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Ireland faces new challenges to sexual health as ethnic diversity is on the rise

By November 12, 2008News

– Release date: 12 November 2008

Health service providers, educators and policy makers need to become more aware and sensitive of the sexual and reproductive issues facing women and girls from Ireland’s new communities, according to Maeve O’Sullivan, Chairperson of the Irish Family Planning Association.

Ms O’Sullivan was addressing the launch of the United Nations Population Fund’s 2008 State of the World Population Report entitled ‘Common Ground: Culture, Gender and Human Rights’. The report focuses on how culture impacts on population trends and how culturally sensitive approaches are essential in promoting sexual and reproductive health. The report also looks at the impact of migration on attitudes to human rights and gender equality.

According to the Ms O’Sullivan, “The growth in diversity of Ireland’s population has given rise to a whole range of challenges in the area of sexual and reproductive health services, education and policy.

“Women arriving at IFPA clinics from different countries present new questions. Some women come from countries where access to contraception is more widely available than it is in Ireland. For example, women from Central and Eastern Europe can access the morning pill over the counter.

“Meanwhile, women attending our services from Africa have limited knowledge of contraception options. Issues such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage are also on our radar because of our increasingly diverse client base.

“While migration has resulted in these new issues, it is critical that we acknowledge them and respond effectively to the needs of our new populations. Of greatest concern to IFPA is the health risks posed to women – particularly from African countries – to female genital mutilation.

“It is estimated that 2,585 women and girls in Ireland have been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation. Because of the sensitivities around this issue, it would be easiest to ignore the possibility of the practice taking place in Ireland. However, the health implications posed by FGM to women and girls are too grave to turn a blind eye to the practice. Ireland needs to recognise the risks posed by FGM and, to this end, it is very heartening that Irish Aid is pleased to work with Irish NGOs on the delivery of a national action plan to deal with this issue.”

According to the State of the World Population Report, if more culturally sensitive approaches are adopted in development work, practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation can be ended. These approaches can remove impediments to age-appropriate information and services for sexual and reproductive health, and help to end violence and discrimination.

The report illustrates how deep-rooted cultural beliefs sustain gender inequalities, and how gender-based violence is perpetuated through social and cultural norms which some women may themselves reinforce and perpetuate.

In his address at the launch, UNFPA’s Director of Human Resources, Sean Hand, said that cultural traditions and beliefs are often stronger than laws. “UNFPA has seen this in our work to end female genital mutilation or cutting and child marriage. In many countries, these practices are illegal – they are against the law – and yet, they persist. They persist because they are deeply rooted within the culture.

“UNFPA believes that if we want to make greater progress, we have to engage at a deeper level to facilitate change in the lives of individuals, families and communities. We call it being culturally sensitive. Human rights is everybody’s work and being culturally sensitive and understanding the context is everybody’s business.

“Cultural sensitivity and engagement do not mean acceptance of harmful traditional practices, or a free pass for human rights abuses—far from it. Understanding cultural realities can reveal the most effective ways to challenge harmful practices and promote human rights.

“One of the main messages of this report is that change cannot be imposed from the outside; to be lasting, change must come from within.

“There are positive and negative currents in every culture. There are people within every culture who oppose harmful cultural practices and violations of human rights. As development workers, we have to partner with forces of positive cultural change to protect human rights and human well-being. Our experience shows that we can work closely with these positive forces for cultural change to protect human rights,” added Mr Hand.

The report is being launched at 12pm today (12th Wednesday) at the Royal College of Physicians, Dublin.

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NOTES
Ireland’s National Plan of Action to Address FGM
On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November 2008), 15 European countries will be launching 15 Action Plans to address FGM in their respective countries. As part of the pan-European initiative, Ireland’s National Steering Committee to Address FGM is launching Ireland’s National Plan of Action to Address FGM. The event will take place in the Irish Aid Centre, 27- 31 O’Connell Street, Dublin 1, on 25th November 2008.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. The UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure sexual and reproductive rights are promoted and upheld. Further information is available at www.unfpa.org. The Irish Family Planning Association collaborates with the UNFPA to launch the State of the World Population report in Ireland each year.