USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

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.

Protecting & Promoting Women’s Rights Around the World

Every day, around the world, women are shaping the future of their communities, cities, and nations.  From business to sports to diplomacy to medicine, women have made huge strides forward in recent decades.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky Photo Credit: Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky's Office

As we mark the 101st International Women’s Day tomorrow and celebrate the achievements and contributions women have made to the international community, we also need to recognize the ways in which we have more work to do to protect and promote the rights of our sisters around the world.

Despite the progress of recent years, the figures are staggering and underscore the work that remains.  While women account for two-thirds of the world’s working hours, they earn 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property.  One in three women worldwide is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused over the course of her lifetime.   Women still make up the majority of the world’s illiterate population.

But women aren’t just victims; women are the solution.  It’s no coincidence that the places in the world where women are the most marginalized are the same countries that face the highest levels of instability and impoverishment.  As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has repeatedly emphasized, supporting women is the most effective way to fight poverty and extremism around the world.  Simply put: investing in women and girls is a smart use of resources.

That’s why I believe we need to place more emphasis on educating girls; on ensuring that women have access to job training, microfinance, and other economic opportunities; on ending the global epidemic of gender-based violence and trafficking of women and girls; and on ensuring that all women have access to reproductive health services and family planning.  All of these are critical steps toward not only protecting the rights of women, but also strengthening communities throughout the world.

And, as the Obama Administration has emphasized, women need to be at the table for peace negotiations.  In conflict zones throughout the world, although women bear the brunt of war, they must also form the underpinning of peace.  That is why the White House, USAID, Department of State, Department of Defense crafted a National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security, promoting women’s participation in peace processes.  As UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet says, “we simply can no longer afford to leave women out.”

 

Inclusive Development: USAID’s New Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy

As posted on the White House Blog

There are moments that make you proud. Proud to work in an Administration led by President Obama and Secretary Clinton who have made gender equality a top priority.  Last week was one of those times.

Last year USAID Administrator Shah and I established a task team to craft a new policy on gender quality and female empowerment, the Agency’s first in 30 years. I am proud to say that USAID released that policy, achieving great strides and reaffirming our commitment to close the gender gap in international development.

The goal of this policy is to improve the lives of citizens 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.

USAID has long recognized that drawing on the full contributions of women is key achieving better, inclusive, and more sustainable results.  That’s why we’re integrating gender equality and female empowerment into the very DNA of everything we do.   From Presidential initiatives like Feed the Future (FtF), the Global Health Initiative (GHI), and Global Climate Change to the full range of the Agency’s programs, we are ensuring that gender is not just being included, but fully incorporated.  Eliminating gender bias and empowering women isn’t just a question of fairness or equity: it’s simply good business practice.   

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Translating Words into Action – USAID’s Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy

Girl breaks through red ribbon at the finish of a race.

Photo credit: The Hunger Project

In 2002 while working at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), I oversaw the completion of a report for the USAID-funded WIDTech project, a five-year $10 million dollar initiative to provide technical assistance on gender integration in USAID bureaus and missions. The report outlined how successful gender integration must start with sector-specific goals and developing real gender expertise throughout the Agency. It also maintained that global impacts are exponentially increased through partnerships with host country governments and NGOs. I was excited to see those recommendations in print.

Yesterday, at a launch event at the White House, USAID released a new policy on Gender Equality and Female Empowerment (PDF), the Agency’s first in 30 years. I’m thrilled to share that the policy not only adopts many of those earlier recommendations but pushes the frontier of knowledge and practice to integrate gender equality and female empowerment successfully through all of our programming.

First, the policy cites a large body of quantitative and qualitative evidence showing that reducing gender gaps – whether in political participation, labor markets and the economy, health, education, or peace and security – leads to more effective and sustainable development results.

Second, it is outcome-focused, with three overarching outcomes that are to be translated into specific results with associated targets and indicators in all country strategies and project designs: 1) reduce gender disparities in access to, control over and benefit from resources, wealth, opportunities and services – economic, social, political, and cultural; 2) reduce gender-based violence and mitigate its harmful effects on individuals; and 3) increase the capability of women and girls to realize their rights, determine their life outcomes, and influence decision-making in households, communities, and societies.

Third, it incorporates lessons learned about the importance of accountability mechanisms, performance measures, and technical capacity – not just for our gender experts but for program and technical staff, as well. We will all be accountable for implementing this important policy.

All of this is hugely positive. Still, as we all know, policies must be translated into action and then practice. As Geeta Rao Gupta, Executive Deputy Director of UNICEF, said at the White House launch event, the institutional architecture is animated by people. The people of USAID are committed to implementing this policy, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it will make life better for the women, men, girls, boys, families and communities in the countries where we work. And, we will become a more effective development agency in the process.

USAID in the News

Weekly Briefing (2/27/2012 – 3/2/2012)

February 27: Over the weekend, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah visited the campus of Bethel University, in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Administrator Shah praised Bethel for their commitment to international engagement and discussed USAID’s work in the areas of global health and food security. While in Minnesota, Administrator Shah also visited General Mills headquarters and recognized employee volunteers for their global citizenship.

February 27: Bloomberg highlighted the release of the “Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index,” the first ever report to measure the impact women play in food growth in developing countries. USAID was a key partner in the development of the report and the index will be applied to all programs in President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative.

February 29: The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed written by Senator John Kerry, discussing his support for foreign aid and the work being performed by USAID and the State Department. Citing former President Ronald Reagan, Kerry writes that Reagan “knew that diplomacy and development policy neutralize threats before they become crises; manage crises if threats escalate; and assure security and stability after conflicts are resolved, all at a fraction of the cost of military deployment.”

Understanding the Wants and Needs of Women Living Under $2 a Day

As development practitioners, do we adequately understand our target beneficiaries before programs are implemented?  Are we doing our ‘market research’ before investing resources, to best comprehend the wants and needs of those we intend to assist?  Yes, but only to some extent.  The development community has a variety of tools at its disposal, developed and tweaked over decades, to give us insight and analysis into the lives of our target audiences.  But rarely do they offer a deep, deep dive.

A woman on a phone in India. Photo Credit: GSMA

New research released today at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona offers a refreshing approach to understanding women who live at the base of the pyramid, often under $2/day.  The GSMA mWomen Program, whose overall goal is to reduce the mobile phone gender gap in the developing world by 50%, has spent much of the past twelve months carrying out quantitative and qualitative research of more than 2,500 women in Egypt, India, Papua New Guinea and Uganda.

The findings illustrate the lives, struggles and aspirations of women who often represent the backbone of their families and communities, yet rarely are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams.  The research, funded by USAID and AusAID, identifies the unique socio-economic and cultural factors that influence and shape women’s lives, framed in part by their attitudes towards mobile ownership. 

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