International Day to End Obstetric Fistula

On  May 23, 2013, the world will be marking the first-ever International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, as recently designated by the United Nations General Assembly. This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Campaign to End Fistula, which was launched by UNFPA, in collaboration with a wide range of partners.

Logo by

The Campaign is currently active in more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Arab states and Latin America. Over that decade, UNFPA has directly supported over 34,000 women and girls to receive surgical fistula treatment, while partner agencies have supported thousands more.

Countries around the world mark fistula day with a variety of events intended to raise awareness of this severely neglected health and human rights tragedy, highlight progress made over the last decade, and generate new political and financial support for the global movement to end the condition. These events will include a special observance at the United Nations in New York, with the participation of fistula survivors, in addition to advocates and practitioners who have dedicated their careers to put an end to this devastating condition.

So what exactly is Fistula?

Fistulae are holes that are created between the vaginal wall and the bladder, and holes created between the vaginal wall and the rectum. Fistula is a childbirth injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor.

How are these holes formed?

These holes are formed as a result of pregnancy and child birth. Labor becomes  obstructed due to female genital mutilation (FGM), or by child marriage and early pregnancy.

What are the effects of Fistula?

Vesicovaginal fistula causes urinary incontinence and / or fecal incontinence due to rectovaginal fistula and related conditions, such as dermatitis. If nerves to the lower limbs are damaged, women may suffer from paralysis of the lower half of the body. Many victims of obstructed labor  in which the fistulae subsequently occur, will also have given birth to a stillborn baby.

What are the social effects of Fistula?

In spite of one’s best efforts to stay clean, the smell of leaking urine or feces is hard to eliminate and difficult to ignore. The dampness causes rashes and infections. The cleaning up is constant, and pain or discomfort may be continuous as well. The grief of losing a child and becoming disabled exacerbates the pain.

The injury leaves women with few opportunities to earn a living, and many have to rely on others to survive, or turn to begging or commercial sex. In some communities they are not allowed to have anything to do with food preparation and may be excluded from prayer or other religious observances. Some are abandoned by their husbands.

Facts and Stats about Fistula.

  • At least two million women live with fistula in developing countries, with about 100,000 new cases occurring each year. These figures are based only on the number of women who seek treatment.
  • The average cost of fistula treatment—including surgery, post-operative care and rehabilitation support—is $400, which is well beyond the reach of most women with the condition.
  • Fistula can be treated and women can have a normal life after treatment.
  • Fistula has virtually been eliminated in Europe and North America through improved obstetric care.

Read more and become involved by visiting my source sites Forward UK and Campaign to End Obstetric Fistula.


Profile of FORWARD UK with Naomi Reid

FORWARD – Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development.

Through FORWARD’s programs, young women and girls are educated in exercising their rights, and encouraged to take leadership roles in their society. FORWARD also educates the public on the physical and physiological effects of FGM and child marriage.

In part I of my profile on Forward UK, I had the pleasure of interviewing author and ambassador Gavin Weston.

Profile on ForwardUK part IIIn part II I chat with the dynamic Naomi Reid, Events and Special Projects Coordinator at FORWARD UK.

Afghanistan’s First Female Mayor – Part II

Plain Talk Bad Manners have moved to a new domain Please stop on by, look around and subscribe for free so you don’t miss any new articles. Here is the article for today Afghanistan’s First Female Mayor -Part II

As usual I’d love to hear from you and thank you for your support.


Court Orders Public Flogging For 15-Year-Old Rape Victim

Last year a 15-year-old girl from one of the islands in the Maldives was arrested and sentenced to 8 months house arrest and 100 lashes by the Maldives justice system.

Map edited by Gillian Felix. Photo by

Map edited by Gillian Felix. Photo by

Turns out the girl’s step-father had been raping her for years, while her mother turned a blind eye. When the girl got pregnant the two adults killed and buried the new born. Police discovered the body and arrested and charged the parents with murder and abuse of a minor. They also arrested the girl and charged her with fornication. They claimed that she confessed to having sex with another man who was not her step-father. The population on this particular island is less than one thousand, yet the identity of this man remains a mystery, and he has not been found.

The girl was sentenced, her mother and step-father’s case is still pending.

Under Sharia Law, both men and women whether adult or child, can be punished with 100 lashes and house arrest if they are found guilty of having pre-marital sex or adultery.  Part of the common law practiced alongside Sharia, is that no child below 13 can consent to sex and that any sexual relations will be deemed as child abuse. The same law also adds in Article 25, “Unless proven otherwise, it cannot be considered that a child between ages 13-18 had given consent to committing a sexual act. And unless proven otherwise, it will be considered that the sexual act was committed without the child’s consent.”

“I agree that there is a strong contradiction here. Also, the man has been sentenced under common law. The act he committed is criminalized under the existing laws, those drafted and passed through the parliament. The girl, on the other hand, has been sentenced under Sharia law, which is not specifically written down. There is a discrepancy in how men and women are sentenced. At times females face more difficulty denying charges of fornication. This, I believe is a structural issue which needs to be addressed.” Said lawyer Mohamed Shafaz Wajeeh.

There are only 2 kinds of admissible evidence for proving rape in that country, they are; a confession by the rapist or four male witnesses. As a result proving rape is impossible. According to the judicial statistics report of 2011, ninety percent of female rape victims are flogged. The report also showed that in the last 3 years, no cases of rape have reached a positive verdict.  This year only 3 rape cases have been reported meanwhile 1 in 3 women ages 15-49 have been a victim of physical or sexual abuse.

It is not uncommon for rape victims to take drastic measures such as self-induced abortions, infanticide or abandoning babies.

The girl charged will endure public flogging when she turns 18. Imagine the anguish of anticipating that on top of all that she has been through.

Here’s a petition you can sign urging the Maldives government to stop this atrocious act.

Sources: BBC, Minivan

88 Villages In India Bans Child Marriage

On September 2010, UNICEF and local not-for-profit agencies in Yavatmal India launched the Child Rights and Child Protection movement. Their campaign prompted 88 villages to abandon child marriage, with another 150 following on March 8, Women’s Day.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

“The number of girls married off between age 15 or 16 is too high. In some communities, it is a common practice even when the girl is 13 or 14,” said a government officer attached to the child and welfare department. “Early marriage is detrimental to the child’s welfare, in addition to it a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.”

Tarnoli district head of council Milind Joshi is prepared to take action if the resolution is not followed, adding, “Violators will be booked under the provisions of the Act.”

Ravi Aade, a social worker in Darva taluka (a subdivision of the district) said “We have been working in the villages for more than two years to create a conducive environment. The 88 villages were chosen in the first phase as we got a positive response from them.”

In the last month-and-a-half, 18 families have canceled the weddings of their under-aged daughters.

In India the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 and 21 for boys, however in some villages girls are married as soon as they turn 13.


Note from @Gillianfx: Before publishing this article I checked to see if the 150 villages mentioned have kept their promise to abandon child marriage. Nothing was reported. I will keep you posted as this story develops.

Little Progress Is Better Than No Progress

This week I am out of the country but I wanted to keep the momentum going while I’m away.

Small positive steps are happening in India to put an end to child marriage. Read more here: Why does this 13-year-old girl’s parents want her to be married despite India’s laws?

Thanks for reading and see you next week.


Gillian Felix

One Girl with Courage is a Revolution.

Girl Rising

Girl Rising is a documentary that tells the stories of unforgettable young women born into unforgiving circumstances.

STARRING: Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson, Anne Hathaway, Selena Gomez, Kerry Washington, Cate Blanchette

From Academy Award ® -nominated director Richard E. Robbins and the award-winning producers of The Documentary Group and Vulcan Productions, strategic partner, Intel Corporation, and distribution partners CNN Films and Gathr, comes Girl Rising – an innovative new feature film about the power of education to change a girl – and the world.

Girl Rising is powered by strategic partner, Intel Corporation, and distribution partner CNN Films. Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchette, Selena Gomez and other A-list actresses contribute voice performances to the film, which features original music from Academy Award® winner Rachel Portman, in collaboration with Hans Zimmer.

 The film spotlights unforgettable girls like Sokha, an orphan who rises from the dumps of Cambodia to become a star student and an accomplished dancer; Suma, who composes music to help her endure forced servitude in Nepal and today crusades to free others; and Ruksana, an Indian “pavement-dweller” whose father sacrifices his own basic needs for his daughter’s dreams. Each girl is paired with a renowned writer from her native country. Edwidge Danticat, Sooni Taraporevala Aminatta Forna and others tell the girls’ stories, each in it’s style, and all with profound resonance.

These girls are each unique, but the obstacles they faced are ubiquitous. Like the 66 million girls around the world who dream of going to school, what Sokha, Suma, Ruksana and the rest want most is to be students: to learn. And now, by sharing their personal journeys, they have become teachers. Watch Girl Rising, and you will see: One girl with courage is a revolution.

Click here to join me for a screening of Girl Rising in Albuquerque. If you’d like to see Girl Rising to your area please click here to find out more.

Girl Rising: The New Power of the World’s Young Women

The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, has been blogging for the Huffington Post  from the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he has been working to put global education at the top of the agenda.

In his series of blogs, entitled “Girl Rising: 2013 and the New Power of the World’s Young Women”, he argues that this year will see young women across the globe begin to assert their rights more vocally than ever before.

I am MalalaIn the wake of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and the exposure of the dangers still faced by young women in India, women are standing up and rejecting long-accepted rules and conventions, he says. The call for girls’ education is paramount in this movement. Read Gordon’s blogs now to find out about the grassroots movements across the world which are making female education this year’s ‘hot topic.’

And don’t forget to forward this post with your friends and share the A World At School website on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word as we continue to campaign this year against child labor and child marriage – and for A World at School.

Tell them that Child + Teacher = Hope∞.
Thank you,
The Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education

Girls Not Brides. The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage

The first International Day of the Girl was recognized on October 11, 2012. Because we spoke as one, world leaders woke up to the need to end child marriage.

New campaign poster for Child Bride awareness.

New campaign poster for Child Bride awareness.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said we should let “girls be girls, not brides” and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that she wants to see an end to child marriage in a generation. In Malawi, the government has committed to changing minimum age of marriage laws.

Together, we can help girls live healthier, more prosperous lives. There is no doubt the need to tackle child marriage is urgent. The UN has warned that if we do nothing to address child marriage, 142 million girls will marry as children by 2020.

Girls Not Brides members are working to ensure this will not be the case. You can explore their work at  Girls Not Brides website

If you’re inspired, donate to their work via Catapult, a new fundraising platform dedicated to investing in women and girls around the world. For instance, you can support their member Girls Empowerment Network Malawi’s work to help girls stand up to their elders and say no to child marriage.

Bride Kidnapping Debates Divides a Region

Story by Abdujalil Abdurasulov, BBC News, Bishkek

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is poised to vote on legislation that would toughen the penalty for bride kidnapping.

The bill has caused heated debate, splitting parliament and society into those who defend it as a tradition and those who see it as a violent crime.

The practice of bride kidnapping is widespread in Kyrgyzstan. According to the ombudsman’s office, some 8,000 girls are kidnapped for forced marriage every year across the country.

The Women’s Support Centre (WSC) in Bishkek puts that figure even higher at almost 12,000 cases a year. Most of these cases happen in poor and rural areas.

WSC is part of the network that campaigns against bride kidnapping. Zabila Matayeva, 38, became a WSC volunteer last year after a family tragedy. Her sister, Cholpon Matayeva, was kidnapped for marriage by a husband who beat her frequently.

When she finally demanded a divorce after a decade of marriage, he stabbed her to death. He has been jailed for 19 years.

Cholpon thought her life would end if she left the [groom’s] house – this would bring shame on her and the family. She would need to leave the village.

Zabila Matayeva, Sister of bride-kidnapping victim Cholpon barely knew her husband when he abducted her at the age of 19. She did not want to marry him but like many other women, she was afraid to leave him out of shame. So she stayed.

“It’s like a law, if you are kidnapped then you must stay,” Zabila said. “[Cholpon] faced enormous psychological pressure from the groom’s relatives. They kept telling her that they too had been kidnapped, and [that] entering the house with tears leads to a happy life afterwards.

In many cases, the abducted woman is forced to stay for a first night that is effectively rape. After that, most women agree to get married, because otherwise they face huge stigma. If they decide to leave they can be treated as damaged goods, unable to remarry.

Campaign groups working to promote awareness of the law

Campaign groups working to promote awareness of the law

Over the past year, activists from various women’s organisations have united in “Campaign 155”, named after the criminal code article on bride kidnapping.

They have held bike rides, street sketches, seminars and other activities to draw attention to the current legislation.

They bring cases like Cholpon’s to argue that no marriage can be happy if it starts from violence.

‘Our tradition’

Under the existing law, a man faces a fine or maximum of three years in prison for abducting a woman for marriage against her will. The new bill proposes increasing that to seven years, after an initial suggestion to make it 10 years.

“It is outrageous,” says Rimma Sultanova from WSC. “The punishment for cattle-stealing is 11 years and for abducting a girl is maximum three years.”

Ainuru Altybayeva, an MP who initiated the bill, says very few cases get to trial under the current legislation.

The main reason is that legal action starts only after a victim files a suit. However, this rarely happens because victims of bride kidnapping do not generally want to draw attention to themselves.

But if the changes are adopted then bride kidnapping will be categorised as a grave offence.

“This will mean that the state in the face of prosecutors and law-enforcement bodies can initiate legal action themselves without waiting for the victim’s lawsuit,” Mrs Altybayeva explained.

Not all legislators support the bill though. Some claim that it goes against Kyrgyz tradition and may have serious implications for society.

“This is a tradition that existed and will exist no matter what law you adopt” Bobek Bishkek resident

“We will put all men in Kyrgyzstan in prison if we increase the punishment for bride kidnapping,” said MP Kojobek Ryspaev, during a discussion of the bill at a parliamentary session earlier this year.

Opponents of the changes claim bride kidnapping plays an important role in society.

Parents and relatives relentlessly pressure young men in Kyrgyzstan to marry after they reach a certain age. For many, especially for poor families, this is the cheapest and quickest way to marry their son.

If the new law is passed then all relatives who are somehow involved in the process of kidnapping may face a prison term.

“This is a tradition that existed and will exist no matter what law you adopt,” Bishkek resident Bobek, 48, said, voicing an opinion that appeared to be shared by many. He said the law would only fuel corruption, as men would bribe their way out of trouble.

Another MP, Kurmantay Abdiyev, believes that the legal changes will have little effect. “By toughening sanctions we will not prevent people from committing a crime,” he told the BBC.

Mrs Altybayeva agrees that new laws will not solve the problem right away. But she says they can demonstrate the government’s stance on the phenomenon.

“By declaring bride kidnapping a crime and not a tradition the government can help to change people’s minds,” she said.

Everything about this ‘tradition’ bothers me but what really pisses me off is the fact that cattle stealing holds a stiffer penalty than abducting and raping a woman. Legislators are flippant about the issue and obviously have no intention on upholding the law. 

As usual I welcome your comments.