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Archives for Women

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.

Empowering Women – In Kosovo and Beyond

Early this month, we had the great pleasure of participating in the International Women’s Summit – Partnership for Change: Empowering Women­ – hosted by President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo with support from USAID and assistance from the National Democratic Institute. The event brought together 200 prominent men and women from all sectors and from all around the globe to engage in a robust and inclusive dialogue about women’s economic empowerment, political participation, access to resources, and security.

The caliber, talent, and enthusiasm that the event attracted are a testament to the importance of gender equality and empowerment. The excitement to work together to tackle the issues on the table was palpable. Government officials, political leaders, business women, entrepreneurs, media representatives, and civil society actors representing a full spectrum of ethnicities, ages, and cultures came together to discuss concrete solutions and models from around the world to improve the standing of women and girls economically, politically, and socially.

We, with all of the participants, agreed to a set of Pristina Principles that set out clear actions to address barriers to the empowerment of women. Please join us in supporting these goals or sharing your own ideas on Facebook or Twitter (#KosovoWomensSummit or #PristinaPrinciples).

And so we, together with women and men from around the world, will work to ensure that all women have economic opportunity, the opportunity to participate in political decision-making, and access to justice and security.

Paige Alexander is the USAID Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia. Carla Koppell is the USAID Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality. Maureen A. Shauket is the USAID/Kosovo Mission Director.

Disaster Risk Reduction for a More Resilient World

I’m just back from Sendai, the largest city in Japan’s tsunami-devastated Tohoku region, where I participated in the World Bank and Government of Japan’s Sendai Dialogue. People gathered from around the world to highlight the need for countries to understand, prevent, and prepare for the inevitable risks of natural disasters. Few nations could have withstood the fierceness of the 9.0 earthquake followed by a towering tsunami as well as Japan with its culture of preparedness. In countries where development gains are still fragile and precious, the ability to manage disasters is especially crucial for sustaining development.

On the International Day for Disaster Reduction, it is vital to remember that around the world, millions of people continue to suffer from earthquakes, storms, tsunamis and prolonged droughts that result in a tragic loss of life and slowed economic growth. Today we also celebrate the important progress of the last decade, with improved early warning systems, better community preparedness and the improved ability of countries to manage an effective response when disaster hits.

USAID has been a leader in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programming for decades, pioneering approaches to help countries and regions confront a range of these threats. But even as national response capabilities have improved in many areas, disasters and the shocks that catalyze them are coming more frequently and intensely as a result of climate change.

Moreover, in areas with chronic poverty and persistent vulnerabilities, recurring shocks continue to drive the same populations into crisis year after year. So now, even as we save lives, USAID is working to build resilience to recurrent crisis by better connecting our humanitarian assistance with our development programs and more closely coordinating with international development partners in support of country-led plans. By limiting the impacts of hazards, DRR efforts are a vital part of building resilience and helping families and communities bounce back.

This year, together with the international community, we are particularly mindful of the key role women and girls play in disaster risk reduction. In many parts of the world, it is women who most often feed their families, make sure they have water to drink, and make fast decisions when crisis strikes that can make the difference between life and death for their children.

Last week in Japan, one of the hard-learned lessons shared by the Japanese was the importance of including women and girls in planning and preparedness efforts. Two high school girls, Rina and Risa, shared with us their experiences after the earthquake and tsunami, as they helped their families escape and then to rebuild. Above all, they noted, it was a close-knit community of friends and neighbors that sustained them in a difficult time of chaos.

Today and every day, these are the lessons the international community must continue to heed and apply as part of our continued commitment to a more secure world. When it comes to disasters and development, the stakes are just too great.

Women and Girls Reduce Disaster Risk Every Day

October 13 marks the International Day for Disaster Reduction. On this day, we at USAID pause to reflect on everything done to prevent or reduce the damage caused by natural hazards like earthquakes, floods, droughts, and storms. This year, together with the international community, we pay extra attention to the role played by women and girls around the world to keep their loved ones safe from harm, not just today or tomorrow, but every day.

Women are often the ones in charge of safety both in the home and in the community. Whether making sure food and water are safe to consume, arranging the house so that dangerous items are out of reach or secured, or evacuating their families in advance of a powerful storm, women make critical decisions every day that help reduce disaster risk.

Some of this activity may go overlooked, but upon closer examination, women and girls prove themselves to be real-life action heroes all year round. Women are first responders, rendering first aid or making the decision to call for extra help. They are also teachers, sharing their knowledge with friends, neighbors, family members, and colleagues. No matter the risk, women are experts at building resilience within their communities, acting well in advance of an event and always thinking about long-term survival needs. They save money and other resources for the unforeseen challenges, whether prompted by an unpredictable earthquake or the slow onset of drought.

