Archive for the ‘Global News’ Category

September 13, 2011

7 Billion People: Time to Unleash the Power of Women and Girls

As everyone from authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn to Nike has been saying, when girls and women are valued in society, society as a whole is healthier, better educated, and better off economically.

Today, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), along with National Geographic, the U.S. State Department, the International Women’s Health Coalition, Global Leaders for Reproductive Health, and other organizations, are highlighting the need to support women and girls to accelerate progress for everyone. And they’re doing it in the context of the world population:

In late October 2011, world population will reach 7 billion people. It is critical that we unleash the power of women and girls to alleviate poverty and accelerate progress on all of our global development goals.

When women are healthy and educated and can participate fully in society, they trigger progress for themselves as well as for their families, communities and countries. Help us raise the profile of women and girls, unleashing their potential and empowering them to be engines of change.

The event will take place today from 3 to 5 p.m. at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. It will be live-streamed and posted afterwards at 7billionactions.org, which was established by the United Nations Population Fund to highlight actions by individuals and organizations making a global commitment for a healthy and sustainable world.

7 Billion Stories

You can also follow on Twitter (@7BillionActions) and discuss the event using the hashtag #7billion, and share your story on the 7 Billion Actions Facebook wall.

Speakers include:
- Lois Quam, Executive Director, Global Health Initiative, U.S. Department of State
- Donald Steinberg, Deputy Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
- Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund
- A panel of youth advocates, including: Phil Hay (moderator), Human Development Network, World Bank; Monique Coleman, Actress, High School Musical, and United Nations Youth Champion; Ronan Farrow, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues, U.S. Department of State; Alexandra Garita, Program Officer, International Policy, International Women’s Health Coalition; Natalie Imbruglia, Singer, Actress and Ambassador, Virgin Unite; Kakenya Ntaiya, President and Founder, The Kakenya Center for Excellence.

For more resources, check out 7billionactions.org/resources.



September 12, 2011

Women of Sierra Leone Still Struggle to Access Care

Sierra Leone has one of the worst lifetime maternal mortality rates in the world, at 1 in 8 – compared with 1 in 4,800 in the United States. A government program implemented last year is meant to help address this situation, which Amnesty International calls a “human rights emergency,” by providing free healthcare to pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as to children under age 5.

Amnesty International has released a report describing serious challenges that still exist for women and girls trying to access this care. They report problems such as a lack of needed drugs; women being asked to pay for drugs and “consumables” such as needles that should be free; poor record-keeping that affects the delivery of care; corruption; and lack of sufficient monitoring and oversight. Women who are denied care that is supposed to be freely provided have no effective means of complaint, as one interviewee describes:

My baby was crying a lot, and had fever. Hospital had no drugs for him. Need to pay money. They chased me away. I don’t know how to complain.

Amnesty International’s report provides several recommendations for improving the health care system and more effectively delivering required care to Sierra Leone’s women, and asserts that it is necessary to address underlying problems beyond access:

It is crucial that authorities are able to respond to lack of facilities, nonavailability of drugs, systematic bad practices, corruption and other challenges. The government must ensure that women are informed of their right to redress and available complaint mechanisms and are able to participate in the monitoring and accountability processes. Monitoring and accountability bodies must have a strong mandate, be adequately resourced and be accessible, independent, and transparent and able to recommend remedies to improve delivery of health services…. [Accountability] requires transforming the underlying, untenable situation that gives rise to widespread maternal mortality, not just restoring a prior equilibrium.

The organization is asking supporters to send a message to Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health calling for actions to ensure that emergency obstetric services are properly provided, health systems and providers are aware of their responsibilities for the free care program, and systematic attention to problems of out-of-stock and diverted drugs.

Further reading: this Washington Post piece from 2008 explores maternal mortality in Sierra Leone.


September 7, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: Women and Their Bodies, an Israeli and Palestinian Collaboration

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves is honoring its global partners who have adapted the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book for their own communities. Twenty-four groups have been inducted into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame, joining dozens of advocates working to advance the health and human rights of women and girls. In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of the global partners attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium.

by Paula Doress-Worters

In 2011, Women and Their Bodies — a collaboration of Israeli and Palestinian women — will publish Arabic and Hebrew resources based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” By doing so, they will make an important social and political statement, challenge the status quo, and further their message of collaboration.

