Media centre

Marking International Women's Day

12 March 2010 -- This episode marking International Women's Day looks at women through the themes of education, health care and armed conflict.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode as we mark International Women's Day, we look at discrimination against women in education, in how women receive health care and how armed conflict takes a tragic toll on the lives of women.

Veronica Riemer: International Women's Day provides us with not only an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in business and communities around the world but also to pause and reflect on those still facing discrimination, those without health care, and women living with violence and struggling for the basic securities in life.

Zohra Rasekh is a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) who has conducted studies on the health and human rights of women in Afghanistan. She tells us about progress over the past decade.

Zohra Rasekh: Women's access to education has improved again in comparison to 5 years ago and 10 years ago, when the Taliban were in Afghanistan, when no women and girls were allowed to go out of their home and work or go to school. We have a large number of women as teachers at schools and women are also in the executive branch of the government and the judicial branch, the legislature and the parliament.

Veronica Riemer: Afghanistan is steeped in traditional beliefs and passing laws or building schools does not necessarily change the way that women are stereotyped. Ms Rasekh explains that much remains to be done.

Zohra Rasekh: I think changing attitudes of men and educating women of their rights and of their responsibilities, because women have equal responsibility as men in a post conflict country such as Afghanistan, to rebuild the country. Their political participation, equal participation in decision making in the future of the country is important, but before all that, they need their health, their mental health, their wellbeing.

Veronica Riemer: For many women, getting good health care for themselves and their families is a major challenge. Every day 1 500 women die due to complications in pregnancy or childbirth. 10 000 babies per day die within the first month of life and an equal number of babies are born dead. Skilled care around the time of birth would greatly reduce the number of these needless deaths. Dr Pius Okong is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Nsambya Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. He explains that although the Ugandan government has opened new health centres in rural areas and trained midwives to provide basic emergency care, many of these centres do not have the equipment and medicines that are needed.

Dr Pius Okong: In Uganda only about 40 out of 100 women deliver with a skilled attendant present (a midwife or doctor). So the other 60 out of 100 women will deliver when they are assisted by either a relative or a nurse aid, who is not a skilled attendant or assisted by a neighbour or traditional birth attendant and this can occur at home or in the village or rural areas.

Veronica Riemer: But discrimination can depend on how rich or poor a woman is. Dr Okong explains.

Dr Pius Okong: When we talk about equal rights, in reality that is not what we are realizing, what we are seeing is that, for example, if you look at women in the richest 20% of the population, they almost have 100% access to skilled attendants at the birth. They have more than 70% access to facilities where they can have emergency care, and the number of children they deliver in their lifetime has dropped from seven to about four. So there are statistics, the indicators are very good. But, the remaining three quarters of the women who are not rich, their indicators, their statistics are still very poor. So really we need to see the disparities in terms of access and even health indicators.

Veronica Riemer: Women are also facing discrimination in their opportunities for education. Bliss Temple from North Carolina in the USA, is a medical student who uses a wheelchair because of her disability. She talks to us about the challenges she has faced in taking forward her studies.

Bliss Temple: When I went to apply to medical school, because of my disability, I knew that it was unchartered territory. So I applied very widely to 28 different schools. About a third of them rejected me out of hand and said "you are too disabled; we won't even consider your application". It ended up that I did get accepted in several places and at the school that I chose, Duke University, I was the first person who was a wheelchair user. I think the first with what many people would classically think of as a disability; although there have been people with mental health problems.

Veronica Riemer: Bliss tells us why it is important for persons with disabilities to be accepted for medical training.

Bliss Temple: The world of medicine can really use people with disabilities. We are health care consumers of course and it is really important that we have more providers that understand the experience of having a disability. I think it is important for my classmates and even my teachers to have a concrete experience with a person who is an example of what is possible for someone with a disability if they get the right kinds of support and encouragement and have access to good opportunities.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you would like further information about this subject , please see the links on the transcript page of this podcast. For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.