29.10.14

A WEEK AT THE UN MEETING WITH AFRICAN PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVES

pic source: AAI
Meeting with some African Permanent Representatives (PRs) to the United Nations (UN) in New York (NY) was quite empowering and enriching. As a youth leader, having been involved with the post2015 process for over 20 months and having also been working at grassroots with young people for community good; I found our experience as youth task force, meeting with PRs in NY very relevant and timely. Especially as, very soon world leaders will be negotiating the adoption of the next development goals, and also since most at times there are hardly such opportunities for grassroots activists like myself to engage and share lessons with our leaders, particularly those in NY. 
A couple of days before my departure for NY, I had this weird thought; a very discouraging and mixed feeling on whether the PRs would want to meet us.  Behold, I was astonished when I finally met with some of them: their warmth reception and encouraging words was very touching. I was also moved when they promised sharing their expertise, exchanging relevant information as well as keeping us informed on the post2015 review process.
As I reflect on my experience, I remember the meeting with Benin PR H.E Ambassador Jean-Francis R. ZINSOU, how he spoke so passionately about African youth and why he strongly supports a standalone goal on youth in the post2015, as well as the prioritisation of investment in young people’s health.  At that moment, I recall it was an ‘aha’ for me. Also when the PRs of Liberia, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa, all reiterated on the need for youth active engagement and prioritisation throughout the post2015. Above all were their emphasis on issues around accountability, financing and implementation strategy for the SDGs. The fact that they saw the need and acknowledged that youth role is extremely important in the setting up of the next 15 years development plan, so far was the best thing I needed to hear.  And also the fact that in their remarks, they also identify the link and support for universal access to comprehensive sexuality education and services for youth and adolescents in the SDGs.
In cumulation, I felt proud and deeply honoured to have being part of such a diverse and amazing group of young people, committed in promoting change.  And thanks to Ford Foundation , AAI and partners for all the support. 
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Follow everything about the African Youth Task Force (AYTF) activities on twitter under the harsh tags: #AYTF , #AYTF2015 & Post2015

The 12 AYTF

21.10.14

Forced into Marriage at 14

“I refuse to walk in my mum’s shoes” says Mister , 14 year old child bride to WFAC concerning how she was forced to marry a man who is 3 times her age

 “It all started when I left the city and travelled to the village to spend the summer holidays with my grand mum”, Ms. Mister narrates her struggle, fighting against marrying a 35 year-old man. August 2013, Mister recalls, her mum joking about her meeting her husband in the village. A conversation, she never took so seriously until months later when she realised that her mum’s primary intention of sending her to the village was to marry her off.

Mister’s mum is a single mother, a child bride survivor. Mister’s mum was married off to an old man when she was still a minor, in exchange for some sort of traditional rites. Mister’s mum suffered abuse, neglect and violence in her marriage. At around 20, she escaped the abusive marriage. But as per tradition, the consequences are that she can only re-marry, if her ‘arranged’ husband accepts to liberate her. Mister’s mum is not the only woman who has been a victim of harmful traditional practices in Bafanji, North West region of Cameroon. Like Mister’s mum, there many more whose tales remain untold.

Informed by her mum’s experience, Mister refused to walk in her mum’s shoes. She says; “I was only 14, and I had been promoted to the next class (form two)”“If anyone had whispered to me that at this age I will be talking about marriage. I would have asked them to re-think” It was weeks before school resumes and all Mister wanted was to begin the new school year; to learn new things. As well as get the chance to live with her great grand mum, who remains the eldest in the family.

She was just weeks old in village, when she started hearing rumors of one man wanting to get married to her cousin. Mister was astonished and couldn't believe why a 35-year or more would be attracted to a 14 year-old girl. “I found it absurd!” she says: “I couldn't understand how someone would actually think of marrying a 14 year-old. I also couldn't understand even why a parent would allow their daughter marry someone that old.” “In my mind, I knew it was wrong and had wished my opinion would matter but little did I know the whole marriage arrangement was not actually about my cousin but me”, she said with such a heavy emotion.“My mum went on to arrange my wedding without my knowledge” “I felt lied and cheated”, said Mister with strong emphasis.

One day, Mister recounts, my mother visited me in the village and out of curiosity, I asked about my cousin and how things were going on with the wedding. “I got no response”, she remarked!

