Archive for the ‘Women’ category

Peace Corps Volunteer Launches Osh Women’s Leadership Club

May 18, 2009

Becky, a Peace Corps volunteer and Master’s International Student in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, has set up an Osh Women’s Leadership Club Blog. It looks like she plans to have the members of her club take turns posting on the site, which we eagerly look forward to reading!

For those unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan, the city of Osh is the country’s second-largest city and it is located in the southern part of the country. You can learn more about Osh here.

(Unfortunately, I never made it down to the city during my time in Kyrgyzstan. Yes, I am very much aware of all I missed out on.)

Since we’re designating Becky’s two sites as “Editor’s Picks,” we have included her links on our sidebar.

For women, poverty can lead to empowerment

May 15, 2009

Consider this sobering fact:

Worldwide, women and girls make up 70% of the estimated 1.3 billion people living in poverty, two thirds of the one billion illiterate adults, and two thirds of the 130 million children who are not in school.

Now consider this story:

A teacher by training, Lynne Randolph Patterson never expected to find herself at the helm of a multi-national financial services company.

Twenty years ago, she was volunteering at a young mothers club in La Paz, Bolivia, where her husband had been posted for work.

She was there to deliver empowerment lessons but the women, who attended twice a week in exchange for donated food, all told her one thing: “We need to earn money.”

Along with her colleague, Carmen Velasco, a psychologist, they began to offer the women business training and tried to find them credit.

Inspired by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, whose founder Muhammad Yunus pioneered microfinance, they began to offer small loans of around $50.

The women formed groups to guarantee each other’s loans, and made simple business plans showing how they would invest and repay their first loans.

“Not being very financial, we made lots of mistakes in the beginning,” she says.

But they persevered, and Pro Mujer (Pro Woman in Spanish) as their organisation is now called, now provides 222,000 women with loans, business training and healthcare in five Latin American countries. [BBC]

And this one as well from Kigali, Rwanda:

A group of 15 female entrepreneurs will receive business courses at university level, which includes mentorship through a partnership with fellow female entrepreneurs in the US, as part of the “Peace Through Business” programme later this August.

The group of 27 was short-listed after completing an extensive eight-week course largely administered by last year’s pioneers, with their graduation ceremony being held at Christ’s Church in Rwanda (CCR), at Gacuriro Estate last Sunday.

Jane Natukunda, a mother of three and a tea dealer is one of the entrepreneurs who were simply ecstatic after being named at the graduation ceremony.

“I really feel very happy being among the fifteen women. We learnt many useful business skills in the past few weeks,” a cheerful Natukunda said.

“Previously, most of us conducted business without the proper know-how, but have learnt much – bookkeeping, networking, business management, risk management and even leadership. I am highly empowered and motivated to teach others as well.” [allAfrica.com]

And before I continue, consider this fact as well:

Research has shown that women are more likely to repay loans in full and on time than men. It has also been established that giving a woman access to primary education will ensure that her entire family receives better health care and nutrition. This indicates that providing equal access to education, credit, property and employment for women, will ensure economic justice and sustainability for all.

*Ref: Empowering Young Women to Lead Change

Produced by WMCA and Supported by the United Nations Populations  Fund, published in 2006

So what’s the lesson here?

Simply put, investing in the education and training of women worldwide leads not only to self-empowerment and independence, but also encourages the self-sustainability of small enterprises that promotes business and trade at the grassroots level.

Sometimes an overlooked part of the population, in many communities women are the backbone of the family. Empowering them, empowers more than just an individual.

Links Worth Checking Out – Editor’s Picks

May 11, 2009

Apologies for the lack of commentary in this post. Today and tomorrow are incredibly busy days for me. (I’ll be attending the Florida Conference for Women tomorrow and if you will be there as well, I’d love to meet and chat a bit!) However, in the meantime, I would like to leave readers with three worthy links that I recommend you all check out until I can add more on Wednesday:

BlogHer, an online community designed to help female bloggers connect with each other and gain exposure for their own blogs, has announced the 2009 International BlogHer Scholarship winners. Do check out these inspiring blogs and bloggers here.

Mother’s Day was yesterday and to correspond with the holiday, Save the Children compiled a Mother’s Index which ranks the best and worst countries to be a mother. A partial list of country placements and the full report can be accessed here.

NEED Magazine has a pretty succint motto: We are not out to save the world but to tell the stories of those who are. While digital issues are available online, the magazine also has a blog with some powerful photos to accompany the posts. NEED Magazine’s main Web site is here and it’s blog can be found here.

Giving Internationally for Mother’s Day

May 4, 2009

Last year for Mother’s Day, my brother and I decided to do something different in recognition of our Mom. Instead of giving her flowers and a card, or treating her to a day at her favorite salon, we chose to make a monetary donation in her name to a cause we knew she already supported.

As a hand-made rug maker and designer by hobby, our mother had been working with a fellow rug-maker who was helping (mostly female) villagers in Mexico create their own rugs and designs which are then sold in the United States. The project is known as the Las Rancheritas of Agustin Gonzales, Mexico.

The donation made in her name gave more than my brother or I ever imagined. It went toward opening the villagers’ first bank account which from there, taught them skills in bookkeeping and finance which were necessary for their growing business.

In January of this year, both my parents made a trip down to Mexico to the village of the Las Rancheritas. There they met the villagers, observed their modest rug making business and saw first-hand how our Mother’s Day gift had sprouted into something so much bigger than just money.

She still continues to support this group by organizing fundraisers and collecting donations which tells me that this Mother’s Day gift was better than any card or dinner out.

As the Mother’s Day holiday now approaches once again, I have compiled a list of suggestions for those of you who also wish to give the gift of giving to your mothers. Note that if you don’t have prior connections to your charity and its leadership as my mother did before we made the gift in her name, Charity Navigator has been a recommended online tool to intelligent giving.

The following are some basic recommendations, although if you know of others to add to the list, please feel free to leave a comment. (In honor of Mother’s Day and to coincide with the nature of this blog, the following are charities aiding women and each has an international scope.)

  • Women for Women International helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives.
  • Polaris Project is an anti-human trafficking organization working to end slavery. It has offices both in the United States and Japan.
  • Girls Learn International pairs American and high school-based Chapters with partner schools in countries where girls have been traditionally denied access to education.
  • Womenkind Worldwide is a UK-based group aimed at empowering women in developing countries.
  • International Women’s Health Coalition promotes and protects the sexual and reproductive rights and health of all women and young people, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • Global Fund for Women advocates female empowerment worldwide by working with women’s rights groups outside of the United States.
  • Equality Now is an international women’s human rights organization which operates around the globe.
  • Women Thrive Worldwide spearheads efforts that shape U.S. policy to assist women and their families in the battle against poverty.

The Question of Cambodia

April 13, 2009

Cambodia girl, originally uploaded by dæxus.

Some of you may have noticed that Cambodia has been making headlines in the news recently. Here’s the reason why: About a month ago, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) issued a report titled “Manning the Barricades” which predicted which countries are most likely to experience social unrest due to the current global financial crisis. In its list ranking the top countries at risk, the EIU put Cambodia in fourth place – tied with Sudan. Needless to say, it was a position the Cambodian government strongly contested, but one the EIU has politely defended.

All this serves as the backdrop for more alarming news which we heard over the weekend: A “devastating” food and oil crisis has forced 50% of Cambodia’s households to to cut back on food, and the recession in Cambodia’s major export markets is expected to have a heavy toll on women and children.

“Women will be disproportionally affected by this crisis. They make up the bulk of the labour force, and they are the backbone of this economy. We know that when women’s incomes are lost, the whole family suffers, especially the children,” cautions UN Resident Coordinator, Douglas Broderick.

All this leads to a much broader discussion.

Despite the fact that parts of the country are making progress since the signing of the 1993 Constitution which allowed for a framework of democracy and social development, “more than 30 percent of the population is still living in extreme poverty.”

Together with corruption and continued human rights violations – especially the increasing forced evictions and land grabbing under the so-called development claims – there is little hope that Cambodia can move out of poverty. Thus the question arises: For whom is the Cambodian government attempting to achieve its development goals?

To no surprise, the article cited above faults the Cambodia government for failure of the country to lift itself out of poverty despite progress being made. For one thing, there is a gross lack of transparency on the government’s part and a blatant abuse of human rights, as detailed in the piece.

Unfortunately, the combination of a non-transparent government and the current financial situation doesn’t leave much hope for Cambodia and potentially serves as the tinder needed to spark an even bigger mess.

The UN fears many poor families will adopt “unhealthy” coping measures such as reducing their number of meals per day or eating less nutritious foods, cutting back on health services, removing children from school to work, and selling household assets or land. This concern is supported by the 2008 National Anthropometric Nutrition Survey, which showed an increase in acute malnutrition in poor urban children aged under five years – linked to higher food prices and reduced earnings among the urban poor.

Add to that the fact that poverty makes children and women more vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking and it seems that there is much about Cambodia’s situation that causes reason for concern.

Achieving Gender Equality: Not Just A Woman’s Thing

April 10, 2009

Not so long ago, the issue of gender equality attracted more involvement from women than it did from men. For example, during the 1995 Beijing Conference for Women, females greatly outnumbered their male counterparts. And while a greater female to male ratio at such meetings is still a trend that continues today (see Pedro C. Moreno’s report), a forum recently held in Rio de Janeiro has challenged traditional norms about who becomes involved in gender equality promotion and who is left on the sidelines.

The first global symposium on Engaging Men and Boys to Achieve Gender Equality was held in Rio March 30-April 3 and with it came representatives from international organizations representing both men’s and women’s interests. About 450 representatives from 80 countries gathered to “to establish dialogue between different actors, in order to define lines of action and foment knowledge and learning from initiatives that have already been implemented.”

The symposium was organised by the Promundo Institute and Instituto Papai (Daddy) of Brazil; the White Ribbon Campaign, based in Canada; Save the Children, an international organisation; MenEngage Global Alliance, a coalition of NGOs and United Nations agencies; and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Among the topics covered were also men’s rights such as paternity leave, and the role of positive care-giving among fathers.

“We are talking about co-responsibility, which is a key word nowadays,” said Minister Nilcea Freire of the Brazilian government’s Special Secretariat of Policies for Women (SPM).

“Engaging men in the debate on equal opportunities for men and women means redistributing responsibilities, so that care-giving and household work no longer fall exclusively on women’s shoulders,” the minister told IPS.

Apparently, the forum took three years to organize and according to Marcos Nascimento, co-director of the non-governmental Promundo Institute, for decades, governments have agreed that involving men is vital in overcoming gender inequalities, yet many governments are reluctant to make a full commitment to that realization. That seems to be the next challenge in the gender gap discussion, although the Rio conference was a promising first step.

Involving men in the dialogue makes sense, and I wonder why it’s taken the world so long to figure this out. How many times have I read about workshops aimed at educating women about domestic violence, victims and potential victims alike, but have excluded (violent) men from the discussion?

Also, let’s not forget that women are not the only victims in this picture. Men must also live up to social expectations that could prove harmful to themselves as well – not just the women who are also at risk:

A qualitative research project carried out in nine Latin American countries revealed that young men and boys aged 10 to 24 are “far more concerned with achieving and preserving their masculinity than their health.”

This study, according to UNFPA, confirms that the dominant ideology underlying masculine attitudes can result in “earlier sexual initiation and more sexual partners,” less intimacy in sexual relationships and a reluctance to use condoms.

Although I did not attend the Rio forum (a Peace Corps colleague of mine did, however and it was she who alerted me to it), it seems from the press I have been reading about the conference that some valuable lessons were learned: Involving men is vital to achieving gender equality; men have gender equality issues and concerns as well; governments need to make a bigger commitment to addressing the role men play in these issues; and gender eqaulity programs need to extend beyond simply targetting women and to include men, too.

It sounds like the forum was a good first step; here’s hoping there are many other steps along that same path that will follow.

Peace Corps Philippines Volunteers Tout Women’s Rights

March 25, 2009

Ever since I lived in Jinhae, Korea and would stay up late at night listening to my neighbor beat the crap out of his girlfriend (and be told by Korean friends and co-workers not to call the cops or interfere because it could make the woman’s life even worse – a kind of sick reasoning that was fully backed up with common scenarios as to just how worse her life would be if I budded in), women’s rights has been a personal crusade of mine. (And a big part of the current thesis I am writing for my M.A. in East Asian Studies).

Even though March (Women’s History Month) is almost over and despite the fact that International Women’s Day (March 8th) has come and gone, that doesn’t mean that the issue should be put to rest. If anything, such a time should only serve as a reminder to us that the topic needs constant addressing.

For a very inspiring post about what is being done to deal with the issue in the Philippines, read this post from the blog Amanda in the Philippines. Amanda is a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and just recently conducted a women’s rights workshop with fellow Peace Corps volunteers in the country.

The whole experience was really eye opening. On Sunday we met with the women’s group that we were working with to facilitate the workshop. They are called Buklod ng babae (Women bonding together) and are based in the downtown area of the city that we were in. For two days we were to meet with around 25 women and girls (I say girls because some of these girls were “18” and I refuse to call them women) who work in GRO bars or on the street. I have mentioned GRO bars before, but to clarify, GRO stands for Guest Relations Officer here, it is the term that they use, for lack of a better word, for prostitutes. There are GRO’s that work on the street, but mostly there are bars where there are varying levels of entertainment involving the girls there for sale.

The workshop did not criticize the women’s line of work as clearly it was seen as the only available means of supporting themselves and their families. Instead, the seminar dealt with issues of rape, self-respect, HIV/AIDS and served as a source of information about women’s rights.

To get a better idea of what kind of environment the women they were interacting with worked in, Amanda and her colleagues visited some of the bars the women and girls entertained in.

We started in the city where there are ordinances which affect GRO Bars. The first bar we went to, Mangos, had (as expected) a bunch of old nasty white men scamming on the young-looking girls that were working. There were about 10 or 11 girls, many of which were in short shorts and bikini tops. There was a small stage at the front where at least one was dancing at all times. It was not like the dancing that you see in the movies, the girls were swaying slowly and looked uncomfortable, they stared only at their reflections in the mirrors and did not look around at the onlookers as though they were pretending to be somewhere else. We stayed for a little while and spoke with a girl who is a member of Buklod and also a GRO at the bar. She looked like she was about 4 or 5 months pregnant, but we did not bring that up. The next bar was the bar that was owned by the woman that came to the workshop. Here there were a few more old nasty white guys, but there was no stage or dancing, the girls had on little black dresses and tags. They were tags like they wear at my LGU with the girl’s picture, age, etc on it. The owner says that they wear them to show that they have been certified by the government as ok for GRO work.

We have added Amanda’s blog to our sidebar for those wishing to continue following her Peace Corps experience and her updates, and have also put her blog in our “Editor’s Pick” category.