For today’s World Health Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) seeks “greater access to life-saving interventions and a ‘continuum of care’ approach” for mothers and children. Each year, 10,600,000 children die before the age of five, and over 500,000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth.
IF TODAY is “Make Every Mother and Child Count,” then how many African women equal one Terri Schiavo?
Africa is the mother of us all, and yet, one of her women will be raped while you are reading this.
Some facts for you to ponder:
From the link above:
Fact #40: In South Africa, it is estimated that a women is raped every 83 seconds: only 20 of these cases are ever reported to the police. (Vetten:1996, Tribune:1991)
Fact #41: More than 90 million African women and girls are victims of female circumcision or other forms of genital mutilation. (Heise: 1994)
Fact #42: In Uganda HIV infection is 6 times higher among young girls than boys with the difference in rates beginning as early as 9 years old and reaching a peak for the age-12-19 years old. This is due to old men seeking young girls for sexual exploitation with the belief that they are free form HIV. (Ministry of Health- Uganda)
Fact #44: In Zimbabwe, domestic violence accounts for more than 60% of murder cases that go through the high court in Harare. (ZWRCN)
Fact #45: a study in Zaria, Nigeria found that 16 percent of hospital patients treated for sexually transmitted infections were under 5. (UNFPA)
If today, every woman counts, then let’s talk about the women of Africa, and how little they count. In 1994, we sat on our hands while one million Rwandans were slaughtered. Today, we sit on our hands while women are the victims of campaigns of war rape in Darfur, Uganda, the Congo.
Just for example, the women of Darfur, who are now trying still to get to Chad. This from the Women’s Commission on Refugees:
One of the most disturbing aspects of the situation was the lack of reproductive health care available to the refugees. The systematic and widespread rape of women and girls in Darfur by the Arab militia, the Janjaweed, is well-known, but reproductive health care to prevent suffering from further trauma, including unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, or to address psychosocial needs is non-existent. Survivors had no way to report sexual abuse and exploitation. In addition, preventing maternal and neonatal mortality was not a priority. Visibly pregnant women were not given clean delivery kits and transport for women suffering life-threatening complications from pregnancy and childbirth was not always available.
It’s impossible to know how many women have been raped, but a group of refugee men told us that more than 200 women were raped in their community and that every family had at least one woman – a mother, sister or daughter – who had survived rape. They described how the Janjaweed attacked their villages and abducted young girls and women and would rape them over a 3- to 4-day period and then return them to the village.
Clearly, reproductive health care must be an integral part of the emergency response in Chad. But it’s not. What will it take to ensure that it is part of this response and in other future crises?
Here’s one possible solution: Representative Lowey and Senator Biden have introduced bills in their respective chambers that would create organized responses to humanitarian disasters, responses that recognize that it is often women and children who bear the cruelest brunt of these and thus provide emergency maternal/contraceptive/post-rape care. These are HR 1413 and S559.
You can ask your congressional representatives, especially if you live in one of those districts where your rep felt obliged to interfere in the Schiavo case, and ask him or her to support women in crisis NOW.
While there is peace in South Africa, there is no real peace for women.
In South Africa, a woman is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read. In South Africa, rape carries with it the increased risk of AIDS infection, and the government does virtually nothing to distribute anti-retroviral medications to women and children who have already been victimized. Women are five times more likely to be raped in South Africa than women in the United States. Nearly 10 percent of South Africa’s inhabitants are HIV+. The solution for some? Rape insurance, which will help to pay for the health costs associated with being violated. The very idea makes me weep.
What then, must we do? We cannot stop rape in South Africa, but we can continue to pressure our government to lift the international gag rule so that proper information can be dispensed. We can also support people such as Eve Ensler, whose V-Day Foundation works with the proceeds from performances of The Vagina Monologues to do such things as establishing “safe houses” in Africa where girls who refuse genital mutilation can find sanctuary.
The next time you hear someone defend the sanctity of life, or the culture of life, you ask them, does life only count if you’re an American?