|Dhauli, who benefited from the KOICA-UNESCO project, "Empowering Adolescent Girls and Young Women through the Provision of Comprehensive Sexuality Education and a Safe Learning Environment in Nepal," studies. Courtesy of KOICA|
By Kang Seung-woo
The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) has been making efforts to empower girls and women in developing countries through diverse projects, the agency said on March 8 in celebration of International Women's Day.
Gender discrimination and gender-based violence are obstacles to development ― along with factors such as poverty, health risks and disasters ― and are exacerbated by conflict and crises. The international community seeks to achieve gender equality in the form of U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 5, "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls."
In line with this goal, KOICA has been striving to resolve various inequalities experienced by women in developing countries. Korea's development cooperation agency has been implementing 53 projects related to gender equality in 40 countries, which amount to approximately $350 million (430 billion won), with the goal of strengthening women's economic capabilities; creating opportunities for quality education and employment for women; enhancing women's social status through participation in society; preventing violence against women; and ensuring women's basic rights.
As a key example, in Iraq, KOICA has been implementing, together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), a $2.99-million project that lasts from 2021 to 2023 to assist survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). The project supports in particular those affected by conflict-related sexual violence in the Kirkuk and Nineveh Governorates by increasing access to comprehensive mental health and psychosocial support, as well as other GBV-related services.
As a part of this project, KOICA built a one-stop support center in November 2021 to provide treatment, psychological counseling and legal support for women affected by conflict-related violence in Iraq's Kirkuk Governorate, a region that suffered heavy damages due to conflict.
KOICA plans to build another center in the Nineveh Governorate and will offer a capacity-building program for Iraq's government officials, including those in the health ministry and police force, and consulting services to improve policy. KOICA also plans to carry out widespread campaigns to overcome discrimination against women in local communities. The agency aims to provide services to some 93,000 women and men in Iraq and raise awareness of gender issues.
In Nepal, KOICA has implemented a $5.15-million project together with UNESCO since 2016 to enhance women's capacities and improve environments that marginalize women in schools and local communities.
Specifically, KOICA sought to provide comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health and the prevention of gender-based violence; enhance women's literacy and participation in education; offer education on employment and entrepreneurship for vulnerable, out-of-school adolescent girls; and improve school bathrooms and drinking water facilities for a safe and healthy learning environment. A total of 73,650 girls and women in Nepal benefited through this project ― some 1,458 gained employment, while 1,874 received education from functional literacy classes.
The seven local governments that participated in this project announced pledges for comprehensive sexuality education to take root and for the prevention of gender-based violence, which are expected to act as the foundation for the enhancement of women's rights going forward.
Nepal's gender development index is 0.933, ranking 142 out of 189 countries. Women in Nepal are enrolled in school for an average of 4.3 years, while men average 5.8 years. Gross national income per capita is $2,910 for women and $4,108 for men. The ratio of women in high-ranking government posts and management is 13.2 percent, and the figure is 30 percent for licensed professionals and technical personnel. Literacy rates are 59.7 percent for women and 78.6 percent for men.
In Vietnam, KOICA implemented a $2.5-million project since 2016 to transfer the Korean "Sunflower Center" model of responding to and preventing violence against women and girls. As a result, the center in Vietnam received 13,544 calls last year through a 24-hour emergency line, and relief was provided to 342 cases where violence occurred.
In Laos, KOICA plans to strengthen the response system to violence against women through a $7-million project that lasts until 2024, together with the United Nations Development Programme, UNFAP and the Lao Women's Union.
KOICA plans to establish the first central counseling center equipped with experts who can respond to violence against women in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Korean experts that specialize in responding to violence against women will be dispatched, and help train local counseling staff. Training will also be provided to the 17 local counseling centers under the Lao Women's Union.
"History may seem to move at a slow pace but it is moving forward," KOICA President Sohn, Hyuk-sang said. "Though we celebrate International Women's Day today at a more chaotic time than ever, I have hope that the day will come when peace will be upheld and human rights will be respected for all."