USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Why We’re Celebrating Global Female Condom Day

Today is the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are celebrating. They’re also speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked.

An educator demonstrates female condoms with students from the University of Yaoundé, Cameroun. Photo Credit: Association Camerounaise pour le Marketing Social (ACMS).

Those of us working on the frontlines of reproductive health are excited about the potential of this powerful tool for protection. Female condoms offer women—and men—dual protection from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. Female condoms are easy to use and can afford women greater control over safe sex negotiation – an especially important benefit in countries where women’s risk of contracting HIV is high. Some have argued that female condoms are too expensive, but mathematical modeling shows they can be a cost-effective public health intervention when offered as part of a well-planned STI and pregnancy prevention program.

But even with all of these advantages, female condoms don’t get the attention they deserve. The first female condom was introduced two decades ago. Yet today, awareness and availability remains too low in too many places, including areas with high rates of HIV infection and unmet need for family planning.

We have a technology available right now that gives women the power to save and enhance their own lives. Will we let two more decades pass before making it fully available to them?

Global Female Condom Day gives us the chance to publicly renew our commitment to achieving universal access to female condoms. The good news is that we are making progress toward this goal:

  • Female condom distribution is on the rise. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), global distribution of female condoms tripled from 2005 to 2009.
  • Female condom commodity and program support has been expanding, thanks to the leadership of international donors including UNFPA and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Meanwhile, new initiatives including the Universal Access to Female Condoms Joint Programme (UAFC) are bringing large-scale female condom programming to more countries.
  • Female condoms are getting a boost from new advocacy initiatives. UAFC, the Center for Health and Gender Equity’s (CHANGE) Prevention Now! Campaign, and the recently launched US National Female Condom Coalition are galvanizing female condom supporters in theUnited States and worldwide to advocate for increased access.
  • New types of female condoms are becoming available, expanding options for dual protection.

Different types of female condoms were on display at the Condomize! booth at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: Kimberly Whipkey, PATH

One new type of female condom is the Woman’s Condom, developed in part with funding from PEPFAR through USAID. PATH, CONRAD, and our research partners in several countries developed the Woman’s Condom using feedback from women and their partners. Their input helped us design a female condom that’s easy to insert, secure during use, and comfortable for both partners. Through our Protection Options for Women Product Development Partnership, we are now working to bring the Woman’s Condom to market inChina and sub-SaharanAfrica.

So, let’s celebrate these encouraging advances on this first Global Female Condom Day. And, let’s also renew our efforts to make sure that women everywhere have access to the tool we’re toasting.

Patricia S. Coffey leads the  Maternal, Neonatal, and Reproductive Health Technologies Group at PATH.

Impact on the Ground – Implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security

Less than a year ago, President Obama announced a National Action Plan (NAP) to implement commitments on Women, Peace and Security.  It was a historic moment and the product of a tremendous collaboration between the White House, USAID, the Departments of State and Defense, other agencies, and civil society groups at home and abroad.  It was also the first step.

Immediately following this announcement, the real work began as each agency began creating an implementation plan, a roadmap to how we would make these commitments real.  Last week, I was thrilled to participate in the release of USAID’s Implementation Plan for the NAP.  This plan was crafted to provide guidance on how to both address the needs of women and provide them with the tools to empower themselves to be forceful change agents within their communities.

This critical step could not come soon enough.  For advocates focused on the empowerment and protection of women in conflict situations, these are heady times.  From graphic images of women being raped in the eastern Congo to young girls in Afghanistan having acid thrown in their faces for daring to return to school, the past few years have seen a growing international awareness of the tragic personal costs women pay for our failure to protect them in the context of armed conflict. We also now know the tremendous collective costs we pay as a global community for failing to draw on women’s talents for making and building peace, pursuing development, and reconstructing post-conflict societies.

But we are responding.  Through this Implementation Plan, we are working to ensure that we have impact on the ground by integrating and institutionalizing a gender-focused approach to peace and security; promoting women’s participation in peace processes and decision making; strengthening protection of women and children from hard, discrimination and abuse; and promoting women’s roles in conflict prevention.

Perhaps the most exciting about this plan is that it’s packed with programs that will have an impact on the ground.  For example, USAID will support new programs in the Philippines, Nepal, Yemen and elsewhere to strengthen women’s participation in peace-building and political processes. USAID will also establish a fund to catalyze implementation of the NAP through innovative activities that advance women, peace, and security in priority countries.

That said, we know the success of our efforts will not be measured by the policies we adopt, the resolutions and legislations we pass, the publicity we generate, or even the money we spend.  It will be measured by the degree to which we protect the well-being of women and girls faced with the horrors of war, empower them to play their rightful role in peace process and post-conflict reconstruction, hold government security forces and warlords alike accountable for acts of abuse and sexual violence, build strong civil society networks of women and for women, and end the stigma of victimization that confronts women leaders around the world.

