New Age Islam News Bureau
2 March 2014
Teenage girls discuss the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), at the Sheik Nuur Primary School in Hargeisa, Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia. Many young women still support the practice
• ‘Women must be able to make reproductive health decisions’
• NY Students Don Hijab for a Day
• FIFA Removes Ban on Headscarves
• All But Two Institutes Training Nurses Shut By Saudi Authorities
• Emirati Girls Taking Up Jiu-Jitsu Regional Championship in Public Schools More Than Ever
• Muslims Debate Centuries-Old Tradition of FGM in Somalia
• Gender rights: ‘Police raids followed TV report’
• Feminine Touch to Afghan Fairytale
• Niger's 'Remarkable' Progress in Reducing Child Deaths
• Short Film, 'Muallak' Portrays the Pain of Turkish Young Women
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
British Girls Take To Strip Clubs to Finance Their Education
2 March 2014
LONDON: In an alarming trend, one in three strippers in UK has been found to be students trying to earn money to pay for their education.
A University of Leeds investigation, that met and interviewed nearly 200 dancers working in the various strip clubs of UK found in 1 in 3 girls were in some form of education and attending college or university. Majority of the girls blamed the high cost of education as the main reason why they were forced to bare themselves in order to make a fast buck.
The study published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education says: "The core reasons for entry into stripping by students were the high cost of higher education, the lack of availability of loans and support for vocational courses and the ability to combine stripping work with the demands of educational courses, due to the flexibility it offered."
The study further explains: "Even before beginning university, some dancers prepared for the high cost of higher education by starting dancing beforehand. Students often started dancing with friends as a joint venture, drawn in by the initial excitement of engaging in a transgressive world, and the prospect of earning cash in hand on the night was considered a bonus."
The researchers say that strip clubs — constantly increasing in number in UK — have now started to depend on universities for "new talent".
However majority of the girls when asked referred to themselves as dancers and denied being sex workers. Their argument was that stripping was "more palatable and socially acceptable".
‘Women must be able to make reproductive health decisions'
2 March 2014
KARACHI: After the remarkable success of ‘Agahi se Agay’, Rutgers WPF Pakistan has launched a follow-up project, titled ‘Awareness to Action’ — a programme designed to educate and empower women.
The latest programme by the NGO was launched at a ceremony at Pearl Continental hotel on Friday. The three-year project, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, is aimed to empower Pakistani women to be able to make their own decisions regarding sexual health and reproduction, with the ultimate goal to bring about a significant decrease in child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
Speaking at the occasion, the senior country adviser of the Packard Foundation, Dr Yasmeen Qazi, said, “The culture of silence in Pakistan keeps young people out of the loop regarding information that is very vital to them.” Women must have the power to make reproductive health decisions, she stressed.
“A third of Pakistani women are interested in family planning but do not have access to it,” she said. “In 2002 alone, there were 900,000 unsafe abortions in Pakistan. The dearth of women educated in these matters is a weak link in our development sector.” Dr Qazi was of the opinion that girls who had attended school even for a short time were more aware of their rights and less likely to marry young.
Qadeer Baig, the country representative for Rutgers WPF, explained that his organisation was consulting the community leaders in rural areas to make the programme effective.
By educating and training 650 “Kirans” as part of their community mobilisation plan, the organisation hopes to reach 650,000 girls with help from the Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation and HANDS. “The programme is also known as Rang-e-Kainat. We want to create an enabling environment for women and are working to make the youth policy a reality in Sindh,” he explained.
Also at the event was Ali Gul Pir, of ‘Waderay ka Beta’ fame. “I am not an expert or even as educated as the rest of the speakers but I am a concerned citizen of Pakistan,” said Pir. “Pakistan will only prosper once we educate our women – our mothers, sisters and wives.”
Speaking of his hometown, Dadu, Pir said, “People in rural areas are not uncivilised [jahil] — they are polite and well-informed. They just need a chance and they need their own people to speak to them and educate them.”
