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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]

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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.

16 Day Challenge: Invisible Women: Violence Against Women with Disabilities

Today is Day 9 of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

There are over a billion people with disabilities on the planet. Approximately half of them are women with disabilities. They are grandmothers, mothers, partners, lovers and sisters. They are seldom seen in market places, the fields, the classrooms, at the health clinics or in the workplace. Women with disabilities are by and large an invisible group in society. Their invisibility is partly due to the multiple forms of discrimination and the intersectionality of disability and gender.

Violence against women and girls with disabilities is an important, and often overlooked, aspect of gender-based violence. A reflection of attitudes ingrained in all cultural systems of the world where women are seen as lesser human beings – and women with disabilities as even less worthy – makes it easy for abusive power and control over them. Research by Women’s Aid indicates that one in four women experience domestic violence. For women with a disability, this figure doubles. Be it at the hands of their partner, family, or caregiver, almost one in two women with disabilities will be abused in their lifetime.

Two women conducted a street poll on disability issues for a disability inclusiveness project in Armenia. Photo Credit: World Vision

The experiences of women with disabilities fit within traditional definitions of domestic violence, but some do not – they are disability-specific, such as having medicine withheld, being physically assaulted, deliberately not being assisted to go to the toilet, or having their assistive devices taken away.  Also women with disabilities may fear reporting or leaving an abuser because of emotional, financial or physical dependence, or fear of loss of parental rights. In situations of conflict where rape is often used as a weapon of war, women with disabilities are seen as easy targets. Conversely, situations of conflict invariablely increase the incidence of disability. The United States Government National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security highlights the need to take special measures to protect women and girls with disabilities from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006, recognized that “women and girls with disabilities are often at greater risk, both within and outside the home of violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation” and emphasized “the need to incorporate a gender perspective in all efforts to promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by persons with disabilities.”

So as we work to combat the epidemic of violence against women, the inclusion of women with disabilities must be deliberate.  For examples, shelters must have the necessary accommodations for women with disabilities. Courts should have ramps, sign language rosters and trained staff who do not turn away women with disabilities because they do not think they are deserving of services.

Our intensified efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women must translate into accessible information on a range measures – that legal frameworks and policies are more reflective of the day-to-day experience of women with disabilities; that  prevention actions are addressing all segments of the population; that efforts to prosecute perpetrators and protect and support victims recognize the specific needs women with disabilities might have;  and that  initiatives to enhance research and collect desegregated data include women with disabilities.

Finally as we consider the major structural factors underlying gender-based violence, it is necessary to address disability-based discrimination as a root cause of some of the gravest inequalities and human rights violations in the world. The intersection between gender and disability needs to be addressed explicitly and recognized in the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDG) framework and beyond.

16 Day Challenge: U.S. and Afghan Governments Partner to Combat Human Trafficking

Today is Day 3 of our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

USAID is highlighting the work of its Missions as part of its current campaign to raise widespread awareness about human trafficking and solicit innovative ideas to combat it at www.challengeslavery.org, where we launched a counter-trafficking Tech Contest today.

USAID is leading a U.S. government interagency process designed to help Afghanistan combat trafficking in persons. Through the Agency’s advisory efforts, the Afghan government has decided to establish its own steering committee tasked with addressing a crime that is becoming an increasingly significant problem in the country.  

According to the Department of State’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, Afghanistan is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The majority of trafficking victims are children, and the International Organization for Migration reported in 2012 that younger boys and girls were increasingly subjected to forced labor in carpet-making factories and domestic servitude, and in commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging and transnational drug smuggling within Afghanistan as well as into Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Afghan children in Nuristan Province. Photo Credit: AFP Photo/Tauseef MUSTAFA

Some Afghan women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution and domestic servitude in Pakistan, Iran, and India, and there are reports of women and girls from the Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Tajikistan, and China being forced into prostitution in Afghanistan. Labor recruiting agencies lure foreign workers to Afghanistan, and traffickers lure Afghan villagers to Afghan cities or to India or Pakistan, and then sometimes subject them to forced labor or forced prostitution after their arrival.

As part of the U.S. government’s commitment, the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan, led by senior diplomats from the Department of State and USAID, meet on a regular basis with their Afghan counterparts, including a meeting earlier this week in Kabul.

U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens and USAID representatives met with the deputy Minister of Justice and representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Labor and Social Affairs, and Women’s Affairs.  The meeting focused on efforts to draft a National Action Plan, and how USAID and the embassy can assist in this important endeavor to help protect the rights of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable citizens.

During the meeting, Mohammed Ayoob Erfani, the Director General for International Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Afghan government is committed to progress in the area of combating trafficking in persons, and that he will commit resources to make sure that progress continues on this issue. The joint U.S.-Afghan efforts will focus on undertaking a national campaign designed to bring greater public awareness to this issue, and outreach efforts will be focused on educating civilians. 

