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Known for its tropical vistas and banana plantations, Costa Rica has also developed a well-deserved reputation for stability. Indeed, since abolishing its military in 1949, the small Central American nation has celebrated seven decades of uninterrupted democracy. While this stability has allowed Costa Rica to make great strides in alleviating poverty, however, nearly 21 percent of the country still remains impoverished. To this end, many in Costa Rica are increasingly turning to microfinance as a potential remedy.

Why Microfinance?

Microfinance is a banking service that focuses on delivering small loans to communities underserved by traditional banks. These ‘microloans’ can be as low as $100 and are specifically designed to help meet the needs of low-income families.

Because the principal of a microloan is much smaller than that of a traditional loan, lenders can afford to take on risks they otherwise could not. This means less stringent requirements on things like documentation and property, which are traditionally the largest obstacles to acquiring credit for those living in poverty. As a result, microfinance has become a favorite tool of activists in the developing world.

Costa Rica is no exception in that regard. With more than half of Costa Ricans unable to raise needed funds in an emergency, microfinanciers provide the country a crucial service.

Keeping Small Farmers and Rural Communities Afloat

One reason microfinance has been able to take off so quickly in Costa Rica lies in the country’s history. In the 1980s, a prolonged economic crisis prompted traditional banks to retreat en masse from Costa Rica’s rural areas. This left many small farmers suddenly lacking access to badly needed credit.

To help combat this issue, organizations like FINCA began seeking ways to encourage sustainability in rural financial markets. One such solution was microfinance.

Beginning in 1984, FINCA Costa Rica set about building a series of ‘village banks’ in the areas hit hardest by the loss of financial services. These were largely community-run, shared-liability ventures whose purpose would be to offer microloans to farmers. It did not take long for the model to become a success. Village banks quickly began to attract Costa Rican farmers, many of whom would have had difficulty acquiring a standard loan. In fact, the village banks would prove so popular that within a decade they had already become self-sustaining.

Others in Costa Rica soon took note of FINCA’s success. Though not all would copy the village bank model, many other microfinancing operations began to sprout up around the country.

Empowering Costa Rican Women

While FINCA’s village banks primarily served a demographic consisting of rural, male farmers, modern microfinanciers pursue a more diverse client base. Women in particular are a focus for many.

Research demonstrates a sharp gap in financial access along gender lines in Costa Rica. Thirty-nine percent of Costa Rican women lack a bank account, for instance, compared to 25 percent of men. This is a pattern that largely holds consistent across the developing world. Although in many cases women provide necessary income for their families, they often lack the means to build upon those earnings. This leaves them more vulnerable to the sudden economic shocks that can devastate a household, like personal medical emergencies and unexpected changes in consumer trends.

Microfinance institutions empower these women, however, by offering them the credit needed to start a business of their own, and by providing them with a newfound resiliency.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Fundación Mujer, women now own more than 22 percent of Costa Rican businesses. And, as the number of women gaining access to loans and other financial services increases, that percentage is only expected to grow. This means greater social mobility for Costa Rican women and a stronger ability to weather the storm in times of crisis.

The Future of Microfinance in Costa Rica

Microfinance in Costa Rica has come a long way from its first experiments with village banks in the 1980s. As it stands, Costa Rica is now one of the world’s largest microfinance markets. And, with the industry expected to grow by a further 5-10 percent in Latin America over the next decade, it is unlikely that will change any time soon.

While experts caution that microfinance cannot be seen as a ‘miracle cure’ for poverty, it is undeniable that it can provide real benefits to those in need. To see that, one only has to consider the success of microfinance in Costa Rica.

– James Roark

Photo: Pixabay.com

Girls’ Education in Albania
Albania is one of the poorest of the European nations. Recently, the Albanian Government has been making strides towards economic growth, but it has only now come to realize the importance of empowering and supporting women in the country. The government is empowering women in Albania by taking a stance against violence towards women, encouraging girls’ education and increasing access for women in the workforce.

Violence at Home

The National Strategy for Gender Equality campaign was launched in 2016 to help the Albania Government implement a policy to help women achieve real equality. As it stands now, most of the women are working in agriculture on family farms, often without pay. According to the U.N., almost 60 percent of Albanian women have direct experience with in-home violence.

