Friday, December 30, 2011

Samoa and Tokelau end year early

On Thursday, December 29, 2011, the Islands of Samoa and Tokelau will swap the International Dateline and move into Saturday, December 31, 2011.

The nation of Samoa will flash past Friday and herald Saturday with bells and celebration. 

This westward jump in time will also shift the economic balance of the 21st century. This shift is meant to align Samoa with its Asia-Pacific trading partners. This will move the islands' work days further from the United States, which had a commanding influence in Samoa's economy in the past.

This giant-step version of daylight saving time will mean some people will miss a day of work on Friday. The government of Samoa has decreed that those who miss a day of work on Friday will be paid all the same. Those who had dental or a doctor's appointment on Friday will, apparently, be accommodated on Saturday. However, if your birthday or anniversary was on Friday, you either celebrate it in a flash or forfeit it for the good of the nation.

Tokelau dancers
Tokelau is a territory of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean that consists of three tropical coral atolls. It has a population of about 1,500.

The Samoan Islands is an archipelago in central South Pacific covering 1,170 square miles. It forms part of Polynesia and the wider region of Oceania. It has a population of approximately 250,000.

Samoa has been out of alignment with its neighbors since 1892, when American traders persuaded it to shift from the western side to the eastern side of the dateline. This was to facilitate business with the West Coast of the United States. That shift, 119 years ago, took place on the American Independence Day, so the Samoans could celebrate July 4 twice.

Samoan traditional attire
However, in recent years, New Zealand and Australia have become increasingly valuable trade partners with Samoa as they provide access to new trading relations in Asia particularly China and Singapore. “In doing business with New Zealand and Australia, we’re losing out on two working days a week,” Mr. Tuila’epa said. “While it’s Friday here, it’s Saturday in New Zealand, and when we’re at church on Sunday, they’re already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane.” “Today,” the statement said bluntly, “we do a lot more business with New Zealand and Australia, China and Pacific Rim countries such as Singapore.”

Thursday, 11:59 p.m., it will be December 29. At the stroke of midnight Samoa and Tokelau will hop the dateline and at 12:01 a.m. it will be Saturday, December 31. The new time zone will put Samoa 3 hours ahead of eastern Australia rather than 21 hours behind it, and 22 hours ahead of California, instead of 2 hours behind it.

What a way to end the year! On a high and forward note!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! to all my readers.




Thursday, December 29, 2011

Is the Egyptian woman worthy

Egyptian woman protesting in Cairo
On April 28, 2011, I blogged about the Egyptian women demonstrating in Tahrir Square and the prominence of a potential first Egyptian female president, Buthayna Kamal.  The hopeful question was whether this new wind of political change would also blow in social change as concerns women in this society.

In the months after the revolution that got Hosni Mubarak out of power and in particular the last few days have shown that attitudes towards women has not changed. This is very disappointing. Women were in the frontline fighting for justice and political change alongside the men. They are worthy of not just recognition but respect.

Women raised their voices calling for change!
When women raised their voices calling for change they were serious. They were not asking or requesting change they demanded change in the political arena. Today they are demanding change in the social behavior that is biased against women. In response the military government is all talk but no action. Last week military generals silently watched their soldiers lead assaults on female protestors.

Mona Seif, a 25-year old activist was punched, slapped and kicked by army soldiers as they dragged her inside the Cabinet Building while at the same time hitting her with wooden batons. The reason she received this shocking and appalling violence was because she had refused to leave the areas until the soldiers released a child she was protecting amid the violence. A young obtuse soldier in charge of the detention room continuously cursed at the female detainees, some old enough to be his mother. He had no ounce of respect for these women and had no problem slapping a woman, 60 years of age, who spoke up and reprimanded his behavior.

Today she demonstrates as a girl-child tomorrow she is brutally beaten as a woman.
This behavior stems from the Egyptian culture, according to Nehad Abolkomsan, a lawyer and director of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights. "People think it's acceptable to do anything to a women if she goes out of line by their standards."

This deliberate humiliation and degradation of Egyptian women is a disgrace and dishonors the revolution. Women marched for change. Young girls watched their mothers, sisters and aunts stand up for what is right and just.  For the sake of this young girls, women will continue to demonstrate and raise their voices.

Egyptian women are worthy of respect and honor from their men. The wind of political change is blowing in social change. Men wake up... women are here to stay!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Girl babies don't count - Gendercide Part II

Xinran Xue, a Chinese writer, described a gruesome visit to a peasant family in the Shandong province. The peasant's wife gave birth to baby girl in the home and to Xinran's horror the baby was thrown in a slop pail like roadside dirt by the midwife. The mother was crying as the husband was cursing her out. Xinran tried to save the baby but was stopped by the two police men who had accompanied her. "Don't move," they said. "You can't save it, it's too late." An older woman in the home justified what had happened explained that the baby was not a child. "It's a girl baby, and we can't keep it. Around these parts, you can't get by without a son. Girl babies don't count."


Genocide in China is usually seen as a consequence of the one-child policy or as a product of poverty or ignorance. But it has become clear that there is more to it than these assumed factors. Research shows that between 1990 and 2005 there was surplus of bachelors, known in China as guanggun (bare branches). This increase was not linked to the one child policy. It was a direct result of the war against baby girls.

Like India, China's gender ratio is totally skewed. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the ratio in 2011 is 123 boy per 100 girls. These rates are biologically impossible without human intervention.  Nick Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, describes it as "the fateful collision between overweening son preference, the use of rapidly spreading prenatal sex-determination technology and declining fertility.

Other countries that show a skewed sex-ratio included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Serbia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cyprus and Bosnia. The surprising thing is seeing countries as rich and well educated as South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore with high sex-ratio slanted towards males.

 In South Korea, the surplus of bachelors has sucked in brides from abroad. In 2008, 11% of marriages were "mixed" mostly between a Korean man and a foreign woman. South Koreans are known to be hostile to children of mixed marriages and this new trend of importing brides is causing tensions in this homogenous society. This trend is being seen particularly in the rural areas and the government predicts that half the children from these areas will be mixed by 2020. The population of mixed children has grown enough to have produced a new word: "Kosians" the short form of Korean-Asians.



Sources: The Economist

Friday, December 23, 2011

Obliteration of girls in India - Gendercide Part I

As a follow-up to my previous blog Because I am a girl,  let us pause and focus on India and its well kept secret - female infanticide.

The Republic of India is located in South Asia and it is geographically the seventh largest country with the second highest population (1.2 billion) in the world.

Indira Gandhi
"India, is a country of paradoxes," says Dr. Marie-Mignon Mascarehans, founder of CREST, an Indian non-profit organization. She laments that even though the country has produced a Cambridge educated Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, 40-50 percent of rural women are illiterate.

What we hear about this country is that it is among the fastest growing economies in the world, with a 7.5% GDP growth rate. It is one of the G-20 major economies and one of the five members of the international political organization known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Yet in this upcoming nation nearly 50 million girls are missing from its population. The average ratio of boys to girls is 6 to1. Discrimination against girls begins before they are born simply because they are considered an economic liability to the family.

In India, the man is considered the bread winner in the family and the fact that a woman can play the same role is still very alien. So even among middle and upper class families, the girl child is considered of no value. Within the realm of religious dogma, in the event of the death of a parent, the spirit of the dead person will not move on to the next life until the son has lit the funeral fire.

Girl's value based on dowry
Dowry plays a significant role in the determining whether a girl lives or is killed during or after a pregnancy. The very survival of a woman in a matrimonial home is subject to how much dowry she is bringing in. Even her right to life revolves around the dowry.

These are the reasons why families chose not to have girls. Technology has made gender selection easier. There are ultra-sound centers all around India where the gender of a child is identified so that families can make the relevant decision to keep or get rid of a pregnancy. Sex-selection tests are done even by the elite and educated members of the community. Gender selection is illegal and considered a criminal offense in India but the government is complacent about enforcing the law.

Female infanticide is more common among those who can afford to get an ultra sound. The poor have to wait until the child is born and this makes it very difficult for the mother who is put under pressure by the family to kill her child. The husband and/or mother-in-law are known to kill their baby girl.

This annihilation of girls is causing a sex imbalance in the population. This will soon lead to a system of polyandry if this killings continue.

Women around the world need to rise up and speak against this atrocity. First Ladies of the world have a platform to move this agenda. The president of India is a woman (Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil) and the head of the ruling party in is a woman (Sonia Gandhi). Why are they not speaking to this issue? ARISE and ACT!




Wikipedia

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Because I am a girl

In my previous blog series I focused on the power of a First Lady and highlighted the wasted opportunities by some of these First Wives. In this next set of blogs I want to share the reality of gender inequality. This is an issue First Ladies around the world should rally around considering some of these atrocities are happening in their own backyards.

