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What Did A Group Of Rural Women Write On A Journal That Travelled Across Asia?

On International Women's Day, here are ten inspiring life-stories of rural women who are refusing to give into violations of their human rights. Especially their sexual and reproductive rights.

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Lina (Indonesia)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

13 year old Lina lives in a place of abject poverty where most of the villagers, including her father, are landless agricultural labourers. In many poor rural villages, it is a tradition to marry off girls after their first menstruation. Lina's own mother was married when she was 11 and had Lina, her first child, at 12.

Lina herself was to be married off to a distant relative who is financially stable and whom she had never met but after attending a reproductive health education programme, she learnt that it was her right to decide when she would get married. Backed by educators and a religious leader, she was able to convince her family to call of her forced and child marriage. Inspired by the experience, Lina and her friends created a youth community campaign against child marriage and to raise awareness on sexual and reproductive rights.

“We call it langit biru which means ‘blue sky,’ because it symbolises hope. I hope that we can help other people who are or have been in my situation, and that we can help the Bondowoso government to stop underage marriages for young girls."

Read Lina's story

Hosne Ara Hasi (Bangladesh)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Hosne Ara Hasi, 49, was born in Shialia village in the south-western coast of Bangladesh. At a young age, Hosne Ara became witness to the maternal death of her aunt. But that incident made its mark and motivated young Hosne Ara. Today, she is the Chief Executive of Jago Nari (Women Awake), a community based organisation on women’s health rights that she founded with other women 16 years ago.

While Jago Nari remains very strong, the issues faced by her community are stronger such as lack of knowledge on menstruation, lack of proper check-up and treatment of pregnant women, lack of quality service providers and lack of accountability on the part of service providers.

“I want that every woman in our community will be aware about their health and rights; that they can express their demand for health care to their families and to society, and can get proper treatment accordingly.”

Read Hosne Ara's story

Lillian Falyao (Philippines)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Lillian Falyao's life changed when she married a miner at the age of 17. She left her family's farm in Mountain Province, and went to live with her husband in a mining community in the town of Mankayan in Northern Philippines.

Lillian's work includes educating women and girls on their sexual and reproductive rights. She encourages them to speak out on the incidents of rape and wife swapping within the bunkhouses. She also works hard to change the conditions and culture that leads to the abuse of women.

"If we are not going to act, who will act for us? Let us trust in our strength so that better results can be achieved. Long live the fighting women!"

Read Lillian's story

Hazra Khamishabhai (India)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Forty-year old Hajaraben “Hazra” Khamishabhai has never been to school. But she has earned the high respect of her villagers through her life-saving acts in cases of violence against women, and in asserting free health care for women.

As a social health activist, Hazra collects information from women and presents them to medical health officers and she raises awareness among women about their sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to access certain services for free.

“Women should come forward and they should be provided the opportunity to learn. Women should not be afraid to do good, do appropriate work and speak the truth.”

Read Hazra's story.

Ke Thi Hach (Vietnam)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Ke Thi writes about how hard it is for rural women to have access to safe contraception, a sexual and reproductive right that is still denied to millions of women in the Global South.

Life is hard in her village Hong Quang where people have an income of approximately USD 50 a month. Ke Thi talks about her experience of looking for a method of contraception that is suitable for her and having to undergo an abortion when contraception failed her. She also talks about the hardships she had to go through before and during childbirth when she had a planned pregnancy.

“Through my story, hope you will not hesitate to find one way or another to use suitable contraception to have better health! Wish you success!”

Read Ke Thi's story

Kumari Waiba (Nepal)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Kumari Waiba was born to the indigenous Tamang tribe of Nepal. Now 33 years old, she recalls when she was a young girl who just got her menstruation. For the Tamang, it was a custom for girls to be kept hidden from the public during their menstruation period and beyond. As a result, many girls miss their classes and eventually drop out of school, thus beginning the cycle of poverty and disempowerment that continues through womanhood.

As a member of a welfare society in her community, Kumari helps other women in her community become empowered through advocacy programs on sexual and reproductive health and rights awareness, primary healthcare, and mother and infant healthcare.

"I will work trying to reduce maternal deaths associated with unsafe abortion, during pregnancy and childbirth."

Read Kumari's story

Tahira Naz (Pakistan)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Tahira Naz, 28, made it a point to finish schooling—even if doing so was considered going against the tide. After she became a health worker, people in the area complained to her elder brother that women are supposed to stay at home and it took a lot of persuasion to convince him to let her continue her work.

It was the women whom Tahira served that gave her strength and resolve. With the nearest basic health unit a kilometer away by foot, health workers do valuable work for the community. Only 10 women accepted family planning services when Tahira first offered them but now 54 women do. Young girls have also started to discuss reproductive health problems with her more openly despite some religious beliefs still hamper the delivery of health services to women.

But Tahira’s biggest worry nowadays is the constant threat of attack from religious fundamentalist groups e,g, Taliban, that frequent the area. Female health workers and polio vaccination workers are usually the target. As a result, women health workers cannot wear their uniforms, openly carry their bags, or put a health centre board outside their house.

“This is my message for all the girls who consider me their role model: they should be confident, have a desire to work and be able to differentiate between right and wrong because in my view women are not weak; rather they are superior and powerful to men if they are able to understand themselves."

Read Tahira's story

Ma Ee (Myanmar and Thailand)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Mae Sot, a bordertown roughly 500 kilometers northwest of Bangkok, is a major hub for the garment industry in Thailand where Burmese migrant workers, who comprise 80% of Thailand's migrant population, flock to find jobs in garments factories. Ma Ee was one of them.

When she became pregnant in 2008 her employer did not give her days off for medical check-ups. Despite being pregnant, she had to endure physically taxing work which contravenes Thai labour law. Infuriated with this oppressive working environment, Ma Ee left her job and started working with a workers' association that aims to improve the working and living conditions of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot. In particular, Ma Ee does her best to make sure that pregnant women workers get access to health care.

“When third trimester pregnant mothers work due to income difficulties, it makes the mother weak and not only the mother is faced with a life-threatening situation, but also the unborn child."

Read Ma Ee's story

Manysone Phetduangsy (Laos)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

At an early age, Manysone made it her quest to battle unsafe sex and certain traditional sexual customs among her ethnic tribe Akha in the village of Donyaeng. Manysone speaks passionately against a traditional sexual custom called “vaginal breakthrough,” wherein girls aged 12 undergo a pre-pubertal rite of passage: she has her vagina “broken through” by an older, sexually experienced man. This practice later leads to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS, sexual violence and mental illnesses.

Manysone is now a peer educator and is able to contribute significantly to addressing sexual and reproductive health and rights issues in her community. She gives counselling to young people who face issues; she refers those with risky behaviour to health providers and even accompanies them to help them get over their shyness.

"I would like to see that all young people in the community have knowledge about sexual and reproductive health and rights, how to avoid STIs, how to decrease their risky behaviors and unwanted teenage pregnancy by using contraceptives and condoms."

Read Manysone's story

Tserendolgor Shagdar (Mongolia)

Via travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net

Tserendolgor Shagdar, a 48-year-old mother of five, lives in the rural town of Arvaikheer in Mongolia. She became a personal witness on how public health care deteriorated in Mongolia throughout the years. Tserendolgor and her fourth child suffered from hospital neglect. When her daughter was born, the attending staff were distracted by a popular television show and they knocked the baby's head on the sink while rushing to wash her before the show began. The baby suffered a hemorrhage and 20 years later, she is blind in one eye while the other eye doesn't function well. She also suffers from brain damage.

There is also a dire lack of sexual and reproductive health information and services given to women, including contraceptives and institutional births. Tserendolgor wants to push for a better health care system for women, and calls on policymakers to protect women’s rights. Her demands include enough hospitals, trained doctors and nurses as well as infant schools where women can leave their children so that they can work easily.

Read Tserendolgor's story

View this video on YouTube

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Our Stories, One Journey, a documentary about these women and many others who shared their stories through the Women's Traveling Journal.