By Elise Young, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Elise Young is Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs at Women Thrive Worldwide, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group dedicated to women’s equality. The views expressed are her own.
It’s a long way from Benin to the family Thanksgiving table where I grew up outside of Philadelphia. But the people of this West African nation are never far from my mind, especially as I gather with my friends and family for Thanksgiving.
The daughter of a minister, I’m thankful for the many blessings in my life and especially for the food that I have to eat on a daily basis.
Not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been. Around the globe, nearly 840 million people are now considered “food insecure.” Almost 60 percent are women and girls – a despite the fact that women farmers actually produce most of the food in developing countries. Hunger is especially pronounced in developing countries like Benin, where one in three households is considered food insecure.
By Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Yvonne Chaka Chaka is a South African singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. The views expressed are her own.
Access to education, the right to make choices about your own body – these are things many of us take for granted. But the reality for many women and young people in developing countries is very different.
Denied rights to some very basic choices – such as how many children to have and when, whether to stay in school, and how to participate in their country’s economy – the story for young people is frequently one of opportunities curtailed. For some, this is about culture, custom, economics or just denial of basic human rights. For others it is as simple, yet life changing, as not having access to modern contraceptive methods.
I am in Ethiopia this week with politicians, researchers, young leaders, civil society groups and policymakers – a real mixture of organizations gathered together with one key objective – trying to change the way action is taken on access to family planning.
The International Family Planning Conference 2013 will showcase innovation and examine what needs to be done to enable nations to tackle the challenges they face. Why does this matter? Because more than 220 million women in developing countries lack access to contraceptives, information, and services.
By Saadia Zahidi, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Saadia Zahidi heads the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program at the World Economic Forum and is founder and co-author of the annual Global Gender Gap Report, released October 25. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Gender inequality is good economics. Yes, you read that correctly. While we know that individuals, economies and societies would benefit from gender parity in the long term, gender inequality is often a perfectly rational choice for individuals in the short term.
Gender imbalances, and their resulting economic consequences, are still startlingly visible everywhere, from the developed world to emerging markets. In Brazil, more women attend university than men, but women earn only a third of what men make for the same job. In the United Arab Emirates, three times as many women go to university as men, but half as many women participate in the labor force. Across Europe, women outperform men academically and enter the workforce in similar numbers, but occupy less than 15 percent of board positions. In Pakistan, where I grew up, a girl has only a 29 percent chance of making it into secondary school, compared to 38 percent for a boy.
There is irrefutable evidence on the economic contribution that women can make, from the familial and community level, to research showing that companies get a diversity dividend, to the World Economic Forum’s own global data on the correlations between gender and competitiveness, released this month. By some estimates, gender parity in employment could raise the GDP of countries such as the United Arab Emirates by 12 percent, Japan by 9 percent and the United States by 5 percent. While many institutions are constantly pointing to these potential collective gains, progress remains dismally slow. So what’s holding us back?
By Diya Nijhowne, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Diya Nijhowne is the director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, which was established in 2010 by groups concerned about ongoing attacks on educational institutions, their students, and staff in countries affected by conflict. The views expressed are the author’s own.
One year ago today, Malala Yousefzai and her classmates were on their way home from school in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, when two men stopped their school bus and climbed aboard. Malala described what happened next: “The Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too.”
Although the girls were badly injured, all three thankfully survived. Unfortunately, Malala and her classmates were not the only Pakistani students attacked in the past year. In June, for example, 14 female university students were killed when militants blew up their bus in Quetta, Balochistan, a western province.
Pakistan’s teachers and administrators have also been targeted. Five teachers were killed in January in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. In March, another was shot and killed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A principal and six school children died that month during an attack at their school in Karachi.
By Tewodros Melesse, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Tewodros Melesse is director general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
We all want to live in a world without poverty, where people can achieve their potential and where health and education are guaranteed. Or at least I hope we do. But there’s a truth that needs to be spoken as discussions over the next generation of Millennium Development Goals (MDG) – the so-called Post-2015 framework – have gotten underway this week.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights were initially missing from the MDG framework, and that meant that amid all the goodwill and the good intentions money was wasted because a fundamental building brick of development was missing. And that’s before I even get started on the issue of justice.
Of course, political leaders eventually realized their mistake, but the omission was only partly rectified and then very late in the day. In 2007, the addition of the target of universal access to reproductive health by 2015 was made. And guess what? The Millennium Development Goals relating to reproductive health – including access to contraceptives and adolescent fertility rates – made the least progress.
By Janet Fleischman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Janet Fleischman is a senior associate at the Global Health Policy Center of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (
@CSIS). The views expressed are her own.
President Barack Obama’s trip to Africa this month is focused on the pressing issues of economic growth and investment, democratization, and the next generation of African leaders. Yet a central element for achieving those goals is missing from the list – advancing the health and empowerment of women and girls. The Obamas have an opportunity to make this trip historic by explicitly committing the United States to focus on women and girls as a key pathway to progress for Africa. But will they seize it?
The President and First Lady can speak powerfully to African and global audiences on these issues. On January 30, President Obama issued an unprecedented presidential memorandum on advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls globally, calling it “one of the greatest unmet challenges of our time.” For many who worried that the energy and commitment that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought to those issues might dissipate with her departure, this high-level statement was most welcome. Many have also wondered whether Michelle Obama herself might become a champion for global women’s issues in the second Obama term, building on her support for women and girls in the U.S.
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Egyptian-born columnist Mona Eltahawy about the situation in Turkey and her role in the upcoming documentary ‘Girl Rising,’ which is premiering this Sunday on CNN at 9 p.m. ET.
How does it look to you, from Cairo, what is going on in Taksim Square?
I think the most important thing about what's happening in Turkey is that for me, it seems like Turks are trying to find a middle ground or a third way between what used to be just kind of the Ataturk, nationalist way and the Islamist way, as modern as it is, of Erdogan. And for me, as a Muslim from the Middle East, that's really important.
You’ve spent 10 years in America and gone back to Cairo. Do you worry that while you would like to see a more secular republic, you're worried by Erdogan's Islamism or the Muslim Brotherhood's Islamism?
On the ground, that stuff is pretty popular. So when Erdogan has put in these moderate restrictions on the sale of retail alcohol or he talks about women being allowed to wear the head scarf, in my experience, all my friends in Istanbul hate him for it. But the country at large likes it, because [this is a] 99 percent Muslim country, most people are devout. That actually resonates a lot more than people think. I assume the same is true in Egypt. Do you worry that your preferences are actually the preferences of a very small urban, kind of educated class?
I often compare the Muslim Brotherhood and their platform to the Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who love to tout moral values. It's very easy to tout moral values, to be against abortion, to be against same-sex marriage here. And in Egypt and in the Middle East, it's very easy to say I'm going to ban alcohol and I'm going to make sure that all girls can or should wear head scarves. That is too easy and that is a violation of people's rights.
On June 16, CNN will be premiering "Girl Rising," which documents extraordinary girls and how education can change the world. But what are some of the biggest challenges facing women and girls across the globe today? Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, answers readers’ questions about the challenges women face in the Middle East, Asia – and here in the United States.
Can you explain a little about how your organization works?
First, I want to thank those who sent in such great questions. Our primary methodology is documenting human rights violations through the voices of victims – so our researchers talk to people directly affected by abuse, violence and discrimination to document first-hand what has happened to them and the impact it has on their lives. We also speak to witnesses of abuses and, where possible, the alleged perpetrators. Over 30 years, we have built up a strong reputation that allows us access to high-level policymakers – the people who can actually make change happen for the victims. So, we use our research, the voices and faces of the victims, to pressure governments to act to stop abuse.
The culture of blaming the victim in rape cases is still common in India, writes “Shifra Samuel” on Facebook. What can the country do to tackle the problem?
This is a global problem, and one of the biggest barriers that rape survivors, be they women and girls or men and boys, face if they report the assault. Human Rights Watch has documented in many countries the way the criminal justice system, including police officers, medico-legal examiners, prosecutors and judges do not believe victims, refuse to investigate their complaints, and deny them access to justice.
By Malou Innocent, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Malou Innocent is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute and can be followed @malouinnocent. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
During his recent unannounced visit to Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with prominent female entrepreneurs and the captain of the women’s soccer team to discuss the hard-won progress of Afghan women and their uncertain future. Like his predecessor, Secretary Kerry has admirably pledged to prioritize women’s rights in his foreign policy agenda. But the underpinnings of this pledge – the entrenchment of women’s rights across Afghanistan – are beyond the ability of the United States to uphold. It is time to stop making promises we cannot keep.
If the past 12 years in Afghanistan (and Iraq) has taught us anything, it’s that we are not very good at spreading Western-style, Jeffersonian democracy – and all the attendant rights – to foreign cultures. In the end, our military and diplomacy cannot transform deep-rooted societal norms. The future of Afghan women deserves U.S. support, but not a false promise tied to the open-ended presence of U.S. troops.
By Rupert Knox, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Rupert Knox is a researcher on Mexico at Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
Less than a week ago, six Spanish tourists were allegedly raped in the holiday resort city of Acapulco in southern Mexico. The attack quickly made international headlines, and although local authorities initially appeared keen to downplay the story, spiraling public outrage and pressure from the Spanish authorities prompted a vow for a full investigation.
Sadly, those of us who follow events in this part the world were far from surprised by news of this truly dreadful crime – after all, thousands of women and girls in Mexico suffer sexual violence every year. Indeed, according to information Amnesty International presented to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2012, more than 14,000 women are victims of rape each year. The figure, based on data collected in 2009, also shows there were only 2,795 convictions that year. National studies, meanwhile, indicate that just a fifth of women report rape due to distrust in the justice system and fear, meaning the actual scale of sexual violence is likely to be far greater.
By Shreyasi Singh, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Shreyasi Singh is a New Delhi-based writer. The views expressed are her own.
There’s little about my life that should create a sense of fear. I’m in my early 30s. I have a good job as an editor at a business magazine in New Delhi. I am fortunate enough to live in an upscale gated community in a Delhi suburb – the kind of place that shields you from the daily exasperations of India’s power, water, traffic and noise pollution woes. I don’t even have to drive myself anymore – like many who are comfortably off in India, I have a driver. Yet, despite these considerable advantages, can I really describe myself as empowered? And more importantly – am I even free?
For a start, I don’t dare walk the few hundred feet to the nearby coffee shop near my home after 8 p.m. (Indeed, despite the wide, well-paved roads, it isn’t a pleasant walk at any time of the day). Too often, I don’t feel like I can stand at a crossing in Delhi and hail a cab without hunching my shoulders in hopes that my chest will be a little less obvious. And almost reflexively when on public transport, invisible antennae go up all over my body ready to sense the slightest unwanted touch or sign of harassment.
By Chen Reis, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Chen Reis is clinical associate professor and director of the Humanitarian Assistance program at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The views expressed are the author’s own.
Forty years ago, on January 22, 1973, American women won the right to legal abortion after the Supreme Court narrowly decided the landmark case of Roe v Wade. Shortly after the 1973 decision, members of Congress enacted the “Helms Amendment,” that states that "No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” This amendment has been incorrectly interpreted to restrict the access of women worldwide to comprehensive reproductive health care including abortions even in the case of rape, incest or medical necessity. At the moment that American women won the right to have power over their own fates, those in the most need around the world lost theirs.
A correct interpretation of the Helms Amendment would allow exemptions at least in cases of rape, incest and medical necessity. As implemented, however, the policy flowing from this amendment has restricted women’s access to abortion even in countries and circumstances where abortion is legal. This inconsistency was recently noted in a letter written by 12 members of Congress to President Obama in December. They pointed out that the current application of the Helms Amendment is inconsistent with other federal policy and requested that the president change how the policy is implemented.