Thursday, December 28, 2006

I realize that my photos are scarcely representative of life in Dakar. That's because it's just not a great idea to take my camera out onto the street as long as I'm walking around on my own. I'm planning on taking a day-trip outside of town on Friday with a group, and hope to take photos then.

Today I discovered the French Cultural Center - definitely a great place to hang out for a few hours, a quiet garden oasis in the middle of the chaotic city. It has a large garden-courtyard area, a lovely dark pink two-storey building with wrought-iron balcony and shuttered windows, various artistic pursuits going on, a small open-air amphitheatre, and a relaxed restaurant/cafe with great food. I sat there for several hours enjoying a seafood salad, tea, ice cream cake, and a Robert Goddard mystery novel.

Man's robe: detail

Dakar sky line at dusk, with minaret.

Dakar: birds at dusk. In the foreground is the top of the Hotel de Ville (town hall); just beyond, a ship in the port of Dakar.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Violence Against Girls in Africa

I just came across this information last night on an e-mail list I subscribe to. I've read quite a lot about violence against women in Africa, but some of these statistics were still able to shock me. The web site, for those interested, is:

Born to High Risk: Violence Against Girls in Africa
David Mugawe, Antoinette Powell
African Child Policy Forum
Executive Summary
Each year as many as 40 million children under 15 years old experience some form of violence. Many of them are girls and many live in Africa. For example, a study by The African Child Policy Forum in Ethiopia found that every girl interview had experienced some form of violence at one time or another and that more than 90 per cent of girls questioned in Uganda had experienced some form of sexual abuse. Girls throughout Africa experience physical, psychological and sexual violence in many forms and in various settings: in conflict and crisis situations; where they work or are trafficked to work; and even in the very places they should feel safest - at school, and in their homes and communities.

Although the international community now acknowledges the severity of the problem of violence against children and, to some extent the urgency with which it must be addressed, the particular vulnerability of girls to violence, and the social context that places African girls at risk, remains largely ignored.

The African Child Policy Forum believes that the issue can no longer remain hidden; that action should - and indeed must - be taken to address the abuses African girls face. This report, along with the Second International Policy Conference on the African Child on May 11 and 12, 2006, aims to enrich work on violence against children in Africa and to provide a framework for action.

Born to High Risk: Violence Against Girls in Africa synthesises information from three sources:
Existing literature on gender-based violence and violence against children.
Five thematic studies on violence against girls in specific settings that The African Child Policy Forum carried out in collaboration with the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children; the International Committee of the Red Cross; the International Labour Organization; the Uganda Child Rights NGO Network; and UNAIDS.
Retrospective surveys of the of girls' experiences of violence in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
It provides strong foundations for future action by exploring the concept of violence and identifying what makes African girls especially vulnerable to various forms of violence.

The purpose of this report is not to judge who has failed in their duty to protect girls. It is a call for action from the girls themselves, whose voices - usually so seldom heard - reverberate throughout the study.

Girls in crisis situations such as conflicts and after natural disasters are targets of violence. For example, it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 Rwandan women and girls were raped during the country's 1994 genocide. Across Africa - from Uganda to Liberia to Angola - girls as young as 12 have been abducted during conflicts and forced to fight, work as servants or become sexual slaves for combatants. Girls in refugee camps face similarly challenging conditions with high levels of violence. Teenagers from a refugee camp in Liberia explain that the people who should be working to protect them abuse their trust by forcing them to exchange sex for food.

But it would be a mistake to assume that girls face abuse only in such exceptional circumstances. Violence is widespread in the homes and communities of African girls:
31 per cent of girls questioned in a survey in Uganda had experienced sexual abuse.
A survey in Ethiopia found that one quarter of rape cases were perpetrated by a male relative.
In some regions of Nigeria, girls marry on average just after their 11th birthday.
Around 130 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation, most of whom live in Africa.
Schoolgirls face violence in their classrooms and on their way to school; according to The African Child Policy Forum's retrospective survey, female teachers (16 per cent) were the main perpetrators of physical maltreatment on girls in Kenya; around 50 per cent of Malawian schoolgirls report that they have been sexually touched against their will. Although male peers are responsible for much of the sexual abuse that takes place in school, teachers carry out an alarmingly high proportion of the abuses: a national survey in South Africa found that 32 per cent of reported child rapes were carried out by teachers. Further:
A survey in Ethiopia by The African Child Policy Forum found that 72 per cent of children had been slapped when at school.
67 per cent of schoolgirls surveyed in Botswana had been sexually harassed by their teachers.
A 2005 survey in Cameroon found that 16 per cent of secondary students had been sexually abused.
Cutting across girls' experiences of violence is the lack of support they receive from their families and communities. The harm that is inflicted by the violent act is compounded by the lack of a forum for women and girls to share experiences and views - with each other, and with men and boys.

The impact of violence against girls is immense for both individual girls and for society. Girls experience health and behavioural problems and may go on to perpetuate a cycle of abuse. We should end violence against girls for their sake and to protect their most basic human rights, but also because the cost to society will be vast if we do not. The services needed when girls experience violence - including healthcare, and police and social services - are expensive and probably far more so than preventative measures.

Violence infringes fundamental human rights. It is unacceptable. We must speak out against violence against children; we should confront attitudes that tolerate it; we can no longer conceal its existence. It is inexcusable that one in every two girls in Mali and Ethiopia will marry before their 18th birthday; that thousands of girls are abducted to serve as soldiers, domestic servants and sexual slaves in Uganda; schoolgirls in The Democratic Republic of Congo are forced to trade sex for grades; and 6,000 girls will be genitally mutilated today. These are our children. They are our responsibility.

And so we call upon governments and civil society to act decisively and promptly. Every one of us must commit time and resources to ending the gross injustices that will continue to take place in every country across Africa until we raise our voices to end them. On this basis, we suggest the following actions as a way forward in addressing violence against girls in Africa:
Girls must be legally protected from violence. Governments should draw up national policies to protect girls and give them free and fair access to legal redress.
Education is fundamental to creating a non-violent society. Families, communities, national and international policy-makers, and those responsible for implementing policy at country-level can play an essential role in initiatives to raise awareness of the devastating impact of gender-based violence. Support groups enabling girls, women and men to speak out about violence in their communities and abuse they have themselves experienced can help to break the cycle of violence.
Lessons must be drawn from the successes of practical programmes that provide assistance to girls who have experienced violence. These can provide valuable insights for implementing similar support mechanisms across Africa.
Where member nations of the African Union have not yet ratified or implemented the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child or the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women they should do so as a matter of urgency.
Comprehensive information is needed if governments and civil society organisations are to implement informed, effective programmes to address gender-based violence. Governments and civil society organisations must actively engage in collecting statistical data on gender-based violence and reviewing its structural causes.
Policies and strategies will remain ineffective if resources are not allocated to implement initiatives to combat violence against girls. Governments and the international community must demonstrate their commitment to ending violence against children by mobilising resources to meet programmatic and policy needs.
Increasingly, children are perpetrating violence against children. And so it is vital to involve children as part of any solution to address violence against girls.

Click here to read the full document.

The African Child Policy Forum
P.O. Box 1179
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251-11-5528407/09/10
Fax: +251-11-5513420
African Child Policy Forum Website

Source: Youth InfoNet August 27 2006
Things I like about Dakar:

The weather at this time of year is perfect: warm and cloudless during the day, cooling down pleasantly in the evenings; great food: I’m addicted to the Lebanese charwarma – thin pitta bread filled with lamb, tomatoes, onion, flat parsley, tahini, spicy mustard, and a few small fried potatoes, all of which I wash down with fresh-squeezed orange juice; French bakeries with crusty brown bread and yummy pastries; the men and women walking the streets with fabulously flowing damask robes in spotless glowing whites, purples, emeralds, pinks, atop stiletto heels or pointy flat slippers on the men; even though the streets are full of noise, traffic, bustle, and hustlers everywhere, a quiet spot from which to gaze at the surprisingly calm Atlantic is never more than a ten minutes’ walk in any of three directions; two really good book shops; all the different types of people to be found here: Africans from different countries; north Africans; Mediterraneans (mostly of Lebanese descent); Europeans – which allows me to walk around without hassle as long as I make an effort not to look like a tourist; friendly people – especially the Lebanese business owners and the ticket clerk at the museum; the sound of the call to prayer from the mosques (and the fact that it’s not too loud so I can sleep through the early morning call); and back again to food – fast food places where the food is both fast and very tasty, and plenty of places where I can get good prepared food to take back to my room thus avoiding eating alone in expensive restaurants. I expect I’ve forgotten a few things, but you can add some more if you’ve ever been here!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Reporting from Dakar, Senegal

I'm here in disguise. After a pleasant session at a salon de coiffure owned by a local Lebanese brother and sister couple, my hair is a shade darker than the original version, and I now pass for a local as I walk around the streets of Dakar. This is a great help, as I don't get hassled by the hundreds - if not thousands - of young men on the streets selling everything from sunglasses to synthetic miniature Christmas trees.

I didn't think that anywhere in Africa could be poorer than eastern Congo, and maybe Senegal isn't actually any poorer; but the street children I've seen here are younger than anywhere else I've ever seen, and the number of people who appear to be living on the street is not only far higher but of a far greater age range than anywhere else I've been. It's possible that all the people I see sitting on the street aren't actually living on the street...but I don't see any other immediate explanation for their presence.

On the other hand, Dakar has a great deal going for it, if you have some money to enjoy what is on offer. There are real shops, selling quality goods, a large supermarket with shelves of delicious, and pricey, imported French cheeses and a myriad of other delicacies; a superb French bakery full of dark chocolate gateaux and almond croissants and crusty baguettes; two excellent bookshops; hotels by the ocean...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

On any given day there are about 8 children in the Bukavu central prison, all boys. A news video on the MONUC (UN mission in DR Congo) web site shows an activity that we held there to dramatize the rights of children. Go to then click on Videos, and then on ONU Raportages 9 to watch the video. It's 19 minutes long, and our segment is preceded by segments on the Congo elections and on HIV/AIDS awareness raising. It's only worth taking a look if you have high speed internet access.

This event was held on 20th November, International Day for Children's Rights. On the same day we also held an introductory workshop on children's rights for 50 marginalised teenagers from across town. It was quite a demanding session, getting the kids - many of whom have very little education - to sit down in groups and work on questions and issues relating to their rights. However they enjoyed the opportunity, and it was great to do direct work with them - generally our work involves training the teachers and care-givers who work with the children.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Am I here?

There are two levels of problems with the internet connection here. One is at the office level - this is about to improve, at last! The second problem is the satellite connection. Since there are no landline telephones, and no cables (neighboring Rwanda has just installed broadband cable along all the main roads - I'm very jealous!), we must rely on satellite. And when it rains, that link goes down. We are now in the rainy season and it rains day and night! The connection comes and goes, so even as I write, I'm not sure when this will get posted.

Water woes.

I thought I'd write a word or two about water. In Africa, it seems, there's either too much of it or too little. And here in Bukavu we manage to have both problems at the same time. It is raining, and this week mudslides in town brought down a few houses and killed several children. Mud is every where. I pick my way carefully through the puddles and squelch along the slippery tracks that serve as roads, even in the best part of town. Four-wheel drive vehicles with heavy duty tyres slip and slide up and down the hillside neighbourhoods. Mud here is especially viscous. As is the water in my shower. A few weeks back I noticed that my hands felt sticky after washing; I've never come across sticky water before. Apparently it's the lake water. Generally our water comes from the river Rusizi that feeds into Lake Kivu, but sometimes they switch the supply over to the lake. I haven't figured out yet why we have water problems when there's so much rain. In the office we often don't have any water at all, or only on the ground floor as the pressure isn't sufficient for it to come up to the first floor where our offices are. At home there's frequently not enough pressure to supply water in the mornings, but it will come back in the evenings. A few days ago all the water was cut off for about three days, without notice - so we didn't have any stored. Fortunately the climate is relatively cool, so three days without a shower was manageable. I did enjoy a good hot shower when the water came back on!