Gender | Blogs

  • Why I felt it was important to break the silence


    April 13th, 2018

    This year on the International Women’s Day, I felt like sharing my personal story relating to “Menstruation”. Yes, we bleed! It is not comfortable!

    Perhaps the most discomforting part is the practice of tiptoeing around it. Periods are the “one issue” we have been going to an extreme length to hide about ourselves. Everyone knows we are getting them, but we cannot talk about it!

    What we do during period?

    Women in Bangladesh, generally, do not talk about periods to men. Not even with their fathers or brothers. Women often feel too shy to go to a pharmacy and buy sanitary napkins in front of men. I have personally witnessed my friend refraining from buying them even at the situation of dire need, just because a man from her neighbourhood was in the pharmacy. My friend hesitated, and then decided to buy some cold medicine, which she did not even need, to justify her presence in the pharmacy to him. A couple of years back I would have done the same thing if I was in that situation. That is what how we were brought up – we grew up believing, “no one must know I get periods”.

    Growing up in a Muslim family, surrounded by Muslim neighbours and classmates, I have also practised and witnessed the strategy our mothers took to ‘hide’ periods from the male members’ of the family. Muslim women are excused from their Islamic duties of saying their prayers for five times a day, or fasting during the month of Ramadan on the days they have their period. Since ‘not praying’ or ‘not fasting’ would be a dead giveaway – all these women would “pretend” to pray, and wake up in the middle of the night[1] to pretend they will be fasting the next day.

    That was as far as the struggle of ‘hiding period’ from others goes. Now let me talk about the actual experience itself. It is important to understand that each woman experiences period differently. The struggle starts at an early age, from school days. According to the UN, only 1 in 3 girls in South Asia are unaware about menstruation prior to starting. It causes significant embarrassment and trauma. Those with irregular cycles might experience sudden bleeding, anytime, anywhere. Managing it, when it starts, is a whole other issue. According to the Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014, 82% of girls think that school facilities are inadequate for managing menstruation.

    Some women, including myself, experience extreme abdominal pain, on top of the obvious discomfort. The pain disrupts our daily lives – personally, socially, professionally we can no longer function the way we normally do. The Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014 showed that about 40% of girls miss school for an average of 3 days/month due to period related discomfort.

    I have been suffering from extreme abdominal pain during menstruation since 2015. Being a working woman since 2011, I have tried working through the pain since the beginning. My female colleagues from my previous workplace, though they sympathised, were strict on their position of keeping it hidden whenever a man walked by. My proposal for keeping sanitary napkin in the office, be it in the first aid box, or managed by our female admin official to deliver upon request, was met with serious laughter. To these women, a woman who did not take appropriate measure to face her period any day, any time, were committing a serious crime. In their eyes, a woman should be taking care of this issue by herself, the office should not be responsible for catering to her need relating to this.

    It is not surprising that the majority of professionals, even women, think this way. I have worked through pain, tried neutralising the pain with high powered painkillers for years. Four months after joining Practical Action, I finally gathered up all my guts to walk up to my manager, and tell him about my suffering. I honestly do not know that made me gather that courage. Perhaps the inclusive attitude from everyone at the office made me feel safe. My manager not only sympathised, but also asked me to write an application to “work from home” during those days. When I responded by saying that I did not wish to take any additional benefits only because I was a woman, he assured me that taking ‘work from home’ was not that at all. Rather, it was essential to take care of oneself to perform the best for the betterment of the organisation.

    I was soon shifted under another manager, due to a change in organisational structure. Luckily, my new manager, was equally supportive in this matter. Whether I wanted to work from home, or start for work a bit later than the usual time, he was totally fine with it.

    Gradually, some sense started to come to me. It soon hit me that I was discussing my issue with my managers who were men. I excluded the men who matter to me the most – my father and my elder brother. It took me 18 years to finally pick up the phone and call my father to ask him to buy me some sanitary napkin. Sure, he was not comfortable, nor was I. However, it was a call that was 18 years too late. It was a late realisation that there was no need to hide this. He witnesses my suffering on a regular basis. If anything, me opening up to him helped him understand my suffering even more.

    Why did I feel it was important to break the silence?

    I am sure, a lot of people are already labelling me as ‘shameless’ – speaking of womanly matters in public. Honestly, I do not care! It is a regular part of my life, a regular part of any woman’s life. It is important to discuss it in the open because periods can cause significant discomfort and trauma and no woman should have to face it alone. No woman should feel ashamed of such a regular natural phenomenon. No woman should feel the need to wake up in the dead of the night, “pretending” to fast in front of her male family members to successfully hide that she is on her period. No woman should feel uncomfortable about buying sanitary napkins just because a neighbourhood “chacha” is in the same pharmacy. To sum it up – no need to hide something that makes us who we are – women!

    When we celebrate women’s day each March 8, our focus should not be wearing purple, or holding a banner. All men and women should work on ensuring a friendly environment for both the sexes about raising the issues we face on a regular basis to those who do not face it, but are in a position to create an enabling environment for minimising it.

    [1] In order to fast during the month of Ramadan, one requires having food before sunrise, which is called Sahri

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  • 2018 CSW: What lessons can we take forward to promote gender equality in our work?


    April 9th, 2018

    62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 12-23 March 2018

    Last month, I participated in arguably the largest global gathering on gender equality – the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York alongside Arun Hial, our M & E Manager from the India office. The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. During the Commission’s annual two-week session, normally held in March, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations, academics and UN entities gather to discuss progress and gaps in the empowerment of women and girls. While Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress in political, economic and social fields, the session also provides a springboard for a lively agenda of civil society-hosted panels (which take place on the fringes of the high-level plenaries), on topics ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights to women’s economic empowerment, their representation in the media and more.

    A global platform for reviewing progress on gender equality

    This year, the priority theme for the session was “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”. Central to this is the realization of rural women and girls’ fundamental human rights, which are necessary for their livelihoods, well-being and resilience – as well as to broader sustainable development for all. These include the right to:

    • an adequate standard of living,
    • a life free of violence and harmful practices
    • access and own land and productive assets
    • enjoy food security and nutrition
    • an education and healthcare, and
    • sexual and reproductive health and autonomy

    Arun and I participated and shared Practical Action’s experience and lessons learnt from two projects namely the ‘Sunolo Sakhi’ project that seeks to raise awareness and knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst rural girls in India and the cocoa value chain work in Bolivia that seeks to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets.

    Loise Maina, Gender Advisor making a presentation on the cocoa agroforestry work in Bolivia

    Arun Hial from India Office making a presentation on the Sunolo Sakhi Project

    Implications for our work at Practical Action

    While there were no major surprises in the messages shared at CSW, some of the issues discussed are clearly directly linked to the topics that we work on at Practical Action. So what does this mean for us and our work? Firstly, out of the seven key priorities highlighted by UN Women as critical to empowering rural women and girls, it is important to note that we already have significant on-going work relating to three of the areas: sustainable energy and technology, clean water and sanitation, and increasing women’s climate resilience. However, as sadly noted in most sessions of the CSW and from the UN Secretary General’s report to the Commission, lots remains to be done, given that on virtually every gender and development indicator for which data is available globally, rural women were found to fare worse than rural men and urban men and women. We must consider why that is and ensure we look at the different impacts of our work not only on men and women generally but also from different social-economic backgrounds, in the knowledge that women’s experiences are far from homogenous. Areas we need to focus on in our programmatic and policy influencing work include:

    • Increase women’s access to essential rural infrastructure such as safe drinking water and sanitation, energy, water for irrigation, and technology including information and communications technologies – and empower women in the decision-making processes around these areas.
    • Focus more attention on food production to achieve food security and improved nutrition, particularly in poor and vulnerable households, many of whom are led by women.
    • As part of our women’s economic empowerment efforts, we also need to focus on financial inclusion and access to financial services for rural women farmers who remain largely marginalized, yet continue to play a critical role in sustainable agricultural production and in building food and nutrition resilience in many of the communities where we work.
    • Engage men and boys, as agents and beneficiaries of change, and as strategic partners and allies in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, including those in rural areas.

    We hope to continue taking these recommendations forward through close engagement with relevant country offices and by having strategic discussions at different levels of the organization particularly with the newly reconstituted Global Gender Group and change ambition hubs.

    In the long-run, we should also consider opportunities to implement actions around other identified priority areas that we currently do not necessarily prioritize, namely: decent work and social protection, education and training, eliminating violence and harmful practices and empowering women as decision-makers and leaders. Ultimately, a successful approach to improving the impacts of our policy and practice work for women (and men) requires a holistic approach; acknowledging that many of these factors are interlinked and interdependent in women and girls’ lives, and that interventions seeking to address just one factor are likely not to achieve the sustainable and meaningful change that we hope to see for the people we serve.

