Population Matters

Worst Places in the World to be a Woman

June 21st, 2011

Women around the world face grave challenges like: rape, infanticide, female genital mutilation, and sex trafficking. Last week the Thomson Reuters Foundation released a survey listing the five worst countries in the world to be a woman. The survey ranked each country by six factors: health, discrimination and lack of access to resources, cultural and religious practices, sexual violence, human trafficking, and conflict-related violence. The results showed that Afghanistan was the worst place in the world to be a woman followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia in decreasing order and interestingly all but India are also listed in the top 12 of Foreign Policy and Fund of Peace’s Failed States Index. In each of these counties woman face different challenges that pose a significant risk to their lives.

According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), Afghanistan has the second highest lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes, in Afghanistan that risk is 1 in 8. Compare that to a 1 in 4,800 chance in the United States or a 1 in 47,600 in Ireland which has the lowest lifetime risk. Women in Afghanistan also face domestic abuse, lack economic rights, and access to doctors. Many women are unable to leave the home without seeking permission from their husbands or a male relative. The poll also shows that 87% of Afghan women are illiterate and 70%-80% of women face forced marriages. All of these challenges are amidst the continuing conflict making Afghanistan the most dangerous place to be a woman in the world.

The next most dangerous place to be a woman is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The most shocking and tragic statistic that makes the Congo the rape capital of the world is that every day 1152 women are raped. These rapes target all age groups including elderly women and children as young as 3. Women in the Congo are not just raped, but often gang raped and raped with bayonets or guns. Another major threat to women’s lives in the Congo is childbirth. Women in the Congo also have a very high lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes at 1 in 13 women.

Pakistan is the third most dangerous place to be a woman in the world. Pakistan has various cultural practices that endanger the lives of women among them: acid attacks, child marriage, and honor killings. Over 1,000 girls and women are the victims of honor killings every year in Pakistan and 90% of Pakistani women will experience domestic violence in their lives. Women in Pakistan also have a high lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes at 1 in 74.

The fourth worst place to be a woman is India. There is a preference for boy children in India which has led to infanticide or feticide of girl children or fetuses. This has an estimated 50 million “missing” girls over the past century.  There is also a cultural tradition of child marriages with 44.5% of all girls married before the age of 18. Another major threat to women and girls is trafficking, with about 100 million women and girls being trafficked in India. Women in India also face a 1 in 70 lifetime risk of dying from maternal related causes.

Lastly, ( I think you say lastly instead of last when you’re putting it in front like this)coming in at the number five worst place to be a woman, is Somalia. The biggest threat to virtually all women is female genital mutilation which is performed on 95% of Somali women mostly between the ages of 4 to 11. Somali women also face a large threat to their lives in childbirth with only 9% of childbirths occurring in a health facility. This leads to Somali women having a very high lifetime risk of dying due to maternal related causes with the risk at 1 in 12.

Looking at the five worst countries for women to live in makes me think about what we can do to make life better for women in those countries.  One important thing we can do is push the United States to take a leadership role to ensure that countries around the world are working to advance the rights and status of women. One way the United States can show its leadership is by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that focuses exclusively on women’s rights and gender equality. The convention sets a global definition for discrimination against women and outlines a plan to end that discrimination. Those states that ratify the convention are required to take, “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”

The failure of the United States to ratify CEDAW is a glaring blemish on our record of advocacy for human rights around the world and a disservice to the women of the world. The United States is one of only seven countries who have not ratified the convention along with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Nauru, and Tonga. Is this the kind of company the United States wants to keep? It is time for the U.S. Senate to think of women around the world and step up to ratify CEDAW.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

Save Women’s Lives, Give Them What They Want

June 9th, 2011

Every 90 seconds somewhere in the world a woman dies due to pregnancy related causes, with 99% of the victims dying in the developing world. That adds up to over 350,000 women dying every year while trying to give life and for every woman who dies 30 more suffer serious illness or debilitating injury. This is progress from 2005 where there was a woman dying every minute, and 535,000 dying every year. However, the maternal mortality rate is not declining fast enough to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 (MDG5) which calls for reducing the maternal mortality rate ¾ below the 1990 level by 2015. The 34% decline in maternal mortality equates to an average annual decline of 2.3%. In order to meet MDG5 that rate of annual decline will have to be increased to 5.5%, more than double the current rate.

The good news is that we know what needs to be done in order to lower the maternal mortality rate.  One important but easy step in meeting MDG5 is ensuring that we meet MDG5b, which calls for universal access to reproductive health care by 2015. Family planning, in particular, will help to lower the maternal mortality rate by reducing pregnancy-related deaths.  By investing in family planning internationally, we can prevent unintended pregnancies and abortions, and save the lives of mothers and their children. For every $100 million invested in family planning 2.1 million unintended pregnancies are prevented, 825,000 abortions are prevented, 70,000 infant deaths are prevented, and 4,000 mother lives are saved.

Right now there are 215 million women of reproductive age who would like to time or space their births differently or stop having children all together but they are not using modern contraceptives and are said to have an unmet need for family planning. By meeting the existing unmet need, maternal deaths would be reduced by around 35 percent and the number of abortions in developing countries would be reduced by 70 percent.  Investing in international family planning saves lives.

Not only does family planning save lives, it is cost effective. According to the “Adding it Up” report released last year by the Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund, it would cost an additional $3.6 billion to cover the costs of providing family planning services to all women in developing countries who need them.  Doing so, however, would reduce the cost of providing maternal and newborn care to all who need them by $5.1 billion–a net savings of $1.5 billion.

So if family planning saves lives and investing in family planning saves money, why are we not investing more in international family planning? Make your voice heard and show your support for international family planning services. Sign the Million for a Billion petition, which asks Congress to make sure women internationally have access to family planning by increasing U.S. funding for family planning and reproductive health programs to $1Billion: http://www.millionforabillion.com.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

9 Billion People, Climate Change, and Food Prices

June 6th, 2011

Right now there are 925 million hungry people worldwide and it is possible that this number will climb to 1 billion by the end of the year due to extreme weather and rising food prices. This would be the highest level since the food crisis in 2008 where there were food protests in 61 countries and protests turned violent or into food riots in 23 countries. While the increase in food prices was barely felt in the developed world, poor households in the developing world can spend up to ¾ of their income on food. This means that when the price of food increases they may not have the resources to adapt to the increased prices, as a result the World Bank estimated that the 2008 increase in food prices pushed over 100 million people into poverty.

If that is what the world looks like now, what does that mean for the future? By 2050 we will be looking at a world that will be trying to cope with the impacts of climate change where the world population is expected to reach just over 9 billion with 4 billion of those people living in areas that are chronically short of water. What will that mean for the food prices and the fight against hunger?

Last week Oxfam released a report, “Growing a Better Future: Food Justice in a Resource-Constrained World,” giving us a look into that future and it paints a pretty grim picture for world hunger by 2030. The report warns that with the myriad of pressures facing the food system prices will continue to rise and more people will go hungry in the future.

According to Oxfam:

The food system is bucking under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products, and competition for land from biofuels, industry, and urbanization.

The warning signs are clear. Surging and unstable international food prices, growing conflicts over water, the increased exposure of vulnerable population to drought and floods are all symptoms of a crisis that may soon become permanent: food prices are forecast to increase by something in the range of 70 to 90 percent by 2030 before the effects of climate change, which will roughly double price rises again.

The report argues that the largest challenges facing the food system are: how are we going to feed 9 billion people by 2050 without overexploiting the planet; how do we ensure men and women living in poverty are able to either buy enough or grow enough food to eat; and how will we manage the volatility in a food system dealing with the effects of climate? If we don’t take this opportunity to aggressively address each one of these challenges the future could be bleak, especially for those living in Sub-Saharan Africa where not only are they expected to experience the most rapid population growth, but also the worst impacts from climate change.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager