Female Genital Mutilation in Togo
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is female circumcision — a ritualistic practice that occurs in several countries as a rite of passage leading to womanhood where someone removes the external genitalia of a female. Africa, Asia and the Middle East are where FGM is most prevalent. More than 200 million women today have gone through this procedure. This article, in particular, will focus on female genital mutilation in Togo.

About Togo

Togo, a West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea, comprises at least 30 ethnic groups, most being immigrants from other parts of Western Africa. The majority of its population lives in small villages throughout rural areas. For the purpose of economic planning, the country has five regions — Maritime, Plateaux, Centrale, Kara and Savanes.

Togo gained independence from France in 1960. Following this, rifts between the country’s leaders and the rise of coups have left the people to fend for themselves. This has resulted in immense poverty. The year 2009 brought the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. The goal of this commission was to investigate the political violence in the country from 1958 to 2005. The group published its final report in 2012. This report included numerous recommendations such as reforming the electoral system, the judiciary, and military and security forces.

Currently, Togo has an elected president. A 70% majority vote declared Faure Gnassingbé the winner.

Togo Women and FGM Practice

Women in Togo have dealt with inequality for years. Recently, they have gained more opportunities and improvements in equality. Women in Togo have become more involved in politics as well. However, these women tend to have ruling tribal family backgrounds or be successful businesswomen. Women in Togo have also received a much more developed education, and literacy rates have increased. These improvements bring knowledge and awareness of the outlining health problems from FGM. Support for the abandonment of FGM is higher among women whose mothers are more educated.

A percentage of women in Togo still support the practice of genital cutting. Therefore, they remain adamant about their daughters going through with it. Women are the primary guardians of this puberty rite which ties closely to women’s status and power. The use of anesthesia is not common during the procedure.

In Togo, female genital mutilation is highest in Centrale. In fact, 13.5% of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced it. Savanes is the second-highest region with 7.6%. FGM is lowest in the southern Maritime and Plateaux regions with less than 2%. The most common type of FGM that people in Togo practice is the cutting and removal of flesh.

The most common age range for female genital mutilation in Togo is 4 to 14. However, infants and women preparing for marriage can also experience FGM. Sometimes, FGM occurs in women who are pregnant with their first child or who have just given birth. According to a survey from 28 Too Many, 73% of Togo women, aged 15 to 49, have heard of FGM; of these, 94.5% believe the practice must end.

Laws Against FGM

Law No. 98-016, dated November 17, 1998, is the main law relating to female genital mutilation in Togo. This law does not address FGM that health professionals carry out or cross-border FGM procedures. According to the September 2018 Togo law report from 28 Too Many, “Law No. 98-016 bans all forms of female genital mutilation in Togo and defines FGM as the total or partial ablation of the external genital organs of infant girls, young girls or women and/or all other operations concerning these organs.” In November 2015, Togo unveiled a new penal code further criminalizing the practice of FGM.

However, Togo citizens have rarely enforced these established laws. In addition, a limited number of known court cases on the issue have occurred. This is due to the fact most cases had happened in rural areas where there is limited awareness of the law, or “traditional customs often took precedence over the legal system among certain ethnic groups,” according to the report.

Strategies

The year 2016 saw the establishment of a national communication strategy to target traditional practices of FGM. This strategy included the support of the humanitarian aid organization, UNICEF. The strategy targets local community and religious leaders and partners with grassroots organizations to achieve commitments to end the practice. The strategy also educates women on their rights and provides alternative sources of income opportunities for former traditional FGM practitioners.

Many are still highly concerned regarding what to do about female genital mutilation in Togo. The practice, still viewed as a rite of passage for women, continues in rural areas. Several have voiced the urgency for the government to enforce the legislation and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Just like in many other countries today, female genital mutilation is still a massive threat in Togo. Its women are in danger of physical and mental health issues from the procedure. More strategies are ideal, and proper execution of the laws that Togo has put in place will help the women in the country.

– Thomas Williams
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq
In 2008, Gola told her story of female genital mutilation in Iraq to reporters with The Human Rights Watch. It was a story of silent pain. “My family took me and told me nothing, I never went to the doctors, my family was never concerned.”

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation or FGM has been going on for centuries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

Iraq’s older generations believe that cutting a woman’s clitoris will ensure the preservation of her virginity and push the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation in Iraq. Additionally, the women do not receive any anesthesia beforehand. FGM consists of three types including type one which is the removal of the labia minora and the labia major, the protective layers surrounding the vaginal orifice. Meanwhile, type two is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora and type three is the narrowing of the vaginal orifice. However, all reproductive parts of a woman are important to her maintaining physical and mental health, and expulsion of one or more of these parts puts women’s lives at risk.

FGM is a silent practice that has been going on for decades. Female genital mutilation in Iraq occurs across Iraq without religious, lawful or ethical reasoning. Mutilation begins on girls as young as 3 although grown women may also experience it.

Solutions

Wadi, an NGO, finds solutions for women in crisis. In early 2004, Wadi began visiting villages after learning of the high number of women that FGM affects. After interviewing several women in the area, it found that 907 out of the 1,544 women it questioned were victims of FGM. Wadi has launched a campaign to educate women about the harmful consequences of FGM. In 2011, the parliament of the Kurdish region passed a bill banning domestic violence against women thus banning FGM. However, even though the Kurdish region has banned this practice, women’s voices are continuing to cry out against it to prevent future injustices.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

In July 2012, Wadi launched an FGM hotline to provide social, mental, medical and reproductive advice to FGM-affected women throughout the region. By mainstreaming gender rights and working on educational programs, Iraq should be able to make headway to eradicate FGM. To fully eliminate this practice, the Wadi team began to visit local villages and midwives to educate them that these mutilations do not preserve a woman’s virginity, the wounds are not self-healing and the practice causes harm that is often permanent. Hadiya, who experienced FGM at the age of 5-years-old, spoke of pain 20 years after the mutilation occurred. FGM can cause infertility, incontinence, complications in labor and even death.

 

With all endings come new beginnings. Iraq has been the home to unlawful practices and prevalent mistreatment of women, but women are steadily pushing back to reclaim their freedom and honor. Some who have undergone FGM are now refusing to let their daughters experience the same fate, disallowing their clerics from approving practices of FGM. They band together in face of an ancient ritual that tears the body apart. Gola told her story so that women born after her will not have to tell theirs.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Samoa Samoa has had a long history of being considered a place where women’s rights have been hindered. Women’s voices in Samoa are often brushed aside when it comes to major issues such as domestic violence and politics. That being said, improvements on the basis of women’s rights in Samoa have occurred. U.N. Women has also worked to set up programs to support women’s equality in Samoa, which provides hope for the creation of more inclusive Samoan communities in the future.

The Samoan Woman’s Voice

Within the islands of the Pacific, where Samoa is located, the lowest rates of women’s participation in politics are found. Women within the Samoan culture are not encouraged to discover a sense of independent thought that they are willing to express. Because of this, women’s representation in governmental positions is a mere 10%. This minimum of 10%, however, will remain consistent due to an amendment of the Samoan constitution that was passed in 2013. The amendment states that women’s seats will be added into parliament if women are not elected, in order to ensure that at least 10% of parliamentary representation is women.

There are many cultural structures that greatly impact women’s rights when it comes to the expression of political opinions. One of these structures is the Matai councils that are in charge of local decision-making. Although women are allowed to join the Matai council, it is mainly considered a male council because of the low level of female members. The cultural family structures in Samoa also discourage women from reaching for political positions like becoming a Matai. Women mainly answer to their husbands within households so they feel a disconnect between having a desire for political power and their familial positions.

Violence Against Samoan Women

Only 22% of women that live in Samoa have not been a victim of some kind of domestic violence within their lifetime. Within the 78% of women who have experienced abuse, 38% said that the abuse was physical. Overlooked violence is one of the largest setbacks to obtaining more holistic women’s rights in Samoa. Women believe that the violence they face is not of importance. This can be justified by the fact that domestic violence was only reported to the police by 3% of women who experienced it.

