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Archives for Women

Digital Birth Control On Your iPhone

Just when you thought there was an application for everything, now you can download birth control to your smart phones. The ability to plan or prevent pregnancy is something most couples in developed nations take for granted. In poor countries where health systems are often weak and individuals can’t afford to see a health professional this luxury is wanted and needed, but not easily attained.

An estimated 200 million women wish they could plan for or prevent pregnancy because having more children poses a health risk to the woman or an economic challenge for the family.

The product, iCycleBeads, is now available at the iTunes store. It’s a natural birth control method that enables a woman to track her menstrual cycle and know if she is on a day when pregnancy is likely or not. Many women and couples prefer this method because it is:

  • More than 95% Effective
  • Side-Effect Free
  • Easy to Use
  • Inexpensive
  • Educational & Empowering

Since 1985 USAID has supported the use and development of natural family planning methods that give couples the tools they need to plan for the future health and stability of their families. It was a USAID-funded study that originally developed the science and methodology behind Cyclebeads which has helped couples in developing countries plan their families for decades.

This new trend towards digitizing birth control through smart phone applications or similar services offered on regular cell phones means more couples will have access to the family planning services they want.

CycleBeads is a color-coded string of beads that represents the days of a woman’s cycle and helps her use a natural family planning method called the Standard Days Method®. To use CycleBeads, a woman simply moves a ring over the beads to track each day of her cycle. The color of the beads lets her know whether she is on a day when pregnancy is likely or not and whether her cycle length is in the appropriate range for using this natural family planning method.

Saving Seca – Protecting Victims of Trafficking

Human trafficking is an abuse of human rights and a form of modern slavery that transcends societal borders without regard to race, gender or age. It affects men, women and children all over the world but most especially in developing countries.

Individuals and families are entrapped in through forced labor and complicated schemes of debt bondage that often continue from one generation to the next. Countless victims are forced to become child soldiers or sexual slaves, coerced into prostitution and humiliating, often brutal situations that result in physical and psychological trauma.

The global community has condemned human trafficking and is committed to finding ways to stop traffickers and better assist victims. Today, USAID Chief Counselor, Bambi Arellano spoke at the Washington D.C. premiere of the anti-trafficking film, Saving Seca, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  The screening was a joint collaboration between USAID and The Asia Foundation for  the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence,” campaign which runs each year from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women through International Human Rights Day.

The film is intended as a police training tool that demonstrates best practices for ensuring the protection of trafficking victims during brothel raids and rescues. It is a dramatization presented in Cambodian with English subtitles; it follows Seca, a young trafficking victim who has been sold to a brothel and the Cambodian’s police efforts to free her and other victims. The film has been endorsed by the Royal Government of Cambodia and is now included in the official training for police in that country.

Gender violence is a global epidemic – a human rights abuse that encompasses a broad range of issues including human trafficking. USAID is committed to working with our partners and the NGO community to continue to combat gender based violence and human trafficking around the world.

U.S. Responds to Cholera Outbreak in Haiti

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Nancy Lindborg is the Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. Photo Credit: USAID

Responding to disasters is never easy, and the cholera outbreak in Haiti is no exception.  The six-week-old outbreak has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Haitians and infected 80,000 others.  Sadly, this illness will likely continue to spread for many months to come, and cholera will be present in Haiti for years.

Six weeks after joining USAID, I traveled to Haiti as part of the U.S. response to the cholera outbreak.  I saw the worst of it:  sick women and children, massive dehydration, and widespread fear.

I also saw signs of hope and reasons for the American people to be proud of our response to the outbreak.  The Haitian Government is leading the charge against cholera, and the U.S. Government is coordinating with the international community to deliver life-saving supplies, train Haitian medical staff, and monitor the outbreak.

United States government assistance to the cholera outbreak has been a swift, coordinated multi-agency effort.  We have collectively provided more than $21.5 million in assistance for the cholera outbreak in Haiti to date.  As cholera continues to spread, the U.S. Government is focusing on both the prevention of and treatment for the disease.

On the prevention side, USAID is supporting a nationwide messaging campaign to promote better hygiene practices and increase public awareness of prevention and treatment of the disease.  We are also training almost 7,500 community health workers and hygiene promoters across all 10 departments in Haiti.

Slideshow provided by Flickr. Click here for captions and high-resolution images

To further assist the Government of Haiti’s cholera prevention programs, USAID has already delivered or scheduled the delivery of much-needed cholera prevention supplies.  These include:

  • 30 metric tons of chlorine, which will provide nationwide treatment of Haiti’s  water utilities for three months
  • 15 million aquatabs, enough to help 750,000 people
  • Nearly 63,000 family hygiene kits, to benefit 345,000 people

As the numbers of cholera patients increases, we are also increasing our cholera treatment activities. U.S. government funding has established 27 cholera treatment facilities, and we are working to bring an additional 37 facilities online as soon as possible.

To further increase treatment capacity, USAID delivered 25 cholera treatment kits to Port-au-Prince last week.  These kits include items such as medical supplies, gloves, soap, and intravenous fluid, and the kits will help treat 10,000 moderate and severe cholera patients.  These cholera kits are being placed at critical sites in underserved and remote, rural areas in each of Haiti’s 10 departments.

USAID is also providing supplies to aid in the treatment of cholera.  The following supplies are already in country or planned for staggered arrival through the month of January:

  • 5.3 million ORS sachets, which will benefit an estimated 530,000 people
  • 600,000 liters of ringer’s lactate, which will benefit 75,000 patients
  • 2,000 cholera beds

NGOs, donors, and other members of the international community are also mobilizing to help curb the spread of this epidemic.  Tragically, it will be nearly impossible to fully stop the course of this epidemic.  The earthquake exacerbated Haiti’s weak sanitation systems and health infrastructure, making it particularly susceptible to disease outbreaks.  Cholera is also a new disease for Haitians, so their immune system is more vulnerable than those populations where cholera is endemic.

Our goal is first to ensure every Haitian receives information about how to prevent infection and how to recognize the early symptoms of cholera. Secondly, we are determined to reduce both fatalities and the number of severe cases that require hospitalization.  We’re already seeing progress.  Early in the outbreak, about 9 percent of hospitalized cholera cases were fatal.  In the latest reports from Haiti’s Ministry of Health, that figure is down to 3.5 percent.

To say 2010 was a challenging year for Haiti would be a brash understatement.   An earthquake, hurricane, and disease outbreak would test the mettle of any population, but Haitians are confronting these challenges head on, and they’re doing it with unprecedented resolve and tenacity.

One Man Can

There may be one major factor overlooked in the struggle for women’s rights: men. Skeptics are being won over by the preponderance of evidence proving that unless men are actively engaged in supporting the empowerment of women, progress will remain painfully slow and women will remain vulnerable to health threats, including gender-based violence.  While this may seem obvious, the findings demonstrate a need to incorporate educating males as a key function of women’s rights organizations and programs.

Years ago, women’s health activists fighting for limited resources believed involving men would take away from the women. Today, studies clearly show that is not the case, and activists now see men as playing a central role in achieving their goal.

Programs like USAID’s “One Man Can” focuses efforts on changing the attitudes of men to create an equitable balance of power, privilege, responsibilities and resources that men and women possess. These programs are proven more effective when men see the advantages for themselves, their partners, and children.

Traditionally, men are prone to take more risks with their health, are less likely to seek professional healthcare services, and often choose to remain emotionally distant from women and children.  These norms are detrimental for both men and women, and provide a poor example to children who then perpetuate this cycle.

Reaching boys and young men in their formative years helps to shape their view of women as equals. This approach at the community level must be reinforced by policies that establish this equality as a social norm. By educating men about the consequences of their actions, and enforcing policies that favor equality, traditional ways of thinking can be challenged and changed.

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

Micro Entrepreneurs, Big Dreams

In most ways, Khanum Bibi is an ordinary Punjabi wife in Lahore, Pakistan—the country’s second largest metropolitan area. Married 25 years, she and her husband Nisar have raised a son and five daughters in a small village on the outskirts of the city relying on his income as a day laborer and her work making and embellishing ladies garments with beads at home.

One of Bibi’s daughters at work embellishing a shalwar. Photo Credit: USAID/Pakistan

The family squeaked by until hard times struck last year. In the heart of an economic downturn, Nisar was injured in a street accident and could no longer work. Trapped economically, the couple agreed that Bibi should take the unusual step of venturing out of the house and proposed to her neighbors to sell the garments together to get better deals from market vendors.

At just the right moment a USAID program offered to train her on product design and development, use of raw materials, market demand, and pricing arrangements. The next month, Bibi left her daughters to work at home and became a sales agent – an entrepreneur.

“I have had a difficult life,” Bibi said, wiping a tear with her headscarf. “But I feel a tremendous responsibility for my family since my husband’s injury. My becoming a sales agent has improved our condition, and also my confidence. Now that I have this opportunity, I want to maximize it.”

This USAID program will increase the incomes of at least 120,000 micro entrepreneurs like Bibi by developing the capabilities of indigenous organizations and local private and public sector partners working with micro entrepreneurs and small enterprises to significantly build their businesses.

As for Bibi, she consults with her husband Nihar on all important business decisions, and maintains her established role in the family setting as she breaks down some of Pakistan’s social barriers and rigid social traditions.

“My husband didn’t give me the right to work,” Bibi said. “I earned it. Today we make joint decisions, and the people in our village understand. USAID has given me new ideas and approaches I never would have considered.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

Taking a Stand Against Violence Now

“Girls have been made to believe that they need someone to survive.”

These powerful words came from one of the commentators in the short documentary, SASA!, a film about women, violence and HIV/AIDS.

Sasa is Kiswahili for “now.” As in now is the time to take a stand against women’s violence. And we need to make this change now.

SASA! tells the powerful story of Josephine and Mama Joyce, two women from different countries, but in similar situations. Beaten, abused, pushed down, and left HIV positive by the men they married.

As young women, they were made to feel powerless and told they wouldn’t be happy unless they were with a man—even a man who abuses them.

Their situations are not isolated cases; globally, at least one out of every four women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime.

One out of four.

Gender based violence (GBV), is a pervasive public health and human rights issue throughout the world. GBV consists of sexual, physical, emotional and/or financial abuse and is manifested throughout the life cycle.

Furthermore, this type of violence against another human being has negative health consequences.

In Mama Joyce and Josephine’s situations, they were both left HIV positive. Josephine’s husband slept with other women, and when she brought up the use of a condom, he beat her. And even though she protested, he forced sex on her. Adding salt to the wound, her in-laws blamed their son’s death on her. Mama Joyce’s husband left her and his second wife, leaving Mama Joyce to take care of her ailing “co-wife.”

But these women remained strong. They became leaders in their communities, hold support groups, and encourage other women who are in similar situations.End Violence Against Women Graphic

USAID, through the Global Health Initiative, is fully committed to preventing and responding to gender-based violence. Interventions work with both men and women to address the multiple factors at various levels that fuel the issue, and we are looking to help make a change in these women’s lives now.

Women Leaders Combating Violence Against Women in India

During President Obama’s visit to India earlier this month, Ms. Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to President Obama for Intergovernmental and Public Engagement, along with USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, led a roundtable discussion with leading women activists and experts in India’s development sector who focus on women’s empowerment issues.

India has a history of strong women leaders in this area and several of the notable participants, and their organizations, have been working on gender issues for over 30 years, some with USAID support. Great examples of women’s empowerment activities coming out of the discussion were SEWA’s program that is empowering women workers in 11 Indian states and countries across the region and the USAID-funded Garima Project which focuses on communities holistically, including men and boys, and specifically on Muslim women and gender-based violence from the human rights perspective.  As a sub-grant under the the Garima Project, the Indian NGO, Independent Commission for People’s Rights and Development (ICPRD), provides training, mentoring, mass campaigns, street theater, and other activities targeting gender-based violence.

Watch here as Dr. Nandini Azad, the President of ICPRD, explains how young men, some of whom used to commit acts of gender discrimination and violence themselves but have since been rehabilitated, perform their street theater.  The boys are from low-income communities who are spearheading a movement to end gender-based violence in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Karnataka. Here, they role play the life of women and girls in a typical rural household and engage the audience in a dicussion that focuses on female empowerment.  They perform these plays at public gathering places in rural areas and draw large crowds.

But many challenges do remain.  For example, in India a crime against a woman occurs every 3 minutes; a woman is raped every 29 minutes; a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes; and a case of cruelty by a husband or relative occurs every 9 minutes. USAID is responding to these grim statistics by empowering women through advocacy and policy efforts that focus on preventing violence against women, affronts to the dignity of the girl child, and child marriage.

Over the last seven years, USAID has been committed to advancing the rights of women by:

  • Providing training to over 1,100 doctors and prosecutors to handle cases of violence against women;
  • Facilitating a national coalition of 900 NGOs and individuals who lobby the government on women’s issues; and
  • Forming of over 120 Youth Forums Against Gender-Based Violence that create awareness in villages through debates, discussions, essay competitions, and street theater performances.

On November 29, Ms. Biswal and Dr. Azad continued the discussion on a panel session at the U.S. State Department entitled, “Changing Attitudes: What Men and Boys Can Do to Address and Prevent Violence against Women,” where a USAID-funded video of ICPRD’s work was also shown. The event was hosted by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, as an activity under the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

Helping Women Avoid HIV Infection and Transmission

HIV-positive and pregnant with her second child, Grace Abalo was like many other women in the developing world- in need of services to prevent her child from contracting HIV. Determined to have her baby born healthy, Grace and her husband joined a USAID-funded family support group at the health center near their home in Uganda.

There Grace learned how to access prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programs and other services that support their health in the long term, as well as strategies for positive living, safe infant feeding, and healthy child care.

“I learned why and how to adhere to cotrimoxazole prophylaxis, what antiretroviral therapy is, and which breastfeeding options would not put my children at risk of being infected,” said Grace.

Armed with knowledge and support, Grace was able to ensure her child stayed HIV negative. She and her husband continued to receive ongoing support through the network of people living with HIV/AIDS, and she has even begun to help other HIV-positive mothers take their children for testing and educates them on breastfeeding options.

With women of childbearing age accounting for more than half of the people living with HIV/AIDS, PMTCT programs are vital to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And while these interventions are aimed at women, it is just as important to gain support and participation from their male partners. Like Grace, the support of the men in the life of an HIV-positive woman can make a tremendous difference. With education of men, comes the understanding of the disease, how it’s spread, and how to treat it. This then can result in positive changes in gender, social and cultural norms.

Across the world women just like Grace deserve a chance to have healthy babies. Through the Global Health Initiative, USAID will continue to work to provide every woman with the opportunity to have a healthy child.

USAID at Forefront of HIV Prevention

On Monday, I convened a meeting to determine the next steps following the success of the CAPRISA trial, which showed the world that a microbicide could help prevent HIV transmission in women. Together with both public and private sector colleagues, we defined a way forward over the next two years to expedite licensure and prepare for the introductory phase of the gel or other ARV-based microbicides. I will also convene an additional meeting  of technical experts in the field to discuss how to aggressively roll out microbicide treatments to those most in need.  We have a shared responsibility to build on the successes achieved to date by making smart investments that will ultimately save more lives in the future.

Giving Girls a Chance Against HIV/AIDS

In Malawi, Chimwemwe Banda was abandoned by her parents when she was a young girl; she and her sister were left to take care of themselves. Without money to pay for basic needs or tuition, Chimwemwe was forced to drop out of school. In hopes of improving her situation, like many girls in Malawi, she entered into an early marriage— Chimwemwe was only 15 years old on her wedding day.  Soon after she married, Chimwemwe realized that life was not going to get better just because she had a husband.

Chimwemwe Banda is one of the many girls who has benefited from a Go Girls! community intervention. Photo Credit: Hilary M. Schwandt/AFP

Early marriage, along with behaviors such as transactional and intergenerational sex, contributes to girls’ vulnerability to HIV. Chimwemwe is just one of the 600 million girls living in poverty who are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Similarly, girls who are orphans, early school leavers, socially marginalized, and/or migrants have a heightened vulnerability to the virus. Worldwide, women and girls bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic; according to the World Health Organization, AIDS is the leading cause of death among women aged 15-44 worldwide.

Socio-economic factors like poverty, along with gender norms such as expectations around early marriage, can lead to increased vulnerabilities that discourage girls from asserting control over the timing and circumstances of sex, including negotiating protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Most interventions to date have focused on individual-level behavioral change without sufficient consideration of the structural factors that fuel the epidemic. USAID is working to address this imbalance through the Go Girls! Initiative.

In fact, it was Go Girls! that stepped in to help Chimwemwe. With their assistance Chimwemwe dissolved her marriage. Her village developed a community mobilization team that recognized the detrimental effects of early marriage on girls, and advocated delaying marriage as a strategy for maintaining girls’ health and encouraging their educational pursuits.

Since the end of her marriage, Chimwemwe returned to school. She now leads a happier life and enjoys going to school everyday. “I feel good about being back in school,” she said. “If I had the opportunity to advise other girls, I would tell them not to marry early but to continue schooling because school is good. I am working hard at school every day so that I may have a brighter future.”

The 16 Days Campaign to End Violence Against Women: From 25 November to 10 December, USAID will post a blog each day that aims to prove a single point: The human race cannot progress when half of the world population lives without the same rights and respect afforded to its male counterpart. If you are moved by what you read and want to share, we’ve made it easy for you. Click here to find out how.

World AIDS Day 2010

On World AIDS Day, we commit to build upon our successes and continue to make smart investments that will ultimately save and improve millions of lives.  Join us this week as we highlight some of our successes and share stories of those helped by our programs.

If you’d like to learn more about the Go Girls! program, including how to access free copies of the Go Girls! program materials, contact ghcommunicationsteam@usaid.gov

 

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