2008 Top Ten Wins for Women’s Health

Beth Fredrick

From Connecticut to Colombia, here are the International Women's Health Coalition's top ten wins for women's health in 2008.

1) New U.S. Administration Offers Hope for Women and Girls

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States provides an opportunity to uphold human rights, promote health for all, and change the future of millions. Women’s health and rights advocates in every corner of the world expressed excitement and hopefulness.

What’s next: For many, the most urgent issues facing the United States are the financial crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but achieving global peace requires securing every woman’s right to a just and healthy life. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) was among the first to outline an agenda for women’s rights and health for the new Administration and is working with the transition team and other advocates to promote priorities for women and girls. ?

2) A New “Mexico City Policy” Leads the Way on Comprehensive Sexuality Education

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Prior to the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City in August, health and education ministers from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean pledged to invest in comprehensive sexuality education and increase access to health services to strengthen the region’s HIV/AIDS response. The resulting Mexico City Declaration on Sex Education in Latin America and the Caribbean was unanimously endorsed.?

What’s next: Advocates, including IWHC, are working with the Pan American Health Organization to assist countries in fulfilling their commitments, including dramatically increasing the number of schools that provide comprehensive sexuality education by 2015.

3) U.S. Citizens Turn Back Attempts to Restrict Abortion Access

In November, U.S. voters overwhelmingly rejected ballot measures to restrict access to safe abortion in South Dakota, Colorado, and California. In April, the Council of Europe called for all 47 member countries to make abortion safe and legal.

What’s next: In South Dakota, abortion opponents insist that they will try to pass an abortion ban in 2010, and a new organization has formed to push measures in 17 other states similar to the measure to provide rights to a fertilized egg defeated in Colorado. These campaigns are costly and out of touch with a wider global trend of liberalizing abortion laws, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health and the Center for Reproductive Rights. ?

4) Indian Government Puts the Power of Prevention in Women’s Hands

This year, India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) will provide sex workers in four states with about 1.5 million female condoms, which is the only woman-initiated HIV prevention technology currently available.

What’s next: Female condoms are available in 116 countries, and public-sector programs are underway in over 90 countries. In Cameroun, IWHC partner The Society for Women and AIDS in Africa – Cameroun Chapter is advocating for a national strategic plan to ensure that women, including those living in rural areas, have continued access to female condoms.

5) Clinton Global Initiative Prioritizes Adolescent Girls

At the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting in September, longtime IWHC partner Bene Madunagu, head of the Girl’s Power Initiative (GPI) in Nigeria, spoke to the need for comprehensive sexuality education programs for the 1.5 billion people in the world today between the ages of 10 and 25.

What’s next: Over the next two years, IWHC will invest nearly $1 million in 19 organizations in Nigeria, Cameroun, Pakistan, Brazil, Peru, and Mexico to ensure that education and health services for young people integrate human rights, gender equality, health, and sexuality. GPI will continue to collaborate with education officials in four Nigerian states to reach nearly one million young people with information and education about their health and rights.

6) Women’s Advocates Secure Advances in Ecuadorian Constitution

After a year of negotiations, Ecuador’s Constitution now says that young people must receive sexuality education and that the State has an obligation to provide sexual and reproductive health services to its people.

What’s next: Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa, is opposed to legalization of abortion and same sex marriage. CEPAM-Quito and other advocates were unable to prevent some harmful language, including prohibition of marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, but are working to protect the advances and prevent further challenges.?

7) Colombia’s High Court Rules on the Side of Science — and Women’s Rights

In June, the highest administrative court in Colombia ruled that the sexual and reproductive health services provider Profamilia can continue to import and distribute emergency contraception (EC)-in accordance with women’s right to access a full range of safe and effective contraceptive methods.

What’s next: Since 2000, Profamilia has provided EC to Colombian citizens through its network of clinics. Yet emergency contraception in Colombia still requires a prescription-an important barrier to access, considering that EC must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Profamilia has worked to overcome this barrier by offering EC to women without an appointment. ?

8) Connecticut, Colombia and Others Stand Strong for Sexual Rights

This year, Connecticut joined Massachusetts in legally recognizing same-sex marriages. Internationally, a Colombian court extended pension benefits to same-sex partners, acknowledging that to exclude them would violate the principles of non-discrimination and human dignity.

What’s next: In November, California voters approved Proposition 8 by a slim margin, overturning an earlier state Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage. The decision has sparked peaceful protests and candlelight vigils throughout the state, and three lawsuits have been filed to overturn Proposition 8. Globally, IWHC’s partners continue to promote sexual rights in the face of conservative opposition. For example, the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights in Nigeria is currently working with other African feminists to combat unbalanced attacks by some media groups on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and intersex community groups there. ?

9) U.S. States Prioritize Youth Health Over Ideology

In 2008, the number of U.S. states refusing to participate in the federal government’s abstinence-only-until marriage education program (Title V) reached 25, as state governments recognize what research and evaluations have repeatedly shown: abstinence-only programs are ineffective.

What’s next: Despite pushback from the states, Congress may vote to extend Title V for another year or longer. President-elect Obama has repeatedly called for "age-appropriate" and "science-based" sex education in schools. The U.S. federal government and the states now have a new opportunity to work together to develop state and federal programs that support the comprehensive sexuality education young people need to make informed choices about their bodies and their health.

10) Muslim Women in the United Kingdom Granted Equal Rights in Marriage

Muslim leaders in the United Kingdom succeeded in creating a new marriage contract under Sharia’h law that gives husbands and wives equal rights, after four years of negotiations. The new contract no longer permits men to practice polygamy and grants women the right to initiate divorce.

What’s next: This change represents a powerful example for Muslim leaders and communities throughout the world. In Northern Nigeria, Islamic Sharia’h law was introduced at the state level in 2000. Based in the state of Kano, IWHC partner Action Health Information Projects (AHIP) has built relationships with over 1,000 religious leaders throughout northern Nigeria to encourage their support for women’s reproductive health through their sermons and influence in the community. Each of these leaders reaches an average of 5,000 people every week through Friday congregational prayers and sermons.

For the complete report, visit IWHC.


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