Sunday, October 21, 2012

Taking A Stand…

Sapna and Malala… two teenage girls from India and Pakistan who both took a stand for what they believed in. Sapna said no to an early marriage while Malala refused to cow down to Taliban threats and struggled to gain an education, advocating that girls should have access to education.

How far would you go to make a stand for what you strongly believe in?

“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.” – Malala Yousafzai
When 14-year old Malala from Pakistan was shot by the Taliban for openly advocating education for girls, the world was shocked and in uproar at the barbaric attempt to silence her for fighting for girls’ rights to education.

Living at Swat Valley where the Taliban has at times banned girls from attending school, Malala took to blogging under a pseudonym to tell the world of the plight of girls in her valley and the Taliban's attempt to take control. She has gained media coverage and accepted interviews from local and international press. She has since then been nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize  by Desmond Tutu and won Pakistan's first International Children's Peace Prize. 

Malala’s advocacy almost caused her her life. Though she has started standing up with assistance, she is still unable to talk and only communicates by writing. She continues to slowly recover in a British hospital but she isn’t over the woods yet..she is still physically in critical condition and her life is still in danger from the Taliban who vowed to try killing her again. Extremists continue in their attempt to smear Malala’s name claiming she works for and is in connivance with the United States.  She knew she could be paying a great price for what she is standing up for but she never looked back. She is fighting for what she believes in and her action has only strengthened the resolve on many that girls have a right to an education as anyone else and should not be deprived of it.

“I’ll tell my neighbors that child marriage is against the law and they should educate their children.” – Sapna
In Sapna’s village, teenage girls were expected to be married by the age of eighteen. But Sapna had other plans. She wanted an education. She wanted to work and earn a living…then get married.  So when she heard her parents talking about getting her married off, she drummed up enough courage to tell her parents and grandfather who raised her that she wanted to study first and not get married. Sapna’s lucky. She has a supportive family. They listened. They understood. They supported her decision. Now her village is abuzz. Now other parents would tell her parents and grandfather whenever they would meet them at the village that they too would not get their daughters married before they are eighteen. 

One little girl’s dream to have an education. One little girl who bravely took a stand for what she wanted and believed in, and helped change the outlook of elders in her community.  Now they too would want their daughters to go to school and have an education. They too would not want to marry off their daughters before they’re eighteen.

Two teenage girls Sapna and Malala, who both took a stand to be educated, now they are making a difference in shaping the future of girls in their country…


Malala -
Sapna   -

Sunday, September 23, 2012


It was good news that the SpecialCourt for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague sentenced former Liberian PresidentCharles Taylor to a jail-term of 50 years, the first African President to beprosecuted in an international court. He was convicted of aiding and abettingthe commission of serious crimes in Sierra Leone and planning attacks onvarious towns. He was also accused of assisting theRevolutionary United Front, a rebel group, in the recruitment of child soldiers, rape and sexual slavery. I find this man’s rise to the Presidencyin 1997, such a wonder. Why a man of his past record of atrocities and abuses onhis own people was even elected President of Liberia with 75% of the votes inhis favor is such a wonder. The election was even described as “one of thecleanest” (or should it be a wonder with graft and corruption existing in everycountry). Maybe his campaign slogan "He killed myma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him" was a warning to voters notto vote otherwise. Nevertheless, after so many years, the verdict on his crimeshas come out...guilty.

Though the crimes may bedifferent, I can somehow relate this to the political situation here. Twoformer Presidents ousted, the first one, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, oustedby peaceful people power, for abuses, political oppression, graft andcorruption during his more than 20 years of dictatorship; a second one,Ex-President Joseph Estrada, impeached for plunder, though granted pardon yearslater by the President who replaced him, ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Sheherself is now facing plunder charges.

The late Egyptian PresidentHosni Mubarak resignedafter nearly 30 years of holding power. He was charged with corruption and thekilling of demonstrators. He wenton trial in August 2011 and was convicted to life in prison in June 2012 but died shortly from aheart attack.
The justice process can takelong. Judgment can take years, because gathering evidence and capturing themcan also take years. In Taylor’s case, it took 4 years of hearings before hewas convicted.

It is so true that goodgovernance is so wanting worldwide. History has shown that world leaders couldnot hold on to their conviction and ideals of becoming good leaders. Somewhere,if it hasn’t been their plan all along to enrich and glue themselves in power,the sparkle of power and greed ends up consuming them. Like others blinded byfame and fortune, at some point, they lose track of reality. They crave formore of that sparkle and power, forgetting they have an obligation to give backwhat they have committed to the public that put them where they are.   

Thejudgment on people like Charles Taylor, Hosni Mubarak, and the ousting orforced resignation of other leaders due to political and sex scandals, graftand corruption send a clear message. Heads of state will be held to account fortheir crimes, because *“withleadership, come not just power and authority, but also responsibility andaccountability.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Satyameva Jayate (“Only Truth Prevails”)

I’m writing this article on an Indian tv show called *Satyameva Jayate" because many of the social issues raised are what I personally can relate with. They are the same issues that concern me as a woman and as a responsible citizen who wants to make this world a better and safer place to live in for the children of the future.  They are social ills in society not only in a country like India but even in many other so-called modern countries of this world. The same issues that drove me to do volunteer work for NGOs like Deltawomen, World Pulse and Youth Leader Magazine.

I will veer away from the personalities involved or the motives implied by some critics on the people behind the show. I am an observer from a very distant place connected through technology of the internet. And to me, awareness does make a difference. It can make people question their own morals and move them to action. It can make them change or want change.

The show has so far highlighted sensitive social issues prevailing in India such as female foeticides, child sexual abuse, dowry, medical malpractice, honor killings, physical disabilities, domestic violence, pesticide poisoning and alcoholism.

If there is one sure way to gain media mileage and awareness on these issues, it would be to touch the chords of the viewers’ hearts and this show has done that in the episodes I’ve watched. Wouldn’t you be when you see a mother recounting her horrid experience on female foeticide where she was forcibly made to abort the baby in her womb not three or five times but eight times by her own husband and even female in-laws for the  simple reason that the child’s sex was female? Or when a mother tells her story of how a well-dressed, educated-looking woman spat on her baby with skin disease simply because she found the baby ugly and shameful for the mother to carry her around in public?

Whether the show will move people enough to take action on a bigger scale remains to be seen.  It has undoubtedly created awareness and has moved people to take action and try to do something about these social ills.

What is significant to note is the finding in one of  the surveys that such acts are not just committed by the rural, tribal, poor, or illiterate people, but were in fact also among the educated, even wealthy and professional class in society.  How our simple minds can sometimes easily associate such horrors to the less fortunate because they don’t have enough education or wealth and therefore stereotyped as unable to understand what is acceptable, moral or just, is sad. Nothing could be farther from the truth and this show had revealed that. There are in fact professionals conniving to commit such horrid acts of female foeticide on their own relatives. But what can really be disheartening is when the authorities or experts expected to be help save lives and bring forth justice seem to avoid that responsibility as well. Is it because that they themselves believe the crime is justified?  

What’s important is that the show has helped spread awareness, the stories are not told in whispers and the victims have been emboldened to speak of their plight. Now more people in the world know, and the victims have to somehow be given the justice they deserve and be compensated for their sufferings, and hopefully not exploited for profit.

I’m looking forward to watching an even more sensitive issue tackled in the show...human trafficking. It can indeed be something more dangerous for victims to come out when such activities can be highly organized up to an international level.  

I end this article with a quoted poem on Satyameva Jayate:

Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood.
Through truth the divine path is spread out by which
the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled,
reach where that supreme treasure of Truth resides.”

*  (“Satyameva Jayate” when translated means “Only Truth Prevails” or “Truth Alone Triumphs” a Hindu mantra from the ancient scripture Mundaka Upanishad. The slogan was popularized by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1918 when serving his second of four terms as President of the Indian National Congress. (source: Wikipedia)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Slum Tourism...Ethical, Exploitative or Aid? (via Deltawomen)

(Favela do Metro shantytown in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
(Victor R Caivano/Associated Press Via Passport Blog) 
(Slum Tour signage in Dharavi India)
Slum Slum Tour organizer justifies it by saying travellers come to see the differences from the way they live themselves,” and they “show some good examples of the community.” Another says that “Today poverty tourism is practiced all over the world.” Other organizers say it “raises awareness and brings aid to the destitute of the city.” So is “creating awareness” via slum tours something to be tolerated and accepted because people pay to take pictures of how the slum dwellers live? Would letting it continue eventually help take the slum dwellers away from their impoverished “habitat?” Or would the tour organizers try to “preserve” that habitat and its dwellers to keep making money?

Exploitation was the first thought that came to mind when I read about slum tourism being a phenomenon. People were clearly making profits from the slum tours at the expense of the slum dwellers whose private lives and dire situation are exposed to visitors who want to take pictures of the “realities of life.” Aren’t the media and NGOs already doing that without “collecting payment” for people to be made aware of the slum dwellers’ situation? 

The practice had long been in existence but only came to public scrutiny when the first article on slum tourism was published in the New York Times in March 2008 (NYTimes Weiner, 2009).

Slum tourism isn’t an impromptu act of touring or visiting the slum areas. These are well-organized tours run by profit-making companies or tour agencies complete with websites and tour itineraries of what tourists expect from the tour. These are organizers where most do not donate money back from proceeds into the slum communities they visit.

I wonder if these agencies even bothered to ask the slum residents’ permission to have their private lives exposed for tourism. While some may be in such dire strait as to accept anything including exposure of their private lives for a fee, others suffer the humiliation of having their lives put on display to tourists. Thus, these tours have often been branded as “exploitative, voyeuristic, and imperialistic.” For slum tour operators to justify their trade as “trying to educate tourists about the realities of poverty and are helping to dispel negative stereotypes surrounding slums” is something I personally find pathetic. Though some operators claim to have used tour revenues to build schools or community centers in the slum areas, many get a regular fee from the tours, while the slum residents who the operators benefit from can hardly say that they also regularly benefit from the intrusion on their privacy.  Some operators simply “hope” that the tourists would donate funds to help the residents after seeing the living conditions. The guaranty of getting donations is not absolute. To me, if help you must, then help without taking but give something in return to the community and not simply hope that the tourists would. The community must be involved or the motive becomes subject to criticism and scrutiny.

There are slum tours that focus on cultural or entertainment tours. Cultural tours show how slum residents live their lives and how the slum community functions. Entertainment tours focus on a “safari”-like experience where vehicles take tourists around in open-roof, army-style jeeps or motorcycle ride through the slum areas (source: 

The description being likened to an African safari trip of watching and taking pictures of wild animals from a distance is not hard to miss. It is the focus on poverty and how it is conducted in a safari-like manner as if the slum dwellers’ “habitat” were of wild animals that earned the slum tours wide criticism. The focus on the cultural education for tourists is lost and what is magnified is the profit made by organizers at the slum dwellers’ expense. The “safari experience” offered by tour organizers makes me agree with Wardah Hafidz statement, an activist with the Urban Poor Consortium: “It's not about shame. People should not be exhibited like monkeys in the zoo. What residents get from these tours, in cash or whatever form, only strips them of their dignity and self respect, turning them into mere beggars (source: 'Slum tourism' treads between aid and exploitation’ -

Slum tour organizers and operators however, claim to be corroborating with local NGOs to help slum dwellers benefit from the tours. Many of them say they give back to the communities they visit. Some give money to children’s education centers, children’s projects, schools, in these slum communities. In India, for instance, Reality Tours and Travel in Mumbai set up its own charitable organization, which runs a community centre, kindergarten and cricket program in the slum of Dharavi, according to Chris Way, founder of Reality Tours and Travel.  According to Way’s estimate, “nearly 40 percent of this, or approximately US$23,000, will go back into Dharavi through Reality Gives’ programs -- money the community wouldn’t see otherwise.” The website is complete with an itinerary and cost depending on the type of tour ranging from Rs500 per person to Rs6,800 for five persons. It also shows off the charity organization’s various projects in Dharavi which is part of the tour itinerary.  In Indonesia, each tourist pays 500,000 rupiah ($54) "Jakarta Hidden Tours" to visit, with half of that going to the tour company, and the rest funding doctor visits, microfinance projects or community projects such as school building.

In Brazil, Marcelo Armstrong, who started Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, said his company gives money to a children’s education centre. To further lend credence to the claim that the slum tours are not exploitative, the companies (Reality Tours and Favela Tour) limit picture-taking and only allow tourists to take out their cameras at certain times. (source: The Passport Blog:

But have these slum tours really done good for the community? In India, the number of people living in slums has more than doubled in the past two decades and now exceeds the entire population of Britain, the Indian Government has announced.  The number of people living in slums was projected to rise to 93 million in 2011 or 7.75 percent of the total population, almost double the population of Britain. Census data released in December 2011 by the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) shows that in 2010, about 6% of the population lived in slums in Brazil. It means that 11.4 million of the 190 million people lived in the country areas of irregular occupation and lack of public services or urbanization - called by the IBGE of "subnormal agglomerations"  (

Many governments around the world have attempted and continue to try to solve the problems of slums through relocation and construction of better living conditions and sanitation. Often, this causes displacement and violence when slum areas are cleared and the residents find themselves distanced from their main source of livelihood, schools or clinics.  Despite the offer of a better housing, better sanitation and their own land, the slum residents return to where they can earn money for their day-to-day survival.  (See, for example, Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, South Africa.

That slum tourism exists and is a phenomenon cannot be argued with. These are facts that have to be accepted...and there are people who make money from it. Some maybe there for the intent of also creating awareness but it cannot be discounted that others are there simply for the profit at the expense of the impoverished. What is essential is for governments, NGOs and communities to address any possibility of exploitation and profiteering and be closely involved in ensuring that the slum dwellers do not suffer from intrusion of their private lives from greedy profit-makers without conscience. The community must be involved.

1)  A Trip into the Controversy: A Study of Slum Tourism Travel Motivations

2)  Rappler: 'Slum tourism' treads between aid and exploitation’ -

3)  The Passport Blog:     

4)  Wikipedia:    

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Agent Orange...Turning a Blind Eye?

The Monsanto Corporation, maker of the Agent Orange used during the1961 to 1975 Vietnam War which affected over 2million people, has again been causing a stir lately.

In Argentina, a suit was filed against Monsanto by several Argentinian tobacco farmers who say that the company knowingly poisoned them with herbicides and pesticides that subsequently caused ”devastating birth defects” in their children. The farmers are also suing many big tobacco companies that they said required them to use herbicides and pesticides.

In the US, a coalition of concerned members of America’s agriculture community and over 2,000 farmers and others within the food industry are threatening to take the US government to court to make sure the feds investigate the potential outcome of a new genetically modified crop. Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemicals, another producer of Agent Orange have teamed up in what some described as “a match made in hell.” They are two of the world's leading producers of agro-chemicals and have joined forces to reintroduce the use of the herbicide 2, 4-D, one-half of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange.

Ironic that the Vietnamese government has been recently dealing with Monsanto to bring in genetically modified seeds that could “boost crop yields.” Though Vietnam’s purpose may be strictly agricultural, Monsanto’s Roundup, an herbicide with the active ingredient glyphosate that researchers have said kills human kidney cells, is the same chemical found in Agent Orange. It is said to work by being absorbed into a plant’s leaves and entering the sap system. From there, it works its way down to the roots where it begins to quickly kill the plant. Though Monsanto claims that Roundup is only active in plants, and that it becomes inactive once it touches the soil, Mansanto was convicted in France for false advertising in 2007 for its claims that Roundup was biodegradable and left the soil “clean.”

I suppose memories are short and the Agent Orange aftermath can easily be forgotten by a government whose millions of citizens suffered and are still suffering from it. Or maybe the practical aspect of feeding a growing nation made the decision easier to just forget the past. Whatever, the reason, I know I could not forget what I saw when I visited the War Remnant Museum in Saigon 2 years ago. The “remnants” left a vivid reminder of how the Vietnam War affected millions of innocent people. They were not just war artifacts. They were pictures of the devastating effects of Agent Orange on people who were directly or indirectly exposed to the substance. Disfigured men, women and children, Vietnamese and American, civilians and soldiers alike, some without limbs, with down syndrome, different forms of mental or physical defect, unborn fetus that never would have had the chance to survive with the obvious physical defects they had. It was a horrific experience just to look at them and I had to keep myself from crying and being so emotional. I could not imagine such atrocity. My friend who took me there was probably unaware that walking around at a distance from her made it easier for me because there was no need to talk about what I felt when I saw the pictures.

