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FrontLines: Depleting Resources

FrontLines November-December 2013: Depleting Resources

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn more about the Agency’s long-standing investments in biodiversity conservation and natural resources management. Some highlights:

  • A new generation of Cambodians is now living on forest land that has been officially recognized and titled to them. More confident in their present, they are working now to prevent deforestation and conserve the land for future generations.
  • Community-based conservation is making life better for people in western Tanzania who rely on the Miombo forests as workplace, fuel station, medicine cabinet and, most importantly, home.
  • The end of a typical day at the office for the Palawan NGO Network in the Philippines finds a desk of oily chainsaws piled to the ceiling. Find out more from USAID’s Scott Lampman about what it takes to curb illegal logging in this country’s vital forests.
  • Preserving natural resources is good for people, animals, plants and, sometimes, the bottom line. Ecotourism establishments in Jordan are helping their nearby communities prosper and allowing tourists a chance to see endangered creatures like the Arabian oryx, the Houbara Bustard and the Saker falcon.
  • Click on FrontLines‘ new podcast, which takes listeners on an adventure high above the treetops of a part of Ghana that is one of the world’s 22 critical biodiversity hot spots.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.

In Morocco, Perseverance and Good Luck Ensure Three Young Boys a Quality Education

By Dr. Helen Boyle, Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and Policy at Florida State University

In early December education leaders, donors and partners met to discuss and plan for the future of early grade education in the Middle East and North Africa at the All Children Learning Workshop in Rabat, Morocco.

Youssef, Moustafa and Redouan were lucky boys.  In the late 1970s, school was not a given for all children in Chefchaouen, Morocco. Their five older siblings never attended school. The advocacy of their mother and older siblings ensured that these younger boys would get a formal education. It was a privilege to go to school in this world, not a right, and they had to do very well indeed to maintain that privilege.

Every evening, when they came back from the kuttab (Quranic school) and later from elementary school, they would all sit down with their older sisters and review everything they did at school. They would review all the letters—the sounds, the letter shape and the letter name—with their sisters. They reviewed and read the verses of the Qur’an that they learned that day and would take their booklets and read aloud anything they wrote down.

Youssef reflected, “I remember we spent countless hours doing that. For example, we would open the book and look at the letters that we wrote that day and say ‘lam, l + a = la, l + o = lo,’ or, we would explain the vowel markings to them—‘the line on top of the letter makes an “a” sound and the one below makes an “e” sound and the one above with the curl makes a “u” sound.’ “  In turn and as the boys grew older, the girls would quiz them, asking them questions after they read a passage aloud.  Redouan said, “The thought was that they were doing this to help us succeed, but we were also teaching them indirectly.” Indeed, the sisters are literate and “read better than some who have been to school,” said Moustafa.

This story is inspiring for many reasons as it demonstrates family love and loyalty and the power of perseverance.  However, one of its most critical messages is less obvious and needs to be brought to light. These were indeed lucky boys as they had a teacher in primary school, Umm Kalthoum, who knew how to teach reading.  It is almost certain, in those days, that she received minimal training, but she understood the importance of teaching reading skills.  Under her guidance, the boys—and their sisters—developed phonological awareness, knew the name of each letter, understood that each letter made a sound; understood what the vowel markings (diacritics) were for and did segmenting and blending activities in class and at home. They developed vocabulary in Modern Standard Arabic and then listening and eventually reading comprehension skills in a language which was in many ways different from the dialect they spoke in their home and in everyday life.

Thanks to Umm Kalthoum, with whom they all studied in the early grades, these boys learned the foundational skills of reading and were able to pass them on to their sisters; these boys all went on to professional careers and great success.

USAID is working with Morocco’s Ministry of Education to leave behind a teacher training program that will support the continuous professional development of teachers.

USAID is working with Morocco’s Ministry of Education to leave behind a teacher training program that will support the continuous professional development of teachers.