The special adviser to the UN secretary general, Dr Nafis Sadik, claimed that the failure of family planning programmes in Pakistan was due to a lack of political will. “The ability to make decisions, especially for women, is crucial. Unless they know they have these rights, nothing can happen,” said Dr Sadik. “This mindset of women not having [sexual and reproductive] rights is everywhere, it is just more vocalised in countries like ours.”
She went on to say that men’s sexual behaviour was tolerated, and in some cases applauded, whereas women’s behaviour was strictly controlled.
NY Students Don Hijab for a Day
2 March 2014
CAIRO – Non-Muslim students at New York’s Union College have participated in the second annual Hijab for a day, sharing the experience of Muslim women donning the Islamic headscarf.
“I had a few people that I am friends with ask me about the Hijab,” Julie Fishman ’16, who participated, in Hijabi for a Day, told Concordiensis, the students’ newspaper of Union College, reported on Thursday, February 27.
“But what really struck me was that I felt like, as I was walking around campus, seeing other girls who were wearing the Hijab provided almost an immediate connection.
“Whether I had known or seen them before, there was a nod or a smile exchanged, and it was an interesting bond to feel,” the young girl added.
Fishman is one of scores of students who participated in the event held last week in Union College.
The event, sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Core and Multifaith Forum, was held to share Muslim women their feelings while donning Hijab.
Not only non-Muslim students participated in the event.
Young Nuzhat Chowdhury, 16, who is now officially trained by the Interfaith Leadership Institute, found the event an opportunity to don Hijab for a first time.
Though Chowdhury is a Muslim, she found the event an opportunity to make her closer to taking the decision of donning the Islamic headscarf.
“I am a Muslim woman, and although I do not wear the Hijab at this point in my life, I was very excited about the event because it is great to see women of all faiths and colours coming together to represent Muslim women in such a positive way,” she said.
Islam sees Hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
The Union College’s event copied the idea of World Hijab Day marked each year on February 1.
During the day, hundreds of thousands of Muslim and non-Muslim women don a traditional Islamic head scarf to spread awareness of Hijab as a Muslim women right and educate the masses about the origins and reasons for the Islamic headwear.
Though marked for the second year, the event witnessed some negative reactions from students who had misconceptions about the Islamic headscarf.
“I feel that there are some who may maintain a negative stigma towards the wearing of a Hijab and it is mainly because they don’t understand,” Fishman remarked.
“Something like Hijabi For a Day makes it seem like less of a taboo subject on campus and that is a good thing.
“Bringing events like this to the attention of the campus more is so necessary, especially looking at other faiths and cultures beyond Islam.”
Chowdhury added that similar events at the college campus would help in dispelling misconceptions about Islam and other faiths as well.
“I would like to see more events like this at Union. Fortunately, this is in my comfort zone, but I would like to get the opportunity to do something different like maybe wearing a bindi (Hinduism) or a yarmulke (Judaism), because these outward expressions of faith are important to be aware of and understand,” she said.
While the Muslim population at Union is not predominant, it is important to foster a greater understanding of their practices and customs. Chowdhury added.
“The most important message we can send is to encourage religious competence. It is easier to bridge gaps between groups of people when you can spend some time walking in their shoes, and in the process becoming more culturally and religiously literate,” she said.
“Wearing the Hijab is such an outward expression of faith and I admire the women who choose to wear it.
“They are strong and proud of their faith, a dedication which I one day aspire to have.”
FIFA removes ban on headscarves
World Bulletin / News Desk
2 March 2014
Muslim women footballers will not be able to sport the headscarf during games, after FIFA decided to lift a ban on head covers for religious reasons, following a meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Zurich.
The decision comes after a two-year trial of head covers in the game passed without problems.
The Asian Football Confederation played a key role in convincing FIFA to put head covers on trial, after FIFA previously cited safety concerns.
"It was decided that female players can cover their heads to play," said Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke.
The issue was first raised when Iran's national women's team pulled out of a match with Jordan in 2011 when FIFA banned them from wearing headscarves.
As well as Muslim women, Sikh men, who are also required to cover their hair, will also benefit from the new rule change.
The amendment in the rules will become active as of June.
All But Two Institutes Training Nurses Shut By Saudi Authorities
2 March 2014
The Saudi Commission for Health Specialties has confirmed that it shut down 158 private health institutions that train nurses and technicians due to their poor quality of services.
As a result, only two private health institutes are left operating in the Kingdom.
Abdullah Al-Rahian, the commission’s director of public relations and media, told an Arabic daily that the commission has been seeking to improve the quality of their services, since it was mandated with the responsibility in 2006.
The commission has issued continuous warnings and has imposed temporary closure notices on institutes that have not complied with quality standards, he added.
He pointed out that sanction regulations have been applied on health institutes that do not abide by regulations.
He stressed the fact that health institutes fall under the Ministry of Higher Education’s supervision.
Al-Rahian explained that committees from the Ministry of Health were formed to study the condition of private health institutes and have submitted their reports to the higher authorities. He noted that health institutes had been notified two years ago of the issues that needed to be addressed and improved.
However, many of the institutes have ignored the warnings and as a result the commission took the decision to close down the violating institutes.
Around 25,000 graduates from the Kingdom’s health institutes have been appointed across different sectors. In addition, the Ministry of Health has appointed 9,000 graduates, while about 14,000 graduates were appointed by royal decree.
Emirati Girls Taking Up Jiu-Jitsu Regional Championship in Public Schools More Than Ever
2 March 2014
ABU DHABI // within five minutes, Reem Al Falahi had her opponent right where she wanted – defeated flat on a mat.
The 15-year-old pumped her fists in the air and smiled triumphantly as she turned her attention to the fervent girls, moms and coaches in the stands cheering her victory.
Reem is one of 180 girls to take part in the Jiu-Jitsu Regional Championship held last month (February) at Fatima Bint Mubarak Gym.
Also held in Al Ain and Al Gharbiya, the competition has seen the number of girls participating in the tournament triple since it launched with 60 girls in 2010.
The high profile and public support that jiu-jitsu enjoys in the UAE, along with an increase in the number of jiu-jitsu training programs and events in schools, have facilitated the rise in the number of female students enrolling in the School Jiu-Jitsu Program, said Deena Baker, school jiu-jitsu programme marketing specialist.
For the Emirati ninth-grader Reem – who has earned an orange belt, the highest she can achieve for her age level – the competition was the first step towards reaching her ultimate goal.
“My goal is to make UAE proud, to make my country proud, and to prove that us, the Emiratis, are the strongest in jiu-jitsu,” said Reem. “I play some games from other sports, but I don’t like – only jiu-jitsu. I like because, you know, Sheikh Zayed played jiu-jitsu when he was small. Because I want go to championship and take the first place.”
The annual competition brings together athletes aged 10 to 15 from across Adec’s School Jiu-Jitsu Program, which itself has had to expand to accommodate the growing interest in the sport by both girls and boys.
“We want to raise awareness among the girls and their parents of the importance of this game,” said Adec spokeswoman Hanan Al-Sahlawi. “We want it to become more popular amongst the girls, that’s why we created two commercials last year and we’re creating a brochure, we’re releasing it, and another corporate video about the jiu-jitsu, it will be inserted in the brochure and given to all of the schools, all efforts to raise awareness about the importance of this game.”
The promotional efforts seem to have worked.
In 2008, when the school program first launched, there were 2,995 students in grades 6 and 7 from 14 government schools, including three girls schools, enrolled. Today, more than 28,000 students, including 3,000 girls, are taking part in the School Jiu-Jitsu Program. Although the sport is only available to girls in cycle two, there are plans to expand it to cycle three for the 2015-2016 schoolyear.
“The girls love it, you can see how they are here, they’re very excited,” said Ms Baker. “Parents have been coming to visit more events, it’s just, it’s growing in popularity.”
During matches, girls wear a hijab and a body suit beneath their kimonos, which they say help prevent scratches or hair pulling on the mat.
For Reem, the sport is the ultimate equalizer.
“Jiu-jitsu is the only sport that doesn’t distinguish between man and woman, it’s the same thing for both, it’s equal,” said Reem. “It gives girls that are shy, not very strong, to actually become stronger and not as shy because jiu-jitsu gives you that strength.”
The program allows pupils in participating schools to elect jiu-jitsu as one of their two required weekly physical education classes. An after-school training program taught by 130 black belt coaches from Brazil was introduced in the 2012-2013 academic year to further encourage pupils to develop their skills at least twice a week. Girls, as well as boys, can also sign up for training camps held throughout the year.
“We don’t look at jiu-jitsu only as a sport, a martial art,” said Ms Baker. “Instead we focus on jiu-jitsu’s ability to teach lifelong skills, which is basically the essence and identity of the program. Among many other physical and health benefits, jiu-jitsu teaches students discipline, determination, and various beneficial qualities and skills through training, competitions and other jiu-jitsu centered activities.
Muslims Debate Centuries-Old Tradition of FGM in Somalia
2 March 2014
HARGEISA, Somalia— The 30 Somali teenagers - both boys and girls - all agreed: Female genital mutilation is harmful and the practice should be abandoned. But what they really meant, they revealed moments later, is that girls should have their genitalia cut - just not sewn shut.
"It's our tradition and if the girls are not subjected to suna(cutting) she will not be accepted for marriage," said Asthma Ibrahim Jabril, 17.
The students, who are part of an afterschool club in Somaliland which the U.N. children's agency helps fund, discuss issues like child labor, early marriage, and female genital mutilation in a classroom with several large hearts scrawled along the walls.
UNICEF is weaving a delicate campaign to educate communities in Somaliland about the harms of female genital mutilation and to get leaders, who are meeting there this month to debate the practice, to denounce it. Child rights advocates in nearly 30 countries are fighting to reduce the number of girls subjected to the cutting of their genitalia, a practice that goes back thousands of years and that Somali practitioners often link to Islamic requirements.
All 15 girls sitting opposite the boys at Sheik Nuur Primary school have undergone suna-the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora. They all said it was the right thing to do.
Female genital mutilation comes in many different forms. The other form known by the Somali teens is sewing the vagina shut until marriage. Everyone agreed that this should be ended.
"I want it to be eradicated. It's an old tradition," said Ikram Ismail, a confident 18-year-old in a pink headscarf and a black hijab. "When my mother was young no one could speak about it publicly, but now people understand that it causes a lot of harm so that's why we talk about it."
Female genital mutilation can cause severe bleeding and problems with urination, cysts, infections, infertility and complications with childbirth, including an increased risk of newborn death. More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 29 African and Middle Eastern countries, the World Health Organization says.
In Somalia, the cultural expectation for girls to undergo genital mutilation comes down to sex and marriage. Men expect to marry a virgin. If a girl has not undergone female genital mutilation, she is considered unclean.
"It's that she is not pure," said Charity Kinya Koronya, a child protection officer for UNICEF who was raised in a community in Kenya where young girls undergo genital mutilation. Her father would not allow the procedure to be done on her.
"You are stitched and not opened up until the day of your marriage," Koronya continued. "They say someone who is open, anyone can go in."
Last month about 60 religious and civic leaders in the capital of Somaliland - a semi-autonomous region in northern Somalia that has remained largely peaceful during Somalia's decades of conflict - attended a daylong seminar and debate on female genital mutilation.
Sheik Khalil Abdulai Ahmed, the government minister of religious affairs, told the room that female genital mutilation can lead to death, pain and mental issues. Amina Mohamed Jirde, the wife of Somaliland's president, pleaded with the group to stop genital mutilation. "This practice is not good for the girl," Jirde said. "It is good for you to marry all the girls without discrimination."
Officials with UNICEF tried to underscore that they do not believe female genital mutilation is required by Islam, though it is not strictly practiced by Muslims. Haydar Nasser, a UNICEF official who is Iraqi by birth but now a Canadian citizen, told the leaders that they were following a custom first practiced by the Egyptians some 6,000 years ago, long before Islam was founded.
"So the question to you to discuss today is why as a Muslim practice do you employ a pharaoh practice, pharaohs who went to hell because they are kaffirs," he said, using the Arabic word for someone who doesn't believe in Islam.
Islam's holy book, he continued, says that human beings are created perfectly. "So if a human is in a perfect way, why do we practice something that" alters the body, he said.
At a small community center made of metal sheeting in one of Hargeisa's lower income communities, two dozen women and girls, who have been in an education program run by aid group Tostan, and supported by UNICEF, spoke about their views on the practice.
Amran Mohamud, 40, spent 15 years cutting girls. She remembers the girls who wouldn't stop bleeding. She remembers the infections that set in. After she began attending Tostan classes four years ago, she abandoned the trade, a profession she learned from her mother that paid between $30 and $50 per procedure.
Mohamud carried out the cutting procedure on her oldest daughter. But her granddaughters will not have it done. Mohamud said even her mother is against the practice now.
"I reminded her of the problems we've seen," Mohamud said.
An imam from the small community in Hargeisa, Mohamed Said Mahmood, 54, said the world is changing. "There are men willing to get married to uncut girls," he said, while acknowledging not all men his age back his viewpoint.
At the end of the daylong meeting that UNICEF had hoped would end in a decision to abandon female genital mutilation, the religious leaders - including the minister of religious affairs - say they cannot agree to abandon suna. The practice of female genital cutting will continue.
Gender rights: ‘Police raids followed TV report’
2 March 2014
LAHORE: The Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA) organised a demonstration in front of the Lahore Press Club on Saturday to protest against police and a TV host for allegedly violating human rights and discriminating against transgender people.
GIA president Bindya Rana said the TV host had violated laws protecting privacy. She said the TV host had not sought permission to enter private property, and had not obtained consent of the transgenders she interviewed to show their faces on television. Rana said she had unfairly blamed them for the spread of HIV in Pakistan. She demanded that the chief justice of Pakistan take suo motu notice of the matter.
GIA general secretary Rana Asif Habib said the show was an infringement of Article 10A of the Constitution. Habib said that entering private property without the resident’s permission was a violation of Article 14. He asked the chief justice of Pakistan and the federal mohtasib to take immediate action and guide the GIA in seeking a legal remedy.
Nazir Ghazi, executive director of GODH, a grassroots organisation for human development, said the civil society supported the trans-gender community in their campaign for rights. He said there was an urgent need to sensitise the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority regarding human rights issues. He said its code of conduct should be revised in keeping with the international human rights conventions.
Iftikhar Mubarik, a child rights activist, said it was time to end discrimination against transsexuals in all skill development programmes in the Punjab. He said there should be policies for social inclusion, and measures to ensure the transgender community’s meaningful participation in public events and society.
GIA vice president Anju said the TV show had triggered police raids on trans-gender people’s houses. She said harassment and exploitation were routine in these raids. Anju said she was determined to approach all forums necessary to stop discrimination against the community. She said police and media houses must impart human rights education to their staff.
As many as 150 people representing the civil society showed their solidarity with the struggle of transgender persons at the demonstration.
Feminine touch to Afghan fairytale
2 March 2014
Afghanistan, perozi az aane mast
The chant is constant. It isn’t so much loud as it is insistent. But most of all, it is one that’s spoken from the heart. It means “Afghanistan, victory is ours” and is being chanted by a crowd of young women, many with Afghanistan flags painted on cheeks, clad in t-shirts, jeans and with hijabs and scarves covering their heads. A little corner of the foreign field that is the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium has turned into Afghanistan, complete with flags waved non-stop.
On Saturday (March 1), Afghanistan made history at Fatullah, stunning Bangladesh by 32 runs in the Asia Cup for their first win against a Test-playing nation. And for Mursal, Fatima Hashimi and 22 of their friends, the cheering couldn’t get loud enough.
A group of 24 young women from the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, an eight-hour bus journey from Fatullah, have occupied seats in stands packed to the brim with Bangladesh supporters. The fatigue of the journey is forgotten and the strain on vocal chords kept away. They’ve come here because it’s a Saturday and there are no classes. No encouragement can be loud enough for their history-making team during the one shot they have of cheering them on.
Mursal, 21, is a Liberal Arts scholar at the university, studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE), is one of 50 women in the university, and hails from Kabul, the Afghanistan capital. “We know cricket. We follow cricket. Of course we knew they were coming, so we came,” Mursal tells Wisden India. “Cricket is new for Afghanistan and the team has developed fast.”
Football is the sport of choice in Afghanistan, but cricket is fast catching up, says Fatima, also a PPE student and also from Kabul. “Our national sport is football. Cricket is a new sport, it’s become popular only since 2009. Of course I’m a cricket fan and I came for the Afghanistan team. I’m extremely excited to be part of this match.”
Fatima adds that she’s sure the players would have received a very pleasant surprise at the vociferous support in a venue as unlikely as Fatullah. “They probably did not even imagine Afghan students are living in Bangladesh,” she exclaims.
Given the war-torn history of the nation and its conservative stance, it is a bit of a surprise to see so many women making the long trek to support their team in a fledgling sport in a male-dominated arena.
“We want to break gender discrimination against women,” says Mursal emphatically. “We have our family’s support to come here, that’s why we are here. I think it’s time to get over those fears. How long will we live with it? They (the Taliban) don’t even support these games – they say it is not Islamic or whatever. We want to show them we support sport.”
Fatima chimes in with, “Afghanistan is conservative, but the younger generation has the courage and the power to change those invalid ideas and beliefs and bring change in the country.”
Mursal can’t remember when a group of so many young women got together for a social event like this, and she has cricket to thank for it. “Sport brings us together. Here we are, different people from different ethnic groups, all together. We are mostly Hazaras here, but also Pashtuns and Tajiks,” she says, and Fatima concurs. “The university is a campus where Afghans from different districts and different provinces come together. This outing gives us a unique opportunity to encourage the team and participate.”
Mohammad Nabi, the Afghanistan captain, and Samiullah Shenwari, the legspinner, seem to be particular favourites with the girls. Shenwari’s name has been regularly chanted, since he’s in the middle of a match-turning 69-ball 81 with several hits to the fences.
Cricket has caught the fancy of the next generation enough to turn these men into youth icons, with Nabi, in particular, very popular. “Cricket is catching up as a sport,” smiles Mursal. “There are a lot of fans of cricket in Afghanistan now.”
Given the leaps of progress the national team is making, that can only increase. On Saturday, it gave many back home a chance to celebrate, and left 24 women with something more precious than the celebrations that broke out afterwards: the memory of being a part of history.
Niger's 'Remarkable' Progress in Reducing Child Deaths
2 March 2014
Niamey/Dakar — Niger has made remarkable progress in cutting under-five mortality over the past decade, and it looks set to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on reducing infant mortality rates by two-thirds by 2015.
But high maternal mortality, skyrocketing population growth and low government capacity are still impeding progress, say partners and health practitioners.
Child and infant mortality figures have dropped year-on-year for the past decade. The infant mortality rate - deaths has among children under age one per 1,000 live births - dropped from 133 in 1992 to 66 in 2011, according to the latest figures from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"This is an exceptional performance. If we compare this to others - like Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria - Niger has done much better," said Isselmou Boukhary, the UNICEF deputy head in Niger.
Part of this progress can be attributed to a government push, since 2006, to provide free healthcare to children under age five.
Particular focus was placed on addressing the biggest child killers (malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory diseases), giving women free pre- and post-natal consultations and Caesarean sections, and extending healthcare coverage in rural areas, with some 1,000 rural clinics set up in 2013.
The strategy has also involved efforts to reach at least 88 percent of children with vaccination campaigns targeting measles and other childhood diseases, and to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets to families.
Since the 1990s, major partners, including the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO), the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF, have increased their funding to infant health by 77 percent, according to the study Niger: A Countdown to 2015.
UNICEF channelled US$25 million on fighting child mortality in Niger in 2013, said Boukhary.
But while Niger is expected to meet the MDG for infant mortality, many challenges remain, he said, notably in women's health.
Healthcare fails to keep pace
Some 590 women per 100,000 live births die of pregnancy-related causes, and just 18 percent of births are accompanied by a skilled attendant, according to UNICEF's 2013 State of the World's Children report. "Without bringing this figure down, we won't make enough of a dent on child mortality," Boukhary told IRIN.
On average Nigerien women each have seven children according to government statistics. Government health structures are unable to keep up with population growth, which, at 3.9 percent according to UNICEF, is one of the world's highest.
The government built 1,000 new health clinics in rural areas in 2013, but that has failed to keep up with needs, said Oumarou Maigari, head of the doctors', dentists' and pharmacists' union (SYMPHAMED).
Further, while the elimination of healthcare user fees has had a huge impact on infant mortality rates, the system is facing problems, with many clinics in arrears as the state fails to reimburse their costs on time. According to Maigari, health centres are in arrears of $50 million.
After user fees were eradicated for under-fives health clinics provided drugs and care and then billed the state and await reimbursement, either in money or medicines.
But inefficient supply chain management creates payment lags. Many of the medicines are subsidized or provided directly by partners such as UNICEF, but even their efforts cannot fill the gap, said Maigari. "The state must re-stock indebted health clinics," he told IRIN.
The government reallocated $18 million to children's health in 2014.
According to Issoufi Harouna, the head of the regional hospital in the capital, Niamey, each day the hospital registers about 50 sick children and performs around a dozen C-sections.
Before, the hospital would have charged $45 to register a child, and a Caesarean section would have cost $167. Now, they charge nothing, but they do not recoup this money as quickly as they need to, said doctors.
To further reduce infant mortality, on top of addressing maternal mortality and improving health clinic performance, infant malnutrition prevention must be improved, said Boukhary. Over one million Nigerien children will be malnourished in 2014, predicts the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Malnutrition prevention efforts are being stepped up by the World Food Programme and others, but effectively preventing malnutrition involves not just eradicating healthcare user fees but also integrating disease prevention into nutrition monitoring and water treatment. Such integrated programmes are only being trialled on a small scale.
Still, with donors shifting their focus from treatment to prevention, malnutrition prevention progammes might soon see a boost.
And the government is finally starting to face up to problems associated with high population growth. It will soon hold a meeting to discuss the issue with UNICEF and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). "This was a taboo subject before, but there are more and more discussions about this," Boukhary told IRIN.
Short Film, 'Muallak' Portrays the Pain of Turkish Young Women
World Bulletin / News Desk
2 March 2014
Mustafa H. Ozturk's short film 'Muallak' highlights the drama many Turkish young women went through after the coup against former Turkish Prime Minister, the late Necmettin Erbakan on February 28, 1997.
The headscarf was banned from public places such as educational institutions. Thousands of girls were told they could not step foot into their schools again unless they removed their headscarf. Girls who had completed their studies were not allowed to attend their graduation ceremonies, while others chose to study abroad rather than remove their head coverings in Turkey.
Those who could not go abroad tried desperately to seek alternative routes to get around the system. Some resorted to wearing wigs in order to cover their own hair, while others resorted to cutting their hair so that it wouldn't be seen whenever they were forced to remove their headscarves.
Some opted to continue their education, turning up to the entrance of their school everyday covered, where they were pulled over to a sideroom and made to remove their headscarves in a humiliating manner. Others pulled out of the education system completely, opting to continue their learning in private institutes and madrassas.
However, as these institutes and madrassas were not certified by the state, and in some cases even illegal, an entire generation of young women in Turkey were held back from fulfilling their potential and pursuing their dreams. As much as this tortured the girls who were subjected to this treatment, the state of Turkey also lost out by obstructing some of the brightest young minds of the generation from contributing positively to their society.
Those who protested and breached the rules were escorted from their schools by security guards, arrested and even sentenced to prison terms. Merve Kavakci, a headscarved woman who was elected as a lawmaker in Turkey, was forced out of parliament on her first day on the job and stripped of her authority and citizenship.
With the announcement of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 'democratization packet' late last year, all restrictions on the headscarf in Turkey were finally and officially lifted. Today, young women in Turkey are free to work and study wherever they choose, and there are even four headscarved women in the Turkish parliament.