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Be courageous. Recognize and take action.

March 3rd, 2011

Dear Botswana Ministry of Health and distinguished officials,

Executive Summary

Currently Botswana’s National Strategic Framework for HIV/AIDS is not crafted to include the specific needs of sex workers. Botswana’s goal for an HIV-free generation is jeopardized by failure to assist commercial sex workers, the leading driver of the HIV/AIDS crisis. We recommend that the Ministry begin to 1) open a dialogue between the policymakers in the highest level of government about assisting commercial sex workers, 2) increase funding for organizations that develop innovative income generating projects that provide a way for commercial sex workers to escape their dangerous line of work.


According to the latest statistics Botswana’s adult (15-49) HIV prevalence rate is 24.8%. In comparing different demographics, the prevalence rate is highest for young women (15-24) with a rate of 11.8% (1).

Botswana’s high-risk populations include migrant workers, diamond workers, and sex workers (2). At present Botswana’s laws and regulations present obstacles for effective HIV prevention and care for commercial sex workers. The commercial sex worker industry is highly concentrated in Francistown, Mochudi, Palape, Selebe-Phikwe, and Tlokweng (3).

Independent researchers studying commercial sex worker populations in Francistown and Selebe-Phikwe argue that the majority of commercial sex workers are forced into this line of work because of poverty (3).

Commercial sex workers are vulnerable to being raped and/or beaten by their clients. This population also faces discrimination at clinics. An investigation into the Botselo Clinic in Francistown revealed that nurses taunted commercial sex workers and wrongfully disclosed the sex workers’ HIV-statuses to other patients (3).

Although prostitution is illegal in Botswana, there are many grassroots organizations like Matshelo Community Development and Men, Sex, and AIDS that have in the past been involved with training peer educators to educate other commercial sex workers on correct condom use and disposal and HIV/AIDS resources/testing facilities/counseling services. Matshelo Community Development in particular is involved with income generating projects. However both of these organizations have stopped operating due to lack of funding (5).

Existing Policies

The National Strategic Framework on HIV/AIDS has initiatives (education programs and condom distribution facilities) that address the needs of migrant workers and diamond workers. However, the National Strategic Framework of HIV/AIDS fails to acknowledge and address the care for commercial sex workers (6).


In order for an HIV-free generation to exist, the Ministry of Health needs to intervene and take actions to deal with one of the leading causes of HIV transmission. We recommend that the Botswana Ministry of Health:

1) Open a dialogue between the policymakers in the highest level of government about assisting commercial sex workers

 2) Increase funding for organizations that provide education and prevention schemes and develop innovative income generating projects that offer an alternative way for commercial sex workers to escape their dangerous line of work.

In addition we recommend that the Ministry of Health strongly consider sensitivity training for nurses and doctors at all testing, hospital, and clinic facilities so that commercial sex workers will not be discriminated against. In addition, failure to respect the rights of patients must have tough legal consequences.


The discussion of addressing commercial sex workers in Botswana was first started by Deputy Minister Botlogile Tshireletso. Mr. Tshireletso’s call for the government to consider legalizing prostitution to fight HIV/AIDS was met by strong opposition. Due to strong cultural and traditional beliefs, Batswana are against legislation making illegal sex work a legal economic activity. The debate was quieted and no action was taken.   

However action is required. If Botswana is serious and dedicated to pursing an HIV-free generation, this goal will not be achieved without reform of the National Strategic Framework on AIDS to include assistance to commercial sex workers. Although legalizing prostitution will not be possible in the immediate future, the Ministry of Health can and must take steps to provide funding to organizations that are working directly with commercial sex workers. These organizations work to develop and disseminate education/prevention programs and income generation schemes and supporting their efforts will make a tremendous impact and more us close to a HIV-free generation.   


(1)   http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/unaidspublication/2010/20101123_globalreport_en.pdf

(2)   http://www.avert.org/aids-botswana.htm

(3)   http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?sid=1&aid=34&dir=2008/February/Friday22

(4)   http://www.bonela.org/doc/brela_vol3_2009.pdf (page 26)

(5)   http://www.bonela.org/doc/brela_vol3_2009.pdf (page 37)

(6)   http://allafrica.com/stories/200610130316.html

A Window for Action

March 3rd, 2011

To: Secretary Clinton

From: Warner Sallman, Policy Planning Specialist on the Middle East

Subject: Protecting women’s rights in the Middle East

Date: March 2, 2011

Executive Summary

Secretary Clinton, as you know, the Middle East is undergoing possibly the most widespread political upheaval in the modern history of the region. Riots and protests beginning with the proliferation of a Tunisian man setting himself on fire in protest to the oppressive government has sparked revolution in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Libya. While the long-term outcome of these revolutions is still unclear, it is evident that major political changes to the governmental structures in the countries will result. This is a unique opportunity for the United States to use its influence in the region to empower women in these countries. While a complete roll-back of the patriarchic nature of these states will not necessarily be possible, there is a political opening that the U.S. should exploit to not only assist women in the region but promote its democracy and security agenda. As the Iranian Revolution in 1976 demonstrated, revolutionary leaders can exploit women for short-term political gains but renege on promises once the dust has settled. Therefore it is vital that the U.S. use the leverage it has in the region to fight for women’s rights now before the new political institutions continue the history of marginalization.

