Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category
Several years ago while working in Mozambique, she found a connection between inadequate sanitary protection for menstruating girls and women and lost income and education for towns, cities and entire countries,
Through research, she learned that menstruating girls and women lose up to fifty days a year of work or school because they are afraid of leaking through their make shift rags or bark. Scharpf decided to do something about it and launched SHE, which gives out micro-finance loans and basic health training to local women so that they can manufacture pads from local sustainable materials and sell them at affordable prices. Selling the pads is a source of income for the women and the girls and women who have access to the pads are less likely to contract infections and are able to participate in public life every day of the month.
Watch a promo video for the project:
While we take the availability of pads and tampons for granted in the United States, the lack of access to sanitary options has many dangers.
From the Huffington Post:
In developing countries, periods continue to be a serious handicap. According to UNICEF, ten percent of school-age African girls miss school because of a lack of access to affordable sanitary products. In Rwanda, it’s much worse. According to on-the-ground research by Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), half the girls are missing school due to menstruation and the main reason given is that sanitary pads are too expensive. For women, 24% miss work–up to 45 days per year–for the same reason. This not only limits girls’ educational and women’s professional achievement, but leads to a significant economic loss for nations. SHE estimates that a lack of affordable sanitary pads reduces GDP by $115 million per year in Rwanda alone.
There are also serious health repercussions of not having pads. In Asia, many women still use rags; less fortunate ones use newspapers, banana leaves, even sand or ash. While rags were common before the pad was invented, the problem in developing countries is that often women don’t have access to clean water to wash them. And the taboo of menstruation means that many women cannot hang their rags to dry in the open. So, instead, they hide them in dark, damp places where no one will find them. As one might imagine, infections are rampant.
Eight women from commonwealth countries Cyprus, Ghana, India, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Jamaica and the United Kingdom are undertaking what seems like the impossible – skiing over 900 kilometers from Antarctica to the geographic South Pole.
Marking the 60th aniversary of the Commonwealth, the expedition aims to demonstrate the potential of greater intercultural understanding and exchange, while at the same time highlighting the achievements of women across the world.
The team members from Brunei, Cyprus, Ghana and Jamaica will be the first person from their nation to ski to the South Pole. Those from India, Singapore and New Zealand will be the first women from their country to do so.
Fantastic as these achievements will be, the expedition is about much more than national and global records. The team members will return to their home countries as role models to inspire others, particularly women, to reach beyond the expectation of others and follow their own path.
Representing a Commonwealth of 52 nations and 2 billion people around the globe, the expedition team is a diverse group of real women selected from over 800 applicants. Before joining the expedition many of the team members had never been in sub-zero temperatures, put on a pair of skis or spent the night in a tent – a fact which makes the challenge they are undertaking even more remarkable.
The 900km journey from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole will take around 40 days. The team will survive on lightweight dehydrated rations and melted snow. They will sleep in tents on the ice at night and pull sledges containing all the food, fuel and equipment they will need. Travelling without a guide, the team will need to rely on each other to navigate themselves safely to the bottom of the world.
The team expect to arrive at the South Pole around New Year’s Day 2010.
Latrice Davis of Women’s News reports that even though there are efforts to get clean, safe drinking water to the women who need it most, it is unlikely any of the programs working toward that goal will have much of an impact.
Here’s the full story:
Improving water quality and access can help lower maternal mortality rates, say advocates. Now a new fellowship program is being launched to explore various solutions to the maternal health problem in the world’s poorest nations.
(WOMENSENEWS)–Knowledge has long been cited as the tool most needed to lower maternal mortality rates, but Global Water, a volunteer organization based in Oxnard, Calif., says what women in developing countries also need to combat this problem is water.
“Not having the proper amount of water on a daily basis puts stress on the body, which affects a woman’s life span,” said Ted Kuepper, the organization’s executive director, in a telephone interview. “It also affects their ability to further their education and break out of poverty.”
To help disrupt this cycle, the New York-based international reproductive health organization EngenderHealth is launching a fellowship program with Ashoka, an organization of social entrepreneurs with headquarters in Arlington, Va., to focus on improving maternal health in the world’s poorest nations. The initiative will concentrate on parts of the world with the highest maternal and child mortality rates, says Tim Thomas, senior advisor of the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth.
