Education for Pregnant StudentsThe African Court on Human and People’s Rights had to make a pivotal decision regarding the right to education for pregnant students in Tanzania. On November 19, 2020, Equality Now and Tike Mwabipile, executive director of Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA), filed a joint application to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights to abolish a discriminatory ban. Three human rights groups, the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Women’s Link Worldwide (WLW), joined the application as joint amici. This application is in direct response to the discriminatory ban in Tanzania, whereby the government of Tanzania is disregarding the rights of females who are pregnant, married or mothers.

The Discriminatory Ban and Joint Amicus

The discriminatory ban in question has been in practice for decades across Tanzania, but in 2017, former president John Magufuli introduced an official ban against the education of pregnant girls, married girls or mothers, stressing immorality as reasoning. The ban draws its power from the Tanzania Education Act, which states that expulsion for a student is deemed necessary when they have “committed an offense against morality.”

Tanzania’s current and first female president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who stepped into her role in March 2021 after Magufuli’s death, has made it her mission to incentivize the progression of women’s rights in Tanzania and distance herself from the controversial policies of the previous presidency.

The three human rights organizations, attempt to highlight the injustices that have come to fruition as a result of the discriminatory ban and to prioritize the need for education for pregnant students in their joint amicus, which highlights:

“Tanzania’s international and human rights obligations to guarantee the freedom from discrimination; to prevent and respond to violence against girls, including in school settings; and to safeguard the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and young women.”

This legal endeavor represents one of the many collective efforts for women’s rights progression in Tanzania in recent times. The discrepancy in policy regarding Tanzania’s education laws appears to represent a significant obstacle to overcome on the road toward progress.

However, in November 2021, Tanzania announced that it would make a critical step toward safeguarding the right to education by lifting the ban. Human Rights Watch says Tanzania has “recently removed restrictive policies, but [has] a policy gap,” indicating that this supposed breakthrough may have more effect on paper as opposed to in practice.

Tanzania’s History of Educational Subordination

Tanzania as a nation has a long and troubled history in regard to the education of women and young girls. Several core aspects of its education policy are founded on the decisions of a fundamentally patriarchal government in the 1960s, after the nation’s official independence from Great Britain in 1961.

These prior actions have resulted in a situation where, today, across Tanzania, the guarantee of education for pregnant students is far from a reality. According to a 2013 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a large percentage of schools across Tanzania interpret the act of pregnancy for students as immoral.  This has manifested as a situation that sees student dropout numbers at an alarming number according to figures provided by the World Bank in 2021: “More than 120,000 girls drop out of school every year in Tanzania. 6,500 of them because they are pregnant or have children.”

The 2013 report also noted a widespread belief within the education system in mainland Tanzania that expulsion is mandatory if a student is pregnant. However, the report found that there is in fact no legal mandate for expulsion, and on the contrary, according to the World Bank, “Tanzanian laws and policies promote and protect adolescent girls’ rights to education, health, nondiscrimination and privacy.”

Due to the widespread misconception in Tanzania that expulsion is legally necessary for pregnant students, and with standardized pregnancy tests standing as common practice within the education system, societal norms instilled by previous presidencies shape and control the educational rights of thousands of young girls.

The lifting of the ban not only leads to legal progress within Tanzania but also upholds the rights of women across the nation.

– James Garwood
Photo: Flickr

Global gender equalityIn the fight for global gender equality, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is leading the way. According to the Peace Corps, gender equality means that “men and women have equal power and equal opportunities for financial independence, education and personal development” and is a crucial issue worldwide. Recently, the Gates Foundation made a significant donation to help support global gender equality efforts. This is not the only action the organization has taken to express its passion for establishing gender equality. The Gates Foundation’s efforts, with support from other organizations, will make great strides in the fight for global gender equality.

A Generous Donation

At the 2021 Generation Equality Forum, the Gates Foundation announced it would donate more than $2 billion to help improve gender equality worldwide. Over the next five years, the foundation plans to use the money to advance gender equality in three main areas: economic support, family planning and placing women in leadership roles. The Gates Foundation’s goal behind this decision is to specifically focus on gender-related issues that have worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the International Labor Organization found that unemployment for women increased by nine million from 2019 to 2020. Since the foundation has dedicated itself to supporting gender equality for many years, this monetary commitment will accelerate its progress.

Actions From the Foundation

Besides its billion-dollar donation, the Gates Foundation has been dedicating its work to create solutions for the lack of women’s equality for many years. In addition to several other million-dollar donations, in 2020, the foundation formally established the Gender Equality Division to prioritize its commitment to improving the lives of women and girls. From family health to economic empowerment, the foundation is working on expanding access to a variety of social, medical and educational services. This includes analyzing factors that help or hinder women and advising international governments on how to better support gender equality.

Solutions From Other Organizations

Aside from the Gates Foundation’s various efforts, other projects can improve circumstances relevant to global gender equality. One vital step to this process is looking at data from around the world. Data2X created a campaign that draws attention to issues associated with gender and proposes possible improvements. Similarly, another organization, Equality Now, uses legal and systemic advocacy to help improve global gender equality. Furthermore, after donating more than $400 million, the Ford Foundation has also committed to helping fix various gender-related issues. These issues include inequality in the economy and workforce.

The Gates Foundation’s donation of more than $2 billion is one significant step in eliminating global gender inequality. With initiatives worldwide, women and girls are gaining the equality and respect they should have always had. In addition, the Gates Foundation is supported by Data2X, Equality Now and the Ford Foundation. Together, people everywhere are working to understand and improve global gender equality.

– Chloe Moody
Photo: Wikimedia

Make Equality RealityEquality Now was founded in 1992 in New York when three feminist lawyers, Jessica Neuwirth, Navanethem “Navi” Pillay and Feryal Gharahi decided that domestic violence, rape and female genital mutilation could no longer be acceptable. The lawyers began to challenge cultural norms, recognizing that the best way to encourage the world at large to care about their cause was to choose specific cases of abuse and focus all media attention on these cases. The three established a mission to use the legal system to promote and protect the human rights of women around the world. Each year, the organization hosts a Make Equality Reality Gala to raise money to support the organization’s legal team. Dec. 3, 2020, marked the eighth annual gala, though the organization had to host it virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make Equality Reality Gala 2020

The star-studded gala included special appearances from Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Jameela Jamil, Karamo Brown, Margaret Atwood, Aubrey Plaza, AnnaSophia Robb, Rob Reiner and many more. Gloria Steinem also wrote a tribute to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away in September 2020.

The Make Equality Reality Gala opened with a few words from the actor, author and producer Sheetal Sheth as well as actor, writer and producer Aasif Mandvi. They informed their audience of the mission of Equality Now and reiterated that the best way to support the organization is to donate to the cause. The video then cuts to snippets of interviews with the Equality Now staff explaining their activities throughout the year and how they made the best of quarantine. Some of their responses were light-hearted, like learning how to knit and bake. Other responses took on a more serious note, like working with other human rights organizations.

Jameela Jamil marks the first-star appearance to tell viewers that the future lies in the hands of young girls. However, she also notes that the future is at risk. Jamil tells audiences that one in 10 girls faces sexual violence in her lifetime. In addition, she says that 3 million young girls are victims of female genital mutilation in 92 countries, including the United States, and that girls make up the vast majority of victims of sex trafficking all around the world.

Organization Achievements

The gala included a presentation outlining the work of Equality Now since its founding, including helping young girls win rape cases in court or assisting girls in winning back their freedom after being married off as children. This organization has also helped women in Kuwait secure the right to vote. The organization works with governments in 193 countries around the world to create and change laws so that women and young girls are free to reach their full potential.

A Call to Action and Awareness

Over the course of the rest of the Make Equality Reality Gala, the lineup entailed performances from the cast of Netflix’s “Grand Army,” English singer/songwriter Jess Glynne and numerous speeches and calls to action from the biggest names in entertainment. There was also a performance of Two Girls, a play written by Katie Cappiello to raise awareness of the exploitation and abuse of women that occurs on the internet. Meryl Streep also delivered a tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Glynne closed out the gala with a performance of her song “I’ll Be There” and a montage of photos and videos of frontline healthcare workers, women at protests and women in positions of power.

Gucci and Chime for Change presented the Changemaker Award to Nadeen Ashraf. Ashraf is a 22-year-old filmmaker from Cairo, Egypt, best known for her work as the founder of Assault Police, an Instagram account Ashraf uses to highlight the gendered injustices happening in Egypt. She began to gain notoriety through the Instagram account and played an instrumental role in the passing of an Egyptian law to protect the identity of sexual violence victims.

Ways to Show Support

The Make Equality Reality Gala raised more than $380,000 in 2020 to continue to support the efforts of the lawyers and other staff around the world who work tirelessly to promote equal rights for women. Even an ordinary individual can make a difference by donating or fundraising to support the work that Equality Now does to empower girls and women across the globe.

Jessica Lyn
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is any forced exploitation or trade of human beings against their will. Though it primarily manifests itself in the forms of forced labor and modern slavery, human trafficking can also apply to other issues such as sex trafficking, forced criminality and forced organ removal. China has fallen victim to these increased rates of human trafficking, and the issue will continue to prevail until more people become aware of the horrible atrocities that are occurring throughout the East Asian nation.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in China

  1. Prevalence of Human Trafficking: Human trafficking significantly impacts China’s migrant population of approximately 180 million people. Many of them work as forced laborers producing bricks, working in factories or mining for coal.
  2. Trafficking in China: Though credible data is not always available or attainable, many sources estimate that a majority of human trafficking in China takes place internally. In other words, most of China’s human trafficking involves its own citizens. These Chinese citizens are subject to traffickers moving or exploiting them throughout the country’s expansive geographical area.
  3. Foreign Women: Due to the Chinese government’s birth control policy, as well as a historic preference for male children, China has an unbalanced gender ratio distribution of 118 males to 100 females. According to researchers, this disparity is contributing to the human trafficking problem in China. Specifically, foreign women often become forced brides for men in China, as well as being forced into prostitution.
  4. Foreign Brides from Myanmar: As previously mentioned, millions of women become foreign brides who fall victim to human trafficking in China. Many of these women come from the nation’s southern neighboring country of Myanmar. According to anecdotal evidence from some women, they were typically sold within a range of approximately $3,000 and $13,000.
  5. Disabled People: In China, many of the targets for human trafficking are disabled people. In fact, in a 2016 report from the China Ministry of Public Security, one of the investigations resulted in the Chinese government’s arrest of 464 suspects. These people were all involved in labor trafficking of disabled Chinese citizens in some capacity.
  6. Organ Trafficking: Organ trafficking is a very obscure yet problematic manifestation of human trafficking in China. Though the Chinese government publicly announced that it would only accept organs for transplants from citizens that have donated voluntarily, many experts still speculate that secretive organ harvesting and trafficking occurs. Reports indicate that, even though the Chinese government claims that roughly 10,000 organ transplants occur each year, the real numbers could be closer to 80,000 per year.
  7. Tier 3 Country: The Trafficking in Persons Report, an annual report that the U.S. State Department issues, listed China as a Tier 3 country. Essentially, Tier 3 countries are nations whose governments do not sufficiently comply with the minimum anti-trafficking standards and are not making any significant efforts to do so. China’s government is not doing all that it can to combat this pervasive issue.
  8. Organizations to End Human Trafficking: Though many of these figures are startling and disheartening, many organizations around the world are currently working towards the eventual eradication of human trafficking in China and around the world. The United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons (UN-ACT), for example, is a division of the United Nations that is currently working to improve the human trafficking situation in China. With the implementation of its National Plan of Action II, which is to conclude in 2020, UN-ACT has participated in a number of anti-trafficking actions and initiatives, such as hotspot policing borders and other high-traffic areas for potential victims of human trafficking.
  9. Women’s Roles in Eradicating Human Trafficking: Women organize many of these anti-human trafficking organizations. For example, the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) is a group that tackles many human and civil rights abuses throughout China. On July 3, 2019, ACWF conducted training in Central China’s Hunan Province to teach more Chinese women to spot and prevent trafficking and abductions.
  10. Equality Now: Another group called Equality Now has been working to eradicate human trafficking in China and around the world. Equality Now is an organization that works closely with Asian women, as well as other non-governmental organizations, to spread awareness and knowledge about trafficking and how to combat it. In March 2019, Equality Now participated in a conference with over 230 attendees to share ideas, anecdotes and methods to successfully spot and combat human trafficking, as well as provide critical support for victims and survivors.

Evidently, China has a continuously growing issue of human trafficking. Both Chinese citizens and foreigners can suffer exploitation in forced labor, among other things. Because of China’s vast geographic reach, combatting this issue is more difficult. That said, government initiatives, as well as anti-trafficking non-governmental organizations and local groups, are all contributing to decreasing human trafficking throughout China. The problem may seem insurmountable now, but as long as people continue to learn and spread awareness about trafficking in China, solutions will become more clear.

Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

5 Organizations That Empower Women
Women’s empowerment in the developing world is a major tool that countries can use to alleviate socioeconomic issues like poverty and corruption. Here are the top five organizations that empower women.

5 Organizations That Empower Women

  1. Women’s Global Empowerment Fund
    The Women’s Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) is an organization committed to creating opportunities and addressing inequality, strengthening communities and families and using political, social and economic programs to support women. WGEF’s programs provide frameworks for women to create opportunities for themselves at the grassroots level. As of January 2017, WGEF’s Credit Plus Program provided more than 10,000 microcredit loans, which help women create and expand sustainable, viable businesses in developing countries. That same year, many of the WGEF’s clients applied for their fourth or fifth loans to further grow their businesses. Since its inception, WGEF’s literacy program reached more than 1,500 women in rural or poor communities, and 416 women were reached in 2016 alone. The literacy program takes place twice a week over the course of six months and costs $80 per person annually. Ten of WGEF’s clients, many of whom benefitted from the literacy program, ran for local and regional offices during national elections in 2016.
  2. Panzi Hospital
    Panzi Hospital is located in Bukavu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since its founding in 1999, it has served as a general hospital for local residents. Still, the hospital has become a well-known organization that empowers women because of its efforts to help victims of sexual violence and women suffering from complicated gynecological issues. Panzi Hospital is now comprised of four departments: obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, internal medicine and pediatrics. In 2012, the team at Panzi Hospital implemented a project to provide cervical cancer screenings to patients, the first of its kind in the region. Patients at Panzi Hospital also have access to psychological care, socioeconomic assistance and legal assistance. From 1999 to 2015, Panzi Hospital served 85,864 women. As of the end of 2015, 48,482 of the hospital’s patients were victims of some form of sexual violence. Forty to 60 percent of the women treated at Panzi Hospital cannot return to their home communities because of conflict and the stigma surrounding sexual violence and reproductive injuries. These women are housed at the hospital’s aftercare center, Maison Dorcas.
  3. Her Farm
    Her Farm is located in Nepal and supports women in the rural areas at the base of the Himalayas. The organization’s mission is to provide women with the tools they need to be self-sufficient, including access to healthcare, economic opportunities and education. Her Farm is owned and operated by women and for women; the women freely farm the land and make all the decisions regarding Her Farm themselves. Currently, Her Farm provides employment and safe living conditions for 30 women and children, and they educate 12 children daily. As a result of Her Farm’s efforts, 300 people have access to an emergency center. Annually, Her Farm has 150 visitors.
  4. Orchid Project
    Orchid Project is an organization battling female genital cutting (FGC). FGC refers to a practice that involves removing parts or all of a girl’s external genitalia, or any injuries associated with the practice. Usually, girls go through FGC before the age of five, but it can occur at any time between birth and adolescence. The practice of FGC is largely cultural; there are no religious obligations associated with FGC. Globally, the practice of FGC impacts over 200 million women and girls, with 3.9 million girls at risk annually. Today, FGC occurs in at least 45 countries worldwide. The practice is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights. Orchid Project, like other organizations that empower women, focuses on education and advocacy to eliminate FGC. The organization partners with other nonprofits like Sahiyo and Tostan on the ground in countries where FGC is still practiced to host knowledge-sharing workshops within impacted communities. This approach recognizes that FGC is a cultural phenomenon and allows the members of the community to come together and choose to abandon the practice. From 2015, Orchid Project has held 12 workshops across Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Somaliland.
  5. Equality Now
    Equality Now is committed to changing laws to promote socioeconomic change for women and girls around the world. The organization’s network of lawyers and activists are currently fighting to end female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence, human trafficking, child marriage and gender inequality. In 2017, 11 laws that Equality Now had been fighting for were changed or strengthened. The organization also provided training to 50 lawyers and judges and its supporters sent more than 21,300 advocacy letters.

Without empowering its women, no country can hope to eliminate issues like poverty. These 5 organizations that empower women are committed to ending inequality in the developing world.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Flickr

UN Secretary General

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s term comes to an end in 2016, the selection procedure for the next leader has been underway since January. The position is indeed invested with the prestige and heavy responsibilities as old as the organization itself – but the promises of candidates and the unprecedented public stage the selection process is taking this year indicate the body is adapting to new currents as well.

The UN General Assembly website lists nine official candidates for UN Secretary General:

  1. Dr. Srgjan Kerim, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  2. Prof. Vesna Pusic, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia
  3. Dr. Igor Lukšic, former Prime Minister and current Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro
  4. Dr. Danilo Türk, former president of Slovenia and Slovenian Ambassador to the United Nations
  5. Ms. Irina Bokova, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and current Director-General of UNESCO
  6. Ms. Natalia Gherman, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova and Acting Prime Minister of Moldova
  7. Mr. António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal and UN High Commissioner of Refugees
  8. Ms. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program
  9. Vuk Jeremić, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia and President of the UN General Assembly

The disclosed Vision Statements of these candidates address a variety of policies, but many focus on the issue of structurally reforming the UN body, especially the Security Council. Their approach on reform ranges from Natalia Gherman’s “zero tolerance policy on mismanagement, fraud, abuse, corruption and unethical behavior” to Vuk Jeremic’s promise for utilizing social media to communicate with youth and ensure transparency. Economic empowerment of women worldwide and consistent effort for Sustainable Development Goals were also recurring topics.

The selection procedure is expected to be the most transparent in the UN’s 70 years of history, as the UN General Assembly will organize public debates in London and New York. Not only will diplomats of all 193 member’s states attend, but the event will be open to social organizations and individuals as well. A video of the event will be released on the UN website – the first round of informal dialogues and Q&A sessions with the civil society board has already been uploaded. Compared to how all debates and hearings were held behind closed doors until Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s election, this constitutes a big step in guaranteeing the equity in deciding the leadership of the world’s largest coalition of nations.

Following the principle of regional rotation, the next Secretary General is most likely to be selected from Eastern Europe. But many organizations, such as Equality Now, are also arguing for a fair gender representation. The first female UN Secretary General would not only be a symbolic empowerment for female politicians worldwide but would also increase the body’s knowledge in women’s issues. “A woman as secretary general would send a strong signal of progress,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of UN Women.

Haena Chu

Photo: Flickr