Monday, August 30, 2010

Poor Women Beset On All Sides By Violence

By Susan Anyangu-Amu


 "My daughter had repeatedly tried to describe to me what her step-father would do to her when I was not home," says Wanza*, a 28-year-old mother resident of Nairobi's Mathare slum. "On this particular night I pretended to be asleep and watched as he left our bed and went for my eight-year-old daughter."

Sexual violence is endemic in Nairobi's slums, says Michael Njuguna. He works in a gender-based violence clinic run by humanitarian group Médécins Sans Frontières in Mathare.

The majority of the victims are children and women; the perpetrators of violence almost invariably men, frequently well-known to their victims.

"In Kenyan slums, the way of life is weighing down on most of the men who are breadwinners in their families," says Alfred Makabira, national secretary of Men for Gender Equality Now.

"And when they realise they cannot live up to societal demands, they become frustrated and vent it on the next person which is often the women and children in their lives."

Boys from a young age learn to believe that violence is part of being manly, Makabira says; both genders are also socialised to believe that women are property of men.

Drug and alcohol abuse - especially of traditional brews - contribute further to the high levels of violence in the informal settlements.

The geography of the slums amplifies gender inequality. A July 2010 report by Amnesty International, "Insecurity and Indignity: Women's Experiences in the Slums of Nairobi", draws attention to how the lack of basic amenities such as toilets and bathrooms, exposes women and children to danger when they venture out to use communal facilities.

When night falls, the 100 or 300 metres to the nearest latrine are charged with danger.

"We had just finished having dinner and it was about 7.30 pm when my eight-year-old son left our one-roomed home to go and relieve himself. Within minutes, a neighbour knocked on my door and asked me to go and fetch my son who had been sodomised by another neighbour," Mathare resident, Irene* told IPS.

Fear of assault is one of the reasons residents resort to relieving themselves in plastic bags, which they then dispose of in the open - the infamous flying toilets of Nairobi. Many women recount the indignity of relieving themselves or bathing in a single room shared with other family members.

But the women also said that the greatest threat of violence came from within their own homes. Watching horrified from her bed, Wanza chose silence over reporting the crime of the father of her two other children.

"I lay there recoiling in disgust, hurt and betrayal and watched the man whom I call husband, rape my daughter. It was the most painful ordeal… but I was powerless because he is the sole bread-winner in the home."

In addition to often being economically dependent on the men who assault them, poor women in Nairobi say there is little or no police presence in the slums, and they do not believe rape survivors will get any justice from the legal system. And so many remain silent, for fear of reprisals by perpetrators.

Improved policing is among the principal recommendations by Amnesty International.

To help victims of crime seek justice, the report also recommends improving awareness through civic education on legal rights and provision of legal aid to support women seeking justice. The government is also urged to institute measures - including speedy attention - that will improve the confidence of the people in the justice system and policing so that it is easier to report crimes.

Observers acknowledge that economic independence for women is key to addressing gender-based violence, underlining the importance of reducing poverty through improved access to education, jobs, credit for women's businesses.

For MEGEN's Alfred Makabira, there is a need to change society’s attitude by transforming the understanding of gender roles.

"The central idea is to educate boys from the earliest age that violence against anyone is wrong, and that the traditional definition of what makes a ‘man’ in society is not the only alternative, and that even though they are physically different, girls are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men," Makabira says.

He says this can be achieved through both genders working on awareness creation and education which will change the mindset and promote values that encourage communication and equality between men and women.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. 



ipsnews

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Poor Women Beset On All Sides By Violence

By Susan Anyangu-Amu

"My daughter had repeatedly tried to describe to me what her step-father would do to her when I was not home," says Wanza*, a 28-year-old mother resident of Nairobi's Mathare slum. "On this particular night I pretended to be asleep and watched as he left our bed and went for my eight-year-old daughter."

Sexual violence is endemic in Nairobi's slums, says Michael Njuguna. He works in a gender-based violence clinic run by humanitarian group Médécins Sans Frontières in Mathare.

The majority of the victims are children and women; the perpetrators of violence almost invariably men, frequently well-known to their victims.

"In Kenyan slums, the way of life is weighing down on most of the men who are breadwinners in their families," says Alfred Makabira, national secretary of Men for Gender Equality Now.

"And when they realise they cannot live up to societal demands, they become frustrated and vent it on the next person which is often the women and children in their lives."

Boys from a young age learn to believe that violence is part of being manly, Makabira says; both genders are also socialised to believe that women are property of men.

Drug and alcohol abuse - especially of traditional brews - contribute further to the high levels of violence in the informal settlements.

The geography of the slums amplifies gender inequality. A July 2010 report by Amnesty International, "Insecurity and Indignity: Women's Experiences in the Slums of Nairobi", draws attention to how the lack of basic amenities such as toilets and bathrooms, exposes women and children to danger when they venture out to use communal facilities.

When night falls, the 100 or 300 metres to the nearest latrine are charged with danger.

"We had just finished having dinner and it was about 7.30 pm when my eight-year-old son left our one-roomed home to go and relieve himself. Within minutes, a neighbour knocked on my door and asked me to go and fetch my son who had been sodomised by another neighbour," Mathare resident, Irene* told IPS.

Fear of assault is one of the reasons residents resort to relieving themselves in plastic bags, which they then dispose of in the open - the infamous flying toilets of Nairobi. Many women recount the indignity of relieving themselves or bathing in a single room shared with other family members.

But the women also said that the greatest threat of violence came from within their own homes. Watching horrified from her bed, Wanza chose silence over reporting the crime of the father of her two other children.

"I lay there recoiling in disgust, hurt and betrayal and watched the man whom I call husband, rape my daughter. It was the most painful ordeal… but I was powerless because he is the sole bread-winner in the home."

In addition to often being economically dependent on the men who assault them, poor women in Nairobi say there is little or no police presence in the slums, and they do not believe rape survivors will get any justice from the legal system. And so many remain silent, for fear of reprisals by perpetrators.

Improved policing is among the principal recommendations by Amnesty International.

To help victims of crime seek justice, the report also recommends improving awareness through civic education on legal rights and provision of legal aid to support women seeking justice. The government is also urged to institute measures - including speedy attention - that will improve the confidence of the people in the justice system and policing so that it is easier to report crimes.

Observers acknowledge that economic independence for women is key to addressing gender-based violence, underlining the importance of reducing poverty through improved access to education, jobs, credit for women's businesses.

For MEGEN's Alfred Makabira, there is a need to change society’s attitude by transforming the understanding of gender roles.

"The central idea is to educate boys from the earliest age that violence against anyone is wrong, and that the traditional definition of what makes a ‘man’ in society is not the only alternative, and that even though they are physically different, girls are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as men," Makabira says.

He says this can be achieved through both genders working on awareness creation and education which will change the mindset and promote values that encourage communication and equality between men and women.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy. 



source:ipsnews

Monday, August 9, 2010

Controversial Drug Welcomed by Some, Worries Others


By Zofeen Ebrahim

 With its latest hotline a surefire hit, the non-government group Aware Girls could not be any happier.

"We received about 30 such calls in just under a month," says 24-year-old Gulalai Ismail, chairwoman and founder of the organisation. "And we have not even started advertising!"

But the news that the hotline is helping women use the drug misoprostol to induce abortion at home is worrying several reproductive health experts. Zulfikar Bhutta, paediatrics department head at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), even says that the venture may well "derail" the main use of the drug – to reduce the risk of post-partum haemorrhage – in Pakistan.

"I was not aware that this use (of misoprostol) is so brazenly being promoted in Pakistan, when even developed countries have balked at such use and advertisement," says Bhutta, who is also co-chair of Countdown to 2015, a global scientific and advocacy group tracking progress in maternal, newborn, and child health. "You can imagine that in the hands of untrained staff, this can be problematic as well."

Misoprostol, a World Health Organisation-approved drug, is also more commonly used in the prevention and treatment of gastric ulcers.

Medical experts, though, have acknowledged that the drug can induce miscarriage – something that has attracted organisations and women’s rights advocates who want to help lessen the risks women go through when they decide to terminate their pregnancies.

There are 30,000 pregnancy-related deaths annually in Pakistan. The latest Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2006-2007) says about 5.6 percent of these deaths are abortion-related, but experts say the figure could be as much as 15 percent.

A 2004 national study conducted by the Population Council also says that there are 900,000 unsafe abortions each year in Pakistan, with some 197,000 women brought to hospital with post-abortion complications.

With only 22 percent of married women using a modern method of family planning, the Population Council report points out that abortion is increasingly resorted to for ending unplanned births. In fact, the typical profile of a woman turning to abortion in Pakistan is that of a married woman with three children.

Laws covering abortion are ambiguous in this predominantly Muslim nation, where public hospitals shy away from performing it. Social norms hinder women from openly seeking to terminate their pregnancies. Abortions are thus often performed clandestinely in unhygienic conditions, resulting in high morbidity and mortality.

For many women’s rights advocates here, misoprostol comes close to being a lifesaver.

A press statement by Women on Waves, one of the international groups supporting the misoprostol hotline, asserts that using the drug "is far safer than the unsafe surgical or traditional methods that women will use when desperately trying to end an unwanted pregnancy and has the same health impact as a spontaneous miscarriage".

Ismail, meanwhile, says of the new hotline: "It promises complete confidentiality in a country where seeking abortion is a taboo. Most women do not have access to the Internet, and are not mobile and often do not access health centres. But everyone has a cell phone these days."

The hotline was launched on Jun. 25 under the project ‘Sahailee’, which is Urdu for ‘female friend’. Established by a coalition of organisations, among them Aware Girls, it is now running in Karachi, Peshawar, and Lahore.

Before the launch of ‘Sahailee’, hotline operators were trained for three weeks before they started handling calls, during which they give information about how to use misoprostol, as well as about its after-effects that include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, headache, chills and fever, and dizziness.

Hotline operators are also in reproductive-health issues and family planning, but do not usually refer clients to doctors or counsellors.

"It was emphasised that the (hotline) counselors could not impose their personal biases and moral values on the caller," says Ismail. "The final decision to abort or not to should remain with the woman caller."

