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Archives for Women

The Price of Eggs

Caren Grown headshot.  Photo: USAID

Gender experts have been advocating for sex-disaggregated data and gender sensitive statistics for more than 25 years. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action called for “reliable gender statistics to inform policies and programs and to assess progress and gaps.” While progress has been made, notable gaps remain, especially in the area of women’s economic empowerment. It is easier to find the price of eggs in a market in Tanzania or Guatemala than to find the extent of women’s ownership of land, housing and other productive assets relative to men, or women’s hourly wages in a retail store, or  whether a female entrepreneur was able to access debt or equity capital to start her business. You get the picture.

I am hopeful things will change with the new Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative (EDGE), being launched today in Busan, Korea, at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.  This initiative, led by the United Nations Statistics Division and UN Women, will improve the availability and use of statistics that capture gender gaps in economic activity.

EDGE capitalizes on a call to action by Secretary Clinton at the May 2011 OECD Ministerial Session on Gender and Development, and builds on recommendations of the UN International Agency and Expert Group on Gender and Statistics to make the data that is collected on women and men in education, entrepreneurship and the labor market more comparable and useful.

EDGE will include two major activities.  First is the development of an online database for a harmonized set of indicators, including education, employment, and entrepreneurship.   Once the database is up and running, we will have a one stop shop for indicators – across developed and developing countries – on labor force participation rates for individuals ages 15-24 years old, and 15 and above by sex.  We’ll be able to determine the percent distribution of the employed population by sector and sex, the youth unemployment rate by sex, and the percent of firms owned by women.

Second, EDGE will support a set of common, pilot activities in a small number of partner countries to develop protocols and data collection methods for sex-disaggregated data on entrepreneurship and assets, two areas with large data gaps. The pilots will eventually result in routine collection by countries of data that we can use to compute firm entry, growth, and survival rates by sex, or the proportion of the population that owns land and houses by sex, and other measures.

With some political will, resources, and the harnessing of good technical minds, in the next five years we can report globally on how well women are faring relative to men in entrepreneurial activity and labor markets –  alongside the price of eggs.

Can you hear her now? Putting mobile phones in women’s hands

In the late 1970’s one of the major findings on Madison Avenue, (then the world capital of advertising) was that women control over 80% of all consumer purchases in the U.S. This ‘shocking discovery’ changed who and how companies marketed their products. I was just entering the workforce then and thought, ‘ how in the world could this have been such a surprise?’  Had none of them been to a grocery or department store?  Had none of them recognized that the one car family was becoming two and it was women doing the schlepping?

It is happening again. Only this time the stakes are much higher.  Cell phones have flown off the shelves and into the hands of people in the remotest and some of the poorest places on earth.  They are transforming the developing world and bringing incredible opportunities.

Yet, according to a Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and a GSMA study, three hundred million fewer women own them than men in the developing world.  If this gap isn’t closed women will be left out of not only the communication revolution but the opportunity to use the phone to make money, get information they need to stay healthy or to grow better crops, or to seek help. The industry association, GSMA, along with USAID, AUSAID and Visa Inc. said we are not going to let this happen on our watch. Today we are announcing a global public-private partnership to close the gap. And since we know for it to be sustainable without donor dollars, we are working with the mobile operators to build the business case for phone ownership by poor women.

For more information, please visit

The Economic Effects of Abuse Against Women

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh to visit a USAID-supported project, the Cost of Violence Against Women. As we drove along the crowded streets of Dhaka, I noticed something very peculiar – there were only men everywhere I looked. Once I arrived at the hotel I was greeted by Julia Ahmed, the team leader for this project. Julia is an extremely enthusiastic and positive woman. As a trained medical doctor, she has been working in public health and development for the last decade.

Early the next morning the two of us left Dhaka and headed out to one of the project sites where Julia’s team was conducting a study that measures the economic cost of domestic violence against women. The moral imperative to end violence against women certainly can’t be understated, but for many policy makers, having data that ties this issue to the status of their nation’s economy helps them to make the case and justify the allocation of resources to combat it.

In addition to providing hard data on the economic ripple effects of brutality against women, this project is raising awareness among community members about the harms of domestic violence and helping them to understand the impact it can have on a family’s ability to generate income, save money and provide for children.

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Tears- How a Seasoned Journalist Became an Activist

Jimmie Briggs is the founder and Executive Director of the Man Up Campaign.

Seven years ago, I was a journalist covering the lives of war-affected children and child soldiers. In April 2004, I found myself in Rwanda for several weeks documenting the commemoration of the tenth genocide anniversary. Moving around the still-recovering central African nation, I visited prisoners who took part in the killing, as well as responders and survivors.

One day, I went to a shelter for war widows and victims of sexual violence. There, I met a young Tutsi woman whose parents had been killed, leaving her to care for two much younger siblings. She told me that she had been gang raped over a period of weeks by Hutu militiamen. She survived but with profound psychosocial trauma, and later discovered she was HIV positive. When we met, her body and mind were wracked from AIDS and she had little time left.. None of her siblings or surviving family knew she had the disease.

I sat with her for several hours to do an interview through a nurse who was providing translation from Kinyarwanda to French. Being with her provoked a reaction in me which I’d never had before, not even after years of covering conflict in places such as Colombia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, or the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Intifada.

As this brave survivor graphically recounted the days of rape and physical abuse, along with the bitterness she carried from dying in silence, I started to cry. I cried as much from her tragic personal story, but also the surreal occurrence of me seeing my daughter in her face. At the time my daughter was only three years old, nevertheless I saw her image in this young rape victim in Rwanda.

The woman and the nurse were as shocked as I was. After all, I was a combat reporter and thought I had seen or heard every horrifying story in the human experience. I wasn’t afraid of much. The emotional armor was without dents.

Still, I broke down. After all the tragedies I’d seen and heard, hers was the one that really penetrated. I managed to collect myself, but I was never the same.  Afterwards I looked  back over every article, broadcast piece, and essay I’d done to that point and recalled the oppressed, abused, diminished women and girls whom I’d overlooked for the sake of the “bigger” story.

From that moment on, I knew that as a man, a father, and a son, I would never ignore or turn away from the individual wars women fight every single day.

16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence: What Do You Know About Gender Based Violence?

As USAID launches its observance of the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence (November 25th-December 10th), we hope to dispel myths. We want everyone to understand that gender based violence is more than simple physical violence. We want our whole community to appreciate the fact that men are a significant share of the victims. We aspire to create broader understanding that GBV has a significant economic cost in developed and developing countries alike. And we would like everyone to remember that while women are the large majority of the victims of GBV, they also are leading the fight to eliminate this global epidemic. We must all recognize that men and boys, and women and girls will need to work together to eliminate gender-based violence.

Started in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a world-wide campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence and to encourage others to help eliminate GBV.  Because the first day, November 25, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the last day, December 10, is International Human Rights Day, the 16 days highlights that gender based violence violates human rights.
This year’s theme— From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!—reminds us that conflict, in all its forms, influences peace and prosperity in the family, in communities, and in societies around the world. It also underlines that gender based violence can often flag instability and be a by-product of broader insecurity.

I encourage you, in Washington, DC and abroad, to take part in the important events planned for the next couple of weeks. Help us raise awareness of GBV and shine a spotlight on what men and women can do to combat GBV.

Visit 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence for more information.

Challenges & Approaches to Reducing Gender Gaps

Today, at the Pre-G20 Side Event: “Growing Economies Through Women’s Entrepreneurship,” co-hosted by the United States and the OECD, the US Treasury Department and the IFC, implementing partner to the G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), previewed the report “Strengthening Access to Finance for Women SMEs in Developing Countries,” (to be released in at the G20 Summit in Cannes on November 4) and USAID announced a new initiative to expand women’s leadership in the small and medium enterprise sector.  The report and USAID initiative are significant for both laying out the challenges and identifying possible approaches to reducing gender gaps.

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

First, across countries, data show a gender gap in venture creation and business ownership, especially as firm size increases.  It is difficult to draw solid conclusions, since the evidence base on women owned businesses is limited.  Yet, based on existing data, the IFC reports that small and medium enterprises with full or partial female ownership represent 31 to 38 percent of formal firms in this sector.  Women’s entrepreneurship is highly concentrated among smaller firms:  they represent between 32-39 percent of the very smallest firms, 30-36 percent of small SMEs and 17-21 percent of medium sized companies.[i]

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Three Questions with Abigail Disney

Filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney Photo Credit: Oprah Magazine

On Tuesday, October 25th, the U.S. Institute of Peace, in collaboration with USAID, the Institute for Inclusive Security, and Vital Voices will host a discussion with Ambassador Swanee Hunt and USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg on the best ways to ensure a direct role for women in peace-building efforts worldwide.  In addition, film producer Abigail Disney and film director Pamela Hogan will present their PBS documentary film, I Came to Testify, that describes how a group of 16 women from Bosnia, victims of the war’s systematic rapes, broke through political and societal silence by stepping onto the witness stand at an international tribunal.

We asked Abigail Disney to answer a few questions about why it’s critical for women to play a vital role in peace building around the world.

What is the goal of the Women, War & Peace series? What do you hope audiences take away from watching it?

We hope audiences will gain a nuanced, expansive understanding of women’s capacity to influence change and decision-making on the local, national, and global level. Moreover, we strive to show audiences what it means to be a peacebuilder. The women we follow are the embodiment of the idea that peace is a process, not an event—a verb, not a noun. The Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit—the first woman President of the UN General Assembly—said that “the more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” It’s our aim to show those who are sweating for peace. And it’s our goal to illustrate the ways in which women are already doing—and are poised to continue doing—this crucial work.

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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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