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Tanzania’s Investment in Secondary Schools
HIV prevalence in Tanzania accounted for 4.8% among people aged 15-49 in 2019. HIV/AIDS’s consequences in a developing country can be devastating, leading to more deaths, slowed economic growth and further misery. HIV and poverty share a critical connection, both acting as the cause and the outcome of one another. The virus poses a more lethal and dangerous threat to the economically vulnerable part of the population that might not always have access to food, medicines and proper health care services. Tanzania has invested in an initiative called Education Plus to eliminate HIV in the country. Tanzania’s investment in secondary schools should fight HIV by ensuring education for girls and young women.

HIV and Education

Sub-Saharan Africa is considered the epicenter of the disease, with 69% of the HIV-positive world’s population living in the region. Another critical characteristic of the epidemic is its relationship with education, where less educated groups tend to be more vulnerable to contracting the disease.

Tanzania’s investment in secondary schools to fight HIV is a plan that will further develop through the country’s commitment to Education Plus. The initiative is the result of the combined efforts of UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNICEF, U.N. Women and others to fight and prevent HIV through the empowerment of adolescent girls and women in sub-Saharan African countries. Their strategy aims to achieve gender equality with secondary education as a central focus. Tanzania became the 13th African country to join Education Plus.

The Background

In Tanzania, over the last 12 years, the number of HIV infections dropped by almost half and the number of deaths decreased from 52,000 to 27,000 in 2019. Nevertheless, in 2019 the country has seen the number of HIV-positive individuals amount to 1.7 million. Evidence shows a considerable vulnerability in women to develop the infection.

Younger groups between the age of 15 and 24 represent one of the most prominent groups of new infections, making up 30% of the newly infected population, UNAIDS reported. According to UNICEF, the disease does not exist equally across the country, with a prevalence mainly in the southern areas.

The mainly affected population are people injecting drugs, men who entertain sexual relationships with other men, female sex workers, transgender individuals and prisoners. Studies show that crucial contributors to virus transmission are younger age, lack of education, alcohol use and the number of sexual partners.

Socio-economic Backgrounds

Tanzania’s poverty rate was 26.4% in 2018 and HIV is a disease that tends largely affects those coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

According to a report from the National Education Profile in 2018, 61% of females aged 14-19 in Tanzania were out of school compared to 51% of males from the same age group. According to UNAIDS, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of child marriage and teenage pregnancy. Such aspects are definitive in keeping young women out of education and about 27% of girls aged between 15 and 19 in Tanzania are either pregnant or already have a child. As of 2019, adolescents and young women constituted 24% of new cases worldwide in sub-Saharan Africa.

Before joining the UNAIDS initiative, Tanzania was already making progress in tackling the issue with the revision of the HIV and AIDS Act, which now permits self-made HIV testing and has lowered the age of consent to take the test.

Education Plus

Research shows that secondary education has a significant role in the reduction of the risk of HIV/AIDS infection. Access to education leads young women to pay more attention to matters of sexual and reproductive health and it allows them to become economically independent later in life and ensure higher incomes for the future. It also decreases the risk of them becoming child brides and teenage mothers.

The initiative Education Plus began with the focus of helping achieve gender equality, ensuring free and good secondary education for all women by 2025 in sub-Saharan African countries. The plan consists of encouraging decision-makers to raise and expand investments and efforts on instructions and teachings for girls and young women. Such measures aim to prevent HIV and offer major social and economic benefits, including to those who already have contracted the virus, UNAIDS reported on its website.

Not only does the initiative give young women the opportunity to complete secondary education, but it also offers “universal access to comprehensive sexuality education, fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights, freedom from gender-based and sexual violence, school-to-work transition and economic security and empowerment,” according to UNAIDS website.

The project relies on the help of influential U.N. leaders and partners and their role as advocates for the education of young girls to encourage further action and investment in the cause. Education Plus is the ideal approach to facilitate Tanzania’s investment in secondary schools to fight HIV.

The country’s high secondary school dropout rate is a risk factor in the development and spread of an epidemic that needs significant attention and intervention.

The Relationship Between Poverty and HIV

The socioeconomic status of people infected with HIV has a significant role in their living conditions. Many of the situations associated with the risk of contracting the virus are the consequences of coming from a disadvantaged background, such as a lack of access to decent food, housing, safety and the need to exchange sex for basic necessities.

HIV also has a negative impact on the socioeconomic state of a population. Poor health conditions can impact an individual’s ability to work and function independently, and according to research, the unemployment rate of those living with HIV/AIDS goes from 45% to 65%, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Looking Ahead

Despite the country still being a lower-middle income economy, Tanzania’s financial status is growing and has been so for the last decade. One of the key battles to win in order to ensure the economic reprise of Tanzania is through a strategy that allows for its population to have good health and work at their full potential.

Tanzania’s investment in secondary schools to fight HIV is not only an investment to fight and defeat a fatal disease responsible for 32,000 deaths in 2020, but also to build a country characterized where gender equality and strong economic performance are a reality.

– Caterina Rossi
Photo: Flickr

Women in Ukraine
Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, women in Ukraine faced several gender-related disparities. Households in the nation that women head are more likely to be food insecure, with 37.5% experiencing moderate or severe levels of food insecurity compared to 20.5% of male-headed households. Women in Ukraine also faced a 22% gender pay gap and a 32% pension gap, leaving them more economically vulnerable to the impacts of war.

The War

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the cost of living is increasing at a rapid rate, creating an ongoing crisis in the nation. The war’s disruptions to oil and gas supplies and staple food commodities such as wheat, corn and sunflower oil have further propelled the crisis. These disruptions have created rising prices of food and fuel. A new U.N. Women report provides insight into how the Ukraine War and its global impacts on food and energy are affecting women disproportionately, making them one of the war’s most vulnerable groups.

The women who have stayed in Ukraine have become their households’ primary providers, as many of their partners have gone to the front. They face increasing financial pressures as securing unemployment is very difficult with the destruction of infrastructure and businesses. Along with this, as a result of rising food prices and shortages, women have reported reducing their own food intake to provide more for other family members, thus putting their own nutritional needs at risk. Along with this, increasing energy prices have forced families to resort to using low-tech fossil fuels which expose women cooking and doing various tasks in households to significant amounts of air pollution. The U.N. Women estimates that the use of low-tech fossil fuels in homes kills around 3.2 million people each year globally, making this a severe health risk.

The U.N. Women also reports that school-aged girls in Ukraine are at a higher risk of having to leave school and enter marriage as another way for families to make ends meet during this tumultuous time. This not only places them at an educational disadvantage for future opportunities but also puts their physical and emotional well-being at risk.

Pregnant Women

The U.N. estimates that around 265,000 women in Ukraine were pregnant when the invasion began. With this, the war caused serious disruptions in maternal health care. Expectant mothers have very limited access to doctors and the medical supplies needed to give birth, making it a potentially dangerous process. As a result of the physical and emotional stress expectant mothers are facing, there has been a rise in premature births and complications.

One group working to rectify this growing reproductive health crisis is the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA). This group has created a mobile maternity health unit in which they go into remote communities and places that have limited access to healthcare due to the invasion. Through this unit, they provide women with health services and help deliver babies safely.

Increased Gender-Based Violence

One of the biggest concerns of the U.N. Women for women in Ukraine is the rise in gender-based violence, specifically increases in sexual violence. As a result of food insecurity, women have reported facing encouragement to use transactional sex for food and survival. There have also been increases in sexual exploitation at the hands of the opposing military and threats of human trafficking amid worsening conditions, according to the U.N. Women report.

Displacement

Women fleeing Ukraine are facing additional wartime burdens. A survey highlighting displacement patterns from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that women account for 81% of all refugees and 83% of women are traveling with at least one child. With this, one in 10 women is traveling alone. These women are more likely to face harassment and gender-based violence and trafficking. The U.N. Women also reports that for every 100 Ukrainian women, there are 77 children under the age of 11. This indicates that women are bearing a significant extra burden when it comes to childcare, and thus require a greater need for shelter and access to basic necessities.

Groups Working to Rectify These Inequities

Many often do not pay attention to women’s voices and needs in wartime, despite them being a part of the most vulnerable groups. Organizations such as U.N. Women have been working diligently to shine a light on the challenges facing women in Ukraine and to provide solutions.

After conducting multiple different studies through surveying and other methods, U.N. Women is now providing recommendations for the best practices for protecting and enhancing the livelihood of women in Ukraine and refugees. As women bear distinct and additional burdens during times of war, the organization is arguing that they must have representation in all decision-making platforms on de-escalation, conflict prevention and mitigation. Along with this, it is crucial to ensure that data, evidence and women’s voices inform humanitarian responses, including budgeting, programming and service delivery.

While the Ukraine war is affecting everyone in Ukraine, it is not affecting everyone equally. It is important to recognize the needs of the most vulnerable groups when moving forward with response efforts, thus more efficiently providing services where there is the greatest amount of need. As groups like U.N. Women continue to highlight the struggles of women in Ukraine and refugees, it is important that influential nations such as the United States back the effort as well.

– Emma Cook
Photo: Flickr

Link Between Poverty and Women's Health
In February 2022, U.N. Women reported that an estimated 388 million women and girls will experience “extreme poverty” globally in 2022 — roughly 16,000 more compared to men and boys. Women make up the majority of the world’s impoverished and also face several health risks that men are less vulnerable to. Understanding the link between poverty and women’s health is important in eradicating the life-threatening conditions that many women in developing countries face over the course of their lifetimes.

3 Health Risks Associated with Poverty

  1. Malnutrition. Lack of access to nutrient-rich food is one of the most life-threatening consequences of poverty and it tends to have long-term effects on productivity in adults and development in young children. When families do not have enough food to go around, women are typically the last to eat, consuming smaller amounts in order to feed growing children or spouses. Although women may typically need less food to survive, their bodies require the same amount of nutrients as adult men, meaning that “they need to [consume] more nutrient-rich foods.” Unfortunately, these foods are often prohibitively expensive, resulting in nutrient deficiencies. Nutrition is especially important during pregnancy and micronutrient malnutrition can result in complications like anemia and hemorrhage, endangering the lives of both mothers and children.
  2. Infectious disease. Poverty-related diseases (PRDs) are communicable diseases arising from poor sanitation, indoor air pollution, malnutrition and other conditions of poverty. These include HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and respiratory infections like pneumonia. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, in comparison to males, poor women and girls face greater risks of exposure to HIV. HIV weakens their immune systems and makes them more vulnerable to other communicable diseases. There are several contributing factors to this imbalance, according to U.N. Women: unequal power relations with men, which make it hard for a woman to advocate for herself sexually; sexual assault and violence and lack of education or resources for women to protect themselves from the spread of STDs. Poverty can also push women to engage in unsafe transactional sexual behaviors in order to survive.
  3. Untreated illness. According to a 2008 study, developing countries tend to have poor healthcare infrastructure, making diagnostic and treatment services harder to access, especially for those living in rural areas with limited or expensive transport options. Marginalized women in developing countries often have what an AXA article describes as “limited control over their own lives.” A lack of autonomy and financial independence can put health care out of reach because women must depend on spouses or other male family members for access to services. Lack of education can also lead women to choose not to seek help for health issues, simply because they cannot identify the warning signs of poor health.

Gender-based Health Risks

Women also have unique health risks linked to their anatomy. Cervical cancer, for example, is “the most common type of cancer in developing countries.” Although it is preventable with testing, these countries typically lack the resources to adequately conduct testing. WHO reported that in 2020, 90% of global cervical cancer deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries because of underfunding for testing and treatment services. Maternal mortality is also a persistent problem in developing nations, where access to emergency care is limited and skilled attendants are often not present during childbirth. Preventable maternal deaths are common, with approximately 295,000 women dying “during and following pregnancy and childbirth in 2017” alone.

Working Toward Solutions

The link between poverty and women’s health is strong, but social and financial changes could be significant in solving the problem. Empowering women can go a long way toward improving health outcomes. U.N. Women’s Gender Action Learning System (GALS) training in Kyrgyzstan seeks to do this by changing restrictive social norms.

The methodology encourages households to consider the power dynamics between family members and to recognize the burden of domestic tasks placed upon working women in an effort to create a more equal playing field between women and men.

This, coupled with media training for journalists that encourages them to be more sensitive to gender differences and issues, will pave the way for women to be better able to advocate for themselves in other areas through broad societal change.

Every Mother Counts

Considering the link between poverty and women’s health, funding for essential services could be instrumental in improving health outcomes for women. For example, Every Mother Counts is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to improve health outcomes for women in developing nations. In Tanzania, the organization “support[s] the training of health workers, provision of lifesaving resources and community outreach and health education for women in rural settings.” Every Mother Counts has partnered with the Maasai Women Development Organization since 2017 to fulfill the specific needs of marginalized groups, such as Maasai women, in Tanzania. Every Mother Counts has improved the lives of more than 185,000 people in Tanzania.

Empowering women to make their own choices and funding essential services is crucial in reducing the impacts of poverty on women’s health. Because poverty and illness disproportionately impact women due to gender inequities, efforts to alleviate poverty and strengthen equality are vital.

– Abbi Powell
Photo: Flickr

Zan Times
The foundation of the journalistic outlet Zan Times stands on a specific objective: Giving Afghan women their voices back through a new media platform. This recently released platform covers the human rights situation in Afghanistan through “a women’s-led newsroom” as one of its main focuses is women’s rights. On October 20, 2022, Zahra Nader introduced herself as the editor-in-chief of Zan Times and spoke at the U.N. to discuss the struggle Afghan women and girls face every day under the new Taliban rule. She also highlighted “why women’s representation—in peacebuilding, in journalism and everywhere else—matters,” U.N. Women reported.

Since the occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2021, the situation for women and girls in the country has deteriorated, leading to more inequality and poverty. In a May 2022 statement, Sima Bahous, the U.N. Women executive director, said, “Current restrictions on women’s employment have been estimated to result in an immediate economic loss of up to $1[billion] – or up to 5% of Afghanistan’s GDP.”

The Background

Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, fell to the reign of the Taliban on August 15, 2021. The new regime has led to a regression in “[women’s] rights, their condition and their social and political status” due to restrictions on women’s mobility, access to education, employment and other economic resources and rights, according to a press briefing by Alison Davidian, country representative a.i. for U.N. Women in Afghanistan.

“Before 15 August 2021, 17% of women participated in the labor force nationwide; this decreased by 16% by the end of October 2021,” U.N. Women reported.

The exclusion of women from areas of life such as education and employment harms a country’s economic development. Over the past five decades, rising levels of educational attainment have stood as a driving factor behind the economic expansion of OECD countries. Furthermore, “women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity [and] increases economic diversification [as well as] income equality,” according to U.N. Women.

Zahra Nader

Zahra Nader is an Afghan-Canadian journalist and editor-in-chief of the Zan Times. After starting her journalistic career in 2011 in Kabul, she moved to Canada six years later to pursue higher education and is now studying toward a doctoral degree in feminist studies.

“Today, an estimated 20 million women and girls who grew up in Afghanistan going to school, to work, who grew up being able to go where they liked and to speak their minds, are, under the Taliban, deprived of these fundamental human rights because of their gender. Women have been ordered to stay home. Girls have been banned from attending school above sixth grade,” said Nader in October 2022 at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security.

A New Hope

Zan Times is a media platform that aims to provide a different view on human rights violations by focusing on the perspective of those resisting rather than those committing the violations and collecting the work of journalists, writers and activists. Apart from Afghan women, the Zan Times also focuses on other marginalized groups, such as sexual minorities and particular ethnic groups. By documenting the experiences of these individuals, Zan Times ensures the world hears the voices of the marginalized.

For instance, the platform’s reporters write about the experience and commentary of female activists resisting the Taliban regime. In August 2022, the reporters had the opportunity to interview Robaba (the pseudonym that the interviewee uses), who, before the return of the Taliban, worked as the “editor-in-chief of a newspaper and owned an art gallery in Balkh province.” She shared her experience opposing the new restrictive government.

This approach allows readers from everywhere in the world to identify and understand the struggle while also giving voice to those who the Taliban silenced. Zan Times also allows activists to share their initiatives to raise awareness of current events in Afghanistan. For example, Zan Times interviewed British-Iranian producer Ramita Navai who recently released Afghanistan Undercover, a documentary showing an undercover investigation into the Taliban’s repression of women in Afghanistan.

Looking Ahead

Giving Afghan women a platform to voice their experiences is a powerful initiative. Girls and women in Afghanistan are currently facing a difficult reality. Even though the future of Afghanistan is uncertain, the work of Nader and other reporters dedicated to raising awareness and offering opportunities for women to speak their truth provides hope to Afghan women.

– Caterina Rossi
Photo: Flickr

Economic Empowerment
One of the goals of decreasing global poverty is tackling historical inequities that disadvantage certain groups in society. Local, national and international institutions work to empower women in the economic sphere to bring together a variety of groups in society. Four agencies within the United Nations began a partnership to focus on economic empowerment for women in rural regions.

A new phase of the Joint Program: Accelerating Progress Toward Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (JP RWEE) launched in March 2022 at the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This program is a collaboration between five agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., the International Fund for Agricultural Development, U.N. Women, the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the World Food Program (WFP). As the breadth of involved agencies suggests, the program aims to build economic empowerment for rural women in the agricultural sector by increasing their ability to obtain resources and services enabling them to succeed in their own livelihoods. The intended result is a decrease in poverty in rural regions as women unify in communities and combat historically limiting social norms.

