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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I finally meet Nick Kristof

May 3, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Just wrapped up the Women’s Funding Network conference in Atlanta. One theme I heard throughout  was the need for foundations to use strategic communications to tell their stories, influence policy, raise more money etc.   Nick Kristof, the conference keynote, summed it up when he said, “the average toothpaste has better messaging than humanitarian organization.”  Here, here!

So, I have been waiting for my chance to meet Kristof for years. In his remarks he talked about the most effective interventions for keeping  girls in school – things like de-worming medication or sanitary napkins as opposed to building more schools.  Well, he said the magic words for SHE, and I had a chance to go up to him afterward and make the pitch:  SHE is launching women-led businesses in Africa that keep girls in school by selling low-cost locally made sanitary napkins!   He wanted to know how much it costs to keep a girl in school by providing a sanitary napkins – he is all about the best return on investment.

Fine.  But then my new favorite woman Yassine Fall from UNIFEM took the mic and told him the reason why girls don’t go to school was that structural adjustment from the IMF has stopped governments from investing in public goods like education and eliminating school fees.   Policy is the problem, not as Kristof suggested, men spending less of the family income on alcohol and entertainment and more on education and health. She said his analysis was demonizing African men as irresponsible fathers who only drink beer.  The confrontation was an exciting moment in the fancy hotel ballroom.

Well, its too late for Kristof to add Yassine’s perspective in his upcoming book called “Half the Sky” all about women’s rights.  He both opened and closed his speech saying: “I truly believe the struggle of the 21st century is a struggle for greater gender equity in the world.” Good messaging — take note women’s funds!

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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