Menstruation march in Rwanda – SHE is on the move!

March 27, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I am having a one-woman party for Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) today!   On Friday SHE held a mobilization in Rwanda “breaking the silence” about menstruation.  They gathered  hundreds of people for a march through the city, including some “Big Shots” like government ministers to call for:

-Open dialogue on menstrual issues;
-Increased access to health and hygiene education;
-Increased access to affordable sanitary pads.

The entrance fee to the event was a packet of sanitary pads, and participants received a bottle of water and T-shirt. I love that!  And lets be frank, a march through town about menstruation is a bold thing to do in Africa where things about sex, reproductive health and women’s bodies are not talked about in public.  Most exciting (and it cannot be overstated)  is that this is totally Rwandan-driven, with many students and local women’s groups taking the lead.

When I wrote SHE’s media strategy for my thesis I theorized that this kind of event is great for “trickle-up” media attention — coverage in the Rwandan paper will add credibility later for farther-reaching global media.

Julian (SHE leader in Rwanda) hits the nail on the head on the SHE blog when she writes:

I just realized for sure is, just as we all need management and bookkeeping skill, every one needs advocacy and awareness skills. Right now as I write this, my B.day is 15 minutes away, and I can’t think of anything to do, other than work on the campaign, one of my campaign partners mentioned she cannot concentrate on a thing, until launch of campaign is done, no wonder this is full time job for some.

I am staying tuned to hear more about the reactions of the community to what happened.  I will be checking the SHE blog for updates.

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SMS and awareness raising about the African Women’s Rights Protocol

March 5, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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African Women’s Protocol

Though I am a few years late reporting this, I was excited to learn that women used an SMS campaign that spanned Africa to get governments to ratify the African Women’s Protocol of Rights. Though it took eight years of negotiation to create the protocol, now ratified by 23 out of 53 African countries– the real challenge remains getting the word out.

The protocol is significant because it is able to address cultural and traditional practices specific to Africa, such as polygamy, female genital mutilation (FGM), land ownership, and sexual cleansing. But once the protocol was written, the struggle for implementation and awareness was just beginning. It received significant media coverage, but to reach grassroots women, community organizers used flip charts to explain to women that they have rights.

“Assisting women to demand the rights of the protocol is challenging because most women are not literate. We have to ensure every woman knows about the protocol, it is a big issue,” said Rose Gawaya, Oxfam Global Gender Adviser, speaking to the Commission on the Stats of Women.

Oxfam has even conducted a study of awareness levels about the protocol since it entered into force in 2004.

The charter is gaining traction in some countries legal systems. In Zambia, the Protocol has been used to implement a new policy that requires 30% of advertised land to go to women in title.

Still, educating women parliamentarians about the protocol and the importance of rights policies for women is urgently needed. Even when women have political power, it does not mean they can enforce their rights.

In Mozambique, where 92 out of 252 parliamentarians are women, a bill on violence against women has been stalled in the legislature for one year. According to women advocates, no one is supporting it, and the women in power in the parliament do not have enough power to influence processes.

Many women’s rights advocates have the protocol at the center of their work, using it as a catalyst for policy change and teaching about human rights. “This is a tool that can be used in national development strategies because it is a legitimate tool for governments, but it was created by women’s movement and articulates struggles of domestic violence and widowhood,” said Gawaya.

Finding a reason to tweet, in DC or Malawi

February 6, 2008 at 5:12 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Last week I sat through a webinar on how to use interactive technologies for advocacy work. I had a light bulb moment when I finally understood how Twitter could be used for a social cause. For instance, if a group of advocates are running around Washington DC meeting with different legislators, and they suddenly learn that Senator X is going to vote yes — they could send a Twitter message to their entire team, who can immediately start spreading the word. And here I thought Twitter was only for the text-addicted adolescent broadcasting messages to all their teenage friends.

But in Africa, I think Twitter has the potential to turn cell phones into the new Blackberry. The continent is now home to 300 million cell phones, and many people who are considered poor still have a phone. Cell phone behavior is different than the U.S. of course; the calls are short, the phone is shared, and texting is more frequent. Soyapi from Malawi has a lot of ideas on how Twitter can be used in Africa, from sending out news headlines and soccer scores, to organizing political campaigns and events, to announcing weddings and births. If civil society leaders were using Twitter, they could build entire networks around social issues for action. Soyapi is an early adopter, and you can get quite a birds eye view of his life by reading his Twitter log–like when the power outage came on and what program on TV is worth watching.

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