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New law criminalises domestic violence, Saudi Arabia
Date: 30 August 2013
Saudi Arabia has adopted the country's first law to make domestic violence a criminal offence. Under the new Law on Protection from Abuse, women, children and domestic workers are protected against "all forms of abuse" that take place in the home, including physical, psychological and sexual violence, exploitation and neglect.
A victim of abuse will no longer have to be accompanied by a male relative to file a complaint at a police station, abuse survivors must be offered shelter and the necessary social, psychological and medical aid and those who report the abuse, including witnesses, have the right to remain anonymous.
Previously, no legislation prescribed how judges should act in cases of domestic violence, with rulings varying according to individual judges' interpretations of what actions could be considered a crime under Islamic law.
Activists have welcomed the new law, but highlight a number of significant omissions. The law does not specify which agencies will be responsible for implementing the law, which instead just refers to "competent" authorities. It also fails to explicitly define marital rape as a criminal offence, which leaves open the risk that police officers and judges may not consider certain acts criminal. The law also does not address discriminatory institutions like the male guardianship system and the current worker sponsorship regulations, which respectively grant male family members and employers power over their female relatives or domestic workers. These institutions can be significant barriers to reporting abuse.
Sexual violence in humanitarian camps, Somalia
Date: 30 August 2013
According to figures recorded by the United Nations, there were at least 1,700 cases of rape in IDP settlements in the capital Mogadishu in 2012 alone. Nearly a third of survivors are children. In 70% of cases, perpetrators are reported to be armed men dressed in security forces uniforms.
Fear of being stigmatised and a lack of confidence in the will or ability of the authorities to investigate cases of sexual violence stop most of the victims from reporting abuses to the police, according to Amnesty International. Those who report the violence to the police are often met with inaction and even further abuse and stigmatisation.
HPV vaccine wears off quickly in HIV-positive women
Date: 21 August 2013
Women with HIV probably need a booster shot of HPV vaccine within 2 years to maintain efficacy, according to a Canadian study of quadrivalent HPV vaccine (Gardasil) in 136 HIV-positive women.
The study found that antibody response to the vaccine is strong enough at 2 years to protect about 90% of HIV-negative women against HPV, but only 63% of women living with HIV were protected 18 months after receiving the vaccine.
Cervical specimens from the women were negative for HPV DNA and their blood was negative for HPV antibodies both at screening and 3 months later when they received the vaccine. However, there have been nine HPV infections, of types targeted by the vaccine, in the first 18 months, including two persistent infections. There was no noticeable correlation between high viral load and new infections.
Intimate partner violence barrier to female-controlled HIV prevention, South Africa and Zimbabwe
Date: 27 August 2013
Women who experience violence from their male partner are less likely to use condoms or diaphragms, according to findings from a longitudinal study involving 4,505 women conducted in South Africa and Zimbabwe between 2003 and 2006.
The authors believe the association between partner violence and not using a diaphragm could have implications for research into microbicides and other forms of HIV prevention under female control.
Participants received either diaphragms, lubricant and condoms or condoms alone. Data on womens experiences of intimate partner violence and adherence to diaphragm and condom use were analysed. Overall, more than half (55%) of the women reported intimate partner violence during at least one visit in the two years following the start of the study. Women who did not regularly used condoms experienced some form of intimate partner violence and there experiencing intimate partner violence also increased diaphragm non-adherence.
US court allows case against anti-gay religious leader to proceed
Date: 15 August 2013
The lawsuit alleges that Lively's actions over the past decade, in collaboration with key Ugandan government officials and religious leaders, are responsible for depriving LGBTI Ugandans of their fundamental human rights based solely on their identity, which is the definition of persecution under international law and is deemed a crime against humanity.
Lively helped bring about the introduction of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill and has also been active in countries like Russia.
Germany first European country to recognise 'undetermined' sex
Date: 18 August 2013
On 1 November 2013, Germany will become the first country in Europe to join a small group of nations which recognise a third or 'undetermined' sex when registering births. A new German law, to come into force in November, states that babies born in Germany without clear gender-determining physical characteristics will be able to be registered without gender on their birth certificates.
The change is being seen as the country's first legal acknowledgement that it is possible for a human being to be neither male or female - which could have far-reaching consequences in many legal areas.
While transsexuals - people born of one gender who feel they belong to the other and wish to be recognised as such - are already legally recognised in Germany, hermaphrodites - those with both male and female genitalia - have always been forcibly registered as one or other gender at birth.
The German decision to recognise a third gender was based on a recommendation by the constitutional court, which sees legal recognition of a person's experienced and lived gender as a personal human right.
People of "undetermined" sex will be allowed at any point throughout their lives to identify themselves as one or other gender and go back to register the change on their birth certificates. Alternatively, they may also choose to keep their gender undefined.
Call for expanded access to post-abortion care, Pakistan
Date: 24 August 2013
The report, Post-Abortion Care in Pakistan: A National Study, highlights the ongoing gaps in the quality of post-abortion care following unsafe abortion procedures, societal stigmas and inequities in the healthcare system, burden of post-abortion complications and the significant role of private and public sectors in ensuring access to care.
The study finds that in 2012, nearly 700,000 women in Pakistan went to health facilities for treatment of complications resulting from spontaneous abortions or induced abortions using unsafe methods or with the assistance of an unskilled provider. While safe procedures for post-abortion care were found to be more widely used in 2012 than they were in 2002, health facilities still rely on unnecessarily invasive procedures such as dilation and curettage. Many facilities lack adequate equipment and supplies to provide quality care for complications and a majority are not equipped to provide around-the-clock services to manage severe complications.
The full report can be viewed here.
Disability, Sexuality and Rights Online Institute
Date: 30 August 2013
3rd Disability, Sexuality and Rights Online Institute, CREA
4 November - 15 December 2013
CREA's Disability, Sexuality, and Rights Online Institute is a six-week long online course, looking at why sexual and disability justices matter to us all, with or without disabilities.
Independent activists and practitioners in development, sexuality, health, media, and rights organisations worldwide are encouraged to apply. Twenty-five participants will be selected, based on demonstrated interest in disability and sexuality, and applicability to their work. People with disabilities are encouraged to apply for the Institute. The course has been designed and tested to be accessible to people with visual and hearing impairments.
The course is conducted completely online in English. It takes up 6-10 hours per week.
Participants are required to pay a registration fee of US$60 to contribute towards course expenses. Fee waiver is available on request for a very small percentage of participants on need basis (please refer to the application form).
Applications are due by 30 September 2013.
To apply online, click here.
High rates of anal HPV infection among young gay men
Date: 28 August 2013
New US research shows that prevalence and incidence of anal human papillomavirus (HPV) are high among young gay men.
The study involved 94 gay men aged between 16 and 30 years in Seattle, who were tested for HPV over a one year period. Overall, 70% of men had anal HPV infection detected at some point during the study. HPV 16 and/or HPV 18 - the HPV types most associated with anal cancer - were detected in 37% of study participants.
The investigators believe their research shows the importance of vaccinating young gay men before they become sexually active. However, none of the men were infected with all four HPV types covered by the quadrivalent vaccine Gardasil, showing that immunisation would still be worthwhile for young gay men who are sexually experienced.
Widespread abortion threatens women's lives, Kenya
Date: 25 August 2013
Nearly 120,000 Kenyan women were treated at health facilities for complications arising from unsafe abortions. Nearly three-quarters of them suffered moderate to severe injuries including sepsis, shock or organ failure.
More information can be found in the fact sheet, policy brief and full report.
Roe vs. Wade 40 years on
Date: 30 August 2013
The collection reviews the current state of play with respect to provision of abortion services in the United States and provides global trends and snapshots of the experience of countries where abortion is legal but not accessible, where abortion is accessible but not legal and therefore not regulated, and where government efforts to roll back abortion are taking place.
* Published in January 2013
Proposal for virginity testing of female pupils, Indonesia
Date: 21 August 2013
A local plan to make female high school students undergo mandatory virginity tests has been met with outrage from activists and refuted by national education specialists, who argue that it discriminates against women and violates their human rights.
The proposal comes from a local education chief in Prabumulih district, south Sumatra,. The test would require female senior school students aged 16 to 19 to have their hymen examined every year until graduation. Boys would undergo no investigation into whether they had had sex. The education chief proposes using the city budget to begin tests early next year, if politicians approve the proposal.
The plan has met with support from some local politicians. This is the third plan of its kind in Indonesia, where similar drafts were proposed in West Java in 2007 and in Sumatra in 2010, but dropped after a public outcry.
Local and national MPs, activists, rights groups and even the local Islamic advisory council have all denounced Rasyid's plan as potentially denying female students the universal right to education, in addition to targeting girls for an act that may not have even been consensual, such as sexual assault. Indonesia's education and culture minister has condemned the plan.
Tackling the rape kit backlog, US
Date: 26 August 2013
Kym Worthy, the county's chief prosecutor, contacted the then police chief. Following his lack of interest, a reporter picked up the story and others became involved. A team of volunteers began cataloguing the rape kits. It took six to nine months to build a database of the 11,304 kits, trying to match the kits with any police records there may have been. The team has received a federal grant of $1.5 million to continue the work and has enlisted the support of various state departments, universities and private sector entities to begin to solve the crimes. Since 2009, 1,600 rape kits have been investigated, 37 serial rapists have been identified and 13 cases have been brought against suspects. Worthy is now pushing for more time and resources as the current grant runs out in September 2013.
Police cite lack of time and money as the reasons why so many kits are disregarded, but Worthy believes that institutional attitudes in the police force also contributed to so many cases being ignored.
New publication: Sexuality, culture and politics in South America
Date: 27 August 2013
The 40 chapters can be individually downloaded here.
Ugandan campaign focuses on female condom
Date: 22 August 2013
A multimedia campaign in Uganda hopes to encourage more young people to use condoms and to raise the profile of the female condom. The multimedia campaign, If it's not on, it's not safe is run by local health group Uganda Health Marketing Group with funding from UNFPA.
High-risk sex is common in Uganda but male and female condom use is fairly erratic. HIV prevalence has risen from 6.4% in 2005 to 7.3% in 2012, making effective HIV prevention campaigns more urgent than ever.
Supply chain problems have led to regular nationwide male condom shortages. Only half of the 240 million condoms needed annually are received through the public sector.
This campaign differs from previous ones, by placing the female condom at the front and centre of this campaign. The campaign portrays women as having the power to say that she has the condom too, so the man cannot use excuses to avoid safe sex. Since the campaign began in June, more than 10,000 female condoms and 360,000 male condoms have been distributed free of charge, with another 120,000 condoms sold.
Previous female condoms have failed due to complaints from women that it was noisy and because of cost. A new female condom was introduced in 2009 but research in 2011 shows that myths and misconceptions were the biggest hindrance to female condom uptake, with only a small minority of those interviewed ever having seen or used the condom.
HIV activists have welcomed the campaign, but some warn that other HIV prevention methods must receive continuing attention also. Any campaign to boost female and male condom use must be met with a significant improvement in their supply, in order to ensure consistent availability and use.
Rape survivors denied safe and legal abortion, Ecuador
Date: 23 August 2013
Official data show that complications from abortion, legal and illegal, killed at least 10 women or girls in Ecuador in 2011. The number of women or girls who died from unsafe and illegal abortions may be higher.
Ecuador's criminal code limits women's and girls' reproductive rights by prohibiting abortion with few exceptions, even in the case of pregnancies that result from sexual violence. The criminal code imposes penalties, including prison terms ranging from one to five years, for women and girls who obtain abortions. Medical professionals who provide them are subject to harsher penalties. These penalties drive some women and girls to have illegal and unsafe abortions.
The National Assembly should ensure that all women and girls who have been victims of rape can get comprehensive health services, including abortion if requested, according to the Human Rights Watch report. The National Assembly should also modernise the language in the criminal code by removing an offensive and vague exemption from punishment for abortion for "idiot and demented" women and eliminating penalties for all voluntary abortions, including in cases of pregnancies stemming from rape.
The National Assembly is expected to debate major changes to the criminal code imminently. It is unclear whether a proposal from a 2012 assembly discussion of lifting penalties for abortion in all rape cases will move forward.
The full report, Rape victims as criminals: illegal abortion after rape in Ecuador, can be downloaded here.
Hopes for new female contraceptive, Australia
Date: 23 August 2013
Research into a new female contraception that simultaneously paralyses sperm and protects from sexually transmitted diseases has shown encouraging results in Australia.
The compound, which may eventually take the form of a sponge or vaginal ring to be inserted two or three days before sexual intercourse, is unique in that it is activated only on contact with semen, according to lead researcher, Professor John Aitken.
So far the compound has worked in a test tube with no toxic effects and has been shown to successfully stop chlamydia transmission.
The invention is groundbreaking in that the compound does not kill sperm but targets what enables it to swim, and is therefore much safer for women than current spermicides such as Nonoxynol-9.
Chelsea Manning and transgender rights
Date: 23 August 2013
Trans inmates are among the worst abused in sexual violence in US custody. Chelsea Manning has asked for hormone therapy, which a spokesperson at the prison she is at has confirmed will not be provided. Some courts have begun to mandate giving such care to trans prisoners in some state institutions, but the decisions are still on appeal.
Chelsea Manning has asked for mail from her supporters. She can be written to at:
Bradley E. Manning
1300 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
It is a system requirement that the envelopes must read 'Bradley Manning' for them to be delivered. In the inside text, though, letters should address her as Chelsea.
Challenge to government legitimised female genital mutilation, Indonesia
Indonesia's Ministry of Health introduced a regulation in November 2010 that permits the practice of female genital mutilation and authorises medical professionals to perform it. Efforts to overturn the legislation have been unsuccessful so far and human rights groups in Indonesia fear an increase in female genital mutilation due to this regulation.
The Indonesian government says that it is better that medically trained people carry out the procedure to avoid parents resorting to traditional circumcisers who might endanger their daughters' health.
Equality Now and the Indonesian NGO Kalyanamitra have launched a campaign to call on the government to stop 'medicalised FGM', calling for letters to be sent to the Indonesian Ministry of Health and health professionals' associations. Click here for more information.
HIV prevention must factor in social and cultural issues
Date: 6 August 2013
A number of speakers at the conference highlighted the cultural factors that are inhibiting medical male circumcision campaigns across southern Africa. Researchers report that campaigns in Swaziland, Botswana and Malawi are failing due to concerns from men, communities and countries about whether medical male circumcision is appropriate for them. Insufficient attention has been paid to the social meaning of circumcision in different settings. Read more here.
Missed opportunities for HIV-positive women to have vaginal deliveries, Europe
Date: 1 August 2013
Recent European research has found that there are missed opportunities for HIV-positive pregnant women with a suppressed viral load to give birth vaginally.
Guidelines in Europe recommend or permit a vaginal delivery when a woman has an undetectable or very low viral load. However, investigators found that over a third of women with viral suppression and no contraindications continue to have a caesarean section. The research found that, although vaginal delivery increased since guidelines were changed over the last ten years from 17 to 52%, in the years following the introduction of the guidelines caesarean section was the mode of delivery for 55% of women with an undetectable viral load. In a third of cases there was a factor indicating the need for this mode of delivery. However, in 35% of cases the woman could have had a vaginal delivery.
US woman charged with feticide is free
Bei Bei Shuai - an Indiana woman who was charged with feticide and murder for attempting suicide has finally been freed, from a murder trial, from the electronic GPS shackle that has tracked her every move since her release on bail from jail and free from an unjust and legally unauthorised prosecution.
Faced with enormous public pressure, including more than 100,000 emails through Change.org from people in Indiana and around the world demanding that all charges be dropped, outside the jail where she has been held and in the prosecutor's office and other major demonstrations across the US, the prosecutor offered Bei Bei Shuai a plea agreement. This agreement would drop the feticide and murder charges and allow her to avoid a lengthy trial.
Bei Bei Shuai pled guilty to the Class B misdemeanor of "criminal recklessness". She was immediately freed. The official sentence of 178 days in jail was already far exceeded by the year she spent incarcerated without bail, plus the more than 365 days on bail during which there were severe limitations on her freedom.
National Advocates for Pregnant Women praise the many individuals and institutions who supported Ms Shaui, but most of all Ms Shuai herself for her courage and persistence in challenging the cruel and unjust persecution.
Youth transforming the AIDS response
Date: 12 August 2013
Youth activists and organisations have come together to develop a platform to help us do just that: connect, organize and expand the HIV youth movement. These 25 youth-led and youth serving organisations have, together, decided on five themes where they have committed to focusing their collective energy:
Integrate HIV into Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services and policies
Increase access to evidence-informed prevention and treatment
Remove laws that prevent young people from accessing services
Resources for young people and HIV are allocated based on need and evidence
Ensure HIV remains a priority in the post-2015 development agenda
This commitment is the PACT for social transformations in the AIDS response. Members are calling on all interested activists and groups to join them.
If you are a youth-led or youth-service community, national, regional or global organization and want to take part in building a stronger HIV youth movement over the coming years click here to sign up.
If you want to find out more about the launch meeting in May, click here for the full meeting report.
Crowd Out AIDS want a stronger HIV response that addresses the real needs of all young people. This is the beginning of a reinvigorated and organised movement striving more effective HIV responses.
Women protest virginity inspections, Georgia
Date: 1 August 2013
The Forensics Bureau posted a statement on its website, after the report, saying it performed virginity tests only in the case of court-ordered rape and abuse allegations. It denied issuing certificates for brides and other young women. This information contradicts with what bureau employees reported on the programme.
Opponents of the virginity inspections say that the Georgian government, which is a signatory to the UN convention to end discrimination against women, should not permit any of its bodies to perform the controversial virginity tests.
Gender-based violence and HIV services, Papua New Guinea
Date: 14 July 2013
Call for HPV vaccination for gay men, UK
Date: 31 July 2013
UN launches global LGBTI campaign
Date: 8 August 2013
The Free & Equal campaign aims speed up a change in attitudes towards LGBT people by challenging negative stereotypes and debunking common misconceptions. The campaign website offers a wide range of materials, from fact sheets and articles to short videos, graphics and testimonies of LGBT people themselves and their families, and will continue to produce new content over the course of the coming 12 months.
US abortion ban limits support to women raped in conflict, Central African Republic
Date: 7 August 2013
In June 2006, the Central African Republics national assembly amended its abortion law to permit abortion in case of rape. However, the US, a major donor of humanitarian aid to Central African Republic, has a policy that dictates funds allocated for women raped in conflict carry a prohibition on the provision of abortion services. This means organisations that receive funding from the US in Central African Republic cannot use their US funds to provide abortion services. Where US funds are not segregated from those of other donors, US restrictions apply to all other funds as well.
The direct consequence of the abortion ban attached to US humanitarian aid is that girls and women impregnated by rape continue to be denied terminations in donor-funded hospitals, even though such procedures are permissible under Central African Republic law.
Action Kit for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence
Date: 1 August 2013
Click here to request a hard copy of the Kit, which will be sent out shortly.
French and Spanish translations of the entire Take Action Kit will be available soon also.
The Theme Announcement is available in over 25 languages with more forthcoming. If you are interested in volunteering to translate any of the Take Action Kit documents into another language, please contact CWGL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please post your Campaign initiatives to the online 16 Days Campaign Calendar where you can share your planned events with other participants and use the online discussion forum to share information and resources, and discuss strategies to end gender-based violence. To participate in the forum, click on any of the "Join" or "Join now" buttons near the top of the page to create a free profile.
Join the Campaign on Twitter (@16DaysCampaign) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/16DaysCampaign).
Call for adolescents to contribute experiences on health, World Health Organization
Date: 19 July 2013
Supreme Court representative describes contraceptives as poison, Philipppines
Date: 24 July 2013
The Philippines Supreme Court's Associate Justice, Roberto Abad, has described hormonal contraceptives as poison, as the Philippines Supreme Court resumes debate on the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law (RH Law).
There are currently 14 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the RH Law. The Supreme Court's 15 magistrates started hearing oral arguments against the law early this month.
The majority of the justices voted to delay indefinitely the implementation of the law while it hears opposing arguments. During the second round of oral arguments on the law, Abad read portions of an information sheet for a contraceptive with a warning about its use once a woman is pregnant. The magistrate stated that this means a child can be harmed, adding that "contraceptives attack healthy ovaries to make them dysfunctional. Court needs only common sense not medical experts to know this" and asserted that hormonal contraceptives are "poison".
Update: The Supreme Court oral hearings are due to resume on 13 August.
Moldova adopts anti-gay law
Date: 31 July 2013
Lawmakers in Chisinau have passed a law that gay rights advocates say mirrors similar legislation adopted in Russia and Lithuania. Activists say that they learned about the new law only after it was officially published on July 12, the date the measure came into effect. The new law is an amendment to the Contravention Code that specifies fines of up to 8,000 leu (about $625) for "the distribution of public information aimed at the propagation of prostitution, paedophilia, pornography, or of any other [intimate] relations [other] than those related to marriage or family."
The revelation that the measure was passed on May 23 and signed into law by President Nicolae Timofti on July 5 has surprised observers who see it as running counter to the ruling coalition's drive toward closer relations with the European Union. Chisinau hopes to sign an Association Agreement with the EU in November. In June, the Council of Europe found that such laws are "incompatible" with the values of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Human and gay rights groups have begun working with lawmakers and others to have the amendment repealed. They have sent notification about the measure to international rights organisations, the European Commission, and diplomatic missions in Moldova. They plan to organise a roundtable discussion of the situation with the participation of parliament deputies.
India's acid attack ruling must go further
Date: 18 July 2013
The government said this week it would treat acid as a poison and apply the Poison Act 1919 to regulate its sale. The reclassification means that shops will need a licence to sell the substance, buyers will have to submit a photo identity card and it must not be sold to under 18s. The responsibility for implementation of the law lies with state governments. Acids are cheap and easily available in general stores across India.
There are no official figures on acid attacks in the country but it is estimated that there are up to 1,000 a year. In the past six months, 92 such incidents were reported to New Delhi's Women in Distress helpline, set up by the local government.
Laxmi welcomes the draft rules but calls for more focus on rehabilitation. Laxmi, who works as a project co-ordinator at Stop Acid Attacks, a New Delhi-based organisation that supports survivors, has undergone seven reconstructive operations at an estimated total cost of Rs 30 lakh (£34,000). She hopes to have further surgery before a final cosmetic operation.
Activists are now calling for a curb on retail sale of acids. A further public interest litigation will be filed by activists shortly, calling for free treatment for survivors, establishment of a rehabilitation and compensation scheme and an increase in the minimum sentence for acid attacks to life imprisonment. In Bangladesh, perpetrators of such attacks can face the death penalty, and the sale of acid is regulated. The country experienced a decline in acid attacks between 2002 and 2009, while India has seen an increase.
Libya aims to make rape in armed conflict a war crime
Date: 5 July 2013
It has yet to be decided whether those affected would be entitled to a war pension. But it has been agreed that the women should get lump-sum compensation from the state, with compensation set on a case by case basis, taking into consideration whether a pregnancy resulted from the rape and the severity of the injuries suffered by the victim.
The turning point for the bill came at a conference in Tripoli in May, where two NGOs had arranged for one of the freed women to be present. Defying the taboos of Libyan society, she stood up and told her story. She, with her two sisters, were arrested and sexually tortured for nine months. By the time the young woman had finished her account, the Libyan minister of justice and several other men present were in tears. She turned to the minister and asked him: "What will you do for us?"
The idea that the survivors of rape might be thought of as anything but a source of disgrace was a drastic break with the past, and helped the bill being pushed by the NGO, Observatory on Gender in Crisis, to get the government's backing.
Real-time insights into gender-based violence in Egypt
Date: 5 July 2013
The resource provides details about the actors who are playing a crucial role in predicting and monitoring instances of sexual assault. Through their engagement with the media, the groups have also raised the profile of gender-based violence and how it is being used and targeted to threaten and repress Egyptian citizens.
The resource also features first hand experiences from individuals who have experienced sexual assault while protesting and who discussed these incidents at a workshop held in Egypt as part of the wider research programme.
IDS has also published a free report, Politically motivated sexual assault and the law in violent transitions: a case study from Egypt, which reviews evidence on the distinguishing features of politically motivated sexual violence, considers the need for redress for male victims who are currently not considered in law and outlines the calls for the revision of the criminal code to be more effective as a tool for addressing sexual violence.
Gradual fall in female genital mutilation in Africa
Date: 26 July 2013
A recent assessment, published by UNICEF, has found a gradual but significant decline in more than half of the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where female genital mutilation is concentrated. In Egypt, for example, where more women have been cut than in any other nation, survey data showed that 81% of 15-19 year olds had undergone the practice, compared with 96% of women in their late 40s.
The report's authors stress that the tradition still has a tenacious hold in many places. Overall, UNICEF estimates that more than 125 million girls and women have undergone the practice and that 30 million girls are at risk of it over the coming decade. However, the report is cautiously optimistic that the slow declines may foreshadow more generational change. In almost half of the 29 countries, young women were less likely to support the practice than older women.
The report assessed the practice among all age groups based on household survey data from 74 surveys done in 29 countries over two decades. Countries with the highest percentages of women include Egypt, Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti all at over 90% of women, Eritrea and Mali at 89% and Sierra Leone and Sudan at 88%. The steepest declines in the prevalence of the practice, also known as female genital mutilation, have occurred in Kenya, one of Africas most dynamic and developed nations, and in the Central African Republic, one of its poorest and least developed.
Researchers say the prevalence of the practice in these two countries began to fall four or five decades ago. Whilst Kenya has had laws and policies stretching back to the early 1900s, it is not clear why rates dropped in the Central African Republic from 43% in the mid-1990s to 24% in 2010.
The full report can be downloaded here.
Steep rise in HIV rates among men who have sex with men, Thailand
Date: 19 July 2013
In Thailand, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) has risen sharply, from 17% in 2003 to 29% in 2011, according to a new study from Thailands Ministry of Public Health and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study surveyed almost 4,800 MSM clients who entered the clinic for testing from 2005 to 2011. It is estimated that Bangkok has an MSM population of 300,000 to 400,000.
The situation has been described as a real public health emergency by the director of an HIV and sexually transmitted disease (STD) research programme at the Silom Community Clinic, located near Bangkok's gay and bisexual entertainment district.
This year, Thailand's National AIDS Management Centre has made MSM interventions the top priority, after finding that MSM accounted for 41% of all new HIV infections in 2012. The Thai government has begun to redirect funds towards MSM interventions. In 2009, less than 1% of HIV prevention resources went to MSM programmes. Funding reached 8% in 2011, according to UNAIDS, although external donors still finance 90% of HIV prevention services for MSM and other at-risk groups. The government is also debating whether to distribute antiretroviral drugs for pre-exposure prophylaxis in at-risk groups.
Interviews and focus-group discussions with young men revealed potential risk factors for HIV, including group sex, inconsistent condom use, being introduced to multiple sex partners by older MSM, and experimental drug use that can result in poor judgment during sex, whilst less than 43% of all MSM surveyed in the clinical study had a previous history of HIV testing.
One possible reason for the lack of HIV testing and awareness is the reluctance to teach sex education in public schools, advocates say.
Forced HIV testing, Greece
Date: 4 July 2013
The Greek health minister, on the day after he took office, has reintroduced a regulation on the transmission of infectious diseases that was first introduced in April 2012 and then repealed in April 2013. Health Regulation No. GY/39A states that mandatory health examinations will be required, as well as isolation and compulsory treatment, for diseases of public health importance. The regulation gives police the authority to assist in enforcing isolation, restriction quarantine, hospitalisation and treatment.
During the year it was in force, the police used the regulation to detain people, especially those suspected of being sex workers, drug users, or undocumented migrants, for forced testing for HIV or other infectious diseases. The regulation violates human rights, stigmatises vulnerable groups and has proved counterproductive to protecting public health.
The initial introduction of the regulation in April 2012 resulted in the roundup of dozens of women alleged to be sex workers, who were then forced to take HIV tests. Those found to be HIV positive were arrested and charged with causing intentional grievous bodily harm, a felony, or attempted bodily harm, for allegedly having unprotected sex with customers while HIV positive. The police and media outlets published and broadcast the women's personal data, photographs, and information from their medical records of their HIV-positive status. Many of the women arrested during the 2012 crackdown were detained pending trial for months before they were finally acquitted by the courts, who found no strong evidence for the charges. The final five were released in March 2013 from pre-trial detention after being acquitted.
Malala Yousafzai calls for education for all girls at UN
Date: 12 July 2013
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban, has told the UN that books and pens scare extremists, as she urged education for all. Speaking on her 16th birthday, Malala said efforts to silence her had failed. The speech at the UN headquarters in New York was her first public address since last October's incident in Pakistan's north-western Swat valley.
Malala has been credited with bringing the issue of women's education to global attention. A quarter of young women around the world have not completed primary school. There were huge cheers when Malala Yousefzai took to the podium. Amid several standing ovations, Malala told the UN on Friday that the Taliban's attack had only made her more resolute.
Malala said she was fighting for the rights of women because "they are the ones who suffer the most". She called on politicians to take urgent action to ensure every child has the right to go to school.
A video of her full speech can be heard here.
Abortion legalised for first time, Ireland
Lawmakers in the Republic of Ireland have voted to legalise abortion under certain conditions for the first time. The government won the final vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 by 127 votes to 31. The Bill authorises a termination when doctors deem that a woman is at risk of taking her life. The vote now needs to be endorsed in parliaments upper house endorsement, the Seanad and this will be discussed later today.
The Minister for Health has confirmed that the criminal sanction for procuring an abortion will be reduced from penal servitude for life to a maximum of 14 years under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
The vote follows years of campaigning and finally came to a head following the case of the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in hospital after she was refused an abortion.
Members of Fine Gael, the party in government, who voted against the bill have been automatically expelled, including one minister.
Risk of preterm birth significantly decreased with medical abortion
Date: 9 July 2013
A new study has found that the risk of preterm birth for women who have previously had an abortion has been significantly reduced by the increasing use of medical abortion and cervical preparation.
The study looked at 732,719 first births by women in Scotland between 1980 and 2008 and found that during the early 1980s, women who had one abortion or more had a higher rate of preterm births (at or before 24 weeks) during later pregnancies. There was a steady drop in that risk over the next 15 to 20 years. The study concludes that by the year 2000, Scottish women with a history of abortion were no longer more likely to give birth before 37 weeks gestation.
The research has huge significance as a growing number of states in the US move to place new restrictions on medical abortions to terminate pregnancy during the first trimester. Proponents argue that the measures are necessary to improve patients' safety.
The study suggests that a history of surgical abortion with cervical dilation may, in some cases, put a woman at greater danger of giving birth prematurely in subsequent pregnancies. Among the Scottish women who gave birth to their first child between 1980 and 1983, those who had a previous abortion boosted their risk of giving birth prematurely by 18%, with an additional 18% risk for each subsequent abortion. For those with a history of three or more abortions, the risks of neonatal death were nearly tripled.
However, abortion methods changed during this period and, although the study could not review abortion method directly to preterm birth, amongst Scottish women who had not given birth, surgical abortions without use of cervical pre-treatment decreased from 31% to 0.4% from 1992-2008 and the proportion of medical abortions increased from 18% to 68% over the same time. The researchers surmise that the mechanical dilation of a woman's cervix in advance of surgical abortion was more likely to result in cervical trauma that could compromise her ability to carry a subsequent pregnancy to term.
The full article can be viewed and downloaded here.
Oliver-Williams C, Fleming M, Monteath K, et al. Changes in association between previous therapeutic abortion and preterm birth in Scotland, 1980 to 2008: a historical cohort study. PLoS Medicine 2013 10(7):e1001481. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001481
Call for petition for legalisation of therapeutic abortion, Chile
Date: 12 July 2013
Click here to sign a petition in support of the legalisation of abortion in Chile. The petition seeks to bring forward the two citizen's bills that have already been presented, to decriminalise therapeutic abortion in Chile.
Guttmacher Institute President steps down
Date: 11 July 2013
Dr Sharon Camp, President and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, will be stepping down on 15 July 2013, the Board has announced.
Sharon`s time at Guttmacher has left a profound mark on the organisation and all those who have been fortunate enough to work with her over her remarkable 40-year career. She is leaving earlier than anticipated, due to health concerns. Sharon has led the Institute through its evolution into the leading think tank on sexual and reproductive health and rights, with a combination of rigorous research, incisive policy analysis and strategic communications. Sharon has continually challenged the staff to find new and better ways to reach influential audiences, whether by finding answers to important questions or by developing new platforms for the dissemination of information. She is commended for her commitment not only to the public face of the Institute, but to its staff, constantly seeking to raise the visibility of Guttmacher experts and promoting professional development at all levels.
During her tenure, the Institute has conducted research projects around the globe and in the US, in almost all cases carried out and disseminated in partnership with national institutions, in keeping with Sharon`s commitment to ensuring in-country ownership of research studies and building the capacity of local scholars and advocates.
Boost for fistula treatment in Liberia
Date: 10 July 2013
Doctors and nurses at 48 health clinics in Liberia have been trained to treat fistula. While only six doctors in the country are able to perform the surgery, 65 professional nurses have been trained to train colleagues in fistula management in rural health clinics. Some 300 trainees are currently enrolled.
Since the launch of the Liberia Fistula Program in 2007, a government scheme supported by international network Zonta International and UNFPA, doctors have treated 1,026 fistula cases. All treatment is now free. The majority of patients have been impoverished girls and women aged 11-20.
The programme also includes awareness and mobilisation, encouraging women to come forward and encouraging Liberians to practice family planning and seek assistance from a trained health worker when giving birth. Public health messages have gone out in 25 local dialects. They try to break down common myths, including that fistula is caused by witchcraft and cannot be treated medically.
According to the most recent situational analysis on fistula (2006), more than half of long-term fistula sufferers are abandoned by their husbands or partners. Many women continue to be rejected by their communities, even once they have been treated. There is now recognition of the need to add a rehabilitation and reintegration component to the programme.
For more information on life after fistula surgery, see Kisa AM, Nyamongo AK. Still living with fistula: an exploratory study of the experience of women with obstetric fistula following corrective surgery in West Pokot, Kenya in Reproductive Health Matters, 40.
Global policy and clinical guidelines on violence against women
Date: 20 June 2013
A new report, released by WHO in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, shows that intimate partner violence is the most common type of violence against women, affecting 30% of women worldwide.
The report, Global and regional estimates of violence against women: Prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, represents the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women - both by partners and non-partners. Some 35% of all women will experience either intimate partner or non-partner violence.
The study highlights the need for all sectors to engage in eliminating tolerance for violence against women and better support for women who experience it. New WHO guidelines, launched with the report, aim to help countries improve their health sectors capacity to respond to violence against women.
In recognition of this challenge, new WHO clinical and policy guidelines stress the importance of training all levels of health workers to recognise when women may be at risk of partner violence and to know how to provide an appropriate response. WHO has begun to partner with ministries of health, non-governmental organisations and other United Nations agencies to disseminate the guidelines and support their adaptation and use in South East Asia.
The report can be downloaded here and the clinical and policy guidelines here.
Croatia suspends sexuality education in schools after church opposition
Date: 24 May 2013
The Prime Minister, Zoran Milanovic, has announced that he will abide by the ruling, but will continue to fight for sexuality education classes, despite strong opposition from conservative groups. A survey of parents found that more than half believed that sex education is necessary.
Growing abortion restrictions but some progress on choice, US
Date: 8 July 2013
A new update from the Guttmacher shows that the assault on abortion choice continues. In the first six months of 2013, states adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion, the second-highest number ever at the midyear mark and as many as were enacted in all of 2012.
However, this year is notable also for positive action on other reproductive health issues in a handful of states, with important new provisions enacted to expand access to comprehensive sex education, expedited partner treatment for STIs and emergency contraception for women who have been sexually assaulted.
In March, the Arkansas legislature overrode a veto to ban abortions occurring more than 12 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period. In May, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the law. Later in March, North Dakota enacted a ban on abortions occurring after a fetal heartbeat is detected. A legal challenge has been filed, but the law is scheduled to go into effect in August.
There is a growing move on bans on abortion later in pregnancy, with legislation to ban nearly all abortions performed at or beyond 20 weeks post-fertilisation introduced in ten states and at 18 weeks post-fertilisation in Arizona. Other states have introduced restrictions including targeted regulation of abortion providers, designed to discourage medical professionals from providing abortion and make it impossible for clinics to remain open, restrictions on the transfer of patients needing emergency care, imposition of surgical-level standards of care for medical abortion providers, banning of telemedicine and other funding restrictions. There are more states with requirements for women to have an ultrasound, long waiting periods and the right for medical providers to withhold information about a womans pregnancy if it might lead her to consider abortion. Family planning is becoming increasingly restricted, through budget cuts and bans on funding of family planning (Ohio and Oklahoma).
However, there is some good news. Colorado and Illinois enacted laws aimed at improving sex education for adolescents, requiring that all sex education provided in the state to be scientifically proven to delay sexual debut, reduce adolescents' number of sexual partners and sexual frequency, or increase their contraceptive use. Nebraska enacted a law that allows medical providers to prescribe or dispense a drug for treatment of certain sexually transmitted infections for a patient's partner without first seeing the partner. Hawaii enacted a measure requiring hospitals treating women who have been sexually assaulted to provide them with medically accurate and unbiased information on emergency contraception, and to give them the medication upon request. Hawaii is the 17th state, along with the District of Columbia, to require that a woman be given information about emergency contraception and the 13th state (including the District of Columbia) to require that she be given the medication on request.
Obstacles to improved maternal health care in Timor-Leste
Date: 8 July 2013
Timor-Leste has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, third highest in Asia. Greater efforts are now needed to tackle the many challenges women face in accessing health care, according to UNFPA.
Thirty per cent of women give birth with a skilled birth attendant present. A further 18% of women are assisted by a traditional birth attendant and nearly half, (49%) are assisted by untrained relatives or friends. Seventy per cent of the countrys 1.1 million inhabitants live in remote areas. Timor-Leste has one of the highest fertility rates in the world with each woman having on average 5.9 children.
