I underwent breast surgery last Monday and, as a mother of four, aged 12 to 2, I was terrified. Terrified not to be able to make it, terrified to be left with terrible injuries, terrified of being left with a disability. This terror was because I live in one of the poorest countries of the world, Madagascar. Healthcare is not a priority here. I was maybe supposing that the surgeon and his team would not be as skilled as expected, or that we will have a power cut during the intervention (which is so frequent here), or that we will lack drugs and treatment after the surgery, or whatever challenges linked to a poor health sector.
But everything went well, and here I am to testify it.
I feel shameful for all these fears and feel grateful for the miracle of being alive. I had the chance to be in a private hospital. An old hospital where everyone is full of respect for the patients and where old machines are being maintained alive. Nonetheless, I feel lucky because I could afford the surgery and the treatment. I feel privileged to have a job even if I don’t have medical insurance, to pay for my healthcare. This is not the case for everyone and I bet this health scarcity also strikes elsewhere in the world. Every day, I hear a lot of horrible stories of mothers, who couldn’t give birth to their children safely. It was because they were located far from a medical center. I also hear stories of death, because they had no money at all.
In Madagascar, the ratio of physician to patient is one for thousands of people (if you are lucky).
In rural areas, you have to walk twenty kilometers (sometimes more) to reach the nearest health center. Here, a nurse, deprived of medical supplies and drugs will wait for you. You can lose your life for a small injury that can be treated in 10 minutes in developed countries. This is not fair, and I’m deeply introspecting about it while recovering from my wounds, in my privileged scarcity.
Then I remembered I had to write an article for the World Moms Network. I couldn’t do so in time, because of the above-mentioned reason. September 15th was International Democracy Day and I wanted to write about it. I also wanted to write about peace as September 21st was the International Day of Peace. But there won’t be any peace in the world as long as some men and women, of all ages, cannot afford decent healthcare. I feel that democracy is unreachable if you don’t have healthy bodies and minds able to claim for more justice, more accountability, and transparency. These big words will remain illusions if we don’t take care of the human part of the story first.
Therefore, I would like to dedicate this post to SDG #3.
To ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages is at the core of any struggle. I’m not only pledging for my country where only less than 15% of the national budget is dedicated to healthcare, even during the pandemic. I would love to see a worldwide move towards better healthcare for all. Let us build a world where we take care of everyone, no matter his/her age, origin, or finances. Among others, this dream implies providing access to medicines and vaccines for all. It means supporting the R&D of vaccines and medicines for all; increasing health financing and health workforce in developing countries. It needs political will and commitment and it needs the support of all stakeholders, at all levels.
But SDGs are also dependent on one another. And the attainment of SDG #3 also requests the achievement of all the 16 other ones. Abolish gender discrimination; Improve the skills of health workers – and this means, equal access to education for all and provide energy for hospitals to function properly. Make the 2030 agenda a top priority everywhere in the world and achieve it by all means. I’m surely not the one who thought of this in the first place. I don’t have any pretension to being the one who will unlock hearts and minds for better progress regarding SDGs. My personal situation is nothing compared to the world suffering, from wars, starvation, and all kinds of injustice. I’m just a worried mother who took conscience of the scarcity of life and who is wishing for the better.
Kudos to all health workers around the world; thank you for your commitment and dedication to serving humanity.
Kudos to all moms (and everyone) who are struggling somewhere. Hope lies in our hands, we all can act for things to improve. Heads up soldiers of good!
Which SDG are you passionate about and why?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by our contributor in Madagascar, Ketakandriana Rafitoson.
Image credits: The Author and the #UNSDG website (used digitally based on their guidelines).
Ever since I was a little girl – even just a few months ago – I always thought that my mom was immortal. But she died on December 11, and left us devastated. Her name was Lalao, and she was just 61. I am a mom, and moms are supposed to be strong, right? But how can I pretend to be strong when I lost my confidante, my best friend, and the one who made me, in such tragic circumstances?
After freeing herself from domestic violence, Mom took care of my brother and me, all by herself. She faced hardship, poverty, injuries, and sacrificed her dreams for giving us a good education and a decent life. And through laughter and tears, she stood tall. I remember she had to work during nighttime to make ends meet, but still found some hours to pamper us before or after school hours. She was very severe with us, and we sometimes felt oppressed because she always asked us to do our best, especially regarding our studies. She, along with my grandma, used to sew suitable clothes for us, so that we don’t feel miserable. And we were happy, for a certain time.
A few months after my father died, Mom reconnected with a man she dated in high school. That guy hated us and wanted to have his own child with my mom. In 1995, she had an ectopic pregnancy which required surgery and left her unable to bear children. Her man started to cheat on her starting from the day he knew she won’t be able to have children anymore. Violence was back in our life, but it was different from our father’s style. This violence was more psychological, and at some point our family exploded because he asked Mom to choose between him and us. Mom wanted to stick with him until the day she found out that he had a baby with another woman. That was in 2001.Mom went into a deep depression. I know these were really hard times for her, and I feel guilty because I tried to escape from all this suffering in the best ways I could: studies, activism and – soon, marriage. I was just 22 while I left my mom and brother for my new life with my husband. I didn’t want to be a burden for my mom anymore. I found a job and paid for my own studies.
Eventually, my mom found a new job, and her life tremendously improved. She was happy again but was anxious about my brother who struggled with his studies. I will always remember her smile and tears of joy while my son Tony was born. I think she saw him as a kind of achievement. For the past 3 years, she was totally involved in community projects, helping the poorest. She was full of energy. Today, when my youngest son, Hugo, asks why Mamie “left”, I still really can’t find suitable words to explain the situation.
This is the most awful situation I’ve ever experienced in my life. At 2pm on December 5, Mom called me, saying that she had severe abdominal pain. We had met the previous day and she was perfectly normal. My husband jumped in his car to take her to the hospital. This was not the first time – my mom was often sick with serious stomach pains, but we didn’t knew what was causing it. Her stomach sometimes inflated like a balloon, and it was so painful that she couldn’t even wear a shirt over her abdomen. Just as quickly, her symptoms would disappear.
So, the morning my husband rushed her to the hospital, we thought it would be the same. She was convinced that she would be back home a few hours later. I had to work, but I tried to find time to stay with her at the clinic. At first, the doctors said she had salmonella, and then typhoid, but the treatment they gave didn’t make her feel better.
I was worried, but still felt confident. I was also busy because my kids had their mid-term examinations, and the premiere of my movie on civil resistance was that same week. I briefly saw Mom on the day of the premier, and she said, “Good luck tonight!” She watched the movie on my laptop and she liked it. I really missed her during the premiere. The day after, I was running a training while she texted me. The doctors told her she urgently needed surgery. Finally, they had diagnosed her, not with typhoid, but a bowel obstruction.
She was transferred to a different hospital, more equipped for this kind of surgery. We slept only for a few hours that night. On my birthday, she went for surgery early in the morning. She finally came out of surgery at 2 p.m. The doctors explained that there had been complications during the surgery. It appears that someone had accidentally left a pad or a towel in her womb during her surgery after the ectopic pregnancy in 1995. The foreign object had been lodged in her bowels, which was the source of the obstruction. They had to cut 40cm of her intestines and create a bypass. Ther surgery was long and complicated, but she was alive. I thanked God, thinking that her misery was finally over.
We were only allowed to visit her twice a day: at noon and at 6pm, because she was still in the emergency unit. I talked to her, and she was fully conscious. She wanted some water but it was forbidden. I wrapped her chaplet around her skinny arm and she asked for prayers. Friday night went well. I didn’t want any party for my birthday, given the situation, and my kids didn’t really understand that (they were looking forward that party for a long time). On Saturday, the head of the emergency unit asked called me to her office. I was scared. She said the situation was critical because my mom had had a stroke that morning. They managed to save her, but they were concerned about future stroke. I begged her to do her best.
I saw Mom again on Saturday evening. She looked very tired and she was thirsty. She said she couldn’t feel her legs anymore and the doctors explained that it was because of her disc herniation (a problem she had after a car accident in 2010, another sad story). I don’t exactly remember what I said to her that evening, when I left. I just remember I urged her to hold on. While I heard a car arriving in our yard around 2 a.m., and saw my husband standing on the door, I didn’t want to think to the unthinkable. But the unthinkable had occurred.
