I met Vivian in Nairobi. We were told that we were to meet a young woman who had narrowly escaped Female Genital Circumcision (FGM), a practice that is barbaric and abusive. She had escaped being cut, not because of the intervention of Western aid workers or other incomers to her rural Kenyan community, but because her parents forbade it.
The Luo community, to which Vivian and her parents belong do not practice FGM, but she grew up in a Kuria community where girls are cut. It is seen as a rite of passage, which most girls eagerly anticipate . When Vivian’s parents refused permission for her to be cut, she tried to go behind their backs. She was nine years old, and impressed by the stories of her friends, who told of month long celebrations, and generous gifts of money given to girls who do not cry.
Girls are told that they will be unable to find a husband if they are not cut, and are called names and ridiculed for refusing.
For many years, Vivian’s parents sent her away during the ‘cutting season’ to protect her. Even this did not help, and she sneaked out to attend a ceremony. Only the intervention of her brother, saved her. It wasn’t until she was 14 years old, that she realised that her parents were right.
Vivian told this tale on a warm summer evening in Nairobi. She talked of her teen fears of not finding a husband, and of the peer pressure she was subjected to. She talked of the church, where she was told that FGM was bad, but not why it is bad.
She talked of going ‘back home’ and seeing the school friends she left behind. One of her friends dropped out of school when she was 12 years old, and soon was married to a man in his 70s. She now has five children, and blames her parents for taking her ‘to the knife’. She has nowhere to go. There is no divorce in such a community.
Vivian is an intelligent, educated and beautiful young woman, who is now working as a researcher in Kenya. Where Vivian is educated, her friend is unschooled. Where Vivian is a free woman, her friend is enslaved by her circumstances. Vivian would not look out of place on 5th Avenue. The same could not be said of her friend.
Girls who are circumcised drop out of school earlier, marry earlier, have children earlier. The initial complications such as shock, severe bleeding, tetanus or sepsis are only the beginning of a life of pain caused by the ceremony. Later health issues may include the formation of scar tissue, cysts, infections, infertility and childbirth complications, including increased risk of mother and newborn deaths.
Kenya is one of many African countries that has officially banned FGM, but it still goes on. It continues because girls like Vivian are told that they are worthless unless they agree to be cut. It continues because young boys and men are told that a woman who is uncut will be unfaithful.
FGM is violence against women, perpetrated to keep them subservient to men. As Lancashire midwife and anti-FGM campaigner Cath Holland puts it,
“At its root, FGM is all about patriarchy. It’s about controlling women – controlling their sexuality, controlling their libido. In communities like Pokot it’s regarded as a prerequisite for marriage.”
Cath travelled to Pokot in the Rift Valley to train midwives, and returned a changed woman. Horrified by her experiences, Cath decided that the best way to effect change, was from within the community. She invited two Kenyan midwives to UK to inform them of the dangers of FGM. These women went back to Kenya to spread the word. One of their most effective tools is the Alternative Rite of Passage.
In the past years Cath has raised enough money to fund two alternative ceremonies, with a third one planned in December 2012 (during the traditional cutting season).
‘We were informed by the group that altogether over the last 2 years 414 girls participated in our “Alternative Rite of Passage” (ARP) ceremonies. Of these only 4 girls were subsequently subjected to FGM. The majority of the girls are still at school and some even attending secondary school’
Working within the community is the only way to protect girls from FGM. They have to be informed of the dangers, and empowered to make the decision not to be cut. Only then will they be able to resist the peer pressure, and the pressure from their community and family.
Vivian talks about her experiences, not only to foreign journalists and bloggers, but to the young girls who live in the community, paying back the advice she received from her mother. She was able to avoid the knife, and now she hopes that by telling her story, she can inspire other girls to do the same.
This post is part of the Violence Against Women Bloghop – 16 Days of Activism
Updated on January 4, 2016
Numbers are funny things, aren’t they?
If I said a house I bought a house in London that cost £287,000, then you would know that it was not a particularly posh area of the city.
If I said I earned a bonus of £287,000 last year, you would think I was a high powered executive (sadly, these two examples are not true)
If I said that Mumsnet clocked up 287,000 page views in around 5 hours, you would imagine that it was quite a popular and influential website
How about this statistic:
Around 287,000 women die every year from pregnancy related causes.
Most of these deaths are preventable, if the women have access to health care.
Whether or not you belong to one of these 287,000 women depends purely on an accident of birth. If you were born in what we term a ‘developed country’, the risk is much lower. Women who live in Sierra Leone, in Burundi, in Cambodia — and even in United States of America — are not so fortunate.
In some African countries, maternal mortality is around 800 deaths per 100,000 births. In comparison, European countries show maternity mortality rates between 4 and 10 deaths per 100,000 births. The US is an anomaly in the developed world, with 16 deaths per 100,000 births.
Getting away from numbers for a moment, lets stop and think about what this means for the individual families.
When the mother dies, the risk of poverty and death to her existing children takes a great leap. They are less likely to go to school, less likely to get a job and escape the grinding poverty into which they were born. Less likely to even reach adulthood.
What are the risks of pregnancy related death, and how can they be prevented? The five leading causes of death during pregnancy are:
Haemorrhage – severe bleeding after the birth
Sepsis – infection during or after delivery, often caused by giving birth in unhygienic environment
Hypertensive Disorders – pre-eclampsia, and eclampsia
In societies with fully functioning health services, most of these conditions or problems would be recognised early enough to prevent loss of life, but what of countries with little health care facilities?
We are conditioned to think of health care being expensive, but what if we provided emergency obstetric health care in areas of high maternity mortality? Would it make a difference?
The charity Médecins Sans Frontières decided to find out.
They established two projects, in Sierra Leone and in Burundi. The focus is on emergency care, ie. antenatal care, an emergency transport service and a hospital providing 24/7 treatment of serious pregnancy complications.
At the Gondama Referral Centre in Sierra Leone, patients are referred from health clinics and midwives in the area when there is a known risk of complications, or when serious complications develop during labour.
The population of Sierra Leone is similar to that of Scotland, around 6 million but they have just 200 doctors, and around 80 midwives. This in a country where only 17% of women use contraception. No wonder they have one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.
Trained obstetricians work day and night to save the lives of women who arrive in pain, bleeding, frightened and exhausted. For some of them, the story has a happy ending. For some, despite every effort of the medical team, the women go home without a baby, or don’t go home at all.
The BBC One documentary, which airs at tonight,
at 10.35pm, follows the progress of some of these women
Bafta winning director Brian Hill has travelled the world to observe the differences in obstetric health care in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, the US and UK. The documentary is as shocking as it is inspirational. It is at times distressing, such as the scenes documenting still birth and the death of a young woman, but it is also incredibly powerful and moving.
Follow the story of Cambodian woman Neang and her 12 year old son Pisey, who has taken on the role of protector of his family. To earn money for his mother and sister, Pisey forgoes schooling to scavenge for rubbish which he sells to buy rice. In a poignant scene, he is filmed picking up HIV meds for his mother while she gives birth to his second baby sister in a nearby hospital. Health care in Cambodia is improving, and they have seen mortality rates sink in the past years.
There are moments of great joy, such as the birth of twins, to the delight of their father, and moments of sorrow when a child is born only to live a few minutes.
And what of the MSF project?
The results are very promising. A estimated reduction of maternal mortality rates by up to 74% shows that the concept of providing emergency care works.
The total annual running costs of these programmes is around £1.70 per person in Sierra Leone. Yes, you read that number right. One pounds seventy pence per person, per year could save thousands of lives. This isn’t about state of the art operating theatres or equipment, but very basic health care for those who so desperately need it.
According to MSF:
MSF’s positive experience from
these countries can serve as an encouraging
example for donors, governments and other
NGOs who are considering investing in a
functional and effective referral system and
24/7 emergency obstetric care in countries
where maternal mortality is high and access to
emergency obstetric services is limited.
Panel discussion at the Mumsnet Blogfest 2012, headed by Eleanor Mills, Times Online journalist
The word ‘troll’ for a person who comments on blogs or online news articles in a way to elicit fear and disgust may be new, but ‘hate mail’ is as old as the newspaper industry itself, according to Suzanne Moore. No longer are newspaper offices recipients of scribbled letters in green ink, as technology has found new ways of dispatching hate directly to the writer.
The more controversial the topic, the nastier the comments received, although Moore surprised us by saying that an article on Morris Dancers provoked the most hateful response of her career. ‘Don’t write because you want someone to like you’, she continued, ‘and expect people to disagree’.
Blogger Cath Elliot talked of her experience, including scary stalkers and a sustained and organised campaign of hate, which ended in a report to the police (and it is still ongoing).
Eleanor Mills reported that since the Times Paywall went up, there has been a marked reduction in abusive comments. The Paywall requires the registration in the user’s real name, and the resulting lack of anonymity means that people remain more civil than on the anonymous (and notorious) Guardian CIF comments fields.
It was something that a few Guardian journalists noted – they are encouraged to respond to the comments, something that is surely not easy when they are being called ‘thick cunt’ or ‘fat whale’. Who wants to read comment like that about themselves?
All the journalists remarked on the stunning misogyny of the comments, ‘It is an attempt to silence you’, noted Suzanne Moore.
Tanya Byron made us laugh when she told us of her mum saying, ‘Darling, if the daily mail is saying nasty things about you, you are an outstanding woman’
Legal Blogger David Allen Green was asked to advise on the best way to proceed, and recommended asking for the local police computers crime division – but advised caution. Only in extreme cases is the involvement of the law generally useful.
Panel discussion at the Mumsnet Blogfest 2012, hosted by Gaby Wood, Head of Books, Daily Telegraph
The journalists Zoe Williams and Zoe Strimpel, writer Rachel Cusk were in London, while blogger Jenny Lawson, better known as TheBloggess joined in via Google+ videolink from Texas. It was 4am in Texas but Jenny was bright and cheery, wearing PJs, make-up and, at times, a cat.
The panel talked of the changes that motherhood had brought them, with Zoe Williams talking of the ‘pram in the hall’ syndrome – when women writers lose their creativity or focus after the birth of their child. She revealed she has a problem in thinking things through, but that as her children grew older, she was more aware of what she was writing and how it would affect them.
I found Rachel’s answer intriguing, in that she found that before she had children that her creativity seemed more mysterious and uncertain. Children brought order and structure to her days, and to her writing so that she found she became better at managing her time.
Jenny was worried about being seen as a bad feminist when she admitted that she can’t do all things perfectly all of the time.
‘If I am going to be a good mom this week, then I won’t have time for my book… be proud of these things you are doing and learn how to juggle them’
She also talked of being called a ‘mommyblogger’ in an interview, and had the place in an uproar when she confessed to telling the CNN journalist,
‘Don’t call me mommy, unless you came out of my vagina‘
which had to be the quote of the Blogfest.
There was some controversy during this discussion, as to the value of confessional writing. While Zoe Strimpel talked of moving away from confessional writing, Jenny stated there is no such thing as over-sharing, as long as you stick to the boundaries you have set yourself.
‘Do not endanger your marriage of your child. Get together with your family and have a chat’
The panel touched on the topic of protecting yourself and your family from abusive responses, and Zoe Williams talked about her worry for her family when she talked about abortion.
Conflicting advice from the panel on the issue of editing, with Zoe S advising, ‘Don’t over edit. Publish. Quickly’, but Jenny explaining that she writes three posts for every one that she publishes. I would love to have known if she did this for the Knock Knock Motherfucker Beyonce Chicken post. (Don’t forget to come back here when you have read that, and thank me for brightening your day. Talk about overshadowing my own post).
When a member of the audience asked about what to do when her son asked her to stop writing about him, and whether she should allow him to read what she had written, Zoe Williams reacted with horror,
‘Copy approval is like smoking fags through a veil’
while Rachel noted that this disapproval is all part of adolescence, and children distancing themselves from their parents.
This prompted Prof Tanya Byron, who was scheduled to take part in a panel discussion later, to retort that if a child or an adult expresses a wish not to feature in a blog post, then it would be very wrong to ignore that wish.
I completely agree with this, even though I can see that it causes problems for many bloggers who write about their family life. I have written on the subject of privacy for family members of bloggers, and the issue of what mummybloggers do when their children grow up.
Updated on January 4, 2016
I flew to London this weekend to attend the Mumsnet Blogfest. Parenting website Mumsnet had assembled a speakers list which was as dazzling as it was varied. Miriam Gonzales Durantez, Prof Tanya Byron, Zoe Margolis, Caitlin Moran, Susanne Moore, Zoe Williams… and many more.
The best piece of advice was by Caitlin Moran who said if you are not sure how to end your article cut and paste the second paragraph, which meant that I am continuing to write this article about 30 hours after I started it because I started to worry about how to end my article with this paragraph. So, thanks for that Caitlin.
The Blogfest was kicked off by Miriam Gonzales Durantez, who started by expressing her ‘monumental debt of gratitude‘ for the support she received on Mumsnet when she made it clear that she would help her husband politically, but that she would not change her identity or her life, or more importantly her children’s lives.
‘Your reaction and your support helped me more than you could possibly know’
The journalists Zoe Williams and Zoe Strimpel, and writer Racheal Cusk were in London, while blogger Jenny Lawson, better known as TheBloggess joined in via Google+ videolink from Texas. It was 4am in Texas but Jenny was bright and cheery, wearing PJs, make-up and, at times, a cat.
I have written at length about this session here but in the main advice that I have take from this session was:
– There is no such thing as oversharing, as long as you stick to the boundaries you have set yourself
– Speak to your family about how much you are willing to reveal about your, and their lives
– Don’t over-edit. Press publish. Quickly.
– Try to balance motherhood and writing, and don’t try to be perfect in everything you do
– Hold yourself to higher standards
– Control your audience – get friendly people on your side by emailing friends or using facebook, build confidence and believe in what you are writing
– Think about how much is you, and how much you want to share
– Write about yourself and your life first, tell your story
– Move away from confessional writing, regardless how tempting it is to use professional experience
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that this contains conflicting advice, which of course is normal when you ask four people for their writing tips.
After the panel discussion, we retired to the 28th floor to eat delicious cupcakes from Beverly Hills Bakery and check out the stalls from the sponsors, Boden, Skoda, Google and Nintendo, and associate partners Mama Mio, Savoo, The Portland Hospital and Innocent.
Eleanor Mills was chair of the panel and asked the journalists how they deal with trolls. Find the long version of my notes on this discussion here. This is what I learned:
– Don’t feed the troll
– If the Daily Mail are writing nasty things about you, you are doing something right
– Ignore and if possible block the troll from commenting
– Keep a paper trail – don’t delete messages without saving them in a document so that if the abuse escalates, you have evidence of this
– Only go to the police as a last resort, or if you feel threatened
– If you do go to the police, ask for the Computer Crimes Division, as they are experienced in this area
I asked a question on Facebook and Twitter for pre-teens and teens, and was pleased that the response to limit the use of Social Media, and to speak to children about the necessity of being cautious of what they post online. This is in line with what I have written on Jump! Mag, but good to hear it confirmed.
After a quick stop at the BlogClinic, where I gave (hopefully useful) advice to a variety of bloggers on Social Media and Twitter, it was back upstairs for the panel discussion in which I took part.
I was very pleased to be asked to speak at this session, particularly with such great panellists. The basic consensus was that blogging alone cannot change the world, but that it can help to raise awareness as part of a movement for change.
Great practical advice for anyone who wishes to involve their MP came from Stella Creasy, who said ‘tell your MP what you expect of them’. Don’t just tell them that you are unhappy with the status quo, let them know what a good resolution would be.
As always, after such an event, I realised that I had forgotten to make an important point, in my attempt to be brief and not waffle on too long.
A short break to slurp tea and search for cake then it was a mad rush to get downstairs to the Keynote Panel Discussion
What shall I say? So many others have written about this session, so I will only say this. Zoe, Tim and Eliza were great, and deserved to have more attention paid to them than they did. Tim’s comments about only being able to write about his life when things are going well, and Eliza’s explanation of how her daughter accepts, and even revels in Eliza’s blog were interesting. Zoe was funny and open when talking about what it is like to be exposed (no pun intended) as a blogger who wrote VERY frankly about her sex life.
It was all rather overshadowed by a Liz Jones. A sad and strangely vulnerable figure, wearing designer clothes and an air of fragility, she was very different to what I had expected. She regretted everything she had ever written, was shunned by family and friends, even to the extent that her family hesitated to tell her of her father’s death as she would write about it.
She was unrepentant as she talked about the thought of ‘this will make a great two part column’ when her husband left her, and that her friends have to tell her not to write about them. She admitted that she had closed herself off from her emotions. I am not sure she feels emotions other than distaste for those she thinks are beneath her.
I found her a tragic figure of The Ghost of Blogging Future – a spectre of what could be if I were to fall into the trap of confessional blogging.
I am not going to say more, because the day was too joyous to be dragged down by this one person, and her resulting article in the Daily Mail.
Thankfully we were to be cheered up by the arrival of the last speaker of the day.
Caitlin Moran was like a toddler on speed. She bounced onto the stage, wearing denim shorts and a red checked shirt, her trademark badger hair tumbling about her animated face.
I was expecting a lot of fun, some risqué jokes but was seriously impressed when we got that, and a whole lot more. In between a story about meeting Sam Cam on a train, and fellating the microphone, Caitlin flung out loads of great writing tips.
– Don’t force yourself to voice an opinion
– When you write something down, it matters more, so don’t be nasty
– The end of snark is coming
– Ask yourself, ‘Why is this a story? Why am I writing this?
– The aforementioned second paragraph trick, which doesn’t seem to work when you spend too much time worrying about your second paragraph, but has been filed away for another blog post
– Take your time to let an article build in your mind, let it stew while you gather your thoughts. Which is why I didn’t rush to write this blog post yesterday, but took a day to process what I had seen and heard
Once she had finished, to resounding applause, we retired to the 28th floor (or was it the 29th?) to celebrate surviving the first Mumsnet Blogfest.
I met Twitter and Mumsnet friends who I have been conversing with for years, and was inspired by the wise panellists and speakers.
I talked to established bloggers, new bloggers and those who weren’t even blogging yet.
I chatted to charity workers and activists about feminism for hours over probably too many glasses of bubbly and then red wine while we tried to work out what was in the hors d’oeuvres that were being passed around (they are called arancini, btw – the little fried rice balls).
Mumsnet pulled it off. CEO Justine Roberts and her brilliant team are to be praised for organising a spectacular event that deserves to be remembered for the inspiring speakers, and for the friendships formed, and not for the response of one troubled woman to a group of women she never has, and never will understand.
Updated on January 4, 2016
I am flabbergasted at Asda’s Christmas ad.
There are people in this country who sat down, thought up this ad, presented it to another group of people, one or several of whom said, ‘I love it, darling!’ and then went on to produce it and put it on national TV.
Did no one think, ‘Hey, hang on. Isn’t this a bit sexist?’.
And bloody insulting to men.
I have a massive problem with crap ads that show MartyrMum doing everything to make Xmas special. Dad is relegated to helping to carry the Xmas tree (cause of course silly Mum can’t be expected to know that the tree won’t fit in the car, or make up her mind where to put it) and looking on with pride as his wife carries in the turkey.
Mum, after setting the table, peeling a mountain of spuds, preparing the turkey and all the trimmings doesn’t even get a seat at the table. She collapses onto a pouffe.
‘The supermarket used insight from its rolling ‘Mumdex’ survey of 4,000 mums to produce the advert as part of a wider strategy to reshape its business around what it identifies its key customers, mums’ according to Marketing Week.
As an aside, I find the word ‘Mumdex‘ horribly twee, and a bit reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s ‘binders full of women’.
I would be very interested to know how they surveyed the mothers, and why they decided to go for mothers in particular. And why they thought that this ad would do the trick.
I am fed up with the MartyrMum image that we mothers are being shoved into.
There are great mums and crap mums, there are mums who have the support of a fabulous partner – who might SHOCK HORROR – even be another woman. There are mums doing it all alone, and mums who would be as well alone for all the help their useless husband gives them. There are mums who are caring for their parents, for sick children, and mums who are being cared for by their families. There are families without mums, single parents, one dad, two dads.
What does this advert say about families? That we are all in a traditional set up with MartyrMum and DIYDad.
What does this ad say about motherhood? That we are doormats who do everything to make the family Christmas great.
I also have a huge problem with advertising that perpetuate the myth of useless Dad, who can’t be trusted to cook the dinner without burning it, or do a load of washing without dying everything pink. This in turn perpetuates the myth that housework is women’s work cause they are better at it. Which is absolute fecking nonsense.
My husband is convinced that there are men who deliberately make a total hash of chores, in the hope that their wife/partner will roll her eyes and declare him to be hopeless, ‘You just need to scorch your wife’s favourite blouse to never be asked again to do the ironing, he insists. (Not that he has ever done this, he is a dab hand with the iron, I have to say).
You want to know how Christmas is in our house? I order the gifts online, wrap them last minute while shouting at whoever had the sellotape last. The tree is chosen and decorated together with the children, and we share the preparations. I do most of the cooking, because I like to cook while he amuses the kids, sometimes taking them on a walk to run off some steam. We clear up the kitchen together, not as in the Asda ad, where MartyrMum slaves away while the rest of the family lounges around.
This ad reduces families to a simple and patronising stereotype, ignoring the realities of life in 2012. I don’t see myself, or my family when I watch that ad. Do you?
Updated on January 4, 2016
Do you like to discover new blogs?
If you do, then you are in for a treat. I did this a while ago and it was a great success and we found loads of great new blogs.
Have you just started blogging and are looking for your niche? Is it still just your mum and your husband reading the blog, and you are getting frustrated? It does take time to get started, so don’t worry if you are not getting too many hits – and don’t believe bloggers who say that they don’t check their stats daily. We all do, even if we don’t admit it.
The idea behind this post is to link you up with other ‘newbies’ (and maybe some ‘oldies’) so don’t be shy.
RULESWrite a blog post! I want to know:
– who you are
– why you started blogging
– which post you are most pleased or proud of
– which post had the most response (and were you surprised by this)
– which blogs do you like reading (include links so that we can discover EVEN more new blogs!)
Add the LINKYTOOLS code to your blog so that the list appears on your blog too. It is then like one of those annoying chain mails that reaches ever more readers (only you don’t have to worry about seven years bad luck if you don’t pass it on).
THIS IS NOT A BLOGHOP FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE SELLING STUFF SO BE SENSIBLE. IF YOUR BLOG IS BASICALLY AN ONLINE SALESROOM, I WILL REMOVE IT FROM THE BLOGHOP.
Updated on October 11, 2013
How do you teach your child to be good with money?
Are some people pre-destined to be sensible savers, or is it a learned skill?
When I saw the competition by MoneySupermarket.com about SuperKid Savers, it reminded me of a blog post that I have been meaning to write for quite some time.
When I first left home, I was terrible with money. It took me a long time to learn to budget, and if I am very honest I sometimes forget this important lesson. We are constantly tempted, by advertising that persuades us that we just cannot wait to get the newest gadget, by peer pressure to have a better house/car/outfit, and by our own wish for a bit of ‘retail therapy’.
The heady days of easy credit may be past, but companies still try to persuade us with buy-now-pay-later and interest free credit and store credit cards. If all else fails, there are credit cards designed for people with bad credit and payday loans, with horrific interest rates. It is still all too easy to slip into debt – and one that is almost impossible to pay off due to the high interest rates of these shady companies.
Teaching our kids how to budget is possibly one of the most important lessons that we can give them (along with how to sook tea through a Kitkat).
We decided that the best way to teach our children about money is to give them some cash. We worked out what we could afford to give them, and made their pocket money quite generous. Obviously this depends on your own finances, but we have found this works really well.
Our 10 year old gets £4 pocket money a week and our 8 year old gets £3 a week.
The provision with this rather high amount is that they must save at least half of it.
As it turns out, most weeks they save all of it and it goes into a piggy bank. Any money that they get for birthdays or Christmas is added to this pot.
The reward for this is that they are then able to decide what they wish to buy (within reason, but we would have to have a very good reason to refuse them permission to buy something that they had saved for). Our daughter decided that she wanted a computer so saved until she had enough money for a small netbook. When they ‘invest’ their money, they get a 10% bonus from us. With the computer that mean that we bought the mouse and mousepad.
They are also expected to use this money for holidays and days out.
We have found that by giving them a generous amount of pocket money and making them save some of it, they are less likely to ask for things all the time. If they want a game for the iPod, they pay from their own money. If they want a comic, they check if they have some cash left. No more, ‘Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum, can I have…’ in the supermarket as they know the answer will be, ‘Do you have pocket money left?’.
Giving a decent amount of pocket money also means that they don’t have to save for too long before they can afford to buy something. There is nothing more frustrating that saving 50p a week for a year and then only having enough for a reconditioned video game. They are encouraged by the rising balance to save more that they strictly need to.
We haven’t set up savings accounts for them here in Scotland, so that is next on the list.
What do you do to encourage your kids to be sensible savers?
Posted on November 5, 2012
In the past weeks it has been almost impossible to open a newspaper or click on a blog link without reading something about Jimmy Savile. I have avoided the topic, not because I have nothing to say but because I have so much to say that I am finding it difficult to concentrate on one aspect of this story.
Some have written about the BBC covering up the abuse, others have complained about the cancelling of the TV show last year and their sticking with the planned Christmas TV special about the life of Savile. Still others have compared the abuse with that of the girls in Rochdale, who like the girls abused by Savile were let down by those who should have protected them.
Amongst all this rage and terror, it is easy to lose sight of the real losers. The girls and boys who are abused every day in UK, not just be prominent citizens but by fathers and brothers, uncles and cousins, football coaches and scout leaders. The damage inflicted on these innocent children does not go away, it haunts them for the rest of their lives, as the Britmums bloghop shows.
Britmums have asked Bloggers to come together and speak out. To break the silence. To listen. To stretch out a loving hand. The stories shared on the bloghop are harrowing to read. Each and every one of these women deserves our respect for their bravery in sharing such a difficult part of their past.
When we read the stories in newspapers about child abuse, it is tempting to look away. Too terrifying are the thoughts that come into my head. I look at my children and try not to imagine, if even for one moment, how it must feel to know that trusting another person had put them in danger’s way.
When our children leave the house we entrust others to care for them. Teachers, youth leaders, scout leaders, football coaches… even our own families.
How can we protect our children from abuse?
By talking to them, and above all by listening. I have blogged about this before, about the importance of raising self-confident children who are willing to question something that others do. About being involved in their lives, being there to pick them up, being ready to ask questions.
The abuse of children in care shows that paedophiles know exactly which kids to target – the ones without involved parents, the ones who are so starved of love and affection that they misread the signs of interest.
Being involved in our children’s lives, truly listening to them when they are worried, and giving them self-confidence is not 100% protection. There can be no guarantees but it is a start.
When children want to talk we must listen. And when adults who were abused feel ready to tell us about their past, then we owe it to them to lend them an ear.
Listen. Believe. Love.
Updated on January 4, 2016
‘Feminism is over … say women’
Wow. That is a snappy headline. The alternative headline, “Feminism is over according a small sample of mothers on a parenting website that doesn’t really ‘do’ feminism” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but would be more accurate.
FEMINISM IS OVER… SAY WOMEN – Daily Express
FEMINISM in the modern world is viewed as outdated and aggressive and is being shunned by women, research has found.
men on issues like fair pay and skills.They believe single mother turned multi-millionaire author JK Rowling is a better example of a strong independent
role model than feminist icon Germaine Greer.
Just one in seven women describes themselves as ‘feminist’ – Telegraph
The survey of members of Netmums, Britain’s largest women’s website, revealed almost a third (28 per cent) think traditional radical feminism is ‘too aggressive’ towards men while a quarter (24 per cent) no longer view it as a positive label for women.
One in five describe feminism as ‘old fashioned’ and simply ‘not relevant’ to their generation. And less than one in 10 (nine per cent) of those aged 25 to 29 identified with it, while a quarter of older women aged 45 to 50 described themselves as a feminist.
Instead, two in five want to ‘celebrate difference’ rather than be equal to men.
And the biggest battle for modern women is to reinstate the value of motherhood, with more than two-thirds (69 per cent) making it top priority.
The death of feminism? – Daily Mail
It is the movement that, among its many triumphs, won women the vote. Yet, for the average modern woman, feminism is dead, research claims.
Just one in seven women describes herself as a ‘feminist’, it found, with younger women even less likely to describe themselves as such.
A third view traditional radical feminism as ‘too aggressive’ towards men, while a quarter no longer view it as a positive label. One in five describe it as ‘old-fashioned’ and simply ‘not relevant’ to their generation.
Girls say feminism has lost the point – The Sun
One in five now says the term is “not relevant to my generation”.
Half of the 1,300 women polled felt feminism should be about equal rights and pay.
More than three quarters backed women who have breast enlargements and almost two thirds believed topless modelling was acceptable.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling, 47, was viewed as the best role model for young women.
But just one in 50 chose feminist icon Germaine Greer, 73, the study for parenting website Netmums showed.
Gosh, that all sounds really quite worrying for feminists in UK, but never fear. The ‘research’ that these stories are based on is a survey of just 1 300 women of the parenting website Netmums (not to be confused with Mumsnet where the survey would have been laughed off the site).
Aside from the fact that a study of 1 300 women of a certain demographic cannot be seen as ‘research’ the survey itself was so ridiculous. Under the headline FeMEnism, Netmums informs us that just one in seven would describe themselves as a feminist.
I would question if they even understand what feminism is, since few seem to have questioned a survey that asks:
Now, I am not a RadFem, and I am not as well read as some in the theory of feminism, but since when has the baking of cupcakes, or the application of fake tan or eyelashes been a feminist issue? Ok, I get that some people still have this impression of feminists as dungaree wearing, hirsute dour women (I blame Jilly Cooper). I also know that there is definitely a case to be made against the idea that women should always be perfectly turned out (see the criticism of Hilary Clinton’s unmade up face, but the acceptance of Boris Johnson’s dishevelled appearance).
As to the ‘acceptance’ of topless modelling and prostitution, escort models and pole dancing – is it any wonder this group of women did not refer to themselves as feminist? I would like to have known if any of them have read a book or an article about feminism before filling out this survey.
Just one in 50 chose Germaine Greer as a role model for young women – I’d be surprised if that question wasn’t mainly answered with ‘Who is Germaine Greer?’
According to a Mumsnet user, who filled in the survey, the alternative answers for that question were apparently ‘Colleen Rooney’ and ‘Jordan’ – those well known feminist activists.
Over half the mums said that their teenage daughter was not aware of the feminist movement. As SGM argues – this is quite astounding, considering it is part of the curriculum in UK, but it is also quite worrying. I needn’t look for readers of Jump! Mag on Netmums then. Or maybe I should.
My criticism today is not towards the users of Netmums who answered this silly and inherently flawed survey. In fact, the thread about this survey on Netmums shows that some of them are quite upset about this.
My ire is reserved for the creators of the survey, who it seems have no earthy idea what feminism is about and is more interested in getting their website into the national press than accuracy or – you know – truth.
They have also skewed the quotes to concentrate on the negative, as one Netmums poster pointed out.
I find the results quite strange with the focus on the negative. It seems that an anti-feminist message was almost sought.
So, “almost a third (28 per cent) think traditional radical Feminism is ‘too aggressive’” Doesn’t that mean two thirds don’t think that??
“17% claim feminism has gone too far, oppressing men and ‘losing sight of the natural roles of men and women’” What do the other 83%think?
And only “1 out of 5 describe Feminism as old fashioned and simply not relevant”, brilliant, that means 4 out of 5 think otherwise.
My experience tells me that feminism is on the rise, more and more women are sick to death of misogyny in society. As for the ‘man-hating’, it’s just an anti-feminist myth. Feminism is about a progressive society for women AND men, girls AND boys.
The national press have a LOT to answer for. Journalists are not stupid, they recognise a dud survey when they see one, but the press has decided to ignore that and concentrate on the snappy headlines, and great quotes.
They know that this survey is not worth the pixels it is shown on, but have given it huge publicity – it was debated on the Loose Women TV show yesterday, and is scheduled on Mathew Wright show today. It is pure and simple lazy journalism – most of them have simply cut and pasted the ‘results’ of this survey without questioning it.
At a time where feminism is so important – tell Malala Yousafzai that feminism is dead. Tell it to the thousands of women who will suffer casual sexism today. Tell it to the women around the world who are denied the right to control their fertility – it is vital that our press does not play down this importance.
How can we say there is no need for a feminist movement when women are still not earning the same as men, not being treated equally, not able to make independent decisions about their lives?
Those responsible for creating and publicising this ‘research’ should be forced to sit in the front row of the next 200 One Direction concerts as punishment for their sins. Wearing Justin Bieber tshirts.
Read the thoughts of other bloggers on this topic
Updated on January 4, 2016
What does the phrase ‘the cult of motherhood’ mean to you?
It came to me this morning during an interesting discussion on Twitter about being a mother. I have storified it, so you can see the whole exchange, rather than just the quote later in the blog.
The discussion started when we were talking about the excellent article by Rowan Davies in the Guardian about ‘Yummymummy Hate’.
Now, anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know that ‘yummymummy’ is a term that makes me narrow my eyes and grit my teeth. I hate it for its twee-ness, for the assumption that mummies must be yummy, for the way it reduces a woman to just a mother, but only if she is attractive.
I feel the same about ‘mumpreneur’, ‘mummyblogger’ and other symptoms of what I call the mummy-fication of women.
The moment that someone calls Sir Alan Sugar a ‘dadpreneur’ is the moment when you can call me a ‘mumpreneur’.
A lot of bloggers like the title ‘mummybloggers, and indeed identify themselves as one. It is a term I have never felt comfortable with, as I don’t blog only about my life as a mother and posts about motherhood and children are becoming ever more rare on Salt and Caramel.
Mainly I dislike the fact that male bloggers, entrepreneurs – or indeed fathers – are not referred to in such a way. Just as they are not asked how they are going to square childcare and career, or if they have a provision in place in case their childcare falls through. We talk of dads ‘babysitting’ their children, as if they do not share parental responsibility, which is pretty insulting to them really.
Which brings me to my point about the Cult of Motherhood and what it means to different people. I googled the phrase and the first hit was a US blogger who referred to herself as a feminist, yet called her friends ‘breeders’ and gave them names such as UTERUS and OVARIES.
There are a fair few articles on the expectation of mothers to be perfect and that the ‘Cult of Motherhood’ is damaging because it raises expectations that no normal woman can fulfil.
In an interview, the author Jessica Valenti talks about being a mother:
“I don’t think that putting all my energy into parenting — at the expense of my career, marriage and social life — will be the difference between Layla becoming homeless or the president. But too many women are made to believe that every tiny decision they make, from pacifiers to flash cards, will have a lasting impact on their child. It’s a recipe for madness. It also reveals an overblown sense of self-importance.”
An ‘overblown sense of self-importance’.
That resonated with me, as it was something that I had been trying to express in my Twitter discourse.
When we begin a sentence with ‘as a mother, I believe…’ — does it not express that I have a more insightful comment to make than someone who is not a mother?
Should the simple accident of biology that made me a mother mean I can demand respect for my status as a mother? Why should I ask for respect for something that millions of human beings have done – procreate. Should fathers be more respected than men without children?
The blogger Clare Kirkpatrick (whose blog you should check out – it is excellent) argues that the women gain wisdom through motherhood that they would not have otherwise gained, and that we should respect this wisdom, and
‘men’s experience as men has been valued above that of women for too long, yet the wisdom women carry, from having cycles, to being mothers, to menopause is not valued’
which is a good point.
In the end, we agreed to disagree, and I have been mulling over the exchange ever since.
I cannot think of any wisdom (other than don’t stick a finger down the back of the nappy to see if your baby needs his nappy changed) that I have gained from being a mother. I would say that I am wiser than I was before I was a mother, but would attribute that to the intervening 10 years and not motherhood.
We don’t say, ‘Oh, he is a father, isn’t he wise’, do we? And I have met both mature and terribly immature parents, so this wisdom is obviously not automatically granted with your Bounty pack.
Becoming a mother has changed me, there is no doubt about that. Before I had children, I had no idea that I could feel this deep and totally unconditional love for another person. They make me less selfish, more cautious, they bring joy and chaos into my life. I could not imagine life without them, but they don’t alter who I am, or how I think. And their existence doesn’t make my opinion more valuable than a childless person.
Do we contribute to the Cult of Motherhood by expecting our opinions to be valued more because we have borne a child?
What do you think?
Other blogs on this subject
Updated on January 4, 2016
Ban TV for children under three years old – every couple of years a new ‘study’ is released calling for banning of TV for young children. This one was released by Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman.
Mumsnet Bloggers’ Network asked, ‘Are parents being demonised?’
The problem with making such a statement is that it immediately puts parents on the defensive, and that it sadly does not reach the parents of the children who are watching TV because their parents cannot be bothered interacting with them.
I am not being snobby, but lets be honest – the kids that are plonked in front of Cbeebies all day every day are unlikely to have BBC News or Guardian reading parents. To co-relate their developmental deficit only with the amount of TV they are watching, is surely false. Children who are neglected in favour of the flickering square babysitter, are not being talked to by their parents.
And the parents who do try to limit TV are left feeling guilty that they are damaging their children, when this new study presents no scientific evidence to back up the claims made by the author. Do read the Guardian article as well, if you haven’t already as it offers a much more balanced view of the issue than the BBC
Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University commented on the study, saying that Sigman’s paper is not
“an impartial expert review of evidence for effects on health and child development. Aric Sigman does not appear to have any academic or clinical position, or to have done any original research on this topic,. His comments about impact of screen time on brain development and empathy seem speculative in my opinion, and the arguments that he makes could equally well be used to conclude that children should not read books.”
I had a look at the website of Dr Aric Sigman and noticed that his other areas of concern are alcohol misuse in children, and that he is author of a book called, ‘The Spoilt Generation’, with the tagline ‘Why restoring authority will make our children and our society happier’. According to the blurb
In this book, Dr Sigman takes issues by the scruff of the neck, among them children’s sense of entitlement, the effects of TV and computers, single-parent homes and ‘blended’ families, parental guilt and the compensation culture. He offers a clear practical message to us all – parents, grandparents, teachers and policy-makers alike – as to how we can redress the status quo, redefine our roles and together cultivate happier and better-behaved children.
I haven’t read the book, so cannot comment on it, but it is not one that I would buy. I don’t need to put myself back into the driving seat of parenting. I am quite happy to allow my back seat drivers to chip in with some suggestions. Which does not mean that my kids are spoiled – neither materially nor in any sense that they are the ones steering the car. We are a family and I value their opinions, and take them seriously.
What on earth does ‘children’s sense of entitlement’ mean? Don’t all children have a sense of entitlement? They want things all the time, which is totally normal. With time, they learn that I Want Doesn’t Get – as my mother drummed into me throughout my childhood. It is part of growing up, not a sign of greedy and spoiled children.
