Posts from July, 2015

Women Challenging Climate Change for a Sustainable Future

By Neghena Hamidi

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) High Level Political Forum meetings last week started off with a meeting on “Shaping the World for 2030: From Vision to Transformative Action” as representatives from member states and civil societies voiced their concerns on issues we need to focus on for the next 15 years in order to reach sustainable development. There was one issue that flew largely under the radar until Youth Representative Marwan Bishtari from the Pax Romana United Nations Advocacy team raised it. What is an issue that is going to affect our youth in the next 15 years? That issue is climate change.

As a global community, we are observing and feeling the effects of climate change. We have witnessed accelerated sea level rises, experienced longer and more intense heat waves, and dealt with agricultural complications caused by droughts and floods, which are making land less arable and its farmers less and less secure. It is no wonder that the world’s youth are actively concerned over this issue, as we will continue to experience its consequences over the course of the next century.

Although the effects of climate change impact all sections of society, they affect women and girls most significantly. Women make up about 43% of the labor force in agriculture in developing countries. About 60-70% of employed women in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have agricultural jobs. Climate change will make their work much more difficult, as crops are increasingly damaged by flooding, drought or soil erosion. This, in turn, means less food for women to produce for their livelihoods and food security, and adds pressure on women and girls to support their families with dwindling resources.

In addition, communities can exacerbate climate change by relying on cooking methods like burning wood, coal and dung, which release high levels of black carbon. These methods are not only unsafe for the environment, but unsafe for women and girls using them. Fortunately, organizations such as 2015-2016 VGIF grantee MikonoYetu Centre for Creativity and Innovation raise awareness about the importance of natural resources and increase women’s knowledge around ways to build an environmentally friendly community.  VGIF is currently funding MikonoYetu’s project in Tanzania called “Giving Rural Women Voice in Natural Resource Management and Climate Change.” One outcome the project aims to achieve is to reduce the time women and girls spend on collecting firewood and water so that they can participate more fully in their social and economic life. In order to achieve this, the project will promote the use of alternative energy sources such as “Jiko Safi” a clean stove technology, and solar appliances. Through these innovative technologies, the village is taking it upon itself to “go green” and return to healthier and more sustainable practices. Additionally, the women in the community are becoming aware of how to utilize their natural resources in an efficient way and reduce the carbon emissions in the atmosphere through their alternatives. Just as importantly, women in the community are becoming and leaders and advocates, creating a cadre of women who will be ready to challenge unsustainable and unhealthy uses of the natural resources they rely on and ultimately, contribute to the broader movement for a sustainable world.

Ensuring Education, Not Child Marriage or Child Labor

By Arielle Thomas

On June 12th, I attended a meeting at the United Nations entitled “A Commitment to the Decade of People of African Descent: Rethinking child labour, ensuring quality education, not child marriage.” When I entered the conference room I immediately felt a very different energy than I had in other meetings. I could tell that everyone, including myself, was extremely passionate about the topic at hand: education. More specifically, the event focused on the importance of education and the negative, long term effects of child labor and child marriage.

For struggling families, children can be viewed as important resources. They often begin working at a young age in order to contribute to household income. Though this may benefit families in the short term, child labor results in a lack of education. Professor Leonard Muoghalu completed a study on the effects of child labor in Rwanda, Kenya, and Nigeria. He found that there are currently 400,000 child workers in Rwanda and 8.9 million child workers in Kenya. These children rarely attend school. In fact, the study showed that 41% of children engaging in survival sex work in Rwanda have never been to school at all. Child marriage, like child labor, often contributes to low school attendance, especially for girls. In Nigeria, child marriage accounts for 15-20% of school dropouts. These daunting statistics offer only a small, yet overwhelming, glance into these children’s lives.

Solving issues of child labor and child marriage is not simple, but experts have identified that prioritizing education is a key component. It seems unbelievable that this is not yet a norm when I consider the importance of higher education in my own life. Education should not be a privilege, but rather a requirement. By having more programs throughout the world that support this message, education can become a global standard.

VGIF strongly believes in the value of education, and funds many projects that educate women and girls. For example, in 2013, VGIF awarded a multiyear grant to Auxilium School in Agartala, India to establish a well-equipped laboratory for science education for girls.  Before the laboratory was in place, girls had to leave school after secondary level because of the lack of equipment available. Now, the laboratory will help them prepare for competitive exams, which will enable them to proceed to higher studies and eventually enter careers that have been traditionally dominated by men. The laboratory will encourage girls to enter fields they never would have been able to consider before.

Education is a gateway to opportunities and eventually, success. Child labor and child marriage not only hinder the child, but they also negatively affect families and communities. In the words of Ambassador Mamadou Tangara, “Every child has a right to education. Education will give him [or her] the tools to veto the cycle of ignorance.” Though we have been unable to end this cycle so far, we do have the power to ensure that future generations have the tools and ability to do so.