Yesterday was day two of the two-week 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 58). Because we can only stay for a week (read my introduction post from yesterday), we really have to make the most of the time we have.
I think I need to clarify something about our work here: we’re on a mission to make sure the person as an integrated whole is considered in this policy-making setting. It’s often easy to forget about the rhythm of reality when engaging in long-term political negotiations.
For example, unfettered access to artificial birth control and abortion has been written into the proposed policy goals as a way to prevent tragedies such as deaths from pregnancy, the spreading HIV/AIDs, and forced child marriage. Citing a need for personal autonomy and empowerment for all girls and women, the logic is that a girl or woman who can eliminate a pregnancy or prevent one from happening will be protected from societal scorn, financial struggles, further emotional trauma, and the physical issues that are common for pregnant women in poorer countries. The logic seems sound, right? Give women a way out, and it becomes her responsibility to resolve the situation. Educate women about their sexuality and they will be better protected.
However, oral birth control has been directly linked to onset of breast cancer due to changing the hormonal chemistry of the woman’s body. Abortion too has a running list of negative known side effects, such as heavy or persistent bleeding, infection or sepsis, damage to the cervix, difficulty conceiving in the future, scarring of the uterine lining, perforation of the uterus, damage to other organs, and death resulting from complications with the procedure. All of which would be deadly in a country where there are not adequate medical facilities.
The fact that chemical birth control and abortion cause such harm should also be included in the sexual education packets being promoted at the CSW 58, but we have found that these facts are neither included in the necessary information nor accepted by the general population when mentioned in public. This despite support from plenty of legitimate medical studies handling the issues.
…see, there is a lot of ideological bias, too.
But anyhow, about Tuesday.
While not in meetings, we are all researching and talking to other NGOs and delegates who are willing to engage in open dialogue about solutions to women’s issues that have been scientifically proven to be healthy for girls and women.
There are 10 – 20 different parallel events AND side events every day. Some at the same time. It is nearly impossible for a team of eight to attend them all, so we combed through the daily schedules and picked out the most important
Yesterday Rebekah, Casey, and I went to “Accelerating Process on the MDGs for Women and Girls,” which was chiefly led by UN Women, UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the UN Population Fund. Andrew, Clarissa, and Allie went to a presentation called “Linking HIV, Gender Equality, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, as Part of the Post-2015 Social Justice Agenda” by Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Clarissa attended “Getting to Zero: Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS”. Colleen went to “An Inter-Generational Dialogue on Faith, Culture, HIV and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights.” And Eli attended “Women Leaders in Business and Politics: Making the Difference.”
“Linking HIV, Gender Equality, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, as Part of the Post-2015 Social Justice Agenda” provided a good example of the ideological blinders that prevent important facts from being acknowledged at the policymaking level. Allie remarked to the assembly during the talk that according to the Population Research Institute, Uganda’s abstinence campaign has been a major contributing factor to the country’s declining HIV rates. UNAIDS statistics show that the country’s HIV rates peaked in 1990, with a 15 percent HIV prevalence in adults. Since then, they have been in continuous decline; UNAIDS reports that Uganda’s adult HIV prevalence rates were at 6.5 percent in 2009. Uganda’s campaign is called the ABC approach: A is for abstinence until marriage, B is for being faithful to one’s partner, and C—the last resort—is for condom use when absolutely necessary. She asked if there had been continuos efforts to promote abstinence and birth control programs such as the ABC program in order to decrease the spread of HIV, since the ABC program seemed to produce results that using a program focusing only on birth control didn’t. The only response was by one of the panelist, who said that a program incorporating abstinence, such as the ABC program, wasn’t on the table because the right to safe sex was too important.
Andrew asked if there were any programs being established to delay the sexual debut of girls in these at-risk countries, since developing girls are more susceptible to contracting AIDs due to an under-developed cervix. He was openly dismissed by the panel moderator, who said that the question had already been answered. In reality, it had not been addressed.
People from the crowd voiced both their disagreement with and their support for the comments made by Allie and Andrew. This was good news—it isn’t always all about the panel’s response. Sometimes, all it takes is one person hearing the truth to spark a change.
And now, Wednesday. After presentations today, we’re meeting with Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the current Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. If you have any petitions, comment below! Again, keep everyone here in your prayers, especially the delegates: so that they speak truthfully on women’s issues and help craft policies oriented towards the best for women.