Looking back on 2018’s reproductive health news

Earlier this month, I looked up from my computer screen and realized that it was December 1st. It felt like 2018 had flown by, almost as fast as it came. As excited as I am to move towards the 2020 elections with the potential for positive change, I think it’s important to take some time to look back at this year’s events that I perceived to be the good, the bad, and the ugly in the larger conversation of reproductive justice.   When I think of 2018, I think of multiple, and often emotionally exhausting conversations about sexual and gender-based violence. From the heartbreaking discovery in Northern India that sparked protests throughout the country to the United Nations’ report that 50,000 women a year are killed by intimate partners, news headlines this year have been pretty grim. We all watched in horror as the of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing unfolded, bringing with it, memories of Anita Hill’s similarly traumatic experience decades...
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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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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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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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Let’s Talk About Sex: Peer-Led Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Rural Kenya

Let’s Talk About Sex: Peer-Led Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Rural Kenya

What is the function of the clitoris? Before I began teaching comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) at WISER Girls’, a secondary school located in Muhuru Bay, Kenya, I never imagined that this would be the most frequently asked question. Especially among a class of female third-year high school students. When I was first asked, I gave a cursory – and yes, somewhat bashful – reply, explaining the clitoris as the “anatomical source of sexual pleasure in females.” But this answer did not satisfy the students, and they probed for more information. As we engaged in a discussion, I learned that many weren’t familiar with an external representation of the female genitalia – especially one with a “non-reproductive” function. As my answers became more justificatory about the significance of the clitoris, I realized that my attitudes about legitimized female sexuality had begun to leak into my responses. While I tried to remove any bias from my answers, I struggled with leaving my...
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