Tag Archives: gender

International Woman’s Day – A 5K Celebration

16 Mar


Last weekend, Ethiopia held its annual WomenFirst 5K to celebrate women’s achievements in Ethiopia. Over 7,000 women came out, decked in yellow, to run or walk to five kilometers in Addis Ababa, singing, leading cheers and supporting each other. Last year, a bunch of volunteers ran for ourselves. This year, we walked for our kids. Over two days, with events and activities, over 20 volunteers brought together 40 students from their towns all over Ethiopia to learn about gender equality, how to support each other, and ultimately to participate in the biggest woman-only footrace in Africa. Here are some photos from an event over 10 months in the making.


stretching before the race


at the start


PCV Cam showing Ethio Spirit

PICT0118 PICT0087 PICT0086 PICT0084 PICT0079

Some volunteers also brought young men to support the girls. They made signs and led cheers at different stations along the root. They were the only men supporting the race, the rest simply stood there. These boys are the change. They are the next generation. Gender Equality is not just about women, its about gender, and it’s about teaching boys to support their mothers, sisters and daughters.

One of the sessions - women's health

One of the sessions – women’s health

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap report, Ethiopia ranked 118th out
of 136 countries for gender equality. Over 200 Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia work in Education,
Health, and Agriculture sectors, but all are expected to work on gender issues, which span all sectors. For more (better)  photos, check out our “official photographer”‘s blog, and keep your eye out for a video I’m putting together soon.

Genderisms and Why I Always Have My Camera

5 Dec
All the painted nails, boys and girls alike

All the painted nails, boys and girls alike

On Monday morning this week I was invited to speak to an undergrad gender empowerment class at the University of Gondar. The degree program is Gender Studies, and graduates end up mostly in government jobs working towards mainstreaming gender issues in development work and other policies. It’s a lofty goal, and I was pleased to see the room about half men as well. It’s about gender, not women. It’s about economic development, real strategies on the ground, and not just “empowerment.”

During the course of the morning I was asked about almost everything under the sun gender – from “are you a feminist?” to “why are you so passionate about these issues if compared to Ethiopia women in America are so empowered?”

Am I feminist? No, not really. Not of the 1960s militant theoretical variety anyway. Though the older I get, the more places I live, the more feminist (or mindful of gender inequality) I become.

Why am I passionate? Because we still have issues in the US as well. Because health is one of the strategies to bring women up or keep them down. In Ethiopia, too many women die in childbirth because they didn’t have access or weren’t allowed to go to a health center by family pressure. In America, I won’t even get into the slew of conservative state law going on the books this summer. Because my mother had to deal with a man’s world of upper management. Because I get harassed on the street. Because I lived in Jordan. Because I live in Ethiopia. Because I have had a lot of opportunities these Ethiopian women have had to fight so hard to get. Because I know I’m lucky, and I want those opportunities for others.

So how do you move towards a more equal society? You encourage education, especially for girls. It starts in the family. I certainly wouldn’t be here without the support of my family, and I certainly wouldn’t have made the education and career choices I’ve made if my family didn’t think I was just as capable as my brothers. And that’s a generational, long term answer. It’s exciting because I really think this generation in the universities now is going to be great role models for its kids. Women are on a precipice here, it’s this generation that will get to see that change.

There are still pockets of families in the US who would rather encourage motherhood and housewifery instead of college or work. But as gender norms go, that’s not too bad. And many women choose that path, but at least they had a choice. Some families in Ethiopia are still encouraging early marriage and high rates of female genital mutilation. I’ll take “make me sandwich” any day.

But to switch gears a bit, if gender norms here can be incredibly stiff, gendered symbols are not at all. In America, pink is for baby girls, blue for baby boys. Girls get barbies, boys get tonka trucks.

In Ethiopia, I was sitting in a café that afternoon after talking to the class and two deaf streetkids I know came up to say hi. The boy was wearing a dress and pink rainboots, and his sister had a dark green sweater, no shoes.  He got the rainboots, my guess, because he was the boy – colour be damned. My sitemate and I were painting our nails and offered to the kids. No matter, he went for the bright pink. She thought the blue was great.

Men drape over each other in cafes and hold hands or link pinkies as they stroll down the street. Women can be very shy and quiet, even meek, but still wearing the tightest ,most stylish pants. Short hair for all kids is a must during rainy season – better to keep an eye out for head fungus.

So poverty, practicality and no cultural significance to westernized gendered symbols can mean an interesting mix of cultural norms.

So encourage those women in your life. Encourage the men in your life. No matter where they live, they probably face some preconceived notions. And always have a camera, in Ethiopia, it can mean a very fun gender neutral afternoon.


One of my grassroot soccer streetkids

One of my grassroot soccer streetkids

She was holding bottlecaps in her shirt

She was holding bottlecaps in her shirt


this woman wanted us to paint her baby's toenails

this woman wanted us to paint her baby’s toenails


Camp GLOW – Gender Day

7 Aug

The first day of camp threw the girls right in to some heavy subjects. Talking about gender equality, social conceptions and rights, and even screening a bit of the Half the Sky documentary set the tone for the week.

The girls made dream boxes and life goal timelines; they talked about Ethiopia and women across the world. Later in the week when they got to know each other, we had them do “affirmation capes,” a, the game where you go around with a paper on your back and people write nice things. Supportive women, and supportive men (thanks guys!) were great for the girls motivation to bring these topics back to their communities.


Supportive girls

Supportive girls

Dream boxes - yup, that's Obama

Dream boxes – yup, that’s Obama

Ride that Pony energizer

Ride that Pony energizer

Personal timelines and goal setting

Personal timelines and goal setting

Affirmation capes

Affirmation capes

Camp GLOW – An Overview

5 Aug

Over the past few months a lot of sweat, tears, and planning have gone into putting together a weeklong camp for girls across West Amhara at the University of Gondar. Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is an international Peace Corps program and Gondar’s camp is the longest running Ethiopia. When Camp GLOW first started in Ethiopia, there was only one camp – Gondar. This year, there were 12 camps around the country. Though legacy aside, each year the leadership team comes in new, and this year G8 (my group) and G7 (4 months ahead) took the reins. And clearly Gondar still dominates : )

Group shot at Fasil Castle

Group shot at Fasil Castle


We broke the camp down by days: Gender Day, Education Day, Health Day, Environment Day, and Leadership Day. We chose girls through an essay contest and looked for qualities of leadership, community volunteerism and how they had overcome issues of gender inequality.

I’ll break down each of the days in its own blog post (with lots of photos), but in addition to all the learning, there was lots of fun, energizers, and even a few tears throughout the week as the girls got to know each other and bonded.

Gondar Girls

Gondar Girls

The goal was for these girls to bring back skills, and motivation to their towns. My Gondar girls have already called me to help them set up a visit to the Mission of Charities (an off-shoot of Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta) to visit with the residents (mentally and physically disabled, abandoned children etc.) and sing songs.

We had talent shows, sport in the mornings, sang songs and even had a yearbook signing at the end. My job was “logistics” – facilities, meals, medical emergency planning, registration, and water (yes, we did have a water issue- it is Ethiopia). During the camp I did less with programming, and more behind the scenes work to smooth over issues so the girls would have a great week.

I think I can officially market myself as an event planner. If I can plan basically a week long conference in Sub-Saharan Africa in a foreign language, I think I can do your event… will be available Jan. 2015… hint hint.

And my unofficial job during the week was camp photographer. So enjoy the next few posts, the girls definitely enjoyed the week.

Closing Ceremonies

Closing Ceremonies

"make me the injera"

“make me the injera”

AJ leading an energizer

AJ leading an energizer

Yordanos pulls in Morgan for some Skiskista (shoulder shaking)

Yordanos pulls in Morgan for some Skiskista (shoulder shaking)

Rosa does some traditional dancing at the Talent Show - love that hair.

Rosa does some traditional dancing at the Talent Show – love that hair.

morning sport

morning sport

The Camp GLOW Yearbook

The Camp GLOW Yearbook

Closing ceremony tears... the girls made lots of new friends

Closing ceremony tears… the girls made lots of new friends

And for more photos continue to follow the blog this week, check out my facebook album - https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153109300440523.1073741829.640805522&type=1&l=e66c9e40e2

Thoughts on “Half the Sky”

26 Feb

One of the books circulating around Peace Corps volunteers here is seminal New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which he co-wrote with his wife Sheryl WuDunn. The book chronicles a broad spectrum of women’s stories, both tragic and triumphant, in the developing world. Personal stories that encompass everything from fistula surgery in Ethiopia to sex trafficking in Nepal to the virtues of iodizing salt are discussed in the broader terms of international aid, gender and development, and the state of world’s women [spoiler alert: being a women born in the developing world is tough.]


