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P r e f a c e Growing up, I often thought about the day my mother was born. My mother was an extraordinarily beautiful woman and it was only when I would sit on the edge of the tub in her bathroom, watching her get ready to go out and as she brushed her hair, and the light shifted, that the telltale scars of the forceps on her forehead were visible, evoking thoughts of the struggle her mother must have had. She’d told me the story so many times that I knew it by heart. The pregnancy had been relatively easy and nothing portended how unimaginably awful the delivery was to be. My grandfather was a tall, sturdy man. But my grandmother was a petite woman and her pelvis simply couldn’t open broadly enough for my mother to emerge well. She had what we would call now a protracted labor, which seems an unduly cold and clinical term for the agony she must have felt, pushing for hours, hours turning into days, feeling as though her body were breaking in two, the child inside her slowly being starved of oxygen, the odor of blood mixed with fear-drenched sweat and feces overcoming my grandmother who was, in every other respect, the daintiest and most proper of women. It was before the advent of cesarean sections or my mother would have been born that way, but finally the doctor must have been able to reach up far enough to grab her forehead with the long tongs of the forceps, pulling and guiding her into the world. My grandmother had lost a lot of blood; she’d come very close to dying. She was told she could never have another child. That was my mother’s original sin—her size, her very birth—and of course the fact that she was a girl. At the time, I had no idea so much of my life would be devoted to advancing women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and maternal health in particular. But the toll of that near-miss and the context of both a family and a world that continue to value male children more than female xii Preface children played a tremendous role in my grandmother’s life, my mother’s life, and my own. This book is in many ways a narrative birthed in anger. It is a book saturated with indignation at the fact that so many girls across the global South continue to be robbed of basic life choices; that women everywhere continue to be defined not by their humanness but by their sexual otherness; and that, across the globe, so many girls’ and women’s voices still are not heard and their dignity not valued—simply because they were born female. These pages are also filled with outrage at the scandalous disparities in health and other fundamental rights that plague the globe, as well as at the enormous suffering wrought by avoidable poverty-related conditions. No issue demonstrates this more than maternal mortality, which shows the greatest disparities between the global South and the economic North—much greater than HIV/AIDS or child mortality, for example. Poor women in poor, and lower middle-income countries are overwhelmingly the ones who die from maternal causes. But this book is also filled with hope. I deeply believe that we can transform our world and, indeed, that combining the tools of human rights and public health can help us to do so. I have witnessed the impacts that applying human rights frameworks and strategies can have on people’s health— and lives—and I share some of those insights in these pages. I have no doubt we can achieve far more social justice in this world if and when human rights are widely applied to health issues in bold and transformative ways. The initial idea for this book grew out of a series of articles that I published as executive editor for the Critical Concepts section of Health and Human Rights: An International Journal (hereafter referred to as the Health and Human Rights journal) between 2008 and 2010. In 1994, Jonathan Mann, the founding director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, launched the Health and Human Rights journal to provide an inclusive forum for rigorous discussion and debate on the relationships between health and human rights. Over the following two decades, so-called human rights–based...


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