PHOTO: Navi Pillay (third from right), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, poses for a group photo with South Sudanese women from Jonglei State who shared stories about their experiences with human rights violations, including violence, child abduction, and forced marriage. UN Photo/Elizabeth Murekio
A woman was recently elected as a senior chief in South Sudan – a not unheard of, but very unusual occurrence. This surely a positive change in a country ravaged by civil war and attendant sexual violence.
Rebecca Nyandier Chatim is now head chief of the Nuer ethnic group in the United Nations Protection of Civilians site (PoC) in Juba, where more than 38,000 people have sought sanctuary with United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeepers. Her victory is of symbolic and practical importance.
South Sudan’s chiefs wield real power, even during wartime. They administer customary laws that can resolve local disputes but also reinforce gender differences and inequalities, to the advantage of the military elite.
So could a female chief work towards changing this? Admittedly, even if the new female chief is determined to effect change — which remains to be seen — the odds are against her. The chief and her community are vulnerable, displaced persons, living in a sort of internal refugee camp, guarded by UN peacekeepers. Fighting and atrocities have continued outside, especially in the devastated homelands of the Nuer people. But the new chief has the support of the former head chief and a group of male paralegals, who have celebrated her victory as an advance for gender equality. Together, they might make a difference.
Sasha is 22-years-old. She was married off when she was just nine and by the time she was 11, she was pregnant with her first child, and unprepared for childbirth.
So when labor came, in the middle of the night – in her geographically isolated village in rural Kenya – she was unaware of the painful fate awaiting her.
During childbirth, the baby’s head was too big to fit through Sasha’s pelvis, causing the baby to get stuck in her birthing canal. Traditional birth attendants tried their best to help Sasha but they were not skilled enough to handle the complications. She needed surgery, and quickly. But because she could not access emergency obstetric services, she spent the next six days trying to push out the baby that was stuck inside of her.
In the end, Sasha delivered a dead, rotten baby in macerated form. She was not only in grief of her lost child, but was also traumatized by her experience which left her with profound injuries and a double obstetric vaginal fistula.
About 21 pregnant women die every day in Kenya due to complications from childbirth. That’s equivalent to two 10-seater commuter micro minibuses, known as matatus, crashing every day with the loss of all the passengers on board.
Pregnant women in Kenya die because they either do not receive appropriate care during pregnancy or are unable to deliver with the help of skilled health attendants.
Child pregnancy is a worldwide blight. Seven million girls in developing countries under the age of 18 become pregnant every year meaning that they have to grow up too soon, put an end to their education, look for adequate healthcare that they can afford, earn money somehow, possibly marry a much older suitor, and figure out a life for her and her child. 11 percent of all worldwide births are by girls between the ages of 15 – 19 according to the World Health Organization. These pregnancies cause far too many maternal and newborn deaths across the globe.
To bring awareness to the number of girls who become pregnant each year in lower-and-middle-income countries, Finnish fashion designer Paola Suhonen created a collection of six, brightly-hued maternity dresses with childhood motifs for 12-year-olds. If this sounds a bit sensational, you’re correct. Suhonen’s maternity collection is solely designed to show the world that too many young girls become pregnant each year because they often don’t have other life options but to become pregnant and are often not taught proper sexual and reproductive health education. It’s a sad state of affairs to be sure, but it happens every day. In fact, 5,500 girls under the age of 15 become pregnant daily.
Working in collaboration with Plan Finland as an issue raising endeavor, Suhonen traveled to Zambia with renown photographer Meeri Koutaniemi to recreate what would be a regular fashion shoot, but instead featured an expectant child mother, Fridah, as her primary model.
“I designed a collection that I wish is not needed and that I don’t want to sell,” said Suhonen. ” This campaign brings together two very important issues – children’s and women’s rights. I hope that people will wake up to the circumstances in which millions of girls live in developing countries.”
Plan Finland has created a thorough FAQ page to answer any questions about the ethics of this campaign. You can donate here.