Although there are enough health workers to meet the international minimum standard set by WHO, there are gaps in their quality and competency and a shortage of trained doctors.
With support from AusAID, the Ministry of Health is also developing a better reach of services to isolated and rural areas through mobile health clinics. These clinics travel to more than 400 villages to provide prenatal and postnatal care for women and babies, immunisation for children, family planning support, treatment and prevention of common diseases and infection and information on nutrition and hygiene.
Brutal sexual assaults in Egypt
Date: 3 July 2013
In a joint statement issued on 3 July, Egyptian feminist organisations and groups have condemned the reactions of the Egyptian authorities, represented in the office of the presidency and the Ministry of Health before the army actions of 3-4 July.
Feminist organisations, including Nazra for Feminist Studies, as well as intervention groups against sexual violence, including Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment and Tahrir Bodyguard, documented 26 incidents of sexual assaults on 3 July in the vicinity of Tahrir Square. This follows 46 cases of violent sexual assault and rape in the vicinity of the Square on 30 June, 12 another 28 June and 17 cases in the demonstrations that took place on 1 July.
This unprecedented level of sexual assaults is not only attributed to the recorded large number of incidents, but also to the severity of the attacks, which have been more brutal than the attacks that took place in January 2013.
The sexual attacks that took place in the past few days were preceded by earlier incidents of sexual violence which indicated grim forebodings several months ago. In November 2012, gang rapes were committed amidst disregard from official and unofficial bodies. The severity of attacks increased during the demonstrations that marked the second anniversary of the revolution on January 25th 2013, during which 19 cases of gang rapes and sexual assault were documented in Tahrir Square and its vicinity. The assaults in November 2012 and January 2013 targeted women demonstrators, passersby and female volunteers in field groups intervening in situations of sexual assault and rape.
The organisations and groups involved deplore the fact that investigations into the documented cases of gang rapes have not taken place. The official reaction, represented in the statements of the Human Rights Committee of the Shura Council (endowed with legislative powers) blamed the women for their presence in the spaces of demonstrations. According to members of the Human Rights Committee, some women are "100 percent" responsible for being raped by being involved "in such circumstances".
A source in the Ministry of Health additionally violated the medical professional code of ethics and the privacy of survivors of sexual assault by making press statements to the Freedom and Justice Party online portal, in which the Ministry revealed personal information of a survivor and information on her medical condition.
For more information, follow this link for the full statement from the following organisations:
Nazra for Feminist Studies.
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
New Woman Foundation.
Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment.
Women and Memory Forum.
New training tool - ethical case studies in obstetrics and gynaecology
Date: 2 July 2013
FIGO announce the launch of a bioethics training curriculum for medical students and junior practitioners in obstetrics and gynaecology.
The resource includes a brief overview of basic bioethical principles, followed by 27 case studies through which students can apply the principles to propose ethical responses. Case studies cover diverse issues such as adolescent sex and confidentiality, anencephaly and late-term abortion, caesarean section on request, female genital cutting / mutilation, human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination, involuntary female sterilisation, social sex selection and task shifting and maternal mortality. There are many more, plus background contextual information and an instructors guide.
This curriculum can be used freely in order to stimulate means of ethical analysis, reflection and decision-making. The toolkit can be viewed online here through FIGO.
The curriculum has been developed by Dr. Bernard Dickens and expert colleagues on the Committee on Ethical Aspects of Human Reproduction and Women's Health, of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO). The Ethics Committee would be pleased to collaborate with any FIGO member society or any medical school department of obstetrics and gynaecology that wants to use the materials and case studies in an ethics training programme.
For further information, please contact Dr. Bernard Dickens by email: Bernard.email@example.com
UK ban on embryo sex selection unjustifiable, according to ethicists
Date: 1 July 2013
As Europe`s leading fertility specialists gather at a conference in London this weekend, a new publication from leading medical ethicists finds no justification to support the UKs legal ban on sex selection before pregnancy for `social` reasons.
Overall, the ethicists found that new techniques to choose the sex of future children would be ethical to offer in the UK, based solely on parents` preference to have a child of a particular sex. The in vitro techniques are used at the embryonic stage or earlier, and at present are only legally permitted for use in the UK to avoid the birth of babies with medical problems such as sex-linked inherited disorders.
The paper argues that no population-level sex ratio imbalance would occur if sex selection using fertility treatments were permitted for non-medical reasons, within a strong regulatory framework. No ethical distinction was found between providing `family balancing` (sex selection to ensure that a new sibling is of the opposite sex to existing children), or sex selection for an only child, the firstborn, or for every child in a family, including selecting all the children to be of the same sex.
Sexism was not found to be inherent in the wish to choose the sex of a baby. Some requests reflect a high value placed on each gender being represented within a family. Other requests may stem from sexism or gender stereotyping, but these attitudes in themselves do not pose such risks to children that sex selection should be prohibited.
The authors concluded that, in the UK, it would not be right for `social` sex selection treatments to be funded by the taxpayer. Proper regulation would be also required to minimise any harmful effects of treatments carried out for non-medical reasons.
British couples with the resources to do so are reported to be travelling overseas for costly sex-selection treatments involving IVF and embryo testing, or novel sperm sorting techniques, although no official record is kept of their numbers. These cross-border treatments may pose obstacles to the follow up of the resulting children`s health. In some circumstances, they might involve fewer clinical or legal safeguards than would be in place if patients were able to access equivalent treatments in the UK.
Further attempts to restrict abortion in Central and Eastern Europe
Date: 1 July 2013
In June, the Government of Macedonia adopted a law which severely restricts abortion after ten weeks and places a number of humiliating administrative procedures on women seeking an abortion. Under the proposed changes, women seeking an abortion beyond the tenth week of pregnancy will have to file requests for abortions to the Health Ministry and moreover will be obliged to undergo a mandatory pre-abortion counselling and waiting period of three days after the pre-abortion counselling. The partner of the woman will be informed about the procedure and the doctor is also expected to submit a written confirmation. The law took only two weeks from initial drafting to adoption. There have been no consultations with the civil society and the opposition parties were absent from the debate and vote.
In late May the Lithuanian Parliament secured an abortion ban bill, proposed by the Electoral Action of Poles. It will now go to the parliamentary Committees on Human Rights, Health Affairs and Legal Affairs for further considerations.
The Council of Serbian Orthodox church announced its support for a religious doctors` initiative to ban state abortions, other than for medical reasons. The Serbian Health Minister has stated that termination of pregnancy in Serbia was regulated by law, and the rules of the medical profession and there are currently no grounds for changing the current legislation.
Attacks on LGBTI rights defenders, Cameroon
Date: 1 July 2013
Call for compulsory sex education to support LGBTI students, UK
Date: 10 June 2013
The government opposition party's Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Equalities, has called on the government to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education a statutory requirement in order to address the health challenges faced by LGBT students.
The senior Labour MP stressed how stronger sex and relationship education, which included provision for LGBT students, could dramatically help in the fight against homophobic bullying and poor rates of sexual health in the LGBT community.
Research by gay rights charity Stonewall published in 2012 showed one in sixteen gay and bisexual men aged 16 to 24 attempted to take their own life in the previous year - a figure far higher than for their heterosexual counterparts. Gay and bisexual men are also more likely to self-harm, catch sexually transmitted infections and have depression compared to their straight peers.
Currently Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) Education in England is a non-statutory subject. The government minister for family reports that teachers are best placed to understand the needs of their pupils and do not need additional central prescription. But a poll found in May that 86% of parents believe sex education lessons should be compulsory in secondary schools.
US Supreme Court rules human genes may not be patented
Date: 13 June 2013
The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated by the high costs charged for tests using genes that have been patented.
The genes at issue in the court hearing had received public attention after the actress Angelina Jolie revealed in May that she had had a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she had inherited a faulty copy of a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer. The price of the test, often more than $3,000, was partly a product of Myriad's patent, putting it out of reach for some women. The company filed patent infringement suits against others who conducted testing based on the gene. The price of the test is expected to fall because of Thursday's decision.
The court's ruling will also shape the course of scientific research and medical testing in other fields, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.
The court stated that "a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated."
UN Security Council passes resolution on sexual violence in armed conflict
Date: 26 June 2013
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously passed Resolution 2106 addressing sexual violence in armed conflict.
Significantly, for the first time, a Security Council Resolution explicitly calls for UN entities and donor countries to provide "non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health."
In order for the medical care provided to girls and women impregnated from war rape to truly be comprehensive and non-discriminatory, it must include the option of safe abortion. The language on the need to provide non-discriminatory medical care, including by donor states, follows from the Secretary-General`s 2013 Report on sexual violence in conflict to the Council, which called for the inclusion of safe abortion services to be included as an integral part of care to victims of war rape.
Lithuanian parliament backs bill to ban abortion
Date: 11 June 2013
Lithuania`s Seimas (Parliament) has given its initial backing to a proposed abortion ban bill after 46 MPs voted in favour, 19 were against and 25 abstained.
The bill was backed by members of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, Labour Party and individual members of other political groups. Only members of the Liberal Movement political groups unanimously voted against the bill.
The bill will now go to the parliamentary Committees on Human Rights, Health Affairs and Legal Affairs for further considerations and will be sent back to the Seimas during the autumn session.
Under the bill proposed by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, an abortion would be possible only if it poses threat to the life or health of the woman or it was the result of criminal acts. In such cases, an abortion would be performed only up to 12 weeks.
New HIV guidelines recommend earlier treatment initiation
Date: 30 June 2013
WHO estimate that initiation of antiretroviral therapy at a CD4 count below 500 could avert an additional three million deaths and prevent 3.5 million more new HIV infections between 2013 and 2025 if the guidance is widely implemented. Although the earlier treatment initiation recommendations follow systematic reviews which show that this is the best threshold at which to initiate ARVs, the vast majority of people initiating ARVs globally are doing so at a CD4 count below 100 cells/mm3.
WHO estimates that as a result of the new guidance 25.9 million people will now be eligible for ARVs. An additional 9.2 million people have become eligible compared to the criteria used in the previous 2010 guidance.
Other key new recommendations include the use of viral load testing as the preferred approach to monitoring the success of ART and diagnosing treatment failure, in addition to clinical and CD4 monitoring of people receiving ART (as opposed to CD4 testing) and community-based HIV testing and counselling and HIV testing of adolescents to diagnose people with HIV earlier and link them to care and treatment.
The new guidelines also recommend antiretroviral therapy to all children with HIV under 5 years of age and to all children over the age of five with a CD4 cell count below 500. Women with HIV who are pregnant or breastfeeding are recommended to start treatment irrespective of CD4 cell count. Although the guidelines state that women may discontinue treatment after breastfeeding has ceased if they are not eligible for treatment, WHO also recommends that because it is simpler to manage, all women should stay on treatment once they have started.
The new guidelines also recommend antiretroviral therapy for all people living with HIV who are in a sexual relationship where one partner has HIV and the other does not.
UNAIDS estimates that the increase in the number of people treated as a result of these recommendations could be met within the projected 2015 global budget of USD 22 to 24 billion for HIV treatment and care.
Advocacy groups representing people living with HIV welcomed the new guidelines but also expressed some concerns about how they will be implemented, calling on governments to invest in provision of the equipment needed to use these guidelines and to address existing disparities in access to treatment.
The guidelines are available here.
European parliament passes resolution on coerced sterilisation
Date: 28 June 2013
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has adopted two ground-breaking Resolutions relevant to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Both Reports were adopted by the majority of the Assembly.
Resolution 1945 (2013): Resolution Putting an end to coerced sterilisations and castrations. For the first time, the Assembly urged for a total ban on coerced sterilisation or castration in any way for any reason. At present a small, but significant, number of sterilisations and castrations can be considered 'coerced'. These are mainly directed against transgender people, Roma women and convicted sex offenders. The Assembly urged for adequate redress for victims of recent (and future) coerced sterilisation or castration, including the protection and rehabilitation of victims, the prosecution of offenders, and financial compensation.
Resolution 1948 (2013) and Recommendation 2021 (2013) were also passed. These resolutions strongly condemn legislation on "prohibiting "homosexual propaganda" in Russia and the draft law in Ukraine. Parliamentarians confirmed that these laws and draft laws, which go against the freedom of expression and the prohibition of discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity, risk legitimising the prejudice and hostility which is present in society and fuelling a climate of hatred against LGBTIs.
Texas abortion bill blocked by Senator's filibuster
Date: 26 June 2013
Decriminalisation of therapeutic abortion, Dominican Republic
Date: 25 June 2013
Female genital mutilation helpline launched, UK
Date: 24 June 2013
EU foreign policy now protects LGBTI human rights
Date: 24 June 2013
Sexual abuse against boys and girls in Afghanistan
Date: 21 June 2013
Space-age technology to reduce maternal deaths
SILCS diaphragm receives regulatory approval, Europe
Date: 20 June 2013
US Supreme Court declares 'prostitution pledge' unconstitutional
Date: 20 June 2013
The US Supreme Court has rejected the requirement that organisations receiving federal funding make an anti-prostitution pledge as a violation of the First Amendment. The decision, by six votes to two, has been welcomed by rights activists who say that the pledge prevented important programmes on HIV prevention and related sexual health and human rights work from being implemented.
Intellectual property rights agreement delayed for least developed countries
Date: 13 June 2013
International Criminal Court rejects clergy sexual abuse case against former Pope
Date: 13 June 2013
Brazil cancels sex work outreach campaign after public criticism
The Brazilian Ministry of Health has pulled an outreach campaign to urge sex workers to use condoms, after a conservative backlash from evangelical legislators in Brazil's congress.
The web campaign, to mark International Prostitute Day, used the slogan "I'm happy being a prostitute" and encouraged sex workers to not be ashamed to seek medical treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. The campaign was published on the health ministry's website and social media but was removed two days later.
The Brazilian Network of Prostitutes has released a statement condemning the move and the subsequent sanitised campaign that was produced with no input from sex workers.
Displaced Malian women and girls turn to survival sex
Date: 5 June 2013
In Mali, there has been a reported rise in displaced women and girls - some as young as 13 - turning to sex work to get by. Fourteen months of occupation and conflict have forced 475,000 people from their homes in the north.
A local NGO has registered 3,800 sex workers in Mopti and Sévaré but reports that the real number is much higher. UNICEF has documented a number of teenage girls engaged in survival sex, almost all were without their parents or without their husbands who they said had disappeared or been killed during the fighting.
Although no one can say for sure, many believe the number of sex workers is expected to increase with the arrival of the international peacekeeping troops. There are already 6,000 foreign soldiers in Mali, and in the coming weeks some 5,000 more will arrive to support MINUSMA, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission there.
Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies - Sexuality Institute
Date: 4 June 2013
Apply now! 6th Sexuality Institute, 18-24 August, Kathmandu, Nepal
The CSBR Sexuality Institute offers a holistic interdisciplinary program combining history, theory, research and politics of sexuality with applications of advocacy and fieldwork. It brings together leading sexual and reproductive rights activists, academics and researchers. The institute includes lectures, group work, round-tables, panels, site visits and film screenings, as well as a methodology to engage participants' own experiences around sexuality.
Who can participate?
The Institute will be limited to 20 participants, as it is designed as an intensive six-day participatory group training. Applications will be reviewed by the CSBR Training Committee. The language of the Institute will be English. Travel and accommodation costs for participants from the South will be covered by the Institute. All participants from the North are required to pay for full tuition and travel costs.
Eligible applicants for the Institute must:
* Have a minimum of 2 years experience working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights;
* Have a commitment to undertake efforts to promote sexual and bodily health and rights at national and international levels;
* Represent an organisation engaged in sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy, research or fieldwork;
* Be fluent in English.
For more information and an application form, click here.
Chinese city plans to fine unmarried mothers
Date: 3 June 2013
The government of Wuhan city in central Hubei, China, has published a draft updated family planning policy which it says is aimed at keeping the city's birth rate at a low level. The policy says that "the parties" will provoke a social compensation fee in cases of births that are out of wedlock or when one side knowingly has a child with someone who has a spouse.
This is the fee levied on people who break China's strict family planning policy, which restricts many urban couples to one child Hubei province, in which Wuhan is located, sets its social compensation fee as three times the average annual disposable income. It has been interpreted in state media as mainly targeting unmarried mothers and women who have affairs with married men.
The policy has drawn widespread criticism that it is discriminatory and could lead to an increase in abandoned babies. One expert comments that it is the first time that out-of-wedlock children had been expressly singled out for penalty by one of China's municipalities. It came just days after the rescue of a young unmarried mother's newborn baby from a sewer pipe in eastern China prompted discussion over the stigma that single mothers face.
Salvadoran government ordered to provide access to life-saving care for Beatriz
Date: 30 May 2013
The Inter-American Human Rights Court, the highest human rights court in the Americas, today handed down a decision ordering the government of El Salvador to provide Beatriz with life-saving care. It ordered the state to provide the measures necessary to protect her life, health, and well-being, as well as refrain from interfering with the actions the doctors consider appropriate.
A spokesperson for the Inter-American Court explained that the case is not going through formal channels. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the judges to issue an immediate order to the Salvadoran government to avoid irreparable harm to Beatriz. This is the first case on abortion that the court has considered.
The government has until June 7 to present a first report to the court on its compliance with the measures ordered. El Salvador is a member state of the Organization of American States and signed the American Convention on Human Rights, and is therefore required to comply with this order.
HIV testing at gay venues, UK
Date: 31 May 2013
Mouth swabs are being taken from volunteers at gay venues in Brighton and Hove, UK, to gather new data on HIV risk patterns, prevention needs, and local prevalence as part of the European SIALON II project.
Oral HIV swabbing provides an alternative to traditional blood tests. Outreach workers from an HIV NGO, Terrence Higgins Trust, are working with gay venues in the city to collect 400 mouth swab samples and other data from men who have sex with men. The team has already collected 285 samples alongside data about men's behaviours and their perception of their own HIV status. The results will allow researchers to develop an insight into behaviour and attitudes among men who have sex with men, that could shape future prevention measures in Brighton, while identifying risk patterns and prevalence in the city.
Although the data is anonymised for the purposes of the research, men who want to access their results are able to do so using a barcode system that provides a return result within one week.
Outreach workers report that oral swabbing is proving to be an acceptable means of testing in non-traditional settings such as gay venues.
Similar research into men who have sex with men as part of the SIALON II project is to be carried out throughout the EU and other countries including Russia.
E-learning modules for midwives
Date: 30 May 2013
UNFPA have teamed up with the microchip company Intel, the WHO and JHPIEGO, to develop midwifery multimedia e-learning modules, currently being piloted in Bangladesh and Ghana.
The new tools are interactive and include graphics and videos, making the lessons more accessible. So far, three modules have been developed, training health care workers on how to handle conditions such as pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, post-partum haemorrhage and prolonged and obstructed labour. They also address clinical decision-making, giving instruction on proper medicine dosages and protocols and provide checklists key to managing emergency cases.
According to UNFPA and its partners, enhancing skills of frontline healthcare providers in these three areas alone would help prevent half of all maternal deaths in countries with high maternal mortality rates.
The e-learning modules can be adapted to any language. They do require a computer, electricity, computer literacy, and Internet access, though the heaviest data, such as high-definition videos, could be shipped on health centres, where workers could upload them onto their laptops or tablets.
The modules run on the skoool Healthcare Education platform, which tracks the worker`s usage. The system records what modules are opened and how often, as well as how workers performed on the quizzes included in the training. This is saved offline and sent to operating system later, when the computer is linked to the Internet.
Unwanted pregnancies in Syria
Date: 29 May 2013
Source: IRIN News
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) face additional challenges related to family planning and unsafe sex as a result of the crowded living conditions, especially in common shelters. UNFPA estimates there will be 1.65 million women of reproductive age living as IDPs by the end of 2013.
New caucus for reproductive health formed to increase reproductive health access
Date: 29 May 2013
Publication: UNAIDS guidance on HIV and criminalisation
Date: 28 May 2013
Source: HIV Justice Network
UNAIDS has published updated guidance to limit the overly broad use of criminal laws to regulate and punish people living with HIV who are accused of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and/or transmission. The guidance aims to ensure that any application of criminal law in the context of HIV achieves justice and does not jeopardise public health objectives.
The guidance, Ending overly-broad criminalisation of HIV non-disclosure, exposure and transmission: Critical scientific, medical and legal considerations, builds on two years of research, evidence-building and policy dialogue, which included a number of technical papers, an expert meeting and a high level policy consultation in 2012 that gathered policy-makers, experts in HIV science, medicine and human rights and members of civil society, including people living with HIV, from around the world to discuss options and recommendations for addressing overly broad HIV criminalisation.
The new guidance reiterates previous UNAIDS and UNDP positions and recommendations from the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, to limit the application of criminal law to cases of intentional transmission (i.e. where a person knows his or her HIV-positive status, acts with the intention to transmit HIV, and does in fact transmit it) and that general - and not HIV-specific - laws should be used for these extremely rare occasions.
Increasing access to woman-controlled barrier contraceptives
Date: 25 May 2013
PATH are working on developing a diaphragm that is made in one size to fit most bodies, without requiring a pelvic exam. The SILCS diaphragm is made of silicone, which will hold up to extreme temperatures and poor storage conditions common in developing countries. The single size means that there does not need to be as much time spent by health practitioners fitting the diaphragm.
Contraceptive demand in poorest countries remains unmet
Date: 17 May 2013
Source: Guttmacher Institute
A new study by the Guttmacher Institute finds that women in the poorest countries who want to avoid pregnancy are three times as likely to have an unmet need for modern methods as women in higher-income developing countries. The study, Trends in Contraceptive Need and Use in Developing Countries in 2003, 2008, 2012: An Analysis of National Surveys, found that the total number of women wanting to avoid pregnancy and in need of contraception increased from 716 million to 867 million, with growth concentrated among women in the 69 poorest countries where modern method use was already very low. Roughly three-quarters of the 222 million women in developing countries who want to avoid a pregnancy but are not using a modern method now live in the poorest countries, compared with 67% in 2003. Women in the poorest countries who want to avoid pregnancy are one-third as likely to be using a modern method as those living in higher-income developing countries.
The report is available online here and will appear shortly in The Lancet.
Gay men lack health service access due to blackmail, violence and stigma across the world
Date: 1 May 2013
The Global Forum for MSM and HIV. Access to HIV Prevention and Treatment for Men Who Have Sex with Men: Findings from the 2012 Global Men's Health and Rights Study (GMHR). 2012.
The Global Forum for MSM and HIV. Young Men Who Have Sex with Men: Health,access, & HIV. Data from the 2012 Global Men's Health & Rights (GMHR) Survey. 2013.
Publication: Date on young people's sexual and reproductive health
Date: 15 May 2013
El Salvador - Beatriz still denied abortion
Date: 11 May 2013
Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:
International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, 17 May
Date: 17 May 2013
Source: United Nations
Plight of LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers
Date: 7 May 2013
Services for survivors of sexual abuse, Syria
Date: 8 May 2013
UNFPA's executive director has called for more to be done to ensure the health and wellbeing of women and children affected by the Syrian conflict, on a recent visit to a refugee camp in Turkey.
Prices cut for HPV vaccines
Date: 9 May 2013
Ireland produces bill on abortion with no change for women
Date: 8 May 2013
Publication: Living with HIV, diversity, inequality and rights
Date: 1 May 2013
Pressure in Philippines to ban formula milk
Date: 30 April 2013
Activists have rallied to fight what they characterize as the diluting and weakening of the current Milk Code.
El Salvador - woman denied life saving medical intervention - petition grows
Date: 3 May 2013
Beatriz is a 22-year old woman and mother of a child. She has lupus and her kidney function is being steadily destroyed. She also is pregnant with an anencephalic fetus (a fetus without a brain) that has no chance of survival after birth. In the face of Beatriz's medical situation, the Maternity Hospital has advised that she is likely to die if she does not get the medical procedure that she needs.
High prevalence of oral HPV in HIV-positive gay men, Netherlands
Date: 7 May 2013
Reasons why teenagers choose pregnancy, UK
Date: May 2013
A new report on the risk factors associated with teenage pregnancy and on the reasons why teenage girls choose to continue with pregnancy has been launched. The report links maternity and abortion records to the education records of all girls attending government schools in England.
The report finds that teenage conceptions occur in all social groups, areas and types of school. However, there are some groups who are more likely to get pregnant and to keep the pregnancy. Girls who are eligible for free school meals and are persistently absent from school are the most strongly associated with teenage conceptions and the decision to continue with a pregnancy. Girls who have been doing worse at school are also more likely to both get pregnant and decide to continue with a pregnancy, although to a lesser extent than free school meal eligibility and persistent absence. Girls who make slower than expected progress during the early years of secondary school are significantly more likely to conceive, and to continue with the pregnancy after conception, than those who progress as expected.
The only school characteristic that is associated with pregnancy and the choice to keep the pregnancy is being in a school with lower than average overall examination results. Teenage conception and maternity rates are higher in deprived areas, even after accounting for the characteristics of girls themselves and the schools they attend. Girls living in deprived areas are also disproportionately more likely to have more than one conception before the age of 18 that results in a maternity, even after accounting for other individual and school characteristics.
Girls that conceive receive fewer exam passes at age 16 and are less likely to continue in post-compulsory education than those who do not, even for girls who choose not to continue with the pregnancy.
The authors caution that the data analysis is not causal. That is, girls did not necessarily perform poorly because they conceived. It does, however, show that more work is needed to understand whether schools could better support girls to prevent conceptions in the first place, or to continue their education following a conception.
The full report, 'Report into the feasibility of matching teenage conception data with school census data', can be viewed here.
Indian gang rape - new laws and social movement
Date: 4 April 2013
First trial over PIP breast implant scandal opens
Date: 24 April 2013
Kenyan posters proclaim that 'Good Catholics use condoms'
The Condoms4Life Campaign has launched a billboard and newspaper campaign, assuring Kenyans that Catholics support the use of condoms to prevent HIV.
The campaign has been launched in the face of resistance from some religious groups to condom messaging in Kenya. In recent weeks, the Kenya Episcopal Conference has spearheaded a campaign to pull a television ad promoting HIV prevention, including the use of condoms.
As Catholics for Choice says, more than 1.6 million people are living with HIV in Kenya, and condoms are an evidence-based method for preventing the spread of HIV.
The aim of the campaign is to ensure that Catholics know that despite what the bishops say, Catholics can in good conscience use condoms. Catholics in Kenya are no different. They can take the steps to protect themselves and their partners against HIV.
Mabel Bianco, Foundation for Studies and Research on Women, awarded human rights prize, Argentina
Date: 23 April 2013
In memory of Sindi Medar-Gould
With a heavy heart and deepest sorrow, the staff of BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights announce the sudden demise of Sindi Medar Gould, the former Executive Director of BAOBAB.
Sindi Medar-Gould, a citizen of St Lucia in the Caribbean, was a great feminist, facilitator, researcher and activist for women's human rights in Nigeria and globally. She contributed a great deal to the emancipation and empowerment of women and girl children.
Sindi's last appointment was with the Womens Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace, as a Senior Consultant and Global Trainer. Sindi also worked with various women human rights organisations and movements as a consultant. She touched many lives and helped to give women a reason to live a life with hope for a better tomorrow. She will be greatly missed and remembered as a great leader.
Charlotte Bunch honoured through Human Rights Defenders Award
Date: 17 April 2013
Sweden adopts gender-neutral pronoun
Date: 17 April 2013
Swedes are shaking up their language with a new gender-neutral pronoun. The pronoun, 'hen', allows speakers and writers to refer to a person without including reference to a person's gender. This month, the pronoun made a big leap toward mainstream usage when it was added to the country's National Encyclopedia.
The majority of world languages already have gender-neutral pronouns. However, as in English, Swedish has pronouns for 'he' and 'she', but not one that refers to a person without suggesting the person's sex. Proponents of 'hen' are eager to have a single word that describes a hypothetical person rather than the awkward 'he or she'. The word is also useful when referring to someone who does not identify with a traditional gender role.
Hen (pronounced like the English word for chicken) is a modified version of the Swedish words 'han' and 'hon', which mean 'he' and 'she'.
The pronoun first emerged as a suggestion from Swedish linguists back to the 1960s. Though it has taken a while for the word to catch on, some Swedish magazines and even a children's book have now adopted it in their texts.
Despite all of the ways Sweden deconstructs notions of gender, language has been slower to catch up, still readily identifying people as either male or female. As it stands, Sweden has regulations over what parents can name their children, with most of the choices being specifically for one gender. Only 170 unisex names are permitted. Recently, activists have been pushing the government to allow parents to choose a name for their kids regardless of gender.
Attempt to reinforce traditional family at the United Nations
Date: 18 April 2013
Pakistan passes Reproductive Health Care and Rights Act 2013
Date: 18 April 2013
The National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously passed the Reproductive Healthcare and Rights Act 2013 in March. The bill, brought as a private member's bill, seeks to promote reproductive healthcare and rights in accordance with the Constitution and to fulfil international commitments made by the Government of Pakistan under the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Kyrgyzstan seeks to ban travel on women and girls
Date: 17 April 2013
In March, the Kyrgyz Parliament discussed in March a draft bill that seeks to ban women and girls under the age of 23 from travelling abroad without parents' written consent, allegedly to protect them from sexual abuse and to "increase morality and preserve the gene pool".
The bill's author, Irgal Kadyralieva from the Social Democratic Party, says she was motivated by reports last year of Kyrgyz men in Russia raping female Kyrgyz immigrants for socialising with non-Kyrgyz men. Opponents of the proposed law say it is perverse to impose restrictions on women and girls on the basis that they are potential victims, not perpetrators of crimes. The Bishkek Feminist Collective is campaigning against the proposed law, as it says it is unconstitutional and discriminates on both sex and age grounds.
No emergency contraception for most rape victims, Mexico
Date: 9 April 2013
Jara sisters freed from prison but found guilty of assault, Argentina
Date: 9 April 2013
Two sisters, Ailén y Marina Jara, were found guilty this week of causing serious harm to a man who was trying to sexually assault them. Women's rights groups have condemned the decision and are calling for the sentence to be totally revoked.
Petition against flogging of abused teenager, Maldives
Date: 8 April 2013
In March, a 15-year-old rape survivor was sentenced to be whipped 100 times in public after a court decreed she should be flogged for sex out of marriage. The girl's stepfather is accused of raping her for years and murdering the baby she bore.
More than two million people have already signed the petition to prevent the flogging and to raise high profile coverage that seeks to hit the Maldives tourist industry. Global outrage has already forced the Maldives' president, President Waheed, to appeal the sentence in the girl's case. But extremists inside the country will try to force him to abandon further reforms if international attention fades.
The president is already on the back foot. Let's tell the Maldives that it stands to lose its reputation as a romantic tourist hot spot unless it changes its attitudes to and laws about women. Now is the time to keep up the pressure and prevent more horrifying injustice against girls and women. Sign the petition, then send this email widely:
Gambia set to ban female genital mutilation
Date: 5 April 2013
In January 2013, Gambia's seven regional leaders backed a ban on female genital mutilation, paving the way for parliament to pass a law later this year. This is the result of the efforts of many Gambians, notably Touray, Gambia's most high-profile campaigner and chief executive of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP), a women's rights organisation that works to end FGM and child marriage and promote girls' education.
Touray has not only faced death threats but also state harassment during some 25 years of activism. She has spent time in jail and until recently was on trial in a case many say was politically motivated and which, after two years of legal process, was thrown out of court because there was no evidence against her.
Whilst many African countries already have laws against female genital mutiliation, for the most part these have been poorly enforced and widely disregarded.Touray says the crucial difference with Gambia is that the law has not been imposed from above, but has grown out of a grassroots educational campaign which has won the support of religious leaders, womens representatives, youth leaders and community elders.
Obituary, Sir Robert Edwards, IVF pioneer
Date: 11 April 2013
US court ruling allows over-the-counter emergency contraception for under-16s
Date: 5 April 2013
The Food and Drug Administration moved to make the pill universally available in 2011, but the Health and Human Services Secretary overturned this move.
In his ruling, the judge concluded that the Obama administration had not made its decisions based on scientific guidelines, and that the Secretary's action was "politically motivated, scientifically unjustified and contrary to agency precedent."
The Secretary said that, at the time, she was basing her decision on science because she said the manufacturer had failed to study whether the drug was safe for girls as young as 11. But her decision was widely interpreted as political, given the re-election campaign that was ongoing at that time and the sensitivity of the abortion debate within the election campaign.
The Obama Administration has declined to comment on whether the administration will appeal the decision. The judge gave the Food and Drug Administration 30 days to lift any age and sale restrictions on Plan B One-Step and its generic versions.
Mobile phones for maternal health
Date: 1 April 2013
BBC Media in Action has published a new policy briefing, 'Health on the move: Can mobile phones save lives?'. It draws on BBC Media Action's direct experience in using mobile phones to improve health education in Bihar, India. Bihar has among the highest rates of maternal and child mortality in the country, but also one of the most rapidly expanding mobile markets. The briefing shows how, in a region where mobile phones outnumber basic goods such as water taps and toilets, the former have emerged as a simple, high-impact solution for improving the survival chances of mothers and babies.
The briefing highlights mHealth's capacity to leverage existing, basic phones to provide life-saving information to people in remote areas, designed in a way that is suitable for illiterate populations and that can be delivered in a cost-effective, financially sustainable way.
The programme took into account the fact that often women in the household do not have access to the 'primary phone' in the house, with which calls can be made, but do have access to a secondary phone which can just receive calls. Health messages and reminders for care can be provided through such services.
The publication can be downloaded here.
Woman agrees to caesarean after hospital goes to court, Ireland
Date: 9 March 2013
This week, Waterford Regional Hospital, Ireland, made an emergency application to the High Court to compel a pregnant woman to undergo a caesarean section. The hospital made the process claiming that scans had indicated that there could be a risk for woman and baby if a natural birth was attempted.
Bride trafficking to China could rise
Date: 19 March 2013
In 2012, at least three suspected cases of marriage trafficking were reported from Cambodia, with hundreds more from the region. So far cases have only been known from countries bordering China - Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
In China, government figures for 2012 indicated that there were 117.78 newborn boys for every 100 newborn girls. It is estimated there will be 24 million more men than women at marrying age by 2020.
UN agrees declaration on violence against women
Date: 16 March 2013
Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, Honduras and the Vatican expressed reservations about the declaration, but did not block its adoption.
While the declaration of the commission is non-binding, it does carry global weight. Activists welcome the declaration but lament the lack of recognition of violence faced by lesbians and transgender people and the exclusion of intimate partner violence. On the positive side, governments have agreed to make sure that women who have been raped can get critical health care services, like emergency contraception and safe abortion.
Earlier in the talks, Iran, Russia, the Vatican and others had threatened to derail the declaration with concerns about references such as access to emergency contraception, abortion and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. A proposed amendment by Egypt, that would have allowed states to avoid implementing the declaration if they clashed with national laws, religious or cultural values, failed.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said states now had a responsibility to turn the 2013 declaration into reality.
The full declaration of the Commission on the Status of Women can be seen here.
Philippine Supreme Court suspends reproductive health bill
Date: 20 March 2013
The suspension means that agencies such as the Department of Health will not be able to start implementing the law. The Department of Health had already approved the implementing rules and regulations for the law, which was scheduled for implementation from 31 March 2013.
Despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church, which espouses only natural family planning methods, Congress passed the law last December. President Aquino signed the law two days later.
Oral submissions will be presented to the Supreme Court in June.
Reproductive health advocates slammed the SC decision to stop the implementation of the law. Activists are questioning whether the Supreme Court judges have succumbed to the pressure of the Catholic Church.
Gender, Rights and Health e-learning course
Date: 20 March 2013
More information about the course can be found here.
Integrating HIV and reproductive health saves lives and money
Date: 20 March 2013
New research have been launched from the Integra Initiative, a five year programme managed by the International Planned Parenthood Federation in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Population Council. The Integra Initiative is a five-year "programme science" research initiative (20082012) that aims to gather evidence to determine the costs and benefits of using different models for delivering integrated HIV and sexual and reproductive health services in high and medium HIV prevalence settings.
The results show that integrating sexual and reproductive health and HIV services can improve health outcomes for clients and that integration can enhance the efficiency of health service provision depending on the context.
The programme was implemented in Kenya, Malawi and Swaziland and used an innovative measurement tool, a multi-dimensional Index, to account for the actual degree of integration at each facility over time. Findings show that integration leads to a reduction in unmet need for HIV prevention and shorter times between HIV testing among family planning clients in Kenya. The Integra intervention included mentoring and skills development for providers which led to improvements in care quality for family planning and post-natal care services in Kenya and Swaziland. The results also pinpoint specific areas where efficiency can be improved to make health service provision better value for money.
Analysis of a sample of women living with HIV showed that they have high needs for both family planning and HIV care which are better met through integrated services. One of the key areas the Integra Initiative explored is client choice. It details the need for people to have access to a range of service models so they can choose the best care setting for themselves.
The Integra Initiative findings have national and international policy implications offering opportunities to turn research into action. The research demonstrates the need for political support in making integrated services a reality for national contexts.
More information on the Initiative can be found here.
Women's rights post-2015
Date: 20 March 2013
The statement calls for gender equality and women's human rights, meaningful participation of women's and social movements in development policies and programmes and a strong human rights architecture. The statement details how this must be done in an innovative, democratic and sustainable way.
The group demands a transparent and democratic process in the development of the Post 2015 agenda where feminist, human rights, environmental and social justice movements' claims are prioritised over politically and economically dominant elites and States.
Please send endorsements to: firstname.lastname@example.org and cc: email@example.com
New online resource: Adolescent development
Date: 18 March 2013
The Communication Initiative and UNICEF have collaborated to develop a collection of communication-related resources on adolescent development that aims to enhance engagement and outreach with development and civil society actors engaged in programming, research, and advocacy related to adolescent development around the world.
The website includes sections on adolescent physical and mental health, with a strong emphasis on sexual and reproductive health. It is regularly updated and provides links to a range of publications, tools and videos. It encourages users to post materials and contribute through blogs and comment.
Click here to view the website.
Contraceptive injections and HIV risk
Date: 10 March 2013
The public health conundrum is made more difficult because the contraceptive in question - DMPA, commonly sold as Depo-Provera - is one of the only highly effective contraceptive methods that is accessible and acceptable, especially in southern and eastern Africa.
Dr Polis states that the potential risk with DMPA must be balanced against risks of maternal morbidity and mortality, infant morbidity and mortality and unsafe abortion. It must also take into account some data suggesting that pregnancy itself can raise a woman's risk of acquiring HIV.
A number of studies show oral contraceptive pills to be safe and limited data suggest that injectable depot contraceptive NET-EN (Noristerat) is safe too. But there are virtually no studies which can answer questions about implants, skin patches, vaginal rings and hormonal intrauterine devices.
Given the conflicting evidence from many studies, systematic reviews and meta-analyses are necessary to give clear guidance. A meta-analysis is underway by FHI 360, due later this year, that pool the data from 18 studies, including around 37,000 women and will look at individual patient data, rather than just each study's published results, thus improving the quality of the data, analyses and results.
Seven-fold increase in HIV treatment for pregnant and breastfeeding women, Malawi
Date: 12 March 2013
Eighteen months ago, Malawi introduced 'Option B+' in Malawi antiretroviral therapy for all HIV-positive, pregnant or breastfeeding women regardless of CD4 count or disease stage.
The number of women on treatment has increased by 763%, with 78% of enrolled women still in treatment twelve months later. The number of sites integrating antiretroviral therapy into antenatal care settings has nearly doubled, from 350 to over 650, with a close to a 50% increase in coverage of HIV-infected pregnant women receiving antiretroviral therapy of any kind.
Notably, one in four women started antiretroviral therapy during the breastfeeding period. This is notable because it is the women themselves who are seeking the treatment in this case. However, there is still a need to increase the percentage of women who start treatment earlier.
Implementation of Option B+ required complete decentralisation with integration of antiretroviral therapy into all ANC settings. National guidelines were revised and then over 4,000 health care workers were trained over three months.
In addition to achieving the seven-fold increase in women starting ART, the use of single-dose nevirapine and combination prophylaxis has now been eliminated. There is approximately 50% coverage for early infant diagnosis, with plans to continue scale-up, but staff shortages are slowing plans for more extensive infant HIV testing.
European Parliament urged to consider homophobia and transphobia laws
Date: 14 March 2013
The European Parliament has adopted a resolution that calls on member states to include homophobia and transphobia in the list of grounds covered by the next version of the 2008 Framework Decision, due for review later this year.
The Framework Decision compels commits member states to action on racist and xenophobic speech and crime. It is in force for all 27 current EU member states, plus Croatia which is due to join on 1 July 2013.
The resolution, adopted on 14 March,was authored by all six main political groups. They agreed that "expressions and acts of anti-Semitism, religious intolerance, anti-Gypsyism, homophobia and transphobia" should be punished by EU law.
Ireland admits state collusion in female enslavement
Date: 5 February 2013
A report has now been issued, in which the Irish government admitted that there was 'significant state involvement' in how the laundries were run. However, the Iris Premier has still not given the women and their supports a full, formal, public apology and merely talked of regret about the stigma hanging over the women. Instead Kenny stated his 'regret' about the stigma hanging over the women.
Over a quarter of the women who were held in the Magdalene Laundries for whom records survived were sent in directly by the state. The state gave lucrative laundry contracts to these institutions, without complying with Fair Wage Clauses and in the absence of any compliance with Social Insurance obligations.
The Justice for the Magdalenes group is calling for a compensation scheme to include pensions, lost wages, health and housing services. The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was prompted by a report from the UN Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.
Publication: Tool for monitoring state reproductive rights obligations
Date: 1 March 2013
The tool outlines State obligations under international human rights law on a range of reproductive rights issues - freedom from discrimination, contraceptive information and services, safe pregnancy and childbirth, abortion and post-abortion care, comprehensive sexuality education, freedom from violence against women and HIV and AIDS.
The tool identifies key questions that human rights experts, monitoring bodies and civil society can use to assess to what extent a State is in compliance with its obligations.
The tool relies on international legal standards on these issues as they currently stand, based on authoritative interpretations of major UN treaties through General Comments, individual complaints, and concluding observations, as well as standards developed through reports by Special Procedures and regional human rights bodies.
An electronic copy of the full tool can be found here.
Raped Somali woman's jail sentence overturned
Date: 7 March 2013
CEDAW criticises state interference with women's health rights, Hungary
Date: 12 March 2013
Free access to LGBT Studies, Routledge Journals
Date: 11 March 2013
National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, 10 March
See the Advocates for Youth website for a number of images to download and use.
HIV prevention trial not effective for young, unmarried women
Date: 4 March 2013
A three-year clinical trial involving over 5,000 women in East and Southern Africa has found that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is not effective at preventing HIV infection in young, unmarried women, neither in oral or vaginal tablet form.
The Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic (VOICE) study aimed to test the safety, effectiveness and acceptability of three HIV-prevention methods - daily use of a vaginal gel containing antiretroviral drug tenofovir, daily use of oral tablets containing tenofovir and daily use of oral Truvada, a combination of tenofovir and another ARV, emtricitabine. In 2011, the oral tenofavir and gel methods were stopped, because they were not effective.
The trial involved HIV-negative women in South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. But the Turvada component has now also been stopped. 5.7% of the women in enrolled in the trial acquired HIV, which was nearly twice the rate that researchers had expected when designing the study. Most participants did not use the methods daily as recommended.
Single women were the least likely to use PrEP. In the Truvada arm of the trial, the ARV was detected in the blood of only 21% of younger, single women, compared to 54% of those married and over age 25. Trial investigators are currently analysing the results to determine why the women did not use the products.
This trial has highlighted the need to design prevention options compatible with young women's reproductive and sexual health needs and desires, perceptions of personal HIV risk and their interest and ability to consistently use prevention products.
Call for concept notes, Safe Abortion Action Fund
Date: 8 March 2013
Child marriage, South Sudan
Date: 7 March 2013
Pygmy women lack reproductive health care, Congo
Date: 1 March 2013
Indigenous women in the Republic of Congo are virtually excluded from reproductive health services, according to a 2012 study conducted by the Ministry of Health with support from UNFPA.
The study, Determinants of the Use of Reproductive Health Services by Indigenous Peoples, was conducted in four regions of Congo where most of the 43,500 indigenous people live. It found that only 37% of pregnant aboriginal women access antenatal care, compared to 94% of the general population. Only 4% of indigenous women deliver at health centres, compared to 93% of the general population. Contraceptive access is similarly limited. Whilst at least 45% of Congolese women use contraceptive methods, only one quarter of indigenous women do so.
Reasons for the gap include the lack of outreach services to the remote communities where pygmy women live. Aboriginal people make up 2% of the population, as opposed to 10% a few years ago. In 2011 the country enacted a law on promotion and protection of their rights but much more remains to be done to counter the discrimination that they face.
Children's book about same-sex families published in Russia
Date: 27 February 2013
Call for urgent clarity on when to start HIV treatment in Africa
Date: 20 February 2013
A commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine sets out the urgency of agreeing on the appropriate timing of starting antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV.
The commentary, by Drs Kevin de Cock and Wafaa El-Sadr, lays out the history of treatment and the arguments for both early and deferred treatment.
Recognition of the prevention benefit that antiretroviral treatment provides, by reducing viral load and infectiousness, has heightened the urgency of the need for this information. Whilst the preventive benefits are known, the positive and negative impacts of early treatment on people living with HIV are not yet known. Deferring treatment until clinically necessary reduceds cost but it is not yet known at what point treatment should start in Africa to reduce ill health and death.
There is strong evidence and agreement that patients with CD4 counts of less than 200 cells per cubic millimetre are at greatly increased risk for AIDS-related events and death, and therefore urgently require ART. The agreed minimum treatment initiation threshold is now 350 cells per cubic millimetre. The US National Institutes of Health is supporting a clinic trial (Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment (START) study, in which HIV-infected persons with CD4+ counts of more than 500 cells per cubic millimetre are being randomly assigned to immediate ART or deferral until the count falls to 350 cells per cubic millimetre. However, the trial is focusing on high-income settings. The dominant causes of disease and death for people with HIV are very different in Africa, mainly linked to bacterial infections and tuberculosis. Fragile health systems, health workforce shortages, weak laboratory infrastructure and fiscal constraints make the treatment and prevention arguments urgent.
The authors state that we need definitive data on which to base guidelines. The authors call for a randomised, controlled trial to be undertaken immediately to assess the risks and benefits of immediate ART versus deferral until a CD4+ count of 350 cells per cubic millimeter is reached. Such a trial should determine when to initiate ART in Africa for maximal individual health benefit.
The article is available free online here.
Routine HIV screening in the US
Date: 20 February 2013
After more than two decades of debate in the US about whether HIV should be routinely screened, new recommendations from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) are shortly to be released. The new recommendations endorse the routine testing of adults and adolescents.
Between one fifth and one quarter of the estimated 1.1 million US residents living with HIV are unaware of their HIV status. In 2012, the CDC reported that 41% of Americans who first received a diagnosis of HIV infection between 2006 and 2009 had no history of HIV testing and 37% of these people received a diagnosis of AIDS within 6 months after HIV testing.
This viewpoint article on the new guidelines comments that the new guidelines finally endorse known evidence. The authors, Drs R Bayer and G Oppenheimer, argue that what now is to be seen is whether routine screening provided at no cost to patients will substantially alter the persistent inability to identify the 20-25% of US citizens with HIV infection. Failure will have measurable clinical consequences for those who enter care too late and public health consequences for the imperative to reduce HIV transmission in populations.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that all public and private health plans provide coverage for USPSTF-recommended preventive services without patient copayments.
The article is available free online here.
Over 100 women sterilised in one day and probe ordered, West Bengal
Date 8 February 2013
A government hospital in West Bengal, India, is facing an inquiry for conducting mass sterilisation of women in shockingly appalling conditions. Two doctors at the hospital allegedly sterilised over 100 women in one day. The hospital guidelines state no more than 25 sterilisations in one day.
Reportedly, some women were left to recuperate in the hospital's open compound while still under anaesthesia.
A probe who has been ordered by the Chief Medical Officer. The Block Medical Officer, in charge on the day, has reportedly admitted his mistake but further action is likely from the Chief Medical Officer, who has circulated guidelines to all hospitals in the area concerning minimum standards for such camps.
Legal action is being considered from human rights groups.
Post-election rape survivors sue Kenyan government
Date: 21 February 2013
Eight survivors of sexual violence committed in the violence following Kenya's December 2007 elections are suing the government over its alleged failure to protect them or investigate the crimes committed against them. The case, which is being heard in the Nairobi High Court, comes just two weeks before the next election. Those bringing the case to court include two male victims of sexual violence and six civil society organisations.
The current constitution compels the government to provide services such as counselling, treatment and protection to victims of sexual violence. But women's advocates say that too often these services are unavailable.
The executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), one of the organisations bringing the case, estimates that more than 3,000 incidents of sexual violence were committed after the 2007 election. One of the aims of the activists is to use the case to compel the government to set up a special division within the High Court to deal with cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
Lack of lubricants holds back HIV prevention
Date: 21 February 2013
Health activists warn that poor awareness and availability of lubricants is hindering HIV prevention. Although having some lubricant has been shown to decrease the risk of condoms breaking, far less 'lube' is available than condoms, leading people to use alternative, sometimes harmful, substances during intercourse such as butter or petroleum jelly. Oil-based lubricants like these weaken latex, making the condom more likely to break.
A 2012 survey by the US-based Global Forum on MSM & HIV found that barely a quarter of the 5,000 people from 165 countries surveyed reported easy access to free lubricant. One quarter said free lubricant was completely unavailable. Less than 10% of people living in low-income countries reported easy access.
UNFPA included water-based lubricants in the procurement list of commodities available to governmental and non-governmental clients in low and middle-income countries in 2012. However, research in Burundi found that health care providers sometimes do not provide lube to patients because they consider it to be "promoting homosexual behaviour".
Studies have found that even assuming high costs for lubricant production and distribution, condom-compatible lube prevention packages that include a condom plus a safe lubricant would only amount to about 1% of the global HIV/AIDS budget for 2011 (US$134 million).
More research is needed on what people currently use and what is safe.
Special UN session on population growth planned for 2014
Date: 21 February 2013
The UN General Assembly has announced that it will hold a special session in 2014, on the 20th anniversary of the ICPD conference, to assess progress on population growth.
Transgender acceptance advertising campaign, Washington DC
A groundbreaking government-funded advertising campaign ran on 200 Washington DC-area bus shelters from September 2012 until January 2013.
The campaign features calls for respect for transgender people and features five transgender people who are calling for respect for transgender and gender non-conforming people. It came about in response to the high levels of violent crime against transgender people. The advertising campaign was accompanied by a programme to address unemployment and housing.
The campaign was low cost, but it seems to be having a high impact, with calls for interviews and media coverage, although more needs to be done with wide-reaching opposition to acceptance of transgender people.
Publication: Comprehensive plan to end violence against women
Date: 25 February 2013
Ending violence against women: the case for a comprehensive international action plan
In March 2013, the Commission on the Status of Women will bring convene governments from across the world to discuss global progress made with regards to the elimination of violence against women in all its forms.
This Oxfam policy paper outlines a proposal for a comprehensive international action plan that addresses this issue politically, with time-bound targets and explicit accountability mechanisms.
This action plan should provide a roadmap to fast-track the implementation of existing agreements to eliminate violence against women. The plan proposes four areas and outlines key steps to take in each of these areas:
1. Develop and strengthen laws for women's rights and gender equality
2. Prioritise and reallocate financial resources to end violence against women
3. Ending violence against women needs to be top-level government business
4. Fragile states develop strategies for organising responses to violence against women in conflict settings.
The briefing paper can be downloaded here.
Dignity in pregnancy for asylum seekers, UK
The campaign calls on the government to urgently review its policies to ensure that pregnant women in the asylum system, and their babies, are no longer put at risk.
Women in the UK can join the campaign here by asking UK MPs to write to the Home Secretary to review the current policy.
High cost of unsafe abortion, Uganda
Date: 25 February 2013
It is estimated that some 297,000 abortions are performed annually, with 85,000 women treated for complications.Post-abortion care is estimated to cost nearly US$14 million annually in Uganda, nearly $130 per patient, with uncounted emotional and other costs to the women and her family.
A recent review of the legal and policy framework in Uganda found the country's abortion laws to be inconsistent, unclear and often contradictory and this confusion is reflected in the courts and the health care regulatory bodies.
Activists and policy makers are calling for better dissemination about existing laws and policy guidelines. This has to be accompanied by better access to family planning. Currently only 30% of married women of reproductive age use any form of contraception, and only 26% of married women and 43% of sexually active unmarried women use a modern method.
Activists call on Kenya's presidential candidates to act on HIV
Date: 25 February 2013
German bishops allow emergency contraception for rape
Date: 21 February 2013
Commission on sexual crimes submits report to Indian government
Date: 2 February 2013
Publication: Getting women's unpaid care onto the development agenda
Date: 8 February 2013
The policy briefing highlights how, despite substantial and credible global evidence on the quantity and importance of unpaid care work, care continues to be neglected in development policy and programming.
The briefing explores the reasons why and gives recommendations to policy makers, practitioners and activists who are seeking to get care onto development agendas how to name, frame, claim and programme care.
The publication can be downloaded for free here.
Cervical cancer a major threat to Zimbabwean women
Date: 8 February 2013
In Zimbabwe, cervical cancer is now the most common cancer among women, particularly those living with HIV. Activists are urging the government to step up efforts to prevent deaths from cervical cancer.
According to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry, cervical cancer affects about 30 percent of women in the country. About 1,900 women are diagnosed with the disease every year in Zimbabwe and 1,300 women die of cervical cancer.
In October last year, the government registered a vaccine for the prevention of HPV and reported that by early this year the new vaccine would be available for women in the country. However, lack of funding has prevented the plan being implemented.
A number of public health institutions run free cervical cancer tests using visual inspection with ascetic acid and cervicography, but there are not enough health workers or staff to conduct the tests. Women have been forced to wait for up to a month to get screened and some women who had been screened and found to have cervical cancer have been waiting for up to three months for treatment.
US court asserts rights of pregnant women who use drugs
Date: 7 February 2013
New Jersey's Supreme Court has unanimously asserted that the state could not use child protection laws to control pregnant women and that positive drug tests on pregnant women and newborns do not alone establish neglect.
The decision was made in a case brought by New Jerseys state child protection agency, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, against a mother who gave birth to a healthy baby in 2007 but who screened positively for cocaine, as did her newborn child. The state brought a case of neglect against the mother and the case was upheld by lower courts. The courts declared that New Jersey's neglect law could not only be used in such cases but also in the context of pregnancy.
The appeal was taken to the New Jersey Supreme Court by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and legal experts representing 50 national and international medical, public health, and child welfare organisations, experts and advocates.
The case argued that the courts had relied on popular misconceptions about drugs, pregnant women, and child welfare that lack any foundation in evidence-based, peer-reviewed research. The Supreme Court rejected New Jersey State's reliance on what was described as scientifically discredited, factually incorrect statements about drug use in pregnancy.
Female genital mutilation 'is not about religion'
Date: 7 February 2013
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Director, gave an interview on the global fight against female genital mutilation. He stressed that female genital mutilation is a cultural and not a religious practice. Initiatives that focus on promoting community dialogue focus on educating the community about the harmful effects of female genital mutilation. In 1,775 communities across Africa, leaders representing religious and community leaders and elderly women practitioners have publicly declared their commitment to end female genital mutilation.
UNICEF data from 2012 shows that younger women and girls have lower rates of female genital mutilation than their older counterparts. 34 African countries now have laws that penalise female genital mutilation.
The full interview can be heard here.
Abortion education is failing young people, UK
Date: 4 February 2013
Recommendations seek to promote good practice to ensure that all young people are able to participate in good quality, evidence-based education about pregnancy and abortion.
View here for full report and summary.
Sex workers' research on anti trafficking, Thailand
Date: 3 February 2013
"If this was a story of man setting out on an adventure to find a treasure and slay a dragon to make his family rich and safe, he would be the hero. But I am not a man. I am a woman and so the story changes. I cannot be the family provider. I cannot be setting out on an adventure. I am not brave and daring. I am not resourceful and strong. Instead I am called illegal, disease spreader, prostitute, criminal or trafficking victim."
The book tells stories about the challenges women face when they move as sex workers. The stories talk of the dangers and the opportunites faced by women and the lack of human rights that women experience when given "protection" under the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The research was conducted by 206 Thai and migrant female sex workers from Laos, Burma, China and Cambodia. These women led the research consultations, interviewing, giving expert testimony, investigating and undertaking the analysis and preliminary documentation.
The publication raises a light on the violence experienced from border controls and anti-trafficking policies and lays out a set of clear recommendations for the royal Thai government and entertainment industry that would lead to greater respect of sex workers' rights.
The full publication can be downloaded in English here.
Moving from protection to freedom for Indian women
A guest blog on RHMs website, by Pooja Badarinath from CREA, lauds the fact that the huge outpouring of outrage and anger about the recent brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi, India, has been overwhelmingly affirmative for women's rights.
But she also questions some of the unfeminist demands that are being made, that focus on enhanced punishment or death penalty rather than questioning the current legal framework that does not clearly recognise rape within marriage. She also questions global media coverage, which she argues portray rape as a problem that happens only in countries such as India.
The blog provides many examples of how Indian activists are acting on violence against women through advocacy, trainings, publications, messages, campaigns, research, protests, discussions and events. Pooja Badarinath calls on all activists to keep the struggle going and build on the current momentum.
UK government commits to legal right to abortion after conflict rape
Date: 20 January 2013
The UK follows Norway as the second country in calling to ensure abortions are part of medical treatment for women raped in war. The statement confirms that international humanitarian law, not national abortion laws, is the legal standard to be followed when treating victims of war rape. The UK government has officially asked the US government to reinterpret the Helms Amendment abortion restrictions put on foreign aid to allow for abortions for women raped in armed conflict and has affirmed that all recipients of UK humanitarian aid funding must use that funding in compliance with international humanitarian law, where applicable.
The full transcript of the debate can be accessed here.
Tackling maternal death, Ethiopia
Date: 31 January 2013
Ethiopia is one of five countries that together account for half of the world's maternal deaths. In 2011, the country recorded 676 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, up from 673 in 2005. Ethiopia intends to bring this down to 267 by 2015.
There is progress. The number of deliveries attended by a skilled provider rose from 6% in 2005 to 10% in 2011. The government has established measures to curb maternal deaths, such as the use of a scorecard to measure the effectiveness of the health system for mothers and children and a health extension programme, which has trained 30,000 lay extension health workers. Yet there remains an urgent need to extend access to skilled delivery in rural areas, where 83% of the population lives.
Family planning on the rise but still low, Malawi
Date: 31 January 2013
Malawi's population grew from 3 million in 1950 to 15 million in 2010, and is projected to reach 50 million by 2050. The authors warn that rapid population growth is increasing food insecurity, environmental degradation and deep poverty.
However, new initiatives are tackling this. President Joyce Banda launched an initiative on Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood in 2012, which aims to achieve universal access to reproductive health services. USAID reports that the percentage of Malawian women and their partners using contraception rose from 7% in 1992 to 42% in 2010.
Challenges remain, including huge urban and rural differences, traditional taboos and lack of resources to either access family planning or to give women the economic independence to act on their own choices.
Russian parliament passes draft bill criminalising homosexuality
Date: 29 January 2013
Activists such as Front Line Defenders have issued appeals on this proposed legislation, in light of the impact that it will have on the work of LGBTI rights groups, if approved in its current form at the final reading. LGBTI rights defenders were physically and verbally assaulted during peaceful demonstrations opposing the bill.
The bill will be now considered for amendments during second and third readings, but since it has already been approved at the first reading, there is no possibility that the bill may be withdrawn.
The bill was adopted despite much opposition, including from the Prime Minister who spoke publicly against its adoption.
While the bill has not yet been signed into law, Front Line Defenders has learned of cases where local authorities have banned public events organised by LGBTI rights groups, including a Pride Event at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, which were banned by the local courts who said they would "threaten the national security of the Russian Federation".
Morocco to change law allowing marriage by rapists
Date: 25 January 2013
Source: Al Jazeera English
The Moroccan government has said it plans to change a law that allows rapists to avoid charges if they marry their victims. The move comes nearly a year after 16-year-old girl committed suicide after being forced to marry her alleged rapist.
Indian court orders right of pregnant women to access medical abortion
Date: 19 January 2013
Successful HIV treatment is as effective as condom use for prevention, new UK guidance
Date: 23 January 2013
The statement argues that transmission of HIV through vaginal sex is significantly reduced when an HIV-positive person is taking effective antiretroviral therapy and states that successful ART use by the person who is HIV positive is as effective as consistent condom use in limiting viral transmission. The guidance outlines the necessary conditions, including no sexually transmitted infections in either partner and viral load testing every three to four months.
The statement recognises that published research is assumed to relate primarily to vaginal intercourse, but that it is assumed that anal intercourse would have a low risk also, provided the same conditions stated are met.
The statement can be downloaded here.
Ghana's abortion rates remain stubbornly high
Date: 30 January 2013
Using data from the 2007 Ghana Maternal Health Survey, the study finds that wealthier women were three times more likely to have a safe procedure than poorer women. They also found that women who had financial support from their partners were more likely to have a safe procedure. A majority of women whose partner paid for some or all of the expenses had a safe abortion (67%), while a minority of women whose partners did not contribute (44%) did so.
Adolescents were almost three quarters less likely to have a safe procedure than women in their 30s and 60% less likely to do so than women in their 20s.
The researchers noted other important factors that lead women to obtain unsafe procedures, such as a limited number of qualified abortion providers and lack of awareness of Ghana's fairly liberal abortion law. In order to reduce the incidence of unsafe abortion and its harmful consequences, efforts must be made to destigmatise the procedure and educate women and the general population about the legal status of abortion in Ghana.
The abstract of the report, published in the December 2012 issue of Studies in Family Planning, is available here.
Cambodia sends man to prison for acid attack on former wife
Date: 30 January 2013
The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity has called the ruling a landmark case. But they call for more robust implementation of the law. Key aspects of the law have yet to be put in place or adequately enforced, such as a clause that will regulate the purchase and transportation of acid, which is cheap and readily available throughout Cambodia. Observers also say sections of the law that stipulate free treatment at health centres and state-owned health institutions, and legal support from the state for acid attack victims, have also not been put into practice.
Swazi traditional leaders declare child marriage acceptable
Date: 29 January 2013
The new statutory law, passed by parliament, has been rendered powerless by the superiority of Swazi Law and Custom if a man chooses to marry in a traditional ceremony. The law appears now to apply only to "Westernised" Swazis who wed in civil ceremonies before a magistrate after having acquired a marriage licence.
Announcement: Call for African applicants for the DHS Fellows programme
Date: 15 January 2013
ICF strongly encourages faculty members in relevant departments who are interested in research in the areas of population, health, and nutrition within a socio-economic development and/or gender context using quantitative methods to apply.
Forced birth control for Ethiopian jews, Israel
Date: 28 January 2013
Questioning expanded HIV treatment for pregnant women
Date: 26 January 2013
A recent commentary in the Lancet challenges the push from international agencies for countries to adopt Option B+ - the HIV treatment regimen that proposes that all pregnant women start in triple antiretroviral therapy irrespective of CD4 cell count and continue for life.
The authors cite ethical, medical safety, programme feasibility and economic concerns. They argue that, whilst it may be appropriate to act urgently, countries should have a clear decision-making process, based on the local situation, resources, priorities, and evidence, with guidance but not pressure from international agencies.
Ethically, they argue that it is not clear whether pregnant women should receive treatment for reasons other than their own medical condition. Whilst the evidence for treatment as prevention is strong, there is no evidence that pregnant women are at higher risk of transmitting HIV to HIV-negative partners than all other sexually active adults. Option B+ does not reduce transmission to the infant to a greater extent than other current PMTCT options. There is a risk of household and community tension due to different treatment access and there is still insufficient knowledge about long-term benefits and risks to both woman and child.
Medically, questions need to be asked about the balance between maternal health and potential increase in drug resistance. Programme concerns include the impact on already strained health systems such as potential disruption of HIV treatment programmes, diversion of resources from non-HIV treatment and care and adherence concerns. There are still questions about whether Option B+ is cost effective for prevention of maternal transmission and to sexual partners.
Flood of law suits in US challenge birth control provision
Date: 26 January 2013
More than 45 lawsuits have now been filed in federal courts challenging the contraceptive coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act. Most come from religiously-affiliated institutions and remain largely suspended while the government tries to offer a compromise. More than a dozen suits are from private employers ranging from a pizza mogul to produce transporters who say the government is forcing them to violate core tenets of their personal faith.
Commentators expect that this is likely to end up the Supreme Courts because of the number of cases and strong differences in decision between different circuit courts.
AWID film - Women's Rights 2012
This film produced by AWID provides a month by month selection of significant moments for women's rights in 2012.
It starts with the case of the fifteen year old child-bride in Afghanistan, brutally tortured by her husband and his family for refusing to go into prostitution - a case which caused a global outcry.
It ends with the shooting to death of Rosa Helena Bernal Pinto who had dedicated her life to human rights work and community activism.
Concern over growing use of infant formula additives
Date: 25 January 2013
Concern is rising amongst health campaigners about a growth in infant formulas containing DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid).
Both DHA and ARA are polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in human breast milk. In their natural form they help eye and brain development. Infant formula manufacturers have been adding them to infant fomul since 1997, aggressively marketing them in many countries. However, the World Health Organization and a Cochrane review have shown that ARA and DHA, when used as additives, do not improve infants' development.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, DHA and ARA boost the cost of formula by 6-31%. There is no data yet on how much these ingredients are increasing elsewhere but ARA and DHA are now added to most brands sold globally.
There is a real concern that the current codes on marketing of infant formula are not being implemented. The baby food market is actively working to increase consumption. For example, the Singapore-based Asia Pacific Infant and Young Child Nutrition Association is presented as an NGO, but its membership includes seven infant-formula industry companies. In 2004, just two years after DHA and ARA were introduced in the US, government surveys showed the percentage of people who believed formula and breast milk were "equally healthy" had suddenly doubled.
Concern over unsafe abortions, Papua New Guinea
Date: 25 January 2013
The majority of patients were school or university students. Most induced abortions took place using prescription-only tablets purchased through healthcare workers or at a pharmacy. Other women reported using traditional herbs and physical means, including strenuous exercise, inserting a stick into the vagina and tying a rope around the abdomen.
The main reasons for abortion cited by the women was fear of shaming their family, to continue education or because they were still breastfeeding another child.Sepsis due to unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal mortality.
Abortion is illegal in Papua New Guinea unless two doctors agree a woman's life may be at risk.
Detention of journalists reporting rape, Somalia
Date: 24 January 2013
Gender-based violence - widespread but invisible in Somalia - has received greater focus than usual recently.
Publication: Violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean
Date: 23 January 2013
This report presents a comparative analysis of data from interviews with more than 180,000 women in Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru.
This is the first time that nationally representative data have been analysed and presented in a single comparative format that allows a snapshot of what is known about violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The analysis shows that between 41% and 82% of women who were abused by their partner experienced a physical injury. Despite this, between 28% and 64% did not seek help or speak to anyone about their experience of violence. Between 10% and 27% of women in these countries reported having experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, either by partners or by other perpetrators, but usually by men whom they already knew.
The report also highlights the intersections between violence against women and violence against children. Across the 12 countries studied, women who were beaten in childhood reported experiencing partner violence in adulthood at significantly higher rates than those who did not suffer violence in childhood.
The report is a collaboration between the Pan American Health Organization PAHO/WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC , with technical input from MEASURE DHS, ICF International. The report can be downloaded in English here and will be available in Spanish shortly.
Maternal deaths drop sharply, Congo
Date: 21 January 2013
Maternal deaths have dropped by 45% in Congo over the past seven years, according to the 2012 Demographic and Health Survey. The rate declined from 781 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2005 to 426 deaths per 100,000 live births at the end of 2012.
The Ministry of Health credits the successes to free Caesarean sections, the fight against obstetric fistula and the establishment of a national panel called the Observatory on Maternal and Newborn Mortality. A strengthened family planning system is reportedly accountable for reducing maternal mortality by nearly 30%.
Child mortality has also decreased, from 117 child deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 68 per 1,000 live births in 2012.
Congo still has to fulfil its commitment of allocating 15% of its budget to the health sector. Currently it is earmarking only 9 percent, according to the World Bank.
Consequences of Catholic health policy for pregnant women
Date: 14 January 2013
A new paper published online in our journal outlines the implications of the recent tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and that of other similar cases. Savita Halappanavar died after a miscarriage that was not fully treated in Ireland, leading to widespread debate about whether to terminate a pregnancy as emergency obstetric care, such as inevitable miscarriage, where there are severe fetal anomalies and other non-viable pregnancies. The delay in termination appears to have been caused by health workers' interpretations of Catholic health policy. Similar cases have been reported in Catholic-run hospitals in the US, in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica and other cases in Ireland from the past.
The article is available for download here.
Son preference slowing decline in population growth, India
Date: 7 January 2013
A new report from the Guttmacher Institute, published in the December 2012 issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, finds that continued childbearing driven by son preference accounts for 7% of all births in the country. Women were more likely to stop having children if their last child had been a son rather than a daughter. The report finds a strong relationship between family size and the proportion of female children in a family.
As a result, Indian girls are likely to grow up in larger families than boys do. In such families, fewer resources are available to each child, and girls are likely to receive a smaller share of those resources than their brothers, leading to gender disparities in health, education and other outcomes.
The report argues that it is critical that government policies help families achieve their childbearing goals and argues that Indian government programmes need to reduce the preference for sons by challenging perceptions that sons are more valuable than daughters and continuing to improve women's status in society.
The desire for sons and excess fertility: a household-level analysis of parity progression in India', by S Chaudhuri, is available online here.
Call for best practices in application of traditional values while promoting human rights
RHM says: In October 2012, the UN Human Rights Council voted in favour of a resolution that legitimises the use of 'traditional values' to promote human rights, potentially putting reproductive and sexual health rights at risk. The information below is an important advocacy opportunity!
Date: 14 January 2013
Source: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Call for submissions to the Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council has requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect information from States Members of the United Nations and other relevant stakeholders on best practices in the application of traditional values while promoting and protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.
This will be summarised and a summary will be submitted to the Human Rights Council before its twenty-fourth session.
The text of the resolution, which should guide the content of the inputs, is available in all UN languages from the following webpage: http://goo.gl/YzwGq
Civil society organisations are encouraged to submit a concise submission of no more than two pages before 28 February 2013 in electronic format (MS Word document or compatible) to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
All submissions will be made available at OHCHR website.
Publication: Women, health and disability
Developed with the participation of women with disabilities in 42 countries, this guide helps women to overcome the barriers of social stigma and inadequate care to improve their general health, self-esteem, and independence.
The book covers basic and accessible information about disability - causes and myths - and adaptation of health services to be disability-friendly. Chapters give detailed but simple information for women on puberty, basic self-care, sexuality, sexual health, family planning, safe pregnancy, caring for children and ageing.
The book can be downloaded for free here. Hard copies can also be ordered via the Hesperian Foundation website.
Philippines typhoon affects maternal health
Typhoon Bopha hit the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines on 4 December 2012. More than 6.3 million people were affected, with an estimated 2,000 dead or missing. UNFPA estimates there are 8,356 pregnant women in typhoon-affected areas in need of antenatal care, many of whom are not getting it.
Local government officials and aid agencies are going around different villages on medical missions to track and record pregnant and lactating mothers. 'Dignity kits' for pregnant and breastfeeding women, including basic hygiene equipment and additional equipment such as towel, alcohol and potty for protection against infection, are being distributed. Emergency delivery kits are being distributed to midwives. There is also a need for psychosocial and practical support for women whose livelihoods have been affected.
Indian rape prompts global reflection on sexual violence
Date: 5 January 2013
Immediately after her death on 29 December, following treatment in a hospital in Singapore, there was a wave of public protext, with thousands of Indian citizens taking part in peaceful vigils to express their anger at the violence inflicted against this young student, as well as the harassment experienced daily by thousands of Indian women.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for "a constructive course of action". But there is agreement that India has failed to address a pervasive culture of sexual violence and gender injustice. Political neglect has created a permissive environment where men can rape, beat, and kill a woman with impunity. India is a respected democracy that has delivered phenomenal economic success for its growing middle class.
The shockwaves have come from around the world and highlight not just the situation in India but globally, acknowledging that rape and other forms of violence against women and girls are a feature of all societies. Advocates call for the acknowledgement of sexual violence, creation of safe systems for preventing, reporting, and remedying acts of sexual violence and action to protect and strengthen the political and social rights of women worldwide.
HPV vaccination may reduce anal cancer risk in men living with HIV
Date: 3 January 2013
A US study has shown that the HPV vaccine could be highly effective at preventing pre-cancerous anal cell changes in men living with HIV. The study showed that almost all cases of high-grade pre-cancerous anal cells were caused by strains of HPV that are covered by vaccines that are already licensed or are being trialled.
The study involved 363 HIV-positive gay men in San Francisco between 2009 and 2010, who were screened for the presence of pre-cancerous anal lesions. The investigators calculated the proportion of pre-cancerous lesions due to different HPV genotypes. 59% of patients had pre-cancerous anal lesions, including 30% with high-grade lesions. Three-quarters of the men were infected with a high-risk HPV genotype, especially HPV 16. The licenced quadrivalent vaccine covered 71% of genotypes present in the highest-grade lesions. The investigational vaccine that will cover nine HPV genotypes would have provided protection against 89% of HPV genotypes in high-grade lesions.
HIV-positive gay men have a high rate of pre-cancerous anal lesions and anal cancer. There has been considerable debate about the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of vaccinating adult, HIV-positive gay men and this study adds further evidence that vaccination may be a cost-effective public health measure.
Non prescription birth control pill available in most countries
Date: 2 January 2013
Vitamin A does not reduce maternal mortality - further evidence
Date: 1 January 2013
The cluster-randomised, triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial was conducted in seven districts of Brong Ahafo region, Ghana. The analysis was based on 581,870 woman-years and 2,624 deaths. Cause-specific mortality rates were found to be similar in the two study arms. All women aged 15-45 years who were capable of giving informed consent and intended to live in the trial area for at least three months were enrolled. Women were randomly assigned to receive weekly oral vitamin A or a placebo once a week. The study found that, after six months, there was no difference in the rate of maternal death of similar causes between the women who received vitamin A and those that received the placebo.
Violence against Afghan women extreme and rising
Date: 3 December 2012 & 11 December 2012
Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, AIHRC, recorded 4,000 incidents in April-October, 1,000 more than in the same period last year. Violence against women often relates to matters of 'honour' - perceived offences against a family's reputation, often arising out of baseless rumour.
Activist groups are cynical about the role of women's ministries, especially the Ministry of Women's Affairs, claiming that they are well funded but not active. However, the risks run in addressing women's rights was highlighted by the shooting of Laghman Province's acting head of women's affairs. This was the second time in less than six months that the person holding that post has been assassinated. The former head was killed when an improvised bomb exploded under her car - an attack attributed to the Taliban but never fully investigated.
Costa Rica's in-vitro fertilisation ban declared a human rights violation
Date: 21 December 2012
The ruling affects not only Costa Rica, but affirms that all individuals in Latin America and the Caribbean cannot be barred from having access to in vitro fertilisation. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the highest human rights court in the Americas and the ruling in this case is final and binding for all 22 countries that have accepted the jurisdiction of the court.
The court ordered Costa Rica to legalise in-vitro fertilisation within the next 6 months, to regulate all aspects of in-vitro fertilisation to ensure implementation and provide free mental health services for the victims in this case. It also ordered the State to implement training on reproductive rights for judicial officials throughout the country.
The Costa Rican government has said that it will comply with the court's decision.
Kenyan lawsuit for unlawful detention of women in maternity hospitals
Date: 7 December 2012
The case calls for constitutional division of the High Court of Kenya to hold the hospital and also the Attorney General, Minister for Local Government, City Council of Nairobi and Minister for Medical Services, accountable for the ill treatment of the two women. It cites human rights violations under Kenya's constitution and international law.
The two women, Margaret and Maimuna, were both mistreated during their stays at the hospital. One woman was illegally detained for 12 days after giving birth and soon after returned to the hospital complaining of stomach pains, leading to an additional surgery to remove the scissors that were left in her stomach after her caesarian. The second woman was detained first for 20 days following her delivery, leading to her pneumonia and a sick child who was left uncared for full-time during her detention.
African cancer conference urges action
Date: 24 December 2012
The cancer conference in Dolisie, Congo, agreed that cancer should be declared a public health disease on a par with malaria, tuberculosis and sickle cell disease.
The conference cited the lack of mechanisms to map cancer and therefore plan for its prevention and treatment. An oncologist at Brazzaville's University Teaching Hospital reported that there are barely 40 oncologists in Africa.
UN General Assembly votes for universal health coverage
Date: 13 December 2012
Call for abortion support, Costa Rica
Date: 20 December 2012
New resource on menstrual hygiene
The report can be downloaded from Wateraid's website.
War, violence and gender relations, Democratic Republic of Congo
Date: 19 December 2012
New WHO guidelines urge decriminalisation of sex work
Date: 18 December 2012
Increased risk of pre-term birth from some HIV antiretroviral drugs
Date: 18 December 2012
Reproductive Health Bill approved in Philippines parliament
Date: 12 December 2012
Innovative responses to HIV and sex work in Asia and the Pacific
Date: 12 December 2012
Infant illness hampers exclusive breastfeeding by women with HIV, Africa
Date: 7 December 2012
Bali Global Youth Forum Declaration
Date: 7 December 2012
Vietnam launches campaign to reduce gender gap at birth
Date: 6 December 2012
Couples' HIV testing and counselling increases consistent condom use, South African
Date: 5 December 2012
Exclusive breastfeeding on the rise, Kenya
Date: 4 December 2012
Kenya passed a new law in September banning the promotion of infant formula. The law prohibits the promotion of complementary foods and forbids health workers from accepting gifts from formula manufacturers. It also requires formula packaging to contain breastfeeding promotion and advice on the proper use of breast milk substitutes.
A number of local companies have started to provide mothers with environments that enable them to exclusively breastfeed, with some larger companies providing rooms for expressing milk and space for children to play.
But the majority of working women face unfriendly work environments and short maternity leave periods and are forced to turn to complementary feeding much sooner than they wanted. According to the International Baby Food Action Network, there is a need for more employers to provide women with the support they need to continue breastfeeding for six months and beyond. Women face pressure from family members, especially mothers in-law. Experts express concern that the message of exclusive breastfeeding may be being seen as only relevant for women living with HIV.
Whilst exclusive breastfeeding rates are on the rise, more needs to be done to support women in their health choices.
EU lobby for sex work ban
Date: 4 December 2012
More than 200 women's rights groups are calling for laws to make paying for sex a crime across the European Union. Campaigners presented key policy recommendations for legislation to Members of the European Parliament in Brussels.
The advocates, coordinated by the European Womens Lobby, state that prostitution is a form of violence, an obstacle to gender equality and an open door for organised crime to develop. The lobby cites Sweden as a successful example, saying that street prostitution had halved there since paying for sex was outlawed a decade ago and compares this with the Netherlands, where the sector has been legalized and where they claim that there has been no significant improvement of the conditions of sex workers.
However, examples from countries such as New Zealand show a very different story. For the past six years, New Zealand has treated prostitution as a normal business. Brothels operate legally, and sex workers are subject to ordinary employment and health and safety rules.
Critics of the EU campaign, such as the UK Network of Sex Work Projects, argue that criminalising prostitution also increases the risk of rape and violence, by stigmatising and excluding sex workers and making it harder to offer accessible support services.
The Network and other sex workers rights activists have called on the Council of Europe to reject such laws and instead support initiatives and legal changes, which improve the social status and safety of sex workers and allow criminal justice authorities to focus their limited resources on violent and other crimes committed against sex workers.
The EU currently does not have the power to legislate on prostitution. But new laws designed to reduce human trafficking are set to come into force next year and could cover such an issue. The EU is currently analysing different countries' approaches and are expected to report back on their findings in 2016.
HIV transmission risk reduced with antiretroviral therapy, China
Date: 4 December 2012
The future Asia Pacific women want - launch
Date: 3 December 2012
Women, gender equality and the post-2015 agenda
Date: 2 December 2012
One focus of the meeting was on the need for goals and indicators that are clear, simple and relevant and rooted in international commitments and based on the principles of human rights, sustainability and equality. The challenge is to ensure that these are as comprehensive as possible and that the narrative accompanying the goals to have equal or greater importance than the goals.
UN Women propose facilitating over 60 national consultations and five regional consultations shortly. Civil society groups are encouraged to raise sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality issues in as many thematic consultations as possible. Reports from all the processes are expected to feed into the report of a High-Level Panel that will report to the UN Secretary General.
UN Women are calling for a distinct goal on gender equality, as well as integrating a gender perspective in all other goals although the meeting did not reach consensus on this.
UN Women plans to set up an extranet or website with meeting participants and others, to continue the discussions. Watch this space for more information!
US global HIV strategy - mixed reactions
The US government has launched their new Blueprint for Achieving an AIDS-Free Generation. The Blueprint lays out four road maps that will guide the Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) - saving lives, smart investments, shared responsibility and driving results with science.
Reaction in general has been positive, with commentators highlighting the shift from an almost exclusive biomedical approach (voluntary male circumcision, prevention of mother to child transmission and treatment as prevention) to a broader approach that acknowledges gender inequality, violence, poverty, stigma and discrimination.
A key pillar of the Blueprint is the recommendation that the US government increase access to voluntary and comprehensive family planning and that linkas are made with maternal, newborn and child health.
In particular, commentators note that there is a stronger focus on adolescents and young people than in previous years and a more intentional focus on women and girls and key affected populations, including men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, and people who inject drugs.
Whilst this is commendable, sexual and reproductive health activists should not endorse the Blueprint wholeheartedly, without considering how important it is to ensure access to a wider range of sexual and reproductive health. A commentary by Janine Kossen in RH Reality Check, challenges some of the gaps and weaknesses in the document. Although there is greater focus on adolescents than in previous years, there is a need to ensure that the focus on strengthening programmatic commitment to and emphasis on reaching and supporting young people with HIV services is translated into action that is evidence-based. For example, the Blueprint calls for sexual health education for youth, but does not clearly spell out that this must be comprehensive, rights-based and inclusive for lesbian and gay young people. The commentary also highlights the total absence of a attention to meaningfully engaging young people and young people living with HIV in youth programmes.
CHANGE has developed a fact sheet that highlights the importance of the Blueprint. This is useful for advocating for women and girls as an entry to advocacy for all sexual and reproductive health rights, not just family planning and maternal and child health.
Kenyan girls ask court to force police to act on rape
Date: 15 October 2012
A group of more than 240 Kenyan girls have filed a petition in the High Court to try to force the police to investigate and prosecute rape cases they say have been ignored.
They accuse police of demanding bribes to investigate rape, refusing to record rapes unless the victims produced witnesses and claiming victims had consented.
One in five women and girls are victims of sexual violence in Kenya, according to a 2008/9 government survey. Rape is rarely reported due to stigma and a lack of faith in the police and the criminal justice system, although Kenya has strong legislation to protect children from sexual assault.
The girls have horrifying stories of being locked up in police cells after reporting rape by a police officer, refusing to investigate allegations of incest leading to pregnancy until a DNA test could be performed on the baby and many stories of gang rape of young girls.
Catholic group calls on Obama to provide condoms and family planning for HIV prevention
Date: 29 November 2012
Catholics for Choice have called on the Obama administration to include both family planning and condoms for HIV prevention in the US government's new HIV plan, PEPFAR Blueprint: Creating an AIDS-free Generation, which was launched this week.
Despite PEPFAR's recognition of the significant unmet need for voluntary family planning and reproductive health services worldwide and its call that 'voluntary family planning should be part of comprehensive quality care for persons living with HIV', the new plan inexplicably introduces a new restriction: PEPFAR funds may not be used to purchase family planning commodities.
Catholics for Choice criticises the pressure from conservative groups, often faith-based, and states that 'the real scandal is that HIV, a tiny, complicated, ever-shifting virus that has confounded researchers for decades, is proving easier to tackle than the ongoing stigma, moralising and confusion in policies ostensibly designed to help. The needs of people living with HIV & AIDS can be seen without either a microscope or scientific training' and this includes giving women and men the dignity and right to choose whether and when to have children.
Global South's adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive rights agenda
Date: 29 November 2012
The fact sheets come on the eve of the ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Youth Forum, where advocates will call on governments, UN agencies and donors to support adolescent and young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The coalition includes Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW) in partnership with ASTRA Youth and ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women's Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network (LACWHN), Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the World YWCA.
The global factsheet can be downloaded here and the factsheet on Eastern Europe is available here.
Unite to end violence against women campaign
Date: 25 November 2012
Luxemburg adopts abortion on request to 12 weeks
Date: 22 November 2012
Luxemburg's Parliament has voted to allow women the right, within the first 12 weeks, to decide for themselves whether or not to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. After 12 weeks, abortion is legal for medical reasons.
Women must have 'social' counselling and a three-day 'cooling off' period before the intervention. Minors can request an abortion without their parent's knowledge as long as they are accompanied by an adult that they trust.
Human rights institutions called to act on reproductive rights
Date: 16 November 2012
Lack of HIV treatment knowledge may increase risk of vertical transmission
Date: 16 November 2012
Half of HIV-positive gay men disagree that HIV treatment reduces infectiousness, UK
Date: 16 November 2012
New research suggests sexual lubricants may not increase HIV risk
Date: 16 November 2012
Publication: the story of emergency contraception
Date: 16 November 2012
Publication: E-learning modules on preeclampsia and eclampsia
Date: 16 November 2012
A free online training course is available from the Oxford Perinatal and Maternal Health Institute, Oxford University with EngenderHealth. The course is available as a basic version for healthcare professionals who want to know/revise the fundamentals and an advanced version for doctors, midwives and nurses who want to know the evidence behind the recommendations. The course is available in English (basic and advanced) and Spanish (basic) and advanced).
Woman dies after being denied abortion, Ireland
Date: 15 November 2012
Ironically, the Minister for Health this week has received the report of the expert group on abortion, which was ordered by the European Court of Human Rights.
The situation of Savita Halappanavar provides the clearest possible evidence that laws that permit abortion only to save the life of a woman, such as the Irish law, are clinically unworkable and ethically unacceptable.
Urgent call for action to protest against death of woman refused abortion in Ireland
Date: 15 November 2012
Following the tragic and unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar, a pregnant woman who died after being refused an abortion during a miscarriage, there are worldwide calls on the Irish government to amend the law.
Please sign and send the e-mail below to the following:
To: Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Irish Prime Minister)
cc: Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore (Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs)
Copy also to the Irish Embassy in your country.
Re: Death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway
We are writing to you to express our concern about the recent death of Savita Halappanavar, who was repeatedly denied an abortion in Galway. This tragic case demonstrates once again that the prohibition of abortion in Ireland is not just undermining the autonomy of the women across the country, it is leading to unacceptable suffering and even death.
Savita Halappanavar made repeated requests for an abortion after presenting at University Hospital Galway on 21 October while miscarrying during the 17th week of her pregnancy. Her requests were refused, and she died one week later after several days in agonising pain and distress.
The situation of Savita Halappanavar provides the clearest possible evidence that laws that permit abortion only to save the life of a woman, such as the Irish law, are clinically unworkable and ethically unacceptable. There are numerous clinical situations in which a serious risk posed to a pregnant woman's health may become a risk to her life, and delaying emergency action only increases that risk. There is only one way to know if a woman's life is at risk: wait until she has died. Medical practitioners must be empowered by law to intervene on the grounds of risk to life and health, rather than wait for a situation to deteriorate.
You will be aware that the European Court of Human Rights, as well as a number of United Nations human rights bodies, have called upon the Irish government to bring its abortion law in line with international human rights standards. Had these calls been heeded before now, the death of Savita Halappanavar would have been prevented.
With the death of Savita Halappanavar, Ireland joins the ranks of countries worldwide where abortion is denied to women and leads to their deaths.
We call on your government to take urgent and decisive steps to reform the legislation that led to the death of Savita Halappanavar. Until the Irish legal system is reformed the lives, health and autonomy of women across Ireland are in jeopardy.
Central and Eastern European NGOs call for sexual and reproductive rights
Date: 15 November 2012
Anti-homosexuality bill could be passed before end of year, Uganda
Date: 13 November 2012
Age-related abortion incidence and trends
Date: 13 November 2012
Male circumcision - mixed results in East Africa
The government has announced plans to scale the programme up and is considering lowering the target age to 12 years, hoping to reach boys and their parents through school programmes.
However, there has also been criticism about the slow pace of circumcision, lack of effective linkages between surgical male circumcision and other HIV services and, not least, mixed messages from government, including Uganda's president.
The challenges of a weak and under-resourced public health sector are also constraining success in neighbouring Kenya. Kenya has just over one year left to achieve its target of circumcising 1.1 million men. Some medical male circumcision programmes are piloting the use of
US study shows free birth control means fewer abortions and teen births
Date: 5 November 2012
When price was not an issue, the vast majority of women selected contraceptive implants - the most effective contraceptive available. The effect on teen pregnancy was striking, with 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study compared to a national teenage birth rate of 34 births per 1,000 in 2010. There also were substantially lower rates of abortion, with 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region and almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women nationally.
If the programme were expanded, one abortion could be prevented for every 79 to 137 women given a free contraceptive choice.
The study reinforces the new health policy in which Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives be available for free for women enrolled in most workplace insurance plans.
Training programme on sexuality and political change
Date: 1 November 2012
Sexuality Policy Watch will be hosting a training programme on sexuality research, with a focus on the linkages and gaps between sexuality research and social and policy change. Course content includes topics such as HIV, LGBT rights, laws and policies affecting transgender persons, abortion and contraception, sexuality education, and sex work.
The training program will be held in Rio de Janeiro, during the week of March 18-24, 2013.
IMPORTANT: Applicants must be fluent in English.
DEADLINE: The deadline for applications is 22 December 2012.
To learn more about the candidates profile and to access the application form, please, visit the training programme's webpage.
More awareness needed on post-exposure HIV prophylaxis, Spain
Date: 2 November 2012
Free 24-hour obstetric care key to maternal mortality drop, Sierra Leone
Date: 22 November 2012
Maternal mortality rates have dropped 61% since 1990 in Bo, Sierra Leone - in large part due to cost-free 24/7 emergency obstetric care and an efficient ambulance service and referral system.
Bo's maternal mortality rate is 351 women dying per 100,000 live births, compared to the national figure of 890 women dying per 100,000 live births. Sierra Leone has the world's fourth-highest maternal mortality rate.
The hospital, run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, offers a comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal package and, most importantly, provides the transport for women to get to the hospital.
The programme currently costs $9 million a year to run, so there must be significant awareness-raising of the problem of maternal mortality and support to enable the programme to become sustainable.
New EU law to protect victims of crime due to sexual orientation
Date: 1 November 2012
The Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime now says victims should receive appropriate assistance and protection. This will be determined on the basis of 'the personal characteristics of the victim such as his or her age, gender and gender identity or expression, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, health, disability, residence status, communication difficulties, relationship to or dependence on the offender and previous experience of crime.'
This is the first time EU law mentions gender expression.
EU Member States will now have three years to transpose the Directive into their national law. For more information on this law, see the European Parliament website information.
Southern African governments fail to address cervical cancer
Date: 31 October 2012
Poland must pay damages to raped girl who was denied abortion
Date: 1 November 2012
Transactional sex makes women more likely to become HIV positive, South Africa
Date: 1 November 2012
Young South African women who engage in sex or have relationships partially motivated by economic gain are more likely to become infected with HIV. The same study has previously showed that women who had a violent partner or who were relatively powerless in a relationship were more likely subsequently to acquire HIV. The authors argue that HIV prevention programmes need to find ways to help young women to avoid gender inequity, violence and transactional relationships.
The data comes from a cohort of young women recruited to evaluate the impact of the HIV prevention programme, Stepping Stones. When a woman reported that part of her motivation for having a sexual relationship was that she expected her partner to provide cash, food, cosmetics, clothes, transport, a bed for the night or to do some handyman work, the risk of acquiring HIV was double that of other women. This finding was true even after adjusting the findings for other factors which are known to influence HIV incidence (including condom use, age, herpes infection, relationship inequity and intimate partner violence). The risk is increased even after considering the age difference in sexual partners. The authors suggest financial and material vulnerabilities may introduce a particular type of vulnerability into sexual relations.
For many of the participants, obtaining and keeping boyfriends was a central pursuit. Some women were proud of what they had been given, as it reflected their own desirability as well as their boyfriends' prosperity and status. But many desperately needed the items and money they received, although it was often inadequate for their needs. When dating, women had considerable agency and took care in choosing a partner they felt able to submit to. But once relationships were underway, agency was usually lost. Most tolerated their partners violent and controlling behaviour, and were publicly obedient and respectful.
Norway legal commission increases risk of criminal prosecution for HIV transmission
Date: 20 October 2012
Draft female genital cutting resolution sent to United Nations
Date: 25 October 2012
The draft resolution urges states to 'condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilations... and to take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilations and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity'. It calls on states to implement laws against FGM and support these with education campaigns. It also urges states to train medical personnel, social workers and religious and community leaders to help prevent FGM and report cases to the authorities where they believe girls are at risk.
Although 19 of the 28 African countries where FGM is practiced do have laws against it, these are poorly enforced. Somalia, where FGM is near universal, banned the practice under its new provisional constitution in August.
Campaigners hope the draft resolution will be adopted in December. Although it will not be enforceable, the fact it has been initiated by African countries will give the resolution more weight.
HIV treatment initiation during pregnancy may increase risk of pre-term birth
Date: 31 October 2012
A study of 33,000 pregnant women in Botswana has found that starting HIV treatment during pregnancy may increase the risk of having a pre-term delivery, a small baby and stillbirth. The researchers found that taking combination treatment increased the risk of adverse birth outcomes by between 40% and 80%. Taking only one antiretroviral drug (zidovudine on its own) was also associated with an increased risk of complications, but to a lesser degree. However, the researchers stress that caution is needed when interpreting their results. For instance, many of the women were ill with malaria or tuberculosis, which will have also affected birth outcomes.
Assassination attempt on life of Congolese sexual violence activist
Date: 26 October 2012
This week he was held up at gunpoint by armed men who broke into his home. The men shot at him when arriving at home and killed a security guard who attempted to alert neighbours. Dr Mukwege was shot at but escaped injury while the attackers escaped in the doctor's car.
Last month, Dr Mukwege gave a speech at the United Nations in which he denounced the country's 16 years of violent conflict and called for 'urgent action to arrest those responsible for these crimes against humanity and to bring them to justice.' Activists are calling on the DRC government to immediately ensure his safety and are calling on other governments and the AU to monitor the situation and to ensure Dr Mukwege's safety.
Northern Ireland's first abortion clinic opens
Date: 26 October 2012
Jamaica urged to reconsider abortion law by CEDAW
Date: 1 October 2012
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has asked Jamaica to reconsider the criminalisation of abortion in cases where a pregnancy is a result of a rape or incest or in cases where it poses a threat to a woman's health and life.
Abortion is currently a criminal act for all women. In a recent hearing at CEDAW's 52nd session, the Committee said it was concerned that abortion is wholly illegal. Current Jamaican law does not make a distinction in cases of pregnancies resulting from rape, incest and threats to a woman's health and life. The Jamaican delegation note that the parliamentary committee that was convened to look at the possible amendment to the existing legislation has not yet been able to reach a decision.
The Committee recommends that Jamaica strengthens the monitoring and data collection on women's access to health care, including data on incidence of unsafe abortions. The Committee also suggested that there be free and adequate access to contraceptives so as to improve the access and quality of sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls.
Engaging men and boys in transforming discriminatory social norms
Date: 22 October 2012
A summary report will be presented at the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index seminar on 13 November.
You are encouraged to make contributions, especially on the following:
What are the opportunities and challenges for engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality? How can men and boys be persuaded that gender equality also benefits them?
In your area/region, what are examples of successful programmes in engaging men and boys in transforming discriminatory social norms? (e.g. socio-cultural practices, caring responsibilities, employment rights, gender- based violence)
What actions should governments, donors, UN bodies and civil society take to support the engagement of men and boys in achieving gender equality?
The discussion will be open for comments starting on Monday October 22nd until October 31st. Join in on this website or by use the hashtag #engagingmen to promote the discussion on Twitter.
Argentina's Supreme Court rules abortion for raped woman
Date: 12 October 2012
Argentina allows legal abortions in rape cases or to protect a woman's health. But often cases are blocked, despite a Supreme Court ruling in March that was supposed to remove barriers to abortion. In this case, the woman was freed from a prostitution ring and is in protection by the courts. In her case, approval for an abortion was overturned by a judge who said that there was no proof of rape, even though the woman had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
The High Court`s ruling urged public health officials to urgently end the pregnancy. The ruling, signed by six of the seven justices, also blames the Buenos Aires mayor and the judge who intervened, saying they revealed details that enabled anti-abortion protesters to converge on the public hospital where she was awaiting the procedure, and later on her private home as well. The mayor now faces lawsuits for initiating the controversy by in a speech that mobilised anti-abortion forces to hunt her down. The judge in the case also faces both judicial and criminal investigations for allegedly disobeying the higher court.
Health Ministry data show 80,000 women are hospitalised with complications from illegal abortions in Argentina each year.
PrEP - cost-effective but not enough to slash HIV rates
Date: 12 October 2012
A detailed modelling study that assesses the impact and cost-effectiveness of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) finds that it could be very cost-effective in terms of the price of an extra year of healthy life for an individual taking it. However, its absolute cost is likely to restrict its use to only the highest-risk individuals in a population, and this may mean it may only make a minor impact on HIV incidence.
These are the effects forecast amongst men who have sex with men and transgender women in Lima, Peru. The site was chosen as the base for the model because it featured the highest number of enrolments to the iPrEx study, the first of several studies to report significant efficacy. The trial cut HIV infections by 44%, even though only half of trial participants took enough doses of PrEP for it to work.
The model finds that, as might be expected, the number of infections prevented goes up if coverage is increased. But it also finds that the efficiency of the PrEP programme in cost per infection averted decreases. This is because at low coverage levels, targeting is more effective so more infections are averted per PrEP recipient.
Overall, the study concludes that PrEP could be a cost-effective intervention, even using quite strict criteria, in a middle-income country if targeted at the gay male population and especially at its highest-risk members. The model finds that some concerns about PrEP, such as behaviour change and drug resistance, are not crucial to is effectiveness.
The biggest limiting factor to PrEP will be its sheer cost relative to other prevention methods. The researchers comment that in a country like Peru where 100% HIV treatment coverage for those who need it has not yet been achieved, it would not be ethical to finance a national rollout of PrEP.
Reference: Gomez GB et al. The potential impact of pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention among men who have sex with men and transwomen in Lima, Peru: a mathematical modelling study. PLoS Medicine 9(10): doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001323. 2012.
The full open-access paper can be viewed here.
Microbicide Campaign transitions to new partnerships
Date: 11 October 2012
Health in the post-2015 development agenda
Date: 11 October 2012
World We Want 2015 is an open and inclusive consultation space. It aims to gather the priorities of people from every corner of the world and help build a collective vision that will be used directly by the United Nations and World Leaders to plan a new development agenda launching in 2015.
International Day of the Girl Child, Ending child marriage
Date: 11 October 2012
To mark the occasion, the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development has launched a new toolkit and policy briefs - Child Marriage in Southern Asia - Policy Options for Action.
This document was produced as an initiative of the AFPPD Standing Committee of Male Parliamentarians on Prevention of Violence against Women and Girls, with technical support provided by UNFPA.
Jamaican men speak out against rape
Date: 11 October 2012
A new video, posted on YouTube shows a group of young actors speaking out against rape in Jamaica. The aim is to heighten the awareness of every young man, to "man up" and end violence against women.
Empowering Nepali girls to reject marriage
Date: 11 October 2012
Day of action to support women's human rights defenders in Honduras
Date: 10 October 2012
The Meso-American Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders and other organisations in Central America, are organising a Day of Action on Thursday, October 11, 2012 in solidarity with women human rights defenders in Honduras, who are facing severe violence, criminalisation and other violations of their rights.The initiative is requesting statements of solidarity or endorsements of the call to action to be presented at embassies.
Since the coup d'etat in June 2009, a climate of total impunity has pervaded Honduras, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world to practice journalism or defend human rights.
- Femicide increased by 257% between 2002 and 2010.
- Between 2010 and 2011, seven women human rights defenders were assassinated and thousands had faced sexual assaults, beatings and arbitrary arrests at the hands of state security forces.
- Emergency contraception has been prohibited and the ban on therapeutic abortion continues.
- Women from indigenous and rural communities have been brutally evicted along with their families.
- Indigenous Misquita women have been assassinated by affiliates of the Department of State.
More information on the situation in Honduras is available here.
Call for papers: addressing unmet family planning need
Date: 8 October 2012
Call for papers, international seminar
Is access enough? Understanding and addressing unmet need in family planning
Nanyuki, Kenya, 14-16 May 2013
Organised by: the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Reproductive Health in collaboration with the Strengthening Evidence for Programming on Unintended Pregnancy (STEP UP) consortium, Population Council and the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP).
This seminar will bring together scientists, policy makers, and programme managers to present and discuss a range of issues relating to the definition, determinants and consequences of unmet need in family planning and programme interventions designed specifically to reduce unmet need in groups at high risk.
The IUSSP Panel on Reproductive Health invites scientists, policy makers, and programme managers to submit online by 20 December 2012 a short 200-word abstract and upload an extended (2-4 pp., including tables) or a full paper, which must be unpublished and not already submitted to a journal for publication. To submit, please fill out the online submission form on the IUSSP website.
Submission should be made by the author who will attend the seminar.
The working language of the seminar will be English. Abstracts and final papers should therefore be submitted and presented in English. Abstracts/papers that are submitted must be original, describe data collection procedures and use rigorous analytical techniques. Applicants will be notified whether their submission has been accepted by 20 January 2013. In the case of acceptance on the basis of an abstract, the completed paper must be uploaded on the IUSSP website by 20 April 2013.
For further information please contact seminar organiser, Sarah Harbison (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A full announcement for this seminar is available at the IUSSP website and Population Council website.
Supreme Court of Canada allows criminal HIV transmission even when condoms used
Date: 8 October 2012
The Supreme Court of Canada stated on 5 October 2012 that individuals who know they are HIV positive are liable to criminal prosecution for aggravated sexual assault if they do not disclose this fact prior to sex that may risk a "realistic possibility of transmission of HIV".
The decision is a major step backward for those fighting for the rights of people living with HIV. The unanimous decision rejected the Government's argument that there should be a blanket law requiring people with HIV to disclose regardless of the risk, stating that the duty for an HIV-positive individual to disclose can be exempted, but only when a condom is used and the individual also has a low viral load.
Non-disclosure (regardless of whether this is active deceit or simply no verbal discussion of HIV risk) will continue to be treated as fraud that invalidates consent to sex. If it can also be shown that the sexual partner would not have consented had they known the accused was HIV positive, this is considered aggravated sexual assault, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and registration as a sex offender.
A coalition of HIV and human rights organisations led by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, which acted as interveners in the two cases, issued a statement saying it was shocked and dismayed at the ruling, calling the decision "a major step backwards for public health and human rights".
UN vote for 'traditional values' threat to human rights
Date: 5 October 2012
The Human Rights Council has voted in favour of a resolution that legitimises the use of 'traditional values' to promote human rights. The resolution, put forward by Russia and adopted on 27 September, highlights the important role of 'family' and calls for 'a better understanding of humanity's traditional values'. In the resolution, no definition is given as to how this concept should be understood.
The resolution was adopted by 25 votes to 15 members, with seven abstentions. Those voting against the resolution were European countries, the United States, Botswana, Costa Rica and Mauritius.
Human rights lawyers argue that the resolution goes directly against UN rights conventions and is wide open to abuse, given the wide range of options for interpreting 'traditional values'. The implications are serious for the reproductive and sexual rights of women, girls and sexual minorities.
Russia is intent on trying to influence and change the debate on whether homosexuals should enjoy protection by human rights, according to a senior researcher from Human Rights Watch in Russia. "It is an attempt to gain international approval of homophobic initiatives and to forge alliances with other countries that also discriminate against homosexuals".
The UN resolution can be downloaded here. Details on the votes and individual country positions can be accessed by scrolling down the page here.
Appeal to overturn Costa Rica's IVF ban
Date: 5 October 2012
The state's national ombudsman, Ofelia Taitelbaum, initiated the appeal on the grounds that this is about ensuring rights that are appropriate for our times.
More than three quarters of Costa Ricas population identify themselves as Roman Catholic. The Vatican openly opposes in-vitro fertilisation.
Global database on health and human rights launched
Date: 4 October 2012
The O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, the World Health Organization and the Lawyers Collective will shortly be launching a searchable Global Health and Human Rights Database. The database will be organised in three categories: human rights, health topics, and regional scope. It will provide a map of the intersection of health and human rights in judgements, international and regional instruments and national constitutions.
This is an invaluable tool for those seeking to use litigation to enforce human rights and looking for examples of the international and domestic legal instruments that enshrine health-related rights.
An article descriving the database's content and development can be viewed in Health and Human Rights. The database will soon be available online.
UK government stops funding HIV helplines
Date: 4 October 2012
The UK Department of Health has ended its support for the telephone helplines operated by four national organisations - Terrence Higgins Trust, Black Health Agency, fpa and Brook - with funding instead diverted to a centralised operation run by the private company Serco.
Terrence Higgins Trust's THT Direct service has had a particular focus on signposting individuals to local and specialist services. Despite the loss of funding, the helpline will stay open, but with reduced staff and hours of operation. The sexual health charities fpa and Brook will maintain their helplines and seek alternate funding. The I Do It Right helpline, designed to provide HIV support to African people in England, closed last week.
The private company have been contracted to run a large number of helplines and contact centre services. Due to the limited funding available, there will be pressure on call centre staff to deal with calls quickly, often following standardised scripts. The current helplines were often helped by volunteers who have personal experience of HIV and have had a particular role in providing emotional support to callers.
Abortion law success but unwanted pregnancies continue, Kenya
Date: 3 October 2011
However, so far sections of the penal code have not been revised to reflect the language in the new constitution, with the result that many medical providers remain reluctant to perform abortions for any reason for fear of legal consequences, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The government must do more to enable women and girls to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Kenya's unmet family planning need is high - one in four currently married women in Kenya had an unmet need for family planning, according to the 2009 Demographic and Health Survey.
Despite availability of contraceptives through both public and private facilities, barriers remain. More needs to be done to ensure service delivery points have a choice of all methods and provide more awareness raising for both women and health workers in the positive benefits of modern family planning methods.
Global evidence of lower adherence to anti-HIV drugs after giving birth
Date: 2 October 2012
Preventing maternal deaths in Nigeria
Date: 3 October 2012
The Zaria Maternity Survey in 1973 was one of the first events that highlighted high maternal mortality and outlined key steps for action. Despite progress over the past thirty years, rates are still high but the lecture highlights some positive opportunities. These include the rise in numbers of researchers wlling to gather and apply data on maternal mortality, the positive lessons emerging from the Abiye Project which has established a functioning health care system for maternal and child health at local government area. The lecture calls for greater political will to address some of the challenges and conflicts in addressing these two huge causes of death and illness for Nigerian women.
CEDAW questions institutional violence in Chile and Togo
Date: 1 October 2012
Publication: Positive health impacts through HIV programming
Date: 1 October 2012
The report outlines how the HIV response has impacted positively on all the key building blocks of health systems - including health service delivery, access to medicines, health workforces, health information systems, health systems financing and leadership and governance. Examples include uptake in sexual and reproductive health services in the Caribbean and Africa and innovative means of increasing budget accountability and transparency at facility and local government level. These, and the many other examples in the report, are useful lessons for reproductive and sexual health advocates. However, although there is evidence of overall greater funding for health systems, gains elsewhere are not reflected in the reproductive health sector.
The brief concludes that we now need to capitalise on this potential for broader impact to a greater extent, with increased cross-sector collaboration to improve results for a wide range of pressing health issues. There must be continued and greater attention by HIV-focused NGOs and agencies to health system strengthening, translating lessons from HIV in ways that make them applicable to others. For reproductive and sexual health advocates, these lessons are paramount.
Human Rights Council adopts resolution on maternal mortality and morbidity
Date: 29 September 2012
28 September - International Day of Action for the Decriminalisation of Abortion
No HIV response in South East Asia without women and girls
Date: 27 September 2012
Uruguay narrowly votes to legalise abortion
Date: 26 September 2012
In a groundbreaking move, Uruguay's lower house of parliament has passed a measure to give women the right to a legal abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, 14 weeks in the case of rape, and decriminalise later-term abortions when the mother's life is at risk or when the foetus is so deformed that it would not survive. The measure must now go back to the Senate for approval of changes, but the President has said he will allow it to become law.
The measure was passed by the narrowest of margins - 50 to 49 votes. Uruguay is the second country in Latin America, after Cuba, to make abortions accessible to all women during the first trimester of pregnancy.
However, many challenges remain. Compromises made to get the measure through Congress include the requirement that women seeking abortions must go before a review panel of at least three professionals - a gynaecologist, psychologist and social worker - to explain her request and listen to advice about alternatives including adoption and support services should she decide to keep the baby - the father's point of view can only be presented with the womans consent. Then she must wait five more days -to reflect' on the consequences before the procedure. Women under 18 must show parental consent, but they can seek approval from a judge if they are unwilling or unable to involve their parents in the decision. The measure allows individual healthcare providers and private health institutions to decline to perform abortions. This is likely to generate layers of bureaucracy, which could delay abortions until more than 12 weeks have passed, especially given the opposition of many professionals to women's right to abortion. The struggle for women's right to choose continues.
Namibian government appeals forced sterilisation judgement
Date: 27 September 2012
Updated HIV website: What Works for Women & Girls
Date: 25 September 2012
What Works for Women & Girls is the updated comprehensive website that documents the evidence for effective HIV interventions to guide donors, policymakers and programme managers in planning effective HIV policies and programmes for women and girls.
The updated site has the latest evidence to 2012, including nearly 3,000 articles and reports with data from nearly 100 countries. Sections include a range of sexual and reproductive health-related information, including prevention for key affected groups of women and young people, meeting of the sexual and reproductive health needs of women living with HIV, safe motherhood and prevention of vertical transmission, strengthening the enabling environment, including transforming gender norms, legal norms and reducing violence against women and structuring of health services to meet women's needs.
What Works complements existing guidelines from international agencies and is designed to spur national governments, donors and civil society to consult the evidence base when designing programmes and to set a research agenda based on critical gaps for women and girls.
Call to support the Human Rights Council Resolution on Preventable Maternal Mortality and Morbidity
Date: 25 September 2012
A resolution was tabled on 24 September at the Human Rights Council, entitled"Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights. Its lead co-sponsors are New Zealand, Colombia and Burkina Faso.
The resolution focuses on the recent Technical Guidance produced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on a human rights-based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity.
The resolution calls on governments to disseminate and apply the Technical Guidance. The resolution represents the culmination of five years of work to put the issue of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity on the intergovernmental human rights agenda, to examine the human rights dimensions of the issue including the need for accountability and to give guidance to governments on how policies and programmes can be grounded in human rights standards and principles.
A few delegations (in particular, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria) are seeking to weaken the text significantly. There have already been a number of concessions to them.
We need as many Governments as possible to co-sponsor the text and as soon as possible to prevent any further weakening of the text.
The debates start on 26 September so action is urgent.
You can contact your own government's foreign or health ministry officials now asking them to co-sponsor this UN Human Rights Council draft resolution. You can also contact your permanent missions in Geneva directly by phone, fax or email with the same request for support.
When tabled, the resolution had 59 co-sponsors. These governments do NOT need to be approached. However, any UN Member State not on this list should be contacted. A list of the 59 states is available on AWID`s website here.
The following countries are governments who have previously co-sponsored resolutions on this topic but who have not yet co-sponsored this one - if you are from one of these countries, please do your best to urge them to sign this resolution.
Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Morocco, Panama, Moldova, Rwanda, Senegal, Singapore, Switzerland, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uganda, Ukraine, United States of America, Burundi, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, South Africa, Togo, Angola, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Cuba, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Paraguay, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
For more information, including the resolution and the proposed changes that are being negotiated, view the AWID website contact Action Canada for Population and Development.
Child abuse cases stalled, Sri Lanka
Date: 24 September 2012
Maternal mortality - women and families speak, India
Date: 24 September 2012
Dead Women Talking is the report of a civil society meeting held in India in June 2012 on maternal mortality. The meeting gathered together civil society groups who have been using innovative methods like community monitoring and planning and media campaigns to strengthen health systems by stressing accountability of the system, deepening democracy and governance.
The report highlights examples of how this has been done by groups across India. It focuses on the lived experience of communities and families of women who die unnecessarily, as well as the voices of those who have died.
The organiseers hope that this process will lead up to a coordinated plan for taking this learning forward into policy and programme.
Contact Commonhealth for a copy of the report.
Memorial service to honour Joan Dunlop, 24 September 2012
Date: 17 September 2012
Spanish clinic on strike in protest against government abortion restrictions
Date: 21 September 2012
The Mediterranea Medica clinic in Valencia is the only clinic that provides second trimester abortions in Valencia and Castellón. On Friday, it announced that it will strike action for one week, starting Monday 24 September. Clinic staff have worked without pay for four months because, for the last seven months, the clinic has not been paid by the government for women referred by public hospitals who refuse to do second trimester abortions.
The outstanding payments come to 500,000 Euros.During the strike, minimal services will be maintained, so that women seeking abortions do not have to wait until they are over the legal time limits for abortion.
The clinic is also protesting against the intention to restrict the 2010 abortion law, announced recently by the Minister of Justice. The clinic director warned that if the government persists in these restrictive reforms, he will launch "a clandestine network of free clinics to ensure the rights of women. They will have to put many of us in jail."
New film raises awareness of natural birth
Date: 21 September 2012
On 20 September. the film 'Freedom for Birth' was screened in over 1,000 cinemas around the world. The film raises awareness of natural birth and the freedom for women to have the decision on where and how they give birth.
You can view the trailer for the film and find out about follow up activities around the world here. A short, web-friendly version of the film will shortly be available on the One World Birth website. The DVD of the full version is for sale. It has subtitles in Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portugese (Portugal), Portugese (Brazil), Russian, Slovak, Slovenian and Spanish on the same website.
Family Planning Summit - costing the commitments
Date: 19 September 2012
Date: 19 September 2012
Support human rights defenders in Russia
Date: 18 September 2012
On 17 August, three members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail for having staged a performance of a protest song in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral in February 2012. The criminalisation of this peaceful protest is one more example of persecution of activists in Russia. It follows another recent case of a woman activist being failed by the justice system.
In 2009, leading human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was abducted near her apartment building in Grozny, Chechnya and found murdered in the neighbouring Republic of Ingushetia. The Russian state has so far failed to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime, failing to live up to its obligations under its own constitution, laws and international human rights agreements.
AWID's Women Human Rights Defenders strategic initiative is working to ensure that women human rights defenders are able to conduct their work safely and free from threats to their security and well-being.
Please click here to demand justice for Natalia Estemirova.
Click here to join Amnesty International's campaign to Free Pussy Riot.
Launching sexuality and disability blog
www.sexualityanddisability.org believes that women who are disabled are sexual beings - just like any other woman. The website answers questions that a woman with a disability might have - about her body, about the mechanics and dynamics of having sex, about the complexities of being in an intimate relationship or having children and about unvoiced fears or experiences of encountering abuse in some form. The website is accessible across disabilities.
Idaho state abortion law rejected in federal appeal
Date: 14 September 2012
Uganda's legal and policy framework on abortion
Date: 13 September 2012
Although abortion is legal in Uganda in restricted situations, unclear and often confusing abortion laws and policies mean that many people are not aware that abortions can be legally obtained in some circumstances. 26% of maternal deaths in Uganda are attributed to unsafe abortion.
This publication offers clear explanation of the context, demonstrating that Ugandas laws and policies are more expansive than most believe and the current legal and policy framework offers ample opportunities for increasing access to safe abortion services.
The document can be downloaded here.
Malaysia publishes guidelines to identify gay and lesbian 'symptoms'
Date: 13 September 2012
Malaysia's Education Ministry has reportedly endorsed 'guidelines' to help parents to identify gay and lesbian 'symptoms' in their children so they can take early "corrective measurements". The symptoms include a preference for V-neck and sleeveless clothes and use of big handbags by men. The guidelines were published by two organisations, Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and Putrajaya Consultative Council of Parents and Teachers Associations and endorsed by the Education Ministry. The seminar this week was the tenth such meeting. The guidelines were distributed to all those who attended the seminar.
Activists have denounced the move and call on the Ministry to rely on sound research, rather than supporting discriminatory approaches that are not based on evidence.
Misoprostol reduced maternal mortality - widespread use being challenged
Date: 12 September 2012
Misoprostol is an important drug for reducing maternal deaths from post-partum haemorrhage, most especially in low-resource settings with no cold chain (reliable refrigeration) and distant from tertiary care centres.
Misoprostol for use in cases of post-partum haemorrhage was put on WHO's essential medicines list in April 2011. A study published in the August issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests that WHO should rethink its recent decision to include misoprostol on the essential medicines list. The article states that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that misoprostol works in preventing PPH and, instead, urges poor countries to improve primary care and prevent anaemia to lower the risk of haemorrhage following delivery. The fact that misoprostol can also be used to induce abortion adds to the controversy.
The recent study has stirred international concern. Whilst organisations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation accept the need for continued research, they warn that "countless women will be denied life-saving care and forced to suffer pregnancy-related complications which are entirely preventable" should misoprostol be removed from the WHO essential medicines list.
Challenging perceptions of traditional initiation and male circumcision, South Africa
Date: 11 September 2012
Date: 11 September 2012
Developing solutions to universal health coverage in the global South
Date: 11 September 2012
An increasing number of developing countries are introducing universal healthcare coverage - and creating new models to do it, according to research published in The Lancet.
The research reviews nine countries - five at intermediate stages of reform (Ghana, Indonesia, Philippines, Rwanda and Vietnam) and four at earlier stages (India, Kenya, Mali and Nigeria). Each of the nine countries has had strongly rising incomes, which ought to lead to demands for improved access to care and reductions in household out-of-pocket health-care costs.
The review finds that the new models vary considerably but have several common characteristics, including increased revenue and health budgets, larger risk pools and use of the private sector. Out-of-pocket spending as a percentage of total health expenditure has decreased by 3-6% in most of the countries at an intermediate stage in the reform process, but household spending in all nine countries remains higher than WHO recommends to avoid impoverishment.
The authors recommend that developing country governments would benefit from common, comparable standards for measuring key outputs and outcomes of universal-coverage reforms, which could guide midcourse policy corrections and improve implementation.
The article, and others in the Series, can be downloaded from the Lancet here.
Pro-reproductive health Catholics support reproductive health bill, Philippines
Date: 11 September 2012
A group of Catholics have started a campaign in Cebu Province, Philippines, to gather one million signatures in support of the proposed Reproductive Health Bill that is currently being debated in parliament.
The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act of 2011 has been opposed by Catholic leaders because of provisions to the bill that would allow distribution of contraceptives and implementing adolescent reproductive health education. There have been bitter debates over the bill for a long time now. The Lower House voted to end debates last month.
A spokesperson for Catholics for Reproductive Health (C4RH) - Cebu Chapter says that they continue to push for the passage of the bill and hope the Catholic hierarchy will stop exerting pressure on lawmakers. The group will bring the campaign to schools and various communities in the province.
Uganda launches HPV vaccination campaign
Date: 6 September 2012
Brazilian government compensates family for maternal death
Date: 6 September 2012
Following intense mobilisation by rights organisations in Brazil, the petitioners for Alynes case have recently met with the Federal Attorney General, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Women to discuss the case. The government has accepted in large part the proposals made by Alyne's family and petitioners. These include compensation payment to the family, with a final agreed amount being discussed with the family. The government is now initiating the establishment of an inter-ministerial group that will consider the chain of events that lead to preventable maternal deaths. The government will also realise a seminar on rights-based maternal mortality that will be aimed at health and legal officials. The seminar will be held in partnership with the state government of Rio de Janeiro and will be held at the Rio de Janeiro Court. The dates for the seminar are to be confirmed.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs supported these steps commenting that these actions will be an opportunity to address concerns raised by conservative sectors after Rio +20, at which the issue of reproductive rights was a hotly contested issue.
This is a historic moment for the protection of reproductive rights in Brazil, marking public acknowledgement by the government of its international obligations to treat preventable maternal mortality as a human rights issue.
Iranian journalist and rights activist imprisoned
Date: 6 September 2012
Amnesty International have called on the Iranian authorities to release prisoner of conscience, Zhila Bani-Yaghoub, an award-winning journalist and women's rights activist held solely for exercising her right to freedom of expression.
Bani-Yaghoub was summoned to Evin Prison on 2 September to serve a one-year prison sentence. Further to her conviction for "spreading propaganda against the system" and "insulting the president", she has been banned from media and journalistic activities for 30 years.
For more information, please contact Amnesty International UK media unit email@example.com
Women's access to health care education, Iran
Education has been a way for women in Iran to find some independence within a highly restricted environment. This week 36 Iranian universities banned 77 undergraduate courses to women.
This is a double blow for Iranian women, limiting not only their fields of study but also their avenues for financial and personal independence. According to UNESCO, Iran has the highest ratio of female to male university enrolment in the world.
There is currently a debate within Iran, with activists challenging the universities' decisions and demanding that universities lift these restrictions.
Promoting exclusive breasfeeding, Guinea Conakry
Date: 3 September 2012
Reasons include traditional beliefs and family pressure. Often the baby is not given his or her first breast milk for hours, until the child is fed water that has been used to rinse a wooden tablet carved with special Koranic verses and which is brought after the birth by a designated family member. There are also many pressures from family members who oppose exclusive breastfeeding. One health worker reported that his mother stopped talking to him and he was called to the village to explain himself to the elders when he and his wife decided to exclusively breastfeed their child. It required a lot of courage from him and his wife to stick to their decision and show the family that the child was growing well.
The recent survey shows an increase in store-bought powdered milk, probably because of a combination of aggressive marketing of milk products and recent political instability that has hit community nutrition education activities. The recent study also considers that the previous study may have been inaccurate.
Lack of information on safe abortion fuels maternal deaths, India
Date: 21 August 2012
Despite the availability of legal abortion in Bihar State, India, the majority of abortions are still being performed outside recognised government centres.
Only one quarter of women in Bihar know that abortion is legally valid, according to recent surveys. Even when women are aware of the legal option, they face barriers such as lack of trained health professionals in rural areas and high abortion cost at big hospitals in the cities.
The state government health secretary has called for provision of safe abortion at affordable prices and to halt the use of unsafe abortions. He has said that the first step towards this is to make women and the community at large aware about the legality of abortions.
State hospitals are now authorised to grant accreditation to private hospitals to provide free abortion up to 12 weeks and treat post-abortion complications, in a move to increase access to safe abortion. So far this year, 124 health institutes have applied for accreditation and three have received accreditation so far. Other measures include investing in increased access to and quality of institutional deliveries and appointment of women health workers in government hospitals across the state.
Anti-abortion laws responsible for death of young woman with cancer, Dominican Republic
Mujer y Salud (Woman and Health) have issued a statement on the recent tragic and senseless death of Esperancita, a 16-year-old young woman from the Dominican Republic who had acute leukaemia. In July this year, when Esperancita was gravely ill, but was also 9 weeks pregnant, hospital doctors refused to provide chemotherapy because they feared they would be prosecuted in the event of a miscarriage. This refusal to provide treatment continued for several weeks, despite the fact that she was in urgent need of aggressive chemotherapy. She subsequently died from what is now officially known to be due to a uterine haemorrhage following a miscarriage.
Mujer y Salud cite Article 42 of the Constitution that states that no one can be subjected to procedures that may damage their health, nor subjected to procedures that do not conform with internationally recognised scientific and bioethical norms. In Esperancita's case, such norms would prescribe the termination of the pregnancy and the immediate initiation of chemotherapy.
Mujer y Salud demands a full investigation of Esperancita's case to establish responsibility. They also call on the National Congress to correct the infamy of Article 37 of the Penal Code and restore to Dominican women the right to life.
Kenyan hospitals accused of forced sterilisation
Date: 23 August 2012
Doctors in hospitals in six Kenyan towns are being investigated, after a study claimed that they are sterilising women with HIV without their knowledge.
The study, Robbed of Choice: Forced and Coerced Sterilisation Experiences of Women Living with HIV in Kenya, by the African Gender and Media Initiative (AGMI) reports the cases of 40 women who claim to have been sterilised without their permission whilst attending public and private hospitals for delivery. Some women allege that they were sterilised without their knowledge or an opportunity to provide consent. Others allege that they were coerced to consent to the procedure by use of money or other incentives, misinformed or denied medical services, including HIV treatment.
Rights activists have also reported similar allegations in the past. Activist groups have committed to ensuring that the affected women can access their medical records to enable them to take action.
Kenya's Director of Public Health has expressed his concern about the allegations and announced that the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board will be investigating the allegation.
One of the largest hospitals accused in the report, Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, denies that it carries out coerced or forced sterilisation, stating that there the hospital records are available and show that none of the women concerned were admitted.
Women with HIV need family planning and safe abortion, Malawi
Date: 28 August 2012
In Malawi, there is a high rate of unintended pregnancies due to the limited availability of family planning services and contraceptives. Many of these pregnancies are among young girls and they lead to abortions, most of them unsafe, infant deaths and pregnancy-related deaths which could be prevented. In Malawi, abortion is currently only permitted legally to save a woman's life.
The International Community of Women Living with HIV is part of the Coalition to Prevent Unsafe Abortion in Malawi (COPUA). They collected testimonies from women in communities about their experiences with unsafe abortion. These include women living with HIV and women living with disability. COPUA and ICW are raising awareness amongst women in communities but also to policy makers and civil society groups.
A booklet of women's testimonies can be downloaded here.
Ireland awaits European ruling on its abortion law
Date: 27 August 2012
The issue is raising the stakes for both political and pro-choice leaders. Some anti-abortion activists express concern about a decline in interest in religion in the country. Rocked by sex abuse scandals and leadership crises, the Catholic Church in Ireland was found to be in steep decline in a recent survey about the proportion of Irish people describing themselves as religious - 47% of people surveyed described themselves as religious, a 22% drop from seven years earlier.
However, it is not clear whether a drop in the numbers of people declaring themselves to be Catholic will translate into support for legalisation of abortion. A large group of party members from Fine Gael, the party with the most seats in the coalition government, have vowed to oppose any liberalising of abortion, even if the European panel recommends it. The Labour Party favours bringing in legislation to allow for abortion when the mother's life is at risk, which many expect will be the Europeans Court's recommendation.
Turkish government tries to reduce abortion
Date: 26 August 2012
Women in Turkey who undergo an abortion after 10 weeks of pregnancy could be sentenced to up to three years in prison under a proposed bill, officials said.
The Ministry of Health is working on draft legislation that would extend the current sentence from one year, according to Turkish media reports. The bill was reportedly presented to cabinet earlier this week and will be presented to Parliament in October. This follows public statements from the prime minister opposing abortion.
Abortion is legal in Turkey during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The Ministry of Health said the bill calls for the development of programmes to counsel against abortion and free distribution of the morning-after pill. In an effort to encourage women to carry their pregnancies to term, the government would extend maternity leave from four months to six.
Violence prevents antenatal care, Yemen
Date: 24 August 2012
On 7 August, 19-year-old Dawlah Muslih died in childbirth, because her family could not reach the local hospital for an emergency caesarean operation.
Two months ago, the Yemeni government announced that the militant group Ansar al-Sharia had been routed from the southern Abyan Governorate by a large-scale military offensive. Hundreds of displaced families have since returned to their homes in Jaar and Zinjibar cities, according to local sources. But violence has returned to the region, with suicide bombings and armed clashes between remaining Ansar al-Sharia fighters, armed tribesmen and criminal gangs. More than two hundred people have been killed in the governorate since mid-June, according to the acting chief of Abyan's security department.
A local midwife in Jaar City reports that this indiscriminate violence is preventing many pregnant women, who have returned displacement over the past two months, from obtaining prenatal care. Dawlah is reportedly the fifth mother to die in labour over the past month in the local area.
Antenatal healthcare services have historically been poor and limited in southern Yemen. In 2010, the UN Population Fund estimated that 22 women die in Yemen every day due to pregnancy- and birth-related complications and that antenatal care coverage was 47%, the lowest in the Middle East.
Public meeting: Taking abortion out of criminal law, London, UK
Date: 23 August 2012
On 1 October there will be a public meeting to celebrate the International Day of Action for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in London. The meeting will explore the situation in the UK - the vulnerability of doctors to prosecution and threats to women's access to abortion under the 1967 Abortion Act, the situation in Northern Ireland and in other countries.
Speakers will explore how the criminal law problematises abortion for women and health professionals, abortion in Northern Ireland, law reform options and supporting access to safe medical abortion through the internet for women in legally restricted settings. Marge Berer, RHM Editor, will discuss what's happening in other countries and the new International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion.
Public meetings and street actions are also planned in London, Belfast, Derry and Dublin. See here for details of the meeting and book your free place here.
Women at risk of unsafe abortion, Ghana
Date: 21 August 2012
A leading medical doctor has called on the Ghanaian Ministry of Health to intensify reproductive health, including safe sex and abortion, for girls.
Abortion is a criminal offence in Ghana but, according to Dr Akuamoah-Boateng, there are grounds on which legal abortion might be permitted but few people know about these. As a result, many women in Ghana do not know their legal rights to safe abortion. Reportedly, unsafe abortion was the second leading cause of maternal mortality in Ghana, accounting for 25-30% in leading hospitals in the country. Numbers are reportedly rising.
Dr Akumoah-Boateng suggested that Ghana's Reproductive Health Policy on the reduction of unsafe abortion should be geared towards the provision of safe abortion within the confines of the law, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
Tunisia's draft Constitution raises anger from women
Date: 17 August 2012
A proposed constitutional description of women as complementary to men in family life has sharpened divisions in Tunisia between the Islamists in government and a secular opposition fighting to keep gender equality. Activists fear that the introduction of constitutional changes by the new leaders could reverse decades of progress.
Article 28 of the proposed draft constitution assigns women 'a complementary role inside the family' which activists describe as gratuitous, humiliating and a threat to women's rights. Women held a protest march along the capital's main boulevard, Habib Bourghuiba, named for Tunisia's first president, known as a champion of women's rights. Tunisia is the only Arab country that permits abortion. Women of all classes play a prominent role in public life and the economy.
The draft constitution, formulated by a constituent assembly dominated by Islamists, is due to be ratified in a referendum next year. Talks on the exact wording are continuing between the government and activists. Government officials claim that the word 'complementary' is not intended to substitute for the word 'equality'. But activists worry that the government's unwillingness to change the proposed wording is threatening.
Sexual rights recommendations, Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review
Date: 15 August 2012
The 13th session of the Universal Periodic Review was held at the Human Rights Council in early June. 14 countries were reviewed by their peers for the second time on their entire human rights record. The countries were Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil, Ecuador, Finland, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia and the United Kingdom.
The Sexual Rights Initiative collaborated with national NGOs to prepare stakeholder submissions with strong recommendations on sexual and reproductive rights, covering issues such as female genital mutilation, discrimination against women in law and practice, discrimination and violence against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, sexual and gender-based violence, access to abortion, children's rights to participate in the decisions that affect them, maternal mortality, sexuality education, access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services and gender equality.
The detailed recommendations for each State under review can be viewed here.
SRI reports that several recommendations, particularly in relation to womens rights, were too broad to enable States to be held accountable. Civil society must work to ensure recommendations are more specific and actionable in their stakeholder submissions and states must be more specific in their reports.
Some issues require more attention, including criminalisation of sex work and HIV transmission, discrimination against people living with HIV, sexual and reproductive rights of people with disabilities and other poor and marginalised people and accountability mechanisms for sexual and reproductive rights violations, beyond instances of violence.
The outcome report for each State under Review during UPR 13 will be adopted at the 21st session of the Human Rights Council in September 2012. This report indicates which recommendations the State under review will agree to implement. This is the only opportunity for civil society to make an oral statement during the official UPR process.
The Sexual Rights Initiative, in collaboration with partners and allies, will work to ensure that sexual and reproductive rights are visible during this segment of the UPR process. To learn more about the UPR process and how to get involved, the Sexual Rights Initiative and IPPF have published a toolkit, Sexual Rights and the Universal Periodic Review: A Toolkit for Advocacy, which is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
Rwanda affirms importance of access to safe and legal abortion
Date: 15 August 2012
The Rwandan government has lifted its reservation to the Maputo Protocol - Article 14(2)(c) of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights of Women in Africa. The Maputo Protocol is the only international treaty that explicitly guarantees the right to legal abortion.
By accepting this protocol, the Rwandan government is now required to 'protect the reproductive rights of women by authorising medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the fetus.'
The Rwandan Government recently signed into law a new penal code reducing harsh criminal penalties against women who terminate their pregnancies and doctors who perform abortions.
These are positive steps, although the new law still imposes barriers that could prevent women from accessing legal abortions. Women who are pregnant as a result of rape, forced marriage or incest and seeking an abortion must get written approval from the court first. The law requires that anyone performing a legal abortion be a licensed medical doctor and consult with another physician before the procedure. These can be significant barriers for women that can cost money, waste time, and dangerously delay critical health care. However, the law and this recognition mark significant progress toward women's reproductive health and rights.
Ban on female genital mutilation, Somalia
Date: 13 August 2012
Somalia's new constitution bans female genital mutilation/cutting. Activists welcome the news but warn that translating the law into action will require more than just a legal declaration. In Somalia, 96% of women undergo infibulations, one of the more extreme forms of the practice.
The provisional constitution prohibits the practice, describing it as a 'cruel and degrading customary practice... tantamount to torture.'
Activists welcome the ban but say that its implementation will need education, awareness-raising and strong legal provisions. There is still a lot of opposition from women and men, believing that it will affect girls' marriage prospects and in the belief that female genital mutilation is a religious requirement, makes women pure and reduces sexual libido.
Gay men and intimate partner violence, US
Date: 3 August 2012
A study has found that 45% of gay and bisexual men in Atlanta, US, have experienced intimate partner violence, according to definitions developed by gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men in Atlanta.
The study also suggested that many gay men consider non-disclosure of HIV status to be a form of violence. And men with experience of intimate partner violence were more likely to report unprotected sex.
The study was undertaken because definitions of intimate partner violence and domestic violence tend to refer to women suffering at the hands of male partners. After developing local definitions with men, 1,074 men completed a questionnaire. Their answers were sorted into five types of violence - physical and sexual violence, monitoring behaviour such as checking emails, controlling behaviour such as refusing contact with family or friends, emotional abuse and issues related to HIV, such as non-disclosure of status.
Percentages of men surveyed who had experienced or perpetrated violence ranged from 13% victim and 8% perpetrator using a CDC physical and sexual abuse definition through to 46% victim and 32% perpetrator, using the locally developed definition. The numbers reporting abuse were a little higher in black and Latino men than in white men.
Whatever the definition used, men who had been victims of intimate partner violence were more likely to report that they did not use a condom the last time they had anal sex, whether it was with a casual or regular partner.
The scale will need to be validated with other groups of men who have sex with men but the survey indicates the lack of appropriate services for gay and bisexual men who had experienced intimate partner violence.
Male partner involvement improves HIV testing in pregnancy
Date: 2 August 2012
Several studies presented at the XIX International AIDS Conference highlighted the benefits of increasing male involvement in prevention of mother-to-child transmission efforts.
A Tanzanian study involving 354 facilities documented a major increase in the number of male partners undergoing HIV testing from 2008, when male involvement interventions were introduced. Interventions included letters inviting partners to attend antenatal appointments, posters encouraging male attendance, the prioritisation of clients who attended with partners, improvements to clinic rooms for couples counselling, training for providers on PMTCT couples counselling and the engagement of villages in developing local strategies. The number of male partners tested annually for HIV increased from 1,746 in 2008 to 22,623 by 2011. Only 7% of male partners underwent testing in the absence of partner interventions, whereas half did so after the interventions had been in place for three years.
These findings were reinforced by reports from similar interventions from elsewhere in Tanzania where the percentage of women with HIV enrolling in HIV treatment increased from 22% to 57%, and from northern Nigeria where HIV testing among pregnant women increased from 40% to 96% after a community campaign.
US Affordable Care Act provides essential health services for women
Under the US Affordable Care Act, which went into effect on 1 August 2012, a number of essential preventive services for women are now covered by insurance. These include: FDA-approved methods of contraception prescribed by a doctor, counselling and support for breastfeeding and equipment costs, and screening and counselling for interpersonal and domestic violence.
Zimbabwe woman fights deliberate HIV transmission conviction
Date: 2 August 2012
Last month, a 34-year-old Zimbabwean woman was found guilty of deliberately infecting her husband with HIV. Her lawyers are challenging this conviction in the Supreme Court, demanding repeal of the law she was charged under.
Samukelisiwe Mlilo is facing 20 years in jail for allegedly passing HIV to her husband. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who are representing her, claim that it is unclear whether Mlilo or her husband had HIV first. According to court papers, Mlilo only discovered her HIV-positive status when she became pregnant. She disclosed her status to her husband who then reported the matter to the police. There is therefore no evidence about whether Mlilo or her husband got HIV first.
The lawyers also claim that the law stigmatises people living with HIV. They are stating that, if the state chooses to proceed with criminal sanctions for risk behaviour, they should use general criminal laws and not an HIV-specific provision.
As Mlilo's lawyers point out, this is an example of the violation of women's rights. Women are likely to know of their status first.
Roadmap to effective HIV prevention
Date: 1 August 2012
The XIX International AIDS Conference two weeks ago hosted important discussions about how policy makers can implement effective HIV prevention strategies. Nelly Mugo, University of Nairobi, outlined priorities for interventions that are effective with the populations who are most at risk and that can be delivered in combination with high coverage to achieve high impact.
Her first recommended priority is to use data on new infections and prevalence in order to identify the populations which are at greatest risk of HIV infection. Even in generalised epidemics, such as much of sub-Saharan Africa, some communities are at elevated risk, especially men who have sex with men, sex workers and injecting drug users. An example from the US showed that in parts of the US, around half of HIV infections are in black men who have sex with men, yet less than 10% of interventions reached members of this population in 2010.
Next is to prioritise the most effective prevention interventions for local circumstances. The conference provided examples of modelling that uses detailed data on the size and characteristics of local risk populations, the cost, efficacy and coverage of available interventions, and the available prevention budget. A study in Philadelphia used such data to design a targeted intervention of HIV testing in non-clinical settings to men who have sex with men. The model suggested that while doubling the current prevention budget would make a dramatic difference to the number of infections, doubling it again after that would only provide a slight benefit. The conference demonstrated the need for community organisations to develop new skills in HIV testing, supporting people along the care continuum and pre-exposure prophylaxis.
Effective interventions need to packaged together, provided in combination and delivered at a sufficient scale, so that a large proportion of the population are reached. Nelly Mugo gave the example of HIV testing, which is increasingly seen as the gateway for all other services, whether the result is positive or negative and called for a `care continuum` for those who test HIV-negative, linking people to prevention services such as counselling, social support, condom provision, pre-exposure prophylaxis and male circumcision.
Female sex workers at far greater risk of HIV than other women
Date: 31 July 2012
Available data from 50 countries shows that female sex workers have a 14-fold higher risk of infection as women of a similar age in the general population, according to a Lancet article and presentation at the XIX International AIDS Conference.
Rates are especially elevated in some countries, including Bangladesh, Benin, Cambodia, China, Guinea, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal and Senegal. The meta-analysis is drawn from 102 reports from 50 countries between 2007-2011. However, reports were only available for 50 of 145 countries.
The researchers who conducted the analysis also did a modelling exercise to estimate the impact of improving sex workers' access to antiretroviral therapy to the level of other adults nationally and of providing a comprehensive community-empowerment programme to address structural barriers. The modelling exercise estimated that in Kenya just improving ART access would reduce infections in sex workers by 25% over five years, making the empowerment intervention available to two thirds of sex workers would reduce infections by 11.5% and doing both would reduce infections by 33%. There would also be a significant impact on the epidemic in the wider population, with 30% fewer infections if the interventions were combined.
In a plenary session, researcher Cheryl Overs stressed that the epidemic is not driven by the lack of a pill or a gadget, but by repression. As a symbol of this, many sex workers were prevented from participating in the Washington DC conference due to bans on them entering the United States.
Unmarried parents stoned to death, Mali
Date: 31 July 2012
The official said many of the 2,000 people in Aguelhok had already begun leaving, crossing the border into Algeria, as a result of the stoning. This is one of the most extreme reports from the Islamist rebellion in northern Mali that began in January.
The rebellion began as a new iteration of a decades-long struggle by a nomadic ethnic group, the Tuaregs, to gain autonomy from a central government based in the south that it had long accused of neglect and persecution. However, reportedly the rebellion has been monopolised by a local Islamist movement, the Ansar Dine or Defenders of the Faith.
Sex work, HIV risk and human rights
Date: 24 July 2012
A session entitled 'Criminalising Condoms and Sex Work' showed that public health efforts are being blocked by police. A report from the Open Society Foundation showed that sex workers from countries as varied as Kenya, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, United States and Zimbabwe face police harassment for carrying condoms. In Russia, 80% of sex workers said that police had confiscated condoms and in Namibia, 50% of sex workers actually had their condoms destroyed. A representative from Zimbabwe's Sexual Health Centre reported similar similar experiences. Because of this, there seems to be a marked decrease in condom use among sex workers. 60% of the Namibian sex workers in the study who saw their condoms destroyed went on to continue sex work without condoms. Another study, from Uganda, found that police harassment also increased the risk of violence, with sex workers rushing their negotiations due to police presence.
Policies that stigmatise and marginalise sex workers go beyond law enforcement. The International AIDS Conference host country, the United States, has been heavily criticised this week for denying sex workers visas to enter the country and attend the conference . A Sex Worker Freedom Festival took place during the same week in Kolkata, India, as an alternative conference hub for sex workers denied entry to the United States.
Male circumcision and HIV transmission - conflicting reports
Date: 26 July 2012
Voluntary medical male circumcision is being seen as one of the most promising interventions to reduce HIV transmission, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The XIX International AIDS Conference heard about progress in rolling out circumcision programmes in the region, for example in Nyanza Province in Kenya where 80% of men aged 15-24 years had been circumcised.
However, presenters raised the challenge of burn out for staff conducting circumcisions. The conference heard calls for task shifting the procedure from doctors to nurses and medical auxiliaries.
Also at the conference there is growing unease about how the contexts in which circumcision is being carried out - where people do not always do as advised in the trials. One study from Zimbabwe showed that 14% of the partners of circumcised men were infected with HIV, compared to a prevalence of 12% in the partners of uncircumcised men - although the related panel discussion acknowledged that some men may have become HIV positive before they were circumcised.
Other delegates raised concern about recent study findings showing that partners of circumcised men appeared to have increased risk of transmission to their partners. This was described as possibly because sexual activity was resumed before healing had finished.
Publication: Series on men who have sex with men, Lancet
Date: 30 July 2012
Source: The Lancet
All articles are available free online to Lancet subscribers (subscription is free).
Namibian High Court ruling on sterilisation of HIV-positive women
Date: 30 July 2012
The Namibian High Court has ruled that the human rights of three HIV-positive women were violated when they were coerced into being sterilised while they gave birth, but the judge dismissed claims that the sterilisation amounted to discrimination based on their HIV status.
Southern Africa Litigation Centre, the legal aid group that supported the women, claimed the decision was a victory for HIV-positive women, as it reaffirms their right over what is done to their body. The judgment allows the women to seek damages from the government. Another group, the Namibian Womens Health Network were unhappy about the judge's decision on discrimination and are considering whether to appeal the decision. The ruling that the women failed to show they were discriminated against based on their HIV status, made the win bittersweet.
The case is the first of its kind in southern Africa was filed in 2009. The women chose to have caesarean sections at public hospitals to reduce their chances of transmitting HIV to their children, but said the doctors told them they could only have the procedure if they agreed to be sterilised at the same time.
More cases are pending in Namibia. Activist groups hope that the decision will encourage the Ministry of Health to review its policies on sexual and reproductive health to women in public hospitals. The decision will have an impact beyond Namibia, with similar practices reported in Swaziland and South Africa.
Social media confessions from men who rape
Date: 29 July 2012
A user on the social media site, Reddit, asked fellow users to share their experiences as perpetrators of sexual assault. What resulted was a huge number of comments, mostly a 'part mass-confessional and part exhibitionist spectacle in which some users offered one another virtual absolution in the same way society often already does'.
The main lesson from the experience is that men who rape can look and act like everyone else, almost right up until they start raping. The article provides a stream of examples of women who thought they could trust a friend and ended up being raped. The common thread is that none of them looked or acted like rapists, and few in their lives, unless they were reported, suspects they were. In many cases, the men were not the violent sexual predators women have been taught to expect and guard against. At some point, they all simply stop caring how you feel because that is not remotely necessary for it to feel good to them.
The article concludes that the people who need to be educated about rape are men and boys. 'They need to learn that sex isn't a thing they do with their genitals to the genitals of another person at whom they don't look, let alone see. It is something they can engage in and share with another person and, if the other person - the whole of other person - isn't sharing in the sexual act, for whatever reason, at whatever moment, then it's not sex. That's when it becomes rape - and no matter what you look like, or what other good you've done in your life, you're then a rapist. And, if the men who admitted to it on Reddit are any guide, no matter how they justified it in the moment, they know it.'
Publication: Sexual and reproductive rights and human rights
Date: 27 July 2012
Amnesty International have published a new report - Realizing Sexual And Reproductive Rights: A Human Rights Framework.
The report sets out the link between human rights and the improvement of sexual and reproductive health and explains how an effectively implemented ICPD Programme of Action would contribute both to the realisation of human rights and to better development and population indicators.
The report spells out the key sections of the Programme of Action and highlights gaps in and challenges to its implementation in relation to sexual and reproductive rights. The report includes simple key messages throughout and ends with a recommendations - for governments and civil society - to end exclusion, increase participation and accountability and ensure sexual and reproductive rights as human rights.
HIV and injectable hormonal contraceptives - links remain unclear
Date: 27 July 2012
There has been further contradictory evidence on whether hormonal contraceptives, especially injectable ones, raise the risk to women of acquiring HIV and, if they already have HIV, of developing AIDS.
A review of a randomised controlled trial of herpes suppression in serodiscordant couples, found strengthened evidence for increased risk. Women using injectable contraceptives were 2.6 times more likely to acquire HIV, and women using DMPA (Depo Provera) were 3.4 times more likely to acquire HIV. Another study, investigating progression to AIDS in women using either a copper intra-uterine device or DMPA as contraceptives, found a 60% raised risk of progression to AIDS in HIV-positive women using DMPA, although the study did not study comparable results for women using oral contraception or condoms only.
However, two meta-analyses by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found no link between hormonal contraceptives in general and between HIV acquisition or progression in 20 studies. They did find an increased risk of HIV in women using DMPA in one out of 15 studies. Unfortunately, none of these studies were specifically designed to look at an association between HIV incidence or progression and contraception method as a primary outcome.
In March 2012, the World Health Organization released guidance recommending that women using hormonal contraception should still do so, but that they should pay extra attention to using condoms, especially if using injectable progesterone-only formulations such as DMPA or NET-En (norethisterone enanthate).
In audience discussion at the XIX International AIDS Conference, people felt that the evidence against DMPA, especially, had grown stronger and some advocated that women should be told to stop using it. Others argue that the evidence is still not strong enough for a ban, especially in countries where Depo Provera is the only available hormonal contraceptive method. Following an audience poll, the consensus was that young women should be fully informed about the possible risks and benefits of injectable contraception so they can make a choice about using it.
End second-class HIV prevention, Catholic call for condoms
Date: 26 July 2012
The XIX International AIDS conference has drawn attention to the involvement of faith-based organisations in providing AIDS care around the world. According to the Vatican, Catholic agencies provide one quarter of HIV care globally.
Catholics for Choice and others have been campaigning for catholic leaders to accept the importance of condoms for addressing HIV. The pope has acknowledged that condoms are a moral choice in preventing the spread of HIV. The Condoms4Life campaign has been active at the AIDS conference to capitalise on that statement.
UNICEF backs life-long HIV treatment for all HIV-positive pregnant women
Date: 26 July 2012
Whilst Option B+ is the most expensive option, UNICEF and the Business Leadership Council for a Generation Born HIV-Free suggest that there may be a net savings resulting from the higher numbers using the treatment. Another advantage is the possible reduction of HIV transmission to male partners of HIV-positive women. UNICEF has also called attention to the moral argument - the right of every woman to live, regardless of her maternal status.
There are also voices raising caution about the push to introduce Option B+, noting the lack of long-term data on the outcomes of implementation and a call to remember the need to treat all women with CD4 cell counts under 350, regardless of whether they are pregnant or not.
Brazilian protest against medicalisation of births, call for solidarity
On Sunday 5 August, women's rights activists will hold a protest in Rio de Janeiro against two resolutions released by the Medical Council of Rio de Janeiro (CREMERJ) earlier this month.
The first resolution prohibits midwives or doulas (trained, lay support during and after childbirth) from attending women in hospitals and maternity wards. Nurse-midwives would be tolerated under doctors' supervision. Non-compliant hospital doctors will be considered to have violated ethics. The second resolution prohibits any doctor from supporting birth outside a hospital setting or attending women transferred from birth centres or home births. There would be mandatory reporting to the Council of any out-of-hospital births and punishment for non-reporting as an ethical offence. Non-compliant doctors could have their medical licenses revoked.
Activists see this as even greater pressure on women to submit to elective caesarean section births or have aggressively-managed vaginal birth. The caesarean section rate in private hospitals in Rio de Janeiro is over 85% and the national caesarean rate in all hospitals in 2010 was 52%. In response, many women are choosing midwife care, delivery in birth centres or home births. Although there has been a lot of pressure from doctors to restrict women's use of alternative childbirth options, this is the first time there has been a call for such options to be effectively outlawed.
Activist groups argue that CREMERJ's proposed resolutions are illegal, against the best scientific evidence concerning care during childbirth and a violation of women's human rights. They also contravene Ministry of Health guidelines and World Health Organization recommendations. The Rio de Janeiro Nursing Council has released an official statement repudiating the Medical Council's resolutions.
Together with the public demonstrations, activists are organising legal action against the Council and demanding a formal and firm reaction from the Ministry of Health.
Please sign the online petition to protect the right of Brazilian women to choice.
Hospitals suspend infant male circumcision, Austria, Switzerland
Date: 25 July 2012
In response to a ruling last month in a local court in Germany, which stipulated that in future doctors should be punished for carrying out infant circumcisions, several hospitals in German and Switzerland have suspended male circumcision. A hospital in Zurich announced that it wanted to investigate public concerns about the procedure and the governor of an Austrian province has told state-run hospitals to stop circumcisions except for health reasons until the legal situation was clarified.
A group of orthodox rabbis warned this week of the possibility of further restrictions to their religious freedom.
The German government is expected to propose a bill this autumn which would ensure that circumcision remains legal in the country.
World Bank chief calls for HIV and poverty eradication
Date: 25 July 2012
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, announced his determination to eradicate global poverty through goals, targets and measuring success in the same way that he led the '3 by 5' campaign for expansion of HIV treatment in 2003.
German decision to outlaw male circumcision
Date: 27 June 2012 and 18 July 2012
Police practices fuel HIV epidemic, US
Date: 19 July 2012
Police in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and San Francisco are confiscating condoms from sex workers and transgender women, undermining health department campaigns to reduce HIV, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch.
The report documents how police and prosecutors are using the fact that sex workers and transgender women carrying condom to support prostitution charges. The practice makes sex workers and transgender women reluctant to carry condoms for fear of arrest, causes them to engage in sex without protection and puts them at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Few of these women filed complaints, for fear of further abuse and because they had no faith that police would respond with fairness and integrity. Police and prosecutors defended the use of condoms as evidence, saying that the practice was necessary to enforce anti-prostitution laws and that condoms are one tool that helps obtain convictions against prostitutes, their clients, and those involved in sex trafficking.
The report calls on the US Department of Justice to investigate police treatment of sex workers and transgender people and calls for local, state and federal leadership to stop the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution.
The full report in English can be downloaded here and the executive summary and recommendations can be downloaded here in Spanish.
Publication: Action for sexual and reproductive rights, Asia-Pacific
Date: 13 July 2012
The report highlights key discussions, responses and recommendations around the six priority issues identified prior to the meeting that impact the SRHR of women and young girls - universal access to sexual and reproductive health, poverty, climate change, displacements and migration, food security and religious extremism.
The report presents the way forward, through the Kuala Lumpur Call to Action, which makes specific demands from governments, international organisations and other duty bearers, with sub-regional and regional action plans to operationalise these calls.
US drug agency approves pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention
Date: 16 July 2012
English schools deny girls HPV vaccine
Date: 18 July 2012
An investigation by GP magazine found 24 schools in 83 of England's 152 local health areas were opting out of the vaccination programme. The majority of schools opting out did not tell their family doctors nor gave information to parents and girls about where the girls could be offered the vaccine.
The reasons schools gave for not giving the jab included 'not in keeping with the school ethos', 'pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage' and 'the school does not want parents/students to feel pressured by peers or the school setting'. The Royal College of General Practitioners said that all family doctors needed to be informed about which pupils were being denied vaccines at school to help cut cervical cancer deaths.
Every year, 1,000 women in the UK die from cervical cancer.
Mother to child HIV transmission rates still falling, South Africa
Date: 23 July 2012
There has been a significant decline in mother-to-child HIV transmission in South Africa for the second consecutive year, with new data showing that just 2.7% of babies born to HIV-positive women had HIV by six weeks of age, down from 8% in 2008.
The new figures, released by South Africa's Medical Research Council, UNICEF, the US Centers for Disease Control and others, show a significant decrease from the rate of 3.5% presented this time last year. The research, conducted between April 2011 and March 2012, shows there are also fewer provincial differences than in 2011, when rates ranged from nearly 6% to about 2.5%. Significant improvements were recorded in provinces where the provision of PMTCT services had been poor, such as rural areas in Mpumalanga and Free State provinces. Less than 2% of babies born to women living with HIV in these regions now contract HIV. Researchers estimate that about 120,000 infant HIV infections were averted as a result of expanded provision of PMTCT services.
The results were welcomed by South Africa's Health Minister. He stated that the government and its research partners are planning surveys to examine what percentage of mother-to-child transmission occurs after six weeks, the point at which surveillance currently stops.
Bid to free woman victim of anti-abortion law, El Salvador
Date: 23 July 2012
The hearing in Sonsorate region will hear allegations that the trial violated legal procedures by delivering its verdict based on the word of the doctor alone, despite a lack of evidence and a post-mortem on the fetus.
Attempts to induce abortion now represent the second highest cause of maternal mortality in El Salvador, with 110 deaths per 100,000 live births. Under law, medical staff must report to the police any women who have terminated their pregnancy.
This case is similar to a similar case highlighted recently, in which 'Manuela' received a similar jail sentence. She died from cancer shortly afterwards.
Global Campaign for Microbicides to close
Date: 23 July 2012
Global Female Condom Day, September 2012
Save the date!
Global Female Condom Day, 12 September 2012
The female condom has the potential to revolutionise safer sex practices for women and men around the world.
On 12 September 2012, join HIV, reproductive health and justice, women's health, youth and gay men's health organisations and advocates from around the world for the first ever Global Female Condom Day.
The female condom is a highly effective safe-sex option for women, men, and youth, but most people remain unaware about female condoms or are unable to access them. Global Female Condom Day aims to increase the number of women and men around the world who know about, use, and advocate for female condoms.
Click here to become part of Global Female Condom Day.
Blow for HIV treatment as prevention
Date: 24 July 2012
A Ugandan study has found that HIV treatment has not reduced new infections in heterosexual couples of differing HIV status. This is a blow for advocates of 'treatment as prevention'. The study was presented at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington DC.
The study found no difference in the rate of HIV infections in the HIV-negative partner when the HIV-positive partner was taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) and had undetectable viral load, compared to couples where the positive partner was not on treatment.
The survey was conducted in 586 HIV patients and their long-term partners who were attending a clinic in Jinja, Uganda. During the two-year study period, there were 17 new HIV infections - eight in people not taking ART and nine in patients on ART, with no significant difference in those on ART and those not yet on ART. The factors that were significantly related to transmission were having a viral load of over 1000 copies/ml, early age of sexual debut in women, being in a polygamous relationship and situations where "men took the decision on whether to have sex" - suggesting possible sexual coercion.
The findings are very different to previous randomised controlled trials which found a significant reduction in HIV transmissions. The presenter of the study warned that it may demonstrate how hard it is to translate the results of randomised controlled trials to real-life situations in low-income countries.
The abstract can be viewed here on the conference website.
Shame of gay murders highlighted on Mandela Day, South Africa
Date: 18 July 2012
CUPID female condom prequalified by World Health Organization
Date: 17 July 2012
Source: Universal Access to Female Condoms Joint Programme
Sexual health significantly worsens, England
Date: 31 May 2012
Unsafe abortion, adolescents and young women in Asia Pacific
Date: 19 April 2012
Family planning summit mobilises new commitments amidst silence on abortion
Date: 13 July 2012
However, despite impressive commitments, an essential component of reproductive health remains missing from the summit discussions - free and legal abortion. Much is being made in the media of Melinda Gates' personal commitment to increasing access to contraceptives, given that she is a practising Catholic. But talking about abortion was clearly one step too far.
In a blog on the conference, Marge Berer argues that while contraception helps people not to have children if and when they don't want to, it is not enough on its own and it never has been. The need for the means to control fertility is part of a much broader set of needs related to reproduction and sexuality - free of fear of violence and negative outcomes, including being able to have a safe abortion without fear of death or condemnation when an unwanted pregnancy occurs.
Marge Berer will be blogging about these issues in the light of the FP Summit over the next weeks - watch our blog!
The other summit co-host, the UK government faced criticism this week from an all-party parliamentary report into restrictions in access to contraception in the UK. The parliamentary enquiry highlighted barriers, especially those facing women over the age of 25, as well as girls and women of all ages who are not residents and women who are not able to get a doctor's prescription for long-acting reversible methods of contraception. More information on the report is in our news and the report can be viewed here.
New family planning policy briefs to strengthen delivery systems and expand access
Date: 17 July 2012
'Strengthening health system response: no opportunities missed' offers policy, programming and research recommendations to increase women's access to postpartum, abortion, postabortion and emergency contraception. The brief calls for family planning services to be an essential component of antenatal through to postpartum or post abortion care, provide women counselling and a variety of contraceptive methods at the point of care and ensure sufficient funding so that services can be provided not only in health facilities but at community level.
'Optimizing the health workforce for effective family planning services' recommends adaptation of locally appropriate task shifting policies for family planning counselling and services and introduce standardised, competency-based training for family planning providers.
'Strategies to increase use of long-acting and permanent contraception' focuses on the importance of strategies that increase access to long-acting and permanent methods for women and men in their communities and that improve training and supervision for intrauterine device and implant insertion and removal techniques.
'Expanding access to contraceptive services for adolescents' outlines the policies necessary for provision of accurate, age-appropriate and comprehensive sexuality education for all adolescents, including engaging adolescents as full partners in programme design, delivery and monitoring.
New global data on sexually transmitted infections
Date: 17 July 2012
Abortion hotline opens in Kenya
The hotline was launched by Women on Waves, Women on Web and activists from Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda and the hotline uses software from Freedom Fone, a Zimbawean open-source initiative.
Indigenous women face reproductive health barriers, Guatemala
Date: 16 July 2012
Turkey restriction on caesarian births
Date: 15 July 2012
Uganda bans NGOs over 'pro-gay' stance
Date: 20 June 2012
Publication: Sex, choice and control
Date: 22 June 2012
Action Aid launched the report - 'Sex, choice, control: the reality of family planning for women and girls today' during the global summit on family planning. ActionAid stresses that improving access to contraceptives is just one of many issues. Many women and girls are prevented from using contraceptives because of social barriers caused by gender inequality. Many women and girls' sexual experiences are forced. Often husbands make decisions about family size, and compel their wives to have unsafe sex.
The report can be downloaded here.
AIDS-free generation? Not without women!
Five years ago, women overtook men as the majority of people in the world living with HIV. Young women aged 15-24 years make up three quarters of all new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV is the top killer of women in their childbearing years and HIV was responsible for 60,000 maternal deaths in 2008. In the last two years, HIV infections have nearly doubled among African American women in Washington, D.C. - site of the forthcoming XIX International AIDS Conference in two weeks.
UK parliamentary report highlights contraceptive restrictions in UK
Date: 10 July 2012
The report is available online here.
Sexual refugees struggle to access asylum in Africa
Date: 9 July 2012
A recent study by the Cape Town-based NGO, People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty, highlightes the high levels of discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) asylym seekers.The 25 asylum seekers whose stories are featured in the report reveal a combination of xenophobia and homophobia from landlords, employers, police and Home Affairs officials. LGBTI asylum seekers are shunned by the refugee community for their sexuality and also often excluded from the local gay community by being foreign. Almost half of those interviewed did not state their sexual orientation or gender identity in their asylum claims, in most cases because they did not know this was a valid reason for seeking refugee status. Of the 14 interviewees who had stated their sexuality as the primary reason for claiming asylum, most had faced ridicule or inappropriate questions and only two had been successful in their claims.
The lack of training of home affairs officials in cases of asylum based on sexuality is reflected in other countries. A report released by Human Rights First in May documents the many security risks faced by LGBTI refugees living in Kenya and Uganda and the threat of arrest if they attempt to seek police protection. Most responded either by frequently moving to new locations or by attempting to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.
More Irish women going abroad for abortions
The number of women seeking assistance to have abortions in Britain is set to double for the third year in a row because of tough economic conditions, according to Abortion Support Network, a London-based charity that helps Irish women travel for abortions. The charity challenges official UK government figures citing an overall decline, stating that many women disguise their background or travel further afield to the Netherlands or Spain using cheap air flights.
Major demonstrations have been planned in Belfast on Saturday by both anti-abortion and pro-choice campaigners. Abortion is illegal in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland - part of the United Kingdom.
In April, the Irish government rejected a private member's bill seeking to provide limited access to abortion. The government said the Irish parliament should await the report of an expert group, which was appointed after the European court of human rights ruled that the Irish state had failed to implement existing rights to lawful abortion where a mother's life is at risk.
Latin America and Caribbean commits to reproductive health and rights
Date: 6 July 2012
The Ad-Hoc Committee of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean on Population, Territory, and Sustainable Development has been meeting in Quito, Columbia. Civil society networks have issued a declaration - the full text is available in English and Spanish.
The civil society declaration urges governments to place human rights at the centre of all development policies, consider sexual and reproductive rights of all girls and women within these policies, promote full participation and recognise inequalities.
The conference outcome document has two agreements. The first agreement upgrades the Committee on Population and Development to that of a Conference, requiring ECLAC to ensure regular consultations with civil society in its Technical Commission and in all its work. The second agreement is a resolution on the meeting theme - Population, Territory and Sustainable Development and other Priority Activities. The resolution commits to the sexual and reproductive rights of all women, adolescents and young people, comprehensive services including access for adolescents and young people, elimination of violence against women and equal access of women to labour markets.
The civil society network commend Brazil and Uruguay for leading the process and ensuring the inclusion of sexual and reproductive rights of women and adolescents. Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Peru have all been commended for their support.
Bangladesh birth registration goes online to prevent child marriage
Date: 3 July 2012
The Bangladeshi government is placing birth data online to combat high levels of child marriage. All birth registration date is due to be accessible online by June 2013.
In June, local officials in Khustia District successfully challenged the imminent marriage of a 15-year-old girl whose family were trying to hide her age. Officials demanded proof that she had reached the legal marrying age of 18. When her parents could not provide documentation, the marriage was not approved.
The 2007 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey recorded that 66 percent of women aged 20-24, mainly in rural areas, were married before they were 18 years old. Issues such as endemic sexual harassment and high dowry payments contribute to continued high levels of early marriage.
African countries have lowest levels of contraception use
Date: 9 July 2012
The World Health Organization has produced an interactive map that shows the level of contraceptive use globally.
African countries have the lowest levels of contraception use in the world, trailing countries in Europe and the rest of the globe by significant amounts. Chad has the lowest levels of contraception use, with just 2.8% of women or their partners using some form of birth control and Angola, Sudan, Eritrea and Sierra Leone also all under 10% of women.
The information comes from interagency data collected by WHO and measures the percentage of women aged 15-49, married or in-union, who together use some form of contraception. Individual country information can be found by clicking the individual country here.
Polish authorities confirm that refusal to sell contraceptives is illegal
Date: 13 June 2012
Poland's Main Pharmaceutical Inspector has responded to a letter submitted by the Federation for Women and Family Planning, in which it had questioned the legality of pharmacists' refusal to sell contraceptives. There has been a rise in the number of pharmacists refusing to sell contraceptives citing conscientious objection because of their catholic beliefs.
In her response, the Main Pharmaceutical Inspector confirms that the pharmaceutical law does not give pharmacists an option to use the so-called conscience clause based on their religious beliefs.
The Federation for Women and Family Planning is collecting reports on breaches of the law.
Husband violence, West Africa
Date: 3 July 2012
Global Family Planning Summit to exclude abortion
Date: 3 July 2012
Yet the summit does not plan to directly address the need to simultaneously improve access to safe abortions. According to WHO, at least 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year based on official reports - many more cases go unreported.
Philippines increases contraception budget
Date: 2 July 2012
International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion launched
Date: 3 July 2012
Our Bodies Ourselves launches national campaign
Date: 1 July 2012
Celebrating the life of Joan Dunlop
Date: 29 June 2012
From a press release from IWHC:
See here for the Coalition's statement.
No HPV vaccine and risky sexual behaviour link for UK girls
Date: 3 July 2012
UK report finds PIP implants not toxic
Date: 18 June 2012
The review found that PIP implants have double the rupture rate of other implants but found insufficient evidence to recommend the routine removal of PIP implants. However, the report did recognise the concern that the issue was causing and recommended that women who have symptoms of a rupture, such as tenderness, soreness or lumpiness, should speak to their surgeon or local doctor. Around 47,000 women in the UK have had the implants fitted, of whom around 95% were fitted privately.
Advice for UK patients has not changed. Any women who had PIP implants fitted for free by the national health service can get them removed and replaced free of charge. In Wales the NHS will also replace those of private patients. In England and Scotland the NHS will remove implants of private patients but not replace them.
Rio+20 failing women and future generations
Date: 25 June 2012
The WMG are greatly disappointed with the results of the conference. They believe that the governments of the world have failed both women and future generations.
There are four major areas of concern.
The decision to exclude reproductive rights - a central aspect of gender equality and sustainable development - from the final Rio+20 Outcome Document is a step back from Agenda 21 and the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action. There is an urgent need for governments worldwide to reaffirm these commitments to gender equality, and in particular, sexual and reproductive health and rights, so that all women and men, adolescents and youth can live their lives to their fullest potential.
Women condemn the lack of strong commitment to womens rights to land, property and inheritance and to peoples' right to a healthy environment.
The critical connection between climate change and gender is not mentioned at all, excluding women's daily experiences of the heavy impact of climate change and the huge potential contribution to climate mitigation and adaptation that could be made by women. WMG is very disappointed that there are no concrete measures to assure women's right to access to and control of the natural resources that are the basis of their livelihoods, in particular the mining section does not assure rights of impacted communities.
The Rio+20 outcome document does not give governments the urgently necessary framework to shift financial resources away from unsustainable and inequitable energy systems to necessary investments in decentralised renewable energy systems. There is an increased focus on private financing and no commitment for new financial mechanisms such as the Financial Transaction Tax. WMG is pleased with the agreement to address illicit financial flows.
Women call for a seat for a representative of civil society's womens organisations on the expert panel for the Sustainable Development Goals and call for gender balance in the composition of the panel.
The full statement can be read in English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese on WECF's website.
Cervical cancer in Uganda - the silent killer
Date: 25 June 2012
Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting Ugandan women. WHO reports that every year 3,577 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 2,464 die from the disease - roughly the same number of deaths as road accident deaths in Uganda in 2010. Cervical cancer kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer every year.
There is a desperate shortage of facilities that can treat cervical cancer, with advanced stage cases allre referred to Kampala. Few women in rural Uganda can afford the cost of treatment at Mulago Hospital, the country's largest referral facility and many cannot even raise the cost of transport to the capital.
There is little information available on screening for cervical cancer, but a 2006 study found that 19% of medical workers at Mulago Hospital had never been screened for the disease and 78% said they never asked patients if they had been screened or referred for screening.
Fury over forced abortion, China
Date:14 June 2012
National and local family planning organisations are reporting the matter. It is alleged that a 23-year-old woman was forced to the hospital and the pregnancy forcibly terminated after her family failed to pay a fine. The couple has a 6-year-old daughter and is not entitled to a second child based on their situation and the country's family planning policy.
Photos showing the mother and the baby born dead were uploaded online a week after the abortion. The statements from the husband and the local family planning bureau contradict each other, with the husband claiming that she was forced against her will and the local authority denying this and stating that claimed the abortion was conducted according to law.
Online posts about the case have triggered a torrent of criticism directed at the local government and sparked debate about the national family planning policy. Fines imposed on families with extra children are under scrutiny because of the inequity that enables wealthy families to have multiple children and also because government income from such fees have not been publicly explained.
Activists pursue maternal health case despite court setback, Uganda
Date: 15 June 2012
A petition backed by over 50 NGOs and charging Uganda's government with failing to prevent the deaths of expectant mothers was thrown out by the constitutional court on 5 June. The petition's supporters plan to appeal.
The petition centred around the deaths of two mothers and represents their family. The petition got nationwide media coverage when it was filed in March 2011. It said the women's deaths could have been prevented if the health centres where they died had had "basic indispensable health maternal commodities" and if health workers at the facilities had not neglected the two women.
The constitutional court argued that upholding the petition, which urges the government to boost health services, would have forced judges to wade into a political issue that was outside their jurisdiction. The Principal State Attorney said the petition was asking the court to do the work of the parliament in reviewing the efficiency of the health sector. In throwing out the case, the justices suggested the petitioners seek an order from the high court compelling a public officer, such as a government health worker, to carry out his or her duties, or to request compensation for individual deaths from the government.
The petitioners said the court relied on outdated international law in making its decision and overlooked its constitutional obligation to protect Ugandas mothers. The petitioners have 50 days to finalise and file the appeal. The case has raised awareness of the country's ongoing maternal deaths and helped rally people around the cause. It will not stop here.
LGBTI and social media in Africa
Date: 22 April 2012
Social media is starting to be used to share news, resources and mobilise communities. These include the news site Gender Dynamix, which acts as a resource and news portal on transgender and transsexual issues, and Behind the Mask, which is a Pan-African LGBTI news and resource site.
Egyptian women refuse to be silenced by assaults
Date: 14 June 2012
In the recent and ongoing demonstrations in Egypt, women are again facing assault but remain determined to hold their space. In recent weeks, a female protester in Tahrir Square was sexually assaulted by a mob of around 200 men. At a rally to protest the incident, about 50 women and their male allies were chased away by another mob. Participants were forced to flee for their safety.
The lack of safety for women in the square symbolises just how little women have benefited from the revolution they helped create. During the first weeks of protest last year, there was an almost unprecedented freedom for women to move around unharrassed in public. But that swiftly changed at an International Women's Day 2011 demonstration, where women were violently attacked. Months of assaults from civilians and uniformed military people have followed. Activists believe that the attacks are systematic and fueled by organised groups. But activists will continue to speak out for womens freedom and the end of sexual harassment, as political events unfold in Egypt.
UK parliamentarians conduct inquiry into child marriage
Date: 18 June 2012
Source: All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health
The UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health is conducting hearings on child marriage on 19th 20th June 2012.
Witnesses scheduled to give evidence at the hearings include survivors of child marriage, representatives from the UN and civil society organisations, and national representatives from Yemen, Ethiopia and India. The huge scale and high toll of child marriage will be investigated and recommendations on how to prevent this harmful practice and support survivors will be published. The hearing will also consider the impact in the UK. At least 10 per cent of adolescents marry before the age of 18 in Britain and France.
This month the Prime Minister announced that the UK Government will criminalise forced marriage.
Abortion debate in Turkey - online petition and photo campaign
Date: 12 June 2012
As the protests in Turkey continue, there has been a global movement of support. AWID has sent a letter to the Turkish prime minister, objecting to his recent statements in which he equated abortion with murder and the news that his party is about to introduce legislation that would severely restrict abortion rights in Turkey. The letter and contact details for sending your own letter can be viewed here.
Urgent Call to Action - reproductive rights under threat in Rio
Date: 20 June 2012
Source: Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and RESURJ
YCSRR and RESURJ have issued an urgent call for support as youth and adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights face an unprecedented attack. The draft outcome document is currently being prepared, and womens rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights organisations feel that the health and gender components are weak.
Please raise the concerns below with your national delegations or activists attending the conference or with the local media.
The official delegations (G77) have proposed removing references to young people in paragraph 147 which outlines commitments to reducing maternal mortality, improving health of women, men, youth and children and reaffirming commitments to gender equality. The draft document included commitments to youth rights to decisions on matters related to their sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive health. This was the only reference to reproductive rights in the 80 page document.
Opposition has come from the Holy See, Russia, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Chile, Syria, Egypt and Costa Rica. These governments questioned reproductive health and claimed to not understand the relationship between sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights within the context of sustainable development. The current draft has removed all references. Key players, such as the EU, have remained silent on this issue.
1. We need to mobilise in support of womens rights, specifically reproductive rights.
2. We need to reinforce and recognise the intersections between sustainable development, gender equality, women, young women and girls, and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
3. We need to not only reaffirm the full implementation of the ICPD Plan of Action, but also its subsequent Key Actions and reviews, in addition to the Beijing Declaration and the CEDAW.
4. We need to mobilise in support of youth. Removing young people from the Health and Gender Sections is unacceptable.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch with Sarah Kennell and Ivens Reyner, who are representing the YCSRR in Rio. They can be reached at:
Safe abortion: technical and policy guidance for health systems (2nd edition)
Q&A: WHO guidance on safe abortion
New publication: Safe abortion guidelines, WHO
Date: 3 June 2012
The second edition of 'Safe Abortion: Technical and Policy Guidance for Health Systems' will shortly be available on the WHO website and in print.
This new edition updates the original 2003 publication with new data on the epidemiological, clinical, service delivery, legal and human rights aspects of safe abortion care.
The substantial revisions in this update reflect improvements in all methods of abortion and related care, service delivery as it applies to the availability and use of new methods and the application of human rights for policy-making and legislation related to abortion.
Recommendations in the 2003 guidance for which there was no new evidence remain unchanged and are in the new edition.
To be informed when this document is published, please subscribe to the free WHO Reproductive Health Update - a monthly electronic newsletter of new publications, research articles and events from the WHO Department of Reproductive Health & Research.
Educating Tanzania's adolescents about unplanned pregnancy
Date: 27 May 2012
A coalition of ten Tanzanian NGOs has formed to advocate for family planning access in Tanzania. They summarise the challenges for reproductive health in Tanzania in a recent article in a national daily newspaper.
Tanzania has one of the highest adolescent pregnancy rates in the world. Nationally, an average of 23% of teenage girls have had a child. In Tanzania, the average number of births per woman is 5.4. One in four women of reproductive age have an unmet need for family planning.
The Planning Commission Executive Secretary has commented on this, stating the importance of girls staying in secondary school as a way of enhancing development and reducing unwanted early pregnancies.
South Africa exceeds HIV treatment targets by more than half
Date: 17 May 2012
South Africa exceeded national targets for new patients starting antiretroviral treatment by around 50% between 2007 and 2011 achieving treatment coverage of close to 80% of eligible adults using eligibility criteria at that time, according to research published in the March issue of The Southern African Journal of Medicine.
From mid-2004 to mid-2011, the total numbers of people receiving antiretroviral treatment increased from 47,500 to 1.79 million people. Eligibility criteria has recently changed from under 250 CD4 cells/mm3 to under 350 CD4 cells/mm3. Using new eligibility, coverage decreases to 52%.
While coverage increased overall, children and men started treatment at considerably lower ratios than women - women accounted for 61%, men 31% and children 8% of the total.
The news is encouraging, but it is still hard to be certain about the exact level of ART coverage being achieved in South Africa. The study finds that the total number of people receiving treatment lies somewhere between 1.65 and 1.93 million a variation of 300,000 people. Much of this is due to lack of data from non-government health services. Of the 1.79 million people accessing treatment in 2011, 85% received ART through the public sector, 11% through disease management programmes in the private sector, and 4% through community treatment programmes run by NGOs.
The full information on the article, by LF Johnson, can be accessed here.
Hidden violence against women living with HIV, South Africa
Date: 31 May 2012
A startling report has been launched in South Africa about the effects of hidden forms of violence on women living with HIV, from forced sterilisation to sexual assault.
The report, 'We were never meant to survive' tells the stories of 18 South African women living with HIV. It was developed by the One in Nine Campaign, which was formed in 2006 to support the woman who brought a rape charge against President Jacob Zuma. The organisation now works with survivors of sexual violence and carries out rights-based advocacy programmes.
Some of the women talk about the hidden violence and lack of love at home which some argue was part of the reason for their HIV status and a life of often desperate poverty. The report also details the generational nature of violence and how it is transmitted from mother to daughter, with mothers quoted as endorsing the sexual abuse of their daughters "just for bread".
The report explains how abuse is often made worse by unsympathetic public services and police stations. The report suggests that rural women are particularly vulnerable to abuse by police and women also tell stories of families and religious leaders encouraging women to accept violence from a partner.
The process of developing the report shows that the women who participated in the project are not victims but survivors who have challenged the structures and systems that have oppressed them all their lives.
The full report can be downloaded on One in Nine's website, along with other resources for women survivors of sexual assault and gender violence.
Urgent appeal: Sentencing to death by stoning of a woman on adultery charges, Sudan
Date: 1 June 2012
Please also write to the embassies of Sudan in your respective country.
Parliamentarians pledge support for reproductive health
Date: 26 May 2012
Around 300 members of parliament from 110 countries have pledged to advocate for increased funding for full implementation of the decades-old ICPD Programme of Action, adopted in Cairo, Egypt in 1994.
Members of Parliament were attending the two-day Fifth International Parliamentarians' Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Istanbul, Turkey.
The participants issued a statement calling for increased funding for entire implementation of the ICPD agenda from national budgets, external donors and other sources, including the private sector, both local and multinational. Attendees also promised to strive towards allocating 10% of national development budgets and development assistance budgets to population and reproductive health programmes. This statement indicates a clear path towards implementing the ICPD Programme, whose original deadline of 2014 is fast approaching.
The secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development commented that, if the ICPD is to chart a new way forward, policy makers will have to address the over-politicisation of sexual and reproductive health.
Launch of International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict
The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict is a global collaboration between the Nobel Women's Initiative - women Nobel Peace Laureates who came together in 2006 to support women human rights defenders- and international advocacy organisations and grassroots groups working in conflict areas.
The campaign focuses on three main areas - prevention, protection and ending impunity. The campaign is focusing in the first year on four target countries - Burma, Colombia, DRC and Kenya - where rape is a serious and ongoing problem and where fast action is needed.
The campaign has an advisory committee of 25 organisations, as well as member organisations and individuals who have joined the campaign. Already, since its launch on May 6-13, 2012, the campaign has nearly 600 organisations in 125 countries and several thousand individuals.
The campaign will focus on a week of action in each of the four target countries, leading to engaging and presenting its advocacy and findings to governments and parliaments.
Abortion or life, no choice in Northern Ireland
Date: 1 June 2012
Four brave women in the Republic of Ireland recently decided to speak publicly about their experiences of having to travel to the UK for abortions. Each of the women had been told that babies which had been planned and were wanted were suffering from severe abnormalities and would not survive outside the womb.
Three of the women spoke to the Irish Times and three appeared on a late night television show, explaining how and why they had come to their decisions. Public reaction was overwhelmingly positive, showing that change is underway in the Republic.
Not so in Northern Ireland, where the parliament has not yet taken account of its legal duty and of the reality of women's lives. It has been 11 years since the Northern Ireland Family Planning Association sought a judicial review of the UK Department of Health's failure to issue guidelines on when an abortion is legal in this jurisdiction. Guidelines were issued in 2007 but later that year the Northern Ireland Assembly's health committee succeeded in having the guidelines rejected on moral grounds. A further set of narrower guidelines issued in 2009 were also abandoned following legal action from anti-abortion groups. The new Health Minister stated that he was considering termination of pregnancy guidance, with no date set for its publication and a year later there has still no action.
Contraception museum celebrates fifth birthday, Austria
Date: 1 June 2012
The museum displays a range of contraception options from historical to present day - from half pressed lemons which were used as contraception in Europe in the 18th century to Coca Cola in the 20th century to condoms made of sheep's intestines.
The goal of the museum is to provide scientifically accurate information about the past, present and future of contraception, pregnancy testing and abortion to every woman and every man. In 2011 the museum had over 20.000 visitors.
The museum's website can be viewed in English, French and German.
Turkish protests against plans to curb abortion
Date: 3 June 2012
The Health Minister said last week the bill would be submitted to the parliament this month to curb abortion. Abortion has been legal in Turkey since 1983 up to 10 weeks from conception. But under the proposed legislation wants to drastically reduce the time limit to as little as four weeks.
The prime minister, has called abortion "murder" and he has repeatedly called on women to have at least three children. This is despite a commitment by the prime minister to uphold ICPD commitments in the recent parliamentarian conference in Istanbul.
The health minister had also announced plans to penalise hospitals that carry out elective caesarean sections, calling them unnatural.
You can sign a petition calling on the Prime Minister of Turkey to stop the bill here.
Click here to view a video of the protest and the campaign.
Zambia's new constitution may limit women's reproductive rights
Date: 19 May 2012
Zambia's new draft constitution states that women have the right to reproductive health. However, another article in the same draft constitution states that a person has the right to life beginning at conception. The Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia has expressed concern over this clause. They point out that determining the point of fertilisation is medically difficult. The Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia opposes the clause that stated that life begun at conception because it would compromise the human rights of women in Zambia and call for the new draft to be consistent with international human rights law.
New guide: Pregnancy pathways for teenagers, UK
Date: 22 May 2012
The UK organisation, Education for Choice, has just launched a new tool aimed at planners and service providers who are involved in supporting teenagers who are pregnant or who are worried about becoming pregnant.
The tool sees the pregnancy pathway as a continuum from education about pregnancy, through access to pregnancy prevention services, good quality impartial support with pregnancy decision-making, referral into abortion and maternity services and finally back into contraceptive services.
The tool is interactive and provides a series of audit questions that can be completed online or downloaded, so that service providers can measure how well they are doing. Although some information is UK-specific, the good practice guidelines and essential service linkages are relevant for all settings.
The tool is hosted on this website, and is free to download.
Attempted shooting of Colombian abortion rights activist
Date: 13 May 2012
On 7 May, Mónica Roa was sitting at her desk in her offices in Bogotá when a bullet hit the window next to her desk - and a further five followed. It seems most likely that the attack was timed with this week's sixth anniversary of Colombia's landmark Constitutional Court decision revising one of the world's most prohibitive abortion laws. Roa, as programme director of international rights group, Women's Link Worldwide, had filed the case, which eventually liberalised the total abortion ban to allow for abortion in the instances of rape, incest, severe fetal abnormality, or when there is a risk to the life or physical or mental health of the woman.
Women's rights activists say the Constitutional Court ruling and subsequent case law are totally clear in defining how the decision should be implemented. However, the new law remains opposed by many, including the Attorney General, Alejandro Ordoñez, who has been throwing up roadblocks to enforcing the decision, rooted in his personal religious beliefs.
Earlier this year a criminal complaint was filed against Roa by the Attorney General's deputy, which seems to be a response to a case submitted to the Constitutional Court by Women's Link Worldwide along with over 1,200 Colombian women. The case requests that the Attorney General and his deputies give true and accurate information on sexual and reproductive rights, complying with the Constitution and the jurisprudence of the Court.
Women's Link Worldwide recently launched a campaign to spotlight the need to have an Attorney General who complies with his or her Constitutional duties and defends the rights of all Colombians. Ordoñez's position is up at the end of 2012 and he is seeking another four-year term.
Malawi's new president commits to overturning homosexuality ban
Date: 18 May 2012
Launch of global action report on preterm birth
Each year, some 15 million babies in the world, more than one in 10 births, are born too early. An estimated three-quarters of those preterm babies who die could survive without expensive care if a few proven and inexpensive treatments and preventions were available worldwide.
The newly published report Born too soon provides the first-ever national, regional and global estimates of preterm birth. The report shows the extent to which preterm birth is on the rise in most countries and is now the second leading cause of death globally for children under five, after pneumonia.
The report is a joint effort of almost 50 international, regional and national organisations, led by the March of Dimes, The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, Save the Children and the World Health Organization. The report proposes actions for policy, programmes and research by all partners that can substantially reduce the toll of preterm birth, especially in high-burden countries.
The report is available here in English as well as supporting information, maps and country data. Other language versions will be available soon.
Medabon - combination mifepristone misoprostol - licensed for marketing in Europe
Date: 17 May 2012
Medabon® is a combination pack of mifepristone and misoprostol, that can be used for safe, early medical abortion. It is produced by Sun Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and designed by Concept Foundation, under agreement with, and using clinical data generated by WHO's Special Programme for Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction.
Since 2009, more than 1.5 million doses of Medabon® have been used in Cambodia, India, Nepal, Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia. Formal studies and routine use have shown Medabon® to have a high efficacy rate and high acceptability.
Medabon® has just received marketing authorisations from the Dutch and United Kingdom medicines regulatory authorities. Achieving registration with a stringent regulatory agency in Europe means that there can be rapid approval by regulatory authorities in several lower and middle income countries either based directly on the European approvals or through a fast-track process, which will rapidly expand the choice for women . The new combination package is being made available at a low preferential price to the public sector in developing countries.
A resource pack, developed by Concept, PATH and Ipas, provides full supportive documentation, and can be downloaded here.
US court upholds right to prosecute pregnant women on pregnancy outcomes
Date: 16 May 2012
In March 2011, Bei Bei Shuai was arrested and charged with feticide, following her desperate attempt to commit suicide by swallowing rat poison. She survived but the premature newborn she delivered by caesarean surgery did not.
Last week, the Indiana Supreme Court refused to review a Court of Appeals decision, thereby allowing her case to move forward and essentially supporting the idea that the fetal murder and feticide charges against her can be applied to all pregnant women.
Her case is not only a personal tragedy but it also sets a very dangerous precedent. A spokeswoman for National Advocates for Pregnant Women, who are supporting Bei Bei Shuai in this case, states that this decision means that women can be charged and imprisoned if they engage in any intentional act that law enforcement believes will threaten the life or health of the fertilised eggs, embryos and fetuses they carry.
Rights advocates are fighting the creeping expansion of these laws that challenge women's citizenship and rights and also challenge accepted law, logic, science and public health. Where will it end, with women potentially being charged under chemical endangerment laws because they have exposed a fetus to garden pesticides, hospital chemicals that nurses use or even prescription medicine?
Forty-seven medical and legal advocacy groups have filed amicus briefs describing their objections to this "disturbing trend". This blog argues that this is more than a slow trend, it is a planned strategic assault on women and their rights.
Statement on later abortion: Catholics for Choice and Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health
Date: 1 May 2012
New Global Equality Fund to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights
Date: 1 May 2012
The US State Department is also launching a separate small grants initiative of between $5-25K to build capacity of local civil society organisations working in country addressing LGBT issues.
Kuala Lumpur Call to Action: sexual and reproductive rights for sustainable development
The Kuala Lumpur Call to Action is a 12-point Call for sexual and reproductive health and rights for sustainable development.
More than 120 activists, advocates and civil society representatives from 27 countries in Asia and the Pacific gathered in Kuala Lumpur from May 2-4 2012. The meeting - Beyond ICPD and MDGs: NGOs Strategising for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region - culminated in the Call. This sets out a set of key messages for governments, international organisations, development partners and other duty bearers. They call for recognition of the centrality of gender equality, equity and sexual and reproductive rights for sustainable development. The call focuses on the need for accountability mechanisms are in place and adhered to, to monitor progress in achieving sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The Kuala Lumpur Call to Action can be viewed here. Please share widely!
Call for legal abortion to save mothers' lives, Botswana
Date: 2 May 2012
Botswana's Assistant Minister of Local Government has recently called for the liberalisation of abortion. Currently abortion is illegal in Botswana, except in cases of risk to health of the child or in cases of rape. Recent media coverage highlights the risks that women face, with complex and lengthy legal procedures and, reportedly, delays that prevent abortion. This call follows media reports about the growing number of deaths due to illegal abortion. Media coverage is starting to explore the need to consider the rights of women to avoid unsafe abortions.
Adolescents' right to sexual and reproductive health recognised
Date: 4 May 2012
A landmark resolution supporting young people's sexual and reproductive health and human rights has been adopted by the UN Commission on Population and Development. The resolution was adopted at the Commissions 45th session on 27 April.
The resolution calls on governments to recognise the right of young people to decide on all matters of their sexuality and provide young people access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services with full respect for their privacy and confidentiality and to protect and promote young people's right to control their sexuality free from violence, discrimination and coercion.
This includes safe abortion where legal. The resolution calls for the training and equipping of health service providers and for other measures to ensure that legal abortion is safe and accessible. The resolution also contains a number of important provisions on employment, HIV, youth participation, eliminating early and forced marriage, and others.
Read the resolution here.
At the same time, a UNICEF report on adolescents highlights the challenges faced by young men and women. The UNICEF report Progress for Children: A Report Card on Adolescents can be downloaded here.
Regional HIV bill passed without criminalisation clause, East Africa
Date: 27 April 2012
East Africa's Legislative Assembly has passed a regional HIV/AIDS Bill that seeks to protect the rights of people living with HIV and harmonise regional legislation and policy on the prevention and treatment of HIV. The East Africa Community HIV and AIDS Prevention and Management Bill (2012) was passed by the East Africa Legislative Assembly on 23 April at its fifth session, held in Nairobi. The heads of state of the member countries are expected to assent to it before it becomes law.
Activists have welcomed the passing of the Bill, because it does not criminalise the deliberate transmission of HIV, unlike some laws recently passed in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania that criminalise wilful transmission. Rwanda and Uganda have not yet passed legislation. The regional Bill has a strong focus on a human rights approach to HIV. Activists are calling for countries in the region to use this Bill as a template for their legislation.
First national data on abortion published, Rwanda
For the first time, national data has become available in Rwanda. One in 40 women aged 1544 had an abortion in 2009 - around 60,000 women - and virtually all of these abortions were illegal and highly likely to be unsafe. Of the women who had abortions in that year, 25,000 women (more than 40% of the total) suffered complications that required medical treatment. Nearly one third of these women did not receive the medical care that they required.
The study was conducted by the National University of Rwanda's School of Public Health and the Guttmacher Institute, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, found a national rate of 25 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age, lower than the rate Sub-Saharan African rate of 31 per 1,000 and Eastern African rate of 36 per 1,000.
The Minister of Health has endorsed the findings and declared that illegal abortion is an issue that must be addressed. Around one in five Rwandan women will require treatment for complications from an unsafe abortion at some point in their lifetime. The study found, while 92% of health facilities in the country provide some form of treatment for abortion complications, the majority do not use techniques recommended by the World Health Organization.
The Ministry of Health has stressed the importance of addressing the unmet need for modern contraception, incljuding moves to increase access to condoms and other forms of modern contraception.
Abortion is an extremely sensitive subject in Rwanda's culturally conservative environment. Currently abortion is only permitted in case of risk of maternal death and only with the consent of two separate doctors. Women who seek abortions can face prison sentences of one to five years, while those that facilitate the practice can be sentenced to five to ten years behind bars. There is ongoing debate in parliament over potential amendments to the Penal Code that would make it permissible to have an abortion or assist in an abortion if the woman is pregnant because of incest, rape, forced marriage or if the pregnancy threatens the health of the unborn baby or the pregnant woman. The amendment was approved by the Chamber of Deputies and is now under consideration by the Senate. There is strong religious pressure to reject the amendment but there is also substantial public pressure. This report is a welcome source of additional data to move the debate forward.
The report appears in the Journal of Family Planning here.
Kenyan High Court upholds right to health
Date: 25 April 2012
The Kenyan High Court has made a landmark ruling that will increase access to affordable, generic drugs. HIV activists say that the ruling will save millions of lives and protect the right to life of citizens.
The case was filed in July 2009 by three people living with HIV. They argued that the 2008 Anti-Counterfeit Act contained ambiguities, which, if misinterpreted or abused, would restrict Kenyans' access to essential generic medicines.
The judge found that the Act failed to clearly distinguish between counterfeit and generic medicines, noting that this could result in the arbitrary seizure of generic medicines under the pretext of fighting counterfeit drugs. The ruling orders Parliament to review several ambiguities in the Act. The judgement also ensures that government agencies cannot interfere with the importation and distribution of generic medicines.
More than 80 per cent of the drugs in Kenya are generic and largely manufactured in India. Although Kenya has not had a case where patients were denied access to generic drugs as a result of the Act, generic drugs bound for Africa had been held in Europe in the past. In 2009 a shipment of drugs headed to Nigeria was held at an airport in The Netherlands on the grounds that they violated patent rights. Other East African countries such as Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi depend on Kenyan ports to import drugs, so this ruling will also benefit patients in those countries also.
Pro-choice groups in Ireland call for new abortion legislation
Date: 25 April 2012
On 24 April, MPs in the Irish Parliament rejected a private members bill calling for the 20-year-old Supreme Court judgement to be implemented. In 1992, a court ruled that women have a legal right to have an abortion in the State, where there is a real and substantial risk to their lives, including suicide. This followed the case of X', a schoolgirl who was pregnant following sexual abuse by a friends father, and who was forbidden from leaving the country to have an abortion.
Successive Governments have failed to introduce laws that would implement the judgement. In 2002, the government tried to pass a constitutional amendment that would have even removed the right of suicidal women to an abortion. This was thankfully rejected by referendum. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights said the Irish state was breaching womens rights by failing to implement a framework to allow a woman to have access to lawful abortion, which in Ireland is only in cases of risk of suicide by the mother. This ruling has been deferred to an expert group.
So the situation remains the same for women in Ireland other than those who can afford to travel at short notice and have a medical abortion in the UK, women must wait for up to two months and then travel for a surgical abortion, with the risk of not using vital after-care services, because of the stigma about a procedure that, if performed in Ireland, could result in a conviction and a life-sentence. This applies also to women who discover late in their pregnancy that their child has a condition incompatible with birth.
This parliamentary debate was the first time that an abortion Bill was debated in the parliament. Yet despite verbal support for legal reform by many MPs, only one Labour politician the party supposedly supporting womens rights - supported the Bill.
Feminists undress to protest new abortion law, Ukraine
Date: 23 April 2012
Ukrainian feminist group Femen staged a protest last week against a Church-backed bill that would ban abortions. The women climbed the bell tower of Kiev's central Saint Sophia cathedral, stripped off their tops and rang the bells in a protest against what they called "a criminal plot between the Church and the State".
They also lowered a black banner reading "Stop" from the cathedral tower. The cathedral is a former Orthodox Church which is now officially a museum of religion and belongs to the state.
The bill, if passed, would ban voluntary abortions with a few exceptions, allegedly to boost the birth rate after the population fell from 52 to 46 million in the last 12 years. Abortion is currently legal in Ukraine up to the 12th week, and in certain cases up to the 22nd week of pregnancy. The proposed bill would apply to all abortions except special cases allowed by the law like medical emergencies.
For more news about the bill, and links to a petition signing the bill, click here.
Thai teenagers asked about soccer or sex
Date: 20 April 2012
If you are a teen with a sexual urge, what should you do? This is the question that high school students in Thailand were asked a nationwide multiple-choice test for students hoping to win a place at university. They were given five possible options to choose from:
A: Call friends to go play football (soccer)
Most students had no idea how to respond. But it became clear that not only students were confused. The story attracted media attention and Thai educational experts were interviewed to share their insights. They were uncertain but most thought that students were probably expected to pick option B - Talk to your family. There was widespread incredulity when the preferred answer was eventually revealed by the head of the national exam board that drew up the tests - option A Call friends to go play football both boys and girls.
For many Thais, the key lesson learned was that Thai officials have a total lack of understanding about the lives of teenagers and the importance of sensible sex education.
Thailand has the second-highest pregnancy rate among 15-19 year-olds in the world, according to the government. In the culturally conservative country, the subject is rarely discussed in Thai families and the university exams demonstrate how far schools are from providing suitable information to Thai youth.
For girls who do get sex unintentionally, they have limited choices. Out of the approximately 250,000 Thai teenagers who become pregnant each year, half of them seek abortions. Abortion is illegal except in cases of rape, incest or underage sex, or when the mother's physical or mental health is at risk. Even when the woman has a legal right, she faces opposition from health workers. Most women opt for illegal abortions. A small number of abortion clinics run by NGOs providing safe treatment are technically illegal, but have generally been allowed to operate, as long as they do not promote their services too openly. But recently police raided one of these clinics after a well-known model told the media she had an abortion there. This may end up discouraging some women from seeking abortions at responsible clinics.
Thai teenagers need access to safe and non-judgemental sexual and reproductive health information and services. Policy makers and service providers need to step up to meet this challenge.
Dominican Republic has new national policy on teenage pregnancy prevention
Date: 20 April 2012
Adolescent girls and boys have limited access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. This has recently changed, with a new national policy and plan to reduce teenage pregnancy.
In 2009, the Dominican Republic adopted a new constitution that rolled back gains on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and created new barriers for women who sought to access sexual and reproductive health care.
A number of civil society groups have been working since then to secure political and public support for reducing teenage pregnancy and ensuring access to youth-friendly health services and education. In the Dominican Republic, high rates of adolescent fertility and maternal mortality have attracted the attention of national authorities and civil society organizations.
Over the past several years, civil society worked with government to build the evidence for investing in adolescent reproductive health. A reproductive health budget analysis and a study that identified risk factors for teenage pregnancy built a solid foundation for advocating for a government policy to address teenage pregnancy.
Profamilia is one of the civil society organisations who are advocating for the inclusion of maternal health and preventing unwanted teenage pregnancy into policies. The Plan to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy is to be rolled out nationwide this year.
Urgent call for support for emergency contraception, Honduras
Date: 13 April 2012
The Honduran Congress is about to vote on a proposal that would send women to jail if they use the morning-after pill, even in cases of sexual assault. Doctors or anyone selling emergency contraception could also be jailed.
The Honduras Congress first passed this measure in April 2009, but just a month later the then-president bowed to pressure from campaigners and vetoed it. After the recent coup, the new regime has forced the bill back to a vote.
There is opposition within Congress to the proposed bill and local women's groups are coordinating a petition calling on the President of the Honduran Congress to stand up for women's rights.
The vote could be as early as Monday 16 April. Please sign the urgent petition here.
Publication: WHO guidelines on adolescent pregnancy prevention
Date: 16 April 2012
'Preventing early pregnancy and poor reproductive outcomes among adolescents in developing countries' has just been published by WHO.
The guidelines focus on two sets of key actions. The first set of actions seek to prevent early pregnancy by preventing marriage before 18 years of age, increasing knowledge and understanding of the importance of pregnancy prevention, increasing the use of contraception and preventing coerced sex. The second set of actions seek to prevent poor reproductive outcomes by reducing unsafe abortions and by increasing the use of skilled antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care.
The guidelines have been developed through a systematic review of the evidence and through consultation with policy-makers, programme managers and front-line workers from countries around the world, in partnership with the Guttmacher Institute, the International Center for Research on Women, Family Health International, Population Council and Centro Rosarino de Estudios Perinatales in Argentina.
The guidelines and accompanying policy brief and powerpoint slides are primarily aimed for for policy-makers, planners and programme managers from governments, NGOs and development agencies. They can be downloaded in English here.
Small step toward liberalising abortion in Brazil
Date: 12 April 2012
Brazil's Supreme Court last week voted to legalise abortion in cases where the fetus is severely brain-damaged. The measure applies specifically to cases of anencephaly, a disorder that leads to a malformation or absence of large parts of the brain and carries an overwhelming likelihood that the baby will die shortly after birth.
Brazil's abortion law is extremely strict, with a ban on all abortion except in case of rape or where the woman's life is at risk. Activists have been campaigning for this amendment for years. However, religious groups fiercely opposed the change in law, holding a protest outside the Supreme Court and continue to have a huge influence on policy. The vote to lift the ban was passed by eight votes to two and marks a small but historic shift in abortion law in Brazil.
Urgent petition - oppose proposed abortion ban in Ukraine
Date: 12 April 2012
A proposed law has been submitted to the Ukrainian parliament that would ban abortion and add a penalty for couples who do not have children. Abortion is currently legal in Ukraine.
Supporters of the proposed law in parliament say that they support this initiative out of concern for Ukraine's declining population and low fertility rate. However, the initiative clearly intends to control women's choices. The proposed law also includes a ban on the act of sex in the missionary position. An initiator of the bill said that the missionary position has been proven ineffective for conceiving children. Activists argue that the inclusion of the anti-missionary law is only a diversion tactic to distract from the initiative's anti-choice purpose.
Please sign the petition to urge Mykola Azarov, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, not to support this proposed law here.
Forced sterilisation in Uzbekistan
Date: 16 April 2012
A half hour radio documentary reports from Uzbekistan where women are described as having become the new target of one of the most repressive regimes on earth. The report provides uncovers evidence that women are being sterilised, often without their knowledge, in draconian population control efforts.
The programme speaks to victims and doctors who fear for their lives if they speak openly. Women and men describe their experiences of forced sterilisation, which match those of senior doctors who report that they are expected to perform hysterectomies or sterilisations, especially in rural areas. Doctors report that they have been given quotas for sterlisation of women. People wonder why there is no effort to reduce birth control through repression rather than information and contracteptive services. Women and their partners have fled the country in order to escape the practice.
The programme is available as a podcast and on the BBC magazine.
Colombia Constitutional Court protects women's right to abortion
Indian state courts rule on women's fundamental right to survive pregnancy and childbirth
In two separate rulings, High Courts in the Indian states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have ruled that the Indian State has a constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of pregnant and childbearing women.
Last month, the Division Bench of Patna with the State High Court of Bihar handed down an order holding the state responsible for failing to protect, respect and fulfil the rights of pregnant women. The Court has ordered the government to account for nearly $680 million from a national programme called the National Rural Health Mission, a central government-funded public health scheme aimed at addressing India's high maternal and infant mortality.
Similarly, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh has recently passed a similar landmark final judgment. The Court documented the failure of the government to implement the National Rural Health Mission and rejected the government's claim that financial constraints served as a barrier to full implementation, noting a significant health budget underspend at the end of 2009. The Court ordered immediate implementation of the NRHM and ordered a time bound plan for "strict and timely" implementation. The Court set specific directives, including 24-hour availability of trained community health workers, minimum staffing levels around the clock, uninterrupted electricity and water supplies, proper sanitation and transport and essential drugs. It has ordered the establishment of monitoring committees.
Both cases are part of Human Rights Law Network's national strategy to use litigation as a means of addressing India's high maternal mortality and morbidity. Full details of these and other pending law suits can be found at the HRLN website.
UK development assistance funding forced sterilisation, India
Date: 15 April 2012
A report by the Observer newspaper has revealed that UK Department for International Development (DFID) funds of up to £166 million have been spent on a programme that has forcibly sterilised Indian women and men. A 2010 DFID report from 2010 cites the need to fight climate change is one of the key reasons for such population control programmes.
Court documents filed in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar states earlier this month claim that many victims have been left in pain, with little or no aftercare. In February, Madhya Pradeshs Chief Minister had to publicly warn his officials after widespread reports of forced sterilisation. A few days later, a 35-year-old woman bled to death after doctors sterilised, while she was pregnant with twins. In April, India's supreme court heard how a surgeon operating in a school building Bihar in January carried out 53 operations in two hours, assisted by unqualified staff, with no access to running water or equipment to clean the operating equipment. The court gave the national and state governments two months to respond to the allegations.
Activists say that it is India's poor and particularly tribal people who are most frequently targeted and who are most vulnerable to pressure to be sterilised, through threats that they will lose their ration cards or through bribes. Funding varies from state to state, but in Bihar private clinics receive 1,500 rupees for every sterilisation, with a bonus of 500 rupees a patient if they carry out more than 30 operations on a particular day. NGO workers who convince people to have the operations receive 150 rupees a person, while doctors get 75 rupees for each patient.
An Indian government report shows that sterilisation remains the most common method of family planning in its current Reproductive and Child Health Programme. When it announced changes to aid for India last year, the DfID promised to improve the lives of more than 10 million poor women and girls. It said: "We condemn forced sterilisation and have taken steps to ensure that not a penny of UK aid could support it. The UK does not fund sterilisation centres anywhere."
US state abortion law challenged at high personal cost
Date: 16 February 2012
New state laws in the US that place strict limits on abortion are starting to be enacted - and the changed laws are placing the women affected by these laws at the centre of the bitter abortion debate.
The case of Jennie Linn McCormack is at the centre of a national debate. The single mother of three from Idaho decided to self-administer a termination when she became pregnant and found that there would be no prospect of support from the potential father. The nearest abortion clinic is in Salt Lake City, almost three hours' drive away, and she had no car and no one to care for her youngest child, aged two. The local law mandates a waiting period for abortions, so she would have been obliged to make two round trips.
She was allegedly told that you could buy a pill (RU-486) via the internet. She has no internet access but asked a sister to do this and took it the day that it arrived. Her pregnancy was further advanced than is recommended. She was apparently not aware of the time limit and was very distressed when the the termination resulted in a lot of blood. She called a friend who then called the police.
Ms McCormack was arrested and prosecuted under Idaho's recent state law which bans women from carrying out their own abortions. The case was first dismissed last year due to lack of evidence. The autopsy found no medicine in the foetus and prosecutors had no evidence of the pill being bought or delivered. However, she could be charged again. Her lawyer has now filed a lawsuit claiming that Idaho's law is unconstitutional and should be overturned. If the lawsuit succeeds, it will set a precedent that will allow women to legally access medical abortion drugs. Although 35% of American women have abortions at some stage, many face severe upheaval to access them, since 98% of rural counties do not have abortion clinics. The lawsuit is currently at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, one rung beneath the Supreme Court.
Whilst the lawsuit progresses and has huge implications for all women in the US, the woman at the centre of the controversy faces daily stigma from her small, conservative community. She quit her job when customers refused to be served by her. The change in law will be an advance for many women, but the personal price being paid for this case is extremely high.
Abortion legislation goes to Senate in Rwanda
Date: 9 April 2012
Rwanda's Chamber of Deputies approved a new draft penal code last Wednesday, amidst wide debate on the implications for abortion. Article 165 of the draft penal code absolves criminal liability for a woman who aborts her pregnancy and a medical doctor who helps a woman to abort in cases of rape, forced marriage, incest in the second degree, and when continuation of pregnancy jeopardises the health of the fetus or that of the pregnant woman. The current penal code only allows for abortion when pregnancy puts to risk the health of the mother.
The draft code has led to opposition from those who both oppose and support abortion. Anti-abortion representatives argue that even the existing exception should be repealed, whilst pro-choice activists are saying that the changes in the draft penal code are not enough. They are calling for a safe legal environment for abortion without fear of the need to go to courts of law. The law requires a woman seeking an abortion to present a court order to the doctor, confirming that she fulfils the exceptions provided for in the law. Activists argue that medical doctors should be able to make these decisions themselves.
About 60,000 pregnancies are terminated in Rwanda every year, with 40% leading to complications needing medical treatment, according to a recent Ministry of Health and Guttmacher Institute report.
During the passing of the legislation in parliament, seven women lawmakers abstained from voting on the abortion section, saying any form of abortion should be outlawed.
The amended penal code has been before parliament for about three years. It has been forwarded to the Senate for approval.
Thailand abortion problems highlighted in Bangkok meeting
Date: 7 April 2012
Chilean Senate blocks abortion reform
Date: 5 April 2012
The Chilean Senate has rejected three bills that would have eased the country's absolute ban on abortions. The bills would have permitted abortion when two doctors said it was needed because of risks to a mother's life or other medical reasons, and in cases of rape.
Abortion for medical reasons was permitted in Chile until 1973. The current conservative government has opposed any loosening of the prohibition.
Lawmakers will have to wait a year to propose any new abortion bill. However, the bill that would have permitted abortion for medical reasons was only defeated by a fairly narrow margin of 18-15 votes, which leaves a window of hope for ongoing activism to increase women's choice.
New HIV guidelines for prevention of vertical HIV transmission
Date: 3 April 2012
Date: 3 April 2012
Enter vagina stage left - or is it right?
Date: 28 March 2012
A new term has emerged for the leaders of states where abortion laws have tightened - gyno-governors. A website called Government Free VJJ offers tips on how to knit or crochet a vagina or uterus and send it to men in Congress, stating that "if they have their own, they can leave ours alone!" A Facebook campaign has targeted at least five gyno-governors, with women asking anything from intimate questions about their vaginas to advice on menopause.
State lawmakers are also proposing bills and amendments that challenge the trend towards anti-abortion legislation. In January, amid debate over the abortion ultrasound legislation in Virginia, one state senator introduced an amendment to require that men seeking erectile dysfunction drugs get rectal exams and cardiac tests. Mock bills to ban vasectomies have been offered in Georgia and Missouri, suggesting the procedure deprives potential children from ever being born. An Ohio State Senator submitted a bill that would require men seeking erectile dysfunction drugs to submit an affidavit from a sexual partner to certify impotence, see a sex therapist, receive counselling, undergo a cardiac stress test and be warned of risks and complications.
People are seeing this moment as a pivotal point that could get younger women more active in health issues and policy, because of "the vile rhetoric from anti-choice politicians and radio show hosts," said a pro-choice spokesperson from NARAL Pro-Choice America. Republicans and others on the anti-abortion side of the debate claim that there is a move to brainwash people, including those campaigning for the re-election of Obama. While campaigning last year for Mississippi governor, Republican Phil Bryant declared that if the state's "personhood" amendment failed, then "Satan wins." Yet in a state referendum, Mississippi voters ultimately sided with women's rights.
Women prepare to transform economic power
Date: 30 March 2012
Videos: Women mobilise action for Cairo+20
Date: 2 April 2012
The videos can all be viewed here and are posted on YouTube.
Working together to avoid maternal deaths in Mexico
Date: 2 April 2012
In Mexico, many rural communities lack access to health care. Only 60% of women receive obstetric care by skilled personnel in the middle of the country in rural areas. Maternal mortality is 62.8 per hundred thousand live births, of whom about 70% is due to direct obstetric causes. Nine out of ten of these deaths could be prevented using the three delays model.
This short video simply illustrates eight proven and simple strategies to deal with Emergency Obstetric Care that can be implemented in rural communities. These include community-trained 'godmother or godfather obstetricians' who monitor and control pregnancies and can recognise alarm signals, a network of health providers and community members who can refer women for emergency obstetric care and use of radio to liaise between the community and health services.
The video is available in Spanish only or with English subtitles.
Reproductive Health Matters 39 deals with the issue of maternal mortality - coming soon!
New publication: Research for universal health coverage in Africa
Date: 2 March 2012
Asian women - positive and pregnant
Date: 2 April 2012
Positive and Pregnant: how dare you is a study on the access to reproductive and maternal health care for women living with HIV in Asia. The report was developed by the Women of the Asia Pacific Network of People. It contains findings from six countries in the Asia Pacific region: Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Vietnam. The study aimed to assess the experience of accessing reproductive and maternal health services as reported by HIV-positive women over 16 years of age and pregnant in the past 18 months. The study used quantitative and qualitative methods: a survey among 757 women, 17 interviews and 10 focus group discussions.
The full report can be downloaded here.
Fatal consequences of El Salvador's ban on abortion
Date: 21 March 2012
Police say advertising illegal abortions is like selling a car, South Africa
Date: 22 March 2012
The ASA, for its part, says that it is unable to enforce any rulings made on the matter. The ASA agreed with the police for patrols to remove posters and arrest those putting them up, but this proved ineffective. The ASA complains that there is no preventative measure to act against backstreet abortionists and that police can only make an arrest after an abortion has been performed.
Abortion has been legal in South Africa since 1996 for all women on request at state or private facilities up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy and up to 20 weeks in extraordinary circumstances. The Act states that any person who performs an abortion and is not a medical practitioner or registered nurse with special training can be fined or imprisoned for up to 10 years. But it does not explicitly forbid the advertising of such services.
More than ten years after this Act about a third of South African women still believe that abortion is illegal. Even when a woman seeks a legal abortion, she faces opposition from many health care workers, the fear of stigma and few trained providers and abortion facilities. From 2004 to 2007, more than half of the 136 deaths as a result of complications arising from abortions were avoidable. According to the last years Fourth Report on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in South Africa, the state's capacity for providing abortions is declining, and activists report that only 40% of designated facilities are operational.
Abortion care providers are calling for illegal abortionists to be identified and for women to have greater access to information concerning their right to reproductive healthcare, including abortion services. Abortion needs to be normalised instead of stigmatised. This is the only way to avoid deaths related to illegal abortion.
Young Asian activists demand sexual and reproductive health rights
Date: 22 March 2012
There are approximately 850 million young people in the Asia Pacific region. They face worrying HIV prevalence rates and immense legal, cultural and political barriers to health. Young people, especially young women and girls, lack access to quality health and life-saving services and information that would allow them to lead safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives.
The statement demands mainstreaming of gender perspectives and impacts, calls for a youth-centred budget in national health system financing and pushes for access to comprehensive sexuality education and youth friendly services, including pre and post safe abortion care. Activists call for quality, scientific, disaggregated data on young peoples' sexual and reproductive health and rights to enable active engagement of communities for evidence-based advocacy and policy making. Underscoring the commitments made, advocates demand full support for young peoples' meaningful participation, leadership and involvement at all levels of decision-making.
The full statement is available for download in English here.
Turkey first country to ratify European Convention on violence against women
Date: 15 March 2012
Turkey today ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Seventeen other member states have also signed the Convention since its opening for signature last May in Istanbul.
The Council of Europe has called on European governments to follow Turkey's lead so as to permit the treaty's rapid entry into force.
The Convention recognises that violence against women constitutes a serious violation of human rights and a form of discrimination. It represents a major step forward in combating such violence through measures aimed at preventing it, protecting victims and reinforcing the criminal penalties that can be imposed on perpetrators under national legal systems. It criminalises acts such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, harassment, psychological violence, forced abortion and forced sterilisation.
High Level Task Force For Promoting Sexual And Reproductive Health And Rights launched in Finland
Date: 16 March 2012
Former Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, met with UNFPA in Helsinki this week to discuss the establishment of a High-Level Task Force for Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. President Halonen and former President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique will co-chair the High-Level Task Force, whose main assignment is to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights globally on a political level.
The High-Level Task Force will hold its first meeting during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20 in June 2012 in Brazil. Before this the two will meet to discuss the Task Force in more detail.
New publication: Women's rights and prenatal protections
Date: 20 March 2012
Abortion rights victory is victory for all women in Argentina
Date: 19 March 2012
As reported here earlier this week, the Supreme Court in Argentina has issued a ruling clarifying the scope of the abortion current law. It has made clear to judges, doctors and Ministers of Health that Argentina's Penal Code rules that any women who has been raped has the right to access to an abortion.
The ruling is groundbreaking because the National Supreme Court ruling emphasises that all rape victims are entitled to legal abortions. For nearly a century, the only pregnant rape victim eligible for a legal abortion in Argentina was a 'mujer idiota o demente' (an 'idiot or demented woman'). Now, 91 years after the penal codes were drafted into Argentinean law, the nation's highest court has affirmed that abortion is available to all rape victims, not just the mentally impaired. By Latin American standards, this is a huge victory.
The case that prompted this ruling was that of a 15 year old girl, pregnant as a result of rape by her stepfather, whose family requested judicial permission from a family court judge to get an abortion. Even though such authorisation is not required by law, the request was summarily denied on the grounds that she did not have a mental disability. The girl's family filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of the Province of Chubut. This court overrode the family judge's decision and determined that the girl, A.G., could have a legal abortion. However, the province's Public Defender appealed the decision to the National Supreme Court on behalf of A.G.'s fetus. His argument was that the girl did not fall under the mental disabilities category. His strategy backfired. The National Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal and affirmed its support of the Chubut Court decision to permit A.G. a legal abortion on the grounds of rape.
Argentina Supreme Court affirms right to abortion in case of rape
Date: 14 March 2012
This followed an earlier ruling, in March 2010, by the Superior Court of the Province of Chubut. The Court had ruled that abortion is permitted, following the case of A.G., a 15-year old girl who became pregnant after being raped by her stepfather. After the abortion was performed the Public Defender, representing the fetus, appealed the ruling before the National Supreme Court. The Defender argued that the right to life of the fetus had been violated. The case caused outrage in Argentina, partly because of the length of time it took the lower court to reach its decision. By the time the ruling in favour of an abortion was made, the girl was 20 weeks into her pregnancy.
The Supreme Court has unanimously backed this earlier decision. The Supreme Court is Argentina's highest judicial instance and its decision can not be appealed against.
This decision is an important turning point and will help in advancing the move for expanding access to abortion till 12 weeks of pregnancy.
More than half of all reproductive-age US women live in states hostile to abortion rights
Date: 15 March 2012
Fifty-five percent of all reproductive-age U.S. women lived in a state hostile to abortion rights in 2011, up significantly from 31% in 2000, according to a new Guttmacher Institute policy analysis. There has been a dramatic shift in state abortion legislation over the past decade, including a record number of abortion restrictions that were enacted in 2011.
The analysis finds that most states (35) did not change category over the decade. But all of the 15 states whose abortion policy landscape changed substantially became more restrictive. The analysis divided states into supportive, middle ground and hostile and measured their abortion policy landscape against 10 categories of major abortion restrictions. There are striking regional differences, with states in the west and northeast remaining consistently supportive of abortion rights. In the middle of the country, half the states moved from being middle-ground states in 2000 to hostile in 2011. And in the 13 states in the South, half were hostile in 2000 but all had become so by 2011.
Shoring up the remaining states in the middle-ground group may be key to stopping the further national erosion of abortion rights and that efforts to do so may well be successful. These states may be ripe for progress on related reproductive and sexual health issues such as contraception and sex education. For instance, Colorado has mandated contraceptive insurance coverage and Wisconsin has expanded access to comprehensive sex education.
Click here to read the full report: Troubling Trend: More States Hostile to Abortion Rights as Middle Ground Shrinks.
Ten years of legal abortion has saved thousands of lives, Nepal
Date: 13 March 2012
A government/UNICEF study estimated that 20% of all pregnancy deaths in 2000 were due to unsafe abortion. Following sustained campaigning and with government support, abortion became a safe and legal choice for women in Nepal in March 2002. A decade of legalisation of safe abortion has saved the lives of thousands of women. Abortion is free on request up to 12 weeks and allowed up to 18 weeks if the woman's life is in danger and in cases of rape and incest, when carried out at hospitals or clinics run by health ministry certified doctors.
Before 2002, a woman suspected of undergoing abortion could be jailed. About half of gynaecological admissions to hospital were due to backstreet abortions. Since that time, not a single woman has been imprisoned for abortion and unsafe abortions are significantly down.
In the past ten years a reported 500,000 women have received legal abortion services, according to the safe abortion programme at the Family Health Division of the Health Ministry. The rate of complications has been low - around 2% according to one 2008 survey. There are more than 500 public and private clinics and 1,322 service providers have been trained.
Journal disavows study touted by US abortion foes
Date: 7 March 2012
Lebanon's gender violence law under threat
Proposed amendments to a draft law on gender violence in Lebanon have sparked demands from civil society organizations that parliament uphold an original draft criminalising "honour crimes", marital rape and other abuses.
The original draft has been worked on since 2007 by a coalition of over 40 civil society organizations, and primarily aims to protect women from mental, physical and economic violence. It criminalises different types of violence experienced by women, calls for appointment of public prosecutors to investigate cases of family violence and establishment of special units within the police to oversee such cases and allows women and their children to seek restraining orders against abusers. It also proposes giving civil, not religious courts, jurisdiction over family violence cases.
In April 2010, this draft was approved by the Council of Ministers which referred it to a parliamentary committee. According to the original drafters of the law, the committee (seven men and one woman) has modified the law so dramatically that it has been emptied of its original purpose. This is attributed to influence from Lebanons main religious authorities.
Lebanon's 15 religious courts currently preside over personal cases and have attacked the draft law as an attempt to undermine their authority and to Westernise the Arab family.
The controversy over the draft law highlights the difficulties faced by those campaigning for secular laws in Lebanon, said director of the Resource Center for Gender Equality (ABAAD). Activists are calling to galvanise male involvement in the fight against gender-based violence.
Gender-based violence untreated, Papua New Guinea
Date: 8 March 2012
Critical gaps in the treatment of survivors of domestic and sexual violence are placing thousands of women at serious physical and psychological risk in Papua New Guinea, according to a recent report by Medecins sans Frontieres.
The organisation is currently the largest provider of medical care to survivors of family and sexual violence. They treat high numbers of survivors of intimate partner violence and of sexual violence. This is the first time that there has been concrete data from a health provider. According to the Papua New Guinea, 70 percent of women say they have been physically abused by their husbands. That number reaches 100 percent in some parts of the country.
The report recommends that the National Department of Health sets up treatment protocols and guidelines for survivors, implements operational guidelines, provides support to family support centres, and waives fees for treatment of survivors of family, sexual violence and child abuse.
Download the full report here.
American war over sexuality
Date: 10 March 2012
US politics is overshadowed by bitter debates over sexual politics, from abortion to contraception and personal morality. In the past week, protests in Texas, Arizona, Utah, Georgia and Alabama all involved some aspects of sex and sexuality. In Utah, it was over the passing of a law that means the only sex education children will get in school will be about abstinence. In Texas, it was about cuts to health insurance that covers birth control. In Georgia, eight of the nine women in the state senate walked out over a bill that attacked abortion rights. A radio presenter, Rush Limbaugh, verbally abused a student who had testified in Congress on the importance of government funding for birth control. His comments triggered an advertiser boycott of his show and led to criticism from Republican nomination candidates and Obama. But many people see this is a sign of the powerful forces on the right who are determined to undo decades of advancement in sex and women's rights, shown most clearly in Rick Santorum, the main challenger to Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, who has hardline views on abortion and contraception.
Yet images of sexuality are all around, on television, in a thriving sex industry said to be worth more than $12 billion a year and in increasingly sexualised images aimed at young girls.
A recent book by Nancy Cohen, Delirium: How the Sexual Counter-Revolution is Polarising America, points to a movement that has aggressively campaigned to set back women's rights, focused on issues around sex and birth control. It is, she says, largely motivated by religion. The results are a growing number of laws over reproductive rights that are increasingly being described as a war on women by liberals.
Sri Lanka Attorney General joins calls for expanding abortion in cases of rape
Date: 10 March 2012
A recent statement from the Child Development and Women Affairs Ministry Secretary that girls made pregnant after rape should have the right to abortion has been reaffirmed by Sri Lanka`s Attorney General. She was delivering the keynote address at International Womens Day National celebrations 8 March.
The Attorney General said that if women are discriminated based on gender by government officials it would be a human rights violation. The debate in the country about abortion rights is being put on the national agenda by senior women leaders.
Male circumcision still effective for HIV prevention five years after trial
Date: 13 March 2012
Gray R, Kigozi G, Kong X et al. The effectiveness of male circumcision for HIV prevention and effects on risk behaviors in a posttrial follow-up study. AIDS 2012:26(5):609-15.
Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, 10 March
Date: 9 March 2012
British Pregnancy Advisory Service website hacked
Date: 9 March 2012
While the confidentiality of women receiving treatment was never in danger, this episode was taken very seriously indeed. A court injunction was obtained to prevent the publication of the data and, in the early hours of this morning an arrest was made."
Compulsory ultrasound when seeking abortion in State of Virginia, US
Date: 16 February 2012
This week in the US, the State Legislature in Virginia passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. The great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, meaning that most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure. A proposed amendment to the bill, requiring that the woman consent to this bodily intrusion and allowing the doctor to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound, failed on a 64-34 vote.
This means that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. Furthermore, a provision of the law would ensure that the doctor records in the woman's medical record that the patient either did or did not "avail herself of the opportunity" to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat. The result is that a physician is being compelled by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman, despite clear ethical directives to the contrary.
Opponents argue that the rights of woman and physician are being violated. Also, recent research shows that women forced to see ultrasound images opt to terminate anyhow. The law is likely to be passed and the governor is unlikely to veto the bill, but he still has the power to amend it to require the patient's consent or say that physicians can opt not to do the vaginal probe.
CEDAW Committee condemns gender stereotyping in rape case, Philippines
Date: 13 February 2012
A recent decision of the CEDAW Committee, Karen Tayag Vertido v. The Philippines, takes issue with the widespread problem of stereotypes in rape trials. It is the first case addressed by the CEDAW Committee that is concerned primarily with wrongful gender stereotyping.
In 1996, Karen Tayag Vertido, Executive Director of Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, filed a complaint of rape against the then President of the Chamber. She alleged that the accused offered her a lift home following a business meeting one evening and then raped her in a nearby hotel.
Eight years later, after an extremely slow journey through the court, the accused was acquitted. The judge said there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty of the offence charged. She based her decision to acquit on 'guiding principles' from other rape cases and an assessment that Ms Vertido had, among other things, failed to take advantage of perceived opportunities to escape from the accused.
Ms Vertido took her concerns to the CEDAW Committee, claiming that the judge's decision had no basis in law or fact, but 'was grounded in gender-based myths and misconceptions about rape and rape victims without which the accused would have been convicted.'
The Philippines claimed that the communication was inadmissible because Ms Vertido should have used all available national processes before going to the CEDAW Committee. This was rejected by the CEDAW Committee, which concluded that the the Philippines had failed to end discriminatory gender stereotyping in the legal process, thus violating several CEDAW articles, and had failed to deal with the allegation in 'a fair, impartial, timely and expeditious manner.'
Publication: Social science methods for research on sexual and reproductive health
Date: 16 February 2012
An updated and expanded version of Social Science Methods for Research on Sexual and Reproductive Health is now available online.
These guidelines focus on the sexual and reproductive health issues of greatest public health and social concern, where action and intervention are likely to bring about change.
Aimed at trained social scientists as well as biomedical and other scientists with an interest in social science research, this book contains practical advice on how to plan and conduct social science research in sexual and reproductive health.
The document addressed objectives of social science research, research design options, methods for data collection, practical aspects of research planning and implementation and ethical issues. An appendix provides information on international sources of information on sexual and reproductive health.
Indonesian government denies plans for mandatory male circumcision
Date: 20 February 2012
Authorities in Indonesia's remote Papua Province say they have no plans to make male circumcision mandatory. They do state that the government is promoting medical male circumcision as part of its reproductive health strategy. The comments follow local media reports claiming that the local government plans to require all male residents to undergo mandatory circumcision as part of efforts to curb HIV transmission rates.
Only about 5 percent of ethnic Papuans in the region are circumcised, against 70 percent of non-Papuans. HIV prevalence in Papua stands at 2.4 percent among 15-49 year-olds, against 0.2 percent in the rest of the country, where male circumcision is commonly practised.
The possibility of making male circumcision mandatory would be controversial. Most native Papuans, who are Christian, associate male circumcision with Islam, the majority religion of most Indonesians. At the same time, some church officials continue to question its importance in curbing the spread of HIV, preferring to call for abstinence and fidelity.
Hundreds gather to demand abortion legalisation in Ireland
Date: 22 February 2012
A meeting calling for abortion legalisation in Ireland, in Dublin on 21 February, was attended by hundreds. The meeting marked 20 years since the X caseand the failure of all political parties in the years since to legislate for the limited abortion provision required by the X case court judgement. The clear message was that it was time for Action on X.
Speakers included journalists, legal experts and several members of parliament, who shared examples of the human rights violations experienced by women and their families. The current practice of going to the UK for abortions discriminates against those on low income and puts immigrants in a terrible situation.
Many of the speakers from the floor talked about how inspired they were to see so many people at the meeting, yet how shocking it was that twenty years on from the X case judgement women were still waiting for abortion rights in Ireland. There have been positive changes, with only a tiny anti-choice picket outside and only one anti-choice speaker who made her points calmly and reasonably.
A private members bill, which would legislate for the X case judgment, will be debated in parliament on 19th April.
Male circumcision setback in Kenya
Date: 2 March 2012
Kenya`s campaign to circumcise more than one million men by 2013 has run into problems as the government`s rapid results initiative failed to meet its target. Conducted between November and December 2011, the initiative aimed to circumcise 70,000 men over a 30-day period. However, results released in February show that only 40,000 men were circumcised. This is the first time the annual initiative - which began in 2008 - has failed to reach its target. Officials are stepping up efforts to identify and fix the problems.
The problems are, in part, due to heavy rains in November and December that made rendered many roads impassable to the mobile circumcision clinics. However, there are more serious challenges in communication and in health service delivery. The health worker that faces competing priorities, possibly having to choose whether to focus on male circumcision or antenatal care in a poorly staffed clinic with limited resources.
The programme has been successful in convincing younger men to volunteer for the procedure, but less successful in attracting older, married men. Many new infections are occurring within marriage. Attempts are being made to involve women at the centre of men`s decision-making and using already circumcised but married men as peer educators. Recent research revealed that cohabiting or being in a marriage were the strongest predictors of engaging in early sexual activity, a high risk activity for six weeks after transmission.
Lack of adequate counselling for girls and women is seen as potentially scuppering the programme, as was found in recent research. Counselling women would also help to reduce cases of early resumption of sexual activity. The programme`s Communications Manager reports that `Men will tell you they fear losing their wives or girlfriends during the healing period, but when you talk to women, they tell you they will be ready to support their men during this time, so long as they have adequate information.
Rapid syphilis test toolkit: new publication
Date: 7 March 2012
This newly published Rapid Syphilis Test Toolkit provides a framework and series of tools for the introduction of rapid syphilis tests into country programmes. It was developed at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to determine the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of different strategies for the introduction of rapid syphilis tests in seven countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The project has shown that rapid tests can increase access to syphilis screening in areas not served by laboratories; strengthen health systems by providing more rapid client-friendly services, and enable women to prevent adverse outcomes of pregnancy.
The toolkit can be downloaded here.
Video: Abortion in Ireland
Every day 12 women leave Ireland to access abortion services in the UK.
Abortion in Ireland is a new video developed by the Irish Family Planning Association as part of an initiative to facilitate an open, honest dialogue on abortion and to dispel myths that stigmatise women who seek abortion services. The video provides accurate factual information on abortion in Ireland.
Join IFPA in the change and pass on this video to others to ensure the debate about abortion in Ireland is informed by facts, not misinformation.
Sri Lanka considers legalisation of certain abortions
Date: 26 February 2012
The Deputy Minister of Child Development and Women's Affairs has announced that authorities are studying a proposal to legalise certain abortions, particularly for underaged rape victims. According to the minister, the move was being contemplated in response to the large numbers of illegal abortions carried out in the country. At present, it is estimated that over 1,000 illegal abortions are carried out daily in Sri Lanka.
Abortion is currently illegal except in the case of risk to the mother's life. Interviews with Catholic and Buddhist religious leaders indicate that there will be resistance to any change in the current law. This announcement will lead to a welcome public debate.
Indian court rules that abortion decision in marriage rests with the wife
Date: 14 February 2012
Source: The Hindu
Many HIV-positive women in the US have experienced trauma
Date: 16 February 2012
Investigators looked at the results of 29 studies that examined experiences of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in women with HIV in the US. They found that about a third of women had post-traumatic stress disorder. Over half (55%) had experienced intimate partner violence. Just over a third of women reported adult sexual abuse and 54% reported being physically abused as an adult. The prevalence of trauma and abuse reported by HIV-positive women was much higher than that observed in the general US population.
The researchers recommend that detecting trauma and the provision of appropriate support and treatment should be a priority for HIV care.
Bill for limited abortion presented in Irish Parliament
Date: 18 February 2012
A Private Members' Bill which would provide for limited access to abortion will be introduced in the Irish Parliament next week.The bill seeks to make abortion legal where there is a "real and substantial risk to the life" of the pregnant woman. The bill will be voted on in the House on 19 April.
Over 60 organisations and individuals, including seven members of parliament, two Senators, trade unions, academics and doctors have called for immediate legislation in line with the 'X' case. One Labour MP supporting the bill said it was shameful that 20 years after the Supreme Court ruled that a girl who had been abused could have an abortion, and after two referendums on the issue, six successive governments have failed to act.
Call to oppose reintroduction of anti-homosexuality bill, Uganda
Date: 22 February 2012
Uganda's Parliament reintroduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on 7 February. During the bill's reintroduction, the Speaker informed the House that the bill will not need to be considered again by the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, thereby making the process faster and raising the possibility of it becoming law.
The bill introduces draconian provisions on top of Uganda's existing prohibitions on consensual same-sex relations. Lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Uganda could face the death penalty for the crime of "aggravated homosexuality", which includes consensual sexual conduct, activity by "serial offenders" or those who are HIV positive. It also criminalises the "promotion of homosexuality", compels HIV testing in some circumstances and imposes life sentences for entering into a same-sex marriage. It also punishes those who do not report violations of the bill's provisions within 24 hours.
The bill would seriously undermine the work of human rights defenders in Uganda, putting some of them at risk.
Human rights groups have raised their voices in condemnation of this and other acts of oppression in recent weeks. These include a raid by the Ugandan government on 14 February of a workshop run by LGBTI activists and the attempted arrest of FARUG's Executive Director, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera. FARUG is a human rights organisation which fights discrimination against LGBTI people.
Countries in the global South such as Brazil, India and South Africa have all taken leadership in the past two decades in legal and policy reform to support and respect LGBTI people's rights. Groups are encouraging Uganda to do the same.
In a statement released today, AWID calls on other women's rights groups to challenge this bill. If passed the bill would represent a grave assault on the human rights of all Ugandans, and particularly would further authorise discrimination against those who are, or who are believed to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The bill not only violates multiple protections guaranteed by the Constitution of Uganda, but also contravenes the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party.
Links for more information, analyses from Ugandan activists and to take action can be downloaded via the AWID website.
New women's clinic opens in Mexico City
Change in UK guidelines for treatment of HIV in pregnancy
Date: 22 February 2012
WHO upholds guidance on hormonal contraceptive use and HIV
Date: 16 February 2012
UN Women turns one year old
Date: 17 February 2012
In 2011 the United Nations created one UN agency working on women's rights. One year after its foundation, Charlotte Bunch, founding member of the Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) campaign, reflects on its acheivements and challenges.
UN Women's strategic plan has six thematic priorities - increasing women's leadership and participation, ending violence against women, engaging women in peace and security processes, enhancing women's economic empowerment, gender budgeting and coordination and accountability across the UN System for gender equality. Most of the focus in 2011 was on existing strengths such as engaging in peace and security. GEAR welcomes the agency's announcement this month of a renewed push for women's economic empowerment and political participation.
Economic empowerment of women badly needs some leadership from UN Women, particularly to challenge existing, powerful economic and political interests that are standing in the way. This will require close collaboration between UN Women and civil society.
UN Women has reported that core funding for UN Women has doubled this year but is asking for a more robust increase to $700 million in the coming year. GEAR urges NGOs to pressure governments to live up to the promises made in creating the agency, and believes that a UN Women strategy in partnership with national NGOs could help to increase this amount in many countries. This includes lobbying the private sector to put money alongside stated commitments to gender equality.
In 2012, the GEAR campaign will continue to advocate for greater civil society participation and will continue to work for greater funding from governments.
Social grounds for free abortion cut still further, Russia
Date: 16 February 2012
This week the Russian Health Ministry announced that sexual assault is the only social ground under which women can have a free abortion. Previously, a woman qualified for a free abortion if there was a court decision to relieve a woman of her parental rights, if a woman was in jail or if a father became disabled or died during a woman's pregnancy.
Medical grounds for qualifying for a free abortion include HIV infection, cancer, active tuberculosis, grave genetic diseases and other health problems threatening a woman's life.
This news further reduces abortion access for poor women. Russia's new abortion bill seriously limits access to abortion services and toughen criminal punishment for doctors who carry out illegal abortions.
Call for national registry of doctors who object to abortion, Spain
Date: 13 February 2012
Komen and abortion stigma in the US
Date: 6 February 2012
Honduras upholds absolute ban on emergency contraception
Date: 13 February 2012
White House bill now requires contraceptive coverage by health insurancers
Date: 10 February 2012
Two new resources on rape and human rights
Date: 8 February 2012
The report argues that the International Criminal Court has a significant role in promoting women's equality before the law in ensuring that rape and sexual violence is consistently, fully, and competently prosecuted. The Court has yet to rule on this matter.
The report can be downloaded here.
US CDC recommends HPV vaccine for young men
Date: 6 February 2012
Vaccination has been shown to reduce the subsequent risk of genital warts, precancerous cervical changes and cervical cancer in women. In young men the vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of HPV infection. US guidelines already recommend that young women and girls aged 11 to 26 should receive the vaccination. In the United Kingdom HPV vaccination is offered free to girls aged 12 to 13 through the public health system, and girls aged 14 to 17 years can also be vaccinated.
Related research, published this week in Clinical Infectious Diseases online, finds that the genital wart vaccine Gardasil reduces the risk of high-grade pre-cancerous anal lesion recurrence in men who have sex with men by approximately half in the first two years after immunisation, possibly reducing in effectiveness after this point. The US study involved 202 middle-aged HIV-negative gay and other men who have sex with men, all of whom had undergone therapy for human papilloma virus-related high-grade pre-cancerous anal cell changes. The investigators believe the vaccine may be an effective post-treatment adjuvant to prevent recurrent HGAIN (high-grade intraepithelial neoplasia).
Remembering the abortion case that made shockwaves in Ireland
Date: 4 February 2012
This week marks the twenty year anniversary of the case of an Irish girl whose abuse and pregnancy led to a state attempt to block an abortion. The "X case" was a 14-year old schoolgirl who became pregnant after two years of sexual abuse by the father of one of her schoolfriends.
In January 1992, the girl discovered she was pregnant and disclosed the abuse to her family, who arranged for her to travel to London for an abortion. When her parents sought police advice on criminal proceedings, the public prosecutor was informed. The Attorney General immediately obtained an interim injunction from the High Court, banning the girl from leaving Ireland for nine months. The family voluntarily returned to Ireland when told of this. There was immense global outrage, with marches, demonstrations and vigils in Ireland and around the world, a French newspaper questioning Ireland's membership of the European Community and Swedish politicians calling for the cancellation of a royal visit to Ireland. The girl was placed under medical supervision because of suicide fears. Two months later the interim injunction, which had been made permanent, was successfully overturned in the Supreme Court, following the family's appeal. The girl later had a spontaneous miscarriage in an English hospital.
Twenty years later, the Supreme Court judgement has still not been legislated for. There is some progress, however, The majority of Irish people supporting legalised abortion at least in certain circumstances. Attempts to roll back the X case judgments were twice rejected in popular referendum. An expert group has been tasked to come up with recommendations on how to translate the European Court of Human Rights decision about Irish abortion rights into action. This must be done in six months.
The young girl is now 34. Her abuser was sentenced in 2003 to three and a half years for the kidnap and sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl who had hailed his taxi. Activists continue to fight for women's right to choose.
Cote d`Ivoire government scraps free medical care
Date: 26 January 2012
The Ivoirian Health Minister announced on 24 January that his government is abandoning its policy of free health care for all because of skyrocketing costs, claimed to be 30 billion CFA francs (about $60 million). As of February, the free service will only be available for deliveries and treatment for diseases affecting children under six years old.
The minister cited theft, poor management and rising costs. For example, the central medical supplies body had just 30% of its required stock, much of which had been pilfered.
Some NGOs and aid organisations state that the government move is understandable given the recent political turmoil, and are satisfied that women and children continue to receive free care. Others argue that free health care would have been more viable had health authorities spelt out details of the policy and had practitioners and patients been given clearer information about the free health care policy.
Morocco's Prime Minister declares support for abortion
Date: 11 January 2012
Morocco's Prime Minister has declared his support for allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest. This follows earlier statements from the social and family development committing the newly elected moderate Islamic party to a change in abortion law.
The government's new position on the issue was unexpected. The ruling party took a tough line on moral issues when it was in opposition. But the party appears to have shifted its opinion, in line with opinion polls showing that half of respondents wanted abortion to be legalised in cases of incest or rape.
Breast cancer remains under-diagnosed in developing countries
Date: 26 January 2012
The full report can be downloaded here.
Men who have sex with men may now be the highest HIV risk group in Africa
Date: 1 February 2012
A review of at risk populations in Kenya (Mombasa and Nairobi) and South Africa (Cape Town) has found that men who have sex with men may now be at considerably higher risk of acquiring HIV than other at-risk groups such as female sex workers or young people of either sex.
The study, conducted by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, compared populations of MSM, heterosexual women (largely sex workers) and heterosexual men who bought sex between 2007 and 2010. The review found lower-than-expected HIV incidence amongst female sex workers and their clients and high levels of HIV incidence in MSM (6.1- 9.7%). In comparison, annual HIV incidence in non-MSM men was 0.9% in Mombasa and 0% in the other two sites. There was lower than expected HIV incidence amongst female sex workers and their clients of an unexpectedly low 0.4% to 3%. The study found that people who paid for sex were more than five times less likely to acquire HIV than people who did not, which was described as unexpected but suggests that people having paid-for sex may be more wary of HIV and STIs and more likely to use condoms.
Quarter of men resume sex before wounds from circumcision fully healed, Zambia
Date: 31 January 2012
Remembering David Kato, Ugandan gay rights activist
26 January marks the anniversary of the murder of Ugandan gay rights activist, who was murdered in his own home.
Gay rights activists paid tribute to David in a memorial service in Kampala, attended by more than 100 activists, human rights defenders and allies of Uganda's gay community, with a mass spoken by a retired Ugandan bishop and US pastor. David was described by the bishop as a selfless leader who served the gay community in Uganda to challenge discrimination and stigma for homosexuals. David Kato's mother spoke at the ceremony, saying she was thankful for the love extended to her in the last one year since her son's death.
David campaigned fearlessly for the rights of all minorities. His death is a tragic example of the increasing homophobia witnessed across Africa, but his work continues as David's organisation, SMUG, continues to fight for gay equality in Uganda.
David Kato and his work remain in all our thoughts.
No more access for later term abortions in Australia
Date: 26 January 2012
Spanish government plans to tighten abortion law
Date: 26 January 2012
Newsletter highlights violence against women, Pakistan
Source: Peace Foundation
New Brazilian law requires compulsory registration of all pregnant women
In the dead of night on December 27, while parliament was closed, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff enacted a "provisional measure" that, if approved by the parliament within two months, will require all pregnancies to be registered, under women's names, with the government. Provisional Measure 557 (PM 557, translated here for the RHM website) creates a National System of Registration, Vigilance and Monitoring of Women's Care during Pregnancy and Post Childbirth for the Prevention of Maternal Mortality.
The President claims that PM 557 will address Brazil's high rates of maternal mortality by ensuring better access, coverage and quality of maternal health care, notably for high-risk pregnancies.
However, activists are extremely concerned about the anti-abortion implications of PM557. The decree gives the fetus rights with the same status as the pregnant woman for the first time in Brazil. Abortion is legal only in the case of rape, severe genetic abnormalities, or danger to the woman's life, yet it is estimated that one in five Brazilian women will have an abortion in her lifetime. The Health Ministry estimates that 200,000 women are hospitalised each year as a result of unsafe induced abortion. By placing the woman's name in a national registry, a woman may be treated as legally 'obligated' to have every child she conceives.
Anti-abortion politicians are pushing for further laws and will be greatly heartened by this measure. For example, the Chamber of Deputies is currently considering a bill to pay women who become pregnant due to rape and do not have an abortion a minimum wage until the child reaches 18 years of age, what activists are calling a "rape pension".
PM557 is unlikely to reduce maternal mortality, despite that being its stated aim. Although pregnancies will be monitored, there is no guarantee that maternity care will be available to all pregnant women and no funding is mandated to improve maternity services. The bill does say the federal government will provide financial support of about US$27 for registered pregnant women to pay for transportation to health facilities for antenatal and delivery care. However, women must comply with specific conditions set by the state to receive the stipend and access to antenatal tests, timely diagnosis of complications, skilled attendance at delivery, emergency obstetric care, or referrals for specialist care if needed are also not mentioned. Maternal morbidity and mortality in Brazil are primarily related to unsafe abortion and the poor quality of obstetric care in some public health facilities, mainly affecting the poorest women.
Activists compare this measure to similar surveillance of pregnant women which had pronatalist, anti-abortion intention under Ceausescu's dictatorship in Romania in the 1980s.
The measure has to be submitted for approval to the parliament within two months.
Brazilian women's groups and NGOs are considering the implications and deciding how to respond to this surprise event.
Abortion safer than giving birth, new US study
Date: 24 January 2012
Calling young African women leaders - MILEAD Fellows Program applications
Date: 24 January
Women feel HIV threat is reduced after male circumcision, Kenya
Source: IRIN PlusNews
Health, hunger and gender inequality are main threats to women, South Sudan
Date: 20 January 2012
Abortion rates lower where laws are more liberal
Date: 18 January 2012
Importantly, the findings demonstrate that restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower rates of abortion. The chart below clearly shows that where abortion is highly restricted, such as Africa and Latin America, abortion is much higher than in Europe, where abortion laws are generally more liberal. Restrictive abortion laws do not reduce abortion, just make them less safe.
The study, published in the Lancet, is available online.
International code of practice to stop health worker brain drain
Date: 22 December 2011
The Code, User's Guide and Implementation Strategy are available for download on the WHO website.
Critical shortages of health service providers (nurses, doctors and midwives).
Data are from the WHO Global Atlas of the Health Workforce - 2006.
Source: Taylor A, Hwenda L, Larsen B-I at al. Stemming the Brain Drain - A WHO Global Code of Practice on International Recruitment of Health Personnel. N Engl J Med 365;25.
Breast implant scandal raises outcry over private UK health providers
US woman imprisoned for self-administered abortion
Date: 16 December 2011
A US woman has been arrested and charged for choosing to abort an unwanted child. The mother of three learned she was pregnant by a man who in prison for robbery. Deciding that she could not afford another baby, nor the $500 fee and two trips to get an abortion needed to have an abortion (two trips, because Idaho state law requires women to wait 24 hours after their first visit to the doctor to 'think it over'), the woman bought the abortion drug RU-486 from a vendor online. She was later arrested and charged with an illegal abortion, with police claiming that she was over Idaho's legal limit of 20 weeks for an abortion. Although charges have been dropped because gestational age cannot be determined, prosecutors are retaining the right to re-charge the woman. She has also been fired from her job and has effectively had a request for help to care for her children denied by social workers.
Link found between FGM and mental disorders in Iraq
Date: 13 January 2012
Right to abortion as emergency procedure, Norway
Date: 13 January 2012
Pope reported to International Criminal Court for sexual violence and crimes against humanity
Date: 9 January 2012
On September 13, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the Pope, the Vatican Secretary of State and two Cardinals for rape, other forms of sexual violence, and torture as crimes against humanity.
The case seeks to establish that the sexual violence perpetrated in the Catholic Church is systematic and widespread. It estimates that between 1981 and 2005 the number of victims was in the range of 100,000, but this is evidence only from Europe, North America and Australasia. Taking into account cases from Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, it is likely many times higher worldwide.
The case establishes that high-level Vatican officials either knew or should have known about the brutality being perpetuated by its members. Although the Court's jurisdiction only goes back to 2002, the submission to the ICC makes the argument that the numerous cases that occurred prior to 2002 are vital to establishing the "culture of rape and impunity" within the Church. It also argues that cases that occur in the US or in other countries that have not ratified the ICC statute are admissible as evidence because they further establish the widespread, systematic nature of sexual violence within the Church.
During this period, the current pope headed the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body to which all sexual violations within the Church must be reported. The pope is accused of ordering, encouraging, facilitating, or otherwise abetting those policies and practices related to the cover-up of credible sexual violence claims. Also named in the complaint is Vatican Secretary of State, who said that bishops should not be obliged to report offending priests to civil authorities, citing the 'professional secrecy' of priests. Another cardinal is also named, for his instrumental role in preventing accountability for a notorious case of sexual violence by a priest, who was denounced but continued to abuse children. One of those children has come forward to report that the cardinal also raped him.
The two organisations presenting the case, CCR and SNAP, are asking for those who know of others with information or evidence they want to share in relation to the case to contact CCR or communicate directly to the ICC. The more cases that are presented at the ICC, the greater chance there is that it will hear a complaint against the Vatican.
HPV vaccination for adolescent girls - the numbers increase
Date: 1 December 2012
An article in the most recent edition of WHO's Bulletin highlights the successes in increasing HPV vaccination, following the GAVI Alliance announcement last year that they would subsidise HPV vaccinations in low-income countries.
This is a huge opportunity for women's and girls' health. Cervical cancer affects close to half a million women ever year, killing an estimated 275,000 women. Over three quarters of these deaths occur in the developing world, where cancer screening and treatment services are scarce. The HPV vaccine can avert up to 70% of these deaths.
The article highlights successes in countries such as Bhutan and Rwanda - but emphasises the ongoing challenges of delivering these vaccines in settings where the health system needs substantial strengthening.
Saudi Arabia fears premarital sex if women drive
Date: 11 January 2012
Publication: Global family planning providers' handbook updated
Date: 9 January 2012
Twenty years of ICSI and 2.5 million children born
Date: 9 January 2012
Venezuela offers free removal of faulty PIP breast implants
Date: 28 December 2011
Source: The Guardian
Venezuela's health ministry has said that women with implants made by the now-defunct French company, Poly Implant Prothese, can go to hospitals that carry out plastic surgery to have the implants removed. The procedure would not include replacing them. An estimated 35,000 to 40,000 women in the country have breast enlargement surgery each year, although numbers with PIP implants are not known. The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, has criticised the widespread popularity of breast surgery.
Uruguay senate passes bill to legalise abortion
Date: 28 December 2011
France to order removal of dangerous implants
Date: 22 December 2011
A scandal erupted in France surrounding the use of implants for breast enhancement and reconstructive surgery that were made from industrial rather than medical silicon.
The implants were made by the company Poly Implant Prosthese (PIP) and have been implanted into around 30,000 French women. They have been found to be subject to leakage and more prone to bursting than properly made implants. This week they were also linked by French researchers to eight cases of cancer.
Senior French officials this week told the Libération newspaper that the state would order the removal of the implants.
Asia Pacific feminists gather in historic regional forum
Date: 22 December 2011
Despite enormous diversity across the region, women face many common problems. Asia's leading role in global economic growth has placed a huge burden on women in the region, many of whom work in hazardous economic processing zones separated from their families and communities. The region suffers more climate-related disasters than any other region, with the greatest impact on women. Cultural and religious fundamentalism restrict women's rights across the region, as do conflict and militarisation.
The three-day event included workshops on migrant domestic worker rights, using technology for women's rights, sexual and reproductive health rights, women holding states accountable, building a feminist sustainable development framework and CEDAW and Muslim Family Laws. There was also fun with morning yoga, a Feminist Film Festival and Feminist Fashion Show. The event used new and participatory approaches, avoiding speeches and formal plenaries, instead using interviews, experiential workshops, story-telling and skills sharing.
Major outcomes include forming an Asia Pacific Network for Women with Disabilities and developing a process to collectively address the reduction in funding for womens rights work in the region. The forum suggested that it is repeated every two or three years.
Mali's new family law increases discrimination against women
Date: 16 December 2011
On 2 December the Malian Parliament adopted a new family law which eliminates many women's rights and perpetuates discrimination. This is a severe setback, after two decades of activism for a family law that would increase protection for women.
A first draft of the Family Code was adopted by the National Assembly in August 2009. It did not enshrine equal rights between the sexes, but did contain significant advances on the law that was in place. Following protests by conservative forces, the draft law was not enacted and the President sent it back to Parliament for a second reading. The revision processes included substantial changes, all of which erode women's rights. According to the new Code, a woman must obey her husband and men are considered head of the family. Legal age for marriage is 18 years for males and 16 for females although as young as 15 years in some cases.
Activist groups, including FIDH, have lobbied about the harmful consequences of weakening the text. However, recommendations made by civil society have been ignored whilst the demands of the High Islamic Council have been taken into account in the new law.
UN report on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity
Date: 16 December 2011
The first ever United Nations report on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people was released on 15 December by the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It details how around the world people are killed or endure hate-motivated violence, torture, detention, criminalisation and discrimination in jobs, health care and education because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
The report states that violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes. It has been recorded in every region of the world, and ranges from murder, kidnappings, assaults and rapes to psychological threats and arbitrary deprivations of liberty. Violent incidents or acts of discrimination frequently go unreported because victims do not trust police, are afraid of reprisals or are unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT.
The report was prepared in response to a request from the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year. In the report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, calls on countries to repeal laws that criminalise homosexuality, abolish the death penalty for offences involving consensual sexual relations, harmonise the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual conduct, and enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. The High Commissioner also calls on countries to ensure that no one fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is returned to a territory where their life or freedom is at threat, and that asylum laws recognise that sexual orientation or gender identity is a valid basis for claiming persecution.
The report will be discussed by Council members at a meeting in March next year.
The full report can be downloaded in English from the OHCHRs website here.
Lebanon's new nationality law only for men
Date: 16 December 2011
On 12 December 2011, the Lebanese Cabinet issued a draft law to reinstate Lebanese nationality to emigrants of Lebanese descent. However, the draft law was endorsed after "minor modifications", according to the Minister of Interior. One modification was the specification that Lebanese descent shall be limited to fathers and grandfathers only, not mothers or grandmothers.
The Claiming Equal Citizenship Campaign is concerned about this development and by the government's speedy endorsement of this draft law. An earlier law petition calling for equal nationality rights regardless of sex was submitted in July 2011 with no response or reaction from the Prime Minister. The Campaign objects to the outright definition of lineage as being solely patriarchal.
The Campaign is asking the elected Lebanese Parliament to refrain from endorsing this draft law, while considering equality and inclusive citizenship rights to be the guiding principles for any law.
Abortion across Africa still needs legal backing
Date: 15 December 2011
Publication: Global standards for responsible ethics in research and publication
Date: 14 December
The Committee on Publication Ethics has launched two new position statements that set out international standards for responsible research publication for editors and authors. The standards were developed collaboratively, by experts across the scientific, philosophy and social research fields from Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.
The standards cover issues such as ensuring that research funders and sponsors cannot veto publication of findings that do not favour their product or position, separation of a journal's commercial activities and editorial processes, making sure that any research complies with national and international laws and best practice guidelines before publication.
The two international standards can be found on the COPE website.
Publication: Surviving FGM
Date: 22 November 2011
Source: UnCut Voices Press
Blood Stains: A child of Africa reclaims her human rights is the memoir of Khady, a Senegalese woman living through and speaking out against FGM. It tells her story from a child marriage in Senegal, the birth of three children before the age of 19, and her journey from the village to international activism.
Blood Stains is published by UnCut Voices Press, a publisher dedicated to ending female genital mutilation.
Contact UnCut Voices for more information or to purchase a copy of Blood Stains.
Human rights organisations abandon GBV campaigns, Egypt
Date: 30 November 2011
On 19 November security forces violently dispersed people who were injured in the revolution in June and who had been calling for state compensation and payment for treatment by organising a sit-in in Tahrir Square and other places. Others joined the injured in protest against police brutality and military rule.
The 16 Days of Activism is a chance to draw attention to violence against women living under military rule, but the immediate need to go onto the street was felt to be more important. Feminist organisations report that women are participating more in this second wave of revolution. Women are on the frontline, including women politicians who were not on the street earlier in the year, making human shields and in the field hospitals. Despite the opposition that women are facing from some men, who are trying to stop women from taking part in the protest, there are many other men who are supporting women's involvement.
Nazra for Feminist Studies, The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, The New Woman Foundation, El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and the Women and Memory Forum are calling for support to move into a peaceful stage and continue women's participation in remaking their country.
Climate change and reproductive rights must be integrated
Date: 2 December 2011
As the world's population nears seven billion, Population and Sustainability Network drew attention to the links between population dynamics, sexual and reproductive rights and climate change, in a launch of two new publications at the UK parliament.
The publications report on a symposium held in 2010, organised in association with Commat, BMA and PPD Africa. They call for political leadership to ensure that both population and consumption issues are addressed in an integrated way. One report is presented as an advocacy toolkit for use by activists and policy makers.
The developing world contributes the least greenhouse gas emissions, will be most affected by climate change and are least able to deal with the negative effects. Urgent action is needed to challenge climate change scepticism. Family planning is an essential right for women and there must be funding for sexual and reproductive health. Most importantly, climate change funding needs to recognise family planning as part of effective adaptation strategies. There must be political leadership to ensure that issues related to population growth are addressed in tandem with efforts to reduce consumption.
The reports can be downloaded from the PSN website. See the RHM blog for more comment on this issue.
iPhone voice recognition shows anti-abortion bias
Date: 1 December 2011
When asked to find an abortion clinic in Manhattan, for example, Siri replies "Sorry, I couldn't find any abortion clinics." However, the service is easily able to find escort agencies or advise on where to dump a dead body. Reportedly it has also directed individuals to anti-abortion agencies in some places.
Russian parliament passes abortion bill
Date: 1 December 2011
TV talks about reproductive rights, Tajikistan
Date: 1 December 2011
Albanian and Lithuanian rights groups protest against rising domestic violence
Date: 1 December 2011
Abortion clinic staff supported to fight back against harassment, US
Date: 1 December 2011
Source: Abortion Care Network
Set back for sex workers' rights in South Africa
Date: 1 December 2011
Undiagnosed HIV infections and low retention in care in the US
Date: 1 December 2011
Source: Aidsmap Treatment, for those who continued, had good medical outcomes with 77% of patients on antiretroviral therapy having undetectable viral load. But the high rate of undiagnosed infections and the large proportion of patients dropping out of care meant that only 28% of all HIV-positive patients in the US had an undetectable viral load. The study found racial disparities, with white patients having highest rates of viral suppression, Hispanic patients with lower rates of treatment adherence and black patients with the lowest rates. Only 70% of black patients on treatment achieving virological suppression. Only 45% of patients in care had received HIV prevention counselling. There were significant disparities in age, with younger patients more likely to have received counselling, and also disparities in race and HIV risk group.
Treatment, for those who continued, had good medical outcomes with 77% of patients on antiretroviral therapy having undetectable viral load. But the high rate of undiagnosed infections and the large proportion of patients dropping out of care meant that only 28% of all HIV-positive patients in the US had an undetectable viral load. The study found racial disparities, with white patients having highest rates of viral suppression, Hispanic patients with lower rates of treatment adherence and black patients with the lowest rates. Only 70% of black patients on treatment achieving virological suppression. Only 45% of patients in care had received HIV prevention counselling. There were significant disparities in age, with younger patients more likely to have received counselling, and also disparities in race and HIV risk group.
Ireland sets up expert group on abortion rights
Date: 30 November 2011
Women and men march on Zimbabwe parliament to celebrate 16 Days of Activism
Date: 30 November 2011
Infant and maternal mortality rate halved, Afghanistan
Date: 30 November 2011
Fistula hotline launched in Sierra Leone
The launch of a free fistula hotline at the Aberdeen Women's Centre, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, offers free help to the many women in Sierra Leone who have, until now, suffered in silence. Vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF) is very common in Sierra Leone. The highest estimates put fistula prevalence at a similar rate to maternal mortality - one in eight women - but there is little research to back up these estimates. Lack of awareness of the cause of fistula and the stigma and blame mean that few women talk about the condition. Fistula occurs most often in young women (15 to 30 years old), most of whom come from rural areas with poor access to healthcare. Widespread rape trauma, during and after Sierra Leone's long civil war, was also a cause of high fistula rates several years ago.
The hotline is a free phone number, staffed by three nurses, run as a partnership between the clinic, UNFPA, private foundations and a telecommunications company. In the first month more than 8,000 calls have been received, but so far just 0.1 percent have been about cases of fistula because of the very low levels of information about VVF. This low percentage, however, means that the clinic has received 90 cases since the hotline opened and this is the start of success. The clinic provides the only comprehensive fistula repair service in the country.
The Ministry of Health emphasises the need for prevention, with information and reproductive health services, especially for adolescent girls. Sierra Leone is currently finalizing a strategic plan to tackle fistula and will appoint a focal person by the start of 2012.
Women journalists face violence across the world
Date: 28 November 2011
Home births as safe as hospital, UK
Date: 25 November 2011
A study of more than 64,500 births in England has found that giving birth at home or in a midwife-led birth centre is just as safe as going into hospital for women who already have a child, but there is a slight extra risk of problems for the babies of first-time mothers who opt to stay at home. Women with low-risk pregnancies should have the right to choose where they want to give birth, conclude the authors of the research.
The report found that adverse outcomes for the baby, such as still birth, were rare in women who had low-risk pregnancies and there were no significant differences between hospital obstetric units and elsewhere. There was an increase of nearly 3% in the risk of an adverse outcome for babies of first-time mothers at home, although the study was not able to identify which aspects of the care or site contributed to this.
The study also found the experience for the woman was very different between hospital and other settings, with fewer interventions such as caesarean sections, epidurals for pain relief and forceps deliveries amongst women who had planned to give birth at home or in a birth centre and at least started their care there.
Currently only 4% of women give birth at home and midwife-led birth centres are available in only half the areas of England.
Abortion hotline opened in Pakistan
Date: 24 November 2011
The Dutch-based NGO, Women on Waves, recently set up an abortion hotline in Pakistan to give practical information about unwanted pregnancy, and sexual and reproductive health in general. They are working in partnership with the Pakistani women's group, Aware Girls. Information about safe abortion, with other sexual and reproductive health, is offered to women who call in. Despite violent opposition from Islamic groups and some political parties, the organisations are determined to continue to offer this essential service.
Breaking the silence on abortion in Zambia
In Zambia, the taboo surrounding abortion leads to thousands of women dying every year as they try to terminate pregnancies illegally. These deaths account for 30% of the already high maternal mortality rate of 591 deaths per 100,000 live births. Girls and young women under 19 years old account for a staggering four in five of these deaths.
Although abortion is legal in case of maternal physical or mental wellbeing, few people know about it. Even for those who do, getting the required signatures from three doctors is extremely hard. Cultural taboos about abortion, and difficulties of talking about such issues with parents and fears about confidentiality, make it harder for adolescent girls, even when they could afford an abortion.
In the face of these challenges, there are some initiatives trying to educate people about unsafe abortion. Africa Directions, a local NGO in Lusaka, performs plays in the community, using local stories to raise discussion about unsafe abortion. After the performances, which are led by a local TV soap star who coordinates the project, and is always a draw, the actors hand out slips directing local residents to a nearby health centre where they can obtain sexual and reproductive health advice.
High levels of violence against marginalised women, South Asia
Date: 18 November 2011
Pregnant young women expelled from school, Burkina Faso
Date: 17 November 2011
Donors still not transparent about their aid programmes
Date: 16 November 2011