These four stories are a key reminder of what it’s like to be female across the world.
Pope warns Kenyans against lowering birth rate
Catholicism is said to be spreading rapidly in East Africa, and Pope Francis drew ecstatic crowds during his tour in Kenya — including a stop in one of the world’s largest slums. Addressing the poverty he saw, he called efforts to lower the birthrates in the region, part of the “culture of waste,” a feature of what he called the “new colonialism.” The Catholic Church is steadfastly against contraception. Kenya has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, yet only 39 percent of women use contraception. Although abortion is officially legal in Kenya, unsafe abortions cause a significant number of women’s deaths, in part because the government has created barriers for women to gain access to care.
“The deaths and injuries of these women can be prevented and must be prevented,” said Evelyne Opondo, regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights. The center has sued government officials, demanding the barriers be removed.
In neighboring Uganda, women demand change of criminal law
Earlier this fall, an Ugandan organization, called the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, launched a petition for Parliament to decriminalize abortion. The organizers had 30,000 signatures, but were aiming for 2.5 million. An estimated 26 percent of preventable maternal deaths in Uganda are due to unsafe abortions carried out by unqualified medical practitioners.
Rebecca Tulibasika, Ugandan teen writer, wrote recently how the lack of safe abortion affected her and her peers:
“My friend Rosemary Naigember is from a village called Bugade in Eastern Uganda. We used to go to school together at Townside High School. Rosemary became pregnant during our school Easter holidays. The father of the baby was 35 year old; Rosemary was only 16. She was too scared to tell her parents, so she went to a hospital and asked for an abortion. In Uganda you can pay for an abortion even though it is illegal. We don’t have Rosemary at Townside High School anymore as she died in the hospital after the abortion… I went to Rosemary’s burial with my friends and the head teacher and local pastor also attended. It was very sad because Rosemary was so young. I want girls to know that unsafe abortions are very risky and can cause so many problems. But even more I want adults to understand how their Colonial-era policies are killing us.”
Congo women bring rape trials to villages
The female survivors of mass rapes and killings in the Congo have banded together to seek justice locally. Raping of women and girls was a fundamental strategy to terrorize the country during the nation’s decades of conflict as well as to impregnate women with the children of their assailants.
With the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, failing to convict a single rebel commander of orchestrating mass rape, women’s groups in the DRC have begun working with judges who travel the country in a system of “mobile justice.”
Julienne Lusenge, a leading Congolese activist, heads the Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development, a coalition of 40 women’s organizations. The group’s members travel to villages where the incidents happened. They bring with them a judge, a magistrate, a clerk, the accuser and witnesses. They also have the funds to pay the court fees.
“And then we invite the community and mobilize them to come and be present at these hearings,” she said. The organization also provides immediate medical care to rape victims and mediates the stigma she bears in her community, including rejection by her family.
Next on the agenda: political power under the new constitution.
French Muslim women wearing veils bear brunt of backlash
As France, home to the largest Muslim populations in Europe, reels after the attacks on Nov. 13, Muslim women are keenly aware they will be increasingly targeted for harassment or worse. Because they wear a veil or other clothing indicating they are Muslim, they are readily identified as possible targets. France also has laws restricting women who wear this traditional clothing, barring veils in schools and full-face coverings in public.
In fact, Zakia Meziani said in an interview that four days after the Paris attacks, a veiled woman was attacked in Marseille, in the south of France. “We can find a lot of acts like these today in the press,” said the president of the Association for the Recognition of the Rights and Liberties of Muslim Women. Meziani added that since the murders in January at the office of a sardonic magazine and a kosher grocery store, the attacks against veiled women have increased. In addition, she said many veiled women experience increased bias on a daily basis. “Female students are not allowed to go to class,” she said. “Sometimes they are denied access to recreational centers, doctors or driving schools.”