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Alimenta la SolidaridadVenezuela has a convoluted political, economic and social situation. The present humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has placed the country in fourth for the largest food crisis in the world. The nonprofit organization  Alimenta la Solidaridad (Feed Solidarity) chooses to tackle this issue head-on.

The Situation in Venezuela

According to the World Food Program, one in every three Venezuelans require food assistance. Venezuela’s deteriorating situation has decreased the household’s access to food as well as the purchasing power of the people. In 2019, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans suffered from food insecurity and approximately 9.3 million required immediate food assistance.

The current food dilemma is expected to worsen due to the current economic crisis. Already, the plight has increased childhood malnutrition and starvation. Children in Venezuela rarely obtain vital nutrients for proper growth and adequate cognitive development.

A Nonprofit to the Rescue

Alimenta la Solidaridad was determined to combat the rampant food insecurity in Venezuela. Since 2016, it has provided around 7,508,000 meals to Venezuelan children in need. The program started mainly in Distrito Capital, the capital’s state, but it has gradually expanded nationwide. It now operates in 14 additional states, has a total of 188 dining rooms across the national territory and gives food assistance to over 14,000 children.

The nonprofit recognizes the necessity to contribute their part to society. Alimenta la Solidaridad aims to find sustainable solutions to the food-related challenges that plague many low-income Venezuelan families. This organization works exhaustively to soften the effect of the nutritional deficiencies that many children in this program possess.

How Alimenta la Solidaridad Works

Alimenta la Solidaridad operates through donors with the help of mothers and fathers from the communities. The nonprofit gathers people willing to share their home to provide the space for community kitchens. Volunteers cook, organize the children, clean and manage the daily operations of this effort. The organization is “more than a plate of food.” When people with Alimenta la Solidaridad get together, they create a place of transformation.  Sometimes, they create activities that turn into opportunities for the development and empowerment of children. Mothers in the program also receive growth opportunities.

Alimenta la Solidaridad provides training courses that will empower the mothers. The new skills are then put right back into the organization. These mothers often end up taking one of the most important roles within the organization. They don’t only make the initiative possible, they also teach the children to grow in the values of co-responsibility, involvement and service.

Alimenta la Solidaridad aids the outside communities as well. The initiative contributes to the reduction of criminal indexes within the surrounding areas. Further, the organization promotes community organizations and volunteer work. They uplift these avenues of aid as a way to fulfill their mission of providing daily meals to children with food insecurity in Venezuela.

Hope for the Fight

Despite the painful reality in Venezuela, many efforts across the territory keep trying to find ways to help. Alimenta la Solidaridad is the perfect example of an organization that managed to provide aid despite the bleak circumstances. The nonprofit’s dedication and goodwill has developed a model based on responsibility and empowerment. This method boosts the sense of involvement and amount of voluntary service within Venezuelan communities in need. Food insecurity has met its match with the hopeful spirit of the resilient Venezuelan people.

Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Pixabay

Marriott BonvoyMarriott International is a company that has the largest hotel group in the world. The company is associated with thousands of hotels in over 130 countries. Marriott International believes it has a responsibility to tackle global economic issues. Therefore, the organization has established an entire sector of its company to focus on global issues. This sector is known as Marriott Bonvoy and Serve 360.

Marriott Bonvoy is the company’s charity program. This program offers members, guests and associates the opportunity to donate points to nearly 30 nonprofit organizations. In addition, these points are converted to cash and paid for by Marriott International. Some of these NGOs include the American Red Cross, UNICEF, WE and World Central Kitchen. Moreover, members of Marriott’s reward program earn points by staying at hotels across the globe. Members have the choice to donate to nonprofits that operate within four categories of Marriott’s charity campaign. These categories are nurture, sustain, empower and welcome.

Nurture

The slogan for this category is “nurture our world.” Marriott International believes it is absolutely necessary to increase the standard of living in communities the hotels are located in. In addition, the company does so by protecting the vitality of children, increasing community engagement, providing disaster relief and investing in natural capital. In 2018 alone, members of the Marriott community donated over six and one-half million dollars to UNICEF and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. During that same year, Marriott Bonvoy reported over 13 million points donated for disaster relief programs. Moreover, by 2025, the company’s goal is to record seven and one-half million hours of volunteer service to protect children in specific locations.

Sustain

Marriott International firmly believes in generating sustainable hotel properties, reducing environmental impact and sourcing products responsibly. Additionally, the company’s goal is to sustainably certify every single hotel property across the world. Marriott International also spent over $400 million purchasing supplies from women-owned businesses.

Empower

Marriott International believes that tourism is a viable solution to global unemployment. Therefore, the company focuses on developing hospitality skills and opportunities for the youth, women, people with disabilities, refugees and veterans. In 2018, Marriott International contributed over four and one-half million dollars to facilitate hospitality schooling for people in need. Furthermore, Marriott Bonovy and Serve 360 will continue to eliminate poverty by providing those in need with the opportunity to learn skills and become employed.

Welcome

This category of Marriott Bonovy and Serve 360 aims to protect human rights around the world. Marriott International believes that traveling and tourism can play a huge part in developing a cultural understanding of other nations. Therefore, Marriott International plans to donate half a million dollars to organizations that promote peace and cultural understanding.

Marriott’s Bonvoy program allows members, guests and associates to directly contribute to Serve 360. The company has made donating even easier with the development of a Marriott Bonvoy credit card and app. As a result, this allows members to acquire and manage their points more efficiently. Currently, Marriott International is the largest hotel company in the world. Therefore, it is absolutely essential for other corporations to follow suit and create programs to eliminate economic issues causing global poverty.

John Brinkman
Photo: Flickr

Harmful Practices in MalawiDespite the enactment of the Gender Equality Act in 2013,  Malawi has much more to accomplish with respect to women’s rights. Traditional customs and harmful cultural practices are still deeply entrenched in Malawian society, leading to discrimination and marginalization of women and girls. These practices adversely affect their development, health, socioeconomic status and overall contributions to society. UNICEF defines harmful practices as discriminatory practices that transcend into communities and societies’ cultures and are viewed as acceptable. The most common harmful traditional and cultural practices include female genital mutilation (FGM), Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and child marriage. Such practices perpetuate gender inequalities, violate women’s rights and have detrimental physical and emotional effects on women. The Tilimbike Safe Community Space aims to reduce harmful practices in Malawi that affect women and girls.

Harmful Practices in Malawi

As a result of cultural practices, gender disparities remain pervasive across all aspects of society. Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights, with cascading consequences for young girls. For example, girls married as children are more likely to drop out of school, become teenage mothers and have higher rates of maternal mortality.

Malawi has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa, with the Human Rights Watch estimating that in 2020, one out of two girls will be married by the time they turn 18.

In addition to child marriage, Malawi remains a setting where gender-based violence is prevalent. One in five young women experiences sexual violence before they turn 18 and nearly 40% of married women have experienced intimate partner violence.

While adequate policies exist, the public and non-governmental sector responses have faced challenges in breaking down discriminatory cultural ideals and improving women’s rights. Harmful practices toward women continue unabated in Malawi due to the persistence of cultural attitudes. However, in rural communities, mentoring has proven to be efficacious in preventing harmful practices and empowering young girls and women.

Tilimbike Safe Community Space

The Tilimbike Safe Community Space is a mentorship program led by The Spotlight Initiative that serves at-risk girls and women in rural communities in Malawi by trying to eliminate harmful practices such as sexual and gender-based violence and child marriage. In mentorship sessions, mentors teach young girls about their basic human rights, sexual and reproductive health and other critical life skills. With this knowledge and interactions with their peers, girls are empowered to speak out and challenge harmful cultural practices.

Tilimbike Safe Community Space has 360 mentors, spanning across the high-risk districts of Dowa, Ntchisi, Mzimba, Nkatabay, Machinga and Nsanje. The program has educated and empowered more than 7,000 young women in these regions by equipping them with knowledge and skills to challenge the harmful practices that fuel GBV in their communities. The women and girls are now apt to speak out in their own communities, with crucial knowledge such as the importance of staying in school and the adverse effects of early marriage. Empowering girls and women is the first step toward change and fostering the foundation for solutions to these harmful practices.

Tilimbike During COVID-19

During COVID-19, women and girls are more confined to their homes due to school closures and travel restrictions. Therefore, they are at increased risk for GBV, teenage pregnancy and being coerced into childhood marriage. Despite the elevated risks, mentees of the Tilimbike Safe Community Space successfully prevented these harmful occurrences. Huge strides have been made to end the harmful cultural practices during COVID-19 restrictions, with no teenage pregnancies or child marriages among the mentees during the lockdown.

These women and girls have renewed hope for achieving their life goals and have enhanced their ability to make informed decisions about their lives and futures. The mentors in the Tilimbike Safe Community Space allow girls and women an opportunity to receive advice and support outside their home to reach their fullest potential. The Tilimbike Safe Community Space illuminates that mentorship programs are effective in breaking down cultural barriers and ending harmful practices.

Further Progression

Initiatives such as the Tilimbike Safe Community Space play a key role in eliminating dismantling gender disparities in society caused by cultural barriers. Mentoring and empowering women and girls will advance not just Malawi but the entire world.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

photographing the worlds poorPhotography can inspire empathy and mobilize viewers to care more about the world around them. This is especially true for photography of the world’s poor. However, along with photography’s power comes an ethical responsibility to ensure that it does not objectify or exploit its subjects.

Photography of the World’s Poor: Inviting Empathy

Between a click of shutters and closed corner frames, moments freeze into ageless photographs. Photography invites the viewer into a new world and a new perspective through a single captured moment. Such invitation is essential to the impact of photography, as both an art form and a journalistic device.

Photography of the world’s poor is a powerful tool. Photographs offer a visual language, one that situates the viewer in a specific moment and allows headlines and statistics to become real and palpable. Many non-profit and news organizations have utilized photography of the world’s poor in order to inform, mobilize and inspire the public to further help those in need.

Studies: The Identifiable Victim and The Visual

Photography’s power stems in part from the identifiable victim effect, which “refers to peoples’ tendency to preferentially give to identified versus anonymous victims of misfortune.” The phenomenon connects one’s empathy with an ability to humanize and personalize another. A study in 2007 exemplified the identifiable victim effect by showing that people were likely to donate more when they were presented with a single individual, such as an image of an orphan that would benefit from their donation, than with a group statistic reflecting the millions in need.

Along with employing the identifiable victim effect, photography harnesses power as a visual medium. A 2013 study found that subjects were more likely to donate when they were given a photograph of an orphan than if they saw a silhouette of that child or her name. The study shows how the visual stimulation of an image generates a greater response in viewers than other personal but non-visual information.

Through its use of the identifiable victim effect and a visual medium, photography can inspire empathy and generosity in its viewers. Photography of the world’s poor can quite literally open the public’s eyes to the suffering and injustices that are taking place globally. It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the millions of people suffering from extreme poverty, but looking at a portrait of a single individual suddenly makes the issues a lot more personal and pressing.

The Dangers of Photography: Poverty Porn

With photography’s power comes consequences. Photography of the world’s poor has the potential to objectify and exploit its subjects. Some describe such photos as “poverty porn.”

Poverty porn can be difficult to define, but it seeks to identify exploitative images that strive to be as horrifying and pitiful as possible in order to shock the viewer into feeling sympathy and oftentimes making a donation. Sometimes photographers may even stage subjects, positioning them to look particularly poor and helpless in order to capture a specifically desired image.

This type of photography is not only one-dimensional, but it is dangerous. Poverty porn creates a culture of paternalism and objectification that paints the viewers as saviors and reduces the poor down to their struggles. Furthermore, poverty porn disregards a community’s capability, strength and resilience, and instead “evokes the idea that the poor are helpless and incapable of helping themselves.” Rather than intelligent and competent agents, the poor become disempowered individuals, stripped of their dignity, in order to invoke a guilt-ridden response from the viewer.

Utilizing Photography for Good

For all its power and potential, photography of the world’s poor brings with it an ethical responsibility. When done right, photography can provide an important look into the lives it captures, giving voice to the voiceless and inspiring viewers to care more deeply for the world around them.

Yet, in utilizing this precious tool, it is also necessary to understand what remains unseen in these images. As described in an article in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “each image arises from a set of momentary, fragmented relationships embedded in asymmetrical power relations.” These “asymmetrical power relations” begin with the photographer’s choices and extends into the viewer’s perception of the image. It is important to remember that the individuals in the photograph do not always have a say in how they are depicted.

No photograph, no matter how justly done, can convey the full story: complex, intricate human lives cannot be completely captured by a two-dimensional frame. Yet, as written in the NCBI article, “our photographs — and [the] emotional reactions they produce — speak to both the very need for the image and the desire for it to capture what will literally ‘work’ for the agencies that commission their production.”

Photography’s ability to inspire empathy in viewers and connect the world through a single human moment is enough evidence that it is an art form worth utilizing in the fight against world poverty, when done correctly.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes on Peace

One of the most influential faces of the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr, is someone most, if not all, Americans know and look to for inspiration and motivation in our current efforts in activism. His nonviolent protests and peaceful yet insistent demeanor were harbingers for changes the country so desperately needed. His efforts can serve as a foundation upon which present-day efforts to fight for a change of the same magnitude are built. Keep reading to revive worn spirits and exemplify what it means to maintain optimism in times of strife.

7 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes on Peace

  1. “We must come to see that at the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience,” – delivered on March 25, 1965, in Montgomery, AL.
  2. “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” – Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, March 31, 1968.
  3. “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love,”- during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance address on December 10, 1964, in Oslo, Norway.
  4. “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” – Where Do We Go From Here? Annual Report delivered at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference on August 19, 1967, in Atlanta, GA.
  5. “Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. Love is not an emotional bash; it is not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.” – 1957
  6. “We must find new ways to speak for peace… for justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” – Conscience and the Vietnam War, The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968
  7. “World peace through nonviolent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew… Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity, and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built.” – Dreams of Brighter Tomorrows in Ebony Magazine, March 1965.

– Jessica Ball
Photo: Wikimedia

Women's Empowerment in Costa Rica
Costa Rica was ranked 32nd out of 144 on the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report. With a score of two representing maximum gender equality, Costa Rica scored 0.736, moving up six positions since the 2015 report. While this report evaluates the gap between women and men in economics, political empowerment, education, health and life expectancy, from an economic standpoint Costa Rica is making great leaps toward equality. With traditional family roles shifting and more Costa Rican women working outside of the home, opportunities have had to be available over the last decade to accommodate this change and growth. While conditions are far from perfect and equal pay is still a hot topic, women occupy more leadership roles in business, politics, education and agriculture, creating a significant influx of female empowerment in this Latin American country.

Female Leadership
Costa Rica is one of five Latin American countries that have adopted gender parity policies, aimed at increasing the number of women in national parliaments.

In 2011, Costa Rica elected its first female president. Laura Chinchilla Miranda won the presidential election and was more than 20 percentage points ahead of the runner-up. Her term ended in 2014, but her presence in a position of power marks the great strides being made toward gender equality and women’s empowerment in Costa Rica. With the 2018 election approaching, the representation of women has significantly increased, with women in Parliament exceeding 40 percent. These are historic numbers.

Among government leadership, there has also been an increase of female representation in the police force. Over the past three years, Costa Rica’s police force has gone from 3 percent to 17 percent female officers in the agency. With leadership in Parliament and on the streets, Costa Rican women are being represented more and more.

The Gender Equality Seal
Costa Rica has created a seal to verify and certify gender equality in the workplace. The Gender Equality Seal is a recognition given to public and private organizations. Its goal is to implement a system that will guarantee gender equality in each organization’s internal processes and labor relations. Existing gaps between women and men must be identified and a work plan to close those gaps must be created. The system is implemented in four areas: human resources, integral health, social co-responsibility in care and workplace environment. The seal seeks to empower women by offering them more opportunities in the workplace with equal pay as well as opportunities for high-level executive positions.

In 2016, 45 organizations participated in The Gender Equality Seal and signed a letter of commitment towards gender equality.

Coffee
More than 500 million people around the world are dependent on coffee for their livelihoods. Costa Rican coffee has been considered among the best in the world. As one of the country’s top three exports, coffee is a major source of revenue and a staple in the economy. Although coffee farmers can be paid extremely low wages for their work, there has been an influx of female-centered organizations seeking to remove the gender gap and allow women to make a living through coffee farming.

The International Women Coffee Alliance Costa Rican chapter, Women in Coffee Alliance of Costa Rica (WCACR), provides women in coffee a voice and vote in political decisions regarding the commodity. Formed in 2005, WCACR seeks to create sustainable developments in each community that are environmentally, economically and socially viable. They also offer opportunities for women in the coffee industry to learn more about the production of coffee and the marketplace.

Organizations like ASOMOBI, the Association of Organized Women of Biolley, make a point to advertise that their coffee is produced by women in an effort to strengthen gender equity and empower the women of this cooperative.

Today, with more than 30 associate members of the chapter including millers, producers, exporters and roasters, they represent 17 companies and organizations from Costa Rica’s seven coffee-producing regions.

Although Costa Rica is moving in the right direction, with equality in the workplace and gender salary as a topic of discussion among leaders and influencers, they still have a long way to go. But as politics change and leaders invest more energy into promoting an equal and thriving country, there is hope that women’s empowerment in Costa Rica will continue to be on the rise.

Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in CameroonCameroon, like many countries around the world, has dealt with women’s inequality. There are several laws in Cameroon that are severely discriminatory towards women, and even after observations and suggestions made by the CEDAW Committee to the government of Cameroon in 2000 and 2009, there have been no legal reforms to improve the protection of women’s empowerment in Cameroon. To make matters worse, customary law is applied next to statutory law, which brings about many contradictions and inconsistencies.

There are many customs and traditions that impede the implementation of statutory laws. Many marriages are forced, especially in rural areas, where some girls as young as 12 are married. There is also the practice of levirate, where widows are forced to marry the brother of their deceased husband, a very common practice since widows are considered property. Furthermore, according to tradition, only male children can inherit property.

Domestic violence is prevalent and happens often while remaining socially acceptable. Unlike many other countries, marital rape is not considered a criminal offense. The government has not established shelters or legal aid clinics, and victims usually have to suffer in a culture of silence and impunity.

When it comes to education, the literacy rate for the 15-26 age group is 72 percent for males and 59 percent for females. This is due in part to families being more in favor of boys getting an education if they are unable to send all their children. Even though there are still fewer females than males in secondary school, there is slight progress. There have been some efforts made by the government to promote girls’ access to education. However, only so many girls have been able to benefit from the scholarship policy after already being affected by the lack of infrastructure, educational materials and a shortage of qualified teachers.

There are labor laws in place to honor gender equality and provide equal access to employment and equal wages for equal work, but women are still being employed in informal sectors like agriculture and household services. Sexual harassment in the workplace is common and is not punishable by law.

There are calls for the authorities of Cameroon to reform or repeal all discriminatory measures in statutory law; specifically, the provisions of the Family Code concerning the age of marriage, consent, polygamy, marital power and property. They need to take all necessary measures to improve women’s access to public and political life when it comes to decision-making positions, which include adopting special temporary measures such as a quota system and passing legislation criminalizing sexual harassment. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to improve women’s access to health care; in particular, developing healthcare infrastructure and intensifying the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women but has not ratified the protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. These changes would further encourage women’s empowerment in Cameroon.

The government of Cameroon must act and vigorously combat these issues so they can become things of the past. If the government does not make these changes and bring about equality, it will be seen as inadequate and paying lip service to the noble goal of gender equality. Women’s empowerment in Cameroon is the goal and it is up to the government to instill these laws and hold people accountable.

Chavez Spicer

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in KenyaKenya is an East African country situated between two war-torn countries, Somalia and Uganda. The country is a low income, food-deficient country where 52 percent of people live below the poverty line, 40 percent are unemployed and 1.3 million live with HIV/AIDS. Despite the threat of natural disasters and violence, women’s empowerment in Kenya is also a major issue.

Kenya has many patriarchal systems in place, including one known as “beading”. Beading is a practice where girls as young as age six are engaged to a male relative and are allowed to have sexual relations. They do not allow pregnancy because they believe having a baby will lower the girl’s chances of getting married. The only concern is for the girl’s future marriageability, not the fact that the girl has most likely has suffered physical harm and mental trauma. The Children Act (2006) and the Sexual Offenses Bill (2001) were put in place to protect women from rape and incest, but beading is socially accepted within certain tribes, who believe it to be a part of their culture.

In addition to the practice of beading, there are ceremonies for female genital mutilation (FGM). Nearly 140 million girls around the world are living with the consequences of FGM. While Kenya has banned the practice, there are still some communities that participate in the ceremony. Kenya has created a prosecution unit to stop the mutilation from happening, but some parents take their daughters to more remote regions to have them undergo FGM. It is so integral to some communities that if a young girl does not undergo the practice, she will face stigma and alienation.

There are certain social, political and economic contexts that show the different layers of beliefs in Kenya that contribute to practices like beading and FGM. Kenya fits the description of a patriarchal society, where women are marginalized and dominated by men. The profound gender disparities caused by the patriarchal norms and laws have brought about steady attacks on women’s rights to land and property. Women make up about 80 percent of the workforce, but Kenyan women only hold about 1 percent of land titles in their names. Addressing women’s rights requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policymaking. The United Nations Population Fund suggests that the focus be on certain areas that are critical and compromised, like giving women control over their lives and bodies, as well as economic, educational and political empowerment, to encourage women’s empowerment in Kenya.

With these traditional ideas of what a woman’s role should be in Kenya, women are held back from contributing to important development goals. However, the new constitution, passed in 2010, provides methods to address gender equality. Marking a new beginning for women’s empowerment in Kenya, there is a movement to stop excluding women and promote their involvement in every aspect of growth and development in the country.

With the help of USAID, there are plans to create safe societies where women and girls can live free from violence, provide care and treatment services for victims, strengthen women’s access to resources and opportunities to expand economic growth, increase the participation of women in policies at all levels, ensure women have a role in peacebuilding and conflict prevention and narrow the gender gaps in education and learning. Women’s empowerment in Kenya has come a long way and is making progress.

Chavez Spicer

Photo: Flickr

Education in Afghanistan When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, women faced substantial discrimination. Many of their rights were stifled, including their ability to receive an education. The Taliban lost power in 2001, and the Afghan government and USAID have since worked together to reinstate women’s rights. Their primary focus has been improving female education in Afghanistan, as education is a major key to lifting people out of poverty.

In the past 16 years, girls have gone from comprising zero percent of students to almost 40 percent. While these statistics are encouraging, the female gender still faces significant barriers to education in Afghanistan.

Many families still believe that women should not work or go to school because it is improper for their gender. Without their family’s support, it can be nearly impossible to receive an education in Afghanistan. For some girls, schools are so far away from their homes that they have to walk a great distance to get there. According to the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation, 90 percent of women throughout Afghanistan have been sexually harassed on the streets. This harassment can create so much fear that they drop out of school to be safe.

Child marriage also poses a significant threat to female education in Afghanistan. Almost one-third of girls are married before they turn 18. Child marriage is an unfortunate result of tradition and a lack of career opportunities for women. Additionally, once a woman gets married, it is incredibly unlikely that her husband will allow her to continue her education.

Afghanistan can be a difficult place for a woman to receive an education due to it being a highly dangerous country for women. Thankfully, the Afghan government, with help from other nations, continues to work to improve conditions for women. The Education Quality Improvement Program, or EQUIP, provides schools with grants to for textbooks, equipment, schoolhouse improvement and increasing the teachers’ education levels. Currently, EQUIP focuses on improving the quality of education in Afghanistan for females, and most of the funding goes to schools that educate women.

Women who receive a proper education are less likely to become child brides and more liable contribute to their communities in a substantial way. Female education is thus essential to ending the cycle of poverty for individuals and communities. In Afghanistan, educational opportunities are increasing, and poverty levels are sure to decrease as more women receive an education.

Julia Mccartney

Photo: Flickr

Rural AzerbaijanIn the 10-year period ending in 2012, Azerbaijan achieved the remarkable feat of lowering its national poverty rate from 49 percent to six percent. Baku, the nation’s capital, has transformed into a modern metropolis where unemployment levels have dropped and a number of social reforms have started to foster greater economic opportunity. However, these improvements have not been felt across the entire country equally; rural areas, particularly near Azerbaijan’s southern border with Iran, are still struggling. To address this, though, new Women Resource Centers signal hope for growth in these locations.

The centers are the result of a project that aims to dramatically alleviate poverty just as much as it hopes to bring about gender equality. Sponsored by an international partnership comprised of UNDP, USAID and Azeri state government bureaus, the project is based on the philosophy that economic growth is the result of social empowerment which drives entrepreneurship and thus employment. Seeing rural women as the most economically disenfranchised, Women Resource Centers became the solution to break Azerbaijan’s vicious cycle of child marriages and poor educational standards.

At the centers, women are encouraged to share creative ideas with their communities and are educated about their personal rights. Women also receive vocational training, often in fields in which they have no prior knowledge. Importantly, these training sessions include basic business operations such as marketing, managing cash flows and filing taxes. Lastly, members can propose business plans and, if they are viable, they will receive financial contributions to help get started. Project success stories include a cattle-breeding business, a clothing store and a baker who doubled her regular clients after participating in the program.

To date, the project has already assisted more than 400 women and indirectly benefitted more than 1500 residents of the area. This includes roughly 50 new businesses led by women in order to provide for their families. From a countrywide perspective, the initiative is also shifting focus toward rural growth, which has traditionally received despairingly little attention (estimated around 11 percent of programs in the past).

Nearing the halfway point of the project’s two-year timeline, four Women Resource Centers have been constructed in Bilasuvar, Masalli, Sabirabad and Naftchala. Their opening ceremonies have touted Azerbaijan’s progress toward sustainable development, and it is clear that officials remain committed to future openings before the March 2018 end date.

According to U.N. resident representative Ghulam Isaczai, the project “helps women and youth improve their lives in a meaningful way by starting successful careers matching their aspirations…By helping them, we are helping the future of our beautiful country.”

Zack Machuga

Photo: Flickr