Recent Resources for Feminists
Ebola is More Than a News Story - Time to Trade Despair for Hope and Action Print E-mail
October 3, 2014

Ebola is More Than a News Story to Me

By Yabome Gilpin-Jackson | Twitter: @supportdevelop

(Cliff James)

“What can be worse than watching your child wasting away from the Ebola virus, and not being able to comfort her with a touch, or care for her directly?”

This question haunts me.

Unimaginable pain, unbelievable heartache, unspeakable torture. It’s the plight of parents in the West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, at this very moment. Since the official start of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea in March, there are now 6,500+ confirmed cases and over 3,000 deaths. Each death represents someone’s beautiful baby boy or girl. I cannot retreat from the despair rising in me.

Ebola is much too close to home.
I was born to Sierra Leonean parents while they were working in Germany and I lived in the West African coastal country between the ages of 5 and 20. I am also a naturalized Canadian having immigrated here because of another crisis in Sierra Leone–the civil war of the 1990s and early 2000s–and because our family has a Canadian history. My parents lived and had three children in Edmonton while my father was a graduate student at the University of Alberta. So I consider myself a global citizen, and predominantly a Sierra Leonean-Canadian. I am deeply connected to all things Sierra Leone and consider the development of the African continent part of my life’s purpose.

When I see photos in the paper of children, like two-year old Bintu whose parents have both been diagnosed with Ebola, I see my own two-year old son. My heart sinks to the bottom of my ribcage and seems to keep dropping.

I am a professional serving in the Canadian healthcare system. So, when I see the photo of the beautiful 25-year-old nurse Justina, who died after treating the first Ebola patient in Nigeria, the fog around me thickens. I think about the countless resources required every “winter surge,” our healthcare label for the flu season in Canada. Yet every year, there are still flu cases and fatalities. Then I imagine what it must be like in the West African nations currently battling Ebola, nations that are year after year named within the world’s poorest economically, with struggling health systems and some of the worst global health outcomes.

Their relative poverty (another cause for an exasperated, incomprehensible, rhetorical question!) is, for example, why over 60% of deaths in Sierra Leone result from preventable communicable diseases. Like Ebola. There are not enough resources to take the measures needed to quarantine and eradicate the virus, so it keeps spreading. It’s been at least 180 days and counting. There needs to be 42 days without a new case of Ebola for the outbreak to be declared over. And Nigeria and Senegal where there have been 21 cases as a result of someone with Ebola travelling there, are close to seeing the end of those days.

The ongoing impacts of the Ebola outbreak, like food shortages and threats of violence and civil rights violations, is why my Facebook status one day was simply “My heart aches.”

My brother-in-law, living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, tells us how Ebola is visibly changing life is Freetown. People go about their daily business wearing masks. Public gatherings are all but non-existent. A community that thrives in handshakes, touching and being in each other’s spaces are learning that for the moment at least, they must invent “Ebola greetings” that entail none of the above.

And for children, normalcy is suspended. Schools are closed indefinitely. There have been no birthday parties, no playdates. Some are being uprooted, if their families can afford it, to go elsewhere for school. And those with parents and communities who are facing the reality of Ebola are teaching their children a confusing and contradictory message–“don’t touch people.” Because Ebola spreads on contact with the bodily fluids of those it has touched, this unwelcome virus is risking the very core of our humanity–human touch and connection.

This unwelcome virus is risking the very core of our humanity–-human touch and connection.

Not A Single Story

My heart aches, because the poverty numbers and the Ebola stories, tell nothing of the people with a rich socio-economic history and culture. It says nothing of the beautiful tourist destination where I grew up with some of the most beautiful beaches. Very few know the time in the 1980s when my father came home rejoicing because of his role in economic policy reforms that resulted in our currency hitting par with the US dollar and UK pound. The current Ebola news dominates other important numbers of hope. Like the fact that the West African region of 300,000,000 people, is also the largest economic block on the continent, making it a potential economic goldmine for the region and globally. And in regard to Ebola, the fact that MSF reports at least 650 people have recovered in their care. That includes the 22-month-old girl, Isata, who according to history and statistics had zero chance of surviving the virus. All 650, someone’s beautiful baby boy or girl. Precious, miraculously healed lives.

So, in spite of my sinking heart, and in spite of the fog, this is not a sob story. This is a call to action–because Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, Guineans and Nigerians need hope, not pity and more than sympathetic bystanders. They need reassurance that the world cares about theirs and our collective health.

So, I am trading despair for a focus on hope and action. Hope that we will get to 42 days Ebola-free. And I am joining the action. Will you consider joining me?

Donate to efforts to STOP EBOLA NOW! Here are my favorite picks:

Doctors without Borders (MSF), because they are most experienced at working with and treating the Ebola virus and are asking for help.
Sierra Leone Action, because they are taking an evidence-based and progressive approach to pioneer treatment for Ebola using convalescent serum therapy (survivors’ blood serum and whole blood transfusions).
HOPE Academy for Girls, because they are taking on a public and community health approach (hand-washing stations) to curb the spread of the virus.
Self-organize by:
Hosting a fundraiser with your friends and family,
Raising awareness by sharing information about what is happening to any and all. That always sparks new ideas and ways to help!

In the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

That’s my hope.


About Yabome:
?My name means woman … I love the obvious simplicity and profound impact of carrying that name. It’s a name ascribed to the wisdom of an older woman, an elder, and was my grandmother’s. On top of that, my mom meant to also name me Satia, meaning satiated, full to abundance. It is her favorite cousin’s name, infused with the double entendre of a woman overflowing with the joy and blessing of having had me, her 7th biological child. So what can I say about me? I am a woman, seeking after wisdom, determined to live life to the fullest and help, in whatever way I can, others in the world to do so also. I believe in and love God. I am also a wife, mother of 3, academic, working professional, consultant and budding author. I love learning, new experiences…and fashion. I, Yabome (Satia) Gilpin-Jackson am who I was born to be…and I am (re)discovering that daily.


West Africa: The Making of the Ebola Tragedy: Inequality, Mistrust, Environmental Change Print E-mail
 October 9, 2014

The Making of a Tragedy: Inequality, Mistrust, Environmental Change Drive Ebola Epidemic

By Laurie Mazur

In August, armed men stormed an Ebola clinic in Monrovia, Liberia, releasing infected patients and stealing contaminated bedding. The following month, eight health workers were attacked and killed in a Guinean village as they tried to educate residents about the deadly disease; their bodies were found in a village latrine. Days later, Red Cross workers in western Guinea were assaulted as they tried to collect and bury Ebola victims.

Why? Gripped by fear and rage, the attackers either denied the presence of Ebola, or blamed health workers for intentionally spreading the disease.

These incidents underscore the extraordinary challenge of containing the Ebola epidemic, a metastasizing global health tragedy that could afflict up to 1.4 million people in West Africa by January. The emergence and spread of the virus raises warnings that must be heard worldwide.

It speaks powerfully of the risks posed by poverty, environmental degradation, and weak health systems, and of the need to bolster our collective resilience to epidemics and other disasters. And it illustrates the crucial role of trust in public institutions – government, health care systems, multilateral organizations.

Indeed, trust is an intangible social good that is perhaps best appreciated in its absence. It is especially elusive in times of crisis, when it is unfortunately needed most.

New Vectors
Months before the Ebola epidemic spiraled out of control, there was Patient Zero, a not-quite-two-year-old girl in Guinea. She likely contracted the virus from an infected bat, in an impoverished village where bushmeat is a dietary staple. Because Ebola so often afflicts caregivers, the child’s pregnant mother was soon infected, then other family members, then the midwife who nursed the mother through a miscarriage. Within months, the virus had arrived in the capital, Conakry, and seeded even larger epidemics in neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

But the origins of the epidemic reach back further still. The virus may have been flushed out of the forest by multinational timber and mining operations that have clear-cut the (now misnamed) Guinea Forest Region, where the child was from. And population growth, partly driven by refugees from the brutal civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, has driven settlements deeper into the remaining bush.

“As the forests disappeared,” writes Jeffrey Stern in Vanity Fair, “so too did the buffer separating humans from animals – and from the pathogens that animals harbor.” Zoonotic diseases like Ebola are on the rise worldwide, as habitat loss accelerates.

Climate change may have also played a role. A 2002 study found that abrupt shifts from dry to wet conditions are associated with Ebola outbreaks in Africa – and climate change is making those shifts more likely. West Africa is already reeling from climate impacts: Sierra Leone, for example, is coping with “seasonal droughts, strong winds, thunderstorms, landslides, heat waves, floods, and changed rainfall patterns,” according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

1 Nation, 200 Doctors
Environmental change may have contributed to the emergence of the disease, but poverty and social dysfunction made it an epidemic.

“Large hemorrhagic fever virus outbreaks almost invariably occur in areas in which the economy and public health system have been decimated from years of civil conflict or failed development,” write Daniel G. Bausch and Lara Schwarz in the PLOS Neglected Tropical Disease s journal.

This is sadly true of the affected countries in West Africa. Liberia and Sierra Leone are still struggling to repair societies and economies devastated by war. Guinea, hobbled by decades of corrupt, authoritarian government, ranks 179 out of 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, just behind Liberia (175) and above Sierra Leone (183).

In these impoverished nations, health care systems were completely inadequate before the Ebola outbreak. Liberia – a nation of four million – had fewer than 200 doctors. As the epidemic took off, health systems were quickly overwhelmed, turning away patients to be cared for by family and friends, who frequently became infected.

Hospitals in the region lack basic infection-control essentials like running water and protective gowns and gloves, so doctors and nurses catch the virus from their patients and pass it on.

As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim declared in early October, “[the Ebola epidemic] shows the deadly cost of unequal access to basic services and the consequences of our failure to fix this problem.”

Crowded Cities, Suspect Authorities
Urbanization has also shaped the trajectory of the epidemic.

Previous Ebola outbreaks took place in remote villages, where quarantines effectively contained the disease. But the last two decades have seen unprecedented migration to cities in Africa. As a result, the current epidemic is unspooling in urban slums with inadequate sanitation – ideal conditions for the transmission of disease.

As Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota told NPR earlier this month, “the virus hasn’t changed, Africa has changed. We now have this virus in an urbanized population among people who travel far and wide.”

Still, the epidemic might have been contained in its early stages, if not for widespread distrust in public institutions. The proven tools of disease control (case reporting, quarantine, contact tracing) rely heavily on the trust and cooperation of affected communities. Without trust, even the best-intentioned, well-resourced public health efforts will falter.

The roots of distrust run deep, and they can be difficult to untangle. Research shows that recent traumatic experiences and a history of oppression – perhaps not surprisingly – erode trust. Inequality also profoundly weakens the bonds of reciprocity that hold societies together. And, in times of crisis, societies predictably cleave along religious and ethnic lines.

All of these dynamics are at play in the West African Ebola epidemic, where the trauma of recent conflict remains fresh and the legacy of oppression – from slavery, colonialism, and other forms of exploitation – is inescapable. The divide-and-conquer tactics of colonial powers ignited ethnic conflicts that still simmer today.

Against that backdrop, it is easier to understand the response to those working to stem the epidemic in West Africa. Terrified of moon-suited health workers, wary of dysfunctional hospitals, families hid their sick and their dead. As Stern observes, again in Vanity Fair:

It’s very likely we would not be where we are today had there not been large population pockets that were not cooperating with authorities, and in some cases violently resisting them. Infected people hiding allowed the virus to spread unseen.

Lessons on Resilience

The West African Ebola epidemic is a singular tragedy, a perfect storm of environmental and social factors that converged to ignite the largest outbreak yet of one of the world’s most deadly viruses.

But the conditions that aided Ebola’s emergence and spread – poverty, environmental degradation, weak health systems, mistrust in public institutions – are certainly not confined to West Africa.

There are lessons here for the development community, and for those seeking to build resilience in a turbulent world. Ebola illuminates the devastating toll of poverty and stalled development. It underscores the importance of intact ecosystems and the need to mitigate climate change. It demands immediate attention to the infrastructure of public health, including sanitation and primary care. It calls for new efforts to repair broken trust – by redressing historic injustices, by healing ethnic tensions, and by promoting broad-based development that reduces inequality.

The question of trust – how it is built, why it fails – is of urgent relevance everywhere disasters occur, from Monrovia to the Lower Ninth Ward. It is a question that deserves more attention as we seek to cultivate resilience to the shocks and surprises of the future. But this much is clear: trust is essential, and it can’t be compelled. It must be earned.
Laurie Mazur is a consultant on population and the environment for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and a writer and consultant to non-profit organizations. She is the editor, most recently, of A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge.

Sources: African Development Bank Group, American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Associated Press, Beyond Intractability, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, CBS News, Foreign Policy, International Food Policy Research Institute, NPR, National Bureau of Economic Research, The New York Times, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, Reuters, Stiglitz (2013), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UN Development Program, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post.

Photo Credit: Morgana Wingard/USAID; Ebola virus particles, courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Australia: Petitioning PM Abbott for moral leadership rejecting limitations to women’s sovereignty Print E-mail

Wednesday October 9 2014


To show moral leadership and publicly call for the valuing of ALL women in our society and reject all calls which limit the sovereignty of a woman's right to choose.

Petition by

We believe igniting national debate about Australian Muslim women’s choice of clothing promotes fear and contempt against Muslim women and, as such, is divisive in our unique multicultural society that values differences such as those based on ethnicity, religion, race and gender identities.

That this issue has been focused on against the backdrop of the Islamic State terrorism overseas is extremely troubling and negligent.  It ignites community tension and escalates existing racism and violence against a group of Australian women in our society.

That it has targeted a silent and vulnerable group of Australian women and connected their uniquely attired presence in Parliament to notions of security and safety defies the very essence of freedoms under our democracy. Instituting a ban on the burqa, or segregation of women who wear it in Parliament has no legal precedent in parliamentary history and harms our reputation as a nation.  

As members of a secular democracy, women’s dress code should be beyond the control of the state.  All women living in Australia are entitled to live freely, without fear of political persecution because of their choice of dress.

We call on you, as Prime Minister and Minister for Women, to show moral leadership and publicly call for the valuing of ALL women in our society and reject all calls which limit the sovereignty of a woman's right to choose.


 Please sign HERE

Pakistan: Shaista Bukhari & brave sisters completely rid Pipalwala village of Domestic Violence Print E-mail
 Sunday September 28 2014// Zilhaj 2, 1435

A thing of the past

By (Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy)

Southern Punjab is infamous for its treatment of women. It is here that the highest number of acid-related violent crimes are reported and in every district there are cases of ‘honour killings’ and sexual assault. A cursory scan of any newspaper will tell you that Jirga pronouncements against women are very common here.

Against this backdrop, is the village of Pipalwala. The residents of this village make ends meet by rearing cattle and growing vegetables and fruits. Low literacy rates, girls often married as young as fourteen years and up until recently, domestic violence was rampant.

Parveen who grew up in Pipalwala and has four sons was always on the receiving end of her husband’s stick. “He would find any and every excuse to beat me,” she says. “I used to be very afraid. The moment I heard his footsteps, my heart would start to race frantically. I would worry that he might come back and find an excuse to beat me …”

Parveen’s story resonates with almost every single woman in that village. Kaneez, another resident, was married at a young age and her husband would often beat her with an axe handle or a stick, causing serious injuries. “Once he hit me so hard that my nose almost broke and I was bleeding everywhere. He pulled my hair and my entire face was swollen,” she says.

But the fate of Pipalwala and its women changed in 2008 when Shaista Bukhari visited the village.

Shaista was born and raised in Multan. Her father died when she was young and her family encouraged her to marry a man who was 20 years her senior. After five months, her husband died and her in laws abandoned her, blaming her for his sudden death.

With no economic resources to fall back on, she struggled to find work to support herself. After months of searching she landed a contract at a local school canteen. It was at this time that Shaista realised the importance of economic independence and encouraged a group of women to take up embroidery, thereby creating a source of income for them.

For several years after that, she used the model of economic independence to empower women to take their fate in their own hands. “If we are to defeat domestic violence, women must be aware of their rights and must have some economic independence.”

She approached Parveen while working on a project in Pipalwala and encouraged her to discuss domestic violence with other women in her community. “When we started working, this concept was completely alien to them, and even now, the area has no schools,” says Shaista. When we spoke to some of the women, they would break down and start crying and tell us about the traumatic experiences they were going through and ask us what they could do about it.”

With Shaista’s help, Parveen formed a group called Saheli and would often gather the women in her neighbourhood to discuss ways that could change the attitude of men. The group would preach at any occasion they could find. “We would target weddings and funerals. We would tell other women that if you see violence speak up and say something. Treat your husband with love and respect and demand that they do the same,” she says proudly.

After months of perseverance, ‘Saheli’ saw results amongst women. Then, Shaista’s team began speaking to the men in the village and that’s when dramatic change began to take place.

“My husband hugged me one day and said no, I will not hit you ever again,” Parveen tells us joyfully. “He has changed a lot and has started preaching to the men in the village that we must treat our women well.”

After some time, Shaista returned to the village to find a massive sign on its entrance This village is free of domestic violence.She couldn’t believe what she was reading! “Pipalwala is the first village in Pakistan that is completely domestic violence free,” she says. “There will be more villages like this; when people visit this village, something clicks in their heads ­ if it works here, why can’t it work anywhere else?” she says.

Parveen and her cohorts often intervene in domestic violence disputes and try and find solutions for the women. “We don’t want our women to go to the police and the courts, we would rather empower them to solve their own issues,” she says.

A walk through the village shows just how successful Shaista and Parveen have been. Several homes now have plaques that read “This home is free of domestic violence” and you find both men and women actively speaking out against violence.

The commitment of a few has changed the entire mindset of a village that once had the reputation of being mired in all forms of domestic violence.

Sadly, it is not just this village, but across small towns and big cities and across social classes, domestic violence is very real in Pakistan and very few women speak out about it. It’s the accepted norm that your husband has some “right” to verbally and physically assault you. The fault lies partly with women, we don’t speak out, we don’t shun the men who do this and this emboldens them to continue abusing their spouses. We can all learn a thing from Pipalwala and emulate it and perhaps it is time for the sign “This house is free of domestic violence” to be placed outside all our houses!

To watch Shaista Bukhari’s inspirational story: Tune in HERE
India: Social activists seek ban to end commercial surrogacy’s miscarriages of justice for women Print E-mail

 Tuesday September 23, 2014

Regulate surrogacy, say activists

By Smriti Kak Ramachandran

Read also "The Political Economy of Surrogacy - Huge profits vs. Exploitation of Women & Desire for Parenthood"

Rights of women lending their wombs are violated: report

NEW DELHI: Social activists are batting for a ban on commercial surrogacy and have demanded that the practice be regulated like organ donation. Citing the findings of a report on surrogacy in Mumbai, Delhi and Gujarat, they said that in the absence of regulation, surrogacy has transformed into an unfettered, multi-million dollar industry.

A report titled "Surrogacy Motherhood: Ethical or Commercial?"compiled by the Centre for Social Research, with the support of the Ministry of Women and Child Development [Read in full HERE], illustrates that surrogacy has become a "commercial industry"where the rights of surrogate mothers, who are compelled by economic reasons, are violated.

"We found a woman who has been used a surrogate five times; she has four children of her own, so, in all, she underwent child birth nine times. Medical practitioners put the number of safe deliveries at three. Surrogacy has turned women into breeders,"said CSR director Ranjana Kumari.

According to Ms. Kumari, commercial surrogacy has also aggravated the problems of biased sex selection, skewed sex ratio and trafficking of women. "In Surat, we came across a surrogate from Ranchi. There is no telling how many women are being used for lending their wombs through coercion. Just as there is regulation on organ donation, there has to be a similar ban on commercial surrogacy,"she said.

The report flags several aspects of surrogacy that are flouted in India; for instance, the contracts between the surrogates and the commissioning parents are not always legally framed and the provisions for remuneration are not adhered to.

According to the report, 82 per cent of the respondents [surrogates] in Delhi and 69 per cent in Mumbai were married, 12 per cent respondents in each city were divorced. In Mumbai, 14 per cent of the respondents were abandoned and six per cent were separated. "During field investigation, it was found that the fear of abandonment among married surrogate mothers also acts as a driving force to enter into surrogacy arrangements as their husbands consider it an easy way to earn quick money beyond their earning capability either to set up a business, repay a loan or simply enjoy life at the cost of health,"the report says.

"About 27.85 per cent of the respondents in Delhi and 46.91 percent in Mumbai stated that it is poverty that had driven them to take the decision to enter into a surrogacy arrangement. However, 15.82 per cent of the surrogate mothers in Delhi, and 23.46 per cent of them in Mumbai, stated that education of their children had been another driving factor to opt for becoming a surrogate mother. 26.58 per cent of the respondents in Delhi and 17.28 in Mumbai had been approached by the agencies or clinics to become surrogate mothers. To sum up, poverty, approach by agents, unemployment and education of children stand out to be major compelling factors for surrogate mothers to enter into surrogacy arrangements,"the report states.

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