|Top Ten Wins for Women's Health and Rights in 2007|
From new commitments to sex education programs to progress on securing a women's right to abortion, these ten developments show that women's health was a priority concern in 2007, and will continue to require our attention and dedication in 2008.
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The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria decides to develop gender policy…
An estimated 15.4 million women were living with HIV in 2007; 1.6 million more than in 2001.
The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has provisions for "gender" programs, but restricts uses of funds in other ways that actually increase women's and young people's vulnerability. Congress can change this.
On December 5, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) introduced the Protection Against Transmission of HIV for Women and Youth (PATHWAY) Act to better empower women and girls against the pandemic. A similar bill in the House was introduced by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT). If enacted, PATHWAY would require that PEPFAR support concrete programs to reduce women's and girls' disproportionate vulnerability to HIV, such as increasing access to female condoms and bolstering health care services that women use.
Mexico City's legislature legalizes abortion, making it the largest city in Latin America to allow abortion….
African leaders have called for "political commitment" to curb unsafe, illegal abortions, and Brazilian President Ignacio Lula Da Silva labeled unsafe abortion a public health issue. Now, these leaders and others must pave the way for legalization and access to services.
In the United States, antiabortion activists have long pushed for a state court case to directly challenge Roe v. Wade. State governments and the U.S. Supreme Court must resist repeated attempts to erode and overturn the historic ruling.
Global donors pledge new funds to end more than half a million deaths and 10 million injuries—annually….
Two new reviews of "abstinence-only" sex education find the approach ineffective...
What's next...The pressure is on to stop funding what doesn't work and start implementing what does.
Many developing countries, even traditionally conservative ones, are leading the way. In Cameroun, longtime IWHC partner Femmes, Santé, Développement (FESADE) launched a sexuality education curriculum in April 2007. It teaches young people about their bodies, how to build respectful and equality-based relationships, and how to protect themselves and each other. In strong support, Minister of Public Health, Urbain Olanguena Awono called the curriculum "a lasting symbol… [of] the promotion and continued growth of the health, prosperity and development of adolescents and youth."
The Nigerian Parliament rejects an anti-gay bill…
In 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to allow same-sex marriage. Since then, five other jurisdictions have legalized gay marriage: Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Spain, and the U.S. state of Massachusetts. A further 16 countries and nine U.S. states recognize civil unions that give same-sex couples all or some of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.
On December 13, leaders of the European Union member states signed the Reformed Treaty which includes the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter is the first international treaty containing explicit prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Lawmakers pass measures to provide emergency contraception…
Several states, including Connecticut, Oregon, and Colorado mandated hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, to inform sexual assault survivors about emergency contraception (EC) and make it available upon request. New York went one step further, covering EC up to six times per year for women ages 18 and older under Medicaid.
Politicians and pharmacists in Italy responded angrily to Pope Benedict XVI's appeal in October for pharmacists to refuse to dispense EC if they object on moral grounds. Italian Health Minister Livia Turco, noted that while the Pope had the right to urge young people to be sexually responsible, his warning to pharmacists to be "conscientious objectors" to EC "should not be taken into consideration."
New Hampshire becomes the first U.S. state to repeal a parental notification law for abortion…
In June, New Hampshire repealed a law requiring health care providers to notify parents at least 48 hours before providing an abortion to a woman under the age of 18. Alaska followed suit in November when its State Supreme Court declared a similar law unconstitutional. The Court ruled that the law violated the state constitution's explicit right to privacy by giving parents "veto power" over a minor's decision to have an abortion.
More than 30 states have laws requiring some form of parental consent. Legislators backing such laws hold the contradictory ideas that teenagers are not ready to decide to have an abortion but are mature enough to raise a child. By delaying a teen's decision about abortion, these laws compromise her health because an earlier abortion is a safer one.
What's next...Recognition of the rights of young people is growing worldwide.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes young people's rights to make decisions according to their evolving capacity but these rights are widely violated.
At a high-level UN meeting in December on children's health and human rights these basic issues were ignored. Governments must make more progress in protecting and promoting the rights of children and young people.
India's government launches mandatory sex education classes nationwide in public schools….
What's next...Will state governments gut the initiative or follow through?
Oregon joins 26 other states in requiring that health insurance plans include contraceptives in prescription drug coverage…
In a related victory, after five years of litigation, Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private sector employer, began offering contraceptive coverage to its employees.
Since 1997, Congress has failed to pass the federal Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act, despite bipartisan support. Many presidential candidates support equitable prescription coverage for contraceptives, while others have yet to take a position. The next President should push through this health policy, which has been stalled in Congress for a decade.
U.S. scientists design a new female condom, receive funding for microbicide development…
The only female-initiated method to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the female condom, allows women greater control over safe-sex negotiations and protection against pregnancy and STIs. PATH, a nonprofit research group based in Seattle, recently designed a cheaper and improved model. Proponents say the new female condom, which is not yet approved for use, will increase the popularity and availability of the condom and further initiatives against unwanted pregnancy and STIs.
Last month, the CONRAD Program of the Eastern Virginia Medical School received $28.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue efforts to develop a microbicide for HIV prevention. The award will support testing of new microbicides, substances like contraceptive foam or jelly that could be inserted into the vagina to prevent HIV infection.
What's next...Will the world dedicate itself to putting the power of HIV prevention in women's hands?