Focus on Women’s Rights

Tricia Bent-GoodleyTricia Bent-Goodley of Howard University’s School of Social Work: “When it comes to teen pregnancy, we don’t hear the reasons for the choice they made.”

NASW is hosting conferences across the country with support from the United Nations Foundation to promote greater attention to the rights of women and girls on a global level.

In September, NASW’s Human Rights and International Affairs Division joined the NASW D.C. Metro Chapter in hosting “Promoting Human Rights of Women and Girls Globally: The Intersection of Social Work and Family Planning Services” at the association’s national office in Washington.

The event featured a discussion by Tricia Bent-Goodley, professor at Howard University School of Social Work.

She explained that on a global level, one-third of women suffer some form of abuse in their lifetime and one-quarter of women experience sexual violence in their lifetime.

In the U.S., she noted, 25 to 33 percent of women suffer from some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime and one-fifth of those do not tell anyone. Bent-Goodley described a clear link between sexual violence and poor reproductive health.

On an individual client level, Bent-Goodley urged attendees to listen closely to women’s and girls’ concerns without passing judgment. “When it comes to teen pregnancy, we don’t hear the reasons for the choice they made,” she said, noting that some young girls are shocked to learn that someone may sabotage their efforts for birth control.

Many young women learn about human reproduction from outside the family. For example, she said one girl told her that she learned about the subject from a music channel on cable television.

Luisa Lopez, director of human rights and international affairs at NASW, outlined the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and discussed the role of social work in international practice.

More than ever, the need is urgent to improve reproductive health care for women around the world, Lopez said.

“The leading cause of death for teenage girls in developing countries is pregnancy and childbirth” she said. “Each year, 1 million babies with young mothers and 70,000 girls die from childbirth-related complications.”

Poor sexual and reproductive health accounts for one-third of the illnesses globally among women, she said. “A woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth every minute of every day.”

Lopez noted that social workers can play a vital role in improving services for families, women and girls. “We all have a stake in this, both men and women,” she said, urging attendees to connect with leaders and communities to help build and promote networks that advocate for better access to reproductive health.

The forum showcased two short videos on the MDGs, which focus on: cutting global poverty and hunger in half; universal primary education; gender equality; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other deadly diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and working toward a global partnership for development.

The MDGs were adopted by 189 world leaders as part of the Millennium Declaration signed in 2000. The leaders agreed to achieve the goals by 2015.

Finally, the group united to read the pledge of Stand Up, Take Action in support of the MDGs.

In addition to the forum in Washington, NASW and the United Nations Foundation supported three other symposiums that focused on maternal health care at NASW’s Nebraska, Ohio and Rhode Island chapters.

Nebraska hosted the “Symposium on Maternal Health in Nebraska” in late September. The chapter led the way in convening a group of experts on maternal health issues in Nebraska, nationally and internationally.

The event featured Jean Amoura, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Her presentation was called “Reaching Our Goals in Maternal and Reproductive Health: Where Do We Go from Here?” The event featured panel discussions on six topics, from which the participants devised policy statements to be shared with the media and policymakers.

Terry Werner, executive director of the Nebraska Chapter, said the conference allowed the chapter a great opportunity to promote issues and concerns important to social workers in the state.

“We presented to policymakers media statements about our concerns,” Werner said. “Many attendees were new to the issues and this event was an educational vehicle for them.”

NASW’s Rhode Island Chapter hosted the “Forum on Women’s Health Issues: Diverse Perspectives and Challenges” in October.

Panelists at the event discussed women’s health in various areas. Chapter Executive Director Rick Harris said 150 people attended the forum, including students from eight different colleges and two high school students.

“It was a huge event for us and we had great feedback,” said Harris, who discussed issues affecting women on an international level, with a particular focus on female human trafficking. Another discussion topic was how state, federal and international health policies affect resources and may contribute to institutional discrimination.

At press time, the NASW Ohio Chapter was scheduled to host a forum in late October.