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May 10
Her eye on the news
A national disgrace

A disturbing new report from the Centers for Disease Control has called out the state of American healthcare — and health insurance coverage — after revealing that approximately 60 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are fully preventable.

According to the CDC, maternal mortality in the U.S. is being exacerbated largely due to lack of access to health care and missed or late diagnoses — problems that can be attributed at least in part to the country’s continued failure to provide poor women with adequate health insurance coverage, maternity leave or even basic postpartum care. Of the 700 women who die from pregnancy or childbirth each year, approximately 31 percent die during pregnancy, 36 percent during childbirth or a week after giving birth, and 33 percent due to ongoing complications within a year of giving birth.

“Every death reflects a web of missed opportunities,” wrote the CDC in the report.

The U.S. is the world’s only developed country to see its maternal mortality rates increase in recent years, a trend that has correlated strongly with Republican-led efforts to strip women of access to family-planning services and prenatal care. A legal loophole that allows low-income mothers covered by Medicaid to have their health insurance coverage revoked just 60 days after giving birth also appears to be a major contributing factor to the crisis. According to some studies, as many as 40 percent of American women never even receive postpartum care from a health care provider, leading to countless unnecessary deaths. African-American women, statistics show, are particularly vulnerable — and die from pregnancy-related causes at three to four times the rate of white women in the U.S.

“We are the only high-income country in the world without paid maternity leave,” said Alison Stuebe, maternal-fetal medicine physician at North Carolina Health Care, in an interview with HuffPost. “Moms covered by pregnancy Medicaid are kicked off 60 days after having a baby. These are decisions we have made as a society … Moms are dying in America because we don’t take care of them.”

Read the full story at HuffPost.

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Breaking barriers

Women’s mid-life period, if it is talked about at all, is often framed something that should be viewed with foreboding and dismay. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Gamerman reports, this spring and summer will see the publication of a slew of books by women authors who put forth a different perspective on middle age—who view this life chapter “as a time to start over, take risks and view themselves in the world as anything but invisible.”

Among the titles landing in bookstores over the coming months is 57-year-old Darcey Steinke’s Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life, which explores the culture of sexism that surrounds menopause. HarperCollins editor Karen Rinaldi is releasing a book about learning to surf in your 40s. An autobiography by Candace Bushnell, whose writing was the basis for Sex and the City, will delve into sex and dating after the age of 50.

“It just seems like a new, zeitgeisty time when women are saying, ‘We’re not going to do our 50s the way everyone’s telling us we’re supposed to,’” Bushnell tells Gamerman.

Steinke says she was inspired to write about menopause after reading that two of the only creatures to go through it are human women and killer whales — after which, the latter become leaders of their pods.

Former first lady Michelle Obama (L) discusses her book ‘Becoming’ with Sarah Jessica Parker at Barclays Center on December 19, 2018 in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

There certainly is a market for books by accomplished women over 50 who have valuable insight and advice to impart. Take, for example, Becoming by Michelle Obama—who is 55—which has sold more than 10 million copies. But Sarah Crichton, a former editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, tells Gamerman that there is specifically demand for literature that confronts middle age with dignity and honesty.

“All the anger coming from women over the last couple of years is the result of too many secrets, too many unshared experiences,” she says, “and not enough collective effort to push women forward.”

Read the full story at the Wall Street Journal.

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Against types

As a green-skinned alien in the blockbuster movie Avengers: Endgame, actress Zoe Saldana hopes she can promote a clear message – that time’s up on old-fashioned female stereotypes.

Saldana, who also starred as Neytiri in the 2009 box office smash hit Avatar and in Star Trek, said she does not like being characterized by her race or sex and is raising her children in a gender-neutral environment.

“I’m not actively playing a strong woman, I’m just playing a whole woman versus something that is just there to be objectified and fill in all the boring spaces in a movie that come from a weak storyline,” she said.

“When I go for a job, or I start a business or I make a decision, it has never been because I’m a woman or because I’m a person of color. It is because I’m a human, I’m a voter, I’m a taxpayer, I’m a human being and because I matter.”

Walt Disney Co’s Marvel Studios — which made the Avengers films — has beefed up women’s roles in its movies, winning praise for its first female-led superhero movie Captain Marvel.

“Women are so relevant in life, and in all places, that the logical thing to do is to capture them accurately and build them accurately,” said Saldana, who was speaking at Chivas Venture, a social entrepreneurship competition in Amsterdam.

Saldana’s desire to improve women’s equality starts at home, where she has decided to bring up her three young sons in a gender neutral environment.

Honoree Zoe Saldana, Marco Perego, and children at the Zoe Saldana Walk Of Fame Star Ceremony on May 3, 2018 in Hollywood, California. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

“What my husband and I are actively learning every day and practicing is how to not run a household like it’s a matriarchy or a patriarchy,” said Saldana, 40, who is married to Italian artist, Marco Perego-Saldana, who took her surname.

She said this involves sharing household duties equally and dismantling any stereotypes, such as mothers as more stern or fathers as more fun, because this creates an “imbalanced perception” that children carry throughout their lives.

