WOMEN : Planned Parenthood: The right to choose / THE WADI REPORT

Kurdistan Tribune – 21.2.2013 – By Dr. Helene A. Sairany and Tara Fatehi.

Not long ago, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) placed serious energy and money into miscellaneous campaigns to combat violence against women. My one goal out of the whole effort was to enhance self-autonomy.  By that, I mean to educate and empower every woman to know her right to choose for her own body. Given the title of the post and my aforementioned claim, you can probably guess by now what this post is going to be about; the fundamental right of each Kurdish female to manage her fertility for a better quality of life and family relationship.

If you ask anyone around the world about Planned Parenthood, they will say that it is about planning a family. As an institution, Planned Parenthood operates local clinics in selected communities providing an affordable, quality care for women and young people to improve sexual health and the well-being of individuals and families. It also aims to make information available to clients about responsible human sexuality.

Planned Parenthood, often referred to as family planning, usually functions in a clinic format in poor out-of-reach communities. It’s run by a private, non-profit family planning agency that respects and protects the rights of each individual to make informed reproductive decisions.

The most important aspect of family planning is education, education and more education. Family planning believes that healthy and well-intended choices begin with proper knowledge. In order to make informed decisions on any parenting or parenthood choices, education is key. They go about educating the community via programs and conduct presentations for schools, community groups, religious organizations and corporations on topics related to birth control and pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, women’s health, effective communication skills and decision-making, adolescent pregnancy prevention, and positive parenting skills. Planning for these life-changing events can also prevent any unwanted surprises, be it a child, sexually transmitted disease or any occurrence related to one’s overall health. If a population is educated about the dangers of a certain topic they will be more inclined to avoid the dangers by taking measures which are available to stop them coming into contact with such events.

Sex education is taught in most ‘Western’ countries and used as a tool to empower people, especially teenagers, with the knowledge of the dangers associated with sex and how to prevent them. Many will argue that sexual acts and STDs are also more common in the ‘West’ compared to that of Middle Eastern countries; however, nowhere in the Middle East is there direct information about the percentage of the population infected with STDs. It is such a taboo subject that anything related to it is completely ignored in a bid to avoid the uncomfortable (but shouldn’t be) discussion of sex.

Although the system of sex education in the West has its flaws, it allows for discussion of such sensitive topics and helps to raise awareness of certain diseases. In most of the Middle East, not just in Kurdistan, sex education is a very taboo subject, in most instances an almost forbidden topic of discussion between married couples, parents and their children, and even with health professionals trained in the area. Providing or speaking about sex education is a vital step towards raising awareness in society about health practices which can empower women to make informed choices when it comes to parenthood.

More worrying than anything is that this type of mentality and lack of education towards sex creates a culture of honor killings, genital mutilation, and rape. The DOAA Network Against Violence reported an alarming figure of more than 12,000 women who had died in honor-based killings between 1991 and 2007 in South Kurdistan. The KRG dismissed this figure on the grounds that the number had decreased in recent years, but was unable to provide any statistics. It was only in 2008, four years ago, that the KRG passed a law to officially recognize honor-killings as murder.

In 2010 the German NGO Wadi released a report, based on interviews with 1,700 women, which revealed that a staggering 72.7 percent of women in the region’s two biggest provinces of Hewler and Slemani were victims of female genital mutilation, with the rate rising to almost 100 percent in some areas. Although I was unable to find statistics on rape, an article published in The Guardian in 2007 about the suicide of young women revealed that “Rape is committed habitually” throughout Iraq, including South Kurdistan. The article highlights that victims of rape then turn to suicide because of the fear of people finding out and the hopelessness they feel when they are unable to speak to anyone about such problems.

Despite these horrific incidents, a lack of knowledge and education on sex and childbirth raises many other issues.

In a society where there is a big lack of information on parenting and with NGOs in the region largely focusing on combating violence against women, there needs to be major shift in circumstance to, not just prevent physical violence, but also to empower women and girls to understand their bodies and how best to protect themselves. With this kind of empowerment we will see a growth of educated women in society’s highest roles, whilst still maintaining a healthy and happy home, with a decrease in violence against them, as they are able to make the right choices for themselves and their families.

Others services provided by Planned Parenthood include:

Policy and Health Advocacy — They give each and every citizen the right to make informed decisions regarding his or her health. For this to happen, they work with state and local policy makers to uphold access to all aspects of reproductive health care.

Well-Woman Visits — They provide preventative health services appropriate for the woman’s age and development, this includes but not limited to pap smears, mammograms, prenatal, and preconception care.

Screening for Gestational Diabetes — At-risk pregnant women may get screened for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy at no cost.

HPV Testing — Women over the age of 30 and who are at risk may receive testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) at no cost.

Counseling for STI’s — All sexually active women may receive counseling on how to prevent sexually transmitted infections. This counseling is extremely important, as only 28% of women aged 18 to 44 reports talking about STI prevention with a medical professional. Counseling may be received annually.

HIV counseling and screening — All sexually active women may be screened for HIV at no additional cost to them. Sexually active women may also receive free counseling on HIV prevention and treatment. Counseling and screening may be received annually. This is critical because women are at a substantially higher risk than men.

Contraceptive Methods and Counseling — All women may receive free education and counseling on all forms of birth control, including oral contraceptives, IUD’s, and sterilization.

Breastfeeding Support, Supplies and Counseling — All women may receive comprehensive lactation support from a trained professional during each pregnancy, and during the postpartum period. A mother may receive counseling and support regardless of how many pregnancies she has.

Screening and Counseling for Interpersonal and Domestic Violence — A reported 25% of women (and probably much more) have been the victims of domestic abuse at some point in their lives. Many women do not report domestic violence because they don’t know how or where to get support. Giving women’s trusted health care providers the ability to assist in domestic violence cases and aiding their patients in finding help, may have the ability to play a critical role in saving the lives of domestic violence victims as well as the lives of their children.

Dr. Helene A. Sairany is a lecturer at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimania. Originally from Kurdistan of Iraq, she grew up in the USA.

Tara Fatehi is originally from Sine, Eastern Kurdistan. She has completed undergraduate studies in medical science and is currently undertaking a PHD in Nutrition at Adelaide University in Australia.