Here at USAID, we work hard to help ensure that women and girls are equals with men with respect to disaster risk reduction. Take for example Denelia Davis, Donnesha Hemmings, and Joy Stevens, active members in the USAID-supported St. Patrick’s Rangers youth organization in Kingston, Jamaica. Not only are they leaders among their peers, they are leaders in the community. On any given day you might find them promoting the cause of disaster risk reduction on the local radio, coordinating neighborhood clean-up campaigns to prevent flooding, or working alongside their male counterparts to repair and reinforce their elderly neighbors’ homes ahead of hurricane season.

Thousands of miles away in Niger lives Fati, a charismatic mother who embodies the spirit of hard-working women everywhere. She is determined to restore her community’s grazing lands, which have been decimated by repeated droughts, using simple yet innovative techniques to conserve water and re-grow grasses for her herds. She is also teaching her children how to care for the land so that her farm and community might thrive again.

Despite all of the instances of progress, however, the fact remains that women are still more frequently affected by natural disasters than are men. Why is this? Simply put, vulnerability and poverty are closely aligned with gender quality, and gender equality is still not a reality in many places. This is why USAID’s efforts to empower women and girls to participate in policy and project planning, design, and implementation are vital.

In southern Africa, one case in point involves USAID’s partnership with CARE and the African Centre for Disaster Studies at North-West University to empower teenage girls in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Lesotho. The project, aptly named Girls in Risk Reduction Leadership or GIRRL, helps adolescent girls identify the natural hazards and socioeconomic risks they face and then design ways to mitigate them. The girls learn first aid, fire safety, and effective communication skills while conducting risk assessments of their communities and helping to prepare for likely disaster events.

USAID is heartened by the prospect of these projects and will continue to seek to strengthen the capacity of women and girls to participate fully in all aspects of disaster risk reduction.

Want to Change the World? Invest in a Girl

Today, there are 850 million girls in the world.  Want to change the world?  Invest in a girl.  We know that investing in girls is not just the right thing to do, it’s also smart economics.  Girls who are more educated earn more income, have greater access to family health information and services, are more likely to delay early marriage and childbirth, and have healthier babies.  Research shows the benefits of an educated and empowered girl—not only for herself, but her family and community.

For instance, one extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent; an extra year of secondary school by 15 to 25 percent.  These gains can have incredible multiplying affects since women tend to spend more of their income on goods and services that benefit their families.

Yet, girls face many obstacles. 62 million primary school age girls are not in school.  Girls spend more time than boys on unpaid work and care for younger siblings, and that difference is substantial for those who are not enrolled in school.  Also, perhaps no other segment of society globally faces as much exploitation and injustice than girls.

That’s why we’re thrilled that last December, the United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th the International Day of the Girl to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.   Today is an exciting opportunity to educate others about the status of girls and the positive results that can be obtained by investing in them.  At USAID, we’re taking this opportunity to refine our efforts to tackle child marriage and promote secondary education to ensure that girls are not robbed of their human rights and can live to their full potential.

There are more than 60 million child brides worldwide.  Millions of young women around the world are married before the age of 18, one girl in seven in developing countries marries before the age of 15. Many marry against their will and in violation of international laws and conventions on women’s rights.

These young brides often are socially isolated and powerless in the relationship.  They have limited education and economic opportunities, and they are vulnerable to health complications that result from giving birth before their bodies are fully developed. One quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18 and complications from early and frequent childbearing is a leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19.

Today, we released Ending Child Marriage and Serving the Needs of Married Youth: The USAID Vision, which focuses on development efforts to combat child marriage in regions, countries, and communities.  We’re focusing on interventions to prevent and respond to child marriage where it’s most needed and most able to achieve results.  We’re also tackling child marriage on-the-ground, where it matters most.  In Bangladesh, we’re working with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to support a pilot program to test approaches to address child marriage, particularly efforts that promote community sensitization to this critical issue.

Also, recognizing that education can be the key to unlocking a girl’s potential, USAID and the Presidents’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are working together to ensure thousands of adolescent girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) make successful transitions to secondary school.  Only 11 percent of Congolese women over age 25 have a secondary education; with an emphasis on leadership training this program, Empowering Adolescent Girls to Lead through Education (EAGLE), will seek to raise girls’ enrollment by tackling many of the barriers keeping girls from continuing their post-primary education – including cost and school safety.

Girls should be engaged in society. They should have the opportunity for friendships and mentoring so that they can participate in the decision-making and be prepared to lead.  They should have access to education and health information and services.  Girls should be protected from sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. Their voices should be amplified and their active citizenship encouraged and supported for generations to come.

An investment in girls will pay dividends for generations to come. Let’s all keep that in mind as we celebrate the first-ever International Day of the Girl.

Video of the Week: mWomen Design Challenge

The GSMA mWomen Programme asks ‘What if we designed smartphones with the needs of resource-poor women in mind?’ and encourages innovators around the world to design an Android Launcher to do just that.

Visit the mWomen Design Challenge to learn more.

Ford Foundation Event Celebrates Premieres of Half the Sky and Women and Girls Lead Global

This post was originally featured on Beyond the Box

Amid the hubbub of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, some 250 distinguished guests crowded the towering atrium of the Ford Foundation on Monday evening, September 24th.  The occasion: to celebrate the impending Independent Lens broadcast of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide and mark the official launch of Women and Girls Lead Global, a new three-year, 30-film partnership to put media to work for change in nine countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Moving into the subterranean auditorium, the assembled were welcomed by Ford Foundation Vice President Darren Walker and Corporation for Public Broadcasting President and CEO Patricia Harrison, both of whom spoke passionately about the combined power of storytelling, philanthropy, and change agents to save lives and create a more just and equitable world.  NBC News correspondent Ann Curry took the stage—wearing a dress boldly embossed with the word “LOVE”—to moderate a packed program of rapid-fire panels and film clips, starting with a conversation between U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas, and Nicholas D. Kristof, co-author with Sheryl WuDunn of the best-selling book Half the Sky.

“As journalists, we cover planes that crash,” said Kristof.  “Not planes that take off.”  His comments set the tone for an evening focused on the possibility of progress and success in the face of steep odds, highlighting the State Department’s efforts to integrate gender across all aspects of its work and the Ford Foundation’s focus on solutions in addressing poverty and specific issues like child marriage.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke one-on-one with Curry, making the case for investing in women and girls not only as a moral prerogative but as a evidence-based approach to fighting poverty and strengthening national security.  He was joined by CARE President and CEO Helene Gayle and ITVS President and CEO Sally Fifer, who described the “wave after wave of stories about women and girls” that independent filmmakers, commissioning editors, and ITVS call panelists continued to surface over the last few years—including the four-hour documentary version of Half the Sky.  With Women and Girls Lead Global, Fifer announced, ITVS will now put these stories to work on the ground in countries like Bangladesh, Kenya and Peru over the next three years, collaborating with Ford, USAID, and CARE to connect television broadcasts and engagement to the existing work of NGOs.

Having drawn the big picture of the strategic forces at play in using media for change, the evening turned to the images, sounds, and characters of Half the Sky.  The crowd went still and silent before film clips of American celebrity activist Gabrielle Union, Somaliland hospital founder Edna Adan, and Amie Kandeh, a champion against sexual violence in Sierra Leone. The three featured women then joined Kristof and Curry on-stage, bringing the crowd to a standing ovation with their impassioned testimonies of great hope and strength in the face of evil, death, and misfortune. The first step, said Union, is “You have to give a damn.”  Knowledge is more powerful than advanced equipment, Edan said.

The program concluded with Ford Foundation’s Orlando Bagwell, director of the JustFilms initiative, demonstrating the Half the Sky games and transmedia strategies with Half the Sky filmmaker Maro Chermayeff and Asi Burak of Games for Change.  The featured games included a Half the Sky game for Facebook that marries gameplay with real-world donations to NGOs, along with a suite of mobile games designed for audiences in Africa and Asia focused on health and family planning.

The final word went to Bagwell, who returned the focus to the power of media to inspire change and action.  “This is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Bagwell, before the assembled leaders of NGOs, foundations, and media outlets returned to the Ford atrium to do just that.

Live at UNGA – Day Three

To see the online conversation at UNGA, visit USAID’s Storify Feed

Day three at UNGA included two marquee events spotlighting progress to date on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.  We also announced a new partnership to expand access to contraception for 27 million women and girls in low-income countries.

With only 15 months until the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) deadline, USAID partnered on an event with the UK Department for International Development for a second year to draw attention to the importance of the global community working together to reach the MDG targets by 2015.  The event brought to life the enormous development advancements made on the way to achieving the MDGs and featured innovators from across the development community sharing transformative programs and policies.  The world has met two MDG targets ahead of the 2015 deadline – poverty has been cut by 50 percent globally and the proportion of people with no safe drinking water has been cut in half.

That afternoon, Administrator Shah co-hosted with other G8 members the New Alliance: Progress and the Way Forward event.  President Obama announced the New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition earlier this year, in which G8 nations, African partner countries and private sector partners aim to help lift 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty in the next 10 years by supporting agricultural development. Initially launched in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania, at the event, representatives from the New Alliance, G8 countries and the private sector announced the expansion to other African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mozambique.

