The Call for Change: Women Speak Out on Sexualized Violence in South Africa

The tallies have been rising on women murdered on the streets of South Africa. From a country with a history of violence and suppression, the fight is nowhere finished. Multiday protests throughout major cities have brought the crisis to international attention. 

Protest drawing awareness to rape victims at University of Cape Town. Devin O’Donnell.

Protest drawing awareness to rape victims at University of Cape Town. Devin O’Donnell.

The brutal murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a University of Cape Town student who was raped and killed while at the post office is unfortunately not a standalone incident. Mrwetyana joined upwards of 30 women that had been murdered in August alone. This marks the highest rates gender-based violence the country has seen, in a month that is, ironically, also designated as the national awareness month for Women’s Rights. 

There are many reasons thought to be behind the high numbers. Culturally, it comes from a history of women being viewed as inferior and the belief that women must obey their husbands. In many parts of South Africa, there is a general acceptance of rape, including martial rape and gang rape, as not being seen as wrong. This has led to South Africa having the highest rate of domestic abuse in the world. Domestic abuse was only outlawed in 1998 and martial rape in 1993. A studied done by the South Africa Medical Research Council found that 50% of men have abused their partners. Most relevant to the recent murders, every six hours a partner kills their female counterpart and one in four men in South Africa have raped someone. 

Studies have also found that there are certain traits in men and women that can lead to a greater risk of abuse in the country. Men who have grown up with violence, without father figures, and who use alcohol are more likely to abuse. It is also tied to race and socioeconomic status, as women of color, who are unemployed, and/or are from rural communities are more likely to be victims. Psychological studies have found that domestic abuse is often used as a response to feeling powerless. Apartheid proved violence is successful as a means for control and left people with a lack of trust in the government. Men who feel helpless regress to using violence against their partners in an attempt to regain a sense of control and self-worth. They also have a lack of fear of being prosecuted due to flaws in the police system – which is legitimate when only 15% of perpetrators are convicted. 

The exceptionally high rates of HIV in South Africa pose an additional danger to rapes. The belief in a virgin cleansing myth, if you rape a virgin you will be cured of HIV, has led to high rates of abuse in children, with 50% of children being abused before they turn 18. Rates of sexual abuse have also been found to be exceptionally high in schools and often deters girls from pursuing education. Additionally, South Africa has increased rates of violence surrounding homophobia, with rates of “corrective rape” reaching 10 a week just in Cape Town. This mirrors statistics for gay black men. 

President Ramaphosa said that measures have to be taken now to address the femicide. He has proposed longer sentencing and introducing more sexual offence courts. With current rates of rape reporting lingering at 2%, there is a chance that this will cause little change. The women marching firmly believe that change is necessary, but will it be enough?

DEVIN O’DONNELL’s interest in travel was cemented by a multi-month trip to East Africa when she was 19. Since then, she has continued to have immersive experiences on multiple continents. Devin has written for a start-up news site and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Neuroscience.


Robert Mugabe: As Divisive in Death as he was in Life

Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 2008. The former Zimbabwean president has died aged 95. EPA-EFE

Robert Mugabe during his swearing-in ceremony in Harare, 2008. The former Zimbabwean president has died aged 95. EPA-EFE

Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe, has died. Mugabe was 95, and had been struggling with ill health for some time. The country’s current President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced Mugabe’s death on Twitter on September 6:

The responses to Mnangagwa’s announcement were immediate and widely varied. Some hailed Mugabe as a liberation hero. Others dismissed him as a “monster”. This suggests that Mugabe will be as divisive a figure in death as he was in life.

The official mantra of the Zimbabwe government and its Zimbabwe African National Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) will emphasise his leadership of the struggle to overthrow Ian Smith’s racist settler regime in what was then Rhodesia. It will also extol his subsequent championing of the seizure of white-owned farms and the return of land into African hands.

In contrast, critics will highlight how – after initially preaching racial reconciliation after the liberation war in December 1979  – Mugabe threw away the promise of the early independence years. He did this in several ways, among them a brutal clampdown on political opposition in Matabeleland in the 1980s, and Zanu-PF’s systematic rigging of elections to keep he and his cronies in power.

They’ll also mention the massive corruption over which he presided, and the economy’s disastrous downward plunge during his presidency.

Inevitably, the focus will primarily be on his domestic record. Yet many of those who will sing his praises as a hero of African nationalism will be from elsewhere on the continent. So where should we place Mugabe among the pantheon of African nationalists who led their countries to independence?

Slide into despotism

Most African countries have been independent of colonial rule for half a century or more.

The early African nationalist leaders were often regarded as gods at independence. Yet they very quickly came to be perceived as having feet of very heavy clay.

Nationalist leaders symbolised African freedom and liberation. But few were to prove genuinely tolerant of democracy and diversity. One party rule, nominally in the name of “the people”, became widespread. In some cases, it was linked to interesting experiments in one-party democracy, as seen in Tanzania under Julius Nyerere and Zambia under Kenneth Kaunda.

Even in these cases, intolerance and authoritarianism eventually encroached. Often, party rule was succeeded by military coups.

In Zimbabwe’s case, Mugabe proved unable to shift the country, as he had wished, to one-partyism. However, this did not prevent Zanu-PF becoming increasingly intolerant over the years in response to both economic crisis and rising opposition. Successive elections were shamelessly perverted.

