Cervical Cancer: a Threat to Women in Developing Countries

More than half a million women develop cancer of the cervix every year. It is the fourth most frequent cancer type worldwide and the global mortality rate remains high at 52%.

Of the estimated 270 000 deaths each year, more than 85% occur in less developed regions. This makes cervical cancer one of the greatest threats to women’s lives in these countries.

The high toll of cervical cancer in developing countries is due to the fact that the majority of cases are detected in late stages as a result of lack of access to health care and resources. Patients often report for treatment at a very advanced stage when their pain and symptoms have become extreme.

In most instances, cervical cancer can be prevented, and yet it is still killing millions of women worldwide. There is sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that screening for cervical cancer would result in significant reductions in incidence, mortality and morbidity.

Screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or to find it early. The first is the Pap test (or Pap smear), which detects precancerous or cancerous cells. The Pap test is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. In many countries, it is recommended to women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old, and can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic.

Another screening test is the HPV test, which looks for the virus (Human Papilloma Virus) that can cause cell changes leading to cervical cancer. HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection among sexually active women. At least 12 types of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer.

Most sexually active people have been exposed to HPV at some point in their lives. All sexually active women are at risk of contracting it, therefore, it is highly recommended that all women visit a medical professional to discuss cervical cancer screening. Screening aims to prevent the development of cancer by identifying high-grade, pre-cancerous cervical lesions. When screening detects pre-cancerous lesions, these can be treated easily.

Screening can also detect cancer at an early stage when treatment has a much higher rate of success. Because pre-cancerous lesions take many years to develop, the World Health Organization recommends screening for women aged between 30 and 49 at least once in her lifetime and ideally more frequently.

There are preventive vaccines which have been used for decades in developed countries to protect against the most high-risk HPV groups. HPV vaccine efficiency in preventing cervical dysplasia and cancer has been recommended globally on population-based studies. Vaccination is recommended for all girls aged 9-13.

A global prevention strategy, starting with vaccination programmes and backed up by proper screening on a regular basis, would do a huge amount to fight the cancer that takes a heavy toll on women’s health and lives around the world.

5 Activists Fighting to End Female Genital Mutilation

Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, and we’re celebrating the activists who’ve had huge impacts on the eradication of FGM across the globe. Here are 5 key figures changing the lives of women in their communities…

“FGM is not just being performed in Africa, the Middle East and Asia but… in Europe [too]”
-Ann-Marie Wilson

Dr Ann-Marie Wilson was determined that much more needed to be done to eradicate FGM, and so she founded 28 Too Many. The organisation is a UK based, anti-FGM charity working across 28 countries in Africa, but it also focuses on working with diaspora in the UK.

“We often associate female genital mutilation with the horrific physical trauma… But there is less awareness about the psychological trauma that can haunt a woman throughout her lifetime.”
-Leyla Hussein

Leyla Hussein is one of the world’s most active campaigners against FGM. An FGM survivor herself, Leyla uses her own experience to formulate social and political strategies for eradicating the practice. As a psychotherapist, one of her major points has been the need for greater psycho-social support for survivors.

“I might never be able to enjoy a sexual experience.”
-Mariya Karimjee

Mariya Karimjee bravely shared her story of FGM on a This American Life podcast. She brought the underreported issue of FGM in Pakistan into the public realm, and has been sharing her experience of sexual pleasure as a survivor. Her activism is important, as she broaches the taboo topics of sex and FGM in a frank and honest way, normalising the discussion.

“This is child abuse and they need to look at it as that. It is a child protection issue.”
-Hibo Wardere

Hibo Wardere is a Somali-born campaigner against FGM, and author of the informative biography Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today. Through her frank account of her own experience of FGM, Hibo has emphasised the fear and control girls are put through at a young age in practicing communities.

“There is no authentic or relevant Islamic evidence allowing FGM in all its forms and the practice is harmful and violates freedom, privacy, health and dignity of the Muslim woman.”
-Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome

Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome has worked tirelessly to delink FGM from Islam. Dedicating a major part of his life to studying relevant scriptures, he has published a number of works which open religious discussions about FGM and provide strategies to organisations for delinking the practice from Islam.

There are many people who have been trailblazing the fight against FGM for years, and each have important messages about how we can end this violation of human rights. To learn more and join the conversation today, follow and use #EndFGM on social media.

It’s Time to Talk About Vulvas

Three years ago I went to the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre in London. I saw a fabulous illustrator called Jo Harrison who handed out colour-by-number, annotated vulvas. I took mine home and put it on my fridge. My friends would come round – educated, feminist, female friends – and they’d look and squint and tilt their head and say, “Oh! So that’s what that bit’s called.”

