Archive for August, 2008

SIDA Conference Stockholm September 12 2008

Sweden’s Minister for Development Cooperation Mrs Gunilla Carlsson will launch Sweden’s Action Plan on Gender-based Violence in Development Co-operation.

Speakers include Lesley Abdela, recent GenCap Senior Gender Adviser to UN OCHA Chief Humanitarian Co-ordinator Nepal. See search engines at “lesley abdela”+”post conflict” or Wikipedia.

Conference subjects include:
• sexual abuse in conflict and post-conflict situations – why GBV tends to increase in many post-conflict societies
• gender-based violence due to harmful traditional or customary practices

For further Conference information contact

For the seriousness of the post-conflict gender-based violence visit:

Rape: Weapon of war (en anglais)

Resolution S/RES/1820 (2008) Women and peace and security

Many apologies for low number of postings over August. Just work overload, not even a holiday in rain sodden England!

To make up for this will be posting article headings and links to source, but it may be that in the intervening period some links will have become obsolete.

In the meantime UK and Ireland items are still being posted on womensgrid.

Deborah at women in london

When the National Women’s Studies Association formed in 1977, one of its founding members was the then-3-year-old Department of Women’s Studies in McMicken College of Arts and Sciences.

Thirty-four years and many shared experiences later, the department served as lead host for one of the largest NWSA conferences to date. About 1,500 feminist scholars and activists gathered this summer for an event titled “Resisting Hegemonies: Race and Sexual Politics in Nation, Region, Empire.” Keynote speaker was Patricia Hill Collins, a UC Professor Emerita who served as the Charles Phelps Taft Professor of Sociology in the Department of African and African-American Studies and as Women’s Studies affiliated faculty.

A social theorist, Collins’ research, scholarship and activism have examined intersecting power relations of race, gender, social class, sexuality and/or nation. That background meshed well with a conference theme of race and sexual politics chosen “because of the special need in Cincinnati to address racial, sexual and gender inequalities,” says Anne Sisson Runyan, Department of Women’s Studies head. “The historic democratic presidential campaign also made it important to focus on race and gender politics.”

The opportunity for faculty, students, staff and friends to present and be associated with such a successful conference “was great for our students, especially graduate students,” says Runyan.

At the time the department was forming in McMicken, Runyan was an early undergraduate in Canada, where women’s studies developed more slowly, she says.

“I recall the excitement of second-wave feminism even as a high-school student who started a women’s liberation club and went to my first feminist conference ( at Temple University ) when I was in high school,” says Runyan – who also got her first subscription to Ms. Magazine at that time.

“As someone who created and/or grew three women’s studies programs and a campus women’s center since the ’90s, I would say we have come a long way in a relatively short time in terms of the institutionalization of the field and such centers.”

Still, according to a recent NWSA study available on the NWSA Web site, among almost 850 women’s studies programs across the U.S., many still remain under-resourced ( and many still offer only undergrad minors ) “even as feminist scholarship in most disciplines has ballooned and become a central and considered cutting-edge mode of inquiry,” Runyan says.

She is very proud of “so much volunteer struggle bearing so much high level scholarship, program development and interdisciplinary legitimization.”

“It is important to note that women’s studies is also recognized for cutting-edge feminist pedagogy that was the mother of what is called today participatory learning, service learning and interdisciplinary learning,” Runyan says. “It is also the case that there is still a ways to go in terms of institutional support within the academy commensurate with the importance of the field to transforming so many other disciplines and education and support services more generally.”

Professor of English Deb Meem, co-graduate director for Women’s Studies, says the department has specific strengths in global/transnational feminisms and in sexuality studies.

“In fact, we are finding that prospective graduate students are seeking us out on the basis of these strengths even though we do not offer the PhD, but only the MA,” she says. “The recent NWSA conference here in Cincinnati gave us a real opportunity to showcase our faculty and students academically, and also to recruit future students to the MA program. It also allowed people to experience what Cincinnati has to offer – the city and the university are now significantly improved over the boycott days of six or seven years ago.”

In addition to plenary and small sessions and workshops, cultural events and feminist entertainment were featured. Adjunct English instructor Kathy Y. Wilson’s one-woman show, “Your Negro Tour Guide,” was staged, as was a concert by MUSE, the Cincinnati’s popular women’s choir.

Meem has sung with MUSE since the fall of 1988, and “it is the primary reason I have stayed in Cincinnati rather than moving on,” she says. “Not only does MUSE perform choral music of high quality, but the choir functions as a kind of ‘objective correlative’ for progressive folks in Cincinnati.

