solar-powered sewing machinesIn rural India, where many people lack sustainable energy sources, there has been a recent emphasis on clean energy. This means focusing on decentralized, renewable energy (DRE) over “brown” energy, provided through sources such as coal. Clean energy is especially important in India because it may not only produce more sustainable energy systems but also create more jobs and higher incomes. Solar-powered sewing machines are just one example of how sustainable energy can help lift people out of poverty.

Energy in India

India is the second-highest coal consumer in the world, consuming around 966,288,693 tons per year since 2016. This amount has decreased, however, due to COVID-19. In April 2020, Coal India Ltd.’s shipments decreased by 25.5% to 39.1 million tons. This drop in coal use greatly impacts rural areas, which lack reliable electricity.

More than four million rural micro-businesses struggle with this lack of sustainable energy sources. In rural areas, where 29% of people are below the poverty line, micro-enterprises make up a large portion of people’s incomes. These enterprises provide a service costing less than 10 lakh rupees. To combat their challenges with electricity, these businesses have begun to harness solar power on a smaller scale through sewing machines, printing machines and lighting. Many NGOs have also begun to help these businesses set up major infrastructure to do so.

A Solution in Solar-Powered Sewing Machines

Clean energy could not only produce sustainable energy, but it also has a higher potential for efficient outcomes, increasing average income and creating more jobs. The workforce could increase to at least 330,000 people using green energy, compared to the 300,000 employed with coal in India.

A concrete example of this phenomenon is solar-powered sewing machines. These machines, developed by Resham Sutra, use 90% less power than standard machines. In addition to creating more jobs, these sewing machines’ increased efficiency could also benefit rural areas by reducing the effects of pollution from coal. Rural women will especially benefit from solar-powered sewing machines. In the state of Maharashtra, around 21% of women with micro-enterprises are tailors.

Additionally, the Selco Foundation has looked to make small but sustainable improvements to pre-existing machines. By attaching a permanent magnet DC motor, the organization allows solar energy to power sewing machines. This mechanism increased efficiency by 25%. A study conducted by The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) on the impacts of the Selco Foundation found that the annual income of tailors increased by 39% on average after adding solar power to sewing machines. Tailors’ income rose from a median value of INR 65,000 to INR 90,000.

Using Solar-Powered Sewing Machines to Combat COVID-19

As COVID-19 supplies have been scarce in many parts of India, some female tailors have stitched masks to disperse, supporting their businesses while fighting COVID-19. Smart Power India, powered by the Rockefeller Foundation, has shifted its mission to address COVID-19 in India. The NGO has placed 250 mini-grids across India to provide electricity to over 230,000 people. The foundation now supplies money to seamstresses to stitch face masks to various districts for protection from COVID-19. Each tailor uses solar-powered sewing machines powered by the mini-grids placed by the Rockefeller Foundation. Over a two-month period, the 25 women funded by Smart Power India have sewed over 125,000 masks, receiving $400 to $500 for their work.

For those in poverty, sustainable energy continues to be an obstacle to increasing wealth. Clean energy can both reduce efficiency and pollution as well as help people find a consistent source of income. Rural tailors in India, encouraged by solar-powered sewing machines, can thus climb out of poverty while helping their communities.

Nitya Marimuthu
Photo: Flickr

ride-hailing industryAccording to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the ride-hailing industry is “an ideal industry in which to examine the opportunities and barriers that women face in the sharing economy.” Using data from Uber and consultations with global experts on gender, transportation and the future of work, IFC and Accenture decided to research the impact of gender parity on the global ride-hailing economy. Their final report analyzes data from Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and the United Kingdom to bring forth recommendations for ride-hailing stakeholders and companies across the sharing economy.

Women and the Ride-Hailing Industry

Among other findings, the IFC discovered that it is relatively easy for women to enter the ride-hailing industry compared to other sectors, and that working in the ride-hailing industry allows women to start new businesses and maintain those they currently have. Additionally, women who use ride-hailing services say that services like Uber help them accomplish household tasks such as grocery shopping, visiting relatives and dealing with healthcare needs. Women surveyed felt that using ride-share services increased their sense of independence and mobility.

Women in the Workforce

However positive these indications may seem, ride-share services must overcome certain barriers if they are to fully incorporate women into their workforce. For instance, to attract more women to both drive and use their services, ride-hailing providers must work to increase personal security. Women often cite security threats as one of their main concerns regarding the ride-hailing industry.

Additionally, gaps in digital and financial inclusion disproportionately affect women globally. This means it is more difficult for women to acquire resources needed to access the industry. These could include a smartphone or a car. Nonetheless, it was found that 40% of women would prefer a women driver when traveling alone or at night. The IFC reports that recruiting more women to become drivers in the ride-hailing industry could create a cycle that attracts more women riders. Thus, it would be in the interest of the ride-hailing industry to work to attract more women drivers. This is true not only to promote gender parity in the economy, but also to boost their own sales.

The Gender Pay Gap

A Washington Post article on Uber’s gender pay gap outlines similar barriers to women joining the ride-hailing industry. The article finds that Uber’s lopsided pay results from men’s more aggressive driving and greater experience in the industry. In addition, they also have a higher willingness to drive in unsafe, more lucrative locations. Uber drivers are paid based on time and distance. Therefore, they earn more making frequent, shorter trips, rather than fewer, longer ones. Assuming that aggressive and speedy drivers tend to be men, male drivers are positioned earn more than women. Changing payment structures in the ride-hailing industry might be necessary to reduce the discrepancy in gender pay for drivers.

Reducing the gender gap leads to national economic growth. That means it is in the interest of both private sectors and entire countries to incorporate women into their workforce. The World Bank promotes economic empowerment through the elimination of gender gaps in paid employment. Through diverse initiatives, they help ensure that economic growth is shared among men and women. The ride-hailing industry is just one example of how women’s employment benefits the entire economic circuit — from buyers and sellers to a country’s overall GDP.

Giulia Silver
Photo: o.aolcdn.com

Women’s Rights in Sudan
For decades, the subject of women’s rights has been at the forefront of media and politics. While progress has been made, women’s rights in Sudan still lag behind other countries. Women in Sudan are fighting for equal rights amid new legislation such as the Personal Status Law of 1991, which allows child marriages and states that women can only marry if they have consent from a father or male guardian. Here are five facts about the women’s rights movement in Sudan.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Sudan

  1. Women make up 70% of protesters. As women band together to protest against laws and government officials that want to limit women rights, Global Fund for Women estimates that women account for nearly 70% of protesters in Sudan. The women taking part in these protests have labeled their movement “the women’s revolution.” Although many women have been beaten or flogged, they stand strong and continue to protest.
  2. Many of the laws women are protesting stem from long-lasting traditions. Tradition is important in Sudan’s culture — but tradition does not justify oppressive laws. Laws in Sudan restrict women from wearing pants, enjoying equality and representation in government and escaping child marriage. Modern women demand equal rights; however, rights are difficult to attain when women have a limited voice within government and law.
  3. Women in Sudan have been fighting for their rights for over 30 years. Under the oppressive rule of dictator Omar al-Bashir, women in Sudan have had to fight for basic equal rights since 1989. While inequality did not start with Al-Bashir, he did support and enforce laws that limit women’s rights. Military and government officials beat, rape and murder women for speaking out against years of abuse and inequality.
  4. The women’s revolution movement helped overthrow Al-Bashir. In 2019, women refused to stay silent as Sudan began to rise up against Al-Bashir. Even though they had to deal with persecution from the military, women continued to rise up against their oppressors. According to Harvard International Review, protesters such as Alaa Salah and Lina Marwan stood strong to tell their stories of inequality, continuing to protest even after being harassed by Sudanese military officials.
  5. The “No to Women Oppression Initiative” promises a better future for women in Sudan. As of January 2020, West Kordofan started its first “No to Women Oppression Initiative.” Though currently the only initiative of its kind, this may spark further collaborations between women’s rights organizations across Sudan. These organizations are also continuing to discuss violence against women with Sudan’s government, in hopes of attaining equal rights.

These five facts about women’s rights in Sudan indicate that the country has a long way to go in achieving equal rights for women. But as protests continue and women persist in fighting for their rights, this country can hope for a stronger, more equitable future. Moving forward, it is essential that women in Sudan receive international support for their protests. By working together, conditions for women in Sudan can improve.

Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Côte d'Ivoire
Côte d’Ivoire, otherwise known as the Ivory Coast, is a country nestled in the western panhandle of the African continent. Though the country has been war-torn since 2010, Côte d’Ivoire is becoming a vital part of the world economy. Poverty in Côte d’Ivoire affects more than 46% of the population; however, the country is working to provide more jobs, funding and resources for its citizens. Here are five innovations in poverty eradication in Côte d’Ivoire.

Working with World Organizations

The government of Côte d’Ivoire is working with world organizations to help Ivorian citizens. With aid from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Côte d’Ivoire is supporting economic growth and the eradication of poverty through Results-Based Management (RBM) and the implementation of Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS).

Within the PRS document established in 2009, government officials outlined multiple poverty eradication goals. Among these goals are greater accessibility to food and healthcare as well as increased job opportunities for men and women.

Another notable organization working alongside the government to eradicate poverty in Côte d’Ivoire is the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDGF). This organization seeks to help vulnerable populations, such as women and children, achieve financial stability through training, counseling and education. Specifically, SDGF provides education for women who have dropped out of school or who are looking to generate their own income.

New Strategies for Ending Hunger

Among the innovations in poverty eradication in Côte d’Ivoire is adopting new strategies for ending hunger. In 2016, the Côte d’Ivoire government, with help from the World Food Programme (WFP), created a National Development Plan (NDP) to facilitate the country’s transition to becoming a middle-income economy by 2020. With help from WFP, the Ivorian government aims to increase access to food banks and work more closely with other organizations to end malnutrition.

Previously, in 2009, the Ivorian government worked with the IMF and World Bank to establish strategies for ending hunger throughout the country. To achieve this goal, Côte d’Ivoire vowed to modernize storage techniques of fresh produce, make food more widely accessible, increase the production of rice and update health standards for food supply.

Other Avenues for Helping Citizens

In Côte d’Ivoire, the mining sector is undervalued. While the mining industry previously focused on gold, there is an increased interest in nickel, iron and manganese. By expanding geographical data of the land, the mining industry could see vast profit and job increases.

Further, enhancing transportation — public and private — could help citizens escape poverty in Côte d’Ivoire, as well as better integrate the country into the international economy. Allocating more funds to road infrastructure, road maintenance and other modes of transport can facilitate domestic trading. Additionally, it could help individual citizens have better access to basic services and economic opportunities.

Becoming an Active Partner in the Global Market

The 2018-2022 Country Strategy Paper (CSP) suggests that to maintain favorable economic growth, Côte d’Ivoire should attract global investments, employ economic reforms and create more agriculture-industrial chains of supply. With support from the CSP and the World Bank, Côte d’Ivoire will receive loans to reach their economic development goals.

Côte d’Ivoire is further strengthening their economy through investments in the mining and electricity sectors, and by simplifying the start-up process and tax-paying procedure for small businesses.

Mending Gender Disparities Associated with Poverty

While gender inequalities still exist in Côte d’Ivoire, the government is working to make employment and educational opportunities more equal. More than 50% of women in Côte d’Ivoire are uneducated, and 73.7% of women are illiterate. In comparison, only 36% of men receive no education, and 46.7% of men are illiterate. To combat these disparities, funding is set aside for activities that specifically empower women. Further, more women are chosen to participate in important projects, thanks to the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA).

With more concentrated funding in education and the job market, impoverished women can establish themselves in society and regain economic stability. According to the World Bank, it is in the country’s best interest financially to incorporate more women in the job market.

Conclusion

These innovations in poverty eradication in Côte d’Ivoire show the government’s focus on addressing this issue. It is imperative that the country continue to receive funding to incorporate itself into the international economy. By sticking to these strategies and working with world organizations, the government will hopefully be able to eradicate poverty in Côte d’Ivoire.

Danielle Kuzel
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Nepal
Millions of Nepalese citizens are at risk of becoming victims of the human trafficking trade every year. However, one can only estimate the statistically correct percentage of victims. Captivating International, a nonprofit based in Nepal, founded My Business-My Freedom in the hopes of fighting human trafficking in Nepal.

My Business-My Freedom

My Business-My Freedom is a micro-finance and education program helping Nepalese women achieve business success, self-sustainability and freedom. Beneficiaries include both women who are most at risk of becoming victims of trafficking and current rescued survivors of human trafficking in Nepal.

The organization estimates that a loan of $200 will help one woman start her business and that when she repays it, it will go to the next prospective business owner. Currently, 240 women living in Pokhara and Chitwan are immersed in the program with room to grow. The initiative plans to continue expanding into other regions and aiding around 1,000 women per year.

How does My Business-My Freedom Work?

The program leads each woman through the process of starting a business including ensuring that it is successful, well-funded and sustainable. The My Business-My Freedom program involves the following steps for prospective business owners:

  • Providing training about entrepreneurship and business opportunity.
  • Mentoring on money management, savings, budgeting and other basic business skills.
  • Connecting with other women in similar circumstances in order to create a sense of belonging and community.
  • A low-interest loan to start up the business: when it is paid, the owner is eligible to take future loans until it is no longer necessary.

Captivating International and COVID-19 Relief

In recent news, My Business-My Freedom partnered with 3 Angels Nepal to combat food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The partnership accomplished this through checking in on women and families over the phone. If the women and their families were in need, the partnership made and delivered food relief packages to them. These packages included rice, dal, cooking oil, salt, soybeans and lentils.

The efforts of Captivating International and 3 Angels Nepal found that 30 women were in need, and provided them and their families with food. The latter organization also works on the ground by suspending loan payments and providing both phone support and food assistance.

Lowering Vulnerability Through Funding Successful Entrepreneurs

According to the Report of Armed Police Force of India, the number of Nepalese girls working in sex trafficking in India increased quite steadily from 2012 to 2017. Child trafficking is incredibly high as well. Captivating International, through My Business-My Freedom, is just one of the organizations working to eradicate human trafficking in Nepal. In covering a widening area of influence and contributing to building the economy, Captivating International is creating sustainability by increasing security and income for women. This, in turn, should help to alleviate the vulnerable populations that traffickers prey upon in Nepal.

Savannah Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Fashion Brands Fighting Poverty
Others are increasingly holding businesses accountable for their practices. Accountability—in regards to environmental impact, gender equality and racial representation—is rising within all industries. The fashion industry is no exception. Fast fashion brands like Uniqlo and the recently bankrupt Forever21 continue to confront criticism. These companies and others have disastrous environmental impacts and use inhumane working conditions and wages. It is increasingly difficult to find fashion brands fighting poverty.

Fortunately, the industry is starting to change. Ethical brands are on the rise, with some even building business models that fight against global poverty. These business models safely employ women and men in impoverished countries. But being a conscious consumer is also trendy: a 2019 McKinsey report found that two-thirds of global consumers admitted a brand’s stance on social and environmental issues influenced whether they purchased from that brand. From everyday shopping staples to high-end fashion pieces, ethical approaches to fashion transform the industry and improve the lives of those who work for these companies. Here are three ethical fashion brands fighting poverty.

Indego Africa

Indego Africa aims to alleviate poverty for women and their families through artisan employment and entrepreneurial education. The brand teaches women to intricately weave baskets and bags. Founder Matthew Mitro lived in Nigeria for six years. His inspiration drew on his work with Nigerian women and thus started Indego Africa in 2007. Employing over 1,200 artisans, the brand has extended its impact into Rwanda and Ghana. According to its 2018-2019 Annual and Social Impact Report, 90% of artisans employed through Indego Africa could pay for all or most of their children’s education.

Production occurs in Rwanda and Ghana. All of the company’s profits go towards business and vocational programs to educate Indego Africa’s employees and young adults, particularly young women, in nearby communities. Indigo Africa designs its programs to cater to the large demographic of unemployed young adults. By fostering educational platforms in areas like technology, business and leadership, Indego Africa carves out a clear path to economic independence for young women in Africa.