My mother died firstly as a consequence of a bad operation she had 21 years ago. She lived with a pad in her abdomen, and that was probably the root cause of all her problems. Then, she died because of a false diagnosis. If the bowels obstruction was detected the very first day – through a basic exam – things would have gone differently. She died of a “massive pulmonary embolism” on Sunday, at 01:25 a.m., because she was exhausted by the pain she felt from the previous Monday till that very minute. I think she gave up. Too much pain and too much suffering in a single life! Too much violence, too many tears, too much sadness! She said, “Enough is enough,” and she walked away. I had to call my brother, who lives in Morocco, to tell him the bad news. That broke my heart once again. He arrived a few days after, a torn soul.
So, what are we up to, now? We moved to Mom’s house with our kids because we wanted to keep her memory alive. It’s a rental but we hope that someday we’ll be able to buy it. My brother is back to Morocco, and he tries to grieve in a constructive way. As an activist, I feel I won’t find peace if I don’t do anything about this false diagnosis, and about healthcare in general, in Madagascar. Do you know that here, you can still die from fever, or from cholera, or from whatever disease, because average people can’t afford drugs? As 90 percent of people live with less than $1.25 a day, where can they find money for healthcare? And the government does nothing! Rich people go to Mauritius or South Africa to get treatment. Average people like us go to public hospitals or private clinics where you can die because there’s no oxygen, or because of a power shortage. Poor people just die in the streets, from starvation, or from treatable conditions. The doctors say, “Don’t blame us, blame the State! We are poor victims too!” Perhaps. What can I do in order to change this system? Any idea is more than welcome!
I don’t want Mom’s live to be wasted like dust in the wind. I need to do her justice, but without going through a trial because corruption ruins everything here. Please, moms, help me to find my soul back again. Tell me what I can do for my mom, my immortal hero.
Did you know that each year, there are 16 days dedicated to the fight against gender-based violence? Starting from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women)to December 10 (Human Rights Day), millions of activists around the world join this campaign, plan actions and speak up to break the curse of violence in their societies.
First launched in 1991 by the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute, the “16 Days Campaign”, as it is usually called, is coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, in partnership with Rutgers University. The event is supported by UN Women and other international institutions aiming at the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) #5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The fact is that there can’t be any form of empowerment if girls and women still face violence. Women must first be freed from the heavy burden of violence, which impedes all attempts of (r)evolution.
What is gender-based violence? According to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Gender-based violence is “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately” (CEDAW GR 19, Article 3 Istanbul Convention). And in its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (A/RES/48/104, article 2), the UN General Assembly identifies various forms of violence, as per the following:
“(a) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family; including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation.
(b) Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
(c) Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs”
This list has certainly evolved since 1993, especially with the advent of social media and new communications technologies which open the door to new forms of harassment. Strategies developed to tackle this curse must evolve along the same lines.
In Madagascar, domestic violence is one of the most widespread types of gender-based violence and is considered a social taboo. Traditionally, each bride-to-be is advised by her mother or grandmother to remain silent, whatever might happen in her marriage. Women are told that what happens in the bedroom and at home must remain there. My own grandmother, whom I love and cherish, told me that “Marriage means sacrifice. Your husband may do things to you (we never name the evil in Madagascar), but just bite your tongue and everything will be fine.” Thankfully, my husband is not that kind of man, but I still feel it is my duty to stand against this curse and to help the unspeakable to be spoken.
Our first project with the 16 days campaign dates back to 2013. We wrote and produced a short film called “Lettre Femme” (a French pun meaning at the same time letter from/to a woman, the female being, or simply a woman). We shot the film at my mom’s house, featuring my friends, who generously volunteered to participate. Last year, we launched the Malagasy Women’s Manifesto Against all Sorts of Violence through a petition. This year, we plan to organize a variety of trainings about nonviolence.
It is a tragic fact that many Malagasy women are convinced that they deserve some kind of violence from their partner. “If he beats me, it’s because I’ve done something wrong. It’s my own fault.” Even worse, women (mothers mainly) are the ones who help perpetuate this violence – by silencing their girls and normalizing the belief that violence is part of marriage. Our whole society needs to be educated in order to eradicate violence, and this struggle must start in every household. Teach your boys to respect women – this is the message we have to spread to all parents.
If you are interested in joining this year’s official 16 Days Campaign, please click here. You’ll find all the information related to the event, a Toolkit for Action as well as the communications templates that you can use. Register your event and share it with the world so that we can show the world that women are united against violence. Remember, Unity matters! We shall overcome!
I’m the mommy of two boys. I’d love to have a girl, but I’m a bit afraid to give it a try because I’m not sure how to raise a girl. Malagasy women and girls face many challenges, and I’m not sure I’m equipped to teach a girl what to do in order to succeed, or just to survive.
I’m a woman now, but have been a girl too and I know that it’s not easy. I learned this at a very young age while I observed what happened at home. My father (may his soul rest in peace now) had a serious addiction to alcohol, and he used to beat my mother – a lot. My younger brother and I witnessed many fights and abuse. These scenes are printed in my mind forever, though I pretend I’ve forgotten them.
My father drank because he was not happy with his life. He was a skilled musician – he played classical guitar and traverse flute like a god – but he never shined as a recognized virtuoso. He didn’t make much money, and Mom had to work very hard to support our household. I think Dad didn’t like this. He felt emasculated. He felt miserable. Instead of trying to overcome his problems, he drank in order to forget them and took out his anger on my mom.
Violence is such a mystery to me. I was 10 when my parents divorced, and I already knew many things children shouldn’t have to know. My dad died two years after that. He most likely died while drunk. Someone got him to hospital where, because he was unconscious, he couldn’t tell the doctors that he was diabetic. They used inadequate medicines and he died. We only found out the day after. I went to see him at the hospital and when I stared into the empty bed where he was supposed to be, the nurse just told me “The guy who was there died this morning,” without any other comment. Well, okay… Something broke inside of me.
I will not share more details, because I want to spare my mom and my brother. But I will say that the three of us are all survivors of addiction – a silent war millions of people suffer around the world, every day. We all found different ways to overcome it. For me it is hard work and activism, with a particular focus on promoting and defending women’s rights. Adversity shapes our personality in ways we don’t expect. All we have to do is to find enough strength in our hardship in order to rise again.
Now, back to my boys. I would like to find a way to teach them how to respect girls and to grow up to be gentlemen, but I’m not sure I am getting it right. My mind is full of doubt. I’m not self-confident. Motherhood is an amazing, yet terrifying, adventure. Am I a good model for them? Should I tell them this horrible story of growing up affected by addiction, so that they can understand what I mean? How do we raise good boys and girls? I don’t have the answers but expect some from you, fellow mothers….
It feels good to share my story, sad though it may be. Writing is like therapy for me. Girls deserve better and everyone must do their part in order to improve the situation. Silence is not a solution. We have to stand against injustice at every opportunity. Whatever your fight is, and whoever you are, I m standing with you to say RESIST, HOLD ON, better days are ahead!
I am writing this post in chilly Dublin, far away from home. I miss my family and I’m happy to go home soon. I have to stay awake in order to catch my flight and seize this moment to write about a story which recently marked my life.
On May 10, I met Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General and his wife, in my hometown, Antananarivo. The local branch of UNHCHR sent me a personal invitation a few days before, and then someone recalled me saying that I’ve been dropped from the list….Two days later, they called me again to say that I’m on the list. It was quite weird! In fact, it appeared that some UN people didn’t want Mr Ban to meet civil society representatives because they had the feeling that CSOs are “disturbing”, “always critical”, “negative”, and so on….
But someone fought for us and finally, my name was put on the list among 11 other people. I was officially supposed to represent Liberty 32, a non-profit which mainly deals with civic education and human rights, but I also wanted to say something on behalf of Wake Up Madagascar, a nonviolent civil resistance movement that I’m part of.
I thought about a genuine way to pass a message to Mr Ban, which was “Don’t let Malagasy politicians fool you. Our reality is far more horrible than what they will show to you.” In fact, a few days before Ban’s arrival to Madagascar, streets were cleaned, merchants chased from their daily places and misery hidden. Shameful!
On May 9 the 12 of us were asked to meet local UN representatives for a briefing.
They told us to be constructive, not to openly criticize the government because this will put Mr Ban in an “uncomfortable position’. I was more than upset to hear that, and that strengthened my need to do something exceptional.
The D-day, we’d been given an appointment in one of the most luxurious hotels of Antananarivo. No pictures allowed, last briefing remarks. We were ready to meet THE man.
He arrived with his wife and staff, very cool, smiling, and frank. We took an official photo (which we haven’t yet seen since), and we sat down around a square table. After the usual opening remarks and self-introductions, Mr Ban said a few words about his visit, saying that he has always worked with civil society and that this meeting was crucial to him. Then, our representative read our common declaration for 5 minutes.
Afterwards, the Chair asked if someone would like to briefly take the floor. I grabbed the mic and said all I wanted to say in 2 minutes: women and youth problems, insecurity, political instability, fragility, the need to improve citizens’ political participation, and so on. I ended by asking the permission to give Mr. and Mrs. Ban a small gift. Security guards and policemen stood right on their feet but the SG allowed me to do so.
I offered them a special photo album prepared by Wake Up Madagascar – and which I hid as my notebook while entering the room. 15 striking photos showing Malagasy people’s misery and extreme poverty…. I kindly asked Mr Ban not to throw it away, and I believe (I hope) he didn’t…. After answering our talks in a very sincere way, he kept the album with him, didn’t give it to his assistant, as he left us.
On May 11, Mr Ban gave an address before MPs and the government, and his words were sharp as a knife. Have our messages reached their destination? Who knows? I wanted to share this story because it made me so proud. Being a mom implies taking some risks, not only for your family, but also for your country. Don’t you ever let someone tell you to close your mouth when you have something important to say! Speak up! Speak out! That may change some lives! I don’t pretend I’ve changed the world, but I stood for my world, at my small scale. And that matters.
Where in the world do you live? And, are you from there?
I live in and am from Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital city. Madagascar (the country, not the movie) is a big island located in the Indian Ocean, and is geographically defined as being part of Africa. I have never moved from here, except a few trips abroad. I have done all my studies in Madagascar, and I’m particularly proud of that.
What language(s) do you speak?
I speak Malagasy (our native language), French and English.
When did you first become a mother (year/age)?
I gave birth to my first child, Tony, in 2009, at the age of 28, and then to Hugo in 2011. I was a late mother compared to the national trends; one-third of girls aged 15-19 are known to be mothers in our country.
Are you a stay-at-home mom or do you work?
I am officially working as a legal advisor for a semi-public facility dealing with electricity, but I am also engaged in various not-for-profits and social movements related to democracy and human rights matters. I am at the same time a PhD candidate in political science, which means that I have to work a lot at home – early in the morning, while my loved ones are sleeping.
Why do you blog/write?
I write for sharing my views and experience, and for linking Madagascar to other countries. We are island people and we need to feel that the rest of the world also cares about us, but they won’t until we provide them with the right information. I also write in order to give a voice to the voiceless. There are lots of interesting people – mothers or not – in Madagascar, who cannot access the internet or have a worldwide coverage like this. I commit myself to write on their behalf and share their stories, because they’re part of what we call Humanity and also deserve to be heard.
What makes you unique as a mother?
Frankly speaking, I don’t know! Only my boys can assess me as a mother and I don’t have an appropriate answer to that question. I’m just trying to do my best for my children, especially showing them that there is something beyond money and comfort…. That good behavior matters and that kindness and self-engagement may change lives…
What do you view as the challenges of raising a child in today’s world?
I’m convinced motherhood has always been difficult, now or 100 years ago. But the main challenge for me today is to keep children away from the influence of the media and from the feeling that money rules. We need to find time for inspiring them in a different way and to show them that everything is possible, differently. They are for sure citizens of the world but they need to discover this world with their heart, in a more peaceful and spiritual manner….
How did you find World Moms Blog?
I met Jennifer Burden in Washington, DC, in 2014, during the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings. She gave me a key holder with the World Moms Blog logo and told me she would love to have a contributor from Madagascar. I was quite busy during these two years but now I’m in and I’d like to thank her for this great opportunity.