Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Halima from Senegal - Everyday A Girl #EDAG

By Ndey Yassin, Gambia

This is Halima Jarjue's story for #EverydayAGirl, as shared by Ndey Yassin via UN Volunteers. 

Halima lives with her aunt. She used to live in Cassamance, a town near Senegal, West Africa. She lost both of her parents due to the war that happened in Cassamance. Her dad’s sister took her in and brought her to Gambia to live with her. 

Halima is 23 years old, and very hardworking.

Her aunt is a cleaner in one of the GSM companies in The Gambia. She has three children and they all live together with Halima. She said she enjoys school and wants to be a doctor in the future.

Although she was taken many classes back, she believes she is doing well in school. She doesn’t want to be a maid forever that is why she is going to school. She is exceptionally tired when she goes to school but she said she has no choice, but to try and stay alert and learn.

Halima Sworks as a maid to use her earnings to pay for her school fees.
Every day she wakes up early and goes to work.
She cooks food everyday for her boss.

When she goes home from school, she helps her aunt cook dinner and then she goes to bed, sometimes without eating because of exhaustion. Her grades were very bad at first, because she sometimes doesn’t do her homework because she is very tired and sometimes there is no light at their home and her aunt doesn’t want her lighting candles for she believes it is not safe, she might forget to blow it off and sleep.

Halima takes a quick nap after chores because she has to go for afternoon classes after work.

Her bosses are very nice to her and sometimes pay her more than agreed for when she needs to pay for exam fees or to buy books. She is in junior school, year 9.

Before napping, Halima cleans the dirty pots and washes the clothes.

She makes sure the clothes are very clean.

Once refreshed from her nap, she gets up to check if the clothes have dried.

She gently removes the clothes from the clothing rail.

After doing all her daily household work, Halima rushes to go home. She has to change and go to her evening classes.

Halima wants to be a doctor one day. She is working as a maid to fund her school fees.

The story of Everyday a Girl, tagged #EDAG, is a glance into the lives of ordinary women through a series of poignant photo stories. These series of images will visually express the roles, challenges, activities and duties that females in diverse communities face in their daily lives.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-run NGO registered in Zambia, implemented EDAG in order to place a strong emphasis on positively redefining the role of females in our society. This campaign highlights that gender equality and equity, woman empowerment, and safety for the girls is key to the world’s socio-economic development.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Everyday A Girl #EDAG

By Hadassah Louis

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a girl in another part of the world? To live like them, eat like them, and put on the cloak of womanhood as dictated by their society.

The story of Everyday a Girl, tagged #EDAG, is a glance into the lives of ordinary women through a series of poignant photo stories. These series of images will visually express the roles, challenges, activities and duties that females in diverse communities face in their daily lives.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a youth-led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented EDAG in order to place a strong emphasis on positively redefining the role of females in our society. This campaign highlights that gender equality and equity, woman empowerment, and safety for the girls is key to the world’s socio-economic development.

The women in Zambia’s society have their own unique story to tell. During the three years SAFIGI has been active in Zambia, we have encountered stories of girls that reflect a national view of the state of the marginalized girls in the Southern African country. In Zambia, just 35.4% of girls attend secondary school. And in this margin, 54% had reported sexual violence or harassment from a male peer or teacher. [Cornell University.2012]

SAFIGIs Alumni Photographer, Thandiwe Mumba, went on an assignment in Chipata, Zambia.  She asked the rural girls ‘why they are in a rush to get pregnant?’ Their response is that they have nothing better to do, since most of them have dropped out of school due to lack of support. Teenage pregnancy is the leading cause of death for young women aged 15 to 19 years old worldwide. [Daily Mail Zambia. 2015]

Alumni Photographer for SAFIGI talks to young girls about the dangers of early marriage.  Photo Credit: Thandiwe Mumba 

She also met Grace, a 17 year old girl.  Grace is a single mother to a 2 year old girl. She stays with her mother in Chipata. Her father died 4 years ago and so she dropped out of school in 8th grade.

Grace dropped out of school in 8th grade. She now has a 2 year old daughter.     Photo Credit: Thandiwe Mumba

2 in 5 Zambian girls is married by 18 years old. [UNFPA. 2016.] The story of Precious Chanda, 19 years old, got married at the age of 15 in Kapiri, Zambia. She is the only surviving member of her family and thus was forced into an early marriage due to lack of support from her relatives and lack of accommodation. Her intention is to go back to school after dropping out in 11th grade.  The story was contributed by SAFIGIs Activist, Busiku Handema.

Precious got married at 15 to escape economic hardship. She has a son. Photo credit: Busiku Handema.

The problem is more serious for the girls in peri-urban and rural areas. As seen in the picture taken by Alumni SAFIGI Public Relations Manager, Ethel Chabu, young girls return home after fetching water for house consumption. In these areas, a young girl travels long distances in search of clean drinking water; a time that could be used to study.

Access to clean water is limited, so girls travel long distances to fetch water. Photo Credit: Ethel Chabu

From the latter stories, it is evident that a broken family system plagued by poverty, illiteracy, disease and death, is causing social ills to the marginalized girls who have nowhere to go. Though this is not every girl’s life experience in Zambia, as we will see later in the photo series, these stories represent the many marginalized who have the potential to better their lives and contribute to the economy – given equal opportunity and a safe environment to thrive. SAFIGI will advocate their stories, and through our different workshops, provide an opportunity for the girl child to learn more about Safety.

(Face hidden to conceal identity). A girl in Ndola who does not go to school.  Photo Credit: Ethel Chabu

At SAFIGI, Safety is classified into two; internal safety being peace of mind, heart, emotions; external safety being protection of the body, other person, and the environment. We believe Safety Education can lead to self-actualization that contributes to overall development regardless of gender or socio-economic status. You can download the Safety Education Lesson plans here or on our website; www.safetyfirstforgirls.org

The EDAG project will bring together volunteers from across the globe to speak with one voice in support of empowerment of females irrespective of economic, religious, cultural or ethnic background. The UN Online Volunteers platform provided an opportunity for online volunteers worldwide to contribute to this project.

To get involved, contact us and to apply to be an online volunteer click here.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Shame of Being Fair

By Maliha Mohiudun via UN Online Volunteers

“She did it again! How does she get up there?” my uncle’s wife looked perplexed yet slightly amused as I walked by, towel thrown over my shoulder, and made my way to the grand hall sofa. My father looked stern as he took in my color of my skin. What two days ago had been a warm cream, was now a dark mocha from the intense Indian sun. In an effort to keep me from the rooftop my uncle had placed layers of furniture along the last staircase landing, but I was adept at climbing and grasping the high railing I managed my way around the matrix of chairs and tables.

It was always a tense and irrational conversation that followed these excursions to the rooftop. “Who is going to see your skin? Why are you stubborn and set to bring shame to us? What if someone saw you?” “I do it for myself, I think I look prettier when I’m tan. Everyone in America is tan. Besides, I blend in here now.” I replied, avoiding his intense and disapproving gaze. It always boggled my mind how in a land where the majority of people were born with varying shades of caramel skin they could hate it so much.

Throughout my childhood I would overhear various family members discuss the merits of certain girls, “She’s pretty, but she’s dark.”  So many of my own cousins owned and diligently used ‘Fair & Lovely’ a bleaching cream widely used throughout India. Their marriageability ranked on their skin tone, often outweighing their education, career, and personalities. I was born to parents whose pigmentation favored that of toasted cashews and so I became a rarity in a sea of caramel, a rare jewel in the South of India. It was a curse.

From even as early as twelve years of age elder women would hound my grandaunts and parents to arrange a marriage between me and their son, nephew, whoever. All of this solely based on the color of my skin, regardless of how perverted their requests sounded to my whole family. Dressed in rich and vibrant blouses with ornate skirts, I often looked older than my age at weddings, which only added to these outrageous overtures. Back then, it hadn’t bothered my parents as much as it bothered me, but they grew concerned as I grew older. I had studied my mother’s photographs from her youth and  by 18 perfected the cat eye, pairing that against my cream skin and distinct beauty mark made me stand out from the crowd of girls whose mothers caked them in talc powder and magenta lipstick.

It wasn’t so much at weddings that my father began to resent my looks, but during the regular day trips in the city. Sitting in the back of our family car, my Disk-man on full blast I would gaze out the window, the passing traffic that weaved around those crowded Indian roads full of men on motorcycles. My dark hair whipping around my face as we drove to local sari boutiques. And then inevitably, one of those motorcyclists would notice me and just as suddenly they would take every turn that our driver did until finally parking in the market. 

I tried not to notice them, averting my gaze as I stepped out of the car, often dressed in long shirt salwars that didn’t follow the trends of India, but rather my own style of minimalism and clean cuts. Hours would pass as we purchased items in the top stories of these markets, often leaving past midnight after collaborations with the tailors, and yet I could still see at least one or two of those men perched on their motorcycles lying in wait.

Often, as I got into the car a little street child would run by the car and drop a note into my lap, the number for my stalker neatly written with some insulting comment about my beauty. It was upon such occurrences that my father would notice the men again following us, and angrily turn to me in the backseat, chastising me as he demanded I roll up my window and stay out of site. This happened often enough that on the rare occasions when I was left at home my father would have my uncle lock our front gate and post a guard.  I often resented my time in India as it tainted my relationship with my family, each one thinking of ways that I was a risk and how to keep me in or cover me from head to toe when I did step out. ‘How did no one else get harassed the way I did?’ they often wondered only to suspect that I must be initiating the stalking.

Instead of thinking that something should be done to alter the male gaze, the blame was placed on me, on the cream tone of my skin, on my naivety of a culture I did not understand. On the rare occasions that I would shout out at the men to leave me alone I was chastised, often left feeling ashamed for something far beyond my control. I never understood why those men weren’t on the receiving end of my father’s anger. As much as I resented feeling like a caged bird, I took comfort in the feeling of security at home that I didn’t have when I traversed the city. It wasn’t until I began my trips to the rooftop that I found a way to stop or at least minimize the stalking. I became less of that rare jewel and became just another Indian woman driving around with her family.

It took many years after these trips to have an open dialogue with my parents, my father in particular who was often uncomfortable when confronted with such topics, but it was necessary for me. His intention was always to protect me, but never understood that in shaming me he was only reinforcing the mentality that anything I had experience was my fault and not that of the men who violated my sense of safety. We have all changed in many ways over the years, but my family no longer allows for blame being placed on anyone other than the perpetrator. I am no longer shamed for taking pride in how I present myself in the world.

Now there are so many shows that we watch from the comfort of our couch in America about the way women are objectified and harassed, often ending in far more dire experiences than my own. Using these shows as a platform for change in a society that up until recent years has rarely held men accountable, now exposes those for who and what they are, perverted individuals in a society that is ready for change. 

Gone are the days where shaming women for the inappropriate male gaze is common practice, we are now in a time when men are being forced to change or else deal with the harsh consequences of the law. I’d like to think that conversations like the ones I had with my family over the years happened among other families leading to this movement, and that the volume of these voices is what is drowning out an outdated and foolhardy point of view.