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Archives for Women

MAMA Bangladesh – Connecting Health Information and Services to Mothers Through Mobiles

Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Partnership Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

IDEA/Mobile Solutions is an office at USAID that champions the use of mobile technology for development issues. Mobile Solutions provides support to mobile technology initiatives implemented by USAID pillar bureaus, such as mAgriculture and mHealth. One of the most prominent mHealth initiatives, launched by Secretary Hillary Clinton on Mother’s Day last year, is the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).

MAMA is a Global Development Alliance founded by USAID and Johnson & Johnson, with support from the mHealth Alliance, United Nations Foundation and BabyCenter. In March, MAMA board representatives visited Bangladesh to meet with MAMA country partners and conduct field visits to meet pregnant women, new mothers and family members who have subscribed to the MAMA mobile phone service, which is called ‘Aponjon’ in Bangladesh. This blog post comes from MAMA Global Partnership Director, Kirsten Gagnaire, and is part of the “blog tour series” reporting on the site visits and experience in Bangladesh. Read how USAID is helping women connect to health services in the developing world.

In Bangladesh, as in so many low-income areas across the globe, pregnant women and new mothers don’t have access to timely, reliable and culturally relevant information about how to best care for themselves and their babies.  Although there has been some improvement over the past ten years, it remains a fact that death due to pregnancy, childbirth and infancy-related causes are high in Bangladesh. And these deaths are often preventable with basic knowledge and care.

A young mother in Bangladesh using a cell phone. Photo Credit: MAMA

The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) was created to provide new and expectant moms with vital stage-based information via mobile phones. Subscribers who register indicate their expected due date, or the birthday of their recently-born child, and receive weekly messages timed to the stage of pregnancy or the age of their newborn. MAMA’s first in-country program is an initiative catalyzed by USAID and local partner D.Net. Catalyzing the support of a public-private coalition in country, with strong support from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Health, MAMA Bangladesh has developed and piloted an mHealth service called Aponjon, the Bengali word for “trusted friend”. Aponjon works as a mobile-messaging based service, providing moms and the gatekeepers within their families (usually spouses, mothers, and mothers-in-law) with information about how to take care of themselves and their babies, and includes an entirely separate service for husbands that reinforces messages that their wives are receiving and includes information on how to best care for their loved ones during pregnancy and early childhood.

MAMA messages include information on self-care during and after pregnancy, as well as information on when to seek care and how to care for a newborn. MAMA Bangladesh recognizes the need for linking subscribers to local health services, and has  built strong relationships with local health providers.

“I can only visit my clients once each month,” one community health worker told us during a site visit. “But the mobile phone messages continue to provide information between visits; more information than I would be able to share during a single visit.”

The importance of the connection between information about health and information on where to seek assistance was highlighted during one of our site visits.  When asked what was the most important message they received, Shoma and Sale, new parents, beamed at their healthy baby and said that it was a message that discussed the signs of newborn respiratory illness.  They realized their baby was exhibiting the symptoms which required care, according to the message they received.  They were able to connect with their local clinic, where their baby was treated and recovered.

Messages to moms and their families are one of the first, and critically important, steps in educating people about their health, connecting them to care and changing behaviors. MAMA Bangladesh has registered 1,800 women in three districts thus far, and aims to launch nationwide later this year.

To learn more about MAMA, visit http://www.mobilemamaalliance.org/.

 

At USAID-Supported Conference, Yemen’s Transitional Prime Minister Endorses Leadership Quota for Women

Joan Parker is President and Chief Executive Officer of Counterpart International.

History happens faster than you expect and is usually part of a chain of events. Monday, March 19, in a filled-to-capacity ballroom in a hotel in Sana’a, Yemen, I witnessed an important link in that historical chain.

At the National Women’s Conference, co-sponsored by USAID, Yemen’s transitional Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Basindwa pledged his support for a top demand from USAID-supported women’s organizations—a quota requiring at least 30 percent of high-ranking posts be held by females.

