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Women in CubaWomen have experienced oppression at the hands of men for centuries. The world is continually reminded of this fact in current cultural and societal practices. Different nations have made progress in recent years, but this is still a common and enduring problem. However, the information dispersed regarding this topic is commonly obscured by those in charge. Women in Cuba have faced these issues head-on for decades in their fight for equal rights. The long and complex history of women’s right makes it difficult to distill the reality of the situation. However, there is potential for improvement. Here are the key things to know about this pivotal issue.

Education

Compared to other nations, Cuba may appear to be far more progressive on women’s rights. According to the Havana Times, women comprise 53% of the congressional body, and they account for 60% of college graduates. These numbers portray a clear female dominance in areas of higher education and are much higher compared to other developed nations.

Women’s Organizations

“Women’s organizations” are still not welcome in the nation. A new state constitution took effect after the 1960s Cuban revolution that barred the legalization of women’s organizations. An exception was made for the already established FMC.

The FMC, the Federation of Cuban Women, is a communist-controlled organization intended for the advancement of the women in Cuba. This is not inherently indicative of any corruption. However, women are prevented from assembling themselves and are dependent upon the state-sanctioned organization due to the lack of organizational options.

The Workplace

Societal standards are still oppressive to women. Numbers depict women moving out of their roles in the household to earn degrees and serve in the congressional body. The caveat is that women are still expected to perform all the duties that come with running a household. This includes cooking, cleaning and childcare.

This “machismo” mindset is heavily prevalent in Latin American nations. Essentially, this relegates women to the stereotypical domestic roles. This is even applied to women who are practicing doctors, lawyers and teachers. This societal standard burdens working women as well as those who choose to not enter the workforce or pursue higher education.

Discrimination in the workplace is another struggle women in Cuba must face. Women still face societal barriers in how they are compensated and employed. Female physicians and professors are typically paid the governmental base wage because most hospitals and universities are state-owned. This means that women are usually earning $30/hour in these typically high-paying fields. Further, the congressional body that women composed the majority of does not have any actual legislative power. That power is found within the Communist Party, which is only 7% female.

A Positive Outlook

The situation for women in Cuba is difficult to navigate. However, there are statutes in place to assist women in their quest to achieve equal rights within their society. For example, the constitution has an article that specifically protects maternity leave as a right for mothers in the workforce. Furthermore, the accessibility of higher education promises benefits to women of all classes that will last for generations. In essence, there is a long way to go, but that does not diminish how far the women’s rights movement in Cuba has come already.

Allison Moss
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Venezuela TodayIn Venezuela, women have always needed to fight for their rights. However, now more than ever women need much more support. In the constitution developed in 1999, all citizens regardless of gender have social, political and economic rights. The 2007 law reform Organic Law of the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence, women are more often in disadvantaged positions than men. Women’s rights in Venezuela have been neglected and much-parodied by a government that calls itself “feminist.”

Women’s Rights in the Past

The first years of Chavez’s government saw the development and reinforcement of programs that enhanced women’s rights. For example, they implemented the Women’s Bank (which has ceased to exist) and the Women and Gender Equality Ministry. The 2007 Organic Law of the Right of Women to a Life Free of Violence was considered groundbreaking. It is internationally recognized as “one of the most progressive in the world,” as it broadened the definition of domestic violence. However, this is as far as the government has gotten into reinforcing women’s rights in Venezuela.

Women’s Right in the Present Day

Today there’s a persistent gender gap in Venezuela. A 2016 report from the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean indicates that around 54% more women between the ages of 20 and 59 are not actively in the workforce. Instead, there are more women now who have become head of households than in 1990, 39% in 2011 versus 24% back then. Since women have fewer opportunities in the workforce due to their lack of experience, women in Venezuela are often staying at home. In addition, the worsening healthcare system plus the great shortage of contraceptives, which have fallen around 90% since 2015, only strengthen women to remain in their “traditional roles as mothers and caretakers.”

Issues that Affects Women in Venezuela

Indeed, Venezuela is the country with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also sees a rise in HIV and other STDS cases due to the lack of contraceptives. There is also a great shortage of menstrual products, which has made a huge impact on the lives of women and girls, often becoming an impediment for them to go to school or work. Moreover, the maternal mortality rate has sparked over these few years, with a rate of 66%. As a result, this led many women to seek out better healthcare in other foreign countries like Colombia, in which 26,000 women gave birth to their babies since 2015. There are supports and efforts from UNFPA and local organizations and the promises made by the government. However, there have not been any other options but for women to migrate to other territories.

International Aids

UNFPA along with UNICEF and PAHO has delivered 90 tonnes of health, water, hygiene and sanitation and education supplies to Venezuela earlier in April. Indeed, these supplies were vital for vulnerable women and families in Venezuela. There is also support from organizations such as the UN Population Fund. The UN Population Fund imported thousands of contraceptives to fight the shortage and supply the market. However, there is still much to be done.

What To Do

Today there are only 32 women out of 167 representatives in the assembly. Increasing representation of women in politics is one way for women’s rights to become more accessible for them. Women’s participation in politics can benefit innumerable ways in the country. For instance, ending the gender gap and increasing women’s physical security. Gender-based violence is another problem in the Caribbean country. Indeed, only this year there have been 157 women who died at the hands of physical violence, according to a report of Uthopix’s Monitor de Femicidios. Complaints often go unreported, and the ones that aren’t do not always go to trial. By including more women in political positions there will be a better chance for women’s rights to be assessed adequately.

Alannys Milano

Photo: Flickr

Schools in Zimbabwe Can No Longer Expel Pregnant SchoolgirlsZimbabwe is a country in southern Africa. It is now illegal for schools to expel pregnant schoolgirls in Zimbabwe. This may sound unusual to people from western civilizations. However, it is very common for schools to expel pregnant girls in sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa Commonly Expel Pregnant Schoolgirls

It was a common practice in Zimbabwe for schools to expel pregnant schoolgirls. It is also common in many African countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, and Togo. In fact, there are no re-entry policies or laws that protect pregnant schoolgirls’ rights to education in 24 African countries. Some schools in Africa go as far as conducting mandatory pregnancy tests on schoolgirls. This poses a significant challenge for women on the African continent since the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world are found there. Some pregnant schoolgirls resort to procuring unsafe abortions while others drop out upon learning that they’re pregnant.

Part of the problem is that African Union member states centered discussion about this issue around the idea that pregnancy outside of marriage is wrong. These opinions stem from broad interpretations of religious teachings. The view is that if they allow pregnant schoolgirls the opportunity to continue their education, it would normalize pregnancy outside of marriage.

Causes and Consequences of Adolescent Pregnancy

While many use the morality argument to stigmatize pregnant schoolgirls, many factors are outside of these girls’ control. In Africa, the main causes of adolescent pregnancy are sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, poverty and lack of information about reproduction and sexuality. Other main causes are lack of access to birth control and family planning services. Child marriages also play a large role in adolescent pregnancies in Africa. Approximately 38% of girls are married before the age of 18 and 12% are married before age 15 in sub-Saharan Africa.

Since adolescent pregnancy usually stops a girls’ education, poverty is a determinant and a consequence of adolescent pregnancy. Low levels of education can confine girls to low-paying jobs and low socioeconomic status. Additionally, there are socioeconomic consequences and health risks associated with adolescent pregnancy. In Africa, when compared to women aged 20-24, adolescents under the age of 15 are five to seven times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth.

The Benefits of Countries Making it Illegal for Schools to Expel Pregnant Schoolgirls

There are many benefits of countries making it illegal for schools to expel pregnant schoolgirls. For starters, education leads to a reduction in poverty. A girl’s future earning potential can increase by up to 25% from only one year of secondary education. On a larger scale, the average gross domestic product of a nation rises by 0.3% when that nation’s female education rate rises by one percentage point.

Educated women tend to have children who are healthier and more educated than children with uneducated mothers. A child is 50% more likely to survive past age five if they are born to a mother that can read. A research found that a child’s life expectancy increases by an average of 0.32 years for every year their mother goes to school. Women who received a quality education were “more than twice as likely to send their children to school.” Therefore, providing women with education has the potential to create a cycle of adolescent education. The education of women can also lead to a reduction in domestic violence. There are connections between fewer years of education and higher risks of intimate partner violence. When women are more aware of their risks and rights, it is easier for women to keep themselves safe.

Now it’s Illegal for Schools to Expel Pregnant Schoolgirls

Due to COVID-19, concerns over the effect of school closures on sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies have increased. As a result, officials in Zimbabwe have made it illegal for schools to expel pregnant schoolgirls. The goal of the legal amendment is to reinforce a 1999 guideline. A guideline that did not sufficiently protect girls’ right to an education. This amendment is arguably overdue since 12.5% of Zimbabwe approximate 57,500 school dropouts were due to pregnancy or marriage reasons in 2018. Women’s rights campaigners have stated that they believe this measure is vital for tackling gender inequality in the classroom. In addition, it will stop many girls from deciding to drop out of school.

Hopefully, Zimbabwe’s overdue amendment will influence other African countries to protect women’s right to an education and make it illegal for schools to expel pregnant schoolgirls.

Araceli Mercer

Photo: Flickr

Saudi women empowermentThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has struggled with issues regarding women’s rights for a long time. Saudi Arabia ranked 146 out of 153 in the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index. The country also did not allow women to drive until the government lifted the driving ban in 2018. In 2017, the country allowed women to apply for passports and allowed women above the age of 21 to travel independently without permission from male guardians. Saudi women even gained the right to vote and run for public office in 2015. Saudi Arabian women celebrate women’s empowerment due to the country’s recent progress toward gender equality.

Challenges Women Still Face

While Saudi Arabia is making progress, the country is not without its issues. The country still requires male guardians, usually fathers or brothers, to make decisions for Saudi women. To this day, the government also limits women when it comes to choosing whom to marry or initiating a divorce. This caused some Saudi women, such as Rahaf Alqunun, to flee because of the strict male guardianship system.

Additionally, several women’s rights activists, such as Loujain al-Hathloul, have been arrested by Saudi officials for encouraging Saudi women empowerment. Al-Hathloul posted videos of herself driving during the driving ban with her hair uncovered. She also ran for office but her name was never added to the official ballot.  Al-Hathloul was arrested in 2018 with 11 other activists on charges of promoting women’s rights and collaborating with foreign organizations and media. However, her trial was indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loosening Restrictions: Women Moving Forward

Saudi Arabia made the largest improvement globally in women’s rights at work, according to The World Bank. The strides are credited to greater freedom of movement for women and reforms for women at work. The country criminalized sexual harassment and established work protection to prohibit employers from firing pregnant women. Saudi Arabia also equalized the retirement age for both men and women at 60, which allows for more financial freedom. Finally, the country outlawed gender-based discrimination in financial services to increase female entrepreneurship.

These reforms were a part of the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 plan, which aims to diversify the economy by promoting the private sector. The plan also includes increasing women’s labor force participation from 22% to 30%.

Street Style and Women’s Empowerment

Marriam Mossali, a Saudi entrepreneur, launched her second edition of “Under the Abaya: Street Style from Saudi Arabia” celebrating Saudi women empowerment on June 24. The book, a partnership with LUX Arabia and Niche Arabia, exposes the kingdom’s unknown fashion scene. The first edition introduced progressive Saudi women while this second edition exposed the challenges these women face.

All of the book’s proceeds go toward scholarships for women to pursue higher education. To Mossali, the book is a celebration of Saudi women empowerment because it allows women to share their own stories. The book has a forward by Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, the country’s first female ambassador to the U.S. Al-Saud told Arab News that the book tells stories and embodies the principle of women supporting women.

“Our participation in the #WomenSupportingWomen movement is much more than just a hashtag,” the book’s website says. “We believe in giving voice to these talented women in Saudi and the opportunity to pursue their aspirations.”

The first edition of the book fundraised enough to award five aspiring photographers a yearlong scholarship to Future Academy in Jeddah. The second edition aims to award women aspiring to pursue a Bachelor’s in fashion design.

Despite strides made in women’s empowerment, women in the kingdom still face many challenges. However, Saudi women continue to fight for change and equality. From filming videos to photographing street fashion, Saudi women are taking a stand for gender equality and celebrating women’s empowerment.

– Grethel Aguila
Photo: Flickr

gender gap in Latin AmericaRanked the third-highest after Western Europe and North America, Latin America has an average gender gap of 29%. Many Latin American countries are seeing improvements in education, healthcare and shortening the gender gap. According to the World Economic Forum in their Gender Gap Report for 2020, Nicaragua was ranked 5th globally, with 80% of its gender gap closed. On the lower-ranking end of the gender gap in Latin America, Guatemala and Belize have closed 66% and 67% of their gap, respectively. While these percentages are promising, the current COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to gender equality.

Looming COVID-19 Crisis

Decades worth of progress toward eliminating the gender gap in Latin American could potentially reach a halt or decline with the impending COVID-19 pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, stay at home orders have caused an increase in domestic violence. A few examples from Latin America expose the enormity of the issue. In Colombia, the domestic violence helpline has risen by 9%, and by 36% in Mexico. Also, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a city in Bolivia, has reported the highest number of cases of both domestic violence and COVID-19. The issue is exacerbated as women avoid reaching out to health services in fear of getting the virus.

The other obstacle COVID-19 leads to is losses in jobs, more specifically, the availability of jobs for women. According to the World Bank’s Gender Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic brief, women engaged in informal work such as self-employment and domestic works are unable to receive unemployment insurance. Since COVID-19 has restricted travel, Latin American countries that depend on retail, hospitality and tourism will see half of their working population lose jobs. Additionally, the effects of COVID-19 will force women to stay at home to care for children and the elderly, thus reducing working time and possibly excluding them from the labor market.

Lastly, the COVID-19 crisis will cause setbacks to efforts to reduce teen pregnancy. The shift in resources can interfere with health services for women and girls, including reproductive and sexual health services and family planning. In similar crises, lack of critical resources led to a surge in teen pregnancy and maternal mortality. Although COVID-19 causes a lot of complications surrounding the future of gender equality, there are actions regarding the gender gap in Latin American that governments and institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations can take to continue progressive efforts.

Thus, The World Bank has outlined the following four methods to approach gender equality.

  1. Improving Quality of Life: Latin American countries need to reduce teen pregnancy and maternal mortality, improve water and sanitation services, secure women’s access to healthcare and close educational gaps. The World Bank Group (WBG) supports removing negative gender stereotypes in curriculums and is helping train teachers to create classroom environments that encourage inclusivity. The WBG is also backing programs aimed at supporting girls to enter STEM fields.
  2. Increasing Female Employment: Latin American countries should change gender norms about career choices, provide adequate child care services, create connections for women entrepreneurs and allocate time-saving resources. In Mexico, the WBG partnered with the National Institute of the Entrepreneur to devise and evaluate the institute’s first national program to promote female entrepreneurs, Women Moving Mexico. The pilot was launched in five states and “provided close to 2,000 women with a mix of hard skills (better management and business literacy), and soft skills (behaviors for a proactive entrepreneurial mindset)”.
  3. Removing Barriers to Women’s Financial Independence: The WBG supports efforts to provide land and property titles to women and to increase access to capital and financial services. In partnership with indigenous women’s organizations in Panama, the WBG designed a pilot intervention in six indigenous communities. The pilot supports training designed for indigenous women, technical assistance for women’s producer organizations and financial inclusion through the founding of community banks and financial management training.
  4. Enhancing Women’s Voice & Agency and Engaging Men and Boys: Latin American countries can support gender equality by acknowledging a woman’s right to control her own life. For example, giving women control over income and the capacity to move freely and have a voice in society, including the ability to “influence policy and family formation, and have freedom from violence.”

Bettering COVID-19 Response

The United Nations has also developed a response to the pending COVID-19 and its effect on gender equality. The U.N. seeks to recognize the “impact of COVID-19 on women and girls and ensure a response that addresses their needs and ensures that their rights are central to strengthening prevention, response and recovery efforts.” Institutions like the World Bank and the United Nations make it possible for girls and women in Latin America to aspire for more for themselves in education and career, despite the current setbacks prompted by COVID-19. Within the next couple of years, the gender gap in Latin America could be significantly reduced by promoting women’s rights and giving them access to education and career opportunities.

Mia Mendez
Photo: Pixabay


Chile has made major strides in reducing national poverty, with 62% of the population holding a secure job. Social and educational policies have increased the number of mothers at work, with fewer people to take care of children. The need for childcare and afterschool programs in Chile has become a key focus for decreasing poverty rates in female-headed households. The government and nonprofit programs have stepped in to make crucial childcare reforms in Chile.

Poverty Trap For Female-Headed Households

Of the 49% of Chileans who were unemployed in 2011, a disproportionate amount were women. Female-headed households make up 51% of households below the poverty line. The tremendous obligation of Chilean women to raise their children is a full-time job. Many mothers are unable to seek employment because of a lack of childcare resources and services, increasing the rates of poverty in female-headed households

Chilean Education Reforms

In 2013, the Chilean government passed a law making kindergarten nationally accessible to all children. Previously parents had to pay to enroll their students in school at six years old. The law helped alleviate stress from many mothers and increased employment rates.

In efforts to equitize and optimize access for Chilean children to quality education, the government passed the Inclusion Law in 2015, making any for-profit ambition and action from government-funded schools illegal. The law had positive effects; a study conducted in 2017 showed that 85% of students in Chile were accepted to “one of their preferred schools.”

After the enactment of these two laws, public schools became an accessible form of childcare for struggling mothers. This allowed them time to seek employment. Parents can now send their children to their desired schools affordably and close to home.

Chile Grows With You Program

The youth support and care program Chile Grows With You was enacted in 2009 during the first female presidency of Michelle Bachelet. Chile Grows with You provides intersectional childcare, nutrition, health and hygiene services to help nurture Chilean children’s psychological development. The childcare programs and outlets fit various social and developmental needs of students.

Bachelet’s push for reform of past childcare services and policies is the reason why all Chilean children from ages zero to six are entitled to childcare and healthcare services, regardless of socioeconomic status or disability. Although the program is open to all, it specifically seeks to help families in the lowest socioeconomic bracket of Chile. This gives struggling, low-income families access to childcare, education and healthcare systems.

Chile Grows With You Childcare Reforms

Chile Grows With You guarantees free access to nursery school for children two to six years old and provides additional childcare hours as needed to full-time mothers and caregivers.

For children too young for nursery school (under two years old), the program provides free access to daycare centers for mothers or caregivers lacking the financial means to leave work to care for their infant.

Chilean children with disabilities are also protected under the program. President Bachelet increased access to healthcare and childcare services for children who show signs of mental and physical disabilities in their early youth.

A New Life For Chilean Mothers and Children

Since the implementation of Chile Grows With You, over 60% of families of the lowest socioeconomic status have been able to gain access to free childcare programs and services, directly impacting female-headed households by giving women more time to attain education and employment.

While poverty in Chile remains an issue, particularly in female-headed households, the government and Chile Grows With You are working to make a positive change. Chilean mothers raising young children have been able to take small steps, turning over major strides through Chile Grows With You; pulling themselves and their children out of poverty. Government-provided childcare programs and services are not only helpful for struggling parents — they are an inspiration for impoverished Chilean children.

– Nicolettea Daskaloudi
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle EastFemale genital mutilation, or FGM, is a practice that is most common in cultures with strict patriarchial structures. Many people believe that the ritual is only performed in Africa, but in actuality, thousands of girls undergo female genital mutilation in the Middle East every year. Though many claim the procedure is done for religious reasons, researchers have found that it predates Christianity and Islam. In fact, female Egyptian mummies have been found with FGM. This is a deep-rooted and harmful practice that still continues today. The United Nations formally recognizes FGM as a form of torture that oppresses women.

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East

  1. Where does FGM occur? FGM was previously believed to only occur in Africa, however, recent advocacy efforts revealed that the practice extends to many other countries, especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East, FGM is mostly concentrated in Southern Jordan, Iraq and Northern Saudi Arabia. There have also been cases of FGM in Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The practice most often occurs in small ethnic enclaves where the ritual is considered tradition. It is important to recognize that FGM occurs in many places outside of Africa in order to stop the practice completely.
  2. Who is most impacted by FGM? In Egypt, about 87% of girls are affected by FGM. According to a UNICEF study from 2013, many of them are traumatized by the experience before the age of 14. In many other Middle Eastern and African countries, the majority of girls are cut before the age of 15. Current rates are certainly improving, but it is likely that one in three girls in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti will experience FGM by 2030. In the United Arab Emirates, 34% of the women surveyed said they had experienced FGM. Twenty percent of women surveyed in Saudi Arabia are subject to the practice.
  3. What are the impacts of FGM? This practice has severe short-term and long-term negative impacts on women who undergo the procedure. Young girls are held and tied down while a local village cutter, usually not a licensed medical professional, performs the procedure with little or no anesthetic. In short, FGM can cause death, infections, hemorrhage and severe pain. In Egypt, there was a public outcry after a doctor performed FGM on a 12-year-old girl who then bled to death. The doctor was arrested, but the practice is extremely traumatizing and can cause severe psychological damage in the long run. It can lead to chronic infections and trouble with childbirth. Girls who undergo FGM are also more likely to drop out of school and become child brides.
  4. Steps are being made to reduce FGM. As information becomes more readily available, more and more people are speaking out against the procedure. It is finally being recognized as a violation of human rights. Though FGM is most common in Egypt, the country has made the most progress in the past 30 years, according to UNICEF. FGM is completely banned in Egypt and doctors can go to jail if they perform it. It has also been banned in Sudan. In Yemen, FGM can no longer be performed in medical facilities, but it has not been banned at home.
  5. FGM rates are decreasing. As can be inferred, many women are now against the practice of FGM. However, some more traditional cultures still advocate for the circumcision of women. In Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Djibouti, 70% of all women were affected by FGM 30 years ago. Today, half of all girls in those five countries undergo FGM. Although FGM is still allowed in Iraq, it is illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many people against the practice explain that law is not enough and there needs to be stricter enforcement to ensure the end of female circumcision.
  6. A call to action: According to UNICEF, there has been a massive movement to end FGM in the last 25 years. There are many organizations, like the Orchid Project, that campaign against the traditional cutting in the Middle East and Asia. In 2013, UNICEF formally recognized that FGM is a problem that extends to areas outside of Africa. In addition, the United Nations celebrates International End FGM day every February 6, which is a huge step forward in spreading awareness. The U.N. also made it a goal to stop FGM in all countries by 2030.
FGM is a way to oppress women and makes girls feel like their body is a sin. It is a horrible practice that leaves long-lasting wounds in our global society. Not only is it a form of torture, but it strips women from basic human rights. Thankfully, more people are becoming familiar with female genital mutilation in the Middle East and elsewhere. Allies around the world are working hard to bring an end to the practice.

Karin Filipova
Photo: Flickr

Afghan Women's Writing Project
Writing in Afghanistan has typically been a taboo craft for women. Especially under the influence of the Taliban, women and girls were not able to go to school or learn to read and write safely. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is an innovative writing program for empowering female voices in Afghanistan.

Founded in May 2009, the project gives Afghan women a way to publish their writing directly onto the internet. Although the Writing Project’s existence can only spread by word-of-mouth for security reasons, it has empowered more than 100 women in Afghanistan. Here are five facts about the project.

5 Facts About the Afghan Women’s Writing Project

  1. Marsha Hamilton is the founder of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Hamilton started the program after viewing the execution of a woman named Zarmina by the Taliban. Zarmina allegedly killed her husband, but Marsha Hamilton felt that Zarmina did not have the chance to tell her side of the story before her brutal execution. Hamilton also witnessed how women publish their writings. In Afghanistan, women usually publish their work through the men in their family or the media. This prevents some women’s voices from being heard due to the possible censorship that may occur through these channels. Zarmina’s execution and the less-than-ideal way of publishing led Hamilton to decide to create an online platform that allows women to publish their writings.
  2. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project uses Dari and English writing workshops to help educate women. The project collaborates with Afghan-based agencies to provide Dari and English writing workshops. These workshops teach women different techniques and skills to further their writing. Additionally, the program conducts “Reading Salons” every month. These meetings take place in secret locations in Kabul and Heart to avoid retribution from various groups in Afghanistan or writers’ own families. During the reading salons, women are able to read their work and talk about their writing experiences in an encouraging space.

  3. In 2018, Afghanistan reported that only 10% of the population had access to the internet. Due to the lack of reliable internet and computer access, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project provides many members with laptops and internet access. This enables every woman in Afghanistan, regardless of status, to participate in the program. According to the website, it costs about $2,500 to provide each woman with a laptop, internet, workshops and books. This amazing opportunity is funded by small contributions as well as fundraising initiatives by volunteers and readers.

  4. Writing has long been a form of expression and empowerment. Through the work of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, Afghan women are changing themselves and the world around them. The project website claims, “In telling their own stories, we’ve seen these women gather strength, courage, and self-confidence. They become empowered to make change within their homes, their communities, and eventually their country. They also gain computer literacy and skills of language and critical thinking, which increases their job-related skills.” The skills and empowerment that women gain from this program help them empower themselves and others, as well as change the way people around the world see Afghanistan.

  5.  The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is currently working on an “oral stories component.” This project will allow disabled or illiterate women to share their stories as well. Human Rights Watch reports there are about 3.5 million children out of school and 85% of them are girls. Additionally, with about 2.7% of the population disabled, there are not many programs in place to help them succeed. Disabilities are often stigmatized in Afghanistan as “punishments from God” and it is difficult to find work. These women are often marginalized by their community. The Writing Project hopes to empower them to share their experiences and triumphs despite the obstacles they may face.

Women across Afghanistan continue to step up and speak their mind through the few means available to them. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is working hard to give women’s voices a platform in Afghanistan.

– Ashleigh Litcofsky
Photo: Wikimedia

Women in Peace and Security

In mid-June, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the importance of women in peace and security, a follow-up to the Women, Peace, and Security Act (WPS) passed in 2017. This particular hearing responds to the recently published White House Strategy that sets various objectives and goals to diversify the roles women play in the peace process and increase women’s leadership by providing them with the resources, skills, and support needed to secure successful peace agreements.

The members of the committee, as well as the testimonies, emphasized the opportunity to put these plans into immediate action in Afghanistan. The U.S. has committed to peace negotiations with the Taliban but each agreement has failed due to miscommunication, stalemates, or other political reasons. Palwasha Kakar, Senior Program Officer for the U.S. Institute of Peace, stated that including Afghan women in peace and security negotiations is essential to the success and sustainability of peace and recovery in Afghanistan.

Women in Afghanistan

The Taliban government of Afghanistan held power from 1996 to 2001, during which Afghan women were stripped of natural rights–they were prevented from obtaining an education and job, showing skin in public and leaving the house without a male chaperone. Rape and violence against women were widespread until U.S. military action overthrew the regime. A driving factor of U.S. intervention 18 years ago was to protect Afghan women from threats and actions against their human rights. Despite the tremendous gains women have achieved in political, economic and social life since 2001, women still struggle to have a seat at the peace talk table.

However, Afghan women have found ways to participate at a local level. Women have brokered local deals by negotiating directly with Taliban leaders; for example, Afghan women’s communication with the wives of the Taliban helped facilitate the release of hostages several times. Second, Afghan women use their access to information to act as informants for the U.S. and its partners. Third, Afghan women mobilize the public by increasing public awareness and support for the peace process. Fourth, Afghan women have mobilized support across various ethnic lines to push for a unified commitment to equal rights for all Afghan citizens.

Impact of Women on the Peace Process

On a local level, Afghan women in peace and security positions have made significant achievements for Afghanistan and its cities. However, on a global level, women were only included in two out of 23 rounds of negotiations with the Taliban between 2005 and 2014. Yet research shows that women are a necessary asset at the negotiation table. When women are involved in peace agreements, they are 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last more than 15 years. In her testimonial, Jamille Bigio argues that women in peace and security negotiations are more likely to deescalate tensions and stabilize their communities. Therefore, closing the gender gap will improve a country’s conditions.

Four Focus Areas Outlined in the WPS Strategy

The outcome of this hearing suggests that women’s participation in Afghanistan is essential to create a stable and sustainable agreement. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to simultaneously use and revise the following four goals from the WPS Strategy to encourage multi-agency resources and support for women’s participation in Afghanistan peace talks.

  1.  “Seek and support the preparation and meaningful participation of women around the world in decision-making processes related to conflict and crises.”
  2. Three activities to support this goal includes: Incentivizing women to participate in security-sector programs that train foreign nationals in male-dominated courses, integrating local women’s interests into conflict prevention and resolution, and leading by example by increasing American women participation and making local women partners.
  3. “Promote the protection of women and girls’ human rights; access to humanitarian assistance; and safety from violence, abuse, and exploitation around the world.”
  4. Women are often the targets of violence, and therefore experience unique consequences of conflict. To increase the role of women in peace and security, the U.S. must identify and eliminate obstacles that generate sex-based discrimination and gender-based violence and include medical care and psycho-social support for women as part of humanitarian aid.
  5. “Adjust U.S. international programs to improve outcomes in equality for, and the empowerment of, women.”
  6. Train U.S. diplomats, military and development personnel on the needs and perspectives of women to increase their ability to prevent and mediate violence and support the involvement of women in peace and security negotiations.
  7. “Encourage partner governments to adopt policies, plans, and capacity to improve the meaningful participation of women in processes connected to peace and security and decision-making institutions.”

Women peacekeepers receive more trust from their communities and therefore have more power to increase participation among other women. Further, research shows that women are more likely to address social issues during negotiations, which helps communities recover. Women’s participation increases the likelihood of reaching a sustainable agreement.

Women are essential for achieving peace and security in Afghanistan, and vice versa. The U.S. is more likely to bring peace to a hostile environment with women’s participation. As Sen. Tim Kaine said at the hearing, “We [U.S] have incredible power to give people hope and inspiration, and I hope we will continue to do it. And I think there’s a lot of women in the world who really have grown to count on us during the years, and I hope we don’t let them down.”

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

Rape Cases has Decreased in Jordan

In 1960, the country of Jordan adopted Article 308, a law allowing rapists to escape punishment if they married their victim. After years of persistent campaigning, women’s rights groups across Northern Africa and Western Asia influenced countries throughout the Middle East, including Jordan, to abolish such laws. After an annual increase in rape cases since 2015, the number of rape cases in Jordan has decreased. Here is a guide to why the number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan, a description of the positive impact of Article 308’s abolishment and what obstacles women’s rights groups still need to overcome.

Article 308

Elspeth Dehnert, a journalist from Huffpost, recounts the story of a Jordanian woman named Aya whose family arranged her to marry her rapist. They did this to protect the rapist from jail time and avoid a “scandal” they believed would ensue if Aya and her attacker were not married. Yet after months of suffering more abuse from her husband, Aya decided to file for divorce and publicize her situation. In a letter she wrote to the Jordanian Parliament and local media, she declared how she knew her husband only married her to escape imprisonment.

Ever since Jordan adopted Article 308, Jordanian men have used this law to escape punishment for rape. Those who supported the law claimed it protected the victim and her family from the shame of rape. Yet women’s rights organizations, like the Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI), and many Jordanians disagreed. The SIGI asked Jordanians what they thought motivates rapists to offer marriage to their victims. An estimated 62.5 percent of respondents said the offender wants to escape prosecution, trial or execution of the penalty. Similarly, about 15 percent of respondents said the rapist wants to avoid social stigma against him. According to Jordan’s Ministry of Justice, 159 rapists had used Article 308 between 2010 and 2013 to evade punishment.

The Abolition of Article 308

In October 2016, Jordan’s King Abdullah II ordered the creation of a royal committee to reform the judiciary and review Jordan’s entire penal code. Three years before this review, the women’s rights movement worked to gain broad support. Activists from organizations like the SIGI created a base of evidence to defeat arguments made by Article 308’s proponents. These proponents argued Article 308 keeps families together and protects women from the stigma of extramarital sex.

In doing so, activists based their stance in the horrific stories of local women and girls forced to marry their rapists. This strategy helped combat accusations from opponents claiming their campaign was being led by feminists with a Western agenda who had no right to be interfering in family law. Fortunately, the campaign of the women’s rights movement was so successful in Jordan that the Jordanian Parliament removed all the legal loopholes letting rapists evade punishment for their crimes and abolished Article 308 altogether, rather than repeal or amend it.

The Impact of Article 308’s Abolishment

Because of this abolishment, the Annual Statistical Report 2018 issued by Jordan’s Department of Statistics says the number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan. Complaints of rape in 2018 declined from 145 complaints in 2017 to 140 complaints in 2018. The SIGI issued a press release stating this is the first year Jordan has seen a decrease in annual rape cases since 2015. The SIGI also said these figures represent cases filed at police stations, some of which resulted in suspects being tried and convicted. Other cases were classified as something other than rape.

The Culture of Shame

Even though the number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan, experts say that even in countries where legal loopholes were abolished or never existed at all, the custom of allowing rapists to avoid imprisonment by marrying their victims is still widespread. Many families throughout the Arab world believe that when they expose their daughter’s rape to the public, they risk social shame. This has lead, in some cases, to a family killing their own daughter to preserve the family’s honor. From their perspective, marriage is an easier, more private solution.

The number of rape cases has decreased in Jordan, yet the culture of shame that protects rapists from punishment is still alive and well. In response to statements made by Equality Now’s legal equality program manager Antonia Kirkland, Dehnert says more effort needs to be made by judges, law enforcement and medical workers. She also states these same people need to make sure women and girls know their legal rights. If these efforts are made, women in Jordan and throughout the Middle East will experience a safer and liberated future.

– Jacob Stubbs
Photo: Flickr