Thursday, May 31, 2012

Every month I shall be doing a special feature on young women on the African Continent who are doing amazing work for their communities quietly. I am doing this because very often these are the women who do not get local or international media attention, nor do they have any desire to. They are doing what they do out of a sense of responsibility and they are passionate about service. Many serve in some of the most remote and underserved areas of the continent and they do so with energy and compassion. I also want to illustrate and debunk the fallacy that African women are not empowered and to highlight the kind of women that development agencies can employ in communities in Africa where cultural sensitivity is critical for real and lasting positive social change.

 Foglabenchi Lily Haritu

I met Lily on a friend’s wall on Face Book. I was chatting away in pidgin one day, and she responded with great humor to a comment I had made. There was something about this young woman that drew me to her. I therefore sent her a friend request and after she responded, I began to look through her pictures and to ask her about herself. I saw pictures of her in a remote village and asked her what she did for a living. To my surprise she informed me that she was a health worker and that she ran a mobile clinic in Cameroon, where she did preventive care and education in rural communities. I was very impressed with this young woman in her mid twenties, who rather than stay in the big cities as most young women would do, she was in the “bush”, working there and loving it! Below are a pictures of lily having fun tree climbing and swimming in a local river  when she is not busy educating, examining women or administering vaccines.

 She endears herself with the locals and lives among them as one of their own, thereby breaking barriers to communication. Her easy and respectful nature allows her to educate communities on subjects that are often considered taboo. Even the men of the community listen when she talks.

It was not a surprise to discover that Lily is also very spiritual and a Christian. Her serenity and radiant joy seemed to emanate from her deep convictions. It was refreshing to meet a young woman who lives out her faith and who does not spend time trying to convince others of her goodness. She is an authentic Christian and this is manifest in her humility and non judgmental outlook. Her ability to engage in social issues in a thoughtful manner is rare for someone her age. I present to you Lily Favour as she is known to her friends, and known to me as ‘my Beautiful Lily of the valley’. A phenomenal young woman of great beauty, both inside and out.

Lily's understanding of the importance of respect for culture and for elders has permited her to go into territories where women as a rule do not adress men, and where bringing in new ways that seem to threaten the normal way of life is viewed with suspicion. Her charm and non confrontational approach has led her to some amazing places, where health education for women is needed. Below Lily is showing deference to the king in one of the areas she works. She understands that paying the elders due respect will open the door to the women in the community, so that she can do what she needs to do.

Lily is a young dynamic Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) specialist who is committed to promoting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights with an interest in building a body of research and leadership in the field. She is the Supervisor of the Women’s Health Program of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS) based in four main hospitals and three health centers in six of the ten regions of Cameroon. In this position, she has been involved in the provision of Women’s Health Services to Women and girls at stationary clinics and rural mobile clinics as far as the Equatorial rainforest of Central Africa and the Cameroon-Nigeria border in Abongshie. Her dynamic and innovative efforts have summed up to over 12000 women and 7000 girls reached with a variety of sexual and girls at stationary clinics and rural mobile clinics as far as the Equatorial rainforest of Central Africa and the Cameroon-Nigeria border in Abongshie. Her dynamic and innovative efforts have summed up to over 12000 women and 7000 girls reached with a variety of sexual and reproductive health services like; Family Planning, syndromic management of reproductive tract infections, breast and cervical cancer screening, treatment of cervical precancerous lesions, Human Papilomavirus Vaccination, clinical assessment of sexually assaulted women and girls, sexuality education and counseling, woman centered abortion care and HIV/AIDS counseling and testing.

Besides her duties in the CBCHS, she coordinates a ProFam project under the Cameroon Association for Social Marketing partly funded by Population Service International with the overall aim of reducing Maternal Mortality in Cameroon.


In 2011, she represented her country as a delegate and speaker at the 1st Global Summit for Women’s Cancers in Africa, Addis Abba, where she presented lessons learned from cervical cancer prevention initiatives in Cameroon. Lily was the youngest delegate there representing her country Cameroon. This is a testament of this young woman’s sense of duty and passion for the health and well being of African women and her mentors have identified unique leadership qualities that mark Lily out from among her peers and those who are older and more experienced than she is.

As far as Lily is concerned, Women’s Health and Safety plays a key role in human development and economic growth and she is stopping at nothing to ensure that this is realized in the lives of the women and girls she serves on a daily basis. She holds a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree with honours from the University of Buea, Cameroon and Global Health Certificates in Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health from the Global Health e-Learning Centre Coordinated by USAID and Johns Hopkins University, USA.

She also offers part time lectures on Women’s Health at the Private Training School for Health Personnel, Banso.Lily Favour is a 2011 Sexuality Leadership and Development Fellow (Lagos, Nigeria), who seeks to interrogate contemporary sexuality issues and emerging best practices that advocate for right based SRH programming in Africa.

Lily Favour has been named one of the top 25 emerging young African leaders by the Moremi Initiative and has received the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa (MILEAD) Fellowship Award. She will be among the 2012 class of Africa's most outstanding emerging women leaders that will be converging for a women’s leadership summer institute in Ghana. Lily features on the top 25 out of the more than 1200 applicants from 41 countries. This is again another indication of Lily’s remarkable leadership qualities and a testament of her trajectory to greatness.
Below are pictures of Lily in her "luxury apartment" on one of her visits to a remote area, preparing her "gourmet dinner"! She will do whatever it takes to get to reach these women with whom she totally identifies.

To me, Lily is an example of a young woman who has made the most of all opportunities that have come her way, not  only for her own personal gain, but for the greater good of her community and country. I applaud you my beautiful Lily of  the Valley. May your beauty and fragrant perfume gently touch the lives of those in your care and I hope that you will be an inspiration to other young women in your community, country and in Africa. Our continent is very fortunate to have you as one of her own. Look how the little ones follow you already!

This is a quote I saw on her wall :

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have:
But of the best leaders
When their task is done
The people will remark -Chinese Proverb


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Divide and Rule- An Ancient Patriarchal Tactic

Welcome. It is good that you have come today. I have been waiting for you anxiously since our last meeting. There is something I urgently have to share with you. Please, make yourself at home while I fetch you something to cool your parched throat. It is hot out there but the thatch makes this room cool.

I had a dream about you last night. You were playing with a doll made out of corn husks all alone, totally absorbed in making your doll pretty. You made her a skirt out of green leaves from the corn stalks and you laughed happily as the leafy skirt twirled when you twisted her. Round and round like a spinning top. You started to sing to your doll, in a quiet but clear tone. Your voice, though soft, was a haunting bugle call, pregnant with urgency and sadness that made me wince and close my eyes for a moment. As you invoked insistently, a little girl about your age came out of the corn field and sat next to you, watching you twirl your doll. Soon she was singing with you. There were words to your melody, but I cannot remember them. The melody is all that stayed with me. After a few moments there appeared girls, all the same age from the corn field. They came from different directions all heading to where you sat with your companion. Suddenly it seemed as though the cornfield had disappeared and in its place was a sea of little girls, all singing the same song, which had now become a melancholic blanket, layered with different harmonies. It was as though each girl was singing a unique note but together these notes wove an intricate but profound symphony which sounded like one voice. This was the paradox: hundreds of girls singing the same incantation but each of them delivering a different note, so that in the end it was difficult to know when one singer stopped singing and when another began with their part. The effect was a quilt blanket covering the girls, protecting them from the elements. All of you were beautiful as you sat together naked. Your numerous skin hues, from delicious deep brown to cream with yellow undertones, formed the palate from which a rich and exciting painting of woman was created. Collectively you were an amazing piece of art that exuded strength and majesty. Invisible stitches sewed you together and this seemed to infuriate a presence that was lurking and watching. He was hidden from view by the corn stalks and he looked on with a malicious grin which cut a grotesque gash across his face. Quiet fury simmered in his eyes as he looked on, jealousy threatening to make him retch. Suddenly he jumped out of the corn patch with alacrity fueled by his hatred. He roared as he thundered towards you intent on destroying the glorious art composition your bodies formed. His desire to obliterate the vision before his eyes was all consuming and I watched in horror as you all scattered like bees flying in panic out of a fallen hive. Your song became a cacophony of discordant shrill notes of terror. I woke up panting, my face wet with salty tears.

