Month: October 2014

Credit: UNAIDS

Women and Girls at the Center of Policy Change

Teresia Otieno, from Kenya, was 26 years old when she was forcibly sterilized. Health workers decided for her that because she was living with HIV, her right to freely decide the number and spacing of her children did not matter.  Therefore it should be taken away – permanently. Today, Teresia is an unstoppable activist for the rights of women living with HIV, insisting that policy makers respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights and dignity of women living with HIV, especially when it comes to reproductive decision making. For more than a decade, Justine Masika Bihamba has been fighting for the rights of women and girls raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because of her tireless efforts to seek justice for survivors of rape, her own family came under attack in 2007 and to this day she faces death threats. She is the founder and executive director of Women’s Synergy for the Victims of Sexual Violence (SFVS), a Congo-based coalition that advocates for women’s rights and fights the use of rape as a weapon …

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Why you should care about GamerGate

And what it means for global violence against girls and women. Last week, actress and gamer Felicia Day posted an entry on her blog – “Crossing the Street” –to share her concerns that an online gaming campaign has made her fearful to engage with a culture she truly enjoys. Knowing full well that her words could (and now have) result in an outpour of angry, abusive, and downright vicious attacks, Day’s post has caught attention from the media struggling to understand the ugly phenomenon known as GamerGate – an online movement of gamers openly harassing female bloggers, developers, and critics with violent threats of rape and death. Yes, as women speak out against the violence, victimization, and inequality in video games, the response has been actual violence, harassment, and real threats to their safety. The objectification of women in entertainment is nothing new. One needn’t look very far to see over-sexualized, scantily clad women being dominated by men. Flip through the closest magazine or look at the nearest billboard. Within the gaming culture, women have expressed …

Photo Credit: Mark Tuschman

Challenging the Status Quo in Tanzania: Accessible Healthcare

Blog post by Erwin Telemans CEO, CCBRT For women in Tanzania, accessing quality, maternal healthcare services is difficult. Affording the journey to a hospital, and paying for treatment, is impossible for many women. Poverty contributes to an elevated risk of acquiring a disability or injury during labor. It’s a bleak picture. Women who do develop a disability face many more obstacles, including severe social stigma, which leaves women isolated and hopeless. Cultural conventions often render these women voiceless to make decisions for their health, or the health of their unborn child. For the past nine years, I have been the CEO of Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT), a Tanzanian NGO represented in the USA by Kupona Foundation, our 501(c)(3) non-profit. With the support of our donors and partners, CCBRT and Kupona work to actualize a vision of a Tanzania where people have access to quality disability services as well as safe maternal and newborn healthcare. I am honored to introduce our organizations to this dedicated network of advocates for the empowerment of women and …

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The difference between cotton and lace

A 12 year old Norwegian girl, Thea, started a blog. She wrote about horses, music and friends. She took selfies with stuffed animals. Her dream was to be a veterinarian. Thea also posted a picture of herself with her 37 year old fiancé, Geir. He towers over the middle-schooler who, despite make-up, cannot be disguised as an adult. In the picture she wears flowers in her hair. Thea is navigating this slippery bridge between daughter and wife. She posted pictures of a woman in lingerie next to one of herself in pastel pink and blue pajamas. Looking ready for a sleepover, her face reveals confusion over the difference between cotton and lace, between girl and woman. But Thea isn’t real. Plan Norway created her to advocate on behalf of child brides. The campaign worked: outraged Norwegians called the police. Millions engaged on Facebook and hundreds gathered in and around the church in protest during the wedding. Plan Norway released a video of the ceremony, which shows a shy Thea shaking her head to refuse the …

Efua Dorkenoo at TEDxUCLWomen, 6th December 2013. Photo: Upi Sandhu

Efua Dorkenoo: The Woman Who Never Stopped

I remember the first time I heard about the legendary Efua Dorkenoo. It was 2007 and I was 9 years old, sitting in my back garden in Lagos, Nigeria, clutching my copy of her book “Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation, The Practice and its Prevention”. I was completely inspired by this brave woman who had chosen to write so poignantly about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). At 9, I ran into the house and went into my bedroom, scrambling around for my black notebook. In my rather poor handwriting, I wrote one word ‘Mama’ and added her to the list of women who inspired me. And for years to come, I would continue to admire and be inspired by this woman who was incredibly beautiful – inside and out. Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, known affectionately to many, as ‘Mama Efua’ was a shining light in the movement to end FGM, dedicating her life to the eradication of the practice. Often referred to as the mother of the end FGM campaign, she fought for …

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The Necessity of a Gendered Approach to HIV/AIDS

Written By: Marie-Claire Klassen  Malilapa Mate says that if you had seen her five months ago, she wouldn’t be the vivacious, smiling young mother she is today. When the twenty-one year old became pregnant two years ago, there was a problem—she had no husband. Without the security of marriage she faced discrimination and harassment in her community. “Before I came to Help Lesotho I was hiding. I was afraid to go into town because I worried I might see one of my former schoolmates and face their judgment.” – Malilapa Mate Help Lesotho, an organization working in the tiny ‘Mountain Kingdom’ of Lesotho, started a Young Mothers Program to empower women like Malilapa with the life skills they need to keep their babies AIDS free and promote a culture in which HIV/AIDS is no longer stigmatized. The impetus for this initiative stems from the brutal effects HIV/AIDS has had on the Basotho nation.  Lesotho currently has the third highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world. While the overall percentage of HIV positive individuals has dropped …

Image c/o Irise International

Malawi: Putting the Men into MENstruation

Written by Niki Fitzgerald Before the Irise menstrual hygiene (MH) education team left for Malawi, we underwent some training with Theatre for a Change (TfaC) on their innovative and highly interactive teaching methodology. As part of this preparation process our facilitator measured our confidence in talking about menstruation on an imaginary ladder. As I boldly began climbing to the top rung I hit a snag that held me up a few bars short. He asked, “How confident do you feel talking to men? How confident do you feel talking to your dad about your menstruation, for example?” I had to concede that, even as co-coordinator of Irise’s MH Education Programme based in Uganda, I had reservations discussing the topic openly and confidently with men. I had even spent some time skirting around the details before I could finally tell my boss exactly what project I was leaving work for. As I paused on my rung of the ladder I felt a sinking feeling, realising this lack of confidence was a form of hypocrisy. I made …

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A Superhero for Every Child

Save the Children and BAFTA award-winning film makers Don’t Panic unveiled a powerful short film to help raise global awareness of the millions of children struggling to survive in some of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities on the planet. A staggering 17,000 children under-five are still dying every day from easily preventable causes such as malaria and diarrhea, suffering from poor or non-existent access to medicines and skilled health workers, in regions and countries where extreme poverty is widespread. The film ‘Superheroes’ follows a group of journalists investigating multiple sightings of ‘flying figures’ – real life health workers that many children regard as superheroes. The film crew have heard the stories of these mythical figures and are on their trail, determined to be the first to capture evidence of these anonymous protagonists on camera. Travelling across the globe, from Mexico to Kenya to India, the crew document the moving stories of young boys and girls who claim to have been saved by these elusive heroes.These are real children – not actors – but children …

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Looking Out for Little Sisters

I didn’t know the right age for school. When I was a little girl, all my friends were in school but I was not. So I used to ask my father, ‘when can I go to school?’ He always replied, ‘next year.’ I used to dream wearing school uniforms, carrying books in book bag and walking to school. But the ‘next year’ never came to me. One day I asked my seriously sick mother the same question that I used to ask my father. She replied, ‘We can hardly afford food and clothes for you, how can we meet the school expenses?’ Her answer made me realize our situation. These are the words of Bidhya*, a young girl from Nepal. The Issue By many accounts, Nepal is the poorest country in Asia. Gender disparity, especially in education, is a critical issue. UNDP estimates that 66% of Nepalese men can read and write, while only 43% of females can. Young girls who are not in school are particularly susceptible to the injustices of child trafficking for …

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Girls Are Everyday Heroes

Originally published on The Huffington Post. When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a super hero. In my imagination, I would fly to remote places and use my strength to help other people. One of my favorite “super powers” was being invisible, while the second was the ability to speak any language. On my “adventures” I would galavant to Southeast Asia across Africa and through the United States using these super powers to create change. In my youthful opinion, the world was waiting for me to help solve issues such as hunger, inequality and brokenness. I fought valiantly to encourage peace in conflict and promote equality among diverse people groups. As a young woman, my imaginative adventures are now a reality. I have had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia, India, Uganda, Indonesia, Malawi, Ethiopia and other far away places around the world. Throughout my travels, I have met incredible people that have changed my life. I have sat with real, some would say, unlikely heroes. These heroes work every day to …