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Period Poverty in Malawi
For young women in Malawi, their first period means scavenging for some spare cloth, clean paper or even a banana peel–anything to create a facsimile of a pad or tampon. In countries like Malawi, something as commonplace as a period or sanitary protection alters the course of a woman’s life. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with approximately 50% of its people living below the poverty line. Moreover, for most households, a single sanitation product is equivalent to a day’s working wage. Simply put, it is often not even a consideration to purchase menstrual sanitary products when the compromise would be forfeiting affording food or water. As a result, period poverty in Malawi is prevalent.

COVID-19 has exacerbated period poverty in many countries, but ActionAid is fighting for women’s rights and the end of period poverty in Malawi. ActionAid is an international charity that emerged in 1972 and works at the frontlines with women and girls living in poverty around the world. It has been working to provide aid in Malawi since 1990.

Period Poverty in Malawi and Education

The inability for women and girls to access sanitary menstruation products has led to an increase in infection, disease and a lack of education among women in developing countries. Only 29% of girls stay in school up until reaching Standard Eight of their education.

Around 50% of school-age girls in Africa do not have access to sanitary products. When young women are able to go to school without the hindrance of insufficient sanitary products, the quality of life for women and families in developing countries increases exponentially. Women’s education has a positive correlation to decreased fertility rates, infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates. A UN study ascertained that educating women serves as a critical factor in determining childhood survival rates. In short, tackling period poverty can in turn reduce other side effects of global poverty.

ActionAid’s Work to Eradicate Period Poverty in Malawi

In April 2020, ActionAid donated MK150 million to districts in Malawi that COVID-19 hit the hardest. It also donated hygiene materials such as sanitary towels, soap and clean undergarments. For the past few years, ActionAid has spearheaded projects that train women and girls how to make their own hygienic and reusable sanitary pads. Poverty causes period poverty but community stigmas regarding menstruation can also women and girls to miss out on school. In fact, UNICEF has estimated that one in 10 African girls of schooling age does not attend school during menstruation. Young women in Africa find it difficult to continue school or attend school during their period due to the burden that comes with having to constantly wash and reuse unsuitable sanitary protection.

In addition to equipping women and girls with the skills necessary to make their own sanitary pads, ActionAid also facilitates girls’ clubs and safe spaces in schools that provide information and assistance. ActionAid safe spaces exist across Africa and provide a private space where women can receive medical help, hygiene kits and emotional support. ActionAid has changed the lives of women and girls in Malawi for the better. When asked how ActionAid has impacted her, one 17-year-old Malawi girl replied, “I am able to stand in class without being conscious of what is behind me and can even play netball. I’m really happy and [ActionAid] helps a lot.”

While ActionAid is not the only organization combating period poverty in Malawi, the work it has accomplished has already transformed the stigma. Moreover, it has improved how people in Malawi treat menstruation and women’s rights.

– Nina Forest
Photo: Flickr

bringing opportunity to Brazil's favelas
Brazilian favelas, or slum neighborhoods, are Brazil’s historically impoverished and overlooked communities. Typically located on the outskirts of the country’s largest cities, the favelas are especially prevalent in the greater São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro areas. An estimated 1.5 million people live in these favelas, lacking proper infrastructure and water systems. Crime and police killings within favelas are rampant, relative to Brazil’s affluent neighborhoods. In addition to favelas’ dangerous and unhygienic conditions, their low-income residents often lack opportunities for socio-economic growth; this is largely due to the neighborhoods’ marginalized nature. Recently, however, organizations throughout the world have brought resources to help people living in the favelas.

5 NGOs Bringing Opportunity to Brazil’s Favelas

  1. The Favela Foundation funds and collaborates with countless educational initiatives throughout Rochina and Rio de Janeiro’s slums. The foundation recognizes the lack of government action, realizing the importance of grassroots initiatives to assist vulnerable youth. Further, the foundation has played a major role in the success of literacy projects in favelas, launching a teacher training program specifically geared toward children in these areas.
  2. Catalytic Communities, or CatComm, is an NGO based in Rio de Janeiro that is dedicated to empowering favela communities through strategic advocacy, research and education. These efforts are made to ensure that impoverished residents are treated as equal citizens. A recent project, the “Casa Technology Hub,” offers internet access to these communities. The group also launched a website that publicizes the voices of favela residents who are often excluded from mainstream media. By offering funded assistance to these communities, CatComm’s initiatives have been effective in bringing opportunity to Brazil’s favelas.
  3. Community in Action focuses its efforts on education development in Rio de Janeiro, working to elevate the lives of both children and adults in the favelas. Programs include extracurricular sporting events, childcare and vocational training for adults trying to enter the workforce. Since 2004, the NGO has offered these individual and group programs, resulting in countless foreign volunteers serving more than 10,000 people living in favelas.
  4. ActionAid is a UK-based NGO that aims to empower women and girls. The organization has made significant efforts in Brazil’s favelas, recognizing that female inhabitants are a marginalized group within an already marginalized community. They are often the victims of violence and sexual exploitation within favelas, as many young girls resort to prostitution to improve their circumstances. ActionAid provides therapy and educational courses to empower these women and give them the skills they need to enter the workforce. Each of ActionAid’s programs works toward its greater mission of gender equality, one favela at a time.
  5. The Brazil Foundation has raised $53 million for over 625 grassroots organizations throughout hundreds of Brazilian cities, since its founding in 2000. In addition to partnering with and funding NGOs that promote social and economic opportunity in Brazil, the Brazil Foundation offers each organization unique training to ensure the sustainability of its projects. The foundation’s thematic approach categorizes the organizations it supports in categories ranging from socio-economic development to health. This makes certain that the foundation distributes its funding and assistance to diverse groups in an organized and effective manner.

Since the turn of the century, these five organizations have worked tirelessly to bring opportunity to Brazil’s favelas. They aim to counteract the inequality and opportunity gaps between Brazil’s wealthiest citizens and regions, and impoverished favela inhabitants. With about one in every 20 Brazilians living in a favela, the role of these NGOs is growing and becoming more vital to bringing opportunity to Brazil’s favelas.

Breana Stanski

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

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

5 Things to Know About Witch Camps in Ghana

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

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

– Lilith Turman
Photo: Wikimedia

Health Care in Guatemala
Guatemala is currently experiencing an invisible health care crisis because people have not noticed the harmful effects of the lack of access to primary health care services for decades. Guatemala has a population of 16.91 million, with 60 percent of the population living below the national poverty line and 23 percent of the population living in extreme poverty. Fortunately, there are some nonprofit organizations attempting to improve health care in Guatemala.

Barriers to Indigenous Health Care in Guatemala

Access to health care in Guatemala is heavily reliant on environmental and socioeconomic factors. Indigenous populations, in particular, have the greatest difficulty accessing basic health care services. An estimated 40 percent of the population is indigenous and speaks indigenous languages such as Xincan and K’iche. Most health care providers in Guatemala speak Spanish, posing a communication barrier to administering health services.

Another barrier is that the majority of health care services are located in the capital, Guatemala City, making them geographically unreachable for many indigenous people. In order to receive adequate health care, indigenous people would have to take time off work, pay money out of pocket for transportation and travel many hours to the capital. This is unattainable for families who are already struggling to afford basic daily amenities such as food and clean water.

Cultural barriers also represent another hurdle in terms of health care access for indigenous people in Guatemala. Many indigenous communities have rigid cultural practices regarding health care and they feel that the national health care systems do not respect their traditions. Many would prefer to go to a local traditional healer who uses more holistic methods such as plant-based medicine and spiritual guidance. Sometimes this sort of natural-based health care suffices, but with more serious illnesses, traditional remedies do not always work and patients arrive at hospitals with untreated or advanced, serious illnesses.

Government Funding

According to Guatemala’s constitution, access to health care is a human right, however, lack of funding in rural areas excludes indigenous populations from this fundamental right. The Guatemalan government spends around $97 per person per year on public health care, dramatically less than the United States which spends $7,825. This means many local health care services are understaffed, lack proper supplies and are understocked. This has the greatest impact on indigenous people who cannot afford to go to expensive private hospitals and clinics.

Nonprofits and Foreign Aid Working to Expand Indigenous Health Care in Guatemala

Several groups are working to eliminate these barriers to health care access in Guatemala, particularly among the indigenous populations. The local nonprofit, Mayan Families, aims to provide “world-class care to patients free of charge, including primary care, health education, specialist referrals and all medications.”

The international nonprofit, ActionAid, has many regionally focused programs, specifically in Peten, which is home to many Q’echi people, an indigenous group that makes up about 6 percent of Guatemala‘s entire population. ActionAid worked with many local partners to train translators and hospital staff in Q’echi languages and culture so that hospitals could provide adequate health care to local indigenous populations.

USAID’s Health Finance and Governance (HFG) project aims to help improve health in developing countries and is working to increase access to health care in Guatemala. Experts from HFG conducted an assessment of health care in Guatemala and came up with a plan to help increase health care coverage. Its plan includes funding, increasing supplies and training specialists. This will help increase access to health care for indigenous people as more funding means cheaper health care services.

The lack of access to health care in Guatemala for indigenous people is not an unsolvable issue. An increase in attention to the issue has led to international organizations taking action. A combination of advocacy, donations and political actions can greatly improve the country’s current health care system, and increase the overall health of indigenous people in Guatemala.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr