Posts

child marriage in ZambiaIn Zambia, about two in every five girls are forced into marriage. Currently, the country is renewing its efforts to eradicate child marriage. In 2017, the President of Zambia along with presidents from Uganda and Malawi held an event where they declared they would prioritize ending child marriages by 2030. The President of Zambia stated, “Girls who marry young are often denied their rights. Ending child marriage by 2030 will require a range of actions, including making sure girls have access to quality education, legal reforms and changing traditional harmful practices.”

Already, rates of child marriage in Zambia have drastically decreased. Zambia’s Demographic and Health Surveys in 2002 found that the child marriage rate was 42%. In 2014, however, the child marriage rate had dropped down to 31%. Despite these numbers, Zambia still has a lot of work to do to save these young girls.

Common Reasons for Child Marriage

There are many factors contributing to child marriage. Here are three of the more common reasons for child marriage in Zambia.

  1. Poverty: Some families see child marriage as a way to reduce the financial burden of having young girls. Often, families in poverty will marry off their young daughter(s) to receive a payment of dowry. This dowry gives them great financial relief. In addition, they are saving money because they no longer have to provide for their daughter(s).
  2. Vulnerability: While all children are susceptible to being vulnerable to child marriage, orphans and stepchildren are even more vulnerable, specifically once they hit puberty. Some families feel that their job of taking care of them is done at that time, so they marry them off young. Stepchildren and orphans are also more widely mistreated than biological children. They may feel getting married is an escape from an otherwise unbearable situation.
  3. Protecting a Girl’s Sexuality: Parents may believe that if they marry their girls off young, they can protect them from engaging in “inappropriate behaviors,” like having multiple sexual partners. This way the girl only has sexual intercourse with her husband, and her family’s honor remains preserved. Some also consider child marriage as a protection for the girl against HIV or unwanted pregnancy.

The After-Effects

  • Increases Poverty: Child brides tend to drop out of school. As a result, any opportunities they may have had at getting a good job and helping their families out of poverty disappear.
  • Health Risks: Child brides are more likely to suffer from depression or PTSD due to abuse from their spouses or the fast-paced way they are forced to grow up. Also, child marriage in Zambia is often correlated with pregnancy, which can lead to higher death rates for the mother or child because the mother is not developmentally mature enough to carry a baby.
  • Risk of Violence: Child brides are more likely to deal with domestic violence including physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The Good News

Despite these practices still occurring, the citizens and government of Zambia have begun taking steps to eradicate child marriages by 2030. Plan International is a humanitarian organization that works to advance children’s equality and rights. The organization’s Regional Director for both Eastern and Southern Africa, Roland Angerer, says change begins with education. He states, “It is essential that we promote education and encourage dialogue if we want to change social norms . . . Governments must ensure schools are accessible, inclusive and safe […] to enable more girls to attend and stay on in school.” This education helps not only young girls but also their families.

Senior Headman, Davison Shafuluma, in the Mumbwa district, holds meetings where he teaches parents and other family members that child marriage hurts more than it helps. He shares with them the effects a young girl can suffer through by marrying and carrying a child at too young an age. He also explains that they, as a family, can say ‘no’ to anyone who propositions marriage.

Beyond education, the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme on Ending Child Marriage helped establish 550 Safe Spaces in Zambia. In these Safe Spaces, young girls learn that they are equal to their male counterparts. The young girls learn that school, homework and their futures should be their focus and priority.

International Work to Eradicate Child Marriage

Aside from better education, “Zambia also co-sponsored, along with Canada, the first U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on child, early and forced marriage in 2013.” In 2014, eight Ministers from Zambia also committed to addressing child marriage and continuing the conversation. The country has also legislated a minimum age requirement for marriage beginning at the age of 18.

Although many more improvements are still necessary, Zambia is making much progress to diminish child marriage. The conversations in Zambia and across the world are finally giving these young, vulnerable girls a voice.