We are thinkers from an early age
Gender inequality is not a new issue but it is taking a long time to get traction and attention around the world. The reality is that across the world, girls face double-barreled discrimination due to their gender and age placing them at the bottom of the social strata.

Research shows that girls are more likely to suffer from malnutrition,  forced early marriage, violence and/or intimidation, trafficking, sold or coerced into sex trade or become infected with HIV.

It is only the girl-child that is subject to infanticide while still in the womb.

Plan International, a UK based, children's development organization, began a campaign called "Because I am a girl" in 2007. The purpose of the campaign is to fight gender inequality, promote girls' rights and lift millions of girls out of poverty. In their quest, Plan is producing one girl report each year in the run up to 2015, the target year for the Millennium Development Goals. Each report provides tangible proof of the inequalities that still exist between boys and girls. Their latest success was the United Nations declaration October 11 as the Day of the Girl.


Here are the sobering facts from one of the reports:

  • I have the same rights as my brothers, yet I am discriminated against even before I am born.
  • I and 68,000 teenage girls will die from unsafe abortions this year.
  • I and 62 million other girls are not in primary school.
  • I and 2 million other girls will undergo female genital cutting this year.
  • I and more than 100 million girls under 18, some as young as 12, are expected to marry over the next decade.

Below is a moving video based on the campaign.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The power of a First Lady - Zimbabwe Part III

Grace Mugabe’s contribution to the economic and financial decline of her country, during her tenure as First Lady, has taken various forms. She stole from the coffers of civil servants under the pay-for your house scheme in order to build her infamous “Gracelands” in Borrowdale, a wealthy suburb of Harare. The “Gracelands” is an extravagantly constructed palace that caused controversy in the country. The palace was later sold to the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. The second palace was completed in 2007 and was said to have been a gift to Robert Mugabe from ZANU-PF in gratitude for his political service. It was reported to have cost $26 million. She also built a lavish home for her parents in their hometown of Chivhu.

In 2002 Grace grabbed farm property previously owned by John and Eva Matthews, for herself and her family. She also owns property in Malaysia where the family frequently vacations. It is alleged that she intended to move to Malaysia with her children to escape the stress of leadership and to address fears of assassination. The Daily Telegraph called her “notorious at home for her profligacy” in the 2003 coverage of a shopping trip to Paris. She reportedly spent about $120,000 in the shopping spree. The EU has instituted sanctions banning Grace Mugabe and her husband from traveling to participating countries. The United States has instituted similar restrictions.

Besides her involvement in corruption scandals and her sinfully lavish and extravagant shopping, Grace also has her dirty linen washed in public. She has had three known extra-marital affairs as First Lady. The latest sexual scandal was with a close friend and ally of Robert Mugabe, Gideon Gono. Each man who has been accused of "consensually messing” with the First Lady has met a sudden fatal accident or fled the country.

Grace Mugabe has not only destroyed the lives of Zimbabweans but she has made it difficult for her own daughter to attend school overseas. Riots broke out at the University of Zimbabwe campus with student demonstrations outside the Embassy of China. They were demanding that Bona Mugabe should return home and study under the same pathetic conditions as her peers. The University of Hong Kong has distanced itself from this controversy although the situation has caused the family to seek help in keeping their daughter safe while in Hong Kong.

This is the legacy of Grace Mugabe.


Source: Wikipedia
                Zimeye

Monday, December 12, 2011

The power of a First Lady - Zimbabwe Part II

In my previous post, “The power of a First Lady – Africa Part I”, Grace Mugabe was briefly discussed including her impact as a First Wife. Considering the appalling economic, political and social conditions Zimbabwe is facing it is only fair to dedicate a page on Grace’s contribution to this apology of a nation.

First Lady Grace Mugabe was President Mugabe’s secretary. She was married to Stanley Goreraza, a former air force pilot now working in the Zimbabwe Embassy in China. While married to Officer Goreraza, Grace became Mugabe’s mistress forcing her husband to divorce her. As a mistress to Mugabe, Grace was less influential than Sally, his first wife.

While Sally’s record spans the whole spectrum of economic and political development, Grace’s major contribution is that she bore Robert Mugabe children in his old age. As a younger woman than Sally, Grace has considerable influence over Mugabe and shamelessly manipulates him. This affair weakened Mugabe’s standing within his party ZANU-PF. The party’s Leadership Code, which has been used as a check and balance on its leader, was thrown out of the window due to Grace's influence. This resulted in a great corruption stampede by the party leadership in a rush for wealth.

It is clear that Grace had one goal, to out do Sally on her influence over Mugabe. This heinous craving had Grace reverse, without delay, everything Sally had worked so hard to build. The Reconciliation of 1980 was discarded and war-veterans who were a well-disciplined section of the Zimbabwean society began making obscene demands for payment for their contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe. Without the Leadership Code, the voice of reason (Sally) and the ZANU-PF leaders overtly acquiring wealth illegally, Mugabe’s leadership position was too weak to put up a fight. He ended up paying out large sums of money to each veteran as a form of gratitude.

A free for all policy transformed the once bread basket of Southern Africa to one of the poorest countries in the world. Zimbabwe’s health and education systems that were once a marvel of the region have been completely destroyed beyond repair. The once independent and effective judicial system is now a joke and there is no rule of law. Half of the population is now living outside of Zimbabwe.

This is Mugabe’s Zimbabwe under Grace.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The power of a First Lady - Zimbabwe Part I


Sally Hayfron Mugabe
Sally Hayfron, a.k.a. Sarah Francesca (Hayfron) Mugabe, was a Ghanaian political activist and trained teacher who married Robert Mugabe in April 1961 in Salisbury. They met in at Takoradi Teacher Training College where they were both teaching. Three years later the colonial government of Ian Smith detained her husband. In 1967 she went into exile in London and spent the next eight years agitating and campaigning for the release of political detainees in Rhodesia, including her husband.

Robert Mugabe was released from prison in 1975 and subsequently escaped to Mozambique where Sally was able to re-join him. It was in Mozambique that Sally found herself in a new role of a mother figure to thousands of Zimbabwean refugees and revolutionaries who had fled from the oppressive colonial government. Her efforts in this role earned her the popular title Amai (Mother).

Three years later she was elected ZANU-PF Deputy Secretary for the Women’s League and in 1980 quickly adjusted to role of the first wife of Zimbabwe’s first African Prime Minister. In 1987 she officially became the First Lady of Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe became the second President of Zimbabwe. In 1989 Sally Mugabe was elected Secretary General of the ZANU-PF Women’s League.

The power behind the man
During the first ten years of Zimbabwe’s independence, Sally stood by her husband. Zimbabweans had already warmed up to her even though she was from Ghana, and continued to refer to her as Amai (Mother). She was polite, down-to-earth and exerted great positive influence on her husband and under Sally Zimbabwe prospered. Schools, colleges, clinics and hospitals were built countrywide.  It was during this time that President Mugabe and the First Lady realized that the whites’ nerves needed calming, and through Sally’s recommendation, Mugabe adopted the Reconciliation Policy. This policy left the agriculture sector in the hands of white commercial farmers. 

Mugabe was actually more radical than he is now but Sally kept him under lock and key. Her word was always “law and gospel” as Leymah Gbowee would say. She pointed out the consequences of radical land distribution and possibly warned him of losing what they had fought for – Freedom. The rule of law implemented with minimal favor that restored investor confidence and thereby fueled development. The judicial system worked independently without influence from the executive branch and was able to launch investigations of high profile government leaders accused of corruption.

Remembered fondly
Sally Mugabe became the voice of reason behind her husband fashioning the women’s league, mass education, rule of law and the independent judiciary system. She also founded the Zimbabwe Child Survival Movement and in 1986 launched the Zimbabwe Women's Cooperative in the U.K. where she had lived in exile while fighting for independence. She supported Akina Mama wa Africa, a London-based African women’s organization focusing on development and women’s issues in Africa and the United Kingdom.

She had her husband’s ear and ruled Zimbabwe through him. The country prospered and her husband earned the praise of leaders around the world and the respect of his fellow citizens. 

Sally Heyfron Mugabe died on January 27, 1992 from kidney failure. She is fondly remembered with love and affection and is still considered the founding mother of the nation of Zimbabwe.

Next - the contrast. Zimbabwe under Grace Mugabe, the second First Lady of Zimbabwe.

Source: Zimeye
            Wikipedia



Thursday, December 8, 2011

The power of a First Lady - Asia Part II

Jian Qing - China former First Lady
In Asia where women are constrained by their culture and traditions to be subservient to men, First Ladies have been known to change the fate of their nations and affect millions of lives. Given the right conditions these women have expanded their power and influence in their respective countries.  The most infamous of the many past and present First Wives are from China, according to The Asia Mag, an online magazine. Jiang Qing assisted Mao Zedong in launching the Cultural Revolution and Soon Mei Ling helped her husband, Chiang Kai-shek extend ineffectual rule and delayed China's resistance to the Japanese invasion. Both women were responsible for the blood bath of millions in China.

Imelda Marco - Philippines former First Lady
Imelda Marcos of the Philippines is still known as the world's most famous shoe collector. She supported her dictator husband Ferdinand Marcos whose 20 year reign was marred by massive corruption, nepotism, political repression and human rights violations. When they were sent fleeing to Hawaii in 1986, they are said to have carried so much gold that their plane had to make many refueling stops.

Ibu Tien was less known to the rest of the world, than her husband General Suharto. Suharto was the second president of Indonesia who ruled with an iron fist from 1960s to 1990s. Ibu's official name was Raden Ayu Siti Hartinah, but was known by the Indonesians as Ibu Tien.  Madam Suharto was also known as "Madam 10 per cent" because of the commission she exacted. Her insatiable greed for money influenced her husband to grab money shamelessly. This greed was inherited by her six children who went all out to take money and peddle influence. She was widely acknowledge to be a close confidant and political advisor to her husband, President Suharto. Ong Hok Ham, a prominent Indonesian social historian, said in an interview "When Suharto rose to power, people believed the wife had the 'wahyu' (the flaming womb) and whoever united with her would get the 'wahyu'. After her death, people began to sense the 'wahyu' was gone." Ibu Tien died of a heart attack in 1996.


In countries such as Taiwan, Thailand and even Cambodia, that are considered democracies with regular elections by the West, have unelected First Ladies wielding uncurbed power. In Thailand, Potjaman Shinawatra chooses cabinet ministers for her husband, President Thaksin. The First Lady of Cambodia, Bun Rany Hun Sen runs among other entities the Red Cross. Madam Hun Sen is so powerful, it is said that she can get way with anything even perhaps murder. She was accused by a French magazine of arranging the murder of her husband's actress mistress. Madam Hun Sen did not respond or take action against the accusation.


Wu Shu-jen
The former Taiwan president, Chen Shui-bian was put in power by his wheelchair-bound wife, Wu Shu-jen. His popularity and high approval ratings lasted a few weeks before if fell sharply due to alleged corruption. It was his wife's addiction to money that turned his six year administration into corrupted machinery. They are both currently serving a 19 year jail term that was reduced from a life sentence.


In two of Asia's former British Colonies, Hong Kong and Singapore, the legal system does not allow First Wives to get involved in politics. However, this has not stopped  Selina Tsang nor Ho Ching from participating and exerting influence using alternative avenues. Selina is chief lobbyist of Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (her husband) in Beijing. Ho runs the huge investment firm Temasek Holdings that is owned by the government of Singapore, of which her husband Lee Hsien Loon is the Prime Minister.


These are all powerful women in their own right and even though many seem to have cost their husbands their presidency or run down their countries, they are powerful individuals to reckon with. However, many times they are overlooked when issues are being discussed because they seem like silent, subservient wives. If you want to know the views or position on an issue of the First Lady in any country, listen when the President speaks.


Sonia Gandhi - India
First Ladies are role models for the women in their countries, whether they are good or evil. By virtue of being the most visible females in society they inspire other women who see their lives as more than just staying home and making babies. 


Possibly the most inspiring of all is Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of the late Rajiv Gandhi. She was the exemplary First Lady when her husband was prime minister of India. Her career blossomed after his death and today she runs the ruling Congress Party and through Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, decides on the fate of 1 billion people. This is a powerful woman. A First Lady who is now the First Person of India.








Source: The Asia Mag

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The power of a First Lady - Africa Part I

Janet Museveni - First Lady of Uganda

Uganda's Yoweri Museveni is no longer the favored "son" of the US. His political popularity among his former allies has dwindled and he has found himself on the defensive because of the policies that his government is implementing.

However, what most people do not know is that many of the unfavorable policies and laws being passed in Parliament are spearheaded or pushed by the First Lady.  There is no decision that President Museveni passes without first going through his wife. Janet Museveni has denied recent accusations, gathered through WikiLeaks, that she is the originator of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. However, there is no argument that she does not condone this lifestyle and has influenced her husband to make reactionary statements against the LGBT community. This First Lady ran for public office in 2008 when her husband decided not to run. He ended up running, with her support, and she was nominated and confirmed for a cabinet position in 2009.

In fairness to Mrs. Museveni, she worked on uplifting the welfare of Ugandans by proposing healthcare plans in the 1990s and fought for peace and security of children in developing countries. In 1999, she and Hillary Clinton (who then was also a First Lady) started a joint project in Uganda which helped more than 10,000 needy students with educational fees and scholastic supplies.

Grace Mugabe - First Lady of Zimbabwe
Then there is Grace Mugabe, the second wife of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. It is said that it is only after he married Grace, his former secretary who was married to a former Air Force officer, that the country began to take a down turn. Zimbabwe was once a thriving nation led by one of the most intelligent and charismatic leaders in Africa. However, after Sally Hefron, his first wife died in 1992 of kidney failure, Mugabe married Grace and then started the idiotic policies characteristic of a mad man. Grace Mugabe was accused in 2009 of raiding the central bank vault to bank roll a family vacation in Malaysia. This was after spending $80,000 in a shopping spree in Rome the previous year while her husband was attending an UN Food and Agriculture Organization summit. In Dec. 2010, WikiLeaks cables cited her involvement in illegal diamond deals. Grace has a lavish and extravagant lifestyle in a country with such a hyper inflation rate that in 2009 it abandoned its currency. This woman influences her husband's policy decisions and unfortunately has destroyed not just the economy of Zimbabwe but the lives of thousands of people, most of whom have sought political and economic refuge in other countries.

First Ladies wield more power than we think or even know. Their word is "law and gospel" as Leymah Gbowee articulates in the video below. This is true for First Ladies around the world, even in countries where the culture demands that a woman is only to be seen and not heard.


There are First Ladies who have and have had positive influences on their husbands. These are the women that the recent Nobel Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, says should be engaged on issues affecting their countries and regions of the world.



Monday, December 5, 2011

POLYGYNY in New York, USA - Part II

President Zuma of South Africa and his three wives
While a good number of these polygamous families are living together in small apartments in the Bronx with many children with incidences of domestic violence and conflict among the co-wives, there are a few noted families that do not fit this description. There are those who live in the suburbs whose husbands are wealthy enough to keep a happy set of co-wives and their children, providing for all their  basic needs.

Although Islam allows a man to have up to four wives, polygyny in Africa is a cultural practice that crosses religious lines and men tend to have more than four wives. Having multiple wives indicates a mans wealth and is also a strong indicator of his virility as well as need for sexual satisfaction. Most of the wealthy men in Africa own large pieces of land and the family was a way of reducing labor costs. It is also important to point out that in a culture where infant mortality is ridiculously high, polygyny assures the continuation of the man's family.

The immigrant community in New York may want to continue the practices from their home countries but the set back is that the men have no assets for the multiple children to inherit. They are unable to provide the basic necessities for their families forcing them to lean on welfare and therefore tax-payers. A number of these families have migrated to the United States as polygamous families but since the U.S. does not recognize this marital status, only one wife gets the visa or green-card. The other co-wives are, therefore, undocumented illegal aliens and God-forbid if they fall out of favor with their husbands and are divorced, they are vulnerable to deportation.

While researching this story, I came across a video of an interview done by ABC TV on the same issue but this time the people practicing polygyny are African American (see below). This then begs the question; how many other polygamous marriages are in the United States outside of the Mormon communities?

Friday, December 2, 2011

POLYGYNY in New York, USA - Part I

Yes, polygyny is rampantly being practiced in New York and yes, it is illegal in the United States but hardly prosecuted. Unlike the Mormons in Utah who overtly live out this life style, the West African immigrant population in New York live quietly under these arrangements.

What exactly is polygyny and what is the difference (if any) between polygyny, polygamy and polyandry? According to Webster's dictionary polygyny is the "state of having more than one wife or female mates at one time".  Polygamy is "marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time". Polyandry is the "state or practice of having more than one husband or male mate at one time". More often than not polygamy is used when referring to polygyny.

In a couple of previous blogs in June 2011, I discussed/presented the argument that polygamy (more so polygyny) made economic sense - at least in many of the developing countries particularly in Africa. In New York, however, this practice does not only make no economic sense it make NO SENSE at all.

Aminata Kante left her husband after he took a second wife.
Source: Shiho Fukada of the New York Times
Most of these men who are taking up more than one wife can hardly take care of the one they have and the children. Many fall in the low-income bracket and taking up additional wives makes their financial obligations more challenging. Yet, the men have no problem taking up another young girl and having her bear more children for him. Some of the women advocate for this practice arguing that it is an acceptable and required African practice. Those who reject and fight are in the minority and suffer harshly both within their communities in New York and among their relatives in their home countries.

According to Nina Bernstein of the New York Times, it is not known how prevalent polygyny is in New York because it is kept as a secret by those who practice it. Under immigration law, polygamy is grounds for deportation and exclusion from the United States.  The problem becomes more complex because some men have one wife in the United States and others abroad... much like President Barack Obama's father who had wives in Kenya, Finland and the United States.

Contd ... Part II



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee
In my September 2, 2011, blog on the now late Nobel Laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathai, I shared the story she told about the Humming bird. The moral of that story was that we all have the capacity to influence change whether in big chunks or small pieces.

This is the same message that was repeated again (see video below) by Leymah Gbowee, a gender activist from Sierra Leone and a recent recipient of the Nobel Laureate Prize.

Leymah reminds me very much of Wangari Maathai who was also a gender activist in Kenya. They share the same passion and determination in their struggle against injustice. They are both fearless women who ruffled the feathers of dangerous dictators in their countries. I see Leymah as standing on the shoulders of Dr. Maathai in her fight for the rights of women and girls in Sierra Leone. Fighting for their equal rights and standings in the society whether it be in civic and political participation or leadership in their communities.

On August 20, 2011, I shared the trailer of a documentary titled "Pray the Devil back to Hell".   This feature documents the events leading to the deposition of the tyrannical President of Liberia, Charles Taylor and the ushering in of the first African woman President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Well, Leymah Gbowee, featured in this documentary, was the face of this movement that caused a stir in West Africa and got African men to sit up and listen.

We all have the capacity to change our world. It can be on a local, regional, national and even international level. We simply have to be persuaded within ourselves that the changes we want far out weigh the suffering we have to go through and the losses we have to endure to gain the change. Like every action plan we need to clearly articulate the objectives we are fighting for and be completely committed to attaining them no matter the cost.


Dr. Wangari Maathai paved the way as the first African woman to receive a Nobel Laureate Prize. Now Leymah Gbowee, the Wangari Maathai of Liberia, was recognized and awarded this prestigious award. What a great achievement and recognition of African women. We have come a long way.

I am a hummingbird in my community, doing the best I can because that is what I am called to do.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Child Brides - Conclusion

Little woman
Child marriage is a worldwide phenomenon but is most prevalent in Africa and Southern Asia and although its practice has decreased somewhat in recent decades, it remains common in, although not only confined to, rural areas and among the most poverty stricken.


In communities where child marriage is practiced marriage is regarded as a transaction, often representing a significant economic activity for a family. A daughter may be the only commodity a family has left to be traded and sometimes girls can be used as currency or to settle debts. A girl's marriage may also take place as a perceived means of creating stability. In uncertain times, poor harvest conditions or war, a family may believe it is necessary to ensure the economical 'safety' of their daughter and family, through marriage.

Dominant notions of morality and honor are important factors encouraging the practice of child marriage. These are influenced great by the importance placed on maintaining 'family honor' and the high value placed on a girl's virginity. It is considered that shame would be cast on a family if a girl were not a virgin when she marries. Therefore, in order to ensure that a girl's virtue remains in tact, girls may be married earlier, in order to ensure their virginity. Young girls may also be encouraged to marry older men, due to the perception that an older husband will be able to act, as a guardian against behavior deemed immoral and inappropriate.
Tender aged bride

Consequences
Physical: - When a child bride is married she is likely to be forced into sexual activity with her husband, and at an age where the bride is not physically and sexually mature this has severe health consequences.
According to UNFPA (Child Marriage Factsheet, 2005), girls ages l0-14 are five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women aged 20-24 and girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die. Young mothers face higher risks during pregnancies including complications such as heavy bleeding, obstructed labor, obstetric fistula, infection, anemia, and eclampsia which contribute to higher mortality rates of both mother and child. The age disparity between a child bride and her husband, in addition to her low economic autonomy, further increases a girl's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.

Psychological and social: - Women who marry early are more likely to suffer abuse and violence, with inevitable psychological as well as physical consequences. The husband’s family as well as the husband himself sometimes perpetrates abuse, and girls that enter families as a bride often become domestic slaves for the in-laws.

