Advances of Somali women
Located on the eastern seaboard of Africa, Somalia is a country synonymous with strife and civil unrest, with a civil war raging on since 1991. The country has endured continuous hardship, and, as is often the case, women carry an unfair proportion of the burden. The advances of Somali women in recent years demonstrate the progress and possibility for the future of Somalia.

The State of Somali Women

Due to a combination of cultural and religious practices, Somali women always existed in a state of subservience. The traditionally patriarchal society grew worse in terms of gender equality as political tensions and divides grew in the 1980s and reached a state of full and outright oppression with the start of the nation’s current civil war. The average Somali women lives only 58 years, 16 years less than the world average. This is in large part due to the lack of medical treatment women receive. Somalia has the seventh-highest maternal mortality rate in the world and the ninth highest birth rate. The country’s lacking health care and infrastructure worsen these statistics. Somalia’s state of civil war and lack of a set government for almost 20 years caused nearly all progression to stop and fall back.

Somalia ranked the fourth worst country to be a woman. This ranking came from a poll of 213 women’s rights experts. It judged countries on the factors of poverty, violence, rape, human trafficking, lack of health services and a variety of other criteria. Cases of genital mutilation and child marriage are also extremely common.

Inequalities and Poverty for Somali Women

The nation’s impoverished state likely plays a large role in the oppression of women, with little work of worth for them to take on. Somali women often need to tend to children, the home and herds of cattle. This typically starts at a young age, which therefore excludes Somali girls from attending school. A great barrier in relation to gender equality in Somalia comes by way of political representation. Due to the constant oppression women face, very few Somali women hold political office, nor do they hold roles with any substantial power. In Somaliland, a region in the north of Somalia in the grips of a fight for its independence from Somalia, there are only two female members of parliament out of 86. Moreover, only one female minister out of the 28 currently holds the position. When Somali women do speak out against the bias of the system, they often face violence.

Even with odds bent against them, Somali women are fighting for their equality. The advances of Somali women largely go overlooked, but this may change. A visit of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed put the recent advances of Somali women at center stage. Somalia served as a stop on the joint UN-African Union trip to countries in the Horn of Africa. While in Somalia, Mohammed met with the African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop. The trip highlighted the strides Somalia took as a nation in the years since the bloodiest stages of its civil war, as well as addressing the progress and advances of Somali women in recent years. These advances lay somewhat in the abstract, more in effort and aspiration than drastic reform. Somali women fought for equal participation in elections, worked to redevelop Somalia’s economy and pushed against the rise of extremism.

Somalia’s state of instability leads to much guesswork when predicting what may be to come. However, the civil war that brought destruction to the nation seems to be in its waning phase. If the efforts and advances of Somali women tell of anything, they tell of the possibility to change, to grow and brighten the future with the better days to come.

Austin Brown
Photo: Flickr

Nonprofits That Empower WomenToday, the fight for women’s rights continues to pick up steam. However, many women’s voices around the globe are still not being heard. Fortunately, more organizations are taking up the mantle to ensure that gender equality remains a top priority when it comes to global development. Here are five global nonprofits that empower women.

