On March 8 women in all corners of the world will join together to observe International Women's Day (IWD). A national holiday in some countries, IWD has become a day to celebrate women's achievements and to focus on the many problems that women face today. Indeed, the pandemic of threats to the welfare and livelihood of women in today's world is truly horrific.
Intimate violence is a critical issue for women. According to the World Health Organization, more women between the ages of 15 - 44 are killed or injured by their husbands, boyfriends or other male family members than by cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war. In this country alone there are an estimated 960,000-3,000,000 incidences of intimate violence per year. On average, three women are murdered by their significant partners every day in the U.S. and at least one in three women around the world will experience sexual violence during her lifetime. The U.N. estimates that 5000 women lose their lives each year to honor killings, but many of these crimes are unreported leading many experts to believe that the number could be much higher. Arrests for these crimes are few and the punishments light. Marital rape is a leading cause in the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in women.
Pregnancy is a particularly hazardous time for women. Murder is the leading cause of death during pregnancy, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. For women who choose to end their pregnancies, obtaining safe and legal abortions is becoming more and more difficult. In the U.S., many low-income women cannot afford abortions, and many clinics have been forced to close, leaving women to travel considerable and frequently impractical distances to obtain an abortion. Worldwide, the problem is much worse, particularly with the Bush administration's refusal to fund family planning clinics that provide abortions in favor of so-called faith-based abstinence programs. According to Senator Hillary Clinton, 20 million women risk unsafe abortions every year, and 68,000 of those women die as a result of the complications of unsafe procedures.
There are also many risks for women who chose to bear children. In many countries, particularly those that have or are experiencing military conflict, adequate pre-natal and delivery care is substandard or unavailable. In Palestine a woman was recently forced to give birth at a checkpoint when Israeli soldiers would not let her pass through to get to a hospital. The soldiers declined to offer help or call an ambulance and the woman gave birth with the assistance of passersby. Hospitals, even if available, may have few medical supplies such as oxygen or anesthesia. In war-torn countries, care of the injured takes precedence over childbirth and maternal deaths in these countries tend to be high. For instance, the United Nations Population Fund reports that 590 women die per 100,000 live births in Sudan compared to 17 per live births in the U.S.
The Dangers of Militarism
Militarism is extremely detrimental to women. Rape is a cheap alternative to bullets and has always been a de facto weapon of war. It is a highly effective way to shame the enemy and achieve ethnic genocide while satisfying combatants needs for power and control along with their sexual appetites. Women who are raped during conflict are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Health care for rape victims, particularly if they become pregnant, may be unobtainable during times of war.
As a result of war and conflict, many women are left without homes, food and medical care, many become refugees. Obtaining work may become difficult, forcing many women into prostitution in order to survive. Hundreds of thousands of women are sexually trafficked every year.
The Lives of Girls
Throughout the world, young girls are still subjected to female genital mutilation and forced marriage is still a prevalent custom in many countries. Many girls are still not able to attend school because of cultural and religious restrictions as well as economic reasons. For some, attending school would be to risk their lives.
Globalization and Pollution
With large corporations taking control of water, farming and the distribution of food throughout the world, it is becoming increasingly difficult for women to feed their families. Globalization and free trade policies are leaving more and more women without economic support.
And ominously, the pollution and poisoning of our air, land and water finds its way into women's bodies, compromising both their own and reproductive health. Recent studies have found toxins such as perchlorate, a military rocket fuel pollutant, and flame retardant chemicals in breast milk compromising both the health of women and their children. One out of six women in the U.S. has enough mercury in their wombs to cause mental retardation, autism and other diseases. Women who breathe polluted air are four times more likely to have children who develop cancer. Other pollutants making their way into women's bodies such as PCBs, dioxin and DDT are known to impact reproductive health and are highly likely to be linked to the increase in incidences of breast cancer. Chemical and nuclear weapons of war, most especially depleted uranium, impact women's reproductive health causing low birth weights and gross birth abnormalities and wreaking havoc with cell and genetic health.
It is on these issues that women everywhere join together to focus their energy on International Women's Day. To learn more about IWD and how it is being observed throughout the world, please visit these websites:
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org which publishes Atrocities, a bulletin documenting violence against women throughout the world. Her work has been published in numerous publications including, Awakened Woman, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Rain and Thunder, Z Magazine , Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse.
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