Category Archives: Gender Issues

Global: Measuring women’s empowerment in agriculture

Washington, 28 February 2012 (IRIN)

The global anti-poverty movement has added a new tool to its arsenal with the launch of an index that measures women’s empowerment in agriculture.
“Agriculture is the most effective way to drive inclusive economic growth of the poorest communities”, which too often include women and children, said Sara Immenschuh of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a partner in compiling the index.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index is a partnership between the US government’s Feed the Future initiative, US Agency for International Development (USAID), IFPRI and Oxford University’s Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI). It uses five criteria to measure the empowerment of developing country women in agriculture, and in their own households.

Pilot programmes in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda studied how engaged women were in decision-making about agricultural production, what sort of access they had to resources and how involved they were in resource-related decision-making; the extent to which they controlled how income was used; whether they were able to have a leadership role in the community; and how they used their time.

If a woman scored well on four out of five indices, she was considered empowered. The results differed from country to country, and the reasons for low or high levels of empowerment also varied.

In Bangladesh, just less than a third of women were empowered, with lack of control over resources, weak leadership and influence in the community, as well as lack of control over income the main reasons.

In Guatemala, the number was less than 25 percent. The less educated a woman was and the younger she was, the more likely she was to be lagging behind in empowerment. On the other hand, the more empowered a Guatemalan woman was in agriculture, the greater the influence she had in other key areas of daily life.

Lack of leadership in the community and control over use of income were the two biggest factors contributing to disempowerment in Guatemala, the report says.

In Uganda, 37 percent of women were empowered in agriculture and more than half enjoyed gender parity at home.

However, many women in Uganda said widowhood empowered them – because they did not have to waste time asking their husband’s permission to do things but just got on with them.

Ugandan women “who are empowered in agriculture also reported significantly greater decision-making and autonomy with respect to almost all domains”, says the report.

Surveys were conducted in 450 households in southern Bangladesh, and 350 each in the western highlands of Guatemala and northern, central and eastern Uganda, between September and November 2011.

One aim of the project is to help US government agencies and anti-poverty organizations to measure just how successful their programmes are at fighting hunger and poverty.

“We want to improve gender parity not by disempowering men but by bringing women up to the level of men,” said IFPRI senior research fellow, Agnes Quisumbing.

Although they make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, women in developing countries own less land, are limited in their ability to hire farm workers and have less access to credit, among other issues.

“Without addressing those inequities, women will be unable to effectively contribute to reducing global poverty and hunger,” said Immenschuh.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index was launched on 28 February at the UN in New York.

[Courtesy of IRIN News]


SOMALIA: Sexual Gender Violence on rise in IDP camps

Hargeisa Somalia, 1 February 2012 (IRIN) – Cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), as well as domestic violence, are increasing in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, with social workers attributing the trend to hard economic times made worse by recent drought in the region.

“Numbers of the displaced have increased in recent months, with many families coming to town to escape drought; lack of a police presence within the camps and inadequate lighting have contributed to the increase in some of these cases,” Shukri Osman Said, an SGBV coordinator for an NGO, Comprehensive Community-Based Rehabilitation Somaliland (CCBRS), told IRIN at the Stadium IDP camp in Hargeisa.

The Stadium IDP camp, home to an estimated 5,000 families (30,000 people), is one of several IDP camps in Hargeisa where humanitarian organizations such as CCBRS have ongoing programmes aimed at addressing SGBV among vulnerable communities.

According to Said, CCBRS has been running the SGBV programme in the IDP camps since 2006 with funding from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

“On average, CCBRS handled between 15 and 20 cases of SGBV per month; however, we have noticed that the cases of domestic violence have increased dramatically; in 2011 alone, we had over 500 cases of domestic violence,” Said told IRIN. “Our SGBV prevention programme has helped somewhat because the SGBV cases have started reducing; our concern is the rise in domestic violence, which is mostly due to men not coping well with economic hardship and ending up venting their frustration on their wives.”

The CCBRS programme, she said, had a component targeting those with physical disabilities and provided orthopaedic aids – such as disability wheelchairs – to some of the affected IDPs. SGBV coordinators from CCBRS also made home visits for physiotherapy sessions, provided counselling and psycho-social support and referred those requiring specialized treatment and/or legal aid to relevant institutions.

“Most of the victims of SGBV are poor and cannot afford treatment in private hospitals; some cannot even afford the transport to public hospitals, so we help by referring them to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre in the main hospital in Hargeisa,” Said told IRIN. “We also refer those requiring legal aid to organizations that help women seek justice.”

Hawo Yusuf, a member of the management committee at the Stadium IDP camp, said the committee supported SGBV survivors by helping them be accepted by society. “We help construct shelter for those in need of a place to stay, especially those who become pregnant; we help by tracking and [apprehending] the perpetrators, although our efforts are frustrated when these people are freed without being charged with any offence.”

According to UNHCR Somaliland, Hargeisa is home to approximately 85,000 displaced people who have fled their homes mostly from south and central regions of Somalia, due to various reasons, including drought, limited livelihood opportunities and increased violence.

“IDPs often live in difficult conditions, more often than not with limited access to basic facilities such as adequate healthcare, good shelter and clean water and sanitation amenities, ample security as well as employment opportunities,” the agency said. “UNHCR engages IDPs in Hargeisa in various projects like solar lighting or animal husbandry that will equip them with the necessary skills to start up their own businesses and provide a better life for their families.”

CCBRS is implementing an income-generating project, funded by UNHCR, aimed at empowering woman in the IDP camps. Started in 2008, the project has helped transform the lives of the IDPs by providing them with better livelihoods.

Fouzia Hassan, mother of eight and one of the beneficiaries, told IRIN: “All my children are now in school, thanks to the US$600 grant I received to boost my bread-making business. My business has expanded and I now make between 55 and 65 loaves a day, something I could not have dreamt of doing before the start of this project.”

Hassan said she can now take care of her family better: “I can meet their medical bills, I have built a latrine for the family’s use and I have installed a water tank, this is now my home. It has changed my life and my family’s.”
[Courtesy of IRIN}

SIERRA LEONE: Fistula Hotline Launched


FREETOWN, 22 November 2011 (IRIN) – Nurse Zainab Blell’s mobile phone has been ringing all morning at the Aberdeen Women’s Centre, a clinic in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. After explaining to countless callers that this is a hospital line, Blell gets a genuine request for help and tries to get more details. “When did you give birth? When did you start having a problem?”
The woman on the phone is in a remote Sierra Leonean town. She says her sister leaks urine uncontrollably, and suffers from rashes and peeling skin on her inner thighs.

Blell is one of three nurses answering calls on a newly launched “fistula hotline”, a free phone number for women who suffer from this debilitating condition that is seldom spoken about.

Fistula, also known as vesico-vaginal fistula or VVF, is a hole in the birth canal that leaves women with chronic incontinence, and often a stillborn baby. It is usually caused by several days of obstructed labour. It affects an estimated two million women in developing countries; and 50,000-100,000 women worldwide each year.

The fistula hotline, which is run by the centre, is the result of a public-private partnership between the Gloag Foundation, USAID, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and telecommunications company Airtel.

In the last month more than 8,000 calls have been received, but so far just 0.1 percent have been about cases of fistula.

The Aberdeen Women’s Centre provides the only comprehensive fistula repair service in the country. Despite the small number of calls concerning the condition, Jude Holden, the centre’s Country Director, is pleased with the result. “We have received 90 cases since the hotline opened, and this is a great success,” she told IRIN.

Shortly after the hotline opened in October, radio messages were broadcast in the local Krio language and in English, describing fistula and telling anyone who thinks they are affected to call 555.

“There is very little awareness of fistula and why it happens. Women are stigmatized and often blamed for their condition. Because of this we found it difficult to get women with fistula to the centre for treatment.”

Fistula occur most often in young women (15 to 30 years old), most of whom come from rural areas with poor access to healthcare, according to a 2005 Ministry of Health survey.

In Sierra Leone, some estimates put fistula prevalence at a similar rate to maternal mortality – one in eight women – but there is little research to back up these estimates.

Free healthcare services for lactating mothers and pregnant women were launched in 2010, but the maternal health infrastructure is inadequate and the Ministry of Health is struggling to implement the policy. Only 137 trained midwives practice in the country, and there are just 16 emergency obstetric facilities.

During and after Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, widespread rape trauma was a major cause of fistula, according to Sarah Walker, VVF programme manager at the Aberdeen Women’s Centre. Most of the resultant traumatic fistula cases have been dealt with, she said, and the problem now stems mainly from poor ante-natal care and a high level of teenage pregnancy.

“Most of the [women with fistula] are uneducated farmers… They don’t have access to any sort of healthcare, pre-natal or post-natal. We see it a lot in young girls, mostly because their bodies are not developed yet, and so when they’re in labour the child gets stuck in the pelvis,” said Walker.

In Njala town in the Southern Moyamba district, Kadiatu Ngegba’s husband heard the radio advert and called the number. Ngegba, now aged 24, developed a fistula when she was just 15 years old, after being in labour for two days before a doctor came to perform a caesarean section.

“My baby died,” Ngegba says. “After the operation, the doctor pulled out the catheter and I was covered in urine.”

When she got home, Ngegba’s first husband abandoned her and she was sent to live with relatives. “I was really unhappy. Everyone made fun of me. I wanted to go back to school but because of this problem I had, I couldn’t.”

Ngegba had fistula repair surgery in 2006, but when she gave birth to her second child without a caesarean, the fistula reappeared.

Experts say prevention, rather than treatment, is the key to ending fistula. This means providing women with family planning, ante-natal care, skilled birth attendants and emergency obstetric care, according to the UNFPA Campaign to End Fistula.

“We need a preventative as well as a therapeutic approach,” Sas Kargbo, Director of Reproductive Health at Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health, told IRIN, adding that the free phone line is an important step to finding the women and treating the problem.

Sierra Leone is currently finalizing a strategic plan to tackle fistula and will appoint a focal person by the start of 2012.

At the Aberdeen Women’s Centre, almost 10 years after developing her first fistula, Ngegba waits for surgery. She smiles and hugs Naomi, her two-year-old daughter. “When I get well,” she says, “my husband will send me back to finish school.”

[Courtesy IRIN News]

NIGERIA: Gay Rights Bill Threatens Imprisonment

LAGOS, 15 November 2011 (IRIN) – Rights groups in Nigeria fear an anti same-sex marriage bill being discussed in parliament could boost already prevalent discrimination against homosexuals. The bill goes much further than banning same-sex marriage; it threatens to ban the formation of groups supporting homosexuality, with imprisonment for anyone who “witnesses, abet[s] or aids” same-gender relationships, and could lead to any discussion or activities related to gay rights being banned.

Under a colonial-era law, sodomy is punishable by a 14-year jail sentence; and in the country’s mainly Muslim northern states, where a version of Shar’ia law applies, the penalty is death by stoning, although this has never officially been carried out. 
The National Assembly began debating the latest version of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill in November. Most high-ranking officials have voiced their approval of the bill, signalling it is likely to pass.

Analysts see the bill, which has been shelved twice in five years, as a potential boost to the popularity of a government whose approval ratings have stalled since elections in April this year.

A 2008 survey by non-profit, Nigeria’s Information for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, of 6,000 Nigerians on their attitudes to homosexuality, found that only 1.4 percent of respondents said they felt “tolerant” towards sexual minorities.

A university student in the northern state of Jigawa was killed in 2002 when classmates set upon him after rumours that he was gay. 

In September 2008, several national newspapers published the names, addresses and photographs of the pastor and congregation of a church in the port city of Lagos that ministered to sexual minorities. A few days later a mob that included policemen attacked the church. Members of the congregation lost jobs and homes and had to go into hiding; others are still harassed and threatened with physical harm, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. 

“Homosexual and lesbian practices are considered offensive to public morality in Nigeria. The… bill is crucial to our national development because it seeks to protect the traditional family, which is the fundamental unit of society, especially in our country,” said the influential newspaper, This Day, in its editorial on 10 November. “It will be difficult to import practices and lifestyles which are alien to our country and the majority of our people.”

Homosexual rights are narrowing across Africa. In Uganda, gay rights activist David Kato was killed in January 2011 after opposing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009. 

In Malawi a gay couple was imprisoned for “gross indecency”. The United States and British governments have threatened to cut off aid money to African countries seeking to curb gay rights. 
Leaders of Nigeria’s main religions – Islam and Christianity – rarely promote tolerance of homosexuality, according to Damian Ugwu, a rights activist at the Lagos-based Social Justice Advocacy Initiative.

“There is no religion that welcomes the same-sex marriage, whether Islam or Christianity,” National Tourism Director Olusegun Runsewe told reporters on 7 November. ”We need to be careful and do all it takes to shun this practice, because same-sex marriage is satanic and it can destroy any system, as well as cause bad image for any country.” 
Religious disapproval can have a devastating impact on gay people, said Ugwu. “The church has zero tolerance for homosexuality. The only time they will accept someone being homosexual is if they come to ‘confess’ and ‘repent’ of it, to say they are cured so they can be forgiven.” 

Fear of “coming out” also means many homosexuals – who are at high risk of HIV – are unable to access medical services or receive adequate treatment, as they give incomplete personal information, activists say. 

“Gay people who are courageous enough to come out have reported being humiliated by medical staff,” Ugwu noted. At least two homosexuals who spoke to IRIN on condition of anonymity said they feared even going to hospitals for fear of being “outed” by staff.

NGOs and activists say the bill could have serious implications even for people who aren’t gay. Migrants in search of work in bigger centres are a vulnerable group. “It’s going to give the Nigerian police, who are already known for abusing their power, a license to violate the rights of both gay and non-gay people. It’s going to create an avenue where young men and women, who often live together in big cities for financial reasons, will become targets for extortion,” Ugwu said.

“This is an insidious bill that appears to be limited to same-gender marriage, but is actually an attack on basic rights,” said Human Rights Watch spokesperson Graeme Reid. “The definition of ‘same-gender marriage’ is so broad as to include anyone even suspected of being in a same-sex relationship. And it threatens human rights defenders by targeting people who support unpopular causes.”

Nigerian gay author and campaigner Unoma Azuah told IRIN the government should be focusing on other priorities. “I think it’s a distraction from real issues at hand, and an absolute waste of time and resources… How does what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their spaces provide a solution to the crippling problems of unemployment in Nigeria? There are few major good roads; education is in shambles; there’s extremely poor electricity supply, food and oil have to be imported by the ton – and legislators are busy debating same sex marriage?”

The barriers to acceptance are hard to breach. “Gay people face discrimination from their families, from religious groups and from society,” Ugwu said. “So it’s quite understandable people aren’t speaking out [in support of them].” 
[Courtesy IRIN] 


KENYA:HIV/Aids Stigma stops Maternal Health treatment

The stigma being seen attending HIV/Aids clinics stopped many HIV-positive pregnant women from accessing vital HIV treatment that could protect them and their unborn children.

However a programme to integrate maternal services and HIV/Aids treatment into a one-stop clinic has proved successful in the fourteen health facilities in Western Province so far been integrated through an initiative by the Kenyan government.

The Kenyan government estimates about 32,000 babies are infected with HIV at birth every year. Integration of maternal and child health is a major part of the country’s plan to reduce mother-to-child transmission to below 5 percent of the 100,000 mothers who test positive annually.

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