Wednesday, December 13, 2017

To keep girls in school, Ethiopians open up about menstruation | Daily Mail Online

In Ethiopia, so-called girls' clubs in schools are helping break the taboo of talking about menstruation

In Ethiopia, so-called girls' clubs in schools are helping break the taboo of talking about menstruation
There's one room at the Sheno primary school in rural Ethiopia that's different from all the others, starting with the sign over the door reading: "Menstruation is a gift from God."
Inside this converted classroom, boys and girls gather in what some pupils call the "girls' club" to break one of the country's most enduring taboos: talking about periods.
In Ethiopia, adolescent girls are generally left to muddle through puberty on their own without guidance or the means to buy sanitary pads.
Only 54 percent of Ethiopian girls finish primary school, according to the United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, and many abandon it because of cramps or embarrassing mishaps during their periods.
With child marriage prevalent in rural areas, local beliefs link menstruation to sexual activity, and so an accidental blood stain could see girls relentlessly teased by their classmates.
When 14-year-old Yordanos Tesfaye first got her period, she was "shocked and frightened".
"I went home and told my father but he couldn't afford to buy me a pad. Then I told my friend and she suggested I use a rag. However, I didn't know how to use it and dropped it on the street and I was very embarrassed," she told AFP.
Like many teenage girls, she was tempted to drop out of school, but support from the girls' club convinced her to stay.
Only 54 percent of Ethiopian girls finish primary school, according to UNICEF, and many abandon it because of cramps or embarrassing mishaps during their periods

Only 54 percent of Ethiopian girls finish primary school, according to UNICEF, and many abandon it because of cramps or embarrassing mishaps during their periods
The clubs -- officially called "menstrual hygiene management" clubs and open to pupils aged 11 and older -- began as a collaboration between local health officials and UNICEF, based on the idea that adolescent girls won't stay in school if they can't effectively manage their transition to womanhood.
"That (time) of the girls' lives is absolutely critical to manage well in order to improve the sort of academic performance and reduce the dropouts in school," said Samuel Godfrey, UNICEF's sanitation chief in Ethiopia.
The programme has been implemented in 65 schools and UNICEF is planning to expand it further.
- 'Not a disease' -
Children attend primary school in Ethiopia from the age of seven to 14 but many stay longer if they were late to enroll or have repeated a class.
At Sheno school, which has more than 760 pupils and lies some 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the capital Addis Ababa, sanitary pads are given out for free and boys and girls work together to demystify the female menstrual cycle.
Since the girls' club opened three years ago, Sheno's rate of dropouts due to period woes has been reduced to zero. The year before it opened, 20 girls left, according to the school.
Clad in a white coat, biology teacher Tafesech Balemi guides girls through the changes their bodies are experiencing, while also educating the boys.
She hands out reusable sanitary pads to girls who can't afford to buy them and also offers a shower and a mattress where they can lie down if they don't feel well.
Biology teacher Tafesech Balemi guides girls through their body changes and educates boys to demystify the female menstrual cycle

Biology teacher Tafesech Balemi guides girls through their body changes and educates boys to demystify the female menstrual cycle
"We teach students in this club that menstruation is a gift from God. We teach them that it is not a disease but rather it is natural and biological," she explains.
Tafesech also tracks girls who don't come to school and will meet with their families if she believes their absenteeism has something to do with menstruation.
At another school in the same region, Hiwot Werka, 14, was mortified when she got her period while in class, staining her uniform.
"I used to hide... the whole day until nobody was around."
Adding to her shame, her mother accused her of being sexually active and forbade her from leaving the house, beating her when she tried to go to school.
Local health officials went to speak to her family, to explain to them that what Hiwot was going through was normal and not linked to sex.
"After a time, my mother came to realise that menstruation is normal," said Hiwot, who was allowed to return to school.
- Key role for boys -
Despite the name of the clubs, boys are an integral part of it because they help fight some of the most vicious side-effects of the menstruation taboo.
An Ethiopin initiative hands out reusable sanitary pads, like those being made here, for free

An Ethiopin initiative hands out reusable sanitary pads, like those being made here, for free
Yonas Nigussie, 14, remembers teasing girls who had a mishap during that time of the month, yelling out: "You know you have blood on your behind!"
He credits the club with changing his attitude completely, and now tells friends who taunt girls to knock it off.
"I remember when my sister got her first period. I was the one who brought her pads," Yonas said.
Ethiopia is among several countries in Africa that have implemented ways to accommodate women during their periods.
In 2015, Zambia enacted a law allowing women to be absent from work without notice to help them deal with menstrual pain.
And earlier this year, Kenya mandated that all schools provide sanitary pads to girls, free of charge.

Ethiopia targets activists with Israeli spyware: Al Jazeera


All-knowing spyware targeted Ethiopian journalists and dissidents living abroad [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]
All-knowing spyware targeted Ethiopian journalists and dissidents living abroad [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

The government of Ethiopia has "apparently" employed spyware purchased from an Israeli defence contractor to spy on independent journalists and dissidents living outside of the country, a recent report has revealed.
Israel's CyberBit Solutions Ltd sold spyware to Ethiopia, which used the technology "to target activists and journalists, even PhD students and lawyers", explained Bill Marczak, a researcher at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, which wrote the report.
CyberBit, a cybersecurity company headquartered in Tel Aviv, is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, an Israeli defence contractor with ties to the Israeli military.
Marczak told Al Jazeera at least 43 people in 20 different countries - including the US, UK, Canada, Germany, and Eritrea - were infected over the course of about a year with the CyberBit spyware, known as the PC Surveillance System (PSS).
The attacks were "apparently carried out by Ethiopia from 2016 until the present", the report found.
"The pattern that we've seen is over the years the Ethiopian government [is] buying and acquiring this commercial spyware from pretty much all the companies it can ... and employing that to essentially spy on the [Ethiopian] diaspora," said Marczak, who coauthored the Citizen Lab report.

The spyware

To infect the targeted computers, the operator of the spyware first sent an email asking activists and journalists to view a video on a website designed to impersonate popular Ethiopian and Eritrean video-sharing websites, Marczak explained.
Once someone clicked on the link, however, a message popped up saying their computer's Flash Player was out of date.
A second link then would invite the user to download an updated version of the application, but used a fictitious application called "Adobe PdfWriter". That's when the spyware would be downloaded onto the victim's computer.
Activists say the spyware is part of a wider state crackdown on Oromo protests in Ethiopia [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]
The operator could then see every keystroke; take and save passwords; take over email accounts to target friends; view screens; turn on the computer's microphone and webcam; and install or remove programmes, Marczak said.
Essentially, he noted, the operator would have "the same sort of level of control that you'd have as someone physically using the computer".

'Not surprised'

Jawar Mohammed, an Ethiopian journalist based in the US state of Minnesota, told Al Jazeera he received an email that appeared strange.
He didn't click on the link, but instead forwarded the email on to the IT department at his media group, which also said it was "suspicious". Mohammed then contacted the Citizen Lab and they collaborated on the report into the spyware.
"I was not surprised that they would go after us, but I was surprised that the companies that produce this spyware ... are willing to sell it to dictators that will use it against activists," he said.

Ethiopia: Oromo protests continue amid harsh crackdown

Mohammed is the executive director of the Oromia Media Network, a non-profit that reports on issues that matter to the Oromo people, a minority group that lives primarily in Ethiopia's Oromia region.
The Oromo, who number approximately 35 million and constitute Ethiopia's largest ethnic group, have staged widespread protests since late 2015.
While the protests originally stemmed from their opposition to a development project that would have expanded the boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa, it grew into a demand for equal rights and an end to systemic discrimination. 
Hundreds of thousands of Oromo protested throughout Oromia and "state security forces in Ethiopia have used excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protests", according to Amnesty International.
At least 800 people were killed in the government crackdown, Human Rights Watch has estimated, while thousands more have been injured, arbitrarily arrested, and detained without charge or trial.
If the attempt to spy on his communications had been successful, Mohammed said his reporters and sources in Ethiopia could have become targets of government persecution.
The attack, he said, "is a continuation of the government's effort to silence and shut down the Oromo voice, the Oromo people's fight for justice and equality".
"These companies [that produce and sell the spyware] need to ensure that governments that have a bad reputation for spying on individuals, do not get ahold of this kind of software," Mohammed continued.
"They are endangering a large number of people who have committed no crime except speaking up against human rights violations. All these companies need to be held accountable."

Israeli connection

Cyberbit "makes counter-surveillance and internet monitoring technology", according to Privacy International, a UK-based group that defends the right to privacy.
A spokesperson for the company said its products are regulated by the Israeli Ministry of Defense in accordance with the Israeli Defense Export Control Law and international treaties.
"State entities that purchase these products are obligated to use them in accordance with the applicable law. Cyberbit Solutions does not operate the products," Hila Gabay told Al Jazeera in an email.
"Cyberbit Solutions is subject to confidentiality obligations towards its customers and is not permitted to discuss any specific transaction or customer."

Israel maintains robust arms trade with rogue regimes

On its website, Cyberbit lists Israeli bank Leumi, Samsung SDS (a Samsung subsidiary), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (which split off from Hewlett Packard in 2015), German science-and-technology firm IABG, and Regent University in the US state of Virginia among its "strategic partners and customers".
Israel is home to the headquarters of 27 surveillance companies, making it among the top five countries worldwide alongside the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany, according to a 2016 Privacy International report.
But Israel has the highest concentration of surveillance companies per capita, with 0.33 companies per 100,000 people, compared with 0.04 in the US and 0.16 in the UK, the report found.
Privacy International investigations have revealed that Israeli companies sold telephone and internet-monitoring technology to secret police in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and to security forces in Colombia, Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago.
"It is unclear how high a priority is placed on the consideration of human rights within decision-making in Israel's government when it comes to licensing exports of strategic goods. A recent amendment to export licensing rules that would have put the consideration of human rights records into law was rejected by the foreign ministry," the group noted.

Lack of oversight

In a letter to the Citizen Lab, Adobe - whose PDF editing software was imitated in the spyware emails - said it has "taken steps to swiftly address this issue, including but not limited to contacting Cyberbit and other relevant service providers".
The company called the issues raised by the research "troubling" and said it works "to try to protect our users from the misuse and misrepresentation of our brands - especially where used to deceive others in downloading malicious software".
However, according to Marczak, the problem with the commercial spyware industry is it is "not very well regulated" in terms of export controls, or ways to hold companies accountable for a range of actions, "whether it's targeting people in an abusive way or ... designing products to impersonate brands".
Spyware is becoming increasingly widespread, he added, and companies are showcasing their products at arms fairs and surveillance industry conventions around the world, among other places.
Marczak said he hoped bringing attention to how these surveillance technologies are being used will apply pressure on companies.
"Certainly bringing this issue to the public attention over and over will hopefully push regulatory agencies to take a closer look here [and] push lawmakers to take a closer look here," he said.
Al Jazeera's request for comment from Ethiopia's Government Communication Affairs Office was not immediately answered on Monday.
Cyber security in an interconnected future

Cyber security in an interconnected future