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Friday, September 26, 2014

Abortion and the need for womens' voices to be heard!

September 17, 2014

‘We need to have a candid conversation about abortion that is very personal and the people who need to be speaking and be given the chance to be heard are women because this issue inherently affects them first!’ Kate Kiama Atlas Corps Fellow (Kenya) serving at the Nike Foundation.

The year 2010 was indeed a historic year for Kenya. The Kenyan people decided and adopted a new Constitution that expressly declared among other things that Kenyan women have the fundamental right to their reproductive health and thus have in theory the subsequent right to access a safe abortion. In principle the structures are legally in place but implementing the same is a whole other ball game, four years later, majorly due to our socialization process and the notion that a woman exerting control over her own reproductive health right and her sexuality will threaten the existing gender norms and status quo.

According to Nancy Felipe Russo (1976) in the Journal of Social Issues Volume 32, she is of the opinion that abortion is highly stigmatized because it violates two fundamental ideals of womanhood; namely that of a nurturing mother and her sexual purity. She further propounds the notion that the litmus test of a being a ‘good woman’ is her desire to be a mother. This would naturally therefore conclude that a woman would be considered out rightly absurd, bad or awkward to not want to have children or worse still to terminate her pregnancy for whatever reason. Be that as it may, every culture and community is entitled to develop their own value system, social norms and beliefs, this line of thinking has however been the fallacy and the ghost of several generations past that continues to plague many societies to-date. 

It is important to recognize and acknowledge that whether we consider ourselves to be  ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ is inextricably linked to our value system and that is perfectly acceptable and is peripheral in my opinion to the main issue at hand. I am of the considered view that we are all in a sinking boat if we think that ‘conversion’ (from pro-life to pro-choice and/or vice versa) from one camp to another is the solution to this quagmire that we find ourselves in. We can and have been belaboring with legal, moral, religious and philosophical justifications and arguments of why the practices should or should not be allowed, but I do find myself asking this rhetoric question sometimes out load -whether we really care about the women and girls affected? Or if that is not compelling enough, the following glaring writings on the wall.

According to the World Health Organisation, they report that in each year there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions in the World. This corresponds to mean that there are approximately 125,000 abortions happening every day. Further that nearly half of these abortions are un-safe and that 98% of the same occurs in the developing world. This obviously means that a woman’s likelihood of having an abortion is greatly elevated if she lives in a developing region! The reasons behind this are numerous and are largely due to inaccessibility of proper reproductive health rights and services, poverty, legal constraints as well as religious and cultural inhibitions.

 It would be redundant to effectively go through all the consequences of undergoing an un-safe abortion procedure here, but we cannot understate reports that show that 47,000 women die each year from complications directly resultant from procuring an un-safe abortion. If we believe in humanity and care even a little bit for these 47,000 women, then the issue to me is not whether we are for or against anything. The issue is we can do something about it-period! And that’s where our efforts and prioritize should be!

Before 1997, the Southern Africa sub-region abortion rates and deaths were dominated by South Africa. In 2008, they reported the lowest abortion rates in the entire continent at 15 per 1,000 women after they passed legislation that allowed for safe abortions. East Africa regrettably records the highest rate, at 38, followed by Middle Africa at 36, West Africa at 28 and North Africa at 18.

Nepal is a great case study that East African governments should consider looking into too. In 2010 the country was awarded an MDG Award for its commitment and progress toward achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 5 as related to improving maternal health. Nationwide introduction of safe abortion care was one of several strategies that helped Nepal nearly halve its maternal mortality ratio in the last decade, reducing the number of women who die from pregnancy-related complications from 415 to 229 per 100,000.The Nepalese government also issued directives that prohibit the recording of personal details of any woman accessing abortion services. The nation wide logo that is legally required to be displayed in all approved facilities throughout he hilly country is that of a faceless woman and the non-documentation strategy adopted aims to limit stigma in the society.
Nepali Safe Abortion Logo


The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) along with their partners African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) is pleased to announce the African Civil Society Support Initiative Regional Fellowship Programme. The Programme will allow civil society leaders and freedom of association advocates to spend three to four weeks working with a host NGO in another country in the region. Fellows will have the opportunity to share knowledge and experience with NGO leaders in other countries, build practical skills needed to advance civil society law initiatives, gain regional exposure, and build regional coalitions for reform.
They will award three regional fellowships to qualified civil society leaders and human rights advocates. Both fellow and host organization must be from Sub-Saharan Africa with countries with restrictive legal environments given priority. This is an action-oriented fellowship designed to provide opportunities to engage with other practitioners and experts in the region to advance the legal environment for civil society throughout the region. At the end of the fellowship, fellows will be required to submit a final report highlighting their learning outcomes and detailing how their new experiences will impact ongoing law reform in their home countries.  ICNL will cover the cost of travel to and from the host city as well as room and board for the agreed-upon time period.
Applicants must submit a completed application, proposal, and a CV by 30th September 2014. All fellowships will take place between the period of 11th November – 9th December 2014 (flexibility of the exact dates during this month available). Organizations in Sub Saharan Africa are also invited to contact ICNL or ACDHRS if they are interested in hosting a fellow.
Proposals must focus on the legal environment for civil society (for example, the rules governing the establishment, operation, funding or sustainability of NGOs, NGO-government relations, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, etc.). We are particularly interested in fellowship activities that will support an ongoing reform initiative in the fellow’s home country.
Proposals should: 
§ Be 5 pages in length;
§ Outline in great detail your past and present work experience relating to the legal framework for civil society;
§ Highlight the issue(s) you would like to focus on during the Fellowship;
§ Explain how your Fellowship will contribute to the development of the legal environment for civil society in your country;
§ Describe in detail your interest and commitment to remaining engaged on the legal framework for civil society upon your return home;
§ Address potential conflicts and establish a solution;
§ Have an attached CV (3 pages max) with personal information included (applicant’s name, mailing address, email address and phone number) and description of language capabilities.
Potential fellows should:
§ Possess African citizenship;
§ Hold a Masters Degree or an Undergraduate Degree (in a related field to law, development studies, international studies) with three year professional experience;
§ Have worked with the organization for over a year and show dedication in continuing of his/her work with this organization;
§ Display knowledge of the legal framework governing civil society.
 Applications will be evaluated based on the following factors: 
§ Compliance with eligibility requirements and application procedures;
§ Past or present experience in civil society law as a lawyer, academic, government official, or NGO leader;
§ Demonstrated interest in NGO law reform;
§ Quality of the proposed activity, including the significance of the issue to be studied;
§ Likelihood that the Fellowship will help advance the legal framework for civil society in the applicant’s country;
§ Commitment to continue working on civil society legal issues for a minimum of 12 months upon the applicant’s return home, and ability to effect change based upon leadership potential.
§ Applications that identify a preferred host organisation and demonstrate some familiarity or prior contact between the fellow the potential host organisation will be looked upon favorably.