Background and Issues

Democracy promotion as a security strategy was enshrined in U.S. foreign policy during the George W. Bush administration and remains one of President Obama’s goals for the world. President Bush believed in the democratic peace and that over the long-term, elevating democracy as an international political ideal would help it proliferate and bring stability to unstable regions. In fact, Jack Levy, a renowned political scientist, has called the democratic peace “as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations.”[1] As the diplomatic branch of the government, the State Department should be spearheading the democracy promotion agenda.

U.S. policy in the Middle East has historically favored short-term security interests over long-term goals. Support for oppressive autocrats like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Bahrain’s Hamad bin isa Al Khalifa for oil and military interests have generated a negative view of the U.S. in many of the agitating forces, especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This is a particular problem for the struggle against terrorism. While the attacks of 9/11 were launched from Afghanistan, the actors were Saudi Arabian citizens steeped in the teachings Sayyid Qutb, one of the leading theologians of the Muslim Brotherhood.[2] Groups like al-Qaeda are transnational in their membership and organizational structure and to attack the root motivations of this group requires a regional approach. With women deeply involved in the current upheaval, the situation presents the greatest moment for reshaping the U.S.’s image and the women in these revolutions are one of the key factors for achieving this.[3]


The key problem in the region is the political structures in place are unsustainable and require reformulation should stability be established. As studies have shown, female participation in government has numerous benefits for stable political structures. When women are involved, government corruption decreases dramatically and people have a higher confidence in their government.[4][5] Both of these issues are at major factors in the current dissatisfaction with governments in the Middle East. In fact, women are a vital component in the revolution itself, especially in Tunisia and Egypt. The U.S. should activate and expand the programs already in place to ensure that these women have a voice in the new government. First, the U.S. should increase its public support of the UNIFEM political development program for women.[6] This will elevate the international importance of the program and can be matched with an increased level of financial and logistical support. Second, the U.S. should offer its assistance in advising the transitional governments. This is especially possible in Egypt and Bahrain where the U.S. has strong military ties.[7][8] Finally, the U.S. should support for the nongovernmental  programs working on these issues in the region, namely the National Democratic Institute and the International Republic Institute.[9] These organizations are actively promoting female political leadership in the Middle East, and the U.S. should use their connections to assist female leaders in becoming key players as the political systems evolve. Without a doubt, this political window presents the best opportunity the U.S. has had in helping to reshape the political landscape of the Middle East. Democracy has both internal and external stability implications and merits promotion in these countries. With these principles in hand, the U.S. can help to remake its image as a supporter of the Arab people and friend to the Muslim world, while helping to empower one of the most marginalized groups in the world.

[1] Owen, John M. “Iraq and the Democratic Peace.” Foreign Affairs. November/December 2005. www.foreignaffairs.com.

[2] Hasan, S. Badrul. Syed Qutb Shaheed. Islamic Publications International. 2nd ed. 1982.

[3] Bennhold, Katrin. “Women’s Rights a Strong Point in Tunisia.” The New York Times. www.nytimes.com. Feb. 22, 2011.

[4] Dollar, David, Raymond Fisman and Roberta Gatt. “Are Women Really the Fairer Sex? Corruption and Women in Government.” The World Bank Development Research Group. October 1999.

[5] “Women in Politics: 60 years in retrospect.” Inter-Parliamentary Union. Geneva, Switzerland. Feb. 1, 2006.

[6] El-Jazairi, Lara. “UNIFEM Supports Women’s Political Empowerment.” United Nations Development Programme. www.undp.org.sy. Nov. 3, 2008.

[7]“Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain Eyes Unrest Warily.” CBS News Online. Feb. 16, 2011. www.cbsnews.com

[8] Younes, Alie. “The Nature of American-Egyptian Military Relations.” Palestine Chronicle. Feb. 14, 2011. www.palestinechronicle.com

[9] Cincotta, Howard. “U.S., Mideast Organizations Promote Women’s Political Engagement.” America.gov. May 28, 2010.

To the Politicians of Andhra Purdesh: Give (Regulated) Microfinance a Chance

March 3rd, 2011

To the Politicians of Andhra Purdesh:

My name is Kevin Webb, and through the course of the past quarter studying women’s health internationally in general and microfinance’s impact on the wellbeing of women in particular, I have come to believe that microfinance as a whole still has a tremendous capacity for positive impact. I understand many of your frustrations with the industry—it is poorly regulated, it targets your least powerful and least educated citizens, and it has helped put an entirely new class of people into debt. Worse, even where it fails the people it is purported to help, microfinance is still uncritically viewed in the West as a finance-based means of combatting poverty.

Indeed, following Muhammad Yunus’s Nobel Prize in 1997 for his pioneering of microfinance with his Grameen Bank, microfinance has seemed like something of a panacea back in the US. Kiva.org has become a household name, and celebrities here from Bill Clinton to Natalie Portman (http://www.takepart.com/news/2008/03/07/natalie-portman-loves-kiva) have hailed its work. I myself donated $25 to an enterprising group of women in Sierra Leone who are trying to expand their baking business (http://www.kiva.org/lend/264387), and felt connected to this group of women in doing so. Should I recoup the investment, I’ll be able to give a little more the next time around.

To well-intentioned philanthropists, microfinance is a clean way to provide resources to people who need just a small amount to get themselves off their feet. This investment’s impact is enhanced by the interest rate charged, because it means any funds recouped can be reinvested in other people in need of help. More intangibly, the nature of American microloan aggregators like Kiva and MicroPlace make it so users can create seemingly personal connections with people they otherwise would never meet. That’s a potent emotional force for good, if harnessed properly.

As you are aware, this past November, politicians in your state implemented a wealth of drastic new measures designed to limit microfinance’s impact. At the time, there was good reason: where many microfinance organizations were continuing to operate quietly and ethically, others had taken advantage of good will toward the industry and begun to foment a cycle of debt for your state’s most impoverished. Banks have long done this with the middle class, but until microfinance, the world’s poorest have been seen as too high risk to warrant interest. Once Grameen and other organizations demonstrated that money and interest could be recouped, though, it became clear to some very cynical people that the poor were an enormous new segment of people to exploit financially. There are stories of people being hounded, day after day, to repay loans, and others of poorly educated farmers being convinced to take three, four, or even more loans simultaneously. 75 of your citizens took their own lives in response to their mounting debt. Let me be perfectly clear: these business practices are completely reprehensible, and you were absolutely correct in calling attention to them.

But the line you drew in the sand worked. In some senses, it worked too well—even the ethically minded organizations are considering pulling out of Andhra Purdesh entirely, because the rate of nonpayment has skyrocketed since October. This has ramifications for your state in barring access to life-changing loans, but it has more global impacts as well—should Andrah Purdesh continue to be a financial sinkhole, any institution that persists there will be losing out on funds it could be committing to people elsewhere.

That said, this new law had the tremendous impact of forcing India to draw up official regulatory laws to limit abuse through its Reserve Bank. Grameen was among the first to hail the new board, as it will cap loans and it will prevent more than two loans from being given, among other measures designed to protect the consumer. It may not be as strict as it ought to be, but it is certainly a start, and Andhra Purdesh has itself to thank.

I would encourage you to rethink your state’s much stricter policy in the wake of the Reserve Bank of India’s superseding, much more broadly applicable laws. It has been easy to rally popular sentiment against the organizations—some have been abusive, and many hail from the easy-to-hate West—but I hope you can find a way to lighten the rhetoric and to find a new scapegoat. Because when microfinance is done ethically, it is an incredibly potent force for good. And when it comes time for your next elections, would you rather be the politicians who ended a globally lauded practice, or the ones who stopped all of the bad things associated with it while keeping all of the good? In allowing a regulated form of microfinance, you will be making sure that your citizens still have access to loans that literally can change their lives. I’m no politician, but this seems like the best way to do right by your constituents.

Note: I will add sources once I get back to my computer.

Refocus on Local Needs in Maternal Health

March 3rd, 2011

To: The MacArthur Foundation.

Title: Refocus on local needs and distribution challenges in order to magnify impact of existing tools to combat maternal mortality

The persistence of high rates of maternal mortality despite considerable technological advancements underscores the need for a shift in policy focus away from developing new technologies to improving the distribution and implementation of existing tools. While new technologies will undoubtedly continue to offer new life-saving possibilities in the field of maternal health, our current systems for identifying where and how to leverage these technologies is failing. Addressing these implementation challenges represents the most pressing need in maternal mortality reduction efforts today.

Although the proximal causes of maternal death – factors like postpartum hemorrhage and eclampsia – are similarly across most regions, the underlying barriers to life-saving care are extremely varied.  Because of this reality, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for reducing maternal mortality.  In some regions, such as in parts of rural Bangladesh, cultural beliefs regarding the cause of postpartum bleeding play a significant role in preventing women from seeking emergency obstetric care[i]. In such situations, community education programs that take up the issue of cultural beliefs may be crucially important. Elsewhere however, cultural beliefs do not pose a significant challenge to maternal care, but financial or transportation barriers are substantial.  Such differences in local contexts imply the need for diverse plans and tools to reduce maternal mortality.

Importantly, efforts to develop new technologies and systems for reducing maternal mortality have succeeded in developing strategies to address a tremendous diversity of factors related to maternal mortality. Tested tools in maternal health span a broad spectrum, ranging from community financing schemes to modified partograms[ii] to pharmaceutical interventions such as misoprostol. Still other strategies respond to more unique needs, leveraging dance and song to offer educational messages. The global attention focused around maternal health has contributed to a wealth of options for tackling the challenges of labor and delivery in the developing world. Enacted with local support, in areas where they address a defined need, these tools have the potential to effect significant reductions in the maternal mortality rate.

