10 Improvements in Women’s Rights in Bangladesh
Bangladeshi women are no strangers to fighting for what they believe in. In 1952, the women of Bangladesh fought against the patriarchal regime alongside their husbands for the recognition of the Bengali language. Below are 10 improvements in women’s rights in Bangladesh.

10 Improvements in Women’s Rights in Bangladesh

  1. Health. The USAID assisted in joint communication between husbands and wives regarding women’s health. Therefore, decision-making is mutual and focuses on the future of the family, including healthier pregnancies for both mother and child. Bangladeshi women formed NGOs to mobilize and provide door to door health services, family planning and income-earning opportunities.
  2. Agriculture. Bangladeshi women are not only homemakers, but they are also income earners. Female farmers utilize a new technology, known as the fertilizer deep treatment method. This method uses less fertilizer and produces a higher return on investment. Additionally, Bangladesh also encourages women to sell in markets and pursue other areas of earned income, such as culturing fish and shrimp.
  3. Gender-Based Violence. The USAID works to implement the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act of 2010 in training 50 percent of Bangladeshi women. Further, Bangladesh also supports grassroots efforts of social protection groups as well. Groups act as the ears and eyes of the community, as well as enforcing current human rights laws and providing resources to legal channels. Groups include social workers, doctors, religious leaders, teachers and students.
  4. Voting Rights. The country has set an example of women’s equality in voting. In 1972, the Constitution of Bangladesh guaranteed women the same voting rights as their male counterparts. The constitution also guaranteed equal opportunities, such as serving in parliament. For example, in 1991, there was the election of the first female Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia. Today, Sheikh Hasina holds the seat as Prime Minister. Furthermore, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury holds the seat as House Speaker.
  5. Women and Children Repression (Special Act). In 1995, Bangladesh passed the special act for severe punishment for anyone guilty of forcing women to marry against their will, as well as marrying for dowry. In 2018, the high court also banned and prohibited the two-finger test; it deemed this test irrational and belittling to rape victims. Instead, the government adopted a more appropriate form of health care protocol in line with the World Health Organization.
  6. Education. Research finds that access to education and employment plays a positive role in helping women avoid becoming victims of dowry-related transactions. Illiteracy stifles the opportunity for growth and empowerment for women. The Centre for Policy Dialogue completed a study and found that if homemakers received pay for what people believe is
    non-work, they would receive 2.5 to 2.9 times higher pay than paid services income.
  7. Mass Awareness. Bangladesh also encourages mass discussion, debates and programs to bring awareness to gender inequality. According to lawmakers, mass public initiatives must include legislations and policies; this includes awareness that people teach and model at home.
  8. Working Women. Bangladeshi working women increased from 16.2 million in 2010 to 18.6 million in 2016-17. In 2017, the Gender Gap Index reported Bangladesh in the first spot amongst South Asian countries.
  9. Education. In 1990, the implementation of stipends exclusively for female students in efforts to end gender disparity for secondary schools occurred. Also, 150,000 primary school girls improved their reading skills. Participation increased from 57 percent in 2008 to 94.4 percent in 2017. Moreover, 10 million rural and underprivileged women in 490 Upazilas of 64 districts gained technology access. Bangladesh tops the Gender Gap Index in education in the primary and secondary education category.
  10. More Achievements. Bangladesh initiatives thus far include a reduction in infant and child mortality, poverty alleviation, increased female entrepreneurs and increased education and health. Other initiatives include strengthening workplace treatment and security for women against violence. There have also been income-generating initiatives to train over 2 million women at a grassroots level. Finally, Prime Minister Hasina created the Reserve Quota aimed at increasing the number of women in government, judiciary and U.N. peacekeeping missions and roles.

These 10 improvements in women’s rights in Bangladesh continue to set an example for other countries where inequality is extremely pervasive. While Bangladesh still requires significant work, these improvements bring more opportunities for Bangladeshi women to succeed in the future.

