Global Roundup: Curbing the Birth Control Controversy; Nigeria on the Brink?


Midwifery: More men take on the role in Cameroon

More men are becoming midwives in Cameroon, a role traditionally played by women, as a chronic shortage of doctors and trained birth attendants continues. In Cameroon, like many African countries, giving birth is too often a life-threatening trauma. Literally having anyone trained to support you and protect your health and that of your newborn is what matters. Muslims in the country have expressed discomfort with the notion of men delivering their babies, but others have noted a distinct and positive difference in their bedside manner – suggesting that men are calmer and more capable midwives than women. It would be unfortunate if the increase in male midwives served to undermine the importance of women’s role in this field for centuries, and if a provider is adequately trained, his or her gender should not matter. Yet involving men in midwifery could produce additional positive outcomes, such as increasing sensitivity among men of reproductive health and rights issues. In particular, witnessing the peril of childbirth, and especially unwanted pregnancy, engaging men may serve to increase contraceptive acceptability and use in society. Currently, only 12 percent of married women in Cameroon report modern contraceptive use. Via Global Press Institute.

Global: Melinda Gates Seeks to Diffuse Birth Control “Controversy”

Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gave a TedX talk in Berlin last week on the importance of access to contraception worldwide – her personal priority and pet issue. Gates tried to reframe the issue as uncontroversial, pointing out that a billion people use birth control without hesitation. “We need to be clear about our agenda,” she said. “It is not abortion. It is not population control. We are talking about giving women the power to save their own lives and their children’s lives—and to give their families the best possible future.” Gates was responding to, though not explicitly, the continued war on women’s rights in the US, which has frighteningly added contraception to its enemy list. She was also responding to ongoing taboos around birth control globally, which contribute to stagnant and abysmal contraceptive usage rates in most developing nations. Whether her reframing will be effective remains to be seen, but it’s a creative move. However, some rights advocates aren’t happy with her eschewal of controversy, which could read as an avoidance of dialogue about critical and nuanced issues such as reproductive rights and health. Dialogue is what’s needed, in fact. “It’s only through public dialogue that issues can be brought to the fore, myths debunked, and stigmas deconstructed. And there is a chance that from this dialogue will spring effective action,” wrote Ariel Eckblad in Think Africa Press. Via DAWNS Digest and Foreign Policy.

Afghanistan: Women March, Asking, “Where is Justice?”

The group Afghan Young Women for Change led a small protest last week in Kabul to denounce violence against women – a persistent and potentially worsening reality for women in the country. Five women were killed in three months, AFP reported. It was not too long ago that the world gaped in horror at the tale of Sahar Gul, a teen tortured by her in-laws for not entering prostitution. While Afghan President Karzai ordered an immediate probe into her abuse, his lip service didn’t last long. Two months later, in March, Karzai backed a code of conduct introduced by a council of clerics, and which would allow husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances and encourages segregation of the sexes. A perilous situation for women in Afghanistan, left untouched by local and international officials, has only deteriorated. Meanwhile, local groups like Afghan Young Women for Change and Women for Afghan Women continue making whatever noise they can. In the last week, the female MP Fawkiza Koofi has also announced she may run for presidency in 2014. Though the odds are stacked tremendously against her, her campaign could serve as a megaphone for the systematic rights abuses that Afghan women continue to face. Via MSNBC.

Nigeria: Population Rises and Birth Control Use Remains Too Low

The New York Times reports on Nigeria’s burgeoning population (“Preview of an Overcrowded Planet”), linking uncurbed population growth with a range of ill social, health, and economic effects, from overtaxed schools and health clinics to an HIV-burdened population. While birth control use is mentioned in passing, the piece doesn’t clarify just how low the rate is – a measly 10 percent of women using birth control currently – and misses the opportunity to underscore how valuable birth control use is for everyone, across the board. If Nigeria can assure access and use of voluntary contraception among its youth, it could set off a powerful domino effect called the “demographic dividend,” whereby the power (earning, physical, mental, etc.) of a population is harnessed by keeping it in good health. There is an inextricable link between the health and size of a population, and the economic strength to which it contributes. No one knows this better than Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigerian Finance Minister and World Bank Vice President, who was on the short list of nominees to head the World Bank and would have become the Bank’s first-ever female, black, and African head. Via New York Times and Vanguard

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