Category Archives: blog

The youth vaping epidemic: Addressing the rise of e-cigarettes in schools

The youth vaping epidemic: Addressing the rise of e-cigarettes in schools

2020-02-24

Last December, the U.S. surgeon general raised an alarm regarding the rise in e-cigarette use among the nation’s youth, saying it has increased “at a rate of epidemic proportions.” According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 5 million youth are currently using e-cigarettes, primarily the JUUL brand, with nearly 1 million youth using the product daily. This substantial increase in teenage vaping is seriously impacting middle and high schools across America.

ast December, the U.S. surgeon general raised an alarm regarding the rise in e-cigarette use among the nation’s youth, saying it has increased “at a rate of epidemic proportions.” According to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, over 5 million youth are currently using e-cigarettes, primarily the JUUL brand, with nearly 1 million youth using the product daily. This substantial increase in teenage vaping is seriously impacting middle and high schools across America.

Banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes would have hefty implications on vaping companies since they employ thousands of small shop owners and hardware designers. Banning the legal sale of flavored vaping products would also create a robust black market for e-cigarettes. A black market for vapes could be lethal for youth who find themselves smoking from cartridges cut with cheaper substances

We cannot know what will happen to e-cigarettes if the minimum age increases, but we can look to the experience of increasing the minimum age on alcohol for some suggestive evidence. According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 30% of youth drank some amount of alcohol while 14% of youth engaged in binge drinking. Though raising the age limit for purchasing alcohol helped reduce youth alcohol consumption, youth consumption of alcohol persists.

Beyond traditional tactics like monitoring bathrooms and hallways to confiscate vaping devices, states could also take a new approach to fighting the e-cigarette epidemic, like offering grants to schools to invest in on-site counseling. South Portland High School has been addressing teen vaping by offering mental health services and guiding students away from the social influences that encourage vaping. This school—and others, like Arrowhead High School in Milwaukee—have also been getting students involved in their anti-vaping campaign via peer-to-peer education.

The teenage vaping crisis calls for innovative solutions. In collaboration with federal and state action, local actors can look at the FDA’s Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan for insight on ways to initiate community-supported approaches that restrict access to vaping products, curb teenage-focused marketing tactics, and educate teenagers about the harmful, long-term effects of vaping.

Many women watch porn thinking it’s normal sex. It’s not

Many women watch porn thinking it’s normal sex. It’s not

How did you learn to have sex?

Not the biology of sex, or learning to put a condom over a banana, but how to actually do it.

Maybe you worked it out bit by bit with a partner. Maybe you talked about it with friends and got tips and tricks from them. Or maybe you watched porn.

If you’re under 35, it’s almost certain you’ve watched porn at least once, with surveys such as triple j’s annual check-in with young people finding 93 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women do.

“Adolescents are really wanting to seek out some information about: What’s normal? What should I do? How does this work?” says Sarah Ashton, associate researcher at Monash University.

The conversations around porn usage usually focus on men. But according to Dr Ashton, the founder and director of Sexual Health and Intimacy Psychological Services, young women are increasingly watching porn, either searching for it themselves online or being shown it by friends and boyfriends.

And a lot of young women are watching porn to find out information about sex that they can’t get any other way because talking about it is so taboo.

But with concerns that porn is becoming increasingly violent and debates about whether it’s addictive or not, is there a problem if women are getting off to pornography now and then?

What porn is doing for the women who watch it

Dr Ashton says for some women she’s spoken to in her research, porn was useful, helping them feel better about their own bodies and helping them explore their own sexuality more.

“It kind of normalised body diversity, it’s normalised different types of sexual acts, and sexual behaviour,” she says.

And she says some women told her they did learn about positions and got ideas of things to try in their own sex lives they might not have otherwise been exposed to.

But even when women reported they enjoyed porn, there were still worrying trends.

“When it came to pleasure, most women didn’t prioritise their own pleasure. And within the dynamics of their relationships, that was not something that wasn’t spoken about or prioritised with their partner,” Dr Ashton says.

“I think the biggest thing that stood out for me is that women didn’t know how to ask for what they wanted [with sex].”

Senior lecturer at RMIT Meagan Tyler says porn is increasingly seen as a “textbook” for sex and that’s creating problems.

“Porn’s the thing that everyone’s looking at like it’s normal, but it’s not normal, we know it’s not normal, it’s completely manufactured,” she says.

“[Porn] contains a lot of violence against women. It’s terribly racist. If you look at mainstream porn, it’s terribly misogynist.

“[Yet] pornography equals sex has become just such a cultural staple.”

Dr Ashton says in her research the women who enjoyed porn said they were put off if they thought anyone involved in the production wasn’t giving full consent.

