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COVID-19 in Colombia
Officials have reported 16,295 cases of COVID-19 in Colombia and 592 deaths as of May 19, 2020. In an effort to contain the virus, the government has closed all international travel. It has also recently extended its nationwide stay-at-home order through May 25. Testing is available at the Colombian National Institute of Health facilities.

Most public locations remain closed. Individuals over the age of 70 will need to self-isolate until at least the end of May 2020. Municipal authorities allow one hour per day of exercise, at prescribed times, for individuals ages 18 to 60. Though the virus poses a nationwide public health threat, here are three particularly at-risk groups in Colombia.

COVID-19 in Colombia: 3 At-Risk Groups

  1. Indigenous Peoples: With historically limited access to food, shelter and health care, indigenous communities on the outskirts of cities and towns remain unprepared for the pandemic. A scarcity of clean water and hygiene products has left many without the means to maintain personal cleanliness and prevent infection. In addition, some of these semi-nomadic groups are now at risk of starvation. Due to quarantine restrictions, indigenous communities cannot move around to access their means of subsistence. They may be unable to grow their own food or survive by working temporary jobs. Organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) are working to raise awareness about this urgent issue and garner support from Colombian authorities. Along with the organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Colombian Ministry of the Interior, AI petitioned the government to deliver food and supplies to at-risk indigenous groups. In response to these efforts, Colombian officials initiated a campaign to provide indigenous communities with food and supplies. The first round of deliveries went out in April 2020 but still left many without aid. AI and partner organizations will continue working with leaders of the campaign to reach more people in future deliveries.
  2. Refugees: Venezuelan refugees are another group at high risk due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Colombia. The virus has compounded instability from low wages and rampant homelessness. Many have lost temporary jobs as economic concerns heighten nationwide. With fear and social unrest on the rise, refugees also face increased stigmatization. Some states, for example, are forcibly returning refugees in response to the virus. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Migrant Organization (IOM) have instigated a call to action. Eduardo Stein, joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, explained in an April 2020 statement that “COVID-19 has brought many aspects of life to a standstill – but the humanitarian implications of this crisis have not ceased and our concerted action remains more necessary than ever.” U.N. representatives are seeking out innovative ways to protect Colombia’s migrant population and provide refugees with information, clean water and sanitation. Some organizations have also set up isolation and observation spaces for those who have tested positive. Others, including the World Health Organization (WHO), are distributing food and supplies to refugees and their host communities.
  3. Coffee Farmers: As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout South America and the world, Colombian coffee farmers are grappling with new economic uncertainties. Since extreme terrain limits the use of mechanized equipment, these farmers tend to rely on manual labor. In a typical year, some farms hire between 40% and 50% of their workforce from migrant populations. Now, however, travel restrictions have left many with a shortage of manpower. Large-scale farms are seeking out unemployed retail and hospitality workers from local areas, offering pay rates at a 10% to 20% increase. On smaller farms, family members can manage the crops. However, medium-sized operations, in desperate need of labor and unable to match the wages of larger competitors, are feeling a significant strain. Even the largest farms could struggle to meet their expected harvest in 2020. Public health officials have ordered strict distancing measures in the fields, which reduces picking capacity. Though disruptive in the short term, these efforts should help contain the spread of the virus and allow farmers to resume full operation as soon as possible.

COVID-19 in Colombia has undergone rapid growth, bringing economic and social challenges in its train. Now more than ever, it is incumbent upon world leaders to support vulnerable populations in Colombia and help the nation emerge from this world crisis.

– Katie Painter
Photo: Flickr

how to help people fleeing violence in central america
Central America is currently facing a growing and uncontrollable issue of violence and corruption. Many innocent civilians, in search of more stable living conditions, have decided to attempt to escape the devastating violence of the region. However, considering the various situations in nations like Venezuela and Colombia worsening, a large number of migrants are journeying toward the safety of the United States. In recent years, violence has run rampant in Central America and, specifically, the Northern Triangle (the region comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). Drug cartels and gangs have taken over, perpetuating corruption and violence that has crippled the region’s economy and political stability. The situation seems bleak, but here is how to help people fleeing violence in Central America.

