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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
This lack of transparency leads to waste, overlap and inefficiency, according to Publish What You Fund. It is particularly disappointing given that many donors make transparency a condition for the aid that they provide yet do not practice what they preach.
The full report can be accessed on the Publish What You Fund website.
Parliamentary debate on legal abortion, Argentina
Date: 10 November 2011
Source: National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion
It remains unclear what the next steps are for the proposed bill, but the campaign for safe, free and legal abortion continues.
New US policy for an AIDS-free generation sidelines reproductive health and rights
Date: 14 November 2011
Rape cases soar in Somalia's camps
Date: 11 November 2011
Silence and stigma after rape in Pakistan
Date: 9 November 2011
The Karachi-based NGO, War Against Rape, reviewed data from local hospitals and police stations and found that the the average age of victims had fallen from 18 years in 2010 to 13 in 2011 in Karachi. Only a minority of the cases reported from hospitals had been reported to the police. The reluctance to report rape is even greater in rural areas, where people in power can threaten families of girls who have been raped and bribe police to ignore cases.
Mississippi voters decide fertilised eggs are not people
Date: 8 November 2011
UN Committee recommends that Peru eases abortion restrictions
Date: 7 November 2011
Misconceptions leading to low participation rates in HIV vaccine trials
Date: 4 November 2011
Therapeutic vaccines, when used in combination with existing oral medications, could eventually cure someone of HIV. Last February, GeoVax announced the results of Phase 1 clinical trial testing of its vaccine products involving three trial regimens; the vaccines showed excellent safety characteristics in each.
Mifepristone registered in Mexico
Date: 2 November 2011
Male circumcision and sexual difficulties, Denmark
Date: October 2011
A recent study in Denmark explored the associations between male circumcision and sexual experiences and current difficulties with sexual desire, sexual needs fulfilment and sexual functioning.
A national survey asked questions about circumcision status and details about their sex lives and then compared the responses between circumcised and uncircumcised men and their female sexual partners. The analysis took into account differences such as age, frequency of intercourse and religious and cultural backgrounds.
The research found that circumcision was associated with frequent orgasm difficulties in men (11% of circumcised men reported difficulties compared to 4% of uncircumcised men) and with a range of sexual difficulties in their female sexual partners, notably orgasm difficulties, pain during intercourse and a sense of incomplete sexual needs fulfilment. The researchers suggest further research in higher prevalence communities. In Denmark about 5% of men are circumcised.
Creating tomorrow's abortion providers, Medical Students for Choice, US
Date: 12 October 2011
New chlamydia treatment and vaccine hopes
Date: 12 October 2011
Researchers in the University of Southamption, UK, and Ben Gurion University, Israel, have made a significant breakthrough in accessing the chlamydial genome which could pave the way for more effective treatment of the disease.
Until now, it has not been possible to study chlamydial genetics, making it difficult to study the disease comprehensively. The researchers managed to access the chlamydial genome, proving that they could do so by inserting the gene for a fluorescent protein into C. trachomatis which identified the chlamydial-infected cells by making them glow green.
They hope that it could eventually lead to the development of a vaccine for C. trachomatis. Chlamydia is a major cause of sexually transmitted infections, causing pelvic inflammatory disease, increasing the risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy.
Their paper is published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Pathogens and has been selected as the Editor's Choice for the journal Science.
Landmark decision establishes state's responsibility on preventable maternal death, Brazil
Date: 16 August 2011
UN Member States stand up for women's reproductive rights in Ireland
Date: 18 October 2011
Poll shows most Argentineans support abortion access
Date: 28 October 2011
About three quarters of the population is Catholic, but 70% of respondents rejected the idea that Catholics have a moral obligation to vote against candidates who support legal abortion, while nearly six in ten say that the bishops do not play an important role in their voting decisions.
A copy of the survey is available on the Catholics for Choice website.
Moroccan government to increase abortion access
Date: 14 October 2011
Kenya grapples with counterfeit ARVs
Date: 19 October 2011
According to the KPPB, the fake drugs were not manufactured by the licensed producer, Hetero Drugs Limited, based in India. WHO's investigations found that the batch number that appeared on the fake drugs was the same as one that appears on a Hetero-produced batch, manufactured and controlled according to WHO-recommended specifications, found to be of acceptable quality and not been supplied to Kenya.
All patients have been asked to return these drugs to clinics. Of an estimated 16,340 batches of the counterfeit drug that have been released, 15,000 have been returned and KPPB is tracking down the remaining counterfeith drugs that have been issued. Officials say the government is investigating how the drugs found their way into the country, and is looking into strengthening surveillance systems. Activists have criticised the regulatory authorities for allowing counterfeit drugs into the supply chain, especially where treatment requires strict adherence to a regimen.
Court conviction for harassment of women seeking abortion, Austria
Date: 23 October
An Austrian court has convicted four members of an anti-abortion group for harassment of a doctor who is performing abortions. The head of the group Austria was sentenced to 6,200 Euros and three of his colleagues to fines of several hundred Euros each. This was the verdict of the court of appeal, which means that no further appeal is possible. This is the first time in Austria that harassment in relation to abortion has been declared illegal by a court.
In British Columbia, Canada, there has been legislation in place since 1996 to prevent activity of anti-abortion demonstrators near abortion services or the homes and offices of doctors providing abortions. This legislation was enacted with significant consultation of stakeholders, following the attempted murder of a Canadian abortion provider. There have been challenges to this legislation over the years in courts, but the legislation has been upheld to date.
Russian parliament seriously limits legal abortions
Date: 21 October 2011
Life long advocate for women's right to choose, New Zealand
Date: 31 May 2011
Pregnancy counselling centres, UK, show serious flaws
Date: 14 October 2011
The report can be downloaded here.
UK abortion law reform campaigner is remembered
Date: 12 October 2011
Our Bodies Ourselves turns 40
Date: 6 October 2011
The anniversary was celebrated by a free public symposium at Boston University on women's health and human rights, 'Our Bodies, Our Future: Advancing Health and Human Rights for Women and Girls'. The speakers highlighted the most pressing issues that impact the health and safety of women and girls today and discussed ways to secure their full civic and political involvement.
The book is a product of Our Bodies Ourselves, also known as the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, which is a nonprofit, public interest women's health education, advocacy and consulting organisation. The Our Bodies Ourselves Global Initiative collaborates with women's organisations developing resources based on Our Bodies, Ourselves for outreach and advocacy in their own countries. Since 2001, the initiative has worked with more than 22 groups, providing the technical assistance and support they need to deliver evidence-based, culturally meaningful health resources in print, digital and interactive formats to millions of women and girls.
A newly revised and updated edition of Our Bodies Ourselves was launched on 1 October 2011. It continues to address the broad range of women's reproductive health and sexuality. The book also has new sections on how health care reform affects women and how to get the care you need, safer sex, environmental health risks and how to minimise exposure to everyday pollutants that endanger our bodies and reproductive health, body Image and healthy approaches to looking and feeling good, local and global activism.
More information about how to order the new edition is available here.
Mexico dismisses unconstitutionality claim
Date: 29 September 2011
Cakes and the right to choose, UK
Date: 29 September 2011
Supreme Court may annul state constitutions that restrict abortion, Mexico
Date: 13 September 2011
If the briefs are approved, the reforms would be declared unconstitutional and void in the Mexican states where they are currently in effect. Eight votes are required to approve the briefs to annul the reforms and are due to be discussed by the Supreme Court shortly.
Sudanese doctor freed after five years in jail for abortion
Date: 19 September 2011
In 1991, Sudan amended its Penal Code to expand the circumstances under which abortions are permitted. Abortions are allowed in Sudan either to save a pregnant woman's life or if a woman is pregnant due to rape or incest. However, many women will seek abortions from traditional herbal healers or traditional midwives, especially those that are unmarried.
Referendum narrowly rejects abortion on request, Liechtenstein
Date: 18 September 2011
Publication: The Lancet explores 9/11 and its aftermath
This issue of The Lancet explores the short-term and long-term physical, mental, and public health consequences of the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001.
Polish parliament rejects two draft bills changing abortion law
Date: 5 September 2011
The Polish Parliament has rejected two draft bills that would change abortion law.
Despite existing Polish abortion regulation being extremely restrictive, a civil society initiative has emerged that is attempting to introduce a total abortion ban. Their proposed draft law was debated by Parliament on 1 July and was transferred for consideration by the Parliamentarian Commissions for Health and Social Affairs. On 31 August this draft was rejected by a narrow margin of five votes.
A second draft bill had been introduced by the Social Democrats in response to the proposed total abortion ban. This draft aims at introducing abortion on demand and facilitating women's access to reproductive health services. The draft bill was rejected by the vast majority of Parliamentarians after the first reading on the same day.
On 1st September a new pro-choice initiative called Tak Dla Kobiet (Yes for Women) was formed. It is currently promoting its new draft bill - 'law on responsible parenthood and other reproductive rights'. This draft bill calls for abortion on demand up to 12 weeks and changes to the current provisions regulating access to sexual and reproductive health services. The initiative must collect 100,000 signatures to proceed with the project. After the signatures are collected, the draft will be debated by the Parliament.
Proposed new Russian law threatens women's reproductive rights
Date: 5 September 2011
A commission reviewing Russia's abortion legislation is developing proposals that, if passed, would severely restrict women's access to abortion. Russia's current law guarantees the right to abortion, but in practice this right has been slowly but steadily undermined over recent years. Legally, a woman can ask for an abortion on request up until 12 weeks of pregnancy. Between 12 and 22 weeks an abortion can be performed on the basis of defined medical or 'social' reasons. Over the years, government has reduced the number of medical and social reasons, although these currently only make up 2-3% of current abortions.
The measures now being proposed by the commission that is reviewing abortion law include the need for married women to obtain a permission from their husbands to perform an abortion and for teenage mothers to obtain consent from their parents or legal guardians. A waiting period of one week will be instituted during which the woman seeking an abortion will have compulsory 'psychological consultations', mandatory viewing of ultrasound and listening to the embryo's heartbeat. The stated purpose of these obligatory procedures is to pressure the woman into changing her mind about the termination of her pregnancy. 'Social reasons' to undergo an abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, such as the husband's death during the pregnancy will be eliminated, with the only remaining social reason being a pregnancy resulting from rape. Doctors will be allowed to refuse to perform abortions with no guarantees of referral to another health care provider. An informed consent form is proposed, which warns women of 'serious risks' associated with abortion.
The abortion amendments are likely to be introduced to the new version of the Health Law that is currently being debated by the Russian Parliament. If adopted, the proposed changes to the current law will significantly limit women's access to abortion, and will be likely to cause the rise of criminal abortions, already currently the cause of five per cent of maternal deaths in Russia.
Save the NHS!! Call for the withdrawal of Lansley's Bill
Date: 1 September 2011
Source: Marge Berer, Editor, Reproductive Health Matters
Next week, MPs will be voting on massive changes to the NHS, which will open the way to widespread privatisation of services. 38 Degrees obtained thorough, independent legal advice about the meaning of these changes, which are in line with Conservative ideology. The lawyers identified two major problems in the legislation: 1) the Secretary of State's duty to provide a health service will be scrapped, and 2) the NHS will almost certainly be subject to UK and EU competition law, allowing private health providers to compete for contracts. In addition, the legislation lifts the cap on the NHS filling hospitals with private patients.
This is our NHS, and it's up to us to defend it. Now is the time to flood MPs with emails opposing the bill. Email your MP today at www.38degrees.org.uk/page/speakout/email-your-MP-now. But make your message even stronger than the one on the 38 Degrees website. Call on your MP to vote down the Bill, full stop! And forward this information to everyone you know to do the same.
For further information, go to:
17 reasons to oppose the NHS bill
Andrew O'Hagan on defending the NHS Nye Bevan style London Review of Books March 2011
Women and girls forgotten in post-earthquake Haiti
A report by Human Rights Watch has drawn attention to the desperate situation faced by women and girls in post-earthquake Haiti. In addition to the extreme hardships faced by all people living in post-earthquake Haiti, women and girls face lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care, often have to engage in survival sex to buy food for themselves and their children, and face high levels of sexual violence. Pregnancy rates in displaced person camps are three times higher than in urban areas before the earthquake. The maternal mortality rate is among the world's worst.
The report strongly condemns the failure to protect these women and girls and calls on all those with human rights obligations - the Haitian government, donor states and agencies, and non-government international organisations - to have greater mutual accountability.
The full report can be downloaded here in English and French.
UK man jailed for infecting partner with genital herpes, concerns raised about legislation
Date: 22 August 2011
Condoms4Life gets visibility at Catholic World Youth Day, Spain
Date: 21 August 2011
The World Youth Day 4 All coalition raised the profile of their Condoms4Life campaign at the six day Catholic World Youth Day event in Madrid, which ends on 22 August. The campaign raises awareness about the devastating effect of the bishop's ban on condoms and draws attention to the pope's statements on condoms as an HIV prevention method that saves lives.
