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Latest stories from IPPF

Spotlight

A selection of stories from across the Federation

Humanitarian response team, Fiji.
Story

In pictures: Humanitarian photographers share their experiences of storytelling in the field

IPPF’s localized approach to humanitarian emergencies is led by our Member Associations' response teams and whenever possible, we deploy local photographers.
Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 08 January 2021

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 26 May 2022

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Leilani
story

| 29 March 2018

"I have a feeling the future will be better"

Leiti is a Tongan word to describe transgender women, it comes from the English word “lady”. In Tonga the transgender community is organized by the Tonga Leiti Association (TLA), and with the support of Tonga Family Health Association (TFHA). Together they are educating people to help stop the discrimination and stigma surrounding the Leiti community. Leilani, who identifies as a leiti, has been working with the Tonga Leiti Association, supported by Tonga Health Family Association to battle the stigma surrounding the leiti and LGBTI+ community in Tonga. She says "I started to dress like a leiti at a very young age. Being a leiti in a Tongan family is very difficult because being a leiti or having a son who’s a leiti are considered shameful, so for the family (it) is very difficult to accept us. Many leitis run away from their families." Frequently facing abuse Access to health care and sexual and reproductive health service is another difficulty the leiti community face: going to public clinics, they often face abuse and are more likely to be ignored or dismissed by staff. When they are turned away from other clinics, Leilani knows she can always rely on Tonga Health Family Association for help. 'I think Tonga Family Health has done a lot up to now. They always come and do our annual HIV testing and they supply us (with) some condom because we do the condom distribution here in Tonga and if we have a case in our members or anybody come to our office we refer them to Tonga Family Health. They really, really help us a lot. They (are the) only one that can understand us." Tonga Family Health Association and Tonga Leiti Association partnership allows for both organisations to attend training workshops run by one another. A valuable opportunity not only for clinic staff but for volunteers like Leilani. "When the Tonga Family Health run the training they always ask some members from TLA to come and train with them and we do the same with them. When I give a presentation at the TFHA's clinic, I share with people what we do; I ask them for to change their mindset and how they look about us." Overcoming stigma and discrimination  With her training, Leilani visits schools to help educate, inform and overcome the stigma and discrimination surrounding the leiti community. Many young leiti's drop out of school at an early age due to verbal, physical and in some cases sexual abuse.  Slowly, Leilani is seeing a positive change in the schools she visits.  “We go to school because there a lot of discrimination of the leiti's in high school and primary school too. I have been going from school to school for two years. My plan to visit all the schools in Tonga. We mostly go to all-boys schools is because discrimination in school is mostly done by boys. I was very happy last year when I went to a boys school and so how they really appreciate the work and how well they treated the Leiti's in the school." In February, Tonga was hit by tropical cyclone Gita, the worst cyclone to hit the island in over 60 years. Leilani worries that not enough is being done to ensure the needs of the Leiti and LGBTI+ community is being met during and post humanitarian disasters. "We are one of the vulnerable groups, after the cyclone Gita we should be one of the first priority for the government, or the hospital or any donations. Cause our life is very unique and we are easy to harm." Despite the hardships surrounding the leiti community, Leilani is hopeful for the future, "I can see a lot of families that now accept leiti's in their house and they treat them well. I have a feeling the future will be better. Please stop discriminating against us, but love us. We are here to stay, we are not here to chase away."    Watch the Humanitarian teams response to Cyclone Gita

Leilani
story

| 26 May 2022

"I have a feeling the future will be better"

Leiti is a Tongan word to describe transgender women, it comes from the English word “lady”. In Tonga the transgender community is organized by the Tonga Leiti Association (TLA), and with the support of Tonga Family Health Association (TFHA). Together they are educating people to help stop the discrimination and stigma surrounding the Leiti community. Leilani, who identifies as a leiti, has been working with the Tonga Leiti Association, supported by Tonga Health Family Association to battle the stigma surrounding the leiti and LGBTI+ community in Tonga. She says "I started to dress like a leiti at a very young age. Being a leiti in a Tongan family is very difficult because being a leiti or having a son who’s a leiti are considered shameful, so for the family (it) is very difficult to accept us. Many leitis run away from their families." Frequently facing abuse Access to health care and sexual and reproductive health service is another difficulty the leiti community face: going to public clinics, they often face abuse and are more likely to be ignored or dismissed by staff. When they are turned away from other clinics, Leilani knows she can always rely on Tonga Health Family Association for help. 'I think Tonga Family Health has done a lot up to now. They always come and do our annual HIV testing and they supply us (with) some condom because we do the condom distribution here in Tonga and if we have a case in our members or anybody come to our office we refer them to Tonga Family Health. They really, really help us a lot. They (are the) only one that can understand us." Tonga Family Health Association and Tonga Leiti Association partnership allows for both organisations to attend training workshops run by one another. A valuable opportunity not only for clinic staff but for volunteers like Leilani. "When the Tonga Family Health run the training they always ask some members from TLA to come and train with them and we do the same with them. When I give a presentation at the TFHA's clinic, I share with people what we do; I ask them for to change their mindset and how they look about us." Overcoming stigma and discrimination  With her training, Leilani visits schools to help educate, inform and overcome the stigma and discrimination surrounding the leiti community. Many young leiti's drop out of school at an early age due to verbal, physical and in some cases sexual abuse.  Slowly, Leilani is seeing a positive change in the schools she visits.  “We go to school because there a lot of discrimination of the leiti's in high school and primary school too. I have been going from school to school for two years. My plan to visit all the schools in Tonga. We mostly go to all-boys schools is because discrimination in school is mostly done by boys. I was very happy last year when I went to a boys school and so how they really appreciate the work and how well they treated the Leiti's in the school." In February, Tonga was hit by tropical cyclone Gita, the worst cyclone to hit the island in over 60 years. Leilani worries that not enough is being done to ensure the needs of the Leiti and LGBTI+ community is being met during and post humanitarian disasters. "We are one of the vulnerable groups, after the cyclone Gita we should be one of the first priority for the government, or the hospital or any donations. Cause our life is very unique and we are easy to harm." Despite the hardships surrounding the leiti community, Leilani is hopeful for the future, "I can see a lot of families that now accept leiti's in their house and they treat them well. I have a feeling the future will be better. Please stop discriminating against us, but love us. We are here to stay, we are not here to chase away."    Watch the Humanitarian teams response to Cyclone Gita

Amal during her outreach work to end FGM in Somaliland
story

| 05 February 2018

"Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation (FGM)"

I left Somaliland when I was 9 years old with my mother, brother, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was the civil war and we were lucky enough to reach Canada as refugees. I remember that time as a pleasant, warm, loving time where my cousins and I had a lot of freedom to play, walk to school and daydream. I am from Somaliland so of course I am part of the 97-98% or so of girls who undergo the female genital cut. I think it happened when I was around seven years old. I remember being restrained. I remember strangers being around and I remember peeing standing up and it burning. These memories don’t come up often and they don’t cause me pain. It’s a distant, childhood event. A cousin and a niece my age were there and we went through it together and afterwards our mothers and aunts took care of us. I grew up, went to school, questioned the world and my role in it for a time, got married, had kids and eventually went back to Somaliland. There I met Edna Adan Ismail and asked to volunteer with her. She opened her office, hospital and life to me and I became immersed in the maternal health issues of the women in my home country. The effort to end FGM Most were not as lucky as I had been. Because of FGM/C (female genital mutilation/circumcision), most had experienced recurring infections and difficulties in child birth. Some had formed cysts, some became infertile, and some had obstetric fistula. But few linked these problem to the cutting. At SOFHA (Somaliland Family Health Association) we’ve been working to help women (and men) understand these links and get the help they need. That’s only a part of the work. The effort to end FGM/C in Somaliland goes back almost 40 years. FGM/C programs and projects have been happening for at least the last 25 years. We’re now at the point where it’s recognized as a legitimate, critical, health and social issue. We’re on the cusp of a law against the practice and I have personally witnessed a transformation among the individuals who engage in this work. NGO and government staff tasked with working on FGM/C used to go into communities apologetically, “Sorry but we have to talk to you about this ‘issue’, we know it’s unpleasant but bear with us” to “I have 2 daughters and I have not cut them. This is a terrible practice and we must stop it now”. It fills me with great joy to see young women and men taking this personal stance and doing it confidently and proudly. But it’s not easy for most people to do this. It certainly wasn’t for me. This is personal. This is private. Before I got into the work I might have said, “What business is it of yours anyway? Do you really want me digging into your private life? Into your past and history? I am not a victim. I may be a survivor but not in the way you think and not for the reasons you imagine. I am bigger than this. This doesn’t define me.” Dignity, bravery, respect And it may not define most Somali women. I think that’s what confuses many people. Maybe it’s because it happens in childhood and those memories are lost or hidden or maybe because mothers and grandmothers have such good intentions or maybe because it’s so universal within the community? That’s why it’s a completely different experience for a young Somali girl born and brought up somewhere else. The experience is very personal and it varies from person to person. Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation. In Somaliland, a dynamic young generation connected to the world through the internet, and integrated multi-pronged FGM/C programming, is helping us to influence a generation of Somalis to abandon the cut and break the cycle. It’s still some distance away but we see the end in sight. Words Amal Ahmed, the executive director of our Member Association in Somaliland (SOFHA) 

Amal during her outreach work to end FGM in Somaliland
story

| 26 May 2022

"Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation (FGM)"

I left Somaliland when I was 9 years old with my mother, brother, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was the civil war and we were lucky enough to reach Canada as refugees. I remember that time as a pleasant, warm, loving time where my cousins and I had a lot of freedom to play, walk to school and daydream. I am from Somaliland so of course I am part of the 97-98% or so of girls who undergo the female genital cut. I think it happened when I was around seven years old. I remember being restrained. I remember strangers being around and I remember peeing standing up and it burning. These memories don’t come up often and they don’t cause me pain. It’s a distant, childhood event. A cousin and a niece my age were there and we went through it together and afterwards our mothers and aunts took care of us. I grew up, went to school, questioned the world and my role in it for a time, got married, had kids and eventually went back to Somaliland. There I met Edna Adan Ismail and asked to volunteer with her. She opened her office, hospital and life to me and I became immersed in the maternal health issues of the women in my home country. The effort to end FGM Most were not as lucky as I had been. Because of FGM/C (female genital mutilation/circumcision), most had experienced recurring infections and difficulties in child birth. Some had formed cysts, some became infertile, and some had obstetric fistula. But few linked these problem to the cutting. At SOFHA (Somaliland Family Health Association) we’ve been working to help women (and men) understand these links and get the help they need. That’s only a part of the work. The effort to end FGM/C in Somaliland goes back almost 40 years. FGM/C programs and projects have been happening for at least the last 25 years. We’re now at the point where it’s recognized as a legitimate, critical, health and social issue. We’re on the cusp of a law against the practice and I have personally witnessed a transformation among the individuals who engage in this work. NGO and government staff tasked with working on FGM/C used to go into communities apologetically, “Sorry but we have to talk to you about this ‘issue’, we know it’s unpleasant but bear with us” to “I have 2 daughters and I have not cut them. This is a terrible practice and we must stop it now”. It fills me with great joy to see young women and men taking this personal stance and doing it confidently and proudly. But it’s not easy for most people to do this. It certainly wasn’t for me. This is personal. This is private. Before I got into the work I might have said, “What business is it of yours anyway? Do you really want me digging into your private life? Into your past and history? I am not a victim. I may be a survivor but not in the way you think and not for the reasons you imagine. I am bigger than this. This doesn’t define me.” Dignity, bravery, respect And it may not define most Somali women. I think that’s what confuses many people. Maybe it’s because it happens in childhood and those memories are lost or hidden or maybe because mothers and grandmothers have such good intentions or maybe because it’s so universal within the community? That’s why it’s a completely different experience for a young Somali girl born and brought up somewhere else. The experience is very personal and it varies from person to person. Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation. In Somaliland, a dynamic young generation connected to the world through the internet, and integrated multi-pronged FGM/C programming, is helping us to influence a generation of Somalis to abandon the cut and break the cycle. It’s still some distance away but we see the end in sight. Words Amal Ahmed, the executive director of our Member Association in Somaliland (SOFHA) 

IPPF volunteer in Nepal for FPAN
story

| 25 July 2017

Female volunteers take the lead to deliver life critical health advice after the earthquake

“After the earthquake, there were so many problems. So many homes were destroyed. People are still living in temporary homes because they’re unable to rebuild their homes.” Pasang Tamang lives in Gatlang, high up in the mountains of northern Nepal, 15 kilometres from the Tibetan border. It is a sublimely beautiful village of traditional three-storied houses and Buddhist shrines resting on the slopes of a mountain and thronged by lush potato fields. The 2000 or so people living here are ethnic Tamang, a people of strong cultural traditions, who live across across Nepal but particularly in the lands bordering Tibet. The earthquake of 25 April had a devastating impact on Gatlang. Most of the traditional houses in the heart of the village were damaged or destroyed, and people were forced to move into small shacks of corrugated iron and plastic, where many still live. “Seven people died and three were injured and then later died,” says Pasang. These numbers might seems small compared to some casualty numbers in Nepal, but in a tightknit village like Gatlang, the impact was felt keenly. Hundreds of people were forced into tents. “People suffered badly from the cold,” Pasang says. “Some people caught pneumonia.” At 2240 metres above sea level, nighttime temperatures in Gatlang can plunge.  Pregnant women fared particularly badly: “They were unable to access nutritious food or find a warm place. They really suffered.” Pasang herself was badly injured. “During the earthquake, I was asleep in the house because I was ill,” she says. “When I felt the earthquake, I ran out of the house and while I was running I got injured, and my mouth was damaged.” Help was at hand . “After the earthquake, there were so many organisations that came to help, including FPAN,” Pasang says. As well as setting up health camps and providing a range of health care, “they provided family planning devices to people who were in need.” Hundreds of families still live in the corrugated iron and plastic sheds that were erected as a replacement for tents. The government has been slow to distribute funds, and the villagers say that any money they have received falls far short of the cost of rebuilding their old stone homes. Pasang’s house stands empty. “We will not be able to return home because the house is cracked and if there was another earthquake, it would be completely destroyed,” she says. Since the earthquake, she has begun working as a volunteer for FPAN. Her role involves travelling around villages in the area, raising awareness about different contraceptive methods and family planning. Volunteers like Pasang perform a crucial function in a region where literacy levels and a strongly patriarchal culture mean that women marry young and have to get consent from their husbands before using contraception. In this remote community, direct contact with a volunteer who can offer advice and guidance orally, and talk to women about their broader health needs, is absolutely vital.

