Do Women Benefit from Revolution?

This is the question I’ve been asking myself while reading Thomas Sankara’sWomen’s Liberation and the African Struggle’.

The book has made me think about the powerful images of Alaa Salah from Sudan. It’s also made me think about the women in South Africa – of all races and backgrounds – who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in 1956, and the female members of the Black Panther Party draped in leather and berets.

I thought of all the women around the world who have taken to the streets to demand their rights, and I thought about how women have always sacrificed their time and bodies in the name of a revolution – just as men have.

“You are our mothers and life companions, our comrades in struggle, and because of this fact you should by rights assert yourselves as equal partners in the joyful victory feasts of the revolution.” – Thomas Sankara, March 8 1987

Women have long been asserting ourselves as equal partners, but are we fully indulging in the feasts of revolution?

In my own country, South Africa, I would say that the answer is no. Women have been written out of history. When I learned the history of Apartheid in school, there was zero mention of any women. Not Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Not Albertina Sisulu. Not any of the other women who participated in the March of 1956. Not the women of the Black Consciousness Movement. I also remember learning about the Black Power Movement and hearing no mention of women like Angela Davis or Kathleen Cleaver.

Despite revolution, women still struggle for equality.

One current example is that the government in my country wants to expropriate land to the historic rightful owners. However, there is no clear plan as to how women should be included in this. We want ‘radical economic transformation’, but women are excluded from holding powerful positions. According to Africa Check, in South Africa women made up 72.5% of teachers and 37.3% of principals in public schools. The statistics in other fields are just as depressing.

Historically, the women’s rights movement has also been exclusive to middle-class white women.

This was shown by leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States through the exclusion of black women. Why would you exclude a group of people who undergo even more oppression than you do?

Personally, I still think the #MeToo movement has mostly benefited white women in Hollywood and middle-class white women in the West. What has changed for girls and women in countries like mine because of #MeToo? To me, it seems like nothing at all.

In some countries it is still legal to mutilate a girl’s genitalia, despite widespread acknowledgement that female genital mutilation has absolutely no health benefits for girls and women. It is a way to ‘prepare’ girls for childbearing and marriage. With this in mind, where is this ‘sexual revolution’ the Western world speaks of?

These are sad truths, but I want to call on all my sisters worldwide to take a stance together.

Let us take a stance against oppression in all forms, so that society can reap the rewards of equality. Maya Angelou said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” Let us be those kinds of women.

Give Mothers and Babies Life

Newborn and maternal mortality in Nigeria
A mother holds her premature daughter at Turay Yaradua Maternal and Children’s Hospital in Nigeria.
Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr

Imagine this. You are almost nine months pregnant somewhere in rural Nigeria. It is 20 kilometers to the nearest clinic and you have no way to get there without walking. None of your friends or family can afford to help you nor are they able to take the time to care for you. This is something you’ll have to manage yourself.

If you have any complication, there are no resources in the clinic for emergency obstetric care, and you have no way to get to a hospital that can help you.

Or imagine that you live in Somalia, where the risk is high that you lose your baby during childbirth when there is no one else than an untrained traditional birth attendant who destroys the possibilities of life.

Or you’re pregnant in Afghanistan, Niger, or Chad. Some of the most dangerous places on earth to become pregnant and deliver a baby. What would you do when there is nothing else to choose?

It is estimated that 200,000 women and girls die due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications every year. That’s 800 girls and women every single day.

Pregnancy and childbirth is the most common cause of death for teenage girls between 15 and 19 years. For every girl or woman who dies, several more suffer complications that changes their lives forever. When a mother dies, the risk for her child to die before the age of five drastically increases.

When women die children die, leading to families and entire communities torn to pieces!

A sister holds her baby brother in Uttar Pradesh, India.  Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr
A sister holds her baby brother in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Photo Credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr

But pregnancy does not have to be a lottery of life and death depending on where you live! 80% of all maternal deaths can be avoided with access to emergency obstetric care and skilled health workers, such as trained midwives.

When girls and women have access to contraception, prenatal care and emergency obstetric care, we create a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society. We reduce the risk of unsafe or illegal abortions. We increase opportunities for girls to get an education and empower women to decide over their future. We contribute to a development, which goes so much further than to the women and girls themselves.

When we invest in women we invest in society as a whole.

And, there is good news. In almost 20 years, we have almost halved the maternal mortality rate in the world. And it is proved that we can drastically change the status of girls and women today. Around the world, we are creating a revolution. Now we need to mobilize into action!

We need resources, political will and a change in social norms at the grassroots level. We need to increase knowledge, enhance girls’ and women’s rights and hold our leaders accountable.

We all have a role in contributing to change. Every single person has the possibility to influence change. Thanks to several different initiatives we are creating new opportunities for girls around the world. When we learn more, we can do more and inspire others to action!

We can save lives.

Here is a short list of things you can do to take part in saving mothers’ and babies’ lives:

No woman or girl should have to die when giving life. Maternal health is a human right, and girls’ rights are human rights. Together we can ensure that all women and girls survive their pregnancy.

Infographic below by USAID.

savingatbirth-1000Living Proof - Birth in NepalFeatured image credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr.

We Need A Revolution

Members of the Oxfam water and sanitation committee in the Jamam refugee camp, South Sudan. Photo Courtesy of Oxfam International
Members of the Oxfam water and sanitation committee in the Jamam refugee camp, South Sudan. Photo Courtesy of Oxfam International

With last week marking the opening of the 68th session of the United Nation’s General Assembly and the Social Good Summit happening alongside it, the international community has been abuzz about how we can make the world a better place. This has me reflecting on a collection of statements about ending global poverty that I read sometime ago. The gist of the article is that for decades the rhetoric has been that this can be the generation to end global poverty, yet it hasn’t been accomplished. I think about these statements, specifically in the context of women’s rights and the reasons that, although we have been talking about the oppression of women and girls for decades, gender-based discrimination persists. If we are to make real and lasting progress, we need to radically transform the way we position the oppression of women and girls, as well as our approach to addressing this oppression.

Let’s talk about the root causes of gender inequality

The root cause of women’s and girls’ oppression is a patriarchal value system that places men at the centre and women in the periphery, while ascribing rigid gender roles and privilege accordingly. It then works in tandem with  systems like capitalism to devalue the work traditionally done by women – work deemed ‘women’s work’ by the same system of patriarchy. We cannot talk about women’s rights without talking about the systems that place us at a disadvantage politically, economically and socially; and we cannot empower women within systems designed to oppress them. As such, we need to…

Stop isolating certain women’s rights violations to specific countries or regions

News reports would have us believe that rape only happens in India. Latching on to the shock value and ease of separating ourselves from ‘those’ crimes that happen ‘over there’, it became trendy to report on rapes in India while ignoring rape in other parts of the world. By separating incidents of rape from each other, and from other manifestations of gender inequality, we allow patriarchy to go unchecked. Systems of oppression operate globally; they may manifest themselves differently – sexual violence, policing women’s bodies, wage gaps, restricted reproductive rights, and so on – but the root causes are the same. By focusing on the symptoms, we allow oppression to change forms but never put an end to it. We have to connect the dots and draw these parallels in order to dismantle the common perpetrators of sexual violence, poverty and all forms of inequality.

Put the women we claim to want to help at the centre

Within global movements for women’s rights, individuals and organizations in the Global North are positioned as authorities on issues impacting women and girls in the Global South. We consult, invite and include marginalized women and girls, but what all of this implies is that we are in control. Making space for participants from the Global South in our conversations about them sounds nice, but more effective would be having those whose lives are the topic of discussion driving the agenda. While many of us are in our comfortable spaces dialoguing, activists around the world are doing the real work of confronting injustice head on and we would do well to to take their lead.

Dialogue is important, awareness is important, but truly being allies to the communities we claim to advocate on behalf of means examining our relationships with those communities in ways that may should make us uncomfortable. We need to question the amount of space we take up, the amount of power we hold and our role in maintaining unequal relationships – and then we need to work towards shifting the balance of power. We can start by re-directing large portions of the resources used to support dialogue in the Global North towards supporting activism in the Global South and then following instead of insisting on being in the lead.