GW event: Prenatal sex selection — global patterns and a focus on South East Asia

The  Global Gender Program will host “Prenatal sex selection: global patterns and a focus on South East Asia”.

In this seminar Christophe Z Guilmoto, demographer and director of research at the Center for Population and Development (CEPED), Institute of Research for Development (IRD), Paris, will discuss current global patterns and trends relating to pre-natal sex selection, as well as the relationship between the practice and kinship structures in Vietnam and Indonesia.

When: October 9, 2013, 2:00-3:30pm

Where: Lindner Family Commons
1957 E Street NW
The Elliott School of International Affairs
Washington, DC 20052

To RSVP for this event: go.gwu.edu/sexselection

Upcoming panel to explore situation in Haiti one year after the quake

This event next week might be of interest to readers in DC:

Haiti, One Year On: Realizing Country Ownership in a Fragile State

Tuesday, January 11, 2011
3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
B-340 Rayburn House Office Building, 45 Independence Ave SW Washington, DC

Speakers will include:

  • Angela Bruce Raeburn, Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response, Oxfam America, Moderator
  • Robert Maguire, Chair, Haiti Working Group, U.S. Institute of Peace, Associate Professor of International Affairs, Trinity Washington University, Discussant
  • Thomas C. Adams, Special Coordinator to Haiti, U.S. State Department, Discussant
  • Russell Porter, Director, USAID Haiti Task Force, Discussant
  • Raymond C. Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America, Discussant

The distinguished panelists will discuss the reality of the situation in Haiti, examine lessons learned from the past year, and explore how to improve country ownership as we move forward towards a stable and productive Haiti.  The discussion will focus on how U.S. foreign aid to Haiti is being delivered while seeking ways of strengthening the efficacy of future U.S. assistance.

The roundtable will include ample time for questions from the audience and will be followed by a reception.

To RSVP for the briefing, or for more information, please contact Gilda Charles or Maria Mahler-Haug.

Ideological dogmatism and United States policy toward Haiti

Guest post by Alex Dupuy

Testifying before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 10, 2010, former US President Bill Clinton, who is now serving as Special Envoy to Haiti for the United Nations, said that the trade liberalization (aka neoliberal) policies he pushed in the 1990s and that compelled Haiti to remove tariffs on imported rice from the US “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake…  I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did.”

Unloading Rice delivered from the United States Credit: US Marine Corps, Creative Commons License on Flickr
Delivery of US rice to Haiti in February 2010
Credit: US Marine Corps, Creative Commons License on Flickr

Two weeks later, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive appeared in front of the Haitian Senate to present the government’s post-earthquake recovery plan known as the Action Plan for the Reconstruction and National Development of Haiti.  The Action Plan, originally conceived by the US State Department and co-chaired by former President Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, called for the creation of an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) charged with deciding on and implementing the programs and projects for the reconstruction of Haiti for 18 months after the Haitian Parliament ratifies it.

When questioned by members of the Haitian Senate that Haiti in effect surrendered its sovereignty to the IHRC, PM Bellerive responded candidly that “I hope you sense the dependency in this document. If you don’t sense it, you should tear it up. I am optimistic that in 18 months… we will be autonomous in our decisions. But right now I have to assume… that we are not.”

These admissions by high-ranking public officials representing the two sides of the international community-Haiti partnership express succinctly the dilemma that Haiti faces in rebuilding its shattered economy in the wake of the massive destruction caused by the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

As accurate as PM Bellerive’s statement about Haiti’s dependence on and subordination to the international community is, that did not originate with the creation of the IHRC, and it is not as temporary as Bellerive suggests. Rather than recounting the long history of foreign involvement and dominance in Haiti, we can consider the 1970s as having marked a major turning point in understanding the factors that created the conditions that existed on the eve of the earthquake and contributed to its devastating impact.

Continue reading “Ideological dogmatism and United States policy toward Haiti”

Hallucinogenic healing

Brewing ayahuasca, Credit: Ayahuasca Pix, Creative Commons Licensed on Flickr
Brewing ayahuasca,
Credit: Ayahuasca Pix, Creative Commons Licensed on Flickr

Ayahuasca, a beverage brewed from the roots of an Amazonian plant and consumed under the guidance of a shaman, reportedly provides mind-opening experiences and relief from symptoms of stress, depression and other afflictions. Ayahuasca has long been used in healing rituals in the Amazon region of Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Brazil.

Recently the Guardian carried an article about the use of ayahuasca by members of several Indie groups such as the Klaxons. Then the Washington Post described a healing tour company that connects Westerners to ayahuasca sessions.

To learn more: Marlene Dobkin de Rios is the main cultural anthro expert on ayahuasca. In the 1970s, she published several scholarly articles and an ethnography about its ritual healing use, Visionary Vine: Hallucinogenic Healing in the Peruvian Amazon. More recently, with Roger Rumrill, she published A Hallucinogenic Tea, Laced with Controversy: Ayahuasca in the Amazon and the United States which provides important updates.

Here are other anthropological sources on ayahuasca, healing, and ritual (with apologies, as they are not open access):

Arévalo Valera, Guillermo. 1986. Ayahuasca y El Curandero Shipibo-Conibo Del Ucayali (Perú). América Indígena 46(1):p.147-161.

Baer, G., and W. W. Snell. 1974. An Ayahuasca Ceremony among the Matsigenka (Eastern Peru). Zeitschrift Fur Ethnologie V 99(1/2):63-80.

Balzer, Carsten. 2005. Ayahuasca Rituals in Germany: The First Steps of the Brazilian Santo Daime Religion in Europe. Curare 28(1):53-66, 119.

Benjamin, Craig. 2000. Trademark on Traditional Knowledge: Slim Ayahuasca Win. Native Americas 17(1):30-33.

Callaway, J. C. 1995. Pharmahuasca and Contemporary Ethnopharmacology. Curare 18(2):395-398.

Desmarchelier, C., A. Gurni, G. Ciccia, and A. M. Giuletti. 1996. Ritual and Medicinal Plants of the Ese’Ejas of the Amazonian Rainforest (Madre De Dios, Perú). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 52(1):45-51.

Dobkin de Rios, Marlene. A Note on the use of Ayahuasca among Urban Mestizo Populations in the Peruvian Amazon. American Anthropologist 72(6):1419-1422.
Continue reading “Hallucinogenic healing”

Cooking up a storm

Woman cooking on a clay stove in Nepal. Credit: Ah Zut, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr
Woman cooking on a clay stove in Nepal. Credit: Ah Zut, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced this past week the launch of a new international alliance to supply improved cooking stoves to 100 million poor households by 2020. An article in the Economist describes how many programs to promote cleaner stoves throughout the world have failed: “Too much emphasis has gone on technology and talking to people at the top, too little to consulting the women who actually do the cooking.”

That statement, all told, is probably true. Nonetheless, a quick search in Google Scholar and my university library’s electronic databases reveals many relevant studies including some by cultural/social anthropologists. They address and document both the health risks especially for women and children of traditional cookstoves and perceptions of improved cookstoves.

The most fine-grained anthropology study that I have found is Patrice Engle and co-authors with some Maya people of Guatemala. She and her co-authors used observation and recall methods to learn about time spent over cooking fires. The results indicate that young mothers and young children (who are with the mother while she is cooking) spend the most time in the kitchen and are most at risk for smoke-related health problems. Women with co-resident husbands spend more time in the kitchen than women without husbands or whose husbands are away.

In terms of how to provide improved cookstoves, the best publication I know is by Rob Bailis and co-authors. They assess subsidized versus market-based stove dissemination and compare several contexts in which clean cooking technologies were promoted.

Cultural anthropologists and others who take a grounded approach to learning about important issues: get cooking on cooking! This topic connects to social and gender disparities, environmental pollution and sustainability, and the future of all of us.

Related Reading:
Dherani, Mukesh et al. Indoor Air Pollution from Unprocessed Solid Fuel Use and Pneumonia Risk in Children Aged under Five Years: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 86(5):390-398, 2008.

Masera, Omar et al. Impact of Patsari Improved Cookstoves on Indoor Air Quality in Michiacán, Mexico. Energy for Sustainable Development 11(2):45-56, 2007.

Simon, Gregory. Mobilizing Cookstoves for Development: A Dual Adoption Framework Analysis of Collaborative Technology Innovations in Western India. Environment and Planning A42(8):2011-2030, 2010.

Troncoso, Karin et al. Social Perceptions about a Technological Innovation for Fuelwood Cooking: A Case Study in Rural Mexico. Energy Policy 35(5):2799-2810, 2007.

No Woman No Cry: Maternal mortality in the spotlight

From left: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nita Lowey, Suraya Dalil, Purnima Mane. Credit: World Bank Photo Collection, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr
From left: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nita Lowey, Suraya Dalil, Purnima Mane. Credit: World Bank Photo Collection, Creative Commons licensed on Flickr

Guest post by Erica Buckingham

The country is Tanzania. The scene is a woman, Janet, experiencing intense pregnancy pains. The hope is that the regional clinic will deliver Janet’s third baby. The reality is that hers is a “high-risk” pregnancy, and the clinic does not have the proper equipment. The tragedy is that Janet does not have enough money to rent a van (estimated at the equivalent of $30) to drive for one hour to Mt. Meru, the closest hospital.

This situation is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Motivated by her own complications during labor, Christy Turlington-Burns filmed the documentary, No Woman No Cry which powerfully exposes the hardships faced by at-risk pregnant women in Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala, and the United States. Known for her career as a model and as a maternal health advocate, Burns now brings attention to the shocking statistics and stories surrounding maternal health and mortality.

Fortunately for Janet, Burns’ crew was able to provide the necessary funds for transportation to Mt. Meru. Arriving at the hospital exhausted and dehydrated, the staff worked to induce her, and, three days later, Janet gave birth to a healthy baby boy. While her story ends on an uplifting note, most women in the same predicament are less fortunate.

On September 16, a brief preview of the film screened at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC, and was followed by a panel discussion. The panelists included Suraya Dalil, Afghan Minister of Health, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Bank Managing Director, Purnima Mane, United Nations Population Fund Executive Director and Rep. Nita Lowey, Chair, Foreign Operations Subcommittee, U.S. House of Representatives.

Inspired by Burns’ work and the important issues the documentary addresses, the four panelists engaged in a lively discussion about the current status of maternal mortality, the improvements made in the last decade as well as the hope for continued progress in the future. The main message from these four prominent women leaders was the need for greater financial investment in maternal and child health.

Continue reading “No Woman No Cry: Maternal mortality in the spotlight”

A very expensive health question

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $8.4 million over four years to Boston University’s Center for Global Health and Development to study whether using an antiseptic wash to clean a newborn’s umbilical cord stump, compared to just letting it dry, improves newborn survival rates in Zambia. The Gates Foundation website doesn’t provide many details, nor could I locate details on the BU website.

Yes, it’s true that the first few days of life are very risky for newborns especially in low-income contexts. And yes, it’s true that something seemingly so manageable as care of the umbilical stump can lead to a baby’s death through infection. And yes, there is more to it than using an antiseptic or opting for a dry approach, as a recent study conducted in Bangladesh shows.

So the question is important and more complicated than it appears to be. But $8.4 million dollars?

The nightmare lives on: Indian wars in our time

By Barbara Miller

An article in the Economist (“A national shame,” August 27, 2009) points the finger of blame at the Guatemalan government for the current high rates of childhood malnutrition in Guatemala, especially among the indigenous Maya people (August 29, p. 33). With almost half of its children malnourished, Guatemala is the sixth worst-performing country in the world on this measure.

Guatemala is not the poorest country in Latin America by any means. Other low-income Latin American countries such as Bolivia have reduced child malnutrition. So, the article says, government failure is to blame. The government is to blame for Maya victimization during the decades-long civil war and, now, for failure to put in place a progressive tax structure that would help improve life for impoverished Maya by providing schools and health care. The many very rich people in Guatemala City don’t seem to be listening.

But shouldn’t the finger of blame also point northward to the United States? The genocide and sustained trauma suffered by the Maya during the civil war have to do with hemispheric imperialism as well as state government failure (for more detail, see Jennifer Schirmer’s profile of human rights violations during the country’s civil war, The Guatemalan Military Project). The United States owes a huge debt to the indigenous peoples who suffered so much and who continue to be economically insecure in their own homeland. What does the Obama administration have in mind for Guatemala?

The Economist article says that the high rate of child malnutrition in Guatemala is a matter of national shame. That’s only partly right. We in the United States should be hanging our heads in shame and thinking of how to make things better for the people that our imperialism harmed so deeply.

Photo, “Guatemala siblings”, via Flickr, Creative Commons.