“The rates are highest in Africa and South Asia,” he said in a telephone interview, but added that “we’re not committing to any particular countries at this point.”
That’s because EngenderHealth and Ashoka–who plan to recruit 32 candidates through its Changemakers online competition–are seeking proposals that focus on applicants’ areas of interest. Those selected for the program will spend nine months working on a tangible solution to a specific maternal health challenge, starting in September 2010.
Water Use Soars
Water use has grown at more than twice the rate of the world’s population over the past century, mostly for agricultural purposes, according to the 2009 United Nations Millennium Development Goals Report. This has left 884 million people at risk for–or already facing–a water shortage. The situation poses a huge threat to maternal health, but Thomas said it’s not the only contributing factor.
“There’s a panoply of factors that contribute to maternal mortality–everything from (the drug) misoprostol not being available to treat postpartum hemorrhage to the insufficient distribution of magnesium sulfate for preeclampsia in rural clinics,” he said. “This is where research is needed to coalesce and bring consensus, and that’s one of the jobs of the task force.”
Grace Lusiola, director of the EngenderHealth office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, works in conjunction with the government on strategies like the One Plan, a federal campaign unveiled in April 2008 to reduce maternal and child deaths. The campaign’s contributions to policy development include providing post-abortion care.
“Unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal death in Tanzania,” Lusiola said in an e-mail interview. “We’re increasing the number of facilities at the community level where women who have had unsafe abortions can go for medical care. Being able to get emergency care locally and not having to travel (long distances) saves lives.”
Another way to improve maternal health is through building latrines and hand-washing stations. Global Water assembles such facilities for elementary schools in rural areas, working with the Peace Corps to promote good hygiene and halt the spread of waterborne illnesses such as cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis and typhoid fever. On one visit to a village in Guatemala, Kuepper said, volunteers taught children about hygiene–despite lacking the basic tools.
“Those schools didn’t have any water, so they had the students pretend to wash their hands and brush their teeth,” he said. “It was an amazing sight.”
Still, good hygience practices are not common in many countries. A 2009 study published in the journal Health Education Research found that only 29 percent of 802 women surveyed in Kenya washed their hands with soap after using the bathroom, often due to lack of time and energy. (Washing one’s hands with just water is the norm throughout the country.)
“Key motivations for hand washing were disgust, nurture, comfort and affiliation,” wrote lead author Valerie Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “Fear of disease generally did not motivate hand washing,” as 43 percent of the women polled felt that diarrhea “is a normal part of growing up.”
Contaminated water is also commonplace in developing countries. The World Health Organization, or WHO, and the United Nations Children’s Fund issued a report in 2004 that found the definition of “safe water” varied from region to region. WHO has issued guidelines for maintaining water quality around the world since 1982, but leaves it up to each country to implement their own standards. Such inconsistency is why Global Water bypasses the government when it comes to installing water treatment systems.
“We’re trying to fill a void that’s been created by the leaders of the developing world themselves,” Kuepper said. “There’s a real lack of concern among these leaders to take care of their own people.”
The U.N. Millennium Development Goals Report indicates that at the global level maternal mortality rates fell by less than one percent annually between 1990 and 2005–far below the 5.5 percent annual improvement needed to reach the world body’s 2015 target. Of the eight Millennium Development Goals–U.N. benchmarks to reduce poverty and improve health–originally set in 2000, it’s the area that has seen the least amount of progress.
“Women’s health and empowerment is at the heart of all the development goals. I don’t think any of them can be achieved unless we scale up a full range of reproductive health services and policies for women in every part of the world,” Thomas said. “There’s such great momentum around maternal health because the crux of women’s reproductive health and rights is the saving of lives of women who are dying needlessly because of pregnancy or childbirth.”
Improving women’s access to clean water is directly linked to increasing their life expectancy. For example, a 2006 WHO survey found that women in countries such as Tanzania were only expected to live to the age of 51; one of the causes of death was consuming excessive levels of fluoride found in contaminated water. Those who do survive in countries with unsafe water have to deal with side effects like stiff joints.
