Women, pregnant people, and reproductive rights activists are reeling about the nation’s latest blow to abortion rights. Yesterday, Idaho became the first state to pass a copycat abortion ban that successfully became law in Texas last year. Now, the Idaho bill is on its way to the desk of Idaho governor, Brad Little, to officially become law.
Anti-abortion activists have seen several state legislative and court ruling successes for their cause of late. And this summer there are real concerns that the Supreme Court may effectively reverse Roe v. Wade as more states, upwards of 26, seek to also ban abortion and allow costly litigation against abortion providers. 21 states already have trigger bans meaning that if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade, abortion bans will automatically be in effect. States are starting to fall into place like dominoes in abortion bans. Kentucky Republicans advanced a copycat Mississippi abortion ban on abortions after 15 weeks and Florida also passed abortion bans after 15 weeks. The Idaho and Texas abortion bans are more punitive at six weeks. Since the bill passed in Texas, abortions dropped 60 percent.
In the fall of 2020, as the COVID-19 infection rate was peaking in Armenia, the country was rocked to its core by the outbreak of what has become known as the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War—which Armenia neither wanted nor was prepared for. By the time a ceasefire agreement was reached last November, with Armenian casualties in the thousands, the loss of strategic territory, the presence of Russian peacekeepers, and mass displacement of uprooted communities, few could take notice of another longstanding battle still underway—the fight for gender equality for Armenia’s women.
Among those on the front lines of this socio-economic reckoning are a group of women daring to take the uncertain post-war situation into their own hands, with financial emancipation as the first step in leveling the playing field in commerce and business, and, ultimately, gaining influence in shaping Armenia’s future at a pivotal historic moment.
“Substantive decisions about national security and economic viability over the next critical five years must have the entire population pulling its weight,” says Yevgenya Jenny Paturyan, Assistant Professor at the American University of Armenia, Political Science and International Affairs Program. “That includes Armenia’s women, whose resilience and ingenuity during a time of national crises and severe loss are nothing short of astounding. Armenian women always played key roles in the fate of the nation, more so in recent years and months. Women’s participation was instrumental in the peaceful Velvet Revolution of 2018. Women are overrepresented in the healthcare and service sectors, so they are, literally, taking care of the nation’s needs, wounds, hurts and losses right now. Women are struggling to keep COVID-19 at bay and are nursing the nation back to life, with hopes and dreams of a better future.”
It was a sunny afternoon as most days are in Ethiopia in April. I was taking an individual tour of a large hospital in the middle of Addis Ababa where I got to talk to doctors, nurses, and see waiting rooms and even patients who were recovering from care.
I distinctly remember the room of women who had recently had abortions or were awaiting one. The room was eerily silent despite the number of patients in the large recovery room with few windows and no air conditioning. Personal effects were on all of the beds: blankets, purses, food, extra clothes . Some of the women had female visitors, others did not. While the Ethiopian abortion law on the books is considered “semi-liberal” by African standards, there is some pushback on abortion services although in practice if a woman wants an abortion she can most likely get one. This is mostly to help decrease maternal mortality rates and to curb the rates of unsafe abortions.
As I concluded my tour, the last room I saw was where the abortions took place with all of its machines and lone hospital bed. At that moment I was glad that despite the law, these Ethiopian medical professionals along with the hospital’s policy allowed women to have a choice about their own bodies and reproductive rights.
In 1994, governments, advocates, health organizations, women’s and youth activists gathered in Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). There, women’s reproductive health and rights took center stage in national and global development efforts. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ICPD and a renewed emphasis on reproductive health, women’s empowerment and equality will be discussed later this year in Nairobi as it pertains to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
At the recent High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Secretary General António Guterres said that there needs to be a ratcheting up of empowerment and gender equality in order to reach the 17 sustainable development goals. And, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed said, ” A recent report found that no country is on track to fully achieve Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality by 2030. And despite some important progress, we are far short of attaining the elusive “gender balance” goal in leadership established in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.
Experts explained that the U.S. resistance, although extreme, was nothing new. The United States previously demonstrated its allegiance to the formula industry by refusing to sign on to the World Health Organization’s Ban on the Marketing of Breast Milk Alternatives.
This U.S. stance, like its intimidation of Ecuador, flew in the face of near universally accepted medical and scientific research proving that breastfeeding saves lives. Perhaps even more surprisingly, both acts perpetuate an alarming racial divide in breastfeeding rates that leads to significant racial health disparities. American support of the formula industry comes at the cost of the health and lives of Black and brown babies, at home and abroad.
Both the resolution and the U.S. opposition to it stemmed from a decline in formula sales in the United States. The industry has sought to make up for its considerable domestic losses on the global market. The racial aspects of this local-global dynamic are hidden in plain sight.
PHOTO: Navi Pillay (third from right), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, poses for a group photo with South Sudanese women from Jonglei State who shared stories about their experiences with human rights violations, including violence, child abduction, and forced marriage. UN Photo/Elizabeth Murekio
A woman was recently elected as a senior chief in South Sudan – a not unheard of, but very unusual occurrence. This surely a positive change in a country ravaged by civil war and attendant sexual violence.
Rebecca Nyandier Chatim is now head chief of the Nuer ethnic group in the United Nations Protection of Civilians site (PoC) in Juba, where more than 38,000 people have sought sanctuary with United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) peacekeepers. Her victory is of symbolic and practical importance.
South Sudan’s chiefs wield real power, even during wartime. They administer customary laws that can resolve local disputes but also reinforce gender differences and inequalities, to the advantage of the military elite.
So could a female chief work towards changing this? Admittedly, even if the new female chief is determined to effect change — which remains to be seen — the odds are against her. The chief and her community are vulnerable, displaced persons, living in a sort of internal refugee camp, guarded by UN peacekeepers. Fighting and atrocities have continued outside, especially in the devastated homelands of the Nuer people. But the new chief has the support of the former head chief and a group of male paralegals, who have celebrated her victory as an advance for gender equality. Together, they might make a difference.
Venezuela sits on the world’s biggest oil reserves, but in terms of GDP growth per capita, it’s now South America’s poorest economy. It is mired the worst economic crisis in its history, with an inflation rate in the region of 500%, a volatile exchange rate, and crippling debts that have increased fivefold since 2006.
The economic crisis is inflaming a longstanding “economic war” between the government and the business sector – and a dangerous cycle of protest and repression is further polarising Venezuela’s already divided society.
In this scenario, violence of all sorts is approaching what could be a point of no return. The very ability of democracy to combine forces of transformation and resistance is at stake.
Caesarean sections have been lifesaving procedures for hundreds of thousands of women across the world who experience complications during labour.
Globally, it’s estimated that just under 20% of births take place via caesarean section – a percentage that’s gone up over the last three decades. This has raised concerns, particularly in high-income countries where generally too many caesarean sections are performed.
But in many African countries women who are medically required to have caesarean sections are not able to access them. This is due to several reasons, the most prominent being weak health systems and a lack of resources.
This needs to be fixed as women in sub-Saharan African suffer from the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world. Close to 550 women die for every 100 000 children that are born. This amounts to 200 000 maternal deaths a year – or two-thirds of all maternal deaths per year worldwide.
Imagine going through your day without ready access to clean water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing. Around the world, 663 million people face that challenge every day. They get their water from sources that are considered unsafe because they are vulnerable to contamination, such as rivers, streams, ponds and unprotected wells. And the task of providing water for households falls disproportionately to women and girls.
I have carried out research in India, Bolivia and Kenya on the water and sanitation challenges that women and girls confront and how these experiences influence their lives. In my field work I have seen adolescent girls, pregnant women and mothers with small children carrying water. Through interviews, I have learned of the hardships they face when carrying out this obligatory task.
An insufficient supply of safe and accessible water poses extra risks and challenges for women and girls. Without recognizing the uneven burden of water work that women bear, well-intentioned programs to bring water to places in need will continue to fail to meet their goals.
So, what is it like for women who live in places where sufficient and safe water is not readily accessible?
After eight years of practicing obstetrics and researching childbirth in the United States, I know as well as anyone that the American maternal health system could be better. Our way of childbirth is the costliest in the world. Our health outcomes, from mortality rates to birth weights, are far, far from the best.
The reasons we fall short are not obvious. In medicine, providing more care is often mistaken for providing better care. In childbirth the relationship between more and better is complicated. Texan obstetricians, when compared to their counterparts in neighboring New Mexico, are 50% more likely to intervene on the baby’s behalf by performing a cesarean section. Nonetheless, Texas babies still have a lower survival rate than New Mexican babies.
I long assumed that our most puzzling American health care failures were idiosyncrasies–unique consequences of American culture, geography, and politics. But a trip to India for the 2017 Human Rights in Childbirth meeting led me to a humbling realization: when it comes to childbirth, both countries fall short in surprisingly similar ways.
Human rights in childbirth
I take care of patients in at a well-funded teaching hospital in Boston, where pregnant women seem well-respected and have clear, inviolable rights.
Every 28 days, millions of girls and women in developing countries miss school or work – up to 50 days per year – because they lack access to affordable menstrual products. And, it’s not just a problem in poor countries. Right here in the United States, women and girls who lack means often need both menstrual health education and reusable menstrual products.
The eight companies and organizations provide menstrual products in the United States and in Africa. Here are ways you can help them on their missions to provide women and girls with products that simply make their lives easier.
PET bottles, one of the most widely used materials in the world, are used to package foods and drinks from soda and juices to salad dressings and cooking oils. It is also completely recyclable. In the United States alone, 1.5 billion pounds of PET bottles are recycled annually.
Throughout my travels to low and middle-income countries I see PET bottles thrown haphazardly in fields and streams clogging waterways and dirtying sidewalks and walking paths. In countries such as Nepal (where I visited last year with Coca-Cola), there are concerted educational efforts by environmentally focused NGOs to change behaviors around discarding PET bottles. There are recycling centers in Nepal, but not enough to completely clean its streets and countryside. It seems to be a sisyphean battle to combat PET bottle waste, but there are some who are using the bottles in innovative ways.
Giving birth is a significant life event that should aim for a healthy baby and mother. There are growing calls for women to give birth in their preferred birth positions. But this requires midwives to be trained in a way that enables them to respect the choices that women make. The Conversation Africa’s health editor Joy Wanja Muraya asked Lydia Mwanzia to explain why women have the right to make choices, and the important role played by midwives.
More than likely you have heard about the Global Gag Rule also known as the Mexico City Policy this week. You can learn more about it in a previous post: Why the Global Gag Rule Will Increase Maternal Mortality. To get right to the point, however, Planned Parenthood released this video: What is the Global Gag Rule that explains it succinctly. Continue reading Video: The Global Gag Rule Explained