Archive for the ‘Childbirth Pregnancy’ Category
Reactions to the steady stream of headlines about unwanted babies have ranged from an expansion of sex education in schools to calls for stiffer penalties and the opening of the country’s first “baby hatch,” where infants can be left to be cared for by others. One state government has offered financial support for younger teenagers to marry, angering women’s groups that have been campaigning against child marriage.
Under the Shariah, or Islamic, law that applies to the Muslims who make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population, premarital sex is forbidden, with penalties including up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit, about $1,600, or six strokes of the cane. Premarital sex is not punishable for non-Muslims, but it remains socially taboo.
Abortion is illegal unless the woman’s physical or mental health is endangered. Anyone who abandons a child under 12 faces up to seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Despite recent news media attention to the issue, the number of babies being abandoned in Malaysia has not shown a significant spike this year. The police have recorded 76 cases from the beginning of this year through Oct. 1, compared with 79 cases in 2009 and 102 in 2008.
But in August, the cabinet asked the attorney general’s office to look more closely into cases where babies died after being abandoned, to determine whether those responsible should be charged with murder, a crime that carries the death penalty in Malaysia.
Taking another approach, Mohamad Ali Rustam, chief minister of Malacca State, south of Kuala Lumpur, recently announced plans to give 500 ringgit to couples under the age of 18 if they marry.
In Malaysia, Muslim girls under 16 and boys under 18 may marry with permission from a Shariah court. Non-Muslims must be at least 18, unless they have permission from their state’s chief minister, in which case they may be as young as 16.
From 2000 through 2008, 1,654 marriages were registered involving girls aged 16 and 17, although women’s rights advocates believe the incidence of child marriage may be higher.
A Unaids report released this year showed that 7,176 Muslim girls and 2,029 Muslim boys aged 19 and below underwent H.I.V. screening in 2009, which is compulsory in most states for Malaysian Muslims who are applying to marry.
Mr. Mohamad said he hoped that providing teenage couples with money to help pay for a wedding ceremony would discourage premarital sex and thus reduce the abandonment of children born out of wedlock.
Groups that advocate raising the marriage age to 18 for all Malaysians, regardless of gender or religion, have condemned Mr. Mohamad’s move.
Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women’s Aid Organization, a nongovernmental group, said that allowing those under 18 to marry contravened Malaysia’s obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the country’s own legislation. “Child marriage is against every right of the child,” she said.
Both the U.N. convention and Malaysia’s Child Act define a child as anyone under the age of 18.
The Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development is investigating reports that a 14-year-old girl was recently given permission to marry by the Shariah court, but there are no plans to raise the marriage age to 18 for Muslim girls.
“We hope that the Shariah judges will continue to exercise their discretion judiciously,” said Heng Seai Kie, deputy minister for Women, Family and Community Development.
Other efforts are focused on education and logistical support.
The number of teenage pregnancies, regardless of marital status, has risen slightly in Malaysia in recent years, with 16,207 live births registered in 2007, compared with 15,752 in 2005.
Nongovernmental organizations have long called for schools to provide students with more knowledge about sex and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Currently, students learn only the basics of anatomy and reproduction in biology and physical education classes, and abstinence outside marriage is promoted.
Starting next year, however, primary school students will spend 30 minutes a week and high school students will spend 40 minutes twice a month in “Reproductive Health and Social Education” classes.
The lessons will continue to emphasize abstinence before marriage, but secondary students will also learn about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.
Ms. Heng, the deputy women’s minister, said that while the government wanted to discourage premarital sex, it did provide support for unwed women and girls who became pregnant. It operates four shelters for unmarried girls under 18, and two for pregnant women 18 and older, at which free food and accommodation are provided. She said the country also maintained up to 60 welfare centers that offered assistance to unwed mothers and their babies.
The government’s response has failed to impress advocates like Ms. Josiah of the Women’s Aid Organization. While she welcomed the greater focus on sex education, she deplored the attempts to encourage young teenagers to marry and said punitive measures, like charging people with murder if the baby they abandoned died, would not help address the problem of child abandonment.
“If the message is that you might get caned for having sex outside marriage, or you might even be executed because you have abandoned a baby and the baby dies, or we will force you to get married — never mind if you are under 18 — if these are the messages that are going out, then certainly no one is going to come forward,” she said.
To increase the chances of survival for abandoned babies, Malaysia’s first “baby hatch,” a place where mothers can leave their unwanted babies, opened in May. Fifteen babies have been left so far.
The hatch, based on a design already in use in Germany and Japan, features an alarm that is activated when a baby is placed inside. It is located on the premises of Orphan Care, a nongovernmental organization that arranges for the babies to be placed in children’s homes or adopted.
Orphan Care is hoping to open another baby hatch in Kuala Lumpur and a third at a government hospital on the outskirts of the capital. “I think if more hatches open, if they are more accessible and in different cities, we can save a few more lives,” said Adnan Mohammad Tahir, the organization’s president.
Part of a longer article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/world/asia/09malay.html?_r=1&src=twrhp
We, undersigned, hereby express our concern about the situation in Hungary regarding non-hospital birth. It is shameful that Dr. Ágnes Geréb and other midwives providing responsible assistance to homebirthing families could become the victims of a show trial beneath the dignity of a democratic state.
We think that prosecuting midwives because of a regrettable case that could have happened in a hospital is unacceptable. The rate of neonatal mortality in Hungary for out-of-hospital birth is 1 out of a thousand, while 8 out of a thousand for hospital birth (international statistics are in line with the Hungarian data: in countries where assisted, planned out-of-hospital birth is regulated, maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity rates of homebirth are better or at least as good as corresponding rates of hospital birth.)
Midwives in our country face several legal and professional problems due to the current lack of appropriate legislation, therefore their activity is not judged according to protocols developed and adopted by midwives, but according to the protocols of another and completely different approach, that of medicalized obstetrician paradigm. In this present unlawful situation not only families choosing homebirth are negatively discriminated, but also those dedicated professionals, who assist them as midwives.
The Hungarian Parliament failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation by not creating the legal, financial, institutional and educational framework for planned, assisted out-of-hospital birth. The legal deficiency subsists, and this outrageous situation cannot be justified by the fact that the College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians tenaciously stands against homebirth despite international recommendations, scientific evidence and the opinion of experienced professionals. Citizens of Hungary who would like to make responsible and free choices regarding the location and circumstances of their birth, find themselves is dishonoring situations, although the Constitution guarantees their right to self-sovereignty.
We request that competent authorities and professional bodies promote effective cooperation of parties, and reconcile this discreditable situation.
We also request that the Judiciary Administration fairly and impartially run the trial, staying away from the unlawful persecution of professional midwives assisting homebirth.
Sign the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/szul2010/petition.html
The European Parliament by a large majority passed a Resolution in favour of substantially increasing European minimum standards for maternity and paternity leave provisions. In what supporters are lauding a great victory for the women and men living in Europe, the Parliament approved an increase of maternity leave provisions from 14 weeks to 20 weeks and the introduction of two weeks leave for new fathers, both fully paid.
‘This is an incredibly important victory for parents, both mothers and fathers, as it will for the first time shift the costs of maternity from individual women to society as a whole’, says Brigitte Triems, President of the European Women’s Lobby. ‘It is also a sign that our representatives in the European Parliament take progress towards equality between women and men and the future of our societies seriously. We welcome the commitment in particular of those MEPs who championed the text, but also of the Parliament as a whole, which today showed that it is ready to take political decisions which may be unpopular in certain quarters but which in effect favour long-term gains in equality between women and men and socio-economic sustainability.’
The revision to the so-called ‘Maternity Leave Directive’ was first tabled in 2008. The duration of leave and the costs of remuneration have been highly controversial, in particular with British business groups, and the vote was expected to be very close. Earlier this year, the European Parliament’s Impact Assessment of the proposed legislation concluded that the investment for European economies was highly sound, with increases in women’s employment rates alone set to more than offset the costs.
‘If backed by European governments, this legislation will make a huge difference to the lives of millions of women across Europe’, explains EWL Secretary General, Myria Vassiliadou. ‘Sufficiently long leave allowances, pay and protection from dismissal upon return will ensure women do not have to sacrifice their careers in order to raise a family.’
Currently in Europe, women’s employment rates drop by more than 12% when they have children. The OECD found in 2006 that in countries where the maternity leave provisions are longest, female employment rates were also highest, with over 80% in Iceland and over 70% in Denmark and Sweden – well above the OECD average of 57%.
At a time of widespread concern about Europe’s ageing population and the costs of pensions, increasing women’s participation in the labour market as well as birth-rates has become paramount to economic sustainability. The member states with high female employment rates are also countries where fertility rates are higher.
‘The Members of the European Parliament have sent a very strong message to our governments that priority must be given to long-term, equal and sustainable investments in Europe’s biggest resource: its people, women, men and children,’ said Ms. Triems. ‘We trust national governments will take note.’
Gender equality associations are also very pleased about provisions for paid paternity leave. According to Ms Vassiliadou, ‘Fathers not only have a right to be with their new-born children, but should also be encouraged to contribute equally to their care. Guaranteed and paid paternity leave is a step in the right direction towards an equal distribution of social rights and responsibilities between women and men.’
According to the legislative Resolution adopted today, fathers are provided with two weeks non-transferable leave at full pay. The first six weeks of maternity leave are also non-transferable, but a couple can request to share the remaining 14 weeks.
For more information, please contact Leanda Barrington-Leach, EWL Communications and Media Officer, email@example.com, T: (+32) 488 41 94 21, and see http://www.womenlobby.org.
The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men. EWL membership extends to organisations in all 27 EU Member States and 3 of the candidate countries, as well as to 21 European-wide organisations, representing a total of more than 2500 associations.
According to All Women’s Action Society Malaysia (Awam), employers tend to have the perception that women become unproductive once they were pregnant.
“But this is completely unacceptable and it shows that the companies are ignorant about labour laws,” said senior programme officer Abigail De Vries.
She said a number of women had approached Awam over the years with similar issues.
“The problem is not uncommon but more should be done to eradicate discrimination of women at the workplace,” De Vries added.
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) said it condemned employers who discriminated against women because of their gender.
“Dismissing a female employee because she is pregnant, or treating her so badly that she sees no other option but to resign, is punishing a woman for claiming her reproductive rights,” said WAo’s programme officer Sarah Thwaites, adding the government currently does not monitor the extent of this trend of forcing pregnant women out of their jobs.
“The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the Labour Department should encourage women who have been discriminated against to come forward and make complaints to their offices throughout the country,” she said.
Thwaites added that employers needed to know that they may face legal repercussions as everyone had the right to work and raise a family without being bullied and discriminated against.
Poor, rural, Quechua-speaking women in the Peruvian province of Anta who were victims of a forced sterilisation programme between 1996 and 2000 have filed a new lawsuit in their continuing struggle for justice.
In May 2009, Jaime Schwartz, the public prosecutor investigating the case against four former health ministers of the Alberto Fujimori administration (1990-2000), decided to shelve the investigation. He said the case involved alleged crimes against the victims’ life, body and health, and manslaughter, and that the statute of limitations had expired.
But the plaintiffs in the case had brought accusations of genocide and torture, which as crimes against humanity have no statute of limitation. The attorney-general’s office upheld Schwartz’s decision, overruling the complaint lodged against it by the victims and the human rights organisations providing them with legal advice.
Now the Women’s Association of Forced Sterilisation Victims of Anta, a mountainous province in the southern department of Cuzco, has decided to combat impunity with a new strategy: it is presenting a new lawsuit against those responsible for family planning policy in the last four years of the Fujimori regime.
The Association’s approximately 100 members are rural women whose testimonies have revealed the hidden side of the National Programme for Reproductive Health and Family Planning, imposed by coercion and deceit under the guise of an anti-poverty plan.
The study documented for the first time the systematic use of sterilisation practices that particularly targeted poor, indigenous, rural women.
As a result of the publication, Tamayo received threats from the government. She had to leave the country and went to live in Spain, but has now returned to Peru to advise the Anta Women’s Association on the new lawsuit.
The Peruvian state has admitted that 300,000 sterilisations were performed under the VSC programme. The ombudsman’s office has collected direct testimony from 2,074 women who were sterilised without their consent between 1996 and 2000.
In 2003, the Peruvian state signed a friendly settlement agreement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Mamérita Mestanza, who died in 1998 as a result of a poorly performed tubal ligation procedure done without her consent.
The state acknowledged its responsibility, recognised the abuses committed under the family planning programme, undertook to investigate and bring to trial the government officials who devised and implemented the campaign, and promised to pay reparations to Mestanza’s family.
But the attorney-general’s office dragged its feet on the promised investigation, which made little progress before it was shelved by the public prosecutor in 2009. Meanwhile Alejandro Aguinaga, one of the accused, a former health minister and personal physician to Fujimori, was elected to Congress in 2006 and is now vice president of the legislature.
Fujimori is in prison for 25 years, convicted of several charges of corruption and human rights violations.
The state’s failure to carry out this part of the friendly agreement “is prolonging the pain of thousands of victims, because the accused are carrying on as respectable members of society when they really should be called to account in the courts,” said Tamayo, who is also a researcher for the Spanish chapter of the global rights watchdog Amnesty International.
“This time, those responsible for the forced sterilisation plan will be sued individually for crimes against humanity and torture,” she said.
Each of the accused will also be charged “for war crimes, because the coerced sterilisation was carried out in the context of the 1980-2000 armed conflict (between the military and leftwing guerrillas), when the armed forces were used to threaten and terrorise” the civilian population, Tamayo said.
Specifying international crimes (which include crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and war crimes) will allow “other countries to prosecute the accused, if the Peruvian state continues to protect them,” she said.
“The IACHR has already indicated that forced sterilisation is a matter of international law,” the rights activist said.
Tamayo said the lawsuit will be brought by the victims in Anta, because in that province “sterilisation was implemented door to door, the health authorities were given ‘quotas’ of sterilised women that they were required to meet, and all the victims belonged to the same indigenous ethnic group.”
This shows that “those who designed the programme defined its targets with abominable precision,” Tamayo said.
Part of a longer article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=53177
Seven women in Mexico serving prison terms of up to 29 years for the death of their newborns were freed last week after a legal reform enacted in the state of Guanajuato lowered their sentences.
The women’s cases case drew national attention in Mexico and their release is unlikely to staunch the fiery debate about whether some conservative states are trying to overzealously enforce bans on elective abortion by charging women who may have suffered miscarriages.
The women are largely poor and uneducated, and they claim they suffered miscarriages — not viable births — and did nothing to harm their unborn children.
“They are innocent, they all suffered miscarriages,” said women’s rights activist Veronica Cruz, who championed their cases.
State prosecutors maintained to the end that the women’s trials were fair, that their babies were born alive but died because of mistreatment or lack of care, a crime defined under state law “homicide against a relative.”
The women were not absolved, but rather released under a legal reform passed after the state government concluded that their sentences “were inappropriate, given that they were excessively punitive and ranged from 25 to 35 years.”
The reform reduced the sentences to 3 to 8 years, the time already served by the women.
“The important thing was to have them freed,” Cruz said. “They will talk and decide if they want to undertake any other action,” to pursue a reversal of their sentences.
The Guanajuato state government said it will help the women get on with their lives after some spent as long as 8 years in prison.
However, the state’s reputation for conservatism made many suspicious.
While Guanajuato still allows abortion under very limited circumstances, like rape, rights activists say that in practice even that possibility is often denied women.
Activist Rosalia Cruz Sanchez says doctors fearing prosecution often require a woman impregnated by rape to produce a letter from prosecutors confirming that. She said authorities often delay until the window for such an abortion — 12 weeks in most states — has passed, forcing the woman to bear the child.
Abortion on demand in the first trimester is legal only in Mexico City, under a 2007 law that has enraged the country’s conservatives and sparked a wave of state right-to-life laws.
While the “Guanajuato Seven” have received largely favorable media coverage, not everyone was cheering about the legal reform that led to their release.
In a statement, two pro-life groups — the Yucatan Pro Network and The Center for Women’s Studies — said that “homicide against a relative will never be a woman’s right.”
It is “worrisome that now a woman attacking the life of her child would be considered a non-serious crime, as long as she does it within 24 hours after it is born.”
A growing number of women in South Africa and other countries in the region have come forward in the last few years with stories of forced or coerced sterilization after an HIV-positive test result.
Local rights groups in Namibia, with the support of the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, have helped uncover 15 such cases, and a trial involving three HV-positive women who say they were sterilized at public health facilities without their consent is due to resume on 1 September in the High Court.
“It does appear that in Namibia [the practice of sterilising HIV-positive women] has been fairly widespread and systemic,” said Delme Cupido, coordinator of HIV/AIDS policy at the Open Society Institute of Southern Africa (OSISA), which is providing funding for the legal action.
Similar cases have been uncovered in Zambia, and Promise Mtembu, an AIDS and women’s rights activist who was herself sterilized in 1997, is gathering stories from South African women living with HIV whose reproductive rights have been violated.
Some of the 12 cases she has so far documented occurred several years before prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services were available, but the most recent took place in 2009, by which time public health facilities were using a dual-antiretroviral therapy regimen that can reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission to less than five percent.
Aside from the availability of PMTCT, performing a medical procedure without informed consent is a serious human rights violation and yet, according to Mushahida Adhikari, an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town working with Mtembu to compile cases with a view to taking legal action, “A lot of women didn’t know it was wrong that they’d been sterilized. In many cases [the women] knew what they were signing, but didn’t feel like they had a choice.”
Mtembu and Adhikari hope to collect enough strong cases to take to South Africa’s High Court and, in the event of a ruling in their favour, to present them to the country’s Constitutional Court, but “It’s going to be a long, hard slog,” Adhikari warned. “A lot of the women don’t necessarily want to be part of a big class action, they just want an apology.”
Often the women do not want to go to court because they have not told their families about being sterilized. Adhikari said the stigma associated with not being able to have children could be as strong as being HIV positive.
Reversal may be possible, depending on how the sterilization was performed, but the procedure is difficult and too expensive for most of the women.
Part of a longer article at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/1847b302fcc73a35d9e924154abc71c2.htm
Tens of thousands of Kenyan women and girls suffer from obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury causing leakage of urine and feces, a direct result of inadequate health services and failed government policies, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this month.
The 82-page report, “‘I Am Not Dead, But I Am Not Living’: Barriers to Fistula Prevention and Treatment in Kenya,” describes the devastating condition facing women with fistula in Kenya and the wide gap between government’s policies to address reproductive health and the reality of women’s daily lives. It documents health system failures in five areas: education and information on reproductive and maternal health; school-based sex education; access to emergency obstetric care, including referral and transport systems; affordable maternity care and fistula repair; and health system accountability. It also documents stigma and violence many fistula sufferers face.
“Many women and girls with fistula endure lives of shame, misery, violence, and poverty,” said Agnes Odhiambo, Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Preventing fistula and restoring women’s health and dignity requires more than good policies on paper. Kenya needs to keep its promise of decent health care for all.”
The risk of obstetric fistula often begins when young girls get pregnant or marry early, before their bodies are safely able to sustain a pregnancy. This can result in obstructed labor, and if emergency care – often a Caesarean section – is not accessible, the long labor results in destruction of vaginal tissue and causes a hole – a fistula – and incontinence. One of the factors leading to early pregnancy and childbearing is the lack of accurate information about sexuality. Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls with virtually no knowledge about reproductive processes or health.
Kwamboka W., who got pregnant at 13 while in primary school, told Human Rights Watch: “I didn’t know anything about family planning or condoms. I just went once and got pregnant. I still have no idea about contraceptives.”
Others told Human Rights Watch they had unprotected sex but thought they would not get pregnant because it was their first time or because they had irregular menstrual periods.
The report is based on field research conducted by Human Rights Watch in November and December 2009 in hospitals in Kisumu, Nairobi, Kisii, and Machakos, as well as in Dadaab in March 2010. Researchers interviewed 55 women and girls ranging in age from 14 to 73, 53 of whom had fistula. Twelve of those with fistula were between the ages of 14 and 18. Human Rights Watch also interviewed obstetric fistula surgeons, nurses working in hospital fistula wards, hospital administrators, representatives of nongovernmental organizations working on health and women’s rights, government officials, representatives of professional associations for doctors and nurses, international donors, United Nations representatives, and primary and secondary school teachers.
Kwamboka W. described her life after she developed a fistula: “I thought I should kill myself. You can’t walk with people. They laugh at you. You can’t travel; you are constantly in pain. It is so uncomfortable when you sleep. You go near people and they say urine smells, and they are looking directly at you and talking in low tones. It hurt so much I thought I should die. You can’t work because you are in pain; you are always wet and washing clothes. Your work is just washing pieces of rugs.”
Human Rights Watch found that even though the government has introduced sex education in schools, teachers often don’t take the time to teach it because it is not part of the syllabus.
The report also said that health care user fees are a significant barrier to maternity care and fistula surgery. Many of the women who suffer from fistula are poor. Women told Human Rights Watch how difficult it was to raise money for surgery. The Kenya government made a great stride when it began offering free maternity care in dispensaries and health centers, Human Rights Watch said. But this does not help the women who develop complications requiring care in hospitals, where fees are still charged. These fees deter poor women from seeking skilled maternity care.
Government hospitals are supposed to offer fee waivers for indigent patients, but the report identified critical shortcomings in the waiver process. These include lack of awareness of the policy among patients and some health providers; the reluctance of some facilities to publicize the waivers and deliberate withholding of information requested by patients; vague implementation guidelines, including the criteria for determining a patient’s financial needs; and lack of oversight and monitoring to ensure that hospitals grant waivers to qualifying patients. None of the women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch had received a waiver.
“Poor, rural, and illiterate women and girls are often the ones who develop obstetric fistula or die during pregnancy and childbirth,” Odhiambo said. “Important information and services are not reaching them, and this shows that government policies that promise health care equality are not being carried out.”
Strengthening health system accountability – giving people accessible and effective ways to provide feedback and lodge complaints, and ensuring that the feedback leads to improvements – can greatly enhance the health system, Human Rights Watch said. The current system of suggestion boxes is ineffective, especially for illiterate women, the report found. Several women and girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch had experienced abuse in health facilities, yet did not lodge complaints because they did not know how or feared retaliation.
“Camps” funded by international donors a few weeks a year in a number of towns offer surgical repairs to a small percentage of fistula sufferers, but even those who have successful surgery may still face stigma in their families and communities.
After years, sometimes decades, of isolation, many women and girls need help reintegrating into their communities. They need social and psychological support to regain self-esteem and confidence, to encourage participation in social and religious life, to regain fertility and an opportunity for a normal sexual life, and to ensure future safe childbirth. These women also need help to become financially self-sufficient.
The Kenyan government should develop and implement a national strategy to prevent fistula and provide needed services to those who have the injury, Human Rights Watch said. The effort should include a public awareness campaign about the causes of fistula, the need for childbirth to take place in properly equipped facilities, and the availability of treatment. The government should make comprehensive sex education part of the school syllabus to ensure that teachers allocate time to teach it.
The government also urgently needs to improve access to fistula surgery by subsidizing routine repairs in hospitals and providing free surgery for indigent patients, Human Rights Watch said. It should expand the exemptions from user fees to include all maternal health care, not just childbirth in dispensaries and health centers, and the government should urgently improve the quality of and access to emergency obstetric care.
Download the report from “I Am Not Dead, But I Am Not Living” – Barriers to Fistula Prevention and Treatment in Kenya from http://www.hrw.org/node/91514
World Parliamentarians have pledged to mobilize support for legislative actions to ensure the health, dignity and rights of women and girls through access to reproductive and sexual health in the shortest possible time.
“We are convinced that implementing the commitment made by our governments in the major United Nations conferences and summits, will end the preventable high maternal deaths and disability that constitute the greatest moral, human rights and development challenge of our time”.
This was contained in a communiqué issued at the Parliamentarians Forum during the close of a three-day world conference on “Women Deliver 2010,” which highlighted the achievements in reducing maternal mortality, breakthroughs in reproductive technology, the role of women’s health in development and the remaining obstacles to improving maternal health around the world.
The conference was attended by over 3,000 participants including national health ministers, first ladies, parliamentarians, midwives, the youth, maternal health advocates and celebrities from over 140 countries.
The parliamentarians expressed their determination by creating laws and policies with and for women and girls, giving them their fair share of funding, budget and oversight responsibilities, advocate for a women’s and girls’ agenda everywhere to advance MDG “5”, locally, nationally, regionally and globally as well as speaking out on women and girls to create awareness and knowledge building.
The MPs explained that health solutions for girls and women must be complemented by a conducive political will and legislative environment for long term results and effectiveness.
They, therefore, expressed their commitment in demanding that key issues of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights were made regular agenda items during relevant bilateral, multilateral and international meetings.
The MPs also committed themselves to generating an institutional memory by mapping legislations that governments have adhered to women and girls health and ensure their implementation, work actively towards enforcing national laws and de facto implement policies to accelerate women and girls economic, social and political rights and reduce gender inequality and gender-based violence.
They expressed concern about the funding and budget allocated to address the health needs of women and girls and called for additional 12 billion dollars a year to be invested in women and girls.
They also pledged to work in partnership with governments, civil society, the private sector and other key stakeholders to meet the 24 billion dollars needed to provide access to family planning and maternal and newborn care to all women in developing countries.
The communiqué called for active work in the establishment of a global funding mechanism for family planning, mothers saying “such a global funding mechanism would reduce maternal mortality by 70 per cent, avert 44 per cent of new born deaths, reduce unsafe abortions by over 70 per cent and further contribute to curb the AIDS and malaria pandemics, which has placed women and girls at greater risk.
“With the up-coming G-8 and G-20 parliamentarians’ conference and the summit of leaders of industrialized nations, the MPs will take the opportunity to review the MDGs.
“Now is the time to amplify our voices to broaden the dialogue on maternal and reproductive health in the global arena and to demonstrate concrete action to achieve MDG “5”, the communiqué added.
It called for parliamentarian’s participation and inclusion in political priority setting on women and girls health at local, national, regional and global levels by establishing a clear monitoring mechanism for each MDG with a clear timeline and format.
The communiqué also called on health ministers to establish realistic and verifiable annual action plans for reaching individual MDG targets with a special emphasis on MDG “5”, which will be presented during the UN High Level Meeting to be held in September 2010.
It said MPs would therefore take a leading role in communicating the societal, economic, political and cultural benefits of investing in women and girls to parliamentary colleagues, governments and other key decision-makers and private investors.
The world parliamentarians, the communiqué said, called on governments to act upon endorsed consensus on maternal, newborn and child health.
According to the coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit of the LAC, Amon Ngavetene, the women who are seeking redress after allegedly being sterilised without their consent, are not seeking compensation but the re-formation of the country’s health system.
He said several rights of the women have been violated, some of which include the right to reproduction and dignity.
Ngavetene called on the re-formation of the public health system that includes the training of medical staff on the rights of patients.
The first reports of the alleged forced sterilisation at state hospitals surfaced in 2007 and since February 2008, 15 individual cases have been documented. This, according to several civil society organisations, is only the tip of the ice-berg.
Speaking during the march this week, Rosa Namises, director of Women’s Solidarity Namibia, asked government to send a clear message that it will not tolerate the violation of women’s rights.
“We call on government to send a clear message that it will not tolerate the violation of any women’s fundamental right to make free and informed decisions about her own body and health, particularly with regard to reproductive choices, and further that it is actively pursuing initiatives to end the discrimination against people living with HIV. We hope this will mark an end to this flagrant violation of HIV-positive women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Namibia,” said Namises, before handing over a petition to the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
She said in order to ensure that this does not happen again, government must immediately issue a circular to both public and private health facilities explicitly prohibiting them from sterilising patients without their consent.
Namises further asked the government to review and update current reproductive health policies and guidelines, to ensure that all health care workers receive adequate training about the need for patients to receive quality and non-discriminatory medical care, regardless of their HIV status, as well as conduct a public awareness campaign on the issue.
“We ask that the Namibian government conduct a public enquiry on the issue of sterilisation without informed consent and ensure that women who have been sterilised receive just and fair compensation for their loss, including option of sterilisation reversal.”
The case of three HIV positive women who claim that they also have been sterilised and are seeking compensation from government, ended in court today (Friday, 4 June).
One of the women testified that she was asked to sign several forms on the day she was sterilised and only after the procedure.
She said the nurses did not explain to her what the forms were for and she was also experiencing too much pain, to pay any mind.
In support of the women, several activities such as hospital sit – ins were organised. The sit-ins started on last Wednesday and ended Friday.
A petition signed by more than 1000 people was also handed over to the Ministry of Health last week.
In Indonesia a woman’s lack of power over her own healthcare decisions is contributing to the high maternal mortality rate.
“Inequality in decision-making, limited access to health services in rural areas and lack of information on healthy pregnancy are among the factors that contribute to maternal deaths,” said Masruchah, secretary-general of the National Commission on Violence against Women.
“There’s a view that husbands should have final say over domestic matters, but men often don’t know what their wives feel,” said Masruchah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
Despite government efforts to increase the number of skilled birth attendants and promote family planning, at least 10,000 women die of childbirth related causes every year in this largely Muslim nation of more than 240 million people, according to a World Bank report published in February.
The report, ‘… And then she died,’ Indonesia Maternal Health Assessment, puts the maternal mortality rate at 228 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with UN World Health Organization data from 2005, published in 2007, which refers to a rate of 450 in India, 62 in Malaysia and six in the Netherlands. [http://www.who.int/whosis/mme_2005.pdf]
A woman’s economic status, level of education and age of first marriage affect maternal health and the birth outcome, the report states. Three decades of increased use of midwives and almost universal access to antenatal care had not succeeded in significantly reducing the maternal mortality rate.
“Pregnant mothers are often too late in identifying danger signals during pregnancy and in making decisions, because women often have to wait for their husbands or parents to make decisions,” said Linda Gumelar, Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection.
Home deliveries and the use of traditional birth attendants have contributed to maternal deaths, with the study showing only 10 percent of poor women in two districts of the country’s populous West Java Province being attended by a health professional at the birth.
According to the World Bank report, a survey of three districts showed 63 out of 76 deaths occurred in home births assisted by traditional birth attendants.
“Interventions by the skilled birth attendants in many cases are not in line with existing standards and prove to be ineffective in trying to address the emergence of complications,” it said.
Traditional practices and myths associated with pregnancy often obstruct prompt medical intervention, said Sutan Finardhy, an obstetrician-gynaecologist who has worked in rural areas for more than 20 years.
Family members and even neighbours often advise against medical treatment for pregnant mothers.
“In some cases, husbands agreed to a doctor’s advice, but parents insisted on taking the mothers home or resorting to traditional means,” Finardhy said. “By the time the mothers had access to medical intervention, it was already too late.”
Indonesia’s 2007 Demographic and Health Survey [http://www.measuredhs.com/pubs/pdf/FR218/FR218%5BApril-09-2009%5D.pdf] indicates inequity between provinces – with 97 percent of births attended by skilled providers in Jakarta, against only 33 percent in the Maluku Islands.
The World Bank said only 40 percent of the country’s 68,816 villages had a midwife in 2005.
The report urged the government to improve the training institutions, increase the number of obstetricians, gynaecologists and anesthesiologists, and increase overall funding for maternal health across the country.
There has been some increase in the number of women accessing antenatal healthcare services in Yemen over the past four years, but most mothers still deliver at home and their health situation remains rather bleak, according to new reports from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The proportion of women benefiting from antenatal healthcare services has increased from 40 to 55 percent over the past four years, according to an 18 May Health Ministry report covering 2006-2010.
At a conference in Sanaa on 18 May sponsored by the National Women’s Committee and the Health Ministry, some women’s rights activists criticized slow progress in antenatal healthcare coverage.
UN Population Fund (UNFPA) deputy representative Zeljka Mudrovcic said 22 women die in Yemen every day due to pregnancy and birth-related complications.
“As 80 percent of women deliver at home, much more needs to be done to improve antenatal health care for women and reduce high mother and infant mortality rates,” she said.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour, supported by UNFPA, launched on 17 May the distribution of 30,000 clean and safe home delivery kits for the year 2010 in an effort to improve this situation.
According to WHO’s 10 May World Health Statistics 2010 report, [http://www.who.int/whosis/whostat/2010/en/index.html] Yemen’s maternal mortality rate was 430 cases per 100,000 live births, the highest in the Middle East.
Antenatal care coverage (“the percentage of women who used antenatal care provided by skilled health personnel for reasons related to pregnancy at least once during pregnancy, as a percentage of live births in a given time period”) was 47 percent – the lowest in the Middle East, according to the report.
Repeated miscarriages and post-natal bleeding – particularly among girls in rural areas – are among the major factors behind the high maternal mortality rate in the country, according to Nema Naser al-Suraimi, a specialist doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology at al-Thawra Hospital in Sanaa. “In rural areas, miscarriage is commonplace, particularly as 52 percent of girls marry before the age of 15,” she told IRIN.
Yemen’s adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years) stands at 80, according to the WHO report.
“In many remote villages where health facilities don’t exist or are very far away, many women die inside cars on their way to [maternity] hospitals in provincial capitals,” al-Suraimi said. “Women in rural areas don’t receive basic health care from the beginning of pregnancy and therefore are prone to multiple birth-related complications.”
According to Mohamed Ghurab, another obstetrics and gynaecology specialist at the Sanaa-based Republican Hospital, 70-80 percent of maternal deaths can be avoided by raising public awareness of the risks of home delivery.
Measure Would Deter Pregnant Women From Seeking Medical Care
Brazil’s Congress should protect women’s dignity and human rights by rejecting a bill that confers extensive rights to fertilized ova, Human Rights Watch have said. The measure would give the rights of the fertilized ovum “absolute priority” under Brazilian law.
The proposed bill would require any act or omission that could in any way have a negative impact on a fertilized ovum to be considered illegal. The bill was voted favorably out of the Family and Social Security Commission of the Brazilian House of Representatives this month.
“To promote healthy pregnancies and births is a laudable goal and, indeed, one of Brazil’s human rights obligations,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “But this bill is likely to cause more harm than good by deterring pregnant women from seeking the care they may need because they are afraid to be turned over to the police.”
Over the past year, a number of jurisdictions in Latin America have passed laws to confer some rights on fertilized ova. For example, in Mexico, a number of federal states have recently amended their constitutions to extend the protection of the right to life to “the conceived.” Many of these laws specifically protect earlier legal exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or where the life or health of the pregnant woman is threatened.
Brazil’s bill however goes further. For example, it extends the right to child support to ova that have been fertilized through rape, and seeks to give “absolute priority” to the rights of the fertilized ovum. This could lead to the criminalization of any act or omission thought to affect the fertilized ovum negatively, trumping the rights to life or health of any pregnant woman, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Brazilian government would do well to focus its attention on providing assistance to rape victims, adolescent mothers, and others who are vulnerable and potentially unable to provide for themselves,” Mollmann said. “This law does the absolute opposite by threatening to subject everything women do or do not do during a pregnancy to criminal investigation.”
Eight of the bottom 10-ranked countries in Save the Children’s annual Mothers Index, which ranks the best and worst places to be a mother, are in sub-Saharan Africa, says the NGO. [http://www.savethechildren.net/alliance/what_we_do/every_one/news.html]
Afghanistan, Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea form the bottom 10; while Norway, Australia, Iceland and Sweden come top.
One in seven women dies in pregnancy or childbirth in Niger and one in eight in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone; while the risk is one in 25,000 in Greece and one in 47,600 in Ireland. [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=75869; http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=87198; http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=88280]
“The problems around maternal and newborn health have been raised for many years, but there still remains so much to be done,” Houleyemata Diarra, Save the Children’s newborn health regional adviser for Africa, told IRIN from Mali. “There are not enough skilled attendants at births, and governments are not taking into account where health workers are needed – in communities.”
Over half of deliveries take place at home in most sub-Saharan African countries, with no skilled birth attendant present, according to the UN Children’s Fund. [http://www.unicef.org/sowc09/]
Save the Children is calling on governments and donors to prioritize building up a workforce of female health workers to serve in their communities and local clinics.
These workers should be incentivized with better training, pay, and support for career growth, says the NGO.
It costs a lot to train a doctor or run a hospital, but the cost of giving community health workers basic training – to diagnose and treat common early childhood illnesses, organize vaccinations and promote good nutrition and newborn care – does not have to be exorbitant, says Save the Children.
In Bangladesh the NGO found that providing female community health-workers with six weeks of hands-on training and some formal education caused infant mortality rates in affected areas to drop by a third.
“There are a lot of models of this working well around the world,” said Save the Children’s Diarra. “African countries need to follow these examples.”
* Rates down the most in Egypt, Bolivia, Maldives
* Maternal death rates in Canada, U.S., Norway high
* Successes can point to policy changes
Deaths of women in and around childbirth have gone down by an average of 35 percent globally, according to a study using new methods, but are surprisingly high in the United States, Canada and Norway.
The researchers said their findings show it is possible to save women’s lives if countries want to and said their analysis should point to ways to do so.
The AIDS pandemic alone, they said, killed more than 61,000 women in and around the time of childbirth in 2008, most of them in Africa.
“These findings are very encouraging and quite surprising. There are still too many mothers dying worldwide, but now we have a greater reason for optimism than has generally been perceived,” said Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study.
The findings contradict work done by the World Health Organization, which reported last May that mothers and newborns are no more likely to survive now than 20 years ago.
Murray and colleagues took every bit of data they could find on deaths of women from records in 181 countries and plugged this information into a computer model.
“We estimated that there were 342,900 deaths worldwide in 2008, down from 526,300 in 1980,” they wrote in their report, published in the Lancet medical journal.
They found the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes has dropped by more than 35 percent globally in the past 30 years.
“One of the most surprising results is the apparent rise in the maternal mortality rate in the USA, Canada, and Norway,” they added. But it can partly be because U.S. death certificates recently started asking about pregnancy, they added.
But this does not explain why U.S. maternal deaths are double the rates in Britain, triple the rates in Australia and four times the rate in Italy, they said.
In the United States the rate rose from 12 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 17 in 2008. In Canada, the rate hovered between 6 and 7 for the whole time and Norway’s rose from 7 per 100,000 in 1980 to 8 per 100,000 in 2008.