Today, despite higher rates of school enrollment than ever, many Moroccan children are not as lucky as these three boys were over 30 years ago. Educational quality has not kept pace with the growing number of children seeking an education in Morocco. Indeed, Morocco’s PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessment) scores indicate that there is significant room to improve reading instruction and reading levels in Morocco.

In early December USAID co-funded a workshop in Rabat, Morocco to mobilize education leaders and advocates to improve early grade learning in the Middle East and North Africa. Other donors included the Global Partnership for Education, German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Islamic Development Bank, and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO). Country teams, including representatives from Ministries of Education, civil society and local donor organizations, gathered to discuss innovative solutions to give all children a chance to learn. At the All Children Reading workshop, delegations created action plans that will provide clear and concise goals for initiating or scaling up existing early grade learning programs at the country level. Opportunities were provided for country teams to network and to build mechanisms for support and accountability to push planning into practice. Global literacy leaders’ and advocates’ discussions during this workshop focused on key thematic areas in early grade learning, including large scale learning assessments, teacher training and supervision, curriculum and lesson plans, assessment tools  and impact evaluations, and reading materials.

On the PIRLS test, a score of 500 corresponds to the mean of the overall reading achievement distribution across the 45 countries. Morocco scored a 310, which was the lowest score of the 45 countries that took the PIRLS in 2011.Indeed, in 2011, all of the Arabic-speaking countries that took the test were below the 500 average with scores ranging from 439 to 310 for 4th graders (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker 2012). This points to an issue with how reading is taught in a rich and complex language like Arabic, a language with many spoken variations, not just in Morocco but across Arabic-speaking countries.

Good teaching focused on the foundational skills of reading can make an enormous difference, as we see in the example of the three boys and their sisters. Supporting teachers to develop skills and strategies to teach reading will ensure that the success that these children experienced in learning to read can be replicated in every early-grade classroom in Morocco.

How Data Drives Decisions at USAID

This post originally appeared on Impact magazine

Impact magazine interviews Ellen Starbird, Director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health, USAID.

IMPACT: How does USAID assess the effectiveness of its health investments?

ELLEN STARBIRD: USAID assesses the effectiveness of its health interventions by looking at trend data in health indicators that are related to the programmatic interventions that we support. For our family planning and reproductive health programs, contraceptive prevalence, improvements in birth spacing and increasing age at marriage are all measured by surveys, including the Demographic and Health Survey. Changes in these indicators can be related to our investments. USAID uses evaluation findings to inform decisions, improve program effectiveness, be accountable to stakeholders, and support organizational learning. Research tests the effectiveness of possible interventions and is used to identify high-impact practices for our family planning and reproductive health programs. Pilot studies and introduction studies test the effectiveness of interventions in specific contexts or countries. Those interventions that best “fit” a particular context (i.e., level of program development, epidemiological context, resources available, etc.) are selected.

IMPACT: USAID has a long history of using a “logical framework of results” to monitor health programs. Could you describe this framework and how it is used to facilitate decision-making?

ES: The logical framework is an important part of project design, as it identifies and briefly describes the problem the project intends to address and the expected outcomes of the project. The framework includes inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact. USAID uses Project Monitoring Plans to monitor at each step in this process. These plans examine answers to questions such as: Are inputs being delivered as planned? Are inputs leading to the anticipated outputs? Are outputs leading to the desired outcomes? If not, is the problem failure to deliver the input, or is the problem that inputs are delivered but for some unanticipated reason are not leading to the expected outcome?

IMPACT: USAID recently conducted a thorough review of its evaluation practices and developed a new policy on evaluation to guide the organization. What does USAID want to learn through implementation of this policy, and what does this mean specifically for health programs?

