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The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. United Methodist Women is an active participant in this annual global gathering, especially through its Church Center for the United Nations. 

International Women Advocate for the Health of Women and Children

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From around the world, women are holding their governments responsible for protecting the health of mothers and their children. Activists share their concerns regarding maternal health.

On March 10, 2015 with the YWCA, United Methodist Women co-sponsored a Maternal Health workshop. Close to 100 international women gathered at the Church Center for the United Nations to discuss health challenges for women and girls.

Donna Akuamoah, United Methodist Women, convened the discussion with the statement that “The history of United Methodist Women is one of supporting health care.”

Ms. Akuamoah announced that United Methodist Women had launched a recent initiative, “Abundant Health for Women and Children.”

Ms. Akuamoah voiced concerns regarding women’s health, including heart disease as the leading cause of death. She wondered whether women can advocate for themselves and take action to avoid heart disease.

Ms. Akuamoah bemoaned the statistic that suicide is the number one killer for young women between the ages of 15 and 19.

“Many of us are healthy,” this United Methodist Women representative acknowledged. “And if you are healthy, What is helping you maintain your health? A social network? Having insurance through work? Your culture? A mentor?” She asked these questions of women in Zimbabwe and reported the following answers:

  • Dorothy, 29, “I am a hairdresser and I would like to have my own salon.”
  • Sareh, 25, “Nobody is sharing information to help girls and mothers plan for birth.”
  • Kudakwashe, 18, “There is a food shortage in my village. I need help understanding the benefits of the local crops.”
  • Joymore, 29, “We need a van to help women get to the hospital as most women will give birth at home because the clinics lack necessities.”

In Zimbabwe, she has also heard the statement, “The men are forcing themselves on us but we don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to speak up without being ostracized, without risking well-being of our children.”

“It’s about more than just doctors and midwives. Health is about career, nutrition, healthy lifestyle, leadership, sexual health,” said Ms. Akuamoah.

To counter the challenges, Ms. Akuamoah celebrated that the international ministries of United Methodist Women and the planning of training-the-trainer events in Mozambique with USAID and in Zimbabwe with Africa University.

***

Elizabeth Nash, of the World YWCA, shared a story of 14-year-old in Malawi who died in childbirth. Shortly thereafter, a 13-year-old died. A young woman doctor realized that death of these two young women in childbirth was, “a systemic issue, not a random incident.” Since then, this young doctor, has become president of the YWCA in Malawi. And through her legal activism, Malawi has recently passed a law to raise the legal age of marriage. “This young doctor held her government accountable,” said Ms. Nash.

Ms. Nash advocates for many different strategies to be used to look at the problem of maternal mortality. The World YWCA takes a human rights approach to maternal and child health. The organization empowers people whose lives depend on services and education. The organization advocates for “safe spaces” for young women and girls to have a reliable place and people to talk with. This safe place provides women and girls with accurate facts and encourages young women to gain self-esteem and leadership positions in civil society.

***

Sophia Pierre-Antoine of the YWCA in Haiti reported that since the Beijing Platform of Action 20 years ago, maternal mortality has been reduced by 40 percent in Latin America and 36 percent in the Caribbean. This is not done, she suggested, simply by health workers, but by governments providing services and health coverage.

“Access to services and education have proven time and time again to reduce maternal and child mortality,” reported Ms. Pierre-Antoine.

Lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services poses a great barrier to young women and girls, especially indigenous women, LGBT women and women living in poverty. The lives claimed by many of these women daily are preventable, according to Ms. Pierre-Antoine.

She bemoaned the statistic that the government expenditure is a mere seven percent for maternal and child health. And she reported that the younger a mother is, the more problems she is likely to endure with her own and her children’s health.

“Child marriage, legal or not, causes girls as young as 12 years old to become mothers. This is children birthing children,” said Ms. Pierre-Antoine. Children, who do not have the maturity or resources to parent healthy children perpetuate cycles of poverty and need support to maintain the health of the family, according to Ms. Pierre-Antoine.

***

Yuleida Alvarez, health coordinator Methodist Church of Colombia, too, witnessed the failings of a government that did not protect the health of women and children.

“Because local governments were indifferent to women’s health crisis, the (United Methodist) church saw a need to respond and built small clinics. While the clinics serve the whole population, they pay special attention to women and girls.”

She noted that without family planning, young women may have as many as 15 children, all of whom lack prenatal care.

Ms. Alvarez advocates for women’s “control of growth and development.” Through the clinic, Ms. Alvarez addresses the health needs of children as well as the well-being of mothers. The healthiest families, she noted, are those families that have been able to plan when and how many children to have.

***

Paola Quevedo, program coordinator, YWCA Latin America, shared stories of preventable mother and child mortality throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The causes are varied.

For example, she reported that Bolivia has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality due to hemorrhaging during childbirth, a preventable cause of death.

“Because women don’t have access to care, they are unaware that they have the right to care. Women can’t defend their rights if they don’t know they have them. Women struggle to feed families, take care of homes, often while they are pregnant.”

She concluded that for women around the world, “It’s important to ask for and listen for the voices of women in Caribbean and Latin America.”

***

Claris Skerritt is a United Methodist Women member, the social action coordinator for the New York Conference and a retired registered nurse.

“I am a faith community nurse trying to bridge the gap between the medical and the spiritual. What can we do to improve the health of women and children? First: Educate. This can be done in congregations and in the community.”

She also advocates for improving nutrition and exercise. “Changing the way we eat changes lifestyles greatly. Physical activity, healthy eating and regular checkups can help us as healthy women.”

After the panelists spoke, in small group discussions, women shared their concerns for their regions over the next four years. Here are some of the issues that women presented.

Latin America:

  • Worries about trends towards privatized health care
  • Young women eager to be included in a four-year plan
  • The global scope of United Methodist Women and the YWCA

North America and Europe:

  • Advocate for more education and programs

Africa:

  • Decrease the incidents of rape against women
  • Reduce the rape of children
  • Improve health centers
  • Provide literacy on reproductive health

Asia:

  • Provide sexual education in our schools
  • Convene international courts to prosecute sex crimes
  • Continue the training and health services from United Methodist Women and YWCA
  • Create qualitative indicators of sustainable development goals
  • Work with local organizations and professionals

****

Questions for Reflection:

  • What are the health issues for the women and children in your region?
  • What does “Abundant Health for Women and Children” mean to you?
  • How can women advocate for and with women around the world to insure that family planning, education and health are part of all women’s lives?
  • How does physical health relate to spiritual health?
Tara Barnes, response editor, collaborated on the article with blogger MBCoudal.
| 3/10/2015 4:52:40 PM | 0 comments
Filed under: CCUN, CSW, csw59, Maternal and Child health

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En Español

Yuleida Alvarez, health coordinator of the Methodist Church of Colombia, talks about maternal health.

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