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Archives for Women

If You ‘Let Girls Learn,’ You Save Lives Too

letgirlslearn_rev2

Oppression and prejudice toil in a cage of ignorance and cruelty.  Before the U.S. Civil Rights movement altered the course of history, Jim Crow laws and terror imposed segregation and licensed discrimination, casting a pall of shame over America.

Today, the inhumane degradation and culturally sanctioned abuse of girls in many parts of the world is a shockingly similar shame. Denied the most basic universal human rights, girls have limited access to health care, nutrition, education and job skills training, as well as productive resources, such as water, land and credit.

The kidnapping of 300 Nigerian girls by the extremist group Boko Haram focused global attention, issuing a clarion call that girls’ education and health are civil rights worth fighting for, leading to benefits, not only for girls, but for entire communities and nations. In low income countries, mothers who have completed primary school are more likely to seek appropriate health care for their children. A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5.

  • In low income countries, mothers who have completed primary school are more likely to seek appropriate health care for their children.
  • A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5.
  • Women with some formal education are more likely to seek medical care and ensure their children are immunized.
  • Women with some formal education are more likely to be better informed about their children’s nutritional requirements, and practice better sanitation.
  • An educated girl is three times less likely to contract HIV.

Segenet Wendawork was 5 years old when her mother died. After her father moved away, she bounced around, living with her grandmother for a while, then an aunt who kept her home from school to help with chores.  Thanks to a USAID scholarship program, Segenet was able to return to school in Ethiopia and complete her education. “Before the scholarship, I was unable to dream about the future,” she said.

Sixty-two million girls are not in school, and are also unable to dream about their future. And millions more are fighting to stay in school. The U.S. Government invests $1 billion each year through USAID in low-income countries to ensure equitable treatment of boys and girls, to create safe school environments, and to engage communities in support for girls’ education.

According to the Working Group on Girls (WGG), a coalition of over 80 national and international non-governmental organizations, schoolgirls of all ages report sexual harassment and assault, ranging from gender discrimination to rape, exploitation and physical and psychological intimidation in school.

Last week, a new effort was launched by the U.S. Government, and led by USAID, to provide the public with meaningful ways to help all girls get a quality education. Let Girls Learn aims to elevate a conversation about the need to support all girls in their pursuit of a quality education. In support of the effort, USAID also announced over $230 million for new programs to support education around the world.

Thomas Staal, a senior leader with USAID, said education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries: hunger, disease, resource degradation, exploitation and despair. “Women are the caretakers and economic catalysts in our communities. No country can afford to ignore their potential.”

Since education level has the greatest effect on the age at which a woman has her first birth, and adolescent mothers are more likely to die in childbirth, education both empowers young people directly and affects family planning choices and labor force participation.

 “Education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries.” In this photo, school children in Haiti. / Devon McLorg, USAID

“Education is essential to fight poverty and all its corollaries.” In this photo, school children in Haiti. / Devon McLorg, USAID

Conversely, a healthy start in life and good nutrition are essential for children to thrive, develop and spend more time in school. Last month, USAID launched a new global nutrition strategy  aimed at reducing the number of chronically malnourished or stunted children by at least 2 million over the next five years. Every year, under-nutrition contributes to 3.1 million child deaths—45 percent of the worldwide total.

In the strategy, USAID is prioritizing the prevention of malnutrition given the irreversible consequences of chronic under-nutrition early in life. Under-nutrition inhibits the body’s immune system from fighting disease and impedes cognitive, social-emotional and motor development.

In addition to focusing on good nutrition in the first 1,000 days for mother and child, USAID is also saving newborns from severe infections, protecting young children from the risks of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria, and helping women space the births of their children to protect their health and that of their children.

This week, USAID, the governments of Ethiopia and India, in collaboration with UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others will hold a high level forum to take stock of recent efforts aimed at reducing child and maternal deaths and plot a new course that will ensure progress continues.

USAID will refocus the majority of our maternal and child health resources toward specific, life-saving tools in 24 countries where the need is greatest and empower our partner countries to lead with robust action plans and evidence-based report cards to save an unprecedented number of lives by 2020.

