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COVID-19's Impact on Women and Poverty in CroatiaThe Republic of Croatia is a country located in Central and Southeast Europe, bordering Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia and Montenegro. Since proclaiming independence in 1991, the country introduced policies, programs and reforms to improve the quality of life of its citizens. But, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has had serious consequences for the country.

COVID-19 and Unemployment

COVID-19 devastated many countries in a social, political and economic areas. However, Croatia was particularly hit hard. Starting in 2008, the country experienced a global financial crisis that had tremendous consequences. The European Commission Autumn Economic published a report estimating a recession of approximately 9.6% GDP in 2020, nearly 7% worse than the previous year. The main reasons behind the decrease are the fall in the tourism sector, domestic consumption and eradication of exports. In addition, registered unemployment skyrocketed by 21.3% during the first year of the pandemic.

Poverty in Croatia also increased after two earthquakes in 2020 negatively impacted Croatia’s pandemic and health crisis management. In response, the European Union deployed resources for the recovery of all the member countries, especially those who also suffered natural disasters during the pandemic.

Despite this bleak outlook, an analysis by The Ministry of Finance argues for an “optimistic growth of 5%” in 2021, provided Croatia sees an increase in domestic demand and continues receiving recovery funds from the European Union.

Women and Poverty in Croatia

According to a report by the World Bank, COVID-19 is not the only factor pushing women towards poverty. Undoubtedly, women are more likely to be employed in the informal, low-skilled and part-time jobs that were hardest hit by the pandemic. In many cases, these jobs disappeared and women suffered income loss. In addition, women who lost their jobs or work at home are less likely to be guaranteed social security and health coverage by the emergency packages created since the outbreak of COVID-19. For this reason, COVID-19’s impact on women and poverty in Croatia has been severe.

Both the European Union and the World Bank are aware of the many barriers women have to overcome. In response, they created several policies to find a solution. Some of the policies include providing equal access to the labor market for all women and removing any barriers to women’s employability.

The Government Response

Croatian authorities have become aware of the extreme need to reduce poverty in Croatia, especially for women. In 2019, authorities passed a National Action Plan for Women, Peace, and Security (NAP) to be carried out until 2023. This plan aims to prevent, protect and guarantee women’s rights in the country. The policy seeks to ensure that every woman has access to education, public health and active participation in the labor market.

The NAP prioritizes nine objectives to aid in prevention, participation, protection and implementation. Among these objectives are an increase in women’s role in decision-making processes and the promotion of women’s rights in conflict settings. The NAP works on the back of previous legislation that aimed to increase women’s participation in higher education. For example, women represented 59.9% of university graduates from 2015 to 2018. The same period saw a 4% increase in women in human resources and a 2% increase in female professors.

To support women’s employment, authorities introduced legislation to improve family life through maternity and parental benefits.  For example, the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy (MDFYSP) supports projects such as lengthening daycare operations, creating alternative education programs and providing children with meals. By supporting scholarships and child care, parents have more time to dedicate to their professional careers.

Hope for the Future

In conclusion, COVID-19 drastically affected Croatia in many ways. In particular, women suffered heavy damage from the health crisis. But, the international community and the Croatian authorities stepped in to design programs and resources for the eradication of poverty. Which, if the data is any indication, has promising results for the future of poverty in Croatia.

– Cristina Alverez
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Afghanistan Period poverty in developing countries, such as Afghanistan, is a public health crisis and global poverty exacerbates the issue since it leads to individuals being unable to afford menstrual hygiene products. The American Medical Women’s Association explains period poverty as “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and educations, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management.”

Lack of Menstrual Education and School Absenteeism

Period poverty negatively impacts female education due to menstrual-related absenteeism. The Child Deprivation Analysis of 2020 indicates that “30% of girl students in Afghanistan are absent during menstruation because schools do not have adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.” Explaining the severity of girls’ school absenteeism, UNICEF says that “This, in turn, translates to significant economic losses later in life for themselves — and their nation that is deprived of their talents and productivity.” For this reason, addressing period poverty in Afghanistan essentially means “safeguarding the dignity, education and overall life opportunities of girls and women.”

With support from the Finnish government, the Ministries of Education and Rural Rehabilitation and Development and UNICEF provided menstrual education training to more than 500 female Afghan teachers. UNICEF also distributed more than 100,000 menstrual hygiene management (MHM) educational booklets to teachers and girls. In 2021, UNICEF aims to train more than “550 male and female teachers in 130 schools across Afghanistan.”

Menstrual Stigma and Health Consequences

The cultural stigma surrounding menstruation worsens period poverty in Afghanistan. The conservative culture of Afghanistan is a prevailing reason for the taboo surrounding menstruation. Whilst menstruating, women and girls are regarded as unclean and as a result, they are prohibited from engaging in certain daily activities, eating certain foods and participating in religious practices. The stigma surrounding menstruation continues to exclude and discriminate against women and girls. As a result, women and girls feel persistent shame and their daily lives are disrupted due to a natural biological function.

Period poverty also poses negative health consequences. Without access to menstrual-related information and sanitary products to properly manage menstruation, girls and women are at more risk of infection as they resort to using “potentially harmful domestic alternatives such as wood shavings, dried leaves, hay, old socks filled with sand” and more.

There are additional risks when there is limited access to clean water. The lack of clean water has the potential to lead to urinary tract infections and yeast infections, which is why some organizations are providing developing countries with menstrual hygiene management facilities to encourage better menstrual hygiene practices.

Organizations Fighting to End Period Poverty

Multiple organizations aim to alleviate the negative impacts of period poverty. For instance, Safepad hopes to empower Afghan women and schoolgirls through work opportunities and access to reusable menstrual products. Located in Kabul, Safepad provides professional training and employs Afghan women to sew, make and pack Safepad products. Safepad not only empowers Afghan women through adequate access to menstrual products but women also benefit from a reliable source of income.

UNICEF works to keep Afghan girls in school by focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. This includes ensuring access to water, constructing gender-segregated bathrooms, including “washrooms in girls’ toilets” and adding menstrual education to the school curriculum.

The Menstrual Equity for All Act

In a March 6, 2021, press release, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng urged President “Biden to take action to end period poverty.” The Menstrual Equity for All Act, reintroduced by Rep. Meng in March 2019, aims to ensure U.S. foreign assistance incorporates principles of menstrual equity. Although the Menstrual Equity for All Act did not progress any further, it conveys an important message that “Menstrual equity is the issue of ensuring equitable access to menstrual products. One’s ability to access and afford these products is a basic need and a health care right; it is a human right.”

Looking Ahead

Poverty and humanitarian crises can limit women’s and girls’ access to culturally appropriate, high-quality menstrual supplies and safe, private washing facilities. Period poverty in Afghanistan widens the gender gap, which is a result of extreme poverty and stigma. This can harm those who menstruate due to a lack of education, adequate facilities and clean water.

Access to menstrual education and products to properly manage menstruation empowers Afghan girls and women. In turn, girls and women are able to rise out of poverty as they continue their daily lives without disruption and pursue education and employment.

– Grace Watson
Photo: Flickr

Women and Children in YemenThe impacts of the war in Yemen continue to cause tremendous humanitarian suffering, with more than 24 million people in need of assistance. The persisting armed and political conflicts in Yemen have already reversed human development by 21 years, leaving around 19.9 million lacking sufficient healthcare and 16.2 million experiencing food insecurity. The humanitarian crisis disproportionately impacts women and children in Yemen as they are more vulnerable to mortality, malnutrition, violence and health issues.

Women and Children in Yemen

In 2019, more than 12 million children in Yemen needed humanitarian assistance and 2 million children were not attending school before COVID-19 even set in. In 2020, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Malnutrition analysis analyzed 133 districts in southern Yemen. The analysis reveals a 15.5% increase in young children experiencing severe acute malnutrition. This fact puts 98,000 children at risk of death unless an urgent intervention exists.

In 2018, Yemen’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) value was 0.834 compared to the world average of 0.439. This reflects the female struggle to improve well-being due to gender disparities that affect reproductive health, education, employment and more. The conflict and impact of COVID-19 in Yemen have increased food insecurity and affected nutrition and access to health services, leaving at least 250,000 pregnant or breastfeeding women requiring malnutrition care in 2020.

The crisis in Yemen has disproportionately affected women and increased their rates of poverty, hunger and displacement.

The Effects of the Crisis in Yemen on Women and Children

  • Increased gender-based violence and sexual violence.
  • Roughly 75% of the displaced population consists of women and children.
  • Increased widowhood leaving women susceptible to poverty.
  • Lack of adequate healthcare access can severely damage women’s reproductive health.
  • Increased incidents of child marriage.
  • Lack of educational access due to destroyed infrastructure and school closures.

Save the Children

Save the Children is the largest aid organization in Yemen. Its teams are assisting children in receiving essential care. The organization, which began responding to the crisis in Yemen in 2015, has provided more than 3 million children with life-saving care. The teams attend to children younger than 5 years old who are experiencing malnutrition. Save the Children also has temporary learning programs in place to address the lack of education during the conflict. The organization has also supported nearly 100,000 parents to secure the basic needs of their children.

UNICEF

UNICEF responded to the crisis in Yemen by providing physical, mental and medical health care services to children and families. In 2019, UNICEF reached more than 390,000 children and parents/guardians with psychosocial support. UNICEF also gave measles inoculations to more than 556,000 children and reached 2.3 million children under 5 with primary healthcare services.

Women, Peace and Security (WPS)

The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda aims to strengthen women’s participation, reallocate power and protect women’s rights in various countries. Women’s organizations, civil society, government agencies and U.N. entities collaborated to develop a National Action Plan (NAP) for Yemen in 2019 that aligns with the WPS Agenda to protect women and increase women’s involvement in political, economic and social expansion. The NAP should meet its goals between 2020-2022. The main objectives are:

  • Increase women’s engagement in decision-making roles.
  • Prevent violence against women and increase women’s protection from violence.
  • Provide support to girls and women affected by violations and abuse.
  • Make efforts for women’s empowerment and education.
  • Include women in humanitarian aid and relief programs.

The above organizations and strategies work to ensure the health, protection and well-being of millions of women and children in Yemen. This support can safeguard the world’s most vulnerable groups during times of crisis and conflict.

Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

 Preventing HIV in KenyaA new, injectable antiretroviral drug, cabotegravir (CAB LA), may have significant potential for preventing HIV among sub-Saharan African women. In November 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported trial results of the HIV Prevention Trials Network Study (HPTN 084), testing the use and effectiveness of CAB LA in preventing HIV among more than 3,200 HIV-negative, sexually active women across east and southern Africa. This drug could significantly lower prevalence rates and help in preventing HIV in Kenya, which has one of the largest HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world.

Cabotegravir or CAB LA

CAB LA, a long-acting pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) regimen, requires an injection only every eight weeks and has been shown to be 89% more effective in preventing HIV than taking a daily oral antiretroviral PrEP, a generic pill currently marketed as Truvada.

Kenya’s HIV Epidemic

The first case of HIV in Kenya appeared in 1984. By 1990, HIV was one of the leading causes of illness in the country. At its highest point, more than three million Kenyans lived with AIDS. Since then, the government of Kenya decreased the prevalence of HIV from its 10.5% peak in 1996 to 5.6% in 2012. By 2019, the prevalence rate was 4.5% in adults aged 15-49. However, certain vulnerable populations within Kenya are more at risk of getting HIV, such as women. Males have an estimated prevalence rate of 4.5% while the rate for females is 5.2%. Among youth aged between 15 and 24 years old, boys have a prevalence rate of 1.34% compared to girls at 2.61%.

The only option for preventing HIV in Kenya is a daily PrEP pill called Truvada. The government of Kenya first approved oral PrEP for country-wide distribution in 2015, and since 2017, has scaled up the distribution throughout Kenya. However, of the 1.5 million Kenyans living with HIV, only 26,098 (1.7%) are currently on PrEP.

Though 72% of the population had been tested for HIV, only 70% had been tested more than once. Frequent testing, at least once a year if sexually active or at least every six months if part of a particularly vulnerable population, is vital to giving care and treatment for at-risk groups.

The Potential of CAB LA for Preventing HIV in Kenya

  1. The HPTN study reported that CAB LA is nine times more effective in preventing HIV in Kenya than the Truvada pill, the current form of PrEP. The PrEP pill is only effective if taken daily and is not a standalone prevention method for other STIs or unplanned pregnancies. The new drug also does not require other forms of protection, such as condoms.
  2. This drug gives vulnerable populations more HIV options for preventing HIV in Kenya. Vulnerable populations include sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, youth and women. These vulnerable populations face stigma, which affects their ability to access PrEP pills. Because the injection is needed only once every two months, the increased discretion and ease of the infrequent injection may increase its use and thus increase the protection of those who need it.
  3. Discretion in use of the drug may be able to reach more women specifically. In combination with the stigma attached to HIV, women in Kenya face discrimination in terms of access to education, employment and healthcare. As a result, men often dominate sexual relationships, with women not always able to practice safer sex, even when they know they should. For example, in 2014, 35% of adult women (aged 15-49) who were or had been married had experienced spousal violence and 14% had experienced sexual violence. Women in Kenya find it especially difficult to take a daily pill, which significantly reduces the effectiveness of the medicine. Only 68% of Kenyan women have access to antiretroviral pills.

Though not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the developer of the drug, ViiV Healthcare, expects cabotegravir to be ready for the market by early 2021.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

How the Haya Joint Programme is Reducing Violence Against Women in PalestineThe Haya Joint Programme, in partnership with United Nations efforts, is working to reduce violence against women in the West Bank and Gaza strip. A vital resource protecting women and girls, the program works towards achieving gender equality for generations to come.

Program Background

The Haya Joint Programme is a Palestinian human rights program aimed at ending violence against women through education and intervention. The program is funded by the government of Canada and works with a variety of United Nations organizations, such as U.N. Women, U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime and U.N. Population Fund. The Haya Joint Programme also works with Palestinian law enforcement and government agencies to implement their efforts at local levels.

The program seeks to change existing attitudes about gender violence through community education. They accomplish this by teaching teachers intervention techniques for those facing domestic violence. Furthermore, the program pushes for essential legislative change to provide further legal protection for women.

Forensic Training for Gender Violence Justice

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports that an overwhelming number of women have experienced violence by a partner. This emotional and physical hardship has directly affected over half of all women in the Gaza strip and 30% of women who have ever married in the West Bank. Only 1% ever reported these events to law enforcement.

In a press release on January 5, 2021, UN Women announced their collaboration with the Haya Joint Programme. The release indicated a plan to increase forensic science training at the West Bank’s only forensic lab for cases of domestic violence. Training includes instruction of lab equipment, preserving crime scene evidence and forming opinion evidence on behalf of gender violence survivors. In the last year alone, the lab assisted on 1,690 cases to present forensic evidence in court.

Moreover, this training aids in the identification and prosecution of perpetrators in cases of sexual assault and homicide. Police, crime scene and family protection officers also received training for handling and preserving crime scenes through this program.

Training for Teacher Intervention

Another crucial aspect of the Haya Joint Programme is to increase education and awareness surrounding gender and domestic violence. They conduct training courses for teachers on topics related to intervention and legal rights for women and girls in Palestine.

In the last year, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights held multiple training sessions with the Haya Joint Programme for educators teaching in United Nations Relief and Works agency schools in the Gaza strip. The training sessions include lessons on how teachers can recognize gender violence among students, and provide counseling and other resource referrals to those who need it. Teachers also learn about women’s legal rights in instances of violence, and what courses of legal action they can take.
The program has had to adapt to COVID-19 precautions in the last year but conducted their training sessions on Zoom during November and December. These sessions were still widely attended by 129 teachers, and 103 attendees were females.

A Global Issue

The Haya Joint Programme notes that these efforts to diminish violence against women are in alignment with the United Nations Sustainability Goals for 2030. Goal 5 is to reach gender equality by working to increase women’s education, increasing women in government positions and reducing domestic violence.

With 1 in 5 women experiencing intimate partner violence every year, initiatives like the Haya Joint Programme are essential. Thankfully, this organization is attempting to cut down on these offenses by supporting women and girls who deserve justice. The Haya Joint Programme focuses on core problems by working directly on things like obtaining legal rights and changing attitudes. As its efforts are paramount to Palestine’s prosperity, the program looks toward a successful future.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Suaahara II ProjectIn Nepal, 36% of children who are under the age of five remain underdeveloped in terms of growth and health despite progress in recent years. Through cooperation with USAID, the Nepalese Government and local private sector groups, Hellen Keller International (HKI) has provided impactful services that have helped rectify the systematic obstacles causing these health issues. Hellen Keller International is a non-profit organization that aims to reduce malnutrition. The Suaahara II project takes a pivotal role in these efforts.

What is the Suaahara II Project?

One of HKI’s most notable services is the Suaahara II project, which started in 2016 and was initially set to end in 2021. However, it will now extend to March 2023 due to COVID-19. Operating in 42 of Nepal’s districts with a $63 million budget, HKI partnered with these six organizations for the project:

  • Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc. (CARE)
  • Family Health International 360 (FHI 360)
  • Environmental and Public Health Organization (ENPHO)
  • Equal Access Nepal (EAN)
  • Nepali Technical Assistance Group (NTAG)
  • Vijaya Development Resource Center (VDRC)

Hellen Keller International’s primary role in the Suaahara II project deals with the technical assistance of child and maternal nutrition. This means that its tasks are oriented around building the skills and knowledge of health workers. This includes teaching health workers how to adequately measure and evaluate assessments; additionally, another technical facet relies on promoting governance that invests in nutrition.

A Multi-Sectoral Approach

Kenda Cunningham, a senior technical adviser for Suaahara II who works under HKI, told The Borgen Project that the Suaahara II consortium has taken a “multi-sectoral approach.” She believes in the importance of this as it pushes individuals to “learn and think beyond their sector.” The Suaahara II Project’s demonstrates its integrated strategy in the initiatives below:

  1. The WASH program focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene through WASHmarts, which are small shops dispersed across districts that sell sanitary products like soap and reusable sanitary pads. Kenda explained how this has helped “bridge a gap” so that poorer households can access hygiene enhancing products. This also allows assistance from private actors, who can expand their markets in rural areas.
  2. The Homestead Food Production program (HFP) encourages households to grow and produce micronutrient-rich foods through vegetable gardening and raising chickens, for example. As a result, 35 districts have institutionalized HFP groups.
  3. The Bhancchin Aama Radio Program is a phone-in radio program that runs twice every week. It hosts discussions among marginalized communities and demonstrations for cooking nutritious foods. It has encouraged the Nepalese to socially and behaviorally alter their health habits.

Advancements from Suaahara I

The Suaahara II project’s contribution to improved health and nutrition in Nepal is also illustrated in its progression from the Suaahara I project’s framework. In addition to understanding the changes made in household systems and at a policy level from Suaahara I, Cunningham told The Borgen Project that technological developments have elevated the Suaahara II Project’s impact in Nepal.

Specifically, smartphones expedite the data collection process when studying trends pertaining to the 2 million households across the districts. The development of new apps provided more households with access to smartphones and key information. This therefore allowed officers to transition from pursuing “a mother-child focus to a family focus” in terms of the Suaahara II project’s accommodations and services.

Challenges with Suaahara II

While the Suaahara II Project has led to institutional and social enhancements regarding health and nutrition, some districts had access to the project earlier. This created a dissonance in the rate of health improvements amongst the districts. Cunningham reported that “far western areas are much more remote and therefore disadvantaged and food insecure.”

This inconsistency was largely due to the “Federalism” that took place in Nepal in 2017, which was a decentralization process that created 42 municipalities for 42 districts. Since every municipality has a different political leader, some districts had the advantage of assistance from foreign NGOs while others did not because their leaders rejected involving foreign NGOs. In these cases, as Cunningham explained, it is like “you are creating your own NGOs from the ground up.”

Suaahara II Achievements

These obstacles, however, have not been pertinent enough to counter the consortium’s efforts in fulfilling the Suaahara II project’s objectives. For example, a primary objective for Suaahra II is to increase breastfeeding amongst babies under six months of age. Exclusive breastfeeding of children under six has increased from 62.9% in 2017 to 68.9% in 2019, according to data that Cunningham shared with The Borgen Project.

Expanding children’s access to diverse and nutritious foods is another objective that has been achieved under the Suaahara II project. The dietary diversity among women of reproductive age (WRA) has increased from 35.6% in 2017 to 45.3% in 2019, according to Cunningham. Given the efficient rate of improvement in women and children’s health, governance and equity in only the first two years of the Suaahara II project, it can be inferred that the consortium will continue to progress in achieving its targets among the Nepalese in the three years that remain.

Regarding how HKI has responded to challenges with the Suaahara II project, Cunningham said  “[We] don’t use a one size fits all approach.” The advancements in Nepal’s health and nutrition systems can be largely attributed to HKI’s multifaceted and integrated strategy, a model that could yield prosperity in the rest of the developing world.

Joy Arkeh
Photo: Flickr

Women PeacemakersSince the beginning of the Sudanese civil war in 1983 that split the north from the south, the conflict in South Sudan has cost thousands of civilian lives and fractured the society in the region. The fallout from the civil war led to tribal conflict that is still ongoing and oftentimes the victims of these “total wars” are women. For this reason, women peacemakers in South Sudan are very important.

Feminist Movements in South Sudan

Prior to the civil war, feminists movements were gaining ground in South Sudan, so much so that South Sudan was seen as the center of African feminism during the 60’s and 70’s. These activists secured legal equality for all women across the country, though, with a change of leadership in the late 70’s, women saw their positions in society diminish. With the beginning of the civil war, South Sudanese feminists began to pursue outside avenues to affect policy.

One such group was a collective of female South Sudanese refugees who fled to Nairobi, Kenya. There they drafted a document that outlined how women were essential to the peacemaking and governing process. These women called for the government to acknowledge that “It is first and foremost women who suffer during wars or conflicts. Because of this, they are best placed to act as agents for a conclusive peace process and to spread a culture of peace in the country.” This was the first declaration of its kind, and its message has continued to be influential in how South Sudanese women advocate for increased involvement of women.

Feminist Organizations

Throughout the war period, multiple feminist organizations emerged that called for peace and women’s rights, such as Nuba Women for Peace, Women Empowerment for Peace and Development Network and the National Democratic Alliance. At the turn of the century, many women who had previously participated in these groups came together to form the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), which is an organization with branches in North and South Sudan that collaborate to empower women in the region and promote the role of women peacemakers in South Sudan.

Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP)

SuWEP’s main goals are to promote the inclusion of women from all layers of society, train women in conflict resolution and mediation, raise awareness, write position papers on its work to be presented to international bodies and advocate for and publicizing its message of gender equality. Due to these efforts, peace centers have now been established throughout both North and South Sudan, food aid has been able to reach the most vulnerable populations throughout the region and the legislature of South Sudan met its quota of 25% of its seats belonging to women.

UN Women Africa

U.N. Women Africa has also been one of the larger advocates for gender equality in South Sudan, with its focus primarily being on increasing female involvement in democracy, increasing literacy and protecting women and girls from gender-based violence. The organization has come before the Security Council to demand greater protections for women because it believes women are essential to the peacemaking process as they have been the greatest advocates of peace since the inception of the conflict. In addition, in a report to the Security Council, it was brought up that the women of these warring tribal and ethnic factions have been able to cooperate and make change together, meaning they can help the rest of the country do so.

Moving into the future, many women peacemakers in South Sudanese see the Revitalized Agreement as the best option for lasting peace because it would require that women hold 35% of government seats and the country would transition towards an expanded democracy. With more women in positions of power, feminists believe there would be an increased focus on women’s issues as well as a greater emphasis on diplomacy and peace.

– Mary Buffaloe
Photo: Flickr

Future for Indian WomenIn 1997, a Kerala state project, recognizing the significance of channeling a significant, often underutilized demographic, began Kudumbashree, a widespread and comprehensive program that seeks to vastly reduce poverty and empower women at the same time. In a state of about 35 million people, Kudumbashree set out on a path to establish local, self-functioning levels of organization that could bring women together, provide access to resources regardless of education, economic status or caste and connect a willing workforce to new and old professional options, opening the future for Indian women across entire regions. In Malayalam, the local language of Kerala, Kudumbashree comprises two unique words, that when combined, translate to “prosperity of the family.” The structure, scale and significance of an enterprise like this is widespread and compelling, not just for one state in India but for an entire country and global community.

Kudumbashree: History and Goals

Kudumbashree is more than just one specific government program; rather, it is also a particular umbrella for cooperating efforts that fall under the jurisdiction of a unifying task force proposition known as the State Poverty Eradication Mission (SPEM). Kudumbashree and SPEM are interchangeable and the second has largely evolved into the first. By one definition, Kudumbashree is a charitable society; by another, it is a facilitator for work. All these descriptions are because of the fundamental and indispensable goal of a budding institution that secures a future for Indian women and their families. Though it may be ambitious and certainly easier said than done, Kudumbashree unabashedly seeks to “eradicate absolute poverty from the State over a period of 10 years.” Even if this goal has not been met yet, a significant amount of resources, community structures and cooperative dynamics have been put into place that brings Kerala closer to success every year.

Programs, Practices and Plans

A little less than half a century ago, Kerala’s poverty levels were at 59.74%. As of 2011 to 2012, that percentage dropped to 11.3%, less than half the national average. A wide range of factors led to this drastic and fortuitous decline and focused public attention and effort have been key among them.

Kudumbashree utilizes the role of the public in a particularly localized, community-centered way, as evidenced by the principal three-tier system the program uses. The three levels in the framework, in order of smallest to largest in terms of local duties, are “Neighborhood Groups,” “Area Development Societies,” and “Community Development Societies.” These hierarchies build upon each other and provide for different prioritizations of tasks.

For instance, Neighborhood Groups are small units with typically less than 30 women members. They meet frequently and are essential in the disbursement of microloans, which the members often save and distribute among themselves. At district-spanning Community Development Societies, more administrative concerns are paramount, such as directing state-financed aid or liaising with governmental bodies. A future for Indian women among Kudumbashree means support and access, not only from the local bodies but from fellow female members of their community.

The Future for Kerala’s Women

At over four and a half million Neighborhood Group members, Kudumbashree spans villages, towns and cities, but more importantly, with every notable award and new business enterprise, it raises greater national awareness. With agribusiness ventures alone, Kudumbashree boasts 778 units serving communities and expanding constantly. The future for Indian women is diverse and full of opportunity, and thanks to initiatives like Kudumbashree, the future is locally-led and integrally focused on the capacities of all people, regardless of gender.

– Alan Mathew
Photo: Flickr

tapestry weavingIn Chile, from 1973 to 1990, systemic human rights violations swept the nation under General Augusto Pinochet, including acts of physical and sexual abuse as well as psychological damage. Consequently, many progressive young students and men “disappeared” at the hands of the regime because of their ideology. While a grim history, hope can be found in the subsequent actions of women. The Arpilleristas were able to overcome such hardships through tapestry weaving.

Chilean Women Unite

Mothers united and responded to the oppression and torture that was inflicted upon their loved ones with methods of protests that defied masculine logic, such as publicly banging pots and pans, singing and dancing to songs with political messages and weaving tapestries. These actions challenged the societal norms in Chile, which were embedded with machismo ideology and male superiority.

Tapestry Weaving as a Form of Resistance

The weaving of tapestries was an especially impactful form of resistance that was founded in 1975. Once unified, the Arpilleristas began to construct patchwork tapestries, or arpilleras, that depicted scenes of hardship and violence that people experienced under Pinochet.

The hand-made arpilleras portrayed shantytown community kitchens, which were often families’ only means of feeding themselves, women’s laundry and bread-baking subsistence-level cooperatives, arrests and soldiers beating protesters. It was through the crafting of the arpilleras that women were granted a voice to tell their individual and collective stories.

Economic Empowerment

However, the crafting of the arpilleras was more than just an act of protest and storytelling, it was also a way to generate income. The women weaving arpilleras was a form of advocacy and also a livelihood. The Arpilleristas transformed conventional visions of secluded motherhood and domesticity, all the while eliminating submissive and passive associations regarding women.

With the return of democracy in the 1990s, the oppression f the Pinochet dictatorship has since been eradicated. All individuals are able to enjoy democracy. The women, “do so now, however, with a different consciousness. Women have not forgotten the empowerment they gained when they learned they could change things by taking to the streets and protesting the dictatorship.

It is this confidence that continues to inspire women as they face problems in Chile, however, they do so in a different manner now.

A Return to Democracy

It was only through the opression of the dictatorship and conservative gender ideology promoted by the dictatorship, Chilean women mobilized as feminists to demand a return to democracy. Though they were not self-identified feminists, the collective act of women uniting in order to defeat oppression has altered and expanded women’s rights in Chile today and recharacterized the very definition of motherhood.

The Arpilleristas’ tapestry weaving has served as an inspiring example of fighting against injustice while empowering women through economic development. By employing an accepted tradition of weaving, the women were able to capitalize and in many cases negate extreme poverty and additional hardships.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Afghan Women's Writing Project
Writing in Afghanistan has typically been a taboo craft for women. Especially under the influence of the Taliban, women and girls were not able to go to school or learn to read and write safely. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is an innovative writing program for empowering female voices in Afghanistan.

Founded in May 2009, the project gives Afghan women a way to publish their writing directly onto the internet. Although the Writing Project’s existence can only spread by word-of-mouth for security reasons, it has empowered more than 100 women in Afghanistan. Here are five facts about the project.

5 Facts About the Afghan Women’s Writing Project

  1. Marsha Hamilton is the founder of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Hamilton started the program after viewing the execution of a woman named Zarmina by the Taliban. Zarmina allegedly killed her husband, but Marsha Hamilton felt that Zarmina did not have the chance to tell her side of the story before her brutal execution. Hamilton also witnessed how women publish their writings. In Afghanistan, women usually publish their work through the men in their family or the media. This prevents some women’s voices from being heard due to the possible censorship that may occur through these channels. Zarmina’s execution and the less-than-ideal way of publishing led Hamilton to decide to create an online platform that allows women to publish their writings.
  2. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project uses Dari and English writing workshops to help educate women. The project collaborates with Afghan-based agencies to provide Dari and English writing workshops. These workshops teach women different techniques and skills to further their writing. Additionally, the program conducts “Reading Salons” every month. These meetings take place in secret locations in Kabul and Heart to avoid retribution from various groups in Afghanistan or writers’ own families. During the reading salons, women are able to read their work and talk about their writing experiences in an encouraging space.

  3. In 2018, Afghanistan reported that only 10% of the population had access to the internet. Due to the lack of reliable internet and computer access, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project provides many members with laptops and internet access. This enables every woman in Afghanistan, regardless of status, to participate in the program. According to the website, it costs about $2,500 to provide each woman with a laptop, internet, workshops and books. This amazing opportunity is funded by small contributions as well as fundraising initiatives by volunteers and readers.

  4. Writing has long been a form of expression and empowerment. Through the work of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, Afghan women are changing themselves and the world around them. The project website claims, “In telling their own stories, we’ve seen these women gather strength, courage, and self-confidence. They become empowered to make change within their homes, their communities, and eventually their country. They also gain computer literacy and skills of language and critical thinking, which increases their job-related skills.” The skills and empowerment that women gain from this program help them empower themselves and others, as well as change the way people around the world see Afghanistan.

  5.  The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is currently working on an “oral stories component.” This project will allow disabled or illiterate women to share their stories as well. Human Rights Watch reports there are about 3.5 million children out of school and 85% of them are girls. Additionally, with about 2.7% of the population disabled, there are not many programs in place to help them succeed. Disabilities are often stigmatized in Afghanistan as “punishments from God” and it is difficult to find work. These women are often marginalized by their community. The Writing Project hopes to empower them to share their experiences and triumphs despite the obstacles they may face.

Women across Afghanistan continue to step up and speak their mind through the few means available to them. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is working hard to give women’s voices a platform in Afghanistan.

– Ashleigh Litcofsky
Photo: Wikimedia