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Recent Initiatives Empowering Women in MaliMali, a landlocked country in West Africa, has one of the world’s fastest growing populations. The country houses more than nine million women, yet the state of women’s health remains a critical issue. Women in Mali face significant challenges. A lack of awareness and respect for human rights, especially for women and children, continues to drive disparities in education, governance, economic independence, and security. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranks Mali in a low human development category, placing it 186th out of 191 countries and territories globally.

Gender-based violence and female genital mutilation persist as major issues for women in Mali, further undermining women’s health and well-being. Legal avenues for justice are often inaccessible to women due to social pressures and a lack of awareness of their rights. Moreover, Mali’s political landscape has become very unstable in recent years, leading to a humanitarian crisis and the displacement of more than 470,000 people in the country.

Initiatives

Amidst the challenges that women in Mali face, initiatives led by organizations like the United Nations (U.N.) Women offer the nation hope for progress. Furthermore, this initiative collaborates with the government, civil society and local communities to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through various programs. U.N. Women addresses critical areas affecting women’s health and rights and works to alleviate them.

Norms, policies and standards are targeted for reform by U.N. Women. Governance initiatives focus on increasing the participation of women in politics and advocating for gender-responsive planning and budgeting. Economic empowerment programs prioritize entrepreneurship to empower women to secure livelihoods and combat poverty.

Days for Girls Enterprise

Another important initiative empowering women in Mali is called the Days for Girls Enterprise, launched by the Ouelessebougou Alliance. This initiative is making significant strides by addressing a critical aspect of women’s health: menstrual hygiene management. In November 2017, the Alliance launched the first-ever enterprise in Mali, aiming to provide sustainable solutions for the lack of feminine hygiene products and education in the country.

Furthermore, by providing sustainable feminine hygiene solutions and comprehensive health education, Days for Girls Enterprise is actively contributing to the empowerment of women in Mali. Women are not only gaining economic opportunities for work but are also using their education to serve as change agents within their communities. This initiative is driving positive social change and fostering a more inclusive and equitable society.

MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience

The MOMENTUM Integrated Health Resilience (MIHR) initiative is actively empowering women in Mali by focusing on family planning, reproductive health services and the health of mothers, newborns and children. By enhancing health and community systems and encouraging evidence-based decision-making, MOMENTUM is creating a significant impact, not just in Mali but worldwide.

Within the first one to three years in Mali, the initiative has achieved measurable results, with 250 health care providers participating in MIHR-supported training and 66 health facilities enhancing their health information systems. This initiative has not only increased awareness of women’s health in Mali but also sparked crucial conversations on the topic.

Looking Forward

As Mali grapples with the many challenges affecting women’s health, initiatives like U.N. Women, Days for Girls Enterprise and MIHR demonstrate a commitment to advancing gender equality and empowering women in Mali. By targeting critical areas such as governance, economic empowerment and reproductive health, these initiatives are laying the foundation for transformative change. As the progress sparked by these initiatives continues to grow, it promotes a brighter future for women in Mali, one where women are given opportunities for success, safety and prosperity.

– Katherine Barrows
Photo: Pixabay

Women’s Rights in RomaniaRomania has had a turbulent past with its role as a close ally of the Soviet Union, and its own revolution which led to the collapse of communism in 1989. As a new era dawned upon the country, the democratization process began. Over the decades, efforts toward gender equality have improved women’s rights in Romania but issues still exist, especially among marginalized groups like the Romani.

The Economy and Unemployment

Despite increased prospects and economic development, progress was plodding, and the 2009 financial crisis deepened issues for the Romanian government. This resulted in legislation concerning women’s rights facing relegation to the backbench as politicians scrambled to rescue the country from financial catastrophe.

While there have been continuous changes in legislative provisions, the dissolution of the National Agency for Equal Opportunities between women and men in July 2010 exposed the inequalities between men and women within the professional sector. The agency had been the national gender equality machine, committed to improving the position of women within the workforce. Austerity measures because of the 2009 financial crisis led to its dissolution.

Between 2008 and 2012, the increase in long-term unemployment was higher for women by 5%.

