A great man leaves an unparalleled legacy.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela
Empathy for the devil
Recently a story has reared its disturbing head in London. Three women have found to have been held as slaves in Brixton for approximately thirty years. One of the unfortunate women was in fact “born in captivity”.
This was not another case like the disturbing “Castro case” in America in which the women were captured by someone who used them as both slaves and sex toys through brute force, and threats. Where the two cases differed was Castro’s case was purely about a man’s crass need to control, the British case differed because it was about an obscure Maoist cult’s need to control, through indoctrination and mind control.
There have been cults popping up all over the world for centuries focussing in on the disenfranchised and undereducated in society. If we look closely we can see them under different guises, but we as a society sometimes choose to brush this disturbing thought under the carpet, pretending that this only happens everywhere else. When a case like the Brixton three comes to the fore we all as a society just shake our heads in disbelief.
Who can forget the scenes that confronted us, On November 18, 1978, in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre, cult leader Jim Jones led more than 900 men, women and children to their deaths in a mass suicide via cyanide-laced punch (spawning the metaphor “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid”). This atrocity happened in Guyana, but over the years there have been many cases like this in America, from The Branch Davidians led by David Koresh, through the Manson Family to the Heavens gate cult. There are common denominators in all of these factions a charismatic eloquent leader who can transpose his views onto a willing but weaker follower, using tricks that a hypnotist would use on an audience member in a cabaret. Another trick or tactic that a cult leader would use would be isolating the group away from society, making the group feel that he/she would only be safe in the confines of the said group.
The strange thing about the Brixton story was the fact that two of the women who were held were college educated; these women (the third was born in captivity and never had any formal schooling) were seemingly self-sufficient in thought and reasoning.
What could have started as curiosity by the women, and apparently there were more captives over the years; one may have committed suicide; became a long term indoctrination, sometimes physical abuse was used as well. So, with the help of isolating the subject, occasional physical abuse and an ethos that can be twisted to portray anything that the hierarchy wants safety from the society that doesn’t understand them is promised. Their home group becomes their cocoon and in time the group leader becomes almost a father figure - someone who they can always turn to for advice.
The fact that this was an obscure Maoist group, led by an elderly couple who it turns out maybe illegally in London, makes no difference to the factors leading to the indoctrination process. But what is so shocking is that a seemingly elderly frail couple could have such a hold on three, maybe more, younger women, who could surely have overwhelmed them physically if it had come to it. Eventually the captives started questioning the situation, and when the youngest woman who was being held developed a fascination with a male neighbour and started writing him notes telling of her dire situation, escape was the only option.
As each detail is revealed, the case becomes more disturbing. This was close to home, not in a faraway country where distance gives comfort to our ignorance. The truth, disturbing though it may be, is that we could all be living next to a group of people in a similar situation. What do we do to get a hold on this problem? Maybe the answer is more personal responsibility about who and what we listen to? This maybe a worldwide problem but with this happening in London, we can’t ignore it any more….we are no longer exempt!
Amnesty International calls for the release of 21 women and girls jailed for Alexandria protest
USAID remind us why women should be considered
Happy World AIDS Day, 2013
When I first found out I was HIV positive, I felt hopeless. I thought my life was over. But what I have discovered in the years that followed my diagnosis is that there is a future for me and my children and it’s better than ever.
World AIDS Day 2013: The war on the epidemic is being won, but discrimination against sufferers is still rife.
‘There are more than 70 countries with “homophobic laws” – something which demonstrates “we still have a long way to go”…’
Women’s hygiene needs in times of disaster
Since November 8th when Super Typhoon Haiyan bombarded the Philippines, an estimated 11.3 million people have been affected. The circumstances they find themselves in are worsening as the extent of the damage and the logistical nightmare of getting to a number of isolated islands becomes clearer to those trying to help.
Whenever natural disasters like this strike, despite the fact that there is no clean water, electricity or other essentials, women will still experience their monthly cycles and may find that they are left with nothing – the products they normally use are simply unavailable. In fact, women are disproportionately affected by natural disasters – 80% of deaths from the 2004 tsunami were women. Aside from the monthly humiliation of not being able to take care of simple hygiene needs, gender based violence, exploitation; rape and early marriage become more of a risk for women in areas affected by natural disasters such as those in the Philippines.
Major charitable organisations like UNICEF, The Red Cross, CARE and Save The Children are working hard to help those in need of emergency assistance and accepting donations to help with their work; and aid is beginning to reach those in need. However, what many women consider a necessity – a simply sanitary napkin – seems to be in short supply, or simply not included in the packages being distributed to those in need ; and when they are they are often the disposable type requiring women to remain dependant on hand-outs for some time.
In the case of the Philippines disaster, roughly 5.5 million women and girls have been affected and nearly 200,000 are adolescent girls in Tacloban City alone – one of the most devastated areas. Yet as I write this only 1,350 hygiene and dignity kits (containing items such as soap, sanitary napkins, toilet paper and underpants) had arrived in the city for distribution by WHO to pregnant and breastfeeding women – a drop in the ocean for what is needed.
Understandably the focus of any emergency response is on clean water, food, shelter and medical supplies; necessities for basic survival. When hygiene kits are supplied they are generally prioritised for pregnant and breastfeeding women – those thought to be most in need. The DEC are accepting donations to assist in the relief efforts and DonatePads.org have some great advice on specifically helping provide sanitary products to women and girls who desperately need them.
Relief agencies should be consulting with those affected and build upon the strengths of these networks early on in their response to identify particular essentials. Early consultations comply with humanitarian, rights based principles, protect the vulnerable and help get the right aid to the right people faster.
The International Women’s Initiative has launched a new website! Please visit, explore, contact us and join us in our efforts!
IWI believes that “[a]ll women have the right to live without fear of violence, to access affordable, quality education and health care, to hold any job they wish, and to lift their families out of poverty.”
Specifically, information can be found regarding IWI’s Safe Birthing Programme in Uganda and The Mamta Project in India.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Empathy to Action
'100 Women: Zainab Bangura says father wanted her to marry at 12
Zainab Bangura, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, has told the 100 Women conference that great strides have been made in the position of women - in politics, business and daily life - over the past 100 years, but there is more to be done.
The Scandal of Maternal Mortality in Uganda
It is profoundly disappointing that after some years of improvement, maternal mortality rates have increased in Uganda this year. The rate had been steadily reducing, from 530 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2000, to 310 deaths in 2010. Yet, in April 2013, the Population Secretariat revealed that the maternal mortality rate had soared to 438 mothers per 100,000 births. In this context, not only is the Millennium Development Goal of 131 deaths per 100,000 by 2015 out of reach for Uganda, but the government is violating its commitments under international law.
Only 41% of Ugandan women currently deliver babies with the support of a skilled attendant. In rural areas, women depend on the assistance of traditional birth attendants, since formal health services are frequently inaccessible and costly. A lack of basic infrastructure in rural regions, such as electricity, water and roads, prevents rural women from accessing acceptable obstetric care. For example, the 2010 MDG report on Uganda revealed that only 31% of local health units have water within 500 metres. The situation is compounded in Northern Uganda which has suffered from underdevelopment and conflict. To tackle maternal mortality, Uganda should be taking an intersectional approach – to consider the experiences of the most disadvantaged rural women living in remote Northern regions – but there is no sign of this.
The core reason for the high maternal mortality rate in Uganda is undoubtedly the lack of government spending. The Abuja Declaration asserts that states must assign 15% of their national budget to healthcare, but Uganda is spending just 9%. Indeed, it is estimated that maternal, new-born and child health programmes receive only 30% of the government funding they require. But it is not only the health budget that is the problem. Education spending is equally important because keeping girls in schools reduces the likelihood of early marriage and pregnancy, therefore decreasing the likelihood of maternal deaths. Additionally, education is needed to train and retain skilled healthcare workers. A widely accepted benchmark is that governments should spend 20% of their budgets on education, but the Ugandan government has cut education spending from 17% to 14% of the budget in the past few years.
President Museveni claims there are simply insufficient funds available for public health or education. Yet, the Ugandan government give away huge potential sources of increased revenue by offering unnecessary tax exemptions to multi-national corporations. If these tax holidays had not been given, ActionAid estimates the Ugandan health budget could be doubled. Moreover, Museveni has been building Uganda up as the region’s strongest army, spending US$1.02 billion on military in 2011. This national security rhetoric differs drastically to the reality of women’s security needs, including basic maternal health. It is abundantly clear that the lack of funding to public services cannot be attributed to an absence of resources, since spending is clearly going elsewhere. Ultimately, Uganda’s failure to spend more on combating maternal mortality exposes a total lack of commitment to defend women’s rights and suggests that the present government does not value women’s lives.
International Human Development Indicators, Maternal Mortality Ratio per 100,000 births, available at: http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/indicators/89006.html
Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, Aug 2007, available at: http://www.measuredhs.com/pubs/pdf/FR194/FR194.pdf
ActionAid, ‘Regulate Tax on Corporate Profits and Improve Service Delivery!’ Sept 2013, available at: http://www.actionaid.org/uganda/news/regulate-tax-corporate-profits-and-improve-service-delivery