Michelle White
Photo: Flickr

Boglatech Gebre

Born in a small village in Ethiopia’s Kembata region, Boglatech Gebre was one of 14 children. Growing up, people described her as the average Ethiopian girl. She would help her mother with the chores and the cooking, help look after her siblings and would have to take a daily walk to get clean water for the family. However, unlike other young girls she grew up with, Gebre was secretly attending school. When she was growing up, females did not have access to education. Gebre received a secret education daily and soon she was able to read and write unlike other girls her age. She did this by excusing herself to fetch water in the early morning and having her uncle help her complete her chores. Gebre eventually received a scholarship to attend an Ethiopian school. Following studying microbiology in Israel, as well as the United States, she received her Masters and started studying for her Ph.D., leaving the program to return to Ethiopia as a women’s rights activist. Here are five facts about Boglatech Gebre.

5 Facts About Boglatech Gebre

  1. Boglatech Gebre was an Ethiopian Women’s Rights Activist. At the age of 12, Gebre underwent genital mutilation. Although the physical scars healed, the mental scars did not. This procedure was a key factor as to why Gebre abandoned her Ph.D. to become a women’s rights activist. Gebre not only focuses on ending the act of female genital mutilation (FGM) but is also passionate about ending the kidnapping of underage girls to become child brides.

  2. She Started a Charity with her Sister. In 1997, Boglatech Gebre and her sister founded KMG Ethiopia, based in Kembata. The letters stand for the phrase “Kembatti Mennti-Gezimma-Tupe,” which, in the Kambaata language, is a phrase that describes the power that united women have. People have credited KMG for saving 10s of thousands of young girls from becoming child brides. The charity has also essentially ended female genital mutilation in the Kembata region. In 1998, one year after Gebre and her sister founded KMG, the female genital mutilation rate was 100 percent, but by 2008, it dropped to 3 percent. The charity also focuses on providing women’s health services, because it opened up the first mother and child health center in Ethiopia. KMG also provides women and girls with education, livelihood and economic empowerment, information and health on gender-based violence, human rights information, environmental change and infrastructure development.

  3. Gebre was Influential in Passing Legislation. Ethiopia heard Gebre’s passion for creating a safe country for women. Because of her active role in speaking out for women’s rights, Ethiopia passed bans on issues such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. Ethiopia has also banned the practices of bride abduction, polygamy, widow inheritance and domestic violence. KMG persuaded Ethiopian courts to hear the cases of women, and the country has even hired female judges.

  4. Gebre and KMG have Received International Recognition. Since the foundation of KGM, Boglatech Gebre and the organization have won fifteen major awards. These awards include the Spanish National Committee for UNICEF’s International Award in 2015, the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services for Human Rights in June of 2013 and the North-South Award of the Council of Parliament of Europe in 2005. All the awards the charity has received reflect its commitment to improving human and women’s rights.

  5. She has Influenced other Improvements in Ethiopia Outside of Women’s Rights. As mentioned earlier, KMG has influenced Ethiopia’s environment and infrastructure development. The charity has planted over nine million trees that are indigenous to Ethiopia in an act of combating the environmental crisis. Gebre and the organization have also helped build bridges throughout the rural area of Kembata, opening up ways of travel that were not previously available to the local people.

On November 2, 2019, Boglatech Gebre passed away in Los Angeles, California. Although her charity did not release her cause of death, people believe it was due to a car wreck from 1987 that left her with nerve damage. Since the accident, Gebre would fly out to California to receive treatment. Initially, medical authorities told her she would never walk again, but she went on to run marathons, literally and figuratively. People knew Gebre for not letting anything hold her back, whether it be nerve damage or her gender. These five facts about Boglatech Gebre show the legacy and influence she has left behind, but KMG Ethiopia plans to continue it.

– Destinee Smethers
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen
The Muhamasheen (the marginalized) pejoratively known as the Akhdam (servants) constitute a distinct community in Yemen that the broader Yemeni society consigns to the lowest part of the social hierarchy. Though Yemen has officially abolished its caste system, the legacy of centuries of discrimination persists today. Below are eight facts about the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

8 Facts About the Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen

  1. Over 50 percent of the Muhamasheen population suffers from unemployment. Systemic exclusion from most employment in the agrarian sector, despite the community’s concentration in rural areas, contributes heavily to this unemployment rate. Muhamasheen workers compete for nomadic seasonal labor such as thrashing grain at harvest time. These deeply-embedded exclusionary practices cement the subordinate status of the Muhamasheen.
  2. Entrenched custom relegates urban sanitation jobs, such as street cleaners, to the Muhamasheen. Thus many urban Muhamasheen people encounter and treat waste products that higher castes view as contaminating and taboo. Inadequate compensation and the possibility of pretextual termination with little notice often awaits Muhamasheen sanitation workers employed by the municipal authorities in the cities.
  3. Inadequate housing, vulnerable to destruction by natural disasters, depresses the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. Rather than the solid and sturdy adobe construction characterizing traditional Yemeni home structures, many Muhamasheen reside in homes constructed from cardboard and thatch or even from sheets extracted from empty containers. Exposure to the elements, whether intense heat and cold or inundation during the rainy season, invariably characterizes life in these dwellings. Other Muhamasheen live in small and cramped concrete structures, the living conditions therein little better than those residing in makeshift cardboard structures.
  4. Southeastern Yemen’s October 2008 floods were particularly devastating to the Muhamasheen. In response, UNHCR provided shelters to Muhamasheen reduced to the status of internally displaced persons. The Yemeni NGO al-Dumir implemented this initiative, encompassing the construction of 100 two-room shelters, with financial backing from the Japanese government amounting to USD $300,224. Akhdam also received household items from UNHCR in the course of this relief program due to how flooding affected it.
  5. Regular exposure to the elements and inadequate access to clean water subject the Muhamasheen to increased health hazards. Respiratory and ocular infections and skin diseases all pose a greater risk to the Muhamasheen than to other groups. Muhamasheen children, many coming of age in lowland drainage areas or near landfills, are more likely to die of malaria and chronic infectious kidney disease than of other illnesses. Poor sanitation contributes to a high rate of infant deaths from parasites, while malnourishment worsens both maternal and infant mortality rates. The marginalization of the Muhamasheen limits the willingness of the health care sector to treat them.
  6. In 2014, a UNICEF study concluded that poor literacy rates pervade the Muhamasheen community. A survey sample consisting of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, encompassing 51,406 persons, yielded a literacy rate of one in five among Muhamasheen ages 15 and older. Survey data yielded school enrollment rates of two in four for youths between ages 6 and 17.
  7. In 2014, UNICEF and Yemen’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor administered a survey of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, which revealed significant inequities in education, sanitation, shelter and medical care. The following year, the government of Yemen began designing initiatives for the improvement of the social and economic standing of the Muhamasheen community. These ameliorative programs include the creation of family-targeted financial inclusion programs involving both the Social Welfare Fund Office in Taiz Governorate and nonprofit organizations such as Alamal Microfinance Bank. Other initiatives encompass enforcing the right of Muhamasheen children to attend school without discrimination and providing students with uniforms and school supplies.
  8. Testimony that WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights obtained attests to the epidemic of public abuse of Muhamasheen women by non-Muhamasheen men. Out of this research, the organizations above filmed an award-winning documentary, “Breaking the Silence,” successfully spreading awareness of these endemic attacks. Given the Muhamasheen community’s limitations of access to the full weight of the justice system, such documentaries as “Breaking the Silence” play an invaluable role in revealing the systemic abuses contributing to the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

The marginal living conditions of the Muhamasheen, a legacy of centuries of caste discrimination, remains a serious issue in Yemen. However, NGOs such as UNICEF have increasingly paid more attention to the community’s plight and designed initiatives to improve the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. These measures, alongside the awareness-spreading efforts of such organizations as WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, show that there is hope for the future of the Muhamasheen.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr

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

Women in Belarus
Belarus, located in Eastern Europe, finds itself ranked among other third world countries. People can identify many different issues about Belarus but one major problem that the country recognizes and is fighting to change is the autonomy of women. In many third world countries, women are at many more disadvantages in men. With the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the successes of women in Belarus are growing to transform the country.

