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Global Roundup: Free Maternity Care in DRC, Hyderabad Students’ Hunger Strike for Assault Survivor, Malawi Chief Rescuing Child Brides, Ohio Abortion Law, Queer Youth Activism Hub
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Annaelle Matuka, 16, holds her newborn twins at Bethesda clinic, where she was detained for more than two weeks over her unpaid medical bill. She was eventually allowed to leave the clinic in Kinshasa after and unknown woman paid it for her. Photograph: Justin Makangara/Reuters. (The Guardian)
In an effort to cut the high rates of maternal and neonatal deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the government is offering free healthcare to pregnant women across the country. By the end of the year, women in 13 out of 26 regions in the country will be entitled to free services during pregnancy, and for one month after childbirth. Babies will also receive free healthcare for the first 28 days under this plan, which the government plans to extend to the rest of the DRC in time.
The program was first launched in September in Kinshasa, the capital, but will soon be implemented in other regions of the country. Health workers in the DRC have raised concerns that hospitals and medical centres are ill-equipped to cope with any increased demand in services. Some workers stated that there were not enough staff, facilities, or equipment to successfully introduce the $113 million program, which is supported by the World Bank. The rollout of this programme comes at a time when nationwide strikes by nurses, midwives, technicians, and hospital administrative staff are ongoing, calling for higher pay and better conditions. The DRC has an estimated 9500 doctors and 73,000 nurses to serve a population of around 95 million people. There is only one midwife for every 20,000 people.
We moved from 30 women to about 65 women delivering each month. Pregnant women were arriving at around 10am. Now that it [care[ is free, they are turning up early, at around 8am, waiting for a consultation. – Dr Simplicity Kibatatu, Kinkole general hospital on the outskirts of Kinshasa
The DRC has one of the highest maternal and neonatal deaths in the world. Latest records show that there are 547 deaths of mothers for every 100,000 live births, and 27 deaths of babies before 28 days of life per 1000 live births. This is a long ways away from the UN targets to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths to fewer than 70 deaths per 100,000 mothers, and 12 deaths per 1000 babies.
Roger Kamba Mulamba, the minister of public health in the DRC, said that the programme would free women from a “prison sentence”. Procedures such as ultrasounds and C-sections can practically bankrupt individuals, who live on less than $2.15, or 5600 Congolese francs, per day. There is also no universal health coverage in the DRC, and few people can afford the limited care that does exist. Hospitals in the country are known to detain patients until they have fully paid their medical bills; many of those detained are new mothers who are forced to stay in these facilities for weeks, in poor conditions, while their relatives search for solutions.
Individuals have come forward criticizing the government for not consulting with the healthcare workforce or with community liaison workers, where a fair agreement could have been created. As the initiative is rolled out in other cities across the DRC, countless women will finally have access to free maternity services, something which is greatly needed in the country to combat the high rates of maternal and neonatal deaths. However, the healthcare workers in the country will be tasked with a near-impossible task under unfair working conditions.
The police cracked down on student demonstrations since the hunger strike began on November 6. Photos: Accessed by The Quint. (Shethepeople)
cw: sexual assault, violence
Many students from the English and Foreign Language University (EFLU) at the University of Hyderabad were detained on November 6, after they began a hunger strike demanding justice for a fellow student who was sexually assaulted on campus last month. At least seven students from the EFLU and 20 students from the University were arrested on Monday, before being released at around 8:30 pm.
On October 16, protests broke out at the EFLU in outrage at the shutting down of the SPARSH Committee (Sensitisation, Prevention and Redressal of Sexual Harassment) in June. However, at the height of the protests on October 18, a woman was sexually assaulted by two unidentified men on campus, which sparked an even larger wave of protests.
The student was allegedly sexually assaulted after taking part in SPARSH protests, and was targeted while walking home alone. She was threatened, verbally and physically, for her presence in the demonstrations, and was then sexually assaulted. The survivor was discovered unconscious by two students on campus, who then rushed her to the University Health Centre.
After the University Proctor T. Samson allegedly restricted students from accessing CCTV footage – the protests then grew stronger and demanded for the arrest of perpetrators for the assault. On October 19, the day after the assaults, protests became stronger as the Vice Chancellor of the EFLU released a statement stating that the university would only investigate if it felt it necessary. Students then began to realize how little support the institution would provide.
Students began an indefinite hunger strike on November 6, to protest the prevalence of sexual violence on campus and to demand an end to all forms of violence against women. This strike also called for the resignation of the proctorial board and the Vice Chancellor. They also demanded that an Internal Complaints Committee, with student representatives, be established in order to create a safe and understanding system to support survivors of all types of violence.
Image Credit: iNews. (She the people)
Chief Theresa Kachindamoto, locally known as “The Terminator”, is the tribal ruler of the Dedza District in central Malawi who has dedicated her life to saving young girls from child marriage. Her father and brother acted as district chiefs before her, but after the death of her brother in 2003, she was appointed as the new chief as she was the most educated woman in the area. Kachindamoto’s father supported her education; she attended college and after completing her studies, she began working in an office job at a large college for 27 years.
At the age of 60, Kachindamoto has rescued almost 3500 child brides since she began her work around 16 years ago. Over the years, she has built up a large intelligence network of informers, known as “the mothers’ group”. The group quietly monitors local activities across the districts’ 545 villages, keeping an eye out for any young girls that are being forced into marriage.
According to UNICEF, around 42 percent of girls in Malawi are forced into child marriage before their 18th birthday due to a lack of education, the poor economy, and gender equality. Almost one in ten girls wed before the age of 15, despite the legal age to get married being 18 in Malawi.
Changing attitudes and behaviours takes time, particularly with male chiefs and parents who benefit from child marriages. As we speak, parents are withdrawing their girls from school. I tell them, if you educate your girl, you will have everything in the future. – Chief Theresa Kachindamoto
In her 16 years of activism and change, Kachindamoto has changed the lives of thousands of young girls. She also ensures that every young girl that is rescued is enrolled in school, to ensure they educate themselves and equip themselves for the future. In 2015, she was able to pass a bill in parliament which set the minimum age for marriage, for both sexes, at 18; however, she is not stopping there. She is now fighting for the legal age to be moved to 21 for both sexes, to ensure that girls can finish their education.
I have made it my life’s mission to end the practice of child marriage. I’m now fighting to raise the legal age for marriage to 21 so that the girls will finish school. It’s my dream to have college scholarships to empower girls to fulfil their potential. – Chief Theresa Kachindamoto
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Issue 1 supporters cheer as they watch election results come in, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, in Columbus Ohio. Ohio voters have approved a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care. The outcome of Tuesday’s intense, off-year election was the latest blow for abortion opponents. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
On Tuesday, voters in Ohio approved a constitutional amendment that will ensure access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care. This is the latest victory in abortion rights in the US since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.
Ohio has now become the seventh state in the US which will protect abortion access. It was the only state to consider a statewide abortion rights question this year. Meanwhile, many states are continuously proposing or implementing laws that prevent individuals from seeking abortions. However, prior to the Ohio vote, statewide initiatives in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont had either affirmed abortion access or reinstated the right to have an abortion.
The future is bright, and tonight we can celebrate this win for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. Ohio’s resounding support for this constitutional amendment reaffirms Democratic priorities and sends a strong message to the state GOP that reproductive rights are non-negotiable. – Lauren Blauvelt, co-chair of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights
The constitutional amendment in Ohio includes some of the most protective language for abortion access compared to any other statewide ballot initiative. \
Two-thirds of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in the earliest stages of pregnancy; this is a sentiment that has been shared by Democratic and Republican states since Roe was overturned in June 2022.
For this amendment, the turnout for voting was massive, especially for an off-year election. The amendment, Issue 1, will almost completely undo a 2019 state law passed by Republicans which bans most abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, with no exceptions for rape and incest. It will also provide an individual with the right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including birth control, fertility treatments, miscarriage, and abortion.
Cameron Driggers, (centre) with other youth activists occupy the Capitol Hill congressional offices of then U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA.) protesting GOP inactivity on federal funding for climate change & environmental issues. (Photo Credit: Cameron Driggers. (Los Angeles Blade)
A group of young queer activists are fighting to flip the script about Florida’s state of affairs. The Youth Action Fund (YAF) is a new organization that provides resources and training for young activists across Florida who want to drive progressive change. The group sees Florida as the front line in the fight for a more progressive America, with youth activism being the secret weapon that will change the game in the southeastern state.
The founder of the YAF, Cameron Driggers, is an 18-year-old gay freshman at the University of Florida-Gainesville. The young adult says he has been interested in politics since a young age, but became motivated to take action after Florida introduced and passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill last year. This bill effectively banned all discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.
We’re fighting because we believe our lives are at stake. Youth Action Fund is a way to build the capacity of our generation to be the change we want to see. A large segment of our population is invested in making transformational change, because there are so many people who have a deep anxiety about our future. – Cameron Driggers, YAF’s executive director
These young activists, however, did not just sit back and take it. Jack Petocz, 19-year-old board member, organized a statewide student walkout to protest the bill, while Will Larkins, 18-year-old board member, organized a “Say Gay Anyway” rally at their high school in Orlando. Driggers also recently faced his school board, where he led a recall effort against two far-right board members who had called police on school librarians for providing books with LGBT!+ themes to students. The success of the campaign was due to canvassing door-to-door and making thousands of phone calls.
Driggers says that he spent hundreds of dollars of his own money organizing various campaigns, although he comes from a low-income household. To his point, Driggers does not believe that any high schoolers should be forced to spend their own money, especially when they are in precarious financial situations, in order to advocate for themselves and their rights. The YAF has already secured $25,000 in funds that it plans to distribute to youth activists across Florida who are working on progressive causes such as LGBTQ+ rights, gun control, and climate justice. The group hopes to eventually build up a chest of $100,000 to distribute annually.
We don’t want these struggles to fly under the rug, just because young people don’t have the resources to get started. If they’re able to put on these programs, they’re more likely to continue down that road and stay active and become leaders in the movement. – Cameron Driggers
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.