My children are allowed screen time within reason, which is a couple of hours a day. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It depends what else we have planned. Today, for instance, we are at home and they have watched TV this morning for about two hours. They switched the TV off and walked to the bakers around the corner to fetch bread for lunch, and are currently drawing, using the iPad and iPod for inspiration. This afternoon we shall go to an indoor play area and they will run around like loons for several hours.
They probably use their iPods, or the family iPad more than they watch TV. My daughter uses it to keep up with her friends back in Switzerland, which I encourage as it keeps her French language skills ticking along. My son loves to watch the walk throughs of SuperMario on YouTube. He would spend hours doing this, if I allowed him.
They didn’t watch much TV before they were 18 months old – and at that time it was 15 minutes so that I could quickly shower and dress. By the time they were 2 – 2 1/2 they were watching Dora The Explorer and Caillou. As they grew older they moved on to other programmes, most of them in some way educational. Now they are 8 years and 10 years they enjoy watching wildlife documentaries, US teen shows, and The Great British Bake-Off.
I agree with MN Guest Blogger Dr Amanda Gummer – giving our children the remote control gives them control and responsibility, which we should be encouraging.
I don’t want to raise obedient robots (although it would be great if they would actually do what I say the first time I say it!). I want to raise confident and self-assertive children, who respect others while being able to stick up for themselves.
Love Bombing by Oliver James – does this book present a new concept, reheated advice from other ‘parenting gurus’, or just plain common sense?
‘I have had similar reports of sustained success – followed up one to two years after the love bombing – from parents helping children with violent aggression, myriad anxiety problems, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sleeplessness, perfectionism and even autism’
Now, I won’t comment on the ADHD/Autism part of this, as I don’t have the necessary experience and knowledge – there are a few posters on the MN thread who are scathing of this and I hope that some parenting bloggers will join the debate. I will say that aiming this book at parents whose children have behavioural problems could be seen as a craven attempt to take advantage of desperate parents.
My own experience shows that giving children more attention does not mean that they will take over the household. When my daughter was around three or four years old, she went through a trying period. I talked to her nursery teacher about this, and was rather taken aback by her reply. I should spend more time with my daughter and give her more attention.
When you have 2 young children at home, it is tempting to reject this advice. How much MORE attention can I give them, I hardly have any free time at all. When my husband and I sat down and talked about it, we realised that attention is more than just being there and occasionally saying, ‘Oh, lovely painting dear. What a large nose Papa has!’.
I had a three year old dynamo, a one year old toddler, a household, was trying to set up my own business teaching English, friends to see, a busy life. And she was simply not getting the attention she needed, and was causing chaos to get that attention. Looking back on it, it was incredibly obvious, but lost in day to day life, I hadn’t notice.
We resolved to spend more time with her, and we soon saw a marked improvement in her behaviour. We didn’t do the full ‘love bombing’ that James recommends – he suggests taking a day or a weekend to spend one on one with your child, and allowing them to set the agenda.
I am a bit concerned that the Love Bombing idea seems to involve nights away in a hotel, or spending a whole day out with one child. How does this work within the family then? We have two children who absolutely love spending time together. I cannot see how I could take one of them away for the weekend to do fun stuff, and leave the other child at home with my husband. And there does seem to be the implication that it is the mother who is dealing with this issue.
Weekends are precious, and we like to spend the time together. I could see us doing a Family Love Bomb, where we let the kids take charge for the weekend – that sounds like fun.
Parenting books* are odd buggers, really. It goes against everything that I have learned on this parenting journey to sign up to one particular parenting philosophy and stick to it, as rigidly as a Gina Ford devotee to her schedule.
Every family is different, every child is different. While Gina Ford may work for some families, it doesn’t work for all. Attachment Parenting might be great for some, but other children might hate it.
When I see how totally different my children are, I realise that I adapt my parenting methods for each child.
My son is organised, methodical and stubborn. To get him to move in the morning, I need to set rules, ‘Right, lets get dressed, have breakfast and get ready for school and if there is time left, you can play on the iPad for 10 minutes, but we have to leave at 8:45am’.
My daughter is scatty, disorganised and easy going. She needs to be reminded to take her dinner money, asked if she has her swimming stuff and cajoled to stop playing with the bloody dog and have her breakfast.
Son needs a timetable, which he will work through. Daughter needs more attention and gentle humour to jolly her along.
To be fair, Oliver James does not say that his way is the only way, and it may be something that is worth trying, even on a smaller scale. You don’t even need to buy the book, as the general idea is already in the articles that he has written. If it works for you, and you wish to know more about it then you can buy the book afterwards.
One thing I have noticed is that my children’s behaviour improves when I have an iPhone free afternoon. As hard as I find it to give up my Twitter addiction for the day, it really does improve communication between parent and child when neither are glued to a screen. It is stating the obvious, as is James’s advice to bomb your child with love, but a gentle reminder is needed now and again.
What do you think? If you have tried, or would like to try ‘Love Bombing’, please let me know how you got on.
*If you are going to read a parenting book then I would recommend the Mumsnet bible Why Did Nobody Tell Me which included advice from their users. Real women, mothers of real children, giving their advice. It is condensed MN Talk really, with slightly less swearing.
Updated on January 4, 2016
If we were able to teach young people to recognise the signs of controlling behaviour, the ‘red flags’, would we be able to protect them from abusive relationships?
If we were to teach children in schools how to spot a controlling person, would be help save them from misery and self-doubt?
If we talk openly with friends about the ‘red flags’ would they recognise their own relationships and find the strength to walk away? I hope so.
For this reason, I am writing two blog posts today. One for adults, here on this blog, and one for tweens and teens on Jump! Mag When writing for kids, I am very concious of the fact that not all parents will have had The Talk with their kids, and some of our readers are just seven or eight years old. For this reason, sex is a taboo topic on Jump! Mag, but I believe that the foundation for healthy relationship building is laid before children hit puberty.
Young people are very susceptible to controlling behaviour – when tweens and young teens, more likely from their peers but as time passes also in adult sexual relationships.
It is important that young people are taught how to recognise a controlling person – whether it is a peer, and adult or a family member.
This blog post is written from the perspective of a woman, and advises how to recognise a controlling man. This doesn’t mean that I don’t accept that men are abused too, or that women cannot be controlling or manipulative. In the majority of abusive relationships, the man is the aggressor. For this reason, and because it reads easier than using he/she, I have used the pronoun ‘he’.
The Red Flags
We talk about the ‘Red Flags’ of controlling and abusive behaviour. I interviewed several women, and hosted guest blog posts, for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign. Women who were raped, women who had been abused, many of them over a long period of time. Often these women are asked, ‘Why did you not leave?’ and they find it difficult to explain even to themselves.
The answer is that their self-esteem had been slowly but methodically eroded until they were no longer able to make a rational decision. Women who had been strong, independent and happy became timid and fearful. They tiptoed around the house and the moods of their partner. They sought to do everything right, and blamed themselves when they did something ‘wrong’.
What happened between the time that they met their partner and the moment when they realised it was time to get out? And why did they not notice that their partner was abusive?
The gradual escalation of abuse is often very difficult to spot, if you are living in the middle of if. Here are the signs to look out for. If you are seeing a man, and you recognise these signs, take a step back and assess the situation.
Initial Infatuation Period
- He is extremely attentive, phones, emails or texts constantly
- He gets serious fast. Talks about the love of his life, or moving in together.
- He is jealous – which might flatter you at first. ‘It is only because I love you so much’
In this period, he will bring flowers and gifts, treat you like a ‘princess’, be loving and caring. You might feel uneasy about the speed of the relationship but don’t want to rock the boat because he is so different from the guys who want to play the field.
- He blames others eg for his failed marriage or relationship. ‘My ex is a real bitch, I am so glad that I have found you’.
- He tries to change you. Your hair, make up, clothes. In a subtle way, eg. by bringing you presents very different to the clothes you would normally wear.
- He tries to stop you seeing your friends. ‘I just want to be with you, I want to spend time with you’.
- He doesn’t take notice of your feelings, ‘Don’t be silly…’
In this period, you might have moments of misgiving, but then he backs off and is the loving attentive man you first fell for.
Sowing The Seeds of Self-Doubt
- He puts you down, at first when you are alone but later in front of others, often disguised as a joke.
- He makes comments about your appearance, making you feel less attractive.
- His digs are subtle, and when you call him on them, he is offended and upset that you ‘didn’t get his joke’.
- He insults your friends, and tries to stop you seeing them.
- He is moody and unpredictable, but blames his bad moods on you so you start adapting your behaviour to keep him happy.
- He accuses you of being unfaithful, or of flirting with other men.
- He ignores you, if you do something that displeases him, and ‘rewards’ you with his attention and affection when he is pleased with you.
By now, you are already doubting yourself, and beginning to refer to him for minor and major decision making.
Escalation of Abuse
- He stops you doing what you want, or seeing who you want.
- He isolates you financially, making you dependent on him.
- He blames you for anything that goes wrong.
- He becomes more abusive, both verbally and physically
- He becomes upset if you talk of leaving him, and threatens to do himself harm
By this point, you are cowed. You are frightened and isolated. You barely say anything, for fear of saying the wrong thing.
One woman I interviewed for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign talked of the red flags, and how she could see in retrospect many of the signs of abusive behaviour. She was one of the lucky ones.
“I always remember the boiling frog anecdote. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. That describes a woman in an abusive relationship perfectly”.
See also the Guest Blog of Amber Rudd Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye on Mumsnet
Great blog post from Eliza Do Lots here is getting lots of attention and deserves a read.
GET HELP –
Talk to a trusted friend or relative. They may already be worried about you or have felt unable to speak to you about your partner.