There is a problem, and this problem is bigger than what Africa and its women are suffering. I want us to sit together so I can tell you what I am seeing. It is all very ugly, but you must look and not turn away because I want it to be planted in your consciousness. You are no longer a child and so I shall not shield you from the harsh realities of life for women because it is your reality. You are a woman, and the fact that you were born in a different place in the world is mere chance. When you see the suffering of other women, I want you to feel their pain, knowing that they too had no part to play in where they were born. I want you to get angry and outraged when you hear about female genital mutilation in Niger, because if not for chance, you might have been one of those girls lying on her back, screaming as her vagina is brutally cut. I want you to scream in mental agony when you hear of a girl in Morocco who has committed suicide because she is forced to marry the beast that raped her, that helped himself to her vagina without her permission. I want you to see what a courageous act of defiance suicide is. I want you to understand that freedom is worth every life that is lost in its pursuit.  The ultimate act of victory over tyranny is to check out, rather than to live a tormented existence day in and day out with the beast you now call husband.

I want you to become so livid that your mind empties and a clear laser sharp focus takes over your senses and a menacing calm stills your frenzied heart. As you look at page after page of statistics of female infanticide in India and China, I want you to condense your anger into a powerful, purposeful motor that will fuel you to action. You will get angry when you hear that the worst thing that can happen to any being is to come back to this world as a woman. That being a woman is bad karma, a punishment from the deities for some heinous crime committed in a past life. I want you to seethe when you read that at the sight of a vagina on an ultrasound a pregnancy is terminated in China and India to make way for a male child, and that this can be done again and again until a penis appears on the ultrasound test.

 I want you to understand why it is that a woman will see herself as cursed to have been born female. You need to understand that life for some women is nothing but hardship and pain of unimaginable depth and that for many, death is an ideal option. You need to understand why many women hate their vaginas and everything that makes them woman. But the vagina in particular, the first obvious external signal that a woman has been born.

The vagina- a source of scorn and contempt from the day she comes into the world. The vagina- the cause of untold physical pain as the clitoris, an affront to the almighty penis, is sliced off and given to chickens to feed on.

The vagina- the seat and source of all that is terrible in woman, that thing that bleeds monthly without being wounded. That mysterious portal that is both revered for bringing forth human beings, and reviled for the secrets it keeps.

The vagina- the organ that renders women vulnerable and at the mercy of predators of the flesh, those sick bastards who rape a six month old baby. Those bastards who tear into the flesh of a baby, all because she has a vagina. She no longer a baby, but a woman, hated and scorned.The Cursed vagina, stolen from babies because the bastards have been told by another sick bastard that a baby’s vagina has magical healing powers to cure HIV.The sick cowards who use rape as a weapon of war. Instead of facing their rivals on the battle field, they wield their penises as a weapon, upon vulnerable women.

The vagina, the thing that is viewed as ugly so that they cut away everything, the inner lips clitoris and stitch the opening closed, leaving a miniscule orifice for urinating and for menstrual blood flow, which can take a whole month due to the obstructed flow from the uterus.

The vagina -the seat of sexual desire and pleasure, two things a chaste woman must never have. They carve at it destroying as much of it as they can without killing her. But some die from the flow of blood, rivers of woman’s blood have quenched dry earth while her screams have reverberated through mountains and valleys, a continuous echo of agony through the ages.

The vagina, a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder in order to make a living. Do not ever judge a sister for commoditizing her vagina, for you know not what her relationship with it is, or how that relationship came to be.

The Vagina, trimmed and tweaked under a surgeon’s scalpel, to make it “pretty”. Pretty for whom, I ask? Is it for the man that you will get yourself cut up, a man who may leave you after a while because he is bored or fears commitment? Is it for this man that you will give yourself over to be cut up (vaginoplasty)?  And what happens when a new man with new demands comes along? Will you get bits of yourself carved up and chopped off in order to please him too? Will you continue to place toxic substances to enhance your breasts and your buttocks in order to be beautiful? Will you inject bacterial toxins under your skin, to delude yourself and him that you are young and pretty? All this self mutilation and self hatred for a man? Sanitizing the cutting by using sterile surgical instruments and draining the bood away does not make it any less mutilation. Using medicines to kill the pain does not diminish what is still mutilation.

Has it ever occurred to you that the women who are mutilated, subjugated by virtue of their geographical location in Africa India and China, are no different from you? They are enslaved physically by the structures and culture in which they exist, but so are you. You are also enslaved by your culture, a culture that places unrealistic demands on women, holding them up to a standard of beauty that causes them to get ill. Anorexia at age 7, Bullimia at age 12, all because the culture has informed them that they need to be thin and to be perfect physically. Who set the "thin is in" standard?  Who defines perfection?-the man. Woman jumping through a million hoops because of man.

