This week I have been hard at work for the ARROW-FIGO (International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics) parallel forum. If nothing more comes out of this internship, I can at least say that I have finally memorized the correct spelling of "parallel"-- a spelling blindspot since childhood!
Of course things of much greater importance were learned and discussed in this four-evening forum on sexual and reproductive rights and health in Malaysia. All of the evenings had presentations from both local activists and professionals and visiting FIGO experts.
The first night was on the unmet need for contraception in Malaysia, the second on violence against women in respect to their reproductive health and rights, the third was on health sector reform (privatization), and the last night was on the feminization of HIV/AIDS.
All of the night inspired discussion and I think that the series was particularly effective because it was clear that it was not all just preaching to the converted. There was one doctor there who was willing to stand up and argue a counter-point to the views expressed by the panel, and I always think that is a good sign.
My role in the whole thing was to act as "rapporteur", so I was busily recording, taking notes, and trying to understand the bigger picture so that I can ultimately write a decent report on the event's proceedings and the recommendations that come out of it.
Through this process I learned that Malaysia doesn't have a comprehensive sexual education program in schools, that contraception (i.e. the pill) is only available to married women and that while you can get an abortion in a private clinic, it is expensive and public hospitals are unlikely to provide one despite Malaysia's relatively liberal law (abortion is allowed if the physical or mental health of the woman is at stake). It seems that decision makers would prefer to think that young un-married people are not having sex... a little unrealistic perhaps. Condom use here seems also to be an issue as I learned that many think that they are only to be used with sex workers, which may be a factor in the rising proportion of married women who are becoming infected with HIV, as they find it difficult to get their husbands to use condoms even if they are involved in risky activities like intravenous drug use.
It has been great to learn so much, but this week I have the unglamorous task of transcribing all the recordings. At the same time I am still working on organizing this evaluation meeting for the project in Indonesia. It seems more things keep coming up with that and so I feel like I am treading water with it. The meeting will be taking place on Dec 4 and 5, which is closing in on us now. Hopefully this will all pull together in the next couple of weeks.