Some said they tried to source “ethical porn“, but few were prepared to pay, preferring accessing porn for free online.

It’s not easy to verify how the porn you’re watching was made, especially if you’re not paying anyone for it. And Dr Ashton says some people “turn off” their ethics and moral thoughts when they’re engaged with porn.

“It may not be something that people are aware that the content that you’re actually consuming when you masturbate, and when you’re experiencing sexual pleasure, that’s actually pairing with a reward in your brain that will reinforce what you’re aroused to, and the sort of things that you associate with your sexuality, it actually has quite a profound impact,” she says.

Dr Tyler says while there is a lot of variation in porn, with producers catering to all sorts of kinks and subgenres, the vast majority is made with a straight male audience in mind.

This skews the content so that even when it’s ostensibly lesbian sex being shown, it’s being shown for a male viewer.

She says porn has been so normalised in our society that some people find it more embarrassing to say they don’t use it than admitting to accessing it, and the demand for “ethical” porn is part of that normalisation.

“Why is [there a] desperation for there to be an ethical porn, rather than the question of what would sexuality look like without pornography now?” she says.

“It’s not food, it’s not water, it’s not air, it’s not exercise.

“In a post-Me Too era, if we’re really talking about sharing equal sexual relations between men and women, I cannot see the pornography industry is part of that.

“You can’t say you’re pro-Me Too, and you’re pro women’s consent, and then still go and masturbate to material that fundamentally subordinates women.”

More open talk about sex could help

Both Dr Tyler and Dr Ashton believe more open conversations and better sexual education is needed so young people don’t feel they have to turn to porn to learn how to have and enjoy sex.

“We just need to equip people with knowledge and with access to information and support services, so that they can figure out how to be embracing their sexuality in a way that works with them, and having pleasurable, happy, consensual relationship,” Dr Ashton says.

Girls and women menstruate. Period

Girls and women menstruate. Period

Last fortnight, officials at a hostel in Bhuj checked residents so those who had their periods could be isolated. Such attitudes perpetuate gender inequalities.

Menstruation is a natural and essential part of a woman’s reproductive cycle. Without it, men, boys, women, girls would not exist. Yet, it is surrounded by myths, misconceptions and taboo.

Stigma related to menstruation reinforces discrimination and perpetuates gender inequalities. And while we know that these attitudes still prevail in some homes and communities, it is shocking to learn that educational institutions and leaders – those that are expected to bearers of light – still adopt extreme forms of shaming and blaming.

A United Nations Population Fund-commissioned photo essay in 2017 on girls’ experiences around menarche, the first occurrence of menstruation, revealed harmful practices girls are subjected to in many parts of India: Prohibition from entering the kitchen or the prayer room, being made to stay outside the house, being forced to eat in separate utensils, or not being allowed to touch certain kinds of food because they could get spoilt. These social norms isolate girls from friends and family, in turn impacting their reproductive and mental health.

Girls start considering themselves to be “impure” and “unclean” during their periods. And their trauma doesn’t end there: inadequate access to clean water, sanitation, affordable menstrual management means, and privacy, all serve to reinforce the stigma. They experience shame, fear and embarrassment. And as they grow up to be women, they internalise these gender inequitable values.

Adding to their woes, in some parts of world, including South Asia, puberty and especially menarche, are considered to signal that girls are ready for marriage and motherhood. In such contexts, parents may view child and early marriages as viable options to control girls’ sexuality or to protect against fears related to the “family’s honour”.

Breaking taboos

In 1994, during the landmark International Conference on Population and Development, and then again in 2019 during the Nairobi Summit to mark ICPD@25, the right to quality sexual and reproductive health services was squarely confirmed as pivotal to women and girls’ participation in family, community and national processes, as well as to the attainment of overall development goals.

The development goals include equal opportunity to education for girls and boys, by ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, medication to treat menstruation-related pain, and creation of safe spaces for girls.

If girls are to miss five days of school every month, how will countries attain that goal? And if women are to be confined during those five days, how will they participate in the labour market, politics, or any decision-making activity in their community?

The good news, however, is that today, India has several policies in place that address awareness about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. Many states have adopted and integrated life skills that include comprehensive sexuality education into their lower- and upper- secondary school curricula. Many civil society organisations promote girls’ education and work with parents and communities to break these taboos.

Thanks to these initiatives, the discomfort around menstruation and menstrual hygiene is beginning to gradually fade. It is now widely accepted that girls’ and women’s access to effective means of managing menstrual hygiene is strictly linked to realising their human dignity.

e must join efforts to break these taboos that have been built over centuries and are ingrained in people’s minds. Until we allow young girls to feel “normal” about menstruating, the best-intentioned policies will fall short of attaining the desired goals of equal participation of women and men.