IPPF volunteer in Nepal for FPAN
story

| 26 May 2022

Female volunteers take the lead to deliver life critical health advice after the earthquake

“After the earthquake, there were so many problems. So many homes were destroyed. People are still living in temporary homes because they’re unable to rebuild their homes.” Pasang Tamang lives in Gatlang, high up in the mountains of northern Nepal, 15 kilometres from the Tibetan border. It is a sublimely beautiful village of traditional three-storied houses and Buddhist shrines resting on the slopes of a mountain and thronged by lush potato fields. The 2000 or so people living here are ethnic Tamang, a people of strong cultural traditions, who live across across Nepal but particularly in the lands bordering Tibet. The earthquake of 25 April had a devastating impact on Gatlang. Most of the traditional houses in the heart of the village were damaged or destroyed, and people were forced to move into small shacks of corrugated iron and plastic, where many still live. “Seven people died and three were injured and then later died,” says Pasang. These numbers might seems small compared to some casualty numbers in Nepal, but in a tightknit village like Gatlang, the impact was felt keenly. Hundreds of people were forced into tents. “People suffered badly from the cold,” Pasang says. “Some people caught pneumonia.” At 2240 metres above sea level, nighttime temperatures in Gatlang can plunge.  Pregnant women fared particularly badly: “They were unable to access nutritious food or find a warm place. They really suffered.” Pasang herself was badly injured. “During the earthquake, I was asleep in the house because I was ill,” she says. “When I felt the earthquake, I ran out of the house and while I was running I got injured, and my mouth was damaged.” Help was at hand . “After the earthquake, there were so many organisations that came to help, including FPAN,” Pasang says. As well as setting up health camps and providing a range of health care, “they provided family planning devices to people who were in need.” Hundreds of families still live in the corrugated iron and plastic sheds that were erected as a replacement for tents. The government has been slow to distribute funds, and the villagers say that any money they have received falls far short of the cost of rebuilding their old stone homes. Pasang’s house stands empty. “We will not be able to return home because the house is cracked and if there was another earthquake, it would be completely destroyed,” she says. Since the earthquake, she has begun working as a volunteer for FPAN. Her role involves travelling around villages in the area, raising awareness about different contraceptive methods and family planning. Volunteers like Pasang perform a crucial function in a region where literacy levels and a strongly patriarchal culture mean that women marry young and have to get consent from their husbands before using contraception. In this remote community, direct contact with a volunteer who can offer advice and guidance orally, and talk to women about their broader health needs, is absolutely vital.

Young nepalese volunteer from IPPF in Nepal, FPAN
story

| 25 July 2017

Thousands of young volunteers join us after the earthquake

The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal brought death and devastation to thousands of people – from which many are still recovering. But there was one positive outcome: after the earthquake, thousands of young people came forward to support those affected as volunteers. For Rita Tukanbanjar, a twenty-two-year-old nurse from Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley, the earthquake was an eye-opening ordeal: it gave her first-hand experience of the different ways that natural disasters can affect people, particularly women and girls. “After the earthquake, FPAN was organising menstrual hygiene classes for affected people, and I took part in these,” she says. The earthquake severely affected people’s access to healthcare, but women and girls were particularly vulnerable: living in tents can make menstrual hygiene difficult, and most aid agencies tend to neglect these needs and forget to factor them into relief efforts. “After the earthquake, lots of people were living in tents, as most of the houses had collapsed,” Rita says. “During that time, the girls, especially, were facing a lot of problems maintaining their menstrual hygiene. All the shops and services for menstrual hygiene were closed.” This makes FPAN’s work even more vital. The organisation stepped into the breach and organised classes on menstrual hygiene and taught women and girls how to make sanitary pads from scratch. This was not only useful during the earthquake, but provided valuable knowledge for women and girls to use in normal life too, Rita says: “From that time on wards, women are still making their own sanitary pads.” In an impoverished country like Nepal, many women and girls can simply not afford to buy sanitary pads and tampons. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with gross domestic product per capita of just $691 in 2014. In this largely patriarchal culture, the needs of women often come low down in a family’s priorities. “This is very important work and very useful,” Rita says. The women and girls also learned about how to protect themselves from sexual violence, which saw a surge in the weeks after the earthquake, with men preying on people living in tents and temporary shacks. Rita and her family lived in a tent for 20 days. “There was always the fear of getting abused,” she says. Eventually they managed to return home to live in the ruins of their house: “one part was undamaged so we covered it with a tent and managed to sleep there, on the ground floor.” Seeing the suffering the earthquake had caused, and the work FPAN and other organisations were doing to alleviate it, cemented Rita’s decision to begin volunteering. “After the earthquake, when things got back to normal, I joined FPAN.” She also completed her nursing degree, which had been interrupted by the disaster. “Since joining FPAN, I have been very busy creating awareness about sexual rights and all kinds of things, and running Friday sexual education classes in schools,” Rita says. “And since I have a nursing background, people often come to me with problems, and I give them suggestions and share my knowledge with them.” She also hopes to become a staff nurse for FPAN. “If that opportunity comes my way, then I would definitely love to do it,” she says.

