In the United States and other developed countries, we have to worry about gender discrimination when it comes to things like equal pay and reproductive rights. While these are important issues to fight for on the way to gender equality, there are even more pressing issues being faced around the world. Quality of living is significantly lower for women around the world. They are discriminated against and judged based on the body with which they were born.
Major gender inequality problems like sex trade, FGM, honor killings, lack of access to education, and more are a constant reminder that the fight for equality is far from over. As a volunteer for empowering women abroad, you can contribute to the empowerment of women all over the world.
Regardless of these extreme, yet important and prevalent cases of gender inequality, there are small, everyday issues that still require attention. Help make an impact by volunteering for women's empowerment and women's right abroad.Photo Credit: lecercle.
Many volunteer projects offer the chance to contribute to local women’s education. By increasing education and literacy rates for women and children, you can ensure a better future for the community as a whole. When more girls (and boys) are able to stay in school and get an education, they have a better chance to overcome life’s inevitable hurdles. Education for girls will not only further gender equality but lead to higher economic opportunity and productivity, reduced child mortality, improved family nutrition and health, and fewer cases of HIV and AIDS.
Loans, finance, and vocational training
Supporting small businesses of women around the world is one of the best ways to help them and their communities out of poverty. Helping women start and run their own businesses is an important long-term and sustainable project for many volunteer organizations. By not only giving loans, but also sharing your knowledge about microfinance and vocational training, you can help ensure the success of the business.
Volunteer activities in finance can take place in an urban area where locals sell crafts or open a food stand as well as in rural areas where support is harder to find. Most projects don’t require previous experience in the finance world but it’s definitely helpful when giving advice to new business owners.
Healthcare (including prenatal and sexual health)
Sexual education is a big part of improving women’s health and promoting women's rights around the world. Once more women and girls are educated about their health and their bodies, they will be more able and confident to take care of themselves and their loved ones -- which is why many developing countries have opportunities for people to volunteer in sex education for women.
HIV/AIDS is an especially important health concern for women and girls in developing countries. Since young girls are more often threatened with unwanted sexual advances, they are often most likely to contract HIV without knowing it. Unsafe sex leads to more HIV cases in developing countries than anything else. Other factors (like lack of information and access to health services and unequal economic resources) also make young girls more likely to contract HIV.
Basically all (99%) of maternal deaths occur in third-world countries. As a volunteer abroad, you can help decrease the number of maternal health issues in the places that need the most help. Volunteers, especially those with a background in healthcare, are needed to work in medical clinics, conduct outreach and community awareness, and NGOs.
Doctors in developing countries have fewer resources, including funds and staff to help their patients. If your medical knowledge is lacking, you can still get involved by helping to educate the public. Giving classes and workshops on maternal and sexual health can go a long way.
Female empowerment at shelters and homes
Many volunteer abroad programs fall under more general categories and are described as “female empowerment” projects. Sure, empowerment sounds awesome but what does that mean? While these projects may involve activities that fall under categories previously listed here (health, education, finance, etc.), many of them focus on working in girls’ homes and women’s shelters.
Women’s shelters and homes are especially important not only because women are generally regarded as a lesser-capable sex, but also because rates of violence towards women and also poverty among women are so high. By spending your time supporting women and girls in need, you can help them towards a better future.
Asia: human trafficking, orphanages, shelters, refugee relief
Gender inequalities in Asia are especially delicate and complex. Although many conditions have been improving, there are still many injustices that are common because of their long time presence and influence on society. It has even been said that Asian society is the worst for finding gender equality.
Throughout all of Asia, the gender gaps in income and education are wide. Some parts of Asia, like Thailand and Myanmar, are known for human trafficking problems. Cambodia and neighboring countries are popular for orphanage volunteering so this may be a good place to find volunteer work in girls’ homes and shelters. (Be especially careful when it comes to finding ethically responsible orphanage work!)
Other areas, like Pakistan and India, need volunteers to work with education, small business development, and empowering local women through these efforts.
If you’re interested in volunteering in Asia and supporting gender equality, there are plenty of options out there!
Latin America: loans, business, shelters
Latin American culture has long been known for its machismo, or masculinity exaggerated through strength and power. The term was first used to criticize the patriarchal nature of the Latin American society but this particular type of male dominance is still alive and well.
There is a wide range of gender equality in Latin America. For example, Chile and Argentina, both of which have had female presidents, are doing better by women than most countries. That doesn’t mean all is good and equal though. Everywhere you go in Latin America you will see a different type of need.
Violence against women is particularly common in many countries, like Peru and Colombia for example, where more than 40% of women face physical violence in their lifetime. Volunteering with women's empowerment in Latin America can help change this.
Africa: Sexual education, microfinance, other education
Africa also offers a wide range of volunteer activities when it comes to empowering women. African culture is similar to others in that it’s based on a patriarchal structure where men have more power than women in every aspect of life. Health and microfinance are among the most popular and important issues volunteers can work with.
HIV/AIDS is a major health concern throughout Africa. According to the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), “Three times as many 14-24 year old women in the region are infected with HIV compared to their male peers.” Millions of people, up to 20% of the population in some countries, are infected with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, millions of children have been orphaned because of HIV.
Other STDs, such as syphilis, also remain a problem in many African nations. Sexual education can help reduce the spread of all STDs -- not just HIV / AIDS -- and create a better understanding of how to deal with them among locals.
Volunteers can make a difference in many ways -- from educating the public on sexual health and disease prevention to helping health organizations with fundraising to working in clinics with patients directly. The more experience you have in health care the better!
Despite their low status in society, the economy of Africa is highly dependent on women’s work. About 70% of agricultural labor and 90% of food production comes from women’s labor. Women also hold most of the low-wage, low-skill jobs, which is why it’s especially important to help elevate them and give them more opportunities. Institutional gender discrimination makes it even harder for women to make a good living on their own, with 44% of social institutions in sub-Saharan Africa participating in this kind of formal discrimination.
With a lack of economic opportunities in rural areas, it’s important to give attention to struggling family businesses in these areas. Teaching women how to start and run a sustainable business will help their communities and their families directly. Volunteer projects in this field allow you to meet inspiring small business owners while working with local microfinance institutions. These types of small, low-interest loans make it much easier for small businesses to get on their feet.
For more research, read the World Bank's regional data for gender issues around the world.
Before you volunteer abroad, take a look at some of these relevant resources. They will give you a better idea of the projects and focus of some of the biggest development agencies in the world to end gender discrimination.
- Millennium Goals campaign from the UN, Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. The Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) are a project of the UN to end poverty by 2015. One very important MDG is the equal inclusion of women in girls in education.
- The Council on Women and Girls from the White House: Created by President Obama in 2009, the White House Council on Women and Girls hopes to ensure that all governmental agencies keep the needs of girls and women in mind when creating new programs and policies.
- UN Women: United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women UN Women was created in 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly in an effort to increase and speed up the organization’s goal to reach gender equality.
- Global Issues: Women's Rights: This authoritative site gives an overview of women’s issues around the globe. From climate change and reproductive rights to poverty and media, this factual site will give you look at the state of women around the world.
- World Health Organization (WHO) on Gender and Women's Health: WHO has a department specifically to address women’s health issues: Gender, Women and Health (GWH). The department seeks to educate about health as well as strengthen the health sector in terms of response to inequalities.
- Other organizations to consider: MADRE, Global Fund for Women, Alliance for International Women's Rights, and A Safe World for Women.