When the local authorities in Madrid censored the campaign's advertisements on buses and bill boards, the coalition beamed the ads onto walls outside the archbishop's residence, onto the offices of the advertising company who had accepted and then rejected the campaign's ads for buses and bus shelters. They also projected the ads onto the office of the city council member who was reported to be behind the decision to ban the ad. Pilgrims were given wristbands and postcards. Many of them were seen using stickers that appeared around the city.
The campaign was an enormous success and received extensive coverage in the national and international media. The visible presence, nightly screenings on buildings and extensive press coverage led to animated discussions on the use of condoms for HIV prevention.
The ads can be seen on the Condoms4Life website.
Pro-natalist policies in Eastern Europe hit young women hard
Date: 19 August 2011
Australian advocacy to increase access to medical abortion, sex education and contraception
Date: 18 August 2011
Yet despite these constraints, doctors started to use a piece of TGA legislation, the Authorised Prescriber legislation, which allows doctors to import and use drugs recognised overseas but not available in Australia within their own practices. Over the past five years, more than 100 doctors across Australia have become Authorised Prescribers of mifepristone and they can be found in all states except Tasmania and the Northern Territories. However, their ability to use the drug is confined to their own practices or hospitals, so while access for women to early medical abortion using mifepristone is relatively easy in capital but it is limited or non-existent for women in other urban areas and in rural and remote areas.
Advocates are now making an application to the TGA to market the drug nationally and they hope that this will be successful within the next few months. These doctors are also advocating for more effective provision of contraceptive services, contraceptive information services and high-quality sex education in schools in order to increase the proportion of pregnancies that are both planned and wanted.
Pope arrives in Spain amid censorship controversy whilst Spanish archbishops affirm freedom of expression
Date: 18 August 2011
UN special rapporteur on right to health releases report on right to abortion
Date: 3 August 2011
Understanding the drivers of homophobia in Ghana
Date: 1 August 2011
Sex for school fees in Madagascar
Date: 1 August 2011
Limited success for campaigns to end female genital mutilation/cutting, Kenya
Date: 1 August 2011
Adding Value to Health: Global Health Workforce Alliance annual report 2010 now available
The Global Health Workforce Alliance annual report 2010, Adding Value to Health, details the influence and impact of the more than 300 Alliance member organisations over the past year. This year's report focuses on: human resources for health; progress on development and adoption of the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel; progress on the health related Millennium Development Goals; and outcomes from the Second Global Forum on HRH in Bangkok, in January 2011.
International Consortium for Medical Abortion, July newsletter
Date: 27July 2011
The following articles have been published in the recent July issue of the ICMA's newsletter.
The Eastern European Alliance of Reproductive Choice (EEARC) argues why abortion country profiles are important. It has conducted these profiles in 13 countries in the region and the profiles have provided a solid base for advocacy and action. Abortion is legal and widely practiced across the region, but the profiles identify unsolved problems regarding accessibility, quality of services, along with a growing abortion opposition movement in several countries. The EEARC identifies key priority actions in this report.
The UN Commission on Human Rights issued a ruling sentencing the Argentine State to pay damages and to implement measures to impede future violations of women's rights to access safe, legal abortion.
The African Network for Medical Abortion (ANMA) reports on a recent regional Training for Trainers workshop on medical abortion and manual vacuum aspiration.
Space Allies, a Japanese NGO, summarises their situation analysis of abortion access in Japan. Abortion is still a crime in law, although it can be practiced legally through a 'Maternal Protection Law' on the grounds of medical/economic reasons and rape. However, medical abortion is still rarely available and there have been recent prosecutions in cases of medical abortion, costs remain high and issues such as requiring a husband's permission are big barriers to women's access to medical abortion. A petition is underway to change the law.
The Consorcio Latinoamericano Contra el Aborto Inseguro (CLACAI) announces recipients of their third Small Grant Program for local initiatives to promote access to safe abortion in Latin America. Projects include support to phone lines, media and mobile services into rural areas for increasing access to information on safe abortion, development of tools and protocols for reducing risks of unsafe abortion and several projects to reach adolescents with information and services about pregnancy termination. The projects are in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Nicaragua.
Lebanon: New Resource Center for Gender Equality
Date: 26 July 2011
Panel recommends free contraceptives coverage, US
Date: 19 July 2011
Source: New York Times
A leading medical advisory panel in the US has recommended that all insurers be required to cover contraceptives for women free of charge as one of several preventive services under the new health care law.
The panel said insurers should be forbidden to charge co-payments for contraceptives and other preventive services because even small charges could deter their use. In addition to contraceptive services for women, the panel recommended that the government require health plans to cover screening to detect domestic violence; screening for HIV; and counselling and equipment to promote breastfeeding. The recommendation would, however, not help women without insurance.
Obama administration officials said that they were inclined to accept the panel's advice and that the new requirements could take effect for many health insurance plans at the beginning of 2013. In January 2011, the US secretary of health and human services unveiled a 10-year program to improve the nation's health, of which one goal is to 'increase the proportion of health insurance plans that cover contraceptive supplies and services.'
The recommendations immediately touched off a fierce debate over the government's role in reproductive health. Women's groups and medical professionals applauded the recommendations, while groups representing the Roman Catholic Church raised strenuous objections. Defending its recommendations on contraceptive coverage, the panel said that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States were unintended, and that about 40 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion. Thus, it said, greater use of contraception would reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy, teenage pregnancy and abortion.
Australian Catholic Church says sorry over forced adoptions
Date: 25 July 2011
The Catholic Church in Australia issued a national apology today over past adoption practices that have been described as a 'national disgrace', following an ABC investigation into claims of abuse and trauma in Newcastle, New South Wales.
It is believed that at least 150,000 Australian women had their babies taken against their will by some churches and adoption agencies between the 1950s and 1970s. The ABC investigation interviewed many women with harrowing experiences. One woman, who says she was forced to give up her baby at a Catholic-run hospital in Newcastle in 1970, described how 'My ankles were strapped to the bed, they were in stirrups and I was gassed, I had plenty of gas and they just snatched away the baby... It was just like a piece of my soul had died. And it's still dead.' The women claim they were not told about single parent benefits or their rights to revoke consent for adoption. Women have also told the ABC they were given milk suppressing drugs that have now been linked to cancer, as well as barbiturates that caused sedation and in some cases delirium. Women have told the ABC there was pressure to sign adoption papers well before consent could legally be obtained, and in some cases documents were forged.
The chief executive of Catholic Health Australia says he is sorry for what happened. He says the organisation is committed to righting the wrongs and wants to develop protocols to assist women affected. The Catholic Church's adoption agency has previously apologised for misguided, unethical or unlawful practices, after an inquiry by a parliamentary committee in New South Wales in 2000 and, last year, the Western Australian Government also apologised. A Senate inquiry is currently examining the country's former adoption practices.
A representative from the forced adoption support group, Origins NSW, is sceptical about apologies - 'I don't think that anyone can accept an apology for something that's never been basically dealt with legally.'
US House Foreign Affairs Panel favours 'Global Gag' rule on international funding for family planning services
Date: 21 July 2011
Source: Associated Press
In the US, the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, as part of foreign aid legislation, endorsed reinstating the so-called Mexico City Policy, also known as the 'global gag rule', which blocks federal funds to international family planning groups that use their own funds to perform abortions or offer abortion information, except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life is in danger.
The policy has been in and out of law since it was first adopted by President Reagan in 1984. President Clinton in 1993 reversed the ban, but President George W. Bush reinstated it in 2001. President Obama overturned the restriction within his first days in office.
Midwives now permitted to perform medication abortions, France
Date: 24 July 2011
On 13th July, the French Parliament passed an amendment to the law on hospitals that allows midwives working at public or private hospitals to perform medication abortions (medical abortion or non-surgical abortion, carried out up to 7 postmenstrual weeks). According to the amendment, Regional Health Agencies can decide to authorize midwives to counsel women seeking an early abortion and administer the drugs. This is a two-year trial period and every year government will have to present a report evaluating the experience.
Argentina: A groundbreaking decision on abortion
Date: 18 July 2011
When LMR got pregnant after being raped by a relative, she was 19 years-old and had a mental disability that limited her understanding to that of an 8-10 year-old child. Her mother requested an abortion for her daughter. Abortion is illegal in most circumstances but not in cases of rape of a woman with mental disability. Despite multiple attempts with the support of women rights advocates, which obtained a favourable decision by the Buenos Aires Supreme Court, LMR was not able to have an abortion at the public health system. She ultimately terminated the pregnancy at an illegal abortion clinic.
Three Argentinean rights organisations took the case to the UN Human Rights Committee. The Committee issued a groundbreaking decision in late April, concluding that the facts amounted to physical and moral suffering that violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee also concluded that there were violations to the right to privacy and equality between men and women because only women are vulnerable to this type of human rights violations, as only women can get pregnant. The UN Human Rights Committee urged Argentina to take measures to compensate LMR and to prevent similar cases from happening in the future. The state has now 180 days to report such measures to the Committee.
Russia enacts law opposing abortion
Date: 15 July 2011
President Medvedev has signed into law the first steps intended to restrict abortion since the collapse of communism.
The changes require abortion providers to devote 10% of any advertising to describing the dangers of abortion to a woman's health, including infertility, and they make it illegal to describe abortion as a safe medical procedure. The changes were passed by the upper house of Parliamenet, and tighter restrictions on abortion may follow after Parliament considers a separate health bill in the autumn.
In Soviet times, abortion was free and unrestricted after the late 1960s. But contention over abortion has recently begun to sound like the debate in the US.
Mr. Medvedev has made the fight against Russia's falling birthrate a feature of his presidency, offering payouts for a third child and land plots to encourage women to give birth.
Official statistics placed the number of abortions at 1.3 million in 2009, a significant drop from the 1990s. Russia's increasingly vocal anti-abortion activists, some in Parliament, say it is perhaps many times higher, and Mr. Medvedev's wife has taken up the cause, launching a national campaign "Give Me Life!", including a "week against abortion". The campaign was tied into the "Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness," a holiday created by Mrs. Medvedeva and the Russian Orthodox Church to encourage family values and childbirth.
Sensing a threat, Russian abortion-rights activists have held seminars for journalists and a small protest in St. Petersburg.
New data shows PrEP reduces risk of HIV among heterosexuals
Date: 13 July 2011
Two new studies provide the first evidence that a daily oral dose of antiretroviral drugs can reduce HIV acquisition among HIV-negative individuals exposed to the virus through heterosexual sex. The strategy of providing daily oral antiretroviral drugs to uninfected individuals prior to HIV exposure is called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.
The CDC TDF2 study found that a once-daily tablet containing tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine (TDF/FTC, known by the brand name Truvada) reduced the risk of acquiring HIV infection by roughly 63% in the study population of 1,219 HIV-negative heterosexual men and women aged 18-39 in Botswana, who were randomly assigned to take a daily TDF/FTC pill or a placebo pill. The study had high adherence to taking the drugs: 84% as determined by the pill count.
The Partners PrEP study, carried out by the University of Washington, found that daily PrEP reduced HIV transmission in a study population of 4,758 heterosexual serodiscordant couples - where one partner has HIV and the other does not - at nine sites in Kenya and Uganda. Two separate antiretroviral regimens - tenofovir (brand name Viread) and TDF/FTC - significantly reduced HIV transmission by 62% and 73%, respectively. Good safety and tolerability were reported for both drugs, and adherence based on dispensed drug dosages was extremely high at more than 97%. The findings were released after the trial's independent data safety monitoring board conducted an interim review and recommended that the placebo arm of the study be discontinued due to strong evidence of effectiveness, so that all participants could be offered PrEP.
Both study results have been released in advance of the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (www.ias2011.org) in Rome, where the results will be presented and discussed on Monday 18 July 2011.
"These are exciting results for global HIV prevention. We now have findings from two studies showing that PrEP can work for heterosexuals, the population hardest hit by HIV worldwide," said Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. "Taken together, these studies provide strong evidence of the power of this prevention strategy."
A previous study (iPrEx) had already shown PrEP reduced HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM), but it was not previously known if the strategy could prevent HIV infection among heterosexuals.
A related study, FEM PrEP, was discontinued in April 2011 because an interim analysis found that the trial was unlikely to show a definitive result of the effectiveness of the antiretroviral Truvada in preventing HIV infection among women in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.
Pro-choice demonstration in Poland
Date: 13 July 2010
A pro-choice demonstration took place in Poland on 12 July 2011, against the total abortion ban, which is currently being considered by a committee and will be presented to Parliament in September.
The banners held said exactly what the ban would lead to:
"Every embryo has a right to a belly"
For more photos, please click here
States enact record number of abortion restrictions in 2011
Date: 13 July 2011
In the first six months of 2011, states of the US enacted 162 new provisions related to reproductive health and rights. Fully 49% of these new laws seek to restrict access to abortion services, a sharp increase from 2010, when 26% of new laws restricted abortion. The 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005 - and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010. All of these new provisions were enacted in just 19 states.
