Joyeux Journée de la Femme!

13 Sep

Joyeux Journée de la Femme!

Today is International Women’s Day, which is widely celebrated in Africa. I spent the morning at the American Cultural Center’s seminar on Women in Public Service, keynoted by Beninese Minister of Justice Marie-Elise Gbedo (left, pictured here with Embassy Public Affairs Officer Rhonda Watson). Madame Gbedo is a popular and controversial figure in Benin who I have been trying to meet for the past 5 months, so today was very exciting for me.

She called for solidarity among women, noting how often she hears women say they prefer to hang out with men, or they prefer to work with men. She was talking about Benin, but how often do we hear that in the US? She reminded me yet again that while I am currently focused on women’s rights in Benin, Americans have work to do as well.

During the question and answer portion of the session, I asked her about sexual harassment and barriers to enforcing the law. She responded by decrying the sexual promiscuity of Beninese youth, and even making some explicit comments about sperm on the playground (all of which will be broadcast on national television this evening). But most interestingly for me, she noted that the wild new sexual trends among youth have little to do with affection or with female pleasure. She actually said (in french) – these sexual relationships are just about making the boy ejaculate and then it’s over. EXTREMELY bold words for a public official at an official Embassy event.

I think I’m in love with this woman.


Getting Girls to School

13 Sep

Getting Girls to School

According to UN statistics from 2007, one out of three girls in Benin does not attend school and the literacy rate among women ages 15 to 24 continues to lag at 33.2%.

Study after study has documented the effects of female education on fertility rates, and thus girls’ education is crucial to fighting poverty and improving livelihoods.

I took this photo in a village in central Benin, near a farm where I was doing some volunteer work.