Women’s Rights in Fiji
Fiji is a white sand archipelago in the South Pacific ocean. Fiji’s palm-lined beaches and turquoise lagoons continue to attract tourism to this exotic location. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened economic matters by prohibiting the country’s main source of income. This economic stress has exacerbated issues of women’s rights in Fiji, but the people fighting against female discrimination continue to create democracy, provide education and empower the women of the Pacific Island.

Women’s Rights and Global Poverty

One of the biggest myths about ending global poverty is that achieving it is possible without confronting gender inequality. Recent statements have indicated that 2.4 billion do not receive equal opportunities to their male counterparts and struggle to recover from poverty due to their low social status in many cultures. The empowerment of women could help to reduce gender inequality and transform global poverty from a gendered issue, according to Global Citizen.

In Fiji, women’s salaries are approximately 30,000 FJD less than men’s on average per year. Women’s lack of freedom in the household and the control held over their resources renders women the most vulnerable group in Fijian society. Currently, female poverty is on the rise in Fiji due to the economic crash caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One way to help is microfinance. It involves providing women in poverty with small loans, affording financial freedom and enabling the development of small businesses. The South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) is the largest microfinance firm fighting against female poverty. SPBD launched the Fiji Bloom Program, an initiative that addresses the unique needs of Fijian women entrepreneurs. Bloom aims to transform small women-owned enterprises into thriving businesses and mobilize other Fijian institutions to join them on their mission.

The Problem in Fiji

Fijian society often views women as “second-class citizens,” according to Al Jazeera. This is due to entrenched patriarchal norms that continue to define contemporary views of women. Unfortunately, women’s inferior status in Pacific island society has led to violence against young women. In 2016, 59% of all rape cases involved girls under the age of 18. This is an issue that the ignorance of women in the justice system further exacerbates.

According to the U.N., the economic strain placed on the country through the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened issues of gender inequality. The stress of unemployment has caused a surge in domestic violence against women who are locked down in their homes, Al Jazeera reports. This has led to poverty and violence being considered critical gender issues in Fiji.

Fiji is fighting for the cause. In 2020, women held 19.6% of parliamentary seats, compared to 0% in 1987. Also, Fiji ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1995, meaning women’s rights in Fiji are finally receiving recognition.

The People Making a Difference

The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) envisions a democratic Fiji where gender equality, good governance and the realization of human rights create sustainable national development. Founded in 1986, FWRM aims to eliminate the attitudinal and institutionalized discrimination that oppresses women.

GIRLS is one of FWRM’s programs providing education on feminism, sexual health and human rights to girls aged between 10 and 17. It works to challenge gender stereotypes by encouraging male-dominated sports like rugby and creates a culture of understanding amongst young girls.

“Democratization, policy transformation, intergenerational leadership and organizational strengthening” are the four pillars from which FWRM operates. So far, FWRM has established four successful programs targeted at girls and women of different age groups. One, the Fiji Women’s Forum, united women across diverse groups to increase women’s participation in the Fiji national elections held in September 2014.

Lobbying, mobilizing and advocating, they are the NGO secretariat transforming the discriminatory structures that prohibit female empowerment. From a small group of Fijian women who wanted to make a difference to a leading organization with global connections, empowerment is on the horizon.

Looking Ahead

The fight for women’s rights in Fiji is a fight against violence, poverty and institutionalized misogyny; one that has been fought for decades. Gender stereotyping and a lack of feminist education are the problems Fijian girls and women face today, but FWRM highlights the possibility of empowerment. In 2018, FWRM GIRLS and Emerging Leaders Forum Alumni (ELFA) held an intergenerational women’s movement event where girls and women together shared stories of abuse, empowerment and everything in between, Fawcett reports. This inspiring display of solidarity reflects the liberation of women’s rights in Fiji so far.

– Abigail Vaughton
Photo: Flickr

Women in Ukraine
Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, women in Ukraine faced several gender-related disparities. Households in the nation that women head are more likely to be food insecure, with 37.5% experiencing moderate or severe levels of food insecurity compared to 20.5% of male-headed households. Women in Ukraine also faced a 22% gender pay gap and a 32% pension gap, leaving them more economically vulnerable to the impacts of war.

The War

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the cost of living is increasing at a rapid rate, creating an ongoing crisis in the nation. The war’s disruptions to oil and gas supplies and staple food commodities such as wheat, corn and sunflower oil have further propelled the crisis. These disruptions have created rising prices of food and fuel. A new U.N. Women report provides insight into how the Ukraine War and its global impacts on food and energy are affecting women disproportionately, making them one of the war’s most vulnerable groups.

The women who have stayed in Ukraine have become their households’ primary providers, as many of their partners have gone to the front. They face increasing financial pressures as securing unemployment is very difficult with the destruction of infrastructure and businesses. Along with this, as a result of rising food prices and shortages, women have reported reducing their own food intake to provide more for other family members, thus putting their own nutritional needs at risk. Along with this, increasing energy prices have forced families to resort to using low-tech fossil fuels which expose women cooking and doing various tasks in households to significant amounts of air pollution. The U.N. Women estimates that the use of low-tech fossil fuels in homes kills around 3.2 million people each year globally, making this a severe health risk.

The U.N. Women also reports that school-aged girls in Ukraine are at a higher risk of having to leave school and enter marriage as another way for families to make ends meet during this tumultuous time. This not only places them at an educational disadvantage for future opportunities but also puts their physical and emotional well-being at risk.

Pregnant Women

The U.N. estimates that around 265,000 women in Ukraine were pregnant when the invasion began. With this, the war caused serious disruptions in maternal health care. Expectant mothers have very limited access to doctors and the medical supplies needed to give birth, making it a potentially dangerous process. As a result of the physical and emotional stress expectant mothers are facing, there has been a rise in premature births and complications.

One group working to rectify this growing reproductive health crisis is the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA). This group has created a mobile maternity health unit in which they go into remote communities and places that have limited access to healthcare due to the invasion. Through this unit, they provide women with health services and help deliver babies safely.

Increased Gender-Based Violence

One of the biggest concerns of the U.N. Women for women in Ukraine is the rise in gender-based violence, specifically increases in sexual violence. As a result of food insecurity, women have reported facing encouragement to use transactional sex for food and survival. There have also been increases in sexual exploitation at the hands of the opposing military and threats of human trafficking amid worsening conditions, according to the U.N. Women report.

Displacement

Women fleeing Ukraine are facing additional wartime burdens. A survey highlighting displacement patterns from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that women account for 81% of all refugees and 83% of women are traveling with at least one child. With this, one in 10 women is traveling alone. These women are more likely to face harassment and gender-based violence and trafficking. The U.N. Women also reports that for every 100 Ukrainian women, there are 77 children under the age of 11. This indicates that women are bearing a significant extra burden when it comes to childcare, and thus require a greater need for shelter and access to basic necessities.

Groups Working to Rectify These Inequities

Many often do not pay attention to women’s voices and needs in wartime, despite them being a part of the most vulnerable groups. Organizations such as U.N. Women have been working diligently to shine a light on the challenges facing women in Ukraine and to provide solutions.

After conducting multiple different studies through surveying and other methods, U.N. Women is now providing recommendations for the best practices for protecting and enhancing the livelihood of women in Ukraine and refugees. As women bear distinct and additional burdens during times of war, the organization is arguing that they must have representation in all decision-making platforms on de-escalation, conflict prevention and mitigation. Along with this, it is crucial to ensure that data, evidence and women’s voices inform humanitarian responses, including budgeting, programming and service delivery.

While the Ukraine war is affecting everyone in Ukraine, it is not affecting everyone equally. It is important to recognize the needs of the most vulnerable groups when moving forward with response efforts, thus more efficiently providing services where there is the greatest amount of need. As groups like U.N. Women continue to highlight the struggles of women in Ukraine and refugees, it is important that influential nations such as the United States back the effort as well.

– Emma Cook
Photo: Flickr

Zan Times
The foundation of the journalistic outlet Zan Times stands on a specific objective: Giving Afghan women their voices back through a new media platform. This recently released platform covers the human rights situation in Afghanistan through “a women’s-led newsroom” as one of its main focuses is women’s rights. On October 20, 2022, Zahra Nader introduced herself as the editor-in-chief of Zan Times and spoke at the U.N. to discuss the struggle Afghan women and girls face every day under the new Taliban rule. She also highlighted “why women’s representation—in peacebuilding, in journalism and everywhere else—matters,” U.N. Women reported.

Since the occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2021, the situation for women and girls in the country has deteriorated, leading to more inequality and poverty. In a May 2022 statement, Sima Bahous, the U.N. Women executive director, said, “Current restrictions on women’s employment have been estimated to result in an immediate economic loss of up to $1[billion] – or up to 5% of Afghanistan’s GDP.”

The Background

Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, fell to the reign of the Taliban on August 15, 2021. The new regime has led to a regression in “[women’s] rights, their condition and their social and political status” due to restrictions on women’s mobility, access to education, employment and other economic resources and rights, according to a press briefing by Alison Davidian, country representative a.i. for U.N. Women in Afghanistan.

“Before 15 August 2021, 17% of women participated in the labor force nationwide; this decreased by 16% by the end of October 2021,” U.N. Women reported.

The exclusion of women from areas of life such as education and employment harms a country’s economic development. Over the past five decades, rising levels of educational attainment have stood as a driving factor behind the economic expansion of OECD countries. Furthermore, “women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity [and] increases economic diversification [as well as] income equality,” according to U.N. Women.

Zahra Nader

Zahra Nader is an Afghan-Canadian journalist and editor-in-chief of the Zan Times. After starting her journalistic career in 2011 in Kabul, she moved to Canada six years later to pursue higher education and is now studying toward a doctoral degree in feminist studies.

“Today, an estimated 20 million women and girls who grew up in Afghanistan going to school, to work, who grew up being able to go where they liked and to speak their minds, are, under the Taliban, deprived of these fundamental human rights because of their gender. Women have been ordered to stay home. Girls have been banned from attending school above sixth grade,” said Nader in October 2022 at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security.

A New Hope

Zan Times is a media platform that aims to provide a different view on human rights violations by focusing on the perspective of those resisting rather than those committing the violations and collecting the work of journalists, writers and activists. Apart from Afghan women, the Zan Times also focuses on other marginalized groups, such as sexual minorities and particular ethnic groups. By documenting the experiences of these individuals, Zan Times ensures the world hears the voices of the marginalized.

For instance, the platform’s reporters write about the experience and commentary of female activists resisting the Taliban regime. In August 2022, the reporters had the opportunity to interview Robaba (the pseudonym that the interviewee uses), who, before the return of the Taliban, worked as the “editor-in-chief of a newspaper and owned an art gallery in Balkh province.” She shared her experience opposing the new restrictive government.

This approach allows readers from everywhere in the world to identify and understand the struggle while also giving voice to those who the Taliban silenced. Zan Times also allows activists to share their initiatives to raise awareness of current events in Afghanistan. For example, Zan Times interviewed British-Iranian producer Ramita Navai who recently released Afghanistan Undercover, a documentary showing an undercover investigation into the Taliban’s repression of women in Afghanistan.

Looking Ahead

Giving Afghan women a platform to voice their experiences is a powerful initiative. Girls and women in Afghanistan are currently facing a difficult reality. Even though the future of Afghanistan is uncertain, the work of Nader and other reporters dedicated to raising awareness and offering opportunities for women to speak their truth provides hope to Afghan women.

– Caterina Rossi
Photo: Flickr

Address Period Poverty
Period poverty affects those who menstruate in both developing and developed countries. According to the United Nations Population Fund, “period poverty describes the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” Period poverty also includes a lack of access to hygiene and sanitation facilities to properly manage menstruation. The World Bank highlights that, across the world, “an estimated 500 million lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management.” Furthermore, “1.25 billion women and girls have no access to a safe, private toilet” and 526 million females have no access to any toilet. Despite this form of poverty affecting women and girls globally, period poverty affects developing countries the most. In many developing countries, 50% of all females resort to using “items like rags, grass and paper” to manage their menstruation rather than safe sanitary products, a 2022 article by ActionAid said. For these reasons, campaigns for governments to address period poverty are essential.

Comments from a Youth Campaigner

Sixth former Ellie Massey is a former member of the Youth Parliament for Northern Ireland. Massey played an instrumental role in campaigning for Northern Ireland to pass legislation for the free provision of sanitary products. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she highlighted that there needs to be further progress on the scheme within universities. Many tertiary-level students live away from their families and are already facing student debt in order to access university education, meaning that “period products are a lot less accessible for them.”

Massey speaks on useful techniques campaigners can use when campaigning to address period poverty. For instance, writing a personal plea for politicians and lawmakers to address the issue as opposed to “generic letters” that flood their inboxes.

Massey detailed that within a personal plea regarding addressing period poverty should be reasons why it is the politician’s responsibility to make legislative progress on the issue and specific details on the actions the politician can take to help.

During her time of campaigning for progress in the realm of period poverty in the United Kingdom, she wrote a letter to the education minister at the time, Peter Weir, and reached out to organizations such as the Human Rights Commission. She also interviewed students that period poverty affected and included these personal quotes in her letter to give it more standing.

Massey said that advocacy on the issue works better via in-person meetings or Zoom as politicians can put a face to a name and campaigners tend to argue points better when talking face-to-face. Once politicians actually realize the devastating impact of the issue, most of them are happy to help, so it is just about getting the message across in the most effective and impactful way.

Campaigning for Change

Amika George is a British youth activist who at the age of 17 began the Free Periods campaign in the U.K. to address period poverty and its impacts on girls’ education. The campaign began as an online petition after George learned that students in the U.K. would miss as much as a week of school per month due to the inability to afford sanitary products while menstruating.

Speaking on the issue, the activist commented to Cherwell that “the existence of period poverty only came to public consciousness as recently as [2018] when reports of girls routinely missing school because they couldn’t afford menstrual products were thrust into the media glare.”

“What’s been depressing since then is the lack of any affirmative action by the government, despite outrage and horror that girls were using socks stuffed with tissue or newspaper,” George said. The petition called on the U.K. government to take action by providing free period products to students who are eligible for free school meals and to work toward addressing period poverty.

Organizations Addressing Period Poverty Internationally

The Gift Wellness Foundation works to address period poverty in the U.K. and beyond. In August 2022, volunteers and Dr. Zareen Roohi Ahmed, the Foundation’s chair, delivered sanitary products to Syrian women across six refugee camps in Lebanon. The delivery included 500 boxes of menstrual products as well other essentials such as “shampoo, soap and washing powder.”

Commenting on the trip to Lebanon, Roohi Ahmed said on the Foundation’s website that the Syrian women refugees showed inspiring “resilience and bravery in the face of such upheaval.” However, “no one should be without basic menstrual products. The children in these camps need their mums to be empowered if they are to have any future at all.”

The Gift Wellness Foundation also donated sanitary pads to Rohingya women in Bangladesh. This took place within Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp, which is “the largest refugee camp in the world.” The Communities Against Poverty (CAP) Foundation runs a women’s health center in the camp, where many women give birth. In fact, “60,000 Rohingya women and young girls have given birth in the camp after being raped in Myanmar.”

The Gift Wellness Foundation provided more than 10,000 pads to support these women. Iqra International partners with the Foundation to give out sanitary pads in schools across the most impoverished areas of Bangladesh.

Looking Ahead

In the face of alarming statistics regarding period poverty and the impacts on female health and education, young activists and campaigners are taking a stand to create change.

– Claire Dickson
Photo: Flickr

Malala Yousafzai is Fighting
Former First Lady Michelle Obama, while speaking on the importance of women’s education in Senegal, stated, “When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous.” Her speech, titled ‘You Are Role Models,’ sought to encourage females around the world to continue to fight for their education – not only because it was an inherent right, but because it also led to more opportunities. One cannot overstate the importance of women’s education. As Michelle Obama described, educated women can change the lives of millions. They can serve as role models for the world and encourage the expansion of quality education. Malala Yousafzai is a notable woman who is fighting for women’s education to end poverty.

About Malala

Malala Yousafzai is one of the few individuals brave enough to carry the responsibility of women’s education. Malala was born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan. As a child, Yousafazi attended the school her father established – Khushal Girls High School and College – and quickly developed a reputation for dedication to her studies. Malala’s commitment to learning, however, did not only exist in her school building. When reflecting on her childhood, Malala recalled that “From an early age, I was interested in politics and sat on my father’s knee listening to everything he and his friends discussed.”

The Arrival of the Taliban

Malala’s love for education, however, came to a complete stop in 2008, when the Taliban arrived. The Taliban is a radicalized, religious and political group that emerged in 1978, after the Afghan War. Since the early 2000s, the Taliban developed a reputation for asserting strict interpretations of law and order, heavily determined by religious ideology. Using the conservative Pashtun social code, the Taliban created a brutally repressive regime.

Once they arrived in Pakistan, the Taliban implemented strict rules and punishments – especially targeting women. They ordered various rules, but one was particularly crushing to Malala. The Taliban ordered that women were to experience exclusion from public life – essentially, the Taliban banned women from attaining an education.

Malala Becomes an Advocate

In 2012, Malala began to speak out against the Taliban. Using the pseudonym Gul Makai, Malala began writing for the BBC online. Her blogs contained advocacy and a peek into the daily life of living under Taliban rule.

However, as Malala’s popularity increased, so did the threat of the Taliban. After several months of writing, The New York Times revealed that Malala was really “Gul Makai,” resulting in the Taliban naming her one of its main targets.

On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala as she rode home on a bus after school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. She was 15 years old at the time.

How Malala Yousafzai is Fighting for Women’s Education Through The Malala Fund

Despite the trauma of the event and the partial loss of brain function, Malala never quit advocating for women’s education. Today, she runs a nonprofit organization called the Malala Fund. The Malala Fund invests in education and activists who are challenging the policies and practices that prevent women from receiving an education. Over the years, the Malala Fund has helped expand access to education for girls and women, improve the quality and relevance of education and strengthen government policy to ensure safe learning environments. Today, Malala focuses on women’s education and politics. She holds a childhood dream of becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and she hopes to ensure the right to education for all children.

Malala’s persistent advocacy truly displays the importance of women’s education. Education has the ability to break the constraints of gender inequality, thus allowing females to acquire more opportunities and responsibilities. Education allows an individual to become economically, socially and politically independent; they are able to support themselves and take on various positions in government, business and civil society. As women rise above gender inequality, they are able to support their families, develop leadership skills and achieve more representation in their government.

Overall, Malala Yousafzai is fighting for women’s education, having risked her life multiple times. Through her efforts, gender inequality is decreasing, thus allowing females around the world to dig themselves out of poverty and avoid the abuse that accompanies the setting.

– Sania Patel
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Supporting leaders to end poverty
In 2019, the World Bank stated that approximately 700 million people lived in extreme poverty, surviving on $1.90 daily. The future is optimistic though as extreme poverty decreased from 35% in 1990 to 8.6% in 2022. Thanks to the persistent efforts of governments, foundations, international non-governmental organizations and many others, global poverty is diminishing. In 2008, Anne Welsh McNulty established the John P. McNulty Prize “in honor of her late husband” in partnership with the Aspen Institute with the aim of supporting leaders to end poverty. Each year, leaders who address significant world problems, like global poverty, receive funding and “support to amplify their efforts.” Here are five women leaders and McNulty Prize winners who focus on global poverty reduction.

Navyn Salem, Edesia

Navyn Salem’s philanthropy journey began with a trip. In 2007, during a visit to Tanzania, her father’s home country, she witnessed child malnutrition firsthand. “A mother was crying inconsolably over the loss of her child. The child had starved to death,” the Edesia website described. Since that day, Salem made it her mission to prevent global malnutrition. In 2009, she founded Edesia Nutrition, which is the reason why she stood as one of the winners of the John P. McNulty Prize in 2022. Edesia Nutrition is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that produces ready-to-use therapeutic food, like Plumpy’Nut, to end malnutrition. This organization has addressed hunger and malnutrition among more than 16 million children in 60 nations through successful collaborations with UNICEF, USAID, the World Food Programme (WFP) and more.

Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen Global Fellowship Program

Jacqueline Novogratz gave up her career on Wall Street in 1986 to assist with launching Rwanda’s first microfinance institution. According to the McNulty Foundation, she “continued her work of using creative methods of financing to encourage development by starting Acumen” in 2001, an impact investment organization that invests in companies and individuals, working on global poverty with its “Patient Capital” model.

For her, this is a bridge between philanthropy and markets. Also, the Acumen Academy provides courses, fellowships and accelerators to support next-generation role models, innovators and leaders who focus on social change in different ways. The Acumen Global Fellowship Program is a one-year program that helps individuals to master the required “skills, attributes and values of moral leadership values”necessary to ignite social change. Through this program, Novogratz won the 2018 McNulty Prize Catalyst Fund, which “builds on a decade of the impact of the John P. McNulty Prize, a $100,000 award given annually to honor the visionary work of individuals moving the needle on intractable global challenges.”

Alexandra Kissling & Maria Pacheco, Vital Voices Central America

Vital Voices Global Partnership is a nonprofit organization that has supported women leaders all around the world since 1997. The organization has supported more than 20,000 women in more than 180 countries and regions. It supports women leaders because it believes “women are the key to progress in their communities and nations cannot move forward without women in leadership positions,” the Vital Voices website said.

Under this partnership, Maria Pacheco developed the Vital Voices Chapter in Guatemala in 2008. With her invitation, several other leaders attended the first Vital Voices conference in Central America. This led to the development of six chapters in the region and the founding of the Vital Voices Central America coalition by Pacheco and Alexandra Kissling.

Kissling is also the co-founder of Vital Voices Costa Rica. Overall, “the Vital Voices Central America network has touched the lives of [more than] 100,000 women and their families” through different programs. Women are now able to gain important skills in communication, entrepreneurship and leadership, career-building and community work. This is a crucial contribution considering that in this region, women are more likely to live in extreme poverty than men. Kissling and Pacheco won the 2019 McNulty Prize thanks to their dedicated efforts to fight against poverty in Central America.

Réjane Woodroffe, Bulungula Incubator

Réjane Woodroffe witnessed the utmost opposite conditions during commutes between Cape Town, South Africa, and a secluded community of villages on the southeast coast of the country. In one place, there were luxurious cars, fancy buildings and many job opportunities, whereas, on the other side, she saw extreme poverty and underdevelopment. The villages lacked roads, proper health care access, schools, electricity and sanitation.

After this eye-opening experience, she started to work on trying to end rural generational poverty. In 2007, Woodroffe founded Bulungula Incubator, which is the reason why she won the 2014 prize. Bulungula Incubator is a nonprofit organization that has goals to end poverty while improving community life through several programs. For instance, early childhood education, health and nutrition, sport, art, culture and economic programs through collaborations with government, non-governmental organizations and other associations. This is another example of supporting leaders to end poverty.

All in all, awards like the John P. McNulty Prize play a significant role in supporting leaders to end poverty. These types of awards not only provide monetary support to further leaders’ humanitarian work but also stand as motivation for future leaders who would like to play a role in poverty reduction. Announcing these types of awards to recognize winners is crucial for motivating the next generation of leaders.

– Irem Aksoy
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Malta
Malta — the EU’s smallest country by area — is hard to spot on a map, but its women’s rights activists are robust. Malta is the EU’s most densely populated country and has some of the highest rates of voter turnout in free elections in the world. The island’s more than 440,000 residents have a long history of advocating for change on the streets, behind desks and at the polls. In recent decades, women and their male allies focused on progressing women’s rights in Malta.

Defining Women’s Rights on a Global Scale

Women’s rights look different in each country. However, in general, those are the rights that aim to promote the legal and social equity and equality of all genders. As part of its commitment to advancing global gender equality using foreign policy, the U.S. Department of State identified four key policy priorities for empowering women across the globe: peace and security, economic empowerment, gender-based violence and adolescent girls.

Women in Government

Women in Malta have won an increasing number of seats in Parliament and the Cabinet through the years, but achieving peace and security is a ways away. In 2014, women in Malta made up just 13% of Parliament, the lowest share of women in a European national parliament. This is far from the representation that advocates for women’s rights in Malta want, but it is a small improvement.

Women have been running for government seats in Malta for the last 70 years, but their election success rate — even with its variation — has remained low. The country’s biggest weakness in its 2021 Gender Equality Index score was gender in politics. But, its strong economy, health care and workforce ultimately earned the country a score of 65 out of 100 — just three points below the EU.

Economics

Over the last decade, Malta has prioritized empowering women in economics. The country ranked 84th in last year’s Global Gender Gap Index, jumping six rankings from the year prior. However, women in the country are still tasked with vast amounts of unpaid domestic work which widens the economic gender gap and contributed to 45% of women working full time compared to 67% of men in 2021. According to the U.N. Women, women and girls spent 18.8% of their time doing unpaid work in 2021 compared to 7% spent by men and close to twice as many women are experiencing severe food insecurity.

Domestic Violence

With rising rates, women’s rights advocates consider domestic violence to be a gender-based violence crisis on the island. According to the 2014 Global Database on Violence Against Women, 15% of women have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime and 4% have experienced violence in the last year. Across the globe, rates of domestic violence against women skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malta has not collected concrete data on gender-based violence since 2014 and government officials are worried the country could be facing concerningly high rates.

Birth Rate

Malta has a high adolescent birth rate. According to the World Bank, about 12 teenage girls gave birth per 1,000 — the highest adolescent birth rate in Southern Europe. Teenage girls with newborns experience immense difficulties pursuing education and employment. However, the Maltese government and women political leaders have tried to combat these hurdles. In 2013, the country introduced the Government’s Electoral Manifesto, which promised the Free Childcare Scheme. The program provides government-paid childcare to parents pursuing employment or education.

The Movement’s Political History

Since the country’s first election in 1947, women have fought hard for seats in government so they can advance policies and laws that promote women’s rights in Malta. In 2021, Malta’s Parliament brought a gender balance mechanism into law that adds more seats to the House if one gender wins less than 40% of seats. In 2014, women in government also achieved state-paid childcare and currently, all pregnant women receive cash benefits.

Looking Ahead

Currently, married fathers of newborns are only eligible for one day of parental leave in Malta. Predominantly young men and new fathers are advocating for parental leave so they can support mothers with unpaid domestic work at home. This could ultimately decrease the gender gap and strengthen women’s rights in Malta. With a petition to implement paternity and parental leave currently sitting in Parliament, the issue is expected to gain popularity in the coming years.

The leading non-governmental organization dedicated to progressing women’s rights in Malta is the Women’s Rights Foundation. By providing one of the first helplines for women and victims of gender-based violence to call, the organization is able to inform, educate and empower women concerning their legal rights. The group also advocates for policy and law reforms that protect women’s rights and bring an end to all violence against women and girls. The organization has repeatedly filed judicial letters on behalf of hundreds of women in an effort to make legal and political changes on the island.

There is little to no data on violence against women in the country, but these numbers are vital for women’s rights in Malta. In 2020, the U.N. had less than half of data on women than the amount it considers to be essential to closing gender gaps in the country. The U.N., the European Institute for Gender Equality and other organizations are making data collection in Malta a priority to ensure women’s rights moving forward.

– Delaney Murray
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Germany
Germany is one of the world’s most developed countries. In 2017, it placed fourth in the world in terms of nominal GDP and has the largest economy in the European Union. Germany’s Grundgesetz (Basic Law) declares that “women and men are equal and that the state has to promote substantive, de facto, gender equality.” Yet, Germany lags behind in making gender equality a reality. There are several important facts to know about women’s rights in Germany.

4 Facts About Women’s Rights in Germany

  1. Gender Pay Gap. The “difference in average gross hourly earnings between men and women,” also known as the gender pay gap, stood at 18% in 2020 in Germany. In comparison with the EU average of 13%, Germany places among the most unequal countries in the EU. Experts attribute the gender pay gap to differing career path choices, with females typically taking on lower-paying jobs. Further, persisting traditional gender roles in German society mean women work fewer hours in order to manage “childcare and housekeeping responsibilities.”
  2. Women’s Quota. As Germany’s previous chancellor Angela Merkel illustrated with her doctoral degree in quantum chemistry, many German women have higher education qualifications. Yet, far fewer women occupy executive-level jobs in comparison to men. Despite an upward trend in recent years, women on supervisory boards remain a clear minority with 33% in Germany’s major companies in 2018. Building off of the “30[%]voluntary quota for supervisory boards introduced in 2015,” in June 2021, Germany introduced a draft law “to impose gender mandatory quotas at its largest listed companies.” The quota specifies that “boards of German listed companies with more than three members” must have at least one female member. Furthermore, “Companies in which the federal government has a majority stake will also have a mandatory quota of 30[%]of female board members.” Nationally and internationally, people view this policy as a milestone for women in management and a message of equality in society and the workplace.
  3. STEM. In 2015, in the field of non-academic research in Germany, women accounted for just 35.4% of scientific staff members — “the second-lowest figure in the EU,” after France. According to many female scientists, these figures stem from a lack of state support, such as too few childcare facilities, as well as blatant sexism and ignorance of women’s rights in Germany “by superiors who favor men.” Komm mach MINT is “a nationwide network of women in [STEM]” that aims to encourage young women to consider careers in STEM and thereby increase female representation in STEM professions in Germany. The network came about in 2008 and receives annual support of €3.2 million from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
  4. Domestic Violence. According to a survey that the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) conducted, “every fourth woman in Germany has experienced domestic violence at least once in her life.” In 2002, Germany put into law the Protection Against Violence Act, allowing the “police to take immediate and pre-judicial measures to protect” women from their perpetrators. Further, the national Hilfetelefon “Gewalt gegen Frauen” (Violence against Women helpline), established in 2013, offers 24/7 support to support women affected by violence. In 2021, the hotline had about 81,600 callers and managed to help and support about 29,500 violence-affected people.

Looking Ahead

While gender quality oftentimes appears as an arduous issue to tackle, Germany is taking the right steps with national legislation for female representation in supervisory positions, initiatives to connect young women with STEM careers and providing national and immediate support for female victims of domestic violence. Should these policies live up to their potential, improved rights for women in Germany would manifest in an increase in GDP from €1.95 trillion to €3.15 trillion by 2050.

Pauline Lützenkirchen
Photo: Unsplash

Women’s Rights in Ukraine
Reports of human rights violations against Ukrainian populations have steadily mounted since Russia invaded the country in February. Russian troops’ indiscriminate use of violence against Ukrainian civilians has grown more extreme as the conflict drags on. As with many conflict situations, violence against Ukrainian women and girls has increased drastically since Russia’s invasion. Several women’s rights groups operating in Ukraine recently brought the issue of sexual violence to the attention of the U.N. Security Council. The council heard from several community leaders and nonprofit founders, including Ukrainian Women’s Fund Co-founder, Natalia Karbowska. Countless U.N. members reasserted their commitment to end conflict-based sexual violence, vowing to center humanitarian relief efforts on the experiences of women and girls.

The U.N. Security Council meeting raised international awareness of the plight of women and girls in conflict-ridden areas. Despite this, women in violent regions across the world continue to be vulnerable to sexual violence as the use of rape as a tactic of war remains prevalent. The recent Security Council briefing on the rights of Ukrainian women and refugees has provided a step in the right direction although there is still much that Ukraine needs to do to address the issue.

Support from Women-Led Organizations in Ukraine

Luckily, countless locally based, women-led organizations in Ukraine are working tirelessly to protect those most vulnerable to acts of conflict-based sexual violence. These organizations have the best ability to attend to the needs of women who the conflict most affected due to their geographic and cultural proximity to affected populations. Large multi-national entities such as U.N. Women work to bolster the resources available to local women’s rights organizations in Ukraine and the surrounding region. In addition to the United Nations, a multitude of international non-profit organizations are also rallying behind women-led civil groups operating in and around Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Women’s Fund

The Ukrainian Women’s Fund (UWF) leverages long-established partnerships with local civil society organizations to aid Ukrainian women in crisis. The UWF has provided financial, information and consultation support to civic organizations and women’s rights groups in Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus since the organization’s establishment in 2000. The toll of the Russian invasion on Ukrainian women and girls led the UWF to adopt emergency measures in an effort to support women’s rights in Ukraine. The UWF implemented a series of rapid response grants to women-led civil societies and nonprofits operating in every region of Ukraine shortly after the conflict broke out.

The UWF was able to provide 37 grants ($300,000) to women’s organizations throughout Ukraine before the 30th day of the conflict. These rapid response grants work to provide food, water, shelter and other necessities alongside emergency psychosocial and transportation services. The UWF additionally receives support from Prospera, the International Network of Women’s Funds. Prospera ensures that the UWF can mobilize resources effectively to support rapid response grantees. All UWF donations go into rapid response grants for locally-led women’s foundations operating in Ukraine. 

Women’s Perspectives

Women’s Perspectives is a Ukraine-based feminist organization that is dedicated to upholding women’s rights and supporting equal rights. Since its establishment in 1998, the Lviv-based nonprofit works to address issues of gender-based violence within Ukraine. With the current prevalence of conflict-based sexual violence against Ukrainian women, Women’s Perspectives took on several emergency measures to provide support to Ukrainian women. The organization created several safe haven shelters for women still stranded within Lviv. The shelters provide women with food, hygiene products and health care while also providing asylum resources and psychological support.

Women’s Perspectives works with local businesses as well as civil societies in other regions of Ukraine to bolster its’ outreach and support of Ukrainian women. Additionally, Women’s Perspectives is a vocal advocate for women’s rights in Ukraine both locally and internationally. The organization’s research on sexual violence within the context of the Russian war was key to the report that the U.N. Security Council reviewed in early June. Women’s Perspectives has also organized several women’s rights marches within the city of Lviv, reinforcing the will of Ukrainian women involved in the conflict. Donating to Women’s Perspectives will directly help women affected by the conflict while supporting an organization that amplifies the experiences and needs of women.

The Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Rights

The Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Rights initiated a rapid response grant system aimed at supporting women and other marginalized populations at the outset of the war in Ukraine. Since its establishment in 1997, the Urgent Action Fund has addressed the immediate needs of those in the conflict by providing grants for emergency resources and services. Additionally, the Urgent Action Fund remains committed to protecting frontline women-led organizations and activists who are braving the threat of violence to provide direct support for those who remain within conflict zones. As of April 12, 2022, the Urgent Action Fund had provided 30 grants to women-led organizations throughout Ukraine.

The Urgent Action Fund remains dedicated to centering female leaders in future reconciliation efforts, a peacebuilding strategy that has proven highly effective in reaching lasting cooperation. In the future, the Urgent Action Fund seeks to further bolster women’s rights in Ukraine by partnering with activists and organizations in the countries bordering Ukraine. Donations to the Urgent Action Fund’s Ukraine will be distributed towards technical support, such as survival training, evacuation assistance, legal, financial and medical support and access to shelter and communication channels.

 A Look Ahead

Charities and foundations similar to those listed above are working to support the rights of women affected by the conflict. A minimal monthly donation to any of the organizations will help in the fight against conflict-based sexual violence and gender-based violence.

Mollie Lund
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Pakistan
A gender-based violence crisis in Pakistan is depriving millions of women in Pakistan of legal protection and leaving them fearful for their rights and livelihood. According to the Women, Peace and Security Index, Pakistan is ranked 167th out of 170 countries in terms of women’s health and wellbeing. In recent years, women in Pakistan have been engaging in protests to speak out against inequality and violence and demanding action from the government to improve women’s rights in Pakistan.

Domestic and Economic Abuses

Women in Pakistan suffer an alarmingly high rate of domestic violence. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) estimates that 28% of women in Pakistan face some kind of physical violence in their lives before the age of 50. Because of the constant threat of violence against women, many women have to labor as domestic workers and often receive little to no wages as a result.

Women account for 49% of the Pakistani population but receive only 18% of its labor income, according to the USIP. The Pakistani government often denies legal protection and social security to women of low social classes, particularly home-based workers. The crisis of women’s rights in Pakistan is especially evident in environments like education and health care, where women cannot access social protections and face threats of violence.

In 2018, the U.N. reported that only 48.6% of Pakistani women had their reproductive health care needs satisfied by the resources available to them.

Because of these inequalities and injustices against women, women in Pakistan are more likely to live in poverty than men, while also carrying the burden of domestic work. Gender-based discrimination in education forces women at a social disadvantage. In 2021, the USIP found that women had a 22% lower literacy rate than men.

The relationship between social disadvantages, threats of violence and poverty is a vicious cycle for the women living in Pakistan. Because they experience discrimination in education and face threats of violence from men in power, they have to labor domestically and receive low wages, which keeps them in poverty.

Government and International Initiatives

The good news is that global organizations like the United Nations are not ignoring the crisis of women’s rights in Pakistan. In 2017, the U.N. initiated a three-year project called ‘The Economic Empowerment of Women Home-Based Workers and Excluded Groups in Pakistan.” The purpose of the initiative was to allow women, home-based workers, to effectively contribute to and benefit the economy of Pakistan.

This initiative benefited the private sector, the state, the women of Pakistan and the organization of the United Nations. Additionally, in 2020, the Pakistani Government passed an anti-rape ordinance that promised harsh punishments for those who commit sex crimes. This ordinance offers a higher degree of protection and security for women facing domestic violence.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pakistani government has made small but essential improvements for victims of domestic violence including shelters, psychological support and national helplines. In 2021, USAID assisted the Pakistani government in providing counseling services to about 61,000 female survivors of domestic violence, improving the system of maternal health care and training public defenders on how to protect women’s rights in Pakistan under law.

Women Speaking Out

Women in Pakistan have not been silent in recent years about the injustices against them. In 2018, Pakistani women held the Aurat March on International Women’s Day. Thousands of women rallied across Pakistan to demand an end to the gender-based violence that has been sweeping Pakistan for decades, USIP reported. The march became an annual tradition and women have gathered to collectively use their voices and fight against gender and class-based oppression for the most recent four International Women’s Days.

These marches ensure that the public hears the voices and demands of the oppressed women in Pakistan. However, they also present an escalated threat of violence against women from the Taliban. Pakistan’s Taliban criticized the march, accusing it of being a “western agenda.”

The fight for women’s rights in Pakistan is not over and is making significant improvements year by year despite worrying reactions from the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistani women have organizations like the United Nations and the United States Institute of Peace fighting for social, political and economic justice. Equity and gender equality are necessary for Pakistan’s long-term development as a democracy, as well as its fight against violent extremism.

– Ella DeVries
Photo: Flickr