5 Global Nonprofits That Empower Women

  1. Women for Women International
    Women for Women International, or WfWI, is a nonprofit founded in 1993 working with women from impoverished and war-torn countries. It assisted more than 500,000 women since and is currently situated in Afghanistan, Northern Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Sudan, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This nonprofit works to give women an opportunity to build a support network for each other and share their experiences while also teaching them new skills and resources to safeguard their futures. WfWI believes in empowering women in four different ways—economic empowerment, social empowerment, sustaining peace and responding to conflict. Outside of programs that relate directly to helping women, WfWI also focuses on “complementary programs” that center around men’s engagement in women’s rights issues, graduate support and community advocacy.
  2. The Malala Fund
    Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai founded the Malala Fund in 2013 to give girls around the world an opportunity to receive a safe and quality education. The fund mainly focused its attention on countries where girls are least likely to have access to this kind of education, specifically in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. This fund targets three specific areas when it comes to ensuring that girls have an opportunity to receive a quality education. These are (i) advocacy, specifically in holding leaders accountable, (ii) investing in educators and those who are also fighting for girls’ education and (iii) giving girls the opportunity to speak for themselves and allowing their voices to be heard.
  3. Global Fund for Women
    Founded in 1987, the Global Fund for Women strives for gender equality and advocates for the rights of women and girls across the globe. It mainly fights for reproductive rights for women, violence prevention and economic fairness. For the Global Fund, women and girls around the world should always feel “strong, safe, powerful and heard.” This group specifically partners with “women-led groups who are courageously fighting for justice in their own communities” which allows these organizations to tackle issues head on. Since its founding, it has worked in 175 countries and contributed to at least 5,000 organizations that have similar values as the Global Fund for Women.
  4. Pathfinder International
    Founded in 1957, Pathfinder International works to improve the sexual and reproductive health of people around the world. While it participates in all aspects of sexual and reproductive health, its main focus is pregnancies and making sure women are aware of all options available to them. Pathfinder International’s mission is to try to lower the rate of women dying from preventable complications with pregnancies, help those infected with HIV and promote proper sexual and reproductive health. It operates under the values of respect, courage, collaboration, innovation and integrity. Pathfinder International is located in 20 countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt and Mozambique.
  5. Madre
    Madre is a women’s rights organization that specifically works with smaller organizations fighting for women’s rights in war-torn nations. It focuses on three specific issues. These are gender violence, climate justice and “Just Peace,” which is meant to provide women with an opportunity to recover from the experiences they had and work toward a more peaceful world. In order to work with these three specific causes, Madre uses three strategies—grantmaking, capacity building and legal advocacy. These three strategies bring women into the conversation and allow them the opportunity to enact change, support one another and give them an opportunity to take part in policymaking. Some of the countries Madre reaches include Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Nicaragua, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Kenya.

– Sydney Toy
Photo: Flickr

Programs Aiding Women in Vietnam

Too many Vietnamese women find themselves locked into a life of abuse and poverty, with no skills or access to education to become gainfully employed. One example lies in the story of Sung Thi Sy. Sy resides in the Sa Phin village in the Dong Van District of Vietnam. According to the Asia News Network, her family lived in severe poverty for much of her life and she constantly lived in fear of her husband who would regularly abuse her. She considered running away, but she was worried about providing for her two young children. However, thanks to the support of a locally-funded program, Sy and her children are now thriving. There are many other programs aiding women in Vietnam including the following.

3 Programs Aiding Women in Vietnam

  1. Education and Training: One of the most well-known organizations that work to solve this problem is the Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU). Founded in 1930, the VWU originally found roles for women during the liberation of Vietnam from French colonialism. After the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the VWU focused on helping women rebuild their lives by pulling them out of poverty and introducing them to the workforce. Today, the VWU has more than 19 million members that constantly work towards gender equality for Vietnamese women. The VWU offers loans to help poor Vietnamese women afford a higher education and training programs to provide the skills needed to find higher-paying careers.
  2. Agriculture: Women in the Dong Van district of Vietnam face a high risk of human trafficking and domestic violence and an unpredictable climate with barren land which makes farming a challenge. One of the programs aiding women in Vietnam with these struggles is the Lanh Trang (White Flax) Agricultural and Forestry Services Cooperative. Launched in 2017, the program works to provide vocational skills for disadvantaged women and invests in the necessary equipment to grow and harvest flax for the women in the Dong Van area. Since its inception, the Lanh Trang Cooperative has created stable jobs for 95 women, including Sung Thi Sy, all of whom live on a budget of around $170 to $260 per month.
  3. Entrepreneurship: The United Nations Development Programme launched an initiative dubbed the Economic Empowerment of Ethnic Minority Women via Application of 14.0 to aid women in Vietnam through entrepreneurship. This initiative creates an online platform in which Vietnamese women can learn modern financial solutions, take online courses on creating a business, obtain new technology for production and many more services.

Today, Sung Thi Sy has a job in the production of flaxseed products and brings home a consistent paycheck to feed her children and preserve the roof above their heads. Women like Sy are living proof that with enough funding, programs like these can promote tangible improvements in the fight against poverty and inequality in Vietnam.