I was pretty horrified. It turned out that not many of us knew what our vulvas actually looked like, let alone what all the flaps and holes and mounds were called. This just didn’t sit well with me. If we don’t have the language to talk about our own bodies then how can we speak up and speak out about them? And if we don’t know, or like, what we look like, then aren’t we missing a very important part of ourselves?

So, I set up @thisisavagina, an Instagram feed dedicated to vulvas of all sizes, shapes and colours, to help us know what they look like and love them no matter what. I was utterly shocked to learn that girls as young as nine are going to doctors to ask for labiaplasty in the UK. The fact that young girls dislike themselves so much at such a young age, so much so that they want to have invasive surgery to change themselves, broke my heart.

These days, we gain much of our knowledge of vulvas from porn, an industry based around fantasy. Far from seeing a variety of normal and hairy vulvas as we grow up, many of us have never even looked at our own genitals in a mirror. Yet, somehow we still feel there is something wrong with them. Asymmetrical, too big, lop-sided, sticky-out – not the neat, little, ever-smooth Barbie vaginas we see so often. 

As well as making vulvas visible, I talked about vaginas. A lot. At work, with friends, with partners, with my parents, at parties with people I didn’t know. It became seriously apparent that the words ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ are words we loath to use, or even to hear. Most people prefer to mutter ‘down there’ and flutter their hands around their crotch or blush and stammer out the word ‘fanny’.

To be so embarrassed by such an integral part of you that you can’t even utter its name is restricting and sad and perpetuates the problem. It’s also detrimental to our health: 66% of 18-24-year-olds don’t go to see a doctor about vaginal problems because they are too embarrassed to even use the word ‘vagina’.

Alongside regramming work from brilliant artists on @thisisavagina, I created my own vulva artwork, including the geometric vulva that I use as a logo.

I fell in love with it because I think it looks like a vulva and a strong woman with her hands on her hips and a superhero motif all in one.

It represents everything I feel about being a strong woman. It started life as a screenprint on a t-shirt and as I wore it to parties, the pub, work and the gym, I had people asking where I got it and whether I could make them one too.

And so I did. I used a company called Teemill because they are ethical and sustainable and I couldn’t put my vulva on anything that wasn’t organic (a general lesson for life, too). Before long they were whizzing off t-shirts from the little print factory on the Isle of Wight to people all over the globe.

I wanted my fierce little vulva to go out into the world and start up more conversations. The more we talk, the more we know and the less embarrassed we become. And the more we can make women and girls love their bodies for what they are and what they look like, the better. We have enough to be fighting for without having to fight our own bodies.

I donate half of the profits to Bloody Good Period, a fabulous organisation that collects and delivers menstrual products to asylum seekers and homeless women in the UK. They are utterly brilliant – I’ve never met a group of people who throw the word ‘vagina’ around more than I do.

My t-shirts are a symbol of pride and love for vulvas. They are a way to start conversations about why it is important that we can use the words ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ without blushing or looking away. And they are, hopefully, a tiny step in helping women and girls to love their vulvas no matter what they look like.

So buy a t-shirt and join the vulvalution!

Keep girlsglobe.org Raising Voices in 2018!

We have a very exciting announcement!

Girls’ Globe is launching a crowdfunding campaign to allow us to continue to amplify the voices of women and girls in 2018.

We don’t know about you, but here at Girls’ Globe we feel it’s more important today than ever before to invest in spaces where the experiences, opinions and ideas of girls and women can be shared, heard and appreciated.

In light of the events and politics that have dominated our news headlines and social media feeds throughout the past year, from Women’s Marches taking place in almost every corner of the planet, to attacks on women’s health, to a global outpouring of solidarity against harassment with #MeToo, there can be no doubt left in anyone’s mind – a single voice holds great power, and a chorus of voices can change the world. 

It also feels more important than ever to take more time to sit back and to listen – not just to any voice, but to a voice that sounds different to the ones we’re used to hearing day in, day out. Girls’ Globe offers not only a platform to amplify the opinions and ideas of our global community of feminists, advocates and change-makers, but also an invaluable source of information for anyone, anywhere, who is looking to learn and find inspiration to take action of their own.

We are a tiny team supporting a big network of brilliant, creative and passionate people who voluntarily contribute their time, skills and talents. Girls’ Globe runs with almost no overhead costs – our team work remotely all over the world using low-cost, innovative digital tools.

But for us to continue to run girlsglobe.org in 2018, we’re asking our beloved readers and supporters to help us become financially sustainable (there are lots of perks in it for you, too!).

If Girls’ Globe has been useful, informative or inspiring to you, please take a minute to keep us publishing articles, amplifying women and celebrating progress.

Any donation – big or small – is hugely valuable.

You can also support us by lending your networks and social media reach, so please share our crowdfunding campaign as far and wide as you can! None of us can do it alone, but together, we can create a world that is fairer, more equal, and more united. If that sounds like something you’d like to be part of, donate today.