The United States is currently embroiled in reforming its healthcare system, where more is spent per capita than in comparable developed countries but with poorer results, as demonstrated by maternal and newborn death rates and high rates of diabetes and heart disease.
China, Egypt, Ecuador and Bolivia made some of the most progress in lowering maternal death rates, Murray’s team found.
In China, the rate fell from 165 per 100,000 to 40 per 100,000.
“Progress overall would have been greater if the HIV epidemic had not contributed to substantial increases in maternal mortality in eastern and southern Africa,” they added.
Nearly one out of every five maternal deaths or a total of 61,400 in 2008, were associated with AIDS infections.
About 80 percent of all deaths of pregnant women or new mothers were in 21 countries, with half of all such deaths in just six countries — India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Finding out why a country such as Egypt has had such enormous success in driving down the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes could enable us to export that success to countries that have been lagging behind,” Murray said.
Here are some statistics from the study by Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, published in the Lancet medical journal.
* Maternal mortality is defined as the death of women during pregnancy, childbirth or in the 42 days after delivery.
* The maternal mortality rate rose 42 percent in the United States, from 12 per 100,000 in 1980 to 17 per 100,000 in 2008.
* Rates in Japan fell from 20 per 100,000 in 1980 to seven in 2008.
* Rates in China fell from 165 per 100,000 in 1980 to 40 per 100,000 in 2008.
* Australia had the best rates with nine per 100,000 in 1980 and five per 100,000 in 2008.
* Rates in Norway rose slightly from seven in 1980 to eight in 2008.
* Canada’s rate fluctuated between seven and six and was seven per 100,000 in 2008.
* Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate fell from 1,640 per 100,000 in 1980 to 1,261 in 1990 but was back up to 1,575 in 2008. This could be in part due to better monitoring, Murray said.
* Britain’s rate was 10 per 100,000 in 1980 and fell to eight per 100,000 in 2008.
* Bolivia’s rate plummeted from 547 per 100,000 in 1980 to 180 in 2008.
* Mexico’s rate was 124 in 1980 and 52 in 2008.
* The rate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was 498 in 1980 and 534 in 2008.
* The rate in the Central African Republic ballooned from 990 per 100,000 in 1980 to 1,570 in 2008. Source: The Lancet medical journal
Thousands of women are dying every year during pregnancy and childbirth in the African state of Burkina Faso because discrimination stops them from accessing sexual health services, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
“Women in Burkina Faso are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination which makes giving birth potentially lethal,” Claudio Cordone, Amnesty’s interim secretary general, said in a report.
“Every woman has the right to life and the right to adequate healthcare, and the government should redouble its efforts to address preventable maternal death.”
In a special report on maternal death in Burkina Faso, Amnesty said there were shortages of medical supplies and trained staff, and said discriminatory attitudes and corruption among health workers were also preventing women seeking care.
Some women die because they cannot reach a health clinic in time, many die because they can’t pay the fees demanded by medical staff, and yet more die because of shortages of blood, drugs, equipment or qualified medical staff, the human rights group said. Many of the 2,000 deaths each year could be easily prevented if women had timely access to healthcare.
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world and is ranked 177 out of 182 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s 2009 report.
Despite having equal status under the law, Amnesty said most women in Burkina Faso were subordinate to men in their lives and had little or no control over decisions such as when to seek medical care and when to get pregnant.
Women and girls are often forced into early marriage and female genital mutilation, the report said.
Poverty is a major contributing factor in preventable maternal death, particularly for women living in rural areas.
Amnesty said a government policy introduced in 2006 to subsidise between 80 percent and 100 percent of the cost of childbirth for some of the poorest women was a good intention, but had been thwarted by a lack of information and corruption.
The rights group called on Burkina Faso’s authorities to expand and improve access to family planning services, remove financial barriers to maternal healthcare services and strive for more even access to health facilities and trained staff.
“Maternal death is a tragedy that robs thousands of families of wives, mothers, sisters and daughters each year,” Cordone said. “So long as women are not allowed control over their own bodies, they will continue to die in their thousands.”
Zimbabwe still has a long way to go in achieving universal access to reproductive health with almost half of the women in rural areas failing to access family planning methods.
The second target, according to Millennium Development Goal number five of reducing the maternal mortality ratio to 174 deaths per 100 000 live births is also a dream still to come true, according to national indicator surveys conducted in the country.
The first comprehensive assessment of deaths resulting from pregnancy or childbirth released at the end of last year by the United Nations Population Fund, which partnered with the University of Zimbabwe and other UN agencies to produce the report, revealed that 725 women out of every 100 000 who deliver, die due to complications, a very high figure compared to the MDG’s target of 174 deaths per 100 000 live births.
HIV and Aids, postpartum hemorrhage (excessive bleeding after delivery), hypertension and sepsis (infection) are cited as the major causes of maternal deaths.
The UNFPA report further indicates that most maternal deaths occurred at home, where women had no expert care when they experienced complications.
It also said that the 29 percent of pregnant women who belonged to the Apostolic sect were at greater risk of maternal death due to their belief that health problems should be treated only through prayer.
The report further says the major challenge will be to develop a sensitive approach to the sect, which respects their right to religious freedom but also asserts women’s right to health.
The study advises that nearly half the maternal deaths could be avoided by successful prevention and treatment of complications, and that none of the interventions are complex or beyond the capacity of a functional health system in Zimbabwe.
Another report released by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare in conjunction with United Nations agencies on maternal and peri-natal mortality (2007) said a total of 364 women in Zimbabwe died due to avoidable pregnancy complications in 2006 alone.
The study also attributed the deaths of 628 infants, during the same period, mainly to pre-term births.
However, the study was quick to point out that the figures are not a true reflection of the actual figures on the ground saying there was “gross under-reporting” of deaths at district level from community and at provincial levels from health facilities.
According to the study, 63 percent of deaths occurred just after delivery (postpartum), 24 percent during pregnancy (antenatal) and 16 percent during delivery (intrapartum).
The study showed that most women who died delivered at home.
“Effective interventions exist to treat these complications (haemorrhage, hypertension/ eclampsia, sepsis and obstructed labour) and deaths from them are avoidable.
“Successful prevention and treatment of these complications represents the potential to reduce maternal deaths by 46 percent. None of the interventions are complex or beyond the capacity of a functioning health system in Zimbabwe,” read part of the report.
Part of a longer article at http://allafrica.com/stories/201001220360.html
In early December, a woman diagnosed with HIV filed a complaint against Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, charging that Chile did not protect her from being forcibly sterilized at a state hospital after she gave birth.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and Chilean based HIV/AIDS service organization Vivo Positivo, submitted a petition on her behalf. In the petition the 27-year-old woman from Chile, who goes by the initials F.S. argues that the hospital operated on her because of her HIV status. She was not asked for her consent.
Luisa Cabal, director of the international program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “Forced sterilization is a violation of a woman’s most basic human rights and is all too often committed against members of vulnerable groups, which deserve special protection, such as women living with HIV.” She went on to say that it’s time that the Chilean government respect the human rights of all its citizens.
F.S. was diagnosed with HIV in 2002 after learning she was pregnant. She went to the Curico Hospital for treatment during her pregnancy. She never requested sterilization and her husband planned on having more children. Vivo Positivo did a study in Chile in 2004 and found that of the women living with HIV who had been sterilized, 29% had been pressured by medical staff to do so, and 12.9% did not give their consent. The study also found that the majority of the women had received counseling promoting the idea that HIV women should not become pregnant. With the appropriate measures the risk of transmitting the virus to the newborn can be reduced to less than two percent.
Executive Director of Vivo Positivo said that despite proof to the contrary, the Ministry of Health and the Chilean Courts decided that F.S.’s rights were not violated.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and Vivo Positivo argue that Chile has violated F.S.’s right to be free from discrimination, and also her right to decide on the number and spacing of her children, “the right to be free from violence, and the right to have access to justice.” All these rights are guaranteed under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women.
The Center and Vivo Positivo are asking that the Commission recommend that Chile acknowledge the fact that F.S.’s human rights were violated, give her monetary compensation, and adopt policies that do not impinge upon reproductive choices of women with HIV.
A decade of social reforms has granted more freedoms to Moroccan women, yet most who give birth outside marriage are still treated like criminals, abandoned by family and friends.
The sight of a young, unwed mother being forcibly separated from her newborn baby shocked Aicha Ech Channa, a nurse in a Casablanca hospital who had also recently given birth.
“As the other nurse pulled the baby from her mother’s breast, her milk spilled onto the baby’s face and it started to cry,” she said. “This woman was devoted to her child and yet she was forced to sign it away.”
The baby’s cries and the mother’s anguish haunted Channa, who gave up her job to devote herself to single mothers in distress, who were often persuaded to give up their babies rather than live with the shame and public disapproval.
Over more than two decades, her association “Women’s Solidarity” has offered thousands of women a stable future so they don’t have to abandon their offspring.
Counsellors offer the mothers psychological support, doctors check their health and for three years they are taught skills that can bring them an income such as cooking, baking, sewing, make-up and hairdressing.
Channa’s work made her the first Arab Muslim woman to win the $1 million U.S. Opus Prize, awarded to individuals for outstanding achievements in resolving serious social problems.
Receiving the prize at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis this month, Channa dedicated her win to King Mohammed and the Moroccan people.
Yet she has few illusions about the challenges still ahead.
“A single mother will never have a situation in Moroccan society,” Channa told Reuters in an interview. “She will never decide her own future as long as she lives outside the institution of marriage.”
Many girls who become single mothers have been separated from their own parents to be child maids far from home. Lacking any schooling, many turn to prostitution when they reach adulthood.
Others are promised marriage in exchange for sex, then quickly abandoned.
The resulting moral stigma makes them outcasts and those who help them risk a backlash from social conservatives.
Islamists threatened to assassinate Channa in 2000, saying she was an infidel who encouraged sinful behaviour. The same year, King Mohammed gave her a medal and financial support.
She says Women’s Solidarity does not help women as long as they are prostitutes.
“Tell me how I am encouraging prostitution. If a girl comes to me with her child in her arms, should I take the child and kill it? Or should I try to find the best solution to a problem that is already there?” she said.
As many as 600 Moroccan women undergo secret abortions every day, according to a survey carried out by the Moroccan Family Association cited by newspaper Al Ahdat al-Maghribiya.
It said the survey of 437 women found that 165 of them had at least one abortion in their life. More than half of those had an abortion before they were married.
Channa said some of the religious radicals who attack her are allowed to desert their own wives because they formalise their marriage only verbally and refuse to sign official papers.
“When the woman becomes pregnant the husband says it is not his responsibility and abandons her,” she said. “How can you tell me that man is a Muslim? He is not Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Buddhist. He is not even human.”
“But it isn’t only Islamists who attack me. You also get cultivated Moroccans — lawyers, doctors, or policemen.”
Passing AIDS from mother to child is a human rights violation and soon all pregnant women in India will have to undergo a mandatory HIV test, the parliamentary forum on HIV and AIDS said last week.
“We want a HIV free generation. We are for testing all pregnant women for HIV so that no children can be born with the disease,” Oscar Fernandes, head of the Parliamentary Forum on HIV and AIDS, told IANS.
“Passing the disease to a new born is a human rights violation. This should stop and all of us must try to make this a success,” he said on the sideline of an event here.
Fernandes, appreciated across the country for advocating a better life for AIDS patients, said: “The new born should not suffer lifelong without committing any sin. Why should they suffer? Isn’t it a human rights violation?”
The former labour minister said the forum met UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe Thursday and discussed the issue with him.
“Sidibe said, ‘India must produce a generation without HIV’. This is possible if we go for detecting the virus in every single pregnant women before delivery.”
India is home to at least 2.5 million HIV positive people and thousands of babies are born with HIV positive status as they acquire the virus while in their mother’s womb.
Sidibe, on his first visit to India, has held a series of meetings with government authorities. He has emphasised the role of the political leadership in ensuring that the country’s universal access goals to HIV prevention, care and treatment are achieved.
Fernandes said this would be done by involving the panchayats. “You know, institutional delivery in India happens in around 50 percent of the cases. Here we have to involve the panchayats.”
He added that the health ministry’s Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) will take this issue for implementation. JSY is a safe motherhood intervention under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and is being implemented with the objective of reducing maternal and neo-natal mortality by promoting institutional delivery among the poor.
JSY is a 100 percent centrally sponsored scheme and it integrates cash assistance with delivery and post-delivery care. The success of the scheme would be determined by the increase in institutional delivery among the poor families.
“If we detect HIV before the institutional delivery, it will curb HIV spread. You will see it soon,” Fernandes said.
The Parliamentary Forum on HIV and AIDS started in 2000 under the leadership of Oscar Fernandes to to strengthen India’s response to this dreaded disease. Dozens of parliamentarians are its members, who all work to create awareness and help the government in formulating policies on this subject.