How Venezuela’s Crisis Has Affected Women’s Lives

This past July, The New York Times’ front page featured an image of Venezuela’s street protests, showcasing the deep political, economic, and human rights crisis in the country. The violence that has ensued is a serious problem, but other, less visible effects are also problematic – and some affect the country’s women more than its men.

Situations of conflict and crisis are not gender neutral. Luz Patricia Mejía, a Venezuelan expert in women’s rights working at the Organization of American States, made this point in an interview when saying that in any kind of crisis, women’s rights are disproportionately affected. Three areas in which women have been suffering the greatest in the Venezuela crisis: menstrual and sexual health, maternal and infant health, and gender-based violence.  

Menstrual and sexual health:

Food isn’t the only things missing in Venezuela’s supermarkets and pharmacies: so are condoms, birth control pills and menstrual hygiene products.

Earlier this year, factories from different companies had to stop production of sanitary pads, affecting not only the women who desperately need them, but also the women and men employed by those factories. Venezuelans have had to turn to social media to find basic necessities, and many women have resorted to this to get tampons and pads – by exchanging them for flour, for example.

Venezuela is the country with the highest rate of teen pregnancy and earliest start of sexual activity in South America. A lack of contraception is especially problematic. Because of this, couples have had to make drastic changes to their sex lives to avoid pregnancy, such as using calendar-based methods and buying birth control pills off the black market.

Some Venezuelan women have chosen an extreme method of avoiding pregnancy during the crisis: sterilization. Speaking about her decision to go through the procedure, a young mother of two, aged only 25, said in an interview: “I will not bring a child to suffer. 

Some women who do find themselves pregnant amid the crisis have resorted to a dangerousand illegalalternative: unsafe abortions through homemade herbal medicine and introducing acids through the vaginal canal, procedures that can cause severe and life-threatening bleeding.

Maternal and infant health:

Lack of medicine and basic hospital supplies, as well as a reduction of the number of doctors in the country (in recent years, around 20% of doctors have left Venezuela because of working conditions) adversely affect maternal and infant health in the country. Hospitals have been lacking incubators and other essentials to care for pregnant women and newborn babies. Lack of food also means many mothers are unable to breastfeed.

More worrisome, infant mortality increased by 30% and maternal mortality by a staggering 65% in 2016—and back then, the crisis was not yet at its worst. 

Gender-based violence:  

Domestic and gender based violence don’t stop just because the rest of the country is in a crisis. In 2016, for example, the number of femicides increased compared to the year before. The dire situations in hospitals also affect the victims of domestic violence who need medical attention. Impunity of gender-based crimes is also a major issue, especially given that it’s currently estimated that impunity of human rights related crime in the country hovers around 98%.

As the crisis in Venezuela persists, so do the daily struggles of women to access their basic needs and rights. The ways in which this crisis has affected women’s lives highlights how gender issues are extremely important in the context of crisis and conflict, and should be taken into consideration as these situations are studied, researched, reported, and addressed.

Midwives of the World: Part 2

In order to reach a completely equal society, all basic human rights need to be secured. One of these is maternal health. The success of a country can often be traced back to successful maternal health programming. Therefore, my project partner Anna and I decided to create a documentary series about midwives around the world.

To create this documentary and to get a fair picture of the situation for mothers and midwives around the world, we have collaborated with the White Ribbon Alliance (WRA). The WRA is an incredible organization for maternal health, and a network for volunteers from all over the world. We decided to focus on White Ribbon Alliance Indonesia, or Aliansi Pita Putih Indonesia (APPI), and visited their team in Jakarta earlier this year.

With the three parts of our documentary, we hope to do two things. One is to present a fair picture and comparison of the maternal health situation in Sweden and Indonesia. The other is to inspire people to make a change in their local communities, just like the volunteers of the White Ribbon Alliance do, or like midwives do in their daily work.

In this second episode you get to follow our very first days in Indonesia, featuring visits to health centers, a women’s empowerment group, and a class for pregnant and elderly. If you feel inspired- leave a comment and share, so that we can help make a change for mothers all around the globe!

If you missed our first episode, make sure to catch up here

Where are Mexican Women Getting Abortions?

If Mexico City is the only place to access abortions legally in the country, where are the other Mexican women going?

According to the Mexico City Health Secretary, between 2007 and 2017, women between 18 and 24 years old seek abortions most frequently. Of these women, 71% come from Mexico City and the Metropolitan Area, leaving only 29% of the women coming from the other states.

So, what is happening in the rest of the country? Where and how are these women ending their pregnancies?

Since 2014, there have been 182 registered deaths because of malpractice performing illegal abortions. Women in states where abortion is still not legal are forced to go to clandestine clinics – jeopardizing their own lives. Before 2007, when abortion became legal in Mexico City, 6 out of 10 women died because of unsafe conditions while terminating their pregnancies.

Unfortunately, this is a matter of social class too. People who come from a certain social background are unlikely to find themselves turning to an abortion performed with a clothespin and needles. Considering that 45.5% of the Mexican population lives in poverty, access to abortion services becomes a major public health issue.

There have been many bills presented in Congress regarding legal and safe ways to address the problem nationwide, but they don’t pass because conservative legislators quickly dismiss the proposals. People in office need to acknowledge this as a public health issue. What we are up against is indeed a life or death situation.

In Mexico, a very religious country, the idea of voluntarily ending a pregnancy is still stigmatized. Abortion is illegal in most states; in 29 of the 32 states there are penalties for women who seek abortions, including incarceration, fines, community work and psychological therapy.

Having an unwanted pregnancy is very common, and women should have the right to choose what’s best for their own bodies. Experts have proven that in countries where abortions are legal, both maternal deaths and abortion rates are lower.

In Mexico, legal abortion, clinics, and follow-ups from clinicians would provide solutions for vulnerable women with poor health care access. The fact that this is still a centralized option, available exclusively in Mexico City, only intensifies the problem, leaving women from other states vulnerable when they make the journey all the way to the capital. If legal abortions were available for every single woman in Mexico, we would eliminate the fifth leading cause of maternal deaths in the nation.

On a national scale, consider joining the cause by demanding that our policymakers legalize safe and quality procedures for women throughout Mexico and Latin America. Individually, you can support NGOs that don’t received government funds. Here is a list of organizations in Mexico and Latin America:

We can all play a part in protecting health care access and bringing the world one step closer towards ending deaths because of abortions.

#13 – Midwives Providing Safe Birth in Humanitarian Settings

 

“(Midwives) give support to women whether they are in labour or not, they are social solidarity players in the local communities, not only the providers of health services for women & newborns.” – Mohamed Afifi, UNFPA

Welcome back to The Mom Pod! In this episode Julia Wiklander connects us with midwives and advocates about maternal and newborn health in humanitarian settings, at the 31st ICM Triennial Congress in Toronto, Canada. The midwives that we meet work in Mexico, Somalia and Afghanistan and share experiences from their work and talk about the challenges they face to deliver care.

With a world in constant political change and with the largest number of displaced people in history, ensuring that every mother and every child has access to a midwife during pregnancy and birth, is a difficult promise to keep. The world needs more midwives.

“They’re not refugees, they are not citizens – they are migrants. We need to start to name this as a public health issue.” – Cristina Alonso, Midwife working in Mexico

Our conversation is also broadened by UNFPA Reproductive Health Specialist for the Arab States, Mohammed Afifi, who tells us that in the region, midwives is the cadre of health professionals that are committing to delivering care, despite conflicts that push away many of their colleagues.

Safe Birth Even Here is a Campaign run by UNFPA to raise awareness of the high rate of maternal deaths in emergency situations and increase support for services to protect the rights of the women and girls living in humanitarian and fragile settings. Johnson & Johnson is one of the partners supporting the campaign, and has committed to supporting health professionals at the frontlines of care. We speak to Joy Marini at Johnson & Johnson about why the company is investing in the health of women & children in humanitarian settings and what they are doing to ensure that midwives receive support in their important work. 

In this episode, Young Midwife Leader, Massoma Jafari from Afghanistan, interviews Jane Philpott, the Canadian Minister of Health and asks her what action Canada is taking to support midwives in Afghanistan. Philpott gives the young midwife advice and promises new connections. A meeting that hopefully sparks further engagement by the Canadian government to invest in midwives. 

Listen to the full episode here.

During the ICM Congress, Johnson & Johnson launched their new initative – the GenH Challenge. This exciting opportunity hopes to encourage midwives to see themselves as innovators with the power to help to create the healthiest generation in human history – “GenH”. The GenH Challenge is looking to discover brand new ideas from the front lines of care that can change the trajectory of health. If this sounds daunting, don’t worry! The competition welcomes ideas in their earliest stages, and it welcomes small ideas that have the potential to create great impact. You can apply any time until 4 October 2017. Full guidelines are available at www.genhchallenge.com.

See all of the Girls’ Globe LIVE coverage from the 31st ICM Triennial Congress in Toronto, Canada here