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International Women’s Day – Break the Bias

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This Tuesday, March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is a public holiday in 26 countries worldwide. In Germany, it only has this status in the state of Berlin. The motto of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Break the Bias”. It calls for rejecting prejudice, social stigma and inequality.

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The history of International Women’s Day

Women should be allowed to vote! This the participants of the August 1910 Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen agreed on. To lend more weight to their demand, one of the activists, the German Clara Zetkin, had an idea: the introduction of International Women’s Day. Only a few months later, on March 19, 1911, the idea became action: members of the women’s movement marched in several countries demanding the introduction of women’s suffrage.

For what would be unimaginable for us today was still reality just over 100 years ago: Women were excluded from political participation and had only one thing to do on election day in Germany: Stay at home. It wasn’t until 1918 that demands for equal rights were heeded and women’s right to vote was enshrined in law.

Under the National Socialist regime, however, International Women’s Day lost its status and was instead replaced by Mother’s Day, which suited the social ideas of the Nazi dictatorship better. Women were no longer supposed to be social and political activists, but were instead expected to exclusively inhabit the role of a caring wife and prolific mother. It was not until several decades later, in the late sixties, that International Women’s Day was resurrected in Germany. Activists throughout the country demanded greater recognition, more self-determination and fairer pay. Finally, the political breakthrough followed: the United Nations declared 1975 the International Year of Women and March 8 the official International Women’s Day.

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International Women’s Day in our project countries

Even though emancipation has progressed in many ways in the last 100 years, major inequalities between men and women still exist, not least in the countries of the Global South. The “countries of the Global South” are those formerly known as developing countries and emerging economies. The majority of these countries are located in Africa, Latin and South America, and Asia. These are the countries on which we focus our assistance for cleft children. Countries where girls born with a cleft – and their mothers – have a particularly hard time.

Bewitched, cursed, outcast

The greater the poverty, the lower the educational attainment. The causes of a cleft and the treatment options available to a cleft child are known to only few parents. Often, the mother is blamed for bringing a “curse” over the family. For example, the belief that a woman must not cut anything during the eclipse or she will give birth to a cleft child exists in some regions. The consequences for those affected are severe. Cleft children are hidden by their parents, receive no love and care and sometimes are forced to grow up in complete isolation. And the mothers’ fate can also be sad. They are sometimes held responsible and subjected to abuse by their husbands and mothers-in-law, and in the worst cases they are even expelled from the community. For these women, the social stigma is a great burden and source of worry coming in addition to the increased care needs and uncertain future of their child.  

To counteract such prejudices and empower these women, our teams provide comprehensive on-site education. They provide information about causes and treatment options, risk factors and possible prevention.

Is a girl worth less?

For families where poverty dominates every aspect of their everyday life, the birth of a cleft child is associated with great despair, hopelessness and existential fear. This is especially true if it is a girl. A daughter is already considered worth less than a son in many countries around the world, and her “value” is further reduced by the disfiguring cleft. Instead of love and nurture, these girls experience rejection and disregard. In India, on average, much less money is spent on medical treatment for girls and women than for boys or men. The consequences are often fatal. Without treatment, the affected children have hardly any chance in life. Only few are allowed to attend school. But education is as crucially important for a good live for women as for men.

A qualified cleft surgery and ideally further follow-up comprehensive cleft care give the cleft girls a better chance to have access to education, making them strong and paving the way to a self-determined life for them.

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Break the Bias

In our project countries, equal rights for men and women are far from being a matter of course. We are therefore very pleased to have so many skilled female therapists and project staff in our local teams. And even surgery is no longer the exclusively male domain it used to be: three female surgeons work with us in Peru and India, two in Pakistan, and one each in Bangladesh, Bolivia, and Afghanistan. In total, that’s ten female surgeons helping us provide help to cleft children. They are all fully committed to the wellbeing our little patients – day after day.

Crossed arms in front of the chest: the symbol of International Women’s Day 2022. A symbol for the fight against prejudice and discrimination. And a signal to our little patients: You are strong. You too can be a doctor one day!

From our projects
The story of Maui, cleft child from Colombia
Our new project to help children with cleft lip and palate in Colombia begins with a very unusual case. Maui was born with a cleft lip and palate. His parents belong to an indigenous people and do not know how to get him the help he needs. By a happy coincidence, Julia, a Swiss woman living in Colombia, is a neighbor of the family and offers to help. In search of treatment options, she comes across Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe.
Video: Impressions from Bolivia
The parents of our cleft children are always full of gratitude. When their child is born with cleft, they often do not know what to make of the malformation, much less that it can be treated. And even if they do - most of our little patients come from the poorest of backgrounds. Their parents could never afford the operation. It is an unimaginable happiness for them to learn that their children can receive qualified treatment, and free of charge even. This wonderful, touching film from our Bolivian aid project captures these special moments of happiness.
Video: Impressions from Pakistan
This film, made for our Pakistani partner organization, the Al-Mustafa Welfare Societey, by the father of one of our patients, shows scenes from our work in Karachi. From here, our senior surgeon Prof. Ashraf Ganatra treats cleft children from poorest families. He operates the children from Karachi at the Al Mustafa Medical Center. In order to reach the many needy families living outside the city, he also regularly heads out to local provincial hospitals to treat cleft patients there.