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Archives for Women

Women Working in Innovation is Not Rocket Science

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Le-Marie Thompson, from Bowie, Md., won a first place prize of $5,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company. Photo credit: Le-Marie Thompson

My product concept is an electronic component validation tool that companies can use when developing new products. The web-based tool would allow companies to verify if the microelectronic components they source from suppliers are produced using conflict minerals –minerals that are mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses. This concept came to being while I was making a decision to change my life path. For over nine years I worked in the telecommunications industry, supporting the development of products and services that solved numerous business challenges.  However, I was restless and could not figure out why. One day in the spring of 2012, I decided that it was time for me to leave my corporate job and figure out something else to do – something that I could be passionate about while still utilizing my skills and experience. I did not know what that would be, but I knew I needed to clear my head first. So I packed up a few things and headed to India to volunteer with street children in New Delhi teaching math, science and English. I came back from India with a renewed sense of the things I cared about when I was a kid – fixing problems and serving others. Those two interests lead me to explore world challenges that may have technical solutions. The first of those challenges I decided to tackle was the issue of conflict minerals being used in electronic components.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Some of the major challenges that I have faced have been internal ones, mainly self-doubt and lack of confidence. My challenges with these emotions hindered me in taking the leaps I wanted to earlier in my career. At that time, I did not have the courage to be bold enough to share my ideas with others. Another challenge I had was accepting that I was a risk taker because in my mind, risk takers did not look like me. As a woman from a conservative immigrant background, I am supposed to be the type that plays it safe. But it helps to have a good support system of fellow entrepreneurs that push– those that encourage me to experiment and make mistakes quickly, so that I can continue to innovate.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the fields of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Organizations can encourage more women to enter these fields by not making it so complicated. Yes, some of what’s done in these fields is technically rocket science, but the disciplines of science and technology do not need to be placed on an unattainable pedestal.   It is not a monumental feat being a woman in these disciplines; in all professional disciplines, there are ups and downs, a core knowledge needs to be gained, and experience comes with time. Earlier exposure to science and technology, like with many other disciplines, will give women more opportunities to see if these fields fits in their life paths. Additionally, organizations should consider moving beyond a “build it and they will come” mentality to a “feed them and they will grow” philosophy.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Le-Marie Thompson is the founder of Nettadonna, LLC, a product development company.

Saving Mothers: A New Initiative to Address Maternal Mortality

This originally appeared on Smart Global Health

“In Zambia, when women have delivered, we say ‘Oh, you have survived.’” This chilling reminder of the impact of maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa came from Professor Elwyn Chomba, a Zambian government public health official interviewed by CSIS for a new video about the challenges of maternal mortality and a new initiative to address it.

Pregnancy-related deaths remain an acute problem in many places, despite overall global declines in rates of maternal mortality. Every day, nearly 800 women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and 99 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries. These deaths are largely preventable with interventions and training to prevent or treat complications such as hemorrhage, infection, and obstructed labor, and with increased access to reproductive health services and emergency care.

We traveled to Zambia because it has a disproportionately high rate of maternal mortality – an estimated 440 women dying for every 100,000 live births, which is 20 times higher than the U.S. But Zambia, as well as Uganda, is also the site of a new program, called Saving Mothers, Giving Life (SMGL), designed to reduce maternal mortality by up to 50 percent in selected districts in a year.

SMGL builds on the fact that most maternal deaths result from one or more of three delays: in seeking care, in arriving at a health facility, and in receiving appropriate care. SMGL is working to address those delays by supporting linkages between communities and health facilities through Safe Motherhood Action Groups (SMAGs); by improving communications and transportation in the districts to speed the care and referrals of pregnant women; and by training and hiring health care providers, while improving equipment and standards of care at health facilities.

Although the U.S. government has been a driving force behind SMGL, it is a public-private partnership. The U.S. Agency for International Development leads SMGL for the U.S. Government, in partnership with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Peace Corps, and the Department of Defense.  The other SMGL partners include the governments of Norway, Zambia, and Uganda, the Merck for Mothers program, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Every Mother Counts.

SMGL has generated excitement, but its implementers know that there is no quick fix for reducing maternal mortality. Accordingly, the initiative faces significant challenges to national scale up and to sustainability, and many experts believe that the changes required will take years – not months — to achieve.

Effectively addressing maternal mortality — in Zambia and elsewhere — will demand ongoing commitment, from national governments and international partners– and investments in community awareness, in improving health facilities and transportation, and in expanding women’s access to health services, including family planning programs. As Professor Chomba said, we want to get to a point where “every woman can look forward to labor, and not say, I may die.”

Conscious Tourism: Plan Your Next Vacation

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”. In observance, USAID is spotlighting innovative women working in these fields.

Fiona Mati from Kenya won a second place prize of $3,000 in USAID and Humanity United’s Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention – responding to the challenge to “develop technologies to better identify, spotlight, and deter intentional or unintentional third-party enablers of atrocities”. The second round of the Tech Challenge opened on March 6. Below is an interview with Fiona.

Tell us about your winning idea and your process for developing this concept.

“Conscious Vacations” seeks to deter tourists from visiting countries whose leaders perpetrate crimes against humanity, thus becoming themselves third party enablers. Most travelers remain unaware that their spending could possibly be used as a tool for sponsoring the activities of cruel dictatorships. Conscious Vacations intends to inform potential tourists by sharing data such as the amount of money the government spends on security or defense as opposed to other social sectors such as education and health, incidents of mass atrocities (and other human rights abuses), as well as the amount of government revenues raised from the tourism sector.

Fiona Mati is founder of Yipe!, a resource portal for young Kenyan entrepreneurs. Photo credit: Fiona Mati

To make the concept of Conscious Vacations more vivid to you, imagine for an instant lying on a sun lounger on a pristine beach. Now imagine if you knew that your being in that country enjoying the beach and all the facilities means that the local population will continue to live under the authoritarian rule of a dictator. How would you feel knowing that the dollars you spend are going to buying guns rather than school books or food? Would that beach look as pristine? This is what Conscious Vacations is about: acting as a virtual conscious-barometer to enable tourists to make informed decisions about their next holiday destination.

The idea came to me after reading an article that quoted Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi speaking in 1999 during the military junta’s rule. At the time a debate was raging among pro-democracy activists on whether to press the international community to boycott the country’s tourism. Her words spoke volumes to me when she said: “Burma will be here for many years, so tell your friends to visit us later. Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime.”

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a woman working in the field of science and technology?

Coming from Kenya, I have to say that the tech ecosystem is very supportive of women, so I can’t attribute my gender as presenting any obstacles. This has been the case particularly in the past five years with the growth of mobile phone use and the widespread adoption of mobile money systems such as M-Pesa, which has encouraged many women to venture into the tech space.

How can organizations encourage more women to enter the field of science and technology and nurture this talent?

Kenya’s accommodating technology ecosystem is mainly urban-based, and it would be great if organizations would work on enabling rural women to access the same opportunities. It’s also important to continue encouraging more girls to pursue careers in science and technology. Judging from local university enrollments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, women by and large remain in the minority.

Learn more about the Tech Challenge.

Fiona Mati is the founder of Yipe!, a resource portal for young Kenyan entrepreneurs.

Celebrating the One-Year Anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index

This originally appeared on the Feed the Future Blog

Last March, Feed the Future launched a tool to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture—the first of its kind.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index—developed by USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)—tracks women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas: production, resources, income, leadership, and time use. Unlike any other tool, it also measures women’s empowerment relative to men within their households, providing a more robust understanding of gender dynamics within households and communities.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (or WEAI) makes empowerment a solid and quantifiable concept Feed the Future and partners can work toward. It also helps us improve the way we do our development work. We’re using the tool to systematically assess and improve our food security programs in regard to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Azaratu Fushieni walks through her soy field. She has benefited from the assistance of a Feed the Future project, which helped her improve her agricultural practices and use better inputs. Photo credit: Elisa Walton, USAID

We asked Emily Hogue, the acting team leader for monitoring and evaluation in the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, to reflect on the one-year anniversary of this innovative tool, which she helped create.

1. How is Feed the Future currently using the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index?

We’re using the WEAI to track changes in women’s empowerment that occur as a direct or indirect result of Feed the Future programs. There’s a couple of different ways we do that. First, in our focus countries, we’re monitoring changes within the targeted geographic regions where Feed the Future works to track the contribution our food security programs make to women’s empowerment. Second, we’re collecting WEAI data within our impact evaluations on specific activities to learn more about the approaches we’re using and how effective they are. This helps us understand and assess how different approaches impact women and men and identify which program approaches are showing the most promise so we can expand their use.

2. What’s happened over the past year with the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index? What’s new?

In 2012, we collected data for the WEAI through population-based surveys in 16 of the 19 Feed the Future focus countries, alongside other Feed the Future indicators. We’re collecting data in the additional three focus countries in early 2013. This has allowed us to calculate baseline values for the WEAI so we can measure change from these baselines in future years. USAID and partners are also analyzing the large amount of data collected in the surveys to learn more about the relationships between empowerment, poverty, and nutrition, as well as relationships between WEAI indicators. Through our analyses, we’re also exploring how to further refine the tool to make it as practical and broadly useful as possible.

The WEAI team (USAID, IFPRI, and OPHI) produced a number of materials over the past year to support use of the tool, such as a brochure (PDF), a video, a webinar, and a discussion paper (PDF). So far, we’ve trained more than 600 people on how to use the tool—and that doesn’t include the number of people who have viewed our webinar training.

USAID is also funding the WEAI Resource Center at IFPRI, which offers assistance to users on fine-tuning the questionnaire for new contexts, tabulating and analyzing data, and interpreting the WEAI data to inform program design. Through IFPRI, WEAI partners selected four dissertation grants, funded by USAID, for research related to the WEAI. This research is helping build evidence on how women’s empowerment relates to other development outcomes, such as improved nutrition.

We’re excited to roll out a new instructional guide this week, published by IFPRI, that provides detailed information to users on how to use the WEAI questionnaire, analyze the WEAI data, and use the findings of the WEAI to inform program design.

3. How are you using the WEAI to improve the way Feed the Future works?

We created the WEAI as a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool to track the effects of our programs over time, but one of the most exciting uses of the WEAI has been as a diagnostic tool to identify constraints women face in the agriculture sector. Because the WEAI examines several dimensions and uses direct measures of empowerment rather than proxies, it can identify specific obstacles to women’s advancement in agriculture, such as limited access to credit or limited involvement in leadership roles. Once we identify those constraints, we tailor our programs to address them.

We’re currently examining WEAI baseline data to better understand the primary constraints and how our programs are addressing them. Then, we use the WEAI to track change over time in those specific areas, along with all five dimensions. We’re closely tracking how our programs impact equality and empowerment so we can strengthen and replicate practices that work well and reorient programs that aren’t working.

4. What has been the development community’s response to the WEAI?

Many development partners have expressed interest in using the WEAI for tracking their own programs.  Several international organizations like the International Fund for Agricultural Development, non-governmental organizations like CARE International, and a number of universities are planning to use or are already using the tool for program monitoring and research.

The WEAI team is developing tools and guidance to help our partners use and replicate the WEAI beyond Feed the Future’s focus countries and the targeted regions we work in. With the help of our development partners, we believe we can greatly increase the potential for learning through the WEAI. What started as a fairly modest effort to develop a monitoring tool for Feed the Future has greatly exceeded our expectations and provided the development community with a robust and accessible instrument to tackle one of the most complicated development challenges.

5. What’s next for the WEAI in its second year?

Now that we have a tremendous amount of data on the WEAI, most of our focus for 2013 is on analyzing and learning more about the context of empowerment in the areas where we work, as well as how the WEAI is working as a tool. The WEAI Resource Center and M&E partners are helping us conduct analyses to make this learning happen.

In 2013, we will also be designing and collecting baselines for a few impact evaluations of Feed the Future activities that use the WEAI. The WEAI team has many other materials in the works, so stay tuned in the coming months for baseline reports and a few case studies interpreting the results of the WEAI in our baselines. We’d also love to hear from others about how they are using and learning from the WEAI, so please let us know* about any work you will be doing in 2013 related to the WEAI.

While just a first step to improve learning and programming in this critical area, the WEAI signifies the commitment of the U.S. Government to prioritize empowerment as an essential development outcome that we will measure and strive to achieve.

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.

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