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Worldwide there are approximately 80 million unwanted pregnancies each year. Half of those pregnancies end in abortion, and half of those abortions, an estimated 20 million, are unsafe abortions. These unsafe abortions result in nearly 70,000 maternal deaths each year, and tens of thousands of additional complications and injuries.1

In many cases, even where abortion is legal, there are barriers to safe abortion care, such as a shortage of skilled health care providers, a shortage of equipment or medications, the cost of paying for abortion, lack of information, distance to health centers, or stigma around seeking abortion. In developing countries receiving US Foreign assistance, these barriers, particularly shortages in supplies and training, have been exacerbated in the past by the Global Gag Rule and continue to be exacerbated by the Helms Amendment. Read more about these two detrimental pieces of legislation in my previous blog posts about the Global Gag Rule, here, and about the Helms Amendment, here, to find out what you can do about it.

However, in countries where abortion is still illegal, the situation for women is even more dire. Read the rest of this entry »

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I was recently forwarded this article by Peggy Noonan about how youth has outlived its usefulness in American politics.   I was absolutely stunned by her allegations that we are in need of wise old men to guide our futures.  I want to respond to her points thoroughly, so please forgive me if this is long.

First, Ms. Noonan asserts that there is something missing in Washington and that ‘we’ (whom she is including in this we is unconfirmed. Though I suspect it is older, upperclass, white persons…) want something else — and that something is wise old men in advisory positions.  She says:

“They miss old and august. They miss wise and weathered. They miss the presence of bruised and battered veterans of life who’ve absorbed its facts and lived to tell the tale. This is a nation—a world—badly in need of adult supervision”

That presence, she goes on to say, is a father figure, one not unlike the character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In these opening statements, Ms. Noonan has rejected feminism and all that feminism has done for her. Why is the ‘father figure’ the necessary metaphor? Does Ms. Noonan imagine this council of wise old men as being protectors, as someone to whisper comforting statements that reassert how much better the US is than other nations, how the US should continue unflinching down its path of racism, xenophobia, sexism etc? What about wise old women? Did they not also live through these experiences that Ms. Noonan claims are so useful in guiding politics today?  Or is her implication that their wisdom is restricted to the home, housework and raising children?  Lest she forget that she is a woman who has her job because women stood up and resisted the saturation of old white men in power.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hello fellow AIDemocracy followers! I’m AIDemocracy’s new Global Development Intern, Noor Khalidi. I’m very excited to be on board this summer, to be learning more about social justice advocacy, and to be delivering you interesting news and reflections within the field of global development.

A little about myself—I am a junior at Virginia Tech studying Economics and International Studies. I began my college career very devoted to environmental issues, primarily due to a class I took my freshman year which exposed the frightening impact of modern human civilization on our Earth and its resources.

While my passion for environmental issues still burns, I have slowly begun to gravitate towards issues of global development and poverty alleviation. Earlier this summer, I traveled to Nicaragua as part of a Virginia Tech field study to learn more about approaches to sustainable development in poor rural communities–communities without running water and electricity, for example.

During my time in Nicaragua, I lived in two villages with very generous host families in modest adobe mud homes, filled with many chickens and a pig or two if lucky.  Through the international organization Green Empowerment and their local partner AsoFenix, I learned about low-impact sustainable development projects such as greywater filters and solar water pumps.

Read the rest of this entry »

“It’s only by God’s grace that you survive pregnancy.” This statement, made by a 19-year-old girl in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), illustrates the incredible situation of women in sub-Saharan Africa with little or no access to reproductive health care. The statistics are staggering: every year, approximately half a million women around the world die from pregnancy related causes. More than half are in sub-Saharan Africa, almost all are in impoverished countries, and most deaths are avoidable. Think about the women in your life – how many people do you know who have needed an emergency C-section because the baby was breach or the labor was taking too long? Issues like obstructed labor and post-partum hemorrhage occur with women everywhere. In developed countries, they lead to scary moments and extra medical care.  In the developing world, they often lead to death.

Dire as this situation is throughout the developing world, it is much worse in areas of conflict. Here, women are subjected to the additional burdens of violence and displacement. Emergency response to conflict areas usually consists of extremely basic supplies – food, clean water, sometimes first aid and shelter. But reproductive health services are just as important.

Yesterday I went to a film screening in DC to watch BBC Documentary “Grace Under Fire”, which focuses on Dr. Grace Kodindo, a Chadian Ob/Gyn who travels to the DRC to observe the special needs of women in conflict areas. The film was followed by a panel and Q&A featuring Dr. Kodindo, Mr. Clarence Massaquoi of Liberia, and Dr. Bouba Touré of the DRC. The film was fantastic and the information I learned was staggering. You can watch an excerpt of the film on YouTube, as it was televised on BBC. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday I wrote about the Global Gag Rule and its effects on abortion rights and services around the world. What I didn’t write about was the Helms Amendment,  which has been in effect since 1973 – it followed right on the heels of Roe v. Wade as a conservative backlash to the legalization of abortion in the US.  The Helms Amendment prohibits the use of US foreign assistance funds to pay for “abortion as a method of family planning, or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortion.” Although this amendment is slightly less far-reaching than the Gag Rule, it also has a huge detrimental effect on the availability of safe abortion services to women around the world. Currently, approximately 67,000 women worldwide die each year as a result of unsafe abortions, and millions more are seriously injured. Check out this article by IPAS to get a better idea of how the Helms Amendment violates human rights and inhibits other nations’ efforts to provide abortion services in their own countries.

The Helms Amendment is the Foreign Policy equivalent of the Hyde Amendment,  a domestic policy which prohibits federal funding from being used to pay for abortion. Read the rest of this entry »

Here in the US, abortion has been a contentious issue for decades. Clinics where abortion services are provided often have protesters in front showing gruesome and inaccurate pictures of aborted fetuses.  Pro-choice activists are sometimes labeled as murderers; once, when I mentioned that I was working at Planned Parenthood, I was told by a med student that she was studying to “be able to save babies, not kill them.” And yet here in the United States women do have the right to choose when and if to have children, and whether pregnancy is right for us. Of course, preventative contraception methods are always preferable, but accidents happen. What sexually active girl hasn’t had a pregnancy scare at some point?  Birth control is not a guarantee. Abstinence only campaigns have been proven over and over again to be ineffective – sexuality is a part of our humanity. As American women, we are privileged to have access to that basic human right, the right to have control over our own bodies.

In many developing countries, that is not the case, and this is hugely affected by U.S. international policies. The Mexico City Policy, better known as the Global Gag Rule, prohibited any organization abroad that receives federal US funding from performing abortions, or even counseling or referring patients for abortion. This is even if the organization was doing so using outside funding.  Or, as laid out by USAID on its website:

“The Mexico City Policy required foreign nongovernmental organizations to certify that they will not perform or   actively promote abortion as a method of family planning using funds generated from any source as a condition for receiving USAID family planning assistance.”

This means that a US policy can determine what an individual doctor, who works for a US funded organization, can say to his or her individual patient halfway around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Hi, I’m Lisa – the new Global Environment intern here at Americans for Informed Democracy.

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast briefing celebrating International Women’s Day. The breakfast was organized by Women Thrive Worldwide and UNIFEM to educate policymakers and private sector leaders about successes and challenges facing women in Afghanistan and Haiti. Speakers included The Honorable Maria Otero – Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ines Alberdi – Executive Director of UNIFEM, Kathy Mongones – UNIFEM Haiti Program Coordinator, Suraya Pakzad – Founder of Voice of Women in Afghanistan, and Ritu Sharma – President and Co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide.

The take away message was clear: it’s time to make women’s empowerment a central focus of U.S. foreign policy. But how do we do this? According to Ritu Sharma, you listen.

Read the rest of this entry »

It was the beginning of my fifth and final year at the University of Missouri, I had just tacked on a new major, and the majority of my friends had graduated and moved away. How was I going to take an active role in my new department; how was I going to fill this new void in my social calendar; and importantly, how was I going to get a better grip on what I wanted to do after graduation (because this time around I planned to actually do so)? I could… launch a ‘zine. A sexy ‘zine. Yeah! A ‘zine on sexuality and reproductive health, if executed well, would be a seemingly perfect way to engage my peers in a collaborative project that was interesting, meaningful and activating. It would also allow me to explore my interest of sexual and reproductive health. And even better: I may even build a new friendship or two (or thirty).

So, that’s what I did. Last month, I launched an e-zine called BODYTALK at the University of Missouri. BODYTALK is a completely student produced publication that focuses on issues of sexuality, bodies, and reproductive health and is rooted in the belief that cooperative, judgment-free discussion of our own experiences is key to achieving equality and freedom.

The first issue was entitled The Virgin Issue and aimed to start near the beginning of students’ sexual narratives with their first sexual experiences (whether they have had one or not). The next issue, The Medical Issue, is scheduled to release this week and encompasses experiences in which sexuality/sexual bodies and medicine intersect.

Read the rest of this entry »

If you are at all interested in finance for development, check this out.

Post courtesy Choike.org

Statement of the WOMEN’S WORKING GROUP ON FINANCING FOR DEVELOPMENT * for the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, September 2009

The current G20 meeting in Pittsburgh takes place a year after the outbreak of the worst financial crisis in recent history. That moment left us astonished as we watched powerful governments and the International Financial Institutions scramble to plug a hemorrhaging financial bubble burst in the system of the global market but the crisis quickly spread as a global contagion and soon entire economies were placed at risk. Everywhere the crisis led to destabilizing impacts on the real economy threatening the livelihoods of men and women.

WE believe that G20 leaders’ declarations have committed three essential mistakes: First, the declarations fail to diagnose the crisis as a symptom of something deeper: the unsustainability of an economic and financial system based on profit; the over concentration of capital, overproduction, rampant speculation; and the reckless consumerism that is guided by free market principles. The decoupling of the real economy and financial markets was accompanied by yet another fundamental artificial separation: the productive economy and the sphere of social reproduction.

From a gender perspective, it is also necessary to consider that the aggregate contribution of female labor in the productive economy is concentrated differently than that of male labor. This implies that the impacts of the crisis on women will vary according to sectors of the economy and work conditions. In general, female labor is more vulnerable than male labor with a highest concentration in the informal sector. Therefore, the trend is that women also suffer the most in the productive economy during a crisis. However, the G20 has not approached or attempted to provide answers to any of these elements and analysis of the gendered aspects of the crisis.

Second, the G20 statements presented some of the same elements that caused the crisis as a solution to it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Okay, flashback to the 80s (or maybe it was the 90s) but there was a song by The Eurythmics ‘ Annie Lennox and the incomparable Aretha Franklin. Now, watching the video, I can see how dated it seems and how earnest and oversimplified the message may appear to be.

While gender issues may seem “so last century” to some women in the U.S., for many others here and in low-income countries, liberation and equity remain elusive goals. I was thinking of the song because I participated in the $2 a Day Challenge that AID held last Friday. After I ended my challenge, I went with friends to see a play which talked about gender issues and “how to be a woman” or “be a man” in today’s society. What are the roles, the expectations, the pressures, the incentives within our culture? What are the norms within other cultures?

Today, women in the U.S. still earn approximately 76 cents to every dollar earned by a man. This is true even when they are working in the same field and have the same educational attainment as their male peers. Recent studies from Cornell (2005) and Carnegie Mellon (2007) indicated worsening trends: the Cornell study found that women with children were less likely to be hired and if hired would be paid a lower salary then male applicants, while male applicants with children were likely to be offered higher pay than women with children or people without children. The Carnegie Mellon study t found that women who applied for jobs were not as likely to be hired by male managers if they tried to ask for more money, while men who asked for a higher salary were not negatively affected.

In other parts of the world, these disparities among others persist. Women’s wages lag behind men’s in many occupations and women are often sought out by employers because they lack other income-generating opportunities, so they are more likely to accept a lower wage for their labor.

While women’s situations are often heterogeneous and race, ethnicity, class, religion, age, and geography may all affect a woman’s access to opportunities and skills development; in many ways, women regardless of their situations have much in common: violence. Women experience sexual assault and domestic violence throughout the world. The confluence of rape as a tool of war, child-marriage, wives inability to negotiate safe sex with their unfaithful husbands, and the economic need for women to pursue sex work have contributed to the increased feminization of the spread of HIV-AIDS.

Women also share other traits—as mothers, they are fiercely committed to improving their children’s lives. Getting more money into the hands of a woman is a sound investment—it goes straight into improving her children’s diet, access to health care, and to education Conversely , men spend a portion of their extra income on alcohol, gambling, and other pleasurable pursuits. Once women learn their rights and are given a chance to use their voices, these voices ring out on their own behalf as well as for others.

When I finished my $2 a Day Challenge, I had a great time going to the Global Giving site and deciding where to place my donation. Not surprisingly, I chose a group trains Rwandan women in leadership and non-profit management training, start-up funding and twelve months of support to establish their own organizations to advance women’s rights.

These women are doing it for themselves with some support of women and men abroad. As the mother of a small boy, I hope to raise him in a world where gender issues really will be passe’.

Marceline White

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