The fall is in full swing and so are we at the International Women’s Health Coalition!
We continue to push the U.S. Government to take greater, concerted, and strategic action to prevent the early and forced marriage of millions of girls in key countries and to support the more than 60 million girls who are already married. It goes without saying that global development goals will not be achieved without women and girls, and that women and girls cannot thrive when they are married off as children, against their will, and often to much older men. Yet in a number of countries around the globe today, more than 40% of girls are married before the age of 18. Our colleagues at the Ford Foundation put together a fascinating report on the situation around the world.
On October 11, 2012, the world marked the first International Day of the Girl with many events around the world, including Too Young to Wed, a haunting exhibition by photographer Stephanie Sinclair. IWHC, as co-chair of the U.S. chapter of Girls Not Brides: the Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, collaborated with organizations around the world to raise the profile of this issue.
A day before, on October 10, I participated in a small closed door meeting at the State Department in Washington, DC that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the Elders, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and Luis Ubiñas, President of the Ford Foundation. It was a special thrill to meet Tutu – such a humble and inspiring man! Shortly thereafter, Secretary Clinton announced some welcomed steps, such as a USAID-funded project to get girls into schools in Bangladesh and a one-year program to keep girls in schools in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Still, we had hoped for quicker and more decisive action from the U.S. Government – these girls should not and cannot wait! Other commitments were also announced on that day – $25 million from the Ford Foundation and $20 million from UNFPA to prevent child marriage, and $39 million from the MacArthur and Mastercard Foundation for girls’ education. There is still time for the U.S. government to do its part. We will keep pressing the Administration to provide the leadership and resources these girls needs to live healthy and just lives.
We’ve also received positive news from our partner and grantee MYSU – Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (Woman and Health in Uruguay). After a 12-year battle, the Uruguayan Congress passed a bill last week that will allow abortions on any ground in the first trimester of pregnancy, and President Mujica just signed it into law. True, the law continues to stigmatize abortion and contains odious provisions that will force women to “explain the circumstances that surrounded the conception…”(!) to their doctor, go before a hospital committee to hear about “alternatives to abortion,” and endure a five-day waiting period. Nevertheless, this is a very significant step in Latin America, where women still face severe legal restrictions to safe abortion except in Mexico City, Guyana, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. IWHC first gave a grant to MYSU for this work in 1999, and we have supported them steadfastly through the many twists and turns along the way. Two years ago, for example, a more liberal law passed the Uruguayan Senate, only to be vetoed at the last minute by then President Tabare. MYSU and their allies have their work cut out for them to make certain the new law is implemented in such a way that barriers to safe abortion are removed, not reinforced. Social and policy change does require patience and staying the course!