Women’s Access to Healthcare in Iraq
Iraq, a nation that war and devastation have plagued, has a healthcare system in a state of crisis. Doctors are fleeing the country and drugs are running low. Of a nearly $107 billion budget in 2018, only about 2% went to Iraq’s health ministry. As a result, healthcare quality is very poor, and women’s access to healthcare in Iraq is particularly limited. Many doctors attempt to purchase supplies and technology from private manufacturers, but laws require that the government provide all medical supplies.

Violence Against Women

About 96% of Iraqi citizens do not have health insurance, but 85% of women over the age of 15 are unemployed and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Iraq’s long history with misogyny, honor killings and religious ideas promoting the use of violence against women exacerbates the situation for Iraqi women, 37% of whom will experience violence from a partner or acquaintance.

Women in Iraq have little to no access to female-centered health such as OB-GYNs, counseling and crisis centers, which are generally secret or hidden. WHO has called the issue of violence against women a “global health issue of epidemic proportions,” and has created effective measures so that doctors can become more aware of abuses. In Iraq, where women are unlikely to see doctors sensitive to women’s issues, there is no guarantee of receiving assistance.

Access to Education

Another issue affecting women’s health is a lack of female doctors due to a very low rate of education among girls in Iraq. Unfortunately, little data is available to measure the number of girls who attend in school in Iraq — which is itself proof of the lack of attention to girls’ education. As of 2010, according to the last published report about female education in Iraq, only 44% of girls were enrolled in school. The report also revealed that 75% of girls dropped out before the end of primary school, and only 25% of girls who stayed in primary school made it to intermediate school.

Women’s lack of access to education has proven to be a direct link to child marriage and the exploitation of young women. About 33% of girls who have to marry have no education, and 13% only have a primary school education. Girls who are educated are more likely to recognize the signs of abuse, which gives them a chance to escape, pursue careers and experience lower risks of poverty.

US Efforts to Help

The Girls Lead Act (S.2766) aims to make education more accessible for girls in nations like Iraq. This bill will strengthen young girls’ involvement and participation in education, specifically in math, science and politics. A lack of women in leadership roles is a major factor behind misogyny and sexism in developing nations, as well as in women’s health. According to the bill, “Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision making. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.”

Writing to leaders in support of the Girls Lead Act, participating in initiatives to ban child marriage and raising awareness of gender-based violence are key ways to increase women’s access to healthcare in Iraq. These efforts may be the greatest chance that Iraqi girls have at living a prosperous life.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

Sisters Tackle Period Poverty in FijiTwo teenage sisters are working to tackle period poverty in Fiji. AnnMary and Faith Raduva, 16- and 13-year-old sisters, launched the Lagilagi Relief Campaign to help people who are unable to afford sanitary pads and tampons. In the aftermath of the recent Cyclone Harold and the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sisters noticed a shortage of sanitary pads had resulted in a spike in prices. The sisters started their campaign so that everyone who needed period products would be able to get them, regardless of their financial struggles.

The Current State of Period Poverty in Fiji

Though Fiji has experienced fewer than 50 cases of COVID-19, the global pandemic has impacted Fiji’s tourism industry, in which approximately 17% of native Fijians work. Since the pandemic, imports to the island nation have decreased, and Fijian women report that the cost of pads has gone up FJD $3, or 1.39 USD. This makes them more difficult to purchase, especially on a minimum wage salary.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only disaster Fijians have faced in 2020. In April, Cyclone Harold ravaged Fiji as a category four tropical storm. The cyclone caused major flooding and destroyed homes, schools and farms on multiple Fijian islands, including Viti Levu, the largest island of Fiji.

AnnMary Raduva said to Radio New Zealand that, for people who are currently out of work, free period products mean they can save those valuable dollars to purchase other necessities for their families. The Raduva sisters told the station that no one should have to choose between food for their loved ones or menstrual products.

How the Lagilagi Relief Campaign Is Helping

Since the cyclone, the Raduva sisters have put together over 300 of their “dignity kits,” each containing two packages of menstrual products, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bar of soap. When they began, the sisters used solely their own time and money to compile the dignity kits, but they have since received donations from supporters and loved ones to help with their campaign.

The sisters also caught the attention of Asaleo Care Fiji, an Australian-based hygiene company that produces Libra-brand pads and tampons. The company donated over one thousand menstrual products to the Lagilagi Relief Campaign. Thanks to generous donations like these, the Lagilagi Relief Campaign will produce an additional 600 dignity kits for people struggling with period poverty in Fiji.

The Next Steps to End Period Poverty in Fiji

Though the Lagilagi Relief Campaign has helped hundreds, AnnMary Raduva is still advocating for systematic change to get to the root of period poverty in Fiji. She wrote in an opinion piece in the Fiji Sun, “Period poverty is widespread… and the taboo nature of menstruation prevents women and girls from talking about the problem.” Raduva praised New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for making menstrual pads free for all school-aged girls, and she encouraged Fiji and other countries to follow New Zealand’s lead.

In an interview with RNZ Pacific, Raduva stated that the Lagilagi Relief Campaign would continue to fight period poverty in Fiji. One way they hope to improve their dignity kits is by sewing washable pads to eliminate the need for disposable pads. Additionally, the sisters are taking their campaign to the government, asking Fijian leaders to invest in free sanitary care products for those who can’t afford them. This is in the hopes that period poverty in Fiji will no longer stand in the way of girls’ education and women’s rights.

– Jackie McMahon
Photo: Pixabay

Pregnant Women and Children
The Yemeni Civil War began in 2015 and has become a humanitarian crisis, devastating families and communities. The conflict between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels continues with no end in sight. More than 80 percent of the population, about 24 million people, lack food, health care and safe living conditions. Those who need assistance most are pregnant women, newborns and children.

Childcare and the Civil War

The civil war in Yemen prevents the most defenseless people in Yemeni society — pregnant women, newborns and children — from receiving life-saving medical treatment on time. At MSF’s Taiz Houban Mother and Child Hospital, the number of children and newborns dead on arrival at the location has doubled from 52 in 2016 to 103 in 2018. The most prevalent causes of death in newborns were prematurity, deprivation of oxygen known as birth asphyxia and severe infection.

Families struggle to find access to limited medical facilities and must navigate frontlines and checkpoints to receive care. Additionally, the Yemenis’ ability to access healthcare of any kind has dramatically diminished. Due to the declining economy that has devalued people’s savings, the vast majority depend on insufficient public healthcare.

Despite the conditions pregnant women and children during the Yemen Crisis are facing, several organizations aim to help these disadvantaged Yemenis receive the care they need.

Stay Safe Mama Project

The United Nations Population Fund, with help from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has launched the Stay Safe Mama project so that pregnant women in Yemen can safely deliver their babies. As a result, 300 health facilities have been enhanced with reproductive health kits, medicine and supplies for maternity units. The project also supports midwives in local communities so that pregnant women and children during the Yemen Crisis who don’t have access to a hospital can still obtain the care they deserve. Aisha, a 27-year-old, who fled the violence from her village in Hodeida and now lives in a small shack with multiple relatives and children, received healthcare through a center organized under the ‘Stay Safe Mama’ project.

“The care I received at the center was beyond what I expected,” Aisha told representatives from UNFPA. Aisha also said that she “had regular check-ups, and when it was time to give birth, [she] was not worried anymore. [She] gave birth to a healthy baby girl.”

Responsive Governance Project

The Responsive Governance Project (RGP), with the assistance of the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), provides instruction to improve the skills and knowledge of midwives. Additionally, RGP’s main priority is to provide pregnant women and children during the Yemen Crisis access to emergency obstetrical and natal care. Dr. Jamila Alraabi, the Deputy Health and Population Minister, states that the RGP has supported her agency and local health councils to improve maternal health policies.

In speaking with Jeff Baron from Counterpart International, Dr. Alraabi said that “no one can work alone, and no one can achieve success alone. It should be a partnership, and this is our hope in Yemen, that we will not have a woman die from preventable causes.”

UNICEF and Yemen

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provides Yemenis access to health treatment and access to safe water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene. As of August 2019, UNICEF maintained over 3,700 health centers and aided around 730,000 pregnant and lactating women by providing basic health care services. Additionally, 11.8 million children were vaccinated for measles and rubella, and 200,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition. Going forward, UNICEF’s efforts will focus on “strengthening systems, improving access to primary health care, as well as malnutrition management and disease outbreak response, including maintaining vaccination coverage.”

These three organizations are just examples of the efforts raising awareness and providing aid toward the Yemen Crisis. Children continue to be killed and injured during the conflict. Before COVID-19, 2 million children under the age of five were dying from acute malnutrition and in need of treatment. In addition to this, around 70 percent of the arriving pregnant women experience “obstructed labor, prolonged labor, eclampsia, uterine rupture or post-partum bleeding” and other life-threatening conditions. While the conflict continues, these organizations are making efforts that have helped many women and children in Yemen. 

– Mia Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Women and Pandemics
Most healthcare workers on the front lines are female, but there is another pandemic that plagues women during times of health crises: gender inequality. Epidemics and pandemics further gender inequality as women struggle socioeconomically and in healthcare. Gender equality can combat world poverty, but diseases can slow societal advancement for women.

Society and the Economy

Globally, 740 million women work low-paid and informal jobs, which they are quick to lose during pandemics and epidemics. The livelihoods of women are at risk with an increase in job insecurity and job loss during times of crisis. During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, closed borders caused women to face much higher unemployment rates than men since 85% of cross-border traders are women.

In the developing world, 70% of women work informal jobs, but women’s unpaid labor boosts global economies and should not be ignored. According to the United Nations Foundation, “women on average do three times more unpaid care work than men.” Women who work to care for their families bring in $1.5 trillion to the world GDP. Jobs without pay create even more inequality as women stay at home, complete domestic tasks and care for the sick. The burden of caring for the ill in the family puts women at a greater risk of falling ill. More West African women were affected by Ebola because they worked in hospitals or aided the sick at home.

A shelter-in-place due to pandemics can result in girls dropping out of school and puts women at a higher risk for violence. As seen from the Ebola outbreak, closures of schools put young girls at high risk for pregnancy and child marriage. During country-wide lockdowns in 2020, women have to remain with their abusers. Domestic violence against women tripled in China and increased by 30% in France. Even more shocking, some use the exposure of COVID-19 as a means of suppression against women.

Healthcare

Although 70% of health workers are women, men make most of the decisions in the healthcare sector. Only 27% of women are executives in world healthcare. This gender segregation in healthcare leaves women in lower roles and creates a bias towards men. Personal protective equipment uses male sizes and thus does not protect female workers as effectively. In Spain, 5,265 out of 7,329 health workers infected by COVID-19 were women. Data collection may ignore gender in some studies, which makes it harder to understand the current trends and how they affect women.

While most healthcare resources are focused on fighting pandemics, women’s health may be overlooked. More women in Sierra Leone died from obstetric complications than from Ebola. COVID-19 will likely cause 18 million women to not be able to acquire contraceptives in Central and South America. Providing fewer health services during pandemics has detrimental effects on women’s health.

Operation 50/50

Pandemics affect both men and women, but 80% of the WHO Emergency Committee on COVID-19 are men. In order to provide women with more representation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has created the campaign Operation 50/50. The campaign aims to accomplish five goals: recruiting more women for leadership roles, valuing women’s unpaid care work, providing better conditions for health care workers, utilizing gender attentive data and funding NGOs for women. Around the world, women have a high risk of exposure to disease, whether that be in the healthcare field or staying at home with the sick. Elimination of gender inequality in healthcare will increase safety for women during global pandemics.

Hannah Nelson
Photo: Pixabay

Top 7 Facts About Women’s Health for Syrian RefugeesSyrian refugees face a variety of hardships in their daily lives, especially those with families. Syrian refugee women often have trouble finding the care that they need for themselves and their children. This is often due to the fear of being sent back to Syria. However, many countries are making changes in order to help these women by creating policies specifically for refugees. Below are seven facts about women’s health for Syrian refugees.

Top 7 Facts About Women’s Health for Syrian Refugees

  1. Around 75 percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. The stresses of living life as a refugee bring on many of the conditions that require medical care in this group. The most common medical conditions Syrian refugee women report include gynecologic problems, “micronutrient deficiencies, sexually transmitted diseases and mental health” disorders.
  2. Many countries hosting a large population of Syrian refugees are making health needs a priority, especially for women. Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey host a total of 5 million Syrians. This makes up to almost 95 percent of the registered Syrian refugees in the world. Studying the needs of refugees in each country can give organizations an idea of what aid is needed most and where. In studying the health needs of refugees, women’s health is the second-highest priority behind mental health.
  3. Many international organizations have begun to focus on getting Syrian refugee women better access to healthcare as well as health education. Hilfswerk International is an organization in Austria that is doing this. Hilfswerk focuses on bringing medical services and healthcare education to a specific city in Lebanon. These services include classes, an increase in the capacity of ambulances, pregnancy and delivery services, nutrition and mental health support. Hilfswerk hopes this initiative will enhance the health of many Syrian refugee women and their families.
  4. Non-governmental organizations have comprised enough data to provide relative care to Syrian refugee women in countries like Lebanon and Jordan. However, this is not the case for Turkey. Turkey has strict rules that do not allow organizations or journalists to report on the refugee camps. Consequently, there is not enough data on what Syrian refugee women need with medical care.
  5. Due to Jordan having a history of an open border with Syria, the country is relatively well off when caring for its refugee population. The government of Jordan has policies for reproductive health services and provides free primary healthcare as well as immunizations for children. All women in Jordan have access to maternal care, postnatal care and trained professionals present during deliveries.
  6. In 2012, U.N. Women created a cash-for-work program for refugee women called Oasis at the most populated refugee camp in Jordan. Oasis trains refugee women to do jobs such as tailoring and hairstyling in order to provide to their families. U.N. Women also teaches women how to secure a work permit. Furthermore, it has hosted job fairs for jobs outside of Oasis. The program gives refugee women skills and a way to provide for their families. In addition, Oasis helps refugee women to create a safe community and supports mental well-being.
  7. UNICEF has created an initiative called “Dining for Women.” Dining for Women includes a $100,000 grant that provides Syrian refugee women with safe jobs and addresses the need for an increase in maternal care in Jordan. UNICEF will provide kits to women and their babies that include clothing, diapers, blankets and hygiene products. They also provide monthly payments and prenatal/postnatal counseling.

These seven facts about women’s health for Syrian refugees show that there is important work to be done. Thankfully, there are organizations working on addressing the needs of refugees, especially women.

Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Flickr

Women's Health in Mexico
Mexico has seen its fair share of issues in women’s health over the years, including a lack of access to affordable healthcare and gender inequalities. Recently, Mexico has made significant progress in addressing women’s health, making it a priority for the country. Here are seven facts about women’s health in Mexico.

7 Facts About Women’s Health in Mexico

  1. Femicide: Femicide is defined as the murder of a woman for gender-based reasons. The rate of femicides in Mexico has nearly doubled since 2007. Citizens of Mexico, along with the government, now refuse to ignore the issue. In March 2020, millions of Mexican women went on a 24-hour strike to stand up against gender-based violence. Through these strikes, women aim to criminalize femicides nationally,  as opposed to states deciding for themselves.
  2. Affordable Healthcare: Annual fees for healthcare in Mexico are, at most, $500 per family, with participation costing $40 per month per person. Each major city in Mexico has a first-rate hospital, and the healthcare system is not based around profit. On average, prescription drugs cost between 30 to 60 percent less than the same drugs in the United States. Mexico’s status as a developing country makes this especially promising. 
  3. Improved Sex Education for Rural Regions: Though many indigenous women living in rural areas in Mexico do not have access to formal healthcare, nonprofit organizations throughout the country offer assistance. Mujeres Aliadas, a non-profit organization, has worked with over 9,000 women in 40 rural communities in central Mexico to educate them on sexual and reproductive health. The organization offers workshops, talks, and even safe spaces for women to give birth. With improved education, women can empower themselves and learn about their bodies.
  4. Fair Start in Life: “Fair Start in Life,” an initiative launched in 2001, was created to address maternal mortality and the health of young children. This program gave expecting mothers access to safe blood, nurses, necessary drugs and healthcare networks. The initiative also led to proper monitoring of maternal deaths and women of reproductive age. Between 2000 and 2006, maternal deaths dropped 2.7 percent.
  5. Emergency Contraception: After a discussion between hundreds of organizations and members of the public, emergency contraception was officially included in the essential drug list in July 2005. The office of the President of Mexico, as well as women’s rights advocacy groups, supported the initiative. Advocates stated that acknowledging the importance of emergency contraception would decrease unwanted pregnancy, disease and sexual violence. 
  6. National Center for Gender Equality and Reproductive Health (NCGERH): In 2003, the Ministry of Health (MOH) established the National Center for Gender Equality and Reproductive Health (NCGERH) in order to acknowledge the equality gap between men and women’s health in Mexico. This institution has the ability to suggest, monitor and evaluate sexual and reproductive national policies. The NCGERH also has the authority to monitor the quality of reproductive health services across the country. 
  7. Cervical Cancer Screening: Mexico has made a significant effort in preventing cervical cancer among Mexican women. In 2012, 48.5 percent of women ages 25-64 were screened for cervical cancer, an increase of more than 4 percent from 2006. The country has also given all girls access to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine since 2008, which prevents a virus that causes various types of cancer in women. 

These seven facts about women’s health in Mexico highlight that although Mexican women have faced challenges in their healthcare, the country is working hard to make changes. Moving forward, it is essential that Mexico continues to prioritize women’s health, paving the way for more progress. 

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pixabay

Facts About Women’s Health in EthiopiaWhile gender equality has been a significant issue in the sub-Saharan African country, recent steps have been taken to ensure the health and safety of Ethiopian women and girls. Below are seven facts about women’s health in Ethiopia.

7 Facts About Women’s Health in Ethiopia

  1. The maternal mortality rate has been cut in half between 1990 and 2010. One reason for this is the implementation of the Health Extension Program (HEP) in 2005, which aims to provide all families with clean and safe spaces to deliver their babies both at home and in medical facilities.
  2. In 2015, the Center for International Reproductive Health Training (CIRHT) was founded in order to increase the number of medical professionals that could provide reproductive care to rural areas of Ethiopia. Students are completing the program in three years, compared to 12 years of similar advanced programs in other African countries. The program also works to destigmatize reproductive health and merge it into mainstream health care. Partly as a result of this program, the number of Ethiopian women making four or more doctors’ visits during their pregnancies has tripled between 2000 and 2014.
  3. Ethiopia has a long history of gender-based discrimination which impacts the wellbeing of women and girls in the country. In February of 2019, the Ethiopian government held a meeting with civil society organizations (CSOs) as a part of African Health Week to prioritize gender-sensitive policymaking objectives in the health care sector.
  4. The use of contraceptives has increased by almost six times from 2000 to 2016. The introduction to modern contraceptive methods had helped prevent unwanted pregnancies and disease among married women in Ethiopia.
  5. Twice as many women in Ethiopia have HIV than men, but in 2016, 49 percent of women had knowledge of HIV prevention methods, compared to 32 percent in 2000. This has contributed to a 45 percent decrease in AIDS-related deaths in the country between 2010 and 2018, as well as a decrease of 6,000 new cases in the same timeframe.
  6. In both rural and urban communities, the percentage of female genital mutilation has decreased by at least 10 percent. Though progress still needs to be made, both settings have seen a significant decrease in the act between 2000 and 2016.
  7. In 2018, the first two urogynecology fellows in Ethiopia graduated from Mekelle University. Oregon Health and Science University partnered with Mekelle to launch the first urogynecology fellowship program in the country. Urogynecologists treat pelvic floor disorders in women, many who suffer in silence in Ethiopia, as this group of disorders is not well known.

While Ethiopia has severely struggled with gender inequality throughout its history, it is encouraging to see that the Ethiopian government is making concrete changes. Between the creations of programs and institutions, as well as improved education, women’s health in Ethiopia will continue to make great strides.

– Alyson Kaufman
Photo: Pixabay

Six Facts About Women’s Health in Madagascar
Madagascar is the world’s second-largest island country off the coast of East Africa. It is also among the poorest countries in the world with a poverty rate of over 75 percent. This poverty rate has inevitably affected the accessibility and quality of health care and the consequent overall health of Malagasy women. These are six facts about women’s health in Madagascar.

6 Facts About Women’s Health in Madagascar

  1. Maternal mortality rates are high. With 335 deaths per 100,000 live births, Madagascar falls well below the average among Sub-Saharan Africa, which stands at 534 deaths per 100,000 live births. On the other hand, it is well above the worldwide average of 211 deaths per 100,000 live births.
  2. Maternal health clinics often do not have adequate access to necessities or properly trained health professionals. Only 19 percent of health care providers in Madagascar have an education in the basics of emergency obstetric and neonatal care. Only 56 percent of primary health centers have electricity and only 53 percent have access to clean drinking water.
  3. Malnutrition is a problem among mothers in Madagascar. According to a study in 2018 by BMC Nutrition, 17 percent of Malagasy mothers between the ages of 18 and 45 suffered from maternal malnutrition and 38.3 percent of pregnant women suffered from anemia. More than 76 percent of Malagasy women have abnormally little weight gain during pregnancy.
  4. USAID is working to help. With its 12,000 volunteers armed with training and medical supplies, it works to provide for maternal health clinics in rural areas of Madagascar. It has even invested in mobile clinics or groups that travel to areas that have no easy access to health care to reach women and mothers with no other options.
  5. Another organization reaching out to women in Madagascar is Jhpiego, formerly the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics. Across the 815 health clinics it supports, it has aided in more than 130,000 births and provided care to 679,000 new mothers.
  6. Female life expectancy in Madagascar is increasing. In 2019, the female life expectancy among Malagasy women was 68.68 years. While they still rank low in comparison to the 2019 worldwide average of 72.6 years, they have come a long way in the past few decades. With an average rate of increase of 0.83 percent each year, they have greatly improved their life expectancy which stood at 45.73 years in 1970.

These six facts about women’s health in Madagascar show that with one of the world’s worst poverty rates, women in Madagascar are struggling to maintain their health and find safe places to deliver their children. However, groups like the Jhpiego are working to reach out to the women who need help the most in Madagascar. As a result, many women are receiving prenatal and antenatal care for the first time as well as access to health clinics with experienced health care workers. Overall female health in Madagascar is improving and USAID and Jhpiego show no signs of stopping their aid to women’s health in Madagascar.

– Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr