Far from empowered

There are some health interventions around women that are hailed as marks of progress but are really a sign of the failures of our time. Yet in terms of the impact on the health of women and children, these interventions are much needed.

A month ago – I wrote about anti-HIV medication being made available to teenage girls in exceptional circumstances.


I was pained at the thought of teenage girls exposed to exploitative circumstances – that as a society we have decided we are incapable of coping with. So much so that we recommend that these poor teenage girls protect themselves by taking anti-HIV drugs. I am not denying the value of these medications – but what a failure in the system when we cannot rescue girls from these dehumanising situations.

Legalising prostitution and pornography reduces health consequences of the women involved. There have always been willing buyers of sex and so there will always be sellers of sex. But prostitution is not just about selling and buying sex among consenting adults. It’s a trade laden in exploitation and abuse. No matter how we try to glorify it – women are not empowered by standing on the streets on a cold night and driving off with some stranger. I am yet to meet a woman whose dream throughout childhood was to do this. But legalisation means women are less likely to be mistreated. Their health needs are better taken care off when the trade is legal.

But there is a global mind block when it comes to tackling prostitution and pornography – a dirth of ideas from minds that seem to have no problem imagining flying cars and a migration of humans to other planets. When it comes to the sexual exploitation of women through prostitution and pornography, all these minds blank out. And the exploitation gets worse – slave trade is rising to meet the global needs of men.

Abortion rights are not much to celebrate either. Whatever the cause of the unwanted pregnancy: lack of access to contraception or unwanted sexual contact, a mother carrying a fetus that is severely disabled, a young girl completely unaware of the workings of her body – abortion is not something that I imagine women undertake with pleasure. Yet not legalising abortion has worse consequences. A young woman determined to have an abortion will have it – whether it is legalised or not….

Young women risk their lives to have abortions and in a country like Kenya are jailed if caught out.

When anti-abortion crusaders celebrate as Trump, surrounded by a group of men, declares US funds will be frozen globally for organisations that even talk about abortion. There is no mention of the fact these organisations offer family planning services to millions. That the outcome is likely worse for both women and their unborn fetus – with unsafe abortions on the rise.

I would that no woman ever needed to have an abortion – but if a woman chose or had to have one – I would not want her to die in the process – just to ‘teach’ her a lesson.

In 2015, over 300,000 women died of childbirth related complications worldwide. Yet there is a dirth in midwifery research. The reductions in maternal deaths has been too slow – because there is not enough investment. And even here, women are told not to be ‘too posh to push’ – and get on with it like nature intended.

As a mother of a daughter – I am disappointed that she is inheriting a world that has not moved that much forward. Societal burdens are placed squarely on the shoulders of young girls and every effort made to place them in a position where they are at fault. There are so many loose ends – so many humiliations – there is too much to be gained in keeping women powerless and not quite free.