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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

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women
People often think of slavery as a thing of the past. They think of cotton plantations and the transatlantic slave trade, the Abolitionist movement and the Civil War. Yet, slavery remains present all over the world today in the form of human trafficking. In 2016, more than 40 million people were victims of human trafficking. Of this number, 25 percent were children and 75 percent were women or girls. These people are subjected to inhumane conditions, forced labor and sexual exploitation. Many organizations and movements are fighting to end this modern slavery. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is one of those organizations.

5 Things to Know about the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

  1. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is a group of more than 100 non-governmental organizations from countries all over the world that promotes human rights and fights human trafficking, specifically trafficking of women and girls, as they account for a great majority of human trafficking victims.
  2. The network was founded in 1994 at an international conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, by a group of women mainly from the Global South, many of whom had personally experienced migration, displacement and/or trafficking. The alliance, now based in Bangkok, revolutionized the way human trafficking is perceived as it was one of the first entities to apply a human-rights approach to the issue. This involves recognizing that human trafficking is both a “consequence and cause of human rights violations” and emphasizing the need to protect victims’ rights.
  3. Member organizations include anti-trafficking groups as well as human rights, women’s rights and migrants’ rights organizations from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Though member organizations work independently, they must adhere to the GAATW’s basic principles and abide the certain conditions. Collaboration among members is crucial to the network’s success and is coordinated by the International Secretariat.
  4. Every three years the GAATW’s member organizations and other relevant actors meet at an International Members Congress and Conference, where the network’s strategy to fight the trafficking is refined and updated. The alliance’s strategy has three central themes: increasing accountability of different actors to implement anti-trafficking plans, access to justice and the protection of victims’ human rights and power in migration and work, which involves analyzing how labor and migration policies affect women and empowering women in these areas.
  5. Raising awareness of human trafficking, conducting research and advocating for victims’ rights are a central part of GAATW’s operations. In 2012, the GAATW began publishing the Anti-Trafficking Review, the first peer-reviewed open-access journal centered on human trafficking. Through these processes, the Global Alliance in Traffic Against Women has made remarkable progress. The GAATW helped establish an internationally recognized definition of trafficking. It also created the Human Rights Standard for the Treatment of Trafficked Persons, a system of standards that are used around the world to protect the rights of those who have been trafficked.

Human trafficking is modern slavery and represents a severe violation of people’s rights. The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women is an incredible network that is raising awareness of this problem and pushing governments and other parties to do more to end it. As history has taught us, eliminating any form of slavery is a long and difficult process, but with the GAATW and many other important organizations working tirelessly, ending human trafficking is achievable.

– Laura Turner
Photo: Flickr

Hathaway’s Humanitarian WorkActress Anne Hathaway once said, “A role model is somebody who does things because of what they believe in regardless of what other people think.” Hathaway couldn’t be truer to her own words. She is known for captivating audiences on stage and on the screen with one of her best-known roles being Fantine in Les Misérables. The part earned her an Oscar in 2013 for Best Supporting Actress.

However, Hathaway’s talents go beyond acting. She participates in 17 different charities and supports 24 various causes. Hathaway’s humanitarian work knows no boundaries. She supports several non-profit organizations and is fiercely dedicated to advocating for women’s rights.

Four Examples of Anne Hathaway’s Humanitarian Work

  1. One of the many organizations Hathaway has supported is The Lollipop Theater Network. This non-profit strives to show screenings of new movies to sick children who are unable to leave the hospital because of chronic illnesses. In 2008, she organized a screening of Get Smart and The Devil Wears Prada for hospitalized teenagers. In addition to The Lollipop Theater Network, Hathaway both supports and has donated to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading nonprofit organization in pediatric research and treatment for chronic illnesses affecting children.
  2. Hathaway’s humanitarian work extends further than advocating for children. She is continuously fighting for people’s voices to be heard. First, in 2007, Hathaway spoke at The Human Rights Campaign gala, which is known for being one of the largest LGBTQ support and political participation groups in the U.S. Hathaway also actively supports The Creative Coalition, this organization is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in the entertainment industry, the goal is to advocate on behalf of First Amendment rights and the importance of public education and the arts.
  3. Along with a diverse list of humanitarian work, Hathaway was chosen in 2016 to be a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador. She is known for being a renowned feminist and uses this platform to advocate for gender equality, especially in regards to motherhood. Disparities still exist between the roles that men and women are expected to take on after having a baby. Hathaway is promoting a more equal division of labor between parents, so that both may achieve a fulfilling home and work life.
  4. Her advocacy for women continued when she teamed up with World Bank-Nike foundation for “The Girl Effect.” In 2010, she spoke at The Adolescent Girls Initiative in Washington D.C. to disclose more information about the project. The program aims to help girls in Asia, Africa, and the Middle-East to achieve higher levels of education and develop skills that are useful in moving from school into the workforce. The program is currently active in seven countries but plans to spread to Haiti and Yemen. So far, the movement has raised $20 million.

Beauty transcends physicality when it comes to Hathaway’s humanitarian work. She continues to spread her influence across multiple different organizations, always striving to use her celebrity status to advocate and give a platform to those without a voice.

– Alyssa Hannam
Photo: Flickr

Female Empowerment in Rwanda
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 sparked the beginning of female empowerment in Rwanda. After this tragedy, much of the population left in this East African country was made up of women. This enabled them to have a voice in the public sector of Rwanda, empowering all Rwandan women to take a stand for their nation.

Four Examples of Female Empowerment in Rwanda

  1. President Paul Kagame led the call for female empowerment in Rwanda. President Kagame realized that women would need to play a large role in Rwanda’s restoration. A new constitution was passed in 2003 which stated that 30 percent of parliamentary seats would be reserved for women. Girls’ education was also very much encouraged as well as women being appointed to leadership roles.The president’s policies were welcomed by all Rwandans and quotas were met and surpassed extraordinarily. In the country’s 2003 election, 48 percent of parliamentary seats went to women; in the next election, 64 percent of seats went to women.
  2. Rwanda leads the world by having the most women in its national legislature. On this same scale, the U.S. ranks ninety-sixth with only 19 percent of its governmental seats held by women.
  3. Abishyizehamwe, in collaboration with the ActionAid Fund Leadership Opportunities for Women (FLOW), is a women’s smallholder farmers’ group formed in 2013 in order to mobilize women to learn and adopt sustainable agriculture practices. The organization opened an early childhood care center to provide women with the opportunity to spend less time caring for children and more time generating income for their families. FLOW and Abishyizehamwe have allowed Rwandan women to help support their families financially instead of just being an unpaid caretaker.
  4. Since 1997, Women for Women International has helped more than 76,000 Rwandan women become economically autonomous. The organization’s one-year program has allowed women to strengthen themselves as well as their country by gaining economic and social self-sufficieny. Through this program, women are able to succeed in anything from yogurt-making to brick-making to hospitality management. Women for Women International has allowed Rwandan women to go from being poverty-stricken to having voices in their country and making a real difference in rebuilding Rwanda.

Female empowerment in Rwanda has come a long way since the genocide in 1994, but it still has a long way to go. Women are now very prominent in the public sector, but it is important that they also gain autonomy in their private lives. Nations around the world should look to Rwanda as a prime example of how much women can accomplish when they are given the chance.

– Megan Maxwell
Photo: Google

Victories Against FGM in Africa
Today, there are an estimated 200 million women and girls living with female genital mutilation, or FGM. FGM is widely practiced in 30 countries around the world.  At least 65 to 70 percent of FGM victims live in Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, FGM is a broad term including “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Traditionally, it is used to control female sexuality, but it often leaves a myriad of health and social problems for survivors. Despite the ingrained nature of this practice, in recent years there have been several victories against FGM in Africa.

Seven Victories Against FGM in Africa

  1. Liberian Abolishment: After years of political negotiation, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf fulfilled her 2015 vow to abolish FGM. FGM affects more than 50 percent of Liberian girls and is used as a ritual in the Sande secret society’s coming-of-age ceremony.Many traditional organizations have threatened death toward activists who expose their rituals. Despite these challenges, Africa’s first female executive leader executed one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa.
  2. The Girl Generation: This NGO works to connect girls from across the continent to “end Female Genital Mutilation in this generation.” It has given over $1.6 million in grants to grassroots organizations in eight African countries from Nigeria to Mali. It focuses mainly on changing social attitudes about the practice in rural areas where it is common.Regarding the organization’s work, one woman said, “I am now a changed person. When I came here yesterday, I never thought anyone will convince me FGM is bad, but now I’m convinced, and will stand up for my younger sisters and cousins not to be subjected to the cut.”
  3. The American Doctor: Dr. Marci Bower, a San Francisco native, spent two weeks in Nairobi surgically repairing the scars left by FGM. Victims of FGM often experience complications in childbirth and infections in the cut area.In Kenya, about five million women are living with FGM, though the practicing rate of 27 percent is much lower than that of the countries in northern Africa. Dr. Bower operated on 44 local women and trained others to do the same when she returned to the United States.
  4. Kembatta Women Stand Together: One Ethiopian woman, Bogaletch Gebre, has worked for decades to eliminate FGM in her native country. After a traumatic cutting at the age of 12 and an education as a Fullbright scholar, Gebre founded Kembatti Mentti Gezzina or Kembatta Women Stand Together to fight FGM. Her organization has been lauded for reducing FGM rates in parts of Ethiopia from 100 percent to three percent through community outreach and information campaigns.
  5. Kenyan Girls App: Five teenage girls from the Luo ethnic group in Kenya invented an app to help their peers escape FGM. The girls were the only African team to compete in  2017’s Technovation contest, sponsored by Verizon, Google and the U.N.Their entry, called “I-cut,” includes options for users to seek medical treatment, report FGM in their local communities, donate to the cause, escape the ritual and learn more about FGM. One team member, Synthia Otieno, said their goal for the app was to “restore hope to hopeless girls.”
  6. Masaai Women: In the nomadic Masaai community, FGM is commonly practiced as an initiation ceremony. However, after witnessing her sister undergo FGM and an abusive child marriage, Nice Leng’ete decided to use her high school education to make a difference.After years of bargaining and dialogue, Leng’ete has saved over 15,000 girls from cutting, winning one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa. Leng’ete became the first woman to speak before the highest Masaai elder council, which formally abolished FGM for all 1.5 million Masaii people.
  7. African Men Against FGM: It is not only women who are achieving victories against FGM in Africa. Male activists, such as Kelechukwu Nwachukwu from Nigeria and Tony Mwebia from Kenya, are working to inform African men about the realities of FGM.Despite the prevalence of FGM in their communities because of the secretive nature of the practice, many African men are unaware of the pain FGM causes. Nwachukwu commented, “I’ve seen girls who have died [from FGM] but the parents don’t make the link. Many will tell that it’s just God’s will.” Despite the challenges, male activists have become an essential part of the movement to end FGM in a generation.

Female genital mutilation contributes to poverty in areas where it is practiced. Girls are cut at young ages to prepare them for child marriage, a practice linked to lower development. As the British NGO ActionAid put it, “Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and stay poor.” Each victory against FGM in Africa is a victory against extreme poverty and the violation of women’s human rights.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr