Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The following post was submitted by guest blogger, Cassie Gardener
Like many developing countries, Ethiopia suffers from vast reproductive health challenges that are linked to a vicious cycle of poverty and gender inequality. 35% of women want to prevent or space their births, but don’t have access to family planning services and information, and only 10% of births are attended by skilled personnel.
What is more, these challenges will only be exacerbated by climate change impacts. As resources dry up, women and girls will have to walk farther to collect fuel wood, water and food, and the increased spread of diseases like malaria will make it even harder for people living in poverty to get ahead. Although they’re the least responsible for growing CO2 emissions, it’s the world’s poorest—women and girls—that will bear the brunt of the impacts.
As part of my two-month internship with the Population, Health and Environment (PHE) -Ethiopia Consortium, I recently had the opportunity to visit rural communities in the Bale Mountains of southeast Ethiopia, to witness not only these challenges, but what young women are doing to take action.
The little-known Bale Mountains are national and global treasures of biodiversity, teeming with dozens of endemic mammal, bird, and plant species. The rivers and streams in the Bale watershed flow to more than 12 million people in southern Ethiopia and western Somalia. As in many parts of the country, rural communities in Bale face grave livelihood and health challenges, and their unsustainable use of land to eke out a living is threatening long-term conservation efforts. Due to diminishing agricultural land and an average total fertility rate of 6.2 children per mother in the region, people are increasingly forced to cut trees for fuel and timber in order to feed and house their families.
PHE-Ethiopia’s member organization, MELCA, has been working to protect the region’s biodiversity and culture since 2005. Project Manager Tesfaye Teshome told me that if deforestation and impending climate change dry up Bale’s precious watershed, drought and famine could lead to the displacement or death of millions of Ethiopian citizens.
In March 2008, with funding from Engender Health and the Packard Foundation, MELCA launched an integrated population, health and environment (PHE) project that provides culturally sensitive training at the community, school, and government levels. I was impressed that after just seven months of raising awareness, I met dozens of community members who strongly believe in the benefits of family planning and girls’ empowerment for improving livelihoods and building local resistance to climate change impacts.
For example, I visited Finchaa Banoo Elementary School, where MELCA’s training sessions inspired the nature clubs, women’s clubs, and anti-AIDS clubs joined together to form new “PHE Clubs.” Hundreds of students greeted me with a PHE song, wearing traditional costumes with PHE banners strewn across their chests. Two female club leaders named Fatiye and Rose led me to their nursery site where their club had planted 60,000 indigenous tree seedlings for distribution to the community.
Fatiye, a 21-year old PHE club leader in 8th grade, proudly told me how their club uses dramas, songs and poems to educate their peers and community members about the importance of family planning. She said, “Before the coming of PHE, I knew only about biodiversity and culture. But now, I clearly understand health and population issues, including HIV/AIDS, taught to me by my peers. By having the integration of clubs, we’ve strengthened our power to accomplish more.” She told me that she will use family planning when she’s ready, and has even convinced her grandmother to use a fuel-saving stove, to improve her health and protect the environment.
I am so inspired to know that despite the vast challenges they face, women and girls in the Bale zone of Southeastern Ethiopia are working together to ensure a healthier, greener and more prosperous future for their community, and all Ethiopians!
For more information about PHE-Ethiopia, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at http://www.phe-ethiopia.org. For more information about MELCA, please contact email@example.com or visit their website at http://www.melca-ethiopia.org.