Friday, 28 December 2012

The girls of Sierra Leone - Marriage as a way out of poverty, and the implications of poor Healthcare

Has Sierra Leone really recovered from civil war?

After 11 years of civil war within Sierra Leone order has been restored. Hundreds took refuge in Kroo Bay to escape the massacres and other war crimes being committed to only find themselves in an environment that is a far cry from ideal.

However is it really the case that order has been restored? After such horrific ordeals, in particular the ‘hellish cycle of rape, sexual assault, and mutilation’ of women and girls...” (1) does this represent a reoccurring attitude towards women/girls in general within Sierra Leone, if so what is the ongoing consequences of this?

Like many countries that have been awash in civil war it takes a long time to heal and to recover, not just economically but also socially. Sierra Leone is a typical example of this as when civil war broke out refugees were forced to flee, resulting in a slum area created from the rubbish tip in Kroo bay.

Healthcare in Sierra Leone

For a refugee living here in the present day, this is but the tip of their problems as Malaria, Pneumonia, Cholera and infections are rife amongst the inhabitants of this Shanti town. Many inhabitants are not able to get basic health care as they can’t afford to pay for the treatment so the health clinic is ineffective. (2) This is turn means that most of the people here will die by the age of 35, leaving behind vulnerable children. This would normally be a situation that would be challenging for any country. For Sierra Leona it’s a greater challenge still as they have limited resources resulting in a country where basic social welfare can’t be met.
This is a pressing matter as the cycle that follows is truly horrific.

When a child is left without parents they quickly find themselves in a dire situation. The basic need of food is now their main concern and without money (or a way to make money) they are without doubt in great need. Boys tend to mine Kroos stretches of water for copper cable which they sell on to recyclers (3) this “work” is deemed too dangerous for girls. For girls to survive it is much harder and it seems that due to attitudes toward them they are in much more dangerous territory! 

Marriage at a young age as a way out of poverty - Gender, Marriage and Healthcare in Sierra Leone

Juliet who is now 14 explains- she had lost both her parents and she was very frightened as they had no money for food, however “..almost straight away (once her parents had died) men came.” Although it is acknowledged that she was not physically forced Juliet states that “She didn’t want to lie down with him (she was 12 at this time) she did it because she knew he would feed her.” (4) The lack of money for basic needs such as food or clothes drives girls towards transactional sex. (5)

This is sadly not a solitary occurrence but one that is a continuous problem as many males tend to use the girls lack of money for food to their advantage. This in itself is a shocking situation as Sierra Leona is meant to be part of the E.U where children are meant to be protected against such abuse. 

Many Girls in Sierra Leona have their first pregnancy between the ages of 12-14 years old. (6) This in itself is a problem as these girls are often suffering from malnutrition so their pelvic bones have been stunted. This, as well as the traditional Female genital mutilation, causes further complications in childbirth and increases the chances of Fistula. 

Sadly Fistula can be prevented although the chances are much higher due to circumstances outlined above, despite this though due to the girls immature bodies and also the combined circumstance of “....lack of proper training, leading to gross incompetence” (7) as although there is free healthcare since 2010 as little as 137 trained midwives practice and there are only 16 emergency obstetric facilities.(8) This healthcare service is simply inadequate for the demand and many girls are left in the care of untrained women.

It’s believed that as many as 1 in 8 women in Sierra Leona suffer from Obstetric Fistula. (9)
Obsteric Fistula is a condition which occurs from an obstructed labour that is left unrelieved and untreated. (10) It results in the girl being permanently incontinence of urine (vesicovaginal fistula) and/or faeces (rectovaginal fistula)(11) Now due to their inability to have more children and their terrible odour many girls hide due to the stigma attached to this condition. (12) 

They are in turn ostracized by their community as in Sierra Leona it is perceived that “..If men don’t want you, you are nothing.” (13) Also the terrible stench that results from this condition results in people staying away and there is no way that the girls can combat this due to the constant stream of urine/faeces.
This condition is not only a terrible physical blow but also an emotional one, as it strips the woman of the only dignity that she has left. There is only one facility in Sierra Leona that provides Fistula repairs which is funded by the British charity Freedom. This in itself provides much needed care and rehabilitation, despite this though what happens when this person returns to her community? 

Still the downward spiral continues, as Kadiatu states “my only means of survival is to hawk fruits in the market and rely on favours from men who promise love...” (14)

In retrospect to be able to combat this issue there is so much more needed than just providing adequate medical facilities, medical training and social care. Though it is accepted that these facilities would ease the suffering of many, it would simply address the symptoms rather than the root cause. 

The people in Sierra Leona, in particular the women need changes in perceptions and attitudes. For instance “there is such importance given to girls marrying as virgins that the age of marriage often coincides with the first occurrence of female menstruation”. (15) This in turn leads to consummation of the marriage and in a country where there is little sex education or indeed birth control she will quickly fall pregnant.

To combat this there needs to be access to sex education and to birth control, which will in turn address the issues of young girls becoming pregnant (often a result from transactional sex.) The transactional sex needs to be addressed and measures taken, such as better social care provided for orphans who are prone to this coercion.

Men who are guilty of transactional sex should also be lawfully convicted of this crime, especially as the E.U states that child abuse-“ Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.” (16) This would also address the situation as many women who suffer from Fistula are underage girls, the description of underage would apply to many girls who have suffered with Fistula as the consensual age is 16 years old.

Much more needs to be done here to protect such vulnerable girls who due to attitudes, perceptions and economic situation have fallen prey to such circumstances that they can’t seem to escape.
This is why it’s so important that not only the symptoms are addressed but the root cause of the suffering. Behaviours must change for communities to recover if there is to be any hope for the present generation in Sierra Leone.

  1. The Sunday Times Magazine, July 08 2012-12-02
  2. The Sunday Times Magazine, July 08 2012-12-02
  3. The Sunday Times Magazine, July 08 2012-12-02
  4. The Sunday Times Magazine, July 08 2012-12-02
  7. The Sunday Times Magazine, July 08 2012-12-02
  8. The Sunday Times Magazine, July 08 2012-12-02
  9. Children Act 1989

Friday, 21 December 2012

What is an NGO?

The term NGO or Non-Governmental Organisation did not exist before the formation and creation of the United Nations (UN) in 1945.

There is no generally accepted definition of an NGO and the term carries different interpretations in different circumstances. There are however fundamental definitions which match the conditions for recognition by the UN.

1. An NGO is independent of any government control
2. An NGO is not a political party
3. An NGO is non-profit making
4. An NGO cannot be a criminal group
5. An NGO must be non-violent

Nevertheless, these boundaries can sometimes be blurred. Some NGOs may in fact be closely aligned to a political party in the interest of both concerned eg. Some NGOs must work with some governments and states to create an outcome useful to the NGOs aims, possibly in support of other people and situations. Many NGOs generate income from commercial activities, notably consultancy contracts of sales of publications. A small number of NGOs may be associated with violent political protests. An NGO is never constituted as a governmental bureaucracy, a party, a company, a criminal or gorilla group.

Therefore an NGO is defined as an independent association of people which acts together on a continuous basis for a common purpose other than achieving government office making money or illegal activities.

Information for this blog has been taken from the following website:

Friday, 14 December 2012

Language Policy in Rwanda: Exploring the change from French to English

Language as a Cultural Marker

Post-conflict redevelopment and reconciliation interestingly encompasses the influence of language as it becomes and is utilised in conflict as both an ethnic and cultural marker of difference. 

How the history of Rwanda has influenced language

Rwanda has most definitely faced this mechanism of political division through language, visible in the politically constructed ethnic differences created between the Hutu and Tutsi communities in Rwanda. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide nearly one fifth of the population was killed due to their ethnic identity.1

French became heavily bound up in ethnic division of the Hutu and Tutsi people whilst the legacy of Belgian colonialism during the genocide also became so deeply implicated in French spoken in Rwanda. According to a UNESCO report most Tutsi returnees to Rwanda post-conflict were English speaking and most French speakers were Hutu and Tutsi who grew up in Rwanda or Tutsi returnees from the DRC and Burundi.2

Language in Rwanda in the 1990's: The Tri Language Policy

Thus after the Tri-Language Policy in education introduced in the mid-1990s, the country changed its language policy again in 2008, where the Government ordered education to be taught exclusively in English.3 This was introduced in an effort to absorb returning refugees from English-speaking Uganda and Tanzania whilst also turning Rwanda’s back on la Francophonie where Belgian colonial legacies and French military and financial support were implicated in the Rwandan Genocide.4

This current Language policy was therefore introduced as a mechanism to unify the country, supporting economic growth and development post-conflict as well as fostering national, regional (e.g. East African Community) and international political relations with English-speaking countries.5

Language and Development: The transition to an English speaking Education in Rwanda today 

In Rwanda today, the government has replaced French with English as the language of business, diplomacy and scholarship. Kinyarwanda, the language that united Rwanda is still widely spoken and estimates suggest that over 80% of the Rwandan population speak only Kinyarwanda fluently, 5-15% speak French and only 2-5% speak English.6

Issues of child development as well as the poor quality and lack of access to English speaking teachers has lead the country to re-introduce Kinyarwanda as the official school language during a child’s first few years. This is seen by many as a progressive step yet others perceive the constant change of language as more disadvantageous to child development.7

The fact remains that difference is still so highly delicate within the population of Rwanda, it seems amazing to think that in just over a decade since the genocide and civil war any means of differentiation has been eradicated.

English as the National Language of Rwanda: Has it made a difference?

Has this fostering of English as the National Language of Rwanda really made a difference post war? We currently see the UK withdrawing aid to Rwanda amidst allegations that Rwanda has military influence in the DRC.8 The rise of China within Africa also leads us onto another discussion, stepping away from the international prowess of English.

Rwanda has mainly been a development success within the states of Africa. Rwanda - like that of Yugoslavia and the ongoing Syrian conflict - manipulated ethnicity, nationalism, and difference as a tool for war. Today language has been manipulated for peace and this can only be a positive step forwards.

Please take a look at this link to hear a 10-minute interview made in 2008 discussing English in Rwanda:


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Solar Mamas - A great sustainable development Project

The Why Poverty series from the BBC and Open University aired Solar Mamas last week - a great project for development, a great project for the environment and a great project for women!

The programme filmed a project in which women from rural Jordan were invited to attend a 6 month engineering programme in India to teach them how to become solar engineers. Solar Mamas follow the life changing journey of Rafea.  Although Rafea was used to the Bedouin life, she longed to be able to have her own career and to support her children financially. The film highlights both environmental and educational issues. It also addresses gender equality and looks at a positive future for women in rural areas of developing countries.

Solar Mamas is still available on iPlayer for 4 more days. Click here to watch it.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Brief Political and Historical Context of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

A Very brief historical context of the Palestinian Israeli Conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict started as a result of the Balfour Declaration (1917) included in the mandate of Palestine after the First World War, where Britain supported Zionist aspirations for the creation of the state of Israel. 

Post World War 2

In 1947 Great Britain handed responsibility for Palestine to the United Nations. This increased support from the West towards Zionist wishes to create a Jewish state after the Second World War, against the wishes of its Palestinian Arab inhabitants.

Subsequently, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to partition Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the City of Jerusalem.1 Conflict broke out between Zionist forces and Palestinians. Zionist military superiority enabled Jewish forces to gain control of the territory awarded to them in the 1947 partition plan, resulting in Israel’s independence declaration in 1948. Jordan opposed Palestinian self-determination, like the Zionists, and accepted the idea of partition to divide Palestine with Israel. Jordan and neighbouring countries with Israel, such as Egypt, were therefore drawn into the ensuing conflict.


At this time many Palestinian people lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 1948 termed by Palestinians as Nakba ‘catastrophe’ . Currently, according the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, one third of registered Palestinian refugees live in 58 recognised refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza strip and the West Bank and Jerusalem.2 This is the result of Israeli settlement building, illegal under International Law where Palestinians were, and still are, denied rights to land ownership.

1950-Present Day

For this reason, many surrounding states today have an interest in the situation of the conflict. Numerous peace accords have been signed and many wars fought in the Middle East such as the Six Day War of 1968 and more recently the War with Lebanon in 2006, all in the name of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it’s influence across state borders.

Instead of uniting behind the rhetoric of Arab Nationalism - which during the reign of Nasser’s Egypt in the 1950’s united around such frameworks of anti-colonial sentiment and the support of the Palestinian-nation’s right to self-determination - new waves of Islamism and the growing power of Hamas, recognised as a terrorist organisation by both the US and EU, means new power balances with Israel are playing out, questioning its security and national integrity giving Israel a reason to clamp down further on Palestinian wishes.

Coupled with United States support for Israel, and US influence throughout the Middle East in supporting regimes such as Saudi Arabia through such means as oil and arms hinders the advancement of peace in the region. This is also further exacerbated by US - Iranian relations that still remain difficult. Thus it serves the US to maintain support of Israel as a counter measure against Iranian power in the Middle East.

The Jewish Lobby in the United States still holds great influence in discussions pertaining to Israel and Palestine, hindering negotiation within the International Community in relation to the Middle East and the Palestinian question. It must not be forgotten however that Hamas is also recognised as a terrorist organisation within the International Community, also posing serious problems for negotiation.


The Arab Spring and the Rise of Islamism

What is the Arab Spring?

The Arab Spring is a term used to describe the wave of revolutions, demonstrations and uprisings that took place throughout the Middle East since December 2010. The Arab Springs started through the self-immolation of a Tunisian man who was protesting against the impoverished conditions of Tunisian society. This symbolic act spiralled uprisings in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Syria where rulers and their regimes were overthrown and have now been replaced by political Islamist groups such as President Morsi in Egypt, where currently uprising are again taking place against the new regime’s constitutional changes.

The Arab Spring and Nationalism

The extent to which the ‘Arab Spring’ spread throughout the Middle East as well as the discontent of the ‘Arab Street’ is astonishing. Here, the recognisable power of nationalism and religious identity cannot be dismissed and the use of ‘democracy’ as mechanism for politics is also apparent.

The Muslim Brotherhood

Today in many countries such as Egypt and Tunisia Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood is now the dominant political force advocating change and democracy, filling the political void left by the Arab Springs. The Muslim Brotherhood visible in Egypt and Tunisia, however ‘democratic’ it may seem, is now implementing contradicting legislation that curtails concepts of Human and Rights and Freedoms, whilst supporting Hamas in Palestine.

Nevertheless Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, through his Muslim Brotherhood connections is seen as holding close ties to Hamas in the Gaza. Thus Morsi and the International Community still hold power for diplomatic action in this continued conflict, as the recent Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian territories illustrates. However many still remain sceptical of Morsi’s agenda.

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Many recognise the gains to be made by Egypt remaining open to Israel and vice versa, because of the strategic geo-politics of the Sinai Peninsular with high rates of human and arms trafficking and the global threat of terrorism in that area. Israel is fearful of rising Salafism and Jihadism in the Palestinian territories, especially the Gaza strip and will use all means to maintain useful Egyptian relations.

It is for this reason that Israel may have decided to strike against Gaza to destabilise the region that little bit further on 14th November, in order to counter Palestinian request for statehood at the UN. But to no avail since Thursday 29th November as the situation of the Palestinian Nation, the number of casualties in the recent conflict and perpetual lack of resources led the world to stand behind the Palestinians and defy Israeli wishes.

Despite this, Israel continues to defy International Law and builds illegal settlements in the West Bank, perpetrating numerous civilian human rights violations in the name of self-defence. Tottering on a cliff that is once more, balancing precariously between terrorism, international pressure and Israeli domination.

If you want to defend me – then please: Don’t send the Israel Defense Forces for us in order to "win." Start thinking about the long term and not just about the next election. Try to negotiate until white smoke comes up through the chimney. Hold out a hand to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Stop with the “pinpoint assassinations” and look into the civilians’ eyes on the other side as well[1] (a resident of the Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in Israel).

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Attack: the best form of Defence? Israel and the Gaza Strip

A series of blogs on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

Over the next few days, we will be releasing a series of 3 blogs on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  These blogs consider reasons behind the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and aim to put the issues into historical and political context.

Is attack really the best form of defence? Israel and the Gaza Strip

On Thursday 29th November, The Palestine Authority was granted UN observer status as "non-member state." The 193 member United Nations General Assembly voted 138 in favor with only nine against and 41 abstentions.1 In retaliation, Holy Land Israel has declared construction of thousands of new illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank,2 as well as withdrawal and withholding of tax needed to pay Palestinian civil servants,3 to the dismay of the International Community

This vote by the General Assembly came after nearly three weeks of continual conflict and diplomatic negotiation between the two nations of Israel and Palestine. This immediate provocation was initiated by Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip on November 14th killing Ahmed al-Jabari the operational commander of the Izz ad-Din al Qassam Brigades of Hamas’s military wing.4

Hamas (the ruling Islamist party of Gaza, supported by Iran with links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizbollah in Lebanon) and other militant groups within the Gaza Strip acted against Israel, provoking an immediate and violent conflict that killed at least 158 Palestinians and six Israelis.5 Worries of escalation and the close proximity of the Syrian conflict meant that the global and regional community had to act; and in this instance act quickly. Finally on Wednesday 21st November a ceasefire was brokered in Egypt between Hamas and Israel after eight days of fighting and increased international pressure and worry that this conflict would escalate.

The Middle East region, especially the area of Israel and the Palestinian territories, has been in constant conflict since colonial rule in the 1800-1900s. The recent Arab Spring uprisings from 2010 until today highlight the volatility of the whole region and questions once more whether the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will ever become successful because of increased power of Islamism within the region and the existential security threats posed to Israel. 

Want to see photos of Israel? Check out this amazing sunset Jerusalem.

The next blog will consider the historical context of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.







Saturday, 1 December 2012

Getting into an International Development Career

Do you want a career in International Development?

Careers in International Development are difficult to get into, especially if your degree is not in a related sector.  Due to the high number of people wanting to work in this field, the international development sector is extremely competitive. We have put together some basic tips on how to enter the international development sector.

Why do you want to go into an International Development career? 

Firstly, think about why you want to go into this line of work. People sometimes go into international development for the wrong (and often selfish) reasons. If you want to be seen to be a 'do-gooder', this may not be the career for you! Often, in international development, you have to make tough decisions that don't always present you in a positive light. But you need to make decisions based on political, cultural, economic and social factors. You know that sometimes decisions made won't benefit everyone, but may be the best in the longrun. You also have to be prepared to work within governmental or NGO's guidelines.  If you want to see things in the bigger picture and take on challenging goals in new environments, this career may be for you!

Develop a Long Term Mindset

Move from the short term to the long term mind-set - it is important to see the bigger picture of development including political and economic constraints. You will need to show that you look at long term solutions such as working with organisations and governments, rather than just giving handouts.You will develop a long-term mindset through further study and experience outlined below.

Postgraduate Study

Unfortunately, an undergraduate degree is just not enough these days, especially with the amount of competition to go into the international development sector. There are many MA degrees out there that can help you to move into the international development field. Some of the best International Relations courses that we have found at Leeds University. Manchester University have some highly regarded courses, such as the MA in South Asian Studies.  There are also many excellent Postgraduate Courses at SOAS relating to International development, as well as country specific courses and language courses.


Being interested is not enough in the field of International Development. If you are serious about going into this sector, you should consider volunteering with an NGO, social enterprise or government agency.

Work in a Developing Country

Demonstrate that you have worked in a developing country – Do you have the skills to work in international development long term? You can only really show this if you have completed an international development project abroad. There are many popular organisations out there that facilitate programmes and projects in developing countries. Kigali Crafts provides some great opportunities in Rwanda. We also recommend GVN for worldwide opportunities.  There are also some great opportunities with ICS on the Restless Development projects suitable for young people wanting to work in a developing country.

Learn a language

One language is often not enough! The UN, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID, as well as many large companies and NGO’s usually require English, another European language (such as French or Spanish) and an international language related to your area (Such as Hindi or Swahili).

Whats your story?

Are you looking to go into an international development career?  Or maybe you work in the sector and want to share with us how you got into this career?  We want to hear your story, so do comment on our blog.