The Vulnerabilities of Being Pregnant

Women face unique challenges throughout their lives. For some, one such challenge can be pregnancy. It is an exciting and beautiful time, but it can also be a major test on the strength of a woman’s body and mind.

Did you know a woman’s socioeconomic status has a surprising amount of influence, not just on her baby, but also on how her pregnancy goes? Childbirth outcomes are heavily tied to socioeconomics, with women in more impoverished regions experiencing a wide range of additional challenges.

While some of these challenges are health-related, others are not. Many factors combine for a successful pregnancy and birth, and an individual’s financial situation has a huge impact. Of course, most people can’t just change their financial standing quickly, and so we need to examine ways we can change the culture around pregnancy.

In countries that lack universal health care, financial status has a significant impact on prenatal outcomes. Merely being able to afford regular medical checkups, prenatal vitamins and any additional medications can significantly increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby. It’s impossible to understate how important prenatal care is.

Access to medical care goes beyond prenatal care, though. Women in lower socioeconomic classes tend to be less likely to be able to access health care before becoming pregnant, which also contributes to the health outcomes of the child. Even with socialized health care, the risks remain, because money affects every aspect of our lives.

Women can also suffer in countries without socialized health care. One U.S. case, for example, shows how insurance companies took advantage of pregnant women who qualified for government-funded Medicaid. The companies claimed to give the women coverage, then denied their claims while still collecting the money from the government. This is just one case that demonstrates how willing people and companies can be to take advantage of those in ‘vulnerable’ positions.

There are many countries where access to quality prenatal care should not be an issue. Universal health care should eliminate the barrier, but it doesn’t stop women from having problems. As some studies have demonstrated, even with socialized health care, pregnant women in lower income brackets tend to have more challenging pregnancies, including problems like preeclampsia, premature birth and obstetrical hemorrhage.

Lower incomes make women more vulnerable to things like stress, domestic violence, poor personal health choices and drug use. It has been shown that stress is one of the precursors to birth issues like premature birth and low birth weight.

Studies also show that women experiencing poverty are more likely to experience abuse from their partner. This abuse often occurs alongside other issues, like financial dependence on the abuser and isolation from a support network. The stress, isolation and risk of hospitalization all take a serious toll. Women who are pregnant and have been in the relationship for a while may see violence escalate during their pregnancy.

The problems related to having a new baby don’t just impact the mom and baby. They’re a serious issue for everyone in society as well. Pregnant women are certainly in a place of high vulnerability, but they are not weak links. Women make up half of the population, so we need to address the gendered issues at play.

Addressing the reasons behind the systemic problems that women and new moms face will undeniably lead us to a better and healthier tomorrow for everyone.

The Harsh Reality for Women and Girls in Syria

If there is one thing we know about Syria it is women, girls, youth and their families have suffered far too much for too long,” -UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

As the civil war in Syria continues, the world holds its breath waiting to hear the final decision from the Obama Administration and U.S. Congress on whether or not to launch a missile strike in Syria. Many questions remain unanswered; the use of chemical weapons in Syria has been internationally deliberated with tragic testimonies, graphic images and video footage screened across the internet and mainstream media. In the debate over the use of chemical weapons, one of my favourite political pundits Tony Benn stated,

I am totally opposed to intervening in Syria, it would lead to a Middle East war. Chemicals are just another weapon that kill people. Don’t bombs kill people? Don’t ‘Cruise Missiles’ kill people? If America and Britain defy the UN then it will lead to a greater conflict.”

The U.S. Senate drafted a resolution that permits U.S. President Obama to order a “limited and tailored” military mission against Syria, as long as it does not exceed 90 days and involves no U.S. troops on the ground for combat operations. The President will now have to pass the resolution by way of chamber votes in Congress.

??????)?While politicians give their solutions and verdicts over an intervention in Syria, millions of Syrian refugees live in refugee camps across the Middle East and remain vulnerable and uncertain of their future. It is now estimated that, since the civil war began back in March 2011, 2 million Syrian people are currently displaced and have fled the country – the majority of whom are women and children. Furthermore, within Syria itself, over 4 million people remain displaced, forced from their homes due to violent conflict. In a joint statement earlier this week, the foreign ministers from Iraq, Jordan and Turkey in addition to Lebanon’s Social Affairs Minister and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres urgently appealed for greater international support for the refugee crisis.

To paraphrase former British Parliamentarian Tony Benn, bombs and missiles kill people therefore increasing the killing will only lead to greater conflict across the whole region. What is really needed now is humanitarian support as the neighbouring countries struggle to manage the increasing number of refugees entering their borders.

An average of almost 5,000 Syrians flee into neighbouring countries every day, in total some 716,000 refugees alone have entered Lebanon. Of the 2 million Syrian refugees currently seeking safety, shelter, food and medical care, over half are children, three-quarters of whom are under the age of 11. Hence, instead of launching a missile strike on Syria, shouldn’t the international community be providing humanitarian aid and assistance to aid agencies in Syria and its neighbouring countries experiencing the influx of refugees? The UN says the conflict in Syria has resulted in the worst refugee crisis for 20 years, with numbers not seen since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????Women and girls continue to suffer indiscriminately through war and conflict as brutal killings, rape and sexual assault and harassment destroy the fabric of families and whole communities. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has reported that rape and sexual assault are now being used as a weapon of war in Syria. Furthermore, young Syrian refugee women and girls also face a tragic future, as multiple reports have concluded that child marriage, a human rights violation, is particularly prevalent among refugee camp families. The negative impact of child marriage in any situation means that girls become more vulnerable to violence, sexual assault, slavery, HIV and AIDs, maternal mortality and poverty. Erica Hall, World Vision Senior Child Rights Adviser stated:

Parents will feel incredibly vulnerable and may believe that a husband will be able to protect their daughter from these threats, and allow them to better provide for their remaining children, too.”

Shockingly, aid workers in refugee camps are not exempt from this behavior as they have been identified as perpetrators seeking sexual favours in return for help. There is little or no protection at all from such sexual assaults. With nowhere to turn, no support or money to feed their children, many women are forced into prostitution as a mode of survival, putting themselves into great danger of violence and HIV.

The reports and testimonies of sexual violence from pregnant women, women with disabilities, women living with fatal diseases, women seeking emergency medical care and so on are seemingly endless. As politicians discuss their ‘interventions,’ women, girls, men and boys are dying and struggling to keep hope alive.

All images courtesy of Flickr’s Syria Freedom Creative Commons.

To Control or Not Control: China's One-Child Policy vs. the Philippines' Booming Population

We live in a world where two extremes exist.

Women in China, specifically those who are of low-income background or live in rural demographics, are subject to China’s brutal one-child policy instituted forcefully since 1979. On the other hand, women of poverty in the Philippines lack access to contraception, contributing to the exponential population growth of a nation whose resources fail to accomodate for its booming population. In spite of the stark difference between China’s stringent family-size limitation and the Philippines’s lack thereof, women in both countries are subject to the same injustices: lack of reproductive rights, the performance of thousands of unsafe abortions, high rates of female suicide, and immense poverty.

What is most important in the press for women’s reproductive rights is not government control or lack thereof, but rather the ability for each government to provide adequate and accessible resources and knowledge for women to foster their reproductive rights.

One-Child Policy in China

A Chinese advertisement advocates in favor of the nation’s one-child policy.

China’s one-child policy was instituted mainly in part to control its population. Currently, the population of China is 1.34 billion. As a result of the nation’s one-child policy, 332 million abortions and 222 millions sterilizations have been linked to the legislation.

The policy has also resulted in a noticeable gender gap in which females make up 48.73% of the nation’s population due to the selective preference of boys and growing number of abortions of female fetuses.

In a recent New York Times opinion article, China’s one-child policy was illustrated to be a regulation that particularly burdened women of poverty. For wealthy families, the stipulations of the 1979 law are evaded by paying a “social compensation fee” (costing a family 3-10 times of their household income) or by traveling to major cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore to give birth.

What are the major consequences of China’s one-child policy?

  • Severe health consequences for women – Abortions are mandatory for women who do not adhere to the law and are strictly enforced for women in rural areas. There are an increasing number of sterilizations, IUD insertions, and selective abortions for girls performed. Such trauma has been linked to China’s female suicide rate as ranked highest in the world. 
  • Economic gain for law enforcement – The policy is particularly devastating for women living in rural areas. Family planning officers in rural villages attentively keep track of the menstrual cycles and pelvic-exam results of the women living in their area. Promotion of local officers is based upon proof of effectively limiting the number of births in their area.
  • A quasi-“unified” nation – A recent Forbes article entitled “Why China is Finally Abandoning its One Child Policy” asserts a thought-provoking perspective asserting that the policy has motivations far beyond population control. Rather, it is to create a “unification of the public in support of an unelected, autocratic central government.” Prior to Mao Zedong’s Communist rule, Chinese emperors “discouraged industrialization” and inheritance was divided among siblings as the father of the family died, creating the family as the center of ensuring one’s economic well-being. However, as a result of China’s one-child policy, the decreasing size of family units have led to a breakdown of family allegiance and a dependence and resulting loyalty to the central government for financial stability.

Lack of Access to Contraceptives in the Philippines

In a country booming with a population of 96.5 million and ranked as the 12th largest country in the world, the lack of access to contraceptives is a significant barrier to population control and effective distribution of resources.

In the most renowned women and children's hospital in Manila, more than 17,000 babies are born. This statistic has dubbed the hospital as the nation's "Baby Factory"
In the most renowned women and children’s hospital in Manila, more than 17,000 babies are born. This statistic has dubbed the hospital as the nation’s “Baby Factory”

18.4% of the Filipino population lives under the poverty line. As a result, the increasing population has boomed to 1 doctor per 30,000 people (compared to the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 1 doctor per 10,000 people). Seven out of ten mothers are teenagers, and 475,000 illegal abortions are performed each year.

The powerful and influential leverage of the Catholic Church and its leaders is a major proponent against access to contraceptives, despite the support of 70% of the population for contraception use.

In mid-January, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 was approved by the President Aquino and the Filipino legislature in late December. The bill outlined free or subsidized contraceptives to poor women. Recently, in March 2013, however, the Supreme Court has stalled the implementation of the bill after ferocious opposition from pro-life Catholic groups. The Court will consider arguments from both sides on June 18, 2013.

What are the major consequences of the Philippines’ lack to contraception?

  • Impetuous cycles of poverty – There simply aren’t enough resources to sustain the exponential growth of the Filipino population, resulting in inescapable cycles of poverty that continue to affect more and more people each year.
  • Significant burdens of responsibility for pregnant women and mothers – Because of the lack of access to contraceptives, women are expected to give birth to their children and adequately provide for their family. Because a great majority of the Filipino population is Catholic, women who undergo abortions are oftentimes stigmatized and seen as criminals or sinners.
  • Continual exploitation of cheap human labor – As the Filipino population booms and resources are scarce, corporations and businesses are able to exploit the disparities of those in poverty in order to utilize them for cheap labor. The Philippines is one of the most common providers of the human trafficking industry in South East Asia.

As China’s one-child policy continues to be in effect and the Philippines’ population continues to soar, it is imperative that we see these issues not only as the ignorance of women’s reproductive rights, but also as an unjust and unacceptable violation of human rights.

… it is imperative that we see these issues not only as the ignorance of women’s reproductive rights, but also as an unjust and unacceptable violation of human rights.

It is our collective responsibility to become educated about these issues and to continue to demand justice not only for the women and children these policies affect, but on behalf of the world that seeks to uphold the value of each human’s right for the opportunity of a healthy and worthwhile life.

For further reading about China’s one-child policy and the battle for reproductive rights in the Philippines, please check out these websites. Many statistics in this post are found in these articles: