Month: January 2015

Davos, can you hear them?

I once had a conversation with a thirteen year old girl in Amhara, Ethiopia. Two nights prior, her best friend was forced to wed an adult man she had never met. “She screamed and hung onto the doorway of her house,” she told me as she recalled what had happened to her best friend since first grade. “But her uncles pulled her away and forced her to stand at the altar.” As I listened, I asked the inevitable question of why. “They couldn’t feed her. She said she would rather starve than be married, but her parents couldn’t handle that. So they forced her to marry.” As the world’s financial leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland this week for the annual World Economic Forum, I can’t help but wonder if those meeting in that famous ski resort town can hear the plight of married girls and those whose childhood is about to meet that adult fate. Tradition is often cited as a cause of early marriage, and it often is. But the economics of child marriage perpetuate the …

Give & Take: Working with Local Nurses to Make Birth Safer in Laos

Written by Kristyn Zalota, Founder, CleanBirth.org In my first Girls’ Globe post, I wrote of Laos’ high rates of infant and maternal mortality. While progress is being made, Laos is expected to fall short of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.  In 2014, Laos ranked 129th of 178 on Save the Children’s 2014 Mothers’ Index. Knowing these bleak statistics, I started CleanBirth.org because I believe that no mom or baby should die from preventable causes.  In 2 years, we’ve provided 4,000 AYZH Clean Birth Kits containing hygienic birthing supplies that prevent infection to our local nurses in Southern Laos.  In partnership with the Yale School of Nursing, we have trained 110 nurses and staff in the use and distribution of the kits and the WHO’s Essentials of Newborn Care. While the kits are important, education and training have made the difference between kits being used correctly or not. We’ve made it clear to the nurses that the trainings are a two way street. We teach them. They teach us.  Open exchanges about the realities of birth in remote villages have led to innovative …

Promote the Girl Child: Child Marriage in Manafwa

Last week, apprehensive children across Uganda received the results of a set of exams pivotal to their progress through the education system – the Primary Leaving Exams.  However, despite being globally recognised as having been robbed of the most basic human rights, one group of children did not sit their exams this year.  They are the hundreds of thousands of child-brides living in Uganda today. In a 2013 article on the issue of child-marriage, New Vision reported that almost 2 million Ugandan minors have been forced or lured into marriage – resulting in 46% of girls under 18 being married nationwide.  This statistic is staggering for a country with a constitution and other legislation clearly spelling out the age of consent.  Why, then, do the girls of Uganda grow up facing an almost 1 in 2 chance that their wedding day will fall before their 18th birthday? An almost 1 in 2 chance that it will be one of the most important and simultaneously one of the most devastating days of their lives? In primary …

State of the Union Address: No real progress without equality for women & girls

Last night, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address – and the women of this country should be pleased. Actually, strike that – ALL the people in this country, women and men, should be pleased. A notable portion of the President’s address was directly focused on women’s issues, and most of it focused on issues relating to equality. Obama addressed topics such as paid maternity leave, universal child care, equal pay for men and women (which apparently isn’t that high on the Republican priority list), and even touched on the issue of women’s right to abortion and access to reproductive health care. While there is always room for improvement, Obama’s State of the Union brought considerable attention to women’s issues – possibly also paving the way for democrats to win the women’s vote in next year’s elections. In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we …

Marching for Change in Rural Lesotho

In late November, two groups of highly stigmatized and often voiceless members of Basotho society marched for change. On Nov. 26, a group of over 100 shepherds took to the streets of Butha Buthe, a rural district in Lesotho, to speak out about gender based violence. The shepherds or herd boys as they are more commonly known, were part of Help Lesotho’s Herd Boy Program, a six-month training which empowers the young men with the knowledge and coping strategies for positive behavioral and social change, including gender equity awareness and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The advocacy march aimed to raise awareness about violence against women and girls. Gender based violence is a growing issue in Lesotho, but the exact number of cases is unknown because victims are often fearful of coming forward. Domestic violence is a commonly accepted practice. The herd boys held signs high in the air, which read: “Stop woman and child abuse” and “Women have the right to say no to sex”. One young man kept stopping to educate passersby about the …

‘The Bachelor’ Group Date that Nobody is Talking About

Okay, I have to confession to make. I watch The Bachelor and I admittedly *guiltily* enjoy it. With my glass (bottle?) of wine beside me, I go into these episodes with an understanding that what I am about to witness will be completely sexist and will inevitably stereotype its female cast members as backstabbers, crazy, drunkards, airheads, damsels in distress, and/or the I’m-here-for-the-right-reasons-and-am-innocently-looking-for-my-one-true-love girl. (Why else would anyone ever want to be cast on a high ranking national television show? Certainly not for the five minutes of fame.) However, a portion of last Monday’s episode was a little harder to stomach than usual. Chris Soules, dubbed the handsome and perfect bachelor (a.k.a. Prince Farming…because he lives on a farm, get it?), invited a group of six girls on the season’s first group date with a date card that read, “Show me your country.” The date aimed to show Chris the girls’ so-called ‘country side.’ So how did The Bachelor’s producers tackle this difficult task? Why, by making the contestants strip down to their bikinis, walk around downtown Los Angeles, and ride tractors through the streets, of …

Light for refugee women

Today in Sudan, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea, people struggle under civil war and dictatorship. In these countries, many people are killed and forced to flee their homes. Many travel across the Mediterranean with hopes of reaching Europe.  Still others attempt to cross the Sinai desert, a region located between Israel and Egypt, with hopes of finding refuge in Israel. Unfortunately, many do not arrive safely. In the Sinai desert, women, men and children often fall victim to human trafficking and are forced to live in camps as sex slaves where they are repeatedly brutalized. Women who escape to Israel are often pregnant and completely lack access to medical care. Criminal gangs enslave and torture refugees and force their families to pay expensive ransoms to keep them alive. Life for refugees is difficult and, to make matters worse, government support is limited. The lack of a political agenda to uphold rights for refugees contributes to the violence and leaves many homeless – and women are the most vulnerable. In the midst of darkness, there is hope. Many grassroots initiatives and civil society work to empower women. Without the dedicated help …

Access to Justice: A Change is Going to Come

Written by Catriona Cahill, Development Officer, Theatre for a Change In 2012, the United Nations Population Fund revealed that around 34% of the 52,000 female sex workers living in Ghana have had an unprotected sexual encounter with the police against their will. Just over one-third of all women in Ghana have experienced physical violence; the majority of women report that it is most often a sexual partner committing the crime. With sexual violence already prevalent throughout society, just imagine how it is intensified within the industry of sex work where women feel they must necessarily subordinate themselves to their clients. Yet, with only 9% of female sex workers in Ghana reporting a non-discriminatory standard of treatment from the police, it is no wonder that only half of them would consider seeking justice after suffering any form of abuse. Statistics such as this make a strong case for advocating for the rights of these women: the right to report abuse, the right to access justice and the right to live a life free from fear. The current …

The “New” Lesotho

Written by Help Lesotho Intern, Stephanie Vizi There are two Lesothos; one old and one new. Traveling to rural Lesotho is like going back in time. Horses and donkeys outnumber the cars for means of transportation, few modern technologies exist with the exception of cell phones, which are relied on for their cheap and mobile use, and many people live in modest homes or traditional rondavel huts without electricity or running water. A trip to the capital city of Maseru is a stark contrast. There you can peruse shiny shopping malls, visit government buildings or the King’s Palace, and play tennis at the club. Help Lesotho founder and executive director, Peg Herbert’s new book, A Girl in Lesotho, follows the true story of Nthati (En-tha-ty), a 12-year-old girl living in the former. Nthati and her twin sister, Tisi (Tee-see) take us through their daily routine in the mountainous district of Thaba Tseka, “Because we are girls, Tisi and I help with chores in the morning. When we come home from school we must fetch the water, …

Be Brave: Lesotho’s youth standing up against gender based violence

Despite the end of the international campaign for 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, a group of youth in Lesotho have responded to live out this call to action 365 days of the year. Each December, beneficiaries of Help Lesotho’s Child Sponsorship Program pack their bags and head to Help Lesotho headquarters in a town called Hlotse, for a five-day overnight leadership camp.  Child Sponsorship supports children in rural communities who have no other source of funds to pay their prohibitive high school fees; it is the only option for continuing school for many children. The majority of sponsored children are girls due to their increased vulnerability to poverty and HIV/AIDS. The theme of the Leadership Camp 2014 was Be Brave: Stand up, speak out against gender based violence. The camp coincided with the United Nations’ international campaign, 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, which runs from Nov. 25-Dec.10 each year. For most children, attending camp is the highlight of their year. They spend their days making crafts, playing sports and learning …