Tag Archive | "maternal health"

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Building a Safety Net for Women Migrants

Posted on 12 March 2010 by admin

Lesotho's Gender Minister Mathabiso Lepono. Credit: Bomoon Lee/TerraViva

By Christian Benoni

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 12 (IPS/TerraViva) Female migrant workers play a critical role in promoting development in their home countries, but continue to face discrimination in host nations, even ones that have policies on the books designed to protect them.

“Most of the immigrant workers are undocumented and when they seek basic services like health care, they are met with negative attitudes from health staff. Some may easily die,” Bijaya Rai Shrestha, a returned migrant from Nepal, told TerraViva.

“There are women who are forced to do sex work, subjecting them to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. It is even hard for them if they have to seek treatment,” she said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by Marieta de Vos, director of the MOSAIC Training, Service and Healing Centre for Women, whose organisation runs a small clinic in Cape Town, South Africa that has been offering services to migrant women. She sees at least 50 in a month.

“We get women who need contraceptives, ARVs or pap smears. They don’t get them at all at public facilities because they are met with negative attitudes from health workers who are already overburdened,” she observed, adding that many health workers do not have the patience to deal with migrants who cannot speak English.

In addition, there are increased cases of gender forms of racism and xenophobia against women migrant workers in South Africa, a country that, according to Vos, has a policy that bans discrimination, and guarantees protection and security of migrants.

A recent International Organisation for Migration survey conducted in the country supports this. The study, ‘Towards Tolerance, Law and Dignity: Addressing Violence Against Foreign Nationals in South Africa’, also indicates that while foreign nationals remain subject to xenophobic violence, women are the most vulnerable group.

Emphasis at the CSW meeting has been on getting governments to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The international agreement, which came to force in 2003, also stresses the importance of migrants’ remittances in reducing poverty in their home countries.

U.N. studies indicate that migrant women workers contribute to the development of both sending and receiving countries – remittances from their incomes account for as much as 10 percent of the GDP in some countries.

For example, Lesotho, one of the most migration-dependant countries in the world, has over 240,000 people outside the country, most of them women, according to the gender minister, Mathabiso Lepono.

“When the women are not working as farm or domestic workers in South Africa, where they have migrated in large numbers, they are engaged in other activities like hawking or sewing, to earn more money to fight poverty in their families back home,” she said.

In many countries like Lesotho, remittances from migrant women are used to buy food, and pay for schooling and medical care, but there is also a need to help women learn to save and invest their earnings.

A U.N. study launched at the CSW, ‘Migration, Remittances and Gender-Responsive Local Government’, highlights the need for migrant women to ensure sustainability of their remittances through investment. It calls on governments to ensure protection of women migrant workers, and to provide policies that “link remittances with sustainable livelihoods”, at the same time building social capital.

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RIGHTS: Fewer Jobs, Less Money, Same Old Story

Posted on 09 March 2010 by admin

High-level discussion about the situation of women at the UN. Credit:BomoonLee/IPS

By Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 9, 2010 (IPS) – “What do I get from them? Nothing but bullsh*t,” says Nupur Acharya, reflecting about how she is treated by her husband and two grown sons on daily basis. Continue Reading

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Should “Motherhood” Mean No Family Planning?

Posted on 09 March 2010 by admin

Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS TerraViva

By Armin Rosen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 8 (IPS/TerraViva) On Monday, the Commission on the Status of Women took a two-hour break from the Secretariat Building’s main conference room while the Iranian, Syrian, Nigerian, Qatari and Saint Lucian delegations used the cavernous meeting hall for a parallel event on “Recognising the Critical Role of Mothers in Society” – an event that has turned out to be one of the more controversial meetings related to the two-week-long Commission.

The conference room was packed with Commission participants who had come to hear speeches from activists and government officials on the importance of motherhood and “traditional” family structures in social and economic development.

The event was put together with the coordination of Family Watch International, an NGO that aims to “preserve and promote the family, traditional marriage, life, parental rights and religious freedom.”

The event was organised when Family Watch International began contacting various U.N. delegations about cosponsoring a parallel event during CSW on the social and economic importance of traditional family structures in general and motherhood in particular.

According to FWI president Sharon Slater, the Syrians and Iranians were receptive to her group’s message. “They thought it was time for the issue of motherhood to be put on the U.N.’s agenda,” she said.

Slater added that her group was not concerned about co-sponsoring an event with the Iranian government. “We’re a non-denominational, nonpolitical group,” she said. “We’ll partner with anyone who believes in the value of family.”

Saint Lucia’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. had a similar attitude towards collaborating with the Iranian government on a CSW side-event. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, a former health minister and member of Parliament in Saint Lucia, and a member of the island nation’s U.N. delegation, even wondered why anyone would be interested in whether Saint Lucia had any reservations about co-sponsoring an event with Iran.

“I’m not sure why you’re asking that question,” she said. “I would have thought that the subject matter would have been most important. We never agree on everything,” she said of the U.N.’s member states, “but where there is an opportunity to collaborate we wish to do that. This is the U.N. This is where nations do that.”

At the panel, Beaubrun spoke about the importance of family in a Caribbean context, and said that family values could help reign in the region’s seemingly out-of-control murder rates.

But a few activists believe that the event is fraught with irony – both because of Iran’s co-sponsorship and because of Family Watch International’s conservative stance on social issues, which some perceive as being detrimental to women’s interests.

For instance, during the panel, Slater was unsparing in her group’s views on family planning and reproductive rights, two things that most mainstream women’s organisations support. She criticised family planning programmes in the developing world for failing to reduce maternal mortality rates.

“Why do we keep calling on the world to implement more family planning programmes,” she asked, “if the maternal morality programmes in these countries has not been reduced?”

Meanwhile, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has characterised FWI as an “anti-gay organisation.” FWI is also a “signatory organisation” with Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality, a “non-profit coalition of organisations that help people with unwanted same-sex attractions.”

The Iranian government is notoriously hostile towards sexual minorities: homosexuality is still punishable by death in the Islamic Republic, while international rights watchdogs routinely issue statements critical of the government’s treatment of homosexuals.

For instance, this past November, Human Rights Watch issued an appeal on behalf of three Iranian men sentenced to death for homosexual acts they committed while they were teenagers.

The Islamic Republic has a similar record on gender issues. “It is profoundly ironic that a regime that practices gender apartheid on a regular basis and that allows marriage at the age of nine would sponsor an event ostensibly about women’s rights,” says Kenneth Timmerman of the Maryland-based Foundation for Democracy in Iran.

Human Rights Watch also issued a Mar. 6 statement urging Iran to “stop undermining women’s rights”, reporting that the Islamic Republic was on the verge of legalising polygamy – a practice likely out of keeping with FWI’s endorsement of traditional, monogamous family structures.

Despite the Iranian government’s attempts to use CSW to bolster its reputation on women’s issues, Iranian women have succeeded in making themselves heard this week.

Last Thursday and Friday, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran held side events with Iranian women who are not a part of any official Iranian government delegation. According to a Campaign representative, they shared their experiences as women living in the Islamic Republic during the protests and crackdowns of this past year.

Representatives from more left-wing women’s groups simply avoided Iran and FWI’s hour in the CSW’s main venue.

Nathalie Margi of the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership did not attend the event, but said it was actually a disturbing reminder of what many of the NGOs at CSW are up against.

“There’s a backlash against the women’s movement and the LGBT movement,” she said when asked about FWI’s presence at the Commission.

“These groups come to these spaces as women’s NGOs,” she said of the conference’s more traditionally minded NGO participants. “We’re celebrating 15 years since the Beijing Conference, but they want to scale back on reproductive rights victories and LGBT victories.”

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Arab Women Caught Between Extremes

Posted on 05 March 2010 by admin

Women wearing the traditional Hijab attend the Commission on the Status of Women conference at U.N. headquarters. Credit:Bomoon Lee/IPS

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4, 2010 (IPS) – The status of women in a predominantly male-chauvinistic Arab world continues to fluctuate from one extreme to another.

The political and cultural life in the region, by and large, has been characterised by the good, the bad and the ugly.

On the one hand are child marriages and honour killings (deemed barbaric) in the rigidly conservative countries, and on the other, are the appointment and/or election of women to high office (hailed as impressive success stories) in the relatively liberal countries.

“Women can already been seen in greater numbers in our parliament, ministries, judiciary, armed forces and police, and they have also assumed very senior positions in both public office and the private sector,” says Hala Latouf, head of the Jordanian delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women.

She also proudly notes that Jordan now has women governors, mayors, judges and ambassadors, in addition to women chief executive officers (CEOs) in key industries and businesses, consultative bodies and chambers of commerce and industry.

“The new draft law on elections is expected to allocate even greater number of (parliamentary) seats for women,” she declared.

On an equally positive note, Dr. Jouhaina Sultan Seif El-Issa, vice chairperson of Qatar’s supreme council for family affairs, points out that Qatari business women account for more than 50 percent of the total equity investors and dealers in the Doha Stock Market.

At the same time, the number of women-owned companies in Qatar now amount to nearly 1,500.

She said Qatar has established two Foundations: one, for child and women protection, and the other, to combat human trafficking.

Still, says Nadya Khalife of Human Rights Watch, most governments in the region discriminate against women in personal status laws which govern their everyday lives, including issues of marriage, divorce, custody and guardianship, and inheritance.

In an interview with IPS, Khalife said that some provisions in penal laws also allow for perpetrators of so-called honour crimes to receive a mitigated sentence or be exempt from punishment based on “family honour”.

“These crimes are typically committed in cases of adultery or sex outside of marriage,” she said.

And some countries in the region, she pointed out, do not have laws to protect women from domestic violence.

“Women are often not encouraged to report abuses to police and find difficulties in seeking redress,” she added.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Thursday that most of the 5,000 honour killings reported to take place every year around the world do not make the news, nor do the other myriad forms of violence inflicted on women and girls by husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles and other male and sometimes even female family members.

“In the name of preserving family honour, women and girls are shot, stoned, burned, buried alive, strangled, smothered and knifed to death with horrifying regularity,” she added.

Although she did not identify any countries by name, Pillay said the problem has been exacerbated by the fact that in a number of countries domestic legal systems, including through discriminatory laws, still fully or partially exempt individuals guilty of honour killings from punishment.

“Perpetrators may even be treated with admiration and given special status within their communities,” she added.

A study released by the Washington-based Freedom House early this week singles out 15 countries in the region as having recorded “some gains in women’s rights” over the past five years.

Kuwait, Algeria and Jordan saw the most significant progress while Iraq, Yemen and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories – enduring internal conflicts and/or religious extremism – are the only countries to record overall decline.

Nadia Hijab, an independent analyst who works on gender, human rights, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, told IPS that Arab women are constantly making progress in securing political, economic, and social rights – but it is slow and incremental.

The obstacles are huge: women’s rights are tied to the struggle for democracy, defining the role of religion in the state, and the drive for equitable development, she said.

“That there is progress is a testament to the increasingly sophisticated and determined efforts of women’s groups that are pushing the boundaries of debate in all these areas,” she said.

Hijab said that as in many other parts of the world, the key is recognition that women are equal partners within the family and under the law.

This is why it is such a success when women gain the right to grant their nationality to their husbands and children, as they have in Algeria: it is recognition of their equal status at home and in the public sphere.

Similarly, the fact that there are women judges in Morocco and Lebanon sends a very powerful message in a region where some countries still consider women legal minors, Hijab declared.

She said the region is also heavily impacted by internal and cross-border conflicts that set women back.

In Lebanon, progress made by women’s groups ground to a halt recently when the country was in a political stalemate over the election of a president and formation of a government.

In the occupied Palestinian territories, gains women made in political development and economic empowerment have been set back as Palestinians struggle against the occupying Israeli forces’ encroachment on their lands and rights, Hijab said.


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Haitian Women Refuse to Be Sidelined

Posted on 04 March 2010 by admin

A mother comforts her child as he receives tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations provided by the World Health Organisation. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

By Marguerite A. Suozzi

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 (IPS/TerraViva) Women in Haiti are more vulnerable than ever to attacks on their dignity and gender-based violence after the massive Jan.  12 earthquake crippled the already struggling nation. Continue Reading

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BOLIVIA: Cash for Checkups to Slash Maternal Deaths

Posted on 02 March 2010 by admin

Dr. Walter Soria examines a 10-month-old baby girl. Credit:Franz Ch√°vez/IPS

Franz Ch√°vez – IPS/TerraViva

LA PAZ, Mar 2 (IPS) – A social programme in Bolivia that prevents the deaths of two mothers a day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth is making headway despite administrative difficulties, and has the potential to cut the alarmingly high maternal mortality rate in this country by up to 80 percent in just five years. Continue Reading

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RIGHTS: Rise and Fall of Gender Empowerment

Posted on 02 March 2010 by admin

UNIFEM Executive Director Ines Alberdi says the fund has channeled 30 million dollars to projects that combat gender violence. Credit:UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 1, 2010 (IPS/TerraViva) – The 45-member Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), presiding over one of the largest gatherings of women at the United Nations, listened Monday to dozens of speakers spelling out the successes and failures of gender empowerment worldwide.
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We Can’t Continue to Pay Lip Service to Gender Equality

Posted on 01 March 2010 by admin

UNFPA Executive Director THORAYA OBAID. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Castro

Thalif Deen interviews UNFPA Executive Director THORAYA OBAID

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28, 2010 (IPS) – When the 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) holds a two-week session beginning Monday, one of the lingering issues that will come up is the success – or failure – in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action on gender empowerment.
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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Women Traders Demand Support

Posted on 26 February 2010 by admin

Informal traders in the SADC region sell a wide range of goods: wood and stone carvings, clothes, furniture, electrical goods and doilies. Credit: Ntandoyenkosi Ncube/IPS

By Ntandoyenkosi Ncube

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 19, 2010 (IPS) – Support for regional trade is one of the cornerstones of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). But the focus has been on large scale trade in goods and services, ignoring one important group trading throughout the region. Continue Reading

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RIGHTS: Women Still Battling Gender Bigotry Worldwide

Posted on 25 February 2010 by admin

Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now, briefs journalists at the UN. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24, 2010 (IPS) – Nearly 62 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaimed “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” a few of the world’s discriminatory laws against women are being progressively repealed in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America.
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