In August 2015, I traveled with colleagues to An Giang Province in southern Vietnam to visit beneficiaries of an innovative project that is helping 200 Cham ethnic minority women learn embroidery. Selling their embroidery, they earn incomes for themselves. We were inspired by the positive change that the small amount of money invested in this project is bringing to the lives of these women and their families.
This project, with funding from the 2013 Vietnam Women’s Innovation Day, supported by the Vietnam Women’s Union, the World Bank, and other partners - private and public - has helped improved economic opportunities for Cham women. All through the old traditional art of embroidery.
“This training and job creation project has helped a group of women get a stable monthly income of more than two million Dong (about $100), without leaving their homes. This means they can still take care of their children and look after their homes,” Kim Chi, a local female entrepreneur and leader of the project, told us. “Women participating in the project not only learn embroidery skills, which preserve Cham traditions, but also provide opportunities to share experiences in raising children and living a healthy life style, and support each other when needed.”
While we were all excited about the successes under the project, a bit more reflection reminded me that unless cultural norms which require Cham women to mainly work from home, are addressed, it will be hard for projects like this, no matter how well designed, to have a lasting impact in helping Cham women realize their full economic and social potential.
In 100 countries around the world, women are barred from doing certain work solely because they are women. More than 150 countries have at least one law that is discriminatory towards women. And only 18 countries are free of any law disadvantaging women.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of legal barriers for women to achieve their full economic potential. New World Bank Group research in the Women, Business and the Law 2016 report shows that in 32 countries women cannot apply for passports in the same way as men and in 18 countries they cannot get a job if their husbands feel it is not in the family’s interest. Jordan and Iran are among them. In 59 countries, there are no laws against sexual harassment at work. Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Armenia are among 46 countries where there is no legal protection against domestic violence. In a nutshell, the research makes for depressing reading when you care about inclusion and ending poverty.
Also available in: العربيةWomen’s economic equality is good for business. It is clear that women play a fundamental role in building and sustaining the world economy.
They offer a powerful source of economic growth and opportunity. Women contribute not only to the formal economy, but also through the valuable and generally unpaid tasks of caregiving and homemaking. It has been proven that better opportunities in education, health, employment, and policies lead to better well being for women, their communities and — in turn — the economic and social well-being of a country.
However, only recently has the relationship of gender and infrastructure — more specifically, transport — and the role it plays in a country’s social and economic well-being been addressed.
Transport networks are one of the most important elements of a country’s infrastructure, and they are key to reducing poverty and promoting equality. A country’s transport infrastructure generally centers on enabling the supply of goods, connecting and providing access to people, services and trade, with the objective of bringing economic prosperity to a nation. However, it has been only in the past five to ten years that infrastructure projects have started to include gender awareness as part of their investment decisions.
As women become even more central to a country’s economy, addressing their transportation needs takes on an essential role in promoting economic growth and prosperity.
Also available in: العربية
Less than a year before the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and over one month after the final match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, BC, I would like to share and focus my reflections on the Women’s World Cup, mostly emphasizing the social psychology and sociological milieu around the match as it was extensively covered by all media.
“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ― Maya Angelou
In the past, I had the privilege of being present at multiple global sporting events around the world in many capacities, but I had never attended an event as a spectator until the final match between USA and Japan on Sunday, July 5 at BC Place Stadium. Women’s sport is very close to my heart as I had the privilege of managing my daughter’s junior and collegiate tennis career for almost ten years. Nevertheless, I was very excited to find myself in a new role as a part of the overwhelmingly American crowd of 53,341. On that day, a golden haze from wildfires blanketed the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver, BC, perhaps due to the 16-year US winning drought at the Women’s World Cup! However, during the 90 minutes of playing time and finishing strong with a winning score of 5-2, the US team extinguished the flames within the boundaries of the football pitch substituting golden smog with flashy golden confetti, a golden trophy, and gold medals around their necks at the award ceremony.
This summer has seen North America pleasantly packed with global sporting events. First we had the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, then the Pan-American and Parapan-American Games in Toronto. In between, there were the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, and coming in late September, the City of Richmond will be hosting the UCI Cycling Road Championships. One would wonder what these events have in common… The answer is relatively simple. In all of these events, female athletes play either the main role or a shared role as competitors. I am very cautious with the usage of the term “equal participation” as we hear some critics voicing their opinions. During and after the Women’s World Cup some complaints were raised about the artificial turf. Others complained that the opposing teams were staying in the same hotel, and that offensive comments about player’s appearances had been made. There were also comments about paltry financial rewards for women athletes as compared to the Men’s World Cup. But on the day of the final in the packed-to-the-brim BC Place, no one was thinking about these shortcomings.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Tomorrow’s world: seven development megatrends challenging NGOs
As we move into 2015, many UK-based NGOs are wondering how to meet the challenges of a crucial year. What is the unique and distinct value that each organisation, and the UK sector as a whole, brings to international development, and how might this change in future? To help the sector get on the front foot we have identified seven “megatrends” and posed a few questions to highlight some of the key choices NGOs might need to make. At the end of next week we’ll be concluding a consultation with DfID on the future of the sector – all your thoughts are welcome.
Why emerging markets need smart internet policies
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) has released its latest study into, well, the affordability of internet access. The study shows how big the challenge is on that front in emerging markets – for over two billion people there, fixed-line broadband costs on average 40 percent of their monthly income, and mobile broadband costs on average 10 percent of their monthly income. The United Nations’ “affordability target” for internet access is five percent of monthly income, so there’s clearly a ways to go in many developing countries. Almost 60 percent of global households are still unconnected and, unsurprisingly, those who can’t afford to get online tend to be poor, in rural communities and/or women.
It’s been 20 years since 189 countries signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, committing themselves to embracing gender equality, and 104 years since the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911, but child marriage is still a common practice in many developing countries.
Child marriage, defined by UNICEF as a marriage or informal union before age 18, is a violation of human rights. It is a reality for both boys and girls but disproportionately affects young females. Globally, more than 700 million women alive today were married as before age 18, and more than 1 in 3 – or about 250 million – were married before age 15.
The following video is a partnership between UNICEF and trap artist RL Grime and tells the story of child marriage through the eyes of one young girl in Chad. Chad has the third highest rate of child marriage in the world, behind Niger and Central African Republic, and 68% of its girls are married as children. Unlike many other countries, the practice is prevalent in both wealthy and less wealthy households. Child marriage compromises the development of girls because it interrupts schooling, limits career and vocational opportunities, and places girls at increased risk of complications during pregnancy or childbirth. The video captures all of this.
For far too long, women and girls in Africa have faced discrimination and inequalities in the workforce which have not only hurt them, but their families, communities and their countries as a whole. As we begin 2015, the African Union’s Year of Women’s Empowerment, one thing is clear: we will not reduce poverty without working to achieve gender equality.
While most governments in Africa acknowledge that empowering women and girls is a key contributor to economic development, the fertility transition in Africa ─ an important factor in sustained economic growth ─ has been much slower than in other regions of the world. Access to family planning and maternal health services – as well as education for girls – typically results in improved economic opportunity for women and lower fertility. Some governments in Africa are seeking innovative ways to accelerate the demographic transition. In Niger, for example, where the fertility rate (7.6 children per woman) is among the highest in the world, “School for Husbands”, an education program delivered by trusted, traditional community leaders are flourishing across the country and highlighting the benefits of family planning and reproductive health.
Something Is Changing
Fifteen years ago, the international community designed the Millennium Development Goals, including that of halving extreme poverty, through a process that mostly took place in New York, behind closed doors. A few years earlier, the World Bank had developed the guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries from Washington, D.C. in a similar fashion.
Fortunately, this approach has changed.
Today, the process of identifying and consulting on the post-2015 development agenda has been opened to the general public including, importantly, those whom the goals are expected to serve. In fact, the United Nations and other partners have undertaken a campaign to reach out directly to citizens for ideas and feedback on the issues most important to them in the post-2015 agenda. Those who are formulating the post-2015 goals will no longer need to assume what the poor and vulnerable want: they will have a firsthand knowledge of what their priorities are.
The World Bank Group has explicitly stated that our new goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity cannot be achieved without institutions, structures, and processes that empower local communities, hold governments accountable, and ensure that all groups in society are able to participate in decision-making processes. In other words, these goals will not be within reach without a social contract between a country and its citizens that reduces imbalances in voice, participation and power between different groups, including the poor.
A question dominated discussions ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8: How can we make it count?
Gender equality and empowerment are principles that have been widely adopted for some time; but for many women, particularly those in developing countries, action lags way behind the rhetoric. The same is true in business: Evidence abounds for the business case for investing in women, but the reality remains that for a lot of women, things at work haven’t progressed much beyond what their mothers experienced.
It makes sense then that the issues that came up time and again during a panel I participated in at the sixth annual meeting of the UN's Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) titled “Jobs, Gender and Development: Confronting the Global Challenge," mainly related to the enduring challenges women face at work. I had gone there thinking I had much to add to that topic, but I came away having learned more than I could share, about topics I hadn’t expected.
As we mark International Women’s Day, women and girls are better off than just a few decades ago. Boys and girls are going to school in equal numbers in many countries. Women are living longer, healthier lives.
But even with the steady progress we’ve seen over the past few decades, one of our biggest challenges today is to avoid falling prey to a sense of self-satisfaction. We don’t deserve to, not yet.
We need a renewed sense of urgency and a clearer understanding of the remaining obstacles. When it comes to improving the lives of women and girls, we have blind spots. In fact, we know of three shocking inequalities that persist in education, the working world, and women’s very security and safety.
Blind Spot No. 1: Education of Girls.
We have made impressive gains in achieving universal access to education, but what we’re failing to see is that girls who are poor—those who are the most vulnerable—are getting left behind.
While wealthier girls in countries like India and Pakistan may be enrolled in school right alongside boys their age, among the poorest 20 percent of children, girls have on average five years less education than do boys. In Niger, where only one in two girls attends primary school, just one in 10 goes to middle school, and stunningly only one in 50 goes to high school. That’s an outrage.