Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Culture of Breastfeeding

Within two days of each other, Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times posted, "The Breastmilk Cure," stating the benefits of breast milk as a cure for childhood malnutrition when used exclusively in the first six months of life, while Worldcrunch brought out, "Spanish mother and baby reunited after breastfeeding row," about a woman living in a social welfare facility in Spain whose child was removed because she was sleeping with and breastfeeding her 15 month-old on-demand. Is it true, 'breast is best,' and if so, for how long? The American Academy of Pediatrics states:

Breast milk alone is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months after birth. For these very young infants, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that water, juice, and other foods are generally unnecessary. Even when babies enjoy discovering new tastes and textures, solid foods should not replace breastfeeding, but merely complement breast milk as the infant's main source of nutrients throughout the first year. Beyond one year, as the variety and volume of solid foods gradually increase, breast milk remains an ideal addition to the child's diet. AAP recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.

So, AAP and WHO recommend at a minimum 6 months, but up to two years for breast feeding your child. Unfortunately, with the introduction of baby formula in the 20th century and the medicalization of maternity at the hands of mainly male physicians, coupled with modern cultural patterns (two wage earners in the family), we've largely turned away from breast feeding as the norm in the West. In addition, as breast milk appears 'watery' and 'thin' compared to formula, to many Western women at least, and as few women today can feed their babies on-demand, round-the-clock, as nature intended - to both satisfy hunger and enable milk production - most women give their babies other foods as well within the first year. But what about more traditional societies, how long do mothers breast feed? How about 2 to 4 years? Would you believe 9 years? And for those engorged breasts when baby is not near, how about asking a friend or family member for relief (and I don't mean another baby!)? For answers to these questions and a fascinating cultural overview at breast feeding in Mongolia, read this excellent post from Peaceful Parenting here.

Nutritional anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler has written extensively on breastfeeding, comparing human growth patterns in infancy and length of breast feeding to other primates. Click here for an interesting bio-cultural look at breast feeding by Dettwyler. Would you believe that feeding to the age of 7 or 9 makes perfect sense given human growth patterns, nutrition and health needs? Now, read the article on the woman in Spain who had her breast fed child removed and consider this the next time you turn away in embarrassment or worse at a woman breast feeding her infant in public: they are not only doing what comes naturally, but what is best for baby.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pakistan's Unlikely Hero of Lost Children: the barber of Larkana

I read a quote the other day by Bengali Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. 
I awoke and saw that life was service. 
I acted and behold, service was joy.”

I saw article in the Guardian on a barber from Pakistan who saves lost children. He lives the poem.

Pakistan's unlikely crime fighter

How has a poor, uneducated man gone from cutting hair to rescuing a legion of lost and kidnapped children? Meet the Barber of Larkana…
  • barber of larkana
    'Hope should never be lost': Anwar Khokhar, the Barber of Larkana. Photograph: Charla Jones for the Guardian

    The gravedigger spotted the bundle lying behind broken gravestones in the old Christian cemetery in Larkana. At first he thought it was a pile of sacks, but when he saw the dogs gathering, he decided someone who could not afford burial rights had dumped a body. Then a teenager poked out her head. Taking in her shaking, skeletal frame, the gravedigger worried that if he didn't do something immediately, he'd soon be digging another hole. He lifted the girl into his arms and stared into her face. The scorching sun burnishes everyone's skin in Pakistan's deep south, and this girl was fair. Her pale complexion hinted at a well-bred family from which she'd run or become separated. Holes ran the length of both ears, suggesting that she had once worn elaborate gold jewellery. Those days were clearly gone, but there was no way to find out why, as the girl was mute.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Inupiat of the Arctic

A Warm Feeling for the Arctic

To many Americans, Wasilla, Alaska, seems like a very distant corner of the national map. For the photographer Bill Hess, 60, it is just the starting point. He has spent about half his life traveling from his home in Wasilla to the far more remote realms of the North Slope Borough, where the Inupiat people live. He pilots his own bush plane and, once on the ground, travels by snowmobile or dog sled. He is home. “Alaska speaks to me as no other place I have ever been,” Mr. Hess said. “I love Alaska with every piece of flesh and spirit that is me. It speaks most strongly in the communities and camps of its native people, for they have ties to the land, sea and animals — and knowledge of the same — that is possessed by no one else. I can feel that when I am with them. When I am not with them, I miss that feeling.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Aboriginal Australians, 'stolen' again

This file photo taken on October 1, 2010 shows Warrmarn-Kija Aborigines performing in Sydney
 A series of recent reports has painted bleak picture of aboriginal communities
The BBC New posted "Australia in 'national crisis' over Aborigine jailings.

Molly, Daisy, and Grace (two sisters and a cousin who are 14, 10, and 8) who are taken from their home and sent to a boarding school thousands of mile away. The girls run away and over several months, walk back to their families through the outback -  all the while evading their captors. the damage done by the Aborigines Act. Between 1910 and 1970 in Australia, 1 in 3 children were removed from Aboriginal families and placed in institutions and foster homes. These children, in most cases, were never to see their families again.

Kimberley range, Western Australia
The Kimberleys are a vast, remote range where Aboriginal communities are "in crisis

For "Australia in 'national' crisis over Aborigine jailings," click here. 
For "Australia's Aboriginal suicide rate sparks concern," click here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Graffiti: vandalism or art?

Art in the Streets, The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Photo by Gregory Bojorquez, Courtesy of MOCA
The Arts Beat section of the New York Times wrote about the cancellation of a graffiti exhibition  at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibit, Art in Streets, is presently on view at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. To the dismay of the LA police and others, the show has caused some impromptu art work to appear on dumpsters and buildings nearby. In LA, the art director Jeffrey Deitch explained that graffiti is "the language of youth culture: the vandalism couldn't be helped," though the museum added security for the neighborhood surrounding their facility and paid for a clean-up.

It is an interesting contrast, this controversy over the cancelled exhibit in New York to the way Brazilian favelas use street art to promote tourism in their slums, create solidarity in the community and keep kids away from crime and drugs (read my posts, Urban Street Art: the Museu de Favela in Brazil and Hello Brazil: favela tourism in the time of the Olympics). Indeed, in Afghanistan, graffiti is a political movement supported by an international artists' group (Urban Art in Kabul). 

In countries of South Asia, it is routine to elaborately paint buses, trucks and cars with social, religious and political imagery. Buildings in Kabul and Brazil are today covered with political posters and advertising slogans. In the US, graffiti in anarchy: it conjures images of gangs and violence, particularly in LA, and spray-painted subway cars in New York.  If graffiti were to be validated with an art show in a major museum in Brooklyn, would new work on city buildings be perceived an act of inspiration or an act of violence (the latter, of course)?  Street art in the cities of the US, Brazil and Afghanistan is criminal, cultural and political, respectively. Different contexts, different realities. That's what we call 'culture.'  

For a look at African American and Chicano street art in LA, check out Wallbangin': graffiti and gangs in LA by anthropologist Susan A. Philips.

The full post of "Brooklyn Museum Cancels Graffiti Show" from Arts Beat is here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thinking of India: portraits from the bustee

Kolkata on my mind today. These 'portraits' are from our photo-shoot in the bustee a few years ago, part of a project for Empower the Children. Each volunteer with HTA LLC was assigned a student or two (six to 12 years-old, roughly) from Prayrona School. We handed over our digital cameras and off the children went (with the volunteers close behind!), photographing everyday life in the slum. They took pictures of cows, goats, dogs, gardens on rooftops, biscuit factories, rickshaws, motorbikes, pet rats, garbage sifters, playgrounds, trains and people cleaning dishes, cooking lunch and washing laundry - all in the streets. They also took lovely photos of their friends, seen here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The UN, human rights and sexual orientation

The UN is looking into classifying violence and discrimination against people based on their gender and sexual orientation as a human rights violation. In the US, the FBI calls this a 'hate crime.' Will the UN study make it possible, someday, to rightly punish perpetrators of hate crimes against people due to their gender or sexual orientation  - in all countries, in all contexts? And will they not only to make an international human rights law, but find a way to uphold the law as well? Let's hope. For more on hate crimes, check out the story of Matthew Shepard in the Tectonic Theater Project's  docu-drama, The Laramie Project.
Today the UN Human Rights Council took action on a resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, expressing grave concern at discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation. 
As a result, it requested the High Commissioner to commission a study to be finalised by December 2011 to document discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law could be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It also decided to convene a panel discussion during the nineteenth session of the Human Rights Council, informed by the facts contained in the study commissioned by the High Commissioner.
The vote result was 23 in favor, 19 against and there were three abstentions.

Full press release (including voting result broken down by country)
Draft resolution (A/HRC/17/L.9/Rev.1)

Photo credit: United Nations Information Service - Geneva

Today the UN Human Rights Council took action on a resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, expressing grave concern at discrimination and violence against individuals based on sexual orientation.  As a result, it requested the High Commissioner to commission a study to be finalised by December 2011 to document discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, in all regions of the world, and how international human rights law could be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also decided to convene a panel discussion during the nineteenth session of the Human Rights Council, informed by the facts contained in the study commissioned by the High Commissioner.

The vote result was 23 in favor, 19 against and there were three abstentions.
Full press release (including voting result broken down by country)
Draft resolution (A/HRC/17/L.9/Rev.1)
Photo credit: United Nations Information Service - Geneva

Saturday, June 18, 2011

UN Recruits Female Police Officers

Female police officers serving in UN peacekeeping operations in Haiti

From the UN News Center. In light of abuses by past abuses towards women by UN Peacekeeping forces (see "The Wistleblower"),  good news.
Global effort leads to increase in female UN police worldwide
16 June 2011 – More and more countries are getting behind a United Nations initiative designed to boost the number of female police serving in peace operations, with women now accounting for just over 10 per cent of the more than 14,000 officers deployed worldwide, a senior official said today. In August 2009 the UN launched the “Global Effort” with the aim of more than doubling the proportion of women comprising UN Police (UNPOL) to 20 per cent by 2014.

The Organization believes that female police greatly increase the effectiveness of UN police components and help build trust with populations and inspire more women to become police officers in the countries where they serve. “Since launching the effort, we have not only increased the overall number of police deployed by more than 3,000 officers but we have also increased the percentage of female officers from less than 7 per cent to just over 10 per cent,” UN Police Adviser Ann-Marie Orler told a news conference at UN Headquarters.

“More and more countries around the world are getting behind this effort,” she added. Currently, the top five contributing countries of female police officers are Nigeria, Bangladesh, Rwanda, India and Ghana. Over the past six months, Ms. Orler has visited some of the most important partners for UN policing, namely Bangladesh, India, Jordan and Pakistan, which together contribute almost 40 per cent of the world body’s force. “I paid a visit to these countries to thank them for their ongoing support and to explain in person the increasingly specialized skills that we seek in police officers and to continue to highlight our need to recruit more female officers,” said Ms. Orler.

UN Police are deployed in 11 peacekeeping operations (led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations) and five special political missions (led by the Department of Political Affairs), including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Somalia and Sudan. They are involved in a range of activities such as training local law enforcement personnel, conducting joint patrols with national police and helping to provide security for local elections. In the special political missions, UN Police are working with national police services to build capacity in law enforcement and to assist with police reform, Ms. Orler noted. “Our aim is to strengthen and make accountable the security sector so that guardians of public order do not exacerbate political tensions.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Malawi: A Lesson in Charity

Malawi stops HIV cash allowance for civil servants

A Malawian woman with HIV/Aids (archive shot)
About 14% of Malawians are HIV-positive
Malawi's government has scrapped extra payments to HIV-infected civil servants, accusing some of them of spending it on prostitutes and beer. The $35 (£21) monthly payment would be replaced with "nutrition food bags", said government official Mary Shaba. This would stop workers from using the money on prostitutes and "further spreading the virus", she added. The scheme was intended to help sick workers improve their diet.

Ms Shaba said the scheme, introduced in 2007, had also been abused by civil servants who falsely claimed that they had HIV so that they could cash in on the allowance. Nearly 40,000 civil servants, out of about 170,000, claimed the allowance. The average monthly salary in Malawi's civil service is $100. Around 14% of the country's population is HIV-positive. The illness has cut life expectancy in the southern African nation to 36. The move comes as the UN hosts a summit to mark the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosis of Aids.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's it like to be a sponsored child?

Children who receive sponsorship from the charity Compassion
Sponsoring a child in the developing world is a popular form of charitable giving. But what do the children themselves make of the system?
"I wrote and thanked them for taking care of me up to this day” - Priscilla
When Priscilla was a child, a donor many thousands of miles from her Ghanaian village helped pay for her schooling. For years she exchanged letters with her British benefactor. Now she is 20, the charity has stopped the sponsorship and the relationship. "Last year I wrote to them saying goodbye and thanked them for taking care of me up to this day," says Priscilla, an accountancy student. "When I was writing, I was full of tears. Tears were coming from my eyes." Sponsor-a-child arrangements throw up emotional highs and lows for the children, something many donors are unaware of.
World Vision One Life exhibition
Charities like World Vision and Plan International use sponsor-a-child models to raise funds
Priscilla's sponsorship was arranged through World Vision. The charity has boosted the fortunes of Dangme West, which used to be one of the most deprived areas in greater Accra, the capital of Ghana.
Youngsters such as Priscilla are sponsored for up to 15 years. They often receive letters and gifts, so many feel a close bond with their sponsor. Augustina, 14, who hopes to become a doctor, says her sponsor has sent her many things - shoes, bags, crayons, books. She hopes her sponsor loves her, and wants to visit her in England. Some even want their sponsors' e-mail addresses, so they can carry on their correspondence into adulthood. But charities do not encourage this, for fear of dependency. It's an arrangement that can bring disappointment, as well as money. Abraham tells me he hasn't heard from his sponsor for eight years, and he doesn't know why.

Get the conversation started: sexuality, safety and social class via a "Slutwalk"

This week, the New York Times posted, Ready or Not, New Delhi Gets a Woman's Street Protest and last week The Telegraph wrote a piece, New Delhi to Witness the 'Slutwalk'parade in India. They began in Toronto (see video) and protest the way women are judged on their sexuality. In "Slutwalk" parades, participants are encouraged to dress as they please, without restriction or fear, as, if you will, 'sluts,' wearing thongs, short skirts, fish net stockings and the like. These protesters feel responsibility for violent crimes against women such as rape and assault should be solely on the perpetrators, not on the victim and their clothing. According to the Telegraph article below, the movement went viral, with marches in Amsterdam; São Paulo, Brazil; Seattle, Sydney, Australia; perhaps now even in New Delhi, India.

In India, perpetrators of violence against women are rarely held accountable to the degree, if at all, the law demands. Problems of patriarchy and women's rights in India and other countries of South Asia have been a feature of other blogs here (Unwanted Girls in India, Tradition vs. Justice in Bangladesh, Social Injustice: gender violence in Asia to name a few). Will dressing as sluts and parading through Delhi's streets help or hinder women's call for equal rights in society and under the law?

New Delhi to witness ‘Slutwalk’ parade

Women’s rights campaigners will launch a ‘Slutwalk’ parade in ‘booty shorts’ and other provocative clothes in protest at high levels of sexual harassment in India’s ‘rape capital’ New Delhi.

Women?s rights campaigners will launch a ?Slutwalk? parade in ?booty shorts? and other provocative clothes in protest at high levels of sexual harassment in India?s ?rape capital? New Delhi.
'Slutwalks' have taken place around the world including Galsgow, Scotland Photo: GETTY
Their protest is in response to the growing number of rapes and sexual assaults in the Indian capital, where harassment and physical attacks are often dismissed as ‘eve-teasing.’The organizers said their march of scantily clad women is aimed at provoking a debate in a city where many believe under-dressed women are ‘asking for it.’ Indian commentators have criticised the planned march as a futile drama mounted by wealthy and heavily protected middle-class girls who are unlikely to suffer sexual abuse.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Afghan woman educates thousands

Sensible and realistic, Sakena Yacoobi educates 350,000 Afghan women and children a year.
Pragmatic Afghan woman educates thousands
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Sakena Yacoobi is a builder of schools and clinics who says she hopes that educating women will help bring peace to Afghanistan. But she is no idealist. The 61-year-old Afghan woman first started refugee schools in Pakistan, then underground girls schools in Afghanistan under the Taliban. After that regime's 2001 ouster, she opened scores of women's centers teaching basic reading, math, sewing and health skills. Her programs now serve about 350,000 women and children a year.

While she has lofty goals, she says her success has come from discipline and realism. Yacoobi doesn't run programs in the more dangerous parts of Afghanistan because she won't be able to get teachers to stay. She doesn't work with communities who won't embrace her approach because without their support a school will fail. And she orders all women and girls involved in her programs to wear head-covering scarves to show that they are observant Muslims. As a result, her Afghan Institute of Learning, or AIL, has grown from a few makeshift schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the mid-1990s to an organization running schools, women's learning centers, day care centers and clinics across seven of the 34 Afghan provinces. Yacoobi says it costs her about $1.5 million a year. "I challenge anybody if they can run this same program at $3 million. They could not. Because every penny that I spend, I really watch where it goes, how it goes," Yacoobi says.

Many of her former students are now professional Afghan women working in offices, as teachers and in the government. Afghanistan's only female provincial governor attended one of Yacoobi's schools, and at least one of her graduates works in the president's office. Yacoobi represents a refreshing pragmatism and drive in a region where efforts to build rural schools and increase access to education have been clouded by accusations of mismanagement and fraud against the man best-known for such efforts — Greg Mortenson, the author of "Three Cups of Tea." Mortenson's accusers charge that he lied about how he became involved in building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that he used money donated to his charity for personal reasons and that he has not built nearly the number of schools he claimed and has left others abandoned without support or teachers. The allegations have prompted discussions throughout the aid community about how to make sure money is well spent and that projects don't languish.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Designer's Choice: Transsexual Models

Recently, the Huffington Post and many other news outlets  made a huge deal of Lea T., a transsexual model, posing in a swim suit for Blue Man Swimwear in Brazil. Lea T. has been interviewed on Oprah and featured in People Magazine's style news. Currently undergoing hormone treatment in advance of her sex reassignment surgery, Lea T. is the 'muse' of Givenchy's creative director, Riccardo Tisci.  Well, Lea T. admirers, what about Serbia/Australian male model Andrej Pejic? He was voted #98 in laddy magazine FHM's top 100 sexist women, that's right behind Bar Rafaeli at #97 and in front of Lady Gaga, #99! The 19 year-old first appeared on the runway in Jean Paul Gaulthier's Spring show in October, 2010 and was a smash this Spring in London. While still 'all boy,' he says he would consider an 'alteration' if Victoria Secret came calling. Then there is Nina Poon, a transsexual featured here in a Kenneth Cole advertisement.

Well, this is fashion, high-end fashion at that. A niche, elite, commercial enterprise. One must have something (or someone) new to keep the brand fresh. My question is, why is this so newsworthy? Is it because a transsexual is seen as beautiful and desirable by straight people? Many communities have accepted, in fact do accept, transgendered people, or individuals in alternative or third gender roles (see my posts, Third Gender Legalized in Pakistan and Third Gender Citizens Recognized in Nepal) but often in very specific social or occupational roles. The hijras in India, xanith's in Oman, kathoey's in Thailand, sworn virgins in the Balkans (you can find information in Serena Nanda's Gender Diversity, cross cultural variations) and many more. In fact, in Thailand there are an estimated 500,000 male transsexuals and the annual Miss Tiffany Beauty Pageant just crowned its 14th 'ladyboy' winner. Is highlighting transsexual models in fashion a real step forward for transsexual people or a media/ratings/sales ploy by corporate brand names? Or does it even matter as long as the conversation is started?

Urban Art in Kabul

Last week, I wrote about the Museu de Favela and urban street art in Brazil. Using dance, painting and music, many artists in the slums of Brazil's major cities are trying to turn kids away from drugs and violence towards a more positive expression of their urban culture. In addition, I wrote how other favela dwellers are capitalizing on the unique cultural aspects of their poor community (including 'street art' painted on the side of their houses) to entice tourists in the wake of the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Now, as you can see here in, Kabul street artists put the writing on the walls, young Afghan artists, encouraged by a group of international 'graffiti guerrillas' known as Combat Communications (you can find them on Facebook), are spreading messages and slogans using spray paint and funky script. Contemporary graffiti artists as painters of 'raw art,' as political activists, anarchists and simply 'others' have been studied by anthropologists and sociologists, covered by art and news journals and commercially mainstreamed by galleries and museums in the art world (see Banksy). Adding to that, via graffiti, we now have Afghan 'outsiders' getting 'in'(to the world scene). Check it out.

Kabul's graffiti guerrillas put the writing on the walls

Subtle spraycan art attack on public spaces in capital is trying to prod Afghans into asking questions
    Kabul grafitti artists
    Afghan artists, encouraged by an anonymous international group, are covertly taking to the streets of the capital. Photograph: Omar Sobhani /Reuters
    Some time this week Qassem will slip through the dark streets of a sleeping city. Well before the morning traffic starts to build up, the 24-year-old office worker will be home. But several street signs will have been subtly altered, roads will have slogans painted across them and a prominent wall will bear in large letters the words – "Why are we here?" Qassem is one of a small band of graffiti artists in the Afghan capital who, encouraged by a group of western "art activists", are set on bringing tagging, wall-painting and graphic stencils to public spaces across the city. "I'm going to edit a few traffic signs. Write slogans in big, funky script. Even paint across whole streets. The idea is to make people ask questions," Qassem said. Previously Qassem's efforts have been limited to spraying the name of a Swedish death metal band on the wall of the British cemetery, where casualties of previous interventions are buried. Many walls in Kabul are already covered in advertising slogans or fly-posting. There are also rare political slogans. "You can see 'troops out' and similar, but nothing creative or artistic. There are also massive public information campaigns, many funded by the government with money from the west. So we wanted to see the reaction to something different," said a member of Combat Communications, an anonymous Kabul-based group of international artists encouraging the movement. Eighteen months ago the group sprayed designs inspired by the British graffiti artist Banksy on walls of ostentatious new houses believed to have been built with the profits of the £3bn a year Afghan drug trade. A video on the internet brought an international response. Then images of an Apache attack helicopter, a Taliban insurgent, a tank, and poppies appeared in the city. Last December, Chu, a British artist, ran a week-long workshop on wall-painting in a disused industrial area on the outskirts of Kabul.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

'Immigrant' or 'Invasive Species'?

Are Immigrants Bad For The Environment?

A file photo of a Brussels rally in support of immigrant rights (Guy Leboutte)
A file photo of a Brussels rally in support of immigrant rights (Guy Leboutte)
By Juliet Fall
LE TEMPS/Worldcrunch
Foreigners in Switzerland have already been identified as a primary cause of rising crime, increased housing costs, the growing rate of unemployment, and even urban traffic congestion. Now they are being held collectively responsible for the ecological crisis. Switzerland’s Population and Ecology Association (ECOPOP) has just launched a federal referendum aimed at establishing a link between the environment and immigration. Intent on stabilizing the Swiss population, the association believes that limits on immigration can help reduce environmental degradation.

While environmental policies are increasingly thought of as global issues — most notably within the context of climate negotiations — the ECOPOP initiative considers environment to be a local matter for the State to handle, through both a comprehensive birth-control policy and tougher border controls. ECOPOP calls specifically for Switzerland to limit immigration, disclaim international treaties that impede such measures, and designate 10% of international cooperation funding to support family planning abroad.

The alliance between supporters of tougher immigration control and ecology has actually existed in Switzerland since the 1970s. Far-right political leaders such as Britain’s Nick Griffin or France’s Marine Le Pen are now doing the same. Le Pen stated on her website “that environmental feelings can be perfectly addressed without being a supporter of the complete opening of borders or of the right to vote for foreigners.”

The blending of ecology and immigration exists outside of politics as well. One can recall the brutal debates that threatened to tear apart the Sierra Club, one of the oldest and most respected nature conservation organizations in the United States. In 2004, the organization was the target of a fruitless attempt to change its official position through massive recruitment of new members hailing from anti-immigration political movements. Some years later, the executive director Carl Pope called for its members to reject “the virus of hate.”

Both the Swiss initiative and the American case raise the issue of how easily biological and political terminology can be blurred. Conversations about infections, viruses or saturated ecosystems are often framed in language that blends biology with social phenomena. When appropriated by political actors, terms like “invasion” and “infection” can be devilishly effective in mobilizing public opinion. It can work the other way around as well. The natural sciences often use terms loaded with political connotations. Biologists, for example, talk about “biological invasions” or “foreign species pollution.”

When researchers characterize a plant or animal as “invasive,” they are thinking within the framework of a disciplinary paradigm, that of ecology for example. They are engaging in a metaphorical discussion of otherness. Nevertheless, the language resonates – whether intentionally or not, it reinforces the otherness of that which is foreign. Aware of the linguist pitfalls, some biologists have turned to less emotional, less loaded terms such as neophyte (new plant) and neozoaire (new animal).

The example of “foreign” species is not insignificant. There is an eerie similarity between the Swiss blacklist of invasive animal and plant species — drafted by Switzerland as a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity — and the unofficial blacklist of countries whose nationals are automatically denied long-term visas by the Federal Office of Immigration.

The affinity between social metaphors and distrust in that which is foreign plays a role on the level of fear and insecurity. Nostalgia for a lost original purity concerns both humans and non-humans, and plays on the ability of language to transport the meaning beyond the original intention. We must avoid the risks of blurring the line between immigration and the environment. It is worth recalling that in the darkest periods of European history, the classifying of people as “burdensome,” “foreign bodies” or a “threat to society” risked leading to their eventual extermination.
Read the original article in French
photo - Guy Leboutte

All rights reserved ©Worldcrunch - in partnership with Le Temps

Friday, June 3, 2011

Brazil: Urban Street Art with Museu de Favela

In the previous post, Hello Brazil,  I wrote about the rise of 'favela tourism' as we approach the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Here is an article highlighting the visually stunning street-art scene of Rio's shantytowns. With not only the 2016 Olympics but the 2014 FIFA World Cup coming, things are changing in Brazil's slums, or favelas. With local and federal government assistance, people now have water and electricity. In addition, these once incredibly violent, gang-ruled, drug-infested urban communities are finding a voice and taking ownership of their past, now brilliantly illuminated on the homes of its residents. Wealthy neighbors are curious to learn about these communities, segregated by culture and class from themselves. 