Five states adopted laws related to abortion counselling and waiting periods.
15 states introduced measures that ban abortions at and after 20 weeks' gestation, based on the spurious assumption that a fetus can feel pain at that point. These laws appear to conflict with Supreme Court rulings.
In Ohio, the House adopted a measure that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs between six and 10 weeks' gestation. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate.
Restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion were enacted in eight states, and in four states, new laws restrict abortion coverage under all private health insurance plans.
Five states banned the use of telemedicine for the provision of medical abortion, which has been improving access to medical care, particularly in rural areas. Kansas and Oklahoma require abortion providers to use an outdated protocol which restricts medical abortion to 49 days' gestation, rather than the 63 days permitted by the latest protocol.
State legislatures devoted significant attention to issues related to family planning. Family planning escaped major budget reductions in nine of the 18 states with a specific budget line item for family planning. Programmes in six states sustained deep cuts in line with cuts in other health programmes, but in three states the cuts to family planning were disproportionately large. Two states, Maryland and Washington, moved to expand Medicaid eligibility for family planning. Indiana and Wisconsin restricted eligibility for family planning funds for providers that have any association with abortion; North Carolina adopted a measure that explicitly bans Planned Parenthood from obtaining funding through the state; and two other states took aim at agencies that provide mostly family planning services, regardless of whether they have any connection to abortion.
Update on PEPFAR anti-prostitution loyalty oath
Date: 6 July 2011
A federal appeals court has ruled that the US government cannot require US organisations that receive US foreign assistance to fight HIV/AIDS globally to denounce prostitution. CHANGE applauds this decision as a step toward advancing the rights of persons who face stigma and expanding equal access to care.
Publication: Progress of the World's Women
UN Women, 2011
It offers a global review of women's rights around the world. It uses the issue of women's access to justice to highlight the many ways in which injustice against women is still rife, right across the globe - in the home, in the workplace, in politics and in justice systems. The report contains case studies, statistics and graphics illustrating both positive examples of progress in women's access to justice, and areas where more action is urgently needed.
UN Women provides ten recommendations including calling on governments to:
Landmark cases that have sped reform of laws and changed attitudes include the case of Maria da Penha in Brazil, whose husband's attacks, including an attempt to electrocute her, left her paralysed. She took the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, resulting in stronger legislation in Brazil on domestic violence. Unity Dow, a judge from Botswana, demanded that she be able to pass on citizenship to her children, whose father was a foreigner. Unity won her case, and at least 19 African countries have since reformed their laws to allow women to pass on citizenship to their children.
The report argues that legal reform is just a start. Laws must be implemented to translate into true equality.
Citizen's bill on abortion ban in Poland
Date: 1 July 2011
On 30th June, the Polish Parliament debated on the citizen's bill that would totally ban abortion in Poland, even if a woman's life is in danger. The left-wing party (SLD) put forward a proposal to reject the bill during the first reading but the other political parties (PiS, PSL and PJN) demanded to refer the bill's draft to the committee. The biggest party in Parliament (PO) allowed its members to vote on the bill.
In a vote on 1st July, 261 MPs voted in favour of referring the draft bill to the committee, while 155 voted against. The committee will present a report on the bill to Parliament by early September.
The draft - named "On the protection of human life from the moment of conception" - was initially submitted to Parliament in April 2011. The draft was made by the Committee of Legislative Initiative led by Mariusz Dzierzawski, a fanatic opponent of abortion, known as an organiser of the macabre anti-abortion exhibitions held in the Polish cities.
Rainbow of colours and gender equality at innovative Brazilian school
Date: 1 July 2011
In the last three years there have been no teen pregnancies among the youngsters at Casa do Zezinho, an extracurricular educational and cultural facility in Brazil attended by 1,500 children and young people from favelas or shantytowns in São Paulo.
Numerous and varied activities such as dance, art and music are offered by this NGO based in a small middle-class neighbourhood surrounded by three large, notoriously violent favelas. All children and adolescents attending the school must also be enrolled in a regular public primary or secondary school. 2,000 young people are on a waiting list, because the Casa does not have space for them.
Court blocks South Dakota "crisis pregnancy centre" abortion law
Date: 30 June 2011
In a decisive victory for Planned Parenthood and the women of South Dakota, US, a federal court has blocked a state law from going into effect that would have gone further than any in the country in restricting access to abortion and intruding on women's personal medical decisions.
The law would have required a woman seeking an abortion to wait at least 72 hours after first meeting with her doctor and in the interim she must seek "counselling" at a so-called "pregnancy help centre" whose mandate it is to dissuade her from seeking an abortion.
The law was to have taken effect on 1 July 2011. In granting temporary relief from the law, US District Court Chief Judge Karen Schreier found that Planned Parenthood is likely to prevail on its challenge to each of the requirements of the law.
The Court said: "Forcing a woman to divulge to a stranger at a pregnancy help centre the fact that she has chosen to undergo an abortion humiliates and degrades her as a human being. The woman will feel degraded by the compulsive nature of the Pregnancy Help Centre requirements, which suggest that she has made the 'wrong' decision, has not really 'thought' about her decision to undergo an abortion, or is 'not intelligent enough' to make the decision with the advice of a physician."
Planned Parenthood was joined in court by attorneys from the law firm Dorsey & Whitney and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Preventing gender-biased sex selection
Date: 30 June 2011
Source: World Health Organization
The statement can be downloaded from the WHO website.
RESURJ: Realising Sexual and Reproductive Justice
RESURJ is an international alliance of feminist activists seeking full implementation of international commitments to secure all women's and young people's sexual and reproductive rights and health by 2015.
"RESURJ by 2015" is a 10-point action agenda that places women's and young people's human rights, particularly sexual and reproductive rights, participation in decision-making, and accountability at the centre of health programmes and development efforts. RESURJ calls on all decision-makers to:
1. Expand decision-making opportunities for women and young people.
2. Prioritise sexual and reproductive rights in health systems strengthening and development programmes.
3. Guarantee universal access to this package of essential sexual and reproductive health services.
4. Protect women's and young people's human rights in sexual and reproductive health programmes.
5. Create and sustain comprehensive, objective, and accurate sexuality education and information that is accessible and affirming for all children and youth in and out of schools.
6. Allocate funds targeted to HIV that protect and empower women and young people.
7. Ensure that intellectual property agreements support states' obligations to uphold the human rights of women and young people.
8. Foster an enabling environment for the realisation of women's and young people's sexual and reproductive rights.
9. Strengthen transparency and ensure the establishment of effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms for health and education programmes at the local, national, regional and international levels that are supported politically and financially.
10. Guarantee that financing for development is sustainable and harmonised among donors and multilateral agencies and that sexual and reproductive rights and health programmes are prioritised.To endorse this Action Agenda or for further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or click here
Publication: The Great Wall of Vagina
Jamie McCartney, 2011
British artist Jamie McCartney has created a monumental wall sculpture from plaster casts of 400 women's vulvas. Their privates have gone public in this book, which is intended to educate people about what normal women's vulvas look like. Each of the casts is shown life-size with a few special ones explained.
RHM editor Marge Berer wholeheartedly supports the project and has written a foreword to the book. Here is an extract:
"I published an issue of the journal RHM on cosmetic surgery in May 2010. I contacted Jamie in early 2010 to ask if I could use a photograph of part of the wall as my cover image. The reasons why I did not do so are covered at length in the journal itself, but of relevance here is the extraordinary debate the image engendered among my staff and boards and the journal's authors, who come from all over the world and who range in age from late 20s to about 70, which I also published. I placed the cover inside the journal as the first page of that debate, and I know from people I meet at conferences that it is now having an impact among many people who have seen or read about it."
One of the reasons why this is so important is that young people are turning to cosmetic surgery to make themselves "normal", and they need more information about their sexual bodies and the risks of cosmetic surgery.
Marge continues: "Any hope of making a dent in young people's lack of information at a national level, and giving them a chance to ask questions and express their fears and concerns before they have their labia excised or put rings through their penises, calls for a multimedia approach. Jamie is taking this approach as an artist and I believe it can make a difference."
For more information on Jamie's work go to www.greatwallofvagina.co.uk
Pregnant women who lose babies face murder charges, US
Date: 24 June 2011
Rennie Gibbs is accused of murder and faces life in prison in Mississippi. She lost her baby in December 2006 in a stillbirth when she was 36 weeks' pregnant and is being charged with "depraved-heart murder" by prosecutors who discovered that she had a cocaine habit. Gibbs is the first woman in Mississippi to be charged with murder relating to the loss of her unborn baby, but across the US more and more such prosecutions are being brought.
Bei Bei Shuai has spent the last three months in prison in Indianapolis charged with murdering her baby. When she was 33 weeks pregnant, she tried to commit suicide by taking rat poison and, although she survived, her baby, to whom she gave birth a week after the suicide attempt, died after four days.
In Alabama at least 40 cases have been brought under the state's "chemical endangerment" law. Introduced in 2006, the statute was designed to protect children whose parents were cooking methamphetamine at home. During her pregnancy, Amanda Kimbrough's fetus was diagnosed with possible Down's syndrome. The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died soon after birth. Six months later Kimbrough was arrested and charged with "chemical endangerment" of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy - a claim she denies. She is awaiting an appeal ruling from the higher courts in Alabama, which if she loses will see her begin a 10-year prison sentence.
Women's rights campaigners see the creeping criminalisation of pregnant women as a new front in the culture wars over abortion.
70 organisations across America have come together to file testimonies, known as amicus briefs, in support of Gibbs that protest against her treatment on several levels. Perhaps the most persuasive argument put forward is that if such prosecutions were designed to protect the unborn child, then they would be utterly counter-productive: "Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate wanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties."
At least 38 of the 50 states across America have introduced fetal homicide laws that were intended to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from violent attacks by third parties - usually abusive male partners - but are increasingly being turned against the women themselves.
Publication: WHO Guidelines on HIV and STIs among MSM and transgender people
Prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with men and transgender people: Recommendations for a public health approach 2011, represents the first public health guidelines on the subject issued by WHO.
Designed for use by national public health officials and managers of HIV/AIDS and STI programmes, NGOs and health workers, the guidelines include evidence-based recommendations, implementation issues and key research gaps. Although the focus is on low- and middle-income countries, WHO recommends that the guidance is available in high-income countries as well. The guidelines focus on ensuring an enabling environment for the protection of the human rights of MSM and transgender people, including antidiscrimination and protection laws to increase the inclusiveness of health services.
WHO calls for consistent condom use, which has been found to reduce HIV transmission in these groups by 64%. MSM-specific programme activities are recommended such as the use of water- and silicone-based lubricant for the correct functioning of condoms during anal sex. Medical male circumcision for HIV prevention is not advised due to the lack of sufficient research on its effect among MSM.
MSM are nearly 20 times as likely to be infected with HIV than the general population, and infection rates among transgender people range between 8% and 68%, depending on the country. There has been a recent resurgence of HIV infection among MSM, particularly in rich countries, and data are emerging of newly identified HIV epidemics in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean and Latin America. Reported HIV prevalence rates among MSM exceed 20% in Bolivia, Jamaica, Mexico, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Zambia. In Thailand's capital, Bangkok, prevalence among MSM rose from 17.3% in 2003 to 30.8% in 2007. In the US half of all people infected with HIV are MSM.
MSM and transgender people face major barriers to accessing good quality health care due to widespread stigma about homosexuality, which is still a criminal offence in over 75 countries.
One example is Kenya, where rural MSM have an especially hard time. When Kipsowen, 30, a cattle keeper in Kenya's Rift Valley Province, and his partner have sex they use oil-based jelly used for milking cows, which can degrade condoms. He has never heard of water-based lubricants. Kipsowen is scared to tell anyone about his sexuality, even though he and his partner have been together for a few years. He would risk being an outcast, or even killed. When he had an STI he told a local nurse and social worker, but refused to visit a health centre. Local health workers have very little experience and no training in dealing with MSM.
Guidelines available from:
Source: Zarocostas J. WHO issues its first guidelines on HIV in men who have sex with men. BMJ 2011;342:d3940.
Stop annulment of Women's Ministry in Turkey
Date: 21 June 2011
The Turkish Government announced on 8 June 2011 the annulment of the State Ministry responsible for Women and the Family to be replaced by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. In Turkey, where 42% of women and girls are systematically subjected to violence, this decision will render the already imperfect equality and social support mechanisms ineffectual.
The position of "Women's Status Expert" has been replaced with "Family and Social Policies Expert", thus undermining women's studies departments and centres at universities. The Women's Status Units that organise women's activities have been repositioned to work under Special Provincial Administrations.
Women's Platform for Equality Mechanisms (WPEM) asks you to stand against the annulment of "Women" from the title of the newly established ministry.
