Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poverty & the Lives of Girls and Women

There's an issue that's making the rounds in the social media circles these days. I saw it a few weeks ago @ TallSkinnyKiwi and several other places since then. It's how girls in poor communities are missing out on school - and lots of other good things of life - because they can't afford sanitary supplies and just stay home when they are menstruating. (Best summarized at "On the Rag and Out of School.")

There are bigger issues out there, of course. Men, women, and children alike suffer when clean drinking water, food, and medicine are not available. And women suffer under global poverty inordinately when they are the victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, etc, and beaten by disillusioned and drunk husbands who don't think they'll ever have a decent job again. Kids, of course, are the most vulnerable to facing the effects of poverty.

When I was in Central Asia I wasn't among the super poor, but the people in my community - and in the house I lived in - weren't exactly living in abundance, either. The culture didn't really go in for things like saving, rationing, planning ahead, etc. because (as I discovered) these really are the luxuries of the rich. Ordinary people spend what they have when they get it. You never know when good things are going to come your way.

Many of the people I knew were part of clubs that got together for parties about once a month, taking turns hosting. In a lot of these clubs, everybody had to pitch in a certain amount of money each month and it went to the person who was hosting the party. This really was a benefit to the people involved: Everybody could scrape together a little bit. When your turn came around you'd get a windfall to use for something you might never be able to save up for, otherwise. Similar social structures exist all over the world.

Similarly, people will spend money on necessities like food but see other disposable or consumable items that we take for granted, like paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and dish soap as not a good use of resources.

Feminine supplies and birth control are on the same list. I was part of a household with three reproductive-age women, and I was the only one who used anything but a somewhat unreliable collection of rags when it was our time of month.

I also brought home dish soap and toilet paper, paid room and board (a whopping $15/month) and brought home food on occasion, especially fruit. But there didn't seem to be much else I could do.

Birth control wasn't an issue for two of us, but when the mom of our family got pregnant accidentally - her usual practice of birth control by abstinence (like other women her age) having been overcome at least once by the needs of the husband she tended to despise - there was only one option. (As she saw it.)

Yes, abortion was more affordable and accessible than birth control was. I'm not a big campaigner one way or the other on these issues in the States - I know some of you are. But many women in other parts of our world really don't have the resources, options, and education that we do. I'd happily give to help provide the women of Eastern Europe and Central Asia with better ob-gyn care, including counseling centers that might help support pregnant women and provide alternatives that reduce the rates of abortion.

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