Category Archives: Africa

Girl Rising Documentary

Girl Rising is a global movement to help empower girls through education. In supporting their cause they created a documentary that aims to change the way girls in the world have been stigmatized.

Girl Rising journeys around the globe to witness the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. Viewers get to know nine unforgettable girls living in the developing world: ordinary girls who confront tremendous challenges and overcome nearly impossible odds to pursue their dreams. Prize-winning authors put the girls’ remarkable stories into words, and renowned actors give them voice. The power of story-telling really engages an audience that might be blind to the types of issues girls around the world face. You can view the documentary here, and you can also arrange to have a screening with friends. These stories are ones that need to be shared in order to have productive conversations about what action can be done to effectively empower the next generation of women.

The Girls of A-LIFE: Combating the Spread of Ebola and Empowering Females in Liberia

1625577_539515829483583_5777314568863772354_nIn West Africa, the spread of Ebola has reached epidemic proportions and scientists, doctors and governments are scrambling to try and reduce the spread of this deadly disease. However, many communities have not been educated about what they as citizens can do to help combat the disease, until now. In the West Point slum of Monrovia, Liberia, a girls group is knocking on doors and singing songs to alert residents about Ebola and how to prevent the spread of the disease. This simple act is empowering for these girls and could be life-saving for their community and country.

West Point, Liberia is one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the capital of Monrovia. Violence is rampant and lack of proper sanitation leaves the community at risk of contracting and spreading Ebola. Moreover, violence against women has put many girls and women in fear of going out in public, let alone becoming public figures. The girls of A-LIFE are combating that fear and stepping out to help educate their communities. A-LIFE stands for, Adolescents Leading an Intense Fight Against Ebola, and it was started in by UNICEF in 2012, initially to help teach girls about how to protect themselves against sexual violence. However, since Ebola is now a top concern within the country, the girls started learning about the disease and what they could do to protect themselves. Liberia has some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world. Empowering girls with educational tools is not only beneficial for their community, it could also help change the way girls are perceived in the country. There is poor sanitation within West Point and people are not accustomed to properly cleaning themselves. So, the girls of A-LIFE are going door to door, singing songs and alerting people to the spread of Ebola and providing information about how be more sanitary.  These girls are using their voice to connect with these citizens and make sure they know about the disease and what they can do to prevent it.

2024355403Recently, the World Health Organization reported that of the 10,141 cases and 4,922 deaths from Ebola so far, more than half are in Liberia. Initially, the government of Liberia was criticized for not handling the outbreak of Ebola within the country very well. There was a looting spree in one of the quarantine centers in Monrovia, and people stole blankets, mattresses and other things that could have been infected with the disease. The looters were reported screaming, there’s no ebola, after they ransacked the center, which caused many unaccounted people to flee while possibility contracting and spreading the disease. This threat of spreading Ebola made officials impulsive to do something quickly. The government responded with a military quarantine of West Point and had guards prevent anyone from leaving or entering. This resulted in violence and many argued that Liberia’s enforced quarantine was not helping reduce the spread of the disease. Only 10-days after the quarantine was initiated, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf lifted the quarantine in response to the clashes between the military and residents, and although people are allowed to move freely within West Point, there is still an enforced curfew from 9pm to 6am.

The distrust Liberians have in the government is what makes the girls of A-LIFE so powerful. They are members of the community, coming out and talking to their neighbors about the dangers of the disease. They are not armed and they use songs and posters to communicate with as many people as they can. They are using information in creative ways to bring public awareness about Ebola and showing skeptics in the community that Ebola is real.

“I feel good educating people about Ebola and helping them see how they can prevent themselves from getting it,” said Jessica Neufville, a 16-year old member of A-LIFE.

(A-LIFE) girls learn how to record survey data on their mobile phones as part of U-Report (UNICEF photo).

(A-LIFE) girls learn how to record survey data on their mobile phones as part of U-Report (UNICEF photo).

The girls have visited over 4,000 homes and they are seeing a change in the behavior in West Point due to their outreach. The government was not able to educate the people of West Point about the disease, so the girls used their voices to help their community understand what they could do to help themselves. It has been reported, that more people now have buckets outside of their homes to wash their hands. Although there is still much work to be done to eradicate Ebola, this grass-roots response from girls is inspiring and strengthens their image as leaders. Hopefully, this educational campaign will help change the way women are perceived within Liberia and help give these girls confidence to continue their work and become even more influential in their community and beyond.

For more information about the A-LIFE girls group in Liberia, you can go to the UNICEF facebook page to stay updated.

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Effort to Empower Mothers and Girls in Ghana

MDG5

The Fifth among the Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The government of Ghana joined an Advocacy Campaign on Girls’ Education and Maternal Health in Accra, which is the capital and largest city of Ghana. The campaign is part of a United Nations (UN) project aimed at raising the awareness of mothers’ mortality rate during pregnancy and delivery as well as girls’ access to education.