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  • MY EXPERIENCE IN CSW62


    March 23rd, 2018

    It was my first time to the United States and I was so excited about visiting US and participating in the UNCSW62. Before travelling, I almost told everyone close to me that I am going to the UN and that I have got an opportunity to speak about some of our work in India. As much I was excited, I was nervous too about the presentation, as it went several rounds of revisions with the CSW62 preparatory team (Charlotte, Loise, Patricia and me), but finally a decent presentation was all set to go. I had to speak more than what was written on the slides and so I sort of practised the presentation within myself. In the other hand, I thank Chris, who was getting all logistics organised at New York so that we have a good stay. I must thank Sarah Sandon for her guidance and for approving my participation in the CSW62.

    The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was held from 12-23 March 2018. Practical Action was represented by Loise Maina – Gender Advisor and Arun Hial – M & E Manager (Me) from India. Unfortunately, a third member – Patricia Monje Cuadrado, Chief fundraiser based in Bolivia was not able to travel to New York due to a family emergency.

    We were expected to participate and represent in FOUR separate sessions.

    The first one was ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ organised by NAWO. The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) is an umbrella organisation of over 100 organisations and individuals working to make gender equality a reality. The Alliance has been accrediting young women and men still at school (16-18) to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women for over a decade. Loise Maina discussed relevant strategies to empower women and girls and provided some relevant examples from Practical Action’s work with rural communities. This session resulted in better understanding of the NAWO delegation on the overall purpose and context of the CSW2018 theme.

    The second session was ‘Innovation – using ICTs to empower rural women’ organised by ADVANCE who work in the priority areas of entrepreneurship, education and justice for women and girls.  I got the opportunity to share about how Practical Action is using media and ICT to raise awareness and share knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst girls in India through the innovative ‘Sunolo Sakhi Project’. As a result of this presentation, people shown interest to get connected with us or get us connected with relevant organisations that can support in scaling up this programme. We have lined up follow up actions on this. Oh there was so many questions about the presentation, everyone wanted to know more about Sunolo Sakhi.. I would say about 90% of the questions were around my presentation, and of course it’s not because they did not understand what I said, but the questions were seeking more information about the program.

    The third one was “Increasing prosperity for rural women: Implementing gendered SDGs targets in goals 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16”. This session was organised by the UK NGO Alliance that works with partners based in the UK, as well as with local partner organisations across the world. Loise Maina, Gender Advisor shared about Practical Action’s work to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets in the cocoa value chain. This session was considered to be quite practical and helped to demonstrate proven interventions that can help improve rural communities’ livelihoods. Loise had prepared herself with a PowerPoint presentation, however, the session did not have opportunity for that and needed a five minute speech. Loise managed this so wonderfully with huge confidence and she was very clear on what she wanted to communicate with the audience. About questions, yes there were questions to Loise and they got relevant answers. This session was chaired by one of the Hon’ble MPs of UK.

    The fourth session was “Innovative Use of Media for Rural Women and Girls”. This session was organised by PRIDE which works with organizations across the region to ensure education that promotes holistic development options.  I could share experience from the implementation of the Sunolo Sakhi project in India that promotes awareness and education on menstrual hygiene through ICTs and media. This has created a space for Practical Action’s gender work and that is well accepted. This too was a quite engaging session, now some of the old faces have sort of accepted Practical Action doing Sunolo Sakhi kind of work.

    Apart from these four sessions, we were engaged in many of the side events suggested by Sarah and Charlotte time to time, it really helped us to get to the relevant ones. The overall experience in CSW62 was great and we could participate in number of sessions knowing about gender issues in different spaces as well as networking and connecting with new people and organisations. We have a list of follow ups to be done and have listed lessons learnt for those who will be taking part in future CSW events.

    We could also do some sightseeing together in Times Square and World Trade Centre etc.

    I was blessed and privileged to be one of the participants from Practical Action and it was worth attending CSW62.

    Look forward for the new connections and collaborations to take its own shape to benefit the underprivileged women and girls.

    JAI HO

    For more information, please contact

     

    Arun Hial (Arun.Hial@practicalaction.org)

    Loise Maina (Loise.Maina@practicalaction.or.ke)

    Some more pictures

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  • Women as a force to build resilience


    March 8th, 2018

    Many risk drivers are created by development choices at global or national levels, but all are manifested at the local level, so local people must be central to risk reduction practice. But it is important to recognise that in these communities it is the disabled, elderly, women and girls who are the most at risk. For example, women accounted for 61% of fatalities caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, 70-80% in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 91% in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh[i]

    But women often have the weakest voice and the least opportunity or face restrictions of their voice being heard or listened to, but this shouldn’t be the case when they make up half of the adult population. Social norms around gender mean that women’s circumstances, for instance clothing and level of mobility, affect their ability to respond to sudden events. Exclusion means that women remain overlooked, resulting in preparedness and response measures that ignore their particular needs and in the worst cases actually exacerbate their risk. Unless gender equality is realised, planning will continue to add additional weight to women’s multiple burdens as care givers.

    The critical need to address gender differences in development is well established and has been acknowledged globally at the highest levels, although there is still a long way to go to achieve these lofty aspirations. This was best articulated by the women’s major group at Sendai, who commented that “…however, women are often included together with girls and marginalized groups, furthering the ‘victim’ paradigm; the term ‘gender equality’ does not appear in the text, nor is there a reference to women’s human rights[ii].

    There is nothing natural about disasters, disasters occur when development goes wrong. Disasters often highlight existing gender based imbalances and inequalities in societies; reflecting vulnerabilities as well as capacities embedded in the social systems and in the economic context of development. It is therefore paramount that responsible development is inclusive development, that women are central to development efforts, and challenge existing practices and norms so that we all #Pushforprogress.

    Practical Actions Disaster Risk Reduction programme acknowledges the central role of women in disaster risk reduction; that women and girls – like men and boys – possess skills and capacity to prepare for, respond to and recover from crisis, and to manage risk and build resilience over the longer term.

    In Bangladesh one of the biggest challenges during the annual flood season is access to clean water. One way to provide clean water in spite of flooding is the construction of raised plinth tube wells allowing families to stay at home, and saving them the inconvenience to relocate. In discussions with communities women report psychological benefits of not being compelled to relocate and the assurance that the water supply they are using is unlikely to cause sickness to their family.

     

    But local decisions are decided by the Community Based Organisation, and getting women onto these bodies is vital. It is important that the voice of half of the community is heard in the decision making process. The CBO will decide on the location of improved raised plinth wells, so women must have a voice to ensure that they are located where women feel comfortable accessing them. In our flood resilience project in Sirajganj we have focussed on capacity building of CBO’s and of 16 CBOs established so far women lead seven.

    Therefore, gender equality is not a choice but an imperative. At Practical Action to ensure that we are true to this principle, we recognise that disaster risk reduction must be inclusive. We need to continually strengthen the gender skills and gender diversity across our teams. We need to strengthen the quality of our M&E work, with gendered outcomes identified from the beginning and data disaggregated by gender from the outset. This will not only help us better understand what works in different contexts and respond to these in the future, but deliver comprehensive DRR that changes systems and sets in place preparation,  prevention and transformations that deliver resilience for all.

    #IWD2018 #InclusionMatters #Pushforprogress

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [i] UNDP, 2013: http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/gender/Gender%20and%20Environment/PB3-AP-Gender-and-disaster-risk-reduction.pdf

    [ii] http://wedo.org/where-are-womens-rights-in-the-sendai-framework-for-drr/

     

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  • A Darfurian Woman Pressing for Progress  


    , | March 7th, 2018

    Kabkabyia is a small town in the Northern part of North Darfur state. It is one of the places where Practical Action Sudan is implementing development projects in post-conflict context. The area is badly affected by the protracted conflict and women in particular face the worst part of this reality when they find themselves heading their families and handling both productive and social roles.

    HaleemaHaleema, a 55 years old widow from Kabkabyia is one of those women challenging poverty, conflict, illiteracy and gender discrimination, and leading vital role in their communities. Wearing a white Sudanese traditional toub, with big smile and bright eyes, Haleema spoke to me about her interesting personal and professional journey.

    Haleema got married at 20 after she finished high school.  She joined the National Educational Institute and graduated as English and rural development teacher in 1985. She started her career as a school teacher and a young mother too in 1986.

    Haleema’s ambition was beyond a 4 hours teaching job in a primary school; she dreamed to do something different to her community and to contribute to the development of her small town. Therefore, Haleema fearlessly shifted her career to the development sector through working with OXFAM. Then, she moved between different development agencies included Small-Scale Farmers Association and Women Charity. She worked in different projects and manged funds from some important donors in the area what equipped her with great knowledge and experiences.