PLEASE SIGN the petition here
The Equality Mechanisms Platform includes Anayasa Kadin Platformu, Avrupa Kadin Lobisi Türkiye Koordinasyonu, Adana Kadin Danisma Merkezi (AKDAM), Adana Kadin Kuruluslari Birligi and 75 other organisations.
Publication: The State of World's Midwifery 2011
Supported by 30 partners, The State of World's Midwifery 2011: Delivering Health, Saving Lives, is a comprehensive analysis of midwifery services, providing data from 58 developing countries. It confirms that the world lacks 350,000 skilled midwives to fully meet women's needs.
The report, launched by UNFPA at the triennial congress of the International Confederation of Midwives in Durban, South Africa, says that up to 3.6 million deaths would be avoided annually if midwifery services in the 58 countries were upgraded by 2015. In 2009, 58% of the world's babies were born in these countries, but they carry 91% of the global burden of maternal mortality, 80% of stillbirths and 82% of newborn mortality. Less than 17% of the world's skilled birth attendants are in the 58 countries, which have about 40% of the world's population.
Unless an additional 112,000 midwives are trained, deployed, and retained in supportive environments, 38 of the 58 countries surveyed might not meet their target to achieve 95% coverage of births by skilled attendants by 2015, as required by the UN millennium development goal on maternal health.
22 countries need to double the midwifery workforce by 2015; seven need to triple or quadruple it; and nine - Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan - need to "dramatically scale up midwifery by a factor of between 6 and 15."
If adequate facilities were available to deal with complications at their onset, 61% of maternal deaths could be averted, 49% of stillbirths, and 60% of newborn deaths. If midwives were available to refer women with severe complications to specialised care, up to 90% of maternal deaths could be prevented.
Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, said, "The report points to an urgent need to train more health workers with midwifery skills and ensure equitable access to their lifesaving services in communities to improve the health of women and children."
Date: 20 June 2011
UN Human Rights Council adopts first resolution on rights, sexual orientation and gender identity
Date: 17 June 2011
The resolution also calls for a panel discussion to be held at the Human Rights Council to discuss the study's findings, and to consider appropriate follow-up.
The resolution was passed with 23 countries in favour, 19 against and three abstentions.
The following countries voted in favour: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, Thailand, UK, USA, Uruguay.
The no votes were as follows: Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Moldova, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Uganda.
Countries abstaining: Burkina Faso, China, Zambia.
Afghanistan is most dangerous country for women
Date: 15 June 2011
A survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation asked 213 gender experts from five continents to rank countries by overall perceptions of danger to women as well as by the risks of health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking.
Afghanistan emerged as the most dangerous country in which to be born a woman, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia.
High maternal mortality rates, limited access to doctors and a "near total lack of economic rights" render Afghanistan such a threat to women, as well as continuing conflict, Nato airstrikes and cultural practices. Women who speak out are often intimidated or killed.
The "staggering levels of sexual violence" in the east of the DRC account for its second place.
Pakistan is ranked third on the basis of cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women, including acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse.
India's central bureau of investigation estimated that in 2009 100 million people, mostly women and girls, were involved in trafficking and there were three million prostitutes, 40% of whom were children. Other dangers are forced marriage, forced labour and female infanticide or feticide.
Somalia suffers high levels of maternal mortality, rape, female genital mutilation and limited access to health care and education.
Some experts said the poll showed that subtle dangers that don't grab the headlines, such as discrimination and lack of access to education or health care, are sometimes just as significant risks for women as bombs, bullets, stonings and systematic rape in conflict zones.
The survey was compiled to mark the launch of a website, TrustLaw Woman, aimed at providing free legal advice for women's groups around the world.
Cosmetic procedures not hit by global financial crisis
Cosmetic surgery has been less hard hit by the global financial crisis than many other businesses. There are signs that women are becoming more determined to change their appearance in order to grow in value on the love or labour market. The industry has grown at 465% over the past decade, with patients spending almost $12.5 billion each year.
A review of a recent book by Laurie Essig, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and Our Quest for Perfection, outlines these trends. The book observes that cosmetic surgery is an attempt at normalisation, both racially and sexually.
This trend is reflected in
Publication: Preventing gender-biased sex selection
Date: 14 June 2011
Interim evaluation of OneLove campaign, South Africa
Date: 7 June 2011
In 2009, the South African Soul City Institute launched the OneLove HIV prevention campaign which uses mass media, social mobilisation and advocacy to challenge the practice of multiple concurrent partnerships.
An interim evaluation describes the key activities in the first 18 months and reports on three evaluation studies.
A nationally representative household survey was conducted five months after the campaign's launch and included 10,000 respondents, aged 16 to 55, across all nine provinces of South Africa. One qualitative study assessed the reception and self reported intended behaviour related to the campaign in three provinces, and a second explored target audience responses to the Love Stories film series.
The campaign reached an estimated 61% of the adult target population, or 17 million people, within five months. Soul City 9 TV reached 51% of the population and was the second highest performing programme in terms of viewership. In the first 18 months, over 16,000 adults attended OneLove HIV community-based training, and over 4,000 people attended 55 community dialogues. Some 91 newspaper articles and 37 magazine articles addressing OneLove were published.
Qualitative data revealed that the target audience found the messaging relevant, realistic, educational and entertaining.
There was evidence of some impact on knowledge, attitudes and behaviour or intended behaviour. Single women were 66% less likely to have multiple sexual partners than the previous year, men exposed to the campaign were 42% less likely to become involved in transactional sex, and there was increased condom use overall. The campaign was not associated with a decrease in the proportion of people who reported multiple partners in the past month.
Irish coalition urged to clarify law on abortion
Date: 6 June 2011 and 17 June 2011
The Commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, has told the Irish Government it should have "more guts" and legislate to clarify the circumstances when women can have an abortion. He has accused the Government of ignoring almost all of the recommendations the Council of Europe made in a damning report on Ireland's human rights record published in April 2008.
The report recommended 34 specific actions to address human rights concerns involving Travellers, asylum seekers and children in care, and urged the Government to pass legislation to implement the landmark 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the "X" case, which ruled that abortion is legal if the life of a woman is in danger. But successive governments have still not legislated to provide legal certainty on when a physician may carry out an abortion.
Mr. Hammarberg visited Ireland to meet Ministers and human rights groups. He said it was "striking" how few of the council's recommendations have been implemented.
In December 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Ireland had failed to properly implement the constitutional right to abortion in the circumstances of the "X" case. This ruling is binding on Ireland and the government has published an action plan stating that it will set up by November 2011 an expert group to determine how it should respond the Irish abortion test case.
Publication: Putting women at the heart of the AIDS response
From Talk to Action: Review of Women, Girls, and Gender Equality in National Strategic Plans in Southern and Eastern Africa.
From Talk to Action is an analysis of all 20 countries in southern and eastern Africa assessing how they scored against the Framework on Women, Girls and Gender Equality in National Strategic Plans on HIV and AIDS in Southern and Eastern Africa. It highlights that the majority (16 out of 20) of National Strategic Plans on HIV and AIDS in the region fail to comprehensively address women, girls and gender equality. Where the National Strategic Plans on HIV and AIDS do address women and girls, it is in the context of the prevention of vertical transmission services and programmes. This report clearly identifies the current weaknesses in the response to women and girls in the context of HIV and AIDS.
Collaboratively developed and endorsed by nineteen regional and global organisations, the Framework presents a vision as to how National Strategic Plans on HIV and AIDS across southern and eastern Africa should meaningfully address women, girls, and gender equality.
Click here to download the report.
UK aid cuts hit health care, Malawi
Date: 3 June 2011
Malawi's health care sector is facing major setbacks following a decision by its largest international donor, the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), to freeze its aid.
For more than 200 million women, a world without options
Date: 2 June 2011
There are over 200 million women in the developing world who want to prevent or delay pregnancy, but are not using any means of modern contraception, and this figure has not moved in nearly two decades. Contraceptive prevalence is increasing but each step forward is more than matched by increases in demand.
If donor funding were to remain at current levels, there would be a cumulative shortfall of about $1.4 billion for commodity support for contraceptives in donor-dependent countries over the 2008 to 2020 period. It is also clear that the need and demand for sexually transmitted infection diagnosis and treatment, as well as antenatal and emergency obstetric supplies, are also rapidly increasing.
A reinvigorated effort is needed to ensure reproductive health commodity security.
The Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) is gathering reproductive health leaders in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the Access for All conference. This marks the 10th anniversary of the 2001 Istanbul conference, Meeting the Challenge, which gave rise to today's global reproductive health commodity security movement.
The coalition will work to ensure that programmes can rationally forecast, finance, procure and distribute the products they need. The leaders will formulate a "Global Call for Action" for the next decade.
RHSC will continue to secure commitments to achieve 100 million new modern contraceptive users in the next five years through the Coalition's HANDtoHAND Campaign. Meeting this challenge means 96 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 54 million fewer abortions, 110,000 fewer mothers dying in childbirth and 1.4 million fewer infant deaths.
Now is the time for countries to come together and make reproductive health supplies and commodities available to everyone.
Publication: African activists explore sexuality
African Sexualities: A Reader
Indians increasingly use abortion to ensure male child
Date: 24 May 2011
More Indian families are using abortion to favour the birth of male babies. A new international study led by Canada's Centre for Global Health Research used census data to examine 250,000 births in India from 1980 to 2005.
Publication: Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV/AIDS, 2011-2015
Date: 23 May 2011
International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia
Date: 17 May 2011
Ask your MP to support EDM 1780 in support of IDAHO.
Swedish parliament votes to fight conscience rights for doctors
Date: 12 May 2011
The Swedish motion called upon their delegation at the PACE to "take more action" to reverse the reversal. "Sweden should support efforts which makes abortions free, safe and legal for all women. Sweden is one of few countries who are central in the international work focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights."
Study confirms HIV treatment prevents transmission
Results announced by the US National Institutes of Health show that if an HIV-positive person adheres to an effective antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimen, the risk of transmitting the virus to their HIV-negative sexual partner can be reduced by 96%.
"This breakthrough is a serious game changer and will drive the prevention revolution forward," said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. "It makes HIV treatment a new priority prevention option."The trial, conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), enrolled 1,763 sero-discordant couples in 2005 at 13 sites in Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the US and Zimbabwe. Only couples where the HIV-positive partner had a CD4 cell count of between 350 and 550 cells/mm³, thus not yet eligible for treatment according to latest WHO guidelines, were enrolled.
The HIV-positive partners were randomly assigned to either immediately start ART, or to begin ART only when their CD4 counts fell below 250 cells/mm³. Both groups received the same care and counselling.
The reduction of sexual transmission of HIV was so significant that the trial was stopped 3-4 years ahead of schedule. 27 HIV infections linked to the HIV-positive partner occurred among couples which started ART only when needed, whereas only one infection occurred among couples where the HIV-positive partner began ART immediately. Earlier initiation of ART led to a 96% reduction in HIV transmission to the HIV-negative partner.
UNAIDS urges that Treatment for Prevention be one of the options made available to couples. The new WHO guidelines coming out in July will help countries to make this a reality for people who choose to use this new HIV prevention option.
No single method is fully protective against HIV. Treatment for Prevention needs to be used in combination with other HIV prevention options. These include correct and consistent use of male and female condoms, waiting longer before having sex for the first time, having fewer partners, male circumcision, and avoiding penetrative sex.
New mechanism to respond to violence against human rights defenders in the Americas
Date: 12 May 2011
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has established an Office of the Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders to address the increasing violence against those who defend human rights in the region. Womens rights and human rights organizations have raised concerns about the growing violence directed at women human rights defenders - women defenders and those working on womens rights or gender issues. These include kidnapping and murder, including attachs on multiple members of one family in which four siblings were recently killed.
The new Rapporteur seeks to address the numerous complaints received by the IACHR about violations of human rights defencers, ranging from threats and harassment to murders, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances.
There are seven other Rapporteurs at the IACHR, who address the rights of persons deprived of liberty, migrant workers and their families, children, indigenous peoples, women; afro-descendants and racial discrimination; and freedom of expression. They conduct promotion activities, develop thematic research and provide support to individual cases where human rights violations occur.
A new Meso-American initiative linking women human rights defenders from Mexico and Central America have recently completed a study describing the types of violence experienced, which groups are the most vulnerable, the main actors involved in committing violations and some of the strategies used to protect themselves.
New publication: Queer Malawi
by Patricia Watson
The book was compiled in the shadow of the high-profile 2010 trial of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, two Malawian men charged with sodomy and indecency after they became engaged to be married in December 2009. The couple were found guilty but later released on condition that they have no further contact.
The author designed and facilitated oral history workshops during which participants' experiences were recounted, recorded, and translated into English. There are also intimate photographs of the participants. A foreword by the Coalition of African Lesbians provides a context and insight into the complex dynamics in the LGBT community, including the divisions between its men and women.
