Progress roundup: Rastafarians end hair discrimination in Malawi, and an opponent of female genital mutilation wins the Templeton Prize in Somaliland.

By Ali Martin and Angela Wang 

1. United States

In Arizona, a small Tucson neighborhood is practicing permaculture on street after street to grow food with harvested rain. Dunbar Spring residents in 1996 started planting trees for shade that would be watered by captured runoff. Some 1,700 drought-tolerant native trees and thousands of specimens in the understory now help moderate air temperatures and provide food such as prickly pear fruit and goji berries. At a community event each summer, mesquite seeds are ground into flour.

In the third-fastest warming city in one of the driest U.S. states, only around a foot of rain falls every year. But Tucson’s municipal water needs could be met by capturing that rain, according to Brad Lancaster, who pioneered this work based on Indigenous practices.


He started harvesting by making cuts in street curbs to direct storm runoff to shallow basins dug in the ground. “I don’t think we should be using the Colorado River as our checking account,” Mr. Lancaster said.

Though enforcement is still a challenge, 15 years ago Tucson was the first municipality in the country to pass an ordinance requiring rainwater harvesting by commercial property owners. The Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters recently held their 27th annual planting, an event that spread four years ago to include the nearby community of West University.
Sources: The GuardianThe Washington Post

2. Europe

For Children In Somaliland, The Dignity Of Hairstyles And Better Health
Pre-2006 vehicles are generally subject to daily fees in London’s ultra low-emission zones, but most newer cars are already in compliance. ULEZ expands to all of Greater London in August.

Keeping high-polluting vehicles out of dense urban areas is improving air quality in hundreds of European cities. While rules affecting drivers vary, a typical low-emission zone reduces greenhouse gases and byproducts of combustion such as toxic nitrogen oxides, improving public health and climate objectives. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of active LEZs increased by 40%, from 228 to 320 in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Norway.

While some communities are tightening current restrictions and LEZs are planned for more than 500 locations in Europe by 2025, advocates stress the need for clear pathways toward zero-emission zones by 2030. Increasing evidence of the health effects of air pollution, the EU’s 2008 air quality directive, and even court cases lodged by civil society groups have hastened commitments.

“We’ve just seen how effective the London [ultra low-emission zone] has been at reducing air pollution,” said Jemima Hartshorn, the founder of Mums for Lungs. “There has been a 20% drop in NO2 since the zone was expanded. It’s great to hear a growing number of other European cities are also taking air quality seriously.”
Sources: The GuardianClean Cities Campaign

3. Somaliland

An advocate for the health of vulnerable women and girls has received the prestigious Templeton Award. The 2023 honor goes to Edna Adan Ismail, a nurse-midwife and hospital founder who has spent decades combating female circumcision and working to improve women’s health care in East Africa. She is the first African woman to be recognized with the prize, valued this year at $1.4 million.

More than 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, which is internationally condemned as a human rights violation. Dr. Ismail began as a nurse and midwife in the 1960s and openly opposed FGM by the mid-’70s. She founded the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in 2002, which has reduced the maternal mortality rate in her native Somaliland country by as much as 75%. She also established Edna Adan University, which has trained over 4,000 healthcare professionals. And she has held a number of government posts, including adviser to the World Health Organization.

For Children In Somaliland, The Dignity Of Hairstyles And Better Health
The health care advocate from Somaliland strives to improve women’s well-being in East Africa.

“Driven by a passionate belief in women’s innate dignity and divine-given potential, [Edna Adan Ismail] has enacted a transformation of female health in her native land,” said Templeton Foundation president Heather Templeton Gill.
Sources: The Saxafi MediaWorld Health Organization

4. Malawi

Rastafarian children can attend school in Malawi with their hair intact. The country’s High Court ruled in May that it was unlawful to require learners, including Rastafarians, to cut their hair before they are enrolled into public schools. Education policy had previously required boys and girls to cut their dreadlocks, which some Rastafarians maintain as a religious vow. Affected families either put their children in private school or pulled them out of school altogether.

“The judgment means that we are now free because most of us in [the] Rastafarian community don’t earn much, so we couldn’t manage to send our children to private schools,” said Alli Nansolo, whose son missed three years of schooling because of the policy.

According to the U.S. State Department, 77% of Malawi’s 21 million people are Christian, 14% are Muslim, and 5.6% belong to other religious groups, including Hindus, Baha’is, Rastafarians, Jews, and Sikhs.

A 2020 ruling brought temporary relief for Rastafarian families with an injunction forcing the Ministry of Education to allow dreadlocks in schools, after a number of families sued the schools. The latest decision abolishes the discriminatory hair policy for good.
Sources: CNNVOA NewsU.S. Department of State


Countries around the world are guaranteeing their children access to early childhood education. Since 2015, 16 countries have passed laws to establish or expand free pre-primary programs, targeting years when education is known to be critical to children’s long-term development. A recent UNESCO report shows higher rates of school participation in countries whose laws guarantee free education. After adopting free-school legislation, Azerbaijan saw preschool participation go from 25% to 83% over four years; Uzbekistan’s participation went from 31% in 2015 to 69% in 2021.

Sierra Leone established its Free Quality School Education program in 2018, with fee-free and “radical inclusion” policies aimed at welcoming historically marginalized groups, like children with disabilities, pregnant girls, and those from rural or low-income households. Enrollment surged more than 50% from 2018 to 2021, and in April 2023, Parliament established federal legislation to strengthen and expand compulsory education through secondary school.

Countries faced setbacks during the pandemic, and among those that have committed to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, barely 1 in 3 is on track to achieve education benchmarks – which countries set for themselves – by 2030. Experts say the trend is encouraging, but progress is slower than they’d like.
Sources: Human Rights WatchCenter for Global DevelopmentUNESCO

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