Posted by: ginalazenby | November 23, 2008

Women of Africa need a voice

Getrude & Naana, voices of African women

Getrude & Naana, voices of African women

Getrude Matshe was over from New Zealand this week promoting her book ‘Born on the Continent – Ubuntu which supports her causes. I met Getrude through the XL Global Entrepreneur community and have connected with her both in London and Wellington. She has a hugely engaging smile and an inspirational story but when she talks about what is happening in her homeland Zimbabwe then you are soon moved to very different less joyful emotions.  She shared the life of a typical African woman who is at the bottom of the food chain: she bears the children, toils in the fields to sow the crops, brings in the harvest,  prepares the food – all on her own without any help – and is the last to eat any leftovers from the food she has given her family. She is physically and psychologically abused, her extended family make decisions about her life, money is rarely wasted on an education for her, and in times of war she is frequently raped. Let me pause there and just reiterate that I am talking about present day. And that is not all. In many parts of Africa there exists a custom called FMG (female genital mutilation), a bizarre practice that makes women more marriageable and in a society where women’s value is totally ignored, getting looked after in a marriage is an absolute must.  It is the duty of every mother to make sure her daughter finds a breadwinner. The practice of removing some or all the genitalia with a knife can start as young as five years old. The cut area is then sewn up sometimes leaving a hole the size of a straw. I am sorry to engage your imagination here but think about the potential infection and discomfort  that results from urination and menstruation.  The area is cut open again for the wedding night.  Read what the WHO says about FGM.

At this same event I met Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Executive Director of a UK-based charity called ‘Forward – Safeguarding Rights & Dignity’. I made many notes about FGM and the work of this charity but quite frankly, I cannot bring myself to write them without feeling upset. How this woman has such a beautiful radiance and joy about her while dealing with these terrible issues so frankly and compassionately, I just don’t know. Change starts with awareness so please take the time to look at the Forward website. Also visit Getrude’s site and buy her book, all proceeds go to her supporting 350 children in a school community in Zimbabwe. Get your head around these statistics: Zimbabwe has 250 million % inflation – transport and food go up in price each hour of the day; there is no food to eat; thousands are dying of cholera because water is no longer treated and there are 1.1 million HIV orphans whose parents have died of Aids. Getrude’s own Auntie lost six of her children and now cares for 10 grandchildren.  Something to think about when we are out Christmas shopping this year.

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