Gift of Hope

Gift of Hope supplies handmade goods to buyers, as well as hope to Haitian children who became orphans when their families can no longer afford to care for them. Founder Mallery Neptune first visited Haiti when she was 16, but it was not until she turned 20 that she founded the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty in 2007. The program started with a focus on sponsoring children and providing food for the elderly. By 2010, it expanded into the Gift of Hope project, a program designed to create jobs for Haitian mothers. In Haiti, women struggle to secure stable and sustainable employment and therefore disproportionately experience poverty.

As an extension of the Haiti Foundation Against Poverty, Gift of Hope employs over 70 jewelry-makers, seamstresses and other Haitian artisans. The nonprofit employs impoverished women who have lost their children to poverty (or are at risk of doing so) and pays them three times more than the minimum wage. This practice draws individuals and their families out of poverty. Every purchase with Gift of Hope saves a child from orphan-hood, reuniting families.

Carcel

Fashion label Carcel is proof that high-end fashion brands can too adopt ethical practice within their supply chains. Headed by Veronica D’Souza, the Danish company works with incarcerated women in Peru and Thailand where the poverty rates as of 2018 are 22% and 9.85%, respectively. Oftentimes the company’s employees have been imprisoned for human trafficking and drug-related crimes, but D’Souza believes they fell onto these paths because they could not escape the cycle of poverty.

Carcel works with the National Prison System in Peru and the Ministry of Justice in Thailand. They give 27 women the opportunity to hone local craftsmanship. In conjunction with mastering clothes-making techniques, Carcel offers instructional programs on managing cash, financial literacy and English. These programs equip women with educational tools to secure financial stability. Upon their release from prison, women have the skills they need to avoid re-incarceration or falling back into poverty. Fashion brands fighting poverty are increasingly popular, giving hope for improving the lives of thousands of workers worldwide.

– Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

Femicide in TurkeyThe recent murder of 27-year-old student, Pınar Gültekin, has sparked widespread outrage in Turkey. Gültekin was murdered at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, who beat and strangled her to death. Current anger is a response to not just this brutal slaying, but to the all-too-common occurrence of femicide and domestic violence in Turkey. In addition, the anger is a result of the willful ignorance of the government when it comes to these crimes. Here are the top five facts about femicide in Turkey.

5 Facts About Femicide in Turkey

  1. Gender-based and domestic homicides are often referred to as “honor killings.Anti-female sentiments are deeply engrained in Turkish culture. The President of Turkey and other members of the Turkish government have made many comments publicly degrading women. The usual rhetoric is that women are not equal to men and that women without children are deficient. Members of the Turkish government have also publicly encouraged verbal harassment of women wearing shorts. The country’s former Deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Şimşek, blamed the rising unemployment rate on women seeking jobs. Former mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, said that women who are victims of rape should die before they have an abortion.
  2. Femicide in Turkey is on the rise. The Turkish government has admitted to not keeping records of violence against women, but the Turkish feminist group We Will Stop Femicide reported that 474 women were murdered in Turkey in 2019, mostly at the hands of relatives or partners. These numbers are expected to skyrocket in 2020 due to coronavirus lockdowns. A study conducted by Sage Journals in 2009 reported that 42% of Turkish women between the ages of 15 and 60 experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse from their husband or partner.
  3. Legal framework has been laid to protect women. In 2011, Turkey became the first country to adopt a Council of Europe convention on gender-based and domestic violence. This was the Istanbul Convention, which provided legislation to protect victims and prosecute offenders. However, law enforcement rarely follow these basic laws. The laws are under further threat by President Erdoğan and the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP has tried to roll back this legislation on the grounds that it threatens traditional family values. Furthermore, conservative lobby groups protest the legislation outlined in the Istanbul Convention on the grounds that it promotes divorce and “immoral lifestyles.”
  4. Female empowerment has led to women in Turkey achieving economic independence. This is a huge step, as it gives women the ability to exercise their rights and leave abusive relationships. However, workplace and wage discrimination is still widespread throughout Turkey. Only 34.2% of Turkish women work, which is by far the lowest percentage of employed women in the 35 industrialized countries. Women are also more likely to work low-wage jobs or to be employed in the informal sector with no social security. Turkey ranked 130th out of 149 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Index.
  5. The Turkish government practically encourages gender-based violence. The rise of female independence has led to what feminist scholar Fatmagül Berktay calls a “crisis of masculinity.” She claims that the reduced need for men to be breadwinners has caused them to feel displaced, and as a result, they often engage in physical, sexual, psychological or economic abuse against their partners. Political tension in Turkey also promotes gender-based violence. Religious militarism is a rising state ideology in Turkey, which promotes misogyny and makes women easier targets of abuse. In addition to these factors, the government’s benign attitude toward violence against women encourages male offenders and, by extension, femicide in Turkey.

While many of these facts can appear disheartening, Turkey also demonstrates plenty of improvement. We Will End Femicide and similar groups are empowering women in Turkey to fight for their rights. Protests across Turkey have seen inspiring turnout since the death of Pınar Gültekin was made public on July 21. Western nations have also been made aware of the prevalence of femicide in Turkey via social media, and women around the world are joining the #challengeaccepted trend to raise awareness of the issue on social media.

Caroline Warrick
Photo: Wikimedia

Uplifting Women Through Economic Empowerment in India
India is located in South Asia and has a population of about 1.3 billion people. The country is mostly known for its agricultural work, multiple languages and cultural communities. Also, India has been a part of the U.N. since its creation in 1945. Currently, the country is attempting to grow its economy and reach the technological level of first world countries. Yet, among many issues that India needs to recognize is gender and class inequalities within its workforce. One solution is uplifting women through economic empowerment.

The Legacy of India’s Caste System

In India, caste and ethnic background still play a major role in the workplace — which can lead to people remaining stuck in underprivileged communities. Many believe that women may be educated but should nevertheless, remain housewives after marriage. Recently, many women have married, subsequently left their jobs and then attempted to return to work after many years of absence. Saundarya Rajesh, who holds a doctorate in Women’s Workforce Participation and hails from Chennai, recognized that there were not many women in white-collar jobs and that class differences were preventing women’s acceptance, when restarting their careers. Rajesh herself was a second-career woman in a white-collar job, who felt the pressure to choose between work and family. Her experiences led to her beginning Avtar I-Win in 2005, with the aim of helping women in similar situations to her own.

Avtar I-Win Empowers Women

The first step for Avtar I-Win was connecting women with job opportunities — helping showcase their resumes or launch their careers. Rajesh wanted the corporate workforce to create or allocate jobs for women — many of these jobs only men held. The Avtar I-Win group has completed 15,000 successful placements and the group continues to place women in new careers. The group’s main goal is to uplift women through economic empowerment in India. As the program grew, the organization cultivated a counseling service with a focus on life decisions and career development, called WINSIGHT. The service, run by qualified experts, provides a way for women to gain mentorship themselves and grow into mentors for other Avtar women.

With the growth of the organization, Rajesh and her board have added new aspects to their organization — always seeking to instill career intentionality and independence in girls, from a young age. With this mindset, girls can make their way out of poverty, forced marriages and sexual and domestic abuse — eventually increasing the corporate talent pool of India. Seeing the success and positive impact of Avtar I-Win, Rajesh began Avtar Human Capital Trust (AHCT) in 2008, which is a charitable not-for-profit organization.

Reaching Women in Poverty

Rajesh and her team noticed that even though they helped women restart their careers; education and financial barriers prevented them from reaching all women. Headquartered in Chennai, AHCT addresses gender inequality across the states of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry — providing financial help for women and students in underprivileged communities. By doing so, AHCT allows women to focus on preparing and aspiring for professional careers.

With the support of companies willing to hire more women, AHCT and Avtar I-Win have launched programs such as Project Puthri and FLEXI Careers in India. Project Puthri focuses on helping girls from a young age, so they can graduate with the purpose of attaining corporate jobs. The organization’s current goal is to help 10,000 girls per year across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The board believes that with more women contributing to India’s GDP, the country will become more prosperous and communities will rise out of poverty. FLEXI Careers supports this mission through diversity and inclusion consulting. The organization focuses on an array of services to make the corporate world an inclusive workplace for women from underprivileged communities.

