Vaginas Go Global

Quick post to let you know that the class I’m taking (which will be offered again later this year and recommend as highly as I can recommend anything) has created a page featuring news stories about international women’s health and human rights. 

It’s a great compliment to what I’m doing here, focusing on education and information about these issues in the US. Bookmark it!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Yes, it’s ridiculous that there’s an arguable need to pick a single day to highlight the accomplishments and challenges of more than half the world’s population, but there is, so I’m embracing it.

In celebration, here are a few links I’ve been saving up. Good reading & learning.

First, a man doing something wonderful for women in a place where male allies are desperately needed.

Second, I’m really glad I waited to post this one, because a few days ago it was a terrible story, and now it isn’t.

Third and finally, a FANTASTIC PBS documentary series about women in situations of conflict and refugee/displacement. It’s not uplifting, but it’s critically important to understanding the realities women face every day around the world.

Onward and upward!

One California Judge is Trying to Fix the Way US Courts Treat Sex Trafficking Victims

Hoo boy. This is one of those pieces that makes you want to stop everything you’re doing and find a way to help.

A lot of young women – often very young women – who work as prostitutes all over the world are there because they’re victims of sex trafficking. They were abducted, tricked, or even sold by their families into sexual slavery, working under threat of violence to pay off a ‘debt’ that never diminishes. Yet in the US, it’s not the pimps or johns who get arrested when the cops show up – it’s the girls; and instead of helping them escape slavery, the system makes their lives even worse.

“But in Los Angeles County, Judge Catherine Pratt has set up a special juvenile court to help victims of sex trafficking.

During the last few years, Pratt has been consumed by her work helping young victims of sex trafficking get treated as just that: victims. She says it’s been a tough battle because the justice system treats anyone who sells sex as a criminal — even a child.

In normal juvenile courts, young women who are picked up for prostitution don’t get counseling and other services — they get punished. Girls can be sentenced to juvenile detention or forced to testify against their exploiter…

Pratt remembers one case that made her believe the system was broken. A young girl was asked to testify against her pimp, in a public adult court, in a case that involved her being drugged into unconsciousness. She was asked by the district attorney to review a tape of the incident, which she had never seen, and identify the defendants in the court.”

I cannot even.

In a desperate search for an upside, thank goodness awareness of this crisis is beginning to gain traction, and people like Judge Catherine Pratt are working to find ways to enact some desperately needed change.

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.

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.