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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

Girls' education in Vietnam

“Girls’ education…is a primary issue in terms of breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and CEO of the group Save the Children, and this is especially true of girls’ education in Vietnam. Save the Children works in more than 120 countries to improve the lives of children and young people.

In Lao Cai province, one of the poorest regions in Vietnam, a significant number of girls lack access to basic needs. These needs include clean drinking water, toilets and basic education. Moreover, many women in the province suffer heinous human rights violations and have the highest illiteracy rates in Vietnam. Data show at least half of children 10 years old and older in Vietnam are illiterate. In fact, the illiteracy rates for girls are higher when compared to boys.

In primary school, girls’ education in Vietnam sees a high enrollment rate. However, it also sees a low attendance rate. In addition, many girls ultimately drop out of school. In more rural areas of Vietnam, low attendance rates increase due to lack of transportation. Transportation faces challenges like distance and damaged roads from wars. Furthermore, costs prevent many girls from continuing education in Vietnam. These costs include tuition and fees, plus textbooks, which are not free at secondary and tertiary levels. Instead of sending girls to school, many families more them to work and help the family. As a result, the Vietnamese government has been prioritizing gender equality and strategizing to improve girls’ education in Vietnam.

Making Improvements

The government of Vietnam has shown commitment to prioritizing and promoting gender equality. Nevertheless, the improvement of girls’ education in Vietnam remains a work in progress. To improve this, the Vietnamese government partnered with UNESCO and other developmental organizations. In particular, the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training worked with UNESCO to establish the Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam under the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

The Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam gives girls and women a platform in Vietnam to fight for their human rights. For instance, the initiative provides education, raises awareness and teaches leadership training.

As listed on the UNESCO page, the objectives of the initiative are:

  1. “Reinforce gender equality in the Education Sector planning and management to empower girls and women.”

  2. “Enhance the capacity of education officials, teachers and experts to mainstream gender equality in curriculum and teaching practices.”

  3. “Raise awareness of students, parents, community members and the media to support the enabling environment for girls’ and women’s education and gender mainstreaming.”

UNESCO and other development organizations contribute to fostering a supportive environment for girls and women in Vietnam, especially within the educational setting. In Vietnam, UNESCO aims to create a fair environment where males and females both have a future and benefit from an equal-gender system of education.

Fifita Mesui
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in ZambiaDue to extreme poverty, girls’ education in Zambia suffers. Many Zambian girls and young women miss out on the opportunity to receive an education. With 64 percent of the population living on less than $1.25 a day, Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Unfortunately, this leads to serious repercussions for the Zambian youth.

Background

In fact, the Southern African Consortium for Measuring Education Quality found Zambia comes in at No. 13 out of 15 countries for literacy and numeracy. In rural areas, 27 percent of females receive no education. This is primarily due to poverty, pregnancy and early marriages.

The United Nations’ Girls’ Education Initiative found female literacy measures at 67 percent while male literacy is measured as 82 percent. This disparity holds females back in terms of economic advancement and independence from their male counterparts. The legal age for marriage in Zambia is 16. Subsequently, 46.3 percent of girls get married before the age of 18. Early marriages contribute to female dropout rates. Therefore, initiatives encouraging women to delay marriage or continue education while married can decrease dropout rates.

Calling for Change

In October 2018, Permanent Representative of Zambia Christine Kalamwina recognized girls’ education in Zambia is imperative in ensuring gender equality and economic advancement of females. In response to this, the Zambian government enacted a law mandating an equal male-female enrollment rate. This law aims to close the education gender gap. Additionally, many girls drop out of school due to menstruation. As a result, the Zambian government began distributing free sanitary towels in rural areas.

Fortunately, there are many organizations working to improve the girls’ education in Zambia. The Campaign for Female Education works with the local government to promote gender equality and child protection. They have already provided secondary scholarships for 38,168 girls in Zambia alone.

The World Bank’s International Development Association also does important work to improve girls’ education in Zambia. The Girl’s Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood Project (GEWEL) helps the Zambian government decrease the rate of child marriage. To do so, they increase access to secondary school for young girls from poor families. One method include the Keep Girls in School bursary. Financial issues often force girls to drop out of school. Therefore, the KGS bursary provides the funds necessary to continue girls’ education. Similarly, the Support Women’s Livelihood program supports working-age women. It offers training, startup funds, additional savings and mentorship programs. Ultimately, GEWEL helped 20,000 in 2017 and projected they would help over 50,000 women in 2018.

Jessica Haidet
Photo: Flickr

Women Activists in Developing CountriesThere are many reasons for people around the world to use their voices and advocate for social equality. Here is a list of five women activists in developing countries.

Top 5 Women Activists in Developing Countries

  1. Kriti Bharti
    The founder of the Girls Not Brides movement in Rajasthan, northern India, Kriti Bharti prevented over 900 child marriages. Kriti established the Saarthi Trust in 2011 to pull girls from forced child marriages and to educate them on their societal rights. Bharti is both a social activist and a rehabilitation psychologist. She set up rehabilitation programs for the girls released from child marriage.The Girls Not Brides movement has forums that provide food, shelter and water for girls banished from their families. The forums also include educating girls on their societal rights and providing them with life skills such as sowing. Twenty-seven percent of girls in India marry before the age of 18 resulting in India being the highest country with child brides. The Saarthi Trust was the first organization in India to annul a marriage and annulled 31 other child marriages since 2012.

    Poverty is a leading cause that resolves itself in child marriage. Usually, families marry off their young daughter to help alleviate finances; the younger the bride, the lower the dowry (a form of payment). Gender norms also play a key factor in child marriages. A girl is of lower value in general. Typically, females are not able to contribute to society because of this, leading their value to be held in household chores and motherhood. Moreover, a woman’s value is upheld in her benefitting her marital family more than her blood family. Thus, the family will usually educate their sons rather than their daughters.

    The South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) takes local action against abuse towards children by providing shelter with food and water and by educating girls in jobs. The Sustainable Development Goals stated that India is striving to end child marriages and forced labor by the year 2030.

  2. Malala Yousafzai
    Malala is now a household name across the world. The youngest person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014; she now uses her voice and her story to speak for the women around the globe who could not. “I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls,” Yousafzai said.After she spoke out against education oppression towards girls in 2012, a Taliban gunman shot Malala in the head in 2012. Then, she began the Malala Fund. The Malala Fund now reaches six different countries; Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. In each country, it recruits female teachers and tries to bridge the gap between gender disparity in education. It also educates teachers and students on gender discrimination, teaches girls how to speak about their rights, gives free secondary schooling and campaigns for new policies advocating for girls’ education. The goal of Malala’s Fund is to give girls “12 years of free, safe, quality education.”
  3. Holida, Suci and Ria
    The Yes I Do project of Indonesia began with three girls advocating against child marriage in their village and country. Holida, Suci, both 18, and Ria, 16, advocated that the abuse’s of child marriage is everyone’s responsibility to end. The Yes I Do project strives to prevent child abuse and forced sexual acts due to the selling of young girls into marriage. The project exposes the effects that sexual abuse has and the ways it affects reproductive health.Through village forums and discussions, the girls highlighted with their fellow neighbors that they have the same rights as boys do. Through their voices, child marriage cannot go unnoticed. Now, when a girl is forced or marries young, people talk about it. This gives fire to Holida, Suci and Ria’s campaign. The girls plan on making a movie to take to other villages around their own. “We want everyone to know why child marriage is wrong so that girls everywhere can achieve their dreams,” Suci said.
  4. Manal al-Sharif
    Manal al-Sharif, an Iraqi woman, co-founded the Women to Drive movement bringing awareness to the oppression of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and bringing back the ability for women to drive. In 1957, Saudi Arabia decreed that women could no longer drive. In 1990, a large protest took place where 47 women drove around the country’s capital. Over 20 years later, in 2011, Manal al-Sharif started the Facebook campaign called Women to Drive to spread awareness of their oppression.Later that same year, al-Sharif and fellow co-founder, Wajeha al-Huwaider, recorded a video of themselves driving and speaking out against the difficulty of being a woman and commuting. In June 2018, King Salman issued a decree that Saudi women could obtain a driver’s license. Al-Sharif and the women advocating for years for freedom for their gender are making progress. Since the summer of 2018, women can take to the road, something they were not able to do for 62 years.
  5. Zahra’ Langhi
    The Lybian Women’s Platform for Peace (LWPP) is an organization that puts pressure on the government to give opportunities to women to uphold sociopolitical places within government and society. Zahra’ Langhi is a co-founder and feminist activist who started speaking out in 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi’s reign ended after decades of abusing his power over the country. The leading effects after the uprising resulted in 35 women joining together to form LWPP. The state of Libya is dangerous and unbalanced, especially for women advocating to eliminate corruption in politics. Langhi never gave up her voice and continues to speak for compassion and understanding to infiltrate her country. “We need to start acting as agents of compassion and mercy. We need to develop a feminine discourse that not only honors but also implements mercy instead of revenge, collaboration instead of competition, inclusion instead of exclusion,” Langhi said.

These five women activists in developing countries spread their knowledge to their fellow neighbors and friends. From halfway across the globe, people Western countries can stand next to these women activists in developing countries and let them know they have support.

Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Flickr

Femicide in El SalvadorEl Salvador is the smallest country in Central America with an estimated population of 6.2 million. However, this number is often fluctuating due to massive violence in the country. El Salvador has the world’s highest homicide rates and pervasive criminal gangs. One murder happens every two hours on average. In 2018, there were 3,340 documented murders and the country has an estimated murder rate of 51 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Women’s rights in the Central Americas and the Carribean have been slowly improving over the years. However, in El Salvador, women still lack basic rights and suffer from many violent crimes. With so many deaths, it comes as no surprise that El Salvador has the highest femicide rate in Latin America and the third highest in the world.

Femicide in El Salvador: The Facts

Femicide is the gender-based killing of women because of their gender. It is the leading cause of premature death for women globally. Femicide in El Salvador is a serious issue as one woman is murdered every 19 hours. In 2019, 76 femicides already occurred in El Salvador. The country has the third-highest rate in the world for the violent deaths of women. In 2016, 524 women were killed, a majority of them under 30 years of age. Within the first two months of 2018, 72 women were murdered.

High Femicide Rates But Low Convictions

Violent death isn’t the only threat to these women. Over a time span of ten months in 2017, there were nearly 2,000 reported sexual assaults in El Salvador. Around 80 percent of these victims were 17-years-old or younger. Femicide in El Salvador is not only overlooked by the world but by the Salvadoran government as well. Between 2013 and 2016, the Salvadoran government opened 662 femicide cases. Only 5 percent reached a conviction. Only one in ten of the murder cases where a woman is a victim of femicide results in a conviction.

Gangs Present Another Threat

Most of the violence against women in El Salvador is committed by various gangs residing in the country. According to the Salvadoran government, around 10 percent of people are in gangs and these gangs often see women as easy targets.

Agnes Callamard, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said in a CNN interview that women’s bodies are treated as “a territory for revenge and control.” Callamard explained that the gangs are male-dominated and girls and women are merely part of the territories they control.

Women’s trauma

Women in El Salvador who survive these brutal acts of physical and sexual abuse suffer from trauma and often have nowhere to turn for help. Many women even try to flee the country in an attempt to escape. However, those who are unsuccessful in their attempts risk being killed or tortured by their abusers back home for merely trying.

Thankfully, groups like the Organización De Mujeres Salvadoreñas Por La Paz (ORMUSA) work to end gender violence and femicide in El Salvador. ORMUSA believes that promoting equality by supporting the economic empowerment of women is the key to changing attitudes. ORMUSA even helped draft a law that came into effect in 2012 which puts femicide in the criminal category in El Salvador and establishing special provisions to protect women from gender-based violence.

With such high femicide rates, El Salvador remains the most dangerous country for women. Though groups and activists are trying to stop these violent acts, El Salvador still has a long way to go.

Madeline Oden
Photo: Wikimedia Commons