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gender inequality during covid-19Pandemics have far-reaching impacts, such as economic downturns and overburdened healthcare systems. Previous outbreaks, such as Zika and Ebola, revealed that infectious diseases tend to highlight existing structural problems in countries with regard to age, race and gender. In fact, recent data from the pandemic has shown that the outbreak is deepening already existing gender inequalities. According to the U.N. Women’s current analysis of the situation, there are five critical areas where women are impacted the most that must be addressed immediately. These areas include the increase in the risk of gender-based violence due to lockdowns and stay-at-home mandates. COVID-19 has also exacerbated unemployment the unequal distribution of care and domestic work. Additionally, despite the increase in gender inequality during COVID-19, many policy responses to the pandemic do not involve gender-based planning.

Gender Inequality During COVID-19

According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “Already we are seeing a reversal in decades of limited and fragile progress on gender equality and women’s rights. And without a concerned response, we risk losing a generation or more of gains.” Guterres also touched on the rise of unpaid care work due to school closures. The care of seniors and children disproportionately falls on women who must abandon paid work to care for these individuals. This is one example of gender inequality during COVID-19, as an existing inequality has worsened amidst the pandemic.

Inadequate PPE is another pre-existing condition that has worsened for women during the pandemic. About 70% to 90% of healthcare workers are women, yet protective equipment is usually made to fit men. This means that women who are putting their lives at risk every day to care for those infected with COVID-19 are at a higher risk of infection. Guterres put out a call to action to protect women’s rights globally and make sure that the pandemic does not reverse progress on gender equality. The U.N.’s response to this has three phases. These include the health response, the mitigation of the social and economic crises and building a more equal future for women after the pandemic.

U.N. Women’s Response

U.N. Women is focusing on many different areas to respond to gender inequality during COVID-19. It is working to raise awareness about these issues and supporting data collection and assessments. U.N. Women also provides access to essential services, supports women-run enterprises and engages the private sector for aid. With these actions, U.N. Women hopes to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on increased domestic violence, unpaid care work and economic inequality. U.N. Women also hopes to involve women affected by COVID-19 in decision-making and leadership positions to fight for gender equality.

A Global Effort

U.N. Women has offices around the globe that connect with as many countries as possible. For example, U.N. Women Afghanistan has launched a COVID-19 prevention program called Salam for Safety. This program engages women as central leaders in containing the spread of the disease. U.N. Women Vietnam is working with UNICEF to ensure the safety of women and stop the spread of COVID-19 in quarantine centers. Similarly, U.N. Women China has created programs to engage women and raise awareness about gender inequality during COVID-19. U.N. Women also has existing programs that it is scaling up to support women during this time.

It is clear that this pandemic is harming progress made on gender equality in the past few decades. However, the support of the private and public sectors globally can help maintain this progress. The inequalities highlighted by COVID-19 may provide a good opportunity to recognize all the work that remains before we can achieve total gender equality.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Bangladesh
Since achieving independence in 1971, Bangladesh has lifted 15 million citizens out of poverty and made great strides in tackling food insecurity. However, while its government has been tirelessly working to develop economically, it has also been fighting another battle for women’s rights in Bangladesh.

Despite a patriarchal social framework, Bengali women have held the right to vote since 1947, and the country elected its first female Prime Minister in 1991. Women fought for their country in Bangladesh’s Liberation War, and the constitution that the country subsequently adopted promised equal opportunities for women in all areas. The following six facts about women’s rights in Bangladesh explain how the country has tried to uphold that promise, and what challenges remain.

6 Facts About Women’s Rights in Bangladesh

  1. The government has enacted numerous policies over the past decade focused on women’s rights in Bangladesh. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has increased allowances for widows, eased the burden on lactating mothers in urban areas and provided job training in fields such as agriculture and electronics. The National Women Development Policy of 2011 aimed to establish equal rights for men and women but also included specific goals such as assistance for female entrepreneurs. To oversee the implementation of the development policy, the government formed a 50-member National Women and Child Development Council chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Hasina has also vocally supported women’s empowerment in global forums such as the UN.
  2. Men still dominate the country’s political system. With Hasina leading the country since 2009 and the main opposition party also being led by a woman, Bangladesh might appear to be a model for women’s empowerment in politics. However, out of 350 seats in the Bangladeshi parliament, only 22 currently belong to directly elected female legislators while 50 are reserved for women who are not directly elected. Female politicians and activists have described a culture of exclusion within the two main political parties, reinforced by male politicians who view their female colleagues as inferior. Still, the proportion of women in parliament has continued to rise over the past decade and women hold seats in 12,000 local political offices.
  3. Maternal mortality has dropped 60% since 2000. This drop has been the result of effective investments in prenatal care. The Government and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, has provided critical support by coordinating midwife training programs. Trained midwives alleviate a major risk factor for maternal mortality, which is a lack of healthcare access for pregnant women. More than half of Bengali women opt to give birth at home, but the proportion of births in which trained health personnel are present has been growing and now makes up more than half.
  4. Violence against women and child marriage remain major problems. Two out of three married women in Bangladesh have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. Religious law dictates customs such as marriage and cements discrimination against women. Almost 60% of girls are married before their 18th birthday, and their husbands’ families may abandon them if they are unable to bear children. Grassroots and international NGOs have attempted to change this status quo; for example, Girls Not Brides Bangladesh is a partnership of 25 organizations that lobbies the government and promotes advocacy. The government has answered by passing the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act in 2010 and the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2017, but the results of these efforts have yet to materialize.
  5. Civil society organizations have played a key role in improving women’s rights in Bangladesh. An example of a nonprofit that is supporting Bengali women is the South Murapa Underprivileged Women’s Cooperative Society. This organization provides medical care to women in Cox’s Bazar district. The group’s chairperson, Kulsuma Begum, escaped an abusive husband at the age of 16 and immediately set out to help pregnant women in disaster zones. Apart from domestic organizations like Begum’s, international charities such as Save the Children have made large gains in infant health and early childhood education.
  6. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities. An interagency evaluation by UN Women identified several factors that could erode women’s rights in Bangladesh due to the pandemic, including lack of healthcare access, unequal care work burden and a lack of decision-making power in the pandemic response. Experts also documented a rise in gender-based violence during the initial shutdown, fueling a spike in calls to national trauma hotlines. Luckily, local organizations on the ground have organized cash-for-work activities for women, such as mask making.

