14 Incredible Facts about Maternal Mortality in the United States

maternal mortality statisticsEvery 90 seconds, one woman in the world dies from pregnancy-related complications. Ninety-nine percent of these deaths occur in developing countries, particularly South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, making it the greatest health disparity between developed and developing countries.

Because maternal mortality is the greatest health disparity between developed and developing countries, it seems like it’s really not a problem in developed countries like the United States. The statistics seems to illustrate that maternal health is a concern in other countries and not our own. But, that’s not the case. Let’s not pretend that maternal mortality isn’t a problem in the U.S.. Let’s not pretend American women aren’t dying in childbirth when we are capable of saving their lives. Here are X fast facts about maternal mortality in the U.S.

Maternal Mortality in the United States

  1. In the United States, between two or three women die from pregnancy-related complications every day.
  2. African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
  3. One-third of all women who give birth in the United States, which is about 1.7 million women per year, experience some type of complication that has an adverse effect on their health.
  4. More than 34,000 women who experience some type of complication nearly die from that complication. This number, known as “near misses,” has increased 25 percent between 1998 and 2005.
  5. Forty percent of “near misses” could have been prevented.
  6. Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. This delays the start of prenatal care, which increases the likelihood of complications.
  7. One in four women don’t receive adequate prenatal care in the first trimester.
  8. “Adequate prenatal care” is defined as 13 prenatal visits beginning in the first trimester. Twenty-five percent of women don’t meet this criteria, but this percentage increases to 32 percent for African-American women and 41 percent of Native American and Alaskan women.
  9. Native American women are 3.5 times more likely to receive late or no prenatal care than white women.
  10. Women with no prenatal care are three to four times more likely to die than those who have access to prenatal care.
  11. Among women with high risk pregnancies, African-American women are five and a half times more likely to die than white women.
  12. More than half of all maternal deaths occur between one and 42 days after birth. However, postpartum care is generally limited to one office visit six weeks after birth.
  13. The U.S. has no standardized, nationally-implemented protocols to prevent, recognize, and treat the leading causes of childbirth-related deaths such as blood clots or massive blood loss.
  14. There are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths and data collection at the state level is insufficient, meaning that opportunities to prevent future deaths are missed because we aren’t counting, reviewing, or learning what happened to cause these deaths.

Obama Administration’s Leadership on International Human Rights (Part 2)

VAWAIn continuing with our series evaluating the Obama administration’s leadership on international human rights, today we are covering of gender equality and women’s empowerment. One policy action to note is the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, which the US says it will lead over the next year. The purpose of this call-to-action is to address gender-based violence in the context of conflicts and natural disasters, so it’s critical to see how the US leads in light of situations like Typhoon Haiyan and others happening around the world.

Other than that, the Obama administration has done it’s share of work on gender equality. The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized, while the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law. Hopefully, by the end of Obama’s turn, the United States could ratify the International Violence Against Women Act too.

“People everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people — and not the other way around. The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world.  That was our founding purpose.” – President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012

Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls at Home and Abroad

Promoting Women’s Rights at Home

Within months of taking office, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls with the explicit mandate to ensure that every agency, department, and office in the federal government takes into account the unique needs and experiences of women and girls. The Obama Administration has worked tirelessly to promote equality; enhance women’s economic security; and ensure that women have the opportunities they deserve at every stage of their lives. The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women get the pay they have earned.  In addition, the Affordable Care Act includes more preventive services and additional protections for women.  The Department of Defense announced plans to remove gender-based barriers to combat service and fully integrate women into all occupational specialties.   From signing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – which provides better tools to law enforcement to reduce domestic and sexual violence and broadens protections to even more groups of women – to extending overtime and minimum-wage protections to home care workers (90 percent of whom are women), President Obama and his Administration are making deep and lasting investments in America’s future by protecting the human rights of women and girls, and helping them reach their full potential.

Advancing Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment

The Equal Futures Partnership is an innovative U.S.-led multilateral initiative designed to encourage member countries to empower women economically and politically.  Equal Futures partner countries commit to taking actions including legal, regulatory, and policy reforms to ensure women fully participate in public life at the local, regional, and national levels, and that they lead and benefit from inclusive economic growth.  The partnership complements U.S. government signature programs in these areas, including efforts to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship through the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women and the Economy initiative, and the Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative.