As a first generation Jewish-American woman growing up in the safety of Boston, but sharply aware of my parents anxiety for family left behind in Europe, I feel a cultural-spiritual connection with the land and the peoples of Israel. I am also passionate about finding paths to peace, whether in women’s health, environmental science, or the arts, and I am enthusiastic about Women and Their Bodies setting an example for us to follow.

I anticipate our 40th anniversary celebration with great excitement. Among OBOS’s global partners attending the event will be Dana Weinberg, the founder of Women and Their Bodies, and Raghda Elnabilsy, a certified sex educator who coordinates the organization’s outreach to Arab populations in Israel.

The Israeli-Palestinian project has been close to my heart for many reasons. As a founding co-author of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in the United States, I appreciate and support women coming together across differences to gain greater control over their lives and bring that knowledge to their countrywomen.

This “coming together” is a hallmark of WTB. The group, which was founded in 2005, has brought together more than 300 volunteers from different professions — physicians, psychologists, gynecologists, midwives, sexologists, gender and social studies researchers — to develop and share information and language on health, sexuality and rights with Jewish and Arab communities (read more about the project).

Women and Their Bodies

The "Our Bodies, Ourselves" project team at Women and Their Bodies

Together, they are a powerful symbol of co-existence, not only respecting ethnic, political and religious difference but bringing them together towards shared goals.

Arabic and Hebrew women’s health resources are already in use in the community via workshops, trainings, advocacy efforts and other capacity-building initiatives run by Women and Their Bodies. A tri-lingual women’s health website will also increase online access. The information provided will be vital to those seeking honest, accurate information through anonymous channels. These important resources will reach women and girls in Muslim and Christian Arab, Bedouin Arab, and Jewish Israeli communities, and help increase knowledge, leadership and activism in the region.

In 2007, Dana won national recognition for her work. Israel Venture Network’s Social Entrepreneur Fellowship Program, an affiliate of The New Israel Fund, awarded her one of its two fellowships for 2007-2009. In its awards announcement, the Network described WTB as “a unique multicultural, multi-professional non-profit organization of women in Israel, Jewish, Arab and Palestinian, who have made it their mission to work towards empowering women to become self-health advocates who can protect and promote their own health.”

Dana expressed her delight at news of the award, exclaiming: “This is so meaningful for me and my partners in this project because [of] it’s recognition of the importance of our vision and goals; and it means practical assistance through mentoring and funding which will enable us to run this important initiative in an optimal way to add to its success.”

That same year, on my second trip to Israel, I was honored to be warmly welcomed to a gathering at Dana’s home, with delicious food and enthusiastic introductions all around. When we shared our experiences of writing and reaching out to women in our respective communities, I was deeply impressed with the commitment of the WTB women, most of them health professionals and many working mothers as well, who regularly give so much of their time, creativity, and skill to make vital health information available to women and girls in their country.

If you are attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium, you will have a similar opportunity – to meet Dana and Raghda, listen to their extraordinary journeys, and become involved in a pioneering peace-building effort to raise the status of women and girls in the Middle East.


Paula Doress-WortersDr. Paula Doress-Worters is a founding co-author of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and contributor to subsequent editions for over three decades. Currently, she is a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University where she chairs a Women’s History Symposium, the most recent featuring women’s leadership toward co-existence.


September 7, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: Research Group on Women and Laws in Senegal

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves is honoring its global partners who have adapted the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book for their own communities. Twenty-four groups have been inducted into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame, joining dozens of advocates working to advance the health and human rights of women and girls. In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of the global partners attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium.

by Jane Pincus

I first met Codou Bop, in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 2001 and felt instantly connected. We were both attending the initial international gathering of women translators and adaptors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Codou Bop

As an integral member of the Research Group on Women and Laws in Senegal (or Groupe de Recherche sur les Femmes et les Lois au Senegal; the group is known by the acronym GREFELS), Codou (left) had coordinated a team to create the francophone African health book “Notre Corps, Notre Sante,” a 10-year-process that was finally coming to an end. It was thrilling to see the final typewritten version awaiting printing and publication that she had brought to the Utrecht meeting.

Now in its second printing, “Notre Corps, Notre Sante” serves 21 francophone countries as well as immigrant communities. It is distributed for free to schools, health centers and women’s groups, and translated into local dialects for wider use and accessibility (read more about “Notre Corps, Notre Sante”).

We can learn so much from “Notre Corps, Notre Sante.” Its authors urge African women to value and care for themselves in the context of economic, political and religious issues that affect their lives. Addressing society’s attitudes toward health and sexuality, the book describes how women’s bodies are used, taken care of, dressed, and violated.

While emphasizing women’s strengths, each chapter addresses oppressive and harmful practices and beliefs. The list is long. Some examples: Women, as the prime caretakers of their communities, must care for others; they are not “allowed” to be ill. In general, they belong to fathers, husbands or uncles, and young women rank low in the social hierarchy of power. Over half of them end up marrying and becoming mothers by age 17. It is desirable to be fat, since thinness is associated with poverty and AIDS. Young women age 15 to 19 are most afflicted by HIV/AIDS (an insidious myth exists that a man infected with AIDs needs to have sex with a virgin to purify himself). And, as a result of colonization, many women seek “whiteness,” whitening their skin with bleach, which can cause skin cancer and kidney problems.

In Senegal, laws beneficial to women exist but are not enforced. Women have little or no access to health care, land, jobs or schooling. Increasingly, religious fundamentalist beliefs stand in the way of their achieving health information and human rights. Women and families feel these privations keenly in their everyday lives.

GREFELS and its partners aim to change the behavior of institutions and rural communities to prevent disempowerment and violence against women.

Take, for example, the practice of female genital mutilation, which was banned in 1999 under the Senegalese penal code but persists, resulting in nearly 700,000 girls being circumcised each year. GREFELS educates girls about the risks and dangers of FGM, provides a network of support so they can protect themselves, and aggressively advocates to eliminate the practice altogether.

I love Codou and admire her strong spirit and her dedication. Traveling constantly throughout the world, she represents not only GREFELS but lives out her own keenly held beliefs in women’s powers and in the necessity of fighting to maintain them.

For those of you attending the 40th anniversary symposium, I hope you will meet Codou and speak with her about her efforts and the work of GREFELS.


Jane PincusJane Pincus is a co-founder of Our Bodies Ourselves and co-writer and co-editor of previous “Our Bodies, Ourselves” editions. She is also a women’s health activist, artist, writer, editor, singer, horseback rider, Ed’s wife for 51 years, Sami and Ben’s mother, and Jordan, Caleb and Kai’s grandmother.


September 7, 2011

New Blog Series: Meet OBOS’s Global Partners Working to Advance Women’s Health and Human Rights

Today we kick off a series of blogs posts by and about members of the Our Bodies Ourselves Global Network who have adapted “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in their own countries, using a range of print, digital and social interactive formats for outreach and advocacy.

40th AnniversaryAs part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves decided to honor its global partners by adding them to the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame.

These courageous women join an impressive group of U.S. and global advocates — including midwives, student activists, abortion counselors, health care reform activists, bloggers, physicians — who have been nominated in past years by OBOS readers.

In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of our health heroes who are coming to Boston on Oct. 1 to attend the OBOS anniversary symposium, “Our Bodies, Our Future: Advancing Health and Human Rights for Women and Girls.”

The symposium is open to the public but seats filled quickly and there is now a long waiting list. The good news, though, is that the event will be broadcast live online, and we’ll soon post information for groups and individuals who would like to host viewing parties at their homes or schools. You can view panels featuring these extraordinary women and hear for yourself how they are working to transform the lives of girls and women worldwide.

The first posts in this series focuses on the work of Women and Their Bodies, a collaboration of Israeli and Palestinian women who are publishing Arabic and Hebrew resources based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and the Research Group on Women and Laws in Senegal (Groupe de Recherche sur les Femmes et les Lois au Senegal, or GREFELS), which created the health book “Notre Corps, Notre Sante” for French-speaking Africa. In the coming weeks, you’ll meet our partners in Japan, Armenia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey and India.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to use the comments to ask questions about their work.

http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/programs/network/foreign/default.asp


August 11, 2011

U.S. Abortion Restrictions on Humanitarian Aid Violate Geneva Convention: Campaign Underway to Petition President Obama

Guest post by Sarah Morison

It was not until I started working at the Global Justice Center that I learned that due to U.S. policy (not law, policy), it is almost impossible for a victim of war rape who becomes impregnated to have the option of abortion. That is because all humanitarian aid that the United States gives in areas of armed conflict to either governments or humanitarian organizations contains a blanket prohibition on any monies being used to provide abortions — or even information about abortion.

Yet under the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States has been a party for over 60 years, “wounded and sick” civilian victims of armed conflict are absolutely guaranteed the right to “comprehensive and non-discriminatory” medical care. The Global Justice Center is therefore contending that the United States is in violation of the Geneva Conventions by maintaining its current abortion restrictions on humanitarian funds in areas of armed conflict.

Our current initiative is the Geneva Project, whereby we are harnessing the power of the Geneva Conventions to tackle the horrible problem of sexual violence deliberately used as a weapon and strategy during armed conflict in many parts of the world. (For more background information, see the GJC’s legal brief, “The Right to an Abortion for Girls and Women Raped in Armed Conflict” [pdf].)

No doubt you have read about the epidemic of war rape going on in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Sudan, and that occurred during the genocides in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, and the intransigent conflicts in Columbia. During the recent uprising in Libya, the military was given Viagra to help them carry out rapes against the women living in areas of armed conflict. Right now, ethnic women are being raped by the military in Burma.

The military strategy of raping women is intended as a way of destroying families, communities and cultures. In Rwanda, girls and women were deliberately infected with HIV. In Yugoslavia, girls and women were gang-raped (typical form of war rape), impregnated, and then deliberately detained so as to force them to give birth to a child of a different ethnic group.

International courts have classified war rape as a war crime, and also as a form of torture. For those girls and women who become impregnated, the torture often continues, both psychologically and physically. Denial of abortions in this context frequently leads to desperate measures such as suicide or dangerous self-induced abortions.

We have learned that women being treated for war rape at internationally funded clinics often beg doctors for abortions but are turned away because these clinics can’t risk losing funding. By the time they reach these clinics, the time is often well past for using emergency contraception, which must be taken within a short period of time after the rape. Sometimes several donor countries give aid to an organization providing services to rape victims, but if U.S. funds are pooled with other countries’ funds, the effect is that all such funds are restricted.

The 62nd anniversary of the Geneva Conventions is Friday, Aug. 12. An international “August 12th Campaign” is underway, and we are asking organizations and individuals from around the world to commit to writing President Obama on Aug. 12 to urge him to lift these restrictions through an executive order (the current restrictions were put in place in the waning hours of the Bush administration). Many organizations — both prominent and small — throughout the world have committed to the campaign, which is heartening.

There is also a way for individuals to endorse our campaign, by signing an online petition to the President. I am asking you to read this petition and, if you agree this policy should be changed, add your name to the list. Consider sending the link to your friends and posting your endorsement on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you all for reading this and for considering giving your support to this critical campaign.


Sarah Morison is an attorney at the Global Justice Center in New York City. The GJC advocates for the implementation of and compliance with international human rights laws and humanitarian laws (laws relating to war), especially those relating to women.


July 7, 2011

Quick Hits: UN Report on Justice for Women, a New Maternity Blog, and More

From dorms at USF to justice for women around the world, here are a few items of interest:

The United Nations’s UN Women group released a report, “Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice,” which looks at the legal rights of women around the world, barriers to accessing and navigating the justice system, and the impact of war/conflict on women, among other issues. It also includes ten recommendations for making justice systems work for women.

The University of South Florida has begun offering students gender-neutral housing options in response to a transgender student who reported hostility and harassment in campus housing. The school is going to offer several housing options and allow students to indicate male, female, or transitioning on their campus housing applications.

NPR’s All Things Considered ran a piece yesterday on mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Mozambique; there is a related piece on breastfeeding and HIV in developing nations.

Childbirth Connection has launched the Transforming Maternity Care blog with Amy Romano, formerly of Science & Sensibility and part of the editorial team for the forthcoming edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” It looks like the blog will focus on quality improvement, patient advocacy, and shared decision-making in maternity care.


July 5, 2011

Tonight: The Consequences of Choosing Boys Over Girls

Boston area readers may be interested in an event happening tonight at the Cambridge Hospital: Mara Hvistendahl, author of “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men” will be speaking about her new book. Mara will be joined by OBOS executive director Judy Norsigian, who will be highlighting some of the reproductive rights-related work of OBOS’ global partners and speaking about the forthcoming edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

The event begins at 8 p.m. and will take place at the Learning Center A/B on the 3rd floor of The Cambridge Hospital, 1493 Cambridge Street. Hope to see some of you there!


May 3, 2011

Put on Your Walking Shoes: Walk for Maternal Health on May 5

The International Confederation of Midwives is asking member associations, midwives and their supporters to take to the streets on May 5 — International Day of the Midwife — to raise the profile of maternal mortality and access to midwifery care before, during and after childbirth.

From the ICM: “Over 340,000 women die each year, with millions more suffering infection and disability as a result of preventable maternal causes. The ICM, alongside UN agencies, WHO and a range of other international partners, is committed to addressing maternal mortality and morbidity through greater access to essential midwifery care worldwide, particularly in developing countries where 90% of maternal deaths occur.”

The walk is the first stage of the Road to Durban, where midwives from around the world will gather at the ICM Triennial Congress in South Africa (June 19-23). A new publication, “The State of the World Midwifery Report,” will be released during the gathering. It will provide new information and data gathered from 60 countries in all regions of the world, to:

• examine the number and distribution of health professionals involved in the delivery of midwifery services;
• explore emerging issues related to education, regulation, professional associations, policies and external aid;
• analyse global issues regarding health personnel with midwifery skills, most of whom are women, and the constraints and challenges that they face in their lives and work;
• call for accelerating investments for scaling up midwifery services, as well as “skilling up” the respective providers.

Close to OBOS headquarters, the Massachusetts affiliate of the American College of Nurse-Midwives is sponsoring a 5K walk in Cambridge (pdf). The walk will begin between 6 and 6:30 p.m. at the Cambridge Boat Club at 2 Gerrys Landing Road. The event is free, but onsite registration is required.

Other walks from West Virginia to Montana are listed here. If you’re involved in a walk in your community, feel free to leave a comment with the details.

For information on maternal health in the United States, see Amnesty International’s 2010 report “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA.” A one-year update was released earlier this spring (both are pdf’s). Amnesty has more information available online.


April 19, 2011

Coercive Sterilization Program Tries to Expand to South Africa

Project Prevention, a program formerly known as C.R.A.C.K. that seeks to bribe/coerce women with drug addictions into be sterilized or accepting long-term birth control (that may not be medically appropriate) through financial incentives, started out in the United States by advertising quick cash for addicted women who surrendered their reproductive options and control. The program often targeted communities of color.

Needless to say, the program is vile and racist — founder Barbara Harris has been widely quoted comparing women to dogs and their children to unwanted animals, saying, “We don’t allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children.”

The program has been widely criticized in the United States. Lynn Paltrow and National Advocates for Pregnant Women have been outspoken in their concerns, noting:

NAPW’s examination of the program makes clear that, far from providing a useful response to problems associated with drug use and pregnancy, C.R.A.C.K. instead acts as a dangerous vector for medical misinformation and political propaganda that has significant implications for the rights of all Americans. Under the guise of openness, voluntary choice, and personal empowerment, C.R.A.C.K. not only promotes a vicious image of all drug users, it has won significant support for a program and an ideology that is at the core of civil rights violations and eugenic population control efforts.

The program had recently expanded to the United Kingdom, where it also has been criticized by organizations and bloggers.

Now Harris has apparently set her sights on South Africa, where she had plans to target women living with HIV. Project Prevention has apparently already set up in Kenya.

The Open Society Blog has some coverage of these developments, noting that “Project Prevention seems to have no knowledge of antiretroviral medications (ARVs) or PMTCT [preventing mother-to-child transmission], since they claim that getting HIV-positive women on long term birth control is ‘the only way’ to ensure there are fewer babies born with HIV.”

The head of the National Health Department in South Africa has reportedly said that the group will not be allowed to operate in the country, stating:

It’s a no, no, no! We have a Constitution in this country that causes us to respect human rights — including the right to choice. So there is no way that we are going to accept or to allow anyone coming from anywhere in the world to come in and force sterilization on any women in this country — because that will be against the Constitution. So it’s not acceptable and it’s a big ‘no’.

If only we so strongly prohibited these actions in this country.


March 31, 2011

Report Now Available from UNFPA Strengthening Midwifery Symposium

Last June, prior to the Women Delivery conference in Washington, D.C., UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund) held a symposium on Strengthening Midwifery.

A report from that conference (PDF) is now available. It reports on speakers, presentations and issues from the event, including sessions on the role of midwives in addressing Millennium Development Goals on maternal and newborn deaths and HIV in pregnant women, topics in global midwifery education, midwifery regulation and standards of care, policy development, and other issues.

The report includes a call to action for governments to strengthen the midwifery workforce, build capacity for evidence-based training, ensure and regulate standards of practice, and support the creation of professional associations. Pledges for action from the World Health Organization, UNFPA, USAID and other agencies are also reported.


September 20, 2010

Quick Hit: Amnesty International Unveils Maternal Death Clock

From Amnesty International:

Beginning September 20 at 9 a.m. EST, the start of the Millennium Development Goals Summit, the Maternal Death Clock began to tick – keeping track of the total number of maternal deaths in the world.

September 20-22 world leaders are gathering in New York to chart a course forward on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the framework that will guide the fight against global poverty through 2015.

The one goal aimed at decreasing maternal deaths has fallen far short of where it needs to be to meet the MDG target of cutting maternal deaths by 75% by the target date.

Hundreds of thousands of women and girls continue to die in pregnancy and childbirth each year. Most of them live in developing countries and low-income communities. In fact, one woman dies in childbirth every 90 seconds.

Join Amnesty International in making sure that human rights are at the heart of the MDGs!

If you go to the site, there’s a petition, more information, and code for embedding the death clock widget.


September 15, 2010

Quick Hit: WHO Releases New Report on Worldwide Maternal Deaths

The World Health Organization, with UNICEF, UNFPA and The World Bank, has released a new report on trends in global maternal mortality from 1990-2008. I haven’t read the full report yet, but according to the press release, “the number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth has decreased by 34% from an estimated 546,000 in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008.”

Although this is great progress, the release points out that more work needs to be done:

The progress is notable, but the annual rate of decline is less than half of what is needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by 75% between 1990 and 2015. This will require an annual decline of 5.5%. The 34% decline since 1990 translates into an average annual decline of just 2.3%.


June 22, 2010

Deliver This: Female Condoms and Maternal Health

by Kiki Kalkstein, Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

Earlier this month, I attended the Women Deliver Conference in Washington, D.C ., on behalf of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). After a jam-packed three days of plenary sessions, chairman’s sessions, and more than 100 concurrent sessions, participants left the conference reinvigorated and ready to take action to work toward fulfilling Millennium Development Goal #5: Reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health.

After speaking with hundreds of participants, one thing was made very clear to me — people not only want female condoms, but they believe that female condoms are a vital tool in decreasing maternal death, improving maternal health, and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights.

I had countless conversations with participants from all over the world who were thrilled we were there talking about and promoting the female condom. As I shared information about the Prevention Now! Campaign (CHANGE’s initiative to increase access to existing prevention methods, especially female and male condoms), their message came through loud and clear — we want female condoms, and we want them now.

I spoke with men and women of all ages, and again and again they expressed interest in female condoms and inquired about how to increase access in their own countries. A doctor from Kenya said that women who come to his clinic consistently ask for female condoms, and he doesn’t have any to offer. A doctor from Nepal took all the information he could from our booth, and came back with his colleagues to get more. Some participants asked how they could launch a female condom program in their own countries. Female condoms are in demand.

Access to contraception is critical for preventing maternal deaths, but sometimes high-level decision makers do not make that connection. The female condom puts women in control of their own health by enabling women to delay pregnancy and space out births, all of which decrease the risk of maternal death and disability.

Effective family planning programs are not only fundamental to maternal health, they also allow women and families to better manage household and natural resources, secure education for all family members, and address each family member’s healthcare needs. Participants at Women Deliver conference acknowledged the benefits of the female condoms and recognized it as a vital tool for improving maternal health globally.

Related posts:
Expanding the Female Condom Market
FC2 Female Condom Available in the U.S.

Kiki Kalkstein is the program assistant at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). She previously designed and implemented public health education programs both domestically and internationally, including a rural community outreach program with the Uganda Village Project focused on increasing awareness around obstetric fistula. She also designed and implemented at the University of California at Berkeley “Sex and Sustainability: Reconnecting Population and Women’s Empowerment,” a campus program designed to increase awareness about unmet family planning needs in developing countries.


June 17, 2010

The Politics of Fathering

Nancy Chodorow’s “The Reproduction of Mothering” was an instant feminist classic when it was published in 1978. One of the most visionary conclusions was her call for men to take an equal role in the caretaking of children. If they don’t, she argued, women would grow up with a distorted perspective on their own relationships with men.

More than 30 years later, Chodorow’s call appears as challenging as ever — at least in the United States, where parental leave is still unpaid (putting us behind 177 nations, including Haiti and Afghanistan, that provide all women, and in some cases men, income and time off after the birth of a child) and only 12 weeks long, which discourages even willing men from taking over child-rearing duties.

Four years before the publication of Chodorow’s landmark text, however, Sweden had already become the first country to replace maternal leave with parental leave, and Sweden has continued to break new ground by spurring a revolution in male attitudes toward and male participation in childcare. Katrin Bennhold of The New York Times writes:

85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.

In this land of Viking lore, men are at the heart of the gender-equality debate. The ponytailed center-right finance minister calls himself a feminist, ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers, and preschools vet books for gender stereotypes in animal characters. For nearly four decades, governments of all political hues have legislated to give women equal rights at work — and men equal rights at home.

Swedish mothers still take more time off with children — almost four times as much. And some who thought they wanted their men to help raise baby now find themselves coveting more time at home.

But laws reserving at least two months of the generously paid, 13-month parental leave exclusively for fathers — a quota that could well double after the September election — have set off profound social change.

Bennhold goes on to describe the positive effects of this change, such as a lowering of divorce rates and an increase in shared custody when a divorce does occur. It has undeniably transformed what it means to be a man.

Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, puts it in the terms of an old feminist maxim: “Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy. It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

For more on how father’s leave in Sweden came to be so popular, read this side piece on politician Bengt Westerberg, who in the 1990s “championed the introduction of the first dedicated father month — 30 days of paid parental leave that could not be transferred to the mother — to encourage reluctant men like himself to do their bit and overhaul Swedish society in the process.”

Despite the fact that Sweden and other countries are far ahead of the United States when it comes to supporting fair and equitable childcare, it’s important to remember that progressives in the United States have been fighting for some form of paid parental leave for almost 100 years.

Yes, 100 years. As Sharon Lerner reminds us in the Washington Post:

As far back as 1919, when the Model T was switching from a crank to an electric starter, the U.S. government came close to signing on to an International Labor Organization agreement, supported by 33 countries, that said women workers should receive cash benefits in addition to job-protected leave for 12 weeks in the period surrounding childbirth. That same year, Julia Lathrop, the chief of the Labor Department’s children’s bureau, issued a report on international maternity leave policy in which she decried the United States as “one of the few great countries which as yet have no system of State or national assistance in maternity.” She had recently returned from Europe, where Germany and France had paid-leave laws that had been in place for decades.

The entire article is a very enlightening history lesson — revealing the twisted politics that have held back justice and common sense for far too long. For more on that subject, check out Lerner’s new book, “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation.”