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Women's Courage

Recognizing LBT rights as Women's Rights

March 7th, 2013 by streeter 1 comment »

On February 18, 2013, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) gathered at the United Nation in Geneva with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). They came to discuss changes to the General Recommendation on women’s access to justice. Often times, women are discriminated against and treated poorly in developing countries, and CEDAW works to intervene and make changes that better these women’s lives. However, the IGLHRC, represented by Grace Poore, met to discuss the needs of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) women in relation to women as a whole. They argued that as women, LBT peoples face the same barriers, but almost to an extreme since they face additional pressures due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Therefore, they requested that CEDAW include provisions in the upcoming General Recommendation that point out obstacles that make it difficult for women to access justice, specifically based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Their statement was endorsed by 43 women’s rights, human rights and LBT groups around the world.

Not only did the IGLHRC provide an oral statement to the above problem, but over 50 NGOs sent in written papers to the CEDAW Committee. Some international NGOs discussed other obstacles LBT women face in developing countries. The Center for Reproductive Rights argued that laws surrounding reproductive healthcare should expand to include LBT women. Because of gender stereotypes, these women are often discriminated against and do not receive the reproductive health needs they deserve. Wilder Tayler, Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists argued a different point, that of anti-sodomy laws. In developing countries in which homosexual sex is criminalized, LBT women are incapable of filing reports or going to Court to claim their rights due to fear of discrimination, violence, or stigma.

CEDAW, established in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is described as an international bill of rights for women. It outlines what is constituted as discrimination against women, setting up an agenda for action to introduce gender equality. Countries that accept the Convention are legally bound to put these provisions into practice, providing national reports at least every four years to demonstrate that they have been complying with the treaty expectations. Therefore, by having IGLHRC intervene by addresses the flaws within CEDAW, these potential changes in international LBT rights, induced by the newly improved CEDAW, can have widespread beneficial effects.

Watch this video to hear about some of the problems for CEDAW to address, as requested by Grace Poore and the IGLHRC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3NKuytC9hp8





The Wait is Over

March 7th, 2013 by cukogu 4 comments »

Over the course of this blog, I have described maternal health issues in the developing world. My blog mirrored a narrative framework.  I started with the root causes of such high maternal mortality rates in the form of sexual coercion, frequent sex, and lack of contraception. Then I highlighted populations that suffer the consequences of high maternal mortality and interventions aimed to make their lives better.  I hope that the stories shared in my blog inspire readers to enact change because I firmly believe that an emotional connection is a far better catalyst than a graphical one.


Following the theme of storytelling and narratives to enact change, I want to highlight an initiative sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe motherhood. In early 2010, they gathered stories from mothers in 30 communities, which were then compiled for Stories of Mothers Saved.


The women in the stories experienced the suffering of obstructed labor, hemorrhage, preeclampsia, and HIV. These women hold the world accountable, their stories represent the work that still must be done in the public health arena to lower the maternal mortality rate. The stories in addition to artwork make up an exhibit that has traveled around the world and expressing the need for action for women in the developing world as part of a global advocacy project.


I said in the opening blog that pregnancy should be times of great joy, but for many women in the developing world, it is the most dangerous time of their lives. Lifesaving technology is in existence; it is just not available to the women that truly need it. For now, millions of women in the developing world are waiting expectantly. They are waiting for the birth of new ideas that make it safer to be a mother in the developing world.




Women and Water

March 7th, 2013 by magalis 1 comment »

Throughout the quarter, I’ve been discussing gender relations and how they affect a woman’s access to healthcare services, political participation and other aspects that help the advancement of life. This week, I’ll discuss access to water, specifically in Nicaragua, the issues gender relations create, and recommendations to encourage women’s participation in policy. Lastly, I’ll talk about an organization that takes these recommendations and implements them where they’re most needed.

93% of Nicaraguans in urban areas have access to water. Unfortunately, only a handful of cities have a sewage system. The water often becomes contaminated due to pesticides, fertilizers, or industrial waste. The situation is worse for rural and poor neighborhoods. About 72% of residents don’t have water in rural areas, and are forced to obtain water from community wells or rivers. The management of water sources is especially difficult, intensive, physically demanding and stressful.