Visiting the Mái ấm Phan Sinh months later, a Home for the Disabled, showed living proof of the Agent Orange victims. You can imagine what it felt like up close seeing these children, some helplessly lying on the floor making loud moans, their only expression of what may be happiness at seeing visitors. They’ve been abandoned by their families who didn’t want them or couldn’t afford to take care of them.

The Philippines is no exception. It has been dealing with Monsanto for over 30 years and there are records of farmer protests over the use of Monsanto products. In early 2011, the Bureau of Plant Industry approved the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), food crops (including corn, soybean, sugar beet, alfalfa, potato, and cotton) for direct use in food, feed, and processing. 24 of the 29 GMOs approved are owned by Monsanto. The sale in the Philippines of YG2RRC2 which has contents of the Roundup herbicide, started in May 2011. This was supposedly after “rigorous regulated field trials for almost three years” in several locations across the country. I don’t know if that statement should give me a sense of comfort when the use of RoundUp herbicide which “kills weeds but not the biotech corn,” is the same chemical used in Agent Orange.

While one has to acknowledge the need for progress and to provide for the growing population, there is as much responsibility for every government and suppliers like Monsanto and Dow to look out for the people’s welfare and make sure people are protected and not exposed to health and environmental hazards. Transparency, proper information and training on the use and effects of such chemicals are critical in protecting the direct and end-users, and environment as a whole, especially in areas where farmers are not literate enough to read or write and understand the warning contents of chemicals. What’s as important is accountability for the consequences of exposure to these substances.

While scientific development is important, lives are even more important. They (governments and suppliers like Monsanto and Dow) cannot...should not turn a blind eye and say there is no scientific evidence that indicates Agent Orange/Roundup herbicide is not the cause of serious long-term health effects. The Vietnam disaster with living proof of the victims of Agent Orange and the 2007 conviction in France for falsely advertising the effects of the Roundup herbicide support the argument that herbicides can and do have adverse effects. Accountability does not end in the sale of these products alone. Unfortunately, there are always technicalities, legal or otherwise that hinder the truth from coming out.

To this day, the class suit filed by over 200,000 American soldiers and millions of Vietnamese through the VieItnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), has not been resolved. The 4.8 million Vietnamese people exposed to Agent Orange, which resulted in 400,000 people being killed or maimed, at least 150,000 children born with birth defects, and 500,000 children born with birth defects (Wikipedia) still have to get the justice that has been deprived them for so long. . Maybe one day...when moral conscience and justice would rule over profit and personal interests, the victims will get their justice and not just be considered "collateral damage."

Sunday, April 08, 2012


sharing an article I wrote forDeltawomen...


Human trafficking has become innovative over the years. With classified advertising websites like, traffickers were afforded a channel to peddle their “commodities” in the safety of their hideouts while their victims stayed locked in a hotel helplessly waiting for their customer, and the next, and the next, and the next.  So it’s no wonder that earns more than $22 million annually from prostitution ads in the United States, as reported by AIM Group, a media research and consulting company.

You can imagine my shock as I went through several articles on human trafficking and read a 2008 article about “baby farms” or “factories” in Nigeria where babies were “bred” to be eventually sold.
Teenagers with unwanted pregnancies were reportedly lured in illegal or unregistered  maternity clinics or hospitals then locked up until they gave birth. They were then forced to give up their babies for a fee of around 20 000 naira ($170). Some were raped while detained there. There were some who had been staying there for years and allowed themselves to be impregnated to later sell their babies. Dire poverty and need to survive pushed some of these girls to be “breeders.” The babies were sold to buyers from 300 000 and 450 000 naira ($2 500 and $3 800) each. Some were sold to legitimate couples who wanted children. Other babies weren’t as lucky. They were sold as offering in rituals to later be killed.    
In the U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report in 2009, Nigeria was described as a “source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.”  Like other countries where poverty is prevalent, Nigerians were trafficked to destinations outside Africa like Italy, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom (recent news from a high ranking British government official acknowledged the growing problem on human trafficking in the U.K.).It was reported that an increasing number of young girls claiming asylum in the United Kingdom were trafficked. The UNICEF estimated between 50,000 and 70,000 African females trafficked to Italy for prostitution, of whom 70 percent were from Nigeria.

It’s amazing that thousands of these trafficked children reach other countries as unaccompanied minors. I wonder what the immigration people ask the unaccompanied minors or the adults meeting them before they were allowed entry into the country. The children probably didn’t even speak the country’s local language. 

Trafficking has been so organized over the years that criminals can systematically recruit people, often involving relatives or persons already known to the victims. Traffickers resort to deceit with promises of education, training, and pay, only to have all these promises taken away once the victims leave their families.

As I continued to go through more articles, the answers to the common causes of trafficking are all too familiar - victim of war, poverty, gender inequality, lack of information, high demand for cheap labour, or lack of opportunities where they live. 

The victims are clearly denied their basic human rights and become exposed to serious health hazards because of the sex trade they are trapped in. They risk getting inflicted with infectious diseases, tortured into submission, drug and alcohol addictions, depression and other mental health problems as a result of their traumatic experience.  And because some have an illegal status, reported cases and convictions of traffickers either do not prosper, or never get reported at all.

However, the growing international awareness that human trafficking is a global problem crossing borders has moved governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations to take broader and tougher action against human trafficking.

Several agencies and NGOs in Nigeria related to anti-trafficking were organized to address the problem:

  • The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – International (CATW)  which promotes women’s human rights by working internationally in the fight against sexual exploitation
  • The National Council of Women Societies (NCWS)
  • Women Trafficking and Child Labor Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF)
  • National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), a 585-employee agency nationwide with 109 investigators and 27 prosecutors dedicated to anti-trafficking
  • NPF, established in 2005, staffed 22 units in states with the worst trafficking problems
  • The Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) also has anti-trafficking units to monitor illegal entries
  • National Plan of Action (NPA) on Trafficking In Persons, covers research, prevention, prosecution, and protection of victims through collaborative actions with government, law enforcement agencies, the legislature, and NGOs.
Much-needed collaboration across countries was recognized to combat the growing problem.
With this international collaboration among law enforcement agencies in place, there had been more successes in getting a clearer picture of the systematic mobilization of trafficked victims across borders. This aids the enforcement agencies in determining key locations of contact points where trafficked victims are “handed over” (The illustration below shows how human trafficking crosses some borders), and apprehending the culprits.

(Trafficking in Women from Nigeria to Europe)

In closing, it is a known fact that human trafficking is an old trade. It thrives because it’s a lucrative business for people who engage in it regardless of the mental, emotional and physical trauma inflicted on the victims. But with strict imposition of the law, collaborative cooperation of agencies and NGOs across borders, and as importantly, availability of programs to educate and make them self-sufficient enough not to want to venture or send children to unknown places, or programs to rehabilitate and reintegrate victims, we can make this world a better and more secure place to live in.

  1. Babies bred for sale in Nigeria - ENUGU, NIGERIA - Nov 09 2008 09:13

Sunday, April 01, 2012


Naila Farhat, acid attack victim
when she was 13 years old
            Fakhra Yunus (Pakistan), Katie Piper (London), Naziran Bibi (Pakistan), Naila Farhat (Pakistan) Manzoor (Pakistan), Saira Liaqat (Pakistan), Naseera Bibi (Pakistan) *

All these women have one thing in common – they’re all victims of acid attack inflicted by their boyfriend, husband or family…someone they knew.
            I’ve always been quite an emotional person and I can’t for the life of me comprehend how one could concoct in his (or her) sick mind to throw acid on someone who is supposed to be family or loved one. I can understand extreme anger where one may at some point lose control, but it still does not justify the use of violence...and definitely not throwing acid on someone. The scars can permanently disfigure the victim. Though the act does not kill, it does to a certain extent or at some point break the victim’s spirit and will to live, unless the victim gets strong support from people...people who can make them feel that they have to fight for justice and that life despite their tragedy, is still worth living.

            When Fakra Yunus jumped from the 6th floor of her flat in Italy last March 17, 2012, it revived the public uproar on the lack of action by the Pakistani government to prevent acid attacks and other forms of violence against women. Fakra endured more than 3 dozen operations after her husband’s acid attack in 2000…and it was done while her 5-year old son was watching. The attack practically destroyed her face beyond recognition. But it was also her husband’s ex-stepmother who helped her escape to Italy and endure the last 12 years of multiple surgeries to restore the damage done to her. In the end, everything became just too much for her to endure and she took her own life.
This was not the case though for Naila Farhat, also from Pakistan. She was just 13 years old when a man threw acid in her face in 2003 because her parents refused to let him marry her. But she is fighting back and encouraging other victims to do the same. Her words serve as inspiration to many like her: "I encourage other acid attack victims and tell them that they should continue fighting for their rights and should not hesitate to come out of their homes, they should come forward." Her fight is now with the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Victims in Pakistan like Naila Farhat have a big battle to fight. With a culture where violence against women seems acceptable to society, the fight for women’s rights can be quite difficult and even excruciating. And with even the police turning a blind eye due to corruption and social pressure, many victims suffer in silence, in fear…in shame, physically and mentally ruining their lives.
            Acid attacks however, do not just exist in Pakistan. They are also quite common in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bangladesh and India. Incidents have also been reported in London, Brussels (where an attacker was recently convicted for 30 years in prison) and the United States.

The Bangladesh Acid Survivors Foundation reported that an average of 228 acid attacks have occurred each year since 1999. The Acid Survivors Foundation in Islamabad reported that around 150 women are “viciously attacked each year by men who easily obtain acid used in the cotton industry.” The Human Rights Watch reported that in 2002, 750 women were injured in acid attacks in Pakistan. The incidents have gone down since then with many women’s groups and international organizations creating awareness of the problem and helping victims pursue the case against their attackers.
Though the statistics vary from different sources, one thing remains clear. The problem exists and something has to be done about it.

With acid being an easy weapon to buy and use anywhere, there is a strong need to control or regulate its sale as well as impose stronger penalties for those who carry out the attacks. Monetary consideration should never be a means to legally exonerate an attacker. Medical, Legal, and social reintegration programs are critical and should be made available to victims. Only then can they have a chance to rebuild their lives again and become emotionally and mentally secure again, financially and socially independent again.
*Acid attack victims:

Katie Piper (London) - former TV presenter, disfigured by an acid attack by a violent boyfriend
Naila Farhat (Pakistan) - doused with acid in her face in 2003by a man because her parents refused to let him marry her.
Manzoor (Pakistan) - drenched in acid after being beaten to unconsciousness after a fight over doing the dishes
Iram Saeed (Pakistan) – victim of acid attack for rejecting a marriage proposal
Naseera Bibi (Pakistan) – attacked with acid while she was sleeping. She suspects her husband as the attacker
Derri Valarde (Arizona) - approached by an acid-wielding stranger outside her home


1) Acid Survivors Foundation

2) Acid Attacks on the Rise in South Asia(ABC News)
3) International Women's Day 2012: Drawing attention toacid attacks against women worldwide
4) Learning to Smile Again
5) Pakistan Acid Victims Rebuild Ruined Lives

The Adventure Project

If there is one thing that convinced me to support The Adventure Project, it's the fact that their projects help empower people to be self-sufficient and not be dependent on holdouts or donations.

For their water project, of the 186 well mechanics needed to be trained and hired to maintain 1/3 of the broken down wells in poor, rural regions of India, only 12 have so far been hired for 2 sites. The 186 mechanics, once hired, will help 930,000 people to have access to clean water.

Please help raise $550 to hire one mechanic by donating here:

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Friday, January 27, 2012


Whenever I read the phrase “closing the gap” when issues on gender equality are raised, I sometimes can’t help asking “Is it a competition?” It is not. But the constant struggle we women have to put up with, to be recognized for what we truly are worth can be quite frustrating. Women are as capable and can be better in many aspects than men but it is the perception of women being the weaker sex that makes achieving gender equality more difficult and complex.

It affects me that there is a woman who openly admitted that she strangled her female children after they were born and had done it not once, not twice, nor five times but EIGHT times because she wanted a baby boy. I cannot imagine what went on in her mind as she smiled for the camera while being interviewed and pointed to the place where she threw the female babies she strangled to death.

It affects me that gendercide or infanticide can be so common in some areas of the world because of the family’s preference for a specific sex of their children – the male sex.

It affects me that girls in other countries who are half my daughter’s age are sold or married off to pay the family’s debts and end up being child brides or sex slaves.

I can empathize with the feeling of helplessness of a cause-oriented volunteer who goes to houses of pregnant women in a desperate attempt convince the families not to abort the female babies in the mother’s womb. They would openly tell her they want to abort the baby girl; that a baby girl would be costly because they have to pay dowry if she gets married, a custom practiced by many in countries like India but has been illegal for years; that they have heard of the dowry system being stopped since they were kids but nothing has changed; that a baby girl will one day marry to live with her husband and his family and leave with their money or treasure; that a baby boy will carry the family’s name and not the girl. How can one not be so frustrated and feel helpless with these kinds of justifications to abort the female baby?

A major obstacle that slows down the progress of gender equality is the strong cultural belief that females are the weaker sex. As such, they are treated as less deserving of an education and can be traded off¸ bartered or sold like an animal. There are documented stories of families forcing their daughters into early marriages, in-laws forcing their daughters-in-law into prostitution or to abort their female babies. Though there are more women now speaking out and fighting for their rights, the repression and violence on females continue. It is worth noting though that with technology and media exposure, these incidents are brought to the limelight and countries acknowledge the need to address the problem.

Poverty also drives some families to extreme that when financial difficulties force them to decide who should be sent to school, it is usually the females that end up staying home to do the chores, bartered, sold or married off to pay off the family debts. United Nations Statistics Division statistics show that Afghanistan has the lowest rate of educated women at 18%. However, in terms of employment, Muslim or Middle East populations dominated the lowest share of female workers like Qatar with the lowest at 12%, Iraq at 17%, Palestine, Oman and Pakistan at 19%. The statistics are indicators that poverty, religion and culture are factors that can strongly affect gender equality.

Though governments have exerted efforts in addressing gender issues, the role of Non-Government Organizations (NGO) and cause-oriented groups has been critical over the years. They fill in the “lack of attention” given by governments on gender issues. They provide shelter, protection and counselling for abused girls/children, feed children in school to keep them educated and out of the danger of being recruited as child labourers or slaves.

Many of these NGOs and cause-oriented groups have been clamouring for an increased budget for education. Though there has been significant progress in expanding enrolment and increasing years of schooling since 1960, the UNDP 2003 statistics points out that 113 million children of primary school age are still not enrolled in school, 94 percent of whom live in developing countries (UNESCO, 2002).

Educating girls can make a difference in their lives and their families’ lives. Giving them education is like throwing a pebble into the creates a ripple that widens. With education, women become aware of their rights, are able to contribute to the economy as part of the workforce, and can become independent to be able to support themselves and provide for their children’s needs and education – a rippling effect. Education broadens the females’ horizon of opportunities for themselves and their families.

It’s worth mentioning that even in the United States where gender equality and democracy are strongly espoused, the gender gap exists. In 2008, 59.5 percent of all women were in the labour force versus 73.0 percent of all men. Out of 23 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the United States has the seventh largest gender earnings gap. According to the OECD, “the gender wage gap in the United States is 21.6%, well above the OECD average of 18.5%.” (

All these are realities of the gender gap that exists and will continue to exist unless we change the mindset of people on how the female gender should be treated. And clearly, poverty, culture, and religion are major factors that can slow down the progress towards achieving gender equality. BUT education is the one golden opportunity for women that will help create the ripple effect to hasten seal the gap on gender equality.