Unfortunately, while many effective technologies and systems to reduce maternal mortality have been identified, most of these tools remain dramatically underleveraged. For example, despite being demonstrated highly effective at halting postpartum hemorrhage, misoprostol is not widely approved for obstetric and gynecological purposes. Furthermore, even in countries where misoprostol is approved, it is often not available in the rural settings where it is most needed. Similarly disappointing distribution patterns are seen with a number of other tools for reducing maternal mortality, including financing schemes and community education programs. Until better systems are developed to increase the use of these effective tools, their potential will remain unrealized and maternal mortality will remain a significant problem.

In devising strategies to expand the distribution of tools for reducing maternal deaths, developing an understanding of local needs is critical. In order to maximize the impact of dollars directed towards improving maternal health, efforts to improve distribution of critical tools must focus on improving access to the tools capable of making the largest difference. To do this, organizations like the MacArthur Foundation need to focus their attention on developing local contacts capable of indentifying which tools would be best suited to different local contexts.

Fortunately, many areas already have local authorities on obstetric needs who could serve as valuable partners for international development organizations. Community midwives, traditional birth attendants, and local medical professions offer crucial sources of untapped knowledge and potential. While many programs offer obstetric training to these individuals, few actively solicit their input on the types of tools and systems that are needed where they work. New efforts are needed in order to make sure that community health workers are aware of different possible strategies for reducing maternal mortality and have a forum in which they can push for implementation of the tools most appropriate to their region.

The benefits of investing in partnerships with local birth attendants extend beyond new opportunities to identify local needs. These individuals offer an important source of man power that can be used to implement new tools. Efforts to make misoprostol available at the community-level, while still in their infancy, have found that community health workers, including midwives and traditional birth attendants, are capable of safely administering life-saving therapy using this drug[iii]. Efforts to task shift to para-medical health workers expands the network of individuals capable of assisting in efforts to distribute needed technologies, and can as a result significantly impact health outcomes.

While much is known about the potential impact of community health workers, new programs and research initiative are needed to better understand how to develop effective partnerships with these individuals. This is an area in which the MacArthur foundation could make a significant contribution to efforts to reduce maternal mortality. To date, programs working with community health workers have largely focuses on providing training to these individuals. While our knowledge of effective training tools has grown significantly over the past decade, our ability to develop effective two-way communication with these individuals lags behind. Our failure to establish this communication limits our ability to provide targeted solutions, designed with the needs of the communities in mind.

Technological deficits are no longer the primary obstacles to improving maternal health. The technology to save the lives of millions of women exists. What remains unknown is how the necessary tools and ideas can be delivered to the women who need it most. In light of this pressing need, the MacArthur foundation should redirect the focus of its maternal health programs to focus on promoting innovative strategies for developing strong local partnerships.

[i] Sibley et al. “Cultural Theories of Postpartum Bleeding in Matlab, Bangladesh: Implications for Community Health

Intervention.” Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. June 2009. pp 379-390

[ii] See: “The Paperless Partogram: A simplified tool to prevent prolonged labor.” Maternova. <<http://maternova.net/blog/paperless-partogram-simplified-tool-prevent-prolonged-labor>>

[iii] Barnet et al. “Community Interventions for maternal and perinatal health.” BJOG. Vol 112. Sepember 2005. pp. 1170-1173.

Iran's Women: Subtle Dissent and Vocal Protest

February 25th, 2011

Araceli Y. Flores

In last week’s blog, I presented Iran as a unique case study in women’s rights. Like many other Muslim nations, Iran upholds Sharia law, the sacred law of Islam derived from the Qur’an and teachings of Mohammed. As a theocracy, however, Iran relies on Sharia law to dictate not only private customs and traditions, but also public life in Iran. Using Sharia law as the basis of its legal code, the Islamic Republic of Iran has reversed many of the gains made by the women’s movement prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Iranian women face many types of gender-based discrimination, especially in family and marital life. Often, nations have the constitutional framework for equal rights, but societal norms subvert proper enforcement of these laws. In Iran’s case, however, gender-based discriminations are inscribed directly into the legal code and then further supported by societal customs. In this way, Iranian women are doubly denied basic rights and freedoms. Harsh laws dictate how women are allowed to dress, who they can marry, and the rights they have as both wives and mothers. Even harsher punishments, such as public beatings and honor killings, exist for violating these laws: “In cases of divorce, child custody, inheritance and crime, women do not have the same legal rights as men. In the past four years, President Ahmadinejad has made it easier for men to practice polygamy and harder for women to access public sector jobs” [1].

Still, despite the repression that Iranian women face on a day-to-day basis, Iran possesses one of the most resilient, courageous women’s movements in the Middle East. With the election of the moderate leader Mohammad Khatami in 1997, the women’s movement regained footing in Iran. Many women viewed Khatami’s election as a wake up call: nearly two decades after the 1979 revolution, the “freedom and independence” promised by the revolutionary government still had not been achieved; it fact, equality under the law had been denied to women.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, women had formed a huge support base for the Islamic Revolution during its principal stages. Now, two decades removed from the illusions and false promises, women’s alliances emerged to press the state for social and legal policy changes. Both Muslim and secular female activists used various arenas to voice their complaints about gender segregation, widespread domestic violence, and the discriminatory effects of Iranian family law. Interestingly, Iranian women activists have utilized a wide array of mediums to get their message across, from mass media to the film industry to literary works and poetry .

Within the last decade, Iran’s women’s movement has made great strides in increasing women’s participation in a variety of industries— while the total number of women participating in the labor force has not grown dramatically, women have expanded their presence and influence into nearly every sector: commercial, educational, agricultural, entertainment, and even political. Moreover, women’s education has boomed, surpassing men in percentages of college enrollment and graduate degrees. Using these skills, the women’s movement continues to expand their mission on a national level by publishing women’s journals, university magazines, and even feminist website sites.

The women’s movement in Iran has two faces: subtle defiance and vocal protest [2]. On a small scale, women artfully flout the state’s strict dress code through “carefully planned flashes of their hair under their head scarves, brightly colored fingernails, and trendy clothing that can be glimpsed under bulky coasts and cloaks” [3]. These small acts of defiance showcase the spirit of rebellion that fuels the Iranian women’s movement. On a larger scale, these same women have form the frontline of marches and protests against the government. The highly contested reelection of Ahmadinejad in 2009 provides a remarkable example of just how readily and willingly women in Iran will fight for their rights. Iranian women marched alongside men to protest the fraudulent elections, brushing up against the armed military who fought to suppress the crowds [4]. Women were among several of the protestors and demonstrators who were fatally wounded in the skirmishes. Unafraid, the women’s movement took to the streets to protest, challenging another term of governance under Ahmadinejad’s hard line government and continued repression of women. One Iranian woman, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, commented that inspiration behind women’s involvement in the electoral protests originates from long seated resentment and frustration at the government’s rollbacks of women’s rights: “Because women are the most dissatisfied people in society, that is why their presence is more prominent” [5].

The women’s movement in Iran demonstrates the determination of women to courageously challenge the repressive laws placed upon them by their government. The expansion of women’s presence across Iranian industries and their commitment to education provide encouraging signs of change and growth. Hopefully, as demands for greater human rights and civil liberties sweep the Middle East —as seen by 2011 revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Bahrain– the Iranian government will be charged both domestically and externally to recognize and grant greater freedoms to its people. Iranian women continue to be strong agents of this change.



[1] Mahdi, Ali Akbar. “The Iranian Women’s Movement: A Century Struggle.” The Muslim World (2009) http://go.owu.edu/~aamahdi/Iranian%20Women%20Movement%20A%20Century%20Long%20Struggle.pdf

[2] Lyden, Jacki. “Despite Odds, Women’s Movement Persists In Iran” NPR.org(2009): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100039579

[3] “Iranian women fight on the frontlines of protest,” MSNBC.com (2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31531225/ns/world_news-mideast/n_africa/

[4] Basu, Moni. “Women in Iran march against discrimination” CNN WORLD (2009): http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-19/world/iran.protests.women_1_iranian-women-mohammed-khatami-reformist?_s=PM:WORLD

[5] “Iranian women fight on the frontlines of protest,” MSNBC.com (2009) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31531225/ns/world_news-mideast/n_africa/

Tapping New Resources, Quite Literally

February 24th, 2011

As more recognition has been given to the importance of clean water, the new millennium has seen a surge in new technologies designed to increase water access in the developing world.  When combined with gender mainstreaming programs that empower local women’s say in their community’s decision-making process, these creative technological solutions can have a great impact on both improving water access and gender equity.  This blog will give an overview of one of these technologies, and point to examples in the developing world where it has achieved success.

Rainwater Harvesting

A 2006 news report for the UN stated that the rainfalls of some African countries — such as Kenya and Ethiopia — have the potential to meeting their populations’ water needs by 6-7 times their current populations.  Rainwater harvesting thus holds massive potential for improving water access there (1).  This relatively simple and adaptable technology does exactly what the name suggests: capturing and storing rainwater from rooftops, land surfaces, or rock catchments and then letting it collect in a storage facilities that range from cement tanks that can hold up to 100,000 liters of water (1) to various jars and pots.  Although there are many ways that the water leeches out of the Earth, rainfall is the only way that water is returned to our ecosystem.  In its purest form, rainwater is relatively clean and cost-effective to collect, which provides a cheap way to provide an alternative form of water in poorer areas.  Rainwater collection gives houses and/or communities a nearby source of water that they can then use for a myriad of purposes, including drinking, washing, irrigation, livestock watering, and gardens.  All of these have positive impacts on nutrition and net income (2).  One very common way in which rainwater collecting is accomplished is through roofwater harvesting, where rainwater drains off the edge of a roof (either with the use of gutters or without) and then drains into storage bin.  In order to actually implement these kinds of technologies, though, the roofs themselves need to be made from impermeable materials, such as iron sheets or tiles.  Rainfall must also be equal to 50 mm/month for half the year, and there should be another ground water source nearby with which to supplement (3).  Once implemented, though, the water collected from roofwater harvesting meets WHO water quality standards, and does not need any further treatment.  Roofwater harvesting can be adapted depending on the need of the community and installed on the roofs of hospitals, schools, and houses alike.  And contrary to other more bureaucratic forms of water access, maintenance of roofwater systems relies on houseowners themselves.

Land and rock catchment systems rely on increasing the amount of water runoff that is able to be collected through installing drain pipes at the ground level.  While less complex, this form of rainwater harvesting also increases the chances that more water runoff will be lost through water absorption in the earth.  Water quality might also not be quite as good, so this type of rainwater harvesting is best suited for irrigation and agricultural purposes (4).

The storage bin itself can be made out of a variety of materials and come in many different sizes.  The conveyance system, however, takes a little more thought in terms of its design.  Because the initial rainwater will carry debris with it and it not as clean, there needs to be a way to direct the initial rainwater away from the storage bin.  This can be done manually, through a down-pipe flap, or automatically, although this way requires a greater technological and financial investment (6).

If implemented successfully, rainwater harvesting can improve a variety of public sectors.  Provisioning ecosystem ecosystem services can increase agricultural productivity, food supply, domestic income, fodder for livestock and rainfall infiltration; regenerate landscapes; and improve productive habits and diversity species.  Regulating ecosystems reduces negative environmental effects of flooding and soil erosion, and provides a hedge during dry-spells.  All of these impacts can help achieve the Millennium Goals (7).

Potential issues associated with rainwater harvesting include the volatility of rainfall, as well as the existence of roofs on which rainwater can be collected.

Yet, there are other forms in which rainwater harvesting can take place, although I will not have time to touch on them extensively in this blog.  Rainwater can be collected in the soil itself, sub-surface dams, wells, and ponds, as well as cisterns.  These form the basis for more agricultural, rather than domestic, use.

As climate change begins to impact the globe to a greater extent, we will have to rely on innovative solutions like these more and more.  Although there are still problems associated with rainwater harvesting that must be worked out, all signs point to great potential for using rainwater to our advantage.  By ensuring that women are included in the process of implementing these technologies, gender equity can also be established.

Works Cited:

1) http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=20581&Cr=unep&Cr1=water

2) https://thewaterproject.org/rain_catchment.asp

3)  http://www.unep.org/gc/gcss-viii/Kenya-IWRM.pdf

4) http://www.ircsa.org/factsheets/lowincome.htm

5) http://www.gdrc.org/uem/water/rainwater/introduction.html

6) http://www.gdrc.org/uem/water/rainwater/introduction.html

7) http://www.unep.org/Themes/Freshwater/PDF/Rainwater_Harvesting_090310b.pdf

Despite its name, IFAD is no fad

February 24th, 2011

Before I begin this week’s post, I’d like to provide an update on my microfinance project—this past week, I got my first repayment on my microfinance investment through Kiva.org. Of my $25 invested, I so far have recouped $3.12 from the Let’s Unite Group, which aims to increase the production capacity of a rural bakery in Sierra Leone. I’m excited to re-invest it, but I think I’ll wait til I’ve recouped more of the investment before helping someone else. I wish Kiva would provide status updates—I think it’d be more rewarding and satisfying to know if the borrowers are faring better off now. As for MicroPlace, the for-profit alternative, it seems as though I will not see any return until September, so further updates are unlikely.

For this week’s topic, I want to address how microfinance could potentially help to support small farmers in Africa. This past week, former UN leader Kofi Annan claimed that with aid, Africa could feed the world’s farmers. With the help of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), small African farmers have already been helped—“partnerships involving IFAD and AGRA have leveraged US$160 million in affordable loans to agriculture from commercial banks in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.” (http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/KHII-8EA5VF?OpenDocument)

More relevant for the subject of this blog, of IFAD’s microfinance portfolio (as agriculture is investment-intensive, holding an exclusively microfinance portfolio would in many places be an ineffective strategy) 80% has been loaned to women. In African nations, these small, low-interest loans seem particularly poised for success, as small agriculture has long been the pattern in many nations, and women have long played a crucial role in raising plants. Through IFAD’s loans, it is conceivable that more countries could start to shake some of their dependence on foreign crops, that they could help to curb issues of hunger, all while simultaneously giving rural citizens the ability to empower themselves. And by charging a small interest rate, the impact of IFAD stands to grow with time. And although countries continue to have issues with loan defaults (take a look at http://allafrica.com/stories/201102240919.html for a discussion of Rwanda’s incredibly low rate of repayment), I still remain optimistic that ethically minded organizations like IFAD can effect some valuable change.

Women in Revolution

February 24th, 2011

After reading one of my colleague’s posts about women in the Iranian revolution, I could not help but wonder how various political upheavals have benefitted or hurt women’s rights. Revolutions come at times of great political unrest, where the current regime has become so intolerable that people must forcibly remove it and replace it with something new. What sparks a revolution is an investigation for another time but the fundamental qualities are very much the same. Charismatic leaders tap into the populace’s feelings of oppression and pain under governments that impose upon their people for too long or prevent opportunities for equal political expression. After a while, there is usually a spark that ignites people’s passion and the revolution cascades from there. This is no more visible now than across the Middle East where a YouTube video of a man setting himself on fire sparked the political conflagration we can see today. Yet revolutions, especially violent ones, are chaotic and hard to control. Their outcomes are highly uncertain and promises leaders make to increase participation can be revoked once the new regime is in place. It is irrefutable that women play important roles in these types of movements but their interests are not always represented once the feverishness has subsided. For the rest of this piece I will examine the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Cultural Revolution in China, comparing their outcomes for women’s rights and attempt to divine how these lessons might relate the current revolutionary action in the Middle East.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran was heavily supported by women. While under the Shah’s regime, women had several restrictions on their personal agency, like having to ask a husband’s permission before leaving the house. They were inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolutionary message and were active participants in the overthrow, even receiving praise from the cleric for their efforts.[1] However, this period of good will quickly ended and the new government, from Khomeini’s direction, rolled back women’s personal rights even further. Ironically the political rights were not restricted in the same way. Now Iranian women have fewer rights than they did under the Shah.

During the Cultural Revolution, which was disruptive both violently and socially, Chinese women made significant gains. In fact, Mao once famously said, “Women hold up half the sky,” and he made them valuable and important members of the revolutionary movement.[2] Forced marriage and foot binding were made illegal, and women were allowed to enter the labor force in a formal way. Women even made gains in reproductive rights through governmental birth control programs that encouraged delaying marriage and pregnancy and gave much of the population access to free or low cost contraceptives. While China still has a work to do on improving women’s rights, it seems this revolution brought about change for the good.

Recognizing that these examples are anecdotal rather than empirical, we can still draw the conclusion that revolutions, even when heavily supported by women, can produce different results.  Turning to the Middle East, many experts are pointing to the promotion of women’s rights as a causal factor in the new push for political reform. The Tunisian leader, Ben Ali, cited his good work in this area as proof of his good governance. Realistically, this strategy may have induced the societal awareness that was necessary to proliferate a revolution. Tunisian women have the highest rate of literacy in North Africa and have risen in social status significantly. As in Iran before, even the Islamists are speaking out for women.[3] Whether this will later be rhetoric used to gain support in the short-term is unclear. In Egypt, women are beginning to break away from the Muslim Brotherhood, which until the overthrow of Mubarak was the only political alternative to the dominant political party. Even still, the Brotherhood is claiming a commitment to promoting women’s rights.[4] Without a doubt, in times of revolution women are clearly courted for their support. Leaders recognize in that time their value, but depending on the eventual ideology that dominates the new political system, this agenda could easily fall away or be revoked entirely. My hope is that these women will learn from the Iranian example to be judicious and careful to guard against those looking to exploit their support for political expediency.

[1] Marshall, Tayana. “Iranian Revolution Turned Against Women Who Supported It.” The Peak. Vol 90: 5. June 5, 1995. www.peak.sfu.ca

[2] Evaluating the Cultural Revolution in China and its Legacy for the Future. MLM Revolutionary Study Group. March 2007. http://www.mlmrsg.com/attachments/049_049_CRpaper-Final.pdf

[3] Bennhold, Katrin. “Women’s Rights a Strong Point in Tunisia.” The New York Times. www.nytimes.com. Feb. 22, 2011.

[4] Londono, Ernesto and Leila Fadel. “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces prospect of democracy amid internal discord.” The Washington Post. www.washingtonpost.com Feb. 21, 2011.

Women's Rights in Iran

February 18th, 2011

Araceli Y. Flores

Over the course of this blog, I hope to shed light on the gap between the rights “guaranteed” by legal institutions and the very disparate reality that women face in accessing and attaining these rights on the ground. Bangladesh, as presented in my previous posts, fits this mold perfectly: Over the years, its constitution, constitutional amendments, and legal frameworks have worked to promote a progressively more liberal view of women’s rights and freedoms. While there are an infinite number of offenses to these rights, a commitment exists, at the very least, in written form.

This week, I would like to address a completing different, grimmer set of circumstances in which the government itself perpetrates abuses of women’s rights and justifies these abuses through the nation’s legal code. Iran presents a unique case in the study of women’s rights. Since the end of the twentieth century, the world has seen the advent of globalization and a general trend toward increased democratization and economic liberalization. With these two forces working hand in hand, societies are often pushed toward increased openness and challenged to protect the rights of their citizens. Instead of progress, however, Iran has seen a reversal of the rights provided to women: On February 11, 1979 the pro-Western Iranian constitutional monarchy was overthrown and the nation became the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new, theocratic leadership rolled back much of the progress made by the women’s movement under the Iranian monarchy. Ironically, many women initially supported the Iranian Revolution because they believed its promises of greater “Independence and Freedom” would help advance equity for all citizens. [1]

Sadly, the women’s rights gained under the Shah regime were systematically removed and denied under the new government. Even before the Revolutionary Council had indoctrinated a constitution for the “new” Iran, they passed a series of laws directed toward effacing women’s basic marital and family rights: The revolutionary regime passed laws allowing men to take multiple wives and granting men full custody of children in all divorce situations [2]. Just last year, a new bill was passed allowing men to marry new wives without consent of their current wife. The bill also places greater restrictions on women’s access to alimony post-divorce, and places taxes on alimony that is received. [3]

Interestingly, women in Iran have greater access to basic political freedoms, such as the right to vote, run for Parliament, and travel freely than they do to social freedoms and bodily protections: Women are subject to police beatings and torture for violating perceived social norms, such as immodest dress in public. Moreover, women’s protections within the private space, the home, are even more tenuous—many women are silent suffers of domestic violence. [4]

A recent petition to revoke Iran’s status as member of the UN Women’s Commission captures the social status of women perfectly: “Women lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women’s admission at universities, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws.” [5]

These realities paint a grim picture of the status of women’s rights in Iran. Next week, I hope to explore the ways in which different women’s movements within civil society are challenging the social norms and restrictions placed on them by their government.



