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U.N. Audience Shocked by Sexual Health, Abortion Statistics

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 2015 (IPS) - Audible gasps echoed through the United Nations’ Trusteeship Council chamber on Tuesday, with audiences told the grim impacts of unsafe reproductive practices on women worldwide.

Hosted by the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development as part of the mammoth Commission on the Status of Women programme, the presentation on sexual and reproductive health described the stark reality for women who lack access to safe abortion or birthing procedures.

“There are 20 million women and girls who undergo unsafe abortion every year,” said Dr. Angela Diaz, Professor of Pediatrics and Preventative Medicine, and Director of the Adolescent Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital.

To gasps from the packed chamber, she detailed the extreme measures women have gone to when safe abortion is not available.

Inserting coathangers, sticks, bicycle spokes, knitting needles; ingesting toxic substances like laundry detergent or turpentine, or strong prescription drugs intended to treat diseases like malaria; throwing themselves down stairs or off roofs to induce trauma that leads to abortion; all because they have no access to safe legal options,” Diaz said.

“Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of death around the globe… every year 47,000 women and girls die from complications from unsafe procedures.”

Diaz also claimed 25 per cent of adolescent girls who check in to Mount Sinai have a history of childhood sexual abuse.

The panel of scholars, social workers and medical professionals emphasised the damaging effects of gender inequality and intrusion on women’s rights worldwide. Manre Chirtau, a young activist fighting for sexual health services in Nigeria and internationally, said there are 13 million births to girls between the ages of 15 and 19 each year.

Barbara Young, National Organiser at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, claimed only 27 per cent of work visas given to migrant workers are held by women, making migrant women wholly dependant on their husbands’ income for survival.

When they have no visa, it entraps them in abusive and exploitative situations, with little or no legal recourse, a lack of knowledge of their rights, language barriers,” Young said.

“Sexual and reproductive rights violations can happen as soon as they leave home… the fear of deportation compels them to stay with their abusers.”

While the panellists’ shocking statistics were met with disbelief and anger from the audience, closing speaker Dr. Gita Sen spelt out hope for the future, and how closing the gender gap could bring about a brighter future.

Adjunct Professor of Global Health and Population at Harvard University, and General Co-Ordinator of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), Sen said eliminating intimate partner violence would bring a US$4.4 trillion benefit to the globe.

“Closing the gender gap in labor force participants would raise global GDP [gross domestic product] by 12%… universal access to sexual and reproductive services would return US$120 for each $1 spent. That would yield US$400billion in annual benefits.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin


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