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The United Nations, human rights and traditional practices affecting the health of women and children.
Development. 1993; (4):44-8.In 1991, the UN Commission of Human Rights presented a detailed report on 3 of the traditional practices which are harmful to the health of women and children: female genital mutilation, traditional delivery practices, and son preference. Female genital mutilation has received the most attention, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has supported a number of initiatives to eradicate it. In addition, the WHO Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched in the late 1980s to reduce the number of maternal deaths. WHO has resolved to gear its programs toward the elimination of harmful traditional practices. In 1984, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) held a seminar in Senegal and established the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children which serves as a focal point of government and NGO activities. Meanwhile, a UN Working Group on genital mutilation, maternal practices, and son preference presented a report in 1986. Its tasks were then assumed by a Special Rapporteur who recommended that relevant UN agencies coordinate their work in this field more closely as they organize regional seminars, monitor the progress of work, and routinely include information on these practices in programs to improve the status of women. To date the UN's work has had few tangible results in preventing these practices and has failed to acknowledge the link between them and the more generalized problem of sexual discrimination. At one level, the problem is exacerbated by the difficulty of reconciling the competing concepts of universal human rights and cultural relativism. Also, human rights entitlements are sought from states and not in families. Despite these problems, the UN has given these matters international attention. The international community must affirm the universality of human rights norms and recognize the desirability of a culturally sensitive approach to the implementation of these norms. NGOs have also played a crucial role in bringing these issues to the consideration of the human rights community.
In: Women's health and apartheid: the health of women and children and the future of progressive primary health care in Southern Africa, edited by Marcia Wright, Zena Stein and Jean Scandlyn. New York, New York, Columbia University, 1988. 84-9.There is a large discrepancy between maternal mortality rates in developed and developing countries, with maternal mortality as a leading cause of death of young women in poor countries. There has been renewed interest in maternal mortality among international agencies and major foundations quite recently. Women and children form up to 2/3 of the population of many developing countries, and over 1/2 of primary health care resources are devoted to maternal and child health programs. Nevertheless, little of this is directed at maternal mortality; most goes to immunization, oral rehydration for diarrhea, monitoring children's growth, and promoting breastfeeding. While some of the international health community attribute the long neglect of maternal mortality to not knowing the extent and severity of the problem before, prior data existed demonstrating the alarmingly high rates. Low maternal mortality in the West may have distracted attention from the international problem. Sexism may have been a major factor, as even today efforts to reduce maternal mortality need to be justified in terms of the implications for the family, children and society as a whole. The reasons for the current concern are not clear, but may relate to an interest in concrete issues after the United Nations Decade for Women, or real surprise in the international community once the problem was pointed out. As various agencies rush to establish maternal mortality programs, it is imperative to evaluate which approaches will be really effective. Critical evaluation of programs is necessary to capitalize on the current interest.