Women’s Global Health and the Medsin Talk Series

Women are going to change the world. They are single most important agent of change that can and do bring societies out of poverty. If women are given resources and education, they will add billions to the global economy. In Uganda for example, $10billion is lost in potential earnings to girls leaving school early. That is why their health is so important.

Starting on April 8th, Medsin St Andrews will be running a series of four events that will explore different areas of women’s health on a global scale.

The first of these was ‘The theft of innocence: an insight into global sex trade’.  The global sex trade is one of the fastest growing illicit industries in the world. It is extremely lucrative and relatively safe for the traffickers. An often misunderstood issue, sexual exploitation isn’t just an illegal operation, it’s modern day slavery.

Shaheen was a four-year-old girl who was found on a railway track in India. She was discovered with her intestines outside her body, and indications that hundreds of men had violated her. Nobody knows how she ended up there, who her parents were or where she was from.

Shaheen’s story is not uncommon. Thousands of children, both male and female, are victims of sex trafficking. The numbers are hard to measure, but it is estimated that three million people are enslaved in the sex trade today. And it’s not just an issue of developing nations; in 2003, there were 4,000 victims of trafficking for prostitution in the UK. Many girls are forced, deceived or intimidated into the sex trade. One reportedly common technique to ensnare girls is the “loverboy phenomenon”; a man acts as a boyfriend to a girl, gains her trust and then betrays her, bringing her to the trafficker where she is taken from her family and forced into the trade.

The life of a sex slave is plagued with violence and trauma. In a recent survey, 71% of victims were physically assaulted, 63% were raped, and 68% suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nearly all of victims wished they could leave, and many have attempted suicide. Medical complications and resulting psychological disorders are numerous. Stockholm syndrome is also reported, where victims acually express empathy for their traffickers because they mistake a lack of abuse as a sign of kindness. No one should have to live like this.

The future of this issue may appear quite bleak, but fortunately there is hope. While there are more victims of human trafficking in prison than traffickers, Police Scotland has recently made some changes, creating a team of officers dedicated to identifying victims of trafficking rather than criminalizing them. Governments are working on new laws to crack down on trafficking. Education and knowledge of this issue has also been increasing, with well-known campaigns like “Stop the Traffik” to raise awareness of this terrible plight. There are also an increasing number of groups in the UK which offer support and shelter for trafficking victims who have managed to escape, and going into prisons to identify potential victims of sex trafficking who may need their help.

Other events in this education series include: 

Pregnancy: Start or End of a Life?’ Complication in pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death in 15-19 year old girls worldwide. This unique event will be split up into stations where you will be free to explore different aspects of women’s health.

‘Female genital mutilation and the way forward.’ Every minute, 8 girls undergo genital mutilation, or female circumcision. Inspired by his mother and his Somali roots, where 98% of girls are mutilated, Yasin Somalinova (3rd year medic) will be speaking on what he has done to stop this often neglected issue.

‘Abortion, rape and forced sterilization: should women have to put up with it?’ In this informal discussion, we will be addressing the ethical issues behind abortion, sterilization, abuse, genetic testing, and “test tube” babies. We will provide information from different angles and explore their applications and effects in different cultures.

These talks will take place Monday at 5-6pm in Seminar Room 1 of the Medical School.

Original art installation by Emma Thompson and Anish Kapoor. Photography courtesy of Angelina Dimitrova. Compiled by Kerri P.