Women’s Rights in Africa for CARE.

Strengthening women’s rights is still a big issue in many countries today in the 21st century. Recently, even in the western world, it seems as if every day a new scandal comes to the public. Especially in the photography, the fashion and the show & shine world of entertainment you would think it would be a matter of course.

It’s a good enough reason to redress the general cliché. The project to strengthen women’s rights by the international CARE aid organisation seemed to be a suitable platform. An international project that pursues UN Resolutions 1325 & 1820 and aims to strengthen women’s rights in Nepal, Uganda and Ethiopia over a period of three years.

I accompanied a team of journalists and CARE employees to Kathmandu in Nepal on my own initiative. I was supposed to document the project as far as the province in photos, but naturally you cannot avoid noticing the women’s circumstances today and listening to the stories of the old days. I was really shocked by an older woman’s story, who has been washing her husband’s feet every day in the morning and then drinking that washing water her whole life and even still now. I curiously enquired about the sense and purpose of this disgusting tradition and as one might expect, it is to show reverence to the husband. For he is a creature sent by God to take care of the woman, the family and it is an honour for the woman to be allowed to drink this dirty water. By contrast of course, it’s the women who work all day, be it in the home or in the fields, as the men who “take care of the family” spend most of the day stoned in the shade of the trees.

I was totally startled one day when I wanted to take a photo of a woman with a plough in the fields and a man suddenly jumped out at me from the shade of a tree and started running towards me. No, no, no, he called out to me, signalling with exaggerated gestures, telling me that he’s the one who feeds his family and if I’m going to photograph anyone then it should be him…. which I naturally declined of course. When we moved on, I could see how he had laid back down again in the shade while his wife had to work the plough under the blazing sun in temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius.

After the experiences and impressions in Nepal, I then made my way to the African continent to Uganda. A country which was still embroiled in a civil war 10 years ago and is still visibly shaped by the scars of this tense time today. Banks are guarded by security personnel with machine guns and the hotel’s security precautions are similar to those at the industrial nations’ summit meetings.

In contrast to Nepal, the hardships of this trip well and truly pushed me to my limits this time. Once I’d arrived in the depths of the province, flowing water and electricity were just sporadic treats. The heat during the day was almost unbearable, the cold well water in the province was not really a good alternative for my European stomach, leaving us with just heated up water to take on our long car journey. The catering was not any better, a chicken that passed us five minutes beforehand on a moped’s luggage rack with its head bobbing between the wheel’s spokes was presented to us whole a little bit later as a “soup”. My travelling companions from CARE Austria, considerably more experienced and toughened up, kept a straight face while eating it, while I personally just ate rice for days.

It was fascinating for me to see how the CARE projects were bearing fruits here and the women have a clear and noticeably important role in everyday life in the country’s most remote corners. They are integrating themselves into a leading role in agriculture, are allowed to own and manage land and are even politically involved in the community now. A situation that would have been inconceivable 5 years ago. Women’s self-empowerment is spreading through all areas. Dance, drama is very important in the women’s free time and a specially rehearsed play was to illustrate to us the development here thanks to the women’s empowerment projects. The passion, joy and love as well as the hard work, effort and also the risk of self-empowerment provide a positive vision of the future from Uganda.

Last but not least, the journey continued to Kenya. The core of these projects, above all is the health of mothers and children. Despite significant advances in recent years, the infant mortality rate is still over 5 percent by the age up to 5 years.

 As with my experiences at the Philippines, from HOPE – by Alexander von Wiedenbeck Exhibition it was clear again that the missionaries of the Church have done a “great job” and that birth control is still a very sensitive and hot topic theme here. Therefore, an important aspect of CARE is the protection against HIV infection, as well as the possibilities of family planning and contraceptive methods. It often seems to me a difficult tightrope walk, to find the right balance between the deep-rooted Christian faith and the reasonable foresight in terms of health and chances of survival to guide the people on the “right” path without taking away the greatest support to shake or even take away their faith.

To be honest, the “greatest support” probably does not really apply to all women in some countries – in the face of God we’re all the same, one’s said so nice, right?! … but is that true? I believe, in so many places all over the world, regardless of religious background, this “wisdom” was proclaimed by a “circle of gentlemen” one day when all the women had their day off. “equality”, in my opinion is in many places in Nepal, Uganda, Kenya or even in the Vatican still far away.

However, I would like to conclude by not leaving unmentioned and insignificant that the projects which I was allowed to visit and experience, also bear fruit. The strengthening of women’s rights is progressing and one can clearly feel that something is moving in the lowest regions of these countries. The narratives and impressions of these trips have also influenced me very much, and the resulting photographs reflect the movement of women’s rights unadorned. Who knows if my paths will one day lead me back to those regions and if I can experience the changes & welcome the strong women’s next to their husbands – I would wish it!

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