In Conversation with Kizanne James

Let us introduce you to Kizanne James. Kizanne is a physician from Trinidad & Tobago working on reproductive health and rights.

In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, Kizanne speaks about the challenges she has faced as a woman – and especially as a black woman – working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Caribbean.

“We were taught that if you had sex or you had a boy touch you, it’s like a tomato – the more that a boy touches you the less valuable you would be. And that’s not the same narrative for boys.”

Kizanne explains that it’s being grounded in her values that helps her to handle difficult circumstances. In the face of negativity or even hateful abuse from those who disagree with her, knowing her work and advocacy empowers women and girls to make decisions about their own lives keeps her motivated.

“Regardless of what I may be feeling, or the negative voices or concerns people may have…I feel like I’m on the right side.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org to support women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our conversations with KingaWinfredScarlettNatasha & Tasneem, too!

In Conversation with Tasneem Kakal

Tasneem Kakal is an advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Born and raised in Mumbai, she spent 5 years taking a daily train to and from university. In this interview with Girls’ Globe, Tasneem tells us what the experience taught her about navigating public space as a young woman.

“I would walk up the stairs and go to my platform in this huge crowd of people. And I realized I was doing something that I didn’t know I was doing…”

We all have the right to move through the world without fear. Public space should be accessible to all, regardless of gender. By raising her voice and bringing attention to the everyday nature of inequality, Tasneem stands in solidarity with other women and girls.

“I had to push the boundaries, little by little.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org to support women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our interviews with Kinga, Winfred, Scarlett and Natasha, too! 

Breastfeeding for Nutrition, Food Security & Poverty Reduction

Some time has passed since the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an inclusive agenda to create positive, sustainable change. To say the least, we’ve got work to do! Breastfeeding is a vital part of sustainable development.

In 2016, the United Nations placed nutrition at the heart of sustainable development by declaring 2016-2025 as the UN Decade for Action on Nutrition. Breastfeeding is a non-negotiable component of this globally intensified action to end malnutrition. An infant, at the very start of life, is assured optimal nutrition and protection if breastfed. Breastfeeding also ensures food security, especially in times of humanitarian crises. Breastfeeding contributes to poverty reduction by being a low cost way of feeding babies and not burdening household budgets compared to artificial feeding.

Increased rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can only be achieved by cooperating and collaborating across all sectors and across generations. Fortunately, the importance of working in partnership is now recognised and translated into various global initiatives. A key recommendation in the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health is access to good nutrition:

“By working in partnership, we can ensure women, children and adolescents, everywhere, can access adequate, diverse and nutritious food throughout the life course, which will help them survive, get an education, become resilient and thrive. In turn, so will their communities and countries, empowering them to break poverty cycles and contribute to inclusive, sustainable, healthier, more prosperous societies.” – Every Woman Every Child

Success in breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman  the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility which states have an obligation to ensure. Together, we can achieve success and ensure adequate nutrition, food security and poverty reduction in the generations ahead.

“If we want to change the world for girls and women—and we sure do—we need to work together. Collaborate, not duplicate. Integrate, not separate. We all have a part to play in achieving a healthy, happy world, where hunger and malnutrition are things of the past.” – Women Deliver

Women Deliver apply a gender lens to the SDGs in their new campaign Deliver for Good, which promotes 12 critical investments in girls and women that will foster progress for all.

“No matter where you start, investments in girls and women bring about high social and economic returns. For example, bringing water and sanitation to communities keeps girls in school which then leads to increased use of contraception, less child marriage, less gender-based violence, increased economic stability, and better health outcomes for generations of families.” – Women Deliver

The Deliver for Good campaign – developed and driven by a diverse set of founding partners – focuses on partnership and inclusion identifying siloed sectors, data, and funding as pervasive challenges in achieving global development. It proposes that cross-collaboration is fundamental in achieving the SDGs. Breastfeeding is included in the Deliver for Good campaign targets as a way to ensure maternal and child survival, health and nutrition.

To ensure that breastfeeding is a central part of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is time to raise our voices and advocate at national levels. We need to ensure that our governments create an optimal environment for women and children to thrive – and do so in partnership with civil-society movements, NGOs, and partners at multiple levels. One way for us to influence decision-makers is to remind them of the Return of Investment of breastfeeding – saving lives as well as saving resources.

In our advocacy, as well as in creating lasting policies, we need to make sure that no one is left behind and put our focus on young people and vulnerable groups – such as adolescents, single mothers, and migrants. In order to truly address the challenges of breastfeeding, we must use a gender lens, understanding that breastfeeding protection, promotion and support requires increased investments in gender equality and human rights.

Breastfeeding is not a woman’s issue. All of us, in all segments of society – from business owners to family members and government leaders to citizens – need to be involved in safeguarding women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding.

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

“Shake S**t Up!”: Kiran Gandhi Talks Stigma

Yesterday morning I stopped by a small shop. I had woken up to my period in the most inconvenient of all it’s forms – the surprise period – so I didn’t have anything in the way of supplies. I picked up a box of tampons, but my heart sank when I saw three men standing behind the counter. I thought maybe I would put the box down. Or maybe I could pick up lots of other things to buy too, as distractions? Or maybe I didn’t even need them, maybe it wasn’t even a proper period?

Nope, stomach cramps and inexplicable levels of sweating, definitely for real. Aware of my own absurdity, I told myself I was an idiot and paid, avoiding eye contact with the man behind the desk who picked up the box like you might do an undetonated bomb in your family home.

Fast forward a few hours and I sat down to a series of Women Deliver “TED-style” talks. I was excited to see Kiran Gandhi’s name on the list – the story of her choice to run the London marathon bleeding freely on her period last year sparked a viral conversation about how the world views menstruation.

Standing onstage in a ‘The Future Is Female’ t-shirt, Gandhi was honest about her choice: “I didn’t think that this would be that big of a deal”. But she wasn’t here to talk about herself. “Whilst in that moment I had the choice to reject my own shame, millions of women and girls around the world do not have that choice.”

“If you ask me, stigma is one of the most effective forms of oppression, because it denies us the vocabulary to talk comfortably and confidently about our own lives”.

Cue intense feelings of ridiculousness. Here was a woman who faced the entire world and said no thank you to the stigma it tried to throw back at her, and I was embarrassed to buy tampons in a newsagent?!

Menstruation, reasoned Gandhi, is not a life or death situation. But she explained that in India, only 12% of women have access to supplies they need to take care of their periods. 36% of girls in Senegal drop out of school each year because it’s not viable to go to school bleeding. And in Nepal, although the practice was banned in 2005, menstruating girls in rural areas are often expected to sleep in a tent outside of their home – leaving them open to sexual attacks, animal attacks, extreme weather and the terror of being outside alone at night. Tampons are still taxed as a luxury item in many countries, and companies aren’t always required to disclose the toxic ingredients they use on their packaging. Life or death? No. Important? Yes.

What can we do? Gandhi sees that there are different levers we can pull “depending on our own personal sphere of influence”.

One of these is activism:

“Shake shit up. When people don’t want to pay attention to an issue you have to do something that makes them do so”.

Another is innovation: “We get a new iPhone every 6 months, but do you know how many innovations there have been within the past 500 years when it comes to women’s periods? 3…A tampon, a pad, and a cup…This is not acceptable!”.

We need innovation desperately. We need innovation that considers the environment (at the moment tampons and pads are not biodegradable) and we need innovation that’s community specific. A reusable pad might be appropriate for one community, but how can girls in another without access to water wash it? And what about girls who don’t have a private place to hang it up to dry?

Kiran Gandhi, as she’s made very clear, has no time for squeamishness: “Menstruation and periods are the foundation of the human race. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that cycle. This is something that should not be talked about with disgust”.

Whether she meant it to be or not, what Gandhi did last year was brave. What she said yesterday was true, and important, and showed me that I’m not being very brave. I am lucky in that I have the choice to reject shame and say no thank you to stigma. Millions don’t. I have to be braver.

Girls’ Globe is present at the Women Deliver Conference, bringing you live content straight from the heart of the action. If you can’t be there in person, you can be a part of Women Deliver through the Virtual Conference, by hosting an event in your hometown, and by engaging online using #WDLive and #WD2016.

Be #Bold4Her: Erasing Gender Norms

During this Tuesday’s sessions at the Women Deliver Conference I attended a plenary called “Be #Bold4Her on gender norms: What are we so afraid of?” where a panel of distinguished speakers were discussing the issue of gender norms. This was an interesting session in many ways, highlighting the different difficulties gender norms pose on especially women and girls – but also demonstrating how difficult it can be just to discuss about this issue.

That the issue of gender norms is a challenging, much debated and problematic topic is nothing new. This was also something that was evident during the panel, as speaker Dorothy Muroki (FHI 360 Chief of Party and CB-HIPP, Kenya) noted that the global north is already complete according to gender norms if you compare to the global south and the African countries as a response to a comment from Lenita Toivakka (Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Finland), who had said that Finland is one of the best countries in the world to be a mother. In response to Muroki, Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda (General Secretary, World YWCA) reminded the panel and audience of the fact that we actually need to learn from each other and not depend on just the developed countries.

So how come we so often discuss these topics in only the developing countries and not in the western world? As a young woman growing up in Sweden, I have faced daily struggles because of rigid and constraining gender norms. I am supposed to look in a certain way, wear certain clothes and act in certain forms – all in order to fulfill the norms about how a girl is expected to be.

Gumbonzvanda also said that a woman growing up and living in poverty is the most innovating woman that exists – because they have to be. I think this is an incredibly important thought. We often hear about projects in developing countries where women are able to flourish and broaden their skills and knowledge, and I think we all need to remind ourselves of the fact that all women and men around the world need to build bridges between  each other and work together on eliminating gender norms. Of course we have different problems in different parts of the world and some problems are worse than others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t inspire each other and learn from each other.

It is also important to encourage societies, individuals such as parents and educators, and also state actors to stand up against harmful gender norms – which can be a very challenging goal to achieve. Giving parents advice on how to raise their children is a difficult task, but we have to find ways to build dialogue and be able to discuss these challenging issues in a constructive manner – and help more people understand that breaking rigid and conservative gender norms is in the best interest of all of us.

I remember when a friend of my mother told me that she and her husband we’re always very cautious to not push traditional gender norms on their daughter. They let her wear whatever she felt comfortable with and wanted to prioritize that she could play and have fun rather than look nice. She came home from kindergarten one day when she was three years old and told her mom that the girls had started questioning why she wore pants and not dresses and why she was looking boyish. She told her mother that she didn’t felt pretty in her regular clothes anymore and that she instead felt like wearing a pink dress. While her mother felt that as long as the wish to wear a pink dress was coming from her daughter and not imposed by society on her, this is also an example of a situation where the society around her – namely her peers in kindergarten – were influenced by existing gender norms and had a preconceived notion of what girls and boys should or should not wear, only because of their gender. It might seem trivial – but it is not. It’s a symptom of a larger problem where we assign roles and expectations on girls and boys from a very young age that limit their opportunities not only in terms of what to wear and how to look, but in terms of what they want to study, what field of work they want to pursue, what skills they believe they possess or don’t have.

This is a typical example of how Sweden and all western countries also still have a long way to go to break rigid and harmful gender norms, both big and small. Society has a huge impact on how children perceive themselves, and it is our joint responsibility to strive to build societies where all children can strive and reach their full potential. As Gumbonzvanda said:

We need to empower each other and build bridges so that we together can eliminate gender norms.

We should not replace the existing gender norms with new ones, we should make sure to eliminate them and never look back. Every human being should be able to be, act and look however they want and feel comfortable with – despite what gender they identify with.

Girls’ Globe is present at the Women Deliver Conference, bringing you live content straight from the heart of the action. If you can’t be there in person, you can be a part of Women Deliver through the Virtual Conference, by hosting an event in your hometown, and by engaging online using #WDLive and #WD2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Data: To Make Women Count, Count Women

“We can’t close the gender gap without closing the data gap.” That was the key message of the speech by Melinda Gates at a session titled “A Girls’ and Women’s lens on the SDGs ” at Women Deliver. With a new plan of action, new goals and a new roadmap for achieving them, it is more crucial than ever to ensure we are able to measure the progress properly. Yet, the data is still incomplete, and the dark numbers are huge. Is it really that difficult to gather data, and how do we change that?

Data is necessary for knowing what’s happening, and how to move further. Without being able to measure the right things, we cannot know where and how to invest money and time. And often, where help is the most needed, the numbers are the most misleading. As Gates pointed out later on during her presentation, “Where the data does exist, quite often it’s sexist.” Now, how can numbers and statistics be sexist? Basically, the surveys are often focusing on men and their achievements. Also, the work that is being measured often doesn’t contain the household work and other tasks that women generally do in the rural areas. According to Gates, this is a way of stereotyping men as the producer and women as the reproducer. “What about all the hidden work that doesn’t get measured?” she asks. “Although it isn’t paid, I’m sure that all of you would agree on it being work. Am I right?” Reaching out to the most distant places and getting the right information about women’s participation to society is urgent, and in order to achieve that, Melinda Gates promises that her foundation will donate 80 million dollars throughout the next 3 years to this issue. Hopefully, this will lead to us receiving more precise data where it’s currently lacking.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia thinks that we are getting better at gathering data, however, it’s not always the right numbers, or we simply cannot understand them. “We have the data, now we’re going to another level, where we’re learning to understand the data.” We are relying on numbers to determine if and how we’re making progress, within all areas; education, health and economy. This is why we have to do something about the data collection now, in order to ensure the efficiency of our work. If we don’t have the right numbers to start with, it will be impossible to measure our progress. Apart from the distance to the rural areas, Tedros mentions another difficulty in achieving the right facts. Women in these areas are usually shy and don’t always speak up about their situations. If people don’t tell the full story, the data will fail, and the measures won’t be as precise. It is a somewhat difficult cooperation, where a lot of things have to work. Therefore, we cannot forget to focus on this incredible important area of gathering the right data.

Hopefully, things are changing. With a lot of recognition, and the incredible amount of money from many foundations and donors such as the Gates Foundation, there’s great hope that our data situation will improve and the gender bias of the existing data can be eradicated. To sum it up, I’d like to use the finishing words by Geeta Rao Gupta, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF who moderated the panel: “To make women count, count women.” These words truly captures what our ultimate goal really should be.

Girls’ Globe is present at the Women Deliver Conference, bringing you live content straight from the heart of the action. If you can’t be there in person, you can be a part of Women Deliver through the Virtual Conference, by hosting an event in your hometown, and by engaging online using #WDLive and #WD2016.