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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.

Empowering Women One Mobile Phone At a Time

This originally appeared on Mobile Payments Today

Today, half the world’s adult population — 2.5 billion people — lacks access to basic financial services and the majority of them are women. Being financially excluded means relying on cash, where a simple task like paying a bill or receiving money from a family member can be risky, costly and time consuming. This exclusion from financial services also reinforces the cycle of poverty and slows economic growth.

From Kenya to Haiti to Indonesia, mobile phones already have begun playing an important role in expanding access to financial services, including ways to send, receive and save money. At the end of 2012, an estimated 1.7 billion people in the world will have a mobile phone but not a bank account, but thanks to advances in mobile banking technology, these are no longer mutually exclusive.

Mobile banking saves women time and money. With mobile services, women no longer have to make all-day treks to and from the bank. Photo credit: USAID

Mobile technology in the hands of women can help enable entry into the financial mainstream and provide access to life-enhancing services such as savings, payments, healthcare, education, and entrepreneurship. But as research has shown, there’s a gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage, in part because of the lack of products designed for the wants and needs of women. In order to achieve the full potential of the role mobile technology can play in women’s empowerment globally, it is critical that service providers understand what women need and design products that effectively reach this audience.

Toward that goal, the GSMA mWomen Programme and Visa Inc. have partnered with Bankable Frontier Associates (BFA) to conduct groundbreaking research in five key countries: Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania. Building on the results of GSMA mWomen’s Striving and Surviving, which was prepared as part of Visa and GSMA’s partnership with USAID and AusAID, the BFA research will provide a deeper dive into how best to reach these women and what services and products will directly meet their needs – offering important lessons for mobile operators, financial institutions, governments, and other partners.

Consider Pakistan, where field work already is underway. In Pakistan, only 12 percent of the total population has a bank account — and those who do are primarily men. However, mobile phone penetration hovers around 70 percent, offering a unique opportunity to provide access to more formalized financial services via mobile phone. Our early field work indicates that while Pakistani women are remarkably sophisticated and adept at managing their household finances, they don’t have access to formal financial tools. Instead, they save in money boxes in their homes or via savings groups, both of which can carry significant risk. Given the increasing presence of mobile phones in the country, mobile financial services – if designed properly – can provide an accessible and convenient avenue for women to enter the financial mainstream.

To hear more about the work underway in Pakistan, please click here to view a video from one of the field researchers, the first in a series that will highlight the work being done in all five countries.

“Through this research, we aim to uncover the challenges women face in their daily and longer term financial management and to suggest ways of easing those burdens with mobile money,” says Daryl Collins, co-author of the seminal work, Portfolios of the Poor, and a director at BFA. “Poor people of both genders manage their money with a complex portfolio of financial instruments. However, the evidence suggests that women are doubly burdened, given that they are often responsible for making ends meet, yet are less empowered to make full use of the options available.”

Our hope in this effort is to help women realize the promise of mobile financial services. In order to do that, we need to learn more about women’s attitudes towards mobile services, including barriers to frequent use and whether mobile financial services offer an entry for women who previously did not value or know how to use mobile technologies.

As our research continues over the next few months, we look forward to sharing with you the voices of these women from around the world.

Aletha Ling is chief operating officer for Fundamo, a Visa company. Chris Locke is managing director of GSMA Mobile for Development Department.

International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

February 6th marks the tenth observance of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), an internationally recognized day to foster awareness of the devastating effects of FGM/C and renew the call for the abandonment of this harmful traditional practice. FGM/C is a practice that ranges from nicking to total removal of the external female genitalia. Some 140 million women around the world have undergone this brutal procedure and three million girls are at risk every year.

This 10thanniversary, I’d like to take a look back over progress achieved in the past decade. Significant efforts have been made at the community, national, and international levels to address the issue of FGM/C. Studies have looked at the physical, emotional and mental impacts of FGM/C. Research has deepened our understanding of the diverse reasons for the continuation of the practice, providing a frame for theories about the origins and social dynamics that lead to its continuation. Reflecting the work of dedicated advocates, today most practicing countries have passed laws banning the practice, and prevalence is beginning to decline in some countries.

An estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting. Photo credit: Panos

In September 2000, USAID officially incorporated elimination of FGM/C into its development agenda and created the official U.S. Government policy toward FGM/C.  In 2002, the Donors Working Group on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting was formed to bring together key international actors, including representatives from USAID, U.N. agencies, European donors and private funders.

In February 2003, the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children held its landmark conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Many first ladies of Africa, led by the first lady of Nigeria, officially declared “Zero Tolerance to FGM” to be commemorated every year on February 6th. Drawing from this energy, UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Center organized a consultation in 2004, resulting in a seminal publication, “Changing A Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.”

In 2008, the Donors Working Group ultimately produced A Platform for Action Toward the Abandonment of FGM/C (PDF).  That same year, UNFPA and UNICEF formed a strategic partnership known as the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C’s “Accelerating Change“. They have been working together, in headquarters and field offices, to develop, fund, and implement policies and programs to accelerate abandonment of FGM/C. The result of this program should inform the work of programs and governments for years to come.

In December 2012, the 67th session of the United Nation’s General Assembly passed a wide-reaching resolution urging States to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

While we have made tremendous progress over the past decade, work still lies ahead.  We must all work together – men, women, grandfathers, grandmothers, community and religious leaders, government, civil society, and multilateral organizations – to overturn deeply entrenched social norms that are not only harmful to women and girls, but to our communities and societies.

Join us on February 6th at 9:30am EST for a live webchat discussion at the State Department. The event will include a panel of experts and practitioners, as well as a discussion on programs and solutions to address this issue. Follow @USAIDGH on Twitter and join the conversation using the hashtag #EndFGM/C.

FrontLines Feature: A USAID Legacy in Latin America: Smaller Families and Better Health

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

Trinidad Hernández lives in a wood-panel house with a zinc roof and a dirt floor in La Patriota, Nicaragua, a small rural village near the center of Nicaragua. The 39-year-old is a cattle farmer and volunteers as a health promoter. He enjoys the respect his community gives him as a person of authority who helps solve some of the health problems they face. He is part of a community-based family planning program that has been supported by USAID since 2003 and has been integrated into the Nicaraguan Government’s national health strategy.

Maryuri Arellano gives a health talk on adolescent pregnancy prevention. Photo Credit: Kimberly Cole, USAID

Today, more than 1,000 men and women like Hernández are involved in the country’s ambitious community-based efforts to improve health by helping parents decide the size of their families. These community health promoters educate and supply contraceptives to their neighbors who live in the most remote villages. Buttressing the approach is a USAID-sponsored 2011 study (PDF) indicating that, when men are involved as partners and community members, there are lasting improvements in reproductive health.

The number of male family planning promoters in Nicaragua has grown dramatically since 2006. Hernández reports that “the women in my community have confidence in me because I offer all of the [family planning] methods that are available and I give them enough information so that they can choose the method that is right for them. And then I make sure to always have their next supply ready.”

Programs like this, which are part of the USAID graduation strategy in countries like Nicaragua, gradually prepare them for the Agency’s departure. The goal is to maintain the successes achieved with assistance both during and after graduation. Nicaragua is an especially successful case in a region where improved education for women, greater economic opportunity and increased availability of family planning have reaped enormous benefits overall, say USAID/Nicaragua officials.

In Nicaragua, specifically, increased use of family planning has coincided with a reduction in maternal mortality by almost a third since 1980.

From Six to Two

In the 1960s, the average woman in Latin America had six children and many died in childbirth. Back then, most women in remote areas didn’t have access to family planning or know that they could space or limit their pregnancies.

Today, most women have between two and three healthy children.
Infant mortality has fallen faster in Latin America and the Caribbean than anywhere else in the world, declining by 70 percent since the 1960s. Child mortality has declined by 57 percent and the region’s maternal mortality ratio has dropped by 41 percent since 1990.

