Inter Press Service » Women’s Health News and Views from the Global South Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Civil Society Under Serious Attack Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Women’s Health Takes Center Stage at UN Population Awards Fri, 24 Jun 2016 15:38:18 +0000 Aruna Dutt By Aruna Dutt

Social Scientist, Carmen Barroso and Polish Organisation, Childbirth in Dignity received the United Nations Population Awards here Thursday for their outstanding work in population, improving individuals’ health and welfare, and specifically for their decades-long leadership in women’s rights.

“I dedicate this award to anonymous health providers everywhere, who day in and day out help women to exercise their rights and preserve their health,” said Barroso on accepting the award.

Barroso has been actively involved in reproductive health and population issues for more than forty years. She was selected for her leadership in developing programmes, funding and policies related to sexual and reproductive health and rights and for mobilising the voices of people in the South around those issues.

In 1966, Sao Paulo, Brazil, a country rising under the weight of a military dictatorship, Barroso was a 22 year old college student living off of her husband’s meagre salary. Committed to achieving social justice, they did not plan to start a family for many years, and had a very important vision of their future.

On birth control for a long time, she was becoming uncomfortable with the hormones she was putting into her body. A doctor offered her an alternative: IUDs. When she started, she began having copious periods of painful cramps, but she decided to wait in hope they would go away. But they didn’t. One day, she missed her period.

She froze with horror: “All of a sudden, the castle of my future came crashing down.”

At the time, abortion was a taboo subject. She never thought it was something that would happen to her, but now she knew that was what she wanted, and went to the doctor.

He performed the abortion, telling her to keep it secret and cover it up as a miscarriage.

“I would not be here today if it weren’t for the courage of a doctor operating under restrictive laws. Because of him, we were able to live the future we dreamed of.”

Later Barroso became a senior researcher with the Chagas Foundation, where she pioneered innovative evaluation methods and later created Brazil’s first and foremost women’s studies center, despite protest from colleagues who saw it as an “imperialistic import of feminist ideology.”

Dr. Barroso became the first non-American to be appointed as director in the US MacArthur Foundation, and she recently resigned from her tenure as Director of Planned Parenthood International, Western Hemisphere.

Childbirth in Dignity Foundation

Twenty years ago in Poland, pregnant women had little freedom to choose the environment in which they gave birth. Lack of privacy, loneliness and inadequate support were the rule, with women having to go through mandatory episiotomies, and other arcane procedures such as not having time with their newborn child immediately, or having their significant other in the room during childbirth, made the experience far from joyful, in fact, humiliating in many cases.

A nationwide campaign, “Childbirth with Dignity” which empowered women to share their stories, caught international attention, causing government legislative action like Perinatal and Postnatal Care Standards in line with World Health Organization (WHO) standards. Partners are now allowed in the delivery room, mothers can have visitors, and newborns are able to breastfeed, being placed in the mother’s arms to bond right after being born making childbirth an easier experience for mothers.

Childbirth in Dignity Foundation was awarded for their strong advocacy and support of the rights of women and newborns for over 20 years, and for empowering women, as patients, to demand their rights in relation to childbirth.

Both laureates were chosen from among several international nominees, by the Committee for the United Nations Population Award chaired by Paraguay, and including Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Haiti, Iran, Israel and Poland. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) serves as secretariat for the award.

Past laureates selected by the Committee included individuals and organizations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Dr. Allan Rosenfield, the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and the Population Council.

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Let 5-year-old Sherry Tell You How Handwashing with Soap Saves Lives Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:59:11 +0000 Myriam Sidibe and Siddharth Chatterjee Dr Myriam Sidibe is the Social Mission Director for Africa at Unilever. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya and the UN Resident Coordinator a.i.]]> Eunice, an expectant mother in Migori County in Kenya.  Photo Credit: Lifebuoy

Eunice, an expectant mother in Migori County in Kenya. Photo Credit: Lifebuoy

By Dr Myriam Sidibe and Siddharth Chatterjee
Migori County, Kenya, Jun 24 2016 (IPS)

For twenty-six year old Eunice from Migori County,Kenya, celebrating her daughter Sherry’s fifth birthday is a milestone that few of her friends have enjoyed. As with many areas of Africa, a child born in Migori is seven times more likely to die before the age of five, compared to a child in Europe.

Despite recent gains in improving maternal and child survival rates in Africa, the continent still rates the lowest in the world. In Kenya, child mortality stands at 52 per 1000 live births and more than 6000 mothers die every year giving birth

For many mothers like Eunice, the survival of a baby is often a hit or miss , four in ten newborn babies die within the first 28 days of life. These first days are when newborns are highly susceptible to infections such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and septicaemia, which require hospital treatment or intensive care in severe cases.

With almost one third of women in Kenya giving birth away from health facilities, it is easy to see how the odds of survival are poor. Due to different factors such as infrastructure and culture, many mothers opt to deliver their babies in less than hygienic conditions.

The same factors that drive child deaths around the country are similarly keeping maternal mortality rates high in counties like Migori. A recent survey by The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners showed that Migori is one of only six counties responsible for about half of Kenya’s maternal mortality burden.

A remarkably sad fact is that many of these deaths could be prevented by the simple intervention of providing proper hygiene facilities. According to statistics, nearly 1,000 children die each day due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases.

Just getting a child to reach five years has been associated with overall improved child survival rates, and this is why corporates like Lifebuoy have moved to inspire the simple life-saving habit of handwashing with soap.

Lifebuoy has released their latest Help a Child Reach 5 film which will be broadcast in Migori as part of the campaign to raise awareness on the importance of handwashing with soap, a habit that experts have called ‘the world’s best vaccine’.

The data on this highly affordable habit cannot be more astounding. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), only three in ten households in the country have a place for hand washing. In western Kenya where Migori County is located, this figure is even lower.

Combining this practice with low cost interventions such as immunisation, family planning, delivery under skilled care, early initiation of and exclusive breastfeeding and umbilical cord care are promising solutions that can reduce up to 70 percent of newborn deaths.

A report by several partners including the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and UNFPA recently called for better coordination between those promoting water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes and the maternal health sector. It is a message that must continue to be advocated not only to mothers, but also to those in health care who handle mothers and infants.

More than 150 years ago, a Swiss doctor Ignasz Semmelweiss found that poor hand hygiene of healthcare providers correlated with an increase in postpartum infections among mothers. Studies that are more recent have shown that simply handwashing with soap during critical occasions in new born care can reduce new born deaths by up to 44 percent.

Handwashing with soap offers protection against pandemic flu, SARS, trachoma and parasitic worm infections. It keeps children in school and reduces infections that mothers and babies may contract during delivery and postnatal care. AIDS patients who wash their hands with soap regularly report significantly less cases of diarrhoea.

Access to good hygiene, including handwashing with soap, is an important indicator in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The fact is that there is a lot of ground to be covered, not only in households but also in our health facilities. A WHO report last year for instance found that 38% of healthcare facilities in 54 low-income countries are without a decent water source.

It is time to begin seeing the provision of clean water and sanitation not only as delivery of hygiene infrastructure, but also as an essential part of infection prevention and therefore a simple way to improve quality of care for mothers and newborns.

The First Lady of Kenya, Her Excellency Margaret Kenyatta, launched the ‘Beyond Zero Campaign’ to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies in Kenya. UNFPA Kenya called on government officials, donors and civil society partners to commit resources towards improving maternal and newborn care in the country. However, the challenge remains: how do counties in Kenya implement measures on a large scale?

It therefore calls for effective partnerships between central governments, local governments NGOs and the private sector. Such strategic public-private partnerships will enable the governments to tap into the expertise and efficiencies offered by the private sector.

There are numerous collateral gains from improved maternal and child survival rates, not least being the confidence for parents that pregnancy and childbirth is not a gamble with the life of the mother or baby.

It will mean that girls like Sherry can be joined by many of their peers in celebrating their fifth birthdays, looking forward to joining school, to making many friends, and to growing up healthy and happy.

After all, this is what all parents would wish for their children.

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Bringing Back Our Girls Is Not The End of The Story Thu, 23 Jun 2016 21:08:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt 0 Mixed Progress at UN on Rights of Persons with Disabilities Tue, 21 Jun 2016 04:25:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 The Paradox of Refuge: Rise of Gender-Based Violence in Times of Crisis Mon, 20 Jun 2016 15:59:48 +0000 Rose Delaney2 A Syrian refugee woman. In spite of the fact that women and girls make  up over half of the world's 18 million refugees, little attention or  resources have been dedicated to meeting their needs. Although all  refugees face health and security risks, women are susceptible to  additional problems such as violence as a result of their gender. Credit: IPS

A Syrian refugee woman. In spite of the fact that women and girls make up over half of the world's 18 million refugees, little attention or resources have been dedicated to meeting their needs. Although all refugees face health and security risks, women are susceptible to additional problems such as violence as a result of their gender. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Since the outbreak of war in 2011, 9 million Syrians have fled from their homeland, creating one of the gravest migrant crisis’ the world has ever seen. However, what happens to these vulnerable migrants once they secure the refuge they so perilously seek? Can refuge really bring safety to all? Or is ‘the refugee camp’ nothing more than the creation of another war, in this case, fought against one’s own troubled people. Particularly, for those who are traditionally stigmatized, such as women and girls.

In Lebanon, many Syrian women and girls bear the burden of the trauma their communities now carry. From the witnessing of ruthless warfare to the relentless struggle to secure a place of refuge, emotional scars run deep within the displaced psyche. As a result, many have identified a rise in intimate partner violence (IPV), early marriage and survival sex since arriving at the camps. In many cases, women and young girls have been used as commodities, providing sexual favours to men in order to cover the cost of living for their families. As one refugee explained in a focus group discussion , “And if you want help from other NGOS’ you should send your daughter or your sister or sometimes your wife, with full make-up on so you can get anything, I think you understand me”. (*)

The increase of domestic and sexual violence within these temporary settlements is not unique to the Syrian refugee crisis. With over 18 million of the refugee population being made up by women and girls, the increase of gender-based violence within these communities is a critical global issue. In spite of its severity, little attention is paid to the plight of refugee women and their struggle for safety. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states that data on violence against women, are few and limited in scope. In most refugee camps, there is no effective reporting system, and there is still uncertainty about how to respond to such reports from victims, which in turn, leaves them with little or no protection, and more susceptible to acts of sexual and domestic violence.

