Global Roundup: Maternal Health in Haiti Remains Dire; Girls Overtake Boys in Bangladeshi Schools

Weekly global roundup: Girls overtake boys in Bangladeshi primary schools; Philippines Lawmakers push to get the RH Bill passed; Women are in labor and still doing hard labor in Haiti; Training for sex workers in Rwanda provides options.

Bangladesh: Girls Get Schooled

Inter Press Service reports that countrywide collaborative efforts to get and keep girls in school in Bangladesh have been largely successful. Recent annual estimates show that girls have overtaken boys in primary school enrollment for the second year in a row. Coordinated efforts of the government and local and international non-profit organizations have helped create a veritable net, catching girls who have dropped out, are on the verge of dropping out, or are residing in rural areas without access to education. Since 2000, the government has put in place gender quotas in hiring women in education. Currently, 90 percent of primary school teachers are female and 95 percent of school management committees are women-led, and the retention rate for young girls increased dramatically. In addition, small stipends to cover exam fees, books, and uniforms have helped tremendously. It’s an important picture of success that demonstrates commitment from every sector. Via Inter Press Service.

Philippines: RH Bill Getting Close!?

The Reproductive Health (RH) Bill now is in its umpteenth version yet still sitting in the Philippines Congress, could soon see the light of day. Lawmakers and citizens are turning the screws to get it passed, as health and rights situations are quickly turning dire in the country. Natural family planning has been the official policy for the country, whose more than 90 million inhabitants live among the archipelago of 7,100 islands. The Roman Catholic Church retains significant political power, and has continuously objected to the RH Bill’s stance on modern contraception – that is, that it would support comprehensive sex education and access to these services. As the Church has continued to stand in the way of the wellbeing of individuals, the situation has gone beyond any matter of religious freedom and erred into religious oppression, coupled with cruel and unusual punishment. As one policymaker lamented:

Teenagers don’t know that they can get pregnant or get someone pregnant by having sex. It may sound funny and pathetic, but this is really true, especially in the depressed areas.

Or, as one Fillipina advocate recently put it, “condoms are a matter of life and death in the Philippines.” Abortion is also highly restricted in the country, and unsafe abortion persists as a serious public health and rights problem. Via Manila Standard Today.

Haiti: Hard Life for Pregnant Women

Just over two years since a 7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti, sexual assault survivors and pregnant and delivering women (arguably any woman at all) face a chronic lack of support and services. Global Press Institute reports that most pregnant women work up until they give birth, increasing the likelihood that they’ll have complications during labor, while limited access to emergency care remains a critical prolblem. Admittedly, this isn’t news since most women in developing countries work up until the minute they give birth, and then directly afterward because their families depend on their income.

Unfortunately, working and birthing women in Haiti may not have the time or access to prenatal care, may be likelier to experience fatal complications during labor, and will have a greater risk of fatality in the case of complications (than women in developed nations). Maternal health care in the country remains spotty and still unaffordable for many, and home births remain challenging due to a lack of skilled care. As UNFPA has pointed out, even before a devastating earthquake, Haiti’s health system was in relative shambles, with women falling through the cracks left and right. This latest report is to confirm that not much has changed. This is significant in context of evaluating the progress that Haiti has made since the 2010 quake: the health and wellbeing of women are a crucial litmus test for the health of a society overall, so right now things aren’t looking good. Via Global Press Institute.

Rwanda: Sex Workers “Pledge” to Abandon Street Walking

A five-day training workshop on reproductive health, sponsored by Population Services International (PSI) in central Rwanda, armed sex workers with education about sexual risks, access to services, and potential opportunities for alternate income, should they be interested. This is important, as sex workers must have free and easy access to sexual and reproductive health information and services to keep themselves safe. More so, they should be protected from stigma that may impede this access. To that point, The New Times paraphrases that some participants “said they are ashamed with illicit activity, vowing to quit the job if they found any other income generating activity.” Not sure they used those words exactly, but the reporting demonstrates just how stigmatized this work is. One participant was quoted: “I was living a complicated life. I hardly found money to survive, and decided to get into this job instead of dying of hunger, I had no other choice. But if I can find any other activity which can help me to survive, I will quit the streets immediately.” Providing a range of options to women to achieve financial independence is key, but for some women, sex work really may be the most viable option for them at the time, and that choice should be respected. Interestingly, the women were urged to first form cooperatives, and then “seek assistance” elsewhere, though it isn’t clear if this would be predicated on leaving the sex work industry. Via All Africa.