USAID Women, Peace and Security Implementation Plan

As USAID releases its plan for implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (NAP), I cannot help but reflect on how important better involving women in peace processes will be to US foreign policy.

It was clear during my recent trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan that women in both countries deserve more influence. Not only would women benefit, their countries would. In Pakistan, female parliamentarians, noted to be among the most effective legislators, have passed critical laws combatting gender-based violence; they emphasized to me the need for investments in long-term development, a broader perspective than the one commonly heard from others in the country. Afghan women members of the National Peace Council abbreviated my conversation with them to meet with a large group of people who had arrived in Kabul after a many hour journey. The female council members were providing the critical link between ordinary citizens and officials in government, helping the population feel connected and invested in peace and stability.

The USAID plan for advancing the role of women in peace building is a small but important step towards ensuring women leaders their proper influence. I was honored to have been involved in its creation, particularly because I was invited to help with drafting after advocating from civil society for the development of a US NAP. It is a rare honor to advocate for change from outside government, only to be invited inside to help make that change.

Developing the plan involved some 150 USAID professionals around the world working in every sector. A great professional pleasure for me was leading global conference calls to discuss the USAID plan with experts in the Philippines, Russia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Colombia, Angola, Nepal as well as a dozen other countries around the world. The energy and enthusiasm exhibited during those conversations was palpable.

The USAID plan will only be as valuable as the action it prompts and the progress that results. That being said, I know women’s inclusion already is more central to USAID planning and execution of projects that advance global peace, prosperity and stability.”

 

Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence Globally

In Angola, where I was Ambassador from 1995-1998, I witnessed firsthand the broad effects gender-based violence can have on a society.  On the heels of the civil war there, demobilized soldiers were returning to their villages.  Often, what should have been happy homecomings were turning into just the opposite.   Out of place in societies that had learned to live without them in decades of absence, the former soldiers’ alienation produced a rash of domestic violence and rape. It was as if the end of the civil war produced an even more pernicious violence against women.

The problem of gender-based violence is not unique to post-conflict situations.  In fact, it’s a global pandemic that cuts across ethnicity, race, culture, class, religion, and educational level. One in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

Women and girls are disproportionally affected by gender-based violence.  But men and boys can also be affected; and, in addition, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face heightened risk of experiencing violence, including sexual violence.

President Obama recognizes the importance of addressing issues related to gender-based violence.

On Friday, I had the privilege to participate in a White House event to release the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally.  The Strategy is an interagency response to a Congressional request, led by USAID and the U.S. Department of State.

The strategy  establishes a government-wide approach that identifies, coordinates, integrates, and leverages current efforts and resources. It sets concrete goals and actions to be implemented and monitored by Federal Agencies.   In addition, President Obama issued an Executive Order that creates an interagency working group co-chaired by the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the USAID and directs departments and agencies to implement the new United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally.

Gender-based violence undermines not only the safety, dignity, overall health status, and human rights of the millions of individuals who experience it, but also the public health, economic stability, and security of nations.

I look forward to helping our Missions and operating units in Washington translate the strategy into meaningful action for millions of men, women, and children worldwide. In order to combat gender-based violence, we must redouble our efforts to change attitudes and behaviors by engaging men and boys and empowering women and girls.  Realizing this vision requires the collective efforts of all.  USAID is committed to working in collaboration with other USG agencies, NGOs, faith based communities, private sector companies, and most importantly, women and men around the world impacted by gender-based violence.

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To learn more about the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, please visit http://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment.

Progress Toward a World Without Violence Against Women and Girls

Originally posted to the White House Blog

Eqlima is a young girl from Afghanistan. She lived with an abusive father and stepmother who often beat her. They even set her hair on fire. She escaped to a U.S. State Department-supported women’s shelter. The staff helped move her away from her father and stepmother, and now is helping her move in with her older brother.

Stories like these are all too common. From beatings, to “honor” killings, to sexual violence as a tactic of war, from intimate partner violence to human trafficking– the forms of gender-based violence are varied, but their scope, and their impact are devastating.  Globally, an estimated one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

When women and girls are denied the chance to fully contribute to society because of the violence or fear they face, our entire world suffers.  That’s why President Obama has made the treatment of women an essential part of our global vision for democracy and human rights. A key part of that effort is stopping violence against women and girls.

Last December, President Obama released the first ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and signed an Executive Order directing the Plan’s implementation.  This action signaled a key commitment of the Obama Administration: to put gender equality and the advancement of women and girls at the forefront of our foreign policy.

Today, I am proud to announce that the President has taken another important step to prioritize and protect the rights of women and girls. President Obama issued an Executive Order on Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls Globally.   The Executive Order requires enhanced coordination of the United States’ efforts through the creation of an interagency working group, co-chaired by Secretary of State Clinton and USAID Administrator Shah, designed to leverage our country’s tremendous expertise and capacity to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally as well as establish a coordinated, government-wide approach to address this terrible reality.

The Executive Order directs Federal agencies to implement a new strategy, developed by USAID and the State Department.  The  four objectives of the strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally are to:  (1) increase coordination of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts among United States Government agencies and with other stakeholders; (2) enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work; (3) improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention,  and response efforts; and (4) enhance and expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence.

The Executive Order also requires that the work is evaluated in line with the Administration’s focus on data collection and research.  Recognizing that this is a long-term commitment, the Executive Order directs the interagency working group to update or revise the strategy after three years.  You can read more about the Executive Order here.

Our commitment to ending violence against women and girls is both a foreign policy priority and a domestic policy priority.  The United States has made tremendous progress on violence against women and girls domestically since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994.  Since the passage of the Act, annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent.

As you all know, the Violence Against Women Act, something that should be above politics, is mired in just that on the Hill. The Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill three months ago. The House should take up the Senate bill so we can get this important bill to the President’s desk. Women should not have to wait a day longer.  As the Vice President has said, Congress should act now to protect women.

The Obama Administration is doing its part in the effort to end violence against women and girls In 2010, President Obama announced unprecedented coordination across Federal agencies to continue our  progress in reducing violence against women in the United States, and Vice President Biden has led the Administration’s efforts to reach teens and young women who are most at risk of dating violence and sexual assault.  Most recently, President Obama and Vice President Biden appeared with star athletes in a public service announcement speaking out against violence and launched our 1 is 2 Many Campaign.

Globally, the President’s commitment is embodied throughout the Administration’s foreign policy efforts, from the President’s National Security Strategy; to the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development; to the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. Ultimately, the President and his administration’s goal is a world free from violence against women and girls.

But we realize that government alone cannot end this problem. That’s why the Executive Order directs agencies to deepen their engagement with a broader set of stakeholders, including civil society, grassroots, and international organizations, all of which are a vital part of the effort to end violence against women and girls.

Today’s Executive Order and new strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally provide a blueprint to guide our next steps in working towards this goal.

Together, we can help protect more women and girls like Eqlima from senseless violence, and give them the opportunity to advance and thrive, living without fear.

Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama.

SMARTgirl Empowers Women in Cambodia

Originally posted to the FHI360 blog.  

Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, joined Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Biswal for a special visit to the SMARTgirl project in Cambodia, a USAID funded project led by FHI 360. SMARTgirl aims to prevent and mitigate the impact of HIV and improve the sexual and reproductive health of entertainment workers, many of whom are sex workers. There are an estimated 35,000 entertainment workers in Cambodia, working at night clubs, bars, massage parlors, karaoke clubs (KTV), restaurants, beer gardens, as well as on the street. Prevalence of HIV is as high as 14 percent, among some groups of entertainment workers.

SMARTgirl stands apart from other programming among entertainment workers in Cambodia because of its positive, non-stigmatizing approach. It combines evidence-based interventions with the strong SMARTgirl brand, which empowers women to protect their health and well-being. SMARTgirl reaches nearly half of all EWs in Cambodia in their workplace, because it treats them respectfully, recognizes what is important to them and improves health-seeking behavior by raising self-esteem.

SMARTgirl is one of a number of projects that validates what the international community and national leaders have been emphasizing for more than a decade— that empowering women and girls are vital components of human development. Since coming into office, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as well as Ambassador Verveer, have continually underscored the importance of integrating these issues into Department of State foreign policy objectives.

During Secretary Clinton’s recent ASEAN development meeting in Phnom Penh, she was influential in integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment into the Lower Mekong Initiative agenda. In a statement, she emphasized the importance of reproductive rights for achieving gender equality; an area that the innovative FHI 360 SMARTgirl program has been integrating into its HIV mitigation program:

“Reproductive rights are among the most basic of human rights. … Millions of women and young people in developing countries don’t have access to information to plan their family. They don’t have health services and modern methods of contraception. This is not only a violation of their right…it’s also a question of equity as women everywhere should have the same ability to determine this fundamental part of their lives.”

As this short video on SMARTgirl reveals, the women in the program feel inspired, often for the first time. They see themselves as “smart girls”– women who are empowered to change their lives, and educate others about health issues and rights.

Says Kheng, “Before I became a SMARTgirl leader, I used to face issues on my own, … but we have the right to help each other and we have to participate in the community where we live.”

From Evidence to Action: What Works for Women and Girls

In the coming days, thousands of political leaders, public health experts, activists, people living with HIV and other delegates from around the world will gather in Washington D.C. to debate, discuss, reflect upon, and celebrate the achievements that have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

But in Lesotho, and other southern African countries, the epidemic remains a painful reality.

During my recent trip to the Mountain Kingdom, a tiny country surrounded on all sides by South Africa, conversations about the epidemic inevitably turned to the fact that women and girls are a much greater risk for HIV due to a combination of biological, structural, and cultural conditions. In many ways, Lesotho clearly illustrates the nature of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, where 60% of those living with HIV are women. In the nine countries in southern Africa most affected by HIV, prevalence among young women aged 15-24 years is on average about three times higher than among men of the same age.

In Lesotho, where women and girls have much higher rates HIV than men, our U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Country Team and implementing partners are acutely aware of the realities facing women and girls and are continuously seeking ways to ensure that programs and services use the most up-to-date evidence to meet their needs.

Fortunately, the evidence of what works for women and girls is just a click away.

What Works for Women and Girls: Evidence for HIV/AIDS Interventions

First launched at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna in 2010, this groundbreaking resource is a comprehensive website documenting the evidence for effective HIV interventions. Spanning more than 2,000 articles and reports with data from more than 90 countries, What Works for Women and Girls contains—in one centralized, searchable location—the evidence of successful gender-specific programming from global programs and studies, with a focus on the Global South.

Having the evidence of what works is crucial for organizations working on the front line of the HIV/AIDS response. In Kenya, for example, the evidence has been essential for crafting national policies on gender-based violence and HIV prevention for women.

From Evidence to Action

As we celebrate the rich evidence base in What Works for Women and Girls, we must now focus on what this means for the implementation and scaling up of the HIV/AIDS response. How can we ensure that the evidence is applied correctly and consistently to ensure quality programs at scale? Are our programs and services addressing the underlying gender inequities that not only put women and girls at risk for HIV, but men and boys too? How will we use the evidence to inform sound public health policies and priorities?

Most importantly, how can we ensure that the available evidence helps us to maximize the benefits so that we can, finally, turn the tide against HIV/AIDS?

For the women and girls of Lesotho, and across the southern Africa, there is not a moment to lose.

Picture of the Week

Health workers practicing Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) techniques. HBB is an evidence-based educational program to teach neonatal resuscitation techniques in resource-limited areas. Since September 2010, the USAID-funded Health Care Improvement project has trained 691 providers in 9 out of 34 provinces on essential newborn care and resuscitation using the HBB curriculum. Implementing Partner: Health Care Improvement (HCI) Project Photo Credit: USAID/Afghanistan

 

 

Title IX creates Opportunities for Women in Sports and Development

Susan Reichle is the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning. Credit: USAID

When Title IX was enacted, I was just six years old and had no idea how this one piece of legislation ensuring equal rights for women in sport and education would impact me and millions of girls over the next four decades.

Having equal access to participate in athletics did far more than just pay my way through college on a field hockey/lacrosse scholarship. More importantly, sports taught me and millions of girls critical life skills such as leadership, teamwork and perseverance. Sports empowered my generation to believe we could do anything if we just worked hard enough. No longer were we limited to playing only half court basketball, the barrier that my grandmother had faced because girls were still viewed as the weaker sex.

Because of Title IX and Billy Jean King’s iconic victory over Bobby Riggs in 1973, my generation was raised to believe we were just as strong as men and deserved the same rights to the playing field. When our team was given access to the turf only at 5 a.m. so that the boy’s football team could practice during prime hours, our coaches began to push back.

Eventually we were taught to demand the same opportunities and equal access as men, and this is reflected today in our drive to compete with men in the workforce, seeking to rise to the highest levels in the workforce.

Has the empowerment that came with Title IX been an easy road for women?

No, there is still debate as to whether women and girls can really “have it all” and achieve full equality. Clearly, there is still work to be done. But as I travel around the world, I see the impact when women and girls are not provided equal rights. When a country leaves 50 percent of its population behind – whether it’s denying access to education, sports or healthcare – development suffers.

At USAID, we aim to ensure women are more often seated at the decision-making table to realize their rights and to influence outcomes at all levels. The evidence is clear: investment in women and girls delivers a disproportionate dividend in a country’s development.

As many have said during this 40th anniversary, Title IX was more about social change than sports.   But sports taught us the importance of competing and never taking ourselves out of the game. Sports also taught us that while we may be able to go faster alone, teamwork is the key to winning.

As we celebrate all that has been accomplished these past 40 years, I am reminded of the words of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, member of the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and three-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field: “Girls playing sports is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.”

Video of the Week: Empowering Maasai Women in Tanzania

USAID is helping Maasai women in Tanzania gain literacy and numeracy skills so that they can obtain land rights, start businesses, and become involved in local government. By 2011, more than 2,000 women had completed the program. Their new communication skills allow them to conduct business activities more easily and empower them to assert their rights. For the first time in their lives, these women are earning incomes independently through small enterprises and farming. One graduate of the program says, “It has helped me to mobilize other women because the program saw potential in us.”

 

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