Time to Disarm the Patriarchy

We live in a time where the threat of nuclear war is a normal household conversation. Many live in a nation led by a man who cannot control his urge to press ‘tweet’ on every unhinged thought he dreams up each morning. And yet, he alone has the authority – the sole authority – to push the launch button on a preemptive nuclear attack, should the mood strike him.

The risks that nuclear weapons currently pose to global peace are monumental.

We also live in a time where the seemingly unmovable and intractable weight of our patriarchal society is suddenly being forced to reckon with women’s voices and stories and experiences – both the ugliness that we’ve endured and the talent and wisdom we’ve been barred from contributing.

We know for a fact that if peace is the goal, women absolutely must be part of the process to achieve sustainable and lasting results. Women are key to national and global security. When women are meaningfully involved in peace processes, it is more likely that peace lasts.

Empowered women create communities that are more just, prosperous, and safe. We know that having women involved at every level of decision-making is strategic—and yet, when it comes to nuclear weapons, women are rarely included at the table where political and security decisions are made. In a cruel twist, we regularly disincentivize women from actively participating in the careers, conversations, and halls of power where this work happens.

Credit: Women’s Action for New Directions

That’s where our project comes in. Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) recently launched a campaign specifically designed to educate young women about how they can advocate for international diplomacy over militarism.

It’s more important than ever to make sure the public – and women specifically – know how they can get involved to keep our democracy and safety intact. The Disarm the Patriarchy campaign is designed to engage young women in efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy as activists, policy-makers, diplomats, legislators, and scientists.

It has never been more important to educate ourselves and demand change. We are building a new generation of peace and disarmament activists and amplifying diverse women’s voices in the disarmament sphere.

Our Disarm the Patriarchy Handbook gives women the tools they need to be advocates for policy change and hold their elected officials accountable for creating a safer world for all of us.

Nancy Parrish is the Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), which educates and empowers women to advocate for security and peace with justice. We believe that women are central to shifting the militarized, patriarchal culture that pervades our society and leads to endless war and violence. We know that when women are engaged in the political process and given the right tools, they can be true agents of change.

Girls are Facing a Mental Health Crisis

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 80,000 people die by suicide every year. This means that one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.

Suicide is “the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds globally,” and is not limited to developed countries: “78% of suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2015.Depression is “the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.

What these shocking numbers reveal is that while there are many serious global health issues that demand attention, mental health must not be left behind, and this is especially true when considering the current state of girls’ mental health.

In The State of the World Population 2016, UNFPA portrayed a worrying picture of girls’ mental health, stating that suicide is the “second leading cause of death for adolescent girls between ages 10 and 19.” In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates among teenage girls reached a 40-year high in 2015.

In the United Kingdom, data on child and adolescent mental health from the National Health Service has revealed significant differences between genders. For example, “more than two-thirds of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers are for girls,” 90% of children admitted to hospital due to eating disorders are girls, and hospitalizations due to self-harm involving girls “have quadrupled since 2005.

The reasons for this global trend of worsening mental health conditions among girls are complex. A common cause given for such a dire situation is the negative effects of social media, especially in relation to body image issues. Though research has documented a link between social media and girls’ body image issues, this does not tell the whole story of why girls’ mental health is in crisis.

There are also serious issues of sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence, and poverty faced by girls worldwide which have significant impacts on mental health. Research has found, for example, an increase of children living in poverty in the UK, and poverty has been found to be a risk factor for worsening mental health.

Not only are girls suffering from the most common mental disorders of depression and anxiety, but research has also found an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder in this demographic. And while links between suicide and a history of mental illness have been established, the WHO has highlighted the critical issue of high suicide rates among “vulnerable groups who experience discrimination,” such as LGBT and indigenous peoples, refugees, and migrants – and girls are included in all of these categories.

To address this crisis, organizations such as Girls Inc. are raising awareness of the importance of mental health for girls. Similarly, the International Bipolar Foundation has created a Mental Health Awareness Patch in partnership with girl scouting organizations that can be earned by Girl Scouts in all ranks to provide them with an opportunity to learn about mental health, how it’s portrayed in the media, and how to be involved in anti-stigma campaigns.

And if social media can be harmful to girls’ mental health, it can also be a source of help. For example, the Sad Girls Club is an online community for girls – particularly of color – dealing with mental health challenges. It was founded by Elyse Fox, who experienced depression herself, and officially launched in February 2017. The club goes beyond an online community, however, as it also holds real-life meetings.

The fact that mental health has been added to the UN Sustainable Development Goals under goal 3 is a good example of mental health being placed at the heart of the global agenda. The mental health of girls around the world today is without a doubt a complex and multi-faced issue. It requires an approach that takes into consideration the intersection of issues that have brewed this crisis, such as the role of social media in girls’ lives, poverty, and violence.

If we truly believe that ‘the future is female,’ then our girls’ mental health must be made a priority.

A Healthy Twist on International Women’s Day

It has been quite a year for women in the world. We have raised the #MeToo movement from a hashtag to a force. We have marched, yet again, for rights that are often agreed upon but still seldom given. We have won seats in government, testified in court, spoken out in interviews. We’ve started organizations, and built families. We have persisted.

SOGH members attend the Women’s March in Stockholm. Credit: Giorgia Dalla Libera Marchiori, Sweden

Despite all of these ‘women’s wins’, there are still glaring disparities in literally all categories from economic gaps, to social treatment, to health. There are global programs, data sets, indexes, and statistics to prove and draw awareness to those discrepancies. Recently, the UN released a report declaring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) gender indicator still leaves “significant gaps to women’s empowerment”, specifically in health areas.

If the big international and governmental organizations struggle to deliver promises for equality, what can we as individuals do?

It can be difficult to know where to begin or which steps to take to create a solution for inequality. The answer is simple: just start somewhere. There is so much each of us can do! At the Swedish Organization for Global Health (SOGH), we start with health. We join together as individuals with different backgrounds and expertise, and commit to standing together, working in solidarity, and fighting for health equality.

If you’re somewhere other than Sweden (Hej, from Stockholm!), we’ve crafted three ways for you to celebrate International Women’s (Health) Day:

First, understand.

Women face different threats than men do, and still must fight for basic rights and protection to their own bodies. The top threats to women’s health globally include: reproductive health problems, maternal health issues, HIV, sexually transmitted infections, violence (intimate partner, sexual, or gender-based), non-communicable diseases (addictions, accidents, obesity), being young, and ageing. Globally, the health of girls and women often become secondary priorities. Women in the United States make 80% of all health care decisions for their families, and tend to prioritize their own health last. Some women are purposefully kept from care, while others may not be able to obtain the procedures they need. Understanding the threats and the issues women face is the foundation to a healthy future.

Second, practice.

When was the last time you went for a check-up? A breast exam? Have you talked to the girls in your life about self-care, safe-sex, health relationships? What have you been doing to ensure that you and your circle are practicing a healthy lifestyle? From food, to decisions, to difficult conversations, we cannot help to create health in others if we don’t first seek it ourselves. Practice what you preach, click around the Girls’ Globe health posts, make an appointment, quit a habit, have a difficult conversation, and check-in with your loved ones to elevate health in and around you.

Third, unite.

On International Women’s Day, we reflect on the status of health for women. Our work must address the uniqueness of women’s health based on circumstance and environment. Some threats to women are universal no matter the context or place. However, issues like gender equality, access to care, and quality services vary intensely based on income or geography. This added layer means that as activists, we not only have to understand or practice, we have to act. Our action can be in towns nearby, in organizations reaching far away, or in classrooms where future leaders are preparing themselves. Wherever we are and whatever we do, we must unite together for all women.

For more information on International Women’s Day, follow hashtags #IWD2018 or #TimeIsNow, and read about the 2018 UN theme: Rural and Urban Activists, Changing Women’s Lives.

Decoding Data: Why Maternal Mortality Rates Matter

Big goals need starting points. In the international development field, the places to contribute are seemingly endless. It’s hard to know what to focus on and where to begin. This gap between good intentions and impact is where data comes in. Big goals need big data.

What is Big Data?

Besides being a buzzword, ‘big data’ refers to a large body of collected measurements/answers/metrics stored for immediate or eventual use. Organizations like ours (Swedish Organization for Global Health) are able to use previously collected data sets, commission new data to be gathered, or leverage sites like Gapminder in order to plan projects and assess impact. Data gives us knowledge and our mission gives us a reason to work toward improving that data.

Why Maternal Mortality Rates Matter

Maternal mortality rates (MMR) measure the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, annually. Sweden had an MMR of 4 in 2015, which means that in 2015, four out of every 100,000 women died either while giving birth or shortly thereafter from birth-related complications. Tracking maternal mortality matters both socially and economically. The loss of a mother has immediate consequences for the family, the community and even the country in which she lived. These consequences can include: emotional grief, family economic hardship, lack of opportunity for surviving children and community collapse.

Surprising Disparities

The range of global maternal mortality rates across the world is enormous. The highest rate is found in Sierra Leone – at over 1,300 – while the lowest ties in Greece, Iceland, Poland and Finland, each with a total of 3. While 99% of maternal mortality occurs in low income countries, there are still extreme discrepancies in nations with a high income rate. This goes against the belief that nations with a high economy don’t experience health inequities. Rather, all nations can, and do, experience some form of health inequity. This is often due to both structural and racial inequality.

For example, the United States currently has the worst MMR of high income countries. Though the United States’ MMR is still above the average threshold, racial disparities within the country manifest in MMR similar to countries considered low income. The data shows that in the United States, the MMR for white women is 13, but for black women it’s 43. This means that black women are 243% more likely to die either while giving birth or shortly thereafter from birth-related complications than white women. This systematic racism within the US has been measured by data, and subsequently cannot be ignored by lawmakers or health agencies.

Data in Action

Solutions to identified problems need awareness, data, and plans. A recently released report on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 shows that progress is occurring, but slowly. If the 2030 goal of a global maternal mortality rate of 70 is to be met, “the pace of progress in reducing maternal mortality needs to double.

All countries can meet this challenge by learning from existing data. Reductions in MMR occur by increasing access to quality care before and after childbirth, and access to skilled care during birth delivery. The World Health Organization, the United Nations, NGOs, national government health ministries and local communities must learn from each other, work together, and craft country-specific plans to address this multi-layered but preventable issue.

At the Swedish Organization for Global Health, we have heeded the call to action by creating and implementing the Mama and Family Project in southeastern Uganda. Other innovations have sprouted or grown within community-based care and a focus on midwifery models, as fellow Girls’ Globe blogger Tilde Holm explores in her documentary series.

It is important to use the tools we have to address the facts. However, we must remember what the data actually represents beyond numbers and what the acronyms mean beyond letters. Human lives and global shifts depend on it.

To understand why maternal mortality occurs, check out the World Health Organization’s factsheet.

Christiana Lang is a current Rotary Peace Fellow at Uppsala University studying the intersection between peace and conflict with women’s health, participation, and equality.