Comparing Gender Inequality Examples and Progress Across the GlobeIt is the time of year to reflect on achievements and the need for change. The World Economic Forum 2016 Report on the Global Gender Gap points to both.

Countries are measured on the following metrics regarding women and gender inequality: economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, health, and survival.

The highest possible score is one for gender equality. The lowest possible score is zero for gender inequality. Rwanda has achieved a ranking of five. Pakistan and Yemen are 143 and 144 respectively out of a total 144 countries. Gender inequality examples are numerous in both Yemen and Pakistan.

Gender inequality leads to gender-based violence against both women and young girls affecting one in three females around the world, in the name of “honor killings”, public stoning’s, wartime rape, domestic violence and abuse. Increased conflict in Yemen highlights a correlation with marrying off child bride’s sooner. This is a longstanding human rights violation in Yemen.

Numbers from a survey of 250 community members conducted by UNFPA indicated 72 percent of child marriage survivors in North Yemen were married between the ages of 13 and 15. In the South, 62 percent were married before the age of 16. Child brides experience pregnancy complications and are more vulnerable to violence. They are expected to conceive within their first month after marriage.

Pakistan also experienced severe spikes in violence against women this past summer. Women died by burning, strangling, and poison. Women are vulnerable to early marriage, domestic violence and death by male family members who may be suspicious that they are unfaithful.

New legislation passed in October called the “anti-honor crime bill”. This marks progress; there will, however, remain obstacles between parliament and religious groups. For real change, all murders will need to be treated the same as a crime against the state.

True change for women living in vulnerable settings is possible. Protecting Girls Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act is a bill that was introduced in July 2016 that “… is critical to ensure that children, particularly girls, displaced by conflicts overseas are able to receive a quality education and that the educational needs of women and girls are considered in implementing U.S. foreign assistance policies and programs.”

Pakistan activists are taking action for change with a play on words to end violence against all women. The U.N. Women Pakistan’s new #BeatMe campaign challenges men to beat well-known women from Pakistan at things in which they excel. The campaign confronts physical abuse with female mountain climber Samina Baig. She is the only Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest.

The campaign will focus on success stories of women from all walks of life. Pakistan’s #BeatMe campaign has advocacy components, legal services for survivors and intends to address a shift in social attitudes particularly among men and boys. The campaign’s long-term goals focus on opening a global dialogue about women’s rights and gender equality.

It has been twenty years since the Rwandan genocide where 100 million men, women and children died. Women extended their strength as mothers into the fields of construction and mobilization to rebuild their nation. Today women have a seat at the economic and political tables of power. This is why Rwanda ranks 5th this year for improving the status of women.

  • Fifty percent of Rwanda’s Supreme Court Justice’s are women
  • Girls attend public school in equal numbers to boys
  • Women can legally own property and pass citizenship to their offspring
  • Established businesswomen are leaders in the private sector
  • Rwanda ranks first in the world for women’s representation in elected lower house of parliament.

New laws are one factor in the Rwanda’s shift to a country where women hold a new place in society. These laws are strengthened by a paradigm shift in the collective thinking of the entire country.

Rwanda did not rebuild overnight. The strength of Rwandan women is a model for countries at war, where women are struggling to stay alive, and seek freedom from violence, a large stepping stone to education, political power and equal pay.

Addison Evans

Photo: Flickr

Rwandan Genocide

The Borgen Project sat down with Brian Endless, a political science professor at Loyola University Chicago and an academic expert on the Rwandan genocide. Since 2007, Endless worked closely with Paul Rusesabagina, the inspiration for the film “Hotel Rwanda,” to raise awareness about misconceptions surrounding the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

How and why did you initially become interested in the Rwandan genocide?

“[My interest] started around the time I started grad school. I had always focused on the Security Council, and I had a lot of experience with it. I was immersed in the genocide from the beginning from an international perspective. I knew what was happening and saw it as a huge failure of the U.N. I saw everything from the perspective of the outside world.

I didn’t really know how little I knew about Rwanda until 2007 when I met Paul Rusesabagina, who had become an international spokesperson for Rwanda. I had no idea about the history of the civil war and internal conflicts that led up to the genocide. From 2007 on, I went on a pretty steep learning curve, picking up everything that I could about what was happening inside of Rwanda.”

Can you summarize your experience learning about and advocating for awareness of the genocide after 2007?

“From extensive talks with Paul and members of the Rwandan expatriate community, I learned that while the international public saw the situation as Hutus killing Tutsis, what was actually happening was the latest in a series of civil wars. I was surprised by the fact that an enormous number of Hutus died during the genocide, and that a Tutsi dictatorship had replaced a Hutu dictatorship, and that a small percentage of Tutsis was ruling and committing substantial human rights violations.

I did an enormous amount of academic reading and I followed a lot of court cases as things came into the public press. I started actively working with Paul and writing speeches for him and things to be published and publicly disseminated. The Hotel Rwanda Paul Rusesabagina Foundation was first campaigning to inform the public that there were still problems. The situation was really just, ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ with a population that was being discriminated against. Rwanda was also a very friendly government to the United States, so it was difficult getting information out and advocating for truth and reconciliation in Rwanda.”

What were the biggest driving factors behind the genocide?

“It’s a story that dates back to pre-colonial times. By 1990, a Hutu government was in charge but didn’t have enormous control over the country. Tutsi groups in Uganda started a civil war to take back the country. Tutsis were largely winning the war in 1993, and there was a peace plan. By early 1994, the peace plan was breaking down. Hutu extremists started to bring out negative views against the Tutsis. In part, it was a plan to try to stop the Tutsi invasion by encouraging Hutus to demonize Tutsis. They focused especially on internally-displaced youth who were pushed out of their homes as the Tutsis invaded.

That’s effectively where the genocide started. The genocide officially started when the plane carrying the president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi was shot down in early April 1994. That triggered the genocide, and Hutu Power radio began to say, ‘It’s time to chop down the tall weeds,’ which was code to kill the Tutsis.”

How did the international community fail to become involved in the Rwandan genocide?

“We had just come out of Somalia, where 18 U.S. army rangers had been killed. The Clinton Administration used this as an excuse to pull us out. What happened was the U.S. public became more against using forces in places they didn’t understand or that weren’t strategic. Rwanda was a place where nobody had close ties. There were really no great natural resources, thus we let it happen and let it go on. People in the U.S. and in Europe didn’t realize it until we saw it on CNN, and our politicians had no interest in getting us involved in another war that could end up like Somalia.”

What do you think should have been done?

“Really the question is: If we’re going to say ‘never again’ after a genocide, we have to decide if we mean it or not. So far, we haven’t meant it. We’re not willing to put resources on the ground even when we know what’s happening, and in the case of Rwanda, we absolutely knew that genocide was happening.”

What do you think can be done to prevent future genocides around the globe?

“I think in the future, a piece of it is: how can we make the American people more interested and more knowledgeable about what happens in other parts of the world? If the press chose to highlight these things, they would become more important. Advocacy groups need to convince both press and politicians that these are issues of interest to Americans. People need to understand that we have some culpability because we have our fingers pretty much every place in the world. People too often think, ‘Oh, that’s not our problem,’ or, ‘Oh, they should solve their own problems.’ A big piece of our own problem is that we don’t look at things from a humanitarian perspective.”

Endless continues to advocate for the elimination of genocide by working with Paul Rusesabagina’s foundation and teaching classes at Loyola University Chicago. Endless’ insights into the Rwandan genocide offer a path to an international community that can genuinely say “never again” to genocide.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Low-Income Communities Deserve Sanitary Menstrual Products
In 2015, 18 percent of Rwandan females didn’t go to school or work because they couldn’t purchase sanity menstrual products.

Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) recycles trunk fiber from banana farmers to be cut, carded, washed, fluffed and solar dried for menstrual pads. The company supplies farmers with the necessary equipment and training services for production. They offer health and hygiene education to the community through schools.

SHE believes it’s a personal injustice that menstrual hygiene is seen as a luxury item. In Rwanda each year, the country has roughly a gross domestic product (GDP) loss of $115 million for women needing to take sick leave due to their periods. The company is fighting for the removal of value-added taxes on menstrual pads.

“We’re creating a blueprint to franchise globally. It’s a sustainable system that can be rolled out anywhere. We think it’s straight up common sense,” SHE outlined on the company’s website.

Most U.S. food stamp programs do not define sanitary menstrual products as an essential item. In India, people believe menstruation makes women impure. Most of the time females who are on their period are banished from completing their household obligations such as cooking, or even from inhabiting their homes at all.

In the largest slum, Mukuru, in Nairobi, Kenya, a study found that girls 10 to 19 years old were having sex with older men to gain access to sanitary menstrual products, according to Dignity Period.

In Burkina Faso, 83 percent of girls don’t have a sanitary menstrual changing area, and more than half of schools in the poorest countries lack private toilets, according to UNICEF.

Diana Sierra, a founder of Be Girl Inc., created a pair of underwear with a menstrual, mesh pocket that females can fill with any type of recyclable materials, such as cotton, grass or fabric, depending on the materials readily available in their geographic location.

After Sierra finished a master’s program in sustainability management at Columbia University, she traveled to Uganda for her internship. While conducting research on a coffee farm and cultural arts, she was working on the side to create a prototype for the most effective sanitary pad.

“So I said okay I’m going to hack this material with what I have handy. I took an umbrella for the layer on the bottom, I took like a mosquito net and cut it in pieces and stick it all together and created a kind of a universal pocket, a mix-proof pocket for a certain material,” said Sierra.

Sierra took her product to a school and the children found it successful, but they didn’t like the color black because they found it boring. In Tanzania and Malawi, the stigma associated with menstruation is more than a negative connotation. It is considered a curse.

“When we were asking them, they were talking about how they can’t touch an animal because the animal would just drop dead, and they cannot touch a baby because the baby can die. They cannot go through the crops because the crops will die,” said Sierra.

Sierra realized that she spent years working for global companies, designing for about 10 percent of the population with their extra TVs and face steamers, but she wondered about the other 90 percent of the world who feel that they aren’t deserving of a sanitary product.

Be Girl was launched in the U.S. to fiercely distinguish between and within genders. Sierra is mining a conversation of equality worldwide. It’s a product not exclusive to any socioeconomic status. She wants women to educate themselves about their options and teach others in every country so that generations that follow will spread the knowledge.

“They have the same value as a human being, but they’re completely overlooked. So that was the very first thing that I said I have to go and see this for myself and experience firsthand what it is that a designer can do for this type of scenarios,” said Sierra.

Rachel Williams

Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in Rwanda

In July, the Rwanda Biomedical Center and UNICEF ran a health awareness campaign in Rwamagana, which revolved around the continued fight against malnutrition in Rwanda.

Rwanda has made impressive developmental progress since the tragedy in 1994. According to the Ministry of Health, the mortality rate for children under 5 has declined more than 60 percent since the 1990s.

Despite this progress, the stunting of children under 5 remains at 38 percent, due to chronic malnutrition, nutritional imbalance and food insecurity. The recent campaign in Rwamagana reported that this number could be cut in half, as long as parents personally ensured that their children were eating the recommended diet.

Stunting is particularly prevalent in rural areas, for these regions are typically the most impoverished and the least educated – both critical influences on the likelihood of malnutrition.

Stunting hinders physical and psychological growth, permanently affecting a child’s long-term development and capacity. Given these dire consequences, the government has scaled up community health outreach, mobilizing door-to-door nutrition education in the most remote areas.

Malnutrition doesn’t usually take lives directly, instead increasing childhood susceptibility to death from diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and HIV. Particularly, malnutrition decreases the efficacy of antiretroviral therapy, making this chronic condition a large roadblock in the management of the HIV pandemic in Rwanda.

In rural areas, the availability of nutritious food is scarce, especially during agricultural lean periods. The typical diet of cereals and tubers is completely nutritionally imbalanced, leading to deficiencies in protein, iron, vitamin A and iodine.

The government has been working ceaselessly to reduce malnutrition in Rwanda through community organization, mass media initiatives and investment in a National Nutrition Policy. This policy aims to promote sectoral collaboration, simultaneously reducing poverty through the investment in human health.

The Rwamagana campaign targeted lifestyle changes as essential components of the fight against chronic malnutrition. These grim statistics could be transformed through increased parental responsibility, the promotion of alternative sources of income during agricultural setbacks and the assistance of smallholder farmers.

Food insecurity is a primary element of malnutrition, so linking small farmers to their markets is essential. WFP’s Purchase for Progress does just this, providing strength, support and security to rural Rwandan economies.

The WFP and the government additionally fight malnutrition in Rwanda through grassroots community involvement programs, including home grown school feeding programs, monthly childhood growth monitoring and baby-friendly hospital initiatives to promote breastfeeding.

The government of Rwanda understands that the reduction of malnutrition is a complex feat; requiring support from many sectors, such as health, education, commerce and agriculture. Ensuring equal access to nutritional education and treatment is crucial to countrywide hunger alleviation.

Chronic malnutrition in Rwanda interferes with many of the Millennium Development Goals, as it sustains poverty, obstructs educational progress and facilitates the detrimental impact of preventable diseases. With continued focus and diligence, Rwanda can continue to make progress in the promotion of its children’s health.

Larkin Smith

Photo: Flickr

Town Library
Rwinkwavu, a community of 30,000 people in Rwanda, is significantly economically disadvantaged. The town is mostly made up of farmers and lacks basic modern resources such as running water and power.

Despite these conditions, the non-profit Ready for Reading built a town library in 2012 that Worldreader, a Barcelona-based charity, then filled with e-readers, smartphones, Wi-Fi and a broad range of digital books for locals to explore.

Books not only provide entertainment, but their educational value is paramount. This access to knowledge helps to improve language skills and literacy while explaining new and different information in an enjoyable way. More specifically, reading has helped adults in Rwinkwavu master various skills including applying for new jobs, opening bank accounts and even running their own businesses.

Accessing knowledge through reading has also helped children develop interests in topics they most likely would not have explored otherwise. Each night, people of all ages now gather at Rwinkwavu’s town library to read after long days of laboring in their fields. As they continue to learn new information, new doors continue to open for them.

More than one in three adults in sub-Saharan Africa, a total of 182 million, are unable to read and write. In Rwanda, 48 million of the youths are illiterate. The population’s lack of education has led to 44 percent of people living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. However, new town libraries like the one in Rwinkwavu could potentially change the status quo.

Worldreader has already used its digital books to fill multiple schools and libraries across 14 different countries in sub-Saharan Africa, helping to educate over 100,000 children and adults. The charity hopes to continue its expansion, with plans to fill another two libraries by the end of the year.

“There is massive inequality in the world. Africa needs education at scale to start closing the gaps,” said Worldreader Co-Founder Colin McElwee.

Alice Gottesman

Photo: Worldreader

Rulindo ChallengeThe Rulindo Challenge is an initiative developed in 2010 by the partnership of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Water For People and the Rwandan government. The Challenge acts as a permanent solution to provide full water access to the northern, rural Rwandan province of Rulindo by 2018.

Approximately 285,000 people reside in the Rulindo District. The terrain of the area is mostly hills and valleys, so springs and groundwater make up the main sources of water in Rulindo.

According to a report by Water For People, prior to the Rulindo Challenge the area lacked proper standards in terms of the water quality in Rwanda. Only 29% of the population had access to safe drinking water and just six percent of water systems were likely to provide sustainable water service.

Goals of the Rulindo Challenge

Rulindo’s 2016 goals include increasing the levels of water access by 11% through sustainable water infrastructure, such as installing eight piped water systems in five areas and water tanks in 13 schools. A new health care facility was also constructed as a result of the goals.

The Rulindo Challenge also seeks to increase the newly established water infrastructure’s sustainability to 100% at the end of 2016, building the technical and financial capacity needed for two private operators and the district water board members and staff. To implement these goals, the progressive partnership has developed a systematic approach in order to meet district-wide demands for clean water and sanitation. The joint partners set out to achieve sustainability challenges to meet current local capacity and strength, leveraging locally available resources and striving to serve as a model for replication.

