Gender

  • A successful project keeps girls in school in Kenya

    In most primary and secondary schools in sub-Saharan Africa, girls and boys learn math, science, language, art and history along with other subjects. Seldom do they receive the critical information they need to keep them safe, healthy and able to withstand the challenges that threaten their well-being and basic right to education. Completing a full cycle of education can become little more than a dream.

    Turning the dream of education into a reality was the driving force behind the Four Pillars PLUS project. With funding from the GE Foundation, FHI 360 launched this robust girls’ education, mentoring and empowerment project in the counties of Kisumu and Siaya in Kenya.

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  • Bringing heart and mind to the fight against HIV

    The rapid spread of the Ebola virus through human-to-human contact — compelled by the urge to embrace a family member with symptoms of infection, to transport a neighbor to the nearest clinic, to nurse the infected or bury the dead despite the lack of basic protective gear — reminds us of the complex relationship between health and human behavior.

    Like Ebola, HIV was once an emergent infectious disease. Although HIV may take years rather than days to kill its victims, similarities exist between HIV and Ebola in the conditions that facilitate their spread and the challenges to containing both diseases. Highly stigmatized, those who fear infection may avoid being tested or disclosing to loved ones; those diagnosed may face limited treatment options provided by harried health care workers within overburdened health care systems.

    Now in its fourth decade, the fight against HIV has seen tremendous breakthroughs in medical technology. A spectrum of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment options now exists and is available around the globe. Clinical studies have proven that taking a daily oral ARV-based pill can reduce a healthy person’s chance of getting the infection — and, other types of ARV prevention products (i.e., gels, rings and injections) are on the horizon. Increased testing through provider-initiated strategies has increased access to both treatment and prevention technologies. There is even some thought that we will have a cure for HIV one day.

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  • Multiple pathways to women’s economic empowerment

    Andrea BertoneAt FHI 360, we take a 360-degree perspective to addressing the most complex human development needs. We envision many pathways to girls’ and women’s economic empowerment — through education; training; access to resources; and the elimination of social, political and gender-related barriers.

    To increase equality between girls, boys, women and men, we believe that a gender perspective has to be integrated into every aspect of all development programs.

    FHI 360 supports women and girls living in poverty, through cutting-edge interventions in health, nutrition, education and economic development interventions. Not only are we implementing some of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) flagship projects on HIV care, prevention and support — we are also working with multiple donors implementing girls’ education projects as a pathway out of poverty.

    We are addressing women’s poverty in value chains, small and medium businesses, and micro-lending and savings and loan activities. Equally important, we work to engage men and boys as partners and agents of positive social change.

    Why prioritize attention on women and girls? For FHI 360, it comes down to three simple reasons:

    • It is the right thing to do.
    • It improves project outcomes.
    • FHI 360 has strong political will to do so at all levels of the organization.

    We aim to impact in the short, medium and long term the lives of women and girls in many countries. We want to improve women’s and girls’ current access to resources, their economic empowerment, their levels of education and their resiliency in the face of hardship.

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  • What challenges do girls in Kenya face in receiving a quality education?

    First, there is the barrier of poverty. The high cost of school fees often does not allow girls to enroll in school, because they cannot afford the books, supplies and uniforms. Even if they can pay their fees, they often cannot afford menstrual hygiene products, and without them, their learning is interrupted due to school absence. Next, discrimination in society and school makes it difficult for girls. Girls are only seen as future mothers, wives and caretakers. They are not seen as capable of tackling difficult subjects such as math and science. Because of this, girls often have low self-esteem and lose interest in school. They also fear sexual harassment and violence, which can make traveling to and from school dangerous. Finally, girls are expected to take on many more household duties than boys and often cannot devote adequate time to their studies, causing them to fall behind.

    How has the Four Pillars PLUS project made a difference to you?

    Four Pillars PLUS paid for my school fees at a boarding school, where I was able to get a quality of education that many girls could not. At boarding school, I had more time to study because I no longer had to do chores until late in the evening. I did not have to fear for my safety as I did when I walked long distances between school and my home each day. As a result, I studied hard and finished secondary school with a B+ average.

    Receiving mentoring helped me to deal with discrimination. It allowed me to see myself as a person with the same opportunities as boys.

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  • Pushing for progress on maternal, newborn and child health

    The numbers are shocking. Each year, 2.8 million babies die during their first 28 days of life, while almost 800 women die every day in pregnancy or childbirth.

    A vast majority of these deaths are preventable through simple interventions: providing mothers and their children with access to basic, quality health care, especially during pregnancy and childbirth; encouraging mothers to breastfeed; and treating diarrhea and pneumonia, two of the leading killers of children under 5 years of age.

    Despite the impressive progress that has been made in recent years, achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (MDGs 4, 5 and 6) by 2015 will require an all-out global push.

    In June, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a major realignment of US$2.9 billion of its resources to “save up to half of a million children from preventable deaths by the end of 2015.” In addition, USAID introduced an ambitious strategy, Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths, to dramatically increase progress in 24 countries that account for 70 percent of child and maternal deaths.

    This is an important policy shift — one that has the potential to have great impact on development by saving the lives of 15 million children and nearly 600,000 women by 2020. FHI 360, a member of the Advisory Group for Acting on the Call, supports USAID’s commitment. We have seen how evidence-based interventions in maternal, newborn and child health are making a difference in communities around the world.

