Saturday, January 22, 2011

92: The Self-Empowered Woman: Stirring The Fire

Dear Followers,

Below are photos of three women who have been agents of change in their cultures and countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Afghanistan). To learn about a group that is devoted to empowering women and girls worldwide, keep reading this blog.

As most of you know, for the past year I've tried to introduce readers to women in different parts of the world who are making a difference. Today, however, I'd like to tell you about an organization that is designed to help students become advocates for those who need help, volunteer their help and/or study abroad in the developing world where women and girls can benefit by becoming more empowered.

Stirring The Fire is a movement designed to restore balance between the feminine and masculine qualities and values that affect cultures, institutions and our lives. The pictures above above are part of Stirring The Fire: a global movement to empower women and girls, which is a multimedia exhibition by Phil Borges.

The photography and films are designed to inspire those who want to get involved with specific women's issues internationally. In the words of Isabel Allende, this work brings us "...face to face with heroes - remote and mostly unknown women - on the edge of a slow but steady transformation, bringing social and economic justice to women and girls worldwide."

The United Nations Development Program, the World Bank, and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff understand that empowering women (which helps fight poverty and builds stability in the developing world) is crucial to our security as well.

Did you know that in much of the world women support and care for their families, grow and prepare the food, collect fuel and water, and yet (because of social and economic discrimination) are unable to attend school, earn money or take part in civic (i.e., governmental) life?

Stirring The Fire brought these statistics to my attention, and I want to share them with you:

  • Out of the 900 million illiterate adults on the planet, 2/3 are women.

  • Half of the world's food is produced by women, but they only own 1% of the farmland

  • Only 15% of the elected legislatures in the world are female.

Phil Borges feels passionately about the need to improve the lives of women and girls everywhere. According to him, "When women are free to make the most of their skills and ideas, they create a rising tide that lifts all boats."

If you would like to be a part of this movement, click on

Looking forward to your comments...

Monday, January 17, 2011

91: The Self Empowered-Woman: Bibi Aisha Update

Dear Followers,

Back in August (Blog #76) you learned about the tragic story of an 18-year-old Afghan woman who had been disfigured by her angry husband and his vengeful family. Bibi Aisha had been the victim of a "Baad," which is a tribal custom of using young daughters to settle disputes between angry opponents.

When she was a little girl, Bibi Aisha's mother died, and her father (Hajji Muhommed Zai) offered Aisha and her younger sister as "compensation" to a family whom he had dishonored. But when Aisha could no longer tolerate the abuse her "husband's" family (Sulaiman) dished out, she ran away. Her husband, his father and brother, tracked her down, took her to a mountain side, cut off both of her ears as well as her nose, and left her to bleed to death.

Aisha somehow made her way to a women's refugee camp run by Women for Afghan Women. Eventually, Aisha was flown to America where the Grossman Burn Foundation in California planned to donate reconstructive plastic surgery on the now-20-year-old refugee.

Her story, however, has become more complicated because Afghan authorities have arrested her father-in-law (officers had to chase him on foot for over a mile) after he took her amputated nose and proudly showed it off at the village market. Now Afghan authorities (and Aisha's father) want her to return to Kandahar and testify at the court proceedings.

Meanwhile, Aisha's operation has been postponed because physicians feel that she is emotionally unprepared to deal with surgery. The harsh reality is that Aisha has been abused physically and emotionally for most of her life, and continues to suffer the after-effects of that harsh treatment. She continues to suffer from seizure-like episodes that appear to include flashbacks, and cause her to pull at her hair and cry. She has been moved among host families, staff, and volunteers in an attempt to help her adapt to her new reality. The girl who grew up without electricity or indoor plumbing, and never attended school, is now living on the East Coast and adapting to life in America.

Today, Aisha uses a cell phone, sends text messages, watches YouTube and is using the Internet to teach herself English. She uses supplies purchased at a local Michael's craft store to create jewelry and has been given a prosthetic nose (which she applies herself with a Q-Tip dipped in glue)created by Dr. Stefan Knauss. In October, she attended a fund raiser for the Grossman Burn Foundation and met former First Lady Laura Bush and Maria Shriver.

If you wish to help Aisha (and others like her) log on to

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

90: The Self-Empowered Woman: Dr. Hawa Abdi

Dear Followers,

Today's posting comes to you courtesy of my dear friend, Susan Schorr, who is visiting from Santa Barbara. We took a brief hiatus from talking, laughing and eating to bring you the story of an amazing woman who lives near Mogadishu in Somalia.

Unlike the women in today's Somalia, Dr. Abdi grew up at a time when females were allowed opportunities. At age 17, she won a scholarship to study medicine in Kiev, which is now the Ukraine rather than the Soviet Union. She was the only female among 91 other Somali students. Because her mother had died in childbirth when Dr. Abdi was twelve years old, her goal from that age forward was to become a doctor (2. An Early Sense of Direction).

After graduation, Dr. Abdi worked in government-run hospitals in Somalia, married, and had three children. Her only son died in 2005 (aged 23) in a car accident; her two daughters (one named Amina aged 30, the other Deqa, 35) became doctors and still work with their mother (16. Intensive Motherhood).

In 1983, with the permission of Mohammed Said Barre (the last President of Somalia's government), Dr. Abdi opened a one-room clinic on property that her family owned, and persuaded nomadic women to let her help deliver their babies. Today (18 years later) Hawa Abdi Hospital has three operating theaters, six doctors, 43 nurses, 400 beds and an 800-student school/adult education center to help teach women how to make clothes and prepare healthy meals (7. Magnificent Obsession).

Last May, her hospital was surrounded by over 700 Islamic militants who held her at gunpoint and let their teenaged recruits ransack the hospital and destroy equipment and supplies. The militia commanders taunted her and asked, "Why are you running this hospital? You are old. And you are a woman!" (13. More Than Meets the Eye)

The militants did not care that 90,00 refugees have flocked to her medical center, which is only 15 miles outside of Mogadishu and one of the few safe places in southern Somalia. It is practically the only place refugees can receive free treatment for everything from measles and malaria to life-threatening malnutrition and tuberculosis.

As the militants held her at gunpoint, Dr. Abdi yelled at them, "I'm not leaving my hospital. If I die, I will die with my people and my dignity. You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?" (5. Life Is Not a Popularity Contest)

Last year, Glamour magazine named Dr. Abdi and her two daughters 2010 Women of the Year, and described Dr. Abdi as equal parts Rambo and Mother Teresa. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, Dr. Abdi is about the only person doing any effective humanitarian work in Somalia. In her words, "Women can build stability. We can make peace."

Looking forward to your comments...