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Global Feminism in the News: Health

December 1, 2009

Global Feminism in the News is a monthly column discussing recurring themes in international news stories concerning women. This month we will focus on women’s health.

For those of you non-Americans, you may not realize quite the fervor of the health care debate in the US Congress right now. As it has dominated headlines, I wanted to write this month’s article on Women and Health. It was a month of confusing health care advice, progress in the fight against gender based violence, and some unexpected news about Vitamin A.

In the US, two controversial and confusing health suggestions for women were published. The Preventive Services Task Force of the Department of Health and Human Services revised previous guidelines for breast cancer screening; they no longer believe women under 50 need regular screenings, and women 50- 74 only need them every other year- half as often as previously recommended. This news angered many who feared that insurance would soon decline to cover the yearly screenings that many health care professionals and cancer survivors count as crucial tools to detect and survive cancer. Many women, suspicious of the change, plan to continue with their yearly screenings (with the blessing of doctors and the Obama administration).

Then to confuse the young women immune to the mammogram controversy, the the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggested that women not receive their first Pap test until age 21, contradicting their previous advice that women receive their first Pap no later than age 21. (The same group staunchly opposes of the suggested reduction of mammograms.) The college has stated that the reason for the suggested later screening is that doctors often remove cervical abnormalities that may prove precancerous in older women but in younger women disappear with time. This removal can injure the cervix and cause complications with future pregnancies.

In the news concerning younger women not yet in the US, women and girls ages 11- 26 immigrating to the United States are no longer required to receive the HPV vaccine before gaining entrance to the country.  A medical exam including certain vaccinations is required for those applying for lawful permanent resident status (“green cards”), but the Center for Disease Control & Prevention recently removed the HPV vaccine as one of those required for entrance. After the vaccine was added to the list in July of last year, immigrants’ and reproductive rights’ advocacy groups successfully protested to remove it.

“More than half of the immigrants who come to the U.S. seeking opportunity are women. We thank the CDC for restoring their dignity and reproductive justice.”- Silvia Henriquez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Younger women are also more at risk for Vitamin A deficiency, as they are less likely to eat foods rich in the immune system strengthening vitamin like milk and liver. (I must admit, I gag even reading the word liver; I have never attempted to eat it.) According to a new study nearly half of all women in the UK are Vitamin A deficient, and it may be due to a genetic variation. Fear not! There are many Vitamin A supplements on the market.

Fifteen years ago, the International Conference on Population and Development convened in Cairo with the promise to improve international reproductive health.  In an open letter for Womens eNews, Anushay Hossain, Global Programs Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation, reminded world leaders of the importance of this promise and the promises they have failed to keep, including pledging $18.5 billion to reproductive health care annually by 2005. (Currently less than 25% of that figure has been spent.)  One shocking statistic from the Women Deliver Initiative cites that 1 in 8 women die in childbirth in Afghanistan compared to 1 in 20,000 in Sweden. Read the full article here.

In Afghanistan, in addition to dealing with such high maternal mortality rates, young women risk their health and safety merely attending school. There has been a steady increase in “education-related attacks” in the past few years. According to CARE, an amazing non profit working in Afghanistan and other countries to bring empowerment and stability to girls, there were 1, 153 education related threats or attacks between January 2006 and December 2008. Frighteningly, the most common form of attack is arson. Forty percent of the attacks targeted girls even though only 20 percent of Afghanistan’s schools are for girls.

“Stop teaching and running the girls’ school. Otherwise you will be slaughtered.”- masked thugs beating a headmaster of a girls’ school near Kabul

On a cheerier note, Australia committed $17 million towards a social marketing campaign to reduce violence against women and, in celebration of the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, UN Chief Ban Ki-moon has begun a male-led campaign to end violence against women.

And just to make sure that everyone reading this gets some sort of conflicting health advice, the World Health Organization has now suggested even earlier drug treatment for HIV positive patients and medicating breast feeding women with the virus. An estimated 33.4 million people are living with HIV/Aids worldwide.

**If you have read any relevant news stories this month, please post a link below. If you would like to suggest a news source for me to read, please email me at colleen[at]

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