4 Reasons Gender Equality Benefits EveryoneIn 2006, the Economist proclaimed that women are “the world’s most underutilized resource.” While gender equality mainly entails giving women rights and opportunities that are equal to those which men have, achieving this equality will provide benefits to all. Here are four benefits of gender equality:

  1. Increased human resources spur economic growth
    Raising female employment to be equal to male employment levels could increase GDP by 34 percent in Egypt, by 12 percent in the United Arab Emirates, by 10 percent in South Africa and by nine percent in Japan. Empowering women to become active in their economy boosts productivity, a benefit that could help the poorest countries rise out of poverty. Based on these findings, many international companies have created programs to empower women economically and improve the productivity of their business.
  2. More resources reach children
    When women have more control over family resources, spending patterns tend to benefit children. Gains in women’s education and health have also been shown to result in better outcomes for children. Improving the lives of young people enhances the growth prospects of their countries.
  3. Decision-making is more reflective of collective interests
    Empowering women politically and economically so that they have a voice in the decision-making process of their community makes community policies more reflective of all members’ interests. In India, increased political participation by women has lead to more funding being allocated towards public goods, such as water and sanitation initiatives.
  4. Family planning improves quality of life
    When women are empowered to make decisions about when to have a child, the quality of their children’s life improves. Children born less than two years apart are twice as likely to die in the first year of life as children born further apart. Being unable to spread out pregnancies also interferes with breastfeeding, which has a crucial role in child nutrition.

Nestlé has decided to promote gender equality as a means of improving their business. The company partnered with COPAZ in 2010, a female cocoa cooperative in the Ivory Coast that has about 600 members.In 2014, Nestlé expanded its efforts to empower women by establishing local women’s associations, listing the wives of male cocoa farmers as members of cocoa cooperatives and helping women to increase their crop yield.

Several other companies, including Coca-Cola, Kate Spade & Company, Avon Products and Abbott Laboratories have realized that promoting gender equality is both a morally and economically sound investment. Unlocking women’s potential will improve life for both genders.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

Family Planning

Women are the key to smart family planning. By increasing access to sexual education and contraceptives, women gain the power to make decisions about their own health and the chances of economic success.

Kamla is a 22-year-old female from Gaya, India. She is a domestic helper and lives in a single room shanty with her husband and young daughter. She does not want another child anytime soon because she feels financially unable to care for one. However, she does not have access to information about contraceptives. Increasing access to information about sexual health should be a priority for four main reasons.

  1. Uncontrolled population growth is an economic barrier
    Nearly all population growth occurs in the developing world, and high fertility is an expensive burden on economies of these countries. High population growth limits opportunities for economic growth and increases health risks for both women and children. Quality of life suffers due to limited access to education, nutrition, employment and scarce resources such as clean water.
  2. Women want control over their fertility
    Surveys in developing countries suggest that 10 to 40 percent of women want to spread out or limit childbirth but do not have access to contraception. This demonstrates an unmet need for birth control. The biggest barriers for women are lack of knowledge and concerns of undesirable health effects.
  3. Quality of life is enhanced
    Family planning improves the lives of both women and children. Reducing the fertility rate would save many women from dying during childbirth. In developing countries, maternal mortality rates are 20 times higher than in developed countries. Increased access to contraceptives also benefits children. Children born fewer than two years apart are twice as likely to die in the first year of life as children born further apart. Being unable to spread out pregnancies also interferes with breast-feeding, which has a crucial role in child nutrition.
  4. Gender equality is advanced
    Improvements in gender equality result from the power that contraceptives give women. Teen pregnancies interfere with education and unwanted pregnancies at any life stage interfere with a woman’s economic power. Giving women control over their bodies and family size allows them to make smarter economic decisions for themselves and their family.

The Challenge Initiative is a $42 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote reproductive health in developing countries. A previous initiative funded by this foundation showed promise in increasing contraceptive access in certain cities in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and India.

Based on rigorous data collected from the earlier initiative, The Challenge Initiative will use demand-based methods and partnerships with cities in order to implement successful programs in a variety of locations. If philanthropic organizations continue to invest in this solution, people – especially women – around the world will soon reap the benefits of family planning.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

Education in Djibouti
Located directly north of Somalia and east of Ethiopia on Africa’s eastern coast, Djibouti is a small country – it only covers 8,950 square miles, making it slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey. About 865, 267 people live in Djibouti and the country is also home to the U.S.’s largest African military base. Close ties to the U.S. have fortunately brought Djibouti foreign aid, which the country has put toward the welfare of its citizens, including improvements to education in Djibouti.


6 Facts about Education in Djibouti:

  1. Improving education in Djibouti is at the forefront of its government’s development policies. In 2000, the government of Djibouti began a reform of their education system, focusing on expanding access and improving the quality of schooling. More recently, in 2010, the government released another plan for educational improvements, spanning from 2010 to 2019. Some of the objectives included in this plan are to achieve 100 percent primary education enrollment by 2019, achieve gender equality by 2019 and to develop preschool education in collaboration with the private sector, communities and local institutions.
  2. In 2007, Djibouti’s primary gross enrollment rate – the percentage of children enrolled in primary school – was only 50 percent. In 2014, it hit a high of 68 percent, but has since dropped to 64.8 percent in 2016.
  3. Djibouti’s education is a 5-4-3 system, meaning primary or elementary school is five years, lower secondary or middle school is four years and upper secondary or high school is three years. Students in Djibouti begin school at age six. In 2016, about 64.3 percent of students completed primary school and only 44 percent of students completed lower secondary school.
  4. Although Djibouti is working toward gender equality in education, wide gaps between males and females still exist. For example, more female students are out of school than male students, with 46 percent of female students out of school in 2015 and 39.3 percent of male students out of school in the same year. Additionally, 68.6 percent of male students were enrolled in primary school in 2016, while only 60.9 percent of female students were enrolled in the same year.
  5. As of 2007, there were 81 public primary schools, 24 registered private primary schools, 12 secondary schools, and two vocational schools in Djibouti. Comparatively, in Delaware, where the population is 952,065 – making it close to that of Djibouti’s – there are 110 primary (elementary) schools and 64 secondary schools. While Djibouti’s primary education offerings by number of school is close to that of Delaware’s, its number of secondary schools is drastically lower, representing the sharp decrease in children continuing their education beyond primary school in Djibouti.
  6. The main causes of non-enrollment for students in Djibouti are poverty and social problems, legal-status issues, disability and sociocultural issues, including child labor.

Although education in Djibouti still lags behind more developed nations, efforts to improve education have already made strides forward for the children of Djibouti and improvements and plans have been crafted through to 2019. With continued attention and effort put toward education, the future for Djibouti youths is looking up and may very well continue to improve.

Mary Kate Luft

Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Hygiene ManagementPoor menstrual hygiene management can be fatal. In Nepal, the “chaupadi” tradition of Hindus in western Nepal lead to a teenager named Tulasi Shahi being forced to stay in her uncle’s cowshed for days.

Why? Because she was on her period. A snake bit her while she was in the shed, and she died hours later.

Roshani Tiruwa, a 15-year-old girl, died a few months earlier from the “chaupadi” practice when she lit a fire in her hut and suffered from smoke inhalation. 50 percent of women in western Nepal suffer from this tradition.

Period-related shaming is not limited to Nepal. One out of three girls in southeast Asia had no knowledge of menstruation before getting their first period. 48 percent of girls in Iran and 10 percent of girls in India believe that getting your period is some kind of disease.

On top of harmful cultural influences, access to affordable hygienic materials is often very limited. Sometimes women attempt to use mud, leaves, dung or animal skins to control the bleeding.

For these women, periods are more than just embarrassing; they are an economic obstacle. The lack of information and products available to manage menstruation cause girls to miss significant amounts of school, and women to miss out on economic opportunities.

On the bright side, the solution to this problem already exists: pads, tampons, and knowledge that periods are natural and necessary for the survival of the human population. Days for Girls is an organization working to improve the lives of women in Uganda, Ghana and Nepal by improving their experience with menstruation.

The organization provides health education and affordable hygiene kits, which last up to three years. In addition, days for girls provides microbusiness and sewing training to empower women to improve their economic situation as well as their period.

Christine, a woman in Nairobi, attended a two-week Days for Girls training program, which taught her how to sew, spread health information and make and sell menstrual hygiene kits in her community. Christine now owns three hygiene kit enterprises and believes the program changed her life.

The world is beginning to understand that menstrual hygiene management is an important international problem. More organizations have been formed to tackle the issue, and major development groups are beginning to recognize the gravity of this problem.

Many women in the world are shamed and hindered from achievement because of a normal, crucial body function. The movement to promote menstrual hygiene management is an important step towards gender equality worldwide.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in San MarinoSecuring human rights in San Marino, one of the world’s oldest republics, has been a progressive and relatively successful venture. The state is a multi-party democracy where authorities maintain effective control over law enforcement.

According to the Department of State, no outrageous human rights abuses have taken place in San Marino in recent years. Although, according to various international organizations, the state still needs to reduce gender inequality and further the protection of women’s rights in particular.

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, recently congratulated the state for its success in combating violence against women during his visit in 2015.

The prevention of violence against women has been successful due to legislation passed throughout the last decade, including the “Prevention and elimination of violence against women and gender violence” in 2008. The decree to implement the law was passed in 2012, according the U.N. It also provided an assistance center for victims of violence.

Additionally, during this time, a special study group was established by the San Marino delegation which specializes in meeting the requirements of the Council of Europe Convention for preventing and combating violence against women.

Despite progress against violence, women in San Marino continue to face hurdles in practicing their human rights. According to Muižnieks, action should be taken to address the gender gap in employment and political participation, along with action to combat harmful gender stereotypes.

The commissioner suggested in 2015 that these goals regarding human rights in San Marino, particularly for women, can be achieved through increased efforts by and resources towards the Authority for Equal Opportunities in the state. He also suggested goals of gender equality could be made through the state’s ratification of the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention. San Marino ratified and entered the Istanbul Convention early in 2016, confirming its commitment to ensure human rights and women’s rights in the country.

Melanie Snyder

Human Rights in Tuvalu
Human rights violations occur to some groups in Tuvalu. Social patterns and traditions cause discrimination against women and minority religious groups. Women still lack land and child custody rights, and domestic violence remains a problem in the country. These violations call for an improvement and show why human rights in Tuvalu need to be a priority.

In November 2015, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, stated that climate change threatened the core principles of Tuvalu’s human rights. Sopoaga added that human rights are essential to developing Tuvalu’s climate change solutions, especially for Tuvaluans without access to food and water. Tuvalu plans to express this issue at international climate meetings.

Tuvalu’s 2016 human rights report revealed that some human rights were already in place for the country. There were no reports of government officials or agents committing unlawful killings. The report also stated that Tuvalu’s constitution prohibits cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments for crimes. No government officials were reported to have committed these crimes either.

Tuvalu’s 2016 human rights report also reveals no prison or detention center conditions that would raise human rights concerns. No deaths were reported in Tuvaluan prisons, and the government received no complaints of inhumane prison conditions. A “people’s lawyer” would take any complaints or concerns that prisoners had.

In July 2016, the Pacific Community worked with Tuvalu’s government to formulate the country’s first national action plan for improving human rights. The national action plan would focus on improving rights for women, children, disabled people and other Tuvaluan minority groups. The national action plan would also provide a timeframe for addressing these human rights issues.

Enele Sopoaga opened a consultation on the plan. Government ministers, permanent secretaries, judiciary members and other Tuvaluan officials attended Sopoaga’s meeting to discuss the country’s key human rights issues. The government’s leadership in making commitments was greatly appreciated as a way to improve human rights in Tuvalu.

In January 2017, the country’s government launched a national action plan on human rights in Tuvalu. Tuvalu’s government plans for donors, development partners and other entities to ensure that the action plan’s goals and objectives are fulfilled. The national action plan will especially help Tuvalu’s elderly, women, children and disabled residents.

Romulo Nayacalevu, the Pacific Community’s senior human rights advisor, added that Tuvalu is the first country in the Pacific to launch a human rights action plan. Nayacalevu added that human rights include not only civil and political rights but access to education, water and healthcare. This means that Tuvalu could have these opportunities as well.

Human rights in Tuvalu are expected to improve with the national action plan in place. Women, disabled residents, children and other minority groups in the country now have the potential to see positive outcomes from these changes, and Tuvalu’s people can hope for a positive future so long as Tuvalu’s government keeps its promise to improve human rights.

Rhondjé Singh Tanwar
Photo: Flickr

Education in BangladeshBangladesh has made remarkable gains over the past two decades in the education sector. In 2016, statistics from Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics (BANBEIS) showed great developments in gross enrollment with 112.1 percent of children listed in primary education. The ratio of girls to boys also improved that same year. This allowed Bangladesh to achieve gender equality for educational access in both primary and secondary education. Despite victory in registration and elimination of gender disproportion, challenges continue to keep Bangladesh from advancing further. Here are three problems facing education in Bangladesh.

  1. Literacy
    The UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows Bangladesh literacy rates still need some upgrading. Approximately 30 percent of the population 15 years or older still struggle to successfully read and write. According to the Bangladesh Education for All  (EFA) 2015 National Review, the blame could partially be placed on the obstacles involved with universal access and completion of primary education. Public examination scores for Bangladesh show a gap between grade completers, those sitting for the public completion examination, and those passing the examination.
  2. Assessment Scores
    National Student Assessments from this same EFA report display low test scores at the end of the primary education cycle. Test results show only 25 percent of students successfully obtain reading capabilities by the end of primary school. Similarly, only 33 percent of students master proficiencies in mathematics. The rest of students finish primary education with knowledge that is short of expectations in the reading, writing and math curriculum for Bangladesh. Findings from earlier grades conclude that many students are falling short of achieving relevant competencies because they are not meeting appropriate targets set early on. If students do not consistently meet recommended goals throughout primary education, weak scores will continue to result.
  3. Dropout Rates
    UNICEF suggests the Bangladesh dropout rate remains an issue due to children’s need to help with farming, poor teaching methods, crowded classrooms and unappealing educational surroundings. Though the average dropout rate shows a decrease of more than half during 2005 to 2013, 19.2 percent of students still do not complete primary school. According to BANBEIS Educational Database, 10.5 percent of boys dropped out of Grade 4 in 2016. This contributed to the total dropout rate of almost 10 percent of students in Grade 4 that same year. It is also noted that progress in decreasing dropout rates is beginning to slow. Since 2012, dropout rates have only decreased by about 2 percent. This is sluggish activity compared to the 23.1 percent decline recorded from 2008 through 2012.

By focusing on reducing poverty, education in Bangladesh should continue to improve. Speed bumps are part of the road trip towards Bangladesh accomplishing the most out of their education system. With these three problems facing education in Bangladesh already known to researchers, policies can be made to steer future direction.

Emilee Wessel

Photo: Flickr

Rural Azerbaijan
In 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

Women-Only Villages of Kenya Defy Patriarchal Laws
In some countries, structural change fights systemic oppression. Historically disenfranchised groups will organize and work their way through the existing power structure in order to undermine the ruling class.

The women-only villages in the foothills of Kenya have a different approach. In order to fight the patriarchal laws of the Samburu region, they’ve formed gender-exclusive villages where their peers support the women and provide resources to raise their children without husbands or other family members.

Umoja, which means “unity” in Swahili, is the most prominent of the women-only villages in the southeastern region of Kenya. It is home to about 50 permanent residents who support themselves by opening up their village to tourists and selling handmade jewelry.

Chairlady Rebecca Lolosoli established Umoja 25 years ago with 15 other women. They had all experienced rape and abuse by British soldiers and felt unsupported by their communities. In Samburu tradition, women are considered men’s property and therefore not legally protected in cases of rape and abuse. A group of men brutally beat Lolosoli for speaking out against the patriarchal standards of Samburu culture; she was recovering in the hospital when she got the idea for Umoja.

Today, the women of Umoja share in the day-to-day responsibilities of maintaining the village and protecting it from angry neighbors. They build homes, operate a school for their children, conduct jewelry sales and sleep in shifts in case men from nearby villages come to claim their wives. Many of the current residents consider themselves refugees, coming to Umoja after escaping abusive marriages.

Another reason women come to Umoja is to escape the culturally-ingrained practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Historically, FGM is used as a mechanism to disempower women and enforce strict patriarchy.

Once “circumcised,” girls as young as eight can be given away to older men. Despite its reputation in traditional cultures for being safe and healthy, FGM frequently results in long-term health consequences, like urinary problems, menstrual problems, life-threatening infections and psychological trauma. The World Health Organization considers FGM a human rights violation and strongly advises against its practice worldwide.

Umoja provides a type of mobility that women of the Samburu tribe don’t have in a traditional setting. The opportunity to earn and save her own money liberates a woman from relying on her husband or family.

On top of that, living in Umoja allows women to raise their daughters beyond the confines of traditional Samburu culture, protecting them from FGM and forced early marriage. For single women who don’t wish to marry or have children, Umoja offers a safe environment in which they can work and live.

There are several other women-only villages in Kenya, including Nachimi and Supalake. In contrast to Umoja, men in Nachimi are allowed in the community, but they must respect the women’s authority.

In Supalake, gender rules still exist, but reversed; men complete chores like house maintenance and water retrieval, while women make the laws and conduct business. Each village serves as a place of refuge for women who have faced oppression or victimization of harsh Samburu traditions.

The women-only villages of Kenya are important to understanding the obstacles women face in traditional tribal cultures. Seeing how women live beyond the confines of patriarchal laws can help people understand the kind of institutional changes needed for gender equality. Places like Umoja, Nachimi and Supalake show us that economic independence is a requisite for social mobility.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr

 Sustainable Tourism
Tourism brings both advantages and disadvantages to a country. It can bring wealth and jobs to communities that would otherwise remain poor just as much as it can lead to social dislocation, loss of cultural heritage and ecological degradation. UNESCO claims that tourism must be sustainable for the advantages to outweigh the disadvantages.

“Tourism that respects both local people and the traveler, cultural heritage and the environment” is what UNESCO calls sustainable tourism. This form seeks to benefit the host country and local economies so that people in that country may have better lives.

Evidence shows that sustainable tourism is a great tool for development and poverty alleviation in developing countries. These are ten ways in which sustainable tourism alleviates poverty:

  1. “Tourism is one of the most important sources of foreign exchange earnings and job creation in many poor and developing countries with limited options for alternative economic development” according to the U.N.’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
  2. Tourism can be directly taxed creating the necessary funds for improving infrastructure, education and health on the ground.
  3. The tourism industry employs a high proportion of women, which contributes to gender equality and women’s empowerment in poor countries.
  4. Locally owned microenterprises ran by the poor serve as a benefit, as tourists buy a wide variety of goods and services.
  5. Sustainable tourism leads to employment diversification on a local level, which reduces the vulnerability of the poor.
  6. The UNWTO claims, “Wages can often reach $1,000 to $4,000 per worker per year.” This is enough to bring workers and their families above the poverty line.
  7. In 2012, the tourism industry accounted for more than 260 million jobs according to the International Labor Office (ILO). This number is expected to rise given that tourism is one of the fastest growing industries.
  8. The tourism industry employs a high proportion of individuals under 25. As a result, youth gain access to higher earnings and better opportunities through sustainable tourism.
  9. Tourism provides a vast number of jobs to people with little or no formal training.
  10. Working conditions are generally decent within the tourism industry as the industry depends on providing a quality service.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other ways in which tourism can help the poor. As long as tourism is sustainable and wealth from tourism trickles down to the poor, the poorest countries will prosper. Given the increasing popularity of sustainable tourism, prosperity and wealth are a likely prospect for many poor countries.

Christina Egerstrom

Photo: Flickr