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Taking a Feminist Approach to Foreign PolicyOn March 8, 2021, Rep. Jackie Speier [D-CA-14], a well-known advocate for women’s rights, introduced H.Res.196: Expressing the importance of taking a feminist approach to all aspects of foreign policy. The bill’s focus is to close the gender gap between men and women globally by taking a feminist approach to foreign policy. The resolution has 43 co-sponsors with an array of male and female representatives supporting the resolution, several of whom serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Global Gender Equality Issues

The inequalities among men and women exist in a myriad of forms, several of which are intersecting issues. One of the most prevalent inequalities exists in the workforce. Globally, women earn 24% less than men. This gap is so large that the current rate of progress would see 170 years pass before the gender pay gap is closed. Women often work longer than men when accounting for unpaid work such as household duties and child care. Despite this fact, women still earn less money by a considerable margin. According to Oxfam, women do double the amount of unpaid care work as men, sometimes even 10 times as much. The estimated monetary value of the unpaid work women do is, at minimum, $10.8 trillion.

Also, the fundamental reason women have waned behind men is that women have fewer rights. Worldwide, women have only three-fourths of the rights that men have. The lack of rights means women are not able to progress and develop at the same rate as men despite being disproportionately affected by poverty. Unfortunately, gender inequality impacts developing countries the most, mainly because an annual amount of $9 trillion is lost due to inequality. This significant amount of money could instead uplift economies and reduce poverty in communities.

Sustainable Development Goals

Goal 5 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals relates to achieving gender equality. Taking a feminist approach to foreign policy would help achieve this goal due to the influence the approach would have on promoting and supporting global adoptions of policies that directly improve gender equality. More so, achieving gender equality would help accomplish several other Sustainable Development Goals such as fair and equal employment for all and ending poverty.

Rep. Jackie Speier

Rep. Jackie Speier has advocated for women’s rights throughout her tenure in Congress. Newsweek nominated Speier as one of the 150 most “Fearless Women” in the world. Rep. Speier was also considered one of the 50 most influential people in U.S. politics for introducing the Me Too movement to Congress. Rep. Speier and Sen. Gillibrand introduced the ME TOO Congress Act in 2017, which formed the fundamental part of the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) Reform Act.

H.Res.196

H.Res.196 provides solutions to the global problem of gender inequality. The focus is on recognizing all examples of inequality and attempting to end them accordingly. The priority is to advocate peacefully and methodically for women’s rights worldwide. H.Res. 196 works with clear and precise objectives to address gender equality. The policy goals are reached by allocating more money to support worldwide efforts in increasing women’s rights. The feminist approach to foreign policy not only benefits women who have suffered from inequality but serves for the betterment of the entire world.

H.Res.196 profoundly expresses how a feminist approach to foreign policy can help solve several intersecting issues worldwide. Supplying foreign aid and support would bring the world closer to achieving several Sustainable Development Goals. Adding a feminist focus to this will accelerate global development efforts to end poverty worldwide.

– James Van Bramer
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Fashion IndustryFashion as a feminist movement is a powerful force to lift women out of poverty. Brands that provide their female garment workers a living wage empower them to lead a dignified life. Fashion consumers advocate for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes through ethically produced clothing. Consumer brand choices have the power to uplift ethical brands that support labor sustainability and female garment workers experiencing oppression. Considering these facts, poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement means supporting women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. They produce the t-shirts with feminist quotes found in stores all over the globe. However, in 2019, Oxfam reported that 1% of Vietnamese garment workers and 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by underpaid female Bangladeshi garment workers. These workers earned 35p an hour during 54-hour workweeks amounting to 8,800 takas — well below the living wage estimate of 16,000 takas. Furthermore, the workers were exposed to harassment and abuse. The business practices of fast fashion brands highlight the imbalance between the feminist movement, consumer actions and the grim reality of garment workers.

The Feminist Movement and Fast Fashion

Fashion brands are a powerful force in ending cycles of poverty. But, fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing made by overworked and underpaid garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks for seven days a week, ranging from 10-18 hours a day. On average, the wages paid are two to five times less than what is needed for a worker and her family to live above the poverty line. The Juniper Research study predicts that online shopping fueled by COVID-19 will increase fashion sales to $4.4 trillion by 2025. Top fashion CEOs earn in four days what garment workers spend their whole life trying to make. The unfortunate truth is that fast fashion has made the richest men in the world at the expense of the most vulnerable women.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia reported that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. In other words, a living wage and fair working conditions are reasonable consumer expectations. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also reported that increasing the cost of clothing by 20 cents would allow Indian garment workers to earn a living wage. By investing more in clothing production, brands and consumers can support the global development of garment workers. This will allow workers and their families to invest in education, healthcare and their local community.

Ethical Fashion

Garment workers employed at ethical brands are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and are treated fairly. On the other hand, fast fashion workers face gender discrimination through mandatory pregnancy tests, abuse and sexual harassment. Fashion as a feminist movement has the power to address the main human rights abuse in the industry — the non-payment of a living wage.

Female empowerment is a catalyst for prosperity. The United Nations reports that investing in the education of girls and women helps global transformation. It contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty through increased productivity and improves health outcomes. Studies have shown that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family size, provide better care to their family and send their children to school.

However, poverty is an important factor in whether girls and women obtain an education. Without a living wage, poverty-stricken workers cannot afford to send their children to school and the cycle of poverty continues. Education has the power to help improve the lives of women and reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Therefore, education for girls fosters the development and empowerment of women.

Moving Forward

Poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue. Brands that invest in the talented and skilled female workforce acknowledge that living wages empower women and their local communities. Garment workers need to be placed at the forefront of the industry to negotiate better pay and working conditions. Being in leadership roles ensures that fashion as a feminist movement represents the most vulnerable around the world. The fashion industry and consumers have the power to help end global poverty, improve access to education and empower women through conscious consumerism.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

women's rights in VietnamWomen in Vietnam form a significant part of the working poor, often subject to dangerous working conditions and earning less income than men. Organizations advocate for women’s rights in Vietnam so that gender quality can be achieved and women can live empowered lives.

The Lives of Women in Vietnam

Although about 79% of women in Vietnam participate in the workforce, the majority of women have informal employment “as migrant domestic workers, homeworkers, street vendors and in the entertainment industry.” Furthermore, men are not expected to do the same unpaid care work as women. Societal standards assign women a lower status in comparison to men. In the labor market, women are often at a disadvantage due to gender inequality. Women and men do not have equal access to education, resources, skills development opportunities or better job prospects.

Oxfam Advocates for Women’s Rights in Vietnam

Oxfam looks to address the gender gap between men and women in Vietnam with its women’s rights program. The program targets impoverished and marginalized women with the aim of empowering them and enabling them to engage in leadership roles and participate in the decision-making that affects them. Oxfam’s strategies include research, advocacy and education. The organization uses “gender-sensitive design and management tools” to conduct research and analyses that illustrate the scope of gender inequality in the country. Oxfam uses its findings to garner support for women’s rights and positively influence the stance of policymakers with regard to women’s rights. Oxfam’s Women Empowerment Mainstreaming, Advocacy and Networking (WEMAN) framework “goes beyond promoting women’s agency to build understanding between men and women and work with mixed groups to look for consensus and collaboration.”

The ACWC

Another initiative addressing gender discrimination in Vietnam is being led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). The Commission, which had its 21st meeting on December 8, 2020, plans to “fulfill its mandate to achieve protection and empowerment of all women and children in the region.” Speaking to the cause, ACWC chair and Singapore’s ACWC representative for women’s rights, Laura Hwang, says, “Our women and children play indispensable roles in responding to and building back better from the pandemic.”

Hwang explains further that policies, including the ASEAN Recovery Framework for COVID-19, must prioritize the best interests of women and children. The ACWC began in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2010, primarily working to address the trafficking of women and children. The ACWC committed to ensuring that the rights of women and children are fully protected. The focus of the ACWC in Vietnam then extended to women’s involvement in politics, decision-making and democracy. The ACWC also focuses on ensuring quality education for children and ensuring that women have sufficient rights to land and assets in order for women and children to rise out of poverty and progress in life.

The Road Ahead

Deconstructing societal perceptions of women in Vietnam will not happen overnight, but the efforts of organizations seeking to improve women’s rights in Vietnam are already bettering the lives of Vietnamese women. With continued efforts, women’s rights will continue to progress.

Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Eco-Technology Initiatives Combating Global Poverty
There are more than seven billion people worldwide, and approximately two billion are without sanitation methods or a proper toilet. Many of these people have to defecate in open areas, including gutters and water sources. As a result, 10% of the world’s population may consume wastewater through their food’s irrigation. Thankfully, initiatives in eco-technology are working to help rid communities of disease and, most importantly, poverty.

Eco-technology Initiatives

Without access to a clean bathroom or sanitation necessities, millions of people are at risk of contracting deadly diseases and polluting their environment. Organizations worldwide have prioritized supplying those in need with the right education and tools to keep themselves safe. The United Nations estimates that if communities have access to clean water, proper hygiene and regulated sanitation methods, more than 840,000 people per year will live more safely. The work of eco-technology groups is necessary now more than ever. Here are three of these initiatives.

OXFAM Teaches Hygiene

OXFAM is a global initiative that aims to eradicate poverty. It works with local groups and governments worldwide to provide sustainable eco-technology for community sanitation needs. The OXFAM team specifically focuses on providing clean water and restrooms and teaching hygiene to communities facing crises. OXFAM works with locals groups and the government to find the best and most affordable way to implement sustainable hygiene.

In Bangladesh, OXFAM has built sewage treatment systems to handle the waste of approximately 150,00 people a month. In addition to waste management, OXFAM visits schools and communities to promote and distribute hygiene kits. These kits often include a clean bucket and cover, soap, sanitary pads, diapers and more. The group mobilizes volunteers and resources globally. OXFAM reached approximately 20 million people in 2018-2019, more than half being women. The organization seeks to implement long-term strategies and humanitarian assistance through its efforts.

Toilet Twinning Gives Communities A Choice

Toilet Twinning is a highly innovative international initiative. For approximately $80, buyers can “twin” their toilet with an impoverished family in any country they like. Upon buying their toilet, customers receive a certificate and photo with map coordinates of their twin toilet’s location. Buyers’ donations go straight to providing clean water, sanitation basics and proper hygiene education. The initiative’s partners take the time to talk with and understand communities’ immediate needs to choose the best toilet setup.

Toilet Twinning eco-technology toilets come in various designs. The simple pit latrine is the most basic setup and the cheapest form of “improved sanitation.” The pit is 1.5 meters deep with a cover for use in any weather. Once the pit is full, it is topped with soil, and a new pit is dug. Another option is the ventilated improved pit latrine, containing a simple pit latrine with a vertical ventilation pipe for odors. It has a mesh cover for the hole so that air may flow freely and flies are kept out.

The choice to put in these systems is often the first chance villagers have to decide something in their lives. Therefore, the organization encourages the locals to have input on the design, materials and to help build the latrine. Toilet Twinning currently has partners in more than 35 countries, more than 140,000 toilet twins and more than 800,000 changed lives.

ECOLOO Makes Improvement Affordable

ECOLOO is a company focused on creating and distributing green eco-technology to communities in need. Accordingly, the company has developed a new way to treat waste while also providing eco-friendly toilets. The science behind the company’s waste management is relatively simple. The waste is broken down into ashes while urine turns into a pathogen-free liquid fertilizer. ECOLOO makes a point to use safe bacteria to treat the waste and turn it into fertilizer for agriculture in the local community.

Meanwhile, the latrine system is waterless, odorless, chemical-free and low-maintenance. The setup is a stand-apart toilet made up of a two-tier box. One box is for urine, waste, bacteria and an organic filter. The other is below, where the waste is treated and undergoes nitrification to transform into safe and organic fertilizer.

What makes this company stand out above the rest is its comfortable design, waterless needs and affordable cost. When a user buys the setup, they only have to pay 40% upfront with the rest in installments. This payment model makes it far more affordable for communities to access sanitation stations. Through its efforts, ECOLOO has provided more than 1,200 eco-technology toilets, created a job market and changed thousands of lives.

Moving Forward

These eco-technology initiatives, along with others around the world, change lives by providing sustainable bathroom basics and consequently fighting poverty. Moving forward, it is essential that these organizations and others continue to prioritize improving sanitation around the world.

– Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

European Union in the DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the largest Sub-Saharan country and has the fourth largest population in Africa. Throughout the years, the DRC has been faced with a combination of local, national, and regional tensions. Those tensions were the result of violent conflicts to mass migrations, militias, and profound poverty. These issues have ultimately limited the opportunities for achieving peace and stability in the country. One of the most consistent efforts to improve the country’s conditions comes from the work of the European Union in the DRC.

History of Financial Aid

The history of the European Union in the DRC starts with the first European Development Fund (EDF) of 1958-59. After a ten-year suspension, the cooperation dynamics have been increasing exponentially. For instance, in January of 2002, the National Indicative Program (NIP) was signed under the 8th EDF with a value of 120 million Euros, while the number increased to 205 million Euros the following year.

Between 2001 and 2003, the DRC received a total of 1,868 million Euros from the EU, making the country one of the bloc’s main aid recipients. Most of the money was destined for development efforts (72%), followed by humanitarian aid and cooperation in the areas of politics and security (23.5% and 4.5% respectively).

The EU institutions persistently rank within the three top donors, together with the United States and the United Kingdom, in humanitarian aid for the DRC. Moreover, ECHO Flight is the European Union in the DRC provision for humanitarian air service, especially directed to remote areas lacking a proper road infrastructure.

Ongoing Work

Currently, under the 11th EDF National Initiative Program, the work of the European Union in the DRC designates 620 million Euros for the period of 2014 to 2020 to fund the following sectors:

  1. Health: assisting the Congolese government in the development of a health system that is accessible, efficient, and of good quality

  2. Environment and sustainable agriculture: financing conservation efforts and development through electric accessibility and sustainable agriculture

  3. Governance and rule of law: strengthening policy reforms in spheres such as defense, justice, and security

  4. Transport: contributing to the completion of the key transportation axis, which is a national road of a 150km

The EU has also undertaken three civilian missions and two military ones. This makes the DRC the country with the most Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) missions. The contributions of one of the military missions, EUFOR RD Congo (requested by the UN in 2006), were crucial for preventing the spread of violence on the eve of celebrating their first democratic elections in more than 40 years while ensuring a peaceful process. Civilian missions tend to focus on strengthening the DRC’s security forces and justice sector. These missions helped result in the creation of the Police Reform Monitoring Committee. They also assisted with the draft of the Congolese National Police’s framework of activities.

New Efforts

More recently, the EU agreed to contribute to policy reform initiatives with 60 million Euros. The aim of this funding is to increase civilians’ trust in the security forces and warranting the rule of law. Its four objectives are:

  • Enhancing the implementation of reforms and police accountability measures

  • Improving the professional level of the police and the criminal justice system

  • Improving human resource management

  • Activating and maintaining community security to restore public confidence

According to Jutta Urpilainen, the European Commissioner for International Partnerships, “There can be no development and sustainable growth without a more peaceful environment. That is why the European Union is stepping up its support for security, peace, and stability in the DRC”.

Finally, the European Union is providing 19.5 million Euros of humanitarian aid to help the DRC in its fight against COVID-19. The DRC is the most impacted country in the region after Cameroon. The money will help improve access to healthcare and awareness-raising efforts. This will occur while the ECHO flights continue with their regular assistance, especially to those most vulnerable.

Helen Souki

Photo: Flickr

livestock can alleviateThroughout the world, 689 million people are estimated to be living in conditions of poverty and surviving on $1.90 a day or less. Of these numbers, around 70% of those impoverished depend on livestock for employment, income and food security. The ability for families to stay afloat, send their kids to school, put food on the table and sustain themselves, depends on the health of their herds. Livestock can alleviate poverty by providing several benefits.

Oxfam: Livestock for Poverty Reduction

Oxfam, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting poverty, donates money, food and livestock to struggling communities for long-term success. Oxfam works with local organizations and coalitions in 70 countries both before and after crises occur to treat both the symptoms of systemic inequality as well as the systems themselves. Oxfam advocates for the rights of the impoverished and those facing oppression by challenging government leaders to do more for their constituency.

Feed the Future Campaign

Oxfam has worked with the U.S. food security initiative, Feed the Future, to help farmers in countries like Ghana, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Haiti, Senegal and Tanzania. Through intense research and direct communication with local communities, Oxfam has strengthened strategies for the success of female farmers, growth in the agriculture sector and maternal and child nutrition. Oxfam stresses the importance of aiding small scale farmers to end the cyclical nature of poverty and food insecurity. This initiative includes providing access to opportunities and resources that some families do not have, holding accountable the governments and businesses for the harmful policies that affect farmers and ensuring a positive relationship with local groups.

The Impact of Livestock

Part of Oxfam’s mission is to set communities up for success in the long-term by providing them with resources and tools to maintain these resources. Oxfam does not just provide livestock such as goats and sheep, but it provides farmers with resources and training for herds to be healthy and successful. Growth in agriculture directly leads to economic security and growth. It profits the entire community as it lowers the costs of food, creates wealth for producers and creates opportunities for other economic areas to flourish as more consumables become accessible. The work Oxfam does in bringing livestock to impoverished communities alleviates poverty and produces greater economic growth and opportunity. Livestock can alleviate poverty as it takes on laborious duties that lessen the strain on families. Livestock also produces and becomes a source of food and increases the flow of income and ability to work on other aspects of life.

Nyalit, a woman in South Sudan, was given two goats from Oxfam and has seen her life improve tremendously since the contribution. The goats provide a source of food and income, producing milk. The goats have also reproduced, allowing the farm to grow.

Livestock Programs Reduce Poverty

Oxfam has made considerable contributions to lessen the impact of poverty throughout the world and continues to do so with its programs. Its work is evidence that livestock can alleviate poverty and expand the socio-economic opportunities of the farmers. The organization has empowered female farmers, provided food security for mothers and children in developing areas and encouraged growth in the agricultural sector.

– Lizzy Herestofa
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous PovertyGuatemala is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, with an indigenous population that has been especially impacted by COVID-19. Indigenous groups make up more than 40% of Guatemala’s population, which equates to more than 6.5 million people. Poverty rates average 79% among indigenous groups, with 35% suffering from food insecurity.

COVID-19 Exacerbates Indigenous Poverty in Guatemala

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the suffering of indigenous Guatemalans. Not only have indigenous families been pushed further into poverty, but reports of gender-based and intrafamily violence, murders and child pregnancies have also increased during Guatemala’s stay-at-home orders, which were intended to control the spread of COVID-19. The only exception to note is that there has been a drop in violent crime since lockdowns were imposed.

Child labor rates have increased, which is a concern since a child’s education is their channel to achieve social mobility and is key to reducing poverty. At the start of the lockdown, remote learning was promoted. However, less than 30% of Guatemala’s population has internet access. Only 21% of the population has access to a computer. In effect, COVID-19 is widening the economic gap between the indigenous population and those in urban Guatemala.

OCHA, the United Nations emergency aid coordination body, reported in April 2020 that seasonal hunger rates have worsened in eastern Guatemala due to lockdown measures. Compared to a year ago, health ministry figures point out that acute malnutrition cases in the department of Chiquimula increased by roughly 56%.

Oxfam Assists Guatemala

Oxfam, a confederation working to alleviate global poverty, has been on the ground in Guatemala, delivering food, sanitary and medical products, particularly to Guatemala’s indigenous communities.  However, Oxfam is working a little differently than in the past due to COVID-19 measures. Instead of risking the spread of the virus by sending outside people in, Oxfam is employing local Guatemalans by transferring credit to their phones and having them collect and distribute two months’ worth of necessary goods to those requiring assistance.

Insufficient Governmental Support

Guatemala’s government offers little help to relieve the effects of COVID-19 in its rural zones. In 2017, a study by the Guatemalan health ministry reported that the government spends fractions of its health budget in its rural zones compared to its wealthiest, urban cities.

The United States has increased its level of deportations under COVID-19-related regulations, leading Guatemala to trace 20% of its infections to those returnees. With the lack of governmental support and social safety nets, many poor Guatemalans are looking to flee the country.

Hopes for an Inclusive Society

Although the indigenous in Guatemala are creating their own solutions, using traditional knowledge and practices to contain COVID-19, the Guatemalan government must treat its indigenous population equally and include those who have been historically excluded by implementing strategies and operations to prevent and contain COVID-19 as well as alleviate its indigenous poverty rates overall.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

fighting poverty with booksOxfam, an organization based out of Kenya, is fighting global poverty with books. How does that work, exactly? All over the world, second-hand Oxfam bookstores have popped up, sparking interest in the cause.

Oxfam: Alleviating Global Poverty

Oxfam provides support to people worldwide who suffer from disasters and poverty and works to build lasting solutions to these problems. Through “challenging the powerful,” Oxfam aims to hold those in power accountable for their actions in order to promote sustainable change. Oxfam challenges those in power by allowing disadvantaged groups’ voices to be heard, pressuring policy change and starting discussions with those in power to advocate for those in poverty. Throughout their 70 years of existence, the lives changed through Oxfam are widespread.

Nearly one out of every three people live in poverty. The organization believes that the global community can alleviate global poverty by confronting the injustices in the world. In doing this, Oxfam provides a voice for those who often go unheard in their daily lives.

While working in 90 countries, Oxfam alone has changed the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide. Many different strategies are used, such as supporting NGOs on the ground aiding communities in need, donating funds and resources to humanitarian organizations and pursuing legal action for those in need. But perhaps the most interesting is the use of fighting global poverty with books.

The Oxfam Bookstore: Fighting Poverty With Books

A popular place for local bookstores to emerge is in Great Britain. Walking through Oxford, near the pub C.S. Lewis frequented, is an Oxfam bookstore. The books within are donated to the organization and dispersed to their many locations. In selling these books to raise money, Oxfam is able to further fund their multi-faceted poverty-fighting agenda.

In these bookstores, it is easy to find books from all genres. A typical look through the stores features books from popular Young Adult fiction to antiquated books that are no longer in circulation. If a large bookseller hears about Oxfam, it is quite common for newly printed copies to be put on the shelves, as well.

If there is not an Oxfam bookstore location near you, it is now possible to shop their selection online. To promote the organization’s values, it is essential for them to collect as many books as possible to boost sales. When looking online, it is easy to find the genres, and even has a highlighted section to promote antiquarian, signed and valuable books.

To be more specific, volunteers to run both Oxfam thrift stores and book shops around the world. The funds raised are then dispersed to their various home bases. Through these bookstores’ contributions and by providing an accessible platform for people to donate and contribute to valuable causes, Oxfam furthers the global fight against poverty.

Fighting Poverty One Book at a Time

For book lovers who want to change the world, Oxfam bookstores are a great way to help out those in need, while finding the newest story to delve into. From just a quick search, first edition novels such as Ross Poldark, Will Grayson and The Screwtape Letters can be found in these volunteer-led bookstores. Prices vary depending on the quality and rarity of these works, but it is clear that fighting global poverty with books is a great way to benefit both those in need and your own book cravings.

By fighting global poverty with books, Oxfam encourages widespread education that can be available to everyone, without having to explicitly say it. Confronting those in power to be held accountable for the change they can provide in relieving global poverty can be done through the simple transaction of a book from a small shop.

– Natalie Belford
Photo: Pexels

Rohingya refugee campsLow-income areas with a high population density are at the highest risk of contracting the coronavirus. This threat is very prevalent in the Rohingya refugee camps, especially for women and girls.

The Issue

Currently in Bangladesh, there are over 860,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps. The Rohingya people, a minority ethnic group from Myanmar, are fleeing from genocidal violence, persecution, discrimination and human rights violations. The Rohingya face violence because they mainly practice Islam while the majority of Myanmar is Buddhist. The large mass of people fleeing into Bangladesh has caused the refugee camps to become immensely populated. The result is overcrowding, only temporary shelter, communal bathrooms and water facilities and limited food space.

Overcrowding and limited space in refugee camps result in the Rohingya having an especially high risk of contracting COVID-19. Currently, the best way to prevent the spread of this disease is to social distance, wear masks and increase testing. However, the Rohingya refugees do not have the space or resources to do this. As of June 2020, there were four deaths and 45 confirmed cases within the Rohingya refugee population. However, because there is a huge lack of testing, these numbers are most likely not accurate. The hospitals in city centers no longer have resources themselves to treat any more people. As such, many infected Rohingya aren’t being accepted.

How Women are Fighting Back

Oxfam, an NGO fighting poverty, traveled to the Rohingya refugee camps to help build better water, sanitation and hygiene stations. This includes systems like water taps and hand washing stations, which could be potential risk areas for disease spreading. When designing the new water and sanitation facilities, Oxfam interviewed many girls and women to hear their thoughts. The women and girls contributed to design aspects like how the stations should stand, where hooks should go, and even suggested a mirror. All of the expertise given by those Rohingya women and girls has spread to other camps. Now 300 hand-washing and water stations are implemented in three different refugee camps.

Women also have taken on the important role of spreading information and discounting myths surrounding COVID-19 in the refugee camps. One woman, Ashmida Begum, walks around the camp dispelling myths. Begum explained that she uses the Quran to help explain the virus and disease prevention. She mainly helps other women and children who are a large majority of Rohingya refugee camps. Misinformation has led Bangladesh to lift internet restrictions on the Rohingya refugees. The barriers were originally in place to quell panic and stop rumors. Instead, rumors and myths spread and local women like Begum worked to stop them.

Why Women

Women have been so effective in helping the refugee camps because the local people trust them. They have special access in reaching other women, who normally do not leave their homes often and do not have internet.

Women are traditionally the primary caregiver of the family, so they especially need to be healthy and informed to keep the rest of the family safe. This is also why women’s input is needed in the sanitation and water stations; women will be using them the most.

Impacts of this Work

The work that the women and girls of Rohingya refugee camps have impacts beyond fighting COVID-19. Oxfam reports that the design process helped girls take a more active role in their own lives. They were able to think and speak for themselves.

The rise in panic and social tensions in the camps resulted in a rise in domestic violence and violence against women. Rohingya women stepped into leadership roles and formed networks to help combat that panic around the virus to counter the gender-based attacks.

The work done by the women in Rohingya refugee camps to fight COVID-19 is helping to increase cleanliness and knowledge about the virus. They are slowing the spread of the virus and giving women and girls a way to be leaders in their communities.

Claire Brady
Photo: Flickr

Pineapples Against Poverty in Rwanda
Poverty plagues many residents in the East African country of Rwanda. As a result of the deadly 1994 genocide, many female-led households are struggling. To provide for their families, these women are using their small parcels of land for agricultural cultivation. However, it was not until a group of residents in the district of Kirehe founded the Tuzamurane Cooperative in Eastern Rwanda that things changed. Through these efforts, profitable gain could now occur. Tuzamurane has worked to boost incomes by cultivating pineapples, a practice that has supplemented the community and helped combat poverty. By using pineapples against poverty in Rwanda, there is potential for improved quality of life for thousands.

What is the Tuzamurane Cooperative?

Established more than 10 years ago, the Tuzamurane Cooperative emerged to educate women on horticulture and financial literacy. Workers identified pineapples, a locally grown and climate-suitable fruit, as an ideal agricultural crop for local cooperative members to cultivate.

After some members visited a Belgian export convention, inspiration struck to collect community pineapple harvests and market them for both local and foreign sale. After this collection process, the initiative sells these fresh pineapples to locals and exports the dried fruits. Unfortunately, however, local markets pay very little just 6 cents for a single pineapple.

Community Success and Support

Oxfam, an Irish organization focused on mobilizing people against poverty, joined this cooperative’s efforts in 2015 and helped turn its pineapple production into profit. With Oxfam, Tuzamurane could attain proper facilities like processing equipment, a more thorough supplier base and adequate organic certification. Cooperative members now have access to a broader market with a higher profit margin, which can directly fight poverty in Rwanda.

Tuzamurane, meaning “lift up one another,” is a fitting name for the organization’s mission. For instance, the educational opportunities and market accessibility Tuzamurane provides its members are profound on their own. Yet, its support goes beyond these areas. If a co-op member needs monetary assistance to make ends meet, Tuzamurane readily provides financing. Members pay for this financing interest-free by supplying an equivalent amount of produce. Furthermore, Tuzamurane covers the cost of employees’ health insurance. In these ways, the cooperative protects the social well-being of its members and their families.

The positive impacts of Tuzamurane Cooperative within the community and region are profound. The pineapple farming income has provided members, particularly women, with funds to pay for their children’s schooling and household expenses. They can also invest in their futures by purchasing livestock and more land for cultivation. Additionally, they can hire more labor to help during busy times. Notably, members of the cooperative are no longer part of the lowest income groups. Tuzamurane has made incredible progress in using pineapples against poverty in Rwanda.

Social and Economic Impact

With Oxfam’s support, Tuzamurane finds great success in providing for Kirehe and Rwanda’s greater community. While pineapples may seem like a simple crop, their ability to grow on small land plots makes them easier for women to manage. In this way, the cooperative’s support empowers male and female heads of households alike. Facilitating their escape from poverty and the ability to adequately provide for their families.

With juicy pineapples in tow, the Tuzamurane Cooperative has addressed several needs of those facing poverty in Rwanda. By educating locals on introductory horticulture, providing essential equipment and offering more business opportunities, more than 300 people and their families have escaped dire poverty in Rwanda. With its lucrative business model, this co-op will undoubtedly continue to inspire thousands throughout the region to use pineapples against poverty in Rwanda.

– Eliza Cochran
Photo: Flickr