Roundups Media

Global Roundup: Are Anti-Trafficking Efforts Doing More Harm Than Good?

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: "virginity test" doctor is acquitted in Egypt while women's football gathers momentum; condoms may literally save South Africa; a rosier picture of sex work in Thailand; journalist threatened for exposing female genital cutting in Liberia; and a steamy drama series in Kenya tackles sexual taboos.

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 Egypt, Women’s Football V. ‘Virginity Tests’                        
Sahar El-Hawary is North Africa’s first female referee, and is pioneering female football in Egypt. Al Jazeera profiled her story and work this month as part of their wonderful Africa on the Move series, which features uplifting stories from across the continent. The piece is beautifully done and well worth the watch. El-Hawary grew up with brothers and a father who were rabid football fans, and dreamed of playing and coaching herself. Two decades ago she began training a girls’ team in the secrecy of her own home, and today she has helped to set up girls teams in almost every region of the country. She recruits female players, coaches and referees, and in the process is helping undo a male-dominated sport and culture. Her son Omar helps manages the team. “Women can change the structure of societies in these areas,” she says. Here’s a video of one girls team playing back in 2007, which is pretty bad ass.

Meanwhile, women in Egypt are facing other setbacks. Last week a military court acquitted an army doctor accused of conducting forced “virginity tests” on female protesters last year. Activist Samira Ibrahim, who initially brought the charges, said the entire trial and resulting acquittal was “a joke, a theatre.” Ibrahim and other female detainees had alleged that military personnel sexually assaulted, harassed, and abused them in various grotesque ways – including “testing” to see whether they were virgins. (Let’s remember that penetration by any object without consent is rape, folks.) In response, one Army general deflected: “We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place.” Wow, just wow. Via Al Jazeera and VOA.

Thank You, Condoms: South Africa’s New HIV/AIDS Infections Plummet
South Africa, where 17 percent of adults ages 15 to 49 are HIV-positive, shoulders a heavy AIDS burden, but the rate of new infections in the country has dropped dramatically in the last decade. A study released last month suggests that this is largely due to increased condom use. In 2009, 75 percent of young South African men reported condom use at their last sexual encounter, compared to just  20 percent in 1999. It’s a significant revelation that such a simple and widely available tool can be so effective, given some setbacks and delays with other prevention options. Lack of condom use has been attributed to cultural attitudes toward masculinity, perceptions of promiscuity, and taboos about sex more broadly, but that is changing and national leadership on this issue has stepped way up. Remember when the Pope claimed that condoms would not help Africa’s AIDS crisis? Still a ways to go, but it’s looking like he was wrong. Via Economist.

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A New Snapshot of (Positive) Sex Work in Thailand
A new report by the Empower Foundation, a sex workers’ rights group in Thailand, offers a more nuanced picture of the country’s sex work industry – a well-developed, perhaps world-famous, and now increasingly legitimate sector for many. Hit & Run: Sex Workers’ Research on Anti-trafficking in Thailand is the result of a year-long survey implemented by sex workers among sex workers, to uncover the state of the industry. The report finds that sex workers are better off and better connected than many thought. Sex workers have access to hi-tech tools (e.g. smart phones) and use them to stay connected and safe; migration is part of the culture of sex work, and often helpful/voluntary (i.e. sex ‘trade’ not ‘trafficking’); and the average sex worker makes enough money to comfortably take care of his/her family. Of course it’s not positive all the time for everyone. But anti-trafficking groups and initiatives in Southeast Asia are a dime a dozen with many ineffective, oppressive, or all together useless. Everyone from Nicholas Kristof to Ashton Kutcher is trying to “save” girls and women and while these efforts may be well-meaning they tend to erase critical nuances in the issue and drown out the voices and agencies of sex workers themselves. “There are more women in the Thai sex industry being abused by anti-trafficking practices than there are women exploited by traffickers,” Empower director Chantawipa Apisuk said.  Via Nation Multimedia.

Story on Genital Cutting in Liberia Draws Threats
A Liberian journalist who published a piece on the persistence of female genital cutting in the Sande tradition this week has received threats to her wellbing. Mae Azango, a fellow for New Narratives and the Pulitzer Center, said that just days after her piece was published she received phone messages threatening to injure her for speaking out. Azango has not been sleeping at her house since. Signaling just how sensitive this issue is, Azango’s interview subject requested a pseudonym as protection for even speaking about her experience with the practice. As she point out, Liberia is one of five countries in Africa still holding on to the practice and little data exists to depict its magnitude. Other countries, including regional neighbor Senegal, have been open about the challenges in uprooting the practice but have become well-known for their rapid abandonment of the practice. It does beg the question though: why has this issue remained so rooted and clandestine in Liberia? Why, especially, when the country is under the tenure of Africa’s first female president (now in her second term) Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year along with her country-woman (and fellow activist!) Leymah Gbowee. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) yesterday issued a letter to President Johnson-Sirleaf requesting formal protection for Azango. Via CPJ.

Drama Series in Kenya Takes on Sexual Taboos

Shuga: Love, Sex, Money is a six-part drama series based in Nairobi, Kenya and looks pretty awesome. It’s racy, soap operatic, filled with good-looking and talented African actors, and meant to address persistent health and social taboos that have gone unaddressed for too long. A joint effort by MTV, the Partnership for an HIV-Free Generation, UNICEF and others, the series looks at rape, transactional sex, and other issues young people are navigating without many resources. It will be shown in 70 countries around the world. The series is also being used in youth HIV prevention and education programs, and has an accompanying toolkit to facilitate discussions and encourage status knowledge and testing. You can join discussions of “Shuga” online here. Via Humanosphere.

News Health Systems

Anti-Choice Group Files Lawsuit Over Newly Signed Law That Protects Illinois Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

The policy, which is an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, requires physicians and medical facilities to to provide patients upon request with information about their medical circumstances and treatment options consistent with "current standards of medical care," in cases where the doctor or institution won’t offer services on religious grounds.

CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to clarify the scope of SB 1564 and which groups are opposing it.

A conservative Christian legal group has followed through on its threat to use litigation to fight against a new state policy that protects patients at religiously-sponsored hospitals in Illinois.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on Friday filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Winnebago County against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Bryan A. Schneider, the secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation.

Rauner, a Republican, signed the contested policy, SB 1564, into law on July 29.

The ADF, which warned Rauner about signing the bill in a publicized letter and statement in May, filed the complaint on behalf of several fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. These included the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford and Aid for Women, Inc. Anti-choice physician Dr. Anthony Caruso of A Bella Baby OBGYN—also known as Best Care for Women—was also named as a plaintiff.

“Alliance Defending Freedom is ready and willing to represent Illinois pro-life pregnancy centers if SB 1564 becomes law,” the group said in May. The ADF wrote on behalf of several anti-choice groups, claiming SB 1564 violated the Illinois state law and constitution and risked putting federal funding, such as Medicaid reimbursements, in jeopardy.

In February 2015, state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) introduced the policy, which is an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

The revised law requires physicians and medical facilities to provide patients upon request with information about their medical circumstances and treatment options consistent with “current standards of medical care,” in cases where the doctor or institution won’t offer services on religious grounds.

The new policy also gives doctors and medical institutions the option to provide a referral or transfer the patient.

Unlike an earlier version of the legislation, the version passed by Rauner does not require hospitals to confirm that providers they share with patients actually perform procedures the institutions will not perform; they must only have a “reasonable belief” that they do, Rewire previously reported.

As previously noted by Rewire:

Catholic facilities often follow U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops religious directives that generally bar treatments such as sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and abortion care. The federal Church Amendment and some state laws protect these faith-based objections.

The plaintiffs, which are also being represented by Mauck & Baker LLC attorney Noel Sterett, argued in a statement that the Illinois Constitution protects “liberty of conscience,” and quoted a passage from state law that says “no person shall be denied any civil or political right, privilege or capacity, on account of his religious opinions.”

Illinois Right to Life and the Thomas More Society joined the ADF in protesting the bill. The Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI) and the Illinois Catholic Health Association (ICHA) initially protested the bill after it was introduced early last year. However, the two groups later negotiated with the ACLU to pass a different version of the bill that was introduced.

In support of the bill around the time of its introduction in early 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois pushed its Put Patients First initiative to help stop the use of religion to deny health care to patients. The advocacy group noted that patients who are miscarrying or facing ectopic pregnancies, same-sex couples, and transgender people and persons seeking contraception such as vasectomies and tubal ligations are particularly vulnerable to these harmful practices.

A new study, “Referrals for Services Prohibited in Catholic Health Care Facilities,” set to be published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health in September, suggested that Catholic hospitals often “dump” abortion patients and deny them critical referrals as result of following religious directives outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Recent figures from an ACLU and MergerWatch advocacy group collaboration suggest Catholic hospitals make up one in six hospital beds nationwide.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: A Nursing Home With a Healthy Attitude Toward Sex

Martha Kempner

A nursing home understands that its elderly residents are still sexual beings; New York City is amping up its youth sexual health outreach with emojis of eggplants and monkeys; and if forced to choose between eating and sex, a good number of people pick food.

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

Sex Is Not Just for the Young

The New York Times recently profiled a nursing home with a sex-positive attitude for its residents. The Hebrew Home at Riverdale adopted its “sexual expression policy” in 1995 after a nurse walked in on two residents having sex. She asked her boss, Daniel Reingold, what she should do. He said, “Tiptoe out and close the door.”

Reingold, the president of RiverSpring Health (which runs the nursing home), said that aging includes a lot of loss—from the loss of spouses and friends to the loss of independence and mobility. But he believes the loss of physical touch and intimacy does not have to be part of getting older.

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The policy acknowledges that residents have the right to seek out and engage in consensual acts of sexual expression with other residents or with visitors. The policy ensures that staff understand that their role is not to prevent sexual contact. In fact, some of the staff like to play cupid for residents. Audrey Davison, an 85-year-old resident, said that the staff let her sleep in her boyfriend’s room, and one aide even made them a “Do Not Disturb” sign for his door. She added: “I enjoyed it and he was a very good lover.”

Still, there are complicating factors to dating in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. Some residents may be married to people who don’t live in the facility, and others may be suffering from memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s, which can raise issues of consent. Hebrew Home’s policy states that Alzheimer’s patients can give consent under certain circumstances.

Though not all nursing homes have formal policies about sex, many acknowledge that their residents are or want to be sexually active and are working to help residents have a safe and consensual experience. Dr. Cheryl Phillips, a senior vice president at LeadingAge, an organization which represents nursing homes and others who provide elder care, also told the New York Times that this generation of older adults is different: “They’ve been having sex—that’s part of who they are—and just because they’re moving into a nursing home doesn’t mean they’re going to stop having sex.”

Of course, not all residents are lucky in love when they move in. Hebrew Home says that about 40 of its 870 residents are in relationships. Staff are trying to help the others. They set up happy hours, a prom, and have started a dating service called G-Date (for “Grandparent Date”). So far it hasn’t been too successful in making matches, but the staff is convinced that someday their efforts will pay off with a wedding.

Can Emojis Connect Youth to Sexual Health Services?

New York City’s public hospital system, known as Health & Hospitals, provides confidential sexual health services—including pregnancy tests, contraception, and tests for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—for young people 12 and older regardless of their ability to pay, immigration status, or sexual orientation. Health & Hospitals served 152,000 patients last year, but its leaders think it could do even more if more young people were aware of the services offered.

As a way to speak the language of young people, Health & Hospitals launched a campaign starring emojis in July.

The emojis are expected to reach 2.4 million young people in New York City through social media including Facebook and Instagram. The emojis include an eggplant, a monkey covering his eyes, and, of course, some birds and bees. The online ads read, “Need someone to talk to about ‘it’?”

When young people click on the emojis, they will be taken to the Health & Hospitals youth website, which explains available services and how to find accessible providers.

Dr. Ram Raju, president and CEO of NYC Health & Hospitals, said in a press release that the organization provides nonjudgmental services to youth: “Whether it’s birth control, pregnancy testing, emergency contraception or depression screening, the public health system has affordable services in local community health centers, where we speak your language, understand your culture and respect your privacy.”

But some worry that these emojis are confusing. Elizabeth Schroeder, a sex educator and trainer, told the New York Times that while she applauded the effort, she questioned if the images chosen were the best to convey the message.

We here at This Week in Sex have to agree and admit the images confuse us as well. The monkey is cute, but what does it have to do with STDs?

Choosing Between Appetites, Many Pick Food

Good food or good sex? These two sources of pleasure are rarely at odds with each other, but if they ever are, which would you choose?

A new survey, by advertising agency Havas Worldwide, posed this very question to almost 12,000 adults in 37 countries across the globe. The results show that about half of adults (46 percent of men and 51 percent of women) believe that food can be as pleasurable as sex. And one-third would choose a great dinner at a restaurant rather than sex; women were more likely to make this choice (42 percent compared with 26 percent of men).

Millennials were also more likely to make this choice than those slightly older Gen-Xers (35 percent to 30 percent). Of course, it’s hard to tell whether this says more about their sex lives or their eating habits.

 

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