Memories from Tanzania

3 01 2011

During the fall of 2010 I lived in Tanzania, Africa. I worked as a legal intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and learned a lot about international criminal law. However, I didn’t want to spend my months there just working (even though I ended up actually working nights and weekends quite often). I tried to learn something about the culture there as well, I tried to get to know some locals and make some friends – and I succeeded. I volunteered in an orphanage during some Saturdays, and I also helped out some people I met there who didn’t have any possessions at all, let alone a job or money for food. In particular I had this one really good friend there, with whom I worked and who taught me a lot about the culture there. We talked about nearly everything, and we also disagreed on nearly everything. But we both enjoyed our conversations, so we kept on debating! I kept a blog for the period I was there, called Interning Tanzania, but I wanted to share with you some interesting facts about Tanzania. While being there I really truly realized how lucky I am to having been born in such a Westernized country, with all its possibilities.

The following is a blog post I wrote on October 10th 2010:

I’ve come to learn quite a lot about the position of women here in Tanzania. It is interesting to hear about life here, but it is shocking to realize that people here actually think men and women are equally treated here. To those who think that, equal has a totally different meaning from what I’m used to. To me it’s discrimination as soon as there’s a difference in treatment only because of what sex the person is. But here, it’s fair treatment to treat women and men differently, with the claim that God made men and women different for a reason, and the sexes can never be completely equal.

Before saying anything else I really want to thank my wonderful fiancé for letting me be my own, demanding self! After being here for nearly a month and a half I have come to appreciate him and what we have so much more!

I cannot, of course, speak for all women and all family situations in Tanzania – but these are some of the things I’ve learned.


It’s ok to date and meet, but obviously sex before marriage is not something you’re supposed to engage in. Parents choosing future spouses for their children is not customary anymore, although it does sometimes still happen among the Christian majority. However, part of the population is Muslim, and in that culture/religion arranged marriages are still daily occurrences.

Getting married.

Getting married is a big deal here, especially since you cannot get a divorce (I’ll get to that later). They still do it in a very traditional way. Once the couple has discussed marriage and all that it includes (this is the part that I like – they actually put a lot of effort into discussing things beforehand, to make sure they’re on the same page and to avoid future problems), the man writes a letter to her parents, asking for permission to marry their daughter. The letter + some money (including money is a way of showing respect and does not symbolize the man “buying” the woman from her parents, believe me, I asked) is then folded in a special way by an older male relative, who is also responsible for bringing the letter to the girl’s parents. The parents then sit down with the girl and asks her whether she knows this man and whether she wants to marry him. If she says yes then that’s final and they’re getting married.


During marriage it is obviously very important to show each other respect. However, the word respect tends to have a different meaning here than it does in other cultures. The bar is set much higher here. A woman is never allowed to raise her voice to her husband. She is also not allowed to refuse him sex. This means that she should never sleep on the side of the bed which is against the wall – if a woman sleeps next to the wall she could turn her back to her husband, which would mean she’s refusing him sex. The only reasons for a woman to deny her husband sex would be illnesses or any temporary inability to have sex. Otherwise the husband has a “right” to go looking for sex elsewhere (=he’s allowed to cheat). There are also clear roles for women and men in marriages here. Women have an obligation to take care of the home, the children, the cooking etc. Sounds “harsh”, right? But the men also have obligations, albeit different ones. It’s the man’s obligation to provide for his family – which in this country is not always easy – and this is undoubtedly a lot of responsibility.

Marital problems.

Whenever there’s a problem in a marriage you’re not supposed to fight over it. You have to try to solve your problems by discussing them. If the couple cannot manage to solve their problems themselves, they go to the next “level”/stage – which means that they sit down with their parents and discuss their problems. And since family is a very important concept here it is very important that they listen and respect their parents, and take their advice. If the problems cannot be solved, the couple can, as a last resort, separate.


Divorce is not allowed. The majority of the population are Christians, and according to their religion (which is way more strict than Christianity in Finland for example) it is not allowed to get divorced. Legally it would be possible, but nobody ever gets a divorce here. Instead you can separate. However, since marriage is meant to be for life, it is very immoral to separate. If you’re separated you can get a new partner, and live with that person as if you were married (i.e. live together, have children). This is, in my opinion, a bit of a paradoxe. First you’re not allowed to live together before you get married. This undoubtedly raises the possibility of more problems coming up once you’re married and living together. If you then notice that you’ve made a mistake by marrying that person, you’re forced to do something totally immoral and separate. And even after this there’s no possibility for you to marry someone else, who could possibly be the love of your life. Instead you’re forced to continue leading an immoral life by living and starting a family with someone who’s not your wife. And apparently separations are getting more and more common – but the religious believes are not following. Instead of accepting that this is the development and this is where it’s headed, the culture here forces people to live immorally. Among Muslims there is a possibility of getting a divorce. A man can always get a divorce – even if a divorce includes three different steps, which take time and during which the man is still responsible for supporting his wife. A woman, however, can only get a divorce under certain conditions. If she was underage when they married and it was her parents decision, and she, when she reaches majority (when exactly this is is debatable, there is no specific age limit), does not want to continue the marriage, she can demand a divorce. Other than that the only possibility for a woman to demand a divorce is if she has proof of him behaving badly (hitting her, etc.). Prooving something like that is very difficult, so it must not be easy for a lot of women.

It is still very difficult for women to get any property in a divorce or separation. The Law of Marriage Act from 1971 establishes that the work done by women in the homes (child care, taking care of the home etc.) should count as a contribution to their joint property – but before 1983 there was not a single case where the wife had been awarded part of the property. And even today – even in cases where the wife has substantial evidence of her being the one paying for the house e.g. – the courts award the husband everything on a very regular basis. The law did, however, improve the situation for women substantially, and it was the first law to ever even give them some basic civil rights in marriage and divorce.

The Law of Marriage Act can be found here:

Inheritence rights.

My roommate is planning to stay here and start up an NGO helping women whose husbands have died. This is an extremely important cause, because women in rural areas can experience a lot of difficulty claiming their rights to inheritence. In order for a wife to inherit her husband she need a proof of the registration of their marriage, and the husband needs to have written a will. There are a lot of cases in front of the courts here, where the husband’s relatives refuse to allow the wife (the widow) to inherit the land of her husband. And if she is unable to present the court with the correct paperwork there is a problem. There are several NGOs here helping women once the case is already in front of a court -but my roommate came up with the brilliant idea of starting an NGO which helps women get the correct paperwork in order even before the husband dies.

Random facts.

A woman is never allowed to throw any object to a man (just tossing him a pen would not be accepted). And, only bad girls whistle, but you knew that already, didn’t you? ;)


In Tanzania there is an endless amount of tribes. Which also means that there’s an enormous amount of different cultures. Apparently there are patriarchal cultures/tribes as well as matriarchal tribes – so women are not “oppressed” in every single corner of this country – in some areas women might actually enjoy a higher standing than men!


On google books the following research report is published:
The Legal Status of Women and Poverty in Tanzania

Just as a comparison, have a look at:
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)


The continuum of the plastic bottle/container discussion

16 05 2010

My blog post How safe is Tupperware, and other plastic containers draws a lot of readers to this blog. Just as a follow up on this blog post, I would like to shed some light upon some of the comments made to that blog post.

First off, there’s this great website where you can find more information about the things I’ve discussed earlier (why plastic bottles are a bad choice, how some of the plastics used in plastic containers may affect your health etc.). There you can also buy stainless steel containers and mugs (the small parts made of plastic are made of polypropylene #5 plastic which is considered a safe plastic). Also check out their Health Resource Center for more information about how hazardous certain plastics can be. They also provide links to a bunch of great videos, among others this one:

This is the web page I’m talking about:

For an informative pdf-table called “Understanding Plastic Recycling Codes”, click here.

And regarding a question I got about Starbucks tumblers and mugs – the ones I’ve seen are made out of #7 plastic. Bottles and containers made out of that plastic are accused of leaching Bisphenol A, which might cause chromosomal damage. They market their tumblers nicely, however, as made out of a certain percentage recycled material. The question is: does the fact that the tumblers are made of recycled material negate the fact that it reads #7 on the bottom? (They do, however, have many different tumblers and mugs, so some might be made out of some other, safer, plastic.)

The revolution is now

13 05 2010

The other day I watched Zeitgeist – The Movie and I was really moved by it. Some of the things weren’t new to me, as I am used to watching different types of critical movies and documentaries, but a lot of them were. My conclusion: everyone should watch this movie, so I decided to make my first post here in almost a year.

The reason for not updating this blog in a while is that my life right now is at a stand-still. I’m at the end of the first stage of my studies, and I have, unfortunately, spent this whole year basically in the same city, at the same library, without the same amount of new experiences as last year, when I was traveling the world. Yesterday, however, I went to a viewing of the movie The Human Experience (a movie about a few guys trying to find out if we’ve forgotten what it means to be human. They visit poor and sick children in Peru, homeless people in NYC and a leper colony in Ghana) and I actually talked to one of the guys who made the movie (he’s also one of the guys behind Grassroots Films) about life, about the happiness that people living in poor areas possess and how we all should pursue such a happiness instead of wanting to own a big house and a nice car. Possessions are nothing without happiness. And whatever anyone else may claim – money can’t buy you true happiness.

This year I’ve also been really frustrated over the fact that in order for me to pursue my dreams and goals, I have to succumb to this western, consumption-centered society. I have to finish my studies to be able to do what I want and work to protect children’s rights and human rights – that’s all good, I’m happy to do that. But I also have to live and work here, in an environment where I truly aren’t happy, to earn enough money to be able to afford e.g. volunteering somewhere in the world… It’s a paradox really. I have to live here and earn money in order for me to go to places where I’m reminded that money and possessions aren’t even nearly the most important things in life. I guess there’s some way around this, I just haven’t found it yet.


Zeitgeist – The Movie is distributed on the web for free – watch or download it or the follow up movie Zeitgeist – Addendum at:


More information about The Human Experience and Grassroots Films can be found at:

The Convention on the Rights of the Child – 20 years!

17 07 2009

The 20th of November 1989 the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention assembles all the rights found in different international instruments, and provides guiding principles that inevitably form the way we view children.


UNICEF chooses to put it this way: “[the convention] celebrates childhood and codifies in international law the rights due every child”. To cite UNICEF some more: “The articles of the Convention call for the provision of specific resources, skills and contributions necessary to ensure the survival and development of children to their maximum capability. The articles also require the creation of means to protect children from neglect, exploitation and abuse.”

There are two optional protocols to the Convention: The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
I want to learn more about the optional protocols.


Here are some very interesting photo essays from UNICEF. 
These will guide you through the convention in a more visual way:
UNICEF Photo Essay I
UNICEF Photo Essay II


How is the fulfilment of States obligations monitored?
– The Committee on the Rights of the Child follows up the state’s actions (or neglections). Every state submits a report to the committee within 2 years of ratification, and every 5 years thereafter.
NGOs (non-governmental organizations) play a significant role in raising public awareness about the Convention and its goals.
UNICEF has a legal obligation to promote and protect child rights by supporting the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. In addition to contributing advice and assistance to the Committee, UNICEF facilitates broad consultations within States to maximize the accuracy and impact of reports to the Committee.



Read more:

Rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Human Rights Provisions
What you can do to help

Old school (=real books you might find interesting):

Children’s Rights in Education
Stuart N. Hart, Cynthia Price Cohen. 2001.
Empowering Children
Robert Brian Howe, Katherine Covell. 2005.

Tap water vs. bottled water – which is better?

10 06 2009

I apologize for not having updated my blog in a long time. I moved back to my native country, I started working full time, I’m studying as well, and right now I have a nasty Rottweiler bite wound on my throat, so, in short – I’ve been busy. Being back in Finland has made me realize, among other things, how many people drink bottled water. And I know it’s even worse in Canada, not to mention in the U.S. Nothing bad against specifically those countries, obviously – they just happen to be countries that I’ve visited and where I’ve seen this behavior. I’m sure the same goes for a bunch of other countries as well! So, in order to have a good argument ready for when trying to make someone stop drinking bottled water I decided I needed to look up some facts. This is what I found:

Why you should drink tap water (a.k.a. why bottled water is bad):

1. It creates an enormous amount of plastic waste, and leaves an incredibly big environmental footprint.

Annual production of the plastic (PET or polyethylene) bottles to meet U.S. consumer demand for bottled water takes the equivalent of about 17.6 million barrels of oil, not including the cost of transporting the bottled water to consumers. That more or less equals the amount of oil required to fuel more than one million vehicles on U.S. roads each year. Worldwide bottling of water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic each year. And in the end, about 86 percent of the empty plastic water bottles in the United States land in the garbage instead of being recycled. (Source: Food and water watch – Take back the tap)


2. It’s expensive.

Last year Americans spent nearly $11 billion on over 8 billion gallons of bottled water. $11 billion!!! That’s A LOT! And I just can’t grasp the fact that so many students, who supposedly are “poor” and living on loans, still find excuses to buy bottled water. And how many families have extra money to spend on bottled water? They could just as well drink tap water, which can be up to a 1000 times cheaper. Tap water costs about $0.002 per gallon compared to the $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon charge for bottled water.

3. Tap water may be safer, cleaner and healthier than bottled water.

Companies that sell bottled water spend millions of dollars every year to promote their own product. They make you, the consumer, think that their water is extra healthy, and absolutely cleaner than the water that comes out your tap. This is usually not true. Tap water is regularly checked by the EPA as well as state and local governments, when bottled water is only checked by the FDA. And FDA standards are way behind EPA standards – a few examples (borrowed from Bottled water – Illusions of Purity):
– Municipal water is not permitted to contain E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria. FDA rules for bottled water include no such prohibitions.
– Municipal water from surface sources must be filtered and disinfected, or it must have strict pollution controls. There are no filtration or disinfection requirements for bottled water at the federal level. The only source-water protection, filtration or disinfection provisions for bottled water are delegated to the states, and many states have adopted no meaningful programs.
– Cities must have their water tested by government-certified labs. No certification requirement exists for bottlers.
– Municipal tap water must be tested for coliform bacteria 100 or more times a month. New York City takes 500,000 samples of its water per year. That’s nearly once a minute all year long. Bottled water plants only have to test once a week.

On that same page you can also read:
“Bottled water likes to sell itself as being pure in its little clear bottles, but the fact is nearly 40 percent of bottled water is tap water with added minerals or filtration and there’s no guaranteed safety just because it’s wrapped in plastic – and in fact there’s some risk. Municipal water has an advantage in that it is constantly moving, keeping fresh and avoiding stagnancy. Water bottles, though cleaned, are not sterilized. Relatively low amounts of bacteria at bottling can multiply to a much larger problem by the time bottles hit store shelves. Bottled water frequently is not chlorinated, allowing bacterial and fungal growth within the bottle.”


4. The plastic used in the bottles can leak dangerous chemicals.

Among the risks with bottled water is the fact that plastics used to make the bottles is not safe, since it may leak hazardous chemicals into the water. Phthalate is a chemical often used in water bottles since it makes the plastic softer and less brittle. But when heated they begin to leach into the contents of the bottle – even the heat from leaving the bottle in a car a hot day may be enough. Most water bottles

are made from the resin #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) (a safe plastic if used only once). However, when reused, as they commonly are, they can leach chemicals such as DEHA, a possible human carcinogen, and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), a potential hormone disruptor. Phthalates can cause reproductive difficulties, liver problems and increased risk of cancer. While phthalates are regulated in tap water, the FDA maintains an exemption for bottled water. Also, because the plastic is porous you’ll likely get a swill of harmful bacteria with each gulp if you reuse #1 plastic bottles.
To read more about hazardous plastics, see my earlier blog post: “How safe is Tupperware?…”

Hazards with tap water:

Fluoride in tap water a health hazard

Is tap water a health hazard?

What to do:

Buy a good water filter.
Read more about water filtration here.
Water Filtration Guide

Buy a stainless steel reusable water bottle. – The original, eco-friendly, bpa-free, reusable stainless steel water bottles

Take the pledge to break the bottled water habit. Take back the Tap Pledge

Support funding for public drinking water and water treatment.



Common questions and answers about tap water.

Natural Resources Defense Council – “What’s on Tap? Grading drinking water in U.S. Cities”

The definitive bottled water site

Environmentalist study says tap water superior to bottled

SOURCES: – “Tap water vs. bottled water – which is better?”

Food and water watch

The Green Guide – Tapped out

World Malaria Day

9 05 2009

The 25th of April was World Malaria Day. Malaria is a vector-borne infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. It’s one of the most common infectious diseases and an enormous public health problem.

Malaria has about 250 million cases every year and that yearly leads to nearly one million deaths. About 3.3 billion people – half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. People living in the poorest countries are the most vulnerable.

Malaria is especially a serious problem in Africa, where one in every five (20%) childhood deaths is due to the effects of the disease. An African child has on average between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malaria fever each year. And every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria.

Photo by Mariella Furrer for the New York Times

Read more about World Malaria Day.


Donate a 10 $ mosquito net here.



WHO – 10 facts on malaria

Further reading:

Help UNICEF fight malaria.
How to treat malaria.
Malaria Foundation International

Water vs. drought

19 04 2009

The UN Water Report “Water in a Changing World” (available here) predicts that in the year 2030 a lack of water can be reality for 3 billion people, if nothing is done to stop the climate changes! Today that’s the case for 1,5 billion people, so we’re talking a huge increase here!


Some facts:

– Almost all big river systems in the world are polluted, over half of them seriously.
– About 80 % of the diseases in the developing countries are directly or indirectly caused by a lack of clean water and water closets.
– Already today there are 300 million people in China drinking polluted water.
– During the past century there was a 300 % increase of world’s population while the water consumption has increased 600 %.
– Of the foreign aid given to the developing countries only 5-6 % go to the water and sanitary sector. At least the double would be necessary.
Every dollar invested in the water and sanitary sector brings in 5-12 dollars in improved health, cleaner environment and increased productivity.
30-40% of the water gets lost on the way because of leaking water pipes.

The resources should be used more efficiently, but not only that – they should also be distributed in a more fair and more environmentally friendly manner.


Few of the developing countries can actually afford all the investments in the water and sanitary sector that would be necessary, so many of them collaborate with private companies, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. As an example I can mention Bolivia, who in 1999 gave all the rights to the water industry to two occidental companies for a period of 40 years. The result was that the price of water increased by 200 %, and a lot of poor families had to pay a fifth of their incomes just to have running water at home. Demonstrations followed and the government was forced to break the contract.

A good solution, proved successful by several countries, thereamong Finland, could be collaboration between the state, the municipalities, the private sector and local organizations. Then water and sanitary services can be provided at a reasonable price. But this requires the business to be transparent. This is not always the case today, even in industrial countries. Corruption is common – it is not uncommon that up to a third of the money ends up in the wrong hands.


According to researchers every human being on earth could be provided with 50 liters of water per day, but that would require a huge change in how the water resources are divided. And the needs of the poor (especially the women) would have to be met first. The situation today is quite different. In some areas the poor pay 10-30 times more for the water than the rich, who are connected to the water system. Similarly the rich farmers pay around one fifth of the full price for irrigation while small farmers pay the full price for insufficient amounts of water. An alternative would be to water with waste water, which Israel already does. Since food production consumes 70 % of the water resources globally (up to 80-90 % in some developing countries) more efficiency in water usage is needed!

Also in the industry the efficiency in water usage should be increased. In Denmark they produce 138 dollars GDP with one cubic meter of water, in the US 20 dollars and in India only four.

Conflicts related to water are rare. A global agreement on water resources does not exist, but there are over 400 bilateral and regional agreements, which work relatively well.


One of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to halve the number of people who lack clean water by the year of 2015. This would result in 90 % of the world’s population having access to clean water. This goal will probably be reached. However, the sanitary goal will not be reached. Drilling wells has been more attractive than building water closets. Around 2.4 billion people are currently without a water closet, and this situation will not improve significantly by 2015.

The water usage varies a lot between countries. In the Netherlands, the UK and Uruguay people consume around 100 liters per person and day, in Finland 150-200 liters – while the consumption in Canada and New Zealand is as much as 700 liters! The biggest water consumers (in volume) are, however, the US, China and India.


So – we all realize that something needs to be done! And everyone, that means YOU, can make a difference. Save water at home in any way you can. Don’t waste it!


Sources used for this blog post:

The UN Water Report “Water in a Changing World”, published March 16, 2009

Article, “2030 kan 3 miljarder ha brist på vatten”, by U.B. Lindström, Hufvudstadsbladet, Sunday, April 19th, 2009