One of The Most Widespread of All Human Rights Abuses…


In 2008 a ten year old girl in Yemen, Nujood Ali, succeeded in obtaining a divorce from the husband who beat and raped her.  She has been allowed to divorce but has to pay more than $200 in compensation to her husband.

In 2009 a twelve year old girl, Fawziya Ammodi – also in Yemen – died after three days of excruciatingly painful childbirth.

Her baby also died.

Obviously legal protection is needed to shield girls like these against being traded and married and abused.  But the real key to the end of this suffering is education.

We need to become creative about how we might deliver education to the child brides that survive their awful experiences and then, at least, there will be a hope that their daughters will be spared the same fate.

If you are interested in this horrendous abuse of little girls then you may also be interested in  a study called – The Worst Places to Be a Woman – Mapping the places where the war on women is still being fought.  This study is by Valerie M. Hudson who is professor and George H.W. Bush chair in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.  It makes interesting reading –
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http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/08/26/yemen.divorce/index.html

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-09-14/health/yemen.childbirth.death_1_minimum-marriage-age-child-marriages-child-brides?_s=PM:HEALTH

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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Miss Guided


Recently I’ve been thinking – and talking – a lot about how women are portrayed in the media.  I’ve also been thinking about how women are seen in society – and in, particular, how they see themselves.

Yesterday I watched the aptly titled, MissRepresentation, a documentary that explores the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America in particular, and the role the media plays in this. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching.

There is no denying that women used to be seen as possessions for the convenience and entertainment of men.

There is no denying that that is possibly even more the case than ever.

Women are increasingly packaged as sex objects and everything is now sold to everybody, using women’s bodies.

I am not suggesting that women are to blame for this phenomenon.  I don’t think it’s caused by hormones or cattiness or any of the other rubbish accusations designed to disempower women.

But I am suggesting that women stop supporting it.

Stop believing the illusion that tells you that being thinner, younger-looking, compliant and presented like a sex-object will make you happier.  It won’t.  It can’t.  And when you aren’t happier even though you are complying it isn’t your fault – you’ve been sold a big, fat lie.  Even if you have to wrestle with yourself until you retrain your psyche – do it – that might actually make you happy.

Don’t buy the handbags or the magazines or perfume or clothes that are advertised by women portrayed as objects of sexual fantasies or with distorted, unnatural body-images.

Don’t watch the films or TV shows that reinforce the stereotypes.

Do watch the films and TV shows that don’t.  One of the interviewees in the movie (a man) makes the point that in the cinema of the 1940s and ’50s, women could get to play real people in movies – bitches, saints, moms, murderers, adventurers – not so nowadays, shockingly.

Stop believing that you have to be like a man – or be liked by a man – in order to make a success of your life.  Let’s face it, men are not any happier than women and have, largely, made a very unfriendly, unhelpful, unsafe and unsatisfying world for themselves as well as women.

Don’t get me wrong – men need to get on board with this boycott as well.

But women – come on – let’s stop waiting for the men to come along – maybe they’re not the early adopters they think they are?

How about we just stop supporting the system and stop accepting the stereotypes and stop conforming to the ‘way things are’ and try to create a new way for things to be – a way that is good for everyone, not just women (let’s not make the same mistakes as men).

Worst case scenario, if it all blows up in our pretty little botoxed faces we can always go back to what we have now…

Gender Neutrality


In 1993, the constitution of India was amended to stipulate that one third of positions as village chief were to be reserved for women. These positions were randomly allocated. The results were not always as positive as one might hope – often even the women complained about the female leaders.  However, there was one very significant outcome – follow-up research suggests that once a village has had one female leader the bias against female chiefs disappears and their candidacy and actions are judged by gender neutral standards. (1)

The same would seem to be true in Ireland – having had two consecutive female presidents – both of whom did a marvellous job – the electorate has moved into a very gender neutral place and we now have a male president. The expectation is that he will bring to the job many of the same characteristics of care, community development, human rights protection etc., that Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made the trademark of their presidencies.  Michael D. Higgins was elected because he is who he is – nothing to do with his gender – and this is due at least in part to us being used to female presidents in Ireland.

If gender neutrality is achieved in political and public life by simply adding women (properly) to the mix – what other emergent advantages might equality – gender and racial and social – bring to all our societies?

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Photograph – 11th November 2011 – Inauguration of President Michael D Higgins at Dublin Castle. (The former Presidents Robinson and McAleese, are dressed in red)

(1) Nick Kristoff and Sheryl Woo Dunn, Half the Sky pp 217-18

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

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

Let’s Dance


And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  – Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s easy to believe in war and injustice

in greed and corruption

in hatred and prejudice and violence.

It’s harder to believe in equity and justice and unity and peace.

But once upon a time…

Slavery was the norm – nobody thought it unreasonable that one human being own another.

Everybody believed women were inferior to men.

White people were genuinely thought to be superior to everyone else.

Appendicitis was usually a death sentence…

The thought of human beings flying was ludicrous and nobody had ever dreamed people all over the world could communicate almost instantaneously…

All change happens because at the very, very start someone believes it is possible.

We see what we believe so if we believe something is possible then we will search and search until we find the way to make it a reality – for better or worse.

So – while peace, love, understanding, equity, and justice might not be that easy to envisage, the first step in attaining any of those things is to believe they are attainable.  Strain your ears until you hear the music and then – dance…

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The Most Natural Thing In the World?


As the daughter of a nurse I had some vague idea of what a fistula might be (my mother always liked to tell us the ‘real’ name for everything.)  A fistula is a hole – usually a tear – between organs.  To be honest, I can’t say that I was all that aware of obstetric fistulas.

An obstetric fistula is a tear that develops between the rectum and/or bladder and vagina as a result of prolonged or severe childbirth.  The physical result of this tear is that woman – many of them teenagers too young to be physically capable of giving birth without medical intervention – leak urine and feces all the time.  The social result of this is that they are usually divorced and ostracised. Because they smell bad, they are forced to live in huts at the edge of their villages where they starve or die of infection.

“The woman with a fistula is the modern day leper,” as a healthcare worker describes the situation.(1)

Obstetric fistulas were not unknown in Europe and America – for example, the present day site of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, was once the site of the Women’s Hospital of New York, which specialised in fistula repair until it closed in 1928. (2)

Since the early twentieth century in the Western world, the condition of obstetric fistula has been relegated to obscurity by the availability of medical intervention in childbirth. Obscure enough that this nurse’s daughter was never warned about them by her mother.

This is not the case for thousands of other women around the world (regardless of who their mothers may be).  They know exactly what an obstetric fistula is and all about the devastation it wreaks on a life.

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(1) Half the Sky, Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, p. 109

(2) http://www.hipmama.com/node/25230

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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Girl Power


Camfed – Campaign for Female Education – has discovered that poverty is the main obstacle to the education of girls.

Research shows that the consequences of not educating girls are not only felt by the individual girls but by the entire society.

If you educate a girl she’ll:

  • Earn up to 25 percent more and reinvest 90 percent in her family.
  • Be three times less likely to become HIV-positive.
  • Have fewer, healthier children who are 40 percent more likely to live past the age of five.

So it appears that if you educate girls then you not improve the quality of their lives but, it seems, you also improve the quality of everybody’s life.

Investing in girls and women is likely to prevent inter-generational cycles of poverty and yield high economic and societal returns – Ban K-Moon, United Nations Secretary General.

If we want a functional, happy, healthy world we need to find ways to unleash more girl power it seems…

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