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HIV/AIDS in EswatiniDue to its investments and reliable infrastructure, Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is one of the most stable African countries. Similarly, Eswatini runs an internationally recognized, successful educational and training institution known as the BirchCooper Graduate Institute. Despite the ability to provide a high quality of life to citizens, Eswatini has the highest HIV prevalence in the world. However, the country is taking positive steps to combat HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, which one can clearly see in its most recent HIV/AIDS achievements.

The Problem

There are many factors that contribute to high rates of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, such as multiple sexual partners, low condom usage, sexual violence and commercial sex. Due to these factors, HIV/AIDS has reached a staggering 27% rate among adults. While this rate is already high, women and girls are at an even higher risk of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini due to income inequality.

In Eswatini, social barriers cause many women to engage in transactional sex to earn money. This practice increases the risk of HIV and further fuels the HIV epidemic. In fact, while young women in Gambia, South Africa, the Congo and Gabon are three times more likely to have HIV than young men, young women in Eswatini are five times more likely to have HIV than young men.

5 Facts About HIV/AIDS in Eswatini

  1. Due to how quickly the epidemic is spreading, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death in Eswatini.
  2. Because of the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Eswatini, more than 95% of adults and 84% of children are on antiretroviral treatment.
  3. Due to the impact of drought and other factors, economic growth has stagnated and the poverty rate remains high at almost 60% in 2017. Impoverished countries usually lack adequate resources for an effective HIV/AIDS response.
  4. Gender discrimination is prevalent in Eswatini, with females experiencing significantly more HIV/AIDs stigmatization than males. Women also receive less economic, educational and emotional support.
  5. The high HIV/AIDS rate in Eswatini significantly impacts children as roughly 45,000 children from 0-17 have become orphans due to AIDS-related parent mortality.

Taking Strategic Action

Eswatini has made significant efforts to address the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Eswatini has implemented the National Multisectoral HIV and AIDS Strategic Framework (NSF) 2018-2023 with multiple objectives:

  • Decrease HIV rates among people aged 15-49 by 85%.
  • In the age bracket of 15-24, reduce HIV prevalence by 85%.
  • Decrease “new HIV infections among infants aged 0-1 year to less than 0.05%.”
  • Reduce AIDs-related deaths by half.

Aside from prevention and treatment aspects, the strategy also includes social protection and assistance, covering “orphaned and vulnerable children,” gender-based violence issues and HIV stigma.

The Good News

Eswatini’s efforts to combat its HIV/AIDS epidemic have been extremely successful in helping alleviate its HIV burden. In December 2020, Eswatini became “the first country in Africa to achieve the United Nations HIV targets.”

The 95-95-95 goal directs that, by 2030, 95% of people would be aware of their HIV status, 95% of affected people would be on treatment and 95% of those on treatment would be virally suppressed. In fact, Eswatini reached this goal 10 years before the expected year of 2030. This success is a clear indication that Eswatini has made significant strides in controlling HIV/AIDS.

As the burdens of HIV have damaged the fabric of Eswatini society with serious physical, mental, social and economic implications for its citizens, the country is moving toward a better and brighter future. Eswatini’s success serves as an inspiration for other countries battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Calvin Franke
Photo: Flickr

Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia
The Russian Federation is the largest nation by land area in the world, and its approximately 146 million people, according to Worldometer, are remarkably diverse and varied across this vast territorial expanse. While this broad and beautiful nation has problems both similar and different to all nations of the world, one real issue that is relatable across all borders, regardless of culture, is the danger of losing one’s child at the time one gives birth. The fetal mortality rate in Russia is no exception.

This is a problem that purveys all species of animals, yet for humans, the struggle to survive childbirth has become easier in many places across the world with the succeeding decades. For Russia, remedying its fetal mortality rate will go hand in hand with fixing their nations own blighted poverty, as the two play off of one another in a Sisyphean loop.

The Poverty and Fetal Mortality Rate in Russia

The numbers across the board in 2021 are markedly better than those at the start of the century. However, in comparison to 50 years ago, the fetal mortality rate in Russia has actually been improving at a steady rate, even as national poverty, currently at just 13% nationally, continues on its own uneven road.

The U.N. Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation estimates that nationally in 1970, approximately every 31 out of 1,000 births resulted in the death of the child in the Soviet Union. That number is today on par with the fetal mortality rate of far poorer nations, yet during this time, the Soviet Union was, under Leonid Brezhnev, still a powerful, if declining, force across the globe. The succeeding decades have since produced a consistent decline in these numbers, yet they have remained alarming to varying degrees, and for varying constituents, during this time.

By 2002, a bit more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, now led by ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin, had shaved the number of estimated infant deaths per 1,000 children nationally from approximately 31 to 14.8 across 30 years. However, regions and cities like Tula, amongst the poorest regions in Russia, still recorded nearly 17 per 1,000. But, as a scathing report on the conditions on the ground told at the time, even these numbers, high as they are, might yet be untrustworthy and lower than in reality.

In this report, the infant mortality rate in St. Petersburg in 2001 was just 9.3 per 1,000 births. Meanwhile, in the region of Chuktskity Okrug, that number was actually more than four times higher than the national average at just over 42 per 1,000 live births. Therefore, one can surely conclude that the wealth and internal infrastructure of the region certainly has a part to play in the fetal mortality rate both regionally and nationally.

The Numbers Today

Today, the national number has continued to shrink in comparison to the old data, yet this onus remains a terrible burden on the massively expansive nation; in 2019, estimates determined that Russia had only 4.93 infant deaths on a national scale, which is a far cry from approximately 31 out of 1,000 just slightly more than 50 years ago. While Russia’s rates have officially dropped, again buoyed by the more readily available healthcare of the larger cities like Moscow, the country’s official standing regarding the fetal mortality rate is nuanced.

However, while some facts change across the decades, other things remain the same. Available reports from all of these periods show that the nation was not infrastructurally integrated enough to sustain mothers or their children with the necessary resources, education or medical attention. Today, like in 2010, 2000 and 1970, the poorest regions in the federation, as well as within cities themselves, continue to suffer this trauma and unfair indignity at higher rates than their city-dwelling fellow citizens.

Russia: Between a Proverbial Rock and Hard Place

With sanctions against Russia omnipresent and the nation’s government itself outwardly hostile towards global nonprofits since 2012, external as well as internal human rights and advocacy groups have struggled to positively affect change. Population and Development was a Russian NGO that focused primarily on the promotion and protection of the reproductive health of Russian citizens before it shut down alongside so many others. The United States Agency for International Development, which has previously invested time and energy towards the betterment of Russian society through education and health initiatives, has had limited power and prestige in Russia in the years since 2012, as the country kicked it out in September of that year. Vladimir Putin’s government’s newest crackdown in April 2021 has left still fewer external or internal options for advocates to effectively affect positive change across the society, apart from the World Bank.

While the Russian government has largely discontinued or silenced internal and external assistance, cooperation with the World Bank has continued and might be the surest recourse for the fetal mortality rate in Russia. While Vladimir Putin has said that “Russia’s fate and its historic prospects depend on how many of us there are…,” his government alone has not been up to fixing all that ails the nation’s fetal mortality rate, and so continues to place its population in the most dangerous of positions. On the other hand, since 1992, the World Bank has been helping the Russian Federation advance the internal dynamics of their nation, from the hard and soft infrastructure necessary to producing stable economic circumstances to the education and resources necessary to create healthy environments for mothers to have, and then subsequently care for, their children.

Helping Russia

In such an unforgiving natural environment, the people require all of the help they can to sustain themselves and their families from generation to generation. Ultimately, organizations like the United Nations, USAID, Population and Development and other organizations can still help Russia with its poverty and fetal mortality rate, should they only receive the chance to do so once again.

– Trent Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Drones Protect Botswana's MothersChildbirth in Botswana carries high risks, especially because remoteness threatens safe deliveries for women. If complications arise, it can take hours to transport patients to adequate medical facilities. The lengthy travel time to get medical assistance can prove lethal. In response, the U.N. devised a solution involving drone technology. Drones protect Botswana’s mothers by delivering essential medical supplies. Excessive bleeding is a primary cause of maternal mortality and medical drones can now deliver blood to women who need it. In May 2021, Botswana became the third African nation to implement the Drones For Health project in order to improve maternal health.

Botswana’s Maternal Mortality Rate

Prior to Botswana’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, the country had one of the highest poverty rates in the world. Since then, abundant resources and an adept government significantly reduced poverty. Botswana is now considered an upper-middle-income country. However, childbirth risks remain high. Botswana’s 2019 maternal mortality rate was 166 deaths per 100,000 births.

While the worldwide maternal mortality rate dropped by nearly half from 1990 to 2010, progress has been slower in many sub-Saharan African countries. Through projects like Drones For Health, Botswana works toward a 2025 goal of reducing its maternal mortality rate to 71 deaths per 100,000 births.

How Maternal Mortality Impacts Poverty

Maternal mortality harshly impacts poverty as a mother is often a central figure in a household and in society, taking on multiple functions and responsibilities. Surviving children often drop out of school in order to fulfill household obligations or take on employment to compensate for lost household income due to a mother’s death. Children without mothers often have deficient health outcomes because they are less likely to be immunized and often do not receive adequate healthcare when sick. Furthermore, due to the severe economic challenges of losing a mother, some young girls are forced to marry early.

The Drones For Health Initiative

Botswanan academics and government officials worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to put the Drones For Health initiative in motion. The medical drones have launch pads in four locations across the country, all situated next to healthcare facilities. The drones protect Botswana’s mothers by completing quick deliveries of blood. As long as the cargo is less than two kilograms, the drones can also carry medications and other medical supplies. Medical drones are also able to bypass infrastructure limitations such as uneven roads or missing bridges. These barriers prevent land-based vehicles from delivering blood to remote areas. In addition to providing a life-saving service, the battery-powered drones cause much less pollution than a land vehicle making the same trip.

Poverty is the main predictor of women’s endangerment during deliveries. Without traveling to medical facilities or hiring a midwife, childbirth becomes exponentially more difficult and risky. Botswana’s medical drone project exemplifies the benefits of creative and tech-savvy strategies to reduce maternal mortality.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Unsplash

Fashion can Contribute to PovertyFashion can contribute to poverty, but it is also a powerful force that lifts women out of poverty as it has stirred up a feminist movement. Brands that provide a living wage for female garment workers empower them to lead dignified lives. Additionally, these fashion brands give women access to a fair supply chain, proper work and fair wages. As a result, fashion consumers that support ethical fashion brands help advocate for women’s rights through their shopping decisions.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement supports women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. One example of the feminist movement in the fashion industry is the production of t-shirts with feminist quotes. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by Bangladeshi garment workers. However, Oxfam reported that same year that no Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. These workers received 35 pence an hour during 54-hour workweeks, amounting to about £82, which is well below the living wage estimate. This is a clear example of how fashion can contribute to global poverty.

Fast Fashion

Fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing produced by garment workers all over the globe. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks. This is equal to 10 to 18 hours per day for wages that are two to five times less than what is needed to live sufficiently. In addition, the majority of profits made from fast fashion are paid to top fashion CEOs. In fact, Oxfam states that CEOs earn in four days what a garment worker will make in one lifetime.

Brands that pay garment workers a living wage allow employees to afford essential needs, such as housing, food, transportation, education and savings. In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia stated that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also found that increasing the cost of clothing by $0.20 would ensure Indian garment workers earn a living wage.

SOKO: Ethical Fashion

SOKO empowers garment workers by addressing the most vital human rights abuse in the fashion industry: the non-payment of a living wage. This women-led, ethical jewelry brand produces collections made by more than 2,300 independent Kenyan artisans. SOKO’s virtual manufacturing platform connects with a global marketplace to receive orders and payments. By leveraging technology, artisans earn five times more with SOKO compared to an average artisan workplace. In addition, this U.N.-endorsed brand guarantees workers freedom and sovereignty by limiting artisans’ work to 50% or less of their total capacity. As a result, SOKO artisans have experienced a 12% increase in average artisan income, and SOKO’s sales have impacted 11,400 beneficiaries.

Empowering Girls and Women

The U.N. reports that investing in girls and women helps improve their livelihoods in the long term. Moreover, studies from the World Bank show that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family’s needs, provide care for their family and send their children to school. This helps improve the lives of children and women all over the world. Empowering women also leads to reduced maternal and child mortality levels. When garment workers can afford to send their children to school, economic growth improves and poverty decreases.

The lives of underpaid garment workers are a testament to how fashion can contribute to poverty. Brands that support their garment workers contribute to the feminist movement. Brands support the movement by investing in female education, providing living wages, establishing safe working conditions and empowering workers. Consumers can support the movement by supporting ethical brands that strive to uplift the garment workers making their clothing.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Alliance for Affordable InternetAs social distancing measures and lockdowns isolated people, the internet helped keep communities connected and functioning. Households ordered groceries online, adults telecommuted to work and students attended school via distance learning. The internet asserted itself as a necessary utility. However, affordable internet access is far from universal. The United Nations has partnered with the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) to address this by increasing affordable internet access in developing countries as a means of reducing global poverty.

The UN Partners With A4AI

On January 26, 2021, the U.N. Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) announced its partnership with the Alliance for Affordable Internet. The Technology Bank works on a regional and national level to help countries identify and utilize relevant technology and foster partnerships to advance economic development. A4AI advocates and researches policy and regulatory reform with the aim of increasing affordable internet access worldwide. Together, the organizations are using their connections to build an even stronger and more influential network.

The Benefits of Internet Access

The partnership is timely as the COVID-19 pandemic, despite its negative impact, has opened policymakers’ minds to new strategies for reaching the 2030 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs wrote in its 2021 World Social Report that efforts to improve internet access are high-priority because the connectivity will help achieve multiple Sustainable Development Goals at once.

The report notes that increased internet accessibility has started to shift economic dynamics between rural and urban areas. The internet has enabled rural inhabitants to pursue traditionally urban work opportunities through remote work. Using the internet, “E-commerce makes it possible for goods and services to be sourced and provided directly in rural communities.” Farmers and other business owners can receive mobile payments and access mobile financial services. This urbanization defies traditional migration patterns, thus allowing rural communities to improve their quality of life more sustainably.

The report describes affordable internet access as necessary infrastructure, similar to roads and bridges. Without reliable internet, rural populations will be unable to partake in technological and economic innovation. This is why policymakers must tackle regulation and implementation of broadband infrastructure, including cables and satellites.

A4AI 2021 Strategy

A4AI emphasizes networking and knowledge-sharing in its 2021 plan for increasing affordable internet access. The plan features four strategic focuses.

  1. Advocate for Cost-Effective and Meaningful Connectivity: A4AI advocates for affordable internet access at the regional, national and international levels, partly through knowledge-sharing programs. The programs share resources and tools for the adoption and implementation of affordable internet policy with policymakers and other stakeholders. However, knowledge-sharing efforts go both ways. A4AI seeks to learn from the experiences of others as much as it seeks to recruit new partners to its cause.
  2. Boost Country and Regional Engagements: A4AI uses its partnerships to promote policy and regulatory reform on a regional level. Its flexible coalition model emphasizes “bottom-up policy change” in currently engaged countries. A4AI will tackle policy issues such as taxation, rural broadband and infrastructure sharing. A4AI seeks to broadcast past regional successes as an advocacy strategy. With the help of partners such as Smart Africa, A4AI will promote similar policy reforms elsewhere in respective regions. Partner organizations, like the Women’s Rights Online network, help A4AI promote a gender-inclusive policy framework. Expert and stakeholder input on policy across sectors is an overall priority.
  3. Develop and Democratize Knowledge: A4AI strives to produce evidence-based research focusing on “affordable access, meaningful access and sustainable access.” Research efforts include monitoring internet access and innovations in affordable internet policy worldwide. Sustainable access is a new focus for A4AI. It seeks to examine affordable internet access in the context of climate change and sustainability.
  4. Strengthen A4AI Engagements and Strategic Collaborations: A4AI boasts more than 100 members with whom it seeks to deepen its partnerships through greater technical assistance and other complementary opportunities. This includes a study in conjunction with the Internet Society Foundation on “the economic impact of the digital gender divide on digital economies.”

Looking Forward

The pandemic reinforced the importance of universal internet accessibility in the 21st century. As a result, A4AI and its partners increased advocacy efforts on the benefits of internet access to policymakers worldwide. In order to close the digital and economic divides between developed and developing economies and between rural and urban areas, the Alliance for Affordable Internet aims to achieve universal internet access.

– Mckenzie Howell
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Finland
The United Nations has ranked Finland as one of the happiest countries on earth for the last eight years. Praised around the world for its low inequality, high employment rate, successful education system and overall high living standards, it is hard to believe that poor mental health is something that plagues the small Nordic country. Here is some information about mental health in Finland.

Mental Health in Finland

Mental illness affects roughly one in every five Finnish people. This is higher than the European average and has a particular effect on the country’s younger population. Due to the country’s global reputation as the happiest country on earth, young people feel less inclined to speak up about their struggles, some even feel that their struggles are invalid due to where they live.

Mental health in Finland is not a new issue. The country dealt with dramatically high suicide rates in the 80s and 90s. This led to the creation of the National Suicide Prevention Project in 1986. The Project focused on preventing suicide by strengthening mental health services throughout the country, educating the media on reporting suicides and improving public conversation on mental health. The project was extremely successful as the country’s suicide rates decreased by 50% since 1990.

Although the country’s approach to mental health improved over the last four decades, people in Finland continue to suffer. Fear of stigmatization regarding mental health is increasing as others continue to paint the country as the land of no worries. Officials recognize this growing issue and have proposed a new Suicide Prevention Plan for 2020-2030. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare partnered with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to create a list of objectives for the coming decade. Here is a list of its objectives.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s List of Objectives

  1. Raising Awareness: The Finnish government aims to raise awareness about mental health and improve public dialogue by training community members to break down prejudices and provide suicide prevention education to the general public. Trained community members would include teachers, police officers, social workers, school counselors, youth workers, pastors and more.
  2. Reduced Accessibility to Means of Suicide: This objective includes improved planning of infrastructure including buildings, bridges and railways to include suicide preventative architecture. This objective also focuses on creating regulation for the storage of toxic substances, prescription drugs and firearms.
  3. Early Intervention: The Finnish government has put particular emphasis on the importance of addressing mental health during the early stages. This objective focuses on improving telephone helplines to be more inclusive. It also will create online help-centers and offer better educational support to those experiencing non-emergency effects of mental illness.
  4. Inclusivity for High-Risk Groups: This objective aims to create suicide prevention programs that are specific to high-risk groups, including the LGBTQ+ community, those living in poverty, asylum seekers, indigenous people, those suffering from substance abuse and victims of violence. The goal is to make individuals feel heard instead of creating blanketed campaigns that do not address any specific issues.
  5. Improved care options. This objective focuses on Finland’s healthcare system and the care options given to those suffering from mental illness. This includes advancements in online outreach programs and training for healthcare providers to identify signs of mental illness. Furthermore, it establishes emergency care for those at risk of committing suicide and assistance for families affected by suicide.

Mental health in Finland is a serious issue. It cannot afford to be brushed off by the reputation of the happiest country on earth. The Finnish Government does not wish to hide the country’s problems behind this title. It would rather live up to it. Through this new program, the people of Finland anticipate a more inclusive future and a public conversation that embraces the ups and downs of mental health instead of ignoring them.

– Kendall Couture
Photo: Flickr

Smart Farms Fiji
27-year-old Rinesh Sharma is the man behind the Smart Farms Fiji initiative, which aims to combat food scarcity and malnutrition across Fiji. The idea came from his family’s experiences that were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their diet growing up contained few vegetables and fruits because his parents could not regularly afford them.

This is a shared experience across much of Fiji. High food prices have led to high rates of food scarcity and malnutrition. Access to nutritious food supplies has only worsened since the pandemic, as people have lost their jobs and are left with little money to purchase expensive fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, COVID-19 halted or seriously limited food transportation. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to ensure everyone across Fiji has access to nutritious vegetables and fruits. It also wants the population to have a consistent supply of food to put on the table.

Hydroponic Farming

To begin with, Sharma conceptualized a large-scale hydroponic farming system. Hydroponic farming is a method of growing plants without soil, growing them directly in nutrient-rich water. Hydroponic farming helps plants absorb nutrients at a faster rate, which means quicker, easier and more reliable harvests. This allows more people easy and quick access to more crops and reduces food scarcity and malnutrition. Sharma was granted $20,000 in financial assistance from the government, which allowed him to invest and incorporate hydroponic systems into larger commercial farms across Fiji.

Since the pandemic, the main focus has been on a more localized and accessible supply of food and farming resources. Within the initiative, Sharma has created an at-home hydroponic kit. The kit contains 15 seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, kale, mint, basil and others. It also includes a water tank, net cups, soil nutrient solutions and a step-by-step guide. These kits have been sold and donated across Fiji and provide a local, continuous, reliable and easy source of nutritious food for many families who are struggling to put food on the table.

Reducing Hunger

Energy poverty is common on islands in the Pacific because many people live in remote areas without access to electricity. The Smart Farms Fiji initiative ensures that being remote does not hinder access to food. The at-home hydroponic kits are electricity-free to ensure all inhabitants have access to adequate and nutritious food supplies.

Furthermore, U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 2 is the main objective of Smart Farms Fiji and the reason Rinesh Sharma began the initiative. So far the initiative is having success, as it has helped Fijian families access steady and reliable supplies of healthy food that is full of the nutrition they need to continue to prosper. After only a month since the conception of the at-home hydroponic kits, the initiative deployed 15 kits and conducted 15 educational classes for households. It is well on its way to ensuring local food security.

Influence on Poverty and Education

One of the key points of concern when conceptualizing the initiative was the pesticides used in typical farming practices. Sharma saw how much traditional farming harmed coastal towns that rely on local fishing to earn their wages. The pesticide runoffs harm marine life that coastal workers needed to survive. In response, Smart Farms Fiji aims to promote pesticide-free farming that will help these coastal communities out of poverty and give them thriving business opportunities.

Sharma has also continued to expand his initiative through education. He has held classes with local communities that have at-home hydroponic kits, educating them about more sustainable subsistence farming and how to get the best out of their crops. Additionally, he has regularly attended schools and colleges where he has discussed with students everything from leadership, entrepreneurship and how students can contribute to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. He wants to inspire and mobilize the next generation to use their education to change the world by combatting poverty, food scarcity and malnutrition.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Fashion IndustryFashion as a feminist movement is a powerful force to lift women out of poverty. Brands that provide their female garment workers a living wage empower them to lead a dignified life. Fashion consumers advocate for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes through ethically produced clothing. Consumer brand choices have the power to uplift ethical brands that support labor sustainability and female garment workers experiencing oppression. Considering these facts, poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement means supporting women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. They produce the t-shirts with feminist quotes found in stores all over the globe. However, in 2019, Oxfam reported that 1% of Vietnamese garment workers and 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by underpaid female Bangladeshi garment workers. These workers earned 35p an hour during 54-hour workweeks amounting to 8,800 takas — well below the living wage estimate of 16,000 takas. Furthermore, the workers were exposed to harassment and abuse. The business practices of fast fashion brands highlight the imbalance between the feminist movement, consumer actions and the grim reality of garment workers.

The Feminist Movement and Fast Fashion

Fashion brands are a powerful force in ending cycles of poverty. But, fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing made by overworked and underpaid garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks for seven days a week, ranging from 10-18 hours a day. On average, the wages paid are two to five times less than what is needed for a worker and her family to live above the poverty line. The Juniper Research study predicts that online shopping fueled by COVID-19 will increase fashion sales to $4.4 trillion by 2025. Top fashion CEOs earn in four days what garment workers spend their whole life trying to make. The unfortunate truth is that fast fashion has made the richest men in the world at the expense of the most vulnerable women.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia reported that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. In other words, a living wage and fair working conditions are reasonable consumer expectations. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also reported that increasing the cost of clothing by 20 cents would allow Indian garment workers to earn a living wage. By investing more in clothing production, brands and consumers can support the global development of garment workers. This will allow workers and their families to invest in education, healthcare and their local community.

Ethical Fashion

Garment workers employed at ethical brands are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and are treated fairly. On the other hand, fast fashion workers face gender discrimination through mandatory pregnancy tests, abuse and sexual harassment. Fashion as a feminist movement has the power to address the main human rights abuse in the industry — the non-payment of a living wage.

Female empowerment is a catalyst for prosperity. The United Nations reports that investing in the education of girls and women helps global transformation. It contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty through increased productivity and improves health outcomes. Studies have shown that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family size, provide better care to their family and send their children to school.

However, poverty is an important factor in whether girls and women obtain an education. Without a living wage, poverty-stricken workers cannot afford to send their children to school and the cycle of poverty continues. Education has the power to help improve the lives of women and reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Therefore, education for girls fosters the development and empowerment of women.

Moving Forward

Poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue. Brands that invest in the talented and skilled female workforce acknowledge that living wages empower women and their local communities. Garment workers need to be placed at the forefront of the industry to negotiate better pay and working conditions. Being in leadership roles ensures that fashion as a feminist movement represents the most vulnerable around the world. The fashion industry and consumers have the power to help end global poverty, improve access to education and empower women through conscious consumerism.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Prickly PearThe opuntia, better known as the prickly pear, could be the key to food security in the world’s most arid countries, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This statement is born from the results of a five-year study conducted by the University of Nevada, Reno. The study sought to examine the potential benefits of cultivating the prickly pear on a mass scale. Many people who live in rural areas consider this cactus to be little more than a formidable and even dangerous weed. It proliferates easily, is difficult to uproot and poses a threat to livestock who can injure themselves and their digestive systems on the sharp spines. However, the FAO believes the benefits can outweigh the downsides. Here is why this international humanitarian organization thinks the prickly pear is fundamental in the fight for food security.

Resistance to Drought and Heat

The study states that the prickly pear requires up to 80% less water than crops such as corn, rice and soy. Additionally, those crops have upper-temperature limits, whereas the prickly pear is able to grow in extreme heat. Africa’s largest country, Algeria, is classified as being around 80% arid or semi-arid, which leaves its population of more than 43 million vulnerable to food insecurity. In 2013, the country formed a cooperative of farmers, scientists and traders to begin cultivating the prickly pear. For this project, they consulted with Mexico, whose people and ancestors have ample experience with the cactus.

The cooperative built its first processing factory in 2015. The factory produces oil that is exported to France, Germany and Qatar. Since then, the enterprise has steadily grown. The cooperative built another factory in 2018 and plans to begin exporting its goods to the United States.

Can be Used as a Biofuel

The primary crops grown for biofuels are corn, sugar cane, soybean and palm oil, which comprise 97% of the biofuel industry. Sugar cane and corn require three to six times more water than the prickly pear, though they produce the same amount of energy. When grown as biofuel, corn, sugar cane, soy and palm oil crops can only be used for that very purpose. In contrast, farmers can first harvest the prickly pear for food before its waste-product is converted into fuel. It’s a circular system versus a linear system. When it comes to the question of the prickly pear as the key to food security, this distinction makes all the difference.

Food for Humans and Livestock

The prickly pear borders on being a superfood. It’s rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. It contains antioxidants and is anti-viral and anti-inflammatory. For animals, the plant’s pads, or “nopales,” contain nearly 80% water, making them ideal feed for livestock. It can also be prepared in countless ways, though many people around the globe are unfamiliar with its myriad of uses.

Eritrea, a northeast African country is a prime example of this missed opportunity. Here, they sell the prickly pear on roadsides and in marketplaces alongside more popular fruits such as bananas, guavas and oranges. However, the Eritrean people, who regularly face food shortages, are largely unfamiliar with the number of ways the plant can be consumed. As a result, it has yet to be cultivated on a mass scale. Nearly all of the prickly pears that are brought to market are harvested from wild cacti.