Phase 1

The first phase of the JW RWEE was launched in 2014 and ended in 2021. The focus regions were Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda. Results indicate that economic empowerment goals succeeded in raising agricultural production by 82% and assisting about 80,000 women. The new phase of the program also seeks to improve the lives of rural women through sustainable development. 

The program is part of the larger 2030 Agenda to improve poverty in rural communities. Initiatives within the program include improving food security, increasing the income of rural women, strengthening skills in leadership and community and promoting gender inclusivity to complement the goal of economic empowerment. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Cooperation Agency provide funding.

Phase 2

The second phase of the program will focus on Nepal, Niger, the Pacific Islands, Tanzania and Tunisia. Norway and Sweden donated $25 million toward the initiative. In October 2022, one component of the program began in Tanzania. Over the course of five years, the program will cost $5 million and will target the provinces of Singida, Dodoma and Zanzibar in Tanzania. In that nation, subsistence farming contributes 80% of women’s income. Thus, the five-year JP RWEE will deliver economic empowerment in the form of agricultural assistance to provide resources and skills to combat changes in climate and leadership.

In Africa, the first phase of the JP RWEE assisted Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger and Rwanda. The new phase of the program will continue to assist the country in gender equality and economic empowerment. In addition, all countries in Africa agreed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and many also agreed to the African Charter on Human and Women’s Rights. However, despite these efforts, women in Africa still continue to face discrimination on a regular basis. The African Union’s ten-year strategy for gender equality lasts until 2028, but leaders have expressed their commitment to reinforcing gender equality across the continent beyond that timeframe.

– Kaylee Messick
Photo: Flickr

Women in Guatemala
Educational programs could support women in Guatemala struggling in multidimensional poverty by enhancing their knowledge, supporting health needs and creating more possibilities for economic growth. Closing the gender gap by giving women the opportunity to work and develop their education can support productivity and economic growth over generations in any and all countries. As Angel Gurria, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted, “Women are the most underutilized economic asset in the world’s economy.”

Guatemala’s Economy

Guatemala is a Central American country with a population of 17 million people and a GDP of $77.6 billion. According to the World Bank, it is the region’s leading economy. Yet despite these figures, poverty persists with Indigenous people experiencing a poverty rate of 79%.

There are nearly 4 million Indigenous women in Guatemala, however, the U.N. Women statistics show that only one in 10 Indigenous women works in the formal economy as many are unable to access educational opportunities. In rural areas where agriculture is the main source of work, reports show that women own only 7.8% of the land and also receive lower payment rates. If Indigenous women receive pay, their employers normally pay them 19% less than non-Indigenous women, according to the U.N. Women.

Native women are also the least likely to have literacy skills as 66.7% have the ability to read and write in comparison to 78% of non-Indigenous women and 78% of Indigenous men, the U.N. Women reported.

Casa Pa’nibal

The Borgen Project spoke with a Casa Pa’nibal’s volunteer Rodrigo Figueroa to learn more about efforts to help Indigenous women in Guatemala. Casa Pa’nibal is a small community center foundation just outside Antigua, one of Guatemala’s main cities. It began its work in 2014 as a foundation to support the education of Native women and girls within the country.

Figueroa stated that “the balance between men and women is complicated and many women leave school early due to other demands. We work with all Guatemalan women but a lot are from indigenous groups.”

The foundation has recently taken steps to focus on scholarships and further education. Figueroa expressed, “We want to focus more on their education programs so that we can help the women we support to get out of the situations that they are in and help their children too.”

In addition to Casa Pa’nibal, there are many small charities in Guatemala focusing on this line of work including such organizations as the Friendship Bridge, offering women a chance to gain microfinance, education and health services.

UNESCO Malala Fund

UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education originated in 2012 to support girls and women in countries of conflict and disaster to have access to safe learning environments and better educational opportunities. In 2018, UNESCO came together with the Ministry of Education in Guatemala to open two UNESCO Malala centers in Guatemala. The aim of the centers has been to strengthen the education of women in Guatemala and provide tailor-made opportunities that are also gender-sensitive.

The UNESCO Malala Fund has reported helping more than 500 Indigenous women so far. It believes the project could have larger long-term effects by reaching more than 650,000 Indigenous women and 1 million female students.

There is clear evidence of the inequality between men and women in Guatemala in relation to education and economic opportunity, however, the country has been developing many projects both small and large to support these native women out of multidimensional poverty.

Through educational opportunities and micro-funding, the country could begin to close the gender and poverty gap supporting economic growth for these native women and the country as a whole.

– Amy Sergeant
Photo: Flickr

Support to Bangladeshi Women
Poverty has been disproportionately affecting women in Bangladesh in the aftermath of natural disasters such as Cyclone Amphan. In commitment to the Generation Equality Compact on Women Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), U.N. Women has worked with local partners in Bangladesh to aid in economic recovery and provide support to Bangladeshi women, especially post-natural disasters, by issuing grants and providing vocational training to local women.

Gender and Economic Disparity in Bangladesh

In 2019, 20.5% of Bangladesh’s citizens fell under the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for Bangladeshi females in 2021 stood at almost 8% whereas the unemployment rate for males in Bangladesh stood at 4.1% in 2021, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. In 2019, the workforce participation rate for Bangladeshi males aged 15-64 stood at 84% but only 38% for females in the same age group. Furthermore, in 2022, the literacy rate among men stood at 76.56% whereas for women it stood at 72.82%.

When comparing the margin of difference between literacy rates and employment rates among Bangladeshi men and women, it is clear that women face inequalities that result in their exclusion and marginalization, pushing them deeper into poverty.

Story of Mahmuda Khatun

When Cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh in 2020, many people lost their livelihoods and fell deeper into poverty, including Mahmuda Khatun’s household. Khatun wished to start a small business to help support her family but she faced barriers such as “a lack of banking history” and inadequate financial literacy. She reached out to the Prerona Foundation for help, “a local women’s organization supported by U.N. Women.”

The Prerona Foundation works with vulnerable women to improve their economic resilience, especially in crisis-prone areas. The Foundation helped Khatun establish a livelihood by providing training and a loan for her to start a poultry farm to generate income. Khatun now provides for her two daughters and husband by raising poultry. Since its beginnings, her business has flourished and Khatun now earns about 17,000 takas ($200 USD) per month.

Multi-Industry Glass Ceilings

Organizations like the Prerona Foundation and U.N. Women recognize the importance of involving and providing support to Bangladeshi women in the wake of humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Women are a key catalyst in a community’s response and recovery and are often end up out of the equation albeit being valuable agents.

Furthermore, when one woman receives uplifting, the benefits do not stop there. Khatun is now looking to help other women in her community by providing vocational training and championing women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. According to U.N. Women, in 2020, “less than 60% of Bangladeshi women have access to credit,” which stands as a significant barrier to their entrepreneurial potential. Moreover, about a third of the nation’s labor force consists of female employees and less than 5% of them hold formal positions. Bangladeshi women also “earn 21% less than their male counterparts.”

Rising Through Recovery

Given such statistics, it can seem daunting for women in Bangladesh to assume financial independence and see success, especially amid a natural disaster like Cyclone Amphan. However, U.N. Women continues to work with dozens of civil society and local women’s organizations on the ground to help address these systemic issues.

In 2022, U.N. Women has also partnered with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to further “gender equality and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh.” Both institutions have “signed an inter-agency agreement” for 2022-2026 to establish “gender-responsive inclusive governance,” reduce discrimination against women, and advance “women’s economic empowerment and access to justice,” among other aims.

Going forward, the focus will be on starting a normative agenda, establishing gender-inclusive legislation, providing financing to advance gender equality and supporting women-led businesses. This partnership also stresses the importance of addressing gender-based violence in Cox’s Bazar, placing women in leadership roles and providing females with the skills training, services and resources to thrive.

Given the commitment, both at a local and international level, there is hope for more Bangladeshi women to rise out of poverty despite the impacts of Cyclone Amphan.

– Samyudha Rajesh
Photo: Flickr

Supporting Women’s Education and Careers
Discrepancies in pay for women are nothing new. However, the ongoing inequality has led to overwhelming financial losses across the globe. In 2018, the World Bank estimated that a lack of equal pay and opportunity for women globally accounts for a striking $160 trillion global deficit. Countries like Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Vietnam–which are responsible for large exports of apparel globally–are seeking to correct outdated practices by supporting women’s education and careers in hopes of building a greater future.

Egypt

U.N. Women’s gender-focused education project aims to promote economic growth within the country. By focusing on young women and girls, the initiatives encourage formal education and business communities. Educational policymakers are in connection as well to formally improve the connection of education of women to employment. As a result, there have been 205 completed infrastructure improvements, the building and funding of four new community schools and interactive learning techniques and methods with 3,990 students. Additionally, the project has helped mothers to better understand financial literacy and the importance of their daughters’ education.

Turkey

Turkey has the second-highest rate of young unemployed people. While only 34.5% of women have entered the workforce in Turkey, the country is working hard to initiate a movement toward women’s career and education growth. The Young Women Building Their Future program focuses on the nearly 3.5 million women in Turkey who have not had access to formal schooling or vocational training.

Governmental developmental goals focused on supporting women’s education and careers seek to “leave no one behind” and provide opportunities specifically to young women designed to help them enter, navigate and succeed in the workforce.

Pakistan

Pakistan has set inclusive gender growth participation targets to rise from 26% to 45%. In the last 22 years, the participation rate has almost doubled but the World Bank and other programs, are seeking to increase educational and career rates at an even faster pace.

Because work for pay increases with formal education, the country seeks to move beyond the only 10% of college-educated women in the coming years. With pay increasing three-fold for women with formal secondary education, this goal could contribute to decreasing poverty rates as well as inequality.

Vietnam

Vietnam has developed the National Strategy on Gender Equality with female-focused entrepreneurship goals set for the 2021-2030 period. Among those goals, promoting gender equality and employment opportunities for women–who make up approximately 50% of the overall population–is at the forefront of goals.

With goals such as focusing on reducing unpaid work by women, promoting women to director and ownership positions of business, as well as reducing domestic and gender-based violence also at the forefront, the country hopes to combat poverty rates with opportunities for women.

As these countries come together with goals of reducing poverty through supporting women’s education and careers, the future is bright for the current and future generations.

– Michelle Collingridge
Photo: Flickr

Violence Against Women in Assam
Many women in India experience violence at home, at work and even in public areas. With the helping hands of U.N. Women, men and women in the rural areas of Assam State in India are working together to address and prevent cases of “violence against women, youth and children.” In January 2017, U.N. Women supported the formation of women’s empowerment groups, called Jugnu Clubs, across tea estates in Assam with the aim of preventing violence against women in Assam. The Jugnu Clubs form part of a broader U.N. Women prevention of violence initiative in rural Assam.

Violence on Assam’s Tea Estates

About 6 million people in Assam State work in Assam’s “65 tea estates and 100,000 small gardens.” Their work contributes to more than 50% of India’s tea and about 13% of the world’s tea. Women stand as 50% of the labor force at Assam’s tea estate and often work as tea pluckers. These women face violence in all areas of their lives — in the workplace, in the home environment and in public spaces. In fact, in 2015, Assam noted 11,225 cases of abuse against women by their spouses or family members. Alcohol abuse by males played a role in many of these cases of violence.

Creating Safe Work Environments

The Jugnu Clubs “help make agricultural work safe and equal for all women and girls” working as tea pluckers or factory workers on the tea estates. The Jugnu Clubs are especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic as cases of gender-based violence rose across the world due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

In the broader U.N. Women prevention of violence initiative, “tea estate managers, welfare officers, workers and Jugnu Club members received training [on] India’s Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, women’s rights and the legal obligations around domestic violence and child labor.”

The training sessions utilized user-friendly and relatable education methods. U.N. Women found that 95% of participants did not have knowledge of the existing legislation that protects against gender-based violence and other violations against women. After the training sessions, about 80% of participants said the training gave them a better understanding of the legislation.

The members of the Jugnu Clubs who participated in this training are now aware of all their rights and are more vocal about their needs. As a result of this empowerment, “women have demanded streetlights be placed in dark public areas and safe transport to work, including two buses to ferry women from nearby villages to the tea gardens.” Now, Jugnu Club members even develop recommendations for safeguarding women who work on Assam’s tea plantations.

Educating Communities

Under the broader U.N. Women prevention of violence initiative, “raising awareness about how to prevent and respond to violence against women, youth, and children extended beyond the tea estate setting to the wider rural community,” including education facilities. Through mass gender equality campaigns “using community-led performing arts and crafts, such as interactive theatre shows, dance and music,” U.N. Women reached more than 6,000 people living in the community. Furthermore, 371 children took part in anti-violence early intervention initiatives.

Looking Ahead

In conclusion, the broader U.N. Women prevention of violence initiative and the Jugnu Clubs serve as beacons of hope for women in Assam. As of June 3, 2022, U.N. Women’s prevention of violence initiative in Assam has touched 15,000 lives. The ongoing work of U.N. Women brings hope that violence against women in Assam will reduce.

– Alexis King
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Albania
The 2020 pandemic lockdowns hit Albania, a nation still struggling to cope with the effects of a once-in-a-century earthquake from just the year before, extremely hard. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania resulted in acute economic and social challenges but targeted fiscal policies and international aid suggest a hopeful future for the Balkan state.

Impact on the Most Vulnerable Sectors

Albania’s economy relies heavily on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which comprise more than 85% of the private sector’s formal employment. Its reduced size increased its fragility in the face of the earthquake and the pandemic made it difficult for MSMEs to access loans and use insurance policies. MSMEs’ hardships meant a significant drop in tax returns for the government and increased unemployment in the lower socio-economic sectors.

In 2019, one-third of the Albanian population lived on less than $5.50 a day, making it the nation with the highest rate of poverty out of all the Western Balkan states. COVID-19 ended up increasing the poverty rate by 4%, which is equivalent to additional 112,000 people living in poverty.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania is especially hard for women. Not only did more women face an increase in unpaid domestic labor compared to men, but 97.5% of women-led firms are in the MSME category, Financial Protection Forum reports. In addition, a 2020 U.N. Women report found that women between 25-44 years old living in urban areas were at the highest risk of unemployment.

International Response

This dual economic and social blow to women’s livelihoods required urgent action to prevent this vulnerable group from falling into long-term unemployment. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) addressed the issue of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania through a series of small projects for women in Tirana and other municipalities. The projects also targeted the promotion of equal family gender roles along with measures to combat domestic violence and offer psychological support to victims.

The UNDP aided other at-risk groups as well. From teletherapy services for disabled persons to employment promotion for ethnic minorities, the UNDP provided localized efforts to address problems raised by the pandemic.

The French Agency for Development (AFD) also continued its projects to increase Albanian women’s access to economic opportunities and further the fight for gender equality. The AFD’s foreign aid is part of an initiative to lead Albania towards fulfilling the social criteria needed for entry into the EU.

Albania’s cultural sector also needs help to recover from the impact of COVID-19. Lockdowns and travel restrictions gravely damaged the industry as it relies heavily on events and tourism. Along with MSMEs, the cultural sector plays a significant role in the economy, generating 2.95% of Albania’s GDP.

Wide-Reaching Solutions

These severe impacts on two of Albania’s most lucrative sectors, MSMEs and culture, needed to be curbed as soon as possible while addressing the state’s high pre-pandemic poverty rate. The Albanian government thus implemented a fiscal stimulus of about 3.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Through welfare support, tax relief and credit schemes the government alleviated the burden on the private sector and policies on credit installments curtailed impacts on new businesses.

Only 18% of Albanian firms reported using digital platforms to adapt to the pandemic, suggesting that the government efforts were the primary aid to alleviate the pandemic’s impact. The cultural sector, however, stands out. The Ministry of Culture founded the National Digitalization Center. Apart from that, 87.5% of institutions and enterprises in the cultural sector reported moving part of their business to virtual platforms, UNESCO reported.

The government also alleviated the impacts of the fall of the euro. The Bank of Albania promoted the lek’s stability and increased transparency in transactions involving foreign currencies. The European Commission and European Central Bank contributed financial aid to stabilize the banking system and provide euro support, LSE reported.

These sweeping measures were effective in helping the nation bounce back in the post-pandemic period. Despite rising inflation levels and supply chain disruptions, both the real wage and the minimum wage increased in 2021. Most significantly, the poverty rate dropped to 22% in 2021.

Looking Ahead

In 2021, the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) agreed to loan Albania €60 million to “mitigate the effects of COVID-19.” The loan aims to aid individuals especially vulnerable to the pandemic and help close the €570 million gap created in 2020. The loan and government measures may thus offset the impacts of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania through sustainable growth.

The impacts of COVID-19 on poverty in Albania were challenging, touching the most vulnerable sectors of the economy and exacerbating social challenges for women. However, the government’s wide-reaching economic reforms successfully curbed the pandemic’s economic impact on the industries and continued decreasing the nation’s poverty rate. International aid from the UNDP, EU and CEP was crucial in helping complement the government efforts by addressing the pandemic’s social impacts. This continued aid can continue to help Albania lower its poverty rate.

– Elena Sofia Massacesi
Photo: Unsplash