Global Roundup: Malian Women’s Rights Efforts Backfire; Afghanistan’s First Female Presidential Candidate Poised

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Global Roundup: Malian Women’s Rights Efforts Backfire; Afghanistan’s First Female Presidential Candidate Poised

Jessica Mack

Weekly global roundup: a revised family code in Mali oppresses women further; Fawzia Koofi makes waves in Afghanistan and worldwide; Venezuela wrestles with a stubborn maternal mortality rate; and a call for more midwives in Zambia.

Mali: 50-Year Backslide on Women’s Rights

A 2009 revision to the Family Code in this majority-Muslim country, passed in 2011, could have granted women new rights and protection. Instead, outcries from the community, lead by Muslim groups, resulted in significant additional edits and undid some of the few rights women had to begin with. Critics complained that granting women even measly protection or rights would mean “an open road to debauchery.” Instead, the situation has gotten worse. “The new law brings women’s rights back to more than 50 years ago because some rights women had in the former law have been banned,” said a Malian women’s rights advocate. For example, in case of the death of their husband, women are no longer granted automatic custody of their children. While poverty and lack of access to health and education are issues countrywide, women in Mali are particularly vulnerable – largely at the behest of the men in their lives, and operating under the crunch of reproductive, educational, and economic discrimination. The average age at marriage for girls in Mali is 16 years, after which they will bear an average of six to seven children. Less than one-third of women ages 15-24 are literate. Via The Guardian.

Afghanistan: First Female Presidential Candidate Readies Bid

Fawzia Koofi is a world-recognized advocate for women’s rights and a “fearless” voice (and widely published writer) on these issues in one of the toughest environments for women on the planet. Elected to Afghanistan’s Parliament in 2004, and now the first female deputy speaker, she has her sights set on the 2014 presidential election. Koofi’s own story, detailed in her memoir last year, is remarkable. She was initially abandoned by her mother as an infant (one of 23 born in her family) and left in the sun to die. She was eventually rescued, and grew up to earn an education, despite all adversity. Koofi is now a widow raising her own young daughters, and acutely aware of the risks she’s taking not just by eyeing the presidency, but by being an outspoken and visible women’s rights advocate in society.”Being a woman in politics in Afghanistan and a woman who stands for what she believes in, there is always risk, it is always dangerous. I have already been so many times a target for assassination and even kidnapping. But I think somebody has to take the risk,” Koofi said. Via Relief Web.

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Zambia: More Midwives Needed!

Last week marked the International Day of the Midwife. UNFPA and the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), two groups leading a global crusade to recognize the work of midwives in improving maternal and reproductive health and promote their training and deployment, held events throughout Africa, where the bulk of maternal deaths occur. Events underscored the tremendous work that midwives shoulder – often without much or any pay, and little to no respect or recognition from policymakers. In Zambia, advocates estimated that 5,600 more trained midwives were needed – an increase of 173 percent — to address the health of pregnant and birthing women. Currently, less than half of all births occur with a trained attendant present. Midwives are a critical resource for reducing maternal deaths since they are already embedded in communities (including those with no other health care options), trusted by those communities, and can be trained to provide a wide range of services – even safe abortion care. Via Lusaka Times.

Venezuela: Middle-Income Maternal Mortality Persists

Though the country is currently one of the wealthier in Latin America, the number of women dying from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes has persisted in recent decades. Just 10 percent of the population lives on less than US $2 per day, and both men and women have a literacy rate of nearly 100 percent. Yet overall positive health and economic indicators in Venezuela likely mask serious inequities in access, just like in the US. Abortion is still highly restricted in the country, allowed only to save a woman’s life, and unsafe abortion is another leading cause of maternal death, worldwide. While Venezuela’s maternal mortality rate is low compared to other parts of the world, the rate that it’s fallen – or not fallen – is unacceptable, particularly for a middle-income country. Since 1998, El Universal reports, maternal deaths have actually increased slightly. Maternal deaths are caused primarily by the same complications all over the world, whether you live in Rwanda or Los Angeles. But it’s the access to care – before, during, and after childbirth – that makes all the difference. Via El Universal.