Full Frame CCTV Interview – Sept. 2015

Ending child marriage interview

My appearance on Full Frame CCTV with Mike Walters talking about ending child marriage…

Thanks Mike and the team @ Full Frame for such a wonderful experience

Jane

Transcript

Mike Walters

This is shocking. 700 million of the world’s married women were wed before they turned 18. That’s according to UNICEF. This means that twenty eight girls are entering into child marriage every minute worldwide; some 15 million girls per year. Tragically some are as young as eight years old.

Two of the regions where child marriage is most common are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. So as a result of these unions in countries in those regions the leading cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is pregnancy and childbirth. If nothing is done to prevent child brides from being forced into marriage, 1.2 billion girls will be at risk by 2050.

Jane Sloane is fighting to protect the rights and dignity of child brides and hopes to see an end to these practices in her lifetime. The vice president of programs at Global Fund for Women, her organization has funded 241 organizations in 53 countries that are all working to end early marriage. Today she’s here to share what can be done to change these startling statistics. I want to welcome you to Full Frame Jane.

Jane Sloane
Thanks very much. It’s great to be here.

Mike Walters
I always say that people who have purpose driven lives, they’re like candles, something or some thing ignites that candle and in your case it was Nelson Mandela. Tell us the story.

Jane Sloane
Yes, I had a day with Nelson Mandela in 2000 just before the Olympic Games actually, and he said to me, “Jane if you really want to make a difference in your life you should focus on conflict resolution and citizen lead change.” That really took me in the direction that I am now focused on which is really fighting for the rights of women and girls, worldwide.

Mike Walters
People don’t focus on this one. It’s tragic and it’s widespread, isn’t it?

Jane Sloane
it’s very widespread and in countries like Niger in West Africa seventy-five percent of girls under the age of 18 are married off early and in places like Ethiopia, girls are actually initiated into a practice where, if they’re eight or nine, they’re taken out and they’re taught how to handle a man and then they are brought a man who they don’t know at all and they are forced to have sex with him and then after that they are considered to be a woman and so within two years of that early practice they are married off and then expected to really serve that man for the rest of their life.

Mike Walters
And you’ve met some of these girls along the way undoubtedly, what is it like? I mean it’s so tragic, because you think of a life having an arc to it. Their life is over at a very young age. I mean it’s already predestined isn’t it?

Jane Sloane
It is. if you can imagine a girl of nine or ten years old who really doesn’t know anything other than her family to suddenly be married off, often to an older man, to imagine herself being in a very different household where she is expected to serve his every whim and to not have any access to an education, to not have any other life other than serving within that household, within that environment. It’s a really tragic waste of life for a girl.

It means that she no longer has the opportunity of an education, of any kind of job or livelihood, her dreams are lost in that situation. It really means that if we look to your earlier statistic, if we’re looking at 2050, 1.2 billion girls will be in this situation.

Mike Walters
As a parent you know I always think I want what’s best for my kids. This clearly, to most of us would think that this is not what’s best, so talk to us about all the different things that kind of flow into this.

Jane Sloane
Well seventy-five percent of families who do marry their children off early, particularly girls, are living on less than $2 a day, So poverty has a lot to do with decisions that parents make to marry off their daughter or their son.

Often it’s also because of a debt that a family will have, where it’s easier to marry off their daughter than to pay back their debt, than to do anything else. Sometimes it’s because of the honor that parents feel towards their daughter, they want to keep her safe and so they feel the best way to keep her safe is to marry her off early, so that she isn’t violated, she isn’t raped.The irony of course is that girls who are married off early are twice as likely to be violated or to be abused within that marriage, so even though parents will often see it as a safe way of ensuring that their daughters are protected, often they’re actually doing the opposite.

The other thing is in countries like Bangladesh, which has the highest rate of girls being married off under the age of 15 it’s compounded by the level of natural disasters there’s constant natural disasters and so parents again often panic at that time because of lack of access to food and water and would think the best way that they can get some income for the rest of their family or ensure that their daughter has food and water is to marry her off at that time and with the increasing number of natural disasters and climate change impact it means that situation is really playing out in many countries around the world.

Mike Walters
You know it’s interesting, I’m sure when you entered this field you were like I’m gonna go attack this but I’m sure you must have come in with some idea of what the situation was like and what were the things that you saw outside of that scope that really surprised you.

Jane Sloane
The love that parents have for their daughters and sons; I think that it’s very easy to be judgmental about ‘how can they possibly marry off their daughters at such a young age?’ and yet they are very complex feelings and beliefs and reasons for marrying off girls quite early.

