Allow us to introduce you to Natasha Salifyanji Kaoma! Natasha is a Zambian medical doctor and the founder of Copper Rose Zambia – an organization working to advance adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
We sat down with Natasha to talk about starting her own organization, the taboo around menstruation and abortion, and how she takes care of her own wellbeing in her work.
“I noticed a menstrual hygiene problem in my school. Not because the girls couldn’t afford the products, but most people didn’t know what was going on with their bodies.”
It can be incredibly challenging to work on issues considered to be taboo, sensitive or ‘controversial’, but Natasha clearly isn’t going to let societal norms in Zambia – or anywhere else in the world – stand in her way.
“I believe that women, if empowered, can change the narrative of the African continent.”
This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.
In recent years, it has become apparent that international cooperation is important in promoting inclusive and sustainable development, especially to achieve global development agendas. African countries recognize the importance of partnerships for enhancing and consolidating the growth of the continent.
Many African states have benefitted from the traditional North-South cooperation, through sharing experiences, technical assistance, as well as the cooperation of other emerging economies. It is along such lines that the Anti-FGM campaign has picked up much-necessary momentum after years of lip service.
The campaign against FGM has had a long history, but it has been confined to board rooms and workshops, with few targeted grassroots campaigns. For instance, as recently as 2010, Kenya did not have an official policy addressing FGM and relied upon Presidential decrees. However, with the Anti-FGM policy put in place, in 2011, there has been considerable investment of resources and strategies from the North.
The international immigration crisis brought FGM to the doorstep of the developed north. Waves of migrants from nations that practice FGM began arriving and settling, and brought their deep-rooted cultural practices – such as FGM – with them. While the developed north had been known to condemn the practice in principle, the changing dynamics required a more proactive approach, both at home and abroad.
It is in this context that a new impetus to fund anti-FGM work at the grassroots by organizations based in the north came about. Notably, in 2015, The Guardian Media UK launched the End FGM Guardian Global Media Campaign in Kenya, The Gambia and Nigeria. The Guardian pioneered identifying and training young activists in the use of new and traditional media to work towards ending FGM.
The use of media has been a powerful tool in influencing perceptions and educating people about the realities of FGM. The media has also broadened the platform, reach and visibility of anti-FGM efforts. The use of activists has built upon young people who are already playing leadership roles and have what it takes to be future opinion leaders in their respective communities.
Similarly, The Girl Generation, an African-led global movement aimed at ending FGM within a generation, focuses on building a critical mass for change which helps unlock regional, national and international commitments to increase resources that can sustain and scale up efforts to end the practice.
Other notable strategies include Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs) spearheaded by AMREF Health, in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. ARPs allow a girl to safely transition to womanhood without undergoing the emotional and physical risk of FGM while preserving a community’s’ culture. ARPs has been adopted by the United Nations as a model of eradicating FGM.
In Djibouti, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Somalia, The Gambia, and Mauritania, is Tostan – a human rights Community Empowerment Program that allows community members to draw their own conclusions about FGM and lead their own movements for change. The program also focuses on community public declarations which are critical in the process of abandoning the practice, eventually leading FGM to becoming a thing of the past.
Elsewhere, 28TooMany is consistently working on research around Africa where FGM is practiced (28 countries) and across the diaspora. They also advocate for the global eradication of FGM and work closely with other organizations in the violence against women sector. Research and data is a crucial element that guides Anti-FGM strategies and campaigns.
What these efforts have in common is support from the north, with campaigns being led by local activists, many of whom are beginning to gain attention for their efforts in eradicating FGM in their countries.
The North-South cooperation has resulted in accelerated efforts to end FGM – evident in the recent ban of FGM in countries like Nigeria and The Gambia. A drop in FGM overall in some countries, and public community declarations in others, are tangible results. Intangible results can be seen in increased reportage of FGM cases, a surge in involvement of young people and institutions in Anti-FGM Campaigns, increased awareness, the launch of regional campaigns such as the Saleema Initiative in Sudan, the Not in My Name campaign in Sierra Leone and the He for She campaign worldwide.
Starting a business in Malawi is not an easy thing. Most people think that once you come up with a business idea you can implement it right away, which is not always true. To start a business requires hard work and dedication. In this edition, I will share with you the challenges women and girls encounter while striving to start small businesses in Malawi.
According to my investigations, the first challenge that women and girls in Malawi often meet is lack of recognition. Women and girls are not recognized as people who can develop Malawi as a country through business. It’s for this reason that they often fail to start small businesses because they are not given the chance. For example, in most banks in Malawi, women are given smaller loans than men.
Pamela Banda, age 18, a successful young lady operating a shop selling fashion items once experienced this challenge when getting a loan from the bank, but still managed to get a small loan from her mother’s bank to launch her business. She shares her story:
“At first people underestimated me because of my age. People thought that at my age I couldn’t run a business because most of the time, people my age have not completed secondary school in Malawi. Apart from being underestimated, I also met different discouragements. I received negative comments from people. They said business was for uneducated people. They said educated people work in offices and other institutions while uneducated people have to do business since they do not have the capability to work. As for me, I did not believe it because nowadays in Malawi things have changed and the economy is not normal so one needs to work and do at least a small business in order to live a decent life.”
Pamela started her business because she saw that her parents had a big responsibility in taking care of all the children. They weren’t able to help everyone so she decided to start the business to support herself. She makes profits and is able to support herself through college. Her parents pay school fees and the business supports her with pocket money. She was even able to buy a laptop using the profits!
Agness Ngozo, age 30, operates a butchery business and said she also encountered the same problems that Pamela described:
“I faced a lot of discouragement from different people, including my own husband. They said to own a butchery was a masculine business not feminine so I had to stand firm to the idea and now I own several butcheries.”
Agness started her business because she didn’t want to be a housewife with nothing to contribute. She hated always asking her husband for money and it caused them to fight. She got a loan to start her business two years ago and has managed to expand the business to new areas. She says, “I have many customers and people love to buy from me because I sell quality meat.” She is able to take care of her family and pay her children’s school fees.
It seems the discouragements most women face when they want to start a business come from their husbands and friends. Mostly people do this out of jealousy since they think they can’t do it themselves.
When I asked Pamela how she managed to overcome her challenges, she said:
“I put God first in everything. I know that I may have the knowledge, a good attitude and a hardworking spirit to do business but if I don’t put God first God will not reward me. Apart from putting God first, I also have confidence in me. I believed in myself and I believed I could do it no matter what. I also challenged the people who discouraged me from starting a business. The more I challenged them, the more I took control and their discouragements over me diminished.
“I would like to encourage my fellow girls who are fighting hard to start businesses that they should have self-confidence because confidence makes us win before we have started. I also had some goals, which guided my decisions and actions so whatever I was doing was in line with my goals. If I had not set goals, I could have been easily moved by what people were saying.
“Lastly I learned through my past experiences, which helped me make better decisions. I know that the good decisions I’ve made in my life have come from learning from errors, mistakes and pains. If I had not failed, I could not have learned and I could not have become a person who makes good decisions today. It was through all of this that I managed to overcome the challenges I faced during the start of my business.”
At such a young age, Pamela did not allow age to be the barrier for her to start a business as she knew that age doesn’t matter, but what matters is how you age.
About the Author, Mayamiko Chiwaya: I am 16 years old. My ambition is to become a successful entrepreneur in Malawi. I am passionate about writing, designing, and baking. I like to play football and read novels. My favorite quote is, “Age doesn’t matter but how you age matters.” I was raised in a family of two by a single mum who is a nurse. I am a graduate of Student Driven Solutions and am now running a business.
Student Driven Solutions has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support their work: “Please consider making a donation as little as $1 and as big as infinity! All donations help support girls like Mayamiko start businesses to jumpstart their future.”
Correct information empowers people to make the best possible choices in all aspects of life. Conversely, incorrect or poorly communicated information can cause a degree of harm that can be worse than knowing nothing in the first place. It is time to stop focusing solely on access to education, and start working on improving the quality of education.
Rightly so, education is often considered the ‘first defense’ to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. When people know how to prevent transmission and why preventing transmission is so important (ie. there is no cure for HIV), the majority of people will, to the best of their abilities, take action to protect themselves and their families. Knowledge gives people the power to prevent HIV transmission in the first place, thereby eliminating the need for medical interventions to mitigate the effects of the virus.
The ‘knowledge is power’ principle has created a focus on simply getting children and youth enrolled in school as a key strategy to combat the spread of HIV.
But is getting children and youth enrolled in school enough? Sadly the answer is no – or at least, not always.
In many countries where the AIDS pandemic continues to hold fast, the education systems are rarely equipped to properly convey this essential information. Perhaps it’s because so many educators fall victim to AIDS themselves, leaving schools under-staff with qualified teachers. Perhaps it’s because out-dated school systems do not include HIV/AIDS education as part of the curriculum, and many teachers avoid the subject entirely because they fear they will be overwhelmed by the intimacy of the questions and comments.
Or, worst of all, perhaps many teachers still hold traditional views about HIV and insist on perpetuating damaging myths rather than sharing accurate information. In any case, school enrollment does not guarantee that children and youth will learn the correct information about HIV/AIDS.
A recent Help Lesotho life skills camp for adolescent girls revealed how serious the education gap in HIV/AIDS really is. One girl, eager to share her knowledge, confidently spoke up to answer a question about modes of HIV transmission, replying that:
“Contaminated food, air or water can transmit HIV.”
Shockingly, none of her fellow campers challenged her response. This girl is currently enrolled in high school. She has been in the Lesotho education system for 10 years, and she is still unaware that HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids, especially during sexual activities. This girl is old enough to be married (under Basotho law), and old enough to become pregnant – so she is certainly old enough to encounter situations that could put her at risk of contracting HIV. The education she has received has left her with no way of preparing for or mitigating these risks.
How can she be expected to be part of the solution to fighting HIV/AIDS when no one has ever given her the relevant education?
In another instance, a group of 60 youth in a Help Lesotho program – all of whom were high school or tertiary graduates – were asked whether a person can get HIV the first time they have sex. Only 75% of respondents said ‘Yes’. In actuality, 25% of Lesotho’s population is HIV positive.
It is widely known that HIV affects adolescent girls at a much higher rate than their male counterparts. In southern Africa, according to UNAIDS, three quarters of all new HIV infections among adolescents aged 10–19 years are among adolescent girls. If access to education is actually an effective deterrent to the spread of HIV, one could assume that whichever gender has higher enrollment in education should be better prepared to avoid HIV transmission.
However, in Lesotho, more girls than boys are enrolled in primary school (up to 70% of some school populations are girls), and yet adolescent girls are infected twice as much as their male peers. There are of course other factors at play – girls are more vulnerable to HIV as a result of gender-based violence and other factors.
One thing is definitely clear: Simply going to school cannot be relied on as the first defense against HIV/AIDS.
Girls’ Globe is present at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (17-22nd of July). Follow us on social media and by using the hashtag #EndHIV4Her for inspiring blog posts, interviews and updates! To sign up for the daily In Focus Newsletter visit crowd360.org/aids2016/
Now, any woman can legally own land, receive inheritance, and make her own decisions. Prior to 2006, women in Lesotho were considered legal minors.
In 2003, the Sexual Offences Act was enacted to combat sexual violence. The Act officially defined all forms of unwanted sexual penetration as rape, not just vaginal penetration as it was prior to this Act. This act also gives legal rights and validity to men who have been raped. In addition, it states that marriage or any other relationship is not a legitimate defence to sexual violence.
10 Years Later
It’s been over 10 years since these laws were put into place to protect women from gender inequality and abuse. However, implementation has been slow, especially in rural, mountainous villages, which accounts for the majority of the Basotho population. According to Thato Letsela, Help Lesotho’s Officer for Leadership Centres, “In general in town things are changing, but in rural areas there are still problems.”
Even though the principal land legislation in Lesotho (first in the Land Act of 1979, then repealed by the Land Act of 2010) is gender neutral, customary practices provide that land is allocated primarily to men through inheritance, requiring women to access land through their husbands. The Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, aimed to eliminate such discrimination. However, a study conducted by Yvonne A. Braun in 2010 revealed that policies designed to compensate women and men who lost their land for the construction of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), reinforced the existing gender inequalities. Compensations were paid solely to men, while woman who lost their lands were disqualified.
Shasha Makhauta, Help Lesotho Youth and Gender Programs Coordinator, contributes Lesotho’s patriarchal environment to a lack of education and sharing information, “I think since 2006, women can now access loans like their husbands, the number of women in parliament and community councils had increased, thus they contribute a lot in the formulation of laws and developments in Lesotho. However, this only applies to educated women – women at the village level are not aware of their rights. They still regard their partners as the head of the families, which means husbands hold the power over decision-making for their families.”
For example, while working with women in a rural community, called Thaba Tseka, Makhauta realized most of women were beaten by their husbands. The women did not report the abuse because they said they felt it is the husband’s right to discipline his wife and did not consider it abuse.
Steps to Gender Parity
Girls and women are the most vulnerable population demographic in Lesotho. They are most likely to be suffering different types of abuse and are unable to access the support and resources they need. The information and strategies implored in girls and women through Help Lesotho programs is more likely to improve the lives of entire families, peer groups, and communities. On an annual basis, 75% of Help Lesotho’s beneficiaries are girls and women.
Establishing gender equity is essential to creating sustainable social change. Despite significant legislative changes promoting gender equity and the rights of women, cultural barriers and limited enforcement, continue to limit the implementation of these changes at the family, peer and community levels. Gender inequity severely impacts the opportunities of girls and women to make decisions for themselves. Abuse, sexual violence and HIV transmission are common issues that stem from power imbalances between men and women.
By empowering girls and educating boys, Help Lesotho is working to build a critical mass of people who are committed to gender equity. Help Lesotho programs support girls and women to heal from their trauma, while boys and men are intentionally included in the struggle for gender equity given their essential role in fostering sustainable behavioural change to achieve social justice.
Help Lesotho’s gender equity education and training is offered to young men as well as women because both genders require the knowledge and confidence to achieve gender equity, reduce gender-based violence and foster human rights. These programs address these challenges by fostering doubt about unhealthy myths and beliefs, enhancing the cognitive skills required for analysis and healthy decision making, examining the components of self-esteem and self-protective behaviours, and practicing simple strategies for self-protection.
Patriarchal values and norms create power imbalances and limit women’s rights, but with continued focus and awareness on achieving gender equity in Lesotho, hopefully in another decade, women will be living free of patriarchy and fulfilling their potential.
Post Written By: Esther Sharma, Board Member for Women and Children First UK
As an expectant mum, with an excited toddler eagerly awaiting the arrival of his new baby, I am more mindful than ever before of the fortunate position I am in, living in the UK with access to great healthcare and lots of support. However, as many of us are acutely aware, with the MDG’s well and truly behind us now, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that this is the experience of all women and their babies across the world.
How many women have the choice about when to start having children, how many children to have and how far apart to space them? Or access to antenatal care and a skilled birth attendant to ensure a safe birth? And what about healthcare facilities for those requiring medical assistance? And vital support in the early days of motherhood?
Since 2002, Women and Children First has been working in some of the poorest countries of the world to empower women, using Women’s Groups – a powerful, low cost, participatory community mobilization approach. Rather than being a ‘top down’ approach, Women’s Groups seek to empower women to find long lasting approaches to maternal and newborn health issues. The women identify local strategies to address these problems, take action on the local strategies and evaluate their impact. Throughout the life cycle of the groups, based on their interests, women prioritize and discuss different topics on infant and maternal health. In order to capture the interest of the group and communicate effectively, storytelling, role plays, the use of picture cards and song and dance are often used.
Such is the effectiveness of this approach, (studies of seven communities show that you can cut deaths among newborns by one third using this low cost method), it has been formally recognized by the World Health Organization as being an important component in designing global maternal and child health programmes.
Women and Children First are scaling up this vital approach by providing advice and training to other organisations across the globe (including those in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Honduras and Myanmar), passing on the deep knowledge and expertise that they have gained about Women’s Groups over the years to ensure that more women than ever before have the opportunity to shape the future of maternal and newborn health in their communities.
Mikey Rosato, Director of Programmes and Technical Assistance, says, “It’s a privilege to be able to pass on Women and Children First’s expertise in delivering Women’s Groups. Our aim is to save as many mothers and babies lives as possible and what better way to do this than by sharing an approach that is proven to work. It is so exciting to see the enthusiasm from our partners in the field who will be on the frontline in saving lives and helping us to reach the goal of an equitable world where all women and children have good health, no matter where they live.”
This training has been very well received. Mikey has recently returned from the World Health Organization where he shared expertise in how to run Women’s Groups, which he says, “This was an important step towards our goal of good health for all women, adolescents and children. With the support of the trainees from WHO, UNAIDS and World Vision we can now work in partnership to bring the women’s group approach to more communities where the greatest inequalities exist in health and mortality.”
Women’s Groups are by very nature designed to replicate themselves across communities to reach more and more women. Now that Women and Children First are providing training to other organizations, Women’s Groups will not only spread across communities, but across the world, bringing about much needed change to maternal and newborn health. To donate to these initiatives please visit www.womenandchildrenfirst.org.uk.