Magazine article UN Chronicle

Man-Made Threats to Women's Health

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Man-Made Threats to Women's Health

Article excerpt

The expression "man-made threats" to women's health probably brings to mind environmental and occupational hazards that cause medical problems ranging from cancers to genetic defects. These are certainly important concerns for people everywhere, but the vast majority of the world's women face graver and more insidious dangers of man's making, dangers that lurk in their bedrooms, in the streets and in the corridors of power. What is the source of these perils? The age-old domestic, social and political dominion that men have over the lives - bodies and minds - of women.

A woman's well-being begins at home, yet home is hardly the healthy haven it is thought to be. Men routinely beat women for any number of reasons - for failing to have dinner on the table, for asking to use condoms during sex, for expressing their own opinions - and frequently for no reason at all. In the United States alone, as many as 4 million women each year are seriously battered by their male partners; in more than 20 countries where reliable, largescale studies have been done, 16 to 52 per cent of women had been assaulted by an intimate partner. The vast majority of women beaten by their men almost never have a forum for redress or a place of refuge, not even the homes of their own parents. In South Asia, for example, women who are beaten by their husbands and seek shelter with their parents are told such violence is a part and parcel of marriage. More often than not, they are ordered to be "obedient" wives and return to their assailants.

Other dangers stemming from the power imbalance between the sexes have just as much potential to injure and kill. Men who refuse to use contraception or who prevent female partners from using it put women at risk for unwanted pregnancies. In too many cases, husbands also prevent their pregnant wives from seeking health care or skilled help to give birth, often with fatal consequences. Worldwide, botched abortions and unsafe childbirth claim the lives of some 600,000 women each year.

When men shirk their sexual responsibility by having sex with multiple partners and by refusing to use condoms, the women in their lives often end up with sexually transmitted diseases, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). A recent study shows that young married women in India are being infected with HIV by their prostitute-visiting husbands at alarming rates. In Uganda, a country with a high prevalence of HIV, women are infected at far younger ages than men because men seek out virgins with whom to have safe sex, although their definition of safe does not mean they use condoms. Outside the home, in the community and the nation, the threat to women comes from man-made norms and social policies. Mass media, increasingly pervasive around the world, reduces women to sex objects and promotes male ownership of and even violence against women's bodies.

Sexual harassment degrades and threatens girls and women in school and at work. Almost defying belief, rejected suitors in one country commonly throw acid in the faces of the women they desire so that no other men will want them. In some parts of another region, male "honour" is justification for murdering wives and sisters who commit adultery. …

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