Young nepalese volunteer from IPPF in Nepal, FPAN
story

| 26 May 2022

Thousands of young volunteers join us after the earthquake

The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal brought death and devastation to thousands of people – from which many are still recovering. But there was one positive outcome: after the earthquake, thousands of young people came forward to support those affected as volunteers. For Rita Tukanbanjar, a twenty-two-year-old nurse from Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley, the earthquake was an eye-opening ordeal: it gave her first-hand experience of the different ways that natural disasters can affect people, particularly women and girls. “After the earthquake, FPAN was organising menstrual hygiene classes for affected people, and I took part in these,” she says. The earthquake severely affected people’s access to healthcare, but women and girls were particularly vulnerable: living in tents can make menstrual hygiene difficult, and most aid agencies tend to neglect these needs and forget to factor them into relief efforts. “After the earthquake, lots of people were living in tents, as most of the houses had collapsed,” Rita says. “During that time, the girls, especially, were facing a lot of problems maintaining their menstrual hygiene. All the shops and services for menstrual hygiene were closed.” This makes FPAN’s work even more vital. The organisation stepped into the breach and organised classes on menstrual hygiene and taught women and girls how to make sanitary pads from scratch. This was not only useful during the earthquake, but provided valuable knowledge for women and girls to use in normal life too, Rita says: “From that time on wards, women are still making their own sanitary pads.” In an impoverished country like Nepal, many women and girls can simply not afford to buy sanitary pads and tampons. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with gross domestic product per capita of just $691 in 2014. In this largely patriarchal culture, the needs of women often come low down in a family’s priorities. “This is very important work and very useful,” Rita says. The women and girls also learned about how to protect themselves from sexual violence, which saw a surge in the weeks after the earthquake, with men preying on people living in tents and temporary shacks. Rita and her family lived in a tent for 20 days. “There was always the fear of getting abused,” she says. Eventually they managed to return home to live in the ruins of their house: “one part was undamaged so we covered it with a tent and managed to sleep there, on the ground floor.” Seeing the suffering the earthquake had caused, and the work FPAN and other organisations were doing to alleviate it, cemented Rita’s decision to begin volunteering. “After the earthquake, when things got back to normal, I joined FPAN.” She also completed her nursing degree, which had been interrupted by the disaster. “Since joining FPAN, I have been very busy creating awareness about sexual rights and all kinds of things, and running Friday sexual education classes in schools,” Rita says. “And since I have a nursing background, people often come to me with problems, and I give them suggestions and share my knowledge with them.” She also hopes to become a staff nurse for FPAN. “If that opportunity comes my way, then I would definitely love to do it,” she says.

Pretty Lynn, a sex worker and beneficiary of the Little Mermaids Bureau project, at the LMB office in Kampala, Uganda.
story

| 21 May 2017

A graduate in need turns to sex work

The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grass-roots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. One such organisation which received support under the last round of funding is called Lady Mermaid's Bureau. I am Pretty Lynn, aged 25. I am a sex worker but I went to university. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Tourism in 2013. But now, during the day I’m sleeping and during the night I’m working. That is how my day goes every day. I got into sex work through friends. Okay it is not good but I am earning.  I tried to get a job when I graduated. I have been applying since I graduated in 2013. I’m still applying but I’m not getting anywhere. You know to get jobs in Uganda; you have to know someone there and no one knows me there. To be a sex worker is like a curse. People look at you like, I don’t know, as someone that has no use in society. People look at you in a bad way. They even don’t consider why you are selling. They just see you as the worst thing that can happen in the society. So it is not comfortable, it is really hard but we try and survive. The fact sex working is illegal means you have to hide yourself when you are selling so that police cannot take you. And then you get diseases, men don’t want to pay. When the police come and take us, sometimes they even use us and don’t pay. So it is really hard. They want a free service. Like if they come and take you and pay that would be fair. But they say it is illegal to sell yourself. But they still use you yet they are saying it is illegal. You can’t report the police because there is no evidence.  Abortion and unwanted pregnancies are really common because men don’t want to use condoms and female condoms are really rare and they are expensive. Though at times we get female condoms from Lady Marmaid’s Bureau (LMB) because there are so many of us they can’t keep on giving you them all the time. At times when we get pregnant we use local methods. You can go and use local herbs but it is not safe. One time I used local herbs and I was successful. Then the other time I used Omo washing powder and tea leaves but it was really hard for me. I almost died. I had a friend who died last year from this. But the good thing is that LMB taught us about safe abortion. I have had a safe abortion too. There are some tabs they are called Miso (misoprostol). It costs about fifty thousand shillings (£10 pounds or $20.) It is a lot of money. But if I’m working and I know I’m pregnant, I can say, "this week I’m working for my safe abortion". So if I’m working for twenty thousand, by the end of the week I will have the money. It is expensive compared to Omo at five hundred shillings but that is risky. So if I say I will work this whole week for Miso (misoprostol) it is better. But I'm working and I'm not eating. A project like this one from Lady Mermaid's can help young girls and women. But to take us from sex work, it would really be hard. They would not have enough money to cater for all of us. So what they have to do is to teach us how to protect ourselves, how to defend ourselves. Safe abortion yes. They will just have to sensitise us more about our lives, protection, female condoms and all that. I don't have a boyfriend but maybe when I get money and leave this job I will. But for now, no man would like a woman who sells. No man will bear the wife selling herself. And that will happen only if I get funds, settle somewhere else and become responsible woman. I don’t want this job. I don’t want to be in this business of sex work all the time. I want be married, with my children happily, not selling myself. Stories Read more stories about the amazing success of SAAF in Uganda

Pretty Lynn, a sex worker and beneficiary of the Little Mermaids Bureau project, at the LMB office in Kampala, Uganda.
story

| 26 May 2022

A graduate in need turns to sex work

The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grass-roots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. One such organisation which received support under the last round of funding is called Lady Mermaid's Bureau. I am Pretty Lynn, aged 25. I am a sex worker but I went to university. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Tourism in 2013. But now, during the day I’m sleeping and during the night I’m working. That is how my day goes every day. I got into sex work through friends. Okay it is not good but I am earning.  I tried to get a job when I graduated. I have been applying since I graduated in 2013. I’m still applying but I’m not getting anywhere. You know to get jobs in Uganda; you have to know someone there and no one knows me there. To be a sex worker is like a curse. People look at you like, I don’t know, as someone that has no use in society. People look at you in a bad way. They even don’t consider why you are selling. They just see you as the worst thing that can happen in the society. So it is not comfortable, it is really hard but we try and survive. The fact sex working is illegal means you have to hide yourself when you are selling so that police cannot take you. And then you get diseases, men don’t want to pay. When the police come and take us, sometimes they even use us and don’t pay. So it is really hard. They want a free service. Like if they come and take you and pay that would be fair. But they say it is illegal to sell yourself. But they still use you yet they are saying it is illegal. You can’t report the police because there is no evidence.  Abortion and unwanted pregnancies are really common because men don’t want to use condoms and female condoms are really rare and they are expensive. Though at times we get female condoms from Lady Marmaid’s Bureau (LMB) because there are so many of us they can’t keep on giving you them all the time. At times when we get pregnant we use local methods. You can go and use local herbs but it is not safe. One time I used local herbs and I was successful. Then the other time I used Omo washing powder and tea leaves but it was really hard for me. I almost died. I had a friend who died last year from this. But the good thing is that LMB taught us about safe abortion. I have had a safe abortion too. There are some tabs they are called Miso (misoprostol). It costs about fifty thousand shillings (£10 pounds or $20.) It is a lot of money. But if I’m working and I know I’m pregnant, I can say, "this week I’m working for my safe abortion". So if I’m working for twenty thousand, by the end of the week I will have the money. It is expensive compared to Omo at five hundred shillings but that is risky. So if I say I will work this whole week for Miso (misoprostol) it is better. But I'm working and I'm not eating. A project like this one from Lady Mermaid's can help young girls and women. But to take us from sex work, it would really be hard. They would not have enough money to cater for all of us. So what they have to do is to teach us how to protect ourselves, how to defend ourselves. Safe abortion yes. They will just have to sensitise us more about our lives, protection, female condoms and all that. I don't have a boyfriend but maybe when I get money and leave this job I will. But for now, no man would like a woman who sells. No man will bear the wife selling herself. And that will happen only if I get funds, settle somewhere else and become responsible woman. I don’t want this job. I don’t want to be in this business of sex work all the time. I want be married, with my children happily, not selling myself. Stories Read more stories about the amazing success of SAAF in Uganda