Female Empowerment and the Future

Saundaraya Rajesh founded her organization on helping and believing in women from communities of poverty. Yet, she understood that women needed assistance in obtaining careers for which many (especially family-oriented women in poverty) experienced great barriers to entry. Along with other pioneers in workplace inclusivity, Rajesh is uplifting women through economic empowerment in India — introducing programs on technology, economic empowerment, health and hygiene education for women who need extra support to succeed in the corporate world.

Sumeet Waraich
Photo: Pxhere

gender roles in MyanmarPolitical change often brings a liberalization of public opinion on gender roles. On the surface, this seems to be the case in Myanmar. In 2010, the country held its first national election in 20 years, following half a century of brutal reign by a military junta. This election led to the release of democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and to her 2012 win of a parliamentary seat. Suu Kyi went on to lead the National League for Democracy to victory in the 2015 election, but the party resisted her proposed reforms. Since 2017, Myanmar has descended into internal conflict and waged genocide against its Rohingya minority. This continued violence disproportionately impacts women, impacting broader gender roles in Myanmar.

Women’s Experiences of Post-War Development

The European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes hosted a webinar entitled “Gender and Development in Myanmar” on June 17, 2020. During the webinar, Dr. Elisabeth Olivius shared her findings that post-war reforms may entrench gender disparities in Myanmar. The country has experienced a relative period of peace over the last 15 years. There has been an upsurge in state-led development projects in the past decade. These projects aim to ameliorate legacies of war, namely extreme poverty, but a lack of state provisioning has actually widened gender inequalities.

Dr. Olivius explained how unequal gendered divisions of wartime labor prevent women from taking advantage of development. They shape who wins and loses in post-war transformations. Domestic responsibilities make women less mobile and prevent them from taking advantage of new opportunities. In addition to tangible constraints, women’s wartime roles forced them to endure trauma, exhaustion, and stress without respite. Dr. Olivius recounted one anecdote: during the war, the men of one village fled to the jungle to hide, leaving the women to feed and pacify the occupying army.

Traditional values—often intertwined with a preference for authoritarian rule—perpetuate the conservative gender attitudes that keep women out of the public sphere. This is exemplified by how women’s informal labor in Myanmar also underpins its need for economic reforms. Burmese women perform work in the mining industry and through reproductive labor—the birth and rearing of children—without the benefit of state aid. Feminist groups have seen successes like the creation of a national strategic plan and the drafting of a gender violence law. However, nationalist groups have advanced a largely regressive agenda.

Poverty and Gender Roles in Myanmar

The extreme poverty brought on by wartime conditions also disproportionately impacts women. Women sometimes have to walk miles to procure resources for their families, according to Dr. Olivius. One report details local women walking for hours to draw water from the closest well. This well was in a dark and oxygen-lacking cave several hours from their village. Without childcare alternatives, the women had to bring their children with them on this journey. These women have since reported miscarriages resultant from the grueling collection trips. Addressing women’s poverty in Myanmar isn’t just about securing better-paying jobs; it must include treatment for emotional and physical depletion and harm.

Furthermore, Dr. Olivius stressed that ownership of land in the context of economic restructuring is gendered and contributes to insecurity for women. Without the necessary political reforms, women go unrecognized as landholders. This lack of government-sanctioned landownership makes women particularly vulnerable to land appropriation by outside groups. One Burmese woman lamented, “The local authorities do not even recognize the woman’s name, just only the leader of the family. The leader is a man, so nothing for women…Now they have no land to survive.” Women are not considered family leaders, despite the male migration and war that resulted in many female-led households.

Elevating Women in Myanmar

Gender roles in Myanmar must change beyond the point of one woman publicly working in politics. While the 2008 revisions to Myanmar’s constitution show promise, they do not include any specifics concerning women’s representation. Quotas in such situations often serve as a distraction and don’t necessarily lead to development, and the representation of individual women in politics is compatible with gender inequality and negative attitudes towards women’s rights.

Women’s rights need to be constructed by and for the women impacted. One necessary step is collaboration with indigenous sources to reimagine Buddhism as a conceptual ground for women’s rights. Professor Htun emphasized in the webinar that religiosity and conservatism are not linked in Myanmar. It is important that donors support groups like Musawah, which is “spearheading a global Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws,” and creating a Muslim vision of women’s rights. Donors can also encourage autonomous, local construction, even if it is religiously oriented. Progress begets progress. As the country makes political and economic strides, gender roles in Myanmar must become more equitable.

– Annie Iezzi
Photo: Flickr

Lotus flowers are used to make lotus face masks in Cambodia to address PPE waste and a high face mask demand. Several activists and actors have raised alarm over the potentially devastating effects that personal protective equipment (PPE) can have in terms of increasing pollution around the world. There have been reports of PPE waste collecting on coasts around the world. Plastic pollution negatively impacts ocean health and, for maritime nations, this could translate to economic losses and the loss of livelihoods for those working within the ocean economy. One study by Plastics Hub found that if every person living in the UK utilized a single-use face mask for every day of 2020, it would contribute an additional 66,000 tons of plastic waste. It is unclear how much of this waste could end up in marine environments, but with 150 million tonnes already circulating the earth’s water, there is a pressing urgency to address the unsustainability of single-use face masks to fight the spread of COVID-19. As a result, an eco-friendly designer in Cambodia created lotus face masks to address this PPE waste.

Is There a Way to Combat PPE Pollution?

Cambodia is not exempt from the negative impacts that pollution can have on marine environments. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identifies Cambodia as being highly dependent on its aquatic resources for both food security and the livelihoods of the Cambodian people.  In 2013, Cambodia averaged 700,000 tons of fishing and aquaculture production.  At a conference on maritime issues in Cambodia in 2015, hosted by the National University of Management in Phnom Penh, speakers highlighted the risk pollution poses to the economic livelihoods of those who depend on the marine economy.  The FAO has also spoken about the degradation of the marine habitat in the country due to pollution. Photographer Niamh Peren described one scene of coastal pollution in Sihanouk, Cambodia as “mountains and mountains of plastic.”

Pollution in the marine environment is a global problem. Due to the nature of the ocean’s currents, marine plastic pollution does not respect national boundaries and one country’s actions will not be enough to address the problem alone. However, Awen Delaval, an eco-friendly fashion designer, is implementing an innovative solution to tackling plastic pollution, while simultaneously diversifying the economy in Cambodia and alleviating poverty rates in the country.

Turning Unwanted Lotus Stems into Organic Fabric

Delaval’s lotus face masks are made utilizing ancestral techniques of producing lotus fiber from lotus stems, which are commonly regarded as waste within the country. The entire process of creating sustainable lotus face masks is entirely eco-friendly, as well as biodegradable.  The fabric produced using lotus fibers is remarkably efficient at filtration and, according to Delaval, is a superior fabric due to its light texture and breathability. The eco-textile company Samatoa, which Delaval manages, produces lotus masks that meet the standards of both the United States’ CDC and France’s Association Francaise de Normalization, making them an effective alternative to plastic single-use face masks.

Samatoa also values the tenets of fair trade and has made a positive impact on the livelihoods of poor Cambodians in the Battambang province. The company has provided employment that empowered thirty Cambodia women to be financially independent and provide for their families. According to Samatoa, the wages earned by company workers are twice what they would receive from other textile work in the country. Additionally, the company ensures that workers have access to a number of benefits, including trade union rights, paid leave and health insurance.

Impact of Lotus Face Masks

Delaval’s innovative solution to plastic pollution produced from single-use face masks gained international attention. The company he manages, Samatoa, is striving to increase production and capacity to improve the lives of an additional 500 women. Samatoa also provides educational opportunities to lotus farmers on sustainable farming practices, further improving the lives of the Cambodian people. Deval’s lotus face masks provide a sustainable solution to the problem of PPE waste while simultaneously providing economic development to rural communities in Cambodia.

– Leah Bordlee
Photo: Pixabay