Young Women May Be Driving Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa

Post written by Alexa Hassink, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer, Promundo

The Middle East and North Africa often makes the news, and not for it’s progressive stance on gender equality. A new 10,000 person study on the state of gender equality in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine seeks to look behind the headlines. The study finds – among other trends – that young women are leading the way when it comes to supportive views about equality.

Produced by Promundo and UN Women with local research partners, the International Men and Gender Equality Study in the Middle East and North Africa (IMAGES MENA) is the first study of its kind and size in the Middle East and North Africa. Covering four countries, it takes a big picture view of what men think, and how they act, when it comes to supporting gender equality. This includes asking men questions ranging from if they ever have used violence against a partner, to how they feel about having a female boss.

The study reveals that while the majority of men do have fairly traditional, sexist views about gender equality, at least one quarter of men hold more open and relatively progressive views in supporting women’s economic, social, and political equality. That’s good, but not great news.

Importantly, we also get to look at women’s side of the story. What we find is that young women have less traditional attitudes than the older generation. This may seem intuitive, and it is supported by global data and trends, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted in the MENA region, where, among men in Morocco, Palestine, and Egypt, younger men’s views on gender equality do not differ substantially from those of older men; in some cases, they were even more conservative.

We know that when it comes to men taking on less traditional, sexist attitudes, personal histories, family influence, and life circumstances are among the factors that can help drive us in the right direction. This is in addition to things like having greater wealth, higher education, a mother who had more education, or a father who carried out household chores.

So what impact might progressive women have on men’s support for gender equality?

In two of the countries, men whose wives worked outside the home were more likely to do more of the unpaid care work. Others had come to see their wives as strong and capable after they (the men) had spent time away from home, either migrating for work, or otherwise.

The reality though, is that women do not always have the opportunity or support to take action when it comes to seeking and achieving equality in employment, politics, or at home. Indeed, men frequently dominate or control household decision-making, political and leadership spaces, and the daily lives of women and girls: only about a quarter of women in the region work outside the home. Furthermore, the burden should not fall on women to drive this change – we need everyone to be partners in the process.

In this context, men – as friends, partners, siblings, citizens, and importantly, as fathers – can play a key role in raising and supporting strong, independent young women. Fathers who encourage daughters to take on non-traditional professions or to work outside the home, or who allow their daughters to choose their own husbands, seem to contribute to the emergence of more strong, independent women.

In all four countries, men whose fathers had participated in traditionally feminine household work and caregiving, as well as men who were taught to do this work as children, were far more likely to report contributing in this way within their own marriages. This points to the importance of parents’ positive examples in setting the stage for future generations of both women and men who will support relationships and societies based in equality.

This research helps us to better understand how we can raise progressive girls into women. The challenge ahead is to create a supportive environment where these women can thrive, and where the men in their lives support them to do so.

Download the full report here.

Cover photo credit: Promundo

The Journey from Nursing to Maternal Health Innovation

This article was written by Lindsay Sanders, Communications and Design Fellow at Jacaranda Health, and originally posted on Jacaranda’s website. 

There are few people in this world who dedicate their lives to serve others. Most of us bounce around from job to job, exploring new industries, discovering which professions we like and dislike. But not Jacaranda Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Faith Muigai. She knew from a young age that she was committed to one cause: empowering women and families to make positive health decisions.

Faith mapped out her professional path to the medical field as a teenager in Kenya. She ambitiously uprooted to the United States when she was 17 years old, working as a nursing assistant to pay her way through college. She quickly rose to the ranks after receiving her Master’s Degree in Nursing and Administration, taking on management and leadership roles from leading organizations like John Hopkins University. After a long journey in the states, Faith headed back to her roots in East Africa to use her skills to help the women and families who need it most.

There was an intrinsic motivation to give back. I believe that the change I want to see begins with me and I am at a pivotal time in my life where I am able to apply the tools and resources availed to me to positively impact underserved populations.

 

In 2012, Faith journeyed back to Kenya to join Jacaranda Health as Director of Clinical Operations. Her passion, commitment, and executional excellence fast-tracked her promotion to Chief Medical Officer. In less than four years, she has helped design and operationalize two maternity hospitals that have delivered over 1,000 babies, while also developing the organization’s strategic direction in providing affordable, quality health services in Kenya. Faith is recognized as a maternal health innovator and has garnered the attention of cutting-edge industry experts in Kenya. Last year she was invited to sit on the Kenyan Health Federation Board, and was also nominated to sit on the Hospital Board Committee for Nairobi County.

Not only has Faith helped to bring high-quality, affordable care to thousands of low-income women in Kenya, she’s also using her strong nursing roots to build a nurse leadership network at Jacaranda Health.

I stand proud as a nurse in leadership, proving that our roles are not limited to the bedside. The strength in execution relies on a motivated and engaged team. I’m committed to building structures that increase productivity and ownership in teams, and creating pathways to support vertical progression.

 

Faith came back to Kenya with one mission: to use her skills to positively impact underserved communities. After 15 years in the field, four spent in Kenya, she is still brimming with passion and commitment.

Every day is memorable encounter. I am humbled to be able to positively change the story for expecting mothers in East Africa. I feel that I am making a difference and it feels good.

The Role of Water in the Struggle for Rights

While A Spring of Hope’s mission is to bring water to impoverished rural South African schools in order to provide sustainable economic development to all in the community, our work has a significant and unique impact for girls and women.

One very critical area that is affected by lack of water is school attendance. Girls’ absentee rates are significantly higher than boys due to their role as water collectors. They often have to trudge several kilometers with jerry cans to unreliable government pumps or unsafe, polluted sources in order to acquire water for cooking and washing, losing days of school and work. If the water is of questionable quality and makes them ill, more work or school time is lost, with medical costs adding economic burdens they can ill-afford.

Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope
Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope

According to the UN Women Commission, women and girls represent 75 percent of household water collectors. In some countries, the proportion is as high as 90 percent.

A fresh, clean water source at schools can be used for food preparation, sanitation and growing prolific gardens that provide healthy and nutritious meals for the students. Additionally, the burden of collecting water is lessened and girls are more likely to maintain their studies.

Another area which A Spring of Hope is striving to improve, which also adversely affects girls, is sanitation. In South Africa, 913 schools have no sanitation facilities and 11,450 are still using pit latrine toilets (www.equaleducation.org.za). While poor sanitation and pit latrines spread disease and are unhealthy for all, menstruation offers additional challenges to girls.

Globally, about one in ten female students do not attend school during menstruation or drop out because they do not have access to sanitation facilities they feel are private, clean, and safe.

In addition, inadequate sanitation facilities pose a safety risk for women and girls, who often suffer harassment or sexual assault when toilets have no locks or doors.

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Photo Credit: A Spring of Hope

A Spring of Hope is attempting to provide solutions for these sanitation issues by providing waterless toilets to our partner schools. Waterless toilets are a revolutionary waste containment system which is environmentally friendly, requires no water, and helps eradicate the spread of disease.

Universal access to water and sanitation is imperative to achieving gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment. It is also about the increased access to rights–the right to own property, own land, education, and free choices. A Spring of Hope is contributing to this ongoing struggle for rights by helping schools become self-sufficient, strong community centers. It’s not “aid” or giving material goods away, it is partnerships that are behind rights-based development.

Women and Girls at the Center of Policy Change

Teresia Otieno, from Kenya, was 26 years old when she was forcibly sterilized. Health workers decided for her that because she was living with HIV, her right to freely decide the number and spacing of her children did not matter.  Therefore it should be taken away – permanently. Today, Teresia is an unstoppable activist for the rights of women living with HIV, insisting that policy makers respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights and dignity of women living with HIV, especially when it comes to reproductive decision making.

Photo Credit: CHANGE
Photo Credit: CHANGE

For more than a decade, Justine Masika Bihamba has been fighting for the rights of women and girls raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because of her tireless efforts to seek justice for survivors of rape, her own family came under attack in 2007 and to this day she faces death threats. She is the founder and executive director of Women’s Synergy for the Victims of Sexual Violence (SFVS), a Congo-based coalition that advocates for women’s rights and fights the use of rape as a weapon of war. When it comes to caring for survivors of rape, Justine speaks out for women and girls and for the comprehensive post-rape care they must have access to:

“Especially for a young girl who is just starting her life, faced with this unwanted pregnancy . . . we must support safe abortion for cases of rape in conflict situations.” – Justine Masika Bihamba

The lives of Teresia and Justine exemplify the resilience of women around the world.  While they work tirelessly to advocate for the health and rights of women and girls within their own countries, they are also speaking out to global policy makers and international donors, like the United States, who exert an extraordinary amount of influence on aid-recipient countries in the global south.

Teresia’s and Justine’s voices – and those of women like them across the globe – must be at the center of political discourse and decision making around global health and development. The Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) brings these women leaders together with the decision makers who guide U.S. foreign policy and assistance.

Through the work and stories of women like Teresia and Justine, these policy makers better understand the connections between reproductive health, HIV, violence, and human rights and the importance of advancing women’s health and rights holistically. By listening to them, policy makers can get essential feedback. If global health and development strategies do not meet the needs of Teresia and Justine, and the women and girls they serve, we fail.

As national and world leaders deliberate over a new development agenda for a post-2015 world, it is critical that they bring to the center of these deliberations the lives of women at the margins – women living with HIV, women raped in war and conflict, adolescent girls who are forced to marry – and strongly affirm their human rights in the post-2015 development goals.

Women-centered policies need women-centered investments.

We must also invest in women-led organizations that defend women’s human rights.  Without investing in female human rights defenders like Teresia and Justine, gender equality remains an unfulfilled promise. The Global Fund for Women and other woman-centered funds such as Mama Cash, FRIDA Fund, Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, among others, are critical to ensuring that women-led organizations succeed in changing laws and policies that promote gender equality and human rights globally.

Healthy Mothers and Midwives: Agents of Positive Change

Maternal mortality is a growing global concern. The United Nations Millennium Development Goal 5, aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters and achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015. The United Nations reports that while the level of maternal mortality worldwide has declined by 47% over the past two decades, the maternal mortality ratio in developing regions remains 15 times higher than in developed regions.

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According to the World Health Organization in 2013, 289,000 women died following pregnancy and childbirth, with most of these preventable deaths occurring in low-resource settings. Many of these women lack access to a skilled midwife and emergency obstetric care. In countries where maternal mortality rates are high, mothers and children often also lack access to proper nutrition, water, sanitation, and education.

Access to trained midwives and proper care for women during childbirth must be leveraged to ensure mothers and their babies are healthy.

The positive outcomes associated with improved maternal health, catalyzed by midwives and skilled birth attendants, are unrivaled. Midwives provide a bedrock of support for women and families during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. These amazing women and men play a crucial role in maintaining and improving maternal health, facilitating childbirth, and empowering women to make informed decisions about their healthcare. The benefits of midwifery and maternal health contribute to economies – healthier mothers achieve greater productivity in their jobs, which positively drives economic growth. In addition, when mothers gain knowledge about maternal health, the availability of health services and the importance of proper nutrition and hygiene, their children are healthier and child mortality is reduced.

Unless a country has healthy mothers, it will be unable to break the perpetual cycles of poverty and put an end to the marginalized status of women and girls.

Girls’ Globe’s featured organizations including Save the Children, Mujeres Aliadas A.CCleanBirth and the Edna Adan Hospital Foundation are dedicated to improving maternal health through education and health-centered solutions.

Save the Children’s efforts to fortify community-based health systems in over 20 countries has equipped local women and midwives in Afghanistan with the health training needed to offer life saving services to mothers, children and families. Mujeres Aliadas advances the lives of women in Mexico in a two-fold way – by giving  them  reproductive health and educational services based on professional midwifery models and developing a network that encourages women to advocate for their health rights.

CleanBirth strives to prevent the deaths of mothers and babies in Laos by providing clean birth kits, training nurses, midwives, and providing funding for training village volunteers who educate their community about safe births. The Edna Adan Hospital Foundation supports and advocates for the Edna Adan Hospital in Somaliland. The Edna Adan Hospital Foundation’s goal is to provide women in Somaliland the opportunity for healthy pregnancies and safe childbirth, through increasing women’s access to skilled public health professionals, revamping healthcare facilities, educating midwives, and ending the practice of female genital mutilation.

The results and impact of the work of our featured organizations is far reaching. When education, midwifery training, healthcare and economic advancement are properly harnessed the future of improving maternal health in developing countries becomes brighter.

Cover Photo Credit: Stephen von Malortie

Her Story, Her Dream

Written by: Fonda Sanchez, Founder of Education for Equality International 

If we listened to the voices of women and girls, what would we hear?

How would their stories make a difference?

While completing my graduate practicum with an NGO that focuses on increasing primary school enrollment and literacy rates for girls in Rajasthan, India, I had the privilege of meeting a young girl named Rekha. During field visits, I met many teen girls who had completed primary school, but were not enrolled in secondary. 

Education for Equality International
Photo Credit: Fonda Sanchez

Rekha was fourteen and recently married to a young man a couple years older than her. As is custom for many new brides in India, she went to live with her new husband and his family. Upon arrival into the family, Rekha’s in-laws prohibited her from continuing her education. She did not expect that early marriage would result in lost opportunity. Rekha’s husband had never completed secondary school and therefore her in-laws would not allow her to attend. In other words, as a young girl they did not want Rekha’s education level higher than their son’s.

Rekha was determined to re-enroll and complete secondary school regardless of her in-laws restrictions.

The opportunity to attend secondary school was important to Rekha. She was not concerned about the consequences of pursuing her dreams. Through her story, I saw the reality of many girls around the world. I left India before I learned if Rekha was able to return to school.

After finishing my master’s degree, I thought about returning to India. I began looking through old photographs and reminiscing about the people I had met and learned so much from. I came across Rekha’s photo and thought about her story. I knew she was not alone and that many girls like her are discriminated against on a daily basis simply because they are girls.

Education for Equality International (EEI) was created for and inspired by girls who struggle to achieve their dreams. These girls want to see a better life for themselves and their community, set their own limits and not be limited because of their gender. EEI developed because all girls and women should have the right to pursue an education. Our mission is to increase girls’ access to secondary education in developing countries.

This year EEI plans to implement its first program to support secondary school fees and expenses for 10 girls living in rural village in Maharashtra, India. We partner with a school and have built a strong relationship with the girls and school administration. EEI is in the process of raising funds for this program but the dream does not stop there.

EEI has partnered with a small NGO called Maa Education India (MEI) based in Udaipur, India. Their mission is to provide free primary education to boys and girls from low-income families, living in the rural village of Amod. Together we are developing a program to support secondary education costs for girls to attend a private school in Udaipur because there is no school available to them in their immediate village. EEI is also working with MEI to reach girls who work as cattle and goat herders to increase their literacy and writing skills.

In this work it is important to  know the data regarding the plight of girls’ education worldwide, and to acknowledge, and recognize the countless stories for every girl who makes up those numbers. I know I am not alone in this.

Let’s take the stories we have heard and make an impact that will change her world.

Please visit us at www.eduequal.org and follow us on Twitter @eduequalorg