Gender equality is the concept in which men and women deserve the same rights and opportunities. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the United Nations has regarded the importance of this human right by making it a central goal of the UN’s eight Millennium Development Goals. These objectives serve as a framework for eradicating poverty and encouraging global development. The gender equality goal aimed to “promote gender equality and empower women”; more specifically, it expected to “eliminate gender disparities in primary education and secondary education, preferably by 2000, and in all levels of education, no latter than 2015.” Fifteen years later, the UN has concluded in its final MDG report that even though gender gaps in access to education have narrowed, uneven progress has been made toward achieving the target at its core. As a result, many disparities remain in all levels of education: secondary and university education levels remain highly unequal and in many parts of the world women continue to face all kinds of discrimination in access to education, work, economic assets or participation in government.
Most girls grow up wanting to be mothers, of bearing and nurturing life. But for many millions of women, the process of pregnancy and the postpartum period can turn deadly for both mother and child. According to the WHO, around 800 women die every day due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.
The major complications that account for almost 75% of all maternal deaths are severe bleeding, infections (usually after childbirth), high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), complications from delivery and unsafe abortion. What makes the situation worse is that most of these causes are avoidable or treatable with proper care, education and processes in place. Timely management and treatment can make the difference between life and death.
The main goals of the UN Millennium Development Goal 5–Maternal Health is to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by at least three quarters, and to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015. According to the UN, maternal health encompasses the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. It includes in its purview elements of family planning, preconception, prenatal and postnatal care.
Where we stand now
In the past 23 years, we have made some progress in providing safer, less lethal conditions and options available to expectant and new mothers. Between 1990 and 2013, the worldwide maternity mortality rate fell almost 45% from 523,000 deaths in 1990 to 289,000 deaths in 2013. This is still far from the UN Millennium Development Goal of a 75% drop, and accelerated interventions are required in order to meet the target by 2015. That translates to a drop to 131,000 deaths by 2015. A Herculean task, certainly, but not impossible. Continue reading
The word “domestic” can contain many different meanings to those who interpret it. Some may think of it as a positive word, one that denotes the respectable position of keeping a home well-kept and presentable, while others may think of it as a negative word, which implies the daily drudgery of household tasks that keep the performers of these tasks in a never-ending routine of work. Whatever “domestic” may mean to people, it more than often has a feminine connotation. “A woman’s place is in the home” is a colloquial saying that was hegemonic in the collective consciousness of American society in the past and still persists in the present times. But what is the nature of domestic work? What happens to domestic work and the people who perform it when it is converted from a kind of work that is not measured by monetary earnings and completed by the women who live in the private sphere of the home, to a service which is completed by a hired and paid worker?
As a joint initiative from the Singapore Committee for UN Women and MasterCard, Project Inspire was launched in 2011 to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. It aims to provide youths from the ages of eighteen to thirty-five the opportunity to work with non-profit organisations and compete for a US$25,000 grant to help create a better world for women and girls in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.
The grant is aimed towards the target beneficiaries of the winning proposal. In the past, other than the winner’s grant, selected teams have been chosen and granted additional grants due to the strength of their proposal. It’s not just about the best proposal winning, but about increasing awareness about the promotion of economic empowerment for women. These additional grants are funded by the judging panel or by interested members of the public. Thus is the impact of such an initiative, that it encourages the public to see through the implementation of feasible projects.
I first heard about the call for Project Inspire’s Country Ambassadors in one of the Singapore Committee for UN Women’s bulletins. The qualities needed to be a Country Ambassador are similar to some of those needed for participants of the project: drive to contribute positively to society and determination to build a long-term relationship that extends beyond the initial phase.
The bulk of my time as Singapore Country Ambassador lies in relationship management and public relations, driving awareness to youths, particularly those in local and international tertiary institutions. My aim in targeting these institutions is that these youths can form a proposal with like-minded individuals. I am pleased to note there has been great support from the management of these institutions. Many of them recognise the potential of youths, and are glad to lend their support to such an initiative that provides youths with the ability to promote economic empowerment for women.
The importance of youths is key not only to the development of Project Inspire, but also in ‘Womenomics’ and creating sustainable economic growth in developed and developing countries. This enables them to believe in their own voices, and to believe in their ability to influence key decision making steps and policy planning.
One of the Special Recognition Award winners of Project Inspire 2012 recently had the pleasure of knowing that most of their beneficiaries had created their own income from using the skills developed through their proposal (http://projinspire.com/bringing-sustainable-change-to-women-in-northern-sri-lanka/). Many of the Livelihood Initiatives for Empowerment of Women (LIFE) past beneficiaries in Northern Sri Lanka are now working full time at government managed farms. LIFE has now expanded its programme to include business management skills for future beneficiaries. The ability to transfer long-term knowledge on these women’s areas of expertise have led them to further become active producing, contributing members of their economy.
In the words of Singapore Committee for UN Women’s Project Development Coordinator Ms. Soha Yassine (http://projinspire.com/the-team/), Project Inspire “represents a sustainable solution for the world we want our children to inherit. The traditional model of non-profit NGOs has seen limited success in the past but the convergence of business and social good is a more realistic and exciting model for ending poverty, disease, and injustice in the future.”
Applications are open until 30 June 2014, after which the panel of judges will select the best proposals. Representatives from these teams will be mentored and flown to Singapore to give a formal presentation of their proposal. For more information of Project Inspire, please visit http://projinspire.com/.