It was a sunny afternoon as most days are in Ethiopia in April. I was taking an individual tour of a large hospital in the middle of Addis Ababa where I got to talk to doctors, nurses, and see waiting rooms and even patients who were recovering from care.
I distinctly remember the room of women who had recently had abortions or were awaiting one. The room was eerily silent despite the number of patients in the large recovery room with few windows and no air conditioning. Personal effects were on all of the beds: blankets, purses, food, extra clothes . Some of the women had female visitors, others did not. While the Ethiopian abortion law on the books is considered “semi-liberal” by African standards, there is some pushback on abortion services although in practice if a woman wants an abortion she can most likely get one. This is mostly to help decrease maternal mortality rates and to curb the rates of unsafe abortions.
As I concluded my tour, the last room I saw was where the abortions took place with all of its machines and lone hospital bed. At that moment I was glad that despite the law, these Ethiopian medical professionals along with the hospital’s policy allowed women to have a choice about their own bodies and reproductive rights.
Nepal, while being a hotbed for adventure seekers, trekkers, tourists, and mountaineers, faces many economic struggles that heavily plague low-and-middle income countries. The vast majority of Nepal’s economy is based on remittances with 25 percent of its working population living outside of the country. Additionally, with an average population age of 23, Nepal has a dismal 50 percent unemployment rate. These systemic economic struggles, of course, disproportionately affect women and subsequently their children and families. Couple that with a stringent caste system and some Nepali women remain inherently stuck on the lowest rung of the class ladder and are subject to some of the basest forms of work available to them.
The Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI), a youth-driven environmental NGO based in Kathmandu, is working with some of these women whose only other economically viable life option may be selling themselves sexually to the nearest customer, working in the illegal scrap waste trade, or going abroad to find work and then enduring whatever fate awaits them. HCI employs socially discriminated women waste workers at its PET Bottle Recollection Social Enterprise (Nagar Mitra) allowing them to create a livelihood beyond what might traditionally befall them.
Launched four years ago, the two clinical trials, known as ASPIRE and The Ring Study, set out to determine how safe and effective the ring was in prevention of HIV infection in women. The ring, which is used for a month at a time, contains an antiretroviral drug called dapivirine that acts by blocking HIV from multiplying.
The studies enrolled close to 4500 women aged 18 to 45 in South Africa, Uganda, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Each study found that the ring helps reduce the risk of HIV infection in women. In ASPIRE, the ring reduced the risk of HIV infection by 27% overall. In The Ring Study, infections were reduced by 31% overall.
Yesterday World Toilet Day was recognized to bring global awareness about the millions of people worldwide who do not have access to a toilet. In fact, 40% of the world’s population has to use the bathroom in the open and spends billions of hours searching for a place to relieve themselves.
WaterAid, along with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council recently published a new report, We can’t wait, that shows the effects of low sanitation and hygiene on women and girls. According to the report women and girls are exposed to harrasement, shame, disease, and attacks when they need to use the bathroom. That is what I also heard from a visit to communal toilets (photos below) in New Delhi and Johannesburg. For women and girls going to the bathroom is a harrowing experience.
“One in three [people] lack access to adequate sanitation,” noted UN Deputy-Secretary General, Jan Eliasson and Unilever Chief Executive Officer, Paul Polman in the report. “The result is widespread death and disease and social marginalization. Poor sanitation exposes women and girls to the risk of assault and, when schools cannot provide clean, safe toilets, girls’ attendance drops.”
Communal Toilet in a Slum in New Delhi
Communal Toilets in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa
Never underestimate the power of a woman who can earn her own money and provide for her family.
This statement is true everywhere in Africa and other parts of the developing world. One trait that is perpetually apparent when you travel abroad and visit areas in need is people want to work; they want to be able to buy food and pay for their children’s education and health needs. They want to take care of their home and put money away to save like everyone else. Sometimes this is difficult to achieve in developing nations because of rife poverty, war, and lack of economic opportunities. But there are social enterprise models that tap into the creativity, ingenuity, and work ethic of women who craft beautiful clothes, bags, and wares for purchase.
Mend, a program of the Invisible Children, is one of those social enterprise companies that is giving women a chance to earn money and pull themselves out of the cycle of poverty. Based in Gulu, Uganda most of the seamstresses are former child soldiers or wives of LRA rebel commanders in Uganda who were in power during the civil war.
“We believe our program is unique in its holistic approach to recovery and commitment to sustainable financial independence for our seamstresses, while creating quality, value-added products that people want to own.”
The seamstresses at Mend make beautiful totes made of printed canvas that are meticulously trimmed with leather. Each canvas bag retails for $75 and the blank canvas bag retails for $65. All proceeds from the sale of the basg goes back into the Mend program where women can work and expand their financial earnings and better earn a living for their families.
What is particularly fascinating about Mend is the women are able to earn money from their work and are benefited from the collective work of them all. Be sure to visit the Mend blog to read more about Mend’s work.