Valentine’s Day is meant to be a day of celebration. But for many young women and girls across the world, it will be nothing more than a reminder of their daily sufferings.
For Louisa, a young woman from Burkina Faso, who was verbally abused and slapped during childbirth at a local hospital; for Elena, a 10-year-old girl raped by a priest in Nicaragua and was pressured to keep quiet about the abuse; and for Marta, a 30-year-old domestic worker from Indonesia who was refused contraceptives at a local health centre because she doesn’t have children yet, February 14 will probably go completely unnoticed.
These three stories show the consequences of the entrenched discrimination that millions of women and girls face across the world simply because of their gender.
From Indonesia to Peru, Sierra Leone to the US, millions of women and girls are paying with their lives for the cost of failed health policies, inadequate health care and lack of attention from governments. Not to mention the ill-treatment they face in their families and communities when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The UN recently reported that some 800 women die every day during pregnancy and childbirth. For every woman who dies, another 20 endure lifelong suffering because of injury, infection, disease or disabilities due to pregnancy, childbirth or unsafe abortion.
In many countries, women find accessing basic sexual and reproductive health services and information an almost impossible task.
“Commitments made at an international conference are definitely crucial to tackle the deep discrimination women and girls face in every corner of the world.”
Sometimes, it is due to the failure of governments to make this a priority or to invest resources. Where health services exist, they tend to be concentrated in more affluent areas, making impossible for many women to access them as they live too far away and usually do not have enough money to pay for transport.
In places such as Indonesia, women interviewed by Amnesty International said they were not given proper information about their right to access contraceptives, and in the US, many migrant women said they were turned away from health centres just before giving birth as they did not have enough money to pay for treatment.
On February 14, Amnesty International will launch a global campaign calling on governments across the world to ensure that everyone can access the information, sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive health services we all need for a safe and healthy life – now and for the next generation.
“My body, my rights” will bring together the voices of hundreds of thousands of people globally who will urge world leaders gathering throughout 2013 and 2014 to commit to making basic rights such as access to health services, information about sex and contraception, and the freedom to choose if and when to marry and whether to have children, a reality.
In 2014, UN member states will meet to review progress on the implementation of the historic Programme of Action, adopted nearly 20 years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994.
Commitments made at an international conference are definitely crucial to tackle the deep discrimination women and girls face in every corner of the world, but they must be implemented properly if we are to see real change in people’s lives. And with opposition to sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality rife among religious, faith-based and conservative groups, now is the time to speak out.
Rada Tzaneva is the campaign coordinator for Sexual and Reproductive Rights at Amnesty International.