Jane Roberts, co-founder of 34 Million Friends of the UNFPA , on the neglected challenges of women and girls
An elementary school in Senegal sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund has a children’s writing book on the cover of which is this message, “Little girls have as much right to food, education and health care as little boys.” Whenever I show this booklet to audiences I see several mouths in the form of a silent, “WOW.”
The United Nations Population Fund lists myriad forms of gender based violence including rape, sexual harassment, child marriage, wife beating, female genital mutilation, dowry-related violence, trafficking, femicide, honor killings, forced sterilization, pornography, bride kidnapping, psychological abuse and intimidation. The effects of this last form are among the most harmful and long lasting. All of these are, in large part, gender specific and have to do with both physical and mental health.
I would also add to this list of forms of GBV a lack of access to family planning, compulsory child bearing, and 20 million illegal and unsafe abortions every year. All this is gender specific and speaks loudly to health.
Access to family planning is a human right established in United Nations human rights documents. Yet, there has been and still is a severe shortage worldwide of family planning commodities. Let’s face it, with the present power structure of male dominated governments, if men could become pregnant, contraceptive supplies would be plentiful everywhere.
Since 2002, when I started being an activist in the international reproductive health care movement. I’ve noticed that family planning is the forgotten stepchild, the non- emphasized ingredient. Yet family planning (contraception) is the most cost effective intervention for healthy women and children.
Yet somewhere between 200 and 215 million women lack access to FP. We must share in the despair of the women in http://www.empty-handed, an 80 second video by Population Action International showing women who seek but don’t find. We must change the world’s perception of this great gift of 20th and 21st century science.
The Global Health Council’s annual conference in June in Washington will emphasize non-communicable diseases as part of the global health burden.
While not a disease, being born female can be both an acute and chronic impediment to health. And because women are the givers and keepers of life, this has huge implications for global health. I hope the conference will build awareness of gender inequality in health as just as crucial an aspect of global health as any NCD.
Jane Roberts is the co-founder of 34 Million Friends of the UNFPA.