In the first part of the campaign, improving maternal health is one maternal health in Ghanaof the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are eight goals for international development. According to Girmay Haile, who is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Country Director, about 3,100 Ghanaian mothers (380 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) died during pregnancy and childbirth in 2013 due to postpartum haemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, and abortion sepsis (Graphic Online). Although the maternal mortality ratio in Ghana is decreasing annually, it remains a major issue because aforementioned causes of maternal death are preventable. Under the slogan of “No Woman Should Die Giving Life”, the government and organization officials have a plan to train maternal health service providers to facilitate skilled and safer delivery of babies. However, going beyond the role of conveying knowledge, the government, local communities, and external agencies have to consistently improve the healthcare system and expand benefits of medical treatments.

girls education in GhanaDuring the second part of the campaign, girls’ education is also included in the MDGs in that their education can promote gender equality. Rushnan Murtaza, who is the Deputy Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), focused on enhancement of the transition from primary to secondary education as well as on the increase of access to education (AllAfrica). Under the slogan of “Empowering Girls for a Stronger Ghana,” the government introduces girls to the stories of successful female athletes, organizes girls’ clubs that stress on the topic of teenage pregnancy, and provides girls with sanitary pads against social and physical barriers related to menstrual management. Through these activities, the implementors of the program are looking forward to inspiring girls to enroll and stay in school. The active participation of girls is important for their education. Nevertheless, it remains a challenge to continue girls’ education without the favorable atmosphere of society as a whole.

The Advocacy Campaign on Girls’ Education and Maternal Health seems to be a pivotal starting point for empowering women of Ghana. However, is the launch of the campaign sufficient enough to counter the ingrained factors that lead to maternal mortality and unsustainable girls’ education? In the initial stage of the project, the contributors and assistants should provide a more specific action guides combined with feasible plans that are suitable within the local context and not focus on immediate results solely for the attainment of the goal. Furthermore, teachers, parents, men, and the whole community should exert effort to support and encourage women altogether.

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“Morality Laws” that Punish Women in Sudan

Amira Osman Hamed

Amira Osman Hamed

How do we deal with religious fundamentalism that becomes so deeply ingrained in the cultures of certain parts of the world and affect so negatively the lives of women? This is an issue I have always struggled with: up to what point can we justify or defend religion when it brings about so many negative consequences especially for women? The so-called “Morality Laws” in Sudan are examples of the serious and detrimental effects that laws based on religious moral codes have on women.  President al-Bashir has imposed a conservative Islamist ideology since he came to power in the late 80s and incorporated Sharia Law as part of Sudan’s legal system. Anyone who dares to question or challenge the law will be dutifully punished with anything ranging from flogging to the death penalty. Amira Osman Hamed, a civil engineer from Sudan, is campaigning passionately against such laws after being spared of a public flogging because of “indecent dressing” for failing to cover her hair. Ms. Osman is just one of the thousands of female victims who every year face countless punishments for disobeying the law. According to her, in 2012, 70% of the 43,000 cases sent to the public order courts involved women. Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act used to condemn Ms. Osman states the following:

‘(1) Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding forty lashes, or with a fine, or with both (2) The act shall be contrary to public morals if it is regarded as such according to the standard of the person’s religion or the custom of the country where the act takes place.’

It is left to the police and local authorities to decide what constitutes “indecent manner” and “public morals,” which in the case of Sudan clearly draws from Sharia Law.

As the international media reignites an interest in the issues of gender equality, it seems like an appropriate time to address the role of religious morality in education. Where does morality come from? I am hesitant to believe it positively draws from religion, especially when there are stark differences from expected moral behavior between men and women. During the past weeks we’ve been studying the role of colonialism as it pertains to development in class. Religion is one of the big “imports” that former colonies inherited. However, it is often difficult to disentangle religion from culture in places like Sudan where both Islam and Christianity were introduced long ago in the first millenium. External factors by virtue of time and history become internal factors capable of causing destruction, war, and genocide. Sudan’s history is one that particularly shows the complexities of foreign influence, religion, colonialism and internal tribal conflicts. The most pressing problem now is that of Islamic Fundamentalism. I believe that bringing light to this issue is a necessary step before we can continue to discuss gender inequality. We need to support women like Ms. Osman in their struggle to demand equal rights and challenge so-called “morality laws” that are nothing other than misogynist, chauvinistic and sexist.

References:

Amnesty.org.uk,. (2014). Amria Osman Hamed. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.amnesty.org.uk/amira-osman-hamed-sudan-woman-headscarf-flog#.VDHfaEu4klJ BBC News,. (2014). Sudan apostasy woman ‘to campaign’. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29399209

Equalrightstrust.org,. (2014). In Search of Confluence: Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Sudan. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.equalrightstrust.org/view-subdocument/index.htm?id=1010 Mutiga, M. (2014). Sudan’s ‘morality’ laws used to punish women, report finds. the Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/02/sudan-morality-laws-women-report

the Guardian,. (2014). Emma Watson’s UN gender equality campaign is an invitation to men, too. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/oct/03/emma-watsons-un-gender-equality-campaign-is-an-invitation-to-men-too