As one Palestinian refugee commented on the conditions for females in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp between 2003-2006 “It was better during the war“.(**) According to Nduna S. Goodyear, refugees, especially women, are made vulnerable to violence at every stage of their quest for safety. Reports of Burundi refugee women in the established camp of Kenembwa in Tanzania recounted acts of violence perpetrated by policemen, soldiers, fellow refugees and husbands, with one woman even describing a case of rape by a nongovernmental security staff member within the camp. In a survey conducted by the International Rescue Committee, 79% of the Afghan women interviewed reported being beaten by their husbands in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Jeff Crisp’s study on the security in Kenya’s refugee camps describes one case of a woman and her infant who were detained for seven days in a cell her offense; being found guilty of committing adultery. These are amongst the few examples of the thousands of gender-based acts of violence being committed on a daily basis in refugee camps everywhere.

Experts say the root cause of this violent epidemic which targets women in refugee settlements links back to masculinity. In what is known as “heightened male vulnerability” caused by bearing witness to torture, violence and rape many men feel helpless and isolated. As a result, they suffer from low self-esteem, stemming from the failure to protect their families, which, in turn, leads them to assert a negative form of masculinity upon relatives and other female refugees in the camps. Their feelings of powerlessness and frustration are reflected in the beatings, rape and other forms of violence they perpetrate against women. Ghida Anani recorded one Syrian man’s description of senseless violence against his wife “When my wife asks me for vegetables or meat to prepare food, I hit her. She does not know why she was hit, neither do I”.(***) In this sense, The wounds of war are still freshly open for these displaced men, whose defeated psyches have resulted in grave implications on their female counterparts.

Although many international organizations have been working on reducing gender-based violence in refugee camps across the world, many have proved ineffective due to the decentralized nature of their services. With limited resources, a lack of information and a rising number of unreported cases of sexual and domestic violence, the future looks grim for displaced women and girls, the most vulnerable group in these communities plagued by feelings of anger and loneliness. It is clear that if these pressing issues of gender violence continue to be kept in the shadows, millions of refugee women and girls will never obtain the information provision, awareness raising, and health and psychological services they so desperately need.


(*) Roula El Masri, Clare Harvey and Rosa Garwood, Shifting Sands: Changing gender roles among refugees in Lebanon, ABAAD- Resource Center for Gender Equality and OXFAM, 2013.

(**) Latif, Nadia. ‘It was better during the war': narratives of everyday violence in a Palestinian refugee camp. Feminist Review, 2012

(***) Roula El Masri, Clare Harvey and Rosa Garwood, Shifting Sands: Changing gender roles among refugees in Lebanon, ABAAD- Resource Center for Gender Equality and OXFAM, 2013.

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The 50 Essential Products That Could Help People With Disabilities Wed, 15 Jun 2016 23:03:05 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Governments Slow to Respond to Elder Abuse Wed, 15 Jun 2016 04:47:28 +0000 Toby Porter 0 AIDS Meeting Was Bold but Disappointing, Organisations Say Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:37:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

A Rainbow flag is displayed in the window of the United States Mission to the United Nations during LGBT Pride Month. Credit: Phillip Kaeding / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Though the High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS ended with the adoption of bold and life saving targets, many organisations have expressed their disappointment in its outcomes.

During the meeting, the international community adopted a new Political Declaration that lays down the groundwork to accelerate HIV prevention and treatment and end AIDS by 2030.

UN member states committed to achieving a 90-90-90 treatment target where 90 percent of people living with HIV know their status, 90 percent who know their HIV status are accessing treatment and 90 percent of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads. Reaching the treatment target will prevent 75 percent of new infections and ensure that 30 million people living with HIV (PLHIV) have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020.

Though many organisations that IPS spoke to were encouraged by the commitments, they also expressed concern and disappointment in the Declaration’s shortfalls.

“I think what the high level meeting showed us was the gap between reality and politics at the UN,” said International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) Director of Advocacy & Policy, Shannon Kowalski.

“The Political Declaration didn’t go far enough to address the epidemic that we face today,” she continued.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration." -- Shannon Kowalski

Many were particularly concerned with stripped and exclusionary language on so-called key populations in the document.

“When we saw in the Declaration that key populations were less mentioned than 5 years ago…it is a real setback,” Alix Zuinghedau from Coalition Plus, a French international union for HIV/AIDS organisations, told IPS.

Among these key populations is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Though the LGBT population continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, they are only mentioned once in the Declaration.

Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Lucica Ditiu told IPS that the document mentions vulnerable populations in relation to tuberculosis (TB), but that it should have been extended throughout the Declaration.

“We have a saying in my country: With one eye I laugh, with one eye I cry. Because that piece was missing,” she said.

The Declaration includes a target to reduce TB-related deaths among people living with HIV by 75 percent by 2020.

Amirah Sequeira, Associate Director of Health Global Access Project’s (GAP) International Campaigns and Communications, also noted the lack of language and commitment to decriminalize key populations including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers.

“The exclusion of commitments to decriminalize these populations will hold back the ability for the world to reach the bold new targets that the Declaration committed to,” she told IPS.

When asked about these concerns, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), one of the main organisers of the meeting, Luiz Lorres told IPS that this exclusion will impede efforts to achieve the 90-90-90 treatment target.

“I acknowledge that more needs to be done,” he said.

Organisations have also pointed to issues around financing.

Through the Declaration, governments have committed to increasing funds for HIV response to $26 billion per year by 2020, as estimated by UNAIDS. However, Sequeira noted that not only is there a $6 billion funding gap, but also donors tend to flat line or reduce funding despite pledges.

“[Reaching the goal] will not be possible if donors continue to do what unfortunately they have been doing which is flat lining or pulling back funding from global AIDS programs,” she told IPS.

Though she applauded the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s (PEPFAR) newly launched $100 million Key Populations Investment Fund, Sequeira stated that PEPFAR needs a $500 million increase each year between now and 2020 in order for the U.S. to provide its fair share of needed financing.

Zuinghedau told IPS that without additional funding to scale up programs for key populations, the goal to reduce infections and end AIDS will not be possible.

“It is very frustrating to see countries say, yes we want to end AIDS but we’re not going to add any more funding. It’s a contradiction,” she told IPS.

The government of Canada recently announced a pledge of almost US$615 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for the next three years, a 20 percent increase from its previous pledge.

Kowalski applauded the move, stating: “If Canada can do it, we know that other governments can do it as well.”

Though the Declaration highlights the need to increase domestic resources for countries’ own HIV response, Ditiu stressed the need to ensure that governments continue to invest in vulnerable groups because they are often the first ones to “fall between the cracks.”

She added that it is important to include key populations in the implementation of commitments.

Sequeira also urged for the implementation of strong accountability mechanisms to ensure that commitments are translated into effective responses.

Though the Political Declaration is not “perfect,” Kowalski noted that it provides the bare minimum required to take HIV response to the next level.

“If we are serious about ending AIDS, we need to go far beyond what is in the Political Declaration,” she said.

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Gender & Disability Mon, 13 Jun 2016 15:07:11 +0000 Rukhsana Shah By Rukhsana Shah
Jun 13 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Women with disabilities face triple discrimination the world over on the basis of disability, gender and poverty. They are the most marginalised of all population groups including men with disabilities. The negative stereotyping of women with disabilities puts them at greater physical risk as they are exposed to neglect, emotional abuse, domestic violence and rape.

The writer is a former federal secretary.

The writer is a former federal secretary.

According to the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programmes, 83pc of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, while the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in South Africa reports that these women are less able to escape abusive caregivers.

The 2011 World Report on Disability indicates that the global female disability prevalence rate is higher at 19.2pc against 12pc for men because women are discriminated against since birth in terms of nutrition, immunisation and medical interventions. The global literacy rate for women with disabilities is 1pc with only 20pc of them getting any rehabilitation services. They are paid less than their male counterparts at work, given fewer loans for education or self-employment, and face stronger barriers in accessing vocational training, leisure facilities and justice.

With these global givens, it is not surprising that in Pakistan where being female itself is debilitating, women with disabilities live at the very peripheries of society, differentiated and unequalised by a culture that is patriarchal, religiously obscurantist and anti-women. The family, community, institutions and the state — the touchstones of human civilisation — are arrayed against them. Seventy per cent live in rural areas in the most appalling conditions where even provision of rehab services and assistive devices is discriminatory, making everyday living a challenge in itself.

Disabled women languish in the darkest corners.

Disability should not be a stigma, but accepted as a natural human condition by all the protagonists — people with disabilities, families, communities, civil society and the government. Last year, Madeline Stuart became the world’s first model with Down’s syndrome to appear on the catwalk at the New York Fashion Week. Television channels and social media networks should use social marketing to influence social behaviours and raise awareness about disability in collaboration with educational institutions, while women’s groups should initiate membership drives focusing on women with disabilities in order to empower them.

A great deal of work has been done at the international level under the aegis of the UN to create a comprehensive legislative and policy framework for a rights-based and barrier-free inclusive society.

Apart from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ESCAP has taken a number of initiatives, among which are the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action and Biwako Plus Five, the Bali Declaration adopted by Asean, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, the Beijing Declaration on Disability-Inclusive Development, and the Incheon Strategy, to accelerate action during the current Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013–2022.

The Incheon Strategy also mandates member states to report triennially on the progress made on its time-bound and measurable goals.

Despite these international commitments and provisions in Articles 25, 37 and 38 of the Constitution, women with disabilities continue to languish in the darkest spaces in Pakistan, uncounted and uncared for. It is imperative for the government to take visible and affirmative action to ensure that its image at least in the international community is not further tarnished due to inaction on this front. A high-profile policy dialogue with organisations representing people with disabilities should be arranged to discuss legislative and implementation mechanisms in line with UN conventions and the Incheon strategy, along with the formation of a specific parlia¬mentary body to carry out this task.

There is no data on persons with disabilities in Pakistan as no serious at¬¬tempt has been made since 1998 to conduct a census to assess their numbers. The government needs to initiate compilation of gender-disaggregated disability data, include the disability dimension in all policymaking and budgeting exercises, and encourage the private sector to promote disability-inclusive business practices.

It is not rocket science to advise public-sector banks to float disability-friendly loans, fix job quotas for women with disabilities, subsidise the use of new technologies, introduce tax rebates for their families as is being done in India, and make BISP conditional upon the safety, education and vocational training of the disabled. Instead of signal-free roads, the government should set up fully equipped community resource centres to provide them opportunities for mobility, training and leisure time.

However, at present, all federal government structures relating to these critical constitutional and human rights issues stand disempowered after the 18th Amendment. If the government wishes not to remain within the confines of Islamabad, it will need to reclaim its lost spaces by acknowledging its responsibilities towards this most marginalised of communities groups in the country.

The writer is a former federal secretary.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan, June 12th, 2016

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A Triple Threat in the Fight Against AIDS Thu, 09 Jun 2016 20:28:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 1 Reproductive Violence Tue, 07 Jun 2016 14:20:52 +0000 Tahir Mehdi By Tahir Mehdi
Jun 7 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Two things happened in Islamabad on the same day recently, one pertaining to the Council of Islamic Ideology and the other to Pemra, the electronic media regulator. CII sanctioned `lightly beating` of wives and Pemra banned (and then partially withdrew) advertisements of contraceptives.

The two seemingly unrelated events have more than their timing in common. Their relationship is intriguing and intense and covered by the same ignorance that so many in our society defend in the name of religion and culture.

But before I dilate on the link between the two, let me first contradict the maulanas who topped their shenanigans by declaring that wife-beating does not exist in our beloved country which is inhabited by pious Muslims. It not only exists, it is rampant.

There is no doubt that this areais understudied and lacks specific data and information but whatever little is available makes it evident that wifebeating is the rule and not an exception. A small study (which I helped to conduct) a few years ago in two villages of central Punjab revealed that two in every three women were beaten by their husbands.

A quarter of them were not only slapped, boxed and shoved but beaten with sticks and shoes at a frequency of `often` to `regularly`. Nine of the 190 women who were interviewed reported having bled at least once as a result of being beaten, and seven had one of their bones broken in a single bout.

If these horrendous statistics could be extrapolated to the 38 million or so married women of the country, the picture becomes extremely grave. But that`s not what one sees from the windows of the CII office in Islamabad.

Besides attempting to quantify the practice of wife-beating, information was also sought on the marriage age of respondents, the number and sequence of male and female children born and perceptions about who was at fault, what triggered the incidents, their mitigation strategy and which family member played what role during and afterthe act of violence. That`s where links between wife-beating and misplaced concepts about reproductive performance of the couple become evident.

As a rule, women in Pakistan are married young.

Young men entering a marriage are under pressure to produce evidence of their male prowess and what better proof than a pregnant wife? The young brides are thus expected to conceive immediately and if they fail owing to any natural or healthor age-related factor, the men take it as an affront.

There were incidents reported in the study when men started beating their wives for months after the marriage but stopped when the woman became pregnant.

The average Pakistani male`s understanding of sex and reproduction is at best at the level of what it used to be in the mediaeval ages. Male egos thrive in this sea of ignorance. It is impossible for them to accept that their wife`s failure to conceive can also be due to some reversible or irreversible problem at their end. It is the women who have always been faulted and who must bear the brunt.

Two middle-aged men in the study, who savagely beat their wives, took second wives as the first ones did not bear them any children, but their second wives remained issueless too.

When a bride is finally pregnant; her next `assignment`is to give birth to a male child. Women giving birth to girls first or to more girls than boys are considered inferior. Such women lose the sympathy of even their close circles and their `poor` husbands are seen justified in venting their frustration.

There was considerable difference in the pattern of violence involving women who were proud mothers of sons compared with those who bore only girls. No one has a clue about the scientific fact that it is the man who is responsible for whether the offspring will be male or female. This fact could only become part of common knowledge if talking about sex and sex education were not taboo.Almost half of the women (mostly in their 30s) beaten by their husbands reported that they were no longer beaten. But that comes when the man`s age is close to 40 and his children have reached adulthood. Most women of this group reporte d that when their husbands intend to beat them, their sons tell them not to. There were women in this group, however, who said that their husbands had stopped beating them as soon as the coveted male heir was born.

This, however, is not to say that the archaic understanding of reproductive matters is the sole instigator of such violence. But if the ego of a large section of Pakistani males is deconstructed, their poor understanding of sexual matters will be found as one of its important factors.

Ignorance breeds ignorance. Our young men and women have no institution to fall back on for guidance on such matters. Sex education in schools gets an even stricter rebuke from the authorities than the Pemra ban on contraceptive ads.

This chosen ignorance then becomes a huge market for quacks offering dangerous quick fixes and for `pirs` bestowing amulets and other more hazardous prescriptions. There is a reason why every village wall is painted with their advertisements.

A few vertical programmes related to reproductive health have attempted to raise communities` knowledge base but they too face stiff resistance from the guardians of public morality. These programmes are implemented by young worl

It is ironic that the acts that deprive them of this clout, damaging their cause, come from the highest level of government that is actually supposed to lead these campaigns with vigour and resolve.

The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in govemance and democracy

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Thailand Shows the Way Towards an HIV-Free World Tue, 07 Jun 2016 12:12:32 +0000 Dr Poonam Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh is the Regional Director of the South East Asia Region of WHO.]]>

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh is the Regional Director of the South East Asia Region of WHO.

By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh
NEW YORK, Jun 7 2016 (IPS)

Thailand has provided the world with an important milestone towards the global goal of ending pediatric AIDS. This week, the World Health Organization is formally declaring that Thailand has officially eliminated new HIV infections among children.

Whereas in 2000 an estimated 1000 children in Thailand were newly infected with HIV, in 2015 just – 85 children were infected with the disease. This very low level of new infection among children is comparable to the results achieved in North America and Western Europe, where mother-to-child HIV transmission is extremely rare.

Last year, Cuba became the first country to be officially acknowledged as having eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. This week’s landmark represents the first time that a country with a large HIV epidemic has reached this milestone for children. In Thailand today, 98% of all pregnant women living with HIV receive antiretroviral therapy, and the rate of mother-to-child HIV transmission is less than 2%. This is a remarkable achievement in a country where an estimated 450 000 people were living with HIV in 2014.

Several factors have contributed to Thailand’s extraordinary achievement. First, sustained success in preventing new HIV infections generally has reduced the burden of HIV among women of childbearing age. From 2000 to 2014, the annual number of women newly infected in Thailand fell from 15 000 to 1900 – an 87% reduction. That is a degree of prevention success that exceeds what has been recorded in most high-income countries.

Second, Thailand has established a solid framework for Universal Health Coverage. This means that essential health services are available to both rich and poor, making Thailand a pathfinder for Universal Health Coverage not only in the region but for the entire world.

Finally, Thailand has demonstrated a visionary commitment to equitable access. Like Thai citizens, immigrants are also covered for HIV treatment. In our increasingly connected and mobile world, withholding lifesaving health services solely based on one’s country of origin is both inhumane and contrary to basic principles of public health. Thailand’s commitment to equity reflects a response grounded in human rights that will leave no one behind.

Thailand’s success reflects much more than the story of one country. It also exhibits how the AIDS response has changed our world. For far too long, it was assumed that only the wealthiest countries would obtain immediate access to biomedical breakthroughs but that everyone else would wait years or even decades before benefiting from lifesaving technologies. Beginning with AIDS, though, low- and middle-income countries are attempting to guarantee the same standard of health as is available in the wealthiest countries. This is a tectonic shift in the history of global health, and this universal approach is fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Thailand’s achievement offers inspiration as we work towards the global goal of ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. National leadership, looking to science as the guidepost for action and involving affected communities have been central to what Thailand and other countries around the world have achieved thus far in our response to AIDS.

But the many gains that have been made in the AIDS response have also been possible because of transformative international partnerships – not only between the North and South but also South-South partnerships. Thailand has not only benefited from this partnership but has also served as a critical source of knowledge, learning and best practices on AIDS. Thailand has been the home of some of the most important HIV clinical trials and implementation studies, including with respect to prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Thailand’s early pioneering of condom promotion among sex workers has inspired effective HIV prevention measures all across the world – in both financially rich and not-so-rich countries. And as Thailand’s investments in health have placed it on track to achieve HIV treatment for all within the next several years, Thailand is showing the entire world what it takes to fully leverage antiretroviral therapy to reduce new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.

As the entire global community gathers this week in New York to agree on concrete commitments towards ending the AIDS epidemic once and for all, Thailand’s story also teaches us another important lesson. At the same time that we work towards achieving HIV treatment for all, we also need to keep the focus on prevention efforts that reduce the risk of HIV acquisition.

So while we congratulate and celebrate Thailand today, let us also pledge to use the lessons from Thailand’s experience to generate the same kind of achievements all across Asia and the entire world.

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LGBT Communities Silenced in HIV Reduction Efforts Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:54:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 Young African Women More Vulnerable to HIV Thu, 02 Jun 2016 04:14:20 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Time to Change Expectations: Zero Retribution to Zero Tolerance Wed, 01 Jun 2016 17:43:19 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The drugging, abduction and violent gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil calls us all to turn the tide of sexual violence against women and girls in Brazil and in every country in the world.

Her silence was broken by the men who boastfully posted their images of the rape, deepening her abuse by showing her body to the world, in the confident expectation of approval by their peers and impunity from punishment. This is Brazil’s moment to shake that confidence to its core and reassert the rule of law and its respect for human rights. This is the time for zero tolerance for violence against women and girls.

The men’s casual expectation of zero retribution reflects the impunity known by most rapists across the world. Their confidence illustrates a climate of normalized abuse, a culture of daily violence against women and girls, and a stark failure of justice. It is estimated that only 35 per cent of rape cases in Brazil are reported. Even so, the Brazilian police record a case of rape every 11 minutes, every day.

The men’s casual expectation of zero retribution reflects the impunity known by most rapists across the world.

The Brazilian teenager did not get medical attention until after her attack was made public. Fear, shame or hopelessness contribute to the gross under-reporting of sexual violence. Far too few women and girls are getting the help they need—and to which they are entitled—to support healing and protect them from unwanted pregnancy as well as from HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

One simple fact illustrates this: alongside the horrifically high rates of sexual violence experienced daily by women and girls in Brazil and throughout the region, 56 per cent of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean are unplanned or unintended. Women and girls need access to the full range of reproductive health services and rights at all times.

Attention to the critical lack of access to these services in Brazil and elsewhere has sharpened even further in the light of the unprecedented spread of the Zika virus. The risks are highest for the most vulnerable, who are unable to protect themselves adequately against infection, nor against unwanted pregnancy—especially in the context of rape. There has never been a more urgent time for action against sexual violence and for women and girls to be able to confidentially and easily access the health services they need. Both legal and medical structures need to be mobilized to deal with the cases that already exist and strong action taken to build comprehensive services for survivors.

This one case throws into stark relief the daily discrimination and intimidation experienced by women and girls, not just in Latin America, but all over the world. Violence against women and girls deeply damages our societies, our economies, our politics and our long-term global potential. It constrains lives, limits options, and violates human rights. In all its forms, from physical brutality against women human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in western Honduras in March, to the character assassination of female political figures, it plays out daily in visible and invisible ways, and diminishes us all. It is both why increased representation of women in leadership positions is so important, and why it is so difficult to achieve.

The intensity of protest in Brazil trending through social networks reflects the deep anger against the unrecognized or undeclared abuses that have suppressed or extinguished so many women’s lives. For so many years the struggle of women’s movements, only now governments share their vision of a world without violence by 2030. The young girl in the news commented: “It does not hurt the uterus, but the soul because there are cruel people who are getting away with it.”

Zero tolerance needs the full weight of the laws already in place to track down, prosecute and punish perpetrators. From the highest levels of government, through the police, lawyers and the courts, all need to act with renewed responsibility and accountability for what is happening to women and girls and understand its real cost and consequences.

Most important of all, this is a situation for every man and boy to consider, and to decide to take a stand to change and positively evolve the ‘machismo’ culture. This must not wait another day.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director.

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Banking on the Milk of Human Kindness Wed, 01 Jun 2016 13:16:30 +0000 Neeta Lal Despite severe malnutrition among children, which erstwhile Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh called a "national shame", India has still not prioritised breastfeeding. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Despite severe malnutrition among children, which erstwhile Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh called a "national shame", India has still not prioritised breastfeeding. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jun 1 2016 (IPS)

The recent launch of Amaara, New Delhi’s first human milk bank, has been greeted with much cheering. The initiative endorses the long-term goal of reducing infant mortality and addresses the critical issue of lack of mothers’ milk for physically fragile newborns in India’s capital city.

The service couldn’t have come a day too soon. India, a nation of 1.25 billion people, has the world’s highest number of low birth weight babies, with a critically high Neo-natal Mortality Rate (NMR) rate described as deaths in the period of 0-28 days per thousand live births. India witnessed 28 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013 and an Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) of 40 in the age 0-1 year per thousand live births according to the Annual Report of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Of the 26 million babies born in India every year, one million babies are blighted before they reach the age of one month. Despite reducing child mortality – from 2.3 million deaths of children under the age of five in 2001 to 1.4 million in 2012 – India still accounts for 20 percent of infant mortality globally.

Many of these needless tragedies can be avoided, say doctors, if the little ones are nourished with mother’s milk. “Feeding these babies with donor breast milk through milk banks can have the single largest impact on reducing child mortality,” says Bhavdeep Singh, CEO, Fortis Healthcare, a pan-India hospital chain which launched Amaara in collaboration with the Breast Milk Foundation.

Breast milk, described as ‘superfood’ for newborns, contains “bioactive components” which protect them against life-threatening illnesses, serious infections and other complications related to pre-term birth which commercially available formula milk can’t, say doctors. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that the best option for a baby who cannot be breastfed is milk expressed from its own or from another healthy mother. Children who are fed mother’s milk are also less vulnerable to certain non-communicable diseases and grow up to be better workers, says WHO.

“Keeping in mind the complications associated with formula feeding and some mothers’ inability to breastfeed, there’s a strong need to establish human milk banks. It’s a boon for high-risk newborns who are unable to receive the nurturing care a mother provides, ” adds Singh.

Donor banks collect, screen, process, store and prescribe donated human milk to babies who need such milk donated by lactating mothers not biologically related to them. The milk is either extracted manually or with breast pumps and collected by trained staff in labelled and sterile containers. It is transported to the banks under cold storage conditions, and immediately frozen at 20 degrees centigrade, after which a sample is taken for its culture. If the bacterial culture is negative, then the milk is pasteurized for future use.

Who can donate milk? Healthy lactating moms of term or preterm babies who are not on any medications, and have had no significant illnesses in the past or present, can do so. However, it is only the excess milk (milk obtained after fully feeding the donor’s own child) that can be donated.

According to the WHO and UNICEF, globally only 20 per cent of working women are able to breast feed their children – a must for at least for one to one-and-a-half years after birth. A study has indicated that babies not breastfed fall ill more often and have extra days of hospitalisation as well as extra prescriptions in the first year of their lives.

In developing countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and several others in the Southeast Asian region — where health resources are poor — the situation is especially dire.

Although globally human milk banking is a common practice, in India, only 14 such banks currently exist, as per the Indian Academy of Paediatrics. This compares poorly to other developing nations like Brazil. Brazil hosts 210 such banks which have helped reduce its malnutrition level by 73 per cent.

India’s poor record in this field is surprising because Mumbai was where the first mother’s milk bank in Asia was established in 1989. Experts attribute the paucity of this service to a lack of public awareness and promotion of formula milk by the industry.

Customs and changing social dynamics too play a catalytic role. “In the villages, it’s considered ominous to feed the child with the milk extracted from another woman,” says Anjali Yadav, a volunteer with Save the Child Foundation. “In the cities, we’re finding that women have become increasingly career-oriented. In their rush to rejoin work post-childbirth, their breastfeeding plans get aborted.”

Doctors caution that there are serious health ramifications for women who avoid breastfeeding. These women are apparently at a potential risk of developing cancer at a later stage in life. Studies have proved that mothers who suffer from breast cancer during the pre-menopausal period may have contracted this due to skipping breastfeeding. Women who usually breast feed in their early thirties are more protected as compared to those who do so later in life.

Pratibha Jain, 32, a new mother, has been making life-saving withdrawals for her daughter Kareena, who was born prematurely, from Divya Mother Milk Bank at the Panna Dhai Hospital in Udaipur in the desert state of Rajasthan.

“I’ve enough breast milk during daytime. But night feeds have been a challenge so I’ve to rely on donated bank milk,” she told IPS. “The donated milk has helped me save my only child’s life.”

Interestingly, though the concept of human milk banks is a relatively new one, donation of breast milk from one woman to an unrelated infant goes back centuries. Earlier, weak infants with mothers were breastfed by a “wet nurse”. Rules governing wet nursing came about in 1800 BC. However, by the 15th century, wet nursing became infamous due to the spread of syphilis.

Human milk banking has faced similar challenges largely due to the aggressive promotion of infant formula milk by the industry. In addition, since the 1970s, a fear of transmission of viruses, including HIV in body fluids, also created public anxiety about breast milk.

Despite severe malnutrition among children, which erstwhile Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh called a “national shame”, India has still not prioritised breastfeeding. Lack of legislation has only made matters worse. Currently the only law that regulates breastfeeding in India is the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) formulated in 1992 which prohibits advertisement of infant milk substitutes.

However, the lack of rigorous implementation of even this solo law has resulted in its violation by the industry players.

“Also, there’s been no proactive promotion of breast milk or milk banks by the government through mass sensitization campaigns,” Dr. Kirti Saxena, Senior Paediatrician, Max Hospitals, told IPS. “Initiatives such as milk banks are commendable, but unless they’re incorporated in national policy and rigorously enforced by all stakeholders, their impact will be limited. The future of our children is at stake.”

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Menstrual Hygiene Gaps Continue to Keep Girls from School Fri, 27 May 2016 21:16:02 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 UNFPA Funding Cuts Threaten Women’s Health in Poorer Nations Thu, 26 May 2016 18:22:31 +0000 Thalif Deen 1 County Governments in Kenya Must Take Lead in Fight for Gender Equality Sun, 22 May 2016 13:32:26 +0000 Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee Ms Tarja Fernandez, @fernandeztarja, is the Ambassador of Finland to Kenya. Siddharth Chatterjee @sidchat1, is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

Ambassador Tarja Fernandez speaks at the International Women’s Day on 08 March 2016. Photo Credit: Embassy of Finland, Kenya

By Ambassador Tarja Fernandez and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 22 2016 (IPS)

The 3rd Devolution Conference that took place in Meru, Kenya between 19 and 21st April was an opportunity to discuss how the post-2015 development agenda will be localized and how county governments will deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said that devolution is vital in helping the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And this is beautifully aligned to Kenya’s own Vision 2030, which is to create a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya with a high quality of life by 2030.

Devolution is all about inclusion and participation. Devolution is therefore also an opportunity to champion gender equality.

So the SDG goal number 5, is about, “Achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls” is one of the key drivers of sustainable development. Half of the population should not be left behind. Inclusion of women and girls must be at the core of the development plans will accelerate potential for economic growth and well-being of the societies at large.

In order to address gender and other inequalities county governments need to know about them.

As was evident with the Millennium Development Goals, data derived from national surveys tend to miss the marginal numbers and thus downplay serious regional disparities, as the averages used in reporting progress mask the suffering of many.

For instance, while national data indicates that Kenya’s total fertility rate is 3.9, parts of the country have a total fertility rate of up to 7.8. This represents women who have limited decision making power about when or if they should have children, for reasons ranging from lack of family planning information and services to religious and cultural practices.

The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS, 2014) indicates that the national prevalence of female genital mutilation is 21%. However, among the communities where the practice is still intractable, the rates go up to 98%.

Clearly, there are populations whose concerns are going unheeded.

It is the voices of such populations that county governments have an opportunity to amplify as they seek to find relevance for the SDGs.

How can this be done? By providing opportunities for women of all ages to participate in county planning and budgeting processes. Being aware of their rights and listening to their needs. Building county governments’ capacities to analyze gender issues and address them in the County Integrated Development Plans. Sensitizing men on the benefits of providing more space for women to participate decision making, both at home and in public spheres of life. Moreover, including men consistently in discussions related to gender equality.

For gender responsiveness to be met, the equity principle must underlie the identification of priorities, planning, budgeting and service delivery. Collecting county disaggregated data will be a key to identification of development needs, and culturally acceptable solutions. In addition, community participation will be crucial to ensuring that the voices of women and girls, the youth and the marginalized, will no-longer be left unheard.

Counties now have the opportunity to identify their own priorities and to design service delivery mechanisms suitable for local needs. Each county in Kenya has its own unique challenges and circumstances, but also the resources to solve its problems. Respecting and utilizing valuable local traditions that do not violate human rights can be a rich resource from which development plans can draw knowledge, legitimacy and participation.

Though recent surveys such as the DHS 2014 have quality data from the regions, the counties themselves need a lot of support to generate, access and utilize disaggregated data with measurable indicators. As observed recently by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, tackling inequalities and measuring progress towards sustainable development is constrained by a lack of core population data and under-developed capacity to use such data for development.

Changing entrenched gender inequalities is, however, not an easy task. There are deep social, economic and cultural forces that drive stereotyping and discrimination and these will not disappear without deliberate actions.

These actions by all counties are a key approach to nationalizing the SDGs, reducing inequalities, especially gender inequality, while unlocking the potential that women have for delivering sustainable change.

At the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14th-24th March 2016, President Kenyatta was among the 80 leaders that made commitments to advance gender equality and ensure equal opportunity. He said, “I’m convinced that our nations and the world stand to gain tremendously if we continue to embrace that progress for women is progress for us all. Investing in women is more than a matter of rights; it is the right thing to do.”

As development partners in Kenya we are committed to work with Government of Kenya and the county authorities to advance gender equality and empowerment.

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