Information about misoprostol, an over-the-counter drug that is relatively cheap costing about 10 rupees per tablet or 11 cents, is also not given right away. Says a Lahore- based hotline operator: "We have a set of questions that we ask the caller before we part with the information. (And we) always tell our callers that it is advisable to take the drug in the presence of a skilled birth attendant."

Samrina Hashmi, a former Pakistan Medical Association official, calls the hotline "a very good step", noting in its lack of face-to-face contact that lends utmost confidentiality.

Obstetrician-gynaecologist Nighat Shah says of the hotline: "I hope it reaches the women who seek help."

In the absence of mifeprisitone, an abortifacient, misoprostol is the next best option, she says, adding, "We save mothers, whatever, however."

But wariness toward the hotline persists. The president of the National Committee on Maternal and Neonatal Health, Prof Sadiqa Jafarey, says: "As a clinician, I would be very cautious of advising a woman without knowing her history or doing a physical check-up."

Midwifery Association of Pakistan President Imtiaz Kamal worries about the distribution of "miso like candy".

"These over-enthusiastic activists sometimes do more harm than good to a cause," says 86-year old Kamal, who says the drugs need to be administered under a trained healthcare provider’s supervision.

But a determined Ismail says, "We are there to save women’s lives. The law gives us permission. In fact, if the government provided safe abortion services to women in public hospitals, many women may be alive today." 

"Climate of Repression" as Voting Concludes


By Zack Baddorf

As voting concluded in Rwanda’s presidential elections, with incumbent President Paul Kagame expected to win by a landslide, fears remain that not all citizens will accept the results amidst claims the elections were neither free nor fair. 

Critics claim the Aug. 9 elections were not fair as in the run-up opposition candidates were arrested to allegedly prevent them from standing against Kagame. Al Jezeera quoted Amnesty International saying there was a "climate of repression" in the country and that 30 newspapers had been banned, journalists had been targeted and opposition party figures intimidated.

Female opposition leader Victoire Ingabire believes people will rise up against the president in protest against this political repression. Ingabire, the chairperson of the United Democratic Forces (a coalition of Rwandan opposition parties with members in Rwanda, Europe, the United States and Canada) said if Kagame refuses to cede power, "people will use all possibility to push him to accept it."

An estimated five million Rwanda’s voted in an almost incident-free election. But Ingabire believes Rwanda is going through a "crisis" and that the country is not in a mood of elections but in "a mood of war." "[Kagame] would like to stay in power but people need change and he does not accept to lose the power," she explained. "That is the problem and if there is no possibility to change the power peacefully, this means that the people, we won’t agree with him. You can use other ways to take the power."

Rwanda’s 1994 genocide left more than 800,000 dead and saw countless women raped. Kagame has ruled the country since then, first in the transitional government and again in 2003 when he was elected president in Rwanda’s first democratic elections.

In January, Ingabire returned from 16 years of exile in the Netherlands. She was arrested in April and charged with collaboration with armed groups, genocide denial and "divisionism" – charges she denies. She has since been released on bail on condition she does not leave Kigali. During an interview with IPS at her home, three armed soldiers patrolled just a few feet away. Ingabire said she is followed by security forces wherever she goes.

Ingabire, a Hutu, wanted to run for the presidency but was not able to get her party registered. She claims there is an environment of political repression in Rwanda. While millions of Rwandans headed to the polls for the presidential vote, the political head told IPS she would not vote. "We cannot have a free and fair election in Rwanda because there (is) no freedom," she said. "All is under repression."

Of the four presidential candidates, Alvera Mukabaramba from the Party of Progress and Concord, was the only female candidate. But Ingabire said Rwandans did not have a real choice at the polls, claiming the opposition candidates are "stooges" of the president.

The presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, Prosper Higiro, says "that’s ridiculous." Higiro told IPS that his party, which was created more than 19 years ago, is "independent" and "autonomous." At his party headquarters, he insisted his party has "no relationship" with the ruling party, yet his campaign manager refused to release details on where the party gets its funding.

Higiro described the political environment in Rwanda as "free." "It’s alright. There’s no problem for me," said the presidential hopeful. "There’s no problem. I don’t think the environment is tense." 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Developing More Top African Women Research Scientists


By Isaiah Esipisu

NAIROBI, Aug 2, 2010 (IPS) - In a tiny village near Kisumu city in Kenya, scientific researcher Mary Anyango Oyunga spends most of her time educating women about something they have always done – grow sweet potatoes.

But Oyunga’s message to the female farmers in Kisian village is new, even though it is based on her scientific research findings published in 2009 in the refereed African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development. The research, which revealed that Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP) were extremely rich in vitamin A, may have been in the scientific domain for a while but until recently the women in Kisian knew nothing about it.

For Oyunga this implementation of her research findings is just as important as conducting the research was: "Conducting a study is one important step. But making it real by using the findings as a tool to improve livelihoods of people on the ground is what makes it complete."

And how to go about doing this is one of the skills she acquired after winning a fellowship with the African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD)programme. The programme brings together African female agricultural research scientists based on intellectual merit from 20 different agricultural science disciplines.

"Scientists are on the cutting edge of solving Africa’s food crisis. But we need to urgently address the gender gap in our scientific community. We need more women pursuing careers in agricultural science. Because women are the face of African farming," said Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the vice-president of Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa.

Oyunga is just one of the 180 top ranking female agricultural research scientists who have been awarded fellowships under the AWARD programme, and who is already putting into practice what she learnt.

In Kisian it is considered a disgrace if a woman does not have some vines of sweet potatoes growing on her farm. The potatoes are highly treasured in this part of the world. They are grown all year round and supplement sometimes meagre diets. Oyunga, who works at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), is busy communicating her research findings to women smallholder farmers here. Particular types of sweet potatoes have an important nutritional value that is crucial especially to young children, she tells them.

These findings could save some of the 43 million children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa who are at risk of Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). According to the World Health Organisation, VAD is responsible for most cases of impaired blindness in children and significantly increases the risk of severe illness, and even death, from such common childhood infections as diarrhoeal disease and measles. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality.

Through the Sweet Potato Action for Security and Health in Africa programme, Oyunga has received funding to assist popularising the OFSP varieties in the region. In a pilot project in Western Kenya, all pregnant women attending clinics in public health centres are issued with a voucher that allows them to go to designated potato seed growers in the region and receive 120 vines of OFSP.

"If the method proves successful, then we will replicate it all over the sub-Saharan Africa region," said Oyunga. "When your study is implemented especially to serve the rural poor, you feel like you’ve created a bridge that people are using to cross from the world of poverty to economic development. It is extremely satisfying," Oyunga adds.

A report released in June 2010 by ActionAid International shows that small holder farmers, majority of whom are women, are responsible for 90 percent of food grown in Africa and produce about a half of the world’s food supply. Yet the women scientists are rarely involved in scientific agricultural research or leadership positions in that field.

Vickie Wilde, the director of the Gender and Diversity program at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and founder of AWARD agrees it is time for change. "Investing in Africa’s women is a smart investment ... Yet investing in Africa’s women scientists is the best bet," said Wilde.

AWARD was developed in 2008 to strengthen research and leadership skills of African women in agricultural science. It offers female researchers mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, though including West Africa, two-year fellowships focusing on mentoring partnerships.

By sitting with highly experienced mentors, fellows acquire various skills like writing competitively in scientific journals, developing competitive proposals to fund implementation of their research findings, and working with poor communities during implementation.

"The roadmap to ending poverty in Africa is based on empowering women, who play an important role in food production," said Dr Ephraim Mukisira, the director of KARI.

Aishatu Bashir Ardo, a Fulani Muslim from Northern Nigeria is another fellow who has broken traditional barriers by joining men to administer artificial insemination for cattle. She is the only woman in her region doing what has traditionally been stereotyped as a duty for men.

And it seems as if the situation for women across the continent is slowly changing. According to a 2008 survey conducted over eight years across sub-Saharan Africa by AWARD in partnership with Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators, the number of African women professionals employed in agricultural sciences grew by eight percent during the study period, while the number of African men grew by two percent per year.

Though the gap is narrowing, the research found that women still represent less than one quarter of Africa's scientists holding positions in agricultural research, and that less than 14 percent of leadership positions are held by a woman.

"Women have always played a central role not only in food production, but also ensuring that it is brought to the table. They therefore know what is good for society," said Mukisira explaining why the numbers of women in agricultural research needed to increase. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Women’s Votes, Hard to Pin Down but Crucial

By Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug  2010 (IPS) - Female voters in Brazil could ensure an easy victory this October for the ruling Workers Party candidate, Dilma Rousseff. But recent polls seem to indicate that it is women themselves who are most reluctant to elect the country’s first female president. 

Jacira Melo, executive director of the Patricia Galvão Institute, a Brazilian women’s rights organisation, told IPS that women voters "are waiting until they have more information" about the candidate and the policies she plans to pursue before they decide who to vote for.

Women tend to weigh their votes much more carefully and often do not come to a final decision until it is time to cast their ballots and they have learned everything they can about the candidates and their platforms, Melo stressed, downplaying the "premature" conclusions reached by some observers that "women don’t vote for women" or that they are more conservative than men.

These claims are based on the results of the latest polls, which show that Rousseff -- a former minister of mines and energy and former cabinet chief who enjoys strong backing from President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva -- has garnered growing support from decided voters, but lags behind her chief male opponent when it comes to women voters.

In a poll released on Jul. 24 by the Datafolha Institute, Rousseff, 62, and her main rival, José Serra, 68, are tied overall. But Serra has the support of 38 percent of the women surveyed, while only 30 percent said they plan to vote for Rousseff.

Rousseff is the candidate for the governing coalition led by the leftist Workers Party, in power since 2002, while Serra represents the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, which ruled Brazil for the eight previous years.

Rousseff, known popularly as "Lula’s candidate", had the support of only 23 percent of voters in December, but has climbed 13 percentage points in the polls since then. Nevertheless, among women voters her support has only increased by seven points, despite heavy campaign publicity and the backing of the president.

André Pereira, an analyst at the consulting firm CAC, said such results are a "mystery," since the social programmes promoted by Lula during his eight years in power are the main reason behind his extraordinary popularity, and most of those programmes have primarily benefited women, such as financial assistance for low-income families and the extension of maternity leave to six months.

But the support of the female electorate was also a challenge for Lula himself in 2002 and 2006, when he garnered a minority of women’s votes in the first round of voting. And his presidential approval rating, currently around 80 percent, is 10 percentage points lower than that among women.

The first round of voting takes place on Oct. 3, to be followed by a run-off vote between the top two presidential contenders on Oct. 31, if none of the candidates obtains 50 percent support in the first round.

Women are "much more rigorous" when it comes to casting their ballots, said Melo, pointing out that while Lula’s political discourse is very "advanced", in reality a full 95 percent of ministers in his cabinet are men, and the ministries led by women tend to be those with "less power and smaller budgets."

"For a lot of women, Lula probably reminds them of their husbands and partners," who undervalue them and do not pull their weight in the home, Melo added. As a result, Lula’s humble origins and his image as a "man of the people," the cornerstones of his charisma and popularity, do not score the same points with women as they do with men.

During his time in power, Lula’s image has undergone a radical makeover, complete with designer suits and ties. But in many women’s minds, the image of the "old" Lula, "the bearded union leader eating watermelon in the market," lives on -- and so do old allegations, such as the claim that he tried to force a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair to abort the daughter he fathered with her, Pereira stressed.

Women voters tend to be reluctant to support Workers Party candidates in general, he noted, suggesting that the reason might lie with the image and the origins of the party, which emerged from the trade union movement that set forth radical proposals amidst turbulent protests in the 1980s and 1990s.

Despite these obstacles, the Datafolha survey showed that 41 percent of respondents, both women and men, believe that Rousseff will win the election, compared to 30 percent who predict a victory for Serra, a former minister of health (1998-2002) and governor of the state of Sao Paulo (2006-2010).

Another poll, released Jul. 31 by the Brazilian Public Opinion and Statistics Institute (Ibope), put Rousseff in the lead with 39 percent of voter support, against 34 percent for Serra. In a poll by the same agency published a month ago, the two candidates were neck and neck.

Rousseff is commonly perceived as the favourite, but in order to avoid a surprise upset, she needs to work hard to woo women voters, who outnumber men, Pereira said.

In doing so, she faces two major hurdles, Pereira noted: a lack of charisma, and the "dispersion of votes" that could result from the competition of another woman candidate, Marina Silva of the Green Party, a former minister of the environment in the Lula cabinet. Silva is currently running third in the polls, with the support of 10 percent of voters according to Datafolha and seven percent according to Ibope.

Two female candidates in the same presidential race, one of them favoured to win and the other forcing the environment onto the electoral agenda, is an "unprecedented" situation in Brazil that contrasts sharply with the low degree of female representation in political power, and means that women voters are facing a completely new reality, Melo said.

The fact that surveys show that almost one half of female voters have not yet chosen a candidate should not be interpreted as indecision or rejection of the two female candidates, she argued, adding that "These are votes under construction."

Melo also thinks it is only natural that, according to Datafolha, 32 percent of respondents feel they know Serra "very well" as opposed to only 14 percent when it comes to Rousseff. Serra was formerly the head of a high-profile ministry, and also ran against Lula in 2002, which gained him extremely high national exposure.

Both analysts believe that the candidates' use of the free political advertising space on radio and television, beginning Aug. 17, will be decisive. Thanks to the dozens of parties in the coalition backing her, Rousseff will have more air time to voice her ideas and reach out to voters -- particularly women voters.

FEMNET'S BILINGUAL E-BULLETIN - JULY 2010


FEMNET                                                                                                                                                                   





FEMNET’S BILINGUAL E-BULLETIN – JULY 2010

IN THIS ISSUE


01. Your Voice
02. Regional Briefs
03. International Briefs
04. Vacancies
05. Call for Action
06. Calendar of Events         
07. Awards
08. Fellowship/Scholarship Opportunities
09. Call for Papers/Submissions
10. Resources



MONTHLY QUOTE
§ § § § § § § § § §  § § § § § § §               
"...thousands of women could be saved each year if they had access to skilled care during pregnancy and childbirth, and access to emergency obstetric care. Most of the interventions they need are simple, affordable, and highly effective."

 Dr. LEE Jong-wook, WHO Secretary-General



01. Your Voice

 


No More Broken Promises: Increase Financing for Maternal Health

By Christine Butegwa*

Between 2010 and 2011, at least three East African countries will be going through an election – Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. As the political leadership goes back to the people to seek a mandate for the highest political office, do they think about what is happening to more than half of their citizens – women? Do they care that the leading cause of death for women in sub-Saharan Africa is preventable? Maternal deaths and mortality ratios remain highest in sub-Saharan Africa where for every woman who dies, as many as 30 others suffer chronic illness or disability.

Every minute, at least one woman dies from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, this according to the World Health Organisation. This means that worldwide, about 592,000 women die each year, the majority from sub-Saharan Africa. Maternal mortality has both social and economic consequences on families, the entire community and nation including higher likelihood of infant mortality and stunted growth, psychological trauma on family members, loss of economic livelihood at household level with higher vulnerability to poverty, loss of productive human resources for the nation and therefore loss of income.

Maternal mortality is defined as the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days after termination of a pregnancy from any cause related to, or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. The most common cause of maternal death is bleeding, which can kill even a healthy woman within 2 hours if left unattended. Half of the deaths caused by haemorrhage in sub-Saharan Africa occur mainly in rural areas where quality delivery care is largely unavailable. Other causes of maternal mortality are increasing poverty, impact of HIV/AIDs, unsafe abortion, declining quality and access to health care, inadequate medical personnel, medical equipment and essential drugs, poor road and communication network, high and unregulated fertility as well as short birth intervals; high rates of teenage pregnancy, lack of information on sexual and reproductive health and rights, insufficient mobilization to ensure demand for services at local level as well as low level of male involvement in maternal health and rights; and unaccountability of civil and political leaders.

African governments including the governments of the East African countries have signed most of the international and regional commitments that deal with sexual and reproductive health including the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD POA, 1994); the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA, 1995); the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000); the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol, 2003); the Maputo Action Plan on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa (Maputo POA, 2003). Most recently in 2009, the African Union (AU) launched an Africa-wide Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality (CARMMA) with the slogan, “Act Now! No Woman Should Die While Giving Life!” CARMMA is one way the AU is popularizing the Maputo POA which aims to achieve universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and achievement of the right to sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) for every person in Africa by 2015.

And yet, very few countries have moved away from policy pronouncements towards implementation of these commitments. One of the key areas of implementation that African governments are yet to fulfill is increased financing for health, particularly reproductive health which would go a long way in reducing maternal mortality rate (MMR) on the continent. Indeed, as the world prepares to review the MDGs in 2010, few countries in Africa will meet health related regional and global targets such as MDGs and Abuja of ensuring that the health budget makes up 15% of the GDP. To reach the MDGs, experts estimate that the proportion of government spending on health would need to increase nearly six-fold and that more than 12 percent of GDP would have to be spent on health. Yet by 2008, the regional average spending in East and Southern Africa is 4.7%. The situation is improving slightly in some countries like Uganda where in the 2010/2011 Budget, the government for the first time increased its spending on health, and particularly on reproductive health. Rwanda has also consistently invested in its health system with the resulting lowering of the MMR of the country.

While these efforts should be applauded and replicated, most of the East African governments continue not to treat reproductive health as a priority but one that is left largely to development partners and donors who sometimes fund over 80% of RH programmes such as family planning. Governments need to be held accountable by their citizens to live up to the Abuja 15% pledge towards health spending. At the current rate of financing, no East African country will be on target to meet the MDGs by 2015.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, “While global health is a global responsibility, African leaders also have a moral responsibility to our people. Just as we expect the international community to honour their commitments to global health, we also expect African leaders to honour African commitments”. Furthermore, in keeping with proven multi-sectoral strategies, different sectors that have an impact on sexual and reproductive health such as education (early marriage, sex education), agriculture (nutrition, property rights), transport (road and communication infrastructure), justice (sexual violence), and others should be required by government to set aside a percentage of their sector budgets to address SRHR holistically.

Governments also need to address the high levels of corruption and mismanagement that are hindering countries from meeting their obligations. Corruption accounts for the high level of leakage of even the limited resources being allocated to health sectors. The recent Global Fund corruption scandals in both Kenya and Uganda are examples of the level of corruption and mismanagement in the sector that has devastating effects on citizens, particularly poor women.

Finally, if governments are to make serious positive strides to reduce maternal mortality, there needs to be a separation of the state and religion. Currently, individual religious and cultural biases penetrate national programmes and interventions aimed at reproductive health. The evidence speaks for itself. Equality in sexual relationships and freedom of choice regarding one’s body and sexuality are key to a healthy and functional reproductive process and system. It follows that abuse of sexual rights, whether through violence against women, early marriage or female genital mutilation among others, compromises the ability and the extent to which one can enjoy their reproductive rights.

As Uganda prepares to host the AU Summit from 19th – 27th July 2010 on the theme, “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa”, civil society including ABANTU for Development, UN Millennium Campaign, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), Save the Children, White Ribbon Alliance, and other partnering organizations will host an East African caravan on maternal health from 3rd – 16th July 2010 to lobby African leaders to prioritise the maternal health agenda. The caravan will travel from Kenya to Tanzania, then to Rwanda and finally Uganda. Public forums with grassroots communities will be held while medical personnel and RH providers traveling with the caravan will provide medical and RH services to women and girls along the routes. Real stories of women and girls’ experiences related to maternal health will be collected along the caravan routes and these testimonies will be presented to policy makers when the caravan arrives in Uganda. Additionally, a Regional Rural Women’s Conference will be hosted by the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition from 21st – 22nd July 2010 in Uganda that will also ensure that women’s voices reach policy makers ahead of the AU Summit. Women, men and children from East Africa will be calling on governments that have not done so (Uganda and Kenya) to ratify the Maputo Protocol, and those that have ratified (Rwanda and Tanzania) to move towards implementation to ensure that women live healthy and safe lives. African leaders and governments must demonstrate their political will to end maternal mortality on the continent and act, Now!

*Christine Butegwa is the Regional Coordinator, Africa Programmes with Akina Mama wa Afrika, a regional and international women’s organization based in Kampala, Uganda.

02. Regional Briefs  

 


Senegal: Door to Political Office Opens for Senegalese Women
A law on gender parity in electoral lists, approved by a large majority in Senegal's National Assembly, has been welcomed by women from diverse walks of life. Aminata Mbengue Ndiaye, the Socialist mayor of Louga in northwest Senegal, has urged women to mobilize. "The battle is only starting because we have to convince all the skeptics. But we will also have to educate women, provide them with training, build their capacity and even change behaviors and attitudes," she said. Fatou Kiné Diop, president of the non-governmental organization Senegalese Council for Women (known by its French acronym, COSEF), said, "We must now support and educate communities so they can take ownership of the new law. We also call on the head of state to promulgate it, but especially civil society which now has important work to do in terms of monitoring." For more information, visit http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51739

AngolaAdvocacy to Prevent Violence Against Women – Media Impact
Susana Mendes is the first woman to hold the title of editor in chief at Angolense, Angola's leading investigative weekly--and she is doing it a bit differently than her predecessor. She is in charge of directing coverage of the country's $1.7 billion oil industry, government corruption and injustices in the poorer neighborhoods of Angola. However, she also keeps the paper routinely focused on a topic often treated as a special women's issue: domestic violence. "All my colleagues agree that this is a public problem," said Mendes at Women's eNews' office during a recent visit to New York, where she participated in a forum on oil politics and Africa. "We publish special reports about the issue, interviews and also talk a lot about gender equality." In 2008, Mendes joined other female colleagues in Angola's capital Luanda at the Forum of Women Journalists for Gender Equality. The group joins counterparts in Latin America and elsewhere in Africa in harnessing media as a force to protect women through the "Challenging Silence" campaign. For more information, visit

NamibiaAre Namibian Women Being Forcibly Sterilised?
The Windhoek-based Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) is litigating 15 alleged cases of forced sterilisation. Three women's cases will be heard initially. Each woman is demanding the equivalent of 132,000 U.S dollars in damages. The sterilisations were first uncovered by the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW). Although the State will argue that consent forms were signed in all three cases, the women’s lawyers maintain the process necessary for "informed consent" was not followed and the women were coerced, or did not understand the procedure. Meanwhile new cases have emerged in a town 80 kilometres south of Windhoek, suggesting that the practice continued even after the health ministry was alerted to problems. For more information, visithttp://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51678

03. International Briefs

 


Trinidad & Tobago: First Woman PM Takes the Helm in Trinidad
What a year it has been so far for the 58-year-old Persad-Bissessar, an attorney who guided an amalgam of five opposition political parties and trade unions to an overwhelming victory over the incumbent People's National Movement (PNM) – taking 29 of the 41 seats in Parliament. In February, she became the first woman to hold the post of opposition leader, one month after she ousted the leader of the main opposition United National Congress (UNC), Basdeo Panday, in a bruising campaign in which she was portrayed as everything from a drunk to a weak leader. Now she joins the late Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Janet Jagan of Guyana and Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica who have headed governments in their respective Caribbean countries. For more information, visit http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51578

India - Honor Killings Rising Among Caste Issues
For three weeks now, a morbid murder story has been playing out in the Indian media. Nirupama Pathak, 22, a New Delhi–based journalist, was allegedly murdered by her own mother. Her crime? She had wanted to marry a fellow journalist who belongs to a lower caste — and she was pregnant. On a trip home to make a final effort to convince her family, Nirupama texted her boyfriend that she was being held captive, locked up in a bathroom. On April 29, she was found dead. The family claimed Nirupama had killed herself, and lodged a case against her boyfriend for rape and abetting suicide. But when the postmortem results revealed Nirupama had been asphyxiated, the police arrested her mother, Sudha Pathak. For more information, visithttp://www.wunrn.com/news/2010/06_10/05_31_10/053110_india2.htm

Cambodia Struggles to Reduce Maternal Deaths
For Chan Theary, a remote, mountainous stretch of land in western Cambodia encapsulates the uphill struggle this South-east Asian nation faces in reducing the alarming number of women who die during pregnancy. Thma Da commune, which sits along the border with Thailand in Pursat province, is a sparsely populated area that lies roughly 200 kilometers from the closest hospital. There is a single midwife stationed in a makeshift health centre. That means there is only one person who is trained to treat pregnant women for the roughly 4,000 people scattered throughout the entire commune over difficult, muddy roads. Cambodia is burdened with one of the highest maternal mortality ratios, or MMR, in the region. In 2008 the figure stood at 461 per 100,000 live births. For more information, visit http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51881

04. Vacancies
 

Consultant: Human Rights First
Deadline: Rolling Basis
Human Rights First is a nonprofit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. We build respect for human rights and the rule of law to help ensure the dignity to which everyone is entitled and to stem intolerance, tyranny, and violence. Human Rights First is seeking a consultant to conduct research and prepare materials to support advocacy efforts aimed at improving responses to racist, xenophobic and other forms of bias-motivated violence impacting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. For more information, visit

Health Manager: International Rescue Committee
Deadline: 31 August, 2010
The incumbent will assist the Health Director and the health team in Kinshasa by providing technical and managerial support to all IRC health programs in the country. He/she will work closely with colleagues based in Kinshasa as well as North and South Kivu, Haut Katanga, West Kasai, and Orientale Provinces as well as IRC partner agencies with the implementation of the health program. For more information, visit

05. Call to Action   
 

Call for Advocacy for Sentenced Women’s Rights Activist- Iran
The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) International Solidarity Network and the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW) are deeply concerned by the sentencing meted out to our colleague and friend, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, in May by the Iranian Revolutionary Court for exercising her constitutional right to peaceful assembly. Please see WLUML website link and scroll down to attached sample letter.http://www.wluml.org/node/6306

06. Calendar of Events   

East African Caravan on Maternal Health
Date and Venue: July 3rd – July 18th, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda
Sub-Saharan Africa is off-track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for maternal and child health by 2015.  The toll of more than 13,000 deaths per day accounts for half of the worlds maternal and child deaths. The East African Caravan on Maternal Health will travel thorugh Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda with and to aim to create awareness on the human rights violations a woman is exposed to during her life journey “from the womb to the tomb”. It will travel across each country and will hold public rallies and offer free information, services and materials in identified schools, medical facilities and social centers.  The Caravan arrives in Kampala on 14th July 2010, just prior to the 15th Ordinary Session of the Assembly African Union Summit, where the Heads of State will discuss Maternal and Child health and Development in Africa.  For more information, contactadvocacy@femnet.or.ke or eacaravan2@yahoo.com.

15th African Union Summit
Date and Venue: July 19th – July 27th, Kampala, Uganda
African countries should promote maternal, infant and child health and report on progress, in order to curb high deaths rates on the continent. Africa has some of the highest rates of maternal, infant and child mortality. More than 500,000 women die in childbirth or from complications during pregnancy each year, according to UNICEF. A woman in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1:16 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a 1: 4,000 chance in developed countries. African Union Heads of State and Government will meet at the 15th African Union Summit whose theme is “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa.”
The main events will be:-
Þ    The 20th Session of the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC): 19-20 July 2010
Þ     The 17th Ordinary Session of the Executives Council: 22-36 July 2010
Þ    The 15th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union: 25-27 2010
For regular updates, visit

07. Awards

 


The 2011 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship
Deadline: August 4th, 2010
The Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship support social entrepreneurs whose work has the potential for large-scale influence on critical challenges of our time: tolerance and human rights, health, economic and social equity, peace and security, institutional responsibility, and environmental sustainability. These issues are at the heart of the foundation’s vision of empowering people to create a peaceful, prosperous, sustainable world. The Skoll Awards are designed for leaders who contribute value to a peer network committed to continuous learning. By telling their stories, they join in the foundation’s ongoing celebration of the power of social entrepreneurs. For more information, visit

08. Fellowship/Scholarship Opportunities

The Graça Machel Scholarship Programme
The Graça Machel Scholarship programme will develop further the work of Canon Collins Trust in building the skills of local people and communities through the provision of relevant scholarships. Scholarships that target women have long been recognized as an effective approach in addressing gender equality and eradicating poverty. By providing opportunities to study at postgraduate level, these scholarships aim to empower women and to equip them to take up leadership positions in order to have a direct impact in the communities, nations and region in which they live. For more information, please visithttp://www.canoncollins.org.uk/support/graca-machel.php

Scholarly Exchange Programme                                                                    
Deadline: Ongoing
The South African Institute of International Affairs has a scholarly exchange initiative, whereby it seeks to host scholars, from the region and globally, that are focused on issues that are aligned with the research agendas of the two hosting research programmes. Two exchanges can be accommodated each year, and applications are assessed on an ongoing basis. Scholars can range from PhD students to senior academics and an exchange period of up to two months will be considered. For more information, visit http://www.saiia.org.za/jobs-opportunities/internship-fellowship-opportunity-scholarly-exchange-programme.html

09. Call for Papers/Submissions                     
 

Call for Papers on Gender--Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change

Deadline: August 1, 2010
Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, a peer-reviewed volume published by Emerald Group Publishing/JAI Press, encourages submissions for Volume 32 of the series. The theme of this volume will be women and/or gender; submissions concerned with gender and/or women as it relates to any of the three broad foci reflected in the series title will be considered. For more information, visithttp://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/forum/topics/call-for-papers-on-1

Post-graduate strand at ICTD 2010 (IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development)
Deadline: 31st July, 2010
The purpose of the post-graduate strand is for post-graduates and other young researchers to share their experiences in the ICT4D field in order to gain more knowledge on how ICT use for development can be improved. Authors are invited to share their research about, and experiences from, the entire field of ICT4D. Both empirical research and conceptual papers are being sought. We ask for short papers and we are interested in both practical and theoretical papers, completed and research in progress papers. For more information, visit http://www.ictd2010.org/

10. Resources

 


The Lancet- Vol. 375, No. 9739; 5th June 2010 p. 1939-2050
Young mother with baby in a baby-sling, Bolivia - Copyright: Kopp_Florian/Still PicturesLarge numbers of the public remain unaware of the health issues facing women and children. Women and girls make up 60% of the worlds poorest and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate. Yet with education and empowerment, they can lead healthy lives and lift themselves and their families out of poverty. To devise a plan to make women and children’s health more visible, we must listen harder to voices from those countries where most maternal and child death take place. Too often we ignore these voices. A themed issue of The Lancet covers a range of global issues on maternal, child, and newborn health.

Violence against women is a worldwide yet still hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most of us have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of our cultures and lives.