Women’s Rights in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone, located in Western Africa, has long been a question of concern to humanitarian organizations. People have widely debated women’s rights in Sierra Leone and the government has made little progress in gender equality. Gender equality is also a prerequisite for diminishing poverty in the future.

Women’s Primary Function in Society

An outbreak of the Ebola virus burdened Sierra Leone in 2014. Not only did the outbreak cause significant hardship, but Ebola also particularly affected women as they made up 59% of the deceased. The mass female mortality is due to an underlying theme of women as primary caregivers and the country’s gender norms. Historically, women have had no consensual role in marriage and family would give them away in exchange for a bride price. The traditional bride price is even more evidence of women’s objectification and use as a status symbol. Also, women hold lower positions than men in almost every field of work.

A major setback for women advancing in society is the lack of women in government. Sierra Leone’s patriarchal system has influenced the cultural boundaries that women must abide by. The identities of women in Sierra Leone are dependent entirely on male power and male-controlled institutions.

Reproductive Rights

The effect of deep-rooted patriarchy on Sierra Leonean culture is visible, especially with the limited protection of women’s bodily rights. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone have recently been more geared to gaining autonomy over their bodies. There is limited resources and capabilities to enforce punishment of domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape of adults and minors. Another aspect of women’s limitations is the lack of health services for mothers. Sierra Leone has one of the highest female mortality rates in the world with 1,165 of every 100,000 women dying.

With inadequate rights to their maternal health, women have taken it upon themselves to fund their health initiatives and groups. Many women have become health promoters to teach workshops for mothers on nutrition, hygiene, prenatal and postnatal care. The act of becoming leaders of health empowers women to demand change within communities. Women have decided that they will begin offering female healthcare if the government will not.

Change in the Future

The higher power structures must address meaningful change, but some women have already begun to start the change from the bottom. The major changes that have led up to today are the 2007 Domestic Violence Act, Devolution of Estates Act, the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act and honoring the Convention the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. These four acts ensure more consensual marriage practices, allowing female inheritance of property, a minimum quota for women in elected positions and more. While these are major steps forward, the road ahead is long. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone still do not have protection in the country’s constitution and need amending.

The work of non-governmental organizations has been instrumental in introducing new perspectives to the Sierra Leonean government. Evidence of change is already emerging. Women’s rights in Sierra Leone are expanding every day, and women’s function in society is continuing to evolve. The future of women relies on breaking gender norms, adhering to higher standards of protecting females, access to healthcare and inclusive politics.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Lebanon
Although making some positive strides in recent years, Lebanon is still behind some of its regional counterparts when it comes to women’s rights. Women in Lebanon still lack important protections against abuse and violence, personal status laws and representation under civil and religious law. Here are seven facts about women’s rights in Lebanon.

7 Facts About Women’s Rights in Lebanon

  1. Civil Code vs. Religious Laws: Lebanon has 15 personal status laws that are religion-based (Shia, Sunni and Druze) but has no civil code covering personal status issues such as divorce, custody of children or property rights. The religious courts preside over cases of personal status and operate with very little government oversight, resulting in the repeated violation of women’s rights. Because Lebanon’s constitution guarantees respect for “personal status and religious interests,” religious authorities have been keeping personal status laws under their control.
  2. Domestic Violence: The Lebanese parliament passed a domestic violence law in 2014, which includes protection measures, such as restraining orders and policing and court reforms, as well as funding to enact the reforms. The law also introduced an official definition of domestic violence into the Lebanese criminal code. However, Lebanese women are still at risk of marital rape, which because of pressure from religious authorities, is not apart of the criminal code. A spouse’s threat or violence to claim “marital right to intercourse” is a crime, but the actual physical act is not.
  3. Migrant Domestic Workers: The Kafala system allows migrants, mainly women from Africa and South East Asia, to work in Lebanon as domestic workers. The employers of the workers are in charge of their legal residency, as well as whether they can change or leave employers. Labor law protections, like minimum wage, working hour limits and overtime pay, exclude migrant workers. This lack of employer accountability often leads to cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse. In March 2020, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labour met to discuss the reform of the Kafala system, but no legislation has been introduced as of yet.
  4. Child Marriage: Lebanon currently has no national minimum age of marriage. Instead, religious courts regulate when people can marry. The Human Rights Watch found that early marriage can lead to a higher risk of marital rape, exploitation, domestic violence and health problems. Those most at risk include Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon has committed to eliminating child marriage by 2030 and reducing it by 20% by 2020. Currently, the Lebanese Higher Council for Childhood is developing a national strategy and action plan to address this problem. However, many drafts of law raising the legal age of marriage to 18 have not passed through the Lebanese parliament because of religious backlash.
  5. Representation in Politics: The Lebanese government created the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, however, this is largely symbolic and the first minister is a man. The Global Gender Report Gap states that gender equality in politics stands at 0.01%, as Lebanon has never had a woman as head of state and 97% of parliament is male. Currently, women’s organizations in Lebanon are demanding that parliament set a quota that 30% of seats should be for women, as no quota currently exists.
  6. Nationality Law: Lebanese women cannot pass their nationality to their children or foreign husbands, unlike Lebanese men. This deprives children of citizenship and increases the risk of statelessness. The Lebanese government has failed to address this issue, citing the threat of naturalization and resettlement of Palestinian and Syrian refugees as a reason not to change this law for women. The only exception is for unmarried mothers, as this group can pass on their nationality to their child if one year has passed and the child is still nationless.
  7. Activism in Lebanon: One prominent group advocating for women in Lebanon is KAFA. It is a feminist, secular, Lebanese, nonprofit organization fighting against discrimination against women. The organization focuses on family violence, human trafficking and child protection. This group was instrumental in the passing of the law against domestic violence in Lebanon’s parliament.

Many of the setbacks women face are the product of the fact that approximately 2.7 million people in Lebanon are living in poverty. Men, who have historically always held political and religious power, deprive women of rights as a strategy to keep women and children financially tied to men. This means money stays in the hands of majority groups and used at their discretion. However, many international and domestic groups are fighting through institutions and on the ground for representation, protection and power. This activism and attention may lead to a large improvement in women’s rights in Lebanon in the years to come.

– Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Bolivia
Bolivia has a rich history and emerged on the idea of respecting its ancient cultural traditions. As the country developed, it has been difficult to stray away from traditional values that place importance on strict gender roles. The patriarchal ideologies that Bolivia originated with have silenced women for centuries. One aspect of these ideologies has created the idea that women take up positions in politics solely to take away the jobs of men. Here is some information about the challenges regarding women’s rights in Bolivia as well as how the country is trying to improve.

Gender Inequality in Bolivia and Latin America

Gender inequality and violence against women have been pervasive issues across Latin America for centuries. In the modern-day, women in politics continually face harassment and assault due to their fight for parity and equality. As a result, Bolivia and many other Latin American countries have experienced diminished economic growth due to increased poverty rates and a lack of female participation in the labor markets. A 2009 study showed that 63% of women worked as apprentices without pay or were family workers and only 9% of Bolivian women had formal employment with access to social security benefits. However, the country of Bolivia, despite its deeply ingrained traditions and cultural history, is now setting the standard for gender parity across Latin America.

The Effects of Gender Disparity

The World Bank has explained that evidence has shown that gender disparities can hinder economic growth, facilitate an increase in poverty rates and undermine well-being outcomes for men and women alike. The educational enrollment gap is an example of the challenges regarding women’s rights in Bolivia. For example, a 2014 survey showed that one in five female students aged 15 to 24 reported having felt discriminated against in academic environments. Because of this and other factors (lack of economic resources, pregnancy, domestic and care work, etc.), the education gap has increased between men and women leaving more women uneducated and limiting them from joining the labor market. Regardless of these economic consequences due to gender disparity, many Bolivian men, including politicians, have continued to insite physical and psychological violence against women in order to prevent them from taking up political positions to improve such issues.

Gender Parity: A Movement

The Bolivian government originally began its mission toward gender parity in 1997. It began with the passing of a law that required 30% of political candidates to be women. Since then, the development and creation of laws have continued in order to increase female political representation and participation.

Beginning in 1997 into the present day, gender disparity within the Bolivian government has changed dramatically. Only a few decades ago, people thought of most women as second-class citizens with only a 4% rate of holding municipal assembly posts. Today, Bolivia now ranks second in the world for the most gender-equal government with a council which is 53% female.

