8 Ways USAID Promotes and Protects Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Around the World

Read about programs in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Mexico, Bangladesh, Kenya and Burma

In Somaliland’s 2017 presidential election, with USAID support, women such as these played critical roles as voters, poll workers, and political party agents. This photo was a finalist in the 2018 USAID/Democracy, Human Rights and Governance photo contest. / Jim Huylebroek for Creative Associates International

Peace, prosperity and freedom are universal aspirations of all people. To reach these goals, USAID promotes accountable, transparent and citizen responsive democratic governance that respects human dignity, rights and the rule of law.

We believe that empowering people to speak openly and without fear — by partnering with governments to deliver what their people need, by promoting fairness and justice for all, and by including everyone — we can unleash the enormous potential of communities around the world to expand the reach of democracy and promote a path to self-reliance and resilience.

Below are eight photos that capture the essence of how USAID partners with local change makers and communities in order to promote, protect and deepen democracy, human rights and governance around the globe. These are winners and finalists of the 2018 USAID/Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG) photo contest, judged by a panel from the USAID/DRG sector and submitted by implementing partners and USAID field missions.

1. Mitigating Conflict and Fostering Reconciliation

Mohamed Abdullah Adan, Pact (first place winner)

Somali women living in El Waq, a small town in Somalia, have long suffered years of conflict, marginalization and drought, which has negatively impacted community cohesion. In November 2017, the USAID Somalis Harmonizing Inter-and-Intra Communal Relationships Program brought together the women in this photo, and 2,280 people total (1,200 women) from conflicting clans to learn, decide and plan the future of their district. The program conducted a total of 49 trauma healing sessions across four districts, and through their engagement in traditional and cultural activities, participants openly confronted their animosities and began to reconcile their differences.

2. Ensuring Access to Life-Saving Information

Internews (second place winner)

Following the conflict that broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, Internews’ Boda Boda Project developed an innovative recorded audio program to provide humanitarian and life-saving information to people displaced at four of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan Protection of Civilians sites across the country. This service utilizes a quad bike that moves around the site playing the programs in dedicated public spaces, at “Listening Stops,” through speakers that are bolted to the bike. In this photo, Julie Diew, the project’s Deputy Team Leader interviews Sunday James about the support she provides to her family in the United Nations House in Juba.

3. Encouraging Voter Participation

Jim Huylebroek, Creative Associates International (third place winner)

On Nov. 14, 2017, ballot boxes from all over Somaliland filled the National Election Commission’s warehouse in Hargeisa, the day after the presidential election. The National Election Commission poll workers then helped to prepare the ballots to be tallied. The USAID Bringing Unity, Integrity, and Legitimacy to Democracy Project worked with the commission to produce more than 700,000 voter identification cards and engaged civil society to encourage voter participation. A total of 565,000 Somalilanders cast their ballots in a well-organized and relatively trusted election, many for the first time. Through community meetings and events, social media, loudspeakers and billboards, Somalilanders learned their vote counted, and were proud to be part of democracy in the making.

4. Capturing Resilience and Diversity

Chris McMorrow for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (finalist)

Nigeria has become one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises due to the Boko Haram insurgency, and extremely low levels of development in the region — leaving millions of people vulnerable. In December 2016, photojournalist Fati Abubakar captured everyday life in Borno State, showing that despite the violence and destruction of Boko Haram, there is beauty, resilience and diversity in her home state. Since 2014, USAID has helped to counter and prevent the factors that allow violent extremism to flourish, including feelings of marginalization and lack of economic opportunity. With support from USAID, Fati was able to expand her reach to tell her story and share her photos with a global audience.

5. Families of the Disappeared Seek Truth and Justice

Germán Canseco, Revista Proceso (finalist)

With 34,000 registered missing persons, 2017 proved to be the most violent in Mexico’s recent history. After being fired for missing a week of work while she was searching for her 17-year-old daughter Fátima, who had gone missing, Nidia Ivonne Muñoz Gavaldón sits before Chihuahua’s State Attorney’s Office to claim truth and justice. USAID’s Human Rights Activity in Mexico has provided technical support to improve the investigation of gross human rights violations and supports the National Prosecutor General’s Office to review and update the Investigation Protocols for the Crime of Femicide and for Sexual Violence. It is expected that these protocols will contribute to more adequately investigate cases like those of Fátima and thousands of others who have disappeared or been murdered in the state of Chihuahua.

6. Rallying Against Gender-Based Violence at Work

Musfiq Tajwar, Solidarity Center (finalist)

On May 1, garment sector workers and organizers rallied near the Dhaka Press Club to call for a living wage, maternity protections, freedom of association and an end to gender-based violence at work. Accounting for 81 percent of the country’s total export earnings, Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry is the country’s biggest export earner. However, wages are the lowest among major garment-manufacturing nations. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building,​ which mobilized efforts to improve workers’ safety in the Bangladeshi garment industry. The accident killed 1,134 garment workers ​and injured roughly 2,500. ​Cracks appeared in the building on April 23, 2014, but workers were ordered to return the following day, and the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour.​​ The incident has been described as the deadliest structural failure of recent time and the deadliest garment-factory accident in history.​ Since then, owners have made significant investments in safety on working conditions, but observers say more progress is needed. ​

7. Responding to Violence Against Women in Elections

Carla Chianese, IFES (finalist)

On Oct. 24, 2017, Fanis Lisiagali, executive director of Healthcare Assistance Kenya, leads the White Ribbon Campaign march and promotes their rapid response call center hotline, which responds to violence against women in elections in Nairobi, Kenya, as part of International Foundation for Electoral System’s Kenya Electoral Assistance Program. The campaign strategy was built on the polarization and division in Kenya led by the two political parties, which dramatically increased from August to October 2017. It was designed to showcase the voices of women and mothers that had been missing from the national conversation with the call to action for all women to play an active role by intervening in violence within their family, communities and on social media.

8. Taking Action to Stop Human Trafficking

IOM X (finalist)

An estimated 4.25 million Burma nationals live abroad, making the country the largest migration source in the region. Drivers of migration include higher wages in neighboring countries, conflict and environmental migration due to natural disasters. On May 7, 2018, Burma immigration officials reviewed information at IOM X’s “Make Migration Work” launch in Nay Pyi Taw. IOM X is an innovative campaign to encourage safe migration and public action to stop human trafficking and exploitation — leveraging the power and popularity of media and technology to inspire young people and their communities to act against human trafficking.

About the Author

Jessica Benton Cooney is the communications specialist of USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.




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Jessica Benton Cooney

Jessica Benton Cooney

Jessica Benton Cooney is the Communications Specialist for USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.