USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Want to empower women in agriculture? Use technology.

It’s very difficult to effectively manage responsibilities if you have neither the authority over nor access to the required skills, networks, resources, or decision-making power needed to complete critical tasks. Yet, that is the situation women in Tanzania’s agricultural sector face.

According to research from the World Bank, women form the majority of Tanzania’s agriculture work force – particularly in rural areas, where 98 percent of economically-active women are involved in agriculture. They prepare, plant, weed, harvest, transport, store, and process their farms’ products. In addition to these time and labor-intensive activities, women also cook meals and perform other household management tasks. These are crucial in a country where 42 percent of children under 5 years old suffer from stunted growth, due to malnutrition, and 16 percent are underweight.

Tanzanian women are keenly aware of their responsibilities and the challenges embedded therein. Limited decision-making power, unfavorable regulations, and biased sociocultural norms reduce their access to finance, land, technical training, labor-saving equipment and other productive resources. As a result, barriers are stifling their potential to be leaders of technological invention, entrepreneurship, and legal and regulatory change throughout the agriculture sector. But these challenges are not insurmountable.

In fact, with a little help from the U.S. Agency for International Development, farmers are developing their own solutions.

The Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) to Promote Household Food Security program, in close coordination with Feed the Future projects in southern Tanzania, is helping farmers address constraints they face when working in agriculture.

This project is a partnership between Land O’ Lakes International Development , the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Development Lab (MIT D-Lab), and USAID.

It offers community-centered technology design training to smallholder farmer groups in the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania. Trainees, the majority of whom are women, develop prototypes in group settings and receive in-depth coaching from MIT D-Lab trainers.

What do the results of these technology design trainings look like?

  • Time and labor burdens are reduced. These technologies – developed by farmers, for farmers – save time and reduce drudgery, freeing up women’s availability to engage in alternative income-generating opportunities.
  • What’s impossible alone becomes possible together. When we ask IGE farmer-inventors why they never developed the technology design prototypes before that they are designing now, one answer is constant: they couldn’t do it alone. D-Lab’s community-centered design philosophy fosters teamwork from the start, which farmers credit for bringing to life the culture of innovation and invention in their villages.
  • Men and women are working together. Women’s empowerment is a community-wide endeavor, with men’s active involvement and support being a critical factor. The technologies farmers are developing are transforming women’s-only agricultural tasks into tasks in which husbands and wives work together, producing a greater overall benefit for themselves and their families.

What technologies are farmers developing?

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Mwanahamisi Goha’s palm oil technology design group, called Jitegeme group, consists of two women and three men. They collectively developed the palm oil extracting machine prototype pictured above, which can extract 20 liters of palm oil in 30 minutes. This is a major improvement, because standard models typically take four hours to extract the same amount of palm oil (a popular product on local markets) and require two people to operate instead of one. This new prototype also allows operators to sit instead of stand.

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Arafa Mwingiliera and Habiba Njaa’s peanut sheller group, Ukombozi, in Morogoro, grinds nuts using a prototype they developed with three other group members. This technology can shell up to 20 kilograms of peanuts in just five minutes – an amount of work that used to take an entire day when shelled peanuts using their bare hands. Women in southern Tanzania often sell peanuts as snacks along the roadside to passers-by and use them in place of cooking oil to season vegetables. Peanuts are high in protein and calories, making them a good source of nutrition and energy, especially for young children.

Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Amina Hussein, Veronica Hogo and other members of the rice thresher technology design group, Lupiro, test their prototype, which they designed using locally available and affordable materials. This technology can thresh 15 to 20 100 kilogram bags of rice per day without crop loss due to spillage (which occurs when farmers thresh rice by hand). The productivity levels achieved by this prototype are a massive improvement compared to traditional hand threshing, from which farmers yield only two to three 100 kilogram bags of rice per day with up to 5 percent of crops lost to spillage. Rice is one of the main staple crops of Tanzania, and, along with maize and horticulture, is one of the Feed the Future target value chains. These value chains are essential to Tanzania’s food security, which has motivated many farmer technology design groups to develop prototypes that bolster their productivity.

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Photo Credit: Giselle Aris

Stella Malangu, a member of the rice winnower technology design group, Jitambue, in Morogoro, smiles after using the prototype she helped design and build. It generates wind to separate rice from chaff and other unwanted particles and pests before storage. When farmers in this group winnowed rice using traditional methods, which required them to stand and be in constant motion, they were able to clean one 100 kilogram bag of rice per day. With their new prototype, these farmers can now winnow six 100 kilogram bags of rice in just three hours. This technology has dramatically reduced time and labor burdens! And it has even led male community members to become involved in what was previously only women’s work.

What’s next?

Every technology needs investors. Even in cases where inventors have designed functional prototypes, they still require:

  • Resources and skills to transform prototypes into successful commercial products
  • Media attention to accelerate the time it takes for locally popular products to become nationally and regionally renowned and adopted
  • Policy change to address major constraints for women working in Tanzania’s agriculture sector

IGE is working in each of these areas to ensure technology continues to help transform the lives of smallholder farmers in Tanzania. For more information on how you can get involved, visit our website.

No Birth Should Be Left Up To Chance

Giving birth ranks among the scariest moments for any mother. It certainly was for me. I was living in Hong Kong at the time when my second child was born. And he was born in a hurry. He came so fast that I actually thought I’d give birth in our car on the way to the hospital! Fortunately, that didn’t happen and I safely delivered my son Patrick surrounded by a team of well-trained doctors and nurses, not to mention my loving (and relieved!) husband by my side.

Mozambican mother holds her newborn. Photo credit: MCHIP

Mozambican mother holds her newborn. Photo credit: MCHIP

But I’m one of the lucky ones.

As new research released today by Save the Children reveals, 40 million women give birth without any trained help whatsoever. What’s more, two million women give birth entirely alone.

I met one of those women in Nepal about five years ago. I was there visiting our programs in the south of the country and stopped in to see a mom who had given birth a month prior. She sat with us and talked quite matter-of-factly about how when she went into labor with her third child, she didn’t panic. She merely laid down in a clean part of her house, caught the baby when she came out, cut the umbilical cord and wrapped her to keep her warm.

When she had finished telling her story, and I had stopped shaking my head in amazement, I couldn’t help but compare her experience to mine. After all, both of our children came into the world faster than we had anticipated. However, while my husband was there to drive me—fast—to a first-class hospital, this woman had no one. Her husband was away in India on business and her two daughters were in the next village. Even if she could manage to get herself to the nearest clinic, which was 2 kilometers away, she would have had to travel on foot. So she did the next best thing; she left it up to chance.

Fortunately for this mom both she and her newborn survived. But for too many women in the same situation, the outcome is much more tragic.

So many things can go wrong when a mother gives birth without a skilled birth attendant (SBA). Things such as prolonged labor, pre-eclampsia and infection—which are perfectly manageable when an SBA is present—can mean a death sentence in the absence of one.

For this reason, Save the Children is partnering with world leaders, philanthropists and the private sector to commit to ensuring that by 2025 every birth is attended by trained and equipped health workers who can deliver essential health interventions for both the mother and the newborn.

Because no birth should be left up to chance.

Crafting Economic Empowerment for Women in North Lebanon

On a sunny October morning, I was blinking back tears of pride as 39 women, hailing from poor families, some with Down syndrome, gathered on a terrace to receive certificates celebrating their completion of a handicraft and soap making training workshop supported by USAID. Atayeb el Rif (Rural Delights), a cooperative that specializes in local gourmet foods and delicacies, organized the training as part of a grant it received under the USAID Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development (LIVCD) project to enhance the economic status of women in North Lebanon.

The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth.

The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth. Photo Credit: DAI

North Lebanon, an area that has seen a large influx of Syrian refugees, had already been facing many economic challenges, most notably loss of income due to scarce employment opportunities. USAID has intensified efforts in this region to help Lebanese communities hosting Syrian refugees through targeted assistance. The grant, launched in May 2012, helps provide economic opportunities for women and youth in rural areas, and thereby decrease migration to already over populated urban areas and improve Lebanon’s economic stability. As part of the grant, a six-day training workshop, related to accessories, needle work, soap making, and soap decoration skills, was provided to 120 women in three areas in North Lebanon, Batroun, Koura, and Donnieh. In addition to the training, each woman also received a tool kit containing $150 worth of supplies, tools, beads, molds, and threads to enable them to start their own small production home-based enterprises.

I was impressed by the array of handicrafts on display, ranging from beautifully decorated soaps to beaded fabrics, done with meticulous attention to detail and most of all passion. In fact, it was easy to sense that passion as the women enthusiastically shared their stories with us. “This training opened new opportunities. I will start producing accessories soon, and I hope to be able to open my own little shop to sell them. I also plan to benefit from the project’s assistance in marketing and to attend exhibitions and fairs to display my handicrafts,” commented one of the participants. But it was a 23-year old participant with Down syndrome, whose testimonial touched all attendees as she spoke with courage and pride about the prospects of this opportunity in ensuring a better income for her family.

The USAID Lebanon Industry Value Chain Development continued support to the women after their training graduation by providing ongoing coaching. USAID also facilitated the women’s access to markets by helping them to rent space at holiday events and fairs to sell their products to generate additional income. The USAID LIVCD project is a five-year project that provides income-generating opportunities for small businesses while creating jobs for rural populations, in particular women and youth.

I walked away with a basket of beautiful soap accessories that I can hang around the house for a profusion of scents. But most of all, I walked away inspired by the determination of these women to go beyond their potential in order to be the catalysts for change and growth in their community and country.

Participants receiving their certificate of attendance. Photo Credit: DAI

Participants receiving their certificate of attendance. Photo Credit: DAI

Why support efforts to abandon Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting?

February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

I am often asked why the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is engaged in programming that will eliminate female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). “What is the connection with family planning?” I’m asked.

“Nothing… and a lot,” is my answer.

FGM/C is a striking example of women’s lack of agency—a graphic illustration of powerlessness to make their own choices about their lives. If a girl cannot make a decision not to be cut, she also likely will not have the right to make her own informed decisions about her health, her education, or decide when and whom she marries, when to start a family, and what size that family will be. The Office of Population and Reproductive Health is engaged in FGM/C because we care about providing girls and women with the ability to decide for themselves how they will live and thrive.

When USAID first began working on the issue in the 1990s, individuals and groups in both the developing and the developed world were starting to look at the issue through the prism of women’s human and reproductive rights, as well as health. International consensus statements and treaties such as the International Commission on Population and Development (1994), the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) and more recently, the United Nations General Assembly adoption of a resolution banning FGM/C worldwide in 2012, have made strong statements on the need to combat violence against women, including FGM/C, and have called on governments to adopt policies to prohibit the practice and to support community efforts to eliminate the practice.

While FGM/C is clearly a violation of a woman’s rights, it is a health issue as well. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed negative obstetric outcomes and a 2013 meta-analyses by the Norwegian Knowledge Center for the Health Services showed that prolonged labor, obstetric lacerations, instrumental delivery, obstetric hemorrhage, and difficult delivery are markedly associated with FGM/C. These results can make up the background documentation for health promotion and health care decisions that inform work to reduce the prevalence of FGM/C and improve the quality of services related to the consequences of FGM/C.

Since 1997, when WHO issued a joint statement with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) against the practice, international attention and effort has gone into counteracting FGM/C. Of the 28 African countries where FGM/C is practiced, 22 have passed laws or provisions banning it, as have 12 industrialized countries with migrant populations from FGM/C-practicing countries. While prevalence of FGM/C has decreased, for example, from 99 percent to 97 percent in Somalia and 89 percent to 84 percent in Mali, UNICEF reports that the percentage of girls and women who reportedly want FGM/C to continue has remained constant in countries including Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania. An increasing number of women and men in practicing communities support ending the practice, yet every year millions of girls still undergo this painful and demeaning procedure.

The same elements that will transform a culture from performing FGM/C on its girl children – the values, and norms that inform the expected and accepted ways that people behave in a culture – will also bring increased acceptance for the use of contraception and information on family planning. Our work in FGM/C is as much about empowerment as it is abandonment of a practice. To quote former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke on Zero Tolerance Day in 2011, “All women and girls, no matter where they are born or what culture they are raised in, deserve the opportunity to realize their potential.”

Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

While in Senegal, I had the opportunity to meet “village godmothers” who had endured Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) as young girls. Each described the raw pain of the excisor cutting her as the worst she’s ever experienced. Today, these women are standing in solidarity to prevent their daughters from being cut and advocating for reproductive health for girls in their village. With them are other activists and the government, who are working together to eliminate FGM/C in Senegal. Since the first Senegalese village publicly rejected FGM/C in 1998, more than 5,500 communities in Senegal have stopped cutting women’s genitals.

Every year, more than three million girls in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and among diaspora communities in the West are at risk of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide currently live with the consequences of this dangerous practice.

The procedure, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is largely performed on infants to girls as old as age 15. As the women I talked to in Senegal testified, it is extremely painful and generally carried out without anesthetics and  using implements ranging from kitchen knives and razor blades to cut glass and sharp rocks. The health risks are great: in the short term, death from blood loss is not uncommon, nor is serious infection that can cause long-term problems. FGM/C may result in infertility, incontinence, pregnancy complications and increased risk of obstetrical problems like fistula and infant death.

Genet, Tsiyon and their friends are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia, who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age. Their mothers are not willing to let them be cut because they have realized the consequences of that practice during their own lifetimes.

Genet, Tsiyon and their friends are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia, who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age. Their mothers are not willing to let them be cut because they have realized the consequences of that practice during their own lifetimes.

FGM/C has no basis in any religion, nor is it done for health benefits. Instead, the practice has been perpetuated for centuries through socio-cultural, psychosexual, chastity, religious and aesthetic or hygienic arguments. Almost all of these are linked to girls’ social status and marriageability and the practice is often seen as a necessary step towards womanhood. In many cultures, girls and women who are not cut are stigmatized and their families can be ostracized. The Sengalese, largely because of work done by the USAID funded non-governmental organization Tostan, created a community education program that has changed social norms. The program, the women tell me, has shown them that despite common perception that FGM/C is a good thing, it is in reality very harmful to their daughters.

USAID has supported FGM/C abandonment efforts since the 1990s, after being approached by many African women who asked why we were doing nothing about this issue. The Agency began programming and introduced an official policy that states the practice is not only a public health issue, but a violation of a woman’s right to bodily integrity. USAID assistance on this area has been a multi-faceted approach, focusing on surveillance, research, and program implementation.

The Agency has collected important information about the distribution and practice of FGM/C at the community level in 16 countries. This information is shared with all partner and donor organizations and used for decision making about program priorities and implementation approaches. A recent USAID-sponsored comparative analysis of data on FGM/C shows that although FGM/C prevalence is decreasing in many countries and among numerous communities, many girls are being cut at earlier ages and the service is increasingly performed in medical settings. To validate and improve interventions, USAID has supported important evaluations of existing programs.

When communities as a whole understand the physical and psychological trauma FGM/C causes, social transformation takes place – and this has proven to be the best way to ensure lasting support and an eventual end to the practice.

Syrian Women: Critical Partners for Peace

As negotiations to halt the violence in Syria continue, I am reminded daily of the essential role that Syrian women must play in order to resolve the crisis. Two weeks ago, I represented the U.S. Government at a high-level preparatory conference organized by UN Women and the Dutch Government to prepare women for a voice in the upcoming Geneva II talks. The compelling briefings and written declarations by delegates underscored how important women’s perspectives are to progress.

Despite their widely varying views regarding the future of Syria, the women who gathered in Geneva unambiguously called for an immediate end to violence, unfettered humanitarian access, and support of the Geneva 1 communique and diplomatic negotiations. Most importantly, their declaration also emphasized that women must participate robustly in all talks.

Syrian refugees in Ankara, Turkey

Credit: AFP/Adem Altan

I have no doubt that the perspectives of women will add breadth and depth to the conversations. Syrian women and girls are experiencing the conflict in specific ways. They are coping with sexual violence that can have a significant impact on their health, well-being, and position within their families and communities. They are assuming non-traditional roles as their husbands, fathers, and brothers go off to fight or are targeted by violence. They are facing the risk of being married off young in exchange for dowries to put food on their families’ table, or to pay rent.

Last week, Geneva II negotiations began and fortunately, for the mediators and for the Syrian people, women were included on government and opposition delegations. Today, the talks focus on enabling humanitarian aid for Homs. Women at the talks are reminding delegates that a diverse coalition of women called for medical and humanitarian aid weeks ago. These women can also help garner support for negotiations back home in Homs, in Aleppo, in Damascus and elsewhere, because they represent a constituency on the ground, living the violence every day.

The participation of these women will be invaluable because like other women before them, including in Sudan, Uganda, Iraq, and among Israelis and Palestinians, they raised unique issues during negotiations. Women focus on the need to re-establish civilian security; they emphasize the need to maintain and rebuild communities; and they focus attention on the needs and interests of the displaced. Women are well-connected to war-affected communities back home; they help create lines of communication to increase local knowledge and ownership of talks and support for negotiated solutions.

As negotiations continue, women will remain a critical resource in pushing for peace. They will be able to provide insight to the situation on the ground and best strategies for rebuilding and reuniting communities torn apart by the conflict.

It is in the global community’s own interest to ensure Syrian women’s continuing role and influence in dialog and problem-solving at both the local and national levels. Without their involvement, peace is likely to be harder to attain, more tenuous, and more fragile.

A Moment For Hope in the DRC?

The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo (DRC)

The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo (DRC)

A clean, well-ordered oasis in this bustling provincial capital – Dr. Mukwege, his staff, and his patients reek of the triumph of reliant humanity over the unspeakable brutality of the last 18 years of conflict. The particular mutation here – an almost unimaginably vast campaign of sexual violence – has devastated the lives and bodies of tens of thousands of young women.

But a visit to Panzi, which is supported by USAID and several other donors, inspires more admiration and hope than despair. In the hospital, Dr. Mukwege didn’t catalogue the horrors of the war or the problems his hospital faces in this, perhaps the poorest country in the world. Instead he spoke about a rare moment that has arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the prospect of real peace. They are already seeing the signs that Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) may be declining, albeit gradually. He wants to extend his efforts into the recently stabilized areas to the North, where he believes thousands of young abused women may never have had access to the types of health and psychological services Panzi and USAIDs large USHINDI project support.

And economic activity is picking up, including efforts that provide skills training and employment to young women and men. In Bukavu we also visited the Annunciata Accelerated Learning Center, which offers a three year accelerated elementary education program and skills training to older girls who missed the opportunity to go to school. Getting these girls into school and jobs is a top priority of the government and donors alike. I spoke to the DRC Minister for Gender, Genevieve Kassongo., and she sees educating girls as the key to addressing so many of the challenges facing the DRC – high infant and maternal mortality, extremely low education rates, and the highest rate of extreme poverty in the world.

USAID has persevered with the Congolese through years of strife, our partnership could be even better in peace.

Critical Mass? How the Mobile Revolution Could Help End Gender-Based Violence

This is an excerpt from a blog post that originally appeared on New Security Beat.

The past three years – and more pointedly the past 12 months – have laid witness to monumental, if not heartbreaking, incidents of gender-based violence. The gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi last December; the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl left for dead in a pit latrine in Western Kenya last June; the mass sexual assault of women in Tahrir Square during the 2011 revolution in Egypt and since; all were high profile atrocities that ignited outrage around the world.

Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

Photo credit: Adek Berry / AFP

In the aftermath of each of these, mobile technology solutions and internet-based advocacy campaigns surged. It’s almost like clockwork: violence happens, a technology response follows. And 2013 has seen an explosion of new efforts.

This isn’t by coincidence. These web- and mobile-based technological retorts, from applications that make it easy to report and view information about attacks to “panic buttons,” are made possible by the mobile revolution and increased internet adoption, which bring stories of gender-based violence to more people than ever before and give us the ability to fulfill our visceral need to react, to do something, to drive change.

Much has been written about the power mobile phones wield for interacting with people from every corner of the world, at a magnitude never before experienced and perhaps even imagined. Mobile handsets are on pace to surpass the global population sometime in the next few months. Quite simply, the mobile phone is the single most common denominator for sharing information and for connecting individuals at scale.

When it comes to gender-based violence, this mobile explosion has particularly great potential. Mobile phones offer a level of autonomy and emancipation never before enjoyed by many women, leading to greater empowerment for those who possess them. And they give voice to victims, survivors, and bystanders, permitting healthy dialogue around what is sometimes an extremely taboo subject.

From Mapping Attacks to Safety Circles

One of the most immediate ways that NGOs and other organizations are helping women avoid danger is through new mobile applications. Most follow a similar format; they offer users multiple options for alerting family and friends in times of danger via SMS (“short message service,” or texting), automated phone calls, e-mail, and/or social media platforms, like Facebook. They use online forms for submitting reports, pinpointing locations of attacks, and uploading photographic evidence where feasible and appropriate. They enable GPS functionality to aggregate and map real-time locations of violence. And many of them employ the free and open source visualization and information collection platform, Ushahidi.

SafeCity India is a leading example. Its 1,600 reports, collected in under a year, have helped identify hotspots and “no go” zones around Mumbai and Delhi. “Panic button” and self-populated smartphone apps Circle of 6 and FightBack have also seen mass appeal in the country. India is clearly a front-runner in the adoption of these applications, speaking both to its tech savviness and unfortunate widespread need for such tools.

HarassMap also rises to the top, designed as a means of reversing the tide of pervasive sexual harassment of women in Egypt. Through SMS, online and e-mail reporting, its efforts center around the visualization of crowd-sourced maps showing areas for women to avoid and, in theory, for authorities to increase security measures. HarassMap has since expanded to 8 other countries, with another 11 in the works. Similar crowd-mapping has also been employed by the Open Institute in Cambodia and by Women Under Siege in Syria.

The magnitude of incidents over the past year has also sparked an uptick in sponsored, domestic violence-themed competitions and “hackathons,” in Nepal, Central America, and the United States. The winning entrants each possessed many of the same features discussed above, though they are tailored to local geographies, demographics, and conditions.

These mobile- and internet-based tools are but a mere sampling. Yet they beg the question, have we hit a critical mass? Yes and no.

To continue, please see the full blog post at New Security Beat.

Christopher Burns is the senior advisor and team lead for mobile access in the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances/Mobile Solutions at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Women are Women: Responding to the Health Needs of Female Sex Workers

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

Mpiluka is a 29-year-old bar worker in Iringa, Tanzania. A single mother to an 11-year-old girl, she supplements her low monthly salary by selling charcoal and sex. Mpiluka fears the heightened risk of HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), and unwanted pregnancy that she knows exists among female sex workers. But the harsh realities of sex work in this setting – the social, economic, and physical complexities of the negotiation of sex – make it difficult for her to use condoms as protection. Some men dislike condoms, offering double or triple the price for sex without. Others become violent if she insists. Recently, when Mpiluka confronted a client on condom use, she was beaten with a rock and robbed. The likelihood that Mpiluka has faced violence from her husband or boyfriend and that her daughter might also face violence in her life is significant.

Thank you for following our #16Days campaign.

Thank you for following our #16Days campaign.

Mpiluka’s story is not uncommon, and reveals the complex intersection of violence, reproductive health, and HIV faced by sex workers around the world. Historically, female sex workers of reproductive age have been considered a key population for HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs, and are 13.5 times more likely to be living with HIV than other women of reproductive age. While some prevention and treatment programs for sex workers do exist, they focus primarily on individual-level risk factors for HIV acquisition and transmission.  Unreliable access to contraception and reproductive health services remains a significant challenge for many sex workers, like Mpiluka, who face high levels of sexual and physical violence. Evidence has shown that these factors are related to increased risk of HIV.

Over the past five years, the Research to Prevention (R2P) project, funded by PEPFAR through USAID, has demonstrated a clear need for policies and programming that address the multiple levels of influence on HIV risk among female sex workers, including their risk of violence and need for comprehensive reproductive health services. One study of female sex workers in four West African countries revealed high levels of sexual and physical violence experienced across these settings, including 45 percent in Togo to over 70 percent in Burkina Faso. Fifty-one percent of female sex workers in Togo who did not want to become pregnant were not accessing a reliable method of contraception, often due to discrimination and fear experienced by the women seeking health services.

The recently launched WHO guidance on prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for sex workers in low-and middle-income countries is informed by evidence for interventions that address these broader needs. Interventions that address violence and empower sex workers are primary recommendations for sex worker programming, and reproductive health is a standard component of the clinical package outlined in global implementation guidance. The guidance harmonizes and strengthens a robust response for sex workers globally and forms the basis for USAID and PEPFAR programming.

As we mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, it is important that we remember women like Mpiluka. It is not enough for HIV programs to address individual-level factors in HIV transmission among female sex workers; they must also acknowledge the high risk of violence and varied reproductive needs of these populations around the globe.

Masculinity and Violence in Conflict

From November 25th (International End Violence Against Women Day) through December 10th (International Human Rights Day), USAID joins the international community for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. During this time IMPACT will highlight USAID’s work to combat gender-based violence.

Why does masculinity devolve into madness in the face of violence? Why is it that we time and time again see a marked increase in the horrific misdeeds committed by men toward women when conflict arises? Throughout history, including up to this very day, a consequence of large-scale violence and war is a significant increase in the rate of gender-based violence that women experience in the form of rape and specific targeting by combatants. During widespread conflict, the breakdown of society and normalization of violence that extends from war into broader society is a commonly used explanation for rampant gender-based violence. Hypermasculinity, a term used to describe an increase in aggressive and misogynistic masculine traits, is also used in explaining why gender-based violence is practically treated as a given component of war. Even after a conflict has been politically resolved, the impact that widespread violence and societal conflict has on the people that experience it and live through it is profound, traumatizing, and proves difficult to overcome.

Historically, women have been treated as spoils of war and routinely victimized when communities were razed. This still happens in contemporary conflicts where we see rape used as a weapon to further traumatize and dehumanize specific communities and as a means to project power. Today in Syria, in addition to the higher incidences of direct gender-based violence, we see a different kind of indirect violence perpetrated against young women and girls in the form of child marriage practices, where families use their children as what is in essence a bartering good out of a pure need to survive. Even after a conflict has politically met its end, the violence experienced in conflict cuts deeply into the communities that are attempting to recover from its lasting impacts. In Liberia, high incidences of intimate partner violence are still reported a decade removed from the end of the civil war that tore through the country.

We need to help, but how? How do we recover from war and the cycle of violence that it fuels? How do we help women who experience violence during war, for that matter? Trauma from violence exposes everybody to the after-effects of war, but providing support through empowering and providing social services to both men and women can help with moving away from a violent society and contribute toward peacebuilding and maintaining stability. Politically empowering women and other marginalized populations, spreading awareness of the specific kinds of violence women experience while holding those responsible accountable for their crimes, and bringing women to the negotiation table needs to happen if we hope to distance ourselves from the ugliness of history. We also need to focus on a positive form of masculinity to contribute toward a peaceful and prosperous society, and move away from the hypermasculinity that pushes men and boys towards violence during times of conflict and disaster. While we have a long way to go, these steps will help us move towards gender equality and a more prosperous society.

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