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Archives for Women

Micro Entrepreneurs, Big Dreams

In most ways, Khanum Bibi is an ordinary Punjabi wife in Lahore, Pakistan—the country’s second largest metropolitan area. Married 25 years, she and her husband Nisar have raised a son and five daughters in a small village on the outskirts of the city relying on his income as a day laborer and her work making and embellishing ladies garments with beads at home.

One of Bibi’s daughters at work embellishing a shalwar. Photo Credit: USAID/Pakistan

The family squeaked by until hard times struck last year. In the heart of an economic downturn, Nisar was injured in a street accident and could no longer work. Trapped economically, the couple agreed that Bibi should take the unusual step of venturing out of the house and proposed to her neighbors to sell the garments together to get better deals from market vendors.

At just the right moment a USAID program offered to train her on product design and development, use of raw materials, market demand, and pricing arrangements. The next month, Bibi left her daughters to work at home and became a sales agent – an entrepreneur.

“I have had a difficult life,” Bibi said, wiping a tear with her headscarf. “But I feel a tremendous responsibility for my family since my husband’s injury. My becoming a sales agent has improved our condition, and also my confidence. Now that I have this opportunity, I want to maximize it.”

This USAID program will increase the incomes of at least 120,000 micro entrepreneurs like Bibi by developing the capabilities of indigenous organizations and local private and public sector partners working with micro entrepreneurs and small enterprises to significantly build their businesses.

As for Bibi, she consults with her husband Nihar on all important business decisions, and maintains her established role in the family setting as she breaks down some of Pakistan’s social barriers and rigid social traditions.

“My husband didn’t give me the right to work,” Bibi said. “I earned it. Today we make joint decisions, and the people in our village understand. USAID has given me new ideas and approaches I never would have considered.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

Taking a Stand Against Violence Now

“Girls have been made to believe that they need someone to survive.”

These powerful words came from one of the commentators in the short documentary, SASA!, a film about women, violence and HIV/AIDS.

Sasa is Kiswahili for “now.” As in now is the time to take a stand against women’s violence. And we need to make this change now.

SASA! tells the powerful story of Josephine and Mama Joyce, two women from different countries, but in similar situations. Beaten, abused, pushed down, and left HIV positive by the men they married.

As young women, they were made to feel powerless and told they wouldn’t be happy unless they were with a man—even a man who abuses them.

Their situations are not isolated cases; globally, at least one out of every four women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime.

One out of four.

Gender based violence (GBV), is a pervasive public health and human rights issue throughout the world. GBV consists of sexual, physical, emotional and/or financial abuse and is manifested throughout the life cycle.

Furthermore, this type of violence against another human being has negative health consequences.

In Mama Joyce and Josephine’s situations, they were both left HIV positive. Josephine’s husband slept with other women, and when she brought up the use of a condom, he beat her. And even though she protested, he forced sex on her. Adding salt to the wound, her in-laws blamed their son’s death on her. Mama Joyce’s husband left her and his second wife, leaving Mama Joyce to take care of her ailing “co-wife.”

But these women remained strong. They became leaders in their communities, hold support groups, and encourage other women who are in similar situations.End Violence Against Women Graphic

USAID, through the Global Health Initiative, is fully committed to preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Interventions work with both men and women to address the multiple factors at various levels that fuel the issue, and we are looking to help make a change in these women’s lives now.

Women Leaders Combating Violence Against Women in India

During President Obama’s visit to India earlier this month, Ms. Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to President Obama for Intergovernmental and Public Engagement, along with USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, led a roundtable discussion with leading women activists and experts in India’s development sector who focus on women’s empowerment issues.

India has a history of strong women leaders in this area and several of the notable participants, and their organizations, have been working on gender issues for over 30 years, some with USAID support. Great examples of women’s empowerment activities coming out of the discussion were SEWA’s program that is empowering women workers in 11 Indian states and countries across the region and the USAID-funded Garima Project which focuses on communities holistically, including men and boys, and specifically on Muslim women and gender-based violence from the human rights perspective.  As a sub-grant under the the Garima Project, the Indian NGO, Independent Commission for People’s Rights and Development (ICPRD), provides training, mentoring, mass campaigns, street theater, and other activities targeting gender-based violence.

Watch here as Dr. Nandini Azad, the President of ICPRD, explains how young men, some of whom used to commit acts of gender discrimination and violence themselves but have since been rehabilitated, perform their street theater.  The boys are from low-income communities who are spearheading a movement to end gender-based violence in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Karnataka. Here, they role play the life of women and girls in a typical rural household and engage the audience in a dicussion that focuses on female empowerment.  They perform these plays at public gathering places in rural areas and draw large crowds.

But many challenges do remain.  For example, in India a crime against a woman occurs every 3 minutes; a woman is raped every 29 minutes; a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes; and a case of cruelty by a husband or relative occurs every 9 minutes. USAID is responding to these grim statistics by empowering women through advocacy and policy efforts that focus on preventing violence against women, affronts to the dignity of the girl child, and child marriage.

Over the last seven years, USAID has been committed to advancing the rights of women by:

  • Providing training to over 1,100 doctors and prosecutors to handle cases of violence against women;
  • Facilitating a national coalition of 900 NGOs and individuals who lobby the government on women’s issues; and
  • Forming of over 120 Youth Forums Against Gender-Based Violence that create awareness in villages through debates, discussions, essay competitions, and street theater performances.

On November 29, Ms. Biswal and Dr. Azad continued the discussion on a panel session at the U.S. State Department entitled, “Changing Attitudes: What Men and Boys Can Do to Address and Prevent Violence against Women,” where a USAID-funded video of ICPRD’s work was also shown. The event was hosted by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, as an activity under the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

Helping Women Avoid HIV Infection and Transmission

HIV-positive and pregnant with her second child, Grace Abalo was like many other women in the developing world- in need of services to prevent her child from contracting HIV. Determined to have her baby born healthy, Grace and her husband joined a USAID-funded family support group at the health center near their home in Uganda.

There Grace learned how to access prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programs and other services that support their health in the long term, as well as strategies for positive living, safe infant feeding, and healthy child care.

“I learned why and how to adhere to cotrimoxazole prophylaxis, what antiretroviral therapy is, and which breastfeeding options would not put my children at risk of being infected,” said Grace.

Armed with knowledge and support, Grace was able to ensure her child stayed HIV negative. She and her husband continued to receive ongoing support through the network of people living with HIV/AIDS, and she has even begun to help other HIV-positive mothers take their children for testing and educates them on breastfeeding options.

With women of childbearing age accounting for more than half of the people living with HIV/AIDS, PMTCT programs are vital to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And while these interventions are aimed at women, it is just as important to gain support and participation from their male partners. Like Grace, the support of the men in the life of an HIV-positive woman can make a tremendous difference. With education of men, comes the understanding of the disease, how it’s spread, and how to treat it. This then can result in positive changes in gender, social and cultural norms.

Across the world women just like Grace deserve a chance to have healthy babies. Through the Global Health Initiative, USAID will continue to work to provide every woman with the opportunity to have a healthy child.

USAID at Forefront of HIV Prevention

On Monday, I convened a meeting to determine the next steps following the success of the CAPRISA trial, which showed the world that a microbicide could help prevent HIV transmission in women. Together with both public and private sector colleagues, we defined a way forward over the next two years to expedite licensure and prepare for the introductory phase of the gel or other ARV-based microbicides. I will also convene an additional meeting  of technical experts in the field to discuss how to aggressively roll out microbicide treatments to those most in need.  We have a shared responsibility to build on the successes achieved to date by making smart investments that will ultimately save more lives in the future.

Giving Girls a Chance Against HIV/AIDS

In Malawi, Chimwemwe Banda was abandoned by her parents when she was a young girl; she and her sister were left to take care of themselves. Without money to pay for basic needs or tuition, Chimwemwe was forced to drop out of school. In hopes of improving her situation, like many girls in Malawi, she entered into an early marriage— Chimwemwe was only 15 years old on her wedding day.  Soon after she married, Chimwemwe realized that life was not going to get better just because she had a husband.

Chimwemwe Banda is one of the many girls who has benefited from a Go Girls! community intervention. Photo Credit: Hilary M. Schwandt/AFP

Early marriage, along with behaviors such as transactional and intergenerational sex, contributes to girls’ vulnerability to HIV. Chimwemwe is just one of the 600 million girls living in poverty who are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Similarly, girls who are orphans, early school leavers, socially marginalized, and/or migrants have a heightened vulnerability to the virus. Worldwide, women and girls bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; according to the World Health Organization, AIDS is the leading cause of death among women aged 15-44 worldwide.

Socio-economic factors like poverty, along with gender norms such as expectations around early marriage, can lead to increased vulnerabilities that discourage girls from asserting control over the timing and circumstances of sex, including negotiating protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Most interventions to date have focused on individual-level behavioral change without sufficient consideration of the structural factors that fuel the epidemic. USAID is working to address this imbalance through the Go Girls! Initiative.