Violence in the Northern Triangle

First, it is crucial to understand the violence occurring in the Northern Triangle. Specifically, two well-known gangs are to blame for much of the violence and conflict in the region. MS-13 and Barrio 18 have grown to control most of the crime and extortion rackets in Central America. These criminal organizations heavily involve themselves in drug trafficking as well, increasing the prevalence of violence and death in the region. According to InSight Crime, a foundation that focuses on the analysis of crime and threats to national and citizen security and safety, 47.4 percent of homicides in Guatemala in 2015 related to gangs or organized crime. On top of that, 49 percent of other homicides had unknown motives and perpetrators between 2012 and 2015.

The third country comprising the Northern Triangle, El Salvador, has also fallen victim to this festering cycle of violence and crime. Since 2015, gang violence alone has resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people in El Salvador, and to this day, innocent civilians are still trying to flee this volatility and corruption.

How Organizations are Helping

That said, there is still hope for the desperate refugees who have been displaced from the region. Organizations like The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International have developed programs by which people can donate money and garner support for the humanitarian crisis in Central America. UNHCR and Amnesty International have done extensive work to analyze migrations from the Northern Triangle, chronicling why and how people are fleeing from the region. The organizations have also called upon various nations and leaders, such as the United States, to provide more aid to this desperate region through financial appeals processes and garnering support from the general public.

How Anyone Can Help

Those looking for how to help people fleeing violence in Central America can do so by emailing and calling their local representatives in Congress in support of the rejection of any proposed cuts to foreign assistance going to the Northern Triangle countries in Central America. It is as easy as sending an email or making a quick phone call, but the impact of these small gestures can have tremendous effects on policymakers, as they all must consider the ideas and sentiments of their constituents.

By reaching out to policymakers and creating more awareness regarding this growing issue, foreign aid will eventually reach the Northern Triangle. Though the proliferation of political instability and gang violence in the region makes for a bleak situation, foreign aid facilitated by active public engagement can have a positive impact on the people fleeing violence in Central America.

– Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

fourngoadvocacygroups
When it comes to encouraging global change, advocacy groups are an essential piece of the puzzle. Advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations (NGO) are organizations that support a cause politically, legally, or through other means of facilitation. In the fight against global poverty, and many other worldwide maladies, here are four NGO advocacy groups.

Advocates for International Development

Advocates for International Development, otherwise known as Lawyers Eradicating Poverty, is an advocacy group and charity that supports global change through a legal lens. This organization recognizes that developing nations may not have proper access to legal expertise and that in order to secure sustainable development, legal services need to be available everywhere.

Advocates for International Development provides pro bono legal advice, access to lawyers and law firms, law and development training programs and many more legal services. This organization’s reach has spread to over 100 legal jurisdictions worldwide, with a network of over 53,000 lawyers at the NGO’s disposal.

With its goals based on recent U.N. initiatives, Advocates for International Development aims to see the world ridden of extreme poverty by 2030.

MADRE

MADRE advocates for female involvement in policy-making and legislative decisions worldwide. MADRE also provides grants and donations to smaller women’s advocacy groups, having donated over $52 million to those groups since MADRE’s founding in 1983. This organization recognizes unequal representation in legal processes across the globe and fights to ensure that society hears all voices.

MADRE also works alongside the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law to provide quality legal services to women in need. Together, these entities use law-based advocacy to ensure the international security of human rights and to correct any human rights violations.

As of 2019, MADRE and CUNY School of Law have drafted a successful treaty, demanding the redefinition of gender in the eyes of the United Nations General Assembly’s Sixth Committee. This redefinition will pose to protect the rights of all genders in future international human rights disputes.

The Global Health Council

The Global Health Council advocates for global health awareness and legislation to pass through the U.S. Congress. On top of securing strong global health policies, this organization focuses on preventing premature death in children and adolescents worldwide. The Global Health Council also facilitates smaller organizations, working with them to achieve goals beyond the scope of U.S. Congress.

The Global Health Council is one of the world’s largest membership-based global health advocacy groups. This organization has over 100,000 members, with branches in over 150 countries. With the help of the Global Health Council and all its members, infant mortality has reduced by 50 percent worldwide and maternal mortality has reduced by 43 percent.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International is an NGO that advocates for the international security of basic human rights. Amnesty International gathers its information through direct research, sending crisis response teams across regions worldwide to record and report human rights violations. From this organization’s research, activists gain the necessary fuel to push for the protection of human rights everywhere.

One of the world’s largest grassroots human rights organization, Amnesty International has more than seven million members and offices in more than seventy nations. For upwards of fifty years, this organization has been an essential consultant to the United Nations for international human rights policies.

Amnesty International has made major humanitarian strides, such as helping free 153 falsely imprisoned people worldwide in 2018 alone, and influence international laws surrounding refugees, the death penalty and many other human rights issues.

There are countless more organizations worldwide fighting to make the world a better place. These four NGO advocacy groups are just a few examples of what public support and mobilization can achieve.

– Suzette Shultz
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

corruption in tajikistan
Tajikistan is a small country in Central Asia with a population of 8.92 million people. Corruption in Tajikistan is widespread and infiltrates all levels of society. Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, has been in power since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There is almost no political renewal and a small number of the elite class control political and economic relations.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) made a report on corruption in Tajikistan which found that anti-corruption legislation and institutions lack funding and support in the country. The report also found that there have been no major improvements introduced to Tajik legislation to combat corruption as international standards require.

Daily Corruption

Corruption in Tajikistan affects people on a day to day basis, whether dealing with police, traffic guards or even public services. A public opinion survey that UNDP and the Centre for Strategic Studies conducted in 2010 found that 70 percent of the respondents had either paid a bribe or wanted to despite an inability to afford it. The survey showed that farmers and entrepreneurs are the two segments of society that are most vulnerable to petty, day to day corruption.

Citizens suffer daily police corruption that the large networks of organized crime and drug trafficking in the region only heighten. Some view the police and traffic guards as some of the most corrupt state institutions in the country. The same public opinion survey found that 90 percent of the respondents recognized that they experienced corruption when stopped by traffic guards and that these confrontations happen regularly. Traffic corruption can include an authority pulling someone over for speeding, asking them to pay a bribe to avoid a ticket and threatening jail time if the individual does not pay the bribe. Traffic guards will stop people for speeding even if they were at the speed limit, simply to pocket bribed money.

Political Corruption

Political corruption in Tajikistan is also widespread. All of its elections since gaining independence from the Soviet Union do not qualify as democratic electoral processes as international organizations such as the United Nations observed. The Tajik government functions heavily on patronage networks and family ties. Many of the President’s family members and allies hold political positions. For example, his son, Rustam Emomali, is the mayor of Dushanbe and is among the top 10 most influential individuals in Tajikistan.

Solutions

The Tajik government has taken some steps to combat domestic corruption that infiltrates all levels of society. For example, it adopted the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and anti-corruption legislation. The country still lacks many important factors that are essential to cracking down on corruption such as widespread access to information and an independent audit agency, however, international pressures could greatly improve political corruption in the country.

The OECD is an international organization with a mission to work with governments to construct policies that improve the lives of individuals. It is currently working with the Tajik government to come up with corruption fighting legislation. Amnesty International has also called out the Tajik government for its human rights abuses such as the persecution of LGBTQ members and the censoring of human rights activists. Amnesty does not currently have an office in Tajikistan, however, its media campaigns garnered support from activists and foreign governments such as Norway and Denmark.

Further Measures

Further pressures such as sanctions, naming and shaming techniques and advocacy have the potential to greatly reduce corruption in Tajikistan. If economically advantaged countries such as the U.S. placed pressure on Tajikistan to increase anti-corruption legislation and measures, it could vastly increase the quality of life for the citizens of Tajikistan. Naming and shaming is a method that nonprofit and international organizations use to call out a country or organization for unethical practices, which can pressure the Tajik government to crackdown on debasement. Lastly, advocacy and educational campaigns can increase awareness of the issue and also increase the supply of information about corruption in Tajikistan both to its citizens and the international community.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr


Now, more than ever, the world is becoming more interconnected. While the new societal and political inter-dependencies are obvious, even fields like manufacturing are a part of this trend. One product serves as a glaring example of this phenomenon: the smartphone. This hand-sized piece of technology has a shocking amount of components from a shocking number of places. Tech giant Apple sources materials from nearly 45 countries to make its products. While global interconnectedness can certainly be a positive thing, especially in worldwide manufacturing arrangements, at-risk communities in this process can pay a price. Though there is potential for exploitation at many stages of production, it is especially bad at the raw materials stage. Mining toxic minerals like nickel, cadmium and cobalt can come at a high cost to human health. Unfortunately, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

To explore the specific threats to child laborers, it is helpful to focus in on one microcosm within the larger mining industry. One particularly harmful mineral in cell phone production is cobalt. Largely mined by hand, cobalt is a silvery-gray metal that people use for many different products, including metal alloys in jet engines and powerful magnets. It is also common in lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable energy sources that power mobile devices. The rise in the prevalence of electric cars, which use the same technology, means the demand for cobalt is only rising.

