What to Call Violence Against Women

Hi dear readers! It’s been a while since my last post, and I apologize for that. (I post more regularly on the Vagina News Facebook page, so I’d love to talk to you there if you’re not there already. Unless you hate Facebook, which I totally understand.)

Part of the reason I’ve been quiet is that I’m in week 6 of a fantastic online course through Stanford University on International Women’s Health and Human Rights.

We’ve dug into some huge and hugely important global issues like education, female genital cutting, HIV/AIDS, contraception, abortion, maternal mortality, and this week, violence against women. (To combat the potentially depressing nature of the coursework, each chapter in our main text (Anne Firth Murray’s ‘From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice‘) highlights organizations around the world that are actively working to improve conditions in these areas.)

One of our readings on violence against women this week made this powerful statement:

“Violence against women is the most pervasive yet least
recognized human rights abuse in the world.”

‘From Outrage to Courage’ also introduces the question of language when we talk about violence agains women; that we often use the problematic word “abuse.” In addition to minimizing the scope and seriousness of the crisis, it suggests there is an appropriate “use” for women – that’s something I’d never considered.

She suggests, and many in the class have agreed, thinking of violence against women as a form of terrorism. I’m not sure how I feel about that, as I think “terror” has become a politically loaded word largely divorced from its real meaning, but there’s certainly an argument to be made.

Just throwing it out there to let you all know what we’re covering… I’d love to know what you think.

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The Seven Most Common Lies About Abortion

Rolling Stone has got a great article out debunking the most common lies told by the anti-choice movement to mislead people about abortion.

I hope & suspect everyone here already knows these things, but you know what they say about assuming… (In my Int’l Women’s Health & Human Right class, I’ve been shocked at how many students believe some of these lies – and these are people driven to take such a class!)

Also, the article contains good data & links, and deserves to be shared.

The Shocking Reality of Maternal Mortality (with apologies for the rhyme.)

This week in class, we’re covering reproductive health & early marriage & pregnancy.

Vagina News generally focuses on the US, because frankly the idea of staying on top of things globally is overwhelming. But I’m glad this class is global in focus, because it’s teaching me some really important perspective.

Here are a few incredible facts about maternal health around the world:

  • In developing countries, conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death (after HIV/AIDS) among women of reproductive age.
  • About 16 million girls aged between 15 and 19 give birth each year, accounting for more than 10% of all births. In low- and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls 15-19.
  • Of the 800 women who die of such causes every day, 440 live in sub-Saharan Africa, 230 in Southern Asia and five in high-income countries.
  • About 21 million unsafe abortions are carried out, mostly in developing countries every year, resulting in 47 000 maternal deaths.
  • The vast majority of these deaths are preventable, through access to contraception and reproductive health care. The main obstacle to progress towards better health for mothers is the lack of skilled care. This is aggravated by a global shortage of qualified health workers.

On the upside, improving maternal health is one of the eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in 2000. Under MDG5, countries committed to reducing maternal mortality by three quarters between 1990 and 2015. Since 1990, maternal deaths worldwide have dropped by 47%.

In sub-Saharan Africa, a number of countries have halved their levels of maternal mortality since 1990. In other regions, including Asia and North Africa, even greater headway has been made. However, between 1990 and 2010, the global maternal mortality ratio (i.e. the number of maternal deaths per 100 000 live births) declined by only 3.1% per year. This is far from the annual decline of 5.5% required to achieve MDG5.

Taking on TED

There’s a really interesting debate going on right now between the wonderful Jessica Valenti, the TED conference people, and the internet.

Valenti asked TED why they’ve never done a talk on abortion, and got a response saying, “We tend to focus on wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights. Abortion is more of a topical issue that we wouldn’t take a position on, any more than we’d take a position on a state tax bill.”

Got that? According to TED, abortion has nothing to do with justice, equality, or human rights.

Female Genital Muti… Yeah, That.

My Int’l Women’s Health & Human Rights class is focusing on adolescence this week, which means a lot of material on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM.)

I’m experiencing a lot of resistance to learning more about it because I think it’s going to leave me feeling furious/heartbroken/disgusted/overwhelmed. (The main text of the class does a good job of combatting this by ending each chapter with examples of organizations working against whatever scourge was just covered. There’s also a forum/discussion area that has already gotten into how to combat the negative reactions this kind of study can bring up.)

But for now, I’m gonna watch some cat videos or something. Whew.