In fact, it was Go Girls! that stepped in to help Chimwemwe. With their assistance Chimwemwe dissolved her marriage. Her village developed a community mobilization team that recognized the detrimental effects of early marriage on girls, and advocated delaying marriage as a strategy for maintaining girls’ health and encouraging their educational pursuits.

Since the end of her marriage, Chimwemwe returned to school. She now leads a happier life and enjoys going to school everyday. “I feel good about being back in school,” she said. “If I had the opportunity to advise other girls, I would tell them not to marry early but to continue schooling because school is good. I am working hard at school every day so that I may have a brighter future.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

World AIDS Day 2010

On World AIDS Day, we commit to build upon our successes and continue to make smart investments that will ultimately save and improve millions of lives.  Join us this week as we highlight some of our successes and share stories of those helped by our programs.

If you’d like to learn more about the Go Girls! program, including how to access free copies of the Go Girls! program materials, contact ghcommunicationsteam@usaid.gov

 

Promoting Evidence and Action for Respectful Care at Birth

Exciting. Moving. Powerful.

These words are often used to describe childbirth. It can be a time of wonder and joy.

In many places, however, the experience is described differently: Humiliating. Frightening. Abusive.

Throughout the world, women are abused in subtle and overt ways during childbirth, which is also a time of intense vulnerability. The abuse – or anticipation of it — can be so extreme, in fact, that it often prevents women from seeking lifesaving care.

“Some female nurses rough you up to an extent that you can tell her to let you deliver alone. You are in pain, and all she does is give you a harsh and rude approach. That is why I don’t go to the hospital to deliver because I am not used to somebody who roughs me up,” says woman interviewed in Kenya.

While much focus has been placed on overcoming financial and geographic obstacles to connecting women with lifesaving care during childbirth, little attention has been paid to documenting and tacking significant barriers posed by disrespect and abuse of women in facilities.

A new USAID-funded report, “Exploring Evidence and Action for Respectful Care at Birth,” presents evidence of abuse of women during childbirth and documents the negative impact on women’s use of skilled care. USAID funds grants to develop and evaluate interventions addressing disrespect and abuse in childbirth, and will support future efforts to further document, confront, and tackle abuse during childbirth.

A recent report found that 34 percent fewer women die each year from complications during pregnancy and childbirth than previous international estimates suggested. Access to quality care is critical in maintaining this trend.

USAID programs support facility-based maternal health care and community mobilization approaches to ensure women’s access to appropriate care and safe delivery is not restricted.

Through the Global Health Initiative, USAID will continue to support efforts to ensure that women have access to appropriate care and safe delivery is not restricted. When women are able to access needed quality health services and protect themselves from the many health risks they face, long-term social and economic progress can be achieved.

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

Follow us on Twitter. When you see us tweet something interesting, retweet it!

Become a fan of our USAID for Global Health Facebook page and feel free to share stories, photos, and videos that demonstrate your support for women’s rights!

The Straight Facts: The Plight of Women

Women around the globe should be celebrated for their extraordinary contributions in all areas of society – as professionals, as bread-winners, as caregivers and caretakers.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Graphic

But we must also focus on the stark reality that women suffer disproportionately from poor access to health services, discrimination, the effects of war, and, at times, victimization by harmful traditions.  It is important to keep in mind that behind every statistic listed below, there is a heartbreaking story to be told.

  • More than 530,000 women die in childbirth every year – tragically, the vast majority of these deaths are avoidable with simple and cost-effective health interventions.
  • More than 100 million women in the developing world, about 17 percent of all married women would prefer to postpone their next pregnancy or not have any more children but are not using a modern method of contraception.
  • It is estimated that up to 100,000 maternal deaths could be avoided each year if women who did not want children used effective contraception.
  • One harmful outcome of unintended pregnancy is abortion – an estimated 18 million abortions take place each year in the developing world, contributing to high rates of death and injury.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 58 percent of all people living with HIV are female. In some countries, girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have three to six times higher HIV prevalence than boys their age.
  • More than 80,000 women suffer complications during pregnancy including obstetric fistula.  The consequences of this condition, when untreated, are life shattering.  Many times the child dies, and the mother has lifelong reproductive and urinary complications.  But it can be prevented through expanded access to modern methods of family planning, raising the age of marriage and can be treated with proper medical attention.
  • An estimated 52 million girls under the age of 18 years of age are married off by their families each year.  Likewise, several hundreds of thousands of girls and women are trafficked every year as illegal workers and/or forced into prostitution.
  • An estimated 100 million to 140 million women and girls undergo female genital mutilation/cutting each year and thousands more are at risk.

Despite these startling statistics we know that women around the world have an undying spirit, are surmounting obstacles, and are committed to making their lives, their families, and their communities better.  President Obama stated, “…we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams.  That is what I want for women everywhere.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

The Freakonomics of “The Girl Effect”

What would happen if you applied economic theory in an unconventional way to try and understand how a girl might change the course of humanity?

At my desk one morning, I watched Nike’s “The Girl Effect” campaign videos on YouTube hoping to find inspiration for new Impact blog topics. The videos instantly reminded me of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s award-winning book, Freakonomics. The collaboration between a leading economist and the author/journalist explores the application of economic theory to diverse and seemingly unrelated topics. Most know it as the butterfly effect, or chaos theory, where small changes in an initial condition can produce large variations in future outcomes of a dynamic system.

It dawned on me, the incredible synergies between the campaign, the book, and the work we do here at USAID.  It put into perspective the reason we ensure all of our programs are women-centered.

There’s no denying the abundance of gender inequality around the world, particularly in developing nations. There is no denying the billions of dollars in lost productivity due to the fact that millions of women are denied the right to education and the ability to work outside the home. Women’s rights are more than just a moral imperative; they are the key to progress.

So how might a girl change the course of humanity?

Assume this initial condition: A 13 year old girl stands at a crossroads with two choices before her: school or child marriage. The problem is it’s not usually a choice.

Married, she is more likely to die from childbirth at an early age; she is more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases; she is more prone to become a victim of partner violence; she never receives an education; and she is unable to contribute to society in a way that has a larger social impact and helps to push the human race forward.

With an education she marries later in life—to someone she chooses. She decides the timing of her children and is in a position to make decisions about her own health. She invests money in her children’s health and education, and is able to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Other people recognize her value and contributions, and begin to understand that all girls have value.

Multiply that scenario by the 600 million girls in the developing world and it’s easy to comprehend how a small change in an initial condition is capable of determining the course of humanity. That is powerful.

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

The Story Behind the Statistics: Victims of Rape in Benin Find Justice

The Statistics: In Benin, more than 75 percent of women are victims of violence, and 44 percent are sexually abused.

The Story: Déborah and her husband Djobo live in the village of Guiguiso in northern Benin. On the night of September 9, 2009, three men assaulted the couple while they slept. Djobo was left bleeding and unconscious and Déborah was raped. After Djobo regained consciousness, he alerted the village. The coordinator of a USAID project, which aims to reduce violence against women and girls in all of Benin’s 77 municipalities, promptly informed the police commissioner and project facilitator in nearby Bassila. With the help of the entire population of Guiguiso, the three men were tracked down and taken into custody before sunrise.

Déborah and Djobo sought medical attention from the Bassila hospital and, with medical certificates in hand, they went to the police commissioner. After hearing the accused, the victims, and the witnesses, the commissioner presented the case to the prosecutor. Today, the three accused men await trial from jail.

In Benin, more than 75 percent of women are victims of violence, and 44 percent are sexually abused. Since 2007, USAID has helped to not only promote greater recognition and acceptance of women’s rights in Benin but also get more women victims of violence to seek help from the Benin Government’s Social Service Centers and the justice system.

“The injury we suffered as a result of this gang rape may pass with time,” Déborah said weeks after the assault, “but I dare not imagine what life would be like had we not received help from USAID, all the way from the hospital, the police station, and down to the prosecutor’s office to press charges.”

From November 2007 to September 2010, the U.S. Government has assisted in 2,782 cases of physical and sexual violence of which 996 reached the Courts of First Instance. This is nearly seven times the number planned for the life of the project, as it is very difficult for Beninese women to press charges against the men who abused them.

“Before,” a Beninese judge said, “we would attempt to resolve cases of gender-based violence ‘amicably’ and out-of-court. This is no longer the case because of USAID programs which help the victims understand and pursue their cases in the court system; and mounting pressure from the media, which act as essential partners in the cause of justice for women.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women:

From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog every day to bring much needed attention to the reality of millions of women around the world who are victims of violence and abuse.  Our blog posts will focus on the root causes of violence and individual stories of women and girls who lived through it.

Follow us on Twitter. When you see us tweet something interesting, retweet it!

Become a fan of our USAID for Global Health Facebook page and feel free to share stories, photos, and videos that demonstrate your support for women’s rights!

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