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Zika infection during pregnancy: Why we need gender and social norms changes for girls and young womenWritten by
A version of this post originally appeared on Devex. Reposted with permission.
The link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and birth defects poses yet another threat for girls and women of reproductive age in the Americas as they struggle to chart a positive course through life transitions.
Unfortunately for girls and young women, the choice of whether or when to become pregnant is often not their own. Age and power dynamics heighten the impact of traditional gender and social norms for girls and young women and can inhibit informed decision making and positive sexual and reproductive health behaviors. Lack of empowerment leaves them more vulnerable to gender-based violence, increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy, while fear of discrimination from health providers or condemnation from family and community means girls and young women delay seeking and receiving contraception or antenatal care.The Zika virus is another threat for girls and women as they chart a positive course through life. Click To Tweet
A public health response to the Zika virus must include addressing some of these root causes that preclude girls and young women from realizing their sexual and reproductive health choices — and social norms that inhibit contraceptive use for girls and young women need to be addressed in programming.
Note: The authors would like to thank their colleagues from the Passages project team. FHI 360 is part of a team of global health organizations implementing this new reproductive health initiative in Asia and Africa, which aims to improve the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies by youth and first-time parents in developing countries.
Read the entire blog here.
In a statement declaring the clusters of birth defects that appear to be linked to Zika virus infection in Brazil “a public health emergency of international concern,” the World Health Organization recommends important measures for tackling this emerging infectious disease threat: improving surveillance, developing better diagnostic tests, intensifying vector control efforts and carrying out other prevention and treatment measures.
More remarkable were calls from public health officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica for women to postpone pregnancy until more is known about the association between the Zika virus and microcephaly, a severe birth defect affecting the brains of newborns. Salvadoran health officials have even advised women to delay pregnancy until 2018, when the risk of being infected with Zika may be lower.
The spread of Zika in the Americas adds urgency to the need to help all women — and their male partners — avoid unintended pregnancies. But, women and couples in countries affected by Zika face formidable barriers to achieving their fertility intentions, including lack of access to contraceptives and other reproductive health services, some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws and high rates of sexual violence.
Placing the burden of protecting unborn children from the virus’ effects solely on women who have limited reproductive rights and contraceptive options is discriminatory and unsustainable. Expanding access to reproductive health services must be part of a comprehensive response to the Zika virus, and these services should be supported in ways that protect and strengthen the reproductive rights of women and girls.