Monthly Archives: March 2012

Modern day slavery

The country of Mauritania in the Sahel of Africa, separating the jungles of sub-Saharan Africa from the Saharan Desert, was the last country to abolish slavery and still 10-20% of the population is enslaved. This is the courageous story of a woman named Marieme who escaped from slavery and now lives in Ohio with her children.  It is a truly inspiring story.

Making Preventing Maternal Mortality Within Reach.

Susan Davis

President and CEO of BRAC USA

Posted: June 25, 2010 05:07 PM

While the UN says that the world is on track to reach the first Millennium Development Goal of cutting poverty in half by 2015, progress toward goal #5, to reduce maternal mortality by 75% by 2015, remains the target for which progress has been most disappointing. While there is progress, as highlighted by the Lancet’s recent estimates of falling maternal mortality rate, which is worth celebrating, the sense of urgency has not, and should not, abate.

According to Karl Hofmann’s recent article in the Huffington Post, with an additional $10 billion annually by 2010 and $20 billion by 2015 — there is just enough time to achieve MDG 5. The G8 summit gets underway today in Muskoka, Canada, is timely in that a focus of the summit is a new G8 initiative — conceived and led by Canada — to improve maternal, newborn, and child health in poor countries. With almost $3 billion already pledged by the Canadian government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, more commitments are expected from G8 partners for what is now being called the Muskoka Initiative. Is the problem not enough money? At this year’s Global Health Council Conference, Lynn Freedman argued against that notion. The prevailing belief that technical inputs with political will and enough investment will result in functioning services is inaccurate, and draws attention to the disconnect between global conversations and local progress. The former has been focused on developing the right packages of clinical interventions as well as generating political messaging. The latter deals with implementation and the microdynamics of the social system that underpins access, distribution, power and resource allocation. The lesson learned is that having the right clinical package is not the harbinger of effective implementation. To effectively reduce maternal mortality, we need solutions that not only deliver proven interventions within poorly resourced health systems, but are designed to navigate complex social dynamics that neglect, exclude and disempower those who most need them. Therein lies the challenge and the opportunity to innovate. BRAC, through the Manoshi project operating in the urban slums of six Bangladeshi cities, is rising to the challenge. Using a model grounded in developing community health solutions, the Manoshi Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Program develops health care seeking behavior, leverages community linkages and technology to provide access to key services at the household level and creates an effective interface between the institutional health system and the community. Manoshi, and many other initiatives are creating and proving models that form a comprehensive solution to maternal mortality. For global impact, these models need to be scaled and adapted. As maternal health takes the spotlight at the ongoing G8 summit, the global community now needs to focus on expanding the conversation and focus on effective and impact-driven implementation.

Recurring Themes in Alaa al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building

The ethically questionable actions of the characters in The Yacoubian Building illustrate the moral deficits that can arise from a corrupt political system. Alaa al-Aswany put his characters in unfortunate circumstances to show how the shortcomings of the government altered many of the characters’ views of morality. For example, even though Hagg Azzam attained his position in parliament through bribery and deceit, he still thought himself a pious and God-fearing man since this was the only way to advance in society with the current government. There appeared to be several distinct themes throughout the novel related to the negative effects of a greed-driven society.

Throughout the novel, I noticed that necessity versus self-respect seemed to be one of the most apparent and painful recurring themes. Situations in which necessity for money became more important than personal dignity forced many of the characters in The Yacoubian Building to subject themselves to degrading and disgusting experiences. Not surprisingly, most of the people trapped in these situations were female. The author illustrated such a situation with the character Souad Gaber. Hagg Azzam married Souad after a meeting with her elder brother in which he offered a sizeable sum of money (the author likens this meeting to a “business transaction” (p. 54)). Souad “…feels nauseated whenever she touches his body, as though she were putting her hand on a lizard or a revolting, slimy frog…” (p.126), but she suffers these indignities silently in order to provide a life without poverty for her young son.

Busyana and Abduh are two more characters who sacrifice their dignity to support family members. Busyana endures disgraceful treatment from her boss Talal, just so she can support her siblings. Just before her first sleazy incidence with Talal in the storeroom, she repeats her mother’s words to herself, “Your brother and sisters need every penny you earn. A clever girl can look after herself and keep her job” (p.45). Abduh is another character who is no stranger to financial struggle. He tells Hatim, “My wife and little boy live off of what I earn, Excellency. I wish I could get out of the army right away-if I go to prison, my family will be done for” (p.78). Hatim is happy to give Abduh whatever he needs as long as Abduh continues to be his lover. Despite Abduh’s moral aversion to homosexuality, he continues the relationship in order to escape poverty.

Aswany constructed characters that seemed at first to be good-hearted and untarnished by all that they had overcome, but quickly became bitter and cynical about the world. For example, Busyana began as a girl with strong ambition, “At the time Busyana was studying for a commercial diploma and had dreams for the future that it would never have occurred to her might not come true” (p. 40). After being treated like a sex object and realizing the cruel realities of the world she lived in, she at times seemed to be as bitter as an old man, echoing Zaki Bey’s thoughts in stating, “All my life I’ve had bad luck in everything” (p.217).

Like Busyana, Taha is another example of a person transformed by the harsh conditions of society. An intelligent but poor young man, he endures unwarranted condescending treatment from almost everyone around him, and his dream of being a police officer is crushed based solely on his economic status. The rejection from the Police Academy is devastating to Taha, but he soon finds solace in Islam. A devastating and obvious loss of his innocence is apparent in the events following his lifestyle change. In a discussion with Sheikh Shakir following Taha’s torture, Taha states, “I’m dead now, they killed me in detention…I’m not afraid of death any longer” (p.190). I saw these changes in the characters as a form of corruption, symbolizing in one way the corruption of the government.

In contrast with the elegant flow and subtle wording of The Naqib’s Daughter, the graphic scenes and raw emotion in The Yacoubian Building were indeed shocking. Both books portrayed human’s hunger for power, but Alaa al-Aswany portrays the characters in The Yacoubian Building in a more unscrupulous fashion than Samia Serageldin did in her novel. It seems that Aswany wrote in this coarse style to unveil some of the heinous transgressions inflicted upon the Egyptian people and cause people to at least ponder the state of Egypt’s government in the 1990’s.

Miss Representation

As many of you have noticed, the media has the tendency to portray women and girls in a way that emphasizes physical beauty above all else and shows them as sexual and promiscuous creatures that aim to please the male viewers .  I have visited a website that challenges these ideas and aims to educate the public of how the portrayal of females in the media is harmful to all women. This website  is called Miss Representation and  it is also an organization that has created a film  to explain why and how the media portrayals of women and girls are harmful and what one can do to help. I think this is a problem world wide and believe that if women were to be depicted as strong, courageous, capable, and not focusing on the physical body, women would be more respected and would have more opportunities to make changes in this world. As they state in the website, one cannot become something that they cannot see. If we are constantly shown images of frail, sexy women, we find it harder to view women for their true strengths and accomplishments.

To seek more information or to take the pledge please visit:

Do not abandon Afghan Women

This is an opinion peace I found on CNN’s website. Lemmon talks about how the women of Afghanistan are being affected by the recent tragedies that have occurred in the country. She talks about how if the U.S. was to pull out, women would be the first to be subjected to harsh and even more strict guidelines than they are now. They would and are not allowed to go out without a male escort, they wouldn’t be allowed to go to school, and would not be able to work. Lemmon pleads with readers to think about these women and what they go through on a daily basis and how their involvement is needed in the reshaping of Afghanistan. If you want to read more about it, go to:

Kansas bill heats debate over rights of Mothers to be

What happens if the ultrasound technician see something wrong and decides NOT to tell you: 

As someone who has felt that nervous glide of the ultrasound many times–wondering if all was OK, I understand the ramifications of this bill.

International Women’s Day!

Given that March 8th is approaching, I wanted to remind everyone that International Women’s Day is a day that should be celebrated. I researched the day a bit and found that the website of: A History of International Women’s Day has plenty of historical information to help us all appreciate and understand this very important day. International Women’s Day is meant to bring all women from around the world together. As women, we have been kept and allowed to be segregated based on nationality, race, class, education, and many other factors, but International Women’s Day is a day to remind us that no matter where we are or where we come from, we are all women and we should all stand proud. So celebrate this day and make it known that we are all proud to be women! If you desire to learn more on this important and historical day please visit:

The Naqib’s Daughter: A Westernized Romance Set in Egypt?

The author of The Naqib’s Daughter, Samia Serageldin, took many liberties while writing her book. Although the ending of her book is plausible, it does not follow the actual history her characters encountered. The author has admitted to changing the story of Zeinab to fit her own vision of how the story should end. In reality, Zeinab was murdered for consorting with the French. Serageldin wrote her novel to fit more closely to the ideal American romance novel than to fit the actual events that took place within her characters’ lives.

The first major deviation Serageldin made to her novel was when she had Zeinab marry Nicolas out of mutual love. This move on her part created more drama and added romance to a novel that would have lacked it otherwise. She had admitted that she made this change because she could not bear to give her character such a short life and a tragic ending although that was what actually happened to Zeinab. Creating the marriage for the novel allowed Serageldin to devise a believable excuse for Zeinab’s eventual survival. Serageldin used her knowledge of the local culture to fabricate the Naqib’s daughter’s pregnancy, knowing that it would be the only excuse one could use in that time period to delay a woman’s execution. According to the culture of the time period a woman could not be executed while with child because “the child itself is innocent of all sin in the eyes of God…The sentence may not be carried out on the mother until she is delivered of the child, or else the execution itself would be a crime against an innocent…” (Ch. 14) In this way, Serageldin cleverly added  romance and prolonged the life of her main character.

The Naqib’s Daughter was written in a way that attracted the attention of and drew sympathy from the book’s Western readers. The author of the book wrote it to produce the kind of romance Westerners love to hear. A woman in a colonized society falls for her protector and conqueror, marries him, has his baby, and in the end she is split apart from him. It all seems so romantic and fits quite well into mainstream romance. The fact that the characters in the book have to adhere to certain local customs adds a fresh, new taste to the romance that makes it slightly different from other romances. The romance she created between Zeinab and Nicolas was not typical of the time and fabricated. Western readers do tend to adore romances in which the situation seems hopeless and yet it tends to work out in the end. Nicolas fell in love with Zeinab, regardless of her age and his own wife in France, showing the use of the specific romance in the book. At one point in the novel Serageldin has Nicolas thinking that “…he could no longer delude himself that this was displaced paternal affection” (Ch. 10), which fits into the “hopelessly in love” romance ideals of the western culture that do not really exist in the culture at that time. Another scholar named Leila Ahmed stated in her book that Islam “encouraged men to marry more wives to settle the matter of support for the widows and consolidating the young society…” (52) which makes plain that marriage was more practical than emotional during that period.

Seragelding had Zeinab travel to England to have an unlikely meeting with Nicolas. She probably did this so that the romance she created would have closure. As Zeinab reflects on the meeting in the book she realizes that “She had been overjoyed to see him…the passion had burned out…she was free of Nicolas” (Ch. 24). The author had to send Zeinab to England in order for Nicolas to see her and for both of them to realize the romance was at it’s end. She knew that Western audiences would not be satisfied with a romance that does not have an ending. Allowing Zeinab to never see Nicolas again would leave too many questions unanswered for the readers. Serageldin not only changed Zeinab’s life to allow her to live, she also created an unlikely scenario to please her readers. These are just a few of the liberties that Serageldin took while writing her novel to make it more appealing to a larger, westernized audience.

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