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Women in the News: Weekly Highlights: November 24, 2009
by Julie Norwell

Controversial new breast cancer recommendations released; Obama honors Zimbabwean women’s rights leaders; European Union pressured to boost number of women leaders…Here are highlights of recent women-related news our readers should note:

A government panel announced last week controversial new breast cancer recommendations, including that women younger than 50 should not be routinely screened. The U.S. Preventative Service Task Force also advised that beyond age 50 women should get mammograms biennially instead of annually; women should not be taught self breast exams; and screening of women over 74 may have no benefit at all. In the week since this report came out, the findings of the USPSTF, a panel of independent medical experts, have come under fire fromdoctors to cancer organizations to politicians to, of course, women. Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, went so far as to advise women to “powerfully ignore" the new mammogram guidelines in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Even the Obama Administration has expressed concerns: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius responded to the controversy by saying that the USPSTF does "not set federal policy and they donapostrophet determine what services are covered by the federal government." Meanwhile, Dr. Timothy Wilt, a member of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, reportedly defended the recommendation on ABC’s Good Morning America, saying they "were based on the most rigorous peer review of up-to-date, accurate information about the evidence about the harms and benefits of treatment."
For more information go to

Leaders of a Zimbabwean women’s rights group was given a global human rights award by President Barack Obama for promoting non-violent resistance against oppression in the face of continual arrests, beatings, strip-searches and other indignities by Robert Mugabe’s government. Jenni Williams and Magondonga Mahlangu formed the Zimbabwean women’s rights group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) in 2003 to empower women and encourage female leadership in Zimbabwe. WOZA has seen its ranks grow to 70,000 countrywide despite its leaders being labeled enemies of the state. WOZA has conducted hundreds of protests since 2003 and over 3,000 women and men have spent time in police custody. Williams and Mahlangu are this year’s recipients of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, which honors courageous and innovative human rights defenders throughout the world who stand up against injustice, often at great personal risk. The award includes a cash prize of $30,000 and on-going legal, advocacy and technical support through a partnership with the RFK Center. Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, was also on hand to present the award. For more information go to

Under pressure to boost the number of women in top jobs, the European Union adds one more woman to the lineup of EU commissioners. Now a full one-third of the 27 incoming EU commissioners will be women, reported EU head Jose Manuel Barroso. In addition to this slight improvement in the gender balance, one of the top spots will go to Briton Catherine Ashton, who was appointed Foreign Affairs Chief. Sweden, which assumed the EU presidency in July, was instrumental in pushing the issue among the member states, most of which initially failed to put forward any female candidates. Sweden has made gender equality a priority of its program during the six months of its presidency. Additional pressure came from the European Womenapostrophes Lobby, which sent women to demonstrate in front of the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels wearing neckties last week. Three women in senior EU roles also wrote to the Financial Times to express their concerns about the dearth of women represented in the European body. For more information go to

Adolescent girls and young women continue to bear a major burden of common sexually transmitted diseases according to a new report by the CDC. Girls ages 15–19 years had the largest reported number of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases when compared to any other age group, followed closely by women ages 20-24. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2008, which tracks reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in the United States, finds that more than 1.5 million cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea were reported in 2008. It also showed that African-Americans continue to be more disproportionately affected by STDs than any other racial or ethnic group. While adolescent males have a similar prevalence of STDs, biological differences place females at greater risk for STDs than males. Additionally, the health consequences are more severe among females than males for chlamydia and gonorrhea – the two most commonly reported infectious diseases in the United States. Left untreated, it is estimated that 10-20% of chlamydia or gonorrhea infections in women can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to long-term complications, such as chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy (a potentially life-threatening form of pregnancy where implantation of the fertilized egg occurs outside the uterus) and infertility. Untreated STDs are estimated to cause at least 24,000 women to become infertile each year in the United States. For more information go to

Having multiple sclerosis or epilepsy does not pose significantly higher risk of problems in pregnancy, says a new study out of Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Women with these disorders face only a slightly elevated risk of abnormal fetal growth rate and C-section delivery but are not any more likely to have blood pressure problems or deliver prematurely. The study is the largest to date of pregnant women with MS or epilepsy. According to Stanford’s press release, “MS and epilepsy are two of the most common, chronic neurologic disorders affecting women of childbearing age." The study brings good news at the tail end of November, which is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. According to the Epilepsy Foundation nearly 2.5 million Americans suffer from Epilepsy. For more information go to and