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COVID-19 on FGMThe COVID-19 pandemic has increased rates of female genital mutilation, especially in African communities. The Orchid Project reported this elevated level after communicating with organizations and activists who are working to end FGM. COVID-19 has certainly negatively affected FGM. Women are prevented from leaving their communities to escape the practice because governments are obliged to implement lockdown measures. The COVID-19 pandemic has also heightened issues of gender inequality. The pandemic has deprived women of essential health services and resources. The lack of access to adequate medical assistance is especially dangerous because FGM practices can lead to serious health consequences.

The Traditional Practice of FGM

According to the World Health Organization, “traditional circumcisers” mostly conduct FGM, but FGM is also often administered by healthcare providers who believe the practice is safer when performed by a medical professional. However, FGM has no health benefits and only harms women and girls. Women undergo FGM because of cultural norms. In many communities, women’s fears of rejection make them more likely to endure FGM for social acceptance. Moreover, some communities believe that FGM increases marriageability, which provides economic reasons for FGM as marrying off a girl means the economic burden on the family is eased. FGM practices also link to “cultural ideals of femininity and modesty.” COVID-19 has increased incidents of FGM because people see lockdowns as “an opportunity to carry out FGM undetected.”

The Severity of FGM

FGM has immediate and long-term health implications such as extreme pain, urinary tract issues, hemorrhaging, sexual problems and even psychological problems. The mutilation of the genital tissue may necessitate further medical surgeries in order to address the damage and resulting complications. COVID-19 has significantly increased the rates and severity of FGM because of restrictions preventing women from leaving communities to seek medical assistance and lockdowns providing an opportunity to carry out the practice discreetly.

The Joint Programme on FGM

One of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals includes the elimination of FGM by 2030. In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF created the Joint Programme on FGM to support the goal of putting an end to FGM practices globally. The initiative works at all levels to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of FGM and encourage communities, girls and women to renounce the practice. The initiative focuses on 17 key countries where rates of FGM are notably high.

By 2019, the initiative had already “helped more than 3.2 million girls and women receive prevention, protection and care services related to FGM.” Furthermore, 31.6 million people in 15 countries agreed to stop the practice of FGM. The program has led to countries such as Nigeria banning FGM entirely. The Joint Programme on FGM acknowledges that COVID-19 has exacerbated incidents of FGM. To address this, the initiative has advocated for governments and humanitarian organizations to include FGM response and prevention efforts in their COVID-19 response plans.

Female genital mutilation is a culturally entrenched practice requiring interventions to include communities in order to break through cultural barriers. Organizations are working to create awareness of this human rights violation and create lasting change to end female genital mutilation by 2030.

Ainara Ruano
Photo: Flickr

LMIC MidwivesAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), utilizing well-trained midwives could be a game-changer. Globally, midwives could decrease maternal, newborn and stillborn mortality by 83%. This is why WHO advocates for a midwife or other skilled health professional at every birth globally. Midwives are health professionals trained to manage uncomplicated pregnancies and deliveries and guide the family through the immediate post-natal period. More low-to-middle-income country (LMIC) midwives are needed to reduce maternal mortality rates.

Midwifery

Midwives can deliver 87% of the maternal health service need. However, only 42% of skilled midwives work in the 73 countries with 90% of the maternal, newborn and stillborn deaths. Further, a 2020 University of Dundee study found that midwifery is less effective in low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs). Where it does exist, there is a lack of standardization in education, training and regulation. Fortunately, organizations are focusing on increasing the number of LMIC midwives, midwifery education options and midwifery regulation.

Role of the Midwife

Not only do midwives deliver babies but they also play several other key roles. As members of their communities, they are culturally sensitive. Because they have community trust, they effectively promote strong health measures. Midwives help patients with family planning and breast and cervical screenings. They advocate for female rights and the elimination of genital mutilation practices. Midwives counsel teens on sexual and reproductive health and counsel victims of gender-based violence.

The midwife-led model of care is one in which the midwife is the lead medical provider for childbirth. According to a 2020 study, the holistic midwife-led model leads to more patient satisfaction and fewer unnecessary procedures. The study, however, suggests that the model needs stronger implementation in LMICs.

As the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) declares, “The deficits are highest in the areas where needs are greatest.” Luckily, the UNFPA and other programs are pushing to increase the number of LMIC midwives, midwifery education and midwifery regulation.

UNFPA: Supporting LMIC Midwives

Supporting LMIC midwives and building an LMIC midwifery workforce has been the focus of UNFPA since 2008. The organization works with more than 40 global partners and more than 300 national partners. Together they work on strengthening competency-based midwifery training and bringing it to scale. The focus is developing strong regulatory processes to analyze outcomes, supporting midwives in gaining a stronger voice through the creation of midwife organizations and increasing funding for midwife services. As of the end of 2018, the UNFPA trained more than 105,000 midwives and 8,500 midwifery tutors in 650 midwifery schools. This has helped create 250 midwifery associations and branches. The UNFPA’s midwifery support extends to more than 120 countries, including 39 countries with the highest global maternal mortality rates.

Tunza Mama: Midwifery Network in Kenya

While the UNFPA works globally, there are also national programs striving to support LMIC midwives. There is a shortage of midwives in public health facilities in Kenya because the government cannot afford to pay them. The African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref) International University launched the Tunza Mama network in 2018. This provides an alternative option to access midwives and improve the socio-economic status of Kenyan midwives.

Tunza Mama midwives visit women at their homes. Clients pay directly to the Tunza Mama bank account and the midwives get 95% of the fee. Tunza Mama spreads awareness of its existence using social media, which is how 70% of mothers came to know about the program. During the COVID pandemic, Tunza Mama is using mobile and e-learning digital platforms to reduce the need for in-person sessions by 75%. Some challenges include the fact that Tunza Mama is a paid service so only the middle-class can use it. The next steps include subsidizing the system so marginalized women can also gain access.

SWEDD Midwifery Training in the Sahel

In Mali, according to 2016 demographic data, the shortage of midwives and obstetric nurses is severe. There are only 1.4 midwives per 10,000 people versus the WHO recommendation of 23 doctors, nurses or midwives per 10,000 people. Also, according to 2018 data, 36% of teenagers have begun childbearing. Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls.

Mali is part of the Sahel, the semi-arid region of north-central and western Africa. The Sahel also includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The maternal and neonatal mortality rate in this region is one of the highest rates in the world. In response, in 2016, the World Bank began working with Sahel governments with support from the UNFPA to launch the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project, which provides midwifery training. Since the launch, more than 6,600 midwives have been trained. In addition to training LMIC midwives, SWEDD’s overarching goal is to achieve the “demographic dividend” by empowering women and girls through education, family planning and more.

Together, global organizations such as the UNFPA, local networks such as Tunza Mama and regional collaborations including SWEDD are pushing to boost the number of LMIC midwives. This will significantly lower maternal and newborn mortality in areas that need it the most.

– Shelly Saltzman
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Yemen
Mental health in Yemen requires attention due to the country’s ongoing troubles. For six years now, Yemen has been facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world—more than 80% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children who have no hand in the fight for power and status. To make the matter worse, the outburst of COVID-19 drove the country into “an emergency within an emergency.”

Only half of Yemen’s health facilities are capable of functioning in the worst of circumstances, and amidst the shortage of masks, gloves, clean water and sanitation, the number of cases rose up to 2,221 as of February 25, 2021, with 624 losing their lives due to the lack of supplies to treat the virus. The country is facing a huge crisis, and the crisis is affecting the mental health of its citizens as much as their physical bodies. Amidst the lack of functioning facilities and death surrounding them from every direction, the increased pressure on the Yemenis worsened their mental health further. Here is some information about mental health in Yemen.

Mental Health in Yemen

Due to the crippling stress on the backs of the Yemeni people, an estimate of one in five people in Yemen suffer from a mental health disorder, according to a study that the Family Counselling and Development Foundation conducted in 2017; this includes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, due to the lack of education and facilities, the number of psychiatrists is small with almost 0.2 psychiatrists per 100,000 people as of 2016. This amounts to 40 psychiatrists for the entire population. Additionally, to add to the misery and the deteriorating mental health in Yemen, some of the few existing mental health services closed due to the pandemic.

UNFPA and Psychological Support Centers

However, amidst all the odds, and all the difficulties that Yemen is facing in trying to stay afloat, UNFPA has not ceased to offer its mental health services to the survivors of gender-based violence and improve the mental health in Yemen. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is the United Nations sector that works
to protect youth’s potential and ensures that every childbirth is safe.

In the beginning, social workers carried out the work, however, in 2018, the UNFPA offered its help and assistance through psychological support centers as well. These centers were capable of providing “specialized and clinical mental health care, including through telephone assistance.” Currently, even during the coronavirus outbreak, six UNFPA- supported psychological centers are operating and helping those in need—the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid provides support to two of these centers that provide crucial assistance to the Yemenis when they need it most.

Due to the increased demands for mental support, UNFPA increased the number of counselors available for people’s convenience. The counselors became available to deliver telecounseling services via 18 toll-free telecounseling hotlines in order to assist survivors of gender-based violence and educate the population on COVID-19 prevention. The results were so impressive: nearly 18,000 people received specialized psychological support through the toll-free hotline from 2018. Moreover, more than 25,000 survivors of violence received psychological support in the form of in-person counseling. UNFPA aims to help assist 5.5 million people via essential and life-saving services by 2019.

The Internationational Organization of Migration (IOM)

Moreover, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) provides a safe place for children to escape from the blood and hunger in the country they must reside in—a place to feel a sense of normalcy and to live in the beauty of their childhood, even for a few hours. The children participate in a variety of activities to help them learn and play, such as storytelling, artwork and more.

Beginning in March 2016, IOM offered community-based psychosocial support to nearly 400,000 children. More than half of these children watched their homes getting destroyed and had to live in informal sites.

Yemen has been facing a depilating economic and social crisis until now, and this has been affecting mental health in Yemen every day. However, with the help of various organizations, the citizens of Yemen will receive sufficient treatment and care to help rebuild their country gradually.

– Reem Agha
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriages in the Middle East
Globally, more than 700 million females living today were child brides. Annually, the Middle East contributes 700,000 child brides to its total of 40 million child brides. Although the number of Syrian child brides has decreased, there has been an increase in the number of child brides in all Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) communities that have seen internal displacement and are otherwise facing conflict. In Iraq, 15% of marriages were child marriages in 1997, but this rose to 24% in 2016. About 5% of those in child marriages in Iraq were younger than 15. In Yemen, which does not have a minimum legal age for marriage, two-thirds of marriages involve child brides, including 44% under the age of 15. Here is some information about child marriages in the Middle East.

Reasons for Child Marriages in the Middle East

In pre-war Syria, 15% of women between the ages of 20 and 25 were wed before they were 18. The number of child brides in all Syrian communities has risen nowadays, even among those not displaced. Among the internally displaced, including migrants whose limitations are conspicuous as opposed to hosting communities, the figures have also increased drastically.

Through forced migration and war, child marriages represent negative coping factors, reinforcing tradition. Families worry about the safety of girls and their “honor” and see marriage as a means of care and protection for their daughters. The girls’ families often desire that they enter marriages with local men in order to gain host community recognition and dowries.

Dangers of Child Marriages

Child marriages affect the development of young girls, which frequently results in childbirth and subsequent emotional withdrawal of the young mother. Early marriages often lead to limited schooling, increased fertility rate and poverty. The development and implementation of the legal minimum age for marriage are necessary to protect girls, who the culture of child marriage influences more than boys. Many countries in the MENA region have minimum marriage age laws, ranging from 13 years of age in Iran to 20 years of age in Tunisia for women and from 15 years of age in Yemen to 21 years of age in Algeria for men.

Plans to End Child Marriages in the Middle East

The Regional Accountability Framework to End Child Marriage in the Arab States/Mena (RAF), a partnership between UNICEF and UNFPA, promotes encouraging women through schooling, health services, character building and employment prosperity through improving their rights and services. Community commitments alter social norms and actions by improving public policy structures and encouraging cross-sectoral efforts to gain skills through collaborative initiatives on health, education, child security and social security. Further approaches include more years of mandatory education, establishing and implementing the legal minimum age of marriage and growing awareness in the community about the damage that early marriage causes. Engaging families in finding ways to avoid child marriage is another solution to ending child marriage that some government officials are discussing.

Overall, awareness of child marriage could save many children. It is a problem that is getting out of hand that has been taking away from girls’ childhoods and leaving them in miserable situations for the rest of their lives. The help of organizations all over the world can make a significant change in the lives of these victims.

– Rand Lateef
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia
Female genital mutilation (FGM) impacts more than 200 million women all around the world. The practice, which girls mostly experience between their infancy and teenage years, encompasses a range of procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia. It usually occurs in an informal setting without anesthesia. FGM is a global concern, but sadly there is a collection of nations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia that grant it legitimacy. One of these nations is Somalia, and as the COVID-19 pandemic forces many people to stay at home, circumcisors are subjecting women to door-to-door mutilation. Here is some information about female genital mutilation in Somalia and how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting it.

A Universal Ritual

While the prevalence of FGM varies greatly across the many countries that practice it, Somalia has the highest percentage at 98% according to UNICEF. Many nations, including the United Republic of Tanzania and Togo, have met the practice with disdain and objection; however, more than half the women in Somalia think it should continue.

To most people, this would seem outside the realm of possibility, but tradition runs deep in Somalia, and disputing the practice of genital mutilation holds a gravity on par with blasphemy. The procedure itself is a family experience and a rite of passage where, according to Islamic Relief Worldwide, local women use “knives, scissors or razor blades to remove parts of the genitals, while female relatives hold the girl down.”

Cutting Season

There is no law in the Somali Constitution that specifically criminalizes and punishes the practice of female genital mutilation in Somalia, so the tradition remains stable; so much so that experts recognize summer vacation as “cutting season” for girls. Breaking from school means they have time to undergo and recover from the procedure before the next school year starts.

While there is little formal data to strengthen this case, Somali circumcisors agree that the months of July and August are their peak season for FGM. They even pride themselves on the fact that girls travel from other countries like Djibouti to undergo circumcision in Somalia; however, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) saw a “massive” jump in the number of girls who underwent the procedure in 2020 due to coronavirus lockdown.

COVID-19 and FGM

The UNFPA projected that 290,000 girls experienced cutting in 2020 and that an extra 2 million girls could undergo cutting in the next decade due to the setbacks of prevention programs along with the vitality of circumcisors in their efforts to lobby the public into believing that FGM is a healthy rite of passage into womanhood. The lockdown has also led to this massive increase in FGM and the economic state has driven circumcisors to go from door to door, offering to cut the girls stuck inside. While the frequency of mutilation rises, the awareness declines as advocates cannot access communities where FGM is popular.

Solutions

The pandemic has had detrimental effects on efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation in Somalia, but the country has not lost hope. Young women from all across the region are taking a stand against female genital mutilation and those who perpetuate it. The Y-Peer Youth Network is one such group. In 2002, the UNFPA founded the network to educate young people, communities and even health care workers about sexual and reproductive health. Other topics of advocacy are gender-based violence and child marriage.

While FGM is a widespread issue in Somalia, the young girls working to stop it are making waves and shaking the status quo to its core. To learn more about the Y-Peer Youth Network, check out its website.

– Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Venezuela
As the political, economic and social unrest continues in Venezuela, an increase in awareness and response to human trafficking is more urgent than ever. Human trafficking is a crime that exploits someone for labor, slavery, servitude or sex. Some of the causes of human trafficking (relentless poverty, high unemployment rates, violence, civil turmoil and a lack of human rates) are motivating 6.5 million Venezuelans to flee their country. About 94% of Venezuelans live in poverty, with an estimated 300% increase in human trafficking between 2014 and 2016. The former Venezuelan President, Maduro, administration prioritized maintaining power and carried out tenuous trafficking eradication attempts, including a lack of investigations, prosecutions and convictions. In response to the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis, organizations like UNICEF, UNFPA, UNHCR and IMO are contributing strong efforts to meet the needs of citizens, refugees and migrants and prevent human trafficking in Venezuela.

Inconsistencies in Human Trafficking Criminalization

From 2013 to 2019, the Maduro administration was responsible for managing economic adversity, increased crime rates and immense migration in an attempt to obviate human trafficking in Venezuela. The Maduro administration utilized Misiones (government social aid programs) as a deterrent to poverty and human trafficking in Venezuela. Misiones benefitted some communities by providing basic needs and education but became ineffective in 2014 due to its shifting political agenda, administrative instability and insufficient funding.

Venezuela has established human trafficking as a crime, but it still does not have an anti-trafficking law and policy. The Maduro administration demonstrated the intention to combat the development of human trafficking. However, Venezuelan law in 2019 only criminalized select forms of trafficking with insufficient penalties, prevention, reporting and protection of vulnerable groups. The human trafficking industry usually percolates between developing countries, making the rapid increase the only quantifiable data. Despite the challenge in obtaining evidence, eradicating human trafficking is most successful through prevention methods, the punishment of the perpetrator and adequate protection for the victim.

UNICEF and UNFPA

Venezuelan women and children are particularly vulnerable to the risk of being trafficked while migrating to neighboring South American countries. The urgency Venezuelan migrants feel to send money back to their families increases the risk for criminal gangs and guerrilla groups to force children into begging and women into sexual and labor exploitation.

On May 28, 2019, UNICEF and UNFPA signed an agreement heightening the humanitarian aid response to nearly 1 million children, pregnant women and mothers. This joined effort provides drinkable water, sexual and reproductive health services, high-quality birthing support, educational resources and information to increase safety for those who gender-based violence affects.

UNHCR

With an 8,000% increase in Venezuelans pursuing refugee status over the past six years, hundreds of thousands prevail without access to basic necessities. Without the authorization to stay in neighboring countries, arriving Venezuelans are highly susceptible to trafficking and desperately in need of documentation, shelter, nourishment and medical attention.

In December 2018, UNHCR collaborated with IOM and host countries to commence the Regional Response Plan for Refugees and Migrants which prioritizes 2.2 million Venezuelan migrant’s needs and improves overall assistance. UNHCR has increased protection along dangerous borders, provided basic resources for relief and ensured that refugees and migrants receive adequate information about advantageous opportunities.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM)

The 1 million Venezuelan children working in the informal labor sector and an estimated 200,000 children in servitude is likely to increase due to human trafficking in Venezuela. The Venezuelan government supported programming to improve conditions for working children and assist victims of human trafficking. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) imposed a campaign translated as “Your Life Challenges with fiscal support from the U.S. This campaign aims to protect Venezuelan children, women and men from traffickers during their transit. “Your Life Changes” is a song that conveys cautionary implications for travelers who are vulnerable to human trafficking. The campaign includes live demonstrations and the propagation of informative materials to increase awareness of forced labor and human trafficking in Venezuela.

The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF)

Colombia currently hosts 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants, making The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) a crucial development in the prevention of and support for youth victims of human trafficking. From March to June 2018, ICBF determined that there were 350 Venezuelan victims of child labor in Columbia. ICBF provides care, programs, assistance, shelter and evaluations for Venezuelan child trafficking victims. The Institute focuses on the prevention of human trafficking through its educational training and increased awareness strategies.

A Continued Response

The responses from International Conventions, government policies and agencies to aid Venezuelans have undoubtedly protected many from their dangerous reality. However, Venezuela has remained a Tier 3 country as the government is not doing enough to eradicate human trafficking. The inconsistencies in the Venezuelan criminalization of trafficking and anti-tracking laws have compromised the well-being and lives of far too many. The Venezuelan crisis has stripped citizens of their humanitarian rights, calling for continued, collective efforts to assist those in need.

– Violet Chazkel
Photo: Flickr

Maternal Mortality
Maternal mortality refers to the death of a woman due to causes related to or aggravated by her pregnancy and/or childbirth. Almost all (99%) of maternal deaths occur in developing countries, and 68% occur in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. The Trends in Maternal Mortality 2000-2017 report is a joint effort by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group and the United Nations Population Division. Its statistics showcase huge global health disparities that leave African mothers extremely vulnerable, showing that maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa is a prevalent issue.

Health Inequality in Maternal Healthcare

Almost all maternal deaths are preventable, yet in 2017, Sub-Saharan Africans suffered from the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR) of 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, or 200,000 maternal deaths a year. All three countries with the highest MMR globally with over 1,000 deaths per 100,000 live births, considered an extremely high rate, are in Sub-Saharan Africa: South Sudan (1,150), Chad (1,140) and Sierra Leone (112). In comparison, the 2017 MMR in North America and Western Europe was 18 and five.

The fact that MMR is under 10 in many countries means that current technology and medical knowledge are already capable of reducing MMR to almost zero. The global imperative is to improve health infrastructure and education in developing nations so that they, too, can access services and resources available to protect mothers in the developed world.

The Importance of Access

Lack of access to health facilities and medical professionals is among the main reasons for maternal deaths. Currently, in Africa, there are 985 people for every nurse/midwife and 3,324 people for every medical doctor. This means that many pregnant women do not receive antenatal, delivery and newborn care, which greatly increases their risk of dying from severe bleeding, infections or other complications. Ensuring that there are accessible and affordable health facilities for all women would eliminate risks of preventable and treatable deaths.

Adolescent Pregnancy

Improving sexual health education is key to eliminating adolescent pregnancies, which account for a significant portion of maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Adolescent girls, especially those under 15, have a higher risk of maternal mortality compared to older women. In 2014, there were 224 adolescents per 1,000 cases of pregnancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world, followed by Liberia (221) and Niger (204). Improvements in sexual health education would inform young girls of contraceptive options, family planning methods and safe abortion facilities.

Progress Tracker

Significant efforts have succeeded in reducing maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa. From 2000 to 2017, Sub-Saharan Africa has achieved a substantial reduction of 39% of maternal mortality (from 870 to 533 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births). A significant number of countries in this region have reduced their MMR by more than half, such as Rwanda (79%), Mongolia (71%), Eritrea (63%), Zambia (60%) and Cabo Verde (51%).

WHO has stated that improving maternal health remains one of their key priorities. In 2015, the global health organization launched the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health aimed at ending all preventable deaths of women, children and adolescents. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal target 3.1, also launched in 2015, aims to reduce global MMR to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. While the current MMR in Africa is still seven times less than the target, promising results from past and current campaigns indicate that a better future is within reach.

– Alice Nguyen
Photo: Flickr

Domestic Violence in Morocco
In Morocco, more than 50% of women have experienced violence. Among these women, only about 28% have sought help from others regarding their abusive environment. There is a new law put in place to criminalize violent actions against women. However, the government still needs to address several issues to protect women effectively from domestic violence in Morocco.

Laws to Protect Women Against Domestic Violence

The new law passed in 2018 outlaws some form of violent actions against partners and allows authorities to step into domestic affairs if it is necessary. This law spreads awareness and provides prevention measures. Abused women can file cases to charge abusive partners or family members. However, the law does not clarify what domestic violence is nor does it explicitly make marital rape a crime. Moreover, the law does not financially support victims or survivors of violence or any shelters for those who need housing after escaping from an abusive environment. The law requires police to be able to help abused women. However, they did not record statements of victims and made them go back to their partners in some cases. The law failed to create a system that checks if the authorities carry out their duties to protect the rights of abused women.

Vulnerable Women and Poverty

Poor women do not have access to education. As a result, they have to be financially dependent on their partners because they cannot find a job. These women tend to receive violence from their partner more passively than those who have jobs. Lack of education and jobs makes women vulnerable to abusive relationships because they feel no power to defend their rights and interests. Because of a lack of access to stable housing after escaping from an abusive situation, women are often forced to return to their abusive partners. Victims file criminal cases against their partners, but most of them drop cases because of the pressure from family or financial reasons. In the interview by UNFPA, Khadija tells her struggle about being financially dependent on her family after getting divorced from the abusive husband. She struggled with finding a job because of a lack of education.

Nongovernmental Organizations Help Abused Women

Several institutions and shelters exist in Morocco to help survivors of domestic violence. The Multi-sectoral Joint Programme is carried out by 13 national groups and more than 50 nongovernmental organizations. It provides legal and economic support for abused women. By 2010, they had 52 counseling centers in Morocco. Additionally, Fais entendre ta voix (Make Your Voice Heard) is a group working to empower women in Morocco. It offers legal help for women to defend themselves.

Effects of COVID-19 on the Victims

The COVID-19 lockdown prohibits individuals from going out without authorization. As a result, abused women cannot seek help. They have no choice but to stay at home where they face abuse. The number of calls to the hotline from abused women is about twice to three times more than before. After the efforts made by advocates, the authority made it possible to file domestic violence cases through phone calls and the Internet. This makes it easier for women who cannot go out to file cases. Poverty also plays a significant role in preventing abused women from seeking help because they do not have access to phones or technology. Therefore, the new tool to file complaints by phone and online help some victims. However, the COVID-19 lockdown still leaves impoverished women vulnerable.

The new law passed in 2018 is a big step to help vulnerable women in Morocco. Financial support and education for women can help to empower women more. Being financially dependent on husbands or partners makes it difficult for women to seek help or escape from an abusive partner. In the survey, more than 60% of men showed the possession of beliefs that women need to endure violence to keep family together. This shows the need to change social beliefs as well.

Sayaka Ojima
Photo: Pixabay

Maternal healthcare in Algeria
Algeria, a large country in North Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The country is known for its rich history and culture, as well as its scorching temperatures. Like many nations in Africa, Algeria struggles to combat maternal mortality – a long-standing, persistent issue for many women in the country. However, in the last several years, Algeria has taken numerous steps to expand maternal healthcare and reduce pregnancy and labor complications. Here are four facts about maternal healthcare in Algeria.

4 Facts About Maternal Healthcare in Algeria

  1. According to recent updates on the maternal mortality ratio in Algeria — it has gradually dropped from 179 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 112 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Much of the success in lowering the number of deaths is attributed to a multitude of factors such as increased medical training, investments in healthcare and specific government initiatives aimed at reducing maternal deaths. During the years 2009–2017, Algeria trained about 900 professionals from university hospitals such as, Benni Messous, Kouba, Oran and Bab El Oued on multidisciplinary management of pregnancy.
  2. Within the last couple of years, Algeria has managed to make major investments in healthcare. Algeria managed to increase expenditures in healthcare as a share of GDP from 3.6 % in 2003 to 6.4 % in 2017 — growing at an average annual rate of 4.57%. This is an impressive number when compared with Algeria’s neighboring countries. Moreover, these investments have also helped to establish successful disease detection programs and allowed for improved medical facilities.
  3. In 2015, the Ministry of Health in Algeria began to work in collaboration with UNICEF in an attempt to implement a neonatal and maternal mortality reduction plan. This plan was implemented with the intention of reducing as many preventable, maternal deaths as possible, with a target of 50 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2019. Additionally, in 2016 the Ministry of Health put forward an emergency maternal mortality rate (MMR) reduction plan. “The goals set by the plan relate to strengthening family planning, improving the quality of healthcare during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.”
  4. In order to continue the reduction of the maternal mortality rate, the Health Ministry of Algeria held a survey to consolidate the maternal death rate with the technical and financial collaboration of the three U.N. agencies: (UNFPA, UNICEF and the WHO). The objectives of this survey were to reach a consensus on connections between frequent causes of maternal death, update the maternal death rate and cultivate reliable data “for the readjustment of national programs on maternal health and the reduction of preventable maternal deaths for the implementation of Algeria’s ICPD commitments.”

A Leader in Maternal Healthcare

Much work remains in order for Algeria to be able to effectively put an end to preventable, maternal deaths. However, the measures put into practice within the last several years have already proven to be a success. Thanks to these policies, Algeria has become known as a leader in maternal healthcare in North Africa and the country continues to build a strong momentum and infrastructure to fight this problem.

Shreeya Sharma
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Guinea-Bissau
Guinea-Bissau, a small country in Western Africa, has a low life expectancy of 57.67 years.  However, life expectancy in Guinea-Bissau of both men and women increased by seven years over the last 17 years. In 2001, life expectancy in Guinea-Bissau was 50.368. Currently, men in Guinea-Bissau have a life expectancy of 55.6 while women have a life expectancy of 59.62. The increase in life expectancy in Guinea-Bissau is due to improvement in health care services, education, preventive measures and a reduction in child mortality.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Guinea-Bissau

  1. Child Mortality: The infant mortality rate in Guinea-Bissau continues to decrease. Child mortality was 125 for every 1,000 children in 2008 and that number decreased to 81.5 for every 1,000 children in 2018. Guinea-Bissau’s investments to provide mothers with children under the age of 5 with better access to health care contributed to the reduced child mortality rate. In addition, a U.N. report determined that an increase in vaccinations was extremely effective in reducing the child mortality rate. This was possible because of collaboration from organizations like the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization and GAVI. However, there is still more that people can do to improve life expectancy in Guinea-Bissau, such as training more medical professionals to help with childbirth. In 2014, only 45 percent of childbirth had trained professionals available. The leading causes of death for children under 5 are communicable diseases, particularly malaria, diarrheal diseases and respiratory illnesses.
  2. The Leading Causes of Death: The leading causes of death in Guinea-Bissau in 2012 were lower respiratory infections including whooping cough and infection of the lung alveoli, along with HIV/AIDs, malaria and diarrheal diseases. Although malaria-related death is common, that number is declining due to both government and donor efforts from organizations like the Global Fund. These efforts include providing insecticide-treated bed nets and increasing education about malaria.
  3. Spending on Health Care: In Guinea-Bissau, both the government and individuals spend little money on health care. In 2016, the per capita average that people spent on health care was $39 while the government spent 6 percent of its GDP on health care. A U.N. report stated that in 2001, the African government pledged to increase health care expenditures to 15 percent. However, Guinea-Bissau has not yet reached that goal. In addition, the most vulnerable population that suffers from preventable illness and diseases, women and children, receive less than 1 percent of health care funds.
  4. Politics: One of the reasons the government faces difficulty in increasing health care funding is because of instability in Guinea-Bissau’s politics. Since Guinea-Bissau’s independence in 1974, the country has had four successful coups and 16 failed coups. The instability causes constant changes in government officials who are responsible for policies.
  5. National Institute of Public Health: In 2011, the creation of the Instituto Nacional de Saúde Pública (INASA) or the National Institute of Public Health helped bring different components of Guinea-Bissau health care together in order to provide adequate services. INASA works with both international donors, institution and the government to help with disease surveillance and preparation for health emergencies. The responsibility of INASA is to help create health policy in the country as well as to help place health care workers and officials throughout the country.
  6. Lack of Trained Medical Personnel: Guinea-Bissau does not have enough health care workers. It has 1.7 doctors for every 10,000 people, 1.4 midwives and nurses for every 1,000 people, three pediatricians and four obstetricians. For example, in 2014, Guinea-Bissau lost some of its health care workers due to brain drain (trained medical personal moving to other countries). In addition, the lack of adequate pay and failure by the government to pay its medical workers on time have led to strikes. According to a U.N. report, Guinea-Bissau would need to create incentives in order to better retain its health care workers.
  7. Training of Health Care Workers: Training health care workers in Guinea-Bissau is difficult because the country relies on international help from countries like Cuba. One of the main problems is that the training material is in Spanish instead of Portuguese. In addition, some of the reading materials are in e-book formats and students may not have access to computers to read the content. Furthermore, during medical training, there are not enough specialists to oversee or conduct the necessary training. There is hope, however, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is helping provide some advanced training for medical professionals who require it.
  8. Vaccine Coverage: Although the lack of political instability has limited government spending in health care, Guinea-Bissau’s coverage rate is 80 percent due to help from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other non-government agencies. Children receive rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines to help with respiratory and diarrheal illnesses.
  9. Accessibility to Health Care Facilities: In Guinea-Bissau, it can be difficult to visit a medical facility because of the lack of adequate roads. Although there are motorized boat ambulances, it can still be difficult to get to a medical facility in some regions in Guinea-Bissau. However, there are plans to build surgical centers in places like the Bijagos region to provide better access to health care.
  10. Community Health Programs and Workers: Community health programs and outreach have been effective in helping with the Guinea-Bissau health care system. These programs that community health workers (CHW) administer provide a community-based approach in helping with the health needs in Guinea-Bissau. Programs include spreading knowledge of childhood nutrition, malaria prevention, pneumonia and household hygiene, and providing several health services. There are around 4,000 community health workers and they are each responsible for visiting 50 households every month. During their visits, community health workers encourage families to adopt the 16 key family practices that can help reduce the number of diseases children may experience. These family practices include the promotion of mosquito nets and six months of breastfeeding, and handwashing, etc.  Community health workers also play a vital role in helping with literacy because of the high illiteracy rate in the country.

Although Guinea-Bissau’s life expectancy is low, there is hope that it will continue to increase due to continuous investment by international donors and non-government organizations. One of the best ways that Guinea-Bissau can provide better health care for its citizens is to strive to be more politically stable.

– Joshua Meribole
Photo: Flickr