living in a culture of the written word

May 1, 2008 at 5:14 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I took the subway uptown today with my new intern from Kenya, who is one awesome young lady.  I had stuffed an article in my purse, three pages about a trip of US church leaders in Sudan.  I skimmed it on the S train, it took me about 5 minutes.  She was reading over my shoulder, and it took her all the way to 116th, about 20 minutes.  Now she is an articulate youth leader, brave to come over to our crazy country, and btw, Kenya is a British colony so her English is arguably better than mine.  

But it got me thinking.  In the field of development, progress is marked in thick reports from the UN and NGOs.   In my world, development studies is a race to read as much research as possible and then produce your own.  This is a huge cultural divide.  I have copiously read and reported since the age of five, yet she could get up and give a brilliant speech off the top of her head whereas I would melt into a pool of shy.  

But this is a story about what cultures have to learn from each other. She can read all my favorite NGO reports and I can listen to her and absorb some of the oral tradition, which we have moved away from in this country.   If only we could get this kind of cultural exchange to happen at a grand scale.  


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.

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