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Not Just Women's Stuff

The Rev George Buannie is a powerfully built man, with a voice to match. And in the dirt-poor village of Binkolo, in northern Sierra Leone, he's talking serious stuff to a local farmer.

Not about how tough it is to survive in one of the poorest countries on earth. Not about football, or politics, or any of the other things that men usually talk about. They're talking teenage pregnancies, and child marriage, and family planning. Women's stuff.

Except, says the Rev George, it's not women's stuff. It's everyone's stuff. "You can't expect to do anything effective about improving women's health and maternal mortality rates if you ignore men," he says. "They want to be involved, they want to know what's going on. If you ignore them, and just have women talking to women, they get suspicious." In Sierra Leone, the whole giving birth business is still widely regarded as women's stuff. Very few men have any idea what's involved -- and when they find out, they're appalled. They had no idea. The wife of a village chief phoned a health activist recently after he'd been to one of George Buannie's meetings and seen a video of a woman giving birth. "What on earth have you done to my husband?" she demanded. "He's a changed man, he's started being nice to me."

So how do you persuade someone like the farmer in Binkolo that it's not a good idea to marry off his daughters at the age of 12 or 13? That when children give birth to children, far too many of them die? (Sierra Leone has the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the world.)
"I ask them a question," says Rev George. "I ask them: 'Which do you prefer? To stand over the corpse of a young girl, as you prepare to bury her body in the ground, or to educate her about sex and contraception, so that she doesn't die?'"

Dr. Jarrie Kabba-Kebbay of the UN Population Fund, working as part of H4+ (made up of UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, WHO, and the World Bank), which is supporting George Buannie's work, has another question for the men of Sierra Leone. At a three-day training workshop for "male advocates and peer educators" -- slogan: "Men taking the lead to put women ahead" -- she says: "When you go out into the villages and talk to the men, ask them this: 'When you look at your neighbours, who's got the better life? Who's better off? Whose children will have the best opportunities? The man with just two or three children, or the man with 10?'"

Full text by Robin Lustig is available. Please get in touch for details.
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