Archive for the ‘Women’s health’ Category

By: Samantha Metlitz

Period, menstruation, time of the month, crimson tide, whatever you call it, most of us know something about periods and fifty percent of the world’s population have firsthand experience with it. Women get it once a month for the majority of their lives, yet all around the world periods are a taboo subject. People become uncomfortable talking about periods and women feel the need to hide when they get theirs like it’s something embarrassing and shameful to have. While in high school, I would try to hide tampons and pads in pockets or sleeves or bring my whole backpack to the bathroom. I felt the need to hide the fact that I was on my period as if it was shameful in some way. In other countries, the stigma surrounding menstruation and menstrual hygiene causes bigger issues. In some places, women are isolated during their periods or are forced to leave schools because of lack of proper sanitation and access to sanitary products. According to a World Bank blog post, girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss 20% of a school year because of menstruation (Lusk-Stover, 2016). Lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene products, water, and sanitation is a major issue for women. A study on this issue found that menstrual hygiene in refugee camps was not being properly addressed because the emergency response workers were uncomfortably about the subject, causing them not to properly address the issue (Schmitt et al., 2017). Menstrual hygiene and menstruation need to become normalized so that they’re no longer taboo.


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By: Emily Kirwin

The first time I heard about the rising maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the United States, was after Serena Williams’ birth, and this story about a family struggling to cope after a new mother died after childbirth:

While it is no surprise to learn that black women are 3 to 4 times as likely as white women to die during childbirth, it was shocking to me to learning that 700 U.S. women do not survive to the next day with their newborn (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In 2000, the United Nations signed a document declaring to improve maternal health worldwide by the year 2015 (World Health Organization, 2018). Since then, many countries – both lower income and higher income – have decreased their MMR drastically. However, the United States has observed an increase of maternal deaths from 23 in 2005 to about 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 births (Tavernise, 2016). A majority these deaths were preventable (Martin & Montagne, 2017).


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By: Gopika Das

India is home to 1.3 billion people, accounting for 17.5% of the world’s population . It is also home to 27% of deaths caused by cervical cancer worldwide (Cousins 2018). Despite cervical cancer having the best chances of secondary prevention, it remains a leading cause of female mortality globally. The burden of the disease is especially heightened in developing countries like India and Pakistan. In India, lack of the HPV vaccine in governmental immunisation programs and inadequate access to screening for the disease, are major contributors to the extremely high incidence rate.

It is agreed that the HPV vaccine along with early screening for cervical cancer, can prevent upto 70 percent of new cases (Swaminathan 2016). The HPV vaccine has been approved for use since 2006, and as of 2017, 71 countries have included it in their vaccine programs. India however has been extremely reluctant. While the government has severely dragged its feet on providing adequate resources, societally there is a negative association with the vaccine. In 2009 funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, the NGO PATH, launched a $3.6 million HPV program. However within a year, there was an uproar over the deaths of seven girls following the vaccine, effectively halting the program. Despite officials declaring that the deaths were not caused by the vaccine, people got scared and the aversion to the vaccine stuck.


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By: Sonya Ajani

In 2008, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) published an article entitled Cancer Health Disparities. It defined cancer health disparities as adverse differences in incidence (new cases) and prevalence (new and existing cases), mortality, cancer survivorship, and burden of cancer among various population groups in the United States. The NCI concludes that African Americans in the US are disproportionately diagnosed with breast cancer than their white counterparts.

Experts attribute this particular conclusion to two distinct factors: lack of access to health coverage and low socioeconomic status (SES). SES is primarily attributed to low income, low education, occupation, as well as most importantly built environment. As of 2014, the CDC[1] reports that the incidence of breast cancer among young African American females aged 25-45 is 125 cases per 100,000 people.

Upon reading the article from the National Cancer Institute and researching the epidemiology further, I was especially alarmed by the rates of breast cancer diagnosis among African Americans in the US. Although it is almost equal to the white population, the stark disparity of the two populations makes up for the difference. Supplementary analysis confirmed that built environment: the physical and geographical space where people live significantly contributes to the incidence and prevalence of the disease. In the age of chronic diseases the built environment can be an incredibly crucial determinant in community healthcare. I found it interesting just how much the built environment affects the incidence of breast cancer in African Americans with lower socioeconomic status.


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By Sally Bohrer

In Africa, only three countries (Cape Verde, South Africa, and Tunisia) have legalized abortion. In the other fifty-one countries, abortion rights vary. None have completely outlawed abortion, as all African countries allow abortions to save the mother’s life, but most do not allow abortions in any other circumstances, even in the case of rape or incest. (For a full list of abortion rights by country, visit: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/ng-interactive/2014/oct/01/-sp-abortion-rights-around-world-interactive). (more…)

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By Dionna Joynes

If you couldn’t tell from the title of this blog post, then I will warn you all now. The topic of this post is HIGHLY disturbing in the way that it violates basic human rights, encourages the degradation of young future women in the long term, uses the face of culture and purity as a wayward choice to control the girls in specific communities, and it may even cause for a closer look at the health care providers you and your family use, So, for those of you who don’t know, this post is about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as FGC, Female Genital Circumcision. A short definition of what this process implies is, intentional injury to female genital organs for non medical purposes. This process has occurred for at least a couple centuries, at the very least. As I researched the topic of FGM, there were many things that came up that interested, as well as disgusted me. As a Health Science/Public Health student, I always try to remain open minded and non judgmental for new ideas that are completely different from the ones I grew up on. However, the practice of FGM, in my opinion, should signal for a global emergency or call of action. (more…)

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By Melanie Kirsh

HIV is often thought of as a global health issue that disproportionately affects people of color, regardless of income. This may be a result of inaccessibility to HIV education and effective interventions, or of the negative social factors that contribute to higher likelihood of unsafe sexual practices within the population. ABC programs (abstinence, being faithful, and condom use) were rolled out in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s; in Uganda, these programs resulted in significant declines in HIV prevalence. Despite this success, other sub-Saharan African countries’ HIV continues to affect women at disproportionate rates. In her book, Love, Money, & HIV: Becoming a Modern African Women in the Age of AIDS (2014) Sanyu A. Mojola illuminates the socioeconomic and environmental factors that may explain why her home province of Nyanza, Kenya demonstrates rates of HIV/AIDS that are much greater among young, wealthier women in comparison to men of the same age group and poorer women. She argues that the engagement in modern consumption and their perceived need to consume items like makeup, clothing, and feminine hygiene products contribute to their increased vulnerability to contracting the virus. In order to purchase these items, they need money, but since they are much less likely to be employed or receive substantial financial support from their families, they rely on relationships with men (Mojola 2014). Intimate heterosexual relations become complicated with social norms in regards to condom use: even though youth are taught about condom use, their behaviors do not reflect this education. Mojola’s male subjects believe that condoms may be uncomfortable or may (falsely) indicate that the woman is sleeping with other people (2014). This stigma, in combination with concurrency that men practice around the Lake Victoria region, results in the women’s increased risk of contracting HIV. Due to the quotidian nature of female hygiene product consumption, and the implicit need to aspire to European beauty standards with makeup and clothing that impresses their peers, women engage in transactional relationships that expose them to HIV/AIDS. In short, modernity is killing them.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mojola recently, as her book was assigned for a seminar of mine called Contemporary Debates on Sexualities Research. The professor pooled questions from the class prior to Mojola’s arrival, and one of my questions regarded my intrigue with her book’s lack of discussion on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as an alternative preventative measure for the young women. Mojola expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of such an initiative, because PrEP requires the person at-risk to follow a diligent schedule, with 100% compliancy, and this is extremely difficult to achieve –especially in a setting like sub-Saharan Africa where resources are already limited and sexual education programs are insufficient. A PrEP study conducted in Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania from 2009-2011 confirms this, as the study was halted due to female participants’ weak adherence and the poor efficacy that resulted (Damme et al. 2012). Mojola explains that in order for women to be compliant, they need to perceive themselves as ‘at-risk’ in the first place. However, these women do not think they are at risk of contracting HIV because of the perception that sex without a condom signifies the man is not having sex with other women. So, the cycle begins again and preventative measures are tainted with the conflation of trust = love = sex without a condom.

Evidently, the typical ABC programming that advocates for seemingly practical behavior changes has failed the young women of Mojola’s native country. Not all young people abstain from sexual activity, faithfulness is challenged by the concurrency and polygamy in which men and women engage, and condoms increases false suspicion that one’s partner is not faithful or trusting. Given Mojola’s findings and skepticism of alternative preventative initiatives, it is clear that eliminating the HIV epidemic among young women (particularly those in Nyanza, Kenya) would involve a complicated untangling of modern Westernized feminine beauty ideals, deconstruction of gendered economies that disadvantage young women and girls, and increasing access to menstrual products (this would keep girls in school and encourage economic autonomy). It is time to introduce and implement a redefined ABC programming that goes beyond education. It looks like this:

HIV Poster

Of course, this involves a major overhaul of the socioeconomic structures in Kenya and other sub-Saharan African countries. But, Mojola’s work provides us with the understanding that women’s current economic position in conjunction with the initial results of ABC campaigns is killing them. Such an economic overhaul is long overdue.

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By Aarthi Chezian

Over 117 million girls are missing in the world today, lost to femicide, the murder of women simply because they are women. [1] These 117 million girls do not exist because of cultural systems that deem them as worthless or unnecessary burdens. Every minute, four baby girls are lost to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide [2]—that’s 2.1 million girls who never had a chance to live just because they made the mistake of being female. Of these 117 million girls, 43 million are from India. [3] In India, the state of Tamil Nadu was a surprising addition to the list of areas where female infanticide drastically affected the sex ratio. Tamil Nadu, like most other South Indian states, is considered one of the better states in regard to women’s rights and social support. However, researchers found a 4% decline in the sex ratio over only two decades. [4] Why were girls in a relatively progressive part of the country disappearing?

It’s A Girl

A major motivation behind sex-selective abortion and female infanticide in Tamil Nadu is the cost of raising a daughter. Culturally, daughters come with a price tag that many families either cannot afford or would prefer not to waste on a child that was meant to leave and marry into another family. However, sons are culturally viewed as the inheritors of the family’s assets, the ones who take care of the family as the parents age, and continue the lineage. Historically, this created a culture that encouraged the devaluation of women. The pattern of skewed sex ratios began to show in the 1980s due to the neglect of female children through malnutrition, lower quality of care, and restricted access to healthcare. This grew into infanticide and, with the appearance of sex-determining technology, foeticide, over the next two decades. [5]

Soon after the Forum against Sex Determination and Sex Pre-selection (FASDSP) began in Mumbai, researchers discovered reports of female infanticide at levels that affected sex ratios at the taluk, or county, level in the rural districts of Madurai, Salem, and Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu. [1] They found that the killing of newborn baby girls was concentrated in the low-caste Kallar communities and the high-caste Gounder communities. One community could not bear the cost of a female child and the other did not want the burden or expense of raising a daughter within upper caste restrictions. As the Tamil Nadu government began to notice these increasing trends of female infanticide; they created the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PNDT) Act of 1994, which became the PC (Pre-Conception)-PNDT (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act of 2003. [1] The legislation made sex-determination and subsequent abortion illegal and made both the physicians and the family liable. Unfortunately, it was not effective, and sex-determination tests are still performed just with more secrecy and at a higher price.

Tamil Nadu also instituted two programs to address the crisis: the Girl Child Protection Scheme and the Arasu Thotil, or Cradle Baby program, in 1992. The Girl Child Protection Scheme involved placing Rs 100 into a state fund for every baby girl enrolled into the program, and, as the child grows and attends school, more money would be added to the fund. At 21, if the girl remains unmarried, she would receive Rs 20,000. [1] In theory, this program sounds incredible. It relieves parents of the financial burden they fear, facilitates higher education for women, and discourages child marriage. However, the participation in the program came with restrictions: in order to qualify one must have no sons, be sterilized, and must fall below the poverty line. [1] Not the easiest criteria to fill, nor the most appealing incentives. It also failed to address the loss of female children from wealthier communities.

Arasu Thotil allows parents to leave unwanted children in empty cradles located in hospitals, welfare centers, and government offices. The children are then sent to orphanages where other families can adopt them. This program provided a home and a life to the newborn baby girls being left to die abandoned in the streets and in trashcans. Yet, data has shown that while there is an increase in female children being taken up by the program, the killings are continuing. In a way, the program has legitimized the abandonment of female children. [6] The problem with both programs is that neither attacks the root of the problem. The primary cause of female infanticide and foeticide in Tamil Nadu is the culture that perpetuates the devaluation of women. Government initiatives should be tackling how to redefine women’s value in Tamil society. If women are no longer viewed as burdens, they will be treated with the humanity they deserve.




  1. “Gender-biased Sex Selection.” United Nations Population Fund. UNFPA, 31 July 2015. 8-21 <http://www.unfpa.org/gender-biased-sex-selection&gt;.
  2. Bare Branches, pp. 112-113, 157.
  3. Christophe Z. Guilmoto, Sex Imbalances at Birth: Current trends, consequences, and policy implications; UNFPA Asia and Pacific Regional Office, 2012, p. 47
  4. John, Mary. “Sex Ratios and Gender Biased Sex Selection: History, Debates, and Future Directions.” UN Women. <http://asiapacific.unfpa.org/sites/asiapacific/files/pub-pdf/Sex-Ratios-and-Gender-Biased-Sex-Selection.pdf&gt;.
  5. Srinivasen, Sharada. (2012) Daughter De cit: Sex Selection in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Women Unlimited.
  6. Ball, Nita. “India’s Cradle Baby Scheme Hopes to End Female Infanticide.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 03 Dec. 2013. <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-cradlebabies-idUSBRE9B206P20131203&gt;.

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-By Isabel Park

In this post, allow me to take you to Guatemala.

From the remains of Mayan civilization to beautiful European buildings laden with luscious Central American botanics, the streets of Guatemala flow with riches of culture and history. But these very same streets are where many girls and women are stripped off of their future and their fundamental human rights. (more…)

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By Kimi Sharma
As it was every Sunday morning, my e-mail inbox had been inundated with TED talks that my father thought would explore the untarnished brilliance of individuals in society and help incite my dormant passion to bring about change. I was expecting the usual group of talks by respected and inspiring doctors through which my father hinted at his burning desire for me to attend medical school despite my fervent rejection of the idea. So on that Sunday I watched a TED talk that largely reinstated my faith in an individual’s undying determination to aid others (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6qqqVwM6bMM). (more…)

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