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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The Birth of Feminist Foreign Policy: Advancing Women’s Issues in a World Increasingly Hostile Towards Reproductive Rights

The Birth of Feminist Foreign Policy: Advancing Women’s Issues in a World Increasingly Hostile Towards Reproductive Rights

September 21st and 22nd will mark the first-ever meeting of female foreign ministers, and hopefully, a leap forward in terms of feminist foreign policy. Feminist foreign policy, a term coined by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Walstrom, is defined as “standing against the systematic and global subordination of women” as a means to facilitate foreign development and security. Canada, in accordance with its pledge to bring women’s issues to the forefront of its political narrative, will host this summit, which includes representatives from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Australia. There has been substantial resistance to such a gathering, as popular culture often assigns a stigma to any initiative bearing the “feminist” label. However, this backlash, in addition to the frightening devolution of global reproductive rights under the Trump administration begs the need for consensus and concrete action regarding feminist foreign policy and urges on this ambitious group of women.   For more information regarding this summit, please...
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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: NGOs and Their Navigation of U.S. and Swedish Aid Policy

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: NGOs and Their Navigation of U.S. and Swedish Aid Policy

Article by Carly Jones Following the Trump administration’s reinstallment of the “global gag rule” in January 2017, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within the sexual and reproductive health and rights sector have been forced to choose between United States and Swedish aid. With this gag rule, foreign NGOs are only able to access U.S aid if they do not perform or promote abortion within the context of family planning. Under this umbrella even falls such services as legal advice and counseling. Sweden, a firm critic of the rule and strong advocate of abortion accessibility as imperative to effective health policy, has stated that aid will be discontinued to those compliant with this gag-rule: “We are, of course, very important moneywise but we are even more important, I think, when it comes to setting moral standards around women’s rights.” This polarization of aid has made the work of activists increasingly difficult; while many NGOs stand with Sweden in support of safe abortion, to have...
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One Woman, Her Dream, and Kenya’s Menstrual Revolution

One Woman, Her Dream, and Kenya’s Menstrual Revolution

Article by Carly Jones Access to feminine hygiene products is the cornerstone of a woman’s ability to claim agency over her body. Yet, with the feminine hygiene product market generating billions of dollars in revenue, these products are often made inaccessible by their price. This disparity in access is especially profound within low- and middle-income countries, such as Kenya, begging the need for Megan White Mukuria’s non-profit foundation, ZanaAfrica. In Kenya, 60% of girls are unable to access menstrual products. As a result, they are forced to endanger both their physical health and security, resorting to fashioning homemade products from rags, or even exchanging sex for sanitary napkins. Additionally, because of the shame associated with menstruation within Kenya’s culture, girls often remain confined to their homes throughout their cycles, with 60% of this demographic eventually dropping out of high school. ZanaAfrica not only addresses this physical need, supplying menstrual products to marginalized girls, but also provides community resources necessary to educate...
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