Uterine Prolapse Epidemic among Nepalese Women

women%2520at%2520work%25202Without access to necessary reproductive and maternal health services, approximately 1.4 million women in Nepal suffer from uterine prolapse. These women not only suffer physically from this painful and debilitating condition, but also emotionally. They are stigmatized and sometimes even cast out of their families and communities as a result.

The incidence of uterine prolapse in Nepal has hit epidemic levels, affecting one out of ten women, with higher incidence among poor and rural communities. Several factors contribute to this epidemic including malnutrition, early marriage and pregnancy, multiple births in rapid succession, and performing heavy labor during and after pregnancy. Additionally, Nepalese women lack access to reproductive health education and medical  care.

At 17 years-old, Reena Pokharel gave birth without the assistance of a trained midwife or other medical professional due to her rural location. A soothsayer tried to facilitate the birth by putting pressure on her abdomen and instructing her to cough. She endured a painful and protracted labor that lasted four days and left her with a prolapsed uterus. Large numbers of women throughout Nepal have endured similar experiences.

When asked about her condition, Reena Pokharel, now 46 years-old, stated, “I became an outcast in my own family. They said I had brought bad luck and called me an evil omen. The community would not eat or work on farms with me. My husband beat me, saying I was lazy and unlucky.”

Most people in Nepalese society do not understand this medical condition. Consequently, women affected by uterine prolapse are often labelled as “lazy.” Husbands ridicule, beat or even leave their wives due to their inability to have sex or perform daily tasks. Due to social stigma, these women also avoid talking about their pain or getting help for their condition. Many have no idea what causes their symptoms and options available for treatment.

Uterine prolapse occurs when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments weaken, allowing the displacement of the reproductive organs. Without proper support, the uterus slips down into the vaginal canal, and in severe cases  may even protrude out the vagina. This condition usually affects older, menopausal women but in Nepal there is a high incidence among women as young as their 20s.

Documented causes of uterine prolapse in Nepal include inappropriate birthing methods that include placing pressure on the abdomen, difficult and prolonged labor, giving birth at a young age, and having a large number of children in a small amount of time. Additionally, malnutrition stunts the development of pelvic muscles and hard physical labor strains the muscles.

Once uterine prolapse develops, women experience disabling symptoms including abdominal and back pain, trouble urinating and defecating, pain and difficulty when having sex, and a predisposition to infection. The resulting discomfort makes it difficult for affected women to sit, walk, or perform daily labor tasks.

“I started feeling back pain and stomach pain and I couldn’t stand straight or sit or do work. I feel pain in my lower abdomen and generally I have back pain when I work hard. When I sneeze my uterus comes out,” explained Kopila, a 30 year-old woman.

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Sex Ed Comes to Pakistani Girls

On the heels of a recent UNESCO initiative to improve access to and quality of girls’ education, a new program run by the Village Shadabad Organisation is bringing sex education to nearly 700 girls in eight schools in rural Pakistan. The program begins with eight year old girls and teaches them about puberty, rights, and what to do in case of an attack. “We cannot close our eyes,” said Akbar Lashari, head of the VSO. “ a topic people don’t want to talk about, but it’s [a] fact of our life.”

Studying for the chance to become a teacher

Lashari says that sex education was the villagers’ idea. Parents are informed of the curriculum before enrollment, and none has objected yet, according to Lashari. The lessons also cover issues of marriage, including marital rape. “Our teacher has told us everything that we’ll have to do when we get married. Now we’ve learned what we should do and what we should not,” said Sajida Baloch, 16. In Pakistan, where marital rape is not a recognized crime, teaching the girls about the problem is a novel idea. “We tell them their husband can’t have sex with them if they are not willing,” Lashari said.

Sex education remains a largely taboo topic in Pakistan—Arshad Javed, a doctor in Lahore who has written three books on sex education says he sells 7,000 copies every year, but that none are bought by schools. “It is against our constitution and religion,” said Mirza Kashif Ali, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, representing 152,000 schools nationwide. “What’s the point of knowing about a thing you’re not supposed to do? It should not be allowed at school level,” he claimed. However, according Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema council alliance of moderate clerics, “If the teachers are female, they can give such information to girls within the limits of sharia law.”

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Libyan Decree Promotes Gender Segregation and Veiled Teachers

Libyan girl at an anti-Gaddafi rallyA new decree petitioned by Libya’s Grand Mufti, the country’s highest religious authority, suggests forced gender separation in schools and requires all female teachers to wear a veil when teaching males past the age of puberty or approaching it. The decision ignited widespread criticism from the country’s liberal population who fears deeper gender segregation within the country.

The decision followed a request for advice issued by Libya’s Ministry of Education, who felt the importance for female teachers to lift their veil during instruction to properly communicate and teach students. The Grand Mufti responded by suggesting classroom segregation between male and female students “because those in charge are duty-bound in Islam to do so, if they are able to.” If it is not possible, students must have separate break areas, corridors and entrances to the school.

Students must also be made to dress “respectively and to abide by the Islamic dress code and not allow girls to wear make-up and perfumes to avoid temptation,” said the decree. If possible, male teachers should only be permitted to teach boys and female teachers for girls, and a veil must be worn if a female instructor is to teach boys.

Last month, Libya’s Mistry of Education said that because the country has a higher number of female teachers, they would not segregate boys and girls in schools and universities in fear of damaging students’ education. The religious decree will be discussed and decided by the country’s Ministry of Education.

According to a female Libyan activist, the decision further defines the country’s pressing issue of gender inequality, saying “it is sad to see women my age, who now have daughters and who were strong-willed at one stage, are giving up and telling their daughters to ‘cover your hair, shut up, don’t say anything, don’t contradict your father, don’t contradict your brother. Do you want to have a happy life or do you want to have a hard life?’ They have learnt the hard way that if you are going to voice your opinions, you are going to have an uncomfortable life.”

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Philippines Ranks As One of the Top Five Countries for Gender Equality

Calbayog kidsThe Philippines is one of the best places in the world to be a woman, reported the Global Gender Gap Report 2013. The country ranked fifth in the world and number one in Asia, moving up three notches from its previous ranking in 2012.

Iceland secured number one out of 136 countries, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland, and Nicaragua. The United Kingdom ranked 18th, the United States at 23, China holding the 68th position, and India at 101st.

The study was released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), who conducts an annual report which assesses each country’s genders’ participation in health, education, politics and economic activity. The WEF said, “the Philippines remains the most advanced country in the (Asia-Pacific) region in terms of gender equality, ranking 5th in the global index. It improves as a result of advances in economic participation and opportunity, a subindex of the report, as well as having a strong score in terms of political participation.” The Philippines is currently the only Asian country to fully close the gender gap in education and health and the country.

Filipina journalist Marites Vitug reportedly said that the Philippines has a “very liberal work atmosphere” with a “fantastic support network” from household help to extended families. “Woman usually hold the purse. Even if they re not the major breadwinner, they do the budget, decide how money is spent. Thus, men don’t have a dismissive attitude toward women,” explained Vitug.

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) is very proud of their country’s improvement, saying “the collective hard work of government agencies, non-government and civil society organizations, academe and various stakeholders prove that the country indeed is recognizing and valuing women as active drivers of development.”

The commission still admits the country’s remaining challenges for gender equality, explaining “efforts to keep children in school… to expand economic opportunities for women and increase women’s participation in decision-making positions need to be accelerated and sustained in all spheres. PCW will not stop from performing its mandate until we enforce the necessary mechanisms to foster and promote equal opportunities for women and me.”

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Child Abduction in China Feeds the Adoption Industry

Kidnapped Girls, Foochow, China [1904] Attribution Unk Upon the news that the Chinese government has rescued 92 children from a kidnapping ring, there has been renewed international attention to the rise in human trafficking throughout China over the past few years. Some estimate that up to 70,000 children are abducted from their families annually, making this a problem of epidemic proportions. The majority of these children are sold for adoption, but others end up living in orphanages and on the streets, or are forced into labor and the sex trade.

Children can be sold for adoption for between $5,000 and $13,000, making child abduction a profitable and growing business in China. Once kidnapped, children may be sold to adoption agencies or directly to other Chinese families interested in having a son. With the country’s one-child policy and the high value placed on male children, many families would rather purchase a son than risk having a daughter naturally.

Exact numbers on the percentage of kidnapped children being sold for adoption remain unavailable. While the Chinese government keeps these statistics out of the public eye, countries that adopt large numbers of Chinese children, like the United States, do not press either for answers or further investigation into this serious problem.

Despite the lack of available data, the extent of this issue became more widely publicized in August of this year when Charlie Custer and Leia Li released their documentary Living with Dead Hearts online. According to Mr. Custer, “the statistics are terrifying, but they’re just statistics, especially for people outside China.” To illustrate the devastating effects of child abduction, filmmakers followed three sets of Chinese parents as they searched for their missing children. The resulting imagery shows the anguish families suffer as well as the miserable conditions children face following abduction.

Several barriers make solving this problem difficult. To begin with, children are often abducted from families that are poor and have little education. As a result, they have no resources to look for their children and are unaware of their legal rights under Chinese law.

Finding a kidnapped child takes a large investment of time and requires the cooperation of authorities. Since the chances of successfully locating these children are extremely slim, police often consider it a waste of time and resources to look for them. Recovering these children is further hampered by police officers and family planning officials that are involved with kidnappers and facilitate their operations.

This epidemic was further investigated on Sept 27th at the meeting of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. When Chinese delegates were asked if the government would legally prohibit all human trafficking including the sale of children, they responded by declining to answer.

This ongoing failure to make significant improvements was also noted by the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which placed China in the lowest ranking of countries worldwide.  According to the report, China was “deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3.”


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IKEA Foundation Provides Funding for India’s Women and Children

child and motherThe IKEA Foundation contributed 60 million to UNICEF’s development programs in India earlier this month. The generous donation will provide quality health and education services to millions of underprivileged children and women.

Five million infants and five million mothers in marginalized communities can receive better access to health, nutrition, water and sanitation services. And 7 million more children can stay in school and receive a quality education,” explained UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake.

39.5 million will be allocated to curtail infant and mother morality and malnutrition rates in 13 states across India. A second portion of 20.7 million will fund education programs and a government plan aimed at providing safe environments for children living in difficult circumstances.

IKEA Foundation CEO Pat Heggenes said “IKEA Foundation believes all children deserve a quality education and a healthy start in life, so we are providing this significant grant of 60 million to UNICEF to help develop innovative models designed to improve education and access to vital health services for millions of children and their families in India.”

According to UNICEF reports, India accounts for 38% of the chronically undernourished children in the world. This disparity is due to limited access to quality health care services and adequate nutrition, water and sanitation services for young children and mothers. Additionally, over 80 million Indian children drop out of school before reaching their ninth schooling year.

The Swedish furniture company’s IKEA Foundation is UNICEF’s largest global corporate donor; total investments in UNICEF’s India programs are currently at 158 million. Since the beginning of their partnership in 2002, the IKEA Foundation has aided over 74 million people living in 15 states in India. 

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In Gaza, Hamas Separates Classes By Gender

Hamas, the Islamic group that governs the Palestianian territory in Gaza, passed a new educational law that mandates separate classes for boys and girls over the age of 9 and also excludes men from working at girls’ school.

Across 18 pages, the law indicates its purpose is to build nationalist values in students, preparing them to be “committed to the Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic culture” and encouraging them “to get to know Palestine with its historic borders, its history and its connection with its milieus.” The law will become active at the start of the next academic year in September.

“This law is a safety valve for our national principles, ” said Yousef Al-Sherafi, a Hamas lawmaker and a member of the education committee. “One male staffer among 20 female teachers in a girls’ school would not allow our sisters to feel comfortable,” he added.

Children of PalestineCritics view the law as Hamas’ latest attempt to inculcate the people of Gaza with the Islamic lifestyle. Hamas previously tried to impose Islamic dress on school girls.

In actuality, the segregation of sexes above the age of 9 is already enforced in most government schools. Some speculate that the new ruling targets about a dozen private and Christian schools since implementing it will force these schools to generate new classrooms and teachers for each gender, possibly beyond their capacity.

While the law doesn’t prohibit the teaching of Christian-related subjects to non-Muslim students, it does warn against engaging in ties with Israel: a 10-year prison term and a fine of 20,000 Jordian dinar (about $28,200) awaits any educational institution receiving aid that promotes exchange programs or other activities involving Israelis.

Yet, since Israel’s policy already imposes strict limitations on Palestinians travelling in and out of the city, scarcely any school or association is able to initiative such activities to begin with.

Several rights groups have criticized the ruling, as it darkens the lines between culture, equality, and the law. In a press statement, the Gaza Centre for Womens’ Legal Research and Consulting asserted, “Such decisions don’t help to base Palestinian society on equality and justice, neither do they help the Palestinian cause towards national unity.”

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Teach at Honduras’ Leadership Center


If you want to volunteer and teach poor students in Honduras, here is an excellent opportunity: the Leadership Center (LC) invites applications for teachers who will be responsible for teaching college students in Honduras.

The LC was launched by Art for Humanity, a charity and donation-based, non-profit association, which believes in alleviating poverty through education.

In terms of education, Honduras trails behind all other Central American countries by 35-50 years.

The LC, often also called the Leadership University, is a residential college that offers free education, lodging, meals, clothes, and medical assistance. The LC offers a three-year program in Business Administration with full scholarships, primarily for women, and trains them at the grassroots level to use tools and strategies to become the leaders of their own lives, futures, families, and communities.

The first six months engage with intensive English-speaking courses such that, by the time of the first semester, all students can be instructed in English. Once students complete three years of course work, they work as interns in the United States or elsewhere for three months. When they return to campus, they bring their experience and learning together to devise concrete plans for the future.

Effectively, the LC trains poor Hondurans to become informed ethical leaders of their country. Art for Humanity functions on the premise that, through education and self-development, Hondurans can emerge out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

Since 2011, volunteers from the United States have taught at the LC. Graduates from the LC often return to teach newer generations of students and hone their plans for the future. In fact, while they are still at LC, many students take what they learn to their villages and communities and share the knowledge and skills they are gaining on campus. So, in addition to spreading the word about the LC, they also become mentors and teachers while being full-time students there.

If anyone is interested in helping poor Honduran students with developing skills and knowledge for a better future and would like to live on an organic coffee farm where solar and wind energy are harnessed for electricity and water is purified on-site, please contact Joseph Rahm at

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TechWomen: Where Business and Technology Meet Innovation

The Spirit of SputnikTechWomen is a program designed to empower the next generation of women and girls by providing access to opportunities that support a career in technology. Emerging women leaders in technology sectors from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions engage in a mentorship and exchange program at American leading companies.  In 2012, 41 Emerging Leaders participated from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, and Yemen.

The TechWomen team is made up of diverse women who have found success in a variety of technical careers. For five weeks, they share their experiences, challenges, and best methods. The first three weeks focus on professional work and cultural enrichment ,while the last three involve panel discussions and breakout sessions centered on leadership skills, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

This year, Google hosted one such workshop exploring innovative techniques and approaches for engaging young girls in male-dominated fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The presentations were accompanied by female leaders from Techbridge, MAGIC (More Active Girls in Computing), Foundation, and Iridscent.

After five weeks, the women return home with new-found vigor. Thekra Dwairi from Jordan says that before TechWomen, she’d never shared her idea to start an NGO, Edugirl. “Most NGOs focus on university aged students. I want to focus on girls in neglected areas who get married early, who are isolate and who don’t have anyone who is fighting for them.” Thekra is currently working on an action strategy to promote and fund her Edugirl initiative.

Rayane Hazimeh will soon launch ‘Nora Techadventures,’ an online animation series that features dynamic characters who use STEM skills to explore technology and embark on new challenges.  She explains how TechWomen helped her re-define her vision, “It is now my personal mission to live a life that positively and valuably impacts other young girls.”

Loubna Lahmici went on to create the first coupon website in Algeria. Her site,, is transforming consumer practices in Algeria by providing discounted printable and mobile coupons to local consumers. Lahmici notes, “My experience…gave me insights into cutting-edge technologies, connecting me with counterparts, and opening up new opportunities for the growth of my business.” Within the first three weeks, the site had registered more than 13,000 visits, 800 subscribers, and 500 downloaded coupons.

TechWomen The experience also inspires the TechWomen team.  “I am in such awe of the bravery, openness, energy and ambition of the Emerging Leaders,” states Heather Ramsey, Director of Strategic Partnerships.  “This experience is not easy, but the women take it on with grace, tenacity, a spirit of curiosity and a desire to build real understanding. I am so grateful to be a part of TechWomen!”

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