Progress Period: An Introduction to Menstrual Activism

Progress Period: An Introduction to Menstrual Activism

October 28, 2018 was not merely a day of yellow sunlight and cool fall air, but rather, the origin of a radical transformation of my being facilitated by Progress Period, a menstrual activism club at Duke University. The screen of my phone reported “12:27pm,” lighting anew a sense of urgency beneath my already frantic feet. The event was set to begin at 12:30pm and with the panicked realization that I was indeed going to be late, I barreled down the stairs towards Schiciano Auditorium. At 12:29pm, just as I allowed myself a breath of assured relief that I would make the event on time, I was stopped dead in my tracks. “Outside the (tampon) box: menstruating isn’t just for women,” declared a flyer taped to the glass door. Confusion clouded my awareness and my mind raced with questions, relegating my aspirational punctuality to a non-possibility. Among this maelstrom of questions, the loudest bubbled to the surface: Is menstruation not a qualifier of womanhood?...
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Kenyan Women Victorious in “I AM 2.0” Competition

Kenyan Women Victorious in “I AM 2.0” Competition

Global Fund for Women is an organization which supports the efforts of women’s groups who work to improve the quality of safety and happiness for women and girls around the world. Recently, the Global Fund for Women, partnered with the United Nations Population Fund, Graca Machel Trust, and Nairobi Incubation Lab, facilitated a competition titled “I AM 2.0” to reward women’s groups who develop the most scalable, unique, sustainable, and impactful solutions for reproductive health challenges. Three organizations- Inteco Kenya ARI, Silmak Agencies and Mums Village- all run by Kenyan women, have been declared the winners, with each receiving $10,000. Inteco Kenya ARI provides menstrual hygiene product distribution services through a network of accessible ARI vending machines. Silmak Agencies produces adult diapers, menstrual hygiene products, product dispensers, and product disposals, which it then provides for Kenyan schools at a subsidized cost. Mum’s village has cultivated a peer-interactive network which supports women experiencing gender-based violence. These three organizations will appear before...
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A Frightening Global Truth: Domestic Violence Within Social Normativity

A Frightening Global Truth: Domestic Violence Within Social Normativity

In reviewing data from Demographic and Health Surveys administered in low and middle-income countries between 2005 and 2017, researchers at the University of Bristol have come to an unsettling conclusion; domestic violence against women often exists within the bounds of social normativity. These surveys evaluated the social acceptability of domestic violence when provoked by certain situations, such as when a woman goes out without telling her partner, argues with her partner, neglects her children, is suspected of being unfaithful, refuses to have sex or burns a meal. It was found that approximately 36% of survey participants considered domestic violence justifiable in at least one of these instances. Furthermore, in 36 out of the 49 countries studied, women were more likely to justify this abusive behavior than men, speaking volumes to the deep entrenchment of female subordination, even amongst women. The data regarding the social acceptance of domestic violence is highly variable, ranging anywhere from 3% of the population accepting this...
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The Devastation of Congenital Syphilis Amongst California’s Most Vulnerable

The Devastation of Congenital Syphilis Amongst California’s Most Vulnerable

As of twenty years ago, incredibly low prevalence rates made concern for congenital syphilis in California obsolete. However, in the past six years, the number of syphilis cases in California has augmented exponentially, jumping from 33 to 283 cases and wreaking havoc upon California’s most vulnerable: at risk mothers and their newborn children. Due to syphilis's ability to pass through the placental wall during pregnancy, an ever-increasing number of children are suffering from meningitis, anemia, organ deformation, pneumonia and neurological deficits. Approximately thirty stillborn babies in the past year were found to be infected with syphilis-- the highest number of infant mortalities attributed to syphilis since 1995.  Such statistics are incongruent with California's extensive health care system, especially since the horrific consequences of syphilis can be prevented by a single antibiotic shot. High levels of poverty, homelessness and substance abuse have been reliably linked to increased reports of syphilis cases. Although California law mandates that pregnant women receive mandatory screening...
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One Man, His Wife’s Legacy, and the “Monarch of Dreams”: Cervical Cancer Prevention in Zambia

One Man, His Wife’s Legacy, and the “Monarch of Dreams”: Cervical Cancer Prevention in Zambia

The women of Zambia have the world’s fourth highest rate of cervical cancer; yet, Zambia’s government provides free cervical cancer screening services. This begs the question: why does such a high incidence of cervical cancer persist? The answer is due, in part, to a lack of awareness amongst the female population regarding this disease, particularly in rural areas. Robert Zulu, in upholding the legacy of his late wife whom he lost to cervical cancer, aims to inform and empower Zambia’s women by encouraging regular cervical cancer screenings. These preventative measures are especially important for HIV, which disproportionately affects Zambia’s women, as this disease increases the likelihood of cervical cancer diagnosis by three times. Zulu’s non-profit, Rakellz Dream Initiative, takes an incredibly unique approach to this end of raising awareness, producing plays and movies about cervical cancer. Zulu’s latest film, “Monarch of Dreams,” which is based on his wife’s battle with cancer, premiered on October 31st in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. The...
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C-Sections: A Global Dichotomy of Overuse and Inaccessibility

C-Sections: A Global Dichotomy of Overuse and Inaccessibility

A new health care study by Lancet has illuminated a frightening trend in the global prevalence of caesarean sections. In wealthy countries, C-sections are often performed in the absence of underlying medical causes, while in developing countries, C-sections are inaccessible even when medically necessary. As of 2015, the C-sections were used for approximately 30% of births in North America, 44% in Latin America and the Caribbean, and only 5% in East Africa, standing in stark opposition to the World Health Organization’s recommendation rate of 10-15%. C-sections invite major risk, including maternal and postpartum infections, in addition to newborn death or extended hospitalization.  However, many women report that they are not informed by doctors of the implications and possible risk involved with this procedure and report being immensely pressured to receive C-sections. In short, the decision is driven not by mothers, but by doctors who allow financial motivations, fear of litigation, and even racial bias to inform their decisions. One potential...
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When Social Constructs Incorrectly Assume Scientific Validity: The Myth of Virginity and Incidence of “Virginity Testing”

When Social Constructs Incorrectly Assume Scientific Validity: The Myth of Virginity and Incidence of “Virginity Testing”

This past Wednesday, the United Nations called for the end of a practice known as “virginity testing,” declaring such tests a violation of human rights. While these tests possess zero scientific merit or clinical foundation, they are still performed in nearly 20 countries, including but not limited to India, Brazil, Afghanistan, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Northern Ireland, and Jordan. Virginity testing entails a physical examination of the hymen, usually by an insertion of fingers, to determine whether a woman has had sex. However, such measures are incapable of determining whether a woman has had intercourse or not, and reinforce the anatomically incorrect term “intact hymen.” Furthermore, as delineated in the UN’s statement, this test, "further reinforces socio-cultural norms that perpetuate women’s inequality, including stereotyped views of female morality and sexuality, and serves to exercise control over women and girls." In short, "virginity testing" robs women of the right to protection from discrimination, and of the right to...
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The Girl Child’s Present Colors Her Future: The International Day of the Girl Child

The Girl Child’s Present Colors Her Future: The International Day of the Girl Child

October 11th, 2018 marked the sixth annual International Day of the Girl Child, a celebration which works to establish investment in girls as essential to a sustainable and thriving community.  This holiday occurred at a crucial intersection within both a domestic and global narrative. From the election of Brett Kavanaugh to the growing momentum of #MeToo and #WhyIDidn’tReport, sexual violence and other gender disparities have been thrust into the center of public dialogue, igniting the fires of social change. However, to dismantle the culture and practices which systematically devalue women in their present, we must first protect the girl child, as her condition, positive or negative, will ultimately inform her future. This year’s theme of the international day was “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce,” which drew attention to the 25% of unemployed youth, disproportionately consisting of girls. This disadvantaged demographic of girls in the workforce is especially vulnerable to both monetary and sexual exploitation. The very derivation of gender equality...
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The Alarming Incidence of Unsafe Abortion Worldwide

The Alarming Incidence of Unsafe Abortion Worldwide

Approximately 56 million abortions are performed globally each year, with half of these procedures falling upon some continuum of danger that they pose. 97% of these unsafe abortions are performed in low-income countries within Africa, Asia, and Latin America, illustrating the enormous reproductive health disparity borne by geographic location. Abortions are classified by the World Health Organization as “safe”, “less safe”, and “least safe.” Many abortions conducted in developing countries are qualified as “least safe,” characterized by the insertion of foreign objects such as sticks and broken glass bottles, or the ingestion of harmful cleaning products. Ultimately, 6.9 million women each year are treated for complications attributed to unsafe abortions, and 23,000 women die from such complications. Yet, safe abortion procedures such as manual evacuation and abortion-inducing drugs are not financially out of reach even for low-resource countries. Thus, the solution to this horrific lapse in reproductive health lies in political discourse. While some countries, such as Ethiopia and Nepal,...
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Reproductive Health Waits for No One: The Women Forgotten During Times of National Crises, and How the UN is Helping

Reproductive Health Waits for No One: The Women Forgotten During Times of National Crises, and How the UN is Helping

This past year, the sexual and reproductive health agency of the UN, known as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has devoted particular attention to providing accessible family planning and preventing maternal deaths and gender-based violence on a global scale. The UNFPA will now be opening an office in Geneva to further strengthen its global humanitarianism protocol during times of natural disaster and armed conflict, as many reproductive health issues are exacerbated amidst these crises (see link regarding gender disaster data). A hallmark of the UNFPA response to such adverse events are “female dignity kits,” devised to address the multitude of barriers to care faced by women in developing countries which are not immediately apparent to the homogeneous body of male humanitarian responders. These dignity kits include sanitary napkins, soap, underwear, and other toiletries. The new Geneva office will coordinate the efficient delivery of these kits and streamline all facets of the UNFPA’s humanitarian operations. For more information regarding the relationship...
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