EDITORIAL: Fight for women’s health in developing nations
Feminism is rapidly seizing America as women across the country fight for equality. There’s been a movement to close the wage gap, a movement to get more women in leadership roles and a movement to give women domain over their bodies. Women even marched on Washington!
All of these things are amazing, and I’m so glad to live in a country where people stand up for themselves, but today, I’m going to take a broader look at feminism.
I feel very fortunate to be a woman in the U.S. — key words: in the U.S. Although there are a plethora of issues surrounding women in developing countries, there’s one pressing problem that I feel is often overlooked.
Ladies: When you have a female health issue, what do you do? You call the doctor and get medical attention.
When your period starts, what do you do? You buy some tampons or pads and continue with your day.
It’s hard to fathom a world where either of these things can’t be solved by a five-minute drive to a drug store or doctor’s office, but I implore you to try. Think about what life would be like if you had a female health issue and there was no doctor to help you — a world where your period starts, and suddenly you’re a social outcast forced to stay home until you’re “clean” again.
According to the World Health Organization’s 2015 data, “Sexual and reproductive health problems are responsible for one-third of health issues for women between the ages of 15-44.” This is largely due to unsafe sex because in developing nations, women have no access to contraceptives.
We’re talking about 222 million women being subjected to HIV/AIDS, HPV and sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Diseases like gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis — which can be easily managed in the U.S. and other developed countries with national healthcare — are responsible for thousands of deaths in low-income nations. Syphilis alone has caused more than 20,000 stillbirths and early fetal deaths each year and more than 90,000 newborn deaths.
Health isn’t all about being sick, though; it’s also about being well. It’s a normal, healthy thing for the female body to menstruate once a month, but in some countries, a girl’s period is shameful or embarrassing, and they’re forced to stay home until it’s over. This means young girls are suddenly missing about one week of school every month; they quickly fall behind and most have to drop out.
Just like in the U.S., it’s hard for someone to make it far in life without a basic education, so missing school because of a period can have a devastating effect on these young girls’ lives.
To add to the “shame” of being a functioning female, some of these girls don’t have any hygiene supplies to manage their flow. So even if they wanted to or were allowed to leave their homes, they wouldn’t be able to.
Luckily, there are organizations and companies dedicated to eradicating these problems. The International Women’s Health Coalition exists to fight for girls’ human rights, health rights and equality. Their mission is to “advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people, particularly adolescent girls, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.”
The coalition has given $24 million in grants to women and advocates in these areas. They have supported 225 youth activists in 60 countries so they can become “leading advocates.”
If you feel empowered to help women globally, consider donating to IWHC or even joining their Young Advocates Network, which is an online group of people working to achieve the coalition’s goals.
The second resource is a fairly young company that I recently discovered and fell in love with. THINX is a business that sells period panties. You read it: period panties. It’s basically underwear with a really amazing, ultra-absorbent pad inside so girls don’t have to worry about leakage.
The company was started by entrepreneur Miki Agrawal, who has branded herself on her desire to break taboos. The great thing about THINX, though, is she uses it as a platform to help girls in Uganda who don’t have access to feminine hygiene products.
She partnered with AFRIpads, which manufactures cloth pads girls can put in their underwear during their period, to help break the menstruation stigma and get girls back in school. Every pair of THINX panties sold provides AFRIpads to girls in Uganda.
This article has only scratched the surface of the global health problem among women. If I’ve sparked any type of interest in you, please do further research and find a way to support organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned. A little help can go a long way, and if we aren’t here to help each other, then what’s life all about?