Girls & Women

Has Gender Failed African Women? An Interview With Khadija Bah-Wakefield

Since the 1995 United Nations Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, the world of development has been obsessed with the idea of mainstreaming ‘gender’ throughout aid delivery programs and operations. Nowhere has this been more true than in Africa. So, almost two decades later, has gender mainstreaming succeeded? And if not, what has been the reality and how should the world move forward? The Development Roast sat down with the incredibly inspiring Khadija Bah-Wakefield to learn from her quarter century career as a senior gender and socioeconomic advisor to the World Bank, different factions of the United Nations, West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development, New Partnership for Africa’s Development and many other donor groups in over twenty African countries*. Read More »

Breast Flattening—Barbaric Practice or a Sign of Something Deeper?

What would you do if you were the mother of a young girl born into a social setting where her gender automatically affects her chances of independence, riches and success? Most of us live in such societies as gender imbalances are institutionalised and pervasive the world over. Take the recently exposed gender gap in US election coverage published by that showed that even on important issues specifically facing women (such as reproductive health, birth control, women’s rights), the US media consulted the voices of actual women only 12-31% of the time. Read More »

Guest Roast: “Traditional Birth Assistants: Scapegoats or Potential Miracle Workers?”

Thomas Hart has been called ‘a fine example of a “citizen of the world”’* and an expert on traditional Maya practices having lived, worked and studied in Guatemala for the best part of two decades. Thomas is an anthropologist at heart and has consolidated his vast knowledge in his book “The Ancient Spirituality of the Modern Maya”. He works for a British NGO called Health, Poverty, Action and as a guest roaster shares with us some potential solutions to high maternal mortality rates in Guatemala**.

Comadronas, Guatemala’s Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), are community midwives who are estimated to deliver up to 90% of births in rural Guatemala. Their relationship with the Ministry of Health has been a complicated one. In many communities, they have been derided by health professionals as uneducated (they sometimes are), illiterate (they sometimes are) and even superstitious (for practicing their own indigenous culture). As such they have served as convenient scapegoats for high maternal mortality rates, which are estimated to be twenty times higher in developing nations (1). Read More »

Stuffing and Starving: Are Cycles of Advertising Contributing to the Rise and Rise of Eating Disorders?

As the Victoria Beckhams of this world have replaced the Marilyn Monroes on the centerfolds of magazines and advertisements selling everything from perfume to real estate, wide social effects have taken place in rich nations. Although size zeros are no heroes, adolescent girls and grown women the world over have succumb to chasing the promised good feel of the thinness ideal. At the extreme, this chase can lead to conditions diagnosed by mental health professionals as binge eating and disordered eating (which includes self-starvation, bingeing, purging and exercising obsessively), leading to more widely known conditions of anorexia (self starvation) and bulimia (regular self-induced cycles of binge-eating and vomiting), found to affect up to 5.7% and 7.3% of women in Western nations respectively (1). Both are addictive psychological attempts to take back control over inputs into the body and sometimes other aspects of life. And both are on the rise in less wealthy countries too as they transition into Western lifestyles brought to them through cultural and corporate marketing transmissions associated with the age of globalisation (2). Read More »

“Waste of Time”: Urban Education Failing Rural Kids in Guatemala

Forty-five, maybe fifty, I don’t remember anymore,” seventy one year old Juan Chúl Yaxon tells me through a warming toothless chuckle that causes his leathery skin to crease around his eyes as we talk about his grandchildren. “If they study, they get lazy and do not want to work. There is no use for someone who has an education title but no land or job… and the women, they should cook and do housework.”

Juan makes his assertions over the noisy hustle and bustle of market day in Sololá, the capital of a district of the same name, half an hour North of the volcano-lined lake Atitlán. The plaza of this small rural Guatemalan city  is overwhelmingly filled with tipica- (traditionally-) clad indigenous faces curiously watching our interaction. In his eyes, his five sons and three daughters are better off working the land on their family finca. He wants his grandchildren to follow suit. Read More »

Against All Odds: An Education Fairy Tale from Guatemala

In June 2011 this article was shortlisted as a finalist for the Blog4Girls competition held by Plan UK and was one of two eventual runners up.

Her bosom swells with the type of pride that is rare to see in anyone. Heartfelt and genuine, it is completely disarming and induces uncontrollable ‘sonrisas’ (smiles) in everyone in the room. Anastasia, a 37 year old indigenous woman originally from a small rural community in Guatemala is showing us a photograph of her children and husband. He is five years her junior and they married for love when she was 24. All their kids are still in school and she will ensure it stays that way, especially for her girls. Anastasia is the only one of her whole family and five siblings to ever finish secondary school, let alone go on to university. She is currently top of her class and will graduate next year to become a social worker. She now speaks five languages: three local indigenous dialects, Spanish and a little bit of English. Whilst finishing her studies, she is working two days a week at Pencils of Promise, an NGO working towards providing Schools4All. Read More »


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