Gender Differences

In Nicaragua, and disproportionately in developing countries, women are responsible for finding water according to its accessibility, availability, quality and use. However, interestingly enough, women are not considered when discussing water infrastructure or policy. This lack of empowerment causes women to remain economically subservient to men, and have no formal rights to this vital resource. Recognizing the importance of women in relation to water will elevate status and provide society with a crucial resource.

As Nidya Sarria from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs put it, “Women, especially minority women, suffer disproportionately due to their lack of access to clean water, even in comparison to other members of the community. In developing regions of the world, as much as a quarter of a woman’s productive time is spent collecting water for her family”.

The role of retrieving water prevents a woman from generating more income for her family. While social norms govern women’s lives, they also prevent women from the acquisition and use of clean water in the absence of male members. This role also delays their power in the community. Women are responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring or sick, elderly, children, takes which require clean water. Residents have to obtain water from places that might only receive water for a few hours or is far from home, and often seek help from children.

The lack of female participation is problematic. Both genders tend to have different priorities when it comes to how water resources should be distributed. Inequitable distribution of benefits and burdens of water resources, combined with inadequate involvement of both men and women have led to environmental degradation. Additionally, the ability to pay for water is often assumed but seldom validated. Both men and women should help determine rates of payment, but increased prices for water should not include those which meet the basic human needs. Lastly, women, unlike men, can’t maintain friendly relationships with canal operators or irrigation agency personnel, and therefore can’t demand more water when needed.


Organizations should make it a priority to encourage women to speak in the community. These organizations and the government must take women’s needs into consideration. Techniques for better understanding of women’s perceptions and needs are also desperately needed.

By educating girls , who are often used to fetch water instead of attending to their schoolwork, nations promote the health of the general population, achieve smaller family sizes, empower women, shatter social norms and gender roles, become encourage women to become leaders in their communities, especially in taking up roles related to water policy.


WaterAid is a non-profit organization that works in multiple countries around the world with a mission to provide clean water and sanitation to those countries. The organization has a site in Nicaragua with a mission to create and set up clean water supplies using sustainable technologies that can be maintained by community-based associations.

WaterAid integrates the provision of safe water with good sanitation. The organization believes communities should learn the critical role of toilets in reducing the spread of disease, and works to raise awareness of how diseases are spread. They motivate communities to develop their own solutions to ensure every household builds and uses a toilet. WaterAid also works with local people to develop culturally appropriate ways of promoting improved hygiene practices, especially in schools and village health posts.

More importantly, WaterAid believes it is important for women to be involved in all stages of the projects, including planning, construction and decision-making stages. They believe women are in the best place to choose the ideal location for future water projects, and should be consulted on the choice and location of toilets. Through WaterAid, women are responsible for baking of funds, and are entrusted with the position of treasurers. With the organization, women become hygiene educators, talk to others freely, and spread messages throughout community after a basic training. Through this empowerment, women’s status is enhanced. By providing accessible, clean water a woman’s time is freed up to complete income earning jobs. Additionally, girls can attend schools and rise up to become leaders within their communities.


Unfortunately, women are disproportionately affected by the lack of access as they have to travel long distances to retrieve water. It is vitally important to include women in discussions about water policies especially because access to water is an essential necessity, and vital to everyone’s survival.


  1. Sarria, Nidya (2009) Water in Latin America: The Importance of Gender Relations. Council in Hemispheric Affairs. Retrieved from: http://www.coha.org/water-in-latin-america-the-importance-of-gender-relations/
  2. Women and WaterAid. WaterAid America INC. Retrieved from: http://www.wateraidamerica.org/what_we_do/women_and_wateraid/default.asp


Sex and the Ciudad 8: playgrounds for old people?

March 7th, 2013 by drewf 2 comments »

To conclude this blog we must return to its starting point, Rio de Janeiro, but with new appreciation and new hope for improving women’s health through urban design intervention.