What Conditions Do Children Face?

While countries like Russia and Cuba produce this ore, workers mine more than 50 percent of the world’s cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Due to this high rate of production, most of the exploitation in cobalt mines occur in this country. As mine operators struggle to keep up with demand, the poverty rate in the DRC stands at nearly 65 percent.  That means that many desperate people are willing to work in dangerous conditions for hardly any money.

In January 2016, Amnesty International published an investigation into human rights abuses in the DRC’s cobalt mines and it found horrifying conditions. Workers face permanent lung and skin damage, as well as immediate physical harm from cave-ins and other accidents. Not only that, but the investigation also found children as young as 7 years old employed in these conditions. This is how the production of smartphones harms children in poverty.

Children told Amnesty International that for 12 hours of work, they could expect to earn only $1 or 2. When government or industry authorities visited mines, supervisors order the children to hide or stay away from the mines for a few days so others would not spot them. These poor conditions and ill-policed regulations are the reasons why cobalt is known as “the blood diamond of batteries.”

How Can People Fix This Problem?

Some companies have taken the initiative to reduce child exploitation, especially in the years following the 2016 Amnesty International report. Electric car-maker Tesla and its battery provider, Panasonic, have worked hard to pursue cobalt-free battery alternatives. These companies managed to cut cobalt use by 60 percent in six years. However, current technologies have reached their limits. Removing more cobalt will start to pose a longevity problem, as well as a fire-risk.

Because cobalt will remain in use for at least the near future, it is essential to protect impoverished child workers. Most simply, because this issue seems far away, it is easy to forget its gravity. For that reason, remembering the power of consumer impact is important. Pay attention to how companies operate and support businesses that perform the necessary due diligence to run responsibly.

For example, Apple, like many large tech and development companies, has a website with details about the ethics of its supply chain. Read up on brands’ efforts, and make sure to voice any concerns (or potentially, any support) at a website like this one.

What Can People Do to Make a Personal Impact?

Direct habits also make a difference. Try to avoid buying new electronic devices if possible. There are many websites, such as Gazelle, where customers can buy like-new phones to prevent the need for mining new cobalt. Additionally, if a device bites the dust, consider recycling its components. While lithium-ion batteries cannot go into the usual blue recycling bins, resources like this one at call2recycle can help identify the most convenient option.

Lastly, consider learning more and keeping up with the latest news on the Cobalt Institute’s website. This group is a non-governmental trade association that provides information and assists in identifying and solving problems in the cobalt industry. With 62 years of experience and all of the major producers in membership, this group has great influence in these matters.

While today, the production of smartphones harms children in poverty, improving conditions are just around the corner. With responsible choices, better supply chain management and technical innovations, this problem could soon be one of the past.

– Molly Power
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

why are more people crossing the border
In early 2019, Congress approved a humanitarian aid plan for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Nevertheless, the political crisis of migrant treatment and their arrival to the U.S. continues. In February 2019, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to obtain funding for his planned border wall. He has repeatedly called the situation at the U.S. border an invasion. The question remains: why are more people crossing the border?

People should note, however, that the number of border apprehensions dropped by 28 percent in the course of a month. The number decreased from the apprehension of an estimated 120,000 plus people in May 2019 to an estimated 80,000 plus people in June 2019.

In the past, most of the undocumented immigrants found in the U.S. southern border were single men from Mexico. Recently, most immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border are families coming from countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle, namely Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries have severe instabilities. The number of people from these three nations applying for asylum around the world has increased seven-fold since 2010.