“I truly believe that if women rule the country, that it would be peaceful and prosperous,” Basindwa said. “Yemeni women are important factors in our development, and Yemen will prosper only if women are fully involved.”

Basindwa also focused on the significance of the conference, which drew nearly 1,000 women (and a handful of men). “Today’s gathering represents an unprecedented moment in Yemeni history,” he said. “Currently, Yemen is working to build its future. There is a need to have this conference.”

“This is the Yemeni spring,” declared Yemen’s Human Rights Minister, Horia Mashur. “In this Yemeni spring, women are leaders.” Mashur recalled how women took to the streets a year earlier in uprisings that resulted in a presidential election on February 17, ushering in what is expected to be a new democratic era for Yemen.

“Discrimination has prevented women from achieving high posts in the government,” Mashur said. She is one of only three women who hold high-level national posts; there is one other woman in the Cabinet and one woman among the 301 elected legislators in Parliament.

USAID’s Responsive Governance Project, which Counterpart International is implementing, co-sponsored the conference along with Yemen’s Human Rights Ministry and the National Women’s Committee. The conference is a key step toward a soon-to-be-announced public policy dialogue among the government, civil society, and the private sector, which will include gender issues.

Conferees debated draft positions, including access to education and maternal health services, banning childhood marriage, and eliminating discriminatory practices. A final document is expected later in April. Elizabeth Richard, Chargés d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, delivered a speech with a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that tied the Yemeni spring to events in the rest of the world: “When women organize in large numbers, they galvanize opinion and help change the course of history,” said Richard.

In Sana’a, I could see and feel how they were rising to this unique moment in history.

* * *

Learn more about USAID’s Responsive Governance Project and find more information on women’s empowerment in Yemen in this short Counterpart International video.

Life Skills and Leadership Training Empower Tanzanian Girls

Margaret Melkiori, a Maasai girl from a rural village in Northern Tanzania, did not have a rosy future when she was born.  When her father discovered her mother was HIV-positive, he abandoned them both.

When Margaret was five, her mother died from AIDS. She was then reunited with her father, only to lose him five years later to AIDS as well. Life without parents was tough for Margaret, but joining Orkeeswa Secondary School and the Kisa Project, a USAID-funded project that provides mentoring and training for girls, helped to give Margaret real hope for her future.

The USAID-supported project matches secondary school girls in Tanzania with sponsors that help provide the girls with a mentor, life skills for personal empowerment and leadership training. The life skills and leadership training stretches over a two-year period, during which time the sponsored girls have access to computers and internet and have regular email exchanges with their sponsors. When the training ends, each scholar is expected to teach the lessons she learned to up to 20 girls in her home village.

USAID’s support is important in Tanzania, where 95 percent of girls do not complete secondary school. By providing young African women with schooling they might not otherwise receive, this type of program empowers them to become leaders and mentors in their own communities.

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How Cell Phones Are Empowering Women in the Developing World

This blog originally appeared on the Million Moms Challenge blog.

As a mom, you’re likely to already understand the usefulness of a cell phone – from the convenience of your partner letting you know they’ll be late for dinner to the peace of mind that comes from ensuring your kids are safe and easy to find. Whereas the cell phone is one of several pieces of technology in our lives in the U.S., for many in the developing world, such as in Africa or South Asia, the cell phone is the first and only communication tool, as there are rarely computers or landlines.  And the nearest hospitals, schools or banks are often hours if not days away, making the cell phone the primary way people in the developing world can easily access critical services.

USAID is helping Haiti increase financial inclusion through the advance of mobile money. Photo Credit: USAID

However, women – particularly those living on less than $2/day — are not benefiting from cell phone technology equally to men.  Our research found that a woman in a low- to middle-income country is 21% less likely to own a cell phone than a man. This cell phone gender gap represents at least 300 million women in the developing world without access to this potentially life-enhancing tool.

