Global Roundup: Teen Pregnancy Rising in Guatemala; Canada Legalizes Brothels

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Global Roundup: Teen Pregnancy Rising in Guatemala; Canada Legalizes Brothels

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: Understanding rape in the Congo; Mobile phones prevent maternal deaths in Kenya; Ontario puts safeguards in place for sex workers; Teen pregnancy rises swiftly in Guatemala.

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.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Women Raped for a “Good Cause”

This video interview, with a group of Congolese soldiers about why they rape is perhaps the most telling and chilling thing I’ve watched. Trigger warning. The interviewees were from the Mai Mai Militia Group, a superstitious bunch, many of whom asserted that raping was a way of feeding magic powers they needed to succeed in conflict. The men report that they have raped five, ten, and up to 25 women respectively. They offer meager defenses that they’re rapes are not as brutal as the rapes of their enemies. One soldier says he would allow his sister or mother to be raped if it was “for a good cause,” to save Congo. Systematic and brutal rapes have continued in the Congo, and the timeline of how this violence has been publicized and addressed has progressed slowly. This video clip is from Lisa Jackson’s 2008 documentary “The Greatest Silence,” featuring raw depictions of rape during a decade of conflict in the DRC. In 2010, the UN was accused of “failing” women in the Congo despite having the largest peacekeeping mission in history in the region, ignoring risks and being slow to address the issue. In 2011, researcher Tia Palermo found that four women are raped every five minutes in the Congo, far more than was previously thought and “26 times higher than the 15,000 conflict-related cases confirmed by the UN for the DRC in 2010.” How do you even begin to insert women’s rights and agencies into the discussion of rape when that very discussion takes for granted that women are nothing but a object for men’s use? Via Women Under Siege and PBS.                     

Kenya: Texting Program Allows Women to Give Birth Safely, At Home

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An SMS pilot program in Kenya’s Machakos County is giving pregnant women the ability to deliver at home, with the aid of skilled care via text message. The project, a collaboration between USAID and the Kenyan Ministry of Health, gives women access to prenatal information and skilled providers during delivery. They are registered in the program through their own mobile phones, whereby they receive text messages and calls from skilled providers on a regular basis. As mobile phone use has risen dramatically, especially in the developing world, over the past decades, it has been increasingly leveraged to deliver a range of services – from bank transfers to sexuality education and emergency health services. Mobile phones are especially promising vessels of access and information in maternal health. In rural and remote areas, women tend to prefer to give birth in their homes for comfort and safety reasons, among others. Being able to access a skilled provider by phone – or connecting a traditional birth attendant to a doctor for back-up support – means women can give birth where and how they want, without putting their lives and the lives of their newborns at such risk. Via Think Africa Press and DAWNS Digest.

Canada: Prostitution is Legal; Now Supreme Court Says Brothels Are Too            

Prostitution in Canada is legal, although several activities that facilitate it are not, ultimately putting individuals working in this profession (majority women) at great risk. In a landmark decision, Ontario’s Supreme Court last week ruled to legalize brothels and allow “living off the avails” of prostitution, which they deemed the prohibition of unconstitutional.  “Communicating for the purpose of prostitution,” however, is still prohibited. Legalizing brothels allows sex workers a safe and regulated place to work, and sex workers are now able to hire bodyguards and drivers to help protect and facilitate their work as well. These are important provisions that both recognize sex work as a legal profession like any other, and take an active role in safeguarding women sex workers themselves. The case centered around the issue of protection for sex workers working on the street, who are at risk for violence of numerous kinds.  The decision was touted by human rights and feminist advocates, and called  to mind a 1990 case of a serial killer who preyed on sex workers – what can happen when sex workers are marginalized and unprotected. Canadian feminist groups celebrated the decision which examined sex work in terms of constitutional rights, not morality. Via Globe and Mail.                                        

Guatemala: Early Pregnancy Rises as Girls’ and Women’s Rights Wane

Recent data from the Ministry of Health and Social Assistance in Guatemala demonstrates that the number of pregnancies among girls ages 10 to 19 is rising, from just more than 41,000 pregnancies in 2009, to about 45,000 in 2010, and nearly 50,000 in 2011 – or an average of 135 teen pregnancies per day last year. Severe lack of access to contraception and sexuality education, due to the prominence of the Catholic Church and cultural taboos, are in part to blame. But the rise in teen pregnancy also accompanies what has been a deteriorating situation for women’s rights and human rights in the country, including an increase in gang- and drug-related violence against women. An culture of misogyny stigmatizes girls and women for seeking sexual and reproductive health services and information. Though it is challenging to link violence against women directly with rising teen pregnancy rates, the correlation is there and conveys the growing urgency of the situation for girls and women in Guatemala. Via IPS News.