Women's Rights in Timor-LesteWomen in Timor-Leste were pivotal in the war for independence from Indonesia, with many actively involved in “FALINTIL” armed resistance groups from as early as 1974. Despite this, there is a distinct lack of recognition for women’s contributions in political, economic and social spheres in the country, alongside a hierarchical culture of abuse. However, the work of organizations such as the United Nations (U.N.) Women and the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) has allowed Timorese women to gain agency. Still, much more progress must come to see a safe and prosperous environment for women’s rights in Timor-Leste to blossom.

The History of Timor-Leste

Under Indonesian Occupation, Timorese people were brutally repressed through “military forces detaining, torturing, executing and forcibly disappearing tens of thousands of people.” Amnesty International estimates that 200,000 out of the then 600,000 population were killed between 1975 and 1999. Human rights groups documented systemic violence throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

The conflicts left 70% of the infrastructure decimated by the time of their independence in 2002 and much of the rural infrastructure that provides people with adequate food, water, health care provisions and more remains unusable. Women had a crucial role during the war for independence, making up 60% of the Clandestinos, a secret support network that smuggled supplies and information to the rebels.

What Problems Are Women Facing?

  1. Deep poverty: Despite a low unemployment rate of 1.5% (2022 estimate), 29.7% of the employed population lives below $2.15 a day and more than 40% of the entire population lives below the national poverty line. This disproportionately affects women, as due to the patriarchal nature of the rural areas, there is widespread inequality and discrimination toward women, resulting in only 20% of Timorese women being a part of the paid workforce.
  2. Domestic violence: In Timor-Leste, sexual and gender-based violence and domestic violence are rife, with the IWDA finding that 59% of women have experienced intimate partner violence. This epidemic of violence is the legacy that the Indonesian occupation left, as tales of sexual violence toward women by Indonesian soldiers are frequent. This continued into modern life, as 40-60% of Timorese women have experienced “some type of violence.”
  3. Lack of recognition of women in social, economic and political spheres: The conflicts in Timor-Leste before its independence left nearly half of Timorese women as the sole providers for their families, as they had become widowed. However, there remains a significant gap in the number of women who get paid for their labor compared to men, with 80% of women working without pay. Politically, women only lead 5% of the country’s village councils despite making up almost half of the country’s population.

Progress for Women in Timor-Leste

In the last two decades, massive progress has been made despite the legacy of violence and injustice toward women. In 2012, in response to the gender disparities prevalent in society, the new government mandated that parties’ lists include at least 33% of women in the new constitution. This demonstrates a growing commitment to women’s rights in Timor-Leste, resulting in a remarkable surge in female representation in politics, with women now occupying 38% of the seats in the National Parliament, the highest proportion in the Asia Pacific region. The Gender and Constitution Working Group, established by U.N. Women, has played a pivotal role in advancing women’s rights by advocating for their inclusion in the new constitution.

The 2010 Law Against Domestic Violence represents a significant step in acknowledging and addressing the issue of domestic violence against women in Timor-Leste. By recognizing domestic violence as a criminal offense, the law grants essential rights to women. Although the full implementation of this law is still underway nationwide, efforts are being made to raise awareness and educate the public. Organizations like the Covalima Community Centre (CCC) are actively involved in these efforts, contributing to progress in informing and empowering communities regarding domestic violence.

This group is dedicated to empowering women in the Covalima district of Timor-Leste by providing education on leadership and enhancing their skills, enabling them to make meaningful contributions to the social, political and economic spheres. Established by IWDA, this organization has played a pivotal role in its work. By 2016, its efforts had a tangible impact, with the number of Village Chiefs elected to Suco or village-level government, nearly doubling. This increase can be attributed, at least in part, to the diligent work of the CCC in providing leadership training to candidates.

The Future of Women’s Rights in Timor Leste

Timorese women have advocated for their own future, through innovative grassroots organizations like East Timor Women Australia (ETWA), which supports women in the handicrafts industry. Additionally, nongovernmental organizations such as U.N. Women have played a crucial role in successfully enshrining women’s rights in the new constitution. While strides have been made, the journey toward achieving equal rights for women in Timor-Leste remains incomplete.