ES: USAID conducted this review to ensure that effective evaluations were taking place and guiding programmatic decisions. There was a concern that over the last several years fewer evaluations were being done, and the agency wanted evaluations to play a more prominent role in program decision-making. By implementing the new policy, USAID hopes to get a better understanding of the success with which its programs are implemented (process evaluations) and the impact of those programs (impact evaluation). This means that our health programs will put more focus on the implementation and impact of its projects, and that this information will guide future programming decisions. Ultimately, this creates a quality-improvement process, capturing experience to develop increasingly effective programs.

IMPACT: Can you share a recent example of receiving surprising results from work our office has been supporting? How did these results shape the decisions you and your colleagues had to make?

ES: In recent years, results from the DHS, especially those from Africa, showed an unexpected level of interest in and demand for long-acting contraceptive methods. These findings led us to expand our efforts to make these methods more widely available in an acceptable, accessible and affordable ways. Another example is that survey and qualitative research have identified a substantial demand for contraceptive information and services among youth in developing countries. M-Health is providing access to information on methods and source of supply to youth via electronic communication. Information collected on these programs indicated that youth are interested in a wide variety of methods, including natural methods, injectables and longer-acting methods.

IMPACT: What are some challenges you anticipate in generating meaningful data for decision-making post-2015?

ES: As we continue to make progress, what and how we measure will also have to change. In the area of family planning and reproductive health, for example, we’ll need better measurement around costs, as well as better understanding of how to measure choice and rights. The current data collection mechanisms in place will need to be adapted for such advances, or new ones will need to be developed.

Webinar to Highlight How Extension, Technology, and Behavior Change Combine to Improve Agriculture and Nutrition

This blog post is by John Nicholson, SPRING Knowledge Management Manager, JSI Research and Training Institute, and Kristina Beall, SPRING SBCC Project Officer, The Manoff Group.  SPRING is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and helps to strengthen country efforts to scale up high-impact nutrition practices and policies.

Leveraging the power of social capital and technology, Digital Green has pioneered the use of low-cost, community videos as an agriculture extension tool that allows farmers to record and share successful techniques with other farmers in their community. The work began as a part of Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets team in 2006, eventually spinning off into the non-governmental organization (NGO), Digital Green. This young, dynamic NGO has already helped produce over 2,600 videos that have been shared with more than 150,000 rural households across India, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Ghana. Digital Green’s grassroots approach — producing context-specific videos by the community and for the community—improves the efficiency of existing agricultural development efforts by a factor of ten times, per dollar spent.

Example of Digital Green video production

Example of Digital Green video production

USAID’s global nutrition project, Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), is partnering with Digital Green in Odisha, India, to test the feasibility of adapting this video-based methodology specifically to promote high-impact maternal, infant and young child nutrition, and hygiene practices. Under the SPRING/Digital Green model, a local NGO partner – VARRAT – has worked in Keonhjar District of Odisha to produce 10 videos that showcase key nutrition and hygiene behaviors, often celebrating early adopters of these important nutrition practices. Videos are shared among small community women’s groups on a weekly basis using portable, battery-operated pico projectors. A robust suite of analytic tools, coupled with feedback from community members, then provides Digital Green and its partners with timely data to better target both production and distribution of videos. The collection of 10 nutrition- and hygiene-specific videos produced under this collaboration can be viewed along with the corresponding adoption analytics on the Digital Green website.

On December 17th, SPRING will host a webinar examining the Digital Green work through a multispectral lens, focusing on their unique approach and the growing partnership to scale-up technology to improve both agricultural and nutrition outcomes. Visit the SPRING website for more information and to register for the webinar.

This webinar is part of SPRING’s continuing collaboration with the Bureau for Food Security and Bureau of Global Health to identify promising approaches to better link nutrition and agriculture.

Getting it Right: Using Real-Time Data to Inform Smarter, More Responsive Aid

In this era of unprecedented connectivity, the private sector excels at using digital data to better understand its customers.  There is opportunity for our and other organizations involved in international development to use the analysis of digital data to better understand the real-time needs of populations who benefit from their programs.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Development Credit Authority (DCA), just completed a pilot feasibility study with the United Nations Global Pulse (UNGP) to examine the potential of capturing and analyzing digital data to inform the development of new programs on financial inclusion.

UNGPImage1

Categorization of general loan tweets between January 1, 2013 and March 14, 2013.

UNGP is known for exploring how the explosion of new digital data can be leveraged as a resource for sustainable development while advocating privacy protecting frameworks to enable the responsible use of big data for development. At USAID’s DCA, we wanted to see if we could collect data that would tell us real-time constraints for entrepreneurs trying to access finance.

Understanding Digital Footprints

First we needed to have a better understanding of the digital footprint of rural entrepreneurs in Kenya, the country we selected for our pilot. If we knew where people were contributing online, in the digital space, we could monitor those areas to collect accurate data to feed into our future development work. To gain a better understanding of the digital footprint of our loan beneficiaries, we interviewed a small sample group about their usage of various digital tools, and asked them about the terms they use when talking about accessing loans.

We then used these terms and keywords to build filters to monitor social media chatter about financial inclusion, and deployed our monitors through Twitter and Google search trends.

Sentiment Analysis

We were able to utilize the ForSight platform, thanks to a research partnership between UNGP and social media analytics Crimson Hexagon, to conduct sentiment analysis of online conversation. Sentiment analysis relies on language clues to measure the overall “feeling” of tweets.  This made it possible to see how people reacted to new financial products, relevant news stories, and even financial institutions.  By retroactively analyzing online discourse, we could even analyze how sentiment around access to finance changed over time, and during high profile events such as the 2012 elections in Kenya.

We were able to divide digital discourse into general or negative buckets, and see how those feelings changed over the time period of our analysis.  Paired with our keyword filters, this provided a new digital picture of financial inclusion in Kenya.

Looking Forward

As it turned out, limited digital chatter about loans prevented us from identifying variance in needs for loans across sectors or geographic regions. However, opportunities to do this type of analysis expand almost daily, as more people have access to social media.

For USAID’s Development Credit Authority, we recognize that other data collection methods may prove more informative and relevant to our work on financial inclusion – such “scraping” bank websites to better understand financial services being offered at any given time, or utilizing mobile surveys.

An entrepreneur in East Africa who received local, private financing with the help of a DCA credit guarantee.

An entrepreneur in East Africa who received local, private financing with the help of a DCA credit guarantee.

But the potential for using digital data in the development space- from monitoring disease outbreaks to listening to the chatter in a country just before an election- can be game changing.  This project and the resulting report were a first step to define obstacles and opportunities, and shed more light on the processes behind analyzing digital data. The more the development community understands the ways this data can be utilized, the more we can experiment in this space.  After all, to meet our objectives of ending global poverty, we can no longer risk ignoring the largest data-sets out there- those created directly by the people we are trying to reach.

Video of the Week: USAID and Nelson Mandela

This is a video of Nelson Mandela announcing a partnership with USAID on the AIDS Response Partnership in Durban, 2000. We continue to join with the world as it mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela.

Masculinity and Violence in Conflict

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

Why does masculinity devolve into madness in the face of violence? Why is it that we time and time again see a marked increase in the horrific misdeeds committed by men toward women when conflict arises? Throughout history, including up to this very day, a consequence of large-scale violence and war is a significant increase in the rate of gender-based violence that women experience in the form of rape and specific targeting by combatants. During widespread conflict, the breakdown of society and normalization of violence that extends from war into broader society is a commonly used explanation for rampant gender-based violence. Hypermasculinity, a term used to describe an increase in aggressive and misogynistic masculine traits, is also used in explaining why gender-based violence is practically treated as a given component of war. Even after a conflict has been politically resolved, the impact that widespread violence and societal conflict has on the people that experience it and live through it is profound, traumatizing, and proves difficult to overcome.

