Category Archives: The World at Large

Widow Cleansing

It might seem I am Patriarchal in my viewpoint, but that is really not the case.  I am finding injustices against women and children in this world that cry out for change.  When I find them, I need to write about them.  I need to know and I think others might as well. No matter where these circumstances occur, they need to be exposed.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there exists a practice called widow cleansing. Widows are forced to have sex with the brother, or another relative, of her deceased husband. In some cases, men, called joters, are paid to do this.

The cleansing lasts from 3 to 7 days.  At the end, the woman must burn all her clothes and her head is shaved.  Should a woman refuse to undergo this process, she is cursed and held responsible for her husband’s death.  Her home and property might be taken away. In rural Kenya, widows are treated horribly.  They are considered impure and the cleansing is to chase away demons.  Women who resist run the risk of losing their children.

One of the relevant issues these widows face is that of contracting HIV/Aids.  ln an area where HIV/Aids is highly prevalent, this risk of contagion is real.  Professional cleansers are not tested for sexually transmitted diseases. In Kenya, few men live beyond age 40.

Widow cleansing is a patriarchal, superstitious process that is best dealt with through education.  As a result, it occurs in rural areas more than anywhere else.  When education occurs, cultural expectations shift and widows can heal.

Of course, some women choose to go through widow cleansing by choosing the partner who will cleanse them.  One woman I read about, in time fell in love with her professional cleanser, although the man said he might be a cleanser again if paid enough.  In Kenya, pay for a ritual cleansing runs about $260.  Compared to an average income of $13, the money is attractive. Widow cleansing is slowly being eradicated as education moves into rural areas.

 

Breast Ironing

In Cameroon and it’s diaspora including Britain, West Africa, Kenya, Chad and the Ivory Coast, there is a practice called breast ironing or breast flattening.  In Cameroon alone, 1 in 4 girls experience this cultural phenomenon in a survey of 5,000 women aged 10-82.  Of girls under nine, 50% have had this procedure.  Thirty eight percent of girls under 11 went through this act.

It happens mostly in urban areas where mothers are trying to prevent their pre-pubescent daughters from attracting sexual attention and rape.  Many of these mothers fear for their daughters, not even wanting them to go outside when boys and men are outside.

As girls eat a healthier diet, girls are developing breasts at an earlier age.  Surprisingly, this coincides with an increase in education and literacy.  Mothers try to decrease  sexuality so their daughters have a greater chance for being educated or simply because it’s perceived as a cultural expectation.

Breasts might be bound but more often ironing occurs.  Leaves, bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, ladles or spatulas are massaged or pressed on the breasts.  In many cases pestles, hammers, or stones are heated over coals and pushed into breasts.  Teachers have identified when this has happened when the girls have bruises or are unable to raise their arms suddenly.

Breast ironing causes both physical and psychological damage.  Girls suffer deformities of the breast, scars, and an inability to breastfeed, leading to a higher incidence of infant mortality.  Cancer can also happen at younger ages.  One woman who had the procedure when she was young, died of breast cancer at age 24.

It continues to amaze me what damage is done due to cultural expectations.  Like FGM, girls are subjected to horrible, life changing acts in order to reduce male sexual appetites.  The consequences of this act last a lifetime.  Mothers need more education about the deleterious effects and standing by their daughters needs. Their fears need to be allayed.

 

 

Emancipation

I recently heard about a movement to change the constitution to read –  men and women. I think it’s a wonderful idea whose time has come. It is been a long time getting here.

Until women can feel that they are wholly a part of the legitimacy of society and men can understand that there is no such thing as supremacy over the opposite sex we will not have a truly equal society.

Lately it seems that we are faltering in the Me2 movement. Man after man are getting away with sexual harassment and shifting blame or fault back on their accusers.  I almost hate pointing this out because I believe there are many good men who have women’s best interests at heart.  But as one political situation after another rises where the man denies his deeds, saying the women are just trying to get attention, as our President would say, we steadily loose ground.

It is my fervent hope that we can right the injustice of our Constitution deleting half of our population without it becoming a circus of sexual orientation.  One is not the same as the other.  We are talking about the basic acknowledgement of the female sex… the honoring of what our species is born as, two sexes.  What people become is something different.  And it is something I respect.  It just doesn’t have a forum in this issue.

I am looking forward to supporting the movement.  It is the right thing to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Umoja

I read, this morning, about a village in the Sambura region of Kenya that is inhabited only by women and children. Umoja women escape to the village to avoid the injustices of a strictly patriarchal society.  Female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and polygamy are pervasive in the Sambura culture.   Girls are married off as second and third wives.  Children as young as 9 and 10 are pregnant.

Umoja women place a strong emphasis on education. Within the Sambura culture, illiteracy runs at 76%, mostly among females. Girls with education are viewed as role models.

The women finance the village both through making beaded necklaces and tourism, providing shelter to people going on nearby safaris. The monies are brought to the village matriarch, who disperses income to villagers based on the number of children in each family.

Villagers run in age from 98 to six months. When a male child reaches age eighteen, he has to move out. Sambura critics say the women are radical and anti- men even as they say men visit women at night.

I’ve often thought that living in a community of women would be a wonderful experience. There is a freedom not to be found in a patriarchy.  Certain  mores don’t exist. There is a tactic understanding that defies interpretation. My friends and I used to talk about living next to each other in a supportive, interactive, loving setting. I would love the experience of spending appreciable time in such a community.

Mission Work

Since I was 13, I have wanted to be a missionary.  I’ve felt a calling to work in third world countries, or wherever I was needed, for the betterment of others.  There’s also the growth I would experience,  something I wouldn’t want to pass up.

I’m being given the opportunity to help on an upcoming mission to Puerto Rico.  I still have yet to jump through the hoops but it looks favorable.  And if my skills don’t match up with this mission’s needs, there are other upcoming ones.  Being a mission volunteer is not the same as being a missionary.  Being a missionary means living in a particular location for months or years.  A mission volunteer provides service using particular skills for a week or two.

Also, there are missions that are two or more months long where you can work as a volunteer. This means I would be paying to be part of the experience.  Some of these missions definitely meet my skill set.  Working with children in orphanages, particularly children with special needs, is a natural fit.  I’ve worked with special needs kids in the past.  As a CNA, my skills might be useful in a medical arena. Working with the elderly, or teaching, are other avenues.

As someone who is a jack of all trades but master of none, I have learned many things which would be of help. There are many places where love is the main commodity, where compassion and a willingness to lend a hand with activities of daily living, homework, and hugs are more important than anything else.  This I can do.  As someone who chides herself on the lack of a specific career, this is something where my diversity of experiences actually helps.

The United Methodist New York Annual Conference has many opportunities available. My excitement about being able to finally give back is driving me forward.  If I do the legwork, this can surely happen.  My heart will be answered.

Rebecca Masika Katsuva

 “There are times,” she says, “when I feel truly devastated. But then, when I find a baby without a mother in the middle of a pile of corpses, I can save that child. Who knows what the future will bring? I am devoted to these babies.” She sighs. “I must help them survive,” she adds. “They stabilise me.” A life of hope lived in defiance of violence: Rebecca Masika Katsuva

FIONA LLOYD-DAVIES 30 September 2016

I came across a truly inspiring woman, one who had undergone incalculable traumas that I don’t think I could have recovered from.  Her name is Mama Masika, and lived in the East Congo.  She married Bosco Katsuva and had two children.  When they were nine and 13, their home was attacked and looted.  They killed Bosco and forcably raped Masika and her daughters, both of whom were impregnated by the attack.  Disowned by her husband’s family, she and her daughters made their way to South Kiva with only a plastic bag holding their possessions.

She was in the hospital for six months recovering but when she came out, she opened her home to other victims of rape and their children.  The Congo has been called the “Rape Capital of the World” with 14 rapes occurring every hour. Women, children, men and babies are fodder to militia groups.  It is a means of control to the point where rape has become systematized and rape camps exist with roll calls. Masika herself had been raped a total of five times, the last four as a means to try to still her activism and the noise she made regarding the consequences of rape in her land.

Masika traveled to villages to rescue women and their children who had been raped.  Babies found whose mothers had been killed were also rescued.  She would carry wounded women on her back to her center or hospital.  She provided constant love and care in an violent, insecure environment. At less than five feat tall, she had an immense personality and spirit.  She was an attractive, vibrant woman who wouldn’t give up against great odds.

Starting with a rented field until she could own one, she and the other women grew crops to eat and sell at market.  She developed 50 homes where women could give birth, raise children and tell their stories.  Additionally she obtained sewing machines for another means to a livelihood for these women.  She would travel for days on foot to reach a village she heard had been attacked to rescue survivors.

She personally adopted 18 children and helped 6,000 women find a new life after trauma, tragedy and loss.  The organization she developed, APDUD, is a haven for many.  She won the Ginetta Sagan Award and $10,000 for her work.  Her center is called “the listening house” for the many stories told there.

Masika died on February 2, 1966 from malaria and high blood pressure.  She fell sick suddenly, was brought to the hospital and died shortly after from a heart attack.  She was 49.

Sunitha Krishnan

“My biggest strength has been realizing that in this whole effort, I am not a savior, but just a facilitator.” – Sunitha Krishnan

That said, this woman has been facilitating since she was eight as a teacher to mentally challenged children.  At twelve she worked with the underprivileged children in schools.  Again at fifteen she made her mark working in low caste communities.  As retaliation for her efforts, she was gang-raped by a group of eight men.  Anger fueled her decision to obtain  a degree in social work and work bringing child and women victims of sex trafficking to freedom.  In the past 26 years she has brought more than 12,000 victims to a better life and a chance for a future.   

The largest anti-trafficking organization in the world, her prevention program, Prajwala, consists of three shelters.  The organization has five objectives:  prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and advocacy.  Prajwala provides moral, financial, legal and social support for women and children entering the program.   For the children of prostituted women, 17 transition centers work to prevent thousands of these children from entering prostitution themselves.  Vocational programs give necessary skills to lead economically feasible lives outside prostitution.

Krishnan also drafts policy recommendations and works with the government in the fields of prevention and advocacy.  She is well aware that meaningful change can not take place without the support of government and NGOs. To date, seven states are following her policy recommendations.  Her influence has even spread to the United States where she has met with auditoriums full of students to discuss prevention and activism.

She has made well received films on the subject of prostitution and prevention.  Krishnan has had to sell her personal belongings to further her work.  Programs are not cheap and although she  takes no income from Prajwala, there are over 200 employees to pay as well as services and expenses.  Her livelihood is supported by her films and books.

Sunitha has been arrested and imprisoned for her activism.  She has been physically assaulted 14 times.  Death Threats are an ongoing concern. Her rickshaw was hit by a van yet she escaped serious injury.  She survived a poison attempt.  Acid was once flung at her.  These attempts have only strengthened her resolve.

Sunitha has received many awards including the Outstanding Woman Award in 2013 by the National Commission for Women, Padma Shri in the field of Social Work in 2016, Inagral Sri Sathya Sai Award for Human Excellence in 2016, Mother Theresa Award for Social Justice in 2014, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice International Leadership Award given in New York in 2011.  Every year has brought a host of awards. 

Sunitha was born with the heart of an activist and the drive to do good in this world.  Her indomitable spirit has brought forth formidable results.  Out of spirit and trauma, the focus of her attention was honed in on the women and children of sexual exploitation.  She is indeed a vision of inspiration.

Traumas Abundant

Our world is such an aching wound.  No matter where you look, the mistakes of humans are making themselves manifest.  In our country alone, immigrants find their children are spirited away possibly forever.  The components of genocide fit.  We are destroying innocent people, especially the children.  I couldn’t imagine losing my children now much less when they were little.  I don’t think many of us could.  The sacrifices illegal aliens take to try to find a safe haven are astounding.

Nor are we alone in our wrongdoing.  The genocide ISIS has done to the Yezidi people is heartbreaking.  Women and children are raped, mutilated, tortured, and enslaved.  Men are outright killed.  The Rohingya Muslims are being denied their land, their birthright, their possessions again, for religious purposes.  It doesn’t make sense why other countries aren’t stepping up to help those people who are losing everything they hold dear, everything that defines them.

Yemen’s people are starving and being killed by U.S. bombs.  The ethnic troubles of Burundi are catastrophic.  Syria is one colossal mess and once again, it is the common people who pay. Sexism and racism seem to define our society even as we have a president that regularly spews hatred and arrogance upon those different than himself.

Maybe I’m just tired today but the troubles of the world are weighing heavy.  I think it is also the neverendingness of the world’s strife.  We repeat the same mistakes again and again.  How can the regular person help stem the tide of violence and atrocity?  I want to do more than lament the misfortunes and traumas of others, I want to know that in some way my voice is heard, my actions matter.  Maybe if we each did a little, together we could accomplish a lot.

Same old tune

Been hearing that same
old story
one too many times
over and over again

It’s okay.
They’re not bad as stories go –
far off places,
interesting people

You tell of your wife
her adventure in life
said before Alzheimer’s
took her words away

Different times
a generation on its way
to passing beyond
leaving new stories
to take the fold

Tell your stories
your wife can’t process
and I’ll listen
so you can be heard

Achieving Women Against the Odds

There are so many valiant women in the world and most go through their days with no recognition.  Many have gone through traumatic experiences and have lived to tell the tale.  However, telling the tale is not as important as doing the work and achieving against all odds.

One woman I recently read about was sexually trafficked by her mother starting at age 9.  This continued for three years but was halted by Child Protective Services,  Her mother wouldn’t give up her rights to the girl as she was a source of income and needed to support a rampant drug addiction.  Later, she fell into the hands of pimps.  Not knowing another way of life, prostitution continued into her 30’s when her own drug addiction finally came to its end.

She developed a program where young prostitutes could come for shelter and be given the resources to make life changes from prostitution.  To this date, she has assisted more than 300 girls.

I read about women who have gone through incredible suffering in civil wars, by terrorists, revolutionaries, and often loosing loved ones and their homes in the process.  They were given the opportunity for micro-grants, often a cow or a sewing machine, the means to support themselves and their families.  In spite of their traumas, they succeeded in the hard-bitten life they were given.  Greatness is fluid and relative.

My mother was one of those who achieved despite the odds.  As a child she lived with two alcoholics, one of whom was a raging, sexually and physically abusive drunk.  At age eleven, she took her one year old sister and left their apartment, never to return.  She worked in her aunt’s boarding home to pay her way.  Becoming a nurse, she worked very hard to support our family.  She ended up developing three businesses in the home health field.  When she chose to, she sold one for $250K.  She was generous, caring, and though she had a wicked temper at times, she made life easier for many people, even when she didn’t have financial resources for herself.  She removed herself so far from the squalor of her childhood, she was truly great.

Most women are touchstones of love and dedication.  They share from their hearts and give even in the tough times.  Some rise beyond the levels lived by the majority.  They become great.  They are the women I want to know.