It is difficult for many of us to remember the days when information of all kinds wasn’t within reach of our fingertips, just a click or two away. Yet, many (44% globally) still do not have this connection. Its reach is inequitable, dividing developed from developing countries, rural regions from urban, young from old.
Photo Credit: Luke Chesser / Unsplash
In observing International Day for Universal Access to Information on September 28, UNESCO calls attention to these disparities and challenges us to “empower disadvantaged communities.” (1)
It was African civil society groups, pursuing greater information transparency, that requested this annual observation. (3) The international holiday is in its fourth year following the adoption of the concept of “Internet Universality” by UNESCO in 2015. (#AccessToInfoDay #RightToKnow)
African Advancement on Digital Rights
African states have a history of interfering with digital rights in ways that include restricting content, setting up financial barriers and passing regressive laws. In order to redress this inequity, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) was formed to promote the use of information and communications technology to support development and poverty reduction. Recently, the organization created the Africa Digital Rights Fund with the aim of awarding approximately 15 grants annually to organizations in countries across Africa. The grants are offered to initiatives that advance digital rights. This could include advocacy, litigation, research, policy analysis, digital literacy and security skills building. (5)
In this, its first year, CIPESA’s digital fund has awarded $65,000 to ten initiatives across 16 countries including Tanzania. (5) A sampling of these initiatives follows:
The African Human Rights Network Foundation, Tanzania - Sixty Tanzanian human rights defenders will be given training and opportunities to reduce internet security risks.
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa - This human rights center will document and analyze digital threats to civil society in Egypt, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia.
Internet Society, Namibia - Journalists and editors will be provided assistance to fact check misinformation in the run-up to the November 2019 elections.
What is the Picture on Information Access in Tanzania?
In 2016 Tanzania passed the Access to Information Act in order to provide greater transparency and accountability of public officials. Supporters believe the legislation is important to fight corruption, participate in democracy, correct misinformation and access social and economic rights, education and literacy skills. (6)
However, some critics contend that exemptions and loopholes in the law make it difficult for those requesting information and easy for those withholding information. For example, the law allows an exemption for those cases where another law governs the release of information. International standards recommend that access to information laws should be given precedence to other laws. (8)
Internet access among Tanzanians has rapidly increased in recent years with the number of users rising by 16% in 2017. (9) Over the past decade, more and more Tanzanians have begun using cell phones as a result of cheaper phones and cell services. The majority of Tanzanians gain access to the internet through their phones. The inequity, however, remains stark. A mere 14% of the rural population has access to the internet in contrast to 55% of urban dwellers. In addition, fewer women than men have access. (10)
At a glance
Population: 5,970,646 (2018)
Official languages: Tigrinya, Arabic, English
Religions: Sunni Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Fertility rate: 3.9 children per woman
Life expectancy: 65.6 years
Literacy rate: 73.8%
Children under 5 who are underweight: 39.4%
Natural resources: gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, fish
Form of government: presidential republic (1)
Image source: Wikipedia
Located on the horn of Africa, Eritrea lies between Djibouti and Sudan on the Red Sea. Ethiopia shares its western border. Eritrea boasts a long coastline of 1200 kilometers. Off of its mainland are 350 islands known as the Dahlak Archipelago.
Image source: World Atlas
Though a relatively thin stretch of land, Eritrea has three geographical regions, each with a different climate. Along the coast lies a strip of dessert. Because of its high salt content, the land is infertile and the climate arid. The northern portion of the Ethiopian plateau also known as the Central Highlands is the most fertile part of Eritrea. The climate is temperate and the land fertile. The western lowlands are semi-arid.
Of the large number of ethnic groups that reside in Eritrea, the Tigrinya is the largest. As a result, Tigrinya is one of three official Eritrean languages. The others are Arabic and English.