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  • Research on key populations leads Botswana to smarter HIV prevention

    At approximately 18 percent, the prevalence of HIV in Botswana’s general population is one of the highest in the world. As a result, national HIV prevention efforts have focused more intensively on the general population than on other populations. Little is known about key populations, such as female sex workers and men who have sex with men, whose behaviors are both stigmatized and illegal in Botswana.

    In 2012, the Botswana Ministry of Health used an integrated behavioral and biological surveillance survey to estimate population sizes and prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among female sex workers and men who have sex with men. The study was historic. For the first time, it showed the HIV and STI burden among these two key populations and raised awareness about how they might have contributed to the generalized HIV epidemic.

    The survey, carried out with technical assistance from FHI 360 through the Preventive Technologies Agreement (funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development), uncovered a population of more than 4,000 female sex workers in the three districts where the survey was conducted. Among these female sex workers, HIV prevalence was 61.9 percent, and the prevalence of gonorrhea and chlamydia were both higher than 10 percent. The female sex workers had a mean of more than seven partners per week, and condom failure, which includes condom breakage and being paid or forced not to use condoms, was common.

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  • Too young to wed: The high price of early marriage

    Today, we celebrate Malala Day, a commemoration of girls’ empowerment and gender equality across all areas of human development. Like Malala Yousafzai, thousands of girls around the globe are dedicated to pursuing their education and choosing their life path yet are prevented from realizing their full potential. For the vast majority of these girls, the greatest barrier to schooling is not the bullets of terrorists — it is the day-to-day economic pressures and the unequal social expectations they face as they enter adolescence and young adulthood. It is a sad reality that in the 21st century, many girls are forced into marriage and starting a family as early as age 14, which brings their educational aspirations to a halt.

    Teenage, Married, and Out of School, a new study by the FHI 360 Education Policy and Data Center, highlights the heavy toll early marriage inflicts on school participation among adolescent girls in nine countries of east and southern Africa. While the universally ratified 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), as well as national legislation in all nine countries, protect children against marriage before age 18, early marriage is still visibly present across the region. Some countries, such as Rwanda, have managed to bring this disturbing phenomenon down to a minimum, while marriage at age 14 through age 17 appears to be fairly commonplace in others (Figure 1).

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  • The role of youth sexual and reproductive health in individual and national development

    In honor of this year’s World Population Day, the theme of which is youth engagement and the sustainable development agenda, we are reflecting on youth — our future leaders, parents, entrepreneurs and citizens. Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history: there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 on the planet. In many countries, more than half of the population is under age 25, creating opportunities for national economic growth but also underscoring the need for greater investment in their health — with consequences that will affect the world’s social, environmental and economic well-being for generations.

    Investment in young people’s sexual and reproductive health in particular ensures that young people are not only protected from HIV and other STIs, but also that they have the number of children they desire, when and if they wish to have them. The ability to control one’s fertility increases individuals’ productive capacity and can lead to a decline in a country’s dependency ratio (number of working citizens compared to nonworking citizens). When the dependency ratio declines in conjunction with adequate investments in youth education and economic opportunity, per capita income can increase — a phenomenon known as the demographic dividend.

    Unfortunately, many young people do not have access to the critical sexual and reproductive health information and services required to stay healthy and avoid unintended pregnancy. Many young women report not wanting to become pregnant, but the level of unmet need for contraception among adolescents is more than twice that of adults. In some regions of the world, the unmet need for contraception among adolescents is as high as 68 percent. Fulfilling the unmet need for contraceptives among adolescents alone could prevent an estimated 7.4 million unintended pregnancies annually.

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  • A call to prioritize gender in development

    The most effective 21st century international development organizations will be those that ask — and come up with workable answers to — the right questions about gender. The right answers are ones that boldly empower women and girls, engage men and boys as partners and don’t shy away from approaches that disrupt business as usual. The organizations that get gender right will be the ones that truly transform lives.

    On June 16, 2014, more than 200 gender experts, funders, policymakers and development organizations will convene for the inaugural Gender 360 Summit in Washington, DC, to explore approaches for empowering women and girls and prioritize gender equality in our work. It is an opportunity for the international development community to examine the roadblocks, reflect on what we are doing well and where we are failing, and push ourselves to do better.

    What have we learned about gender inequalities in different social, cultural and geographic settings? Beyond investing resources, what role can funders and their implementing partners play in elevating the importance of integrating gender considerations into all their work? What are the indicators of success and how do we measure them? These are just a few of the questions that need actionable responses.

    Gender is not just about women and girls. Understanding gender means understanding the differences, in particular the economic, social, political and cultural attributes, constraints and opportunities that are associated with being female and male, and in some places, a third (or other) gender. It also means understanding how the social and economic forces unleashed by modernization (and abetted by development programs) affect women, men, boys and girls and the interactive relationship among them.

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  • Naomi

    What prevents girls in Nigeria from receiving a quality education?

    Girls in Nigeria face many obstacles. These include high school fees, gender inequality and other social pressures that cause them to drop out. Security is a big risk for many girls, especially since the recent kidnappings. Some girls are just too afraid to go to class. The conditions at school can also be a challenge. My class has 50 students and no fan. Some classrooms have no ceiling, no fan and even more students. At certain times of the day, like when the sun is directly overhead, it is too hot for students to even sit in the classroom and impossible for them to concentrate and learn.

    Some policies also limit girls. If a girl is pregnant, she cannot return to school after she has her baby. One mistake should not be the end of a girl’s education.

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