International Women’s Day: From Crisis to Opportunity

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

President Obama's announcement of his intention to work with Congress to release funding for UNFPA shows the world that the United States wants women around the globe to be able to enjoy what women in the United States have already achieved.

Editor’s Note: The following is an address given by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, in honor of International Women’s Day.

Ladies and
gentlemen,  

It is always
a pleasure for me to talk about women’s rights because I myself am
an example of what is possible for women when we are given opportunity.  

Many of you
already know that I was the first woman from my home country of Saudi
Arabia to receive a government scholarship to attend university in the
United States. I attended Mills College in Oakland, California and Wayne
State University in Detroit.  

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Education is
a powerful tool for women’s empowerment, equality and leadership.
It has contributed in a major way to where I am today.  

In every region
of the world, more girls are attending school and enrolment rates are
rising. This is an area where we are making solid progress. But it is
also an area where we still need to focus on adolescent girls who continue
to be more disadvantaged than boys.  

I arrived this
morning from the Clinton Global Initiative Retreat during which we were
trying to focus on some areas that are of a priority for the Initiative
at this particular time of multiple crises.  

In the Human
Capital working group, we recommended that we focus on girls, especially
adolescent girls, due to the vulnerability many face in their local
contexts in all countries – developed and developing. We also said
that, if given real life opportunities, these young girls can become
real change agents and innovators for a better life. Attention has to
be given to boys as well, since behavioural change is part of growing
up and maturing. Therefore addressing boys and men must be given even
higher priority than we collectively have done so far.  

Progress is
possible when people join together, united for a common cause. 

Today I want
to focus on the urgent need for all of us to join together for the common
cause of women’s health and women’s rights. This is an area that
needs urgent action and increased investment.  

Fifteen years
ago, the world agreed that every woman has the right to sexual and reproductive
health. They took this historic decision at the International Conference
on Population and Development.  179 governments, including the
United States, agreed to guarantee universal access to reproductive
health by the year 2015.  

UNFPA is working
in more than 150 countries, supporting them to keep this promise. We
enjoy a wide circle of supporters and I thank all of you in the room
for your unwavering support during my eight years as UNFPA Executive
Director. And now with the leadership of President Barack Obama, the
United States intends to rejoin the 180 governments that support us.  

President Obama’s
announcement of his intention to work with the US Congress to release
funding for UNFPA shows the world that the United States wants women
around the globe to be able to enjoy what women in the United States
have already achieved.  

This is welcome
news and a great day for women, girls and their families around the
world. We warmly applaud this action by President Obama, which underlines
his support to protecting the lives and human dignity of women and girls
who are vulnerable in their own communities. 

On behalf of
all of us, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Leahy
for his passionate advocacy on our behalf in the United States Senate
in yesterday’s debate over UNFPA funding in the spending bill. What
a great victory and thank you to the many NGO advocates in the room
today who tirelessly advocate on our behalf. 

We look forward
to working closely with the United States in partnership with our ongoing
initiatives, such as training midwives to ensure safe deliveries, expanding
access to family planning, delivering reproductive health supplies to
clinics in remote areas, supporting the treatment of obstetric fistula,
meeting the special needs of women in crises, preventing HIV among young
people, and ending violence against women. Our goal is to support countries
and communities to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive
health as a basic human right.  

We are making
progress but it is still slow and uneven. Together we must do more and
faster.  

Just a few
years ago, few people had heard of fistula, but now it is reported in
major newspapers, featured on television shows and being addressed by
leaders and communities in more than 40 nations. 

Together with
partners, UNFPA is working to end fistula and we are making progress.
Today, thousands of women have received corrective surgery in new health
centers, doctors are being trained and the condition is being prevented
as girls and women gain information and healthcare.  

Last week,
I visited Tanzania, met with government officials and visited many facilities. 
The government is dedicated to improving women’s health in their country
but they have a challenging road ahead.  

The government
and the people of Tanzania know that they cannot do it alone, but they
also know that they must lead us, as we support them in facing the challenges
of development.  

We have learned
from decades of development work that ownership of change is key to
bringing about actual change and ensuring its sustainability. The countries
are now claiming their right to be owners of their own change. Together
we must respect it and support them to achieve it. 

In Tanzania,
a woman faces a 1 in 24 chance of dying during pregnancy and childbirth,
compared to a 1 in 4800 risk for a woman here in the United States. 
The government is working to improve their health system to reverse
this reality. 

And we also
need to make sure that this great gap is narrowed.  

In the past
eight years as head of UNFPA, I have visited many countries where I
have witnessed the sad and outrageous truth – that maternal mortality
is the largest health inequity in the world. I have seen clinics with
little or no drugs, beds that are occupied by two women, a severe lack
of equipment, and a shortage of doctors, nurses and midwives.  

As a result,
during the next minute, another woman will die from complications of
pregnancy and childbirth – more than half a million women every year. 
This does not have to be the case because we know what needs to be done.
To ensure safe motherhood, every woman needs at least three things:
family planning, skilled attendance at birth and emergency obstetric
care if complications arise. 

This is why
UNFPA is joining together with other partners, especially the World
Health Organization, UNICEF and the World Bank, to fully support governments
as they work to decrease maternal, neonatal and child mortality, including
through improving health systems. As we do that, we focus on ensuring
primary healthcare is reaching communities, where the real stories of
life and death take place. We know that when we have a functioning system
to avert maternal death and disability we have a well functioning health
system. It will deliver to women when women are ready to deliver. 

We are working
to ensure that health systems can deliver an essential package of sexual
and reproductive health supplies and services and that it responds to
the 200 million women who have unmet need to family planning. We must
support them to determine the number and spacing of their children and
to achieve the best quality of reproductive health.  

In Tanzania,
I visited a health facility that offers these integrated services, in
spite of its poor setting and quality of equipment. But a woman can
go to one place and get counseling and services for family planning,
HIV prevention and safe delivery. This approach has many benefits: 
it is a boost for public health and it is also cost-effective; it is
equally important that it decreases the stigma associated with HIV.
Most of all, it is a one-stop for women to meet their health needs. 

At UNFPA, partnership
and working with national institutions have been a long standing way
of work. But calls for partnerships are increasing, not only as United
Nations system but as development partners.  

In Tanzania
and other seven countries, the United Nations Country Teams, composed
of all of the agencies working in the country, are piloting a triangular
partnership among the government, the development partners (United Nations
and donors) and civil society organizations to support governments achieve
their development plans.   

We call these
Delivering as One
Pilots. They have worked and I saw real success
in Tanzania, with results such as pooling resources, decreasing transaction
costs, and even saving administrative costs to the benefits of programmes.
We know that, out of 90 countries that will be rolling out new programmes
in the next three years, at least 40 of them want to Deliver as One.  

For the ICPD
agenda, this is a dream come true. Only when a coalition of partners
agree that the right to reproductive health is a common agenda and when
they work together to integrate it into development plans at the national
and community level, can we say that we are beginning to see some sustainability
of the programmes.  

I deeply believe
that the only way for this very vital agenda to endure and serve women
all over the world is when we, the community of committed actors, are
willing to share it with others from outside of our own small circle. 

We at UNFPA
know from 40 years of experience that the poor health of women and girls
goes beyond the health sector. To be successful, we must also tackle
gender inequality and the violence and discrimination that girls and
women continue to face. We must work across sectors and ensure that
others are adopting this agenda as their own. 

Our vision
is to promote the health of women throughout the entire life cycle.
Women do not just suddenly die when giving birth only from obstructed
birth; they die because they have been deprived since their birth of
nutrition, health care, education, and have been exposed to harmful
cultural traditional practices and other conditions.   

Experience
has shown that change cannot be imposed from the outside, to be lasting
it must come from within. This is why we are working with other partners
to support countries in strengthening their communities, institutions
and health systems. This is why we are supporting women and other community
leaders as agents of change. 

Today as we
celebrate International Women’s Day, let us recognize and celebrate
the progress we are making.  In every country, women are standing
up for their rights and more and more men are joining them.  

During this
financial crisis, we have an opportunity to refocus on our priorities.
It is time for us to focus on building the capacities of civil society
organizations that are community-based, so they can lead the change
that must come from within.  

It is time
for us to focus on building institutions in countries that support women
and girls, and mobilize boys and men for equality. 

Women are a
powerful force for change and innovation. They are agents of peace,
prosperity and stability. And we must put our resources together to
ensure that the women’s institutions at the community and national
levels are built in innovative and creative ways that allow their sustainability. 

We know that
recovery from the present crisis will take a long time and we know that
we have not seen yet the bottom of it. But we also know that out of
crisis comes opportunity.  

We must turn
these challenges into opportunities. And there are many examples from
which we can learn. 

Today after
a terrible genocide, Rwanda has more women members of Parliament than
any other nation.  

In Liberia,
after years of conflict, the people elected the first African woman
President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a great leader. And the country is
turning itself around with standards of education and health improving
and clear actions for zero tolerance for violence against women.  

From Tanzania
to Turkey, from Egypt to Ethiopia, from Laos to Liberia, from Bolivia
to Brazil, we are making progress for women’s health and women’s
rights.   

And I am confident
that this progress will accelerate with the renewed and important support
of the United States and wonderful people like you.

I call on all
of us to work together, to lower barriers that keep us apart and make
us work in silos.  

I call on all
of us to pool resources in an innovative way and to share in the implementation
of this visionary agenda for the empowerment of women.  

I call on all
of us to identify our strengths and build on them and identify our gaps
and work together to address them.  

Only through
an honest and open partnership can we reach our common goals. We have
to be effective and efficient and we will be collectively and individually
scrutinized for how we respond to the needs of populations around the
world in the context of the financial crisis that will impact us all.
Women of the world deserve that and we are ready to respond to them. 

Thank you. 

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.