3 Programs Improving Women’s Rights in Samoa

As many setbacks as there have been in gaining women’s equality in Samoa, U.N. Women has set up programs in order to empower women in Samoa.

  • The Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs: These programs work to ensure that women in Samoa can secure proper employment and are getting paid for the work they are doing. It also makes sure that women have access to assets and increased economic security.
  • The REACH Project: This program has worked to educate the general rural public of Samoa about general rights, including those of women. Although the goals of this program were extensive, one of them was to create equality of gender and to empower young girls for a better future. REACH accomplished its goals through the creation of sessions meant to increase awareness of rights and gender equality that citizens in rural areas could attend.
  • The Ending Violence Against Women Program: This program has created a fund in order to support women victims of violence within Samoa. It also works to change government policies that could support violence against women in any way. The information and support that this program gives to women who may not be aware of their right to speak up against violence against them is invaluable.

Overall, women’s rights in Samoa are progressing with the help of organizations like U.N Women fighting for the well-being and empowerment of women. Samoa has come a long way with regards to gender equality and the future looks hopeful for women in the country.

– Olivia Bay
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Egypt
Currently governed under Islamic Law as Egypt’s amended Constitution states, religion plays a major role within legislative policies. It has been a debate for several years as to whether the decline in women’s protection in Egypt is due to religious laws or the current socioeconomic environment. In order to approach the complexities of modern-day Egyptian society and women’s rights in Egypt, one must first understand the history of Islamic Law. Known for existing as more of an all-encompassing religion, Islam not only provides theological practices but also a way of living.

 Islamic Law

 Article 40 and 46 of Egypt’s present constitution explicitly states, “All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed.” The second article of this same constitution declares “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic Sharia is the principal source of legislation.”

 Many women in Egypt (and other predominantly Islamic regions) are facing a dilemma concerning their religious and basic freedoms. Because Egypt incorporates Islam even within legal policies, it somewhat discourages other religions. This is why the second-largest religious community is Christianity, comprising approximately only 5% of the Egyptian population.

Women’s religious and basic human rights greatly differ from men’s rights and social roles. An example of this may include the regulations in regards to a woman’s attire. The hijab as well as other head and body coverings was initially symbolic of modesty within the Islamic religion. Moreover, although the Qur’an very clearly addresses men alongside women when proclaiming rules of “guarding their modesty,” men do not have to participate in the wearing of head/face coverings.

As of recently, though, the practice of adopting body and face veils into a woman’s everyday appearance has evolved into more of a preliminary societal standard. Because scripture claims that women exposing themselves to any man unrelated to them (besides children) is a sinful act, women experience pressure to adorn these religious coverings in public just to prevent shame, which only further enforces this oppression.

Socioeconomic Factors

This brings up the debate attempting to answer whether the lack of basic human rights for women is due to the Islamic nature of Egyptian society, or society itself? Women are hesitant to go into public without these coverings because of societal and religious pressures, but the act of preserving their modesty exists now as somewhat of a precautionary measure, as well.

In several impoverished countries or regions of extreme poverty, the economy is the primary factor in societal normalities. Women’s rights in Egypt undergo frequent testing, especially in areas of extreme poverty within the country. Because of scarce job opportunities and the dilapidated financial state of certain areas, women frequently endure mistreatment. They often cannot challenge their social or religious roles or financially provide for themselves. Their husbands, neighbors and, in some cases, their relatives, use this to their advantage which results in the very common sexual harassment of women.

Because of the different roles of Egyptian men and women, the deterioration of women’s rights in Egypt and sexual harassment of women has been a prominent issue since at least the ‘80s (this was the beginning of the selective documentation of sexual harassment cases in Egypt). Although the Qur’an prophesizes the equality of men and women under God, others in Egypt sometimes see women as lesser than. In this case, the argument that socioeconomic factors are separate from religious practices and laws is valid.

 Moreover, the United Nations conducted a census in 2013 revealing that an estimated 99.3% of women could encounter sexual harassment in Egypt. Meanwhile, another study concluded that about 86% of women reported that bystanders frequently ignore the aggression.

This demonstrates the frequency in which these dangerous acts happen in public. It is seemingly a social norm for women to not only have to uphold traditional religious roles but also to face arbitrary sexual aggression in public.

Solutions

As of 2014, however, Egypt is now addressing this violent aggression towards women. For the first time in Egyptian history, sexual harassers are undergoing prosecution and courts are holding them accountable. Egypt still requires more improvement, but more and more women are beginning to make others aware of this issue, even globally. The current economic state of Egypt is also developing. With an extreme poverty rate of 32% in 2018 and one of approximately 29% in 2020, Egypt is continuing to see a decline in extreme poverty.

 The societal and religious pressures persist, but Egypt is generating more discourse to help bring more attention to the issue of women’s rights in Egypt. Moreover, the debate over religion is increasing along with the dismantling of unjust socioeconomic systems.

– Caroline Kratz
Photo: Flickr

Female entrepreneurs in AfghanistanIt is no secret that women’s rights in Afghanistan have been suffering due to decades of war and Taliban rule in the country. Afghan women have been denied employment, education, healthcare and basic freedoms for years and were punished violently by the Taliban for attempting to find work or go to school. Years after Taliban rule, women are picking up the pieces of a broken society that drove them and many other Afghans into severe poverty. Organizations such as the Women’s Economic Empowerment Rural Development Project (WEERDP) and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), both funded and backed by the World Bank, set up savings and loan associations in different communities to allow Afghan women to start their own business. Female entrepreneurs in Afghanistan have the potential to help the economy and poverty within the country.

Women’s Empowerment Projects of the World Bank

International Aid to Afghanistan is essential for empowering its women and bringing communities out of poverty. The World Bank has a variety of programs dedicated to poverty eradication. It implemented the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Project to support Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA). VLSAs operate as a community bank that gives out micro-loans to women to create employment opportunities to sustain economic growth. Examples of businesses that have been started are hair salons, tailor shops and bakeries.

While the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program closed down in 2018, it was replaced by the WEERDP and continues to be backed by the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) to ensure steady funding.

VSLA’s are funded by the World Bank and the IDA to ensure sustainable financial institutions are available in Afghanistan, with the hope that they will partner with larger commercial banks in the future.

Benefits of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

There are roughly 275,684 Afghan women beneficiaries of the WEERDP.  Many of them have had access to financial services for the first time with the program. Many others have taken loans, learned how to repay them and have begun saving for the future. These are valuable life skills for women who were not able to enter the workforce or gain an education in the past.

With the increase of women-run businesses in Afghanistan’s rural communities, VSLA’s can begin to partner with larger banks to begin serving bigger loans to women after seeing the success of the businesses that started with micro-loans. The support of financial institutions is important to give women the confidence to become entrepreneurs, especially in a country where the percentage of women in the workforce has been statistically low. Skills like leadership, management and problem-solving are derived from starting a business and they can be spread throughout communities to strengthen the role of women in the economy.

Skills can even be passed down through generations. Building a structure with programs like the WEERDP is vital for long-term economic growth and success because it can open doors for creativity and innovation for an economy that would benefit.

The Future of Female Entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Increasing the number of women entrepreneurs with savvy financial skills can benefit the communities of Afghanistan in many ways. Successful women can begin to venture out into local politics and healthcare fields to build on their skills while sharing their talents with the community. Women have important input on what types of businesses are needed for their community and can reduce poverty in specialized ways.

Afghan women make up roughly half of the nation’s population, so their representation is needed to drive economic and societal progress. Having women be visible in the business sector can allow for gender equality to improve in Afghanistan over time, improving the development of the nation as a whole.

– Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

women’s rights in UzbekistanA former Soviet Union territory, Uzbekistan has a population of 30 million. In recent years, there have been governmental and societal changes along with a new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Women, who play a pivotal role in the Uzbek family structure, have experienced different issues related to their rights in the country. There are several key facts to know about women’s rights in Uzbekistan.

