Women's Journal

C9 Addresses Women’s Roles in Church and World Crises

Gathering recently at the Vatican, Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals emphasized the importance of incorporating the “feminine aspect” within the Church, particularly at the grassroots level. The council, meeting at the Casa Santa Marta, delved into the “feminine role in the Church,” with insights from theologians Sr Linda Pocher, Dr Lucia Vantini, and Fr Luca Castiglioni, esteemed academics in Italian educational institutions.

The council’s session concluded with a consensus on the necessity of heeding the feminine voice in the Church. This approach aims to enrich the processes of contemplation and decision-making with the unique contributions of women, as highlighted in a statement by the Holy See Press Office.

This assembly of Cardinal advisors also reviewed global issues from their diverse regional perspectives. Notably, they examined the persistent conflict in Ukraine, the critical circumstances in the Holy Land, and the ongoing COP28 event in Dubai.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, shared insights on the Episcopal Conferences’ organizational gatherings. The council members discussed and evaluated various proposed ideas during this segment.

In addition, the statement from the Press Office revealed that the Cardinal Advisers deliberated on the inaugural session of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Their discussions centered on actualizing the essence, principles, and norms of the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate evangelium within local diocesan curias.

Essential Vitamins Lacking in Most Women Trying for Pregnancy, Study Reveals

Recent Findings Highlight Nutritional Deficiencies in Women Planning to Conceive

A recent study has raised concerns about the nutritional status of women trying to conceive, revealing that a majority may have inadequate levels of vital vitamins necessary for a healthy pregnancy. Researchers, including Prof Keith Godfrey from the University of Southampton, conducted tests on over 1,700 women in the UK, New Zealand, and Singapore. The findings showed significant deficiencies in nutrients typically found in meat and dairy, essential for the development of a healthy foetus.

Prof Godfrey expressed surprise at the widespread prevalence of low or marginal levels of crucial micronutrients. He advised considering supplements unless one’s diet is exceptionally high in quality.

Participants in the study, aged 18 to 38, were part of the Nipper study, a global trial investigating the impact of nutrient and probiotic combinations before and during pregnancy on maternal and infant health. The women received either a standard vitamin supplement for pregnant women or an enhanced version with additional vitamins and probiotics. The study, published in Plos Medicine, found that before conception, nine in ten women had insufficient levels of folate, riboflavin, vitamin B12, or vitamin D, and many experienced vitamin B6 deficiency later in pregnancy.

Although the supplements helped improve vitamin levels, they did not always achieve sufficient levels. Godfrey emphasized the need for further research to identify optimal supplement quantities.

Wayne Cutfield, another study author, suggested that expectant mothers should consider over-the-counter multivitamins, in addition to the already recommended folic acid and vitamin D supplements.

While the study received a positive response from the scientific community, some researchers, including Duane Mellor from Aston Medical School, expressed concerns over potential conflicts of interest due to funding from Nestlé and patent filings related to the enhanced supplement. However, Godfrey assured that the study’s analysis and reporting were independent of the company.

Prof Asma Khalil from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists highlighted the alarming finding that 90% of women had low levels of certain vitamins, underscoring the importance of preconception and pregnancy supplementation. She advised maintaining a healthy diet and taking necessary supplements.

Prof Judith Stephenson from UCL commented on the study’s significance as a randomized clinical trial of supplements before pregnancy. She suggested a nutritious diet, over-the-counter supplements, and possibly higher doses of specific vitamins for those with additional health concerns like diabetes or obesity.

The study also touched on the potential future challenges as society shifts towards plant-based diets, which may lack vitamins B12 and D. Godfrey pointed out the need for more substantial food fortification and the development of plant-based foods with higher micronutrient levels to address these deficiencies.

Russia Restricts Abortion Access Amid Demographic Shift Concerns

Escalating Restrictions on Abortion and Reproductive Health

Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has long emphasized what are often referred to as “traditional family values.” This stance has recently extended to heightened restrictions on the LGBTQ community, including laws against gender-affirming surgeries and the prohibition of what is termed as “gay propaganda.” The latest focus of social conservatives in Russia has turned towards reproductive rights, an area where new legislative actions signal a tightening grip.

Abortions, which have been legal and accessible in Russia, are now facing a wave of legislative challenges. These actions seem driven by concerns over declining population numbers and a broader push towards conservative ideals. Notably, two regions in Russia, Mordovia and Tver, have enacted laws penalizing the coercion of women into abortions. Simultaneously, access to abortion-inducing medications is being curtailed, a move that could also impact the availability of certain contraceptives.

In Crimea, now under Russian control, all private healthcare facilities have ceased offering abortion services. This decision aligns with the region’s Ministry of Health’s strategy to address demographic concerns. Across Russia, private clinics are increasingly limiting abortion services, pushing women towards state-run facilities where longer waiting times and pressure to continue pregnancies are reported.

Historically, Russia allowed abortion without conditions up to 12 weeks, extending to 22 weeks under specific social circumstances. However, under Putin’s regime, these conditions have been narrowed significantly, now covering only cases of rape since 2012.

Zalina Marshenkulova, a Russian feminist blogger and activist, highlights the patriarchal nature of the state, emphasizing the minimal attention given to women’s issues and voices. The recent surge in anti-abortion measures is believed to be partially linked to Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine, which has reignited demographic concerns. Russia’s population has been on a decline, a trend exacerbated by the war.

The Kremlin has long prioritized addressing the low fertility rate, but previous strategies, like increased state benefits for mothers, have not yielded the desired results. The Ukraine conflict has brought renewed focus to these demographic challenges.

The abortion topic in Russia has a complex history, being first legalized in 1920 under Soviet rule, then banned in 1936 due to declining birth rates, and re-legalized later. The Soviet era’s lack of contraceptives made abortion a primary method of birth control, leading to high abortion rates.

Today, Russia still records a higher incidence of abortion compared to many countries, despite a significant decline from the Soviet era. Recent measures include reintroducing the Mother Heroine award for women with ten or more children, a policy echoing the Stalinist era but serving more as a value statement than a practical social policy.

Amid these developments, discussions are ongoing to potentially ban abortions in private clinics nationwide. The Russian Orthodox Church is advocating for even more stringent timeframes for legal abortions. Meanwhile, state-funded helplines like Women for Life are actively discouraging abortions.

Russian activists are bracing for a new phase in this ongoing struggle. In anticipation of possible future shortages, groups are stockpiling abortion drugs and creating guides to inform women about their rights. As Marshenkulova puts it, education and the fight against ignorance are crucial in these changing times.

Impact of Magnesium on PCOS Symptoms: Insights from Nutritionist Lovneet Batra

Nutrition expert Lovneet Batra emphasizes the significance of increasing magnesium intake for enhancing the well-being of individuals with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This hormonal disorder, prevalent among women of childbearing age, manifests through a hormonal imbalance that may result in irregular menstrual cycles, ovarian cysts, and fertility challenges. Common symptoms also include excessive hair growth, acne, weight gain, and insulin resistance.

Magnesium, a vital mineral, plays a pivotal role in numerous bodily biochemical processes, such as muscle and nerve functionality, regulation of blood pressure, and protein synthesis. This mineral is abundantly found in foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and certain fish varieties.

Although a direct connection between consuming adequate magnesium and improving PCOS hasn’t been firmly established, the inclusion of magnesium-rich foods in a balanced diet could positively influence overall health and hormonal balance. Notably, Batra outlines several methods by which boosting magnesium intake can benefit women dealing with PCOS.

Additionally, research indicates that magnesium supplements might enhance insulin sensitivity, offering indirect benefits to those experiencing PCOS symptoms, as insulin resistance is often linked with the condition. It’s essential to seek advice from healthcare professionals for tailored guidance on managing PCOS.

Equal Pay Day: Women in the EU still earn 13% less than men

Overview of the Gender Pay Gap in the EU

In the European Union, women persistently earn less than their male counterparts. The average gender pay gap in the EU is currently at 13%. This disparity translates to women earning approximately €0.87 for every €1 earned by a man. Equal Pay Day, observed this year on 15 November, symbolizes the additional days women must work to match the annual earnings of men. This day serves as a reminder of the ongoing efforts needed to bridge this pay gap.

Věra Jourová, Vice-President for Values and Transparency, and Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality, highlighted that the principle of equal pay for the same work or work of equal value is a foundational aspect of the EU, established nearly 70 years ago. Despite this, the goal remains unfulfilled. They noted that the progress in closing the gender pay gap has been slow this year, indicating that gender stereotypes still significantly impact both women and men in various life aspects. They emphasized that no company should have a pay disparity when the skills, effort, responsibilities, and working conditions of female employees are comparable to those of their male colleagues.

The European Commission has taken significant steps towards promoting gender equality in the EU through the Gender Equality Strategy. Key initiatives include new legislation on work-life balance and gender balance in corporate boards, and the Pay Transparency Directive, which empowers workers to enforce their right to equal pay and enhances access to justice for victims of pay discrimination. Additionally, the Commission has initiated a campaign to challenge gender stereotypes, focusing on career choices, caregiving, and decision-making roles.

Gender equality remains a top priority for the Commission, as evidenced by various measures and campaigns aimed at addressing and reducing the gender pay gap. For more detailed information, resources such as the Equal Pay Day statement, factsheets, EU legislation, and studies on the gender pay gap are available for reference.

Investing in Water as a Means to Empower Women

The repercussions of climate change are predominantly experienced through water, be it an excess or scarcity of it. Over half of the global population faces extreme water stress for at least a month annually. A less highlighted issue is the gendered aspect of this water crisis, impacting not only the climate but also gender equality.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by the lack of clean water and proper sanitation facilities. This vulnerability amplifies their risk to climate change impacts. A staggering 200 million hours are spent by women and girls in collecting water daily, time that could otherwise be utilized for education and enhancing economic stability against climate-related challenges.

Our objective is to transform this scenario. By investing in water, we aim to uplift impoverished communities, focusing especially on rectifying gender disparities in areas with limited water access. Empowering women, enabling them to access education, gain independence, and have a say in their communities, is a priority. When women’s voices are heard, their needs are addressed, leading to a positive change in their lives.

Initiatives and Partnerships for Gender-Inclusive Water Access

In collaboration with WaterAid and Coca Cola, we’ve co-funded the ‘Gender Guidance for WASH’ initiative. This program aids businesses and NGOs in ensuring equitable water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) access for women. Annually, we carry out 20 WASH projects across 9 countries, focusing on communities where we operate or source materials. These projects provide clean water, enhancing the communities’ resilience to climate change.

Our partnership with Care International in Kenya is a notable example. We pioneered a strategy to include equal female representation in village WASH committees. This approach, proven successful in Kenya, is now being integrated into all our WASH initiatives. Last year, gender guidelines were implemented in 10 out of our 17 WASH projects.

Moving forward, each WASH project will include a community committee, leveraging local insights for optimal water point locations and maintenance. Our goal is to sensitively enhance these committees, giving women a voice and involving men and boys, while addressing cultural norms for equal water access.

Through these efforts, we aim to foster gender equality in resource access, education, and employment within villages. Investing in water and WASH projects is not just about addressing water scarcity; it’s a step towards establishing gender equality and fortifying communities against climate change.

Why Funding Women’s Organizations is Crucial for Preventing Violence Against Women

Providing Essential Services to Survivors

Organizations dedicated to women’s rights are pivotal in offering services to those who have suffered from gender-based violence, a prevalent human rights violation impacting at least one-third of women globally. These organizations provide crucial support services, including shelters, counseling, legal aid, and hotlines, which are vital for survivors to rebuild their lives. A UN study reveals that only 40% of women seek help after experiencing violence, underscoring the importance of the outreach work done by these organizations. They empower women and girls to stand up for their rights and seek assistance when faced with violence. Through various initiatives like education, training, and community programs, these organizations foster resilience and self-assurance among women, which is essential in breaking the cycle of violence.

Advocating for Policy Change and Reducing Gender-Based Violence

Women’s rights organizations are at the forefront of advocating for policy changes that aim to reduce gender-based violence. They play a critical role, especially during health and humanitarian emergencies, by providing necessary support and services. These organizations are instrumental in driving progress towards a more equitable and violence-free world for women and girls.

The Urgent Need for More Funding

The need for funding these organizations cannot be overstated. Despite their crucial role, many of these organizations, particularly those working directly with survivors, face chronic underfunding. Only 5% of Official Development Assistance dedicated to ending violence against women actually reaches these organizations. In a world where gender equality and violence prevention are urgent issues, it is imperative for governments and institutions to recognize, empower, and invest in the relentless efforts of women’s organizations. These organizations are committed to creating a safer, more equitable, and just society for women and girls, paving the way for a brighter and more promising future for everyone.

Addressing Global Disparities in Cervical Cancer

A Crucial Step in Cervical Cancer Prevention

Cervical cancer, ranking as the fourth most prevalent cancer in women globally, poses a significant health challenge. In 2020 alone, there were approximately 604,000 new cases and 342,000 fatalities. The burden is disproportionately borne by low- and middle-income countries due to disparities in HPV vaccination, cervical screening, and treatment services. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection stands as the primary cause, with women living with HIV facing a sixfold increased risk.

Empowering Through Vaccination and Screening

Prophylactic HPV vaccination and systematic screening for pre-cancerous lesions emerge as effective preventive measures. Raising public awareness and ensuring access to information and services are pivotal components of successful prevention and control strategies. Commencing vaccination at a young age proves highly effective, while screening from age 30 (or 25 for HIV-positive women) aids in early detection and intervention.

Self-Collection for Enhanced Accessibility

Innovations in healthcare, such as self-collection of HPV samples, offer reliable alternatives, particularly for women. A positive HPV test prompts further assessments for precancerous changes. Treatment options, including thermal ablation, cryotherapy, LEETZ, and cone biopsy, provide effective intervention, emphasizing the importance of early detection.

Prompt Action and Global Commitment

Early detection remains paramount for successful treatment. Women experiencing symptoms like abnormal bleeding, unusual discharge, pelvic pain, weight loss, or fatigue should seek immediate medical advice. On a global scale, the commitment to eliminate cervical cancer is evident in the WHO Global strategy, targeting high vaccination rates, widespread screening, and effective treatment for women with cervical disease by 2030. This ambitious plan aims to avert millions of new cases and deaths, signifying a comprehensive global effort against cervical cancer.

The prevention of HPV-associated precancer and cancer aligns with the WHO’s broader Global health sector strategy on HIV, hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, the World Health Assembly resolution encompasses actions addressing oral health and mouth and throat cancers.

Japan’s Economic Growth Enhanced by Increased Female Participation in Science and Technology

On November 13, 2023, a discussion highlighted the potential economic benefits for Japan by removing barriers for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. Japan, known for its aging population and shrinking workforce, has seen notable GDP growth per capita, especially during the period of “Abenomics” under Prime Minister Shinzō Abe. This growth was partly fueled by an increase in female labor-force participation, which rose from 63% in 2012 to 74% in 2022, thanks to improved child-care support and maternity-leave policies.

However, the rise in women’s participation in the labor force is plateauing, prompting the need for new growth strategies. Japan’s low number of foreign workers compared to other G7 countries and the political challenges in significantly increasing this number necessitate a focus on enhancing the productivity of the existing workforce. This is where the role of women in STEM becomes crucial.

Currently, only 7% of female university students in Japan major in STEM, compared to 36% of male students, and this under-representation is due to barriers rather than a lack of talent. Addressing these barriers could lead to a 20% increase in productivity growth in Japan, as more STEM workers contribute to innovation and technological advancement. This would not only boost output and wages but also improve overall welfare.

The gender gap in STEM fields presents both explicit and implicit pay gaps. Explicit gaps are observable in earnings data, while implicit gaps stem from factors like disproportionate family burdens and workplace discrimination. The Japanese government has made strides in addressing the explicit pay gap, but more efforts are needed to tackle the implicit gap.

Policies focusing on work-style reforms and a more merit-based labor market could enhance the returns on STEM education for women. Although fully eliminating these barriers may take years, implementing quotas and policies to correct gender biases in STEM fields could accelerate this process. Over time, as more women succeed in STEM careers, it will encourage others to join, contributing significantly to Japan’s economic prosperity.

Hard to believe, but only half a percent of neuroscience is about women. Here’s our plan to fix that.

Closing the Gender Data Gap in Neuroscience

In the realm of neuroscience, less than 0.5% of studies have focused on women’s health, despite the widespread use of MRI technology. This neglect is particularly concerning given that the majority of individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and depression are women. Various neurological conditions unique to women, such as postpartum depression and menstrual migraines, remain under-explored. The disparity in research is not due to a lack of female participation in studies but rather a lack of focus and funding for women-specific health factors​​.

The scientific community is gradually acknowledging this imbalance, recognizing the need for a significant cultural shift in science to value the health of both genders equally​​.

Ann S. Bowers Women’s Brain Health Initiative

To address this issue, the University of California launched the Ann S. Bowers Women’s Brain Health Initiative. This consortium aims to make neuroscience inclusive and address the gender data gap. It emerged from the realization that the isolated approach in neuroscience research leads to weak data sets and reproducibility issues​​​​.

The initiative, involving several UC campuses, focuses on pooling MRI data and health metrics from a diverse participant base. This consortium model, along with the utilization of big data, is anticipated to bring breakthroughs in understanding women’s brain health. The approach includes gathering extensive MRI data from women across the UC system and using machine learning to link various health factors with this data​​.

Broader Implications and Inclusivity

This project aims to enhance understanding of depression and its hormonal connections, potentially leading to early therapeutic interventions. Before puberty, depression rates are similar among boys and girls, suggesting a hormonal link to depression in later stages of life. The initiative seeks to develop predictive models for depression linked to hormonal changes​​.

Additionally, the initiative includes trans and non-binary individuals, aiming to improve understanding and clinical care for these groups as well. This approach is grounded in the principle that progress in neuroscience will be most effective when it values the health of all genders equally​​​​.