Category Archives: Health

Are women with disabilities second class citizens?

Are women with disabilities second class citizens?


There are an estimated 40 million EU citizens facing numerous barriers in the enjoyment of their rights, suffer social exclusion, discrimination and violence.

Despite representing 16 per cent of the EU’s female population, women and girls with disabilities are still living on the margins of society. Such actions must stop and the European Institutions must speak out collectively to prevent this ongoing abuse.

Women with disabilities need special support, yet there is no proper focus on them at EU level, neither in the strategy on women nor in the strategy on persons with disabilities. It’s as if they have disappeared, like they are of lesser value than the rest of the population.

It has been heart-warming therefore to see the European Parliament’s FEMM Committee has focussed on this subject and asked the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the body representing European organised civil society to do the same.

The EESC adopted its opinion on the matter in July, calling on EU Institutions and Member States to step up their efforts to protect women and girls with disabilities, who continue to face multiple and intersectional discrimination on the grounds of both their gender and disability, often resulting in their social exclusion.

The situation of women and girls with disabilities is not only worse than that of females without disabilities, but it is also worse than that of their male peers.

They are up to five times more likely to be victims of violence, domestic as well as institutional. Gender and disability stereotypes can also be found in media and in educational systems across the EU, thus constituting to an obstacle to an inclusive education.

Only 18.8 per cent of women with disabilities are employed, against 28.1 per cent of men. Those employed, often face underpayment while those that are unemployed are exposed to poverty and social exclusion.

“Disability should be mainstreamed in EU gender policy and gender in the EU disability strategy, as well as in the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights”

Disability should be mainstreamed in EU gender policy and gender in the EU disability strategy, as well as in the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. For this, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and its Article 6 which concerns women with disabilities must be implemented fully.

EU funds should be used to support Member States to introduce measures that guarantee the full participation of women with disabilities in public and political life, employment and education and empower them to have full control of their sexual and reproductive rights.

Access to healthcare must be improved for these females: both disability-specific as well as mainstream healthcare services. Healthcare facilities and equipment – such as mammogram machines and gynaecological examination beds – are often physically inaccessible to them, meaning that they find themselves excluded from preventive health measures, like breast screenings.

The EESC called for an end to forced sterilisation and for all women to be granted the right to make their own decisions about retaining their fertility or starting a family and stressed the importance for the EU and Member States to implement the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating gender based violence.

The EU and its Member States should launch an awareness-raising campaign about disability-related legislation, which should make women and girls with disabilities more visible and help combat prejudice against them.

It is hoped that women with disabilities will put themselves forward in the upcoming European elections in May 2019.

About the author

Gunta Anca is European Economic and Social Committee, Rapporteur Women with Disabilities

PCOS (Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome) and What You Should Know.

PCOS (Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome) and What You Should Know.


Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder which affects every one in ten women. PCOS is one of the causes of female infertility. Many women trying to get pregnant face barriers because they miss their period and therefore miss ovulation. PCOS is therefore linked with reproductive health. What contraception to use for women with PCOS depends greatly. Hormonal contraception like birth control can work for some women but not for others. It is always beneficial to speak to a doctor or specialists as everyone’s hormonal levels vary.


It is not always necessary that women with PCOS can not have children. There are various treatments that can help women with PCOS conceive. One example for conceiving is to engage in copulation during ovulation. Another method can be IVF.


PCOS can be diagnosed when there are irregular ovulation periods in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Women have irregular period with the time duration in between one to six months.


A woman with PCOS will have high levels of androgen in their body. Even though androgen is found in both men and women, men possess high levels of the hormone and it helps with the development of male genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics.


High blood sugar levels cause hormonal imbalance and can order the ovaries to make more testosterone. Androgen helps make that happen. High blood sugar leads to high androgen which leads to high testosterone which leads to PCOS. High blood sugar is the result of insulin resistance. When our cells get used to a certain amount of insulin they demand more which causes high blood sugar levels.




PCOS is diagnosed when ovarian cysts are discovered on a woman’s ovaries via ultrasound.


PCOS has undiscovered roots. The main cause of PCOS is unknown but much research has been conducted to conclude that it may be genetic as well as environmental.


Common symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Weight gain
  • Facial hair
  • Dark hair growth on the belly and breasts
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Infertility
  • Difficulty conceiving
  • Irregular periods
  • Acne


PCOS does not have a cure, however, it is manageable. Exercise, a good diet as well as alternative lifestyle choices can decrease PCOS symptoms.


The best way to decrease high blood sugar levels is through a good diet. Foods such as…:


  • Vegetables
  • Lemon or cucumber diffused water
  • Lentils
  • Corn
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Salmon
  • Lean meat
  • Peanut butter


…helps manage PCOS.


For more detailed information, click on the link below!



World bicycle day 2018: How bicycling boosts health

World bicycle day 2018: How bicycling boosts health


Sunday, June 3 is World Bicycle Day 2018, organised by the UN to celebrate the bicycle as a “simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit” method of transport, which of course also brings many health benefits. Here we round up some recent research which shows how swapping the car for the humble bike could give our health a big boost.

Improved mood and reduced stress

A small Canadian study published last year found that cycling to work can help get your day off to a better start, with those who commuted to work on their bike arriving in a better mood and with a lower level of stress than those who took the car. This positive effect also helped cyclists have a better day in general, reducing stress and even boosting work performance.

A lower risk of heart disease

UK research published earlier this year found that cycling or walking to work could help cut the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) or stroke. The large-scale study looked at over 350,000 participants to find that regular commuters who used a more active means of travel for commuting, such as cycling, had an 11% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 30% lower risk of fatal CVD. Regular commuters who cycled in their spare time had a 43% lower risk of fatal CVD. Even those who were not regular commuters but took the bike occasionally saw benefits, showing an 8% lower risk of all-cause mortality.

Reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes

A large-scale study carried out by the University of Southern Denmark found that cycling can help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. After looking at 24,623 men and 27,890 women, researchers found that those who cycled regularly were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and the more they cycled each week, the lower the risk was. The results also indicated that even those who took up regular cycling at a later age still benefited from a 20% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-cyclists.

It can help keep off extra weight

UK researchers who compared the daily modes of transport of nearly 150,000 participants found that cycling was one of the most effective forms of exercise for keeping trim and losing weight and was even more effective than walking. Those who cycled to work had lower BMIs than those who walked, drove, or took public transport and lower levels of body fat than those who took public transport or the car.

It’s safe for sexual health

Two separate studies published earlier this year found that cycling does not affect a man’s sexual or urinary health or a woman’s gynecological health. The first, carried out by the University of California, found that male cyclists’ sexual and urinary health was no worse than swimmers’ or runners’, although adjusting the handlebar height to be higher or even with the saddle reduced the chance of genital numbness and saddle sores. Researchers from UC San Francisco also found that although female cyclists had a higher risk of genital numbness and saddle sores than non-cyclists, as well as a higher risk of urinary tract infections, they showed no worse sexual or urinary function, and in fact high-intensity cyclists may benefit from improved sexual function.

Here’s what a world without birth control might be like

Here’s what a world without birth control might be like


 April 14

Remember the early 2000s, when the United States passed laws banning condoms and the pill, and sex was officially designated for reproductive purposes only?

Of course you don’t — it never happened. But a new art exhibition in New York imagines what life would be like if it had.

“Museum of Banned Objects,” at the Ace Hotel New York Gallery through April 30 (continuing online after that), looks at the history of “The Ban” from the vantage point of a dystopian future. The law — sweeping legislation in which all reproductive-health products and contraceptives were made illegal — took birth control underground.

Artists Ellie Sachs and Matt Starr, the museum’s “curators,” have assembled a collection of items that, while ordinary today, would be historical artifacts post-Ban, including condoms, birth control pills and bottles of the pre-exposure prophylaxis drug Truvada, used to prevent HIV infection. Each item is displayed in isolation along with a placard that delves into its history and use before it was made illegal.

If the museum is chilling, it’s supposed to be. Sachs and Starr intend the installation, which they developed along with Planned Parenthood, to illuminate unnerving uncertainties about reproductive rights. It evokes memories of not-so-distant days in which contraception was illegal in many states and strict anti-obscenity laws made the frank discussion of sexuality — and sexual health — complicated. And its exploration of the erosion of protections for contraception raises questions about how safe those rights are today.

Sachs and Starr say the point of their work is to drive social change and raise awareness about how close their fictitious world could be. Birth control isn’t banned. But the power of the Museum of Banned Objects is in its plausibility.

We Asked 5 Sexual Health Experts What Made ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Such a Revolutionary Resource

We Asked 5 Sexual Health Experts What Made ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Such a Revolutionary Resource

Earlier this month, the group responsible for publishing the long-running sexual health resource Our Bodies, Ourselves announced that it would no longer produce new editions. The website will also no longer be updated and will instead show excerpts from the book, archived reporting from the last 12 years, and information about the history of the book.

The book was originally published in 1970 under the name Women and Their Bodies as a 193-page booklet. Put together by a group of women first known as the Doctor’s Group, then the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (and now Our Bodies Ourselves), it was a revolutionary resource, thanks to its accurate and honest depiction of women’s health topics, including detailed information about reproductive anatomy and abortion. A year later, the title was changed to Our Bodies, Ourselves and, in 1973, the first commercial edition was published by Simon & Schuster, opening it up to a much wider audience.

Since then, it has been consistently updated every few years and translated into 31 languages. It’s become a staple in many women’s lives—something you might grab out of curiosity from your parents’ bookshelf as a kid or something your mom might gift you once you got to a certain age.

So, certainly, for anyone who grew up with Our Bodies, Ourselves, the announcement felt like the end of an era. But it’s also a sign that the way we seek out information and the wealth of information that’s available has evolved considerably since the book was first published nearly 50 years ago. And, at this point, there are many other ways to get that kind of information (hello, Internet).

Below, we spoke with five sexual and reproductive health experts about how Our Bodies, Ourselveshelped shape their ideas of women’s health and how we can help pass those ideas along to younger generations.

It’s hard to overstate the legacy of a book that’s impacted women’s lives for nearly five decades.

Our Bodies, Ourselves was the women’s health book for decades,” Debra Herbenick, M.D., professor and director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, tells SELF. “Many people don’t know this, but when it was first published, the collective of women who made it priced it incredibly low in order for the most number of women to be able to access it.” It was originally sold for just 75 cents.

Our Bodies, Ourselves is one of those rare books that generations of women can recall shaped their early sense of their bodies and their sexual and reproductive health,” she says.

Bodies in the book were realistic and authentic—rather than sexualized or pornographic.

“I remember reading Our Bodies, Ourselves cover to cover before I had even had my first period, which was probably the mark of a future gynecologist,” Gillian Dean, M.D., senior director of medical services at Planned Parenthood, tells SELF. “It was hugely important to me, it gave me a powerful feeling of being in control of some very important information and was a resource to me as I looked ahead to the changes that I was going to be going through.

“I’m sure it [impacted the way I practice medicine], I certainly came across it at a very formidable time,” she says. “I remember things like, in the ’70s, pen-and-ink drawings with all of the hyperrealism, the bodies with their different shapes and hair and in all of their real material humanness. And that really was part of why it was so powerful, because it didn’t provide an idealized image of people’s bodies and sexuality, but just a very real one that was nonetheless very positive and embracing without having to resort to something airbrushed or pornographic.”

The book covered all aspects of sexuality—not just safe sex, but also pleasurable sex.

“It really was a critical book,” Lauren Streicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. “When it came out it was the very first time there was a book that was frank, that looked at women’s sexuality in a way that was medically accurate and that was accessible to women, taking away the mystery behind it. For a lot of women this was really their only source of information, they certainly weren’t getting it in sex ed, they weren’t getting it from their doctors. And if not for Our Bodies, Ourselves they would have had no source of this critical information to help them navigate through these reproductive issues and even something as simple as normal anatomy.”

At the time it was originally published, marital guides—which contained information about how to keep your husband happy—were common. But Our Bodies, Ourselves “took a very different approach,” Dr. Streicher says. There were other books out there that explained safe sex or what happens in terms of the reproductive cycle, but this one also covered “the element beyond that, [which] is pleasurable sex, pleasurable intimacy,” she says. “This was about what you need to know as a functional mature woman in terms of your own body, your own sexuality, and your own reproductive functions.”

It encouraged everyone to take ownership of their body in a revolutionary way.

“I was privileged to work on an update of Our Bodies, Ourselves a few years ago and it’s difficult knowing where to start in reflecting on the impact of this ground-breaking publication,” Fred Wyand, director of communications at the American Sexual Health Association, tells SELF.

“The title itself gives insight into the value, and Our Bodies, Ourselves is much more than a book, it’s a vision of empowerment and ownership in a world where women still often struggle for basic rights. Proclaiming ‘our bodies’ makes it clear that this ownership is fundamental to good health and reproductive justice. It is an honor to be associated with Our Bodies, Ourselves and we all owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.”

Having accurate knowledge about our bodies is the first step toward advocating for our health.

“Learning that Our Bodies, Ourselves will no longer be published struck me with a pang of grief,” Michelle Nichols, M.D., a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells SELF. “This iconic book of the women’s liberation movement was born from a brave group of women’s desires to empower other women through education.”

“By learning about the anatomy, functionality, and health of female bodies, it emboldened a generation of women to advocate for themselves both in health care as well as in society at large.”

And that’s something we can’t let ourselves lose sight of.

Indian start-up ‘Buttalks’ is helping men buy better underwear

Indian start-up ‘Buttalks’ is helping men buy better underwear


At a time when internet-based companies are changing the way Indians pay bills, buy groceries, and commute, three Chennai-based entrepreneurs (Brijesh Devareddy, Surej Salim, and Manish Kishore) are using an e-commerce platform to help Indian men buy better underwear.

The start-up, called Buttalks, went live in August 2017, and already boasts of 1,400 customers, of whom 30% are annual subscribers.

What are their unique offerings?

India has had other innerwear start-ups like Zivame and Pretty Secrets, both of which preceded Buttalks. However, Buttalks is the first subscription-based, personalized innerwear start-up focusing solely on men’s innerwear.

Habits of Indian men with regard to underwear shopping

Despite the proliferation of e-commerce platforms, underwear shopping habits of Indian men remain backward, for the most part.

Buttalks’s initial research found that most men buy underwear in a somewhat mechanical manner without paying attention to what they exactly require.

Indian men also often do not know when it’s time to replace their underwear.

The size of the Indian innerwear market

The Indian innerwear market is expected to reach a valuation of Rs. 68,270 crore by 2024. According to consultancy firm Technopak, the men’s innerwear segment is currently worth Rs. 7,450 crore.

Health implicationsHealth implications of underwear habits

Apart from causing discomfort, ill-fitting and old, worn-out underwear has several health implications for men, implications which are often ignored and played down in Indian society.

According to Rajan Bhonsle, a professor and consultant in sexual medicine, wearing right-sized underwear has direct benefits for a man’s sexual health, while a proper fit helps reduce issues related to infertility.

Men’s health issues need to be highlighted too

“I see that there is so much ignorance about something as basic as this [choosing the right underwear]. This is something that’s never spoken about…women’s health issues have their space, but men’s issues lag behind. All these have to be highlighted,” added Bhonsle.

PackagesThe packages offered by Buttalks

Buttalks works through a subscription model wherein subscribers get periodic doorstep deliveries of underwear from the start-up.

The start-up offers three differently priced sampler or annual subscription plans starting at Rs. 999, the prices of which differ based on the brands that are included in a package.

Customers using the annual plan get three pairs of briefs four times a year.

What about Buttalks’s funding?

However, owing to the as yet unsuccessful subscription model, Buttalks faces many challenges in terms of funding. Although the start-up is set to close its first funding round soon, it remains boot-strapped so far. The co-founders also declined to share details of investors and revenues.

PersonalizationHow Buttalks personalizes underwear for a user

Regardless of one’s subscription plan, the briefs which go into boxes are personalized as per a user’s preferences.

Users have to fill out an exhaustive questionnaire while signing up so that Buttalks knows every customer’s preferences.

The questions range from a user’s preferred choice of fabric, colors, styles, and brands, to even users’ lifestyles.

Sexual partners shun CPR: Fewer than one in five men survive sex heart-attacks sex because their partners are reluctant to give the life-saving technique

Sexual partners shun CPR: Fewer than one in five men survive sex heart-attacks sex because their partners are reluctant to give the life-saving technique


  • Only a third of cases that occurred during intercourse received ‘bystander CPR’
  • This accounted for 20% of patients who survived to hospital discharge
  • Statistics come from 13-year study of 4,500 sudden cardiac arrests in Oregon
  • The technique has been found to double the chance of survival
  • Findings highlight importance of educating public on CPR method
  • Read on for a step-by-step guide to carrying it out by British Heart Foundation


Fewer than one in five men who suffer a cardiac arrest during sex survive, according to new research.

This is because their partner does not know how to perform a simple, life saving technique, say scientists.

It underlines the importance of teaching CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to the general population, they warned.

Sex is known to trigger a sudden cardiac arrest and this causes the heart to suddenly stop beating. It usually occurs without warning.

The 13-year study of more than 4,500 sudden cardiac arrests (SCAs) in Portland, Oregon, found only a third of cases that occurred during intercourse received ‘bystander CPR’.

It was determined this accounted for the less than 20 per cent of patients who survived to hospital discharge.

Experts say giving CPR can double the chances of survival of a cardiac arrest (stock image)

Experts say giving CPR can double the chances of survival of a cardiac arrest (stock image)

Doubles chance of survival

The British Heart Foundation says about 10,000 people die in the UK each year because bystanders do not know how to do CPR if they see someone having a cardiac arrest.

CPR involves giving regular chest compressions to make the heart pump blood around the body. It has been found to double the chance of survival.

Dr Chugh and colleagues showed although the overall risk of having a cardiac arrest during sex is low, death rates are high.

Only a small percentage of cases are related to sexual activity, but survival remains low.

The study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology said this was despite a partner being present.

Sex triggers heart attacks 

It results in around 350,000 deaths annually in the US, and about 100,000 in the UK. It is known sex may trigger cardiac arrests.

So the researchers looked at the community-based Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study (Oregon SUDS) database from 2002 to 2015 to discover their frequency during or within an hour after sex among over 18s.

All reported cases were based on emergency medical service reports containing detailed information regarding their cause.

In total, the researchers identified 4,557 during the study period, of which 34 (0.7%) were linked to sexual activity.

On average these patients were more likely to be male, middle aged, African-American and have a history of cardiovascular disease, with a majority taking medication for it.

Overall, the researchers said they found a relatively low burden of cardiac arrest in relation to sex.

Most cases were men with a previous history of cardiovascular disease. The researchers also noted some cases after sex may also involve medications, stimulants and alcohol use.

The latest study is the largest of its kind.

Earlier this year a much smaller French survey of just under 250 men found they were four times more likely to die when having a cardiac arrest during sex.

Just one in eight survived, compared to 50 percent for those who fell victim when doing other physical activities, such as sport or exercise.

That team suspected the reason was men are far less likely to call for help when they are naked.

Less than half of them were given CPR, compared to 80 percent of other cardiac arrest victims. They also had longer delays in getting treatment.

Scientists say the key to surviving is calling the emergency services immediately and starting treatment.

For every minute that the heart attacks passes untreated the chances of survival reduce by ten per cent. 

Source: British Heart Foundation 

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Samantha Jones would be so proud of the progress women’s sexual and reproductive health has made in recent years: Non-toxic tampons have gone mainstream, sex toys are getting a fem-positive makeover, and women aren’t just talking about their orgasms, they’re figuring out how to biohack them. But there’s one goodie drawer item that’s still kept pretty hush-hush: lube.

According to Aimee Eyvazzadeh, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, it’s time to pay more attention to the ingredients in your lube, which can impact your endocrine system, your fertility, and even your susceptibility to STDs. Don’t recall learning that in sex ed? Yeah, same.

Packaging matters more than you might think

You may already know to look for BPA-free water bottles and food containers, but have you ever considered how plastic packaging can affect your lube? “When it comes to plastics, there is so much data out there about BPA and those types of toxins, so you should absolutely care about the plastic containers that water- or silicone-based lubes are sitting in,” says Dr. Eyvazzadeh.

The first reason for concern: BPA is one of many potential hormone-disrupting chemicals that can migrate from packaging into the product it carries. And “the vagina is like a sponge,” says Dr. Eyvazzadeh. “Whatever you put in, it can get absorbed.” So do the math: If it’s in the packaging, it’s likely also in the product—and yes, it’s likely in your body, too.

Considering that the way BPA accumulates in the body can impact your reproductive health and your fertility, maybe save toxic plastics for your next screening of Mean Girls—and definitely leave them off your bedside table. Instead, look for products that come in BPA-free plastic (like those by Good Clean Love, which uses plastic made from recycled sugar cane), or opt for lubricants you find in your pantry (more on that later).

Dr. Eyvazzadeh points to parabens and pthalates as preservatives to avoid when scanning your lube’s ingredients label. “They’re cheap and effective preservatives and allow for a longer product shelf life,” she says. “But with paraben exposure, the issue is that these ingredients are hormone disruptors and can mimic natural estrogen, which could potentially promote cancer, and phthalates are similar to parabens in their effects.”

That being said, preservatives are necessary in products like lube because they inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. Luckily, better-for-you options do exist! Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate are two non-sensitizing preservatives that have been deemed food-grade by the FDA and they make the cut on Whole Foods’ strict quality standards. Wendy Strgar, the founder and CEO of non-toxic lubricant company Good Clean Love, relies on both to keep her products, you know, clean.

Certain chemicals can make sex less safe

Two things that Strgar doesn’t allow into her products: fillers like glycols and petrochemicals like petrolatum. In developing her water-based lubes, Strgar discovered that petrochemicals and glycols strip the vagina of good bacteria it needs to fight off infections.

“When you use a lube that combines those ingredients, it’s likely it will slough off the protective top layer of cells in the vaginal cavity because it’s basically drowning the lactobacilli, which is there to defend against bad bacteria,” says Strgar. “What happens next is your vagina’s pH goes up, creating an ideal situation for bad bacteria to grow.”

Bacterial vaginosis is a common condition resulting from an upset in the balance of good and bad bacteria down there. According to Strgar, when your bacterial balance is out of whack, you’re 60 percent more susceptible to STDs because your immune system may already be strained by fighting off BV. (And be aware that oil-based lubricants can degrade condoms.)

Head to your kitchen for DIY alternatives

Raiding the kitchen isn’t just reserved for your post-romp munchies. According to Dr. Eyvazzadeh, you probably have a full stock of the best natural lubes right in your cabinets.

“Natural products really are the best,” she says. “For my fertility patients, I recommend using either egg whites, olive oil, or coconut oil,” she says. “You likely have many of these at home and know they’re not toxic.” And if your cupboards are bare? Opt for your—or your partner’s—saliva, she adds.


New UNFPA Study Outlines Inequalities In Sexual Health & Reproductive Rights Globally

New UNFPA Study Outlines Inequalities In Sexual Health & Reproductive Rights Globally


When it comes to reproductive and sexual health policies and access, it’s easy to focus just on what is happening within our own communities and even countries. Here in the US, the past few months have seen some horrendous and frankly deeply disturbing rollbacks of basic access to important healthcare resources such as teen pregnancy prevention programs and mandated birth control coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Those are just the latest in a string of policies coming from the Trump administration’s Health & Human Services department which is now headed up by anti-choice fanatics who care more about religious and moral imposition than data-driven policies that are proven to be effective.

Looking further afield, the situation is even worse in a number of areas, especially in the developing world. Similar to the way reproductive healthcare advocates are bring the conversation around economic stability to the abortion conversation here in the United States, the UNFPA has just released a new study outlining how a woman’s ability to access crucial sexual and reproductive healthcare is directly tied to the potential to escape poverty.

Titled ‘Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an age of Inequality’, the study underscores how the problem is cyclical and compounded right from early on in a girl’s life. If she is not able to get an education and have basic healthcare needs met, she is more likely to marry earlier, have children early, experience health problems, and not be financially independent or stable due to lack of qualifications. If a woman lives in poverty without the opportunity to escape through job skills, education and healthcare access, her children are also more likely to experience the same outcomes.

The study points out that economic disparity is an umbrella issue, as many other social, racial, political and institutional dimensions feed on each other, giving these disparities a ripple effect throughout families and communities.

“Two critical dimensions are gender inequality, and inequalities in realizing sexual and reproductive health and rights; the latter, in particular, still receives inadequate attention. Neither explains the totality of inequality in the world today, but both are essential pieces that demand much more action. Without such action, many women and girls will remain caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, diminished capabilities, unfulfilled human rights and unrealized potential—especially in developing countries, where gaps are widest,” says the intro to the study.

The ability to access the full range of sexual and reproductive healthcare, as well as determine when and how to have a family, is considered a universal human right. That is what 179 governments agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. Yet within most developing countries, women in the poorest 20 per cent of the population have, for example, the least access to sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, while women at the top of the wealth scale generally have access to a fuller range of high-quality services.

When women are disadvantaged from an early stage in life, it means they are less likely to enter the workforce, and less likely to be represented by policymakers. Education is key, as the study shows that for every additional year of school, not to mention higher education such as vocational college or university, means a girl is more likely to earn a better salary, and decrease her risk of maternal healthcare problems.

“This has long-term implications for labor-force participation and lifetime earnings. Equal access to quality education not only addresses absolute deprivation by providing individuals with a pathway out of poverty, but also increases overall national productivity and innovation, by generating far greater opportunity for all people to develop their skills, find their niche and define their future areas of work,” said the study.

Today, 95% of the world’s births to adolescents occur in developing countries. That must change.

“According to the Guttmacher Institute, each year in developing countries, there are 89 million unintended pregnancies, 48 million abortions, 10 million miscarriages and 1 million stillbirths. An estimated 214 million women in developing countries have an unmet demand for family planning,” says the study.

When it comes to reproductive and sexual healthcare policies having women represented among lawmakers as well as within major health institutions is going to make a world of difference. The recent inaugural Women Leaders in Global Health conference held at Stanford University discussed ways to ensure we see more women in leadership positions.

“At least 75% of the health workforce are female, and looking around this room…there is no shortage of talented women in the pipeline. But the picture looks different at the top,” Michele Barry, MD, director of the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health and senior associate dean for global health at Stanford University in California, told the audience.

“With every step up the ladder, the proportion of women shrinks. The World Health Assembly is 68% men; 70% of health leaders are men; and, at least in US medical schools and public health schools and global health institutes, men predominantly hold the top positions, despite the fact that global health has become increasingly feminized. In Fortune 500 countries around the world, 26 out of 27 health center [chief executive officers] are men. How can we succeed when half of the talent sits on the bench, and how can we have a robust dialogue?” she asked.

The leaders present at the conference stated that gender matters when it comes to global health due to certain issues faced by women that were outlined in the UNFPA study – childbirth, reproductive disorders, cervical cancer, violence, and poverty. Every 2 minutes a woman dies in childbirth, and 60% of these deaths are preventable.

Dr. Afaf Meleis, PhD, dean of nursing emeritus, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, spoke about the US not being immune to these problems, considering we have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. However female genital mutilation is still common in some parts of the world, and many women die from abortions. Almost all abortion deaths are due to unsafe abortions, and not the procedure itself, she added.

The recent announcement of the new World Health Organization leadership team being made up of more than 60% women reiterated how certain organizations are realizing the importance of having women’s voices at the table when it comes to healthcare initiatives, studies and policies.

The UNFPA study concluded with action items that are in line with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals agenda. Noting how the intersection of health, education and gender must be addressed in order to truly alleviate global poverty, they have listed a number of ways each person can do their part to break down barriers that stop women from reaching their full potential.

“Intersecting forms of inequality may have huge consequences for societies as a whole, with large numbers of women suffering ill health or being unable to decide whether, when or how often to become pregnant, and thus lacking the power to enter the paid labour force and realize their full potential. The damaging effects may span a lifetime for individuals and reach into the next generation,” the study says.

You can read an overview of the ‘Worlds Apart’ study by clicking here, and downloading the full report on the website.

NFPA: Reproductive health critical to economic equality

NFPA: Reproductive health critical to economic equality


Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Dr Natalia Kanem says reproductive health and rights are, “critical but under-appreciated variables”, in the solution to economic inequality. They can also propel countries toward achieving the top UN Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating poverty.

Kanem called for universal access to reproductive health services during the launch on Tuesday of the UNFPA’s 2017 State of the World Population Report (SWOP) in London. The report is titled, Worlds Apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality.

“A woman or adolescent girl who cannot enjoy her reproductive rights is one who cannot stay healthy, cannot complete her education, cannot find decent work outside the home and cannot chart her own economic future.”

Kanem said that with contraception often out of the reach of the poor, particularly those who are less educated and live in rural areas, women and adolescent girls are at greater risk of unintended pregnancy.

She lamented that an unintended pregnancy can set in motion a lifetime of missed opportunities and unrealised potential, trapping a woman and her children in an endless cycle of poverty.

The economic slide can continue for generations. The UNFPA’s Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean also shared its thoughts on the 2017 SWOP.

It warned that unless the global community reduces inequalities in women’s reproductive health and rights, the world will fail to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development goals. This, in turn, would mean a failure to reduce poverty.

The UNFPA noted that inequalities in reproductive health are linked to economic inequality (while) economic inequality correlates with inequalities in sexual and reproductive health.

The 2017 SWOP calls on governments to do ten things for a more equal world including: meeting all commitments and obligations to human rights agreed in international treaties and conventions; tearing down barriers that prevent adolescent girls and young women from accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services; and providing “essential, life-saving, antenatal and maternal health care (to) the poorest women.