Sierra Leonean Women

Sierra Leone’s education disparity is affecting the quality and accessibility of reproductive healthcare. Low education parallels with the inaccessibility of contraception, consultations and health facilities. Contraception usage, like injectables and the pill, is six times higher among wealthy Sierra Leonean women. Early childbearing before the age of 18 among poor women is 58 percent, as opposed to 29 percent for their wealthy counterparts. The total fertility rate among poor Sierra Leonean women is about twice that of wealthy women with a higher education.

Sierra Leone’s underdeveloped reproductive healthcare access also puts its adolescent women at risk. Young women between the ages of 15 and 19 are at a greater risk of infant and child mortality, as well as high risks of morbidity and mortality for the young mother.

Additionally, 28 percent of poor Sierra Leonean women give birth unaccompanied by health personnel, as opposed to the 78 percent of their rich counterparts accompanied by health personnel during childbirth. The reason for this, the World Bank logged, is that 89 percent of women experience at least one problem accessing healthcare, 80 percent lack sufficient funds for treatment and 53 percent live too far from health facilities to travel to.

Mary Turey, a maternal health promoter in Kamalo village in Sierra Leone’s Northern Bombali District, has acknowledged the proximity issue. She and other villagers offer a room in their homes for women traveling long distances to health facilities to stay safely overnight. Turey provides women with essential information about pregnancy and refers them to nearby health centers. In 2014, she and her fellow villagers referred 3,862 pregnant Sierra Leonean women to health facilities, where they were able to give birth safely.

In terms of policy and legislation, USAID created the Child Survival and Health Grants Program – dubbed ‘Al Pikin fo Liv’ or ‘Every Child Must Live’ – in order to carry out the goal of ending preventable neonatal and maternal deaths. Its partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, academia and ministries of health have trained 1,300 health workers and peer supervisors, developing and enhancing the quality of care at health units for procedures across the board. The Child Survival and Health Grants Program has improved the health of more than 36,000 children and 37,000 women in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Tiffany Teresa Santos

Photo: Flickr

There are many different women in the world facing many different issues. Even within the same country, women will face different struggles among one another. Feminism must represent and hold space for every woman.

Postcolonial feminism acknowledges the role of colonization and globalization. The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes the theory as insisting “that it is impossible to understand local practices in developing countries without acknowledging the ways in which these practices have been shaped by their economic and historical contexts, particularly their connection to Western colonialism and imperialism.”

With that in mind, here are two leading global feminists you should know about.

Malala Yousafzai
Yousafzai, the winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize at 17 years old, is an activist advocating for the rights of young women to receive an education. Growing up in Pakistan in the midst of the war with the Taliban, Yousafzai stood up to them as they took away her right to education. She was displaced within the country, and when she had the opportunity to return, she campaigned once again for her education rights. On her way home from school one day, the Taliban stopped her bus and shot her. She was later airlifted to England. Upon recovery, Yousafzai spoke at the U.N., published a book, and has won multiple awards. She founded the Malala Fund, an organization empowering girls through education.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Originally from Nigeria, Adichie is extremely well known for her writing. She moved to the U.S. to attend college and has since published many pieces. Adichie has also won a variety of awards placing her on the The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year for her novel Americanah. Her writing explores the intersections of race and identity — the need for a fairer world. She also gave a TED talk titled, “We Should All Be Feminists”, which can be found in a print version.

These two leading global feminists are making huge strides in the international women’s movement for equality.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

Burkina Faso_Merriage
In Burkina Faso, forced marriage is a frequent occurrence, especially for girls of a very young age. Over 52 percent of women in the country are married before the age of 18 and 10 percent are married before the age of 15. Forced marriage often puts girls in jeopardy of increasing health resources and losing access to education.

Child marriage rates vary throughout the country but can be as high as 86 percent in some regions. The practice is connected to both poverty and tradition. There are also tangible links to lack of education, with girls being more at risk for child marriage if they are less educated.

Forced marriage in Burkina Faso is technically illegal, but the law is rarely enforced. It does not prevent traditional or religious marriages, which creates a loophole in the law, causing many girls to be forced into marriage. The law also defines a lower legal marriage age for girls than boys. Girls can legally marry at age 17 and boys at age 20. Many girls are married before age 17, despite the current laws in place to prevent the practice.

Girls as young as 11 can be forced into marriage. This equates to a huge age difference between a young girl and her male spouse. The gap can vary from 30 to 50 years. In many cases, these men are engaging in polygamy and already have one or more wives.

Forced marriage is usually motivated by economic or social incentives. Sometimes marriage is promised at birth or during early childhood, often including a dowry from the husband’s family that consists of money or land.

Risks Associated with Forced Marriage

There are numerous health risks for young girls that are forced into marriage. Women are expected to bear children at the husband’s discretion, which can be extremely unsafe at such a young age. Complications during pregnancy may cause injury or even death to the young mother. Physical and sexual violence is also common among forced marriages.

Marrying early endangers girls’ futures as well. Wives are expected to perform all household chores and are often denied access to education or economic opportunity. The level of female access to education in Burkina Faso is already low, at only 64.2 percent, but girls that are forced into marriage are more likely to give up school.

Joint Efforts Toward Prevention

Burkina Faso created a “National Strategy to End Child Marriage” in 2015. The goal of the project is to reduce the occurrence of child marriage by 2025. The strategy is supported by U.N. agencies as well as political and religious leaders throughout the country. Objectives include preventing child marriage and supporting victims of child marriage.

This is a step in the right direction, but the country still has a long way to go to comply with international human rights standards.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

Women’s rights in Iraq are in danger of being further limited. A new law up for vote in the government would allow girls as young as nine to be married. The law, called the Jaafari Personal Status Law, would also require women to submit to sex with their husbands at any time. Activists throughout the world voiced their objection to the proposed law calling it a major setback for the country.

Many are concerned that this is a beginning sign of a rollback of women’s rights in Iraq. Currently, the minimum age for marriage without parental consent is 18. Girls as young as 15 are currently allowed to get married as long as they have parental consent. This law is put forth by people who base the ideology behind the legislation on the principles of a Shiite school of religious law. Basing the law on one religious affiliation may cause tension between other sects in the country.

The law does not specify a minimum age for girls to get married. Instead it is passively mentioned in the section of the law dealing with divorce. The law outlines rules for divorce for girls as young as nine years old. The law also says that nine years old is the age that girls reach puberty. Many critics of the view claim that the specified age in the divorce section mean that they intend to allow girls that are that young get married.

Sunni female lawmaker Likaa Wardi criticized the law for violating the rights of women and children, “The Jaafari law will pave the way to the establishments of courts for Shiites only, and this will force others sects to form their own courts. This move will widen the rift among the Iraqi people.” Opposition to the law has been mounting over the past couple of weeks in hopes that enough pressure can be put on the government to scrap the law.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Photo: Deccan Chronicle
The Huffington Post, The Guardian

afghanistan art gallery
Art is a powerful form of expression and has been a tool artists have used to document the world around us for ages. Created by ART WORKS Projects and co-presented by UN Women, ten international photojournalists entered the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan to document and photograph their everyday lives in a country of conflict and fear. This was their way of presenting  development through art in Afghanistan.

Behind the camera lens, these photojournalists were able to depict these women and girls by revealing the immense courage they have for strengthening women’s rights. The highlight of these photographs are representative of how much the world has changed, depicting the status of these women in focuses of healthcare, education, peace and security, and economic development.

This women’s rights focused exhibition is a powerful contribution for the celebration of International Women’s Day in March. Joining in on the exhibition includes a collection of essays and writings by journalist Elizabeth Rubin and curator Leslie Thomas.

Some of the photographers includes Jean Chung, with one of her images above, Jared Moossy, Ron Haviv, and Moises Saman are just a few of them who have their work in this gallery. The exhibition is already open for public viewing at the Rayburn Foyer in Washington, DC. For more information on the artwork and project, visit the website here.

Jada Chin

Source: UN Women