Soon after I moved out of the favela and into a middle class neighborhood, the Academia da Terceira Idade (ATI) a government initiative that installs fitness equipment designed for older people in strategic public locations came to my neighborhood. Largo do Machado, the neighborhood square is occupied by a metro station, old men playing cards, homeless people eating leftover rice and beans, vendors selling popcorn, hot dogs, Brazilian doughnuts. On Saturdays, the park plays host to a farmer’s market and a makeshift pet adoption center; during carnaval, hordes of brightly costumed partygoers; and during the time of year when government salaries are reevaluated, it sees the protests of teachers, postal workers, medics, fireman. In the midst of this complicated social space, neon green and blue metal equipment- bare-bones eliptivals and pull-up bars and odd twin wheels at chest height- was installed. My friends and I laughed at the unwieldy apparatuses and joked about the ridiculousness of the city’s upgrading projects in anticipation of the Olympic Games. The city was filled with starving street children, manhole covers that exploded and killed cariocas and tourists alike, heaps of rotting trash, and informal settlements that threatened to slide from the hills after each rainfall, but the government was spending money building playgrounds for old people?

However, as time passed I was astonished and the number of people using the equipment. From 7-10am and 4-7pm everyday, older people, mostly women, would congregate to practice the government created exercise regimen. Instructors wearing matching t-shirts stamped with the ATI logo would walk around and motivate the participants, recording reps and correcting form. Since its inception in January of 2009, over 120 ATIs have been installed throughout the city, and not just in the nicest neighborhoods. Though the initial site was in Copacabana, it has spread to neighborhoods of all income levels, in all areas of the city. Despite my original skepticism, it seems the project has been a success. The equipment may look cheesy or out of place, but, now after taking this class and writing this blog for the last few weeks, I have come to realize how important this intervention may be. What is most interesting to me is that the Academia da Terceira Idade is not a subsidized gym membership or a free personal training session. It is almost a physical, public declaration of the importance of health and a recognition of the value of the aging population. In the most public of places, health for older women has become a social exercise.

So yesterday, as Professor Winograd pointed to Cuba’s group exercise program for older women as a potential starting point for improving women’s health, and as I nodded my head in agreement, I was impressed by how my perceptions had changed over the course of this quarter. I can now recognize the ATI, which to me had only been something to giggle at on my way to work, or a place to hold impromptu (and inadvisable) pull-up competitions on the way home from the bar, as an important intervention for improving women’s health. In Rio, life takes place through interactions in public space, so by introducing fitness equipment into the urban fabric, and therefore, making physical exercise a regular and visible part of social life, many more aging women have been able to take control over their own health and improve their lives.

Thank you everyone who has read an commented on my blog this quarter! It certainly has been an eye-opening and inspiring experience!

Solutions for Women by Women: Looking at Justine Masika

March 7th, 2013 by mlevine2 1 comment »

Since 1990, Justine Masika has worked with victims of sexual violence in the DRC. In 2002, after numerous women came to her during the war, Masika began “Synergie des femmes pour les victimes de violences sexuelles” (SFVS) an NGO based in Northern Kivu Province. The organization, which primarily consists of volunteers, attempts to engage entire communities in helping victims of sexual violence recover and reintegrate into society. SFVS works with 35 Congolese organizations as well as Oxfam and has helped 7,018 women. By actively involving not just former victims of sexual violence, but engaging a dialogue between all members of the community, SFVS seeks to also reduce the stigma toward victims of sexual violence. Specifically, SFVS makes an effort to educate village chiefs and local opinion leaders about the nature of the impact of sexual violence, as well as the importance of accepting survivors back into the community.

SFVS is divided between three divisions: medical, psycho-social and legal services. Similar to Dr. Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital, SFVS provides medical services including surgical repairs of fistulas, HIV testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). According to Donor Direct Action, the organization’s psychosocial division established 20 listening houses. In addition, SFVS holds seminars discussing the impact of sexual violence and “trains counselors for psychological trauma work and trains counselors in psychological trauma and mediation. SFVS also provides legal services to sexual violence victims by working with the Congolese government. The legal sector also helps train  judges on sexual violence law, by campaigning for tribunals made up of international and Congolese judges “to try high rank military offenders and war crimes.” SFVS has also organized campaigns to bring about greater awareness through television and radio commercials, and organizing conferences discussing sexual violence.

In addition, SFVS tries to promote economic self-sufficiency among the women by teaching them skills to produce products that can provide a consistent form of income. Among these skills are weaving baskets from long trips  of plastic,dyeing techniques, sewing, braiding, livestock herding and farming.

