Family Planning: why it’s a women’s rights issue

Family Planning: why it’s a women’s rights issue

“No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body. A woman must have the fundamental freedom to choose whether she will or will not be a mother, and how many children she will have.” – Margaret Sanger, Birth Control pioneer who opened America’s first contraceptive clinic in 1916. 

This World Population Day, access to family planning is a women’s rights issue that we should all STAND up for. 

World Population Day calls on leaders, institutions, policymakers, civil society and others to help make reproductive health and rights a reality for everyone. Women’s education and livelihood, in particular, can be severely impacted by a lack of access to family planning. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA): “when women and couples are empowered to plan whether and when to have children, women are better enabled to complete their education; women’s autonomy within their households is increased, and their earning power is improved”

As a result, ensuring women’s reproductive rights and their access to reproductive health services is essential to attaining gender equality.

This year’s World Population Day theme relates to the unfinished business of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) (Cairo, 1994) which formally recognised that reproductive health and gender equality are essential for sustainable development. At the ICPD, 179 governments called for access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, safe pregnancy, and childbirth services for all, and the treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.  The important linkages between reproductive health and women’s empowerment were also acknowledged. 

Since the ICPD, voluntary access to modern contraception has increased by 25%, and the quality of family planning services have improved. However, hundreds of millions of women are still not using modern contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Furthermore, the UNFPA says there are around 214 million women worldwide who want to avoid pregnancy but don’t have access to contraception. While preventable maternal deaths have declined by over 40%, the ICPD’s target of reducing maternal mortality to below 75 per 100,000 live births is far from being reached. There have been also concerted global efforts to end female genital mutilation and child marriage – yet, the total number of women and girls affected by these harmful practices has actually increased as the result of population growth.

Irish women have direct experience of these issues as contraception was illegal in the Republic of Ireland from 1935-1980 in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. On World Population Day, we can celebrate the landmark Contraceptive Train event of 1971 when members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement travelled to Belfast to purchase contraceptives in order to protest the law prohibiting the sale and importation of contraceptives in the Republic. The event made a powerful statement and helped to raise awareness of the issues surrounding women’s rights and contraception. The eventual legalisation of contraception was an important breakthrough in women’s rights as it finally allowed Irish women to take control of their fertility. However, the fact that Ireland still charges women for birth control remains controversial (particularly as it is free in many parts of the world) and the National Women’s Council of Ireland has recently called on the Irish Government to commit to free contraception in Budget 2020. 

To keep up to date with latest developments regarding free contraception in Ireland please visit https://www.nwci.ie/

To find out more about World Population Day please visit https://www.un.org/en/events/populationday/

Photo: Photo by Chayene Rafaela via Unsplash

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Heartbeat Bill: how women in the USA are losing their reproductive rights

Heartbeat Bill: how women in the USA are losing their reproductive rights

As Ireland is celebrating the first anniversary of the legalisation of abortion by referendum, women in the United States are seeing their reproductive rights threatened, after several States passed the Heartbeat Bill.

Nearly ten states across the US, including Georgia, Ohio and Kentucky, signed in the law which has been dubbed the Heartbeat Bill or the fetal heartbeat bill. Under this law, abortions will be illegal once a heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy.

Alabama, which on May 15th became the latest State to sign the bill, has the strictest abortion laws in the country, only allowing abortions “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly.”

The Heartbeat Bill has been described by many as a “war on women”. It doesn’t consider pregnancies that are unwanted, are dangerous to the mother and those that have come from rape or incest. A doctor in Alabama can face up to 99 years in prison if they perform abortions – a much longer sentence than a rapist who may have caused an unwanted pregnancy.

The Heartbeat Bill was brought into law in Georgia when it was signed by Governor Brian Kemp on May 7th of this year. This sparked outrage throughout the country and globally, though not the first state to do so it was the first to cause so much debate.

Georgia is used by many Hollywood film studios – such as Disney, Netflix and Viacom – as shooting locations. The industry brings in approximately $9.5 billion into the Georgia economy every year. Many of these studios are now threatening to boycott the State – which could lose significant income as a result.

More states, including Missouri and South Carolina, are due to sign in similar abortion bans soon. Louisiana passed a heartbeat bill which will go into effect if the law in Mississippi is upheld.

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of Planned Parenthood Action via Twitter

Trinity Ball: what does it say about students and drugs?

Trinity Ball: what does it say about students and drugs?

For many, Europe’s largest private party, Trinity Ball is synonymous with recreational drug use. After the arrest of 26 students on drug related charges at the Ball last month, STAND News interviewed 12 students from Trinity and other universities about their relationship with drugs, views on legislation, and the global drug trade.

“Drugs seem necessary” to enjoy the ball deemed one student, who “won’t attend now that I no longer take drugs.” “Drugs certainly improve [the night]” believed another, but “it’s really just a secondary thing.” This perception was echoed by most students, who were aware of drug usage at the ball but never felt that it was an “integral aspect of the night.”

Ranging from cannabis and nitrous oxide (poppers) to harder drugs such as MDMA, crack cocaine, speed, meth and many more, every student interviewed had taken some form of illegal drug in the past with a varying frequency and dependency. All had consumed marijuana at least once in their life, with the research showing that if another drug had previously been taken it was more likely that the student would continue to explore other forms of drugs.

Recreational drug use, believed one student “is part of the college experience in 2019 and is unavoidable.” Many others, however believed that they had avoided or indeed entered drug culture because of their social circles. Could drug use in university be largely dependant on peer groups rather than a generalised university experience? Students seemed to believe so, with some naming specific undergrads like medicine and arts courses as prime pathways for illegal drug use.

The research would support this outlook, as many students said they were “aware that drug use is synonymous with ‘going out’ for many people in college” but this was not their own experience of college. Others however, deemed drugs a “key feature” of their time at college, believed this was “largely due to my peer group.”

Questioned about their positions on the legalisation of drugs, only one interviewee believed that the total prohibition of drugs in Ireland should be maintained. Of the vast majority who wished for the worldwide legislation of drugs, one reason that stood out was the desire to end the violent drug trade that “disproportionately impacts lower-income communities”. Although three quarters of those interviewed believe they have little or very vague knowledge of the reality of the drug industry, many raised knowledge of the social consequences of drug use in regions such as Latin America.

Another student observed that the drug trade, naming the United States in particular is an example of “neo-imperialism” at its most threatening: “By criminalising drugs, prosperous countries fuel this imperialist industry, and costs lives in “non-western” countries,” she argued.

Overwhelmingly, students cited internal issues of stigmatization and lack of regulation which leads to unsafe use as well addiction problems as reasons to decriminalise drugs. Legislation, argued one student, would “force a reconsideration of addiction in popular mentalities away from [addiction] being a moral failing.”

Many students were appalled at 26 arrests at the ball this year and the lack of support they were given from the Student’s Union who publicly cry for the decriminalisation of drugs. For one student, the arrests demonstrated the “archaic and regressive” nature of Ireland’s current drug laws, which priorities criminalisation over rehabilitation.

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of Thought Catalog via Unsplash

 

Sustainable Development Goals: No Poverty

Sustainable Development Goals: No Poverty

Caoimhe Durkan continues her series examining the UN Sustainable Development Goals, this week looking at Goal 1: No Poverty.

 

While major achievements have been made in the reduction of poverty rates in recent years, millions of people across the globe continue to live below the international poverty line. This month, I’ll be focusing on Goal No. 1 of the UN’s SDGs, and looking at why the elimination of poverty is an integral part of working towards a more sustainable future for all.

 

Why is striving towards the eradication of poverty worldwide included as one of the Sustainable Development Goals?

‘Poverty’ is commonly understood to mean living beneath the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. However, poverty means more than a lack of income and resources to ensure a sustainable livelihood, and includes social discrimination and exclusion, and lack of participation in decision-making. Through eradicating poverty, and building an international community that facilitates the creation of harmonious societies, we can achieve higher standards of living for all.

 

How does Goal No. 1 relate to the remaining 17 SDG’s?

The fight to end poverty is intricately connected with the remaining 16 Sustainable Development Goals. The eradication of poverty ensures that all living within a community have equal access to basic services, land ownership, economic, financial, and natural resources, as well as lack of social exclusion and discrimination. Through this we see the creation of more harmonious communities, linking Goal 1 directly with reducing inequalities (Goals 5 and 10), sustainable communities (Goals 8 and 11), and the establishment of strong institutions internationally (Goal 16). Since most people living below the international poverty line live in the regions of Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and are often vulnerable to climate-related extreme events, Climate Action (Goal 13) is vital in reducing poverty rates worldwide.

 

What are the Goal 1 targets?

The Goal 1 targets include the eradication of poverty internationally by 2030 (those living on less than $1.25 a day), to build resilience for the poor and those living in vulnerable situations, and reduce their expose to climate related extreme-events, as well as ensuring that all men and women have equal access to economic resources, land ownership, and basic services.

 

Things to know about poverty:

  • 783 million people live below the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day.
  • In 2016, almost 10 per cent of the world’s workers and their families lived on less than US$1.90 per person per day.
  • Most people living below the poverty line belong to two regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • High poverty rates are often found in small, fragile and conflict-affected countries.
  • As of 2016, only 45% of the world’s population was effectively covered by at least one social protection cash benefit.

 

Are countries doing enough to eradicate poverty worldwide?

