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Its name is “leblouh” or intensive force-feeding, and its victims are young girls. The price: her health, future, happiness and dreams. In the African country of Mauritania young girls are terrified of food because the more they are forced to eat, the closer they are to early marriage, young motherhood and deferring their ambitions of working in the professional world, as doctors, nurses, and teachers.
The process of “leblouh” entails placing young girls in a camp during school breaks where they are broken down and told that “thin women are inferior” and that men find skinny women revolting. In one camp, the girls are EACH fed 40 egg-size balls of oil foods in addition to 12 pints of goat’s milk and gruel. The total intake for the day equals 14, 000-16,000 calories, this is 10,000-12,000 more calories than is recommended for a male body builder to intake in a day. If the girl refuses to eat she is beaten and tortured via the placement of two sticks around one toe, which is then squeezed. Even more disturbing: if she vomits the food, she must drink it.
Girls between the ages of 5-14 go through this fattening process. The aim of which is to make them more attractive to their male counter-parts. It is said that Mauritanian men like their women to be fat. Overweight women are sexy and erotic; the fatter the woman, the more beautiful and appealing she is to them. This preference for bigger women dates back to the ancient Moors (nomadic Muslims of the Arabic and Berber stock) who desired fatter wives, as it was a symbol of a man’s wealth. A fat wife meant that the man could afford to hire maids and servants to do the heavy housework, which left his wife plenty of time to lounge around and eat to her heart’s desire.
While the end result is aesthetically pleasing to men, the women pay a hefty price for this beauty ideal. Mauritanian women are literally DYING to be beautiful. These young girls are prone to diabetes, heart disease, depression, hypertension, and low self-esteem. The extra fat creates the illusion of a physically more mature girl, a 14 year-old can look 30 with the added fat, this makes it easier for her to marry at a younger age, giving her ambitions an earlier deferral. Marie Claire Magazine reported Dr. Mohammed Ould Madene, an emergency specialist saying, “The fat ideal is a grave matter of public health” he continued to describe a case where a 14-year-old girl was rushed to the hospital because her heart had collapsed under the enormous weight of her body. Sadly this is becoming all too common. Older married women, desperate to maintain their weight and keep their husbands, go to the black market to purchase drugs to aid in their weight gain. As MC reported, one woman bought weight gain pills that can cause low blood pressure, kidney failure, and blurred vision if she were to misuse it. The woman did this in response to her husband telling her that he “didn’t like sleeping with a bag of bones”. In another case, a pregnant woman died after taking animal hormones in an attempt to give birth to a fat baby.
Before the military coup in August 2008, the practice of “leblouh” was declining in Mauritania; there were even some claims that “leblouh” was extinct. However, after the coup, which replaced the democratic government with a Junta (it became official after the July 2009 election) traditional rules became law. When this happened there was a push for women to revert back to traditional roles, hence “leblouh” became the standard for young girls. According to the Mauritanian Government, before the coup, 20-30 % of girls in the urban areas practiced “leblouh” while in the rural areas 50-60% of girls went through the process of “leblouh”. Now however, approximately 80% of girls undergo “leblouh” regardless of their location.
While the Mauritanian government has not legalized this deplorable practice, it has made attempts to stop it by implementing information campaigns about the dangers of diabetes and heart disease, one of which included ballads condemning fattening. In 2010, the Mauritanian government plans to launch a program along with the UN Population Fund that is aimed at eliminating harmful practices, including force-feeding to women.
The rainforest in the Congo directly affects weather and rainfall patterns both in the region, and in the North Atlantic. Loss of forest has a direct and disastrous effect on global warming and will result in increased flooding, heat waves, droughts, and rising oceans. Deforestation effects climate change in two distinct ways.
First, forests serve as reservoirs for carbon. The forests in the DRC account for 8% of all global carbon stores, the 4th largest carbon reservoirs of any country in the world. According to Simon Lewis, a researcher at the University of Leeds, "Tropical forest trees are absorbing about 18% of the CO2 added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels, substantially buffering the rate of climate change."
Second, the process of cutting down the trees in the forest and plowing the earth itself releases carbon into the atmosphere. Emissions from deforestation are about 25% of all global carbon dioxide emissions resulting from human activities.
Reversing the trend of deforestation in the DRC is essential to combating global climate change.
You can help reduce deforestation in the DRC and combat global warming by signing up for action alerts on Africa Action's website. Staying aware and active in the fight to reduce deforestation in the DRC is essential to ensuring that local populations are able to thrive in an ecologically sustainable way and benefit from their own resources.
During the holiday season, shop responsibly! Make sure that any gifts that you purchase do not contain timber from the Congo rainforests. Learn more by visiting the Forest Stewardship Council at: http://www.fscus.org/faqs/fsc_products.php.
By Meryl M. Zendarski
I entered the room with two concerns in mind…
The main concern was not that I would be HIV positive. I had been preparing myself to hear such news, facilitated by South Africa, a country where there is a serious movement from civil society in the region to destroy the stigma around getting tested for HIV. I’ve spent enough time in the country to know that one can live a normal life while being HIV positive. As a result, that morning at the clinic in Pimville, South Africa, although I was concerned about having HIV, my main concern was actually that I would faint as they gave me the test!
The last time I was tested was at a clinic in Harrisonburg, Virginia. There, the nurse used a small vial with a needle at the end to draw blood from vein in my arm. That day I was ok, but there was another time when I had blood drawn and I became very light-headed. The nurse made me prop my feet up on a desk to keep me from fainting. I had been told that they use a pinprick to draw blood from one’s fingertip at the clinic in Pimville, but I was afraid there might be some mistake and they would draw blood from my arm.