Look at how your politicians are trying to reverse the hard won liberties that your mothers and grandmothers fought for. They picketed, were shot at with rubber bullets, had tear gas burning their air ways as they fought for autonomy over their bodies, and reproductive organs. They fought hard so that they could be treated as human beings who contribute to society. They fought the patriarchy that sought to treat them like children who need constant supervision and a man to make important decisions for them. That was a hard won fight. Now you young ones sit and worry about whether your breasts are pert enough for him, while he is busy changing laws and taking you back to the dark ages.

 He has you preoccupied with superficial things like the size of your nose, while he is busy running the country into the ground. While you see your therapist about your distorted perception of your body image, he is fighting unnecessary wars and creating enemies the world over, so that your grandchildren and their children will be paying for those mistakes long after you are gone. While you obsess about the tummy tuck you ‘need’ after having children he is busy taking away rights to contraception and abortion. He has you so caught up in trivia because then you are not in his way as he runs the world into the ground. He has made you believe that your worth as a woman is tied to your external looks so that while you run around seeking external validation in mirrors and men like him, he can do whatever he likes with little opposition. Did you know that your sisters in the military are subjected to sexual harassment and also raped? No, you did not know did you? Women in your armies, all over the world are suffering and while some of it gets into the news, most of it does not. Even when you do hear about it on the news, what have you done about it? What are you doing about the congress men and commentators who call women sluts for demanding that contraception be made available for them through insurance, which they pay towards?

You look puzzled. I am trying to make you see that patriarchal structures keep women apart. They keep some feeling secure and smug that ”they don’t live in a place where women get cut, or where baby girls are killed.” They keep you believing that you are superior, with superior knowledge and culture. They tell you have nothing in common with those poor downtrodden women in Africa and India, who have “absolutely no power (poor things).” But I ask you know, do you have any real power, or do you have the illusion that you are empowered? If you have power, how has it worked for you as you discover your 10 year old daughter vomiting her dinner in the toilet bowl because she is scared she will get fat? How has your power worked for you when you discover after a boob job (and several follow up visits to the doctor because the implants have shifted and now sit in your armpit), your husband is screwing a 20 year old college student and taking her to expensive places he has never taken you before? How is your power working for you when you divorce him and find that the bastard has moved huge sums of money to an offshore account and the courts do nothing to help you?

Divide and rule is an old ugly tactic that has been used for centuries to consolidate power. Men do it in war; they strategically create allies by planting seeds of enmity between countries. That way when they go to battle their allies jump in with them to help them clinch a victory. Men do it with women, where those who are aiding and abetting patriarchy are rewarded with ‘power and prestige’. These are the women who perform the genital cutting, these are the aunties who tell their mentees to stay in bad marriages in which the husband is cheating or is physically violent. These are the women, who call other women witches when they cannot bear children. They lead the pack of women who will throw a newly widowed woman out of her home when her husband dies and she refuses to become an ‘inherited wife’ to one of the male members of the family. These are the women who, in red lipstick and stilettos, stand up and call women fighting for reproductive rights, ‘evil’ and “murderers”. They are sitting in the senate and in congress and parliaments signing away all the laws that keep women safe from violent partners and deciding the fate of many vulnerable women.

Women all over the world have to realize that they need each other. When you stand together for a cause you will win and this is a fact men know and they use insidious means to prevent this coming together. I need you to go back home and talk about this. I need you to tell your women what I have shared with you so that you can start to form alliances that will push you forward. Your sister’s pain must become your pain. Her cause must become yours automatically and her rage must become yours. Then that rage must bring forth collective action. You are your sister’s keeper, and if that does not resonate, then the whole world and all that is in it is doomed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


My children have suffered!

I see you are back again. Come in. You look concerned. And so you should be. Let us sit down again. I thought that the next time you visited, we would pick up where we left off. I thought perhaps I would share my story with you, tell you how I came to be in this state in which you always find me. However there is a more pressing issue. I need to show you something. You have to watch it and you have to listen. Listen to the crying in there and do not blink an eye. Absorb the images before you and let them sink into the very depths of your soul. I want these images seared into your memory and stitched to the fabric of your being.  Then I will talk to you.

Do you see what your people over there are doing to my children? Do you? Do you hear the gut wrenching sobs of my offspring? Those sobs are causing my womb to contract as though going through birth pangs. Those screams are causing my milk to come to the fore and it is dripping down my belly down my thighs as my tears forge two rivers flowing down my face. Do you see my baby’s head hit the pavement and how her mother is dragged by the beast in uniform? Yes, beast. Barbarity’s real face. In your history books, written by your forefathers, who were the barbarians? Who did they call darkie and dark hearted? Who was the cannibal in those stories you were taught? My children were. Yet as you watched those images, who is the real brute? Who has a dark heart and a twisted soul? Who is the one who hears the cry of a pregnant woman lying belly bared on the road and winces not in sympathy? Who is it that shoves and drags who hits and kicks with relish at each blow that delivers shock waves into a woman’s body? Who is it that reverences not the sanctity of a woman’s body carrying a child? Who? Who respects not the mother with a baby on her back, the mother who is fresh out of the birthing room, the mother who has stared death in the face as she groans and  roars a human being into the world? Who?

That my children are darker skinned than your people does not make them dirty. That they resemble the color of the earth does not make them ugly. That they are the color mud does not make them hard hearted. They are dark skinned yes, but they are not dim witted. They have hair like wool but that has no bearing on their mental capabilities. Your ancestors maltreated them on their own soil. They brutally enslaved them in their own home, casting away their deities, their rituals and replacing them with meaningless religions that have been the cause of more suffering and penury. Your ancestors came here and they plundered me and they took my children to toil as slaves and that is how they built the wealth you enjoy over there. They got rich on the blood, sweat and crushed spirits of my offspring. They gorged themselves on the wealth buried in my belly. They dug and excavated greed and avarice curdling in their veins. They ploughed and reaped, using my issue as labor, 

 until backs broke open under whip and bodies disintegrated under the weight, the weight, the weight of the harness, the plough, the insults, the curses, the spitting, the hate. Your ancestors raped. They savagely tore into the soft flesh of my maidens, salivating at the screams of pain, and basking in the silent screams of shame, screams of degradation and despair. They plucked irreverently at pert breasts, pinching and twisting with malevolent grin and bared teeth. I watched it all in silence. In my silence I saw it all.

In my silence I watched as my children dived off ships, human cargo plunging into the depths of the rough cold waters. I rejoiced, because those were the lucky ones, the ones whose spirit said never. Never will I become a slave. Never will I go to a land where my forefathers never ventured to. We have a saying: where mother’s feet have never trodden, do not dare, for there are no familiar foot prints to guide along the safest path. Yes the ones who hurled themselves bound in chains into the abyss of the ocean harkened to the warning and gave themselves up to death by water, sinking like stones under the weight of chains. I watched and I wept, in silence.

Silence. It hides a multitude of emotions and a myriad of sins. Silence is what I touched when after years of bondage on their soil, my children harkened to the call to arise. They harkened to the call to mutiny and to shake off the shackles that bound them. Blood was spilled. Blood was the sacrifice required to break the yolk. Blood was the offering the earth desired to quench its thirst so that the land could be cleansed of all the impurities and the abominations that had been committed on it. I looked on in silence.

In silence things fell apart, slowly unraveled at the seams, creating a tangled mess of humanity. Confused and bewildered and corrupted, my children had been damaged. Damaged deep in their core. Corrupted. Greed and the hunger for power fueled the destruction of communities. Over there in your land they wondered like lost sheep, buying freedom from shackles but never freedom from the demons of their story, of that tragic and terminal journey to the land where mother had never set foot and sanctified. They wander still.

My children are scattered all over this world, in all sorts of strange and terrible lands, like the land where innocent pregnant women are treated worse than cattle at an abattoir all because they are brown. Your people call them immigrants and say they should leave. But where are they to go when their wealth paves your streets and their deities decorate your museums? Where will they go when their land is now hostile and they flea the bullets and guns you dump there in exchange for oil and diamonds from my belly? You give them death and they give you wealth. Your kind has always given death and you have always taken wealth. While they are busy killing each other you cunningly, siphon the oil, surreptitiously dig up the gold, the platinum, the diamonds. Frighteningly cunning. That is what your people are. How dare they? How dare they raise their filthy blood stained hands to touch my children? After all that they have done, after all the wickedness of the ages that they have heaped on their heads, they dare to touch them.

Silence is no longer my food and drink. The time has come. I shall speak and you shall listen. I know that you will be back. Here is something to take back to your people: Just as they once rose in rebellion and took what is theirs, my children shall arise again. Yes, rest assured, they will arise because the time to say ENOUGH is here.