well as their own. Giving women financial tools has economic gain for all and promotes economic justice.

The best way to ensure a fair economy is to invest in women, particularly in developing countries. Women should have the opportunity to work the same jobs, receive the same qualifications and have the same economic opportunities as men. Society’s way forward is through taking advantage of the benefits of investing in women.

– Becca Blanke
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in EthiopiaEthiopia is a country that is on the rise in global influence, population and economic power. The country has a long and rich history with plenty of powerful female figures, including empresses and heads of state. Still, the state of women’s rights in Ethiopia is not ideal, with women facing a lot of discrimination and far fewer opportunities. While women remain in fewer positions of power and at the wrong end of unequal gender relations, it appears the country is making progress.

The Gender Equality Issues

Ethiopia struggles with massive inequality between the sexes. The Global Gender Gap report in 2010 ranked Ethiopia 121st out of 134 countries in gender disparities. Inequality persists in multiple facets. U.N. Women lists these areas as being of particular concern:

  • Literacy
  • Health
  • Livelihoods
  • Basic Human Rights
  • Social Support

Women suffer from several health inequalities like higher HIV prevalence, high maternal mortality and restricted access to healthcare. Women also participate far less in the workforce and suffer from the impacts of many traditional practices like child marriage and genital mutilation.

Further problems also plague Ethiopian women. In rural communities, women perform most agricultural labor but rarely receive pay or recognition for it. Gender-based violence is a significant problem yet community resources do not reach a lot of women. This is because 80% of Ethiopia’s population lives in rural areas with little infrastructure. Women also experience systemic discrimination regarding land ownership, education and the justice system.

Women’s rights in Ethiopia are not a lost cause. Global actors and Ethiopian organizations are doing plenty to strive for gender equality. These contributions are thus beginning to have a noticeable effect on the country and the fortunes of Ethiopian women.

Leave No Women Behind

U.N. Women’s Leave No Woman Behind program is an example of a concerted effort that had a positive effect on Ethiopian women, targeting Amhara and Tigray regions in 2009. The program focused on the many dimensions of women’s poverty. It aimed to increase women’s human rights at a grassroots level through increased government involvement. Furthermore, the program aimed to “address gender disparities in literacy and educational attainment, sexual and reproductive health services and gender-based violence (GBV).” In addition, it also aimed to provide women better access gender-sensitive reproductive care and help them achieve sustainable and resilient livelihoods.

From February 2009 until February 2012, the program reached more than 100,000 women. Its achievements include reduced child marriage, reduced female genital mutilation, increased access to maternal and HIV care, more equitable division of household labor and more.

Women’s Organizations and Movements

Several Ethiopian women’s organizations have been important in increasing awareness and fighting for women’s rights. The Ethiopian Women with Disability National Association (EWDNA) works toward equal rights and ending social discrimination against women with disabilities. EWDNA serves women with disabilities of all kinds. EWDNA’s work includes the “provision of services in rehabilitation, education and skills training; the promotion of mobility and accessibility, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS education/support” and the comprehensive participation of persons with disabilities on all levels.

Setaweet is a feminist movement based in Addis Ababa, formed in 2014. It is a grassroots movement that seeks to create and espouse a uniquely Ethiopian form of feminism. Setaweet runs gender workshops in secondary schools, provides a gender-based violence call center for women who have experienced abuse, runs a women’s scholar program and presents exhibitions to raise awareness about issues like sexual violence against women.

Gender Equality Progress

Efforts for greater women’s rights in Ethiopia are paying off. In the past two decades, the Ethiopian government has implemented many landmark acts and policies to protect women and afford them more opportunities. This includes legislation that criminalizes domestic violence and several harmful traditional practices that affect women. In 2018, Ethiopia’s parliament appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as the nation’s first female president, a landmark decision for Ethiopian women’s political participation. Women now form half of the cabinet members. Women’s rights in Ethiopia are therefore showing steady and strong signs of improvement, empowering women in the country.

Clay Hallee
Photo: Flickr

The Sophia SocietyIn an area of the world fraught with conflict and tension, Kurdish women continue to fight for equality and rights. Achieving this requires a united commitment to changing the perspective and understanding of culture and the role women hold in society. As a historically conservative society, change sometimes poses a challenge for Kurdistan. The Sophia Society fights for the protection and empowerment of women in Kurdistan.

Women in Kurdistan

Incidents of violence against women are rampant in Kurdistan. Many advocates and women’s rights activists continue to speak out against gender-based violence to lobby for change. Many of the protests and advocation for expanding women’s rights stem from a series of honor killings, domestic violence and human trafficking. Much of the violence thus begins at the family level and the law shrouds it. In a nation where forced marriage is a common practice, a woman’s refusal can thus lead to her death.

Honor killings are justified as a way to quiet a rebellious woman who refuses the will of the man who controls her life. Additionally, these women end up in unmarked graves as a symbol of shame. The Sophia Society aims to put an end to honor killings and other injustices experienced by women, including sexual violence.

Women in Government

The Kurdish government continues to work toward the expansion of rights and the integration of women into leading roles. With a 30% quota of women in parliament and a complete High Council of Women’s Affairs, it appears that the Kurdish government is well advanced on integration. However, critics argue that many of these women serve only as a token and their roles hold no substantial political power.

Political inclusion is a great success for Kurdish women, yet there continue to be cultural aspects that need improvement. From an outsider’s perspective, the number of women in political positions tells a tale of growth and modernization but the lack of domestic safety also makes this questionable.

The Sophia Society

Lanje Khawe established the Sophia Society in 2016, primarily to increase the literacy of Kurdish girls. Since then, the scope of this organization has expanded because it looks to address the multidimensional struggles of women. The members of this Society travel to remote villages via bicycle to deliver books to young girls and women so that they can become literate, educated and empowered in a country that oppresses them. Furthermore, the Society aims to raise awareness about sexual violence against women.

In a patriarchal society, others often deny girls access to books and education because of the misguided fear that they might rebel against patriarchal expectations. However, in many cases, it is this patriarchal society that threatens the security and safety of these girls, as one can see through honor killings.

Impact of the Sophia Society

The Sophia Society continues to use its voice to highlight the horror of honor killings and challenge the status quo within the Kurdish region. The Society, therefore, pushes for acknowledging women’s voices both politically and socially.

The challenge these women face in organizing this group is that if they do anything to bring shame to their families, death becomes a potential outcome.

What Needs to Change?

The most challenging aspect of change in these Kurdish regions is the transformation of societal normalities and cultural expectations. This will therefore require progressive laws and policies as well as public gender equality campaigns. Women learn to be passive and submissive. Because of this, the Sophia Society, therefore, wants to uplift and educate women as the feminine voices of the nation.

The national growth is slow-moving yet hope exists for the future of women’s rights as the Sophia Society commits to change. This group creates an organization of role models for other women who no longer want gender norms to define them. The Sophia Society stands alongside Kurdish women to prepare for a changed future.

Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

Women in ScienceGender equality is vital for alleviating global poverty. Women represent 70% of the world’s most poverty-stricken people. Consequently, women need more opportunities in the job market and increased access to health and education resources in order to truly thrive. Uplifting and empowering women all over the world will lead to greater progress with global poverty reduction efforts. In particular, women in science have the potential to ignite impactful breakthroughs.

Society, Culture and Bias

Women’s empowerment starts with the foundation of education. Research shows that, as it stands, only 30% of the world’s researchers are women. One can explain this by cultural beliefs and social norms inhibiting women from pursuing a scientific education and career.

The gender gap in science underscores a societal bias. Furthermore, because the majority of researchers are men, research is less likely to head in the direction of improving the struggles and concerns that women face. Providing more opportunities in science and technology for women would help promote technological breakthroughs and progress for the betterment of both genders.

Women in Science

Data shows that although the share of women in science differs according to specific countries, women have experienced global underrepresentation in scientific and technological fields. For instance, in 2016, women represented 55% of all researchers in Tunisia, the highest rate in Africa. Alternatively, women comprised only 5% of all researchers in Chad.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the average share of women researchers in Africa was 24.8% in 2016. This is approximately 4% lower than the already low international average of 28%.

Gender Equality and Development

For decades, the U.N. has supported gender equality and women’s empowerment. For instance, it adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, a landmark agreement putting women at the center of human rights issues and global development.

Gender equality also plays a crucial role in global development. Women’s empowerment is part of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals adopted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These goals represent a global partnership aiming to end poverty, promote education and health, reduce inequalities and more.

The U.N. gender equality goal (SDG 5) focuses on various targets such as ending discrimination against women, preventing the violent treatment and exploitation of women and ending child marriage and female genital mutilation. Target 5.5. entails ensuring “Women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.” This target definitely extends to the scientific arena where women’s participation would mean scientific breakthroughs geared toward improving the struggles of women.

What is the OWSD?

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) is a program unit of UNESCO. This program unit has been supporting women scientists in developing countries since 1987. Supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the “OWSD provides research training, career development and networking opportunities for women scientists throughout the developing world.” Since 1988, more than 470 women in developing countries have received fellowships and more than 270 have graduated. The OWSD grants fellowships in various fields such as biology, agriculture, medicine, engineering and physical sciences.

The main goal of the OWSD is to encourage and support women’s roles in technological and scientific fields as well as in leadership. In doing so, the organization underlines the importance of the representation of women in scientific and technological progress in developing countries. The OWSD also emphasizes the need for collaboration between women scientists to build a global network to continue assisting women in science.

The Role of Women

Women’s empowerment represents a key part of reducing global poverty and can also positively impact global peace. Women’s empowerment links to a country’s prosperity. Countries that offer women equal employment opportunities also have lower poverty rates and a higher GDP. Women also play a significant role in the success and development of children. Research shows that women are likely to invest 90% of their income into the household. Income would go toward securing the basic needs of the family, enrolling children in school and investing in healthcare.

Gender equality promotes social and economic developments. In turn, a strong and durable economy can help build peaceful societies. As Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. Women executive director, stated in 2013, “There can be no peace, no progress as long as there is discrimination and violence against women.”

Women’s Empowerment for Global Development

According to the OWSD, in many developing countries women make up the majority of caregivers and agricultural workers.”If women are included as both participants in scientific research and as the beneficiaries of scientific research” the results will be highly impactful. By giving women consideration, resources and agency, the OWSD contributes to significant progress in developing countries. The organization not only contributes to scientific and technological progress but also endorses gender equality and fundamental human rights all around the world.

Soizic Lecocq
Photo: Flickr

Female Empowerment in India
Danielle Chiel is an Australian philanthropist who founded The Artisan Nation in 2020. This is the second organization that Chiel has founded. Additionally, she strives to improve female empowerment in India. Chiel started knitting at the age of 10. She realized that she could teach her craft to women and subsequently help improve their lives.

The Artisan Nation

The Artisan Nation is an organization working in India. This organization defines itself as a “nation that is not bound by geography, language or culture.” Rather, it is one that is united “by passion, creativity and talent.” Furthermore, the Artisan Nation has one unifying goal to increase the health and wellness of women and people in the villages the organization works in. It accomplishes this in four ways:

  1. Providing face masks for the women and their families.
  2. Delivering fresh drinking water to villages.
  3. Helping the villages receive more balanced foods in local stores.
  4. Offering medical assistance such as workouts, dietitians, psychologists and blood tests.

The Artisan Nation also strives to establish financial independence for women by providing consistent work, smartphones, lessons on how to use the phones and financial literacy courses.

The organization currently supports five villages in Southern India. However, Chiel hopes to reach more in the future. Each village needs $10,000 to support the workers and provide “balanced” lives for everyone in the village. While companies can get involved by cooperating as members of the Artisan Nation, Chiel encourages individuals to get involved as well. Donating just $10 can help fund a village.

KOCO

Chiel first created the organization Knit One Change One (KOCO) to improve female empowerment in India. It employs women in Tamil Nadu, India and provides them with classes in English, mathematics and knitting. These women hand-knit garments for 12 brands from various countries around the world. Since these jobs offer full-time employment, KOCO gives these women the opportunity to be financially independent and support their families. KOCO employed 200 women in 2019, but Chiel hopes that the organization will eventually employ 40,000 women.

Qiaoxifu in China

While Chiel fosters female empowerment in India and poverty reduction with her programs, other initiatives are using textile work to do the same. China’s program called Qiaoxifu has employed over 120,000 impoverished women in the textile, tourism and e-commerce sectors. In one sewing factory in the Henan Province, the workers make about $440 a month. Whether it is in Chiel’s organizations or the Qiaoxifu program, these initiatives help women become more financially independent, empowered and able to support their families.

– Sophie Shippe
Photo: Flickr

STRYDE Program
The Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE) program has been helping women in developing countries develop and learn entrepreneurial skills as well as partner them with mentors. A mere 28% of Africa’s labor force consists of stable-wage jobs. The other 72% consists of income mainly from farming. Many African youths choose to move to the city, seeking better work opportunities. However, according to TechnoServe, 70% of youth remain in rural areas. These areas have a large absence of training and job opportunities.

Ndinagwe Mboya, STRYDE and Training

In Mbeya, Tanzania, one woman has managed to reinvent how the world views women entrepreneurs, especially young women. Ndinagwe Mboya, a 22-year-old, managed to revive her father’s struggling egg incubation businesses. Through lessons available through the STRYDE program, Mboya decided to capitalize on her family’s farm. Through STRYDE’s business plan competition, she won $165. She then used that money to purchase more eggs and subsequently raise more chickens. In a period of 45 days, she was able to triple her original profits. From this increase, she spread to working with other animals by breeding pigs and rabbits. She now earns $210 a month.

TechnoServe states that Business Women Connect has worked to empower women with the ingenuity and experience necessary to make their businesses thrive. The goal is to increase connection to mobile savings technologies and to provide greater access to vital business skills. The STRYDE program began in 2011 when Technoserve and the Mastercard Foundation partnered to ease the adversity of rural youth in Africa through financial independence.

By November 2020, more than 68,000 rural youths gained technical and soft skills through training. The curriculum includes the development of personal effectiveness, future plans, communication and confidence. Across Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, 15,000 rural youths received sessions such as skills training, aftercare and mentoring. These sessions provided the knowledge necessary to expand their business opportunities.

STRYDE Program Models

The STRYDE program focuses on two main models.

  1. The Peer to Peer Model: Through this model, youths receive training directly from local Technoserve staff, such as Mboya. Approximately 70% of participants have received training through this model.
  2. Partnerships Model: About 30% of trainers have utilized the Partnerships Model, in which youths obtain training through partnerships, such as Vocational Training Institutions.

Mboya has become a mentor for other women entrepreneurs, taking part in a three-week training program designed for business counselors. Mboya takes pride in her work, teaching other Tanzanian businesswomen how to succeed in entrepreneurship and grow their businesses through the STRYDE curriculum. According to Technoserve, the STRYDE program taught Mboye to believe in herself and her abilities as an entrepreneur.

Successes of the Project

The average participant of the program has seen an increase in income by 133% and more than 48,000 youths total having benefited from the training institutions. STRYDE participants in Tanzania totaled 15,773, 61% of those being women. In Tanzania alone, the TechnoServe partnership has established eight Vocational Training Centers and eight local NGOs and community-based organizations (CBO).

The STRYDE program allows entrepreneurial women, such as Mboya, to gain the confidence and skills needed to succeed in a mainly male-dominated field.

