AFTER THE CEASEFIRE, THE FIGHT TO EMPOWER ARMENIA’S WOMEN CONTINUES

By Susan Klein 

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.”

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The Global HER Act Explained #ReproductiveHealth #GlobalHERAct

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.

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U.S. Support of Formula Over Breastfeeding is a Race Issue

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The formula industry has responded to the decline in sales to white women at home by ramping up its marketing to Black and brown women overseas.
(Shutterstock)

Andrea Freeman, University of Hawaii

When the United States threatened Ecuador with trade and aid restrictions if it did not withdraw a World Health Assembly breastfeeding promotion resolution that most people considered benign, if not banal, reactions ranged from shocked to amused.

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.

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Sexual Violence is Off the Charts in South Sudan – But a New Female Head Chief Could Help Bring Change

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

By Rachel Ibreck, Goldsmiths, University of London

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.

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Is the Formula Industry Overpowering Breastfeeding?

Yesterday global women’s and children’s advocates sounded the alarm regarding alleged strong-arming by US delegates at this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.  The issue at hand was the rights of women regarding their choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding.

According to the New York Times, the US delegation sought to remove the language in a pro-breastfeeding resolution that compelled countries to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and to remove any restrictions on formula that many global health experts contend is harmful to infants and toddlers.

The US delegation threatened Ecuador (the sponsoring country for the resolution) with devasting trade measures and a reduction in military aid. Ecuador acquiesced as did many more African and Latin American countries until Russia stepped up to sponsor the resolution, a country the US could not threaten.

Lucy M. Sullivan, Executive Director of 1000 Days, tweeted an entire thread about what was happening at the World Health Assembly in May.

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Venezuela’s Health Systems are crumbling – and Harming Women in Particular

Health workers and patients protesting at the Hospital Dr. Jose Maria Vargas in Caracas, Venezuela. EPA/Edwinge Montilva

Pia Riggirozzi, University of Southampton

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.

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To Empower Women, Give Them Better Access to Water

Bethany Caruso, Emory University

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.

Water, a human right, is critical for human survival and development. A sufficient supply of biologically and chemically safe water is necessary for drinking and personal hygiene to prevent diarrheal diseases, trachoma, intestinal worm infections, stunted growth among children and numerous other deleterious outcomes from chemical contaminants like arsenic and lead.

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.

Heavy loads

So, what is it like for women who live in places where sufficient and safe water is not readily accessible?

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Despite Differences in Culture, US and India Fall Short in Childbirth in Similar Ways

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Woman in labor, shown with monitors. 

Neel Shah, Harvard Medical School

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.

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Neel Shah, center, pictured with Jishnu Das, a Lead Economist at the World Bank and Leslie Page, President of the Royal College of Midwives. Neel Shah, Author provided

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.

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Midwives and The Right of Women to Give Birth the Way They Want

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Lydia Mwanzia, Moi University

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.

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Why The Global Gag Rule Will Increase Maternal Mortality

Throughout my visits to clinics in Africa I have seen the work of Marie Stopes International in South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia as well as Zambia. They provide a full range of quality reproductive health services for women. I have always been impressed by the comprehensive care they provide. Now, their work will be hampered because of an imposed policy of the new administration.

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Marie Stopes International health worker I met in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Jennifer James

Yesterday morning President Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, or Mexico City Policy, that prevents international NGOs that accept USAID (taxpayer) money from advocating for the legalization of abortions, provide abortions, mention the word, or even refer women to health practionioners that provide safe, legal abortions.

The Global Gag Rule was instated during the Reagan admininstration in 1984 and since then there has been a virtual seesaw effect between Republican and Democratic administrations regarding whether the Rule is reinstated or revoked. According to the WHO, 78,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions. Under Obama’s eight year administration, that number was reportedly decreased by more than half. Now, that President Trump has signed this executive order reinstating the Global Gag Rule, the fear among the global health community is that that number will rapidly skyrocket again.

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Seeking Stories on Reproductive Health

World Pulse, a social network connecting women who work for change, is currently looking for stories on reproductive health and choices. World Pulse’s story prompt:  How do the laws in your country affect your reproductive health and choices? What are the most important victories, setbacks, and pressing issues you face? Do you have a story about legislation that affects you personally or someone you know? Or … Continue reading Seeking Stories on Reproductive Health

An Unexpected Question About Toilets: Day 1 in India With Mandy Moore

By Mandy Moore, PSI Ambassador

This morning for breakfast, I joined the PSI India team with their partners and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to learn that they are building toilets and developing a sanitation system in Bihar by turning the traditional nonprofit model on its head. PSI India has developed a social enterprise and is treating the open defecation problem like a business problem.

The idea is to make toilets convenient, affordable and attractive in a state where 80% of the population currently lives without them.

When communities lack basic sanitation, kids die (more than 450,000 did in India last year due to diarrheal disease), people get sick, and girls and women are at greater risk of rape and violence when they’re simply trying to find a private place outdoors to relieve themselves.

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International Day Against Sexual Violence in Conflict

Rape has always been used as a weapon of war and women and girls are typically the victims of these heinous crimes.

To bring more awareness to sexual violence during conflict the United Nations General Assembly created the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict that will be commemorated on June 19 each year.

“Rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict constitute grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law,” President of the 193-member Assembly, Sam Kutesa, declared as he greeted the resolution’s adoption. “Yet these depraved acts still occur and are used to terrorize and control civilian populations in conflict zones.”

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Becoming a Part of 2014’s One Billion Rising

One in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Let’s take that in for a moment. It’s such a silent epidemic. I know. I have seen women’s eyes in the countries I visit and even here at home. They can’t hide it. According to OneBillionRising.org, that number comes to one billion women worldwide. That number is wholly unacceptable and needs to be recognized, … Continue reading Becoming a Part of 2014’s One Billion Rising