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HIV/AIDS in Ukraine
Ukraine has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, with an estimated 260,000 people living with the disease. Odessa, the third-most populous city in Ukraine, has “the highest concentration of HIV/AIDS of anywhere in Europe.” Poverty exacerbates HIV/AIDS in Ukraine and primarily has links with injected drug use, threats to government funding, lack of access to antiretroviral treatment and social discrimination.

Poverty and HIV/AIDS in Ukraine

Ukraine is second to Moldova as the two poorest countries in Europe. The poverty rate in Ukraine increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 42.4% in 2020 to 50% as of February 2021. There is a strong connection between poverty and the spread of diseases; it could be both a cause and a result of poverty.

HIV/AIDS causes conditions of poverty when working adults become ill and can no longer support their families. The disease becomes a result of poverty when the conditions of poverty put people at greater risk of contracting it. As an example, women and girls who live in poverty are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. They are more likely to resort to working in the sex trade. That could put them at dangerous risk for contracting HIV.

HIV/AIDS in Ukraine’s Women and Girls

UNAIDS estimates that out of all people with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, 120,000 are women over the age of 15 and 2,900 are children aged 14 or younger. Gender inequality, poverty and violence against women and girls are significant factors in the spread of HIV. Women and girls who live in fear of violence may be reluctant to advocate for safe sex, receive testing or seek treatment for HIV and other diseases.

Gender inequality inhibits women’s access to resources for sexual and reproductive health. In rural Ukraine, where the poverty rate is highest, 36% of women do not participate in community or family decision-making. Only 46% are competent with a computer or the internet. Almost 48% do not have access to medical services.

The Lack of Access to Antiretrovirals

As Sky News reported, access to antiretrovirals is a major problem for many people living with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine. Although a law stipulates that antiretroviral therapy should be free to all citizens, limited national resources have resulted in restricted access.

Antiretrovirals are crucial for preventing the spread of HIV to children. The use of antiretrovirals during pregnancy and administered to an infant for four to six weeks after birth can result in a transmission rate of 1% or less. According to U.N. Women, the majority of women living with HIV/AIDS in Ukraine were between 18 and 45 years old. Out of these women, 39% discovered that they were HIV-positive during pregnancy.

Social Discrimination Against People Living With HIV/AIDS

According to WHO, discrimination against people who use drugs and people living with HIV presents a serious challenge to identifying those who need treatment. Harsh drug laws, fear of HIV/AIDS and systematic police abuse undermine efforts to provide HIV information and services such as testing and safe needle exchanges. In addition, the law requires drug treatment centers in Ukraine to register drug users and share the information with law enforcement. This protocol keeps people who use drugs from seeking medical help, which subsequently prevents them from testing and receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS.

The War in Donbas

The war in Donbas has made it difficult for people to receive treatment in a region that previously had one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country and was home to nearly one-quarter of all antiretroviral recipients. When the war began in March 2014, it displaced 1.7 million people. To compound this, unsafe sex has resulted in an increase of HIV/AIDS within the military. Combined with ongoing military conflict and a shortage of antiretrovirals, Ukraine is experiencing a crisis: the government has failed to keep up with infection rates.

Solutions

In July 2021, Ukraine received a grant of $35.8 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. According to the Ukrainian government, it would use the funds to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), reduce risks associated with COVID-19 and strengthen the health care system.

Ukraine is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), USAID and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The country wants to implement prevention campaigns, increase access to antiretroviral treatment and target key risk groups, such as people who inject drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

On September 1, 2021, President Biden announced that the United States would provide more than $45 million in additional assistance for Ukraine. The aid would help people the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Donbas affected. The U.S. is working with USAID-supported programs to provide supplies for Ukrainian health care centers, training for health care workers and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable populations.

– Jenny Rice
Photo: Unsplash

Aiding Nepalese Women
Landlocked between India and China and considered the modern-day birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. One in four families lives in poverty in a country where food shortages, natural disasters and severe weather are extremely common. Women’s rights in Nepal are also limited due to lack of education, high rates of violence against women and historical patriarchal practices within their government. Here is more information about the situation in Nepal and how some are aiding Nepalese women.

The Situation

The United Nations recognizes Nepalese women’s need for aid. As a result, it has implemented volunteer programs centered around solving food insecurity and improving health education and much more to provide assistance and sustainable, long-term solutions to Nepalese communities.

Because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, approximately 41% of women in Nepal lost their jobs and main sources of income. Women who were once financially independent now faced a reality that meant relying on others to provide for their families. Seeing this widespread problem, the women of Nepal united during this trying time and established women-managed community kitchens centered around aiding Nepalese women in poverty and eliminating the food insecurity crisis the country has been facing.

UN Women

U.N. Women and the Government of Finland are working with local women to develop these community kitchens and provide a sustainable source of food. Only 20% of land in Nepal is capable of being cultivated. These community kitchens are not only providing food for the people of Nepal, but they are also empowering these women to combat local food insecurity due to their weather conditions.

The meals include “rice, daal (lentil soup), spinach, vegetable, pickle, fruits, ladoo (sweets), and a bottle of water.” Daily, these community kitchens cook up to 250 meals, but sometimes they have even produced more than 500 requested meals in a day. Women for Human Rights, Maiti Nepal, Nagarik Aawaz and Nari Bikas Sangh have all created women-run community kitchens in Nepal serving 95,000 meals and providing baby food to 30,000 people since June 2020.

In total, more than 100 women work for and run the Nepal community kitchens and are making a real impact in their communities through their work. By building trust and uniting a community, vulnerable groups of women like migrants, dwellers, ill or sick women, pregnant women or women with disabilities have been able to find leadership roles in their communities. Nepal’s women-run community kitchens show the impact women can have against poverty in their own country.

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV)

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) program began in 1988 in Nepal. The all-female volunteers are also advocates and educators on maternal health, newborn caretaking, childhood health and nutrition. The implementation of programs like the “National Immunization Program, Birth Preparedness Package, Community-Based Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness (CB-IMNCI), Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition, Infant and Young Child Feeding, and Family Planning program” are all possible because of the U.N.’s FCHV program. The program also provides frontline workers during polio vaccine campaigns and other communicable disease advocacy efforts.

Clean cooking is also a problem in Nepal, so besides community kitchens, Nepal has rerouted the FCHV program to help combat this issue. FCHVs go from home to home to educate local women on the harms of certain fuels used when cooking. Alternating from wood and kerosene with an open flame to biogas, petroleum gas and electric stoves lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of pneumonia. The long-term health effects are detrimental, and these volunteers are working hard to keep their communities safe and healthy through their FCHV programs.

Maiti Nepal

Besides providing food for the community and a living wage for the women running the kitchens, groups like Maiti Nepal have used these community kitchens as an opportunity to educate locals on the dangers of COVID-19. Providing masks and sanitizer along with the meals has also promoted better public health for the country which the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. Women in the FCHV program aid in any area of the community that needs help, so they became frontline workers and educators during the pandemic.

Looking Ahead

The U.N. is constantly working to improve women’s leadership and empowerment in countries facing low rates of women’s involvement in politics and places of power. By 2022, Nepal is aiming to graduate from the least developed country status, and the work these women are doing is directly contributing to the completion of this goal.

The United Nations is aiding Nepalese women in more ways than one and is constantly developing programs like the community kitchens and the FCHV program to fit the needs of each specific community. The women volunteering in these programs are working towards a better tomorrow for their local people and nation as a whole.

– Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr

Samoa's First Female Prime Minister
Nicknamed the “Cradle of Polynesia,” Samoa made history in its most recent election cycle. After a months-long dispute that took a court ruling to determine the winner, this island located in the central South Pacific Ocean named Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as Samoa’s first female Prime Minister. As head of the new Fa’atuatua I Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi Party, or FAST, Mata’afa won over Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, head of the Human Rights Protection Party, who was the prime minister for 22 years.

The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) held the office of Prime Minister for more than four decades, and now Samoa is looking at a new future with the FAST party and Mata’afa as Prime Minister. The FAST Party, created in 2020 as a response to the decades-long political domination of the HRPP. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’s appointment as prime minister sparks an even larger conversation about Samoan women’s role in politics.

Mata’afa’s History

The Pacific region of the world has the lowest amount of female representation in government, and Fiame Naomi Mata’afa is hoping to inspire more women and young girls to involve themselves in local politics. Mata’afa’s upbringing contributes heavily to her passion for politics and women’s representation in Samoa. Mata’afa was born right before Samoa gained independence from New Zealand in 1962, and her grandfather was very active in the Mau, a movement centered around gaining Samoa’s independence through non-violence.

Eventually, her grandfather would go on to become the first Prime Minister of Samoa. Mata’afa also saw influence from her mother who was a Pacific women’s rights activist and brought her daughter to many political gatherings. Her mother would go on to become a Member of Parliament.

To qualify as a political candidate in any capacity in Samoa, one must first be a matai – a respected title meaning chief. These titles cannot pass through inheritance, so when Mata’afa’s father passed away when she was 18, she went to court to claim her father’s title over the claims of others. Named Faime in 1978, Mata’afa became the chief over the Lotofaga village on Upolo, Samoa’s main island.

Men typically hold these titles, but young, unmarried women occasionally have them as well. Mata’afa’s political career skyrocketed following this and at 27, she became a Member of Parliament and has continued to hold this position ever since. Before her victory as Samoa’s first female Prime Minister, she made history when she served as the first female deputy female Prime Minister prior to the recent election.

The Context for Representation and the Election

“At the village governance level, women make up close to 36% of total Matai,” according to U.N. Women. Both women and men serve as ballot chiefs or Matai Polata. Before 1990, when all Samoan citizens gained suffrage, non-Matai could not vote. In 2013, a Constitutional amendment bill passed that required that women fill a minimum of 10% of parliament or five seats. This quota served to increase women’s representation in the Samoan government and people now know it as the 10% act.

Samoa’s most recent election, which ended with Mata’afa’s appointment, came at a time when only 9.8% of Parliament consisted of women. With a 51 person legislature, the HRPP and FAST parties tied with 25 seats each, leaving one independent elected. An additional HRPP-elected woman candidate filled a seat in Parliament to follow the 10% act. The sole independent then ended up voting with the FAST party, creating a locked 26-26 election.

The Samoan Supreme Court reviewed the election, ultimately deciding that the additional candidate that the HRPP party appointed was invalid. As a result, the FAST party candidate, Mata’afa, rightfully won the election to become Prime Minister. While many rejoiced in the celebration of Mata’afa’s victory and appointment as Samoa’s first female Prime Minister, Malielegaoi’s outrage surrounding the decision led to his refusal to step down as Prime Minister. Forcing her swearing-in ceremony to occur outside the locked doors, Malielegaoi even went so far as to lock Mata’afa and her supporters out of Parliament.

Looking Forward

Women’s rights in Samoa have evolved over the past few decades and now the country currently sees about “53% of the total public service” consist of women. In the private manufacturing sector, women also are a majority of the workforce and women own and run more than 40% of small businesses. Management and promotion opportunities for women in the Samoan workforce have also increased over time with chief officer positions and other top leadership roles that women hold.

Fiame Naomi Mata’afa is a role model for young Pacific women. Her political career has broken many barriers that women in the south Pacific region often face. Following in her family’s footsteps, she is working towards a better future for women in Samoa.

– Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Violence Against Rohingya Women
In August 2017, more than half a million Rohingya living in the Rakhine state had to flee to Bangladesh and escape the military’s crackdown on the Muslim minority. As of 2020, approximately 900,000 Rohingya were living in southern Bangladesh in cramped refugee camps with overwhelmed resources. In addition to fearing widespread genocide and ethnic cleansing, some of the Rohingya refugee community also experience gender-based violence and assault. In fact, violence against Rohingya women is quite prevalent.

Sexual Violence Against Rohingya Women

Accusations emerged that the Myanmar military committed widespread rape against women and girls in the months following the initial purge of Rohingya from the Rakhine state as a means of intimidating the population and instigating fear. In an annual watch list of security forces and armed groups suspected of using rape and sexual violence in conflict, the U.N. listed Myanmar’s army in 2018. Responding to the aftermath of the August 2017 violence, Médecins Sans Frontières reported that at least 230 survivors of sexual violence in the camps, including up to 162 rape victims.

Violence from Both Sides

A recent New Humanitarian interview with six Rohingya women found that violence against Rohingya women is prevalent and stems from within the community. Women often experience persecution if they are outspoken about women’s rights or have an education. Women in the camps have reported experiencing harassment, kidnapping and attacks by groups with an affiliation to Rohingya militant groups such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Further, in 2019, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) launched an effort to empower women through self-organization and engagement in formal and informal decision-making and leadership positions. Now, however, Rohingya women who volunteer for NGOs have recounted how the “night government” or ARSA have threatened to abuse them and evict them from their house if they do not stop their work.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Further, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, humanitarian groups including U.N. Women and UNCHR reported an increase in gender-based violence and child marriages. An International Rescue Committee (IRC) report from January 2021 found that reductions in protection staff led to a decrease in the Rohingya community’s trust of and communication with protection actors and “a vacuum in conflict, mediation and legal services.” In addition, the IRC found that the decision of the Bangladeshi government to suspend gender-based violence prevention programs such as Girl Shine, reduced the number of reports of instances in camps. EMAP and Start, Awareness, Support, Action (SASAI) impacted community awareness and reporting of cases significantly.

Double-Edged Sword

Highly dependent on community volunteers, aid groups are unsure of how to proceed; on the one hand, if aid groups continue to employ women volunteers, they risk endangering these women and making their situation worse. Indeed, in March 2021, days before International Women’s Day, U.N. Women canceled a billboard campaign that was to feature the faces of multiple women leaders as it feared it would cause unintentional harm. However, on the other hand, not employing women means a lack of empowerment and stable income.

In searching for solutions to the growing violence in the camps, many Rohingya have decided to relocate to Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Benegal but which is prone to natural weather disasters such as cyclones and storm surges. Since December 2020, 19,000 Rohingya have moved to ‘the floating jail’ as some groups call it. Another proposed solution would be to increase security in the camps, but aid workers fear notifying Bangladeshi authorities of the violence will tighten the already strict restrictions on the Rohingya and infringe on their limited freedoms.

Resilience

Despite such challenges and somewhat problematic solutions, Rohingya women continue to demonstrate resilience. One of the women the New Humanitarian interviewed who started receiving threatening voice messages after she called for women’s equality in an aid organization video, decided to push back and continue posting her video on social media. She claimed that “When someone is speaking courageously, they stop.”

– Annarosa Zampaglione
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in MoroccoWhile human trafficking in Morocco persists, this small North African country is working to end it. The U.S. Department of State identifies Morocco as a Tier 2 country, meaning it has taken steps to eliminate human trafficking but it does not yet meet minimum standards. In 2016, Morocco enacted an anti-trafficking law, laying the groundwork to tackle this issue. Morocco addresses human trafficking in a variety of ways, including partnering with organizations that spread awareness, providing resources to victims and preventing future trafficking.

Types of Human Trafficking in Morocco

Human trafficking in Morocco includes unpaid domestic labor, forced begging and sexual exploitation. Children can become victims when their families, usually from low-income backgrounds, send them away to work. Boys often become agricultural laborers or work in trades such as carpentry or mechanics. Meanwhile, girls typically work as domestic servants or experience exploitation through sex trafficking. Despite Morocco’s child labor law and a 2018 law that specifically protects domestic workers, employers frequently pay these children far below minimum wage and abuse them. Traffickers also force migrants into sex work and other types of labor. Morocco’s major cities are destinations for “sex tourists” from Europe and the Middle East who take advantage of trafficked women and children.

Who are the Victims?

The U.S. Department of State reported that, in 2020, Morocco identified 441 trafficking victims and referred them to care. Of these reported victims, 245 were female, 196 were male, 398 were adults and 43 were children. The majority (426) were Moroccan citizens, although migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia were also vulnerable. Some migrant human trafficking victims may have gone unidentified.

Families who are struggling economically contribute to trafficking by taking children out of school and sending them to work, where they often experience exploitation. Traffickers also frequently target migrants, some of whom are undocumented and are passing through Morocco en route to Europe. The U.S. Department of State reported that traffickers who abuse migrants often come from the same countries as their victims. Traffickers may use physical and emotional abuse or withhold migrants’ passports to keep them in servitude.

How Morocco is Addressing Human Trafficking

In 2016, Morocco enacted Law No. 27.14. This law defines human trafficking victims as well as human trafficking crimes and their penalties. Under this law, the government provides victims with medical and psychological assistance as well as free legal aid. Morocco’s anti-trafficking law also created a national commission to stop human trafficking and prevent future cases from occurring.

In addition to policy changes, Morocco addresses human trafficking by working with organizations locally and abroad. SAVE, which stands for Soutien à l’identification et l’accompagnement des Victimes de Traite des êtres Humains, is a three-year project that aims to identify and support trafficking victims in Morocco. In 2019, the French nonprofit CCEM founded SAVE, which the European Union funds. SAVE partners with the Moroccan government and several Moroccan nonprofits. The goals of the project include receiving at least 500 trafficking reports and identifying a minimum of 100 victims by 2022. It also hopes to share best practices with other nations in the region.

Moving Forward

While Morocco has made progress in ending human trafficking, more work is necessary. According to the U.S. Department of State, Morocco’s efforts in prosecuting and convicting human trafficking cases have decreased. Additionally, migrant trafficking victims still receive unfair punishment for crimes, such as immigration violations and prostitution, that traffickers forced them to commit. The U.S. Department of State’s recommendations include establishing systemized procedures to identify victims, especially migrants, separating data on human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes and providing training on Morocco’s anti-trafficking law.

In an interview with U.N. Women, Amina Oufroukhi, president of the International Judicial Cooperation Department, noted that victims are often afraid to seek help, making identifying human trafficking difficult. To address this problem, Oufroukhi has helped create a network of prosecutors who have training in victim identification and established a Moroccan public awareness campaign. She is also working on a guide that will help prosecutors better apply Morocco’s anti-trafficking law. Oufroukhi further hopes the government and organizations will continue to build trust with those affected and that more research on human trafficking and migration in Morocco will occur.

Human trafficking continues to plague Morocco. However, efforts by the government as well as organizations working on the ground have made great strides in protecting the rights of victims and preventing future exploitation and abuse. As Morocco addresses human trafficking with a diverse set of invested stakeholders, there is hope that its most vulnerable populations will eventually live in freedom.

Annie Prafcke
Photo: Flickr

Economic Violence Against Women in Turkey On March 20, 2021, Turkey announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a treaty focused on combatting violence against women. Violence against women is a significant problem in Turkish society. Violence against women takes many forms, but economic violence against women in Turkey is one type of violence that is particularly problematic for poverty reduction.

Defining Economic Violence

Also known as economic abuse, economic violence against women is a form of violence where women have no financial autonomy. Another person, often a husband or father, controls the women’s monetary resources and leaves her in a state of dependency. The Istanbul Convention includes economic violence in both its definitions of violence against women and domestic violence. Examples of economic violence against women include:

  • Barring women from accessing work and educational opportunities.
  • Preventing women from accessing the necessary funds for resources such as food.
  • Excluding women from decisions about their household’s income.

Economic Violence Against Women in Turkey

Economic violence is an issue many women face in Turkey. Women generally complete a disproportionately high amount of their households’ domestic work. According to the United Nations, Turkish women spend approximately “19.2% of their time” on wageless domestic work in contrast to the 3.7% of the time that men spend on unpaid domestic work. Placing women in a position where they spend so much time on unpaid work makes women likely to become dependent on male family members and susceptible to economic violence.

Social expectations and perceptions of the roles of men and women play an important part in economic violence against women in Turkey. Perceptions of women as performers of domestic work and men as laborers create an expectation for women to engage in unpaid labor, making them susceptible to economic violence. When Turkish women are members of the workforce, which only 35% of Turkish women currently are, they accept the seizure of their income by their husbands due to cultural norms of male “dominance in the domestic environment.”

Working to End Economic Violence Against Women

Ending economic violence against women is critical to ending other forms of violence against women. While exposure to economic violence does not guarantee that women will experience other forms of violence, dependency on a male family member or partner makes women more susceptible to other forms of abuse from that person.

One significant challenge to preventing economic violence against women in Turkey is that the country currently lacks adequate systems to monitor most aspects of its progress toward Sustainable Development Goals concerning gender equality. Consequently, data about Turkish women is incomplete, which makes it challenging to determine the extent of the economic violence against women in Turkey.

With the data that is currently available, researchers have identified factors that reduce rates of economic violence against women. One critical factor is education. Research shows that men with high levels of education are less likely to perpetrate economic violence against their wives or female partners than less-educated men. Factors such as expanding employment opportunities for women and preventing substance abuse among men are also associated with lower rates of economic violence against women.

Organizational Efforts to Economically Empower Turkish Women

Several organizations focus on improving Turkish women’s economic rights. The International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) is one of these organizations. BPW Turkey implements several programs in Turkey to improve economic opportunities for women. Its Pace to Employment and Assurance for a Respectable Life (PEARL) program teaches women skills they need to be financially independent. Furthermore, BPW Turkey’s Civil Initiative Strategic Research Center (SISAM) improves awareness and understanding of the U.N. Women’s Empowerment Principles and provides educational programming on these principles to entities such as local governments and human resources staff.

Economic violence against women in Turkey is an ongoing issue, but it is not unpreventable. Working with both men and women can help women obtain and maintain autonomy over financial resources and break the cycle of violence against women.

Caroline Kuntzman
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in MaldivesIn recent years, the Republic of Maldives established itself as an upper-middle-income country with a booming tourism sector. The nation’s islands, spread across many atolls, have become a popular destination for luxury stays in overwater bungalows. International visitors provide half of the Maldives’ revenue. With jobs and opportunities on non-native islands, women have been stepping out of traditional domestic roles and are migrating to urban areas for greater economic independence. This shines a light on women’s rights in the Maldives.

Obstacles to Women’s Rights in the Maldives

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the citizens of this island nation. Tourism and related services affect standards of living and lifestyles significantly. In 2019, poverty in the Maldives had fallen to 2.1%. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that poverty rates would rise to 7.2%.

The pandemic has impacted women’s rights in the Maldives in two significant ways. Firstly, women experienced income losses more severely than men, and secondly, women reported an increase in gender-based violence and domestic violence.

Women in the Workforce

In the Maldives, which has a historically patriarchal culture, many women rely on informal employment and financial contributions from others to make a living. This disqualifies them from unemployment and other forms of COVID-19 assistance. Although many men also engage in informal work, 54% of women have seen their income decline during the pandemic compared to only 40% of men.

As a result of the pandemic, many women are not only earning less and receiving less from family or friends but are also unable to qualify for assistance. Government support and charity remain the only stable resources during the pandemic. However, women benefit less from both forms of aid on average.

With the economic success of tourism and related fields, many women migrate to the capital city of Malé where opportunities for formal work and economic independence abound. Still, only 59% of women make a living from paid employment relative to 70% of men.

When the COVID-19 virus began to spread, tourism in the Maldives came to a halt and women were the first to lose their jobs. As the economy suffered, the cost of living in Malé forced many to return home to rural communities and resort to informal work. The implication is that many of these women may never return to the city or to formal employment.

Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence

COVID-19 brought financial stress and upheaval to many homes in the Maldives. In a U.N. Women survey, 68% of Maldives women reported increased mental and emotional stress since the onset of the pandemic. The study identified likely stressors to include economic strain and the rise in gender-based violence.

A surge in gender-based violence and domestic violence reports occurred after the nation’s lockdown and again when the Maldives lifted its COVID-19-related restrictions. During the lockdown, welfare services were secondary to the pandemic response and there was also a relatively low number of reports. However, the instances of violence may be higher. Lockdown and restrictions place the affected women in constant, close proximity with perpetrators while financial stress and lifestyle changes compound instances of violence. In the Maldives, societal norms dictate the authority of men and shame women for coming forward with reports of gender-based violence.

Moving Forward

Despite these recent setbacks, the country is making progress in improving women’s rights in the Maldives. Women have made strides for gender parity in education and are building a sense of empowerment through financial security. The nation has set an example for other countries with an equal ratio of boys to girls enrolling in and completing primary and secondary school.

The Maldives’ Strategic Action Plan for 2019 to 2023 notes women’s economic participation, representation in government, sexual harassment and domestic violence as policy priorities. The planning document also recognizes that additional resources are necessary to follow through on important gender equality legislation. The Maldives introduced it recently to address these disparities.

Within the past decade, the Maldivian government has introduced the following legislation to advance women’s rights in the Maldives: the Gender Equality Act (2016), the Sexual Harassment and Prevention Act (2014), the Sexual Offenses Act (2014) and the Domestic Violence Act (2012).

COVID-19 presents a challenge to the momentum building for women’s rights in the Maldives, but with the return of international tourism, projections determine that the economy will rebound. Looking forward, women’s economic empowerment should remain a priority for the Maldives to continue making significant gains in gender equality.

– Angela Basinger
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Côte d'IvoireWomen in Côte d’Ivoire have grappled with gender discriminatory practices for years. Examples include political exclusion, limited access to land and marginalization from high-paying jobs. According to the National Statistics Institute, 75% of rural Ivorian women live below the poverty line. Without access to basic social services, the chances of reaching economic independence are low for these women. Gender constraints highly limit women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire.

4 Facts About Women’s Rights in Côte d’Ivoire

  1. Land Rights: The primary source of wealth in Côte d’Ivoire is land as the economy mainly depends on agriculture. About 66% of the land is used for agriculture and 43% of women participate in the agricultural workforce. However, women often lack rights to land due to customary laws that favor males, depriving women of economic empowerment. A lack of access to land also impacts women’s access to credit services that would also help women economically.
  2. Unpaid Care Work: In many societies, women shoulder the burden of household chores and caregiving duties. This is also the case in Côte d’Ivoire. According to U.N. Women, “women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men.” As a consequence, women have less time to participate in paid work and engage in educational opportunities that would help them rise out of poverty.
  3. Fertility Rates: Côte d’Ivoire’s fertility rate is high. In 2019, it averaged 4.6 births per woman. High fertility rates increase health risks for children and their mothers. It also lessens human capital investment, decelerates economic growth and aggravates environmental threats. High fertility rates correlate with inadequate access to family planning methods, low educational attainment and low levels of empowerment. Studies show that, worldwide, more “empowered women desire significantly fewer children” in contrast to less empowered women.
  4. Politics and Education: Women lack a voice within the public, social and political domains. The male-centered culture of Ivorian society does not accept the leadership of women in the public arena. In February 2021, just 11% of Ivorian women held positions as members of parliament. Despite the presence of women in Côte d’Ivoire’s government, women’s electoral weight is limited by minimal female representation so women are unable to hold true decisional power in politics. Moreover, in 2018, 40.5% of women were literate compared to 53.6% of men, putting women at a clear disadvantage.

Upholding Women’s Rights

The Organization of Active Women in Ivory Coast (OFACI) is a non-governmental organization founded in 1999 that focuses on fighting for women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire. Its goals include increasing the literacy of girls and encouraging women’s leadership in social, political and economic environments. By creating programs to educate and support women, OFACI hopes to eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination against women. OFACI has 10 observation locations across the country that monitor and report on women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire on a monthly basis. The organization has recently been pushing for, at minimum, a 30% representation of women in politics.

Recent progress in the country includes a marriage bill that was approved by the Council of Ministers of Côte d’Ivoire in 2019. Its main goal is to legislate equality between men and women in marriage through specific provisions. These solutions include new rules for the nullity of marriage, inheritance rights and marital property distribution. Another aim of the bill is to increase the age of legal marriage. This legislative progress provides hope for women’s rights in Côte d’Ivoire.

UN Women Shea Butter Program

Another example of an innovative program that targets women’s empowerment is a climate-smart agricultural program launched by U.N. Women in Côte d’Ivoire in 2017. The program, funded by the Government of Japan, seeks to empower rural women in the shea butter production sector. The traditional method used to produce shea butter requires intense labor. The resulting product fails to meet international quality standards so the women who work in this field struggle to make high profits. Since October 2017, U.N. Women trained 300 women on improved production practices and upgraded equipment in manufacturing facilities to meet international standards. The program also assisted women in the shea butter industry with financing and market access.

Despite the discrimination against women in Côte d’Ivoire, change is coming. NGOs and the government are stepping up to ensure greater equality among women and men and uphold the rights of women in the country.

– Virginia Arena
Photo: Flickr

Women's International Work
U.N. Women, an entity of the United Nations, strives to improve gender equality and the empowerment of women around the world. Specifically, U.N. Women’s international work involves collaboration with governments and societies to create real change. The organization creates change by working to reform, implement and secure policies, programs, resources and legislation to ensure the rights of women and girls are upheld globally.

UN Women’s International Work

U.N. Women not only works on gender equality in the world but also inside its organization. For example, U.N. Women employs more than 3,000 people of 150 different nationalities in 90 geographical locations, working together on global challenges and initiatives. About 74% of employees are female and employees are supported by staff resource groups such as the Youth Council and the LGBTQI Network. U.N. Women believes that diversity and inclusion create the best workforce and a safe space. This allows room for respect, professionalism and integrity.

U.N. Women began its work in January 2011. The entity brings together four United Nations offices prioritizing gender equality. This includes The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and the U.N. International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). U.N. Women supports the development of gender equality policies and provides technical and monetary support to help countries with their gender equality goals. The entity holds the United Nations as a whole “accountable for its own commitments on gender equality” through ongoing monitoring and assessment.

Issues Impacting Women

U.N. Women’s gender equality work contributed to landmark agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The organization emphasizes that gender inequality is a problem in every society due to its deeply rooted history. Globally, women do not always receive equal opportunities to men.

Gender wage gaps still exist and women frequently experience discrimination when attempting to garner employment and while working in the workplace. Women lack access to basic necessities such as essential healthcare and education. Women also severely lack representation in politics and economics even though they are significantly impacted by these decisions. However, U.N. Women works to give women and girls a voice at all levels on issues that affect them. In the greater scheme of global poverty, women are disproportionately affected by poverty.

Carol Cassidy

Carol Cassidy is a human rights journalist who has worked on and off with U.N. Women for seven years. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Cassidy explains that that U.N. Women’s focus is international. Cassidy states, “U.N. Women’s major focus is combating violence against women worldwide. Violence takes many forms, from selective abortion, lack of education for women and girls, lack of opportunities for women outside of housework” and more. Cassidy says further that the organization is interested in initiatives that address poverty and violence.

The organization’s main mission is not to overtake projects or programs women have created, but to provide funding and support to allow the programs to flourish. U.N. Women looks to enhance accountability and involve women in general decision-making and conversations within their communities. U.N. Women has worked with countries all around the world, from South Africa to Ukraine. Cassidy was drawn to the organization because she shares similar goals, morals and ethics.

Empowering Women Globally

Cassidy’s past work with U.N. Women includes supporting women’s economic rights in post-conflict zones such as Gaza, Uganda and Sri Lanka. Cassidy recalls a specific example of supporting women. In Gaza, unemployment rates skyrocketed during the war and women came together to build and run a bakery. Women were able to bake goods to sustain families in the community. U.N. Women supported these women by providing funding.

U.N. Women strives to create a world where women have the same opportunities and protections as men. U.N. Women’s international work has helped bridge gender barriers to close the gender inequality gap around the world.

– Lauren Peacock
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empowering Indonesian womenIndonesian women made significant gains in recent years but there is still more to be accomplished. Women in Indonesia are often well educated but cultural expectations and economic and legal structures still prevent them from entering the workforce. The employment rate for Indonesian women is 55.5% while for their male counterparts it stands at 83.2%. Indonesian women’s economic empowerment needs improvement. Organizations like The Asia Foundation and U.N. Women are supporting empowering Indonesian women in the workplace.

Indonesian Women’s Participation in the Workforce

Women’s participation in the workplace revolves around cultural, structural and legal barriers. Indonesian culture expects women to stay at home to complete domestic and childcare responsibilities. Because of these cultural expectations, women are largely responsible for childcare. This means they cannot achieve their professional goals. If a mother does work, it is usually to only provide a side income for the household.

An analysis from the World Bank revealed that if Indonesia added another public preschool per 1,000 children, the participation of mothers in the workforce would rise 13%. Surprisingly, in Indonesia, more women are currently receiving tertiary education than men. Despite this, most Indonesian women still leave the labor market after marriage even though fertility rates have dropped. Women who work outside of the house after marriage still only participate mostly in informal labor.

Within the informal sector, women lack access to support systems that formal employment has. Despite more women working in the informal sector, the wage gap for women is 50%. In the formal sector, the wage gap for women is lower than in the informal sector but still concerningly high at 30%. Additionally, women often work in the retail, hospitality and apparel sectors. These are vulnerable sectors, meaning women have little job security, which leads to higher unemployment for women.

Lack of Legal Protection

Although Indonesia has progressive maternal rights regulations, other laws often restrict women from achieving economic empowerment. According to the World Bank’s “Women, Business and the Law 2021” report, there is no law that prohibits discrimination in access to credit based on gender. Additionally, the report states that daughters and wives do not have equal access to inheriting assets from their parents and husbands. These laws can prevent women from rising out of poverty by making it difficult for women to retain economic assets.

Indonesian Women in the Workplace

Expanding women’s involvement in the workplace is beneficial for Indonesia’s entire economy. Improving Indonesian women’s economic power and standing could potentially lead to large economic growth. By closing gender employment and wage gaps, productivity will increase and economic growth will accelerate. It is reported that if women’s labor participation in Indonesia increased by 25% by 2025, it would generate an extra $62 billion and boost Indonesia’s GDP by almost 3%. Improving women’s economic standing leads to better business performance and a better economy.

Improving Indonesian Women’s Economic Empowerment

The Asia Foundation and WeEmpowerAsia aid Indonesian women in the workplace. The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit that works in 18 Asian countries, including Indonesia, to improve lives across the continent. The Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program in Indonesia partners with local women and organizations to help Indonesian women achieve economic empowerment. It has provided microloans for 42 women’s groups that have more than 1,500 women members. The Asia Foundation and these loans help Indonesian women build confidence in their economic decisions. The Women’s Empowerment Program works by empowering Indonesian women to effectively advance their development and economic success.

WeEmpowerAsia is a U.N. Women’s program that works to increase the number of women in Asia working in the private sector. In Indonesia, WeEmpowerAsia hosts its WeRise workshop. During these workshops, women entrepreneurs and workers learn how to overcome gender-related hurdles. During its first workshop in early December 2020, 41 female entrepreneurs attended. The workshops help women become more confident and assertive in economic situations.

Looking Ahead

Indonesian women face hardships and barriers to employment and economic empowerment because of cultural expectations and structural barriers. Economic empowerment for women is important for Indonesia’s economy because it generates growth. Programs and initiatives are working toward empowering Indonesian women in the workplace to ensure a better and brighter future for them.

Bailey Lamb
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