According to Marianela Corriols, USAID/Nicaragua’s project development specialist for health, this is not a coincidence. “There is strong evidence that the dramatic expansion of family planning services during this period was a major factor in saving these lives, by giving couples the ability to space their children’s births, and limit their family size, according to their own desires,” says Corriols.

While USAID has been the world leader in family planning funding since the 1960s, Corriols notes that the Agency was mostly an outside facilitator of country plans. “It is the leadership of host country governments and civil society that have led to these stunning results,” she says…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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FrontLines Feature: In Old Kenyan Town, It’s No Longer Just ‘Old Wise Men’

This originally appeared in FrontLines, November/December 2012 issue.

With the groundbreaking election of 11 female village elders, a USAID-backed pilot project seeks more equitable governance and protection of women’s assets.

Parakuo Naimodu is an unlikely success story. A mother of 11 children, she has lived in the town of Ol Posimoru in southern Kenya for years—at one time, with a husband who beat and verbally abused her. Only five of her 11 (four sons and one daughter) children finished school.

To resolve her domestic troubles, Naimodu sought the help of the local elders. Elders traditionally hold the authority to decide disputes that bind both men and women in Kenya’s villages. Naimodu hoped they would help intervene to stop her husband’s beatings. But the elders, all men, sided with her husband. And bringing a case against him only led to more abuse when she returned home.

Parakuo Naimodu, center, graduates from the Justice Project training, with Caroline Lentupuru, a gender resource specialist with Landesa, at right. Photo Credit: Deborah Espinosa

The couple eventually separated, but Naimodu’s husband continued to verbally abuse her whenever they passed in the village.

This all changed on July 10, when Naimodu and 10 other women in Ol Pusimoru, an area with a population of about 2,500, were formally elected as elders.

Elders meet on an as-needed basis to resolve land and other disputes, including family problems. They help to resolve everything from boundary disputes and trespassing to cattle rustling and criminal cases, including rape. Depending on the case, hearings are held with testimony by both parties and witnesses, and site visits help the elders to gather information. Elders may impose various penalties, including fines in the form of livestock or chickens, apologies to the aggrieved party, and other forms of punishment. Decisions may be appealed to a government court, but the court system is expensive and often intimidating for women.

Once Naimodu became an elder and an expert in her legal rights, her life dramatically changed. Her husband stopped harassing her. She says that he heard she was trained in women’s constitutional rights and a recognized member of the dispute-resolution system. “[H]e knows he cannot interfere with my life anymore without facing the consequences,” she explains.

Naimodo and her sister elders are all beneficiaries of USAID’s pilot project, the Kenya Justice Project (KJP), designed to help village elders and other justice officials support and enforce women’s rights to land and to have a say in how forest resources are governed.

The 11 woman elders have broken the mold in a country where women’s rights to equal participation in society are still very fragile, according to Deborah Espinosa, Africa program director for Landesa, the implementing NGO that works to secure land and property rights for marginalized groups around the world.

“Thanks to Kenya’s new constitution, gender equality is now a legal requirement. Women have greater legal protection of their rights to own and inherit property and to share in marital property,” says Espinosa. “The important challenge now is for Kenyans to know about these rights and to protect and enforce them in a country where women are not traditionally property owners,” she says, explaining that male relatives frequently sell family land without consulting women; and that women are routinely thrown out of marital homes by in-laws when husbands die, plunging them and their children into dire circumstances.

This kind of family-based “land grabbing” is widespread in Kenya, Espinosa says. “With their male counterparts, the women elders may help to bring an end to these harmful practices by enforcing the law.”

“The [Kenya Justice] project helps women and girls learn about their legal rights and it builds skills so that they can take on a bigger role in decision making in their homes and in their communities. This project also works with men and boys so that they understand how women contribute to the community,” says Achieng Akemu, senior rule of law adviser at USAID…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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Boosting Women’s Entrepreneurship Via Mobile Money

This post originally appeared on Devex Impact.  It has also appeared in the Huffington Post and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

This guest column was authored by Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, and Maura O’Neill, USAID’s chief innovation officer. It is published here as part of Devex Impact, a global initiative of USAID and Devex that focuses on the intersection of business and global development and connects companies, organizations and professionals to the practical information they need to make an impact.

For Marion, the challenge of starting her own business was not lack of initiative — she had plenty — but rather dearth of startup capital. At 20-years old, Marion dropped out of school because she didn’t have sufficient funds for school fees. In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where she lives, this is a common trend for many women and girls, one that stretches across sub-Saharan Africa and far beyond. But Marion was undeterred.

Thanks to her friend’s suggestion, Marion latched onto an idea of selling prepaid mobile airtime to financially support her parents and four siblings with whom she lives. She started working at a small restaurant as a server, in order to save enough money to break into the business. Marion saved and saved, and began to sell airtime in bits and pieces. Yet by the time she turned 22 and made the decision to do it full-time, she was 70,000 Tanzanian shillings ($43) short of the 100,000 TZS ($62) required to finance the initial capital. Marion had nowhere to turn to make up the difference. And now this shortage of cash is keeping her from pursuing what should be a tangible dream — to become an entrepreneur and move into her own home.

A woman sells prepaid mobile phone airtime credits. Photo Credit: Devex.

Fortunately, new opportunities that will address Marion’s challenges are emerging.

Mobile technology continues to be an enormous growth industry in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 3.5 million jobs can be attributed to the mobile industry, according to GSMA. With the surge in mobile connections around the world, there is rightly a great deal of interest in using the technology to maximize development outcomes. This includes the delivery of key information and health services, the use of mobile money for those who are unbanked, and the ability to establish social and business networks without having to travel great distances. For women like Marion, this is an enticing pairing of potential long-term employment and enhanced livelihood.

Despite the gains the mobile telecommunications industry has had nationally, there continues to be significant gaps in how much individuals benefit economically from mobile services and applications. This includes the extent to which women have been able to participate in the retail channels of mobile network operators, beyond the sale of top-up cards and accessories that fetch little profit. These retail chains are not only where basic mobile necessities such as airtime and SIM cards are sold and marketed, but they also serve as the frontlines of the rapidly growing mobile financial services industry. This ballooning sector includes mobile payments and savings, insurance purchases and conditional cash transfers, services that are traditionally unavailable for the unbanked — particularly women. The business of selling mobile products and services can be an important income stream but, in most markets, women are not participating on par with their male counterparts.

This leaves Marion and women like her at a distinct and, frankly, unnecessary disadvantage.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, in partnership with leading mobile operator Millicom, or Tigo, have joined forces for an innovative project to correct this trend and maximize mobile financial service opportunities for women entrepreneurs and their communities throughout Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana. This public-private partnership will showcase a sustainable and scalable approach to increasing the number of women entrepreneurs working as mobile money agents in the retail networks of mobile operators…(continued)

Read the rest of this post on Devex Impact.

Follow Cherie Blair and Maura O’Neill on Twitter.

Seeking Justice: Investigating and Prosecuting Gender-Based Violence

Susana SáCouto (right) is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law. Chanté Lasco (left) is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator. Photo Credit: WCRO.

This blog post coincides with USAID’s blog series on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV). GBV is a human rights and public health issue that limits individual and societal development with high human and economic costs.  For more information about how USAID is combatting GBV, please visit our website.

This year has seen the continued prevalence of widespread and devastating gender-based attacks on women and girls around the world, from new outbreaks of sexual violence at the hands of a new militia entering the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the shooting of Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, targeted for seeking educational opportunities for herself and other girls.

Such tragedies are examples of how far we have to go as a global community to ensure the safety and well-being of those vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Yet, the past 20 years have also seen remarkable progress in holding perpetrators of SGBV accountable on the international level.