The Road Ahead

In the months to come, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to present challenges for Bangladesh, especially the country’s women. However, Bengali women have long borne the brunt of their country’s struggles while still relentlessly pushing for change. Hopefully, their resilience will ultimately shine through.

 – Jack Silvers
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Belgium
Women’s rights have come a long way since the beginning of the century. In countries around the world, women have fought tirelessly for many of the freedoms that their male counterparts already enjoy, from the right to vote to the right against discrimination. The women of Belgium are no exception from these movements. Here are five facts about women’s rights in Belgium.

5 Facts About Women’s Rights in Belgium

  1. Belgium was one of the last European countries to introduce women’s suffrage. Despite some Belgian women earning their right to vote in 1919, Belgium was one of the last European countries to acknowledge women’s suffrage and women’s demands for voting rights. The only country to allow it after Belgium was Greece. The lag in women’s suffrage was mainly due to early women’s rights advocates such as Marie Popelin and Isala Van Diest, who chose to focus first on improving women’s education and legal equality in Belgium before advocating for equal voting rights. Additionally, during this time, many members of the socialist and liberal parties did not trust women with the right to vote, fearing that women would vote too conservatively and would give their overwhelming support to the Catholic parties under the influence of the priest. However, this proved untrue when women officially received the same voting rights as their male counterparts.
  2. Women did not fully gain voting rights until 1948. Women in Belgium, as in many other countries in the world, did not enjoy the same freedoms as men when it came to engaging in politics for a long time. They first received the right to vote in 1919; however, these rights had heavy restrictions in that only specific women could vote. Only mothers and widows of servicemen who died in World War I, mothers and widows of citizens “shot or killed by the enemy” and female prisoners who “had been held by the enemy” initially obtained the right to vote. In 1920, all Belgian women, with the exception of prostitutes and sex workers, received the right to vote in municipal elections. It was not until 1948 that Belgian men and women enjoyed the same voting rights in parliamentary elections. The first parliamentary election in which women participated took place on June 26, 1949.
  3. The number of women in Belgian politics has been steadily rising. In the past, the Belgian Parliament had been heavily male-dominated. However, thanks to policies like the Quota Act, this has been changing, a major win for women’s rights in Belgium. Belgium first introduced the Quota Act in 1994 but updated acts have since emerged. The most recent Quota Act imposed a 50–50 quota for every election list and required that the two candidates at the top of the list not be of the same gender. Election lists that do not comply with the Quota Act are automatically nullified. This helps prevent political parties from participating in elections if they are unwilling or unable to abide by the quota rules. By 2019, women held 42% of positions in parliament. Sophie Wilmès is the current prime minister of Belgium and is also the first woman to hold this post in the country. Increasing the number of women in Belgian politics helps to expand women’s rights in Belgium.
  4. Belgium is closing its workforce gender gap. In 2020, Belgium ranked 27th out of 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report, which “benchmarks countries on their progress towards gender parity across four thematic dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment.” The workforce gender gap has also been closing over the years. The overall labor force participation rate for women 20-64 years old in Belgium is 63% (2.34 million women) compared to 72.3% for men (2.66 million men). Despite the increasing number of women entering the workforce over the years, there are still disparities between men and women in the workforce. When examining board members in Belgian companies, women only hold 30.7% of the seats while 69.3% of men hold the rest. There is also a discrepancy between men and women when it comes to wage earnings in Belgium. The pay gap in Belgium was 21% in 2017 and the pension gap was 28%. Despite the wage gap closing, women in Belgium are still more vulnerable than men to living in poverty. In 2018, women were two percentage points higher than men in reports on the poverty level in the country.
  5. Belgium implemented the accelerated Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Beijing Declaration was a resolution that the United Nations adopted in September 1995 at the end of the Fourth World Conference on Women. The resolution established a set of principles aimed at addressing the inequality between men and women. In 2015, Belgium partnered with UN Women to introduce the full, effective and accelerated implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The accelerated commitment outlined six main tactics for addressing gender inequality: (1) investing in gender equality at the national and international levels, (2) updating or establishing new action plans, strategies and policies on gender equality, (3) enhancing women’s leadership and participation at all levels of decision-making, (4) introducing new laws or reviewing and implementing existing ones to promote gender equality, (5) preventing and addressing social norms and stereotypes that condone gender inequality, discrimination and violence and (6) launching public mobilization and national campaigns to promote gender equality. One area that has seen improvement from the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is women’s participation in politics throughout Belgium.

While women’s rights in Belgium have dramatically improved over the years, these five facts show that there is still room for improvement within the country. On International Women’s Day in 2019, over 5,000 female demonstrators went on strike in Brussels to campaign for women’s rights and gender equality. Despite Belgium’s best efforts, there is still more the country must do to ensure total equality between the rights of men and women.

Sara Holm
Photo: Pixabay

Women's Rights in Syria
For nearly a decade, the Syrian Civil War has left the Middle Eastern nation desolate, impugned with violence, and, more importantly, divided. However, when it comes to mainstream coverage on the Civil War’s effects, women are not usually in the spotlight, at least until recently. With the Syrian Civil War coming to a close, rebuilding and drafting a new constitution has commenced. This transition period is giving nonprofits and international organizations a unique opportunity to elevate women’s rights in Syria.

Overview

One can define women’s rights as women having the same legal protections and economic opportunities as men, along with an equal footing in the rebuilding process. Essentially women in Syria should have fair access to nonprofit and IGO resources as well as food, water and medicine.

Currently, Syrian women suffer from food insecurity, loss of education, lack access to clean water and medical supplies and gender-based violence at a disproportionately higher rate than men. In fact, in 69% of communities, early and unwanted marriage is a prevalent concern.

Moreover, before and during the war, societal roles of marriage and domestic abuse escalated dramatically. One report noted that “even though the state endowed women with rights to education, employment, etc., society ignored those rights. They saw society as a mechanism that reproduces the privileged position of men through customs and traditions.”

Since marriage is a cultural safeguard against rape and kidnappings, more women entered marriages only to become victims of abuse. Thus it is vital that nonprofits, International organizations and the global community as a whole, emphasize women’s rights in the initial rebuilding phases.

Women Now for Development

While the past decade presented several obstacles for obtaining women’s rights in Syria, local actors, nonprofits and international organizations are paving a solid foundation for the future.

In December 2018, when the U.S. announced its departure from the Syrian Civil War, the international organization Women Now for Development (otherwise known as Women Now) kicked-started a series of humanitarian centers in non-state controlled regions in Syria.

These centers served to provide educational skills and medical assistance to Syrian women, particularly those fleeing violence. Additionally, Women Now’s help centers assisted with:

  • Fighting illiteracy, especially among women and young people.
  • Empowering women economically through training and providing them with support to create income-generating activities.
  • Providing education through classes in technology, communications and foreign languages.
  • Supporting women’s access to society and building civic engagement.
  • Providing children’s education and protection.

What makes Women Now different from other international organizations is that rather than excluding Syrian Women from the development conversation, it is emphasizing their voices and perspectives. As a result, it is allowing for a more effective and streamlined localization effort.

UN Women

Another instance of international organizations assisting women’s rights is U.N. Women. For the past two years, the group helped women participate in a cash-for-work program that taught the women skills while giving them a stable revenue stream. Additionally, the U.N. Women’s project in Syria created safe-spaces and skill training seminars, allowing women to escape abuse both due to the war and normalized oppression in Syrian society.

Regional analysts predict that with a new wave of protests and emphasis on failed human rights campaigns, Syria will either fail as a state or work within a globalized system to strive for a better future.

The Middle East Women’s Initiative has lead the battel for female representation in the new Syrian government so far, both in the Syrian Democratic Forces’ ability to win influence over the people and in Syrian Women’s international representation. The Initiative noted in a recent index how “Women in the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces hold senior leadership roles across policy functions and institutions. Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, acts as the region’s de facto head of state, speaking before the U.S. Congress and meeting U.S. President Donald Trump last year. Further, the SDF operation to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control was led by a woman commander, Rojda Felat.”

Reforms for the Future

In order for Syria to build a foundation that genuinely upholds women’s rights, it needs to introduce and expand on new policies. A highly recommended reform would be to restore compliance to CEDAW laws regarding discrimination against women.

While Syria signed onto CEDAW, an international framework against female discrimination, it conveniently left out several key provisions. In the transition, Syrian government officials must consider re-instating said provisions to grant women a stronger foundation of civil liberties and elevated socio-economic status.

Another critical step is to increase funding for feminist nonprofits. Under the current status quo, feminist nonprofits are quintessential to providing women with protection and critical resources.

“This[assisting women in Syria] was difficult without proper funding. Women Now was only able to compensate staff for their work with a minimum wage due to feminist organizations’ funding, who understood the importance of care to staff working in difficult circumstances. When centers had to shut down, and programs could not be delivered, the remote management team also lost funding for their salaries.”

Finally, both regional and global actors must pursue international diplomatic coordination. As stated previously, military conflict disproportionately impacts women. However, international and regionally based specialized committees are already making progress on de-escalating violence and creating safety mandates. Thus, increased diplomatic coordination should be a primary priority.

While many would call Syria a failed state and lost cause for any form of human rights, past and current reforms are starting to paint a different narrative. Now it is up to the rest of the world to decide whether they are willing to support said vision.

– Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Women's Economic Empowerment in Mexico
In recent decades Mexico has made significant changes to close the gender gap. These progressive impacts include a series of legislative initiatives in 2002, 2008, 2014, and the 2015-2018 National System for Equality between Women and Men. Additionally, political parties promise to promote gender equality in nominations and to allocate money towards training women. By promoting women’s economic empowerment in Mexico, women of all backgrounds can achieve financial independence.

Obstacles To Financial Independence

Women in Mexico face several obstacles toward reaching financial independence. Martina Zoldos, a Slovanian writer, described the discrimination she faced while interviewing for a job in Mexico. Zoldos was asked, “whether [her] husband agreed with [her] decision of having a 9-to-5 office job.”

Traditional values are often placed on Mexican women. A study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development discovered that in Mexico, “only 45% of women between the age of 16 and 64 are employed, yet women perform over 75 percent of unpaid household work and childcare.” Additionally, women face daily violence in the form of rape, domestic abuse, and sexual harassment.

The United Nations identifies Mexico as one of the most violent countries for women. In 2017, The National Institute for Statistics and Geography detailed that 66% of women over 15 experienced some form of violence. In 2018, Mexico’s Security Minister Alfonzo Durazo signed a memorandum with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to “strengthen actions against gender-based violence.” In addition to violence, women also struggle with access to justice, education, and opportunities. However, organizations like UN Women make it possible for women’s economic empowerment in Mexico.

The Work of UN Women

UN Women seeks to improve the financial independence of women. Various international organizations work for women’s economic empowerment, such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the International Labour Organization. UN Women prioritizes migrant workers and rural and indigenous entrepreneurs. The agency also develops public systems that recognize the contributions of women to the economy.

The programs encourage women to secure decent jobs, build assets, and influence public policies and institutions. To improve women’s economic empowerment in Mexico, UN Women provides for the most vulnerable women. That work often happens in tandem with civil society groups and grassroots movements. UN Women works to develop financial skills among rural women, domestic workers, and migrants. They aim to help these marginalized women find decent work, earn higher incomes, and gain access to and control of resources. The agency also provides resources for women that face violence.

Government efforts also improve the lives of indigenous women. These women have the highest levels of illiteracy, maternal mortality, domestic violence, and poverty in the country. The government supports groups of indigenous embroiderers that create and sell fair-trade art. These efforts empower indigenous women to take part in local and state elections. While there is more to accomplish in protecting women against violence, financial independence can open doors for many women and generations to come.

– Mia Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Vanuatu
Cyclone Harold tore through Vanuatu in early April 2020 and brought torrential rain, flash flooding and destructive wind up to 145 miles per hour. The storm devastated Espiritu Santo and Pentecost Island, bringing about significant impacts to the rest of the country’s northern and central islands. The cyclone wiped out trees and crops, flooded cities and towns, knocked out power, disrupted communications and destroyed countless homes and businesses. World Vision Vanuatu stated that 160,000 people, which is more than half of the country’s population, became homeless. In some villages, including one on Pentecost Islands, the cyclone destroyed all the homes.

General Relief Efforts

Addressing homelessness in Vanuatu after Cyclone Harold has been challenging due to COVID-19. While the country is one of the few places in the world without any cases, a single outbreak could put the island’s population and healthcare system in jeopardy. Therefore, the country halted international travel, forbade foreign relief workers from on-the-ground efforts and required the decontamination of all aid equipment. As a result, many communities did not see immediate relief.

The Santo Sunset Environment Network and Edenhope Foundation established a coconut weaving program to help rebuild after Cyclone Harold. The program employs people from the island of Tanna in the southern part of Vanuatu. The Tanna weavers held workshops with residents of the affected communities and taught them how to build with coconut fronds, rope and bamboo. Although islanders typically use Natangura palms to construct homes, Harold destroyed most of them, so residents had to adapt. While builders constructed most of the new buildings for communal purposes, they are looking to build private homes and cyclone-resistant buildings as well.

Down Under Rally, an Australian boating tour agency, started Project Nakamal, another local effort to address homelessness in Vanuatu. Down Under Rally also operates in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Its priority is to rebuild the Nakamal structure, a building that locals use for ceremonial and community purposes. These buildings are at the heart of each community and serve as an important facet of Vanuatu society. The boating tour agency teamed up with Port of Call Yacht Services to provide materials for rebuilding. The organization has now exceeded its original fundraising goal of  $10,000 Australian dollars, about $6,948 in USD.

Larger organizations like World Vision Vanuatu set a goal to reach 3,000 households in Sanma Province, which includes the islands of Espiritu Santo and Malo. These organizations collaborated with World Vision’s Asia Pacific regional office and Vanuatu Women’s Centre to raise money for shelter, water purification and hygiene kits to support people with disabilities.

Through the help of U.N. Women, the Vanuatu Women’s Centre was able to make mobile counseling visits to various areas that the storm affected and help homeless women as well as their families. The organization reports that many women were concerned about their children and avoiding domestic violence. While various women called in need of food, water and shelter, others reached out to alleviate violence and sexual abuse.

Future of Relief

Despite the fact that Vanuatu’s carbon footprint is small, it is at the forefront of dealing with challenging weather. According to a study from Griffith University, the University of Queensland and the University of the Sunshine Coast, stronger and more frequent tropical cyclones threaten the island chain due. Rising sea levels also threaten the country, which would only exacerbate homelessness in Vanuatu. The study found that community-centered initiatives were most successful in addressing these issues. These local programs were scientific but complemented traditional beliefs.

It is important to expand and further implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. The document received signatures at the U.N. General Assembly in 2015 and set specific goals for disaster mitigation through 2030. The agreement seeks to reduce global disaster mortality, the number of people who disasters affect, economic losses and infrastructure damage. It seeks to increase warning system availability, international cooperation to developing countries and the number of countries that have both national and local mitigation strategies.

Bryan Boggiano
Photo: Flickr

Dilaasa Centre Remains a Resource During COVID-19

People all over the world have been in lockdown amidst the outbreak of COVID-19, and because of this, many things have changed. However, one thing that has received less publicity and protest is the rise in domestic violence against women. It is a basic human right to live in today’s world without experiencing physical or mental harm by those of the opposite sex, yet it is prevalent in today’s societies across the world, increasing even more during the battle against COVID-19. Thankfully, there are resources that women and girls can reach out to when they are feeling threatened, even during times of social distancing, such as the Dilaasia Centre. One of the places that have seen an increase in violence against women is India, a country with a population of over 1.3 billion people. The Borgen Project spoke with the Dilaasa Centre, a crisis center for women and girls experiencing gender-based and domestic violence, to find out more about just how COVID-19 is affecting India’s female population.

A Global Increase in Violence

According to an article in The New York Times, hotlines worldwide have seen an increase in domestic violence calls. Meanwhile, in the past 12 months, 243 million girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced sexual or physical violence.

According to the United Nations Populations Fund (UNPFA), one of the reasons behind the increase in global domestic violence includes the higher likelihood of violent acts when people are locked down in their homes with their spouses and family members. Another contributor is the reduced access to resources during lockdown that most victims of domestic violence can usually turn to, such as centers, hotlines or possibly even other places of refuge. Other reasons for the increase in domestic violence reports include stress, economic anxiety, the loss of people’s jobs, increased alcohol consumption and the lack of police response. According to NDTV, some Indian women have reached out to groups such as the National Commission for Women (NCW) who help fight gender inequality in India by offering help in domestic violence incidents.

According to a U.N. study, places that have seen the largest increase in domestic violence due to COVID-19 lockdowns include France (30% increase in domestic violence reports), Cyprus (30% increase in domestic violence hotline calls), Singapore (33% increase in domestic violence hotline calls), Argentina (25% increase in emergency calls based on domestic violence), Germany, Canada, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.

The same study found that the COVID-19 pandemic will most likely result in a 75% reduction in the global progress to end gender-based violence. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally, 35% of women have experienced gender-based violence in their lives. The UNPFA study suggests that if the COVID-19 lockdown continues globally for another 6 months, the number of gender-based acts of violence could increase by 31 million.

India’s Gender-Based Violence

The women and girls living in India have experienced mistreatment for a very long time, partly because it is a patriarchal society and many laws are discriminatory against women. For example, The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956 says that the fathers of the family are the natural guardians of the children of the family.

Women also experience marital rape and find themselves victims of violent crimes. Every day in India, there are around 20 dowry deaths or situations in which husbands’ and in-laws’ continuous harassment over the dowry causes married women to suffer murder or forces them to commit suicide. Honor killings are also quite common, wherein the husband murders his wife because she brings some type of “shame” upon him. Between 2015-2018, India saw reports of 300 cases of honor killings alone. Other practices include molestation, torture and bride burning, all of which occur when the woman or girl is going to be a bride, but her family declines to pay a dowry, resulting in her murder. Meanwhile, according to an article, “31 percent of married women in India have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their spouses.”

Many consider males to be the preferred gender in India. Families often prefer having boys over girls because of the advantages they inherit from ideas that exist in society. This cycle continues the underrepresentation and lack of respect for women and girls in the country.

Since India’s lockdown on March 24, 2020, the number of domestic violence cases across India has increased. From March 23rd to April 16th alone, the NCW received 587 complaints of domestic violence or abuse. Thankfully, there are crisis centers that have remained open during the lockdown to help women and girls suffering from domestic violence.

India’s Dilaasa Centre

The Dilaasa Centre is a crisis-intervention center, established in 2000, located in the Municipal Secondary Hospitals in Mumbai, India. The first center emerged in the KB Bhabha Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai. The centers were a joint creation of the Public Health Department of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and the Center for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT). In previous years, CEHAT worked towards four main goals to advocate for an end to violence against women and girls. The four goals are to help with women’s health and finances, health legislation and patient’s rights, women’s health and violence and health. Most focus on health because of the way violence impacts women’s health and well-being.

The Dilaasa Centre has two main objectives: to see that all women and children receive proper care during times of violence and to educate health professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to know the signs of domestic violence. The Centre told The Borgen Project that “The crisis center, in brief, provided psychological support, an emergency shelter in the hospital, police aide; legal intervention and of course medical and medicolegal support since 2000.” The other Municipal Secondary Hospitals with Dilaasa Centres are in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Dehli, Kerala, Meghalaya and Gujarat.

According to the Dilaasa Centre, each of its facilities serves 250 to 300 women and children or girls between the ages of 6 and 80 every year, with some survivors of sexual violence being as young as 3-years-old. Most of the Dilaasa Centre’s patients are of low-or-middle income status. Some survivors who visit the Dilaasa Centre are married, separated or divorced. “Women approach Dilaasa with varied expectations,” the Dilaasa Centre said. “While most want the ‘violence to stop,’ the ‘husband to improve his behavior’ and to ‘live with husband peacefully,’ a significant number come to explore if they have any legal avenues to stop [the] violence.” Dilaasa said that when it comes to actual interventions, a very small number seek that kind of help, as well as only a few looking for shelter. The center also sees a large number of rape survivors since it connects to the hospital.

“As a hospital-based crisis intervention center, we play a crucial role in providing services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence,” the center said. In fact, statistics have proven that survivors of violence use health services more than those who do not experience domestic violence. According to WHO, women who experience domestic violence end up having more health issues than those who do not experience it.

Since COVID-19 began, there have been surges in domestic violence cases across the globe and in India. The workers and counselors the Dilaasa Centre are “essential,” just like the doctors and nurses in the hospital, and the counselors have begun doing virtual or audio calls to those suffering from domestic violence and are trapped at home. According to the center, many women no longer have access to phones or cell phones and are stuck in their homes with their abusers on a daily basis.

The center told The Borgen Project that “CEHAT strives to generate evidence on the role of [the] health sector and establishing services in a health setting for women.” The Dilaasa Centre hopes that in the future it can oversee the opening of more centers in hospitals when there is a need for educating others on gender-based violence in India.

The Good News

While women and girls in India are suffering from domestic violence during COVID-19 because of the country’s national lockdown, there are ways that Indian women and girls can still find help during these trying times. U.N. Women has written a domestic violence COVID-19 response, in which it outlines ways to reduce the impact the lockdown has had on women. It recommends that governments provide additional resources for women and girls in their response plans, governments make pre-existing resources even stronger for women and girls during the lockdown, police and government workers receive education about the facts regarding the rise in domestic violence cases during COVID-19, women and girls be the focus when looking at solutions to the pandemic and that government collect the correct types of data to ensure safer and better outcomes for females in future pandemics. The NCW has also developed its own domestic abuse/violence hotline number for WhatsApp, an app that allows people to make calls and text internationally. There are also crisis centers, like the Dilaasa Centre, that remain open during the lockdowns.

Gender-based violence has been occurring in many countries for generations, and unfortunately, patriarchal societies remain the same today. COVID-19 has presented a special set of circumstances where all families must remain at home together, which also presents a rare opportunity for people around the world to become more educated and aware of the prevalence of gender-based violence in our cultures. While the world waits for the day when women and men receive equal treatment and for women to no longer be in harm’s way, there are resources like the Dilaasa Centre that create a safe place of confidentiality, hope and refuge for women and girls suffering from domestic violence.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Millennial Celebrities Fighting Global Poverty
The term “millennial” is one that has garnered some negative attention in the past decade in that many associate the generation with adjectives like “lazy” or “entitled.” While there are people of all dispositions and work ethics in every generation, the following is a list of five millennial celebrities fighting global poverty and challenging stereotypes about their age group.

5 Millennial Celebrities Fighting Global Poverty

  1. Harry Styles: Former member of the hugely successful group One Direction, Styles is showing that he is not only a talented singer but also a generous philanthropist. Styles’ “Treat People with Kindness” slogan is proving to be a mantra that he takes seriously as he raised $1.2 million in donations for 62 charities around the world during his 10-month tour in 2017. Styles’ 2020 tour is also supporting various charities worldwide including Freedom from Hunger and Help Refugees. He will be donating proceeds from exclusive merchandise purchases and a portion of ticket sales to various charities across the globe.
  2. Rihanna: Singer and businesswoman Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty founded the Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF) in 2012 in honor of her grandparents. CLF supports and funds education and emergency response programs in various parts of the world including Malawi and Barbados. Rihanna is also an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness. Through her lipstick campaigns with MAC Cosmetics, she helped raise $60 million in 2013 to benefit women and children affected by the disease.
  3. Drake: Record-breaking hip-hop artist Drake has been involved with a number of philanthropic efforts. In 2010, Drake visited a poor community in Kingston, Jamaica, and became inspired to give back. He donated $30,000 to a learning center in the community, stating that “I went there and they had ‘Drake’ all over the walls, spraypainted, and all the kids were running after us. So I donated $30,000 to build computer schools for the kids.”
  4. Emma Watson: Former star in the Harry Potter franchise and more recently in the film “Little Women,” Emma Watson is not only a talented and intelligent actress but also an active philanthropist. Watson, a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, recently visited Malawi to celebrate achievements that U.N. Women and the Malawian Government made including the annulling of child marriages to allow many women to return to school. Watson stated that “It’s so encouraging to see how such a harmful practice can be stopped when communities work together to pass laws and then turn those laws into reality.”
  5. Beyoncé: Bestselling singer-songwriter Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is no stranger to poverty-fighting efforts. Beyoncé headlined the Global Citizen Festival in 2018 alongside guests like Ed Sheeran and her husband Jay-Z. Together, they raised $7.1 billion to aid Global Citizen in its fight to end global poverty. This money will go towards improving education, sanitation, health care and women’s rights around the globe.

These five millennial celebrities are breaking down negative stereotypes about their generation and serve as inspiring role models for the world when it comes to reducing global poverty. These celebrities’ efforts and generosity are changing the lives of countless impoverished people around the world for the better.

– Hannah White
Photo: Flickr

10 Biggest Problems in the World 
There is no better time to focus on the biggest problems in the world. The everlasting tightened world economy, war threats and lingering diseases all ubiquitously affect human lives in every corner of the world. The United Nations (U.N.) has compiled a list of the current 10 biggest problems in the world.

 10 Biggest Problems in the World

  1. Peace and Security: Civil conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen, Russian aggression over Ukraine and its neighbors and tensions in the South China Sea are some global peace and security threats that are in existence today. These threats cost many lives due to terrorist acts and population displacement. The U.N. has 16 peacekeeping operations currently underway with nine in Africa, three in the Middle East, two in Europe and one in the Americas. With a peacekeeping budget of approximately $8.2 million, it keeps over 125,000 military personnel, police and civilians grounded and armed. The U.N. has made some progress with success stories coming from Burundi and Sierra Leone. U.N. forces eliminated more than 42,000 weapons and 1.2 million rounds of ammunition. It also demilitarized 75,000 fighters, including children, in Sierra Leone.
  2. AIDS: Among these 10 biggest problems in the world, AIDS is still a global health issue with 37.9 million people living with HIV. HIV newly infected around 1.7 million people and 770,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2018. Many global initiatives have emerged to lower the number of HIV cases including the GMT Initiative and TREAT Asia. The Foundation for AIDS Research, amfAR, lowers the number of AIDS cases with its GMT Initiative by supporting HIV organizations in developing countries to provide better education about HIV, expand prevention services and advocate for more HIV treatment and prevention funding. The TREAT Asia initiative links a network of clinics, hospitals and research institutions to perform research on HIV and AIDS treatments within the Asia-Pacific region. Many people (23.3 million) living with HIV in 2018 were undergoing antiretroviral therapy. New HIV infections have fallen by 16 percent since 2010 and AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 55 percent since the peak in 2004.
  3. Children in Poverty: Children around the world regularly do not have a fair chance for health, education and protection due to armed conflicts, violence and poverty. Millions of young children in 2019 did not have basic health care and proper nutrition resulting in stunted growth. The Millennium Development Goals have been in place for the past 15 years to help address the above issues affecting children. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been working with governments, the U.N., other NGOs and the private sector to broaden the impact on addressing child poverty with a particular focus on child malnutrition.
  4. Climate and Agriculture: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report stated that human activities cause climate change and that the impacts are adverse. Climate change ties to world poverty by negatively impacting agriculture with increasing energy use, decreasing food production and increasing food prices. Many say that more water is necessary to grow crops due to high temperatures and drought, downpour rain in other areas causes sea level rises and that people require more lands with favorable climates. Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan had low yield on their crops in the summer of 2010 due to excessive heat that led to very high food prices, starvation, malnutrition and poverty. Some agricultural areas around the world have made improvements to their agricultural practices such as scaling sowing time, using different cultivation techniques and testing different cultivars.
  5. Democracy: Countries around the world often experience democracy deficit, weak institutions and poor governance. The U.N. is working to bring democracy to countries around the world by working with each country’s government to promote fair and exemplary governing practices, facilitate transparency and accountability and advise on new constitutions. The United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) is funding projects that promote human rights, civil society and democratic inclusion. UNDEF is funding projects to include youths in elections in Cote d’Ivoire, promote gender equality in Palestine and support citizens in elections in Brazil.
  6. Poverty: The United Nations poverty facts and figures show that approximately 8 percent of the world’s workforce and their families live off of less than $1.90 daily. High poverty rates exist in small and deserted regions with armed conflicts, and approximately 55 percent of the world’s population has no social protection such as cash or food benefits. The condition of those living in poverty is improving following the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In fact, the percentage of the world’s population living off of $1.90 or less per day in 2015 is down to 10 percent from 16 percent in 2010.
  7. Hunger: Statistics have identified that 821 million people around the world suffered undernourishment in 2017, 149 million children had stunted growth and 49 million children under 5 years old experienced wasting due to malnourishment. The World Food Programme, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development are working together toward the Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger, maintain food security, improve nutrition and promote excellent agricultural practices. The World Bank Group is working with partners to promote farming practices, improve land use, grow high-yield and nutritious crops and instruct on storage and chain supply to prevent food loss.
  8. Gender Equality: Women in more than 60 countries cannot get citizenship. Sixty percent of people lacking basic literacy skills are women and one-third of women experience sexual violence, according to U.N. Women. The United Population Fund supports the protection of women’s rights through the law. They helped fight for women’s access to reproductive health care in Ecuador and Guatemala. The United Population Fund also helps to build shelters for trafficked women in Moldova and girls fleeing mutilation in Tanzania.
  9. Health: Half of the 7.3 billion people worldwide do not have access to adequate health services, according to the world health statistics of 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the efforts in addressing world health issues which include malaria, women’s health and tuberculosis. For the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014, WHO deployed experts, medical equipment and medical teams to set up and run mobile laboratories and treatment clinics.
  10. Water: In 2019, 2.2 billion people did not have access to safe drinking water and 297,000 children under 5 years old died from diarrheal diseases. Eighty percent of wastewater went back into the ecosystem without prior treatment in 2017. The U.N. is promoting agreements among countries to ensure better usage of water. The 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda includes policies and measures that incorporate finance, technology, innovation, trade, debt and data to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals including water sanitation and water usage.