Also though I would say the tenacity of girls to try and fight that situation and of course that’s what we really focus on. We focus on supporting girls and women to realize their rights to understand that they have rights to claim and how to be able to fight against that practice and one of the most effective ways to do that is to support women’s groups and groups of girls to be able to lobby community chiefs and people within their villages or communities to agree to not marry off a girl early.

And one example I can give of where that’s worked really well was there was a girl in one village that we were supporting and she had a disability. She had a leg that had been badly burned from a cook stove and her father wanted to marry her off because he saw her as a real burden on the family and felt it would be better to marry her early.

Her friends who knew how much he wanted to go to school brought together everyone within the local community to the family to the household and gave the father all the reasons why it was better for his daughter to go to school rather than for him to marry this girl off. He came up with a lot of reasons including; well she won’t be able to walk to school, there’s the problem of transport and one of the girls said that they would put her on her bike and carry her to work each day and that’s actually what ended up happening.

I mean the irony was his daughter was actually walking as far every day to deliver this man lunch every day, but he really felt that it would be better for her to be married off. In the end what happened was he agreed to the wishes of this girl group, he agreed to the wishes of the community and to this day she’s being “donkeyed *” to work every day on the back of this bike and she’s now got a dream of becoming a doctor when she finishes school.

So it just shows the power of girls and I think that rather than girls feeling that decisions are being made on their behalf, when girls feel that they have their own power to claim it makes a huge difference in terms of what’s possible and of course that needs to be coupled with advocating for changes at a national level and getting governments to change laws at a national level as well.

Mike Walters
We were talking about the ages of these young girls. I can’t imagine for a minute a little girl like these that you’re describing, being pregnant, having to deliver a child and this is a real issue as well the health concerns can you talk to us about that?

Jane Sloane
Yes, you can imagine a girl of nine or ten not really knowing very much about sex, being penetrated the first time, getting pregnant at the age of nine or 10, giving birth, if she actually gets through a pregnancy of course, because the rate of girls dying in pregnancy is one in five for any girl under the age of 15, so that’s very high. But even if she gets through pregnancy, she faces a lot of health issues over her time. It might be fistula, it might be any number of other disorders both physical and psychological,l because girls just aren’t psychologically prepared to be able to either carry a child or to even be a mother at that age. As well and of course if they don’t have access to sexual and reproductive health information, they don’t know how to be able to protect themselves. So by having access to those services what we say at Global Fund for Women is this:

Four things that we really need to do to be able to support gender equality and girls empowerment.

One is for a girl to know her rights,

The second is for a girl to be able to access resources so that she has the information and the support that she needs,

The third is to be able to influence and change community attitudes and behavior and that’s often the hardest thing to change people’s mindsets,

And the fourth is to be able to change laws and legislation.

The laws and legislation aren’t just about passing laws which is what happened in Ethiopia earlier, and now in Bangladesh, it’s then ensuring that those laws are implemented because quite often you can have a law that says we make it illegal for any girl to be married under the age of 18 but often those laws also have a rider that says ‘except at parents discretion’ and it’s often parents discretion or parents paying bribes to local community chiefs that means that those girls are married off as young as nine or ten or their birth certificates are changed.

Mike Walters
Not just that they’re second class citizens that they have no rights in many respects. What does it do to you when you’re thinking about your day in approaching your day every day trying to change this?

Jane Sloane
I think it speaks to the power of women because Global Fund has supported groups, women have ended civil wars women who have become Nobel Peace Prize winners as a result of a dream that a woman has had.

One woman’s dream has become an incredible reality if you think about what Malala has done, if you think about Wangari Maathai you had a dream to have a greenbelt movement that ended up planting millions of trees. If you think about Leymah Gbowee, she had a dream to end the civil war in Liberia. She managed to do that with many other women who we supported to get the first president woman president of Liberia elected.

All of that because we believed that they believed in their own power of dreaming, and I think that’s an incredibly important thing to hold onto. That you trust women, that you trust girls to know what’s needed and that we find the funds at every level to be able to make that dream a reality and that’s what I hold on to in my work. It’s so important to believe in one girl because if you can believe in one girl then she’ll make the most incredible things possible and I think that we have to do so much more to really recognize what happens at a grassroots level when we get not just money into the hands of those girls but also give them a voice, lift them up to be able to speak for themselves and they’ll do the most incredible work as a result.

Mike Walters
One final question before we go, Nelson Mandela, that linkage to you that he changed your life and you know that you’re changing lives what about his legacy through you and through all these other people that you’re touching.

Jane Sloane
Well I think the most incredible thing about Nelson Mandela is that he really recognized what it was like to be in someone else’s shoes. That whole idea of ‘I and Thou’, ‘you are me and I am you’ and that we are all connected in a very powerful way and once you really embrace that idea, once you recognize that there is very little difference between us then a lot of prejudices a lot of barriers fall down and it means that a whole other world is possible and that’s his great legacy to us that great hope, the belief that you can actually change the world. And I think we have all got that ability within us.

Mike Walters
Well we certainly know you are doing your part, so thanks Jane for coming in and talking to us. We appreciate it.

Jane Sloane
Thanks so much.


* Donkey, regional word that belongs to the realm of childhood. If a kid gives someone a lift, as a passenger, on a bicycle, in most parts of Australia this is called a dink or a double. In parts of Adelaide, however, it is called a donkey. Do kids still give dinks or donkeys, or are these words that are on their way out of Australian English? Donkey, however, is an important part of the history of South Australian English.
courtesy ABC Adelaide Blog – Top 10 SA phrases and words

Letter from Uganda

I’ve just been in Uganda in East Africa, a country bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the southwest by Rwanda, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to the south by Tanzania.

Jane Sloane / PWABC - Uganda

 

This is a country that has the distinction of being the world’s second most populous landlocked country after Ethiopia. It is home to a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, one of Africa’s Great Lakes and once thought to be the source of the Nile.

It’s also a country where less than 10% of the land that can be owned in this country is owned by women. According to a report by The Forum for African Women Educationalists, (FAWE), Uganda tops the list in Africa of the number of child marriages with 40% of girls marrying before the legal age for marriage which is 18 years. A report by the Population Secretariat states that 300,000 girls get pregnant prematurely each year.

One of the groups supported by Global Fund for Women is Pastoral Women’s Alliance to Break Cultural Chains (PWABC) which was established in 2003 in Kiboga District in northwest Uganda. With a membership of over 2,000 women organized into 13 village groups, the network advocates for pastoralist women’s socio-economic and political rights by reforming cultural practices and traditions that discriminate against women. The group works with male community leaders and elders to advocate for women’s rights and cultural reform at the community level. It also mobilizes and trains members on women’s rights and links members with lawyers, law enforcement and local government departments to shift attitudes and change laws.

One of our advisors in Uganda, Debbie Serwadda joined me on this trip and we left Kampala to travel a few hours through rural villages until we arrived at PWABC’s office.

As we gathered with core members of the group in their office, I remembered Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee’s words at the African Grantmakers Network forum in Tanzania a few days earlier, when she said “The ten year old African girl, rural or urban, is who we need to focus on.” If we don’t pay attention then these girls’ lives play out in a depressingly similar trajectory.

Take, for example, Sylvia Nalwada who had her first baby at 15 when she was a fifth grade primary school student in Kayunga District, Kampala, Uganda. The father was a 27 year old man. Sylvia’s parents reported the case to the police and the man was arrested. Then the man’s parents visited the police station and convinced the police to release their son after a few days. Sylvia was left literally holding the baby, single and in deep poverty, while the father ran free. In other cases girls are kidnapped and forced to marry.

PWABC is working to change this trajectory. The group started in 2003 by working with elders and convincing them of the reasons why the practice of forced marriage and girl kidnappings had to change. The group’s Deputy Director, Dusabe Teo, shared the organization’s genesis with me and showed me photos of herself with a smashed face and black eye that was inflicted by her husband when she started PWABC with some other women.

“Men were working to break our character and to undermine our rights as women and we women wanted to change that. A man talks once and if you don’t listen to him and he talks again then you know you will be beaten. We wanted to change a situation where a woman kneels for the man as God and serves him chicken and eggs and everything nutritious while she is denied this. We wanted girls and women to be valued rather than treated as slaves.”

In Western and Central Uganda many marriages are by abduction. Even if a girl is under 14 and a man is 70 or older the marriage can take place as long as he has cows to pay the bride price. Also cows trump education. Given that cows are regarded as infinitely more valuable than a girl and her education, a girl is often required to forgo an education in order to tend the cow.

In the beginning with PWABC it was ten women who started sensitizing other women, and soon a man joined them in this work. “It was not easy,” said Dusabe, “since many people said ‘you young girls, what are you doing! Just because of some education you have an idea that we’re doing bad things.’ These people in the community thought we had been brainwashed and they were furious that we were challenging their traditions. Most elders and other men first looked at us as becoming unruly!”

The women ramped up their work by engaging girls and women to ‘sensitize’ them of their rights and men to the law and the impact of their behavior. The women in the group started supporting young women who were at risk of being kidnapped and also sensitizing men who wanted to marry girls, including men who practiced polygamy and men who were HIV positive. PWABC wanted to address the reality of girls forced into marriage and forced to pleasure multiple sex partners, then having a high risk of becoming HIV positive.

These PWABC women also worked to support women who had been violated and to challenge men’s belief that it was their right to buy, batter, rape and violate women. Mugabe Herbat Jordan, a teacher, also joined the group after continually witnessing his mother being beaten and after his sister was abducted. “I felt a pinch in my heart, and that we were all diminished by these cultural practices and I wanted to work to change this.”

“Now,” Dusabe says, pointing to a man in the group, “my husband is one of our advocates. He too has changed…It’s not easy for male leaders and community members to join us as these harmful cultural practices run deep. But they could see the effect our work was having in our community and so they decided to support us.”

Today, a whole infrastructure of processes is in place to ensure that girls’ human rights are upheld. This includes an oversight committee that deals with any charges or instances of domestic violence or forced marriage or polygamy. It involves custodians of culture, elders, teachers, paralegals and men in positions of authority being strong advocates for girls’ and women’s rights. In this community this includes a police commissioner who has put in place a process to hold government officials to account for ensuring that they enforce the laws of protection for girls and young women and with harsh penalties for negligence and bribery. It includes the election of young men to counsel other men and tell them the benefits of girls staying in schools and also about their accountability to the group if he or any member of his family seeks out a girl for sexual activity. Young women are also elected to mobilize other young women to be aware of their rights and the power of education.

“Global Fund for Women made this possible,” said Dusabe. “You were our first funder. You gave us our second grant. You gave us our third grant. It wasn’t until after our third grant that the group was able to attract the interest and support of other funders both within Africa and globally. Now we have eight paid staff including a security guard, a counsellor for HIV positive women and children, an accountant, three project officers, an administrator, a paralegal lawyer and many volunteers. Our focus remains on the girl child in the very poor rural villages of Rukoola Bushland, Kisagai and Nsala Nsozi “Mountain” areas, Kasejjere Forests and other villages that are difficult to access and where harmful traditional practices have deep roots.”

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_20150616_081838256_HDRWe left PWABC’s offices and headed down a dirt track toward one of the villages to meet some of the community members involved with PWABC. One elder joined us in our vehicle. He is the embodiment of accompaniment and he is there to give his support, as much in presence as in voice. He has been convinced by this work and is a strong advocate for it. “We need the vital confidence of elders,” says Dusabe. “When elders talk, people listen. When elders listen to girls, people listen to girls.”

This dirt track was the only track leading from the village to the nearest hospital. Beyond the violence of early marriage, many girls and young women have problems giving birth because the hospital is so far away and the very basic facilities don’t allow it to cater to complications.

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_20150616_070208806One of the women elders spoke of the consequences of this situation. “My sister died in childbirth in 2012 after she went into a complicated labor at 2:00am in the morning and she died enroute to the hospital.” PWABC secured some funding to create a ‘People’s Ambulance’, a contraption similar to a motorized pedi-cab with a mattress attached so the woman in labor can position herself in the most comfortable way possible. She is then transported to the hospital on the deeply rutted tracks that serve as the tributaries to these communities.

We finally arrived at the local community and many women, men, girls and boys were on hand to greet us. We walked up an incline to a meeting place where there were drummers and dancing. The kind of dancing where everyone is jiving. The beat was infectious and, to the delight of the community, Debbie and I joined the group in clapping, turning, bumping and singing. After some time everyone quieted and Debbie and I were given seats for the formal meeting to commence. Then some of the male and female elders of the community spoke including another Jane, Ms. Jane Kacuiculi, Chairperson of the Board and Mr. Mugabe Herbert Joram, field Coordinator and Paralegal Lawyer.

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_20150616_091601951_HDR“We are a strong community of women and men who came out to fight and transform practices that defile girls and women and deny our human rights,” Jane said. “Men have joined hands with women to reform culture and affirm girl child rights. We have worked to end cultural practices that marginalize women. These practices include lack of access to land and ownership of land, sexual ownership of girls and young women by men in the community, and a belief that girls are unimportant and must be submissive to male desire and need.”

“In our culture, whatever a girl or woman has is for the man, whether it’s cows, goats, money or land. When you are about to give birth you are sent back to your father’s home so that he can send you back both with your child and with a cow for your husband.   Women become like children in their own homes, as they are passed between husband and father who determine their behavior and their rights. Women become commodities for their husbands to dominate and order as they please. Instead of a girl studying at aged 14, she is locked into a bride price. She is forced into marriage and often gets pregnant soon after which often causes complications and sometimes death.”

We then heard testimony from women and men as to the level of change PWABC had helped to make possible.

20150717-Jane-Uganda IMG_1279One of the men in the group was a man called Teddy Kyeye, a Government Official who had previously said “Sex is like a Cup of Tea among us pastoralists. There is no way a girl can reach the age of 16 before having sex.” He added that sharing a wife is considered normal in pastoralist culture. One pastoralist confessed that he had sex with the wife of his son shortly after their marriage as he wanted to see what the bride price had bought his son. Kind of like testing the stock after purchase to ensure it was a good deal. Except in such cases it is an old man raping the girl who has been forced to marry his son. Now Teddy Kyeke and the other men at the meeting no longer do this and they are strong advocates for cultural change. He has joined other men in the community who are standing up for women, no longer beating women, no longer controlling women, and advocating for the rights of women and girls.

PWABC has been focused on shifting attitudes and behavior and it has been equally focused on increasing economic opportunity and security for girls and women. “We have many practical ideas about what we can do to generate income and we need capital to make these ideas a reality and, in other cases, to access to markets to connect the creator to the buyer.” The group established Balissa House to provide training in business skills and PWABC also established Balissa Farm as a demonstration farm to be able to support women to become self-sufficient through access to small plots of land. Women are now using milk from cows to make ghee and cheese to generate income and with the hope of creating social enterprises. They are also involved in group savings programs to invest in group projects.

And there is the desire to diversify and increase income streams in the time ahead. As Dusabe explained, “These women also make beautiful textiles and handicrafts and we’d like to establish a handicraft selling center in Kampala so that this could be a base for income for women. We know we could have even greater impact if we have more access to funds and resources to support women to become self-sufficient.

Dusabe also said that many women would also benefit from simple hand tools to improve the backbreaking work on the land and from solar power to support their work at home, if they could afford the installation cost. Having access to land was key to girls and women having dependable income and becoming economically secure. This would open up options for their children to be educated, and for access to transport that would also mean they were mobile in sourcing potential markets and buyers for their work.

Another woman was fiercer and more direct in her advocacy. “Let the harvest belong to women and not be owned by men. Let the woman have her own harvest!” There were many feisty women in this community, old and young. Yes, they were engaged in powerful healing work and yet they were also impatient for change. These women were determined to hold their men to account for their collective behavior and attitudes, and to assume the leadership needed for the level of change sought.

Jane Sloane - Uganda - Nyabare SalaIt has been this vigilance at every level that has resulted in an increase in the number of girls attending school. I was transfixed by one girl in the meeting, Nyabare Sala, who was a 7 year old girl in the community who is attending school and hopes to complete her education. She is one of the direct beneficiaries of PWABC’s work. A few years earlier it was girls only a few years older than Nyabare who were being kidnapped on the way to school as they have to walk many miles down that isolated dirt track and they can easily be scooped up by motorcyclists or stopped by cars and taken into a life of sexual slavery. It’s also why some of the money PWABC received from Global Fund went toward buying a motorcycle to intercept such abductors and to not lose another generation of girls while PWABC was doing the work to ensure long term attitudinal change and legal protection.

“What would you like to do if money was no object?” I asked the group. We would like to become a national network and bring this work and approach to every community in Uganda,” said Dusabe. We know this approach works and we just need the funds to make this possible.” This would be a way of democratizing many communities across Uganda and engaging them in a national public dialogue on conflict resolution, gender equality and community building. The work in each community would start by winning the trust of the elders and then other leaders in the community, and then conducting sessions with all members of the community regarding rights of girls, establishing community committees and introducing all other elements of economic support.

Later, I reflected on the strength of this idea of creating a network when I was talking to a friend and mentor, Michaela Walsh, founder of Women’s World Banking. “The idea of bigness in this world is wrong!” she said to me. “Supporting women in their countries to assume their own leadership and adopt a network model of working is what will really make a difference.”

When it came time for me to speak to the group I said that girls have the right to the same opportunities given to men and boys, and girls have the right to dream as boys do dream. There is a quote by the philosopher, Goethe, that boldness has genius and magic in it, and this community has demonstrated its ability to be bold and the result is a kind of alchemy and magic. There would be no Global Fund for Women without groups like this one. And this community also has the power of Global Fund backing them – the power of hundreds of thousands of women who are a voice of conscience and invoking the power of witness as much as activism for change.

I said that the profound healing the community had been practicing was inspirational as much as transformational. “Your community may be experiencing economic poverty, however, many people in the west are suffering from spiritual poverty whereas your community has been through a spiritual transformation and renewal.” I said that while this community was expressing its gratitude for the funding made possible from Global Fund for Women, they needed to know that there were many donors themselves experienced profound change as a result of giving to women’s groups such as PWABC. “I have met donors who have themselves experienced violence, isolation and discrimination, and when they have seen the powerful outcomes achieved by the groups they have funded it has healed something deep in them and instilled in them a strong sense of hope, and belief that change is possible.

 

A few days after I returned to the United States I received an email from Dusabe profusely thanking me for visiting the community.

Oh dear Jane it was a day of joy to host you at our PWABC Office and most importantly thank you for your time to share with our beneficiaries on grassroot in the rural Communities. You mean much to us women/girls of Kiboga and the whole World Jane!…Indeed with you we shall break these chains further more and even reach out to other communities in and outside Uganda to also open the eyes of our fellow women/girls harassed sexually and generally marginalized by their own cultures to stand up, break the chains too by reforming their cultures too…We enjoyed you Jane and the community people enjoyed you so so and so much. Thank you for that parental love! Your visit left us empowered the more spiritually Jane and God bless you. Faithfully yours in the campaign of our rights as women/girls of Kiboga.

As someone who has often grieved the fact that I haven’t been a parent it felt like a precious gift to be thanked for my parenting.

A day later Jane Kacuculi, the Chairperson Board of Directors, PWABC wrote to me:

the best we can do is…STRONGLY ensuring that women/girl child rights are observed, recognized and respected socially, economically and politically through our initiative of Reforming Cultures to eliminate negative harsh and dangerous Practices/Beliefs here in our rukoola communities and take the initiative to other communities where women/girl child(ren) are equally suffering and marginalized because of their own cultures…

What can we say about your love and support? We wish all Donors had your appreciative…character then most grantees would be psychologically strengthened in the important work they try to do. To be honest Jane you left us Psychologically strengthened and feeling important in our work …We therefore credit your visit as a turning point for our advocacy…

20150717-Jane-ChookGift-DSOnce formal business and speeches had ended the drums started again and this time as we danced a live chicken was lifted up and held out to me, “a great honor,” Debbie whispered to me as I dubiously opened my arms to receive the squawking squirming chook. And so we danced, that chook and I, and the community erupted in laughter and clapping and stepped up the beat until it became a throbbing sea of bodies and ululation, or udhalili, as it is called in Swahili. It reminded me of being in Arnhem Land, Aboriginal land in Australia, and experiencing the incredible energy of the Chookie Dancers as they created their own version of Zorba the Greek.

I reached out to Nyabare to shake her hand and say goodbye. Her mother was with her and they both smiled. I would not forget her. The ten year old African girl is who we need to be focusing on, Leymah Gbowe said. Nyabare was a little younger, there was still time to support this extraordinary group and their dream to become a national movement. Perhaps it would be Nyarabe leading it.

The warmth of many hands and hearts farewelled Debbie and I as we drove off in our vehicle and headed back down the rutted track from which we came. We were quiet, each lost in our own thoughts after what to me seemed akin to a spiritual experience, such was the force of the people and their mission for change.

Suddenly I heard a squawk from the back of the vehicle. It was the chook.
We may have left the community but the chook was here to stay.

Jane Sloane
Uganda

20150717-Jane-ChookHen

Photos

 

Letter from Tanzania

1024px-Mt._Kilimanjaro_12.2006

Listen Up. This is a women’s story. Plural.

I’m here in Tanzania to visit women’s groups working on sustainable agriculture and livelihood initiatives. As you may know, Tanzania is a country in East Africa within the Great Lakes region. Bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the West; Zambia, Malawai and Mozambique to the South and the Indian Ocean to the east. And, always, the view of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, providing poetic inspiration to Tanzania’s population of some 47 million people.

Loyce-LemaWhile here I spent time with Loyce Lema, the Founder of Tanzania Envirocare and whom I had previously met at a Women and Climate Change Convening in Bali. At Green Camp, where we were staying, we’d gone walking together along the track and saw the river. Loyce had grabbed my arm and said, “I haven’t seen a river flowing for a long, long time.”

As we walked onto the bridge with the river below us, Loyce stopped again and said, “Close your eyes, Jane. This is the sound that I have missed in my heart.  The sound of a river running free.” In Tanzania, permanent rivers have become seasonal rivers and many have ceased to flow.

Loyce and her colleague, Freddie, collected me from Arusha and drove me to Kilimanjaro and, on the way there, Loyce shared stories of what was happening to women and girls in parts of Tanzania. Girls as young as nine being married off and getting pregnant as young as age 12, especially in Maasai culture and in remote communities. Lack of birth control meant that women often get sick and frequently died in childbirth. Certain traditional practices result in situations wherein women in some areas are still being accused of being witches and burnt to death.

Other girls were forced to undergo the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, while others might contract HIV and face diminished opportunities due to sickness and stigma. Pesticide usage on crops was further increasing sickness and disease in a population where over 60% of girls and women live in absolute poverty. These were some of the issues Envirocare was working to address.

“Sustainable agriculture for rural people is essential because over 70% of the population live in rural areas,” Loyce said. “Whereas the government is focused on big crops and enterprises like rice and maize managed mainly by men, the real opportunity for sustainable livelihoods lies with families having access to small plots where they can grow staples and vegetables and fruit for consumption as well as for sale at markets.

LetterFromTanzania-3123An hour later we arrived at a small schoolhouse-style building to be greeted by women, men and students who were keen to share stories of their work. My ability to speak Swahili was limited to a few words and so we talked in English. Several of the women shared the stories of their enterprise, Marukeni Women’s Dairy Cooperative Society, which we would be visiting that day. “Cows belong to the women and so it was easy for us to create this business as milk belongs to the women,“ they said.

In this way, women can earn between $25-$125 per month from the milk alone, and this income sustains their basic needs.
“We would like to create other businesses that would bring income to our families and community.” What about coffee?,” I asked.
“Coffee is men’s business,” the women responded. “Coffee is big business and so it is men’s business,” Loyce added. “You need access to land in order to grow coffee and women don’t have access to land because inheritance laws preclude it unless you’re a widow in which case you can sometimes stay on the land after your husband’s death, provided you don’t remarry.” “We are widows,” offered two of the women.
“Well then, you could create a widow’s coffee cooperative,” I suggested. They smiled and seemed to tuck the idea somewhere in their minds.

LetterFromTanzania-3130The children present were encouraged to join the discussion and some shared their own stories of being chicken owners and egg sellers to pay for school supplies and shoes with their average of $4 per month in income from egg sales. These children were given the opportunity to learn about agriculture at school and to spend time at Envirocare’s organic farm so they could create their own small vegetable gardens. Envirocare also provided seeds to local schools so they could grow vegetables and ensure children could eat nutritiously while at school each day.

Most African women are taught to endure abusive marriages. They say endurance means a good wife but most women endure abusive relationship because they are not empowered economically; they depend on their husbands.

Joyce Banda

 

I told the group that I had spent time in Sri Lanka where I’d witnessed women who had been victims of domestic violence being invited into a women’s circle, often the first time they had ventured out of the house for anything social. Here they were encouraged to tell a story, sing a song or share a poem that would help them become comfortable with their own voice and views being held. From this safe space they could eventually imagine an enterprise or artisan endeavor that might give them an income and economic independence. Usually their children would accompany them and in some cases the children would create their own circle and imitate the same process of sharing stories, music, theater and mime.

LetterFromTanzania-3039We headed out to Envirocare’s rural office, which was also the site of organic farming and a hub for beekeeping and, most special of all, stingless bees!!! I couldn’t believe it when Loyce told me this as she pointed to what looked like hanging logs – a bit like the hanging gardens my Dad used to make when I was a girl although these logs were closed yet allowing an occasional burst of bees to spill out.

“You’re sitting on gold here,“ I said, excitedly. “There are so many people who would be attracted to buying stingless honey, and of course stingless bees! How much honey could you produce?” Loyce laughed. “We can produce lots and lots of honey because there is more land here for us to expand our work. And we could also create hive making workshops to ensure we have the right environment for the bee colonies.”

We went on a walking tour of the organic farm planted out with avocados, passionfruit, leeks, sugarcane, eggplant, onion, cabbage, pumpkins, lemongrass, mint, beets and sunflowers for the bees to pollinate. Bees, honey, sunflowers, organic produce – this place was happiness central.

LetterFromTanzania-3053And then we returned to the honey. The men broke open one of the hives and the bees poured out, small and black, like flies – except they were unmistakably bees! Loyce scooped up honey for me with a large spoon and I tipped it into my mouth. Nectar of the Gods! I couldn’t get enough of it. Loyce went one step further and began eating the bee pollen and propolis, rich in vitamins and medicinal qualities. It was miraculous to me as the bees flew around us, stingless! In that moment I felt like I was living in some kind of honey dream, a slow drip discovery of paradise.

LetterFromTanzania-3051We all trooped into the cottage to eat lunch and then engaged in a spontaneous brainstorm on names and ideas. I was having fun suggesting names and the women’s eyes sparkled as they imagined the potential. We arrived at three separate and related enterprises: Kilimanjaro Stingless Honey Cooperative, Kilimanjaro Sisters’ Coffee Cooperative and a Kilimanjaro Sisters’ Chocolate Cooperative. “If we have the funds for processing and packaging we can do so much – we can process ghee, yoghurt, cheese – and yes, make chocolate since we can also access organic cacao!” said one of the women. “ It not only gives us an income, it means we are not paying expensive prices for milk exported from Kenya and South Africa which we can’t afford.” So, I realized my job would be to find the funds and the technical support to help get these women the business plan support, infrastructure and investment funds to make this a reality.

LetterFromTanzania-3047Of course I spun off into dream land for a while, remembering Sue Monk Kidd’s book and movie, The Secret Life of Bees, and thinking about this Movement of bee women and their Hive, their organizing cell. It seemed crazy to me that all this potential was right here up close, and all it needed was the connection of funds and technical support to change the course of their lives. And of others too – for this success would spin out to other communities and the confidence and respect it would inspire would have a leapfrog effect for other women’s groups and their own enterprises. Since women are more inclined to work relationally and seasonally compared to men, their own enterprises can often catalyze others that are seeded in support and then flourish on their own.

Finally after lunch, and with golden honey literally dripping from us, we headed off to see the women’s dairy enterprise. After a long drive down bumpy tracks we arrived at a small village and walked into two large rooms that comprised the women’s dairy with its large milk storage vats that were transported to town for milk sales on a regular basis.

LetterFromTanzania-3125Loyce told the story of how the dairy cooperative came to be. “This place used to be a beer barn and the women were frustrated as they were dependent on their husbands and the men were drinking a lot of the day and didn’t prioritize their families or their children’s needs. So the women banded together and raised the money to buy the barn and convert it to a dairy cooperative.” Today, the dairy is a constant flurry of activity and while I was there at least a dozen local village people came with their buckets to have their milk tested and weighed and their payment recorded in their milk book. Each month the milk suppliers receive a payment with the profits being reinvested in the dairy.

“See those men over there sitting down, smoking, drinking? They are the big men who run the coffee cooperative. They don’t work like we work and so they don’t earn as much.”
When I asked them to calculate the difference in income the women asked the men and determined that the women running the dairy are making up to four times the amount the men are making by running the coffee cooperative. Of course, they said, that coffee prices fluctuated and dipped for a long time when coffee berry disease spread through rural areas.
“Could you earn more if you ran your own coffee cooperative,” I wondered.
“For sure,” replied the women. “We would run it the way we do our dairy, like a business that needs constant attention.”

If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realize that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

The dairy was the brainchild of retired teacher Mrs. Elinduma Ngunda, who observed that every household had at least one cow and so people could milk their cows each day and bring the excess milk to the dairy to get paid. We visited Elinduma and her husband, and their grandson Clement William, and while there we paid our respects to one of Elinduma’s two cows called Flower, creamy brown with a white spot and adorable in every way. Elinduma was a natural matriarch and connector. She was also a force for good. In describing the success of the dairy she was keen to share that that the cooperative was not only successful in its own right, it was available to the community for small loans, including for medical emergencies and for women who want to be farmers. And, she added, it also supports orphans, elders and widows where possible with resources and support they need.

LetterFromTanzania-3135

The Chairperson of the women’s dairy cooperative, Mrs Urassa, was a woman who was widowed 17 years ago and she’d found new purpose, respect and authority in her village. The health, education and economic benefits were also impressive. HIV had been reduced in this community because people were healthier as a result of the food they could eat from the sale of milk, eggs, vegetables and coffee. Children stayed in schools here rather than being forced to marry early as their parents had access to money to sustain their needs and so they had better prospects in the long term.

We left those laughing, spirited women and rumbled into the night toward our own sleeping quarters. Just the three of us in the car again — Loyce, Freddie and I, and the immense land and sky before us. “Look up there,” said Loyce. “The starry sky, it’s so close here. We are connected.”

I nodded. And we are kin.

Jane Sloane
Tanzania