Thursday, October 4, 2012

A 13 Year Old Mother in Tanzania Shares Her Story on Pinterest

In Mtwara, a village in remote Tanzania where Sihiba lives, over 60 percent of adolescents have had sex, but only 6 percent use contraception. In fact, contraception education is rare and access to contraceptives is poor. It is common for young girls to become pregnant while they are still in primary school. Sihiba first became pregnant at 11 after having sex with an older man for money.  AMREF’s Sauti ya Vijana (‘Voice of Youth’) project teaches the youth in Mtwara about using contraceptives and helps young girls like Sihiba gain skills to provide for them and their children. More HERE

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Holding Up Half the Sky

Working in documentary film has always been an adventure, a pleasure, and a rollercoaster ride -- but rarely does a project come along that changes one's entire worldview. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide has truly been a life-changing endeavor and an honor. The concept for the project was originally brought to me by my fellow executive producers: Jamie Gordon and Mikaela Beardsley. Mikaela had recently produced the filmReporter about the intrepid New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. She was very excited when, in conversations in the field, he talked about his upcoming book to be co-written with his wife Sheryl WuDunn addressing the struggles and triumphs of women and girls in the developing world that they had personally encountered over years of reporting. That book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, became an international bestseller. The game-changing element of the book is the focus on personal stories that allow readers to deeply connect with individual, true stories of women and girls facing horrendous difficulty and inequity. It tackles head-on issues such as maternal mortality, sex trafficking, gender-based violence, and forced prostitution-and illustrates the hope offered by the life-changing opportunities of education and financial empowerment. The storytelling nature of the subject-driven narrative lent itself beautifully to documentary film. More HERE

Monday, October 1, 2012

Let Girls Be Girls - Why International Day of the Girl is Important

A handful of girls roll out the front doors of their middle school dressed in colorful high-tops, t-shirts and jeans. They hop into the waiting car, switch on “their” radio station and talk about dance class, science lab, and a weekend filled with soccer, swim meets and sleepovers. These 12 and 13-year-old girls sing, laugh and talk non-stop, and the subject of boys never comes up.  Sure, they’re interested, but they have other stuff to think about.  And men?  Not on their radar. In other families and other countries, five-year-olds are enduring genital mutilation, 12-year-olds are getting married and fifteen year olds are having their second babies. Many of them will die in childbirth.  If they attend school at all, their educations are short-lived.  They spend their days lugging water, cooking, cleaning and taking care of smaller siblings.  Some take care of husbands and the babies that come way too early.  Separated from their parents, they’re living their lives as women while they’re still little girls.  That’s what life is like for billions of girls living in poverty in developing countries. More HERE

Thursday, September 27, 2012


From Farms to Family Planning: Investing in Women on World Contraception Day

Today is World Contraception Day. I am celebrating by visiting a cassava farm in Tanzania. It might seem like a strange way to observe the day, except for this fact: the women who do the majority of the labor on small family farms in developing countries are often the very same women who are asking for, but not getting access to, contraceptives. They put family planning and agricultural productivity in the same category: both are critical to raising healthy and productive families. Their goal isn’t to have access to a range of contraceptive methods. Nor is it to be an expert on soil health. Their goal is to make sure their children can fulfill their potential, and they need both the power to determine whether and when to have children and the ability to grow enough food to nourish them. More from Melinda Gates HERE

Friday, September 21, 2012

World Contraception Day: Stumbling Blocks to Contraceptive Services

In Tanga, Tanzania, young people aren’t a priority when it comes to family planning – from services, to education, to advocacy and awareness. Too often, young people don’t use family planning services because of fear or shame. There needs to be a serious increase in efforts to empower young people in this community to make a change. Family planning clinics within hospitals do offer regular services, but they do not accommodate young people’s specific needs.  Often, young people are stigmatized, judged, and asked for parents’ consent before receiving family planning services. In addition, public facilities are often crowded, lack privacy, and comprehensive care.  Many young people fear visiting these facilities because they do not feel comfortable sitting in the presence of older people waiting to receive health services.  Also, health providers are not trained on delivering youth-friendly services and are therefore unable to provide young people with appropriate care. Facilities in rural, remote areas, where youth are more vulnerable, often lack any family planning supplies at all. More HERE

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An Attack on Grameen Bank, and the Cause of Women

This month, the Grameen Bank, the organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize for extending small loans to impoverished village women, has come under renewed attack from the government of Bangladesh. [...] The government’s most recent action not only threatens the bank’s independence, which has been crucial to its success, it challenges the ownership rights of millions of poor women who control 97 percent of the shares of the Grameen Bank and whose collective savings (about $1.4 billion) finances its operations. It is a powerful blow against an institution that has flourished and helped millions of poor people largely because it is in the hands of women. More from The NY Times HERE

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wed and Tortured at 13, Afghan Girl Finds Rare Justice

KABUL, Afghanistan — When she refused to prostitute herself or have sex with the man she was forced to marry when she was about 13, officials said, Sahar Gul’s in-laws tortured her and threw her into a dirty, windowless cellar for months until the police discovered her lying in hay and animal dung. In July, an appeals court upheldprison sentences of 10 years each for three of her in-laws, a decision heralded as a legal triumph underscoring the advances for women’s rights in the past decade. She is recovering from her wounds, physical and emotional, in a women’s shelter in Kabul. But to many rights advocates, Sahar Gul’s case, which drew attention from President Hamid Karzai and the international news media, is the exception that proves the rule: a small victory that masks a still-depressing picture of widespread instances of abuse of women that never come to light. More from the NY Times HERE

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Child marriages spike among Syrian refugees

The young teenage daughters of Syrian refugees in Jordan are increasingly being married to older Syrian men -- against the laws of both countries -- as a form of financial and other security against a backdrop of conflict and instability. "We're concerned about early marriages -- using that as a coping mechanism," said Dominique Hyde, a representative in Jordan for the United Nations Children's Fund. More HERE

Monday, July 30, 2012

Philippines birth control: Filipinos want it, priests don't

MANILA — Shortly after sunrise, a woman with soulful eyes and short-cropped black hair hurried down a narrow alley in flip-flops, picking her way around clusters of squatting children, piles of trash and chunks of concrete. Yolanda Naz's daily scramble had begun. Peddling small shampoo packets in the shantytown of San Andres, she raced to earn enough money to feed her eight children.She went door to door in the sweltering heat, charming and cajoling neighbors into parting with a few pesos. After several hours, she had scrounged enough to buy a kilo of rice, a few eggs and a cup of tiny shrimp. "My husband and I skip lunch if there is no money," Naz said as she dished rice and shrimp sauce into eight plastic bowls in the 10-by-12-foot room where the family eats and sleeps. This was not the life Naz wanted. She and her husband, who sells coconut drinks from a pushcart, agreed early in their marriage to stop at three children. Though a devout Catholic, she took birth control pills in defiance of priests' instructions at Sunday Mass. But after her third child was born, the mayor of Manila — with the blessing of Roman Catholic bishops — halted the distribution of contraceptives at public clinics to promote "a culture of life." The order put birth control pills and other contraceptives out of reach for millions of poor Filipinos, who could not afford to buy them at private pharmacies. More HERE

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Runaway population growth often fuels youth-driven uprisings

Many of the world's civil conflicts arise in nations where runaway population growth has created huge pools of young people. In their frustrated ambitions lies an explosive force. More from the LA Times Special Series "Beyond 7 Billion" HERE.

Monday, July 23, 2012

LA Times: Beyond 7 billion

After remaining stable for most of human history, the world's population has exploded over the last two centuries. The boom is not over: The biggest generation in history is just entering its childbearing years. The coming wave will reshape the planet, and the impact will be greatest in the poorest, most unstable countries. Check out LA Times special series HERE

Friday, July 13, 2012

Melinda Gates challenges Vatican on contraception

Gates, who is a pracitising Catholic and with her husband, Bill – the founder of Microsoft – is one of the world's biggest players on development issues, predicted that women in Africa and Asia would soon be "voting with their feet", as women in the West have done, and would ignore the church's ban on "artificial" birth control. Gates, who was a speaker at the London Summit on Family Planning organised by her foundation in conjunction with the UK government and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that since she announced her new direction a few weeks ago she had been inundated with messages of support from Catholic women, including nuns. "A church is made up of its members, and one of the things this campaign might do is help women speak out. I've had thousands of women come on to websites and say 'I'm a Catholic, but I believe in contraception'. It's going to be women voting with their feet." More HERE

Rich countries pledge $2.6bn for family planning in global south

Rich countries have pledged $2.6bn over the next eight years at a family planning summit in London, in what was described as a breakthrough for the world's poorest women and girls. The money, coupled with commitments from developing countries, is expected to provide access to family planning for 120 million women in the global south. "This will be a breakthrough that will transform lives," said the UK international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell. "The commitments made at the summit today will support the rights of women to determine freely, and for themselves, whether, when and how many children they have," said Mitchell at a conference hosted by the Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development (DfID), designed to put what has been a politically loaded issue back on theglobal development agenda. More HERE

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Study Says Meeting Contraception Needs Could Cut Maternal Deaths by a Third

A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University shows that fulfilling unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third, a potentially great improvement for one of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The study, published on Tuesday in The Lancet, a British science journal, comes ahead of a major family planning conference in London organized by the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is an attempt to refocus attention on the issue. It has faded from the international agenda in recent years, overshadowed by efforts to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases, as well as by ideological battles. More HERE

Monday, July 9, 2012

Nepal's 'kamlari' girls break the bonds of slavery

Shanta Chaudhary was eight years old when her parents sold her into effective slavery for $75, sending her to scrub, cook and sweep for 19 hours a day at the house of a stranger in southwestern Nepal. Now a strident rights campaigner, politician and one of the country's most influential women, she weeps as she recalls 18 years spent as a "kamlari", rising at 4:00 am, receiving regular beatings and witnessing rape and abuse. "I remember the torture. I had to carry weights much heavier than me even when I was sick. And I couldn't see my parents and I could never experience a mother's love," she said. "Even my married years were spent in someone else's house. When I think about my past my heart seems to burst. Many kamlaris were even raped and I have seen it myself." The kamlari system is a form of indentured servitude that persists 90 years after the official abolition of slavery on the plains of southwestern Nepal, a world away from the temples of Kathmandu and the Himalayan peaks which attract tourists from across the world. More HERE.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Where's the Controversy in Saving Lives?

As we get closer to the London Summit on Family Planning, people often ask me, “Why is family planning so important to you?” The simple answer is that it can mean everything to so many of the women and families I meet. It means the difference between being empowered and feeling powerless. It means the difference between celebrating a daughter’s graduation and watching her drop out of school. It even means the difference between life and death. Providing family planning information and services to millions of women and girls in the poorest countries in the world gives them the opportunity to determine their own futures, and the best future for their children. As a woman and a mother, I can’t imagine anything more important. More HERE

Drought drives rural Indian women into city sex trade

HYDERABAD, India (AlertNet) - Sex worker Aruna Raju, 45, moved to Hyderabad 11 years ago after drought and repeated crop failures led to the deaths of four of her family members. “I have seen people shedding tears of blood,” she says. Aruna’s family had five acres of land in Nizamabad district, 172 km away, on which they grew cotton, maize and chili. But from the mid-1990s, the rains became irregular and crops wilted in the fields. “The land became so dry, we could feel smoke coming out of it,” she says. Her father became deeply depressed, and some four years later, he died after suffering chest pains. A little later, her mother, younger brother and her own daughter died from malnutrition. Her husband had already left due to the shame of being unable to feed his family. “That is when I came to Hyderabad, so I could find a way to survive,” she recalls. But with no schooling and no one to help her find a job, Aruna’s only option was prostitution. More HERE

Domestic violence is rife in postwar West Africa

DAKAR, 3 July 2012 (IRIN) - In conflict-hit West African countries, husbands often pose a greater threat to women’s lives than an armed assailant, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a recent report, but even in more stable countries, violence against women is hard to eradicate. “Domestic violence is like diabetes. It is a disease that kills and causes damage, but which has not been very well documented,” said Mariam Kamara, a mobilization officer at the UN Women-West Africa Sub-Regional office. In post-conflict Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone - where the IRC conducted a study of domestic violence - women suffer cruelty with “shocking frequency”, said the report, “Let me not die before my time, Domestic Violence in West Africa”, released in May 2012. “Even though the focus of the humanitarian community has often been on armed groups, the primary threat to women in West Africa is not a man with a gun or a stranger - it is their husbands,” the report said. More HERE

Progress made on maternal health, but MDG might be missed

Progress toward improving maternal health, including fewer deaths during pregnancy, is lagging in the developing world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa -- imperiling one of the crucial targets put forth by the Millennium Development Goals set to expire in 2015, according to the United Nations. The MDG 5 target also is expected to be missed in India. More HERE.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Women as Human Pack Horses in the Democratic Republic of Congo

BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo — It’s around 6 in the morning and the sun is slowly rising, a clear sign that Cesarine Maninga must leave. In one practiced movement, she straps a 50-kilogram sack of charcoal to her back, tosses the rough rope around her head and trudges off toward Bukavu, capital of South Kivu province in eastern Congo.Ms. Maninga, 43, is just one of hundreds of women who ply this trade each day, lugging loads of up to 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds. On this morning, she hopes to sell makala — dry charcoal used for heating and cooking. She will walk almost 10 kilometers, or about six miles, with the heavy load, a trek she makes at least twice a week. “I don’t have a choice,” she said, bitter resignation in her voice. “I have to feed my family” — 11 children, and an unemployed husband. More HERE

Together We Can Save Mothers (Every Mother Counts)

In Lesotho, a tiny country surrounded by neighboring South Africa, geographical barriers are just one of many challenges women often face in order to deliver their babies in a clinic, with trained professionals at their side. We've put together an infographic to show how different (and risky) it is to deliver a baby in Lesotho as compared to wealthy countries, such as the United States. The way to spare pregnant women a five-hour hike to the clinic is such a simple idea, that the United States began using it in 1832. The Boston Lying-In Hospital offered mothers-to-be a place to stay a few weeks before their due dates, sparing them a harrowing journey to reach medical help when the time came to deliver. Now we do it, too, in a very different place, but a place that faces the same problem. More HERE