When, despite this, Zanu-PF lost control of parliament in 2008, it responded by rigging the presidential election in a campaign of unforgivable brutality. Under Mugabe, the potential for democracy was snuffed out by a brutal despotism.

A wasted inheritance

Whether the economic policies they pursued were ostensibly capitalist or socialist, the early African nationalist leaders presided over rapid economic decline, following an initial period of relative prosperity after independence.

In retrospect, it’s widely recognised that the challenges they faced were immense. Most post-colonial economies were underdeveloped and depended upon the export of a small number of agricultural or mineral commodities. From the 1970s, growth was crowded out by the International Monetary Fund demanding that mounting debts be surmounted through the pursuit of structural adjustment programmes. This hindered spending on infrastructure as well as social services and education and swelled political discontent.

In contrast, Mugabe inherited a viable, relatively broad-based economy that included substantial industrial and prosperous commercial agricultural sectors. Even though these were largely white controlled, there was far greater potential for development than in most other post-colonial African countries.

But, through massive corruption and mismanagement, his government threw that potential away. He also presided over a disastrous downward spiral of the economy, which saw both industry and commercial agriculture collapse. The economy has never recovered and remains in a state of acute and persistent crisis today.

Read more: Zimbabwe's economy is collapsing: why Mnangagwa doesn't have the answers


On the political front, the rule of some leaders – like Milton Obote in Uganda and Siad Barre in Somalia – created so much conflict that coups and crises drove their countries into civil war. Zimbabwe under Mugabe was spared this fate – but perhaps only because the political opposition in Matabeleland in the 1980s was so brutalised after up to 30 000 people were killed, that they shrank from more conflict. Peace, then, was merely the absence of outright war.

Some leaders, notably Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, are still revered for their commitments to national independence and African unity. This is despite the fact that, domestically, their records were marked by failure. By 1966, when Nkrumah was displaced by a military coup, his one-party rule had become politically corrupt and repressive.

Despite this, Nyerere always retained his reputation for personal integrity and commitment to African development. Both Nkrumah’s and Nyerere’s ideas continue to inspire younger generations of political activists, while other post-independence leaders’ names are largely forgotten.

Will Mugabe be similarly feted by later generations? Will the enormous flaws of his rule be forgotten amid celebrations of his unique role in the liberation of southern Africa as a whole?

A Greek tragedy

The problem for pan-Africanist historians who rush to praise Mugabe is that they will need to repudiate the contrary view of the millions of Zimbabweans who have suffered under his rule or have fled the country to escape it. He contributed no political ideas that have lasted. He inherited the benefits as well as the costs of settler rule but reduced his country to penury. He destroyed the best of its institutional inheritance, notably an efficient civil service, which could have been put to good use for all.

The cynics would say that the reputation of Patrice Lumumba, as an African revolutionary and fighter for Congolese unity has lasted because he was assassinated in 1961. In other words, he had the historical good fortune to die young, without the burden of having made major and grievous mistakes.

In contrast, there are many who would say that Mugabe simply lived too long, and his life was one of Greek tragedy: his early promise and virtue marked him out as popular hero, but he died a monster whom history will condemn.

ROGER SOUTHALL is a Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand.


I am Congo

Get to know the Congo before you walk through the streets yourself. In this immersive experience, you'll see the vast forest of the congo, the countries colorful style, and break taking shots of life in the city. As part of the "I am" series, videographers spent time in the Congo meeting local artisans, traders and musicians. Their experience, laid out for you here.

Senior Welfare Benefits Universal Across Uganda

Uganda recently raised the age for welfare benefits to 80. At the same time, the government expanded the program to be universal across the country, thus both increasing and cutting the number of people who will receive benefits used for necessities.

Uganda’s Senior Citizens grant gives 25,500 Ugandan shillings each month to those who are part of the program, which launched in 2010. Vjkombajn. CC0.

Uganda’s Senior Citizens grant gives 25,500 Ugandan shillings each month to those who are part of the program, which launched in 2010. Vjkombajn. CC0.

It is estimated that 8 million Ugandans (out of 37.7 million people) live below the poverty line. With a faltering tradition of family support, people are forced to continue working past the point when they should. Generally, they continue with trade or small-scale farming. Those who are ill or otherwise unable to work doubly suffer. 

In 2010, Uganda, together with the UK Department for International Development, Irish Aid and the United Nations Children’s Fund, began to create social pensions that assist those who have such precarious incomes. 

As of July, Uganda’s welfare Senior Citizens grant, part of their Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) program, has raised their age of entry to 80, which cuts people out between the ages of 65 and 79 who had previously been eligible. These people will have no access to monthly benefits as of the upcoming year. However, at the same time, they expanded the grant so it is universal in Uganda. For the first 100,000 people who joined, the age for eligibility was 65, which was lowered to 60 in Karamoja due to the lower life expectancy there. After that number was reached, the government rolled out the pension to another 40 districts. However, with those districts, it was available only to the 100 oldest in a village. Now, the pension is universal, though the entry age is 80. As of June, according to HelpAge, more than 160,000 people have been enrolled in the program. Due to making everyone eligible, roughly 365,000 Ugandans now have the opportunity to receive a pension. The exact number is unclear.

