South Africa, Let’s Stay Positive

How do we stay positive in a country experiencing a continuous increase in gender-based violence?

In South Africa, it has been reported that femicide is on the rise, with South African Police data reporting that the murder rate for women increased drastically by 7.7% between 2015 and 2016/17. New cases are reported on a daily basis and more women are silently suffering in abusive relationships than ever before. It’s all over the news, happening in our circles to those we love and destroying lives of too many South African women.

In light of the newly released statistics on domestic violence in South Africa, I’ve found myself struggling more than ever to stay positive and hopeful for the future of our country and future generations.

Fighting for a cause should be a crucial part of all of our lives, even with the reality it shoves upon us. Living in a country where human rights have evolved and made such historic progress, but where barriers are still entrenched and need to be navigated around, it feels as though progress is now on an elongated plateau.

So how exactly can we stay positive in light of all of this?

As difficult as it can be, getting involved is the answer. Being confronted by the brutality and violence can fire up a warrior inside us and spur on the fight. It can urge us to speak up and confront the distressful situation in the country head on. We need to acknowledge the reality and tackle it whole-heartedly. We need to converse, share opinions, listen to each other and form a community.

It is a fight that each and every one of us must take part in. It is our duty to stand up for women by raising awareness to the injustice in our society.

This is a call on South Africans to be brave, stand up, and speak out against gender based violence.

Without disregarding the reality of the situation, we also need to focus on the positive milestones women have achieved and are currently achieving around the world – and especially in our own country. Without the belief that things are going to get better – they won’t.

In South Africa we celebrate August as Women’s Month. This year, it was welcomed by thousands of gender equality activists, members of the LGBTQI+ community and women across the country who took to the streets on August 1st in a march to raise awareness against gender-based violence.

#TheTotalShutDown echoed throughout the whole month. Whether it was online, within communities or chatter on the streets – we had people talking. “My body, not your crime scene” was chanted throughout the country. Women were urged to join nationwide marches and those who weren’t able to were asked to avoid work places and take a moment of silence for all the victims of femicide.

Flickering fires of passion were ignited within women no matter their cultural, racial, political or social differences for one common goal – justice for fellow sisters. It was mesmerising watching women come together and embrace their differences while connecting with each other. Women found themselves in each other.

South African women have fought this brutal reality so passionately and for so long, we cannot let it win. No matter how difficult, we have to believe that we can make a difference and mend this broken country.

We are warriors and will be remembered in history as the ones who carried the fight.

Keep Women and Girls in Nepal Safe

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Last October, I began a journey through the remote Langtang Mountain range in Nepal. The purpose of my visit was to experience how women of all ages are rallying their communities against the issue of trafficking. Historically, in this area of Nepal, trafficking is the main source of income for many families. In fact, in many communities, there are no girls over the age of twelve. They have all been sold to brothels in India and taken to other areas in Nepal. It is difficult to imagine young girls being used and traded as commodities rather than valued as worthy human beings. I began to understand the issue more as I realized the history of the Tamang people. The Tamang people in Nepal have not  been valued for generations. Tamang are not allowed to hold government jobs and are treated as lower-class citizens. From an anthropological perspective, this gave me a clearer understanding as to why slavery has been the only economic option for those living in these remote regions. When I visited this community last year, I found the promise of hope. A locally-led goat farming program was providing young girls with the opportunity to raise and sell goats rather than the girls being sold themselves. As a result, the health and well-being of many of these young girls and their families increased dramatically. Health and safety for young girls was provided through a relatively low-cost economic alternative.

IMG_0190Women, girls and children are considered among the most vulnerable populations in the world. They experience some of the most extreme health risks and the promise of safety is rarely an option. When I woke up on the morning of April 25th and learned the news about the earthquake in Nepal my heart sank. My mind immediately went to these young girls and their families. When a crisis such as war, disease, famine or a natural disaster occurs, the risks for women and children increases significantly. The Langtang Mountain region in Nepal was severely affected by the earthquake. Personal stories and accounts from colleagues revealed most homes and villages were destroyed in the region where only a few months ago I experienced such positive hope and change. This area is so remote it has been difficult for any help to reach the Tamang people living in the mountains.

The media frenzy surrounding the crisis in Nepal has made it difficult to know exactly what is happening and how we can work to empower women and girls in this country. We need to ask the question: In post-crisis, how can we continue to keep women and girls in Nepal safe? This is a multi-layered question and requires an integrated response both locally and globally. As an international community, I believe there are ways we can respond which are both empowering and will bring about lasting change for the health and well-being of women and girls.

Understand Increased Risks

When a crisis or natural disaster occurs, women, girls and children face increased risks to their health and safety. The earthquake in Nepal, left tens of thousands of pregnant women without medical care and exposed to the harsh elements. Similarly, according to the International Justice Mission, there is a heightened risk for displaced young women and children to be trafficked across the Nepal/India border. We must understand the increased risks in order to know how to mitigate those risks.

Empower Locally Led Solutions

While in Nepal, I, also, had the opportunity to lead a blogging workshop for one of Girls’ Globe’s featured organizations Women LEAD Nepal’s young leaders. I am inspired by their courage and strength through the crisis in Nepal. These young women are leading the way through providing locally-led solutions to surrounding communities. They have worked to empower young people and children through local partnerships building temporary learning centers for children living in some of the most severely affected areas. These amazing young women were featured in the Kathmandu Post as their relief efforts have also entailed education focused kits which include school books, calculators, pens and more to young people who have been working to prepare for exams in the midst of crisis. Locally-led solutions can bring lasting and sustainable change to improve the health and safety of women, girls and children living in post-crisis situations.

Use Your Voice for Change

When a natural disaster or crisis occurs in another country we can not always drop everything and physically go to help, nor is that always the best way to help either. Many who would like to help often think going is the first and only solution. While relief is an important part of the response it is not the only response. I believe one of the most powerful ways you can create change and keep women and girls in Nepal healthy and safe is through using your voice. The media buzz around the crisis in Nepal will eventually fade. Whether you are passionate about writing or enjoy sharing well informed posts through social media let’s continue to use our voices to keep the health and rights of women, girls and children in Nepal at the forefront of the conversation.

Remembering the Female Heroes of 9/11

Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Image Courtesy of Katie Killary on Flickr (Creative Commons).

Growing up in America, I would often hear adults recall “where they were” the moment President John F. Kennedy got assassinated. I could never relate. How I wish that was still the case. For my generation, we remember where we were when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and The Pentagon.

After finishing an early morning dentist appointment, I noticed that the entire waiting room was stunned silent as they watched the horrifying events unfold on the office’s television. The moment I saw the live news footage of the World Trade Center towers, I understood why. A feeling of emptiness, shock, and awe enveloped me as never in my lifetime, or ever for that matter, had America suffered from such a significant and deadly attack on our soil. I did not know what to do next so, like everyone else in that room, I watched in horror. But what I could not know at the time was that out of the horror would come stories of unimaginable courage.

Of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks, 412 were emergency workers – firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics.

On 9/11, the world watched as our firefighters bravely climbed up the stairs when everyone else ran down; as police officers remained calm as survivors fled the scene; as paramedics and EMTs helped the wounded without giving a second’s thought to their own safety.

Although the aforementioned careers are predominantly male-dominated, women too proudly served and protected on that fateful day – a fact all too often overlooked.

I don’t think there was any task that was performed down there by men that were not performed by women.” ~ Terri Tobin, Deputy Inspector of the New York Police Department

In 2011, CNN produced the documentary Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11 to emphasize women’s roles as first responders. In the film, female firefighters, police officers, and an EMT recall their experiences.

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Image Courtesy of Mike Shade on Flickr (Creative Commons).

One featured story depicts that of the late NYPD police officer Moira Smith. Moira prevented mass hysteria and crowded exits by ‘directing traffic’ with a flashlight at the ground floor of World Trade Center Tower Two. Today, survivors remember ‘the woman with the flashlight’ with extreme gratitude and appreciation, for her service not only undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, but also restored some semblance of order and control in the midst of complete and utter chaos.

However, we must not forget that Moira’s story is only one of thousands in which women (and men) displayed superhuman courage.

Instead of associating today with terror and fear, we must remember all those – including women – who stood valiantly in the face of danger in an effort to save the lives of others. Stories like Moira’s, although a tragic reminder of our female heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice, now evoke emotions of hope and strength of the human spirit – and for that we will be forever thankful.

For more information about the female heroes of 9/11, please see the following:

 

Empower One: Change the Future of Many

It was in a small rural village in the state of Jharkhand, India, that I first met Naisban.  As we sat together on the floor of her home, I listened intently as she talked to me about the pressing issue of illiteracy in her community. In an area lacking proper sanitation and sufficient water supply, Naisban is one woman who is motivated to create far-reaching change.

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Naisban outside of her home

As we talked, I watched her eyes light up as she discussed the opportunities for development in her area. Unlike many women and children in India, she is fully literate, having been educated all the way through secondary school. A leader in her community, she has earned the respect of both the men and women through her initiation of meetings related to community development.

Naisban believes that literacy is a powerful tool in the fight to empower girls and women around the world. Her goal is to see every woman and girl in her village become literate and for many years, Naisban has dedicated her time to educating women and young girls by building her own literacy program.

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Empower One Girl: Change Many

India has one of the largest illiterate populations in the world. In 2001, it was reported that only half of the female population was literate. However, literacy rates have increased within the last decade, with the  female rate rising to 65.5% in 2011.

Much of the credit for this increase should go to women like Naisban. She is one of many women around the world who have the potential to improve the lives of girls and women in need. If you invest in the life of one woman like Naisban, you will be changing the lives of those around her.

Naisban’s passion brings to mind the life of Somaly Mam. Somaly, who was recently featured in Half the Sky, was born in a rural area of Cambodia and endured the horrors of being sold into sexual slavery. She has dedicated her life to loving and empowering young girls who have been abused and exploited by the sex trade. Her life and experience has made a difference in the lives of over 7,000 young girls in Cambodia and many more around the world.

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Photo Courtesy of somaly.org

“A seed is like a little girl,” Somaly believes, “It can look small and worthless, but if you treat it well then it will grow beautiful.” (The Road of Lost Innocence, The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine)

Millions of girls and women like Naisban and Somaly Mam are on the front lines, tirelessly fighting for women’s rights and dignity. Let’s get behind these girls and women and champion their visions and causes. By empowering even just one girl, we are changing the lives of many.

Do you know of organizations that seek to empower girls like Naisban? Tweet us @GirlsGlobe!

Want to learn about organizations that empower local girls and women?

Learn more about the Somaly Mam Foundation
On Twitter @SomalyMam

Check out the Girl Effect
On Twitter @girleffect

Sources:

Census  India 2011. http://censusindia.gov.in/2011census/censusinfodashboard/index.html
Census India 2001. http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/literates1.asp

The Girl Effect. http://www.girleffect.org/
The Somaly Mam Foundation.  www.somaly.org
Somaly Mam. The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine

Unlock a World of Possibilities

One thing that I believe in is stopping pity.

I have noticed that we are often taught to see the poverty, the hunger, the discrimination, all the problems, but not the possibilities, not the process of empowerment, development or change.

What if we see the positive reality? Isn’t it easier to solve the problem and look at the world without closing our eyes?

When we believe that girls and women are changemakers and equal citizens in their societies, able to make a difference to their own reality and the reality of others,  then we unlock a world of possibilities. Girls’ Globe is a place of raising awareness of dreadful realities facing girls and women around the world, but it is also a place where the pity should change into passion, playfulness, changemaking and positivity.

Here are two changemakers. Let’s celebrate them and stop the pity.

Don’t pity, don’t close your eyes. Open them to a world of change and potential.

Again, we would like to share this inspiring video from mamahope.org:

Mobilize the Girl Effect

Girls in some parts of the world are seen as a burden. These girls are denied their basic human rights, to equal access to health care, education, mobility, freedom from violence and abuse. These girls are not able to choose their path in life, who they will marry or when they will have their first child.

But, just like you and I, these girls have dreams. And these girls have the capabilities to drastically change their own lives and the lives of their families and others in their community. As long as someone is willing to break the vicious cycle. Through access to education, these girls have a greater chance of delaying their age at marriage and first pregnancy, thus, increasing their chances of living through pregnancy and childbirth dramatically. Given the chance, they can learn to earn an income, they can empower themselves and others and they can change the value of a girl.

And most of all. These girls have a name.

What if you were denied your dreams, just because you were a girl?

Let us join the movement to mobilize the girl effect!

There are several movements around the world, working toward mobilizing this girl effect. The videos above are taken from girleffect.org.

If you are in Sweden, you can join the movement through Musikhjälpen, featuring several artists and celebrities promoting the rights of girls to attend school. Listen to the radio and help support the rights of girls’ education.

If you need to understand the process visually, see this great video from girleffect.org: