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ICTsIn recent years, studies have shown that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have proven to be helpful for vulnerable communities on many different fronts. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been observed that women have increasingly used ICTs, especially those in developing countries.

Hear Her Voice Project

Hear Her Voice is a research project that stemmed from the pandemic itself, allowing 25 girls from five different countries, Bangladesh, India, Malawi, Nigeria and the United States, to share their experiences during COVID-19. These firsthand narratives are insightful as they vlog their daily lives from various different technological platforms. These intimate conversations equip the women with the tools to better educate the public on the struggles they face with menstrual health, relationships, mental health, isolation and livelihoods during COVID-19.

The platform showcased the struggles women had when it came to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), especially in Jaipur and Munger. One of the Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors (TEGA) is Carol, a 23-year-old woman from Munger, India, who shared her struggles with obtaining sanitary pads due to restricted mobility. When she first got her period during the lockdown, she was unable to obtain pads in time and was therefore left with no feminine hygiene products whatsoever.

Women Disproportionately Affected by COVID-19

A study done by the U.N. found that women’s economic resources in Asia and the Pacific are being hit the most. The pandemic has made gender inequalities more prevalent than ever, with the discrepancy highest in family businesses, remittances, property and savings. On top of this, it has been found that COVID-19 governmental aid is not as readily available to women as they are for men. The report stated 84% of women outside of formal employment lack social protections like unemployment support or government financial help. Women are suffering more than men all across the charts: 61% saw decreases in their income, savings and investments; 66% saw their mental health plummeting and  63% saw increased time spent doing unpaid domestic work.

Similar Scenarios During Ebola and Zika

During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, women had consistently been the sole caretakers and health care providers, putting them at a higher risk of contracting these highly contagious viruses. The Zika virus in Latin America displayed how reproductive health services were limited and overlooked due to health care services allocating all of their resources into combating the epidemic. These unequal gendered patterns are yet again repeating themselves with COVID-19, the disadvantages being most pronounced for women.

The Impact of ICTs

Overall, information and communication technologies have been utilized by vulnerable minority groups ever since the rise of their prevalence in recent years. These innovative technological modes of communication are reshaping and expanding the uses of social media. The Hear Her Voice project is one of the many initiatives that have been using ICTs in the wake of a pandemic, to give a voice to women and the unique challenges they face and bring global awareness, support and assistance.

Additionally, ICTs provide helplines, applications, resource centers and more, so that women so can access the help and support they require. These platforms are transforming lives by amplifying and uplifting the voices of women during COVID-19.

– Mina Kim
Photo: Flickr

Period Products Bill in ScotlandOn November 24, 2020, a groundbreaking moment occurred that changed the struggle against period poverty. The Scottish Parliament passed the Period Products Bill in Scotland. This new bill guarantees free access to necessary hygienic period products to all who require them. Member of the Scottish Parliament, Monica Lennon, championed the fight against period poverty in Scotland and played a significant part in passing this revolutionary legislation.

Ending Period Poverty in Scotland

Even with the United Kingdom being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, period poverty remains a recurrent problem. In 2018, more than 20% of those polled in Scotland stated that they either had limited or no access to period products. Another 10% had to sacrifice food and other necessities to afford them. One in 10 experienced bacterial or fungal infections due to a lack of sanitary products. These rates have gone up to nearly one in four during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Period Products Bill in Scotland practically eliminates these problems. Accessibility to sanitary products must be made by the Scottish Government and organized countrywide. Public restrooms in educational institutions must contain a variety of period products without charge and it also allows oversight over local jurisdictions to ensure enforcement of the law.

Ending Menstruation Taboos

Menstruation has become a stigmatized topic worldwide, despite half the population experiencing it. The dangerous and outdated idea that periods are not appropriate for discussion and seriousness is damaging to those subjected to these taboos.

From South America to Africa, antiquated menstruation views have led to long-lasting negative consequences for those suffering from period poverty. In some cultures, menstruating girls and women must separate themselves from the rest of their community. In Nepal, so-called ‘menstruation huts‘ have dire consequences for women, with local organizations stating that many deaths associated with the practice go unreported.

The importance of ending taboos about menstruation is evident. The Period Products Bill in Scotland is a meaningful step to engage the rest of the world over these unsound presuppositions of menstruation and begin addressing period poverty globally.

Implementing Period Poverty Legislation Worldwide

There has already been worldwide attention brought to the neoteric Period Products Bill in Scotland. Lennon has been fielding communications from leaders and lawmakers around the world, ready to implement similar laws in their own countries. According to Lennon, “Scotland has provided a blueprint and shown how it can be done.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, logistical problems of supplying period products and economic suffering are causing governments to reevaluate the impact of period poverty. Countries with strong infrastructure can utilize Scotland’s approach to combat the worsening situation fast and effectively. The rest of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have already taken note of the problem and Scotland’s practical policy.

Ending Global Period Poverty

In underdeveloped countries, Scotland’s lead in the battle against period poverty can pave the way for education and destigmatizing menstruation. Poverty-fighting organizations can create similar international implementation plans in developing nations with little investment. Thanks to Scotland’s leadership, period poverty may soon become as antiquated as the stigmas surrounding it.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

human trafficking during COVID-19The United Nations has warned of a recent increase in human trafficking taking place through social media. According to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) perpetrators are approaching victims on social media and messaging platforms. Experts correlate this surge of online human trafficking with the lockdowns governments have implemented to combat COVID-19 that has left millions of people jobless and struggling to survive.

The Human Trafficking Crisis

Human trafficking has long posed a threat to the safety and well-being of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The U.N. has stated that between 2017 and 2018, approximately 75,000 trafficking victims were identified in 110 countries. During this period, 70% of victims were female, 77% of whom were then trafficked for sexual exploitation and 14% for forced labor.

There are several factors that make a person more vulnerable to human trafficking. The most pressing factor, however, is financial struggles or poverty.

Online Human Trafficking and COVID-19

Human trafficking is on the rise as millions are made desperate by the economic consequences of COVID-19. People employed in informal sectors have been particularly impacted by layoffs, while earlier this year migrant workers were left stranded far from home when borders closed and travel bans were implemented. According to the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic will result in global extreme poverty increasing for the first time in two decades, pushing as many as 150 million people into poverty by 2021.

The impact, however, will be felt the hardest by females. As a result of the pandemic, 47 million more women and girls will be pushed into extreme poverty. Estimates even predict that globally, for every 100 men living in poverty in 2030, there could be as many as 121 women.

Besides  COVID-19’s economic consequences, traffickers have also benefited from the fact that people are spending more time online during lockdowns. While traffickers have usually operated with a great deal of impunity, the internet allows for easier access to vulnerable populations as well as the benefits of anonymity and false identities.

Addressing Human Trafficking During COVID-19

Human trafficking is a global problem but despite the scale of the threat and the advantages that perpetrators have during COVID-19, governments can take action to protect vulnerable groups, especially women and girls.

In an appeal to social media and messaging companies, CEDAW recommended that safety controls be set up to reduce the risk of exposing women and girls to trafficking and sexual exploitation. CEDAW has called upon online platforms to use data, artificial intelligence and analytics to identify possible patterns that could lead to trafficking. It also urges platforms to “put in place the appropriate governance structure and procedures which will allow them to be reactive in their response and provide the relevant level of information to the concerned authorities.”

CEDAW also urged governments to resolve the underlying issues that allow human trafficking to flourish. These issues include sex-based discrimination, economic insecurity, conflict and unsafe conditions for migrants and displaced people.

In addition, the United Nations has urged national governments to ensure that services for trafficking victims and survivors stay open during lockdowns and that the rights of migrant and informal workers are protected by labor laws. Finally, investments in programs for women’s economic empowerment are encouraged as a means of mitigating the disproportionate economic impacts on females. With the appropriate measures in place, human trafficking during COVID-19 can be prevented.

– Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Women Are More LikelyGlobally, women are faced with the invisible burdens of gender inequality which are entrenched deeply within institutional structures and communities as a whole. These prejudices may limit a woman’s access to higher employment and assistance programs, ultimately leading to higher rates of poverty, especially among women of color. As of 2018, the poverty rate for women was 12.9% compared to the 10.6% rate among men. There are several reasons why women are more likely to live in poverty.

Educational Inequalities

In many developing countries, women are more likely to be denied an education, as nearly 25% of all girls have not completed primary school education and two-thirds of women make up the world’s illiteracy rate. In Somalia, for example, only 7% of girls are enrolled in primary school. The lack of education among women may result in higher pregnancy and poverty rates. According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, a girl’s education is a driving force in their economic well-being. Somalia suffers from one of the world’s worst educational systems and is one of the poorest countries as well, having a poverty rate of 73%. With education, females can increase their access to higher-paying jobs, and thus, benefit the family’s income., which results in a positive cycle for generations, bettering the economy overall.

Women Are Paid Less

Despite having the same qualifications and working the same hours, women are more likely to get paid less than men. Worldwide, women earn nearly 20% less than men. These variances within wages affect women in low-paying jobs and poorer countries dramatically. Closing the gender wage gap can result in overall equal income distribution. In the United States alone, closing the wage gap would mean that half the poverty rate of working women and their families would be cut.

Period Poverty

Around the world, many females may suffer from period poverty: inadequate access to hygienic menstrual products and menstrual education. The lack of education is related to the stigma periods carry. Periods have been associated with immense shame for a long time and this stigma is carried throughout communities, deeply limiting girls’ opportunities. Globally, periods are the reason why girls are absent from school at a disproportionate rate, as two out of three girls in developing countries are skipping school during their period. In India, 23 million menstruating girls drop out of school annually because of a shortage in hygienic wash facilities and products. Without an education, females are less likely to obtain a high-paying job and escape poverty.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Exploitation

One in three females globally fall victim to some form of domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime. Girls and women who grow up in poverty are also at an increased risk of experiencing such crimes. Victims of domestic or sexual violence can be impacted through the degradation of their physical or mental health, loss of employment or are ultimately driven into homelessness. Globally, females lose out on nearly eight million days of employment every year as a direct result of violent acts committed against them. According to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, domestic violence was the root cause of women becoming homeless in half of all the cities surveyed.

Pregnancy

Economically, females are potentially burdened with the costs of pregnancy, including the additional fees of caring for a child, more significantly than men. Custodial mothers are twice as likely to be poor compared to custodial fathers. Further, unplanned pregnancies can be detrimental to a woman’s income as being unable to work immediately after giving birth means no pay, especially in the informal working sector. In the developing world, nearly 12 million girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, which often results in the end of the girls’ education and the beginning of child marriage. Children who are born from early pregnancies or marriages more often than not enter the same cycle of poverty and no education.

Organizations for Female Empowerment

Malala Yousafzai started the Malala Fund after members of the Pakistani Taliban shot her for advocating the right for girls to be educated. Since then, Malala has built her project into a global initiative that furthers the goal of providing free quality education to young girls in developing countries.

The Orchid Project is a global initiative to end female genital mutilation (FGM). The Orchid Project functions as a platform that raises awareness of the areas where FGM is most prevalent and advocates against the practice. The Orchid Project has brought together more than 193 countries with the collective goal of abolishing FGC by 2030.

Women for Women is an NGO that works to aid those who are in hostile conflict zones and are the victims of collateral damage. Women for Women helps to uplift these victims of violence by providing them with tools, support and education so that they may earn a living and remain stable through the direst of circumstances. Women for Women has helped more than half a million women in countries that have been directly impacted by war and conflicts.

Empowering Women Means Reducing Global Poverty

Females in developing countries experience complexities that restrict their development and progression. Organizations are helping to raise awareness of these complexities and aid women in need. Since women are more likely to experience inequalities that push them into poverty, empowering women ultimately means alleviating global poverty.

– Maya Falach
Photo: Flickr

The Nike Foundation’s Girl EffectAround the world, many young girls are without access to basic health and educational resources. Research has shown that gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives are key to alleviating global poverty. Over the years, organizations have developed across the globe committed to providing such resources in order to improve the quality of life for millions. One of those organizations is The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect. This organization is a creative nonprofit working where girls are marginalized and vulnerable.

4 Facts About Girl Effect

1. Girl Effect has been in operation for 12 years. The Nike Foundation launched Girl Effect in 2008 at the World Economic Forum. According to its website, “The Girl Effect is about the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.” Nike designed the organization to inspire the most influential leaders in the world to get girls in vulnerable nations on the global development agenda and help increase the drive of resources to them. Girl Effect also aims to create media resources for girls around the world in order to increase their access to resources surrounding education and healthcare. Through partnerships with prominent organizations and creating branded media content, Girl Effect has provided millions of girls access to life-saving information.

2. It uses media and the internet to reach girls in developing nations. Girl Effect creates branded media for girls around the world that helps to “navigate the pivotal time of adolescence so they can make positive choices about their health, education and economic future.” Girl Effect currently operates seven different digital programs to reach girls around the world; Chhaa Jaa, Ni Nyampinga, Springster, TEGA, Tujibebe, Yegna and Zathu. The Chhaa Jaa program, which means “go forth and shine” in Hindi, is a “digital-first youth brand that inspires, informs and equips girls in India with the right skills and confidence to navigate adolescence.” These resources include helping girls access information about sexual and reproductive health, how to negotiate with parents about their choices for continuing their education, and how to prepare for their first job. Tujibebe is a program that was born from Tanzanian culture and is a mobile-based brand focused on helping provide adolescent girls with information and resources they need to make positive choices about their future. This includes how to finish their education and setting up their own small business.

3. It partners with numerous organizations to share its message. Girl Effect has worked with organizations from a variety of industries, from nonprofits to social media networks, to help effectively spread its message to girls across the world. One of the largest nonprofit organizations that it partners with is UNICEF. Together the organizations support and promote the Ni Nyampinga program in Rwanda. Through this partnership, UNICEF and Girl Effect have been able to make Ni Nyampinga a nation-wide movement with 80% of the population of Rwanda aware of it, which is almost 6.6 million Rwandans. Another prominent partner of the organization is Facebook. Through the use of Facebook’s Free Basics platform, which provides people with full access to services on their mobile phones, Girl Effect is able to promote its Springster program on a worldwide scale. Through this partnership, Facebook and Girl Effect have been able to reach over 12 million users in the past year alone. The program is available in over 50 countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, the Philippines and Indonesia. A few additional Girl Effect partners include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi and Mastercard Foundation.

4.  The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect made great strides reaching developing countries. Since its introduction in 2008, Girl Effect has been able to reach millions of girls in developing nations to provide education and resources. In India and South Africa, its online chatbots have responded to over 1.2 million messages asking for advice on sex and healthy relationships. It has helped connect over 15,000 girls in India with efficient sexual and reproductive health information and services online. In Malawi, girls who read Girl Effect magazine are 32% more likely than non-readers to go to a medical provider and receive their first dose of HPV medication. In Indonesia, those who have seen Girl Effect’s digital nutrition campaign are 32% more likely to make healthier food choices than those who did not view it.

Girl Effect Closes the Gender Gap

Since its beginning, The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect has helped to create media for girls around the world to provide resources on how to improve their education, healthcare and well-being. For years, the world has struggled to include girls in the many advances that have been made in healthcare and education. However, organizations like Girl Effect help to close this gap.

– Sara Holm
Photo: Flickr