Population Connection Action Fund Wants Presidential Candidates in N.H. to address the needs of Women and Girl Victims of Violence around the Globe
DURHAM, N.H. – Presidential candidates have a lot to say about the current crises in Iraq, Syria and other regions of conflict around the globe, but few are addressing the violent impact these conflicts are having on the lives of women and girls. Population Connection Action Fund launched a campaign this week to shift the conversation on global conflict and to draw attention to the harmful effect the United States’ policy on abortion is having on women and girls around the globe.
Global women’s and girls’ rights activist Lisa Shannon and Brian Dixon, the Senior Vice President for Media and Government Relations at Population Connection and Population Connection Action Fund, spoke to a group of students at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on Tuesday about the harrowing choices and unspeakable violence many women and girls face in areas of conflict, and how a little-known piece of international policy known as the Helms Amendment is affecting their ability to move on from the trauma. Passed in 1973, the Helms Amendment bans the use of U.S. aid to fund abortions for family planning. But since its inception, the Helms Amendment has been imposed as a ban on funding of all abortions, regardless of whether a woman was raped, forced into prostitution, is a victim of incest, or needs an abortion to save her life. Shannon argues that “interpreting this as a family planning issue is potentially lethal.”
Shannon and Dixon are traveling to key states this election season to raise awareness of this issue and to ask average citizens to call upon the presidential candidates to take a position on whether the Helms Amendment interpretation must be changed. This change would not be outside the views of most Americans, who believe abortion should be made available to victims of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.
“Why hasn’t this been changed? Because nobody’s talking about it yet,” said Shannon.
People in the U.S. are well aware of terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, but the reporting from these areas of conflict can’t always show the direct human impact of the atrocities they wage. Shannon told the UNH students that women and girls in Somalia, the Congo, and now in Iraq are victims of rape inflicted as part of a larger military campaign. She told of reports from Iraq that the local Yazidi people are being captured, killed and victimized by ISIS. Women and girls are sold into slavery and systematically raped by ISIS militants, which not only endorses the practice but has printed a manual on it, said Shannon.
“In context of conflict, rape on its own is itself not a singular trauma,” said Shannon. Pregnancy resulting from rape can bring its own set of dangers for women and girls. Women and girls who become pregnant as the result of forced prostitution or rape often are ostracized or even face threats from family, community or militant groups for having sex outside of marriage. Each year 47,000 women and girls die from unsafe abortions, and according to the World Health Organization, more than 290,000 women and girls die each year from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Thousands more face further danger and trauma because of medical complications from child birth, social stigmatization, and threats to their safety.
The next President and Congress have a moral imperative to improve the access to safe abortions for these women and girls in developing countries in cases of rape and incest, or because their lives are at risk, said Dixon. He urged the UNH students to let the presidential candidates know they want to see this change on day one of his or her presidency. “Here in New Hampshire you have a way to talk to these candidates that others don’t,” he said.
# # #
Population Connection Action Fund is the largest grassroots and political organization in the United States dedicated to promoting reproductive health around the world. The organization advocates for expanded access to the full range of family planning and reproductive health services in the developing world and here at home. For more information about how you can become involved, go to www.popconnectaction.org