Can Function as a Carbon Sink

One of the strongest arguments for the prickly pear as the key to food security is its function as a “carbon sink.” The fruit grows in areas where other plant life can not be established and then captures excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Cultivated on a mass scale, this could lead to lower temperatures and more rainfall, thus decreasing the number of droughts that threaten food security worldwide.

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

In 2015, Madagascar faced a drought-induced famine. The lack of rain laid waste to their chief crops, including rice, cassava and sweet potatoes. Desperate for nourishment, many turned to the prickly pear, which was then regarded as a weed. The FAO points to the plant’s usefulness during the direst conditions as proof of the potential benefits of cultivating it on a larger scale. Droughts have continued to plague the people of Madagascar, with approximately one million inhabitants living on the brink of famine. The continued suffering of those living in the world’s most precarious conditions underscores the need for attainable, wholesale solutions. The FAO believes one such solution, agriculture or “green gold,” is well within reach.

– Greg Fortier
Photo: Flickr

The Aama ProgramMaternal health is a pressing issue in developing countries as they often lack infrastructure and facilities to adequately care for pregnant women. Women often lack the incentive to use health service centers and choose to rather give birth at home, resulting in high maternal mortality rates. In Nepal, attempts to remedy this issue have led to a cash transfer scheme, which seeks to encourage pregnant women to use medical facilities to give birth by giving them a certain amount of cash to do so. Known as the Aama (or mother) program, the initiative aims to address Nepal’s poor maternal health by making sure that more births are overseen by health professionals.

Overview of Maternal Health in Nepal

Nepal’s healthcare system has long suffered from neglect due to civil strife and political instability. Despite this, it has seen an improvement in maternal health over the past few decades as more government attention has been spent toward this end. The country has received praise from the United Nations for its efforts in reducing its maternal mortality rate by almost three-quarters between the years 1990 and 2015, reflecting the government’s commitment to addressing the issue.

These developments can be attributed in part to improvements in infrastructure and education, as better infrastructure makes health facilities more accessible and higher levels of education raise awareness of medical issues. Additionally, government programs were implemented to assist Nepali women in receiving better healthcare and offset potential costs of doing so. These smaller programs, which were consolidated in the Aama program in 2009, have been an important aspect of Nepal’s attempt to improve maternal health.

The Aama Program

Predecessors to the Aama program were formed to address the issue of maternal health in Nepal. In 2005, the Safe Delivery Incentive Programme (SDIP) was introduced to pay pregnant women to use public health facilities to give birth. These payments vary based on region, reflecting the fact that women in remote parts of the country incur additional costs to access quality healthcare. As a result, women in the Himalayan regions of the country receive 1,500 rupees as these areas have a difficult terrain, and therefore, more costs are involved to reach medical facilities. Those in the middle hill regions receive 1,000 rupees because the terrain is still quite challenging. Those in the southern plains region receive 500 rupees as the land in this area is flat and easy to manage.

In 2009, the program was renamed the Aama program while a provision was added to provide reimbursement to health facilities and any costs associated with delivery services were removed. Finally, the program was further amended in 2012 to provide cash incentives for women to complete at least four antenatal care visits.

Since the inception of the program in 2005, there has been an increase in the usage of medical facilities to give birth. A study from 2005-2009 shows how this increase can be seen throughout every region of the country. Overall, births in medical facilities have almost doubled from 2006 to 2011 with an increase from 20% to 39%.

Room for Improvement

While Nepal has seen progress in increasing the usage of health facilities to give birth, there is still room for improvement. As of 2018, 58% of women still gave birth at home, even those with knowledge of the Aama program. This discrepancy can be explained by social and economic factors. For example, women who choose to give birth at home may do so because they are not comfortable with a hospital setting. Furthermore, women who are economically disadvantaged often receive substandard care. As a result, these women may still choose to give birth at home even after receiving a cash incentive to use a medical facility.

The Aama program is a promising initiative undertaken by the Nepalese government to improve maternal health in the country. It seeks to incentivize pregnant women to use health facilities to give birth rather than giving birth at home and risking complications. While Nepal has seen a decrease in maternal mortality over the past decade, the Aama program can be expanded even further by accounting for the various socio-economic issues women face.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr