The Pangea NetworkAround the world, women are disproportionately affected by poverty. Kenya is one place where gender issues and poverty go hand in hand. Over 35% of the Kenyan population lives below the poverty line, and women, children and the elderly are most at risk. However, as poverty and inequality increase, so does the movement to help change the tides in Kenya. Nicole Minor learned of Kenya’s struggles and set out to change the lives of women throughout the country. The Pangea Network, a non-profit organization focused on empowering women in Kenya, was born.

Poverty in Kenya

Kenya has a population of more than 50 million, with over 17 million currently living in poverty or extreme poverty — on less than $1.90 a day. However, poverty in the country is steadily decreasing, falling from 43% in 2003 to 36% in 2016. And although poverty in Kenya remains a significant problem, the country has a lower overall poverty rate than most sub-Saharan countries. Kenya’s GDP continues to rise by approximately 5% annually, which is an impressive feat. Despite these facts, however, Kenya is unlikely to reach the goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 without new poverty reduction policies and faster growth rates.

Women in Kenya

In Kenya, women and girls are most vulnerable to poverty. One notable gap between men and women is in education. Of those in Kenya that earn higher education, approximately 30% are women — despite government policies that ensure gender equality in education. One reason for this is that women in Kenya have traditionally been relegated to the domestic sphere and lack opportunities for attending university, which can limit job prospects.

Despite the hardships they face, women are fighting back against gender inequality and poverty through enterprise and entrepreneurship. That’s where the Pangea Network comes in.

What is the Pangea Network?

The Pangea Network is a nonprofit organization focused on “empowering motivated individuals” with “knowledge, skills and an ongoing network of support in order to achieve their dreams and make positive, life-changing contributions in the communities where they live.” The organization’s founder, Nicole Minor, began creating the framework for the Pangea Network in 2005 in an effort to dedicate herself to social service. Today, the Pangea Network is an international organization that operates in Kenya and the United States.

How it Works: The Kenyan Women’s Network

The Pangea Network operates a four-year course called the Kenyan Women’s Network, which teaches participants a variety of skills intended to guarantee their future success. Some practical skills that participating women may learn include bookkeeping, financial literacy and micro-financing; women can also learn about issues like human rights, wellness and personal development.

The ultimate goal of the Kenyan Women’s Network is to enable participants to develop and grow their own businesses, which will generate profit and allow them to become financial providers for their households. Women who participate receive loans from the Pangea Network, allowing them to fully develop and expand their enterprises.

Impact

The Pangea Network has had a huge impact throughout its years in action. For those participating in the Kenyan Women’s Network, the average weekly income rose by almost 40% between 2015 and 2018. Over 560 different businesses founded by participants have grown in size and revenue, 45 of which began only with help from the Pangea Network. Furthermore, almost 200 women have received animal husbandry and livestock training; nearly 400 women have received first aid training; and more than 60% of Kenyan women who participate in the program report that they are their family’s primary source of income.

Beyond the Women’s Network, the Pangea Network provides scholarships for school-aged children in Kenya. It also sponsors boys’ and girls’ retreats focused on empowering children and providing them with both skills and a love of learning.

The Pangea Network is an inspiring organization dedicated to empowering Kenyan women and equipping them to succeed. Participants in the Women’s Network are hardworking, driven and well-deserving of the tools they are given to start or grow their own businesses. The Pangea Network is not only providing these women with hope, but it is also helping to close the gender gap and fight poverty in Kenya.

– Paige Musgrave
Photo: Pixabay

Women's Rights in Yemen Women in Yemen are enduring one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. After a 2011 Arab Spring uprising forced longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office, deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi took power and enlivened Yemenis with hope for change. In contrast to these expectations, however, civil unrest and development setbacks like corruption crippled Hadi’s government. The Houthi movement, a militant Shiite group, capitalized on this political disarray in 2015 and seized huge territories throughout the country, including the capital in Sana’a. Soon after, a coalition of U.S.-backed, Sunni-majority countries deployed troops to eradicate this Shia influence in Yemen. A brutal war followed that has expelled Hadi from the country, killed thousands and deepened extreme poverty and food insecurity for millions. The conflict has subjected women, who are already victims of deeply rooted prejudice, to increasingly unjust gender roles and violence. Fortunately, numerous organizations and legislation are working to advance women’s rights in Yemen.

Gender Inequality in Yemen

Patriarchal norms have long prevailed in Yemen. For 13 years, the Global Gender Gap Index has identified women’s rights in Yemen as the worst in the world. As the fighting continues, widespread instability is magnifying the country’s vast gender inequality.

Educational and economic opportunities for Yemeni women are severely limited. According to the World Economic Forum, only 35% of women are literate compared with 73% of men. While a majority of women receive primary education, only 40% continue on to secondary schooling. Such educational gender disparity, coupled with misogyny in the job market and burdensome responsibilities at home, contributes to women’s shockingly low labor force participation rate of 6.3%.

Beyond economic injustice, Yemeni women face a bleak social landscape. Tasked with managing the domestic sphere, women strain to procure even basic necessities such as food. This is especially true recently, as the civil conflict has subverted conventional supply lines. The concept of males as female guardians further jeopardizes women’s safety in Yemen, as a woman is considered safer when escorted by a male. With working husbands and pressing needs at home, however, women are forced to venture out unaccompanied. Without effective laws to defend them, women are left vulnerable to sexual assault and physical violence.

Years of conflict have eroded the institutions that once might have protected these women. The urgency of national stability has also relegated women’s security to a position of low priority. Even in previous times of peace, however, women had little means to voice grievances and even less power to enact change. Today, Yemeni women’s political participation remains low, with women making up a paltry 0.3% of parliament.

Amid the global push for gender equality, traditionalist insecurities drive men to violent retaliation against societal change, exacerbating the challenges women already face. But the outlook is not entirely hopeless. Here are four forces that are working to advance women’s rights in Yemen.

4 Forces Advancing Women’s Rights in Yemen

  1. Yemeni Women’s Pact for Peace and Security. Formed in 2015 after collaboration with U.N. Women, the pact is an association of Yemeni women aimed at ending the country’s protracted civil war. Beyond its aspirations for peace, the group has spearheaded women’s involvement in civic activism, paving the way for long-term political empowerment.
  2. Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG). Also working to redress women’s exclusion from politics, the TAG comprises women from various areas of vocational expertise and serves as an advisory body. In addition to conferring on policy, TAG members participate in various peace talks. One such conference was the 2018 Stockholm consultation, in which the warring parties arranged to remove troops from Hudaydah, where fighting threatened to close off a crucial port to the Yemeni population. Though both sides have yet to observe this consensus, the Stockholm agreement set a precedent of women’s involvement in the civil negotiation of a violent, divisive conflict.
  3. Keeping Girls in School Act. Already passed in the House of Representatives, the Keeping Girls in School Act would combat global gender disparities in education. Under this act, USAID would execute a procedure to circumvent common obstacles to girls’ education, such as child marriage and patriarchal norms, and to boost female enrollment in secondary schooling. If passed, this act would abate Yemen’s severe educational inequality and equip adolescent girls with the knowledge and skills for future occupational success. Not only would the Keeping Girls in School Act enhance women’s rights in Yemen; according to Congressional findings, increasing girls’ education sparks development and economic progress. Thus, the act is both a form of social reform and a strategic necessity.
  4. Girls’ Leadership, Engagement, Agency, and Development (LEAD) Act. Referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in late 2019, the Girls LEAD Act has the potential to advance adolescent girls’ political involvement and civic engagement. The bill provides for USAID’s implementation of a comprehensive plan to educate and empower girls in developing nations. The Girls LEAD Act, if passed, would extend unparalleled political opportunity to Yemeni girls, helping to dismantle restrictive gender norms and molding once-disenfranchised women into agents of meaningful change.

As the civil war rages on, women’s conditions in Yemen may appear an irremediable predicament. Yet determined organizations, dynamic legislation and a country of women eager to escape society’s shackles are working to advance women’s rights in Yemen and make gender equality a reality.

– Rosalind Coats
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

  Togo is a country in West Africa that borders Ghana, Burkina Faso and Benin. The nation gained independence from France in 1960, and has a population of 7.89 million people. Despite the country’s success in phosphate production, more than 50% of the Togolese population lives below the poverty line. Togo is considered a “Least Developed Country” by the United Nations.

The extreme poverty that exists in Togo disproportionately affects women, as they are not granted equal opportunities for work and education. Togo ranks 115th of the world’s 129 countries on the Sustainable Development Goals’ gender index, which measures each country’s gender equality in terms of the sustainable development goals. These goals include access to education and health, among others, as well as addressing the prevalence of gender-based violence. Despite the many difficulties that still exist in almost every sector of daily life, there have been significant improvements for women in Togo over the past few decades.

5 Improvements for Women in Togo

  1. The maternal mortality rate decreased. The rate declined from 489 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 396 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Togo’s decline in its maternal mortality rate is largely due to the efforts of nonprofits working to improve access to and the quality of healthcare. In a partnership with World Centric, the nonprofit Integrate Health provides training and education to nurses and midwives and employs Community Health Workers to provide health services on the front lines in Togo. The organization also improves the management and infrastructure of existing clinics and removes user fees that prevent many Togolese people from seeking healthcare. Across 13 clinics, Integrate Health intends to “perform 20,497 pre- and post-natal consultations and 2,862 facility-based deliveries.” Additionally, since Community Health Workers are predominantly women, Integrate Heath also provides economic opportunity and medical training for Togolese women.
  2. The adolescent fertility rate declined. The rate decreased from 130.17 births per 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 in 1985 to 88.69 births per 1000 in 2018. Togo is making significant strides in educating its youth about contraceptives, as 410,000 young people now participate in a sex education program. These are significant improvements for women in Togo. The Association Togolaise Pour Le Bien-Etre Familial (ATBEF) is a nonprofit organization that has been working in Togo since 1975 in the sexual and reproductive health sector. ATBEF aims to reduce infant and maternal mortality by organizing mobile health clinics and going door-to-door to discuss the benefits of contraceptive use. Additionally, ATBEF reached more than 870 villages in Togo that chose to sign onto protection charters that safeguard girls from gender-based violence, encourage them to finish school and teach village chiefs about the importance of educating young people about contraception. Since ATBEF began working in the Haho health district in 2011, the use of contraceptives doubled.
  3. Education for women increased while the overall fertility rate decreased. The steady decline of women’s fertility from 7.21 births per woman in 1980 to 4.32 births per woman in 2018 could be a result of increased education efforts. As women become more educated and countries become more developed, fertility rates decline. Although there is still a disparity between male and female literacy rates, female literacy rates increased from 38.5% of literate women over the age of 15 in 2000 to 51.24% in 2015. Additionally, youth literacy rates for females increased from 63.5% to 78.37% in 2018, indicating that younger women are receiving more education and may be less likely to have many children or to become pregnant as teenagers.
  4. Employment opportunities increased. In 2019, 88.79% of Togolese women were reported as self-employed. Additionally, Togo’s Labour law, passed in 2006, prohibits workplace discrimination based on gender and allows for up to 20 weeks of paid maternity leave with job security. However, husbands can still limit women’s choices to work and have control over their finances according to customary law. Nonprofit organizations such as CARE are working in Togo, and across West Africa, to empower women as participants in the economy. CARE’s Women on the Move program encourages women to join savings groups, in which women pool their savings and loan each other money to start businesses or to pay for healthcare and education. Women on the Move empowers women by educating them about their economic rights and mobilizes women across West Africa with a goal of improving their socio-economic status. The program aims to reach 8 million girls in West Africa by the end of 2020. As a result of influence from Women on the Move, the Togolese government planned to include savings groups in the national financial inclusion strategy.
  5. Child marriage decreased. Togo is one of the many countries in West and Central Africa to experience a decline in child marriage, with a 2% average annual reduction rate. Additionally, Togo has the third-lowest number of girls married between the ages of 15 and 18 in West and Central Africa. Although the government has committed to ending child marriage by 2030, 600,000 Togolese girls today are still married in childhood. To eliminate child marriage, the government will need to work to ensure that girls stay in school and are educated about their rights, as many girls are still taught that violence against them by their husbands is justified. Girls Not Brides, a global partnership with the mission of eradicating child marriage, works in Togo to develop country-specific strategies that encourage governments and communities to take action.

 

These five improvements for women in Togo depict the country’s steady progression toward gender equality. Togo’s improvements in healthcare, education and economic opportunities for women contributed to a higher female life expectancy, which rose from 54.29 in 2000 to 61.61 in 2018. However, Togo must continue to address the problem of child marriage, as it is still legal for families to marry off their daughters to receive a dowry.  Although the legal age for marriage is 18 in Togo, marriages can be arranged before the age of 18 with parental consent. There is still work to be done in Togo, to reform laws in order to give women more power over their marital choices and educate parents about the harm child marriage can have on young girls and their futures.

– Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Flickr

 Sexual Violence in Kenya
Sexual violence exists in all societies and impacts all kinds of people. It does not discriminate based on gender, sexuality or race. Globally, it is estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical abuse. However, sexual violence in Kenya is even more frequent due to its high poverty levels. In 2018, 36.1% of the population was living below the poverty line.

The Relationship Between Poverty and Sexual Violence

There are many reasons for and consequences of the correlation between poverty and sexual violence. Here are five facts about this relationship.

  1. Women of all ages living in poverty are more susceptible to being sexually exploited and trafficked. There are at least 20.9 million adults and children who are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sex slavery and forced labor.
  2. Women who work on the flower farms are at higher risk of rape and sexual assault. In Kenya, they make up 75% of the industry workers. One female worker, Julia, shared that the men she worked with closely claimed that if females wear skirts, men want to have sex with them. Because of this, women feel they must be careful and dress “appropriately.” Julia even left a job because she refused to have sex with her superior.
  3. The poverty girls experience increases their exposure to abuse, specifically during walks to and from school. In poorer, rural areas, girls often have to travel further distances to access education, putting them at an increased risk of sexual violence.
  4. Young girls and adult women living in poverty are often reliant on men to financially support them. Therefore, due to lack of funds, shelter and/or adequate education, sexual violence victims in Kenya can find themselves in situations where they are dependent on their abusers.
  5. Sexual assault impacts the lives of women and girls in various ways. Many experience injuries or other health consequences, leaving some unable to work or care for their loved ones. Survivors can also battle mental and emotional trauma, including fear, anxiety, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

Efforts to Fight Sexual Violence

Although these heinous acts cannot be diminished overnight, progress has been made in the fight against sexual violence in Kenya. For most of its history, Kenya has failed to bring rape cases to court and punish those who have committed these crimes. This is mainly due to corruption in the legal system, families of the victim making deals with the accused or the victim staying silent because the perpetrator is a member of their family.

However, over the last eight years, the Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Program (REEP) has brought more than 500 child rape cases to court and has seen abusers punished. Another important component is providing girls with safe space to speak about what has happened to them and building up their confidence to report abuse. ActionAid, an organization that seeks to end violence and extreme poverty around the world, established Girls’ Clubs in nations like Kenya to provide this crucial support.

The Next Steps

While some progress has been made, sexual violence in Kenya remains prevalent. This is something that will not just go away; for survivors to feel safe and heard, further action needs to be taken.

One way to make headway is to end the stigma that victims are at fault for what happened to them. No one should be blamed and shamed for the trauma they endure. Even the authorities have this attitude and often turn accusers away. Instead, Kenyan authorities should make certain that health care workers follow a distinct protocol to make sure referrals are given to victims. Further, doctors and police should properly collect, document and store all evidence in cases of sexual violence presented to them.

Another way to mitigate the issue is to support organizations that are helping survivors. After an instance of sexual violence in Kenya, less than 10% of victims receive any sort of professional help. This is either because they are fearful of speaking up or they cannot afford it. Support organizations that aid in the prevention, protection and response of addressing sexual violence, including such as ActionAid and the Wangu Kanja Foundation, are essential to helping survivors.

 

Moving forward, more work needs to be done to decrease sexual violence in Kenya. Recognizing the correlation between poverty and sexual violence is essential to understanding where and how to concentrate efforts and make the greatest impact. Hopefully, the coming years will see a decrease in sexual violence in the country.

– Stacey Krzych
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle EastFemale genital mutilation, or FGM, is a practice that is most common in cultures with strict patriarchial structures. Many people believe that the ritual is only performed in Africa, but in actuality, thousands of girls undergo female genital mutilation in the Middle East every year. Though many claim the procedure is done for religious reasons, researchers have found that it predates Christianity and Islam. In fact, female Egyptian mummies have been found with FGM. This is a deep-rooted and harmful practice that still continues today. The United Nations formally recognizes FGM as a form of torture that oppresses women.

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East

  1. Where does FGM occur? FGM was previously believed to only occur in Africa, however, recent advocacy efforts revealed that the practice extends to many other countries, especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East, FGM is mostly concentrated in Southern Jordan, Iraq and Northern Saudi Arabia. There have also been cases of FGM in Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The practice most often occurs in small ethnic enclaves where the ritual is considered tradition. It is important to recognize that FGM occurs in many places outside of Africa in order to stop the practice completely.
  2. Who is most impacted by FGM? In Egypt, about 87% of girls are affected by FGM. According to a UNICEF study from 2013, many of them are traumatized by the experience before the age of 14. In many other Middle Eastern and African countries, the majority of girls are cut before the age of 15. Current rates are certainly improving, but it is likely that one in three girls in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti will experience FGM by 2030. In the United Arab Emirates, 34% of the women surveyed said they had experienced FGM. Twenty percent of women surveyed in Saudi Arabia are subject to the practice.
  3. What are the impacts of FGM? This practice has severe short-term and long-term negative impacts on women who undergo the procedure. Young girls are held and tied down while a local village cutter, usually not a licensed medical professional, performs the procedure with little or no anesthetic. In short, FGM can cause death, infections, hemorrhage and severe pain. In Egypt, there was a public outcry after a doctor performed FGM on a 12-year-old girl who then bled to death. The doctor was arrested, but the practice is extremely traumatizing and can cause severe psychological damage in the long run. It can lead to chronic infections and trouble with childbirth. Girls who undergo FGM are also more likely to drop out of school and become child brides.
  4. Steps are being made to reduce FGM. As information becomes more readily available, more and more people are speaking out against the procedure. It is finally being recognized as a violation of human rights. Though FGM is most common in Egypt, the country has made the most progress in the past 30 years, according to UNICEF. FGM is completely banned in Egypt and doctors can go to jail if they perform it. It has also been banned in Sudan. In Yemen, FGM can no longer be performed in medical facilities, but it has not been banned at home.
  5. FGM rates are decreasing. As can be inferred, many women are now against the practice of FGM. However, some more traditional cultures still advocate for the circumcision of women. In Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Djibouti, 70% of all women were affected by FGM 30 years ago. Today, half of all girls in those five countries undergo FGM. Although FGM is still allowed in Iraq, it is illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many people against the practice explain that law is not enough and there needs to be stricter enforcement to ensure the end of female circumcision.
  6. A call to action: According to UNICEF, there has been a massive movement to end FGM in the last 25 years. There are many organizations, like the Orchid Project, that campaign against the traditional cutting in the Middle East and Asia. In 2013, UNICEF formally recognized that FGM is a problem that extends to areas outside of Africa. In addition, the United Nations celebrates International End FGM day every February 6, which is a huge step forward in spreading awareness. The U.N. also made it a goal to stop FGM in all countries by 2030.
FGM is a way to oppress women and makes girls feel like their body is a sin. It is a horrible practice that leaves long-lasting wounds in our global society. Not only is it a form of torture, but it strips women from basic human rights. Thankfully, more people are becoming familiar with female genital mutilation in the Middle East and elsewhere. Allies around the world are working hard to bring an end to the practice.

Karin Filipova
Photo: Flickr

Afghan Women's Writing Project
Writing in Afghanistan has typically been a taboo craft for women. Especially under the influence of the Taliban, women and girls were not able to go to school or learn to read and write safely. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is an innovative writing program for empowering female voices in Afghanistan.

Founded in May 2009, the project gives Afghan women a way to publish their writing directly onto the internet. Although the Writing Project’s existence can only spread by word-of-mouth for security reasons, it has empowered more than 100 women in Afghanistan. Here are five facts about the project.

5 Facts About the Afghan Women’s Writing Project

  1. Marsha Hamilton is the founder of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Hamilton started the program after viewing the execution of a woman named Zarmina by the Taliban. Zarmina allegedly killed her husband, but Marsha Hamilton felt that Zarmina did not have the chance to tell her side of the story before her brutal execution. Hamilton also witnessed how women publish their writings. In Afghanistan, women usually publish their work through the men in their family or the media. This prevents some women’s voices from being heard due to the possible censorship that may occur through these channels. Zarmina’s execution and the less-than-ideal way of publishing led Hamilton to decide to create an online platform that allows women to publish their writings.
  2. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project uses Dari and English writing workshops to help educate women. The project collaborates with Afghan-based agencies to provide Dari and English writing workshops. These workshops teach women different techniques and skills to further their writing. Additionally, the program conducts “Reading Salons” every month. These meetings take place in secret locations in Kabul and Heart to avoid retribution from various groups in Afghanistan or writers’ own families. During the reading salons, women are able to read their work and talk about their writing experiences in an encouraging space.

  3. In 2018, Afghanistan reported that only 10% of the population had access to the internet. Due to the lack of reliable internet and computer access, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project provides many members with laptops and internet access. This enables every woman in Afghanistan, regardless of status, to participate in the program. According to the website, it costs about $2,500 to provide each woman with a laptop, internet, workshops and books. This amazing opportunity is funded by small contributions as well as fundraising initiatives by volunteers and readers.

  4. Writing has long been a form of expression and empowerment. Through the work of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, Afghan women are changing themselves and the world around them. The project website claims, “In telling their own stories, we’ve seen these women gather strength, courage, and self-confidence. They become empowered to make change within their homes, their communities, and eventually their country. They also gain computer literacy and skills of language and critical thinking, which increases their job-related skills.” The skills and empowerment that women gain from this program help them empower themselves and others, as well as change the way people around the world see Afghanistan.

  5.  The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is currently working on an “oral stories component.” This project will allow disabled or illiterate women to share their stories as well. Human Rights Watch reports there are about 3.5 million children out of school and 85% of them are girls. Additionally, with about 2.7% of the population disabled, there are not many programs in place to help them succeed. Disabilities are often stigmatized in Afghanistan as “punishments from God” and it is difficult to find work. These women are often marginalized by their community. The Writing Project hopes to empower them to share their experiences and triumphs despite the obstacles they may face.

Women across Afghanistan continue to step up and speak their mind through the few means available to them. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is working hard to give women’s voices a platform in Afghanistan.

– Ashleigh Litcofsky
Photo: Wikimedia

Companies Fighting for Women's Rights
Women around the globe are still fighting for a world in which they can receive equal treatment. In many developing countries, women are more vulnerable to human rights abuses and others often deny them opportunities to reach their full potential. Here are three technology companies fighting for women’s rights.

3 Tech Companies Fighting for Women’s Rights

  1. IBM: The multi-national technology company has celebrated the success of women throughout its history. IBM has had a female CEO since 2012 and has been strategic in empowering women throughout the company and around the globe. For International Women’s Day, IBM Systems Lab Services created a #BalanceforBetter campaign. The campaign engages employees around the world to advocate for women’s rights. IBM employees held up signs challenging stereotypes and biases, celebrating IBM women and supporting gender equality. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) gives women and girls across the globe the opportunity to thrive. Additionally, the organization supports organizations that serve women in 40 countries. These organizations support economic growth, health care and violence prevention among others. In Ghana, an IBM team paved the way for educating girls in rural communities. In Kenya, India and Mexico, IBM has supported organizations preventing violence against women. Additionally, in Peru, IBM supports initiatives increasing cervical cancer screenings. Through these efforts, IBM hopes to empower and protect women, while continuing to bridge the gap between women and STEM.
  2. Microsoft: For years, Microsoft has used its research technology for good to protect vulnerable populations. For example, the organization has partnered with WorldPop to count every person on Earth. By using Microsoft Azure, organizations can track the location and distribution of vulnerable populations. Microsoft hopes to aid in the creation of programs and policy changes that protect vulnerable populations and empower women. Microsoft researchers recognize that women are more vulnerable to poverty. However, they also recognize that pulling them out of poverty has exponential effects on their families and communities. In January 2020, Microsoft partnered with Care Egypt Foundation (CEF) and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) to launch a women empowerment campaign. Through this initiative, all organizations hope to empower women through the development of practical skills necessary for the workforce. Since 2014, Microsoft has also had an ongoing partnership with the Central Department for Community Development, aiming to tackle unemployment and economic issues through the empowerment of women in Egypt.
  3. Google: Another prominent tech titan among companies fighting for women’s rights is Google. The company equips young women with skills they need to thrive in the tech world and advocates for gender equality around the world. For example, Google’s partnership with Technovation Girls empowers young women around the globe to learn and develop technology that will impact their community. Technovation is a tech education nonprofit that empowers individuals to problem-solve, create and lead. Each year through its Technovation Girls program, the organization invites young women from all over the world and equips them to solve real-world problems through technology. Google is a platinum sponsor and has hosted these young innovators to pitch their apps at the company’s main campus in California for the chance to win scholarships. Additionally, in Google’s Arts and Culture section, the company has created a “Women in Culture” page, celebrating women in a variety of different fields. The page highlights women like Dolores Huerta, creator of the United Farm Workers, who advocated for the rights of impoverished farmers in Central America. It also features the unheard stories of women in India who have impacted Indian culture. Above all, the page champions women’s equality around the world, highlighting many unsung female heroes who have fought against injustice.

Why It Matters

An increase in women’s rights around the globe can have drastic effects on the global economy. According to U.N. Women, there is a very strong connection between empowered women and thriving economies. Providing women with job opportunities increases productivity and growth within economies. Supporting women through health care and education can also protect them from potential violence and discrimination. Large companies fighting for women’s rights have the potential to use their prominent platforms to advocate for women and to reflect these values within their own companies.

– Megan McKeough
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Witch camps in Ghana
A modern-day witch hunt is taking place in Northern Ghana, where witch camps are still prevalent. Neighbors continue to turn on women in their communities, accusing them of practicing witchcraft. Due to discrimination, threats and fear for their own lives, these women have to flee from their own homes. Once exiled from their homes, hundreds of these accused women end up in “witch camps.” As of 2018, up to 1,000 women lived in the witch camps, which act as a place of refuge for these women. Below are the top five things to know about witch camps in Ghana.

5 Things to Know About Witch Camps in Ghana

  1. There are six witch camps in Ghana. Spread out across the Northern Region, the six confirmed witch camps reside in Bonyasi, Gambaga, Gnani, Kpatinga, Kukuo and Nabuli. Some sources state the possibility of more camps, but these camps are more remote and there are not many records about them. Several of these camps date back to well over a century ago. In 2014, the government created a plan to shut down the camps in an effort to stop the stigma and mistreatment of these women and reunite them with their communities. The Ghanaian government began the shutdowns with the Bonyasi camp. However, activists feared that communities would refuse to reaccept these “witches” and the women would no longer have a home. The government has since halted its plans to shut down the camps, as many of the accused witches fear returning to the communities that sent them away.
  2. The population of the witch camps is mostly women. It is almost undeniable that the communities’ accusations that these women are witches have a lot to do with sexism and misogyny. These women are often vulnerable, such as older women, single mothers, widows and unmarried women who do not fit the stereotype that their society sees as desirable. Furthermore, these women do not have a male authority figure to protect them, so it is easy for their communities to cast them out.
  3. Communities often accuse these women of things out of their control. Communities often accuse women of witchcraft because they believe they are guilty of circumstances like bad weather, disease and livestock death. Some communities exile women simply for appearing in someone’s dream. Showing signs of dementia or mental illness also leads to witch accusations. Often, communities’ accusations are based on superstition. In 2014, a woman received an accusation of witchcraft and her community compared her to Maame Water, a sea goddess that lures men to their deaths, because a man drowned beside her. The method that communities use to determine if a woman practices witchcraft involves slaughtering a chicken and taking note of its posture as it dies.
  4. Women are not the only ones who reside in the witch camps in Ghana. Children occasionally accompany women to the camps. A child may go with the accused witch in order to protect them. Often, a woman’s own children accompany her. These children suffer greatly from the discrimination of their previous communities. The camps have no access to education, little access to water and insufficient food. Most of these children go their whole lives with no formal education and spend their time completing chores. While the camps may not have the best living conditions, the inhabitants believe it is better than facing discrimination and possible violence.
  5. ActionAid is pushing to improve the conditions for women and children in these camps. ActionAid, an organization that fights for and protects women’s rights, strives to provide aid for the accused witches. ActionAid works to dissolve the camps and reintegrate the accused with their past communities. However, the organization understands that that cannot happen without ending the superstition and stigmas surrounding witchcraft. Until that day arrives, ActionAid is prioritizing the current needs of the women and children of the camps. Its work includes increasing the accused witches’ self-confidence, teaching the women their rights and finding ways they can support themselves. ActionAid promoted the creation of a network of alleged witches, Ti-gbubtaba, that works to register the camp’s inhabitants on the National Health Insurance Scheme and gain food aid. In 2011, ActionAid brought the inhabitants of all six camps together in a two-day forum. This forum was space for the accused women, children, priests, local government and organizations to come together to discuss future solutions for the camps.

These five facts about witch camps in Ghana give a look into the accused women’s lives, as well as the organizations trying to help. While organizations are making great strides to better the lives of these women and hopefully reintegrate them into their communities, much more is necessary for the future.

– Lilith Turman
Photo: Wikimedia

Women and Girls in Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso is a landlocked, Sub-Saharan country in West Africa. Of the 20 million people residing there, 50.3 percent are female. Women and girls in Burkina Faso are likely to suffer from sexual or violent assault, experience forced marriage, be sold as property, die from unsafe pregnancy or abortion and/or undergo genitalia mutilation.

More than 85 percent of the population in the area supports the idea that these practices should discontinue. The government reformation of the constitution in 2016 claiming to strengthen women’s and children’s rights reflects this support. Unfortunately, women living in West Africa are still in immediate need of medical aid in order to live safe and healthy lives.

The organization Lighting the Path launched a new Women’s Aid Fund (WAF) to accomplish just that by helping women and girls in the fight for life. To gain further insight into how WAF is changing the lives of those living in Burkina Faso, The Borgen Project interviewed Dawn Malcolm, founder of Lighting the Path.

Life for Females in Burkina Faso

While the country’s government has put a policy into motion that promotes gender equality, the women and girls in Burkina Faso still face many unfair and cruel practices.

According to a Country Gender Profile by Japan International Cooperation Agency, when it comes to education, it is “socially ingrained that girls should be doing household chores rather than going to school.” In 2018, Burkina Faso saw a mere 32 percent of the female population enroll in schools.

Additionally, it is likely that women and girls in Burkina Faso will experience sexual assault from other students or teachers. In 1998, a Medical Research Council Survey found that 37.7 percent of girls in South Africa said that a school teacher or principal had raped them.

Additionally, there is an issue of forced marriage, including underaged young women. Families force more than half of all girls under the legal age of 17 into unregistered marriage.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is also extremely prevalent in Burkina Faso. Specifically, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common practice for the nation. Despite the fact that Burkina Faso banned this practice in 1996 and the majority of the population is aware of the harmful effects, 76 percent of females between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone mutilation.

Finally, women’s economic status in the country is far below that of men’s status. This occurs for three main reasons. Firstly, many in the country do not value women’s right to own property. Secondly, the right of succession does not apply to women. Thirdly, women cannot seem to buy or inherit the land. All of these economic issues make women reliable for men for a sustainable way of life, continuing the suppressive cycle.

Behind Lighting the Path

Dawn Malcolm founded Lighting the Path with the main goal of ending extreme poverty. The organization works with outreach programs and finds people in poverty who suffer from a lack of food, health care or education. The organization offers support through teaching business and entrepreneurship skills, which Malcolm believes is the best way to help. “Women and the people in poverty have to be empowered to help with the process of writing them out of poverty,” she says. “It can’t just be hand-outs all the time.” One example of this enterprise production model was teaching the women and girls in Burkina Faso to make soap out of the shea butter readily available to them in the village.

LTP is currently working on five fundraising projects: The Girls for Girls Project, The School for Girls Project, The Giving Hope Project, Empowerment Work in Burkina Faso and Microfinancing projects. For sustainable development, building the school for girls is the main focus of LTP’s future, as of now.

The Women’s Aid Fund

The Women’s Aid Fund is a new project that Lighting the Path has had success with. It formed while Malcolm was in Burkina Faso teaching women to make the shea butter soap. While working there, she recognized that women and girls had untreated medical issues. “Women there are husbands’ property, so they’re not always taken care of. Plus, if there’s any money, [the women] would take care of their children before they would get themselves cared for,” Malcolm told The Borgen Project. She typically saw injuries that occurred from FGM or injuries that occurred from fistulas that had not received treatment. Fistulas develop when the body is not ready for birth; in this case, the underaged girls who entered marriage unwillingly commonly developed fistulas.

Most of the things Malcolm witnessed were widespread, occurring on a daily basis and would likely require more than one group’s intervention for eradication. During her time, Malcolm encountered one woman with an injury she knew she could help with if she had the right amount of resources.

A woman named Elizabeth had lost her arm in a domestic dispute with her husband. “Life is very, very difficult [there]. It’s a lot of work, and it’s very hard there already, so when a woman has an injury, or an illness or wound that compromises her further, it just compounds the difficulty of life,” she said. Malcolm saw that by simply purchasing a prosthetic arm, she and Lighting the Path could change Elizabeth’s life for the better.

The WAF formulated with the goal of buying Elizabeth the prosthetic arm. The arm cost about $1,700 but Lighting the Path decided that was not enough. Not stopping at the prosthetic, WAF is continuing to help other women and girls in Burkina Faso who have disabilities or need medical attention. Malcolm says that even small things—a cut on the finger, for example—can sometimes become septic and lead to death if it does not receive treatment. There will always be ways we can help the women and girls in Burkina Faso. Malcolm said, “There’s always going to be women in need of some support to get some treatment or some care that they can’t otherwise afford.”

 Sadly, things like sexual assault, FGM, illegal marriage and unsafe abortion still happen to women and girls in Burkina Faso. Change may come in the future, but it is likely that everyday women and girls in the country are experiencing harm while waiting for that change to arrive. Thankfully, organizations like Lighting the Path and funds like the WAF are improving the way these women heal.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Issues in West AfricaMany different factors undermine women’s public health issues and political power in West Africa. Many of these factors, such as gender inequality, weak economic capacity and gender-based violence disproportionately affect women in the region more than men. Gender-based social stratifications have resulted in a disparity in the benefits women receive when compared to their male counterparts, and this undermines their social status and power as well. Here is more information concerning women’s issues in West Africa.

Women’s Issues in West Africa

While certain factors do continue to impede upon the growth of women’s social status in the region, the region has made some small steps regarding women’s roles in society. The West African countries of Sierra Leone, Cabo Verde, Mauritania, Ghana, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Senegal have recently been able to close the gender gap in primary school enrollment, making early childhood education more accessible to young girls within the region. Senegal has made even more progress in terms of women’s rights with increased representation in its parliament. The number of female parliament members has almost doubled in the past few years, which is a particularly good start in giving more political power to women in the West African region. Women’s equal political participation still remains a challenge in the majority of these countries, but following in the steps of Senegal could make for increased inclusion of women in politics throughout the region. Even though such changes will take time, the progress that Senegal has made has provided women with more representation for the time being.

Women’s Issues in the Workplace

Women in West Africa face issues in the workforce within the region as well. Struggles with infrastructure and fully-functional public services in the region push women into more domestic and care work. In the West African region, women spend approximately six times more than men on unpaid care work, which typically involves household tasks and caring for children and the elderly. This disparity leads to economic and social issues for women in West Africa. Since their work is unpaid, they often have little to no economic mobility and are instead reliant on members of the family that work for pay, and this lack of economic status pushes them further down in societal ranks. These two combined make for even more difficulties in addressing the issues that specifically affect women in West Africa.

With economic inequality disproportionately affecting women in West Africa, it is important to emphasize not only the issues at hand but also the ways in which people can change them for the better. The economy does not always legitimately count the household and family-centered work that women in West Africa typically perform because people deem it to be an informal sector of work where workers do not earn wages. In some cases, women will contribute substantial amounts of labor in the agricultural sector but lack access to credit and markets, making attaining a profit and higher economic status difficult once again.

Moving forward, people must put development policies into place and carry them out properly in order to engage women in the workforce in a way that will count in the formal economic sector. It may be in the best interest of women in West Africa for their countries to adopt the same sorts of policies that countries like Tanzania and Uganda have already proved successful. These countries along with several others have adopted a tool called gender budgeting which analyzes government spending and its impacts on gender and age subgroups. The goal of using this tool is to better understand where economic disparities arise and adjusting the government’s spending choices to alleviate adverse effects.

Child Marriages in West Africa

Aside from economic disparities affecting women in West Africa, another problem has arisen concerning the younger population. Previously, arranged marriages adversely affected young girls because little to no policies were in place protecting their rights. This practice is particularly salient in the West African region, where the rates of child marriage are more than double the world average.

Now, all West African countries are signatories of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the African Youth Charter and finally the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. These show commitment to national campaigns looking to end child marriage and protect the rights of young girls, creating a great step in the direction of progress. Now that some legal loopholes have closed, new cultural customs must also put the rights of young girls and women first, therefore elevating their status and importance in greater society.

The Future for Women’s Issues in West Africa

Women in West Africa are not simply accepting these issues as unchangeable but are instead taking stances to improve their lives. The development of women’s organizations in West Africa has helped spark attention and change in certain areas thanks to the collective efforts of these women. From grassroots campaigns to highly professional and organized non-governmental organizations, these organizations have focuses ranging from specific women’s rights to even broader agendas. For many, the idea of gender equality in the region is at the forefront of its mission.

While all of these organizations tackle different issues and call for a response from the public in varying ways, each organization gives refuge for women to join together and learn about their rights. These organizations act as a support structure for women in West Africa and help to provide them with the resources to better themselves socially, economically and politically. By joining together, these women are creating unstoppable numbers that are currently pressuring political and structural change to rectify the issues women in West Africa face every day. With their perseverance and dedication, they will continue empowering women for generations to come and bring resolve to the issues that have adversely affected women in the region for decades.

Hannah Easley
Photo: Flickr