One of the cultural traditions for which Eritreans are known is the coffee ceremony. The ceremony takes place often at the end of a long day and the coffee and accompanying snacks are offered to family members, guests and neighbors. No quick run to Starbucks, this languorous ceremony can sometimes extend for several hours. A woman in the household roasts the green coffee beans over a charcoal fire, grinds the beans and prepares the coffee, often with sugar. She then serves the coffee in small handleless cups. Incense is burned throughout the ceremony to enhance the aroma. (4)
Eritrean cuisine has both Ethiopian and Somalian influences. A traditional Eritrean meal is tsebhi, a spicy stew made with mutton, lamb or beef. It is often served with taita, a sourdough flatbread, and hibbet, a legume paste. The meal is often served on one large, shared plate. Because of Eritrea’s colonial history, Italian food is also easy to find, especially in urban centers. (3)
With its access to the Red Sea and natural resources, Eritrea has been invaded and dominated by other peoples throughout history. In the late 19th century, the area came under Italian colonial rule until independence was gained in 1941. It then went through a ten-year period of British administrative control until the United Nations established it as an autonomous region in 1952. When Ethiopia annexed the region in 1962, a 30-year war for independence began. Finally, in 1991 Eritrea became a truly independent nation. Since that time, only one president has served - Isaias Afwerki. Tensions continue to remain high between Ethiopia and Eritrea. (1)
Following the battle for independence, an effort was made to increase the number of schools in both urban and rural areas. Still, the rate for children attending primary schools is 81%. The rate drops to 30% for lower secondary schools. Higher rates of absenteeism from school are found in rural areas with 31% of nomadic children not attending. One fun fact about the Eritrean education system is that children are taught in their mother tongues in primary school while instruction in secondary schools is in English. (5)
Advances and Challenges
Though Eritrea is a patriarchal society, the government has passed legislation protecting women’s rights. This includes the prohibition of female mutilation, gender-based violence and underage marriage.
Image Source: Jack Ninno/Unsplash
However, Eritrea faces a number of challenges both natural and man-made. Frequent droughts and dependence upon subsistence farming for 80% of the population continue to bring hardships to the population. In addition, the government is authoritarian and repressive. For example, Eritreans are faced with mandatory conscription into military or civilian service for indefinite periods of time. A large exodus of Eritreans has taken place because of human rights abuses, a lack of political freedom, militarization and a lack of opportunities. These migrants are especially vulnerable to human trafficking, an increasing problem. (2)
Educate a girl; empower a community. Educating all children is vital, but educating girls has a proven multiplier effect and significantly impacts the economy. It is for this reason that so much attention has been paid to girls’ education in recent years, particularly in developing countries.
One young girl begins her education at Saving Grace School in Arusha, Tanzania.
Gender parity in education is improving, but we still have a long way to go. For example, in Tanzania, near universal enrollment in primary education has been achieved. Secondary education is another story. According to Human Rights Watch, only 60% of adolescents in Tanzania can access a lower secondary education. Of these teens, only one-third of girls who enter secondary school graduate. (8) (Read more: https://brighter-tz-fund.org/Blog/6366602)
It is not just for the sake of justice that organizations such as the World Bank are turning their attention and resources towards educating girls. [Over the past two years, the World Bank has invested more than $3.2 billion towards projects aimed at helping girls achieve a full education.(3)] Women with a primary education earn 14 to 19 percent more than women without one. (4) Women with a secondary education earn almost twice as much as those with no education. (1)
Source: The World Bank “Missed Opportunities, The High Cost of Not Educating Girls”
The impact on a country’s economy is significant. In its 2018 report, “Missed Opportunities, The High Cost of Not Educating Girls,” the World Bank estimated that if universal secondary education was instituted worldwide, lifetime earnings for women would increase between $15 and $30 trillion globally. (1)
A more focused study was conducted in Pakistan between the years 1990 and 2016. Its purpose was to learn to what degree the education of girls impacted the Pakistani economy. The results showed that a one percent increase in female participation in education and the labor force led to a 96% increase in GDP. Female education, the researchers noted, reduced the fertility rate and increased the number of females in the labor market. They suggested that the government increase spending on female education and focus on improving educational quality. (6)
Providing 12 years of education could translate into a variety of quality-of-life improvements. Educated women are more likely to advocate for themselves and for better services including health care, education and clean water. They tend to be decision makers both at home and in their communities.
A secondary education could also reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS, the risk of domestic violence, the occurrence of child mortality and malnutrition.
The benefits are generational. Educated women generally have fewer, healthier and better educated children. In sub-Saharan Africa, universal secondary education would cause child marriages to fall by as much as 64%. Furthermore, because universal secondary education would lead to reduced fertility rates, a reduction in global population would be another far-reaching outcome. Think about the secondary results in these improvements - in food supply, energy, the environment. The rate of return on educating girls goes far beyond numbers - its impact could stretch to every corner of the globe.
Maria Montessori could not have said it better: “Early childhood education is the key to the betterment of society.” Though Montessori made this pronouncement nearly a century ago, her conviction rings true today and is supported by a number of studies.
The Opportunity Project (TOP), in an unnamed Midwestern city, was one such study. Its purpose was to determine the long-term outcomes of economically disadvantaged children who received the intervention of a quality early childhood education program. These children were studied in tandem with a control group from a local school district. The children from both groups were followed from kindergarten through grade 4. (1)
Objective measures demonstrated higher rates of success among TOP students than the control group. By the fourth grade, the TOP students had scored “significantly higher” on math and reading tests. They had “significantly higher” attendance rates. They also had “significantly fewer” discipline referrals. (1)
Subjectively, the TOP students also seemed to outpace the control group. Teachers of both groups completed questionnaires each year through the fourth grade. The results demonstrated that the TOP students used more appropriate behaviors, surpassed peers socially, and were more emotionally mature than their classmates who had not received a TOP early intervention. (1)
The period between birth and age five is recognized by child development experts as a time of immense opportunity and also vulnerability. During this time, connections among neurons are being formed. (2) Evidence shows that brain development is rapid during this short period of time and impacts five domains: physical growth, cognitive development, social and emotional maturing, language acquisition, and self-help skills. Children are negatively impacted when stimulation and nurturing are lacking. (7)
Development of the brain is believed to be influenced by genes, the environment, and the interaction between the two. Trauma or adversity in a child’s early years can impact brain development. (2) However, evidence also demonstrates that early interventions through a quality preschool program can bring improvements. Children who receive these interventions are more likely to be successful later in school and in life.
Photo Credit: Mike Fox / Unsplash
Advocates believe that early education primes disadvantaged children to develop into successful adults, with higher earnings, better health, and lower levels of welfare dependence and crime. Another well-known study called the Perry Preschool Program studied 123 at-risk, low-income preschool students in Ypsilanti, Michigan. (3)
The students were randomly split into two groups, one which received a high-quality preschool education, and the control group which did not. The Perry Project provided instruction in communication and math skills as well as a focus on “non-cognitive” skills including sustaining attention and working cooperatively with others. Project leaders also went into the homes of the student participants and worked with the parents, offering encouragement and instruction to provide stimulating activities at home. (6)
This longitudinal study, begun in the 1960s, followed students to age 50. The results were unequivocal: 65 percent of the first group graduated from high school compared to 45 percent from the control group. In addition, those in the first group were more likely to be employed, raise their own children and own a home or car. Those in the first group were also less likely to be arrested or use drugs. (3)
Photo Credit: Emiliano Bar / Unsplash
Of course, it is not just providing early education that makes a difference, it is providing high- quality early education. What exactly does this mean? While schools come in many shapes and sizes, a few common denominators do exist. Read the features of a quality preschool below.
The teachers and support staff
The instructors or caregivers should be well trained, and the child-to-staff ratio should be small.
Warm and responsive interactions need to take place between the children and teachers in order for secure attachments to form. These attachments help lay the groundwork for future, healthy relationships.
The teachers should engage the kids in age-appropriate learning strategies.
Teachers should encourage independence and create language-rich environments.
Teachers should receive ongoing support and training. (4)
The physical environment
Stimulating and appropriate materials should be provided and organized in a way that encourages independence and exploration.
The space should be arranged to support interaction between the children, role playing, and literacy skill progression.
Children should have access to outdoor space. (4)
Aside from the tremendous benefits individuals receive from early education, society also benefits. According to UNICEF, the cost-benefit ratio of early interventions show that for every $1 spent, the returns are four to five times the investment. (7)
Now it appears that the return may be even greater. Researchers, including Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, are taking another look at the Perry Preschool Project.
The project was started to increase the academic scores of disadvantaged children. Using this measure, the project was unsuccessful - the data did not demonstrate an uptick in academic scores as the children moved on to elementary school. As mentioned above, benefits did appear when the participants approached adulthood.
In addition to the success documented in the participants’ adult years, evidence is emerging of a new and exciting benefit. The children of the participants are now being studied, and it has been reported that they are doing better than the children of the participants in the control group. The participants’ children have better social and emotional skills, are more likely to be healthy, earn more, graduate from high school and go on to college. The benefits of early intervention have been passed on to the next generation. (6)
Researchers suggest that the original participants gained the skills necessary to form healthy families and maintain a stable income. The study may also demonstrate that it is ”non-cognitive skills” that are most important in determining success in life, skills like resilience and grit. (6)
“It is the gift that keeps on giving,” said Heckman in an interview with National Public Radio.
Whether that gift is given in Ypsilanti, Michigan or Arusha, Tanzania, generations of impoverished people stand to benefit from early education.
Impoverished children in Arusha, Tanzania receive early education at Saving Grace School.
In this blog, I’ve written about the intersection of nutrition and positive educational outcomes. I’ve written about the many afflictions with which the impoverished in Tanzania must contend - HIV, rickets, shunting, tuberculosis. I’ve written about the impact that a good teacher, books and a quality education can have on the life of a student. Now I have a story about one small child whose life makes it all real.
Abu arrived at Saving Grace School critically ill and developmentally delayed.
When Abu Msuya, at four years of age, arrived at Saving Grace School, he may have been mistaken as a young toddler by those who did not know better. Physically, he was malnourished and small, suffering from shunting. He was critically ill, with infections in both ears, bleeding from his nose, a rash on his face, and barely able to stand on his own. Developmentally, he was behind, unable to dress himself or use the toilet.
Abu suffered emotionally, too. His mother and father were both in poor health and lacking a steady income. Following Abu’s arrival, his mother died in childbirth. Abu has an adult brother, but he has his own family to support.
The teachers at Saving Grace welcomed Abu and made the school a home for him. They nurtured him, provided nutritious meals. Still, Abu suffered and seemed to be constantly ill. A trip to the doctor provided some answers. Abu was diagnosed with two ear infections which had developed into ruptured ear drums, tuberculosis, and rickets. He received medication and a doctor’s care. Yet, his illness continued. Finally, another disease was discovered and diagnosed - Abu was HIV positive.
Medical treatment has helped Abu recover from tuberculosis, rickets, ear infections, and HIV.
Enter into the picture Cathy Taylor, Abu’s sponsor. Brighter Tanzania Foundation runs a sponsorship program for individual students. The sponsor can choose a child in need from profiles provided by the foundation and donate money to help fund the child’s education and also motivate the student to stay in school and work hard. The sponsor is able to learn about the student through letters, photos, and updates about his/her progress. In some cases, the sponsorship takes the form of a mentorship. Cathy has become a mentor to Abu and much more.
Abu loves spending time with “Mama Cathy.”
Not only does Cathy pay for Abu’s education at Saving Grace, she also helps provide medical care. She regularly communicates with Abu’s doctor, has purchased a health insurance plan, and paid for a visit to the dentist. In addition, Cathy and her daughter, Elisa, have had an opportunity to visit Abu, cultivating a personal relationship with him.
“Mama Cathy” has become a special person in Abu’s life. And Abu has become a special person in hers. Cathy, a resident of St. Helen, Michigan, has traveled to Arusha for long stays each of the past three years. As some of the physical ailments have receded, Abu’s personality has emerged. Cathy has watched him thrive and become the happy, inquisitive, and sweet boy that he is today.
Cathy visited Arusha and spent time with Abu for five weeks in 2019.
Abu would likely be unrecognizable to anyone who saw him when he first entered through the school’s doors. He has grown bigger and his daily functioning is now age appropriate. Abu likes to kick the soccer ball and play on a scooter. He also loves to sing and dance.
Abu has experienced some setbacks along the way. In September, 2018, he was hospitalized for pneumonia. Following his recovery, Abu moved in with Grace, her husband, Joseph, and their three children. Abu now lives in a healthy, nurturing home environment. “The love that spills out in their home is unbelievable,” Cathy said. “They love him as one of their own.”
A few new local friends, named Sammy and Kennedy, also provide help, such as transportation to medical appointments, when needed.
“It is a huge circle of love that came together to help this little guy,” Cathy said.
Abu receives loving support from his sponsor, Cathy Taylor; Cathy’s daughter, Elisa Taylor; and Grace.
Abu has challenges in his future. Because of the HIV diagnosis, he will always be at risk for contracting and fighting infections. Due to the rickets, he will probably always be small for his age. Those who know him look at how far he has come in the past two years, and take comfort in knowing that he has lots of support and a fighting chance.
Cathy’s prediction: “I see nothing but brightness in his future!”