Monday, September 22, 2014


I always thought I would one day grow to be a diplomat and walk in the corridors that few have access to. It’s not the glitz or the glam that fascinate me the most but rather the immense power and ability to make real change that these people have. It may also have a lot to do with the frustration that our leaders are not really hearing my opinion and thousand other people views! I imagined this dream would come true when I got much older and hopefully much wiser! Isn’t it amazing how most leadership roles are made so difficult to attain and that age and gender are deemed the first qualification criteria’s? It is no surprise therefore to learn that less than 5% of the World’s parliamentarians are aged 35 years or less. -But with the power of technology and with the youth’s eagerness and persistence to have their voices heard by relevant government and policy makers to effectuate change, we have found ways to make leaders the world over stop and listen-this time for real-and this is made possible through the Social Good Summit!
The Social Good Summit is a two-day conference examining the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world. Held during the UN Week, the Social Good Summit unites a dynamic community of global leaders and grassroots activists to discuss solutions for the greatest challenges of our time. This year’s theme, #2030NOW, asks the question, “What type of world do I want to live in by the year 2030?” During the Social Good Summit, global citizens around the world unite to unlock the potential of technology to make the world a better place.
To state that the first day of the summit was truly extraordinary would be a gross understatement. The vibe in 92nd Y Street NY was buzzing with activity from the get-go. With young leaders, bloggers, social entrepreneurs, and social good activist from around the world ready to contribute, connect and steer the conversation of how to address some of the world’s most critical and urgent problems and help re-write the World’s to-do list; we discussed a range of issues from global governance, Inequality issues, the role of the youth in conflict, climate change and poverty.
Being extremely passionate about women and girls issues especially, it was humbling, powerful and truly exciting to engage with other individuals who shared in this similar social issue. We are all in agreement that we need education systems that are safe and accessible to girls particularly in developing countries because it is not only the right thing to do but it is also the smart thing to do -to address gender inequalities, discrimination and equally importantly poverty! We must always remember that the absence of poverty contrary to popular belief is not wealth but rather is justice!
The day came to a nice conclusion with a performance by Alicia Keys –We are here! Ms. Key’s gave a compelling speech that invoked the obvious but often assumed question of why are we really here on earth and what is our purpose and obligation as a human being as part of her ‘We are here’ Campaign. Leaving the session today, I left with a lighter heart, knowing that I may not have solved all of the World’s problems but with the faith and belief that it can be done! Because we are having these awkward and rather difficult candid discussions now and because we are committed to working together! Here’s to a brighter future and an awesome World ahead!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


The Takemi Program in International Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, with the Support of the Ford Foundation, Seeks Applications for 2015-2016 Fellows from West Africa
Two Takemi Fellows annually will be supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation to contribute to leadership development and build capacity for sexual and reproductive health policy in Africa. The focal countries include Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia; strong candidates from French-speaking West African countries can apply if they have strong English language skills.
Applicants should propose a project that relates to youth development, sexuality, reproductive health and rights, and includes a broader approach that places these issues within the overall developmental aspirations of youth. The proposal should include analysis of a critical policy problem related to youth sexuality, with the goal of developing a policy brief to identify specific actions that could be implemented upon return home.
The Takemi Program in International Health is an interdisciplinary research program that focuses on the problems of mobilizing, allocating, and maintaining limited resources to improve health. To address these issues, the program brings together at Harvard each year a small group of Takemi Fellows, mid-career professionals from around the world, with particular emphasis on participants from developing countries. The program was established in 1983 and is named after Dr. Taro Takemi, the distinguished physician- scientist who served for more than 25 years as the president of the Japan Medical Association. To date, 251 Fellows from 53 countries have been selected to participate in the Takemi Program.
The Takemi Program provides its participants with an opportunity to focus fully on their research projects, to build collaborative relationships with Faculty and researchers at Harvard, and to develop their skills and capacity as leaders and policymakers in their home countries. Ford Foundation-supported Fellows will be provided with a limited budget to cover living expenses, health insurance, travel expenses, and research and training costs.
The Takemi Program in International Health seeks mid-career professionals from West African countries, who work on youth development and sexuality, to participate in the Takemi Fellowship, which expands leadership capacity of individuals who are working on health in their home countries.
For additional information on the Takemi Program, please see the webpage:
Instructions on how to submit an application are provided on the next page.
To Submit an Application to the Takemi Program
Qualifications: Applicants should have completed a graduate degree, have significant work and research experience, and have demonstrated potential leadership capacity in their home countries. They are expected to show strong promise and appropriate preparation (including facility in English) to enable them to benefit from a period at Harvard University. Further, they are expected to have made, or intend to make, a commitment to a career in health for which participation in the Takemi Program will be of significant value. Applications may come from any relevant discipline or profession (e.g., medicine, law, public health, economics, management, and social sciences).
Required Application Materials include:
             Application information sheet
             Curriculum vitae
             Publications list
             Short sample of something you have published in English
             Three letters of reference (Recommendation letters should also be sent directly by the referee to the Takemi Program by email – alevin@hsph.harvard.edu).
             Proposal of research and writing to be undertaken during the Fellowship- The proposal should not exceed five typewritten pages and should include a clear statement of objectives, significance or relevance, data sources, and methodology. The proposal should discuss how the Fellowship at Harvard will contribute to strengthening the capabilities of the applicant’s country. Please note that data should be collected and ready for analysis before arriving to the Program.
             Cover letter- Please also include a brief but specific cover letter stating what you plan to accomplish during the Fellowship (and confirming that your data will have been collected and will be ready for analysis when you arrive for the Fellowship).
             Session preference- Please indicate whether you are applying for the January-December 2015 or the August 2015- June 2016 session.
Applications and proposals for the 2015 Calendar Year (January - December 2015) must be received by October 1, 2014.
Applications and proposals for the 2015-16 Academic Year (August 2015 - June 2016) must be received by March 1, 2015.
Applicants will be notified of the Program’s decision about two months after the deadline.
Please send complete applications by email to: alevin@hsph.harvard.edu
The standard application format follows this page. You can also download the application forms Takemi Program in one of the following formats:
                 Application in Word Format
                 Application in PDF Format

Oak Institute at Colby College Accepting Applications for the 2015 Oak Human Rights Fellowship

Can you think of a front-line activist in need of respite?

We are pleased to issue this call for nominations for the 2015 Oak Human Rights Fellowship, sponsored by the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. The fellowship is a one-semester appointment as an activist-in-residence. It is designed to provide human rights defenders doing "on-the-ground" work at some level of personal risk a respite from front-line duties to enable them to reflect, write, and communicate their work to our campus community. We are writing to ask your help in identifying the Oak Fellow for the fall of 2015.

Each year, we target our search for a human rights activist either regionally or functionally. The focus of this year's search is food sovereignty and human rights. In this call, we focus on the political, economic and environmental challenges of food production and food access by farmers, farm communities, and the rural and urban poor. Eligible candidates for this fellowship may be engaged in local efforts to combat hunger and food insecurity, national and regional efforts to ensure farmers' access to land and protection from "land-grabs," and/or global efforts for political and economic reforms to promote greater equity and justice in our increasingly globalized food systems. We ask that you help us identify candidates who are currently or were recently involved in on-the-ground activism and who are in need of respite.

The appointment is for the fall semester of 2015 (mid-August through mid-December). Responsibilities include participation in a lecture series or symposium in the fellow's area of expertise and regular interaction with Colby students through a one-credit non-graded discussion class. The College provides a stipend of $33,000, plus transportation, housing, health care coverage, and other fringe benefits. We encourage the fellow to bring family, and we will provide limited financial support for their travel as well.

In conducting our annual search, we rely heavily on nominations from NGOs, journalists, human rights lawyers, and academics --you are most likely to know of the work of on-the-ground professionals. Since your organization has been active in the field of human rights, we would like to solicit your help. Please submit nominations to us no later than November 1, 2014. We will contact your nominee(s) and suggest that he or she apply; but we also hope you will encourage your nominee to apply directly. Your nomination letter(s) will become part of the applicant's file, underscoring your recognition of this person's important contributions to human rights activism. The deadline for completed applications is December 5, 2014.

Please feel free to forward this announcement to individuals or groups that might be interested or might help us locate excellent candidates. If you prefer to have an electronic copy of this announcement with a PDF brochure, please let us know. If you have any questions, you can reach me at (207) 859-5305 or Assistant Director Amanda Cooley at oakhr@colby.edu. For more information, you can access our webpage at www.colby.edu/oak; we call your attention to the frequently asked questions section to clarify terms and eligibility. We underscore that the fellowship is for an individual who needs a break from the intensity of front line work. It is not a training program for someone at the earlier stages of human rights work; nor is it a traditional academic sabbatical. Final selection will be announced no later than April 15, 2015.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Providing Dignified Employment to the Largest Informal Sector of Working Women in India

I have had the privileged of getting to know Saket Mishra and it did not come as a surprise that he has a rich seven years of experience in healthcare marketing as a Creative Director, designing strategy, concept and ideas for pharmaceutical brands and campaigns. Saket is very keen on personal development and is constantly looking to engage in more fulfilling work for himself and for his community.
In 2009,he took a sabbatical to set up his own nonprofit that launched Maid in India. The project has been a success, raising over $15,000 in grant money, changed 250 lives and reached 1000 households. The project is making revenue of over $10 million and working towards training and employing 1000 maids by 2015.

Saket has recently been nominated for the Living Wage Innovation Challenge award. Do feel free to read more about the amazing work that Maid in India is doing and vote for Saket here http://www.innovatingjustice.com/innovations/dignified-employment-informal-sector-working-women-in-india

Below find more information about the work that this innovation attempts to address. (Adopted from the Innovative Justice Forum.)
For millions of domestic workers, we train, employ and raise their standard of living through fair labor practices
Several forms of manual labor for both men and women in India remains informal, underpaid, exploited and not recognized by the government. 85% of slum dwellers in India are informal workers, but their jobs are still not considered legitimate, leaving them without any rights, standardized wages or employment benefits.
Within the informal workers’ segment in Mumbai’s slums, there are two major specific groups:
  • Women: About 48% of informal workers are women, and 85% of them are engaged in domestic work, as maids or housekeepers in apartments around their vicinity. They typically make 100 USD per month doing this work, and spend 8-10 hours per day working. We will target this population specifically within this group. Our work so far has demonstrated that we can increase their salaries by 190%.
  • Men: About 20% men in the slum are engaged in construction work or informal jobs in the manufacturing sector. Out of the rest, 80% men are self-employed in low level, skill-based jobs like tailors, embroiderers, leather manipulators, bead workers etc. They earn about 120-150 USD per month, and the propensity of garment workers is higher in Muslim slums compared to Hindu slums.
Our innovation matches informal workers with employment opportunities. A surcharge levied on the employer pays for benefits for these workers. Employers in return get the guarantee and quality of a formal worker – they get replacement workers if their own domestic worker is absent from work, fair and fixed wages, as well as a new maid within 24 hours, if their domestic worker quits or is fired. Our intervention so far has been targeted at women, but our future iteration includes the men from their families and neighborhoods.
Samiksha is a maid who earned USD 68 as a teacher in a government-run primary school. With four children and no husband, she found it hard to make ends meet. The temporary nature of her job gave her no benefits, or opportunity for growth, which is typical in such job settings in India. Samiksha was recruited to be part of our training program. After completing our basic training, Samiksha was placed as a domestic worker for 4 hours. In 2 months, not only did she over-perform at this job, she was able to join 2 other households as a part-time domestic worker. She now makes over USD 200, which is higher than 95% of her neighbors and community members in her slum (average monthly income USD 110). In addition, she gets life insurance, accident insurance, health insurance and pension. She has also invested over USD 800 last year in savings schemes to support her children’s education. Many persons working in the ready-made garment sector also struggle to make ends meet and could be helped this way.
Some for-profit organizations that function, as blue-collar placement agencies do exist, but their goal is simply providing one-time placements. They do not provide any employment benefits, job security or standardization of wages or training programs.
Our approach is unique for 2 reasons - it eliminates any middlemen between employers and service providers, and it provides formal labor recognition and benefits to an otherwise informal labor force. Labor in the garment sector would also tremendously benefit from these two aspects.
In India, the garment sector is mostly comprised of embroiderers and dyers that are informally employed by designers on an ad hoc basis. By employing our model, we could formalize the relationship between the designers and these laborers, making it easy for them to charge a standardized (and fair) fee, as well as for designers to locate and engage with the most appropriate labor they need. In addition, our model would be able to provide these laborers employment benefits, so that their standard of living can incrementally improve over time, as well as relevant training in the areas of skill development, language and computer literacy, as well as basic financial management. Also, the connections with employers would make it easy to estimate market trends and needs, and create skill training programs based on that.
The biggest thrust of our program is to obtain standardized and fair wages for our maids in the first place, expanding our impact to other workers in the medium term. We not only train the maids to ensure standardized quality, but we also train them in negotiation skills, and our maids earn 190% higher wages after joining us as a result. This is possible because we also provide employers value added services, which allows our maids to command higher salaries. We have twice the demand from employers today, than maids available, so our maids always have plenty of options to choose from. In addition to salary, maids get a number of employment benefits from us, as well as job security. These allow them to meaningfully save and invest their money for their future, leading to higher wealth retention, and an overall increase in their standard of living over time.