Monday, March 7, 2011

Why women's health matters

Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Yet even as the world celebrates women everywhere, and the UN launches a special agency called UN Women to improve the lives of women worldwide, the USA seems to be paying mere lip-service to the idea.

The Republican majority of the U.S. House of Representatives has just voted to slash the budget for domestic and international programmes on family planning and reproductive health, including eliminating funding for the
UNFPA (the UN Population Fund). This means that impoverished women in more than 150 countries will struggle to get any kind of help with contraception, maternal healthcare, or education.

This right-wing, abstinence-only, anti-abortion view of reproductive health is one that UNFPA suffered tremendously from during the Bush administration, and its budget was drastically cut. Obama coming to power seemed to herald a new era as he reinstated the organisation's funding to the tune of US$50 million. The outcome of this tussle over how to deal with reproductive health will have enormous implications for women worldwide.

Right now, the UNFPA is especially concerned about the health of adolescent women. These girls, hovering on the brink of adulthood, are extremely vulnerable. Many are forced into early marriage, during which they often suffer domestic violence and have babies well before they are physically ready. About 50 million girls under 18 are thought to be already married, and in the next decade it is estimated that 100 million more girls will marry before they turn 18.

Girls who marry during childhood tend not to go to school either, and the lack of education severely hampers any social development and robs them of economic autonomy. To document the grim reality of early marriage, and offer a glimpse into the life of a child bride, photographer Stephanie Sinclair is showing a series of photographs at the VII Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, until April 15. The images are also online

Photo credit: Stephanie Sinclair/VII