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.
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.
When I was in Tanzania in October I went into a traditional Massai hut where a mother was inside making beans in a kettle over a red hot fire. The fire was ridiculously hot and I couldn’t believe how the woman and her family could endure the heat and smoke from cooking.
While I was in Ethiopia last year observing frontline health workers with Save the Children I had the unfortunate circumstance of going into a traditional hut where the mother was cooking on her indoor cookstove. The smoke from the burning wood was so thick and powerful I could hardly breathe and again couldn’t imagine a family, let alone children and babies, being in an enclosed area with that much damaging smoke.
In Ethiopia communities recognize families as “model families” if they have two separate homes – one for living and one for cooking — but many do not have the resources to create a separate space for cooking.
When you visit developing countries where there is widespread cookstove use you will see children who have a lot of mucus in their noses. Cookstove smoke causes increased risk of pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart disease. And 2 million people die every year because of indoor health pollution.
Now that I have experienced how harmful cookstoves are I am more adamant about how important clean cookstoves are to the health and well-being of families, particularly women and children.
To celebrate International Youth Day today, join Catapult.org, the leading crowdfunding site for girls’ and women’s issues, and fund a program that will specifically help girls in developing countries. Projects can be funded quickly and simply on Catapult.
OXFAM: Provide education for 6,000 girls in Pakistan’s flooded regions by flood-proofing 30 schools and campaigning for the right of girls in education: http://shorefi.re/1exHyDd
Global Fund for Children: Help 42 girls living with HIV/AIDS in Dominican Republic with medical care, tutoring and psychological workshops: http://shorefi.re/136f83u
Much of yesterday’s Women Deliver 2013 conversation centered around education for girls. Without at least a primary education girls in poor and middle income countries cannot properly contribute to their country’s economy nor to their household.
Girls who are fortunate to prolong marriage are able to attend school longer than if they are married away by their family. Being married off instead of staying in school poses a huge challenge because once girls are married off it becomes increasingly difficult for them to become educated. And, girls face the often insurmountable challenge of having children even though they are not properly equipped to deliver a baby causing many to die during childbirth. In fact, the number one cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 – 19 is childbirth says the World Health Organization.
According to UNESCO 66 million girls are out of school globally. Just last week I was in Delhi and time and time again we heard that while boys are often allowed to go to school and encouraged to do so (unless they are street children) girls are often discouraged from going to school and instead are needed for domestic duties or to help their families scratch out a living in the family business whether that is selling vegetables on the side of the road or being hired out as domestic help. Girls as young at 14 can work as domestics in India.
When girls are not educated everyone suffers. Countries suffer from an inadequate workforce. It also leads to a continuum of poverty for many families where girls grow into women who are illiterate with little to no skills. A girl’s education provides a 20% increase in income for them over their lifetime per the World Bank. Additionally, educated mothers are twice as likely to send their children to school.
When we were in India last week we saw many girls in the schools we visited. It is my hope that those girls are able to continue their education and graduate. Education is one of the silver bullets for a better future for them.
Key Tweets from Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health Session
On the first day of the Women Deliver 2013 conference, here are key tweets we read during the plenary session: Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health Equals Investing in Economic and Social Progress for Everyone
Pathfinder International, a leader in women’s sexual and reproductive health, launched a new series called, “Women Who Dare” on International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8. The series of interviews and stories feature daring women around the world who are doing groundbreaking work on behalf of women and girls.
Women Who Dareincludes Q&As with world leaders like Nafis Sadik (first woman to head a UN agency), Jill Sheffield (Founder and CEO of Women Deliver) as well as community leaders in the field. Melinda Gates is honored for her global family planning work. The series also includes three must-read books for daring women that features new books by Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and Mary Robinson (first female President of Ireland and former UN Ambassador for Human Rights).
Today’s featured Women Who Dares is Christy Turlington-Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, a maternal health advocacy organization.
Circumcision of girls is a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture. The circumcision of girls is prohibited.
According to several reports between 90% to 95% of all girls undergo female genital mutilation in Somalia. FGM is a procedure where the outside of girls’ genitals (clitoris) is removed in order to take away sexual feeling from the vagina. It is a cultural practice to keep girls pure for marriage, but causes undue health problems throughout one’s life including urinary tract and bladder infections, infertility, cysts, and a need for later surgeries according to the World Health Organization.
While this new law in the Somalian constitution is a move in the right direction it will be another fight entirely to enforce it.