Take a Stand this month against period poverty

Take a Stand this month against period poverty

Period poverty is a growing problem in Ireland. It can be an off putting topic for some, but the fact is that women and trans men who are homeless or living in hardship cannot afford sanitary products, which can be dangerous to health and take away a person’s sense of dignity. According to CSO statistics from 2015, just under 9% of Ireland’s adult population lives in consistent poverty.

Take a stand against this injustice with Period Poverty Ireland, who have started a gofundme campaign for those with no access to sanitary products, or sign their petition asking our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to provide free supplies to those in need. The Homeless Period Dublin also accept donations of sanitary towels and tampons to provide homeless women or those in direct provision with what is a necessity. Let’s follow Scotland’s example, who recently decided to give out free sanitary products across Aberdeen.

Follow Period Poverty Ireland on Facebook for updates

Liberia: the energy to end extreme poverty

Liberia: the energy to end extreme poverty

Growing access to electricity in Liberia can be the key to development, writes ROISIN CARLOS (Photograph by Dominic Chavez / World Bank)

Limited access and an unreliable electricity supply is not just about rolling black outs. Access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is vital to ending extreme poverty, and yet around 1.1 billion people still live without out it in the world today.

Progress in Africa remains especially slow. Demonstrating this, the Afrobarometer survey presents a stark picture of household connection to electricity in Africa. Only 25% of the continent is always connected, 30% suffers poor access, and 45% have no access to electricity at all. Break down this figure further and we see that 589 million people do not have access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 30 African countries suffer endemic shortages.

Energy poverty acts as a major obstacle to development in the continent, with real consequences upon a plethora of human development indicators including economic growth, health and the environment. No other African country best presents the realities of these consequences than Liberia. With only four million people with electricity access and less than 1% of the population connected to grid power, Liberia holds the title for the lowest access to electricity in the world. This devastating access rate can be explained by numerous factors, including the widespread destruction of existing infrastructure during the 16-year civil war. In fact, it is only since the end of the civil war in 2003 that the Government finally began rehabilitating the badly damaged electricity connections. As a result, in 2006 electricity was restored to parts of Monrovia for the first time in fifteen years. Consequently, Liberia is reeling from the implications of limited electricity access, particularly in the economic, health and environmental sectors, leading the government to declare an ‘electricity national emergency’ in 2012.

Energy consumption, economic growth and employment generation are all positively correlated. In a country where 76% of the population has an income of less than 1 USD a day, solutions need to be found to drive economic growth and employment generation. Electricity access, by acting as a tool to unlock greater productivity in the workforce, can be instrumental in this regard. However, the key to unlocking this potential is to first invest in energy infrastructure for increased access to energy in order for the economy to grow.

The energy challenge has been equally critical in the delivery of healthcare in Liberia. In a country characterized by extremely dispersed and rural populations, limited electricity has been detrimental to the development of health care centers in rural areas. Healthcare is systematically undermined when it is dependent upon electricity access for motorizing technologies, keeping medicines cool or using sterilization machines. We need not look any further than Liberia’s devastating experience of the 2015 Ebola outbreak, in which everyone one of Liberia’s fifteen counties reported cases, to understand the importance of the delivery of advanced health care.

Consideration of the sustainable development of the country would be incomplete without mention of the environmental impact posed by energy access. As a result of limited electricity, the vast majority of the population rely on informal systems such as household-scale diesel gensets and biomass for basic energy services. However, substitute fossil based fuels present serious negative impacts including deforestations, increased green-house-gas emissions, and loss of biodiversity, in addition to health concerns created due to poor air-quality.

In the words of US President Barack Obama when launching the US funded Power Africa in 2013, “You’ve got to have power”. The solution seems clear: unleashing the energy potential of Liberia. Indeed, Liberia has the power potential in the form of renewable energy. This solution has been duly recognized, as today there are numerous examples of high-profile initiatives being rolled out to tackle the heart of this problem, including USAID’s Power Africa Initiative, the African Development Bank’s Energy for Africa, or the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), among others, along with national strategies to meet the seventh Sustainable Development Goal.

Promoting access to electricity through renewable energy can and will be a key to development in Liberia, and in extension in the continent of Africa. Renewable energy not only responds to the population’s needs, fueling economic growth and access to health care, but it also has the added incentive of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, positively impacting the sustainable development of the country.

Brazil: a decade of pro-poor policies

Brazil: a decade of pro-poor policies

As the World Cup takes place in Brazil, Rita Formolo looks at the difference a decade of pro-poor policies has made in reducing poverty and inequality in the country.

There is a stark urban divide between those who possess the means for a decent life and those who are completely destitute in Brazil, stemming from its historical roots.  The colonisation and legacy of slavery created a social segregation in the country that transformed itself into a cycle of poverty spanning generations.  Subsequent economic failures, political clientelism and weak governance have continuously collaborated to exclude Brazil’s poor.

Redressing the exclusion

An effective development model that fosters growth with income distribution and social inclusion was introduced in the last decade and kickstarted the repayment of the social debt.  A recent report shows that between 2003 and 2011 income inequality declined by 9.2%.  Extreme poverty – measured at $1.25 a day – dropped from 11.2% to just over 3%, and poverty fell from 16% to 6%.

“Extreme poverty – measured at $1.25 a day – dropped from 11.2% to just over 3%”

The core of the policies is a programme called ‘Bolsa Familia’ – a monthly cash transfer secured to poor families, based on income and the number of children. It reaches one quarter of the population (13.8 million households) at a cost of just 0.5% of the country’s GDP.  This programme has addressed hunger, housing and livelihoods of the poor.  One key aspect is that parents must comply with child attendance to school, vaccinations and other health check-ups to keep receiving the stipend.  This has improved education, health, social assistance, and empowered women – 93% of benefit holders – who are subsequently allowed more choices and greater control over their family’s life.

The role this programme is playing in fighting hunger and improving children’s health and education is unquestionable. This results in far greater potential to interrupt the cycle of poverty in their generation.

Supporting agriculture

Another aspect of the pro-poor policy that has been introduced is strong support for family agriculture which produces 70% of food consumed locally and has benefited 32 million farmers.  Credit for small farmers has grown by over 150% in a decade.  Public purchasing of their agricultural products to supply the national school feeding programme, hospitals and others, have given them guaranteed market access.  Coupled with agrarian reform, land tenure, increased technical assistance, insurance schemes, rural extension services, research and others – these policies have contributed to an increase in 52% the income of small farmers and a decrease in the migration from the rural to the marginalised urban areas.

Decent work

Brazil’s pro-poor policies have been effective in terms of improving social mobility as they have directly enhanced the purchasing power of poor workers. The minimum wage has increased by 75%, favouring millions of  workers. The Brazilian government is also working to increase employment opportunities, offering professional courses and labour intermediation, as well as stimulating micro-enterprises and solidarity economic initiatives. Informal employment has dropped from 43% to 22% in this period. Likewise, a law of quotas  is currently being introduced and includes a 50% reserve of enrollment in federal universities for poor, black and indigenous students, along with professional quotas in the public service.

These and other interconnected policies have started to pay back the historical social debt Brazil has with its poor people.  A lot has been achieved in a single decade and proved that commitment coupled with political will is a powerful tool in the promotion of necessary social changes.

Can these pro-poor policies be expanded and made sustainable in the long-run in case of economic failures or political transition?   This is a key point to be addressed for Brazil’s poor cannot afford to lose the priority of public policies ever again.

Author: Rita Formolo

Rita has engaged in social movements, political activism and government activities in South Brazil, and graduated with a masters in Development Practice from Trinity College Dublin. Follow Rita on Twitter, @ritaformolo.

Photo credit: The rich bairro of São Conrado as viewed from above in the Rocinha Favela, Kevin Jones, Creative Commons’ Licence.

Using food waste to fight food poverty

Using food waste to fight food poverty

Grainne Carley spoke to Aoibheann O’Brien from FoodCloud to find out more about how their initiative is tackling food waste and poverty.

Started by students, FoodCloud aims to reduce poverty, reduce waste and share food. Aoibheann and Iseult are the enterprising duo who form the core of a new Enterprise in the Irish landscape. FoodCloud is a non-profit company that matches businesses that have too much food with charities in their communities that have too little. It has been fully operational since October 2013. Both women met through Enactus, the social enterprise group in TCD and decided to do something around food waste, or more correctly surplus food.

Surplus food initiatives

Aoibhenn explained that Ireland is far behind in the field of distribution of surplus food. She cites examples from the UK such as Fair Share and Food Cycle, adding that in Ireland Crosscare is the only charity working in this area, with a food bank. Before setting up FoodCloud she researched best practices and analyzed models of redistribution, looking in particular at low-cost models such as Zero Percent in the US. She has written a thesis on the topic and subsequently sought advice from a legal and food safety perspective before starting to create networks in the field.

The turning point for Aoibheann and Iseult came when they participated in the Trinity Innovation Programme – LaunchBox– which allowed them to work full time on developing the enterprise along with the assistance of two volunteers. In addition,n having the support of the Food Safety Authority and one big name was a huge help.

For businesses the FoodCloud model makes perfect sense – they reduce food waste; can save money; improve environmental impact; and can use it to connect to communities.

Getting started

In October 2013 following more research and a rebranding FoodCloud launched in a small number of cafes and one Tesco store. Initially it was a process of knocking on doors and talking to lots of people whereas now they have progressed into a position where it is business contacting them.

For businesses the FoodCloud model makes perfect sense – they reduce food waste; can save money; improve environmental impact; and can use it to connect to communities. The volume of food donations has increased and their major challenge at present is gaining knowledge around charities and communities who could benefit across the country and how it works for the charities. FoodCloud operates on a dual level of creating a network of businesses and concurrently creating a network of charities. This is necessary to ensure that there is demand for the supply.

Aoibheann stressed the unbelievable statistic that 32percent of food produced is never actually eaten. The reasons for this in developing countries are related to access to markets and food storage while in developed countries it is at the end of the supply chain: at distribution, retail, and consumer level.


Since October FoodCloud have facilitated the redistribution of 7 tonnes of food through 300 donations from their network to charities. The challenge now for FoodCloud is to make their model and process scalable to enable them to operate on a nationwide basis. Currently there are an average of 17 stores posting through the FoodCloud app everyday and this week they have added 5 new Tesco stores to their enterprise. In order to facilitate this expansion process they are currently Crowd Funding.

You can sign their pledge to reduce your personal foodwaste.

Author: Grainne Carley

Photo: Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward, FoodCloud

Sinned not sinful?

Sinned not sinful?

People often assume that prisoners deserve to be locked up. Societies have laws and penalties for breaking those laws. It is as simple as that.

For most of us, it would be unthinkable to believe that some people are destined to commit crime. But could it be that our rational, individualistic societies leave some members with no choice but to become criminals?

In the last four decades, the number of prisoners in Ireland grew from 600 to 5,500. The majority of these people are unemployed, unskilled men, with little or no literacy skills. They are addicted to alcohol and drugs, and many have mental and physical illnesses. They are alienated and stigmatised.

Social inequality paves way to prison

If we believe John Lonergan, who worked in the Irish prison system since 1968 and was chief governor in Mountjoy for 23 years, the failures of the government and our society as a whole have led to the rise of prison population.

Lonergan points to social inequality as the main point to growing criminality. He says, ‘‘Those on severe margins benefited in no way during the Celtic Tiger years. They had no education; they had no ability to tap into the opportunities. Those on the periphery lost ground and were left behind’’. He goes further, predicting that ‘‘when the economy recovers, the rich will continue to demand; and will get more’’.

The last two decades of economic liberalisation led to a widening gap between haves and have-nots. Those at the bottom have little or no say about their future. This detachment from the mainstream society means that people feel left out and in those circumstances tend to lose respect and loyalty. Many Irish institutions lost credibility in the eyes of those  at the bottom of the social ladder.

Prison conditions reflect on all of us

Nelson Mandela once said: ‘‘No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones’’. In that respect, a lot could be said about Irish society. No one group can benefit, while the majority silently suffers. Back a dog up in a corner – it’s going to bite.

Author: Vaida Balbieriute