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Archives for Women

Helping Women Feed the World

Seema Jalan.   Photo: Women ThriveClose to a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry every night, and at least six out of ten are women. It’s ironic, because women in developing countries are largely responsible for feeding their children and growing the food that will feed their families. Around the world, the traditional image of a farmer is not a man on a tractor but a woman farming a piece of land about the size of a three-car garage.

That’s why we’re excited that governments, civil societies, universities, and private companies have begun investing in long-term programs to combat hunger and invest in farmers worldwide. Through the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative, women are being recognized as playing a major role in tackling global hunger.

Over the next few days, G8 leaders from the world’s biggest economies will meet on critical global issues, including the challenge of feeding the world’s seven billion people. Here are seven things we at Women Thrive believe any program—whether from government, an NGO or private company– have to do to succeed by reaching women.

  1. Work with female farmers, who often play very different roles than men in agriculture. Women often grow different crops, work at different times of day and have different priorities than male farmers. Coming up with a one-size-fits-all program usually means you don’t reach women farmers.
  2. Ensure property rights for women, so that they can actually own the land they farm and gain control over their crops. Over and over, I’ve seen that women work on the farm, but don’t see the income from it because it’s usually men who own the land and take the crops to market to sell.
  3. Increase access to credit and financial services, so that women can properly save, and purchase seeds, fertilizer, and other tools to increase their productivity.
  4. Provide women farmers with time and labor-saving tools, which would make farming, cooking, and marketing easier and would allow women to carry out their household and childcare responsibilities more efficiently.
  5. Enhance transportation and technology infrastructure such as irrigation and roads, which would save women time and increase their income. But make sure they are roads from villages to local markets, not just four-lane highways from export-processing zones to ports.
  6. Expand skills training to women farmers so that they are more successful and productive in their work. And that might mean going to train them in their homes instead of setting up a training station far away from the village when women have children to look after at home.
  7. Integrate natural resource management, which simply means teaching women how to conserve things like water, land, and fuel to increase productivity as well as preserve the environment.

Women in developing countries may seem remote and far away but the more I travel the more I realize how much we all have in common. Mothers around the world just want to the basic dignity to feed and provide for their families. And simple, targeted investment can have an enormous gain. If women can feed their loved ones and themselves with maize, cassava and plantains, they can transform their families, communities, and societies. And since women are the majority of farmers in some areas, this makes an enormous impact on food security. We will all be the better for it.

For more information about Women Thrive Worldwide, please visit: http://www.womenthrive.org/

Video of the Week: Planting the Seed for Economic Growth

Ever wonder how Gladioli bulbs can help an estimated 1,000 families start earning their living and jumpstart a fledgling flower industry in Pakistan? USAID, through the Small Grants Program and the US Ambassador’s Fund, seeks to empower grassroots organizations and community groups working to strengthen civil society in Pakistan.

The U.S. Ambassador’s Fund provides small grants to improve basic economic or social conditions at the local community level. The Fund supports high-impact, quick-implementation activities, that can be completed within one year without requiring further funding.

On this occasion, we highlight one of the results of the U.S. Ambassador’s Fund in Rawalakot, known for its dire economic situation for the 540,000 residents who until recently only planted maize and wheat.

In a strategically located valley just 120 km from the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Rawalakot’s high elevation (1,615 m.) makes it ideal for growing gladioli bulbs which are increasingly becoming popular in major cities.

USAID financed the purchase of gladioli bulbs, training sessions for farmers, and consultations of an agricultural specialist to help the families grow the flowers correctly.  Thanks to the project, families have increased their revenues by over 70%, with women being the main beneficiaries of the project.  This project has enabled women to become salient participants in the flower industry and because of related activities involving the sale and distribution of the flower, it is estimated that many more families in surrounding communities will benefit greatly from this project.  As a result of the increase in income, families are now able to invest the money into their children’s education and household expenses.

A Mother’s Fight

The following is a guest blog post from Florence-Ngobeni Allen. She is an HIV/AIDS educator and counselor, and a long-time Ambassador for The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation. She lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Fighting a mother’s fight against HIV has been a very significant part of my life.

Florence-Ngobeni Allen and her baby. Photo Credit: A Mother's Fight

I have worked as an HIV educator for more than a decade, counseling thousands of women in South Africa who have struggled with loss, stigma, and illness because of this epidemic.

As an Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, I have fought for mothers around the world to have access to the tools and support they need to keep their children healthy and HIV-free.

And I have fought my own, personal battle with HIV for more than 15 years.

I first worked as a counselor at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, helping new mothers who tested positive for HIV. I discovered that my story was not that different from the women I met there.

A lot of the mothers could not afford HIV medicines and services for themselves or their babies. Some would report that they had not eaten for days. Others talked about feeling scared to disclose their HIV status to their partners for fear of violence. Too many of these women came to our clinic with bruises on their arms, their backs, and their hearts.

Every day, I was surrounded by the cries of babies who were fighting the effects of HIV, and mothers who were trying to care for them and keep them alive.

These experiences were so traumatizing for me. To get through the toughest moments, I would lock myself in the bathroom and cry. At that time, there were no treatment options available for HIV-positive mothers or their babies in South Africa.

I knew what was next for them. I knew that their babies were going to die.

The reason I knew is that I had experienced the same thing. I lost my beautiful baby girl, Nomthunzi, to AIDS when she was only five months old.

Nomthunzi was born with no complications to her proud parents. She was just a few weeks old when my husband grew ill. He passed away three months later.

Shortly after, Nomthunzi got sick as well. I brought her in for HIV testing, where I received the worst news a mother can hear. I learned that I was HIV-positive, and I had unknowingly passed the virus on to my baby. Nomthunzi passed away just a few weeks later.

When I became an HIV counselor, I knew the pain these new mothers were experiencing. The pain of losing a child is unbearable. But the pain of realizing that there is nothing you can do to save your child is equally intolerable.

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Q&A with the First Lady of El Salvador Vanda Pignato

The Impact Blog interviewed the First Lady of El Salvador Vanda Pignato about development issues important to her in El Salvador. 

The First Lady of El Salvador and Secretary of Social Inclusion Vanda Pignato meets with Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein.

First Lady, I know you are very passionate about women’s rights. How are you raising the profile of this issue in El Salvador?

As Secretary for Social Inclusion, one of the main goals during my mandate is to promote public policies based on a human rights approach to ensure the realization, respect and guaranty of rights of historically excluded populations. Women make up over half of the population in El Salvadorand have been excluded from access to governmental services, as these were designed without a gender specific focus. With this in mind, the idea to create a center specifically for women to promote and enhance their fundamental human rights became an issue that needed to be addressed. Ciudad Mujer is a program that has raised awareness of the invisibility women have had when it comes to accessing state services, and has begun to change the model of government by integrating services and having a gender based approach. But what is most important is that Ciudad Mujer is changing the lives of thousands of women and they have begun to recognize themselves as right holders.

Do women in El Salvador have an active voice at the table, be it in politics, business, or civil society? What can be done to enhance the role of women?

As in most societies and countries, women’s visibility within politics, business, civil society and others is not at the same level and condition than that of men. This is the heritage and legacy of secular discrimination based on gender issues, a discrimination that figures some jobs are for men and some jobs are for women, a discrimination that figures some colors are for men and other colors are for women, a discrimination that figures some toys are for boys and some are for girls, and so on. This discrimination has created a cleavage between men and women as an irreconcilable antagonism. No society or country is free of this kind of discrimination. Many countries have developed laws to prevent and punish discrimination based on gender issues. Many societies have advanced in their awareness on women’s rights. But the world itself has a long road ahead to walk. Some countries and societies have to walk more than others, but all have to walk.

Bearing that as a starting point, many actors are responsible to enhance the role of women, as much complex work needs to be implemented. The Government has a role to play: eradicate all de jure discrimination, promote the eradication –in a progressive manner– of all de facto discrimination (even using criminal law if needed) and to take the initiative to promote women in higher seats sharing the same responsibilities as men, as in the military forces, in the non-traditional jobs, etc. But what is most important, as a part of the Government’s role is to recognize –and conduct itself consequently and coherently– that men and women are not equal, but both have the same rights that must be ensured and respected equally.

 How does the spike in crime and violence affect women?

Let me start my point with this view: if discrimination against women is a matter of unequal distribution of power, than that makes women vulnerable –women are not vulnerable per se, however they have been historically vulnerated– so the main victims of crime and violence are women. I am not saying that women are killed more frequently than men; however I am speaking about victimization that is the result of crime and violence.

Many crimes and violent behaviors committed are mainly addressed towards women. Sexual harassment, rape, and all kind of sexually motivated crimes and violent behaviors do victimize women (and children, mostly girls). Domestic violence, in addition, occurs almost exclusively against women. And many –but I think I should say most– of these crimes and violent behaviors fall under the unregistered data, I mean, the system never realizes their occurrence. From this perspective, we will never know how many of these crimes and violent behaviors really occur.

Secondly, I can understand that many other crimes and violent behaviors will victimize men directly. It usually happens with murders and assassinations, but who is the indirect victim? Women. They will alone have to attend to their children’s necessities while growing up, as a widowed mother, as an older sister, as a grandmother. What I am trying to say is that women are indirect victims as a result of crimes and violent behaviors. All the exigencies of reproductive work fall upon her shoulders.

Thirdly, the spike of crimes and violent behaviors is not only a matter of quantity (as the frequency of these events) but also a matter of quality. Violence against women is increasing daily and it is hard to pinpoint the source of it. In the past, for instance, drugs were trafficked inside devices, baggage, etc., but now, women’s natural anatomic cavities are used to traffic or hide drugs. In the past, a crime of passion usually finished in killing the lover and his or her cheater, but now, most of the time, women’s body shows high levels of unnecessary roughness and violence. In fact, this observation applies not only to crimes of passion, but to any other crime or violent behavior where the intention is to kill a woman. The situation of Ciudad Juarez speaks for itself and El Salvador, as well as many other countries, is facing similar situations.

What I have said gives me the opportunity to express something: we cannot continue the traditional approach to analyze and understand crime and violent behaviors. It is absolutely necessary to provide those analysis and understandings with a gender approach too.

As Secretary of Social Inclusion, what are your top two priorities?

It is very hard to pick two priorities, since the Secretariat for which I am responsible for works with various groups; women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, sexual minorities. We have taken firms steps in promoting these groups’ rights and continue to seek social change to include these groups in all public policies. However, the common denominator in my work rests upon two principles: to build and enhance public policies based on a human rights approach (keeping in mind the national Constitution and the international treaties that are operative to El Salvador) and to bring down any form of discrimination. Those principles are linked with reciprocity. I cannot address my work on human rights being tolerant with discrimination; and with the same token, I cannot fight against any discrimination if my work is not supported by an approach based on human rights.

With the intention to answer your question, I must then say, that my top two priorities in my work as Secretary of Social Inclusion is the human rights based approach in public policies and the thorough fight against any form of discrimination.

We work very closely with you and your government; do you have a favorite USAID project in El Salvador?

As Secretary of Social Inclusion I have to thank all the cooperation USAID provides to Salvadoran people and Government. But obviously, I do consider as my favorite, all the aid and help you provide in the coincidence of my work, mainly, the eradication of all forms of discrimination and the promotion, guarantee, realization and fulfillment of women’s rights. I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the contribution you have made directly to Ciudad Mujer; thousands of Salvadoran women appreciate this gesture and would love to express their gratitude.

Celebrating Girls in Information and Communication Technology Day

As Featured on State Department’s Dipnote Blog

Ann Mei Chang serves as the Senior Advisor for Women and Technology in the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

With the global shortage of skilled professionals in Information and Communication Technology, or ICT, why are so few girls pursuing careers in this lucrative and fast-growing field? This is not only a question of equal opportunity, but one of economic necessity. We will not be able to compete effectively in the increasingly global and technologically sophisticated economy if we do not harness the full human potential of all our people.

Today, we are pleased to be joining the ITU (International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations agency) in celebrating Girls in ICT Day. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, will be joining UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, and many others in New York City today to discuss ways we can encourage young women around the world to play a greater role in the technology revolution. By raising the awareness among girls about the many rewarding aspects of a career in ICT and awakening companies to this under-tapped talent pool, we hope more and more girls will be drawn into ICT-related careers.

Although significant issues remain for high-income countries, in developing countries both the opportunities and challenges for girls in ICT may be even greater. ICT will certainly be an integral element of these countries’ growth stories through improved efficiency, access to new markets, and the creation of new IT-related jobs. And, with the sector still in its infancy, there is an opportunity to recast the IT profession in gender-neutral terms. In many ways, ICT jobs may be ideal for the complex demands women face, as the possibility of flexible hours and remote location can accommodate other responsibilities women may have in the home. Further emphasizing the potential impact, research recently published by the World Bank indicates that the wage gap between men and women is more significantly impacted by the lower-paying job sectors women pursue than wage differences between similar jobs.

Read more on the State Department’s Dipnote Blog

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.”

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