Posts from August, 2014

Moving Forward to Empower Indigenous People

By Arielle Thomas

My last event this summer was a special event for the “International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples” held at the United Nations on Friday, August 8th. With the multi-colored attire, the starting horn call, and introductory song, this event was unlike anything I previously attended through my internship. It felt as if there was an underlying unity among the attendees and panelists around the need to acknowledge the rights of indigenous people.

The event began with remarks from Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who stated we must “forge a new vision for sustainable development and form the ground work for the adoption of a legal agreement,” which would ultimately benefit indigenous people. He continued saying countries that do not recognize their rights are allowing the lives and rights of indigenous people to be threatened. Ki-Moon’s speech concluded, “let us work even harder to empower and support their aspirations.”

I found the remarks by President of the General Assembly, John Ashe, to be quite interesting. He emphasized the importance in bridging the gap between the underlying principles of the United Nations and the reality of its implementation. He continued, stating, “The marginalization of indigenous people is still an unfortunate reality.” Mr. Ashe, however, is optimistic of the future and discussed how the upcoming first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will provide a foundation to share different perspectives and practices regarding the rights of indigenous people.

Recognizing the rights of indigenous people is of paramount importance; however, there is a parallel need for them to gain skills to overcome present obstacles that arise from their lack of recognition. At VGIF, we have funded several projects that aim to empower and educate indigenous populations. One such project, Madre, was based in Nicaragua where as many as 80% of indigenous people lack access to clean drinking water which often results in waterborne illnesses, a leading cause of death, particularly for children. Women and girls are responsible for the provision of clean water to households and for maintaining water ecosystems in indigenous cultures. Madre worked with the community to promote sustainable clean water, reduce litter at water sources through cleanup days and provided public education. This project shows how indigenous women and girls access creative solutions to overcome existing barriers while they await official recognition and access to necessary rights like healthcare and clean water.

Speaker Wu Hongbo stated, “Gaps remain between actions and words.” There are more than 370 million indigenous people around the world and the fact that a majority of their rights are being overlooked and not acknowledged is a moral and legal unfairness. The upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is evidence that a universal dialogue will soon begin, and that is the most important step to ending this inequality and creating a stronger unity among humankind.

VGIF, Beijing+20 and the Girl Child

by Jenna Wallace

UN Women has a clear set of goals for the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration – Empower Women; Empower Humanity – and they want us all to “Picture It.” From my view as Program Associate, VGIF grantees are not only picturing empowerment, they’re working towards it every day.

The Beijing Declaration and its accompanying Platform for Action established international commitments under 12 areas of critical concern for women and girls. Twenty years later, it is still an important tool for use in efforts to achieve gender equality. As “Beijing+20” becomes a veritable movement (and a popular hashtag) with which activists, NGOs and civil society can align their respective goals, UN Women has launched a major campaign aiming to “reconnect, regenerate commitment, charge up political will and mobilize the public” for women’s and girls’ rights.

As part of this campaign, UN Women will be highlighting one of the Beijing Declaration’s “12 Critical Areas of Concern” each month. August is focused on the 12th area of concern, the girl child. And with good reason. Girls around the world are still subjected to harmful practices rooted in discrimination and gender norms, like child marriage, female genital cutting, sexual exploitation and others. According to UN Women, “Girls are also more likely to experience discrimination in food allocation and healthcare, and are often outpaced and outranked by boys in all spheres of life.” While media attention has put injustices against girls more and more in the spotlight, statistics on existing challenges facing the girl child remain alarming.

Of course, UN Women isn’t alone in their efforts to support the rights of the girl child as we near Beijing’s 20th anniversary. Many of VGIF’s grantees continue to design and implement projects focused on resource allocation and self-empowerment of girls and young women. One of the project reports that we recently received is from one of our grantees in Kenya, the Kisumu Youth Football Association. This grantee took a creative and comprehensive approach to girls’ education and empowerment, through a soccer and mentorship project that engaged girls who were vulnerable to falling short of their full potential due to discrimination, economic challenges, and other factors beyond their control.

The project trained college girls and young female professionals to act as mentors for teenage girl participants, who were subsequently organized in to soccer teams to help girls form support systems, engage in recreational activity, and to foster positive competition. The soccer club was paired with mentorship sessions, life skills trainings and discussions, and meetings with motivational speakers, which all addressed issues like self-worth, confidence, girls’ health and wellness, and other important topics. The project was a formidable opponent to discrimination. A questionnaire with data indicating “before and after” showed that the participants’ self-esteem and self-worth had increased significantly and by the end of the project implementation, almost 600 women and girls were positively impacted. We look forward to celebrating the accomplishments of our grantees as we move closer to the 20th Anniversary.

Photos by Kisumu Youth Football Association

“Women have the power that will change the world positively”

By Arielle Thomas

I recently attended an event at the United Nations entitled “Women in Power: Making a Global Difference.” With the large number of speakers and many different directions in the dialogue, the event focused on numerous challenges women are currently facing regarding topics such as economic empowerment, education, the concept of femininity, and more. What was important to note from the beginning was the multitude of female speakers throughout the program; something that I had not encountered before. Each panelist provided a unique and informative perspective, however two intrigued me the most.

Denis G. Antoine, the Permanent Representative of Grenada to the United Nations, said, “Grenada is very much in the frontline for advocacy on women’s rights.” He explained how women are the true teachers to children and how “they have the power to mend the next generation.” He also touched on the importance of economic empowerment and stopping violence against women globally. Mr. Antoine continued, “As consumers, women are the drivers of the global economy,” and he also mentioned how Grenada is a strong advocate for female leaders, adding that 33% of nationally elected politicians in Grenada are women. Mr. Antoine showed Grenada’s strong support for women’s rights by concluding, “[Women] have the power that will change the world positively.”

The second speaker who caught my attention was Lin Walsh. She discussed the differences between masculinity and femininity, and spoke about her belief in the importance of allowing the traits associated with each to help dictate future actions. She made it a point to state that females tend to focus on relationship-building and claimed that men have the ability to “systemize through principle.” While Mr. Antoine was speaking about the importance of having female leaders and women involved in decision-making, Ms. Walsh seemed to stress the importance of men, not women, having more leadership skills. This focus on adhering to gender norms seemed very out of place.

In the projects VGIF has funded, we have found that women do have strong relationship-building skills as well as strong leadership skills like the ones Ms. Walsh attributed to men. An example of this is a project organized by VGIF grantee, Mission For All, in Kampala, Uganda. The project, which just recently concluded, trained 25 women affected by HIV/AIDS in mushroom growing. Through this process, they were taught technical skills, entrepreneurship, team building, and more. Each participant was then responsible for training 200 additional women and girls. This women led project demonstrates the ways in which women are empowering themselves and each other, as leaders and as entrepreneurs.  

As Denis G. Antoine stated, women are the true teachers to children but are also the drivers of the global economy. Many women show a great capacity for relationship building, but also have the ability to gain more technical and systematic skills through exposure, which I believe Ms. Walsh’s speech overlooked. During the event, it was stated numerous times: “You educate a woman, you educate a nation.” Saying that women have one main area of skill expertise is limiting what they can achieve. As best said by one of the panelists, Marsha Lee-Watson, “We are the source of the power the world has been waiting for.”