“The body acclimates to some degree to accommodate the level of contamination in the water,” Kuepper said. But he pointed out that such adaptation only applies to microorganisms like bacteria and viruses, not minerals like fluoride and arsenic. Since water contamination remains an environmental hazard to women and children in the world’s poorest nations, he doesn’t envision the development goals being fulfilled within the next six years.
“I don’t see anything on the horizon to fix the problem. There’s not enough funding efficiently being spent in water-short areas of the world,” he said.
I was browsing the Bitch Magazine blog this afternoon when I stumbled on this woman’s story. Majka Burhardt is a rock climber. But she doesn’t use the rock wall at the gym. So far she has written books about climbing in Ethiopia and Namibia and has contributed to major publications about her climbing. Not only is she breaking through a field mainly dominated by men, but she concerns herself with also interacting with the local culture.
This is the trailer for her new book, Waypoint Namibia:
I enjoy being able to talk about climbing and life. The two go together for me. I’m always interested in how this works in my life and in the lives of others. In some ways I think this makes me different. Maybe this is because I am a woman, maybe it’s because I am a writer. I think people identify with my work because it shows the human side of climbing— what is fallible, what is emotional, what is humorous. I write a great deal about how climbing interacts with the every day part of life. I’m lucky that I’ve found an audience for this.
Missed part 1? Check it out here
Since long before the issue garnered adequate concern on the world stage, women have been resisting, mitigating and even reversing the impacts of climate change, primarily at the local level. Moreover, not only do women tend to care for the environment, but they do so in a way that reflects how it is connected to the economy and livelihoods, health and social well-being.
This is the second article in a four-part series that explores the gendered impacts of climate change.
The first article discussed how women are impacted by climate change. Stay tuned in the coming months for part three, which explores how women are organizing in preparation for the December 2009 United Nations Conference on Climate Change; and part four, which discusses how the outcomes of the conference might impact women’s rights.
By Masum Momaya
Climate Change is now on the minds and lips of many people in local and international policy spaces. Yet, many women in large part due to their social roles as caretakers and their livelihoods as farmers, have been observing and mitigating the impact of climate change for generations. Today, they continue to care for the environment in their day-to-day interactions with it and also bring their experiences to legal and policymaking spaces at local, national, regional and international levels.
Because many live so intimately with the land and are often responsible for food, fuel, shelter, water and medicine in their families, women’s understanding of the climate change transcends science, statistics and physical changes to include the socioeconomic dimensions. Specifically, women have long been feeling the effects of agricultural policies dominated by corporate interests; the plunder and extraction of natural resource by governments and the private sector for profit; the oppression of indigenous peoples and their knowledge of biodiversity; the health impact of air, water and food pollutants; and the inadequacy of market-driven solutions in halting carbon emissions.
In Kenya, Wangari Maathai and the women of the Green Belt Movement have been planting trees and conserving water to replenish the rapid deforestation. What started out as a movement to simply replace trees that had been cut with seedlings has expanded to include a movement for peace, as Maathai herself found that environmental problems were a symptom and by-product of bad governance and widespread marginalization of women. The act of planting trees initially brought women together to exchange ideas and tap their knowledge of the environment. Yet, it eventually led them to work for peace and accountability, with some running for local and national positions. In this movement and various others worldwide, the destruction of the environment has politicized women and they have been at the forefront of an integrated analysis of and approach towards halting climate change.
In India, monocropping, or the strategy of planting one crop en masse for higher yields, and the increased used of harsh pesticides has eroded the soil. Large agribusiness corporations have developed and pushed the use of genetically modified seeds for these weaker soils, which have required harsher, more expensive pesticides and not necessarily yielded fruitful harvest. In desperation, such corporations have stolen seeds from local farmers, attempting to patent the seeds using intellectual property laws.  Women of the Navdanya movement in these farming communities have been selecting and saving strong seeds as a means of survival and resistance to large agribusiness and a means of maintaining indigenous biodiversity, and they are now fighting the patenting of their seeds in courts.
In Nigeria, partnerships between government officials and corporations have facilitated large-scale drilling and extraction of oil, releasing copious poisonous vapors and robbing local Nigerians of benefiting from or sharing in profits. Instead, local workers face low wages and hazardous working conditions while the surroundings environs are devastated. Using shaming tactics and strength in numbers, women in Nigeria have organized to either shut down the drilling or forced corporations to change their environmental and labor practices, ensuring that both people and the environment are protected.
In Bolivia, women played instrumental roles in community-based struggles against privatization of water provisions in Cochabamba. Faced with a government who decided to turn over the country’s water supply to be managed by large, multinational corporations, who in turn charged exorbitant, prohibitive prices for water, citizens rallied to create water associations and cooperatives, build water storage tanks, construct distribution networks, and drill wells, using limited resources. Acutely aware of the need for water for nutrition, disease eradication, sanitation, hygiene and farming, women worldwide are fighting the impacts of water privatization.
At the local level, many women lawyers are invoking legal systems to fight against environmental destruction and climate change. For example, Olya Melen has taken the Ukrainian government to task for allowing large cargo ships to dredge a canal across the Danube Delta wetlands, harming its biodiversity. In Papua New Guinea, Anne Kajir has been fighting for land rights on behalf of indigenous landowners who have seen massive logging in their rainforest. And in Kazakhstan, Kaisha Atakhanova has organized a movement to lobby against her country’s importing of nuclear waste, which has threatened to add to already high occurrences of genetic mutations, cancer and irradiated food resulting from decades of existing nuclear emissions.
At the national level, women form an increasing number of the ranks of Green Parties, which are advancing multi-issue social agendas, especially in Europe. In addition to pushing for environmental concerns to be at the forefront of policymaking agendas, many Green Parties are also concerned with grassroots democracy, sustainable development, nonviolence, women’s rights, indigenous rights and social justice – and many parties’ platforms are set and championed by women leaders in Parliaments.
Women’s rights groups and some researchers in various countries are also lobbying governments to include access to contraception and comprehensive reproductive health services in their agendas and funding to address climate change. A recent study concludes that universal access to reproductive health could be one of the most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Also, according to RH Reality Check, an online publication committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, “rapid population growth can exacerbate existing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.” The publication explains, for example, that “population growth rates in highly vulnerable low elevation coastal zones in Bangladesh and China are nearly twice as high as national averages; and in Ethiopia, the combination of rapid population growth and climate-induced declines in agricultural production will heighten food insecurity.”  Nevertheless, advocates must be cautious that women are not coerced as population control targets in their efforts to curb climate change. At the international level, women’s rights groups have been documenting and raising awareness about the gendered impact of climate change and also building the capacity of local organizations and regional networks to integrate an analysis of and advocacy around climate change integrate into the other issues they address via resource manuals, trainings and convenings.
Women’s rights organizations have also been increasingly participating in high-level climate change discussions, including questioning the dominance of market-driven solutions such as carbon trading to curb emissions. For example, Yifat Susskind of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, has explained that carbon trading “allows companies with high carbon emissions to fund projects that supposedly absorb carbon in exchange for their continued pollution. [This] does not address the root cause of climate change, which is unsustainable use of resources. It simply enables the continued emission of carbon. In a perverse way, [it] creates an incentive for carbon pollution by turning emissions into a tradable commodity.” 
Amidst a geopolitical landscape populated with powerful and marginalized stakeholders and influenced by complex political and private sector agendas, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen will provide yet another space in which to influence global policy and campaign for gender equality to be brought about in concert with environmental protection.
Learn more about Women’s Strategies to Address Climate Change:
Two powerful videos showing women’s relationship with the environment, from the Women News Network:
Johan Hari of The Independent/UK has reported an amazing story this week about a woman who set out to save trees in Africa.
She was born on the floor of a mud hut with no water or electricity in the middle of rural Kenya, in the place where human beings took their first steps. There was no money but there was at least lush green rainforest and cool, clear drinking water. But Maathai watched as the life-preserving landscape of her childhood was hacked down. The forests were felled, the soils dried up, and the rivers died, so a corrupt and distant clique could profit. She started a movement to begin to make the land green again – and in the process she went to prison, nearly died, toppled a dictator, transformed how African women saw themselves, and won a Nobel Prize.
Her name is Wangari Maathai, and she considers herself a “daughter of the soil”. Humbled be humans needs for trees, she returned to Africa after coming to the U.S. for college. She was the first woman ever to get a PhD in East or Central Africa. She convinced international aid organizations to pay some woman from the National Council of Women of Kenya to plant trees. As Hari says, planting trees turned to planting ideas, and her own husband began to see her Maathai as a threat.
The very public divorce from her husband did not deter her from protesting and soon other men began to see her as a threat also.
But the initial reaction to her protests was frightening. She began to receive anonymous phone calls telling her should shut up or face death. Moi called her a “madwoman,” and announced: “According to African traditions, women should respect their men! She has crossed the line!” When she carried on, she was charged with treason – a crime which carried the death penalty – and was slammed away in prison. She had arthritis, and she says: “In that cold, wet cell my joints ached so much I thought I would die.” But she would not apologise, or give in. “What other people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don’t see the danger. If you only look at the solution, you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.”
She went on to get national recognition and has left Africa to spread her knowledge
The rainforests can be killed from two directions – by the saws of men like Moi, or the warming gases of people like us. That is why she has left the land she loves, armed with the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 2004, and travelled so far: to try to persuade us to let the forests live. “There are moments in history when humans have to raise their consciousness and see the world anew. This is one of those moments. We are being called to assist the earth in healing her wounds, and in the process we can heal our own. We can revive our sense of belonging to a larger community of life. We can see who we really are.”
I strongly suggest reading the rest of this amazing woman’s life here
Climate change has forced The Massai – a tribe in Kajiado, Kenya – to compete with animals over the water supply. The tribe is struggling against the new seasonal weather patterns although they have been residents of the land for centuries. Their quest for water takes the men into the capital, Nairobi.
As traditional cattle herders, the Maasai have found themselves leaving their homes for months at a time in search of pastures and water for their animals. In most cases this means vulnerable women, children and the elderly are left behind to fend for themselves in the villages.
Ebby Nanzala Wamatsi who wrote the article on The Massai for the Women News Network says in some cases women walk over 10 kilometers to fetch water and still there is a chance that they will return empty handed. However, with the help of the United Nations Environment Programme, women are also taking action to change their situation.
The project is being spearheaded by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Regional Land Management Unit of the World Agro-forestry Centre. The organisations are providing equipment and training for the women.
To date, over 200 tanks have been constructed under the initiative. The women are also involved in digging mini reservoirs or ‘earth-pans’ to collect run-off water from sloping land. This in turn is used for irrigation purposes to water their crop and vegetable fields.
The women of Kajiado have also begun a tree-planting project to encourage the Maasai to adopt a more settled communal way of life as arable farmers. It makes it compulsory for every household to plant at least a hundred trees.
“It’s time to determine our own destiny. I am anticipating cooler weather. We are fed up with scorching temperatures and spending entire days searching for water,” says Luise Mwoiko, chair of the Mataanobo Women’s Group.
The women’s initiative cooperates to construct water tanks from one homestead to another. And they are proud of their work, as Mwoiko makes clear. “We never bother our men to climb up the tanks and make the final touches. We do it ourselves,” says Mwoiko as she adds that the women’s husbands assist financially in the projects.
Another member, Jerusha Lasoi, said their projects will ensure that the Maasai will no longer require food aid from outside their community. Pointing to her secure reservoir of water, a milk cow and thriving business in vegetable sales, Lasoi felt confident in their future.
Education has already proved to be one of the main reasons communities survive and prosper. Somalia, facing one of its biggest humanitarian crisis in 18 years, is struggling to get its women into colleges. Whether it’s because they are forced to stay home after getting married or don’t have enough money to pay for tuition, women are getting an unequal chance at going to college. However, as part of the U.N.’s millennium development goals, the UNDP has set up the Somali Women’s Scholarship Fund, and almost 200 women are taking advantage of it. WeNews correspondent Lensay Abadula recently covered the issue and you can read more about it here. Below is a video from UNDP-USA. You can check out their website to learn more about the fund and how to donate.