These 10 biggest problems in the world may bring uncertainty and worry, however, many organizations are planning and implementing initiatives to solve these issues. People can provide support to these organizations either financially or through direct involvement to aid in eliminating these challenges.

Hung Minh Le
Photo: Pixabay

 

 

Empowering African Women Farmers
More than 60 percent of Sub-Saharan African women work in the agricultural sector and contribute to nearly 80 percent of the food supply. However, they only own 15 percent of the land. These women are the backbone of their families’ and communities’ agricultural production. They are still facing tremendous hardships and barriers due to their gender that limits their rights and opportunities. Hence, supporting and empowering African women farmers is necessary for Africa to be able to reach its full potential.

The U.N. has estimated that if women have equal access to opportunities and resources, they can increase yields on their farms by 20-30 percent. This will raise the total national agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 percent. Below are a few initiatives that work towards empowering African women farmers.

Securing Land Ownerships

The majority of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have limited property rights. They are only able to access land through a male relative. This gender disparity in landownership leaves the women farmers vulnerable at the constant risks of displacement. Death of the husband or father and a simple change of the man’s mind can take away the means of the women. With such insecurity, long-term investments in enhancing the productivity of lands do not seem appealing or make much sense to African women farmers.

Ending gender discrimination in land ownership can empower women to earn more and contribute more to the economic growth and food security of the community. In Tanzania, women with strong property and inheritance rights can earn up to 3.8 times more income. Compared to men, improving landowners’ tenure security for women can have a much more positive impact. The World Bank reports that rights improvement can lead to women increasing investments in their lands by 19 percent.

Many countries have taken important steps to promote and protect women’s land rights when they realize the impact of women on the economy. The government of Ethiopia has mandated joint land registration between husband and wife, formally recognizing women’s rights to their farmlands. Such reforms have led to increased investments in their land.

Improving Access to Financial Services

Lack of access to credit and financial services is another major obstacle for African female farmers. Without sufficient finance, women farmers are unable to afford adequate inputs to advance their agricultural activities. Many different development agencies and NGOs designed and provided women-focused financial services and programs. Additionally, they want to improve their access to agricultural inputs.

The Hunger Project (THP) is a U.S.-based international NGO has created a micro-finance program that provides training. THP gave financial advice and credit to African women farmers. In addition, THP loaned about $2.9 million to women farmers in eight African countries. This helps increase the beneficiaries’ production levels.

Another micro-finance institution based in Mali, Soro Yiriwaso, supports women in boosting food security. More than 93 percent of the institution’s borrowers are women. Additionally, over two-thirds of the loan go into agriculture. The institution also gave agricultural loans to women members in 90 villages between 2010 and 2012. This enables farmers to have access to agricultural inputs and increased investments.

Empowering African Women Farmers

U.N. Women has recently launched a project funded by Standard Bank Group known as Contributing to the Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa Through Climate Smart Agriculture. The project seeks to close the gender gap in agricultural productivity and has a commitment to empowering African women farmers by increasing women’s access to markets.

Standard Bank commits around $3 million for the project, with Malawi receiving $450,000. Many expect that over 50,000 women in Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa will benefit from this three-year-project.

Many have recognized agriculture as the sector most able to provide sustained economic growth and social inclusion in Africa. The agriculture and agribusiness combined have the potential to become a $1 trillion sector in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, with the likelihood of women continuing to be the backbone of the industry. Empowering African women farmers and closing the gender gap should be the focus and priority to help the African countries realize their full potential. In addition, this will effectively reduce poverty and attain sustainable economic growth.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr