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Where it is ‘dangerous’ to be a woman

There is nothing like travel outside of the Philippines to make one appreciate this country, warts and all.

Especially if one goes through an airport like that of Addis Ababa which I will vote for as one of the world’s worst, with congestion, confusion, kilometers-long lines, the lack of directional signs and rude attendants adding to the mix. To show you how bad it was, I walked through the Naia Terminal 1 upon my arrival with actual gratitude and gladness.

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In fairness, though, and this is an entirely unsolicited view, Terminal 1 these days seems to be looking, if not entirely spiffy, then at least less grubby than it was in the past. The carpets actually looked brighter and a lot less dingy. The queues at Immigration were shorter, and at the baggage carousel, there were pleasant, clean-cut young men greeting passengers and assisting them to recover their bags, with no overt (and annoying) pleas for tips, as in the past. Only the fact that my luggage was left behind in Bangkok (come on, Thai Airways, get a move on!) made my arrival a less than optimal experience.

Anyway, it’s good to be home. Ethiopia was an exhausting but stimulating experience. Addis Ababa is a dusty (muddy when it rains), sooty and unruly city, but with astonishing sights at unexpected turns. One minute, we’re driving through rough, rocky lanes, then we turn a corner and come upon the magnificent campus of Addis Ababa University, with its imposing gates and greenery.

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If anything, the visit to Ethiopia made me realize that while I may live in a poor country, there are so many others that are poorer. But at the same time, we—including Filipinos and Ethiopians—are all working toward finding solutions to our problems and both our challenges and the ways we are devising to get over them have so much in common.

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Neither the Philippines nor Ethiopia belongs to the list of “the five most dangerous countries for women.” The five are, in the order they’re listed: Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia.

The list was put together by TrustLaw, described by The Christian Science Monitor as “an organization that provides legal aid information on women’s rights.” The group polled more than 200 international gender experts and based their ranking on “general perception of danger and six other issues—health threats, discrimination, cultural and religious norms, sexual violence, nonsexual violence and trafficking.”

Of course, the fact that the five “most dangerous” countries are either currently at war or just recovered from war, or in the case of India constantly facing the threat of war, contributes to the precarious situation of women. But violence in the streets and at home also puts women at risk, while poverty, gender stereotypes and plain official indifference to women’s health and status add to the dangers that women face.

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Maryan Qasim, minister for women of Somalia, puts the assessment of “danger” for women in context, saying that women there face so many risks she was “surprised the country was not first on the list.”

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“The most dangerous thing a woman in Somalia can do is to become pregnant,” declared Qasim. “When a woman becomes pregnant her life is 50-50 because there is no antenatal care at all. There are no hospitals, no health care, no nothing.”

Mothers are similarly at risk in Ethiopia, with a maternal mortality rate (MMR, the number of women dying due to pregnancy and childbirth for every 100,000 live births) at 470. The country’s health authorities hope to cut the number to 276 to meet its own Millennium Development Goal.

In this, the Philippines—and Filipinas—may find a measure of comfort. Our own MMR is 162, and our own MDG goal is to lower it to 52, although most experts are deeply skeptical about the government’s ability to meet this goal by 2015.

But even these seemingly “good” numbers pale beside the accomplishment of our neighbors in Southeast Asia. Three countries in Southeast Asia— Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia—have achieved maternal mortality rates of below 10, while countries like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are making remarkable progress in lowering their MMRs, though Indonesia still posts a higher MMR than the Philippines.

Still, despite official pronouncements of our own government’s “determination” to meet MDG 5 on maternal survival, progress on reducing the number of mothers dying has stalled or at least slowed down. At this rate, we are currently in a “contest” with Cambodia, Laos and East Timor to see who posts the worst performance with regard to meeting (or not meeting) MDG 5.

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Almost all, 99 percent to be exact, of maternal deaths in the world occur in developing countries. Ireland, for instance, posts an MMR of 1.

Southeast Asia, in fact, has been one of the “best performing” regions of the world when it comes to maternal mortality rate reduction. Sub-Saharan Africa, where Ethiopia belongs, in contrast, is the worst performing region.

But as the case of India proves, it isn’t only poverty that lies at the root of mothers’ vulnerability and risk. The top risk factors for women in India, TrustLaw states, are “female feticide (selective abortion and infanticide), child marriage, women trafficking and domestic servitude.”

The risks connected with being female in India thus begin even before birth, where being a female fetus means running the risk of selective abortion.

So it is not just poverty—which of course impacts on health status, living conditions, the availability of facilities for pre-natal care and childbirth—that makes life dangerous for women. It is also culture and tradition, which determines women’s status and our claim to equal rights and equal treatment.

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TAGS: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Gender issues, India, Naia Terminal 1, Poverty, Tourism, traveling
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