Posted by on July 11, 2013 - 2:10pm

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a report on the global prevalence and impact of violence against women, and found it to be a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.” The report includes data on violence against women by intimate partners and sexual violence against women by non-partners. The report also examines the effect violence has on other aspects of women’s health.

By studying data from across the world, WHO researchers found that about 35% of all women will experience violence in their lives from either intimate partners or non-partners. Violence inflicted by intimate partners is more prevalent worldwide, with 30% of women affected.

In addition to injury and death, violence against women results in other physical and mental problems. For example, women who have undergone partner violence are almost twice as likely to experience depression or have an alcohol-use problem than women who have not been subject to violence. Additionally, women who experience violence are more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted disease, have an unwanted pregnancy, and receive an abortion. Violence against women also affects the next generation, as studies show women who experience violence are 16% more likely to have a low birth-weight baby. Click here for additional statistics.

The report points out that steps need to be taken throughout the world to prevent future violence against women, but also improve the treatment of women who have already experienced violence. Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno of the WHO states that “violence greatly increases women’s vulnerability to a range of short- and long-term health problems; [the report] highlights the need for the health sector to take violence against women more seriously,” and that many healthcare workers don’t know how to respond to cases of violence. However, to make a significant change, the social and cultural factors behind violence against women must be addressed.

Source: "WHO report highlights violence against women as 'global health problem of epidemic proportions." WHO Media Centre. 20 June 2013.

Posted by on February 14, 2013 - 4:18pm

In January 2013, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which is the nation’s leading group in the field of obstetrics and gynecology, released an opinion on a lesser known form of abuse called reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion occurs whenever a woman’s partner tries to stop her from making her own decisions regarding pregnancy. This includes pressuring a woman to have an abortion she doesn’t want, using threats to stop a woman from having an abortion she does want, and attempting to impregnate a woman against her will. This can include a man hiding his partner’s birth control pills, removing a condom in the middle of sex, or even removing a woman’s intrauterine device (IUD) or other internal contraceptive.

Rebekah Gee, an obstetrician and gynecologist who has studied this issue, believes that for men, reproductive coercion is often, “about taking away choices, taking away freedom, control and self-esteem.” She also points out that a man may attempt to get his partner pregnant to tie her to him, and prevent her from leaving him.

Researchers believe that this form of abuse, also called “birth control sabotage,” is more common among women who are abused by their partners in other ways. One study indicates that 25% of teenage girls and 15% of women with abusive partners reported experiencing reproductive coercion. Although researchers involved in the ACOG report are unsure exactly how prevalent this form of abuse is, they believe it is common enough that physicians and other healthcare providers should screen women and check for signs of reproductive coercion during routine visits.

If physicians do not ask questions, women who undergo abuse may not realize that something can be done to improve or resolve the situation they are in. Doctors can take direct steps to help these women by providing difficult to detect birth control, such as IUDs with shortened strings, or emergency contraceptives in unmarked packaging. Additionally, they can direct women to assistance hotlines or agencies, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Simply providing information can also make a difference. In one small study, women in clinics were given small cards with information and a questionnaire about reproductive coercion. Reports of coercion dropped 71% among women who received this information.

While increasing awareness about reproductive coercion and providing immediate help to women experiencing this type of abuse is critical, implementing education and prevention programs will be an important step in stopping reproductive coercion in the future.

Source: Painter, Kim. “Abusive Partners can Sabotage Contraception.” USA Today. 23 January 2013.

Posted by on December 22, 2012 - 10:57am

On November 28, the United Nations’ (U.N.) human rights committee approved a resolution calling for a ban of female genital mutilation (FGM) throughout the world. The human rights committee condemned the practice as “a harmful and serious threat to the psychological, sexual, and reproductive health of women and girls.” This is the first resolution regarding this topic passed in the U.N., and its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes it is a major step forward in protecting millions of women and girls (UN News Centre).

FGM is a procedure in which a girl’s clitoris, and sometimes other genital parts, are removed during early childhood or adolescence. In 2010, the U.N. estimated that about 70 million women and girls had received the procedure and the World Health Organization reported that about 6,000 girls undergo FGM every day. Some who practice FGM believe that it is required by their religion, or that by completing the procedure they can control women’s sexuality, and perhaps increase fertility. However, it has been proven that there are no health benefits to FGM, and that it leads to painful sexual intercourse, childbirth complications, and other health issues. Despite the prevalence of FGM, reconstructive procedures are not widely available. A group of French researchers and doctors have studied the effects of a type of surgery to reconstruct the clitorises of a group of women, and found that in the long term, most of the women reported either an improvement, or no change, in the amount of pain and clitoral pleasure experienced. Beatrice Cuzin, a urologist who participated in this study states that most women who undergo FGM do not have access to reconstructive surgery, and even if they do, cost is often prohibitive (Barclay, NPR).

FGM is prevalent in many African countries, but is also common in some Middle Eastern and South American communities. However, FGM education and reform should not just be limited to these regions because it is often practiced in diaspora communities all over the world, including the United States. For more detailed information on its prevalence and on efforts to prevent it, the United Nations Population Fund offers additional resources.

It is likely that the full U.N. General Assembly, which consists of 193 member states, will take up this issue in the second half of December, and it is nearly certain that it will be passed. While an approval wouldn’t result in any legal ramifications, U.N. resolutions carry significant moral and political weight, and it would send a strong message to the international community. The resolution condemns the practice and calls for states to create and promote educational campaigns for both men and women to teach them about the negative effects of the practice in an effort to eliminate it. It also encourages countries to enact legislation that prohibits FGM and ends leniency for those who practice it (Lederer, The Associated Press).


Posted by on May 10, 2012 - 9:49am

A recent visit to Israel included a drive into the desert of the Negev region.   I noticed small groups of tents  and our guide said they were Bedouin ---people who have no land and are not connected to water or electricity.  They roam whenever they need new sources of food and water for their animals and have very limited participation in the growing country of Israel.

But the bigger shock was learning that despite Israeli progressive laws related to women, the impact of those laws are absent for Bedouin women.  According to Women Lawyers for Social Justice, 85% of Bedu0in women report that they are subjected to severe physical/psychological violence.  Of these, 90% were openly battered in public.   More than 70% of all Bedouin women in Israel are wed by coercion.  The law notwithstanding, Bedouin society practices unbridled polygamy. In fact, the government's only input appears in the form of generous child allotments paid to uncontrollable outsized family frameworks where men may boost 40 or more offspring!  To make matters worse, abused women in Bedouin communities  are the least likely to enlist outside help.  Of them, 67% admitted that they do not discuss their problems with outsiders because they fear backlash to their families and potential loss of their children.

As stated in a timely editorial in the Jerusalem Post (6/6/2012) the "abandonment of these women to a cruel fate right under our noses is only one facet of the conspiracy of silence that envelopes the Bedouin enclaves.  The result is large areas to which the state opts to turn a blind eye and where is doesn't exercise its authority."

What makes this even more complicated is the fact that the Bedouin community is tightly knit making it difficult for outside interventions that are meaningful and just---one of the many challenges Israel faces as it strives to settle its political and religious debates.   On the totally opposite spectrum, I was amazed to see how well the four neighborhoods (or quarters)  of the old city of Jerusalem (Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim) seem to coexist with only few problems!  It truly is a complicated country.