Uganda antigay bill going forward
Date: 10 May 2011
Conservative lawmakers in Uganda are working to advance a bill that would sentence LGBT people to death. The bill won't just target LGBT Ugandans - Nurses and doctors could be jailed for failing to "turn in" their patients. And neighbors would be obliged to "report gay activity." This bill is part of a pattern from conservatives in Uganda to marginalize pro-democracy forces - in recent weeks, opposition activists have been beaten, teargassed, jailed and even killed. And in the last year LGBT Ugandans have been repeatedly targeted, attacked, and murdered - like activist David Kato, murdered just months after a local tabloid published his picture under the headline, "Uganda's Top Homos: Hang Them." Others have been driven out of the country as refugees, and sometimes even threatened abroad by the government.
A conservative leader recently presented the Ugandan parliament with 2 million signatures in support of the law. They are trying hard to push the bill forward before the millions who oppose it have a chance to speak out. The bill may go before Parliament in the next 24 hours.
Fundamentalists unite for complete ban on abortion, Poland
Date: 2 May 2011
There have been attempts by fundamentalist forces in Poland to further restrict the law on abortion. A draft law introducing a complete ban on abortion was submitted to Parliament, together with 450,000 signatures of support collected mainly before or after Sunday masses. Polish abortion law is one of the most restrictive in Europe and even more restrictive in practice than on paper. Although the law allows termination of pregnancy under three conditions - including for therapeutic reasons and when it results from a criminal act - legal abortion is not accessible for women. Nevertheless, fundamentalists and the Catholic Church find the annual 500 pregnancy terminations (out of ten million women of reproductive age) unacceptable and are calling for further restrictions. A few years ago right wing politicians tried to introduce a provision protecting "life from the moment of conception" into the Polish Constitution which failed narrowly.
Cut off from health care, Palestine
Date: 2 May 2011
Access to health care for Palestinians has been restricted by Israel's security measures, including the wall.
Publication: ICMA newsletter
Source: ICMA Newsletter No. 5, April 2011
The International Consortium on Medical Abortion (ICMA) produces a quarterly newsletter. The latest issue contains articles on second trimester abortion, advocacy for abortion access in Malaysia, the Eastern European Alliance for Reproductive Choice's (EEARC) training of trainers on the "safe abortion concept", the Latin American Consortium Against Unsafe Abortion's (CLACAI) regional strategy to improve knowledge on sexual and reproductive rights, and the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership's (ASAP) mass media training programme.
ICMA are currently updating their information package on medical abortion which should be available by 2012. For more information on medical abortion, visit the ICMA website.
Interagency statement on sex selection
Date: 29 April 2011
Sex selection can take place before a pregnancy has been established, during pregnancy through prenatal sex detection and selective abortion, or following birth through infanticide or neglect.
States have an obligation to ensure that these injustices are addressed without restricting or denying women access to safe abortion.
Renewed and concerted efforts are needed, including more reliable data on the magnitude of the problem and its social and health consequences; guidelines on the ethical use of relevant technologies; supportive measures for girls and women such as information, nutrition, education, health services, security and incentives for families with daughters; legislation and policy frameworks to address the root causes of inequalities that drive sex selection; and advocacy and awareness-raising activities to strengthen the concept of the equal value of girls and boys.
New Hungarian constitution enshrines discrimination
Date: 26 April 2011
The Hungarian President has signed a new Constitution, despite concerns from Human Rights Watch and others that it contains provisions that could lead to discrimination. The constitution could put at risk the rights of people with disabilities, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, including:
Human Rights Watch is also concerned that civil society and opposition groups in Hungary were largely excluded from the process of drafting and reviewing the constitution.
Discontinuation of FEM-PrEP trial
Date: 19 April 2011
This follows a recommendation by the Independent Data Monitoring Committee to stop the trial early because it was unlikely to show a definitive result of the effectiveness of Truvada. A statistical interim analysis showed that the same number of HIV infections took place in the Truvada arm compared to the placebo arm. Even if the trial were to continue, the number of participants would be too small to ascertain a conclusive outcome on the effectiveness of oral daily Truvada.
These early findings are still being reviewed. In the meantime, some interesting and unexpected findings from FEM-PrEP have emerged. A higher rate of pregnancy was noted in the Truvada arm, although the reasons for this are as yet unknown.
The results have surprised many given the positive outcome of the iPrEx trial last year, which showed that the same drug with the same daily regimen used by men who have sex with men can reduce HIV infection.
Three other studies are currently underway that will help to answer if oral Truvada or tenofovir can reduce HIV transmission in those at greatest risk of infection, including injecting drug users (CDC 4370), women at high risk (Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic, VOICE), and sero-discordant couples (Partners PrEP).
Philippine President risks Church ire on contraception bill
Date: 17 April 2011
Aquino has indicated support for the bill, raising hopes it could be passed, but the measure was not on a list of priority bills submitted to Congress.
The church says tackling corruption would do more to reduce poverty than slowing population growth, but foreign missions and international agencies have been urging the Philippine government to adopt a reproductive health legislative framework as an anti-poverty strategy. The European Union has promised $50.5 million to raise contraceptive use in low-income, rural communities.
See previous RHM report here
First International HIV Social Science and Humanities Conference , 11-13 June 2011
Date: 15 April 2011
The 1st International HIV Social Science and Humanities Conference will take place from 11-13 June 2011 in the ICC (International Convention Centre) in Durban, South Africa. This is the first international conference specifically aimed at discussing and supporting contributions of the social sciences and humanities to HIV research and action.
The contribution of the social sciences and humanities to successful HIV prevention efforts has been evident in the history of the epidemic to date. This conference will provide a forum for those keen to extend the scope of the social sciences and their capacity to trace connections between all kinds of phenomena, notably those that contribute to the complexity and changing nature of the HIV epidemic.
Conference themes will include:
Treatment as prevention
HIV and the body
HIV, biomedicine and subjectivity
Social epidemiology and social networks
HIV and global politics
HIV, responsibility and risk governance
Social theory and HIV: new directions, new possibilities
For more information, see www.iaohss.org
Lancet series on stillbirths launched
Date: 14 April 2011
Also included in the series are Comments from professional organisations and parent groups, the latter demonstrating the unique tragedy for families of the birth of a baby bearing no signs of life.
Around 2.6 million stillbirths (the death of a baby at 28 weeks' gestation or more) occur each year. Although 98% of these deaths take place in low-income and middle-income countries, stillbirths also continue to affect wealthier nations, with around 1 in every 300 babies stillborn in high-income countries.
While the number of stillbirths globally has fallen from an estimated three million in 1995, the decline lags behind progress reducing deaths in children under five. There is a lack of recognition of the issue at a global health level.
An estimated 1.2 million stillbirths happen during labour and delivery, highlighting the need to increase skilled attendance at birth. Other recommendended interventions include: improved emergency obstetric care; provision of basic information and service access to women; improved family planning; and ensuring health workers have skills, knowledge and resources. Other measures include the provision of folic acid supplements, supplying insecticide-treated nets in malaria-endemic areas and routine syphilis screening during antenatal visits.
There is a dearth of data on stillbirths. Improved mechanisms are needed to monitor stillbirths and better understand their causes.
It is hoped that this series will promote further work in this area, which RHM would also be interested in publishing.
Locking up pregnant women: The new cure for mental health problems?
Date: 30 March 2011
If Ms. Shuai's prosecution is upheld, these charges would set a precedent that would make every pregnant woman in Indiana criminally liable for the outcome of her pregnancy. It would also mean that women who intentionally end their pregnancies will go to jail as murderers if Roe is ever overturned.
This prosecution flies in the face of medical and public health recommendations regarding the most effective ways to address suicide attempts, drug dependency problems, and health problems pregnant women experience.
RHM protests against public service cuts and NHS privatisation
On 26th March 2011 RHM joined half a million others on a huge march through London. We were protesting against massive cuts to the National Health Service (NHS), education and almost every other area of the public sector:
A medical student holds a sign depicting Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health and author of the UK government's proposed privatisation of the NHS:
One of the more direct placards being carried past Downing Street:
A placard being carried near the beginning of the march:
Protesters looking at the global picture rather than the UK cuts only:
The RHM staff carry a banner reading 'Keep Our NHS Public':
Photos by Alex Mavrocordatos and Marge Berer
Protest in support of midwifery in Brazil
Date: 27 March 2011
International hearing on rape epidemic in Haiti
Date: 25 March 2011
Unprecedented UN support for sexual orientation and gender identity
Date: 22 March 2011
Montevideo Declaration of Young Feminist Activists from Latin America and the Caribbean
Date: 21 March 2011
We, the young feminist activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in Montevideo, Uruguay from the 18th to 21st of March 2011 for a Regional Consultation and Training Institute on Gender, Economic, and Ecological Justice convened by Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) and the Gender Education Office (GEO) of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE). In this space we collectively developed the following declaration:
We recognize the dynamic and complex reality of our region, where neoliberal and progressive governments coexist, where human rights, particularly those of women, have been constrained by conservative forces, and where material disparities across gender, race, ethnicity and class continue to widen.
We recognize the failure of the prevailing growth and development models, driven by the invisible hand of the market that the majority of our governments practice and promote. We reject these models based on extractive-ism and the current production and consumption patterns that do not contemplate an integral vision of development but on the contrary, deepen social inequalities and undermine environmental sustainability. These are hetero-normative, racist and colonialist models among whose economic consequences are labor discrimination, lack of access to social security and quality education for persons of African descent, indigenous people, migrants, homosexuals, lesbians, transgender and intersex persons. The systemic crises in our region is happening in a wider context of deep disparity between the global North and South based on a historically unfair international division of labor and reflected in the sexual division of labor of the global care economy.We reject the mercantilism and privatization of nature and condemn the use and dissemination of technologies that endanger the welfare of Mother Earth and are false solutions to the climate crisis. These include agrofuels, genetically modified organisms, nanotechnology and geo-engineering, as well as mechanisms for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), monoculture plantations and other mega-projects. We also reject the development and generation of nuclear energy, which does not present a solution to reducing greenhouse gases and instead poses a serious threat to the survival of all life forms on our planet.
We believe that the afore-mentioned context demands a radical reformulation of development policies and practices. As evidence shows the quality of democracy depends on equal participation of women and men, including the youth, in all aspects of decision-making. We young feminist activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean therefore call for the following 12-point action plan:
1. We demand that our governments ensure the meaningful participation of women and young people in designing new development models that address the diverse problems we face stemming from the financial, political, climate, food, energy, and care crisis. Such participation is critical in strengthening peoples autonomy and freedom to define their present and their future.
2. We demand that our governments constitutionally recognize Economic, Social, Cultural and Ecological Rights and create mechanisms to enact them. We further demand an integral social policy that equitably redistributes power, resources, income and services taking into account gender differences across ethnicity, race, class, sexual orientation, generation, ability and belief.
3. We reaffirm the importance of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the Quito Consensus(2007), both hard won gains of women's movements struggle for justice. We demand compliance through the formulation of national policies and mechanisms.
4. We demand the recognition and quantification of women's work in all its modalities (formal and informal remunerated, precarious and non-remunerated), giving value to women's significant contribution to the economic system as well as to their quality of life and dignity.
5. We demand universal access to social security, development of public services for children, youth and the elderly, regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as the execution of policies focused on the equitable redistribution of paid and unpaid work between women and men.
6. We demand recognition of homo-parental families in the national statistical systems and the public policies of the region.
7. We demand full respect for the secular state, the recognition and guarantee of sexual and reproductive rights and health as well as the decriminalization and legalization of abortion, thereby affirming women's right to make free and informed choices and preventing deaths due to clandestine abortions.
8. We demand government compliance with the CEDAW, the Convention of "Belem Do Pará" and the Convention and Protocols of Palermo, as mechanisms to prevent and eradicate all forms of discrimination, inequality and violence against women. Governments must give special attention to combating the trafficking of women and femicide. The high rates of these problems in the region show the lack of political will to fight these realities that threaten the lives of girls and women. Governments must also fully guarantee the elimination of all forms of violence and fundamentalisms based on misogynist, homophobic, lesbian phobic, trans-phobic ideas, insuring the integrity and autonomy of the body, especially that of women.
9. We demand the creation of a Climate Justice Tribunal for Latin America and the Caribbean that establishes responsibilities for the consequences of climate change and the ecological debt incurred by developed countries including financing programs in communities most affected, giving priority to women.
10. We affirm that our planet is a living entity with rights and spirit and in this regard, we call for citizen dialogues to collectively construct the principle of "buen vivir" (good living) as a necessary alternative that respects the human rights of peoples in harmony with the rights of Mother Earth.
11. We call for mobilization against militarisation, imperialist arms policies and dictatorial governments, and form solidarity around issues of social, environmental and humanitarian crises with full respect for peoples' human rights, especially in Honduras, Haiti and Japan.
12. We call for greater dialogue and articulation among social movements, particularly among young women in all their diversity to participate and influence the political, social, economic, and ecological processes, at local, regional and global levels.
The end of the one-child policy in China?
Date: 19 March 2011
Source: The Lancet (Editorial), Volume 377(9770):968.
In the plenary sessions of the annual Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and the National People's Congress, a two-child policy was proposed, to start in 2015. Experts have suggested that the one-child policy has resulted in an increase in older people and a decrease in younger workers, as well as a sex-ratio imbalance, which might threaten China's economic growth.
China's one-child policy, introduced in 1979, was a controversial social decision. The policy was launched at the beginning of China's economic reforms, and the Chinese Government saw population containment as an essential component to alleviate its social, economic, and environmental predicaments. In 2007, Chinese authorities claimed the policy had helped prevent 400 million births and contributed greatly to economic growth. In a survey undertaken in 2008, 76% of the Chinese population apparently supported the policy.
However, the one-child policy has been criticised within and outside the country as a serious violation of the right to reproductive freedom. It has led to forced abortions and sterilisations, maternal deaths among women with pregnancies outside of family planning, female infanticide, and child abandonment.
The debate around China's policy on the number of children allowed by a family deserves greater global scrutiny. The issue should not be one of economics. Instead, it should be about fully realising the right of each woman to determine her own reproductive health and exercise her own choices over the number of children she and her family have. China's economic success has delivered huge benefits to her people. But one benefit yet to be achieved, essential to China's sustainable future, is the expansion of freedoms to enable each individual's life path to be pursued without state coercion. Reproductive health is a vital, and neglected, dimension of those freedoms.
Day of giving thanks to providers of abortion care, USA
Date: 11 March 2011
March 10th was Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. This day began in 1996 in memory of Dr David Gunn, the first US abortion provider to be murdered (on March 10 1993). It is a day to honour all the providers who dedicate their daily lives to helping women and making reproductive choice possible. Without abortion providers, there is no access to abortion and no "CHOICE".
Dr. Gunn was murdered in 1993.
Imperial feminism, Islamophobia, and the Egyptian revolution
Date: 8 March 2011
"...I'm making this video to give you one simply message: We want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25. If we still have honour and want to live with dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25."
These are the words of Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26 year old woman whose January 18th vlog is said to have helped mobilise the million that turned up in Cairo and the thousands in other cities on January 25th. Asmaa's vlog, like the stories of many Egyptian women of this revolution offer up a challenge to two key questions framing US discourse on the Egyptian revolution:
1) Where are the women?
2) and... "but what if Islamic extremists take over?"
The rest of this article can be found here
Bills that could legalise killing abortion providers, US
Date: 28 February 2011
Critics of the bills, including law enforcement officials, warn that these measures could invite violence against abortion providers and possibly provide legal cover to the perpetrators of such crimes.
These measures are part of a campaign orchestrated by a Washington-based anti-abortion group, Americans United for Life (AUL) which has lobbied state lawmakers to introduce legislation that it calls the "Pregnant Woman's Protection Act". Over the past two years, the group has succeeded in passing versions of this bill in Missouri and Oklahoma. But while these two laws specifically cover pregnant women, the latest measures are more sweeping and would apply to third parties. The bills are so loosely worded, abortion-rights advocates say, that a pregnant woman could seek out an abortion and a boyfriend, husband - or, in some cases, just about anyone - could be justified in using deadly force to stop it.
Mass rapes escalate in Fizi, South Kivu
Date: 28 February 2011
Source: IRIN News
More than 200 women, men and children have been treated for rape by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) since January 2011 in the Fizi region, South Kivu. While large-scale attacks on civilians, in which rape is used as a weapon of war, are a permanent feature of the conflict in eastern DRC, MSF said such repeated large-scale attacks on the same locations were unusual.
The most recent incidents occurred between 12 and 13 February, and 18 and 19 February respectively, involving at least 56 people, around the villages of Misisi/Milimba, and Bwala/Ibindi.
The survivors told MSF they were taken hostage, undressed and tied up with ropes. Women, men and children were systematically beaten and raped. All their belongings were stolen.
Witnesses said the attackers were armed men who appeared to be members of the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération de Rwanda (FDLR), a group founded by perpetrators of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, which has been in eastern DRC ever since.
In South Kivu, some 8,000 rapes were recorded for the year 2010, according to humanitarian organisations.
MONUSCO (UN stabilisation mission in DRC) claims to have reinforced its presence in the region and recently organised patrols to accompany villagers when they go to market. In August 2010, MONUSCO was severely criticised for its failure to protect civilians subjected to large-scale and systematic rape in Walikale. More than 300 women were targeted in three days of sexual violence and attacks by the FDLR and the Mai Mai.
Planned Parenthood march, US
Date: 26 February 2011
Up to 6,000 people attended a rally in Manhattan, New York, in support of reproductive rights which have come under threat from the newly appointed Republican Congress. Holding signs, some of which were more traditional (Hands off my Uterus) to the more creative (No More Wire Hanger...EVER), the crowds of men and women gathered. Republicans in the House of Representatives have chosen to attack a 40 year old piece of legislation called Title X, which allows for funding for birth control, sex education and cancer screening at health clinics, and would target particularly poor women of colour, as well as the young.See here more photos from the demonstration
Hungary wants more children, but won't ban abortion
Date: 25 February 2011
The War on women, US
Date: 25 February 2011
The cuts in the House resolution include the elimination of support for Title X, the federal family planning programme for low-income women that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. In the absence of Title X's preventive care, some women would die. The Guttmacher Institute says a rise in unintended pregnancies would result in 400,000 more abortions a year.
The House resolution would reduce support for international family planning and reproductive health care. And it would reimpose the global "gag" rule, which forbids giving federal money to any group that talks about abortions. That rule hampered family planning groups working abroad to prevent infant and maternal deaths before President Obama lifted it.
This bill is not likely to pass unchanged, but the urge to compromise may take a toll on these programmes.
Another Republican resolution would cut by 10% the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month, and has been linked in studies to higher birth weight and lower infant mortality. The bill also removes US$50 million from the block grant supporting programmes providing prenatal health care to 2.5 million low-income women and health care to 31 million children annually. President Obama's budget plan for next year calls for a much more modest cut.
Girl's education in Afghanistan - a new beginning?
Date: 17 February 2011
Doctors bypass NHS for their daughters' HPV vaccination
Date: 15 February 2011
Currently administered to 12-14 year old schoolgirls, the bivalent vaccine (Cervavix) protects patients against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18, responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. However, the quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil), offers additional protection against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause over 90% of genital warts, 30% of minor (non-serious) cervical smear abnormalities, and almost all cases of Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP - i.e. warts on the vocal cords), and appears to be the vaccine of choice amongst the clinical community.
Of those surveyed who actually had daughters in the school vaccination programme, 61% had paid for their daughters to be vaccinated with Gardasil rather than Cervarix, and some had given Gardasil after their daughters had already had the other vaccine.
Dr Keith Radcliffe, President of BASHH, said: "If the government had purchased Gardasil back in 2008, like almost all other developed countries did at the time, today we could be well on the way to eradicating genital warts. Instead, over the last three years, cases of genital warts continue to consume valuable resources in our clinics. Choosing the quadrivalent vaccine would increase our capacity to tackle more complicated STIs, like HIV and save the NHS at least the £46 million it costs to treat genital warts in clinical time and pharmacy costs."
In Australia, where nearly 70% of women under 28 have been vaccinated with Gardasil, new cases of genital warts among young women fell to almost a quarter of pre-campaign levels after three years, with significant measurable effects within only 6 months.
In contrast, since England's school-based HPV vaccine programme began in 2008, there has been no significant change in numbers of genital warts with some 91,000 new cases diagnosed each year and a further 70,000 cases undergoing repeat treatments.
BASHH will take the results to Parliament, to show MPs the clinical community's support for an HPV vaccine that tackles both cervical cancer and genital warts.
SIS research on the impact of polygamy, Malaysia
Date: 15 February 2011
In 1994, Malaysia's Islamic Family Law (IFL) was amended allowing men to contract polygamous marriages without prior permission from a Syariah court, provided that they subsequently obtain legal endorsement. Courts tend to endorse such marriages, failing to thoroughly examine the impact on existing wives.
Whilst in most states, Muslim family law stipulates that existing wives must be informed of their husbands' application for polygamous marriage, many men circumvent this by taking an additional wife in a different state. Women often struggle to ascertain that their husband has taken an additional wife.
The emotional distress caused by polygamous marriages is exacerbated by the financial repercussions. Whilst the Qur'an and IFL stipulate that a man may enter a polygamous marriage only if he can provide equally in material as well as intangible needs, the rule is poorly enforced. 40% of first wives stated that their husband's financial contribution to the family diminished significantly after their second marriage. Second wives generally reported feeling more financially secure than first wives.
Children are profoundly affected as many resent their absent fathers, particularly when denied their right to proper education owing to their fathers' financial neglect. Within the existing IFL there is little a woman can do to escape the deleterious effects of a polygamous marriage; she loses her entitlement to maintenance if she leaves the marital home without her husband's approval. 82.8% of first wives stayed in a polygamous marriage merely for the sake of their children.
Many polygamous marriages in Malaysia fail to live up to the Qur'anic image of a humane institution designed to protect women and children in the exceptional circumstance of a post-war period. The 2005 amendment to the IFL no longer requires that a polygamous marriage be proven "both just and necessary"; only "just or necessary" thus allowing the notion of justice, the raison d'etre of polygamy in the Qur'an, to be almost completely undermined or disregarded in court deliberations.
SIS intends to use the research findings to lobby the Malaysian government to amend the IFL to ensure that polygamous marriages uphold justice and equality for all concerned.
UK ruling prevents women taking second abortion pill at home
Date: 14 February 2011
BPAS, the UK's largest independent provider of abortion services, has lost its High Court bid to reinterpret the 1967 Abortion Act in line with advances in medical science, to allow the second dose of the two drug treatment for early medical abortion, mifepristone and misoprostol, to be administered by the woman at home rather than in a clinic. The charity argued that this would be in line with practice in some other countries and that the restriction meant that women faced the possibility of miscarrying on the way home from the second round of treatment.
The charity argued that "treatment" under the act covered the prescription but not necessarily the administration of the drugs. Secretary of State Andrew Lansley argued that the act required both the first and second doses to be taken under supervision at a hospital or other medical premises. The judge upheld the government's interpretation that the administration of both doses constituted "treatment" that must be carried out by a registered medical practitioner on premises approved under the act.
BPAS is disappointed and is taking legal advice on a possible appeal. But it was "very pleased" that the judge ruled that the act gave the health secretary "the power to approve a wider range of place, including potentially the home, and the conditions on which such approval may be given relating to the particular medicine and the manner of its administration or use."
BPAS said that resolving the issue was now "a matter of great urgency," as there were around 70,000 early medical abortions in 2009, accounting for almost half of all early abortions, up from 18% in 2002.
Its chief executive, Ann Furedi, said, "If the law as it stands cannot allow what is safe, right, and proper then it is not fit for purpose and must be changed to reflect modern medical practice. But if the law as it stands allows the secretary of state to approve a woman's home as a 'class of place' for abortion then this is what he must do. We look forward to discussing with ministers and officials how quickly this can happen."
Comprehensive abortion care should be incorporated in health delivery system, Ghana
Date: 12 February 2011
Source: Ghana News Agency
The University of Cape Coast (UCC's) Department of Population and Health organised a forum to disseminate results from a study on abortion in Ghana, carried out in collaboration with the Guttmacher Institute. The researchers suggested the inclusion of comprehensive abortion care in the national health system to stem the increasing incidence of unsafe abortion which causes 13% of all maternal deaths. Abortion services should include counselling both before and after.
Although abortion is widespread, particularly among the youth, getting data on abortion was a challenge as most health personnel were reluctant to divulge information because of perceived illegalities. In five facilities, between 2008 and 2010, 1,233 abortions were reported, but the true figure is probably higher.
US fight over abortion heats up again
Date: 8 February 2011
The Pitts Bill ("Protect Life Act") allows virtually any health care entity to refuse to provide, cover, pay for, or refer patients for abortions. New language in the bill allows hospitals that receive federal funds but are opposed to abortions to refuse to provide emergency abortion care even when necessary to save a woman's life. Nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.
The Pence Bill aims to stop Planned Parenthood, a reproductive care organisation and America's leading abortion provider, receiving federal funds. Anti-abortion activists' campaign to deny it federal funds has been aided by the release of several hidden camera videos showing a man posing as a pimp asking Planned Parenthood workers about services for under-age prostitutes. Live Action, the group behind the videos, contends that they demonstrate the willingness of Planned Parenthood "to aid and abet in the sexual exploitation of minors and young women". Planned Parenthood said that it was aware of "pimp" visits to at least 12 clinics prior to the release of the videos and had found them concerning. It contacted the FBI, who began investigating the alleged sex traffickers. Planned Parenthood notes that it is already legally barred from using federal money for abortions and it ensures that taxpayers' money is used for other services.
TAKE ACTION HERE: Fight back against attacks to women's rights NOW - Tell your Members of Congress to vote "NO" on the bills!
Alarmist media reports ignore that Global Fund resources deliver tremendous results
Date: 7 February 2011
Source: International AIDS Society
Following the publication of several media reports which seriously distort the extent of fraud discovered in grants financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the International AIDS Society (IAS) urges all donors and governments to continue their funding.
The Global Fund, created in 2002, is a unique and innovative financing instrument which attracts, manages and disburses resources to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. By December 2009, Global Fund-supported programmes were providing antiretroviral therapy to 2.5 million people in 104 low and middle-income countries, and the Global Fund Board had approved proposals totaling US$19.2 billion and disbursed over US$10 billion.
A distinguishing feature of the Global Fund is its strict and transparent auditing system, and its openness when it uncovers corruption. "Last week's reports on this subject contained no real news, and only referred to the Global Fund's own published audits which openly acknowledged that sums of money had been misappropriated," commented Julio Montaner, IAS Past President. "It would be a bitter irony if the Global Fund loses funding because of these reports, only for the same resources to be directed towards other multinational AIDS agencies who face the same challenges when it comes to fraud, but who may not be as transparent in their reporting." The amount of money misspent represents less than 0.3% of the total amount disbursed by the Global Fund.
Is providing abortions creating a "nuisance"?
Date: 4 February 2011
Source: Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones
The first doctor to try to offer abortion services in Wichita, Kansas, since Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in a church in May 2009 has been blocked from doing so by her landlord, who has claimed this would create a "nuisance."
Dr. Mila Means is a family practitioner in Wichita, and has been preparing to provide abortion services there. But a state judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Means from performing abortions at her medical office, at the behest of Foliage Development, Inc., the owner of the building that houses Means' office. The landlord initially turned down Means' request to offer abortion services, maintaining that it would violate her lease by "creating a clear nuisance to and disturbing the peaceful possession of all other tenants." The nuisance, however, would stem from protests the landlord anticipates, not from anything that Means would do. Anti-abortion activists from Operation Rescue, headquartered in Wichita, have already begun protesting outside her office. Kansas Coalition for Life has threatened to hold daily protests outside Means' office and Operation Rescue has posted Means' office address and contact information on its website.
Wichita has long been an abortion-rights battleground. Operation Rescue relocated its headquarters there in 2002, to concentrate on its campaign against Tiller. The city had four abortion providers in the 1990s, until fierce campaigns pushed them out. Eventually, Tiller was the only one left. Now the one doctor who wants to fill the vacancy left by his murder is being thwarted because anti-abortion crusaders are creating a nuisance.
Ugandan woman wins temporary reprieve
Date: 1 February 2011
Source: BBC News
Ugandan Brenda Namiggade, due to be deported on Friday, was granted a temporary injunction allowing her to stay in the UK. Her case will now go to a judicial review.
Ms Namiggade says that she is a lesbian, and fears for her life if returned to Uganda, where living as a gay person is illegal.
A UK Border Agency spokesman told the BBC that Ms Namiggade had been found not to have a right to remain in the UK and that her sexuality was in question. "An immigration judge found on the evidence before them that Ms Namiggade was not homosexual" said the spokesman.
In Uganda homosexual acts carry a penalty of up to14 years in prison. The government recently considered increasing penalties to include the death sentence in some cases.
Last week, prominent gay rights campaigner David Kato was beaten to death near the Ugandan capital Kampala.
Ms Namiggade fled to the UK in 2002. She says she was beaten and victimised because of her sexuality.
Danish study on abortion and mental health
Date: published 27 January 2011
A large Danish study has found no increased risk of mental disorders in the year following a first-trimester induced abortion.
Concern has been expressed about potential harm to women's mental health in association with having an induced abortion, but the relationship remains unclear. This population-based cohort study involved linking information from the Danish Civil Registration system to the Danish Psychiatric Central Register and the Danish National Register of Patients. Data was collected on women and girls born in Denmark between 1962 and 1993 with no record of mental disorders who had a first-trimester induced abortion (n=84,620) or a first childbirth (n=280,930) during 1995-2007. Rates of first-time psychiatric contact (an inpatient admission or outpatient visit) for any type of mental disorder were estimated within the year after the abortion or childbirth compared to the nine-month period preceding the event. Incidence rates of first psychiatric contact per 1000 person-years among women who had a first abortion were 14.6 before abortion and 15.2 after abortion. The corresponding rates among girls and women who had a first childbirth were 3.9 before delivery and 6.7 post partum. The relative risk of a psychiatric contact did not differ significantly after abortion as compared with before abortion (p=0.19) but did increase after childbirth as compared with before childbirth (p<0.001). The finding that the incidence rate of psychiatric contact was similar before and after a first-trimester abortion does not support the hypothesis that there is an increased risk of mental disorders after a first-trimester induced abortion.
Mexico: Young woman given 23-year sentence for having an abortion
Date: 22 January 2011
Source: Red de Salud
A 21-year old woman accused of having an abortion has been sentenced to 23 years in prison in the State of Baja California, Mexico, for the crime of aggravated homicide for what she says was a miscarriage in 2008.
Remarks on the 38th Anniversary or Roe v. Wade
Dr. Maureen Paul spoke at an event to commemorate the 38th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade in
I was a teenager in 1968 when I learned that I was pregnant. Through a friend, I tried to arrange for an illegal abortion, only to be sent down a rabbit hole that involved a uniformed police officer, secret password, and hundreds of dollars that I didn't have. Young and terrified, unable to raise the money, and turned down by the therapeutic abortion committee at my local hospital, I eventually was forced to carry the pregnancy against my will and put the child up for adoption, an experience that was hands down the most difficult and painful of my life.
Now, as Chief Medical Officer at Planned Parenthood of New York City, I make sure that women have access to the reproductive health care they need. But on a day like today, the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I cannot help but think of another provider - a friend, colleague, and hero, Dr. George Tiller. George was a family physician who took over his father's practice in Wichita after his parents, sister, and brother-in-law were killed in a plane crash. It was only when women in the community began asking him if he would offer them the same services that his father did that he learned that his father had provided then-illegal, but safe, abortions. When one of those women sought care from someone else and died because of it, George Tiller devoted his career to abortion provision, eventually becoming one of the few doctors in the country with the skills and commitment to provide later abortions to women whose wanted pregnancies had gone awry.
For this dedication and service, he became the target of vehement anti-abortion hatred. His clinic was firebombed, and he was shot in both arms, harassed relentlessly at his home, persecuted, prosecuted, and finally assassinated while serving as an usher in his church...the one place, the only place in his community where he said he always felt safe.
I have often wondered to myself how Dr. George Tiller did what he did. As a physician, I know the emotional fortitude it takes to care for even one woman who is experiencing the pain of losing a wanted pregnancy. George put his whole heart and soul into caring for thousands and thousands. As an abortion provider, I have some inkling of the enormous stress providers feel when they are subject to even one act of harassment and violence. George experienced it every day and kept coming back again and again. How does anyone have that much courage? The answer comes from a phrase from one of my favorite authors, Anne River Siddons. "Close your eyes and think about what you would die for...and now open your eyes and live for it."
George Tiller never should have died the way that he did. But he lived every minute of his life with the passion of a man who knew it might be his last...a passion guided by the needs, hopes and aspirations of women, a passion that fostered unfathomable courage, undaunted by hatred, and marked by the most exquisite love, joy, humility, and grace.
I was one of the young girls who "went away." I was also one of the few fortunate enough to come back. Thousands upon thousands of women of my generation faced the back alleys of America before the legalization of abortion. They stood on dark street corners and were taken in cars blindfolded to clandestine locations. They filled the beds of special wards in public hospitals, misogynously called "septic tanks" by some because they were dedicated to the care of women sick with and dying of sepsis - an overwhelming infection caused by botched abortions. They were the poor and desperate women who resorted to coat hangers, catheters, coke bottles, turpentine, and lye because they had nowhere else to turn.
Today we live in a world where we have the technology to provide safe abortion to every woman who chooses it. Yet somewhere in the world, one woman continues to die every 8 minutes from an unsafe abortion. Today we live in a country where generations of women have never known what it is like to not have the legal right to abortion. Yet hundreds of bills are introduced in state legislatures every year to restrict their access to abortion, and many women have to travel long distances, cross picket lines, survive harassment, and brave the stigma to get a safe abortion. Often, I am struck by how similar the experiences are for these younger generations of women and my own.
CREA conferences in South Asia, April and June 2011
Count Me In!
The conference is open to people who represent/work with sex workers, lesbians, young and disabled women, HIV-positive and trans people from
Anti-abortion media campaign launched by Macedonian Government
Date: 19 January 2011
Uganda: Desperately seeking condoms in the north
For the third month running, people seeking condoms at local health centres in some northern Ugandan districts have found empty dispensers. HIV/AIDS focal persons for Gulu, Kitgum and Nwoya districts say health facilities have no condoms for free distribution and commercially available condoms are too expensive for many people. Those who cannot afford them are left with two choices: abstain or have sex without a condom. A sex worker in Gulu said: " have turned down a number of clients who opted to have it live [without a condom] but I don' know what my other colleagues are doing in this hard situation."Another sex worker said she had had to make the difficult choice to have "live" sex.
Hotels and youth centres say they too have run out. The condom shortage in the north follows a similar scarcity reported in several districts in mid-2010. At the time, the government blamed a long procurement process and irregular delivery of condoms to the country. According to Zainab Akol, in charge of HIV programming at the Ministry of Health, the problem lay with district health officials who did not order condoms well in advance.
Uganda: Muslim women back condoms for HIV prevention
India: Drop charges against maternal death protesters
Date: 10 January 2010
In November 2010, activists recorded nine maternal deaths at the hospital, which is designated a comprehensive emergency obstetric care unit. Despite a 2010 national policy mandating states to investigate maternal deaths and take corrective action, the state did not review any of the deaths. Health rights activists also recorded a number of cases in which pregnant women seeking emergency obstetric care had been turned away from the hospital and referred to a larger hospital in Indore city, five hours away.
The rally was held by tribal communities - who face challenges in accessing maternal health care - and activists from a grassroots organisation of tribal and dalit communities, because the Indian health system has no mechanism for officially airing and redressing grievances. Instead of listening, district health authorities brought in the police.
Yawning disparities in maternal health in India remain. A 2007 UNICEF report revealed that nearly 60% of all maternal deaths in six northern states occurred in tribal or dalit (so-called "untouchable") communities.
India's National Rural Health Mission aims to "improve access to rural people, especially poor women and children to equitable, affordable, accountable and effective primary health care."
Human Rights watch said that the authorities should drop all charges against the protesters and tell the police to stop threatening peaceful protesters; that all states should investigate maternal deaths; and that the government should create grievance redress mechanisms that are accessible to communities in which many people are poor and illiterate.
MTV's shockingly good abortion special
Lynn Harris expresses her delight that MTV got it right.
Since the launch of MTV's pair of reality series about teen pregnancy and motherhood, we have never seen any pregnant teen seriously consider abortion. But on
But the author of this article is relieved, delighted and amazed to report that MTV got it right. They told the many-sided truth: that abortion is safe and common, that abortion has been made difficult to get, and, most importantly, that abortion is a complex decision made by complex human beings.
Here's Dr. Drew opening the show: "About 750,000 girls in the
We then meet Markai and her partner as they wrestle with their options for her unplanned second pregnancy, the result of a missed appointment for her shot of Depo-Provera. As a mother, Markai is tormented both by the prospect of terminating a pregnancy and by the prospect of raising a child whose needs will splinter their already slim resources. In Dr. Drew's follow-up interview with her and two other young women, the show manages to include: medically accurate information about abortion procedures, the challenge of finding the birth control method that works for you, the positive presence of supportive family and friends, the compassionate voice of a clinic counsellor, the complex emotions of male partners, the cost of abortion, the cruelty of parental notification requirements, the positive presence of supportive family and friends, the normalcy of mixed feelings after the procedure, and the characterisation of abortion as "a parenting decision."
And as Dr. Drew himself said: "Having an abortion is not uncommon. But talking about it publicly is." At this time, there are evidently no plans to repeat or extend the special. So here's a high-five to MTV for - finally, and so finely - getting this thing going.
But next time, how about prime time?
A moral defence of late abortion
© spiked, reproduced by kind permission
The blogosphere has been jangling in response to American writer Will Saletan's appeal for the pro-choice community to accept restrictions on later abortions. Saletan argues that later abortions would be unnecessary if women behaved responsibly and society provided the means for them to do so. Contraception would, he argues, reduce the abortion rate by voluntary means.
Britain has based its law on the principle that abortion should be available to women who were 'unfit' to have children since its legislative defence against criminal abortion was codified in the Abortion Act 1967. Today, this view holds: abortion is a part of 'public health'. Almost all abortions are commissioned and funded by the state healthcare system, and access to early abortion has been part of official national strategies to improve sexual health.
But abortion still needs to be 'necessary': even at early gestations, two doctors must certify that legal grounds are met. An abortion is approved because it is the best outcome for the woman and her existing family. In essence, early abortion is justified pragmatically: it is socially necessary because, without it, the inevitable and unavoidable large numbers of unplanned pregnancies will result in the social cost of unwanted children born to unwilling mothers.
If our defence of later abortion is simply as a pragmatic response to the needs of a woman with a problem pregnancy, then there is no reason to assume that any higher burden of justification is required than for earlier procedures.
The ethics of later abortion
The ethical issue is straightforward for those who believe that abortion is absolutely wrong and should never be solely a matter of individual personal choice. Similarly, there is little ambiguity for those who believe that a woman has absolute autonomy to decide on the future of her pregnancy. The difficulty exists only for those who try to straddle the gap between these fundamental positions and argue that abortion should be a woman's choice, but it should be less of a choice in later pregnancy.
To accept that the blastocyst or embryo has the potential to evolve into a person is not to say it should be treated as a person, or even that it must be accorded moral worth because of its potentiality. As the ethicist Professor John Harris argues, we are all potentially dead, but that does not mean that we treat people as though they are already dead.
If it is 'drawing closer' to the fulfilment of the fetus's potential that changes its moral status, then it seems that there is a difficult problem in finding a moral - as distinct from a pragmatic - justification as to when is close enough for the status to change. Since a fetus draws closer to fulfilling its potential from the day it is conceived, and is constantly evolving as it grows, which day - or which developmental change - matters morally? Is it when there is evidence of a beating heart, or fetal movement, or a particular neurological or brain development? Who makes this decision? And why?
The case for permitting abortion 'as late as necessary'
To summarise: why should we assume later abortions are 'bad' - or, at least, 'more wrong' than early ones? There is no clinical evidence that later abortions are harmful, and certainly not more harmful than coercing an unwilling woman to endure a full-term pregnancy and labour. Later abortions are undoubtedly gruelling for both the patient and provider, but we assume that both have made a conscious decision to undertake the procedure. The life that is destroyed is no more or less a potential person than it was in early pregnancy. Late abortions may cost more and use scarce resources, but funding implications are a separate issue and distinct from the ethics of the procedure per se.
Ultimately, the distinction between early and late abortion seems reducible to our response to the appearance of the fetus - which is why so much influence has been attributed to the development of high-resolution fetal imaging, which has enabled us to see the fetus in utero. The argument seems reducible to this: it looks more like a child, so it should be treated more like a child.
Without doubt, it is much more difficult to countenance the destruction of a fetus once it looks like a miniature baby than before its body parts can be seen. It is even harder when an ultrasound scan shows movements that bring to mind familiar, endearing gestures - a 'yawn', thumb-sucking and grasping tiny fingers - and when we can see whether it is a boy or a girl. This is a fair enough response when it is expressed as a personal, subjective observation. It seems illegitimate, however, either dishonest or shallow, to dress it up as a moral philosophical principle.
The moral case for late abortion, and for preserving the right of women to exercise their moral agency in making their decision, is at least as strong as the pragmatic case. And our normative, moral case is more consistent and ploughs deeper than the instrumental attempts to find moral reasoning to restrict later abortion. Either we support women's right to make an abortion decision or we don't. We can make the judgement that their choice is wrong - but we must tolerate their right to decide. There is no middle ground to straddle.
Male circumcision kicks off in the northern Uganda
Date: 22 December 2010
Source: IRIN PlusNews
Men in northern Uganda are taking advantage of a government move to provide the procedure free of charge as part of its national male circumcision policy, launched in September 2010. 25% of Ugandan men are circumcised, but in the north, that figure drops to 2.4% in some areas. So far, in Apac District, where the programme began in September, more than 1,300 men have been circumcised. In the town of Gulu, more than 100 men registered for the procedure in the first week, while Lira saw more than 250 men circumcised in the first week. Local health officials say the introduction of free male circumcision is a much-needed addition to the region's HIV prevention tools. HIV prevalence in northern Uganda is 8.2%, higher than the national figure of 6.2%, and urban areas in the north have even higher levels.
The male circumcision programme is limited to five main hospitals, but the government intends to roll it out to smaller health facilities, which will need to be significantly improved to successfully expand the service. HIV programmes in northern Uganda have been beset by problems, including shortages of antiretrovirals and poor tuberculosis management. A local chemist said he doubted the ability of male circumcision programmes to function properly under current levels of health service provision. Health workers have urged the government to invest in the region's health facilities to ensure the expansion of male circumcision and other HIV services.
Elective single versus double embryo transfer for IVF
This year, Robert Edwards received the Nobel prize for his contribution to the development of human in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The first child to be conceived after IVF was born in 1978, and by the mid-1980s the main problem with IVF was the increased incidence of high order multiple births. At first, clinicians transferred too many embryos, but by about ten years ago the transfer of more than two embryos was exceptional. However, numbers of twins continued to increase. Clinicians in
A meta-analysis by McLernon and colleagues (reference) compares the effect of elective single embryo transfer versus double embryo transfer on pregnancy outcomes by combining individual patient data from the five substantial published trials, as well as three other unpublished trials of single embryo replacement, two of which were stopped. Interestingly, in one case the trial was stopped because insufficient women were willing to be randomised to single embryo transfer and in the other because women were unwilling to be randomised to double embryo transfer.
The meta-analysis showed that replacing one embryo twice (one fresh embryo then one cryopreserved embryo several months later if needed) gives the same live birth rate as replacing two embryos at the same time. However with single embryo transfer the singleton live birth rates at term are significantly higher (odds ratio 4.93, 95% confidence interval 2.98 to 8.18), and the risk of preterm birth (at 24-32 weeks) as well as the delivery of a low birthweight baby are significantly lower (0.08, 0.01 to 0.65 and 0.36, 0.15 to 0.87, respectively). In other words, the risk of twins and the attendant morbidity are all but avoided. This is important because the embryos needed for single embryo transfer can be obtained from one egg recovery procedure, and it is that procedure and the ovarian stimulation that precedes it that are responsible for the main costs and morbidity associated with IVF. The largest Swedish study also shows that the costs of this approach are hugely beneficial to any health care system when the costs of managing twin births are taken into consideration.
So why has this approach not been adopted in the
McLernon DJ, Harrild K, Bergh C, et al. Clinical effectiveness of elective single versus double embryo transfer: a meta-analysis of individual patient data from randomised trials. BMJ 2010;341:c6945.
Irish abortion law "violated woman's right" to abortion on health grounds
Date: 16 December 2010
The European Court of Human Rights ruled today on the cases of three women who had had terminations in Britain and who had filed for a ruling on whether they should have been able to have their abortions legally in Ireland under existing law. Abortion in the Irish Republic is allowed in law if the woman's life is at risk. The Court ruled that two of the women had not had their rights breached. However, the ruling in the third woman's case was that her rights had been violated, which could require a change to Irish regulations or even the law.
All three women said they believed they had not been entitled to an abortion under Irish law, but all three had suffered medical complications on returning to the Irish Republic. They all complained that Irish restrictions on abortion had stigmatised and humiliated them, risking damage to their health.
The first two women in the case were a single mother, who had other children in care, and a woman who was concerned about the danger of an ectopic pregnancy. The third woman, who had previously had cancer and feared that pregnancy could cause it to recur, argued that although she believed her pregnancy had put her life at risk, there was no procedure under which she could have established whether she had a right to an abortion in Ireland. The court ruled that in her case, there had been a 'failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion' in Ireland.
The main paragraphs of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights are appended below. The full text is available here: http://www.echr.coe.int/echr/Homepage_EN.
Decision of the Court
Scope of the case
The Court emphasised that its role was to examine the legal position on abortion in Ireland in so far as it directly affected the present applicants.
It then observed that it had not been disputed that all three applicants had travelled to England for abortion: the first two for reasons of health and well-being, and the third applicant given her fear that her pregnancy posed a risk to her life. While travel abroad had undoubtedly represented a psychological burden for all three, and for the first applicant a financial drain, the Court found that the necessary medical advice and treatment had been available to them in Ireland both before and after their abortions. The Court found that, apart from the psychological impact on the applicants of going abroad to do something which was a criminal offence in their own country, the criminal sanctions in Ireland applicable to abortion had had no direct relevance to the complaints of the first and second applicant. The Court examined the risk of those sanctions in the third applicant's case together with the merits of her complaint.
Exhaustion of domestic remedies
The Court found ineffective the domestic legal remedies which the Government considered the applicants should have exhausted, which remedies included a constitutional action and an application under the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003. Consequently, there was no need for the first and the second applicant to use them before turning to the Court. As regards the third applicant, the Court examined that question together with its analysis on the merits.
The Court recalled that there had been no legal obstacle to any of the applicants travelling abroad for an abortion. Given that the third applicant, who had suffered post-abortion complications, had not claimed that those had represented a threat to her life, the Court rejected her complaints as inadmissible.
The Court rejected all three applicants' complaints under Article 3, as it found that the psychological and physical burden undoubtedly suffered by each of them as a result of their travelling abroad for an abortion, had not been sufficiently grave to represent inhuman or degrading treatment prohibited under Article 3.
Third parties provided lengthy submissions both in favour and against widening access to abortion services in Ireland.
The Court held that, while Article 8 could not be interpreted as conferring a right to abortion, its prohibition in Ireland came within the scope of the applicants' right to respect for their physical and psychological integrity, hence within their private lives, and thus under Article 8. The Court examined the complaints of the first and second applicant separately from those of the third applicant.
First and second applicant
The Court found that the prohibition on the termination of the first and second applicants' pregnancies had represented an interference with their right to respect for their private lives. That interference had been in accordance with the law and had pursued the legitimate aim of protecting public morals as understood in Ireland.
Examining whether the prohibition had been necessary in a democratic society, and in particular, whether a pressing social need had existed to justify it, the Court observed that a consensus existed among the majority of the members States of the Council of Europe allowing broader access to abortion than under Irish law: abortion was available on request in some 30 European countries; it was available for health-related reasons in approximately 40 States; and it was available for well-being reasons in about 35 of those. Only three States had more restrictive access to abortion than Ireland, in which States abortion was prohibited regardless of the risk to a woman's life. In addition, Ireland was the only Council of Europe member State which allowed abortion only when the pregnancy posed a risk to the life of the expectant mother.
However, the Court found that the undisputed consensus among the Council of Europe member States was not sufficient to narrow decisively the broad margin of appreciation the State enjoyed in that context. The Court had accepted in a prior case - Vo v. France - that the question of when life began came within the States' margin of appreciation. As there was no European consensus on the scientific and legal definition of the beginning of life and as the right of the foetus and mother were inextricably linked, a State's margin of appreciation concerning the question of when life began implied a similar margin of appreciation as regards the balancing of the conflicting interests of the foetus and the mother.
The Court then applied that margin of appreciation. Having regard to the first and second applicants' right to travel abroad to obtain an abortion and to appropriate pre- and post-abortion medical care in Ireland, as well as to the fact that the impugned prohibition in Ireland on abortion for health or well-being reasons was based on the profound moral values of the Irish people in respect of the right to life of the unborn, the Court concluded that, the existing prohibition on abortion in Ireland struck a fair balance between the right of the first and second applicants to respect of their private lives and the rights invoked on behalf of the unborn.
There had, therefore, been no violation of Article 8 as regards the first and the second applicants.
The Court noted that the third applicant had a rare form of cancer and she feared it might relapse as a result of her being pregnant. The Court considered that the establishment of any such risk to her life clearly concerned fundamental values and essential aspects of her right to respect for her private life.
It went on to find that the only non-judicial means for determining such a risk on which the Government relied, the ordinary medical consultation between a woman and her doctor, was ineffective. The uncertainty surrounding such a process was such that it was evident that the criminal provisions of the 1861 Act constituted a significant chilling factor for women and doctors as they both ran a risk of a serious criminal conviction and imprisonment if an initial doctor's opinion that abortion was an option as it posed a risk to the woman's health was later found to be against the Irish Constitution.
Neither did the Court consider recourse by the third applicant to the courts (in particular, the constitutional courts) to be effective, as the constitutional courts were not appropriate for the primary determination of whether a woman qualified for a lawful abortion. It was likewise inappropriate to ask women to pursue such complex constitutional proceedings when their right to have an abortion if pregnancy posed a threat to their life was not disputed. In any event, it was unclear how the courts were to enforce any mandatory order requiring doctors to carry out an abortion, given the lack of clear information from the Government to the Court as regards lawful abortions currently carried out in Ireland.
The Court concluded that neither the medical consultation nor litigation options, relied on by the Irish Government, constituted effective and accessible procedures which allowed the third applicant to establish her right to a lawful a