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

Bill Gates once referred to the Internet as “the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” Even with fewer Internet users than the rest of the world, Africa has begun to find its way to the so-called town square, as women’s mobile Internet use in Africa has increased dramatically in this part of the world.

A recent survey found that the number of women who use mobile Internet in Africa has surpassed that of men, as more and more women use the Internet in search of entertainment and tools for empowerment.

Global software company Opera and digital reading non-profit Worldreader joined forces to conduct a survey on the Internet habits of people in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Opera ran a survey of 1,500 men and women between the ages of 14 and 44 to better understand how people use the Internet on their mobile devices. These results were combined with data from Worldreader, which provided information on the mobile reading habits of 50,000 of the app’s users in those three countries.

Together, Opera and Worldreader found that women are equally as “tech-savvy” as men. Women use their Internet browsers just as frequently as men do, and 60% of women surveyed in Kenya and Nigeria reported using the Internet over eight times a day. Not only do women use the Internet as much as men, but they also tend to purchase larger data packages in all three countries.

In addressing these statistics, it is important to understand why women are using the Internet so frequently. The survey found that two motives—entertainment and empowerment—were the reasons behind women’s Internet use.

Across the board, women in these three countries engaged with a broader variety of content on the Internet than their male counterparts did. One in three women who took part in this survey said that they used the Internet to browse lifestyle, music, and entertainment content.

However, women found it just as important to use the Internet for empowerment purposes. Many women were interested in ways that they could improve their lives in areas such as education, property rights, and health. They also emphasized the importance of having access to the news.

For many women, access to the Internet could be the key to greater educational opportunity. As women’s mobile Internet use in Africa continues to increase, more and more women will be equipped with the tools they need to empower themselves and improve their quality of life.

Jennifer Faulkner

Photo: Flickr

When thinking of the extremely poor, one’s mind may not immediately go to the inherent struggles that come with menstruation. This is not just cramping, bloating and irritability, but the associated sanitation issues that may arise without access to proper hygiene, not to mention the stigmatic buzz around womanhood and her period.

Real Relief, a small organization committed to supplying common life sustaining supplies, is devoted to making a difference and has developed a tool for menstruation hygiene for the extremely poor: SafePad, a period game changer in the sanitation industry. While sanitary napkins are nothing new to the women’s hygiene repertoire, SafePad exemplifies what certain basic life necessities encompass and how something so simple can impact the lives of millions of women and their younger counterparts.

The extremely poor cross many cultures as well as economic strains over a variety of different ages, races and religions. There are several different ways in which women have traditionally dealt with their menses. In some cases, these methods may be simply impractical. Rags may be used to deal with menses, but they often take time and privacy to wash and dry. Where menstruation cups may be available, some cultures may not accept this means or view it as reasonable.

Inadequate access to proper sanitation such as soap and clean water can also cause yeast infections, other serious illness or in extreme cases, infertility. When all else fails, women may choose to “free bleed,” which may not seem particularly harmful unless in the context of young girls attending schools in which they may take five or more days of leave, eventually leading to a poorer performance in their classes or even drop out.

Real Relief’s mission led to the production and distribution of SafePad through NGOs, religious communities and relief aid organizations of SafePad. SafePad has been specifically designed to combat bacteria by utilizing silica, nitrogen and carbon treatment agents, provide comfort, discretion and practical solutions to women where access to hygienic means of caring for the menses is difficult or impossible.

SafePad is also reusable and recyclable for women that do not experience reliable waste management in their communities and can withstand up to 100 washes, which translates to four years of use.

Menstruation is a part of most every woman’s life but if not taken care of properly, has the potential to have serious, life-long side effects. Menstrual health, education and supplies, however, can lead to so much more relief. Period.

Casey Hess

Photo: Flickr

Women in IranOn May 19th this year, Iranians held presidential and local elections in their country. This particular election saw an increase in registered women candidates, along with the number of elected women officials, bringing hope and giving voice to women in Iran at both the national and local level.

In some parts of the country, there was a 34 percent decrease in the number of women elected compared to 2013; however, although the number decreased in 16 provincial capitals, 3 remained the same, while 11, including Tehran, saw increases in women being elected to councils. Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province—an underdeveloped and impoverished area in the southeast of Iran with the highest percentage of illiterate girls and women in the country—saw a total of 415 women elected to office. In a village called Afzalabad located in the province’s Khash district, all of the 10 elected candidates were women.

Some of the concerns that women in Iran campaigned on included women’s civic engagement, citizens’ rights, employment, education, health and social security and welfare.

Recently, Iran’s newly reelected president Hassan Rouhani has been under pressure to appoint female ministers to his cabinet. During his last term, his all-male list of ministers disappointed his followers, even though he appointed a number of women to vice-president positions. Despite this, Shahindokht Molaverdi, Rouhani’s vice-president for women and family affairs, has won support among women’s rights advocates in Iran.

Ghonchech Ghavami, a leading women’s rights activist based out of Tehran, has said that “this structure has eliminated women on the excuse of meritocracy and experience but it looks like that main criteria for them is being male. That’s why appointing female ministers is symbolically important and would send a powerful signal in a country where politics still originates from men.”

One may find it surprising, though, that Iran as a whole has near-universal female literacy: women make up the majority (60 percent) of university students, as well as the majority of graduates earning degrees in science (68 percent). Furthermore, women in Iran are consistently outperforming their male counterparts.

Workplace biases in general are very much alive for women in Iran, and these biases often compel employers to hire male workers that are of identical or even lesser qualifications than their female counterparts. Although women in Iran have been as whole increasing their political participation within their government, they clearly still have a long way to go before achieving true gender equality.

Sara Venusti

Photo: Flickr/span>

Organizations Helping Women in Developing CountriesMen, women and children in developing countries face many common struggles. But women living in poverty must also contend with their own set of unique challenges, such as sexual violence and educational discrimination. Ahead are five organizations helping women in developing countries.


  1. The Malala Fund
    Founded by the international human rights icon Malala Yousafzai, the Malala Fund is one of the most famous organizations helping girls and women get an education in developing countries. The Malala Fund works directly with girls in local communities to advocate for their education. Donations to the fund are used to invest in schools and supplies, as well as place activists and educators in the girls’ communities. The organization primarily helps girls in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and countries housing Syrian refugees such as Lebanon and Jordan.
    Taboos and traditions surrounding menstruation pose a significant health threat to women and girls in many developing countries. Just last month, a Nepali teenager died while observing her culture’s tradition of separating menstruating women from their families in “menstrual huts.” PERIOD is a nonprofit working to break the taboo around periods through advocacy and education. It also distributes period products to women in need.
  3. The Orchid Project
    Female genital cutting is a devastating practice that many women undergo in developing regions such as West Africa. The Orchid Project is one of many organizations working to end this human rights violation. This organization raises awareness of this damaging tradition and advocates for more resources for its victims. They also partner with grassroots organizations to educate local communities about the misconceptions and dangers surrounding FGC in order to end this dangerous practice.
  4. Prajwala
    Prajwala, which means “eternal flame,” is an Indian organization founded by social activist Dr. Sunitha Krishnan. The nonprofit rescues victims of sex trafficking. Prajwala works to keep these women out of prostitution by providing them with education, mental health care and job training.
  5. Women for Women
    Conflict disproportionately occurs in developing regions, and women are often the overlooked victims of this violence. Women for Women is a nonprofit that provides women in conflict zones with an empowerment program. The program equips women with business skills, job skills and networking opportunities. Women for Women also provides women in conflict zones with resources such as microfinancing and access to local healthcare sources.

Women in developing countries have their own special needs beyond challenges such as hunger and health problems. These are just a few of the many organizations helping women in the developing world.

Bret Serbin

Photo: Flickr