Mar 112010

Due to assorted other obligations I will be blogging sporadically at best until March 22.  In the meantime, breathe, smile, nurture, connect.

 March 11, 2010  Posted by on March 11, 2010 Comments Off on Blog Hiatus
Mar 112010

When it comes to deciding on treatment options with breast cancer (or any other disease) it can get hugely confusing to understand the various statistics in favor of one treatment or another. Steve Kass, an old high-school buddy who now happens to be a professor of mathematics has some thoughtful observations about looking at survival rates and death rates when it comes to breast cancer:

The five-year death rate after mastectomy was 11.5% for women who had both breasts removed. It was 16.3% for those who only had the cancerous breast removed. Adding a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy to the original surgery therefore reduced the five-year death rate from 16.3% to 11.5%. Almost a third fewer mastectomy patients died within 5 years when they had chosen to remove the second (healthy) breast, compared to mastectomy patients who had not chosen to remove the second breast. The bilateral mastectomy decreased the 5-year death rate by 29.4%.

This strikes me as a significant benefit. Suppose I have breast cancer and need a mastectomy. I can choose a single mastectomy and have a one-in-6 chance of dying in five years, or I can choose a double mastectomy and have a one-in-9 chance of dying in five years. One-in-9 sounds quite a bit better to me. If 100,000 women with unilateral cancer need mastectomies, performing 100,000 double mastectomies instead of 100,000 unilateral mastectomies will reduce the number of deaths in the first five years from 16,300 to 11,500. About 4,800 fewer women will die within five years.

The reporting of this study takes a very different viewpoint. It compares the survival rate, not the death rate, and notes that the bilateral prophylactic mastectomy increases the survival rate from 83.7% to 88.5%, “a difference of less than 5%.” Five percent sounds like a small number, but 5,000 lives saved sounds like a large number.

Both statements (lowers by 30%; benefits only 5%) are the same. Only the intent to communicate is different.

The full post is well worth the read.  Being a strong believer in having as much information as possible when facing difficult decisions, thought this was worth passing along.  Also of note, this New York Times blog piece regarding women choosing bilateral mastectomies even when it does not improve their chances for survival.

 March 11, 2010  Posted by on March 11, 2010 Comments Off on Breast Cancer Statistics–Understanding The Difference Between Death Rates and Survival Rates
Mar 102010

While we continue to pour billions down the drain fighting ‘terrorism’ and the ‘enemy’, we continue to harm the women of Afghanistan by fomenting a continuing state of militarism with only lip service and a pittance of funding given to help them to fight the very real terrorism of violence against women. Via RAWA:

As the world marks International Women’s Day, ambivalence, impunity, weak law enforcement and corruption continue to undermine women’s rights in Afghanistan, despite a July 2009 law banning violence against women, rights activists say.

(WARNING–VERY Disturbing film)

A recent case of the public beating of a woman for alleged elopement – also shown on private TV stations in Kabul – highlights the issue.

In January domestic violence forced two young women to flee their homes in Oshaan village, Dolaina District, Ghor Province, southwestern Afghanistan. A week later they were arrested in neighbouring Herat Province and sent back to Oshaan, according to the governor of Ghor, Mohammad Iqbal Munib.

“One woman was beaten in public for the elopement and the second was reportedly confined in a sack with a cat,” Munib told IRIN.

According to the governor, the illegal capture of the women was orchestrated by Fazul Ahad who leads an illegal armed militia group in Dolaina District. Locals say Ahad, a powerful figure who backed President Hamid Karzai in the August 2009 elections, has been running Oshaan as his personal fiefdom.

“When the roads reopen to Dolaina [closed by snow] we will send a team to investigate,” said the governor, adding that he was concerned that arresting Ahad could cause instability. “We have asked the authorities in Kabul for support and guidance.”

IRIN was unable to contact Fazul Ahad and verify the charges.

Self-immolation in Afghanistan

Domestic violence, forced marriage and lack of access to justice force some Afghan women to commit self-immolation and suicide.

“I poured fuel over my body and set myself ablaze because I was regularly beaten up and insulted by my husband and in-laws,” Zarmina, 28, told IRIN. She, along with over a dozen other women with self-inflicted burns, is in Herat’s burns hospital.

Over 90 self-immolation cases have been registered at the hospital in the past 11 months; 55 women had died, doctors said.

“People call it the `hospital of cries’ as patients here cry out loudly in pain,” Arif Jalali, head of the hospital, told IRIN.

Beneath the cries lie cases of domestic violence and/or disappointment with the justice system.

“Self-immolation proves that the justice system for female victims is failing,” said Movidul-Haq Mowidi, a human rights activist in Herat.

Barriers to justice

Despite laws prohibiting gender violence and upholding women’s rights, widespread gender discrimination, fear of abuse, corruption and other challenges are undermining the judicial system, experts say.

“Women are denied their most fundamental human rights and risk further violence in the course of seeking justice for crimes perpetrated against them,” stated a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on the situation of Afghan women in July 2009.

Orzala Ashraf, a women’s rights activist in Kabul, blames the government: “Laws are clear about crimes but we see big criminals thriving and being nurtured by the state for illicit political gains,” she told IRIN, pointing to the government’s alleged failure to address human rights violations committed over the past three decades of conflict.

“Because no one is put on trial for his crimes, a criminal culture is being promoted: violators have no fear of the law, prosecution and a meaningful penalty,” said Ashraf.

Deep-seated ambivalence to women’s rights is evident from a law signed off by President Hamid Karzai in early 2009: The Shia Personal Status Law, dubbed a ‘rape legalizing law’, was amended after strong domestic and international pressure.

“The first version [of the law] was totally intolerable,” said Najia Zewari, a women’s rights expert with the UN Fund for Women (UNIFEM). “Despite positive changes in the final version, there are articles that still need to be discussed and reviewed further,” she said.

Another example of this ambivalence is the case of the men who threw acid in the faces of 15 female students in Kandahar city in November 2008: Karzai publicly vowed they would be “severely punished” but court officials in Kandahar and Kabul have said they are unaware of the case and do not know where the alleged perpetrators are.

“Judges say the men were wrongly accused and forced to confess,” Ranna Tarina, head of Kandahar women’s affairs department, told IRIN.

Violence database

Over the past two years more than 1,900 cases of violence against women in 26 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces – from verbal abuse to physical violence – have been recorded in a database run by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and UNIFEM.

One recorded case is the murder, by her in-laws in Parwan Province north of Kabul, of a young woman who had refused to live with her abusive husband. Another is the regular physical and mental torture meted out to a woman by her husband and mother in-law in Kabul.

“The database does not give a perfect picture but it helps to highlight some of the common miseries of Afghan women,” UNIFEM’s Najia Zewari told IRIN.

UNIFEM is keen to make the database publicly available on the internet.

“Violence against women is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan but it is good to see crimes do not remain confined to a home and a village,” said activist Orzala Ashraf.

 March 10, 2010  Posted by on March 10, 2010 Comments Off on Liberation NOT–Misogynist Violence Run Amok In Afghanistan
Mar 092010

Women’s Space has a wonderful collection of videos honoring women (we shamelessly borrowed this one, but go to Women’s Space to see the others):

FPN member Jane Roberts, co-founder of the 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund, weighs on on gender equality and maternal health.

IWD reflections from FPN Director Lucinda Marshall on her blog, Reclaiming Medusa.

CNN weighs in here.

Protesting in Uganda

Ugandan women are protesting, not celebrating because as they elegantly point out, equality remains elusive.

My commentary gets picked up in Costa Rica.

RAWA‘s statement.

Thoughts about IWD in Nepal.

Antonia Zerbisias in the Toronto Star.

The Greenbelt Movement celebrates IWD.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbiner of Moms Rising shares her thoughts on why the U.S. needs IWD.

Gender Across Borders has links to all the blogs that participated in the IWD blogathon.

 March 9, 2010  Posted by on March 9, 2010 Comments Off on Continuing Reflections On International Women’s Day
Mar 082010

International Women’s Day is in part a day of celebration and also one to give us pause, here are a few worthy shares from my inbox on this important day:

 March 8, 2010  Posted by on March 8, 2010 Comments Off on So Much IWD Goodness, So Little Time