Grand Challenges Canada to empower most vulnerable women, girls

Grand Challenges Canada on Monday announced 18 projects extending innovative forms of health-related lifelines to some of humanity’s most acutely impoverished, neglected and vulnerable women and girls, supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.

The undertakings, in Africa (Kenya (5 projects), Rwanda, Sierra Leone (2), Togo, and Uganda (3), Asia (Afghanistan, Myanmar, Pakistan, and the Philippines), the Caribbean (Haiti), and Central America (Nicaragua), embrace a range of creative products and services to advance gender equality, promote human dignity, and empower women and girls worldwide.

The two projects receiving large “Transition to Scale” investments will empower young women and girls, and protect and preserve their human dignity, through innovative approaches to improving menstrual, sexual, and reproductive health:

In Kenya, the Bold Idea for Girls project will seek to reduce HIV infections among 500 vulnerable adolescent girls and young women in informal settlements through a unique combination of HIV/STI education, gender and life skills programming, and vocational and entrepreneurial skills training.

In an earlier pilot also supported by Grand Challenges Canada, the project was successful in improving knowledge and awareness of HIV and risky sexual behaviours and practices, increasing reported condom use, as well as sustainable income levels among girls in Nairobi’s Mukuru slum.  (HOPE worldwide Kenya – Nairobi, Kenya – $135,000)

In Rwanda, an estimated 225,000 adolescent girls in rural areas will gain access to affordable, high-quality menstrual pads made from locally-sourced banana fibres, and a further 7,300 adolescents will receive in-depth menstrual health education through schools and non-governmental organizations.

The combination of pads and education will help equip girls to tackle questions about menstruation and discuss their bodies, sexuality, and other areas critical to the healthy growth and empowerment of young women. (Sustainable Health Ventures – Kigali, Rwanda – $1,000,000)

The 16 proof-of-concept “Stars in Global Health” projects, five of which are based in Canada, are focused on advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, and include:

In Afghanistan, where men customarily make health decisions for women, Canadian innovators will work to educate husbands in Kabul-area refugee camps on family planning, engaging religious leaders to support and sanction the practice, with a goal of gradually shifting traditional attitudes and advancing gender equality. (Rose Charities – Vancouver, Canada)

In Uganda, a country with one of the world’s youngest populations and endemic unemployment, passion fruit farming will be used as a vehicle to empower out-of-school girls with knowledge, life-skills and health information. Girls become financially literate, generating through agribusiness the resources to practice family planning and educate their daughters — breaking the poverty cycle and building healthy communities. (KadAfrica Estate Limited – Fort Portal, Uganda)

In the Philippines, the country with the highest teen pregnancy rate in Southeast Asia, innovators will use radio to reduce teen pregnancy among hard-to-reach girls in rural and poor areas.

The radio program will have three main segments: a talk show featuring interviews with health professionals, a question-and-answer from listeners sent via text message, and a two minute information segment on topics like contraception, menstruation, and conception. (Sciventions – Toronto, Canada)

The new Grand Challenges Canada projects help brings to life the Canadian government’s recently adopted Feminist International Assistance Policy.

The Policy embraces a feminist approach, one that advances gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, as the most effective way to reduce poverty and to build a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world.

The projects will receive CAD $2.7 million in funding from Grand Challenges Canada, supported by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada.

The funding will be complemented by dozens of partner contributions, as well as the collaboration of government and non-governmental agencies in each country, creating a total investment of $3.9 million.


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