USAID Assistant Administrator Ariel Pablos-Mendez said by coupling family planning investments with policies supporting child survival, girls’ education and job creation – especially those targeting women – countries can be positioned to realize substantial economic growth that lifts everyone out of poverty.

Doing so will allow girls and boys to follow their wildest hopes and dreams and live productive lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Thomas is a communications advisor in the Bureau for Global Health. Read more from the author in the latest FrontLines, which features articles about the Agency’s work in maternal and child health: In Health Research Fueled by USAID Is Fielding Innovative Solutions, he writes about innovative, cost-effective and life-saving health care solutions whose research and development were aided by USAID; and in Your Voice: Frontline Health Workers are the Unsung Heroes of Global Health Progress, he describes just how essential community health workers are to rural and other underserved communities in developing nations.

Girls Deserve To Learn: No Exceptions

As President Obama said, if a country is educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward. Education is a silver bullet for empowering women and girls worldwide.

When girls are educated, their families are healthier, they have fewer children, they wed later, and they have more opportunities to generate income. One extra year of primary school boosts a girl’s future wage 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school increases that earning potential by 15 to 25 percent. Education also helps moms take better care of their kids.  According to the World Bank (PDF), each additional year of female education reduces child mortality by 18 per thousand births.

A young female student in Alma Village, southern Ethiopia. / Susan Liebold

A young female student in Alma Village, southern Ethiopia. / Susan Liebold

These are amazing statistics but I’ve also been fortunate enough to see for myself the high returns to investing in education. While in Kabul I met with an incredible group of young women who were educated entirely in post-Taliban Afghanistan. They reminded me how critically important education is to peace, prosperity and empowerment.

Those young women represent the future for a country that had virtually no girls in school less than 15 years ago.

Today, Afghan girls are more than a third of the students. I am proud that USAID is supporting community-based schools in Afghanistan and that our literacy effort is playing an instrumental role in ensuring these girls get an education; it is an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.

In Afghanistan today, 3 millions girls are enrolled in school. A decade ago, there were none.   / USAID Afghanistan

In Afghanistan today, 3 millions girls are enrolled in school. A decade ago, there were none. / USAID Afghanistan

Globally, enormous progress has been made in closing the gender gap in primary education over the last 20 years. In most of the world today, a similar percentage of girls and boys attend primary schools. Yet disparities endure—there are around 3.6 million more girls out of school compared to boys around the world — in total, that’s 62 million girls who are not realizing their full potential. Women still comprise the majority (two-thirds) of the illiterate. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, obtaining an education remains particularly tough for women and girls. The World Bank estimates that half of the out-of-school girls in the world live in Sub-Saharan Africa and one quarter of them live in South Asia.

But it’s not just about access. Compounding the problem is a lack of quality education. For example, in Malawi robust primary school enrollment and matriculation rates are reported. However, a closer inspection of the educational system reveals that many students finish their schooling without being able to read.

That’s why USAID’s Education Strategy focuses on the quality of education – ensuring that all girls and boys leave school with the skills they will need to thrive. Specifically, the strategy focuses on improving reading for children in primary grades, strengthening higher education and workforce development programs, and increasing equitable access to education for children and youth in conflict and crisis.

We know that giving girls a quality education has tremendous multiplying effects for families, communities, societies and the world — for generations.

That’s why the United States is launching Let Girls Learn, a new effort to raise awareness about the importance of allowing all girls to pursue a quality education. In support of the effort, USAID also announced over $230 million for new programs to support primary and secondary education and safe learning in Nigeria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Jordan, as well as support for Guatemala’s ongoing, successful efforts to improve quality of education for under-served populations.

Because an educated girl is a force for change: She is the leader and peacemaker of tomorrow. Because an educated girl has a ripple effect.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carla Koppell is USAID’s Chief Strategy Officer. She was formerly the Agency’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. You can follow her @CarlaKoppell

 

Why Fighting Gender Violence is Also Fighting Hunger in the DRC

Ms. Namuhindo demonstration her new writing skills./Rachel Grant, USAID

Ms. Namuhindo demonstration her new writing skills. / Rachel Grant, USAID

Ms. Rurayi Namuhindo, pictured above writing her name, is proud of her reading and writing skills. They are giving her a new lease on life, as she can now help her children with homework and use her newfound skills when selling her bread and soap. Ms. Namuhindo and others are just a few of the empowered women I met recently while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The people of the DRC have faced so many challenges, which are unfathomable to someone growing up in the developed world – years of conflict, occasional natural disasters, and poverty.

The lives of women are especially hard.

Today, armed conflict, sexual violence, and abuse continue to be widespread. Some 2.6 million people have been displaced, and 6.4 million lack enough food to be able to eat every day.  Eastern DRC is said to be the “rape capital of the world,” according to a 2011 American Journal of Public Health study.

So how does this relate to that country’s food crisis?

Women play a critical role as agricultural producers, yet most of their work goes unrecognized.

They lack access to land and other resources, limiting their ability to fully participate in the agricultural sector. Though women suffer among the highest rates of gender violence in the world, their attackers often go unpunished. In fact, attacked women can even be rejected by their families, and left to fend for themselves.

If the DRC can alter its behavior towards women, these women can stay in their communities. Just being able to stay put means they can increase production on their land, earn incomes, and put food on their families’ tables.

Tackling gender inequities is key to resolving any food insecurity in the communities where we work.

In my role as East, Central and Southern African Division Chief for the Office of Food for Peace, I have visited my fair share of countries in crisis. With a history of working in 150 countries over the last 60 years, Food for Peace has helped many countries recover from crises and thrive. And for the last several decades we have worked to tackle the root causes of chronic food insecurity in places like the DRC – through interventions to increase agricultural yields, develop new ways to earn an income, or empower women, for example.

I came away from the DRC feeling an immense sense of accomplishment and hope in our work, particularly around elevating the role of women. Women Empowerment Groups are a critical aspect of some of our programs. These groups provide women with literacy, numeracy, and business skills training while helping them to start projects to generate income such as soap making, bread making, or breeding of small livestock.

Intermittent evaluations of these programs tell us that we are having an impact, supporting the abundance of evidence that indicates that if the status of women is improved, then agricultural productivity will also increase, poverty will be reduced, and nutrition will improve.

These skills elevated Ms. Namuhindo’s status at home and increased her role in decision making; she is now seen by her husband as a breadwinner and partner. The pride I sensed in her as she explained the life-changing effect on her left an indelible impression on me.

Similarly the role-play dramas led by Gender Discussion Groups left me convinced that gender-sensitive activities are crucial to promoting change. Groups of men and women come together to discuss issues affecting their households and community, including alcoholism, domestic violence, treatment of boys as compared to girls, and division of household labor.

Gender Based Violence Role-Play by community members./Jessica Hartl, USAID

Gender Based Violence Role-Play by community members. / Jessica Hartl, USAID

The discussions are dynamic and animated, and would certainly be day-time Emmy contenders. “Who picked this topic?” I asked as I watched the first drama  that portrayed a father marrying off his 14-year old daughter to make money for his alcohol addiction. “We did,” answered the community. Alcoholism affects the homes in many ways – financially, women carry an unfair work-burden, girls drop out of school and many marry at a young age. These messages, delivered through live dramas or other media, have attracted a large following. Surveys in Katanga and South Kivu found that nine out of 10 of those surveyed listened to the discussion. And six out of 10 of the people surveyed believe the drama contributed to a changed attitude and behavior.

I was compelled by the dramas we watched and genuineness with which men and women answered about resultant changes;  men and women making decisions together about money, working hand-in-hand on chores, and men changing their decisions as they better understood the effect of their choice on their household.  Ms. Nkumbula*, another participant, said, “Since my husband is attending Gender Discussion Group meetings, we are now in peace at home. He began to tell me all the truth about finances and the money he earns fixing bicycles, and to consult me on other problems.”  Mr. Kalambo* shared how after a local trader had come to his home and offered to buy his stock of beans he had replied, “I have to talk to my wife first.  We have to make a joint decision; either we will sell this stock of beans or not.”

Needs remain vast across eastern DRC. But I came away from the trip with evidence that our approach is working, and that it will have long-lasting impacts on individuals, homes and communities.

*No first names given.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Grant is Division Chief in East, Central and Southern Africa Office for USAID’s Office of Food for Peace

 

The Syrian Conflict Through the Lens of Women and Girls

Syrian refugees walk along the outer perimeter of a refugee camp on the Syrian border. / Odd Andersen, AFP

Syrian refugees walk along the outer perimeter of a refugee camp on the Syrian border. / Odd Andersen, AFP

The numbers are stark. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights currently estimates that some 150,000 Syrians have perished in that country’s ongoing conflict. Over 6 million Syrians have been displaced inside the country, often multiple times; and approximately 2.7 million people have fled Syria, mostly into neighboring nations.

The majority of those are women and children, who have been exposed to serious risks during their flight, in camps, and in unfamiliar countries’ cities and towns.

The crisis in Syria presents humanitarian, developmental and demographic challenges that are seldom seen at this magnitude. We recently returned from Jordan and Turkey where we came away with very profound impressions regarding the gendered lens of the conflict; the challenge of gender-based violence (GBV); and, the roles that women are playing as agents of change.

It is hard to tell with any certainty exactly how many women are suffering various forms of sexual violence in Syria. Assessments, done by local and international organizations, do identify women and children as among the most vulnerable.

Anecdotally, many displaced Syrian women and girls report having experienced violence or knowing people that have suffered attacks, in particular rape.

A women carries food commodities in the Aleppo neighborhood of Tariq al-Bab. / Odd Andersen, AFP

A women carries food commodities in the Aleppo neighborhood of Tariq al-Bab. / Odd Andersen, AFP

But in spite of this horrifying situation, we also heard several heartening stories that humble us and provide the motivation to push forward and continue to elevate the voices of women enmeshed in this conflict:

  • Stories of women negotiating local cease fires in Zabadani and of removing armed actors from schools in Aleppo;
  • Stories of women delivering life-saving medical supplies despite the grave risks to themselves and their families;
  • Stories of women in eastern Syria who worked with merchants to stabilize commodity prices so that citizens could remain in their homes;
  • And stories of women in Latakia who convinced armed groups to permit establishment of a local civil society presence focused on peace-building.

Making sure these women are heard will be key to ending the violence.

These stories show some of the ways Syrian women are leading their communities. And USAID is working to create space for other fearless women across the country as we support the establishment of democratic processes and institutions in Syria that advance freedom, dignity, and development for all of its people.

Syrian women cook their food their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border. /  Bulent Kilic, AFP

Syrian women cook outside their makeshift houses at the refugee camp of Qah along the Turkish border. / Bulent Kilic, AFP

Consistent with our commitments under the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP) [pdf] we are seeking to increase the participation and representation of women, youth, and minorities in governing bodies, with a view to building confidence in peaceful and representative transitional political processes.

Our mission in Jordan is helping to create inclusive, effective and accountable institutions that serve all of its population. For example, one community and medical center that we visited in one of the largest and poorest urban areas in Jordan now serves a dynamic population of Jordanians, Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians — women, men, girls and boys — in the areas of computer literacy, job training, psycho-social care and basic education for young children. As a result of the far-reaching nature of the conflict and changing demographics of the neighborhood, the community has expanded its efforts to make services available to the entirety of the population.

USAID has stepped up commitments to meet the needs of women and girls, not only through our Implementation Plan for the NAP, but also in realizing the U.S. Government Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender Based Violence Globally [pdf]; the joint State-USAID Safe from the Start initiative; and through our shared leadership in 2014 of the Call to Action to Protect Women and Girls in Emergencies. We strive daily to live up to those commitments and eagerly look to the broader international community for collaboration.

USAID’s response in Syria and elsewhere around the world must serve, protect and empower all of those affected by crisis and conflict, and ensure their voices and priorities shape the humanitarian response and the approach to recovery and reconstruction.

The Courage of Atefa: Afghan Women Learn to be Candidates

It’s hard to imagine someone more optimistic about her country’s future, more determined to be on the front lines of social change, than Atefa, whose last name is being withheld for security reasons.

Women provincial council candidates in training.

Women provincial council candidates in training. Photo credit: Jean-Marc Gorelick

Only 25 years old, and already a teacher with seven years of challenging classroom experience, she is running for provincial council in Kabul, a governing body similar to a U.S. state legislature.  It was an agonizing decision, made with full awareness of the risks she would face, but she couldn’t be clearer about her reasons:  “I am running because I want to serve the vulnerable groups, the women and especially girls. Girls who are educated stay at home because they are not allowed to work outside and even if they are allowed they cannot get good jobs,” she says.

This young woman’s leap into the democratic fray, fueled by a belief that Afghanistan’s successful future will require the talents and commitment of men and women from every walk of life, is occurring in the midst of what is almost certainly the most significant election (presidential and provincial) in her country’s history, scheduled to take place on April 5.

And Atefa is not alone.

 Hundreds of young women – and, to be sure, young men – have signaled their eagerness to be participate in a moment with so many seemingly intractable problems: insecurity, poverty, illiteracy.

Now come the formidable and often frustrating challenges of running for office. Atefa now must run her campaign, meet voters, prepare campaign materials, hone her ability to speak publicly, and present a vision for her country’s future.

USAID is helping women in Afghanistan learn to become candidates. / Photo c/o U.S. Government

USAID is helping women in Afghanistan learn to become candidates. / Photo c/o U.S. Government

First-time candidates often lack the skills needed to campaign effectively. Funds to produce materials can be hard to come by. And, in a country still confronting challenges from those who prefer rage over renewal, many candidates have had their lives threatened.

To address these challenges, USAID supported a campaign school, which began on November 9, 2013, training 290 of 308 women provincial council candidates.

This training is provided by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), through the Supporting Political Entities and Civil Society (SPECS) program.

Each five-day workshop provides candidates with nuts and bolts information on conducting a campaign, fundraising, staff management and voter outreach. On the last day of the training, candidates produce a plan to guide them through the campaign cycle.

The training plays a vital role in expanding women’s political participation, a key component of Afghan democratic development. By enhancing the ability of women to compete for provincial council seats, this program contributes to achieving greater inclusivity in the Afghanistan 2014 elections.

None of the formidable challenges seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of extraordinary Afghan women determined to be valued and included in a democratic Afghanistan.

With her drive and courage, aided by her new tools, Atefa will be ready.

Follow @USAIDAfghanistan; On Facebook: On Flickr: On Youtube

Maintaining Women’s Potential in Yemen

“The women of Yemen should never again be relegated as second class citizens.”
-Attendee of the New Voices of Yemen Dinner, March 3, 2014

This was the heart of the messaging from the New Voices of Yemen: Women Leaders Dinner I attended on my second evening in the country’s capital, Sana’a. These women, a far larger network than the 20 who attended the dinner, gathered together once again to promote women’s political participation in the continuing transformation of the country.

Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili in Yemen

Deputy Assistant Administrator Elisabeth Kvitashvili in Yemen

With the recent successful conclusion of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, the women lobbied me to ensure USAID would continue to maintain its support in amplifying their voices, calling for a commitment to the quota of 30 percent women’s representation in constitution drafting, elections, and cabinet positions. They also recognize the need to promote opportunities for women in leading private sector roles in support of much needed economic reforms for Yemen.

Women play such a critical role in all of Yemeni society as demonstrated by the small representation at the dinner of a much, much larger community. Women leaders from the government, civil society, and private sector connect through various networks such as Women’s Integrated Network and Women’s National Committee that they themselves established. These women transcend the country’s north and south divisions as much as political differences. They represent the women of Yemen, young and old.

The two women who facilitated the lively and energetic discussion, Entiem and Rabab both represent the dynamic and articulate nature of these new voices of Yemen. They are part of the youth segment representing the future of Yemen.

These new voices play a critical role in assuring Yemen continues on a path toward peace and prosperity, and USAID plans to continue to support their empowerment and equality.

Bringing Hope to Women in Sri Lanka’s Former Conflict Zones

Like most places that have experienced conflict throughout the world, women were deeply affected by Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict.  For most women who lived in the Indian Ocean island’s conflict zones, displacement, destruction, violence, harassment and loss were part of their everyday life.  The conflict ended in 2009, leaving many women traumatized and in need of psychosocial care, without belongings or livelihoods, and after the loss of their spouses, as heads of households.  Several USAID initiatives continue to support these women by integrating them into society and bringing normalcy back into their lives.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the BIZ+ program’s beneficiariesOne such initiative is USAID’s BIZ+ program which helps to increase and enhance equitable economic growth in the former northern and eastern conflict zones.  BIZ+ is partnering with small and medium-sized local businesses to create 5,000 new livelihoods and increase household incomes. The program primarily targets women; including war widows, disabled women and female-headed households.

Thaminy Vedaasingham* is one of the program’s beneficiaries. She is 25 years old and lives in one of the worst conflict-affected northern districts of Sri Lanka.  Having lost a limb during the conflict, Thaminy faced many hardships.  This is when Thaminy heard about the vocational training and production center in her district that provides livelihood assistance to war widows, women abandoned or women separated from their spouses or families. USAID is supporting the center to expand production and marketing of rice flour and spices and provide vulnerable women like Thaminy with new skills and sustainable livelihoods.

“The profit of the business belongs to the vulnerable women who work so diligently in the center. USAID’s assistance and support – in the way of building new hostel and storage facilities, and providing new equipment and transportation – have helped us to overcome any challenges and be successful businesswomen.” says Thaminy.

Thaminy is now economically independent and has the confidence to socialize with others.  “Thaminy is now enjoying life without worrying about the leg she lost. She is happy to work and earn for her family and for herself. As a mother, I am very proud of it”, quips Thaminy’s mother.

The Managing Director of the Vocational Training and Production Centre is happy to see the socio-economic business enterprise model with a vision of improving livelihood of vulnerable women come this far.  But above all, he is happy to see how the project has increased hope in the minds of women who seek empowerment through employment opportunities.

* Name has been changed to protect identity 

IWD 2014: An AIDS Vaccine as a Force for Women’s Equality

We’ve come a long way in 104 years of marking International Women’s Day. But far too many women remain left behind in far too many parts of the world.

In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is the leading killer of women of reproductive age. Limited education, economic and social dependence on men, and gender-based violence severely restrict women’s power over their own health. Imagine what an AIDS vaccine could change for African women and their children.  Photo Credit: IAVI

In sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is the leading killer of women of reproductive age. Limited education, economic and social dependence on men, and gender-based violence severely restrict women’s power over their own health. Imagine what an AIDS vaccine could change for African women and their children. Photo Credit: Frederic Courbet

In Africa, a vicious cycle of HIV and AIDS and gender inequity continues to thwart women’s hopes for a healthy and productive life. AIDS is the number-one killer of women of reproductive age in sub-Saharan Africa and the world, and women account for more than half of the people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries. It’s a human tragedy and an economic one.  Beyond the epidemic’s direct costs, women are a driving force behind Africa’s economy, and their productivity loss takes a toll. Women own nearly one-third of firms in sub-Saharan Africa and grow at least 80 percent of the food.

Inequity in daily life explains much of the disproportional impact of HIV on women. Limited education, economic and social dependence on men, and gender-based violence severely restrict African women’s power over their own lives and health. An effective and widely available AIDS vaccine will help break through many of the related social and cultural barriers.

Women in Africa are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS and play a critical role in the global response, from doctors, nurses and lab scientists to counselors, community organizers and volunteers in clinical trials of vaccines and other new prevention technologies. Photo Credit: IAVI

Women in Africa are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS and play a critical role in the global response, from doctors, nurses and lab scientists to counselors, community organizers and volunteers in clinical trials of vaccines and other new prevention technologies. Photo Credit: Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images

Helping to ensure development of an AIDS vaccine is more than a job for those of us at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and our many partners. It’s a passion – from the clinician in Entebbe, to the community organizer in Kilifi, to the trial participant rolling up her sleeve in Kigali. At a young age, I learned the power of vaccines when my parents, who had lost a child to measles, took me to get the measles vaccine soon after it was introduced. As a senior executive in the vaccine industry, I have seen firsthand the transformative value that vaccines have brought to the developed and developing worlds. Just imagine what an AIDS vaccine could do for women in Africa. Today, they face heavy odds that they might contract HIV and potentially leave their children orphaned, but tomorrow they could be confident that they are protected from HIV and live healthy and productive lives.

There has been enormous progress in treatment and prevention, but AIDS still kills 1.6 million people every year. I am proud to work daily alongside the thousands of dedicated scientists, advocates, clinicians, counselors, and community organizers – so many supported by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief through USAID – who are devoting their lives and passions to achieving this sustainable solution for the women of Africa. As we collectively work to find an effective vaccine and ensure its swift distribution to all those who need it, we are already opening avenues to healthcare, education, and support that equalize and empower women.

Want to empower women in agriculture? Use technology.

It’s very difficult to effectively manage responsibilities if you have neither the authority over nor access to the required skills, networks, resources, or decision-making power needed to complete critical tasks. Yet, that is the situation women in Tanzania’s agricultural sector face.

According to research from the World Bank, women form the majority of Tanzania’s agriculture work force – particularly in rural areas, where 98 percent of economically-active women are involved in agriculture. They prepare, plant, weed, harvest, transport, store, and process their farms’ products. In addition to these time and labor-intensive activities, women also cook meals and perform other household management tasks. These are crucial in a country where 42 percent of children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth, due to malnutrition, and 16 percent are underweight.

Tanzanian women are keenly aware of their responsibilities and the challenges embedded therein. Limited decision-making power, unfavorable regulations, and biased sociocultural norms reduce their access to finance, land, technical training, labor-saving equipment and other productive resources. As a result, barriers are stifling their potential to be leaders of technological invention, entrepreneurship, and legal and regulatory change throughout the agriculture sector. But these challenges are not insurmountable.

In fact, with a little help from the U.S. Agency for International Development, farmers are developing their own solutions.

The Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) to Promote Household Food Security program, in close coordination with Feed the Future projects in southern Tanzania, is helping farmers address constraints they face when working in agriculture.

This project is a partnership between Land O’ Lakes International Development , the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Development Lab (MIT D-Lab), and USAID.

It offers community-centered technology design training to smallholder farmer groups in the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania. Trainees, the majority of whom are women, develop prototypes in group settings and receive in-depth coaching from MIT D-Lab trainers.

What do the results of these technology design trainings look like?

  • Time and labor burdens are reduced. These technologies – developed by farmers, for farmers – save time and reduce drudgery, freeing up women’s availability to engage in alternative income-generating opportunities.
  • What’s impossible alone becomes possible together. When we ask IGE farmer-inventors why they never developed the technology design prototypes before that they are designing now, one answer is constant: they couldn’t do it alone. D-Lab’s community-centered design philosophy fosters teamwork from the start, which farmers credit for bringing to life the culture of innovation and invention in their villages.
  • Men and women are working together. Women’s empowerment is a community-wide endeavor, with men’s active involvement and support being a critical factor. The technologies farmers are developing are transforming women’s-only agricultural tasks into tasks in which husbands and wives work together, producing a greater overall benefit for themselves and their families.

What technologies are farmers developing?

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Mwanahamisi Goha’s palm oil technology design group, called Jitegeme group, consists of two women and three men. They collectively developed the palm oil extracting machine prototype pictured above, which can extract 20 liters of palm oil in 30 minutes. This is a major improvement, because standard models typically take four hours to extract the same amount of palm oil (a popular product on local markets) and require two people to operate instead of one. This new prototype also allows operators to sit instead of stand.

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Arafa Mwingiliera and Habiba Njaa’s peanut sheller group, Ukombozi, in Morogoro, grinds nuts using a prototype they developed with three other group members. This technology can shell up to 20 kilograms of peanuts in just five minutes – an amount of work that used to take an entire day when shelled peanuts using their bare hands. Women in southern Tanzania often sell peanuts as snacks along the roadside to passers-by and use them in place of cooking oil to season vegetables. Peanuts are high in protein and calories, making them a good source of nutrition and energy, especially for young children.

Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Amina Hussein, Veronica Hogo and other members of the rice thresher technology design group, Lupiro, test their prototype, which they designed using locally available and affordable materials. This technology can thresh 15 to 20 100 kilogram bags of rice per day without crop loss due to spillage (which occurs when farmers thresh rice by hand). The productivity levels achieved by this prototype are a massive improvement compared to traditional hand threshing, from which farmers yield only two to three 100 kilogram bags of rice per day with up to 5 percent of crops lost to spillage. Rice is one of the main staple crops of Tanzania, and, along with maize and horticulture, is one of the Feed the Future target value chains. These value chains are essential to Tanzania’s food security, which has motivated many farmer technology design groups to develop prototypes that bolster their productivity.

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Stella Malangu, a member of the rice winnower technology design group, Jitambue, in Morogoro, smiles after using the prototype she helped design and build. It generates wind to separate rice from chaff and other unwanted particles and pests before storage. When farmers in this group winnowed rice using traditional methods, which required them to stand and be in constant motion, they were able to clean one 100 kilogram bag of rice per day. With their new prototype, these farmers can now winnow six 100 kilogram bags of rice in just three hours. This technology has dramatically reduced time and labor burdens! And it has even led male community members to become involved in what was previously only women’s work.

What’s next?

Every technology needs investors. Even in cases where inventors have designed functional prototypes, they still require:

  • Resources and skills to transform prototypes into successful commercial products
  • Media attention to accelerate the time it takes for locally popular products to become nationally and regionally renowned and adopted
  • Policy change to address major constraints for women working in Tanzania’s agriculture sector

IGE is working in each of these areas to ensure technology continues to help transform the lives of smallholder farmers in Tanzania. For more information on how you can get involved, visit our website.

No Birth Should Be Left Up To Chance

Giving birth ranks among the scariest moments for any mother. It certainly was for me. I was living in Hong Kong at the time when my second child was born. And he was born in a hurry. He came so fast that I actually thought I’d give birth in our car on the way to the hospital! Fortunately, that didn’t happen and I safely delivered my son Patrick surrounded by a team of well-trained doctors and nurses, not to mention my loving (and relieved!) husband by my side.

Mozambican mother holds her newborn. Photo credit: MCHIP

Mozambican mother holds her newborn. Photo credit: MCHIP

But I’m one of the lucky ones.

As new research released today by Save the Children reveals, 40 million women give birth without any trained help whatsoever. What’s more, two million women give birth entirely alone.

I met one of those women in Nepal about five years ago. I was there visiting our programs in the south of the country and stopped in to see a mom who had given birth a month prior. She sat with us and talked quite matter-of-factly about how when she went into labor with her third child, she didn’t panic. She merely laid down in a clean part of her house, caught the baby when she came out, cut the umbilical cord and wrapped her to keep her warm.

When she had finished telling her story, and I had stopped shaking my head in amazement, I couldn’t help but compare her experience to mine. After all, both of our children came into the world faster than we had anticipated. However, while my husband was there to drive me—fast—to a first-class hospital, this woman had no one. Her husband was away in India on business and her two daughters were in the next village. Even if she could manage to get herself to the nearest clinic, which was 2 kilometers away, she would have had to travel on foot. So she did the next best thing; she left it up to chance.

Fortunately for this mom both she and her newborn survived. But for too many women in the same situation, the outcome is much more tragic.

So many things can go wrong when a mother gives birth without a skilled birth attendant (SBA). Things such as prolonged labor, pre-eclampsia and infection—which are perfectly manageable when an SBA is present—can mean a death sentence in the absence of one.

For this reason, Save the Children is partnering with world leaders, philanthropists and the private sector to commit to ensuring that by 2025 every birth is attended by trained and equipped health workers who can deliver essential health interventions for both the mother and the newborn.

Because no birth should be left up to chance.

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