Early marriage has also been linked to wife abandonment and increased levels of divorce or separation (UNICEF, Early Marriage: Child, Spouses, 2001) and child brides also face the risk of being widowed by their husbands who are often considerably older. In these instances the wife is likely to suffer additional discrimination as in many cultures divorced, abandoned or widowed women suffer a loss of status, and may be ostracized by society and denied property rights.

Developmental: - Child Marriage also has considerable implications for the social development of child brides, in terms of low levels of education, poor health and lack of agency and personal autonomy.

Large numbers of the girls who drop out of school do so because of early marriage, leaving many women who married early illiterate. Early marriage plans can also discourage a girl's parents from educating their daughter because they believe that a formal education will only benefit her future family in law.

The cyclical nature of early marriage results in a likely low level of education and life skills, increased vulnerability to abuse and poor health, and therefore acute poverty.
What is my destiny?

Solutions/Recommendations

Education: - Improving access to education and eliminating gender gaps in education are therefore important strategies for ending the practice of child marriage. Repeated studies show:

1.     Girls with a secondary education are up to six times less likely to marry young compared to girls with little or no education.

2.     Education delays the age at which a woman marries.

3.     Education provides an alternative opportunity for girls other than marriage.

4.     Education increases socio-economic status and earning potential for girls.

Poverty Reduction: - The world's poorest countries have the highest rates of child marriage. Families often marry girls off to lessen their economic burden and provide a future for their daughters. Data verifies that:

1.     Girls from poor families are about twice as likely to marry young than girls from better-off households.

2.     Girls who earn a wage may be seen as an economic asset, not a burden, by their families.

3.     Girls who earn a wage are less dependent on others to provide for them.

Engaging Men and Boys: - The involvement of men in supporting local women’s rights efforts has been repeatedly cited in research studies as a critical element of the formula for success in advancing women’s initiatives throughout the developing world.
Involving men in education efforts concerning forced marriage is particularly important for changing customary law.

Changing and Enforcing laws: - Changing the laws that govern women’s lives and enforcing them through well developed legal institutions will eliminate the horror of child marriage. In countries where there are statutory laws that protect women, mending gaps between legal institutions and enforcement of the law should be a priority.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights. Unfortunately very few women are aware that they have rights by the simple fact that they are human beings.

The video below is a true story about Aberash Bekele from Ethiopia. It is a narrative of a young Ethiopian girl who refused to get married.  Aberash is paying a high price for the decision she made but her life changed the lives of Ethiopian women forever.


Tribute to Wangari Maathai - Kenya's Best Known Woman

RIP Dr. Wangari Maathai
Last month I posted a series of stories of Dr. Maathai, not knowing that she was in and out of hospital as she battled ovarian cancer.  On Sunday, September 25, 2011 this dynamic woman who inspired many of us young women succumbed to the cancer. Her death is a loss to so many of us who grew up under the oppressive regime of a despot ruler but learnt that we had a voice and could speak in one voice.

I still remember in the 1980s when Dr. Maathai (known to many of us as Mama Wangari or Mum) led hundreds of mostly women to protest Moi's government plans to erect a 62-story headquarters for the then ruling party. I so wanted to join the protests but was too young and my parents would not hear of it. But I raised my voice even then within the family in support of this amazing woman. She fought the then President Daniel Arap Moi fearlessly even as she campaigned for the environment and women's rights in Kenya. 

She taught and encouraged women to plant trees
Her fortitude and passion inspired a generation of Kenyan activist in the 1990s, particularly women, to believe that even though the Kenyan constitution which then considered women as "second class citizens", our voices could bring down a dictatorship. Her fight and unwavering determination succeeded in forcing changes to policies passed down by government official who until then were not accustomed to being questioned. It was this kind of fight which also won her the first Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to an African women, in 2004.

She is not only Kenya's best known woman but also a national hero.

Dr. Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, started in 1977 with the aim of halting widespread deforestation. The organization has grown to become one of the largest grassroots movements in Africa and a vehicle for empowering women. She declared that, "... by protecting the environment, these women are also becoming powerful champions for sustainable management of scarce resources such as water, equitable economic development, good political governance, and ultimately… peace".

She was a woman who embraced and effortlessly lived her authentic self. She was living her destiny and understood her purpose. Her message was clear, her convictions and passions real and overt. She taught, listened and counseled those who were willing and open to learn and grow authentically. Her impact was global.

Mama Wangari's legacy lives on.