Changing Senegal One Woman At A Time

SISTER FA IS SENEGAL’S MOST FAMOUS RAPPER and a role model for youth. She’s also a determined and outspoken activist who campaigns against FGC (Female Genital Cutting).

Sister Fa was herself a victim of genital mutilation, and is using her voice to raise awareness to end the practice of FGC. Her career and activism have always gone together: in 2008, Sister Fa took her tour “Education without Mutilation” through the villages and cities of Senegal, using her music to speak out about ending female genital mutilation.

In this interview, she talks about why FGC, while outlawed in Senegal since 1999, is still carried out in some communities:

A documentary about her life and work, Sarabah, shows the singer returning to her native village to engage with the women in her community. The film was recently honored at the Movies That Matter Festival.

Learn more about Sister Fa and watch a clip from Sarabah:

Human Rights Defenders At Risk in Zimbabwe

Image © Owen Maseko

AS THE PRO-DEMOCRACY UPRISINGS IN THE MIDDLE EAST SHOW NO SIGNS of abating, add Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to leaders who are looking over their shoulder at the possibility of a popular uprising.

Last week a group of 45 activists in Harare were arrested and tortured for watching video of the protests in North Africa. Now, a grassroots NGO in South Africa, the PASSOP organization, has called for a protest against the treatment of Zimbabwe’s citizens on March 1st.

According to press reports, Mugabe sent out armored vehicles and soldiers this week to forestall any possible unrest. This action comes amid rumors that Muammar Gaddafi may flee to Zimbabwe.

Human rights are under constant threat under the Mugabe administration and his party, the ZANU-PF, particularly targeting activists and artists.

The latest reports on rising political violence and the arrests of activists in Zimbabwe. This story from Amnesty reports on the arrest of four activists from Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA).

Safe water and sanitation for all


THE NUMBERS ARE STAGGERING: almost half of the developing world’s population, or 2.5 billion people, lack proper sanitation facilities. And over 884 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources, according to UNICEF.

It’s these conditions that led to the creation of Millennium Development Goal number seven, or environmental sustainability, which also includes protection of ecosystems worldwide and the improvement of the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

It’s a wide-ranging goal, which is why it tends to fly under the radar compared to poverty, maternal health, and child mortality.

And it’s a mixed bag of targets-met and targets-missed: the world has achieved safe drinking water (except sub-Saharan Africa), but at current rates will miss the sanitation target by over 700 million people.


© U.N.

Goal #7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Providing access to basic sanitation, such as toilets or latrines, is a simple and affordable way to prevent disease and save lives. Now we need to acknowledge its importance and take action.

What will you do today to promote environmental sustainability around the world?


Dig Toilets, Not Graves” is the new campaign from WaterAid UK to build awareness for the 4,000 children who die each day because they lack functioning toilets, causing deadly diarrhoeal diseases. You can also help at WaterAid US or WaterAid Australia.


A video from the Agence Française de Développement profiles the state of Dakar’s Hann Bay, the world’s second largest beach (after Rio), which suffers from pollution and industrial waste:

This is seventh in a series of posts examining each of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

How A Funding Crisis May Derail The Fight Against AIDS

THERE IS RECENT ENCOURAGING NEWS ABOUT THE FIGHT AGAINST AIDS: a decline of 25 percent in new infections in sub-Saharan Africa, for example. This is cause for hope in achieving the sixth Millennium Development Goal. But these successes hide the fact that funding for HIV/AIDS eradication is in jeopardy by as much as $10 billion dollars.

Last year, total global funding for HIV/AIDS was flat. Experts and advocates say the next step is to carefully allocate available funds so each dollar goes further.


© U.N.

Goal #6: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS

The key words moving forward are “faster, better, cheaper“—and it’s up to us to make sure governments follow-through on their promises.

What will you do today to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS?


The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria provides funding for the eradication of diseases like HIV/AIDs worldwide. Program directors said in June they needed $17 billion for countries to scale up their efforts.


AIDSspace is an online community for connecting people, sharing knowledge and providing services for the 33.4 million people living with HIV. You can search the directory for individuals, educators, and NGOs working in the AIDS cause, or read the latest documents and news in the Library.

This is the sixth in a series of posts examining each of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

Pregnant Women’s Health In Need of Greater Action Worldwide


DO YOU KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS PREGNANT? Are you afraid she might not live through childbirth? In wealthy, industrialized nations we take for granted the safety of an expectant mother’s life. Unfortunately this is not true for the hundreds of thousands of women in developing countries who die every year because they lack pre-natal care and assistance during delivery.

According to the World Health Organization, maternal deaths have dropped, but 1000 women a year still die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. More than one million children are left motherless every year.


© U.N.

Goal #5: Improve Maternal Health

In 2000, world leaders targeted a 75 percent reduction in maternal deaths by 2015. A one-third drop in deaths is encouraging, but greater progress is needed in order to meet the goal.

What will you do today to ensure maternal health?

TAKE ACTION is a group of artists and activists raising awareness for maternal health by encouraging you to create advocacy videos that can be sent around your social networks. Learn more or follow them on Twitter: @MDGFive.


The Maternal Health Taskforce, part of EngenderHealth, and Ashoka, created the first-ever international fellowship focussing on maternal health. Each fellow will spend nine months abroad. Read their stories.

This is fifth in a series of posts examining each of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

South African Group Dares Mugabe to Change, Gets Banned from Performing

THE NEW VIDEO FROM SOUTH AFRICAN GROUP FRESHLYGROUND issues this challenge to Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe: “Oh congratulations, when will you ever change? You are chicken to change!” Not surprisingly, the group’s permits for performing next month in that country were revoked.

You may remember Freshlyground as the group who sang the World Cup theme along with Shakira. While that was the safe, corporate tune of a global event, “Chicken to Change” takes a much more pointed political stance. It’s in-your-face, yes, but jaunty—a highly enjoyable piece of pop music that also happens to have social change at its heart.

The video is a collaboration between the group and ZA News, a satirical South African web-tv puppet show. They’ve clearly got a lot of musical talent of their own, judging by this rendition of “This Land is Your Land.”

Banned Artists: 10 Musicians You Should Listen to Now

ARE YOU LISTENING TO MUSIC RIGHT NOW? To hear, play, or perform music is a freedom denied to many people worldwide. Music is censored and musicians are jailed, tortured, and even killed by repressive governments.

Listen to the Banned” is a collection compiled by Norwegian artist and human rights activist Deeyah and the rights organisation Freemuse. All the featured artists have been censored or banned in their home countries, such as Lapiro De Mbanga, who campaigns for reform in Cameroon.

Zimbabwe Government Bans Artist Owen Maseko


Image ©

WORKS BY ARTIST OWEN MASEKO, depicting military-led ethnic atrocities in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe in the 1980s, have been banned by the government.

Maseko was first arrested in March for his exhibition at the Bulawayo Art Gallery. Authorities charged him with violating the Criminal Law and Codification Act, which punishes anyone who challenges Robert Mugabe’s authority.

Maseko vows to keep fighting on, telling SW Radio Africa:

“As an artist for the sake of the whole artist community, I have to challenge the ban. There is no way we can function as artists if we can’t be free to express ourselves. The most important thing as an artist is that we need to be relevant to the society we are living in.”

Between 1982 and 1987, soldiers from the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, drawn from Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF, massacred an estimated 20,000 members of the rural Ndebele people, who Mugabe saw as opponents to his rule. Mugabe termed the killings “a moment of madness.”

This video is a BBC news report about the Matabeleland massacre:

Niger: Food Crisis Worsens

NIGER’S CURRENT FOOD CRISIS is the worst in its history. Over eighty percent of the population—about 12 million people—are food insecure. Many families are struggling to survive on one meal a day.

What are the causes behind the latest famine? Drought is exacerbating the situation, but, says Save the Children, a key factor is the way Niger’s subsistence farmers are caught in a terrible cycle of selling grain harvests early in the season and then are forced to buy it back at inflated prices.

Organizations bringing aid need donations. The U.N. recently pledged $15 million in aid, but the WFP faces a shortfall of US$88million. And even after supplies are purchased, it is a difficult journey getting the food to remote areas where people live.

To help and find out more, visit these aid organizations with programs in Niger:

Mercy Corps: Help Niger Break Free From the Cycle of Hunger

Oxfam: West Africa Food Crisis

World Food Programme: Niger Child Malnutrition Operation

7 Blogs Every Humanitarian Should Follow

World Humanitarian Day was designated in 2009 by the U.N. to increase public awareness about humanitarian assistance activities worldwide.

In her piece for the U.N. Dispatch, Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, writes, “Humanitarian work and human rights are inextricably entwined. It is very often abuse of human rights that causes humanitarian crises in the first place. And without humanitarian aid, the basic human rights of millions of people – including the right to seek asylum from persecution, the right to education, and, most fundamental of all, the right to life – would be denied.”

Humanitarian aid is often mixed up in the tangled world of aid and development, and these blogs by people-on-the-ground keep you informed.

Here are 7 blogs every humanitarian should follow:

ReliefWeb A one-stop site for news, crisis and emergency updates, and policy and funding analysis.

Wronging Rights No-nonsense analysis-by-way-of-skepticism and humor, exemplified by the site’s weekly feature, “WTF Fridays.”

Blood and Milk About international development programs written by an insider.

AidSource Real-time stories about being part of the “humanitarian aid industry.”

Wait…What? Technologies and social media ideas from an NGO worker who previously worked in El Salvador in the 90s.

From Poverty to Power A blog that aims to provoke debate and conversations about development, with fact-filled charts and graphs.

Owen Abroad Thoughts on development and aid transparency from a development professional based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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