Women's Journal

Early Menstruation Linked to Increased Diabetes Risk in Later Life

Recent research conducted in the United States and published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Nutrition Prevention & Health reveals a significant correlation between early menstruation and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes during middle age. Specifically, this study highlights that menstruation beginning before 13 years of age markedly raises this risk.

In examining the data of over 17,000 women, aged 20 to 65, the study observed a particularly strong link between having first periods before the age of 10 and an elevated risk of experiencing a stroke before 65 years, particularly in individuals with diabetes.

The study, led by researchers from Tulane University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, acknowledges its observational nature and therefore does not conclusively determine the exact causes of these correlations. However, it suggests that an early first menstrual cycle might signal an increased likelihood of cardiometabolic diseases in women.

Participants in this research were drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2018. They were asked to specify the age at their first menstrual cycle. Among these women, approximately 10%, equivalent to 1,773 participants, reported having type 2 diabetes. Additionally, 11.5% of these diabetic women, or 203 individuals, also reported cardiovascular diseases.

The researchers quantified the risk increase for type 2 diabetes associated with early menstruation. They found a 32% increase in risk for those who began menstruating at 10 years or younger, 14% for those at age 11, and 29% for those at age 12. Furthermore, beginning menstruation before age 10 was associated with more than a doubled stroke risk among women under 65 with diabetes.

The study proposes that prolonged exposure to estrogen, due to early menstruation, which is linked to higher estrogen levels, could be a contributing factor. Additionally, weight was identified as a significant influencing element. Upon adjusting for weight, the connection between early menstruation and stroke risk slightly reduced, yet remained notable.

The findings suggest that the age of a woman’s first period could be considered in early-life strategies to prevent diabetes and manage its complications. These insights contribute to a broader understanding of cardiometabolic risks, especially in women, who have traditionally been underrepresented in this research field. Sumantra Ray, Executive Director of the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition & Health, underscores the importance of these findings and calls for more intervention-focused studies to prevent cardiometabolic diseases in diverse groups of women who experience early menstruation.

Israel-Gaza Conflict: Reports of Horrific Sexual Violence by Hamas on October 7, as Told to BBC

The BBC has gathered evidence suggesting Hamas militants engaged in severe sexual violence in Israel. This distressing revelation includes accounts of assault on victims of various ages, from children to the elderly.

In a shocking video testimony, an eyewitness at the Nova music festival, provided by Israeli police, described a particularly gruesome incident. It involved gang rape, mutilation, and execution. Additional video and photographic evidence indicate women were specifically targeted for sexual violence.

The horrors narrated by survivors and those who collected bodies paint a grim picture. Most victims did not survive to share their experiences. Their stories are reconstructed from the accounts of those who survived, body collectors, morgue staff, and footage from the attack sites.

In a harrowing account, a woman identified as Witness S described witnessing a brutal assault at the festival site. Her testimony includes graphic details of the attack, illustrating the extreme nature of the violence.

Accounts from other witnesses at the festival corroborate these narratives, describing sounds of people being subjected to various forms of violence, including sexual assault.

Israeli police confirm they have multiple eyewitness accounts of sexual assault, but the exact number of incidents remains unclear.

Israel’s Women’s Empowerment Minister, May Golan, acknowledged that few rape or sexual assault victims survived the attacks. Those who did are receiving psychiatric care.

Evidence of sexual violence is also found in videos filmed by Hamas and photographs taken post-attack. These include images of women in varying states of undress, with signs of physical trauma.

Legal experts and police officials have drawn comparisons between the nature of these attacks and those committed by other extremist groups in different parts of the world. They suggest that the use of sexual violence as a weapon was systematic and premeditated.

The task of gathering and interpreting evidence has been challenging. Many bodies were in states that made identification and forensic analysis difficult. Despite this, there is a consensus among those who have worked with the evidence that the attacks involved a high degree of sexual violence.

Israeli officials, as well as international organizations, are calling for the recognition of these acts as Crimes Against Humanity. The pattern and systematic nature of the attacks suggest a deliberate strategy of employing sexual violence in the conflict.

The impact of these attacks on the survivors and the broader community is profound. Many are struggling with severe psychological trauma, and there have been reports of suicide among survivors.

This incident marks a dark chapter in the ongoing conflict, highlighting the brutal use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The testimonies and evidence point to a calculated campaign of terror, leaving a lasting impact on the victims, their families, and the nation.

Sedentary Lifestyle May Increase Risk of Fibroids in Women

Investigating the Connection Between Sedentary Behavior and Uterine Fibroids

A recent investigation from China brought to light a significant health concern for women. The study, spearheaded by Dr. Qiong Meng of Kunming Medical University, revealed that women who sit for over six hours daily are at a considerably heightened risk of developing uterine fibroids before reaching menopause. This groundbreaking research found that women leading a more sedentary lifestyle are twice as likely to encounter these often painful uterine growths before menopause.

One key factor that might contribute to this increased risk is the correlation between a sedentary lifestyle, commonly referred to as a ‘couch potato’ lifestyle, and obesity. Previous research has identified obesity as a contributing factor for uterine fibroids. Moreover, lack of physical activity and excess weight are associated with elevated levels of estrogen and other hormones that are known contributors to the development of fibroids. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a deficiency in vitamin D, another potential risk factor for these growths.

The findings of this study were published on November 29 in the journal BMJ Open. Uterine fibroids, as the study highlights, are benign tumors that are widely prevalent among women. While they often present no symptoms, they can sometimes lead to complications such as abnormal bleeding, pelvic and abdominal pain, and even infertility. In severe cases, fibroids may necessitate a hysterectomy.

Dr. Meng’s team analyzed data from over 6,600 Chinese women aged between 30 and 55, none of whom had undergone menopause. The majority of these women, about 84%, had more than two children. The study categorized sedentary behavior as activities that include sitting or lying down, such as watching screens, knitting, reading, or playing board games. The findings indicated that 8.5% of these women developed fibroids, with the likelihood increasing with age. Factors like weight and having multiple children were also linked to an increased risk of fibroids.

One striking revelation was the association between sedentary leisure hours and the risk of fibroids. Women who spent six or more hours per day in sedentary activities were found to have a fivefold increased risk compared to those who spent less than two hours per day. This heightened risk was particularly notable among overweight or obese women.

While the study is observational and cannot establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it strongly suggests that in overweight or obese individuals, various factors might influence the development of uterine fibroids.

For further information about uterine fibroids, resources are available at the Mayo Clinic.

This research highlights the importance of active lifestyles, particularly for premenopausal women, in potentially reducing the risk of developing uterine fibroids.

Empowering Indigenous Women Through Environmentally Conscious Business Models

Sebastián Sansón Ferrari sheds light on a unique venture in Mexico’s Northern Chiapas forest, led by indigenous Seltales women. The business, known as Yomol A’Tel, meaning “Together we work, together we walk, together we dream,” is a testament to their commitment to justice and land protection. Erika Lara, a 32-year-old business graduate, plays a pivotal role in this initiative. Her responsibilities involve guiding and educating partners in textile production. Yomol A’Tel’s mission revolves around enhancing women’s involvement in democratic activities, giving them a stronger voice, and fostering economic integration and autonomy within their households. They adopt the philosophy of ‘lequil cuxlejalil’ or “good living,” striving to balance social benefit with sustainability and profitability.

Yomol A’Tel envisions work as a community effort, focusing on human-centered approaches and collaborative endeavors. Among their diverse activities, they produce ‘Xapontic’ or ‘Our Soap,’ offering personal hygiene products since 2007. Their products are a result of traditional techniques and modern applications, ensuring cultural preservation and market relevance.

Furthermore, the organization respects Pope Francis’ message in Laudato si’, acknowledging the spiritual and cultural significance of land for indigenous communities. They adhere to eco-friendly practices, avoiding overexploitation and harmful chemicals, thereby preserving biodiversity. Their artisanal cosmetics are created from dehydrated and distilled aromatic plants, ensuring a natural product base and direct financial benefits to the women artisans.

Xapontic collaborates with various institutions, including the Society of Jesus, universities, and social investors, to expand its reach. Their product designs reflect the natural beauty of their surroundings, incorporating traditional colors and motifs. This blend of tradition and modernity has enabled them to penetrate new markets previously inaccessible due to cultural barriers.

In alignment with sustainable development goals, the company sets fair prices to ensure a decent living for the women and their families. They also focus on reducing the wage gap and achieving gender equality. Education and employment opportunities are provided, allowing women to stay rooted in their communities and preserve their cultural values. Xapontic’s organizational structure is inclusive and just, emphasizing equal participation and decision-making.

The initiative also addresses the disparities in rural poverty and the challenges faced by indigenous women. They strive for equality in a patriarchal system, with women playing significant roles in both domestic and community settings. Lara emphasizes the importance of harmony over balance, advocating a lifestyle in sync with nature and the community, embodying the concept of “living well.”

5 Key Reasons Highlighting the Need for Improved Health Care Access for Women

The Overlooked Needs in Women’s Health Care

Women constitute a major part of the health care system, yet paradoxically, they often receive the least care. This disparity becomes glaringly apparent when women suffer from inadequate medical attention, ranging from childbirth complications to limited access to vital vaccines, and the hesitance to report gender-based violence. The predicament is starkly highlighted in areas such as Tanzania, where women’s health needs, including AIDS testing, are often underprioritized.

The Critical HPV Vaccine Access Issue

An alarming aspect of women’s health care is the accessibility of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Despite its potential to prevent up to 90% of cervical cancer cases, the vaccine remains inaccessible to millions due to lack of awareness and investment. Spreading awareness about the necessity of the HPV vaccine is crucial for safeguarding women’s health.

Systemic Challenges in Women’s Health Care

Access to health care is a fundamental human right, yet it is frequently denied to women globally. This issue is multi-faceted, involving not only budget cuts in maternal health care but also the trivialization of women’s health issues and outright denial of care to transgender women. These challenges are deeply rooted in gender inequality and perpetuate gender biases, posing a serious question about the value placed on women’s lives.

The Role of Women in Health Care

Women play an indispensable role in the health care workforce, especially as frontline defenders against global health threats like the COVID-19 pandemic. Their absence would critically weaken the health care system. Furthermore, women health professionals are often noted for providing superior patient care compared to their male counterparts.

Urgent Actions Required

The need for gender equality in health care access is paramount. Several facts underscore this urgency:

  1. Medical Research Discrimination: Women have been historically underrepresented in medical research, leading to inadequate medical care and understanding of women’s health needs.
  2. Diagnostic Disparities: Women often experience delayed or incorrect diagnoses compared to men, influenced by a combination of insufficient research and ingrained gender biases.
  3. Heart Attack Risks: Women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men, largely due to underdiagnosis and treatment biases.
  4. Leadership Gender Gap: Despite women constituting a significant portion of the health workforce, they are underrepresented in leadership roles, impacting decision-making in women’s health care.
  5. Pain Perception Bias: Studies show that women’s pain is often underestimated and mischaracterized, leading to less aggressive pain management.

In conclusion, women, forming half of the global population and a major part of the health care system, deserve equitable and adequate health care. Addressing these disparities is not just a matter of justice but a necessity for a healthy and balanced world. The Move Afrika: Rwanda campaign is one such initiative aimed at strengthening health systems and promoting equity, reflecting the urgent need for action in this domain.

16 Days of Activism Against Violence Towards Women

Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, serving as the WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, highlights a critical global issue: violence against women. According to WHO data from March 2021, nearly one in three women globally endures physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, predominantly from intimate partners. Alarmingly, the South-East Asia Region reports approximately 33% prevalence, ranking it second highest globally.

Violence against women, particularly from intimate partners, leads to significant health issues, ranging from injuries to profound mental, sexual, and reproductive health problems. These include sexually transmitted infections, HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and mental health disorders. Recognizing the high prevalence and severe health impacts, this issue is prioritized in public health agendas and recognized as a blatant violation of women’s and girls’ human rights.

Preventative Measures and Solutions Against Violence

The root cause of violence against women is identified as gender inequality and harmful gender norms. Evidence suggests that this violence stems from various factors at individual, family, community, and societal levels. These factors include harmful masculine behaviors and community norms favoring men. The health sector plays a vital role in addressing this issue, as women experiencing violence often seek health services. Health-care providers can act as a first point of professional contact, offering medical treatment and support.

The prevention of violence against women involves a multisectoral approach. Strategies implemented in communities, schools, and through mass media are crucial. Health care providers can play a pivotal role in early identification and intervention to prevent or reduce the recurrence of violence. This includes acute and long-term care, addressing substance use disorders, and providing mental health support.

Advocacy and Implementation of Policies

The health sector is instrumental in advocating for and implementing policies and strategies for gender-based violence prevention and response. Collecting data ethically and safely, adhering to survivor-centered principles, is essential. WHO is committed to highlighting this issue, developing guidelines, and strengthening the capacity of health systems and providers.

WHO, in collaboration with UN and other partners, has developed resources for violence survivors, people concerned about others experiencing violence, and health-care system workers. This includes the RESPECT Women framework and implementation materials for prevention strategies, aimed at reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors at various societal levels.

Global Campaign and Continued Efforts

The annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, beginning on November 25 (International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women) and concluding on December 10 (Human Rights Day), emphasizes that women’s rights are human rights. WHO’s South-East Asia Regional Office is actively participating in this campaign, conducting webinars and workshops to integrate violence against women and girls into training for health professionals. This period serves as a reminder and a call to action to safeguard women and girls, underlining the necessity to intensify efforts against gender-based violence.

European Union Demands a Stop to Women’s Violence

Annually, over 3,000 females in Europe succumb to lethal violence perpetrated by partners or relatives, while innumerable others suffer various abuses and harassment. This widespread issue impacts women and girls both in physical spaces and the digital world. Across Europe and globally, one in three females has endured physical or sexual violence.

Every week, statistics show that in the EU, at least two women lose their lives to violence from a partner or family member. Notably, 32% of sexual harassment cases in the EU are linked to professional environments. The need for change is urgent. The EU marks November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, emphasizing its dedication to eliminating such violence within and beyond its borders. This day also serves as a call to action in supporting victims and survivors.

In its battle against gender-based and domestic violence, the EU has implemented laws, practical interventions, and financial assistance. In 2022, a significant step was taken with the Commission’s introduction of a proposal for a pioneering EU-wide law aimed at combating violence against women and domestic violence. This proposal seeks to uniformly criminalize severe forms of violence against women throughout the EU, including rape, female genital mutilation, and gender-based cyber violence, encompassing cyber-stalking and non-consensual distribution of intimate images.

The EU’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention in 2023 marks a significant stride towards eradicating violence against women. This move demonstrates a strong commitment to intensifying actions against gender-based violence across the 27 Member States.

The persistence of violence against women is intolerable. The European Commission is steadfast in its mission to foster a society where violence against women is not only prevented and condemned but also effectively prosecuted when it occurs.

Climate Change: A Dire Threat to Maternal and Child Health

Urgent Actions Needed in Response to Climate Change

Pregnant women, babies, and children are at extreme risk due to climate catastrophes, necessitating immediate action. This concern is highlighted in a Call for Action by United Nations agencies, emphasizing the need for urgent attention as these effects have been largely neglected, underreported, and underestimated in global climate change response plans​​.

Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that the dire consequences of climate change disproportionately affect pregnant women and children, underlining the necessity of taking climate action to protect their health and ensure their unique needs are addressed in climate responses​​.

2023 witnessed numerous devastating climate disasters, including wildfires, floods, heatwaves, and droughts. These events are exacerbating air pollution and the spread of deadly diseases like cholera, malaria, and dengue, which pose severe risks to pregnant women and children​​.

Research indicates that climate change can harm even unborn children, leading to complications during pregnancy, preterm births, and stillbirths. Children are at risk of lifelong consequences affecting their physical and mental development​​.

UNICEF’s Omar Abdi highlights the unique vulnerability of children to pollution, diseases, and extreme weather, emphasizing the urgency of prioritizing children in climate action and incorporating their needs into the climate change agenda​​.

The Call for Action outlines seven critical actions to mitigate these risks, including sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, specific inclusion of pregnant women and children in climate policies, and the need for further research on the impact of climate change on maternal and child health​​.

Diene Keita of UNFPA underscores the importance of addressing the distinct health needs of women and girls in climate solutions, advocating for gender equality in these efforts​​.

This Call to Action, released by WHO, UNICEF, and UNFPA, is supported by an advocacy brief from the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), which provides specific recommendations for various stakeholders to ensure that the health needs of women, children, and adolescents are better addressed in climate policies and programs​​.

Rt Hon Helen Clark, PMNCH Board Chair, calls for the integration of women, children, and adolescent health needs into climate responses, emphasizing the role of various stakeholders in protecting the most vulnerable and the long-term benefits for resilient and healthy societies​​.

The COP28 meetings will feature the inaugural Day of Health, highlighting the crucial connection between human health and the planet​​.

Strengthening Safety Measures for Women Journalists in Cambodia

Addressing Disproportional Risks and Building a Supportive Network

Globally, the challenges faced by women journalists and media workers are escalating, with a surge in offline and online attacks, exposing them to various forms of gender-based violence. From stigmatization to severe cases of physical assault and murder, the threats are pervasive.

A recent UNESCO report, titled ‘The Chilling,’ highlights the detrimental impact of these attacks on press freedom. In Cambodia, women journalists not only confront these disproportionate threats but also encounter limited access to gender-sensitive support services, including legal advice.

To combat this critical issue, the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia has established the first Women Journalists’ Network in the country. This network provides a secure space for women journalists to address the threats they face, offering essential gender-sensitive legal advice, counseling, and peer support. With 45 members currently, the Cambodian Women Journalists’ Network has conducted successful meetings covering topics such as stress reduction, professional reporting, investigative coverage best practices, and the unique challenges faced by women journalists.

In preparation for the national elections, the Centre organized a special session providing insights into specific issues female reporters should be mindful of during electoral campaigns. Emphasizing the crucial role, rights, and responsibilities of journalists, the session highlighted the importance of disseminating accurate information to the public during election periods. UNESCO’s issue brief on violence against journalists during elections globally reveals that women constitute 29% of the total number attacked during these periods.

Since 2021, UNESCO and the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia have collaborated to enhance the safety of women journalists by providing gender-responsive access to legal assistance through the Global Media Defence Fund. Established in 2019 within the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, this fund has supported over 120 projects globally, directly benefiting over 5,000 journalists, 1,500 lawyers, and 200 non-governmental organizations.

Women’s Life Expectancy Six Years Longer Than Men

Key Insights from the Study

A recent investigation has disclosed a growing divergence in life expectancy between men and women in the United States, reaching its most significant point since 1996. This study attributes the increasing gap to various factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid overdose crisis. The disparity, which was least pronounced in 2010, has widened due to elevated male mortality rates from the pandemic, accidental injuries, drug overdoses, and suicides, highlighting the urgency for gender-specific healthcare strategies to mitigate this escalating disparity.

Crucial findings include:

  • In 2021, the life expectancy gap between American men and women expanded to 5.8 years, the most considerable since 1996.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and rising deaths from unintentional injuries, predominantly drug overdoses, have significantly contributed to this trend.
  • Men have faced higher mortality rates during the pandemic, influenced by factors such as health behaviors, social risks, and chronic conditions.

The study, led by UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was published on November 13, 2023, in JAMA Internal Medicine. It reveals that the life expectancy gap between American men and women has been widening for over a decade, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid overdose epidemic, among other factors. The pandemic, which disproportionately impacted men, was the primary contributor to the expanding gap from 2019-2021, followed by unintentional injuries and poisonings (mostly drug overdoses), accidents, and suicide.

Life expectancy in the U.S. declined to 76.1 years in 2021, down from 78.8 years in 2019 and 77 years in 2020. This reduction in American lifespan is partly attributed to “deaths of despair,” encompassing increases in deaths from causes like suicide, drug use disorders, and alcoholic liver disease, often linked with economic hardship, depression, and stress.

While death rates from drug overdose and homicide have risen for both genders, men increasingly represent a disproportionate share of these deaths. The study, using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, identified the death causes most significantly lowering life expectancy and estimated their effects on both genders to understand their contribution to the gap.

Before the pandemic, the largest contributors were unintentional injuries, diabetes, suicide, homicide, and heart disease. However, during the pandemic, men were more likely to die from the virus, likely due to differences in health behaviors, social factors like work exposure risk, reluctance to seek medical care, incarceration, housing instability, chronic metabolic disorders, mental illness, and gun violence.

The findings prompt questions about the need for more specialized care for men, particularly in mental health, to address the growing life expectancy disparity. Future research should focus on public health interventions to help reverse this decline in life expectancy. The study’s authors, including senior author Howard Koh, MD, MPH, professor at Harvard Chan School, emphasize the importance of closely tracking these trends post-pandemic and making significant investments in prevention and care to prevent this and other disparities from becoming entrenched.