16 Day Challenge: Let’s Eliminate Gender Violence

Carla Koppell serves as Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID

Today we launch our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

One young rape survivor in a camp for the internally displaced in Goma, a city in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one of the strongest people I have met since joining USAID as Senior Coordinator. She survived a vicious gang rape while collecting fuelwood in the surrounding forest. She only saw a doctor after receiving contributions to pay for treatment from fellow impoverished camp residents. She survives by selling dung briquettes—though she earns less than she did from fuelwood— because she is too afraid for her safety to go back to the forest for wood. She is still recovering.

Yet, she came to tell her painful story to me and other strangers. Why? Because she hopes that by talking with us, others might be kept safe. She is a victim and leader at the same time; she represents and speaks for millions of women and girls around the world who face abuse, discrimination and violence when they are beaten, married as children, circumcised, attacked with acid, or sold like cattle.

This week we launch the 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Gender Violence, which runs from November 25 to December 10. We must use this time to recognize the magnitude of the challenge. In the DRC, for example, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health estimates that some 1,150 women are raped every day. And one USAID-supported study found that Bangladesh sacrifices over 2 percent of GDP annually as a result of gender-based violence (GBV). The health care and legal costs, lost income and lost productivity are enormous. Yet even as we contemplate the numbers, we must not forget the individuals, the victims of violence, as well as the incredible male and female leaders—some of whom are survivors—that lead the campaign to end the epidemic.

USAID has greatly increased our focus to combating gender-based violence. This need is front and center in the Agency’s new Gender Equality and Female Empowerment policy (PDF). Additionally this past summer, the United States released its first ever Strategy for Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence Globally (PDF), which incorporates action plans for our Agency as well as the State Department. USAID followed-up with a vision for ending child marriage and meeting the needs of married youth. At the same time, the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and accompanying USAID implementation plan include a more extensive focus on sexual violence in situations of state fragility triggered by conflict, humanitarian disaster, or political transition. USAID now truly has a comprehensive strategic vision and frame for addressing the many forms of GBV around the world.

While I am proud of the commitment implicit in the new policy frame, I am even more gratified to see expanded efforts on the ground. For example, a new commitment to combat child marriage was announced by our mission in Bangladesh in October; our mission in Pakistan incorporates GBV prevention efforts into education programs; our programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo have ramped up their focus on GBV prevention as part of several sector efforts; and in Afghanistan, USAID is focused on consolidating gains for women’s rights and opportunity. These efforts are emblematic of how our commitment to end gender violence is translating into action.

As our policies and strategies gain traction and implementation gains speed, we recognize a collective responsibility to ensure our mission translates into results around the world. I recognize a personal obligation to make sure that one woman’s story in the DRC was not told in vain.

Leading the Way in Enterprise Development

Eric Postel is the Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Education and Environment.

Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to supporting U.S. small businesses, is a great opportunity to highlight the importance of women-owned and managed small businesses around the world. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, women-owned businesses in the United States contribute nearly $3 trillion to the economy annually, and have been growing at more than twice the rate of businesses owned by men. According to the International Financial Corporation, in emerging markets, women own or co-own about one-third of formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs), but most of these tend to be smaller than men-owned businesses.

At USAID, we are committed to supporting women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries, where it can raise incomes while reducing poverty and inequality, for the women, their families, their employees, and their employees’ families. Women tend to spend more of their earned income than men on the health and education of their families. National economies can’t afford to waste the talents of half the population.

Acknowledging this, USAID recently launched the Women’s Leadership in Small and Medium Enterprises (WLSME) initiative in partnership with the World Bank, and the non-governmental organizations ACDI/VOCA, CARE, and Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE). The aim of USAID’s $8.5-million investment in these and related partnerships is to find innovative ways to remove some of the barriers to women owning and managing small and medium enterprises.

Svetkul Akmatova (center, in the traditional blue Kyrgyz jacket) and members of her organization, Altyn Kol Women's Handicraft Cooperative, busily prepare wool for their handmade carpets. Photo Credit: B. Jakypova, American Council for International Education

What are some of these barriers that stop women in the developing world from getting beyond a one-woman enterprise? They include: access to finance; legal and regulatory constraints; cultural practices; and women’s tolerance for risk in managing their businesses. Two important constraints that WLSME will focus on are: women’s access to and role in business information and knowledge networks; and women’s business and technical skills, education and experience.

ACDI/VOCA will use technical assistance and support for business associations to improve women’s access to larger loans in Kyrgyzstan. CARE will support the growth of women’s enterprises within the cashew value chain in India through training, networking and building family support. GRADE will compare the effectiveness of mentoring and peer networks for women looking to grow their businesses into SMEs.

In keeping with USAID’s learning agenda, these partnerships will be evaluated to tell us what worked and why, helping to improve future efforts to place women in leadership roles in enterprise development, economic growth and poverty reduction around the world.

Visit WLSME‘s website to learn more about the initiative, our partnerships in India, Kyrgyzstan and Peru, or to share your organization’s lessons learned.

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