What Has it Already Accomplished?

According to a report by Water For People, “community water service has increased 20 percentage points to 49 percent in the district as a result of these activities.” The water and sanitation at schools and clinics also increased drastically to 67% in the Rulindo District.

Currently, nearly 118,000 community water beneficiaries, 114 connections at 68 public institution water systems and over 51,500 public water beneficiaries have been created since the beginning of the Rulindo Challenge to improve water quality in Rwanda.

The initiative resulted in improved access to water supply for 60,000 people. In addition, the quality of the water mechanisms is expected to last well into the future. Sustainability measures in 2012 recorded just six percent prior to the Rulindo Challenge.

The increase in sustainability to 89% resulted in an 83-point percentage overall improvement. Due to the increased sustainability in the district, the implementation of the strategies and approaches shows that communities and public institutions will have safe, reliable access to drinking water for many years to come.

When the Rulindo Challenge concludes in 2018, the partners will implement a thorough exit strategy to ensure that the maintenance and protection of the water resources remain intact. In addition, the partners will implement a plan for climate change resilience to promote sustainability and access to adequate water sources for generations to come.

Haylee Gardner

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Rwanda Facts
Over the past two decades, Rwanda has faced an uphill battle on the road to development post-genocide. Despite troubling circumstances and more than its share of challenges, the country is quickly becoming a global development and poverty reduction success story. Below are five facts about poverty in Rwanda.

Rwanda Poverty Facts

  1.  According to the World Bank’s most recent estimates, 44.9 percent of Rwanda’s population currently lives below the poverty line. Down from 56.7 percent in 2005, more than one million people have been lifted out of poverty in just five years thanks to the government’s commitment to eradicating poverty in Rwanda and becoming a middle-income country.
  2. In the past decade, mortality rates for children under five years old have been more than halved. Down from 182 deaths per 1,000 children in 2000 to 55 per 1,000 in 2012.
  3. As a key marker of successful poverty reduction efforts, life expectancy in Rwanda has improved dramatically. As of 1993, the average life expectancy was just 27 years. By 2014 that number had more than doubled to 64 years. Better living conditions and improved health care are largely to thank for these impressive improvements.
  4. After experiencing a dip in annual GDP growth rates after the Great Recession, the Rwandan economy has quickly rebounded. The country is projected to enjoy growth rates of more than six percent for the next several years. As this growth begins to be picked up by even the lowest income sectors of the country, poverty in Rwanda is expected to be dramatically reduced in the coming years.
  5. The Rwandan government has made achieving middle-income status a top priority by introducing Vision 2020, an initiative that aims to move the country away from its primarily agricultural-based economy to a more progressive, diversified economy with the ability to drastically reduce poverty in Rwanda. With 75 percent of the 650,000 new workers added to the work force between 2005 and 2010, the country is well on its way to achieving its goal.

As shown through these facts about poverty in Rwanda, the country still has a long way to go on the road to development, yet over the past decade, its progress has been unprecedentedly successful. With continued support and development assistance poverty in Rwanda may one day be a distant memory.

Sara Christensen

Photo: Flickr

Rwandan agriculture

Of the many tragic legacies that the civil war in Rwanda have had for the country, the effect of the conflict on Rwandan agriculture has developed in unexpected ways. A report from showed that during the civil war, historical climate data were significantly compromised. As a result, farmers have faced increased risk of crop failures due to droughts, flooding, and other damaging weather patterns.

The Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project aims to bolster Rwandan agriculture by filling in gaps in Rwanda’s climate data records and disseminating meteorological data to farmers, according to a report from the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS).

The report goes on to explain that this project will expand upon elements of the Enhancing National Climate Services (ENACTS) approach, which is already being implemented in eight African countries. ENACTS connects satellite data with on-the-ground station observation from Rwanda’s National Meteorological Agency (Meteo-Rwanda), and provides to farmers the information gathered therefrom via “maprooms.” These maprooms are publicly accessible websites providing dynamically updated information on weather patterns such as temperature and rainfall, according to the Meteo-Rwanda website.

Furthermore, the project builds upon the Participatory Integrated Climate Services (PICSA) approach, which entails integrating NGOs and agricultural extension staff with local farming communities. With easy access to climate data, Meteo-Rwanda’s maprooms will expedite this process by giving intermediaries more accurate and timely information about the ares where they will need to function.

According to the CCAFS, the project aims to provide climate data to one million farmers.

Given the importance of Rwandan agriculture in the local economy, this project represents an important step forward in repairing the damage of the civil war. According to, agriculture accounts for one third of Rwanda’s GDP, and eight out of 10 Rwandans are employed in agriculture. Thus, softening the impact of flooding and drought will provide significant economic benefits the country.

Peter Della-Rocca

Photo: Flickr

A new study published by the University of Washington and the University of California, Berkeley reports that mobile cell phone information can be used to measure levels of wealth and poverty in developing countries.

Historically, poverty data in developing countries has been difficult to measure because information is captured through door-to-door surveys.

“[Cell phones] could be a useful policy instrument to estimate the geographic distribution of poverty and wealth,” said Joshua Blumenstock, one of the study’s authors, in a NY Times interview.

Blumenstock and his colleagues used anonymous data from 1.5 million subscribers of Rwanda’s largest mobile phone network. The team analyzed billions of interactions which included the time and length of phone calls as well as text messages. Cellphone towers helped them get a rough idea of geographic location.

During the study, the researchers also interviewed 850 cell phone owners. The respondents were asked about their housing situations, the assets they had access to and other indicators of wealth or poverty.

The researchers used this information to create an algorithm that predicts a person’s wealth based on their cellphone usage. Using this model, the team was able to answer more specific questions including whether a house has electricity.

Notably, the resulting wealth and poverty maps closely mirrored the findings of the Rwandan government’s door-to-door surveys.

The researchers are trying to conduct similar work in Afghanistan because certain areas are dangerous or too difficult to access and door-to-door surveys are not possible.

“We do not think this method is the be-all or end-all, but in the absence of good information, this is better than nothing,” said Blumenstock. However, the researchers’ approach could lead to new ways to quickly analyze poverty at a fraction of the cost of other methods.

Jordan Connell

Sources: PC Tech Magazine, The New York Times
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy to Light Up Rwanda
East Africa’s first solar power plant in Rwanda has created 350 local jobs and powers more than 15,000 homes. This use of renewable energy means that Rwanda is on track to achieve its goal of providing half of its population with electricity by 2017.

The $23.7 million project took only a year to complete. The Rwandan government partnered with Gigawatt Global, Norfund and Scatec Solar; all of whom were aided by the president’s Power Africa initiative.

The 17-hectare solar plant is compromised of 28,360 solar panels which are arranged to mimic the shape of the African continent. The panels are computer controlled and tilt to track the sun throughout the day which improves its efficiency by 20 percent, compared to stationary solar panels.

“The speed with which this project was completed is a tribute to the strength of the Rwandan government’s institutions and their laser-focus on increasing Rwanda’s generation capacity as well as to the nimbleness of our team and partners which spanned eight countries,” Chaim Motzen, managing director and co-founder of Gigawatt Global, said.

The plant is 60 kilometers east of the capital Kigali, on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV). The village is home to children who were orphaned before and after Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. The lease provided the village with significant income which was invested in schooling and extracurricular activities.

Gigawatt Global will also be implementing solar energy technology training to students at the Liquidnet High School in ASYV.

Rwanda relies on diesel fuel for electrical power which is expensive and highly polluting. It cripples the country’s economic growth and leaves more than 15 percent of the population without electricity.

The installation of the solar power plant has provided a better renewable energy source that has also increased Rwanda’s electrical capacity by 6 percent. Consequently, economic output, social welfare, employment conditions and standards of living have improved.

“We have plenty of sun. Some living in remote areas where there is no energy. Solar will be the way forward for African countries,” Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, said.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: The Guardian, Cleantechnica, Gigawatt Global
Photo: Flickr