Guest blog by Dr Farah M Shroff PhD, MEd (Primary Health Care)

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Do your Valentine's day plans include supporting the sexual and reproductive health of women here and abroad? Thanks to our Mayor's new Proclamation, we're hoping that from now on, they will.

On February 12, the City of Vancouver is commemorating our first Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Day. In times like these, a day like this could not be more appropriate. On January 22, thousands of women and their friends marched, danced, and activated in Vancouver, about the continued need to work for women’s rights here and around the world. And now, here we are, a few weeks later, commemorating for the first time officially in Vancouver, one vital aspect of women’s human rights—our sexual and reproductive rights.

In Vancouver, most of us are reasonably well informed about our bodies, their functions and our rights to control aspects of our sexuality. Some of us are celebrating Valentine’s Day today, delighting in romantic love and all the juiciness that it has to offer. Sexual pleasure is an important part of a healthy life and many of us are privileged enough to experience it.

On January 22, we took stock of what women have gained in the past decades while realizing how much is at stake. We heard from Musqueam women and men about ongoing racialized sexism and violence and the need for settlers to unlearn patterns that have led to our society’s negligence towards the many missing and murdered Indigenous women here. Heather Deal, Deputy Mayor, sent the crowd off with thoughts about how the City of Vancouver supports women’s rights.

High cost of housing, childcare, food and so forth, make Vancouver a tough place for many women. The feminization of poverty is more obvious when the basic fundamentals that we need to survive are out of reach for large numbers of our population. Sexuality, far from being pleasurable, is mixed with violence for many women here.

These realities are not isolated to our city. They are shared, in varying degrees, with women around the world. It is from a deep passion to realize sexual and reproductive rights for women here and around the world, that our group, Maternal Infant Health Canada (MIH Can), suggested that February 12 become a day for Vancouverites to reflect upon and work towards global sexual and reproductive health rights.

Women’s rights are an indicator for wellbeing and human rights in general. It is encouraging that women have made strides over the decades. Yet gender-based discrimination, lack of access to education, poverty, and violence against women and girls continues in most countries, including our own. In the Vancouver proclamation for Sexual and Reproductive Health, we identify the broader social and economic foundations upon which women’s sexuality and reproduction are based. When women experience more economic and social clout, our sexual and reproductive health rights are strengthened. Working for these rights here and abroad continue to be urgent. Now more than ever, we need to support women both at home and abroad, to improve their quality of life, as well as their sexual and reproductive health rights.

As for supporting women internationally, MIH Can has identified Odisha, India as a region in great need of support and innovation to help improve maternal and infant mortality, equality and sexual and reproductive health rights. Our organization is working with partners in India to improve women and children’s health, applying a comprehensive approach that includes community development and clinical health improvements. Our partners in Odisha have ties in rural areas where we can work together to create “demonstration villages”. Education, nutrition, sanitation and other ‘upstream’ needs will be met as well as training of health care providers, stocking clinics better and including practitioners of traditional medicine, like Ayurveda, as a way of promoting health, preventing illness and reaching rural areas with limited medical access. MIH Can is also working on developing a lifesaving, cost-effective invention: a baby-warming blanket for pre-term or low birth-weight babies at risk of hypothermia. By training women’s groups to manufacture the blankets, this strategy will not only save the lives of babies at risk of hypothermia, but support economic development in low-income areas.

These programs extend so much further than just Odisha communities. Once established, they will be reproduced and modified to fit communities in all corners of the world.

February 12 has now become your day, Vancouver, for working towards sexual and reproductive health improvements. Let’s make our city a role model for how to support both our own women and women around the world.

We can plant our feet here on Coast Salish Land while reaching over the ocean to support better health for all.

MIH Can is seeking philanthropic partners to help provide Odisha’s women and children better health and care. Your donations are welcome.

sexual and reproductive health awareness vancouver