“Lottery approach to health care for women in Latin America is putting thousands of lives at risk;” “South Africa: Women and girls risk unsafe abortions after being denied legal services “

“There should be Choice in Healthcare.”

Anne Wojcicki

This week’s post takes us to two continents in fact, where women separated by miles are facing similar problems. Both in Latin America and Africa, women face many struggles, especially in relation to health care. The recent issues women are combating in these regions are the right to have legal abortions, access to contraceptives, and sterilizations. However, both regions are quite religious and look down upon women who seeks these resources and have abortions. Even with the recent legalization of abortions in some of these areas, many practicing doctors refuse to conduct the procedure because it goes against their own personal beliefs, even if it is what their patient wants.

First, in Latin America the access to health care is described as a “lottery style” system, where religious doctrine takes precedence over the health of the patient. If the doctor believes that it is within their beliefs to perform the operation they will, but only if the woman can pay. Thus most women do not receive proper health care because either their physician will not assist based on their own views or the women simply cannot afford the procedure.

Unfortunately, in many Latin American countries abortions are illegal even if the woman’s life is at risk. There is also the issue of HIV in these countries and women who are identified as HIV positive are usually treated poorly and are most times forcefully sterilized so as to not spread the disease further. All of these practices seem to have the full support of the state, for officials, both governmental and religious, believe that these women are not capable of making their own decisions during these situations. Thus, women turn to unsafe options in order to obtain the medical assistance they need, such as getting “back street” abortions.

Rosaura Hernandez was a sixteen-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic and was a victim of this system of health care. Diagnosed with leukemia, Rosaura was denied the proper treatment for her cancer on the grounds that she was pregnant and was denied an abortion. Doctors then made her wait till she either gave birth or miscarried to begin her treatment; Rosaura eventually miscarried, but unfortunately it was too late to save her from the cancer at that point.

Michelle, a mother of two from Veracruz, Mexico was forcefully sterilized after she gave birth because doctors had found out she was HIV positive. Michelle could do nothing to stop the procedure, and acts as another example of how Latin American women are victims to a health care system meant to protect them, but in turn harms them.

In Peru, there was a mass sterilization movement in the late 90s, with the hope to “fight poverty,” with little success. There are many women today still living with the physical and emotional effects of those illegal, and forced sterilizations.

In South Africa, women and girls also face the major risk of unsafe abortions because there are laws in place that prevent legal abortions. It is mentioned that South Africa does have one of the “most progressive legal frameworks for abortion,” but many women, especially those in poorer communities do not have access to safe abortion services. One main piece of legislation that blocks these services from women is that there is no strict regulation that controls whether or not medical professionals can deny or grant abortions. The law allows medical professionals to decide what is best for the patient, instead of the patient deciding for themselves what is best for them and their unborn child.

For the past twenty years, the country has had the CTOPA (Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act) in place, which was meant to regulate abortions. Unfortunately, this law has done little to improve the medical practices surrounding abortions, since a nineteen-year-old died in 2016 following complications from an unsafe abortion. This law is also not well enforced, which may make South Africa liable for these deaths and the failure of this legislation under international human rights law.

In South Africa, medical professionals are not allowed to deny a patient an abortion, especially if it would save their life, unlike how in Latin America professionals can deny abortions, regardless of the situation. South Africa also only has 505 facilities that are capable of providing abortions, and half of those facilities can only provide abortions up till the end of the second trimester.

Overall, in both regions there is a dire need for greater regulation of abortions, but in a broader sense of laws in regards to women and their rights. There should no longer be complications for these women in regards to receiving basic health care and resources. These two cases definitely act as a call to the greater international community to help to work to establish a more standardized system in regards to not just women’s health care, but health care in general.










“Women’s rights activists treated as enemies of the state in renewed crackdown in Iran”


a campaign to support Iranian Women fighting discrimination

This week’s case will take us to Iran, where women’s rights have always been limited, but in recent months the country has begun to crack down on women’s rights activists.

Women’s rights have long been suppressed in Iran and little has been done to change the way women, young and old, are treated. Iran became an Islamic Republic in 1979 and has since been under the rule of the Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader is seen as the ultimate leader within the country and is only “regulated” by an Assembly of Experts that is popularly elected. The country also has a President, Hassan Rouhani, but he has little power when compared to the Supreme Leader. The president has been cited in the past as saying he wishes to reform women’s rights, but cannot because the country’s true power resides with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader, and he does not support women’s rights. The Supreme Leader oversees Iran’s military and judicial courts, as well as the media. The Supreme Leader and his followers are strictly conservative and have not done anything to change the climate of citizen’s rights, especially in relation to women. This is why even now those fighting for change are restricted because all outlets to disseminate information are controlled by the Supreme Leader and his supporters.

Women are limited in many aspects of their lives within the country of Iran. One example is that they are not allowed to be spectators of men’s sports and cannot travel outside the country without approval from their husbands. Although the idea of letting women spectate sports seems small in comparison to other issues, by allowing women to watch these events it will open the door to making progress in regards to other aspects of their lives.

To narrow our focus, today’s case revolves around women fighting for their rights, and the government’s attempt to stop their efforts. Beginning in early 2016 Iranian authorities increased the regulation of women’s rights activists and their actions. Now these women are harshly interrogated and their actions have now been classified as criminal. Since January 2016, many women have been interviewed, and at least a dozen women’s activists have been brought in, questioned, and threatened with imprisonment and charges based on threats to national security. Many of these women were fighting for increased representation of women in the representative bodies that were responsible for their arrest.

In greater detail these women were questioned about a website, “Feminist School” and the “Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament.” A more recent target of these interrogations and censorship was the women’s rights magazine “Zanan-e Emrooz;” all of the above initiatives have since been suspended within Iran.

One arrest that has been discussed in the media is the arrest and prolonged imprisonment of Dr. Homa Hoodfar, who has been jailed since June 2016, with limited to no access to her lawyer. The state claims that Dr. Hoodfar committed acts that “disrupted public order” and “prompted social-cultural change that can ultimately pave the ground…for a soft overthrow.” Dr. Hoodfar has been jailed based largely on the fact that she is a professor of anthropology and largely focuses on women’s rights and has worked with the WLUM (Women Living Under Muslim Laws), which aims to improve the lives of Muslim women. Dr. Hoodfar has since been released from prison.

It is clear to see that no progress can be made if those fighting for the cause are repressed and cannot speak freely on these issues and are torn down by the institutions that should instead seek to support them. In many international countries, women are suppressed and cannot express their rights freely and when they try to promote change they are swiftly torn down by governments and rulers that wish to maintain the “old order.” It is hard sometimes to comprehend that others do not have the rights we retain here in the United States, although we are not perfect. We must set an example and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves in order for them to obtain their own “natural and unalienable rights.”






Reflection on Deliberation…



The Deliberation I attended took place on February 25th at the Commonplace in Downtown State College. This discussion focused on the topic of heroin and opioid addiction in and around Center County. This deliberation was very well planned out and executed by the team of students in charge.

At first I was unsure of how the discussion would go, given that the topic was focused on the surrounding community of Centre County and not Penn State University and its students. I also had little knowledge of the topic and was unsure I would have any valuable information to offer the discussion.

Regardless, the discussion flowed very well and attracted a very dynamic and diverse group of voices, which in the end helped to generate a vibrant discussion. It was great that many members from the community attended the deliberation, especially given the fact that this issue is centered more around the year round residents and not the students who are only here part time.

In regards to the topic of their conversation, I had never given much thought to heroin and opioid addiction in Center County; I had not even thought much about it in my own hometown, where it also presents a problem. It was very interesting to learn about a topic that I did not know much about and that was different from the other deliberations as many focused on Climate Change, Sexual Assault, Immigration, etc.

The discussion itself focused on three topics in relation to heroin and opioid addiction: education, law enforcement, and finally medicated therapy programs. All three aspects of this conversation had very interesting points of discussion and many in the audience presented varying opinions. What I thought was most interesting was that the students had invited three outside experts, with varying backgrounds, to their discussion. They had two representatives from the county, who offered expertise on the education and school programs front. Specifically, they talked about the certain programs that are offered in local schools and what more can be done in schools, as well as the right methods to go about implementing the changes discussed throughout the deliberation. The other expert in attendance was a doctor who has been treating opioid addicted patients for years. He offered great insight into the personal affect these drugs can have on people and how those affected by these drugs wished they had been better informed about the dangers of prescription drugs. He provided great information and truly opened our eyes to the opioid crisis.

What was also very moving about the discussion was that members of the audience had many personal connections and stories to share in relation to opioid addiction. It was great that they were willing to share those thoughts with us, with the hope to spread more awareness about this crisis. The student leaders of the conversation were great and helped to facilitate a calm and welcoming environment, which is why I believe so many people felt comfortable enough to share their personal experiences with us.

What I also found very interesting about the conversation was that even though this drug epidemic is truly a serious and prevalent problem, there seems to be little press or outwardly shared information about finding a way to stop the flow of drugs and to help those that are addicted. What is also difficult about this issue is that it is harder to combat than other illegal narcotics because most times doctors are the ones prescribing and then later treating those who are addicted to opioids, and the market for these drugs is more about making money than truly helping patients recover.

After the deliberation I looked up opioid addiction in Center County and I found an article from the Center Daily that discussed many of the points made at the deliberation. The article went on to discuss the staggering rise is overdose deaths in recent years that are indeed attributed to opioids and how opioids are on the rise as the next main narcotic killer.






“Russia: Lawmakers must halt alarming plans to decriminalize domestic violence”


Old Russian proverb: “If he beats you it means he loves you.”

This week’s case will take us to Russia where a debate is currently occurring over the legality and the humanity of decriminalizing domestic violence, and specifically domestic violence that is more geared toward women and children.

Russia is the largest nation, by territory, in the world covering the majority of two continents and northern Eurasia. With a population of 142 million people and over 150 different ethnic groups living within Russia’s borders, it is understandable that you cannot please every citizen under one legislation. But in regards to the topic of domestic violence, it should not be decriminalized, but President Putin has expressed his support for the bill and as of January 27th 2017 the bill was accepted in a 308 for 3 against vote.

Before its passage the bill had been presented two times and explicitly asked to decriminalize certain forms of domestic violence within Russia. Deputy Director for Campaigns in Russia from Amnesty International, an international non-profit focused on international law and rights based out of London, stated that domestic violence has never been a “hot topic” in the Russian legislature, mostly because many citizens find that varying levels of violence is permitted, at least within the family setting. Most victims are hopeless that anything will be done because given that this bill will most likely be written into law with a signature from Putin, law enforcement will do less than they have been for victims of domestic violence. Many officers take the standpoint that they should not interfere within the family dynamic because many Russian citizens believe that all family affairs should be dealt with in house in whatever way they wish.

The bill, bluntly labeled as the “slapping bill,” has been asked to be amended numerous times. One amendment would still hold offenders accountable for their actions, at least in cases involving minors, pregnant women, and others under distressing circumstances. Regardless, the bill now legally allows forms of domestic violence that does not cause “substantial bodily harm” and does not occur on a routine basis. The only punishment that could be incurred for a charge of domestic violence would be either a 500$ fine or a 15-day prison stay. The passage of this bill overturned a ruling from the Supreme Court last year that decriminalized battery, but had kept the law that allowed offenders to be charged in a court of law, now they will not. The Kremlin sees this new bill as progress and as a way to correct their mistake from the past year of allowing charges to be filed in domestic abuse cases.

The interior ministry in Russia reports that 40% of all violent crimes are committed within the family and that every year 36,000 women and 26,000 children are beaten by someone they know or live with, and 14,000 women a year die from domestic abuse; many believe these statistics actually underrepresent the level of abuse occurring in Russia. Alyona Popova, a women’s right advocate, stated that “traditional, or rather archaic values have become popular again.”  Even the Russian Orthodox Church supports the passage of this bill stating that “if reasonable and carried out with love, corporal punishment is an essential right given to parents by God.” These beliefs are so ingrained in the history of Russia that it will be hard to generate true change.

In the past ten years, the UN has compiled a series of reports about women’s rights and the status of abuse in Russia. In the original documents there was discussion of creating separate legislation to help abused citizens and to create women’s shelters; very few of these ideas have been implemented. Russia has also not yet adopted a domestic violence law or ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence that was created in 2014.

Clearly there is a need for dramatic legal action to take place in Russia on the issue of domestic abuse; we cannot let women, children, and citizens be beaten and have their attackers go unpunished. Here, in the U.S., we are thankful to have a system where crimes like these almost always do not go unpunished, but that is not to say that we have a perfect judicial system.

Quick Facts:

25% of families in Russia experience some form of abuse

67% of homicides are related to domestic and family issues

20% increase in domestic assaults on children and women from 2010-2015

40% of all violent crimes are committed within the family setting





“Sierra Leone: Continued pregnancy ban in schools and failure to protect rights is threatening teenage girls’ futures.”

“Teenage pregnancy has long been a problem in Sierra Leone: in 2013, the country’s rate ranked among the ten highest in the world, with 28% of girls aged 15-19 years pregnant or already having give birth at least once.”


            Certainly a headline that will grab your attention. This week’s post will take us to Sierra Leone where a current discussion is being held in relation to women’s rights, specifically that of teenage girls, and even more so of those that have become pregnant while in school. From the headline it is clear that girls that become pregnant while in school are thus banned when it becomes obvious enough that they are indeed with child.

            On the legal front, in Sierra Leone this ban on girls is actually legal and was enacted shortly after the outbreak of Ebola in 2015. In greater detail these girls are not allowed to attend school after a certain point and cannot take exams or partake in the “normal” school day activities we take for granted. As many will infer, most of these girls will not return to school and will unfortunately cut their formal education experience short. This ban not only hinders their education but deepens the differences between genders in this country and continues to to aggravate already existing issues.

            Many point to the contradictory idea of removing girls from school, where they should be educated in health and wellness, but have not been. Many of the girls who have been interviewed have attributed this lack of education as one of the main reasons why they became pregnant at such a young age. People also look to the high rates of abuse and sexual violence that is geared toward younger women and how more focus should be placed on helping women in these situations than alienating them from their peers.

            This ban is going to be two years old this coming April and was originally created during the Ebola crisis to most likely prevent further spread of the disease, which forced the country into economic crisis and saw an exponential increase in abuse and teenage pregnancy.

            Amnesty International, an international non-profit focused on international law and rights based out of London, has interviewed many girls who were pregnant during this time and most spoke of how they felt alone and isolated from those they were closest too and were discouraged by the fact that their friends would continue their education without them. Many girls also recall the fear they felt when they were in school and when surrounded by family members because many times they would be abused and ashamed for their condition by teachers and authoritative figures.

            Special schools were created for girls who became pregnant while in school, but these schools were created out of the negative stigma that comes from teenage pregnancy, which is something most countries have in common. However, where these countries differ is in how they handle teenage pregnancies; unfortunately in Sierra Leone it is with a hushed tone and shameful stares. Many girls say that these special schools were good, some say they were more comfortable in their new school, but almost all said they would have rather stayed in their original school, where they learned much more, but the law prevented them from doing so. New programs have been created since 2015 that are more geared to a wider range of girls who have dropped out of school for a variety of reasons—this program, supported by UNICEF and the UK government began in November 2016.

            However, another legal and economic issue that plagues these girls is not that they can eventually return to their school, but that once they have a child it becomes to expensive to pay for both their education and to care for their child, given the fact that 72% of the country lives in extreme poverty.

            This topic and case brings up many international issues and topics for discussion such as women’s rights, teenage pregnancy and the stigmas that surround it, education, income, health, government intervention, etc. It is interesting to compare the situation in Sierra Leone to that in our country, granted they are very different. But one similarity is the “taboo” effect on sex education and a lack of providing the proper education to youth in order to lessen the number of teenage pregnancies. There needs to a be a practical conversation in the international community about the importance of education, especially for women, and to remove the ban on education on pregnant women in Sierra Leone.