For a look at one man's journey to help children in the favela through music, watch Favela Rising. The New York Times reviewer said of this documentary:

"...A worthy contender for best documentary feature, Jeff Zimbalist's inspiring film Favela Rising examines the murderous lifestyle of teenage drug dealers in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and finds hope in the flowering of the Afro-reggae movement, which redirects the energies of gangsters into dance, theater and percussion-driven reggae bands.”

I've screened this film for students at the University of Connecticut. One can read about the violence of the slum or even see fictional cinematic depictions, as in the film, 'City of God', but raw footage, the spontaneity of an unscripted life as presented here, is stunning and shocking, providing an unparalleled perspective on the challenges and dangers of urban poverty.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes ethnography, Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, provides an extraordinary historical, political and economic examination of survival in a Brazilian slum. This is a detailed, personal look at how powerless, impoverished mothers contribute to, through benign neglect, and cope with the horrors of child death. The story is extraordinary, written with page-turning, gut wrenching clarity. When one mother was admonished by Scheper-Hughes for saying in front of her emaciated seven-year old, "He's not going to live long. Soon he will join the others (i.e., his dead siblings)," the child responded, "Hush, Mae, hush. I'm not afraid; I'm ready to go there" (pg. 142).

It you have ever wondered how people manage to survive in a world of racism, poverty and disease; how the disenfranchised socially construct an oppositional approach to sickness and health, one where infants must show their mothers they want to live, this is your entree. 

But, as Scheper-Hughes has noted, things are not now as bleak as when she conducted this research. Nevertheless, as Brazil readies itself for the world stage, I urge you through film, books or the following article to learn more about the art, music and people of this beautiful and unique nation. 

For the

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hello Brazil: Favela Tourism in the Time of the Olympics

Police Pacification Units, known as UPPs, means that many homes now have electricity and running water. Local authorities too see a lucrative future in the tourist trade; Rio's favela is perched high on a hill with beautiful views of the city. Residents are now proud of their urban community. Through music and art, dancing, singing and murals painted on buildings in the slum, they display their colorful stories of poverty, hard work and resilience. 

Donna M. Goldstein challenges much of what we think we know about the "culture of poverty." Drawing on more than a decade of experience in Brazil, Goldstein provides an intimate portrait of everyday life among the women of the favelas, or urban shantytowns. These women have created absurdist and black-humor storytelling practices in the face of trauma and tragedy. Goldstein helps us to understand that such joking and laughter is part of an emotional aesthetic that defines the sense of frustration and anomie endemic to the political and economic desperation of the shantytown.

Both the book and the film will show you what's behind the scenes, culturally, politically, socially speaking, as we move towards the Olympics of 2016 and perhaps contemplate a visit to Brazil . . . or at least it will help flesh out the 'two minute' exposes of Brazil that network news will pass on as journalism.

For a BBC article on Rio's hopes for a tourist boom, read below or .'

In Nigeria, Unwed Mothers, Human Trafficking and Witchcraft

Nigerian police have raided a hospital in the south-eastern city of Aba, rescuing 32 pregnant girls allegedly held by a human-trafficking ring. Aged between 15 and 17 years, the girls were locked up and used to produce babies, said Abia state's police chief. These were then allegedly sold for ritual witchcraft purposes or adoption. But the hospital's owner denied running a "baby farm", saying it was a foundation to help teenagers with unwanted pregnancies.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Child Bride

The following article on child brides is from the June, 2011 issue of National Geographic. The author, Cynthia Gorney,  teaches at the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Child marriage is a complicated issue comprised of economics, values and social tradition and the interviews and photos in this article are (sadly) illuminating. 

In the course of teaching about 'other peoples' worlds,' I use two very good ethnographies from Iraq and Egypt that provide an insider's perspective on these arranged partnerships between adolescent girls and, most often, their cousins. Indeed, it is the women/mothers themselves who know too well the importance of marriage, good or not, to the well-being of girls who, if they remain unattached, may face ridicule, pity, violence or economic hardship. The first is Writing Women's Worlds by Lila Abu Lughood. Giving us the voices of Bedouin women of many generations, Lila Abu Lughood aims to show that the value attached to piety, chastity, to being a good wife/daughter/woman in Muslim society is not just determined by tradition but contested by the context of everyday life.

The second, Guests of the Sheik: an ethnography of an Iraqi village by Elizabeth Fernea, also provides a woman's view of family, religion, piety, chastity and marriage. In the village of El Nahra, thoughts on and talk of getting married are part of every young girl's every day reality. Living in rural Iraq, Elizabeth Fernea became friends with the women of the Sheik's harem and the tribal settlement who strictly followed traditional Muslims norms. Girls in this area were often engaged to their male cousins at birth and married in their early teens, bearing children before their first wedding anniversary. Those without a male cousin readied themselves early for a spinster's life devoted to taking care of their natal families. However, the lives of the women in El Nahra, as with those of the women in Writing Women's World's, were filled with humor, laughter, close friendships and loving children.

While child marriage is indeed emotionally, physically and psychologically unhealthy, especially for pre-adolescent girls, and should be universally abolished, it is important to understand the roots and traditions of the practice in order to examine ways to hasten its end. By listening to their conversations and participating in the tributes and tribulations of everyday life, these authors give depth and texture to the stories that follow in Cynthia Gorney's "Child Brides."

For agencies working for positive social change to end the practice of child brides click here.

Too Young to Wed: The secret world of child brides

By Cynthia Gorney 

Because the wedding was illegal and a secret, except to the invited guests, and because marriage rites in Rajasthan are often conducted late at night, it was well into the afternoon before the three girl brides in this dry farm settlement in the north of India began to prepare themselves for their sacred vows. They squatted side by side on the dirt, a crowd of village women holding sari cloth around them as a makeshift curtain, and poured soapy water from a metal pan over their heads. Two of the brides, the sisters Radha and Gora, were 15 and 13, old enough to understand what was happening. The third, their niece Rajani, was 5. She wore a pink T-shirt with a butterfly design on the shoulder. A grown-up helped her pull it off to bathe.

The grooms were en route from their own village, many miles away. No one could afford an elephant or the lavishly saddled horses that would have been ceremonially correct for the grooms' entrance to the wedding, so they were coming by car and were expected to arrive high-spirited and drunk. The only local person to have met the grooms was the father of the two oldest girls, a slender gray-haired farmer with a straight back and a drooping mustache. This farmer, whom I will call Mr. M, was both proud and wary as he surveyed guests funneling up the rocky path toward the bright silks draped over poles for shade; he knew that if a nonbribable police officer found out what was under way, the wedding might be interrupted mid-ceremony, bringing criminal arrests and lingering shame to his family.

Rajani was Mr. M's granddaughter, the child of his oldest married daughter. She had round brown eyes, a broad little nose, and skin the color of milk chocolate. She lived with her grandparents. Her mother had moved to her husband's village, as rural married Indian women are expected to do, and this husband, Rajani's father, was rumored to be a drinker and a bad farmer. The villagers said it was the grandfather, Mr. M, who loved Rajani most; you could see this in the way he had arranged a groom for her from the respectable family into which her aunt Radha was also being married. This way she would not be lonely after her gauna, the Indian ceremony that marks the physical transfer of a bride from her childhood family to her husband's. When Indian girls are married as children, the gauna is supposed to take place after puberty, so Rajani would live for a few more years with her grandparents—and Mr. M had done well to protect this child in the meantime, the villagers said, by marking her publicly as married.

These were things we learned in a Rajasthan village during Akha Teej, a festival that takes place during the hottest months of spring, just before the monsoon rains, and that is considered an auspicious time for weddings. We stared miserably at the 5-year-old Rajani as it became clear that the small girl in the T-shirt, padding around barefoot and holding the pink plastic sunglasses someone had given her, was also to be one of the midnight ceremony's brides. The man who had led us to the village, a cousin to Mr. M, had advised us only that a wedding was planned for two teenage sisters. That in itself was risky to disclose, as in India girls may not legally marry before age 18. But the techniques used to encourage the overlooking of illegal weddings—neighborly conspiracy, appeals to family honor—are more easily managed when the betrothed girls have at least reached puberty. The littlest daughters tend to be added on discreetly, their names kept off the invitations, the unannounced second or third bride at their own weddings. Rajani fell asleep before the ceremonials began. An uncle lifted her gently from her cot, hoisted her over one of his shoulders, and carried her in the moonlight toward the Hindu priest and the smoke of the sacred fire and the guests on plastic chairs and her future husband, a ten-year-old boy with a golden turban on his head.

The outsider's impulse toward child bride rescue scenarios can be overwhelming: Snatch up the girl, punch out the nearby adults, and run. Just make it stop. Above my desk, I have taped to the wall a photograph of Rajani on her wedding night. In the picture it's dusk, six hours before the marriage ceremony, and her face is turned toward the camera, her eyes wide and untroubled, with the beginnings of a smile. I remember my own rescue fantasies roiling that night—not solely for Rajani, whom I could have slung over my own shoulder and carried away alone, but also for the 13- and the 15-year-old sisters who were being transferred like requisitioned goods, one family to another, because a group of adult males had arranged their futures for them.

The people who work full-time trying to prevent child marriage, and to improve women's lives in societies of rigid tradition, are the first to smack down the impertinent notion that anything about this endeavor is simple. Forced early marriage thrives to this day in many regions of the world—arranged by parents for their own children, often in defiance of national laws, and understood by whole communities as an appropriate way for a young woman to grow up when the alternatives, especially if they carry a risk of her losing her virginity to someone besides her husband, are unacceptable.

Child marriage spans continents, language, religion, caste. In India the girls will typically be attached to boys four or five years older; in Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries with high early marriage rates, the husbands may be young men or middle-aged widowers or abductors who rape first and claim their victims as wives afterward, as is the practice in certain regions of Ethiopia. Some of these marriages are business transactions, barely adorned with additional rationale: a debt cleared in exchange for an 8-year-old bride; a family feud resolved by the delivery of a virginal 12-year-old cousin. Those, when they happen to surface publicly, make for clear and outrage-inducing news fodder from great distances away. The 2008 drama of Nujood Ali, the 10-year-old Yemeni girl who found her way alone to an urban courthouse to request a divorce from the man in his 30s her father had forced her to marry, generated worldwide headlines and more recently a book, translated into 30 languages: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.

But inside a few of the communities in which parent-arranged early marriage is common practice—amid the women of Rajani's settlement, for example, listening to the mournful sound of their songs to the bathing brides—it feels infinitely more difficult to isolate the nature of the wrongs being perpetrated against these girls. Their educations will be truncated not only by marriage but also by rural school systems, which may offer a nearby school only through fifth grade; beyond that, there's the daily bus ride to town, amid crowded-in, predatory men. The middle school at the end of the bus ride may have no private indoor bathroom in which an adolescent girl can attend to her sanitary needs. And schooling costs money, which a practical family is surely guarding most carefully for sons, with their more readily measurable worth. In India, where by long-standing practice most new wives leave home to move in with their husbands' families, the Hindi term paraya dhan refers to daughters still living with their own parents. Its literal meaning is "someone else's wealth."

Remember this too: The very idea that young women have a right to select their own partners—that choosing whom to marry and where to live ought to be personal decisions, based on love and individual will—is still regarded in some parts of the world as misguided foolishness. Throughout much of India, for example, a majority of marriages are still arranged by parents. Strong marriage is regarded as the union of two families, not two individuals. This calls for careful negotiation by multiple elders, it is believed, not by young people following transient impulses of the heart.

So in communities of pressing poverty, where nonvirgins are considered ruined for marriage and generations of ancestors have proceeded in exactly this fashion—where grandmothers and great-aunts are urging the marriages forward, in fact, insisting, I did it this way and so shall she—it's possible to see how the most dedicated anti-child-marriage campaigner might hesitate, trying to fathom where to begin. "One of our workers had a father turn to him, in frustration," says Sreela Das Gupta, a New Delhi health specialist who previously worked for the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one of several global nonprofits working actively against early marriage. "This father said, 'If I am willing to get my daughter married late, will you take responsibility for her protection?' The worker came back to us and said, 'What am I supposed to tell him if she gets raped at 14?' These are questions we don't have answers to."

I heard the story of the rat and the elephant one day in early summer, some weeks into my time among girls who are expected to marry very young. I was in the backseat of a small car in remote western Yemen, traveling along with a man named Mohammed, who had offered to bring us to a particular village down the road. "What happened in this village has given me strong feelings," he said. "There was a girl here. Ayesha is her name." The Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife was also named Ayesha, but this was not of interest to our Mohammed just now. He was extremely angry. "She is 10 years old," he said. "Very tiny. The man she married is 50 years old, with a big belly, like so." Spreading his arm around him, he indicated massive girth. "Like a rat getting married to an elephant."

Mohammed described the arrangement called shighar, in which two men provide each other with new brides by exchanging female relatives. "These men married each other's daughters," Mohammed said. "If the ages had been proper between the husbands and new wives, I don't think anyone would have reported it. But girls should not marry when they are 9 or 10. Maybe 15 or 16." Fifty families live in the rock and concrete houses of the village we visited, between cactus stands and dry furrowed farm plots. The local leader, or sheikh, was short and red-bearded, with a mobile phone jammed under his belt beside his traditional Yemeni dagger. He showed us to a low-ceilinged house crowded with women, babies, and girls. They sat on the carpeted floors and beds, and more kept ducking through the doorway to squeeze in; the sheikh squatted in their midst, frowning and interrupting. He regarded me dubiously.

"You have children?" he asked. Two, I said, and the sheikh looked dismayed. "Only two!" He tipped his head toward a young woman nursing a baby in one arm while fending off two small children with the other. "This young lady is 26," he said. "She has had ten." Her name was Suad. The sheikh was her father. She had been married at 14 to a cousin he selected. "I liked him," Suad said, her voice low, as the sheikh kept his eyes upon her. "I was happy."

The sheikh made various pronouncements concerning marriage. He said no father ever forces his daughter to marry against her will. He said the medical dangers of early childbirth were greatly exaggerated. He said initiation to marriage was not necessarily easy, from the bride's point of view, but that it was pointless to become agitated about this. "Of course every girl gets scared the first night," the sheikh said. "She gets used to it. Life goes on." His phone tootled. He extracted it from his belt and stepped outside. I pulled the scarf off my hair, something I'd seen my interpreter do when men were gone and the intimate talk of women was under way. Speaking quickly, we asked, How are you all prepared for your wedding night? Are you taught what to expect?

The women glanced toward the doorway, where the sheikh was absorbed in his phone call. They leaned forward. "The girls do not know," one said. "The men know, and they force them."
Could they tell us about young Ayesha and her elephant husband of 50? The women all started talking at once: It was an awful thing; it should have been forbidden, but they were helpless to stop it. Little Ayesha screamed when she saw the man she was to marry, said a young woman named Fatima, who turned out to be Ayesha's older sister. Someone alerted the police, but Ayesha's father ordered her to put on high heels to look taller and a veil to hide her face. He warned that if he was sent to jail, he would kill Ayesha when he got out. The police left without troubling anyone, and at present—the women talked urgently and quietly now, because the sheikh appeared to be ending his conversation—Ayesha was living in a village two hours away, married. "She has a mobile phone," Fatima said. "Every day, she calls me and cries."

"If there were any danger in early marriage, Allah would have forbidden it," a Yemeni member of parliament named Mohammed Al-Hamzi told me in the capital city of Sanaa one day. "Something that Allah himself did not forbid, we cannot forbid." Al-Hamzi, a religious conservative, is vigorously opposed to the legislative efforts in Yemen to prohibit marriage for girls below a certain age (17, in a recent version), and so far those efforts have met with failure. Islam does not permit marital relations before a girl is physically ready, he said, but the Holy Koran contains no specific age restrictions and so these matters are properly the province of family and religious guidance, not national law. Besides, there is the matter of the Prophet Muhammad's beloved Ayesha—nine years old, according to the conventional account, when the marriage was consummated.

Other Yemeni Muslims invoked for me the scholarly argument that Ayesha was actually older when she had marital relations—perhaps a teenager, perhaps 20 or more. In any case her precise age is irrelevant, they would add firmly; any modern-day man demanding marriage with a young girl dishonors the faith. "In Islam, the human body is very valuable," said Najeeb Saeed Ghanem, chairman of the Yemeni Parliament's Health and Population Committee. "Like jewelry." He listed some of the medical consequences of forcing girls into sex and childbirth before they are physically mature: Ripped vaginal walls. Fistulas, the internal ruptures that can lead to lifelong incontinence. Girls in active labor to whom nurses must explain the mechanics of human reproduction. "The nurses start by asking, 'Do you know what's happening?'" a Sanaa pediatrician told me. "'Do you understand that this is a baby that has been growing inside of you?'"

Yemeni society has no tradition of candor about sex, even among educated mothers and daughters. The reality of these marriages—the murmured understanding that some parents truly are willing to deliver their girls to grown men—was rarely talked about openly until three years ago, when ten-year-old Nujood Ali suddenly became the most famous anti-child-marriage rebel in the world. Among Yemenis the great surprise in the Nujood story was not that Nujood's father had forced her to marry a man three times her age; nor that the man forced himself upon her the first night, despite supposed promises to wait until she was older, so that in the morning Nujood's new mother- and sister-in-law examined the bloodied sheet approvingly before lifting her from bed to give her a bath. No. Nothing in those details was especially remarkable. The surprise was that Nujood fought back.

"Her case was, you know, the stone that disturbed the water," says one of the Yemeni journalists who began writing about Nujood after she showed up alone one day in a courthouse in Sanaa. She had escaped her husband and come home. She had defied her father when he shouted at her that the family's honor depended on her fulfilling her wifely obligations. Her own mother was too cowed to intervene. It was her father's second wife who finally gave Nujood a blessing and taxi money and told her where to go, and when an astonished judge asked her what she was doing in the big city courthouse by herself, Nujood said she wanted a divorce. A prominent female Yemeni attorney took up Nujood's case. News stories began appearing in English, first in Yemen and then internationally; both the headlines and Nujood herself were irresistible, and when she was finally granted her divorce, crowds in the Sanaa courthouse burst into applause. She was invited to the United States, to be honored before more cheering audiences.

Everyone Nujood met was bowled over by her unnerving combination of gravity and poise. When I met her in a Sanaa newspaper office, she was wearing a third-grader-size black abaya, the full covering Yemeni women use in public after puberty. Even though she had now traveled across the Atlantic and back and been grilled by scores of inquisitive grown-ups, she was as sweet and direct as if my questions were brand-new to her. At lunch she snuggled in beside me as we sat on prayer mats and showed me how to dip my flat bread into the shared pot of stew. She said she was living at home again and attending school (her father, publicly excoriated, had grudgingly taken her back), and in her notebooks she was composing an open letter to Yemeni parents: "Don't let your children get married. You'll spoil their educations, and you'll spoil their childhoods if you let them get married so young."

Social change theory has a fancy label for individuals like Nujood Ali: "positive deviants," the single actors within a community who through some personal combination of circumstance and moxie are able to defy tradition and instead try something new, perhaps radically so. Amid the international campaigns against child marriage, positive deviants now include the occasional mother, father, grandmother, teacher, village health worker, and so on—but some of the toughest are the rebel girls themselves, each of their stories setting off new rebellions in its wake. In Yemen I met 12-year-old Reem, who obtained her divorce a few months after Nujood's; in doing so she won over a hostile judge who had insisted, memorably, that so young a bride is not yet mature enough to make a decision about divorce. In India I met the 13-year-old Sunil, who at 11 swore to her parents that she would refuse the groom who was about to arrive; if they tried force, she declared, she would denounce them to police and break her father's head. "She came to us for help," an admiring neighbor told me. "She said, 'I'm going to smash his head with a stone.'"

The push to reach many more underage girls and their families, through education programs and scattered government or agency-supported efforts, is targeted way beyond just the prepubescent marriages that most easily rouse public indignation. "The public loves those kinds of stories, where there's a clear right and wrong," says Saranga Jain, an adolescent-health specialist. "But the majority of girls getting married underage are 13 to 17. We want to recharacterize the problem as not just about very young girls."

From the ICRW's point of view, any marriage of a teen under 18 is a child marriage, and although definitive tallies are impossible, researchers estimate that every year 10 to 12 million girls in the developing world marry that young. Efforts to reduce this number are mindful of the varied forces pushing a teenager to marry and begin childbearing, thus killing her chances at more education and decent wages. Coercion doesn't always come in the form of domineering parents. Sometimes girls bail out on their childhoods because it's expected of them or because their communities have nothing else to offer. What seems to work best, when marriage-delaying programs do take hold, is local incentive rather than castigation: direct inducements to keep girls in school, along with schools they can realistically attend. India trains village health workers called sathins, who monitor the well-being of area families; their duties include reminding villagers that child marriage is not only a crime but also a profound harm to their daughters. It was a Rajasthan sathin, backed by the sathin's own enlightened in-laws, who persuaded the 11-year-old Sunil's parents to give up the marriage plan and let her go back to school.

Because the impossible flaw in the grab-the-girl-and-run fantasy is: Then what? "If we separate a girl and isolate her from her community, what will her life be like?" asks Molly Melching, the founder of a Senegal-based organization called Tostan, which has won international respect for its promotion of community-led programs that motivate people to abandon child marriage and female genital cutting. Tostan workers encourage communities to make public declarations of the standards for their children, so that no one girl is singled out as different if not married young.
"You don't want to encourage girls to run away," Melching says. "The way you change social norms is not by fighting them or humiliating people and saying they're backward. We've seen that an entire community can choose very quickly to change. It's inspiring."

The one person who explained most eloquently to me the excruciating balance required to grow up both independent and respectful within a culture of early marriage was a 17-year-old Rajasthan girl named Shobha Choudhary. Shobha was in her school uniform, a dark pleated skirt with a tucked-in white blouse, the first time I met her. She had severe eyebrows, an erect bearing, and shiny black hair combed into a ponytail. She was in her final year of high school and a scholarly standout; in her village she had been spotted years earlier by the Veerni Project, which disperses workers throughout northern India in search of bright girls whose parents might let them leave home for a free education at its girls' boarding school in the city of Jodhpur.

Shobha is married and has been since she was eight. Picture the occasion: a group ceremony, a dozen village girls, great excitement in a place of great poverty. "Beautiful new clothes," Shobha told me, with a mirthless smile. "I didn't know the meaning of marriage. I was very happy." Yes, she said, she had seen her young husband since the wedding. But only briefly. He is a few years older. So far she had managed to postpone the gauna, the transition to married life in his household. She looked away when I asked her impression of him and said, he is not educated. We regarded each other, and she shook her head; there was no possibility, none, that she would disgrace her parents by delaying the gauna forever: "I have to be with him. I'll make him study and understand things. But I will not leave him." She wanted to go to college, she said. Her intense wish was to qualify for the Indian police force so she could specialize in enforcement of the child marriage prohibition law. She had been keeping a diary throughout high school. One of the entries read, in carefully lettered Hindi: "In front of my eyes, I'll never ever allow child marriages to happen. I'll save each and every girl."

Every time I visited Shobha's village, her parents served chai, or spiced tea, in their best cups, and the Shobha stories thickened in their layers of pride and dissembling and uneasiness as to what the foreign visitor was up to. It wasn't a wedding! It was only an engagement party! All right, it was a wedding, but that was before the Veerni people made their kind offer and Shobha's capability had astounded them all. It was Shobha who had figured out how to obtain electricity for the house, so that she and her younger siblings could study after dark. "I can sign things," Shobha's mother told me. "She taught me how to write my name." And now, her parents indicated, this fine episode was surely concluding—and it was time. The husband was calling Shobha's cell phone, demanding a date. Her grandmother wanted the gauna before old age overcame her. The classes in Jodhpur were both Shobha's passion and her delaying tactic, but Veerni support runs only through high school; to stay on and cover the cost of college, Shobha needed a donor. The email arrived after I'd returned to the United States: "How are you I miss you Mam. Mam I am pursuing B.A. 1st year I also want to do English spoken course and computer course. Please reply mam fastly it is urgent for admission date in college."

My husband and I made the donation. "Let's see what happens," Shobha had said to me, the last time I saw her in India. "Whatever will be, I have to adjust. Because women have to sacrifice." We were in the cooking room of her family's home that afternoon, and my voice rose more than I intended: Why must women be the ones to sacrifice, I asked, and the look Shobha gave me suggested that only one of us, at that moment, understood the world in which she lives. "Because our country is man-oriented," she said.
She has completed more than a year now of post–high school study: computer training, preparation for the police exams. I receive emails from her occasionally—her English is halting but improving—and recently my Jodhpur Hindi interpreter borrowed a video camera and sat down with her, on my behalf, in a city café. Shobha said she was studying for the next exam. She had lodgings in a safe girls' hostel in the city. Her husband still called frequently. No gauna had yet taken place. She looked straight into the camera at one point, and in English, an enormous smile on her face, she said, "Nothing is impossible, Cynthia Mam. Everything is possible."

Two days after I received the video, a dispatch arrived from Yemen. Newspapers were reporting that a bride from a village had been dropped off at a Sanaa hospital four days after her wedding. Sexual intercourse appeared to have ruptured the girl's internal organs, hospital officials said. She had bled to death. She was 13 years old.

And in Iraq: