Pregnancy at the workplace

A very interesting article on a Hungarian site lead me to two articles in English that discuss pregnancy at the workplace, and warn that people should think twice before judging the (expectant) moms. Laura Bates’ article appeared in the Guardian: Seven questions to ask yourself before judging a pregnant colleague.
Here is one of the seven questions:

4. Would I say this to the father?
Worried that sleepless nights, nappy changes and general emotional exhaustion will take their toll on a new mum? They might, to an extent. In much the same way that illness, bad breakups and family bereavements sometimes take a toll on all of us. But we don’t suggest that people dealing with these problems should be sacked, do we? Sleepless nights are a natural part of life as a new parent. But fathers aren’t deaf to babies’ night-time screams. They, too, are experiencing major life upheaval and the emotional rollercoaster of early parenthood. Why is it that we don’t discuss the impact a new baby will have on a man’s work life?”

I find this a very very relevant comment as I have yet to hear it from a man that at a job interview he was asked if he was planning to have any children.

The other article is entitled Female company president: “I’m sorry to all the mothers I worked with” and was written by a (former) journalist who worked as a manager at The Huffington Post and then at The Washington Post in her mid-twenties. She judged and judged and judged, until…. you guessed it right. Until she became a parent herself.

Short quote from her article as a teaser:  “I wish I had known five years ago, as a young, childless manager, that mothers are the people you need on your team. There’s a saying that “if you want something done then ask a busy person to do it.” That’s exactly why I like working with mothers now.”

Prostitution… legalize or not?

Recently the French parliament passed a law (based on what is known as the Swedish or Nordic model) which criminalizes the demand side of prostitution instead of the “supply”. This law sparked a debate nationally but also internationally. According to the article in the Daily Beast, “the most controversial provision would fine a prostitute’s clients up to 1,500 euros ($2,100) if they’re caught.” One of the opponents of the new law is the organization Médécins du Monde, “the respected international organization of doctors best known for their work in developing countries.” They argue that this law “forces sex workers into places that are more out of the way, more exposed to violence and more dangerous, as in such circumstances a prostitute’s ability to negotiate is diminished, whether arguing about a fee, or personal safety. It’s harder for medical and social workers to find the prostitutes and check up on them; they grow more suspicious of law enforcement agencies, and are ever more reluctant to go to the cops when they are victimized.”

On the other side stand all those supporting the law, claiming that despite of the “intended goal of making prostitution better and safer for those involved, survivors of sex trafficking have repeatedly stated that legalisation and decriminalisation of the commercial sex industry does just the opposite,” as it is stated in an opinion piece in the Guardian. The author is happy that “Europe is finally starting to listen. A new trend is emerging – criminalising the buyers, traffickers and pimps that fuel the commercial sex industry, while decriminalising and providing services and exit options to people in prostitution.” Importantly, she defends the “Nordic model” of prostitution policy, implemented in those countries in 1999, stating that these laws “recognise that due to the widespread coercion within legal prostitution sectors, it is simply not possible to differentiate the demand which is exploitative from that which is not.”

As it is also stated in the Guardian article, it is a sad and well-known fact that my country, Hungary is a key “source location for women and girls being trafficked to countries where prostitution is legal, such as Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands” (…according to some statistics, in Zurich 80% of prostitutes come from Hungary). “In those countries, women and girls are brought in to supply the legally sanctioned demand.”

So where does the truth lie? Should prostitution be legal? Should the demand be criminalized? After having read extensively on the subject, I tend to agree with the Nordic model. If you feel you are not convinced, read further.

Last year, the second place in the EU Journalist Award ‘Together against discrimination’ went to Dóra Ónody-Molnár (Hungary), for her article Hungarian Girls on Every Street Corner, “which examines the reality of prostitution in Europe and its impact on the women involved. The jury found the article to be a well documented and painstakingly researched piece of journalism” – very much worth a read.

Challenges and opportunities for female health systems researchers

EV session at SymposiumThis will be a crosspost of an article that appeared in BMJ Open. BMJ is an online medical journal (more info here) and they run a couple of blogs. One of these is the Open blog, where a post appeared which I had the chance (and honor) to co-author with 4 others. One of them is a medical student, two are health systems researchers and one of them is a journalist/media specialist/research associate. We were (are) all part of a project called Emerging Voices, which is an initiative of The Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium (my workplace). This Emerging Voices 2012 edition was supported by the 2nd Global Symposium on Health System Research.

We held an organized session at this conference (on October 31, 2012 in Beijing, China) and the following article grew out of the discussions that took place there. I will crosspost it as it was originally published.

Juggling personal and professional lives in search of the perfect balance is an art that women and men across the world, in different spheres of work, are familiar with. How does this play out in the life of a female health researcher? At the Health Systems Research Symposium held in Beijing recently, a group of young female public health professionals from the “Emerging Voices” programme came together with their male counterparts to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face and have observed as young female researchers in the field of health systems research.

Although improving today, the evident underrepresentation of women in leadership positions led to the idea of exploring the issue of the glass ceiling—a term that was first used in the 1980s to indicate the lack of women in leadership positions in the workplace. What began as a fishbowl discussion on the challenges faced by female researchers, opened up into a debate of the challenges facing women in the workplace generally, raising multiple questions.

At the heart of the discussion was the conflict between balancing a family life and career that most female participants feel they face. With extensive travel, often for extended periods of time and to remote locations, is health systems research a family friendly career option for women? Is time taken for maternity leave a barrier to promotion? Have organisations, communities, and smaller family units evolved enough to accept the role of women as professionals along with their more traditional roles as wives, mothers, and carers of the old, young, and infirm?

The personal-professional conflict was further reflected in anecdotal evidence of female PhD candidates being discouraged from having families alongside their academic commitments. There were examples of almost equally qualified men being selected over women for positions. There were also examples of workplace norms which encouraged longer work hours that indirectly led to choices to delay childbearing for some female professionals. In some countries workplace policies that offered short maternity leave were felt to be insufficient for women to be able to look after very young babies as they had to return to work.

The Emerging Voices also felt that different yardsticks were used to measure the behavior and performance of men and women in the workplace. It was felt that women were allowed to make fewer mistakes once they reached senior leadership positions and had to constantly justify their positions.

Gender stereotyping also came up as an issue. Stereotypes ranged from associations of beauty with incompetence, to negative attitudes towards women who choose to forego childbearing to focus on their career, or conversely those who choose to have children and then take maternity leave.

However, all is not bleak and challenging, there are more women getting higher degrees today (over 60% of college graduates in the US are women), and women are increasingly entering spaces previously reserved for men. Some of the “Emerging Voices” from India mentioned examples of women from socially and economically disadvantaged areas transforming the health indicators of entire villages.

There are obvious biological differences between men and women. Bearing children is something that only women can do. Keeping these differences in mind, can social structures evolve to support women so that having and raising children is something that women can do alongside professional responsibilities? Instead of placing the responsibility on a woman of choosing “the right man”—societal and structural solutions are necessary (equal pay for men and women, day-care facilities for young children in workplaces). Both men and women should be able to develop supportive social and professional systems that would allow families and individuals to give equal opportunities to both genders.


  • Radhika Arora, Public Health Foundation of India; 
  • Natalie Eggermont, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp; 
  • Fabienne Richard, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp;
  • Ildikó Bokros, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp; 
  • Marsha Orgill, Health Economics Unit, University of Cape Town.

The authors are part of the “Emerging Voices for Global Health” programme of the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium. Run concurrently and in collaboration with the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, the programme provides training, mentoring, and networking opportunities for promising young health researchers and professionals from low and middle income countries. The views presented by the authors are solely hers and not of her affiliated institution.

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

AtlanticCoverSlaughterAnne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys. She served as the director of policy planning at the US State Department from 2009 to 2011. I have read her recent blogpost entitled Why Family Is a Foreign-Policy Issue on the Foreign Policy blog where she discusses that “if more women could juggle work and family successfully enough to allow them to remain on high-powered foreign-policy career tracks, more women would be available for top foreign-policy jobs. And that would change the world far more than you think, from giving peace talks a better chance to making us better able to mobilize international coalitions to reordering what issues governments even choose to work on.”

In this blogpost she refers to a longer essay that she wrote earlier this year to The Atlantic magazine on  why, as the modified saying goes, “you can have it all; you just can’t have it all at once.” I have the feeling that what she says is still universal to most working women in many countries, and not only to those with such high-profile jobs. In her essay one of the people Slaughter quotes is Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters:  “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” This, ultimately, affects all working mothers, and actually, should affect all working parents. (On that note, one of my male colleagues is changing jobs at the end of this year because he came to the conclusion that his present position requires so much traveling that it is not compatible with raising three small children if he wants to stay committed professionally.)

Slaughter’s essay might be a bit lengthy, but it is definitely worth to read if you are interested in how to combine work and private life. Two interesting quotes might be enough to lure you into reading on:

“To many men, however, the choice to spend more time with their children, instead of working long hours on issues that affect many lives, seems selfish. Male leaders are routinely praised for having sacrificed their personal life on the altar of public or corporate service. That sacrifice, of course, typically involves their family. Yet their children, too, are trained to value public service over private responsibility. At the diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s memorial service, one of his sons told the audience that when he was a child, his father was often gone, not around to teach him to throw a ball or to watch his games. But as he grew older, he said, he realized that Holbrooke’s absence was the price of saving people around the world—a price worth paying.”

“Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.”

Obama wins – did the women’s vote make the difference?

At work we have a weekly International Health Policies Newsletter. This week I wrote the editorial for the first time. Here is a link to the original post.

Obama wins – did the women make the difference?

As 87% of the votes have been processed by Wednesday afternoon European time, I took a look at the composition of the voters as shown in the exit polls. It has been predicted all along that more women would vote than men, and that became true: women made up 52%, men made up 48% of the voters. But let’s focus on another, more striking figure: 47% of the men and a stunning 58% of the women voted for Obama. I began to wonder: did the women’s vote make Obama president?

It might be so, as there are quite a number of pleasant gender-related  surprises in this election. The state of New Hampshire made history as it elected the first all women delegation in history, made up of two women senators, a female governor and two female house representatives.  The Senate also broke a recordthe Congress will have at least 19 female senators, the most ever in U.S. history. Interestingly, one of those senators will be Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, who is the first openly gay member of the Senate.

So what exactly happened? Did Romney lose as a result of the Republicans’ much quoted “War on Women”? According to its definition on Wikipedia (yes, this term already has an extensive entry on Wikipedia) the aptly named War on Women is a political catchphrase used in United States politics to describe Republican Party initiatives in federal and state legislatures that are seen as restricting women’s rights, especially with regard to reproductive rights. What did and does this include?

Among other things, it included hundreds of bills that have been introduced in the U.S. Congress since January 2010 and states attacking reproductive rights. As Karen Teegarden, the founder of, a grassroots organization providing voter education and facilitating the mobilization of individual states and a nationwide voice wrote in a blogpost for The Huffington Post: “GOP presidential candidates are signing “Personhood” pledges and vowing to eliminate Planned Parenthood — an organization that provides millions of low-income women primary healthcare.”

Then there was the issue of violence against women. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was first passed in 1994, increased federal penalties for domestic violence and provided funding for groups and services that aid victims of domestic abuse. This bill has been reauthorized twice since 1994, but in February 2012 all eight GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee voted against the bill when the committee considered it.

As the War on Women began to unfold in 2011, in August 2012, Republican representative Todd Akin’s comments regarding pregnancy and “legitimate” rape sparked (world)wide media attention, and this time even those who did not follow politics very closely were forced to face some of the extreme opinions of various GOP candidates. Similarly to Todd’s, conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh made outrageous remarks when he called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for her support of women’s access to birth control. Even though Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski criticized GOP presidential candidates for not condemning Limbaugh, neither Romney, nor Gingrich or Santorum said more than that “Limbaugh’s comments were absurd”.

