Connie’s Birth Story: voicing your fear and letting it out

“I really just feel like, ‘I did that?! I can do anything.'”

In Episode #19 of The Positive Birth Story Podcast, Connie shares her beautiful story. She talks about the power we hold inside of ourselves, explaining that it’s a power so strong it can feel frightening to come face to face with it during labour.

The Positive Birth Story Podcast features empowering & positive stories about birth. Swedish midwife Åsa Holstein shares her in-depth knowledge of birth and speaks to brave women who share their personal stories. This is a podcast with women for women about the super power that resides in all of us. Find all episodes of The Positive Birth Story Podcast here.

This Silence Must be Broken

“May we teach our children that speaking out without the fear of retribution is our culture’s new North Star.” – Laura Dern

It is absurd that in the 21st century, a culture of silence leaves women and girls without certain rights. Some call it tradition, but I shall call it by its name – oppression.

I grew up in a conservative community in Zimbabwe where we were not allowed to discuss other people’s lives. Women were butchered in their own homes. They would yell for help, but their neighbors would shut the doors and mind their own business. Girls were forced to leave school and work as domestic helpers, or worse, be married to older men. These violations of rights have been going on for too long, and what upsets me the most is our collective inability to break the silence. People might say it’s ‘culture’, but what they don’t realise is that this is oppression and it has to stop.

I remember vividly the time in high school when I stood up to a boy who had been forcibly taking my food and making jokes about me.  Everyone revered him as a super hero – girls like myself would suffer in silence and allow him to torment them. One day, I chose to be different and shook off the dust of fear. Since that moment, I assured myself that I would use my voice and stand up for justice whenever I could.

I have younger sisters and when I look at them and the society they are growing up in, my heart bleeds. I sometimes wonder if I am influential enough to effect meaningful change, but still I choose to break the silence by raising my voice. As the old adage goes, ‘it always seem impossible until it’s done’. I hope that one day everyone who is being silenced will be able to speak out loudly and freely.

Oppressed people are silenced through being denied a platform to voice their experiences. They may fear being ostracised if they do speak up. Those who experience suffering usually have difficulty in communicating what they are going through, and this is made worse if people exist within a system that does not allow them space to express themselves. Such is the scenario in many parts of my country.

The most common problem in my community is domestic violence. Far too many women are physically abused by their partners on a daily basis. Sadly, only a handful are able to report their cases, reveal the truth and follow the procedure to attain justice. This is mostly due to the fact that many women are not financially independent and so fear being stranded – sometimes with children to care for – if they put their abusive partner behind bars. As an result, women are suffering in silence.

The absence of space for cases of abuse against women and girls to be articulated means that abusers continue to have the upper hand. Recently, in my community, there has been a case of a young girl – aged 15 – who was impregnated by her stepfather’s son. The girl became terrified after being threatened at home, and so she told members of the community who were quizzing her that it was actually her boyfriend who impregnated her. To see such a lack of justice is heartbreaking, and I’m so tired of it.

It is my desire that one day, those who are being silenced will be able to speak up. As it stands, oppressors are benefiting from the fact that victims have no space or support to stand up for themselves. We have to ensure that the oppressed are heard, in Zimbabwe and all over the world.

How Smart Phones are Fueling Sexual Violence in DRC

Two words any smart phone user fears: Low Battery. But what if each time we powered up our smart phones, the power of a child who helped to make our devices was taken away? That is the sacrifice that children such as 4-year-old Monica make in the Cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she searches for minerals used to create Lithium-ion batteries.

Exposure to sexual violence and dangerous working conditions are more than just side effects of the demand for smart devices, they reveal a public health crisis powered by international enterprise, armed conflict, and modern day slavery.

According to UNICEF, 40,000 children work in Cobalt mines in the southern Katanga province of the DRC. Unable to attend school, these child laborers are exposed to violence and little-known Cobalt Lung, a potentially fatal disease caused by inhaling hard metal debris.

But what if merely living near a mine increased a girl’s chances of being sexually assaulted? A recent study revealed, “In the Kivus and Maniema, the risk of experiencing non-partner sexual [violence] is particularly high for women that live close to a mine with the presence of an armed actor.” This is the cost of Cobalt.

While job responsibilities are clearly divided between girls and boys, with boys working deep in the mines and girls breaking rocks and sifting through minerals by hand, the rescue efforts that could save these children are gendered, too. It has been brought to the attention of the World Trade Organization “that girls are rarely rescued as they play the multiple roles of scouts, porters, sexual slaves and soldiers.”

You may be surprised to learn that one electric car requires approximately 10-20 pounds of Cobalt. In an effort to cut costs, some companies are shifting towards working with deregulated suppliers. Deregulated mining operations pose the greatest risks to children, as they do not enforce minimum standards or impose safety requirements.

However, with pressure mounting from International Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), several tech companies have pledged to remove child labor from their supply chains. Companies’ responses to supply chain inquiries have been published by the Washington Post, so that we, as conscious consumers, can determine whether we stand behind their corporate ethics.

Discussions between the International Labor Organization and the Congolese government have yielded new commitments to upholding the minimum working age of 15, as outlined in ILO Convention No. 138. The next steps: implementation and ongoing enforcement of international law. Meanwhile, many NGOs and regional partners are continuing to develop comprehensive programs to provide education and vocational training to survivors.

What else can we do as smart device users?

  • Use the hashtag #NotInMyPhone to support Amnesty International’s campaign and ongoing investigations into Cobalt mining practices.
  • Host a screening of the free documentary Maisha: A New Life Outside the Mines

From Child Worker to Girl with Big Dreams

Written by Anna Safronova, Fellow at SOS Children’s Villages  

In 2001, Diane* was born to a family of poor farmers in a small town in Burundi—a landlocked nation in East Africa where 81% of the population lives on less than $1.90 per day. The money her parents earned wasn’t enough to provide Diane the stable life she desperately needed as a child. Sadly, when Diane was six, her parents were unable to cover the costs of medical care and ultimately lost their lives to malaria. Without a family, Diane found herself completely alone. Instead of starting primary school, she was forced to work as a domestic worker in order to survive.

I was six years old at the time. I felt alone, confused, rejected, with nowhere to go,” Diane said. “I looked for work as a domestic helper. I moved from family to family looking for a place that could be the home I had lost. I really suffered.

Diane’s story is heartbreaking, but sadly not unique. Her plight of having to work in order to survive is shared by hundreds of thousands of orphaned children in Burundi—a country which is ranked one of the 10 worst countries in the world for child labor. In fact, nearly one in four children in Burundi is a child worker.

Many of these children are forced into domestic servitude either to support their families or even just to support themselves. While at work, they are more likely to become victims of verbal or physical abuse.  Orphaned girls in Burundi like Diane are particularly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor like sex trafficking, exploitation or domestic work in private households. The toll this can have on these girls’ emotional and mental health is significant.

Child labor also has an especially detrimental effect on girls’ education. Girls often leave school disproportionally earlier than their male peers to undertake domestic work.  Sadly, by forgoing school for work, their chances of becoming self-sufficient, contributing members of society are significantly diminished.

One way to break this cycle is to make sure that girls are given a chance to grow up in stable families. Families that allow them to be children and do what children are supposed to do: learn, play and feel loved. For girls who live with vulnerable families, it’s critical that we help them become stable and strong through family support programs in order to prevent family breakdown and child abandonment. For orphaned, abandoned and other vulnerable children, we need to work tirelessly to make sure they are able to grow up in a stable, loving family environment — like the one Diane is growing up in today.

In 2009, when Diane was eight years old, she was welcomed to live with a family headed by an SOS Mother—a trained caregiver—at the SOS Children’s Village in Cibitoke, Burundi. The village is one of 570 SOS Children’s Villages working around the world to provide loving and stable families for children in need. Growing up in such an environment provides girls like Diane with the building blocks needed to realize their full potential: an education, medical care and a stable family.

My mind is settled now and I am performing well in school,” said Diane, when asked about her life in the SOS Village. “My SOS Mother helped me to feel important and to regain my self-confidence. I now know that the power to become what I want to be in life lies within me. Now that I have a chance to go to school – good school – I know my future depends on the effort I put into my schoolwork.

Diane’s transformation from a child worker to a child full of dreams is a testament to how a stable family can change the course of a girl’s life. Today, Diane, 13, is free of everyday worries of survival and receives the love and support she needs to dream big and pursue her dreams.

As global citizens, we should all work together to empower girls worldwide by providing them with the building blocks needed to realize their full potential: a stable home, education and quality health care.

This summer you can change the course of a girl’s life by supporting SOS Children’s Villages’ Invest in a Girl campaign. Sponsor a girl and receive an ALEX AND ANI Sand Castle Charm Bangle, designed for SOS Children’s Villages. 

*Name changed for privacy reasons

Clothing Costs: Women's Rights in Bangladesh

Photo Courtesy:
Photo Courtesy:

More than eight hundred Bangladeshi people were killed when a textile factory building collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The building, which was constructed with weak materials, crumbled after a combination of vibrations from the start-up generators and sewing machines sent shock waves through the walls. The majority of those that died were women.

Bangladesh’s textile industry, which employs over 3.3 million people each year, provides much of its export to countries in the European Union and the United States. In the developing world, Bangladesh is the largest employer of women in the formal textile industry sector. Women make up 85% percent of the labor force in the garment industry.

Bangladesh’s textile workers are some of the lowest paid workers in the world with wages only adding to a minimum wage of $38 a month. Women are often paid a lesser wage than men.

Under cover filming of textile factories has revealed that many children are also employed. A fourteen year old girl, Halima Akhtar, was among those that survived the collapse.

Photo Courtesy: BBC News
Photo Courtesy: BBC News
Girls as young as fourteen work in textile factories

The  law states that women not be allowed to work past 8 p.m.  The reality is that many are forced to work up to sixteen hours a day in unsafe working conditions. Women often work through the night to complete the quota.

Women are overworked, exploited and under paid!

In most factories, there is insufficient lighting, ventilation and sanitation facilities. Many women are from rural areas and are unaware of their rights to safety, health and a fair wage. Women and young girls have little time to receive medical care or to invest in maternal health when they give birth. They face a continual  threat of rape and sexual harassment by male counterparts inside the factories and outside the factories as they depart late at night.

Although it is a right mandated by the International Labor Organization and labor laws, women are denied the opportunity to join a trade union. Unsafe working conditions and a lack of legislation enforcement have made women working in this industry vulnerable and it is costing their lives.

In the wake of this recent tragedy the International Labor Organization concluded a joint session yesterday expressing stricter enforcement regarding safety and security enforcement for all factories in Bangladesh.

There are many organizations and community systems working to empower women to fight for the rights and health of women working  in the garment industry. The solution isn’t to shut down textile factories but to empower women to fight for their rights in this important industrial sector.

The National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) has been addressing human rights issues among women in the Bangladesh textile industry since 1984. The good news is that women are on the front lines with NGWF are taking the lead in the fight for their rights for fair wages, healthcare, and proper working conditions. The NGWF provides legal guidance and leadership training sessions for women working in the textile industry.

The Solidarity Center is another organization that is working to promote workers’ rights for women and children.  The Center helps to empower women to challenge and confront systems of abuse as well as establish unions for fair wages and labor.

Marie Stopes is working in Bangladesh to promote sexual and reproductive health among those working in the textile industry.

Will you be at Women Deliver? We recommend you check out the following Women Deliver Exhibitors working to promote the rights and health of women in Bangladesh: