TACOMA, Washington — Poverty in developing nations is intersectional, meaning that multiple categories, such as health and inaccessibility to resources, play roles in societal progression. For women, this involves sexism and overall oppression because they are deemed lesser in rank compared to men. With the rise of global reform regarding fundamental human rights, we must laud the women that have made change happen in developing countries. When women are equipped with equality, education, jobs and independence, developing nations will shift to a massive increase in economic growth. Women that make their own financial decisions and have political power will progressively transform their society. Here are four women in four countries that are transforming their countries with societal and economic changes and have inspired other girls and women to do the same.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has a constitution that ensures equal rights for all within the country. Women and children have had their rights recognized through programs and international committees, such as the ASEAN Commission on Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women and Children. The Department of Social Welfare also advocates the prevention of discrimination towards women. Myanmar has implemented various skill training and uses small loans to aid young women and girls. Despite issues with legal frameworks, as of 2016, the entire country focuses on social protection, poverty alleviation and rural development to aid women.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi, also known as “The Lady,” is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and is most notable for her advocacy toward bringing democracy into the country. Born in 1945 in what is now known as Yangon, Aung San Suu Kyi was under higher expectations because of her father, General Aung San. General Aung San was a commander of the Burma Independence Army and was involved in creating the Union of Burma in 1948. Her mother, Khin Kyi, was a nurse, but soon became widowed due to her husband’s assassination. This event sparked the family to make a change by advocating in politics and working in reconstructing the country. Khin Kyi was appointed the Burmese ambassador to Delhi in India, and Aung San Suu Kyi excelled in academics involving politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University. She traveled to New York to further her education but soon began work for the United Nations.
It was initially the mass uprising in Burma in 1988, caused by protests for pro-democracy in the country, that led Aung San Suu Kyi to strengthen her efforts toward a democratic Burma. When the army took full control of Burma, Suu Kyi co-founded the National League for Democracy and became the general secretary. Suu Kyi is the epitome of social justice and reform. So much that she became a political prisoner attempting to fight for her country, and she was given two options: stay in the country, live under house arrest, or leave the country and never return. She could not even accept her own Nobel Peace Prize award because she was under house arrest. However, this did not stop her from winning a seat in Parliament in 2012. She shocked the nation when she led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to victory in 2015, and it was officially in 2016 that she became Burma’s first elected civilian leader in almost 50 years.
Suu Kyi continues to strive for developing political reform through the younger generation. She has made a long-lasting impact in Burma and all over the globe. Suu Kyi is The Lady that inspires the women of Burma to be vulnerable and well educated. She made countless sacrifices that affected her family, so Burma would be able to progress. The amount of support from neighboring countries is what is pushing Burma to improve. Women transforming their countries look up to Suu Kyi as a charismatic political character and a highly intelligent and strong-willed woman.
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) was created in 2014 to bring light to protecting women’s rights in Cameroon. Even with significant progress toward developing laws to combat gender-based violence, the government has long struggled to execute recommendations to strengthen its rules and systems for the safety of women and girls. Domestic violence and marital rape toward women in Cameroon are not uncommon. There is a direct link between socio-economic status and political power and violence from state officials to degrees of torture. In 2003, 24% of married women were between ages 15 and 19, and women were widely apart of the 51% of the population that lived in extreme poverty. The government’s corruption also makes it harder for women to get a proper footing in the country.
Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet
Women transforming their countries incorporate a variety of strategies that tackle gender inequality. One way to promote rights and opportunities for women is to address climate change and how it affects women. Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet is a Development Agent who supports women’s activism within sustainability. As president and founder of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF), Ndjebet has worked for more than 18 years to create policies for women’s involvement and freedom within land and forestry.
Her humble beginnings come from growing up within the forest with her mother, grandmother and elder sister. She experienced first hand the difficulties of being raised in an environment where women struggled to receive access to land and survive through the devastating effects of climate change. She holds a master of science in social forestry and became a renowned gender specialist and women leadership trainer and adviser. She continued to advocate for cultural and women’s rights by working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Forestry and Environment and since 1997 has worked alongside the Civil Society Organizations. In 2009, Ndjebet created REFACOF, and to this day, she works locally and internationally to improve funding for rural women concerning sustainable forest management, adjusting to the effects of climate change and increased access to recourses within the forests.
Ndjebet addresses the multidimensionality of forestry, ranging from socio-economic challenges to political policy changes. With her commitment to women’s development within conservation and increasing aid for indigenous women, poverty alleviation is steadily impacting the lives of women who are highly dependant on the forest. More land, more job opportunities and financial independence, means more visibility and power for women to transform their countries. The training provided through REFACOF has protected ecosystems in Cameroon and produced options for renewable energy. Moreover, it has also helped more than 50% of women engage in forest rehabilitation to build land security and financial stability.
Yemen has been notably infamous for having the worst humanitarian crisis in the world by the United Nations. As of 2019, more than 20 million people lack food security and face extreme hunger, 17.8 million people have little to no access to safe water and sanitation, and 19.7 million have unreliable access to healthcare. On top of the damaging effects of war and disease that plague the country, women face the brunt of oppression and extreme vulnerability.
Women in Yemen have less political and economic power than men. Humanitarian conflict decreases access to resources and puts pressure on women to care for the injured with limited assistance. Women are exposed to violence, harassment, abuse, and exploitation. Young girls are commonly married off early in life and later struggle to find suitable living conditions and financial support. In 2016, female agricultural workers earned 30% less than men, and 92% of women had no personal monthly income. Housing often is constrained by militant groups, which leads to mass kidnappings. Pregnant women are at high risk due to unavailable sources for prenatal and postpartum care, leading to higher infant mortality rates. Along with corruption in the country, 97% of women in rural environments in 2016 could not receive legal services.
Suha Basharen lives in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, with her husband and two sons. The civil war has impacted her and her family since 2015, and because of her personal experience, she wanted to keep Yemeni women protected. Basharen empowers women and girls through the nonprofit CARE. The nonprofit created programs to combat gender inequality in Yemen. To mitigate the effects of gender-based violence and discrimination, CARE, Oxfam and GenCap performed a study in 2015 to address gender issues. Without accurate information to aid Yemeni women, the country can not progress. Key findings in the assessment were violence, female genital mutilation, a lack of access to family planning, stress from household responsibilities and invisibility to humanitarian aid.
For 13 years, Yemen ranks as the worst country in the world in the Global Gender Gap report. With 3 million women at a higher risk of gender-based violence, along with 1.1 million breastfeeding or pregnant women suffering from malnutrition, CARE has worked to provide better employment, encourage activism and promote peace throughout the country. When a woman can lead their households while being provided with health and food security, then the role women have in society will shift dramatically. Basharen continues to advocate for women transforming their countries and strives to guarantee humanitarian aid fully respects and cares for Yemeni women and girls.
The Islamic Republic of Iran holds women to a defined standard in society. The Islamic government has held women back despite the substantial participation during the Iranian Revolution against the Shah in the late 1970s. Since then, women have been pushed aside socially, economically and politically. There are limited opportunities within the workforce, especially when men make up the majority of Parliament. Dominant patriarchy has impacted Iranian feminism and advocacy for an increase in human rights. When the country progressed toward modernization after the Iraq war in the 1980s, women slowly regained visibility educationally and within the government.
A push to eradicate capital punishment and the stoning to death of women who commit adultery came into play. However, from the early 2000s leading up to today, women are vulnerable to early and forced marriages and restraint from their husbands. Decision-making is under the husband’s control, including traveling, and limitations on family planning are also a huge issue. Domestic violence is considerably prevalent, and the feminism movement struggles to progress due to set in cultural and government policies.
Countless women transforming their countries have fought for their rights for years. Mansoureh Shoajee, born in Tehran in 1958, has been doing it for over 30. Co-founder of the Iran Women’s Museum in 2000, Shojaee has been the keystone of the Iranian women’s rights movement for 20 years. Along with her additional years of political experience, she takes pride in her start of activism as a local librarian. Her resume includes journalism, French, teaching the blind and her work toward establishing Iranian women’s libraries.
Shoajee grabbed the opportunity to educate women using the internet and enhanced the feminist movement through cyberspace with The Feminist School. Her history in freelance writing created a strong group of women-led journalism through online content. Shoajee also co-founded the women’s cultural center, Markaze Farhangi-ye zanab, opened the Women’s Library Sadige Dolatabadi in 2003. As an author dedicated to reaching Iranian women through literature, Shoajee continues to push for the 100-year old Iranian women’s movement and empower the younger generation to follow in her footsteps
Women in developing nations continue their fight for justice and many forms. Whether that be environmentally, politically or in the entertainment sector, these countries can not move forward without giving women the freedom to live. Empowering women to become more than what society forces them to conform to, brings these nations out of poverty and economic stress. King’s College London explains how countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth due to gender wage gaps. Helping young girls break the glass ceiling by providing them with a future that will put more women into positions to become policymakers, and create change for their communities and future generations.