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UN Report Released Today on Maternal and Child Deaths

While over 10 million women and children in developing countries continue to die every year from preventable and treatable causes, a new report released today by UN agencies and partners calls for improved health care systems to reduce maternal and child deaths:
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'Tracking Progress in Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival' finds that few of the 68 developing countries that account for 97 per cent of maternal and child deaths worldwide are providing the necessary health care to save lives. The 2008 report was released today as leading global health experts, policy-makers and parliamentarians convene in Cape Town, South Africa, to address further efforts to slash maternal and child mortality by 2015, part of a set of internationally-agreed targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
And this is not to mention that donor funding for maternal, newborn and child health has actually increased over the past few years. So while there has been much improvement, the fact that health care needs are so high in these countries still result in health care programs being "grossly unfunded," says the report.
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UN report: Women face bias worldwide

A new UN-commissioned report says that women are discriminated against in nearly every nation in the world:
It says that this is despite the fact that 185 UN member states pledged to outlaw laws favouring men by 2005.
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It adds that 70% of the world's poor are women and they own just 1% of the world's titled land. The report, which was prepared for UN Human Right Commissioner Louise Arbour, says rape within marriage has still not been made a crime in 53 nations.
The report was prepared by Fareda Banda, a law professor at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She says that there are many more discriminatory laws against women, including statutes on divorce, maternity benefits and pensions. Even seemingly harmless laws like the legal age for marriage has a huge impact on girls' and women's lives:
"Many states still have different ages of marriage for young women than they have for young men, and the age for girls is always lower then the age for boys. . . This leads to violations, for example of a girls' right education, if she has to leave school at 14 to get married, and this impacts upon her life chances . . . It ends up being a life-long violation of her rights in terms of forfeiting education, having children too early, possibly being damaged herself."
For more information on how marriage at an early age affects girls, check out this video by the UNFPA. In the meantime, let's hope this report will serve as a serious call to the UN member states to keep their promise and eliminate these harmful laws; the world's women can't afford to wait any longer.
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UN report: Women face bias worldwide

A new UN-commissioned report says that women are discriminated against in nearly every nation in the world:
It says that this is despite the fact that 185 UN member states pledged to outlaw laws favouring men by 2005.
womenworld.jpg
It adds that 70% of the world's poor are women and they own just 1% of the world's titled land. The report, which was prepared for UN Human Right Commissioner Louise Arbour, says rape within marriage has still not been made a crime in 53 nations.
The report was prepared by Fareda Banda, a law professor at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). She says that there are many more discriminatory laws against women, including statutes on divorce, maternity benefits and pensions. Even seemingly harmless laws like the legal age for marriage has a huge impact on girls' and women's lives:
"Many states still have different ages of marriage for young women than they have for young men, and the age for girls is always lower then the age for boys. . . This leads to violations, for example of a girls' right education, if she has to leave school at 14 to get married, and this impacts upon her life chances . . . It ends up being a life-long violation of her rights in terms of forfeiting education, having children too early, possibly being damaged herself."
For more information on how marriage at an early age affects girls, check out this video by the UNFPA. In the meantime, let's hope this report will serve as a serious call to the UN member states to keep their promise and eliminate these harmful laws; the world's women can't afford to wait any longer.
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With Great Progress Comes Even Greater Efforts

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A UN report released today shows significant progress in treating children with AIDS and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but not without a call for greater efforts. In 2005, only 11 percent of women were getting drugs to prevent transmission. Thanks to UNICEF's Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS initiative, 31 percent are now getting treatment. There's also been a 70 percent increase in children who are receiving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to 127,000 per year. "That’s enormous progress," says UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS Jimmy Kolker. But obviously more efforts are needed. The report identifies improvements and challenges in four key areas: preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children (PMTCT); providing paediatric treatment, preventing infection among adolescents and young people; and protecting and supporting children affected by AIDS. The report also addresses how various gender injustices call for women's rights efforts to be embedded within the work being done to decrease the occurrence of PMTCT. Examples include how domestic violence is often a huge barrier to routine testing programs, or the ways that cultural stigmatization prevents many women from seeking PMTCT services. All are addressed in the report, as well as new working strategies to further the progress already made. Make sure to check out the full report.
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With Great Progress Comes Even Greater Efforts

04-03-aids.jpg
A UN report released today shows significant progress in treating children with AIDS and preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, but not without a call for greater efforts. In 2005, only 11 percent of women were getting drugs to prevent transmission. Thanks to UNICEF's Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS initiative, 31 percent are now getting treatment. There's also been a 70 percent increase in children who are receiving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) to 127,000 per year. "That’s enormous progress," says UNICEF Chief of HIV and AIDS Jimmy Kolker. But obviously more efforts are needed. The report identifies improvements and challenges in four key areas: preventing HIV transmission from mothers to children (PMTCT); providing paediatric treatment, preventing infection among adolescents and young people; and protecting and supporting children affected by AIDS. The report also addresses how various gender injustices call for women's rights efforts to be embedded within the work being done to decrease the occurrence of PMTCT. Examples include how domestic violence is often a huge barrier to routine testing programs, or the ways that cultural stigmatization prevents many women from seeking PMTCT services. All are addressed in the report, as well as new working strategies to further the progress already made. Make sure to check out the full report.
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UN Population Fund joins others to launch campaign in DRC against sexual violence

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Last week, the United Nations Population Fund joined civil society groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to launch a campaign raising public awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence in the DRC. The campaign will run for the next month with a number of efforts including marches, conferences, forums, school events and endeavors to popularize laws against sexual violence. There are 1,100 rape cases reported each month in the DRC. Additionally, victims of sexual violence are often left with little to access to help. Yakin Erturk, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, says not only that the justice system is in "deplorable conditions," but that victims often have to pay access to the courts, which she describes as "a major obstacle to justice."
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UN targets Sudanese army for mass rapes in Darfur

The United Nations has called out the Sudanese government for committing mass rapes of women and girls in Darfur in a new report released today. The UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, released the report stating that President Omar al-Bashir's administration is providing help and support to the Arab janjaweed militia, who are responsible for looting at least three towns, raping girls and women and killing at least 115 people last month. Over 30,000 people have been displaced as a result as well. Via the UN's News Centre:
The report describes extensive looting during and after the attacks, and catalogues 'consistent and credible accounts' of rape committed by armed men in uniform. 'These actions violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objective,' the report concludes.
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UN Addresses Reproductive Health Disparities in the U.S.

On Friday, the day before International Women's Day, a UN Committee expressed concern about "wide racial disparities" in sexual and reproductive health in the United States, reports RH Reality Check. Remarks were made concerning this issue at the end of a two-week session in Geneva, Switzerland, where the UN reviewed the nation's observance of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a human rights agreement which requires countries to take pro-active measures to address racial inequalities. While a number of issues were addressed concerning racial discrimination in the U.S., such as racial segregation in schools and discrimination in the criminal justice system, there was also a focus on severe reproductive health disparities between women of color and white women. Among those were these findings by the Center for Reproductive Rights:
  • African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, 23 times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS and 14 times more likely to die from the disease.
  • American-Indian/Alaskan Native women are over 5 times more likely than white women to have chlamydia and over 7 times more likely to contract syphilis.
  • The unplanned pregnancy rate among Latinas is twice the national average; and Latinas are much more likely to contract human papillomavirus, the infection that leads to cervical cancer.
The Committee gave the U.S. the following recommendations to improve the status of these serious disparities in reproductive health care: improve access to pre- and post-natal care, including the elimination of eligibility barriers to Medicaid; improve access to contraceptive and family planning methods; and lastly, provide comprehensive sexual education aimed at the prevention of unintended pregnancies and STIs.
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Letting their voices be heard

I'd like to reiterate that making sure the women and girls of the world are empowered and that their voices are heard is one of the most important things the new administration needs to make a priority. We need to ensure that within our initiatives to assist various nations, we're working with and funding local women's organizations, talking to women and girls on the ground, and allowing them to maintain agency so that they're not just being helped, but being heard. In her report (pdf), Germain writes:
"By emphasizing a bottom-up, locally informed approach for in-country program planning that includes consultation with women leaders and organizations and with demonstrated success in work with women, PEPFAR can be made vastly more effective. Programmers can determine the mix of prevention that best addresses local realities, rather than following what has often been irrelevant or inappropriate guidance from Washington." (Emphasis mine)
I can't support this enough. I think many efforts in the past haven't worked because of our failure to really understand the realities of the cultures and lives that exist in other countries; this is our opportunity to remedy that.