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First @StateDept Tweetup Spotlights International Women of Courage

This originally appeared on DipNote

On March 8, Secretary of State John Kerry honored nine extraordinary women with the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award, which recognizes women around the world who have shown exceptional leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.

On March 8, 2013, nine women received the International Women of Courage Award from Secretary John Kerry, for their service in women's rights and empowerment. Photo credit: State Department

Since the 2007, the U.S. Secretary of State has recognized 66 women from 44 countries with this award, and the annual ceremony has become an occasion that encourages all of us who work at the U.S. Department of State. One of the reasons the ceremony inspires us is the powerful stories these women have to tell. We want to share their stories and spotlight their achievements, and the use of social media is a vital way we can achieve that goal. So, we could not have been more pleased that today’s ceremony also marked the U.S. Department of State’s first Tweet-up, an in-person gathering of individuals from our online communities.

Eight of the State Department’s Twitter followers attended today’s ceremony and met Secretary of State John Kerry, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and special guest, First Lady Michelle Obama. The Tweet-up participants included graduate students, a kindergarten teacher, an astrophysicist, and advocates for women’s rights — a remarkable group in and of themselves.

During the event, one of the participants, Paul, tweeted, “Thanks for having us! It’s an honor to help spread the important message of women’s rights to the globe.” Another participant, Catherine, tweeted, “For a girl from a small country town this is amazing beyond words and I am so grateful.”

We were grateful to have had the chance to engage with our online community offline, in what was the first of what we hope will be many opportunities for our followers. Stay tuned to @StateDept for information on future events, and contribute to the conversation on International Women’s Day by using the hashtags #IWOC and #IWD.

A Time for Action and Working Together to Improve Women’s Lives

This past week I traveled to India and Burma to meet with leaders of the private sector, civil society, and government who are charting their nations’ bright and prosperous futures. In Mumbai, I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of courageous women advocates to discuss gender-based violence. It was especially meaningful to have this conversation leading up to International Women’s Day, particularly because this year’s theme is A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence against Women. It was only recently that thousands of young men and women took to the streets in India to protest the tragic death of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern who was the victim of a brutal gang rape in Delhi.

At our meeting, we discussed the opportunity to shift ingrained social and cultural practices that perpetuate sexual violence among women, girls, and boys and the importance of educating India’s future generations. We also talked about the need for better data, stronger laws, and expanded services to both prevent and respond to gender-based violence.

I was honored to inform them that the young woman known worldwide as “Nirbhaya” (Fearless) would be honored posthumously by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry at the Department of State’s Women of Courage Awards event this year.

In 2012 alone, Dr. Aye Aye Mu, who is part of USAID’s SUN Quality Health clinics in Burma, conducted over 5,000 reproductive health consultations, diagnosed and treated 107 pneumonia cases, diagnosed and treated 243 tuberculosis cases with a treatment success rate of over 80 percent. Photo credit: Richard Nyberg, USAID

A few days later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Aye Aye Mu, who has been practicing medicine in Burma since 1977. It quickly became clear that the Doctor and I share the same vision for development—beginning with the community level and drawing on the strengths of both private sector and civil society. Dr. Aye Aye Mu is part of a network of active health providers that is supported by our Agency and covers 217 of Burma’s 324 townships.

Through an innovative approach called “social franchising,” Dr. Aye Aye Mu helps encourage doctors running their own private clinics to improve the scope, quality, and accessibility of their services by joining the franchise called the SUN Quality Health Clinics. Started by our long-standing partner Population Services International in Myanmar, this network provides affordable, quality health care services nationwide.

Today, this network is contributing in remarkable ways to USAID’s ambitious yet achievable goal of ending preventable child death and improving the lives of women and children. In 2012 alone, Dr. Aye Aye Mu conducted over 5,000 reproductive health consultations, diagnosed and treated 107 pneumonia cases, and diagnosed and treated 243 tuberculosis cases with a treatment success rate of over 80 percent. By leveraging the local private sector to deliver health commodities and better quality, affordable health care services, she receives quality birth spacing products and anti-malarial drugs at subsidized prices and passes the savings to those who need it them most.

Our Agency is working hard to save lives, especially among children. Building upon the Child Survival Call to Action, USAID is introducing a global public private partnership, Survive and Thrive, which will be linked to local partnerships to increase coverage of high impact and high quality interventions delivered by midwives to women and newborns wherever births occur.  Working closely with our partners, these efforts will help improve the quality of maternal and newborn health by linking Burmese health care providers at the community level to their peers from American professional associations.

From India to Burma, these efforts advance the aspirations of the first-ever United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, which was released this past year. The strategy pledges to improve coordination across U.S. government agencies to improve the quality of our programming and strengthen our impact.  In a world where rates of gender-based violence show no signs of abating, it is increasingly important that we work together to improve women’s lives.

This past week has been an incredible experience. Even as we advance gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide, it is important to remember on this International Women’s Day that women and girls are not just victims. They are leaders, change-agents, and innovators, courageously improving lives and expanding opportunities around the world for individuals, families, and communities.  As our policies and initiatives gain traction and implementation gains speed, we will work beside them to ensure our aspirations translate into concrete results around the world.

Shoulder to Shoulder: Delivering Real Results for Women and Girls

Working to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world can be a challenge. There are difficult days when you wonder if your efforts are having a real impact on the lives of women and girls facing violence, deprivation, discrimination and disempowerment on a daily basis.  But when you have the opportunity to meet individuals fighting to create a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities, it makes it all worthwhile. Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday USAID was proud to host the International Women of Courage awardees. These remarkable women put themselves at risk every day to make a difference not only for themselves but for women and girls everywhere.

USAID staff host International Women of Courage Awardees. Back row, from left: Fartuun Adan, Somalia; Summer Lopez, USAID; Franklin Moore, USAID; Beth Hogan, USAID; Ambassador Donald Steinberg, USAID; Kathleen Campbell, USAID; Amber Ussery, USAID; Front row, from left: Dr. Josephine Odumakin, Nigeria; Roberta Mahoney, USAID; Julieta Castellanos, Honduras; Sarah Mendelson, USAID; Malalai Bahaduri, Afghanistan; Yelena Milashena, Russia, Key Freeman, USAID. Photo credit: Pat Adams, USAID

In Nigeria, Dr. Josephine Odumakin has spent the past 20 years handling over 2,000 cases of violations of women’s rights, including cases of extrajudicial practices committed by government security agencies against women.

Fartuun Adan is a true human rights activist in Somalia.  She champions women’s rights, peace-building, and the rehabilitation of child soldiers. In 2010-2011, Ms. Adan initiated a program to support survivors of gender-based violence in Somalia’s internally displaced persons camps and launched the first sexual violence hotline and rape crisis center in Mogadishu.

In Russia, Yelena Milashena is an investigative reporter for one of the few remaining independent Russian newspapers. She has distinguished herself for her cutting-edge, hard-hitting journalism covering the terrorist seizure of a school in Beslan, the seizure of the Dubrovka theater in Moscow, human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, and corruption in the Russian Federal Narcotics Control Agency. Most recently, Ms. Milashina has reported on the vote-rigging and abuses by government officials during the December 2011 elections.

Malalai Bahaduri is an Afghan National Interdiction Unit instructor committed to the professional development of the Counter Narcotics Police – Afghanistan (CNP-A). As the first female member of the NIU, First Sergeant Bahaduri reminds us that Afghan women can lead in very high level technical positions. Through her integral role as an instructor at NIU, she focuses on efforts to target the most significant drug trafficking networks, collect evidence, and arrest and prosecute Afghan drug traffickers in accordance with Afghan law.

Julieta Castellanos is an advocate who has played a central role in efforts to overcome enormous challenges afflicting Honduras, including rule of law, anticorruption, and promoting citizen security. She was instrumental in forming an umbrella organization for more than 400 organizations that has given civil society a more powerful voice and an unprecedented ability to engage with the government. Ms. Castellanos has also pressed relentlessly for systemic reform of the country’s dysfunctional police and justice sector institutions.

For their efforts, these courageous women have endured threats, detainment, and violence.  Some of them have been shunned by their families and communities, or lost livelihoods and loved ones. Still, they press on.  It is for these women and the millions like them that we work every day to expand opportunities and improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

USAID will train over 3,300 women in Haiti to manage natural resources and better invest in crops that can generate income and stabilize hillsides as part of our Feed the Future initiative.  It’s why I’m proud that over 140,000 women in Pakistan are increasing their income by 30-40% as part of our Entrepreneurs, Firms, and Baluchistan Agriculture projects.

In Afghanistan, our Women In Transition (WIT) program provides educated young women with enhanced technical and leadership skills to facilitate entry and advancement into mid- and high-level positions in government, the private sector and civil society over the next five years. We’re also launching a public-private partnership with Chevron South Africa and Anglo-American to support a gender-based microfinance program called Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equity (IMAGE). The program combines microfinance with a gender and HIV training curriculum to improve women’s financial independence, reduce vulnerability to HIV and gender-based violence, and foster wider community mobilization.

In Bangladesh, we’re launching a pilot project to test multi sector approaches to child marriage prevention with a focus will be community sensitization, involving local religious authorities, media, local NGO and civil authorities. We’re also expanding our efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo to raise community awareness about gender-based violence (GBV) and support survivors, granting them increased access to medical and psycho-social care, legal assistance, and income generating activities.

These brave individuals, dedicated partners, and determined civil society organizations are delivering real results for women around the world.  We are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

In a Traditional Society, a South Sudanese Woman Becomes a Role Model

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In observance, this week USAID is profiling brave individuals and dynamic programs focused on addressing gender-based violence around the world.

War defined childhood for a generation of girls born during Sudan’s civil conflict, which lasted from 1983 to 2005.

For Athieng Riak Jok, who was born in 1984, the disruption caused by war also protected her from being married off at an early age. Jok was born into a cattle-owning community that values women as a source of income in the form of cattle. In order to marry, men traditionally give a woman’s family cattle as a dowry.

Athieng Riak Jok, gender technical advisor with the Jonglei Food security Program in South Sudan. Photo credit: Catholic Relief Services

For Jok, war disrupted that practice. “I grew up on the run,” Jok says.

She recognized early that her community did not value educating girls, and her own family sent only boys to school. “This experience has shaped my view. I became aware of social injustice at an early age and grew up with increased curiosity. Although I did not start formal schooling until after the age of 11,” Jok says. ” I was using every available opportunity to learn, including imitating my brother who was in school and did homework.”

Jok eventually graduated high school while living in a refugee camp in Kenya, won a scholarship in 2007 and graduated from a Canadian university in 2011. Last year, she returned to South Sudan, which gained its independence while she was in Canada. Jok now works as a community gender technical advisor in Jonglei state through USAID-supported Jonglei Food Security Program (JFSP). Launched in 2011, the program aims to alleviate hunger among 150,000 households in Jonglei state.

Jok’s major task has been to mobilize women in the community to understand their role in society to achieve sustainable development. She encourages them to attend community meetings and voice their opinions. “Any developmental program that will thrive must recognize the contributions of both women and men in order to succeed,” she said. Jok and other women working for JFSP work hard to provide a positive role model in the community, sending a strong message about the benefits of educating girls.

Asked about the meaning of International Women’s Day, Jok said, “This is a day to reflect on achievements of women and on the victims of gender-based injustices. It is also a day to appreciate the contributions made by women and men who have realized the need for gender equality, and have sacrificed their time and resources to advocate for gender equity.”

Guatemala’s 24-Hour Courts: Changing the Way Women Access Justice

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In observance, this week USAID is profiling brave individuals and dynamic programs focused on addressing gender-based violence around the world. 

The nightmare began when she was thirteen. For two years, Cindy was the victim of repeated rape and sexual abuse by her uncle. The details of the case are heart-wrenching; she also suffered death threats against her mother and grandmother if she reported her case.

Cindy’s happy childhood was interrupted by a sexual predator; her life of play was replaced by horror and shame, and later by courtrooms and lawyers. The last time Cindy was raped was two months ago, just before her uncle was formally charged for rape and sexual abuse.

This case underscores the ongoing tragedy of gender-based violence in Latin America. Many women and young girls like Cindy are afraid to speak out because they are threatened by their attackers and fear being stigmatized by their family and communities. Hence, official statistics do not reflect the true scale of the problem.

Guatemala has long been seen as one of the worst examples of crimes against women in the hemisphere. In the past decade alone, nearly 4,000 women were killed. Some of the victims had sought help but were rebuffed by local authorities. Less than four percent of these cases were solved.

Mounting pressure pushed authorities to pass legislation outlawing gender-based violence. In 2009, a law for femicide, violence, sexual abuse, and trafficking was enacted, but only three men were convicted and sentenced even though in the first two weeks of that year 26 women were killed.

In Guatemala, as in other Latin American countries, cases of gender-based violence fall in the lap of an overburdened criminal justice system with no specialized services for women victims. Most women simply opt for dropping charges.

Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg (far left) and Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz (center) visit the 24-hour Femicide Court in Gerona in October 2012. Photo credit: USAID files

Local leadership and donor cooperation

Recently, Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and former President of the Supreme Court, Thelma Aldana identified the need for a specialized court for cases related to violence against women, exploitation, sexual violence and human trafficking.

USAID Guatemala responded to their request and provided technical assistance, training, and equipment to operationalize a new specialized 24-hour court located in the Attorney General’s Office. The new model opened in October 2012 and includes a criminal court, a public defense office, a police substation, and a forensic clinic, and is staffed by prosecutors, psychologists, doctors, and lawyers. The integrated approach ensures victims receive the assistance they need and strengthens criminal investigation by using scientific evidence. The 24-hour court also includes a special Gesell Chamber that allows judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to observe interviews with minors conducted by psychologists.

This court, one of the first in Latin America, represents a fundamental change in Guatemala’s justice system. Since the 24-hour court opened its doors, 846 protection measures for women and 307 arrest warrants have been authorized. In total, 125 people have been sent to prison for violence against women and sexual exploitation. Although Cindy is forever marked by the horror she endured, justice for women in Guatemala is finally within reach.

Freeing Women from Violence Leads to Healthier Lives

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In observance, this week USAID is profiling brave individuals and dynamic programs focused on addressing gender-based violence around the world. 

The statistics are staggering: one out of three women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Not only are the economic, legal, and social effects devastating and lasting, but gender-based violence has serious health implications.

Physical and sexual violence affects women’s health and well-being and detracts from her reproductive health. Women who have experienced violence are more likely to use contraceptive methods in secret, be stopped by their abusive partner from using family planning, and have a partner who refuses to use a condom. Consequently, they are more likely to have unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, and to become pregnant as adolescents. Children of abused women have a higher risk of death before reaching age five and violence during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight of babies. Forced and unprotected sex and related trauma increase the risk that women will be infected by STIs and HIV.

The health sector can play a vital role in preventing gender-based violence by helping to identify abuse early, providing victims with the necessary treatment, and referring women to appropriate and informed care. USAID supports stand-alone activities as well as programs that integrate anti-gender violence activities and messages into broader health efforts. Emphasis is placed on prevention interventions such as community mobilization and behavior change communication activities to address and transform the underlying norms that perpetuate violence. By addressing gender violence, health programs can enhance their effectiveness, enable women who have experienced violence to benefit from existing programs, and prevent the escalation of such violence.

Freeing women from violence results in healthier lives for them and for their families. In turn women and their families are able to contribute more to their communities and nations.

Raising the Bar: Combatting Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. In observance, this week USAID is profiling brave individuals and dynamic programs focused on addressing gender-based violence around the world. 

Did you know that a woman or girl who has been raped has just 72 hours to access medical care in order to prevent HIV infection? The hours and days following rape are critical for women and men, and boys and girls to treat injuries related to the assault, prevent infection, and receive the basic emotional support that will allow them to recover and resume a full life. Now imagine the challenges that a rape survivor may face in accessing those basic services and support in situations where sexual violence is a daily risk, and where services and assistance are limited—or located miles away—as is the case in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo or South Sudan.

Ethiopia, October 2010. Photo credit: Jane Strachan, USAID

These challenges are real, and USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is committed to finding solutions to address gender-based violence (GBV) as a part of our humanitarian response to disasters. GBV, including rape, occurs in every country around the world, and we know that it increases in disasters and conflicts. In order to better respond, we’ve developed and are supporting new strategies to equip ourselves and our partners with the training and expertise to, not only quickly provide services for survivors, but also to help prevent violence in the first place.

This is one of the reasons why USAID has supported the work of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Over the past several years, IRC has helped raise the bar for GBV emergency response and preparedness by implementing pilot programs in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. USAID provided support for these programs to build on what we’ve learned about GBV and further strengthen our capacities to assist those in need.

The pilot programs in Haiti and DRC demonstrated that, through training and prepositioning materials, community workers and other humanitarian responders could quickly mobilize medical services and emotional support for GBV survivors. We saw the strongest evidence of the program’s success in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where despite an increased need, IRC found that staff and local partners were able to provide services to more GBV survivors thanks to these preparedness measures.

USAID is dedicated to moving forward with the wider humanitarian community to develop and implement a solid response in preventing sexual violence in emergencies, and fully responding to the needs of those affected by GBV. GBV is a significant problem around the world, but USAID is striving to ensure that women and girls are protected, and that the needs of survivors are met, in every disaster where we provide assistance.

USAID wins ‘Best Government Policy for Mobile Development’ Award

There is a good chance you are reading this blog on your mobile device.  If you are in a developing country, the chances are even greater. That’s because across the developing world, people are leapfrogging the need for computers and are accessing the Internet straight from their more affordable smart phone or tablet.  In fact, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recently reported that twice as many people access the Internet through a mobile device than through a fixed line.

USAID harnesses the power of mobile phones to achieve results Credit: USAID

But it doesn’t end there.  The near ubiquity of mobiles in the developing world – on pace to soon surpass population numbers – has allowed citizens to engage in formal economies and tap into global networks in a manner that was unheard of just a few years ago.  Even the most basic mobile phones are becoming important channels for people to conduct financial transactions and access key information on healthcare, education, and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The mobile phone will indeed transform development outcomes. For this reason, we were the first bilateral development agency to launch a dedicated Mobile Solutions team, as part of our Office of Innovation and Development Alliances.  We created it to help us do business better and expand opportunities for individuals, families and communities around the world.  Our efforts began both organically and deliberately.  Across USAID’s Bureaus and Missions, mobiles were springing up. We were inspired by our pioneering colleagues who saw a need, an opportunity, and seized the moment.

After the Haiti earthquake in 2010, when most people’s savings lay buried under mountains of rubble, Priya Jaisinghani and I visited and imagined how to get a whole new, mobile-based financial system up and running as quickly as possible.  Kay McGowan saw an opportunity to reduce corruption in Afghanistan by allowing more police officers and government employees to be paid via their phones. Christopher Burns saw the huge gender gap in mobile phone ownership among the world’s poor and initiated conversations with the mobile operators’ association, GSMA, and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women to ensure women weren’t left behind in the mobile revolution.

Sandhya Rao and Richard Greene knew that too many mothers and children still were dying during childbirth.  Working with Johnson & Johnson, they conceived a way for pregnant or new mothers in the developing world to receive simple health text and voice messages.  Understanding that many poor farmers own a phone, Judy Payne realized this meant that helpful information like market pricing on inputs and commodities, delivered via mobile, could help raise their incomes.

From the beginning, we designed for global scale, realizing that these collective pieces had the power to be truly transformational.  With mobile phone ownership exploding in the developing world, we knew we had the opportunity to rethink how we use mobile technology to achieve faster, cheaper and more sustainable development results.

Today, the Mobile Solutions team is tackling policy and regulatory issues, addressing access and affordability, and boasts an internal mobile enthusiast group and is busy recruiting partners from the private and donor sectors.  That is why I’m incredibly proud to announce that today USAID received the ‘Best Government Policy for Mobile Development’ award at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress 2013.

This award not only recognizes the critical global leadership role USAID is playing in this arena, it emphasizes the important role mobile phones play in international development.  We see it as a symbol to push new boundaries and dedicate ourselves to scale some of our current initiatives, including:

  • The Better Than Cash Alliance, launched in September 2012, is accelerating the move towards electronic payments, particularly mobile, in order to enhance efficiency, accountability and transparency.  The governments of the Philippines, Afghanistan, Kenya, Peru and Colombia have made public commitments to achieving this shift.  Internally, USAID has led the U.S. government by issuing an agency-wide order to move away from the use of cash and by working with our implementing partners to drive millions of dollars toward mobile payments.
  • To broaden mobile access, USAID has strengthened its GSMA mWomen partnership to close the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world.  We have helped build the business case for mobile network operators to design products and services that meet the needs of women and their families.   And we’re encouraged by the work Asiacell has done in Iraq, launching a new product line designed for women that includes the freedom to choose off-peak hours, a free service to block any number from calling or texting, and discounts on female-focused value added services.  In less than 9 months, 1.2 million new female subscribers joined the service, an increase of 25% over the total female subscriber base.
  • We’ve even held a Design Challenge with GSMA, AusAID and the Qtel Group, to make the smartphone user experience more intuitive for technically illiterate populations, particularly women. Given the pace of smartphone growth in the developing world, we’re hoping to get ahead of the curve by encouraging the mobile industry to design more compelling interfaces that address fundamental access issues.  The winners of this challenge were announced today.
  • The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) has ramped up since its launch in 2011.  Our work with private and public sector partners to deliver timely health messages via mobile phones to expectant and new mothers has sparked quick adoption in Bangladesh and South Africa.  Over 140,000 women have been reached, with a target of over two million mothers in Bangladesh alone by 2015.  To date, mHealth providers in 111 organizations have applied to download MAMA adaptable messages in 49 countries.

These are just a few examples of the incredible work USAID and our partners are doing to advance mobile policy, and a true testament that we remain on the cutting edge of development.  As we continue to utilize technology to maximize our impact, we invite public and private partners to join us in tackling the global issues that affect us all.

Video of the Week: Women Mobile Phone Users in Indonesia

Todaythe United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with partners Qtel Group and AusAID, announced the winners of the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge, which aims to redefine the smartphone user experience for resource-poor women in emerging markets.

The GSMA mWomen Design Challenge was created to simplify the smartphone user interface to help overcome reading and technical literacy barriers for women. Twenty-two per cent of women surveyed in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda who do not use mobile phones say it is because they do not know how to use them. Watch this video with women mobile phone users in Indonesia review the winning submissions to the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge.

Empowering Women with Mobile Money: The Tanzania Report

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Tanzania’s first mobile money service, M-PESA, was launched less than a year after it started in neighbouring Kenya, but adoption has been much slower in Tanzania. Consumers, especially women, face a myriad of barriers to mobile money uptake and regular usage.  During my fieldwork in Tanzania, I met with a number of women, both mobile money non-users and users, to learn more about these barriers. I also explored opportunities for the mobile money industry to overcome these challenges and develop a compelling case for women to use mobile financial services.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for mobile banking. Photo credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The women users I spoke with were using mobile money mainly for remittances of under TSH 20,000 (approximately US$13). Some used the service for business, but most transactions were personal.  Many of the women who reported receiving remittances had married men from other towns or villages and had thus moved, and were receiving money from family at home. The frequency of mobile money usage varied from every two months to as many as seven times a month.

The women I spoke with suggested that using mobile money has improved their lives because of its ease and convenience. However, they also shared stories about agents charging more than the commission rates set by the operators, forcing users to pay more than they should to withdraw and deposit their money.  For some, this extra cost was acceptable because it was still lower than the costs of travelling to obtain the money by other means; for others, they did not have agents nearby so they incurred this fee on top of the time and cost to reach the closest agent.

In rural areas, respondents suggested that families live so close together that there is less need for remittances. However, learning more about women’s lifestyles and money management practices still highlights the potential role of mobile money in this context. For example, nearly three quarters of the population relies on agriculture-related activities for income; people keep crops such as maize as savings, liquidating only when there is an immediate financial need. One group of women acknowledged that they may not get the best price when they sell their crops like this, but they also feared the money would be misspent if they sold sooner.

Key questions we are continuing to probe include: How could mobile savings impact the families in these areas? What would be the best way to structure such services and how could mobile operators best communicate about the service to potential users? The answers to these questions – and more – will be reflected in the final report to be released later this month.

Kristy Bohling, an associate with Bankable Frontier Associates, conducted qualitative fieldwork in Tanzania. A video of Ms. Bohling discussing her research is also available.

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