Women’s rights in FranceWith the rise of women’s rights movements in recent years, French citizens have mobilized to address gender issues, especially the prevalence of femicide and domestic violence. France has made much progress in the realm of gender equality, including the establishment of policies and programs promoting women’s rights in France under the Macron administration. However, there is still much to be done to reach true equality and to end gender-based violence.

Violence Against Women

In France, femicides —  the killing of women by a relative or significant other — have been a significant reason for protest in recent years. La Fondation des Femmes, or the Women’s Foundation, is one protest group that has formed around the issue as it believes government efforts to curb the violence are not enough to keep citizens safe. In a recent article from the BBC, the Women’s Foundation criticized the lack of adequate gun policy as firearms are one of the most common weapons used in femicides.

Additionally, pandemic-induced lockdowns have forced many women to be confined in the same space as abusers, resulting in a 30% increase in domestic violence reports, according to France24. Due to its continued prevalence, gender violence is a central concern for activists advocating for women’s rights in France.

The #MeToo movement also gained traction in France in 2017 under the French name #BalanceTonPorc. Though there were no significant convictions or resignations of perpetrators of sexual violence at first, the rise in protests and social media movements greatly increased the visibility of victims in 2020.

Efforts to Combat Gender-Based Violence

President Emmanuel Macron’s emphasis on gender equality provided much hope for feminist voters during his 2017 presidential campaign. As part of his pledge to support women’s rights in France, Macron implemented protective policies for women and has established the position of Secretariat of Equality between Women and Men, a role currently held by Marlène Schiappa. Under Macron’s administration, France scored 75.1% in 2020 in terms of the Gender Equality Index, ranking third-best among all members of the EU.

In response to protests and the advocacy of groups such as the Women’s Foundation, the French government implemented several pieces of legislation addressing gender violence. According to the BBC, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held a domestic violence conference in 2019, during which he pledged to increase the number of temporary shelters for victims, improve the procedures of domestic violence cases and contribute more than $6 million to the cause. French parliament added to these measures by approving a law permitting doctors to reveal the identity of a patient if domestic violence is putting the patient’s life at risk.

Women’s Rights Progress

There has been some improvement as between 2019 and 2020 the number of domestic murders of women decreased from 146 to 90, a historically low number that the government believes to be a result of the work of its policies and law enforcement.

Despite government efforts to decrease gender violence, many individuals are still concerned by the alarming numbers of femicides. Protest groups in France are creating street collages highlighting femicide and sexual harassment. Caroline De Haas, the founder of the feminist movement NousToutes, told the Guardian that “nearly 100 deaths is no reason to celebrate.”

There are several hopeful developments for gender equality in France. However, despite an explicit government commitment to equality, the government must take additional steps to conquer disparities in female employment and leadership, gender violence, harassment and wage gaps. The continued protests asserting an end to violence against women demonstrate the need for more policy and execution of legislation for women’s rights in France.

Sarah Stolar
Photo: pixabay

Books From the Front Lines
On March 4, 2021, outrage flooded the streets of India after the news of a new honor killing. Honor killings happen when a girl or a woman becomes a victim of murder for shaming her family. Often these women are victims of physical abuse, verbal abuse or sexual assault. Bringing attention to the topic of honor-based killings and violence against women and girls are authors that have either experienced these inhumane acts first hand or reported them. Authors from across the globe are giving women a voice against the violence, honor killings and crimes they may suffer at the hands of family members. Below are four books from the front lines that exemplify the courage it takes to speak against honor-based killings.

“Murder in the Name of Honor” by Rara Husseini

In this book, author Rara Husseini provides real-life accounts of honor killings. One focus of the book is the tragic story of Kifaya. Her brother took her life after he sexually assaulted her. Husseini detailed the family’s indifference to her investigation to garner justice for the girl. In an interview with Kifaya’s uncles, Husseini dove deeper into the mistreatment of the young woman even after her death. “They spoke of her as if they were speaking about a sheep, these men were part of the conspiracy, her body not yet cold yet they were here smoking and drinking like nothing happened.”

As a journalist who commits to the truth at every turn, Husseini does not turn away from a confrontation. She has been fighting the articles and laws that protect murderers like Kifaya’s brother and has turned the story of Kifaya into one of recognition in face of adversity.

“Unbroken Spirit” by Ferzanna Riley

Ferzanna Riley, the author of “Unbroken Spirit,” was born to Muslim parents in Pakistan. She experienced a hard upbringing. The deception and betrayal that she and her sister experienced from their parents led them to return to Pakistan from their new home in London. Trapped in a home that permitted violence, Ferzanna questioned her faith daily. In this astonishing true story about faith, loss and violence, readers can learn about Riley’s strength and her unbroken spirit, despite living in an abusive home.

“Daughters of Shame” by Jasvinder Sanghera

In a family where honor matters more than anything, freedom often means risking it all for a way out. This was the case for Jasvinder Sanghera, who was born in England to seven sisters and one brother. All of her sisters married before the age of 16. When she was 14, her family showed her a photograph of a man they told her she was to marry. This began a series of repeated attempts to get Jasvinder to marry. “Daughters of Shame” recounted Jasvinder’s estranged family relationship after she ran away from home at the age of 16.

“Beyond Honour” by Tahira S. Khan

These books from the front lines are a view into the injustices of honor-based killings. The author Tahira S. Khan takes these insights a step further to examine the causes, motives and political aspects of honor-based killings. Tahira S. Khan is a distinguished professor whose work receives inspiration from experience and academic study. She obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in International studies. “Beyond Honour” goes in-depth to examine honor killings as crimes of historical importance.

Honor killings are crimes against humanity. The repercussions of such horrendous actions are something no family should bear witness to. The group Honour-Based Violence Network brings awareness and action to ending honor killings. Its library includes books from the front lines by authors like Rara Husseini, Ferzanna Riley, Jasvinder Sanghera and Tahira S. Khan. One can access these works of great achievement here to obtain awareness about honor-based killings.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Cyprus
The Republic of Cyprus is located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. With a population of 1.2 million people, this country faces gender inequality in education, wages and poverty rates. However, its government is working to improve women’s rights in Cyprus through various policies and programs.

The Gender Gap

Cyprus ranks 21st on the European Union’s Gender Equality Index. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) developed this measurement to see how different factors like age and disability have an impact on gender equality. Cyprus’ ranking emphasizes the need for improved gender equality, specifically women’s rights. Even though there are more women in education than men, in 2017, only 32% of women were secondary school graduates. However, this percentage went up to 38% only a year later.

Despite having more female graduates from secondary and tertiary education, men often receive more pay than women. In fact, women earn half of what men earn. A disproportionate number of women live in poverty in comparison to men. The AROPE (at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion) measure, which measures poverty, exclusion from the labor market and material deprivation, found that 23.3% of women were in poverty in 2019 while men were at 21.2%. Three in 10 women were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2017.

Despite its low ranking in the Gender Equality Index, Cyprus is making faster progress than other countries when it comes to gender equality scores. One can credit this improvement to effective government initiatives.

Government Initiatives

The Constitution of Cyprus has a section on gender equality. Article 28 of the constitution focuses on the equal treatment of women and prohibits discrimination. Cyprus has implemented many government policies and programs to improve gender equality in the country. The government distributed its Strategic Plan on Equality between Women and Men 2014-2017 to different government departments, ministries and local authorities. This precedent has continued with its National Action Plan (NAP) on Gender Equality 2018-2021, increasing awareness for gender equality throughout different areas of the country.

The government of Cyprus has established six new committees to bridge this gender gap. Two committees specifically target violence against women and trafficking and economic empowerment. The government has also increased collaboration with different women’s organizations.

Cyprus Women’s Lobby and Cyprus Antipoverty Network

The Cyprus Women’s Lobby is a branch of the European Women’s Lobby, a nonprofit organization that works with European institutions and civil society organizations. The Cyprus Women’s Lobby is a network of 16 women’s organizations and nonprofit organizations. This group formed in 2008 to improve gender equality and women’s rights in Cyprus. The NAPN-Cyprus (National Anti-Poverty Network Cyprus) is a network of nonprofit organizations. This network focuses on eliminating poverty and social exclusion. NAPN-Cyprus helps alleviate the gender inequality in the country, specifically of women’s rights due to their higher levels of poverty.

Women face a disproportionate amount of inequality in Cyprus. However, their government and different nonprofit organizations are looking to bridge this gap in inequality.

– Mia Banuelos
Photo: Flickr

Finland's Foreign Aid
Rankings and dollar signs are typically what one can use to compare a country’s contributions to foreign aid against the next. However, what is not present in those comparisons and dollar signs is the context and structure behind the contributions of these countries. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) ranked Finland number 19 out of 30 countries because it provides only $1.08 billion in aid. This ranking is consistent across the board showing Finland as one of the lowest contributors of foreign aid, however, Finland’s foreign aid contributions include quality standards that every country should mimic to get the most out of their contributions.

Finland’s Goal Regarding Foreign Aid

Finland’s long-term overarching goal is not simply to help countries in need but also to free those countries from their dependency on aid and provide each country it contributes to with the ability to flourish. This goal puts Finland in a position to use the idea of quality over quantity when it decides its foreign aid budget and what country will benefit the most from Finland’s foreign aid contributions. Finland’s foreign aid policies follow a strict set of criteria that helps to guide and direct small but potent decisions. The Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of Finland has spelled out the four driving components to criteria for foreign aid contributions within Finland’s Development policy.

4 Driving Forces Behind Finland’s Foreign Aid

  1. Strengthening the Status and Rights of Women and Girls: Finland intends to improve the rights of women and girls across the globe and promote gender equality. In fact, Finland is one of the largest contributors to UN Women, after giving the organization 10 million euros in 2016.
  2. Strengthening the Economic Base in Developing Countries and Creating Jobs: Without a strong economy, a country may have limited jobs, so it is crucial for Finland to actively participate in the rebuilding or strengthening of that economy. Finland seeks out partnerships and opportunities to promote the creation of jobs and strengthen the countries’ trade environments. In a three-year span of time, between 2016 and 2019, Finland contributed over $500 million in investments and loans to support sustainable development. Finland’s investment in Somalia went solely toward economic infrastructure and electricity distribution as well as the private sector. This contribution should provide valuable stepping stones to help Somalia rebuild and sustain the resources available to it.
  3. Education, Well-Functioning Societies and Democracy: Finland stands by its rule of law to provide a safe and peaceful environment, sustainable resources and public services to its population. Moreover, it extends those values to other countries. In fact, 57% of Finland’s foreign aid goes to fragile states in order to promote stability and security.
  4. Environmental Challenges and Natural Resources: Finland also aims to offer reliable access to safe and clean water and better water and land resources. It also intends to promote better farming conditions, forest management and decreased risk of hygiene-related diseases. It has implemented sanitation projects in Nepal, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Kenya and more.

Examples of Finland’s Foreign Aid Projects

Finland’s foreign aid contributions have centered around rural development, food security and land tenure in Africa and Asia. Again, while Finland’s contributions may not evenly compare to other countries’ contributions, they directly align with its overarching goal of creating opportunities for countries to build and sustain their own resources. As a result, those countries might be able to enter a position to sustain themselves.

Another great example of Finland’s contributions is its investment in water supply and sanitation programs. Access to clean water and food is a worldwide issue and Finland is aiming to alleviate those issues in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal. Ethiopia and Nepal were among the top five recipients of Finland’s foreign aid in 2015. Finland has dedicated itself to providing support to countries that have the highest need for funds. In Vietnam, Finland contributed to the urban water supply and sewage system, helping those countries achieve self-sufficiency and providing them with consistent access to the sources they need.

These programs and resources are only effective if they can occur over the long term. This is why Finland’s foreign aid contributions focus on programs that support rule of law and political systems. For example, Finland gave Afghanistan $3.2 million between 2016 and 2019 to broaden “civic engagement” and help foster an environment where the people participate more closely with the decision-making process of Afghanistan’s government.

Concluding Thoughts

Individually, each criterion above may seem like an impossible mountain to climb, but for Finland, these are simply the small but potent foundational steps necessary to create and sustain an efficient, profitable and sustainable economy. Finland’s foreign aid contributions may seem like only a small blip on the radar compared to the contributions that the United States and other larger countries are making, but it is blazing a trail to ensure that the funds, no matter how big or small they are, can make a powerful contribution to countries in need.

– Janell Besa
Photo: Flickr

women's rights in VietnamWomen in Vietnam form a significant part of the working poor, often subject to dangerous working conditions and earning less income than men. Organizations advocate for women’s rights in Vietnam so that gender quality can be achieved and women can live empowered lives.

The Lives of Women in Vietnam

Although about 79% of women in Vietnam participate in the workforce, the majority of women have informal employment “as migrant domestic workers, homeworkers, street vendors and in the entertainment industry.” Furthermore, men are not expected to do the same unpaid care work as women. Societal standards assign women a lower status in comparison to men. In the labor market, women are often at a disadvantage due to gender inequality. Women and men do not have equal access to education, resources, skills development opportunities or better job prospects.

Oxfam Advocates for Women’s Rights in Vietnam

Oxfam looks to address the gender gap between men and women in Vietnam with its women’s rights program. The program targets impoverished and marginalized women with the aim of empowering them and enabling them to engage in leadership roles and participate in the decision-making that affects them. Oxfam’s strategies include research, advocacy and education. The organization uses “gender-sensitive design and management tools” to conduct research and analyses that illustrate the scope of gender inequality in the country. Oxfam uses its findings to garner support for women’s rights and positively influence the stance of policymakers with regard to women’s rights. Oxfam’s Women Empowerment Mainstreaming, Advocacy and Networking (WEMAN) framework “goes beyond promoting women’s agency to build understanding between men and women and work with mixed groups to look for consensus and collaboration.”

The ACWC

Another initiative addressing gender discrimination in Vietnam is being led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). The Commission, which had its 21st meeting on December 8, 2020, plans to “fulfill its mandate to achieve protection and empowerment of all women and children in the region.” Speaking to the cause, ACWC chair and Singapore’s ACWC representative for women’s rights, Laura Hwang, says, “Our women and children play indispensable roles in responding to and building back better from the pandemic.”

Hwang explains further that policies, including the ASEAN Recovery Framework for COVID-19, must prioritize the best interests of women and children. The ACWC began in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2010, primarily working to address the trafficking of women and children. The ACWC committed to ensuring that the rights of women and children are fully protected. The focus of the ACWC in Vietnam then extended to women’s involvement in politics, decision-making and democracy. The ACWC also focuses on ensuring quality education for children and ensuring that women have sufficient rights to land and assets in order for women and children to rise out of poverty and progress in life.

The Road Ahead

Deconstructing societal perceptions of women in Vietnam will not happen overnight, but the efforts of organizations seeking to improve women’s rights in Vietnam are already bettering the lives of Vietnamese women. With continued efforts, women’s rights will continue to progress.

Eliza Kirk
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 Dominican Republic
Over 10 million people reside in the Dominican Republic, which is located on the island of Hispaniola between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country offers beautiful beaches and exquisite cuisine, however, beyond the resorts and tourist hot spots are many gender inequalities. Underlying machismo ideologies violate women’s rights in the Dominican Republic and marginalized groups especially face maltreatment. Gender-based violence limits women to be active participants in society.

Femicide in the Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic had the third-highest rate of femicide in 2013. Although the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women underwent ratification in the Dominican Republic over 20 years ago, violence against women has prevailed. In 2012, reports determined that one woman suffers murder every two days, revealing the economic dependence women have on men, as well as prevalent machismo ideologies.

The government approved a National Human Rights Plan for 2018-2022. It includes plans to initiate anti-discrimination legislation, it still had not fulfilled the commitment by the end of 2019. In fact, 58 women died because of their gender, including attorney Anibel Gonzalez, whose death initiated widespread protests that called for reforms in regard to femicide. By 2017, the country had one of the highest rates of femicide with more than 100 reported cases. Additionally, 5,417 reports of sexual offenses existed in 2019, including 1,106 reports of rape. According to Amnesty International, the Dominican Republic fails to properly collect data that would help determine the scope of ill-treatment toward women, especially inappropriate actions by police. As a result, police brutality has become normalized and authority figures regularly violence women’s rights in the Dominican Republic with no repercussions or justice.

Marginalized Groups

Women who are sex workers are even more prone to face ill-treatment and beatings. According to Amnesty International, “police in the Dominican Republic routinely rape, beat, humiliate and verbally abuse women sex workers to exert social control over them and to punish them for transgressing social norms of acceptable femininity and sexuality.” This routine criminalization of sex workers violates women’s rights in the Dominican Republic.

Gender-based violence remains a problem in Latin America and the Caribbean with marginalized groups. “By passing a law to prevent discrimination against some of the country’s most marginalized women, the Dominican Republic could set an example for the rest of the Caribbean to follow in the fight against stigma, machismo and other drivers of extreme violence against women,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas of Amnesty International. By doing so, they challenge deep-seated cultural gender ideologies and start new structural change and reform ensues.

Fighting Gender Inequality

Additionally, nonprofit organizations have the potential to greatly impact gender inequality and promote women’s rights in the Dominican Republic. For example, Mariposa DR works to “create sustainable solutions to end generational poverty by educating and empowering girls.” In 2012, the organization developed an institution that offers a space for young women to engage in sports, receive academic tutoring and other life skill training, connect with peers and develop meaningful relationships with mentors.

According to the Mariposa DR Foundation, “Girls who were once seen as only domestic laborers, caretakers of younger siblings and financial burdens on their families, are now reading, surfing, swimming, going to high school, graduating, earning income and following their passions. They are the untapped talent pool for economic reform and the mothers of our future.” In 2019, Mariposa DR raised over $1,443,954. Of this amount, 87% contributed to the development of programs and activities for the girls. During the same year, the organization sent three of their own off to college in the United States. Additionally, Mariposa DR provided an annual week-long health fair where 57 girls had wellness checkups with a 95% attendance rate.

Looking Forward

Through investment in educational training, young women have the potential to challenge machismo and misogynistic ideologies, as well as lower rates of femicide and other forms of abuse. Marginalized groups are especially susceptible to experience abuse, however, organizations like Mariposa DR, equip girls with the tools needed to empower themselves, along with their family members.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in the Central African Republic
The year 2020 was turbulent for the entire world. From high stake elections to a global pandemic, much change has occurred in a short amount of time. Yet, while many worry about COVID-19 and economic downfall, a shadow pandemic is raging across sub-Saharan Africa. Recent lockdowns and socioeconomic turmoil have resulted in a sharp uptick in sexual violence and femicide across several African states. Countries such as Liberia and Nigeria saw a 50% increase in rape and killings. Experts attributed a large number of said cases to mandatory curfews. However, limited women’s rights in the Central African Republic (CAR) is also a cause.

The Situation

The Central African Republic revealed a 27% increase in rape and a 69% increase in cases with violence dealt against women and children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Women’s rights and safety have always been a longstanding issue for the Central African Republic. Besides having the rank of one of the least healthy and developed nations, the CAR ranks second highest for gender inequality globally. According to the U.N. Development Programme, COVID-19 presents a particular issue because “school and business closures, have meanwhile increased the domestic burdens borne by women and girls and sharply reduced their earnings, increasingly the existing vulnerabilities, confining them to homes they often share with their abusers and limiting access to support and health services.”

Since 2017, the CAR has reached out to donors and international organizations such as the U.N. and The International Development Association (IDA) to make longstanding changes. In that period, one can see progress in the fight for women’s rights in the Central African Republic.

Overview of Progress

While the CAR still struggles with women’s rights, generally, nonprofit organizations and international actors have taken action to help change the tide. Take, for instance, the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, which, since 2008, has provided local women’s activist information regarding the Rome Statute for Human Rights, resources to protect vulnerable women better and help in communicating with other women’s rights organizations. The organization has also promoted the training of lawyers and victims’ trust funds.

Another example of progress toward attaining better women’s rights in the CAR is the partnership with the Human Rights Council to host a series of hearings. These hearings focused on recent abuses and acts of extreme violence, especially those targeting women. The attendees were a series of international organizations such as U.N. Women and representatives from over 15 countries.

With the upcoming electoral season, the CAR has an even greater chance of radically transforming women’s rights in the country. The Secretary-General of the U.N., António Guterres, emphasized how, “All segments of the population of the Central African Republic, in particular women, young people, internally displaced persons and refugees, must be at the center of efforts to consolidate democracy and, consequently, of this electoral process.” Currently, the U.N. manages dialogue channels for opposing parties and interest groups to ensure the election is fair and peaceful. In essence, with the prospect of a new leader and parties coming to power, this could be the perfect opportunity to reform women’s rights.

Persisting Challenges

Although the U.N. and the CAR recently signed an agreement promising to tackle sexual violence by armed groups, the country still has a long way to go. For instance, rape victims in the CAR have little to no legal avenues to seek out reparations or any form of justice. Furthermore, medical aid for assault victims and women’s care, in general, is mostly underfunded and incredibly difficult to access.

Moreover, as the military conflict continues to destabilize the country, more and more women and young girls become victims of sex slavery and weaponized rape. Women in rural villages are primarily targeted, as rape is a psychological tactic in violent conflict. Many experts have argued that a specialized court dealing with said sexual crimes against women would be extremely effective at delivering justice.

Future Policy Recommendations

Aside from creating a network of specialized courts dealing with women’s rights and sexual violence, the CAR can still implement many policies and initiatives to promote women’s rights better. For instance, whistleblowing procedures should be put in place to protect aid workers who report sexual assault cases and violence amongst vulnerable populations. SOFEPADI, a Congolese NGO, has argued that development agencies need to better coordinate with each other to assist women caught in conflict and appoint women to positions of power within their organizations.

By reforming the way aid workers conduct with women in the CAR and funding more women lead organizations, the CAR and international actors can significantly improve the fight for women’s rights. However, another reform that the Central African Republic should consider is creating more economic development zones for marginalized peoples, such as women.

At a recent U.N. general assembly meeting, several African leaders advocated creating fiscal spaces to invest in social needs, especially in regard to women. Reforms such as this can significantly improve women’s livelihood, educate young girls and grant women in the CAR significant socio-economic autonomy. The CAR may not rank the best in women’s rights, but as time passes and international actors continue their efforts, hope exists for change.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

combat violence in MoroccoThere is a Moroccan village in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains where a group of women is staking their claim to a portion of the nation’s economy. With the support of a government initiative, these women have formed a civil society organization (CSO) known simply as, The Association. These women took part in jumpstarting the production of sheep and honey within the region. This is an effort to combat violence in Morocco.

The Benefits of CSOs

In May 2017, Dr. Beth Shirley, a professor of technical and science communication at Montana State University, participated in a research trip to Morocco. The trip involved the study of how CSOs are designed to improve the lives of women in rural communities. The researchers engaged with members of the Association and learned about how they communicate and organize themselves in a semiliterate environment. Also, how a CSO manages the effects of climate change on their agricultural prospects.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Shirley said, “Improving the lives of women like this actually reduces violence and terrorism.” Additionally, the women in The Association are contributing to, “the reduction of violence against women more than Morocco’s progressive legislation.”

There is a long history that has led to this moment in Morocco and women in the High Atlas Mountains stand at the forefront of the fight for rights and against violence.

The History of the Women’s Rights Movement in Morocco

Following Morocco’s independence from France in the late 1950s, there was a push for sweeping legal and cultural reforms. During the women’s rights movement, artistic talents were often used to renegotiate the status of cultural identity in a post-Colonial Morocco. Not long after this, women began to shape contemporary politics by forming unions and other democratic associations and holding positions in the ruling government.

A couple of decades later, the Arab Spring began and shifted the dynamic of the pro-democracy and women’s movements in Morocco. This led to radical reforms such as the right to marry without permission from a male guardian, the right to divorce their partner and the right to maintain custody of children after a divorce. The legal marriage age also changed for the better. Once the legal age was 15, now it is 18.

This progressive legislation emboldened more women to invest their time and resources into their society and attempt to combat violence in Morocco. The women of the High Atlas Mountains were a part of this trailblazing class of women. It was in 2012, one year after the Arab Spring, that they formed their Association and began to improve the lives of rural women.

The story of the Association is a testament to the lengths that Morocco has gone to become a progressive Arabian ally. Sadly, there are still many loopholes in the legal framework that fail to protect women from sexual harassment and assault.

Violence Against Women and Terrorism

In this sense, Morocco finds itself stuck in an awkward position when it comes to the protection of women’s rights. This is because the policies are progressive enough to anger religious extremists yet lax enough to condone violence against women exercising their rights. This thorny reality has allowed terrorism to propagate in Morocco and neighboring nations like Algeria for the last decade.

At a U.N. Forum in New York City, Justine Coulidiati Kiélem, president of the G5 Sahel Women’s Platform, stated that it’s critical for women to be allowed to stop terrorism. Kiélem said, “They [Moroccan government] sometimes spend money on the wrong priorities. They need to spend money on where there can be a good impact — supporting women.”

The Moroccan government answered this call by implementing policies like the Hakkaoui law. The Hakkaoui Law is in place to combat violence in Morocco. It criminalizes any act of harassment, aggression or sexual exploitation against women. Other supportive laws incentivize women-led programs like the Association. These reforms, paired with a robust counterterrorism strategy, have led to dramatic successes. According to the United States Bureau of Counterterrorism, “There were no terrorist incidents reported in Morocco in 2019.”

Some say that this fact is proof that the Hakkaoui law mitigates violence against women. However, advocates for women’s rights believe the measures taken have not been enough. For instance, 40% of women between the ages of 18 and 64 experience violence, with more than half of those acts committed by their husbands.

Dr. Shirley said, “During my time in Morocco, I didn’t witness or experience any violence, but it does happen, most often behind closed doors.” While rates of violence are going down, the law does not go far enough. Al Jazeera reports that “the legislation does not explicitly outlaw marital rape or spousal violence and does not provide a precise definition of domestic violence, leaving women vulnerable.”

A Long Path Forward

Dr. Shirley recalled a statement from one of the Moroccan women in her study: “She said, ‘I would like to see the women be able to travel more, to think for themselves and make their own decisions and be more independent.’” The Association gives women in this rural village the power to be autonomous — to make the choices that they want to make for themselves. But, this effort could not be done without their collective participation in the movement. On their own, they might not be heard, but together, they speak loudly as one. Together they can combat violence in Morocco.

Morocco is on the brink of a transformative societal shift. The policies in place have to extend to all Moroccan women in both rural and urban communities. Making these changes not only grants women protection and the ability to participate in the economy but also sets new standards for what is acceptable and what is not in a civil society.

Women engage in small acts of resistance every day by exercising their right to protest, by engaging in a collective discourse and by educating members of their community. Moroccan women like those living in the High Atlas Mountains are laying the foundation for the path forward through economic participation. With the right type of legal pressure, advocates may find a way to light the fire that will create a transformative shift forward and combat violence in Morocco.

– Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Jamaica
Jamaica is working towards reducing its poverty rate and improving gender equality. The percentage of Jamaica’s population below the poverty line in 2017 was 19.3%. With the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, Jamaica is currently implementing measures to reduce poverty with the help of groups like the National Poverty Reduction Programme (NPRP). The NPRP provides services like care packages, psychosocial support and other services to vulnerable groups in Jamaica. However, work is also necessary to achieve gender equality and improved women’s rights in Jamaica.

Poverty Among Women in Jamaica

According to UN Women, the 2019 poverty rate in Jamaica was 19.9%. Jamaica also has inequality between women and men living in poverty. For example, the ratio of women living in poverty is 121 women to 100 men in the Caribbean and Latin America, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). However, some Jamaican women are moving into economic and business positions in the workforce.

Women-led Coalition to Get Women into Corporate Jobs

A coalition back in 2012, called the 51% Coalition, addressed the lack of equity in the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) and began working to provide leadership positions to women in the country. The coalition focuses on recruiting women to buy shares in private sector companies. It also helps provide training to women so they can gain experience at the corporate and public sector level.

As of 2020, eight women made up the 21 members in Jamaica’s Senate. The 51% Coalition may have had a role in advancing women’s participation in the Senate; only five out of 21 seats included women in 2011. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report shows 17.5% of women and 82.5% of men in parliament compared to 2012’s report showing 13% of women and 87% of men. However, men still made up 85.8% of 2020’s labor force, showing that more work is necessary to achieve gender equality in Jamaica.

This initiative is one of several efforts that is aiming to achieve legal and social reform regarding discrimination and hostility against women in Jamaica. Successes like high enrollment rates in universities and middle-management leadership for women received recognition in 2019. Data from The World Bank shows that 37% of women and 15.8% of men enrolled in university before the Coalition in 2011 and that 38% of women enrolled in comparison to 16.6% of men in 2013. These statistics show little to no change for women attending university before and after the Coalition as well as little advancement for men. Considering this, the country still has to work to achieve improve women’s rights in Jamaica.

Violence Against Women in Jamaica

On March 10, 2021, the body of accounting clerk Khanice Jackson emerged after she was missing for two days. An outpour of shock and grief by Jamaican citizens turned into advocacy for her justice, as well as justice for women in their country. A 2018 United Nations (UN) database shows that women between ages 15-49 in Jamaica account for 27.8% of physical or intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Meanwhile, 39% of women in Jamaica and Granada experience intimate partner violence per year.

The Jamaican government and private sector responded by showing how it is actively seeking initiatives to achieve gender equality in the country. However, the continued lack of legislative action, despite promises from the government, is causing citizens to express their concerns. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness called for punishment against the crime against Khanice Jackson. Holness said the violent nature of popular music plays a role in the country’s violent social climate.

However, citizens have said that Jamaica’s leaders are not doing enough to create a safer environment for women. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck called out the current sentencing practices on March 30, 2021, for convicted criminals that include reducing their sentence in an attempt to clear a backlog of cases in court in a parliamentary sitting. Chuck’s address of this issue led to the decision to revisit the case in the future.

In early 2021, WE-Change, a Jamaican women’s rights organization geared towards gender equality in the country, addressed the constant cycle of violence against women and the government’s inaction. WE-Change, which began in 2015, advocates for women and girls using organizational and engagement strategies to advance women towards social change and equal rights. In February 2020, WE-Change recommended the Human and Social Development Committee of parliament to review the Sexual Harassment Bill.

Continued Efforts to Achieve Gender Equality in Jamaica

For now, Jamaican women must defend themselves using protective devices. Legislation is currently working to legalize the use of pepper spray after a petition on the Prime Minister’s website gained 16,876 signatures by the end of March 2021.

With the latest efforts to achieve gender equality in Jamaica, it seems that the country is making progress as more citizens are raising awareness. As the government continues to respond to public outcry, citizens and organizations are continuing to raise awareness regarding the importance of women’s rights in Jamaica.

– Nia Owens
Photo: Flickr