Burundi – Des questions ouvertes…

The following article is a guest blog by Luca Catalano

Il est 14h02, le Mercredi 13 mai à Bujumbura. A travers son site web RFI lance le message: “communiqué du général Godefroid Niyombaré diffusé par la radio privée burundaise Isanganiro: Les forces vives de la nation décident de prendre en main la destinée de la nation pour pallier à ce climat d’inconstitutionnalité dans lequel le Burundi est plongé. Les forces vives de la nation refusent avec vigueur et ténacité le troisième mandat du Président Nkurunziza conformément à la constitution et l’accord d’Arusha. Le président Nkurunziza Pierre est destitué de ses fonctions, le gouvernement dissout.”

Jeudi le 14 mai, à moins de 2 jours de l’annonce du général à la tête des forces putschistes, Godefroid Niyombaré, RFI lance le message: “le numéro deux du mouvement putschiste, le général Cyrille Ndayirukiye, a reconnu l’échec du coup d’Etat.” Exactement 37 heures entre les…

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Dr. Denis Mukwege

I want to tell you a story about Dr. Denis Mukwege; a man I consider to be incredibly inspiring and courageous.

When war broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Dr. Mukwege had 35 patients killed in his hospital in Lemera. He fled to Bukavu where he opened a hospital with what he had available (made from tents) and eventually built a maternity ward with an operating theatre. In 1998 this was also destroyed, so he started again in 1999.

In 1999, he had a patient come into his hospital who had been a victim of extremely brutal sexual violence – bent on destruction – and he treated her, assuming this was an anomaly. Within three months, 45 more women came to seek his services each with an equally brutal story. He saw a pattern and realized this was not just sexual violence, but that rape was being used to destroy communities.

Dr. Mukwege instigated several stages of care beginning with a psychological examination to determine whether the women have the resiliency to undergo surgery and recovery. The next stage involves whatever medical care is necessary; this is dependent on the type of violence and can range from basic medical care to reconstructive surgery. He then connects patients with socio-economic care as many patients arrive with nothing (not even clothing). Patients require the ability to be able to care for themselves after they leave the hospital, so they undergo skills and jobs training while in recovery, they can access education, and they build strong support systems with those who protect their dignity. Lastly, patients are connected with legal services as in most cases they are aware of who their assailants were but might not be aware of their legal rights.

Dr. Mukwege’s work is integral to the safety, dignity, and well-being of women within the DRC, yet as sexual violence is often used as a weapon of war Dr. Mukwege became a target because he was helping women live. Because he fought for these women’s rights to live, because he provides them with the tools to live with dignity he was targeted. Dr. Mukwege and his family were targeted and very nearly killed. Following the attack he brought his family to Brussels, however he could not leave his work. He came back to the DRC. In his words,

I was inspired to return by the determination of Congolese women to fight these atrocities. These women have taken the courage to protest about my attack to the authorities. They even grouped together to pay for my ticket home – these are women who do not have anything, they live on less than a dollar a day.

These women formed groups of 20 and stand guard at the hospital day and night to ensure that those seeking and providing care are safe. To date, he has treated over 30,000 women for injuries related to extreme sexual violence and currently sees roughly 10 patients per day.

This week he was recognized for his extraordinary work with the Sakharov prize – Europe’s top human rights prize. It’s this man’s extraordinary work, it’s the dedication and resilience of the women who stand by him and seek his services that inspire me to pursue the research I’m interested in. It’s people like this and the people that he sees every single day that remind me of the importance of this.

Learn more and look up his incredible work at the Panzi Hospital (most of it’s in French so you can also message me and I’ll explain it in English).

Abstract: Women’s Experiences of Urban Food Insecurity

In keeping with my earlier commitment to maintain this space better, I wanted to share an abstract from a paper I wrote in 2011. It was my first time approaching a topic using gender analysis and was the first time I realized how different the ways  we approach development could be as a result.


 ‘Women are both vulnerable and powerful – victimized and empowered – through food.’ –Van Esterik

Globally, urban regions are experiencing unprecedented levels of growth, which has caused urban food security to move to the forefront of international agendas, however a gendered analysis is often lacking. This paper will examine the ways in which women are affected by urban food insecurity and the ways in which they respond to the crisis. Through analysis of secondary sources and of the unique experiences of women in a community in Harare, Zimbabwe, this paper will demonstrate that women are affected by urban food insecurity much more severely than men. However, women are also in a better position to change their situation and the situation of their community into one that is more food secure.

Sharing some old stuff I wrote

Hey guys,

It’s been a while since I posted anything on here, however I intend to get back into the trend of using this space to explore some more academic pursuits and using it as a space to ‘free write’ when ideas come to me – to remain in the practice of writing academically.

However, until that happens, I thought I would share part of a paper I wrote a while ago. So read on if you’re interested, I’d love to hear your thoughts and if this is a topic you are interested in, I would be happy to share the full document.

Creating the Body: Social Media and Sexual Violence

This paper will explore the intersections of the body as a sexed and gendered space through the lens of social and cultural construction and will view the concepts of sex and gender as inherently performative. Using the context of sexual violence and narratives surrounding sexual violence within North America this paper will explore if and how sexual violence (re)produces understandings of the body or (re)constitutes the body. Through this process, the paper hopes to explore whether narratives of sexual violence and victimhood can be understood through discourses of performativity and the body. Simone de Beauvoir’s statement that ’one is not born, but rather, becomes a woman’ is incredibly salient for the purposes of this paper as it is through performativity that one embodies the sexed or gendered body (De Beauvoir, 2011 [1949]). Through the process of ’becoming‘ woman, the body is marked as deviant from the male body and within the process of ‘becoming’ it is important to question the role of social media in producing normative bodies and of sexual violence in marking some bodies (Butler, 1990; De Beauvoir, 2011 [1949]).

In a sense, this paper operates on the assumption that the body does exist as a social space through which individuals can embody sex and gender, but also as a space through which performativity is read by an external audience through the lens of culture and society (Butler, 1990; De Beauvoir, 2011 [1949]). By examining the body through these processes, I hope to understand the impacts that sexual violence has both as creating an imprint on the body but also in how performativity is read (Foucault, 1977 [1975]; Foucault, 1978 [1976]). Within recent media attention and within sexual violence research, we have seen a trend away from (re)victimizing those who have experienced sexual violence; this, alongside the extremely low instances of reposing sexual violence demonstrates there is something salient about how people are perceived if they are open about experiences of sexual violence (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2008). I argue that the importance of these perceptions can be understood through an analysis of the body and of performativity in the context of sexual violence and social media.

To do so, this paper will follow some common experiences that occur prior to, during, and following  instances of sexual violence — particularly as represented through social media — using three  recent cases from North America;  herein referred to as the Ohio case, the Missouri case, and the Nova Scotia case — these cases will also be referred to collectively where inferences can be made. . .

Reshuffle in the Congolese army – cui bono?

On September 18, DRC’s president Joseph Kabila – shortly before heading off to the 69th session of the UN general assembly – finally announced a major round of rotations with the Forces Armés de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), the country’s national army. This reshuffle features a few remarkable changes, both in personnel and in hierarchy. While certain observers identify this reform as a move to tighten Kabila’s (or his entourage’s) grip on the country’s security forces, assessments should remain cautious for many consequences of the reshuffle remaining unclear at this point.

According to Jean-Jacques Wondo, a Brussels-based Congolese military analyst and ‘Forum des As’, a national newspaper from Kinshasa, the new army command structure may look like this (the link includes a more detailed list, while Wondo’s graph below shows the key parts). Wondo again, has already given very poignant analyses on how this will affect DRC’s security architecture…

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F is for Fish Sauce, Flavour, Phan Thiết and Phú Quốc

Chris Galvin

nuoc cham and fresh herbs

The Vietnamese alphabet has no letter F. But it does have the letter PH, as in phở, and also Phan Thiết  and Phú Quốc, two places famous for fish sauce. The former is a southeastern coastal city. The latter is both Việt Nam’s biggest island and a district that includes this island and twenty-two smaller ones, tucked under the curve of Cambodia’s coast, in the Gulf of Thailand.

In his book Bút Khảo Về Ăn (Notes on Eating), Dr. Lê Văn Lân relates an old folk tale that he remembers his mother telling him. Here’s my rough translation:

A long time ago, a northern village held a feast-tasting challenge to open the spring celebrations. The banquet table groaned under a spread of the rarest foods of the mountains and seas. Whoever could correctly name the tastiest dish would win. According to tradition, the competitors entered one by one. A single drum…

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1200 Calories


I don’t know why “1200” managed to be the magic number of calories women should consume if they want to lose weight.

I don’t even know how I know of this number. Only that I know it, and my friends know it, and my mom knows it. Somehow, somewhere along the road, I was taught that if I want to have a flat stomach and tight tushy, I need to limit my calories to 1200 a day and do cardio. I don’t know how it got in to all of our collective brains, but somehow it did (if any ladies remember how or when they first heard the 1200-calorie rule-of-thumb for losing weight, please let me know via comment box).

What I do know is that 1200 is the general number of calories health professionals say women cannot drop below without suffering negative health consequences.

Interesting, isn’t it? 1200 calories. The…

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Listen to the y…

Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.

From Vachel Lindsay’s poem ‘The Congo’

Research struggles

There are a lot of aspects of research that I struggle with, mainly because of my research interests. I’m interested in sexual violence in Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC, I want to know if the horrific history and legacy of Belgian colonial rule have had an impact in domestic sexual relations and if so, how, and why, I want to know where development funding is going and what kind of impact it’s having, I want to know if development funding could be better directed (most always it can be, but how and under what kind of program), I want to know women and men’s experiences of sexual assault either through conflict or not. But I struggle with this because I’m not part of the culture. While my research isn’t aiming to tell anyone to change anything (apart from maybe development agendas) and is instead aiming to understand what is happening and why, I worry that this could be misconstrued, that I will be perceived as doing what so many people have done before and just contribute to the continued violence of colonialism. So I’m stuck in this bubble, struggling with myself on whether this kind of research would be a good contribution to knowledge, or whether it’s ideological and would be better done by someone else. 

“There are many maps of one place, and many histories of one time.”

-Julie Freriekse

Feminism Isn’t Working and I Give Up

“So, yeah. I know you’re tired of hearing about rape culture. But I’m tired of my friends getting raped.
I know you’re tired of hearing about abortion. I am too. So stop trying to tell me what to do with my uterus, and I promise you won’t hear another word from me about it.
I know men and women are different from each other. I’m just tired of that fact being used to excuse the inexcusable.
I know you’re tired of hearing about income inequality. But fuck you, pay us.”

I GIVE UPby Admin Jen

I’m hanging it up.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m done with feminism. It’s not working. We’re getting nowhere. In fact it actually seems like we’re going backwards. Someone come confiscate my “Feminist as F*ck” t-shirt, buy me a beekeeper suit and leave me to my new, non-feminist existence which will entail popping out more children and possibly listening to a lot of Katy Perry, who is an avowed non-feminist. (The woman who dresses her tits up like cupcakes says she is not a feminist, are you surprised?).

Fighting double standards has become worse than passé. In that entire media whore-nado over Miley Cyrus and her VMA spectacle, the only person I saw pointing out that Robin Thicke is actually kind of questionable for grinding his bits on a girl who could be his daughter… was another dude. Even we in our own circular firing squad of feminism didn’t…

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What it is like to be a Muslim woman, and why we know what freedom is (and you may not)

This is by far one of the most powerful pieces I’ve read in a long time.

Mos Def | Privilege, Pain and Politics

This is a great perspective. I think it’s important that people be given a voice, but that no one should ever fight to be heard over the voices of the people who are living the experience in question.

Tall. Black. One Sugar

Trigger Warning: The video is quite distressing and not for the faint hearted.

Early this morning I stumbled upon the following video by Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly, or more commonly know as, Mos Def.

It was a disturbing reenactment of what those held at Guantanamo allegedly have to go through. The suggestion being that the detainees at Gitmo who are on hunger strike are force fed in the manner demonstrated by Yasin made me feel very uncomfortable. Not only for the way it was portrayed but a certain discomfort I have with celebrities being the spokespersons for those who cannot otherwise speak. That same discomfort I see when I hear George Clooney being a mouthpiece for Sudan, Bono for any part of Subsaharan Africa and even Angelina Jolie speaking at the G8 summit with her concerns for refugees.

I hasten to add that I believe all the aforementioned celebrities…

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I’m the midst of applying for Teacher’s Assistant positions for next year, which I find really exciting. 

But how do you pick which ones you would be a good match for? I’ve had some great TAs throughout my undergraduate degree, and some not so great ones. I want to be a great TA – I want to connect with students and be approachable, I want to know enough about the subject to be able to give good advice. How do I pick a class and professor that will help me accomplish this? It’s pretty intimidating to write down this list of potential courses that I’d love to work with and hope to hear back from some of them. 

Any advice? On picking courses, choosing hours, and managing all of it?

Containing my frustration

Over the summers I work at a bank as part of their Aboriginal Summer Internship Program and in Canada most banks get quite busy at the end of the month for a number of reasons. The end of the month is when most rent payments are due, mortgages tend to close, government checks come in (including social assistance, disability, pension, etc.) and this week was busier than normal because Monday is a bank holiday. Being busy means that there are lines (which could be avoided by using online banking or ATMS), however the bank that I work at is also the only one in town that will cash government cheques for non-clients free of charge (if they have two pieces of ID), making lines a bit longer.

This past week I had one client who tested every ounce of my patience and who subsequently ruined a lot of my faith in humanity. In my time in University and out of Canada I guess that I was exposed to people who genuinely believe that all people are equal and within my program at university I was among people that I shared ideology with. However this one woman yesterday just infuriated me and reminded me of how far Canada still has to go before we can actually be considered an ‘accepting country’.

This woman, who is a complete stranger, acted as though she was speaking in confidence with me and mentioned that the bank would be busy that day because one particular group of people would be getting their paycheques (i.e. welfare). I tried to stop the shock from showing in my features as she walked away. I really didn’t know how to react and was too shocked to react quickly enough. But I felt as though that comment highlights a lot of the issues that we still face in Canada.

Firstly, we need to remove some of the stigma associated with being on social assistance. Social assistance exists for a reason and the vast majority of people do not abuse the system. The people that I see on social assistance use it and need it – sure, there may be exceptions but the exception is not the rule and is not right or fair to paint everyone with the same brush.

Secondly, it really does not matter what the background, ethnicity, culture, age, gender, etc. is of the person collecting social assistance, what matters is that they need the funds and are using the funds.

Thirdly, if you are racist do not act like you are in the right! If you want to say something demeaning about anyone DO NOT DO IT. Just stop thinking that racism is okay, don’t try to justify it. It does not matter what my background is (or what yours is), it doesn’t matter what I look like, it is not okay for anyone to be offensive and/or racist. I don’t care if its a joke. It’s not funny, it is not okay. It is rude, it is offensive and it is harmful.

I’m still angry about this, and probably will be for a while (or at least until that person comes back and I have a better response). How would you have reacted? Do you think that there is any hope of things improving in Canada anytime soon?

Friday Puzzler: Where Are All the Female Bloggers?

And what can be done to encourage increased female involvement?

WhatSheSaid – Brilliant Marketing.

Incredible campaign.


I came across this image a year or so ago and it really impressed me with it’s relevance and it’s brilliant marketing. (Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, i’m sure you can appreciate this? )

Also on that note, using the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” surely has pre-implied connotations about negative and positive, such that “pro-life” sounds like the “positive” phrase and therefore giving that argument a bias? Just a general point on language in debate.

Over & out.

p.s. Still can’t find who originally said this/whose campaign included this so information would be much appreciated!

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Everywhere But Home

Yesterday I had a fascinating conversation with the director of the Erdenet Children’s Palace regarding sexism in education and the way it affects Mongolian family dynamics. The Children’s Palace is the seat of this aimag’s branch of the Department of Children and Family Development (that’s a loose translation); essentially, it’s a youth center, offering classes in music, art, dancing, and wrestling, hosting competitions and plays, and providing a number of other services. It’s also where I’m taking music lessons in exchange for helping their director with her English. During yesterday’s lesson, we read and discussed a Time for Kids article on Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was attacked by the Taliban last year for her women’s rights activism. We talked about how the  Taliban doesn’t believe women should be educated, or indeed do anything besides keep house and have children. As far as I’ve seen, that’s the effect…

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Ecclektic Ghana


I’m tired. I’ve been oscillating between apathy and the kind of anger that makes my chest feel tight, that makes my voice tremble when I shout. Sometimes I’m despondent; the silver lining on Ghanaian clouds is the first flash of a lightning bolt, watch out for that, it’ll get ya. Sometimes I’m hopeful; it’s still better here (for me) than elsewhere (and I don’t mean the places with war and strife, I mean the UK and the US). Sometimes I pray. I’m Christian but I never understood why people prayed for their country till now. God gave us free will and a country runs on the amalgamation of that free will. So sure, I’d pray that I wouldn’t do something stupid with my own free will but praying for the country sounded like an infringement. If people chose to drive like maniacs, vote like lemmings and lead like pirates then…

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Wonder how I brought in the New Year (according to the Georgian calendar)? And what I will do for the Lunar New Year? Read about it from Heather, my classmate and travel buddy!

heather in hanoi

Once winter hit Hanoi, I decided to hit the tarmac and fly to southern Vietnam. Some friends and I travelled to Mũi Né and Ho Chi Minh City to ring in the New Year. Now that I am gearing up to celebrate New Years for a second time (Vietnamese New Year which goes according to the lunar calendar), I wanted to remind myself of how wonderful it was the first time around. 

We started our trip in Mũi Né where we enjoyed squishing sand between our toes and cooling off with a swim in the refreshing sea. 

Mui Ne beachMui Ne beach 2

We visited a fishing village, full of activity and vibrant colours that stood out so beautifully against the water in the morning sun.

Fishing Village 2

fishing village 3

We drove along the coast, enjoying the view and every breath of fresh air that we don’t have in Hanoi.

drive to sand dunes

And then we ended up here.

Mui Ne white sand dunes

These are the white…

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Cata's Corner

Re-blogged from Wronging Rights

Calls for Men to Be Blindfolded in Public
In response to claims that men are unable to restrain themselves from committing rape if they see women in skimpy clothing, members of law enforcement agencies around the country have called for men to blindfold themselves when they are in places where they might encounter a female wearing a tank top or a short skirt.

“For years, we have been told that men don’t understand how to respond to the sight of a woman wearing, say, gym clothes – that as far as they are concerned, if they can see the outline of her body, then that’s an invitation to sex that they are simply unable to refuse,” said one police chief. “If that’s true, then we have no choice. We want women to be safe, and there is apparently no way for some men to reasonably restrain…

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A really important read for everyone.

My little book of blogs


The beautiful young Khmer girl I observed dressed in a short tight blue dress dowsed in make up and uncertainty danced upon a blurry eyed western looking man with her back to him and her eyes fixed on the floor. He turned her around and swayed to the music before leaning in for a kiss. She pushed him away immediately, joined her hands together and bowed her head and said , ‘I cannot, I cannot, please you come with me, we go to the hotel.’ She danced so provocatively but with so little confidence, she won’t kiss him yet wants to go to a hotel, the disparity between what she displayed and what she really felt was glaringly obvious to me. The man looked sheepishly at his friends and let her lead him away through the crowd. Was it ignorance, naivety or just drunkenness that made him part of the…

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Olio talk by Suchitra Kaushiva

Much has happened in India since December 16, 2012.

Her family, friends and loved ones are perhaps still trying to come to terms with their irreplaceable loss. The accused have been charged with abduction, gang rape and murder and a magistrate has called for another hearing later this week. The government has given assurances to the public that this case will be handled on a “fast-track” basis. Political leaders and religious factions have made an equal proportion of grandiose and downright silly public statements. After a few technical glitches, the Delhi government finally managed to get its act together and set up 181, the much-publicised 24/7 telephone helpline for women in distress, though I imagine it would be somewhat difficult to dial the helpline while one is being victimised. Young India has taken up the tragedy as its own and is up in arms against the government and the legal…

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Olio talk by Suchitra Kaushiva


So then, what is it about this 23 year-old girl who raised the conscience of India on December 16, 2012?

Was it the barbaric way in which she met her end?

Was she the last straw that broke the back of an overladen camel?

Was it her young age, her thwarted ambitions and aspirations, or her
parents’ unfulfilled hopes, dreams and expectations?

Was it her last wish, to be able to survive and make it out of her nightmarish ordeal?

All the above perhaps, and maybe just something more.

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But seriously, y’all.

The traditional Disney Prince has about as much sparkle and panache as something completely lacking in sparkle and panache. He has  a creative name like “The Prince” “Prince Charming” “Prince Phillip” “Prince Eric” or “Prince Adam” (that’s the actual name of the Beast, apparently), and no personality. Ok, well, the Beast has a personality, but the only thing anyone else does is be obsessively fixated on some girl he met once in the woods.

Has anyone ever thought that maybe the reason that little boys (generally) don’t like playing princess games is because there’s nothing for them to DO? What prince is actually interesting enough that a little boy would want to dress up like him? What prince actually does anything that a little boy (or anyone for that matter) would want to do? Hey, Mom, today I’m going to roleplay as Prince Charming. I will stand…

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