A pervasive culture of domestic violence persists as a significant challenge, demanding ongoing attention and action. Nevertheless, there are signs of progress as the government of Timor-Leste has taken steps to address this issue. The approval of a National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence in 2017, with another awaiting governmental approval, demonstrates a commitment to combatting gender-based violence. While progress may be slow, it is clear that the hard work and self-advocacy of the Timorese women is working.

– Elizabeth Keith

Elizabeth is based in Lancaster, UK and focuses on World News for The Borgen Project.

Photo: Flickr

Marshallese WomenAccording to the Constitution (1979, Rev 1995) of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), “Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief; to freedom of speech and of the press; to the free exercise of religion; to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

However, according to multiple organizations canvassing for gender equality, an unacceptable degree of gender “inequality” exists for women of the RMI. The tradition of matrilineal heritage, unratified discrimination rights of Marshallese women and extensive evidence of “gender inequality” combined challenge the validity of women’s rights. Moreover, 54% of women who have encountered domestic violence refrained from reporting the incidents due to either perceiving the abuse as justified or fearing reprisal.

Furthermore, they cited reasons such as a lack of awareness about their rights, the financial implications of legal proceedings and/or the distance to access courts. Therefore, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has stated that the Constitution of the RMI needs to be amended by including a definition of discrimination and addressing discrimination against women.

Matrilineal Tradition

The RMI is one of a few countries that maintains traditional matrilineal property systems. In this system, the property is passed down by the maternal, not the paternal line. Despite potentially having substantial land rights in the RMI, many women reside away from their ancestral land, which results in a loss of respect, influence and security, as they often relocate to their spouse’s land, away from their support networks.

Furthermore, by limiting women’s involvement in public office and electoral politics while prioritizing the education and advancement of men, commercial enterprises have marginalized women, relegating them to powerless and insignificant roles within their society.

Women’s Rights Organizations

According to the Pacific Community of the Organization of Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD), Marshallese women are entitled to equality, dignity, education and trust. The challenges of gender inequality faced by women and girls, as well as the rights of Marshallese women, remain focal points for numerous women’s organizations. Some of these organizations include:

  • United Nations (U.N.) Women in the Pacific: This group has been working with governments and nongovernmental organizations in the region to fight against gender inequality, “empower women and build more inclusive societies.”
  • Pacific Women Lead (PWL): This organization aims to ensure “Pacific women and girls are safe and equitably share in resources, opportunities and decision-making with men and boys.” Within five months of its inception, the group coordinated funding for seven projects in the Pacific.
  • Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI): This is a prominent women’s organization dedicated to advocating for the rights and well-being of Marshallese women. WUTMI has played a crucial role in raising awareness about issues such as domestic violence and the prevention of substance abuse by women and girls.

Final Remark

The rights and dignity of Marshallese women are deeply rooted in both tradition and written laws. Supported by many women’s organizations, the rights of Marshallese women remain subjects of ongoing explanation, analysis and debate.

– Pamela A. Fenton
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap in BarbadosWhen picturing Barbados many people imagine golden beaches and sunny skies, yet this is not always the reality. Barbados, located in the Caribbean Sea, is one of the many places in the world that still experiences gender inequality. According to the World Economic Forum, in Barbados, “women earn about 86.8% of their male counterparts.” This means that even in today’s modern age, women are still experiencing a huge pay difference from men. Due to experiencing a larger pay difference than men, women in Barbados are more likely to experience poverty. As well as this, according to the U.N., “more women than men tend to fall below the poverty line.”

The Issue

The gender pay gap seems to be something of the past, but the evidence in places such as Barbados shows that this is not the case at all and that the gender wage gap remains. Women are continually experiencing negative stigma and inconsistencies in working conditions such as wages and this statistic only serves to highlight this problem. Women who are experiencing a gender wage gap are experiencing this due to, “a population’s cultural beliefs and attitudes toward women.” This means that many countries are still harboring negative and sexist attitudes towards women, which needs to change for the gender wage gap in Barbados and around the world to fully close.

Tackling the gender pay gap in places like Barbados could create better living conditions as well as more opportunities for jobs around the world. The gender wage gap in Barbados highlights the inequalities that are still prevalent between men and women, and studies show that “countries with more gender equality tend to be happier.” Improving gender equality and the gender pay gap benefits both men and women.

The Future

Mother’s Union is fighting for gender equality across the globe and support women who are in these places striving for equality as well as providing a safe space for women to talk. Since 1913, the Mother’s Union has more than 2,000 members who help reach out to women and support them in Barbados. The Mother’s Union has many different outreach programs in Barbados such as counseling services and skills training. In 2023 it also celebrated its 110th year anniversary.

– Kiera Egars

Kiera is based in Leeds, UK and focuses on Politics and World News for The Borgen Project.

Photo: Flickr

Working Women in KazakhstanKazakhstan has taken several steps to encourage and protect employed women, including implementing legal safeguards and diversifying political representation. Despite these efforts, there are still disparities between women and men in the workforce. On average, women are 10% less likely to participate in the paid workforce. Similarly, according to the World Bank, women are less likely to be business owners, with 71% of businesses run by men as opposed to 29% run by women. In addition, almost a quarter of working women in Kazakhstan are vulnerably employed, meaning that there are little to no protections in place to guard against economic shocks.

The most notable disparity for working women in Kazakhstan is their participation in domestic labor. A study by the World Bank notes that “women in Kazakhstan spent 19% of their day and men spent 6.3% of their day on unpaid work.” This means that working women in Kazakhstan spend approximately three times more energy and time on domestic tasks in addition to their paid jobs than their male counterparts.

Combating Gender Stereotypes in Kazakhstan

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) notes that gender stereotyping persists among Kazakh citizens. For instance, men are more likely to seek higher education, especially technical and vocational education, as women remain associated with the domestic sphere. Cultural norms in Kazakhstan are generally positive toward gender equality, however, women are less likely to be seen as political and business leaders. Instead, there is a widespread expectation of women to assume roles associated with family. 

The Kazakhstan Country Gender Assessment urges Kazakhstan to implement strategies to diversify the workforce and make jobs more accessible to women. It highlights gender equality in diverse sectors as an important theme to be mainstreamed into initiatives to build regional knowledge platforms. Furthermore, it encourages the country to implement initiatives such as raising awareness on gender equality, career or leadership advising services for female students and empowering female perspectives, especially on a government level. 

Operation Mercy’s Comprehensive Approach

Several initiatives aim to create opportunities for working women in Kazakhstan. A notable program that promotes female empowerment is Operation Mercy, founded in 1991. It advocates the Self Help Approach, which encourages women to cultivate self-worth on an individual and community level. In addition, it specifically focuses on impoverished communities and relationship building on an interpersonal, community and faith-based level, providing education services through academic establishments. The operation’s ongoing programs cover taboo topics, such as STDs, unwanted pregnancy and trafficking, all of which disproportionately affect young women. By providing this information, Operation Mercy motivates young Kazakh women to prioritize their well-being, enabling them to focus on their careers and futures. Each year, the organization serves more than 2,000 students.

Skill-Building for Women in STEM

In Astana, a skill-building marathon organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) specifically targeted women in STEM, hosting 37 women with science education backgrounds. The Skillathon aimed at demonstrating to participants how to develop soft skills for career advancement and promote research. The seminars began by raising awareness around the importance of dismantling prejudice and stereotypes in the STEM field and empowering women to showcase their knowledge and skills, leading by example for future generations. In addition, the initiative led sessions to sharpen technical skills, like communication, commercialization of scientific projects and systems thinking.

Gender Equity in Renewable Energy

Efforts by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to promote gender equity in Kazakhstan’s renewable energy sector addresses the low participation rate of women, which stands at a mere quarter of the workforce. Recognizing the historical gender imbalance, USAID has initiated training events, site visits and networking opportunities aimed at breaking down barriers for women in this field. Furthermore, USAID’s introduction of internship opportunities in 2019 is a strategic move to create more inclusive employment prospects within the energy sector.

Looking Forward

As Kazakhstan continues to address gender disparities in the workforce, initiatives like Operation Mercy, the UNDP Skillathon, and USAID’s focus on renewable energy offer promising pathways toward greater equality and empowerment for women. These efforts, aimed at breaking down barriers and promoting female participation across diverse sectors, lay the groundwork for a more inclusive and equitable future.

– Anna Williams

Anna is based in Burlington, VT, USA and focuses on Good News and Global Health for The Borgen Project.

Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Saint LuciaSaint Lucia, a country in the Caribbean, is considered a constitutional monarchy run by a multiparty parliamentary system. While the government works to improve women’s rights in Saint Lucia, there are still issues that persist. It is the perfect example of a country that has made significant progress in combating global poverty but is still in need of support and improvement.

Concerns for Women in Saint Lucia

Top concerns in this country include domestic violence, educational attainment, low wages, instability in the workforce and holding positions of power. 

A Women Count Data Hub research study found a difference in unemployment rates between men and women in Saint Lucia. The unemployment rate for women was 17%, compared to men’s 13.8%. 

In addition, a 2019 national report by the Generation Equality Forum, a convention that prioritizes global gender equality, identified legal reform as a significant factor contributing to such problems.

Legal Reforms for Women’s Rights in Saint Lucia

A slowdown in the judicial process contributes to challenges relating to the mistreatment of women, including an uptick in crime and violence, low prosecution rates for criminals and limited services for processing sex-related crimes. In 1955, the United Nations introduced the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action Act (BPfa), which highlights specific challenges in the fight for women’s rights worldwide, including Saint Lucia.

Beyond identifying specific obstacles, the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action Act outline recommendations that would address gender inequities related to victims of sexual violence, financial literacy, building enterprise and more. 

Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia

Additional measures have been taken on the ground. Most notable is Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia, an organization founded in 2012 that is led by women and for women. According to the organization’s mission statement, the purpose is to empower women and children victims of domestic violence through resources that will provide them with the necessary economic and social skills to thrive.

To combat food insecurity among women and children, the organization established the Food Box Program, assisting over 3,000 women and children in Saint Lucia in gaining access to food.

In addition, the organization established a safe housing project and documented helping over 100 victims of abuse and domestic violence. The organization provides victims of gender-based violence with access to secure housing and rental support, empowering self-autonomy among women in abusive scenarios. This initiative paints a clear picture; support for women experiencing violence and abuse is highly critical.

Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action Act (BPfa)

A poverty assessment report found that 17.4% of households led by men were poor. In contrast, 20.4% of households led by women were poor. This divide shows an apparent inequity between men and women when it comes to poverty levels. Such measures outlined in the BPfa suggest that eliminating poverty among women is a top priority as strategic initiatives and solutions are put in place by the government and organizations doing the groundwork.

Other problems, including hunger and domestic violence, can be traced back to poverty. It is an all-encompassing term that can lead to further instability in the lives of individuals. 

On a broader scale, the Ministry of Education, Sustainable Development, Innovation, Science, Technology, and Vocational Training serves to help all citizens of Saint Lucia access equitable educational experiences. 

While not explicitly geared towards women, the ministry offers a variety of resources, including Book Bursary Programmes. This program was introduced in 2002 and actively works toward assisting parents and guardians of children who are unemployed. It provides textbooks and builds literary skills to help women gain the skills needed to attain a more diverse job. 

The BPfA also outlines the importance of expanding access to technology. This will encourage job diversification amongst women due to job segregation among women and women in the workforce. 

Access to such resources continues to expand. In 2019, five information communication and technology centers opened in Gros Islet, a village in Saint Lucia. ICT centers are facilities that provide technological services, typically to larger communities.

A Look Ahead

Overall, there will always be achievements, setbacks and significant challenges in addressing global poverty. Increased government support can play a critical role in tackling gender inequities and poverty in Saint Lucia. Continued support from government and federal agencies is necessary to advance women’s rights and eradicate poverty everywhere.

– Dominic Samaniego
Photo: Flickr

Nepal Knotcraft CentreAccording to the World Bank, Nepal is considered one of the slowest developing countries in Asia, with illiteracy rates as high as 90% and frequent natural disasters. While agriculture provides most of the jobs in Nepal, there is still significant opportunity for expansion. Unfortunately, women and girls who lack education and financial resources are often vulnerable to human trafficking. To address this issue, the Nepal Knotcraft Centre (NKC) employs women and girls, providing them with safe jobs and pay to help themselves while also benefiting the country’s culture and environment. Shyam Badan Shrestha founded Nepal Knotcraft Center, a social enterprise, in 1984. The center aims to employ socially and economically deprived Nepalese women to create authentic Nepali products to sell using recyclable materials.

Helping Women

NKC employs hundreds of women from every ethnic group in Nepal. The center sends teams to remote regions to train women and girls in producing goods for the company, which equips them with the necessary skills to work for the company and become self-sufficient employees.

It is worth noting that all artisans receive salaries from the company. The Nepal Knotcraft Centre also offers education scholarships to younger girls from the families working for them. Even a small wage immensely benefits poor women, often transforming their situation into a two-income household and granting them pocket money that they don’t need to request from husbands or fathers to spend on luxuries like toys and clothes for the family.

Helping the Environment

The Nepal Knotcraft Centre uses macramé techniques and a wide variety of sustainable materials to make its products. When the company began in the ’80s, it would import cotton just like any regular enterprise. However, over time, it aimed to create an authentic Nepali product. Therefore, it expanded to using various materials based on indigenous knowledge, such as corn, wheat, bamboo, pine, banana, cardamom, hyacinth, rice, cattail and papyrus. All these materials require different weaving skills and result in various products.

NKC creates Nepali culture using all-natural and sustainable materials without generating any waste. The Himalayan mountains of Nepal have approximately 140,000 tons of artificial waste, which is why NKC has partnered with the Avni Center for Sustainability. They regularly strip down hiking waste, such as ropes and tents, which the craftswomen use in their projects. NKC is gradually moving beyond mere sustainability to fully recycled products.

Helping Nepal

NKC bases all its products on a traditional Nepali macramé knotted design. It sells earrings, purses, baskets, placemats and woven seats. These products are available for purchase worldwide, allowing people worldwide to connect with Nepali culture. These products carry a deep cultural significance for Nepal. By setting up a website to teach and sell Nepali macramé art, NKC is promoting Nepali culture in the international market. Furthermore, this initiative helps preserve the culture and prevent it from dying out in Nepal.

– Varsha Pai
Photo: Pexels

Women's Rights in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso is a country in West Africa that is part of the Sahel region. The nation is among the poorest in the world, ranked by the Human Development Index (HDI) at 184 out of 194 in the 2021-2022 HDI report. Nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line and due to a lack of women’s rights in Burkina Faso, women in particular struggle to escape.

Women in Society

There are different communities and ethnic groups across the country that vary in the way that they treat women. However, generally, there is a deep-rooted acceptance that women are beneath men in terms of social standing. The strict gender roles mean that women do not have assets of their own. They have no right to inheritance and cannot own land or have credit. Women are, therefore, forced to obtain permission from their husbands for many activities, especially to make payments.

Sexual Health

This lack of autonomy impacts their everyday activity and health. Due to transportation and medication fees, they cannot take themselves or their children to the hospital without prior permission. As well as this, they have no power to insist that their husband uses contraceptives. With a culture of polygamy and levirate, there is a high risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and contraceptives are incredibly important.

In general, there is limited access to sexual, reproductive and maternal services throughout the country. A lack of facilities combined with a lack of independence means that it is tough for women to get the help that they need, leading to high maternal mortality rates, high birth rates and illegal abortions.

Women in Education

For change to occur, it is vital to have women in positions of power. However, according to the United Nations (U.N.) Women, in 2021, Burkina Faso’s women took up only 6.3% of the seats in parliament. There are a multitude of social factors that dissuade girls from pursuing their education. This in turn affects the number of those who can fight for women’s rights in Burkina Faso.

Once a woman is married, their time is taken up by unpaid domestic labor. Education becomes less of a priority. Child marriage is a significant concern in Burkina Faso, with approximately 52% of women in 2018 between the ages of 20 and 24 married before the age of 18. It is believed that investing in a young girl’s education is futile as she will marry into a family very soon.

The fear of physical and sexual abuse in schools also influences a girl’s decision to continue her education. This abuse can be from both students and teachers, creating an association that school can result in unwanted pregnancies. As a result, 50% of the young female population in Burkina Faso are not in education or employment.

SWEDD

It has become clear to the government and the World Bank that investing in women is important for economic growth and social welfare. The World Bank’s Vice President for Western and Central Africa, Ousmane Diagana, says that “by investing in women and girls, countries will build resilient communities that can bounce back from crises and adapt to rising threats, such as climate change and fragility.”

The Sub-Saharan Africa Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) initiative was launched by the World Bank in 2015. The project addresses issues of child marriage, education and gender-based violence in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel region. Across the region, 3420 safe spaces have been established, providing vital support. Additionally, more than 7000 midwives have been deployed to rural areas, contributing to improved maternal and child health. SWEDD also works toward changing the mindset of both men and women to uproot internalized ideals about women’s rights in Burkina Faso.

SWEDD works with people from across the Sahel region who have an audience. More than 9000 religious leaders, 35 musicians and 17 footballers used its platforms to raise awareness and stimulate dialogue. Increasing resources and facilities is insufficient if women can’t use them. This is why social and behavioral change is necessary for women in Burkina Faso to gain independence and take control of their future.

– Liz Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in GeorgiaTraditional gender norms and stereotypes in Georgia have led to inequality between men and women. A lack of equality between men and women’s rights has led to issues such as a 21.4% gender wage gap at a monthly level, a lack of women’s representation in political processes and poor education for women. However, there are four main areas where various projects are improving women’s rights in Georgia

Legislative Reforms

There have been numerous legislative reforms the government implemented to help protect women’s rights in Georgia. For example, in September 2022, the Government approved the second National Strategy for the Protect of Human Rights in Georgia for 2022-2030, which includes a whole chapter that focuses on gender equality. One major legal reform is the Istanbul Convention, which the Council of Europe adopted in 2011, stating that violence against women is a human rights violation and a form of discrimination. This was an incredibly important reform due to the high rates of physical and sexual violence against women in Georgia. According to the EU4GenderEquality: Reform Helpdesk, 6% of women in Georgia are victims of physical and/or sexual violence and there is a 14% rate of child marriage, compared to 1% of boys married before the age of 18.

In 2017, the Georgian government ratified the Istanbul Convention, confirming its commitment to combatting violence against women. Legislation reforms are important for protecting women’s rights in Georgia, as certain laws treat violence against women as a punishable offense, therefore encouraging women to report any instances of violence and rape.

Education and Awareness Programs

Another issue affecting women’s rights in Georgia Is the lack of comprehensive education for girls and women. Many girls drop out of school early due to child marriage. According to Girls Not Brides, in 2018, 48% of women between the ages of 20-49 were married before the age of 18 and only 29% completed upper secondary education, 14% completed vocational education and 8% completed higher education.

The ongoing education system reform aims to make education more flexible and modern and it focuses on quality education outcomes. The government developed a funding system to support inclusive education for children of all genders and special education needs. In 2018, the government also developed informational databases to collect data on persons with disabilities, including girls with disabilities in education, to help improve the quality of their education.

Furthermore, in 2019, “GITA launched a program for 3,000 advanced IT specialists in highly demanded professions.” The number of women and girls’ enrollment in the courses “has increased significantly” where “at least 45% of the beneficiaries of the Agency’s ICT courses are women,” according to U.N. Women.

U.N. Women reports that “GITA is also running STEAM boot camps where participants are chosen following strict gender balance, to ensure there are equal amounts of male and female participants enrolled.” Ensuring that women and girls have equal access to education is incredibly important, as it helps them to gain independence to the ability to seek employment later in life.

Women’s Participation in Politics

Efforts to increase women’s representation in political and decision-making processes could help to empower women and encourage more women to participate in leadership roles, leading to equality. Only 11% of women in Georgia are parliamentarians in national and local governments, meaning that there’s still a lot of work necessary. However, electoral reforms in Georgia established compulsory gender quotas to create gender balance in the party list in the elections. Although women’s participation in politics remains low, this is still a huge step towards gender equality.

Economic Empowerment

Economic empowerment is crucial for reducing gender disparities and financial independence.  In 2020, the government introduced the Law of Georgia on Labour Assistance, which aims to support Georgians find employment. Furthermore, it added a provision on equal pay for work of equal value to the Labour Code, meaning that employers must ensure equal pay for men and women for the equal work they perform, according to the EU4GenderEquality: Reform Helpdesk.

In addition to this, the government’s SME Development Strategy of Georgia 2021-2025 aims to promote the development of women’s entrepreneurship in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The government aims to achieve this through “popularising the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), improving gender statistics in state programs, promoting women’s participation in state programs, strengthening women’s digital skills and the capacity building of state agencies to enable them to mainstream gender in their programs,” according to the EU4GenderEquality: Reform Helpdesk.

Overall, while there is still a lot of work necessary to help advance women’s rights in Georgia, the country has come a long way in its commitment to providing gender equality.

– Bethany O’Connell
Photo: Flickr

Gender Inequality: A Pop-Up Restaurant in AfghanistanBanowan-e-Afghan is a pop-up restaurant in Afghanistan that opened in 2023.  A couple of women comfortably lounge across the wooden tables; some reading books, listening to music, or, conversing with others. Suddenly, a tantalizing aroma disseminates across the atmosphere. A cordial woman wearing a hijab and white apron walks over and places a symphony of flavors in front of the seated women. These women enjoy the delight while finally finding a special community of safety, security and opportunity.

Amidst a bustling street in Northwestern Kabul, a small intimate sanctuary is present. From mantoos (lamb-filled dumplings) to bolani (vegetable-stuffed flatbread) this welcoming Afghani abode serves a wide range of traditional and Western foods. However, this restaurant is not your ordinary dine-in. Instead, it is the result of the first step taken by a courageous woman toward a greater national vision.

Gender Inequality in Afghanistan

Gender inequality has been a persistent and perennial issue in Afghanistan. In 2021, despite prior positive efforts against this concern, all progress was nullified due to the Taliban’s inception. The Taliban has issued 80 edicts, including 54 contradicting women’s rights and freedom. Additionally, women were banned from visiting parks, gyms, public bathing houses and constrained girls’ education beyond the sixth grade.

To prevent further Taliban abuse, these Afghani women were forced into surveillance, assault, arbitrary detention, torture and exile. As a result of these restrictions and more, it has been a norm for women to not leave their homes. Women harassment is ubiquitous and even a simple errand or stroll down the street can put a woman in danger. On top of that, in rural Afghanistan, society forbids women from stepping out of the house without a mahram (a male relative by blood).

Societal restrictions also limit women’s job opportunities, prohibiting them from working in NGOs or government jobs. The women’s only chance of employment is in the private sector, but many women are hesitant to do this because of the risk it puts them in. Nonetheless, Samira Muhammadi believes in utilizing this opportunity to provide hope for a more women-friendly future.

By Women, For Women

Muhammadi, the owner of this unique pop-up restaurant in Afghanistan, launched it with a mission to provide women with a safer, more trustworthy and serene haven. In a typical Afghani restaurant, there is a separate family section for only women accompanied by male relatives. Despite this, male threats still endanger women.

Therefore, this rare pop-up restaurant addresses this widespread caveat. For starters, the restaurant is exclusively by women, for women. In other words, all the employees and customers are only women. This allows both the employees and the customers to feel more secure and surrounded by people going through similar circumstances. Instead, these women reclaim their true authentic selves, freely choose their attire and recultivate their public life which has been unethically stripped from them. With this substantial solution, powerful relationships are developed over mouth-watering meals in an elevated state of joy and laughter.

Empowerment Through Employment

In addition, this pop-up restaurant directly supports women facing poverty in Afghanistan. It provides unprivileged women with job and work opportunities in a field that adheres to their talents. The workforce of this restaurant consists solely of women taking refuge at a local women’s shelter, the Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC). Furthermore, many women living on the streets and in substandard living conditions have approached Muhammadi to work at her restaurant. Most of these women tend to be widows or the sole breadwinner in their families, making them desperate for money as they are the primary source of income. Ultimately, this restaurant provides impoverished women a ticket out of financial deprivation and can provide food and shelter for their families.

Today, the restaurant has hired more than 17 employees including 10 chefs and 7 waitresses. Most of the employees are around the age of 20, the youngest being 13 and the oldest being 40 years. However, all of these employees have gone through rough hardships and dreadful turmoil such as family violence, domestic abuse, parental drug addiction and more. Working at this restaurant allows them a second chance to positively invigorate their lives.

Future Plans

As this pop-up restaurant flourishes and evolves, Muhammadi plans to provide more job opportunities to unfortunate women, as well as more adequate salaries. She also wants to expand the size of the restaurant, to host mini-exhibitions for women to display handicrafts like clothes or jewelry for customers to purchase.

Inspired by her own experience and odyssey, Muhumadi wants to continue to enhance women’s lives in Afghanistan. “I thought these vulnerable women should have a source of income,“ Muhammadi says.

– Sai Sidharth Kanyaboena
Photo: Unsplash

Women's Rights in CameroonAfter 56 years of independence, with almost 50% of the population being women, the condition of women’s rights in Cameroon is still dire. Followed by rebel groups, COVID-19 and inflation due to the Ukrainian War, Cameroon is facing gender-based violence. In Cameroon, 979,000 people need gender-based violence services, with 94% of them being women and girls.

Politics

In 1949, under British and French rule, women in Cameroon submitted a petition to the U.N. They demanded the elimination of racial discrimination, increased economic opportunities and better economic services for women and children. The New Constitution 2012 and the 2015 National Gender Policy got more women elected to cities, legislatures and senators. In 2020, women in Cameroon occupy 33% of parliamentary seats, compared to only 11% at the beginning of 2000. Nonetheless, the total time in parliament is still dominated by men, at 95%.

Education

About 70% of Cameroonian girls are illiterate. Cameroon’s Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Empowerment notes that only 80% of girls attend school. It is also reported that 40% of Cameroonian girls drop out in their fourth and fifth years of primary school.

According to cultural norms and expectations of women in Cameroon, they assume that they do not need education like boys. The main barriers for women to education are poverty, early marriage and early pregnancy

Improving Women’s Rights in Cameroon

Some organizations advocating for the rights of women and girls in Cameroon include:

1. Women for a Change Cameroon (WFAC)

Founded in 2009, WFAC is a feminist advocacy organization working with and for women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, leadership and development. Through the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FMNET), WFAC educates women and girls on gender equality and sexual reproductive health. By strengthening women’s voices, WFAC is committed to the advancement of women, gender health and complete service to society.

2. Women in Alternative Action Cameroon (WAA)

WAA Cameroon was founded in 2004 with a vision to promote communities free from gender-based violence, stigmatization, discrimination and exclusion of women, youth and girls in Cameroon and the Central African sub-region. The nonprofit supports young people by allowing them to speak out, discuss and promote peace in their environment.

3. Mother of Hope Cameroon

Mother of Hope Cameroon (MOHCAM) is a nonprofit youth and women’s organization in the North West Region of Cameroon. MOHCAM promotes and fosters the rights and development of youths and women. The organization advocates and fights against all forms of abuse faced by youths and women in homes, schools and communities.

– Afra Amirah
Photo: Flickr