Gender

  • Beyond the health benefits, what does family planning have to do with the SDGs?

    A version of this post originally appeared on K4Health. Reposted with permission.

    The international community is abuzz with excitement about the new global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Officially being launched this month, the aims laid out are more ambitious and all encompassing than ever before. As such, they’ve generated an expectedly broad, diverse and loud chorus of suggestions for their implementation. Everyone seems on the hunt for the best new idea or technology to carry the agenda forward. Yet, after decades of work and untold millions of dollars in investments in research and ideas, surely we must know something useful today that could be put to good use? Perhaps while smartly pursuing innovations that keep pace with our changing world, we can also put some real investment behind some of even the simplest things that we already know to be true and which might just need a little more traction before we can finally benefit from their full potential impact.

    For example, right now we have a tool available to us that spans almost every SDG. It’s a relatively inexpensive solution that can simultaneously improve global outcomes in education, health and wealth. It can help preserve our environment and ensure food security for people around the world. You may be wondering why you have not heard of this amazing tool, but it’s far from new. Drumroll … it’s fully meeting the global demand for contraception. That’s right — sound evidence from around the world tells us several things.

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  • Srey Sros: Addressing the needs of transgender populations in Cambodia

    Srey Sros model

    A transgender model promotes the Srey Sros program. Photo: Graphic Roots Studio, Cambodia

    I have three long-haired boys, and wherever we go in Cambodia, people are confused, certain they are girls. We are constantly asked, “Why?” The answer is simple: They like having long hair. My boys’ push against traditional gender expressions is perhaps acceptable only because Cambodians have come to expect odd behavior from foreigners.

    Yet, it is a different matter for a Cambodian transgender individual with long hair. Transgender individuals in this setting face many acute challenges, and their unconventional appearance is only one of them.

    Transgender individuals in Cambodia carry a high burden of HIV. According to a study conducted by FHI 360 in select urban centers of the country, transgender individuals have an HIV prevalence of 4.15 percent (compared to 0.6 percent for the general population). Despite this striking percentage, they have historically been left out of HIV prevention and care programs. When they were included, they were incorrectly targeted as men who have sex with men. This means that there were no distinct behavior change communications or services for this group.

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  • Math identity is the key to girls’ math success

    Photo: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360

    Photo: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360

    Girls get the message — from the toys they play with, the TV shows they watch and the attitudes of their parents, teachers and peers — that math is NOT for them! From an early age, girls are taught that math success is about an innate ability that they lack and that being feminine and being good at math are mutually exclusive.

    As a result, girls do not develop a positive math identity — an identity that research tells us is key to their interest, participation and persistence in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers. Without a solid background in math, girls will not develop the critical STEM skills that will be required for 60 percent of the new jobs that will become available in the 21st century.

    There are two pillars of a positive math identity: the belief that you can do math and the belief that you belong. Identity is fluid and dynamic. It is developed through social practice, and it is through social practice that learners develop a sense of who they are. There is no such thing as a “math gene” or a “math brain,” but the myth is perpetuated, and it is particularly harmful to girls and students of color. Teachers and parents often unconsciously convey stereotyped messages that girls do not need to be good in math.

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  • 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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