Mauritania was the last country to officially abolish slavery in 1981, and slavery was only recognized as a criminal offense in 2007–almost 150 years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the US. Despite the 2007 law, an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the 3.4 million Mauritanians still live in a state of slavery today, and only one person has been successfully prosecuted for slavery in Mauritania, a meager success for the victims and all those fighting for the abolition of slavery.

How is it possible that between 340,000 and 680,000 Mauritanians are still modern day slaves? For the first time, a journalist, John Sutter, was able to enter Mauritania and directly report the accounts of slaves and of former owners.

He recounts the story of Moulkheir Mint Yarba, a young woman who, as a slave’s child, automatically became a slave herself. After being separated from her parents at an early age to live with her master, she lived with sheep and camels during her childhood. After reaching puberty, she was repeatedly raped by her master. She told CNN reporter Shutter that “All of [her] children were born into slavery. And all of her children were the result of rape by her master.”

But Moulkheir resigned herself to her condition, she “couldn’t see beyond her small, enslaved world,” until the day her owner killed her baby. It happened while she was herding sheep. As she was returning from the desert, she came back to a haunting vision: her newborn daughter was left by her owner to die in the desert sun. The master wanted to punish her for bearing a child–his child. He said she “would work faster without the child on her back.”

This case is far from being an isolated incident. A 2012 United Nations survey estimated that “for every 100,000 live births in the country, 510 women die from pregnancy, with significant disparities between the death rates of Black slaves and Arab owners. An even greater concern is that due to female slaves being forced to have children with their owners, an estimated 71.3 births per 1,000 live births are adolescents who suffer extreme mental and physical abuse.”

Slavery in Mauritania is not just physical, it is not only about shackles and chains; it is also psychological. Slavery is so highly embedded in mentalities that it has become the normative state of mind for most Mauritanians. Slaves are led to believe that the state of slavery in which they evolve is “normal.” A leader of an abolitionist group told Shutter that “the multigenerational slave, the slave descending from many generations, he is a slave even in his own head. And he is totally submissive. He is ready to sacrifice himself, even, for his own master” for he believes he will go to heaven if he serves his owner well.

Mauritanian slavery is “the slavery American plantation owners dreamed of”. Shutter’s shocking documentary effectively shows the true state of slavery in Mauritania, interviewing actual slaves and former slave owners. Although the abolitionist movement’s influence is increasing abroad, Mauritania’s situation on slavery is widely unknown. The subject is so taboo that Mauritanian officials deny the very existence of slavery in their country. Abolitionists have told Shutter that some have been captured and tortured by government officials so that they wouldn’t speak out.

Mauritania is a developing country. The life expectancy is 57 years old, but great disparities exist between slaves and owners. A slave’s health comes last, and some have never been to the doctor. But slaves stay with their owners despite their evident exploitation and maltreatment. Indeed, for many, freedom means starvation, and many of those who escape end up returning to their homes because they cannot afford a life on their own.

– Lauren Yeh

Sources: Forbes, FemInspire, CNN

family planning
This past July, Family Planning 2020, an initiative aiming to increase accessibility to family planning services in developing countries, celebrated its one-year anniversary. Sponsored by the United Kingdom, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Family Planning 2020, or FP2020, is working with governments around the globe to ensure that 120 million more women in the world have access to family planning aid by 2020. Convening at the London Summit for Family Planning last year, governments, sponsors, donors, civil societies, and private sector representatives laid out a goal-based timeline for success.

FP2020 targets the poorest countries in the world. Today, more than 200 million of women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to family planning and contraceptives. What FP2020 aims to do for these women is provide much needed information, services, and mechanisms for family planning. Over 20 governments worldwide are committed to the initiative, among them the governments of India, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Kenya.

As July 11th – World Population Day as well as the anniversary date of the London Summit – approached, FP2020 partners were applauded for their progress and were encouraged to keep moving forward. Since the FP2020 London Summit last year, Zambia has seen the promising creation of a national strategy that has brought religious, tribal, and community leaders into the conversation of improving family planning services and accessibility to contraceptives in all areas of the country. In Sierra Leone, the government has funneled significant funds towards its health and family planning sectors. In Nigeria, FP2020 partners are working to open clinics in strategic areas that will serve people within a 12-mile radius, improving accessibility to family planning services. Other partner nations are undertaking similar initiatives.

The future of FP2020 gleams with the hope of improving lives for millions of women in the developing world. In the words of the director of the FP2020 project, Valerie DeFillipo, “The global community is recommitted and re-energized. We as individuals have the power to ensure that women’s autonomy over health-related decisions is a fundamental right, not a privilege.”

Follow @FP2020Global on Twitter to learn more.

-Lina Saud

Sources: The Interdependent, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, LFPS, LFPS
Photo: Path

This is the fifth in a series of posts focusing on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. There are eight interconnected MDGs that were agreed upon by over 180 countries worldwide. These goals are to be achieved by 2015 and are based on a shared pledge to improve the social, economic, and political lives of all people. Two years out from the goal date, it’s time to consider how far we have come, as well as how much work we have left to do.

The fifth MDG is to improve maternal health. This goal comes in two parts:

  • Cut the maternal mortality ratio by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015
  • Achieve universal access to reproductive health

Significant progress has been made on both fronts. In 2010, the maternal mortality ratio was 47% of the 1990 figure. Three regions (Eastern Asia, Northern Africa, and Southern Asia) have already reached the two-thirds reduction goal, and progress has been made in every region. However, women in sub-Saharan Africa still have a 1 in 39 chance of dying from pregnancy complications, and improvements in many regions will need to accelerate substantially if the MDG is to be met by 2015.

Work towards universal access to reproductive health has made encouraging headway as well. Health care for pregnant women in developing countries is on the rise, with antenatal care increasing by almost 20% between 1990 and 2011. This reflects an admirable commitment to women’s health care in developing regions. In a reflection of changing cultural norms, the number of teenage mothers is decreasing in most developing regions, though progress on this front has slowed in recent years.

Despite the progress that has been made thusfar, maternal mortality still bears the highest disparity between developed and developing countries, with 99% of maternal deaths occurring in poorer nations. The maternal mortality ratio in developing areas remains 15 times higher than in developed regions. This severe inequality points to the undeniable connection between poverty and maternal health.

The primary cause of maternal deaths in the world today is lack of skilled health care before, during, and after delivery. Women in developing areas are seeking maternal care at an increasing rate. It is therefore absolutely vital that the care they receive is of excellent quality. Doctors must be trained, facilities must be built, and supplies must be provided in order to save the lives of these women and their children.

Women and their partners are also seeking family planning services in higher volumes. Meanwhile, supply of these services is increasing only minimally. Family planning must be prioritized in order to meet this need. It has been estimated that fulfilling the unmet demand for family planning could cause the number of maternal mortalities to plummet by one third. Impressive progress in this area was made in the 1990s, when contraceptive use in developing countries increased by almost 10%. However, this level of progress was not matched in the 2000s.

Improvements in contraceptive use, especially in developing areas, would reduce one of the leading causes of pregnancy-related death: unsafe abortions. Approximately 13% of pregnancy-related deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortions, which kill 68,000 women annually. In another example of the disparity between developed and developing nations, 97% of unsafe abortions occur in poorer countries. Preventing unsafe abortions, both by increasing knowledge and use of contraceptives and by providing adequate health care in developing countries, is absolutely necessary as we work towards improving maternal health.

The quality of maternal health care will also rise when women are more empowered. Women worldwide are often constrained by cultural norms that leave them disenfranchised. They suffer physical and sexual violence at alarmingly high rates, and are often unable to hold positions of power in society. The appalling state of maternal health in many countries can largely be attributed to societal injustices against women. When such countries work towards gender equality, they will also improve maternal health.

It is important, however, to remember that maternal health isn’t just a women’s issue. Poor sexual and reproductive health is a significant contributing cause to poverty worldwide, and can prevent victims and their families from fully participating in society. Furthermore, improving maternal health entails more than just providing skilled birthing assistance. Women are less likely to have pregnancy complications if they do not have sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and if they have not undergone female genital mutilation. Therefore, improving maternal health necessitates enhancements of society as a whole. These include increasing the general public’s knowledge of and access to sexual and reproductive health care, including contraceptives and treatment for STIs.

There are copious reasons to improve developing nations’ maternal health. Poor maternal health is a human rights violation, killing roughly 250,000 women each year. It harms countries’ economies and social fabric by preventing people from fully participating in society. It contributes significantly to poverty. It contributes to the perpetuation of gender inequality. And, as we have seen, improvements can clearly be made. The world has made so much progress when it comes to maternal health. These achievements should be used a springboard, inspiring us to keep working towards the fifth MDG up to and beyond 2015.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: UN UN Economic and Social Affairs WHO MDG5
Photo: The Gates Foundation

The Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE) is making a difference in worldwide reproductive rights.

CHANGE is a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that originated in 1994 in direct response to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, a meeting that produced a human rights framework for development assistance. In 2001, CHANGE became an independent NGO and its policy work expanded to gender integration, gender-based violence, and female condom programming, amongst other initiatives.

Today, the organization aims to ensure that U.S. foreign policies and programs promote female sexual and reproductive health to a human rights standard around the world. CHANGE hopes to remove the ideology-based and counterproductive restrictions in U.S. policy to create a brighter future for women everywhere.

To accomplish its goals, CHANGE works with policymakers in Washington, D.C. The organization believes that there is no better way to get direct influence in shaping U.S. foreign policy than to take action where policies originate.

From the start CHANGE realized that it could not receive funding from the organization it was built to oversee, and thus it refuses to accept funding from the U.S. government, instead relying on private foundations and individuals.

Aligning U.S. policies to match a comprehensive, human-rights based framework for sexual and reproductive health programs is an important step for encouraging other countries around the world to accept a worldwide standard for reproductive health and gender equality. Developing countries look towards the United States as a marker against which to compare their own reproductive health care reforms.

In acknowledging the UN’s goal to achieve universal reproductive health care access by 2015, CHANGE has set its own goal for the U.S.: to raise its annual support to at least $1 billion. Through its efforts and the help of its many volunteers and partnership with U.S. policymakers, CHANGE hopes to construct a world in which sexual and reproductive health care is universally accessible and available.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: Gender Health, National Council of Women’s Organizations
Photo: C-Change

Many of us spent some time in May being thankful for our mothers. Something else that we may not think to be thankful for is the healthy and sanitary conditions mothers were able to give birth in. For women living in developing countries, this is a huge concern for pregnant women. One country, however, has proven to be the worst place to give birth: Chad.

This statistic was identified by the organization, Save the Children, in their annual Mother’s Index. The group uses an index that includes a woman’s risk of death during childbirth or pregnancy. Chad was deemed the worst place for a mother to give birth because 1 in 15 mothers are at high risk of dying while pregnant or in child labor.

A contributing factor to these startling statistics is that women get married and become pregnant at a young age. 50% of girls are mothers by the age of eighteen. These girls are at risk because their bodies are not fully developed enough to safely experience pregnancy and childbirth. Malnutrition is also a concern for mothers in Chad. High levels of poverty make healthy diets unattainable for many mothers.

The second worst country for women to give birth in is Somalia. This country is the highest ranking in not providing proper care during pregnancy, with 74% of women not receiving adequate care. Somalia also is barely behind Chad in terms of the risk of death during pregnancy and childbirth. In Somalia, one in sixteen women are at risk. The newborn child is also at danger when it is born in Somalia. About eighteen newborns die per 1,000 live births.

Other countries that are ranked in worst places to have a child are Niger, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea. In order to improve childbirth conditions in these developing countries, it is necessary to invest in health systems and the training of health employees, midwives and other who may assist in the birth process. With these improvements in healthcare, more women will survive and be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with their children.

– Mary Penn

Source: Devex, Save the Children
Photo: Global Giving

There are currently 222 million women around the world that lack access to contraception. The Global Poverty Project and Women Deliver have joined forces to create a new family planning initiative called It Takes Two to change that. The program seeks to increase the availability of family planning services around the world. Coming to fruition after last year’s Summit on Family Planning in London (which pledged $2.6 billion to help solve the family planning deficiencies in 120 developing countries) and the recent Women Deliver Global Conference in Malaysia, It Takes Two will work primarily by rewarding activism and advocacy.

Participants, through the Global Poverty Project’s mobile platform, will be able to win free contraception, and even design their own condom wrappers. According to Jill Sheffield, the founder and current president of Women Deliver, the It Takes Two program’s main goal is to inspire men and women to demand more access to family planning from their governments.

Though spear-headed by Women Deliver and the Global Poverty Project, other organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, the United Nations Population Fund, and many more are working together to support the program. The initiative is planned to take three years and is now available in the United States and Uganda.

The organization has a well-known ally in this effort. Ambassador to the program and Victoria’s Secret supermodel Erin Heatherton has said that the global lack of contraception is “one of the world’s most pressing issues.” Heatherton has also been a Victoria’s Secret Angel since 2008 and is an advocate who supports that family planning is pertinent to both men and women worldwide, going on to say that “Everyone should have the option to plan a family, and their choices shouldn’t be limited because of their socio-economic level or country of residence.”

– Samantha Mauney
Source: Artist Direct, Sun Times
Photo: Retro Fashion


Among the many issues discussed at the 2013 Women Deliver conference, women’s ability to choose the size of their families was main topic. Speakers in the conference praised improvements in women’s access to contraceptives poor countries and made plans on how to continue this success.

Last year at the London Summit on Family Planning, world leaders pledged to contribute $2.6 billion to help 120 million women in developing countries with health services and contraceptives by 2020. The Women Deliver 2013 conference discussed how to utilize these funds so that it benefits women who need access to such services.

Melinda Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported the plans made at the conference by stating, “Putting women at the center of development and delivering solutions that meet their needs will result in huge improvements in health, prosperity and quality of life.”

Attendees of the conference heard testimonials from numerous third would countries successful experiences with family planning services. Representatives from Senegal, the Philippines, the Women Deliver Zambia, Indonesia and Malawi spoke about how they have made improvements in women’s health rights and access to contraceptives.

Given the effectiveness and low-cost of contraceptives, advocates for women’s health hope to encourage other developing countries to follow the example of their peers and introduce women’s health policies. Speakers also stressed a need to sustain these outlooks on family planning and introduce the concept to a broader audience.

When women have access to contraceptives and other health services, their economic and social situation will also improve. As part of the effort to combat global poverty and promote gender equality, family planning is an issue that should be center stage in developing countries.

– Mary Penn

Source: All Africa
Photo: UN Foundation


Certain international organizations with an eye on global health claim that if the United States’ contributed its ‘fair share’ to global family planning aid, it would cost little more than one bag of chips per person per year.

Right now, there are 222 million women across the globe reporting unmet reproductive health needs, most of which are concentrated in the developing world. The sum of the money required to give all of these women access to reproductive health care, such as contraceptives, prenatal and maternity care and vaccines, is equivalent to what Americans spend on Superbowl snacks each year.

How does this work? PAI maintains that it would cost the U.S. one billion dollars to commit its share towards responding to the unmet global health needs. Meeting this goal would cost the average U.S. taxpayer around 3 dollars per year, or less than one cent per day.

Population Action International (PAI) is an organization that advocates for increased universal access to contraception in order to improve the health and quality of life of women and families. PAI argues that the United States must play a key role in shaping the future of global reproductive care if the movement is to succeed.

PAI instructs that spending merely one dollar on reproductive health benefits is an investment that will have positive spill-over effects that will benefit the women in developing countries who receive the aid as well as the entire global community in the long run. Spending a dollar on global reproductive health can consequently save four dollars in other sectors like health care, education, and sanitation.

By trading honey-roasted peanuts for prenatal care the United States can be saving money as it saves lives.

The next time you reach for the family-size bag of tortilla chips in your grocery store, think of how those three dollars could be spent otherwise: to change a woman’s life, provide a child’s future, or give a country hope.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Source: Population Action International Policymic

Expanded Contraceptive Access
At the Women Deliver 2013 conference, one of the topics discussed was expanding contraceptive access in developing countries in Africa. The session was led by Melinda Gates and United Nations Population Fund, and the speakers discussed ways to reach women to create a strategy that would provide them greater access to forms of birth control. Melinda Gates explained that improving access to birth control would not only improve the women’s lives, it would also make their children healthier and would allow for a thriving family.

Also at the session, several political leaders discussed some of the success stories of implementing birth control access. Countries such as Senegal, the Philippines, Zambia, Indonesia, and Malawi have all taken the initiative to promote progress in the field of family planning and have had great success. Senegal’s budget for their national family planning program has doubled since November 2012. After 15 years, the Philippines was finally able to pass the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, Zambia created their first family planning program, Indonesia increased funding available for contraceptives, and Malawi also strengthened their family planning program.

The leaders explained that these success stories should be proof that expanding contraceptive access is doable and can save lives, and it’s also very cost-effective. Not only will birth control help improve the lives of the current generation of mothers and babies, implementing a long-term and sustainable plan will improve the lives of the next generations as well.

To ensure that the efforts will remain strong, the Global Poverty Project’s CEO Hugh Evans has announce the It Takes Two campaign, which encourages young men and women to support family planning programs and services, as well as for them to make sure their government continues to support the programs.

Katie Brockman

Source: allAfrica

Happy Mother’s Day?  Well, maybe not in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which was recently named the worst place to be a mom according to a report done by Save the Children. The DRC took the unwanted ranking from Niger and for the first time in the 14 years since the report has been published, sub-Saharan Africa took up the bottom ten places.

The London-based charity’s “State of the World’s Mothers” report compared 176 countries in terms of maternal health, child mortality, education and levels of women’s income and political status.  The results were staggering and showed massive gaps in maternal health. A woman or girl in the DRC has a 1 in 3o chance of dying from maternal causes, including childbirth, whereas a women in Finland faces a 1 in 12,200 risk. The report cited the poor health of mothers as well as low access to health care  as possible causes for the high rates of infant mortality in sub-Saharan Africa.

Save the Children is calling for an investment to close the gap. They cite the need for nations to invest in mothers and children and to provide better and more accessible maternal care.  Women must have access to education and political standing as well as high quality health and child care.

Much progress is being made in developing countries and sub-Saharan Africa; the study pointed to four life-saving products that could drastically change the current state of affairs. Those four products are:

1. Corticosteroid injections to women in preterm labor.

2. Resuscitation devices to save babies who do not breathe at birth.

3. Chlorhexidine cord cleansing to prevent umbilical cord infections.

4. Injectable antibiotics to treat newborn sepsis and pneumonia.

Simple devices and measures like these have the potential to give mothers and infants in countries like the DRC a better chance at a full, healthy life.  It is time to continue the progress being made and even the odds for mothers in the DRC and all across sub-Saharan Africa.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: Global Post