Societal Views Oppress Women

Women faced new setbacks after Uzbekistan obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviets, who colonized the region in the latter half of the 19th century, promised women that they would be emancipated from the patriarchal customs of society, viewing them as oppressive against women. This movement encouraged female education, and in the 1980s, an estimated 41% of university students were women. However, after the independence of Uzbekistan in 1991, in a push to reestablish the Uzbek tradition, the progress of women’s rights in Uzbekistan took a hit when conservative social customs were reintroduced. Only six years later, in 1997, the number of women in higher education institutions dropped to 37% and it is estimated to have fallen even more drastically in recent years.

The Prevalence of Child Marriage

Child marriage is still prevalent. Most Uzbek families believe that the role of women is to marry and run the household. This social concept encourages child marriage throughout the country, particularly in rural regions. With girls marrying at younger ages than boys, female education is directly impacted by child marriage, as women are generally confined to the home after marriage. Furthermore, it is expected that women are to give birth within their first year of marriage, despite a lack of education about reproduction and childbearing. With young brides, female bodies are often not prepared or mature enough to give birth healthily. This has led to health complications such as infertility and chronic conditions. Women’s rights in Uzbekistan are hindered by child marriage, as it limits female educational opportunities and leaves women with little chance to escape a life of housework and childrearing.

Domestic Violence is Not a Crime

Domestic violence is deemed a family issue and not an actual crime. Since independence from the Soviet Union, the push to reaffirm traditional values has meant that women have a subservient role within the household, and to a further extent, within society. Outside of their homes, women face restrictions on how to live their lives, with limits on educational and work opportunities in favor of marriages and children. With women in rural areas at particular risk for domestic violence, Uzbekistan has largely ignored women’s rights within the home. Violence against women has reportedly increased in recent years.

Women’s Rights Reform at Governmental Level

President Mirziyoyev has taken promising action to address the lack of women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Elected in 2016, Mirziyoyev spoke about the importance of women within Uzbek society, noting their problem-solving skills and administrative capabilities. He urged for their involvement in government and industrial factions and even appointed Uzbekistan’s first female Head of Senate, Tanyila Narbaeva. With men dominating government positions for years, a female in an authoritative government position was a progressive shift and a promising result of political changes.

Legislation to Protect Women

The fight for women’s rights in Uzbekistan is becoming more of a priority. In 2019, two new laws were introduced to protect women’s rights. The first is to ensure equal opportunities and freedoms for men and women and the second is to safeguard women from domestic violence and assault. Also, almost 200 shelters have been set up across the country to provide for women escaping violence. Unfortunately, there is very little funding for the subsistence of these shelters. While this is undoubtedly progress from the country’s more traditional views on the role of women in society, more significant action needs to be taken to defend these newfound rights and sustain protective services.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Uzbekistan

The push for women’s rights in Uzbekistan has been made more difficult by the country’s history as a Soviet Union colony and their subsequent counterreaction to reestablish their traditional cultural values. In recent years, women have been restricted by societal pressures to marry young and spend their lives taking care of the household. With limited opportunity to decide their own futures, women in Uzbekistan have not truly attained their human rights. Fortunately, however, President Mirziyoyev has expressed his desire to transform women’s rights in Uzbekistan. Hopefully, with a new female government official and progressive laws, women’s rights in Uzbekistan will continue to improve.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr

She’s the First Across the globe, women face harsh inequalities in education and the promotion of other crucial rights. Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population, receive lower wages, experience gender-based violence and are forced to adhere to strict societal gender norms that prevent their progression. This is especially the case in developing countries. She’s the First is an organization where the progression of women is a central focus.

She’s the First

She’s the First, a nonprofit organization, recognizes the benefits of prioritizing women and gender equality. When females are educated and empowered, they can earn up to 20% more as an adult for each additional year of schooling completed. They are also then more likely to be in healthy relationships, have fewer but healthier children, are less likely to marry early and are more likely to make an impact in the world. These reasons are why She’s the First puts girls first by promoting women’s equality and education.

Putting Girls First

She’s the First promotes girls’ education and equality. It provides funding to different community-based organizations that can implement culturally efficient ways for girls to attend school as well as afterschool programs where they can further their education while simultaneously learning about life skills and reproductive health. She’s the First also runs training and conferences around the globe. These conferences amplify girls’ voices around the world, inspiring them to become leaders in their own communities. As of the end of 2019, She’s the First reached 11,000 girls, had a presence in 21 countries and provided training for 52 community-based organizations.

Girls’ Bill Of Rights

She’s the First is a co-organizer of the Girls’ Bill of Rights, a declaration of the rights all girls are entitled to, written by girls, for girls. More than 1,000 girls from 34 countries contributed to the list, created on the 2019 International Day of Girl and presented to the United Nations. The Girls’ Bill of Rights advocates for the promotion of girls’ rights like quality education, equality, leadership, sexual education and reproductive rights, protection from harmful cultural practices, free decision-making and more. To support the Girls’ Bill of Rights, supporters can use the hashtag “#GirlsBillOfRights”, co-sign the bill or make a public pledge of support.

Women’s Empowerment and Poverty Reduction

She’s the First is an organization that works toward complete equality for women worldwide, especially in regards to education. Currently, women face a significant disadvantage, especially those who are uneducated. If women are given education and equality, they can lift themselves out of poverty since education is directly related to lowering poverty levels. She’s the First spreads this idea by creating culturally efficient ways for girls to go to school and further their education in developing countries. The organization also advocates for women’s rights through the Girls’ Bill of Rights. She’s the First plays a crucial part in empowering women and helping them to lift themselves out of poverty.

– Seona Maskara
Photo: Flickr

Women in EgyptEgypt has a long way to go when it comes to equality for women in nearly any aspect of life. According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report (pg. 149), women in Egypt consist of just 26% of the labor force. Their literacy rate is similarly low at 65%. This predisposes girls and women to life in poverty, especially if they are unmarried. The report ranks Egypt 134 out of 153 countries based on the disparities in gender gaps.

Women in Egypt Experience Inequality

The country’s traditional society not only allows for this inequality, but encourages it. Human Rights Watch reported that female social media influencers were targeted and jailed by their own government for “undermining values.” For example, in April 2020, Hanin Hossum, 20, was arrested for “indecent” photos and videos of her singing and dancing fully-clothed. The Prosecutor’s primary evidence to charge Hossum: suggesting to her women followers that they should earn money posting videos on Likee, an app similar to TikTok. Cairo’s Economic Court sentenced her to two years in prison. It also charged her 300,000 Egyptian Pounds, the near-equivalent of $19,000.

Women in Egypt must also worry about walking down the street. For example, Arab Barometer’s 2019 survey showed that 90% of women aged 18 to 29 experienced some form of sexual harassment in a twelve-month period. Cairo was ranked the most dangerous city for women in a 2017 Thomson-Reuters Survey, in addition to being third-worst when it came to sexual violence.

With all these problems, several non-profit organizations have stepped in to empower women in Egypt.

HarassMap

Founded in 2010 by four local women’s rights activists, HarassMap is a non-profit volunteer organization with a goal to end sexual harassment and foster a zero-tolerance society in Egypt.

The initiative’s website displays a world map dotted with reports of sexual harassment made by anonymous volunteers who are encouraged to intervene on the survivor’s behalf if possible. Other activities include educating others on the myths surrounding harassment through film and literature and conducting studies based on the data collected. Along with normalizing public discourse on the subject, HarassMap has influenced policies in Egypt as well. Due to the organization’s efforts, Cairo University adopted its first anti-sexual harassment law in 2014. It influenced Uber Cairo to tighten its harassment policies, making the company a safer alternative to city taxis.

HarassMap has even assisted the development of other tracking websites in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

USAID

The U.S. Agency for International Development is an independent government agency that has focused on committing resources towards eliminating poverty and inequality around the world since 1961.

The USAID works directly with the Egyptian government to address the gender gap and empower women living there. The agency awarded scholarships for Master’s degrees in STEM-based fields through the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative. As of 2014, USAID granted over 600 scholarships to STEM-focused undergraduate and graduate women as well. Its programs have also provided pathways for women to launch businesses and enter male-dominated industries like agribusiness.

USAID influenced policy, starting with its help drafting a 2010 framework for Egypt’s National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women. In coordination with NGOs, the agency worked to influence Egypt to regard sexual harassment as a crime in 2014. In October 2020, USAID committed to providing Egypt with $28.2 million to support economic governance and women’s empowerment.

ADEW

The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW) was first formed in 1987 with the expressed purpose of serving Egypt’s female heads of households and their families with regard to economic and social standing. ADEW specifically focuses on impoverished communities in cities, towns and villages.

It utilizes a wide variety of projects in the areas of health, employment, law awareness, education, financial assistance and more. One such initiative is the Micro-Credit Program, which provides small loans to women to start their own businesses. Through peer lending, groups of women guarantee their own loans without being forced to depend on a male guarantor. The program has yielded great success, boasting a loan repayment rate of 99%. ADEW has helped 500,000 individuals in its 33 years of fieldwork.

Women in Egypt often struggle to live dignified lives. There are limitations imposed by both the government and by society at large with regards to financial stability, privacy or even the freedom to walk down a street without being harassed. However, with the increase in awareness and activism surrounding women’s empowerment, life in Egypt may soon change.

Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

The Tug-of-War Between Women’s Rights in MalaysiaThe issue of women’s rights in Malaysia is one that has people divided throughout the peninsula. Women in Malaysia are increasingly engaging in the workforce as well as the government. This does not, however, diminish the gender inequality that still exists. Women in this country have further struggles that inhibit them from gaining equality.

Gender Inequality in Malaysia

As 61.3% of the population are Muslims, there are groups that hold either traditional or progressive views regarding women’s place in society. Despite the various views exhibited toward this issue, women are continually moving forward to gain their rightful equality.

Although increased positions of leadership within the workforce are being partaken, gender inequality is still being experienced. According to UNDP, women earn $0.23 less for each dollar that men make. One in three women has been physically or sexually abused, and nearly 750,000,000 women have been involved in child marriages, while only 13% are agricultural landholders. Furthermore, women only constitute 24% of the national parliamentarians as of November 2018.

Sisters In Islam (SIS)

As a majority of Malaysians are Muslims, there is an NGO that focuses on protecting the rights of Muslim women. Sisters in Islam (SIS) is an NGO that works toward fighting for Muslim women’s rights in Malaysia. In 1988, a group of Muslim women created SIS to tackle the issue of unjust treatment of women under Islamic law. SIS believes that since men had the major control of interpreting the Qur’an in history, they have misinterpreted some aspects in order to justify their cultural actions. As a result, women are put in a lower position than men. Thus, SIS focuses on researching hermeneutical interpretations of the Qur’an in which women could be treated with equality within the Islamic framework.

The main focus of SIS is to reform the laws and policies that oppress women’s rights. It also raises awareness of issues such as child marriages, female genital mutilation and polygamy. Additionally, the NGO advocates for women to gain equal rights to their children, as well as freedom of expression and religion. The organization also operates a free helpline called Telenisa, providing Muslim families with free legal advice on basic rights and Shariah law.

Pushback on Progressive Women’s Rights

Although NGOs like SIS promote more progressive views on advocating for women’s rights, there are groups that push back against ideals. SIS has been under scrutiny for its attempts to reinterpret the Qur’an. The established principles of Islam state that only those who have had traditional religious education can have the authority to interpret and discuss this doctrine. Thus, the women at SIS do not have any right to interpret the Qur’an as they have been doing in the traditional sense.

The Selangor Fatwa Committee and the Selangor Islamic Religious Council issued a fatwa on the SIS in 2014. The fatwa stated that the group was deviant as it promoted liberalism. In addition, the religious pluralism that SIS promoted did not follow Islamic teachings. Moreover, an attempt in 2019 to challenge the fatwa was dismissed in court. The civil court decided that the fatwa was linked to Shariah state law and not the federal court. Fortunately, the High Court has temporarily suspended the fatwa in 2020 as the SIS continues to appeal for its case.

With groups such as SIS fighting for women’s rights in Malaysia, the country is moving toward achieving gender equality. Furthermore, if more women come into leadership then a greater possibility of reform exists. Humanitarian organizations and Malaysia’s government needs to address the gender inequality in Malaysia in order to open the country to new economic opportunities, progressive growth and equality. By furthering Malaysia’s approach to gender equality, the global community will take one more step toward global justice and equity.

Hakyung Kim
Photo: Flickr

AlNourWomen’s agency and equal rights can help to significantly reduce poverty. When evaluating the development of a country, the role of women should not be overlooked. When women are empowered through literacy and education, they become more productive members of society that contribute to global poverty reduction. AlNour is a Moroccan business that allows women in Morocco to be part of the labor force, especially disabled women.

Cultural Norms Limit Women

Oftentimes women do not have the same opportunities as their male counterparts to receive education, engage in the labor force or own property. This is partly because of cultural norms that limit women to domestic responsibilities. By reducing unpaid domestic work, women become empowered and capable of obtaining income security and sustainable livelihoods, which significantly diminishes poverty levels.

Gender Inequality in Morocco

Gender inequality and the lack of women in the labor force in Morocco are related and ongoing issues. The nation, which is located in northwestern Africa, ranked 137 out of 149 countries according to the 2018 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report and ranked 141 out of 149 countries for women’s economic participation and opportunity. Although there were reforms in 2011 to increase the participation of women in the labor force in Morocco, and specifically within the government, women largely remain underrepresented in elected positions.

The economy would benefit from an increase in women’s participation. The IMF examined the relationship between gender inequality and growth and found that policies that better integrate women into the economy would greatly improve growth. As of 2019, if as many women worked as men worked, “income per capita could be almost 50% higher than it is now.”

The participation of women in the labor force in Morocco increases economic development and therefore reduces global poverty. But, how can women become more active citizens in society? The answer can be found by examining an organization called AlNour, which serves as an important example of how to best empower women.

AlNour: A Women’s Empowerment Organization

AlNour is a textile and embroidery business that provides an outlet for women to participate in the labor force in Morocco, thereby contributing to the economic development of the country as a whole. AlNour, which means “the light” in Arabic, began in 2013 after Patricia Kahane, originally from Austria, began the enterprise as a means of offering disabled Moroccan women sources of income through textile production and embroidery. The business employs disabled female workers who face a double disadvantage in Morocco due to their disabilities and gender.

The organization not only provides women with work but also offers training programs for languages, professional and artisan skills. The company has a van that allows women to easily and safely travel to and from work and also has a child care center for working mothers. Furthermore, the company offers free breakfast and lunch daily. The business has partnered with local shops to distribute its products and it also has a website, which features a range of items from home accessories to clothing.

AlNour serves as a rich example of how an organization can alter the lives of many and even impact an entire country. By developing sustainable solutions that not only invest in education but also emotional and financial support, women can break free from traditional roles and gender stereotypes, while simultaneously promoting financial inclusivity and bettering the nation entirely.

Gender Equality Progress in Morocco

There is light and hope for women in Morocco, as significant progress has been made. For example, the revision of the family code to expand the rights of women in marriage, guardianship, child custody and access to divorce is a monumental stride. The creation of a 14-week paid maternity leave clause was also introduced. Additionally, “the first and most advanced gender budgeting initiative in the Middle East and Central Asia region was launched in Morocco in 2002.”

While policies and laws that support gender equality such as the gender budget initiative are undoubtedly important, creating sustainable organizations like AlNour is an equally essential step in order to create a system that allows women to personally and professionally prosper from the ground level upward, consequently helping the economic development of Morocco as a whole.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr