The Human Impact

Secret societies make Liberia one of the hardest places to end FGM

Liberia made history as the first African country to elect a female leader, but strong taboos make it one of the hardest countries to crack when it comes to tackling female genital mutilation (FGM).

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on women’s rights, has said little on the subject. But she is in an awkward position.

FGM is carried out in Liberia during traditional initiation ceremonies in bush schools, overseen by an immensely powerful women’s secret society called the Sande.

The girls involved are sworn to secrecy and told that they or a member of their family will die if they reveal what happens.

“Liberia is very tricky,” Grace Uwizeye, FGM programme officer at rights group Equality Now, told me. “The secret society makes it very difficult to penetrate or even to start talking about FGM because people are just scared. You have to make sure people understand it’s OK to talk about FGM.”

The pain is far worse than childbirth – FGM survivor

Britain has announced new measures to tackle the hidden crime of female genital mutilation making it compulsory for doctors and nurses to record FGM cases. London community worker Sarian Karim Kamara, who underwent FGM as a child in Sierra Leone, told me how it has affected her life and why midwives are on the frontline in efforts to end the brutal practice.

“I’ll never forget what happened to me. I was only 11 years old and I’m 36 now. I’ve had five children and the pain I went through on that day cannot begin to compare to any of my labour pains. It’s indescribable.

Some people might think that FGM is just a cultural practice, that it is normal or acceptable for some communities. But it is not acceptable because it causes so much physical and psychological harm and has no benefit at all.

Rebuilding healthcare, healing survivors in typhoon-hit central Philippines

Haiyan, the strongest storm on record, destroyed many healthcare centres. Our correspondent visited the typhoon-affected areas almost three months later to see how aid agencies like ICRC have been filling the gap.

AUTHOR/PHOTOGRAPHER: Thin Lei Win

For many children in the Philippines who don’t have access to a playground, the roadside is a good alternative. Inevitably, this leads to accidents.

This boy was hit by a motorcycle one Sunday morning while playing in his village. Luckily he was found by an ICRC staffer on his way to work and brought to Basey field hospital in Samar Province, a 30-minute drive, crying loudly and bleeding profusely. The ICRC set up the field hospital in the grounds of a damaged sports hall after Haiyan ravaged the local hospital.

The future of “building back better”: houses, schools, and political transformation too?

Disaster recovery experts and scholars alike seem to agree on at least one thing: disaster-recovery efforts should concentrate not only on restoring affected communities to pre-disaster levels, but should focus on “building back better” by linking immediate relief with long-term recovery and development.

Some go even further by suggesting that disasters can become an opportunity not  just to “build back better”, but to bring about political transformation by ending conflicts and improving governance in post-disaster settings.

“The aspiration to build back better – to use the opportunity of a disaster response to leave societies improved, not just restored – is self-evidently common sense: after all, who would want to build back worse, or simply reinstate conditions of inequality, poverty and vulnerability if the chance for something better was at hand?”, said Lilianne Fan in her paper “Disasters as opportunity? Building back better in Aceh, Myanmar and Haiti.

Roots of South Sudan’s violence must be addressed now – experts

 

South Sudan’s conflict has devastated communities and polarised society and, unless the root causes of the conflict are addressed now, the world’s youngest country may find itself once more in crisis, experts said during a recent debate organised by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The government and rebels signed a ceasefire on Jan. 23 to end more than five weeks of fighting that brought the country to the brink of civil war. More than half a million people have been displaced and thousands killed in the conflict between government troops and rebels backing former vice president Riek Machar.

One of the most damaging aspects of the conflict is the impact it has had on the country’s ability to build lasting peace, David Deng, research director of the South Sudan Law Society in Juba, said.

The din of misogyny at Bangkok protests

In fiery speeches at protests calling for her ouster, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been called ugly, stupid, a bitch, a slut and a whore.

A university professor recommended sending a large group of men to “sexually snare” her. A decorated doctor offered to give her vaginal repair surgery and to change her sanitary pads, andsaid she could become a nude model because she hasn’t yet reached menopause.

Not to be outdone, the head of the country’s Election Commission (EC) drew laughter from reporters after suggesting in a condescending tone that a meeting with her might only be possible if it was arranged at a certain hotel where her opponents claim she had an as-yet-unproven extramarital affair.

Gender injustice: When Indian judges get it wrong

An Indian judge who called pre-marital sex “immoral” and against “the tenets of every religion” has been criticised by activists who say his remarks highlight gender insensitivity within the judiciary and the challenges faced by victims of sex crimes in seeking justice.

Judge Virender Bhat, who presides over a fast-track court which hears cases of sexual offences, made the remarks after ruling in one case that there was insufficient evidence that a man had duped a woman into having sex with him by promising marriage.

According to the Indian Penal Code, a man who has sexual intercourse with a woman after obtaining her consent on the false promise of marriage is committing rape.

Italian men seek help to stop battering wives and partners


Alberto, a metalworker in his mid-thirties from a town in northern Italy, would sometimes get so furious arguing with his wife in the car that he would drive into a tree “just to shut her up”.

“When we argued I felt cornered, like I was about to lose everything,” he said in emailed comments to Thomson Reuters Foundation.

From the beginning of his 13-year-old relationship with his wife, Alberto, who did not want to give his full name, struggled to contain feelings of rage, usually ignited by a cross word or critical tone.

Why India’s Mars mission matters, despite poverty

There has been much fanfare over the launch of India’s first rocket to Mars – a mission which, if successful, will position the Asian nation as a major player in the global space race.

For days last week, local television news channels broadcast constant updates as the Indian Space Research Organisation readied to send “Mangalyaan” – the “Mars-craft” – to the red planet.

The orbiter’s mission is to reach Mars by September and map some of the planet’s surface and test for methane, a possible marker of life.

A male child is still important for some Nigerian women

For Amaka Okoli, a modern-minded businesswoman living in urban Nigeria with her loving husband Nonso and their daughter, the sex of the baby she’s expecting is irrelevant.

The same can’t be said of her mother-in-law who, in accordance with Nigerian Igbo culture, is desperate for her son to have a male heir and is trying to persuade him to take a second wife, in spite of his reluctance and Amaka’s open opposition.

Amaka is the protagonist of “B for Boy”, the first feature film by Nigerian director Chika Anadu, which was screened at this year’sLondon Film Festival. It is a courageous tale of being a woman and a mother in contemporary Nigeria and of the social pressure that is still put on women to produce a male child.

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