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 08 January 2021

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 26 May 2022

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Leilani
story

| 29 March 2018

"I have a feeling the future will be better"

Leiti is a Tongan word to describe transgender women, it comes from the English word “lady”. In Tonga the transgender community is organized by the Tonga Leiti Association (TLA), and with the support of Tonga Family Health Association (TFHA). Together they are educating people to help stop the discrimination and stigma surrounding the Leiti community. Leilani, who identifies as a leiti, has been working with the Tonga Leiti Association, supported by Tonga Health Family Association to battle the stigma surrounding the leiti and LGBTI+ community in Tonga. She says "I started to dress like a leiti at a very young age. Being a leiti in a Tongan family is very difficult because being a leiti or having a son who’s a leiti are considered shameful, so for the family (it) is very difficult to accept us. Many leitis run away from their families." Frequently facing abuse Access to health care and sexual and reproductive health service is another difficulty the leiti community face: going to public clinics, they often face abuse and are more likely to be ignored or dismissed by staff. When they are turned away from other clinics, Leilani knows she can always rely on Tonga Health Family Association for help. 'I think Tonga Family Health has done a lot up to now. They always come and do our annual HIV testing and they supply us (with) some condom because we do the condom distribution here in Tonga and if we have a case in our members or anybody come to our office we refer them to Tonga Family Health. They really, really help us a lot. They (are the) only one that can understand us." Tonga Family Health Association and Tonga Leiti Association partnership allows for both organisations to attend training workshops run by one another. A valuable opportunity not only for clinic staff but for volunteers like Leilani. "When the Tonga Family Health run the training they always ask some members from TLA to come and train with them and we do the same with them. When I give a presentation at the TFHA's clinic, I share with people what we do; I ask them for to change their mindset and how they look about us." Overcoming stigma and discrimination  With her training, Leilani visits schools to help educate, inform and overcome the stigma and discrimination surrounding the leiti community. Many young leiti's drop out of school at an early age due to verbal, physical and in some cases sexual abuse.  Slowly, Leilani is seeing a positive change in the schools she visits.  “We go to school because there a lot of discrimination of the leiti's in high school and primary school too. I have been going from school to school for two years. My plan to visit all the schools in Tonga. We mostly go to all-boys schools is because discrimination in school is mostly done by boys. I was very happy last year when I went to a boys school and so how they really appreciate the work and how well they treated the Leiti's in the school." In February, Tonga was hit by tropical cyclone Gita, the worst cyclone to hit the island in over 60 years. Leilani worries that not enough is being done to ensure the needs of the Leiti and LGBTI+ community is being met during and post humanitarian disasters. "We are one of the vulnerable groups, after the cyclone Gita we should be one of the first priority for the government, or the hospital or any donations. Cause our life is very unique and we are easy to harm." Despite the hardships surrounding the leiti community, Leilani is hopeful for the future, "I can see a lot of families that now accept leiti's in their house and they treat them well. I have a feeling the future will be better. Please stop discriminating against us, but love us. We are here to stay, we are not here to chase away."    Watch the Humanitarian teams response to Cyclone Gita

Leilani
story

| 26 May 2022

"I have a feeling the future will be better"

Leiti is a Tongan word to describe transgender women, it comes from the English word “lady”. In Tonga the transgender community is organized by the Tonga Leiti Association (TLA), and with the support of Tonga Family Health Association (TFHA). Together they are educating people to help stop the discrimination and stigma surrounding the Leiti community. Leilani, who identifies as a leiti, has been working with the Tonga Leiti Association, supported by Tonga Health Family Association to battle the stigma surrounding the leiti and LGBTI+ community in Tonga. She says "I started to dress like a leiti at a very young age. Being a leiti in a Tongan family is very difficult because being a leiti or having a son who’s a leiti are considered shameful, so for the family (it) is very difficult to accept us. Many leitis run away from their families." Frequently facing abuse Access to health care and sexual and reproductive health service is another difficulty the leiti community face: going to public clinics, they often face abuse and are more likely to be ignored or dismissed by staff. When they are turned away from other clinics, Leilani knows she can always rely on Tonga Health Family Association for help. 'I think Tonga Family Health has done a lot up to now. They always come and do our annual HIV testing and they supply us (with) some condom because we do the condom distribution here in Tonga and if we have a case in our members or anybody come to our office we refer them to Tonga Family Health. They really, really help us a lot. They (are the) only one that can understand us." Tonga Family Health Association and Tonga Leiti Association partnership allows for both organisations to attend training workshops run by one another. A valuable opportunity not only for clinic staff but for volunteers like Leilani. "When the Tonga Family Health run the training they always ask some members from TLA to come and train with them and we do the same with them. When I give a presentation at the TFHA's clinic, I share with people what we do; I ask them for to change their mindset and how they look about us." Overcoming stigma and discrimination  With her training, Leilani visits schools to help educate, inform and overcome the stigma and discrimination surrounding the leiti community. Many young leiti's drop out of school at an early age due to verbal, physical and in some cases sexual abuse.  Slowly, Leilani is seeing a positive change in the schools she visits.  “We go to school because there a lot of discrimination of the leiti's in high school and primary school too. I have been going from school to school for two years. My plan to visit all the schools in Tonga. We mostly go to all-boys schools is because discrimination in school is mostly done by boys. I was very happy last year when I went to a boys school and so how they really appreciate the work and how well they treated the Leiti's in the school." In February, Tonga was hit by tropical cyclone Gita, the worst cyclone to hit the island in over 60 years. Leilani worries that not enough is being done to ensure the needs of the Leiti and LGBTI+ community is being met during and post humanitarian disasters. "We are one of the vulnerable groups, after the cyclone Gita we should be one of the first priority for the government, or the hospital or any donations. Cause our life is very unique and we are easy to harm." Despite the hardships surrounding the leiti community, Leilani is hopeful for the future, "I can see a lot of families that now accept leiti's in their house and they treat them well. I have a feeling the future will be better. Please stop discriminating against us, but love us. We are here to stay, we are not here to chase away."    Watch the Humanitarian teams response to Cyclone Gita

Amal during her outreach work to end FGM in Somaliland
story

| 05 February 2018

"Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation (FGM)"

I left Somaliland when I was 9 years old with my mother, brother, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was the civil war and we were lucky enough to reach Canada as refugees. I remember that time as a pleasant, warm, loving time where my cousins and I had a lot of freedom to play, walk to school and daydream. I am from Somaliland so of course I am part of the 97-98% or so of girls who undergo the female genital cut. I think it happened when I was around seven years old. I remember being restrained. I remember strangers being around and I remember peeing standing up and it burning. These memories don’t come up often and they don’t cause me pain. It’s a distant, childhood event. A cousin and a niece my age were there and we went through it together and afterwards our mothers and aunts took care of us. I grew up, went to school, questioned the world and my role in it for a time, got married, had kids and eventually went back to Somaliland. There I met Edna Adan Ismail and asked to volunteer with her. She opened her office, hospital and life to me and I became immersed in the maternal health issues of the women in my home country. The effort to end FGM Most were not as lucky as I had been. Because of FGM/C (female genital mutilation/circumcision), most had experienced recurring infections and difficulties in child birth. Some had formed cysts, some became infertile, and some had obstetric fistula. But few linked these problem to the cutting. At SOFHA (Somaliland Family Health Association) we’ve been working to help women (and men) understand these links and get the help they need. That’s only a part of the work. The effort to end FGM/C in Somaliland goes back almost 40 years. FGM/C programs and projects have been happening for at least the last 25 years. We’re now at the point where it’s recognized as a legitimate, critical, health and social issue. We’re on the cusp of a law against the practice and I have personally witnessed a transformation among the individuals who engage in this work. NGO and government staff tasked with working on FGM/C used to go into communities apologetically, “Sorry but we have to talk to you about this ‘issue’, we know it’s unpleasant but bear with us” to “I have 2 daughters and I have not cut them. This is a terrible practice and we must stop it now”. It fills me with great joy to see young women and men taking this personal stance and doing it confidently and proudly. But it’s not easy for most people to do this. It certainly wasn’t for me. This is personal. This is private. Before I got into the work I might have said, “What business is it of yours anyway? Do you really want me digging into your private life? Into your past and history? I am not a victim. I may be a survivor but not in the way you think and not for the reasons you imagine. I am bigger than this. This doesn’t define me.” Dignity, bravery, respect And it may not define most Somali women. I think that’s what confuses many people. Maybe it’s because it happens in childhood and those memories are lost or hidden or maybe because mothers and grandmothers have such good intentions or maybe because it’s so universal within the community? That’s why it’s a completely different experience for a young Somali girl born and brought up somewhere else. The experience is very personal and it varies from person to person. Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation. In Somaliland, a dynamic young generation connected to the world through the internet, and integrated multi-pronged FGM/C programming, is helping us to influence a generation of Somalis to abandon the cut and break the cycle. It’s still some distance away but we see the end in sight. Words Amal Ahmed, the executive director of our Member Association in Somaliland (SOFHA) 

Amal during her outreach work to end FGM in Somaliland
story

| 26 May 2022

"Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation (FGM)"

I left Somaliland when I was 9 years old with my mother, brother, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was the civil war and we were lucky enough to reach Canada as refugees. I remember that time as a pleasant, warm, loving time where my cousins and I had a lot of freedom to play, walk to school and daydream. I am from Somaliland so of course I am part of the 97-98% or so of girls who undergo the female genital cut. I think it happened when I was around seven years old. I remember being restrained. I remember strangers being around and I remember peeing standing up and it burning. These memories don’t come up often and they don’t cause me pain. It’s a distant, childhood event. A cousin and a niece my age were there and we went through it together and afterwards our mothers and aunts took care of us. I grew up, went to school, questioned the world and my role in it for a time, got married, had kids and eventually went back to Somaliland. There I met Edna Adan Ismail and asked to volunteer with her. She opened her office, hospital and life to me and I became immersed in the maternal health issues of the women in my home country. The effort to end FGM Most were not as lucky as I had been. Because of FGM/C (female genital mutilation/circumcision), most had experienced recurring infections and difficulties in child birth. Some had formed cysts, some became infertile, and some had obstetric fistula. But few linked these problem to the cutting. At SOFHA (Somaliland Family Health Association) we’ve been working to help women (and men) understand these links and get the help they need. That’s only a part of the work. The effort to end FGM/C in Somaliland goes back almost 40 years. FGM/C programs and projects have been happening for at least the last 25 years. We’re now at the point where it’s recognized as a legitimate, critical, health and social issue. We’re on the cusp of a law against the practice and I have personally witnessed a transformation among the individuals who engage in this work. NGO and government staff tasked with working on FGM/C used to go into communities apologetically, “Sorry but we have to talk to you about this ‘issue’, we know it’s unpleasant but bear with us” to “I have 2 daughters and I have not cut them. This is a terrible practice and we must stop it now”. It fills me with great joy to see young women and men taking this personal stance and doing it confidently and proudly. But it’s not easy for most people to do this. It certainly wasn’t for me. This is personal. This is private. Before I got into the work I might have said, “What business is it of yours anyway? Do you really want me digging into your private life? Into your past and history? I am not a victim. I may be a survivor but not in the way you think and not for the reasons you imagine. I am bigger than this. This doesn’t define me.” Dignity, bravery, respect And it may not define most Somali women. I think that’s what confuses many people. Maybe it’s because it happens in childhood and those memories are lost or hidden or maybe because mothers and grandmothers have such good intentions or maybe because it’s so universal within the community? That’s why it’s a completely different experience for a young Somali girl born and brought up somewhere else. The experience is very personal and it varies from person to person. Dignity, respect and bravery are guiding principles for our work on female genital mutilation. In Somaliland, a dynamic young generation connected to the world through the internet, and integrated multi-pronged FGM/C programming, is helping us to influence a generation of Somalis to abandon the cut and break the cycle. It’s still some distance away but we see the end in sight. Words Amal Ahmed, the executive director of our Member Association in Somaliland (SOFHA) 

IPPF volunteer in Nepal for FPAN
story

| 25 July 2017

Female volunteers take the lead to deliver life critical health advice after the earthquake

“After the earthquake, there were so many problems. So many homes were destroyed. People are still living in temporary homes because they’re unable to rebuild their homes.” Pasang Tamang lives in Gatlang, high up in the mountains of northern Nepal, 15 kilometres from the Tibetan border. It is a sublimely beautiful village of traditional three-storied houses and Buddhist shrines resting on the slopes of a mountain and thronged by lush potato fields. The 2000 or so people living here are ethnic Tamang, a people of strong cultural traditions, who live across across Nepal but particularly in the lands bordering Tibet. The earthquake of 25 April had a devastating impact on Gatlang. Most of the traditional houses in the heart of the village were damaged or destroyed, and people were forced to move into small shacks of corrugated iron and plastic, where many still live. “Seven people died and three were injured and then later died,” says Pasang. These numbers might seems small compared to some casualty numbers in Nepal, but in a tightknit village like Gatlang, the impact was felt keenly. Hundreds of people were forced into tents. “People suffered badly from the cold,” Pasang says. “Some people caught pneumonia.” At 2240 metres above sea level, nighttime temperatures in Gatlang can plunge.  Pregnant women fared particularly badly: “They were unable to access nutritious food or find a warm place. They really suffered.” Pasang herself was badly injured. “During the earthquake, I was asleep in the house because I was ill,” she says. “When I felt the earthquake, I ran out of the house and while I was running I got injured, and my mouth was damaged.” Help was at hand . “After the earthquake, there were so many organisations that came to help, including FPAN,” Pasang says. As well as setting up health camps and providing a range of health care, “they provided family planning devices to people who were in need.” Hundreds of families still live in the corrugated iron and plastic sheds that were erected as a replacement for tents. The government has been slow to distribute funds, and the villagers say that any money they have received falls far short of the cost of rebuilding their old stone homes. Pasang’s house stands empty. “We will not be able to return home because the house is cracked and if there was another earthquake, it would be completely destroyed,” she says. Since the earthquake, she has begun working as a volunteer for FPAN. Her role involves travelling around villages in the area, raising awareness about different contraceptive methods and family planning. Volunteers like Pasang perform a crucial function in a region where literacy levels and a strongly patriarchal culture mean that women marry young and have to get consent from their husbands before using contraception. In this remote community, direct contact with a volunteer who can offer advice and guidance orally, and talk to women about their broader health needs, is absolutely vital.

IPPF volunteer in Nepal for FPAN
story

| 26 May 2022

Female volunteers take the lead to deliver life critical health advice after the earthquake

“After the earthquake, there were so many problems. So many homes were destroyed. People are still living in temporary homes because they’re unable to rebuild their homes.” Pasang Tamang lives in Gatlang, high up in the mountains of northern Nepal, 15 kilometres from the Tibetan border. It is a sublimely beautiful village of traditional three-storied houses and Buddhist shrines resting on the slopes of a mountain and thronged by lush potato fields. The 2000 or so people living here are ethnic Tamang, a people of strong cultural traditions, who live across across Nepal but particularly in the lands bordering Tibet. The earthquake of 25 April had a devastating impact on Gatlang. Most of the traditional houses in the heart of the village were damaged or destroyed, and people were forced to move into small shacks of corrugated iron and plastic, where many still live. “Seven people died and three were injured and then later died,” says Pasang. These numbers might seems small compared to some casualty numbers in Nepal, but in a tightknit village like Gatlang, the impact was felt keenly. Hundreds of people were forced into tents. “People suffered badly from the cold,” Pasang says. “Some people caught pneumonia.” At 2240 metres above sea level, nighttime temperatures in Gatlang can plunge.  Pregnant women fared particularly badly: “They were unable to access nutritious food or find a warm place. They really suffered.” Pasang herself was badly injured. “During the earthquake, I was asleep in the house because I was ill,” she says. “When I felt the earthquake, I ran out of the house and while I was running I got injured, and my mouth was damaged.” Help was at hand . “After the earthquake, there were so many organisations that came to help, including FPAN,” Pasang says. As well as setting up health camps and providing a range of health care, “they provided family planning devices to people who were in need.” Hundreds of families still live in the corrugated iron and plastic sheds that were erected as a replacement for tents. The government has been slow to distribute funds, and the villagers say that any money they have received falls far short of the cost of rebuilding their old stone homes. Pasang’s house stands empty. “We will not be able to return home because the house is cracked and if there was another earthquake, it would be completely destroyed,” she says. Since the earthquake, she has begun working as a volunteer for FPAN. Her role involves travelling around villages in the area, raising awareness about different contraceptive methods and family planning. Volunteers like Pasang perform a crucial function in a region where literacy levels and a strongly patriarchal culture mean that women marry young and have to get consent from their husbands before using contraception. In this remote community, direct contact with a volunteer who can offer advice and guidance orally, and talk to women about their broader health needs, is absolutely vital.

Young nepalese volunteer from IPPF in Nepal, FPAN
story

| 25 July 2017

Thousands of young volunteers join us after the earthquake

The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal brought death and devastation to thousands of people – from which many are still recovering. But there was one positive outcome: after the earthquake, thousands of young people came forward to support those affected as volunteers. For Rita Tukanbanjar, a twenty-two-year-old nurse from Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley, the earthquake was an eye-opening ordeal: it gave her first-hand experience of the different ways that natural disasters can affect people, particularly women and girls. “After the earthquake, FPAN was organising menstrual hygiene classes for affected people, and I took part in these,” she says. The earthquake severely affected people’s access to healthcare, but women and girls were particularly vulnerable: living in tents can make menstrual hygiene difficult, and most aid agencies tend to neglect these needs and forget to factor them into relief efforts. “After the earthquake, lots of people were living in tents, as most of the houses had collapsed,” Rita says. “During that time, the girls, especially, were facing a lot of problems maintaining their menstrual hygiene. All the shops and services for menstrual hygiene were closed.” This makes FPAN’s work even more vital. The organisation stepped into the breach and organised classes on menstrual hygiene and taught women and girls how to make sanitary pads from scratch. This was not only useful during the earthquake, but provided valuable knowledge for women and girls to use in normal life too, Rita says: “From that time on wards, women are still making their own sanitary pads.” In an impoverished country like Nepal, many women and girls can simply not afford to buy sanitary pads and tampons. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with gross domestic product per capita of just $691 in 2014. In this largely patriarchal culture, the needs of women often come low down in a family’s priorities. “This is very important work and very useful,” Rita says. The women and girls also learned about how to protect themselves from sexual violence, which saw a surge in the weeks after the earthquake, with men preying on people living in tents and temporary shacks. Rita and her family lived in a tent for 20 days. “There was always the fear of getting abused,” she says. Eventually they managed to return home to live in the ruins of their house: “one part was undamaged so we covered it with a tent and managed to sleep there, on the ground floor.” Seeing the suffering the earthquake had caused, and the work FPAN and other organisations were doing to alleviate it, cemented Rita’s decision to begin volunteering. “After the earthquake, when things got back to normal, I joined FPAN.” She also completed her nursing degree, which had been interrupted by the disaster. “Since joining FPAN, I have been very busy creating awareness about sexual rights and all kinds of things, and running Friday sexual education classes in schools,” Rita says. “And since I have a nursing background, people often come to me with problems, and I give them suggestions and share my knowledge with them.” She also hopes to become a staff nurse for FPAN. “If that opportunity comes my way, then I would definitely love to do it,” she says.

Young nepalese volunteer from IPPF in Nepal, FPAN
story

| 26 May 2022

Thousands of young volunteers join us after the earthquake

The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal brought death and devastation to thousands of people – from which many are still recovering. But there was one positive outcome: after the earthquake, thousands of young people came forward to support those affected as volunteers. For Rita Tukanbanjar, a twenty-two-year-old nurse from Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley, the earthquake was an eye-opening ordeal: it gave her first-hand experience of the different ways that natural disasters can affect people, particularly women and girls. “After the earthquake, FPAN was organising menstrual hygiene classes for affected people, and I took part in these,” she says. The earthquake severely affected people’s access to healthcare, but women and girls were particularly vulnerable: living in tents can make menstrual hygiene difficult, and most aid agencies tend to neglect these needs and forget to factor them into relief efforts. “After the earthquake, lots of people were living in tents, as most of the houses had collapsed,” Rita says. “During that time, the girls, especially, were facing a lot of problems maintaining their menstrual hygiene. All the shops and services for menstrual hygiene were closed.” This makes FPAN’s work even more vital. The organisation stepped into the breach and organised classes on menstrual hygiene and taught women and girls how to make sanitary pads from scratch. This was not only useful during the earthquake, but provided valuable knowledge for women and girls to use in normal life too, Rita says: “From that time on wards, women are still making their own sanitary pads.” In an impoverished country like Nepal, many women and girls can simply not afford to buy sanitary pads and tampons. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world with gross domestic product per capita of just $691 in 2014. In this largely patriarchal culture, the needs of women often come low down in a family’s priorities. “This is very important work and very useful,” Rita says. The women and girls also learned about how to protect themselves from sexual violence, which saw a surge in the weeks after the earthquake, with men preying on people living in tents and temporary shacks. Rita and her family lived in a tent for 20 days. “There was always the fear of getting abused,” she says. Eventually they managed to return home to live in the ruins of their house: “one part was undamaged so we covered it with a tent and managed to sleep there, on the ground floor.” Seeing the suffering the earthquake had caused, and the work FPAN and other organisations were doing to alleviate it, cemented Rita’s decision to begin volunteering. “After the earthquake, when things got back to normal, I joined FPAN.” She also completed her nursing degree, which had been interrupted by the disaster. “Since joining FPAN, I have been very busy creating awareness about sexual rights and all kinds of things, and running Friday sexual education classes in schools,” Rita says. “And since I have a nursing background, people often come to me with problems, and I give them suggestions and share my knowledge with them.” She also hopes to become a staff nurse for FPAN. “If that opportunity comes my way, then I would definitely love to do it,” she says.