The Gender Gap in Belarus

Women in Belarus did not always have the upper hand when it came to running businesses and having their foot in the working world. As for gender gaps, Belarus was never the worst country on the list. As of 2017, the latest Global Gender Gap Index ranked the country 26 out of 144 countries. This means that there is quite a high level of gender equality in Belarus.

Almost 100 percent of girls attend school because primary and secondary education is compulsory in the country. Women also face barriers in the labor market, so they strive to get more education, which causes them to have higher tertiary enrollment compared to men. Although this is true, women in Belarus still tend to face more discrimination in the labor market than men. Women are approximately 2.5 times less likely to receive a managerial position. Seventeen percent of women and 41 percent of men tend to hold top hierarchical positions. Employers also pay women less than men with the wage gap at 25 percent as of 2017.

USAID in Belarus

USAID noticed an issue with discrimination and wage gaps and decided to step in and transform the business and social landscapes for women in Belarus. Belarus Country Office Director Victoria Mitchell Avdiu spoke on a panel about women’s representation in entrepreneurship. Over 100 women were in attendance, wanting to know how to build confidence, where to find mentors and how to pursue meaningful professional partnerships.

USAID’s objective is to empower women and girls. In doing this, it created the Community Connections Exchange Program. As of 2018, the participants were 60 percent women, and in the last 10 years, 400 women have benefited from this program. The program entails people from Belarus participating in a short-term exchange to the United States. While in the United States, participants learn about practices in a variety of professional fields, participate in entrepreneurship programs, teach business to youth and empower women to resolve community issues.

The Karat Coalition

USAID is not the only organization working to develop pathways for women. The Karat Coalition works to advance legal protections of women’s human rights in Belarus through the adoption of the law on gender equality. Beginning on February 1, 2014, the coalition began a project called Advancing Gender Equality in Belarus. There were three main objectives of this project:

  1. To develop a draft law on gender equality.
  2. To create a strategy for advocacy for the adoption of the law on gender equality.
  3. To empower and mobilize women’s human rights defenders.

The Karat Coalition completed this project on June 20, 2014. It managed to:

  1. Strengthen the capacity of the Belarusian experts’ group to create the draft law.
  2. Strengthen the capacity of Belarusian experts to advocate for the implementation of gender equality laws and standards.
  3. Develop materials to share with the women’s rights advocates community which encompasses information on formulating effective law on gender equality.

Successful Women

With the work of organizations like USAID and the Karat Coalition, women are able to make milestones and be their own person in their own countries. Three women have stood out after taking advantage of opportunities in Belarus.

  1. Margarita Lazarenkova: People know Lazarenkova for her development of creative industries in Belarus. She has developed NGO Creative Belarus that began in response to a worldwide growing trend.
  2. Ludmila Antonauskaya: Antonauskaya has decided to defy the stereotype that women and business do not go together by creating a small company that competes with international giants. In the Top 100 Successful Businesspeople in Belarus, Antonauskaya falls at number 65, the first among women. She created her business, Polimaster, to improve people’s health and save their lives.
  3. Evgeniya Dubeshhuk: Dubeshhuk is the head of the youth exchange organization, Fialta. Fialta helps young people develop critical thinking, broaden their horizons and take on an active role in society.

With the help of organizations creating law and advocating for women to have basic rights in their own country, Belarus is at the start of its transformation. Women in Belarus are beginning to have more opportunities and take control of their own lives.

– Lari’onna Green
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Burundi
Located in Africa’s southeastern region, Burundi, a heart-shaped nation bordering Lake Tanganyika and Rwanda, is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a poverty rate of nearly 75 percent, the nation is largely underdeveloped. In terms of women’s rights, life in Burundi could be better, as many of the country’s citizens cling to discriminatory perspectives that hold their women back. Despite this, the country has made great strides toward cultivating a more equal nation, such as in 2005 when it included gender equality in its reformed Constitution.

Pregnancy and Sexual Health

In Burundi, discussing sex is generally viewed as a taboo subject. Without the occurrence of these necessary conversations, sexual education is often replaced by false information, and many of the country’s citizens fail to understand their own bodies; an issue most dangerous when it comes to young women and girls. Without knowing the way their bodies work, many Burundian women experience unplanned extramarital pregnancies, and because of Burundi’s negative prejudice toward non-marital pregnancy, many of these girls are often ostracized from their communities, kicked out of their homes and forced out of their schools.

