Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Deadly fire: illuminating disadvantage and killing more people than malaria annually

At first, I didn’t take the problem seriously. I was contacted by a colleague who works with international charities, asking me if I knew about the dangers of fire. They were obvious, I thought. But then she told me about the issue of smoke inhalation from poorly ventilated homes, writing, “the latter is a very under-reported issue that has a big impact both on women's health and also on women's independence. Women are forced to stay in their homes all day watching the fire - breathing in smoke and trapped at home unable to go out, go to school, go out to work etc. It's so important to make the connections between poverty, health and the lack of women's economic independence. All too often those links aren't made and it is as though the problems just spring from no where or are inevitable when in fact they are almost always connected to gender inequality. 

Image (c) Practical Action
As I explored the campaign, Killer in the Kitchen, I began to see how this issue, which at first seemed simple, was actually an original way of seeing how a health issue reflects various underlying and interrelated challenges to do with poverty, health, development and gendered inequality. This issue is where a matrix of social, financial and economic values comes together to create and maintain inequality and disadvantage.

The health risks of smoke inhalation affect women disproportionate because of their exploited, subordinated and labour-exploited status. There is the expectation that food preparation, food serving and all additional domestic labour including cleaning and all childcare are a woman’s duty. There is the expectation that this labour, despite its hard, perpetual, repetitive and unrelenting requirements, is not worth payment or respect. There is the fact that the sheer amount of free labour demanded of women is so great that their ‘duties’ prevent them from studying or self-teaching or pursuing other work outside the house. There is the wider issue of absence of resources, which mean that alternative means of heating and cooking, different methods of building and ventilation and alternative technologies cannot be employed as there is no money to pay for them.

  • Each year the smoke from indoor cooking fires kills more people than malaria. Almost 2 million lives lost, needlessly.
  • Half the deaths from pneumonia of children under five are attributed to indoor air pollution.
  • Indoor air pollution is the biggest child killer in Nepal. Click here for more information.
  • Over 1 million people die each year from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), again attributed to exposure to indoor air pollution 
Practical Action, Killer in the Kitchen campaign. 

The figures, provided by the World Health Organisation, who have produced an extensive report, are shocking. More than three billion people - half the world's population, and its poorest – use simple stoves or three-stone fires to burn fuels such as wood, crop waste, dung and coal for cooking, boiling water and heating. Every year, nearly two million people die, usually from respiratory infections, as a result of inhaling the pollutants in the smoke produced when burning the lowest grades of fuel. Thus those who are already disadvantaged by poverty and therefore have the least access to the ‘clean’ energy provided by higher grade fuel are at risk from the by-products of the lower grade fuel they must use. The majority of victims are women and children under five.

Practical Action has created film footage showing model Gisele Bündchen’s visit to explore the issue in western Kenya and consider the use of waste as a resource – click here to see more. Looking at the wider geographical picture there are certain general actions that can be taken, with the proper investment and support, to implement the use of sustainable and clean energy and develop appropriate and inexpensive cooking and heating technologies that liberate their users (mainly women) both from the labour duties required and the health risks incurred. Both these factors have the potential to challenge what is expected of women, create time in women’s days, lift families out of ‘energy poverty’ and transform women’s own physical health and mental potential and those of their children. 

The methods suggested for combating the problem are cheap and relatively easy: the use of better stoves which reduce the amount of firewood used in a traditional fire by two thirds; sheet metal hoods which channel smoke out of the house and reduce indoor smoke levels by up to 80%; fireless cookers which use stored heat to cook food over a long period of time, saving fuel and reducing smoke.

If we look at case studies in Nepal, Kenya and Sudan we see that these simple measures have had extremely positive results. Happily, there is some evidence of solid political will behind the issue: the Nepali government aims to make all homes in Nepal smoke-free by 2017 and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves has pledged to provide 100 million clean-burning stoves to settlements in rural Africa, Asia and South America by 2020.

Bidisha is a 2013 Fellow for the International Reporting Project. She is reporting on issues of global health and development. 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Vaccines and immunisation: don’t leave a fifth of the world’s children behind

“The hospitals are filled with children with vaccine preventable diseases.”
Johanna Sekennes, Médecins Sans Frontières, Head of Mission, Mali

The rain’s falling thickly onto the roads in rural eastern Mali, preventing cars from passing and making travel by foot virtually impossible. Yet – as a beautifully shot yet hard-hitting new short film, A Preventable Fate, by Venetia Dearden, makes clear – the rainy season does not mean a halt to all industry.  Instead, it coincides with the farming season. Hard-working women, many with children on their backs, labour in the fields to ensure a good crop and a good livelihood. Their responsibilities to the land, to their families and to the sustainability of their agricultural practices, combined with environmental and other external factors, are just some of the complex obstacles standing in the way of them accessing adequate healthcare for themselves and their children. In the first year of their lives, children must receive vaccines five separate times – a tough ask for women given the distance that sometimes needs to be covered, the cost or difficulty of the journey and the other labour-demands a woman is subject to for survival.

The images of rural life in Dearden’s film have a liveliness, community spirit and wholesomeness which belie the tougher realities of under-resourcing in the area and generally in rural and economically disadvantaged regions across the developing world. A Preventable Fate is part of a series of six films around the theme of Fatal Neglect, produced by Doctors Without Borders to highlight the obstacles faced by millions of people worldwide in accessing quality healthcare. The series also includes a study of treatment-resistant TB and three neglected tropical diseases.

In looking at the issue of vaccinations and immunisation in Mali we see that the women working so hard in the fields do not have a day to spare to take their children to be vaccinated – a journey which is difficult even by car, let alone on foot. If a woman happens to live in a village where there is no local vaccine campaign, she may have to go even further away. A Preventable Fate features a woman explaining to a doctor at a vaccine project that she has two children and came to visit the project by bike, “and I got a flat tyre. So I had to walk. It’s very difficult.” It is too much to demand of a mother or other caregiver that they take each child to a vaccine campaign outpost at least five times within that child’s first year, when shortages of vaccines may mean that repeat visits are necessary, and that trips are made without knowing whether the vaccines will be available. For those children who receive perhaps two or three of their five shots in the first year, few workable systems are in place to record, trace and make up for the vaccines they have missed when they are a little older.

Photograph (c) Medecins Sans Frontieres

 In addition to the challenges of time, distance and work neglected are problems with establishing vaccination campaigns themselves, in terms of personnel alongside the stocking, transportation, safety and sustainability of medicines. More health professionals who can administer the vaccines are needed; the ideal thing would be to have locally-trained, locally active nurses not just providing vaccines by operating as a reliable and stable way of raising awareness amongst communities. The vaccines must also be transported correctly; a challenge when considering that many require something called a ‘cold chain’, that is refrigeration at a specific temperature otherwise they become invalid. This requires the useage and maintenance of refrigerators and icepacks to store and transport vaccines.

Thus the seemingly simple question of providing vaccines becomes complicated in areas where electricity provision and consequently refrigeration is sporadic, healthcare professionals are scarce, distances between services and users are long, natural temperatures are high and road quality is variable. What is required is the development of vaccines which are easier to deliver and easier to administer to children.

In May 2012 the 65th World Health Assembly designed a Global Vaccines Action Plan to kickstart a well-funded Decade of Vaccines project working towards global vaccination. However, as the Fatal Neglect project makes clear, all major health initiatives must be sensitive to the particular challenges and particular contexts in which healthcare initiatives are established and provided – with a particular focus on those who are being left out due to issues to pricing, the adaptation of medicines and logistical barriers. MSF’s report The Right Shot: Extending the Reach of Affordable and Adapted Vaccines explains some of these issues in detail. They suggest that instead of developing countless (and expensive) new vaccines such as those against pneumococcal disease and rotavirus, the basics of existing routine vaccine systems should be perfected and adapted to theenvironments in which they will be used so that they can benefit the most children, especially in remote, rural, civically fragile/unstable or economically disadvantaged areas. In India’s state of Bihar, for example, 60% of babies are not fully vaccinated. The MSF points out that failure to perfect the access, ease, stability and application of the most basic vaccine programmes have resulted in recent outbreaks of preventable diseases, like the 2010 measles outbreak in 28 African countries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) alone, 100,000 cases were reported between January 2011 and October 2011. Although there are many factors affecting the pricing of vaccines, a cynical reading could conclude that the basic, inexpensive vaccines programmes are not being perfected because there is little financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies to tailor their vaccines to help those populations who have little purchasing clout as consumers themselves.

The message on vaccines and immunisations is clear, but tough to swallow. At the moment, 20% of all babies born in the world – that is 22 million children born last year alone - are not receiving protection against basic yet potentially fatal diseases such as measles, meningitis, diphtheria and yellow fever.  Underpinning the moral argument that all children born worldwide deserve the basic human right to life, health, protection and the best start in life, since medicine should not be a luxury is the transformative future effect we can envisage on already-pressurised global healthcare initiatives. Universal vaccination would drastically reduce pressure on hospitals, child mortality rates and sickness rates.  Vaccines must be researched,developed, produced and delivered in such a way that they are easier to use, easier to administer, more temperature-stable, easier to transport, adapted to developing countries’ environmental factors and also the medical factors – that is, the specific strains of the diseases found in the countries in which they will be used. Single dose vaccines which do not required difficult multiple visits; vaccines which are administered orally rather than by injected; well-trained, numerous and either highly mobile or strongly rooted and dedicated local healthcare professionals; vaccines which are affordable to all countries in the long run and not just those which rely on finite donor support through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI)  to pay for them; and vaccines which do not degrade in variable temperatures would be just some of the ways forward, or more that 22 million children will pay the price.

Photo (c) Medecins San Frontieres

Bidisha is a 2013 Fellow for the International Reporting Project. She is reporting on issues of global health and development. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Breasts, belly, bottom, hair: is that all you think women are?

These are the four images on an enormous bronze relief chunk of public art in central Bristol.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

"The more voices the better!" A wonderful young feminist writes

I am a young women who has always been a feminist but only recently has really started educating myself more in the history of the movement and as such am trying to read lots to better my understanding of the many issues involved.
I am trying hard to stay positive but it is depressing to find that after so many years, it really feels like in much of the world - steps backwards are being taken at the moment! 
For my age group (I am 24) the most shocking thing for me is how many of my peers don't even recognise sexism around them. They don't identify with feminism because they no longer believe it is relevant. A whole generation (and generations to come) are being brainwashed into accepting 'low-level' sexism (adverts, 'jokes') which is quietly feeding into a culture where a woman is usually blamed for the bad things that happen to her - right up to rape! The amount of women who believe some of the fault of rape lies with the victim is astonishing. How is this the case in the 21st century. 
I could go on and on but there's obviously no need to preach this you. But, well, I just want to share with you that I see there is no difficulty in getting women my age to stand up and shout and fight against the injustices they see - the terrifying issue is really that many don't see what is happening to them in the home, in work, through the media, by our government as even is affecting them let alone oppressing them. I see that as the big issue in keeping the fight for women's rights alive and kicking (and taking steps FORWARD) in my generation.

I replied:
OK, first off, the book [I recommended at an event] is by Lydia Cacho and it's called Slavery Inc. It's not quite autobiographical, more of an investigative study - but she's an absolutely amazing woman. The publishers' blurb is here: http://portobellobooks.com/slavery-inc If you ever get the chance to see her talk, she is fab - hilarious, cool, inspiring. If you read Spanish (or other languages) her previous book was called Demons of Eden, about child trafficking and child abuse amongst the Latin American elite (politicians, cultural leaders, business leaders). Again, unmissable but saddening. 
The very fact that you're writing to me and articulating everything so brilliantly gives me total hope - many, many women of all ages feel as we do and we're in the middle of a great groundswell of activism, thinking, talking about gender (and confronting the really hard stuff: rape, other kinds of violence. We just notice the ones who don't because we want to hit them over the head with a frying pan to get them to see sense! The world has only ever been changed by a small minority of people who feel strongly about things - we must make the change for everyone and our daughters and sons will thank us! But yes, of course I too feel despairing when I see complacency - because the adverts, the jokes, the casual sexism of course all create a culture where we view rape and other violence as par for the course, even natural and inevitable, and consequently we blame victims and are lenient to perpetrators.... 
...But seeing so many amazing women of all ages in the audience actually lifted my heart, Come again! And, reading-wise, I'm sure you know all this stuff but....
  • The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer
  • Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine (amazing)
  • Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy
  • The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyard
  • Anything by Catherine MacKinnon
  • Anything by Aisha Gill
  • Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards 
I wondered if you might let me excerpt a bit of your email anonymous for my blog? It articulates your ideas so well and will I'm sure strike a chord with many readers.

She answered:
Of course you can use anything from my email. I absolutely will be getting involved in more talks, lectures etc. 
A few years ago I read From Madness to Mutiny, about the American family law system - my mother went through absolute hell through that system. She quickly learnt that the worst thing you can do is tell the truth about an abusive relationship. Divorce and try for custody on any other grounds but mention abuse and you anger the (male) judges - my mother had to go on the run. So here we now are in Britain (all legal and safe now I should add) all settled now, but my early years spent in women's refuges and living (pretty much hiding) out in countryside communes. My mother - a city girl through and through learnt to work the land; pick fruit, chop wood and get by... She is amazing! 
I read Who Cooked the Last Supper, fairly recently and that has sort of spurred me on to get cracking on further reading and really get involved. 
With the legal aid situation and how that's going - women and children are at even greater risk in many situations. It's such an important topic - but not a 'sexy' one for the media to cover! 
Police - well when you've got Scotland Yard Chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Lowe saying that members of the Sapphire unit pressurising rape victims to drop statements in 2008 and 2009 is a 'relatively historic' issue! Oh my - my jaw dropped to the floor watching that interview on channel 4 a few days ago. If someone had done a robbery, or hit and run etc but the crime had been buried - but then brought to light a few years later - the police wouldn't say - oh well that's just history now. You'd find the person who ran someone over leaving them disabled for the rest of their life! You would find them and charge them! These women are scarred for the rest of their life and a CRIME took place. Man it boils my blood. It is completely irresponsible and SICK that a chief of police in 2013 went on television to completely disregard rape victims because it took place a few years ago. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. 
When asked about the officers in charge who got promoted after and what action should be taken against them - basically nothing; 'It's an unfortunate symbol' - any other crime, if police officers pressured a victim/witness to back down from a statement this would be taken seriously. 
Sorry I'm sure you are well aware of this happening the other night but I just could not believe it. If that's the attitude at the top.... 
Also, the fact they aren't even bright enough to cover up their misogyny - oh god - or is it worse that they don't even know they're doing it. How can they possibly help women when don't even understand that anything has really happened to them. 
Right - rant over! 
I'm off to buy books and read and get motivated! 
Use anything I've said - the more voices heard the better!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Six Pillars to Persia: the best Middle Eastern music, discussion, reviews and profiles on the radio

Broadcasting from Art Dubai from March 19th-24th, Six Pillars to Persia will be sent to London (and then the world, through its podcasts) via the ever-brilliant Resonance FM. Created by  Eavesdropper/Falgoosh Radio, Six Pillars offers Middle Eastern music, discussion, reviews and profiles downloadable onto a phone, iPad or iPod. Contribute to Six Pillars on the website or on air, via a new submissions section on their new website or write to them at sixpillarstopersia@resonancefm.com

New podcasts for download:

(c) Radio Falgoosh

Saturday, 9 March 2013

"My last attack before I got away from my abuser lasted 4 days."

From Mandy Thomas, writing for Women's Aid the day before Mother's Day:
"I have used many Women's Aid services over the years, seeking a place of safety with my children. Sadly, the last service that I used is now closed due to a lack of funding. This is why we need to support Women's Aid now, to help them campaign to protect their member services all over the country.
When it comes to using domestic violence services, I have been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I have been through the system and spoken to people who don't work in specialist domestic violence services and simply don't understand the issue or have any compassion for victims. That is why it is particularly alarming that itis the specialist services that are being hit the hardest by the economic crisis and cuts to public spending. 
The result of our experience of domestic violence, and the traumatic ongoing effects on our family, have meant that I have faced a mother's worst nightmare and buried one of my children, my eldest son Daniel, This should not have happened. He took nightmares to his grave of the things he witnessed. He could not visualise or believe in a change, be it help, or a way out. We need to make a united stand to make the changes happen to save lives.  
Victims need proper support to rebuild their lives. 
My last attack before I got away from my abuser lasted 4 days. I was tortured - beaten black and blue to the point where my children could not recognise me. Cut with knives and broken glass, punched, kicked and bitten, then dragged through the house naked by my hair, burnt with a blowtorch and raped. 
We need to make a change right now so that future generations will not be subjected to such horrific abuse. Our children look to us for protection and guidance. In a way, I was lucky. Two women every week die from domestic violence in England and Wales alone. And that's just what is reported as domestic violence. Domestic violence costs our government £178 billion every year. The cost of the aftermath is huge - hospitalisation, medical treatment, and counselling is needed to help victims deal with the impact domestic violence has on their physical and mental health. 
More specialised domestic violence services are needed, not less. These services really do save lives."

One query from me: why is Gordon Ramsay an ambassador for Women's Aid, listed alongside Tana Ramsay, the woman he sadistically and selfishly betrayed, lied to, tricked and deceived for years, at the same time as pretending to be a family man? He has shown by his behaviour that he is not capable of treating women as human beings worth of basic respect and his presence as an ambassador to this incredibly important charity gives me pause every time I donate to it.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

"Nothing for us, without us." Women rise in Afghanistan, Malawi, Nepal, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ghana.

In February Womankind Worldwide welcomed their partner women’s rights activists from Africa and Asia to London to share their experiences and expertise of women’s leadership and political participation. Further images from the day, all taken by Abi Moore, can be viewed at the bottom of this article.

At the Emmeline Pankhurst statue with Seema Malhotra MP

From countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Ghana, Nepal and Zimbabwe, participants faced a similar challenge – how to overcome the exclusion of women from political and public life.  Despite their different contexts, cultures and political systems, the women highlighted some common problems and common solutions.

Women’s voices must be heard from every corner and at every level. Women are not a homogenous group, and their participation in politics must reflect their diversity.  Durga Sob, founder of the Feminist Dalit Organisation of Nepal said, 
“Dalit women are doubly discriminated against in political parties – Dalit forums are run by Dalit men, and women’s wings of parties are run by ‘high-caste’ women."  
Young women, disabled women, women from ethnic and religious minorities often face multiple barriers to accessing decision-making spaces, and they must be supported.

The women were united in their commitment to focusing on local as well as national politics. Local level is where many of the decisions affecting women’s daily lives are made, and as Wangechi Wachira from Kenya’s Centre for Rights and Awareness said, 
“to be a leader, it starts at family level, and then changes happen at community level.”
 Civil society, and in particular women’s right organisations, provide fertile training ground for women’s leadership, and enable women’s voices to be heard.  Maryam Rahmani, of Afghan Women’s Resource Centre, said,  
“we need to find space for women to speak about the issues that affect them, even when it’s difficult." 
In Afghanistan, where 87% of women have experienced some form of violence, and women activists and politicians are routinely threatened, attacked and killed, this work is vital and dangerous.

Women’s rights organisations help to build women’s confidence and skills, create opportunities and access to political spheres. When women do get into positions of influence and power they are supported to negotiate corridors of power, build networks, and advance women's rights.

The activists were unanimous in the need for affirmative action to level the playing field between women and men.  Whether through political parties, reserved seats or quota systems, the only countries that have made significant progress are those that have taken specific measures.  And compared to those countries, the UK does not perform well.  In Afghanistan 28% of MPs are women, in Rwanda it’s 56% and Mozambique 43%, compared to the UK’s paltry 22%. 

The voices of women from all walks of life need to be heard in all places of power. From community forums to the halls of national parliaments, and on the international stage, as Fanny Chirisa from Zimbabwe’s Women in Politics Support Unit said, 

“Nothing for us, without us."

The organisations attending were as follows:

  • Afghanistan: Afghan Women Resource Centre (AWRC)
The Afghan Women Resource Centre provides practical education to girls and women who were forbidden to learn under the Taliban.Their programmes allow women to learn in a safe environment, with a focus on vocational subjects including journalism, business skills and tailoring, in order for women to be able to earn an income and live independently. They also teach literacy, civil & political rights, and women & family law.

Attending: Maryam Rahmani, Country Representative. Maryam got involved with AWRC by doing short management courses when she was at school in Peshawar, Pakistan. In late 2002 her family came back to Afghanistan, where AWRC had opened a sub-office, where she began working. In the meantime Maryam passed her exams and joined Kabul University, eventually graduating with an economics degree in 2007. The
university faculty board wanted to recruit Maryam as assistant to a professor but only on the condition that she left AWRC. Maryam refused as she wanted to continue helping women.

  • Malawi: National Women’s Lobby Group (NAWOLG)
Potential female political candidates in Malawi often struggle with lack of funds, social pressures to stay at home and patriarchal political organisations. NAWOLG’s goal is to get more women to become involved in the democratic process as voters and representatives. It has a team of professionals specialising in gender, human rights and civic education issues, who help provide training and support to women inside and outside of politics.

Partners attending: Faustace Chirwa, Founder/Executive Director. A gender and women’s rights activist for 17 years, Faustace continues to promote women’s participation in the socio-economic development of Malawi and in political decision making.

And Atupele Chirwa, Acting Executive Director. Atupele started off volunteering with NAWOLG in 2003 and is now acting Executive Director. She focuses on sexual reproductive health and rights issues of young people in Malawi.

  • Nepal: Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO)
The Feminist Dalit Organization was founded in 1994 by a group of Dalit (low caste) women aiming to fight for their rights and overturn caste and gender discrimination which causes women and especially Dalit women to be treated as second class citizens facing very high levels of sexual and domestic violence. FEDO educates women on their rights, offers counselling and organises mass protests and community events to raise awareness.

Partner attending: Durga Sob - FEDO. Durga Sob is a Dalit woman who founded the Feminist Dalit Organisation in 1994 to combat caste and gender-based discrimination in Nepal. Durga is renowned as a passionate feminist and activist in defending the rights of Dalit women in Nepal. She says,
“There used to be no Dalit women in positions of power. Now 25 Dalit women have been
elected as members of the Constituent Assembly and this is one my happiest achievements”.
- Case study: Pabitra's Story
- Example of the kind of context they’re working in:  Women Human Rights Defenders Beaten and Detained

  • Zambia: National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL)
ZNWL aims to promote the representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making through lobbying, advocacy and capacity-building. It provides education, runs community forums, provides leadership courses in schools to boys and girls through their innovative ‘Girl’s Leadership Clubs’, monitors elections and provides support to women involved in politics, for example through Women’s Radio Clubs, supporting isolated rural women to gather to listen to news about politics and current affairs and discuss together so that they’re better equipped to take part in the democratic process.

Partners attending: Juliet Kaira Chibuta, Executive Director. Juliet is a development specialist and a journalist by trade. She worked for national print media organizations including the Zambia Daily Mail and National Mirror where she held various positions including editor. Ms Chibuta has also sat on various boards of media and women’s organisations.

And Beauty Katebe, National Chairperson. Beauty is a human resource expert and works in Zambia’s Ministry of Health. She has vast experience in women and youth issues, democratic processes, capacity building of women, governance and elections issues. She is the current National Women Council Chairperson of the Agriculture, Technical and Professional Union of Zambia.

  • Zimbabwe: Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU)
The Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU) provides support to women in politics in Zimbabwe to help increase their participation and influence. It does this by providing leadership and election training for candidates; educates women MPs and councillors about their roles, connecting them with female constituents; organises community forums; and lobbies political parties to implement gender quotas.

Partner attending: Fanny Chirisa, Director. Born in Mutare, Fanny has worked with The Federation of African Women’s Clubs, The Voluntary Organizations in Community Enterprise, Red Banner, Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Center & Network and WiPSU. During the outreach process of the current Zimbabwean Constitutional Reform Process, Fanny was invited to be team leader representing civil society.
They led teams of reporters capturing the views of citizens across the country.

- Case study: Not Service But Power

  • Ghana: Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF)
Since its inception in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1990, the network has grown to encompass 31 countries, 500 organisations and more than 1,200 individual members. At the national and international levels, the WiLDAF network lobbies for laws that promote women's rights. In Ghana, WiLDAF offers free legal counselling as well as training in legal literacy.

Partners attending: Bernice Sam, Executive Director (Ghana branch). Bernice Sam is a lawyer and human rights activist. She spearheads the campaign for the participation of vulnerable groups in democratic processes including organising women’s dialogues with presidential candidates. She also led the struggle for the protection of the rights of people in non-formalised relationships. Bernice has written and co-authored books on HIV/AIDS, violence against women and the property rights of women.

And Frank Bodza, Programme Manager for Governance (Ghana). Frank has more than nine years’ experience in both local and national governance; having worked with an MP for four years prior to joining WiLDAF in 2005. He is a gender and human rights activist who had carried out numerous public education programmes on women’s rights issues. He is experienced in capacity-building, mobilization, networking and coalition-building and was part of groups that observed the December 2012 general elections in Ghana. He is married with two children.

Richard Sam, Programme Assistant for Governance (Ghana). Richard did his national service with the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development for one and half years before joining WiLDAF in 2009. He is a volunteer from WiLDAF Ghana on the Coalition of Domestic Elections Observers (CODEO) and the Civic Forum Initiative. Both groups have observed various elections including the December 2012 general elections in Ghana.

- Context can be found here.

  • Ghana: The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre (GSHRDC)
The Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre works to promote and protect women’s rights, running a number of projects in rural Ghana working to end violence against women and reduce women’s vulnerability to HIV infection.

Partners attending: Dorcas Coker-Appiah, Executive Director. Dorcas Coker-Appiah is a lawyer by profession and a feminist. She is a women’s rights activist in Ghana and a member of a number of women’s rights organisations. Dorcas has a lot of international experience, having served two terms as a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

- On work to end the practice of ‘widow inheritance’ read this piece here.

  • Kenya: Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW)
CREAW’s mission is to transform Kenyan society through the promotion and expansion of women’s human rights, rule of law and social justice. They provide legal aid and health services to thousands of female survivors of rape and domestic violence, produce informative radio shows and give training and support to community organisations.

Partner attending: Wangechi Wachira, Executive Director. Wangechi Wachira has more than 10 years of experience in senior management. She has experience in lobbying and advocacy, gender integration and inclusion, human rights and development issues.

Dorcas Coker Appiah 

Atupele Chirwa
Fanny Chirisa

Frank Bodza

Faustace Chirwa

Maryam Rahmani
Wangechi Wachira

A special post (c) Sarah Jackson at Womankind Worldwide with enormous gratitude and admiration

Bidisha is a 2013 Fellow for the International Reporting Project. She is reporting on issues of global health and development. 

Friday, 1 March 2013

Dr Dukan shows us exactly how little he thinks of women

Dear Dr Dukan of the Dukan Diet,

Thank you so much for your unsolicited email to me. This is what it said:
Treat mum this Mother’s Day to a selection of homemade pattiseries and delicious desserts with a little help from the man behind the plan. If your mum’s watching her waistline this Mother’s Day there’s no need for her miss out on the finer things in life, as the creator of the Dukan Diet, Dr Pierre Dukan, reveals his revolutionary indulgent dessert and patisserie recipes for all to enjoy. 
Mum can enjoy her guilty pleasures guilt-free and still lose those inches fast. Hailing an “eat as much as you want” policy, the Dukan Diet can help you successfully shift those unwanted pounds without going hungry or missing out. Indulge mum in cupcakes, meringues and Madeleines without compromising the success of her weight-loss.

Thank you for the recipes you provided without me asking for them, for cupcakes, madeleines and meringues and a "lemon extravaganza". What a lot of work you expect me to do for nothing! Or do you expect my mother to do it? Thank you for making it clear, through your patronising assumptions, sexist cliches and  reductive simplifications, just what you think women are like - and thank you for putting yourself forward as "the man behind the plan" offering us pathetic women "a little help" for our little goals in our stupid little lives. What plan would that be, by the way? Ah! Every woman's plan, every woman's obsession, every woman's little favourite hobby: in your eyes we are infantile enough to be tempted by hideous pastel cupcakes and other sweeties, obsessed with losing weight, watching our waistlines with the feverish attention which men give to more important and interesting things, so pathetic that we think mere desserts are among "the finer things in life", yet masochistically riddled with guilt when we do eat them (because we are so weak we cannot resist), desperate to lose inches and only able to judge success and failure by our size. That is all a mother is to you, isn't it, a nameless, domestic, small-minded "mum" with petty obsessions, who you think you know everything about.

Dr Dukan. My mother is a tough, cool academic who has been patronised, demeaned and objectified by helpful gents just like you all her life, as have I, as have all women. We are tired of your insulting assumptions about us. We are not objects and we don't hate ourselves enough to obsess over our size, shape or weight. It is not our job to spend all day in the kitchen like pathetic Stepford Wives and we are not interested in the revolting dessert recipes you have sent me out of the blue, accompanied by this gack-making pastel picture:

Dr Dukan, I think I speak for so many high-minded and noble women of dignity, vintage and spirit when I say, Dr Dukan, with great forethought and nuance: Dr Dukan, go fuck yourself. Kan you do that, Doctor Dukan?