There is also the problem of earlier deaths, possibly increased by the enlarged population of those living below the poverty line. Julius Mukunda, co-ordinator of the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, believes that the government’s failure to care for the elderly is because of their prioritization of political projects, according to The East African. Inflation pressures have also lowered power levels for SAGE benefits.

The non-contributory pension gives each person 25,000 Ugandan shillings, which converts to $7 US, each month. People use it for food, school supplies, and other necessities. "[The pension] has been instrumental in my life. When I get the money, I become happy. I have used it to buy a goat for my family to rear. I use it to pay school fees and buy books for my children," said Longora, an older man in Napak, Uganda, according to HelpAge.

Households that receive the grants have had their poverty reduced by 19 percent while spending has gone up 33 percent. Households also use the pension to further increase their income, for example by buying livestock. Children who are part of these households have been found to have better education and are less likely to be involved in child labor.

Several other countries in Africa, such as Mauritius, Kenya and Zanzibar, have implemented a social welfare pension, while Mozambique is planning to create a social protection program. However, issues persist, such as mobility issues in getting to the pay point, missing records, and financial abuse.

If the people receiving these pensions continue to speak out about how they have helped themselves and their families, they can hold their governments to account for how services are used. This assertion helps to reduce long-term problems such as financial abuse and other errors. It is each government’s responsibility to make sure citizens are aware of social protection programs and that those services are accessible, inclusive, and efficient.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.


Enter Kenya’s Rose Oasis

Some of the best roses in the world bloom in Kenya. While the country is widely known for its scenic national parks and wildlife reserves, it’s also a major flower producer. Winnie Gathonie Njonge is the production manager at Nini Flowers, which sits on the shores of Lake Naivasha. She knows all there is about growing perfect roses and oversees the harvesting of 300,000 to 450,000 a day. “The ultimate goal of growing roses is to make other people happy,” she says. It brings her joy to know the roses she cultivates are sent to the United States, Japan and other countries, spreading love and beauty all over the world.

Zimbabwe’s All Women Anti-Poaching Unit

Conservation becomes a community enriching project.

Photo of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by  Christine Donaldson  on  Unsplash .

Photo of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by Christine Donaldson on Unsplash.

The unit is called Akashinga, Shona for The Brave Ones, and it could not be more aptly named.

Founded by Damien Mander, an Austrailian former special forces soldier, Akashinga is a part of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the Phundundu Wildlife Area. 

Phundundu is a 115-square-mile area in the Zambezi Valley ecosystem which is home to 11,000 elephants and other endangered wildlife. In the past 20 years, frequent poaching has taken its toll on the reserve, resulting in the loss of thousands of elephants. While killing wildlife without a permit is illegal, animal trophies such as bones, tusks, and teeth can be sold on the black market for an amount equivalent to a month’s salary.

According to Akashinga’s website, anti-poaching initiatives often close off “traditional grazing areas, places of burial, worship, water points, food sources and traditional medicine,” making communities feel that endangered plants and animals are more important than their humanity. This resentment can fuel poaching attempts for which offenders can be arrested and sometimes killed. These experiences then reinforce the idea that endangered flora and fauna are of greater importance than the community, creating a cycle of resentment and violence.

To address this phenomenon, Akashinga takes a community-first approach to conservation. By recruiting women from the communities surrounding the Phundundu to serve on the unit, the organization is able to use conservation initiatives to enrich communities. Akashinga’s website describes the effort as having a “community-driven interpersonal focus, working with rather than against the local population for the long-term benefits of their own communities and nature.” To this end, 62% of operational costs are returned to local communities.

In this light, it is significant that the unit is made up entirely of women. According to National Geographic, research shows that in developing countries, women invest 90% of their income in their families, while men only invest 35%. Women are at the grassroots of community life, and when their wages are invested in their families, the entire community proffits.

But this is not the only reason that women are so right for the job. Mander had formerly trained male rangers for years before changing to an all-female model. He said that women are far better rangers; they are less likely to take bribes from poachers, and are skilled at de-escalating high tension situations. In National Geographic he commented that a gun in the hands of a man is a toy, but with a woman it is a tool.

Women also prove to be more resilient. Only three women quit the army-style training necessary to become part of the unit. When Mander was training men, all but three recruits quit after the first day. In National Geographic Mander said that, “we thought we were putting [the women] through hell, but it turns out, they’ve already been through it.”

This resilience is not without cause. Many of the women of Akashinga are victims of abuse, and have experienced their own trauma and exploitation. The BBC writes that Kelly Lyee Chgumbura, a unit member, was raped at seventeen and forced to drop out of school, abandoning her dream of becoming a nurse. She then had to give her baby to her rapist's mother, in accordance with Shona norms where if a mother is unable to provide for her child, the father’s parents become its guardians.

“My goals had been shattered,” she told the BBC, “It was like I couldn’t do anything more with my life.” A few years later, Chgumbura was recruited by her village head to try out for a ranger position. She was selected for the unit, and with a steady career now has a chance to win back custody of her daughter.

Being a ranger provides a sense of purpose as well as an income. “When I manage to stop poachers, I feel accomplished,” Chgumbura told the BBC, “I want to spend my whole life here on this job, arresting poachers and protecting animals.”

Like Chgumbura, most of the unit have faced traumatic experiences and lacked the agency and resources to protect themselves. “Who better to task with protecting exploited animals,” Mander told National Geographic, “than women who had suffered from exploitation?”

Phundundu is the first reserve worldwide to be managed entirely by women, but it will not be the only one for long. According to its website, Akashinga plans to welcome 1,000 new recruits who will protect 20 reserves. They aim to accomplish this by 2025. 

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

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African Migrants Journey to U.S. Border in Search of Asylum

The U.S.-Mexico border, pictured here from the air, is receiving more attention as Afircan migrants cross it to seek asylum in the U.S. WikiImages. CC0.

The U.S.-Mexico border, pictured here from the air, is receiving more attention as Afircan migrants cross it to seek asylum in the U.S. WikiImages. CC0.

African migrants, mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are beginning to congregate at U.S. border cities, especially San Antonio, Texas and Portland, Maine, seeking asylum. 

Many are flying to South America and joining fellow migrants in traveling well-trodden paths across Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border, since they have been proven to work. Europe has also recorded a sharp drop in the number of African migrants and refugees who have reached its border.

Migrants who do try to make the treacherous journey across the Meditteranean often never make it there. The EU began a regional disembarkation policy last June, which named Libya as the new center for processing refugee and asylum applications for those seeking to leave Africa for Europe. However, asylum-seekers stopped by the EU-trained and equipped Libyan Coast Guard are brought back to civil war-torn Libya. Roughly 700,000 refugees are in local detention centers, facing starvation, sexual violence, and torture, according to Foreign Policy. There is also the possibility of being captured by Libyan smugglers. Many people have either gone missing or died. Official numbers have not been released.

Niger is taking in refugees so they don’t need to stay in Libya while they wait to be fully resettled in a new host country, but is only accepting a limited number of people due to its own low poverty rate. The resettlement process can take anywhere from 8 to 12 months. Often, Africans are finding that it is easier to avoid the Mediterranean altogether, due to the trouble Libya’s smugglers and detention centers can cause. 12 countries have so far pledged to help resettle the refugees, though the U.S. is not one of them.

American border agents first started noticing the high numbers at the Del Rio border station in southern Texas last month. According to Time, the sheer number of people is overwhelming. “When we have 4,000 people in custody, we consider it high,” Customs and Border Patrol’s commissioner John Sanders said, according to the BBC. “If there’s 6,000 people in custody, we considered it a crisis. Right now, we have nearly 19,000 people in custody. So it’s just off the charts.”

According to NPR, one such refugee journey involved a family of six flying to Ecuador and traveling by foot across Central America to eventually end up in the border city of Portland, Maine. They were fleeing civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their destination was a makeshift border shelter—a converted sports arena—that was described as “paradise” by the father. Randy Capps, the director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, said, "That journey through Central America and Mexico has been facilitated by these large migrant caravans, by more sophisticated and faster smuggling routes, and it's an easier journey from Guatemala onward than it has been in the past."

Once they get through the border station, migrants are brought to relief shelters. Staff have been bringing in Swahili and French translators. Portland city officials are hopeful for the future, seeing the migrants as a necessary part of the future workforce, especially since the city has an elderly population. Still, the influx has stressed the city in terms of space. The converted arena currently houses over 200 people.

Volunteers assist at the shelter, offering food and medical supplies and playing games with the children. Donations of both money and supplies have been pouring in. Maine governor Janet Mills has stated that she wants the state to help out, saying that Maine’s residents have a “proud tradition” of caring for their neighbors.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.


The West African King in Canada

Eric Manu lives in Langley, British Columbia. He's a landscaper. But across an ocean, he's also a king. See, Manu is the chief of his tribe in Ghana, and he works in Canada to help raise money and supplies for his village. A king who puts his people first? Long live Eric Manu!

Ugandan Nuns Protest Trafficking, Seeing it as an Extension of the Slave Trade

Nuns in Uganda are fighting against human trafficking, seeing it as an extension of the slave trade that plagued Africa for centuries. Sammis Reachers. CC0.

Nuns in Uganda are fighting against human trafficking, seeing it as an extension of the slave trade that plagued Africa for centuries. Sammis Reachers. CC0.

Ugandan nuns are protesting human trafficking as part of the 6,000 member organization Association of the Religious in Uganda. They understand trafficking to be a basic human rights and dignity issue, seeing it as an extension of the slave trade. Their inspiration to fight the issue comes from a variety of sources including Biblical stories, African proverbs, Scripture, and the lives of the saints, notably St. Catherine of Siena, who said that silence kills the world. Groups of nuns have met with government representatives to implore them to combat the issue further.

At a three-day workshop in November 2018 organized by the Africa Faith and Justice Network, nuns examined the global issues facing Africa today, as well as the effects that the centuries of the slave trade have had upon the continent. The issue of human trafficking was seen in a much harsher light following that discussion, as the Africans participating in trafficking are essentially perpetuating the slave trade.

After the workshop, 32 nuns visited the Ministries of Internal Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Gender, Labour and Social Development; and the Uganda Human Rights Commission. These are departments that deal with travel outside Uganda, labor organizations, and citizens’ human rights.

The speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Rebecca Kadaga, met with 13 Association-affiliated nuns after they petitioned her against abroad workers’ cases of slavery and torture. She said that she blames members of government for faltering on the issue. “Unfortunately, a number of people in government own labour export companies and I am told it is very lucrative so they continued,” Kadaga said, according to the Daily Monitor. Some of the workers who go abroad don’t come back. The nuns are also requesting that the government at least halt the employment of girls, because they are common targets for trafficking and sexual abuse. They also asked for law changes via harsher penalties for those caught trafficking.

"Human trafficking is dehumanising. It exposes our sisters and brothers to untold torture, sexual abuse and slavery. Some of our daughters are trafficked abroad and forced to have sexual intercourse with animals, while some are killed for organ transplant. For those lucky to return home, the trauma they have suffered incapacitates them and makes them social misfits," Sister Teresa Namataka, from Kenya, was quoted as saying in AllAfrica.

In all the meetings, a common point was expressed: a need for collaboration in fighting human trafficking. The nuns made a statement and called for a press conference, both of which caused the fight to gain more media attention. The nuns are currently working on setting up a joint meeting between stakeholders and collaborators to search for a way forward out of this human rights and dignity tragedy.

The religious international anti-trafficking organization Talitha Kum celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, and also recently launched the Nuns Healing Hearts campaign, beginning with a photography exhibition documenting the work the organization does around the world to combat trafficking.

Other issues facing Africa today include the devaluation of currency, as well as the adverse effects of globalization. Those are particularly felt through the destruction of local economies by the buildup of discarded objects like computers and refrigerators and the importation of poisonous objects. Africa has many social ills, but the nuns are starting with human trafficking, seeing it as the most alarming.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.

Honor in its Most Dishonorable Form

Khalida Brohi sitting at a table, smiling. Joi Ito. CC 2.0

Khalida Brohi sitting at a table, smiling. Joi Ito. CC 2.0

“Even if I have nothing, I should have honor”. But what does “honor” mean for Khalida Brohi, now thirty-one years of age and continuously fighting to redefine the word. Brohi is a Pakistan native and women’s activist currently fighting to end honor killings in her small village just outside Balochistan, Pakistan. She is well-known for her numerous campaigns, the most notable being WAKE UP, Youth and Gender Development Program, and Sughar. She has been featured in multiple newsletter articles such as Newsweek 25 Under 25, Forbes 30 Under 30, and Forbes 30 Under 30: Asia for her accomplishments and hard work. Brohi started her activism at just nine years old when she discovered her cousin had been murdered in an “honor killing”, a decision made from the family that is in no way honorable.  

In her captivating memoir titled I Should Have Honor, Brohi tells us her thrilling story of her fight to end the practice of “honor killings” in her tribal village. Her memoir details her story, from the beginning to now, showing the birth of her many organizations and what sparked her passion for dismantling this horrible practice.

But what are honor killings? Honor killings are in no way honorable – they are power grab and a way to mend someone’s pride. Many cultures in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia conduct these lawful murders which affect around 93% of women in these areas. They are brutal, unjustified, and tear families apart – all for the cause of “honor”. Honor killings happen when someone rebels against what their family deems appropriate. Thousands of individuals are losing their lives every year because they just wanted to live the life that they preferred over their families judgments.

When Brohi was only 14-years-old, she found out her cousin, Khadija, was murdered by her father. The reason? Khadija did not marry the man her father choose for her, rather eloping with the man that she loved instead. Brohi, upon learning this news states, “people often become poets when they fall in love, but I became a poet when hate entered my heart” (Brohi 71). Brohi knew then, at only 14-years, that no one should go through what he cousin did.

Using the strength she found within herself that day, Brohi transformed her anger into poetry, writing and eventually performing for her father’s nonprofit organization titled Participatory Development Initiatives. Brohi’s father made her master of ceremonies, and she wowed every crowd with her passion and her words. This exposure allowed her to be discovered by a local organization called WE CAN End Violence Against Women. After being contacted by them, she collaborated and brought the organization to her local village. Brohi knew that the woman in the village would be hesitant to come to any meetings, so being clever, she framed the meetings in another light. Once all the attendees that were coming arrived, Brohi eased in conversation about “honor killings” and how to go about stopping them. The crowd got silent once she mentioned her real agenda, but soon enough, people being telling their stories and sharing their thoughts and feelings on the matter.

From that tense first meeting, Brohi used the WE CAN organization to kick start her organization, Youth, and Gender Development Program (YGDP) which focused on “educat[ing], empower[ing], and strengthen[ing] youth against cultural restrictions, enabling them to speak up about customs like honor killings” (Brohi 87). Her new organization also gave the women in her village a platform and space were they could air their grievances and address what they believed needed to be addressed. In Brohi’s words: “Until [then], they’d simply had no resources to bring them up to par” (Brohi 89).

Though her personal organization gained more traction, she also unfortunately gained unwanted attention. The work Brohi was doing threatened the power structure and patriarchy around her. Not only was Brohi, herself, being threatened, but her family as well. It was not easy for Brohi to go through the decision that she did because since she was gaining momentum and a following, she was also gaining a following of people who do not like her. They did not like her speaking out on what she believed in. Their threats did not stop Brohi, though.

Brohi, with the momentum WE CAN and YGDP was getting, traveled to Australia and America to speak at multiple conferences and events, some including Clinton Global Initiative, Women in the World, and MIT Media Lab. At those events, she railed the crowd and gave more publicity to what was happening in her tribal village back home.