High Murder Rates in the Northern Triangle

High murder rates are a reason why more people have been leaving the Northern Triangle. Murder rates in the area have been considerably higher than in other areas, like the U.S. or Europe. These numbers peak at approximately 108.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador and 63.8 in Honduras. Residents of Honduras also face extortion as criminals may kill them if they do not pay a war tax.

Many families try to seek asylum in Mexico to escape these murders. Nevertheless, the number of migrants at the Mexican border tell a similar story to that of the U.S. border. The number of deportations from Mexico back to the Northern Triangle has considerably increased between 2014 and 2015.

Poverty and Migration

Another reason for the rise in migrants at the southern border in recent years has been economic imperatives. Most recent migrants hail from impoverished regions such as the western highlands of Guatemala, in search of a life better suited to raising a family.

Everyday life in the area beckons land rights conflicts, environmental instabilities and depressed prices for their crop, which undermines the ability of citizens to make a living for their family. Nearly 70 percent of Honduras’ population lives in poverty. In Guatemala, nearly 60 percent live in poverty.

Gangs and Drug Cartels

In the Northern Triangle, drug cartels and gangs are a part of everyday life and threaten national and personal security. Violent groups often impose informal curfews, make absurd tax demands and recruit youth against their will. After the fight between in Mexican government and former drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, many other groups moved into the drug trade, leading to the killings of many innocent people in the country. In 2018, the number of people who made claims of credible fear and asked for asylum at the U.S. border skyrocketed to 92,000, compared to 55,000 claims in 2017.

Thousands of immigrants are facing the impossible choice of living in constant fear or seeking asylum, risking the possibility of detainment for indefinite periods or deportation back to their home nations where they risk a violent death.

No More Deaths

Illegal border crossing should not be a death sentence. No More Deaths, or No Más Muertes, is a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona that is dedicated to stepping up efforts to stop migrant deaths in the desert. The organization works in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands through the civil initiative.

It is crucial for every American citizen to realize that migrants are not entering the United States because they want to, but because they have to. Entering the detention centers at the southern border comes after a perilous journey. Migrants ride trains where gang members demand tolls of upwards of $100 per station. Gang members kidnap more than 20,000 migrants in these situations.

Action is imperative to help people crossing the border as countless lives depend on it. Nevertheless, it is possible for individuals to help. Individuals can volunteer with organizations such as No More Deaths to provide food, advocacy and mapping efforts. They can also use their voice and email Congress through The Borgen Project’s website. Lastly, it is important for all citizens to educate themselves about migrants, their treatment in detention centers and why more people are crossing the border, even when circumstances seem dire.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Flickr

midterm elections in the Philippines
Millions of voters marched to the polls on May 13, 2019, for the 2019 midterm election in the Philippines. More than 18,000 government positions were up for election, but all eyes were on the Senate race due to its influence on President Rodrigo Duterte’s authoritarian agenda.

All 12 Duterte-backed Senate candidates won by a landslide, demonstrating the popularity of President Duterte’s policies. Three candidates in the spotlight were former special assistant to President Bong Go, former police chief and the architect of Duterte’s drug war, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, and Imee Marcos, the daughter of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.

The Consolidation of Power

The results indicate that the destructive drug war plaguing the Philippines is far from over. So far, the conflict has resulted in a total of 22,983 deaths since Duterte took office in 2016, according to the Philippine National Police. This statistic includes suspected drug users, drug pushers and civilians living in impoverished communities, all of whom the President and his police force see as collateral damage.

During Duterte’s war on drugs, not a single drug lord received apprehension. Further, the drug war has not effectively reduced drug use or decelerated the drug trade in the Philippines. On the contrary, the drug war has caused the prices of methamphetamines, or shabu, to lower by a third of the original price, increasing the accessibility and prevalence of the drug.

Additionally, Duterte’s policies include reinstating the death penalty and lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old. Before the midterm elections, a portion of the Senate did not approve of Duterte’s policies, resulting in political gridlock. Now, Duterte’s newly-consolidated legislative power gives him the upper hand in following through with these policies.

Duterte’s High Approval Rating

Despite Duterte’s undemocratic tactics, his approval rating remains high at 81 percent. Duterte has garnered support for his strongman leadership and his promises to keep the streets safe. His popularity reveals the nation’s fragility and puts into question the stability of the Philippines’ political structures.

The Opposition

The opposition still holds a stake in the political landscape despite the lack of congressional representation after the midterm election in the Philippines.

The opposition includes key figures such as former Senator Leila de Lima and Rappler journalist, Maria Ressa. Duterte has imprisoned both Lima and Ressa in order to silence their critiques against his administration, but human rights groups are dedicated to releasing them from prison, claiming that they received conviction without a fair trial. These human rights groups include the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FORUM-ASIA, and they are determined to hold the Filipino government accountable for all human rights violations.

Efforts abroad are also looking to combat the Duterte administration, such as the Malaya Movement. The Malaya Movement is a U.S.-based organization that organizes events such as rallies and summits and mobilizes individuals to petition against the drug war and government corruption in the Philippines. Its mission is to broaden the opposition against Duterte’s policies and endorse freedom and democracy in the Philippines.

– Louise Macaraniag
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Emerging Social Activists
There are many people around the globe who are standing up and advocating for themselves and the human rights of the people around them. Whether their countries allow them to speak freely about their oppression or try to silence them, these social activists are making an impact. These are some of the top emerging social activists from around the world.

Shamma bint Suhail Faris Mazrui – United Arab Emirates

The youngest government minister in the world, Shamma bint Suhail Faris Mazrui became Minister of State for Youth Affairs in the UAE in 2016. One of her main views on what youths can add to public affairs and relations is resourcefulness, arguing, “Hopelessness results when youth are not seen as resources, and apathy results they’re not seen as assets.”

Mazrui’s vision is to bring more youths into the private sectors of the UAE and not just into public affairs. She believes that the change of a nation starts with the investment of the youth. Ultimately, her goal is to set a vision into the youth’s eyes that there is something more important than living solely for yourself.

Majandra Rodriguez Acha – Peru

In 2009, the government of Peru released its jungles from protection and opened them for scavenging and oil extraction. That year, nineteen-year-old Majandra Rodriguez Acha decided she would not stand for her jungles to be exploited. A group of activists including Ahca chanted “La selva no se vende, la selva se defiende.” In English, “You don’t sell the jungles, you defend them.”

Since then, Acha has formed a group called TierrActiva Perú. The group advocates for the voice of the jungle. It reconciles urban youth groups to indigenous youth groups in Peru directly affected by the exploitation of the jungles.

In 2014, Acha organized a conference that brought together over 100 indigenous and urban youths, mainly under 30 years old. Acha says, “We believe that people are experts of their own reality” and the conference was one of little convention. The people were free to come up to the stage, write on a whiteboard, and express their own emotions and ideas towards bettering Peru.

Li Maizi – China

China has been under the rule of the communist party for sixty-six years. The country runs on the traditional principles of efficient work and a conventional, stable family-core. However, in 2015, emerging social activists like Li Maizi challenged these values.

China has no laws or allowance for activism which does not conform to the structure of society within the country. Maizi and others handed out stickers on International Women’s Day in 2015. They were protesting and raising awareness of sexual abuse and harassment. These women were detained and interrogated. Maizi herself was imprisoned for over thirty-five days but was released after being labeled a spy.

Four other women were detained alongside Maizi. All either queer or labeled as free-women, meaning they do not wish to have children, they have been called the Feminist Five. The group realize public rallies in their country are not possible. To succeed in fighting against the oppression of women,  they have to formulate different tactics to raise awareness.

Maizi believes that the U.S. is a breeding ground for social activism. She believes it has the right political and social atmosphere to transcend borders and empower China. “If we don’t set up this group in the U.S., China’s feminist movement will become too passive. The position of our core activists is extremely fragile and we don’t know when the police will come and arrest someone again—it could be today or tomorrow,” she says.

Alioune Tine – Chad

The government of Chad has cracked down on social activism and freedom of speech within the last two years. It has also banned peaceful protests within the country. Alioune Tine is the Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director. He has said that officials have made criticism of their government something that cannot be voiced or acted upon.

Many of the known political and social activists in Chad have reached out to Amnesty International, stating that they have received phone calls and harassment. They allege that the calls include interrogatory questions which leave them afraid and confused.

Tine says that Chad is at a crossroads. It must choose between muzzling citizens and critics of its government or to walk in the promises made by the president during his election.

These emerging social activists are just a few among many around the world who are standing up and speaking out despite opposition. As Acha said, “people are experts to their own reality.” These experts believe people have a right to be heard.

– Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Turkmenistan
Central Asia displays memories of ancient ruins and powerful empires. Turkmenistan is no exception due to its most recent invasion by the Russian Empire (1881-1998) which is what shapes most of its modern history. Today, the world knows the country for its natural resources, dictatorial leader and marble cities. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Turkmenistan

  1. Authoritarian Media
    The close eye of Presiden Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow administers daily life in Turkmenistan. The government oversees all media outlets to determine what can and cannot be published. Only 17.9 percent of the population uses the internet due to the high expense. People have access to little online information as authorities ban websites against the government. Since 2006, the government imprisoned two journalists (Sapardurdy Khadjiyev and Annakurban Amanklychev) for not complying with government media regulations.
  2. An Ongoing Economic Recession
    Turkmenistan was the poorest nation during the USSR. Today, the country’s GDP per capita is $6,587 and 10 percent of 5.8 million Turkmen live in extreme poverty. However, this is a massive stride for the nation. In 1990, more than a third of the country lived in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per day) making 10 percent the lowest poverty rate the nation has ever seen.
  3. Developing Education
    Nearly 100 percent of Turkmenistan people are literate. The country has a 12-year educational system, however, the average student drops out of school after 10 or 11 years. The government has partnered with UNICEF to continue the development of its education through the Child Friendly Schools (CFS) model. This framework aims to help children not only in terms of education but also in terms of their well being.
  4. Gender Equality on the Rise
    Only 40 percent of women in Turkmenistan will attend tertiary school. Women often marry by the ages of 20 or 21 and will thus have few opportunities to obtain a higher education or career. Luckily, the United Nations has aided in the recent 2017 presidential decree of Turkmenistan’s first national action plan on gender equality. This plan includes improved legislation, equal access to health services and data collection to monitor progress.
  5. Poor Health
    The state does not widely fund health care. Turkmen are likely to spend more money on health care than the government. In 2017, the average citizen spent $2,052 on health care in comparison to the government which only spent $741. The lack of accessible public health care leads to an average life expectancy of just 67.8 years, with the highest cause of death being lower respiratory infections.
  6. Urban vs. Rural Life
    There are 5.8 million people living in Turkmenistan and 49.2 percent of that population living in urban areas. The sale of cotton, silk, Karakul sheep and homemade carpets and rugs are essential to rural development. Ashgabat remains the capital city and is the center point for business and government officials. Cars and railways connect the cities and towns within the country.
  7. Jail Brutality
    Prisoners within Turkmenistan and political prisoners especially are often abused. The exact number of political prisoners held by the government is not public knowledge, however, Prove They are Alive, an international organization fighting to reduce disappearances within Turkmenistan, states that 121 people remain forcibly disappeared. Ovadandepe is the most infamous jail and was the point of death for former government official Begmurad Otuzov. Mr. Otuzov’s body was returned to his family weighing just 99 pounds after having been missing for 15 years.
  8. Natural Resources and the Economy
    Turkmenistan’s economy is largely dependent upon hydrocarbon resources. The country leads as the world’s fourth-largest natural gas distributor and had 265 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in 2016. Its largest customers include China, Russia and Iran. Petrofac is one of the largest energy producers in the country and employs 1,700 people across the nation.
  9. Environmental Resolutions
    Turkmenistan has no renewable energy sources and 13.9 percent of the population does not have access to clean water. However, UNICEF developed a strategy in 2017 to help the country promote sustainable practices. The project aims to raise awareness around environmental sustainability through education in schools.
  10. A Housing Crisis
    In 2015, the government evicted 50,000 people from their homes in the capital. The government forcibly removed people from their houses so they could build new buildings for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Forced evictions are a common and recurring issue within Turkmenistan. Amnesty International is combating this housing crisis by publicizing homes that continue to be demolished.
  11. Low Unemployment Rate
    Last on the list of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan is employment. The country maintains a low GDP and a minimum wage of just 535 Turkmenistani ($152.55) per month. However, it also maintains a rather low unemployment rate. Only 3.8 percent of the country was unemployed in 2018, even lower than the United States’ unemployment rate of 4 percent.

Turkmenistan, like any country, has its challenges. As displayed in these top 10 facts about living conditions in Turkmenistan, the government’s high levels of surveillance and poor infrastructure can make life challenging at times. On the other hand, several NGOs such as the U.N. and Amnesty International are fighting to create a more equal society. Overall, the country has seen progress and today it maintains an improved education system as well as higher employment rates.

Photo: Flickr

 

Poverty in the Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula that extends into the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. It includes seven countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Here are 10 facts about poverty in the Horn of Africa, how poverty impacts the people of these countries and how their situations can improve.

10 Facts About Poverty in the Horn of Africa

  1. Food Insecurity in Djibouti: Food insecurity is a major problem for those living in rural areas of Djibouti. While those living in more urban areas of the country do not experience the same levels of poverty, 62 percent of those living in rural Djibouti have little access to food containing adequate nutrition. Djibouti’s climate may be a cause as it makes crop production difficult. As a result, it must receive 90 percent of its food supply as imports, making the country vulnerable to changes in international market prices.
  2. Drought and Malnutrition in Eritrea: Amnesty International reports that many in Eritrea struggle to meet their basic needs as drought and laws within the country make it difficult to access clean water and limit the availability of basic food supplies. Half of all children in Eritrea experience stunted growth due to malnutrition.
  3. Poverty in Ethiopia: Ethiopia is one of the most populated countries in Africa and one of the poorest countries in the world. Despite experiencing a massive surge of economic growth since 2000, 30 percent of Ethiopians are still living below the poverty line, and the United Nations has classified 36 million of the country’s 41 million children as multidimensionally poor.
  4. Conflict in Somalia: Years of conflict have destroyed much of Somalia’s economy, infrastructure and institutions. Forty-three percent of the population of Somalia live on less than $1 a day. Nearly five million Somalis depend on humanitarian aid every day.
  5. Conflict and Climate in Sudan: Like Somalia, Sudan has faced serious damage to its economy due to conflict. Sudan has also faced serious damage to its agricultural industry due to unpredictable climate and rainfall in recent years. One in three Sudanese children under the age of 5 is underweight due to malnutrition.
  6. South Sudan, Foreign Investors and Agriculture: Though South Sudan is rich in resources, particularly oil, foreign investors monopolize most of its supplies. The vast majority of workers in South Sudan engage themselves in agriculture and livestock rearing. South Sudan is incredibly vulnerable to changing patterns in rain, similar to its northern neighbors, and it frequently experiences floods and droughts that, in conjunction with conflict and depreciating currency, has left 80 percent of its population impoverished.
  7. Poverty in Uganda: Uganda has made great strides in reducing poverty over the last decade. However, it still requires more work. Poverty is still a major issue throughout the country, particularly in the northern and eastern regions, which have less access to infrastructure than the rest of the country. In northern Uganda, 29 percent of households do not have toilets and 96.3 percent of households are without electricity.
  8. The Link Between Poverty, War and Instability: The Horn of Africa is currently dealing with several wars and conflicts. There is civil unrest in Sudan and South Sudan, and terrorism plagues the entire region. In 2017, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, suggested that poverty is the underlying cause of war and instability in the region and that the best way to foster peace in this high-conflict area is to focus on improving the economies of these countries.
  9. Digital Technologies: Digital technologies could play a major role in closing the economic gap between these countries and more financially stable regions of the globe. Digitalization of a country is relatively low-cost, and can significantly assist in alleviating poverty through a number of channels. Technology can allow those in rural communities to access education, health care and agricultural information that would dramatically increase productivity. Beyond that, technology allows women and other marginalized populations to enter the formal economy.  An International Monetary Fund study stresses the importance of boosting women’s participation in the economy to create economic growth. Taking simple steps in investing in things like mobile phones and the internet could lay groundwork not only for alleviating poverty in the region but also for ensuring equality and lasting peace. This strategy has worked extremely well in countries such as Bangladesh.
  10. The World Bank’s Initiative: The World Bank has developed an initiative that focuses on alleviating poverty in the Horn of Africa by focusing on building resilience in the region and integrating the region economically.

The Horn of Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world. These facts demonstrate that these nations desperately need the attention and assistance of the global community in order to create stability in the region, and a chance at a better life for the people living there.

Gillian Buckley
Photo: Flickr