Source: The Gaurdian

More than 50 women have accused aid workers from the World Health Organization and leading NGOs of sexual exploitation and abuse during efforts to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In interviews, 51 women – many of whose accounts were backed up by aid agency drivers and local NGO workers – recounted multiple incidents of abuse, mainly by men who said they were international workers, during the 2018 to 2020 Ebola crisis, according to an investigation by the New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The majority of the women said numerous men had either propositioned them, forced them to have sex in exchange for a job or terminated contracts when they refused.

The number and similarity of many of the accounts from women in the eastern city of Beni suggests the practice was widespread, with three organisations vowing to investigate the accusations uncovered. UN secretary-general António Guterres called for the allegations to be “investigated fully”.

Some women said they were plied with drinks, others said they were ambushed in offices and hospitals, and some said they were locked in rooms by men who promised jobs or threatened to fire them if they did not comply.

“So many women were affected by this,” said one 44-year-old, who told reporters that to get a job she had sex with a man who said he was a WHO worker.

She and the other women spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Some identifying details have been removed to protect their identities.

“I can’t think of someone who worked in the response who didn’t have to offer something,” she added.

Some women were cooks, cleaners and community outreach workers hired on short-term contracts, earning $50 to $100 (£40 to £80) a month – more than twice the normal wage. One woman was an Ebola survivor seeking psychological help.

At least two women said they became pregnant.

Many women said they had not until now reported the incidents for fear of reprisals or losing their jobs. Most also said they were ashamed.

Some women said abuse occurred as recently as March.

The WHO said it was investigating the allegations.

“The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated,” it said in a statement.

“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible,” it said, emphasising that “we do not tolerate such behaviour in any of our staff, contractors or partners”.

WHO pointed out that it had a “zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse”.

“Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal,” it said.

Despite “zero tolerance” policies and pledges by the UN and NGOs to crack down on such abuses, as exposed in Haiti and Central African Republic, reports of such behaviour continue to surface.

Most aid agencies and NGOs contacted by the New Humanitarian – a nonprofit news agency – and the Thomson Reuters Foundation said they had received few or no claims of sexual abuse or exploitation against their workers in Congo.

The investigation, conducted over almost a year, found women who described at least 30 instances of exploitation by men who said they were from WHO, which deployed more than 1,500 people to the government-led operation to control the outbreak.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

More than 70% of displaced and refugee women in Africa have seen a rise in domestic violence in their communities during the coronavirus pandemic, a survey published on Thursday found.

Source: Devex

KAYA, Burkina Faso — Ramata Sawadogo was eight weeks pregnant when she was chased from her home by gunmen in May of last year. The 30-year-old spent the next few months running from village to village, in search of refuge and health care, in Burkina Faso’s center-north region.

At times, Sawadogo walked for more than a week with her six children to reach another town. Other times, she’d sleep in abandoned schools, all the while concerned that the stress and lack of food and medical care would harm her unborn baby.

“When I walked a lot, I got tired and was worried about the pregnancy,” Sawadogo said. Seated in a health clinic in a makeshift displacement site in Kaya town, where she now lives, she cradled her 7-month-old, grateful he is alive and healthy.

Violence linked to Islamic militants, local defense militias, and the army is escalating across Burkina Faso, killing almost 2,000 people this year, with deaths set to surpass the number of fatalities from 2019, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. Attacks have forced more than 1 million people from their homes and shuttered 12% of the country’s health facilities.

Women are bearing the brunt of the crisis, and attacks have impeded their ability to access sexual and reproductive care, including prenatal and postnatal services and contraception.

“Terrorist attacks constitute a new barrier to access of maternal healthcare services in Burkina Faso,” according to a recent study in The BMJ. The report, considered the first to document the effects of insecurity on health care in the country, found that in the month following an attack, assisted deliveries in medical facilities reduced by almost 4% and multiple attacks had graver consequences, impacting antenatal care and cesarean sections. The problem has been exacerbated by COVID-19, the report said.

On a visit to Kaya in September, Devex spoke with eight displaced women who said they have struggled to get timely reproductive and contraceptive help due to violence. Many were chased to unfamiliar towns where they did not know where or how to access services. In some cases, armed men destroyed pharmacies, making it hard to find medicine.

After Sawadogo was chased from her home, she sought prenatal care in the first small town she fled to. But there were too many patients and too few staff members at the clinic, so she was unable to see a doctor, she said. Before she could return, the town was attacked, forcing her to flee once again. It was not until arriving in Kaya, five months into her pregnancy, that Sawadogo had her first checkup for the baby.

The harder it becomes for women to reach health centers, the more risk they face — specifically for those who have been displaced, aid groups warn.

“These women need to be followed during their pregnancy until full term. If they are not followed, they can have a miscarriage,” said Yvette Yoda, a midwife working with Marie Stopes International, an aid group focused on providing contraceptives and safe abortions for women.

“With the displacement, they are in areas that they don’t know, they have no information,” she said.

Yoda has been with the organization for five years and used to work in rural areas, providing women with contraceptives and raising awareness about reproductive health. But now she says most of those areas are off-limits.

Finding ways to adapt

As violence in the country escalates, aid groups are scrambling to adapt. Last year, Marie Stopes halted most of its activities and readjusted its strategy, relocating staff members from remote and more insecure villages to larger towns, such as Barsalogho and Kongoussi in the Center-North. It also established clinics closer to the displaced population.

In Kaya — where the government estimates nearly 500,000 displaced people have sought refuge, according to Boukare Ouedraogo, the town’s mayor — Marie Stopes set up four clinics adjacent to makeshift displacement sites. The group also has mobile teams that visit a different town each week, depending on the needs.

“These women need to be followed during their pregnancy until full term. If they are not followed, they can have a miscarriage.”

— Yvette Yoda, midwife, Marie Stopes International

The group’s biggest shift, however, was to expand its services, said Sylvain Ricard, Burkina Faso country director for Marie Stopes. Prior to the violence, the organization almost exclusively offered family planning services, such as those for contraceptives, but today it provides cervical cancer screenings, testing, and treatment for diseases spread through sex, including HIV/AIDS, as well as gender-based violence counseling.evelopment's most important headlines in your inbox every

“When you see people coming to Kaya with a lot of needs — food, shelter, water and sanitization, health — it’s difficult only to provide family planning,” Ricard said. Even though the organization is not able to access remote villages as easily, more people have been helped since it moved services closer to those displaced, he said. As of August, more than 100,000 people accessed Marie Stopes services this year, compared with 96,000 people at the same time last year, he said.

Other aid groups say the violence has made it harder to reach women, particularly those who never used the services before and might not know they exist.

Pathfinder, an international aid group providing women with access to sexual and reproductive health services, has largely been cut off from certain areas, especially in the hard-hit eastern region. Motorcycles purchased when the country was calmer cannot be used anymore because they are associated with motorcycle-riding attackers who target villages, said Lydia Saloucou, country director for Pathfinder in Burkina Faso.

“Our plan was to talk with more women, and we’re not able to do this,” she said.

Her team has tried to adapt by personalizing its approach, giving phone numbers of health workers to women in case they need help and relying more on the community health system to communicate information about reproductive services, she said.

Pathfinder is working with the Ministry of Health to find longer-term solutions to make it easier for women to get help closer to home. “This insecurity will not end early, and we need to adapt,” Saloucou said.

Compounding crises

Even in safer, easier-to-reach parts of the country, health workers are struggling to cope because the influx of displaced people is overwhelming clinics.

Insecurity has shuttered five health centers around Kaya, forcing the area’s main health center to provide care for eight times the usual number of patients, the International Committee of the Red Cross told Devex during a visit to the town in September. ICRC is helping the health facility by providing beds and training for health workers, yet nurses at the hospital’s maternity ward told Devex they have to discharge women 24 hours after giving birth instead of the required 48 hours, because there is nowhere for them to rest.

“There isn’t enough space for everyone,” said Issa Sawadogo, the nurse in charge of the center. At least 80% of the women she sees are displaced, she said.

Coronavirus restrictions imposed by the country in March, such as closing public transport and restricting movement between cities, have further reduced women’s access to care.

The amount of people getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and using family planning services has decreased by approximately 15% between the last half of 2019 and the first six months of this year, said Boureihiman Ouedraogo, director for the Burkinabe Association for Family Well-Being, a local aid group.

For women already impacted by violence, the virus is just another challenge to overcome.

Last year, 26-year-old Fatimata Sawadogo fled to Kaya when her village was attacked. It took time for her to find a health clinic that could remove the contraceptive implant from her arm, which was not working, she said. But by the time she figured out where to go, she was told not to leave her house due to coronavirus restrictions.

Not wanting to get pregnant, while already struggling to feed and shelter her two children at the displacement site, she refused to have sex with her husband until she could get a new implant.

“I’d prefer not to be pregnant now,” she said. “We already have enough concerns.”

Source: Nyasa Times

Some chiefs in the Southern Region have backed an amendment of the abortion law that allows for the termination of unwanted pregnancies under certain conditions and are persuading members of Parliament to pass the Termina pf Pregnancy Bill when it is tabled for debate during the current sitting of the National Assembly.

Source: AllAfrica

Produce innovative versions of a staple food for a regional market. Feed hungry people, now and in the future. While you're at it, train farmers - mostly women - in improved agriculture techniques, financial management and hygienic storage techniques. And, oh yes, provide jobs in your community.

Source: AlJazeera

Windhoek, Namibia – When Bertha Tobias first headed to the streets of Namibia’s capital last week, she had one clear goal in mind: Shut it all down.

Source: Washington Post

People in the world’s largest Black nation have taken to the streets to demand one thing of their police: Stop killing us.

Source: Daily News

SEVENTEEN schoolgirls out of 48 in six secondary schools in Dodoma's Bahi District have absconded classes due to early pregnancies, suspected to be acquired during the coronavirus pandemic and flooding season.

Source: New Zimbabwe

THE High Court Wednesday ordered the Harare City Council and government to re-open 42 local clinics that had been closed without notice recently.

Source: Nyasa Times

The Women Manifesto Movement, comprising various women empowerment civil society organisations (CSOs) are organising a nationwide protest this Friday against President Lazarus Chakwera's failure to fulfil the Gender Equality Act (GEA) requirement of 60:40 representation of either sex in public appointments.

Source: IPS News

BLANTYRE, Malawi, Oct 6 2020 (IPS) - In August, police intercepted the trafficking of 31 people to Mozambique. The victims, all Malawians, included 17 children and 6 women. Their two traffickers, also Malawians, had coerced them from their rural village in Lilongwe district with a promise of jobs in estates in neighbouring Mozambique. But they were saved in large part thanks to their own community.

Source: Pregnancy Help News

The current abortion laws in South Africa are pretty liberal and are even hailed as some of the most progressive abortion laws on the books. Yet, many doctors and healthcare providers will refuse to do legal abortions or even give a referral for one for reasons of religion or conscience. In fact, the general population is also opposed to abortion, with over half the population thinking abortion is always immoral in cases of family poverty, fetal anomaly, or both.

Source: The East African

Kenya’s Chief Justice David Maraga has thrown a spanner in the works by advising President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve Parliament for failure to enact laws to achieve the two-thirds gender rule.

Source: UN Women

There are many barriers to the leadership of young women with disabilities in Tanzania and Africa as a whole. In many countries, this is more visible in the political and governance sphere and male-dominated sectors such as science and technology. Looking at the political space in Africa, I can point to a number of factors which include discriminatory practices in the selection of women to occupy leadership and decision-making positions. But also limited knowledge among duty bearers on our needs and rights is a concern alongside stereotypical perceptions of capacities. It is quite a challenge for women and girls with disabilities to access facilities and civic information due to a lack of support services, and devices that are friendly to people with disabilities.

From my experience, perhaps more concerning is that some young women with disabilities have lower levels of internal leadership efficacy in terms of the perception of their abilities and interest which can significantly limit their participation. In many African countries, young women with disabilities who wish to participate in the disability movement work in a male-dominated environment which is not always appreciative of gender equality arguments.

I think it is important to ensure the full and equal participation of young women and girls with disabilities in decision-making, through the formulation of national laws and policies, consistent with their exercise of legal capacity, equal protection under the law and prohibition of discrimination. When countries effectively enforce the implementation of such laws and policies, they can promote and protect the rights of women and girls with disabilities with respect to power and decision-making from early childhood. There is a need to recognize that decision-making is a process that develops throughout life, and is reflected in everyday life, beginning from the family, where opinions of women and girls with disabilities must be considered in individual, family and collective decisions.

One area we still need to build on is the strengthening of institutional and environmental support for young women with disabilities, most of whom lack the necessary supportive and enabling conditions for developing a leadership career, even when they are interested and qualified. I think when we adopt zero-tolerance policies for violence against young women with disabilities in leadership, including psychological violence in all our public institutions, equal leadership rights will be realized.

I am happy that the UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign is promoting the visibility of young women with disabilities and placing our issues at the centre of the campaign to strengthen inclusivity for the achievement of SDG Goal 5 on gender equality and empowerment of all women. This global initiative is also including young women with disabilities in leadership positions to participate in Roundtable Dialogues so that they can serve as role models for the many women and girls with disabilities in Tanzania and Africa at large. Through this support, UN Women is ensuring that no one is left behind.

According to the WHO, globally an estimated one in five women lives with a disability. Years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, significant gaps continue between commitments and action to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls with disabilities. However, some young women with disabilities such as the Executive Director of Organization for Youth Against Risk Behaviour; and UN Women’s CSAG member, Ms. Natogola Nana Mnzava, are playing a prominent role in the public sphere, demonstrating their capacity and transformative role in leadership and decision-making.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation News

Facing down fears of violent attacks over their commitment to sport, players hope to start women's teams all over the country

By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Whistles screech on the sea breeze as three female Somali coaches inspect a line of women in black and blue headscarves dribbling basketballs.

It's not just the heat that makes it hard: the women are also braving the scorn of their families and the threat of attack by gunmen who think women should not play sport publicly.

"We cannot openly say we are going to play. We put our playing clothes and shoes in school bags and carry them that way to the field and we pretend we are going to school or university," said Fardawsa Omar Ahmed, 20, a university graduate who also plays volleyball and football.

Her family used to discourage her from playing, but now they accept it, she said.

The women only play in compounds behind high concrete walls, which shield them from the gaze of the curious or those who might attack them.

One of the coaches, Suham Hassan Sobran, 40, played as a child before civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991. She restarted in 2009, when the Islamist al Shabaab insurgency still controlled large swathes of the city.

Now, Sobran and her two friends train some 30 other women on a court enclosed in Mogadishu's Hamar Jajab district office. A police checkpoint lies nearby - such checkpoints are often a target for al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, which was driven out of Mogadishu in 2011, but still mounts frequent attacks.

On the court's gate is a painting of a woman playing basketball and slogans promoting good sportsmanship.

Another of the coaches, Faduma Ali Abdirahman, 39, now a mother of six, once played on Somalia's national team, travelling to Djibouti and Uganda for matches.

The women receive no funding. When they play matches, the trainers pool money to buy a cheap cup as a prize. But they love what they do, and dream of starting teams all over Somalia.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation News

Togo's first female prime minister has appointed a new government with a record 30% of the 33 ministerial positions given to women

LOME, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Togo's first female prime minister has appointed a new government with a record 30% of the 33 ministerial positions given to women, according to the cabinet list announced on state television late on Thursday.

Prime Minister Victoire Tomegah-Dogbe, who was appointed earlier this week after the resignation of the previous government, named Essozimna Marguerite Gnakade as defence minister - the first time a woman has held that role.

The change in government had been expected since President Faure Gnassingbe won re-election in March, extending his 15-year rule and a family dynasty that began when his father took power in a 1967 coup.

Ahead of the February election, a fractured opposition struggled to launch a concerted campaign to unseat Gnassingbe despite widespread disaffection with his leadership of the small West African country of 8 million people.

Analyst Mohamed Djabakate, who works at the Togo-based Centre for Democratic Governance and Crisis Prevention, said the appointment of a more female government was "all a strategy with an eye towards public opinion."

The defence ministry's close connection to the presidency meant, "it doesn't matter who is put there," said Djabakate.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation News

HAUNA, Zimbabwe, Oct 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When the girls at Sahumani Secondary School in eastern Zimbabwe started playing rugby, they had to make do with the soccer pitch and the oversized football shirts used by the boys.

Five years on, several have represented their country in the sport, and many more credit it with saving them from becoming child brides in a nation where early marriage remains common despite being outlawed in 2016.

"I used to hate rugby. At the time I believed the sport was only for the elite and for men, not girls like me," said Catherine Muranganwa, 20, who has played for Zimbabwe's Under-18 and Under-20 women's national rugby teams.

Source: AllAfrica

Nigeria, Oman and Lebanon are among the nations with explicit anti-trans laws

At least 13 United Nations member states still criminalise transgender people, while others use morality and indecency laws to crack down on the trans community, a report showed on Wednesday.

Nigeria, Oman and Lebanon are among the nations with explicit anti-trans laws, according to the latest Trans Legal Mapping Report by LGBT+ rights group ILGA World.

The research details trans legislation and policies in 143 U.N. member states and 19 other jurisdictions.

Many other countries apply "seemingly innocuous" regulations covering offences such as "public nuisance, indecency, morality (and) loitering" to police trans communities, the report said.

However, at least 96 U.N. member states now have provisions for legal gender recognition, according to the research.

Violations of trans rights occurred across the world, said ILGA World's director of programmes Julia Ehrt.

"Some of the more shining nations when it comes to legal gender recognition are based in the global south, such as Argentina," she added.

Eight years ago, Argentina joined a handful of countries that let trans people change their gender on official identity documents without physical or psychological tests.

In Britain, there has been a ferocious debate in recent years over reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, pitting some feminists against parts of the trans community.

The British government launched a consultation two years ago on overhauling the law to allow "self-ID" in England and Wales - a reform opponents said could allow predatory men access to women-only spaces such as toilets.

"In the UK, the debate is particularly fierce when you compare it with other debates in European states and I think (it) has, in a certain way, been exported to many of the other Commonwealth countries," Ehrt said.

The report also highlighted some positive developments for trans people over the past two years.

Nine countries have taken steps to make it easier for people to change their name and gender classification on official documents such as birth certificates since 2018.

British lawmaker Crispin Blunt, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights, said the government's decision to scrap the "self-ID" proposal meant it was "a particularly wretched time in the UK".

"Britain continues to claim global leadership on LGBT+ rights but has just decided not to update its own processes," Blunt said.

"Now 25 nations, with more to follow, show us a better example of how to respect the basic human rights of trans and gender diverse people," he added.

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

BULAWAYO, Sept 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When Smangele Tshuma got divorced after five years of marriage, her in-laws forced her out of the home that she had been living in with her husband in southwestern Zimbabwe and took the three donkeys she had bought with money from selling blankets.

Source: Swazi Media Commentary

A High Court judge in the deeply conservative kingdom of Swaziland (eSwatini) has started a debate about legalising abortion.

Judge Qinisile Mabuza heard a case involving a 26-year-old woman who was accused of causing the death of her four-year-old son, by drowning him in a river.

The eSwatini Observer reported that the child’s father had denied paternity, leaving her to rise the child herself. This prompted the judge to question what provisions were available for women who found themselves in similar situations.

The Swazi Constitution provides that abortion might be allowed on medical or therapeutic grounds, including where a doctor certifies that continued pregnancy will endanger the life or constitute a serious threat to the physical health of the woman; continued pregnancy will constitute a serious threat to the mental health of the woman; there is serious risk that the child will suffer from physical or mental defect of such a nature that the child will be irreparably seriously handicapped.However, no law exists to put the constitutional provisions into effect. 

According to the Observer, ‘In her subsequent remarks, she [Judge Mabuza] hinted that she viewed the current situation as shackling women’s autonomy, making an undertaking to tackle the current ban on abortion before she retires from the bench.

‘In fact, the learned judge believes it would be reasonable to allow women to make a decision on whether to perform an abortion.’

The Observer reported, she added some of the rights of women had been addressed through the 2018 Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act and it was time that society explored the possibility of legalising abortion as well.

Later, a number of representatives from organisations within Swaziland supported the idea of a debate. Acting Director Bongani Msibi of the Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS), a leader in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights delivery and youth programming in Swaziland, said the illegality of abortion often posed serious risks to women, and that legalisation could help to protect their reproductive and health rights.

Acting Director Zanele Thabede of Women and the Law of Southern Africa (WLSA) said abortion law reform should be discussed. She told the Observer it was important to have meaningful conversations whatever your beliefs about abortion.

Head of the Human Rights  and  Integrity Commission Sabelo Masuku said the group was in support of the call by the judge to have Swaziland revisit its position on abortion.

Because abortions are illegal in Swaziland it is difficult to say accurately how many are performed in the kingdom. However, in August 2018 the Times of Swaziland reported that every month, nurses at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial (RFM) Hospital in Manzini attended more than 100 cases of young women who had committed illegal abortions.

The IRIN news agency, quoting FLAS reported that in October 2012 more than 1,000 women were treated for abortion-related complications at a single clinic in Swaziland.

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