Women's empowerment in AfghanistanIn the last 50 years, women were among the most affected by the different conflicts taking place in Afghanistan, especially the oppression of the Islamic Taliban. Indeed, the status of women in Afghanistan changed after having their fundamental rights exploited under Taliban rule.

However, despite the significant barriers still faced by Afghan women, there have been notable improvements in women’s empowerment politically, economically and socially. Empowering women also means eradicating any form of violence, discrimination and harassment against women, which can be done by changing the sexist mindsets prevailing in the region.

In the general sense of women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, some of the achievements include a national constitution guaranteeing women’s equal rights, the adoption of the National Plan of Advancement of Women of Afghanistan 2008-2018 and the development of civil society organizations working to improve women’s rights.

Thirty years of war and limited literacy have produced a lack of political knowledge and experience for Afghan women, but organizations such as the Asia Foundation provided civic and voter education to all those women and encouraged them to participate actively in political life. This approach ended up being highly successful, as 400 women contested the 2010 parliamentary elections, and became for the first time election observers in all 34 provinces in Afghanistan.

As of today, 27.7 percent of seats in Parliament are held by women, which is the largest percentage of women in power in Afghan history. Afghanistan has also become one of the rare South Asian countries to implement a National Action Plan that includes U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which is a resolution promoting women in leadership and peace-building positions.

In terms of economic women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, there are still some areas to work on, such as better access to jobs around the region, especially in rural areas; a more effective financial sector providing services tailored to all women’s needs and a stronger business climate helping women start their own businesses. Economic empowerment could be significant for those women, as it would enable them to make their own decisions and use the resources given to them to benefit their economic standing.

In terms of labor rights, the labor force has welcomed an increasing percentage of women, reaching 19 percent in 2016. However, instances of discrimination, harassment and violence have been experienced by many women in the workforce. The Elimination of Violence Against Women is a recent law passed by presidential decree in 2009 that provides hope for the improvement of women’s rights and their access to justice in Afghanistan.

The government of Afghanistan, the international scene and local civic organizations have successfully implemented policies and laws improving the lives of Afghan women by representing them on the political field, increasing their economic roles within Afghan society and providing them with better labor rights. However, the efforts need to be multiplied in order to strengthen women’s empowerment in Afghanistan at all levels.

– Sarah Soutoul

Photo: Flickr

Women's empowerment in ThailandWomen play key roles in regards to economic wealth and their involvement in the economy leads to a better quality of life for families and communities. According to a new United Nations study, women are projected to make up a majority of the world’s urban dwellers and to lead an increasing number of households. Gender equality in employment, housing, health and education is vital in ensuring the prosperity of future countries.

The need for gender equality is especially prevalent in Thailand where, even though the poverty rate is decreasing, women and children are still at risk of sexual and domestic violence. Thanks to the many issues within Thailand, new human security threats are emerging. Issues include the prevalence of traditional attitudes and stereotypes which validate domestic violence and violence against women, low participation of women in politics and in positions of power, trafficking and exploitation. 

There are steps being taken to address these issues and empower women in Thailand. One of the main disadvantages for women is the inability to access better education, employment and health services. The Women’s Empowerment Fund was established to help women acquire just these things. The fund program, lead by Amporn Boontan, is based in the northern part of Thailand, in the city of Chiang Mai. 

Boontan believes that her new position as Thailand’s regional coordinating group (RCG) representative for JASS Southeast Asia, can help promote the role of women, protect women’s rights and advocate for more protective domestic violence laws. She also maintains involvement with civil society groups like the Thai Youth Action Program where she trains youth in topics like sexual health, youth violence and leadership skills.

The U.N. Women organization works with the government in Thailand and with other partners to carry out national and international goals relating to the empowerment of women. These goals will improve women’s empowerment in Thailand and continue to lower the poverty rates in the country.

– Lorial Roballo

Photo: Flickr


Women's Rights in TunisiaIn the context of a tumultuous post-revolutionary transition, Tunisia struggles with walking a moral and political tightrope when balancing women’s rights. The revolution that began in 2011 toppled a violent dictatorship and produced a constitution ruling Tunisia a civil state; yet, the impact of Islam on many laws – particularly those governing women’s rights – has made implementing the constitution a steep goal.

Tunisia has long been the leader in regard to women’s rights in the region – particularly among Muslim-majority countries. Although women’s rights organizations have campaigned for decades, their first recognized achievement was persuading legislators to make Tunisia the first country to eliminate a law protecting rapists from punishment if they marry their victims.

Experts worry that Tunisia faces an “identity crisis” as it struggles to enact its 2014 constitution without a functioning constitutional court for checks and balances. The constitution promises full gender equality as a vague concept and specifies international treaties outweighing domestic law, but does not consider the weight of current family law.

Amid this identity crisis, gender equality in the feminist sense has yet to be agreed upon as it stands in opposition to many beliefs of Islam. A recent review of inheritance law – which states that a man should receive a share of inheritance equal to the portions of two women – has been under debate, as some women have strongly supported the review but many oppose it, citing their religion as a defense of the law. True integration of the sexes in Tunisia may be out of reach until the dust of the revolution settles, but they have made significant strides in the past decade. The most recent events of women’s rights in Tunisia include:

  1. In July 2017, the “Marry the Rapist” article was repealed.
  2. In July 2017, a new domestic violence law was approved by Tunisian Parliament that criminalizes public sexual harassment, employment of children as domestic workers and domestic violence committed within the family. It fines employers who discriminate in pay and directs the Health Ministry to train medical staff in detecting and preventing violence against women and in schools. It allows women to seek restraining orders without filing criminal cases or divorce. It also outlines requirements to provide legal, medical and mental support to victims of domestic violence.
  3. In August 2017, President Essebsi announced the review of inheritance law.
  4. In September 2017, a law barring Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men was repealed.

These legal strides are minimally effective without a full court to enforce them – even government officials have admitted that laws themselves are not enough. To combat the problems fully, certain organizations have been founded to actively fight for women’s rights in Tunisia. These include the National Union for Tunisian Women, Union of Tunisian Workers ‘Women’s Commission’, The Nissa Group and Tunisian Association of Women Democrats.

In addition to the various organizations formed, two women have joined forces to encourage victims of abuse to stand up for themselves and to talk about their experiences. Amal Khleef and Amal Amrawy started an online forum called “Chaml,” which means, “coming together,” as a place for victims of domestic violence to speak up about their challenges.

The percentage of Tunisian women reported as victims of domestic violence has fortunately been reduced from 70 percent in 2016 to 47 percent in 2017 – a significant decline that should be celebrated. Although integrating policy change with social change in a fluctuating democracy may prove difficult, the results of efforts to improve women’s rights in Tunisia thus far can already be seen.

Rebekah Korn

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in TunisiaA lawyer by training and a former militant against the colonialist movement, Béji Caïd Essebsi, current president of Tunisia, has earned himself another title for his resume: women’s rights activist.

Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, is often regarded as a model country for Middle Eastern countries trying to move toward democracy. In a predominantly Muslim country, President Essebsi has been the subject of much criticism due to his support for controversial legislation regarding women’s rights. However, the president maintains that under the country’s constitution, Tunisia is a civil state that emphasizes equality.

In July 2017, Tunisia’s parliament passed an unprecedented legislative package defending women’s rights. The law on violence against women, specifically rape and domestic violence, became a landmark step toward women’s empowerment in Tunisia, as well as all over the Middle East. Including key elements of the United Nations Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women, the law defines violence as “any physical, moral, sexual or economic aggression against women based on discrimination between the two sexes and resulting in damage or physical, sexual, psychological or economic suffering to the woman, including threats of such aggression, pressure or deprivation of rights and freedoms, both in public and private life.”

Tunisia became the first to overturn the draconian law offering impunity to rapists if they marry their victim of the few countries that still enforced it. Shortly after, Jordan and Lebanon followed suit. In addition, the laws passed by the Tunisian parliament include criminal provisions for violence committed within a family, as well as public sexual harassment. The new law takes important steps to women’s empowerment in Tunisia by requiring equal pay and protection against child employment. The law also includes crucial preventative measures to prevent violence against women, and requires assistance be given to surviving victims of domestic violence.

President Essebsi did not stop there though. In September 2017, he shifted his focus toward administrative orders regarding marriage and inheritance. President Essebsi urged the government to rescind previous law forbidding Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. Additionally, he seeks to allow women to receive equal inheritance as women heirs are currently entitled to only half the inheritance of a man.

While President Essebsi’s emphasis on equality has the potential to empower women in Tunisia, passing a law is only the first step. Changing the way people think about women, not only in Tunisia and the Middle East but all over the world, still promises to be an uphill battle.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

House Passes the Women, Peace, and Security ActThe Women, Peace, and Security Act (S. 1141) became a public law at the beginning of October 2017. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that women play meaningful roles in diplomacy and leadership, especially in regions of violent conflict.

The bill recognizes the importance of women as peacemakers in their communities and the power they have in promoting inclusive, democratic societies. If signed into law, this bipartisan legislation would establish gender equality as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) first introduced the bill to the Senate in May. It then passed the Senate body without amendment in early August. The bill is the Senate-companion bill to H.R. 2484, which passed the House earlier this session.

The Women, Peace, and Security Act is really a culmination of years of bipartisan work throughout the course of several administrations. Versions of this bill have been presented in past sessions; in fact, a hallmark of the Obama administration’s foreign policy was the implementation of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. Like the S. 1141, the executive order was established to promote global gender integration as a means of conflict prevention and peace-building.

A wealth of research demonstrates the successful outcomes gleaned from the participation of women in leadership roles. Women in conflict-affected areas have been shown to be effective in combatting violent extremism, countering terrorism and resolving disputes through nonviolent negotiation. Furthermore, the presence of women in government is critical in the creation of sustainable, democratic policies in post-conflict relief scenarios.

When women are invited to participate in decision-making, the whole community is elevated. Studies suggest a positive correlation between a country’s gender equality and the strength of its economy. Thus, not only would women in leadership promote global security, but it would also fight poverty.

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stands firmly behind the Women, Peace, and Security Act. He is concerned, however, about the current foreign aid budget. The new budget would see funding reduced by more than one third.

He said of the proposed cuts, “The Administration’s budget proposal would slash funding for diplomacy and development to dangerous levels, and a current redesign effort at the State Department might strip out initiatives like women, peace, and security. I hope that won’t happen.”

Indeed, with mounting evidence to verify the importance of female leaders, programs that endorse the progress of women cannot afford to be forgotten in a time of such global upheaval. Were this bill to pass into law, it would reaffirm the United States’ stance on gender equality. Furthermore, it would pave the way for comprehensive global policies that sustain peace and economic security.

Micaela Fischer
Photo: Flickr

Indian slumsMany people living in India’s slums do not have a toilet in their own home. Their only option for using a toilet is walking 15 minutes to a run-down community toilet and waiting in an often chaotic line.

For men, relieving themselves in the open is an option, albeit one with negative effects on public health. Women who do this are targets for harassment, so they drink very little water and wait for the protection of nightfall to perform this necessary human function. 15 years ago, the miserable conditions in the slums of Ahmedabad prompted the Gujarat Mahila Housing SEWA Trust to use community-based women’s organizations to improve sanitary conditions.

The SEWA Trust identified local women leaders who recruited other women to join community-based organizations. These women were trained in sanitation system planning and how to demand funding from certain government programs. The women’s collectives in India monitored and maintained the sanitation systems they installed. Communities paid for one-third of the costs and the government covered the rest.

The program ultimately established 46 community-based organizations in 895 slums, trained more than 13,000 women and installed toilets in nearly 90,000 households. Many women opened bank accounts during the course of the program, strengthening their financial power.

Women used the skills gained from sanitation planning to tackle other issues in their communities. One woman used her skills to convince a power company to supply electricity to her slum. That company adopted a modified payment plan and eventually supplied electricity to nearly 1 million people in India. Many of the original community-based organizations have expanded to become citywide federations and make their voices heard in city planning.

CARE is an organization that is dedicated to ending world poverty, and one of the methods they use is establishing women’s collectives in India and around the world. On average, women joining CARE collectives see their yearly income increase twice as quickly as women in similar communities without CARE collectives.

According to women surveyed by CARE, the five main barriers to their economic empowerment are lack of time, limited access to resources, violence, low incomes and the productivity gap between men and women. Women who join CARE collectives fare better in all five categories compared to those who do not.

The number of women who believe that it is acceptable for their husband to beat them dropped from 50 percent in the control group to 12 percent in CARE collectives. The percent of women who feel that they have control over their income is 37 percent higher for women in collectives.

Typically, women produce 80 percent of what men produce while working twice as many hours. Women in collectives receive two additional hours of labor support from their families and produce 90 percent of what men do.

Women usually have access to 50 percent of the resources that men do, but for women in collectives that number jumps to 90 percent. Women’s collectives are not only effective in solving menacing community issues, but a tool for empowering women in all aspects of society.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

Global Women's Rights OrganizationsIn the fight for global poverty, we must also examine the fight for global women’s rights. In fact, giving women equality and empowering them to use it is a key to a world where global poverty is abolished. This is the case because as the amount of women in the workforce increases, so does overall productivity. It is also proven that when women have more say over the household spending, it can enhance a country’s growth prospects because women tend to spend money in a way that benefits children in their education. Lastly, empowering women to be leaders allows for more diversity among people who are creating social policy, which will allow different topics to be addressed, such as greater provision of public goods.

So while organizations that directly target ending global poverty are important, it is equally as important to recognize global women’s rights organizations for the world-altering work that they do. Here are five organizations that are taking part in the fight for global women’s rights and in turn helping to reduce global poverty.

Global Fund for Women
The Global Fund for Women is an organization founded in 1987 by Anne Firth Murray, Frances Kissling, Laura Lederer and Nita Barrow. They believed that women’s rights are the key to social, economic and political change. The Global Fund for Women finds and gives funding to women who are building social movements and challenging societal norms.

MADRE is an organization that is “demanding rights, resources and results for women worldwide.” They partner with community-based women’s groups that are facing disaster and advocate for human rights. Some of their missions include ending violence against women, ending rape as a weapon of war, economic justice, women’s health and emergency relief.

Campaign for Female Education (Camfed)
Camfed is a non-profit that supports and empowers young girls in rural areas to go to school and even become leaders. Their efforts specifically focus on sub-Saharan Africa, and since 1993 the organization has helped 1,876,214 students to go to school.

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
AWID is a global feminist organization. The objective of AWID is to strengthen the collective voice of women to create global change. Their priority areas are women’s rights, challenging religious fundamentalists, promoting young feminist activism and economic justice.

International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC)
The IWHC views women’s rights as a key component of social, environmental and economic reform. Their goal is to ensure that all women have equal access to resources to protect their health, make informed family planning decisions, and participate in society through leadership roles.

All of these organizations are doing important work to address specific goals on the path to global women’s rights. By improving the lives of women all over the world, they also play a major role in alleviating poverty as a whole.

Téa Franco
Photo: Flickr

Conflict in MyanmarSince winning independence from colonial rule in 1948, ethnic conflict in Myanmar has plagued the country. Myanmar endured the world’s longest ongoing civil war, in which the ethnic Bamar Buddhist majority living in the central valley has tried to control other groups living in the mountainous outskirts of the country.

An impressively free election in 2015 gave power to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The foremost goal of the administration is to end the decades of ethnic conflict, but the complexity of these issues does not allow for easy solutions.

The Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process works to promote women’s rights and gender equality as a method to end Myanmar’s ethnic conflict.

Obstacles to women entering decision-making roles include the prevalence of gender violence and entrenched societal expectations that women must play supporting roles in society. Myanmar’s constitution condones discrimination, with section 352 stating “nothing…shall prevent the appointment of men to the positions that are suitable for men only.” Women are frequently characterized as “decorative.”

The conflict affects women, men and children differently since they occupy different roles in society. Men are susceptible to combat-related injuries, while women bear the burden of sexual violence, damage to property, and mental trauma. Despite these obstacles, women take an active role in mitigating the damage done by the conflict in Myanmar.

Women have convinced conflicting groups to fight in locations farther from villages. They have also protected men and children by sending them away or hiding them and stepped up to keep the village functioning as their men fled for safety. Excluding women from the peace process prevents the perspective and experiences of 52 percent of the population.

Women better understand the impact of conflict on women, children, the disabled and the elderly. The role of men in these conflicts effectively prevents them from being able to effectively represent large portions of society in negotiating solutions.

International research has shown that women tend to best represent marginalized groups. According to a study by the United Nations, women participating in the decision-making process is a crucial element for achieving sustainable peace.

Involving women in political processes is also an effective strategy for countering extremism. Extreme religions tend to restrict women’s rights, but funding and supporting women weakens the influence of extremists.

In Myanmar, women have crucial roles in dealing with and responding to conflict, and the efforts supported by the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process are a promising step in the right direction to ending decades of conflict in Myanmar.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Google

Fighting for Women's Rights in Cambodia
While Cambodia is classified as a democratic nation, the country still struggles to combat human rights violations and gender inequality. The UN has pressured the Cambodian government to eliminate corruption, especially regarding women’s rights and sex trafficking. Government officials have taken steps to move forward in this process, but human rights violations have been far from eradicated. The fight for women’s rights in Cambodia is particularly difficult and securing gender equality faces substantial barriers.

While women may have the same rights as men under the law, the implementation of those rights is entirely inadequate. Culturally, many Cambodians view women as secondary human beings, as shown by the famous saying, “men are gold; women are cloth.” This cultural norm discourages women from being public participants in economic and political processes.

Cambodian women face significant challenges in pursuing jobs outside the home. Most of the opportunities readily available to them are in dangerous or inconsistent conditions, and women are also paid significantly less than men. In high-profit markets, men comprise almost all leadership positions.

Education for women in Cambodia can also be tricky, as families are not legally required to send their children to school, and if they do not have much money the boys will typically receive an education first. Child marriage also creates problems for young girls getting an education, as they are incredibly unlikely to return to school after becoming a bride.

The imbalance of social power between men and women can quickly turn into something not only unfair, but dangerous. Violence against women is common in Cambodia, and 20 percent of women over 15 have encountered some form of physical abuse from a man. Acts of sexual violence, including rape, also plagues Cambodia. The government does a terrible job of holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable, making equal rights for women in Cambodia less tangible.

Sex trafficking, often a result of living in deep poverty, is a huge problem in Cambodia. Women and children are particularly vulnerable, and many are sold by members of their own family. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is the home base of many sex trafficking rings.

While women’s rights in Cambodia are not ideal, many organizations are working towards gender equality. The government has adopted several policies that they hope will lead to a crackdown on sex trafficking. Action Aid – an organization that works to promote the lives of the oppressed – has a plan to increase female participation in politics and elevate the quality of women’s rights in Cambodia by 2018.

Women in Cambodia are living in harsh conditions and have yet to achieve gender equality in public or private spheres. While the struggle for equal rights is far from over, the spirit of change is working in the country. Through the efforts of the government and other organizations such as Action Aid, support for women’s rights in Cambodia should increase, and with it, gender equality should start to improve.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Google