While SFVS has provided services to numerous women, the counselors have paid significant personal costs. Female human rights defenders are seen as opposing social norms. Masika’s two daughters, who were 20 and 22, were tortured by militiamen for their mother’s work. In addition, a number of the SFVS counselors have been victims of rape. One counselor was attacked twice by paramilitary groups. During the attack, her husband was murdered, while her three daughters were killed. The same counselor was attacked a second time that year, while helping a victim of sexual violence. Thoguh SFVS provided about 45 mobile phones to their counselors, the counselors nevertheless continue to face great risk through their work. Their decision to continue this work, in spite of the danger, is a testament to their great strength.

I thought it would be appropriate to end the blog with this post, since SFVS is a locally-based organization, that promotes dialogue between both men and women, and aims to fight the social constructs that put women into compromising positions in the first place. SFVS’ multilateral approach, in providing medical, psychological, legal and economic services addresses the numerous challenges victims of sexual violence face. The fact that the organization relies primarily on Congolese workers makes SFVS self-sufficient and sustainable.

Thank you for reading! I would love to know your thoughts about which interventions you think would be most effective in addressing sexual violence, particularly in regions in the midst of or recovering from conflict.






An Exploration of International Lesbian Rights: International Programs of Advocacy and Activism

March 7th, 2013 by tle29 No comments »

Throughout the course of these last 8 weeks, I have endeavoured to explore the victories, struggles, and ongoing battles that lesbians around the world have faced. From examining the terrible practice of corrective rape in South Africa to discussing the unique freedom given by invisibility under the public eye of Saudi Arabia, this blog has generally focused on the issues and interventions of distinct cultures or countries. As this is the final blog, I decided to instead discuss some programs fighting for the rights of lesbian women, as well as other LGBT groups, across borders.

Perhaps the most notable organization working for the benefit of lesbian women is the International Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission. Founded in 1990, this organization strives to strengthen the LGBT human rights movements worldwide by partnering with other human rights advocates and documenting violations against individuals. in 2010, after 3 years of fighting, the IGLRC finally gained consultative status in United Nations meetings and debates [1]. Since this organization aims to better the lives of LGBT individuals everywhere, the issues they fight for are as variable as the people they serve. These issues include:

  • Discrimination and Equality
  • The right to privacy and family
  • Torture, violence, and abuse
  • Decriminalization
  • Human rights defense
  • Freedom of speech, assembly, and association
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Health and human rights

To achieve these goals, IGLRC works with local activists to raise awareness and fight for each region’s own needs [2]. They also partner these local activists and NGO’s with larger or broader human rights agencies such as the United Nations.

Another group that has caught my attention is the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth and Student Organization (IGLYO) [3]. Based in the Netherlands, this group is particularly impressive because it completely run by youth and students for youth and students. They not only advocate for the right to express their own diversity in sexual orientation and gender expression, but also for the rights of many suppressed and unvoiced youth in Western Europe. One specific goal of theirs is capacity building. Through week long conferences and training sessions, IGLYO provides the opportunity for individuals to increase their capacity and expertise, whether that be in areas such as health, education, or intercultural dialogue or in skills necessary for organizational development. These conferences both empower individuals and allow the participants to apply their work back home. Overall, IGLYO works to raise awareness internationally of the need for LGBT human rights through lobbying, education, and advocacy activities.

So, while I was unable to find any international groups that specifically focus on the needs of lesbian women, these groups are no doubt working to empower improve the lives of women globally. With all the injustice and sadness that I have explored through these past weeks, these groups give me hope that one day lesbian women around the world will be able to express themselves as they please without fear of abuse, violence, or discrimination.

[1] Lynch, Colum. “The Little Gay and Lesbian Organization That Could.” Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, 21 July 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2013.

[2] “IGLHRC: Our Issues.” IGLHRC: Our Issues. International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.

[3] “Capacity Building.” IGLYO. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth and Student Organization, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2013.

Gendercide and Interventions: Cash Incentives for Girls

March 7th, 2013 by leslienguyenokwu 1 comment »


Girls are the future. They account for half of the world’s population. They produce $11 trillion of the world’s productive labor, both in and outside the home. They are the primary caregivers for the young as well as the elderly. They support their families and bridge communities together. They bore the aftermath of conflict and war, forced to rebuild what’s ruined and mourn what’s lost. Ultimately, they will live far longer than their male peers, serving as the principal transmitters of their history and culture. Thus, the international community has a profound stake in the livelihood, health and future performance of women.

Yet girls are dying at alarming rates. Gendercide. Human trafficking. Child marriage. Dowry burnings. Domestic violence. Rape. Many killed before birth or as infants. Many killed in adolescence or as young brides. Many killed through pregnancy and childbirth, or through dangerous abortions. Many set on fire, beat, and raped. A women’s life is threatened throughout her life cycle.

Soon, 200 million women will go “missing” due to female infanticide and sex-selective abortions (United Nations). Governments are beginning to take action. However, it’s not enough. At best, these efforts are shallow attempts. Although India and China have publicly outlawed sex-selective abortions, laws that curb such fatal practices are largely ignored and rarely enforced. The silence of missing generations of girls and women is deafening.

Attempts to reduce the unnaturally skewed gender imbalance in India and China are underway. For one, both governments are providing cash incentives for families to have and keep girls. In the last few years, India’s government offered to poor and urban families a check of up to 100,000 rupees, or $3,000, with the promise that they will raise daughters instead of sons. Devirupak, an Indian state with a high son preference, provides monthly cash transfers for 20 years to couples who get sterilized after having one child (of either sex), or two girls (and no boy). There are also cash incentives to deter pregnant women from screening their fetuses for gender and aborting suspected girls. Despite these efforts, the last few censuses show little improvement.

Likewise, in China, the state offered annual payments of 600 chinese yuan, or $100, for couples with two daughters and no sons once they reach 60 years of age. This is a large sum of money for couples who earn 50 cents a day in some rural areas of China. This money was also given to families with only one child in order to discourage couples with a daughter from trying again for a boy. Furthermore, in some areas of the Fujian province, a housing grant of $1,500 was awarded to families with two girls.

But how much does a girl cost? What are the consequences of placing a monetary value on a girl’s life? Moreover, there may be potential for abuse through these cash rewards. How would a government ensure accountability for the couple who accept these cash incentives? It is unlikely that an effective government intervention will emerge soon unless these countries start realizing the true complexities of this issue. Attempts to address the sex imbalance in India and China must consider the underlying factors of gendercide such as women’s low social status. More importantly, reversing the gender imbalance is only a short-term goal whereas the long-term goal ought to be gender equality, female empowerment, higher social status and an overall better environment for girls and women. 

According to President of Socialist International Women Ouafa Hajji, “change is possible, but it requires collective action by the international community” to challenge the public perceptions that lead to violence, oppression, and inequality against women. For her, five steps must be met:

  • Ratify and enforce all relevant regional and international treaties, and implement laws that prohibit violence against women and ensure effective punishment of offenses.
  •  Enhance women’s economic and political empowerment, including by directing international aid toward their health, education, and welfare.
  •  Increase public awareness of the problem through traditional media, as well as through social media and other electronic channels.
  • Improve support for survivors of violence and their families, including legal assistance, psychological counseling, and health care.
  •  Mobilize men and boys against violence through educational programs.

In India and China, waiting for cultural changes to gradually take place is not an option. If girls are not valued now, then when? Granted, there is no simple or instant solution. Stopping gendercide in its tracks and preventing the mass slaying of women will require radical changes — altering families, traditions and attitudes towards women. Cash incentives alone will not resolve the problem of gendercide. Countries need to create, maintain and support the education of girls and women. They need to abolish laws and practices that discriminate against girls and women. They need to properly engage women in the public and political sphere, so they can advocate for themselves. They need to leverage media to change the public’s perception of women to one that values their contributions and potential to solve the world’s most pressing problems — climate change, poverty and inequality, and overpopulation. They need to spearhead liable and result-driven action through police officials, courts, and laws regarding gendercide in all its forms.


Sources Used





Governmental Interventions

March 7th, 2013 by sophiacr 1 comment »

For my final blog, I would like to tell you about government-level initiatives to combat Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in Costa Rica. The National Board for the Protection of the Child (PANI) was established in 1930 to protect children and their mothers. PANI’s most current initiative regarding CSEC is a Facebook game that encourages adolescents to find and file complaints of Facebook pages that have pedophilic content or are used as cyber-bullying sites. So far, the PANI has successfully reported and gotten Facebook to eliminate 16 of these pages [1].

In 1996, the National Commission to Combat the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents (CONACOES) was established under the leadership of PANI. The Law Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents was enacted in 1999. Some decrees within this law include prohibiting individuals identified by the Commission of Sexual Crimes Against Children and Adolescents from entering the country, and regulating Internet cafes. The commission is chaired by the executive president of PANI and comprised by representatives from public institutions such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, the National Institute of Women, and the Costa Rican Tourism Board as well as non-profits such as Alianza Por Tus Derechos and CEPIA (featured in my past two blogs) [2]. Moreover, this commission recently partnered with the National Distance Education University (UNED) to offer a career in Sustainable Tourism, which emphasizes CSEC [3]. Also, migration offices and airports count with banners and flyers, which remind travellers that CSEC is a punishable crime under Costa Rican law.

PANI and CONACOES also work closely with the Paniamor Foundation. Paniamor is a private, non-profit organization that was declared to be of public interest by the Costa Rican government in 1997. The organization’s mission is “to achieve the full respect of the rights of minors in Costa Rica through prevention programing and the formulation of public policy as well as the promotion of institutional practices in favor of these rights” [4]. The organization has three major initiatives focusing on violence prevention, social development/youth empowerment, and advocacy to ensure that laws protecting the human rights of children and adolescents are actually enforced.

[1] http://www.pani.go.cr/

[2] http://www.pani.go.cr/libreria/CONACOES.pdf

[3] http://web.uned.ac.cr/acontecer/index.php/a-diario/sociedad/1193-ardua-labor-espera-al-conacoes-y-la-uned-para-el-siguiente-ano.html

[4] http://paniamor.org/generales/nosotros.html

Final Thoughts About Breastfeeding…

March 7th, 2013 by cbax2014 3 comments »

On February 19th, 2013, Save the Children published a comprehensive, pivotal report on breast feeding: Superfood for Babies: How overcoming barriers to breastfeeding will save children’s lives. This paper could not have come at a better time as I thought about what I wanted to talk about for my last post on the topic of breastfeeding. Although I have only scraped the surface of obstacles and intervention tools surrounding breastfeeding, I hope that in the last eight weeks, I have sparked your interest about this critical health issue and that you are curious to learn more. I recommend that everyone read Save the Children’s report in order to gain a much better understanding of the history of breast feeding prevalence and acceptance, multiple obstacles to breastfeeding, and existing government policies and intervention tools. Through my blog project on breastfeeding, I have come to realize just how important an issue it is as it affects not only the mother but also the infant.

Researchers for Save the Children investigated attitudes, policies, and the prevalence of breastfeeding in 44 countries in the world, the majority of them being in the developing world. Although much of the report covers details that I have mentioned in previous blog posts, the report also discusses at length a key factor that hinders the rate of women breastfeeding: Community and Cultural Practices.[i] In many countries, women do not have the power to decide on their own whether they will or will not breastfeed and for how long. For instance, a survey in Pakistan found that only “44% of mothers considered themselves the prime decision-maker over how their children were fed. Instead it is often husbands or mothers-in-law who decide.”[ii] Moreover, Save the Children interviewed fathers in Kenya and they reported that they “did not believe that exclusive breastfeeding for six months was feasible, owing to women having multiple responsibilities that require separation from their infants.”[iii] Thus, one main obstacle that women face is due to the very fact that women in some countries have so little power over their own bodies and behaviors.

Through blogging on breastfeeding, I have begun to better understand just how intersected so many health problems that women face really are. For instance, health issues that we have discussed in class, such as the HIV/AIDs epidemic, the lack of nurse care when women give birth and the dangers of childbirth, infanticide, and the dominance of husbands in marriages, all relate to breastfeeding and impact the health of female infants and mothers worldwide. Throughout my blog project, I have highlighted a few particularly creative intervention programs aimed at increasing the rate that women breastfeed. My hope is that NGOs and grassroots organizations continue to identify ways to help women breastfeed and do not stop until all women throughout the world have the education and the power to decide to breastfeed.







[i] (http://www.savethechildren.org/atf/cf/%7B9def2ebe-10ae-432c-9bd0-df91d2eba74a%7D/SUPERFOOD%20FOR%20BABIES%20ASIA%20LOW%20RES%282%29.PDF)

[ii] ibid.


Playing to Grow

March 7th, 2013 by crennels 2 comments »

An intervention called “Playing to Grow” addressed children’s mental health in Guatemala. In the 1980’s, state violence and guerilla warfare created millions of Guatemalan refugees. Many fled to Mexico, where they settled into refugee camps. It is estimated that in total, there might be a million Guatemalan refugees (1). The following intervention addresses the mental health of children who experienced or were born into this situation and who lived as refugees.

Also known as “Technicas Creativas/Creative Techniques”, the Learning to Grow program had a twofold purpose. First, the program provided children with creative outlets through which to express their feelings about witnessed violence or difficult situations. Secondly, and equally importantly, the program gave children the chance to play with others and to act spontaneously and in a carefree way– behavior not always possible for these children. The program’s overall goal was to help “children to make sense of their chaotic environment and begin to recover form the trauma and loss produced by violence.”

The “creative techniques” of this intervention were led by community schoolteachers who had been instructed in this role. Activities included arts activities creative storytelling, and dramatic play. These activities were tied in with the violence the children experienced, and with a sense of emerging hope for the future. In the drawing sessions, many children drew scenes featuring helicopters and soldiers. During dramatic storytelling, they told stories of war. In their dramatic play, children were encouraged to pretend to be at a Guatemalan market. Because of war, many children only briefly or never experienced these markets; the drama sessions allowed them to either reconnect with good memories about their society or to imagine more positive times. These creative activities allowed children to express themselves in a way that comes naturally to children, allowing them to share as much as they are comfortable in a way that is serious than simply facilitated discussion.

The program kept the tone light to fit the participants, who were between 7 and 15 years old.  “Playing to Grow” sessions began with lighthearted games to facilitate a comfortable relationship between teachers and children. Researchers perceived the program to be very successful in giving children a way to express their feelings with peers in a comfortable setting, and to have some well-deserved fun at the same time.

This program interests me because it seems like a creative way to address children’s mental health, and I think it is well targeted to its age group. It is important to remember that no matter what a child has been through, he or she is still a child and wants, above all, to have fun. The warm-up games, as well as the lighthearted tone of the workshop sessions, appeals to me. The program also includes elements of physical activity, providing another healthy outlet for the children. I also like the fact that researchers tried to integrate the program into the community, so that the community has ownership and pride in the program. Researchers instructed teachers in games and activities to lead, all of which were based in psychosocial research.

Researchers mention one drawback to “technicas creativas” for Guatemalan refugees. Because of a limited timeframe, they were not able to integrate the community as fully as they wanted. In particular, they did not have time to completely understand the local mindset towards mental illness. As I have learned, perceptions of mental illness vary enormously from population to population, so it seems incredibly important for interventionists to ascertain a local attitude. The researchers admit that “In this case, two distinct Mayan Indian groups whose languages have no direct translation of the term mental health were involved” (p. 354). Given the circumstances of their refuge, parents did express concern for their children’s emotional state– which could be thought of as mental health. It would have been optimal, however, for the researchers to spend more time in dialogue with and contemplation about the community perception of mental health. This would also help them to better communicate the project to parents; why exactly are their children painting and storytelling, and how will this help them to feel better about what they have all experienced?

I don’t think that the importance of being in touch with local understanding of children’s mental health can be overstated. Assuming that future efforts include time to explore communities’ perceptions of mental health, however, I think that a creative intervention like this one could really help children with traumatic pasts. Already, the program has been adopted in Michigan for the children of migrant farm workers. I will be interested to see if programs such as this one become more widely adopted to facilitate better mental health for children.




Miller, Kenneth E., Billings, Deborah L. “Playing to Grow: A Primary Mental Health Intervention with Guatemalan Refugee Children.” The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 64(3), July 1994, p. 346-356.