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Meet the woman smashing the patriarchy and sustaining peace in Sudan

19 September 2018 2:01PM UTC | By: GUEST BLOGGER


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Written by Alessandria Masi for Peacebuilding Deeply.

In many Sudanese communities, men dominate negotiations and peace talks. As coordinator of the Collaborative for Peace of Sudan, it is Rasha El Fangry’s job to convince local – and male – community leaders that women have a crucial role to play in building sustainable peace.


Image via the United Nations

When Rasha El Fangry first tried to convince local community leaders in an area of South Kordofan, Sudan, to include women in peace negotiations and conflict resolution mediation, a local imam told her, “In the Quran, [it says] women should stay at their homes.”

As a Sudanese Muslim involved in peacebuilding efforts herself, El Fangry disagreed.

“Who interpreted the Quran for you?” she said she asked the imam in return. “There is nothing like that in the Quran.”

El Fangry is the coordinator of the Collaborative for Peace of Sudan, a local organization that creates “peace committees,” in partnership with Peace Direct. These small groups of community members are tasked with pinpointing the drivers of conflict, carrying out mediation between tribes and communities and, sustaining local peace agreements. Part of her work, she said, is to convince local community leaders to include women in these committees.

“It takes a long time,” she said. “But with commitment and the belief in what we are doing, it works.”

Peacebuilding Deeply spoke with El Fangry about the importance of local ownership in peacebuilding efforts and how to convince a community where men dominate leadership roles that women must have a seat at the negotiation table.

Peacebuilding Deeply: Why does the Collaborative for Peace of Sudan focus only on local solutions and what have you learned from that?

Rasha El Fangry: In Sudan we have like a hundred peace agreements but there is no actual peace. We look for communities where conflict is taking place and we look for a real member of the community to be like a guard for the peace that they build or sustain.

We work in South Kordofan, where there are several ethnicities and there is conflict between the Arab ethnicity and the Nuba ethnicity. There are violations around land ownership, between herders and farmers, between Muslims and Christians or non-believers. So there is this type of diversity, the area is on the border with South Sudan, so there is immigration and from time to time there is conflict from that.

We try to involve members of the community as much as possible to pinpoint exactly what the problem is and, if we attain peace how do we sustain it? Through the communities, we identify conflict, the historic background to the conflict, how to address the conflict, why it isn’t working, how to do something differently. This is all by learning from the community.

First we found that there is no gender balance. There are no women involved in the peace agreements in Sudan, especially in South Kordofan. All the peace talks are being done by the male members or religious leaders or administration leaders, who are never female.

Peacebuilding Deeply: Why is that?

El Fangry: It is cultural. The role of women is to bring kids, then rear them, and look after the houses.

We find these women. We try, first of all, to convince the communities to accept the women to be part of the peace committees. This is the first step. Then for the women to be part of the negotiations around peacebuilding and conflict resolutions between the communities.

Peacebuilding Deeply: How do you go about convincing the community?

El Fangry: It takes a long time. Since 2009 … we have been trying. I myself also face problems because I am a female who is going there to meet the religious leaders and to meet others. I faced a lot of discrimination at the beginning. But with commitment and the belief in what we are doing, it works.

Peacebuilding Deeply: So if I were going to one of these communities to try to convince them, how would I do it? What would you tell me to do?

El Fangry: First of all, you have to believe in what you are doing. And you have to be strong because they will definitely tell you all the discriminations in the world. For example, in one of these areas, an imam told me: “In the Quran, [it says] women should stay at their homes.”

And I told him, “Who interpreted the Quran for you? There is nothing like that in the Quran.”

The thing is, when you work with the communities, you find that there are several people at the top, who are controlling everything and saying everything on behalf of the communities. But when you go deeper you will find there is understanding and that they will understand you.

The ladies in these communities have lots of things they want to say. They have lots of issues and concerns they want to share but they haven’t found any opportunities for that.

Using the mechanism, we find that a lot of communities themselves are fed up from politicians, politics, extremism, radicalization of communities, differences between ethnicities. There is always one somebody on behalf of the community talking, and sometimes he is a politicized person or he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He thinks he is protecting his community but actually he is destroying it.

For example, we worked with one woman named Meriam. She was attending the civil communication workshop and, when she was to become a part of the peace committee, she was afraid that the community would not accept this idea. Then one day, in an area of South Kordofan where there is mujahideen [a group engaged in jihad], they called her to come with them to the mediation.

The peace committee member called her and said “you can join us to go to the mediation.”

She was surprised when they asked her to tell her point of view from a woman’s perspective.

Peacebuilding Deeply: How did you convince them to invite her?

El Fangry: To convince them to allow Miriam in the peace committee it took one year. And then when she was to go with them to [the mediation] of fighters between the two tribes, it was about six months [later].

And then she was given an opportunity to talk. That was wonderful. She immediately called us and said “I am in the front of the group of males!” She was so excited, super excited.

The thing is she was thinking of all females in the area, she was thinking “I hope I am not letting them down and telling the real stories of the impact of conflict in our area. How do we suffer, what do we suffer, about our kids and our families…

You feel that the women are so committed to the work they are doing or the things they have to do. Even if it’s just looking after their kids at home.

Peacebuilding Deeply: What did she say when she spoke to the group?

El Fangry: First of all, she told us was completely frightened and shaking about speaking in front of the men. Then when she started talking about the impact that she sees on her neighbors, with mothers and with her own kids and the amount people that they lost, [the men] were all keeping silent. At the beginning they were all making fun of her because she was a female talking and things like that.

But when they were listening, she said she was so inspired and so full of energy to talk about these issues. She told us, “When I finished they clapped their hands to me.” They said to her that she spoke about issues that they never speak about. When there are negotiations in the community they talk about the privilege of the tribe, what the other tribe would say if we don’t take revenge or don’t go to that specific conflict… things like that.

For example, there is one tribe in South Kordofan where there are no people between the ages of 20 to 25. All of them have died. Can you imagine? These are the things she spoke about. She talked about the numbers of unaccompanied kids in the area, the numbers of handicapped people either due to mines or just someone threw a bomb on their home. These people were helping the community but now they are just sitting home, feeling guilty. She spoke to them about things like that.

Peacebuilding Deeply: Did they invite her back after that first time?

El Fangry: Actually now she’s doing conferences to help women to do the same.

The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

*all images via United Nations

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HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria don’t just cause illness and deaths around the world, they decrease productivity and increase the risk of poverty in the communities and countries affected. Loss of income and the cost of healthcare have dramatic effects on the individual, as well as their family and community.

Here’s what you need to know about these three diseases:



Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) attacks and destroys the body’s immune cells making it difficult for the body to fight off infections and other diseases. If left untreated, HIV can develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is the most serious stage of HIV infection. Rather than a single illness, it presents as a cluster of symptoms when a person’s CD4 cell count drops too low, dramatically shortening their life expectancy. The term HIV/AIDS is used to describe the virus and the resulting symptoms and illnesses.

HIV spreads from person to person through contact with certain bodily fluids, usually through sex or needle use. Although there is no cure for HIV, it can be controlled with antiretroviral therapy (ART). If taken correctly every day, ART can significantly increase that person’s lifespan and decrease the chance of infecting others.

Condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and voluntary male medical circumcision are highly effective methods that can be used to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. Interventions, like scaling up sexual reproductive health education and needle exchange programs, can lead to behavioural change that can also reduce the spread of HIV.

Preventing the spread of HIV is crucial: 1.8 million people were infected with HIV last year alone. And due to a lack of treatment 940,000 people died from AIDS-related causes.


Malaria is a tropical disease caused by parasites and transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. While global malaria death rates have dropped 60% since 2000, malaria is back on the rise: there were 3.5 million more cases in 2017 than the year before. Children under the age of 5 account for two-thirds of all malaria deaths.

