Global Roundup: Madagascar’s Sex Work Industry On the Rise; Al Qaeda Threatens Maternal Health in Yemen

Weekly global roundup: The latest with the delayed RH Bill in the Philippines; HIV/AIDS stigma impedes maternal care in Kenya; Maternal deaths rise due to fighting in Yemen's south; and the sex work industry booms in Madagascar.

Latest in the Philippines: Reproductive Health Bill Held Hostage in Congress

Although Congress voted to end all debate on the RH Bill (House Bill 4244) in August, it has remained filibustered in Congress since then, with no clear signs of when and if it will move toward passing. The bill, which has been present in Congress in various versions for nearly 15 years, would secure access to comprehensive sexuality education and contraception for Filipinos. More than 90 million live in the Philippines, a collection of more than 7,000 islands in the Asia Pacific where highly restricted access to reproductive health information and services has contributed to vast poverty and other social and health issues. Although the bill has broad bi-partisan and global support, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has continued to fight tooth and nail to undermine its passage, and launching an all out war against those who support it, including an investigation of 159 faculty members of Ateneo de Manila University for their support of the bill. This is a clash of the titans—ideology versus science, human rights, and public health—to the greatest degree. And as the bill sits frozen in Congress, policymakers are pointing fingers at who is to blame, and one excuse after another seems to bubble up – including that although a quorum could be secured to pass the bill, some argue that such an important piece of legislation shouldn’t be passed by a minority. Meanwhile, Representative Kimi Cojuangco, who supports the bill, claims that each day its passage is delayed, the government wastes 50 million Pesos (approximately one million USD): That’s what it cost [when we delay the voting on the RH bill]. This is really a disservice to the nation, we could be saving so many lives.” Via Philippines Daily Inquirer.

Sub-Saharan Africa: HIV Stigma Deters Women From Pre-Natal Care

A recent study released in Kenya, which tracked the pre-natal activities of nearly 2,000 women, found that only 44 percent delivered in clinics, and that a fear of submitting to HIV tests was a major factor in this decision. These findings support others from across the continent, suggesting that while stigma around HIV and AIDS has been considerably reduced in recent years (numerous African leaders have gone public with their status and taken HIV tests publicly as well), stigma remains strong enough to prevent women from seeking care they know could save their lives as well as the lives of their babies. Prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) programs are relatively well developed and accessible across the continent, but still the knowledge that one may be HIV positive has social ramifications that some are unwilling to risk. In the study, women reported fear of being kicked out by their husbands or being seen as promiscuous by their community if they received positive test results. Via The New York Times.

Yemen: Ongoing Violence Threatens Women’s Lives

The Yemeni Army continues to clash with Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants in the south of the country, and women’s rights and health are suffering. Ongoing fighting in Abyan, a central-southern region, has displaced thousands and impeded women’s access to critical maternal and reproductive health services. The UN reports that, currently, a woman in Yemen as a 1 in 91 chance of dying during pregnancy and childbirth. Increased violence, instability, and the resulting restrictions on health resources put women and girls in an even more precarious situation. Women living in temporary camps often cannot access the care they need, and those who have returned to their homes in the south fear violence if they venture to clinics and hospitals. Earlier this year, militants in the south targeted girls and women who were not veiled, harassing them and even throwing acid. Yemenis will see the first independent election in 2014, and women’s rights advocates in the country are hoping to pass a law that would guarantee them 30 percent representation in parliament – a political gender quota that has been implemented in a number of countries already. Via IRIN.

Madagascar: Sex Work a Legal and Growing Profession

IRIN reports that over the last two decades, the number of registered sex workers in the main port city of Toamasina (on the country’s Indian coast), has grown by more than 50 percent, from 17,000 in 1993 to 29,000 in 2012. The city’s total population is about 200,000, meaning approximately one in seven residents are a sex worker. Sex work is legal in the country, and has been relatively successfully regulated through the use of ID cards that individuals apply for, or “unofficial red books,” which give sex workers access to judicial clinics and government protection of their financial and bodily well being. While national laws dictate that registered sex workers must be at least 18, a 2007 UNICEF survey of sex workers in Toamasina and the island Nosy Be found that between 30 and 50 percent were under age 18. This has raised significant concerns among the community, who fear the growing prominence of sex tourism, and police harassment of registered sex workers remains an issue. While there is a tendency to frame the growth of sex work as indicative of “no other economic options,” it certainly is not always the case. While women should be afforded a range of economic opportunities of their choosing, the legalization of the industry is a positive thing, enabling regulation and a platform for the continued protection of women’s reproductive health and rights. Via IRIN.