We are proud to support Global Impact with the launch of its Women & Girls Fund this week during International Women’s Day. Below, read more about how you can join Global Impact, CARE, World Vision, Plan USA and ICRW to help women and girls around the world. And be sure to join our conversation on Twitter this Friday, March 7 at 2 PM EST. RSVP at twtvite.com/womensdaychat.
This week marks a momentous occasion to celebrate women and girls and to continue to work tirelessly to make their lives better around the world. Saturday, March 8, is the annual International Women’s Day celebration where the world comes together to raise awareness about the global plight of women and girls.
• Did you know that an estimated sixty percent of women have been physically or sexually abused?
• Did you know that women produce half of the world’s food, but own less than one percent of the world’s property?
• Did you know that each year, about 300,000 women suffer a preventable death during pregnancy and childbirth?
• Did you know that two-thirds of the children denied primary education are girls?
• Did you know women and girls make up ninety-eight percent of trafficking victims?
What Can We Really Do To Solve These Problems?
Global Impact, a world leader in international philanthropy, has partnered with four of the best-in-the- business charities, CARE, World Vision, Plan, and the International Center for Research on Women, to raise awareness about these issues and to raise funds to help women and girls gain safer, healthier, more prosperous lives. Global Impact has brought these leading organizations together under one fund so that people passionate about helping women and girls can help the work of all four charities by giving in one place.
The Fund is one of the most effective ways to support programs that help women and girls. Through this fund, you will join a movement with millions of people to change the world by helping to provide education, protection and rehabilitation from violence and exploitation, job training, healthcare, safe drinking water and a host of other services to women and girls around the world.
Your contributions go directly to supporting real and meaningful work to improve the lives of women and girls. By investing in a girl, she can lift herself out of poverty and abuse, altering the condition of her family, her community and, ultimately, the world.
Visit www.togetherforwomen.org to donate any amount to help women and girls and to learn more about the Global Impact Women & Girls Fund.
One of the main goals of starting Mom Bloggers for Social Good two years ago was to provide key opportunities for members to travel to see the work of our partners on the ground. For me, seeing the work I write about around the world has been immensely instrumental to learn and become a better advocate for programs that work and share issues that need to be better delved into. Last year three Social Good Moms members saw our partners’ work on the ground: in Delhi, India (Nicole Melancon), Johannesburg, South Africa, and in Indonesia (Stacey Weckstein). Today I am proud to announce the fourth Social Good Mom who will travel on an insight trip.
Jennifer Barbour who writes at Another Jennifer and who is a tireless member of both the Social Good Moms and the Global Team of 200 will travel to Nicaragua with our partner WaterAid to see their water and sanitation programs in one of the poorest countries in the world. The trip will be held March 16 – March 23, 2014 and corresponds with World Water Day which is held annually on March 22. You can follow the trip at #WaterAidNica.
“I am honored to be accompanying WaterAid America on this insight trip to Nicaragua on behalf of Mom Bloggers for Social Good. Having worked with WaterAid America in the past and being a current donor, I look forward to seeing their work on the ground and talking with those who have benefitted from access to safer water and improved sanitation.” – Jennifer Barbour
We are excited to work closely with WaterAid America to spread the word about their Nicaragua programs and are honored that they have chosen one of our members to travel on their very first blogger trip.
“When it comes to beating the global water crisis, the Mom Bloggers for Social Good are a powerful voice for change. We are delighted to team up with them for this, WaterAid’s first blogger insight trip”, commented WaterAid Media & Communications Officer, Alanna Imbach.
“What we see in Nicaragua is a telling example of how smart investments around safe water and toilets can drive entrepreneurship, empower women and improve the health and wellbeing of entire communities. For anyone interested in getting to know the changemakers that are breaking down barriers and creating a future in which clean water and toilets are an accessible reality for everyone in their community, you’re not going to want to miss this trip.”
Over the course of the next month or so we will be working with major NGOs to spread the word about new reports and critical days commemorating important causes and issues. Mark your calendars for these causes.
Tuesday, February 25
We will be working with Save the Children to spread the word about its brand-new newborn health report during a 24-hour carnival.
#TeacherTuesday launches with UNESCO on this day. We are joining nine other global voices to share inspirational teachers around the world for ten weeks. Read more.
#TeacherTuesday Twitter chat with the first featured teacher will take place at 12 PM GMT. Join with the#TeacherTuesday hashtag.
Thursday, February 27 from 12:00 – 1:30 PM EST
Investing in Women and Girls: Finding solutions in water, sanitation and hygiene, featuring H&M Conscious Foundation and Procter & Gamble. WaterAid will be standing by, too, to answer any questions that people might have about the work that we are gearing up to do together. RSVP by February 25 at https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/487286806
Friday, February 28
This day marks the last day to comment on the Every Newborn Action Plan. Add your comments by this Friday.
When we talk about sky-high maternal mortality rates we tend to look more closely at low-income countries like Afghanistan, Chad and Somalia that have the world’s highest maternal mortality rates in the world according to the World Bank. And, of course, sub-Saharan African countries need to desperately bring their numbers down. But when you look at rich, developed countries the United States has the highest maternal mortality rates among them and the rates are not declining. In fact, maternal mortality rates in the United States have doubled over the past 25 years. African-American women are 3x more likely to die during childbirth in the United States. And, Caucasian women are more likely to die during childbirth than women in 24 other industrialized countries. 21 mothers die per 100,000 live births in the United States. Compare that to Greece (3), Finland (5), and even the United Kingdom (12) deaths per 100,000 live births.
This year as we report on maternal mortality we will also include the United States in our news reporting because the numbers are high, increasing, and are baffling researchers and doctors. They do not know concretely what is causing the doubled maternal mortality ratios although they suspect obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, health care disparities, and older mothers may be causing the steady spike in numbers in the United States.
Embolism 20% – A blood clot that blocks an essential blood vessel, for example in the lungs
Hemorrhage 17% – Severe blood loss
Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia 16% – Disorders associated with excessively high blood pressure
Cardiomyopathy 8% – Heart muscle disease
And, according to Merck for Mothers, a woman nearly dies in childbirth every two minutes, that is more than 50,000 women annually. See infographic. Around 650 women die during childbirth or shortly thereafter based on numbers from the CDC.
As we continue to report on maternal mortality around the world where the rates are in the hundreds per 100,000 we will not forget about the mothers who are also dying here in the United States, a country that spends the most in the world on health care.
In our country there are two kinds of marriages: one is settled marriage and another one is love marriage. Settled marriage means, where guardians select bride or groom for a person and the marriage happens. As far as I have seen, most of the people like, or respect settled marriage. Well you won’t find it by surveying on blog because most of the Bangladeshi don’t know what a blog is. When any couple makes a love marriage (where couples choose each other), people will congratulate them, but behind them they will say what they actually feel, and off course, they are not good comments though everyone wants to marry a person who they like.
When a husband hurt a wife, everybody will dislike it but won’t react, because they think its natural or a common thing. If a woman tries to hit back, nobody will like that and will make an issue. But nobody wants to be beaten.
Everybody wants their husband to help them in their work. But if she saw any other husband helping their wife, she will say, it’s not good and many more things. And rest of the society will agree with her.
Every woman will like to take enough rest and do all work in her own way. But she will never let other woman (bride of her son) do her work in her own choice. People think that is bad and our society will never agree with the bride.
Why are our thoughts like that? Why can’t we be fair with all humans?
As the world learns more about the promise of women to bring peace, prosperity and economic well-being to nations, Rwanda has become a poster child of this promise. Thriving after one of the most brutal genocides in history, today Rwanda is referred to as the heart of the African Renaissance.
In September’s elections Rwandans once again voted in a female majority parliament, directly electing 26 women in addition to the 24 seats reserved for females in the constitution. Rwanda has come to be the world’s leader in women lawmakers holding an unprecedented 64 percent of seats in Rwanda’s parliament, more than any another country in the world. Women also occupy some of the most important government ministries, holding approximately one third of all cabinet positions.
As a result, life is changing fast for women in Rwanda and these investments in women will have a ripple effect that will improve life for their families, communities and the country as a whole. To begin a list of astounding accomplishments, the small African nation has cut poverty by 12% in six years, from 57% of its population to 45%. This is roughly one million Rwandans emerging from poverty, most of them women and children — one of the most stunning drops in the world.
Paul Collier, director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University notes that Rwanda can be compared to an East Asian-style “developmental state,” where the government is very serious about growing the economy. “The economy was well managed, with inflation kept low, and the business environment improved.” As a result, over the course of six years Rwanda has moved from around 140th to 60th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” annual rating.
Some changes in Rwanda are obvious to the eye, such as houses that have tin roofs instead of thatch. A decent roof is one of the first changes people make when they start the ascent out of poverty. Some of the changes are psychological. There is a sense and a hope that things really can improve, and a sense that individual families can do something to better their circumstances.
Josh Ruxin, director of Rwanda Works has lived with his family in Rwanda since 2005. He notes the amazing infrastructure and economic development improvements he has witnessed. “Five years ago, traveling anywhere in the country was bound to be a bumpy ride, if the way was even passable. Today, east-to-west and north-to-south, the road infrastructure is impressive and continues to expand. Five years ago, the country struggled to get tourists in for $375 permits to visit Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. Today, during high season, there are not enough $500 tickets to meet the demand. Five years ago, there were no supermarkets or ATMs, and the cheapest cell phones cost $50. Today there are multiple supermarkets, over a dozen international ATMs, and cell phones that cost $14 are plentiful.”
Ruxin notes that access to formerly inconsistent electricity and running water even for those who could pay for it, is being constantly improved. Hotels and restaurants are popping up everywhere and a service sector is emerging to meet heightened tourism demand. Wireless broadband is being installed across the country and more universities, technical schools, and preschools are opening. The second national language has shifted from French to English.
A Dedicated Focus on Health Outcomes and Family Planning
To accomplish the stunning drop in poverty major investments were made in the rural poor and extensive improvements were made in health programs and outcomes. Collier notes that “most of the achievement is likely due to domestic policies.”
At a summit to review the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Rwanda was commended for its very likely success in meeting and possibly even surpassing the MDG targets for child and maternal mortality by 2015. According to officials at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which provides contraceptives and other support to rural communities, Rwanda has literally brought its health care system back to life. The government has initiated bold reforms and innovative approaches to make health care accessible and affordable for everyone, with a strong emphasis on reproductive health, including family planning.
Much of the credit for successes goes to the government’s successful health insurance program. Its removal of user fees for family planning services has contributed to significant increases in use of services. There has been a jump from 9% to 26% of contraceptive prevalence among married women aged 15-49, and the skilled birth attendance rate increased from 39% to 52%.
“This a real achievement,” says Asha Mohamud, a reproductive health advisor for UNFPA. “It often takes decades for countries to see this kind of change.”
The Mayange Health Centre is located in the heart of the Bugesera district, just south of the capital city of Kigali. Built in 1999, the clinic serves 25,000 people. Until early 2006, it saw only 5 to 10 patients a day. Nurses were rarely in attendance and pharmaceuticals were not available. Lights had been installed in the facility but there was no electricity to power them. With the new investments in the government’s health insurance program the center has rapidly transformed into a model for the nation.
Enrollment in the clinics programs has grown quickly, and the number of patients has skyrocketed to more than 150 each day. Those enrolled pay an annual premium equivalent to 2 US dollars and women who keep four appointments during a pregnancy can deliver at no cost. Staff training and infrastructure improvements have significantly enhanced services, and now the lights are turned on permanently.
Other major changes include new equipment and more staff to contribute to safe and hygienic births. The clinic used to only have three trained nurses and most mothers were still giving birth at home. Now it has eighteen nurses available and most of the mothers in the area now give birth at the health center. Life expectancy for the babies has improved as well and mothers are educated to stay for three days after delivery to ensure the health of their newborn.
The initial results of these health investments in Rwanda are impressive. Child mortality has decreased by over 30% since 2005 and maternal mortality declined by 25 % in the years up to 2005. There has been a decline in the fertility rate from 6.1 to 5.5 children per woman, and achievement of immunization rates of 95% were attained by 2008.
The Need for More Progress
These new achievements will have notable effects on the population as a whole as the country grows, but even more progress is needed. The land in Rwanda is already intensively settled, and the hillsides densely cultivated with bananas, coffee and vegetables. With approximately 368 people per square kilometer, Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. And because of its terrain — the country is known as the land of a thousand hills – that means that not all of the land is arable. And with two thirds of its population under the age of 25, dropping fertility rates are good news. The dramatic expansion of family planning that is taking place and the growing desire for smaller families will be a key feature to managing future growth.
There is still much to done, however. For example, women in the rural Muhura area still bear an average of six children or more. Until recently, they had little choice in the matter. According to representatives from UNFPA, the nearest health clinic, like about 60% of the health services in Rwanda, is run by the Catholic Church. The only contraceptive devices offered there are cycle beads, a refinement of the rhythm method. Transportation to these rural health posts is problematic as busses pass through town only a couple of times a week, and there are no private cars. An “ambulance” is traditionally four men carrying someone in a hammock dozens of kilometers or more over hilly rutted roads to the nearest hospital.
But thanks to new investments from the government today women can be referred to new secondary health posts, where family planning counseling and contraceptives are available free of charge. In Muhura for example, the Health Ministry converted an empty building into a secondary health post that offers family planning information and services three days a week. 65 secondary rural health posts have already been established throughout the country, and 21 more centers are planned.
Once the health post opened, women began coming, first in a trickle, then in droves. “Now we see about 50 women a day,” said the nurse who runs the rural post program in Muhura.
Rwandan women have not always been so accepting of family planning. Traditionally, having children has been a source of respect and pride and rumors and misconceptions about contraceptives, and fear of side effects were common. But According to UNFPA officials a massive effort is underway to educate Rwandan communities, both men and women, about the value of smaller families. The government is very conscious of demographic trends, said Cheik Falls, the UNFPA deputy representative in the country. “They know that they have a special country because of the all the hills. If the demographic aspects are not mastered, it will jeopardize development efforts.”
As a result of this growing awareness attitudes are changing and the desire for smaller families is increasing. At a meeting in Muhura hosted by UNFPA, officials noted that when local women were asked, “How many have more than five children?” dozens of women raised their hands.
And when asked “How many are done having children?” almost all of the hands went up. According to DHS data, only 7 % of married women in Rwanda want to have another child soon.
“I want to raise the three children I have properly and pay for their education,” says a 28-year-old mother. “When you have a lot of children you will remain poor.”
Now that contraception has been made more widely available, women who want to stop having babies but whose husbands object are told it is their right to choose. Some even go to these rural health posts in secret for three-monthly injections.
These secondary health posts are attracting clients and interest in modern contraceptive methods, says Daphrose Nyirasafali, a reproductive health and rights officer with UNFPA Rwanda. “The government and its partners are optimistic this strategy will boost the adoption of modern family planning methods, resulting in a more manageable fertility rate and sustainable development.”
Changing Laws are Changing Perceptions
Clearly, what is happening in Rwanda is little short of revolutionary.
“There used to be a lot of rapes, wife beating, male domination of women, boys sent to school and not girls,” said Nyirasafali. “That has all changed, even in the countryside.” Rape is now acknowledged as a very serious offense and there is a free police hotline and heavy jail sentences for perpetrators. The legislature has also passed bills aimed at ending domestic violence and child abuse, although these issues remain a vexing issue for the country.
Rwandan women now have the right to own land and property and when they marry they may choose to combine their assets with their husband or they can keep them separate. Inheritance laws have been passed to split a man’s property equally between his wife and both female and male children. As a result the divorce rate is increasing.
A legislative committee has combed through the countries legal code and has compiled a list of laws to modify or toss out altogether to put an end to gender discrimination, including one that requires a woman to get her husband’s signature to receive a bank loan.
New social norms are also unfolding. Traditionally in Rwanda men and women operated in separate spheres and played different roles, said Juliana Kantengwa, a member of Rwanda’s senate. “There were no-go areas, like drumming,” she said, that were male only preserves. During opening ceremonies, we now have teams of girls drumming with strength, enthusiasm and skill. “We (now) see fathers encouraging their daughters to do engineering and get out of nursing. (And) we have quite a number in the army and police force.” Women are driving the economy — working on construction sites, in factories and as truck and taxi drivers.
Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister, and one of eight female ministers, said no one should view Rwanda’s women parliamentarians as “window dressing”. “We have a lot of influence,” Mushikiwabo said. “The president is present most of the time in our cabinet meetings. He encourages us to think out of the box and initiate policy. It’s a very open forum. That’s where all the major decisions for the country are made.”
Having a female majority voice can certainly change priorities. “The fact that we are so many has made it possible for men to listen to our views,” said lawmaker Espérance Mwiza. “Now that we’re a majority, we can do even more.”
Rwanda’s progress for women is being admired around the globe. The government convened an international forum on the role of leadership in gender equality and woman’s empowerment, attracting women ministers, MPs and dignitaries from all over Africa and the world, including the UN deputy secretary general from Tanzania, Asha-Rose Migiro. “I salute you for bringing gender and equality to the heart of the political process,” she told the forum in the Rwandan parliament.
So what is next for this African Renaissance? The government has now set its sights on getting the country to middle-income levels. Growth so far has come primarily from improving existing systems and services. Collier says that to reach middle income, “Rwanda needs pioneer investors and aid to support them with public infrastructure; I hope that it gets them. If it does, then, yes, poverty can continue to fall fast.”
Rwanda’s astounding achievements are welcome news on a continent where overall progress towards these goals has barely registered. They demonstrate what is possible when political will and innovative policy meet the promise of women in leadership.
Today marks the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. It is vitally important that we raise our collective voices today and frequently throughout the year to help stop the violence against young girls who are literally mutilated in the name of culture and custom when they have to endure a lifetime of pain and agony.
I just finished the riveting book The Girl With Three Legs: A Memoir about a Somalian woman, Soraya Mire, who underwent the practice in Mogadishu when she was 13. It is a fascinating read into the culture of FGM and why it is extremely difficult to stop. It also is an empowering testament about how a single voice can indeed make change. Think about what a chorus of voices can do!
Read my review of The Girl With Three Legs and take stock of the following facts you may or may not have known about FGM.
Female genital mutilation or FGM for short is one of the most horrific crimes against girls and women in the world. According to the World Health Organization over 100 million women and girls live with the adverse effects of FGM, a traditional practice where a girl’s external genitalia are removed. The pain is excruciating oftentimes performed without anesthesia by older women in a village and according to traditional customs. Girls are then sewn up and a tiny hole is all that remains – tiny enough that only a Q-tip can get inside. FGM causes massive health problems for women and girls who sometimes cannot urinate and have unbearable menses because the blood cannot sufficiently flow out of a girl’s body. Once a girl is married, many times very early, sex is painful and when she has a baby its head cannot breach the massive, thick scar tissue that forms from FGM causing its death. And many women find themselves then having a fistula. This happens more times than not. FGM remains a destructive circle of violence against women and girls particularly when after birth women are re-sewn in order to remain “chaste”.
The best telling of FGM is in The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir written by FGM activist and Somalian woman, Soraya Mire. Mire was 13 years old living in Mogadishu, Somalia when she underwent FGM. Her day started beautifully with her mother going out to shop and buy beautiful clothes, but the day ended in a strange house where her genitalia was forcefully removed and literally thrown to stray dogs to eat. It was a horrific experience for Mire, she writes. It took her many, many years before she decided to come forward to help prevent girls from undergoing FGM in her homeland and beyond.
After undergoing FGM Mire became extremely sick with swollen legs because urine and blood could never pass through her vagina as it should. Her parents who were wealthy tried everything to help her except reverse the procedure. They called in a Chinese doctor to perform acupuncture. They went to a local doctor who prescribed her medicine because they thought she had gone crazy, but it didn’t work. They also took Mire to local healers and, of course, that didn’t help either. She lived in pain for years until she went to college in Europe and discovered she has been secretly married to one of her cousins.
FGM and an arranged marriage were the ultimate signs of betrayal for her independence and for autonomy over her body. It took Mire several moves in Europe, escaping from her husband, and an eventual and final move to the United States before she found her voice to create her film about FGM, Fire Eyes.
Amid death threats and being shunned by her people and even countries that didn’t want her showing her film she found resolve in spreading the word about the dangers of FGM. Through sheer determination and a willingness to move forward with her story despite many Somalian’s desire for her to keep her mouth shut about FGM Mire found herself at Sundance and even on the Oprah show. She was also instrumental in helping to make FGM a felony in the United States as more Somalian refugees came to America and tried to continue the practice with their daughters.
Knowing and understanding the full scope of FGM is difficult if you haven’t gone through it or know anyone who has, but Mire brings the ugliness of this violence against women and girls to her readers in raw detail. Anyone who reads this will stand against the practice in any way they can.
Today is World Cancer Day, a day to talk about and discuss cancer and the myths surrounding the global disease. On World Cancer Day we are focusing our efforts on cervical cancer and its effects on women in poor countries.
Last year I met a cervical cancer nurse, Susan Banda, at the N’Gombe Health Clinic in Lusaka, Zambia who said she is treating more and more women every day with cervical cancer. Africa has the highest rates of cervical cancer deaths at 270,000 each year. By 2030 it is estimated that 500,000 women will die from cervical cancer and 98% of those deaths will be in low and middle-income countries. Humanitarian organizations and governments are working to end the amount of cervical cancer deaths and diagnoses. USAID is working toward and funding a single-visit approach to cervical cancer (pdf). Jhpiego is studying the rate of cervical cancer in African women and has implemented programs in Africa since 1995 to fight the disease.
You might have also heard about the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative that was created by the George W. Bush Institute. Partnering with PEPFAR and Susan B. Komen among other implementing and founding partners, the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon campaign will increase the number of HPV vaccines for girls and will help fund cervical cancer treatments.
This World Cancer Day think about the amount of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer every day. You can help by donating to our partner Jhpiego. For $25 you can provide a cervical cancer screening unit with vinegar, lights, and swabs.
Over the next few months we will be helping to promote one of the largest women’s conferences in Africa – the Women Advancement Forum. The forum will be held May 24 – 29, 2014 in Banjul, Gambia at the Sheraton Hotel.
The Women Advancement Forum (WAF) is Africa’s most attended global gender conference. WAF is a platform that recognizes women’s advancement and empowerment is amongst the most outstanding agents to the actualization of Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) and beyond.
Many of the issues facing women across the African continent will be discussed including violence against women, maternal and newborn health, malaria, eradication of extreme poverty and climate change.