Minority Discrimination

The education rates drop among girls in the Romani community, an ethnic minority who make up 8.32% of Romania’s population. It is important to note that Romani women are not the same as Romanians- the Romani are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group who traditionally lived a nomadic lifestyle.

Education highlights the inequality between provisions available with only 68% of girls receiving secondary education in urban cities, dropping to a staggering 42% in rural areas. Roma boys spend on average, 6.71 years in education while Roma girls spend around 5.66 years. When compared with their non-Roma counterparts who spent 10.95 and 10.7 years respectively, the difference is apparent.

It is common knowledge that Romani women suffer from increased discrimination due to prejudice against the ethnic minority group. Almost a quarter of Romani women in Romania have had no formal education and most of the group have stated that they are discriminated against by employers. As much as 39% of Romani women had not earned any income in the last year and 54% worked informally in jobs that provided no benefits or work agreements.

Gender-Based Violence

There have been increased calls on the Romanian government to protect women from the high rates of sex trafficking and domestic violence. The country has been listed by the U.N. as one of the greatest hotspots for human trafficking.

According to Valentina Rujoiu, a professor at the University of Bucharest’s Faculty of Sociology and Social Assistance, Romania is “stuck in the middle ages” regarding domestic violence. The shame and dishonor surrounding victims of domestic abuse often prevent them from speaking out. Rujoiu also argues that the laws in Romania are not working. On average, it takes 33 days for a restraining order to come into effect, and for many, this is too late.

In a report released by the U.N.’s Human Rights Office, the working group recommended that “the [Romanian] government should also take all the necessary measures to prevent early marriage and drop out of schoolgirls and to ensure human rights-based sexuality education in schools”.

The report also highlighted the issue of forced marriage and teen pregnancies. There is little access to prenatal care and the breastfeeding rate is three times lower than in the European Union (EU), further emphasizing the ongoing problem of early years development.

Hope and Empowerment

Smaller NGOs are operating in Romania to combat gender inequality. Centrul Filia is a feminist NGO from Bucharest, active in the field of gender equality research. The organization aims to build a society in Romania whereby women’s rights and diverse needs are respected and equal opportunities are available to all.

The organization’s direct community work, advocacy activism and research analysis help to build a more accurate image of gender inequality in Romania, as well as supporting women through increasing public awareness on reproductive and sexual rights. Its work with the Romanian government in improving the legislative framework and effective implementation of public policies has also transformed the organization into a powerful pressure group.

According to the U.N., there is a need for more improvements to empower women in Romania, ensuring that they can reach their full potential within professional and personal spheres. Currently, ongoing efforts by NGOs similar to Centrul Filia represent positive steps in the right direction to improve women’s rights in Romania.

– Maryam Rana
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap in IndonesiaThe gender wage gap refers to the inequality in pay between men and women. This imbalance exists worldwide, with an average gender wage gap of 20%. In fact, for work of equal value, women globally average 77 cents for each dollar their male counterparts earn. 

A variety of factors can attribute to the gender wage gap in lower-income countries. These include social and cultural understandings of the female gender, lack of education and overall low minimum wages. According to The Journal of Indonesia Sustainable Development Planning (JISDP), the upper and middle-class wage gap is under 20%, while the lower-class gap currently stands at 28%. This is critical in developing countries like Indonesia, where this gap poses a threat to those in poverty. Here is information about the gender wage gap in Indonesia.

The Gender Wage Gap in Indonesia

Indonesia currently stands at a 23% difference in pay based on gender. Socio-cultural factors play a large role in this gap. For example, women traditionally have certain household responsibilities and are less likely to join the labor market

COVID-19’s Impact on the Gender Wage Gap in Indonesia

COVID-19 heavily impacted the overall job and labor market in Indonesia. Many companies experienced an overwhelming loss of demand for products, resulting in a large number of layoffs worldwide. Women also hold the most jobs in what is referred to as the “informal sector,” which happens to be the job market with the least benefits, such as health insurance and protections.

COVID-19 also heavily impacted the service industries (food, sales, accommodations, etc.), many of whose employees are women. However, it appears that more men than women experienced lay offs during the COVID-19 pandemic, as males dominated the industries that had many layoffs.

The pandemic also largely affected service industries (food, sales, accommodations, etc.), which women primarily had employment in. Women held the most jobs in what is the “informal sector.” In Indonesia, this sector also has the least number of benefits, such as health insurance and protection.

Looking Forward

Although the gender wage gap remains a persistent issue across the world, it is slowly reducing. Indonesia celebrated its first “Equal Pay Day” in 2020, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). With this celebration, Indonesia marks its commitment to reaching equal pay and human rights for women. This serves as a national reinforcement of the work of human rights organizations. 

The Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) is a combination of the ILO, UN Women and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This coalition is fighting towards equal pay and gender equality in the workplace, both at a governmental level and with employers. 

Although progress may be slow, it is still progress. Globally, countries such as Indonesia are taking the necessary steps forward to finally abolish the gender wage gap. 

– Sophia Lovell
Photo: Flickr

UN Women’s Oasis Program
In 2016, U.N. Women reported that the majority of women living in Jordan were unemployed, with only
19% of Jordanian women and female Syrian refugees living in Jordan participating in the labor market. The U.N. Women’s Oasis Program has helped more than 30,000 Jordanian women and female Syrian refugees develop skills and become financially independent by working in Oasis centers — overcoming the multitude of barriers to employment that exist for women in Jordan.

Gendered Poverty in Jordan

Providing security and rehabilitation for 700,000 Syrian refugees, Jordan has become a safe haven for women and girls fleeing the violence and destruction that has plagued Syria since 2011. However, without the support of husbands, sons, or brothers, many of them are now experiencing the effects of gendered poverty in Jordan. In 2022, the World Bank found that 14.7% of Jordanian women are employed. One can accredit this low figure to obstacles such as a lack of job opportunities and limited access to higher education and skill development.

Security and Opportunity: The UN Women’s Oasis Program

The U.N. Women’s Oasis program is a humanitarian mission with 22 centers in Jordan, all of which are aimed at combating gendered poverty by empowering Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanian women. Originally established to aid women and young girls in refugee camps, such as Za’atari and Azraq, the program expanded its goals by incorporating cash-for-work schemes and training women in labor markets such as home maintenance and childcare. 

Not only does the U.N. Women’s Oasis program help women become financially independent and break down structures of gendered poverty, but it also supports and protects women against gender-based violence. This is accomplished by creating accessible training programs where women can earn money and enter the labor market, supporting themselves and their children without being stuck in dangerous domestic situations.

A Brighter Future for Jordan

Since 2012, the U.N. Women’s Oasis program has had an array of positive effects on Jordanian women and Syrian refugees living in Jordan who seek to improve their financial position. According to a study carried out by the program, 70% of the participants experienced a decrease in domestic violence and 78% felt that they could take on more decision-making responsibility in the household. The Oasis centers also offer a safe, empowering space for women to interact and build social relationships, which 98% of women in the program feel improves their self-esteem, reducing loneliness and depression.

Women in Jordan also cited childcare and housework responsibilities as limiting their ability to access employment. The Oasis centers are working to mitigate this by including nurseries and childcare areas in their facilities. Allowing women to bring their children to work also empowers their children to develop skills and continue their education, further contributing to breaking down gendered poverty cycles.

Conclusion

The U.N. Women’s Oasis program in Jordan equips women with valuable skills that not only motivate them to start their own microbusinesses and further their careers once leaving the centers but also empower them through workshops built around raising awareness on human rights and gender-based violence. With increasing numbers of women able to access skill development services and safe spaces to network, the gendered poverty in Jordan can, with hard work and determination, perish. 

– Zara Brown
Photo: Pixabay

SDG 5 in NamibiaNamibia, a southern African country with a population slightly above 2.5 million, marked a milestone in global development. It is currently the first African country to meet the fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), dedicated to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. 

In 2012, the United Nations (UN) created a list of 17 interconnected goals to act as the blueprint for a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future for people and the planet by 2030. These “global goals” cover many issues, including poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, clean water and more.

SDG 5: Empowering Women and Combating Gender Discrimination

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 specifically targets ending discrimination against women and girls through a comprehensive approach that encompasses the following:

  • Including women in the labor market: Globally, only one in two women work for wages as compared to three in four men.  
  • Ending violence against women,  both physical and sexual abuse: One in three women above the age of 15 experience physical/sexual violence in their lifetime. 
  • Stopping harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation: At least 200 million girls are subject to female genital mutilation. In 2021, nearly one in five girls were married before age 15
  • Integrating women within leadership and decision-making roles: The UN reports that women’s representation in government across more than 23 countries was under 10% in 2022. 
  • Adopting policies that strengthen and empower women and girls: Remove discriminatory laws and replace them with legislation to reflect society’s equal gender roles. 
  • Strengthening women’s empowerment through technology: Women make up a significant portion of the 3.9 billion people lacking access to technology.
  • Recognizing the value of domestic unpaid work: Women are more than twice as likely to be engaged in domestic work than men. 

Gender Equality and Economic Growth

Gender equality is not only a matter of human rights but also a driver of poverty reduction and good governance. The World Bank’s Gender Employment Gap Index (GEGI) predicts that closing all gender gaps would result in a 20% increase in GDP across all countries.  

Namibia’s Commitment to SDG 5

Working on SDG 5 in Namibia achieved the following: 

  • Achieving gender balance in the labor force: In 1990, women represented 45.6% of the workforce. As of 2022, women represent 49.8%
  • Ensuring gender-equitable education for males and females: In 1990, women’s literacy rate was 74%. Currently, the rate for women above 15 is 91.4%, equal to that of men.  
  • Increasing the representation of women in national government positions: In 2013, women held 24.36% of government positions. As of February 2021, women held 44.2% of parliamentary seats.
  • Increasing women’s use of technology: Around 93.6% of female-headed households have mobile telephone access.  

These accomplishments are a testament to the influence SDG 5 has had on local and national legislation, education and public awareness in Namibia. The Namibian government has implemented and enforced legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination in the workforce and public campaigns promoting positive gender roles while eradicating harmful practices such as female genital mutilation. These efforts have facilitated women’s transition from the informal to the formal economy, giving autonomy to women and bringing them into the workforce. As of 2023, more than 50% of women are in the workforce, and 80% of Namibian women hold a bank account through an institution or online platform. 

Critical Success Factors: Collaboration

Namibia’s success in meeting SDG 5 goals is due to a cooperative effort between international organizations led by the UN, local Namibian government institutions and citizen-led movements. Namibia achieved a remarkable 91.7% implementation of the SDG 5 programs through this collaborative effort.

Participation of the UN has been vital to meeting SDG 5 in Namibia. Particularly noteworthy was the support from the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund and UN Women. Furthermore, local and governmental institutions within Namibia played crucial roles. In fact, the Namibia Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Namibia Ministry of Gender Equality played essential roles in following these advancements. 

Another notable role involved Namibian citizens. The “ShutItAllDown” movement in October 2020 propelled the country into action, calling for the protection of women against gender violence. Protests in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek, began in response to gender-based violence following the femicide of Shannon Wasserfall as a result of protesters’ demands. Namibia implemented security measures to enhance women’s protection. The government implemented a school curriculum focused on gender-based violence and enhanced training for police officers.

The Way Forward

To address poverty among women in Namibia, a robust political movement has emerged, accompanied by increased budgetary allocations for gender mainstreaming. National initiatives focus on preventing and educating against gender-based violence, and a recent positive step involves the elimination of the “tampon tax.” Legal foundations, such as The Namibian Constitution (1990) and the Combating of Domestic Violence Act (2003), along with affirmative action, contribute significantly to gender equality and poverty reduction.

Despite commendable progress, challenges persist, necessitating continued efforts. Achieving gender equality is an enduring process demanding sustained commitment across various sectors. Notably, Namibia’s significant strides in fulfilling SDG 5 exemplify the attainability of such goals. Also, Namibia’s progress could serve as an inspiration for neighboring countries.

– Isabella Oliver-Steinberg
Photo: Flickr

According to UNICEF, over 600 million women worldwide were married before the age of 18. U.N. Women in Kayes, Sikasso and Moptiwas identified Mali, the eighth largest country in Africa, as a hotspot for child marriage. A study conducted by the National Library of Medicine found that 58.2% of Malian women aged 18-49 were married before their 18th birthday and 20.3% before the age of 15. There are several factors driving child marriage, but poverty is a particularly influential force. As one of the poorest nations in Africa, Mali is extremely vulnerable to child marriage practices with over 50% of the population living in extreme poverty. While its humanitarian situation has worsened in recent years, Mali is committed to eliminating child marriage through national and global initiatives.

5 Facts About Child Marriage in Mali

  1. Gender Inequality – Child marriage disproportionately affects girls due to extreme gender disparities that marginalize women. According to the Gender Inequality Index, Mali ranked as the 186th worst country in terms of gender equality. Girls in Mali often face restrictions and control by men with many being denied access to education especially those who marry as children. Also, child marriage in Mali is closely associated with high rates of female genital mutilation (FGM) — a practice that typically involves partial or complete removal of external female genitalia. UNICEF concluded that 89% of girls and women in Mali have undergone FGM. Unfortunately, FGM is a common premarital practice affecting thousands of girls in Mali.
  2. Lack of Education – Limited educational opportunities put Malian girls at a higher risk of child marriage compared to those with higher levels of education. Data from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) in 2015 indicates that 50% of women who completed only primary school were married before the age of 18, compared to 18% of those who pursued further education. The exclusion of girls from educational spaces exacerbates their vulnerability to child marriage.
  3. Cultural Norms – Certain cultural practices in Southern Mali contribute to child marriage. For example, bride kidnapping is a prevalent custom that forces abducted girls to marry their captors to preserve notions of “purity.” Girls who refuse to marry their abductors often face social stigma, with assumptions about their lost virginity. Family honor holds significant value in Mali and many girls are forced into marriage to prevent premarital sex and pregnancy, which is considered shameful by many Malian families.
  4. COVID-19 – Unfortunately, many Malian households were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNICEF, the number of Malian individuals in need of humanitarian assistance rose from 4.3 to 6.8 million in July 2020, which includes 3.5 million children due to issues such as financial hardships and school closings amongst others. Consequently, more girls are in danger of child marriage because of these issues.
  5. Poverty – Poverty plays a central role in child marriage, influencing other key factors such as gender inequality, limited education and harmful cultural practices. Because Malian women are disproportionately affected by poverty, they are more likely to use marriage as a means of income. Furthermore, in some regions, women in Mali are sold and bought for financial gain which makes them more likely to be viewed as a commodity. Girls in poverty are also less likely to have access to education and welfare protection which leaves them increasingly vulnerable to child marriage. According to Girls Not Brides, 51% of women in the poorest households were married before their 18th birthday compared to 36% in wealthier households.

Looking Ahead

Mali is actively developing national action plans to eliminate child and forced marriage. For example, Mali set the minimum age of marriage to 18 under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Along with this, Mali is one of nine countries in Africa to sign the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage.

Also, Mali committed to a 5-year action plan in July 2021 at the Generation Equality Forum in France to advance efforts toward improving gender equality. The goal is to use a $40 million investment to develop both legal and social change to end various forms of gender-based violence including child marriage and FGM by 2026. First Lady Mali Keïta Aminata Maïga led a campaign entitled “Education for girls: a means to eliminating early child marriage” which advocates for keeping girls in school to help end child marriage.

The fight against child marriage in Mali gain globed traction after the European Union made an $18 million investment between 2019-2020 which is meant to go toward ending harmful and violent practices toward women. These funds have been funneled to various organizations that promote legislation on gender-based violence, institutions supporting government efforts, prevention methods, data collection agencies, social monitoring platforms and support services. Ultimately, this investment will help decrease child marriage rates in Mali.

Conclusion

While Mali has put forth massive plans to decrease child marriage cases, continual efforts must be made in order to address this issue. Facilitating access to education and promoting financial relief for Malians in poverty will be instrumental in eradicating child marriage in Mali altogether. 

Olivia Welling
Photo: Flickr

Feminization of Poverty
The “feminization of poverty” is the concept of social and economic factors that keep women disproportionately poor globally. It touches on how women experience poverty in more severe forms than men. It also looks into how poverty is on the rise among women.

Gender inequality is the most common form of inequality in the world, and as a result, it is one of the biggest barriers to alleviating poverty. The following are some important facts to know about the feminization of poverty in the world.

5 Facts About the Feminization of Poverty

  1. Millions of Women Live Below the Poverty Line: Estimates from U.N. Women reported that 388 million women and girls around the world would be living in poverty in 2022. For comparison, the study reported the number of men and boys in the same category as 372 million. It also stated the potential for the number to reach 446 million in a “high-damage” scenario.
  2. Women of Color are the Most Affected: Of the number of women living in poverty, 345 million are from Asia and Africa. This means the feminization of poverty spans across the axes of intersectionality such as race and ethnicity. But this does not stop at the global south, as women of nearly all races and ethnicities are more likely to face poverty than their white counterparts. In the U.S., 91.9% of women living in poverty are black, Asian, Hispanic, Alaska native or other races, while only 9% are white.
  3. Violence Keeps Women and Girls Poor: Women who have abusive partners or family members may be less likely to find work due to potential control issues. If they are able to find work, they may miss days and opportunities as a result of injury. For instance, in the MENA region, 35% of women experience domestic violence, resulting in Gender-Based Violence (GBV) accounting for a loss of 3.7% in the GDP, as women are also prevented from participating in labor. Women that are unable to work and earn a living have a harder time escaping their situation. Consequently, they continue to live below the poverty line.
  4. Women are More Likely to Get Low-Income Jobs: In the U.K. alone, a fifth of women are working jobs that are below the real living wage. This means that 2.9 million women are living below the living wage. In comparison, only 1.9 million men work low-paying jobs that place them below the living wage. Most recent estimates show that globally, women earn 16% less on average than their male counterparts. In Australia and New Zealand, the gender pay gap stands at 19.3%, and in India, it is 14.4%.
  5. Childbirth Impacts Career Progress: Less than one in five women in the U.K. return to full-time work within the first three years after childbirth, and 17% of women leave work completely after having children, compared to only 4% of men. This disparity in gender responsibilities results from various factors, such as poor maternal leave policies and the disproportionate burden of caretaking duties on mothers. This situation highlights how gender inequality affects a woman’s earning potential and ability to lift herself out of poverty.

Ongoing Efforts and Potential Solutions

Fighting gender inequality plays a significant role in ending poverty. U.N. Women, which emerged in July 2010, has a project dedicated to supporting women worldwide, training them to become entrepreneurs and start small businesses. UN Women has four strategic priorities that include helping women to participate in and benefit from governance systems, secure income and exercise economic autonomy. Its aim is to free women and girls from all forms of violence and enable them to contribute to building a sustainable world.

Other organizations like ActionAid and Forgotten Women are committed to delivering safe aid to help women out of poverty and crisis situations through training and awareness initiatives. In 2021, ActionAid spent £31.9 million on humanitarian and development programs globally.

There is still much work to do in the fight against female poverty. Nonetheless, several organizations are already working to provide women with the support and opportunities that they need to succeed. Supporting the ongoing efforts of active organizations, through awareness and community work, can potentially play a vital role in putting an end to the feminization of poverty.

– Safa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in BelarusAlexander Lukashenko has governed Belarus since 1994. In a country with restricted civil liberties, gender inequality remains concerning. In 2020, women in Belarus stood at the forefront of protests for freedom and created solidarity chains that became a symbol of resistance against the regime. Several groups are working to uphold women’s rights in Belarus amid growing concerns about human rights violations.

State of Women’s Rights in Belarus

The Global Gender Gap Report is an index created by the World Economic Forum to gauge gender equality in 146 countries. The yearly reports show the general trajectory of the countries’ progress toward dissolving the disparity between men and women and gather data in four principal areas: health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. The 2022 report shows that the global gender gap globally has shrunk by 68%. Nevertheless, the World Economic Forum estimates achieving full equality will take more than 130 years. Only a few countries from the top 10 economies are close to dissolving the gender gap and Iceland stands as the only country to close more than 90% of its gender gap.

In the Global Gender Gap Index 2022 rankings, Belarus occupies 36th place. The country has never had a female head of state and women in the upper house of parliament hold only a quarter of the seats. Belarus scores 0.750 out of 1.0 for gender parity, ranks fourth globally in the economic participation and opportunity field and has obtained parity in its literacy rate. Nevertheless, it ranks 69th in the political empowerment area, showing an underrepresentation of women in politics.

Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organizations in Belarus

A U.N. Women’s report on women’s rights in Belarus shows more promising results. In 2021, women in Belarus occupied 40% of seats in the parliament and more than 60% of the legal frameworks to monitor gender equality are in place. The results show an improvement from previous years, making the efforts of civil society (CSO) and non-governmental organizations (NGO) more encouraging.

The work of CSOs and NGOs in Belarus is vital. The political climate for these organizations has not been favorable as Minsk departed from close cooperation with the European Union and adopted a new political course that damages the ability to work freely and overcome government censorship. Nonetheless, the U.N. agencies operate in Belarus and cooperate with the government, non-governmental and other international organizations.

For instance, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a U.N. agency that covers diverse thematic areas, such as reproductive health, population and development and gender equality. The UNFPA builds on national priorities and aims to promote the right of every woman, man and child. This helps to strengthen the efforts of a few independent local CSOs and NGOs that continue their work despite the challenging political environment.

Center for Promotion of Women’s Rights – Her Rights

This Belarusian nonprofit organization was founded in February 2016 to help build a more just world for women and men. One of the vital goals is to help protect women’s rights in Belarus and promote their interest in building a more democratic society and giving women equal opportunities. More specifically, the Center for Promotion of Women’s Rights provides legal assistance for the victims of gender violence and discrimination. The nonprofit primarily focuses on the problem of domestic violence as about 70% of the appeals it receives come from women who undergo domestic violence.

Women from every region of Belarus can reach out to the organization’s legal helpline and obtain essential guidance on top of legal assistance. Despite having little publicity, this nonprofit receives calls for assistance from a minimum of 20 Belarusian females monthly. The organization has gained the trust of women, which has become one of its most significant achievements.

Repressions and political abuse of power in Belarus are now more difficult to monitor as hundreds of civil society organizations have shut down. However, the organizations still in existence are working hard to persist in their efforts to make a positive impact and establish a more just, safe and equal society.

– Nino Basaria
Photo: Flickr

Gender Gap Wage in MoroccoIn 2015, the women’s labor force participation rate in Morocco stood at 26%, among the lowest in the world. This percentage had not evolved since 1990, and in 2020, it had decreased to a low point of 23.1%. This data confirms the findings of the 2022 report from the High Commission for Planning (HCP), the body responsible for producing official statistics in Morocco, showing that “[eight] out of 10 women in the country remain outside the labor market.” The HCP also published a report on multidimensional women’s poverty in Morocco measuring four dimensions: education, health, economic activity and living conditions. It showed an improvement in the incidence of multidimensional poverty among women aged 18 and over with a 2021 national level of 16.5% versus 18.1% in 2014. However, it also found that COVID-19 had set the country back six years in terms of efforts to fight female poverty. On top of this, the gender wage gap in Morocco is still significant.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Society Norms

The conditions for working women indeed worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic as women held most of the jobs in impacted sectors and the informal economy, leading to a loss of income and employment.

Societal gender norms dictate that females shoulder the burden of childcare and housework. For women who do develop ambitions, the lack of childcare support facilities and traditional societal norms often stop them from following these ambitions, expecting them to sustain the bulk of the domestic burden. U.N. Women data indeed shows that women and girls aged 15+ spend on average 20.8% of their time on unpaid domestic chores and care work compared to less than 3% for men.

Marital-Status Gap

The World Bank’s 2015 report on the societal benefits of empowering women revealed a stark “marital-status gap” — the “relative difference in labor force participation between married and never-married women.” This gap goes up to 70% in Morocco, suggesting that most women who enter the workforce, exit it after marriage. This is primarily a result of the profoundly entrenched gender roles in Moroccan society as married women shoulder even more of the domestic burden than unmarried women.

Women are overrepresented in informal employment with 65% of women working in precarious labor or unpaid employment compared to 37% of men, according to USAID. Women also reap lower returns for their work with a gender wage gap of up to 77%. In rural areas, 96% of women with low levels of education work in basic-level farming while in urban areas women with secondary education seldom join the labor force as their access to “suitable jobs” is limited, according to the World Bank.

Steps Forward

Though data to monitor a positive evolution is lacking, Morocco has shown a willingness to follow “various conventions, declarations, recommendations and resolutions concerning women’s rights” that the U.N. introduced. In the early 2000s, the U.N. pointed out that Morocco has strengthened its gender equality-related legal framework, institutionalizing equality and parity as constitutional values and adopting a set of laws and reforms as well as an integrated public policy for equality and programs for the promotion of women’s rights. However, these reform efforts have often taken place in a complex political climate that sometimes opposes a reform agenda to support women’s economic empowerment.

For these gender equality and women empowerment initiatives to be effective, Morocco will need to implement them in a systemic way. Since 1985, the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM) has made significant achievements by partnering with other women’s associations to advance women’s rights in the region. ADFM has among else campaigned to reform the Moroccan social security system, promoting debates aimed at protecting vulnerable women workers by ensuring systemic gender equality, which will reduce the gender wage gap in Morocco, among other benefits.

The Future

In the 2021 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, Morocco ranked 140th out of 149 countries. Due to tradition and social norms, only a very small share of Moroccan women work and those who do work face high inequalities when it comes to employment access and remuneration. However, initiatives implemented over the past decade look to evolve the societal mindset and align the Moroccan legal framework with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically gender equality.

It is worth noting that empowering women, encouraging them to join the workforce and reducing the gender wage gap in Morocco is not only just but also economically wise. The OECD found in 2020 that if women played an “identical role in labor markets as men,” the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions could see substantial macroeconomic gains with a boost of up to 47% to their gross domestic product (GDP).

– Hanna Bernard
Photo: Flickr

Gender Inequality in Africa
Women in Africa are less likely to work in technology than their male counterparts. In 2019, around 22% of women in Africa used the internet. Due to the fact that men oftentimes have higher incomes than women, they are more likely to purchase a mobile device with internet capabilities. In West and Central Africa, four in 10 girls enter child marriage before the age of 18. This allows gender inequality to grow and prevent economic autonomy for young girls and women in Africa. Here is an organization that is actively fighting gender inequality in Africa by advocating for and providing for African women in tech.

African Girls Can Code Initiative (AGCCI)

The project has been able to help women and young girls in gaining access to work in tech. The initiative aims to train at least 2,000 girls from ages 17-25 to help them gain economic independence and an advantage in the rising tech industry. In the camp’s first phase, girls learn about mainstream ICT. The program created an e-webinar to help keep the program intact during the pandemic. Awa Ndiaye-Seck, U.N. Women Special Representative to the African Union and UNECA, says that the AGCCI’s goal is to “address not only the policy-level bottlenecks related to access to technology and finances but also the gender-based harmful norms and practices that hinder women and girls from pursuing STEM fields.”

Impact and Second Stage

Since the camp began in 2018, 600 girls have received training nationally and regionally. The Coding camp has participants from a large and diverse set of countries such as Ethiopia, Burundi, Côte D’Ivoire, DRC, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The aforementioned e-learning platform provides mentorship, coursework, training tools and job opportunities. In 2022, the Belgian government spearheaded phase two of the camp by funding the project. The project will also partner with U.N. Women, UNICEF and UNESCO. The second stage involves selecting a pool of trainers to train 11 more selected countries, thereby setting up more AGCCI learning centers in participating countries and providing learners with adequate technology (phones, laptops, computers, etc.).

Continuing to Reduce Gender Inequality in Africa

A 2016 report suggested that women launched only 9% of tech startups. Low levels of female participation in the tech industry further strengthen and reinforce the inequalities women in Africa face. The African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy has set a mission to provide “digital inclusion for every African by 2030.” This means that there will be more African women in tech positions. It is an ambitious goal that will without a doubt receive help from existing programs such as the AGCCI. Consistent efforts to include women in the field of technology will alleviate existing barriers and inequalities for African women and girls.

Final Thoughts

Programs like the AGCCI are helping to alleviate gender inequality in Africa by providing women opportunities to learn about and work in tech. African women in tech is just one example of positive programs aiming for a better future for African women.

 – Anna Richardson
Photo: Flickr