    Later, Haleema joined Kabkabyia Women Development Association; a women civil structure established by a group of female teachers in 1988 with the aim of rural development and women empowerment in the area.

    The association – which is now headed by Haleema – has become one of the most important civil society organizations in the area those play great role in changing women socio-economic situations in Darfur.

    The association is an important development partner for Practical Action in all its projects in Kabkabyia including Peace and Stability, and Sudan Humanitarian Funds. About this partnership, Haleema said; “I knew Practical Action long time ago when it introduced the donkey-driven plough in our town, that intermediate technology helped women preparing the land for cultivation with less efforts in shorter time,  and most importantly opened our mind to the significance of having innovative solutions for our livelihood issues”.

    haleema presentingDescribing how Practical Action encouraged the inclusion of women and their representation in community management structures (e.g. peace-building committees), she proudly said,

    “Our voices have finally been heard” adding,  “Practical Action supported our Women Development Association and we started building the capacity of rural women in agro-processing and other income generating activities, women are currently leading food-business in the town!”.

    Haleema is model for a successful working woman in rural Darfur, however, she is still challenging the social barriers standing from gender-undermining traditions and culture. She described her personal daily challenges as a working mother for 7 kids; ‘’ I suffer from the load of daily domestic work and I have No time for rest”. She added “our community hasn’t understood the importance of women’s work yet”.

    Haleema believes that women are key for communities’ development, she trusts that things will continue changing to the favour of women if we keep our hard work and press for progress in gender parity.

    In this International Women Day, I want to express my respect and appreciation to women like Haleema, who are challenging the darkness associated with conflict and poverty, they sparkle the light and keep fighting for the coming generation. I believe this world will be a better place with their spirit and braveness. “Thanks Haleema Elnour, a woman from Kabkabyia”

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  • Ropeways: connecting rural communities


    January 12th, 2018

    By Sanjib Chaudhary and Ganesh R Sinkemana

    If you look up at the steep hills mounting over the Budhiganga River at Taptisera in Bajura district, you’ll believe why people call them ‘bandar ladne bhir’ – meaning cliff where even monkeys slip down.

    There are three options to get to the top of the hill – a dangerous vertical climb of one and half hour, a strenuous trek of three and half hours and a six hour long tiring hike along the ridges. In addition, you’ll need to cross the Budhiganga River to get to the foothills before you begin your climb. And not only the water is chilly but the depth of the river is also another thing to worry about. You don’t know how deep the waters might be until you step into it.

    Reducing the travel time to less than two minutes
    However, this seemingly unsurmountable height and distance has been reduced to a descent of one and half minutes, thanks to a gravity goods ropeway (GGR) installed recently at the bank of the river.

    A gravity goods ropeway carriage. (c) Practical Action/ Ganesh R Sinkemana

    The GGR was installed by BICAS (Building Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Capacity of CSOs in Agriculture and Forest Sectors) project in coordination with government and other stakeholders. The project, supported by European Union, focuses on building the capacity of 45 local organisations to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and increase the income of 7,000 households from agriculture and forest-based enterprises in the remote mid and far-western districts of Kalikot, Mugu, Jumla, Bajura and Bajhang.

    The GGR operator and chairperson of the users’ committee, Prem Saud, says, “It has made it easier to bring the produce from the upper part of Mana village and has encouraged the residents there to produce at commercial level.

    Prem Saud, the GGR operator at Badimalika Municipality. (c) Practical Action/ Prabin Gurung

    In return the items of daily need reach the otherwise rugged terrain at nominal charge. Prem charges Rs 2 per (1 USD = Rs 101) kg to get the items to the upper station from the bottom station. The vegetables and other agricultural produce now get to the roadside in Re 1 per kg which is way cheaper than employing a porter who would demand at least Rs 500 – 1000 per load of 50 kgs.

    The agricultural produce from the villages reaching market in no time means people are encouraged to produce more, eventually shifting to commercial farming. In a way, a ropeway acts like an enabler for inclusive business – integrating the smallholder farmers into national markets.

    Suitable transportation for mountainous topography

    Considering Nepal’s topography, gravity goods ropeways have proved to be a life-saver for communities where road construction is very difficult. The aerial ropeways, built to connect communities living high up in the hills to road-heads, operate by gravitational force. Two trolleys, running on pulleys, go up and down simultaneously on parallel steel wires – while the one with heavier load gets down to the road-head due to gravity, the other with lighter weight goes up to the upper terminal .

    According to studies, aerial ropeways are three times cheaper than the equivalent road construction in Nepal and installing a gravity gods ropeway costs around Rs 2,500,000. While descending through the hilly tracks take two to three hours of walking to reach the road-head, the same load can get to the lower terminal in less than two minutes. This reduces the drudgery of the community people and saves a lot of time.

    Women have many responsibilities,” said Sita BK, a midwife from Mana village. “For example, I have to do the household chores, cooking, farming and carrying loads. Here the GGR has helped because we no longer have to carry our rice up from the market.

    Shanti BK (45) receives goods from Tipada Bazaar at the upper station of the GGR at Mana village, Bajura.

    About 50 per cent of Nepal’s population still lives at least four hours walk away from the nearest dry-season road. Looking at Nepal’s topography the importance of installing ropeways, at places inaccessible to build roads, is obvious.

    Replicating the technology beyond borders

    In spite of the manifold benefits of the technology, only around 20 gravity goods ropeways have been serving rural people in Nepal. The first gravity goods ropeway was successfully run in Marpha, Mustang to transport apples from orchards to road-heads by Practical Action in association with International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in the year 2001.

    Practical Action has also built gravity goods ropeways in Samtse, Bhutan and has been invited to Myanmar and Nagaland, India to survey and help construct the ropeways.

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  • Practical Action working to light Africa

    A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

    Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

     

    Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
    Photo by Sven Torfinn

     

    Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

    The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

    One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

    The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.

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  • A better life for women and girls


    B26, Sudan, | August 8th, 2017

    Poverty, marginalisation, traditions and customs together with gender blind plans and policies contribute to gender inequality in Sudan.

    Women and girls are traditionally responsible of all domestic work in Sudanese houses.  Moreover, they are burdened by water and wood daily fetching journeys which consume between three to eight hours per day in the dry regions of Darfur, Kordofan and East Sudan. Housewives spend much time and effort on unpaid activities (water and wood fetching) and are exposed to sometimes fatal hazards associated with sexual violence, abortion incidences and severe injuries.

    Water pump SudanAdolescent girls often drop out of school to help their families with domestic work and to look after their younger siblings in the absence of mothers. Young women lack the knowledge and skills required to engage in formal employment and are trapped in the poverty cycle without any income generating sources.

    These dependant girls are usually married under-age which increases morbidity and mortality rates among mothers and newborns. Registered early marriage between girls 15-19 years reached 26% in the rural areas of Sudan. Shockingly, child marriage for girls under 15 reaches 10% in the same areas.

    Practical Action Sudan puts women at the heart of its work. In our three year strategic business plan 2017-2020, we intend to prioritise women needs and transform their lives in a positive way that will impact the whole community.

    Women associations and institutions are identified as key actors in our programme. They represent our main implementing partners and supporting researchers in the field of clean fuels. Rural women are involved in our projects at community level and participate in the development process through participating in activities such as membership of water committees in WASH projects. They also manage women farms in agricultural-resilience projects and grow nutritious food for their children and to increase families’ incomes.

    WDAN, SudanThrough increasing women participation; we open the door for thousands of women to be socially empowered. Our participatory approaches and actions ensure that women needs and priorities are well-represented and they are equally involved in the projects.

    “I and village’s women walk to fetch water in the early morning and return back by the sunset! our kids stay without food for long time.” Haleema, 43 years old, from Mogabil Village, North Darfur

    Building the capacity of rural women and girls is one of the most important strategies of tackling poverty among women and their families. Training programs support women to become effective income generators, and empower them to create their own market opportunities and improve their livelihoods.

    community meeting sudanMany life changing experiences on the ground tell inspiring stories about Sudanese women who have moved from poverty, dependency and ignorance into productivity, independence and participation in decision-making as a socio-economical impact of our development interventions in rural areas. I believe that the approaches we adopt are very effective, as women’s empowerment is not a decision to be taken or a service to be delivered; it is a process of improving the environment of women and equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to find their way and embrace opportunities with dignity.

    “The training program delivered by Practical Action staff has empowered us and upgraded our capacity to expand our network and reach greater number of rural women.” Hanan Zayed, Head of Kassala Women Development Associations Network

    Our team in Sudan will continue the steps we have planned toward empowering women and changing their lives. We believe that the track toward gender transformation is long and tough; however continuous hard work and advocacy efforts will ensure we achieve our ambition and help millions of Sudanese women to achieve the good life they deserve.

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  • Flood Early Warning Systems from a Gender Lens


    July 13th, 2017

    BIO: Prior to her master studies at the University of Edinburgh’s International Development, İpek Aybay has worked at a voluntary business organization of leading entrepreneurs and executives of the business community in Turkey as an expert at the Information Society and Innovation Department where she has made research on technology, innovation and development. Currently, she works at UNHCR head office in Ankara, Turkey as a Senior Protection Assistant. 

    We are mentioning technology as a tool for changing our lives so often that it has become a ‘cliché’. This mentioned “change” however, seems to be very relative depending on which part you live in the world. As an example, for someone living in a country not exposed to natural hazards, technology is in most cases a tool to facilitate daily life, using GPS system to find address or to check traffic jam. On the other hand, in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal where natural hazards happen frequently, technology could save lives. In this sense, Early Warning Systems (EWS) for floods are an example for proving the crucial role of technology in disaster risk reduction.

    When we look at the role of technology in development and resilience, we can easily realise that this subject is almost always paradoxical. While some advocate it strongly, others criticise it harshly. For this reason, when I had to choose my dissertation subject at the International Development Department of the University of Edinburgh, disaster risk reduction seemed a very convenient area of study. Practical Action’s EWS projects in Nepal and Bangladesh immediately drew my attention and I decided to study these programmes from a gender lens. Why I selected Nepal and Bangladesh? And why this perspective was needed?

    A woman using one of Practical Action’s tube wells in Bangladesh

    Nepal and Bangladesh were two key countries for proving the significance of EWS, as both countries are part of a continent where 95% of the people who are affected by floods have lived in the last decade according to CRED and UNISDR.  Despite many differences in the ways in which these countries are affected by floods, EWS in both countries have a great potential to save lives and reduce the impact of natural hazards. For this reason, Practical Action has developed various projects concerning EWS in close collaboration with the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh. My main objective was to reveal the gender gap in these projects in order to better assess impacts of disaster resilience activities.

    As the efficiency of flood EWS depends on the ways in which people perceive and process risk information[1], without understanding the risk perception of communities and the factors affecting their decisions, it is not possible to expect EWS to operate efficiently. A variety of factors ranging from gender and socio-economic status to cultural values can affect the ways in which EWS operate among which gender can be specified as an essential factor.

    Scholars suggest that women are affected disproportionately by floods and are often referred to as the ‘most vulnerable’ by different institutions that are involved in flood response. For instance, UNIFEM (2010) reports that during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, despite flood EWS in place, there were women who refused to leave their houses for reasons such as “disbelief of flood warning; concerns of theft or occupation of, or losing claim to property; reluctance to move to camps due to cultural norms, and hesitation about taking women and girls out of protected environment of homes exposing them to strangers”. Furthermore, as evidenced by various scholars, floods also increase “women’s domestic burden” as in most households women depend on their houses for sustaining their livelihoods. In contrast, although it is known that a gender-inclusive EWS is essential for reducing loss of lives, the gender factor is often neglected when designing related projects. For this reason, it is very important to consider flood EWS in a gender framework, rather than define it as a technical process independent from the gender and power relations in place.

    Mother and daughter at flood-proof community, Bangladesh

    I conducted semi-structured interviews with government officials, Practical Action employees from different country offices, local NGOs and international organisations. During my work based placement with Practical Action, I found out very interesting differences in gender aspect of EWS projects among country offices as well as between advisory and project implementation levels. One of the most prominent findings was that different people had different interpretations of the terms “gender-sensitive” and “gender-disaggregated”. This has led to variations in the responses to the questions around gender in both of my focus countries, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the Nepali context, I was able to speak to a government official and it was puzzling to see that INGOs and in particular Practical Action was referred as more involved with the gender aspect of flood EWS at the community level. Therefore, understanding gender interpretations within organisations is essential as their actions directly affect communities and their responses to disasters. On the other hand, it was not surprising to find out that donors were also key players about the gender inclusiveness level of the projects as there were clear differences when a gender goal was set by a donor organisation and when it was not.

    Unfortunately, there was a considerable evidence to suggest that in both Nepal and Bangladesh, gender dynamics of EWS are often neglected or seen as an external factor by the key organisations as well as governments. In relation to this, further research is needed to explore the ways in which EWS programmes could move beyond the current approach based on needs in order to adopt a gender approach. Indeed, it is essential for an NGO to have the same understanding of gender-sensitive programme making among its staff members. If the views in this regard are different or opposed in an institution, procedural documents cannot deliver their aims in the field. Instead, it could exacerbate the already existing gender power relations as gender roles amplify the liability on the already overburdened women during the time of the disasters.

    Community visit to early warning tower

    My experience with Practical Action enriched my knowledge in many ways. Being a part of the organisation at all times made it easier to contact key staff as well as government officials. Further, as I was affiliated with the University of Edinburgh, I believe this allowed me to study and analyse the institution relatively more objectively. In conclusion, I believe the practice programme has been beneficial both for me and for the organisation, especially with regards to the communication within the organisation around gender issues. It is possible to see that, when people become aware of each other’s varying interpretations of the same issue, it could help them to rethink of their actions, re-evaluate their approach and eventually reinvent their influence on the communities. According to me, this was the most important positive outcome.

    [1] Twigg, J. “The Human Factor in Early Warnings: Risk Perception and Appropriate Communications” (2003).

     

    Curious to find out more? Have a look at Practical Action’s publications: 

    Flood Early Warning System in Practice: Experiences of Nepal

    Delivering Early Warning Systems for the Poorest: From flood-vulnerable to flood-resilient communities

     

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  • Knowledge transforming livelihood


    July 10th, 2017

    “My family needs were escalating every day and I used to wonder, what I need to do to fulfill my family needs,” says 35-year old Kamala Pandey, a resident of Kawasoti-15, Godar, Nawalparasi.

    Kamala Pandey by her cow shade Photo (c) Practical Action/Ananta Prasad

    Kamala Pandey, a mother of three, struggled a lot to meet her family’s basic needs while juggling personal struggles like debt, and other challenges. Her husband who used to support her by running small rice mill was unable to generate enough income to meet growing demands of family. She was frustrated as she didn’t have any opportunity to shape her life and make a right choice to change her livelihood.

    She also thought of migrating to urban areas hoping it will bring new opportunities. However, it was also not that much easy as it requires huge amount of money to migrate to a city and seek opportunities. Financial worries are not new to Kamala, who grew up in penury but she was much worried about her children’s future. She says, “I was not worried about my situation, I was used to living in poverty but I do feel guilty, thinking that whether or not we can raise our children in a better way than how we were raised.”

    She never gave up but continued to work hard and sought knowledge and information on various livelihood options. In the year 2014, she came in contact with a social mobiliser of Shivashakti Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC), Godar, Nawalparasi through her neighbours. Shivashakti CLRC used to run Practical Answers services to provide livelihood related technical solutions to rural marginal community.

    Kamala got training on commercial vegetable farming and off-season vegetable farming. This training was a boon to change her livelihood. She started vegetable farming in 4 kattha (1 kattha equals to 0.03 hectare) of her land and was able to earn NPR 30,000 (100 NPR equals to 1USD) by selling tomatoes and cauliflowers in 4 months’ time. She used to cultivate rice in 7 katthas of her land which used to submerge during the monsoon season. She participated in an expert interaction conducted by the CLRC and learned about suitable variety selection, seed treatment and modern rice cultivation practice. In the same year, her rice production increased by 120 kg per kattha.

    Gradually, her earning increased. She realised that if she had a cow then she would use the straw and other vegetable left-overs to feed the cow and in return get milk and manure. She consulted with the social mobiliser and got information on different improved cow breeds. She bought two Jersey cows. Now she sells 20 litres milk daily and earns NRS 1000 every day. Her monthly average income has soared to NPR 40,000.
    She says, “It seemed a dream few years ago but now it is a reality, like the popular adage bright day comes after dark day, is really true for me.” She adds, “Now I am optimist about the future. My children go to English medium boarding schools.”

    At present, she is the vice chairperson of Phoolbari Women Farmer Group. The group has been registered at the local government body (Local government prioritises registered farmers’ groups while providing services, subsidies and grants). Her husband supports her in making every decision. While she is away for training and other activities, her mother-in-law, though very old, supports her by looking after her children and cooking food for them. She says, “Now things have changed and without my family support we would not have been at this stage.”

    She concludes, “Knowledge really impacts us but it depends upon how we act accordingly.”

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