Nina Eddinger
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

African Continental Free TradeGender inequality in the workforce is an issue that affects women globally. Women account for 60% of all jobs globally but earn only 10% of all income. In addition, 70% of women experience financial exclusion, which contributes to gender inequality in Africa. Barriers to educational opportunities are also factors of gender inequality with up to 4 million girls that have not enrolled in the educational system. Advancing women’s involvement and opportunity in the African economy will aid in closing the gender gap. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement aims to economically transform Africa and women are an important part of this process.

The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement

The AfCFTA agreement came into effect on January 1, 2021, and created one of the largest free trade areas in the world. AfCFTA created a new market of 1.3 billion people across Africa. This accounts for a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.4 trillion. According to the World Bank, AfCFTA has the potential to take up to 30 million Africans out of extreme poverty and increase the incomes of 68 million Africans who live on less than $5.50 a day.

The provisions of the agreement include lowering trade tariffs between participating countries and other beneficial regulatory measures. Overall, AfCFTA aims to completely reshape African markets and boost the economy with the creation of new jobs, increased industrialization and increased trade within Africa. In addition, women will benefit from the agreement by improving their access to trade opportunities and stimulating wage gains by up about 10.5%.

Boosting Women-Owned Businesses

The AfCFTA can boost women’s roles in jobs across different sectors like the agricultural sector. In agricultural jobs, AfCFTA can expand markets for exports and widen opportunities available to women. With increased industrialization and diversification, the AfCFTA can benefit women’s manufacturing and wage employment in manufacturing industries. Higher-skilled jobs will also become more available and accessible to women. In addition, significant benefits are present for women entrepreneurs. Regional value chains support smaller women-owned businesses. The chains allow larger firms to use smaller women-owned businesses as suppliers.

The SheTrades Project

Empowering Women in the AfCFTA project also addresses the gender gap. The purpose of the SheTrades project is to support women-owned businesses so that they can experience the free trade benefits under AfCFtA. The project focuses on capacity building, networking and advocacy as a means to achieve this. The project works with more than 50 women’s business associations to raise awareness of prioritizing women in terms of AfCFTA and discuss recommendations for prioritizing women as well as policy advocacy strategies. It also works to provide a platform for women’s business associations to work with each other as well as policymakers.

Addressing Gender Inequality

Women are key stakeholders in the development of the African economy under AfCTA, consisting of 70% of informal traders.

AfCFTA also recognizes the importance of gender in trade relations in Africa by stating the importance of incorporating gender inequality in the context of trade and the economy. A method of fighting gender inequality in Africa is through gender mainstreaming. Gender mainstreaming is defined as, “a process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned actions, including legislation, policies or programs in all areas and at all levels.” Strategies like gender mainstreaming are addressed and applied in several countries’ AfCTA National Implementation Strategies.

Implementation of further gender gap-related policies can strengthen the impact that the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement has on Africans and help to eradicate gender inequality in Africa.

Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

Female Empowerment in PoliticsThe high rate of preventable maternal mortality rates in developing countries continues to be a cause of concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines maternal mortality “as the death of a woman from pregnancy-related causes during pregnancy or within 42 days of pregnancy.” Maternal mortality occurs almost entirely (99%) in low-income countries. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of impoverished countries estimates 239 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. This rate is 12 per 100,000 in high-income countries. Research shows that female empowerment in politics links to reduced maternal mortality rates.

Reasons for High Maternal Mortality in Developing Countries

Female Representation in Government

Global female representation in government has increased to more than 20% while maternal mortality has declined by 44% since 1990. Is this a cause-and-effect scenario or merely coincidence? A recent study titled, “Maternal Mortality and Women’s Political Participation” offers data to support that it is not just happenstance and that female empowerment in politics has a direct effect on maternal mortality levels.

In 2020, female participation in parliament reached 24.9% globally. One reason for the rise in women’s representation in government is the fact that several countries are adopting gender quotas. Gender quotas secure a number of seats in government for women. At least 130 countries have adopted gender quotas and have an average of 26.9% female representation. Countries that have implemented quotas have seen maternal mortality decline at an accelerated rate. Estimates have determined that gender quota application results in an average of a 9-12% drop in maternal mortality.

Female Policymakers Prioritize Women’s Health

Health is a vital contributing factor in empowering women. Women statistically prioritize policies aimed at improving female conditions at a higher rate than their male counterparts. These policies often target issues such as education, child marriage and maternal health. Countries with gender quotas in place show an estimated 8-11% rise in “skilled birth attendance” and a 6-11% rise in the use of prenatal care.

A paper that Cambridge University published in 2016 asserted that an increase of only 1% in women’s representation in government resulted in five fewer maternal deaths and 80 fewer infant deaths out of 100,000 live births. These studies and statistics conclude that women’s participation in legislatures improves the health of its female constituents.

Eradicating Maternal Mortality

Female empowerment in politics contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals, which the U.N. established, include reducing maternal mortality (SDG 3.1) and increasing the number of women in government (SDG 5.5). These goals are complementary to each other. By working toward SDG 5.5, which is to “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life,” it is reasonable to conclude that the world could achieve, SDG 3.1, which is to “reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births” by 2030, in tandem.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Violence Against Women
The bill titled the Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence has been under review and edits since 2013. In September 2019, Iran’s legislation approved the bill and now, parliament and the Guardian Council will review it. The vice president for women and affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar is spearheading the bill. Masoumeh Ebtekar entered her position in 2017 and has pushed for reform to protect women from violence. This bill aims to address the issue of domestic violence against women in Iran. For the past 17 years, Iranian women have been campaigning and fighting for a bill that protects women from violence. Here is some information about violence against women in Iran.

Women in Iran

Iranian women frequently receive treatment as second-class citizens and devaluing due to gender-based discrimination. Iranian women also frequently face physical, sexual and psychological abuse. In Iran, domestic abuse is not illegal, leaving women venerable to violence. If a woman’s husband is abusive, the only legal action a woman can take is to have her husband financially support her for the first three months after separation.

The Iranian judicial system systemically discriminates against women in other ways as well. For example, women are legally responsible at 9 years old, whereas the system charges men as adults at 13 years old.

Violence Against Women During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In 2020, female-aimed violence in Iran skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It caused public outrage and led to the birth of Iran’s own Me Too movement, sparking protests and demand for reform and equality.

Many public events charged the civil discourse. One of the most public events of violence in 2020 involved Romina Ashrafi, a 14-year-old girl. Her father beheaded her in what he called an honor killing. This act of terror sparked a demand for change, forcing Iran’s legislation to approve and pass the long-awaited bill regarding violence against women. As Iranian researcher Tara Sepehri Far said, “For decades, Iranian women have been waiting for comprehensive legislation to prevent violence against women and prosecute their abusers.”

The Protection, Dignity and Security of Women Against Violence Bill

The bill intends to address violence through education. In fact, it will implement educational courses for teachers, parents and students to help others recognize when a woman is at risk of violence and help bring awareness and knowledge to the subject of abuse against women. The bill will also implement legal support for women in abusive situations, including safe houses and medical and psychological aid for women. It will also initiate training for medical workers to equip them on how to help women seek help in abusive situations.

Another major reform of the bill requires law enforcement to redesign how it approaches violence against women. Before this bill, many lawyers and law enforcement were wary of taking on domestic abuse cases, often regarding violence cases against women as a family issue, not rather than a state issue. This bill now requires judiciaries and law enforcement to seriously address the topic and consider them a public safety issue.

Looking Ahead

This bill is a positive step toward ending violence against females; however, Iran must also address the bill’s shortcomings. The bill does not aim to end or address marital rape or child marriage, or even domestic abuse, thus leaving these essential topics in silence.

However, this bill is worthy of recognition for progressing protection for women in Iran. Women in Iran have been fighting for a voice and change and this bill is a powerful reminder that growth and change do happen. While it will not end women’s fight for safety and equality right away, it is a worthy beginning showing that the Iranian government now recognizes that domestic violence and discrimination are significant issues.

– Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr