Month: May 2016

The Cycle of Life: Meaning of Menstruation for the Future of Girls

This post was originally published on Huffington Post. My periods started when I was around 12. It felt messy, dirty, complicated. I didn’t like it — but, as most of us who are born biologically female, I dealt with it. For me, menstruation was a necessary evil — but nothing I couldn’t handle. It was certainly not something that had the power or potential to entirely alter the course of my life and future. But for millions of girls across the developing countries, the story is very different. For them, the start of menstruation can mean the end of education, and therefore, the end of any real future prospects of economic independence, earning potential and financial security. In most developing countries, girls have little if any access to reliable information and education about their bodies, including menstruation, and many myths and taboos exist around menstruation and its meaning. For example, in India and Nepal, girls and women are often banished outside of their villages and communities during their menstruation because they are seen as “impure” …

Why We Should Talk about Gender Bias and Sexual Harassment in Medical Training

Gender bias and sexual harassment continue to be prevalent issues among medical trainees and practicing physicians. In order to help aspiring female doctors fulfill their career goals, we need to address these issues. Gender bias is a prevalent issue in the workplace today. However, when it comes to medicine, it seems as if a significant amount remains to be resolved. In a 2000 study, among 3,332 full-time faculty, female faculty were 2.5 times more likely to perceive discrimination in the workplace. Among women, rates of reported discrimination ranged from 47% for the youngest faculty to 70% for the oldest faculty. In contrast, less than 3% of male faculty reported such experiences. In addition, in a 2009 study, during the interviews with 12 third-year female medical students, many of them found themselves behaving in stereotypically ‘feminine’ ways and had gendered expectations when interacting with supervisors. Unfortunately, many of these cases of gender discrimination remain unreported as aspiring female physicians may be concerned with the possibility that these cases will affect their careers. In addition, many of them have …

Measuring Water in Meters

As with anything in the United Nations (UN), there is much discussion and debate around every decision. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), noble as they are, is no exception. As the UN refines them, one of the thorniest issues is the matter of how to measure the progress and success towards the attainment of each goal. As gender equality is one of the mainstays of the next fifteen years, it is a topic that concerns women’s rights, and will be undoubtedly be up for discussion at Women Deliver 2016 in Copenhagen. The current debate around quantifiable targets isn’t glamorous – we’d much rather hear, “ensure a safe childbirth for all mothers worldwide” than “reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births”. Numbers impose painful limitations on what we can do about excruciating realities. But our own New Year’s Resolutions are proof enough that, for our own good, pomp should be second to practicality. Ambitious but abstract goals are much more likely to end in failure: lose weight; read more; be …

The Importance of Having a Role Model/Mentor

“Why is she here, working with us boys? Shouldn’t she be somewhere else? How is she better than us?” As a woman working in a male-dominant field, I can’t help but think of the moments when I felt insecure about myself or watched other people whisper directly behind my back. It becomes even more difficult when there is no other woman in the environment that I am working for who has similar goals as I do. Fortunately, I found my role model when I was 14. Even though she did not have the same career aspirations as I did, her geeky personality and her infectious ambition resonated with me. Since then, I have shifted from worrying about what others think about me to making my dreams come true. Finding a role model that suits you certainly takes some patience and effort. Yet, the benefits of finding one are huge: It helps you stay grounded in your dreams and maybe even feel a lot less lonely along the way. I believe it is important for girls to find a …

Midwives Inspire In All Corners of the World

The Nordic Midwifery Congress took place earlier in May, where hundreds of midwives and other researchers have presented their latest scientific findings on everything from health during pregnancy, childbirth procedures, sexual and reproductive health and rights, domestic violence, and more. Speakers have inspired others through their action and their passion to ensure that every woman has access to evidence-based care and a midwife who listens, supports and provides the care that every woman needs. We had the opportunity to speak to a few midwives who have in various ways dedicated their time to ensure that women in low resource settings have access to a midwife. Vivian Wahlberg was the first midwife in Sweden and in the entire Nordic region to get a PhD. She has since then dedicated her life to improving midwifery practice and the health of mothers and babies around the world. Each year, Wahlberg gives out a stipend to midwives in Sweden, who want to further their research to improve the wellbeing of mothers and babies. Listen to Wahlberg describe her impact and why …

Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula

Post Written By: Abbey Kocan, Executive Director  The first time I met a woman who was recovering from obstetric fistula surgery, I was faced with a reality I had been sheltered from for far too long. Four years later, while the level of awareness around this condition in the developed world has grown, there is still a lot of work to be done before this critical global health challenge is given a permanent place in the spotlight. Imagine if, while giving birth, you or your partner faced a complication requiring emergency medical care. Imagine if that care was unavailable, and you lost your baby. You grieve for the loss of the child who was so close to living. You, or your partner, suffer silently, trying to find a way to cope with the physical trauma that leaves you incontinent, unable to work and further devastated by judgment and abuse at the hands of your friends and family. Kupona Foundation’s fistula program has treated patients as young as 12, and as old as 82. Imagine living …

Breaking the Taboo: Ending Stigma Around Menstruation

This post was written for Girls’ Globe by Vivian Onano It is very exciting to be speaking this week at the Women Deliver event in Copenhagen. The conference is the place to be for concrete discussion and examination of the rights of women and girls around the world and covers a host of topics from education, health and gender rights, to legal rights, land rights, and FGM. Each topic presents an opportunity for change but, for me, one of this year’s standout issues is getting schools and local governments to consider how girls manage their periods. It can be an uncomfortable subject, but it’s a crucial one for measuring progress in girls’ education and rights. Staggeringly, over 1 billion women and girls do not have access to safe and clean toilets to go to at all, let alone when they’re on their period. This means girls often go into bushes or hidden places when it’s dark to relieve themselves or change their sanitary wear, violating their dignity and privacy and often putting them at risk of …

“Shake S**t Up!”: Kiran Gandhi Talks Stigma

Yesterday morning I stopped by a small shop. I had woken up to my period in the most inconvenient of all it’s forms – the surprise period – so I didn’t have anything in the way of supplies. I picked up a box of tampons, but my heart sank when I saw three men standing behind the counter. I thought maybe I would put the box down. Or maybe I could pick up lots of other things to buy too, as distractions? Or maybe I didn’t even need them, maybe it wasn’t even a proper period? Nope, stomach cramps and inexplicable levels of sweating, definitely for real. Aware of my own absurdity, I told myself I was an idiot and paid, avoiding eye contact with the man behind the desk who picked up the box like you might do an undetonated bomb in your family home. Fast forward a few hours and I sat down to a series of Women Deliver “TED-style” talks. I was excited to see Kiran Gandhi’s name on the list – …

Dreaming Big at WD 2016: Ending Child Marriage

‘I was married when I was very young,” says Maria, 14, pictured here. “I used to sell milk to get food and sleep in the forest because I [didn’t] have a place to sleep. Society should stop bad practices, because what I have been through was so hard for me. After my education, I would like to be a nurse so that I can help other girls like me.” Photo credit: Modestar, age 12/Too Young To Wed My dream is to end child marriage. I know it sounds naïve, but I refuse to believe that we can do nothing to keep children away from the bedrooms and kitchens of adult men. I advocate determinedly against the practice, often working directly with at risk adolescent girls in communities across the globe. Part of my dream is that those girls escape child marriage and then, empowered by their own story, join the fight to end the practice. I saw a bit of my dream manifest when I met Isatou Jeng at the 2016 Women Deliver Conference. Isatou is …