, December 1, 2004


Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS

In the lead-up to World AIDS Day on December 1, various media outlets ran stories on this year’s theme, “Women, Girls, and HIV and AIDS.” On November 24, The New York Times reported that UNAIDS’ annual report found that the number of women infected with HIV has risen in every region of the world over the last two years as the epidemic continues to expand. The increasingly female face of HIV worldwide "has profound implications" because it means that treatment and prevention programs must focus on women if the epidemic is to be halted, said Dr. Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS. A November 29 story by Agence France-Presse quoted Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund: "Women are suffering multiple vulnerabilities. The social and economic empowerment of women is key. The epidemic won't be reversed unless governments provide the resources needed to ensure women's rights to sexual and reproductive health." Read: New York Times, Agence France-Presse: Nov. 23, Nov. 30a, Nov. 30b, Associated Press: Nov. 26, Reuters, BBC News: Nov. 23, Nov. 30a, Nov. 30b, United Press International, IRIN: Nov. 29a, Channel NewsAsia, Xinhua General News Service: Nov. 16

U.S. Abstinence Message Gets Blasted

Agence France-Presse reported November 30 that the US-backed "ABC" approach, of encouraging sexual abstinence among young people as the best way to avoid HIV, was caught in controversy. The concept is a pillar of President George W. Bush's $15 billion five-year commitment on AIDS, as 7 percent of that amount will be spent on promoting abstinence. Mary Crewe, director of the Centre for the Study of AIDS at the University of Pretoria, blasted the message as unworkable in much of Africa. "In countries where there are very high levels of sexual activity around, with social dislocation, family breakdowns, sugar daddies, with young people bored and with nothing to do, to suddenly come in and say you should stop having sex is absolutely ludicrous." Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, added: "If girls continue to get infected at such high rates, economies are going to crumble, societies are going to implode. If we don't deal with prevention issues of sexual violence and coercion, gender equality and relationships, such as girl children married off to older men, we're just going to have more and more people who need treatment.” Sean Healy of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), said, "The kind of ABC we are seeing more and more of today is a big A and a very small B and C."


The Toronto Star (Canada) reported November 29 that during Bush’s visit to Canada, International Co-operation Minister Aileen Carroll will unveil an almost 40 percent increase in Canada’s annual contributions to UNFPA – from $13.1 million to $67.4 million over four years, or about $16.9 million each year. Bush has withheld support for the fund for the past three years because of allegations that the program is complicit in forced abortions in China. "Being friends with the United States doesn't mean agreeing with everything," said a senior adviser in Prime Minister Paul Martin's government. Read: Toronto Star


U.S. Congress Passes "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act"

Associated Press reported November 21 that Congress had made it easier for hospitals, insurers and others to refuse to provide or cover abortions. A provision in a $388 billion spending measure would block funds for federal, state or local agencies that act against health care providers and insurers that don't provide abortions, make abortion referrals or cover them. Democrats complained the provision was slipped into the voluminous year-end spending bill without debate or discussion. “Now any business entity can decide to tell doctors working for it they can't give information to women about their right to choose,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California called the measure “essentially a domestic gag rule, restricting access to abortion counseling, referral and information.” She said, “Health care companies should not be able to prevent doctors from giving medically necessary information." Boxer said she has been promised a vote in next year's Senate to repeal the provision. But House Democrats conceded earlier this year that they lacked the votes to stop Republicans from approving the measure, and likely would not have votes to strip it next year either. In a November 20 story by The New York Times, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said he would try to force a vote next year on support for upholding the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. “I think it is time the women of America understand what is happening here,” he said. Read: Associated Press, Knight Ridder, Los Angeles Times: Nov. 21a, Nov. 21b, Washington Post, New York Times, Agence France-Presse

France: Agence France-Presse reported November 20 that 30 years after abortion was legalized in France, women seeking a termination still face many obstacles. "We have won a lot," said Maya Surduts, spokeswoman for a group coordinating pro-choice and family planning activities. "But obtaining an abortion still remains an obstacle race." The first obstacle is getting an appointment to see a medical practitioner. "Because the number of doctors carrying out terminations is limited, the waiting period can easily stretch to three or four weeks," said Maite Albagly, secretary general of the Movement for Family Planning. Four out of 10 private clinics in the Paris region have closed abortion units in the past two years because the procedure is not considered profitable.

Estonia and the Netherlands: Agence France-Presse reported November 20 that the Netherlands and Estonia are alike in having abortion policies that are among the most liberal in Europe. But the Netherlands has a historically low rate of voluntary interruptions, while Estonia has almost one abortion to every live birth. Though the Netherlands legalized abortion only 20 years ago, governments before that turned a blind eye to clandestine abortion clinics while society at large encouraged contraception. The pill was legalized in the Netherlands in 1961. But Estonia has yet to get over its Soviet past, when condoms and pills were unobtainable or unreliable and abortion was viewed merely as another means of contraception. "One of the reasons for Estonia's high abortion rate is the very wrong attitude to consider abortion as a normal family planning means," said the minister for population, Paul-Erik Rummo.

Illegal Abortions Rampant in Latin America

Women’s Enews reported November 28 that an estimated 5,000 women die every year in Latin America as a result of clandestine abortions, according International Planned Parenthood Federation. Another 800,000 are hospitalized due to complications, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute. Abortion is prohibited across most of Latin America—Cuba and Puerto Rico are the exceptions. While some countries allow abortion in cases of rape or danger to the mother's life, there are no exceptions in Chile, Colombia and El Salvador. These countries prosecute hundreds of women for having abortions. Reducing unwanted pregnancies requires cultural changes, said Mariana Schkolnik, a consultant with the social development division of the U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. This includes adjusting traditional gender roles, erasing the social stigma attached to abortion and changing outdated family laws. But legalizing abortion is also key, said Schkolnik. She noted that where abortion is legal—such as Europe and North America—the percentage of abortions has actually gone down, because legalization is usually accompanied by informed access to public health, education and family planning. Read: Women’s Enews


Associated Press reported November 19 that Ipas, a U.S.-based abortion rights group, had canceled its sponsorship of public radio station WUNC-FM after the station refused to let the group use the term “reproductive rights” in an on-air description of its work. The radio station informed Ipas in October that "reproductive rights" could be interpreted as advocating a political position and would have to be changed to "reproductive health" to meet standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. Ipas said the nonprofit's mission was expanding reproductive rights, not just health, and that the term includes the right to information, infertility treatments and contraception, and was not a euphemism for abortion. "It was a simple declaration of our mission, which is to protect women's health and reproductive rights. These are mainstream issues," Ipas president Elizabeth Maguire said. Changing the ad language "feeds into an environment in which self-censorship is becoming more prominent," Maguire said. Read: Associated Press, Herald-Sun, News & Observer


International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

As the world marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25, UN officials led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for building a world where women enjoy rights and freedoms on equal basis with men, reported Panafrican News Agency on November 25. "Violence against women is global in reach, and takes place in all societies and cultures," Annan said. "It affects women no matter what their race, ethnicity, social origin, birth or other status may be." UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said the "systematic use of rape as a weapon of war" was a violation of human rights that demands "urgent attention and an end to impunity." She labeled it "one of the most disturbing phenomena" of the past two decades. Read: Xinhua General News Service: Nov. 26a, Nov. 26b, Inter Press Service: Nov. 25a, Nov. 25b, IRIN, Associated Press

Enlisting Men to Help Fight Fistula in Niger

Inter Press Service reported November 23 that a number of groups are targeting men in campaigns to rid Niger of fistulas. One initiative dates to January 2002, when a National Forum on Early Marriage in Niger was held by the Association of Traditional Chiefs of Niger, with assistance from UNICEF. UNICEF-trained workers also assist in spreading the word about the dangers of fistula. "It's poverty and ignorance which move us to marry off our daughters too early. But as we now understand the risks such practices expose them to, we can no longer allow ourselves to sign away their futures," a father from a village just outside Niamey told IPS. Read: Inter Press Service

India Scraps 2-Child Policy

The Hindustan Times (India) reported November 22 that the Indian government has decided to abandon the proposed small-family requirement for elected representatives. Health and family welfare minister Dr. Anbumani Ramdoss withdrew the constitutional amendment bill to disqualify those with more than two children from being elected to either House of Parliament or legislative assemblies and councils in the states. Officials maintained that under the proposed National Healthcare Mission "there would not be any scope for coercion in family planning.” One source said government thinking was that “family planning should be voluntary in nature and not by force." Read: Reuters


In response to the “Abortion Non-Discrimination Act,” The New York Times ran a November 23 editorial that concluded, “Americans, and American women in particular, are officially on notice that post-election, the Republican war on reproductive rights has entered an ominous new phase.” Similarly, The San Jose Mercury News November 23 editorial noted that the social war is on, and congressional Republicans intend to chip away at Roe vs. Wade at every opportunity. The editorial concluded: “The GOP-controlled Congress seems to be making itself clear early on that it will work in the back alleys where many seem to think a woman's right to choose belongs.” Read: New York Times, San Jose Mercury News


The above summary was written by Elena Cabatu and Kathy Bonk at the Communications Consortium Media Center, 1200 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005, 202/326-8700. Redistribution is encouraged with credit to CCMC.

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