Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thanks a lot, Congress

This past Friday, millions of Ugandans placed their votes for the 2011 presidential elections (I'm pretty sure it was only a small percentage of the 14 million that actually registered though.. Not that I can blame the non-voters, it was pretty obvious who would win), and it looks as if Museveni is in for another term. Despite some violent clashes mostly in the east, despite the allegations that Museveni's party (National Resistance Movement, NRM) has been bribing voters and despite the cries of corruption throughout the campaigning period, it seems to have been a relatively uneventful election period. So, even in a country that's battling poverty, a high maternal mortality rate and a rapidly growing population (one of the highest birth rates in the world!), things appear to be moving forward. Can I say the same about my country right now? Sadly, no.

In fact, it looks like we're moving backwards at an astonishingly fast rate. Without even delving into the terrifying influence of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party-ers, or the support for cutting foreign aid and lots of civil service jobs (two of the smallest sections of our budgets! You really don't want policemen and fire fighters in your town? Seriously? You don't care about the 911 dispatcher service or the people who plow your streets? You don't see the value in having an international presence that isn't limited to the military?), let's consider the most recent indication that we're country full of morons.

The house voted last week to bar all funding for Planned Parenthood. As one of my best friends put it, "this is a truly disgusting attack on women's health." This affects every woman in the country, and even a lot of men. It disproportionately affects poor women and women of color, and it leaves so many young women without access to the reproductive health services and education that they need (I emphasize young women because of their increased risk for STD's and the greater possibility of unwanted/unintended pregnancies).

As the old saying goes, you don't know what you've got till it's gone, and to all the republicans and few democrats who voted for this bill, that applies to you too! Or maybe you wouldn't care if Planned Parenthood was gone because your moms, wives, sisters and daughters can afford to get their health services elsewhere. But good luck to you when your teenage daughter decides to become sexually active and doesn't know where to go for contraceptives. Good luck to you when your voters can't afford the expensive private clinics, or can't afford insurance (Planned Parenthood has a sliding fee scale that also applies to people without insurance). Good luck when young people no longer know where to go to check their STD and HIV status, and so they just don't. Good luck dealing with an increased number of dangerous abortions by unlicensed/untrained practitioners.

Planned Parenthood provides one of the best ways for women, of all ages and backgrounds, to take control of their health and therefore, their future. Defunding Planned Parenthood would move us back decades in terms of women's rights, and I can't help but believe that the people who voted to pass this bill absolutely know that. I only hope the Senate has women's interests a little closer to heart.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Oh Uganda

I've always felt like the best time to sleep would've been in class. Specifically chemistry. In fact, it's really the worst time to sleep, but it's the time I used to always feel the sleepiest. I would spend most of the class thinking that the first thing I would do when I got home was lie in bed and pass out for hours. Ironically, the moment class ended, I would wake up, probably feeling more energized than I had all day. The same is true for writing. The moment I have a moment to write, I suddenly have nothing to say. But in the spirit of blogging, I'm going to write anyway (because the majority of personal blogs say nothing at all... Except for my friend Andy's of course, it's a wealth of knowledge).

In any case, I'm back in Uganda after my retreat to the snowy North (I miss you already Vermont... just ask my friends here in Uganda, I won't shut up about it). But, I'm really happy to be back here. So far, I like 2011. But maybe it's too early to say, or maybe it's irrelevant, because I like every year. But let me tell you why it's great:

1) I went to Erin and Heidi's wedding and it was possibly the most fun thing ever.

2) My friends Eric and Rebecca got engaged. Meaning... engagement party with all my friends, and another wedding in the future. Hooray! Oh and a lifetime of happiness for them :).

3) My room is really clean! By my standards. But don't ask me what my standards are and don't come over to my room.

4) I have a lot of friends and they all make me laugh, mostly with them. Sometimes at them.

5) I ran a training session today, with Jordyn and Solomon, for our Alumni Leadership team (10 students elected by their peers to lead the Alumni Program, which currently consists of 350 students). It was a lot of fun and we managed to pack in a ton of information (mostly about project planning and community mobilization). It's sort of weird only being about 2 or 3 years older than most of the students (and younger than some), but luckily I recently rediscovered my ability to be mature, responsible and confident, so I could effectively lead the sections I needed to.

It was also really inspiring to interact with recent high school graduates that are so enthusiastic, motivated and excited to be a part of the Educate! Alumni Program. They came from all over the country (the representative from the north traveled 7 hours to be here!), and from really different backgrounds, but were all excited to interact with each other and share ideas. I guess long story short, it was a nice change of pace from office work and a reminder of why I'm really working for Educate!. It's also the number 1 reason that I'm excited about this year. I think new years resolutions are stupid, but I made one anyway and it was to learn as much as I possibly could from my job after feeling alternately incompetent and frustrated for the first six months (that was intentionally melodramatic to emphasize my point).

