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’.

The Future is Made from Wishes


When I first saw this I didn’t think I’d post it as I have posted so much – so many links, so many articles, so many videos – on the importance of the education of girls and the development of women for the welfare of all human societies.  At this point even I am sick of hearing myself talk about this subject.

But I couldn’t talk myself out of posting this.  Please watch it.  It is so comprehensive and so complete that you’ll be glad you did watch it.

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Previously on – As Seen on TV…


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

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?

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(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

Rwandan Women Build a Future


What most of us know about Rwanda – other than the fact that it is a small country in central Africa – is that in 1994 there was an horrific genocide where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in 100 days.

Few of us know that since then Rwanda has more women in its parliament – 56% – than any other country in world.  Or that Rwanda is a leading force in peacemaking, agriculture, healthcare, education and communications.  Or even that nowadays, Rwanda has a fibre-optic network connecting its cities to its remote areas.

After the genocide, 70% of the population of Rwanda was female and many laws that discriminated against women had to be changed.  Laws were passed to address the discrimination against women and jobs previously the preserve of men became open to women.  Women also began to take a role in the judicial system and this had very profound effects.  Very important changes have been made in laws governing sexual violence, marital rape, labour, property, inheritance and education.

There are still problems in Rwanda.  There are many scars from the “War,” as it is known, many lives altered forever.  Most of the population is rural and life for rural women is not as significantly altered as for their urban sisters – but it is changing even there. Interestingly, Rwanda is not only a better place for women since the society has become more equal, it is a better place for everyone as it is also benefitting from steady economic development.

In the aftermath of the genocide, many women who had been imprisoned in rape camps were not only traumatised they were stigmatised because they had HIV and babies as a result of their rapes.  But they overcame even these obstacles because, as one woman describes it,  “Since all of us had suffered from this, we were able to support each other.  That is what saved us.” . . .(1)

For the most part, men have not had too much to say about the changes in the law but according to Evarist Kalish MP, a member of the Liberal party and the chair of parliament’s human rights committee, many men recognise that women may provide the best leadership.

“More than men, women are the victims of the war. They have different priorities to those of men. They have more concern about issues related to violence in general, and gender-based violence in particular. Women have faced discrimination so they want to put a stop to discrimination. All of this will contribute to preventing another genocide.” (2)

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(1) Rwanda: Defying History, by Anne-Christine d’Adesky, June, 14, 2011. http://worldpulse.com/magazine/articles/rwanda-defying-history

(2) Chris McGreal – The Guardian, 17/12/2008,  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/17/rwanda-women-politics-human-rights

Teach a Girl – Change the World.


Camfed (Campaign for Female Education) is an international, non-profit organisation focused on educating and empowering girls and young women in a bid to eradicate poverty and help develop societies.   Camfed programs operate in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi.

In 1993, an English woman named Ann Cotton started Camfed at her kitchen table after a visit to Africa.  Nineteen years later, Camfed has helped 1,451,600 children with their education.  In addition, they have also set up the Cama Network – an offshoot of Camfed which trains and organises women to provide support, healthcare and education to others in their communities,

Wonderful as these things are there has been an unexpected outcome from this whole endeavour – the Camfed graduates have become individual philanthropists themselves.

The girls who have benefitted from the help given by Camfed, are now helping an average of 5 other girls at any one time – not including their own families who they also help.

As Ann Cotton says – “They are becoming real role models in their communities. It may be that the neighbor’s child can’t go to school because she doesn’t have a skirt, so she’ll provide that. Or maybe she’ll pay another girl’s school fees.  This was something we didn’t expect at all. It shows the power of education.”(1)

Human beings.  Endlessly wonderful once they get a chance.

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(1) Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, p. 203

Little by Little One Walks Far*


UNFPA is the United Nations agency that deals with providing much needed family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world.  In 2002, the American government decided not to give a promised 34 million dollars to UNFPA.

In different parts of the country and without ever having met, two ordinary American women, Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham, asked the women of America to send $1 dollar each to UNFPA.

Nobody – not even UNFPA – thought it would work. But it did.  Soon a deluge of envelopes with single dollar bills began arriving at the UNFPA offices from women – and men – all over the United States.

From this an organisation called 34 Million Friends of UNFPA (www.34millionfriends.org) was formed and millions of dollars were raised to help families all over the world.

In 2009, the U.S. administration restored the funding to UNFPA but 34 Million Friends still continues to work to support this vital service.

And all from the efforts of two ordinary women – a social action butterfly effect if ever there was one.

(*Peruvian Proverb)

Educate Girls and Change the World


There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

I can’t say it better than that – or this –

http://itonlytakesagirl.blogspot.com/

Half the Sky


In the Introduction to their book, Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, recount the story of a Cambodian teenager named, Srey Rath.

When Rath was 15, she decided to go to Thailand to find work.  Her parents worried but Rath and her four friends were all promised jobs in the same restaurant so it seemed safe.

However the job agent took the girls into Thailand and there handed them over to gangsters who took them to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, to work in a brothel.

At first Rath refused to have sex with customers, so she was beaten and raped by the boss of the brothel and his men.  A subdued Rath stopped fighting but instead she sobbed and had to be drugged by the brothel owners so that she wouldn’t repel the customers.

Rath and the other girls were forced to work fifteen hours a day, seven days a week in the brothel.  They were forced to act as though they were happy to see the customers, kept naked and barely fed – “…because the customers didn’t like fat girls.”

The girls were never allowed out or paid for their work and were housed in a locked tenth floor apartment to which they were bused under guard.

One night, one of the girls prised a long, five inch board from a drying rack.  Rath and three other girls balanced the board between their balcony and the balcony on the next building twelve feet away and then sitting on the board inched across.  The board wobbled and shook and they knew they’d be killed if they fell ten stories but they figured their lives were over anyway so it was worth a chance.

All four girls made it across and the surprised tenant of the opposite apartment let them out through his apartment.  The girls took the elevator to the street and found a police station.  The police tried to get rid of them and when they refused to leave, imprisoned them. Rath spent a year in a Malaysian prison because she was an illegal immigrant. At the end of that year, the policeman who was supposed to be repatriating her, sold her to a trafficker who sold her on to a Thai brothel.

Bad as it was, the owners of the Thai brothel didn’t beat Rath or lock her up.  Two months later she escaped and went home to Cambodia.  With the help of a social worker and an aid agency loan, Rath became a street pedaller and soon began to earn enough to keep her parents and sisters.  In 2008, she upgraded her cart to a stall and her business expanded.  Now she is married, has a son and a thriving business and is a cheerful, outgoing girl determined to make her way in the world.

While there is no denying that this is a story of injustice and suffering and corruption it is equally a story of resilience, perseverance and hope.

But the story of Rath is not just a story of seediness and the sex industry, it is – as Kristoff and Wudunn point out – the story of modern slavery.

If this slavery is to become a thing of the past, like other forms of slavery, we all need to become abolitionists.

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