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Mental Illness among Women in Pakistan: Gender-Driven?

By Zofeen Ebrahim

KARACHI, Feb 1, 2010 (IPS) - No sooner does a visitor step into the facility than a surreal scene unfolds: The sound of laughter, the sight of ready smiles and vigorous, pumping handshakes mix with the acrid odor of an unwashed human body and the unbearable stench of neglect that in turn combines with the heavy smell of medicine.

A group of women gathers around the visitor, their eyes lighting up and faces breaking into a smile as they extend their hands to offer the latter a firm handshake, only to be shooed away by Waseem Fatema, a stocky nurse in her late 40s.

This is the Edhi Centre for the Mentally Ill Women in North Karachi – home to women suffering from various forms of mental or emotional disorder, some of which warrant long-term treatment, others do not, requiring at best compassion and understanding for otherwise fleeting states of mental or emotional impairment, brought about in part by these women’s inability to cope with what society expects of them.

Of the more than one thousand female wards confined at the centre, some are as young as five years old and others as old as 70, or even older. Children, who are either physically or mentally challenged, stay in an adjacent facility also run by Edhi. Some of them were brought to the centre by parents who invariably said they could no longer afford to look after them.

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Practical Measures Needed on Teen Sexual Education

By Susan Anyangu

MOMBASA, Oct 27 (IPS) - Kenyan teenagers are having sex. And they appear to have no clue how to go about it.

A report by the Nairobi-based Centre for the Study of Adolescents (CSA) reports that 40 percent of girls and 50 percent of boys reported having had sex before their 19th birthday, a significant minority reported having sex with more than one partner in the previous six months.  The report also confirms what many youth workers observe in their daily work: the youth are having sex but they lack vital information on sexual and reproductive health.

IPS visited St Georges Boys Secondary School in Kaloleni, Kilifi, in Kenya's Coast province, and found that myths abound among the youth where matters of sexuality are concerned.

Seventeen-year-old Isaac Thura said he had been told that if one has sex while standing, pregnancy will not occur.  His 16-year-old classmate Billy Warui said a friend told him that sex is important to strengthen a relationship.  The boys admitted that they do not talk to their parents about sexual matters because the subject is taboo.

When asked which they feared more between pregnancy and contracting HIV, a majority of the boys said they would rather contract the virus.

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Gender and Population: Climate Change Toolkit

Ensuring women contribute to and benefit from equitable climate solutions

A comprehensive resource kit from UNFPA and WEDO on gender, population and climate change. Learn how gender equality can reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts and how women are uniquely positioned to help curb the harmful consequences of a changing climate.

1. Overview: Women at the Forefront

(English, French)

2. Policy that Supports Gender Equality

(English, French)

3. Common Ground:  In Bangladesh, Ghana, Nepal, Senegal and Trinidad and Tobago

(English, French)

4. Making NAPAs Work for Women

(English, French)

5. Financing that Makes a Difference

(English, French)

6. Educate and Advocate

(English, French)

Use UNFPA and WEDO’s New Resource Kit Climate Change Connections

LEARN find out how gender equality can reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts and how women are uniquely positioned to help curb the harmful consequences of a changing climate. Read More

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Female Circumcision Still a Vote Winner

By Wambi Michael

KAMPALA, Oct 19 (IPS) - Over three decades ago a 14-year-old girl, her sister and a group of young teenagers from Bukwo headed to the River Amana for a ceremony that would change their lives forever.

Since her childhood, Gertrude Chebet had been told of the day she would become a woman. She was led to believe it would be a great moment of change and it was something to look forward to with much joy.

As she and her sister began that early morning trek, from their village in eastern Uganda, in the cold and through the bushes to the place of initiation, she expected it to be the best day of her life. But she was wrong.  It turned out to be the most harrowing.

"One of the elder women overseeing the circumcision took a sample of our saliva, urine and pubic hair and buried it.  She then ordered us to lie on the ground and after the first cut, I lost consciousness and cannot remember what happened next," she remembers now.

Even after passing out she and the other girls were not allowed to use modern medicine to treat their wounds. Instead she was forced to use cow urine, prescribed by her elders.

Today Chebet is a primary school teacher and campaigns against female circumcision, otherwise known as female genital mutilation.

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Natural disasters from a gender perspective

By Indraswari,  Kuala Lumpur

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck West Sumatra, leading to massive destruction in the provincial capital Padang and surrounding areas. More than 800 people are confirmed dead and thousands missing.

Earlier, on Thursday, Sept. 3, a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck West Java. At least 57 people were killed, 116 severely injured and 422 left with minor injuries from the powerful quake centered off the coast of Tasikmalaya that was also felt in Jakarta, Lampung and Bali (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 4, 2009).

The above earthquakes are neither the first nor the last ones in Indonesia, as scientists warn that Indonesians must prepare for strong earthquakes in the future.

In fact, human beings have been at the mercy of natural disasters since the beginning of time.

The last two earthquakes as well as other natural disasters such as floods, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, droughts and famine remind us of how vulnerable we are.

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Sex for food in Nyeri slums

Girls as young as 10 are now trading their bodies for food as hunger and poverty ravage slums.

[Daily Nation] Nyeri may be considered the land of plenty, but in these times of famine, that label means nothing in Witemere slums, where girls trade their bodies for food.

The slum on the banks of River Chania is barely two kilometres from Muringato, which was recently in the news for all the wrong reasons - hungry villagers eating pig food to survive.

Now, residents of Witemere say hunger is driving their daughters, some as young as 10-14 years, out of school and straight into the arms of sex pests.

They say theirs is a forgotten village, where hunger is the order of the day. Amidst that misery, predators prowl the dusty lanes, seeking desperate girls who are only too willing to give their bodies in exchange for a few coins to buy food.

Mothers with nothing to feed their children actually tell their daughters to make the best of it.

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Every Minute, Dying for Having Sex

By Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Sep 3 (IPS) Fifteen years after 179 nations agreed to implement a plan of action on sexual health, a woman still dies every minute because of inadequate pregnancy and birth services, according to the World Health Organisation

These alarming figures were under the spotlight at the opening of a forum on sexual and reproductive health and development in Berlin Sep. 2-4. 

More than 400 representatives of non-governmental organisations from 131 countries are attending the forum, to mark the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo, September 1994.

"The conference of Cairo of 1994 was a groundbreaking moment in birth and
sexual policy and family planning," Laura Villa Torres from the Mexican Youth
Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights told IPS.  "Until then, demographic policies both at the national and international level were characterised by undemocratic and sometimes even racist rules, such as forced sterilisations in determined ethnic groups."

In the new approach sexuality and family development was seen as a human right, not a matter for authoritarian state-determined objectives.

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Our Bodies are as Sacred as Life and Death

by Colette Coughlin - from Victoria's Sex Blog

I feel very much alive these days; but I have known periods of depression where I almost wished for death. Having been there, I now try to practice regularly those things that for me, nurture life; one of which is drawing the body, nude, whether it be enlaced in intimate lovemaking or simply being.

I was very close to one of my aunts who passed away two years ago, not too long after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord which eventually leads to death. I will never forget how courageously she shared her feelings when she received the devastating diagnosis; after the initial shock, she turned within to an incredibly deep source of strength and decided to live her death as fully as she had lived her life up until then. I was one of the very fortunate family members to be able to share this period with her up close.

She was a very “private person” and it is not without a twinge of discomfort towards other family members’ reactions that I post images of her. But at the same time, I do so with a deeper confidence, knowing that she not only asked to participate in my work through a nude photo session, she also gave me permission to share the artwork produced from them, and fortunately, I was able to show her a few of my drawings before she passed away. Drawing this one just recently brought me back to the beautiful moments spent together during the last months of her life.

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Religion, Deadly Contagion And Other Afflictions

Imagine a pandemic which claims a death toll so high it staggers the mind. Millions upon millions dead, suffering and dying from a plague which knows no cure. Every single human being touched personally by the hand of death, suffering and tragedy. Everyone who survives, perhaps the last remaining member of a large and happy family, standing alone and wondering where to go from here? Far fetched?

Not really. It already happened once in recorded history. In Medieval times, bubonic plague took nearly half the population of Europe, some scholars postulate up to two thirds. And what could medicine do about it at the time? Nothing. They couldn't even ease the suffering of the victims. The contemporary art reflects the ever present um, presence - of death in the conscious and sub-conscious, particularly in portraits and other art of the day. The fabled Dans Macabre is just one example. At the time, the science of medicine was in its infancy. With hardly any contrast at all, the prognosis for such a massive and virulent outbreak of some new or resilient disease today is not much better.

A week or so ago I watched an interesting doccy about the Black Death. It was pretty relevant, considering that if anything similar were to happen today, the global medical capacity to handle such a crisis would be nil anyway. Hospitals would be swamped. Handling capacity would be overwhelmed. In recent weeks, medical testing to confirm such cases as "swine flu" or H1M1 blah, blah, blah take anything up to a week - and some cases were even misdiagnosed completely. The death toll today even in so-called advanced countries stands at a total in excess of 1000. Oddly enough, the spread of this disease seems to have affected modern countries more - where transportation is far more effective than in rural non-urbanized places.

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Why Is Viagra Popular and the Condom Controversial?


By Johanna Son

BALI, Aug 14 (TerraViva/IPS) - Why is the popular drug Viagra so praised for its virtues, while the condom is vilified by conservative religious groups among others the world over?

Both are ‘external’ technological interventions that relate to sexual activity. They are among the most prominent tools in the area of reproductive health and sexuality.

But it is the gender and sexual ideologies behind them - especially when combined with conservative religious forces and aspects of patriarchal culture - that put them on opposite ends of the spectrum of public acceptance.

The result is a paradox that has huge implications for public health, especially in relation to the HIV and AIDS pandemic that is now entering its third decade and affects 33 million people worldwide.

As Michael Tan, a reproductive health activist and chair of the University of the Philippines anthropology department put it: "Why is Viagra so desired and condoms so repulsive in many cultures?"

Tan stressed, condoms are in the World Health Organisation (WHO) list of essentials - unlike Viagra. In other words, the social and institutional acceptance levels of Viagra and condoms are "totally opposite to the biomedical truth."

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