Girls and women menstruate. Period.

Argentina Matavel Piccin is the India Representative at United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA.

https://scroll.in/article/953924/girls-and-women-menstruate-period

“Never give up hope,” fistula survivor tells Pakistani women

“Never give up hope,” fistula survivor tells Pakistani women

2020-01-09

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – “Helping women suffering fistula is my mission in life,” Razia Shamshad said about the maternal injury from childbirth that she thought would ruin her life. “No woman deserves to live in misery, especially when it is treatable.”

Ms. Shamshad, 29, was born in a small village in southern Punjab. Her family did not want her to go to school, so she had only received an informal religious education by age 13, when she was married off. Ms. Shamshad was already expecting her first baby within a few weeks of her wedding. Then, when she was six months pregnant, her husband died in a road accident.

Unable to afford proper medical care, Ms. Shamshad was assisted by an unskilled traditional birth attendant who was unable to manage complications. When Ms. Shamshad suffered an obstructed labour, the birth attendant did not summon medical help. Ms. Shamshad was in agony for four days, an ordeal that could have killed her.

In the end, her daughter was stillborn, and Ms. Shamshad suffered serious damage. She developed an obstetric fistula, a hole in the birth canal. Fistula leaves women leaking urine, faeces or both, and often leads to chronic medical problems.

The condition is preventable with timely access to quality medical care, such as Caesarean section. Tragically, it persists among the most marginalized women, with pregnant adolescents and undernourished women facing particularly high risks. And its sufferers are further marginalized, often facing ostracism and discrimination. 

“People would either avoid me or just make fun of me,” she said. “I never felt clean.”

A stroke of good luck

But Ms. Shamshad was able to put her life back together. Her relatives learned about free treatment available at the Koohi Goth Women’s Hospital, which specializes in treating fistula and other conditions related to reproductive health. Two years after her ordeal, her family paid for her to travel to Karachi for care. 

Ms. Shamshad’s condition was complex, and required multiple surgeries between 2010 to 2016. Even so, she has been able to regain her life. 

“Her determination was exceptional. She was resilient and strong and was able to pull through the difficult process successfully,” said Dr. Sajjad Ahmed, who was trained by UNFPA to perform fistula repair surgeries.

Ms. Shamshad went on to meet her current husband. They adopted a little girl. And though she was not expected to be able to get pregnant again, she surprised everyone by conceiving. With regular prenatal care and a C-section, she had a healthy baby girl.

Combating fistula since 2003

In many ways, Ms. Shamshad was lucky. The story is very different for many fistula survivors in Pakistan, who are unaware that there is treatment available.

And many more women and girls are at risk.  Access to reproductive health services remains a challenge for women in Pakistan. Only an estimated 52 per cent of women give birth with the help of a skilled attendant, leaving them vulnerable to complications like prolonged, obstructed labour.

“People would either avoid me or just make fun of me,” she said. “I never felt clean.”

A stroke of good luck

But Ms. Shamshad was able to put her life back together. Her relatives learned about free treatment available at the Koohi Goth Women’s Hospital, which specializes in treating fistula and other conditions related to reproductive health. Two years after her ordeal, her family paid for her to travel to Karachi for care. 

Ms. Shamshad’s condition was complex, and required multiple surgeries between 2010 to 2016. Even so, she has been able to regain her life. 

“Her determination was exceptional. She was resilient and strong and was able to pull through the difficult process successfully,” said Dr. Sajjad Ahmed, who was trained by UNFPA to perform fistula repair surgeries.

Ms. Shamshad went on to meet her current husband. They adopted a little girl. And though she was not expected to be able to get pregnant again, she surprised everyone by conceiving. With regular prenatal care and a C-section, she had a healthy baby girl.

Combating fistula since 2003

In many ways, Ms. Shamshad was lucky. The story is very different for many fistula survivors in Pakistan, who are unaware that there is treatment available.

And many more women and girls are at risk.  Access to reproductive health services remains a challenge for women in Pakistan. Only an estimated 52 per cent of women give birth with the help of a skilled attendant, leaving them vulnerable to complications like prolonged, obstructed labour.

https://www.unfpa.org/news/%E2%80%9Cnever-give-hope%E2%80%9D-fistula-survivor-tells-pakistani-women

Effectiveness of contraceptive counseling strategies

Effectiveness of contraceptive counseling strategies

January 8, 2020

Counseling strategies for modern contraception that target women initiating a method, including structured counseling on side effects, tend to have positive effects on contraceptive continuation, according to a systematic review in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health. But in most cases, provider training and decision-making tools for method choice did not have an effect.

On the other hand, additional antenatal or postpartum counseling sessions resulted in an increased rate of postpartum contraceptive use, regardless of their timing in pregnancy or postpartum. But dedicated pre-abortion contraceptive counseling was linked to increased use only when accompanied by a broader contraceptive method provision. The review also found that male partner or couples counseling can be effective at increasing contraceptive use among non-users, or in women initiating contraceptive implants or seeking abortion.

Methods
The investigators, who were from several countries, searched six electronic databases for relevant studies of women or couples published in English since 1990: MedlineEmbaseGlobal HealthPopline, the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) Plus and Cochrane Library. A total of 61 studies from 63 publications met the inclusion criteria, for which there was substantial heterogeneity in study settings, interventions, and outcome measures. However, high-quality evidence was absent for the majority of intervention types.

Findings
In summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of different counseling intervention methods, a few studies noted the increased cost of  staffing, resources, and contraceptive products when providing additional and longer patient consultations. Conversely, interventions like digital tools during waiting times prior to consultation can potentially save provider time. However, counseling satisfaction with digital tools alone was low, and best used in conjunction with face-to-face counseling.

While telephone-based interventions provide access to many women at low cost, these interventions are unable to reach women without phones and may require multiple attempts to reach participants with phones.

Counseling up to the time of birth or abortion for women who may not access services later allows for a fuller discussion of different contraceptive methods, yet some women may be reluctant to initiate contraception immediately, thus effective follow-up mechanisms are necessary. Routine postpartum counseling at 3 to 6 weeks may help some women after they have resumed sexual activity.

Including male partners in counseling sessions may also be valuable, if they are the main contraceptive decision-maker. But partner availability poses logistical challenges.

Conclusions
“Our focus on comparing counseling strategies is critical to help identify successful interventions to improve contraceptive services,” the authors wrote. “However, preventing unmet need for contraception and unwanted pregnancies (influenced by multiple other factors) is the ultimate objective from a public health standpoint, and counseling process indicators such as client participation and knowledge are also important.”

Three limitations of the review are that study quality was variable; substantial heterogeneity existed in study settings, interventions and outcomes, thereby limiting comparability of studies; and many of the included studies failed to clearly state whether the intervention targeted women initiating, switching, and/or continuing contraception, plus women switching methods were often grouped with initiators.

Nonetheless, the findings underscore that when feasible, repeated counseling throughout pregnancy and postpartum can contribute to maximum access to information and contraceptive uptake. However, interventions seeking to improve contraceptive counseling need to be tailored to patient flow, record flow, and the contraceptive methods available, while embedded within broader quality-of-care improvements, including clinical training.

The authors noted that further research is needed to determine the effectiveness of many contraceptive counseling interventions, including novel efficacious interventions, among various settings.

What Are The Best Multi-Vitamins For Women?

What Are The Best Multi-Vitamins For Women?

2020-01-06

By Staff ReporterDec 30, 2019 10:57 AM EST

Our modern society is quite unhealthy, with fast food and processed sugars available around every corner. As a direct result of the unhealthy environment they inhabit, many American women are struggling with their long-term health, especially when it comes to ensuring they have enough vitamins and a proper diet. It can be incredibly hard to find authoritative information pertaining to women’s health, too, leading many young women to simply give up altogether.

Rather than ignoring your health, you should be taking proactive steps to bolster it, like consuming healthy supplements. Which are the best multi-vitamins for women, and how else can they remain healthy? Here’s how to ensure your lifestyle is a healthy and prosperous one.

Find authoritative sources

The first thing you should do when searching for the best multi-vitamin for women is find an authoritative source that can give you valid information which you can depend upon. Many blogs exist and will tell you what supplements to take, but the truth of the matter is that these are often hosted by non-professionals who lack formal medical degrees. You should be relying strictly on valid sources of information that have science to back up their arguments. Look for websites that end in .gov, and you’ll generally know you’re in the clear when it comes to the medical data you’re reading.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has anexcellent webpage provided by the Office on Women’s Health, for instance, and it should frequently be reviewed by women who want to maintain healthy lifestyles for themselves. Ensuring you have enough vitamin B9, for instance, is particularly important for pregnant women who may be deprived of valid information to rely on as they prepare for a new chapter in their lives.

Many women have a vitamin B-12 deficiency, too, which is a helpful reminder to talk to your medical professionals about what your body might need that it’s naturally lacking. It’s important to remember thatnutritional supplements are only one source of these vitamins – many people often get enough in their regular diets, though some dietary restrictions may impede your ability to ingest enough of them in your food. When it comes to B-12 deficiencies, for instance, you can try to amend them by increasing the amount of fat-free milk, eggs, poultry, and nutritional yeast you consume on a regular basis.

Many women find themselves suffering from calcium deficiencies, and these can’t always be amended by eating more food groups that are rich in calcium. Young girls who are still growing may be in particular need of calcium supplements because they can be very important when it comes to bone growth and hitting your appropriate height.

Learn about multi-vitamin trends

To find the best multi-vitamins and to determine which are popular and which are fading, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with multi-vitamin trends across the nation. The past few years have seen ageneral decline in the number of multi-vitamins consumed by American adults, for instance, though it’s not yet clear why people are taking fewer and fewer of them. Americans are taking more vitamin D, for instance, but overall the total amount of supplements they’re taking is going down.

It’s important to speak with your medical providers to ensure that you’re not following national trends which may be popular but nevertheless unhealthy when your specific body is considered. Women of reproductive age in particular are taking fewer supplements,according to data made available by the CDC, though this is often impacted by the age and ethnicity of the individuals in question.

Vitamins A, C, E, and D remain some of the most popular supplements with women even in light of this decline, however. Calcium is also particularly important for developing women of a younger age. Before ingesting any supplements, ensure their sourcing is authentic and that there are no regulatory embargos on the substance you’re consuming. By finding authoritative and well-regulated providers of supplements, you can bolster your health, but taking shady supplements from lackluster sources is highly inadvisable. Never be afraid to talk to your medical professional about taking certain multi-vitamins or a particular supplement you’ve encountered online.  

The biggest wins for LGBT+ rights in the 2010s – and all the battles yet to be won

The biggest wins for LGBT+ rights in the 2010s – and all the battles yet to be won

As the decade ends, we take a look back at the rights won by LGBT+ people across the UK in the 2010s, and the fights that continue on.

1. Legal protections against transphobic discrimination

At the start of the decade, on October 1, 2010, the Equality Act came into force, giving trans people explicit protection against discrimination. Under the law, “gender reassignment” is a protected characteristic, a move that James Morton  of the Scottish Transgender Alliance said has been”really effective in terms of encouraging employers and also service providers to take into account the needs of trans people.”

In 2016, Morton gave evidence for a Parliamentary inquiry on transgender equality, which indicated that protections for trans people “are not universally seen as legally complete and many trans people still face discrimination in employment and in other aspects of their lives.” It called for the act to be updated with a a broader definition of trans identities, one which uses more considerate language.

2. Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland can adopt children.

Same-sex couples in England and Wales have had the right to adopt since 2002, with LGBT+ people in Scotland given their rights in 2009. In Northern Ireland, same-sex adoption wasn’t introduced until 2013, after the ban was ruled to be unlawful.

In 2018 it was reported that just 30 same-sex couples had applied to adopt in Northern Ireland, with just two approved. This makes the success rate one in 15, compared to one in two for the rest of the UK. The Department of Health said that lower success rate may be because the adoption process can take several years to complete.

3. Equal marriage.

While same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2004, giving them the most of the same rights as married mixed-sex couples, it took another 10 years for full marriage equality to be introduced – and even then, it wasn’t universal.

England and Wales were the first parts of the UK to allow men to marry men and women to marry women, with the first such unions taking place on March 29, 2014.

Scotland followed suit on New Year’s Eve that same year, while Northern Ireland will see its first same-sex weddings take place on Valentine’s Day 2020 after an intervention by the House of Commons.

4. Married trans people can legally transition without having to divorce.

Historically, married people who wanted to change their legal gender marker were forced to divorce in order to do so.

The introduction of same-sex marriage corrected this wrong, meaning that trans people are now able to legally transition while remaining in their marriage. But – and this is a big but – they must have the consent of their spouse before a gender recognition certificate can be awarded, creating an effective ‘spousal veto‘.

5. Men convicted for their sexuality were pardoned.

In 2017, MPs passed the Alan Turing law to right an historic injustice and pardon the thousands of queer men who were convicted for “buggery” and other archaic, homophobic offences.

Almost 50,000 were posthumously pardoned, while those who were living were invited to apply for a statutory pardon through the Home Office’s disregard scheme, introduced in 2012. However in September 2019, it was reported that fewer than 200 wrongful convictions had been erased – a failure rate of 71 percent.

6. LGBT-inclusive education.

The most recent win for Britain’s LGBT+ community is the legal enshrining of an LGBT-inclusive school curriculum.

In March, MPs voted overwhelmingly to introduce new relationships and sex education guidelines which mean that from September 2020, every child in the UK will learn about LGBT+ people, relationships and families

Stonewall’s director of education and youth Mo Wiltshire said that such lessons “have the potential to deliver real change in how LGBT families, people and relationships are taught about. This will help foster greater inclusion, acceptance and understanding in our classrooms, playgrounds and school corridors.”

LGBT+ rights that need to be won in the 2020s

1. Full and free access to PrEP.

Currently, PrEP is only available in England through a limited trial. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it can be prescribed by any NHS sexual health clinics.

Debbie Laycock, head of policy at the Terrence Higgins Trust, told PinkNews that restricted access to the drug is putting some men at increased risk of acquiring HIV.

“In parts of the country PrEP trial sites have closed to gay and bisexual men due to being oversubscribed,” she said, calling for a full roll-out of the drug.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all committed to giving universal access to PrEP in their election manifestos. The Conservatives and the Brexit Party both failed to make any mention of the drug in theirs.

2. Reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

When the Gender Recognition Act was introduced in 2004, it was a ground-breaking, trail-blazing piece of legislation. But 15 years on, it’s no longer fit for purpose.

In 2018 the government conducted a public consultation on reforms to the act, with most sensible people recommending the introduction of self-identification and legal recognition for non-binary people, among other measures.

Yet, more than a year after the consultation closed, we’re yet to see any results or official response. Again, the Conservatives failed to mention this crucial area of the law in its manifesto, while Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have all backed reform.

3. A ban on conversion therapy.

In July 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to outlaw the “abhorrent” practice of so-called gay conversion therapy. However such a ban is yet to materialise.

None of the major parties mention the practice in their manifestos, however spokespeople for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all confirmed that they would end the practice.

4. An end to the blood ban.

In England, Wales and Scotland, men who have sex with men can only donate blood if they have been celibate for three months. In Northern Ireland, the deferral period is still 12 months.

This effectively amounts to a ban for men who are sexually active. Stonewall says that while it is statistically true that “men who have sex with men face higher rates of blood-borne infections, it’s simply untrue to say that every gay and bi man is a high-risk donor.”

The charity is calling for a system based on individualised risk assessment, rather than the current, discriminatory policy.

5. Changes to surrogacy laws

For gay men, the route to parenthood is fraught with complications.

While same-sex couples are able to adopt, the laws around surrogacy are somewhat more complicated. Commercial surrogates – a popular option in the US – is illegal in the UK.

Altruistic surrogacy is permitted, but the birth mother remains the child’s legal parent until a court grants a paternal order, a process which can take months and leaves all parties exposed to the risk that one or the other will change their mind.

It also means that if the child is taken ill after being born, only the surrogate mother is able to make decisions. NGA Law, which has campaigned for surrogacy reform since 2007, wants the law to change so that the intended parents are the child’s legal parents from birth, along with clarifications that surrogates can be financially compensated.

Breaking silence on menstruation

Breaking silence on menstruation

2019-11-26

Ebad AhmedSpecial ReportNovember 24, 2019

It was May 2018 when two sisters in Karachi formally set up their dream project in a bid to help underprivileged women improve their menstrual health and hygiene. Enter HER Pakistan, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to shatter the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation through programmes that educate young girls, women and the society about a subject that is rarely ever talked about.

“I was working with a not-for-profit school network in Karachi and during a visit to one of the slums, I found out that girls were being forced to miss school, and at times, even drop out of school when they started menstruating,” says Sana Lokhandwala, co-founder of HER Pakistan. “And it wasn’t just that. I also came across a lot of myths and misconceptions around menstruation that prevail in our communities,” she adds. A communication specialist previously affiliated with the news industry, Sana now runs the project with her sister, Sumaira Lokhandwala.

During her eight years of experience as a healthcare marketeer, Sumaira says she realised how sexual and reproductive health, a major component of women’s overall health, was being largely neglected in Pakistan. “Subjects as normal as menstruation are considered taboo. Thousands of women do not have access to information and facilities in order to live a healthy and empowered life,” says Sumaira.

A research by Real Medicine Foundation in 2017, a non-profit organisation working to improve the health sector in disaster-hit regions, found that an alarming 79 percent of Pakistani women were not properly managing their menstrual hygiene due to lack of information. During their fieldwork, the Lokhandwala sisters made the same observation.

Their dream soon turned into reality and HER Pakistan was founded with an objective to improve sexual and reproductive health, particularly menstrual health and hygiene, for girls and women in Pakistan regardless of their socio-economic background. To date Sana and Sumaira Lokhandwala have successfully reached out to schools and communities in areas like Old Golimar, Rehri Goth, Machhar Colony, Kemari, Lyari, Gulbai, Moach Goth, Steel Town, Malir, Baldia Town and Qayyumabad.

The initiative is running as many as three projects simultaneously, starting with the School Puberty Education Programme, which prepares adolescents, their parents and teachers for puberty and associated changes and challenges.

“The programme takes a holistic approach by training parents and teachers simultaneously, so they can ensure a safe and healthy environment for adolescents after the sessions,” explain the Lokhandwala sisters. The basic components of the session include understanding gender and gender roles, introduction to puberty, physical, psychological and social changes during puberty, hygiene management, myths and misconceptions related to puberty, body positivity, bullying and harassment and a special focus on menstruation for girls. “The sessions are mostly tailored according to the needs of the students and the schools’ management.”

The initiative has reached out to as many as eight schools in Karachi and two in Gilgit Baltistan. The founders, however, believe that this is just the beginning. They aspire to take it to schools and communities all over Pakistan.

The community education programme, Menstrual Hygiene Drives, focuses on awareness sessions through peer-to-peer counselling and interactive teaching tools. The sessions are held in underprivileged communities in which women of all ages and backgrounds meet to discuss menstruation and it being a natural phenomenon, and its hygiene management.

The organisation has also launched a digital community group – Oh My Period! The Facebook group aims to provide a safe space for women to talk about everything related to menstruation, to be able to learn from one another’s experiences and to help each other.

“The aim is to create a friendly space where anyone can talk about their periods freely and ask questions without being judged,” says Sana.

The journey wasn’t a joy ride. It came with its set of challenges. But the Lokhandwala sisters say these challenges were not strong enough to unnerve them or shake their commitment. The sisters say that they faced harassment, bullying and even death and rape threats from men on digital platforms and in the real world.

“Everything related to a female body that does not serve the patriarchal needs of pleasure and procreation is considered a taboo. Everyone loves to objectify a woman’s body but no one wants to talk about menstruation or breast cancer or women’s other health-related problems,” says Sumaira.

She says the stigma exists because the society has attached shame to women’s bodies. “It’s these taboos that have conditioned the society to view menstruation as something shameful or as something to be ashamed about. It is because of this that the way we view menstruation is going to change very slowly because of our deeply ingrained cultural taboos,” she adds.

They acknowledge the role their families and friends have played in supporting the organisation and its work. “HER Pakistan is a community-driven initiative and we wouldn’t be where we are without the support we received from our generous supporters, volunteers, partners and donors.”

“Discussing and educating people – men, women, girls and boys – about menstrual hygiene and dismissing taboos associated with it, in a patriarchal society, are things that scare a lot of people. We would be lying if we say we weren’t scared,” says Sana. “We were. But we were adamant to change the menstrual health situation in Pakistan. And we can confidently say that the change is happening.”


The writer is a human rights reporter based in Karachi. He covers conflict, environment and culture.

Child marriage not good option

Child marriage not good option

By Rohiman HaroonNovember 23, 2019

WHEN I was a reporter in the mid-80s, I came across a story about a child marriage that did not see the light of day. It was apparently not newsworthy enough to be published by the newspaper (not this daily) I was working for.

It wasn’t within my understanding then that child marriage could have far-reaching effects on young girls.

A 15-year-old girl, a school dropout, was forced into marriage by her father when he could no longer support her and his other children, after his wife deserted him and the family to be with another man.

The man’s former wife suddenly appeared at the syariah court, opposing the marriage application.

A shouting match ensued between the separated couple while the girl was crying inconsolably by the side.

Her husband-to-be, a bloke twice her age, froze in fright.

The woman attacked the husband-to-be, spewing profanities at him and her ex-husband, thus drawing merciless laughter from witnesses that day.

The girl was finally given away in marriage as a second wife to the man after receiving the consent of the syariah court judge and the father, being the wali or legal guardian.

Although the incident was not published as the editors opined that the story was personal and could slander the people involved, I quietly followed up on the plight of the girl.

A year later, a divorce case was filed after the girl’s mother found out she was physically and mentally abused on a regular basis by her husband, mother-in-law and ipar-duai (sisters-in-law).

Over the years, I had come across similar disturbing stories of young brides; the parents felt it was the best option as their children had become sexually active and pregnant.

In some cases, the parents were too poor to support their children.

So they decided to marry them off to some well-endowed middle-aged men.

Attending a wedding reception, I once asked a friend if he’d give away his 18-year-old daughter in marriage.

He quickly retorted: “Hell no, she’s still a child.”

Like many parents these days who don’t see the logic of allowing their daughters into an early marriage, he said: “I want my daughter to finish her studies first, work to earn a living, find her freedom and maybe, find her own soulmate along the way. If she can’t find any, I will find one good, pious boy for her.”

He said he had seen injustices inflicted on girls due to child marriages while living among the Indian and Pakistani community in the suburbs of Manchester, the United Kingdom back in 1980s.

They were abused regularly, both physically and mentally, besides being victims of marital rape.

“They were coerced into early marriages while they were like 16 or 17 years of age although UK law allowed such marriages with parental consent,” he said.

My late mother was given away for marriage to my father when she was 13 years old during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the 1940s.

My mother once told me she was playing marbles under her attap-roofed house in Penang when my father’s entourage came to ask for her hand in marriage.

Whilst the decision to “force” her into marriage was understandable because of the war and the grave fear among parents those days to marry off their children quickly, I just do not understand why there are still parents these days who agree to the idea of child brides.

According to the Syariah Judiciary Department, from 2013 to June last year, there were 5,823 Muslim child marriages registered in Malaysia, with Sarawak having the highest number at 974, followed by Sabah with 877, and Kelantan with 848.

Child marriages, if they are highlighted in the press, always ignite public interest. And as far as we can see now, there is strong public opposition to child, early and forced marriages.

In July last year, it was reported that a 41-year-old man from Gua Musang married an 11-year-old girl in Thailand.

This was followed by a 44-year-old man marrying a 15-year-old girl in Tumpat in September when he received the consent of the girl’s parents and a syariah court judge.

This prompted the prime minister to issue an order to all state governments on Oct 20 to raise the legal marriageable age to 18 for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Up to now, only Selangor has amended its enactment on family Islamic law while the Federal Territories are in the process
of amending the marriageable age.

Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak have in principle agreed to amend their respective enactments while Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan have not agreed to do so. I’m curious to know why the laws in these states cannot be made uniform with others.

In a study carried out by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia last year, researchers pointed out that children who marry tend to have a poor understanding of sexual and reproductive health issues, besides the lack of an effective intervention support system for the parents, “which leaves many of them believing that marriage is the best solution when their children become sexually active or become pregnant”.

The sad thing about us, as the research suggests, is that community norms accept child marriage as an option. When can we start thinking that it is not a good and effective option? Period.

Let’s give some space to our children — let them enjoy their childhood, let them pursue an education to reap valuable knowledge, let them learn life experience as good as it gets. Let them decide when they want to have a soulmate. Isn’t that so difficult to grasp?

C’est la vie.

The writer is a former NST journalist, now a film scriptwriter whose penchant is finding new food haunts in the country

What is the right age to lose your virginity?

What is the right age to lose your virginity?

Having sex too soon is the biggest regret of young people losing their virginity, a survey of British sexual behaviour suggests.

More than a third of women and a quarter of men in their teens and early 20s admitted it had not been “the right time” when they first had sex.

People must be 16 or over to legally consent to sex.

The many people may not be ready at that age.

The Natsal survey, carried out every decade or so, gives a detailed picture of sexual behaviour in the UK.

For this latest work, published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at the responses of nearly 3,000 young people who had completed the survey between 2010 and 2012.

The findings

The responses showed that nearly 40% of young women and 26% of young men did not feel that their first sexual experience had happened “at the right time”.

When asked in more depth, most said they wished they had waited longer to lose their virginity. Few said they should have done it sooner.

Most had had sex by the time they were 18 – half had done it by the time they were turning 17.

Nearly a third had sex before turning 16.

Equally willing

The survey also looked at sexual competence or readiness – whether a person could reasonably make an informed decision about whether to have sex for the first time. For example, they had to be sober enough to have consented and should not have been acting on peer pressure.

Around half of the young women and four in 10 of the young men who responded failed this measure.

And almost one in five women and one in 10 men said they and their partner had not been equally willing to have sex at the time, suggesting some felt pressured to have intercourse.

Founder of the Natsal survey, Prof Kaye Wellings, said the age of consent was not an indicator that someone might be ready to become sexually active. “Every young person is different – some 15-year-olds may be ready while some 18-year-olds are not.”

Co-researcher Dr Melissa Palmer said: “Our findings seem to support the idea that young women are more likely than young men to be under pressure from their partners to have sex.

“Although the survey results yielded some positive outcomes, such as nearly nine in 10 young people using a reliable method of contraception at first sex, further efforts are required to ensure that the broader wellbeing of young people is protected as they become sexually active.”

She said sex education in schools should equip young people with the right negotiating skills to enable them to have safe and positive first sexual experiences.

When is the right time?

If you think you might have sex, ask yourself:

If you answer yes to all these questions, the time may be right. But if you answer yes to any of the following questions, it might not be:

Source:

Isabel Inman from the sexual health charity Brook said: “We firmly believe that age and stage appropriate relationships and sex education (RSE) should start early in order to empower young people to make positive decisions that are right for them. We hope the introduction of mandatory RSE will provide this opportunity.”