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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 20 Aug 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Yazidi Girl Held by Militants Tells of Abuse and Suicides in Secret Call

New Age Islam News Bureau

20 Aug 2014

Yazidis escaping from Islamic State militants in northern Iraq


 Yazidi Girl Held by Militants Tells of Abuse and Suicides in Secret Call

 Tanzania: New Era As Girls Are Rescued From FGM

 Hanifa's Story: Her Five Sisters Taken by ISIS to Be Sold or Worse

 Girls School Tries To Heal the Divide in Northern Nigeria

 Big Media Aids Vital Girls' Schooling in South Sudan

 Saudi Women’s Expat Husbands, Sons Granted Driving Exemptions

 Harassment Obstacle to Saudi Women Driving

 South Africa: Need for Bigger Role for Women in Media

 Helping Uganda's HIV Positive Women Avoid Unplanned Pregnancies

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Female Soldiers on the Hunt for Islamic State Kidnappers

Aug 20, 2014,

Jihadists believe being killed by a woman in battle bars them from heaven.

A crack unit of female soldiers is on the trail of Islamic State killers who have captured 3,000 innocent women in Iraq.

Thousands of non-Muslim women and girls have been kidnapped by Islamic State thugs on the rampage in the country over the past two weeks. They face the terrifying prospect of being forced into marriage, sold as sex slaves or shot if they do not convert to Islam.

Now, hundreds of women from the Turkish PKK (Kurdistan Workers' party) have crossed into Iraq to help push the IS fighters out of the north of Iraq, the Daily Mirror reports.

They are striking fear into the hearts of the Jihadist thugs who believe if they are killed by a woman in battle they will not reach heaven.

They are working with the Iraqi Kurdish region Peshmerga forces around the regional capital of Erbil and the Sinjar Mountains, where thousands from the Yazidi religious minority have been trapped by the rapid advance of Islamic State fighters.

"Our support is just as important for the Peshmerga as these US strikes — bombings alone cannot get rid of guerrilla groups," said Sedar Botan, a female PKK veteran commander. We will keep fighting until all of Kurdistan is safe."



Yazidi Girl Held by Militants Tells of Abuse and Suicides in Secret Call

20 Aug, 2014

DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – On a hidden phone and in secret phone calls, a Yazidi girl held with 200 others as war booty by Islamic State (IS/ISIS) militants near Mosul painted a tragic picture of girls being singled out daily as sex slaves, and some committing suicide.

Every day, IS  fighters visit the prison hall to pick out the prettiest for their emirs, said the girl, who is 24 and whose name is being withheld by Rudaw for her safety.

“Three to four times a day they visit the hall.  The girls plead with them for a bullet in the head to put them out of their misery,” she said in between sobs in a secret phone call to a Rudaw reporter.

She said that about 200 Yazidi Kurdish women were being held in a big prison hall near Baaji county in Mosul province.

Most of the captives are from the Shingal districts of Gir Azair and Siba Sheikh Khidri which came under sudden IS attacks in early August, said the girl, recounting how they were captured.

“We were in Gir Azair district where IS fighters appeared so suddenly that we were unable to flee. They started arresting everyone -- men, women and children. Later, they took us to Shingal County, where they separated women from men.”

“We were about 200 girls together. Later, we were taken by pick-up trucks to another location close to Baaj district,” she added.

According to information obtained by Rudaw from activists and Yazidi religious leaders, 2,000 Yazidis have fallen into the hands of the IS fighters and remain unaccounted for.

In weeping tones, the girl repeatedly gave the location of their prison, pleading for fighter jets to pound the place so they could all rest in peace.

“Every day the fighters come and look among us,” she said, hardly able to control her emotions. “They pick two or three pretty girls. When the girls return they are in tears, exhausted and humiliated. The fighters take the girls to their emirs, and the emirs assault them sexually.

One phone conversation was suddenly interrupted when she hurriedly whispered, “Hang up, hang up, they are coming.”

In another call she said that conditions, including the food, were bad. “So far, a number of girls have committed suicide. Today, one girl hanged herself with her headscarf and died,” she recounted, pleading for help.

“Rescue us, rescue us,” she begged. “Anyone who can hear our voice -- US, Europe, anyone -- please help; rescue us.”

The IS has especially targeted the non-Muslim minorities, with the Yazidis especially reviled by them as “devil worshipers” for their religious beliefs.



Tanzania: New Era As Girls Are Rescued From FGM

20 Aug, 2014

Introduction of alternative rite of passage training, with focus on war against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Tarime District has rescued a total of 1,319 school girls in a period of three years.

Behind this success story is the Tanzania Mindset Network (TMN), a non-governmental organisation which has been conducting its activities in the district since 2010.

TMN aims at helping the children, empowering youth, women and other marginalized groups to overcome social, cultural and economic barriers, hindering their development.

According to TMN Executive Director, Mr Cleophas Chacha the organisation jointly worked with Masanga Centre with the aim of ending all forms of discrimination against the girl child. These include FGM, child marriages and gender based violence. In 2013, the NGO trained a total of 450 girls.

"We plan to empower secondary students, once they have completed their studies, they can work on their own," he says. The Kurya have been practicing FGM for a long time and this is deeply rooted in their culture, he remarks.

Mr Chacha says that some clan members usually return to their home villages for circumcision and mutilation season which is usually in December after every 2 to 4 years or as determined by elders.

He says FGM is regarded as an open door for marriage. The practice is prepared by parents, publicly celebrated and accompanied by gifts, he says. "We have done youth sensitization and trained more than 600 girls and 44 teachers. The training has helped us form teachers' network and 120 school clubs," he said in an interview.

The trained teachers and schoolgirls who are now goodwill ambassadors in the district. They are using their time to disseminate information on the disadvantages of the harmful of FGM. "Girls are being mutilated because their brothers are also circumcised in the backyard.

If boys would go to hospital for circumcision instead of home, there would be no more FGM," he says. Despite providing training to more than 1,300 girls, establishing 120 clubs and a teachers' network, Mr Chacha says lack of office facilities such as computers for the storage of children and clubs' data is a setback. There is also the fear of witchcraft among members of the community.

To overcome the challenges the organisation plans to embark on community mobilization through art and sports, strengthening teachers' networking, parents' meetings and workshops. "We plan capacity building for village and ward executive officers.

By-laws to punish the perpetrators of FGM may be enacted. Also youth sensitization and establishing contact with religious leaders whom we believe can change the society is a possible strategy," Mr Mwita noted. He recommended both awareness and sensitization campaign during the international day for zero tolerance on FGM which is held on the 6th day of February each year.

"I request the government to write an official letter to schools and local government authorities about this campaign," he says. He urged the government to make amendment on the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, 1998(SOSPA), customary law for effective protection of girls against FGM.

He also advised the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to provide a free healthy environment for circumcision of boys. Mr Chacha expressed his sincere gratitude to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for supporting the training of teachers and pupils.

He thanked Tarime District Commission officials, police, Masanga Centre and the Children Dignity Forum. "We request the esteemed organisations to continue supporting us in this noble initiative," he said. Commenting, Rozalina Mwita a Standard Seven pupil at Remagwe Primary School says FGM is bad.

"I thank TMN for empowering me with knowledge. Now I know it is bad for girls to be mutilated," she said. Joyce Juma, Devotha Joseph and Veronicah Emmanuel from the same school, say they can speak with confidence on the disadvantages of FGM.

"We have convinced our younger sisters to change their mind on bad traditions, most of them have joined the campaign," says Devotha.



Hanifa's Story: Her Five Sisters Taken by ISIS to Be Sold or Worse

20 Aug, 2014

DOHUK, Iraq — When word reached Hanifa and her family that the fighters of the so-called Islamic State were approaching their village, they knew they would have to flee, and fast. The fanatics were coming on like a storm sweeping through the desert, and Yazidis like Hanifa’s family were the special targets of their hateful fury.

But Hanifa’s father is partially paralyzed, unable to walk, and diabetic. She and her mother and young brother rushed to get him in the car and drive him to the uncertain refuge of the mountain that looms above the town of Sinjar. Hanifa’s five younger sisters, aged 10 to 22, would follow as soon as they could gather their documents—their Iraqi IDs and ration cards.

When Hanifa reached what seemed a safe place on the mountainside, she called her sisters. But they were not behind her. They were not coming. “They said they’ve been taken by Daash,” as Arabic speakers call the group formerly known in English by the acronym ISIS. “They said not to come back,” Hanifa told me.

As President Barack Obama continues to ratchet up support for Kurdish fighters battling against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, hopes are raised that somehow the depredations wrought over the last few weeks can be reversed. But conversations with Hanifa and others like her among the refugees suggest there’s little chance they will return home again, or ever restore their families to the way they once were.

Hanifa and her father and mother and brother spent 10 days on the mountain, fearing for the girls, but powerless to help them. One of the sisters had managed to hide her cellphone, and for the first few days they were able to communicate sporadically. They said they were being held in a mosque in Tel Afar, and the men of the self-proclaimed caliphate were ordering them to forget their Yazidi faith, which dates back before Islam and Christianity to the teachings of Zoroaster.

Then the sisters said they were being held in a prison, possibly in the town of Badush between Tel Afar and the caliphate’s capital, Mosul. In the last conversation, now, several days ago, the girls said they had been told to convert to Islam or die. Hanifa’s sisters told her that other girls had agreed to do so, but they had not.  The oldest of the captive sisters was pretending to be the mother of the youngest girl, hoping they would be kept together. The other three teenage sisters were taken away, she said over her hidden phone. She did not know where they had gone. She warned Hanifa not to call, for fear the phone would be discovered. And then, there were no more calls. (updated)

Finally, Hanifa and her parents and brother escaped from the mountain as others did, along a path opened up by the YPG, the Syrian branch of the Turkish-Kurdish PKK.

Now Hanifa and those who are left of her family are living under a sheet tied to scrounged sticks in a dirt field. She sat on a large piece of cardboard as we talked. They had no pot to make tea—and no tea to offer. They have no documents. Their living conditions are among the worst for displaced people here, and there are hundreds of families like them in the fields around them.

“We don’t want food or money, we just want out daughters back,” said Hanifa’s mother.

Hanifa’s determination shows clearly in her handsome features and through her dark eyes, even when they are filled with tears. As the eldest sister she has played a huge role raising the other girls and her 12-year-old brother. It is hard to live in a family where the father is sick, and her father, here under the plastic sheet that barely protected us from the glaring sun, appeared very frail indeed. He had survived somehow for ten days on the mountain only to walk, and be carried, over 20 kilometers to this place of fragile refuge. “We have nothing but our children,” he told me.

As we talked, another woman sat down with us. Wahida is from the town of Hardan, on the northeast side of the mountain, where some 450 people were killed in one of the largest massacres to be reported. A Muslim Kurdish tribe from a nearby town actually helped ISIS carry out the attacks. Of Wahida’s family there, she said ISIS killed 19 boys and carried off two girls. In the first days after they were taken, she heard they were in Tel Banat, south of the mountain, but she hasn’t heard anything since. (updated)

The chances that any of the girls will be returned any time in the near future diminish by the day, and the possibility looms that they never will be seen by their families again.

Among the Yazidis who made it to relative safety in Kurdish-controlled territory, fact and rumour are hard to parse, but the stories of what has happened in the towns and villages they left behind are consistent in some basic, horrifying aspects.

In all, some 500 women and girls are believed to have been taken by the Islamic State. When the fighters attacked Yazidi villages and towns in Sinjar and environs the men were lined up and shot; the women were rounded up and trucked off. Some were taken to Tel Afar and Badush prison. Some were taken to parts of Syria where the caliphate rules as well. Most troubling are reports that girls are being sold as slaves in Mosul for $500.

Yazidis appear to be the only community whose girls and women have suffered this fate. They have been singled out because they are not monotheists—Muslims, Christians or Jews—considered “people of the Book.”

Alyas Saleh Qassim, a man who survived a massacre in the town of Kucho by playing dead, hiding under the corpses of friends and relatives, says the Islamic State fighters separated the men from the women and children, who were sent to a school, but he has no idea what happened to his wife and seven kids. “I want to die,” he told me. “What do I do without my family and children?”

Because so many men were killed, it’s almost impossible to know how many other women and children have gone missing. In some cases entire families have disappeared and distant relatives have no idea how to find them. In many cases, family members who managed to survive are scattered far and wide across Kurdish territory.

Now that Americans are ever more involved in the fight against the Islamic State, some Yazidis hope their girls may be rescued by military action. But that’s neither likely nor feasible, especially when women have been taken to Mosul or to Syria. For Hanifa and her family, only tears can begin to express their grief, and they flow almost all the time.



Girls School tries to heal the divide in northern Nigeria

20 Aug, 2014

The kidnapping of more than 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State in April by Boko Haram militants, and a so far unsuccessful high-profile campaign to free them, exemplifies the insecurity-driven education crisis in the area.

Since March all public schools have been closed in Borno State - one of the three states in the northeast hardest hit by the violence. The tragedy is that, according to a 2010 national literacy survey, Borno already had the sixth worst literacy rate for youths in any language out of Nigeria’s 36 states. What formal education currently exists in Borno has been through a handful of private schools that have kept their gates open.

One of these is a school for orphans and vulnerable children in Maiduguri, providing free primary education. What sets Future Prowess Islamic Foundationapart is the deliberate policy of its founder, Zannah Mustapha, to care for children from families on both sides of the conflict - Boko Haram and the security forces.

“We are trying to avoid a catastrophe,” said Mustapha, a lawyer, who has played a role in abortive mediation efforts between the government and Boko Haram. “We want the two sides of the divide to grow as friends, not a case of ‘You killed my father, you killed my mother, I must have revenge’. No. They must learn together. We are providing that security.”

The seven-classroom school delivers a blended curriculum of Islamic tuition, and the standard syllabus approved by the state education board, taught in English. Although Boko Haram is notorious for its rejection of “Western” education, and some parents (many of them widows) objected to what they viewed as “pagan” lessons, the school was able to challenge those beliefs.

“English is just a language, many British people are also Muslims,” said Mustapha. “And mathematics, how is that Western? It was invented by the Arabs.”

The five-year conflict has exacerbated the northeast’s historically bad social indicators. More that 42 percent of children are stunted by malnutrition (compared to just 16 percent in the southeast), according to the government’s2013 Demographic and Health Survey. The deep disruption of the local economy by the violence has worsened the situation, driving up prices and shrinking employment.

The school’s response has been a breakfast feeding programme for its 420 pupils. “It’s rice and beans or moi-moi [a bean-based sponge], something that can fill the stomach for some time,” said headmaster Suleiman Aliyu. “There is no way a child can learn properly on an empty stomach.”

It is funded by local benefactors, and “as a result of the programme a lot of parents are registering their children - not for the learning, but for the breakfast alone.”

A traumatized community

This is a community traumatized by violence - shootings, bombings and kidnappings by Boko Haram; retaliatory beatings, arrests and extra-judicial killings by the security forces. “We are serving as teachers and parents for the orphaned children,” said Islamic teacher Hassan Sharif al-Hassan.

“English is just a language, many British people are also Muslims. And mathematics, how is that Western? It was invented by the Arabs.”

“Many of them have no guardians at home. When they come to school we give them what they can use in their lives in terms of respect, in terms of behaviour. But it’s not a normal childhood. Sometimes you can ask a pupil why they are silent, and the child can start crying. Psychologically we can understand they have internal problems.”

Abubaker Tijjani is aged 14 and wants to be an accountant. But right now he would just like to have his father back, who died a year ago. “I’m sad about that, I miss him,” he told IRIN. “I’m not OK with life.”

A local hospital is providing monthly counselling sessions for the members of a widows’ association the school has formed. “People didn’t realize their symptoms of stress, high blood pressure, headaches, sleepless nights were related to psychological problems,” said Aliyu. ‘We’ve seen positive changes.”

The association’s revolving micro-credit fund also tries to provide some financial help with a little business capital. In the vulnerable households the children are out on the streets after school selling groundnuts, sweets and water.

The community has supported the school and some prominent people are sponsoring individual students. Mustapha has, according to the headmaster, ploughed much of his own money into keeping the school open. That has included building a fish farm that provides a measure of financial independence, helping pay teachers’ salaries, and providing the free uniforms and books the students need.

But aside from the US Agency for International Development recently agreeing to provide some desks, and the Swiss embassy paying for the trauma counsellor, there is no other outside assistance.

“International partners don’t often come here because of the insecurity,” Mustapha said. “Individuals can’t do what we need. We need institutions like the UN, UNICEF, to help.” (IRIN)




Big Media Aids Vital Girls' Schooling in South Sudan

20 Aug, 2014

The world's newest country, South Sudan, still struggles to end the internal conflicts that have marred its early life. This week, for instance, a deadline to reach agreement passed without success in peace talks between the warring factions. But nevertheless the country is still managing to make progress in the vital field of educating its young people.

And remarkably, one the world's leading broadcasters, the BBC, is playing a role in that effort.

Crucial to the country's new educational drive is GESS (Girls Education South Sudan) -- a program aimed at transforming the lives of an entire South Sudanese generation, and generations to come. (Pictured above: a South Sudan school with girl students participating in the GESS program.) The concentration on girls comes in recognition of now well-documented evidence that educating young women is one of the most effective ways to lift families and communities out of poverty.

Until now the odds have been stacked locally against such progress, not least by cultural values that downgrade the idea of girls' schooling. Traditionally only one girl in ten has completed primary education in South Sudan, and girls comprise just one-third of the secondary school population.

GESS is largely funded by the British government's overseas aid ministry, and the US-based charity UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) is co-managing the program in the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazai. They work alongside the deep-rooted local agency, HARD (the Hope Agency for Relief and Development) which was formed in 1995 at the height of the civil war that eventually led to South Sudan's creation as an independent nation.

In practicalities and logistics, resources available to local schools are being seriously ramped up -- everything from computer equipment to solar electricity systems to classroom chalk. There's been a boost, too, in recruiting and specialized training of appropriately skilled staff. "Sending women for teacher training clearly increases the number of teachers," says UMCOR's GESS Team leader Christine Meling, "and they in turn mentor and motivate girls to complete their education and achieve similar goals".

But perhaps the most creative hallmark of the program is the use of radio broadcasting to aid the overall effort. As in many other African countries, radio is for the vast majority of South Sudanese people the most accessible source of information, according to the country's first national media survey, conducted last year.

For the GESS program, 15-minute radio presentations (with production aided by the the BBC's international development charity, BBC Media Action, a group that's not exactly secret, but not exactly widely-publicized either) explore real-life village situations and dilemmas. They are used by a network of "listening groups" as a spur for discussion and mobilization of local communities who might not otherwise appreciate the value of girls' schooling.

Since March this year, the popular series Our School has been airing in five languages, portraying the lives of girls and their families as they struggle with, and resolve, the challenges of going to school.

In one episode 17-year old Stella Nyoka, who wants to earn a living as an engineer, says she appreciates school because:

"I need to help my family, my community and especially fellow-girls like me, and to see that girls go to school and learn -- instead of 'whoosh', straight into marriage".

And in an accompanying public service announcement, the availability of GESS funding is made clear ... but only after an everyday problem with school uniforms is addressed by two schoolgirl characters, Paite and Keji:

Paite: Oh, Keji. Today is only Monday, and already your school uniform is so very dirty.

Keji: Paite, don't give me a hard time about my dirty uniform. In our school, we have to sit on the floor as there are no benches. Our books are also very dirty like this. I am even starting to lose interest in school.

Paite: Oh, in our school, we have benches to sit on. Our school applied for a grant from the government. And it is our right as students to tell our teachers how to use this money.

The broadcast explains just how to apply for the funding, giving a toll-free phone number to call.

The GESS organizers are at pains to ensure an ongoing process of monitoring and evaluation for their program. As part of this UMCOR has helped to develop a comprehensive school-attendance recording system and encouraged its widespread adoption. Daily attendance is recorded and collated electronically in real time.

This monitoring innovation is already enabling the state education authorities to accurately assess the impact of the new effort. The GESS finance, in the form of what are known as "capitation grants", is made available to schools that report encouraging attendance records. The grants aim, says UMCOR's Christine Meling, "to improve the learning environment that will attract more girls in school and retain them".

Cash is also available to individual students, especially those from the poorest homes, to enable them to meet their essential needs like uniforms and shoes. As Meling also points out, "Girl children will also be motivated to attend classes since they will have the money to procure basic, yet so vital items such as comfort-kits, without which they can miss classes. Teenage girls have often missed classes for up to 5 days in a month because of their menstrual cycle. With the cash grants, this could be made a thing of the past."



Saudi women’s expat husbands, sons granted driving exemptions

20 Aug, 2014

RIYADH — Expatriates married to Saudi women as well as their children are able to obtain general driving licenses allowing them to man heavy goods vehicles without needing an iqama (work permit) that lists the holder’s profession as a driver.

Quoting a government source, Makkah daily reported on Tuesday that the Ministry of Interior’s decision aimed to enable those eligible to compete for jobs that require applicants to be the holders of general driving licenses.

He said before the exemption, the Directorate General of Traffic used to turn down the requests of foreign husbands of Saudi women and their children for general driving licenses.

A recent government decision allowed Saudi women to transfer the sponsorship of their husbands and children to them.

The decision also called for treating these husbands and their children in a similar manner to Saudi citizens in employment, education and health care.

They will be counted as Saudi nationals in the Nitaqat program of the Labor Ministry that aims to improve Saudization of jobs.

Under this arrangement, the husband will be listed as a "husband of a Saudi woman" on his iqama while her children will be listed as "child of a Saudi woman".

He said under normal traffic rules and regulations, an expatriate applicant for a general driving license should be the holder of a driving license from his home country.

Considering the difficulties facing foreign husbands of Saudi women and their children, the interior minister has given his consent to exempt them from the conditions of needing to be listed as a driver and holding a driving license from their home countries in order to be issued with a general Saudi driving license, the source said.



Harassment obstacle to Saudi women driving

20 Aug, 2014

JEDDAH — A recent study has concluded harassment is the biggest of five obstacles to women driving in the Kingdom. The study, prepared by Khadijah Bint Khuwailed Center at Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the other obstacles consisted of an increase in accidents, congestion, ignorance of the need for car maintenance and family problems. About 69 percent of the study sample believe harassment of women would increase once they begin driving and 49 percent believe that the number of accidents will rise. The study also showed that 56 percent of those aged 18 to 24 are against women driving and 23 percent of those who are for female drivers believe that only women over 36 should be allowed to drive.



South Africa: Need for Bigger Role for Women in Media

20 Aug, 2014

On 17 April 1954 the women of South Africa made their voices heard through the Women's Charter which strived for the removal of all laws, regulations, conventions and customs that discriminate against them.

The Charter made this poignant observation: "The level of civilisation which any society has reached can be measured by the degree of freedom that its members enjoy. The status of women is a test to civilisation."

This event and the iconic 1956 Women's March transpired at a time when local newsrooms were mostly white and male dominated. Therefore, it is doubtful that these momentous occasions received the media attention they deserved.

Since then, the country has come a long way. Today women enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts in relation to education, employment, property, inheritance and justice.

As the face of South Africa changed over the past 20 Years, women started to take their rightful place in Parliament, Cabinet, business and civil society. However, media were slow to follow suit.

Last year August, Media Tenor SA released its "A Woman in a Man's World" report that highlighted the perennial problem of women's voices being underrepresented in the media. It found that women were portrayed "less empowering light".

Many might blame the gender transformation of newsroom for these poor results. However, the "State of the Newsroom South Africa 2013" report released by Wits University's Journalism Department, states that the transformation of newsrooms have been significant.

The 2012-2013 findings from the nine newsrooms surveyed - CNBC Africa, EWN, City Press, Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Beeld, SABC, The Witness, and Sowetan - indicated that the 61 percent of journalists were black and there were near gender equality with 49 percent being women.

With regard to the editors, the gender split was 55 percent male and 45 per cent female. However, the picture changes when one looks beyond these nine newsrooms.

The Wits report quotes Peta Krost Maunder from The Media who had found that only 31 percent of main commercial newspaper editors were female. The Media also found that gender transformation at magazines was lagging far behind newspapers with very few black female editors.

Another hurdle for gender equality is at the top management of media houses where strategy is decided. Primedia Broadcasting chief executive Terry Volkwyn said the unequal representation in management and on boards of media houses means "issues championed by women and brought to the table are shoved aside".

To avoid this, gender transformation at all levels in media houses is critical. Women make up 51.3 percent of the population, therefore issues affecting women should not be pushed into a so-called "women's supplement" or the "women's pages". The stereotype that it is the responsibility of women's magazines to cover women's issues should be challenged.

It is critical that strong female voices break through the clutter as too often only male experts are quoted in media.

This is crucial in a society where we strive for gender equality and encourage the girl child to consider further studies in traditionally male-dominated field such as science, technology, engineering and construction. It is important for young women to hear strong and thought leader female voices who can serve as role models and instill in them the confidence that they can reach the top of any field.

Although gender transformation in media is an ongoing process, we as the descendants of those from the Women's Charter and 1956 March should never feel voiceless. We are empowered by social media and can broadcast our messages across the globe. A rural woman can now, through Twitter, tell the world about her challenges and achievements.

We can also learn from the Rural Women's Movement which founded the Moutse Community Radio Station in Limpopo Province. Community radio and television play a critical role in empowering marginalised communities. Through the Media Development & Diversity Agency (MDDA), government will continue to assist these communities to ensure we create media which reflects their needs and aspirations.

Although we as women have equal rights, the reality is that we still struggle to make our voices heard. We call on media to work with us to move the women's agenda forward, because "the status of women is a test to civilisation".



Helping Uganda's HIV Positive Women Avoid Unplanned Pregnancies

20 Aug, 2014

Barbara Kemigisa used to call herself an "HIV/AIDS campaigner". These days she would rather be known as an "HIV/AIDS family planning campaigner".

"We need to reduce unplanned pregnancies and the HIV infection rate in our country," Kemigisa told IPS during Uganda's first national family planning conference on July 28. "It's about dual protection."

Raped by two uncles from an early age, Kemigisa later became promiscuous. When she was 22, she discovered she was HIV positive - and two months pregnant. Her daughter, Kourtney, now five, was born negative. But the mother couldn't afford to buy her formula milk and, when she was just six-months-old, the baby tested positive, through breastfeeding.

Kemigisa, an informed activist who gets her ARVs the Infectious Diseases Institute at Mulago Hospital and works with KiBO Foundation in Kampala,never had any problem obtaining contraceptives.

The same can't be said for many young HIV positive women Kemigisa regularly meets.

"Health workers tell them 'you're positive, you're not supposed to be having children'," she says.

In the last decade, Uganda's modern contraceptive use among women has slowly increased from 18 percent to 26 percent.

Though low, this level of contraceptive use likely averted 20 percent of paediatric HIV infections and 13 percent of AIDS-related children's deaths, says a study. Expanding family planning services can substantially reduce child infections, it concluded.

This is crucial. Uganda's HIV infection rate of seven percent is steadily rising after a steep drop in the 1990s, when more than a quarter of the population was infected.

Uganda now accounts for the third largest number of annual new HIV infections in the world, after South Africa and Nigeria, according to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Turning women away

Contraception is the second pillar of preventing mother to child HIV transmission (PMTCT) but one that is often neglected although, at an average of six children per woman, Uganda has one of the world's highest fertility rates.

Women trying to cope with HIV also struggle to get the "right and correct information" on family planning, says Dorothy Namutamba, of the International Community of Women living with HIV/AIDS Eastern Africa (ICWEA).

"Information doesn't reach women living with HIV in their reproductive age," she says.

Women may face violence at home for being HIV positive and for using contraception, only to be further mistreated when they turn to health workers, says Namutamba.

"Some are told 'oh, this is best for you' and brushed off at the health facility," says Namutamba.

In the worst-case scenarios, some HIV positive women have undergone coerced sterilisation.

Namutamba says this may happen when the woman has a caesarean section or goes for family planning services: "They're told that this is the best for you as a HIV positive woman."

In Kenya, ICWEA and other groups have documented about fifty cases of coerced sterilization and will release later this year a report about similar cases in Uganda.

Because of discriminatory attitudes, "a large percentage of women are hesitant to share their status with health workers when they come to receive family planning services," Dr Deepmala Mahla, country director for Marie Stopes Uganda, told IPS.

Two services, one trip

Inadequate coverage, frequent stock outs of commodities, limited offer of contraceptive methods and lack of trained staff affect family planning services for all women in Uganda, says Dr Primo Madra, programme officer with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kampala.

But for women living with HIV, he says, the main problem is the time and effort required.

An HIV positive woman who goes to the clinic for a refill of ARV pills must line up at the HIV clinic and then at the family planning clinic, both likely with long queues. She may have to do two trips.

"Most often the woman will prioritise the ARVs," says Madra.

In a number of districts, the government and UNFPA are setting up "one-stop-shops" that offer both HIV and reproductive health services, and training health workers in the new system.

"This will enable a woman who walks into an ARV clinic to access all services more conveniently," Primo told IPS.

But, he adds, the nationwide rollout of one-stop-shops is constrained by lack of staff: "Many health facilities have vacant health worker positions and are overwhelmed by the patient load."