To address this gender gap, the GSMA, which represents the interests of the global cell phone industry, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and many others are working together through a public-private partnership.

As part of our work, we asked women who represented the cell phone gender gap – those who did not own a phone – how they felt a cell phone could benefit their lives.  80% reported it would help them be better connected to friends and family, 58% said it would be useful in an emergency, 40% said it would cut down on travel time, 18% said it would help them with their businesses and 15% believed it would help them feel secure.

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U.S. – Afghan Women’s Council – Celebrating 10 Years of Progress

This week we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the U.S. – Afghan Women’s Council (USAWC). Created during the Bush Administration, the Council has stimulated an extraordinary array of public-private partnerships to elevate the status of Afghan women and girls. As I listened to commemorative remarks by Secretary Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush, I recalled my own visit to Afghanistan in December 2011.

While in Kabul, I had the enormous pleasure of speaking with a group of female students and recent university graduates currently working in USAID-supported internships. These women are among the first generation of girls who were educated in post-Taliban Afghanistan; many of them represented the astonishing 25% of Kabul University female graduates.

Similarly inspiring was my visit to the American University of Afghanistan (AUAf), where a beautiful campus hosts a student body that is approximately 22% female, enrolled in undergraduate programs such as Business, IT, and Political Science.  There’s also been a dramatic increase in female enrollment.  While the Senior class is only 6% female, the Freshman class is over half.  Even more heartening is the 36% of women now enrolled in a college prep program.

The American University of Afghanistan is one of many critical efforts USAID has proudly supported as a U.S. – Afghan Women’s Council partner. The Agency’s assistance has actually supported myriad efforts of the Council. In addition to AUAf, USAID has worked with the Ministry of Education, the International School of Kabul and the Women’s Teacher Training Institute. But support has not been limited to the education sector. In partnership with USAWC partners, USAID has developed and implemented programs for children, women’s leadership, women’s entrepreneurship and women’s health care.

The results of the U.S. Government’s support for Afghanistan’s women are visible and impressive. Programs like the REACH are offering midwifery training have helped lower child and maternal mortality rates by over 20%  in the last ten years; over 3000 midwives have been trained, about half of them with U.S. support. Additionally, I’m thrilled to say that today over three million Afghan girls are in school; almost no girls were being educated while the Taliban were in power.

The US-Afghan Women’s Council should be applauded. It has delivered concrete results for development while maintaining crucial support in the U.S. for the needs of Afghan women. The Council has stimulated a dazzling set of projects and programs involving an impressive set of partners from the private sector, foundations and NGOs committed to ensuring expanded opportunities for women in Afghanistan..   As we mark a decade of progress through the Council, I’m reminded of Secretary Clinton’s remarks on Wednesday when she said, “The women of Afghanistan are a valuable and irreplaceable resource, and their rights must be protected, and their opportunities for them to contribute must be preserved.”

Fighting for Justice in Colombia – One Courageous Woman’s Story

As a 26-year-old junior reporter with the Colombian newspaper El Espectador, Jineth Bedoya Lima sought out tough assignments, despite knowing the risks it could entail.  Through painstaking investigative journalism, she began to uncover an arms smuggling network between government security forces and imprisoned paramilitaries in the maximum security La Modelo prison in Bogotá.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right; and First Lady Michelle Obama, left; pose for a photo with 2012 International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Winner Jineth Bedoya Lima of Colombia, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2012. Photo Credit: State Department

On May 25, 2000, as she arrived at the prison for an interview with a key paramilitary member, unknown men grabbed Ms. Bedoya, threw her into a vehicle, drugged her, and drove her to a farm three hours south of Bogotá.  There, the men repeatedly raped her, bound her, and left her in a garbage dump at the side of a road, where a taxi driver discovered her later that evening.  As the men raped her, they told her, “Pay attention.  We are sending a message to the press in Colombia.”  Jineth, determined to press on despite this horrifying experience, was back at work two weeks later.

Even as Ms. Bedoya’s journalistic career has continued to flourish – she is now the sub-editor for the justice section of El Tiempo, the most widely read newspaper in Colombia – she has continued to push for justice in her own case, which had languished in the Colombian courts for more than 11 years.  Early last year, frustrated by the lack of progress, she joined forces with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press and began a campaign to pressure investigation and prosecution within the Colombian criminal justice system, draw more attention to sexual violence in Colombia, and bring her case before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.  Since then, USAID/Colombia has supported Ms. Bedoya, along with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press, in her campaign for justice for herself and women who are victims of sexual violence in Colombia.

Ms. Bedoya’s efforts are bearing fruit.  The Colombian Attorney General’s office committed itself last year to making progress in the case.  After 11 years of stagnation, the pace and nature of the investigation took a decided turn.  A newly-assigned prosecutor has developed solid leads and convincing testimony concerning the perpetrators, as well as the masterminds, of her abduction and rape; the case is now taking shape and moving forward.  Evidence and testimony have also been received in proceedings currently pending before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

In addition to a test of journalistic freedom, Jineth’s case has become a symbol for widespread impunity in the Colombian justice system for crimes of sexual violence against women.  Ms. Bedoya was already a recognized figure before she began to raise the profile of her own case.  She has served as the spokeswoman of Oxfam’s campaign – “Rape and Other Violence: Take My Body Out of the War” – and now appears in TV ads denouncing sexual violence as part of that campaign.  Ms. Bedoya hopes that her efforts to investigate and resolve her own case will help end the stigma and silence surrounding sexual violence.

Journalists play a critical role in Colombia uncovering scandals, reporting on abuses committed by all actors in the ongoing internal armed conflict, and documenting how the conflict affects civilians.  Ms. Bedoya has come to view herself as a standard-bearer for women as victims of sexual violence because of the voice that she has as a journalist; she speaks on behalf of so many women in Colombia who cannot speak out, or are not heard.

In November 2011, after Ms. Bedoya testified in Washington before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, The Atlantic ran an article recounting Ms. Bedoya’s compelling story, indicating that she may be the only journalist in the world publicly seeking justice as a victim of sexual assault resulting from her work.

Ms. Bedoya continues to receive threats from paramilitaries and guerrillas alike, evidence of her effectiveness in denouncing both.  Recognizing the risks Ms. Bedoya faces, the Colombian government has provided her with an armored vehicle and bodyguards under a national protection program.  That protection program began a decade ago with USAID support and is now almost entirely funded by the Colombian government.

On March 8, 2012, International Women’s Day, Ms. Bedoya was one of ten women to receive the prestigious International Women of Courage Award from Secretary of State Clinton for her unfailing courage, determination, and perseverance in fighting for justice and speaking out on behalf of victims of sexual violence in Colombia.  USAID has been proud to support Ms. Bedoya, along with the Colombian Foundation for Free Press, in her battle to seek justice for herself, for women, and for journalists.

A Deciding Moment for Women, Girls, and HIV

For the past two weeks, the buzz in Washington, DC and at the White House, is all about women and girls.

Yesterday, to mark National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the Administration announced a new initiative to help local communities and grassroots organizations fight HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Ambassador Eric Goosby, and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, highlighted how $4.65 million in small grants to civil society organizations will help promote gender equality and prevent HIV among women and girls in local communities.

With women accounting for over 64 percent of HIV-positive people worldwide, addressing the needs of women and girls living with HIV and AIDS worldwide is essential. Equally important is improving our response to gender-based violence, given that violence against women and girls increases their vulnerability to HIV.

Partnerships between US agencies, civil society, private corporations, and international institutions, are key to tackling these issues.

For its part, USAID is working to integrate gender-based violence into all of our HIV/AIDS programs. According to Carla Koppell, Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID, the intersection between domestic and international HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence programs is crucial.

USAID-supported projects like the Go Girls! Initiative, which worked in several countries, including Botswana, Malawi, and Mozambique, have made significant gains in this area. By helping to prevent HIV infection in adolescent girls through the development of youth-focused materials, Go Girls! made gender a central issue to tackling HIV/AIDS.

Private companies are also helping to fight gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. Yesterday we heard from the MAC AIDS Fund, one of several partners teaming up with national governments to fight poverty and promote HIV prevention around the world.

In South Africa, I’ve seen first-hand how successful these types of partnerships can be.

A recent collaboration between the South African government, USAID, MAC AIDS Fund, and other partners provides support for Thuthuzela Care Centres, which offer important counseling and health services for women and girls to combat sexual violence and HIV. More engagement from partners and private corporations will go a long way in turning the tide against both gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS.

While the events over the last few weeks have done much to highlight women and girls, our work to improve their wellbeing in the context of HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence is only just beginning. To truly tackle these issues, we must continue to work together with all of our partners to create a generation free of HIV and improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

Leveling the Playing Field

Mori Taheripour, Senior Advisor for Sport for Development Photo Credit: USAID

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, and four decades later conversations related to gender equity no longer focus on women just participating in sports but now increasingly are on the fact that sport in and of itself can achieve gender equity.

In communities throughout the world from Kenya to Egypt, Afghanistan to Guatemala and South Africa, the benefits of sport and physical activity have been well documented.  From the reduction of chronic disease, increased self-esteem and improved academic performance, participation in sport has become an important tool for girls’ development. As these opportunities increase, communities and societies will reap the benefit of these programs which promote leadership, teamwork, self-confidence, and perseverance.

Equal access to sport programs promotes a culture in which all girls and women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, helping to transform traditional and cultural attitudes about gender norms.  A great example of this is Skateistan, Afghanistan’s first co-educational skateboarding school.  In a country where three years ago girls were prevented from going to school, it is nothing short of amazing to witness young women, in their hijabs, skating half-pikes. I started thinking about the future of those young women and how the world has opened itself up to them through their participation in Skateistan where promises of hope and dreams of possibilities have replaced fear and oppression.

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In Her Own Words: A Malian entrepreneur is given the tools to grow

I have always believed that better tools give better results.

For many years, farmers in West Africa have been struggling with low yields because good-quality seeds are not easily available. Most people need a little convincing to upgrade, especially when they are used to a certain way of doing things. In Africa, the majority of farmers use seeds saved from the previous year’s harvest, which often results in lower yields and vulnerability to disease. They don’t have access to affordable improved seeds: new varieties that have greater yields and are pest- and disease-resistant. Also, using saved seeds costs nothing and farmers are wary of paying for something when they are not sure of the return they will get.

Women farmers give their feedback during a tasting of three varieties of sorghum and groundnut. Photo Credit: Alina Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

My dream was to involve our local farmers in producing adapted high-quality seeds that can bring much better returns to smallholder farmers. And this is what’s happening now, enabled by Mali’s revised seed laws and support from initiatives like Feed the Future. To my knowledge, I am the first woman in Mali to develop a successful seed business through producing and marketing high-quality seeds.

The right support makes all the difference. Since 2008, my company, Faso Kaba, and a Feed the Future-supported seed project in Mali have been promoting improved seeds together on demonstration plots using seeds produced by four seed farmer cooperatives trained by the project. The seeds are then sold at Faso Kaba stores. This year, the West Africa Finance Fund (supported by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) enabled me to invest in a seed cleaning and packaging assembly line to ensure quality standards and facilitate packing. In return, we will clean, at reduced costs, the seeds produced by the seed farmer partners involved in the project.

The Feed the Future seed project has also helped me grow and develop Faso Kaba through business management training and international seed industry best practices. I have just returned from a visit to the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India where I discussed the possibility of creating a seed venture incubator in Mali. I want Faso Kaba to be able to train Malian farmers to become local seed entrepreneurs producing improved varieties. They could then supply the seeds to farmers in their district, helping build local seed industries. Faso Kaba would ensure the supply of improved varieties, provide quality control, and help market the seeds.

I am very proud of Faso Kaba, which shows that a woman can drive this type of pioneering agribusiness in Mali. My mother was my inspiration; she used to produce a very respectable 500 kilograms of sorghum every season, but she didn’t have access to improved seeds. That is why distributing these seeds to both male and female farmers is a real source of pride for us.

I’m an ambitious person and I want to see more women involved in agribusiness. This is a tough challenge because women here are juggling so many responsibilities; they don’t have the time or support to develop businesses like this.

I hope that I can help show them the way.

Learn more about how Feed the Future is working to empower women farmers.

Nothing about us without us.

One year ago—on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day—we committed to updating a 30-year-old policy on women in development and provide new guidance for how to better integrate gender equality and female empowerment initiatives across our work. We also promised to develop new indicators and evaluation systems to accurately measure the impact of our programs and policies on women and girls.

Classmates in Kenya benefit from a USAID-supported program to mentor and guide girls as they transition from high school to college to careers. Photo credit: Linda Lockhart/Global Give Back Circle

In the last year—thanks to the hard work of USAID teams and our colleagues—we have delivered on all of these commitments, dramatically strengthening our efforts to reduce gender gaps and empower women around the world.

Last week, USAID released a new policy on Gender Equality and Female Empowerment (pdf, 2.7mb) to help improve lives around the world by advancing equality between females and males, and empowering women and girls to participate fully in and benefit from the development of their societies. Building on the Agency’s decades of experience, this policy will assist us in pursuing more effective, evidence-based investments; building partnerships involving a broad range of stakeholders; harnessing science and technology to tackle challenges; and addressing unique and complex issues in crisis and conflict-affected environments.

In February, USAID released a new Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy (pdf, 1.25MB) that builds on our Code of Conduct and holds USAID employees and our partners to the highest standards of behavior.

And in December we worked with the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and civil society groups at home and abroad to craft the first ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.  Its publication is a critical step in advancing U.S. foreign policy, as we strive to hear, honor, amplify and respond to female voices for peace and stability in societies around the world.

But our work doesn’t end with new policies and plans. We have to implement them, ensuring our programs live up to our aspirations.

Over the past year, we have created a comprehensive list of indicators that will enable us to monitor our performance and the impact of our investments on gender equality and female empowerment. Last week, we launched the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (PDF, 2MB), an innovative tool to capture women’s empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector.  Additionally, in partnership with GSMA mWomen and AusAID, we released research that offers new insight into the lives of women who live on less than $2 a day and provides a rigorous evidence base for our investments in reducing the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world.

We have also begun to require gender analyses as a prerequisite for all country strategies and project designs, with the findings of those analyses fully integrated into our planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.  Across the Agency’s full range of country programs, we are ensuring that we are not just paying lip-service to gender equality but are actively designing our strategies and programs to delivering meaningful results across all sectors.

We are proud of this progress.  Yet, we also recognize that women and girls continue to face significant barriers to access in education, business and politics.  In agriculture, women make up more than 40 percent of the labor force, but only represent between 3 to 20 percent of landholders.  In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses—and in South Asia, only 3 percent.  And despite being half the global population, women comprise less than 20 percent of the world’s legislators.

If we can erase these inequities—and put women on an equal footing with men—we know that we can unlock human potential on an unimaginable scale.  To accomplish this, we must really listen to women in developing countries.  We must let them tell us what they need, challenges they face, and goals they strive for in this rapidly changing landscape.  That’s why USAID is committed to involving women in every step of this process.  As Ambassador Steinberg says, the watchwords from now on must be “Nothing about us without us.”

As we honor International Women’s Day and celebrate our progress, let’s recommit ourselves to this mission, delivering results that transform the world through the power of women.

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