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The protection of women’s’ rights and access to opportunities for economic empowerment are vital pieces to the reduction of extreme poverty. Indian women continue to face major challenges in gender equality as inferiority persists between men and women through familial relations and cultural norms. Emphasis on traditional gender roles such as taking care of the home, children, elders and religious obligations often leave women with little time to pursue educational opportunities. As a result, India has one of the lowest female literacy rates in Asia. With a lack of education, finding employment that provides a livable wage can seem hopeless, but organizations like Shakti.ism are creating new hope.

Economic Empowerment as a Solution – Shakti.ism

Shakti.ism, a female-led social enterprise, aims to dismantle these cultural norms through economic empowerment. The organization provides employment opportunities for women in India, many of whom are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. The women work to create unique hand-crafted accessories and develop and establish themselves as artisans. The social enterprise partners with NGOs throughout India to reach as women and girls as possible. Shakti.ism is also committed to abiding by and promoting the 10 Principles of Fair Trade and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Founded by Jitna Bhagani, a survivor of gender-based violence herself, she hopes to encourage self-sustainment, independence and entrepreneurship in efforts “to break the cycle of poverty.”

Bhagani recognizes that cultural norms continue to largely impede upon the achievements and rights of women living in India. In a featured post by the Harvest Fund, Bhagani shares the stories of some of the women that Shakti.ism has helped. Many of these women are victims of discrimination as a result of the caste system. Although outlawed in 1950, it still remains deeply culturally embedded today. She notes that a lack of education, sex trafficking, familial relations and religious and cultural beliefs are some of the most prevalent causes of poverty and gender-based violence in India.

Impact

In collaboration with several NGOs, Bhagani’s Shakti.ism aims to tackle these issues by providing women with training focused on strengthening livelihood skills, compensating for a lack of formal education, a safe place to work, and alleviating dependence on male family members which reinforce societal norms. Another core goal of Shakti.ism’s mission is to provide women with the opportunity to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs, granting them access to a global market, financial and emotional support and secured wages.

Shakti.ism’s partnership with several NGOs has allowed the organization’s mission to reach women living in many parts of India, including Pondicherry, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and Chennai. The nonprofit organization has also partnered with another social enterprise called Basha Enterprises, allowing the mission to expand its reach to women in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Many of the women that have been employed by Shakti.ism have pursued entrepreneurship and are now participants in a global market, and working to ensure economic prosperity and a decrease in global poverty.

Future Directions

The United Nations cites that “empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Growth” which strives to end poverty. As demonstrated by the work and reach of Shakti.ism, the economic empowerment of women is vital in the mission to end global poverty.

– Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Women’s empowerment in agriculture

Agriculture in Egypt accounts for about 14.5 percent of GDP and women make up most of the workforce. World Bank data shows that between 2011 and 2014, 43 percent of women were employed in agriculture versus only 24 percent of men. These women often work long hours and in labor-intensive sectors including harvesting and fertilizing land. According to a paper by Korang Ismail Abdel-Gawad, a survey of Upper and Lower Egypt shows that women participation in harvesting was 67 percent in lower-Egypt and 94.3 percent in upper-Egypt.

Despite women’s contribution to the economy through agriculture, they are frequently overlooked in both data and investment. The Principal Bank of Development and Agriculture, a major financial institution responsible for providing agricultural credit in Egypt, neglects to grant many long-term loans to women. Only one in twenty-six long-term borrowers and one-third of short-term borrowers are women. Furthermore, women make up only 5 percent of agricultural landowners.

Women’s empowerment in agriculture is crucial in order to increase growth in agriculture-related GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, if the female labor force participation rate in Egypt is raised to the male level, coupled with access to employment opportunities, the GDP would increase by approximately 34 percent. This includes gaining access to land, educational or instructional opportunities and gender-based equity programs. Here are a few main projects in Egypt related to women’s empowerment in agriculture:

USAID’s Strengthening Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development (SEED):

This project was created to strengthen micro, small and medium business owners (MSMEs) to ensure that they have access to the appropriate business development tools. In particular, the project focuses on businesses owned by women and youth with special attention to disadvantaged communities.
Related to this project is the Workforce Improvement and Skills Enhancement (WISE) program that provides employment training and technical-skills training to women and youth.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

The FAO improves agricultural productivity and food security through sanitary measures and regulations. This organization also supports female empowerment by encouraging of small enterprises and agricultural investment programs.

Women’s Employment Promotion Program:

This program helps to promote workplace safety and increase employment contracts that benefit women through pay equity, benefits and steady hours. In addition, the program provides educational seminars that help increase labor-force participation and prepare youth for employment

These three projects help to promote women in the workforce in order to increase economic returns and foster a safe and productive work environment. A prime focus is women’s empowerment in agriculture since it is such a large source of employment in Egypt. With access to credit, training opportunities and overall support in the agricultural sector, women can continue to have a growing impact on Egypt’s GDP and provide reliable income for their families. Strengthening the agricultural sector by supporting women in the workforce means an overall increase in food exports, and thus a larger contribution to the global economy.

– Tera Hofmann
Photo: Flickr

OVERPOPULATION IN UGANDA

Overpopulation is often one of the major causes of poverty. A lack of educational resources along with high death rates often go hand in hand with higher birth rates, resulting in large booms in population growth. The United Nations predicted that the poorest countries in the world are the biggest contributors to population growth. Uganda is one of the poorest developing countries in the world. There are many problems associated with overpopulation In Uganda.

High Fertility Rates

The poorest developing countries are usually the ones with the highest fertility rates and the ones with the least amount of resources to support their population growth. It has been proven that fertility rates in African nations are higher than in Western nations. One of the problems is that more developed nations are the ones that consume most of the resources, leaving the least possible amount to support the populations in African nations.

In addition to this, the lack of sexual education and family planning is a major cause of overpopulation in this region. Only 20 percent of Uganda’s women have access to contraception. Women in Uganda have an average of 7 children, which is higher the African average of 5.1 but more than double that of the global average of 2.7. Ugandan government’s lack of responsibility in improving family planning is a major reason for the country’s exponential population growth.

Population Increases

Presently there are 27.7 million people living in Uganda. By 2025, this number is estimated to double to 56 million people, making Uganda the nation with the world’s biggest population growth (at a rate of 3.3 percent). This kind of growth definitely continues to make resources more scarce in this region of the world. With already 19.5 percent of Uganda’s population living in poverty, efforts to decrease poverty rates will fail unless measures are taken.

As much as 78 percent of the population in Uganda are under the age of 30. Experts say that such big population will be a burden to the economy unless it is transformed into a working force. One major reason for the vast increase in the youth population was a need for family security, often to help with labor. There is minimal industrialization in many developing countries, so people have kids in order to have more help on the farm.

Unemployment and Overpopulation

Currently, 83 percent of young people have no formal employment. This is partly due to low economic growth, slow labor markets, high population growth rates, the rigid education system, rural-urban migration and limited access to capital. This boom in population growth is bound to put pressure on the economy by straining resources if the high birth rates are not controlled.

The major problem of Uganda’s young population is an increasing dependency burden at the household level with a related increase in demand for social services like health and education, which are not growing at the same pace as its population.  For example, classrooms in public schools are overcrowded due to growth in school populations. One cause for the growth in the population has been an increase in unwanted births, leading back to the idea that family planning is an essential part of reducing overpopulation in Uganda.

Solutions to Overpopulation in Uganda

There are many possible solutions to overcoming the overpopulation crisis in Uganda. Experts highlight the need for a long-term plan that focuses on the role of the family, the government, the private sector and society in helping young people to become productive. By reducing the problems with overpopulation in Uganda, the economy will benefit through taxes and more sustained production of goods and services.

Family planning services would reduce fertility levels and increase the proportion of employed adults to young dependents.  Furthermore, promoting family planning by educating men and women about contraception will play a key role in reducing fertility rates. A reduction in “fertility was achieved in the West over the course of a century of female education, national family planning services and the introduction of job opportunities for women.” Therefore, it is important to empower women by giving them access to reproductive health services as well as better economic options. The United Nations aims to tackle this issue by running microcredit projects to turn young women into advocates for reproductive health.

Another solution is government incentives. Governments must promote responsible parenthood and limit subsidies to the first two children unless the family is living in poverty. This can also be accomplished by promoting child spacing and having fewer children. In certain urban regions of the country, there are ads showing happy couples with just one or two children.

Cutting exponential population growth will give Uganda’s natural resources a higher chance of supporting the human burden. Government intervention through family planning by educating people on contraception methods and empowering women by enhancing female education are important steps towards reducing problems associated with overpopulation in Uganda and decreasing poverty.

Mayra Vega

Photo: Google


The international community has proposed a goal to rid the world of hunger by 2030. This goal would make history while creating a generation that cooperates to sustain a zero hunger status.

In modern Europe, “economy” refers to societal matters, but has origins within families where the European Union funded assistance is provided through the World Food Programme (WFP). When resources are scarce to the extent they are in these households, the need for making true economic choices appears.

The World Food Programme (WFP) believes that these decisions manifest through a woman’s major role to provide meals in the household. Women are responsible for 90 percent of the work involved in preparing a meal for the family. They grow, harvest, and prepare the food.

Groups like the WFP have suggested empowering women as a way of combating hunger because they hold such a dominant role in feeding their families. These organizations have brainstormed ways to aid women in hopes of empowering them and combating hunger. The WFP distributes cash, trains in food preparation, devises ways for starting micro-businesses and teaches cultivation of vegetables to women. The goal is to supply them with knowledge and funding so they can maximize family educational, health and nutritional benefits and work towards combating hunger.

Investing in women can pay dividends for future generations, breaking intergenerational hunger cycles. Studies show that an increase in income greatly benefits the children’s health and nutrition when managed by women directly.

Empowering women could prove to be a way to increase the current efforts of combating hunger needed to accomplish the zero hunger goal by 2030. While women are more likely to be victimized by hunger, they are also the most effective in combating hunger.

Katelynn Kenworthy

Photo: Flickr

Global Vision International
Global Vision International (GVI) was founded in 1998 with the mission of working “hand in hand with local communities, NGOs and government organizations to facilitate real change on the ground.” Global Vision International programs range from environmental and wildlife protection to global education, community development, health and construction projects that help communities use their resources sustainably and to their benefit. The ultimate goal of the organization is to fulfill local communities’ needs and requirements so they may move forward towards a better future.

GVI currently operates in over 25 countries all over the world in collaboration with international partners like the World Wildlife Fund and Save the Children. The organization received multiple awards for its excellent programs that allow individuals from around the globe to help those in need. The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, CNN, The Boston Globe and other newspapers and magazines have also praised the organization for providing opportunities for sustainable tourism and teaching individuals the ins and outs of being a responsible global citizen.

Originally GVI programs were geared towards community development, education, health and environmental protection. These were considered the essential elements of international development efforts by organizations like USAID and the U.N. Recently GVI inaugurated new programs that will add another level to development and will help create more equal societies. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are now essential components of GVI’s goals.

So far GVI has helped provide microloans for women entrepreneurs in Latin America and has begun women’s education classes in Africa and Asia. This is a big step towards achieving global economic growth because, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says, “Empowering women is smart economics” as “closing gender gaps benefits countries as a whole, not just women and girls.”

The IMF claims that achieving women’s empowerment and gender equality will ensure international development goals in education, health and poverty reduction are met. Increasing the number of women participating in the paid labor force has been found to accomplish many positive goals. Such goals include raising both economic and agricultural productivity, increase spending on the education and health of children and shifting policies towards providing greater access to clean water and sanitation.

It is very good news for international development that organizations outside the U.N. and the IMF have incorporated women’s empowerment into their programs and policies. When more organizations incorporate women into their projects greater change is possible. GVI is only one of many groups that have adopted the necessary innovations for change.

Christina Egerstrom
Photo: Flickr

Women with Mobile PhonesMobile phones have impacted society in a way that few other innovations can claim to equal. The devices not only allow for efficient worldwide communication through text, voice or video but also come fitted with cameras, microphones, calculators, music, GPS and many other apps and gadgets.

Most importantly, mobile phones allow people to easily access the internet from almost any location. One of the largest impacts has occurred in the lives of women with mobile phones.

By checking the internet or downloading an application, many people in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia can help themselves rather than relying on inadequate public services. Apps and websites can provide those people services and education regarding water and proper sanitation, maternal and early life care, banking services, legal counseling, disease prevention and even new or improved farming methods.

Access to these types of information or services can make all the difference for a young, expecting mother or for a village with minimal water sources. In fact, some people believe mobile phones are one of the most effective tools in the fight against global poverty.

Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to mobile devices in developing countries. According to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), women are being left behind in gaining new types of technology. It is estimated that there are around 200 million more men than women with mobile phones in low and middle-income countries.

There are several reasons for this difference, but there are two main factors that contribute to that gap. The first is that there are social norms that prevent women from seeking and learning about technology. The second comes from women being less financially independent than men in developing countries. The lack of money prevents them from being able to seek out technology.

In order to reach gender equality, women must be empowered. In this case, empowerment comes through women with mobile phones, which is exactly what GSMA is working towards.

The GSMA is an organization that represents the interests of mobile operators around the world. Through the Connected Women Commitment (CWC), the GSMA attempts to reduce the gender gap in mobile services such as internet and mobile money access. The CWC works by having mobile operators make a commitment to improving their services for women by 2020.

Recently, the GSMA announced that nine new mobile operators signed the CWC, including several African operators. These nine will join the other eight companies that have already signed. The GSMA plans to continue gathering signatures in hopes of not only empowering women but of capturing an estimated $170 billion market opportunity that may come from doing so.

Empowering women through mobile phones and internet can have significant economic benefits, and spreading technological access should be an important and relevant goal for all nations.

Weston Northrop

Photo: Flickr

Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets
President Obama emphasized his dedication to establish collaborative relationships in confronting shared global responsibilities and encouraging entrepreneurship in emerging markets at the 7th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Palo Alto, California this summer. Vice President Judith Pryor of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Government’s development finance institution, said in a post for the Silicon Valley Business Journal that “entrepreneurship unites people worldwide, as it improves lives by stimulating economic growth.”

Featured at this year’s Global Entrepreneur Summit were two OPIC partners, QuantumID, known for IT and air cargo, and Root Capital, known for agriculture. Although immensely different organizations, Pryor stated that both represent the requisites for diversity in free enterprise resolutions — “not just technology but also some much older industries, like agriculture.” According to OPIC, QuantumID in 2010 secured a $3 million loan from the institution that helped them pioneer cloud-based cargo management and tracking technology in India and the Philippines. This technology that so many emerging economies lack has helped lower the cost of shipping cargo, allowing material to be moved more effortlessly and safely.

Milind Tavshikar, developed SmartKargo, a cloud-based radio identification (RFID) technology that scans cargo using a handheld device before it is loaded on aircraft.

Root Capital, based in Massachusetts, is a nonprofit social investment fund that lends capital in Latin America and Africa to small-scale farmers and other rural businesses that need assistance in achieving sustainable economic development. OPIC reports that as of 2014, Root Capital has lent out more than $600 million from the organization to almost one million rural farmers, many of whom are women. Root Capital firmly believes that women have a vital role in food production across the globe, but are restricted in their access to the necessary resources that enable effectual farm operation. The organization believes in helping raise women’s economic position in their societies.

According to the London School of Business & Finance, investment remains optimistic in emerging market startups, and many continue to thrive in an often harsh environment where access to funds can be limited. There are, however, many businesses that have grown and continue to flourish, creating new innovations, job opportunities and better living standards for individuals worldwide. Such entrepreneurship in emerging markets is countless changing lives for the better.

Heidi Grossman

Photo: Flickr

Global gender data gapThe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced in May that it will donate $80 million to reduce the global gender data gap. This donation will contribute to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Current data collection standards do not adequately record women’s economic and social information in developing countries.

According to a press release by the organization, “a lack of comprehensive, current information about women and girls, especially in developing countries, hinders efforts to advance gender equality.” In order to achieve the health, educational and social proposals of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, world entities need access to accurate information about women everywhere. Closing the global gender data gap would provide that information.

The New York Times reports that standards for collecting data are gender-biased. These standards also fail to account for the complexity of women’s global situations. For example, many traditional surveys do not count female-led households in the same way as male-led households. They do not fairly count women who are homemakers or caretakers. Surveyors might end an interview after documenting “homemaker” as a woman’s primary activity, even if she has other economic occupations.

According to the same New York Times article, surveyors only collect about 30 percent of women’s economic activity. On the other hand, surveyors collect 75 percent of men’s activity. Statistics like this compelled the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve data collection methods. Entities such as the United Nations Foundation and the U. S. Department of State have also joined them.

The funding will support the creation of effective training techniques and improved tools for people who work with data. Tools like the Population Council’s Girl Roster Toolkit can provide those who collect and analyze data with holistic perspectives about issues girls suffer from globally and how they must properly document them. The Girl Roster also connects the world’s neediest young women with services in their areas.

In order to keep governments and politicians accountable to use the new and improved data, organizations like Avenir Health’s Track20 will help governments connect with women worldwide in order to give women access to family planning services.

The good news is that data gaps are already closing for women. According to the New York Times, the number of mothers dying during childbirth has dropped more than 40 percent worldwide. Similar statistics show much progress, but others show the need for more work to completely close the global gender data gap.

With the help of sponsors like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the work of data analysts and cooperative governments, the world can continue to give women everywhere the chances they need to live whole and happy lives.

Addie Pazzynski

Photo: Flickr

Half the sky

Reading a book like Half the Sky illuminates how unfair our world is. Though women make up about half of the world’s population, they are consistently discriminated against, overlooked and are in some cases, treated as second class citizens.

It is not surprising that the authors of Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDonn, are award winning writers for their work in raising awareness about the reality most women face in their countries in relation to discrimination.

Written as a series of essays, this book has two parts. The first part of the essay highlights the oppression and discrimination against women especially in developing countries and how this problem is often overlooked due to corruption, lack of strong justice systems and the patriarchal state of these nations.

The second part focuses on practical ways to create this “movement and effect the change needed” to address these situations.

From the beginning to the end of this enlightening book, it is obvious that the writers are very knowledgeable on their topic of discussion and their work shows extensive research in different areas of discrimination within different locations in developing countries.

From discussing issues such as women being promised work and ending up in sexual slavery and imprisonment, to illuminating health issues within developing countries such as women and girls ending up with fistulas after birth, women dying from HIV and AIDS, women and girls going through female genital mutilation as well as being overlooked in terms of getting an education, this book paints a sad reality of women’s lives in the developing world.

The most fascinating point that arises in the book is the fact that culture is the main catalyst for the way women are treated in their societies. In our dynamic world, culture in the developing countries seems unchangeable, especially in relation to its negative aspects. Another surprising fact in the book is the idea that older women in some of these societies are perpetrators of discrimination towards other younger women in the society.

Here, this is quite a deviation from what the “West” has portrayed in development; the idea that men are the main perpetrators of women’s oppression.

Half the Sky not only raises awareness about the injustices women faces but it also advocates for women to fight for their rights by speaking up and resisting the discrimination they face. Though the book points out a few strong and relentless women like Usha Narayane, Sunitha and Krishna who do exactly this and fight for justice, it highlights that most women in the developing world are vulnerable and are unable to get access to their rights.

Half the Sky is the voice of the vulnerable, uneducated and oppressed women in the developing world.

Vanessa Awanyo

Photo: Google Images

Emma Watson
On March 8, 2016, Emma Watson turned the Empire State Building pink in honor of International Women’s Day. As a U.N. Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, Watson helped launch the HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality in 2014 and continues to keep the issue at the forefront of international politics.

In fact, Watson admitted in a February 2016 interview with feminist author bell hooks that she was taking a year off from acting to focus solely on her work with U.N. Women and the HeForShe movement.

The HeForShe movement affirms that gender equality is not just a women’s issue but an issue that affects all people. HeForShe recognizes men and boys as partners for women’s rights and provides a platform from which they can become agents of change towards the achievement of gender equality.

While some progress towards gender equality has been made over the last decade, major disparities still exist. The World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report revealed that the global average annual earnings for women in 2015 just reached the average annual amount men were earning ten years go.

The Forum states that achieving equal pay will take 118 years if economic progress continues at its current pace.

Emma Watson has spoken around the globe on the issue of gender equality in order to involve hundreds-of-thousands of men in the movement.

In the first quarter of 2016 alone, she’s started an online feminist book club, organized HeForShe arts week in New York City, unveiled a new HeForShe website and released a 26-page report in Esquire Magazine on why gender equality is an issue that involves all of us. So far, HeForShe has been the subject of more than 2 billion conversations on social media.

One of the most notable initiatives of the movement Watson helped organize is IMPACT 10x10x10. IMPACT engages governments, corporations, and universities and has them make concrete commitments to gender equality. The three IMPACT groups are made up of ten heads of states, ten corporate executives, and ten university leaders.

The participating IMPACT Champions, all male, include the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of Rwanda, the CEO of Tupperware Brands, the COO of Twitter, and the President of the University of Sao Paulo Brazil.

These individuals are committed to making gender equality an institutional priority and then sharing what they learn with other organizations so that their changes can be replicated.

Watson and the ten IMPACT corporate executives recently met at the 2016 UN World Economic Forum in Davos to unveil their Corporate Gender Parity Report. The report revealed that within the ten corporations, 71% of board members were male, 73% of senior leadership positions were male and 60% of the overall global workforce were male.

The report also revealed the impact commitments the corporations plan on implementing to achieve gender parity. They include:

  • Embedding gender equality in company policies through programs like mandatory bias training and male-focused gender curricula to educate and empower men as gender equality advocates;
  • Increasing the percentage of women in senior leadership positions through mentoring opportunities;
  • Creating thousands of HeForShe male champions within each company;
  • Reaching complete gender parity in undergraduate intake programs to build the pipeline of future female leaders;
  • During the presentation of the report, Watson stated that full female participation in the workforce would bring a $28 trillion boost to the global economy.

In a recent interview at the inaugural HeForShe arts week, Watson was asked what’s next for gender equality and she stated, “we really want to crowdsource as many different strategies from all over the world so that we can try and build a really comprehensive guide to how we can make a tangible difference and make it happen.”

HeForShe is off to an impressive start in 2016 and continues to power towards its goal of gender equality by 2030.

Brian Zepka

Sources: HeForShe 1, HeForShe 2, HeForShe 3, Paper Mag, World Economic Forum, HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 2015 Corporate Parity Report, HeForShe YouTube Channel
Photo: Flickr