And finally, 6) (although the list would've looked much better had it been kept to 5... seems like a better interval) I spent most of the day yesterday watching "Friends." Joy.

Oh wait, one more thing... Tomorrow is February and that's one of my favorite months.

The end!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Preaching to the Choir

So I finally made it back to the good ol' state of VT. Taking a vacation from the sunny, warm weather of Uganda to tough it out in the wintery goodness of New England. It was actually disappointingly warm when I first arrived (oh, my whole trip here was kind of a debacle, but maybe that's a story for another time), but it has cooled down a bit since.

In any event, after a ridiculous trip home, I was bombarded by my entire wonderful family (all 4 siblings, 2 siblings-in-law, 3 nieces, 3 nephews, 2 dogs, and 2 very accommodating parents), and quickly ventured off to Brooklyn to spend the weekend with some of my best best friends (yup, double best). Hilarious times ensued and before I knew it I was back in Vermont, meeting my new future brother-in-law (super awesome, I totally approve), and being obnoxious with my sis before the two of them headed back west this morning.

So, I've had a day to do nothing but relax (went for a walk in the woods, kind of slippery! and ran errands with my dad... ffuunn), and I've finally settled in for some quality TV time. It's a lot more boring and commercial-filled than I cared to remember and not nearly as engaging, but thank God for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Laughing at Republicans never gets old, although it does get worrisome (disclaimer: for my Republican friends, don't worry, I'm not talking about you, just the crazy ones who don't believe in equal rights).

So I was watching this clip of The Daily Show and what started out as laughing turned into the rant below. Enjoy.

I won't even go into the ridiculousness of their homophobia (that is also for a whole other entry), but I would like to take a minute to consider the disservice they're proposing to women across the country-- to essentially eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood. Abortion issues aside (I'm pro-choice), there are so many other critical services that Planned Parenthood offers, and I think the most important thing about Planned Parenthood is its accessibility. Women from any financial bracket can access basic services at an affordable price. And it's really not just about birth control and abortion; they're preventing, testing for, and treating STDs, screening for cancer, and treating general women's health issues among many other things.

In a country where health insurance is not affordable for many people, especially young people, who are probably most susceptible to STDs, HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancies, this is one way for women to continue accessing vital health (especially reproductive health) services.

After reading "Half the Sky" (a little dramatic, but really interesting), which dedicates at least a third of the book to the dangers of ignoring reproductive health issues in developing nations, and after reading articles about the world's population growing at an exponential rate (reaching 7 billion this year, yikes!), all this pro-life chatter that has spiraled into anti-birth control, anti-sex education (and basically anti-women's well-being) seems to boil down to two key social issues: sexism and classism.

The sexism is obvious. Because of cultural values of how American women are supposed to behave (chaste and shy), there's an assumption on the part of many pro-lifers that any reproductive health misfortune (pregnancy, STDs, cervical cancer as a result of HPV, you name it) can easily be attributed to your moral deficiencies. Everyone is also aware of the contrasting image and expectation that American women are gratuitously promiscuous; a flame that is fanned eagerly by the media. Of course, both depictions are insulting, one-sided and unrepresentative of your typical American woman (is typical a fair word to use? probably not). In reality, I think most young women are navigating between these two images and could really benefit from a genuine, honest and open discussion of sexuality and reproductive health that goes beyond abstinence and delves into the real health issues they may or may not face.

That leads me to my second concern: classism. With more money inevitably comes better health care and in most cases, higher education. Both of these things would significantly increase the chance that a young woman would learn about, prevent or conversely seek medical guidance for something like an STD or pregnancy, because of greater access and awareness. Currently, Planned Parenthood serves all populations of women, at every income level, thus doing something to close that gap in access to reproduction health education and services. And let me quickly tie in the population concern: with more unwanted pregnancies and less resources, it's clear that the wealth gap will continue to grow at an equally alarming rate.

So who are the pro-life folks really punishing with their all their moral mightiness? Low income women. Guess they don't care about that vote. (But that being said, it's really an issue that affects everyone in the world).

In any case, it's about time for me to step off my little soapbox and go back to being a brainwashed TV watcher. This isn't quite the "typical day in the life of Libby" post that my dad requested, but at least it's a post at all! Two posts in four months isn't a great record, have to go with whatever I have. Till next time!