Posted tagged ‘Women’

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.

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.

How Tanzanian Midwives Pushed Their Government to Do More

March 16, 2009

I always find it inspiring to hear stories about how people in developing nations take the initiative to help themselves — and succeed.

Recently five Tanzanian midwives paired up with a doctor to make a short film highlighting “the dire conditions of maternal health care in the country,” inspiring the government to double the number of midwives throughout Tanzania.

The 10-minute film, made by midwives trained in participatory film-making, looks at “the appalling conditions in which women have to give birth” in Tanzania and incited government action on maternal health care after it was screened before the Minister of Health.

This is especially vital considering the country’s statistics in terms of pregnancy-related deaths and health problems:

In Tanzania, approximately 8,000 women die every year due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and 57 percent of women give birth at home, estimates the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “While the country had achieved a 30 percent reduction in child mortality and a 20 percent decrease in newborn deaths in the past five years, infant mortality remained high at nearly 10 deaths per 1,000 live births,” writes the humanitarian news agency IRIN. “Close to one-quarter of all births are unplanned and 40 percent of women remain in dire need of reproductive health services.”

Here is the video that instigated action: (more…)