Category Archives: Gender in Africa

Husband School

Husbands gather to discuss maternal and population concerns in a quest to improve conditions within their own community. (Photo credit: UNFPA)

In Niger, more than one woman dies every two hours in childbirth, and many more become disabled.  With high levels of gender inequality and maternal deaths, the United Nations Population Fund began offering “Husbands’ School” to educate married men about maternal health and related matters.  This program brings together cultural and religious leaders, NGO’s and married men to not only discuss these issues, but to make decisions and put action plans into place.  The idea has quickly spread to other African countries and has spurred interest in hygiene as well as working towards healthier pregnancy and childbirth.

I think this is a good example of educating people and saving lives while maintaining cultural relativism.  Involving cultural and religious leaders has allowed this program to flourish and create maternal and other public health awareness across 5 countries, with several more countries also showing interest in this program.


Working towards ending FGM

February 6 of each year is “The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.” This article highlights efforts of the UN in educating communities about the myths and negative outcomes of this procedure still common in several African and Middle Easter countries in both Muslim and Christian communities.

FGM has many serious short – and long-term health consequences for girls and women. This year’s theme was “ending the ‘medicalization’ of the procedure.” FGM, even when conducted by a medical workers, is harmful to girls and women; however, as these workers become better educated about the negative consequences of FGM, some are beginning to refuse conducting the procedure.

How Menstrual Cups Can Improve Educational Outcomes For Girls In Africa

Menstruation is an often overlooked factor in understanding poor educational outcomes for girls in parts of Africa and other developing areas.  Without access to sanitary products, many girls (and women) are often forced to use items like unsanitary rags, leaves or old newspapers to cope with their periods.  Due to the lack of sufficient sanitation facilities at schools as well as an inability to purchase proper sanitary products, many girls can miss up to 6 weeks of school per year.

Project Dignity is one of several organizations devoted to providing access to sanitary products.  For each box of menstrual cups purchased at participating locations, they promise to provide a free 3 month supply of menstrual cups to a girl in one of these developing areas.  By providing access to sanitary products, projects like this can help increase educational outcomes for girls as well as addressing a public health issue.

RH Reality Check – Menstruation can be a curse

WomenCare Global – Project Dignity


I “just” wanted to point this out…

As students — many of whom will be scouring the job market for opportunities in the near future — we are often preoccupied with the written and spoken language that we use; not solely for the numerous research papers, essays and presentations we are responsible for producing over the course of our educational careers, but because we are aware of the value judgments people make about our dialect and our prose.

How many of you have dedicated an immense amount of time to making sure the carefully-crafted letters and e-mails you send to peers, colleagues and future employers are “just right” before pressing send? We check and double check spelling and grammar, we make sure we use tone that’s appropriate for the intended recipient, and we fire away. Whether we speak on the phone or in person, we tend to be more careful about the words we use because unlike written language — which we are typically free to edit until we are satisfied with the final result — there’s no “taking back” spoken words (or the inflection behind them) when you’re trying to quickly convey a message or attempting to prove yourself worthy to someone whose approval matters to you. We think about our word choices — some people even code-switch between the dialect they use naturally versus the dialect they use in a professional setting — and hope that we aren’t coming across in a way that misconstrues our intent or puts us at risk of negative evaluation.

However, have you ever considered that even the subtle, seemingly innocent word choices you make may be stripping your words of their full power?  Ellen Leanse thinks so.  In her latest article — It’s time to stop using ‘just’ in your writing and speaking (published today at and in its original version located at — Leanse charges women with using the word ‘just’ as “a ‘permission’ word.”

“The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a “child” word, to riff Transactional Analysis. As such, it put the conversation partner into the “parent” position, granting them more authority and control. And that “just” didn’t make sense. … I began to notice that “just” wasn’t about being polite. It was a subtle message of subordination, of deference. Sometimes it was self-effacing. Sometimes even duplicitous. As I started really listening, I realized that striking it from a phrase almost always clarified and strengthened the message.”

Upon noticing the prevalence of the word “just” in the e-mails sent by women at her company, Leanse decided to conduct an informal experiment in which observers listened to a six-minute conversation between a man and a woman about their respective business startups — each had three minutes to speak — while the observers tallied the amount of times they each used the word “just.”  The man used it once; the woman used it either five or six times.  As Leanse states, this experiment was “not research: it’s a test that likely merits more inquiry.”  Until a formal experiment is conducted, I urge you to inquire within yourselves.

Look through your e-mails and text messages.  How often have you used the word “just” in an attempt to sound friendlier or non-demanding?  You may be unconsciously asking permission for your thoughts and words to be validated by others, which can diminish the impact behind them.  Ladies: it is time to stop diluting our convictions, our lofty goals, and our grandest plans with the constant use of what otherwise would continue to be considered an innocuous four-letter word in a sea of written and spoken communication.  I “just” thought you should be aware of your own authority and the power it holds when you wield it with confidence.  Laura Redman

Punishing Rape with More Rape? DRC Trauma Stories

Last week, Lauren Wolfe of Women Under Siege wrote about the rape and violence of everyday life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This violence is tearing families apart. Men, women, and children are caught in the horrors of war and the men are fighting for a sense of control. Husbands of women who have been raped often choose to leave their wives because these women have “lost their value.” 43% of men surveyed thought men whose wives had been raped should leave. Those women whose husbands choose to stay are often beaten or raped again. More than half of these men reported perpetuating some form of violence against their wives. Rape among civilians has increased 17-fold and violence, trauma, hunger, and poverty are rampant and studies have found that men are dealing with the trauma by inflicting more violence, usually on their wives and children. Researchers state that “Family has become the battlefield where men try to regain control and power that is lost elsewhere in life.”  Lindsay Cortwright

Living Peace is an organization that is trying to promote community support for families that have experienced trauma because of the war and giving hope to these scarred communities. You can read the full article here.

South African Gang Rape is Outrageous

This article is very depressing and reflective of many of the issues we have been discussing regarding the book, Half the Sky.  When I read this article I experienced a variety of emotions ranging from disgust, anger, sadness, and astonishment.  The references to elderly women being raped in their late 80’s and 90’s was almost too much too much to stomach.  This is the kind of article that demands some type of immediate action if it is no more than posting this article on social media sites and blogs to hopefully draw attention to the epidemic that seems to be not just impacting South Africa, but many countries throughout the world.


Mona el-Tahawy on Lack of Women’s Progress and the Firestorm that followed

Here is an article that appeared in Foreign Policy, which sent Twitter, FB, and all forms of social media buzzing:,0 discussing “the real war on women.”

For an example of a response, see

A Call to End Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia

Carolina Fonseca

Somalia is a small country in East Africa where female genital mutilation is widespread and consists of the most severe form of female circumcision. This violent act of removing the clitoris, or parts of it, has grown to be a public health issue because the practice has severe physical and mental health consequences for women. The custom has an ancient origin but there are many different reasons and rationales for its practice. These range from religion, to a rite of passage for womanhood, to the preservation of female chastity and purity. Given its complexity, there are no easy solutions for ending the practice. However, raising awareness outside of Somalia and urging all women to join together to effect change, is an important first step closer to helping the girls of Somalia.

Female genital mutilation exists in three forms of cutting. The first is known as Type 1 in which the the precipice, surrounding the clitoris is removed. Type 2 involves removal of the clitoris as well as parts of labia minora. Type 3 is known as Pharaonic circumcision, the most severe form, in which all exterior parts are removed and then closed by rejoining the cut edges of the labia. The practice of Pharaonic circumcision or infibulations is the most widespread practice in Somalia, and it has severe physical and psychological effects on the girls who undergo the procedure.

Some of the physical short term effects are pain, severe hemorrhage from clitoral artery, shock due to hemorrhage, and urinary retention (Ford).  Long-term effects include the development of inclusion cysts, dysmenorrhea (painful cramps during menstruation), infertility, and painful intercourse. Furthermore, the vaginal areas of women with infibulations have to be re-opened for the first experience of sexual intercourse and for each birth. Afterward, they have to be restitched, leading to the formation of painful scar tissues as well as to difficulties with urination and menstruation.

The harmful physical effects are obvious but there are also negative psychological effects that these girls in Somalia face because of genital mutilation. Many may experience posttraumatic stress disorder or anxiety along with nightmares to haunt them for the rest of their lives.  These girls are victims to a culture that labels women inferior and unworthy if not physically mutilated. Feelings of insecurity, helplessness, loneliness, and fear are just a few that girls will go through throughout their lifetime after being a victim to female genital mutilation.

Girls in Somalia may not accept that their worth is solely in their reproductive system, yet, they have no voice in their own country. Outsiders can help but first they must raise awareness, which can cause issues among the community itself for fear of devaluation in their customs. My Voice is a feminist organization at East Carolina University that focuses on equal rights for all women. They raise awareness on campus and reach out to the community with a goal to raise money for particular issues affecting women and minorities.  By joining the club and speaking of the issues facing Somalia, the group can create awareness on campus and get members to fundraise money for the cause as well as getting more students involved.

Waris Dirie is a supermodel in the U.S. but is from Somalia. She has created a video to bring awareness to the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation. In her video, she addresses her personal experience with genital mutilation and explains how it changed her life forever. Dirie was a victim to this cruel act and she advocates stopping Female Genital Mutilation worldwide with her foundation called Desert Flower. By showing this video, we can create awareness and then the next step we need to take is to take action.

An active role we can play as ECU students after watching the film is to raise money for the Desert Flower foundation through My Voice organization. By raising money, we can help these girls in Somalia so that they can live a life free of fear from genital mutilation. ECU students, like many, say they are too busy to help because of homework, exams, and work. My response to these students: there will always be work and things one must do, but if we do not help give a voice to these girls, we have already failed as human beings. We need to push our negative thoughts to the side and fight for equality for these girls so that they may one day have a positive future like Waris Dirie.






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