Tag Archives: UNICEF

Gender Inequality in Côte d’Ivoire

In class today, we had a presentation on gender inequality by Keshet Bachan, a gender equality expert from Israel. Among her talking points, Bachan noted that there are many forms of violence against adolescent woman, including trafficking and prostitution, and that many women who come from poor backgrounds are vulnerable to this sort of violence.

In my country papers for this class, I researched the Francophone West African state of Côte d’Ivoire. Through this research and my interest in this nation, I have learned that it lags behind many of its neighbors in the different ICT sectors and that there is much gender inequality in the state. The government does not invest much money, if any at all, in women’s education or fertility. And along those lines and echoing Bachan’s presentation, female mutilation/cutting is a common practice. UNICEF defines female mutilation as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.” This is particularly a problem in Cote d’Ivoire where a national law was adopted in 1998 to criminalize the activity. It is a problem among people who do not have access to education, the Muslim population and the Voltaïques and Northern Monde ethnic groups, where over 70% of the women are mutilated. Genital mutilation is not only a problem for the obvious reasons of discriminating against and suppressing women, but it also leads to child mortality and makes it easier for adolescent women to contract HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire is a form of social integration and sometimes a required religious ritual of purification. Seeing that female mutilation was in direct conflict with four of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG 3: promoting gender equality & empowering women, MDG 4: reducing child mortality, MDG 5: improving maternal health, MDG 6: combatting HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases) UNICEF has begun to take action to safeguard human rights in the country. Through advocacy for women’s rights, gender equality and access to education, UNICEF has been able to raise awareness about the issue and help curtail genital mutilation. They have also used nationwide technology campaigns on radio television and mobile phones to establish child protection networks and to empower adolescent and adult women. Between 2000 and 2006, national genital mutilation dropped in females from 44% to 36.4% in direct response to these radio and television campaigns. While we in the United States may scoff at the power that radio has to bring people together and raise awareness about issues, because we are so engulfed with social media and smartphones, radio is showing in Côte d’Ivoire that it is a reliable strategy to achieving gender equality in developing countries.


MAMA: An mHealth Initiative

mHealth, an abbreviation of mobile health, is a broad term generally used to describe health programs and initiatives operating primarily through mobile devices.  Mobile device use is on the rise, and it is now estimated that up to 85% of the world’s population is covered under some mobile subscription. In rural areas with limited access to physical clinics, doctors, and resources this type of program can have far-reaching benefits. Because of the nature of mobile devices, applications, etc. mHealth initiatives are able to cover a wide range of health topics including general health information, diagnosis, and disease tracking.

To me, mHealth has a huge potential for use in developing nations. While researching the topic, I came across MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action). This program operates mainly through SMS messages and simple voice reminders.  MAMA currently operates in 69 countries and reaches nearly 141 million women. Their messages are based on WHO and UNICEF guidelines and provide information about what to expect from their babies at certain ages and reminders to get checkups or vaccines. To learn more about MAMA, check out their website below.


This is just one of many examples of mHealth initiatives focusing on developing nations. Of course maternal health has always been a focus, but what other ares do you think mHealth could have a major impact in? Do you see any challenges for these initiatives in the future? I think they are a wonderful example of just how much potential technology has in developing nations.

Tap That- Unicef’s mobile-based fundraiser project

Unicef, for the fifth year in a row now, is coordinating with Giorgio Armani to run a month long fundraiser titled the Tap Project, hoping to raise millions to provide potable water to children in need. The app, available on your phone here, tracks the number of minutes that you go without using your phone, and for each successful minute Armani will donate enough money to provide one child with a day’s worth of water. The idea is that water is essential to life, something we cannot possibly live without. These days it seems that more and more people seem to be unable to live without their mobile phones, and forget that iphones are a luxury that we who have all of our life-preserving needs (food, water, shelter) taken care of become so deeply attached to.

The way the app works is that it monitors your phone’s movement. Once your phone is in motion, aka in use, it stops recording minutes. However, I tried to hack the app and succeeded in two ways. First, none of us use our phones while we sleep, so beginning the recording as you go to bed allows you to rack up lots of phone-free minutes without actually having to abandon your phone for a day.  Secondly, the website doesn’t know the difference between a mobile device and a computer, so you could potentially open the webpage and start the app while your computer is running and just let it count minutes all day.  This makes me wonder if there is a limit to the amount of money that will be donated to this process, because if everyone starts “hacking the app” we could easily provide hundreds of thousands of days worth of water to children. But the reality is that most people don’t even know this app (which isn’t really even an app, but rather a website) even exists, and many people who do know about it are not interested in playing.

This Unicef project demonstrates the ways in which ICTs can be used in coordination with NGOs and development projects to bring aid to the developing world. I find this case to be very indicative of the vastness of the digital and developmental divides, because this high-tec web generated project is being used to provide arguably the simplest, most basic necessity of life to children who may not have ever seen a smart phone. Overall I think this project is very interesting, and I agree, that these days we are much too connected to our phones and cyber-based worlds than the physical world itself.  This project allows us to take a moment to think about the issue of water scarcity, and its severity and scope, and do something about it that will have real, physical results.

The project is only running for a month, so start tapping the app, and not-tapping your phone.

Sometimes the Answer is Right in Front of You…

In reading Unwin’s chapter this week on information and communication, I was surprised by his discussion of theatre and dance. IDEV classes here at Tulane have stressed to me the importance of including local stakeholders and the importance of demand driven development. However, all development projects we have studied seemed so structured and for lack of a better word, rigid. Theatre and dance come from a completely different perspective. As part of the arts, they seem more personal, expressive, and overlooked as a serious form of communication. However, Unwin brings up a good, and even obvious point, that this type of communication can be very prevalent and important in other non-Western cultures. It can often be a main way in which information is communicated throughout generations. I decided to delve a little deeper and explore a project that was theater and dance based. What I found was surprising.

Wise-Up is an education program based in Botswana. It is is a national campaign being undertaken by the National AIDS Coordinating Agency in Botswana in partnership with UNICEF with a purpose to give young people accurate information about HIV/AIDS, and it does this through theatre.  Through singing and dance, participants express different situations and stories relating to the virus while also giving important, accurate information about how to protect yourself against it. It’s goal is to get young people to ‘wise up’ about the nature of the disease and to arm them with accurate and correct knowledge. To learn more, check out the video below.

In learning about this project, it’s pretty clear that it was designed with a culture in mind such as the one existing in Botswana.  Theatre (dance) and singing are already integral parts of their society, and have been for some time.  They are using this skillfully to combat the threat of HIV/AIDS within their communities. To me, it seems like a perfect match. Would a project like this (TfD) work in the US? What about another developing country struggling with similar issues? I think it would certainly depend on the nature of their already existing culture, which is another point that Unwin stresses in the chapter for this week. I wonder what other development projects are using Theater for Development (TfD) and what sort of communities they are in. TfD can definitely provide a lot of benefits, as it brings a familiar setting of dancing and singing to an important and uncomfortable topic. I hope to see it used in many more projects to come.

Health Education through Entertaining Radio Programs

In this week’s reading, “Why Radio Matters,” Dr. Mary Myers highlights a list of reasons and examples why radio is “the most widespread mass-medium for the developing world.” One of these reasons was that radio has the potential to educate and entertain its listeners. Myers then went on to fuse these two functions into one example- that of the Tanzanian radio soap opera titled “Pilika Pilika,” which educates its listeners on myriad health issues through entertaining plot lines. Earlier today, when writing our assigned analysis and discussion questions based on the readings, I posed the question, “Do you believe that this is actually effective in educating people on important health measures?” I then went on to do a little research of my own, which is how I discovered “Shuga-Love, Sex, Money”–a 12-episode radio drama that tells the stories of a group of four young fictional characters aged 15-24, their choices, dreams, friendships, challenges, and triumphs in a world where HIV and AIDS are an ever-present threat.

Launched in June of 2012, Shuga is a joint initiative of MTV, UNICEF, and the HIV Free Generation (HFG) Partnership. Not only is the series produced in French, English, and Swahili, but it is also distributed at no cost to a wide range of broadcasters. Some of the themes and topics covered through the plot of the series are: HIV counseling and testing, condom use in stable relationships, positive prevention, gender inequality and sexual violence, transactional sex, alcohol abuse, and the role of multiple concurrent partnerships in driving the HIV epidemic. Another unique aspect of the Shuga series that has undoubtedly lent it more success is that it was written and produced by 30 young people from Cameroon, DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Lesotho and South Africa. These young Africans from diverse backgrounds all came together for training in a special workshop hosted by Question Media Group with support from MTV and UNICEF in order to create the drama that informs people just like them.

Now to my question as to whether or not this means of delivering vital health advice through entertainment radio is actually successful in improving health outcomes. According to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University/Centre for Communications Programs in Kenya following the airing of Shuga, the data reported increased intentions for HIV testing coupled with decreased intentions for multiple sex partners; improved attitudes towards people living with HIV and AIDS, and increased usage of accessible health and social services among youth who had watched the series. Being a radio DJ myself at the campus station, WTUL, I know what it is like to read obligatory Public Service Announcements each week. The information is terribly mundane, and most of the time, I am certain my listeners tune out during these mandated announcements. Now having learned about these examples of innovative use of airtime to educate the public, I will question these PSAs even more.  Unfortunately, I do not think this coupling of education and entertainment, particularly through radio, would be very successful in the U.S. But programs like “Pilika Pilika” and “Shuga- Love, Sex, Money” show promise for the future of education and empowerment through radio in the developing world.

UNICEF’s Knight News Challenge – Voices of Youth Maps

These past couple of weeks we have been introduced to some interesting and (at least for me) new things. The open street map assignment made me aware of something I never knew existed until now. I think it’s a really interesting component of what role ICTs can have in impacting development, especially when taken into context with disaster response. Along these lines, I found this really cool project that is part of a challenge put on by the Knight Foundation, the “Knight News Challenge” with the subject “How might we improve the way citizens and governments interact?” Here is a brief video giving some context to the project:

UNICEF, as part of this challenge, is working on a project geared towards empowering youth in cities to map their neighborhoods in order to facilitate the communication between government and citizens, as well as improve response measures taken in disaster prone urban areas. The project focuses for now on the cities of Port-au-Prince and Rio de Janeiro.

Their project in one sentence: “Digital maps created by young advocates establish a collaborative space for municipal government and community to work together towards safer neighborhoods.” 

In February 2013 they trained ~300 youth mappers to cover 11 favelas in Rio and 2 neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. These ‘youth reports’ have already led to bridges getting fixed, flood walls being reinforced, and playgrounds cleared of stagnant water according to their description.

youth mappers in action - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

youth mappers in action – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Their approach uses a workshop which employs the UNICEF- Geographic Information System (UNICEF-GIS) which is a smartphone app. It allows the users to collect and “share location sensitive reports in a simple, private and secure manner.” The app creates a map of all reports filtered depending on the hazards, etc. Voices of Youth (the UNICEF moderated youth-friendly public platform) allows the mappers to turn their reports into “powerful advocacy materials, which they can promote collectively through other social and local media channels.”

Why Youth Mappers? “because young people bring a truthful first-hand and real perspective to the program, making our maps extremely compelling. If [the government] ignores maps by youth, then they are denying the needs of their most vulnerable and innocent citizens who are the voices of the future, as well as potential community leaders.”

Between March 1st and July 1st?

1) Prototyping an “Urgency Rank System”. The number of reports are increasingly growing, and in response we are devising a system to label and rank                          reports based on severity and urgency.

2) An administrative system that will allow users to create profiles and trainers to customize the layers on their maps.

3) A widget that will allow for a new interlinked Voices of Youth Maps to be embedded easily into any website for sharing youth posted multi-media reports.

4) Various upgrades to capacity and usability for UNICEF-GIS app and website.

5) A “Voices of Youth Maps and Civic Media How-To Guidebook” for streamlining trainings and project implementation as we scale to new cities.