Control measures such as insecticide sprays, insecticide-treated bed nets and antimalarial drugs have successfully reduced malaria cases and deaths. But insecticide and drug resistance is a growing threat as these interventions continue to be scaled up.


TB is the number one infectious disease killer in the world. TB — which killed 1.6 million people in 2017, including 300,000 people with HIV — is spread from one person to another through the air. When someone with TB coughs or sneezes, for example, the bacteria can be spread to another person and infect their lungs.

Over 10 million people are infected with TB every year, but the disease can be difficult to detect, which results in a large number of people — around 36% of those with active TB — undiagnosed, untreated, and therefore, contagious.

On top of all this, antibiotic resistance is making a deadly enemy, even more dangerous. Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) remains a public health crisis and a health security threat. Last year, there were 558,000 new cases with resistance to the most effective first-line drug. As a result, only 55% of MDR-TB patients are successfully treated.

But here’s the good news: most cases of TB are curable if patients follow and complete a 6-9 month drug regimen. It is crucial this regimen is followed precisely and is fully completed to avoid drug resistance and reinfection.


The Global Fund is an innovative partnership between governments, businesses, and health organisations, designed to accelerate the end of the three diseases. They make targeted investments around the world related to promoting treatment and prevention of AIDS, TB and malaria. With the support and investment of the Global Fund, the number of people dying from these diseases has been slashed by one-third since its creation in 2002.

In October, the Global Fund will host their sixth replenishment. They’re asking world leaders and private investors to come together and help save 16 million lives between 2021 and 2023 by meeting their replenishment goal of US$14 billion.

This investment is the bold ambition the world needs to get us on track to stop the spread of these diseases — and it’s why we’re calling on world leaders to #StepUpTheFight by fully financing the Global Fund.

Add your name now to tell world leaders they must back this bold initiative this year.

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These Zambian acrobats are flipping HIV taboos on their head



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This post was originally written by Emma Batha. Editing by Claire Cozens for Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Zambian slum of Chibolya is notorious for crime and drugs, but acrobat Gift Chansa wants to get the township’s youth hooked on a very different high – circus.

Chansa is co-founder of Circus Zambia, the country’s first social circus, which provides disadvantaged young people with education and job opportunities while teaching them everything from unicycling and fire-eating to tumbling and juggling.

The circus also runs a “Clowns for Condoms” project to help tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Zambia, where myths persist that the disease is linked to witchcraft.

Set up in 2015, Circus Zambia has already gained international attention, performing in Britain, the United States, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands and across Africa.

Chansa grew up in Chibolya, a poor Lusaka township which one Zambian journalist recently likened to Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is an image the charismatic acrobat is keen to dispel. He says young people are discriminated against and refused jobs simply for mentioning they come from Chibolya.

“When you grow up there, no one takes you seriously,” Chansa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a tour of Britain this month.

“So we wanted to say, ‘Look, not everybody is a criminal. There are young people coming up that are knowledgeable … young people that are ready to take over the world’. And that’s why we created the platform Circus Zambia.”


Source: BBC What’s New? Circus Zambia UK Tour, August 2018


While in London, Chansa met Queen Elizabeth to receive the Queen’s Young Leader Award which recognises “exceptional people” from across the Commonwealth who are transforming lives in their communities and beyond.

Drink & drugs

The eldest of six children, Chansa never knew his father. He was raised by his mother and grandparents, who provided him with his distinctive name, calling him a “a gift to the family”.

There were no parks, libraries or youth centres in the township so Chansa and his friends, including Circus Zambia co-founder Benard Kaumba, amused themselves with acrobatic contests in the street.

In 2014, Chansa and Kaumba were invited to train at a circus school in northern China under a scheme sponsored by Beijing after their talents were spotted by a Chinese circus troupe visiting Lusaka.

Chansa, 27, and Kaumba, 28, say if they had not discovered circus they could have easily been dragged into a world of drink and drugs.

“Things were hard for me. Circus kept me busy and helped me stay away from bad influences,” said Kaumba, dressed in his brightly coloured African-print tumbling costume.

“When you go back and see your friends, you see their life is just drugs,” he added, reeling off a list of illicit substances available on the streets of Chibolya.

Today the circus boasts 15 performers and works with 80 children. It has new premises which include a library, class room and training room and is raising money to finish building a theatre.


Source: Circus Zambia

Circus Zambia is part of a growing global movement of social circuses including Circus Kathmandu in Nepal, created by survivors of trafficking, and Circolombia in Colombia, which works with children from areas where gangs and drugs are rife.

Through circus skills, marginalised young people learn self-esteem, discipline, trust and team-work as well as physical fitness and creative expression.

Social circuses also use entertainment as a tool to engage communities on social or health issues such as alcohol abuse or HIV/AIDS.

Juju myths

Two years ago, Chansa watched a young friend die of HIV/AIDS after he refused medicine, believing he had been cursed. Chansa is now determined to help tackle widespread ignorance around an epidemic that has left one in six people in Lusaka HIV positive.

“In Zambia it’s hard to talk about sex, nobody talks about sex,” said Chansa, who believes the HIV rate is even higher in Chibolya.

“A lot of people will say (HIV/AIDS) is witchcraft, it’s juju, and then they won’t take their medicine – and then they die. We want to say it’s not juju.”

Last year Circus Zambia launched Clowns for Condoms, an initiative that uses circus to bust taboos around HIV, increase awareness and distribute condoms.

Chansa says their colourful wigs and costumes help overcome barriers.

“It’s easy to attract people when you go into the community and people see you dressed as clowns,” he said. “You can (talk to) them just there and then, so that’s why we use circus.”

Chansa wants to expand Circus Zambia to other regions and ensure it has a secure future for the next generation of performers.

He is also dreaming big for his own future.

“I want to be a politician,” Chansa said. “That’s my ambition – because people don’t understand what young people are going through, especially in communities like mine.”

ONE welcomes the contributions of guest bloggers but does not necessarily endorse the views, programs, or organisations highlighted.

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This New Map Shows You How Many Years of Life Pollution Has Taken Away From You Based Off Where You Live

You might want to take a look.

4.5 billion — that’s how many people around the world today are exposed to levels of air pollution that are at least twice what the World Health Organization (WHO) considers safe. And until now, the impact of prolonged exposure to pollution on a single person’s life expectancy has remained largely unanswered.

Now, this information has become publicly available. And it might shock you.




In a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, researchers from around the world have created a map based on findings that show, depending on where you live, just how many years of life air pollution is stealing from you.

Read More: This Is Not a Joke: Companies Are Charging $100 for a Pint of Clean Air

“It suggests that particulates are the greatest current environmental risk to human health, with the impact on life expectancy in many parts of the world similar to the effects of every man, woman and child smoking cigarettes for several decades,” Michael Greenstone, an author of the paper and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, explained in a statement.

Greenstone and his colleagues measured populations exposed to PM2.5, a hazardous particulate matter and global indicator for air pollution, and compared the data to mortality rates over the last couple of years.

As it turns out, in some countries pollution can shave quite a lot time off a person’s life. Here’s what the study found:

China — 3.5 Years Lost


Some of you might be thinking: “no surprise there.” There have been numerous examples of heightened air pollution in China, including the horrible 33-car pileup in 2015 caused by thick pollution.

But what startled researchers is that compared to the country’s southern region, the concentration of pollution in northern areas, which includes the capital of Beijing, is around 50% higher. The findings concluded that life expectancy is about 5.5 years lower in those northern cities.

The disparity comes down to the well-intentioned, but ultimately, it appears, deadly, Huai River Policy, instated between 1950 and 1980, under which the government provided free coal during the winter season for indoor heating in households north of the Huai River.

Since then, the policy has caused 500 million residents of Northern China to lose more than 2.5 billion life years of life expectancy, according to a 2013 study.

China has been making moves toward cleaner air, investing heavily in renewable energy, switching out fossil fuels, subsidizing electric vehicles, and punishing firms that violate air pollution laws.

India — 4.01 Years Lost


Read More: Delhi Is a 'Gas Chamber,' Says Officials of Toxic Smog Levels

This may seem bad, but for someone living in the capital, New Delhi, things are even worse. In New Delhi, air pollution can cut a person’s life by nearly a decade, the study found.

While the dangerous particle, PM2.5, has stabilized in China over the past few years, in India, levels have sharply increased.

Between 1990 and 2015, India’s rapidly worsening air pollution has caused about 1.1 million people to die prematurely, officially surpassing China’s pollution as the world’s deadliest.

As India tries to industrialize, “the idea that policy making should be led by government is lacking,” Bhargav Krishna, manager for environmental health at the Public Health Foundation of India, a health policy research center in New Delhi, said in an interview.

As a matter of fact, the country of 1.3 billion people has yet to undertake sustained public policy initiatives to reduce pollution, according to Gopal Sankaranarayanan, an advocate of the Supreme Court of India. Weak environmental regulations in India, he explained, leave citizens with few alternatives other than to petition the courts to take action to protect public health.

Chile — 1.37 Years Lost


Renown for its clouds of smog, Chile is one of the world’s most polluted countries, according to the country’s Environmental Ministry. Booming factories and growing city centers paired with the country’s geographic location are at fault here.

Santiago, for instance, is nestled in between two mountain ranges which creates a stale air pocket in the valley with minimal ventilation. In 1996, the city’s air quality was so bad that influenza spread rampantly, sending about 3,500 children to the hospital daily.

Conditions have continued to worsen and in 2015, the Environmental Ministry declared an environmental emergency, partially shutting down the city. More than 1,300 factories and 80% of the Santiago’s 1.7 million cars ceased operation, sending over 6 million underground to commute using the subway system.

Since then, transportation has been reduced by 40% in order to slash toxic emissions and improve the life expectancy of Chile’s population, which has lost nearly two years overall.

Democratic Republic of the Congo — 1.84 Years Lost


The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly rich in natural resources, has had a long history of extensive mining. That exploitation, coupled with traffic congestion, poor road maintenance, and inadequate infrastructure, is the reason millions across the country have lost nearly two years in their life expectancy rate.  

Research released in 2016 by Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations revealed that serious environmental pollution, as well as human rights violation, were still occurring in 2016 as a result of cobalt mining, making water, “unfit for human consumption and agriculture.”

The country has the greatest extent of tropical forests in all of Africa and in 2005, the government received a $90 million grant from the World Bank to help it police and protect its forests. The DRC, however, still has a long way to go to develop sustainable environment plans.

The United States and other developed countries aren’t in the clear, either.

For cities like New York and Los Angeles, air pollution is also a problem. According to the Air Quality-Life Index, high levels of the pollutant, PM2.5, have shortened lifespans in New York by one month. In Los Angeles, that figure is eight.

Researchers argue that in the case of Los Angeles, people would live much longer if the city complied with the Clean Air Act.

“The Clean Air Act has made a vast difference in the quality of the air we breathe,” Greenstone said in a statement, “and in the length of our lives.”

Read More: Almost 1 in 7 Children Is Breathing Toxic Air Right Now

Similarly, in some European countries, strict environmental regulations have yet to be enforced.

Poland, which recently broke records in its southern city of Skala for surpassing Beijing’s level of pollution, has become the smog capital of Europe. In Italy, pollution-related deaths are on the rise, and reached a toll of 84,000 in 2012.

Both countries’ pollution levels, the report found, have reduced lifespans by about a year.


“The histories of the United States, part of Europe, Japan and a handful of other countries teach us that air pollution can be reduced,” Greenstone added. “But it requires robust policy and enforcement.”

Global Citizen campaigns on protecting the environment and creating a sustainable earth free from life-threatening pollution. You can take action here.

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5 Household Products That Are Slowly Destroying the Environment

And 5 things you should be using instead.

Having a clean house is great — but a clean environment is even better.

Many of the household and kitchen items we use on a daily basis may seem innocuous but have a detrimental effect on the environment. Ingredients found in soaps and detergents can wreak havoc on marine life and water systems. And despite our best recycling efforts, single-use plastic products like shrink wrap and coffee pods are still damaging to the environment.

While it would be impossible to completely eliminate all these items from most households, Global Citizen has rounded up alternatives to these products that can help make your home, and the environment, a little greener.

1/Laundry and Dish Detergents

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, many detergents contain phosphorus and nitrogen. These ingredients make their way into water sources where they cause aquatic plants to proliferate and then die. As the plants decay, they sap oxygen from the water, suffocating marine life, Belgium’s Federal Public Service for Health, Food Chain Safety, and Environment reported. Detergents also frequently contain surfactants, which help to separate water and oil. But surfactants also attack the mucus coating of fish, leaving them vulnerable to parasites and other contaminants around them, according to the EPA.

Swap for:Laundry and dish detergents that have higher concentrations of plant-based ingredients and are biodegradable.


2/Single-Use Coffee Pod Machines

Who doesn’t love a cup of coffee in the morning? Especially if it’s easy and convenient to make.

In recent years, coffee pod machines have become extremely popular. In 2016, the machines — most of which use single-serve coffee pods — were predicted to overtake both instant and ground coffee.

And while companies like Keurig and Nespresso have introduced recyclable pods, not everyone is in the habit of recycling, and research has found that it can be a difficult behavior to adopt, according to the Huffington Post.

The plastic and aluminum pods that don’t get recycled ultimately end up in the trash and contribute to landfills.

Swap for: French presses or aeropresses, but opt for stainless steel filters over paper ones.

Take Action: Pledge to take three for the sea.


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Tea pot.jpgImage: Flickr - Phillip Jeffrey

3/Tea Bags

If you were hoping to avoid the environmental pitfalls of coffee by switching to tea, you may be disappointed to learn that our tea consumption can also negatively impact the environment.

Pyramid-shaped tea bags have risen in popularity over the past few years, and while these bags are often described as “silky,” they’re plastic, so they cannot be composted and are not biodegradable.

While traditional paper tea bags are better for the environment, many are not fully biodegradable. A report released in 2010 found that tea bags produced by several major UK brands were 80% biodegradable at most, according to the Guardian.

Swap for: Metal tea balls and infusers, which can be washed and reused, or loose leaf tea in a pot.


4/Disposable Wipes

Disposable wet wipes — whether we’re talking about baby wipes or disinfecting wipes — pose a major problem for sewer systems and the environment. In the UK, the number of wet wipes found along the coastline has increased by more than 400% over the past 10 years, the Guardian reported.

And though many disposable wipes are marketed as “flushable,” they often contain plastic and are not biodegradable. Once in they’re in the sewer system, wet wipes bunch together and trap food and other waste to form giant blockages and “fatbergs” — clumps made of fat from food waste and wipes — according to the Atlantic.

Read more: Disgusting Wads of Wet Wipes Are Clogging Sewers Across the UK

Swap for: Stick with toilet paper or try washcloths. According to the Environmental Working Group, disinfecting wipes are not necessary for most messes, often a non-anti-microbial cleaning agent and a cloth will do the trick. As for baby wipes and other wet wipes, safe cleaning products are just as effective when used with reusable washcloths.

5/Plastic Cling Wrap and Aluminum Foil

Though plastic wrap and aluminum foil can help us reduce our environmental impact by keeping food fresh longer and cutting down on food waste, both have major negative consequences on environment.

Neither is regularly recycled and both require fossil fuels to produce, the Slate reported, which generates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Swap for: Glass or plastic reusable containers, or an environmentally-friendly alternative to cling wrap like Bee’s Wrap — a reusable wax-coated cloth that can be used just like plastic film.

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