Thursday, 9 March 2017

"Giving a woman the power to make decisions about her own body is one of the greatest forms of empowerment"- Mallah Tabot

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Beta Girls caught up with Cameroonian reproductive health activist, feminist and entrepreneur; Mallah Tabot
Below is the conversation we had with her:

Tell us about your childhood

I grew up in a family of 7 (6 siblings) and most of my childhood experiences shaped the person that I am today and were central in my decision to kick off my activism in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Watching my mom raise so many kids at a very young age caused me to start questioning what was wrong as I grew older. This consequently shaped my worldview and understanding that giving a woman the power to make decisions about her own body is one of the greatest forms of empowerment she will ever have, which goes on to have greater effects on the nation as a whole.

What is your educational background? Did you study what you wanted to study? Or, was it your parent’s influence?

As a child people always said I was very outgoing and talkative and so growing up I decided that I wanted to be a journalist. I followed that path academically till I obtained a Bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communication. And no, my parents had nothing to do with it.

So you had dreams of working as a journalist on the radio, you actually did work as a journalist for CRTV and as a blogger for MTV, how did you then become an active feminist?

You’re right. I did work as a journalist for a while and I loved it while it lasted, but at the same time my heart was yearning for something stronger and more impactful. In fact I had never really labelled myself a feminist before and this had nothing to do with the movement itself, but more because I had not read much about feminism and why I should be involved. I ironically very strongly believed in gender equality and equal rights. So getting into feminist activism wasn’t very strange for me when I started thinking more critically about social issues and how gender plays into every facet of our existence. So it was sort of a smooth transition from being a journalist to blogging on issues around women’s rights and engaging in sexual health and rights initiatives. I do still blog, although in a very lazy manner now but my journalistic reflexes are quite active and I use them more in my work as a reproductive health activist.

Tell us about you NGO; United Vision for women, you had just left University when you created it, what inspired its creation?

United Vision exists to fight against trends and tendencies that relegate the woman and girl child to the background, denying her the right to reach her full potential. We do this by addressing their sexual and reproductive health needs, ending gender-based violence and giving adolescents and young people control over their own bodies through information and education.
Moreover, all young people around the world, regardless of their religion or culture have sexual and reproductive rights. But too often there are no youth-friendly services and they are prevented from accessing those that are available. Improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, women and vulnerable groups is where we play a leading role. We believe in Open, Honest Sexuality Education for all.

With your NGO; United Vision for Women, you have saved women who were victims of different types of social problems, can you enlighten us on the most social crisis young girls and women in Cameroon face?

The problems women and girls face in Cameroon are not unique to this country but go beyond these borders into the continent and the rest of the world. Women and girls being respected in their own right and not as belonging to someone else or part of a greater whole, having power and control over their own bodies, having access to an education, being paid equally as their male counterparts for equal work, you know women just being humans like everyone else. Why is that so hard? And why is it considered so radical to ask for something so basic? They are not just social issues; they are political and economic and social and cultural and beyond. And if we must address them we must first acknowledge that they exist.

Can you share some of the most heartbreaking stories of women/girls with whom you have worked or come across?

Throughout our work we have come across several personal experiences of triumph and overcoming, but also of pain and suffering. While implementing a project on early and forced marriages, we came into contact with a young girl who had escaped a forced marriage with a man the age of her father. As a result she was shunned by her family and had to escape to a faraway village where she knew no one in order to start life again. This experience reminded me of the things we take for granted—the liberty to make our own decisions about whether or not and who we want to marry, where we want to live and whether or not we want to pursue and education. These are things that are simply luxuries for millions of other women in Cameroon and around the world and it is important that we not only show solidarity by spreading awareness about such issues but also working to address them. And that is what United Vision does.

How many women has United Vision worked with and how did United Vision make their lives better? 

Since 2010 United Vision has worked with over 10.000 women and young people benefiting from our various projects and programs including access to Family Planning education and services, Maternal Health services, HIV/AIDS services etc. Our current and future programs target even more beneficiaries and it is our goal that our qualitative and quantitative reach grows over the years.

So tell us about your honorary award, The Queen’s young leader’s awards. Tell us how you managed to be honored by the Queen of England.

I was nominated to the program by someone who thought I was deserving of the award and when I applied, I got shortlisted, due diligence was conducted and I was invited to receive the award. This was one of the moments when I realized that what I was doing was really visible and that people beyond our national borders could see and acknowledge this work. I still pinch myself sometimes and I’m incredibly honored to be recognized for something that I invest my heart and soul into everyday.
Mallah Tabot receiving Honorary Queens Award, with the Queen of England

Recently you launched the Ndolo 360 app, for sexual education. What inspired the creation of the app?

Because I’ve worked on sexual and reproductive health for so many years I was really looking for more innovative ways to reach the most vulnerable groups, and that’s where the idea of Ndolo360 was born. I was looking for an avenue where young people could access vital information about their sexual and reproductive health without feeling stigmatized or judged, and a mobile app sounded like a good idea. Plus we are in 2017 where technology is all over the place, why not make use of it? So Ndolo360 is providing open, honest and judgment-free sexuality education, information and services to teenagers, adolescents and young adults who need it the most.
Download the app HERE

Sex is regarded as a taboo, especially in our African communities, many parents don’t talk about it and many young people resort to getting wrong information from several unverified sources, how does Ndolo 360 intend to bridge that flaw?

Ndolo360 is completely anonymous, and what this means is that young people don’t need to feel the stigma or shame of seeking for, requesting or accessing vital information about sexual health. Our “Ask a Sexpert” feature is really that best friend that you can trust with all your burning questions or issues without saying who you are or giving out much information. The kinds of questions that young people ask everyday are so basic that you ask yourself why their parents can’t provide answers. And if Ndolo360 can bridge this gap through mobile technology as it does, then we are bound to see a fall in unwanted pregnancies, STIs, HIV, unsafe abortions and other unfortunate situations that young people find themselves in just because they do not have access to the right information from their homes.
Mallah giving talks on reproductive health

What are your top 5 entrepreneurial goals?

My team and I are working to grow Ndolo360 into the number 1 one stop shop for all young people in sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to sexual health information, education and services. All our other objectives only fall in line with this major goal which we hope to achieve by 2021.
Ndolo 360 app team giving talks on reproductive health

Some people say feminism these days is weakened by several women who do it to seek for attention, get famous and make money. Do you think that is true? As a feminist, what is your take on that?

That’s just crazy. I’ll definitely have more friends and supporters if I announced tomorrow that I’m no longer a feminist so I don’t even know what that means. This country and continent is very hostile towards gender equality and being anti-feminist gets you more famous.

In your opinion, who is a real feminist?

There’s nothing like a real feminist in my opinion. The problem with many movements today is that every group or individual wants to project their opinions as the best brand of the movement. What unites feminists is their belief in the social, political, and economic equality of men and women. Every other thing is semantics which can be debated. There’s no wrong or right feminism.

 Some people say as a feminist, empowered and independent woman, it is hard to find a man and get married. What is your take on that?

If that’s all what this life can offer— a man and marriage, then these people need to get a life.

What would you attribute your current success to?

Dedication, my family, riding against the current tide and staying true to myself.

What is your advice to young girls who want to venture into active feminism, entrepreneurship, leadership and social relevance?
Feminism is not a venture and cannot be equated to entrepreneurship or leadership. If you believe that men and women are created equal and deserve equal opportunities and treatment in this universe regardless of gender then you are a feminist. So really it’s an approach to life based on valuing every human equally and you don’t need any special powers to believe in this basic principle.

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