Finally, Administrator Shah took part in the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Prior to the meeting, Dr. Shah joined the Commission Co-Chairs, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, alongside former President Bill Clinton, to launch a new partnership to make a safe, effective, long-acting, reversible method of contraception available to more than 27 million women in the world’s poorest nations. Under the agreement, Bayer is reducing by more than half the current 18 USD price of its long-acting, reversible method of contraception, Jadelle, in return for a commitment to assure funding for at least 27 million contraceptive devices over the next six years.  Dr. Shah stated, “The US Agency for International Development is proud to have funded the development of this life-saving product. Today is a major step forward to making this product more accessible to millions of women, empowering them with the ability to make decisions about their health and family.”

As always, follow us live on Twitter to keep up with the latest developments!

Have a Coke and Some Life-Saving Medicine

Lifesaving medicines are frustratingly unavailable to millions of women and children each year. Frank Naqvi, Photoshare

When was the last time you heard a woman say, “I went to the hospital to have my baby, but they sent me to the drug shop down the street to buy supplies?” Or a health worker say, “I knew what medicine my patient needed, but I haven’t had that medicine for months?”

If you live in the U.S. or any other developed country, you’ve probably never heard this, or would think this woman and health worker were joking. But for women, families, and providers in developing countries, these stories and others are all too common…and it’s definitely not a joke.  As my colleague, Mary Ellen Stanton, eloquently captures in her post earlier this week on Saving Mothers, Giving Life, lifesaving medicines are frustratingly unavailable to millions of women and children each year.  It is unimaginable that simple and affordable medicines could save millions of lives, yet are still so far out of reach for millions.

The medicine oxytocin is needed to prevent and treat severe bleeding after childbirth. Oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc are needed to prevent deaths from childhood diarrhea.  And family planning commodities are needed to ensure women and their families can decide when or whether to have children – all key factors in maternal and child survival.

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on access to maternal health medicines or commodities. During this time, I’ve learned that the issues related to lack of availability, access, and demand for maternal, newborn, and child health and family planning commodities have many causes, including lack of manufacturers; lack of quality control at many points in the supply chain; providers are unfamiliar with or untrained in newer medicines or equipment; supplies don’t reach the “last mile” to remote health centers; and people don’t know that treatments are available.

But I’ve also learned that these are not insurmountable challenges. Commodities of various types do reach distant and hard-to-reach areas. One often cited example is Coca-Cola, a beverage enjoyed by millions every day, which is both affordable and available even in the most remote villages. You can actually get a Coke in remote Tshikaji, DRC!

And now, we are seeing renewed commitment among donors, country governments, and other stakeholders to make lifesaving health commodities accessible, affordable and available to millions of women, children and families around the world.

Today, the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children released 10 bold recommendations which, if achieved, will ensure women and children will have access to 13 life-saving commodities.

USAID’s long term, strategic vision looks to integrate these life-saving commodities as part of the next steps to other key efforts, like the Child Survival Call to Action and London Summit on Family Planning, in order to increase the speed at which we scale-up in host countries. It is important that we learn from our experiences and successes in getting vaccines and malaria, HIV/AIDS, and family planning commodities into the hands and homes of those most in need. Additionally, we need to integrate systems across commodities to better and more efficiently serve women and children everywhere, and scale up programs to have nation-wide impact.

Country leadership is also a vital component to successfully addressing many of the Commission’s recommendations.  Getting pallets of commodities in warehouses is just one step.  Medicines and drugs must reach people, and health care workers have to be present and skilled to administer them.

With our host country partners in the lead, we are working to strengthen supply chains for commodities, which include use of mHealth solutions; support local market shaping; improve the quality of medicines; and increase demand by mothers for necessary medicines.  This needs to happen if we are to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable women and children have the commodities they need.

These two themes, integration and country ownership, form the cornerstones of our work. My hope is that someday soon, I’ll walk past a market in a remote part of Africa with fully stocked shelves of Coke, and into a health clinic fully stocked with life-saving commodities and medicines.

Working Together to Save Moms & Kids in Afghanistan

A decade ago, Afghanistan’s health system collapsed, leaving crumbling and neglected infrastructure, widespread prevalence of malnutrition, infectious disease, and some of the highest maternal mortality rates the world had ever seen. Over the last decade, the Ministry of Public Health, in a strong partnership with the international community, has made major progress in improving the health of Afghan mothers and children. National programs to improve the quality of, and increase access to, basic health services and essential hospital services, along with programs to increase the number of trained female providers including midwives, and improved community-based healthcare, contributed to these significant achievements.

In Afghanistan, USAID is working with the Government to build capacity in its Ministry of Health, among midwives, and in local hospitals, and have helped to increase health coverage from eight percent to over 60 percent of the people over ten years.  This progress has helped the country realize an incredible drop in infant, child and maternal mortality rates, and the global community move the dial on Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

Watch Dr. Suraya Dalil, Minister of Public Health in Afghanistan, talk about this incredible milestone.

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