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Archives for Women

Combating Stereotypes: Lessons from the Aloun Farms Human Trafficking Case

This is a guest blog from Wayne C. Tanaka, Esq, Legal Consultant at the Pacific Survivor Center and Dr. Nicole Littenberg, Medical Director at the Pacific Survivor Center. Views are not of USAID.

As global awareness about human trafficking grows, haunting images start to emerge in anti-trafficking campaign ads, documentaries, websites, and popular media portrayals.  Understandably, we begin identifying trafficking with a narrative of chains, armed thugs, and helpless victims held under purely physical duress. Almost unconsciously, we see the issue as “bad guys” who must be punished, “good guys” who deliver such punishment, and helpless victims who need to be “rescued”.  But human trafficking is not so simple; the phenomenon itself is as complex as it is pervasive, and once we start making innocent but simple assumptions that compartmentalize the phenomenon, the more likely that we will miss critical facts, dismiss relevant ideas, and stop asking the important questions.

For example, in the recent Aloun Farms labor trafficking case, Mike and Alec Sou’s defense attorneys emphasized that their alleged victims could have simply climbed a fence to “freedom” if they chose to. This approach spoke to a popularized narrative about human trafficking – one that requires physical restraints and violence for a “real” trafficking situation to exist. Those who work to address trafficking know that psychological coercion, socioeconomic and cultural exploitation, and legal vulnerabilities are very real tools used by traffickers to control their victims. But these ideas do not fit well into the narrative evoked by the defense.  It’s a good legal strategy, which reflects weaknesses in the sensationalized trafficking narrative.

Another strategy employed by the defense attorneys was to play into a narrative popularized by anti-immigrant advocates. By repeatedly emphasizing the “entitlements” awarded to certified victims of trafficking, the attorneys appeared to suggest the farm workers were “illegal aliens” who were attempting to obtain green cards by framing their boss.

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Investing in Women to Change the World

In this era of slow growth, high unemployment, and fiscal woes, investing in women is an economic imperative. Fortunately, this recognition has taken hold in several quarters.

Caren Grown is a Senior Gender Advisor at USAID. Photo credit: Caren Grown/USAID

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit on Women and the Economy last week, Secretary Clinton argued that “by increasing women’s participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies. Because when everyone has a chance to participate in the economic life of a nation, we can all be richer.” APEC adopted a Declaration that, for the first time, affirmed each member economy’s commitment to improving women’s access to capital and markets, building their capacities and skills, and supporting the rise of women leaders in the public and private sectors.

At the United Nations General Assembly this week, the U.S. Government is hosting an event that recognizes women’s paid and unpaid roles in food security – from planting crops, to caring for livestock, to processing and storing food, to preparing meals for family consumption. Women farmers are up to 30 percent less productive than male farmers, not because they work less, but because they have less access to fertilizer, tools, training, and especially land. And they have much less time to farm because they do most of the household work. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization calculates that closing the resource gap could increase the yields of female farmers by 20 to 30 percent, which could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 150 million.

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The Role of Honor Related Violence in Sex Trafficking

In many societies, maintaining family and personal honor is integral to upholding cultural norms.  The burden of upholding such honor codes weighs more heavily on women and girls.  In countries such as Iraq, programs designed to combat human trafficking must address severe cultural stigmas about honor in conjunction with protection and prosecution efforts.

Female victims of sex trafficking are often detained and charged with prostitution. They generally spend six months incarcerated before their cases are heard. Photo Credit: Kamaran Najm/ Metrography

Vian* was 14-years old when her neighbor Ahmed, an 18-year old police officer, persuaded her to have a relationship with him by promising to marry her.  Their relationship only lasted a short period before Ahmed ended things, threatening Vian that he would kill her if she told anyone about them.  When Vian’s father became suspicious, he beat her and demanded to know if she was in a relationship.  Fearing for her safety, because the relationship, if discovered, would damage her family’s honor, Vian asked for Ahmed’s help in running away.   Ahmed tried to take Vian to Iran, but she escaped by taxi to another city to look for her friend’s house.  The taxi driver drove her to a brothel where Vian was forced into prostitution.  Several months later the police arrested and detained her and charged her with engaging in prostitution. Once in jail, Vian learned she was pregnant.

Iraqi women and girls are expected to uphold the honor of the family and tribe by adhering to rigid sexual and social norms.  Though not an exhaustive list of reasons, common breaches of these norms include perceived or real actions such as premarital sex, adultery, divorce or exercising freedom of choice in selecting a marriage partner.  Honor related violence is widely viewed by Iraqi society and the law as justified when it’s in response to what is deemed immoral behavior.  Retribution takes the form of ‘honor’ killings, forced marriage – including to rapists, – and severe restrictions on the mobility of women and girls.

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The Price of Sex: An Investigation of Sex Trafficking

It took me almost a decade to make this film. First I needed to find the women who had been trafficked. Then I needed to muster the nerve to ask them questions that made me hate myself for hours after each interview. Then, I had to tell them the real truth. I am here to take your picture.

Filmmaker Mimi Chakarova. Photo Credit: Bryan Shih

“Of my face?”

“Yes.”

“After everything I told you?”

“Yes.”

I would explain that if people don’t know, they live in darkness. “If they see your face, if you let me show them how I see you, they will understand. They will feel compassion. They won’t judge you,” I would say. Four years later, the photos and notebooks were no longer enough. “People need to hear your story. On camera. They need to see how you move, how you talk, how you breathe…” I would explain how I’m making a film about sex slavery – this combination of words that even as I write them make me cringe and remind me how we label pain, how we remove ourselves by using big words: “sex trafficking,” “sexual exploitation,” “gender-based violence,” “degradation of the family unit and societal values,” etc. But what do these words mean to an abused girl?

I can spend hours answering questions about the sex trade and corruption. I can spend weeks telling the stories of the young women who survived. But one thing I wasn’t prepared for as I worked on my film was the pain of others. I didn’t realize the channels it would open – the silence and shame so many of us live with. And the need to tell someone who won’t judge or blame.

Over the years, I have heard so many stories.  The main equation is always the same, but the components and circumstances are different.  When I was reporting in Athens last summer I was surprised to see young Iraqi boys being sold for sex. I was surprised to see how many are trafficked from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, hoping to make it to Western Europe, but then getting caught along the way. I was surprised to see the age of girls drop in places like Albania — traffickers are hungry for young flesh. I was surprised when I first learned how sex with pregnant women is more expensive, or when women in Dubai discussed the preference of their clients from England versus Saudi Arabia.

I don’t know if anything shocks me anymore. I’m very sad to say that because this is a sign of how this work has impacted my own understanding of humanity. There are many who administer horrendous acts for profit.  I can honestly tell you that I wish I could permanently erase some of this information. It’s not even the shock of it that troubles me. It’s the fact that I know about the awful and sadistic deviations that humans are capable of even in times of peace.

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Women and War Symposium

Last Friday, Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg joined Dr. Katherine Hicks, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Forces at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) for its “Women and War” symposium on peace and security in the second decade of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.  Jointly hosted by USIP and the Peace Research Institute-Oslo (PRIO), the event also marked the release of the book Women & War: Power and Protection in the 21st Century.

The edited volume is a trans-Atlantic collaborative effort to highlight innovative approaches toward ensuring greater participation of women at the negotiating table, and the ways in which women will make a difference in the security arena over the next decade.  In 2000, the United States supported the adoption of UNSCR 1325 as a call to action for governments around the world to increase women’s participation in matters of international security and strengthen their protection in times of conflict.  As part of President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s commitment to develop a National Action Plan that outlines U.S. support for women as key enablers of peace and stability in countries affected by conflict, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg  talked about his contribution to the book and highlighted a few aspects of the progress USAID is making in developing that plan.

As an Agency, USAID is combining initiatives and programs with actions that institutionalize a gender perspective into the way we do business.  We’re incorporating programmatic as well as administrative goals that are Specific, Measurable, Additive, fully Resourced, Time-bound, Evidence-Based and Responsive (SMARTER).  In addition to comprehensively addressing the key objective areas outlined by UNSCR 1325– including participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery,  we’re implementing Agency policies, training, and personnel policies that allow us to respond more effectively to the needs of women and girls in conflict-affected countries. “It’s about monitoring and evaluation, accountability and measurement.  It’s not just measuring the inputs and outputs, but the outcomes” stated Steinberg.

DA Steinberg further discussed how gender equality and women’s empowerment is critical to achieve our development and humanitarian assistance objectives.  In conflict and crisis situations, it is a challenging but vital imperative to work toward protection and power for women and girls—protection from sexual violence and gender-based violence, that harms individuals, families, and entire communities, and empowerment, that promotes women’s participation at the negotiating table and in rebuilding conflict-affected communities.  “It’s not just a question about bringing more women to the table, but how we make that process work more effectively.”  He stressed a critical shift in how we evaluate our own staff to value inclusive leadership – “drawing in others agencies and government but also reaching out to all the communities out there – most prominently the 50% of the population who is normally excluded from the development dialogue.”

Read an excerpt of Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg’s chapter of Women & War: Power and Protection in the 21st Century.

Deputy Administrator Announces Initiative to Include Women in Peace Processes and Meets Returnees in Southern Sudan

In a speech at Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman, Sudan, on April 9, USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg announced a new USAID global grant initiative to increase women’s participation in peace processes.  Grants of up to $2 million each, totaling up to $14 million, may be made available for projects that support UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which calls for women’s involvement in all aspects of peace and security, recognizing their leadership in peacemaking, and ending sexual violence in conflict.

“We all know that when social order breaks down, it is women who suffer most,” said Steinberg, who visited the university during a three-day visit to northern and southern Sudan.  “But we have to reject the vision of women as victims.  Women are not victims.  Women are the key to building just and lasting peace, stable and prosperous economies, and vibrant civil societies.”

The new program provides funding for female negotiators and mediators to fully participate in peace processes, taking into account their potential need for assistance with child care, transportation, accommodations, and security.

Steinberg said USAID will continue to assist people throughout Sudan, as the largest country in Africa prepares to divide into two nations July 9, following the overwhelming vote of southern Sudanese in January to secede and form an independent country.

In Juba, Steinberg visited Juba Port, where thousands of Sudanese have returned from the North to their areas of origin in the South.  Since October 30, more than 307,000 Sudanese have returned from northern to southern Sudan and the “Three Areas” along the north-south border (Abyei, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile).  Steinberg learned about the challenges returnees face, including scarcity of livelihood opportunities and access to basic services such as water, education, and health care.

One widow with eight children told Steinberg she has no family members living in the south and didn’t know where she and her children would go or who would help them.  Staff with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) indicated that returnees in such situations qualify for UNHCR’s vulnerable assistance program that provides help with immediate needs such as transport and emergency shelter.  USAID staff in Juba planned to follow up with UNHCR on her case as an example of how returnees are assisted.

Vivian’s Story—Breaking the Cycle of Poverty by Educating and Empowering Girls

Vivian O. was born in the outskirts of Kisumu, Kenya, and is said to have entered the world smiling.  Life for Vivian and others in her rural fishing village was challenging, requiring families to rely on ingenuity and perseverance in the face of little resources.  With the support of her family and her local community, the opportunities created by U.S. assistance programs, and the force of her determination, Vivian would achieve more than she’d ever imagined.

By the time Vivian finished fourth grade, her mother had a stable job selling used clothes in the open-air market in Kisumu.  Girls in rural communities like Vivian’s typically receive a low level of schooling.  However, having completed high school herself, Vivian’s mother prized education and overcame obstacles to enroll Vivian in a proper primary school.  Vivian was one of the top students in her province and eventually secured a place at Starehe Girls’ Centre, a highly competitive secondary school for gifted girls.

While in high school, Vivian became a member of the Global Give Back Circle, a circle of empowerment designed to transition a girl from poverty to prosperity.  The program mentors and supports girls so they can successfully transition from high school to college to a career and to global citizenship.  As the girls graduate, they commit to mentoring the next generation of girls in the circle.

In 2011, USAID announced a $3.5 million award for the education and empowerment of girls through the Global Give Back Circle.  The award is matched by an additional $3.5 million in private sector funds through a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment, so that the program can help over 500 Kenyan girls progress to higher levels of education and employment.  The process is implemented by the Kenya Community Development Foundation—a program by Kenyans for Kenyans.

Vivian has had many opportunities through the Global Give Back Circle.  She completed a nine-month Microsoft IT course, which allowed her to access educational resources online, research colleges, and obtain a full scholarship to a U.S. college.  She is studying pre-med and IT, aspiring to give back by helping millions through the connection of technology and medicine.  Vivian met the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, and pledged to actively participate in improving investments in people in Kenya.  As a result, she made presentations to private sector CEOs in Kenya and invited them to invest in girls.  Vivian says, “I feel privileged and honored to be able to be a voice for the empowerment of girls in my country.”

On March 8, 2011, Vivian joined two other young women of excellence—Maryam from Afghanistan and Terhas from Ethiopia—as special guests to the State Department’s International Women of Courage Awards, followed by a private meeting with Secretary Clinton.  Vivian then visited the White House as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama for a celebration of International Women’s Day.  Two sixth-grade girls, who have benefited from a girls education program in Burkina Faso administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in partnership with USAID, also attended.

At the event, Mrs. Obama said, “We as a nation benefit from every girl whose potential is fulfilled, from every woman whose talent is tapped,” adding that countries worldwide are more prosperous and peaceful “when women are equal and have the rights and opportunities they deserve.”

Read Maryam’s Story

Inspired and Humbled by Nepal’s Female Health Workers in the Rural Villages of Salyan

After a one-hour prop plane ride from Kathmandu, followed by an 11-hour rocky drive through the stunning hills and valleys of Mid-Western Nepal’s upper hilly region, our team reached Salyan District’s remote and rural villages. We were there to video the successes of the USAID-supported, 50,000-strong Female Community Health Volunteer project.  Working in every district of Nepal, these volunteers are often the only health care providers in such remote and isolated villages.

Female Community Health Volunteers of Marke District, Nepal, work to enhance health awareness, improve health standards, and save lives throughout their communities by utilizing the training they’ve received through the USAID-supported Nepal Family Health Program. Photo Credit: Gregg Rappaport/USAID

I’ve spent the last several days traveling with our group comprised of health specialists, program managers, and communicators (Gregg Rapaport, Senior Communications Manager, and Stuti Basnyet, USAID/Nepal) videoing, interviewing, listening and learning.  The stories are nothing short of amazing, and the volunteers’ passion to fulfill what they consider a calling to serve their communities has been inspiring.

It’s been humbling to hear the stories of these dedicated volunteers giving care under arduous circumstances and to meet the many villagers seeking care – a health volunteer who recently saved a newborn baby’s life minutes after delivery; another who has committed more than 22 years to serving her community through this project; a group of women who, in the last six months, have counseled more than 85 couples on family planning; a man seeking care for severe knee problems who arrived in the village on a stretcher after traveling nearly two hours, carried high above the heads of his four nephews. These volunteers are changing the behavior of their villages, increasing awareness to improve health standards, and most importantly, saving lives.  Of the 500 local children checked for pneumonia in the last six months, 73 were treated with antibiotics, 13 were referred to higher level health care at the district level, and all have made a full recovery.

One woman I spoke with, Laxmi Sharma, a volunteer in Salyan’s Ward 4, said that it’s not a matter of money, but rather a matter of helping her community. “We do this as volunteers,” she explained, “because we can improve the health of our communities.”  The women play a crucial role in providing vitamin A supplementation, immunizations, family planning education, safe motherhood interventions, and community-based integrated management of childhood illnesses, particularly in the detection and treatment of pneumonia and diarrhea – Nepal’s top two childhood killers.

With support from USAID and other donors, Nepal is also one of only a handful of countries poised to meet more than one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in health by reducing the number of maternal and child deaths by nearly half in only 10 years! A remarkable achievement alone, that it was realized at the end of the nation’s prolonged 10-year internal conflict makes it even more profound.

Our return trip back through the town of Dang this afternoon was marked by a rather serendipitous event – hundreds of women, men, and children marched in solidarity to celebrate the global 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  One woman I spoke with explained, “Through this (march) forum  … we can work to ensure women have equity, empowerment, and are at the center of mainstream politics. If all the women come together, this is something that is achievable, we just need to work at it.”

Check out this video on USAID/Nepal and their work on family health.

Around the world today, millions of people will flood the streets in their hometowns to voice their enduring support for the advancement of women and girls as key leaders in the creation of a better world.  As new ideas and innovative ways are introduced, USAID/Nepal continues to incorporate these pioneering initiatives in its program design, placing women and girls at the forefront of building the country’s peace and prosperity.

But USAID/Nepal is not only working in the health sector – it is also leading the way in partnership with the Nepalese people to finding solutions to the toughest challenges to driving economic progress, promoting educational opportunities, promoting political stability, sustaining the environment, and feeding the population.

The Education for Income Generation Activity has trained more than 65,000 disadvantaged youth from the Midwestern region—the most conflict affected and one of the poorest regions of Nepal—in basic and business literacy, vocational training and agriculture productivity and enterprise development in the last three years. Of these, 7,900 youth received vocational training with 80% gainfully employed as a result of the training.

Through the Women’s Leadership Academy program, USAID has provided training on the fundamentals of democratic politics and constitution drafting to over 200 elected women parliamentarians and civil servants, providing them with the tools needed to draft the constitution and participate fully in party and parliamentary proceedings.

We know that supporting investment in women and girls can be compelling force multiplier for development and innovation. At the heart of Nepal’s advancement, women will continue to advocate on behalf of their communities, and promote advancements in education, economic growth, politics, climate change, and initiatives to improve access to food.  USAID/Nepal will continue to move this agenda forward, and advance this priority by standing in solidarity with by the women and girls of Nepal.

Educating 1+ Billion Girls Will Make the Difference for Women’s Equality

This week we celebrate International Women’s Day and it’s as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the remarkable accomplishments toward achieving gender equality—and of the challenges that remain to ensuring that the 3.4 billion girls and women on our planet have the same chances as boys and men to lead healthy and satisfying lives.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “equal access to education, training, and science and technology,” is a powerful affirmation of the many benefits of educating girls, which come from improving women’s well-being, such as through better maternal health and greater economic empowerment. A recent Lancet article concluded that half of the decline in child mortality in low-income countries over the past 40 years can be attributed to better education of girls. Another recent study concluded that countries that have more educated women have coped with extreme weather conditions better than other countries—and  these are just two studies that have found empirical evidence for why investing in girls’ education is smart policy.

Girls’ enrollment in primary education has risen from 79% to 87% in the past decade, and gender equality, as measured by the ratio of girls’ to boys’ enrollment rates, seems almost within sight. Even in rural areas in poor countries, more girls are entering school. But these gains have not been the same across countries or even within countries. Being poor, living in a rural area, being from an indigenous community and being a girl means having much less schooling. According to the 2010 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report, for example, poor Hausa girls in rural Nigeria complete only one-third of a year of schooling as compared with more than 10 years for rich, urban boys and girls. Indeed, in many countries across the world, multiple sources of disadvantage leave girls’ schooling lagging behind that of boys. The uphill battle for these girls in areas torn by conflict is even worse.

Special challenges exist for girls. These challenges may be a heavy workload that takes time away from schooling and learning. In Mozambique, for example, young teenage girls work 50% more hours each week than boys, not only cooking and taking care of younger siblings but also collecting water or firewood for their families. Because they are often not expected to use academic skills later in life, girls and their parents may not place sufficient value on schooling—and probably just as typically, their teachers may believe that it is more important to teach to the boys than to the girls in their classrooms. 

When I first joined the World Bank 20 years ago, girls’ education was the first issue I worked on. With three other women who were passionate about the issue (two at USAID and one at an NGO), I organized the panel session on girls’ education at the Education for All conference in Jomtien, Thailand. We have come a long way since. We now know more about the effectiveness of programs such as targeted scholarships or vouchers, conditional cash transfers, and removal of tuition fees that influence the family’s demand for girls’ education. We also know that making more people aware of the benefits of girls’ education, measuring gender inequalities, and rallying more voices to speak about those inequalities are powerful ways to remind people of this critical development issue.

Educating girls is a priority for the World Bank and is a fundamental tenet of our forthcoming Education Strategy 2020, which is dedicated to ensuring that all children, everywhere, are afforded the right to learn and reach their full potential.

Elizabeth King is Director of Education for the World Bank. Elizabeth blogs on Education for Global Development, at blogs.worldbank.org/education.

How Will We Shape the Next One-Hundred International Women’s Days?

As the 100th celebration of international women’s day approaches, I’ve been musing over the origins of the day and what it symbolizes. The first international women’s day was formally celebrated on March 19, 1911 throughout Europe, where both women and men advocated for women’s right to work under fair conditions.

In 2011, as USAID reiterates its support for advancing women’s rights, it is appropriate to reflect on how international development programs can continue to support this objective of international women’s day. The time is ripe to ask ourselves how we, as development practitioners, can continue to advance women’s role as income earners around the world.

From my twenty-six years of working in international development around the world, I believe that the key to a women’s ability to earn income is how the law defines her as an independent economic actor. Can she own and register a business? Qualify for credit without the signature of her husband, father or brother on a loan? Can she purchase property in her own name? Can she file taxes herself? Inherit property from her mother or father? What happens if she is widowed? To address these questions, USAID has sponsored several initiatives over the years that advance women’s legal rights, including rights related to income generation. These projects have initiated the dialogue over legislation which defines women status as individuals, statutes concerning marriage and divorce, inheritance and children, among other things.

USAID projects work to protect women’s rights by engaging government, civil society organizations, communities, and local leaders to change legislation that advances women’s rights. In some instances legislation change is directly related to enabling women’s economic engagement. However projects must also consider how to establish environments that are conducive to women’s economic participation. USAID has supported several projects which advance other aspects of women’s empowerment and ultimately contribute to her ability to earn an income. Projects such as the Women’s Legal Right Initiative worked in nine countries around the world on activities such as establishing policy to prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace and schools, and criminalize violence against women. In Benin, for example, this was put to practice by working with local NGOs to draft sexual harassment legislation that became law.

The first international women’s day was celebrated by both women and men. Recent studies on advancing women’s rights confirm that family dynamics for women get better when social policies and programs support greater involvement by men in these issues. A new publication by the UN documents this process showing how women’s status increases when she has earning opportunities that are reinforced with social policies that support both women and men.

As we begin to think about how we will shape the next one hundred international women’s days, it is good to remember the lessons we have learned to advance the conditions for working women; in terms of women’s role within the family and women’s role as income earners. USAID’s fresh focus on monitoring and evaluation of development programs will help document how specific activities help bring women into the development process as equal partners and the impact this has on family welfare and economic development.

Dr. Tisch is a social scientist with 22 years project management and technical expertise including 17 years of project experience in Asia. Serves as home office director of the USAID Indonesia Changes for Justice project and the USAID Anti-Trafficking in Persons project. Dr. Tisch is a three-time USAID chief of party (Women’s Legal Rights Initiative; dot-GOV program; Farmer-to-Farmer Program Russia and Ukraine). She served as project manager for the e-government Knowledge Map for the World Bank InfoDev program, project leader for the USAID/ANE Bureau ASEAN ICT Enhancement project, and program leader for the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative (Atlantic Philanthropic Services).

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