Women’s Aid – national support network for domestic violence services
Women’s Aid (Ireland) – Republic of Ireland’s domestic abuse support network
Women’s Aid (Scotland) – support for people suffering domestic violence in Scotland
Rape Crisis – specialist rape support services in England and Wales
Refuge – national support for women and children experiencing domestic violence
Broken Rainbow – support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence across the UK
Directgov – government information for victims of domestic violence
The Hideout – information for young people and children about domestic violence
Men’s Advice Line – advice for men in abusive relationships
National Domestic Violence Helpline – national helpline for those affected by domestic violence
NHS: Live Well – basic advice on support options for victims of domestic abuse
Respect – runs a phoneline for people experiencing domestic abuse across the UK
Rights of Women – legal information for women experiencing domestic violence
It occurred to me that lately I have done lots of ranting and campaigning on the blog, and not as much general rambling, reviews, and travel reports. It has become a bit too much Salt and not enough Caramel.
I started to rectify this earlier today with a blog post about my new handbag and find myself wishing to tell you readers more about my life.
It has been a busy couple of months. Moving to Scotland, receiving the offer to blog in Kenya, my first book contract, agreeing to host a workshop for Mumsnet about Social Media, writing for Salt&Caramel, Jump! Mag and more recently for the Gates Foundation blog Impatient Optimists (which I shall be doing more of in the coming months).
Sometimes I feel as if I am constantly rushing to keep up, hit the next deadline, finish that article…
On top of all this, we have bought a house and will be moving in after the summer holidays. I am currently in Germany with the family for the summer.
I am trying to keep working while I am here, but as anyone who has kids will know, it is not easy to keep kids amused during the summer holidays and get some decent work done at the same time. Today I got them through the day by promising a playarea this afternoon, and what a great idea that was.
We are in a biergarten in the North of Munich, called Sankt Emmerans Muehle. Fairly typical biergarten at first glance, and chosen for the fact that it has a playarea. When we drove in we were stopped by a dashing young man (I am showing my age!) who offered to park my car. Valet parking in a biergarten seemed strange, but he explained that when it gets busy later, they otherwise run out of space. By parking cars themselves, they can fit more vehicles in and park cars in front of other cars.
The next surprise was when I sat down to do some writing. As I searched for my trusty dongle, a message popped up offering free wifi. HURRAH, my inner geek shrieked. Wifi and a playarea – bliss for working mums.
So here I sit, the sun shining through the old oaks, as the wind rustles through the leaves. A plate of salami and cured meat has just been brought. I nibble on the salami and wrap some of the grated cheese in a slice of cured ham. OUCH. It is not cheese, it is horse radish. That is the sinuses cleared anyway.
My children return to devour some of the ham and salami (son) some of the cheese (daughter) and two big brezels (both). Daughter is an almost vegetarian, weakening only for bacon.
The waiter brings a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio and I listen with half an interested brain to the conversation of the northern Germans on the table next to me. As ever, they think that I am only English speaking as I have spoken to the kids and the dog in that language. It makes them more careless with the volume of their conversation. This happens a lot and I am often torn between humouring strangers who speak to me in broken English, and telling them that I speak German, which may make them feel silly.
I speak German with a north Bavarian accent, which comes as a surprise to those who think that I am a forriner.
This post is becoming ever more rambling, so I will stop here and wish you all a pleasant and sun filled evening. Prost!
You may be thinking, ‘What on EARTH is a wristlet bag?’ and until a few months ago, I would have asked the same thing.
A wristlet is a small clutch bag with a wrist strap. Something like this:
I don’t know about you, but a ‘clutch bag’ always made me think of the kind of bag that my Mum would buy for going to a wedding in the early 80s, with a little golden chain, in a matching colour to her pill box hat with the veil. I never liked clutch bags, because unless they have a silly gold chain, you are always left with the dilemma of where to put it when you want to do something. It seems to defeat the purpose of putting all your stuff into a bag to free up your hands, if you then have to carry the blooming thing. Or stick it in your sweaty armpit.
That is where the Wristlet comes in, as they have added a natty little wrist strap so that you can dangle the bag from your wrist. Clever.
The bags generally have a pocket for cash and slots for cash and credit cards. Depending on the size of the bag, you can store a mobile phone, lipstick and perhaps a pair of sunglasses. The wrist strap frees up your hands if you need to carry a cup of coffee, or grab a child’s hand.
They are obviously not going to do the job if you still have very young children, as they would laugh in the face of all the galumph that you need to carry around when you have a toddler. Now that my kids are older, I love that I can grab my keys and my purse and head out without stashing nappies, wipes, drinks and about half the household in a huge bag.
An American friend of mine has several, which I have always secretly coveted, so I started looking for one when we moved back to UK.
Not as easy as you might think. I found the above bag at the airport, and have since had a look online to find others.
Finding them in the shops may be tricky, but a quick google revealed that they are already becoming more popular in Europe. Fiorelli, Fossil and of course the good old American Coach make great little Wristlets.
What do you think? Would you buy one? Or do you have one already and can give some tips on finding them in UK?
At the London Family Planning Summit, I joined a group of bloggers from around the world. They were from activist blogs, charity blogs and blogging fora. Before and after the summit their work was added to by those who could not attend, but who observed the Summit from afar.
It is interesting to read the other blogger’s work, and to see what their impressions of the Summit were.
Bloggers who attended the summit:
Maeve Shearlaw was blogging for the White Ribbon Alliance
Zoora Moosa was blogging for the Fword
Owen Barder blogged for the Centre for Global Development
Rachel Silverman and Amanda Glassmann also blogged for the Centre for Global Development
Charlott blogged (in German) for Maedchenmannschaft
BritMums founder Susanna for BritMumsBlog
Blogger thoughts after the Summit:
Ruth C White blogged about the Summit on Provoking Policy
Marge Berer blogged on The Berer Blog
The White Ribbon Alliance have a great video with highlights of the Summit.
These bloggers wrote in advance of the summit:
HidingUnderTheBed talks of the situation for women in Mexico
Lesley wrote of her experiences in South Africa
On PintSizedRants Ptit thinks about how her life would have been very different without family planning
SGM writes about access to contraception being a basic human right
Dorkymum met some of the Youth Activists and was inspired by them
Christine Mosler blogged for Thinly Spread
Jen blogged for MumInTheMadHouse
Munch blogged about access to contraception
The Family Planning Summit of 2012 took place in London today. A stones throw from the UK Houses of Parliament, world leaders, activists and health care workers and providers gather together to put Family Planning back on table in developing countries around the globe.
Melinda Gates began by calling it ‘an important milestone in the history of Family Planning’.
In Ban Ki-Moon’s pre-recorded video address he expressed the wish that ‘no child should be born unwanted, and no woman should die needlessly in childbirth’.
There followed a lot of speeches by ministers of various countries, expressing their commitment to the cause. Speeches filled with statistics and soundbites.
‘One in three 15 year olds in Sierra Leone is pregnant or has given birth’
‘Teen pregnancies account for 40% of maternal deaths’
‘doubling our budget of Family Planning’
‘In Malawi we have a saying: No parenthood before adulthood’
The Swedish Minister for International Development Ms Carlsson stood out from the crowd, by talking about the role of boys and men in beproductive health.
Her Norwegian colleague was amusing, telling of sitting under the table as his mother discussed women’s rights, ‘I learned never to talk when grown up women were talking’ and said ‘it is not enough to reach the hearts of the development ministers, we must reach the brains of the finance ministers’.
After lunch I had the opportunity to sit in when the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Melinda Gates met some youth workers. Some of them were British youngsters who volunteer for three months in developing countries. Others were youth peer counsellors who work in their own countries to promote uptake of Family Planning.
The young people sat with Andrew Mitchell first then in swept the PM with his entourage. It is incredible how many people accompany the PM. I did wonder if he gets used to it or if it bothers him sometimes. He didn’t flinch, although the young people did, when the press photographers dashed in and started taking photos. After a few moments, he shooed the press out of the room and then had a chat with the volunteers.
He chatted for about 10 minutes, before being signalled by a member of staff to wrap it up then he was off. I was slightly disappointed that Melinda Gates did not have a chance to speak to the volunteers, and wonder if she was too.
Cameron then gave his speech. Back to statistics and soundbites, although it did go down well with the delegates. I have never been a big fan of Cameron, but I do have to hand it to him. His support of this summit is a very good thing.
After his speech he took a couple of questions, and the floor was energised when a woman stood and asked if Cameron felt that it was right that the Holy See should try to influence African Nations on matters of Family Planning. I am not sure if Cameron misunderstood, or if it was a typical political manoeuvre to deflect from a question he did not want to answer. In any case, he blathered his way through some more soundbites and stats.
Melinda Gates then announced that the Gates Foundation was doubling their investment, and talked about the investment in innovation. She drew parallels to her and her husband’s interest in technological innovation, and the innovation on behalf of the planet, to do good things. She was excited to announce innovation on behalf of women, talking of the investment in Research and Development in Family Planning.
When you invite half a dozen heads of states to an event like this, then ask them to say a few words, you can be sure that they will not stick to their allotted 5 minutes. The Ugandan President even joked that this was not a theatre and he was not an act (although I am not quite sure that was a joke and his comments left a nasty taste in the mouths of those who recalled some of his less amusing statements)
So the afternoon session dragged on a bit, with speaker after speaker, statistics and – yes, those soundbites.
Are we perfecting the art of soundbites, getting them just the right size to fit into a headline or a tweet?
The end of the official announcements was marked with the Comic Relief-esque, ‘We wanted to raise $4.3bn, but we have raised a total of $4.6bn’ and then Andrew Mitchell and Melinda Gates departed the stage.
The rest of the afternoon (and into the early evening) was taken up by discussions and Q&A sessions by various panels of experts. I attended the two sessions on youths and girls. By the end of these I was suffering from severe statistic overload, but there were some highlights.
Mary Robinson spoke eloquently about attending the Rio conference, where she and others were dismayed at the ‘backsliding‘ from the Cairo Declaration.
‘the Cairo and Beijing texts are fundamental and must be upheld’ she stated, emphatically to nods of agreement from the listeners.
I would happily sat and listened to Ms Robinson for quite some time, but she finished by saying that the pledges made were important, but the swift implementation was vital to help women. The overrunning of the earlier session by the Presidents mean that she ran out of time, as she had to rush to the airport, ‘because planes don’t wait for me anymore’.
The First Lady of Zambia was one of the few who mentioned the role that men play in the health of women. She talked about women not having a voice, and men talking on their behalf. She bravely went where David Cameron had feared to tread, taking on the churches, referring to the earlier question about the Holy See.
She also talked about domestic violence and rape. ‘We have to say no to violence. I am saying no to domestic violence’.
Ian Askew from Population Control started with a few shocking statistics.
40 t0 60 % of post rape services (ie reported rapes) are for girls under the age of 15 years.
Over 30% of girls stated that their first sexual encounter was not consensual.
It was something that bothered me continually throughout the discussions. When we talk of 12 year old girls getting pregnant, should we really be talking of how to protect them from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, or should we be taking of protecting them from sexual abuse?
Critics of the summit (and no, I am not talking of THOSE kind of critics, the ones that sent me my first twitter hate tweet this morning) pointed out that it is impossible to talk about Family Planning without mentioning abortion. Which is true. It is also impossible to talk about these issues without mentioning domestic violence, and I am very glad that several speakers did so.
It is impossible to talk about Family Planning without mentioning abortion but at the same time it would have been impossible to put abortion on the agenda.
I don’t agree that it is a ‘wasted opportunity‘, but a good start on a long road. Getting all of these countries to come together, cajoling private companies to do their bit, keeping a lid on the anti-family planning protesters – it must have been like herding cats.
Melinda Gates has been criticised for allowing her personal beliefs to come before the good of women of the world, but I feel that this is taking a very narrow view of the issue (not to mention ignoring all that Melinda has already achieved).
If abortion rights had been on the agenda, then I do not think that so many countries would have agreed to take part. Would countries with very strict abortion laws, or even a complete ban on abortion such as Malawi or Indonesia have taken part? The handful of token anti-choice protesters were hardly noticed today. That would not have been the case had abortion reform been a part of the Summit. The message of the Summit would certainly have been hijacked.
In my opinion, the UK government and the Gates Foundation did the best that they could to help save lives in the developing world. I do not believe that they would have been as successful in raising that amazing about of money and promised support if they had included abortion rights in the summit.
It was an extremely long day for the delegates, but the culmination of many months of organisation by Dfid and the Gates Foundation. Now, as Andrew Mitchell stated, comes the even more difficult part.
‘We cannot just talk the talk. We must walk the walk’.
A pretty good final soundbite.
This week I will be blogging from the London Summit on Family Planning, organised by the UK government and the Gates Foundation. The ambitious aim is to provide family planning methods to an additional 120 million women worldwide by 2020. I have already blogged at length about this, so will simply give you all an impression of what this means for two of the women I met on my recent trip to Kenya.
Miriam is 32 years old and was at the Marura Village Dispensary in Laikipia District with her 3 month old son, Peter. She already has five girls at home and is struggling to keep them in school. Her eldest daughter will soon leave school, at age 13 years in order to train as a hairdresser.
When I asked her if she wanted more children she laughed loudly and made it very clear that Peter was to be her last child. She was exhausted, she could not afford to educate the children she had already, why would she want another child?
She had a swollen neck, and had been told that she would need an operation for which she is trying to save money. She was very worried that she would not be able to save the money for the operation, and having another child would certainly make this more difficult.
Miriam was attending the clinic to have her son vaccinated and would be returning to access contraception in order to prevent further pregnancies.
Jane has three children, a boy aged 22 years, and two girls, aged 15 years and 12 years. It is no coincidence that the age gap between her children is so large. Jane has been using contraception since her late teens. She had her latest implant in May of this year.
She told me that having contraception meant that her health and the health of her children was improved. She now counsels women in her community on the importance of spacing out the births of their children. She laughed and said,
“I am a good example to the women here. It would not be possible to advise on contraception if I had 9 children at home”.
Her eldest son has left school but the girls are still in school.
“We need to educate our children so that they can get good jobs and support their parents”
She is strong in her conviction that being able to space out the births of her children has enabled her to do this.
These are just two women in Kenya, but their lives and experiences mirror millions of other women around the world.
Ok, before I start, I have to say that I know this is advertising. I am aware that Nike are trying to sell me their brand and they are cynically tugging at my heartstrings to do so.
at least the message is better than the P&G Sponsors of Moms advertising that I ranted about earlier this year.
Advertisers should take note that women are not all mums and those of us who are mums don’t all define ourselves by our “status” as a mother.
I am a mother by an accident of reproductive luck. It is not something that requires particular skill. I just got lucky. It does not define me, as a person or as a blogger.
Nike have come up with an inspiring advertising campaign that tells girls that they can MAKE THE RULES
Featured Image – Broken Glass Nike Swoosh
Gordon Okal Owera is a 26 year old teacher from a small village in Kenya. We visited him last week with the woman who saved his life. It is not an exaggeration; Pamela cajoled, bullied and persuaded him that life is worth fighting for.
When Gordon started feeling unwell in Autumn 2011, he thought he had just been working too hard. A school teacher, he worked left home at 6am and didn’t return until 6.30pm. He put the fatigue that he was feeling down to the long hours, particularly during the harvest in December. He would work in the fields from early morning till midday then go home and sleep.
In January Gordon returned to school. One morning he was doing the school records for his boss when he felt extremely unwell. He was sweating severely and applied successfully to his boss for permission to go home. He intended to rest for a hour but woke up late at night, having slept the day away.
His sister came to care for him and was alarmed by his appearance. His lack of appetite had caused extreme weight loss. She brought him to her village where she could care from him better, and consulted the doctor.
Gordon had Tuberculosis. A disease that is all but eradicated in the Western world but is still a killer here in Africa. After 2 weeks in hospital, Gordon was allowed to go home and referred to the local TB clinic.
The clinic is supported by CDC (who I wrote about recently) and they assigned Pamela to be his support worker.
I lost hope, I told my mother. I will die and you will go on living.
Not if Pamela Mbuya Otieno had anything to do with it. Pamela is a Nutrition Assistant for the CDC funded DOT Support Group. (Directly Observed Therapy)
Although he was not really keen on being treated, as he struggled with the stigma of the disease, he was too polite to tell Pamela to go away.
Just as HIV is stigmatized in Kenya, TB patients are shunned by their neighbours. They are told that they have been possessed and should consult a local herbalist to be ‘cured’.
Gordon started taking the medications that Pamela brought him daily. The support workers know that if they do not visit every day, then there is a high chance that their patients will stop taking the meds, particularly when they begin to feel better.
I developed a likeness for the drugs
His enlightened friends stuck by him, but some turned away. He was most worried about being able to return to his job as a teacher. He talked of a young child in his class who was malnourished and who was teased for being ill. The children ridiculed the girl. Gordon would sneak the little girl some porridge during breaktime. It was clear that he was worried about her.
When he went to an open day at the school, some of the children expressed disbelief at seeing him as they thought he had died. They were pleased to see him and some have visited him at home since then.
Gordon plans to return to teaching next month. He sees his job now as important, he has to educate the children in living with TB, in the hope that the information will filter through to the parents.
Once a week the children are split into gendered groups and discuss various issues. Gordon teaches the boys how to relate to each other, how to become successful and how to stop harmful behaviour.
They also talk of the importance of family planning, and how the children can protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies that would disrupt their education. Almost no girls go back to school once they have left to have a baby, so providing this information before the girl becomes sexually active is vital.
HIV/AIDS is another topic that is covered by the teachers. The children learn how to protect themselves, the symptoms and treatment and that it is no longer a death sentence.
Pamela sees her work as one of ‘great importance’, and enjoys seeing the people she has helped restore to health. She supports up to 4 people at a time, for the six months until the treatment course has finished.
When asked how she feels about Gordon, she replied
‘I call him my son. He is like a son to me’.
The CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) is based in Atlanta. The Kenyan office in Kisumu district is one of the most deprived areas of Kenya, with the highest rates of HIV and Malaria infection.
We spent two days with the CDC in the area, looking at different projects, from family planning clinics, to TB treatment projects. The work they are doing is very effective, even if it only benefits a small section of the population directly.
Their main focus is the research of diseases, in order to find the best method of fighting Malaria, HIV, Typhoid, TB and other infectious diseases. Their DOT projects, such as the one that Gordon is involved in, saves many lives as these projects are recommended to other areas.
I was impressed by the coordination between the US-funded CDC and the Kenyan health workers. This ensures that the Kenyans do not feel resentful towards the projects, as they ‘own’ them. The Kenyan health workers are accepted and valued members of their communities.
En route to the projects, I spoke to one of their staff about the problems that Kenyans face. I asked why so many people travelled to Nairobi, when they appeared to have a better life ‘up country’. By which I mean, not exactly an easier life but at least one in which they are not living in the slums. The people we met often had small vegetable plots, a cow and perhaps a couple of chickens. It certainly seemed more pleasant than the squalor of Kibera.
He told me that they hoped to find employment in the cities. The work that they do on the farms or homesteads is not considered ‘work’. This is reserved for white-colour work in an office. The tragedy is that the area in which we travelled was verdant and fertile, but it is either not being farmed, or is being farmed by a few large farmers.
The splitting of family farms into smaller parcels over the years has meant the size of each individual parcel has decreased. Many families live on land that is not even large enough to farm enough to feed themselves. Being able to sell vegetables or fruit to others is simply not possible.
Research and development in the agriculture industry is ongoing, to help Kenyan farmers become more efficient and lessen this problem.
Jasinta lives with the knowledge that she has HIV.
She was diagnosed in 2009 but kept it a secret, even from her husband.
‘I lived in stigma and denial’, she told me. The stigma of HIV is a big problem here in Kenya. Newly diagnosed patients find that their neighbours and friends turn away from them and their customers shun their businesses. It is a lonely life for many Kenyans with HIV.
When she discovered she was pregnant, a year after her her diagnosis, she went to the local health clinic.
She was lucky that the clinic she visited was one that offered a support group for mothers with HIV. She was assigned a Mother Mentor, who told her about the disease and the ways in which she could protect her unborn child. She took her medicines at the exact times, used condoms, and regularly attended the health clinic.
When Jasinta told her husband her secret, he reacted well, and agreed to be tested. He too was HIV+. They worked together to improve their health, eating as well as they could and following the recommendations of the health clinic to the letter.
When their baby boy, Warren Charles, was born Jasinta breastfed him for six months before weaning him. She found weaning hard, as her son was not happy about giving up the mother milk, but her husband supported her. She had been sticking to the strict medication regime that the health centre prescribed.
Her son was tested several times in the first year of his life. The tests were negative. Jasinta had a Negative Baby.
We talked about her other children, and how she was preparing them for the news that she and her husband are HIV+. She spoke of the way in which children in school were informed about HIV/AIDS. When Jasinta talked to her eldest son, who is 10 years old, about people with HIV, he was most distressed
Mama, having a mother with HIV would be terrible. AIDS kills!
The children were taught in school that HIV/AIDS kills; they learned songs with this message. For Jasinta, dispelling the myths around the disease became a personal goal.
She decided to become a Mother Mentor in order to help other women. Since that day, she has traveled to the Health Centre regularly, to support newly diagnosed women.
I interviewed Jacinta at the CDC/KEMRI funded Siaya District Hospital Clinic Research Centre, in the province of Nyanza. This area is infamous for the high rate of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and one of the highest rates of Maternal and Infant Mortality in Kenya.The Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control works with the Kenyan health authority KEMRI to research and control communicable diseases. In the coming years they will broaden their range to include non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
I asked Jacinta what she told the women she counseled.
I tell them to go to family planning and get help. I tell them not to live in stigma. I tell them that I am positive and I have a negative baby. I look better than many women who are HIV negative. I take care of my health.
Jacinta beamed as she told me
I decided to live my life positively. I am very happy. I am HIV+ and I have a Negative baby
Can you visualize one million people?
The Kenyan population is growing at a rate of 1m people a year, and is in danger of slowing the positive development of the country. The effects of this population explosion is often told, but too often we concentrate on numbers and graphs, instead of on the human cost of this issue.
To put a face to the statistics, we travelled to the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in the East of Nairobi.
Dr Omondi Kumba told us a bit about the place. It was founded in 1926 and after Kenyan independence was turned over to the City of Nairobi. The hospital is a “referral hospital”, which means that health centres around Nairobi send patients who are at risk of complications to Pumwani. This explains the rather high proportion of caesarian sections carried out.
Each and every day between 60 and 100 babies are born in Pumwani every day. To put this into perspective, there are around 350 births a day in the whole of London in 2009/2010, including private clinics and homebirths. This hospital is only one of many hospitals in Nairobi, but the one that sees the complicated cases of the poor.
The Pumwani Hospital offers care for the poorest of Nairobi women. I was told that only those who cannot afford to go to one of the private providers go to Pumwani. The hospital has been hit by several scandals over the years, ranging from alleged baby switching and incompetence, to not allowing women to leave the hospital if they have not paid their bills.
The hospital administration complained of lack of funding from the state government – a problem we are hearing everywhere as activists battle it out for the money available. Do you help those who live in the slums, finance HIV/AIDS prevention, assist young mothers … there is only so much in the pot (and a lot of what is there is funneled into other pots illegally and disappears).
When we visited we did not see evidence of the kind of allegations mentioned in the above articles. The staff informed us that women who were unable to pay are kept for 2 weeks then assessed by a Social Worker before being discussed by a committee. Then around 2% of the patients were released without charge.
It did make me wonder why they would keep the women for an extra two weeks when they would surely know that the poorest women from the slums would not be able to pay even the KES 3000 (around $35/GBP23) for a normal vaginal birth.
The past scandals would certainly explain why the hospital has found it difficult to find private sponsorship or donors from abroad.
We were shown around the hospital. I found it rather regimented and cold, the women lined up on a bench breastfeeding their babies. The women and the children seemed to be well cared for, if only physically. One woman sat with her back to us, crying softly. When one of the organizers of the trip spoke with her, she explained that she was waiting to leave after having lost a baby. She was sharing a ward with women who had just given birth and who were cuddling their babies.
The staff were very conscious of the dangers of infection, giving us cotton shoe covers to wear while visiting the baby unit. We saw them washing down the cots and preparing them for new arrivals.
Some of the women consented to speak with us, and allowed us to take photos. They proudly presented their babies, smiling as they told us names and birth weights. A familiar ritual, that I have seen many times with our children and those of family and friends.
The mothers will be going home with their babies soon. Some will continue to attend the Pumwani Antenatal Clinic to have their children vaccinated and their weight monitored. We met a little 9 month old girl called Fatima whose mother was given a food supplement.
In the antenatal clinic, women have their stitches from the CS removed and make arrangements to see the family planning clinic. Many women in Nairobi slums would like to access contraception in order to space out the births of their families better. It is a constant struggle to reach all of these women.
For many years the discussion about family planning revolved around the issues of over population, but as we have seen this week, the real losers are the women.
Having several children within a short period of time puts a huge stress on the body of these women. They are unable to properly recover from one birth before they are pregnant again. They are at much higher risk, and the risk to their children is much higher. The maternal mortality rate in Kenya is high, due to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and complications thereof.
In order to help these women, we are drawing attention to the issue this week. Women in Kenya and around the world should be able to access family planning services when they wish to limit the size of their family, or space the births of their children out.
The more educated women in Kenya do this. The poor women from the slums cannot.
Any visitor to the city of Nairobi will testify to the contrasts to be found within the city. Poverty and wealth are but a few streets apart. Kenya is a city of contrasts, that impressed me. Despite the challenges faced by the poorest inhabitants, the wealth of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit was inspiring.
We arrived at Joma airport late last night. It was dark so my first impressions of Nairobi were that it seemed like any other large city. The first sign that things were different here was the airport style security checks on entering the hotel.
This morning we met the other bloggers and the organisers of the trip then set off to visit the slum of Kibera. There is some confusion as to how many people live there; the reason for this uncertainty quickly became apparent. There are mud huts in a seemingly endless rabbit burrow-like maze. It was a glimpse through the looking glass into a different world. (Edit: One of our group wrote this article for the Guardian, which investigates the numbers game)
We were being shown around the slum by a group of young adults who run a youth group. The members of the Kibera Lundi Youth organisation were well dressed. They must have worked hard to prepare for our visit considering they live in a place with no regular running water, no bathrooms, no sewage system, often no electricity. Most of them have no jobs, although some are self employed like so many others in Kibera. The streets are lined with shops and business selling everything from mobile phone top up cards to meat and vegetables. Hairdressers, and dressmakers offer their services. This is a city within the city.
The youth group run a communal bathing house which was built with the support of the Japanese Embassy. It gives the youth group a source of income with which they enhance the lives of the people who live nearby. 10 Kenyan Shilling for using the bathroom or the toilet (about 8p) doesn’t sound like much, but the average monthly wage is around KES 1400 and many of the slum dwellers don’t even have a job.
The waste from the toilets is collected under the bathing house and converted into gas that is used in neighbouring homesteads.
A computer centre has been installed in the youth centre, which local high schools hire to teach their children.The hall above the bathrooms is hired to fund courses that help people start their own business or further educate themselves. The youth group also goes out into the slum to clean up. They clean around the houses, knowing that by the next day the area will again be covered in rubbish.
It was inspiring to see these young people, who were engaged in trying to better their lives, and the lives of those who lived around them.
We split into groups and went to visit some of the residents of the slum. 23 year old Alice was our guide. A cheery and friendly young mum of two, she led the way through the streets. The reason for the welly boot recommendation soon became clear. We picked our way through the open sewers, the walls between the houses piled high with torn plastic bags and filth. The inhabitants of the slum were not so squeamish. Most of them were wearing sandals or flip flops.
We passed a child of about 4 years of age. He clutched a well-loved elephant and watched us. Some of the older children were braver and shouted, “Hello”, and the refrain that we were to hear constantly throughout the day, “How are you?”
Alice led us to the home of 35 year old Violet. We entered her home and waited till our eyes adjusted to the dark. The house in which she, her husband and her five children lived was smaller than my children’s bedrooms. An improvised curtain shielded the sleeping area from sight.
Violet’s elder children were at school, only the youngest was home. Quinta was just over a year old, and at first glance a normal lively little boy. Only when we looked closer did we see that his head was odd shaped and swollen. When Violet visited the doctor with him, she was told that he needed an operation. She and her husband are out of work and have no money for the operation.
In a soft lyrical voice, she told us that they moved to Kibera in 2004 in the hope of finding employment, but jobs are scarce in Nairobi. If she could find work as a cleaner, they might be able to afford to send their children to High School, but that seems unlikely to happen.
I asked how they lived with no income, what they did for food.
On our way back to the Youth Centre, we passed a school. The teacher invited us in to have a look around and every single one of the little kids ran over to high five us. “Hello. How are you?”, they chorused.
The walls were decorated with posters of the alphabet and numbers. Some of them were familiar from my own children’s classrooms, but on closer inspection of the others we realised that the teachers had painstakingly embroidered the letters onto polyethene sacking.
After a long day in the slum, we returned to our hotel to allow the first impressions to sink in. The restaurant where we ate this evening was in a shiny and glossy shopping centre. We ordered meals that cost more than the average monthly wage and wondered at the contrasts of Kenya. It is hard to believe that just a few miles from the hotel where I am writing this blog post, there are thousands of people living in such squalor.
Despite this, I was impressed by the resilience of the slum inhabitants. As we were leaving, we passed streams of people who were walking into the slum, walking home from work. We saw the hundreds of entrepreneurs who were scraping a living in the slum by selling goods and services. We had wandered the slum with the youth workers, as they tried to improve their lives and the lives of others.
It was a thought-provoking first day.