Female genital mutilation is a serious concern among young girls in Nigeria.
One such girl attended a program — the Girls’ Power Initiative, sponsored by the International Women’s Health Coalition — with the results the program hoped for.
The girl defied her parents’ will, telling them she refused to undergo the procedure.
“Your refusal of the procedure means no one will marry you,” her parents told her.
“Anyone who marries me is lucky,” the girl replied.
Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, told this short story during her lecture at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Amphitheater. Germain’s presentation, “Women’s Health and Human Rights,” was the first in Week Five’s topic on “21st Century Women: The Road to Social and Economic Growth.”
Germain said women all over the world, but especially in poorer countries, face sexual discrimination and abuse. Education on women’s rights issues, for both women and men, is key to solving this global problem.
Germain has been in the field of international women’s rights for more than 40 years. According to The Huffington Post, for which she is a blogger, Germain has “helped revolutionize the way the world views population policy and funding by making women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health central.”
Why women matter
Germain said that when she began her career, many of the governments worldwide didn’t recognize the value of women. They put forth little to no medical aid. Development experts, she continued, didn’t know that poverty and productivity were related to women’s health.
Today is better, she said, but there are still plenty of problems.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been open in their beliefs that gender-based discrimination is detrimental to societies worldwide, Germain said. The personal and familial safety of women all around the planet, as well as global economies, relies on those women, she said.
“The president and our secretary of state have seen firsthand, as I have,” she said, “that when a woman dies or is seriously incapacitated, her children also decline and then die, and her family easily slides into deep poverty.”
Germain said women in Africa, Asia and South America “don’t only do housework.”
Sub-Saharan African women produce 80 percent of the region’s food. In West Africa and Peru, women are marketers. In South Asia, they process food. Agricultural economy would deteriorate without women, Germain said.
Similar trends exist in other portions of the economy as well, she said.
Despite these positive benefits on society, Germain said, women face regular discrimination.
“Today, high death rates among women and their association with child deaths and with poverty are broadly acknowledged,” she said. “Our challenge today is to turn acknowledgment into concrete, large-scale actions to keep women healthy and alive.”
Though men also face human rights violations, Germain said, women are the ones who can end up pregnant. STDs — including HIV and AIDS — affect women more often than, or just as much as, men. Furthermore, she said women are more vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse.
Germain said most people think of HIV as a problem facing mostly gay men. This is false: Half of all new HIV infections are among women. However, she also said STDs like gonorrhea and syphilis are much more prevalent.
Women in countries that IWHC targets may not even be aware of human rights, Germain said. Thus, they relinquish control unknowingly.
“A girl or woman who doesn’t have control over her own body — including whether or not to marry, when to have sexual relations and to bear children — cannot make decisions about other aspects of her life, such as education and employment,” Germain said.
Despite all these issues facing women globally, Germain said, most problems are largely preventable.
Germain referenced a survey of the American public that found most Americans think U.S. foreign aid contributes to 25 percent of America’s total budget. However, foreign aid actually is less than 1 percent.
If the American people could get the government to boost that value, she said, many problems worldwide could be solved.
Aside from providing education to women, Germain said providing women’s rights education to men is just as important.
IWHC has addressed most, if not all, of these problems since its inception.
“The investments I’ve suggested … will take years, even generations, to bear fruit,” Germain said. “Unfortunately, this reality runs counter to the mentality of most politicians and also donors, who think that there are simple solutions that can be achieved in a year or two.”
Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, has worked for almost 35 years to promote women’s opportunities, health and rights in developing countries. She is a visionary who helped revolutionize the way the world views population policy by making the health and rights of women central.
Under Germain’s leadership, IWHC has created international policy innovations, led global advocacy for sexual and reproductive rights and health, and helped build local organizations in countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the editorial board of Reproductive Health Matters, the Human Rights Watch Women’s Division Advisory Committee and the International Health Programs Monitoring and Evaluation Advisory Group.
A skilled strategist and negotiator, Germain served on U.S. government delegations to world conferences on population, women and development from 1993 to 2000, and again in 2009 and 2010. Prior to IWHC, she worked at the Population Council and the Ford Foundation in New York City. While at Ford, she designed and managed programs that supported women’s work and credit opportunities and advanced girls’ and women’s health and educational needs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As Ford’s youngest -- and first woman -- country representative, Germain lived in Bangladesh for four years and directed the foundation’s programs in agriculture, rural employment, international economics, women’s rights, arts and culture, and reproductive health.
Germain served on the Millennium Project Task Force on Child Mortality and Maternal Health, the boards of Gender and Rights (Denmark) and BRAC-USA, and the Programme Committee of the 2008 Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health. She has published extensively on women’s health and rights, population, development and U.S. foreign policy and was named a Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Greater New York in October 2005. She studied sociology and demography at Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley.