MADRE: An Organization for Women Across the World
MADRE is an organization fighting for the rights and empowerment of women worldwide that has been around for more than 30 years. It began when a group of U.S. women from a variety of backgrounds returned from Nicaragua in the ’80s in the midst of the Contra War.

Upon arrival back in the U.S., their mission was to spread awareness about issues facing Nicaraguan women and to improve domestic policies regarding women’s rights.

There are two different strategies that MADRE uses: partnering with local organizations that stand for human rights and advocating for the international law to be held accountable.

The New York-based organization has projects and partners around the globe, in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, Colombia, Kenya, Palestine, Syria and Iraq. The work MADRE is doing in each country differs, but it all comes down to the same goals of raising women up and helping them find lasting solutions to whatever issues they may face.

MADRE was recently featured in an article on the United Nations Women website for one of its projects in Nicaragua in which women use talk radio to discuss gender violence. MADRE received a grant from the United Nations for the project. The radio station has the sole focus of women’s rights and is the first of its kind in the region.

MADRE stands strong as an organization that is advocating on the behalf of women to end violence and rape, maintain gender and sexual minority rights and increase access to emergency aid.

According to the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC ), “MADRE works towards a world in which all people enjoy the fullest range of individual and collective human rights; in which resources are shared equitably and sustainably; in which women participate effectively in all aspects of society; and in which people have a meaningful say in decisions that affect their lives.”

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

Public health midwives have been a part of Sri Lankan culture for nearly a century, but their role has recently evolved into a prominent one in the community. Midwives in Sri Lanka not only attend births, but now they also cover preventive health community services. Since approximately 72 percent of Sri Lankans live in rural areas, over 90 percent of public health midwives serve in rural communities, ensuring that typically neglected areas prone to high poverty rates still receive adequate health coverage.

Sri Lanka has committed itself to promoting gender equality. Absolute poverty rates, typically affecting females and children more than males, have been on the decline. As of 2013, 90 percent of Sri Lankan adult females are literate. One of the most impressive efforts to both alleviate poverty and promote the role of women in the community is the central role of midwives in Sri Lanka. The free provision of healthcare at all stages of life, coupled with the usage of traditional cultural practices, has allowed midwives to become respected, sought-after figures in communities. Midwives are viewed as trusted healthcare providers and provide medical guidance to both men and women. Midwives in Sri Lanka have also played a huge role in the high rate of attended births (98 percent) and the incredibly low maternal mortality rate (32 per 100,000 live births).

Improving maternal health has far-reaching effects due to the improvement of the quality of life for women. Access to education is improved. Girls now make up 50 percent of students in secondary education and have the opportunity to attend higher levels of education. Additionally, the focus on rural health by midwives in Sri Lanka is coupled with rural development efforts that have resulted in absolute poverty rates of less than 10 percent and improved access to safe drinking water and electricity.

New challenges are arising, such as a rise in noncommunicable diseases and low midwife recruitment numbers. However, adaptations are being made. Providing more educational opportunities for midwives, increasing their role in addressing public health issues like domestic violence, and offering more public sector employment incentives will be important moving forward. Midwives in Sri Lanka are not only an integral part of the healthcare system but also play an important part in promoting gender equality and opportunities for women.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr

The global AIDS epidemic continues to threaten women’s health. There has been significant worldwide progress in combating this outbreak, as evidenced by a U.N. report showing a 33 percent global reduction in newly diagnosed HIV infections from 2001 to 2012. However, development has been disproportionate for women, especially in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

As the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV and AIDS reports, adolescent girls accounted for 64 percent of new HIV infections among youth globally in 2013. In addition, sub-Saharan Africa houses 80 percent of young women with HIV worldwide. Those aged 15 to 24 are nearly twice as likely to contract AIDS compared to their male counterparts.

Such statistics have a number of causes. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV if they have experienced physical or sexual abuse, especially through relationships that involve extramarital sex or little-to-no contraceptive use. Social norms, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, also impose barriers, as men have more dominance over women in relationships.

Lack of education, specifically sex education, also plays a role in women’s disproportionate diagnosis of HIV. A report by the U.N. demonstrated that out of 32 countries, “Women who had some level of secondary education were five times more likely than non-literate women to have knowledge of HIV.”

The probable leading cause of the AIDS epidemic affecting women comes from a lack of health services. Those who have insufficient access to HIV and reproductive health care treatments and support are less likely to monitor their health and thereby reduce infection. This is the case in many African regions. Laws also introduce obstacles; for example, in 2014, nine countries reported regulations that inhibit girls from obtaining HIV-related services.

Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, confirms: “This epidemic, unfortunately, remains an epidemic of women.” Fortunately, however, a number of organizations have made motions to counter the problem, beginning with UNAIDS itself. In 2015, it introduced a global initiative of reducing HIV infections to about half a million per year by 2020. This plan involves reducing new infections among women by a factor of 75 percent.

As the Human Rights Watch notes, such can be accomplished through legal reform, the implementation of health awareness programs, mandatory education measures and assistance from international NGOs. In order to combat the AIDS epidemic and its effect on women, serious action must continue worldwide.

Genevieve T. DeLorenzo

Photo: Flickr

Malala Yousafzai is a brave Pakistani advocate for young women’s education and the youngest ever Nobel laureate. An attempt was made on her life when she was shot in the head by militants, and she has faced many other obstacles. Yousafzai is one among hundreds of advocates around the world fighting for women’s education. More than 63 million girls are still not enrolled in school, and fewer than 10 percent of teenage girls finish secondary school. Here are five more outstanding advocates for women’s education.

  1. Neelam Ibrar Chattan
    Chattan has advocated for peace for young women in Pakistan since she was a teenager. She grew up in the same town as Yousafzai. While Yousafzai was being attacked, and the Taliban were taking over Pakistan, Chattan launched a campaign called Peace for a New Generation, promoting education and extracurricular activities for girls and boys. Even though she and her family face various threats, she remains fearless in helping children and young adults get the education they need.
  2. Michelle Obama
    The former First Lady, along with her husband, former President Barack Obama, launched the Let Girls Learn organization in March 2015. The organization works with communities and leaders of third-world countries to promote girls’ education. She has also visited Africa and raised $27 million in funding for young women’s education in Liberia. Michelle Obama hopes that more people will continue fighting for young women’s education.
  3. Graca Machel
    Machel has fought not only for young women’s education, but also against childhood marriage. She acknowledged that women and children “pay the highest prices” from war in Nigeria. Her hard work has led to the Graca Machel Trust.
  4. Angelique Kidjo
    A Grammy-nominated West African singer and songwriter, Kidjo is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and the founder of the Batonga Foundation. She uses her talents as a singer and her passion for young women’s education to effect important change. She continues to work with the Batonga Foundation, supporting secondary and higher education for girls in Africa by improving school infrastructure, increasing enrollment, granting scholarships, providing financial support for families, and spreading community awareness.
  5. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
    As the first female president in an African country, Liberian President Sirleaf has been a huge supporter of general women’s rights, including women’s right to vote and women’s right to education. She has used her power to expand the quality of education in preschool and primary education by joining the Global Partnership for Education in 2007. Despite dealing with the Ebola crisis in 2015, she worked hard to reopen schools and provide quality education for all students.

In the face of widespread and systemic adversity, millions of women around the world do not have education as a birthright. These five advocates of women’s education are advancing an agenda of equality that will empower and uplift communities forever.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

History is full of unsung female heroes, and the story of the fight against disease is no exception. March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day, and global health organizations worldwide took the opportunity this year to recognize amazing women who have made, and continue to make, important contributions. Here are five awesome women who fought disease:

 1. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1689-1762

Lady Montagu was almost singlehandedly responsible for introducing inoculation to Western medicine. An accomplished poet and letter writer, Montagu became an advocate for global health after she witnessed a smallpox vaccine being administered during a visit to the Ottoman Empire. She used her writing skills to defend the practice at home in England, where she defied European doctors by having her son Edward vaccinated.

 2. Dr. Isabel Morgan, 1911-1996

Instrumental in the fight against polio, Morgan broke new ground in the medical understanding of vaccines with her work during the 1940s. She and her team proved that “killed-virus” vaccines were effective in the creation of antibodies in the immune systems of monkeys, preventing the virus from passing the blood-brain barrier. Thanks to her research, a safe and effective vaccine for humans was created and continues to save lives today.

3. Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler, 1831-1895

Crumpler challenged the status quo by becoming the first African-American woman to earn an M.D. She devoted her practice to caring for freed slaves and the poor after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Her written work published in 1883 Book of Medical Discourses, which contains a brief autobiography of her career, is one of the first medical references in the U.S. authored by an African-American individual.

4, Henrietta Lacks, 1920-1951

Lacks fought disease in a most surprising fashion: with her own cellular tissue. After being diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 30, Lacks provided a sample from a tumor that contained what medical research refers to as “immortal” cells. Her cells were code-named ‘HeLa cells’ by doctors and researchers. These particular cells are able to survive indefinitely in a laboratory environment, for reasons still partially unknown to science. They have been used to learn more about everything from developing vaccines to cellular behavior in zero gravity environments.

5. Nontokozo Zakwe, 1993-current

Zakwe is living proof that even without medical degrees, girls can grow up to become awesome women who fought disease. Zakwe is a volunteer and ambassador for the DREAMS partnership across 10 African countries, led by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR). After being inspired by her mother’s battle with HIV, Zakwe continues to raise awareness and provide education for preventing the spread of the virus throughout the world.

On International Women’s Day 2017, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released a report outlining its impressive goals to reduce the number of girls and women infected by the virus by providing access to reproductive health options to 90 percent of the population by 2020. Among the ranks of those working to achieve that reality, there will surely be more pioneering women in the global fight against the disease.

Dan Krajewski

Photo: Flickr

Political life for women in Morocco has long been suppressed because of law and a very conservative culture. Recently, aspects of the nation have changed for the better. After King Mohammed VI’s revisions in the Moroccan Family Code, women were allotted a larger voice.

In 2011, the Moroccan Arab Spring focused on women’s rights and issues. This movement promoted a new voice for women in Morocco.

The percentage of women holding parliamentary seats was only 1 percent in 2001, but since then, the progression of a quota for women’s parliamentary seats was first changed to a minimum of 12 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in 2010. Currently, 30 percent of women in Morocco are holding parliamentary seats.

In 2012, Nabila Mounib became the first woman ever to be elected to a major political party. She led the United Socialist Party, which is a secular and socialist party.

Mounib is also a professor at the University of Hassan II, in Casablanca. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mounib talked about the future of her party, “Our focus will be to push for a system where people’s rights are respected. We are also pushing for the release of political prisoners and for gender equality.”

NGO’s have heavily impacted political life for women in Morocco over the past ten years. Groups like Mouvement pour la Democratie Paritaire, which is partnered with the British Government, uses the British Arab partnership fund to advocate for women’s representation within government. The group meets with parliamentary groups within the Moroccan government.

Other groups, such as the International Republican Institution, help to give a voice to groups of women in Morocco who are often overlooked. The group sets up workshops for women candidates in rural areas.

Rural areas in Morocco are known for having low rates of unemployment, education, and literacy for women. The International Republican Institution aids political life for women in Morocco by providing women with the knowledge they need to become active in government. When they learn how to campaign, women are able to mobilize what they have learned and can teach other women, creating a bigger voice for themselves.

Maria Rodriguez

Photo: Flickr

Women’s HealthAccording to data from Trading Economics, Malawi’s GDP in 2015 totaled $6.57 billion, or 0.01 percent of the global economy. The highest influxes of extremely impoverished Malawians are concentrated in rural areas and face a constant struggle when conceptualizing economic development from agricultural practices.

Established in 1993, the Malawi Children’s Fund has initiated and supported youth in Malawi by developing initiatives that facilitate entrepreneurial, educational and medical facilities. The Green Malata Entrepreneurial Village, one of the fund’s centers for development, provides children with courses in subjects such as renewable energy and information technology, in addition to a tailoring program that manufactures reusable Malawian sanitary pads.

Women and children studying tailoring also construct reusable pads that are then combined into “The School Girl Pack,” consisting of three pads and a pair of underwear, which is then sold for $3.50. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that one in 10 school-aged girls in Africa drop out of school or miss class due to their period. Skills development programs established by the entrepreneurial village are not only providing personal development of individual’s trade abilities but also ensuring a better quality of life for women and children in Malawi.

Access to quality female hygiene products is also vital to beneficial health practices to prevent malfunctions such as leaking, which spreads infection and subsequent sores and rashes. Other organizations such as AFRIpads, locally headquartered in Uganda, distribute sanitary pads to women in dire need of reliable assistance.

The Malawian sanitary pads initiative has also committed to participation in Project 50/50, a trans-regional campaign that aims to facilitate greater political representation of women, as outlined in 2008 Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development. On location, training events are held to empower and educate women to become leaders in local and national government.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Women and EducationWomen are estimated to menstruate for an average of 3,000 days throughout their lifetimes. This highlights the necessity for adequate access to sanitation and health services for women’s hygiene. A project called Camions of Care, founded by 18-year-old Nadya Okamoto from Portland, has made a monumental impact on relieving incidence of disease and social exclusion among women worldwide.

Since the establishment of Camions of Care, the organization has facilitated the transmission of more than 27,000 period care packages to women globally. A 2013 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) case study of menstrual hygiene in Burkina Faso and Niger emphasized challenges such as inadequate sanitation facilities, lack of knowledge regarding periods and the cultural impact of stigma regarding menstruation. Addressing these challenges is pivotal in establishing better practices for women’s hygiene. The study also cites that empowering women through education and personal support is imperative to improving local sanitation practices.

A journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) also attributes poor knowledge of healthy menstruation practices to decreased school attendance among girls in Uganda.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) reinforces evidence that women and girls without access to satisfactory female hygiene facilities are more likely to miss school and work, and can be subject to higher rates of sexual assault. USAID also attributes improved sanitation facilities to promoting economic development, while also affording women “dignity, privacy and security.”

The non-profit organization also aids partners such as New Avenues for Youth, Central City Concern, Rose Haven, Free Hot Soup and Self Enhancement, Inc. and has impacted women across 19 states within the U.S. through foundations of “advocacy, youth leadership and service”. The Hasbro Community Action Hero Awards program has also recognized Okamoto’s homeless relief organization for exceptional commitment to advancing women’s health.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr

Women in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s population largely consists of people under 24 years of age, and about 400,000 people are entering the workforce every year. It is hard enough finding a job as a young graduate, but it’s even harder for the women in Afghanistan. The women in Afghanistan who try to get an education or become working members of the society still face a backlash from men.

Although 64 percent of Afghans believe women should be allowed to work, many men still feel that women should be forbidden from pursuing an education. Girls who attempt to get an education face great danger. Schools for girls have been burned down, teachers have been threatened and killed and girls have been injured walking to and from school. The women who actually complete their education often have forces working against them, preventing them from getting a job.

In December 2015, U.N. Women developed an internship program to help women who have graduated from college acquire skills and develop a work ethic to better prepare them for the working world in Afghanistan. As of now, 48 women have completed the U.N. Women’s internship program in Afghanistan. It is a six-month program, where two months is spent training the women in different professional skills, and four months is spent interning with an organization in the woman’s chosen field, where they receive a stipend from U.N. Women for the duration of their internship period.

As drastic and detrimental as things are for women in Afghanistan, the country is making progress for women and girls in education, political participation and in their economic role. The National Unity Government has committed to the empowerment of women and recognizes that equal opportunity for women is necessary for stabilizing Afghanistan and ensuring that the country develops in a sustainable way. There are more women in power than ever before in history – 27.7% of parliament consists of women, four ministries and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission are led by women, and three women serve as ambassadors. Also, Afghanistan has in place a National Action Plan for implementing a resolution for the peace and security of women. These strides for progress show that there have been efforts in promoting and upholding a peaceful society with equal opportunity for women.

The internship program has helped the women in the program with vital social and professional connections with different programs around the world, some of which have offered these women jobs after completing their internships. The U.N. Women internship opportunity is helping women in Afghanistan look more suitable and appealing to job recruiters, even more appealing than the many young men they are competing against for jobs.

Women in Afghanistan continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. There is still a substantial amount of resistance and discrimination in the workforce, but Afghanistan is making progress. With help from U.N. Women, the working and educated women in Afghanistan can be the progressive rebels that serve as role models and leaders to all other women and girls. Although Afghanistan has established ambitious goals, these actions are necessary to ensure that progress is not reversed and to preserve the great gains the country has made.

Kayla Mehl

Photo: Flickr

US House of Reps Passes Digital GAP Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Digital Global Access Policy Act or the Digital GAP Act (H.R. 600) on January 24, just a day after the bill was reintroduced by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA-39). The legislation is aimed at promoting internet access in developing countries to spur economic growth and job creation, reduce poverty and improve health while advancing U.S. interests.

In today’s technology-driven world, internet access is a major driver of economic and social improvement. However, 4.2 billion people remain offline — about 60 percent of the world’s population, most of whom are in developing countries. In these areas, internet access is hindered by inadequate infrastructure and a poor regulatory environment, stifling the potential for sustainable growth and development.

The Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act seeks to promote first-time access to mobile or broadband internet for at least 1.5 billion people in both urban and rural areas of developing countries by 2020. It aims to do this is a variety of ways, including:
  • Removing tax and regulatory barriers to internet access.
  • Promoting internet deployment and related coordination, capacity building, and build-once policies and approaches in developing countries.
  • Promoting the use of the internet to increase economic growth and trade, along with democracy, government accountability, transparency and human rights.
  • Promoting inclusive internet policymaking for women, people with disabilities, minorities, low-income and marginalized groups and underserved populations.

On the House floor prior to the vote, Chairman Royce noted that women and girls are disproportionately affected by this digital gap. He said that “bringing 500 million women online could contribute up to $18 billion in GDP growth across 144 countries. That is how you reduce poverty; that is how you advance U.S. interests.”

In addition to Rep. Royce, Representatives Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA-5), Grace Meng (D-NY-6) and Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) were also listed as original cosponsors of the bill.

The Borgen Project commends the House for making this legislation a priority in the new year and urges the Senate to move swiftly to get this bill to the President’s desk.

– Kim Thelwell