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Deworming Campaign to Benefit 700,000 Schoolchildren in Haiti

Lunch @HAC This month the Haitian government will launch a national deworming campaign for schoolchildren, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the Ministry of National Education, and the Foundation for Development and the Framework of the Haitian Family (FONDEFH).

The campaign will  benefit about 700,000 students who currently participate in WFP’s school feeding program. Children will receive tablets to deter intestinal worms, which rob undernourished children of necessary nutrients and inhibit their growth. Deworming involves providing each child with one deworming tablet per year to eradicate an active infection or prevent eggs from turning into an active infection.

In addition to deworming tablets, children will receive a vitamin nutritional supplement to improve overall health. The campaign will also attempt to raise awareness among students and teachers of the 2,000 participating schools to promote health, nutrition, and good eating habits.

WFP has helped provide a hot meal each day to 685,000 children in Haiti during 2012-2013 the school year. They currently serve school meals in 60 countries to around 22 million children.  WFP school meals are usually provided at breakfast or lunch, or as a high-energy snack. Some students also receive take-home rations to compensate families for the cost of sending children to school. In 2012, 1.3 million girls and 500,000 boys recieved take-home rations from WFP.

School feeding has been shown to improve students’ concentration and attendance rates while supporting local farmers and tackling malnutrition and family food insecurity. The program also benefits girls, who are often typically excluded from schooling, by providing an incentive for families to send their daughters to school.

“We have a proverb in Haiti”, explains Danielle Selicour, the headmistress of the Joseph et Bertha Wigfall School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, “‘Sak vid pa kanpe’, which means an empty sack cannot stand up. By this we mean that when your stomach is empty you are not able to do anything. I have worked at this school for over 36 years and we have been receiving WFP school meals for as long as I can remember.  But it is not just the food that is important; it is also the health of the school children. The parents here are really happy because for the first time since the earthquake we are also giving deworming medications. This improves the children’s health as well as providing them with a hot meal at school.”

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Free Education Program in Somalia Halted Amid Teacher Strikes

Hawa Abdi Centre for Internally Displaced SomalisThis past September, Somalia launched its Go 2 School Initiative, designed to provide a free education to  one million children in Somalia, where only four out of every ten children currently attend school and, of those attending, only 36% are girls.

The program was abruptly halted when teachers went on strike in January after not being paid, leaving children without schools once again. The teachers were promised a salary of $200 a month but had only received $300 since the program first launched in September, resulting in a strike impacting 50,000 primary school children at the 12 new schools established through the campaign.

This is not the first time the new program has faced challenges. The initiative, which aimed to enroll one million children in its first year, got off to a slow start after a lackluster marketing campaign. It also faced criticism from teachers after the government failed to deliver a national curriculum to be used as a basis for instruction. In addition, parents and teachers voiced safety concerns after the country’s al-Qaida militant group warned that the schools were legitimate targets for attack.

Despite the challenges, many agreed that the program was providing hope for the many Somali families that could not afford private school tuition. In June of 2013, the first national education conference was held in Mogadishu where the Somali prime minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon, promised that the government would give education the same priority as defense, asserting that  it was the constitutional right of each child to receive education free of charge.

The Go 2 School program was launched in September with much excitement at public ceremonies in Mogadishu, Garowe and Hargeisa. UNICEF continues to urge funders to support the Go 2 School campaign, while Maryan Qasim, former Minister for Human Services and Public Services in Somalia, urged teachers to have patience with the government and commence their teaching duties.

Creative Commons Love: UN Photo/Tobin Jones on Flickr.com

Laos To Develop Sex Education Curriculum To Reduce Teen Pregnancies

Pak Ou, LaosSomchit Inthamith, Lao Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, has called for Laos to address high levels of teen pregnancy through sex education.  This would be a joint health and education initiative aimed at encouraging girls to complete their schooling by teaching them about the choices they have and the precautions they can take.

The Lao Social Indicator Survey of 2011-2012 reported an adolescent birth rate of 94 out of every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. Teenage girls lack the physical and emotional maturity to handle pregnancy and childbirth which is why medical complications represent the largest cause of death for Lao girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

Girls living in both rural and mountainous areas of the country are over-represented in this statistic. These girls often have little opportunity to gain an education and instead ending up married as teenagers. For these young girls, it is considered normal to begin a family at the age of 14 or 15.

Tod is a rural girl who was married and pregnant at the age of 15. Her story demonstrates how dangerous  early marriages and pregnancies can be for girls like her. When she went into labor she followed her culture’s customs and went into the forest to give birth on her own. She was lucky and survived the ordeal, but her premature baby did not. Lao girls in similar remote regions of the country commonly have no access to medical care or the knowledge they need to take care of their bodies and their babies properly.

The UNFPA recently released a report entitled Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the Challenge of Adolescent Pregnancy which discussed the prevalence of teenage pregnancy in the developing world. Girls from an impoverished, rural, or poorly educated backgrounds are at especially high risk of teenage pregnancy. With few options in life and little access to sexual health information and services, these girls are more likely to become pregnant than wealthier, urban, and educated girls.

UN Population Fund (UNFPA) representative for Laos, Esther Muia, stated “very often, teenage pregnancy forces girls to leave school and a girl without an education is a girl who lacks the skills to find a job, build a future for herself and her family, and to contribute to her nation’s development.”

Teenage pregnancy poses severe risks to the health of teenage girls, as well as to her future education and income potential. These early births also negatively impact the lives of the children and ultimately their communities as well. There is hope, however, in the knowledge that girls who remain in school and get an education will have a lower risk of teenage pregnancy.

“By empowering girls, protecting their rights and helping them prevent pregnancy, we can make it possible for girls to realize their potential to become equal partners in development,” stated Somchit Inthamith when arguing to add sexual education to Lao school curricula.

Creative Commons Love: Staffan Scherz on Flickr.com

Philippines Ranks As One of the Top Five Countries for Gender Equality

Calbayog kidsThe Philippines is one of the best places in the world to be a woman, reported the Global Gender Gap Report 2013. The country ranked fifth in the world and number one in Asia, moving up three notches from its previous ranking in 2012.

Iceland secured number one out of 136 countries, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland, and Nicaragua. The United Kingdom ranked 18th, the United States at 23, China holding the 68th position, and India at 101st.

The study was released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), who conducts an annual report which assesses each country’s genders’ participation in health, education, politics and economic activity. The WEF said, “the Philippines remains the most advanced country in the (Asia-Pacific) region in terms of gender equality, ranking 5th in the global index. It improves as a result of advances in economic participation and opportunity, a subindex of the report, as well as having a strong score in terms of political participation.” The Philippines is currently the only Asian country to fully close the gender gap in education and health and the country.

Filipina journalist Marites Vitug reportedly said that the Philippines has a “very liberal work atmosphere” with a “fantastic support network” from household help to extended families. “Woman usually hold the purse. Even if they re not the major breadwinner, they do the budget, decide how money is spent. Thus, men don’t have a dismissive attitude toward women,” explained Vitug.

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) is very proud of their country’s improvement, saying “the collective hard work of government agencies, non-government and civil society organizations, academe and various stakeholders prove that the country indeed is recognizing and valuing women as active drivers of development.”

The commission still admits the country’s remaining challenges for gender equality, explaining “efforts to keep children in school… to expand economic opportunities for women and increase women’s participation in decision-making positions need to be accelerated and sustained in all spheres. PCW will not stop from performing its mandate until we enforce the necessary mechanisms to foster and promote equal opportunities for women and me.”

 Creative Commons Love: tadolo on Flickr.com

11-Year Old Yemeni Girl Speaks Out against Child Marriage

Running out of spaceNada Al-Ahdal is a Yemeni girl who fled an arranged marriage when she was ten years old. Now eleven, she made an appearance on Lebanese television to discuss the issue of child marriage opposite a Muslim cleric.

When talking about why she chose to run from marriage, Nada said “I didn’t run away just because of the (intention) to marry me off, but because of the ignorance and because I wanted to study…They told me (marriage) was a game, but it isn’t. It turns you into a servant, and places a burden that is greater than you can bear on your shoulders.”

Nada’s family promised her in marriage to a 26 year old man she did not know after the man paid a $2,000 bride price. Likewise, her 14-year old sister was married and her 12-year old sister engaged. Like many child brides, Nada comes from an impoverished family that could greatly benefit from the money they receive for their daughters’ hands in marriage and from the reduced financial burden of having to provide food, clothing and education to so many children.

Nada and other girls who have spoken out against child marriage express concerns about the physical risks of early marriage and about being forced to leave school.  Additional risks come when some child brides later face divorce or abandonment by their husbands, leaving them without an education or any means of support for themselves or their children.

The Muslim cleric speaking opposite Nada insisted that a father has the right to arrange a contractual marriage for his  daughter from the time she is born. He stated that “there is consensus about this in the Muslim world…this is an accepted custom.” He differentiated between contractual marriage and the actual consummation of that marriage. When questioned about when he thinks a girl is old enough to consummate a marriage, he stated that there is no specific age because only the girl and her female relatives can decide if she will be physically harmed by intercourse.

In September, the international spotlight focused upon Yemen after an 8-year old child bride reportedly died from internal bleeding due to genital tearing just days after consummating her marriage to a 40-year old man. This event drew attention to the extremely high rates of child marriage seen in Yemen, with girls commonly being married to men several times their ages. As of 2006, 52% of Yemeni girls were married before they turned 18 and 14% before they turned 15-years old.

Despite attempts by activists and politicians to create a legal restriction on the minimum age for marriage, no legislation currently exists in Yemen and religious clerics continue to oppose such a restriction, calling it “un-Islamic.” Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director for Human Rights Watch stated “thousands of Yememi girls have their childhood stolen and their futures destroyed because they are forced to marry too young.”

Creative Commons Love: Julien Harneis on Flickr.com

Activists Urge an End to Child Marriage in Nigeria

Nigeria, December 2006According to a recent report released by the Ford Foundation, Nigeria has the highest rates of child marriage of all West African countries. Throughout West Africa, nearly 5 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are already married. Of the sixteen countries surveyed, Nigerian girls accounted for nearly half of this statistic.

In 2003, the Nigerian government established the Child Rights Act making eighteen the minimum age for marriage, yet over one third of the country’s thirty-six states have failed to implement and enforce this legislation. As a result, child marriage remains a significant problem with nearly 29% (2.5 million) of all Nigerian girls aged 15 to 19 being reported as already married.

“Here, you’re being programmed to think that the ultimate for a woman is marriage and nothing else…The government needs to do a better job with creating awareness about the importance of education for girls” said Amina Hanga, executive secretary at Nigeria’s Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative.

This and other non-profit organizations, like the global partnership Girls Not Brides,  struggle to improve these statistics by advocating for the empowerment of women and children through education. Education provides girls with new opportunities and skills that help delay marriage and empower them to make informed decisions about their lives.

Child marriage continues to persist in this region due to a combination of factors that include poverty and increased vulnerability due to crisis or conflict situations. When a family chooses to give a daughter into early marriage, they reduce the financial burden on the family because there will now be one less child in need of food, education and clothing. Many families also see marriage as providing young girls with security and safety in otherwise unstable conditions.

In reality, child marriage poses a grave threat. Girls under the age of 18 are neither emotionally nor physically ready for marriage or motherhood. As a result, child brides lack adequate access to healthcare and face disproportionately high rates of both sexually transmitted diseases and complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, these girls experience a high risk of social isolation, domestic abuse, lack of education, and poverty.

Understanding these risks, multiple international conventions have declared child marriage to be a violation of human rights because these girls  are unable to decide when and whom they will marry. According to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, all women have the right to consent to marriage. The problem with early marriage is that children under the age of 18 are not considered mature enough to either make an informed decision or give their consent freely.

Creative Commons Love: Joachim Huber on Flickr.com

National Outcry Over Virginity Test Proposal In Indonesia

Local and national outrage has been stirred over a proposal by Indonesian health officials to require female high school students to undergo mandatory virginity tests to discourage premarital sex and prostitution.
indonesia bali kuta sunset

Muhammad Rasyid, Head of the Office of Education in Prabumulih, South Sumatra, introduced a budget and strategy to begin this testing as soon as next year. However, local officials and activists vehemently criticize the proposition and accuse Rasyid of “promoting sexual violence against women” and violating human rights.

The plan has since been halted, yet harsh criticism from social media websites and Indonesian officials continues. Indonesian Education Minister Mohammad Nuh said the proposal was “neither wise nor judicious” and would not prevent teenage sex. Nuh also said “if there was proof of course we would issue a circular to that effect. But they must find another way, a wiser way, to address the issue of sex.” Local officials also expressed concern over the implementation as possibly prohibiting students’ access to education.

 The project was originally incited by the arrest of three high school female students allegedly involved in prostitution. Rasyid said the tests were for the students’ “own good” and they would be protected from “prostitution and free sex,” but he also acknowledged the possibility of “some human rights concerns.” The test would be conducted on 15 and 16 year old female students entering high school.

 In response, Aris Merdeka Sirait of the National Commission for Child Protection argued, “the loss of virginity is not merely because of sexual activities. It could be caused by sports or health problems and many other factors. We strongly oppose this aggressive move.”

 The conversation is not unfamiliar to the world’s most populous Muslim country of 205 million, where sexual education programs were previously turned down on the grounds that “speaking on the subject goes against the nation’s traditions.

Creative Commons Love: Carl Parkes on Flickr.com

5,000 New Schools To Be Opened in Bihar, India

Smiles

The government of Bihar, India, intends to open 5,000 new schools in the state in an attempt to tackle problems that can be resolved through girls’ education.

Bihar females face a plethora of problems, such as child marriage and female foeticide and a high fertility rate. The chief minister, Nitish Kumar, stated that his government aims to open 1,000 new schools a year. He stressed that the only way to face these issues is through education.

Kumar reported that the fertility rate is 3.6%, noting that if girls matriculate and are educated, the rate drops down to 2%. He also stated that if attempts are made now, the population will stabilize by 2040.

According to Kumar, the number of girl students has increased due to the government’s initiatives, such as free uniforms and bicycles. Although problems such as female foeticide continue despite their being illegal, Kumar stated that this problem could over time become resolved thanks to an education reform.

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Pakistan’s Burka Avenger to Fight for Girls’ Right to Education

A girl studying in Pakistan's flooded area.

Pakistan’s newest animated series will star the Burka Avenger, a compassionate teacher who combats gangsters trying to close down the girls’ school in which she works.  The show portrays this avenger as a burka-wearing ninja whose only weapons are her books and pens and whose sidekicks are three students from the local village.

Pakistan’s first animated series, Burka Avenger, presents a struggle relevant to Pakistan’s current battles with education, as the nation’s northwest area is a front for the Taliban’s attacks on education for girls. The Taliban is believed to have bombed countless schools, attacked Pakistani educational activists, and shot 15-year old Malala Yousafzai for campaigning for girls’ educational rights last October.

A group of orphans who were shown an early screening of the series gave encouraging reviews; Ten year-old Samia Naeem said she liked the crusading heroine “because she saved kids’ lives. She motivated them for education and school.”

The idea for this Urdu language series was conceived by one of Pakistan’s biggest pop stars, Aaron Haroon, who sees it as a way to emphasize the importance of girls’ education. Haroon’s goal was to combine Pakistani culture with an educational message; he hopes Pakistani girls will be empowered by the avenger’s use of the burka. It will premiere early August on GeoTV.

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Ghana’s Female Educators Encouraged To Serve As Role Models

Quality nutrition for students

During a conference titled “Education for Development- The Role of Female Teachers,” retired educator Mrs. Agnes Atagabe attributed the fall in Ghana’s standards of education to poor teaching and learning materials, weak infrastructure and the inability of administrators to effectively monitor and supervise teaching in schools.

Mrs. Atagabe believes that the only way to bring the standards of education back up is for the government, the Ghana Education Service and their stakeholders to commit to providing the necessary support. In the meantime, Mrs. Atagabe also stressed the importance of female teachers who are seen as role models by their students.

She urged female teachers to use every available methodology to ensure each student has a deep understanding of the curriculum. This also means including ICT in the classroom and seeing it as an integral part of the students’ academic growth. Additionally, she encouraged the female teachers to continue in their own studies in order to be knowledgeable in all subjects.

The conference was the second Quadrennial Regional Women’s Round Table Conference. It was organized by the Ghana National Association of Teachers Ladies Society (GNAT-LAS).

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