gender gap in Latin AmericaRanked the third-highest after Western Europe and North America, Latin America has an average gender gap of 29%. Many Latin American countries are seeing improvements in education, healthcare and shortening the gender gap. According to the World Economic Forum in their Gender Gap Report for 2020, Nicaragua was ranked 5th globally, with 80% of its gender gap closed. On the lower-ranking end of the gender gap in Latin America, Guatemala and Belize have closed 66% and 67% of their gap, respectively. While these percentages are promising, the current COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to gender equality.

Looming COVID-19 Crisis

Decades worth of progress toward eliminating the gender gap in Latin American could potentially reach a halt or decline with the impending COVID-19 pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, stay at home orders have caused an increase in domestic violence. A few examples from Latin America expose the enormity of the issue. In Colombia, the domestic violence helpline has risen by 9%, and by 36% in Mexico. Also, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a city in Bolivia, has reported the highest number of cases of both domestic violence and COVID-19. The issue is exacerbated as women avoid reaching out to health services in fear of getting the virus.

The other obstacle COVID-19 leads to is losses in jobs, more specifically, the availability of jobs for women. According to the World Bank’s Gender Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic brief, women engaged in informal work such as self-employment and domestic works are unable to receive unemployment insurance. Since COVID-19 has restricted travel, Latin American countries that depend on retail, hospitality and tourism will see half of their working population lose jobs. Additionally, the effects of COVID-19 will force women to stay at home to care for children and the elderly, thus reducing working time and possibly excluding them from the labor market.

Lastly, the COVID-19 crisis will cause setbacks to efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. The shift in resources can interfere with health services for women and girls, including reproductive and sexual health services and family planning. In similar crises, lack of critical resources led to a surge in teen pregnancy and maternal mortality. Although COVID-19 causes a lot of complications surrounding the future of gender equality, there are actions regarding the gender gap in Latin American that governments and institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations can take to continue progressive efforts.

Thus, The World Bank has outlined the following four methods to approach gender equality.

  1. Improving Quality of Life: Latin American countries need to reduce teen pregnancy and maternal mortality, improve water and sanitation services, secure women’s access to healthcare and close educational gaps. The World Bank Group (WBG) supports removing negative gender stereotypes in curriculums and is helping train teachers to create classroom environments that encourage inclusivity. The WBG is also backing programs aimed at supporting girls to enter STEM fields.
  2. Increasing Female Employment: Latin American countries should change gender norms about career choices, provide adequate child care services, create connections for women entrepreneurs and allocate time-saving resources. In Mexico, the WBG partnered with the National Institute of the Entrepreneur to devise and evaluate the institute’s first national program to promote female entrepreneurs, Women Moving Mexico. The pilot was launched in five states and “provided close to 2,000 women with a mix of hard skills (better management and business literacy), and soft skills (behaviors for a proactive entrepreneurial mindset)”.
  3. Removing Barriers to Women’s Financial Independence: The WBG supports efforts to provide land and property titles to women and to increase access to capital and financial services. In partnership with indigenous women’s organizations in Panama, the WBG designed a pilot intervention in six indigenous communities. The pilot supports training designed for indigenous women, technical assistance for women’s producer organizations and financial inclusion through the founding of community banks and financial management training.
  4. Enhancing Women’s Voice & Agency and Engaging Men and Boys: Latin American countries can support gender equality by acknowledging a woman’s right to control her own life. For example, giving women control over income and the capacity to move freely and have a voice in society, including the ability to “influence policy and family formation, and have freedom from violence.”

Bettering COVID-19 Response

The United Nations has also developed a response to the pending COVID-19 and its effect on gender equality. The U.N. seeks to recognize the “impact of COVID-19 on women and girls and ensure a response that addresses their needs and ensures that their rights are central to strengthening prevention, response and recovery efforts.” Institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations make it possible for girls and women in Latin America to aspire for more for themselves in education and career, despite the current setbacks prompted by COVID-19. Within the next couple of years, the gender gap in Latin America could be significantly reduced by promoting women’s rights and giving them access to education and career opportunities.

Mia Mendez
Photo: Pixabay

hair trade
Poverty comes in various forms: lack of education, malnutrition, preventable diseases, and, in some cases, loss of hair. Hair, like poverty, comes in different appearances: long, wavy, short, brown, curly, red, mid-length or white. Some people covet certain styles, particularly those whose hair cannot naturally conform to the latest trend. Therefore, alternatives such as natural or synthetic hair stand in as solutions. For years, India was the primary provider of natural hair to African American women in the United States. However, in recent years, Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country riddled with poverty, took the spotlight, sending hundreds of locks of hair to America, Europe, South Africa and Nigeria, with the American market accounting for 80% of sales in the hair trade industry. Eyes dote upon these pristine locks, which fall into consumers’ hands at a reasonable price, but the hair trade rarely comes at a fair price to the proprietor.

Injustice in the Industry

In Cambodia, women’s hair typically sells for $8 to $30, depending on the length of the lock. Companies then clean, sew and sell it for an average of an outstanding $500 in the United States. The hair that sells online and in American shops generally come from the heads of poor Khmer women. These women often experience coercion to sell their hair for an unfair price. These women are unaware of the value of their hair and do not know how to barter. In return, the women end up with split ends, bald spots, jagged edges and low self-esteem.

Poverty in Cambodia

Poverty forces unwanted decisions. It includes numerous losses, such as the loss of hair, which signifies beauty and strength. However, the blazing light of poverty is beginning to fade in Cambodia. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Cambodia had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. In fact, over the course of the past 20 years, Cambodia has reduced its poverty level by half. Infant mortality rates have decreased and primary education enrollment has increased. Statistically speaking, Cambodia is on the rise.

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) have played an instrumental role in the economic climb. One NGO, Open Arms, provides vocational training through various methods, including hairdressing and salon maintenance. Through Open Arms, women, who once had to sell their hair to make financial ends meet, now have the privilege of empowering other women through the simplicity of a haircut.

The shift in the country’s economy has shed light not only on Cambodia’s best but also on her worst, which includes the hair trade industry. With the injustice of the hair trade industry making the pages of prominent news outlets, such as NBC, there is potential for change. After all, awareness is the building block for action. While Cambodia is on an uphill climb, she still has a long way to go. However, she is moving in a positive direction, gaining prominence with each step she takes.

Chatham Rayne Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Sisters Tackle Period Poverty in FijiTwo teenage sisters are working to tackle period poverty in Fiji. AnnMary and Faith Raduva, 16- and 13-year-old sisters, launched the Lagilagi Relief Campaign to help people who are unable to afford sanitary pads and tampons. In the aftermath of the recent Cyclone Harold and the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sisters noticed a shortage of sanitary pads had resulted in a spike in prices. The sisters started their campaign so that everyone who needed period products would be able to get them, regardless of their financial struggles.

The Current State of Period Poverty in Fiji

Though Fiji has experienced fewer than 50 cases of COVID-19, the global pandemic has impacted Fiji’s tourism industry, in which approximately 17% of native Fijians work. Since the pandemic, imports to the island nation have decreased, and Fijian women report that the cost of pads has gone up FJD $3, or 1.39 USD. This makes them more difficult to purchase, especially on a minimum wage salary.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only disaster Fijians have faced in 2020. In April, Cyclone Harold ravaged Fiji as a category four tropical storm. The cyclone caused major flooding and destroyed homes, schools and farms on multiple Fijian islands, including Viti Levu, the largest island of Fiji.

AnnMary Raduva said to Radio New Zealand that, for people who are currently out of work, free period products mean they can save those valuable dollars to purchase other necessities for their families. The Raduva sisters told the station that no one should have to choose between food for their loved ones or menstrual products.

How the Lagilagi Relief Campaign Is Helping

Since the cyclone, the Raduva sisters have put together over 300 of their “dignity kits,” each containing two packages of menstrual products, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bar of soap. When they began, the sisters used solely their own time and money to compile the dignity kits, but they have since received donations from supporters and loved ones to help with their campaign.

The sisters also caught the attention of Asaleo Care Fiji, an Australian-based hygiene company that produces Libra-brand pads and tampons. The company donated over one thousand menstrual products to the Lagilagi Relief Campaign. Thanks to generous donations like these, the Lagilagi Relief Campaign will produce an additional 600 dignity kits for people struggling with period poverty in Fiji.

The Next Steps to End Period Poverty in Fiji

Though the Lagilagi Relief Campaign has helped hundreds, AnnMary Raduva is still advocating for systematic change to get to the root of period poverty in Fiji. She wrote in an opinion piece in the Fiji Sun, “Period poverty is widespread… and the taboo nature of menstruation prevents women and girls from talking about the problem.” Raduva praised New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for making menstrual pads free for all school-aged girls, and she encouraged Fiji and other countries to follow New Zealand’s lead.

In an interview with RNZ Pacific, Raduva stated that the Lagilagi Relief Campaign would continue to fight period poverty in Fiji. One way they hope to improve their dignity kits is by sewing washable pads to eliminate the need for disposable pads. Additionally, the sisters are taking their campaign to the government, asking Fijian leaders to invest in free sanitary care products for those who can’t afford them. This is in the hopes that period poverty in Fiji will no longer stand in the way of girls’ education and women’s rights.

– Jackie McMahon
Photo: Pixabay

Garment Industry in Bangladesh
The garment industry in Bangladesh is the number one business in the country, accounting for 80% of the country’s exports. Four out of five of the 4.4 million workers employed in the garment industry in Bangladesh are women, so one can often consider issues facing this industry to be feminist issues. Here are five facts about the garment industry in Bangladesh including how they relate to feminism.

5 Facts About the Garment Industry in Bangladesh

  1. The garment industry in Bangladesh is huge. As previously stated, the garment industry is the number one business in the country. Bangladesh is the second-largest individual country in the world for apparel manufacturing, second only to China. H&M, Target and Marks and Spencer are among the global brands that contract with garment factories in Bangladesh for clothing production.
  2. The minimum wage is not a living wage. The average garment industry worker will work for 12 hours a day and make about $95 a month. The majority of these workers are women who support several relatives and live paycheck to paycheck. According to an international aid group Oxfam, only 2% of the price of an article of clothing that a person purchases in Australia go to the worker who made it. By contrast, a top fashion industry CEO will make in four days what a Bangladeshi garment factory worker will make in a lifetime.
  3. The garment industry in Bangladesh has a history of disaster. Two garment factory disasters, one in 2012 and one in 2013, left almost 1,200 garment factory workers dead. Following these incidents, many changes occurred to improve labor regulations and safety conditions in the garment factories. Many companies contracting with these factories also stepped up, paying full wages to workers unable to return, as well as providing compensation to injured workers and families of those who had died.
  4. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the garment industry in Bangladesh hard. Millions of workers are unemployed due to the global pandemic. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer’s Export Association (BGMEA) reported that 1,025 factories experienced cancellations of export orders totaling 864.17 million items worth $2.81 billion. The BGMEA president also reported a 50% decrease in orders and does not expect the sales to bounce back for at least another year. Although Bangladeshi law requires employers to pay severance, few actually do. There are no unemployment benefits in Bangladesh. Many displaced garment workers fear that they will die of starvation if they do not die of COVID-19 first.
  5. Pre-existing shortcomings of the Bangladeshi garment industry are being highlighted. Longstanding issues of the industry include a lack of unity among the 16 trade unions, political pressure by industry owners and big brands, loopholes in the country’s labor laws and a disconnect between a practical living wage and the legal minimum wage. After most factories shut down because of COVID-19, the Bangladeshi government issued a $600 million bailout for all manufacturing industries in Bangladesh. The garment sector received the majority of this, but the amount barely covered about a month’s salary for all the workers in the garment industry.

Despite the seemingly dire state of the garment industry in Bangladesh in the face of constant poverty coupled with a global pandemic, some are making many efforts and are continuing to implement them in order to better the industry. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has launched many efforts to better the garment industry in Bangladesh since the disasters of 2012 and 2013. One of these efforts is called the Gender Equality and Returns (GEAR) program which offers career progression opportunities for female sewing operators. They receive training in the soft and technical skills necessary for them to assume supervisory positions. The program also trains managers on how to select, promote and support female workers in the industry. Since the launch of this program, IFC has trained over 140 female sewing operators in 28 factories, 60% of whom received promotion weeks after completing the training. Remake, a nonprofit in San Francisco that aims to make the global fashion industry more humane and environmentally sustainable, has launched another effort. Recently, Remake has pressured big brands to pay back contractors in Bangladesh for whatever they ordered before the pandemic. Of these brands, 16 have already agreed to do so.

Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Flickr

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