I had been called into the room by a woman. She asked me to sit in a chair. She then sat down in a chair herself, facing me. She reached up and pulled a curtain closed to form a small space in which she and I were then alone. She introduced herself and said, “I am the HIV/AIDS councillor at this clinic.” She was calming and comforting; motherly, sisterly, and professional. She didn’t say much, though. She let her vibration speak for her. I felt quite at ease at knowing that this extremely focused African woman might soon tell me that I am now carrying the HIV virus.
She then opened the curtains and asked me to sit in another chair for the test. Still focused, still comforting, she busily put on some laytex gloves and prepared a cotton ball with some rubbing alcohol. The feeling of ease suddenly disappeared. Thank goodness she took a little piece of orange plastic from a box. This was the needle. She took hold of the index finger of my left hand and placed the little needle against my fingertip. Since I had nearly passed out once before, I decided not to watch.
She pierced my finger, squeezed it to make the blood come out, and then she put the drop of blood onto some small plastic thing which looked similar to an at-home pregnancy test. I understand that this method of testing for HIV is accurate and quick. In fact, I told the nurse about the test that I’d had in the States. She said that they didn’t use that method because they got the results right there at the clinic. She said it was very expensive to draw the blood and send it to a lab. She then put the alcohol-saturated cotton ball over my fingertip and told me the results would be ready in about 15 minutes.
I walked out of the room and returned to my seat next to my friend who had come with me. Now all that was left was a few minutes of suspense before I learned my status. My friend and I talked with each other to pass the time, and soon the door opened and my name was called. I stood up and walked into the office.
Once inside, the councillor asked me to return to the same seat where she had asked me to sit the first time. She also sat in her original seat and drew the curtains so we were alone again. She had the plastic testing device in her hand, which she showed to me. There was a tiny window showing a whitish surface. On that surface was a greyish-blue line.
“How many lines do you see?” she asked me.
I answered with the truth, “One.”
“That means you are HIV negative. You should come back in three months.”
“Kea leboha haholo, mme oa ka,” I said to her, which is Sesotho for “Thank you very much, my mother.”
I did not smile when I walked out of the room. I tried to keep a straight face because I didn’t want to seem rude to anyone in the clinic who was HIV positive. But I was quite relieved to have the experience overwith. I told my friend the news as we walked into the lobby of the clinic, and then we walked out the door into the hot Soweto morning.
Maternity in Uganda
In Uganda, there is a saying that goes, “Every pregnant woman has one foot in the grave”. Citizens say this because according to the statistics:
The situation has gotten so bad that the country will not be able to reach two of the MDGs goals which are to reduce the maternal morality rate by three quarters and reduce the mortality rate among children under five by two thirds by 2015.
These statistics are so high because of several issues:
What is being done to improve this situation?
§ Poor expectant mothers are now being offered an option to obtain "baby vouchers" Provided through the German Development Bank and the Global Partnership on Output Based Aid (managed trust fund by the World Bank), the “baby voucher” is part of a three-year Reproductive Health Voucher project that is aimed improving the management of STIs and providing safe deliveries in the Ugandan districts of Mbarara, Kiruhura, Isingiro, and Ibanda. This voucher costs sh35, 000 – sh50, 000 and gives the expectant mother access to four antenatal visits, STI and HIV testing, delivery (includes C-section), screenings for malaria and prophylaxis, transportation for referral in case of emergency, and post-natal care (up to six weeks after delivery).
§ The Ugandan Ministry of Health has implemented pilot projects that use the drug, Misoprostol to reduce maternal deaths.
§ The Ugandan Ministry of Health has also acknowledged the need for more trained midwives especially in the rural areas of the country.
§ Most poor women can not afford the sh35, 000-sh50, 000 fee for the “baby voucher”
§ The drug, Misoprostol that the Ugandan Minister of Health is suggesting to use because it is “effective and relatively cheap” is, according to the FDA, very unsafe for pregnant women. The FDA states, “Misoprostol administration to women who are pregnant can cause abortion, premature birth, or birth defects. Uterine rupture has been reported when Misoprostol was administered in pregnant women to induce labor or to induce abortion beyond the eighth week of pregnancy.”
§ Women still live far away from hospitals and because they can not afford the health card, they will become part of the statistics
§ Men do not want their wives utilizing contraceptives or talking about family planning
What SHOULD BE done:
§ There is an urgent need to train more midwives and place them within rural areas
§ Poor pregnant women need access to health care; the “baby voucher” is a great idea and has had a positive effect with the women who are ABLE to obtain the card. Therefore, the rate for the card should either be reduced or given to these women for free. When this is done, more women will be able to obtain transportation to the hospital where they will receive the adequate care they need to have a safe delivery.
§ Both women and men need to be educated about contraceptives and their benefits and how to use them properly.
§ Women need to be educated about the different forms of delivery possible, such as C-sections. This type of education will help prevent cases such as an expectant mother who was already the mother of 12, came into the hospital for a delivery but left after she was referred for a C-section out of fear of being operated on. When she came back to the hospital, it was an emergency patient; she ended up losing one of the twins she was carrying.
If you come to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, make friends with the good people in the community where you might be staying. This will not only increase your safety but you will really experience much more than a few soccer matches. In fact, you might find that the matches end up being among your least significant memories, thoroughly overshadowed by the interaction with South Africa’s beautiful diverse people and cultures. Don’t come just for the soccer. Come with your heart open to South Africa and . . . well, if you’re like me, you’ll never want to leave!
Author: Nicholas Carl