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Eva Mendes and Half the Sky

In late 2012, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) created a documentary about women living in developing countries called Half the Sky. This documentary examines the lives of many women in third world countries who have suffered through rape, prostitution, slavery, violent marriages, and other forms of oppression. By interviewing numerous women, Half the Sky is able to construct a common bond that promotes a sense of connectivity for all women and all humanity. Eva Mendes is one of the celebrities participating in this eye-opening project.

While the documentary takes the viewer to many different parts of the world, like Cambodia and Vietnam, Eva travels to Sierra Leone to talk to women about empowerment and to raise awareness of violence against females.

The film advocates women in leadership roles who advocate for women victims of rape and physical abuse. In one instance, a woman, who was abducted at the age of 13 and forced into prostitution, now provides shelter and counseling for girls who escaped from similar situations. Eva Mendes also had the opportunity to interview a particularly inspirational woman who had the courage to press charges against the men who raped her.

Half the Sky focuses on how women are fighting back against gender-based violence and paints a relatively optimistic future. Although in some societies female violence is still the norm, many women are attempting to create and implement the concept of women’s rights. It may be a long battle in some countries, but, as Eva Mendes notes, even small progress is worth celebrating.

It is easy for some documentaries to merely show story after story about women who have suffered from violence; Half the Sky is a different kind of documentary. It shows the viewer that even in the midst of discrimination and struggle, these women are able to overcome their past experiences and emerge ready and eager to help other women. These women refuse to be silent and submissive. That is something that every gender and nationality can relate to.

– Mary Penn

Source: policymic
Video: You Tube

DVF

Clothing designers and retailers flourish at award shows because celebrities talk about who and what they are wearing. The Vital Voices Global Leadership Award Show was a little different. Instead of focusing on what everyone was wearing, the attention was on women who have exhibited leadership across the globe. Many clothing designers and retailers were amongst those focusing on honoring these women.

Diane von Furstenberg was an attendee at the Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center and even introduced speaker Hillary Clinton. In fact, for the last six years, Diane von Furstenberg has been a supporter of the Vital Voices organization. In 2008, she worked with Vital Voice to give 10 percent of her sales (both online and in stores) to raise money to encourage female leaders across the globe. This year, the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation are awarding two Vital Voice awardees $50,000 grants in the form of DVF Awards.

The DVF Awards help to provide awardees with the necessary funds and exposure to further their women’s causes. Other recipients of the DVF Award and organizations that DVF supports are Women for Women International, Love Heals, White Ribbon Alliance, and amfAR.

Wal-mart is another big supporter, giving donations to Vital Voices Latin Americans and Caribbean partners. Partnering with the State Department in the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas program, ExxonMobil, CH2M Hill, and the Federal Express to ensure the funding of the Latin American and Caribbean Businesswomen’s Network. The LAC Businesswoman’s Network connects businesswomen to promote economic growth and ensure women’s involvement in the business environment with programs to train and mentor women.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: WWD, DVF
Photo: Bellanija

Afghan Women Cycle for EqualityThe Afghan women cycle for equality. Although women throughout Afghanistan are rarely permitted to even drive cars, a group of Afghan females has been changing minds by riding bikes. The Afghan National Cycling Team, led by 16-year-old Salma Kakar, hopes to be the face of a new phenomenon in the country – more women riding bikes, and possibly even representing their country in the Olympic games.

A nonprofit started by U.S. cyclist Shannon Galpin, called Mountain2Mountain, helped give the team their initial bikes and other gear to get them started. Galpin, no stranger to Afghanistan herself, was involved in volunteer work in the country and during her time there had a chance to cycle throughout Afghanistan’s mountain trails.

Despite aid from Galpin and support from team coach Abdul Seddiqi, the women still face immense hurdles. Afghan men still hold the belief that women do not have a place in society outside of the home, and for this reason, the riders are often heckled and have even received death threats. Although the women cover their heads, wear long pants and sleeves when they ride, Seddiqi usually has them train in secret to avoid any danger.

Salma maintains that despite what many Afghan men may think, a few have actually shown support and Salma is confident that their cycling team will be able to create lasting change, with cycling being just the beginning of the road to Afghan women achieving new freedoms.

Galpin hopes that not only will the bicycles be a vehicle for the women to get around, but also a “vehicle for social change.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: NBC News


The end of a ten-year war seems like a time of hope, of rebuilding and starting over. Yet, for Iraqi women, hope does not seem like it’s in the cards. The last ten years have not been a time of progress for them. Rather, it has been a time of regression, in which many of their rights have been taken away, either by law or by the increasing amount of violence occurring in Iraq.

On paper, it looks like the women of Iraq are increasingly engaged with civil society. With elections happening in April, pictures of Iraqi women of different political parties are appearing throughout the city of Baghdad, giving a glimpse of equality amongst men and women. However, in reality, women are not making much of a political appearance, though not through the fault of their own. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not elected a female to a single Senior Cabinet position and only one Department is headed by women: The Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Violence in the streets of Iraq is also resulting in a loss of freedom for Iraqi women. It is no longer safe for them to walk in the streets alone, leaving many stuck inside their homes. According to many women’s groups, the increase in violence and poor security for women is the result of “the social and economic pressure that families face, the lack of public and political will to stop it, and the increased religious conservatism that often justifies the violence”. The lack of political will to stop it can be seen in the replacement of the Family Statutes Law, with one giving cultural and religious groups control of regulating family affairs, meaning that tribal leaders and religious groups can decide on issues involving divorce, marriage, custody, and inheritance using religious laws or cultural ways of living. Often times, these laws and ways of living do not favor women. This is a large setback for women because it means that women are not guaranteed equal treatment under the law.

The Iraq of today is worse for women than the Iraq of 1980. Yet, this has not discouraged Iraqi women from still standing up for women’s rights and hoping for change. Political participation is one way for women to gain freedom, yet, much more must be done to ensure equality is in their future.

– Angela Hooks

Source: CNN
Photo: CNN

L'Occitane Supports Women's Fair TradeIn honor of International Women’s Day, L’Occitane has created a fair trade soap that supports women in their efforts to achieve economic independence. The soap is produced in Burkina Faso in a completely female-run factory, for which L’Occitane has provided support and training. The company has been working with women in Burkina Faso in efforts to achieve economic emancipation since 2006. By working with Aide et Action, they have helped put in place literacy centers throughout Burkina Faso, resulting in the strengthening of income-generating activity for women.

All proceeds made from the shea butter soap (that retails for just $8) will go towards building literacy programs and centers in Burkina Faso. Every soap bar sold can be considered as donating 3 bricks that will be utilized to build a new literacy center. From soap sales, L’Occitane, with its partners in Aide et Action and women in Burkina Faso, hopes to collect €63,000, which is equivalent to approximately $831,364.5, in the year 2013.

The soap can be seen as something that brings women together and helps empower them separately from their male counterparts. Since 2006, L’Occitane has helped almost 2,000 women become literate and even more (approximately 5,000 more) improve their literacy skills. With the building of even more literacy centers in Burkina Faso, these numbers can only go up.

If interested in buying a bar of soap in support of women achieving economic emancipation, visit L’Occitane’s website.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: L’Occitane Foundation, L’Occitane
Photo: L’Occitane

Poverty Reduction Efforts on WomenProgress in the fight against poverty has demonstrated the importance of focusing on poverty alleviation efforts on women and children. Despite the great gains that have been made, gender inequality and violence against women still exist in every country in the world. Poverty reduction efforts should focus on women because women are vital to sustainable development. The empowerment of women leads to economic growth and increased social stability.

Poverty reduction efforts should focus on women because women have fewer opportunities for equal and meaningful education, jobs, and health care. Access to these human rights is essential in order to escape from poverty. Currently, women own only one percent of all property and earn just 10 percent of all income, yet they produce half of the world’s food.

Over 70 percent of the world’s poor, those living on less than $1.25 USD per day, are women. Because women compose the majority of those living in poverty, and because they face additional hurdles in achieving economic and social equality and success, poverty reduction efforts should focus on women across the globe, especially among the most disadvantaged and marginalized populations.

Most of the world’s poor women spend the majority of their time performing household chores, including cooking, cleaning, growing or obtaining food, collecting fuel and water, and caring for family members. Women do not receive monetary compensation for these tasks, yet they compose up to 63 percent of the gross domestic product in countries like India and Tanzania. Time and energy spent on these essential tasks result in fewer opportunities for advancement, such as education or economic pursuits.

A 2000 study by the International Food Policy Research Institute found that the majority of the reduction in global hunger between 1970 and 1995 could be attributed to the improvement of women’s social status. Progress in women’s education, food availability, and health care all played major roles in the reduction of hunger.

Because women play a major role in the world’s food production, poverty reduction efforts should focus on women farmers in order to help them earn a viable income and rise above poverty. Programs have been instituted in China, Bangladesh, and the Philippines that subsidize women farmers in order to allow them to grow food while earning extra income from selling vegetables or raising animals. Access to adequate sanitation facilities, health care, and children’s education are also priorities for bringing more women out of poverty.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: Center for American Progress, NY Times
Photo: Muslimah Source

women
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day deals with ending violence against women. So did the theme in 2009 (“Ending impunity for violence against women and girls”) and in 2007 (“Women and men united to end violence against women in girls”). While International Women’s Day can choose a theme that highlights different issues plaguing women in rural and urban areas, the UN seems to keep going back to violence against women.

Why?

Violence against women is still a huge issue across the world and looking at Zimbabwe, how large of an issue it is becomes apparent. In Zimbabwe, women may be faced with abuse from their spouses, family members, and even their children. Reported cases of domestic violence have risen from 1,940 cases in 2008 to 10,351 cases in 2011, according to AllAfrica.org. The number of domestic violence cases in 2012 are said to surpass even that number, showing that domestic violence is not going away and bringing attention to the issue, which the UN’s International Women’s Day is doing, as necessary.

Even though the country has taken great strides to end violence against women, a 2010-2011 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey shows that 30 percent of women have experienced some form of domestic violence since the age of 15. This violence, most often, comes from the people that women should be able to trust, who are supposed to protect them. Women are asking questions now – “what has to happen for violence against women to end, what are the challenges, who will stand up and look straight in the eyes of perpetrators to say enough is enough?” – and demanding answers.

Women in Zimbabwe are using International Women’s Day to denounce all types of violence against women, and are coming together to demand answers.

– Angela Hooks 

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: AllAfrica

Mexico's First Midwifery SchoolIn Mexico, traditional midwifery services have been fallen steadily as women choose to have their babies in hospitals. However, many citizens who still live too far from hospitals need midwives. To meet this demand, Mexico has established its first public midwifery school, and young women are learning this ancient practice with the intent to graduate.

Guadalupe Maniero, the school’s director, explains that in Mexico, “hospitals are oversaturated, and so it’s a big problem.” Since the 2011 law that grants midwives a place among the country’s legally accepted medical professions, age-old stigmas have begun to fade. By helping to deliver babies, doctors have much more time to spend focusing on dangerous births in which the child and/or mother are in danger.

The four-year program grants its graduates certificates that allow them to practice in legitimate health centers. By interweaving longstanding cultural traditions with modern-day needs and practices, Mexico’s first midwifery school has the potential to benefit the entire country for years to come.

Jake Simon

Source: NPR

Early Marriage as a Form of ViolenceIn 2020, more than 140 million girls will be attending a wedding – their own. Of these 150 million girls, 50 million will be attending their own wedding before they have even celebrated their 15th birthday.

These numbers are based on current rates of early marriage, according to the UN.

Most child marriages occur in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In fact, nearly half of all young women are married before the age of 18 in South Asia. In Africa, this percentage drops, but only to one-third.

In light of International Women’s Day, whether child marriage should be considered a form of violence against women and children is up for debate. According to UN Women, early marriage increases a girl’s chance of becoming a victim of sexual violence in the home. It also limits a girl’s access to education because she is often expected to have children and take care of her husband and household. It is also associated with increased health risks due to early pregnancy and motherhood.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was recently presented a petition by the World Young Women’s Christian Association (WYWCA) that urged CSW to help end child marriage by 2030.

Yet, fighting early marriage will be an uphill battle. In many countries and cultures, marrying at a young age is traditional and is not seen as a problem. In some areas, particularly poorer countries, there are not enough resources for girls to continue in school as their male counterparts. Marriage serves as an easy way to justify girls abandoning their education to stay at home. Another issue plaguing poorer countries and people is the practice of a “bride price.” Some fathers will marry their daughters off for the price of a cow, especially during difficult times. According to Catherine Gotani Hara, Health Minister of Malawi, “Someone will come in and give a father a cow for a girl when they are eight or nine years old and when they reach puberty they will give another cow.” Out of need or necessity, a daughter may be worth two cows.

Getting around the barriers surrounding child marriage will require the support of governments and the passing of legislation that raises the legal age of marriage, as well as provides more resources for schools so that girls can reach the same level of education as their male counterparts. Currently, this is what happening in Malawi. The rate of child marriage in Malawi is currently 50 percent but by 2014, the age of legal marriage will hopefully have moved up from 15 to 18. Only time will tell if these steps will help eradicate child marriage.

– Angela Hooks

Source: Guardian

Finance Minister Proposes Women's Bank in IndiaIn a provocative move by India’s current Minister of Finance Shri Palaniappan Chidambaran, government finance officials have proposed the transformation of their underutilized Indian Post Offices into the first-ever women’s bank in India.

The women’s bank in the country will receive an initial start-up investment of 4, 909 crore in order to help modernize the antiquated Indian Post Offices, including the refurbishment of facilities and the implementation of ATMs and electronic devices necessary for banking. The hope is that the newly created banks will inspire more competition in the Indian banking industry, adding both greater market segmentation and opportunities for growth, especially amongst women entrepreneurs.

The women’s bank in India will be run primarily by women bankers and loan officers, with each branch receiving 1,000 crore for loans and local investment. Furthermore, the banks overall goal will be to lend to women business owners, promoting greater empowerment and social mobility through local financing of projects led by women. When asked about a women’s bank in India, Bank of India CMD VR Lyer stated that, “Women in rural areas will be comfortable going to an all-women branch. It will accelerate inclusive growth and recognize women’s power in society.”

– Brian Turner

Source Economic Times
Photo Beyond Brics