What better way to recognize International Women's Day than having Jane Roberts, cofounder of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund, advocate for women's health, education, rights and equality. The event was hosted by St. Jude's Episcopal Church on the evening of March 8.
Roberts's vision for 34 Million Friends is a worldwide movement that began with Lois Abraham a little over 10 years ago. Though still far from the 34 million they desire to collect for the cause, they still advocate for women in other countries because “the battle needs to be fought.”
“At least women here have empowerment,” Roberts said. Obama, for example, just signed a stronger rendition of the Violence Against Women Act recently.
In her presentation, Roberts discussed different forms of gender-based violence and discrimination, including girls and education, very young marriages, reproductive health and family planning.
In one story, Roberts visited an elementary school in Senegal where a writing booklet that goes home to parents had an image sending the message that “little girls have as much right to food, education and health care as little boys.” The fact the message even had to be said was demoralizing.
“You know that needs to be said,” Roberts said. “That needs to be said to me as a form of violence; it's a form of, you know, girls aren't welcomed into the world. When a boy is born celebration; when a girl is born, 'Oh kinda, eh, that's too bad.'”
I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, a story in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic brought attention to very young marriages with girls as young as 5-years-old getting married to middle-aged men. Most of the girls are unfamiliar with what reproduction even means and end up being raped on wedding night despite rules for them no longer being a child. The rare case with Nujood Ali, who eventually flees her abusive spouse and in-laws to a courthouse demanding a divorce at just 10-years-old became internationally known, but is still an issue that needs to be addressed.
“You know, to me it was a little bit discouraging because it seemed to me that where I visited, almost every woman under the age of 50 had a baby in the belly, a baby on the back, and three at the knee. And from my American/Western view of things, it was painful,” she said.
One of the issues with early marriages is early pregnancies when the female body isn't quite mature. Obstetric fistulas are very common, and can be prevented by delaying first-pregnancy age and acquiring obstetric care in a timely manner. Fistulas is one of the many reasons for maternal mortality, shame, and health problems if not appropriately cared for. Women not having the proper information on taking care of themselves after childbirth or their babies leads to high infant mortality rates.
Another important part of the presentation is the world's population at seven billion today, and will, according to Science magazine Population issue, reach 9.3 billion by 2050.
“Even the lowest-middle class American lifestyle for nine billion people, the planet can't do it, it just can't do it,” Roberts said.
Having contraceptions readily available for women who want the choice to populate is crucial for everybody. Denying women the access to them is a form of gender-based discrimination, as Roberts said, “Family planning is at the very core of women's empowerment.”
Roberts wants to remind everyone that 34 Million Friends is all about women getting the care they need through safe deliveries and babies, family planning, rights and empowerment like anybody else.
“There has never been a human being that hasn't come from the womb of a woman,” Roberts said. “If you think about it, there are seven billion people in the world; seven billion women have given birth.”
It's about time the world gives back to its women.