A woman named Tone from a village in north Albania shared her story of endurance after being in a 10-year arranged marriage full of abuse. Her family had suggested she stay with her husband in spite of the abuse because there were no support systems available for Tone and her children if they left their abusive home. When she finally had had enough, she reported the violence and, to her surprise, the police were timely, responsive and positive. They referred her to the National Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Domestic Abuse The Centre is up and coming and is currently aiding around 100 women victims annually.

Tome’s story is just one of several stories of women’s suppression in this poverty-riddled nation. In fact, one in two women are victims of abuse in Albania. For those that have not found a helping hand and been able to escape the harsh realities of inequality, the story acts as a cycle. Children who come from uneducated mothers are less likely to complete schooling if it is even available to them in the first place. The influences of home life, such as violence, inadequate funds, illness, excessive children in the home or lack of transportation, make it hard for children to succeed in school.

Promoting Education for Empowering Women in Albania

Because children from these homes require more support to make it through school without the heightened risk of drop-out, UNICEF has joined forces with the Albanian Government to promote Child-Friendly Schools (CFS).  These CFCs encompass a holistic education based on the needs of children who need the most help, especially girls. The projected outcome of the CFS plan is to make education in Albania more readily available by increasing the country’s GDP budget towards education up from 3.27 percent to 5 percent. The hope is that, with education and proper emotional support, these girls will grow up better educated and better equipped to enter the workforce.

Sociologists are quickly realizing that empowering women through education is crucial for national growth in any developing country. In 2006, Albania joined the Global Partnership for Education and has since implemented strategies for equality such as gender quotas that will make girls’ education in Albania more accessible and better equipped to serve these young ladies. The program has already seen an increase in primary and secondary school completion rates.

Many girls in Albania don’t have the same access to education due to conflict or crisis, poverty or because so many young girls are married. With access to primary and secondary education that is made more available by USAID and other activists, women will be empowered and, therefore, be able to make better choices that support their individual needs and dreams.

Improving the Future for Women in Albania

Women make up half of the Earth’s population, which equates to half of the human capital. Rigid gender roles and cultural tradition have delayed the realization of equality for some women in countries like Albania, but as change happens, government officials are seeing the benefits of humanity and equality along with the need to act. Together with the Government of Sweden, U.N. Women is raising awareness of women’s rights across each of the 10 municipalities in Albania. The good news is that in 2014 there was a 51 percent increase in female participation in the labor market.

The majority of Foreign and Domestic aid for Albanian women is geared toward equality as a whole, which means progress for women and girls in Albania. Escaping violence, becoming educated and empowered and gaining access to the workforce are all necessary for achieving equality and truly empowering women in Albania.

– Heather Benton

Photo: Flickr

Efforts to Improve Girls Education in Djibouti
Educating young people is one of the first steps to decreasing extreme poverty in many underdeveloped countries of the world. In Djibouti, this fact has been recognized and progress is being made to educate children. The special attention is on educating young girls in the country.

Statistics of Education in Djibouti

In four short years, between 2002 and 2006, net school enrollment in Djibouti rose from 43 percent to 66 percent. This was viewed as amazing progress at the time, but it was still unsatisfactory. In order to meet the standards of the Millenium Development Goals, Djibouti needed to lessen the statistic that showed that one of three children is not attending school. The final goal of the government is to get all its boys and girls into school.

Within the statistic mentioned above, the majority of the children not attending school were girls. To fix this, the focus was on bettering girls’ education in the country. Two organizations that have done an amazing job on girls education in Djibouti are UNICEF and Global Partnership for Education Efforts.

UNICEF Efforts

UNICEF discovered, without any surprise, that the main reasons why girls are not enrolled in schools were directly correlated with poverty and social problems. These reasons included the fact that most of the girls out of school were orphans, homeless and neglected. Other factors that affected this statistic were health problems and disabilities.

UNICEF implemented the Basic Education and Gender Equality Program which was composed of three components: equal access to educational facilities, quality of primary education and non-formal education. Each component had subtopics within them.

The most important and impactful ones were social mobilization efforts, creating mass media educational systems, promoting child-friendly school systems, increasing teacher training, increasing women involvement in teaching, better access for children from rural areas and the development of alternative teaching methods.

Global Partnership for Education Efforts

The Global Partnership for Education Efforts partnered with the Djibouti government for the first time in 2006. Their education sector plan for the country is a nine-year program, planned from 2010 to 2019.

This organization has very similar goals as UNICEF, which makes sense since these are partner programs. However, it is still important that yet another organization pushes hard for equal education rights in the country.

The program has six main objectives. The first is developing a pre-school system that connects rural, urban, private and public sectors so that everyone receives the same education across the board. For primary education, their second goal is to have 100 percent of eligible children enrolled by 2019. They have settled for 79 percent for secondary education, understanding the need to work in some situations.

The third goal is to eliminate the gender disparity. The organization understands the importance of bridging the gap between genders so that girls can become future leaders, teachers and lawmakers who will continue to fight for equal rights for all citizens in Djibouti. This goal is the most important one from the standpoint of improving the girls’ education in Djibouti. The remaining goals all have to do with reform on every level that interacts with the education system in Djibouti. Global Partnership for Education has many strategies that they are using to reach these goals.

The government of Djibouti has been aware of the need to increase school enrollment of girls since the early 21st century. Since then, they have been working with organizations like UNICEF and Global Partnership to fix disparities.

Being aware and making moves to fix things are some of the most important steps to fixing a problem, especially one concerning poverty and education rights. The fight for increasing girls’ education in Djibouti is not over yet.

Global Partnership still regularly updates their progress on the matter, with their most recent article being from October 2018. Keeping hope alive and working together matters most in these harsh times.

Miranda Garbaciak
Photo: Flickr

United Nations Empowers Women
The United Nations (UN) is a multinational organization that promotes universal human rights, encourages global cooperation and establishes international law and order among nation-states. The United Nations empowers women because they are the spearhead of social equality. The organization has made great strides in the fight against gender inequality, and the United Nations empowers women socially, politically and economically.

Five Ways the United Nations Empowers Women Globally

  1. Within Kyrgyzstan, the U.N. is teaching 15,000 young people to respect and appreciate gender diversification. The United Nations’ education program in the Chui region of Kyrgyzstan is tackling issues that impact girls and women. The program will consist of seminars that discuss a variety of different topics, such as violence, diversity and livelihood skills.The main objective of these discussions is to bring awareness through education, creating harmonious, respectful relations between men and women. They will enlighten the youth on both human rights and fundamental business skills, allowing the youth to grow together to form more inclusive economic, political and social initiatives for the present and future.Girls are facing many challenges within Kyrgyzstan. The United Nations empowers women by spreading a message of universal human rights. The country is adopting these morals in order to make a better tomorrow for the women of Kyrgyzstan.

  2. Several African countries are currently bringing an end to gender-based violence in education systems. The United Nations, Education International and Gender at Work founded “Education Unions Take Action to End School-Related Gender-Based Violence” in 2016, and the initiative continues to be implemented today. The United Nations empowers women in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia through this program.The goal of this program is to decrease gender-based violence within schools across Africa. Unions have banded together in order to strengthen the cause, learning that education plays a vital role in providing safety to young girls, boys and educators. Discussions and classes have proven to be effective in the fight against gender-based violence. Now, these unions are introducing a global campaign in order to educate the world about the challenges their communities face and the practices they use in order to decrease violence.
  3. The U.N. is hosting workshops in African countries in order to encourage education among girls. The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) has a vision for the year of 2030: an inclusive, fair education system that supports equality among women. The workshops across Africa will help with this vision.Called the “Gender-Responsive Education Sector Planning Workshop,” planners for the academic school year will learn about new ways to incorporate young girls in classes. They will also effectively and fairly include both genders in lesson plans. These workshops are sure to provide more opportunities to young girls through West and Central Africa.
  4. The U.N. is giving rural women access to digital technology in order to fortify their economic equality. Many women across the globe work in agriculture, yet they do not have the same property rights as men. The United Nations reported that rural women make up over 25 percent of the world’s population. Rural women provide the food for their communities, yet landowning and financing are just two liberties that they often cannot obtain; the U.N. is working to make that different.The U.N. is breaking gender barriers by giving rural women digital technology so that they can compete with men in the agricultural business. Women are now better able to access agriculture inputs and technologies for climate resilience.The indigenous women of Guatemala are further examples of how the U.N. is empowering rural women globally. These ladies participate in a joint program of many international organizations that help women become financially stable and independent. They are now saving money, which results in better conditions for their home life.
  5. Marta Vieira da Silva is now a Goodwill Ambassador, through which she can empower young ladies to accomplish their dreams. Marta Vieira da Silva is a Brazilian soccer player who now works for the U.N. as a Goodwill Ambassador. She has committed herself to helping young women achieve their goals, whether it is through sports, politics, medicine, business, engineering, etc.Vieira da Silva will work closely with the U.N. Women Executive Director in order to increase opportunities for girls in sports. If complete equality is to be reached, it means equality in all things—including sports. World leaders and international organizations view sports as an engaging way to strengthen gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The United Nations empowers women of all backgrounds and proves that women can do anything if they are only given the chance. With continued efforts from organizations like the U.N., total gender equality is within the world’s reach.

– Diana Hallisey
Photo: Flickr

Female Entrepreneurs in Latin AmericaThe entrepreneurial spirit is catching in South America. According to the World Bank, 63 percent of Latin Americans believe they have what it takes to start a successful business. Meanwhile, local governments are offering support to local entrepreneurs. In Chile, the environment is so strong for startups that it has been dubbed “Chilecon Valley.”

Despite this, there is still widespread poverty in the region. An estimated 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $4 a day. The situation is even worse for women, as only 53 percent participate in the labor force. Fortunately, three women are aiming to change that by helping their local communities and being role models for prospective female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

Leila Velez

Leila Velez is a Brazilian entrepreneur who is aiming to bring the efficiency of waste management in the fast food industry to beauty salons. She started her business, Beleza Natural, at 19 years old with the hope of bringing the accessibility of places like McDonald’s to the beauty industry. Now, her company has locations all over Brazil and employs 3,000 people, many of whom Velez says are single mothers in their early 20s.

While Velez may have modeled aspects of her salons after fast food, she did not want them to become another low paying job people take on temporarily. She wanted to provide career opportunities that give her employees sustainability in life. She says working at her salon is the first job of 90 percent of her employees and she wants her company to offer the opportunity to build a career rather than be a temporary stop.

Jimena Flórez

When Jimena Flórez began her initiative to educate rural farmers about sustainability, she had no idea it would lead to an international snack food company. Chaak Healthy Snacks, originally called Crispy Fruits, works closely with local Colombian farmers to provide healthy snack foods like low sugar brownies to 90,000 kids per month.

Flórez’s company started out trying to help out local Colombian farmers by helping them use organic techniques she learned from relatives in Germany. When she visited her family’s German brewery after college, she knew she could bring the information back to help Columbians. This led to a dry fruit company that later rebranded to healthy snack foods to appeal to an international audience.

In 2015, former President Barack Obama invited Florez to attend a Global Entrepreneurship Event where he thanked her for “helping to lift up his community.” As one of six young entrepreneurs invited, Florez is primed to expand and continue to provide healthy snacks all over the world as one of the many rising female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

Marian Villa Roldán

Being a female entrepreneur is difficult anywhere, but in Latin America, where a certain level of masculinity called “machismo” is integral to the culture, it is more difficult. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found that 40 percent of Latin American women have been on the receiving end of violence in their lives. This negative attitude toward femininity goes all the way to the top, where only 17 percent of executive positions are held by women.

Marian Villa Roldan and her company Eversocial are out to change that. Eversocial, an online marketing and design company, has supported numerous initiatives that empower Latin American women, including PionerasDev, which helps teach young women how to code. Eversocial has also supported Geek Girls LatAm, a similar organization that helps Latin American women get into STEM fields.

Success for Female Entrepreneurs in Latin America

Latin American women pursuing careers in entrepreneurship are succeeding in a tough environment, but they do not let that stop them from giving back to their communities. Whether it be through providing employment, offering a helpful product, or supporting noble causes, these women fight poverty and serve as role models for the next generation of female entrepreneurs in Latin America.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

Examples of Gender Inequality

The fight for gender equality is an ongoing struggle for men and women throughout the world. Many aspects of gender inequality are events that men will never face, but that constantly shape women’s mental health and opportunities. Listed here are the top 10 examples of gender inequality found in the daily lives of women across the globe.

10 Examples of Gender Inequality

  1. Infant Life Expectancy: In India and China, the two most populous nations in the world, there is significant data that shows a survival disadvantage for girls under five years of age. In China, girls have a seven percent higher infant mortality rate than boys, and in India, a study conducted in the first decade of the 2000s found that the risk of death between the ages of one and five was 75 percent higher for girls than for boys.
  2. Access to Prenatal Care and Maternal Mortality: As of 2017, there are 1.6 billion women of reproductive age in the developing world. Of the 127 million women who gave birth in 2017, just 63 percent received a minimum of four antenatal care visits and only 72 percent gave birth in a health facility. Among women who experienced medical complications during pregnancy or delivery, only one in three received the care they or their newborns needed.

    In 2017, an estimated 308,000 women in developing nations died from pregnancy-related causes and 2.7 million babies died in their first month of life. Many of these deaths could have been prevented with full access to healthcare.
  3. Education: Less than 40 percent of countries offer girls and boys equal access to education and only 39 percent of countries have equal proportions of the sexes enrolled in secondary education. By achieving universal primary and secondary education attainability in the adult population, it could be possible to lift more than 420 million people out of poverty. This would have its greatest effect on women and girls who are the most likely to never have stepped foot inside a school.

    Even once girls are attending school, discrimination follows. One in four girls states that they never feel comfortable using school latrines. Girls are at greater risk of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation in school. School-related gender-based violence is another major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls.
  4. Illiteracy: There are approximately 774 million illiterate adults in the world and two-thirds of them are women. There are approximately 123 million illiterate youths and 61 percent of them are girls. Women’s share in the illiterate population has not budged in 20 years. These facts not only affect women but their children as well. A child born to a mother with the ability to read is 50 percent more likely to survive past age five.
  5. Economic Independence: Increases in female labor force participation result in faster economic growth, but women continue to participate in labor markets on an unequal basis with men. In 2013, the male employment-to-population ratio was 72.2 percent compared to 47.1 percent for women, and women continue to earn only 60-75 percent of men’s wages globally. It is estimated that women’s income could increase globally up to 76 percent if the employment participation gap between men and women was closed, which could have a global value of $17 trillion.

    Women also carry a disproportionate amount of responsibility for unpaid care work. Women devote one to three hours more a day to housework than men, two to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly and the sick) and one to four hours less a day to income-based activities. The time given to these unpaid tasks directly and negatively impacts women’s participation in the workforce and their ability to foster economic independence.
  6. Violence Against Women, Sexual Assault and Rape: The mental health effects of sexual assault and rape can have jarring results on women’s stability and livelihoods. Women who have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of their partners are twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to have depression and, in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV compared with women who have not experienced partner violence.

    The prevalence of sexual assault and violence against women is deep and systemic, making it one of the most important examples of gender inequality. Worldwide, around 120 million girls, a number which represents slightly more than one in 10, have experienced forced intercourse or another forced sexual act in their lifetime.
  7. Female Genital Mutilation: At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. In most of these cases, the majority of girls were cut before age five. In these instances, proper anesthesia is rarely used or is ineffective, causing severe pain. Excessive bleeding is also possible, resulting from the accidental cutting of the clitoral artery or other blood vessels during the procedure. Chronic genital infections, reproductive tract infections and urinary tract infections are common.Female genital mutilation is also associated with an increased risk of Caesarean section, postpartum hemorrhage and extended maternal hospital stay. All of these subsequent complications along with the shock and use of physical force during the procedure are some of the many reasons why survivors describe the experience as an extremely traumatic event.
  8. Child Marriage: Globally, almost 750 million women and girls alive today married before their eighteenth birthday. Those who suffer from child marriage often experience early pregnancy which is a key factor in the premature end of education. As mothers and wives, girls become socially isolated and are at an increased risk for domestic violence. Child marriage is one the most devastating examples of gender inequality, as it limits women’s opportunities and their ability to reach their full individual potential.
  9. Human Trafficking: Adult women and girls account for 71 percent of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Girls alone represent nearly three out of every four children trafficked. Women and girls are clearly the disproportionate victims of human trafficking with 75 percent trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
  10. Representation in Government: As of June 2016, only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians were women. There is growing evidence that women in positions of leadership and political decision-making improve the systems in which they work.

These are 10 of the countless ways in which women are oppressed, abused and neglected. These top ten examples of gender inequality cannot begin to do justice to the discrimination and obstacles that women around the world face each day. Women’s rights are human rights and affect every person in every community.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Girls' Education in ChinaGirls’ education in China has come a long way in recent decades. The amount of girls at all levels of education is on the rise, slowly but surely closing the gender gap in schools. In some arenas, girls’ enrolment is even passing that of boys. Girls in rural areas of China, however, are still struggling with a lack of opportunity compared to their male peers. Here are 10 important facts about girls’ education in China.

10 Facts About Girls’ Education in China

  1. Girls are beginning to outnumber boys. As of 2009, girls exceed boys in quantity in junior college and undergraduate programs. Women in higher education have higher enrolment levels, accounting for 51.4 percent of total enrollments. About 50 percent of postgraduates in China in 2012 were women.These numbers speak strongly about how far girls’ education in China has come. In 1985, only 25 percent of those enrolled in secondary school were female. Now, women’s attendance is starting to prevail over men’s. With higher enrollment levels comes a more empowered and intelligent female population.
  2. Women are dominating across academic fields. The amount of women in science and math fields such as engineering and automation is growing annually. In China. there are now over 20 million women working in the fields of science and technology. This is considerable progress in mitigating gender stereotypes and in allowing women to fill high-power jobs, showing why this is one of the most important facts about girls’ education in China.
  3. Women in China have the help of numerous organizations. China Women’s Development Foundation (CWDF) has been instrumental in uplifting the lives of women. For example, in 2017 CWDF hosted a charity competition in which female entrepreneurs enter their ideas for the chance to win investment funding.Although this is not academic education in the traditional sense, organizations like CWDF are promoting women’s creativity and innovation through programs like this. CWDF is just one of many groups that work to educate China’s female population outside of school.
  4. These organizations have made a tangible difference. Women’s Federations in China in the past five years have trained almost five million rural women and engaged one million women in entrepreneurial activities. Having access to these resources allows women to expand their minds outside of the classroom.
  5. Women are quickly closing the gender gap in illiteracy rates. In 1982 across China, the female illiteracy rate was 48.88 percent, whereas men’s was 20.78. While the current rates have improved significantly (about two percent for men and six percent for women), females are still behind men in literacy. However, women’s illiteracy rates have been falling at a faster rate than those of men. It will not be long until literacy rates between men and women are equivalent.
  6. Women are most disadvantaged in rural areas of China. As far as illiteracy goes, women living in rural areas have the highest rates. This is in great part due to the lack of access to good education in rural regions, specifically for young girls. If a family in a rural area can only afford to send one child to school, the boys are much more likely to be chosen than girls.
  7. Female teachers continue to face restricted career development opportunities. Women dominate the teaching profession in China, and most schools look to balance this out by hiring more men. A less qualified man will often get hired in the place of a well-qualified woman. Thanks to this, female teachers in China have a much harder time getting hired than men do in the same profession.
  8. Women have to get higher test scores than men to gain entry into university. In 2005, Chinese universities began responding to a growing number of female applicants by raising the standards for women in order to keep gender balances in schools equal. At the China University of Political Science and Law, the bar for men is 588 and the bar for women is 632. Unfair practices such as these get in the way of true progress.
  9. The average length of a woman’s education in China has increased. As of 2012, the length of the average girl’s education in China increased to 8.6 years. This is only 0.7 years less than the average man’s education in China. This means girls are getting more encouragement and support to stay in school longer than they have in the past.
  10. Progress in China’s education system for girls has led to many successful Chinese women. Of the 88 female self-made billionaires in the world, 56 of them are Chinese. Chinese women dominate the entrepreneurial world. This amount of success would not have been possible without the great strides that have been made in closing China’s educational gender gap.

As these facts about girls’ education in China demonstrate, it is a complex topic, but overall there have been massive improvements made in the system. This has led to a more prosperous female population in China and a more equal society for all.

– Amelia Merchant
Photo: Flickr

girls’ education in Sierra Leone
As is true in many countries around the globe, female education in Sierra Leone has lacked greatly throughout the nation’s history. Remnants of severe educational inequality still persist with males leading their female counterparts in literacy rates at all levels of education. While the country as a whole faces extreme poverty, it is females who suffer the most. In times of desperation, many young women are forced to leave school in order to work at home or find a husband. As a result, the current state of girls’ education in Sierra Leone is underemphasized and unjust, however, we may be embarking on a new era in female empowerment.

A Turning Point for Sierra Leone

The last decade has proved to be a turning point for the nation and its female population. Beginning in 2007, Sierra Leone became a member of the Global Partnership for Education. Through its commitment to the organization and the reciprocal aid received in the process, Sierra Leone was able to redesign its Education Sector Plan and offer new resources to females across the country.

This new plan not only focused on increased access to free pre-primary education (ages three to five) but also enhanced its commitment on the backend, strengthening equitable access to senior education by providing more scholarships to female students. As the country enters into more formal relationships with international groups, such as the U.K. Department for International Development, girls’ education in Sierra Leone is undergoing a remarkable transition.

Improving Girls’ education in Sierra Leone

In addition to government-sponsored relief, other organizations have also implemented innovative programs that increase the focus on girls’ education in Sierra Leone and create an atmosphere where such a focus is of utmost concern. UNICEF now annually supports a Girls’ Education Week which is formally run by the Education Ministry. The fact that such a program is now receiving national attention demonstrates the changing public attitude in regard to girls’ education in Sierra Leone.

Girl Child Network, a nonprofit organization that works around the globe, is currently implementing crucial outlets for girls to be protected, be treated as individuals and be able to receive quality educational materials throughout Sierra Leone. The organization offers leadership training programs, which aim to build confidence in young women and girls.

It is also currently implementing Girls Empowerment Villages that offer a place of refuge where abused girls can stay. Now protected, these girls have the ability to pursue education and receive quality information that is disseminated within the villages.

Effects of Girls’ Access to Education

While relief and equal access programs are vital in transforming girls’ education in Sierra Leone, it is important to see the true effectiveness of this recent movement. According to the Global Partnership for Education, the gender gap between primary enrollment and primary completion rate has decreased since 2012. While the male enrollment rate has not changed dramatically, female enrollment has been on a steady increase and completion rates have skyrocketed.

As of now, improvements to girls’ education in Sierra Leone are still underway and the eventual outcome cannot yet be determined. However, the success of recent years and the amount of campaigns and groups that continue to operate on behalf of girls and their education nationwide is promising. National commitment to this movement, combined with international aid, is creating the foundation for a stable future in female education in Sierra Leone.

– Ryan Montbleau
Photo: Flickr

Women in Saudi Arabia
Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is known for human rights violations and women’s oppression, the Saudi government has made several changes in the past few years to change its reputation. These changes include giving women in Saudi Arabia the right to drive, vote and start their own business.

Saudi Arabia ranked 138 out of 144 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Although this is a very low ranking, the report also acknowledges significant progress made over the past several years that is slowly moving the country toward gender equality. There is still room for improvement when it comes to the women’s dress code, male guardianship and sex segregation.

Women’s empowerment can help fight poverty when women become self-sufficient and turn into active contributors to the economy. Several steps have been taken by the government in order to increase the role of women in Saudi Arabia.

Women in Saudi Arabia in the Workplace

In 2011, King Abdullah announced the decision to allow women in Saudi Arabia to work in the retail sector in lingerie stores. This made many women financially independent and gave them the opportunity to participate in the economy. In the past few years, it has become more common for women to work in retail and hold other public jobs.

In 2018, several positions even opened for women to work at the country’s airports. According to a report released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development in 2017, Saudi Arabia had a 130 percent increase in the number of Saudi women in the workplace. Additionally, women can now start their own businesses without permission from their male guardians.

Saudi Women in Government

In the past few years, steps have been taken to allow women in Saudi Arabia to be represented in government and even make several government jobs available to them. In 2011, women gained the right to vote under King Abdullah. Since elections do not happen often in Saudi Arabia, the first time they were able to exercise this right to vote was in 2015.

Additionally, women were also appointed to 30 seats of the Shura Council, a legislative advisory body, making up 20 percent of the council. In 2018, women also began working as investigators in the public prosecutor’s office for the first time.

Women’s Social Integration

In 2017, King Salman ordered that women be allowed access to government services such as education and healthcare without the need of consent from her guardian. However, the guardianship system still remains.

Most recently, in September of 2017, King Salman announced that women in Saudi Arabia would be able to drive starting in June 2018. Before this, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world restricting female driving. The change was a result of international pressure and many Saudi women’s efforts advocating for the right to drive. This is a huge step forward as women will now have the freedom to take their kids to school, drive themselves to work and transport themselves as they wish without the need of a man.

Saudi Women in the Military

Saudi Arabia opened up noncombat military jobs in Riyadh, Mecca, al-Qassim and Medina to women in February 2018. These jobs will allow women to work in security. There are several requirements to apply for these positions including Saudi citizenship and holding a high school diploma, but it is a major change to allow women to form part of the Saudi military for the first time in history.

Although change is slow, it is clear through recent government reforms that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is heading in the right direction when it comes to women’s rights.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Pakistan
Girls’ education has always been a point of concern in many developing nations. Pakistan is one among them. The Economic Survey of Pakistan (2015 – 2016) highlights a 2 percent decline in the nation’s literacy rates from 60 percent to 58 percent. Also, while the urban areas mark a literacy rate of 74 percent, it is as low as 49 percent in the rural areas. But, with the increase in awareness, undiluted efforts and the focus on ‘Pakistan Vision 2025’, the future for girls’ education in Pakistan looks bright.

In 2018, fresh hope has emerged for Pakistan as it experiences a host of welcoming changes, all focused on enhancing girls’ access to education:

  1. Korea’s monetary support to UNESCO with the mission of ameliorating girls’ education
  2. Malala Yousafzai’s recent visit to Pakistan for the first time after the Taliban attack in 2012
  3. The launch of the book Knowledge is Bulletproof with a bulletproof cover page on World Book Day.

Korea Extends Support to Girls’ Education in Pakistan

On March 23, 2017, The UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay and the Korean Ambassador to UNESCO Lee Byong-hyun signed an agreement to support national capacity building to make girls’ right to education a reality in Bahawalpur and Muzaffargarh districts in South Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan.

This $3.4 million project between UNESCO’s Girls’ Right to Education Programme in Pakistan and the Korean International Cooperation Agency aims to bring quality education in the remote regions of Pakistan.

Ambassador Lee expressed how foreign assistance and education hugely improved the post-war poverty-stricken condition of Korea. This clearly highlights the importance of foreign aid in abolishing poverty.

Malala Yousafzai’s Visit to Pakistan

The youngest Nobel laureate visited her hometown Swat Valley in Pakistan on March 31, 2018, not simply to relive the memories of growing up in her house but also to present her hometown with the gift of quality education.

She opened a state-of-the-art school using The Malala Fund and her Nobel Prize money. Malala writes in her blog, “Pakistan comes second after Nigeria in the ranking of out-of-school children, with 24 million girls and boys denied access to education today. My dream is to see all Pakistani children with access to 12 years of free, safe and quality education…In just a few years, Malala Fund has invested $6 million in our work for girls’ education in Pakistan, from opening the first secondary school for girls in Shangla to supporting Gulmakai Champions across the country.”

Malala’s recent visit births new promises for young girls and women who struggle for their rights on a daily basis. Though some parts of Pakistan still advocate the extremist mentality and hatred for Malala, change is slowly ushering in and Malala’s visit proves it. The visit is also a positive answer to all the doubts about government involvement in enhancing the lives of women in Pakistan.

Bulletproof Book for Girls’ Education in Pakistan

On this year’s World Book Day, resistance took a new form in Pakistan. Sanam Maher, a journalist based in Karachi, recently published a novella titled Knowledge is Bulletproof which tells the story of two girls who survived the Taliban attack along with Malala in 2012.

The world has not heard much about Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz who endured the terrifying incident and continue their fight for girls’ education in Pakistan. This book which was inaugurated by the award-winning Pakistani filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, provides these young activists more scope to voice their strength. Obaid-Chinoy claims that the profits will be donated to charities that work towards improving girls’ education in Pakistan.

The book is designed by advertising agency BBDO and has a Kevlar binding which makes it strong enough to repel a nine-millimeter bullet from as close as five meters. The book is symbolic of the strength and willpower of Pakistani girls and women who continue to attain education despite all the hurdles that come their way. It is also a source of motivation for many girls who refrain from going to school due to many stereotyped social and cultural taboos. “To show that knowledge is indeed bulletproof, it was…ideal to design an actual bulletproof cover for the book,” Maher told The Arab News.

While she is excited at the possibility of reaching out to millions of girls through this new venture, she also hopes that the need for such campaigns lessen with time and more and more people realize the importance of girls’ education.

Education is the backbone of a nation’s economy. If a section of the population is deprived of it, it not only affects the nation’s GDP but also its standard of living. Though poverty continues to affect millions in developing countries, these recent developments offer hope for a brighter and better tomorrow. They prove that transformation is slow but in process. Promoting girls’ education in Pakistan and elsewhere and encouraging women’s participation in the labor force are among the major ways in which poverty can be abolished.

– Shruthi Nair

Photo: Flickr