Stacey Krzych 
Photo: Flickr

Disaster Response in the PhilippinesAnnually, about 10 tropical storms develop in the Philippines, with averages of eight to nine reaching land. These numbers do not include other disasters the country faces such as typhoons, earthquakes, monsoons and so on. Despite being one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, efficient communication with technology in the Philippines allows social media, Google Person Finder and satellites, to provide the best relief efforts. Keep reading to learn more about the top three ways technology helps disaster response in the Philippines.

3 Ways Technology Helps Disaster Response in the Philippines 

  1. Social Media: Social media is indeed a connecting source and finds its strength in aiding the response to disasters with quickly spreading information that is, in turn, easily accessed. Popular media sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter updated by disaster area residents offer real-time updates about the current on-ground situation.

    Thanks to organizations such as the Standby Task Force, established in 2012 by Andrej Verity, these social media updates become pillars for relief and rescue. For example, in its use for supertyphoon Haiyan in 2013. These updates transform traditional on-ground humanitarian efforts into digital humanitarian efforts with online volunteers.

    Through a streamlined process, volunteers tagged Haiyan-related social media posts. Then, sifting through them for relevancy, otherwise known as digital micro-tasking. Finally, submitting them to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to compile a crisis map. With the widespread information thanks to social media, digital humanitarians take a hands-on approach to affecting the on the ground situation. Given that the combined concentration of thousands of volunteers provide time efficiency, a necessity when it comes to saving lives quicker.

  2. Communication Technology: Other communication technology such as Google Person Finder assists in finding missing persons in the Philippines. For instance, in 2012, monsoon floods from Typhoon Saola caused increased landslides and flash floods; flooding at least 50 percent of the country and creating severe rescue conditions with strong currents. There were at least 900,000 affected families and 11 individuals missing.

    For those looking for the missing or stranded, Google’s free Person Finder tool comes in extremely handy as all one needs to do is input the individual’s name. At the same time, Google cross-references entries from other websites with information about missing persons to ping and locate leads.

  3. Satellite Technology: After Haiyan, most of the traditional methods of mobile communication infrastructure diminished, thus requiring the need for something more reliable, such as satellites. Learning from the Haiyan damage, the nation’s most high-risk disaster areas now have mobile satellite equipment for easy deployment. This new tech brought forth by Inmarsat and the United Kingdom Space Agency, provides a reliable and sustainable communication method for the worst disaster days expected.

    Another example is the Tacloban Health Cluster which utilizes satellites to canvas and coordinates public health response in the worst disaster-stricken areas, allowing better tracking of diseases and medical conditions throughout disaster times in hospitals and clinics. This data collection does not only help respond in real-time. Additionally, it is beneficial for understanding health trends after a storm to allow for a more proactive approach following the next impending storm the islands are known to face.

Elizabeth Yusuff
Photo: Flickr

Kofi Annan QuotesBorn into an aristocratic family in Ghana in 1939, Kofi Annan’s experience with advocacy began at a young age. His education taught him early that suffering anywhere was an issue of global concern. By the time he graduated in 1957, Ghana had achieved independence from Britain, igniting his passion for international relations. That would follow him into a lifetime of civil service, beginning at the United Nations in 1962. He served in a number of capacities during his time at the U.N., including Peacekeeping Operations during the Rwandan genocide. He eventually filled the role of Secretary-General of the United Nations Security Council in 1997. Kofi Annan was a gifted speaker who left an impression on many people worldwide.

Top 12 Kofi Annan Quotes

  1. “We are not only all responsible for each other’s security. We are also, in some measure, responsible for each other’s welfare. Global solidarity is both necessary and possible. It is necessary because without a measure of solidarity no society can be truly stable, and no one’s prosperity truly secure.”
  2. Education is, quite simply, peace-building by another name. It is the most effective form of defense spending there is.”
  3. “What governments and people don’t realize is that sometimes the collective interest – the international interest – is also the national interest.”
  4. “Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.”
  5. “I have always believed that on important issues, the leaders must lead. Where the leaders fail to lead, and people are really concerned about it, the people will take the lead and make the leaders follow.”
  6. Open markets offer the only realistic hope of pulling billions of people in developing countries out of abject poverty, while sustaining prosperity in the industrialized world.”
  7. “We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.”
  8. “We have the means and the capacity to deal with our problems, if only we can find the political will.”
  9. “If one is going to err, one should err on the side of liberty and freedom.”
  10. “You are never too young to lead and you should never doubt your capacity to triumph where others have not.”
  11. “In the 21st century, I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion.”
  12. “The world is not ours to keep. We hold it in trust for future generations.”

Themes of Kofi Annan Quotes

These top 12 quotes by Kofi Annan focus on themes of peace, global stability, leadership and advocacy. These are themes that defined Annan’s career and legacy. In December of 2001, Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside the United Nations, for his work towards ending the HIV/AIDS crisis. This was a landmark achievement in his career and a massive step in combating the epidemic.

Kofi Annan’s Legacy

His retirement from the United Nations by no means signaled an end to his commitment to civil service and advocacy. Annan went on to continue promoting a more peaceful and stable world through work with multiple organizations in his home country, even contributing to peace efforts in Syria’s civil war.

On August 18, 2018, the world lost Kofi Annan to illness. But his legacy lives on, not only in these top Kofi Annan quotes, but in the continued impact of his actions and words on the world of advocacy and peace.

Photo: Flickr

UN Report on "Climate Apartheid"On June 25th, the United Nations released a report saying the world is at risk of a “climate apartheid.” This describes a situation where wealthy people will be able to escape heat and hunger caused by climate change, while the poor are forced to endure distressing conditions. Philip Alston, a UN expert on human rights and extreme poverty, said climate change “could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.” While there are many things to understand from the dense findings, there are key highlights that are crucial to know about the UN report on “climate apartheid.”

5 facts from the UN report on “climate apartheid”:

  1. Extreme weather conditions threaten to undo the last 50 years of progress in poverty reduction around the globe.
    Weather-related conditions like droughts and flooding are much more likely to occur if climate change continues to worsen. People who already experience extreme poverty tend to live in communities that depend on local harvests to survive. If weather causes food supplies to disappear, these people are likely to experience famine and malnutrition. This can result in illness and death.
  2. Even the “best-case scenario” for climate change would lead to food insecurity in many regions.
    Next, Alston says that “even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger.” Reaching current targets would mean only a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in temperature by 2100. This would cause many already poor regions to become food insecure.
  3. The UNHC says that it’s likely the wealthy will be able to pay to escape worsening conditions.
    Alston notes that “an over-reliance on the private sector could lead to a climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” For example, he cited the 2012 Hurricane Sandy as an example of this, because many impoverished New Yorkers were without basic necessities during the disaster, while “the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator.”
  4. Democracy could be at risk in affected regions.
    If weather conditions lead governments to declare states of emergency, it is likely to cause drastic changes in power structures. The report says “states may very well respond to climate change by augmenting government powers and circumscribing some rights. This will be a very fraught process and require great vigilance on the part of governments, human rights institutions and national and regional courts.” Additionally, some governments will be under-prepared to cope with serious conditions. As a result, this can cause social unrest and community discontent. It could even spark nationalist, xenophobic and racist responses.
  5. There are potential solutions.
    The report also suggests that tackling the problem with a human-rights-focused response may be the best way. It includes giving vulnerable communities access to protective infrastructure, financial aid, relocation options, employment support and land tenure. Additionally, this includes access to food, clean water and healthcare. Furthermore, the report noted that building coalitions are key to addressing the issue, saying “major human rights actors must tackle questions about emissions, resource allocation, and energy and economic policy that states are grappling with and where there is a real need for detailed, actionable recommendations.”

Why the report matters

Overall, the release of the UNHR document has sparked widespread media coverage and global awareness. Understanding these 5 Facts from the UN report on “climate apartheid” is a critical step in addressing the problem.

-Natalie Malek
Photo: Flickr

Girls' education in Vietnam

“Girls’ education…is a primary issue in terms of breaking the cycle of poverty,” says Carolyn Miles, the president and CEO of the group Save the Children, and this is especially true of girls’ education in Vietnam. Save the Children works in more than 120 countries to improve the lives of children and young people.

In Lao Cai province, one of the poorest regions in Vietnam, a significant number of girls lack access to basic needs. These needs include clean drinking water, toilets and basic education. Moreover, many women in the province suffer heinous human rights violations and have the highest illiteracy rates in Vietnam. Data show at least half of children 10 years old and older in Vietnam are illiterate. In fact, the illiteracy rates for girls are higher when compared to boys.

In primary school, girls’ education in Vietnam sees a high enrollment rate. However, it also sees a low attendance rate. In addition, many girls ultimately drop out of school. In more rural areas of Vietnam, low attendance rates increase due to lack of transportation. Transportation faces challenges like distance and damaged roads from wars. Furthermore, costs prevent many girls from continuing education in Vietnam. These costs include tuition and fees, plus textbooks, which are not free at secondary and tertiary levels. Instead of sending girls to school, many families more them to work and help the family. As a result, the Vietnamese government has been prioritizing gender equality and strategizing to improve girls’ education in Vietnam.

Making Improvements

The government of Vietnam has shown commitment to prioritizing and promoting gender equality. Nevertheless, the improvement of girls’ education in Vietnam remains a work in progress. To improve this, the Vietnamese government partnered with UNESCO and other developmental organizations. In particular, the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training worked with UNESCO to establish the Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam under the UNESCO Malala Fund for Girls’ Right to Education.

The Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam gives girls and women a platform in Vietnam to fight for their human rights. For instance, the initiative provides education, raises awareness and teaches leadership training.

As listed on the UNESCO page, the objectives of the initiative are:

  1. “Reinforce gender equality in the Education Sector planning and management to empower girls and women.”

  2. “Enhance the capacity of education officials, teachers and experts to mainstream gender equality in curriculum and teaching practices.”

  3. “Raise awareness of students, parents, community members and the media to support the enabling environment for girls’ and women’s education and gender mainstreaming.”

UNESCO and other development organizations contribute to fostering a supportive environment for girls and women in Vietnam, especially within the educational setting. In Vietnam, UNESCO aims to create a fair environment where males and females both have a future and benefit from an equal-gender system of education.

Fifita Mesui
Photo: Flickr

Ethical TradingFair Trade is a buzzword these days, but what impact does it really have? As fair trade business models are around longer and grow in popularity, there is time to assess what positive impacts they actually have. The U.K.’s Ethical Trading Initiative is an alliance of organizations that work together to promote and support ethical codes of labor throughout the supply chain. Impacting the lives of more than 10 million workers every year, The Ethical Trading Initiative promotes giving a voice to local workers, transparent business practices and government intervention to protect workers’ rights. After 21 years of dedication to impoverished workers, people are able to measure the positive impacts of The Ethical Trading Initiative.

5 Positive Impacts of The Ethical Trading Initiative

  1. More Safety Regulations: One of the largest impacts has been on improving working conditions. This includes better training on emergency drills, improved fire safety and safer chemical use. Additionally, work environments have better hygienic standards as well as improved water and sanitation facilities. Changes in health and safety empower workers to feel safer at work and have better health, which improves their quality of life.
  2. Reasonable Working Hours: Overall, suppliers have reduced workers’ hours to be more reasonable although workers’ reactions to the reduced hours have been mixed. Those with families enjoy the extra free time while some single workers prefer to work (and thus earn) as much as possible. Additionally, workers are paid higher rates for overtime and earn double rates for working on Sundays. Ultimately, wages still need to be raised to combat the need to work as many hours as possible to support basic needs.
  3. A Reduction in Child Labor: Ethical codes and buyer pressure both aid in decreasing the employment of children. Specifically for children ages 16-17, an increase in checking age by official documents has contributed to lower rates in child employment. Poverty is the root cause of child labor. As ethical working conditions continue to improve, lifting more people out of poverty, child labor will continue to decrease.
  4. Worker & Manager Relations: Open, transparent dialogue between companies, managers and employees is key to establishing ethical working conditions. As a result of ethical labor codes, relations between management and workers continue to improve. On some sites, this has been the result of the establishment of workers’ committees that have improved communication practices. Establishing changes to increase communication and allow workers’ voices to be heard is foundational to deciding ethical labor codes.
  5. Physical and Social Well Being: As a result of all the previous improvements combined, workers’ physical and social well beings are increasing dramatically. Studies show that physical and social benefits are being felt by all workers and have effects not just in the workplace but also at home and on their long-term health. These improved and enforced ethical codes have a drastic impact on workers. Workers are less vulnerable to social problems resulting from income instability or health problems. This improves a worker’s ability to ultimately escape poverty.

In the face of increased demand for more products and faster production rates, the Ethical Trading Initiative helps raise awareness of ethical labor codes among managers. Ultimately, this awareness of codes pressures managers to adhere to more ethical practices. When companies take the time to think about the individuals behind every product produced as humans with rights, the ripple effects of change can begin. While there is still a lot of progress that needs to happen to empower impoverished workers globally, the positive impacts of the Ethical Trading Initiative continue to influence a consumer world that prioritizes human rights over profit.

Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr

Unrepresented nationsIn 1991, The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (UNPO) was founded in The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The UNPO is an international body with a membership comprised of “indigenous peoples, minorities, citizens of unrecognized States and occupied territories” who use The UNPO as a collective means of participating in the major international community. Over forty unrepresented groups currently make up The UNPO’s General Assembly with a few notable members such as Tibet, Taiwan and Washington D.C.

UNPO’s Mission

The communities joined together in The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization are united in a shared mission guided by the five major principles of nonviolence, human rights, democracy, self-determination, environmental protection, and tolerance stated in The UNPO Covenant. The Covenant draws off of language used in ubiquitous international documents like The United Nations Charter, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and others to validate the need for a forum such as The UNPO to exist.

Through its mission, The UNPO is also an ally in the fight to alleviate global poverty. According to estimates from the World Bank, indigenous peoples make up about 5 percent of the population and about 10 percent of those living in poverty around the world. These statistics reveal how indigenous groups are disproportionately affected by poverty. By empowering indigenous and other marginalized people through international representation, The UNPO is taking important steps to combat poverty.

How The UNPO Works

The main decision-making body of The UNPO is the General Assembly, made up of delegations from each of the member communities. The General Assembly convenes every 12-18 months so that UNPO members can discuss the pressing issues in their communities. In addition, the Assembly elects members of the eight members of the Presidency, including the President, two Vice-Presidents, General Secretary, and Treasurer for three-year terms.  

The Presidency has the duty of implementing the policy put forth by the General Assembly during a term. The current President is Mr. Nasser Boladai of West Balochistan. Under the direction of the General Assembly and the Presidency, The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization acts as a key intermediary between the unrepresented communities it represents and international institutions such as The U.N. and E.U.

The UNPO approaches international forums in the role of an advocate for their members as well as a consultant about international decisions on issues relevant to UNPO members. For example, thanks to the work of  The UNPO, marginalized groups and minorities have been able to actively participate in various U.N. sessions of The Human Rights Council, The U.N. Forum on Minority Issues, and The U.N. Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues.

In addition, the UNPO has successfully lobbied for their inclusion in The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process launched in 2008 to review the human rights records of all UN Member States. As a result of the advocacy and lobbying done by The UNPO, many of the marginalized and unheard voices that The UNPO represents now have the chance to be heard by those who wield power amongst the international community.

Who is the in the UNPO?

The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization currently represents 43 Nations/ Peoples throughout the world. Each member community has its own set of specific aspirations and concerns that they hope The UNPO can help them verbalize. The UNPO compiles detailed profiles on each of its member communities and then uses this information to help advocate in their interest.

Tibet, or the Government of Tibet in Exile is a member of the UNPO and has a history that is familiar to many. In the 1950’s, Tibet became an occupied territory of The People’s Republic of China and lost its national autonomy and political rights. The Central Tibetan Administration or the Tibetan Government in Exile claims that the Chinese occupation is an illegitimate military campaign. Although the Chinese constitution grants political autonomy to the occupied areas of Tibet, the reality from the Tibetan point of view is that the Chinese preside over them with an authoritarian rule.

Through the influence of The UNPO, The Tibetan Delegation hopes to plead it’s case to the international community and address grievances (violations of political rights, environmental degradation, and suppression of freedom of expression and association) against the Chinese government.

Since 1991, The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization has helped promote the rights and freedoms of minority/marginalized groups throughout the world. As we strive towards shaping a world of equality and justice, The UNPO serves as a fine example of how we can give a voice to the voiceless.

Clarke Hallum

Photo: Flickr

President Barack Obama Nelson Mandela
On July 18, 2018, Nelson Mandela Day, former U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech in honor of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and his legacy that continues in today’s world. The day marked 100 years since his birth and led to Obama speaking about the progress made in that time span. Despite the many people still oppressed by corrupt political systems, Obama suggested tactics that could promote a bright future.

Nelson Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela Day was made official on November 10, 2009. The United Nations General Assembly declared that the humanitarian’s birthday, July 18, would be internationally recognized to honor his achievements and philosophy. The General Assembly deemed it necessary to acknowledge Mandela’s peaceful methods of conflict resolution every year.

Mandela witnessed South Africa’s former apartheid take away human rights from the black race. This led to his advocacy work for blacks and impoverished communities along with his subsequent role of the first democratically-elected president of South Africa.

Key Points in Obama’s Speech

In his speech, Obama made parallels between the political turmoil in Mandela’s lifetime and that which still exists today. He said that advancements in technology, poverty reduction, health and international trade have led to more peace. However, there’s a danger in prioritizing innovation and business interests over human needs. New machines can increase efficiency and production, but this hurts the common worker by eliminating jobs. If political leaders worked to raise people out of poverty, it would promote democracy in their government.

Obama went on to stress the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Advancements in the economy just provide those in power the chance to widen the disparity between themselves and the poor. People living in the top one percent do not need every penny they have to spend on luxuries since they have an excess of money. Even a small amount of that excess could help people in need. In other words, people do not have to commit themselves to a life of poverty in order to help lift others out of poverty.

Since his speech was in honor of Nelson Mandela Day, he brought up the philosophies Mandela wanted to see in future generations. When he became president, his declarations were not drafted for the sole use of South Africa. He believed in human rights for people all over the world.

Obama outlined what a democracy needs in order to be successful, including open-minded people and transparency. Decision makers must be receptive to opposing viewpoints. Even though a country might uphold a democratic system, that doesn’t mean those in power always base their actions on that philosophy. Instead of spreading lies and propaganda that only serve their personal interests, political leaders must be honest with their citizens.

Continuing the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Organizations based in South Africa are continuing work beyond Nelson Mandela Day. Rebecca’s Well is an organization that supports women on their journeys to become contributing members of society by offering to help fund their education and by providing counseling services after a divorce. Much like the activism done by Mandela, these actions ensure that a marginalized group of people receive a fair chance of fulfilling their potential.

In terms of Obama’s message about global progress, the New Voices Fellowship casts the spotlight on innovative minds from developing countries. The most effective way to help tackle poverty is by consulting with those experiencing it. With that in mind, the organization proposes solutions for how to generate income, increase access to medical services and invent technology that helps the lives of people in need.

Obama said that no one, not even Mandela during his presidency, is immune to the dangerous lure of power. Mandela recognized that truth, which is why he brought democracy to South Africa. Governments need to be reminded of it to ensure that people are free to express their opinions about how their government is being run. Citizens have power too.

Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

Victories Against FGM in Africa
Today, there are an estimated 200 million women and girls living with female genital mutilation, or FGM. FGM is widely practiced in 30 countries around the world.  At least 65 to 70 percent of FGM victims live in Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, FGM is a broad term including “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Traditionally, it is used to control female sexuality, but it often leaves a myriad of health and social problems for survivors. Despite the ingrained nature of this practice, in recent years there have been several victories against FGM in Africa.

Seven Victories Against FGM in Africa

  1. Liberian Abolishment: After years of political negotiation, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf fulfilled her 2015 vow to abolish FGM. FGM affects more than 50 percent of Liberian girls and is used as a ritual in the Sande secret society’s coming-of-age ceremony.Many traditional organizations have threatened death toward activists who expose their rituals. Despite these challenges, Africa’s first female executive leader executed one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa.
  2. The Girl Generation: This NGO works to connect girls from across the continent to “end Female Genital Mutilation in this generation.” It has given over $1.6 million in grants to grassroots organizations in eight African countries from Nigeria to Mali. It focuses mainly on changing social attitudes about the practice in rural areas where it is common.Regarding the organization’s work, one woman said, “I am now a changed person. When I came here yesterday, I never thought anyone will convince me FGM is bad, but now I’m convinced, and will stand up for my younger sisters and cousins not to be subjected to the cut.”
  3. The American Doctor: Dr. Marci Bower, a San Francisco native, spent two weeks in Nairobi surgically repairing the scars left by FGM. Victims of FGM often experience complications in childbirth and infections in the cut area.In Kenya, about five million women are living with FGM, though the practicing rate of 27 percent is much lower than that of the countries in northern Africa. Dr. Bower operated on 44 local women and trained others to do the same when she returned to the United States.
  4. Kembatta Women Stand Together: One Ethiopian woman, Bogaletch Gebre, has worked for decades to eliminate FGM in her native country. After a traumatic cutting at the age of 12 and an education as a Fullbright scholar, Gebre founded Kembatti Mentti Gezzina or Kembatta Women Stand Together to fight FGM. Her organization has been lauded for reducing FGM rates in parts of Ethiopia from 100 percent to three percent through community outreach and information campaigns.
  5. Kenyan Girls App: Five teenage girls from the Luo ethnic group in Kenya invented an app to help their peers escape FGM. The girls were the only African team to compete in  2017’s Technovation contest, sponsored by Verizon, Google and the U.N.Their entry, called “I-cut,” includes options for users to seek medical treatment, report FGM in their local communities, donate to the cause, escape the ritual and learn more about FGM. One team member, Synthia Otieno, said their goal for the app was to “restore hope to hopeless girls.”
  6. Masaai Women: In the nomadic Masaai community, FGM is commonly practiced as an initiation ceremony. However, after witnessing her sister undergo FGM and an abusive child marriage, Nice Leng’ete decided to use her high school education to make a difference.After years of bargaining and dialogue, Leng’ete has saved over 15,000 girls from cutting, winning one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa. Leng’ete became the first woman to speak before the highest Masaai elder council, which formally abolished FGM for all 1.5 million Masaii people.
  7. African Men Against FGM: It is not only women who are achieving victories against FGM in Africa. Male activists, such as Kelechukwu Nwachukwu from Nigeria and Tony Mwebia from Kenya, are working to inform African men about the realities of FGM.Despite the prevalence of FGM in their communities because of the secretive nature of the practice, many African men are unaware of the pain FGM causes. Nwachukwu commented, “I’ve seen girls who have died [from FGM] but the parents don’t make the link. Many will tell that it’s just God’s will.” Despite the challenges, male activists have become an essential part of the movement to end FGM in a generation.

Female genital mutilation contributes to poverty in areas where it is practiced. Girls are cut at young ages to prepare them for child marriage, a practice linked to lower development. As the British NGO ActionAid put it, “Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and stay poor.” Each victory against FGM in Africa is a victory against extreme poverty and the violation of women’s human rights.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Azerbaijan
May 28 marked the 100th anniversary of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR). With its independence in 1918, the country was poised for great progress, which included female suffrage and its democratic government.

The ADR was short-lived, however. In 1920 Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union and would not regain independence until the Soviet Union’s fall. Since its independence, Azerbaijan has faced an often difficult history, struggling with human rights and war with neighboring Armenia.

Human Rights

While Azerbaijan may not frequently be the focus of attention in the media, often the media misrepresents Azerbaijan by strictly focusing on its human rights record. In addition to discrimination of the Talysh and Armenian ethnic minorities, Azerbaijan has been known for suppressing the media and persecuting journalists and bloggers.

Yet, this depiction of Azerbaijan as a country with a poor track record for allowing free speech and media access is not unwarranted. With news outlets, including The Guardian as well as human rights advocacy groups, are barred from entering the country, the current Azerbaijani regime is made ripe for international criticism. The groups and people targeted—namely journalists and human rights activists—are the very people who report the country’s reputation.

Thus, beneath the excitement of the 100th anniversary, people, including Rep. Chris Smith, have been keen to remind the world of Azerbaijan’s tricky situation. In an article for The Hill, Smith called the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev, a “dictator” and argues that its citizens are not members of a free society. Smith specifically points to Aliyev’s lengthy tenure as president, from 2003 to 2025, and cited concerns with the lack of power in Azerbaijan’s other governmental institutions.

Poverty in a Wealthy Nation

Serving to reinforce the already abundant human rights issues and an overly powerful president, the country, while wealthy from its oil reserves, is mired by issues with corruption and poverty. Thus, Azerbaijan occupies the public’s consciousness in almost contradictory extremes – it’s a country of wealth, yet one with the majority of its population living in poverty.

The depiction of Azerbaijan as a hub of human rights violations, and as a place oscillating between extreme poverty and excess, does, perhaps, ignore the movement to the future. This is how the media misrepresents Azerbaijan—it focuses on Azerbaijan’s economic and political issues, without addressing the hope and shifting dynamics within the country.

The Future

The rhetoric of Azerbaijan surrounding the 100th anniversary is decidedly not pessimistic. Looking backward one century provides the chance to look forward as well as to move in the direction of that early progress that defined the country in 1918. A statement from the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses an intent and desire to bring “into the reality the aspirations and ideals” of the ADR.

With trade between Azerbaijan and other European markets increasing over the last few years, the progressive aims expressed on the 100th anniversary may soon be on the horizon and may, one day, be a reality. And, with the European Union and the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) continued support of education, through the EU’s “Modernising Vocational Education and Training (VET) Centres in Azerbaijan” plan, an emphasis is placed on transitioning Azerbaijan into a knowledge-based economy, thus pushing the country further into the future.

Of course one must not forget—surrounding the 100th anniversary of the ADR—writers, like the aforementioned Rep. Smith, have noted that expressing the optimism and excitement surrounding the country is, itself, how the media misrepresents Azerbaijan. A full view of the country, therefore, takes into account both the hope for the future as well as the current skepticism.

It might be the case that Azerbaijan actually isn’t misrepresented in the media, at least not now. The country does have human rights violations, its citizens do suffer from poverty and questions surrounding the efficacy of the government should be raised. Yet, with the shifting conditions in the country, this representation may be how the media misrepresents Azerbaijan in the future.

-William Wilcox
Photo: Flickr