[1] “Women’s rights under Iran’s revolution” BBC NEWS (2009): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7879797.stm

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Iranians Protest Bill on Rights of Women” New York Times (2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/world/middleeast/18iran.html

[4] “EXCLUSIVE: U.N. Elects Iran to Commission on Women’s Rights” FoxNew.com (2010): http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/04/29/elects-iran-commission-womens-rights/#ixzz1EHxP6llC

[5] Ibid.

When Drinking Turns Deadly: Water and Women's Health

February 17th, 2011

In previous posts, I have mostly concentrated on how a lack of access to water creates a disproportional burden on women who are forced to spend long hours collecting water for their families’ needs, thus sacrificing time they could have spent on other activities — whether  as part of the paying workforce or for leisure purposes.  In this post, I will turn my focus to yet another important effect that a lack of a clean water source has on women: health and safety.

First and foremost, women who must walk long distances in order to fetch water face increased risks of sexual assault.  In fact, 82% of 500 women treated for rape over a 5 month period in South Darfur were assaulted while performing daily chores, like collecting water (1).  Furthermore, cultural barriers sometimes prevent women from defecating until after night has fallen or before dawn if there is no available latrine, which only increases the prevalence of assault.  As a side note, the extreme discomfort associated with these circumstances poses serious health risks and can sometimes even lead women to limit their food intake (2).  Cultural barriers can make it difficult for women to even broach the topic of rape in their communities, let alone suggest that men bear a larger brunt of domestic chores.  In some instances, women are even forced to sell sex in exchange for water: in Rwanda, one woman named Seraphine has worked to eliminate this kind of sexual exploitation in her village.  She describes how women are forced to make the choice between having their children stay home from school in order to help with the chores (which, given the importance of education, most women do not prefer) or buying water with their bodies from men with bicycles.  After three years, her campaign to harvest rainwater serves 800-1000 people daily in her village (3).

But security risks don’t end once women get to a water source.  Most wells are little more than makeshift holes dug steeply into the ground; when wells collapse, women and children risk death (4).  For that matter, given than jugs weigh on average 20 kg, the daily task of carrying this much weight manifests itself through spinal or pelvic pain and, sometimes, deformities (5).

All of these security risks are compounded by the fact that the paths to wells are often windy, steep, and hard to navigate, which increases the chance of tripping, spilling water, and being forced to return for more water (6).

Diseases caused by water-bourn parasites also have disproportionately negative effects on women’s health.  The current world situation is sobering: 884 million people live without access to clean drinking water, and 3.575 million people die each year from water-related diseases (7).  Unfortunately, these deaths are preventable if we were to just prioritize giving people access to a safe drinking water source.  According to one study, access to clean water alone can decrease the number of water-related deaths by 21% (8).

In cases in which women collect water from highly-polluted (often urbanized) sources, they have increased likelihood of contracting water-borne diseases, which may increase infertility and infant mortality (9).  Primarily, women bear the costs of these water-borne diseases through having to care for family members (especially children) that become sick.  These women must devote even more of their time to playing nursemaid and also risk contracting the disease themselves through interaction with the sick patient and his/her bodily fluids.  In addition, I hypothesize that because women often suffer from worse nutrition than men in developing countries (due to a culture of women taking less food and giving more to their husbands or children), women are more likely to contract these water-borne illnesses, suffer worse symptoms, and potentially die.

Water scarcity in the developing world sends a ripple effect throughout almost every aspect of women’s lives.  While the large number of negative effects on women’s rights and health can be daunting, it also holds huge potential.  Providing clean sources of water alone can clear up a myriad of problems associated with water scarcity.  In this case, we’re killing dozens of birds with one stone.


Works Cited:

1) http://www.worldvision.com.au/issues/WaterSanitationHygiene/Where_is_it_happening_/AccessCleanWater.aspx

2a) http://www.worldvision.com.au/issues/WaterSanitationHygiene/Where_is_it_happening_/AccessCleanWater.aspx

2b) http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/companion.asp?id=31&compID=105&page=2

3) http://www.globalgrassroots.org/blog/tag/water/

4) https://www.wateraid.org/uk/what_we_do/the_need/206.asp

5) https://www.wateraid.org/uk/what_we_do/the_need/206.asp

6) https://www.wateraid.org/uk/what_we_do/the_need/206.asp

7) http://water.org/learn-about-the-water-crisis/women/
8) https://www.charitywater.org/whywater/

9) http://www.sierraclub.org/population/downloads/breaking-cycle-women-water.pdf