Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Free Eritrea

The one thing I hate more in the world outside of standing in a long Starbucks line on a Monday morning is INJUSTICE, especially when it’s happening in my beloved Eritrea. Anyone who knows me can tell you I am a proud Eritrean, however, lately I find myself praying for my country. To me Eritrea is in a state of despair.

Ten years ago, President Isaias Afewerki  demanded the arrest of 11 high government officials after finding information criticizing his leadership. He then went on to arrest 10 journalists who published  letters about this policies and closed all independent newspapers in Eritrea. The Human Rights Watch reported:

“The 20 men and one woman have never been seen again by anyone outside the penal system, including their families, lawyers, or prison monitoring groups. They have never been afforded a hearing; rather, all 21 were incarcerated in secret detention facilities in solitary confinement. According to former guards whose reports Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm, 10 of the 21 have died in prison and the remaining 11 are physically or mentally incapacitated and emaciated.”

Although these 21 are the most internationally known victims, there are thousands of others who have been denied basic rights. Most rights are denied of Eritrean’s because they are suspected of not fully supporting the regime and/or have attempted to flee out of Eritrea.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information sent out a press release yesterday stating:

“The Sudanese authorities are increasingly deporting Eritreans to their country without allowing them to claim asylum, Human Rights Watch said today. On October 17, 2011, Sudan handed over 300 Eritreans to the Eritrean military without screening them for refugee status, drawing public condemnation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).”

On October 24, Reporters Without Boarders reported their concern to Sudanese authorities when Eritrean journalist Jamal Osman Hamad got arrested in Khartoum.

“Hamad’s arrest took place less than a week after an official visit to Sudan by Isaias  when he and his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir inaugurated a new road linking their two countries in the Sudanese town of Kassala. Reporters Without Borders believes the criticism of the Sudanese authorities’ attitude by the UNHCR is well founded. This event unfortunately demonstrates that the U.N. body is not in a position to guarantee the safety of those who have fled persecution by the Asmara government. We therefore ask the UNHCR to appeal to third countries to grant visas urgently to Eritrean human rights campaigners who have taken refuge in Sudan,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard.

On September 10, 2011 which marked the 10th anniversary since the arrest of the 20 political officials, Reporters Without Borders along with various journalists and all privately-owned print media launched an international publicity campaign about Eritrea. The campaign also has an updated list of journalists detained in Eritrea.

Below is a clip of a ‘Free Eritrea democracy speech at San Francisco City Hall’ on April 19.


The Last Cut

Okay ladies, be prepared to cross your legs &  clench those muscles because no matter how you look at it, there is no way I can sugar-coat ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.’

In 2010, I went to Ethiopia to write, film, and produce a documentary addressing the perceptions of female genital mutilation as my thesis project. I also had a chance to partner up with international and local non-government orginzation (NGOs) on their grassroots initiatives which focused on  harmful traditional practices. As I stated before, my journey to Ethiopia reinforced in me an intense realization that there is urgent work to be done.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is practiced in 28 countries across sub-Saharan Africa from Sudan and Somalia in the east, to most of the countries in West Africa. It is also concentrated along the Nile valley from Egypt in the north to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya in the south.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation/cutting as comprising “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.”

During my time in Ethiopia, I learned that the procedures of FGM/C varies, depending on the type of FGM/C, the age of the girl, and the experiences of the person who is doing the circumcision, who I found to be in many cases an old woman. When I interviewed a local Awasa woman who practiced FGM/C on girls for over 40 years she explained:

“After I am done cutting the girl, I often try to pour egg yold or alcohol to stop the bleeding so that the healing can start. I tune-out the cries and screams that always happen when I am cutting the girl because for me, I cut girls to make an income for my family. “

Although I can sit here and go over more graphic details of my varies interviews and the different types of FGM/C, I  want to discus the purpose of the practice and bring attention that FGM still occurs in African countries.

The Concord Times  posted an article yesterday discussing campaign strategies in Sierra Leone linking to FGM.

According to sources, some politicians are presently expending huge resources to promote Female Genital Mutilation FGM in different parts of the country as a campaign strategy to win the hearts of electorates ahead of the upcoming 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.

Whilst doing this, these politicians spread hate messages against anti-FGM activists. They work in close collaboration with people in the society who support the practice of FGM to harass and intimidate those who talk ill about the society.

Even though these unfortunate events are still happening, it’s important that we pass the knowledge we learn and educate one another. Other then curiosity, what brought my attention and research on FGM/C was the Orchid Project, an NGO that focuses on ending FGM/C; and EGLDAM, a local Addis Ababa NGO decided to educating and ending FGM/C within Ethiopia.

From  my research and trip I learned other harmful traditional practices that were happening throughout Africa including: early marriage and dowry; nutritional taboos and practices related to child delivery; breast ironing; and son preference and tradition.  These are more topics and discussions I plan to cover in the near future.

Live Broadcast – Global Forum on Human Trafficking

Online today and tomorrow (October 21st and 22nd) there is a live broadcast of Not for Sale’s Global Forum on Human Trafficking.

via this link – Global Forum On Human Trafficking – Not For Sale: End Human Trafficking and Slavery.

World Attention on Dedieu’s Death & Not on Famine

Seems like the daily buzz all week has been over the French feminist Marie Dedieu.

The French, Kenyan, and Somali governments have been experiencing outrage since the death of Dedieu on October 19, a handicapped French woman who was kidnapped by an armed band of Somalis from her beach front home on the island of Manda off the coast of Kenya. The French Foreign ministry said yesterday

“the contacts through which the French government was seeking to obtain the release of Marie Dedieu, held in Somalia since October 1, have announced her death, but we have not been able to determine the date nor the circumstances.”

According to the French news,  her kidnappers took her without her wheelchair or medications and refused to give her medication that were sent by the French government.

Although this is a sad story, it seems like Dedieu’s death is becoming the media’s obsession when covering the latest news in the Horn of Africa. Maybe this is why we keep forgetting about the famine and the estimated 29,000 deaths of children under age 5  in the last 90 days in southern Somalia according to U.S. officials.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

When Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute was asked the reason behind this year’s Nobel Peace Prize he stated it was a political decision. “We want to point to the role of women… Women suffer in wars and if we are to have peace, we have to have democracy with full rights for women and we also have to have women as peace builders. So this year, it was the year of the women,” he said.

Last night PBS aired “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” a 2008 documentary about Liberia’s women fighting during the civil war to bring peace to their country. Although there is still more work to be done, this is one example of how grassroots activism can transform the history of nations.

Here is the documentary link if you haven’t seen it, very powerful!

Watch Pray the Devil Back To Hell on PBS. See more from Women War and Peace.

“Can’t Get Somalia Out Of My Skin”

Today I attended the Aspen Institute’s round-table discussion on the 7 Billion: Conversations that Matter with a talk entitled “Lessons from the Crisis in Somalia.” With Somalia being the 8th highest birth rate in the world, and the global population expecting to reach the seven billion mark this year, Mary Robinson, Walid Abderlkarim and Geoff Dablko discussed the lessons we can learn from the challenges of Somalia.

“Can’t get Somalia out of my skin,” is what former President of Ireland and chair of the Global Leaders Council, Mary Robinson said upon her return to the troubling famine in Somalia last summer. “Who would of declared in the 21st century famine in Africa would be a black-mark for all of us,” Robinson stated. With the largest refugee camp in Dabaab, Kenya— the horrifying conflict in Somalia has developed an average of 1,500 hungry and tired refugees to pour in daily. In Robinson’s opinion, it’s crucial to link the acute hunger in the Horn of Africa through education and reasonable health care. The sudden urgency of famine is one that needs to be addressed. The problem with Somalia according to Robinson is the lack of proper governance for over 19 years, and since then poverty, health, and women’s issues have been rising.

Walid Abdelkrim, Principal Officer and Team Leader for Somalia and Support to the African Union, United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, emphasized the significance of learning from the past in preventing future crises in Somalia. Abdelkrim believes the root cause of famine is not simply the absence of food, but the people, security, knowledge, and bad governance. “In order for Somalia to move forward, women need to be involved in the relief efforts and gain the responsibility; if this does not happen the cycle will continue,” he stated. “Agricultural reforms, good governance and strengthening of infrastructure and health systems are vital, but they will not stand if women are not given the chance to be central players in trade, pricing, accounting, education and health.”

Geoff Dabelko, Director, Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center voiced his opinion about the need of the international community to be more effective and going beyond just recognizing and implementing strategies, but discussing environmental health and security issues. He stated that the high child and maternal mortality rates in conjunction with a high youth population would make facing this crisis more difficult. Dabelko’s solution to the crisis in Somalia is to start engaging in conversations to achieve peace-building implementation in Somalia. “Peace in Somalia will lead to democratic elections and governance which in turn will aid in the issues of mortality, food security, and health care” Dabelko stated.

The main message from today’s round-table discussion is to keep on enforcing the importance of the famine crisis and implement peace-building strategies; more importantly supporting women’s role in ending the crisis in Somalia.

Saving The Lives Of Women And Child

According to Amnesty International, every 90 seconds a woman dies from complications of childbirth. In a efforts to help fight this issue in developing countries, October 17 was set aside as the global Maternal Health Day.

Today I want to share this clip I came across about a woman named Jessica Langton and her creative video/idea to save the lives of women and children in third world countries.

For more information on the 2015 Millennium Development goals go to