In recent decades, there has been a notable reduction in poverty rates internationally. The United Nations estimated in 2013 that the percentage of the world’s population living at or below $1.90 a day to be 10.7%, a figure which is down from 35% in 1990 and 44% in 1981, and have concluded that based on this “ending world poverty is within our reach”. All nations must each do their bit to help achieve this.

In Bolivia, malnutrition in a great concern, however the Bolivian government is implementing several measures to tackle this problem. A programme partially funded by the SDG Fund is working with government bodies and nongovernmental indigenous and economic organizations, aiming to improve food production and integrate native crops with a high nutritional value, as well as strengthening multisectoral coordination.

In Ethiopia, men are often favoured over women with regard to food, healthcare, education, and formal sector employment. While women form up to 73% of agricultural labour, they only hold 18.7% of land. The UN is working with government bodies, Ethiopia Agricultural Research Institute, and regional micro-finance institutes to improve food security, nutrition, social protection and coping mechanisms.

With many countries implementing programs to alleviate poverty worldwide, it would appear that there is hope for the World Bank’s goal of having no more than 3% of the world’s population living below the international poverty line by 2030. However, all nations, including those where the majority of their population does not currently experience, or is immediately threatened, by poverty, must continue to work together in order for this to be achieved.

 

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of UN Women/Allison Joyce via Flickr

 

Aftermath of Idai continues to impact communities in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi

Aftermath of Idai continues to impact communities in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi

 

Since the landfall of Cyclone Idai in early March 2019, its path of destruction can still be seen in parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, as humanitarian organisations, such as GOAL Global, attempt to provide aid to the affected communities. With a potential food crisis looming due to the devastating impact of the cyclone, increased displacement in the region, and the threat of diseases like cholera and malaria, Cyclone Idai has been described as one of the worst tropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere.

According to GOAL:

“Winds of 170 kph swept in from the Indian Ocean destroying land and causing rivers to burst their banks. The cyclone hit Mozambique causing catastrophic damage before causing devastation in neighbouring Malawi. The high winds and torrential rains wiped out homes and infrastructure before it continued into Zimbabwe, a country that is already facing an economic and food crisis.”

The death toll across the three countries estimated at 1,000, and there is still many more missing. So far in Malawi, flooding has affected more than 739,000 people, and a state of disaster has been declared. In Zimbabwe, crops and livestock have been completely destroyed, a major concern just before harvest season, causing long term damage to people’s livelihoods and bringing fear of food insecurity.

“Four weeks after it first hit millions of people are still in urgent need of humanitarian support, including shelter, clean water and food. For those already living in vulnerable situations, the impact of this disaster pushes them closer to the edge.” – Fiona Gannon, Head of Programmes at GOAL

As the weather calms down and the region becomes drier, it will be easier for aid to be delivered to those who need it most in the three countries.

GOAL is calling on the Irish public to donate what they can to help those impacted by Cyclone Idai. Funds donated will go directly to the Cyclone Idai appeal.

  • €25 can ensure a family will have food for a month
  • €50 can provide enough plastic sheeting to reinforce 10 damaged households
  • €100 can provide oral re-hydration tablets for 500 people
  • €500 can purchase enough mosquito nets to significantly decrease malarial risk for more than 50 people

Donations can be made online via goalglobal.org or by phone at 1850 832 100

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of GOAL Global Media Desk

Reports of progress in HIV/AIDS research

Reports of progress in HIV/AIDS research

 

A British man has become the second person in the world to be cleared of the AIDS virus after receiving a bone-marrow transplant from an HIV resistant donor.

Three years after receiving the stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists the HIV infection, highly sensitive tests have shown no traces of the man’s previous disease. He is now being referred to as ‘’the London patient’’, and his case has inspired a wave of new research, which aims to find a cure for the disease that has killed more than 35 million people since the 1980’s when the outbreak began.

“The new bone marrow is resistant to HIV, and also the new bone marrow is actively eliminating any HIV-infected cells through something called ‘graft versus host’ disease,” said Sharon Lewin, co-chair of the International AIDS Society’s cure research advisory board.

Steven Deeks, an HIV expert at the University of California explained to Reuters that the newly transplanted donor-immune cells seek out and destroy all the host’s immune cells, including those which may be HIV infected – which results in the complete destruction of the old immune system and the creation of a new one in which the HIV virus can’t replicate.

As exciting as this new case is, transplants such as these are highly complex and risky for patients as they may die in the process. Medical experts have said that the case is proof that scientists will one day be able to end AIDS, however it does not mean that a cure has been found.

The next step is for researchers to come up with a way to deliver the gene-editing capability, known as CCR5, to all the T-cells in the body. Globally there are companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Gilead Sciences working on early-stage cure studies to do just that.

 

 

 

 

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Image courtesy of ZEISS via Flickr