“In a relentlessly corporate-run, Republican city, MUSE represents the left at its best. It is also a place where a diverse group of lesbians and straight women and others who do not choose to identify either way coalesce around music, and social justice, and friendship. MUSE strives to create an intimate, direct connection with our audiences; we have our loyal longtime supporters, and are always working to expand our audience base through different repertoire choices. Our music director, Catherine Roma, is a person of unlimited vision, and MUSE’s 25-year success has hinged largely upon her creativity and intensity.”

The fact that women now make up the majority of undergrads and have reached parity in many professional and grad programs makes it all the more important to support women-centered education and support services, Runyan says.

“Women’s Studies itself and support services have also been transforming to focus on women ( and men ) in all their diversity – being the most conscious of gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality and physical ability differences that require a study of all these inequalities and services to reduce them,” she says. “This broadened agenda borne of intersectional analysis requires more resources.”

The results of recent public-opinion surveys conducted by the Canada West Foundation show that we need more women in politics to articulate the increasingly unique female point of view.

Is it a coincidence that issues women are most concerned about – health care, the environment, poverty and affordable housing – are exactly the ones to which the three levels of government have not been able to find durable solutions?

As a group, women prefer a more compassionate form of politics. Many women put social issues ahead of economic ones, turning their backs on parties that challenge the welfare state. Men, on the other hand, tend to place economic issues at the forefront, showing greater support for promises of deficit reduction, social program cuts and government downsizing.

Women and men have been sorting themselves along the left-right spectrum, with the result that their political preferences are becoming even more distinct.

Canadian public-opinion surveys show that this gender gap has been growing since at least the 1960s. At 15-20 percentage points, the differences for the most pertinent political issues have never been so large.

The results of the most recent Canada West Foundation Looking West Survey illustrate these gender differences. The survey found large gaps in the strength of support for a number of key issues. For instance, by a margin of 17 percentage points, women are more likely than men to agree that improving the provincial health care system is a very high priority.

Similarly, large gender differences show up in greater support on the part of women for doing more for the environment, and for reducing poverty in Canada. This trend was also found the year before among the residents of the West’s big cities when the Canada West Foundation asked urbanites about local issues.

The gender gap was largest for issues such as protecting the local environment, reducing homelessness and doing more to increase the supply of affordable housing, with women more likely to agree that these issues are “very high priorities.”

These gender differences are not themselves a problem, but the fact that women have less political influence than men (despite outnumbering men) means that women’s unique perspectives on political issues are not getting the attention they deserve.

How do we fix this democratic deficit? Getting more women elected to political office may help relieve the problem. While the attitudes of elected women do not exactly mirror the female electorate, the gender differences between male and female legislators are similar to those among the broader public.

Another approach to getting the unique opinions of women heard is to ensure that a larger number of them are represented at the highest levels of political parties. It is one thing to be a member of a party, but quite another to be solidly placed in the strategy rooms where the critical decisions are made.

Much of the onus here must fall on the current crop of party leaders and powerbrokers. Actively seeking out women and showing them that they are welcome in the upper echelons of the parties would be a good way to more fully integrate women into Canadian politics. Forcing women to repeatedly hit their heads on concrete ceilings until they eventually crumble is not the way to go.

The parties have a lot to gain from greater openness to women. More women than ever possess professional education and experience, and the parties stand to gain from this vast talent pool.

Looking to the women’s movement certainly brings little hope for support and resources. Across Canada, government funding for women’s groups has been reduced or discontinued. Since the cutbacks, some women’s organizations have been unable to raise the necessary funds to keep moving forward. This is a step in the wrong direction.

The role of individual women leaves more reason for optimism. Mothers talking about politics at home and more women running for office would be steps in the right direction. Female role models are critical to dispelling the myth that politics is an unnatural place for women. In a democracy, everyone should have the chance to be heard. On paper, Canadian women have this chance, but until women are more fully represented in the halls of power, their unique voices will be unduly muted and Canadian democracy will be the lesser for it.

Janine Marshall-Giles’s report on the gender gap in western Canadian public opinion, entitled What Women Want will be available for download from

The federal government needs to do more to address the root causes of violence against aboriginal women, says the Indian Affairs critic for the federal Liberals.

“Aboriginal women experience higher rates of violence. If that burden is going to be lifted, the socio-economic conditions and prosperity gap between aboriginals and non-aboriginals will have to be addressed,” said Anita Neville in a release.

She spoke as the National Aboriginal Women’s Summit wrapped up in Yellowknife. About 150 women attended the summit, which focused in part on violence against women.

“In order to make aboriginal women’s lives safe and secure, the Conservative government must implement measures to address its root causes, such as poverty,” said Neville.

Before the summit, Beverley Jacobs, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said the delegates would look at more than 140 recommendations on a wide range of issues – such as poverty, violence and justice – that came out of last year’s inaugural meeting in Cornerbrook, N.L.

Jacobs said she and other women are waiting to see whether the federal government’s apology for the impact of the residential school system was sincere.

After the summit, Neville agreed.

“On the heels of the residential schools apology, the Conservative government must commit to work with First Nations, Metis and Inuit women to end violence and achieve equality for all,” she said.

Jacobs also said she hoped the summit would provide a platform to gain the federal government’s attention on issues.

Neville said that earlier this month the Liberals joined with the Native women’s association to ask the federal government to host a First Ministers Meeting to discuss aboriginal issues and the renewal of the 2005 Kelowna Accord.

“There was enthusiasm and hope among aboriginal women’s groups when the Kelowna Accord agreement was reached because they were involved in the process, and it was the first time that they had a seat at the table,” said Neville.

A bridegroom on a popular Serbian television show brags how he slaps his bride now and then – with her mother’s approval.

The bashful bride acknowledges, while looking adoringly at her husband-to-be, that she can be lazy and disobedient and should be hit in the face from time to time.

The scene from 48-Hour Wedding, a reality TV show that sets up Serb couples for real nuptials, points to a less romantic issue in the macho Balkan society: spousal abuse.

Domestic violence is the most common kind of abuse in Serbia and every third women has been a victim, surveys of non-governmental groups say. Laws have been tightened, but lenient punishment and a patriarchal society remain hurdles.

“A slap in Serbia still isn’t regarded as beating. To slap a woman in the face if her husband is annoyed is considered OK,” Vesna Stanojevic of the Consultancy Against Domestic Violence told local media.

Many men in Serbia, unsettled by the nation’s defeats in the 1990s Balkan wars and crumbling moral values, believe women should stay at home and take care of their men and children.

“Of course, beating is out of the question, but a slap now and then – why not? She needs to know her place,” said taxi driver Pera, who declined to give his last name.

Most victims are believed to be among Serbia’s Roma population and Serb refugees who fled to the homeland during the recent wars. But the abusers can be found in all walks of life.

One woman spoke out to Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) about her dentist husband, refusing to give her name out of fear of another beating.

“Where can I go? Whom can I turn to? Nobody will believe me. He’s a well-respected dentist and I’m his sweet, good-looking wife,” she said.

“So I stay with him. Thank God I can’t have children, so he can’t hurt them,” she said. “But he hits me because I can’t give him sons.”

Advocacy groups believe women report attacks by the men in their lives in only one of 20 cases. There are no official data.

Vanja Macanovic of Belgrade’s Autonomous Women’s Centre blames lack of cooperation among state institutions, slow courts and women’s fear of their attackers.

In 78 per cent of domestic violence cases, a husband, ex-husband or partner is the source, the consultancy says.

And domestic violence was behind about 30 per cent of murders committed in Serbia in 2007, data shows.

The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights says Serb judges are often judgmental toward the victims and unlikely to remove culprits from the home or issue restraining orders. Usually, offenders get one year’s probation or a fine.

Women who go to court are liable to be faced with months of proceedings, with humiliating testimony to police and in front of a court and perpetrators who accuse them of “asking for it.” e Getting away from violent male spouses is also difficult. Serbia has only three safe houses for abused women, though more are due to be built.

In a country where democracy, rule of law and membership in the European Union are goals for more than 70 per cent of population, wife beaters are still considered macho men.

“I tried leaving home and finding a job, but he’d always find me,” the dentist’s wife said. “I tried fighting back but the last time I did that, he broke my jaw and left hand.”

“Now I try to stay away and hope that he’ll kill me the next time he hits me,” she said.,21985,24116743-661,00.html

Participants at an interaction demanded that a law be introduced to control domestic violence against women.

Speaking at an interaction organised by Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and Children in Nepal (AATWIN), they said the law against domestic violence was the need of the 21st century.

Presenting a paper on ‘Need of Law to Control Domestic Violence’, Shanta Sedai, an advocate, said, “Even in this age of science, women are struggling to establish their rights.”

Women participants said types of violence against women included abortion, physical torture during pregnancy, child marriage, prostitution, trafficking, sexual harassment in office, misbehaviour and murder over dowry dispute.

“Due to the lack of a stringent law to penalise the guilty, cases of domestic violence are increasing and impunity is on the rise,” Sedai said.

Patriarchal social system, lack of awareness, men’s control over financial matters, lack of employment and training and absence of women at the policy level are some of the factors that have caused a spurt in cases of domestic violence against women, she said.

Efforts were made in the past to introduce law on domestic, to no avail. Following pressure from NGOs and civil society, the then government registered Bill on Domestic Violence (Crime and Punishment) in the Parliament on February 22, 2002. However, with the Upper House dissolved on May 22, 2002, the effort got a blow.

Secretary of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Punya Prasad Neupane, said the ministry had submitted the amended Bill to the Parliament.

Speaking at the interaction, 19 women CA members called for the introduction of a law to check domestic violence.

Patna High Court has directed the NDA government in Bihar to initiate steps to enforce the Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha and Justice K K Mandal passed the order after hearing a public interest petition by senior advocate Shruti Singh on Wednesday.

Singh had complained that the delay in appointment of protection officers, creation of safe shelters, recording of incidents of domestic violence in prescribed format as also lack of awareness on the provisions of the Act were coming in the way of women who seek safety under the Act.

The state government had not framed the rules for effective implementation of the Act, he alleged.

The court further directed the state to appoint protection officers and service providers in every district of Bihar by November 30.

It ordered the state to make available one ‘safe shelter’ in each district for women affected by domestic violence, besides arranging programmes to train the police officers to handle the cases relating to domestic violence.

The Act came into force on October 26, 2006 with the objective to protect women from domestic violence such as abuse or threat of abuse, harassment of any nature like physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and economic.

Appearing on behalf of the Department for Woman and Child Development, Centre, its counsel Sanjay Kumar reasoned that the state governments must take immediate steps for implementing the Act to check incidents of domestic violence.

(Philippine Daily Inquirer Editor’s Note: Upon the request of readers, we are running the salient features of the proposed Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008. We asked its principal author in the House of Representatives to present the main points of and misconceptions about the bill*. We hope that this issue will help readers reach an informed opinion on the measure.)

The bill is national in scope, comprehensive, rights-based and provides adequate funding to the population program. It is a departure from the present setup in which the provision for reproductive health services is devolved to local government units, and consequently, subjected to the varying strategies of local government executives and suffers from a dearth of funding.

The reproductive health (RH) bill promotes information on and access to both natural and modern family planning methods, which are medically safe and legally permissible. It assures an enabling environment where women and couples have the freedom of informed choice on the mode of family planning they want to adopt based on their needs, personal convictions and religious beliefs.

The bill does not have any bias for or against either natural or modern family planning. Both modes are contraceptive methods. Their common purpose is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The bill will promote sustainable human development. The UN stated in 2002 that “family planning and reproductive health are essential to reducing poverty.” The Unicef also asserts that “family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology now available to the human race.”

Coverage of RH. (1) Information and access to natural and modern family planning (2) Maternal, infant and child health and nutrition (3) Promotion of breast feeding (4) Prevention of abortion and management of post-abortion complications (5) Adolescent and youth health (6) Prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, HIV/AIDS and STDs (7) Elimination of violence against women (8) Counseling on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health (9) Treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers (10) Male involvement and participation in RH; (11) Prevention and treatment of infertility and (12) RH education for the youth.

Strengthening of Popcom. The existing Population Commission shall be reoriented to promote both natural and modern family planning methods. It shall serve as the central planning, coordinating, implementing and monitoring body for the comprehensive and integrated policy on reproductive health and population development.

Capability building of community-based volunteer workers. The workers shall undergo additional and updated training on the delivery of reproductive healthcare services and shall receive not less than 10-percent increase in honoraria upon successful completion of training.

Midwives for skilled birth attendance. Every city and municipality shall endeavor to employ an adequate number of midwives and other skilled attendants.

Emergency obstetrics care. Each province and city shall endeavor to ensure the establishment and operation of hospitals with adequate and qualified personnel that provide emergency obstetrics care.

Hospital-based family planning. Family planning methods requiring hospital services like ligation, vasectomy and IUD insertion shall be available in all national and local government hospitals.

Contraceptives as essential medicines. Reproductive health products shall be considered essential medicines and supplies and shall form part of the National Drug Formulary considering that family planning reduces the incidence of maternal and infant mortality.

Reproductive health education. RH education in an age-appropriate manner shall be taught by adequately trained teachers from Grade 5 to 4th year high school. As proposed in the bill, core subjects include responsible parenthood, natural and modern family planning, proscription and hazards of abortion, reproductive health and sexual rights, abstinence before marriage, and responsible sexuality.

Certificate of compliance. No marriage license shall be issued by the Local Civil Registrar unless the applicants present a Certificate of Compliance issued for free by the local Family Planning Office. The document should certify that they had duly received adequate instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breast feeding and infant nutrition.

Ideal family size. The State shall encourage two children as the ideal family size. This is neither mandatory nor compulsory and no punitive action may be imposed on couples having more than two children.

Employers’ responsibilities. Employers shall respect the reproductive health rights of all their workers. Women shall not be discriminated against in the matter of hiring, regularization of employment status or selection for retrenchment. Employers shall provide free reproductive health services and commodities to workers, whether unionized or unorganized.

Multimedia campaign. Popcom shall initiate and sustain an intensified nationwide multimedia campaign to raise the level of public awareness on the urgent need to protect and promote reproductive health and rights.

There is a continuing campaign to discredit the reproductive health bill through misinformation. Straightforward answers to the negative propaganda will help educate and enlighten people on the measure.

The bill is not antilife. It is proquality life. It will ensure that children will be blessings for their parents since their births are planned and wanted. It will empower couples with the information and opportunity to plan and space their children. This will not only strengthen the family as a unit but also optimize care for children who will have more opportunities to be educated, healthy and productive.

The bill does not interfere with family life. In fact, it enhances family life. The family is more than a natural nucleus; it is a social institution whose protection and development are impressed with public interest. It is not untouchable by legislation. For this reason, the State has enacted the Civil Code on family relations, the Family Code, and the Child and Youth Welfare Code.

The bill does not legalize abortion. It expressly provides that “abortion remains a crime” and “prevention of abortion” is essential to fully implement the Reproductive Health Care Program. While “management of post-abortion complications” is provided, this is not to condone abortion but to promote the humane treatment of women in life-threatening situations.

It will not lead to the legalization of abortion. It is not true that all countries where contraceptive use is promoted eventually legalize abortion. Many Catholic countries criminalize abortion even as they vigorously promote contraceptive use like Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Paraguay and Ireland. The Muslim and Buddhist countries of Indonesia and Laos also promote contraceptive use yet proscribe abortion. According to studies, correct and regular use of contraceptives reduces abortion rates by as much as 85 percent and negates the need to legalize abortion.

Contraceptives do not have life-threatening side effects. Medical and scientific evidence shows that all the possible medical risks connected with contraceptives are infinitely lower than the risks of an actual pregnancy and everyday activities. The risk of dying within a year of riding a car is 1 in 5,900. The risk of dying within a year of using pills is 1 in 200,000. The risk of dying from a vasectomy is 1 in 1 million and the risk of dying from using an IUD is 1 in 10 million. The probability of dying from condom use is absolutely zero. But the risk of dying from a pregnancy is 1 in 10,000.

The bill will not promote contraceptive mentality. The bill does not prohibit pregnancy. Critics are mistaken in claiming that because contraceptives would be readily available, people would prefer to have no children at all. Couples will not stop wanting children simply because contraceptives are available. Contraceptives are used to prevent unwanted pregnancies but not to stop pregnancies altogether. Timed pregnancies are assured.

The bill does not impose a two-child policy. It does not promote a compulsory policy strictly limiting a family to two children and no punitive action shall be imposed on parents with more than two children. This number is not an imposition or is it arbitrary because results of the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey show that the ideal of two children approximates the desired fertility of women.

Sexuality education will neither spawn “a generation of sex maniacs” nor breed a culture of promiscuity. Age-appropriate RH education promotes correct sexual values. It will not only instill consciousness of freedom of choice but also responsible exercise of one’s rights. The UN and countries which have youth sexuality education document its beneficial results: understanding of proper sexual values is promoted; early initiation into sexual relations is delayed; abstinence before marriage is encouraged; multiple-sex partners is avoided; and spread of sexually transmitted diseases is prevented.

It does not claim that family planning is the panacea for poverty. It simply recognizes the verifiable link between a huge population and poverty. Unbridled population growth stunts socioeconomic development and aggravates poverty. The connection between population and development is well-documented and empirically established.

UN Human Development Reports show that countries with higher population growth invariably score lower in human development. The Asian Development Bank in 2004 also listed a large population as one of the major causes of poverty in the country.

The National Statistics Office affirms that large families are prone to poverty with 57.3 percent of families with seven children mired in poverty while only 23.8 percent of families with two children are poor. Recent studies also show that large family size is a significant factor in keeping families poor across generations.

Family planning will not lead to a demographic winter. UP economics professors in their paper “Population and Poverty: The Real Score” declared that the threat of a so-called demographic winter in the Philippines is “greatly exaggerated, and using it as an argument against a sensible population policy is a plain and simple scare tactic.”

The National Statistical Coordinating Board projected that a replacement fertility of 2.1 children per couple could be reached only by 2040. Moreover, despite a reduced population growth rate, the effects of population momentum would continue for another 60 years by which time our total population would be 240 million.

Humanae Vitae is not an infallible doctrine. In 1963, Pope John XXIII created the Papal Commission on Birth Control to study questions on population and family planning. The Commission included ranking prelates and theologians.

Voting 69 to 10, it strongly recommended that the Church change its teaching on contraception as it concluded that “the regulation of conception appears necessary for many couples who wish to achieve a responsible, open and reasonable parenthood in today’s circumstances.”

However, it was the minority report that Pope Paul VI eventually supported and which became the basis of Humanae Vitae.

Even 40 years ago when the encyclical was issued, theologians did not generally think that it was infallible. Monsignor Fernando Lambruschini, spokesperson of the Vatican at the time of its release, said “attentive reading of the encyclical Humanae Vitae does not suggest the theological note of infallibility… It is not infallible.”

Five days after the issuance of the encyclical, a statement against it was signed by 87 Catholic theologians. It asserted that “Catholics may dissent from … noninfallible Church doctrine” and that “Catholic spouses could responsibly decide in some circumstances to use artificial contraception.”

* Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay is the principal author of the proposed Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008.

There are increasing numbers of single mothers in Kenya. Is it a sign of growing independence of women, or a consequence of poverty and lack of sexual education?

Angelina Nandwa, the founder of the Single Mothers’ Association of Kenya (Smak), says both are true. “The phenomenon is universal and pervasive in Kenya. It is not confined to one class, age-group or region. The causes as well as the consequences of being a single mother vary.”

Nandwa set up Smak in 1991 to help single mothers. She herself was forced by her parents into marriage with a man 30 years her senior who she had never seen before. After four years and two children, she decided it was not the life she wanted to live.

“Kenyan parents do not accept daughters back in their home once they are married. My mother told me to go back to my husband and persevere as she had done with my father. But I wanted to take control of my life, even if that meant raising the children myself in hardship,” Nandwa told IPS about the motivation behind her work.

“I was pregnant when I became single and went to the Family Planning Association for advice and help. Soon, I joined them and was then selected by a German organisation for a course in Berlin to become a trainer of community workers myself,” Nandwa recalls.

Unlike most single mothers in Kenya, Nandwa is an educated, urban woman. After she got a German Development Foundation scholarship for training in community development, she returned to set up her own organisation. Now Smak has hundreds of clients who are provided help according to their need.

Ruth Njeri, a 20-year old domestic worker, is one of them. She had to leave school after getting pregnant and then moved to Nairobi from her village in the Nakuru district in search of work as her father refused to support her or the baby.

“I had completed my Form-IV (higher secondary) but after the child was born neither my family nor my school wanted me back. If I had wanted to study further at all, I had to go to a different school,” Ruth recalls. But the decision was not hers anymore, she says, as the child needed her. “I did not want the child after my boyfriend left me because he himself was still in school. But as a mother I could not abandon him.”

Nandwa says no one has collected statistics on single mothers. But there is data that points to their growing numbers. The Nairobi-based Centre for the Study of Adolescence estimates that up to 13,000 Kenyan girls drop out of school every year as a result of pregnancy. These young girls are often treated as outcasts by their families. Many migrate to cities where they face unemployment, health risks and malnutrition.

As a network of women’s rights NGOs in Kenya gains strength, the presence of single mothers as a significant group in society is being recognised, says Nandwa. “We have worked with mothers as young as 13 and widows as old as 40 years old. Their needs are different from each other and it takes a network of women’s groups to address them.

“Our financial and human resources are too small and the magnitude of the problem is too big. The best we can do is to pool our strengths through networking,” says Nandwa.

Health and education of young mothers are two key areas of such networking. As the main provider of health services, government hospitals work in partnership with women’s organisations. Dr Rupal Maru of the Kenyatta National Hospital, which receives cases of teenage pregnancy referred by organisations like Smak, says early motherhood entails more than just medical complications.

“Unmarried girls who become pregnant face three alternatives. She may marry the father; if she is in school, she most likely will drop out. The marriage as well as the pregnancy may be unwanted and soon result in divorce or abandonment, often experiencing societal disapproval and economic hardship. Or she may have an abortion, typically illegal and unsafe.”

If girls go through with the pregnancy, says Dr Maru, the risk of complications or of dying in childbirth are much greater than if she had delayed childbearing until physically mature.

Those who survive face livelihood issues. Nandwa stresses the importance of schooling and vocational training for young, outcast mothers. There are numerous projects, such as the Smak’s programme of informal schools, which provide opportunities for alternative education to girls who have been expelled.

“Schools in the formal system prefer not to readmit those who get pregnant while studying even though there is no law barring them,” says Nandwa. “Above all, young mothers become adults directly after childhood without the intervening phase of adolescence.”

A unique aspect of her organisation, Nandwa says, is that in addition to their work with young mothers they focus on what she calls ‘baby fathers’. She points out that there is a lopsided focus in the government as well as on the part of international donors on girl-specific initiatives.

“Male sexual education, awareness and employment skills are equally important. If we are to address the problem of teenage pregnancy and single mothers, boys will have to be given as much attention as the girls. Sadly, all the national and international funding is for girls-focused programme. Boys are being left out and it is showing negative results already,” says Nandwa, who thinks male youth are under more pressure and receive little attention for their problems.

She disagrees with this agenda. “The problem of single mothers, street children, prostitution and HIV/AIDS cannot be addressed in isolation from the male component of society. We’ll have to engage vulnerable people on both sides of the gender divide.”

Larger numbers of pregnant women living with HIV in Swaziland can now access services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus, but activists and health officials say more emphasis should have been placed on quality rather than quantity.

“The programmes are going well, but we have a lot to do to ensure quality of services – it is more than a matter of blocking transmission. The health of the mother, of the family, has to be linked to the care services available,” Dr Mohammed Mahdi, deputy director of the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in Swaziland, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Swaziland’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and EGPAF have been partners since 2003 in rolling out the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programme. “In Swaziland there are 154 sites providing PMTCT services; that is coverage of 71 percent, and this is quite encouraging. Government is intending 100 percent coverage by 2011,” said Dr Mahdi.

But deep-rooted prejudices toward people living with HIV and AIDS, and the customary second-class role of women in society, which persists despite new constitutional guarantees of gender equality, are proving troublesome. A mother often has to face the possibility of rejection by her family if she wishes to ensure her health and the welfare of her baby.

“Swazis are hard on a woman who is HIV positive … A woman has to choose between secrecy, and the health of her baby and her own health,” said Siphiwe Hlope, founder of Swazis for Positive Living (SWAPOL), an AIDS support organisation that was originally only for women.

According to Hlope, women often found it difficult to keep their HIV-positive status a secret. “Because of Swazi culture, it is not possible for her to hide her condition from her family. A man can take ARVs in secret; a woman is more exposed – it is because of the breastfeeding issue.”

In a communal, multi-generational Swazi household, a baby is often breastfed by more than one woman for up to two years. But in the age of HIV/AIDS, this practice is dangerous.

Government guidelines recommend that the mother exclusively breastfeed for six months; if possible, she should then provide formula-feeding.

“Depending on affordability and safety conditions, they can use formula, otherwise mothers are counselled to continue with breastfeeding but complement this with culturally acceptable nutritious local foods for the baby,” said Dr Mahdi.

To spread this message, health motivators counsel HIV-positive women during pregnancy. “If you stop breastfeeding earlier than six months and begin formula-feeding, the tendency we found is that the woman will mix breastfeeding with formula-feeding, which is dangerous in terms of transmission,” Dr Mahdi warned.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is also a UNICEF recommendation, as mixed feeding can damage the baby’s fragile gut lining, increasing the risk of infection. “The best available option for resource-constrained countries like Swaziland is exclusive breastfeeding for six months,” said Dr Mahdi.

But following such a regimen also tells the woman’s family that she is HIV positive. “At home, they would want to know why she is not allowing other women in the family to breastfeed her baby,” Hlope explained. “Secondly, she has to wean the baby after six months, and Swazis do not understand why the baby should not be breastfed for two years.”

Once a woman has been forced to disclose her status there is also the risk of partner violence. “The husband and the family say, ‘Oh, you are HIV positive, you brought this disease into our house’. There is still a stigma, and you can’t run away from that,” said Hlope, whose husband left her after infecting her with HIV, but blamed her.

“I would say Swazis are cruel to women who are HIV positive. They think a man cannot transmit HIV to a woman; that women are carriers of HIV/AIDS,” she said.

Hlope’s organisation, SWAPOL, has taken legal action on behalf of HIV-positive women whose homes and possessions have been confiscated by their husband’s relatives in retaliation for “bringing death to the family”, leaving the widows and children destitute.

Two-thirds of Swazis live in chronic poverty, according to the UN Development Programme, and many depend on the traditional social safety net provided by a supportive family for their survival.

Losing that safety by disclosing her HIV status is a dreadful prospect for a Swazi mother with nowhere else to turn. And yet, many Swazi women are choosing the health and safety of their child over possible ostracism and financial ruin.

The nation’s traditional social fabric is under pressure. Fifteen years ago, before the HIV prevalence rate in Swaziland grew to being amongst the world’s highest, infant mortality stood at below 100 per 100,000 live births; now, 120 out of 100,000 newborns die, despite the resources devoted to the AIDS battle.

Africa has a long history of migration. Persistent economic instability, fragile ecosystems, cyclical drought patterns, and civil wars and other types of conflict have propelled people from their countries of birth. Currently, more than 16 million Africans are classified as migrants, and their numbers are increasing. In particular, South Africa has the largest number of foreign-born persons (excluding irregular migrants).

Southern Africa has the highest rates of HIV-infection in the world. UNDP estimates of HIV prevalence indicate rates of almost 40% in Botswana and Swaziland, around 25% in Zimbabwe and over 20% in South Africa. Malawi (14%) and Mozambique (12%) show lower rates of infection.

Some experts assert that the rapid spread of the infection in Southern Africa over the last decade can be attributed, among other causes such as poverty and economic marginalization, to population mobility, and that there is a higher rate of infection among migrant communities.

Migrants are regularly separated from their partners and many engage in short-term sexual relations with others as the migrant lifestyle creates opportunities for wider social networking.

In a recent survey conducted by IOM, the levels of knowledge around HIV and AIDS were uneven in SADC, with traders from Malawi and Mozambique showing worryingly low levels of awareness. The survey showed that migrants had lower levels of knowledge about HIV/AIDS than non-migrants.

The study also revealed an extremely low level of condom use in sexual relationships. Over 60% of the women in the domestic workers survey had never used a condom in their lives. This compares to 40% of construction workers and female cross-border traders.

Finally, mobile populations are more difficult to reach for post-infection treatment and commonly return to live with family members to obtain care or may migrate to obtain medical attention. This can involve cross-border movement to a country perceived to have better health care facilities.

Women are increasing in numbers among Southern Africa’s migrant population. Women encompass 37.4% of regular migrants from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to South Africa, and their numbers are increasing.

In addition to the fact that women are biologically at greater risk of infection than men, gender discrimination hinders women’s ability to access information and testing related to HIV/AIDS or negotiate the use of protective methods, further increasing their vulnerability. This is compounded by gender-based violence, abuse, coercion, trafficking, sexual exploitation, prostitution and forced marriage.

Women migrants are more likely to be disadvantaged by the migration experience than their male counterparts, increasing their risk of HIV/AIDS even further. They suffer violence, overt hostility, social exclusion and exploitation. Women most often work in the informal trading sector or domestic work, which subjects them to poor working conditions and low pay, sometimes forcing them to resort to sex work to supplement their income. Female farm workers, who often outnumber men as seasonal labourers on some border farms, have been known to exchange sex for food, jobs and accommodation.

Extremely little research has been done regarding women, migration and HIV/AIDS, but all evidence points to an increased risk of infection as more and more women choose migration as a livelihood option. The most alarming element is that just as migration has increased the spread of HIV, HIV/AIDS itself has increased population migration – perpetuating a dangerous cycle.

People living with HIV migrate to obtain care from health facilities or relatives, AIDS orphans migrate to live with relatives or seek income-earning opportunities. Death or debilitation of household or community members can lead to a decline in agricultural productivity and food security, creating pressure for out- or rural to urban migration. Skill gaps and shortages from high death rates create the need to replace workers with migrants. Finally, those diagnosed with HIV or those displaying physical symptoms of AIDS migrate to escape stigmatization by their community.

The link between HIV/AIDS and migration is receiving increasing attention from academics and policy-makers, but still remains acutely under researched. The research that does exist is also focused overwhelmingly on males.

The case study ‘Gender, Remittances and Development: Preliminary Findings from Selected SADC Countries,’ published by UN-INSTRAW and the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) highlights the fact that research into HIV/AIDS and migration is inadequate and that research into the gender dimensions of female migration are almost non-existent.

As more women join migratory flows, their risk of exposure HIV/AIDS increases, and the situation can only worsen. This issue urgently needs the attention of researchers, policy experts and law makers.

For more information, please contact Valeria Vilardo at