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Women's Empowerment in CameroonCameroon, like many countries around the world, has dealt with women’s inequality. There are several laws in Cameroon that are severely discriminatory towards women, and even after observations and suggestions made by the CEDAW Committee to the government of Cameroon in 2000 and 2009, there have been no legal reforms to improve the protection of women’s empowerment in Cameroon. To make matters worse, customary law is applied next to statutory law, which brings about many contradictions and inconsistencies.

There are many customs and traditions that impede the implementation of statutory laws. Many marriages are forced, especially in rural areas, where some girls as young as 12 are married. There is also the practice of levirate, where widows are forced to marry the brother of their deceased husband, a very common practice since widows are considered property. Furthermore, according to tradition, only male children can inherit property.

Domestic violence is prevalent and happens often while remaining socially acceptable. Unlike many other countries, marital rape is not considered a criminal offense. The government has not established shelters or legal aid clinics, and victims usually have to suffer in a culture of silence and impunity.

When it comes to education, the literacy rate for the 15-26 age group is 72 percent for males and 59 percent for females. This is due in part to families being more in favor of boys getting an education if they are unable to send all their children. Even though there are still fewer females than males in secondary school, there is slight progress. There have been some efforts made by the government to promote girls’ access to education. However, only so many girls have been able to benefit from the scholarship policy after already being affected by the lack of infrastructure, educational materials and a shortage of qualified teachers.

There are labor laws in place to honor gender equality and provide equal access to employment and equal wages for equal work, but women are still being employed in informal sectors like agriculture and household services. Sexual harassment in the workplace is common and is not punishable by law.

There are calls for the authorities of Cameroon to reform or repeal all discriminatory measures in statutory law; specifically, the provisions of the Family Code concerning the age of marriage, consent, polygamy, marital power and property. They need to take all necessary measures to improve women’s access to public and political life when it comes to decision-making positions, which include adopting special temporary measures such as a quota system and passing legislation criminalizing sexual harassment. Furthermore, there is an urgent need to improve women’s access to health care; in particular, developing healthcare infrastructure and intensifying the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The country has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women but has not ratified the protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. These changes would further encourage women’s empowerment in Cameroon.

The government of Cameroon must act and vigorously combat these issues so they can become things of the past. If the government does not make these changes and bring about equality, it will be seen as inadequate and paying lip service to the noble goal of gender equality. Women’s empowerment in Cameroon is the goal and it is up to the government to instill these laws and hold people accountable.

Chavez Spicer

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in KenyaKenya is an East African country situated between two war-torn countries, Somalia and Uganda. The country is a low income, food-deficient country where 52 percent of people live below the poverty line, 40 percent are unemployed and 1.3 million live with HIV/AIDS. Despite the threat of natural disasters and violence, women’s empowerment in Kenya is also a major issue.

Kenya has many patriarchal systems in place, including one known as “beading”. Beading is a practice where girls as young as age six are engaged to a male relative and are allowed to have sexual relations. They do not allow pregnancy because they believe having a baby will lower the girl’s chances of getting married. The only concern is for the girl’s future marriageability, not the fact that the girl has most likely has suffered physical harm and mental trauma. The Children Act (2006) and the Sexual Offenses Bill (2001) were put in place to protect women from rape and incest, but beading is socially accepted within certain tribes, who believe it to be a part of their culture.

In addition to the practice of beading, there are ceremonies for female genital mutilation (FGM). Nearly 140 million girls around the world are living with the consequences of FGM. While Kenya has banned the practice, there are still some communities that participate in the ceremony. Kenya has created a prosecution unit to stop the mutilation from happening, but some parents take their daughters to more remote regions to have them undergo FGM. It is so integral to some communities that if a young girl does not undergo the practice, she will face stigma and alienation.

There are certain social, political and economic contexts that show the different layers of beliefs in Kenya that contribute to practices like beading and FGM. Kenya fits the description of a patriarchal society, where women are marginalized and dominated by men. The profound gender disparities caused by the patriarchal norms and laws have brought about steady attacks on women’s rights to land and property. Women make up about 80 percent of the workforce, but Kenyan women only hold about 1 percent of land titles in their names. Addressing women’s rights requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policymaking. The United Nations Population Fund suggests that the focus be on certain areas that are critical and compromised, like giving women control over their lives and bodies, as well as economic, educational and political empowerment, to encourage women’s empowerment in Kenya.

With these traditional ideas of what a woman’s role should be in Kenya, women are held back from contributing to important development goals. However, the new constitution, passed in 2010, provides methods to address gender equality. Marking a new beginning for women’s empowerment in Kenya, there is a movement to stop excluding women and promote their involvement in every aspect of growth and development in the country.

With the help of USAID, there are plans to create safe societies where women and girls can live free from violence, provide care and treatment services for victims, strengthen women’s access to resources and opportunities to expand economic growth, increase the participation of women in policies at all levels, ensure women have a role in peacebuilding and conflict prevention and narrow the gender gaps in education and learning. Women’s empowerment in Kenya has come a long way and is making progress.

Chavez Spicer

Photo: Flickr

The Importance of Women and Girls in AgricultureSmall communities and impoverished areas oftentimes rely on farming for their food supplies, however, due to the low socioeconomic statuses of many of these places the livestock is often diseased and plagued by harmful pests and environmental factors.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there is a large opportunity to improve health outcomes in countries of low socioeconomic status by helping communities that rely on farming. Moreover, the organization believes that providing aid to farming and agriculture is “the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty over the long term.”

Women and girls tend to run the farms in their small communities, working in order to provide food for their families and local communities. Bill and Melinda Gates are aware of the role women and girls have in agriculture and have developed a variety of agricultural education programs that help women and girls thrive on these farms.

For instance, the organization is currently working with the United Nations World Food Programme‘s Purchase for Progress initiative in order to create goals that are specifically geared towards women and girls in agriculture. Programs that are “gender-aware” are more likely to reach women who lack education and encourage women to step into leadership roles.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has found that yields on farms run by women are approximately 20 to 40 percent lower than yields on farms run by men, and therefore, “gender-aware” programs that specifically seek to increase the work of women on farms are vital.

As mentioned above, women are typically the providers of food for their families and local communities. Access to healthy food is important for children in school and the health of the community as a whole which is why agricultural education for women is important because it is promising better health outcomes for communities in which farming is the main source of food.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

House Passes the Women, Peace, and Security Act

The Women, Peace, and Security Act (S. 1141) became a public law at the beginning of October 2017. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that women play meaningful roles in diplomacy and leadership, especially in regions of violent conflict.

The bill recognizes the importance of women as peacemakers in their communities and the power they have in promoting inclusive, democratic societies. If signed into law, this bipartisan legislation would establish gender equality as a priority in U.S. foreign policy.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) first introduced the bill to the Senate in May. It then passed the Senate body without amendment in early August. The bill is the Senate-companion bill to H.R. 2484, which passed the House earlier this session.

The Women, Peace, and Security Act is really a culmination of years of bipartisan work throughout the course of several administrations. Versions of this bill have been presented in past sessions; in fact, a hallmark of the Obama administration’s foreign policy was the implementation of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. Like the S. 1141, the executive order was established to promote global gender integration as a means of conflict prevention and peace-building.

A wealth of research demonstrates the successful outcomes gleaned from the participation of women in leadership roles. Women in conflict-affected areas have been shown to be effective in combatting violent extremism, countering terrorism and resolving disputes through nonviolent negotiation. Furthermore, the presence of women in government is critical in the creation of sustainable, democratic policies in post-conflict relief scenarios.

When women are invited to participate in decision-making, the whole community is elevated. Studies suggest a positive correlation between a country’s gender equality and the strength of its economy. Thus, not only would women in leadership promote global security, but it would also fight poverty.

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, stands firmly behind the Women, Peace, and Security Act. He is concerned, however, about the current foreign aid budget. The new budget would see funding reduced by more than one third.

He said of the proposed cuts, “The Administration’s budget proposal would slash funding for diplomacy and development to dangerous levels, and a current redesign effort at the State Department might strip out initiatives like women, peace, and security. I hope that won’t happen.”

Indeed, with mounting evidence to verify the importance of female leaders, programs that endorse the progress of women cannot afford to be forgotten in a time of such global upheaval. Were this bill to pass into law, it would reaffirm the United States’ stance on gender equality. Furthermore, it would pave the way for comprehensive global policies that sustain peace and economic security.

Micaela Fischer
Photo: Flickr

Teaching Impoverished Women Solar Panel EngineeringA business partnership between law firm Hogan Lovells and Barefoot College seeks to help women in the developing world rise out of poverty by offering programs in solar panel engineering. Barefoot College, founded in 1972, is a college built by and for the rural poor, whose main objective is “to demystify and decentralise technology and put new tools in the hands of the rural poor with a singular objective of spreading self-sufficiency and sustainability.” This initiative, conducted in partnership with Hogan Lovells, focuses on teaching impoverished women solar panel engineering. The objective is for these women to bring the technology back to their villages and provide a renewable light source to destitute rural areas.

The project estimates it will bring clean, renewable power to over 200,000 people by training 400 women at five centres in Latin America, Africa and the Pacific Islands. Since 2008, when the initiative started, the college estimates it has trained 1084 women, or ‘solar mamas’ as they call them, from 83 different countries in solar panel installation and maintenance. Hogan Lovells is now providing Barefoot with pro bono legal advice and financial backing to help with the most recent expansion of the program.

Although a majority of the women are illiterate, through sign language and color-coded textbooks they are taught how to create, install and maintain solar panels for their community. Not only does this help bring a renewable power source to thousands of destitute villages, but by teaching impoverished women solar panel engineering, it helps to develop gender equality in these regions. The ‘solar mamas’ become respected community advisers and hold a high position as the installers and maintainers of a village’s main power source.

Installing solar panels also brings an array of other benefits to poor, rural, areas. It replaces the use of toxic kerosene, allowing children to study at night with the use of lamps, and family incomes tend to rise, since they pay less than what they paid for kerosene, batteries, candles, etc. Barefoot estimates that it has replaced over 500 million litres of the highly toxic and flammable kerosene since the program started.

Barefoot College and its ‘solar mama’ initiative in cooperation with Hogan Lovells is an example of the innovative progress made by non-governmental institutions in the race to meet the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals. By training impoverished women in solar panel engineering, Barefoot, in a single program, addresses seven of the 17 goals, including tackling poverty, promoting gender equality and developing affordable and clean energy. It is an example to be followed.

Alan Garcia-Ramos

Photo: Flickr

SpacerPADDespite the fact that menstruation is an experience shared by all women around the world, many parts of the world continue to stigmatize it and treat it as a taboo topic. Many cultures have even perpetuated destructive beliefs about menstruation, leading to a serious erosion in the availability of knowledge about menstrual health. These taboos are particularly pervasive in developing countries and have negatively affected women’s lives.

In an effort to combat the lack of health products for menstruation in developing countries, researchers Karin Högberg and Lena Berglin from the Swedish School of Textiles and the University of Borås, respectively, have begun creating a potentially revolutionary product. The SpacerPAD is a reusable, recyclable and quick-drying sanitary pad for use by women in developing countries who don’t have access to proper women’s health products.

The idea for the SpacerPAD in developing countries came to Högberg when she witnessed the significant obstacles that menstruation posed to women in Nairobi, Kenya. She described how women often resorted to using leaves, rags and sometimes cow dung to absorb the blood. Furthermore, because menstruation is such a taboo topic, many women, especially those in low-income and rural areas, don’t have the opportunity to use other washable hygiene products as they cannot be hung up to dry.

The SpacerPAD is currently undergoing testing that focuses on stopping leakage and potential bacterial growth and the ability to dry quickly in a lab at the Swedish School of Textiles. Once this testing is complete, the next step would be to produce a prototype and begin to distribute the SpacerPAD in developing countries.

In recent years, as the awareness of women’s health issues continues to grow, there have been more efforts to create an affordable reusable product as an alternative to the expensive disposable products available in most developed countries. Unfortunately, the stigma against menstruation and the belief that it is an unclean process is preventing women around the world from utilizing safe and clean hygiene products.

Additionally, while it is not intended for use in developed countries, the SpacerPAD researchers believe that it can be successful in the Swedish market where there is a lack of recyclable sanitary products.

Proper access to hygiene products is a human right and without it, millions of women around the world are suffering from health issues as well as humiliation due to the stigma.

Akhil Reddy

Photo: Flickr

Women and Girls Can Increase Health Outcomes in Poor CountriesIn 2016, Deputy President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa announced the beginning of a three-year-long campaign meant to decrease the rapid spread of HIV among women and girls in South Africa. Ramaphosa’s campaign is meant to increase the health of women in South Africa, but the campaign may have the potential to increase the health of the entire community.

The physical and psychological health of women and girls must be addressed in order to increase health outcomes in poor countries, because women and girls are oftentimes the providers of necessities such as food and water in their families and communities. Women and girls can increase health outcomes in poor countries, because they are incredibly essential to their communities and provide necessities that are vital for healthy lives.

Ramaphosa’s campaign is tackling issues such as a lack of education and gender-based violence, which are often associated with the spread of HIV among women and girls in South Africa.

A focus on education, which is one of the campaign’s core values, will ultimately help empower women and girls over time. According to UNAIDS, Ramaphosa stated, “young women and girls are the heart and future of South Africa.”

Similarly, USAIDS reported that approximately 62 million girls around the world do not have adequate access to education, and in response, the #LetGirlsLearn campaign was started. #LetGirlsLearn places an emphasis on providing women and girls in impoverished areas with an education, which “lower[s] rates of HIV and AIDS.”

If they were not concerned about the spread of diseases such as HIV, women and girls would have the opportunity to invest more time in their communities. USAIDS has implemented community facilitators in poor areas in order to allow women and girls to learn useful skills such as farming and sanitation. These skills are important for women, who provide food and water to their families and communities, because they prevent the spread of disease.

UNICEF further recognizes the importance of women and girls for health outcomes in poor nations, emphasizing that “women and girls are traditionally responsible for domestic water supply and sanitation and maintaining a hygienic home environment.” In fact, approximately 44 million pregnant women suffered from a variety of preventable hookworm infections due to a lack of sanitation.

Diseases and infections are spread rapidly throughout tight-knit communities and areas where people lack proper vaccination and sanitation. It is critical that women and girls in poor countries are provided with these types of education and developmental programs. The health outcomes of a large number of families and communities ultimately depend on the empowerment of their female members.

Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Timor-Leste
Most nations balance violations and successes in achieving justice for females. Human rights in Timor-Leste are no exception to this.

For the country’s 2016/2017 report, Amnesty International highlighted a few key issues which are being dealt with by Timor-Leste. Among these brief descriptions, the topic of gender-based violence was very relevant.

The nongovernmental organization cited a statistic for the category that found that approximately 60 percent of women who had experience with a relationship (aged 15 to 49) reported violence—sexual or otherwise.

A 2016 human rights report included the same statistic and expanded upon this issue, emphasizing that slightly less than 15 percent of females experienced rape perpetrated by individuals who were not their significant others.

Furthermore, rates of domestic violence in the nation reportedly only fell behind assault for “commonly charged crimes in the criminal justice system.”

Issues for women in the country involve matters such as:

  • A lack of prosecutions and investigations regarding sexual-based violence.
  • Difficulties in the enforcement of legislation regarding domestic violence due to “cultural and institutional obstacles.”
  • Questionable classification for the level of the crime.
  • Poor acknowledgment of victims’ needs relating to their protection.

In spite of these hurdles, improvements are consistently made for the sake of women and their human rights in Timor-Leste.

The country’s legislation to combat domestic violence (mentioned above) receives praise despite impediments to its usage—seen as a method that enables individuals to feel comfortable going to law enforcement and reporting their experiences.

Amnesty International noted that the nation joined other countries in southeast Asia by taking on a National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security, spanning from 2016 to 2020.

Other successes for women in the country (according to the 2016 report) include:

  • More abuse-related cases being examined in the justice network.
  • Greater instances of incarceration for individuals guilty of domestic violence from the beginning of the year until August (about nine).
  • The Ministry of Social Solidarity’s operation in districts, each of which involved a “gender-based violence focal point to coordinate a referral network, a coordinator for the Bolsa de Mae (Mother’s Purse) support fund, and two additional staff who focused on children’s issues.”
  • Coordination with other organizations—in the face of shortages in personnel—enabled individuals to access nutrition, places to reside, funding and other forms of protection during times of need.

Although Timor-Leste must still address many issues relating to the disproportionate difficulties females face in its country, it continues to make improvements to the lives of those subjected to brutalities and violence.

Maleeha Syed

Photo: Flickr

Fighting Violence Against WomenGender-based violence is a human rights violation. The use of violence against women (VAW) and children as a war tactic is inhumane and a way for extremist men to keep women “in their place”. Activists fighting for human rights often face considerable hostility, and many VAW activists recognize that creative activism along with a proclivity for affecting change from within goes a long way towards raising awareness of gender-based violence. While an innumerable number of people work tirelessly to bring positive changes to women’s lives, these eight campaigns are creatively fighting violence against women.

  1. Maps4Aid – India

India ranks eighth on WondersList’s ten worst countries for women. The statistics are mind-numbing. Around 70 percent of women in India are victims of domestic violence. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a woman is a victim of crime every three minutes, a woman is raped every 15 minutes, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes and around 100 million women and girls are estimated to be victim of human trafficking. In a country with such staggering crime rates, P. Sheemer created the Maps4Aid app, which uses SMS and email to submit reports of any crime committed against women. This data helps map out the areas that are the most unsafe for women to travel in. Eventually, this data will be used to map out the most dangerous streets and areas across India and to press authorities to provide extra security measures in these areas.

  1. MenEngage Alliance – Kenya

MenEngage Alliance is an initiative of international NGOs to involve men and boys in promoting gender equality. Gender equality cannot be achieved in isolation; men need to be a part of the solution. The campaign aims to educate and work with men and boys around the world to change their perceptions of masculinity and to learn healthier ways to relate to each other. In addition, the campaign also aims to advocate for newer and better laws to end VAW, including female genital mutilation.

  1. The Burka Avenger – Pakistan

Creating alternative narratives in line with popular culture can be a powerful tool to reach a wider audience with maximum impact. This is one of the reasons why countries like India and Pakistan are using comic strips as tools to reach its younger generation. The Peabody Award-winning “Burka Avenger” is a children’s cartoon series about a good-natured female Pakistani school teacher with secret martial arts training who dons a burka to tackle a range of issues, from discrimination against women to environmental protection to fighting polio.

  1. Fathers’ club – Haiti

Most gender-based violence campaigns exclude men. In Haiti, Rorny Amile, a father from Haiti, started a fathers’ club to initiate a conversation on issues like meaningful consent and the importance of not using violence. The members receive training from CARE, an international organization with a mission to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice. The organization spreads its message by going door-to-door in their community to talk to men about violence against women. According to Amile, “children see their fathers beating their mothers and some carry on the cycle of violence when they grow up. We’re trying to show other fathers it’s not okay to do that”.

  1. Bead Game – Worldwide

The international organization CARE is creatively fighting violence against women by designing innovative games that challenge societal taboos. The Bead Game is designed by CARE to address issues related to the age-old blame that women take on if they are unable to produce a boy. With the help of two colored beads representing the X and Y chromosomes, the game demonstrates how the father determines the sex of a child. These domestic and cultural misunderstandings often result in gender-based violence, a problem CARE is committed to ending through community outreach, education and simple activities like the bead game.

  1. Paradise – Norway

Photographer Walter Astrada is known the world over for using photography as a tool to fight VAW. Recently, he took his fight to Norway to show the world that gender-based violence is not just a third-world problem; it occurs even in a country with an impeccable reputation as one of the wealthiest, safest, well- educated and most democratic countries in the world.

  1. Affordable Wood-Fired Stoves – Sudan

Zam Zam camp in North Darfur is home to 200,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan. The women of Zam Zam risk rape by Sudanese militiamen every time they leave the camp to collect wood for their cooking fires. If they chose otherwise, they would have to spend scarce money on firewood. Ashok Gadgil worked with Darfuri women and other engineers to create an affordable wood-fired stove that uses less wood. The stove reduced assaults, saved families money and made the homes of thousands of refugees healthier by considerably reducing carbon emissions.

  1. Orange Day – United Nations

In light of the recent barrage of cases of gender-based violence, the United Nations designated the 25th of every month as “Orange Day.” The UNiTE campaign, started by the United Nations Secretary-General’s, is dedicated to raising awareness and ending VAW. Orange Day is creatively fighting violence against women by calling upon everyone to mobilize people and highlighting issues relevant to preventing and ending VAW every month.

Jagriti Misra

Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Organizations Are Helping Women and Children in KasaiOver the past year, the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced extreme violence since the rise of the rebel Kamwina Nsapu fighters. This conflict is disproportionately affecting women and children, as forces recruit child soldiers and women face gender-based violence. Fortunately, humanitarian organizations are helping women and children in Kasai both recover and remain safe.

Since this conflict began last year, over 1.4 million have been displaced from their homes, 850,000 of which are children. The death toll of this tragedy is still being debated, with the Catholic Church claiming at least 3,300 individuals have been killed, while the UN estimates the number is around 400. Both acknowledge, however, that there are many deaths still unaccounted for, as mass graves continue to be discovered.

In addition to the mass displacement of 1.4 million people, civilians are also subject to horrible human rights abuses. These abuses range from mutilations and abductions to sexual violence including rape. The victims of these attacks are most often women and children, as they are most vulnerable to age- and gender-based violence. These abuses are amplified by the lack of access to nutrition, especially for children. UNICEF estimates 400,000 children are at risk for severe acute malnutrition.

Besides the direct assaults on women and children, the militias have also destroyed more than 200 healthcare centers as well as a multitude of schools and villages. The destruction of these centers makes it even harder for victims to find aid. Fortunately, humanitarian organizations are working to reach those in need.

Working to aid in recovery, UNICEF has played a significant role in humanitarian relief for Kasai. So far, UNICEF has reached over 150,000 people with essential nutrition, health, education, water and sanitation goods and services. A program has also been implemented by UNICEF to provide $100 cash grants to displaced families for bare necessities, and so far 11,225 families have benefitted from this. The humanitarian community has also launched an appeal for $64.5 million U.S. for an emergency response plan.

Although humanitarian organizations are helping women and children in Kasai as best they can, the severity and abruptness of this crisis make it difficult to always provide the amount of aid needed. UNICEF recently released a statement acknowledging, “unless this violence stops, our best work will never be enough.”

Kelly Hayes

Photo: Flickr