Such violence is now recognized as conduct that can constitute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Indeed, the statutes governing international and internationalized criminal courts, including the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), have all recognized that sexual and gender-based crimes are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

The ICC, in particular, has included the broadest number of sexual and gender based crimes within its jurisdiction, including not only rape but also sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and enforced sterilization, while also including a residual “sexual violence” clause intended to apply to serious sexual assaults that are of comparable gravity to those explicitly included.

These tools represent significant milestones in addressing SGBV but they are just that—tools. Without prosecutors and judges applying these tools to hold perpetrators accountable, and without pressure from activists to push the ICC and other institutions to continue making progress, too many sexual and gender-based attacks will continue to be under-investigated and inadequately prosecuted.

For instance, the sexual and gender-based crimes that SCSL prosecutors could have charged members of the Civilian Defence Force, a security force in Sierra Leone that fought against rebel groups during the conflict in Sierra Leone from 1996 to 1999, resulting in widespread atrocities committed against civilians, were not included in the indictment against the accused. The result was the exclusion of evidence of widespread rapes and sexual slavery from the trial and the silencing of victims present and willing to testify to the full range of harms they suffered.

Similarly at the ICC, the Prosecutor failed to add similar charges against Thomas Dyilo Lubanga, former Commander-in-Chief of a rebel group’s military wing who was convicted by the ICC of conscripting children under 15 years in armed conflict that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 2002 to 2003. Despite evidence that members of Mr. Lubanga’s militia were responsible for acts of sexual violence against abducted girls, female child soldiers and other civilians, such acts were not included in the Prosecution’s charging document against the accused.  In its final judgment, the Trial Chamber held that the Prosecution’s failure to include SGBV charges meant the Chamber could not make any findings of fact on the issue of sexual violence.

These are but two examples, out of many, in which the hard-won advances have become missed opportunities. Until the international community demonstrates that we care about these crimes and we expect accountability, SGBV victims will not have access to the level of justice they deserve.

For more information about the War Crimes Research Office, please visit our website.

Susana SáCouto is Director of the War Crimes Research Office (WCRO) at the Washington College of Law (WCL), which promotes the development and enforcement of international criminal and humanitarian law.

Chanté Lasco is the WCRO’s Jurisprudence Collections Coordinator, managing the Gender Jurisprudence Collections, a unique research database tracking the treatment of SGBV in international criminal jurisprudence.

16 Day Challenge: Keeping International Workers Safe: Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence

Today is Day 16 of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.

This post coincides with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence event, “Who Takes Care of the Caregivers?  Providing Care and Safety for Staff in Gender-based Violence Settings,” that took place on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012 in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Inter-Agency Gender Working Group, funded by USAID.

Gender-based Violence (GBV) is an issue that impacts aid workers – not just beneficiaries and not just staff that works in GBV settings. This post examines agencies’ duty to care for their workers by preventing and responding to GBV.

Sarah Martin is a consultant and Specialist on Prevention and Response to Gender-based Violence

The sexual assault of the journalists Lara Logan, Mona Eltahawy, and two unnamed British and French journalists in Egypt, shocked the world and brought the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) against Westerners working in the developing world to the forefront. Global statistics show that 1 out of 3 women has experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault and it’s not only “the locals” being affected*. Not only are journalists at risk but also aid staffers working in conflict settings or GBV program areas.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with several women globetrotters while writing a chapter of a book on security tips for international travelers. The women I spoke with have traveled extensively in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and they work for large international development organizations, human rights organizations, humanitarian NGOs, several different United Nations agencies and for international businesses. I asked them about their experiences as women while traveling and working overseas and what advice they had for other women doing the same. Many of them brought up their frustration that sexual harassment and sexual assault were not being adequately raised in security trainings and that there was little information in trainings or security manuals on how to support colleagues if they were assaulted. While aid agencies and organizations are increasingly providing more security trainings that simulate “hostile environments to prepare their employees for gunfire, kidnappings and other events in the field,” gender issues are not fully integrated.

Female development and aid workers have the same security concerns as their male counterparts – crime, landmine accidents and armed robberies do not discriminate based on gender. Yet women face another security threat that most men do not encounter – namely sexual harassment and sexual violence, in many cases by someone familiar to them – a co-worker, driver or a friend.  Still, security measures, trainings and manuals tend to be the same for men and women, and many agencies take a “gender-blind” approach to security. Unfortunately, this approach leaves out a major issue.  The answer isn’t restricting women’s access to “dangerous” areas but by making sure female employees are fully informed of the dangers.

International agencies and organizations have made strides in recent years addressing GBV around the world.  Aid workers are addressing the root causes of violence, improving prevention and protection services and strengthening legislation and enforcement policies.  Organizations are also taking critical steps to prevent sexual exploitation of their beneficiaries by staff.  Now we need to take the next logical step by also addressing the issue of sexual assault of aid workers as a real security concern. This means integrating the issue of sexual assault into security trainings and sensitizing the trainers and security personnel on how to address the issue, provide information to trainees on how to protect themselves, and deliver support in case the worst happens.  GBV is a human rights and public health issue, and if eliminating it is a goal, then it’s critical that we strive to protect everyone.

*Martin, Sarah (to be published May 14, 2013). Sexual Assault: Preventing And Responding As An International Traveler. In T. Spencer, Personal Security: A Guide for International Travelers. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

 

16 Day Challenge: A Helping Hand for Trafficking Victims in Uzbekistan

Today is Day 13 of our 16 Days Against Gender Activism.

Uzbekistan is at the heart of the ancient Silk Road. For centuries, people traveled across the country to exchange goods and share news. In today’s world, Uzbekistan’s strategic location has made its women prime targets for human trafficking to the Middle East and Russia.

I wanted to see firsthand how USAID is supporting services for female victims of trafficking on the modern Silk Road, so I visited the NGO Istikbolli Avlod(“Future Generation”), which is part of a small USAID-supported network of NGOs that work around the clock to help trafficked women return to Uzbekistan, get new passports, recover from their experiences and start their lives again.

Istikbolli Avlod NGO leaders conduct a trafficking awareness training for school teachers in Djizak, Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: IOM

Istikbolli Avlod has established connections in 10 cities across the country and operates a resource hotline for victims of human trafficking or domestic violence. In Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, this hotline receives more than 100 calls a month.

The national impact of this work is evident in the stories of more than 800 human trafficking victims who have been helped by Istikbolli Avlod.

I had the opportunity to meet some of these women during my recent visit to the NGO. Lina (full name withheld), a young brunette with a quiet disposition, had already lived through a great amount of personal tragedy before her 21st birthday.  At age 18, Lina was trafficked by her teacher and made to work in the United Arab Emirates. She tried unsuccessfully to escape. When she finally made it back to Uzbekistan, she had little hope for her future. Istikbolli Avlod changed that. She learned life skills, such as baking, sewing and money management. She received the emotional help she needed and was able to start her life over. Now, Lina volunteers her time to help other women who face similar situations.

The leaders of Istikbolli Avlod noted that the government’s attitudes about trafficking have undergone a sea change. Five years ago, when this network of NGO leaders started working together, the Uzbekistan government didn’t take combating human trafficking seriously. However, “Now,” they said, “police will call us and ask us for help, and will refer women in trouble to us. We are working much more closely with the government to change laws and assist citizens in returning to a normal life here.”

Going forward, one key to tackling the challenge of human trafficking in Uzbekistan will be coordination among the many and growing number of NGOs working on this issue. To address this, a network of 43 women’s rights NGOs throughout the country is being established to share experiences and advice on how to strengthen their organizations and meet community needs. They are training each other in best practices for running an NGO and are making joint plans to avoid a redundancy of services. This is a truly impressive group of women who have woven together a strong and sustainable network to help women like Lina, who have nowhere else to turn.

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