In addition to influencing domestic U.S. politics, the War on Women has had an effect on the situation of women globally. Religious groups attacked a London family planning summit which was co-hosted  by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. NOW, the National Organization for Woman in the U.S. had posted a statement on their website, stating that “sadly, the “War on Women” isn’t restricted to U.S. women. The House is poised to deliver a huge blow to the global women’s health community by cutting international family planning assistance. This strike would include the elimination of all U.S. funds designated for UNFPA, the international development agency that works to reduce poverty and promote women’s reproductive health in underserved areas around the world.”

So could all these have pushed women (and men) into opposition of the Republicans and into voting for the Democrats? It is quite certain that they had an effect, but so did other issues, like Obamacare. Obama’s vision of a united nation (see his election speech for best illustration), social inclusion and cohesion and his fight for the middle class must have appealed to many, and not only to women: polls show that he also got the majority of the Latino vote and the vote of the youth. The Republicans’ “War on Women” could have been “just” a final push, but it was a strong one. Todd Akin, for example, was defeated by Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill on Tuesday.

However, for women the journey is still not over. We can certainly cheer for the all-women delegation of New Hampshire but we should keep in mind that the state’s governor, Maggie Hassan became the only female Democratic governor starting office in 2012. (Moreover, nearly half of the states never actually had a female governor.) Likewise, we should applaud the Senate’s record on the number of female senators, but we should not forget that 19 female senators only make up for less than one fifth of the U.S. Senate. Far from a gender-balanced composition.

On November 6th, the election day, Chloe Angyal, one of the editors of published a blogpost on the Guardian stating that “regardless of this election result, women face a long struggle to reverse Republican attacks on abortion and contraception rights.”

Let’s hope that this struggle will not last too long.

One Billion Rising

The person behind One Billion Rising event is Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues and founder of the V-day movement. What is the new movement about? One Billion Rising claims:

One In Three Women On The Planet Will Be Raped Or Beaten In Her Lifetime.

One Billion Women Violated Is An Atrocity.

One Billion Women Dancing Is A Revolution.

On V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.

What does ONE BILLION look like? On February 14th, 2013, it will look like a REVOLUTION.


A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being

Many celebrities also started joining the movement, from Jane Fonda to Jessica Alba. Eve Ensler’s recent piece on OBR appeared in The Guardian on September 24th — it is definitely worth reading. And for the record, the one billion is not just a number out of thin air: it is a UN statistic. One out of three women will be beaten up or raped during their lifetime.  Plenty of reasons to rise.

Kate’s breasts, Pussy Riot, virginity tests and our attitude on women’s bodies – by Naomi Wolf

Over the past weeks there have been many ‘noteworthy’ events from the feminist point of view, but I just found them too mainstream to cover. You could read about them everywhere and anywhere, all media were full of them. (I just said to a friend recently, who is running an interior design blog that it would feel like as if she wrote about IKEA pieces.) So I did not write about Pussy Riot, I refrained from commenting on Kate Middleton’s breasts being exposed. However, I stumbled upon a great article by feminist writer Naomi Wolf, who makes a connection between these two and some other incidents, arguing that our society is still not ready to accept women trying to take ownership for their own bodies. Naomi Wolf is an acknowledged author, former political consultant and a very important figure of third wave feminism. In her first book, The Beauty Myth (published in 1991) she discussed how beauty is a socially constructed normative value in our society (and what’s more, patriarchy determines its content). She just published her 8th book recently, entitled Vagina: A New Biography which, interestingly, received mixed reviews, even from fellow feminists.

But going back to the article on Pussy Riot and the other recent affairs, I found her article very interesting. It was published on CNN, and here is an ironic ‘teaser’ excerpt:

“In a hypersexualized culture, in which porn is available 24-7, it is not female nudity — or discussion about vaginas or breasts or “pussy riots” — that is scandalous. Indeed, the female body has never been so commodified before, and female sexuality has never been so readily consumable in sanitized, corporatized formats such as pornography.

Rather, what is still scandalous to our culture is when women take ownership of their own bodies. Staging a strip performance is not disruptive to social order in Moscow, but three punk poets using their sexuality to make a satirical comment about Russian leader Vladimir Putin is destabilizing and must be punished.”