Pretty Lynn, a sex worker and beneficiary of the Little Mermaids Bureau project, at the LMB office in Kampala, Uganda.
story

| 21 May 2017

A graduate in need turns to sex work

The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grass-roots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. One such organisation which received support under the last round of funding is called Lady Mermaid's Bureau. I am Pretty Lynn, aged 25. I am a sex worker but I went to university. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Tourism in 2013. But now, during the day I’m sleeping and during the night I’m working. That is how my day goes every day. I got into sex work through friends. Okay it is not good but I am earning.  I tried to get a job when I graduated. I have been applying since I graduated in 2013. I’m still applying but I’m not getting anywhere. You know to get jobs in Uganda; you have to know someone there and no one knows me there. To be a sex worker is like a curse. People look at you like, I don’t know, as someone that has no use in society. People look at you in a bad way. They even don’t consider why you are selling. They just see you as the worst thing that can happen in the society. So it is not comfortable, it is really hard but we try and survive. The fact sex working is illegal means you have to hide yourself when you are selling so that police cannot take you. And then you get diseases, men don’t want to pay. When the police come and take us, sometimes they even use us and don’t pay. So it is really hard. They want a free service. Like if they come and take you and pay that would be fair. But they say it is illegal to sell yourself. But they still use you yet they are saying it is illegal. You can’t report the police because there is no evidence.  Abortion and unwanted pregnancies are really common because men don’t want to use condoms and female condoms are really rare and they are expensive. Though at times we get female condoms from Lady Marmaid’s Bureau (LMB) because there are so many of us they can’t keep on giving you them all the time. At times when we get pregnant we use local methods. You can go and use local herbs but it is not safe. One time I used local herbs and I was successful. Then the other time I used Omo washing powder and tea leaves but it was really hard for me. I almost died. I had a friend who died last year from this. But the good thing is that LMB taught us about safe abortion. I have had a safe abortion too. There are some tabs they are called Miso (misoprostol). It costs about fifty thousand shillings (£10 pounds or $20.) It is a lot of money. But if I’m working and I know I’m pregnant, I can say, "this week I’m working for my safe abortion". So if I’m working for twenty thousand, by the end of the week I will have the money. It is expensive compared to Omo at five hundred shillings but that is risky. So if I say I will work this whole week for Miso (misoprostol) it is better. But I'm working and I'm not eating. A project like this one from Lady Mermaid's can help young girls and women. But to take us from sex work, it would really be hard. They would not have enough money to cater for all of us. So what they have to do is to teach us how to protect ourselves, how to defend ourselves. Safe abortion yes. They will just have to sensitise us more about our lives, protection, female condoms and all that. I don't have a boyfriend but maybe when I get money and leave this job I will. But for now, no man would like a woman who sells. No man will bear the wife selling herself. And that will happen only if I get funds, settle somewhere else and become responsible woman. I don’t want this job. I don’t want to be in this business of sex work all the time. I want be married, with my children happily, not selling myself. Stories Read more stories about the amazing success of SAAF in Uganda

Pretty Lynn, a sex worker and beneficiary of the Little Mermaids Bureau project, at the LMB office in Kampala, Uganda.
story

| 26 May 2022

A graduate in need turns to sex work

The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grass-roots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. One such organisation which received support under the last round of funding is called Lady Mermaid's Bureau. I am Pretty Lynn, aged 25. I am a sex worker but I went to university. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Tourism in 2013. But now, during the day I’m sleeping and during the night I’m working. That is how my day goes every day. I got into sex work through friends. Okay it is not good but I am earning.  I tried to get a job when I graduated. I have been applying since I graduated in 2013. I’m still applying but I’m not getting anywhere. You know to get jobs in Uganda; you have to know someone there and no one knows me there. To be a sex worker is like a curse. People look at you like, I don’t know, as someone that has no use in society. People look at you in a bad way. They even don’t consider why you are selling. They just see you as the worst thing that can happen in the society. So it is not comfortable, it is really hard but we try and survive. The fact sex working is illegal means you have to hide yourself when you are selling so that police cannot take you. And then you get diseases, men don’t want to pay. When the police come and take us, sometimes they even use us and don’t pay. So it is really hard. They want a free service. Like if they come and take you and pay that would be fair. But they say it is illegal to sell yourself. But they still use you yet they are saying it is illegal. You can’t report the police because there is no evidence.  Abortion and unwanted pregnancies are really common because men don’t want to use condoms and female condoms are really rare and they are expensive. Though at times we get female condoms from Lady Marmaid’s Bureau (LMB) because there are so many of us they can’t keep on giving you them all the time. At times when we get pregnant we use local methods. You can go and use local herbs but it is not safe. One time I used local herbs and I was successful. Then the other time I used Omo washing powder and tea leaves but it was really hard for me. I almost died. I had a friend who died last year from this. But the good thing is that LMB taught us about safe abortion. I have had a safe abortion too. There are some tabs they are called Miso (misoprostol). It costs about fifty thousand shillings (£10 pounds or $20.) It is a lot of money. But if I’m working and I know I’m pregnant, I can say, "this week I’m working for my safe abortion". So if I’m working for twenty thousand, by the end of the week I will have the money. It is expensive compared to Omo at five hundred shillings but that is risky. So if I say I will work this whole week for Miso (misoprostol) it is better. But I'm working and I'm not eating. A project like this one from Lady Mermaid's can help young girls and women. But to take us from sex work, it would really be hard. They would not have enough money to cater for all of us. So what they have to do is to teach us how to protect ourselves, how to defend ourselves. Safe abortion yes. They will just have to sensitise us more about our lives, protection, female condoms and all that. I don't have a boyfriend but maybe when I get money and leave this job I will. But for now, no man would like a woman who sells. No man will bear the wife selling herself. And that will happen only if I get funds, settle somewhere else and become responsible woman. I don’t want this job. I don’t want to be in this business of sex work all the time. I want be married, with my children happily, not selling myself. Stories Read more stories about the amazing success of SAAF in Uganda