While I generally tend to cringe at sweeping statements on development theory, with so many volunteers and now my mom’s book club picking up the book, I figured I should give it another read, especially now that I have a bit more firsthand experience working in the health sector here in Ethiopia. Drawing from my coursework and research from an MA in International Development, experience in Peace Corps and other jobs abroad including at the health policy level in Geneva, I came at the book with a different eye than the first time in undergrad.

Taken as a whole, the book does a great job of achieving its goal of raising awareness and providing practical action steps for its targeted American reader. One of my biggest pet peeves is when works like this create outrage, but nothing ever comes of it. I really did like the concluding chapters that implore action and then provide some pretty concrete and realistic steps to back it up. But some of the underlying assumptions and larger trends I have to take issue with. Don’t get me wrong, Kristoff does an almost annoying job of going off on tangents that cover my arguments, but I just figured I should put these thoughts out there for people (my mom) to keep on the back burner while reading.

Firstly, the focus on grassroots is great. Clearly I love me some grassroots. As US foreign aid/development agencies go, Peace Corps is the grass rootiest of all. I didn’t do 3 months of language training for nothing (though “if I buy 2 will I get a discount?” in Amharic doesn’t do much for the local economy.) But having lived and worked in a few countries where if the government doesn’t want to do something, it just won’t get done, there’s only so much civil society can do sometimes (email me if you want to know more). Again, wahoo grassroots! But bigger international political pressure I believe is still incredibly important. Like the book points out, a focus on human trafficking as large as one on intellectual property theft will only happen if it’s perceived that the capital “A” American government gives a hoot (don’t pollute). So feel free to donate to that grassroots org AND write your senator, don’t pick one.

Speaking of donating to that grassroots organization, one of my biggest issues with the trend in charitable giving is the focus on administrative costs. While transparency and efficiency are incredibly important in deciding where to donate, the “low administrative cost” threshold is misleading. If an NGO is like a business (and no they’re not because they don’t focus on profits, but yes they are because much of them are run on business models anyway) you would never invest in a company that only devoted 5% of its resources to administrative costs. So please don’t only use that marker for donating to charity either. I would rather the logistics arm of Save the Children spend more on getting disaster relief supplies to the people who need it most than doubling the number of water filters to communities who are flush with aid. That decision/research is made by an administrative team. And if it’s not labeled as such in the annual report that gets sent to CharityNavigator.org it’s because these NGOs feel pressure to misrepresent numbers to fit this artificial “low admin cost” value.

Moving right along on economic value, one of the interesting studies cited in the book was about paying families to keep children (mostly girls) in school in Mexico. Cool. Economic incentive and girls’ education, I’m on board! Oh, wait. Economic incentive in Ethiopia has lead to a culture of per diem where literally every workshop, training, and even your own organization’s meeting on things that your own organization is doing and is PART OF YOUR JOB people expect to be paid extra for. I’m sure some very well meaning organization started this trend here to get people to show up to that training that one time and now it’s an epidemic and no will come to a workshop that is actually beneficial and maybe even work related if something is not offered. And now local NGOs with small budgets cannot compete with large foreign aid agencies. Unintended consequences I’m sure, but an incredibly difficult environment for a volunteer whose job is to transfer skills and has no budget to do so to work in. I’ll give a training on project design… and half of my budget will go to shay/bunna. I blow people minds when I say that people in American actually pay to attend conferences.

I think what is more important in that mini rant is the fact that silver bullets, as the book accurately points out, should not be taken for granted across the world. What works well in Mexico may not work so well in Ethiopia. What works great here, might be a disaster in Ghana. The larger message is that good development policy on the larger scale should still take in to consideration individual contexts on the ground (and back to grassroots- see above).

The point is, read the book. And then think about the book. And then do something about the book. But have a conversation, talk to that random neighbor’s daughter who did Peace Corps or that cousin’s cousin who works at USAID and see what they think about some of these issues. We are all on the same page, with the same goals. And as awesome as those personal stories are, it’s cool to make them personal to you.

Speaking of which, if you read the book and thought that was sad but now I’m pumped up but oh my goodness he just listed like 100 organizations that I haven’t heard of, do not fret. I’m going to pull out a few that I personally have come across in my work here in Ethiopia that maybe you can feel more inclined to visit their websites because of that personal connection:

Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association

Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital

Population Services International

Peace Corps

World Vision

And some others that he didn’t mention, but specifically do grassroots work in my town (mostly with kids) and I like to think are pretty cool and might work with myself:

Kindu Trust

Yenege Tesfa

Gondar Aids Resource Center


Mahibere Hiwot Ethiopia

Happy Reading!


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