Mary Beth Hastings, vice president of the Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE), writes in the Huffington Post’s “Impact” blog that despite “the pervasive myth that no one wants female condoms,” “[d]emand is increasing because female condoms provide men and women with something they want: more options when it comes to protecting themselves.” USAID officials “were surprised to hear evidence of an unmet demand for female condoms,” Hastings says, adding, “[W]hen presented with evidence to the contrary, USAID started talking with different institutions about meeting the demand.” She continues, “To its credit, the U.S. government is a global leader on female condoms. But there is still room for improvement.”
Family Planning & Reproductive Health
After President Barack Obama’s re-election on Tuesday, the following blog posts addressed possible foreign policy priorities during the next administration.
“[I]t has been a banner year for media attention, political will and global resources on family planning and women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment,” Ward Cates, president emeritus of FHI 360; Laneta Dorflinger, a scientist with FHI 360; and Kirsten Vogelsong, a senior program officer with the family planning division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, write in the Huffington Post “Global Motherhood” blog, noting the London Summit on Family Planning, World Contraception Day, and the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child. “To achieve the ambitious goals set forth by these international initiatives, however, the global health and development community must act on the current political momentum and not lose sight of the challenges that remain,” they state. Though there are “many contraceptive choices available to prevent unintended pregnancy,” access to contraception is limited for many women and “the currently available methods do not always meet their needs, preferences or budgets,” they write.
The China Development Research Foundation, a Chinese government think tank close to the country’s central leadership, “is urging the country’s leaders to start phasing out its [so-called] one-child policy immediately and allow two children for every family by 2015,” the Associated Press reports. “The official Xinhua News Agency said the foundation recommends a two-child policy in some provinces from this year and a nationwide two-child policy by 2015,” according to the AP, which adds, “It proposes all birth limits be dropped by 2020, Xinhua reported.” The AP continues, “[I]t remains unclear whether Chinese leaders are ready to take up the recommendations. China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission had no immediate comment on the report Wednesday.” The news agency examines the complexity of the policy and its effects on Chinese demographics (Olesen/Ji, 10/31).
In the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ (CSIS) “Smart Global Health” blog, Phillip Nieburg, senior associate of the CSIS Global Health Policy Center, discusses a recent report (.pdf) he wrote, titled “Improving Maternal Mortality and Other Aspects of Women’s Health: The United States’ Global Role,” “that addresses key challenges to improving maternal mortality and women’s health worldwide and talks about what the related priorities of U.S. foreign policy should be.” He says, “Rather than continuing what appears to me as a piecemeal approach to global aspects of reproductive health, with separate programs to address, e.g., gender-based violence, women and HIV/AIDS, maternal mortality, family planning, cervical cancer, girls’ education, etc., I argue in my report that the United States should develop and implement a comprehensive global plan for women’s health that includes males as well as females, using coordinated prevention and care programming for each stage of the reproductive health life cycle” (10/25).
“Though the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been touted as one of our nation’s most successful initiatives in global health (and certainly one of President George W. Bush’s most positive legacies) it continues to miss the mark” when it comes to family planning, global gender specialist and freelance writer Jessica Mack writes in KPLU 88.5’s “Humanosphere” blog. “The essential role of contraception, especially barrier methods, in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS is intuitive, obvious, and also well documented,” she writes. “While earlier PEPFAR rules did not specifically dictate whether or not funding could be used for contraceptive supplies, the language over the last few years has become increasingly restrictive on this point,” she continues, noting that PEPFAR’s recently released 2013 country operational plan (COP) forbids the use of PEPFAR funds to purchase family planning commodities. Mack concludes, “PEPFAR is simply flying directly in the face of the Global Health Initiative’s vision and the stated objectives of the Obama Administration” (10/25).
In the Huffington Post’s “Politics” blog, Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, notes that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the XIX International AIDS Conference in July that all women should be able to decide “when and whether to have children” and that PEPFAR, in a guidance [.pdf] released last week, said, “Voluntary family planning should be part of comprehensive quality care for persons living with HIV,” and referred to family planning as a human right. “Then, in bold type, they punctuated it with, ‘PEPFAR funds may not be used to purchase family planning commodities,'” she writes. “They take it a step further with a caveat that before anyone decides they’d like their program to have anything to do with family planning, they had best consult relevant U.S. legal counsel first,” she adds. “To be fair, they do say that PEPFAR programs can just refer women to a different program that offers family planning,” but those programs are not always available, Sippel writes, adding, “So the suggestion is flawed from the start.”
“If [Republican presidential nominee Gov.] Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, were to win next month’s election, the harm to women’s reproductive rights would extend far beyond the borders of the United States,” a New York Times editorial says. In the U.S., “they would support the recriminalization of abortion with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and they would limit access to contraception and other services,” according to the editorial, which adds “they have also promised to promote policies abroad that would affect millions of women in the world’s poorest countries, where lack of access to contraception, prenatal care and competent help at childbirth often results in serious illness and thousands of deaths yearly.”
The New York Times’ “IHT Rendezvous” blog examines factors contributing to the more than 13 million abortions that occur in China every year, the highest number of any country worldwide. Though China’s so-called “one-child policy” is a contributing factor, “with women coerced into aborting ‘out of plan’ children by the threat of heavy fines or the loss of a job — or, in some cases, physically forced to abort,” some “scholars are now pointing to a new factor — under-25 women who, if they are unmarried, do not directly fall within the remit of the family planners,” the blog writes. A recent survey by China’s Research Institute of the National Population and Family Planning Commission estimates six million abortions occur annually among this group, the blog adds. This highlights other issues, the blog notes, including young people’s increased sexual freedoms and a culture and tradition that remains reluctant to discuss sex education, leaving young women without the knowledge of how to use contraception. “Yet gradually, people are beginning to talk more openly about what had long often been discussed only in absolute privacy,” the blog writes and provides some examples (Tatlow, 10/19).
“Uruguay’s Congress voted narrowly on Wednesday to legalize abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a rare move in largely Catholic Latin America that underscores the country’s liberal leanings,” Reuters reports. “President Jose Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla fighter, has said he would sign the bill into law,” the news service notes (Castaldi, 10/17). “[T]he bill approved by Uruguay’s Senate came after a pointed debate among legislators, producing a compromise that disappointed both abortion-rights groups and opponents, who have vowed to carry out a referendum to overturn the legislation,” the New York Times writes, adding, “Legislators carefully worded the bill, describing it not as legalization of abortion but as a decriminalization measure.” The newspaper writes, “The bill effectively legalizes abortion in the first trimester, permits abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and allows later-term abortions when a woman’s health is at risk” (Romero et al., 10/17).