Pamella Mubeza, a native to Burundi, fell victim to this system at a young age. Though, after seeing the prevalence of her issue among other Burundian women, she began an organization known as l’Association des mamans célibataires (the Organisation for Single Mums). Through the organization, Mubeza travels to some of the most impoverished places in the city of Bujumbura, such as Kinyankonge and Kinama, and works with young single mothers to not only re-enroll them in school but to rebuild the self esteem their homeland formerly shamed out of them. By 2019, Mubeza’s organization was able to re-enroll 40 young women in schooling and instilled 250 with a newfound desire to learn.

CARE Burundi, a non-profit organization that works to improve the impoverished realities of women and young girls, is also working to help solve the issue. In 2016, the organization launched an initiative known as the Joint Programme, a 4-year-long project that provides Burundian girls with comprehensive sexual and reproductive education through a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum called “The World Starts with Me” (WSWM). The program educates young women about their rights and their bodies, and after its first year of implementation, it was taught in 76 Burundian schools and educated 6,007 young women.

Access to female hygiene products is another one of Burundi’s sexual health problems. With sanitary napkins costing up to 2,000 Burundian francs and the country regarding menstrual periods as shameful, many of the nation’s women turn to unhygienic sources, such as grass and plastic bags, during their menstrual cycles. However, the Organisation for Single Mums is working to combat the problem, as they hand out 1,500 free sanitary napkins to Burundian women each month.

Gender-Based Violence

Sexual violence against women is a growing problem in Burundi. With nearly 23 percent of Burundian women experiencing sexual abuse, and 50 percent of these victims being under the age of 13, the prevalence of gender-based violence in Burundi is undeniable.

Due to the nation’s connection between shame and sexuality, many sexual abuse cases often go unreported, so the number of women experiencing them is likely much higher.

However, through the help of UNICEF and NGO partner Caritas Burundi, Burundian sexual violence is being challenged. Through an initiative known as the Giriteka project, UNICEF and Caritas Burundi are bringing together the nation’s doctors, psychologists, nurses, community leaders, local authorities and religious leaders and teaching them how to best care for their nation’s sexually abused women. From training psychologists on how to prevent gender-based violence to working with religious leaders on how to direct victims toward help, thanks to these organizations, women’s rights in Burundi are not only being protected but defended.

Economic Opportunity

When it comes to the workforce, Burundian women make up 90 percent of the country’s food and export jobs and  with 55.2 percent of the nation’s workforce being female, Burundian women are making substantial contributions toward the advancement of their national economy.

However, this same level of equality cannot be seen in the country’s distribution of land.

Access to property ownership is the largest barrier Burundian women face when seeking economic equality. While 80.2 percent of the country’s people own land, women make up only 17.7 percent of them since the country lacks proper legislation that prohibits male succession traditions from overriding women’s rights.

Public opinion may be partly responsible for these discriminatory practices since 57 percent of the nation’s people believe women and men should not have equal land rights when it comes to inheritance.

Despite this prejudicial reality, U.N. Women is making women’s pathway to land ownership easier by providing them with monetary loans.

Also, the Zionist Organization of America has created an initiative meant to advocate for female land rights in Burundi by urging the nation’s women who do own land to register it.

By working at the community level, these organizations are advocating for the economic endeavors of Burundian women, and actively challenging the misogynistic gender norms that have been placed upon these their lives.

While women’s rights in Burundi are far from equal, the good news is that great work is being done to better them. Thanks to organizations like U.N. Women and initiatives such as the Giriteka project, women in Burundi are not only being cared for but heard. By advocating for women’s rights, these organizations are not only providing Burundi’s women with the freedom to hope for a better life but also to live one.

– Candace Fernandez
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

 

development in Tajikistan

Tajikistan is a country located on the frontiers between Europe and Asia. This largely unheard of, mountainous country has a population of more than 8.6 million with an average GDP per capita of around $3,200, placing it near the bottom of the global ranking. However, over the past few years, the GDP of Tajikistan has grown between 6 and 7 percent. This article will address five facts about development in Tajikistan, including the challenging areas and opportunities that the country faces.

Five Facts About Development in Tajikistan

  1. Geography: Tajikistan’s geography is impugning its development since more than 90 percent of the country is mountainous. If fact, much of the land lies above 3,000 meters in altitude. Subsequently, the population is largely rural and widely dispersed, complicating infrastructural developments. However, as a result of this landscape, the majority of Tajikistan’s electricity production comes from hydroelectric power. The system is still largely inefficient though, especially in winter months. Users reporting shortages up to 70 percent of the time in winter months. Recent efforts have sought to address the gaps in provisions. In March 2019, the World Bank agreed to finance the rehabilitation of the Nurek Hydropower Plant, which generates 70 percent of the country’s energy demand. The rehabilitation should increase the plant’s winter generation by 33 million kWh, allowing it to meet winter energy demands and become a net exporter of energy in summer periods.
  2.  Government Policy: According to the U.S. State Department, Tajikistan is a country of ‘high risk’ but ‘high reward’ investment. Despite its consistent low ranking on the Freedom House Index, which measures civil and political rights, continual economic reforms have increased its Economic Freedom and promoted more investment. These reforms helped Tajikistan officially join the WTO at the end of 2013 after the changes made in property and investor rights. The 2019 ‘Doing Business’ World Bank report stated that Tajikistan had increased its rank overall by taking steps to participate more in the regional economy. Through the Simplified Customs Corridor agreement, Tajikistan has improved customs clearance with Uzbekistan. Based on the international classification, the poverty rate is projected to fall to 12.5 percent by 2020.
  3. Labor Migration: Due to the lack of employment opportunities, Tajikistan has a negative net migration rate, meaning that there are more people leaving the country than entering it. Most of the migrants are working-age men going to work in Russia. In 2015, worker’s remittances accounted for around 29 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP. But, this dependency means that Tajikistan’s fiscal health dropped from 95.8 percent to 60.3 percent in the period from 2016 to 2017 as a result of Russia’s economic downturn. To increase the opportunities for the workforce, the International Labour Organization has launched a pilot project aimed at strengthening National Skills Development systems as part of the ‘G20 Training Strategy’. Although it only has 1,460 participants so far, the updated frameworks could help increase Tajikistan’s current low productivity.
  4. Gender Disparities: In Tajikistan, women face a number of barriers to succeed economically, gain access to education, find employment or receive healthcare. They receive fewer years of schooling than their male counterparts and earn approximately 60 percent of what men do. However, with a migrating male workforce, female participation in the economy could be beneficial for economic development in Tajikistan. With help from funding from U.N. Women, the Tajikistan National Business Association for Women runs a number of training programs to improve employment opportunities for women. From 2015 to 2018, 3,200 women received training in business and 2,200 women received training in vocational areas. The organization also runs a bi-annual women-only entrepreneurship competition, which received more than 700 applications in both 2016 and 2018.
  5. Border Problems: Tajikistan shares a 750-mile long border with Afghanistan, one of the world’s largest opium producers. Consequently, illegal drug trafficking in Tajikistan is estimated to be worth around 30 percent of the GDP. However, the Project for Livelihood Improvement in Tajik-Afghan Cross-border Areas (LITACA) is one of a number of projects seeking to enhance cross-border cooperation between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, especially for women entrepreneurs. The Government of Japan finances this initiative, and the UNDP Tajikistan implements it in order to add stability and security to the region and ease border tensions. This program introduced around 25 socio-economic projects between 2014 and 2017, boosting economic growth to 45,000 people on both sides of the border. The project improved direct access to “schools, hospitals, irrigation, drinking water, energy supply, roads and bridges” for more than 388,000 people.

Tajikistan faces a number of barriers to its economic development. However, these five facts about development in Tajikistan show that important work is being done. There are many opportunities for growth. Economic reforms and continued investment could change the lives of the hundreds of thousands affected by poverty.

Holly Barsham
Photo: Unsplash