Girl Power – International Day of the Girl Child


Last Thursday, October 11th, 2012, was the first UN International Day of the Girl Child.  Nowadays most people agree that one of the keys to the well-being and prosperity of the planet lies in the education, protection and enfranchisement of girls and women.  Unfortunately, most people doesn’t include the parents of millions of girls who are forcibly married off every day.  Or the government of Iran who have recently banned women from 77 university courses.  Or the Taliban in Pakistan who shot 14 year old Malala Yousufzai in the head last Tuesday, October 9th, because she had spoken out in favour of the education of girls and said –

“I have rights.  I have the right of education.  I have the right to play.  I have the right to sing.  I have the right to talk.  I have the right to go to market.  I have the right to speak up.”

Fortunately, more and more girls themselves are beginning to object and because many of these marriages are arranged out of love and concern for the child and a fear of stepping outside tradition rather than any cruel motive, more and more parents are also listening to their daughters.

If you have time today perhaps you’d like to read what Desmond Tutu and Ela Bhatt said about this last Thursday – Today, A Promise to Girls.

Or maybe you’d like to watch this short video about one girl’s stand against marriage – and her family’s surprising reaction –

Or maybe you’d have time to see what Mary Robinson and others have to say about child brides –

If you have a minute you might go onto the Amnesty USA page to send a message of protest about the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

Even if you haven’t got time to do any of those things maybe you’d just think about the problem of girl brides and talk to others about it so that gradually we can all become aware and support those little girls when they say ‘no’.

Do Some Children Matter More Than Others?


Roméo Dallaire – Canadian Senator and ex-Commander of the United Nations Forces in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 – is dedicating his life to trying to eradicate the use of children as weapons of war.

Senator Dallaire has a foundation dedicated to this cause.  The Child Soldiers Initiative is, by it’s own description – A partnership to build the will, knowledge, collaboration and tools necessary to eradicate the use of child soldiers.  This is what Roméo Dallaire himself has to say about the project –

At any given time there are a quarter of a million child soldiers globally experiencing a suffering that most of you cannot even imagine.

These children are routinely abducted violently from their families at a tender age, and are subjected to forcible confinement, torture, threats, rape, brainwashing, slavery, starvation, intoxication through drugs and sleep deprivation. They are forced to carry heavy loads, including human bodies, not just weaponry. They are often paired up and killed if their partner escapes.

People are often surprised to hear that 40 percent of child soldiers are girls. Girls are often forced to become sex slaves as well as soldiers, cooks and nurses and must deal with pregnancy under these conditions too often.

The use of child soldiers is horrifically true and is taking place now. The status quo is completely unacceptable and international proposed solutions are in danger of failing.

While many groups have been working on demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation of Child Soldiers, which is absolutely essential, I have discovered in my research at the Carr Center For Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, that little if any analysis of this problem is being done through the security lens, to better understand the tactical how and why child soldiers are being used.

Why is this child soldier weapon system the most sophisticated, low-technology weapon system on the battlefield today? What makes that weapon platform so effective?

We must work to stop recruitment during conflict.

I want to identify ways to do this, to render it ineffective to use Child Soldiers. I want to eradicate the use of child soldiers. This is why I have founded the Child Soldiers Initiative.

CSI is working to build the political will now needed to properly enforce laws that protect children and bring perpetrators to justice.

The CSI team is also working to build the will and technical capacity of military, human rights and humanitarian organizations, as well as host nation actors, to stop the use of child soldiers.

The aim is to bring all these actors together so they work cohesively for better results. The CSI team itself is a unique mix of stakeholders from the humanitarian, academic and security sectors.

Some people think that the child soldier issue can never be eradicated as long as there are wars. To this I respond that humanity has created other evil things which we have had the morality and good sense to abolish such as slavery, apartheid and chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.

CSI is a call to action to put stopping the use of child soldiers on everyone’s agenda.

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (Retired)

LGen The Hon R.A. Dallaire, O.C.,C.M.M.,G.O.Q.,M.S.C.,C.D., (Ret’d)

In the video below Senator Dallaire describes his understanding of the lives of child soldiers – 40% 0f whom are girls – and his proposals for eliminating this evil practice.  If you have time listen to the entire discussion, it’s well worthwhile.  But if you are short of time just listen from c. 52 minutes onwards – he asks some interesting – and challenging – questions.

And if you can spare more time perhaps watch this as well.

http://childsoldiersinitiative.org/index.php

Love the One You’re With


Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

The field of interpersonal neurobiology is an exciting new area of research. The more that is discovered about how the brain works, the clearer it is that it is endlessly open to development and change as it rewires itself every single day. It turns out that how you choose to think really does have an effect on your brain – especially when it comes to love.  Loving relationships have the greatest effect on the wiring and rewiring of the brain.

In 2006, researchers in Virginia gave electric shocks to the ankles of women in happy relationships and measured their anxiety beforehand and pain levels during the shocks.  What they discovered was that the same level of electricity administered when holding their partner’s hand reduced their blood pressure and their brains showed a lower neural response to the pain.  Women in troubled relationships didn’t experience the same relief from holding their partners’ hands.

To quote from Diane Ackerman‘s very interesting article, The Brain on Love

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent. (1)

So, what can we learn from this?

That we need love to be healthy and balanced and happy?  We all probably knew this.

But it also says that every smile, every loving touch, every kindness is worthwhile because it resonates and shapes the brain of the recipient.  It says that we should be careful with each other – even when it’s difficult.   And generous with our love – whenever possible.

This song reminds me of Diane Ackerman’s article – I have no idea why, the link is pretty tenuous – but I really like both the song and the video anyway.  So, here it is –

(1) Diane Ackerman, The Brain on Lovehttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/

Green Eggs or Ham?


When my eldest son was little, I’d pick him up from play-group and we’d walked happily home discussing what had happened that  day, what we were going to do or where we were going to go or the many adventures of Superman.

Mother and small boy happy and glad to see each other – until…

“OK – so, what would you like for lunch?”

He’d have a think before he answered and then he might say – “I’d like chips”, or “I’d like potatoes and chicken,” or “I’d like ice-cream.”

So, I’d say – “No, no – you can’t have ice-cream or chips for lunch, you need to have something that’s healthy.”

“Like potatoes and chicken?”

“OK, like potatoes and chicken – you can have that later.  Not for lunch.”

“But I want it for lunch!”

“Well, you can’t have it for lunch – choose something else – how about beans on toast or a cheese sandwich?”

“But I don’t want that!  I want chicken and potatoes or ice-cream…”

Anyway, you get the picture – he’d be angry and upset and I’d be angry and upset and both of us would be full of self-righteous indignation as we stomped home.

And then, one day I finally realised what was happening.

He was answering the question I’d asked.

Which would have been fine except that I was actually asking a different question than the one I was forming with my words.

I was asking him what he wanted to eat for lunch and, as he was a small child, he was taking me at my word and answering the question.

The fact was, though, what I was really asking him was, “What you would like for lunch from  a) the food at present in our house and b) food present which also satisfies my criteria for what constitutes a healthy lunch.”

So, I changed my questions.

“OK – what could you like for lunch – eggs, or cheese or bananas?”

“Ham sandwich or peanut butter?”

“Chicken noodle soup or cheese on toast?”

And because he was as reasonable as all small children, he immediately adapting by answering the question and choosing between the options I presented.

Problem solved.  Happy walking home for mother and boy after that.  Back to talking about important things like Superman instead of bickering about lunch.

As adults we ask – and answer – questions and unconsciously try to interpret the background nuances and circumstances and expect others to do the same.

We rely on other people to do some of our thinking without our ever stating what we really think – “I can’t believe she asked me to do that!”

We rely on others to make it alright for us – “How could he accept that second cup of tea I offered – didn’t he know I was tired?”

To second guess our needs – “I know I offered but…”

Maybe we should try being more accurate when we express ourselves?

Would it prevent more misunderstandings?

First, though, we’d have to know what we want to say ourselves – and maybe that’s the really difficult part?

What do we truly want to say?

Lottery


Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had been born somewhere else.

If my parents were different.

If I’d been born in a different country.

WIth different opportunities.

With different neighbours.

What if I had been the child who was walking home from school who was abducted?

What might have happened if I’d been born into a wealthier family?

Or a poorer family.

What if I’d lived so remotely that I’d had no opportunity to go to school.

Or if I’d had to get married at twelve.

Or I’d been born into royalty.

Or I’d been a different colour.

Or HIV positive at birth.

The list of what if’s always makes me notice how much where a child is born, to whom, when and why has such a massive influence on the circumstances and chances of his or her life.

Of my life.

Random chance should never be a moderator for basic human rights and yet it is.  I have had some control over what I have done with the hand life dealt me but I had absolutely no say in how that ‘hand’ was configured in  the first place.  Nobody does.

Have you every wondered why might have been if you’d been dealt a different hand – for better or worse?

There isn’t much we can do about the randomness of it all, but we can, at least, attempt to level the playing field.

Don’t Stamp on the Seedling…


Stop Joseph Kony

Stop Joseph Kony (Photo credit: boston7513 Kevin)

The Kony 2012 campaign has caused a huge stir in the world.

Is it good?

Is it bad?

Are we being fooled?

Are the organisers just manipulating us so they can make lots of money?

Is it foolishly idealistic?

I’m a European and I’m a born cynic (ask my family) and here is what I think.

It is important to know – as much as possible – what is going on.  It is important to investigate truth for oneself and not to be duped but here are the questions I have asked myself about this campaign –

If my child was in danger from Joseph Kony would I want help?

Would I feel insulted if people from other countries tried to help me?

Would I care if they were making mistakes or would I be glad someone was trying – even imperfectly – to help me?

There is a lot of criticism about the Invisible Children campaign but I haven’t read – or heard – even one thing that says their accusations against Joseph Kony are false. Everybody says the same thing about him – he is a vicious criminal and nobody has managed to stop him.

So, what is bothering us, exactly? That we’ll be fooled?

OK – that’s not pleasant but I’d prefer to run the risk of looking foolish than to leave people in danger because I was busy protecting my ego – wouldn’t you?

As for the paternalism accusations – helping anybody, anywhere, any time can be seen as paternalistic – it’s all about how it’s done. So here are my questions about that –

Are the people (even the Ugandans) who are objecting to the campaign the ones living in terror?

Do the people who live in this abject terror object to the attempts to help them?

If those in the firing line are happy to receive the help – and I don’t know if they are but it seems that way – is it not really incredibly paternalistic to say they don’t know what is best for themselves?

Saying we don’t want help from outside is a divisive act like saying we will only help our own people.  National boundaries are increasingly illusory and increasingly impossible to uphold in the ways we used to define them in the past.  The earth is clearly more and more obviously just like one country, so unless the assistance is extra-terrestrial surely it isn’t really from outside?

As for accusations against the Ugandan government – I imagine they are mostly true but I wonder would any of our governments stand up to much scrutiny and if not should that deprive us of help from others?

This campaign interests me because it is trying to find ways to use our present day social reality to facilitate some good.

I’m sure it’s flawed. I’m sure they are making mistakes. I’m sure it won’t be entirely successful but here’s the final question I ask myself about this –

If this campaign helps to improve the life of one child will it be worthwhile?

For me the answer is yes.

Previously on – As Seen on TV…


I came across this video on entertainment-education and thought you might also like to have a look –

Positive Deviance


The classic model of the diffusion of social change is one where the change comes from outside. Experts try to persuade people to adopt new ways and often look for charismatic locals to lead the change.

A newer model, Positive Deviance, tries to approach the idea of change from a different angle.

In the struggle to achieve participation and not simply persuasion, it has been found that local wisdom will usually be better than outside expertise.  This model also proposes that if people can be brought along as participants, even the most intractable problems can be solved.

In 1990, Jerry and Monique Sternin arrived in Hanoi to open a branch of the U.S. NGO, Save the Children.  At that time two-thirds of Vietnamese children under five were suffering from malnutrition. The Sternins hoped to find ways to help with this as supplemental feeding had already failed.

They initially travelled to the Quong Xuong District. There they weighed 2,000 children under the age of three and discovered that 64% of them were malnourished.  The Sternins weren’t the first people to discover this but they were the first to ask a very important question.

Were any of the well-nourished children they had encountered from very poor families?

The answer was ‘yes.’  Some of the children were well nourished even though their families were just as poor as those of the malnourished children.  These families were exhibiting positive deviant behaviour.

So the Sternins studied them.  What were they doing that was so different?

It turned out that the mothers in these families were all doing a number of things –

  • Collecting tiny shrimp and crabs from the paddy fields and adding them to the children’s meals.
  • Adding sweet potato greens to the meals.
  • Feeding the children three or four times a day instead of the customary twice.
  • Actively feeding the children, making sure they ate and that no food was wasted.
  • Washing their children’s hands before and after they ate.

Now they knew the key to the nourishment of the local children but how would they convince the villagers? They struggled to come up with ideas until a village elder reminded them of a local saying – “A thousand hearings isn’t worth one seeing, and a thousand seeing isn’t worth one doing.”

The Sternins designed a pilot project where local mothers agreed to work for two weeks with the ‘positive deviant’ mothers, harvesting the shrimps and greens, encouraging the children to eat, feeding them more often and washing their hands.

They were at all times encouraged to ‘do.’  They weighed their children every day and plotted the data on their own charts.  Within two weeks they could see the changes in their children for themselves.

This pilot project continued for two years after which malnutrition had decreased by 85% where the Positive Deviance approach was implemented.  Over the next several years this approach was used all over Vietnam and helped more than 2.2 million people improve their nutritional status.

The interview below is with Monique Sternin and demonstrates not only the success of this project but also beautifully shows how much the way we interact with others – all others – impacts on the outcome.

Men Wanted


In spite of a robust GDP rate (8%-9%), almost half of all Indian children – 42% – are malnourished.  Seems that a rising tide doesn’t lift all boats.

In spite of a thriving economy, the malnutrition, low birthweight and maternal mortality rates in India rivals those of sub-Saharan Africa.

Which is not only tragic for those children and their families but for all of the people of India, as these underweight and malnourished children suffer from poor health and reduced mental capacity which results in problems that are estimated to cost the Indian government c. $28bn a year. (1)

So, why are the children in this growing economy continuing to suffer so badly?

It seems the main reason is the fact that women in India have a lower status than men and as a result don’t have enough power to see that their children’s needs are met. (2)

A study in Nepal found that children are less likely to be underweight if their mothers own land.  (3)

Another study in Nicaragua and Honduras demonstrated that families spend more money on food when the woman owns land.

In Ghana a study found that families allocate more of their household budget to food when women own a share of the family farmland. (4)

All around the world when women are educated and have secure rights, their families have better education, better nutrition and better health.

I know it is probably not news to you all that everybody in a society does better when women are treated equally. And I know I keep saying this same thing in different ways (sorry for the repetition) but I have now decided to say one thing I’ve never said before – where are the men in this?

Surely these children all have fathers?  Even if they don’t respect their wives as much as they should – why don’t they feel they have to care for their children?  Why don’t the women in their societies hold them to this sacred duty?  Why are these adult men not ashamed when they put their wants before their children’s needs?

I have a father, husband, three sons, two brothers and many male friends. I love and admire all of them and those amongst them who have children are honourable and dedicated fathers.  How are they so different to other men in the world?

Is it because they live in a society where women have (more or less) equal status? Where women have rights? Where women are educated?  If so, what factors in this have allowed some men (like the men in my life) to develop greater courage, selflessness and care than their counterparts in other parts of the world?

I’m not suggesting that all the men in western societies care for their children but many of them certainly do – many more than in other cultures.

My question is – why?

________________________________________________

(1) http://www.hungamaforchange.org/HungamaBKDec11LR.pdf

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2012/jan/20/land-rights-india-women-ease-malnutrition?fb=optOut

(3) http://www.unicef.org/pon96/nuenigma.htm

(4) http://jae.oxfordjournals.org/content/15/1/149.abstract

Spirit Levels Up


Sometimes life takes it out of us all and it’s just good to have our spirits raised.

I hope you enjoy this clip from Les Choristes.

(Thanks to euzicasa for reminding me of this movie – he has another version of this song here – http://euzicasa.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/les-choristes-caresse-sur-locean-au-palais-des-congres/)