– Charles Nettles
Photo: Flickr

Empowered Fijian Women
When Cyclone Winston barreled down on rural Fiji in 2016, the women left the kitchen and shouted to their neighbors to warn them of the impending storm. The women protected food in containers and buried crops to save them from the destruction. Using their phones, the women spread messages to other rural areas and warned others of the forecasted disaster. This network of women is the Women’s Weather Watch Program and it has empowered Fijian women.

The Women’s Weather Watch Program

The Women’s Weather Watch Program consists of around 350 empowered Fijian women all connected by a mobile network. The program started in 2009 following Cyclone Mick. The reason the program started was that women’s communities were excluding them from the decision making process despite their selfless efforts to protect their homes.

The base is in Fiji’s capital, Suva, and those members monitor weather reports. In the event of a natural disaster, they send a message to women all over Fiji that are part of the program. These women then warn their villages and prepare them for the worst. This unique method of preparation for a storm shows how natural disasters have empowered women in Fiji.

Femlink Pacific Empowers Fijian Women

The entire weather watch program is run by Femlink Pacific. It is a feminist non-governmental organization that uses the media to empower women. It interviews women all over Fiji about their needs and concerns. Femlink then broadcasts these interviews from its studios in the hopes that it can raise awareness for those women.

The lives of these women have changed for the better with the creation of the Weather Watch Program. Previously, people told the women to be quiet, stay in the kitchen and look after the kids. The men took power and disregarded their opinions. Now, Femlink Pacific and the Women’s Weather Watch Program have given these women a voice. They use their voices to warn neighbors and friends all over their villages and will no longer confine themselves to the kitchen. The women are leaders and now that they have a say, they are changing things for the better.

Fijian women know how to best prepare for a disaster. They know how to help their crops when drought hits. When times are tough, they are the ones who skip meals to help their families. The women find ways to get money by talking to each other and teaching each other how to survive in the face of adversity.

The progress that women have made in Fiji is remarkable. It is amazing to see how natural disasters have empowered Fijian women. The work they do truly does save lives. Less than half of Fiji is connected to the internet. There is no app on these women’s phones to tell them a storm is coming. There is no way to search online for how to prepare for a storm or how to recover after one has passed. It is the women who have taken on this important job. Without the Women’s Weather Watch Program, a severe storm could cost countless lives and the destruction of crops simply because people were not expecting it.

– Gaurav Shetty
Photo: Flickr

 

 

Cancer Detection in ColombiaBreast cancer, the leading type of cancer in women worldwide, affects more than 2 million women each year. In 2018 alone, 625,000 women died from breast cancer. According to the World Bank, although developed regions have higher rates of breast cancer compared to developing areas, rates are increasing in nearly every region across the globe. When looking at breast cancer survival rates, one thing is certain: early detection is key to lowering death rates and so early breast cancer detection in Colombia is changing.

A Possible Solution

With more than 13,000 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 alone, Colombian officials have been focusing on initiatives that target early detection. By launching a pilot program through Discovering Hands, an organization founded in Germany that empowers blind women with a heightened sense of touch to feel for breast cancer, early detection is exactly what Colombia focuses on.

Breast mammography, or a mammogram as it is known colloquially, is sometimes too expensive for women in developing countries. Additionally, they are only available to women in Colombia who are over 50 years of age. Instead of solely using the traditional method of breast cancer detection, the mammogram, Colombia borrowed from Discovering Hands. The country put visually impaired women to work as medical tactile examiners feeling for breast cancer. The surgeon who coordinates the Discovering Hands project in Colombia, Dr. Luis Alberto Olave, said of the program: “They [MTEs] have this gift in their fingers. If they are trained, their disability can become a talent, a strength, and can be used to help other people. Nodules are the first cancer symptom. The faster we find them, the faster we will have any impact on the projection of the illness, and that may mean saving lives.”

Results

Currently, in Latin America, only three visually impaired women work as medical tactile examiners, using their delicate sense of touch for early cancer detection in Colombia. These women have been proven to detect 30 percent more tissue variations in breast tissue than medically trained doctors. The Discovering Hands method is less expensive, more accurate and can find lumps that are 50 percent smaller than ones found by doctors. Additionally, some women in Colombia have expressed that they feel more comfortable going to women to have this examination performed versus male doctors.

These medical tactile examiners do not diagnose patients, rather they do an examination, then help set up an appointment with the doctor if they find any irregularities. This method of early cancer detection in Colombia is not only saving lives by early diagnosis of breast cancer, but it is also creating a fulfilling job for the visually impaired. As female patients are starting to flock to these medical tactile examiners, Colombia discussed expanding the program to provide more jobs for blind women. This would give more low-income women in Colombia access to breast cancer screening.

A Global Answer

Discovering Hands is currently in seven countries: Colombia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Spain, Austria and India, and already performed over 10,000 exams. As the model continues to succeed in helping women with early breast cancer detection as well as giving fulfilling jobs to blind women, Discovering Hands is discussing repeating the business model in new countries. This program is unique in that it gives to the community while also providing a living for women who previously could not contribute to society. As breast cancer rates continue to grow, Discovering Hands is doing its part to lower the fatality rate of breast cancer.

– Kathryn Moffet
Photo: Pexels

Girls' Education in Developing CountriesEducation is a determining factor in a country’s economic and political success. The more educated the population becomes, the more a country will flourish. Traditionally, women’s education in developing countries has been pushed to the wayside due to gender stereotypes and traditional household roles. Lotus Outreach International supports girls’ education in developing countries to help them break through these boundaries and gives them a voice to change the environment around them.

What is the Lotus Outreach Program?

The Lotus Outreach Program, founded in India in 1993, began as a way to aid Tibetan refugees in India. It then expanded its focus to neglected groups in developing countries worldwide, and now has an affiliate in California which supports efforts to improve women’s education around the world. Lotus Outreach International is currently working in India and Cambodia to empower women and has broadened access to education in the two countries.

Lotus Outreach International has provided 1,449 high school scholarships for female students in India, along with 327 university training scholarships. The organization has also provided 2,500 bikes to female students as transportation to and from school. Lotus Outreach International has also donated 409,020 kilograms of rice for educational programs.

Educational Statistics from India

Since Lotus Outreach International primarily operates in India, it is important to understand the scope of the educational system in the country. India has one of the largest school-age populations in the world, with around 270 million children between the ages of 5 and 17. Education is required from 6 to 13 and the educational system has four tiers: pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary. Pre-primary is for children from 3 to 6 years old, primary is between ages six and 10, secondary is between ages 11 to 17, and tertiary is between ages 18 to 22. The current primary to secondary transition rate is high for female students, with 90.37 percent of females continuing to secondary education in 2016.

The country still has low secondary and tertiary female enrollment, however, which Lotus Outreach International is addressing through programs and aid outreaches in rural areas around India. Many students are struggling in both math and reading, as seen through mean achievement scores from 2015. During that year, the mean achievement score for math in rural areas was 247, while the urban score was 256. In English, the mean score was 19 points higher in urban areas than in rural ones. For these reasons, Lotus Outreach supports rural women’s education to close the urban/rural gap.

Lotus Outreach International Programs

The organization has created multiple programs to support girls’ education in developing countries. Some notable programs include Blossom Bus, Lotus Petals and Education Quality Addition.

  1. Blossom Bus provides female students with safe transportation to and from schools, as it is widely believed to be unsafe for females to travel alone in many parts of India. Fears about safety often end female education at the primary level, and girls are kept at home without the chance to continue learning. This program, specific to Mewat, Haryana, India, provides bus transportation to secondary and tertiary educational facilities with trustworthy drivers. Blossom Bus aims to counteract the extremely low female literacy rate in Haryana, which currently stands at 36 percent. The program currently provides transportation for over 300 female secondary students and 48 tertiary students, helping to break the cycle of early marriages and supporting young women as they try to get an education.
  2. Lotus Pedals targets women who would be easily susceptible to sex trafficking and abuse. The program helps to provide affordable, safe and reliable transportation to young girls who would otherwise have to choose between a meal and a taxi ride to school. Lotus Petals supplies all-terrain bicycles to girls living more than a mile away from the nearest schools and has provided more than 2,316 bicycle scholarships so far. The Lotus Petals outreach helps female students in Cambodia as well. These bicycles help further girls’ education in developing countries by giving students a safer way to get to school.
  3. The Education Quality Addition program is an after-school enhancement program for migrant worker students to ensure that these girls are able to keep up with educational standards. The program enrolls students into all core classes needed to ensure that their education level is where it should be based on their age. EQU+ works with students in Delhi, India who would otherwise be unable to attend classes due to high tuition prices. Currently, the program is serving 25 to 30 students under 14 in the Delhi area to ensure that these girls are able to keep up with their education and prevent them from dropping out of school entirely.

Lotus Outreach International has worked tirelessly through multiple programs to support girls’ education in developing countries. These three programs and many more are increasing female enrollment and helping more women finish their education.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Wikipedia

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

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

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

The Marketplace Literacy Project

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

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

The Need for Female Entrepreneurship in Mexico

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

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

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

Autonomy Literacy

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

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

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

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

Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

 

Women in Peace and Security

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

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

Women in Afghanistan

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

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

Impact of Women on the Peace Process

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

Four Focus Areas Outlined in the WPS Strategy

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

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

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

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

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Fisheries in Costa Rica
The world knows Costa Rica, a country in Central America, for its fishery practices. Tourism and recreational fishing produces about $331 million yearly and has also created more than 60,000 work opportunities. Fisheries in Costa Rica are notorious for the increasing number of women that manage the nation’s industry; only 2 percent of women are entrepreneurs in Costa Rica.

Women’s Work in Fisheries

Jeannette Pérez, a business leader, began working at a local fishery after moving to Costa Rica a few years prior. In 2018, Pérez began taking part in the Action Plan of the National Platform of Sustainable Large Pelagic Fisheries, organized by UNDP through its Green Commodities Programme. The Green Commodities Programme’s goal is to discover modern solutions to progress the environmental, economic and social operations of pelagic species such as tuna, mahi-mahi and swordfish, which are all fish that have suffered a recent decline.

Pérez has nearly 30 years of experience in the recreational fishing industry. She is also the main leader in Costa Rica’s mission to implement sustainable practices as per the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Pérez is also the first female to serve on the Board of Directors of the Costa Rican Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Pérez feels that the organization, National Platform for Sustainable Large Pelagics Fisheries, is necessary for the fisheries in Costa Rica to maintain their fishing practices and to conquer the current issue involving a limited supply of fish.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, which oversees the fishing industry in conjunction with the Ministry of Environment and Energy, runs the organization. The United Nations Development Program developed it with funds from the Global Environment Fund.

National Plan for Sustainable Practices

Costa Rica is also the first country across the globe that has implemented a National Plan for Sustainable Pelagic Fisheries. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock oversees it with the Costa Rican Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Ministry of Environment and Energy. The Global Environment Facility also provides support and funds.

In 2018, the nation introduced legislation that would ensure the expansion of the traditional fishing department of fisheries in Costa Rica and also serve the community.

A Community Based Approach

The Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) establishes a plan for the essential conduct of small-scale fisheries in Costa Rica by incorporating suitable resolutions, increasing government support and advancing economic resources. In conjunction with this bill, the nation highlighted the importance of acknowledging the efforts of smaller fisheries in providing a supply of food as well as nutrition security, which has the potential to decrease poverty, particularly in regard to employing women in local fisheries.

Altogether, Costa Rica plans to develop a foundation for the fisheries based on human rights, such as satisfactory labor, economic opportunities, gender equity and climate change. It also intends to continue to focus on safe fishing practices along with market promotions.

Costa Rica has begun making progress by collaborating with federal officials, other fishermen, the community and other organizations along with higher education research. It is doing this by learning about how other countries manage their fisheries across the globe.

– Diana Dopheide
Photo: Max Pixel