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International Day Of Action For Women's Health - 2007

Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: 'Universal access to health care is not a myth or a dream. It is a human right. We cannot implement that human right without effective health systems. We need a worldwide movement led by women to make this simple message stick.'

The International Day Of Action For Women's Health falls on May the 28th, every year.

The origins of this world health day stem from a 1987 meeting of the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), in Costa Rica, where the Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network proposed the creation of a global day of action for women's health.

Since then, 28 May has become widely known and celebrated around the world by innumerable women's and health groups.

The WGNRR is a network of 2000 autonomous organizations and individuals in 157 countries, and has been working since 1984 to achieve and support reproductive and sexual health and rights for women.

Some organizations in partnership with WGNRR include the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ethical Globalization Initiative (EGI), Latin American and Caribbean Women's Health Network (LACWHN), Ipas (Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services), etc.

According to experts working for the betterment of women, health clearly reflects the many inequalities of women's daily lives. Asymmetry between the sexes seriously impedes the ability of women to exercise their right to health.

The WGNRR defines sexual and reproductive rights as a series of interrelated, basic human rights which enable women to have safe, responsible and fulfilling sex lives and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to have children-free from coercion, discrimination and violence.

This also includes the right of access to safe, legal abortion.

Says one of WGNRR's supporters, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, of the need to address one of the two leading causes of death among women of reproductive age, in developing countries pregnancy related complications: 'Every year these complications kill an estimated 600,000 women. These tragedies command far less attention than terrorism because these horrors occur off camera and out of sight in dusty villages and shanty towns where nothing grows, except the appetites of small children.'

'Call For Action'

The Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) in collaboration with members and campaign supporters) publishes a 'Call for Action' every year, to raise awareness and promote solidarity and action on the International Day of Action for Women's Health.

In the 1990s, the 'Calls for Action' mostly addressed issues related to maternal mortality and morbidity. Since the late 1990s, the topics were broadened to cover issues like health services, trade agreements, health sector reforms and AIDS.

From 2003 onwards, the 'Call for Action' was part of the Women's Access to Health Campaign and focused on a specific topic within the campaign.

The year 2007 marks two decades since the first International Day of Action for Women's Health was held.

According to the LACWHN, there must be a global confrontation of new social, political, economic and cultural challenges in the current world scenario, and this must also draw attention to the impact of these factors on women's comprehensive health.

Hence, WGNRR has published the 2007 Call for Action as: 'Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Repoliticizing our Perspective, Repoliticizing our Demands.'

Highlights of 'Call For Action' for 2007 include:

* Repoliticizing the approach to women's sexual and reproductive health and rights in the context of the current global and r egional conditions.

* Encouraging the women of member groups to take political action to defend their sexual and reproductive health and rights from a perspective of gender equity and human rights.

Issues concerned with the 'Call For Action' include:

* The persistence of high rates of maternal death in recent decades, which often are related to a general worsening of women's health status, to gender discrimination, to higher levels of poverty affecting women and to crises in health systems.

* The criminalization of abortion, the imprisonment of women who have had abortions and the strengthening of fundamentalist discourses against freedom of reproductive choice.

* Restricted access to essential sexual and reproductive health services due to a decrease in donor funding as a result of ideological pressure.

* The lack of public policies sensitive to gender equity in health and establishment of barriers that hinder the formulation of such policies by fundamentalist sectors.

* The absence of laws within countries that legally recognize sexual and reproductive rights and guarantee that all individuals may exercise these rights free from discrimination.

Modus operandi of the 'Call For Action' entail the following:

* Informing and raising public awareness through acts, marches, street events, etc.

* Actions of denunciation (press conference, actions with the media, petitions)

* Research (production of knowledge)- Exchange of knowledge and skills through workshops, training sessions, etc., targeted towards health professionals, police officers, teachers, students, other women's NGOs, community leaders, etc.

* Lobbying of public decision-makers and lawmakers.

It has also been decided that member groups who take part in this three-year campaign (2007-2009) will monitor the pub lic impact of their initiatives. They will also follow up on the results obtained and undertake ongoing actions related to their campaign topic.

It is with these steps that women health activists around the world, hope that the International Day of Action for Women's Health which was created to give a fresh look at women's unique health needs, will do just that.


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