Historically, women have been treated as spoils of war and routinely victimized when communities were razed. This still happens in contemporary conflicts where we see rape used as a weapon to further traumatize and dehumanize specific communities and as a means to project power. Today in Syria, in addition to the higher incidences of direct gender-based violence, we see a different kind of indirect violence perpetrated against young women and girls in the form of child marriage practices, where families use their children as what is in essence a bartering good out of a pure need to survive. Even after a conflict has politically met its end, the violence experienced in conflict cuts deeply into the communities that are attempting to recover from its lasting impacts. In Liberia, high incidences of intimate partner violence are still reported a decade removed from the end of the civil war that tore through the country.

We need to help, but how? How do we recover from war and the cycle of violence that it fuels? How do we help women who experience violence during war, for that matter? Trauma from violence exposes everybody to the after-effects of war, but providing support through empowering and providing social services to both men and women can help with moving away from a violent society and contribute toward peacebuilding and maintaining stability. Politically empowering women and other marginalized populations, spreading awareness of the specific kinds of violence women experience while holding those responsible accountable for their crimes, and bringing women to the negotiation table needs to happen if we hope to distance ourselves from the ugliness of history. We also need to focus on a positive form of masculinity to contribute toward a peaceful and prosperous society, and move away from the hypermasculinity that pushes men and boys towards violence during times of conflict and disaster. While we have a long way to go, these steps will help us move towards gender equality and a more prosperous society.

Pearl Harbor Day – A Remembrance

The balcony outside the “Flag Mess,” or Admiral’s dining room, on the sixth floor of the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), offers one of the most all-encompassing views of Honolulu and the southern coast of the island of Oahu in Hawaii.  From the Diamond Head promontory on the far left (familiar to fans of Hawaii 5-0) through Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, to Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field, on to the Waianae mountains to the far right, on a sunny December morning it is hard to envision how different the scene would have been 72 years ago.

December 7, 1941 – the “day that will live in infamy” in the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – saw the Japanese Imperial Navy attack on Pearl Harbor and many other U.S. military installations on Oahu.  A Hawaiian friend, now 85 years old, was a schoolgirl at the time.  She remembers the sound of the attack and running out onto the lawns of the Kamehameha School – the first school established for native Hawaiians – to see the Japanese planes bombing the U.S. fleet at Pearl, an experience that left indelible memories.

Sailors man the rails as the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) enters Pearl Harbor. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbor for a scheduled port visit during their transit home after an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility.

Sailors man the rails as the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) enters Pearl Harbor. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbor for a scheduled port visit during their transit home after an eight-month deployment to the U.S. 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. Photo Credit: Seaman Apprentice Kelly M. Agee

Other witnesses to the attack, who survived and lived to fight in the Pacific campaign, are fewer and fewer every year.  They still return, some to spend eternity with their fallen comrades.  In a solemn ceremony, survivors who served on the USS Arizona can have their cremated remains entombed within the hull of the ship – approximately three dozen have done so, joining the more than 1,100 who went down with their ship.

These days, the job of protecting American interests in the USPACOM area of responsibility (AOR) falls to the people of USPACOM and the four service commands.  It is a massive job – the AOR reaches from the west coast of the U.S. to the western borders of China and India, more than 50% of the surface area of the world.  With 60% of the world’s population, the world’s five largest militaries, five of the world total of seven U.S. mutual defense treaty allies, and sea lanes through which the bulk of world commerce passes, the region is vital to U.S. national interests.

The importance that USAID places on our partnership with USPACOM is demonstrated by the assignment of four USAID advisors to the Command – two Development Advisors and two Humanitarian Assistance Advisors.  Working closely together, we are committed to advancing U.S. national interests and USAID developmental objectives in this critical part of the world –responding to humanitarian disasters, building host nation capacity to counter instability and violent  extremism; mitigating the effects of climate change; and countering illicit trafficking; and  promoting stability, good governance, and regional cooperation in Asia. Although this cooperation takes many forms, it is usually most visible when military forces respond to a USAID and host nation request for support with disaster assistance programs, as was the case just last month when the strongest typhoon to ever hit land devastated parts of the Philippines.

As we pause to remember the sacrifice of those who fell here 72 years ago, we should also remember that the people of USAID and USPACOM continue to work in peaceful ways to achieve the ideals for which our fathers and grandfathers fought not so long ago.

Richard Hough is the USAID Senior Development Advisor to U.S. Pacific Command. A career Foreign Service Officer, he works to maximize interagency cooperation and develop solutions to developmental challenges faced by both civilian and military agencies.  His international career has spanned more than thirty years, with assignments in Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Richard served as USAID Mission Director in Romania and Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro), opening the missions in each country in the immediate post-communist period and managing significant democratic, social and economic transition programs, including pro-democracy support that was instrumental in removing President Milosevic from power.  As Director of Programming for the USAID Missions to Indonesia and the West Bank and Gaza (Palestine), he managed the development of a new, post-9/11 strategy for USAID programs in Indonesia, the fourth largest country, with the largest Muslim population, in the world.  Following the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26, 2004 Richard developed a $400 million recovery and reconstruction plan for the province of Aceh.  In Palestine he managed a $2 billion development assistance portfolio that supported the Israeli-Arab peace process.  He is married to Jill Gulliksen, an international development professional with thirty years of program management experience; they have two grown children.

Political Transition Assistance and Prevention of Gender Based Violence

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

She was abandoned as a baby at a rural hospital in Bihar, India. The hospital, at a loss for what to do with an infant girl, gave her away – to a brothel. Through concerted efforts of an anti-human trafficking organization in India, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, she was adopted and housed at the nonprofit’s shelter for girls. Thanks to Apne Aap, she escaped the brothel at an early age, rescued from a life of forced prostitution that awaited her. This year she graduated from secondary school. She wants to be a doctor.

In a nearby village named Khawaspur, I met a girl about the same age who was living a very different life. Despite significant efforts to remove her from the red light area of the village, she was forced into prostitution at the age of 12. For the past 5 years she has been living with daily exposure to sexual violence. Forced to lie about her age to authorities, she lives in hollow silence.

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

Younger students have participated in a USAID program, based on an understanding that young people are still developing ideas about gender and relationships. Photo Credit: J. Harris, International Medical Corps

I saw these two stories with my own eyes, and learned of the cruel cycle that we at USAID try to break:  poverty, women’s systematic exclusion, and a lack of education, among other factors, all contribute to endemic gender-based violence (GBV) and the disproportionate maltreatment of women.   Endemic GBV and women’s inequality on the other hand threaten the stability and development of any given country or region.  In addition, we know that in conflicts and crises, GBV is more prevalent and these issues are magnified.  This is why USAID continues to be focused on ending GBV.

GBV is the violation of human rights on the basis of gender, and encompasses a wide-range of issues including bride kidnapping, sexual violence, and human trafficking. Given the breadth and complexity of the issue, USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) helps increase community education, support for prevention and response, and women’s inclusion in political processes – all critical issues that threaten both the stability and rights of citizens, such as GBV.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, where bride kidnappings are a serious issue, OTI partnered with a local NGO to engage students from three universities in the southern city of Osh in discussions on bride kidnapping and recent changes to laws that increase jail time for perpetrators. Young women – and men – are uninformed about bride kidnapping laws and the legal process, and women often face stigma from communities and families when attempting to resist captivity.  With OTI’s support, the local organization activity utilized street theater performances, t-shirts, brochures, and public service announcements to empower students to take a stand against bride kidnapping and serve as an example for others.  In addition to confronting bridal kidnapping, the program functioned as part of a larger effort to address sources of instability and support the democratic transition,

In Burma, OTI supports a local organization to conduct a qualitative study on violence against women.  Women’s rights organizations plan to utilize the findings to enhance service and response mechanisms and support prevention and response programs around the country.

To address sexual violence in Sri Lanka, OTI-supported youth led more than 1,000 individuals in protests against sexual violence, with representation from diverse ethnic and religious groups from six districts across Sri Lanka.  Support for these youth groups was delivered through OTI’s Sexual Assault Forensic Evaluation (SAFE) program.

In addition to these activities directly addressing gender-based violence, the Office of Transition Initiatives supports a number of other initiatives as components of transition programming in countries including Syria, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and Burma. These initiatives promote women’s participation in the political process, build the role of women in government and civil society, and raise awareness on critical issues impacting women and girls. Inclusion of women in transition processes will promote their positions as equal stakeholders in democracy, and encourage prevention of gender-based violence. In conflict and crisis environments, providing an inclusive platform for those impacted by sexual violence to become agents of change in their own communities is critical for protecting the rights and security of individuals, and for the development of legitimate political processes.

With writing support from Lisa Bower, Program Manager and Gender Point of Contact at the Office of Transition Assistance, and  Melissa Hough, Special Assistant to the Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.

Transforming Gender Norms and Ending Child Marriage: The Role of Boys

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

Child marriage has recently gained heightened attention by donors, researchers, activists, program implementers, and policymakers. The international community has increasingly recognized child marriage as a violation of girls’ rights, health, and well-being, and efforts to prevent and respond to child marriage have prioritized critical “hot spots” where the practice is particularly grave and widespread. Yet, it is also crucial to shed light on a current “blind spot” in these efforts: the role of boys in ending child marriage.

When males are included in strategies and interventions to address child marriage, the focus is mostly on the key role that men play as powerful gatekeepers: fathers and religious and community leaders, whose support must be galvanized to intervene on behalf of girls. The forward-looking USAID Vision for Action on Child Marriage, for example, includes engaging men as an important part of mobilizing communities to shift norms that perpetuate child marriage. But the Vision does not stop there; it further states that, “equally important is reaching out to boys at a young age to encourage equitable gender attitudes and norms so that they can be allies in preventing child marriage and change agents within their communities.” This aspect of male engagement is usually not highlighted in child marriage discussions, yet raises a vital question: What needs to happen to create a generation of boys that resists and rejects child marriage for themselves in the future?

A young girl.  Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The international community has increasingly recognized child marriage as a violation of girls’ rights, health, and well-being, and efforts to prevent and respond to child marriage have prioritized critical “hot spots” where the practice is particularly grave and widespread. Yet, it is also crucial to shed light on a current “blind spot” in these efforts: the role of boys in ending child marriage. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

This “demand-side” orientation requires long-term investments aimed at changing the social and behavioral gender norms that drive child marriage. What if all future men refused to marry a child bride? Though directly addressing this side of the equation is seldom mentioned, there are promising interventions with young girls and boys that seek to transform gender attitudes and behaviors with the goal of promoting gender equality more broadly. One example is the USAID-funded Gender Roles, Equality, and Transformation (GREAT) project.

Although GREAT does not directly address child marriage, it works with adolescents (ages 10-19) and their communities to reduce gender-based violence and improve reproductive health in Uganda. Building on the CHOICES project in Nepal, GREAT recognizes early adolescence as a window of opportunity—a time when the formation of gender norms and identities is taking place. The project utilizes participatory activities to engage young girls and boys in gender equality discussions. For example, project staff ask young girls and boys to pile-sort cards representing various household and community tasks, to show who is responsible for them. Girls and boys (including sisters and brothers) see the pile of tasks assigned to girls steadily grow larger than the boys’ pile. The activity prompts conversations about fairness, as boys remark on the larger burden carried by their sisters.

These types of “a-ha” moments are crucial entryways to deeper critical reflections that can begin a journey towards gender equality. By tapping into young boys’ sense of justice at a very young age, interventions such as these, which seek to transform gender norms early in the process of childhood development, hold the promise of shaping a future generation of men as allies in wiping out child marriage globally.

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