Thursday, October 13, 2005

POVERTY AND SEXISM are inextricably linked, according to a United Nations report released today. The report asserts that the problem of poverty will never be solved until the problems of social, economic, and health-related injustice toward women are effectively addressed.

"We cannot make poverty history until we stop violence against women and girls," the fund's executive director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said at the report's launch in London. "We cannot make poverty history until women enjoy their full social, cultural, economic and political rights."

The report said gender equality and better reproductive health could save the lives of 2 million women and 30 million children over the next decade - and help lift millions around the world out of poverty.

In 2000, the U.N. agreed to eight Millennium Development Goals, which include halving extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.

The report said one of the targets - promoting gender equality and empowering women - is "critical to the success of the other seven."

Improving women's political, economic and educational opportunities would lead to "improved economic prospects, smaller families, healthier and more literate children, lower HIV prevalence rates and reduced incidence of harmful traditional practices."

"Inequality is economically inefficient, it is a violation of human rights and it is a hazard to health," Obaid said.

But for many women around the world, the U.N. agency said, the picture remains grim.

It said 250 million years of productive life are lost annually because of reproductive health problems including HIV/AIDS, the leading cause of death among women between 15 and 44. Half the 40 million people infected with HIV around the world are women, and in sub-Saharan Africa, women make up a majority of those infected.

Lack of contraception leads to 76 million unintended pregnancies in the developing world and 19 million unsafe abortions worldwide each year, the agency said. More than half a million women die annually from preventable pregnancy-related causes - a figure that has changed little in a decade.

One woman in three around the world is likely to experience physical, psychological or sexual abuse in her lifetime. Many still lack the educational opportunities available to men: 600 million women around the world are illiterate, compared with 320 million men.

Take special note of the paragraph I stressed above. This is the issue that most directly connects to U.S. policy, particularly in the current administration. On the first business day of his first term as president, George W. Bush reinstated the Global Gag Rule for international family planning organizations, which had been rescinded by Pres. Clinton in 1993, nine years after its creation by Pres. Reagan.

The Global Gag Rule denies federal funds for family planning programs to any organization or agency anywhere in the world that provides abortions or that refers women to abortion providers or that gives women any guidance or information at all about abortion. This is not a matter of not wanting Americans' tax dollars to pay for abortions in other countries. The gag rule applies even if U.S. money is not used to pay for the abortion provision or counseling. Thus, if a foreign government decides, as a matter of public policy, that it wants to pay for poor women to have abortions or for women to have access to counseling on abortion, and it funds that policy with its own money, that country will lose all U.S. federal funding for family planning -- even though the abortion programs are not coming out of U.S. federal funds. In other words, the U.S. is effectively dictating internal domestic policy to sovereign governments all over the globe -- and endangering the lives, health, and social and economic well-being of women everywhere.

So when you read articles like this one, about the connection between poverty and social, economic, political, and physical discrimination against women, it's important to recognize that U.S. foreign policy plays a significant role in keeping women around the world poor, unequal, and hurting.

Via ACSblog.

ADDED LATER: Speaking of reproductive rights and women's health, Nick Kiddle has a post over at Alas (a Blog) about how pregnant women are treated like incubators even outside the context of abortion.

Before I was pregnant, I thought "woman, what woman?" was an attitude held only by fairly extreme pro-lifers who had never come into contact with a pregnant woman in all their sheltered lives. But to my surprise, I keep seeing a very similar attitude from people who provide health care to pregnant women on a daily basis. They talk to me, they look me in the eye, they ask me how I am, but under the surface, I get a distinct impression that they see me as an incubator. The baby is all that matters.

My health visitor - a trained midwife charged with making sure new families have all the support they need - asked me during a routine check-up whether I was eating well. I replied that I was doing my best - a flared-up infection had left me with a low fever, aching joints and no desire to do anything but sleep, and had disrupted my eating patterns for a few days - and got a lecture about how my best wasn't good enough. I had to eat a perfectly healthy diet at all times because the baby needs nutrients.

A pregnant woman needs to eat well for her own sake, not just the baby's. Iron-deficiency anaemia is especially common in pregnancy, and makes any tired, lethargic feelings even worse. More seriously, if her diet doesn't supply enough calcium for her needs and the baby's, Mother Nature harshly dictates that the baby comes first. If the price of strong bones for the little one is erosion of the mother's teeth, too bad for the mother's teeth.

Why didn't my health visitor remind me of these health issues? Why did she concentrate instead on the harm an inadequate diet could do my baby? I think the answer lies in a belief that goes deep in our society: a pregnant woman is a womb first and a human being second. Because I've chosen to have this baby, many people assume I've also chosen to put my personality to one side for at least nine months and think about nothing but the baby, all day and all night.


This is so appalling; yet I know how true it is. After the baby is born, others can recognize that the formerly pregnant woman is a separate person with her own physical, psychological, and emotional needs; but while she's pregnant, somehow all those needs just vanish -- or they become identified with the baby's needs. I suppose that's why people who oppose abortion can exclaim about the "evils" of abortion, declaring that "A woman is only pregnant for nine months; she's not giving over her body forever; she'll get it back after the baby is born" -- as if a woman is a piece of clay, or putty, that the baby pushes out without affecting the integrity of the vessel; as if pregnancy-related health problems are of no concern, and vanish as soon as the baby is born; as if a developing pregnancy does not directly affect every organ and every biological system in a woman's body. Pregnant women are seen as constant potential threats to the health of the fetus inside their wombs; but the growing fetus is rarely viewed as being a constant potential threat to the pregnant woman's health. Why is that?

4 comments:

Chief said...

Kathy,

Wow ! !

A lot of changes overnight. Care to explain what precipitated the changes?

Different color, the pic is back.

Anyway, I thought I commented on this about the Oprah show ! ? ! ?

Andrea Rusin said...

Brilliant post! Thanks.

Kathy said...

Hi, Chief. Just saw your comment here.

I don't know, I just haven't been happy with my blog templates, even the second one I had. I absolutely love this one, though. So you won't be seeing any huge changes anymore for a while! :)

P.S. Oh, and the reason for the addition of Word Verification is that I was getting spammed viciously.

Kathy said...

Andrea,

Thank you for reading my blog!