Welcome to “Women Around the World: This Week,” a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week’s post, covering March 18 to March 25, was compiled with the support of Anne Connell and Becky Allen.
Women combat violent extremism As three explosions shook Brussels on Tuesday in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks orchestrated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, Women Without Borders, an organization that aims to bring women to the center of security dialogue and policymaking, had just completed a training session on countering violent extremism (CVE) outside Belgium’s capital city. The organization’s Mothers School initiative, which trains women to recognize and respond to early warning signs of radicalization in high-risk communities, has expanded efforts to include Belgium, where, by some reports, over five hundred young people have left to join extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. Dr. Edit Schlaffer, founder of Women Without Borders, argues that “[Mothers] have the access, but often not the tools and support to respond early enough and effectively.” The organization, supported by EU governments and foundations, runs its training model not only across Belgium but in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Jordan, among other countries, and has launched a three-year applied research project gathering new data on the role of mothers in de-radicalization and the prevention of extremism. The initiative is part of a growing recognition—including among U.S. policymakers—of the strategic imperative of involving women in CVE efforts around the world.
Women’s empowerment and access to water The link between access to water and employment, the theme of 2016’s World Water Day—marked on Wednesday of this week—has significant implications for the lives and livelihoods of women and girls. While water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of people worldwide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF report, over 76 percent of households without access to drinking water task women and girls with collecting it. The unpaid labor of walking—in many places for miles—and collecting water has ripple effects not only on women’s lives, but on their families, communities, and national economies. In many countries in Africa, in particular, women spend up to six hours fetching water every day: in sub-Saharan Africa alone, 40 billion working hours are lost each year to the unpaid water collection that is overwhelmingly carried out by women and girls. Water collection often prevents women from maximizing productivity in other domestic tasks as well as from working in the formal economy. Water collection is one factor that inhibits girl children around the world from attending school regularly. And, in some contexts, water collection from distant sources can put women and girls at risk of sexual violence, as has been widely reported in Sudan. Experts argue that global efforts to tackle water challenges must better account for the disproportionate burden women and girls bear with respect to water collection and other domestic tasks.
Commission on the Status of Women addresses SDGs The sixtieth convening of the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded two weeks of events led and attended by representatives of UN entities, member state governments, and non-governmental organizations from all regions of the world around the theme of “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development,” with a focus on the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Topics of high-level panels and side events during this year’s CSW included: the elimination of violence against women and girls, protection of women refugees, institutional reforms to bring women into national politics, gender mainstreaming in national ministries, the need for gender-disaggregated data across all sectors, and improved funding mechanisms for the 2030 Agenda. One of the most widely reported events of CSW60 was a high-level panel discussion with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, which addressed the importance of gender parity in politics, civic participation, and the economy. Trudeau, who has appointed Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet, cited his government’s focus on gender equality in representation as the “open, fair, positive way of doing politics,” challenging other world governments to follow suit.