On this World Health Day 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) directs our attention to their number one goal - achieving universal health coverage for all.
Global Health Care Needs
Many consider health care a human right. That right stands in stark contrast to the global reality. According to WHO, at least half of the world does not have full coverage of essential health services. In many cases, a lack of access is the cause. Unaffordability is another top reason. Millions of people each year are forced to choose between needed health care and other basic necessities - food, clothing and shelter. One hundred million people are pushed into extreme poverty annually because of health care expenses. Of those who can both access the care and pay for the services, many continue to face poor-quality options. (1)
Photo Credit: Pixabay
When we achieve universal health care, everyone will be able to attain accessible, quality health services without undue financial burden. Most importantly, everyone should have accessibility to primary health care - services that help people improve their health or maintain their well being rather than treat a single disease or condition.
Although a few communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and Ebola understandably receive much of the world’s attention, it is the noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes that take a greater percentage of lives prematurely. In fact, noncommunicable diseases kill 15 million people under the age of 70 each year. Investments in noncommunicable disease prevention through primary care could save millions of premature deaths each year. (4)
A Snapshot of Health Care in Tanzania
Tanzania faces many challenges in its health care system, a system that precludes many from receiving the above-mentioned, essential primary care. This includes a shortage of healthcare workers (one doctor per 30,000 Tanzanians), a lack of facilities in rural areas, long distances to the existing facilities coupled with poor transportation systems and roads, and underfunding ($51 per capita in comparison to $4,000 per capita in the U.K.) (6).
In 2015 the Ministry of Health of Tanzania assessed the state of its health care system through a year-long evaluation of health facilities using a five-star rating system. Of the 7,000 facilities evaluated, only 2% met the minimum standard of quality (three stars of more). A whopping 34% received 0 stars (8).
One area of concern is women’s health and obstetrics. In a recent study reported in BMJ Journal, 13,266 Tanzanian women of reproductive age were interviewed in order to analyze the obstacles to health care access for women. Two-thirds of the women cited at least one of the following hurdles:
Distance to the facility
A lack of someone to escort them to a facility
Lack of permission from a spouse
The study concluded: “The results of the present study provided evidence for additive effects of barriers to healthcare in low-income countries, such as Tanzania. Based on these results, improving access to health insurance and addressing social determinants of health represent the first steps towards reducing problems associated with accessing healthcare for women in low-income countries.” (3)
Photo Credit: Unsplash
A few statistics (2010) bring the challenge of inadequate medical access for women into greater focus:
Only an approximate 50% of deliveries were attended by skilled medical personnel.
A mere 40% of pregnant women received at least four prenatal visits with a skilled provider.
A dismal 45% of the country’s health centers have basic emergency obstetric care. (5)
It is not surprising then that in 2014 the maternal mortality rate was 398 deaths per 100,000 live births. Still, strides are being made to reduce such numbers. In 2005, that number was 605 deaths per 100,000 live births. (7) Compare that to the U.S. While having the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, the U.S.still has a substantially lower rate at 26.4. Finland has the lowest rate at 3.8. (9)
Raising awareness of the global inequity in healthcare access is critical. Health care is not just a human need; it is a human right.
At a glance:
Population: 1,962,461 (2018)
Official Languages: Sesotho and English
Religion: Protestant (47.8%), Roman Catholic (39.3%), other Christian (9.1%), non-Christian (1.4%)
Fertility Rate: 2.59 births per woman (2018)
HIV/AIDs Adult Prevalence Rate: 23.8% (2017) / 2nd highest in the world
Life Expectancy: 53 years (2018)
Image Source: Wikipedia
Literacy Rate: 79.4% (2015) / Males 70.1%, Females 88.3%
Currency: loti / South African rand is also accepted as legal tender.
Form of Government: Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
Natural Resources: water, diamonds, sand, clay
Exports: clothing, footwear, wool, mohair, food and live animals, water, electricity, diamonds (1)
Lesotho’s most prominent features are its mountains and geographical position as a small, landlocked country.
First, the country’s lowest elevation is 1,400 meters above sea level, with 80% of its territory actually 1,800 meters or more above sea level. Indeed, Lesotho is sometimes referred to as “Mountain Kingdom” or “Kingdom in the Sky.” Lesotho is the only country in the world that sits entirely at or above 1,400 meters. The mountains and foothills of Lesotho are a source of great beauty but also cause isolation and limit the amount of arable land. (2)
Image by Markus Fischer on Pixabay
In addition, this small country is unique in that it is completely surrounded by the larger country of South Africa. As such, it shares the distinction of being a complete enclave with only two other countries in the world.
The area now known as Lesotho was settled by the Sotho people in the sixteenth century. In the 19th century, Moshoeshoe, known as one of its greatest and unifying leaders, ruled with exceptional diplomatic skill rather than military might. This was at least in part due to his limited military capabilities in contrast to the more powerful Zulus and Matabele. However, he also is known for developing strong relationships with the Christian and Catholic missionaries who moved into the area. Today the country predominantly practices Christian religions.
In his later years, Moshoeshoe sought protection from the British as the Boers moved into the interior of South Africa and Lesotho, seeking new territory. Lesotho remained a British protectorate until 1966 when it gained its independence and became a constitutional monarchy. Since that time the country has been marked by political instability including a military coup in 1986. (8)
The culture of the Basotho people centers on village life. Traditional forms of music and dance are incorporated into Basotho life. For example, the lesiba is a popular stringed wind instrument, especially commonplace among herders. Traditional dances include the “gum boot dance” and “Mohobelo dance.” (6)
Clothing is another reflection of Basotho life. One garment that is a staple for many in Lesotho is the Basotho blanket. The blanket often has colorful designs, is draped across the shoulders, and is pinned at the chest. People wear the blanket during important life events such as a marriage, but it is also an everyday article of clothing that keeps a person warm in the cool mountain air. The blanket is said to have originated in 1860 when King Moshoeshoe received a woolen blanket as a gift and began wearing it in exchange for his leopard-skin clothing. (5) The mokorotlo, a conical hat, is also commonly worn in Lesotho. (7)
Image by Simon Allen on Pixabay
Challenges in Lesotho
High poverty is one of Lesotho’s primary challenges. Estimates show that over 50% of the population lives in extreme poverty. Much of the population works in subsistence farming while as many as 35% of male wage earners travel to South Africa for work. (2)
One initiative seeking to assist in remedying the problem is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. It is an ongoing and joint South Africa and Lesotho initiative. The project creates major dams, redirecting some of Lesotho’s plentiful water supply to South Africa, where it is more in demand. The dams also provide hydropower for Lesotho. The project developers intend to reduce poverty and improve the lives of people in both countries. (2)
Another challenge for the Basotho is their struggle with both HIV/AIDs and TB. Lesotho has the second highest prevalence rate in the world for both diseases. (3)
I recently sat next to a fellow mother at the end-of-the-season basketball tournament for our middle school boys. It was standing room only in the bleachers. Across the gym, the student section was equally filled with chanting fans, many sporting painted faces and waving green and white pom poms. The mother lamented the spirited fans - less than a third of them had shown up for her daughter’s tournament.
Kids learn at an early age that gender parity doesn’t exist in all places. In 2019 women’s and girls’ sports are analogous to field hockey, a lower-profile sport that might get some attention, but only when it is off-season for football and basketball.
One group of women warriors is battling this inequity in a big way - the U.S. women’s soccer team. Today, on International Women’s Day, 28 members of the team stepped up their battle with U.S. Soccer when they filed a gender discrimination lawsuit. Though dominant internationally in their sport, the U.S. women have argued for years that their pay and working conditions pale in comparison to that of the men’s team. (1)
Photo Credit: Jeffry Lin/Unsplash
Sports is just one space in which women continue to pursue equity. On this International Women’s Day (IWD), we celebrate those who continue to seek balance - balance in sports as well as the boardroom, the government, media coverage, employment, and education. (#BalanceforBetter)
This is not just an American thing; it is a worldwide “call to action for accelerating gender parity,” according to IWD’s website. (6)
Here are just a few other recent actions:
On New Year’s Day, between 3.5 and 5 million women lined up side by side along western India’s National Highway 66. This human wall, which extended 385 miles, was intended to bring awareness of gender inequality, demonstrate solidarity, and protest a religious ban that prevented women of menstruating age from entering Hindu temples. (3)
When Nadia Murad, part of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, was captured by ISIS and forced into sexual slavery, she acted boldly. Not only did she escape, she went on to share her story with others, becoming a role model for other captive women and girls. In 2018, Murad was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. (4)
Back in the United States, women made history, too. In 2018 women achieved the highest percentage of Congressional representation in history. As the 116th Congress convened, 102 (23.4%) women in the House of Representatives and 25 women (25%) in the Senate took their seats. The trend continues: six women have already declared their candidacy in the Democratic Primary for U.S. president. (5)
Photo Credit: Tim Gouw/Unsplash
Twelve Syrian women of different backgrounds have been included in the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board. This group was formed to involve women in the peace process. The women intend to demonstrate that they are not just victims; they are leaders. (2)
In Tanzania, gender parity has been achieved in primary schools. Now Tanzanians continue to work towards decreasing the gender gap in secondary schools. Currently, only 40% of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school. (Read more: https://brighter-tz-fund.org/Blog/6366602)
Students at Saving Grace School in Arusha, Tanzania
The path to gender equity is paved by a collection of actions, big and small. And it begins with children who internalize what they see and experience. A child in Tanzania will believe that girls have a rightful place in every classroom when he sees that 50% of the seats are filled with girls. A girl in the U.S. will believe that her spot on the basketball court is laudable when as many eyes are on her as on her male counterpart.
As for me, I intend to take a small action this weekend, too, when I take my son to watch the final game of the girls’ tournament.
শুভ আন্তর্জাতিক মাতৃভাষা দিবস For those of you who don’t speak Bangla, I am wishing you a Happy International Mother Language Day!
It is with the Bangla language in what is now Bangladesh that the celebration of this international holiday began. More on that later.
First, some perspective. More than 7,000 (Yes, that’s three zeros!) exist in the world today. In Tanzania alone, 127 languages are spoken. Nigeria holds the record for being the most linguistically diverse on the continent of Africa with 527 languages spoken. One might guess that the most linguistically diverse globally might also be one of the largest countries geographically or by population - for example, China or India. Actually, the world’s most linguistically diverse is Papua New Guinea with 851 languages. (4)
Photo Credit: Soner Eker/Unsplash
Still, many are concerned with the quick rate that indigenous languages are fading and dying.
While the number of global languages might seem staggering, the United Nations predicts that every two weeks a language disappears. One estimate holds that 43% are endangered. (5)
With the loss of language comes a loss of culture. Venkaiah Naidu, vice president of India, articulates the issue eloquently: “Language is the soul of a society, the binding thread of human existence.” (1)
Perhaps it was this existential threat that led Bengalis in East Pakistan to unite in protest. In 1948, following the partition of India and Bengal, the area that is now Bangladesh became East Pakistan. The government recognized Urdu as the official language. When protests began, with ethnic Bengalis calling for the addition of Bangla as an official language, the government responded by banning public gatherings. The protesters did not give up. In 1952, four student protesters were killed when police opened fire at a rally. By 1956 the government had granted official status to Bangla. (1)
More than 40 years later, UNESCO initiated International Day of Mother Languages. The day is celebrated on February 21, the day the student protesters were killed while defending their language, and indirectly their culture and identity. The holiday has been officially observed since 2000.
Naidu has been a vocal proponent for the preservation of indigenous languages. In his native India, 750 languages are spoken, 22 of which are official languages. Naidu points out that the first language every infant (or fetus) hears is that of his or her mother. Maintaining this first language keeps one connected to a person’s mother and motherland, he says. One way to maintain the mother tongue is through incorporating indigenous languages within school systems. Naidu advocates mandating this incorporation in India’s schools. (1)
Photo Credit: Aaron Burden/Unsplash
Globally, 40% of the population lacks access to education in the language they speak or understand. (5)
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, shares Naidu’s vision. “A mother tongue is vital to literacy because it facilitates the acquisition of basic reading and writing skills, as well as basic numeracy, during the first years of schooling,” she said. (5)
A number of factors have led to the disappearance of mother tongues around the world - including urbanization and globalization.(3) As our world changes, many strive to preserve not only language but culture, history and memory. As awareness of endangered languages grows, the United Nations takes the advocacy a step farther, proclaiming 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages.
In closing, we send well wishes for International Day of Mother Languages in Swahili: Furaha ya Kimataifa ya Siku ya Mama ya Mama!
Population: 57,725,600 (2018)
Official Languages: 11 official languages including isiZulu (24.7%), isiXhosa (15.6%), and Afrikaans (12.1%)
Religion: Christian (86%), Traditional (5.4%), and Muslim (1.9%)
Fertility Rate: 2.26 births per woman (2018)
HIV/AIDs Prevalence Rate: 18.8% (2017)
Life Expectancy: 63 years (2017)
Literacy Rate: 94.4% (2015)
Currency: South African Rand
Form of Government: Parliamentary Republic
Natural Resources: gold, nickel, diamonds, platinum, copper, coal, iron ore, natural gas, and salt
Exports: gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment
South Africa has a diversity of geographical features with low-lying coastal areas, mountains in the eastern/northeastern section of the country, and the Kalahari desert in the north. The Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world. The Orange River is South Africa’s longest, beginning in Lesotho, flowing westward, and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
Bordering South Africa are Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland. South Africa also completely encircles the tiny country of Lesotho. (4)
Early inhabitants of the southern tip of the African continent were Bantu-speaking tribes who settled in the northern areas of what would one day be called South Africa. These tribes gradually moved south towards the coastline. (5)
Over many centuries South Africa became an amalgamation of many different peoples. This took place as a result of immigration, colonization, and the importation of slaves. It was in 1652 that the first European settlers arrived. Their settlement came to be known as Cape Town. The Dutch East India Company was formed to supply passing ships with fresh produce. Dutch farms spread, and after the colony was established, brought in slaves from East Africa, Madagascar, and the East Indies. (2)
Other Europeans were not far behind. The Huguenots (French Protestant refugees) arrived in 1688, followed by groups from Belgium, Germany, and Great Britain. Not surprisingly, conflict erupted between the colonists and the indigenous peoples beginning in the 1770s. (3)
In the 1820s, a famous Zulu king and warrior named Shaka led a series of incursions into the territory of other tribes. This long and bloody war left space for the Dutch and British colonists to gain control. In the mid-1800s the Dutch began moving farther into the interior and came to rule two landlocked republics called Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Boers (farmers) practiced Calvinism and developed the language of Afrikaans. In 1886 with the discovery of a major goldfield, the English, in a desire to maintain mining rights for English immigrants, went to war with the Dutch in what became known as the Anglo-Boer wars. (2)
It is ironic that in a place that abolished slavery in 1838, a system based on white power became legendary around the world. In 1910 the Union of South Africa ( a white union) was created followed by the 1912 founding of the African National Congress(ANC). The seed was planted. In 1948 the pro-Afrikaner National Party came to power with the idea of Apartheid. By 1961 residential segregation was enforced with blacks forcibly removed from white areas. When the ANC protested, leaders, including the famous Nelson Mandela, were thrown in jail. Resistance continued for many years, with international support, until Apartheid fell and a democratic election was finally held in 1994. After being released from prison, Mandela served as president of South Africa for five years. (2)
The ANC has been ruling South Africa since 1994. During this time, the poverty level has fallen from 33.8% in 1996 to 16.9% in 2008. Unemployment continues to pose a challenge with a rate of 27.2% in 2018. South Africa has also struggled with the HIV/AIDs epidemic. (7)
With this complex history comes an equally rich culture. This multi-ethnic nation has a cacophony of voices and 11 official languages. South Africans also enjoy many forms of music. One form that emerged in the 1990s with the fall of Apartheid was Kwaito, a fusion of old and contemporary African beats, some describe as a variant of hip hop. (5)
Dance is popular in South Africa, too. Gumboot is a style of dance which originated in the gold mines and is unique to South Africa. The dancers wear boots and rhythmically stomp and clap. Because talking was prohibited in the mines, stomping was a means of communicating. Zulu dances are also common, the dancers dressed as warriors in traditional garb. (5)
Another favorite pastime for South Africans is participating in and watching sports. Their favorites are rugby, cricket, and soccer.
As in any culture, South African cuisine is reflective of their geography and history. In fact, their food is sometimes referred to as “rainbow cuisine” because of the array of food from many different cultures. Throughout most of the country, though, the menu of a South African is based on meat and maize. (Nearly half of arable land is planted with maize.) A few favorites include biltong, a dried salted meat; bobotie, a version of shepherd's pie; and boerewors, a hand-made farm sausage. One traditional dish considered a delicacy in the northern part of the country ( and unique to many other cultures) is mopane worms, caterpillars that live on mopane trees. The worms are dried and then fried, grilled or cooked in a stew. Mopane worms are still served as hors d’oeuvres at restaurants. (6)
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