Inter Press Service » Gender http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Oct 2014 20:35:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: On Reproductive Rights, Progress with Concernshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-on-reproductive-rights-progress-with-concerns/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:29:45 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136954 Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

Contraceptives on sale at a store in Sanaa, Yemen. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

For most of human history, reproductive rights essentially meant men and women accepting the number, timing and spacing of their children, as well as possible childlessness. All this changed radically in the second half of the 20th century with the introduction of new medical technologies aimed at both preventing and assisting human reproduction.

Those technologies ushered in historic changes in reproductive rights and behaviour that continue to reverberate around the world, giving rise to increasingly complex theological, ethical and legal concerns that need to be addressed.New reproductive technologies have given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed.

Up until around the middle of the past century, reproductive rights were limited. The available birth control methods were rhythm, coitus interruptus (withdrawal), condoms and for some, the diaphragm.

Those methods in too many instances were unreliable and not considered user friendly. Also, while induced abortion has been practiced for ages, it was a drastic, dangerous and largely unlawful medical procedure.

In 1960, the oral contraceptive pill was introduced, dramatically transforming women’s reproductive rights and behaviour. In addition to the pill, modern methods of family planning, including the intra uterine device (IUD), injectables, implants, emergency contraceptive pills and sterilisation, have given women and men effective control over procreation.

Modern contraceptives have contributed to major changes in sexual behaviour and marriage. Women empowered with modern contraception can choose without the fear of pregnancy whether to have sexual relationships, enabling them to postpone childbearing or avoid it altogether.

And instead of marriage, cohabitation has become increasingly prevalent among many young couples, especially in industrialised countries.

The use of modern contraceptives also facilitated a rapid decline in family size worldwide. Between 1950 and the close of the 20th century, the world’s total fertility rate fell from five children per woman to nearly half that level.

Every major region of the world experienced fertility declines during that half century, with the greatest occurring in Asia and Latin America and the smallest in Africa.

With improved medical techniques, changing social norms and grassroots movements, induced abortion also became increasingly legalised globally. Although some remain strongly opposed to induced abortion, nearly all industrialised countries have passed laws ensuring a woman’s right to abortion.

Also at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 179 governments indicated their commitment to prevent unsafe abortion and in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be made safe.

Reproductive rights to terminate a pregnancy, however, have also led to excess female fetus abortions. Particularly widespread in China and India, their sex ratios at birth of 117 and 111 boys per 100 girls are blatantly higher than the typical sex ratio at birth of around 106.

Consequently, the numbers of young “surplus males” unable to find brides are more than 35 million in China and 25 million in India.

The introduction in 1970 of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – fertilisation in a laboratory by mixing sperm with eggs surgically removed from an ovary followed by uterine implantation – radically altered the basic evolutionary process of human reproduction.

IVF provides childless couples the right and means to have biological children. It is estimated that more than five million IVF babies have followed since the birth of the first “test-tube baby” in 1978.

However, IVF has also raised ethical concerns. In addition to creating a pregnancy through “artificial” means, IVF has become a massive commercial industry prone to serious abuses and exploitation of vulnerable couples in the desire to make profits from childbearing.

IVF also permits gestational surrogacy, which extends reproductive rights to same-sex couples. In contrast to traditional surrogacy, where the surrogate is the actual mother, gestational surrogacy allows the surrogate to be unrelated to the baby with the egg coming from the intended mother or donor.

While those who are childless have a right to have biological children, gestational surrogacy raises challenging ethical questions, such as the exploitation of poor women, as well as complex legal issues, especially when transactions cross international borders.

In 1997, the cloning – or propagation by self-replication rather than through sexual reproduction – of the first mammal, Dolly the sheep, was achieved. The birth of Dolly was a major reproductive development.

Following the cloning of Dolly, scores of other animals, including fish, mice, cows, horses, dogs and monkeys, have been successfully cloned. These developments suggest that in the near future some humans may wish to assert their reproductive rights to be cloned, again raising serious theological, ethical and legal questions.

Among the transhumanist reproductive technologies imagined in the more distant future, one that stands out is ectogenesis, or the development of a fetus outside the human womb in an artificial uterus.

While ectogenesis may expand the extent of fetal viability, free women from childbearing and expand reproductive rights, it poses serious, unexplored medical, ethical and legal issues.

During the past half-century remarkable technological progress has been made in human reproduction. As a result of this medical progress, women and men have acquired wide-ranging reproductive rights and technologies to determine the number, timing and spacing of their children and to overcome childlessness with biological offspring.

The new reproductive technologies, however, have also given rise to serious theological, ethical and legal concerns that have not been satisfactorily addressed. Anticipated future medical breakthroughs in human reproduction make it even more imperative for the international community of nations to address the growing challenges and concerns regarding reproductive technologies and rights.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Zimbabwe’s Family Planning Dilemmahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-family-planning-dilemma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-family-planning-dilemma http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/zimbabwes-family-planning-dilemma/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 01:58:02 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136924 There has been an increase in pregnancies among Zimbabwean adolescents aged 15-19 years, from 21 percent between 2005 and 2006 to 24 percent between 2010 and 2011. Credit: Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

There has been an increase in pregnancies among Zimbabwean adolescents aged 15-19 years, from 21 percent between 2005 and 2006 to 24 percent between 2010 and 2011. Credit: Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Oct 1 2014 (IPS)

Pregnant at 15, Samantha Yakubu* is in a fix. The 16-year-old boy she claims was responsible for her pregnancy has refused to accept her version of events, insisting that he was “not the only one who slept with her”.

Now Yakubu has dropped out of school and, like many sexually active youth in Zimbabwe, faces an uncertain future.

The issue of contraceptive use remains controversial and divisive in this country of 13.72 million people.

Parents and educators are agreed on one thing: that levels of sexual activity among high-school students are on the rise. What they do not agree on, however, is how to deal with the corresponding inrcrease in teenage pregnancies.

“Lack of adequate, medically accurate information on puberty leaves young people dependent on uninformed peer sources and unguided Internet searches for information." -- Stewart Muchapera, communications analyst with the UNFPA in Zimbabwe.
While Zimbabwe has made huge gains in some areas of reproductive health, including stemming new HIV infections, according to the Health Ministry, various United Nations agencies have raised concerns about the growing number of adolescent pregnancies, which experts say point to a low use of prophylactics and a dearth of other family planning methods.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), contraceptive use in Zimbabwe stands at 59 percent, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Still, this is lower than the 68 percent mark that the government pledged to achieve by 2020 at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning.

A proposal last year by a senior government official to introduce contraceptives into schools, allowing condoms to be distributed free of charge, was met with disbelief and anger among parents, who insisted this was tantamount to promoting promiscuity among learners.

There is still no agreement between parents and educators about the stage at which students can be introduced to sex education.

“Lack of adequate, medically accurate information on puberty leaves young people dependent on uninformed peer sources and unguided Internet searches for information,” says Stewart Muchapera, a communications analyst with the UNFPA in Zimbabwe.

“The fertility rate among teenage girls aged 15-19 in 2010/11 was 115 per 1,000 girls, a significant increase from 99 per 1,000 girls in 2005/6,” Muchapera tells IPS, adding that geographic location also determines the likelihood of early pregnancy, with girls living in rural areas twice as likely to be affected than their urban counterparts.

In fact, the rate of adolescent pregnancies is just 70 per 1,000 girls in urban areas, compared to 144 per 1,000 girls in rural areas, he adds.

The Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) reports that nine out of 10 sexually active girls aged 15 to 19 are in some form of a marriage, and that for two out of three girls who first had sex before age the of 15, sex was forced against their will.

The risk of maternal death is twice as high for girls aged 15 to 19 as for women in their twenties, experts say, and five times higher for girls aged 10 to 14 years.

Currently, Zimbabwe has a maternal mortality ratio of 790 deaths per 100,000 live births and an under-five mortality rate of 93 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Janet Siziba, a peer educator with the Matabeleland Aids Council, says there is a stigma attached to early pregnancy, with many forced to drop out of school or endure financial hardships after the birth of a child, particularly after the disappearance of an adolescent father.

“You can escape both pregnancy and HIV by increased condom use and, perhaps more importantly, by using other female contraceptives [such as the female condom and oral contraceptives],” Siziba tells IPS.

But with young people getting mixed messages on contraceptives, the trend is unlikely to change anytime soon. In fact, the country’s registrar-general Tobaiwa Mudede has actually warned women against using contraceptives, on the grounds that they cause cancer and are a ploy by developed countries to stem population growth in Africa.

Family planning advocates including the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) called his comments retrogressive especially at a time when the country’s health system is struggling to stem maternal mortality and also provide adequate antenatal care.

Through its National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy (ASRH), the Ministry of Health now allows adolescents to access contraceptives at public institutions such as clinics and hospitals, but peer educators are concerned that youth are not too eager to collect contraceptives in full view of the public.

The result is an increase in pregnancies among adolescents in the 15-19 age group from 21 percent between 2005 and 2006 to 24 percent between 2010 and 2011.

Experts say that conservative attitudes towards contraceptive use could slow down global efforts under the multi-sector Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) initiative, which seeks to increase access to contraception for women and girls between 15 and 49 years of age in developing countries.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation–supported FP2020 project, 260 million people from developing countries had access to contraceptives in 2012, and the initiative aims to add 120 million more by the year 2020.

*Names have been changed

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Boosting Incomes and Empowering Rural Women in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/boosting-incomes-and-empowering-rural-women-in-cuba/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 15:54:29 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136943 A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A member of the Vivero Alamar Cooperative carrying ornamental plants at a nursery in a suburb of Havana. Access to employment is a problem for women in rural areas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

Leonor Pedroso’s sewing machine has dressed children in the Cuban town of Florida for 30 years. But it was only a few months ago that the seamstress was able to become formally self-employed.

“My husband, a small farmer, didn’t let me work outside the home,” Pedroso, 63, told IPS. “I could only sew things for neighbours or close friends, for free or really cheap. According to him, jobs weren’t for women.”

She is now one of the beneficiaries of a project funded by international development aid that helps women entrepreneurs with the aim of closing the gender gap, as part of the economic reforms underway in this socialist Caribbean island nation.

Pedroso, whose main activities were running the household and raising the couple’s four children, did not have a stable enough flow of income or the knowledge to capitalise on her skills until she took courses in business plan development and management and gender along with other female entrepreneurs.

“I stood up to my husband, to do what I like to do, and now I am setting up a business in my home, to sell what I make and to teach young girls to sew and embroider,” she said with satisfaction, while waiting for the delivery of new sewing machines for her business.“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry. Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.” -- Neysi Fernández

She is now a new member of the local Producción Animal 25 Aniversario Cooperative.

The project, carried out by ACSUR Las Segovias, a non-governmental organisation from Spain, and the local Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP – National Association of Small Farmers), with financing from the European Union, provides training and inputs to 24 women, including farmers, craftmakers and rural leaders.

The project, whose formal title is “incorporation of rural female entrepreneurs into local socioeconomic development from a gender perspective”, has helped women who have traditionally been homemakers to generate an income. It is to be completed at the end of the year.

The women involved are in Artemisa, a province near Havana; Camagüey, a province in east-central Cuba, where Florida is located; and the eastern province of Granma.

“In the past, men were seen as the breadwinners and the owners of the land, but women have started to understand what they themselves contribute to the family economy,” Lorena Rodríguez, who works in the area of projects with ACSUR Las Segovia, told IPS.

She said “machismo” and sexism continue to stand in the way of the incorporation of rural women in the labour market.

One of the women involved in the project is Neysi Fernández who, seeking a way to make a living, moved from her hometown of Yateras in the eastern province of Guantánamo to Guanajay in the province of Artemisa, where a family member offered her a piece of land to work.

On the four hectares of land she is planting cassava, malanga (a tuber resembling a sweet potato), beans, maize and plantains.

“I moved to where I could find work because I couldn’t let my 12-year-old daughter go hungry,” the 42-year-old small farmer, who married a manual labourer four years ago, told IPS. “Then I learned how to sell my harvest and invest the money I earn.”

According to social researchers, the problem of access to remunerated work is one of the worst forms of inequality in rural areas in Cuba. Women represent 47 percent of the more than 2.8 million rural inhabitants in this country of 11.2 million people.

The work carried out by the wives and daughters of small farmers – raising livestock, tending family gardens, taking care of the home and raising children – is not recognised or remunerated, speakers said at the third review meeting of the National Action Plan held in 2013 to follow up on the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

Only 65,993 women belong to ANAP, and they represent just 17 percent of the association’s total membership, according to figures published this year by Cuba’s daily newspaper, Granma.

Women make up 142,300 of the 1.838 million people who work in agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing in Cuba, according to 2013 data from the national statistics office, ONEI.

The economic reforms undertaken by President Raúl Castro since 2008, with the aim of reviving the country’s flagging economy, have included the distribution of idle land under decree laws 259 of 2008, and 300 of 2012.

The objective is to boost food production in a country where 40 percent of the farmland is now in private hands, according to ONEI’s 2013 statistical yearbook.

But it is still mainly men who have the land, credits and farm machinery, and they remain a majority when it comes to decision-making in rural areas.

Given the lack of affirmative action by the state to boost female participation in rural areas, several civil society organisations and international aid agencies have been working to foster local development with a gender perspective.

With backing from the international relief and development organisation Oxfam, more than 15 women’s collective business enterprises will be operating in 10 municipalities in eastern Cuba by the end of the year. They include a flower shop, beauty salon, laundry, cheese shop, and several tire repair businesses.

With funds from the European Union, the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation and the Japanese Embassy in Cuba, the small businesses have been furnished with equipment and vehicles for transportation. In addition, the participants have taken part in workshops on self-esteem, leadership and personal growth.

According to sociologist Yohanka Valdés, the value of these projects lies in the strengthening of women’s capacity through empowerment and recognition of their rights.

“If an opportunity emerges, men are in a better position to take advantage of it because they don’t have to take care of the family,” the researcher told IPS.

Economist Dayma Echevarría says the female half of the population is at a disadvantage when it comes to the diversification of non-state activities in Cuba.

She says gender stereotypes in Cuba keep women in their role as homemakers and primary caretakers.

In one of the chapters of the book on the Cuban economy, “Miradas a la economía cubana” (Editorial Caminos, 2013), Echevarría says the lack of support services for caretakers is one of the reasons for rural women’s vulnerability when it comes to employment.

The recent process of land distribution has not translated into opportunities for boosting gender equality because it failed to foster active female participation, according to the expert.

At the same time, there are few Cuban women with the resources to set up their own businesses within the current regulatory framework.

Echevarría said Cubans were still waiting for the implementation of regulations that would enable more equitable insertion of women under the new labour conditions while incorporating a gender focus.

Cuba is in 15th place in the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, but in the subindex on economic participation and opportunity it ranks 66th out of the 153 countries studied.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Lack of Accountability Fuels Gender-Based Violence in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:32:31 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136927 Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHIRANG, India, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

On a bright March morning, a 17-year old tribal girl woke as usual, and went to catch fish in the village river in the Chirang district of India’s northeastern Assam state.

Later that evening, villagers found her lifeless body on the riverbank. According to Taburam Pegu, the police officer investigating the case, her assailants had raped her before slitting her throat.

The girl was a member of the Bodo tribe, which has been at loggerheads with Muslims and Santhals – another indigenous group in the region. The tragic story reveals a terrible reality across India, where thousands of girls and women are sexually abused, tortured and murdered in a tide of gender-based violence (GBV) that shows no sign of slowing.

“We have a culture of impunity. Our legal system itself negates the possibility [...] of punishment in cases of violence against women.” -- Anjuman Ara Begum, former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission
Conflict and a lack of accountability, particularly across India’s northern, eastern and central states where armed insurgencies and tribal clashes are a part of daily life for over 40 million women, fuel the fire of sexual violence.

According to a report released earlier this year by the United Nations Secretary-General assessing progress on the programme of action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, violence against women is universal, with one in every three women (35 percent) experiencing physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

Of all the issues related to the ICPD action plan, ending gender-based violence was addressed as a key concern by 88 percent of all governments surveyed. In total, 97 percent of countries worldwide have programmes, policies or strategies to address gender equality, human rights, and the empowerment of women.

Still, multiple forms of violence against women continue to be an hourly occurrence all around the world.

A recent multi-country study on men and violence in the Asia-Pacific region, conducted by the United Nations, reported that nearly 50 percent of 10,000 men surveyed admitted to sexually or physically abusing a female partner.

In India, a country that has established a legal framework to address and end sexual violence, 92 women are raped every day, according to the latest records published by the government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

This is higher than the average daily number of rapes reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which currently stands at 36.

Sexual violence is particularly on the rise in conflict areas, experts say, largely due to a lack of accountability – the very thing the United Nations describes as “key to preventing and responding to gender-based violence.”

According to Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi, “There are human rights abuses committed by security forces and human rights violations by the militants. And then there is also violence against women committed by civilians. No matter who is committing the crime […] there has to be accountability – a component completely missing” from the current legal framework.

An example of this is Perry*, a 35-year-old woman from the South Garo Hills district of India’s northeastern Meghalaya state – home to 14 million women and three armed groups – who was killed by militants in June this year.

Members of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), an insurgent group, allegedly tried to rape Perry and, when she resisted, they shot her in the head, blowing it open. The GNLA refused to be held accountable, claiming that the woman was an informant and so “deserved to die”.

Another reason for the high levels of GBV in India is the dismal conviction rate – a mere 26 percent – in cases involving sexual assault and violence.

In 3,860 of the 5,337 rape cases reported in the past 10 years, the culprits were either acquitted or discharged by the courts for lack of ‘proper’ evidence, according to the NCRB.

“We have a culture of impunity,” Anjuman Ara Begum, a Guwahati-based lawyer and former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding, “Our legal system itself negates the possibility or certainty of punishment in cases of violence against women.”

With a declining conviction rate, armed groups have been playing the role of the judiciary to deliver instant justice. In October 2011, a kangaroo court of the armed Maoists in the Palamu district of India’s eastern Jharkhand state cut off the hands of a man accused of rape.

In August 2013, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) – an insurgent group operating in the northeastern state of Manipur – launched an “anti-rape task force”.

Sanakhomba Meitei, the secretary of KCP, told IPS over the phone that his group would deliver fast-track justice for rape victims. “Our intervention [will] instill fear in the [minds of the] rapists,” said Meitei, adding, “We will deliver stringent punishment.”

This is a worrying trend, but inevitable, given the failure of the legal system to deliver justice in these troubled areas, according to A L Sharada, director of Population First – a partner of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in India.

“What we need is a robust legal system, and mob justice hurts that possibility. In fact, such non-judicial justice systems are also very patriarchal in nature and ultimately against women. What we really need are quick convictions [in] every case of gender violence that has been filed,” Sharada stated.

According to the NCRB over 50,000 women were abducted across the country in 2013 alone, while over 8,000 were killed in dowry-related crimes. More than 100,000 women faced cruelty at the hands of their husbands or other male relatives, but only 16 percent of those accused were convicted.

*Not her real name

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Conflict Keeps Mothers From Healthcare Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/conflict-keeps-mothers-from-healthcare-services/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:52:47 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136884 Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BASTAR, India, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Twenty-five-year-old Khemwanti Pradhan is a ‘Mitanin’ – a trained and accredited community health worker – based in the Nagarbeda village of the Bastar region in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Since 2007, Pradhan has been informing local women about government health schemes and urging them to deliver their babies at a hospital instead of in their own homes.

Ironically, when Pradhan gave birth to her first child in 2012, she herself was unable to visit a hospital because government security forces chose that very day to conduct a raid on her village, which is believed to be a hub of armed communist insurgents.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel." -- Daniel Mate, a youth activist from the town of Tengnoupal, on the India-Myanmar border
In the panic and chaos that ensued, the village all but shut down, leaving Pradhan to manage on her own.

“Security men were carrying out a door-to-door search for Maoist rebels. They arrested many young men from our village. My husband and my brother-in-law were scared and both fled to the nearby forest.

“When my labour pains began, there was nobody around. I boiled some water and delivered my own baby,” she said.

Thanks to her training as a Mitanin, which simply means ‘friend’ in the local language, Pradhan had a smooth and safe delivery.

But not everyone is so lucky. Increasing levels of violence across India due to ethnic tensions and armed insurgencies are taking their toll on women and cutting off access to crucial reproductive health services.

This past June, for instance, 22-year-old Anita Reang, a Bru tribal refugee woman in the conflict-ridden Mamit district of the northeastern state of Mizoram, began haemorrhaging while giving birth at home.

The young girl eventually bled to death, Anita’s mother Malati told IPS, adding that they couldn’t leave the house because they were surrounded by Mizo neighbours, who were hostile to the Bru family.

According to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), a global charity that provides healthcare in conflict situations and disaster zones across the world, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity all increase during times of conflict.

This could have huge repercussions in India, home to over 31 million women in the reproductive age group according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The country is a long way from achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of 103 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2015, and is still nursing a maternal mortality rate of 230 deaths per 100,000 births.

There is a dearth of comprehensive nationwide data on the impact of conflict on maternal health but experts are agreed that it exacerbates the issue of access to clinics and facilities.

MSF’s country medical coordinator, Simon Jones, told IPS that in India the “most common causes of neonatal death are […] prematurity and low birth weight, neonatal infections and birth asphyxia and trauma.”

The government runs nationwide maternal and child health schemes such as Janani Suraksha Yojana and Janani Shishu Suraksha Karykram that provide free medicine, free healthcare, nutritional supplements and also monetary incentives to women who give birth at government facilities.

But according to Waliullah Ahmed Laskar, an advocate in the Guwahati High Court in the northeastern state of Assam, who also leads a rights protection group called the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, women wishing to access government programmes must travel to an official health centre – an arduous task for those who reside in conflict-prone regions.

In central and eastern India alone, this amounts to some 22 million women.

There is also a trust deficit between women in a conflict area and the health workers, Laskar told IPS. “Women are [often] scared of health workers, who they think hold a bias against them and might ill-treat them.”

For Jomila Bibi, a 31-year-old Muslim refugee woman from Assam’s Kokrajhar district, such fears were not unfounded; the young woman’s newborn daughter died last October after doctors belonging to a rival ethnic group allegedly declined to attend to her.

Bibi was on the run following ethnic clashes between Bengali Muslims and members of the Bodo tribal community in Assam that have left nearly half a million people displaced across the region.

Daniel Mate, a youth activist in the town of Tengnoupal, which lies on India’s conflicted border with Myanmar, recounted several cases of women refusing to seek professional help, despite having severe post-delivery complications, due to compromised security around them.

“When there is more than one armed group [as in the case of the armed insurgency in Tengnoupal and surrounding areas in northeast India’s Manipur state], it is difficult to know who is a friend and who is an enemy,” he told IPS.

“I have seen women trying to use home remedies like poultices to cure sepsis just because they don’t want to run into either an army man or a rebel,” added Mate, who campaigns for crowd-funded medical supplies for the remotest villages in the region, which are plagued by the presence of over a dozen militant groups.

The solution, according to MSF’s Jones, is an overall improvement in comprehensive maternal care including services like Caesarean sections and blood transfusions.

Equally important is the sensitisation of health workers and security personnel, who could persuade more women to seek healthcare, even in troubled times.

Other experts suggest regular mobile healthcare services and on-the-spot midwifery training to women in remote and sensitive regions.

According to Kaushalendra Kukku, a doctor in the Kanker government hospital in Bastar, “When violence erupts, all systems collapse. The best way to minimise the risk of maternal death in such a situation is to take the services to a woman, instead of expecting her to come to [the services].”

Pradhan, who has now resumed her duties as a community health worker, agrees. “I was able to deliver safely because I was trained. If other women receive the same training, they can also help themselves.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Comprehensive Sex Education: A Pending Task in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/comprehensive-sex-education-a-pending-task-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:52:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136879 By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

In most Latin American countries schools now provide sex education, but with a focus that is generally restricted to the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases – an approach that has not brought about significant modifications in the behaviour of adolescents, especially among the poor.

The international community made the commitment to offer comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

“Although some advances have been made in the inclusion of sexual and reproductive education in school curriculums in Latin America and the Caribbean, we have found that not all countries or their different jurisdictions have managed to fully incorporate these concepts in classroom activities,” Elba Núñez, the coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defence of Women’s Rights (CLADEM), told IPS.

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

Teenage mom Maura Escobar with her baby María. Credit: Daniela Estrada/IPS

The 2010 CLADEM study ‘Systematisation of sexuality education in Latin America’ reports that Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay are the countries that have come the closest to the concept of comprehensive sex education, and they are also the countries that have passed legislation in that respect.

Others, like Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Peru, continue to focus on abstinence and birth control methods, while emphasising spiritual aspects of sexuality, the importance of the family, and the need to delay the start of sexual activity.

But programmes in the region still generally have problems “with respect to the enjoyment and exercise of this right,” especially among ethnic minorities and rural populations, said Núñez from Paraguay.

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have also run into difficulties in implementing sex education programmes outside the main cities.

These shortcomings are part of the reason that Latin America is the region with the second highest teen pregnancy rate – 38 percent of girls and women get pregnant before the age of 20 – after sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a steep school dropout rate.

In Argentina, a law on comprehensive sex education, which created a National Programme of Comprehensive Sex Education, was approved in 2006.

Ana Lía Kornblit, a researcher at the Gino Germani Research Institute, described the programme as “an important achievement because it makes it possible to exercise a right that didn’t previously exist.”

But in some provinces the teaching material, “which is high quality, is not used on the argument that [schools] do not agree with some of the content and they plan to design material in line with local cultural and religious values,” she said.

“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex,” Mabel Bianco, president of the Foundation for the Education and Study of Women (FEIM), told IPS.

“But in the media everything is eroticised, which incites them to engage in sexual behaviour. And the worst thing is they don’t have the tools to resist the pressure from their peers and from society to become sexually active,” she said. “CSE would enable them to say no to sexual relations that they don’t want to have.”“Children can see everything on TV or the Internet, but in school it isn’t talked about for fear of encouraging them to have sex.” -- Mabel Bianco

Lourdes Ramírez, 18, just finished her secondary studies at a public school in Mendiolaza in the central Argentine province of Córdoba. She told IPS that in her school, many parents of students in the first years of high school “kick up a fuss” when sex education classes are given “because they say their kids are young and those classes will make them start having sex sooner.”

“It’s absurd that you see everything on TV, programmes with girls in tiny thongs, but then in school they can’t teach how to use a condom or that people should only have sex when they really want to,” Ramírez said.

In her school, the Education Ministry textbooks and materials arrived, but they were not distributed to the students “and were only kept in the library, for people to come and look at.”

Carmen Dueñas, a high school biology teacher in Berazategui, 23 km southeast of Buenos Aires, said it was surprising that even when available birth control methods are explained to the students, “many girls want to get pregnant anyway.”

“They think that when they get pregnant they will have someone to love, that they’ll have a role to play in life if they have a family of their own,” said the teacher, who forms part of a municipal-national CSE project.

“There are conflicts and violence in a significant proportion of families, and teenagers don’t feel they have support; families are torn apart, and there is domestic abuse, violence, alcohol and drug use,” said Marité Gowland, a specialist in preschool education in Florencio Varela, 38 km from the Argentine capital.

“All of this leads to adolescents falling into the same cycle, and it is difficult for them to put into practice what they learn in school,” she said. “Many schools provide the possibility for kids to talk about their problems, but the school alone can’t solve them.”

A project in Berazategui is aimed at breaking the mould. Students are shown a film where a girl gets pregnant when she is sexually abused by her stepfather, but manages to stay in school after talking to her teacher.
“We chose this scenario because sometimes we have clues that there are cases like this in our schools,” Dueñas said.

Through games, the project teaches students how to use condoms. In addition, students can place anonymous questions in a box. “There are girls who comment that although they haven’t even gotten their first period, they have sex, because they have older boyfriends. Then the group discusses the case,” Dueñas said, to illustrate how the project works.

Another member of CLADEM, Zobeyda Cepeda from the Dominican Republic, said that what prevails in most of the region is a “biological approach, or a religious focus, looking at sexuality only as part of marriage.”

Until the focus shifts to a rights-based approach, experts say, Latin America will not meet its international obligations to ensure that “every pregnancy is wanted [...] and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Changing Face of Caribbean Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/the-changing-face-of-caribbean-migration/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:21:35 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136874 Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

Ruth Osman, a 35-year-old Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad and Tobago, is one of thousands of women to have taken advantage of CARICOM’s migration scheme for skilled workers. Courtesy of Ruth Osman

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Ruth Osman is attractive and well-groomed in tailored slacks and a patterned blouse, topped by a soft jacket worn open. Her demeanour and polished accent belie the stereotypical view that most Caribbean nationals have of Guyanese migrants.

As a Guyanese migrant living in Trinidad, the 35-year-old is one of thousands of Guyanese to have taken the plunge over the past decade, since the free movement clause of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) regime granted skilled persons the right to move and work freely throughout the region.

According to a recent report, Trinidad and Tobago hosts 35.4 percent of migrants in the region. The United Nations’ ‘Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision’ states that Latin America and the Caribbean host a total migrant stock of 8.5 million people.

“Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.” -- CARICOM Secretariat Report, 2010
Women make up 51.6 percent of migrants in the Caribbean, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s 2013 figures.

For many Guyanese, the decision to move on the strength of promises made by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to facilitate free movement of skilled labour within the region has met with mixed degrees of success and, in some cases, outright harassment and even threats of deportation from the Caribbean countries to which they have migrated.

A 2013 report by the ACP Observatory on Migration states, “Guyanese migrants in Trinidad and Tobago faced unfavourable opinions in the social psyche and this could translate into tacit and other forms of discrimination.”

The report, prepared by the regional consulting firm Kairi Consultants, goes on to state that migrants from Guyana were “assumed to be menial labourers or undocumented workers.”

Guyana is one of the poorest countries in the CARICOM region, with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of 6,053 dollars in 2011. This stands in contrast to Trinidad and Tobago’s per-capita GDP of 29,000 dollars, according to the 2010-2011 U.N. Human Development Report (HDR).

But Osman’s background is not one of destitution. She applied for a CARICOM skills certificate in 2005, having completed a postgraduate diploma in Arts and Cultural Enterprise Management (ACEM) at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad.

“I considered myself an artist, which is why I came to study here [for the ACEM] and I thought it a great stepping stone in my realising that dream of being a singer, songwriter, performer […]. Trinidad seems to be, in relation to where I came from, a more fertile ground for [what] I wanted to do,” she said.

Osman has her own band and performs as a jazz singer at nightspots in Trinidad and Tobago. During the day, she works as a speechwriter for Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Public Utilities.

Still, she misses the support network that her parents’ substantial contacts would have provided her in Guyana, and she acknowledges that her standard of living is also probably lower than it would have been if she were back home. But, she said, the move was necessary.

Osman’s story is in line with the findings of a 2010 CARICOM Secretariat report to “assess the impact of free movement of persons and other forms of migration on member states”, which found: “Although, historically it is persons at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale in Caribbean society that have been the main movers, the CSME has to date facilitated the movement of those at the upper end, the educated elite in the region.”

Limited educational opportunities also explain the wave of migration out of Guyana, a finding borne out by the experience of Miranda La Rose, a senior reporter with one of Trinidad and Tobago’s leading newspapers, ‘Newsday’, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science.

“I came here with the intention of working to help fund [my daughter’s] studies,” La Rose told IPS. “I was working for a fairly good salary in Guyana. My objective [in moving to Trinidad] was to improve my children’s education.”

She said the move to Trinidad was painless, since she was granted her CARICOM skills certificate within three weeks of applying, and she has amassed a circle of friends in Trinidad that compensates for the family she left behind in Guyana.

But not all stories of migration are happy ones. Some, like Alisa Collymore, represent the pains experienced by those with limited skills and qualifications.

Collymore, who now works as a nursing assistant with a family in Trinidad, applied for a CARICOM skills certificate under the entertainer category, because she had experience in songwriting and performing in Guyana.

However, she holds no tertiary qualifications in the field and only completed her secondary school education after she became an adult.

The Trinidadian authorities declined to grant her the CARICOM skills certificate and she has to apply for a renewal of her work permit every six months.

She said, “The treatment you get [is not what you] expected […] and the hand of brotherhood is not really extended. You feel like you are an outsider.”

Nevertheless, she said, the move has brought economic benefits. As a single, divorced, mother of three, she had struggled financially in Guyana. Since moving to Trinidad, her financial situation has improved, she said.

Though some studies have found negative impacts of the free skills movement on source countries, many are finding in the CARICOM scheme a chance to start a new – and often better – life.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Where Women Don’t Workhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=where-women-dont-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/where-women-dont-work/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:07:42 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136871 Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Employment opportunities for women in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are limited, due to a prevailing cultural attitude of male dominance. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sep 25 2014 (IPS)

Saleema Bibi graduated from medical school 15 years ago – but to this day, the 40-year-old resident of Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, has never been able to practice as a professional.

“I wanted to get a government job, but my family wanted me to get married instead,” Bibi tells IPS. Now she is a housewife, with “strict in-laws” who are opposed to the idea of women working.

“I know the province is short of female doctors,” she adds. “And the salaries and other benefits for people in the medical profession are lucrative, but social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.”

"Social taboos have hampered women’s desire to find jobs.” -- Saleema Bibi, a medical school graduate.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), gender disparities in labour force participation rates are severe in Pakistan, with male employment approaching 80 percent compared to a female employment rate of less than 20 percent between 2009 and 2012.

In the country’s northern, tribal belt, the situation is even worse, with religious mores keeping women confined to the home, and unable to stray beyond the traditional roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper.

What Saleema Bibi discovered in her late-20s was something most women who dream of a career will eventually encounter: endless hurdles to equal participation in the economy.

For instance, the health sector in KP, which has a population of 22 million people, employs just 40,000 women, while maintaining a male labour force of some 700,000, according to Abdul Basit, a public health specialist based in Peshawar.

He says the “shortage of women employees in the health sector is [detrimental] to the female population” and is the “result of male dominance and an environment shaped by the belief that women should stay at home instead of venturing out in public.”

Even though one-fifth of the country’s doctors are female, few of them are engaged in paid work. Hundreds of female students are enrolled in the public sector’s medical colleges, but KP only has 600 female doctors, compared to 6,000 male doctors, Noorul Iman, a professor of medicine at the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar, tells IPS.

Experts also say the proportion of women workers occupying white-collar jobs is very limited, since even educated women are discouraged from entering the public service.

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey for 2012-2013, women have traditionally populated the informal sector, taking up jobs as domestic workers and other low-paid, daily-wage professions as cooks or cleaners, where affluent families typically pay them paltry sums of money.

In contrast, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts has been less than two percent.

Research indicates that only 19 percent of working women had jobs in the government sector, while the economic survey reports that some 200,000 women in KP were actively seeking jobs in the 2010-2011 period.

The most popular jobs were found to be in medicine, banking, law, engineering and especially education.

“Because women can work in all-girls’ schools, without interacting with male students or colleagues, their families allow them to take up these posts,” Pervez Khan, KP’s deputy director of education, tells IPS, adding that the female-only environment provided by gender-segregated schools explains why women are attracted to the profession of teaching.

The provision of three months’ paid leave, as well as 40 days of maternity leave is yet another incentive to enter the education sector, he states.

Still, the disparity between men and women is high. Although KP has a total of 119,274 teachers, only 41,102 are female.

The manufacturing sector does not fair any better. Muhammad Mushtaq, a leading industrialist in the province, says only three percent of the workforce in 200 industrial units around KP is comprised of women.

“Many people do not want women to mix with men in offices, and prefer for them to stay away from public places,” he tells IPS. This is a particularly disheartening reality in light of the fact that the number of girls in Pakistani universities, including in the northern regions, is almost equal to that of boys; despite their competitive qualifications, however, women are marginalised.

Mushtaq also believes that sexual harassment of women in their workplaces conspires with other forces to keep women from the payroll. About 11 percent of working women reported incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a 2006 study by the Peshawar-based Women’s Development Organisation.

“The research, conducted on women working in multinational companies, banks, government-owned departments, schools and private agencies, found a prevailing sense of insecurity,” says Shakira Ali, a social worker with the organisation.

Faced with mounting poverty in a country where 55 percent of the population of about 182 million earn below two dollars a day, while a full 43 percent earn between two and six dollars daily, many women are growing desperate for work, taking up positions in garment and food processing units, or entering the manufacturing sector where their embroidery skills are in high demand.

But this too, experts say, is predominantly temporary, contractual employment.

There is a kind of vicious cycle in which a lack of experience results in inadequate skills, which in turn fuels unemployment among women.

The situation is made worse by a nationwide female literacy rate of just 33 percent. While the female primary school enrollment rate is 70 percent, that number falls to just 33 percent for secondary-level education.

Muhammad Darwaish at the KP Employment Exchange Department says that only those women who head their households – either due to the death or debilitation of their husbands – are free to actively seek employment.

They too, however, fall victim to low wages and informal working conditions.

KP Information Minister Shah Farman tells IPS the government is committed to creating a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view toward fulfillment of their right to work with dignity.

“We are bringing in a law on the principles of equal opportunity for men and women and their right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination,” he asserts.

Farman claims the KP government has launched a 10-million-dollar interest-free microcredit programme for women to enable them to start their own businesses.

“The programme, started in December 2013, seeks to reduce poverty through creation of self-employment and job opportunities for women,” he says.

Under the scheme, small loans worth anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 dollars are being given to women who want to start embroidery, sewing and other home-based businesses.

It will continue for the next five years to bring women into the economic mainstream.

Pakistan is also bound to work towards gender equality by the targets set out in the internationally agreed-upon Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are due to expire next year.

The government has taken steps towards the goal of empowering women through a series of national-level initiatives including the establishment of crisis centres for women, the National Plan of Action, gender reform programmes and the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

Still, women on average continue to earn less than men, while women only hold 60 seats compared to 241 seats occupied by men in the National Assembly.

Until women are allowed to fully contribute to the national economy, experts fear that Pakistan will not reach the goal of achieving gender equality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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‘Therapeutic Abortion’ Could Soon Be Legal in Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/therapeutic-abortion-could-soon-be-legal-in-chile/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 13:26:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136835 Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Alicia is one of the millions of Chilean women who have had an illegal, unsafe abortion because in their country terminating a pregnancy is punishable with up to five years in prison, regardless of the circumstances. Now the country is moving towards legalising therapeutic abortion. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Chile, one of the most conservative countries in Latin America, is getting ready for an unprecedented debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion, which is expected to be approved this year.

In Chile, more than 300,000 illegal abortions are practiced annually – a scourge that is both cause and effect of many other social problems.

“Abortion in Chile is like the drug trade – surrounded by illegality and precariousness,” 27-year-old Alicia, who had an abortion five years ago, told IPS.

Latin America – stronghold of illegal abortion

In Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua abortion is punishable by prison under any circumstance, although in Honduras the medical code of ethics allows it if the mother’s life is at risk.

One illustration that stiff penalties do not reduce abortions but only make them unsafe is the Dominican Republic, where the constitution has guaranteed the right to life from conception since 2010. But 90,000 abortions are year are practiced in that country, which means one out of every four pregnancies is interrupted.

In the rest of the countries in the region – with the exception of Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City – only therapeutic abortion is allowed. Nevertheless, there are 31 abortions for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age, higher than the global average.

In Costa Rica, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is at risk. In Ecuador and Panama it is also legal in case of rape.

Guatemala exemplifies the effects of clandestine abortions. Of the 65,000 women who undergo an abortion in that country every year, 21,500 are hospitalised as a result. In Argentina and Bolivia the decision is made by a judge. In Argentina abortion is only legal in case of rape or risk to a mother’s life, and in Bolivia in cases of incest as well.

It is estimated that there is one abortion for every two pregnancies that end in birth in Argentina.

In Colombia abortion is legal for the abovementioned reasons as well as severe birth defects, as it is in Brazil – but only in cases where the fetus shows abnormal brain development.

Abortion on demand is only legal in Cuba and Uruguay – in the latter as of 2012, and since then the number of abortions has gone down.

In addition, abortion on demand has been legal in the Mexican capital since 2007. But that triggered a counter-reform in the country, and 17 of the 31 states have now banned abortion under any circumstances.

“A friend told me about a gynecologist, I went to see him and he told me the date, time and place to meet him,” Alicia said. “My mom came with me. A van picked me up on a random street corner in the city and I had no idea where we were going. I still remember my mother’s face, the anxiety of not knowing if I would come back, and in what condition.

“In a house a doctor and a woman, I don’t know if she was a midwife or a nurse, were waiting for me. They doped me up. When I woke up it was done. They put me in the van and took me back to my mother. We never talked about it again,” she said sadly.

The legalisation of abortion is one of the Chilean state’s big debts to women, Carolina Carrera, the president of Corporación Humanas, told IPS.

“Chile’s highly punitive legislation is a violation of the human rights of women because this level of penalisation means that women who abort do so in unsafe conditions, with physical and psychological risks,” she added.

In addition, smuggling has increased of Misoprostol, also known as RU486 or medication abortion. The medicine is sold at exorbitantly high prices, without clear medical indications, she added.

Claudia, 24, had to go to a house on one of the hills in the port city of Valparaíso, 140 km northwest of Santiago, to buy the drug to interrupt an unwanted pregnancy.

“It was a dangerous place,” she said. “I had to pay more than 600 dollars. I looked around and thought: and if something happens to me, who do I call? An ambulance, the police? No, I’d be put in prison!”

In Latin America, where the Catholic Church still has an enormous influence, abortion is illegal everywhere except Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City. However, most countries allow therapeutic abortion in circumstances suggested by the United Nations: rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

Chile is one of only seven countries in the world that ban abortion under any circumstance. Four others are in Latin America – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – and two are in Europe – Malta and the Vatican.

Therapeutic abortion was legal in Chile from 1931 to 1989, when it was banned by the government of late dictator General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). None of the democratic administrations that have governed the country since then have touched the issue until now.

Since then, women who undergo an abortion have faced a possible prison sentence of up to five years.

“The frequency of abortion has remained steady in the last 10 years in Chile,” Dr. Ramiro Molina with the Centre on Reproductive Medicine and Integral Development of the Adolescent at the University of Chile told IPS. “The number of cases has not gone down, nor have there been major changes in the ages: the highest rates of abortion are still found among women between the ages of 25 and 34.”

He said there are only records of some 33,500 women a year who are treated for abortion-related complications – a figure he described as “very misleading” because it only takes into account those who go to a public health centre for emergency treatment.

Molina explained that the real total is estimated by multiplying that number by 10, which would indicate that 335,000 women a year undergo illegal abortions in Chile.

In the Latin American countries with the strictest legislation, abortions are practiced in conditions that pose a high risk to women, making it a public health problem as well as a reflection of inequality.

“Abortion is a socioeconomic indicator of poverty,” Molina said.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 21.6 million unsafe abortions took place worldwide in 2008. The estimated annual total in Latin America is 4.4 million, 95 percent of which are clandestine. And 12 percent of maternal deaths in the region are the result of unsafe abortion.

Molina, one of the region’s leading experts in his field, said that while progress has been made in the last two decades, it has been very slow because “a religious-based philosophical vision” continues to prevail and stands in the way of further advances.

In Chile, the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet, in office since March, is preparing to launch a debate on the legalisation of therapeutic abortion in case of rape, risk to the mother’s life, or severe birth defects.

She has stated on several occasions that abortion will be decriminalised this year in Chile.

During her first term (2006-2010), Bachelet authorised the free distribution of Levonorgestrel, better known as the morning after pill, by government health centres to all girls and women over the age of 14 who requested it. But its actual distribution still depends on the ideology of mayors, who are responsible for public health centres in their jurisdictions.

The morning after pill came too late for Francisco and Daniela. When she enrolled in the university, “we got pregnant,” she told IPS. The couple thought about it long and hard, but they lived with her parents and Francisco only worked part-time.

“I felt like it was cutting her life short, her dreams, her prospects,” said Francisco, who somehow managed to scrape together the 600 dollars for the abortion.

Now, at the age of 35, they have a little girl. But they remember it as a traumatic incident, “because it was clandestine, unsafe and unjust.”

Although the legalisation of therapeutic abortion was one of Bachelet’s campaign pledges, abortion remains a taboo subject in Chile. Many are afraid of the political consequences in this country of 17.8 million people, where more than 65 percent of the population is Catholic.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mission Midwife: The Case for Trained Birth Attendants in Senegalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mission-midwife-the-case-for-trained-birth-attendants-in-senegal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mission-midwife-the-case-for-trained-birth-attendants-in-senegal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mission-midwife-the-case-for-trained-birth-attendants-in-senegal/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 04:48:54 +0000 Doreen Akiyo Yomoah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136842 Only 65 percent of Senegalese women give birth in the presence of a skilled attendant. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

Only 65 percent of Senegalese women give birth in the presence of a skilled attendant. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Doreen Akiyo Yomoah
DAKAR, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Diouma Tine is a 50-year-old vegetable seller and a mother of six boys. In her native Senegal, she tells IPS, motherhood isn’t a choice. “If you’re married, then you must have children. If you don’t, then you don’t get to stay in your husband’s house, and no one will respect you.”

Despite this prevailing cultural outlook, becoming a mother here is neither easy, nor safe, with only 65 percent of Senegalese women giving birth in the presence of a skilled attendant.

According to available data, 54 percent of Senegal’s 13.7 million people live in rural areas. Of these, some 3.3 million are women of reproductive age, an estimated 85 percent of who live about 45 minutes from a health facility.

The country has a worryingly high maternal mortality rate (MMR). The last government survey taken in 2005 found that 41 women died per 1,000 live births, giving the country a ranking of 144 out of 181.

“In some regions, like the Kolda and Tamba Regions, you can find up to 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births [since] some women are denied the ability to make decisions about when to go to hospital, [and] sometimes when roads are bad it’s difficult for them to get to a health centre.” -- Gacko Ndèye Ndiaye, coordinator of the gender cell at the Ministère de la Santé et Action Sociale (Ministry of Health and Social Action)
Between 2005 and 2010, the MMR in Senegal fell from 401 to 392 deaths per 100,000 live births, representing some progress but hinting at the scale of unmet need around the country.

One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to achieve universal access to reproductive healthcare by 2015, but it is increasingly clear to health workers and policy makers that Senegal will not reach this target.

This year’s State of the World’s Midwifery Report produced by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projected that Senegal’s population was set to increase by 59 percent to 21.9 million by 2030.

“To achieve universal access to sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn care, midwifery services must respond to one million pregnancies per annum by 2030, 53 percent of these in rural settings,” the report stated, adding that the health system must be configured to cover some 66 million antenatal visits, 11.7 million births, and 46.7 million post-partum and postnatal visit from 2012 to 2030.

This past May, on the International Day of the Midwife, former Prime Minister Aminata Touré called attention to a gap of 1,336 midwives in the country, setting in motion a government-sponsored recruitment drive to rapidly increase the number of trained birth attendants.

The midwife shortage is felt most severely in rural areas: the Matam region in eastern Senegal, for instance, has only 14 midwives for a population of nearly 590,000, while Tambacounda, to the south of Matam, has only 38 for a population of about 670,000.

Senegal has both ‘sage-femmes’ (fully trained midwives), and ‘matrones’, direct-entry midwives who deliver the vast majority of babies in Senegal but lack proper education, and often learn their trade on site, sometimes spending less than six months in a clinical training setting before being taking up posts in rural areas.

“There is kind of a crisis in education,” Kaya Skye, executive director of the African Birth Collective, tells IPS.

“Matrones learn how to take blood pressure, but they don’t understand what that means. [With matrones] there is an urgency to get the baby out as soon as possible [and] an overuse of drugs, which is […] another cause of mortality,” she explained.

In fact, Touré stated during a speech on May 12 that 60 percent of maternal deaths in the country could have been avoided with “sufficient personnel, a suitable medical platform, [and] democratic access to women’s health services, notably the disadvantaged in remote areas.”

Gacko Ndèye Ndiaye, coordinator of the gender cell at the Ministère de la Santé et Action Sociale (Ministry of Health and Social Action), and a midwife by trade, tells IPS that numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

“There are disparities between different areas,” she asserted. “In some regions, like the Kolda and Tamba Regions, you can find up to 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births [since] some women are denied the ability to make decisions about when to go to hospital, [and] sometimes when roads are bad it’s difficult for them to get to a health centre.”

The National Agency of Statistics and Demography’s 2011 health indicators report found that over 90 percent of urban births are assisted by a trained assistant, but that number falls to just half for rural births.

Skye’s African Birth Collective works to fill these gaps, and recently built the Kassoumai Birth Centre in the Kabar village of the southern Casamance region to meet the needs of mothers and midwives.

According to Skye, “Traditional midwives said they wanted their own place to practice; that they didn’t feel welcome in government clinics. There was nothing in Kabar for women – they were giving birth in the showers behind their houses.”

Although the government does provide training for midwives, building this centre was “about creating infrastructure that is outside of government protocols and facilitating that dialogue where the traditional midwives can say ‘We do it this way’,” Skye says.

A long colonial history and post-colonial education in Senegal has meant that the Western obstetric model has been dominant.

Grassroots efforts, including the work of ENDA Santé, the health division of an international NGO called Environmental Development Action in the Third World, are helping to foster a better balance between Westernised birthing techniques and traditional methods.

The African Birth Collective and ENDA Santé have translated the educational manual ‘A Book for Midwives’ into French, giving birth attendants in Francophone West Africa access to crucial information, such as the case for non-supine positions, and inverted resuscitation methods.

For women like Tine, the pride that comes from being a mother will always outweigh the dangers and complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

But if the government of Senegal scales up its efforts to improve health services, it can remove the fear factor altogether, and make a strong contribution towards global efforts to ensure the health and safety of every mother.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Urban Population to Reach 3.9 Billion by Year Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/urban-population-to-reach-3-9-billion-by-year-end/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:29:16 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136810 Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums belies the official story that the country is well on its way to providing universal access to safe, clean drinking water. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Sanitation infrastructure in India’s sprawling slums belies the official story that the country is well on its way to providing universal access to safe, clean drinking water. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Gloria Schiavi
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

People living in cities already outnumber those in rural areas and the trend does not appear to be reversing, according to UN-Habitat, the Nairobi-based agency for human settlements, which has warned that planning is crucial to achieve sustainable urban growth.

“In the hierarchy of the ideas, first comes the urban design and then all other things,” Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, told IPS while he was in New York for a preparatory meeting of Habitat III, the world conference on sustainable urban development that will take place in 2016."In the past urbanisation was a slow-cooking dish rather than a fast food thing." -- Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat

“Urbanisation, plotting, building – in this order,” he said, explaining that in many cities the order is reversed and it is difficult to solve the problems afterwards.

According to the U.N. Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), urban population grew from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014 and is expected to surpass six billion by 2045. Today there are 28 mega-cities worldwide and by 2030 at least 10 million people will live in 41 mega-cities.

A U.N. report shows that urban settlements are facing unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges, and spontaneous urbanisation often results in slums.

Although the proportion of the urban population living in slums has decreased over the years, and one of the Millennium Development Goals achieved its aim of improving the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers, the absolute number has continued to grow, due in part to the fast pace of urbanisation.

The same report estimates that the number of urban residents living in slum conditions was 863 million in 2012, compared to 760 million in 2000.

“In the past urbanisation was a slow-cooking dish rather than a fast food thing,” Clos said.

“We have seen it in multiple cases that spontaneous urbanisation doesn’t take care for the public space and its relationship with the buildable plots, which is the essence of the art of building cities,” he added.

The former mayor of Barcelona for two mandates, Clos thinks that a vision is needed to build cities. And when he says building cities, he does not mean building buildings, but building healthy, sustainable communities.

Relinda Sosa is the president of National Confederation of Women Organised for Life and Integrated Development in Peru, an association with 120,000 grassroots members who work on issues directly affecting their own communities to make them more inclusive, safe and resilient. They run a number of public kitchens to ensure food security, map the city to identify issues that may create problems, and work on disaster prevention.

“Due to the configuration of the society, women are the ones who spend most time with the families and in the community, therefore they know it better than men who often only sleep in the area and then go to work far away,” Sosa told IPS.

“Despite their position, though, and due to the macho culture that exists in Latin America, women are often invisible,” she added. “This is why we are working to ensure they are involved in the planning process, because of the data and knowledge they have.”

The link between the public and elected leaders is crucial, and Sosa’s organisation tries to bring them together through the participation of grassroots women.

Carmen Griffiths, a leader of GROOTS Jamaica, an organisation that is part of the same network as Sosa’s, told IPS, “When access to basic services is lacking, women are the ones who have to face these situations first.

“We look at settlements patterns in the cities, we talk about densification in the city, people living in the periphery, in informal settlements, in housing that is not regular, have no water, no sanitation in some cases, without proper electricity. We talk about what causes violence to women in the city,” Griffiths added.

As the chief of UN-Habitat told IPS, it is crucial to protect public space, possibly at a ratio of 50 percent to the buildable plots, as well as public ownership of building plans. The local government has to ensure that services exist in the public space, something that does not happen in a slum situation, where there is no regulation or investment by the public.

Griffiths meets every month with the women in her organisation: they share their issues and needs and ensure they are raised with local authorities.

“Sometimes it happens that you find good politicians, some other times they just want a vote and don’t interface with the people at all,” she added.

Griffiths also sits on the advisory board of UN-Habitat, to voice the needs of her people at the global level and then bring the knowledge back to the communities, she explained.

These battles are bringing some results, especially in the urban environment. Sosa said that women are slowly achieving wider participation, while in rural areas the mindset is still very conservative.

About the relationship between urban and rural areas, Maruxa Cardama, executive project coordinator at Communitas, Coalition for Sustainable Cities & Regions, told IPS that an inclusive plan is needed.

Cities are dependent on the natural resources that rural areas provide, including agriculture, so urban planning should not stop where high rise buildings end, she explained, adding that this would also ensure rural areas are provided with the necessary services and are not isolated.

Although they will not be finalised until 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) currently include a standalone goal dedicated to making “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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On Sri Lanka’s Tea Estates, Maternal Health Leaves a Lot to Be Desiredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/on-sri-lankas-tea-estates-maternal-health-leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:08:53 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136823 A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A pregnant woman waits in line for a medical check-up. Health indicators for women on Sri Lanka’s tea estates are lower than the national average. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
COLOMBO, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

A mud path winds its up way uphill, offering views on either side of row after row of dense bushes and eventually giving way to a cluster of humble homes, surrounded by ragged, playful children.

Their mothers either look far too young, barely adults themselves, or old beyond their years, weathered by decades of backbreaking labour on the enormous tea estates of Sri Lanka.

Rani* is a 65-year-old mother of six, working eight-hour shifts on an estate in Sri Lanka’s Central Province. Her white hair, a hunched back and fallen teeth make her appear about 15 years older than she is, a result of many decades spent toiling under the hot sun.

She tells IPS that after her fifth child, overwhelmed with the number of mouths she had to feed, she visited the local hospital to have her tubes tied, but gave birth to a son five years later.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority." -- Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California
Though she is exhausted at the end of the day, and plagued by the aches and pains that signal the coming of old age, she is determined to keep her job, so her children can go to school.

“I work in the estates so that they won’t have to,” she says with a hopeful smile.

Her story is poignant, but not unique among workers in Sri Lanka’s vast tea sector, comprised of some 450 plantations spread across the country.

Women account for over 60 percent of the workforce of abut 250,000 people, all of them descendants of indentured servants brought from India by the British over a century ago to pluck the lucrative leaves.

But while Sri Lankan tea itself is of the highest quality, raking in some 1.4 billion dollars in export earnings in 2012 according to the Ministry of Plantation Industries, the health of the labourers, especially the women, leaves a lot to be desired.

Priyanka Jayawardena, research officer for the Colombo-based Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, tells IPS that “deep-rooted socio-economic factors” have led to health indicators among women and children on plantations that are consistently lower than the national average.

The national malnutrition rate for reproductive-age mothers, for instance, is 16 percent, rising to 33 percent for female estate workers. And while 16 percent of newborn babies nationwide have low birth weight, on estates that number rises significantly, to one in every three newborns.

A higher prevalence of poverty on estates partly accounts for these discrepancies in health, with 61 percent of households on estates falling into the lowest socio-economic group (20 percent of wealth quintile), compared to eight percent and 20 percent respectively for urban and rural households.

Other experts say that cultural differences also play a role, since estate populations, and especially tea workers, have been relatively isolated from broader society.

“Many women are uneducated, and tend to be careless about their own health, and the health of their children,” a field worker with the Centre for Social Concern (CSC), an NGO based in the Nuwara Eliya district in central Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

“They have a very taxing job and so spend less time thinking about food and nutrition,” she states.

In fact, as Jayawardena points out, only 15 percent of under-five children on estates have a daily intake of animal protein, compared to 40-50 percent among rural and urban populations.

The same is true for daily consumption of yellow vegetables and fruits, as well as infant cereals – in both cases the average intake among children on estates is 40 percent, compared to 60 percent in rural and urban areas.

Breastfeeding patterns are also inadequate, with just 63 percent of estate workers engaging in exclusive breastfeeding for the first four months of a child’s life, compared to 77 percent in urban areas and 86 percent in rural areas, according to research conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies.

The situation is made worse by the demands of the industry. Since many women are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day, few can afford to take the required maternity leave.

But even when alternatives are provided by the estate management, experts say, a lack of awareness and education leaves children without proper attention and care.

Jayawardena tells IPS that almost half of all women on estates drop out of school after the primary level, compared to a national dropout rate of 15 percent. Literacy levels are low, and so even awareness campaigns often fail to reach the targeted audience.

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many female estate workers are daily wage labourers, earning approximately 687 rupees (just over five dollars) each day. Credit: Anja Leidel/CC-BY-SA-2.0

“Women on the estates do not believe they have many options in life beyond working on the plantations,” the CSC field officer says.

“Most are extremely poor, and from childhood they are exposed to very little – there are hardly any playgrounds, libraries, gathering places or social activities on the estates. So they tend to get married early and become mothers at a very young age.”

Though the national average for teenage pregnancies stands at roughly 6.4 percent, it shoots up to ten percent among estate workers, resulting in a cycle in which malnourished mothers give birth to unhealthy babies, who will also likely become mothers at a young age.

“If women are the primary breadwinners among the estate population, generating the bulk of household revenue in a sector that is feeding the national economy, then maternal health should be a priority,” Mythri Jegathesan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Santa Clara University in California, tells IPS.

“Any form of agricultural labour is hard on the body, and many of the estate workers in Sri Lanka work until they are seven or eight months pregnant. They need to be acknowledged, and more attention given to their wellbeing and health,” she adds.

Several NGOs and civil society organisations have been working diligently alongside the government and the private sector to boost women’s health outcomes.

According to Chaaminda Jayasinghe, senior project manager of the plantation programme for CARE International-Sri Lanka, the situation is changing positively.

The emergence of the Community Development Forum (CDF) introduced by CARE in selected tea estates is providing space and a successful model for inclusive development for estate communities, he tells IPS.

This has already resulted in better living conditions and health outcomes among estate communities while mainstreaming plantation communities into the larger society.

*Not her real name.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

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Saving the Lives of Cameroonian Mothers and their Babies with an SMShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/saving-the-lives-of-cameroonian-mothers-and-their-babies-with-an-sms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saving-the-lives-of-cameroonian-mothers-and-their-babies-with-an-sms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/saving-the-lives-of-cameroonian-mothers-and-their-babies-with-an-sms/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 08:23:01 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136820 According to an African proverb, “every woman who gives birth has one foot on her grave.” Cameroonians are attempting to make this proverb a historical fact and not a present reality through SMS technology. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

According to an African proverb, “every woman who gives birth has one foot on her grave.” Cameroonians are attempting to make this proverb a historical fact and not a present reality through SMS technology. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Sep 23 2014 (IPS)

“You can’t measure the joy in my heart,” Marceline Duba, from Lagdo in Cameroon’s Far North Region, tells IPS as she holds her grandson in her arms.  

“I am pretty sure we could have lost this child, and perhaps my daughter, if this medical doctor hadn’t shown up,” Duba says, a smile sweeping her face.

The medic in question is Dr Patrick Okwen. He is the coordinator of M-Health, a project sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that uses mobile technology to increase access to healthcare services to communities “when they most need it.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that a nurse or doctor should see a maximum of 10 patients a day. But according to Tetanye Ekoe, the vice president of the National Order of Medical Doctors in Cameroon, “the doctor-to-patient ratio in Cameroon stands at one doctor per 40,000 inhabitants, and in remote areas such as the Far North and Eastern Regions, the ratio is closer to one doctor per 50,000 inhabitants.”

Okwen was in Lagdo testing out the SMS system, which was just implemented a few months back, when Duba’s daughter, Sally Aishatou, went into labour.

Okwen and the medical staff at the Lagdo District Hospital received an SMS from Aishatou. She had been in labour for 48 hours with no signs that the baby was about to come.

“What happens when a woman SMSes a particular number, the GPS location blinks on the server, and then the server tries to identify her location, puts it on Google maps; then tells the driver to go there. [The system] also tells the doctor to come to the hospital; tells the nurses to get ready. So everybody gets into motion,” he tells IPS.

Okwen and the ambulance driver traced Aishatou to her home. They found her lying helpless on a mat, almost passed out. By the time the ambulance returned to the hospital, the operation room was ready for her and she was taken into surgery immediately.

Eight minutes later, her 4.71 kg baby boy was born. The midwife Manou nee Djakaou tells IPS: “The joy in me is so great that I don’t even know how to express it. I am so exited; very happy. This system put in place is very efficient. But for this innovation, we stood to lose this baby and its mother.”

Two hours after surgery, Aishatou regained consciousness and named her boy after Okwen.

According to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), out of every 100,000 live births 670 women in Cameroon die. UNICEF figures also state that for every 1,000 live births, 61 infants died in Cameroon in 2012.

“Many women are dying from child-birth related issues. Women are dying while giving life. And this is something we are really concerned about, but we also know that with the coming of mobile technology, there is hope for women in Africa,” Okwen says.

“Most of the women in Africa today have access to a telephone. It could be her own, her husband’s own, or a neighbour’s. So if we had a way in which women could reach an ambulance using a phone that would guide the ambulance, it could indeed present hope for African women,” he explains.

Okwen says the project has benefitted “close to one hundred women in terms of information, evacuation, arrangements of hospital visits, deliveries and caesarean sections.”

The project has been dubbed “Tsamounde”, which means hope in the local Fufuldé language.

Mama Abakai, the Mayor of Lagdo, says the project’s impact has been far reaching.

“A lot of our sisters, wives and mothers in rural areas lose their lives and suffer a lot, because there is a communication gap, and a problem of rapid intervention and assistance. With this system, it suffices to send an SMS or a simple beep, and all the actors involved in saving lives are mobilised…its formidable,” Abakai tells IPS.

Dr. Martina Baye of Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health calls the project a “revolution in Cameroon’s health care delivery system.”

She says that as a majority of women in the country’s far North Region have little access to healthcare services, the M-Health Project comes as a huge relief.

According to the 2010 Population census, the Far North Region has a population of three million people, 52 percent of whom are women.

“We look forward to using this technology in other parts of the country,” she tells IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at: https://www.facebook.com/ngala.killian

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Mongolia’s Poorest Turn Garbage into Goldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mongolias-poorest-turn-garbage-into-gold/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:28:51 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136793 Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

Products made from collected garbage provide a new source of livelihood for many in the “gur districts” (urban outskirts) of Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Credit: Jonathan Rozen/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
ULAANBAATAR, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Ulziikhutag Jigjid, 49, is a member of a 10-person group in the Khan-Uul district on the outskirts of Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar, which is producing brooms, chairs, containers, and other handmade products from discarded soda and juice containers.

“In the early morning we collect raw materials from the street, and then we spend the morning making products,” Jigjid told IPS. At four o’clock in the evening, she heads off to her regular job at a meat company.

The creation of her group’s business, and others like it, are part of an initiative called Turning Garbage Into Gold (TG2G), developed and supported by Tehnoj, an Ulaanbaatar-based non-governmental organisation.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day…This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages." -- Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia
Founded in 2007, this organisation supports the creation of small businesses based on the sale of handcrafted products.

Defining itself as a “business incubator centre” for small and medium-sized businesses, Tehnoj estimates that it has organised trainings for approximately 30,000 people across Mongolia, through various projects.

The TG2G project is currently operational in three of Ulaanbaatar’s outer districts: Khan-Uul, Chingeltei and Songino Khairkhan, and includes 20 production groups of around five to six people each.

“The goal of this project is to recycle products and reduce unemployment,” Galindev Galaariidii, director of Tehnoj, told IPS.

The NGO receives its funding from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP)’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Innovation Fund, a new U.N. initiative to support innovative programmes that “provide the creative space and discretionary resources to prototype innovative solutions and experiment with new ways of working to tackle complex development challenges outside the traditional business cycle,” Thomas Eriksson, UNDP’s deputy resident representative in Mongolia, explained to IPS.

The Innovation Fund is currently supporting the creation of programmes in 32 countries and helps promote environmental sustainability and inclusive economic and social development, key components of the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Waste management and pollution are major problems in Mongolia, especially in the urban outskirts. With extremely limited infrastructure and a general lack of governmental resources, Galaariidii explains that 90 percent of garbage from these areas ends up on the street.

“Ulaanbaatar produces about 1,100 tons of solid waste every day… This poses health risks to the population of the city and causes environmental damages,” said Eriksson.

According to UNDP, over 10,000 households move to Ulaanbaatar every year. “Unfortunately, the migrant population [find it difficult to gain employment] and obtain access to already strained social services,” Eriksson continued.

The TG2G programme aims to mitigate the waste management issues while also tackling social inequalities by empowering the less fortunate members of some of Mongolia’s poorest communities.

According to World Bank data for 2012-2013, Mongolia’s poverty rate stood at 27.4 percent of its population of 2.9 million people.

Finding jobs in the landlocked country, comprised of some 1.6 million square km, of which only 0.8 percent is arable land, is no easy task. While the mining sector has led rapid economic growth over the last decade, with growth touching 16 percent in the first quarter of 2012, not everyone has benefitted. In fact, the unemployment rate in 2012 was roughly 11 percent.

“We target Ulaanbaatar’s poorest areas with high unemployment,” Galaariidii explained to IPS. “We focus on two main groups: women [often mothers of disabled children], and the unemployed.”

The programme currently focuses on training groups in the creation of six main products: brooms, chairs, foot covers (often used for walking in temples or schools), picnic mats, waterproof ger (yurt) insulation sheets and containers of all sizes.

But new product designs are constantly being created. Oven mitts, bags, hats and aprons are just a few of the new forms of merchandise being developed.

“Our technology design is improving day by day,” said Galaariidii. For example, where zippers once secured the fabric covers of chairs, now elastic rings are used.

Presently, city cleaning teams are testing products with the potential for a government contract, and soda-bottle-broom orders are already coming in from hairdressers in Ulaanbaatar.

Communities involved in the TG2G programme seem to have a fresh sense optimism about the future.

Unrolling a large hand-drawn poster, Jigjid and two other group members – Baguraa Adiyabazar, 54, and Baasanjav Jamsranjav, 37 – explained how they plan to use the funds they earn from selling their products.

They want to build a kindergarten school, achieve full employment in their area, build a chicken farm, expand their ability to grow their own food and increase the availability of cars. There are even plans to allot a certain amount of the money towards a savings account, which can then be used to make small loans within the community.

“We plan to have more registration for the projects and more training programmes,” Jigjid explained. “[Eventually] we want to replace products that are imported from other countries.”

Beyond the material level, the programme is also having a positive impact on the mentality of the community.

“We have a mission to become more creative,” Jigjid continued. “Now as a group we have a goal.”

Next year Jigjid will retire from her job with the meat company and focus on building their product development into a successful business.

“I will have something to do,” she said happily. “I can see my future is secure.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kenya’s Ogiek Women Conquer Cultural Barriers to Support their Familieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/kenyas-ogiek-women-conquer-cultural-barriers-to-support-their-families/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 08:16:31 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136786 Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

Mary Ondolo, 50, shows a package of honey made by the Ogiek women and packaged and refined by the Mariashoni Community Development, a community-based organisation. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS

By Robert Kibet
NAKURU COUNTY, Kenya, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Just two years ago, Mary Ondolo, a 50-year-old mother of nine from Kenya’s marginalised, hunter-gatherer community, the Ogiek, used to live in a grass thatched, mud house. She’d been living there for decades. 

But thanks to a donation of livestock and equipment she has now been able to send four of her children local universities and collages and has been able to build a timber home for her family.

“I and my husband, apart from our subsistence farming, used to earn extra income through casual labour,” Ondolo, who is from the small village of Mariashoni, in the Mau Forest, which lies near Nakuru in Kenya’s Rift Valley and is about 206 kilometres northwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, told IPS.“I no more rely heavily on my husband for basic household needs. In fact, my husband has numerous times asked for my help financially." -- Agnes Misoi, member of the Ogiek hunter-gatherer community

For decades Ondolo and the women of her community had been denied opportunities, choices, access to information, education, and skills, which was compounded by the cultural perception that women are mere housewives.

According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues report, historically, hunter-gatherer communities have been and still remain the most marginalised sections of society on the continent.

But two ago, a donation livestock and equipment made to Ondolo and a few other women in her community, changed their lives by giving them a steady financial income and, as a result, a role in decision making.

At the time, Ondolo had been trying to get the other Ogiek women to form groups in order to pool their resources and rear poultry together.

“It all started with merry-go-round after I visited one of my friends outside our locality. And having realised the many problems we women of the minority Ogiek community origin face, compounded by the deeply-rooted culture and gender disparity, I mobilised 30 women [in a savings cooperative].

“Members would put their monthly money contribution into a common pool,” Ondolo said, adding that members were entitled to borrow loans for as little as Ksh. 500 (five dollars).

Her idea, which attracted the attention of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Programme (OPDP), a local NGO with close links to the community’s issues, soon led to the life-changing donation.

“Having learnt of our organised poultry rearing groups, OPDP in partnership with Kenya Community Development Foundation [KCDF] helped us start poultry and beekeeping enterprises,” Ondolo said.

So in 2012, in the small village of Mariashoni, a group of 80 women gathered at an open field surrounded by the indigenous Mau Forest to receive improved indigenous chicks, poultry-rearing equipment and feed.

OPDP had received about 22,000 dollars in funding from KCDF, which it used to purchase the livestock and equipment.

Honey-harvesting equipment and 40 beehives were also given to the Langam Women’s Group and Ogiek Women’s Empowerment Group. The women were also given skills training.

Ondolo said that, at first, the women who engaged in beekeeping had to overcome their own community’s cultural barriers against women earning an income. But now, she said, they all are major contributors to their families.

“My husband’s source of income comes from small subsistence farming. But thanks to the beekeeping project, I have been able to help my husband pay school fees for our children two are in university and two are in college currently, and the others are in primary and secondary school,” Ondolo said.

She is also now a lead member of the Langam Women’s Group.

“Without any sense of power whatsoever, their participation in decision-making is minimal, both at home and in the community,” Daniel Kobei, a member of the OPDP and the Ogiek community, told IPS.

Jane Rotich, a member of Ogiek Women Beekeeping Empowerment Group agreed. “Practical and cultural barriers limited the participation of us Ogiek women in decisions affecting our community, aspects of our public life, as well as in economic progress and development,” she told IPS.

In Nessuit location, about 10km from Mariashoni, Agnes Misoi, 30, was also a beneficiary of the poultry project. She currently owns over 60 chicken, having sold some to pay for the education of her two high school children.

She told IPS that prior to the introduction of the poultry project, she relied mostly on her husband — a subsistence farmer.

“I no more rely heavily on my husband for basic household needs. In fact, my husband has numerous times asked for my help financially of which I have been able to assist,” said Misoi, adding that she normally accumulates about 200 eggs in a month, which she sells for about 24 dollars.

And her husband, Samuel Misoi, has been grateful for her financial support.

“Nowadays, [my wife] is the one assisting me during financial difficulties. She helped me purchase timber for completion of our new house,” he told IPS, pointing at a three bed-roomed timber house under construction.

Fanis Inganga, a gender officer with OPDP, told IPS that the project brought great changes to the Ogiek women’s attitude, as they were now more confident to work and contribute to the economic and social betterment of their families and community.

To maximise profits and lock out brokers, the women only sell their honey to the Ogiek Beekeepers Association, which is affiliated to Mariashoni Community Development (MACODEV), a community-based organisation that refines and packages the honey into a final product.

MACODEV’s chairman Martin Kiptiony said that the women’s groups have ignited a great challenge to the men who used to consider themselves as only ones fit to engage in beekeeping.

However, poor road network bars the women’s groups from accessing readily-available markets. Instead they have to sell their packaged honey and poultry products at public gatherings in the locality. A 250ml tin of Ogiek Pure Honey sells for three dollars.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted at kibetesq@gmail.com or on twitter @Kibet_88

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OPINION: Invest in Young People to Harness Africa’s Demographic Dividendhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-invest-in-young-people-to-harness-africas-demographic-dividend/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 22:09:25 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136771

Julitta Onabanjo is Regional Director, UNFPA East and Southern Africa. Benoit Kalasa is Regional Director, UNFPA West and Central Africa. Mohamed Abdel-Ahad is Regional Director, UNFPA North Africa and Arab States.

By Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

Different issues will be competing for the attention of different African leaders attending the 69th United Nations General Assembly Special Session on International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Beyond 2014 in New York on Sep 22.

But the central question for Africa’s development today is this: How do we harness the dividend from the continent’s current youthful population?

Solving this issue has never been more fundamental to Africa’s development than it is today.

For decades many, African countries have come up with a variety of ‘development’ plans. But often missing in these documents is how best to harness the potential of the youthful population for the transformation of the continent.

Therefore, strategic investment to harness the potential of the youth population can no longer wait.“African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights”

The groundswell for change

Africa is undergoing important demographic changes, which provide immense economic opportunities. Currently, there are 251 million adolescents aged 10-19 years in Africa compared with 1.2 billion worldwide, which means that around one in five adolescents in the world comes from Africa.

Africa’s working age population is growing and increasing the continent’s productive potential. If mortality continues to decline and fertility declines rapidly, the current high child dependency burden will reduce drastically. The result of such change is an opportunity for the active and employed youth to invest more.  With declining death rates, the working age population in Africa will increase from about 54 percent of the population in 2010 to a peak of about 64 percent in 2090.

This increase in the working age population will also create a window of opportunity  that, if properly harnessed, should translate into higher economic growth for Africa, yielding what is now termed a ‘demographic dividend’ – or accelerated economic growth spurred by a change in the age structure of the population.

Reaping the demographic dividend requires investments in job creation, health including sexual and reproductive health and family planning, education and skill and development, which would lead to increasing per capita income.

Due to low dependency ratio, individuals and families will be able to make savings, which translate into investment and boost economic growth. This is how East Asian countries (Asian Tigers) were able to capitalise on their demographic window during the period 1965 and 1990.

The impact of such a demographic transition on economic growth is no longer questionable – it is simply a fact.

But this transformation requires that appropriate policies, strategies, programs and projects are in place to ensure that a demographic dividend can be reaped from the youth bulge.

Seizing the moment

Without concerted action, many African countries could instead face a backlash from the growing numbers of disgruntled and unemployed youth that will emerge.

In the worst-case scenario, such a demographic transition could translate into an army of unemployed youth and significantly increase social risks and tensions.

To seize the opportunity, African states will need to focus their investments in a number of critical areas. A priority will be the education and training of their youth.

African governments must know that efforts to create a demographic dividend are likely to fail as long as vast portions of young females are denied their rights, including their right to education, health and civil participation, and their reproductive rights.

If these efforts are to succeed, this will demand addressing gender disparities between today’s boys and girls especially, but more specifically, addressing the vulnerabilities of the adolescent girl.

Beyond rhetoric

As we move toward the post-2015 development agenda, unleashing the potential and power of Africa’s youth should be a critical component of the continent’s developmental strategies, as reflected in the Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development – the regional outcome of ICPD beyond 2014 – and the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda.

This can no longer be reduced to election or political polemics. It requires urgent action.

Young people are central to the realisation of the demographic dividend. It is therefore important to protect and fulfil the rights of adolescents and youth to accurate information, comprehensive sexuality education, and health services for sexual and reproductive well-being and lifelong health, to ensure a productive and competitive labour force.

Africa cannot afford to squander the potential gains of the 21st Century offered by such an important demographic asset:  its youthful population.

Edited by Ronald Joshua

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Georgia’s Female Drug Addicts Face Double Strugglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 09:27:33 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136769 By Pavol Stracansky
TBILISI, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

Irina was 21 when she first started using drugs. More than 30 years later, having lost her husband, her home and her business to drugs, she is still battling her addiction.

But, like almost all female drug addicts in this former Soviet state, she has faced a desperate struggle not only with her drug problem, but with accessing help in the face of institutionalised and systematic discrimination because of her gender.

“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated,” she told IPS. “And this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there.”

Women make up 10 per cent of the estimated 40,000 drug users in Georgia, according to research by local NGOs working with drug users.“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated and this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there” – Irina, now in her 50s, who has been taking drugs for 30 years

However, because of very strong gender stereotyping, women users have very low access to harm reduction services – only 4 percent of needle exchange programme clients are women and the figure is even less for methadone treatment.

Local activists say this startling discrepancy is down to the massive social stigma faced by women drug users.

Dasha Ocheret, Deputy Director for Advocacy at the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) told IPS: “In traditional societies, like Georgia’s, there is a much stronger negative attitude to women who use drugs than to men who use drugs. Women are supposed to be wives and mothers, not drug users.”

Many female addicts are scared to access needle exchanges or other harm reduction services because they fear their addiction will become known to their families or the police. Many have found themselves the victims of violence as their own families try to exert control over them once their drug use has been revealed. Others fear their drug use will be reported to the authorities by health workers.

Registered women drug users can have their children taken away while they routinely face violence – over 80 percent of women who use drugs in Georgia experience violence, according to the Georgian Harm Reduction Network– and extortion at the hands of police helping to enforce some of the world’s harshest drug laws. Possession of cannabis, for example, can result in an 11-year jail sentence.

Irina, who admits that she arranges anonymous attendance at an opioid substitution therapy (OST) programme so that as few people as possible can see her there, told IPS that she had herself been assaulted by a police officer and that police automatically viewed all female drug users as “criminals”.

But those who do want to access such services face further barriers because of their gender.

Free methadone substitution programmes in the country are extremely limited and because levels of financial autonomy among women in Georgia are low, other similar programmes are too expensive for many female addicts.

Discrimination is not uncommon among health service workers. Although some say that they have been treated by very sympathetic doctors, other female drug users have complained of abuse and denigration by medical staff and in some cases being denied health care because of their drug use.

Pregnant women are discouraged from accessing OST, despite it being shown to be safe in pregnancy and resulting in better health outcomes for both mother and child.

Eka Iakobishvili, EHRN’s Human Rights Programme Manager, told IPS: “Pregnant women don’t have access to certain services – they are strongly advised by doctors and health care workers to abort a baby rather than get methadone substitution treatment because they are told the treatment will harm the baby.”

While some may then undergo abortions, others will not, instead continuing dangerous drug use and the potential risk of contracting HIV/AIDS which could then be passed on to their child.

Meanwhile, those harm reduction services accessible by women are not gender-sensitive, according to campaigners, who say that female drug users need access to centres and programmes run and attended only by women.

Irina told IPS: “On some [harm reduction] programmes, the male drug users there will abuse the women drug users for taking drugs. This puts a lot of women off attending these programmes.”

She said that she had asked for a women-only service to be set up at the OST centre she attends but that it had been rejected on the grounds that only a few women were enrolled in it.

Together, these factors mean that many women are unable to access health services and continue dangerous drug-taking behaviour, sharing needles and injecting home-made drug cocktails made up of anything, including disinfectants and petrol mixed with over the counter medicines.

But there is hope that the situation may be about to change, at least to some degree, as local and international groups press to have the problem addressed.

At the end of July, CEDAW (UN Commission on Elimination of Discrimination against Women) released a set of recommendations for the Georgian government to ensure that women obtain proper access to harm reduction services after local NGOs submitted reports on the levels of discrimination they face.

These include, among others, specific calls for the government to carry out nationwide studies to establish the exact number of women who use drugs, including while pregnant, to help draw up a strategic plan to tackle the problem, and to provide gender-sensitive and evidence-based harm reduction services for women who use drugs.

The government has yet to react publicly to the recommendations but local campaigners have said they are speaking to government departments about them and are preparing to follow up with them on the recommendations.

Tea Kordzadze, Project Manager at the Georgian Harm Reduction Network in Tibilisi, told IPS: “We are hoping that at least some of the recommendations will be implemented.”

The Georgian government has been keen to show the country is ready to embrace Western values and bring its legislation and standards into line with European nations in recent years as it looks to create closer ties to the European Union. Rights activists say that this could come into play when the government considers the recommendations.

Iakobishvili said: These are of course just recommendations and the government is not obliged at all to accept or implement any of them. But, having said that, Georgia does care what other countries and big international rights organisations like Amnesty International and so on say about the country.”

Irina told IPS that only outside pressure would bring any real change. “The European Union, the Council of Europe and other international bodies need to put pressure on the Georgian government to make sure that the recommendations don’t remain on paper only.”

But, she added, “in any case, the recommendations alone won’t be enough. The whole attitude in society to women drug users is very negative. It has to be changed.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Urged to Reaffirm Reproductive Rights in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-n-urged-to-reaffirm-reproductive-rights-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 21:32:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136747 Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to family planning services. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

The U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda has been described as the most far-reaching and comprehensive development-related endeavour ever undertaken by the world body.

But where does population, family planning and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) fit into the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an integral part of that development agenda?"We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life." -- Purnima Mane, head of Pathfinder International

Of the 17, Goal 3 is aimed at “ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages,” while Goal 5 calls for gender equality and the “empowerment of all women and girls.”

But when the General Assembly adopts the final list of SDGs in September 2015, how many of the proposed goals will survive and how many will fall by the wayside?

Meanwhile, SRHR will also be a key item on the agenda of a special session of the General Assembly next week commemorating the 20-year-old Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994.

In an interview with IPS, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) said, “Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girs and young people, including their reproductive rights.

“But the battle is not over,” he said.

“Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda, and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development,” he declared.

Purnima Mane, president and chief executive officer of Pathfinder International, told IPS, “We are delighted the final set of [proposed] SDGs contains four critical targets on SRHR: three under the health goal and one under the gender goal.”

The inclusion of a commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes, is necessary and long overdue, she said.

“But we have not reached the finish line yet,” cautioned Mane, who oversees an annual budget of over 100 million dollars for sexual and reproductive health programmes in more than 20 developing countries.

The SDGs still need to be adopted by the General Assembly, “and we must all continue to raise our voices to ensure these SRHR targets are intact when the final version is approved,” she added.

Mane said civil society is disappointed these targets are not as ambitious or rights-based as they should be.

“And translating the written commitment into actionable steps remains a major challenge and is frequently met with resistance. We must retain our focus on these issues,” she said.

Sivananthi Thanenthiran, executive director of the Malaysia-based Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW) working across 17 countries in the region, told IPS it is ideal to have SRHR captured both under the gender goal as well as the health goal.

The advantages of being part of the gender goal is that the rights aspects can be more strategically addressed – because this is the area where universal commitment has been lagging – the issues of early marriage, gender-based violence, harmful practices – all of which have an impact on the sexual and reproductive health of women, she pointed out.

“The advantages of being part of the health goal is that interventions to reduce maternal mortality, increase access to contraception, reduce sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are part and parcel of sound national health policies,” Thanenthiran said.

It would be useful for governments to learn from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) process and ensure that the new goals are not implemented in silos, she added. “Public health concerns should be addressed with a clear gender and rights framework.”

Maria Jose Alcala, director of the secretariat of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD, told IPS what so many governments and stakeholders around the world called for throughout the negotiations was simply to affirm all human rights for all individuals – and that includes SRHR.

The international community has an historic opportunity– and obligation — to move the global agenda forward, and go beyond just reaffirming agreements of 20 years ago as if the world hasn’t changed,and as if knowledge and society hasn’t evolved, she noted.

“We know, based on ample research and evidence, based on the experiences of countries around the world, as well as just plain common sense, that we will never achieve poverty eradication, equality, social justice, and sustainable development if these fundamental human rights and freedoms are sidelined or traded-off in U.N. negotiations,” Jose Alcala said.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a must and prerequisite for the post-2015 agenda “if we are to really leave nobody behind this time around,” she declared.

Mane told IPS, “As the head of Pathfinder, I will actively, passionately, and strongly advocate for SRHR and family planning to be recognised and aggressively pursued in the post-2015 development agenda.”

She said access to SRHR is a fundamental human right. “We must continue to fight until every individual, everywhere on this planet, is given the opportunity to live a healthy and sexual reproductive life. ”

Asked about the successes and failures of ICPD, Thanenthiran told IPS there is a need to recognise the progress so far: maternal mortality ratios and infant mortality rates have decreased, access to contraception has improved and life expectancy increased.

However, much remains to be accomplished, she added. “It is apparent from all recent reports and data that SRHR issues worldwide are issues of socio-economic inequality.”

In every country in the world, she noted, women who are poorer, less educated, or belong to marginalised groups (indigenous, disabled, ethnic minorities) suffer from undesirable sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

Compared to their better educated and wealthier sister citizens, these women and girls are more likely to have less access to contraception, have pregnancies at younger ages, have more frequent pregnancies, have more unintended pregnancies, be less able to protect themselves from HIV and other sexual transmitted diseases, suffer from poor maternal health, die in childbirth and suffer from fistula and uterine prolapse.

Hence the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda is also the equality agenda of this century, she added.

“Governments must commit to reducing these inequalities and carry these learnings from ICPD at 20 into the post-2015 development agenda,” Thanenthiran said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Geographical Divide in Maternal Health for Syrian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 15:17:22 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136741 A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
DOHUK, Iraq, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the largest refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, young Syrian mothers and pregnant women are considered relatively lucky.

The number of registered Syrian refugees surpassed 3 million in late August, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (over 1.1 million), Turkey (over 800,000), and Jordan (over 600,000). In all of the above, serious concerns have been expressed about the availability of healthcare services for expectant mothers.

In Lebanon, for example – which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, 76 percent of whom are women and children – the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) last year had to reduce its coverage of delivery costs for mothers to 75 percent instead of 100 percent, due to funding shortfalls.Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare

The Domiz camp in the northern Dohuk province houses over 100,000 mostly Syrian Kurds, but is in a geographical area with a 189 percent coverage rate of humanitarian aid funding requests in 2014. The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (SHARP) has received only 33 percent of the same.

Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare.

This does not necessarily equate with quality healthcare, however. Halat Yousef, a young mother that IPS spoke to in Domiz, said that she had been told after a previous birth in Syria that she would need a caesarean section for any subsequent births.

On her arrival at the Dohuk public hospital, she was instead refused a bed, told to come back in a week and that she would have to give birth normally. They also told her she had hepatitis.

Fortunately, she said, her husband realised the seriousness of the situation and took her to the capital, where they immediately performed a C-section and found that she was instead negative for hepatitis. IPS met her as she was leaving healthcare facilities set up in the camp, holding her healthy 10-day-old infant.

Until recently, many mothers would also simply give birth in their tents. On August 4, Médicins San Frontiéres (MSF) opened a maternity unit in the camp that offers ante-natal check-ups, birthing services headed by MSF-trained midwives and post-natal vaccinations provided by staff who are also refugees.

Information on breastfeeding and family planning advice is also provided, according to MSF’s medical team leader in the camp, Dr Adrian Guadarrama.

MSF estimates that 2,100 infants are born in the camp every year, and others to refugees living outside of it.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has long been providing safe delivery kits to healthcare providers. It also works to prevent unwanted pregnancies and provides contraceptives to those requesting them, thereby ensuring that pregnancies are planned, wanted and safer.

The clean delivery kits contain a bar of soap, a clear plastic sheet for the woman to lie on, a razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a sterilised umbilical cord tie, a cloth (to keep the mother and baby warm) and latex gloves.

UNFPA humanitarian coordinator Wael Hatahet told IPS that so far the programmes in Iraqi Kurdistan for Syrian refugees had received enough funding to cover the necessary services, and this was why ‘’the situation is no longer an emergency one for Syrians here’’.

Hatahet said that he gives a good deal of credit to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which – despite having seen a major cut in public funds from the central government as part of a prolonged tug-of-war between the two – continues to support Syrian refugees coming primarily from the fellow Kurdish regions across the border.

Many residents expressed dissatisfaction to IPS about what they considered ‘’privileged treatment’’ given to Syrian refugees while the massive influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that have arrived in the region over the past few months – after the Islamic State (IS) extremist group took over vast swathes of Iraqi territory in June – are seen to be suffering a great deal more.

Even Hatahet, who is of Syrian origins himself, noted that he had seen ‘’Iraqi IDPs wearing the same set of clothes for the past 15 days’’.

‘’We obviously try to support with garments and dignity kits,’’ he said, ‘’but it’s really, really sad.’’

However, he also noted that ‘’almost all the IDP operations are supported by the Saudi Fund [for Development]’’ totalling some 500 million dollars and announced in summer, ‘’which was strictly for IDPs and not refugees.’’

Hatahet expressed concerns that a broader shift in focus to Iraqi IDPs might result in a loss of the gains made in this geographical area of the Syrian refugee crisis, urging the international community to remember that ‘’we have 100,000 refugees scattered within the host community’’ and not just in the camps.

The Turkish office of UNFPA told IPS that, in its area of operations, ‘’it is estimated that about 1.3 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey, of which only one-fifth of them are staying in camps due to limited space. 75 percent of the refugees are women and children under 18 years old.’’

It pointed out that ‘’women and girls of reproductive age under conditions of war and displacement are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, early and forced marriage, high-risk pregnancies, unsafe abortions, risky deliveries, lack of family planning services and commodities and sexually transmitted diseases.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Can ‘Womenomics’ Stem the Feminisation of Poverty in Japan?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/can-womenomics-stem-the-feminisation-of-poverty-in-japan/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:32:24 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136724 Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

Women now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third largest economy and fastest-aging society. Credit: S. H. isado/CC BY-ND 2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Fifty-four-year-old Marlyn Maeda, an unmarried freelance writer living in Tokyo who never held a permanent job, is now watching her dream of aging independently go up in smoke.

“I work four jobs and barely survive,” said the writer, who disclosed only her penname to IPS. Her monthly income after writing articles, working at a call centre, selling cosmetics five days a week and working one night at a bar hovers at close to 1,600 dollars.

Maeda belongs to the burgeoning ranks of the poor in Japan, a country that saw its poverty rate pass the 16-percent mark in 2013 as a result of more than two decades of sluggish growth that has led to lower salaries and the cutting of permanent jobs among this population of 127.3 million people.

She also represents an alarming trend: rising poverty among women, who now comprise the majority of the poor and old in Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and fastest-aging society.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment." -- Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’
Indeed, Maeda points out her pay is now a low 50 dollars per article, down from the heady era of the 80s and 90s when she earned at least three times that rate.

Japan defines the poverty threshold as those earning less than 10,000 dollars per year. The elderly and part-timers fall into this category, and Maeda’s hard-earned income, which places her slightly above the official poverty line, nonetheless keeps her on her toes, barely able to cover her most basic needs.

“When the call centre cut my working days to three a week in June, and payment for freelancers [dropped], I became really worried about my future. If I fall sick and cannot work, I will just have to live on the streets,” Maeda asserted.

After paying her rent, taxes and health insurance, she admits to being so hard-pressed that she sometimes borrows from her aging parents in order to survive.

Maeda’s story, which echoes the experience of so many women in Japan today, flies in the face of government efforts to empower women and improve their economic participation.

In fact, a sweeping package of reforms introduced earlier this year by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was met with skepticism from gender experts and advocates, who are disheartened by the myriad social and economic barriers facing women.

Dubbed ‘Womenomics’ in line with Abe’s economic reform policies – based on anti-deflation and GDP-growth measures that earned the label ‘Abenomics’ in early 2013 – the move calls for several changes that will pave the way for Japanese women, long discriminated in the work place, to gain new terms including equal salaries as their male counterparts, longer periods of childcare leave and promotions.

Given the fact that 60 percent of employed women leave their jobs when starting a family, Abe has promised to tackle key barriers, including increasing the number of daycare slots for children by 20,000, and upping the number of after-school programmes by 300,000 by 2020.

Another target is to increase women’s share of leadership positions to 30 percent by that same year.

Writing about the scheme in the Wall Street Journal last September, Abe claimed the government growth plan could spur a two-percent increase in productivity over the middle to long term, which in turn could lead to an average two-percent increase in inflation-adjusted GDP over a 10-year period.

“We have set the goal of boosting women’s workforce participation from the current 68 percent to 73 percent by the year 2020,” Abe wrote, adding, “Japanese women earn, on average, 30.2 percent less than men (compared with 20.1 percent in the U.S. and just 0.2 percent in the Philippines). We must bridge this equality gap.”

But for experts like Hiroko Inokuma, a gender researcher focusing on the challenges facing working mothers, this is a “tall order”, especially in the light of “growing job insecurity, which is already leading to dismal poverty figures among women.”

Indeed, the numbers paint a grim picture: one in three women between the ages of 20 and 64 years of age and living alone are living in poverty, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), a leading Tokyo-based think tank.

Among married women, the poverty figure is 11 percent and counts mostly older women whose husbands have died. Almost 50 percent of divorced women have also been identified as grappling with poverty.

In addition, the poverty rate was 31.6 percent among surveyed working women, compared to 25.1 percent among men.

Health and Welfare Ministry statistics indicate that Japan is now registering record poverty levels; the year 2010 saw the highest number of welfare recipients in the last several decades, with 2.09 million people, or 16 percent of the population, requiring government assistance.

Against this backdrop, Akiko Suzuki, of the non-profit ‘Inclusive Net’, which supports the homeless, explained to IPS that Abe’s proposed changes and targets are highly illusive.

“After years of working with low-income people, I link the increase in females grappling with poverty to the rising number of part-time or contract jobs that are replacing full-time positions in companies,” she said.

The nursing industry, for instance, employs the highest number of part-time employees in Japan, of which 90.5 percent are women.

Inclusive Net reports that women currently comprise 20 percent of the average 3,000 people per month actively seeking support for their economic woes, up from less than 10 percent three years ago.

“We have women who are desperate. Because they do not hold secure jobs, they endure searing problems such as domestic violence or workplace harassment,” said Suzuki.

Japan has 20 million temporary workers, accounting for 40 percent of its workforce. Females comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary.

Aya Abe, poverty researcher at the NIPSSR, told IPS that poverty among women has been a perennial problem in Japanese society, where they traditionally play second fiddle to men.

“For decades women have managed to get by despite earning less because they had earning husbands or lived with their parents. They also lived frugally. The recent poverty trend can then be related to less women getting married or being stuck in low-paid, part-time or contract work,” she stated.

A highlight of the prime minister’s gender empowerment proposals is the plan to remove a sacred tax benefit for husbands that also protects their working spouses who earn less than 10,000 dollars annually.

The tax was introduced in 1961 when Japan was composed of mostly single-income households led by male breadwinners under the life-term employment system.

Proponents say discarding the tax benefit will encourage women to work full-time while others argue this could increase women’s vulnerability by stripping them of a crucial social safety net.

While the political debate rages on, hundreds of thousands of Japanese women are struggling to make it through these dark days, with no sign of a silver lining. According to experts like Suzuki, “An aging population and unstable jobs means the feminisation of poverty is here to stay.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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