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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty and Gender-Based Violence

Occasionally when asked about this game project, we’re confronted by the seemingly reasonable question “Why address violence against women, in a developing economy? Aren’t there more important issues to work on in such a place, like poverty, or health, or education?” It’s hard at first to understand why improving quality of life for just one portion of the population is getting attention and funding, when some people are struggling just to stay alive at all. In fact, one of the key motivations behind our project’s theme is the unexpected causality: gender-based violence, in all its forms, is hugely responsible for the world's continuing cycles of poverty.

Fortunately the reverse is true, as well. If you empower women in a community by improving their health, education, economic rights such as property ownership, access to reproductive services, and decision-making ability, then they can participate more fully in the economy, enabling the survival of their families and communities. Not only are economic development and fair treatment of women both crucial for human dignity, you cannot achieve one without also working for the other.

Image: Handicrafts in Khayelitsha - Photo: Ray McCarthy Bergeron

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tuesday, Sept. 30 - come hear!

This is an invite to all our readers: next week, Aminata Toure, our UN sponsor will be speaking at Champlain College, Burlington, VT, in the Hauke Conference Room at 5pm. 
Furthermore an exhibiton of photos we took while in South Africa is on display at the Emergent Media Center's new home in Winooski, VT—the Champlain Mill. Please stop in and visit during office hours. Below is the official news release.

BURLINGTON, Vt. (Sept. 26, 2008)  – Aminate Toure, an internationally-known leader in human rights, will spend two days meeting with Champlain College students and faculty to work on a United Nations’ funded project aimed at reducing gender violence in developing nations. 

The Emergent Media Center at Champlain College and Population Media Center were awarded a grant from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to carry out the project, which consists of creating an electronic game for young boys in developing nations aimed at preventing violence against women. The game will evolve into a global initiative, with an initial focus on South Africa.

Aminate Toure, chief of the Gender, Human Rights and Culture Branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), will speak about international women’s health challenges in a community lecture on Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 5 pm at Hauke Family Campus Center’s Conference Room at Champlain College. A question and answer session follow her talk. This event is free and open to the public.

Monday, September 15, 2008

With arms wide open...

All expense paid trip to Cape Town, South Africa? How could I possibly turn down that offer? When I first learned about the project I saw it as a great opportunity, not only to become exposed to new types of work, but also to gain the credentials of putting the UN on my resume. An all expense paid trip to South Africa was an added bonus. As the days progressed closer and closer to the trip, all I could feel was excitement, for going to such a different place.

When we finally arrived in Cape Town, all that excitement was channeled into something else. When we first walked through Langa, I could not control the emotional stir that was occurring deep inside me. I didn’t know whether to feel sad, guilty, depressed, uneasy or fortunate. The first full day we were in Langa, and had the opportunity to watch some children perform a gumboot dance. After their performance we chatted and took photos with them. I could not believe how talented they were. After a few minutes of timid pondering, I finally asked the children if they could do the thunderstance pose for a picture. One child followed my lead, and the others followed him shortly thereafter. I was immediately overcome with a strong connective feeling of joy. To me the thunderstance is just a silly thing I started doing, but after that it meant so much more than that to me. It became a feeling of empowerment and cultural bonding. From this point forward I knew it was already going to be a life changing trip.

As the week flew by, I had the chance to meet with more children in townships and help tutor some kids after school. I had some great conversations with some very bright children. We taught each other about our cultures and shared different cultural practices. Another very moving experience for me was when the children of Langa came up to us and stated holding our hands, playing with us, and giving us hugs. This showed me how open and accepting they are. This gave me a whole new perspective on life. I now feel like I want to be more open and accepting of everyone. It reminds me of the expression, “live life with arms wide open.” There is such a strong sense of community and togetherness that it makes me envious of what they have, even though it is not big houses, lots of clothes, or trendy electronics. A common perception of many in South Africa is that we as Americans are rich, however, they greatly surpass us in being spiritually rich, with such a strong communal bond.

In the few days right before South Africa, I had a weird feeling overcome me, knowing that it would probably be a life changing experience. Now as I sit here, a few weeks after returning from South Africa, I realize how much of a life changing experience it really turned out to be. After seeing such extreme poverty, as well as such extreme happiness, I have a much strong appreciation for everything I have. I have also come to the realization that life is too precious to find fault with others. While I may never walk the streets of Langa again, with the hand of a child resting in mine, that picture will always be in my head. I will never forget my trip to South Africa, and all that it has helped show me who I am as a person.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

It takes a village

One week ago today, we were in the air, flying back to the states.

I never thought I’d miss being in South Africa. I never thought I’d be offered marriage while in Cape Town. I never expected, much less have seen, so much abject poverty. I never thought I’d feel so welcomed into a community in my entire life. I’ve never felt so humble…

All I wanted to do was to help. All I wanted to do was to cry. All I wanted to do was fix what was broken. Yet, I couldn’t…

I can’t.

What can I do?

Can I really do something…

I knew that being part of this project meant I would be in over my head. I never realized by how much…

How does one tackle the issue of poverty?

The UN has outlined, through the Millennium Development Goals, with the aid of world leaders and organizations, 8 goals to end extreme poverty by 2015:
  • Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
  • Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
  • Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  • Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
  • Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  • Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

These are many, overwhelming ways to look at the issue of poverty, but not just any one topic will cure it all. As an example, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation believes fighting malaria will be their choice in helping people to get out of poverty.  The Emergent Media Center, with the guidance of Population Media Center and the UNFPA, will be tackling the gender equality issue, more specifically, Violence against Women.

The UN, within the Millennium Development Goals, suggests that ending violence against women will help developing nations to end poverty.  What defines violence? My personal take extends beyond just the physical aspects. Delving further, I guess I’m not the only one thinking this:

Gender Violence throughout a Woman's Life: Phases and Types of Violence

  • Prenatal: Sex-selective abortions, battering during pregnancy, coerced pregnancy (rape during war)
  • Infancy: Female infanticide, emotional and physical abuse, differential access to food and medical care
  • Childhood: Genital mutilation; incest and sexual abuse; differential access to food, medical care, and education; child prostitution
  • Adolescence: Dating and courtship violence, economically coerced sex, sexual abuse in the workplace, rape, sexual harassment, forced prostitution
  • Reproductive: Abuse of women by intimate partners, marital rape, dowry abuse and murders, partner homicide, psychological abuse, sexual abuse in the workplace, sexual harassment, rape, abuse of women with disabilities
  • Old Age: Abuse of widows, elder abuse (which affects mostly women)

It’s incredibly disturbing to know these forms of violence exist, but over time and with the proper direction, this issue will be resolved… right?

I again ask myself,
“What can I do to end poverty; how can I make lives better for others?”

Beyond just this project, I need to make a choice for myself. Do I take on the issue myself?

Can I?

No, I cannot…

…We can.

I am realizing that I need to be a part of something, be a part of some direction; I cannot take on the whole issue myself. I am not superhuman. I might not be able to resolve the issue of poverty myself, but I know with the help of others, as passionate as I am about helping out humanity, we can solve a piece of the issue.

South Africa taught me the meaning of hope and community.

We can be a part of ending poverty.