USAID is Gendering Belarus PoliticsUSAID is an independent agency of the United States federal government that takes care of administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. It is one the largest official aid agencies in the world, controlling a large share of U.S. foreign assistance programs. USAID operates in more than 100 countries all around the world. One of them is Belarus, where USAID — which represents the second-largest actor after the E.U. — is effectively gendering its politics. USAID has indeed been able to transform the current business and social landscapes for Belarusian women.

Gender Politics in Belarus

In 2017, Belarus ranked 26 out of 144 in the Global Gender Gap Index. However, differences start to show when looking at detail. Women outnumber men at tertiary education enrollment. But despite being more likely to achieve white-collar positions, women are not as likely as men to receive managerial power. Only 17% of female white-collar employees rise through the ranks against a stark 41% for men. Women also lack executive power in politics. Although they hold around 30% of parliament seats, their presence in the executive branch is scarce. In addition, gender wage gaps have been increasing in recent years. This is due to the country’s employment residing namely in public sectors such as education, where pay is lower.

Belarus is a country where STEM start-ups and corporations are usually presented as a field for men to develop their careers. Belarus has profited from USAID support to Belarusian women. By sponsoring teams that consist of at least 30% women, the U.S. support program is bringing forth a cultural shift in the entrepreneurial mentality of Belarusians.

USAID is Gendering Belarus Politics

USAID is gendering Belarus politics by increasing the relative bargaining power of women in society. A clear example of this promotion commitment is USAID’s Community Connections Exchange Program, through which Belarusians have the opportunity to travel to the U.S. to undergo short-term exchanges. During this stage, they learn about innovative practices, youth business promotion and female empowerment. Women made up more than half of 2017’s edition of the program, enlarging the ranks of the more than 400 women that had already enjoyed these lessons and leadership skill-building tools. Not only that, but another instance of leading by example would be the U.S.’s personal compromise to constitute offices in Belarus. At least one staff member n the office must be female. This is regardless of whether their tasks involve directing diplomatic meetings, developing the private sector or dealing with administrative matters.

USAID’s Action

The U.S. commitment to improving the living conditions in Belarus extends well beyond jobs. It is also focusing on the way that politics are carried out in the country. The U.S. Department of State’s Human Rights Report has criticized the increasing neglect by Belarusian authorities to protect human rights as fundamental as the freedom of speech or press. However, to encourage positive promotion and not negative condemnation, the Embassy also assists the growing independent media and NGO community. It is offering public exchanges and bringing American experts to the country to offer insight into democratic initiatives and reforms.

Along those lines, American and Belarusian counterparts in law enforcement and international development agreed to collaborate; this is particularly through American support schemes for the education of Belarusian officials to enable the law to be upheld and create strong legal infrastructures. The advancement of human rights entails a clear compromise toward the inclusion of women in society, especially in a country where legislation is “gender blind.” While discrimination is formally prohibited, this does not stop employers to view women as undesirable based on their maternity benefits and earlier retirement age (55 for women and 60 for men).

USAID gendering Belarusian politics also means USAID is pushing for human rights to become a fundamental principle guiding legislative activity. Independent media, expert advice and reforms help create a more inclusive society. In addition, it is important to implement legislation that is gender aware, rather than gender blind.

Moving Forward

Women’s participation in politics has been one of the main issues at stake in Belarus. USAID has helped promote civilian expansion and participation in political and economic decision-making. It has helped encourage opening up society and allowing for reform.

With markets opening, women have taken it as a sign that it is time for politics to follow the economic trail. The continued support offered by U.S. institutions to promote the role of women in the labor market may also enable them to increase their bargaining power in politics. Alongside the U.S. focus on protecting and projecting democratic reform and the rule of law in the country, there comes peaceful reform in a country that is making strides toward gender equality.

– Álvaro Salgado

Syrian Refugees' Integration
Integration happens in the workplace, neighborhoods, schools and public spaces. However, problems can appear when many people enter a host state in the same period of time when they have different cultural and religious backgrounds. The European migration crisis is an example of this when a high flow of asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Europe in a short span of time. Syrian refugees’ integration presents Germany with some significant challenges.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

To clearly understand migration, it is essential to study terminologies. There are significant differences between the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee.” An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In the E.U. context, “asylum seeker is a third-country national or stateless person who has made an application for protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol in respect of which a final decision has not yet been taken.”

Meanwhile, refugees are “people who have successfully applied for asylum and have been granted a formal refugee status according to the Geneva Convention of 1951 (GCR) or due to authorizations to stay for humanitarian reasons due to specific national legislation.” In 2015, Europe nearly received 1.3 million asylum applications and almost one-in-five asylum seekers came from non-European countries. The leading origin countries of the asylum seekers were Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Asylum seekers from Syria numbered 378,000 (29% of all Europe’s asylum seekers).

The Flow of Refugees into Germany

The pull factors for asylum seekers are safety and security but they take economic factors into consideration as well. Better economic opportunities make the E.U. an attractive destination among asylum seekers. They risk their life to use dangerous and sometimes deadly routes to reach Europe. As a member state of the E.U., Germany was the essential destination country for asylum seekers. In 2015 and 2016, 1.2 million asylum seekers registered in Germany of which Syrian nationals were the leading group of origin of asylum seekers. In total, 424,907 Syrian refugees applied for asylum in 2015 and 2016.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy is the fundamental reason Germany is a top destination among asylum seekers. In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during her speech at the Federal Press Conference, announced emphatically, “Wir schaffen das,” meaning “We can do it,” effectively committing to a permissive asylum policy. Several days later, she stressed that there is no legal limit to the number of asylum seekers that Germany will try to accept from Syria. After permitting a significant number of Syrian refugees to enter Germany, integration became the main goal.

The German Integration Model

In Germany, there are several numbers of different stakeholders involved in the integration process of asylum seekers and refugees. The recognized refugees can participate in the labor market. The federal authorities of the country are responsible for implementing a legal structure for the integration mechanism. They also control language courses and access to the labor market.

The municipalities have a crucial role in the integration process and must implement federal or regional legislation. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) is responsible for evolving asylum applications and the execution of general and vocational language courses for refugees. Local education schools carry out the language courses, and in most cases, adult education centers or language courses are responsible for the courses. Furthermore, The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ control, assists asylum seekers and refugees in developing their skills and finding jobs.

Legislation for Migrants

Since late 2014, the German government enforced several new integration policies and changes that aimed to ease the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. In 2016, the new Integration Act emerged to promote mandatory participation in language training and civic orientation. Also, the hours of orientation courses increased from 60 to 100 hours. Still, the structure of language courses remained the same. Under the Integration Act, the condition of receiving permanent residence permits depends on the outcomes of integration. Refugees can obtain permanent residence cards after five years and they should reach the A2 level in German and ensure that they can finance their means of subsistence. Moreover, since January 2016, the government monthly pays was 670 euros per asylum seeker.

The responses of the German government still show room for improvement for better integration of refugees. Nonetheless, the fact that Germany has allowed so many asylum seekers access to it may have helped prevent catastrophe. At the same time, Germany’s new integration policies are helping Syrian refugees obtain better opportunities.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

Revolution of DignityIn November 2013, student protests in Ukraine turned into a full-fledged revolution against government corruption that has since been dubbed the Revolution of Dignity. Now, with a new government in place, the country is attempting to align itself with its European neighbors and become a stable democracy. With multiple roadblocks in the way, such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Ukraine will need to rely on its allies in order to achieve its goals.  

How the Revolution of Dignity Began

Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity started out as a series of student protests to pressure the prime minister to sign an association agreement with the European Union. However, as the protests raged on, they became a catalyst for the rest of the country to express its discontent with larger issues with the government like the regime’s power grabs and rampant corruption.  

Despite these issues, protests only became a revolution when violence broke out between the government and protesters on Nov. 29, 2013. After this point, the goal became to overthrow the government and establish a more democratic state, one free of corruption and acting in the people’s best interests. In 2014, the people in overthrowing the government, reinstating the previous constitution and holding new elections in May.

While the revolution was successful, it was not without consequence. The destabilization in the country helped lead to the annexation of the southeastern Crimea region by the Russian Federation. On top of that, while the previous regime was friendly to the Russian government, the new one looked for a more independent governance supported by the E.U. and other western allies. With tough challenges ahead, Ukraine needed to look to allies for help.

What Allies Are Doing to Help

Since the protests initially started to pressure the Ukrainian president to sign an agreement with the E.U., it comes as no surprise that the E.U. is a key ally in helping Ukraine handle its political turmoil. One of the first things the newly elected government did was pass the Ukraine-European Union Associated Agreement and join the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. These moves strengthen the nation’s economic, political and cultural ties with Europe through mutually beneficial relationships.  

While the U.S. is not as geographically close to Ukraine as the E.U., it has a vested interest in keeping the region stable and independent. Currently, over $204 million is planned in foreign aid for Ukraine. Among this, 33 percent is for peace and security, 32 percent goes toward human rights, democracy and governance, 29 percent is for economic development, and six percent goes toward health. With this aid, the U.S. hopes to keep Ukraine free of Russian influence and welcome them into the western world.

Through USAID, foreign aid is being used to help out local communities of Ukrainians.  In 2017, the organization helped 50 communities effectively manage resources and become sustainable without the central government. This not only fights corruption but also helps improve the everyday lives of Ukrainians who face instability in the face of recent changes.   

Continuing Progress in Ukraine

The aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity and the struggle with Russia has left many Ukrainians in a state of upheaval. With an uncertain future and violence a real possibility, it is key that allies help the country through this traumatic point in its history. The humanitarian impact of political uncertainty is often understated in the media, but it is real. While there are larger political reasons for Ukraine’s allies to help it, the aid these allies give to the Ukrainian people has an impact on the ground that can help save many lives.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

The Success of Humanitarian Aid to RomaniaLocated in the far east of Eastern Europe, Romania borders the Black Sea along with its closest neighbor countries, Bulgaria and Moldova. Romania’s economic stability failed to maintain its status during and after World War II.

The events that occurred after the war had a lasting impact on Romania’s social and economic wealth. It became a communist-ruled country led by the Soviets, leading its society and economy into a crisis that is still taking place today. By exploiting its land and population, the Soviet occupation directly fed Romania’s decline.

Regardless of such a crisis, the country has tried to stay afloat. In 2007, the European Union accepted its request to become part of the E.U. This political move had a great impact on Romania, which became unified with 26 other countries willing to support the nation. The E.U. began taking action for Romania by increasing the number of medical centers and hospitals in the country.

Alongside the E.U., humanitarian aid to Romania has also been a success for the far eastern country’s population. The organization The Family International has been working toward the improvement of Romania, as well as other countries in need, for the past few decades. It has worked to aid Romania by shipping multiple medical sources and equipment to the nation.

The Family International also worked to ship clothes to Romania and provide them to those in need. The success of this NGO was, and is, undeniable. More than a hundred families received attention and care, improving their living situation. The organization has also helped through the distribution of food products, as well as clothes, shoes and other necessities that reached more than 1,500 people.

The organization Charity Baptism Mission has also pushed efforts for humanitarian aid to Romania. It provided the nation with containers full of items meant to help alleviate poverty, such as socks, shoes, blankets, sweaters and more. The same organization has also built the success of humanitarian aid to Romania by helping create 27 homes for homeless children around the world, eight of them in Romania.

The organization Clovek v Tisni has also been a pioneer for humanitarian aid to Romania. Investing in infrastructure, creating job positions and building schools to extend education to more people are just some of the many successful actions taken toward alleviating poverty in the European country.

Romania needs help, undeniably. Despite the various NGOs willing to help the poorest country in the E.U., poverty is still an issue. Thus, donations toward organizations such as Clovek v Tisni can go a long way toward assisting the country. Romania is becoming a better country day by day, and with continued effort, it won’t be long until poverty in the nation is reduced to a thing of the past.

– Paula Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Lebanon
Lebanon hosts an ever-increasing refugee population, largely the result of an ongoing five-year civil war in Syria. Though Syrians comprise the majority of the approximately 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon, Palestinians and a small number of Iraqis have also sought refuge in the country.

Here are 10 important facts about refugees in Lebanon:

  1. There are over 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon, principally from Syria, Palestine and Iraq. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), reports that there are currently over 1.1 million Syrian refugees seeking protection in the host country.
  2. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 1.02 million Syrian refugees as of Sept. 30 are officially registered with the Lebanese government.
  3. Lebanon, according to the CIA World Factbook July 2015, estimates the population of Lebanon to be 6.1 million. Consequently, they host the largest refugee population per capita in the world, with close to 25 percent of the population having sought refuge in the country.
  4. Lebanon is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocol, which elucidates the international community’s responsibility to protect refugees. In addition, there is no national legislation regarding refugees, but in 2003 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) was signed between the UNHCR and the Lebanese government. The MOA gives those in need of asylum a temporary residence permit as their refugee status is decided and a permanent solution is obtained. Since there are no official refugee camps, Syrian refugees are in some of the neediest and most at-risk neighborhoods in the country.
  5. In 2016, the European Commission has promised a total of 87 million euros to Lebanon in humanitarian assistance for refugees. Fifteen million euros specifically for Palestinian refugees from Syria were allocated by the European Commission to assist the U.N.’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), in their effort to supply much-needed cash assistance and educational services.
  6. The UNCHR is doing an extensive amount of work with the help of partners to develop educational prospects for thousands of young Syrian refugees. The UNCHR recently reported that in Lebanon almost 158,000 children, up from 62,664 a year earlier, were enrolled in school.
  7. According to the EU, its humanitarian response to Syrian refugees in Lebanon has for the most part been in cash assistance to help people with basic necessities; and providing health care, shelter, water and sanitation support.
  8. The UNHCR has had much success with the launch of a Facebook group in 2014. The “I am Syrian in Lebanon” group has 30,000 members and it assists people on many things including school enrollment and reporting abuse.
  9. The World Bank Group (WBG) has, with the help of partners, introduced several projects to assist Lebanese communities hosting Syrian refugees. The Municipal Services Emergency Project assists local governments to address crisis issues more in terms of development rather than strictly humanitarian focused.
  10. The WBG project is assisting in the delivery of supplies, such as garbage compactors, service vehicles, water filters, water supply systems, sewage systems and the revitalization of public infrastructure.

The results of WBG projects have had an immensely positive impact on the Lebanese communities where its efforts have been directed.

Heidi Grossman

Photo: Flickr

People across all nations are asking about the impact of Brexit on the world, but only a few are asking the very important question of, “What will be Brexit’s impact on Africa?” As powerful countries such as the U.S. and Germany wait anxiously for the final vote count, anticipating possible financial fallout, the third world has much larger concerns, especially Africa.

Brexit Implications on Africa: Humanitarian, Political and Economic

Whether or not there will be a recession in Britain following the country’s exit from the EU is unclear, but what is certain is that if an economic crisis does occur, Africa will be hit hard.

Great Britain has long been a strong trading ally for Africa, and according to The Chicago Tribune, the European Union has preferential trade agreements with every African country except for Libya and South Sudan.

Due to the Brexit, British officials will now have to rewrite many of their trade agreements with African nations, which will take extensive time and manpower. However, this could prove to be fruitful for Africa, as strict regulations such as the Common Agricultural Policy — set in place by the EU will no longer apply to trade legislation.

According to the European Commission, the Common Agricultural Policy is an EU initiative aimed at invigorating “agricultural productivity, so that consumers have a stable supply of healthy food”. Part of this policy grants subsidies to European farmers to promote sustainable agriculture and the growth of healthy food.

BBC reports that African farmers feel as though the subsidies attached to the Common Agricultural Policy “undermine the concept of a level playing field”. The U.K. agrees with their African allies and adamantly fought for policy reformation before their exit. Brexit’s impact on Africa will not only be economic, for it will also influence the political and humanitarian realm.

The U.K. and Aid to Africa

Prior to the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union, it had incredible authority over the EU’s political and humanitarian initiatives in Africa.

The European Development Fund, according to the Chicago Tribune, is “the European Union’s main vehicle for providing development aid to Africa”. Britain was a leading voice in dictating the mission of the fund, as the third biggest contributor at 14 percent.

Even more impressive was the U.K.’s power over the African Peace Facility and its backing of the African Union Mission in Somalia. Britain made sure that the EU paid for 90 percent of the program, a 22,000-strong multinational force that protects the Somali Federal Government from the extremist militant group al-Shabab.

Before the Brexit, Britain was already beginning to lose their battle over policy in Somalia as the rest of the EU voted to pull some funding, hinting at a divided opinion about African aid.

The future of European policy in Africa is ambiguous, as one of the continent’s most passionate advocates is no longer a member of the EU. While this may seem like troubling news for Africa, the Brexit could turn out to be a blessing for the entire region.

The U.K. will no longer be held back by the EU’s restrictive guidelines as it applies to foreign policy and unless recession strikes Britain’s economy, it is likely that they will stay true to their promise of providing 0.7 percent of their gross national income to African aid.

Liam Travers

Photo: Public Domain Images