In 2009, she founded the Sugar Foundation, “a non-profit dedicated to providing tribal and rural women in Pakistan with opportunities to evaluate their abilities and nurture their leadership skills in an environment of growth and development” (quote taken from her “about me” page on "her" blog, From there, she has also founded The Chai Spot in Arizona with her husband, David Barron. The Chai Spot, is a forum where Americans cannot only help fund her cause, but also learn the lively and enriching culture and lifestyle that Brohi, herself, grew up in. Advertisements on her blog show that she is set to open a new Chai Spot in New York City soon.

Brohi, through her activism and sympathy, created organizations and gave a platform to people who believed they could not even acknowledge their experiences. She shows the power and agency women have and how they can use it to their own advantage. She is an inspiration for all of us. If you would like to support her, visit and click the Donate tab to fund her important and impactful nonprofit. Let Brohi continue to define and redefine what “honor” truly is.

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.

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Living With Albinism in Sub-Saharan Africa

In Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and beyond, children and adults with this rare condition face widespread violence based on superstition—and fight for the right to live their lives free of persecution.

On the left, a baby with albinism. Kaysha. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On the left, a baby with albinism. Kaysha. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On January 1 of this year, unknown assailants climbed through the window of Kwenda Phiri’s home in Nhkata Bay, Malawi, and hacked him to death, chopping off his hands and fleeing with them. Their motive? Phiri had albinism, meaning that—due to a rare genetic condition—he was born without pigment in his skin, hair, or eyes. Unfortunately, Phiri’s killing was far from an isolated incident. Across sub-Saharan Africa, people with albinism face physical violence and persecution based on superstition, often leaving them unemployed, isolated, and fearful of even leaving their homes.

Kidnapping and dismemberment, such as in the case of Phiri, is common, as body parts from people with albinism can bring in up to $75,000 on the black market. Witchdoctors perpetuate myths about the magical qualities of people with albinism, and make outlandish claims that their body parts can be used in charms and potions to summon wealth, power, and good luck. Babies born with albinism may be considered a curse and slaughtered at birth, especially in certain regions: in Tanzania, where the condition affects up to 1 in 1400 citizens, people with albinism are called zeru zeru, meaning “ghosts,” and assumed to bleed a different color or be immortal. Such superstitions have fueled more than 520 recorded attacks in 28 countries since 2006; Tanzania had the highest number, at more than 170 incidents. Attackers and witchdoctors rarely face legal action, and not a single buyer in this gruesome segment of the black market has ever been prosecuted.

The Nkhata Bay, Malawi, area, near where Kwenda Phiri was killed. Matthew and Heather. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Nkhata Bay, Malawi, area, near where Kwenda Phiri was killed. Matthew and Heather. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For people with albinism who manage to escape fatal attacks, prospects for education and gainful employment are often dim. In Tanzania, only half of children with albinism complete primary school, and even fewer attend secondary. The condition typically affects vision, leaving children without access to glasses to struggle and underperform academically. Adults with albinism are met with few job opportunities, and often fall into poverty. Women with albinism suffer specific and especially dangerous injustices. Unfounded myths run rampant that sex with a women who has the condition can cure HIV/AIDS, leading to many women with albinism contracting AIDS through this heinous variety of ritual rape. Even after death, persecution persists: Many families whose relative with albinism has passed away do not hold the funeral in public, for fear that the grave might be dug up and the corpse stolen. This practice of quiet, unnoticed burial may also perpetuate superstitions regarding immortality.

Attacks are especially prevalent in certain countries—namely Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique, according to Turkish news outlet TRT World. Indeed, Nyasa Times, the online breaking news source that reported Phiri’s murder, stated that “Malawi faces ‘systematic extinction’ of people living with albinism if they continue to be murdered for their body parts.”

The general culture of neglect and harmful behavior toward people with albinism also exacerbates concerns about skin cancer, to which people with albinism are particularly susceptible given their lack of pigmentation. Parents often do not know about the importance of covering up in the sun and copiously applying sunscreen; in fact, some actually take their children with albinism into the sun to intentionally darken their skin, leading to dark-colored pre-cancerous lesions that only encourage the parents to continue. Only 2 percent of people with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa live beyond age 40—largely due to the scourge of cancer—and most children with albinism as young as 10 already have some early form of the disease.

In response to the unchecked spread of skin cancer, a company called Kilimanjaro Suncare, or Kilisun, has designed a sunscreen especially for people with albinism. When the product was released in 2012, it was used to help 25 children; as of 2017, it was being given free of charge to 2,800 people at clinics taking place every four months. Over half of those receiving Kilisun were children.

While skin cancer can be mitigated with appropriately distributed medical care, resolving the culture of violence against people with albinism will be a longer and more arduous process. In its 2017–2018 report, Amnesty International acknowledged the situation of people with albinism in Mozambique for the first time ever, estimating that 30,000 people experienced discrimination for their condition and pointing to a spike in incidents of persecution. In Tanzania, a charity called Under One Sun runs an education program for students with albinism and a summer camp for students who have been abandoned by their families due to their condition, as well as performing public advocacy and outreach through seminars and film screenings. The Albino Foundation offers similar advocacy services in Nigeria, aiming to empower people with albinism and educate the Nigerian and global societies about the realities of the condition.

For some individuals with albinism, art has served as a powerful means to address the injustices hindering their lives on a daily basis. Singer-songwriter Salif Keita—who endured bullying and rejection as a child in Mali due to his albinism, and who founded a global foundation in 2006 to aid those who are afflicted—dedicated a benefit concert in November 2018 to a five-year-old girl with albinism who was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in Mali in May of that year. More than 100 politicians, diplomats, and people with albinism attended the event.

Arriving to Sengerema region in Tanzania, where a life-sized statue dedicated to people attacked due to their albinism can be found. TANZICT Project. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Arriving to Sengerema region in Tanzania, where a life-sized statue dedicated to people attacked due to their albinism can be found. TANZICT Project. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In Sengerema, Tanzania, a monument has been erected to honor those who have been assaulted and murdered due to their albinism. The statue portrays a dark-skinned father and mother; the father holds his light-skinned child with albinism on his shoulders, and the mother places a hat on the child’s head to keep them safe from the rays of the sun. Around the monument are etched the names of people with albinism who have been attacked, representing an homage to those lost to the anachronistic attitudes of the past. Standing tall above the ground, the life-sized statue—which was made by Tanzanian artists with disabilities—imagines a possible future in which people with albinism can live safely and normally regardless of their pigmentation.

TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.


How Small Science Is Creating Big Possibilities in Africa

Ofori Charles Antipem wears many hats—he’s an inventor, an entrepreneur and an advocate of STEM. Now, he’s bringing all his passions together, dedicating his life to bringing affordable science education to kids across Africa. The Science Set is Antipem’s creation, developed to give students access to a unique toolkit. Each set contains 45 scientific components and costs just $20. His next invention? Cheap and easy-to-assemble microscopes, carefully designed and built using 3D printed materials. 

This Great Big Story was made possible by IBM Africa.

Wildlife War: Africa's Militaristic Approach to Animal Conservation

A group of rangers on patrol in Zimbabwe. Bumihillsfoundation.CC BY-SA 4.0

A group of rangers on patrol in Zimbabwe. Bumihillsfoundation.CC BY-SA 4.0

The plight of endangered elephants and rhinos in Africa is fairly well known to the world: Elephants are hunted by poachers for their tusks, which are carved into jewelry while rhinos are hunted for their horns which are believed in many cultures to carry medicinal value. The widespread poaching of these animals has pushed their population numbers back, causing a ripple effect in local ecosystems and presenting the possibility of extinction for the animals themselves. There is a very real chance that future generations may not grow up with these animals present as the current generation did. What is not as well known is that for years now, Africa has taken a militarized approach to prevent this outcome from becoming a reality, with armed conservation groups authorized to impose the harshest penalties on would-be poachers.

Poaching in Africa reached its zenith in the 1970s and 80s. In 1989 Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi appointed famed paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey as head of Kenya’s Wildlife Conservation and Management Department, and Dr. Leaky created the first armed anti-poaching units. He then implemented a “shoot to kill” policy for dealing with poachers that drastically reduced environmental crime in the region. Several African nations followed suit and the practice of using arms to protect animals expanded throughout the continent, becoming more sophisticated over the years. Today conservation in Africa is a well known and a viable career path, with militarized conservation groups being trained by ex-soldiers from around the world. Nir Karlon, a former Israeli commando, manages the Maisha Group, a private security firm that focuses on preventing environmental crime in the Congo. In Zimbabwe, a nerve center of the African elephant population, Damian Mander of the Australian Royal Navy heads up the first all-female ranger team called “Akashinga” which means, “Brave Ones”. The group initially faced criticism from male conservationists who doubted that women would be able to perform the arduous physical tasks associated with the job. The Brave Ones, however, proved to be as capable as any man when it came to military conservation. New recruits to ranger units often go through several days of rigorous training before being offered a position. Some groups accept volunteers in unarmed positions, but most conservationists still carry weapons and are still authorized to use deadly force.

The job is not without risks. In the last decade, 1000 rangers have been killed while on duty. Death can come from the poachers they pursue or the animals they protect. Much of Africa’s poaching is carried out by crime syndicates and local militants who have found that ivory can be used as currency to buy weapons and fund campaigns. Encounters between conservationists and poachers have on occasion erupted into full-on firefights, and some critics have expressed concern that the rangers' methods may be too brutal. With this in mind, many ranger groups have made community outreach an even greater priority than battling poachers, as support from the locals will always be more effective than a gun. Education seminars at local schools help the rangers strengthen their relationships with people living in protected areas, with a long term goal of increasing awareness and surveillance of animal poaching in Africa.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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Nigeria Now a Hotspot for Maritime Piracy

Some experts believe that a joint effort between the world's navies can effectively combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Petty Officer 1st Class Darryl Wood, U.S. Navy - . Public Domain.

Some experts believe that a joint effort between the world's navies can effectively combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Petty Officer 1st Class Darryl Wood, U.S. Navy - Public Domain.

The word “pirate” often conjures up images of eyepatches, beards, and cutlasses. Piracy, the maritime robbery of seaborne vessels, seems like an outdated form of crime in today’s modern era, but in some countries, piracy has persisted and over the years become more sophisticated. 201 acts of piracy were recorded in 2018, an increase from the previous year, and this is due in large part to a recent surge in piracy off the coast of Nigeria. The country now ranks first in maritime piracy, with dozens of reported incidents of hijacking and kidnapping.

Nigeria is one the world’s top ten producers of oil, and lies within the Gulf of Guinea, a coastal zone that lines West Africa. The economic surge brought on by the oil industry also brought a parasitic element in the form of maritime bandits. Ships en route to oil tankers are a favorite target of these pirates, who often plunder their cargos and kidnap crew members to hold for ransom. Over the years Nigeria's oil industry has been so successful, and its population growth so exponential, that the country now relies on imports for 70 percent of its commodities. A bureaucratic docking process can easily keep 50 or more cargo ships lined up offshore for weeks waiting to enter the port city of Lagos. These ships also fall prey to pirates, who use small skiffs to approach cargo ships and then, much like the pirates of old, board the vessels by means of a ladder or grappling hook. Pirates are often armed with automatic weapons, rocket launchers, and body armor when raiding ships. Even crew members who are not physically harmed often suffer psychological trauma in the wake of an attack.

The International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur monitors pirate activity throughout the world. According to the Bureau, Nigerian pirates are extending their reach beyond territorial waters, and are targeting a wider variety of ships. Companies that operate in the Gulf of Guinea are trying to upgrade their surveillance equipment to combat the threat, but the process is time-consuming and expensive. For now, pirates remain an intrinsic part of the oil business in Nigeria. It is widely believed that only international action will be able to curb crimes committed at sea, and recently, members of the Baltic International Maritime Council (BIMCO) called on the US, China, and the European Union to form a joint Navel response to Nigerian piracy. The council believes that piracy is an international problem, and if left unchecked, could have economic consequences that stretch beyond West Africa.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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Fresh Wounds: Incident at Beach is Newest Example of Strained Race Relations in South Africa

Clifton 4th Beach, in Cape Town. Warren Rohner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Clifton 4th Beach, in Cape Town. Warren Rohner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Recently a group of protesters took to the shores of the Clifton 4th beach, one of the more popular beaches in Cape Town, to complain about what they perceived to be racial profiling at the hands of a local security firm. Professional Protection Alternatives, or PPA, was apparently hired by local residents to clear out all black visitors to the beach shortly before Christmas of last year. The security company responded to these allegations, claiming that they were simply trying to protect nearby residents from crime. The incident has stirred up tensions in Cape Town that still linger from South Africa’s recent history with Apartheid.

Apartheid, which means “separateness” or “apartness” in Afrikaans, was a system of institutionalized racism that pervaded in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. Also known as “White Minority Rule,” it was primarily used to ensure the dominion of white South Africans over their black counterparts. Policies included the segregation of parks, beaches, and other public places. The system was dismantled by activists like former president Nelson Mandela but the visitors who were removed from the beach felt that the actions of PPA were reminiscent of the Cape Town of old. Dan Plato, the current mayor of Cape Town, spoke publicly about the incident, claiming that PPA had no right to remove anyone from the beach, but also defended the security firm, stating that the removals were not racially motivated. Meanwhile, Patricia de Lille, the former mayor of Cape Town, joined in the protests, encouraging all who were removed from the beach to press charges against PPA. De Lille stated that actions of the firm went against “hard-won constitutional rights.” In a country with such a recent history of racial conflict, it doesn't take much to re-open old wounds.

Former president Nelson Mandela was instrumental in the ending of Apartheid. South Africa The Good News / . CC BY 2.0.

Former president Nelson Mandela was instrumental in the ending of Apartheid. South Africa The Good News / CC BY 2.0.

The incident at Clifton is the latest in a series of racial altercations that have occurred in South Africa. In 2016, real estate agent Penny Sparrow described black South Africans as “uneducated monkeys” in a Facebook post. Sparrow was charged with Crimen Injuria, the willful impairment of another person’s dignity. At her hearing, Sparrow said that she would “strive to be a better citizen, respecting others and working toward making our country a better place.” In August of 2018, Johannesburg businessman Adam Catzavelos caused an uproar on social media when he posted a video of himself at a beach in Greece and expressed his relief that there were no black people there. Catzavelos’ family promptly fired him from their food manufacturing company and expressed outrage over his comments before going into hiding to avoid potential backlash. Despite South Africa’s recent steps toward tolerance, racism is still an overarching issue that hinders relations between the many ethnicities that make the country their home.

Protesters at the Clifton 4th beach marched, chanted, and even sacrificed a sheep in their demonstrations against racism in Cape Town. They claimed the guards employed by PPA were specifically briefed to keep blacks from other townships from patronizing the beach, claims which have yet to be substantiated. Their protests have drawn the support of the Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, an organization devoted to humanitarian issues in South Africa. Other organizations, such as the Black Land First group have also voiced their support for the protesters on Clifton beach, though their views are considered by many to be more radical from those of the EFF. Meanwhile, some citizens of Cape Town plan to press animal cruelty charges against the protesters for slaying the sheep. These events are a prime example of how quickly recently formed ties can unravel.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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Spirit of Kenya

Wow Tapes has taken us across the globe through videos demonstrating experiences have been as culturally exhilarating as this one. The filmmakers were accepted with broad smiles and open arms into a wonderful campfire evening with one of the many tribal groups in Masai Mara. Sitting under the moonlight, they heard tribal legends and felt the human-aspect of the animal-dominated savannah.

Nigeria - Any Dream

In June 2017 we took a heart and went to the city of Lagos, Nigerias melting pot and the dream destination for most people who reside in nearby cities and rural communities. Everyone believes Lagos is a city where dreams come true, regardless of your means of livelihood.