Empowering Women as Equal Partners in Preventing Conflict and Building Peace

President Obama issued an Executive Order directing the development of the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which was released in December 2011 and focused on strengthening women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.  The U.S. government is taking concrete steps to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate efforts to advance women’s participation in peace negotiations, peace-building, conflict prevention, and decision-making institutions; protect women from gender-based violence; and ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance in areas of conflict and insecurity.

Preventing and Responding to Gender-based Violence

The United States released the first-ever U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, and President Obama signed an accompanying Executive Order directing all relevant agencies to increase coordination on gender-based violence globally; enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work; improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention and response efforts; and enhance or expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence.  Over the next year, the United States, joined by partners, will lead the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies, with the goal of improving the capacity of the humanitarian assistance system to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in the context of conflicts and natural disasters and to ensure such efforts are routinely prioritized as a life-saving intervention along with other vital humanitarian assistance.

Write for Rights and Demand Justice for Miriam Lopez

Miriam Lopez

Miriam Lopez

During our Write for Rights campaign, not every single case is about freeing someone from prison, such as the case of Miriam Lopez. Lopez, a mother of four, was detained in February 2011 for over two months without charge at a military barracks. In that time, soldiers raped and tortured Lopez, wanting her to confess to trafficking drugs through a military checkpoint.

She was charged with a narcotics offense, but released in September 2011 after her case was thrown out for a lack of evidence. Lopez maintains that her travels through the checkpoint were to visit her mother, a trip she made several times a week. She’s filed a complaint of torture to the Federal Attorney’s Office, and has subsequently received death threats for doing so. Those who raped and tortured her have never been held accountable for her actions. It’s time to change that.

Sample Letter

Jesús Murillo Karam
Federal Attorney General
Procuraduría General de la República
Paseo de la Reforma 211-213
Col. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06500
Mexico City

Dear Attorney General,

I respectfully request that you take action on the case of Miriam Isaura López Vargas. I’m deeply concerned that her story is emblematic of the widespread, systematic use of torture and ill-treatment in Mexico, which has increased in recent years. However, those responsible are virtually never held accountable. It is time to send a clear message that torture and ill-treatment, whether by members of the armed forces or the police, will not be tolerated. I call on you carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation into the torture of Miriam López.

In February 2011 Miriam López was detained by members of the Mexican army in Ensenada. Officers tortured and sexually assaulted her, pressuring her to sign false statements. She was held in pre-charge detention (arraigo) for seventy-six days, and then charged with narcotics offenses. Miriam López was released in September 2011, when her case was thrown out of court for a lack of evidence. She filed a complaint of torture with the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (CNDH) and the Federal Attorney’s Office and subsequently received death threats.

In November 2012, the United Nations Committee against Torture issued new recommendations to the government of Mexico to implement concrete steps to combat torture, ensure effective investigation and prosecution of abuses and guarantee victims receive reparations. I look forward to hearing what your government is doing to comply with these recommendations, and about the actions you are taking to end the impunity of those members of the Mexican Army responsible for the detention, torture and sexual assault of Miriam Isaura López Vargas.

Securing truth, justice and reparations for Miriam Lopez would send the message that torture will not be tolerated by your government. Please investigate this crime and bring those responsible to justice.

[Your Name]

Write-a-Thon Details

Our St. Louis chapter event is this Saturday! Hope to see you there!

Who: Our Amnesty International chapter and anyone else who wants to do something good for someone else this holiday season.

What: To write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience worldwide

When: Saturday, Dec. 7 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Where: Schlafly Bottleworks – 7260
Southwest Ave.@ Manchester. Maplewood, MO 63143

Why: Because people need our help and we can make a difference, and because it’s fun

How: Just show up and enjoy great company, food, and beer (food and beer not free). We’ll provide the paper, pens, and pertinent information on each of the cases.

Millennium Development Goals: Progress on the Latter Four

millennium development goals infographicWhen we think of the Millennium Development Goals, we think of how lofty these goals are and how hard it is to get the global community and developing countries to commit to these issues. However, when we actually take a look at the progress we made, it turns out that there’s a lot of progress that’s been made over the past 20 years. Even if some targets haven’t been met, with all of these goals, we are not in the same place that we were when the goals were first set. Here’s the progress on the last four Millennium Development Goals:

5. Improving maternal health

  • Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio – Maternal mortality has nearly halved since 1990! In Eastern Asia, Northern Africa and Southern Asia, maternal mortality has declined by around two-thirds! We’re so close to this goal!
  • Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health – What’s really needed here is contraception and family planning. The need for family planning is slowly being met for more women, but demand is increasing at a rapid pace, and Official Development Assistance for reproductive health care and family planning is still low.

6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS – This has not happened, although new HIV infections continue to decline in most regions. Progress is going to take place among young people, where comprehensive knowledge of HIV transmission remains low along with condom use.
  • Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it The world missed this target, even though access to treatment for people living with HIV increased in all regions. In fact, 11 countries had achieved universal access to anti-retro viral therapy.
  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseasesAlthough incidence hasn’t been halted, the global estimated incidence of malaria has decreased by 17% since 2000, and malaria-specific mortality rates by 25%.

7. Ensuring environmental sustainability

  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs; reverse loss of environmental resources In the 25 years since the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, there has been a reduction of over 98% in the consumption of ozone-depleting substances. That’s about it though, as global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by more than 46% since 1990.
  • Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss – More areas of the earth’s surface are protected now than previously. Since 1990, protected areas have increased in number by 58%. However, not all protected areas cover key biodiversity sites.
  • Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation We did it! Between 1990 and 2010, more than two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources.
  • By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers – We did this too! The world met this target well in advance of the 2020 deadline!

8. Developing a global partnership for development

  • Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system – Despite the pledges by G20 members to resist protectionist measures initiated as a result of the global financial crisis, only a small percentage of trade restrictions introduced since the end of 2008 have been eliminated. The protectionist measures taken so far have affected almost 3 per cent of global trade.
  • Address the Special Needs of the Least Developed Countries – There has been some success of debt relief initiatives reducing the external debt of heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs) but 20 developing countries remain at high risk of debt distress.
  • Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing States – Just made progress on this one. Aid to landlocked developing countries fell in 2010 for the first time in a decade, while aid to small island developing States increased substantially.
  • Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term – This one is tricky because of the recent economic downturn. In 2011, the debt to GDP ratio decreased for many developing countries. Vulnerabilities remain. Expected slower growth in 2012 and 2013 may weaken debt ratios.
  • In co-operation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable, essential drugs in developing countries – Resources available for providing essential medicines through some disease-specific global health funds increased in 2011, despite the global economic downturn. However, there has been little improvement in improving availability and affordability of essential medicines in developing countries.
  • In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications – It comes as no surprise that we are doing well here, as the number of mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide by the end of 2011 reached 6 billion.

Related Links:

Millennium Development Goals: How Are We Doing?

23 Fast Facts about Women’s Oppression Worldwide

Amnesty International Failed in the Maternal Health Crisis

Milennium Development Goals: How are We Doing?

millennium development goalsSet in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals are eight international goals that all 189 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by 2015. With about 18 months left (presuming that everyone has all of 2015 to achieve the goal). Not only are they admirable goals, but all eight have to do with human rights, even though these goals are not considered human rights goals or an effort to improve human rights. Below is a summary of the first four goals, their target(s), and what progress the world has made toward meeting these goals and targets.

1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger

  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a dayThis target was met in 2010! Yay! This means 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.
  • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people – Although the number of workers living below the poverty line has been halved since 2001, a gender gap still persists in employment. In 2012, a 24.8% difference existed between men and women in the employment-to-population ratio.
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger – Although this target is within reach for 2015, it still means that globally, about 870 million people are estimated to be undernourished.

2. Achieving universal primary education

  • Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling – More kids than ever are enrolled in primary school, as enrollment in developing regions reached 90 percent in 2010. However, the rate of enrollment has slowed in recent years. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of out-of-school children of primary age fell by only 3 million.

3. Promoting gender equality and empowering women

  • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015 – The world has a ways to go with this one. Even though the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but only 2 out of 130 countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. Violence and poverty continue to be major barriers toward achieving this goal. Yet, the great news on this goal is that globally, 40 out of every 100 wage-earning jobs in the non-agricultural sector were held by women in 2011, which is a huge improvement from 1990.

4. Reducing child mortality rates

  • Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate – Despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011, which translates into about 14,000 fewer children dying each day. Yet, as the rate of under-five deaths overall declines, the proportion that occurs during the first month after birth is increasing.

The United Nations refers to these goals as the “most successful anti-poverty push in history”. Although great strides have been made on all fronts, not all of the targets have been met yet, and some are very close. Now is the time to build awareness of these issues and to encourage governments and non-profits to step up and to continuing pushing toward these goals.

Millennium Development Goals child mortality

Related Links:

23 Fast Facts about Women’s Oppression Worldwide

Amnesty International Failed in the Maternal Health Crisis

14 MORE Human Rights Violations Happening Now

22 MORE Fast Facts about Women’s Oppression Worldwide

maternal healthWomen hold up half the sky, and that women in Texas are demonstrating that this week as thousands are rallying to prevent a strict anti-abortion bill for passing in the state. Although women’s oppression is much more than family planning, it’s a huge example of what women can accomplish when they come together for women’s health and other issues. With this in mind, here are 22 more fast facts about women’s oppression worldwide, this time regarding maternal mortality and economic empowerment.

Maternal Mortality and Maternal Morbidity

  1. Every day, between 800 and 1500 women die from preventable
    causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  2. Approximately 99 percent of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries and maternal mortality is higher among women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
  3. The United States has a higher ratio of maternal deaths than at least 40 other countries, even though it spends more money per capita for maternity care than any other.
  4. More than one million children are left motherless every year due to their mother’s death and these children are 3 to 10 times more likely to die within two years.
  5. Only 57 percent of women in developing countries give birth with a skilled medical professional present and in sub-Saharan Africa, only 40 percent of women give birth with a trained professional present.
  6. About 80 percent of maternal deaths are caused by one of the following causes: severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), and obstructed labor.
  7. An estimated 135 million girls living today have undergone FGM and another 2 million girls are at risk each year.
  8. Almost 14 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth every year, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all childbirths.
  9. By 2015, another 330,000 midwives will be needed to achieve universal reproductive health coverage for expecting mothers.
  10. Between 500,000 and 2 million women in the world are currently living with fistulas. This number grows every single year by 30,000-50,000 new cases.

Economic Empowerment

  1. Approximately 70 percent of the world’s poor are women and girls.
  2. Women earn less than 10 percent of the world’s wages, but do more than two-thirds of the world’s work.
  3. Women reinvest 90 percent of their income into their families, while men invest only 30 to 40 percent. In Brazil, when income is in the hands of the mother, the survival probability of a child increases by about 20 percent.
  4. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks 19th in the world in the area of economic participation for women and 46th in the area of economic opportunity.
  5. It is estimated that if women’s paid employment rates were increased to the same level as men’s, the U.S. gross domestic product (GOP) would be 9 percent higher; the euro area’s would be 13 percent higher, and Japan’s would be 16 percent higher.
  6. Where women are better represented in national government, they also tend to be better represented in top administrative positions as well as in the labor force at large.
  7. Women remain severely underrepresented in occupations that are traditionally male-dominated (e.g., formal professions, skilled labor, civil service positions) even though these jobs pay 20 to 30 percent more than traditionally female jobs (e.g., caretaking, textile and garment work, retail, food preparation).
  8. Studies show that when women have secure rights to their land, their families’ nutrition and health improve. In addition, women may be less likely to be victims of domestic violence and children are more likely to receive an education and stay in school longer.
  9. In sub-Saharan Africa, women own less than 2 percent of the land, but produce more than 90 percent of the food.
  10. In developing countries, women and girls are most often responsible for household and community water management and travel great distances in search of water, which limits their time for other activities, including doing income-generating work.
  11. South African women collectively walk the equivalent of a trip to the moon (384,400
    kilometers or 238,855 miles) and back 16 times a day to supply their households
    with water.
  12. In one out of three households around the world, women are the sole breadwinners.

Related Links:

23 Fast Facts about Women’s Oppression Worldwide

Amnesty International Failed in the Maternal Health Crisis

15 Human Rights Violations Happening Right Now

23 Fast Facts about Women’s Oppression Worldwide

human rights issuesIf you haven’t yet read Half the Sky, then it needs to be the next book on your summer reading list. The oppression of women and girls has moved our chapter so much that we are planning a fundraiser for mid-fall (more details to come on this). As Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue in the book, the oppression of women and girls is the moral crisis of the 21st century. Even though we’ve come far here in the United States, we have so much more to go both here and abroad. Here are 23 fast facts about women’s oppression worldwide, particularly regarding violence against women and girls, sex trafficking and exploitation, and education.

Violence Against Women and Girls

  1. One in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  2. Women are more likely to be beaten, raped, or killed by a current or former partner than by any other person, with most studies estimating that 20 to 50 percent of women experience partner violence at some point in their lives.
  3. In the United States, a woman is abused, usually by her husband or partner, every 15 seconds and is raped every 90 seconds.
  4. One hundred and two countries have no specific legal provisions against domestic violence, and in at least fifty-three countries, marital rape is not a prosecutable offense.
  5. Between five hundred thousand and 2 million people-the majority of them women and children-are trafficked annually into situations including prostitution, forced labor, slavery, or servitude. Only 93 countries have some legislative provision prohibiting trafficking in human beings.
  6. The UN estimates that approximately five thousand women are murdered each year as a result of honor killings, but many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the number is at least four times higher.

Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women and Girls

  1. There are approximately 27 million slaves alive today-more than at any point in history and 56 percent are women.
  2. The average price of a trafficked human is at a historic low of $90, which means that it is sometimes more “cost-effective” for traffickers to allow their victims to die than to provide them with adequate conditions and health care.
  3. Slavery is an extremely profitable, international industry. It is estimated that trafficking in the United States yields $9 billion every year, and around the world, trafficking in women for commercial sex purposes nets $6 billion per year.
  4. Roughly 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each
    year. California is a major trafficking entry point, with 43 percent of California trafficking incidents occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area alone.
  5. In the United States 70 percent of all prostitution is handled by pimps, who keep most of the money, and it is estimated that 70 percent of prostitutes experience multiple rapes each year-some as frequently as once a week.
  6. The typical age of entry into prostitution is 13 to 14 and almost 33 percent of the women got started in prostitution through family members or friends.
  7. Some estimates claim there are at least 300,000 children in prostitution, while others
    believe the numbers may be as high as 500,000 to 1.2 million.
  8. Worldwide, an estimated 51 million girls have been married before the age of consent. In many parts of the world, parents encourage the marriage of their underage daughters in exchange for property and livestock or to benefit their social status.
  9. The sexual violation and torture of civilian women and girls during periods of armed
    conflict has been referred to as “one of history’s great silences” and has generally been ignored despite the millions who have been injured and killed by the brutal practice. Trafficking of women and girls was reported in 85 percent of the world’s conflict zones.


  1. Of the 781 million illiterate adults in the developing world, two-thirds are women, and nearly one out of every five girls who enrolls in primary school does not complete her primary education.
  2. Nearly three-quarters of girls out of school are from excluded groups such as ethnic minorities, isolated clans, and very poor households, even though these groups represent only 20 percent of the world’s population.
  3. Educated women have greater control over their financial resources and are more likely than men to invest their resources in their families’ health, education, and nutrition.
  4. No country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40 percent of its adults able to read and write. An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school increases earnings by 15 to 25 percent.
  5. Educating women increases productivity in agrarian communities. According to a 2005 report by the United Nations (UN), if female farmers in Kenya were provided with the same education and resources as male farmers, crop yields could rise by 22 percent.
  6. One year of female schooling reduces fertility by 10 percent and a child born to a woman who can read is 50 percent more likely to survive past age 5. Women with formal education are much more likely to use reliable family planning methods, delay marriage and childbearing, and have fewer and healthier babies.
  7. Education fosters democracy and women’s political participation. A study in Bangladesh found that educated women are three times more likely to take part in political meetings than those without schooling.
  8. Girls’ education ranks among the most powerful tools for reducing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. A study in Zambia found that AIDS spreads twice as fast among uneducated girls than girls who have access to education. Young rural Ugandans with secondary education are three times less likely to contract HIV.

Related Links:

Amnesty International Failed in the Maternal Health Crisis

3 Recent Human Rights Issues in Africa

Sex Trafficking in the United States [Slideshow]

Amnesty International Failed in the Maternal Health Crisis

maternal healthI just finished reading an incredible book called, “The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line.” It’s a fascinating read, and although it doesn’t discuss maternal health in the United States as a human rights crisis, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in Amnesty International as I read this book. I think Amnesty could have uncovered some of what the author uncovered, and was in the right place in the right time with this issue. Why the organization dropped the campaign, I don’t know.

Amnesty International and Maternal Health

Amnesty International started its “Maternal Health as a Human Right” campaign in 2010, specifically targeting four countries for improvement: Peru, Burkina Faso, Sierre Leone, and the United States. Around the world, one woman dies every 90 seconds from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. At the start of the campaign, the U.S ranked 41st in the world for maternal mortality. Now, we rank 49th. For the United States, our primary action toward this problem was two-fold. First, increase awareness to the fact that two women die everyday in this country from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, and half of those are preventable. If I remember correctly, we had a billboard in Times Square that went up every 90 seconds to count the women who die.

Second, ask President Obama to establish an Office of Maternal Health to lead government action to reduce soaring pregnancy-related complications and maternal deaths nationwide. An Office of Maternal Health would be a major step toward improving maternal health in this country, because Amnesty International (and Business of Baby) point out several factors that have allowed this problem to get to where it is today:

  • The lack of nationally standardized protocols addressing the leading causes of death — or the inconsistent use of them — may lead to preventable deaths or injuries. Measures used widely in the United Kingdom to prevent blood clots after Caesarian sections are not consistently taken in the United States, for example.
  • Many women are not given a say in decisions about their care and do not get enough information about the signs of complications and the risks of interventions such as inducing labor or cesarean sections.
  • The number of deaths is significantly understated because there are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths or complications and data collection at the state level is insufficient.
  • Oversight and accountability are lacking. Twenty nine states and the District of Columbia have no maternal death review process at all.

If we can get hospitals and doctors to evaluate the problem, to collect information regarding deaths and the effectiveness of certain procedures and treatments, then we would have the necessary information on the changes that need to be made to improve maternal health in this country. Incorporating a review process and setting standards would also make it easier to hold someone accountable if something goes wrong. As of now, the only way to get any accountability is to sue for malpractice, which doesn’t address the systemic problems affecting maternal health.

Where Did This Campaign Go?

Personally, I don’t know. Someone might, but that person isn’t me. I don’t know if Amnesty decided to prioritize something else, or if budget got in the way, or if something else entirely different happened. What I do know is that Amnesty International dropped the ball on something huge here. Business of Baby illustrates how huge this really is, and Amnesty could have been a part of that and could have contributed to real progress. We wouldn’t have had to wait for an investigative reporter to uncover all of this and to get people going.

Related Links:

Why I-VAWA is the Next Step in Stopping Violence Against Women

9 Cool TED Talks about Human Rights

Emergency Contraception Over the Counter [Infographic]

Our 100th Post: 8 Human Rights Books to Read This Summer

human rights booksEven though the summer equinox hasn’t arrived yet, it sure feels like summer! School is out, the weather is hot, and there’s no better time to catch up on some great reading. If summer reading is your thing, or you’re looking for a few good books to plow through over the next few months, then here are eight human rights books that you ought to read this summer. A couple of these were book club books, or may become a book club book for the chapter, but that’s all the more reason to read them (or even read them again!)

Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor

Paul Farmer, if you don’t know, has done some amazing work in public health in third world countries. Since we live in a country where healthcare is considered a privilege and not a right, his perspective is critical as it shows the relationship between human rights and health. This book written by Farmer, while another on this list is a book about Farmer and his work in Haiti. He is that awesome, and Haiti is a country in such desolate conditions.

Pathologies of Power uses harrowing stories of life–and death–in extreme situations to interrogate our understanding of human rights. Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist with twenty years of experience working in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, argues that promoting the social and economic rights of the world’s poor is the most important human rights struggle of our times. With passionate eyewitness accounts from the prisons of Russia and the beleaguered villages of Haiti and Chiapas, this book links the lived experiences of individual victims to a broader analysis of structural violence. Farmer challenges conventional thinking within human rights circles and exposes the relationships between political and economic injustice, on one hand, and the suffering and illness of the powerless, on the other.

Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Revised Edition, With a New Preface

I’m actually going to make it a point to read this one. I’m interested in learning how multinational corporations are utilizing slavery. In fact, I’m going to reserve a copy at the library for this book right now.

Slavery is illegal throughout the world, yet more than twenty-seven million people are still trapped in one of history’s oldest social institutions. Kevin Bales’s disturbing story of contemporary slavery reaches from Pakistan’s brick kilns and Thailand’s brothels to various multinational corporations. His investigations reveal how the tragic emergence of a “new slavery” is inextricably linked to the global economy. This completely revised edition includes a new preface. All of the author’s royalties from this book go to fund antislavery projects around the world.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

This book is a contender as our next book club choice, and I’m rooting for it because it sounds like a good one. It would be interesting to look at the world of political prisoners, especially since that is a big part of Amnesty International’s mission.

In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin’s life unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden’s harrowing narrative of Shin’s life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine

This is a must-read for anyone who has watched Half the Sky (another book on this list). It’s the memoir of Somaly Mam, just about one of the coolest and most incredible people on the planet. If you are not inspired by her, then you just have no soul.

Written in exquisite, spare, unflinching prose, The Road of Lost Innocence recounts the experiences of her early life and tells the story of her awakening as an activist and her harrowing and brave fight against the powerful and corrupt forces that steal the lives of these girls. She has orchestrated raids on brothels and rescued sex workers, some as young as five and six; she has built shelters, started schools, and founded an organization that has so far saved more than four thousand women and children in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Her memoir will leave you awestruck by her tenacity and courage and will renew your faith in the power of an individual to bring about change.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

This is the book about Farmer and the great work he’s done in public health and human rights, particularly in Haiti. I’ve spoken with public health students who have been able to hear him speak, and they say that he’s an inspirational person despite his string bean frame.

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Of course, this book was our latest choice for our book club, and it is a must-read! Please read this before watching the documentary too, as the two compliment each other. The documentary shouldn’t be viewed as a “movie version of the book”, where you can get everything from just one of them. Both offer stories and lessons that the other doesn’t.

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This is one of our most recent book club choices, one that came highly recommended from others in the Amnesty and human rights community. Prepare to have your mind blown about the U.S justice system and racial relations as it stands today.

In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community – and all of us – to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time

This one has been removed from our list, since it has come to our attention that some aspects of the book could be fraudulent. Christian Science Monitor has more.

4 Issues You Can Focus on as an Amnesty College Chapter

human rights issuesEven as many schools wrap up for the school year (or have already wrapped up), it isn’t too late to start thinking about issues to focus on as an Amnesty International college chapter. Of course, you don’t have to spend the entire summer planning, but it you want to waste too much time at the beginning of the year getting started and thinking about what to do, then this article is for you. Here are a few issues you can focus on as a chapter come August or September. In the meantime, as your review these issues, you can keep the gears turning by going over event ideas or doing research on the issues that interest you.

Death Penalty

If the death penalty is still the law in your state, then this would be a good issue to focus on this coming school year. It’s an issue that the organization has been prioritizing for a while, so there are plenty of resources to help you get started. Also, some states with the death penalty are actively executing people, so part of your advocacy could be reducing the sentence to life in prison. Abolishing the death penalty isn’t about getting criminals off or not being tough on crime. It’s about making sure that we’re not executing innocent people, or mentally impaired people, or people who were convicted of the crime before the age of 18. It’s about the economic impact and the inconsistency of justice. All of these things merit giving capital punishment a second look.

Women’s Rights

Women’s rights covers a variety of topics: gender-based violence, maternal mortality, education, sex slavery etc. The great thing about making women’s rights the emphasis for your college chapter is that there are many directions you can take it. Women’s rights would also include a lot of other human rights issues, such as LGBT rights, children’s rights, and poverty. There’s something for everyone here, while being something that many people can get behind and that many would want to learn more about.

If this an issue that you think your chapter would be interested in, or that you would love to carry out next semester, then consider partnering with the Women’s Studies program or the feminist group on campus (if you have both or either of them). Such partnerships could bring more people to your events and more resources to amplify your message.

Security and Human Rights

This is another domestic issue, but security and human rights covers Guantanamo Bay, illegal and indefinite detention and fair trials. Security and human rights is a very timely issue, and is a good one to focus on if you or your chapter would focus on human rights in the United States or human rights having to do with war.

Prisoners and People at Risk

This issue is the bread and butter of Amnesty International, and is a good one to include as part of the agenda. Prisoners and people at risk involves anyone imprisoned solely for expressing their human rights (freedom of speech, religion, assembly etc.) and/or those who are defending human rights activists (lawyers, non-profit leaders, political leaders etc.). Actions for prisoners and people at risk are on a case by case basis, meaning that who you’re advocating for could change regularly, which is why this is a good issue to include as just part of the agenda. Spend a meeting writing letters on behalf of a prisoner, or collect signatures for a petition on another. Sounds simply, but for this issue that’s typically what Amnesty International wants its members to do.

Related Links:

How to Run an Amnesty International Meeting

Why I-VAWA is the Next Step in Stopping Violence Against Women

How to Start an Amnesty International Chapter