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By Jenn Piatt, Global Peace and Security Issue Analyst on US-Muslim world relations

The ban on the face veil in a few European countries, has received wide spread attention. Justifications for the legal bans vary; yet, seem to be centered on three key concepts: national security, the oppression/liberation of women, and the promotion of secularism.

Setting aside the legal and secularist arguments that each of these countries face within the context of their domestic laws, is banning the veil really accomplishing what they set out to? Does removing a face covering achieve national security, liberate women, or enhance the secularist perspective? I’ m unpersuaded by the arguments.

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By Michaela Maynard
Michaela is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Michaela below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

I don’t give it much thought when I pick up my birth control pills each month from the pharmacy.  I know that if I need them, I can walk to the store and buy condoms. On Tuesday nights, I watch MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.  As young Americans, we have the luxury of living in a society where reproductive health is accessible and topics like sex are becoming less taboo. Unfortunately, other countries in the world are not as progressive when it comes to issues surrounding sexual and reproductive health.

Each year, over 3 million females endure the dangerous tradition of female genital mutilation. At least 100,000 women every year are left incontinent and ostracized from their communities due to obstetric fistula.  Today, women account for almost half of the 33 million people living with HIV. This past May, the birth control pill turned 50 years old, yet many women don’t have access to contraception.

Barriers to women’s health are complicated, but the solution doesn’t have to be. In Malawi, Africa, Girl Guides are playing a role in improving the sexual and reproductive health of themselves and their peers. The Girl Guides Association is dedicated to teaching females about HIV/AIDS, promoting gender equality and safe sex practices, and inspiring young women to achieve their goals. Through education and empowerment the Girl Guides have the knowledge and the courage to make decisions about their health and their sex life, and little by little, they are establishing safer and better lives for themselves.  All women deserve this kind of girl power.

Michaela has a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Rhode Island and a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Global Health from the George Washington University. She resides in Rhode Island where she is employed at a local hospital as a HIV/hepatitis C Clinical Research Assistant. In 2007, Michaela traveled to Malawi, Africa as the inaugural recipient of the Americans for UNFPA Student Award. She is an advocate for the health and rights of women all over the world.

By Emily Kronenberger
Emily is one of AIDemocracy’s 2010-2011 Issue Analysts. Find out more about Emily below or take a look at the  Student Issue Analysts.

Young people currently hold the key to redefining sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States, as well as around the globe, because we have the innate and practical power to lead by progressive and positive example. Through simple but critical gestures of acceptance, compassion, advocacy, and empathy, young people have continued to demonstrate that sexism, racism, misogyny, oppression, and discrimination are vestiges of a social past that is constantly being challenged by the sexual health and rights-advances of the present.

This is evident in our youth activism around issues of LGBTQI civil and human rights, including same-sex marriage, equal access to partner benefits, adoption rights, and anti-hate violence policies that recognize and address harassment and violence against LGBTQI persons. In addition,  our commitment to preserving reproductive rights by speaking and acting against limited access to sexual health education, services, and options shows that we are united in our opposition to the systematic oppression of women, men, children, and families.

Combating bigotry and hatred of sexual minorities and the repression of reproductive health and rights has always and continues to be a youth issue. Addressing these issues is not only vital to our identity formation as emerging adults with courage and conscience, but also as an imperative while these issues play out in in real time within our own lives, relationships, and families. Our roles in defining these issues must be clear: here and now, we must be the arbiters of bravery in continuing to challenge the political forces that perpetuate cultures of discrimination and heterosexism, and the teachers of moral imagination who can bring the truth about reproductive freedom and self-determination into a lasting  global discourse and policy framework.

Emily Kronenberger is currently a public health advocate and researcher specializing in addressing healthcare disparities among under-served populations, including women with disabilities and LGBTQI-identified people. Emily has worked and volunteered for various health advocacy organizations, including Youth Noise, MomsRising, and the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities (ABCD). She is the founder of New Wave Grrrl, an information and resource-sharing blog for women with a focus on health disparities that impact women with disabilities, women of color, and the LGBTQI community. Emily is passionate about improving reproductive health outcomes, advocating for sexual health and rights, and interested in how feminism and other progressive political movements can be used to overcome barriers to healthcare. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from Marymount Manhattan College, a Master of Urban Affairs degree from Hunter College, and a Master of Public Health degree from West Chester University.

by Evin Maria Phoenix, AIDemocracy Regional Coordinator

Not that we ever left. Indeed, the United States has been entrenched in the brutal landscape of Afghanistan for nearly a decade, becoming America’s longest war (USA Today). We’ve also poured somewhere between a conservative estimate of $32 Billion (not including Iraq) and a staggering $3 Trillion (including Iraq) into our military campaigns and infrastructural projects, sometimes going completely down the drain as an “outrageous waste of taxpayer money.”

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One would think we have a lot to show for it. Also, one would certainly hope that we’re safer as a nation. While back-and-forth debate endlessly circulates amongst us all, one issue almost always goes without address. In fact, it was used as partial justification for the invasion: the plight of women.

In fact, before the Wikileaks non-crisis, it seemed like everyone forgot all about Afghanistan. Lindsay Lohan dominated the CNN headlines and Twitter trending topics whilst “the plight of Afghanistan’s women” took a backseat on a long bus ride to nowhere. It’s time for a second look at what originally warranted the Bush-led pied-piper clarion call.

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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.

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During the US Social Forum, I attended a workshop on “Race, Gender, and Climate Justice,” about the impact of environmental justice and what people have been doing to reverse the impact, and eradicate environmental racism.

Environmental justice is the idea that people of color are disproportionately affected by things like climate change and pollution, and it is the movement led by people of color to counteract those environmental damages.  For example, Detroit is the home of the largest incinerator in the world.  The fumes from the incinerator blow directly into one of the low income neighborhood, causing health problems and reducing the ability for the people to move out — property values have fallen so low that to move out of the area a person might sell their house for around 300 dollars.

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“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 »

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the CARE National Conference in DC.  Like Ashley Binetti says in her post, the conference focused on informing the attenders and then lobbying Congress about three issues: chronic hunger, maternal health, and child marriage.  In addition to these focus areas, the session also talked about the work that CARE was doing throughout the world to fight global poverty.

I attended a session entitled “Empowering Women and Girls: Turning Rhetoric into Action” which focused on how CARE is giving women and children the tools they need to get out of poverty.  CARE’s mission is not to simply give charity to women and children fighting poverty, but to provide them with sustainable ways to get out of poverty.   They focus on three elements: agency, structures, and relationships.  The three are intertwined, and all three are necessary to help these women and children.  Without agency, the women cannot take control of a part of their lives; without changing the structures around them, the women would not be able to sustain the agency, and without forming relationships with the women, they would not have the support systems that are needed to maintain their actions.

All of this is relevant to the three areas on which CARE choose to focus their conference.  In order to sustainably develop, and fight against chronic hunger, maternal health issues, and child marriage, women need to have agency, they need to have a hand in changing the structures of the world around them, and they need to have relationships with each other that continue to empower them and future generations of women.

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