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In Peru, an Epidemic of Rape and Double Jeopardy for Rape Victims Seeking Abortion

12:23 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Mapa del Perú (map of Peru)

Map of Peru

Written by Françoise Girard for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Peru, while famous for its modern culinary delights and ancient civilizations, also has a far less flattering distinction: it has more reported cases of rape and sexual violence than any other country in South America. Eight in ten of these victims are minors.

Researchers estimate that 35,000 pregnancies occur every year in Peru as a result of rape. Women and girls in this situation are faced with two options: seek an illegal abortion and risk going to jail or carry the pregnancy to term and suffer the psychological and physical trauma that go along with giving birth to your rapist’s child. Women who can prove that a pregnancy is the result of rape receive a “reduced” sentence of three months in jail (the standard prison sentence for illegal abortions in Peru is two years). Perversely, this reduced sentence does not apply to married women who are raped by their husbands, even though marital rape is a crime under Peruvian law. Doctors who perform abortions in cases of rape face up to six years in prison.

A coalition of women’s rights groups have launched a campaign to challenge this cruel violation of human rights. The campaign, Dejala Decidir (“Let her decide”), seeks to introduce a new law that decriminalizes abortion in cases of rape (currently, abortion is only permitted when the woman’s life or health is at risk). The groups, led by partners of the International Women’s Health CoalitionPROMSEX, Demus, Catholics for the Right to Decide-Peru, Manuela Ramos, CLADEM-Peru, and Flora Tristán — need to collect 60,000 valid signatures to petition Congress to consider the bill.

This is no small challenge. The requirement for valid signatures means that people must be willing to provide their government ID numbers to verify their identities. This may be intimidating to many people in a country where the Catholic Church exerts a great deal of influence in the government and within communities. Consider also that many people in rural and indigenous communities — especially poor women who are disproportionately impacted by the abortion ban — do not have government IDs. Even if the campaign succeeds in obtaining 60,000 valid signatures, there is no guarantee that Congress members will risk controversy or the ire of the Catholic Church and support a change in the law.

The groups see the Dejala Decidir campaign as an opportunity to build a powerful and active movement on two important but neglected issues: abortion and rape. Every signature represents at least one more person informed about the harsh realities faced by rape victims in Peru, and mobilized to change the current abortion law.

George Liendo, Director of PROMSEX, says the time is ripe for a national dialogue. “It’s not always easy to build a coalition in Peru, but there is real energy for this campaign. People across the country want to put this on the political agenda.”

Peru is not the only country in the region rethinking its draconian approach to abortion. In October 2012, the Uruguayan congress voted to decriminalize abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

Activists in Peru have until October 2013 to collect enough signatures to ask their own Congress to act. In the meantime, we can expect a rich and lively dialogue on rape and abortion. It’s about time.

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Addressing Obstetric Fistula: Towards a Just and Healthy Life for All

8:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kelly Castagnaro for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article is part of a series by RH Reality Check in collaboration with EngenderHealth, Guttmacher Institute, the International Women’s Health Coalition, the Fistula Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Campaign to End Fistula.  All articles in this series can be found at this link.

The series is being published during a time of renewed efforts by advocates and the public health community to increase U.S. international support for efforts to address obstetric fistula, a wholly preventable but debilitating and sometimes deadly condition caused most immediately by prolonged labor and too early or too frequent childbearing, but generally rooted in lack of access to health care and discrimination against women.  Fistula affects the lives of individual women, their children and families, and also grossly undermines women’s economic productivity and participation in society. The global public health community has called for comprehensive strategies both to prevent new cases and treat existing cases of fistula.  Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) will soon introduce legislation intended to support a comprehensive U.S. approach to fistula as part of a broader commitment to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity worldwide.

It has been said that in an unequal world, women are the most unequal among equals.  Obstetric fistula—a condition driven by a range of inequities in access to basic health services, nutrition, education and other basic elements— is a living example of this statement.

Obstetric fistula is a tear or hole in the birth canal through to the urinary tract and/or rectum and caused by obstructed labor; left untreated, women become incontinent and may uncontrollably leak urine and feces.  With more than two million women living with obstetric fistula and between 50,000 to 100,000 new cases each year, we must do more collectively to prevent and treat this condition.

This requires a focus on the human rights dimensions of public health problems. 

Whether by choice, persuasion or coercion, many girls in the developing world have had sex before their 15th birthdays, often without adequate information or protection from unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. For example, an estimated 60 million women between the ages of 20 and 24 in developing countries were married before 18.  The Population Council estimates that this number will increase by 100 million over the next decade if current trends continue.

For girls, sexual initiation is more likely to occur in the context of sexual violence and forced marriage, both of which place them at high risk of pregnancy, and STIs, including  HIV.  In Ethiopia, for example, nearly 70 percent of young married girls are forced to have sex before they have begun to menstruate. Because their bodies are not fully developed and ready to bear children, these young girls are at high risk for injury and death during pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among girls between the ages of 15 and19 in the developing world.

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