Although these women continuously face backlash for this increase in representation, this has not stopped the mission towards true gender equality. With the increase in the number of laws fighting against the physical and psychological abuse that these women have faced, these changes have aided in creating awareness of the violence these women have experienced and implementing the plan to further address topics relating to women’s sexual health.

Aiding Women in Poverty

Furthermore, programs aimed toward aiding women in poverty have begun emerging. For example, the Joint Programme on Productive Patrimonial Assets Building and Citizenship Programme for Women in Extreme Poverty (the Programme) targets aid to indigenous rural women from the poorest areas of Bolivia. The Programme aims to assist these women in attaining sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families through a two-element strategy. The first element involves a non-reimbursable direct monetary transfer component that provides seed capital, startup grants, joint venture and risk capital. Meanwhile, the second element focusses on providing training and advisory services to these women. Furthermore, the Programme aims to strengthen Women’s abilities to fully exercise their citizenship and political rights. The results have led to a decrease in poverty rates by providing financial support and financing to women entrepreneurs. The Programme has aided over 4,000 Bolivian women by giving them access to services such as savings accounts and credit lines, among others.

It is clear that the mission to end gender disparities in the Bolivian government is a movement that will not end abruptly due to long-standing patriarchal ideologies. However, Bolivia’s mission to end gender discrimination and improve women’s rights in Bolivia has set forth a movement across Latin America. Addressing such issues will not only aid in the country in achieving gender equality but also help reduce poverty amongst women and improve female participation in the labor market.

– Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Gender-Based Violence in Zimbabwe
Gender-based violence continues to threaten the safety of millions of girls and women around the world while infringing upon their most basic human rights. According to the World Bank, gender-based violence affects one in every three women globally. Zimbabwe in particular is still struggling to combat this issue, but is working to find solutions. Though gender-based violence in Zimbabwe remains a major societal issue, organizations like the Musasa Project are providing hope for a safer future.

Consequences of Gender-Based Violence

Beyond its negative effects on survivors, gender-based violence is also damaging to economic and social structures as a whole. According to the World Bank, gender-based violence results in a loss of about 3.7% of a country’s total GDP. Failure to address issues impacting the well-being of women has also been proven to contribute to poverty. Poverty cannot be alleviated without the protection of and equality for women and girls around the world.

Gender-Based Violence in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, gender-based violence is especially prevalent. Nearly 50% of the country’s women have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Meanwhile, one in three of these women have experienced physical or sexual violence before the age of 18.

Gender-based violence in Zimbabwe is so common that it is steadily becoming a normalized part of Zimbabwean culture; 48.6% of women between the ages of 15-24 years believe that “wife-beating” can be “justified under at least one condition.”

The Musasa Project

Hoping to educate Zimbabwean women about the injustices and abnormalities of gender-based discrimination, Sheelagh Stewart and Jill Taylor Musasa created the Musasa Project. Founded in 1988, this Zimbabwe-based NGO offers a wide range of support and relief services to survivors of gender-based violence. The organization also seeks to eliminate violence against Zimbabwean women by changing regressive laws, beliefs and practices perpetuating gender-based violence.

The Musasa Project offers valuable resources to about 3,000 Zimbabwean women every year including counseling services, legal aid, temporary safe shelters, medical assistance, educational programs and support through a toll-free helpline.

The Musasa Project’s most extensive work is its counseling services, which serve a high volume of emotional and physical abuse survivors every year. Many women also depend on the Musasa Project’s legal aid services and 24-hour telephone support line. In just three years, the Musasa Project attended to the cases of more than 14,000 women.

A Better Future

The organization is currently working towards expanding its educational resources to a broader population and offering programs designed specifically for those convicted of sexual assault and domestic violence. In doing so, the Musasa Project ultimately aims to reduce gender-based violence in Zimbabwe through awareness and education.

Though the Musasa Project only operates in four regional offices in the cities of Masvingo, Harare, Gweru and Bulawayo, its resources and services are making significant strides in reducing gender-based violence across the whole of Zimbabwe. Acknowledging that one of the most meaningful ways to create change is through law and policy-making, the project works closely with the Zimbabwean government to enforce laws pertaining to gender-based and domestic violence.

The Musasa Project’s plethora of resources for victims, perpetrators and the general public raises awareness about the injustices of gender-based violence and gains support for the eradication of this issue. This project and its multifaceted approach to protecting women and girls provides hope that gender-based violence in Zimbabwe will eventually vanish.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Syria
For nearly a decade, the Syrian Civil War has left the Middle Eastern nation desolate, impugned with violence, and, more importantly, divided. However, when it comes to mainstream coverage on the Civil War’s effects, women are not usually in the spotlight, at least until recently. With the Syrian Civil War coming to a close, rebuilding and drafting a new constitution has commenced. This transition period is giving nonprofits and international organizations a unique opportunity to elevate women’s rights in Syria.

Overview

One can define women’s rights as women having the same legal protections and economic opportunities as men, along with an equal footing in the rebuilding process. Essentially women in Syria should have fair access to nonprofit and IGO resources as well as food, water and medicine.

Currently, Syrian women suffer from food insecurity, loss of education, lack access to clean water and medical supplies and gender-based violence at a disproportionately higher rate than men. In fact, in 69% of communities, early and unwanted marriage is a prevalent concern.

Moreover, before and during the war, societal roles of marriage and domestic abuse escalated dramatically. One report noted that “even though the state endowed women with rights to education, employment, etc., society ignored those rights. They saw society as a mechanism that reproduces the privileged position of men through customs and traditions.”

Since marriage is a cultural safeguard against rape and kidnappings, more women entered marriages only to become victims of abuse. Thus it is vital that nonprofits, International organizations and the global community as a whole, emphasize women’s rights in the initial rebuilding phases.

Women Now for Development

While the past decade presented several obstacles for obtaining women’s rights in Syria, local actors, nonprofits and international organizations are paving a solid foundation for the future.

In December 2018, when the U.S. announced its departure from the Syrian Civil War, the international organization Women Now for Development (otherwise known as Women Now) kicked-started a series of humanitarian centers in non-state controlled regions in Syria.

These centers served to provide educational skills and medical assistance to Syrian women, particularly those fleeing violence. Additionally, Women Now’s help centers assisted with:

  • Fighting illiteracy, especially among women and young people.
  • Empowering women economically through training and providing them with support to create income-generating activities.
  • Providing education through classes in technology, communications and foreign languages.
  • Supporting women’s access to society and building civic engagement.
  • Providing children’s education and protection.

What makes Women Now different from other international organizations is that rather than excluding Syrian Women from the development conversation, it is emphasizing their voices and perspectives. As a result, it is allowing for a more effective and streamlined localization effort.

UN Women

Another instance of international organizations assisting women’s rights is U.N. Women. For the past two years, the group helped women participate in a cash-for-work program that taught the women skills while giving them a stable revenue stream. Additionally, the U.N. Women’s project in Syria created safe-spaces and skill training seminars, allowing women to escape abuse both due to the war and normalized oppression in Syrian society.

Regional analysts predict that with a new wave of protests and emphasis on failed human rights campaigns, Syria will either fail as a state or work within a globalized system to strive for a better future.

The Middle East Women’s Initiative has lead the battel for female representation in the new Syrian government so far, both in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ability to win influence over the people and in Syrian Women’s international representation. The Initiative noted in a recent index how “Women in the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces hold senior leadership roles across policy functions and institutions. Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, acts as the region’s de facto head of state, speaking before the U.S. Congress and meeting U.S. President Donald Trump last year. Further, the SDF operation to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control was led by a woman commander, Rojda Felat.”

Reforms for the Future

In order for Syria to build a foundation that genuinely upholds women’s rights, it needs to introduce and expand on new policies. A highly recommended reform would be to restore compliance to CEDAW laws regarding discrimination against women.

While Syria signed onto CEDAW, an international framework against female discrimination, it conveniently left out several key provisions. In the transition, Syrian government officials must consider re-instating said provisions to grant women a stronger foundation of civil liberties and elevated socio-economic status.

Another critical step is to increase funding for feminist nonprofits. Under the current status quo, feminist nonprofits are quintessential to providing women with protection and critical resources.

“This[assisting women in Syria] was difficult without proper funding. Women Now was only able to compensate staff for their work with a minimum wage due to feminist organizations’ funding, who understood the importance of care to staff working in difficult circumstances. When centers had to shut down, and programs could not be delivered, the remote management team also lost funding for their salaries.”

Finally, both regional and global actors must pursue international diplomatic coordination. As stated previously, military conflict disproportionately impacts women. However, international and regionally based specialized committees are already making progress on de-escalating violence and creating safety mandates. Thus, increased diplomatic coordination should be a primary priority.

While many would call Syria a failed state and lost cause for any form of human rights, past and current reforms are starting to paint a different narrative. Now it is up to the rest of the world to decide whether they are willing to support said vision.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Sudan
For decades, the subject of women’s rights has been at the forefront of media and politics. While progress has been made, women’s rights in Sudan still lag behind other countries. Women in Sudan are fighting for equal rights amid new legislation such as the Personal Status Law of 1991, which allows child marriages and states that women can only marry if they have consent from a father or male guardian. Here are five facts about the women’s rights movement in Sudan.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Sudan

  1. Women make up 70% of protesters. As women band together to protest against laws and government officials that want to limit women rights, Global Fund for Women estimates that women account for nearly 70% of protesters in Sudan. The women taking part in these protests have labeled their movement “the women’s revolution.” Although many women have been beaten or flogged, they stand strong and continue to protest.
  2. Many of the laws women are protesting stem from long-lasting traditions. Tradition is important in Sudan’s culture — but tradition does not justify oppressive laws. Laws in Sudan restrict women from wearing pants, enjoying equality and representation in government and escaping child marriage. Modern women demand equal rights; however, rights are difficult to attain when women have a limited voice within government and law.
  3. Women in Sudan have been fighting for their rights for over 30 years. Under the oppressive rule of dictator Omar al-Bashir, women in Sudan have had to fight for basic equal rights since 1989. While inequality did not start with Al-Bashir, he did support and enforce laws that limit women’s rights. Military and government officials beat, rape and murder women for speaking out against years of abuse and inequality.
  4. The women’s revolution movement helped overthrow Al-Bashir. In 2019, women refused to stay silent as Sudan began to rise up against Al-Bashir. Even though they had to deal with persecution from the military, women continued to rise up against their oppressors. According to Harvard International Review, protesters such as Alaa Salah and Lina Marwan stood strong to tell their stories of inequality, continuing to protest even after being harassed by Sudanese military officials.
  5. The “No to Women Oppression Initiative” promises a better future for women in Sudan. As of January 2020, West Kordofan started its first “No to Women Oppression Initiative.” Though currently the only initiative of its kind, this may spark further collaborations between women’s rights organizations across Sudan. These organizations are also continuing to discuss violence against women with Sudan’s government, in hopes of attaining equal rights.

These five facts about women’s rights in Sudan indicate that the country has a long way to go in achieving equal rights for women. But as protests continue and women persist in fighting for their rights, this country can hope for a stronger, more equitable future. Moving forward, it is essential that women in Sudan receive international support for their protests. By working together, conditions for women in Sudan can improve.

Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr

afghan womenAlthough Afghanistan’s Constitution, ratified in 2004, forbids discrimination and declares that “man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law,” gender inequality still persists. Women are repeatedly denied opportunities for social, educational and economic advancement, leaving 80% out of the workforce and only 8% with more than a primary education. Gallup surveys conducted in 2018 identify Afghan women as the “least satisfied women in the world,” with more than half reporting that they would permanently leave the country if given the opportunity due to discrimination, food insecurity and violence. The good news, however, is that the United Nations Mine Action Service has enacted a new initiative in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province that mobilizes women to escape poverty and empowers them to clear war-torn communities of the remnants of war.

Poverty and Conflict

The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in areas overwhelmed by conflict has doubled since 2007, a rate that has increased alongside poverty expansion. People living in fragile and conflict-affected situations, or FCS, are 10 times more likely to be poor. Forty-three of the world’s most impoverished countries are classified as FCS regions. Proximity to conflict directly affects education, infrastructure, health and the economy. In violent areas, children are less likely to travel to school, families are more likely to suffer long-term medical conditions and communities lose valuable opportunities for monetary mobility and advancement.

The Taliban has sustained a significant presence in Afghanistan for over a decade and has remained a constant threat. More than 1,400 people were killed or injured by landmines in Afghanistan in 2018, a number that has tripled since 2012. Mines and other explosives are certainly detrimental to infrastructure after detonation, but unexploded devices can be equally as destructive. Construction projects are largely avoided for fear of encountering an explosive during the building process. This leaves many areas without roads, essential buildings and airports, all assets that could play a role in reducing poverty.

Dauntless De-Miners

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) began a de-mining pilot program in 2018, featuring 14 brave Afghan women in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province. After receiving training from the UNMAS de-mining experts, the women strap on Kevlar vests and sport protective face shields that enable them to search the soil using massive metal detectors. Once a detector beeps, the team member will kneel and sift through the dirt until the mine or explosive is found and deactivated.

The primary goals of the program are to clear mines, educate villagers and equip Afghan women with the tools they need to escape poverty. The team works approximately nine hours per day, but depending on location, mine removal projects may be short-term. In circumstances where land can be swiftly searched, the team uses the remaining time to learn vocational skills taught by UNMAS workers, training that has the potential to change their status. Additional education for Afghan women, who would otherwise receive very little, is crucial to broadening their job opportunities, increasing household income and helping them rise out of poverty. UNMAS also requires women to participate in meetings that decide how to use the land that is newly mine-free, which showcases their growing presence and immense contribution to their historically war-torn communities.

Fatima Amiri was one of the Bamiyan province’s first team members, and she is frequently highlighted for her dedication. She works tirelessly for her team after witnessing the devastating effects of hidden and unexploded devices. A member of her community traveled to a mountain on the Day of Eid, or the end of Ramadan, and never returned. Amiri realized that day she wanted to rid the surrounding area of mines, and she notes that now, “no one says that women are weak.”

Brace for Impact

Afghanistan’s fearless team is looking to expand its efforts beyond the Bamiyan province in the coming years. Since its inception, the team has covered more than 51,500 square meters and is projected to clear their land of mines and explosives by 2023. Most of the cleared region is now being used to build infrastructure or for farming, a lifestyle that boosts community economies and indirectly improves Afghan women’s social status. The de-mining women are recognized for their success and newly respected for providing their fellow community members with safety, food security and ways to maintain a steady income, three things crucial to overcoming conflict-induced poverty. The community’s appreciation erodes traditional gender norms that have restricted Afghan women for centuries by proving their value as productive members of society capable of protecting thousands in war-torn communities.

Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Indian women
The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting women across the globe, setting back progress for global gender equality. Confined inside homes, women are shouldering more of the housework and childcare than their husbands, fathers and brothers. In India, a country where women are expected to fulfill homemaking roles, the gender disparities in housework between men and women are only growing more apparent, especially as more women exit the workforce. For Indian women, domestic unpaid labor consumes hours of their days and limits them to a life of financial dependence on their partners or a life of poverty. In India, two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. With the unemployment rate being as high as 18% for Indian women, compared to 7% for men in India, it’s inevitable that women make up a large percentage of this impoverished population.

Women’s Unpaid Role in India

While men in India complete less than an hour of unpaid labor each day, Indian women spend six hours of their day on unpaid labor. In comparison, men around the world typically spend around two hours a day on unpaid labor, while women spend four and a half hours.

Although the time and energy women put into cleaning and caring for children and the elderly are essential roles in economies, housework isn’t widely recognized as a form of labor. As part of their domestic responsibilities, Indian women must also retrieve water from wells, a chore that spans several hours and multiple trips in one day. Often lacking the aid of technology, Indian women must cook, clean and do laundry by hand.

Because women in India bear the burden of housework, they can’t maintain stable jobs outside their homes. This requires them to rely on their partners. This is in part due to the traditional patriarchal system India upholds. From a young age, Indian women are trained to fulfill roles inside the home. As a result, Indian women are excluded from the workforce, and young girls are pulled from schools to work inside the home, jeopardizing their education.

This reality has only grown over the years, as more and more women have exited the workforce. Over the past decade, the percentage of women in the workforce has dropped from 34% in 2004 to 25% in 2018, compared to the nearly 80% of men who work.

Why Female Employment Is Declining

The decline in female employment directly impacts Indian women’s risk of falling into poverty, as they are unable to financially support themselves. But up to 64% of women said they had to be responsible for housework as there were no other family members who would perform these responsibilities.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people, it’s increasingly difficult to secure a position in the Indian job market, and work positions designated for women are slim. On top of this, upon completing the same job as men, women earn 34% less in wages than their male coworkers. For women who manage to secure a job, their time is stretched thin as they complete both paid work and unpaid work. As a result, they are less likely to spend time on education, cultural and leisure activities.

There are exorbitant economic losses, though, when women are not welcomed into the workforce. According to an Oxfam report on female unpaid labor, the value of global unpaid labor performed by women amounts to at least $10.8 trillion annually, or, as the study suggests, “three times the size of the world’s tech industry.” By putting into context the monetary value of unpaid labor in society, the true economic loss of excluding Indian women from the workforce is undeniable.

In a step toward creating a more inclusive workforce environment for Indian women, the country passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act in 2017. The amendment increased the number of weeks for paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks. But this act hasn’t led to a significant change in female workforce employment. Instead, the act could continue to negatively impact female employment. Newly responsible for covering the cost of additional paid maternity leave, companies may be less inclined to hire female workers.

Combined with the recent growth in female education and declining fertility rates, India’s economy is primed for welcoming women into the workforce. But the country must strike a balance between paid and unpaid labor, a gendered expectation rooted in Indian tradition.

Closing the Gender Gap: One Indian Woman’s Petition

One Indian woman is especially determined to redefine gender roles in India. Juggling unpaid labor at home along with her involvement in a charity for reproductive justice, Subarna Ghosh realized she was shouldering the majority of housework —particularly since the pandemic forced her family to stay home.

In July 2020, Ghosh decided to draft a petition on Change.org and describe her experience as a working woman in India expected to perform the majority of the housework. “Unequal distribution of unpaid household work has rendered the harshest blow to women across India during this lockdown. Yet, women’s care work continues to be invisible and no one wants to address this gross imbalance,” she wrote.

Directing her efforts at India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ghosh concluded her petition by calling on Modi to encourage Indian men to equally fulfill their share of housework. The petition has received over 75,000 signatures, mostly from women who stand in solidarity with Ghosh and relate to her experience.

Ghosh’s petition reflects the persistent struggle for female equality in India, as one woman’s experience echoes the experience of thousands. Only when women in India are given the same opportunities as men will they be able to earn their own financial independence.

Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr

women's rights in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a conservative and religious country where the existence of mistreatment of women still exists. In October 2011, an article published by Oxfam pointed out that the women who lived under the Taliban regime were not allowed to work outside their homes and were forced to wear a burqa. Women’s rights in Afghanistan suffer under these policies. However, as an act of resistance, Afghan women started an online campaign in 2017, titled #WhereIsMyName. The focus of this campaign is for women in Afghanistan to have the right to publicly reveal their names. These women want their names recognized. Despite facing repercussions for their mobilization, some Afghan women are still campaigning for their rights and the free use their names through the slogan “Where’s My Name”.

The Campaign Begins

The campaign started three years ago when Laleh Osmany realized that she was fed up with women being denied what she thought was a basic right — the right to publicly use their names. Shortly after Ms. Osmany started her campaign, Afghan celebrities began supporting it, including singer and music producer Farhad Darya and singer-songwriter Aryana Sayeed.

In July 2020, demand has resurfaced yet again. This time, the right to have mothers’ names listed on their children’s documents was the key issue. For years, women’s rights activists demanded their names mentioned in official documents, including their children’s birth certificates. Similar to Afghan identification, birth certificates only carry the father’s name and even on a woman’s wedding card, her name does not appear. Only the woman’s father and future husband’s names appear. Moreover, the woman’s name also does not appear on her grave. This led the activist Wida Saghari, a single parent, to speak out and denounce her difficulties in obtaining custody of her child’s identity documents.

Progress Ensues

Due to the efforts of these activist women, many more people recognize the campaign, #WhereIsMyName, and its imposition is now much greater in Afghanistan. It is quite a common occurrence for family members in Afghanistan to coerce women into hiding their names from non-family members. The use of a woman’s name in public is an offense, per Taliban law. #WhereIsMyName recently made a big stride forward in its cause. The right of women to use their names is being studied to amend the Population Registration Law. This will allow women to issue their names on identification cards and birth certificates.

Campaign members have explained that they intend to identify issues before the Afghan government and enact rights to protect women. They also stressed that the movement worries that only 38% of women possess Tazkera, the country’s main identity document. Since the start of the campaign, organizations such as the Revolutionary Association of Women joined the cause by declaring their opposition to the current state of women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Challenges & Continued Progress

Although Osmany welcomes an amendment, she says that the country is very conservative and male-dominated. It is due to these circumstances, that many women would still face challenges in society, even if the law passes. One of these challenges is the gender-based violence seen in the country as 87% of women experience some type of violence.

Mobilizing #WhereIsMyName is an advancement for women’s rights in Afghanistan. The campaign enables women and creates at the very least, a space for opportunities for women’s rights advancement. This is a critical step in achieving gender equality in a conservative country.

– Juliet Quintero
Photo: Pixbay

Water Crisis in UgandaWater is a necessity for all living beings, and access to safe water is a basic human right. Despite the world’s experiencing exponential growth in all areas with advances in science and technology, 663 million people are without access to clean water. The country of Uganda is no exception: 51% of Ugandans are in need of safe water resources. This lack of clean water affects the health of the Ugandan people, their productivity and their economy. Here are some of the realities everyone needs to know about the water crisis in Uganda.

The Current State

Currently, 21 million Ugandans lack access to safe water. One in nine people lack quality water and have no alternative to dirty, contaminated water sources. The stress of economic growth over the last two decades put an enormous strain on the land and its resources. Up to three-quarters of the surface water in Uganda is polluted, making it unsuitable for consumption. With no other choice but to drink contaminated water, people are often too sick to work or attend school.

Human waste, soil sediments, fertilizers and mud all run into drinking water sources due to the widespread absence of proper toilets and showers. Additionally, the lack of adequate filtration systems and the loss of vegetation, which acts as a natural filtration system, creates dirty water that leads to various health problems. 144 million Ugandans are still collecting water directly from these rivers, lakes, and other surface water sources. According to the World Health Organization, over 3,000 small children die a year from diarrhea in Uganda. Other waterborne diseases include hepatitis A, dysentery, typhoid and cholera.

The water crisis in Uganda also makes 40%  of Ugandans travel more than 60 minutes to access safe drinking water. Some travel up to three hours a day, without a guarantee of finding water. Excess time spent on water provision hinders people’s ability to work, maintain the household and take care of children.

Initiatives for a Better Future

Many initiatives are underway to address the water crisis in Uganda and the problems it has created. For example, in 2013, Water.org launched its WaterCredit solution, which has led growth for water and sanitation loans. This initiative has reached 259,000 people and disbursed $10.3 million in loans, helping to create long-term solutions to the water crisis in Uganda.

Another program addressing water in Uganda is the Uganda Women’s Water Initiative, which transforms contaminated water into clean and drinkable water for school children. Over 300 women in Gomba, Uganda were trained to build rainwater harvesting tanks and Biosand filters. The simple filter consists of layers of rock, sand and gravel that remove 99% of bacteria from water. Funded by Aveda and GreenGrants, this initiative also conducts programs about hygiene and sanitation to support these women. Thanks to this program, school children are safe from typhoid and diarrhea that could keep them sick and out of school. Remarkably, Gomba saw a reduction of school absences by nearly two-thirds thanks to filters and harvesting tanks.

Additional projects that focus on drilling new boreholes in barren areas and repairing existing boreholes help relieve long travel times for water. Generosity.org has concentrated on rehabilitating boreholes by working closely with the District Water Departments of communities in need. Generosity.org also aided in the development of water user committees, which create an infrastructure to ensure the boreholes are maintained and cleaned through fee collection. Its work aims to achieve the sustainability of these boreholes for the future, putting an end to the water crisis in Uganda.

Looking Forward

Ugandan leaders have recognized that water is a basic human right and understand that better water and sanitation systems are critical for a healthy society and a stronger economy. The Ugandan government now aims to have clean water and improved sanitation for everyone by 2030. Uganda plans to reach this goal by investing in quality water infrastructures, which involves restoring and maintaining clean water sources as well as promoting hygiene and investing in sanitation facilities. The organizations that are providing loans for wells, restoring boreholes and creating filtration devices are helping realize this ambitious goal. This focus on making clean and safe water available to everyone is critical. Without water, there is no life.

Tara Hudson
Photo: Pixabay