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

The Tale of the Iron Fish


Anemia is a serious problem throughout the developing world and it has serious consequences for the health of women and children in particular.   After he graduated from the University of Guelph, in Canada, and while awaiting the start of his post-graduate studies, Chris Charles took a summer job in Cambodia.

Much of his work concentrated on was trying to persuade villagers to increase the amount of iron in their diet. Charles and his team tried to persuade the village women to cook in iron pots or put chunks of iron into their pots while cooking as the iron transferred into the food can help combat anaemia.  But the women refused – the pots were too heavy and the chunks of iron were – well, probably just too ugly.

Undaunted, Chris Charles and his team kept working on the problem. They tried all sorts of iron shapes to no avail until they hit on the idea of making a shape that looked like a local fish that was considered lucky.  This time it worked.  The women liked the 3-4 inch lucky fish and began to cook with it in their pots.

As it happens, the iron fish really was lucky, at least insofar as it brought health and well being to the villagers.  Within a short time the use of the iron fish helped anaemia levels to plummet.

This is an example not only of innovation but also learning to – figuratively – speak the language of the people with whom they were working.  When the development workers offered the iron fish in a way that could be understood by the locals, they heard what was being said and participated in the process of helping themselves.

Deceptively simple.

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Photograph – University of Guelph grad student Chris Charles with the iron fish that  women in Cambodian villages now put in their cooking pots to help raise the levels of iron in their bodies.

Making a New Reality


We sometimes mistake the way things are for the way they have to be.  Even when our institutions and structures fail to meet our needs we often continue with outmoded structures and practices.  But occasionally people with vision are able to see clearly enough to change reality.

In the 1970s, a group of academics and professionals in Columbia looked outside their ivory tower and saw that the people around them needed help.  Gustavo Correa, a former mathematics professor, describes it thus –

“The economic indicators were saying that things were getting better, but you could see that the conditions of the poor people were not improving.” (1)

Although urban areas were prospering, the rural people were being pressurized into selling their land to the huge sugar and coffee companies.  Selling the land did give them an initial injection of cash but destroyed their futures as they were transformed from self-sufficient farmers to vulnerable contract labourers.

In an effort to deal with this situation they set up FUNDAEC – an acronym for Fundación par la Applicacion y Ensenanza de las Ciencias, (the Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences).

The founders of FUNDAEC wanted a new type of development.  Rather than trying to superimpose a model of development they let the needs of the people dictate the provision of services.  The primary need identified was knowledge.

“…they need access to scientific knowledge so as to be able to produce new knowledge that is applicable to their own situation, knowledge that works within cultural and technological restrictions that exist at the starting point of development.”(2)

So they started a rural university.  This university would not only work on generating and applying the knowledge the rural Columbians needed, it would also involve them in the gathering and production of this knowledge.

“The idea of a rural university is not so much a physical place as a space of learning, a social place, where people can get together and produce and then distribute the kinds of knowledge needed for rural life.” (3)

One of the outcomes of the establishment of this rural university was the development of the “Sistema de Aprendizaje Tutorial” (SAT).  This programme is a formal but flexible system of secondary education. SAT – now recognised and certified by the governments of Columbia, Honduras and Guatemala – which makes it possible for any individual – even those who live in the most remote rural areas – to have access to a full secondary education.

“If people don’t have access to knowledge, and in today’s world that means scientific knowledge in particular, then you can have all of the ‘participatory’ meetings you want but you won’t really have participation. Because the people won’t really understand.” (4)

This is a great example of a group of people who made the institutions fit the needs of the people rather than insisting that the people fit the needs of the institutions.

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(1) Gustave Correa – Fundaec: Not a typical development foundation – http://www.onecountry.org/oc74/oc7413as.html

Really Human


Dr. Sunitha Krishnan has dedicated her life to rescuing women and children from sex slavery.  She and her organisation – Prajwala – have rescued and helped to educate, train and reintegrate thousands of victims of this form of slavery.  She is an inspiring, forceful and committed individual and she has some very specific requests.

She asks that everybody moved by the horrific stories she tells, takes it upon themselves to tell two people of the plight of children and women who are sold as slaves in the sex industry. She asks that we each tell two people and try to convince them to help.

That’s a pragmatic idea.

Her other request is even more heartfelt and if we all took it to heart it would probably change everything in the lives of all children, everywhere.

She asks that everybody give these victims acceptance, support and love.

Not because we are kind or altruistic.

Not as philanthropy.

Not as charity.

It’s nothing to do with us.  We should give them our love and support because they deserve it – as human beings.

As Sunita herself puts it –

Because no child – no human being – deserves what these children have gone through.

Simple truths are the best arguments.

(Be aware – this video is worth watching but know that it is also graphic and disturbing)

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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In Consequence


It’s hard to see the big picture when your head is jammed with the problems of the moment.

But the big picture is always there even when our view of it is blocked.

The main reason to look at the ‘big picture’ is that it helps us to look at the end of things – the consequences of our actions.

Everything we do matters.

Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.

Norman Cousins

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L. E. side

Accession Number: 2007:0274:0069

Maker: James Jowers (American b. 1938)

Title: L. E. side

Date: 1967

Medium: gelatin silver print

Dimensions: Image: 15.9 x 24 cm Overall: 20.1 x 25.4 cm

Why You Need Education for Girls (even if you’re a boy)


If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation). (Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey)

Of the many millions of children who don’t go to school – the majority are girls. This has serious repercussions for everyone of us – not just little girls.

Not only are girls who go to school less likely to die in childbirth when they grow up, they have fewer – and healthier – babies. Their sons – as well as their daughters – are more likely to be educated and less likely to contract diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Outside of the home, these girls can find work more easily when they grow up, which not only contributes to the well-being of their family but also helps develop their economies.

So, if you want to live in a safer, healthier world with access to the potential of 100% of the population – educate the girls (as well as the boys).

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*Photograph – Unicef Photography – Somalia, 2007: Children attend a UNICEF-assisted school in Mogadishu.  http://www.unicef.org/photography/photo_2008.php#UNI46407

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