Why are male farmers out-performing women in Africa? | 

Tanzanian farmers
Gates Foundation

The gap between men and women in some African countries is easily seen in agriculture. Male-managed farm plots consistently out-perform those of their female counterparts by as much as 66% in Niger and 25% in Malawi.

The long-held belief was that a lack of access to the necessary inputs (seed, fertilizer, labor) to make a farm successful were less available to women. That is the case to some extent, but there are more ways that women are put at a disadvantage as to their male counterparts.

“Despite the centrality of agriculture in the economies of most African nations, relatively little is known about why farms managed by women are on average less productive. This “knowledge gap” in turn translates into a “policy gap” in the steps that African governments, their development partners, business leaders and civil society can take to equalize opportunities for female and male farmers,” writes Makhtar Diop, Vice President for the Africa Region for the World Bank.

In fact, equal access to inputs does not necessarily mean that men and women will have the same levels of agricultural productivity. Doip’s comments come as a part of a joint-report on gender and agriculture led by Michael O’Sullivan from the World Bank and Arathi Rao from the ONE Campaign. A closer look at six African countries that are responsible for more than 40% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa helps to make sense what is happening.

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What’s to be done about the stalled decline of fertility in Africa? | 

The fertility rate across Africa has not declined as quickly as the rest of the world. The Economist recently raised the alarm about the problem, but some experts have said that it is not all bad news.

Given the strong correlation between lowering birth rates and improving life outcomes, the news is a bit disappointing.  The population of Africa will reach 2.7 billion if current trends hold, a near tripling in a matter of only 40 years.


“This extra half-billion people will damage Africa’s prospects. The continent will find it hard to educate the next generation—and education is the most important step in realizing the demographic dividend,” warned The Economist in an article from earlier this month.

There are thirteen countries on the continent that are doing well and moving in the right direction. The rest, accounting for roughly 78% of the population in Africa, are not doing so hot. They include places like Kenya and Madagascar, where fertility rates are below 5 births per women, but have stagnated. Places where rates exceed 5 births per women, reaching a global high of 7.5 in Niger, are showing weak signs of progress.

The British publication pins much of the problem on the lack of access to modern contraception. It suggests that the wide population distribution as compared to the densely packed Asian countries makes things more difficult, but the rate is far too low. It argues that the evidence is clear that contraception can reduce fertility, citing the difference between neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.

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Visualizing the global burden of mental illness in women | 

Mental Illness
Flickr, porschelinn

Mental health problems have a profound impact on men and women worldwide, but the toll of these diseases weighs most heavily on women. Worldwide, depression is responsible for more healthy years lost than HIV/AIDS or malaria in women of all ages.

Globally, depression (also known as major depressive disorder, or MDD) was the top cause of disability among females in 2010 (see screen grab). Disability from depression increased by 37% in females between 1990 and 2010. Anxiety, another mental disorder, ranked sixth. In comparison, depression and anxiety were the second- and 11th-leading causes of disability in males, respectively, in 2010. Clearly, mental health is an important issue for males as well as females, but these diseases are more prominent in females. In 2010, the rate of healthy years lost from depression was 1.7 times higher in females than in males.

Top 10 causes of disability globally, females, 2010

women mental health

Looking beyond causes of disability by factoring in fatal diseases, depression continues to stand out as a leading cause of healthy years lost in females. Continue reading

Child marriage seen as a girl’s health issue | 


The development community is starting to pay closer attention to the problem of child marriages.

Long considered an issue of human rights, the conversation about child marriage is shifting to that of health and education. Girls married too young are denied the educational opportunities of their peers and are put at greater health risks, such as HIV and teen pregnancy.

What may seem like a distant problem, child marriage is found in every part of the world. Ending the global practice will unleash opportunity for millions of women and girls.

The number of global child marriages is declining, but not quickly enough. Rates are staggering in places like Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. More than two out of every three girls are married before eighteen. Roughly half of the girls married early in Niger do so before turning fifteen.

The global rate of child marriage is alarmingly high in developing countries where one out of every three girls will marry before turning eighteen. It is estimated that 142 million girls will marry before the age of eighteen this decade. The majority of cases are found in South Asia and West and Central Africa, but it is India that carries the majority of the burden, 40% to be exact.

It is not only a problem in Africa and Asia. Closer to the US, Haiti has a child marriage rate exceeding thirty percent. Continue reading

Afghanistan lagging on enforcing law protecting women against violence | 

Afghan women's self-help group.
Afghan women’s self-help group.
Canada in Afghanistan

The landmark law enacted in Afghanistan four years ago is providing little protection for women.

In 2011, Afghanistan was found to be the worst place to be a women, according to a survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The greatest threats to Afghan women, according to those polled, were non-sexual violence, a lack of access to economic resources and health.

The establishment of the Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009 was heralded as an important advance for the safety of women. Some twenty-two acts were included in the law ranging from forced marriage and forced self-immolation to violence and the practice of giving away women to settle a dispute.

Yesterday, a report released by the UN raised serious concerns with the progress over the past four years.

“Implementation has been slow and uneven, with police still reluctant to enforce the legal prohibition against violence and harmful practices, and prosecutors and courts slow to enforce the legal protections in the law,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Continue reading

Seattle takes it personally – women and girls | 

Editor’s Note: I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the journalistic pretense of objectivity today, which is why I am calling this post an analysis. It’s not really going to be very analytical, but that’s the word journalists use when they actually say what they think.

Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, Rwanda Girls Initiative
Yvonne Mutoni Musiime, Rwanda Girls Initiative


Here at Humanosphere, the world’s leading news resource for global health and the fight against poverty (okay, that’s not true), we frequently pretend to be objective.

Journalistic objectivity is, of course, more an ideal than a practice any individual can achieve in reality. But we do try to be fair and accurate and not engage in too much personal opinion. We strive to give people the whole picture, as we see it.

I don’t have the time and inclination for all that objectivity head-faking today.

I don’t have the time because of two powerful gatherings that took place in Seattle this week, one by Global Washington and the other by the Seattle International Foundation (or SIF, which I need to disclose is one of Humanosphere’s leading financial benefactors). Both of these yearly confabs truly exemplify what’s so special about the local humanitarian scene. And by happening on the same week every year (WTF?) they also annually consume what little free time I have for that week.

I also don’t have the inclination – to engage in the pretense of objectivivity, in case I lost you – because, well, we were all blubbering this morning over our breakfast. It’s hard to report objectively when you’ve got tears in your eyes.

So what was the blubber fest? It was SIF’s annual Women in the World breakfast.

Paula Clapp
Paula Clapp

“The voices of women are often ignored … or punished for speaking out,” said Paula Clapp, co-founder of SIF and one of the region’s leading philanthropists. Clapp has been devoted to empowering (and protecting) women for a long time, but she still choked up speaking this simple truth. So did many in the auditorium at the Four Seasons Hotel. But they were mostly women. I was a guy and damn if I was going to start crying. Continue reading

The 10 stories you missed while following the Philippines | 

The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines rightly has dominated the global twenty-four hour news cycle. Humanosphere has devoted more of our reporting time to the issue than anything else this week. With nearly one million people displaced and close to twelve million affected, the scope of the problem is vast and the relief effort has a long way to go.

While we were paying attention to the Philippines, there were other notable news stories that garnered less attention. Here are ten notable events and happenings (presented in no particular order) that you might have missed this week. It is by no means a comprehensive list. Do add anything else of note in the comments section.

1) Polio is worse this year in Pakistan, so the region is taking on the challenge by working together.

Gates Foundation

The number of polio cases in Pakistan have already exceeded the total from 2012. Health officials announced Wednesday that there are sixty-two cases of polio in 2013. The total for 2012 was fifty-eight. Pakistan is one of only polio-endemic countries, alongside Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Attacks on polio workers over the past year have hampered the effort to vaccinate children. An estimated 240,000 children living in the northwest were not vaccinated in August due to a ban by the Taliban.

The problem is affecting neighboring countries. An outbreak of polio in Syria was recently linked to Pakistan. To deal with the issue, the WHO is working with twenty-one Middle Eastern countries to stop polio in its tracks. However, much of what happens in Pakistan is out of the control of the UN and its neighbors.
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The next line of protection against HIV: breast milk | 

baby ACAN

New research shows that a protein in breast milk protects against HIV. While it is know that breast milk of untreated mothers with HIV can infect some infants, it was not understood why it was such a low rate. Turns out that a protein,  tenascin-C, in breast milk attaches itself to HIV, thus disabling it.

Genevieve Fouda of Duke University and her fellow researchers say that  tenascin-C naturally protects infants from contracting HIV. Their research was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As The Economist points out, the news is important because it shows one way that HIV can be rendered ineffective.

This was a surprise, because tenascin-C is not an antibody, nor had it been suspected of having any antiviral function. Its known jobs are to help the development of the fetal brain and to assist in wound healing. That it is also the right shape to attach itself to HIV’s envelope protein seems a complete coincidence—which, indeed, it must be because AIDS is such a recent disease that evolution could not have had time to throw up a novel (and also ubiquitous) anti-HIV protein of this sort.

Whether tenascin-C, or something derived from it, can be deployed against HIV by doctors, rather than just by nature, remains to be seen. As far as possible, infected mothers are now given antiretroviral drugs—both for their own health and for the health of their suckling infants—so Dr Fouda’s discovery will probably not affect them directly.

Using the protein will be a big challenge, but knowing what is effective against HIV brings the world closer defeating the virus.