Over the past few days several organizations have focused on International Women’s Day by releasing reports on the progress of women and girls in a variety of sectors through interactive web sites, data, as well as maps. The following have stood out during the week.
Doctors Without Borders
Women’s health care is critical in many low- and middle-income countries largely because women as well as girls continue to die in numbers that are not only too high, but oftentimes unnecessary. For example, 800 women still die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable. And, 13 percent of the 22 million unsafe abortions result in maternal deaths. To convey this and other health data, Doctors Without Borders created a robust, multimedia online project, Because Tomorrow Needs Her, where health workers and patients alike share their life experiences either administering care in low-resource settings, or seeking quality care with the burden of heavy obstacles like transportation, costs, and proximity to a health facility.
Through eight interactive chapters with compelling first-person accounts Doctors Without Borders highlights important women’s health issues including maternal health, fistulas, unsafe abortions, and sexual violence among others.
“It is unconscionable that in many parts of the world today, women have no access to quality obstetric care, when providing it is not complicated,” said Séverine Caluwaerts, an MSF obstetrician/gynecologist. “High impact, yet low-cost interventions by trained health staff can have a dramatic impact on maternal mortality.”
Last week I saw someone in my Twitter feed mention the new movie, The Long Night, that was recently featured on the New York Times. The Long Night is an online film by Tim Matsui and Media Storm and funded by the Alexia Foundation about girls who are sex trafficked in and around Seattle. I immediately watched the entire movie and sat there in stunned silence! I just couldn’t believe what I was watching. I came to quickly realize how easy it is for young girls (mostly who come from abusive families) to fall tragically into lives where they become prostitutes, are owned and branded by their pimps, and use drugs to simply forget the lives they live. I also learned that prostitution is a cycle nearly impossible to leave because most of these girls do not have educations and many have criminal backgrounds. It then becomes even harder for them to become employed and to leave the life of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Primarily following the lives of two young women, Natalie (a runaway from a good home) and Lisa (who was turned out by her pimp at 13), Matsui delves into the catalysts that drove them both to enter a life of being sex trafficked and their struggle to live a “normal” life. It was all too easy for them, even though at the time neither one of them really understood the risks of living the lifestyle. They were too young and fell into the trap of being coerced into becoming prostitutes by their pimps.
Lisa, who stood out most to me, is currently in jail and throughout most of the film she is noticeably high on heroin and even gets high before going into rehab where she stayed for one hour. Lisa also used to be a “cutter” and so along with her track marks are countless healed wounds from where the slashed her arms and legs.
The one silver lining of the film is that there is King County police officers who help girls like Nicole and Lisa get immediately shelter, support, longterm housing, and rehabilitation services.
This year alone 2740 sex trafficking cases have been reported. I’m sure that number is probably just the tip of the iceberg since so much of sex trafficking is underground. California, Texas, Florida, New York and New Jersey are the top sex trafficking states based on data from the National Sex Trafficking Resource Center.
When you watch The Long Night you can easily become overwhelmed and feel a little helpless about what you can do to help these girls who are in such vulnerable positions.
The good news is there are ways you can help!
• First, think about your sphere of influence
• Then, watch the film at thelongnightmovie.com
• Like the Facebook page facebook.com/moviethelongnight
• Like the Facebook page facebook.com/leavingthelife
• Invite your friends to do the same
• Comment on the film. On your page or on the film’s. Tweet about it.
• Share a story. Share your own Call to Action.
• Host a living room screening of the film
• Bring the film to your PTA or PEPS group
• Integrate it into your schools
• Call your city officials and ask they watch the film.
• Get the film to your local police chief
• Get your mayor on board
• Find local victim service providers and ask what they need; socks, meals, donations for their annual fundraiser, they’ll know. And then let your community know what you did, inspire them!
• Have Leaving the Life come to your municipality to facilitate the co-creation of solutions in day-long convenings. This will take some work, even if you’re the mayor or the county executive.
• Because it’s all connected, consider donating to your favorite non profit working on a social justice issue. This includes Leaving the Life www.leaving-the-life.com/take-action
Today marks the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. It is vitally important that we raise our collective voices today and frequently throughout the year to help stop the violence against young girls who are literally mutilated in the name of culture and custom when they have to endure a lifetime of pain and agony.
I just finished the riveting book The Girl With Three Legs: A Memoir about a Somalian woman, Soraya Mire, who underwent the practice in Mogadishu when she was 13. It is a fascinating read into the culture of FGM and why it is extremely difficult to stop. It also is an empowering testament about how a single voice can indeed make change. Think about what a chorus of voices can do!
Read my review of The Girl With Three Legs and take stock of the following facts you may or may not have known about FGM.
Over the next few months we will be helping to promote one of the largest women’s conferences in Africa – the Women Advancement Forum. The forum will be held May 24 – 29, 2014 in Banjul, Gambia at the Sheraton Hotel.
The Women Advancement Forum (WAF) is Africa’s most attended global gender conference. WAF is a platform that recognizes women’s advancement and empowerment is amongst the most outstanding agents to the actualization of Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) and beyond.
Many of the issues facing women across the African continent will be discussed including violence against women, maternal and newborn health, malaria, eradication of extreme poverty and climate change.
When I was in Tanzania in October I went into a traditional Massai hut where a mother was inside making beans in a kettle over a red hot fire. The fire was ridiculously hot and I couldn’t believe how the woman and her family could endure the heat and smoke from cooking.
While I was in Ethiopia last year observing frontline health workers with Save the Children I had the unfortunate circumstance of going into a traditional hut where the mother was cooking on her indoor cookstove. The smoke from the burning wood was so thick and powerful I could hardly breathe and again couldn’t imagine a family, let alone children and babies, being in an enclosed area with that much damaging smoke.
In Ethiopia communities recognize families as “model families” if they have two separate homes – one for living and one for cooking — but many do not have the resources to create a separate space for cooking.
When you visit developing countries where there is widespread cookstove use you will see children who have a lot of mucus in their noses. Cookstove smoke causes increased risk of pneumonia, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart disease. And 2 million people die every year because of indoor health pollution.
Now that I have experienced how harmful cookstoves are I am more adamant about how important clean cookstoves are to the health and well-being of families, particularly women and children.
To celebrate International Youth Day today, join Catapult.org, the leading crowdfunding site for girls’ and women’s issues, and fund a program that will specifically help girls in developing countries. Projects can be funded quickly and simply on Catapult.
OXFAM: Provide education for 6,000 girls in Pakistan’s flooded regions by flood-proofing 30 schools and campaigning for the right of girls in education: http://shorefi.re/1exHyDd
Global Fund for Children: Help 42 girls living with HIV/AIDS in Dominican Republic with medical care, tutoring and psychological workshops: http://shorefi.re/136f83u
Much of yesterday’s Women Deliver 2013 conversation centered around education for girls. Without at least a primary education girls in poor and middle income countries cannot properly contribute to their country’s economy nor to their household.
Girls who are fortunate to prolong marriage are able to attend school longer than if they are married away by their family. Being married off instead of staying in school poses a huge challenge because once girls are married off it becomes increasingly difficult for them to become educated. And, girls face the often insurmountable challenge of having children even though they are not properly equipped to deliver a baby causing many to die during childbirth. In fact, the number one cause of death for girls between the ages of 15 – 19 is childbirth says the World Health Organization.
According to UNESCO 66 million girls are out of school globally. Just last week I was in Delhi and time and time again we heard that while boys are often allowed to go to school and encouraged to do so (unless they are street children) girls are often discouraged from going to school and instead are needed for domestic duties or to help their families scratch out a living in the family business whether that is selling vegetables on the side of the road or being hired out as domestic help. Girls as young at 14 can work as domestics in India.
When girls are not educated everyone suffers. Countries suffer from an inadequate workforce. It also leads to a continuum of poverty for many families where girls grow into women who are illiterate with little to no skills. A girl’s education provides a 20% increase in income for them over their lifetime per the World Bank. Additionally, educated mothers are twice as likely to send their children to school.
When we were in India last week we saw many girls in the schools we visited. It is my hope that those girls are able to continue their education and graduate. Education is one of the silver bullets for a better future for them.
Key Tweets from Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health Session
On the first day of the Women Deliver 2013 conference, here are key tweets we read during the plenary session: Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health Equals Investing in Economic and Social Progress for Everyone
Pathfinder International, a leader in women’s sexual and reproductive health, launched a new series called, “Women Who Dare” on International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8. The series of interviews and stories feature daring women around the world who are doing groundbreaking work on behalf of women and girls.
Women Who Dareincludes Q&As with world leaders like Nafis Sadik (first woman to head a UN agency), Jill Sheffield (Founder and CEO of Women Deliver) as well as community leaders in the field. Melinda Gates is honored for her global family planning work. The series also includes three must-read books for daring women that features new books by Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) and Mary Robinson (first female President of Ireland and former UN Ambassador for Human Rights).
Today’s featured Women Who Dares is Christy Turlington-Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, a maternal health advocacy organization.