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USAID Remains Focused on Typhoon Response in the Philippines

Excerpts from remarks made by Greg Beck on January 8, 2014, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on the U.S. response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines

I’m always worried that after the first month or two, on a large emergency such as Typhoon Haiyan, that the attention fades because there are so many other pressing issues and disasters around the world. It’s really important to remain focused on our efforts going forward.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Greg Beck discussing continuous Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda relief operations with a DSWD representative. Photo credit: USAID.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Greg Beck discussing continuous Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda relief operations with a Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development representative. Photo credit: USAID.


I was in Tacloban a few weeks ago, and I was able to see the immediate impacts of a long-term partnership with the Government of the Philippines. I was able to see the impact of our initial investments over the last five years in building up their capacity to mitigate the effects of these large natural disasters. I also was able to see how we’ve been working very strongly with diaspora groups, NGOs, local groups and the private sector to build the long-term relationships that we were able to put into action on day one.

USAID had been tracking the typhoon and saw that it was becoming incredibly powerful about a week before it hit land. We prepositioned a number of disaster assistance staff in Manila from our regional office in Bangkok. Within the first day, they were in Tacloban and immediately working with our colleagues from the Department of Defense (DOD), who deserve recognition for contributing to strong interagency coordination. Without the “air bridge” support DOD provided, we would not have been able to effectively deliver all the supplies that we brought in from our bases in Dubai and Miami. Over 2,000 metric tons of critical relief supplies were brought out to the secondary and tertiary distribution sites because of the air bridge — because of the C-130s, the Ospreys, the choppers, and the operational support that the Defense Department gave to the Government of the Philippines. It was incredibly critical.

Having worked in Asia for over a decade and responded to a number of natural disasters that have happened, I have to say this really was a textbook response. We had been working for a number of years to build up the network and partnerships to have the capacity to immediately respond, no matter the size of the scope of the emergency.

We are now beginning our pivot to the early recovery stage and we will continue to focus on some critical areas. Transitional shelter, livelihoods, health, cash-for-work, microfinance, temporary schools, and the rebuilding of rural health units will be very important focus areas for us over the next three to 12 months. When Secretary of State John Kerry was in Tacloban on December 18th, he announced a terrific USAID partnership with Coca Cola and Proctor & Gamble to rebuild 2,000 sari-saris — small convenience stores that provide access to important basic supplies for people who are living on less than a dollar a day. Reestablishing sari-sari stores creates income and livelihoods for families, and it is our priority to get those up and running very quickly.

It is a heavy lift going forward. We have some critical areas to address, especially in shelter, as we saw in the Washington Post article over the weekend. We’ll be working with Leyte Province and developing a Green Plan so that we’re building back not only better, but building back safer, building back healthier. The Government of the Philippines has been building their capacity and their ability to respond quickly and effectively over the last decade. We’ll continue to work very closely with the government to further strengthen that capacity, recognizing that this is not the last of the emergencies that we’re going to be seeing.

Haiti’s Recovery Won’t Happen Overnight

This blog post originally appeared on Devex.

Each morning, the bulky, unwieldy vehicle navigates an uneven, rocky path that in some areas of Haiti is a common road. Only my seatbelt keeps me from hitting the roof as I make my way to the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince.

A row of damaged houses and buildings in the Cité Soleil neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Four years after the disaster, almost 75 percent of earthquake rubble has been removed and 89 percent of the 1.5 million displaced population have left camps for alternative housing options.

A row of damaged houses and buildings in the Cité Soleil neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Four years after the disaster, almost 75 percent of earthquake rubble has been removed and 89 percent of the 1.5 million displaced population have left camps for alternative housing options. Photo by: Andre Mellagi / CC BY-NC-ND

A newcomer to the country, I see each day during my journey a small remaining camp for Haitians displaced by the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Living in temporary tent shelters, they, children among them, are still waiting for a new place to call home. Then, recently, I noticed that the camp was emptying.

Almost four years after the earthquake, 89 percent of Haiti’s 1.5 million internally displaced persons have left the tent camps for alternative housing options. Almost 75 percent of earthquake rubble has been removed. Security throughout the country has improved and, recognizing the importance of employment, the government is committed to attracting foreign investment, with agriculture, tourism and the apparel industry the most promising growth areas. Health indicators are up, with improvements in infant and child mortality rates and more public access to health services.

International donors — among them the U.S. Agency for International Development — have learned lessons along the way in Haiti in terms of how we can do better.

As the country leaves behind the era of post-earthquake relief and focuses now on longer-term development, USAID is striving to build the capacity of local organizations to lead and manage development initiatives.

This necessarily involves building public and private institutions so Haitians can lead and manage their own development. On our part, we are enhancing the capacity of the Ministry of Health to manage a national healthcare system using its own human and financial resources, so it will no longer be dependent on donors. Similarly, efforts are underway to build the financial and programmatic capacity of local NGOs to provide services and advocacy that are too often provided by international organizations. The country must also advance the rule of law, a prerequisite to the creation of durable institutions and economic growth.

Every USAID mission director’s goal is to help the host country one day reach a point when it no longer needs foreign economic assistance. Indeed, all donors and development organizations should be devoted to that goal. In Haiti, this will not happen overnight. But four years after the earthquake, Haiti remains a U.S. government priority to continue and improve our efforts to help Haitians building the opportunity and prosperity they are capable of and that they are so deserving.

John Groarke is USAID Mission Director in Haiti since August 2013. An expert in international law and counter-insurgency, he previously served in hotspots like Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco, as well as senior legal advisor for West Africa and South Asia.

Empowering Moms Through mHealth

This blog post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

My heart smiled the moment the four women entered the meeting room where I had been waiting. I stood to greet them and the babies they carried, eager to hear their stories. The young mothers sat in the chairs across from us and soon the babies were all up on the table, their proud moms making certain that we could see their precious little ones. The youngest baby was 4½ months old, the oldest 14 months. They were all adorable.

USAID harnesses the power of mobile phones to achieve results.

Credit: USAID

The conversation was lively. One young mother, Letty, described her pregnancy. Living in Johannesburg, she was far from her home country, Zimbabwe, and far from her mother,aunts,grandmother or anyone she trusted to give her the advice and information she craved.The cost of phoning these trusted relatives was prohibitive, so Letty found support when she enrolled to receive text messages via her mobile phone from MAMA, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action. “I’m here. I’m alone. The SMS messages helped me a lot. They helped me feel that someone is there,” Letty told me.

MAMA South Africa was launched with the support of global partners USAID, Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation, the mHealth Alliance, and BabyCenter. In addition, Vodacom joined the South Africa partnership, offering MAMA’s mobile website, askmama.mobi, free-of-charge to its 25 million customers. The goal of MAMA is to deliver health messages that moms need at specific milestones during pregnancy and during the first year of their baby’s development.

An existing South African mHealth partnership helped bring MAMA South Africa to life: Cell-Life, Praekelt Foundation and WRHI at the University of the Witwatersrand. Through MAMA, new and expectant mothers receive messages that address important topics such as nutrition during pregnancy, how to prepare for childbirth and recognizing signs of trouble which, if unheeded, can lead to difficulties in labor and delivery.

I sat across from these four women who had benefited from the MAMA partnership and listened carefully as they described their experiences. For these mothers, the SMS messages calmed their fears. One of the women, Faith, said that she had enrolled in the program when she was five months pregnant and had found reassurance in the MAMA texts. “The messages sometimes tell you, ‘This is normal’ and then you don’t worry,” she said. Letty added that when her baby was up all night, she received a message that said “Your baby may be teething” and this convinced her that nothing was wrong with her baby.

Another mom, Ntando was seven months pregnant and already had one child when she enrolled in the MAMA program. On the day of our meeting, her baby boy was already five months old. “The way we raised the first one is different from the way we raise this one.” She looked at her son and then added a comment about MAMA. “They’ll help me raise this one,” she said.

The third woman, Memory, signed up to receive MAMA messages when her baby was five months old. She said that she appreciated the help in “how to say ‘no’ to my son.” Memory also told us that she found the messages so helpful that she shares them with a friend who does not have a phone.

Faith visits the MAMA website with her husband and they learn together. Her praise for MAMA struck a particular chord for me – “I like them because they don’t just take care of the baby, they also take care of the moms.”

As our time together drew to a close, I thanked Letty, Memory, Faith and Ntando for taking the time to meet with us. Many of their comments have stayed with me, but none more than this one: “You feel like you are alone, and these SMS messages make you feel loved.”

The MAMA partnership is based on the power and promise of mobile phones in empowering mothers to make healthy decisions for themselves and their babies. What a wonderful added – and unexpected — benefit that MAMA also makes moms feel loved.

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.

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