In early February, humanitarian organization CARE and the H&M Conscious Foundation announced they had formed a three year partnership to support women’s empowerment in poor nations across the globe.

The H&M Conscious Foundation has donated $9.2 million towards this program with CARE to work for change worldwide. Karl-Johan Persson, H&M’s CEO and a board member of the H&M Conscious Foundation said in regard to the partnership with CARE that, “Together we will invest in actions to empower women in developing countries economically, as we are convinced it is a catalyst for positive change.”

Most of the world’s poor are women and girls; while they are responsible for approximately two-thirds of the world’s total working hours, they only earn 10 percent of the world’s income and 1 percent of the world’s property. In light of these statistics, CARE and the H&M Conscious Foundation have teamed up to change them.

Since its founding in 1945, CARE has become one of the foremost humanitarian organizations dedicated to fighting global poverty and providing emergency assistance. Last year, CARE was able to help over 83 million people in 84 different countries by improving basic health care and education, as well as giving people access to clean water and sanitation, among other acts.

The H&M Conscious Foundation is an independent and non-profit organization that was created in 2007 upon the celebration of H&M’s 60th anniversary.

CARE International’s Secretary General Dr. Robert Glasser said in regard to the partnership with H&M Conscious Foundation that, “Women and girls are the key to fighting poverty. Our six decades of experience has shown us that when you empower a girl or a woman, she transforms not only her own family, but entire communities as well.”

When women are given equal rights and society acknowledges these rights, the benefits can be seen in society as a whole, resulting in economic growth and improvements in both health and the wellbeing of children.

The $9.2 million donation from the Conscious Foundation will be used to give 100,000 women in developing countries access to tools, knowledge, and financial resources previously unavailable to them. In addition, CARE will be responsible for organizing five regional campaigns that will help to raise awareness of why these women can reach their full potential, disproving the myths that perpetuate the idea that they cannot.

Dr. Glasser went on to say that this program of empowerment, “is not just about providing training or financing to women.” He went on to say that, “It is about helping them to change relationships and social structures that stifle their potential and their capacity to transform their societies,” a vision that CARE shares with H&M Conscious Foundation.

H&M Conscious Foundation’s overall goals for the program are to give 100,000 women in poor communities access to whatever they need to economically empower them, start five campaigns with positive and influential role models to raise awareness about the current barriers who women who want to fully be involved in society, and to develop a global report that encourages policy changes that are necessary for more women to overcome the world’s barriers.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: H&M Conscious Foundation, CARE
PhotoCare International

Can changing the color of bed sheets save lives? CARE’s work in Peru proves it can.

CARE is a major international humanitarian organization whose acronym stands for Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere. The organization, one of the largest and oldest of its kind, delivers both emergency aid and long-term development projects all over the world. It’s committed to “smart, culturally savvy solutions for the problems that affect communities all over the world.”  Solutions it has dubbed ‘CARE Hacks.’

Among them is its ‘Think Pink’ hack based in rural Peru. In the town of Ayucucho, the maternal death rate in 2000 was notably high at 240 per 100,000 mothers dying due to pregnancy-related causes. By comparison, Peru’s national maternal death rate was half that at the time. As a part of its efforts to bring this number among rural populations down, CARE changed the color of the bed sheets at health clinics.

In western cultures, white sheets connote cleanliness and health. In this rural Peruvian region, however, it is the color of death. Thus, by switching out the white sheets for pink ones, CARE encouraged more women to seek out treatment at clinics. This and other efforts in the area have cut the maternal death rate in half.

Another CARE hack, the bead game, was developed to confront damaging gender norms. With two colored beads representing the Y and X chromosomes respectively, playing the game provides a visual representation of how the sex of a baby is determined.

Designed for parts of the world where women feel pressure to give birth to boys, the game’s central takeaway is that it’s the chromosome from the man that dictates the sex of the baby. The takeaway resonates among women who are often blamed and stigmatized for not producing male offspring. The game is a part of CARE’s community outreach efforts dedicated to ending gender-based violence.

In Bangladesh, CARE worked with community leaders on solutions for people looking to earn a living in areas affected by severe and frequent flooding. Many people – especially women – raise poultry to sustain a livelihood. However, chickens are prone to drowning in times of severe flooding and as a result devastate household incomes.

The solution? CARE and its local partners aided women from flood-prone areas by swapping cultivation of chickens for cultivation of ducks. The idea has borne fruit, increasing the resilience of a number of families to the devastation of increased flooding due to climate change.

Other CARE Hacks include a mobile banking program in Tanzania and the introduction of fuel-efficient stoves in Sudan, among others. What links all the “hack” initiatives is a commitment to finding culturally in tune innovations to address the problems facing the world’s most vulnerable communities.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: World Bank

CARE to take down poverty
In 1945, twenty-two separate American charities decided they could accomplish more good by working together. They combined to become CARE, a network of humanitarian organizations providing relief to war-torn Europe. Originally named the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, they delivered millions of CARE packages across Europe, believing that poverty was the result of a lack of basic goods, services and healthcare.

With the need for war relief in Europe drawing down, CARE began shifting its focus to the developing world, where poverty, conflict, famine and natural disasters rendered their relief efforts invaluable. But their regions of focus are not all that changed; as the organization grew, they expanded their understanding of poverty and its causes to include the view that social exclusion, discrimination, and the absence of rights and opportunities often cause poverty.

By the early 1990s, the meaning behind the organization’s acronym was updated to “Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere”. And by 2007, more than six years of experience caused CARE to adjust its mission again to include a focus on gender equality, realizing that empowered women are the key to lifting families out of poverty.

CARE is now one of the oldest and largest global poverty aid organizations in the world, with 14 member organizations working in 84 countries supporting 997 poverty-fighting development and humanitarian aid projects. CARE Australia, CARE Canada, CARE Denmark, CARE Deutschland-Luxembourg, CARE France, CARE International Japan, CARE Nederland, CARE Norge, CARE Österreich, CARE Thai Foundation, CARE International UK, CARE USA and two affiliate members CARE India and CARE Peru, work together to defend the dignity and fight poverty by strengthening communities’ capacity for self-help, providing economic and educational opportunities, delivering relief in emergencies, safeguarding health for mothers and families, enhancing water access, influencing policy decisions at all levels, and addressing discrimination in all its forms.

By dealing with the causes of poverty, CARE helps people to become self-sufficient, thereby promoting permanent change. Their mission is to help build a world where poverty has been eradicated and people can live in dignity and security. CARE truly is a global force in the movement to end poverty.

– Dana Johnson

Source: CARE,CARE International
Photo: npr

Female farmers working small plots of land to grow food may be a solution to ending world hunger according to international aid group CARE.  As leaders prepare talks for the Hunger Summit in London, advocates are reminding leaders to look to female farmers as a solution and answer to food insecurity. Around the world, 60 to 80 percent of food production in developing countries is grown by women. In stark contrast, only about 5 percent of training and resources ever get to these female farmers.

Julia Netwon-Howes, CARE Australia CEO, believes small-scale farmers are key in the fight against world hunger. Families around the world are being fed and sustained by women farming on small plots of land and their ability to increase the size and quality of their crops can lead to huge gains in fighting hunger. Studies show the world produces enough food for everyone, but the poor distribution and scarcity in some regions leads to millions still going hungry each day. To address the 1 in 8 still going to bed hungry, not only does production need to be addressed, but distribution must also be studied.

While action has been taken, small-scale farmers have been left out of the mainstream. With close to half of all agriculture being produced on small-scale farms, they must be taken into consideration as future plans are drawn to fight hunger. Assistance and government help must expand their focus to include both large and small-scale farms. This includes helping female farmers with better farming techniques, diversification of crops, and nutrition education. Farmers must be educated on the value of a variety of vegetables and food beyond the staple crops of sweet potato or maize grown every day. As they are educated and helped, hunger and malnutrition will continue to decline.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: ABC Radio Australia

Tragedy at Bangladesh Garment Factory

Until now, more than 1000 people are estimated to have been killed in the collapse of the Bangladesh garment factory. Statistics make this accident one of the worst garment factory disasters in modern history. As governments, organizations, and conscientious consumers look for solutions and ways to prevent another catastrophic loss of life, some are considering the role a company or consumer boycott of clothing made in Bangladesh would have. But how should consumers respond? Is pushing for a boycott of Bangladeshi products really the solution? Experts differ on the possible effects of such a move.

Professor Linda Scott at Oxford University says no:

The most obvious thing to do is to take away shopping dollars, and I do appreciate that stopping power, but I am just afraid that moves the problem someplace else. There is always another country that is happy to take on garment manufacturing. That is why it moves around so much. If the factories move elsewhere, it does not really solve the problem. It just moves misery somewhere else. And it takes away work from the people in Bangladesh.

Paul Collins of the British Anti-poverty Group War on Want also hesitates to endorse such a move:

We take our lead from our partner, the National Garment Workers’ Federation in Bangladesh, and they take their lead from the trade union members they support – mainly women – who say that these jobs should be decent jobs that are safe, pay a living wage and do not force them to work excessive hours. But they fear that a boycott campaign would mean they would lose their jobs. They come from rural areas and abject poverty, so they have not asked us to mount a boycott campaign.

Jamie Terzi, Bangladesh Country Director for CARE International, offered the following perspective:

I think for an incident of this magnitude to occur, we are talking about a systemic failure, where there are multiple responsibilities and, more strongly, culpabilities. It is not particularly helpful to pick one person or group, the problem is simply too large and too complex. It is absolutely the government; it is absolutely the people of Bangladesh calling on their government to be more accountable; it is up to the factory owners; it is up to the buyers and it absolutely is up to the consumers in Western countries.

Elizabeth L. Cline, author of Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion emphasizes the same point made by Terzi:

Bangladesh is a very poor country so even if they wanted to implement changes there is not a lot of money to do so. We’re talking about a $500,000 (£320,000) investment per factory to get some of these changes implemented and the brands can afford it. The factories can’t. Consumers are ready for ethical fashion. They want to see fair labor standards implemented and abided by, and they would support it if the brands made headway on that.

For consumers, particularly those in the west, who decide to respond to the tragedy, all of these experts agree that there are a number of complex and interlocking issues to be considered here. Everyone, from governments to multi-nationals, to consumers will have a role to play in developing a solution to save lives in the future.

– Délice Williams

Source: BBC, CBS
Photo: CNN

Child Marriage: A Promise of Poverty

The average teenager worries about hanging out with friends, getting good grades, and fitting in with a group of people—not marrying a stranger and creating a home.

However, child marriage is a reality in the world’s 51 least-developed countries.  Half of all girls living in these countries are married before the age of 18, according to the United Nations. Parents arrange the marriage, and the groom can be more than twice the bride’s age.  Girls are ripped from their communities and forced into social isolation. These abrupt marriages sever a girl from her support network—a group of people necessary for helping the girl face the physical and emotional challenges of marriage.

Many cultures view girls as economic burdens, subservient individuals, or family mistakes. Marrying girls off as soon as possible alleviates the household expenses and restores the family’s reputation.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) established that the minimum age of marriage is 18 years old. This is considered the upper limit of childhood, and the individual is fit to decide whether to be married.  Many countries continue to practice child marriage despite proven physical and psychological effects.

World Vision reported that child marriages are increasing due to the increase in global poverty crises. 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year.  Child marriages are most prevalent in rural, poor areas and are associated with areas of low education and healthcare.  Polygamy is common, and these marriages are bargaining chips between two parties.

South Asia (46%) and Central Africa (41%) are the top areas for child marriages.  These regions do not monitor the age of spouses carefully.  Girls who live in countries with humanitarian crises are most likely to be subjected to child marriages. Fear of rape, unwanted pre-marital pregnancies, family shame, and hunger are the main motivators for child marriage. Poverty, weak legislation, gender discrimination, and lack of alternative opportunities reinforce these motivations.

Anti-poverty organizations, such as CARE, are working in various countries to combat child marriage.  According to CARE, “As levels of education and economic opportunities increase, so does the average age of marriage.”  CARE mobilizes community organizers, parents, and tribal and religious leaders to lobby against the child marriage law in Ethiopia. Leaders are constructing savings and loans groups to empower families financially. Though child marriage still exists, this will eliminate one major cause of child marriage. Community forums now focus on the elimination of bride price, bride abduction, and child marriage.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: NBC News