International Roundup: Abstinence Only Failures Continue While Real Solutions Underfunded

Ian

Melinda Gates (yes, that Gates) writes in Newsweek about the big wrench in entrenched thinking about abstinence-only education: increasingly, women in the developing world are at greater risk contracting HIV within marriage than from any other source. The best solution? In her mind, microbicides. Behavior change would be great, but in the meantime, microbicides would save the lives of millions...

Melinda Gates (yes, that Gates) writes in Newsweek about the big wrench in entrenched thinking about abstinence-only education: increasingly, women in the developing world are at greater risk contracting HIV within marriage than from any other source. The best solution? In her mind, microbicides. Behavior change would be great, but in the meantime, microbicides would save the lives of millions. Author Peter Gill takes out an Op-Ed in the New Scientist to take on PEPFAR, specifically, its over-emphasis on abstinence-only education and its destructive moralizing in its anti-prostitution and anti-drug use mandates for partners. And he reports a striking statistic: after a promise of 7 million prevented infections to this point, the Administration can only claim 42,000 to date, in part for legitimate difficulties in reporting. Still, the difference is striking. Pop singer Natalie Imbruglia gave an interview with CTV (Canada) about her work as spokesperson for UNFPA’s Campaign to End Fistula, bringing awareness to the fight against obstetric fistula in the developing world. She’s part of a widening awareness and effort to fight fistula, and news from the Daily Champion (Nigeria) echoes this: attendees to a recent conference are strongly urging the Lagos government to take a more pro-active role in strengthening its maternal health care capacity. Nigeria suffers from a high number of maternal mortality: a full 10% of the world’s maternal deaths occur in that country. Awareness of the flaws in ab-only education is rising along with awareness of the various reproductive health problems facing the developing world. Today, more news of how ab-only policies are failing makes the massive amounts of Bush Administration money committed to them look even more irresponsible. That is money wasted on pursuing an ideological goal entirely disconnected from reality, and it is money that could be much better used.

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Global Roundup: Rape Threat Relativity in South Sudan; Women Divorce Proudly in Nepal

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Nepali women learn about their right to divorce and increasingly do so; Argentina's new Gender Identity Law first in the world; Tanzania's President petitioned over contraception access; relativity in rape threats for women in South Sudan.

Nepal: More Divorce Means More Women Exercising Their Rights

Global Press Institute (GPI) reports on the complex evolution of Nepal’s divorce law over recent decades. An increased awareness of the law as it has changed, has compelled exponential number of women to seek divorces, they report. The number of cases filed in 2005 to 2006 was 640; from 2010 to 2011, there were 1,317 cases filed. Divorce was first legalized in Nepal in 1963, with the law was updated in 2002 to include additional grounds for divorce and implementing protective measures for women’s property ownership following divorce. GPI finds that it is easier for women to legally file for divorce than men, due to a difference in proceedings, yet not easier socially. Stigma around divorced women and single motherhood persist, and a 2011 governmental report found that property rights are rarely granted to women following divorce. Nonetheless, advocates have continued to push for expanded rights of women – for instance, a civil code bill introduced in 2011 makes marital rape grounds for divorce – while local NGOs continue to educate women broadly about their rights so that they are empowered and equipped to exercise them fully. Via Global Press Institute.

Argentina: Gender Identity Law Makes History

Last week, Argentina’s Congress approved – by a 55 to 0 margin – a Gender Identity Law that no longer requires trans individuals to go to court to legally re-assign their gender, and obligates health insurances companies from covering sex re-assignment surgery or hormone therapy on-demand. It’s a major breakthrough for the world on trans rights, but also for Latin America, a region traditionally known for macho attitudes. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010 under President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner. Though they are distinct, queer rights and reproductive rights often go hand in hand, or rather neck in neck, as litmus tests of a society’s ability to uphold human rights principles. While it’s amazing news, it’s notable that abortion is still quite restricted in Argentina. It would be great if the new Gender Identity Law would also support women, who want to identify as women, in exercising their sexual rights free from restriction. Moreover, while President Obama made a splash last week by coming out in support of same sex marriage in the US, women’s reproductive rights in the country continue to be whittled down by oppressive policies. Via Foreign Policy.

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Tanzania: Step it Up on Contraception Access

Several Members of Parliament (MPs), part of the Parliamentary Family Planning Club (sounds like an awesome club), have petitioned Tanzania’s President to specifically include a budget line for contraceptive supplies in the country’s five-year development plan. Not including specific and well-funded efforts to address access to contraception will undermine the government’s broader efforts to reduce maternal mortality, the petition says. This shouldn’t be a tough sell to President Kikwete, who is an internationally recognized champion on women’s health issues and sits on an elite advisory board for a major United Nations effort to improve women’s and children’s health. Increasingly, a specific focus on contraception access and supplies is seen as entirely critical to making any headway in reducing maternal, infant, and child deaths. It’s unfortunate that the case still needs to be made that ensuring adequate contraceptive supplies, and unfettered access to that supplies, is a major step in reducing maternal deaths and injuries, and importantly bestows the agency upon women that they seek to begin with – the control their own fertility and bodies. Via All Africa.

South Sudan: Less Rape in Refugee Camps Still “Safer” for Women

Working for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on the ground in South Sudan, women’s protection specialist Elizabeth Pender writes about the experience for women at the Yida refugee camp. The camp is home to 30,000 people, many of them women and children. New additions have fled outrageous sexual violence and threats in the Nuba Mountains, making those they almost certainly face within camps pale in comparison. It’s a “grim illustration of the conditions women and girls face at Yida camp that a place where they risk being raped every time they go to the market or beaten by their husbands every time they go home, is safe compared to where they came from,” Pender writes. The reports Pender and others are hearing are every bit as horrific, but not all together surprising: women being “taken” by military men as wives for indefinite amounts of time and brutal rapes committed in front of family members. Protection of women and girls is a major issue in the camps. Five hundred girls arrived from a boarding school without family members or teachers in tow to help guard against predators, and their mobility is paralyzed by the constant threat of rape. One solution has been to create an all-girls compound for safety, but the reality, writes Pender, has been, “overcrowding, not enough food, no bathing area, one latrine for every 100 girls, no gate and no guards.” As fighting persists along the South Sudan border, the issue of sexual violence and women’s rights is quickly becoming the central issue – if it was not already. Via Global Post.

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Global Roundup: Victory for Aung San Suu Kyi; Tracking Real-Time Rape in Syria

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Burmese democracy activist wins historic Parliament seat; the UN investigates honor killings in India; Open source rape tracking in Syria; and female condoms make a comeback in Nigeria.

Welcome to our new Weekly Global Reproductive Justice Roundup! Each week, reporter Jessica Mack will summarize reproductive and sexual health and justice news from around the world.  We will still report in depth on some of these stories, but we want to make sure you get a sense of the rest and the best.

In Myanmar, a Win for Women and for Democracy

Aung San Suu Kyi, an embattled democracy activist who spent more than two decades under house arrest, has won a groundbreaking election for a seat in Parliament. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), says it is on track to win 44 of the 45 seats in Parliament this week, signaling that while much work is left to be done, the wheels of democracy are once again turning in Myanmar. Suu Kyi is a pivotal figure in democracy, human rights, and women’s leadership. The daughter of a democracy activist, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and spent decades being watched, threatened, and oppressed by Burma’s military regime. Her husband, Michael Aris, died of prostate cancer in 1999. The Burmese Government refused to grant him entry before his death to visit Suu Kyi, who was on house arrest at the time. Although they agreed to let her leave to visit him, she felt sure it was a ploy to keep her out of the country and ultimately decided to stay. She said Aris had “sacrificed the companionship of his beloved wife for 10 years so that she could stand with her people in Burma to struggle for human rights and democracy.” Her story is phenomenal and it’s not over yet. Suu Kyi calls the latest elections “a step towards step one in democracy,” but it’s a step nonetheless. If you think Suu Kyi should be on the 2012 Time 100, you can vote for her here. Via Al Jazeera.

UN Opens Inquiry into Honor Killings in India

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The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, South African Christof Heyns, completed a two-week trip to India where he investigated the persistence of “honor killings” of women in the country. Heyns visited five regions, including far flung Kashmir, which has harbored tensions for decades, and will submit his findings to the UN Human Rights Council next year. Women in India remain at risk for “honor killings” and abuse at the hands of relatives for a range of reasons, including dowry disagreements, rape retribution, or general dissatisfaction. These crimes are rarely pursued or prosecuted because they are “socially sanctioned,” advocates say. The UN estimates that 5,000 women a year fall victim to these sanctioned killings. The issue is not confined to India; the practice is echoed elsewhere in the world and with the movement of people, has become a burgeoning issue in the US, Canada, and Europe. In January, three members of a Canadian-Afghan family were convicted of first degree murder for the “honor killing” of three daughters and the husband’s first wife. In 2010, the death of an Iraqi American teen in Arizona brought the issue home to the US. As straightforwardly gruesome as they seem, and oftentimes are, “honor killings” are a complex outcome with a diversity of underlying factors often misrepresented or misunderstood. Read six perspectives on the issue from leaders in the Muslim and Hindu communities here. Via TrustLaw.

Tracking Real-Time Rape in Syria

Just two months after launching, the women’s rights watch dog Women Under Siege, unveiled an innovative and interactive effort to combat rape in real-time. As conflict continues to unfold in Syria, the group has launched an open  source crowd map enabling victims of rape to identify where and that the event happened. Rape in conflict is rarely covered in full during conflict, but more often profiled after the fact. That sexual violence is both a strategy and outcome of war is not particularly novel, but renewed efforts to elevate this fact in the mainstream, and target this reality as it unfolds, very much is. That’s what Women Under Siege is doing. “We so often have to gather this information after the fact, after so much of it is lost, so anything we can do to get this information out can only help women,” said director Lauren Wolfe. The map serves as both an online and public electronic witness, and lets victims know they are not alone. The effort elevates rape to the urgency of all other civilian causalities in conflict settings, and could serve as a model for tracking other aspects of war as it unravels. Via Mother Jones.

In Nigeria, Female Condoms Offer Hope for an Abysmal Contraceptive Usage Rate

Stakeholders met recently to discuss progress on the Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC) Program in Nigeria, a countrywide effort to increase awareness and use of female condoms among women. The project found that female condoms had a 61 percent acceptance rate in 2012, up from a 39 percent acceptance rate when awareness efforts began in 2008. Approximately 10% of women of reproductive age in Nigeria report modern contraceptive use – a dismal rate. Social taboos around contraceptive use, and logistical barriers, like cost, convenience, and supply stock outs, contribute to low usage in Nigeria and across Africa. While female condoms are rarely a favorite, they do offer women a singular option when it comes to woman-controlled barrier method, and HIV prevalence in the country remains high. Female condoms are a great idea in theory, but have been the butt of jokes for many – they are often uncomfortable, loud, or awkward to use. But recent efforts have produced better, sleeker, and sexier versions that could live up to the potential this protection method has. In November, at the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning, the UK’s development program announced five million pounds for female condoms, specifically. Via Vanguard.