“Days after my mum had left, this man visited my granny, he came with gifts, shared to everyone and gave mine too! I received the gifts and never used them. I kept them. No one, including my mum knew I have been keeping his gifts” “I did this because I was taught that if someone you don't like gives you something and you don't want to be rude by returning the gift, you take it and keep it - who knows, someday, you might find a way of returning the gift”.

After a while, Mister decided to inform her mum about it as well as to seek assistance on how to approach the uncomfortable gift-giving situation. Unfortunately, the response she got was nothing she expected. “My mum told me that it was nothing” Mister recounts; “that he is just a good man who wants to show his kind gesture”. 14 year-old Mister knew for sure, something wasn't going right. While she thought the man was trying to win her support for her cousin. Mister had no idea, that the supposed cousin would end up being her. “Though, I wasn't convinced somehow I believed my mother,” she says, “I know my mother knows so many people and I remember her telling me she made so many friends when she was young. I also thought maybe the man wanted to win my support for my cousin”. Within that period, as Mister would recall, her mum would visit her almost twice in a month. The visits was just so too frequent, she says; until finally the truth came out! “I was shocked!” she say; “ …I can’t remember everything but all I recall is how my mum started telling me things like,… the man is a good man and that I will not regret marrying the man….”

“I never loved the idea of getting married, worse to that man”, says Mister angrily. “..I refused and told my mother that I do not want to get married but that I want to go to school. Mister explains: ‘I really wanted to continue with my education, and make her proud”.

“I tried to convince my mum to understand. No matter, how I tried to explain my passion for education, my mum will not understand, she kept reminding me of how I have to struggle to score a pass, and how schooling is for those who get good grades so it will be best if I get married. And if I want to continue my education, I can do that while in my husband’s home”.

All these was happening within the month of September – November 2013. And during that period, many schools had begun writing the second sequential test for the term exams. While some students were working hard to excel in their studies, Mister was waging war with her mum. Fighting for her future and life. “It was a big distraction to me”, Mister recalls, “I could not concentrate on my studies the way I had planned”

“Finally , I accepted to marry after mum had threatened to disown me”, She recollected, “Mum assured me that it was for the best as well as my future and that I should understand her health situation, she will soon die, and she doesn't want me to suffer”.

 “… and that with this man, my future is secure and safe, he is a good man, he is going to take good care of me and my younger sister and so we will be fine…” I felt so sorry for my mum, knowing fully that her health is not improving. I didn't want her to go through much pain.

So I accepted the proposal. Though everyone was against it but my mum never welcomed any one’s opinion. January 2014, in the middle of the academic term, I was removed from school and taken to the capital city, Yaoundé, to meet my husband.

Few months after the wedding, he wanted me to get pregnant. And I made him to understand that - the whole marriage is against my wish and if he wants me to give him kids, he better wait for 2025 because until then shall I be ready to give birth.

“Every night, this man and I would fight, quarrel and argue. The entire neighborhood knew us - because we will argue and shout at the top of our voices” says Mister; there are days when he would hit me and let me spend the night outside.

There are times, he will insult me and say: ‘I was not well trained to manage a house. I do not want to have children because I was not responsible enough to be a wife” When he said things like that I was happy because I knew that sooner or later he is going to send me packing and that was what I wanted.

Just four month after our wedding, April 2014, he asked me to live his house after beating me several times. I called my mum and explained the situation.  She was angry and decided to personally come pick me up. I was happy to live the house so that I can continue with my studies.

2 weeks after, she says. "I was shocked to hear my mum saying that I have to return to my husband - that ‘there is no marriage without a problem. And that the man and his family have apologized. I felt offended and disappointed". But finaly she returned, with heavy heart, she recollects.

While there, Mister decided to take her life in her hands, as she recounts: “I refused to do anything. I knew nothing I do or say will liberate me - so, its better I just sit and see what life brings each day” Each day, Mister narrates; “I woke up and just sat… There are days, I took my bath late in the evening. There are also those very bad days that I refused to speak to any one… And because of that there are times I was starved because I didn't wash plates, or clean the house"

 This continued for a couple of months, Mister explains, “It was not long, I was asked to back and leave”. “I felt liberated”, she giggles; ‘Finally, I left!”

Now am back, she says, to live with my mother, unmarried and I do not ever dream of getting married in such a way again and to such a man - NEVER! My plan is go back to school. I also believe that my mother too has learned her lesson and will never support such an idea. I have huge dreams and I won’t allow anyone - no man to obstruct those dreams.


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This article is the 9th in the KnowHerStory Series. It also forms part of WFAC's documentary series that seeks to highlight and amplify the voices of Child Brides.
The bride was interviewed by Nancy Makeoh, WFAC's Community Outreach Manger and toegther we developed the story.

More on WFAC #EndChildMarriage or Child, Early and Forced Marriage Campaign, check out our 'Complete the Sentence Exercise on WFAC  Facebook Page. It is a weekly QUIZ that seeks to raise awareness against CEF Practices, why it matters and why it must end.


1/2 CEF QUIZ

2/2 CEF Quiz

12.10.14

Letter to H.E Michel Tommo Monthe, Cameroon Permanent Representative to the United Nations

H.E. Michel Tommo Monthe,
Cameroon Head Mission at the United Nations,
New York – United States of America.


CC:
H.E. Joseph Bienvenu Charles Foe-Atangana,
The Ambassador of the Republic of Cameroon to the United States of America,
Washington DC.

September 10, 2014

Subject: Positioning and Prioritizing Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in Post-2015 Development Agenda

Dear Ambassador, Sir,

On behalf of the undersigned Cameroonian youth activists, we present to your high office our position and the outcome document of our pre-consultation pertaining to the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of youths in our dear country Cameroon. As usual, we count on your leadership to take advantage of the 69th session of the UN’s General Assembly and Special Session on the follow-up to the Program of Action (PoA) of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), to be held on September 22, 2014 to support and promote an investment in healthy and sustainable development for all, particularly young people and adolescents...click here to read the full letter....

30.9.14

At UNGA 69th, Member States Promise the World Again

September 22 - at the UN headquarters in NY,  along with world leaders,  I joined colleagues from the CSOs and public / private sectors, at the 69th session of the UN's General Assembly and Special Session to the follow-up of the ICPD PoA,  to listen to member states renew their promises - to invest in girls education, promote their SRHR services and need, as well commit to the further implementation of the ICPD PoA review, including the findings of the Secretary General & regional ICPD review outcomes into the post2015 framework.
This is not the first time, we have listened and heard governments make promises. 20 years ago, 179 member states assembled in Cairo and in a consensus they committed to promote gender equality and women's empowerment, as well as protecting and promoting women’s reproductive health and rights.
SO - what happened to the promise? Research shows that in some regions, substantial progress has been achieved in terms of reducing maternal mortality, teen pregnancy and providing universal access to antenatal care. With these, one might be tempted to rejoice that all is going well. But far from it, much work is still to be done. 
“Our work is not finish until every human can fully enjoy their sexuality, and sexual rights”, says Finland President at the 69th UNGASS ICPD PoA follow-up.
VAWg (violence against women and girls) remains one of the leading and greatest hindrance to achieving human rights, experts allude. Over the years, research has shown that globally, at least 1 in 3 women have suffer violence in their life time (W.H.O Report ) and in Africa, Cameroon included, around 45% of women have experienced at least one form of violence (The Guardian). Annually, 14.2 million girls, or approximately 39000 girls are married off every single day; young people continue to lack access to comprehensive sexuality education to enable them make informed choices and healthy decisions about their lives. With all these facts impeding young people's wellbeing, for sure there is nothing to rejoice for.  
Like one speaker at the UNGA said: Development cant be achieved without addressing existing multi-forms of inequalities and discrimination within and across regions. In order words, global development can’t occur when VAWg, sex and gender based discrimination remains prevalent. Same too will Africa not achieve the dividend if measures aren't taken to address VAWg, Youth Unemployment and gender equality.
It is worth noting that Africa remains the one continent with least progress towards attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.  Interesting at UNGA, many of them made progressive statements, demonstrating their zeal to how they shall commit and promote the achievement of the post-2015 goals.
Excerpts from Country's Statements at the 69th UNGASS 
Uganda & Burundi: “We share the views of the Secretary General that in order to eradicate [extreme] poverty and achieve equality, it is important to advance social inclusion and higher level of education”.
Ghana: “Young people are great entrepreneurs and managers. Open data in the hands of young people can effectively drive accountability and transparency / development of a country”
Togo: “We endorse the position of the African Union to the SDGs and urge for step-up efforts and strengthen synergies to achieve the realisation of ICPD PoA”.
Swaziland: “We reaffirms the full commitment of Swazi government to the ICPD PoA and would work tirelessly to ensure that the gaps are addressed”
It was interesting and somewhat encouraging to watched how member states acknowledged in their statements the fact that gender equality and social justice remains a key component to development. And how ensuring equality for all is ensuring respect for the rule of law, enjoyment of basic human rights, as well as advancing social inclusion and also providing quality health care and education for all. 
I hope their promises will actually translate into meaningful actions and not just end as mere words.

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Further readings & related articles

- Five Reasons Why Cameroon should take the Post-2015 Important
 Gender Equality, Youth Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights #SRHR

- UNFPA
- UNGASS ICPD PoA

16.9.14

Five reasons why Cameroon should take the post2015 development framework important

Listed below are 5 reasons why I believe Cameroon should prioritize the inclusion of gender equality and youth SRHR in the post2015 development framework
Next week, September 22, 2014, over 193 Member States of the United Nations, members of CSOs, academia, researchers and private sectors will gather at the U.N head office, United Nations, New York for the 69th General Assembly and a special session on the follow-up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and recommendations on Sustainable development goals.
As world leaders head to this event, it is important that Cameroonians understand the linkage between post2015 and Cameroon’s Vision 2035 and why it is imperative Cameroon government support among others; young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive sexuality education; gender equality and investment in youth capacities and leadership.

It is important to note:
1.       Post2015 and Vision 2015 agenda are all development-oriented and human rights focused
Both post2015 and vision 2035 are development agendas that addresses key human issues particularly those that seeks to advance gender equality, poverty alleviation, social justice, freedom of choice, youth leadership, women’s economic empowerment and sustainable development.
The statistics tells us that women and young people’s make up around 60% of the country’s population. And without adequate measure to ensure that their human rights is fully protected, respected and promoted, the states will be losing out to reap their contributions to development.
Positioning and prioritising youth issues, which include SRHR into the post2015 implies advancing vision 2035 agenda and in turn achieving international human rights and enabling the youth full participation and contributions to national growth, peace and security. Therefore, it is prudent for the government to take advantage of the post2015 development framework.  For its realisation directly affects the enjoyment of everyone.
2.          Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Information is a Vision 2035 Goal
SRHR is an intrinsic component of human right. And both are an essential element in fostering sustainable development. Millions of people, especially young people and adolescent girls are vulnerable to domestic and gender-based violence, they continue to lack adequate and reliable access to comprehensive sexuality information and education and most at time exposed to various untreated sexual and reproductive tract infections, which could have been treated and / or prevent at early stage.
Placing prevention and inclusive health care services and reliable information about people’s sexuality at core of the post2015 deliberation is imperative. It also creates a multiple effect: prioritising health, and also ensuring healthy contributions towards advancing the realisation of vision 2035.
3.        Investing in the capacities of adolescent and youth as drivers of Cameroon’s Vision2035
Two-third of the country’s population are persons between the ages 14-24 [1]. We have all been told time and again that the key drivers of change in any country are its young people. Sadly in Cameroon, many raw and inert skills has not been fully developed and exploited. Cameroon still depend largely on foreign expertise for development whereas it has reservoirs of untapped knowledge, if exploited would meaningfully contribute to the development of this country. 
Cameroon can’t think of becoming an emerging economy without significant contributions of those who constitute over half of its population. Investing in youth is a wise thing to do as a nation. It has a disproportionate impact to the growth and development of that society.

4.        Gender equality and women’s rights matters for development
Gender equality must matter at all levels and stages of the post2015 deliberations. There is no doubt however that a society with greater gender equality achieves better health and development for its people.
Improving gender equality means ensuring quality education for all, especially girls, eliminating systemic forms of violence against women and girls, promoting women’s economic empowerment, access to comprehensive sexuality education, youth participation, leadership and contributions to environmental sustainability.
Becoming an emerging nation come 2035 is laying strong gender equality foundations now! And these, Cameroon must support and prioritize in the post2015 development framework. 

5.            Transparency, Accountability and Good Governance
The Cameroon’s Vision 2035 seeks for an emerging, democratic and united country in diversity by 2035. And one thing is for sure - Democracy comes with government accountability and transparency. The post2015 development framework clearly articulates the need for states’ accountability to the people. As a state, the people must be involved and informed of everything because state’s issues are definitely the people’s concern and it matters.

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It might interest you to note that both frameworks (post2015 & Vision2035)  will be expiring almost within the same period. This therefore provides Cameroon a better ground to create impacts, since both programs will be run simultaneously, it’s easier to identify lapses and re-ameliorate for positive change.