Born in New Jersey to a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father, Saldana also wants to tell the stories of Latinos and other underrepresented groups in the media through her business Bese, a digital media platform launched in 2018.

“We are creating content that is American content but we are broadening that narrative … and accepting and celebrating the diversity that comes from being a nation that is built on immigration,” she said.

(Reporting by Sarah Shearman @Shearmans. Editing by Katy Migiro, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and slavery, property rights, social innovation, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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360

In January, a high-tech vibrator called Osé won an innovation award from CES, a major annual tech convention. Weeks later, CES rescinded the award, with a representative reportedly citing a regulation that disqualified “immoral, obscene, indecent, [or] profane” products.  But now, in another about-face, the award has been re-designated to the sex toy, as Engadget reports.

Jean Foster, senior vice president of marketing and communications at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which runs CES, released a statement that bluntly admitted “CTA did not handle this award properly.”

“This prompted some important conversations internally and with external advisors and we look forward to taking these learnings to continue to improve the show,” Foster added.

The incident earlier this year garnered widespread media attention, in large part thanks to Lora Haddock, founder of Lora DiCarlo, the company that makes the vibrator. The revocation of the award stopped Haddock from showcasing Osé at the convention, but she did exhibit at a media event that runs in tandem with CES. According to Fortune, Haddock displayed signs condemning the CTA for its decision to take back the award. She also published an open letter decrying the “biases” that “smother innovation by blocking access to funding, exposure, and consumers that could take brands and products to the next level.”

In the CTA’s decision to ban Osé, many saw a problematic approach towards the types of sex and female health products that are allowed to showcase at CES. The event is certainly not sex averse; a VR porn company regularly exhibits there, for instance. Breast pumps and fertility trackers can be seen on the floor, and a kegel device by the company OhMiBod even won a CES award in 2016. But these products, according to critics, do not solely exist to deliver female pleasure — unlike Osé.

The CTA now says that it plans to announce updated policies before the next CES event in January 2020. For her part, according to Engadget, Haddock noted that “the incredible support and attention we’ve received in the wake of our experience highlights the need for meaningful changes.”

“[W]e are hopeful,” she added, “that our small company can continue to contribute meaningful progress toward making CES inclusive for all.”

Read more at Engadget.

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Contempt

A year after El Salvador created a special unit to tackle the country’s high rates of killings of women, gang violence stands in the way of getting convictions, a top prosecutor said.

El Salvador, a country of 6 million people, has one of the world’s highest rates of femicide — the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender — according to the United Nations.

One woman has been murdered on average every day so far this year, the latest police figures showed.

Victims of femicide usually have a long history with domestic violence, and perpetrators are often current or former partners, with many killings taking place in or near the home.

But in El Salvador, gangs are also behind the killings of women, said the chief prosecutor on femicide, Ana Graciela Sagastume, who heads the Women’s Coordination Unit set up by the attorney general last May to combat mainly gender violence.

Getting witnesses and the families of victims to come forward remains a key challenge because many fear reprisals from gangs who control city neighborhoods, she said.

The government blames much of the country’s violence on turf wars between Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and rival gang Barrio 18, who are involved in drug trafficking and extortion rackets.

There are about 60,000 gang members across El Salvador, according to government estimates.

“With high levels of crime in El Salvador and the issue of gangs, where gangs dominate certain areas, people are afraid to help with investigations for fear of reprisals from gang members,” Sagastume said.

“Women are killed because they reject a gang member, they don’t want to be the girlfriend of a gang member. Gang members see a women’s body as an object to fulfill their desires,” Sagastume told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

According to the rights group Organisation of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA), violence, including rape, against women in gang-controlled areas is fueled by a deep macho culture that permeates gang culture as it does society as a whole.

“The ability of women who are victims to put limits on the violence carried out by groups like gangs is next to nil,” said Silvia Juarez, a lawyer at ORMUSA.

The number of women killed in El Salvador fell in 2018 to 385 cases, from 471 cases in 2017, according to police figures.

Efforts by prosecutors to investigate femicides, along with more police units focused on addressing gender-related crime could account for the decline, Juarez said.

But the number of reported cases of overall violence against women — mainly domestic violence — rose by nearly 15 percent to 6,673 in 2018, up from 5,781 in 2017, according to ORMUSA.

El Salvador’s 2012 law against femicide, which carries a prison sentence of 20 to 50 years, requires prosecutors to prove the death of a woman is motivated by hatred or contempt based on gender.

Across El Salvador, there are six women judges who have been specifically trained to prosecute cases of femicide and violence against women, Sagastume said.

But the justice system is “slow” and cases of femicide can take up to two years and more on average to get to trial, she said.

To build a case, prosecutors are now looking more on social media and on the victims’ cell phones to see if they had received prior threats, and are using footage from street security cameras.

“What we are doing now that we didn’t do in the past is to use technology and forensics more in our investigations,” Sagastume said.

According to the U.N., Latin America is home to 14 of the 25 countries with the world’s highest rates of femicide, and 98 percent of femicides go unpunished.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Jason Fields, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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05.10.19

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