The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Women's History Month "B": Benazir Bhutto and Birth Control


Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1953.  Her family was powerful and had many connections, and so she was given a good education.  She left Pakistan to attend Radcliffe College, a division of Harvard University, when she was just 16.  During her time in America, her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was elected president and then Prime Minister of Pakistan.  After finishing her degree at Radcliffe, Benazir continued her studies at Oxford University in England.

Shortly after she returned home from Oxford, Zulfikar was overthrown by a military coup and then executed in 1979.  During this time, Benazir and her mother were placed under house arrest and moved around the country.  By 1984, her six-year arrest had led to a host of medical problems, and pressure from human rights groups prompted the military government to let her travel to England for surgery.  Once she recovered, she began to campaign against Pakistan’s leaders, until open and free elections were held in 1988.  She was then elected Prime Minister, becoming both the first women and the youngest person ever to head a Muslim nation.

During this first term, Benazir worked to reform the government and bring new technology into Pakistan.  Her term was ended in 1990 amidst corruption and money laundering charges, though she was never convicted.  She again served as Prime Minister from 1993 to 1996, this time focusing on women’s social and health issues.

These two terms were not without controversy.  She was unpopular among elite Pakistani families, and some critics charged her with ruling over a “sham democracy.”  She was an initial supporter of the Taliban, and one journalist accused her of smuggling radioactive material into North Korea in exchange for weapons technology.  Her second term ended in much the same way as her first, with corruption charges leveled against her government.

In 1998, Benazir chose to go into exile in the United Arab Emirates.  While living abroad, opposition against her intensified, though she remained popular with the American and British governments.

In 2007, Benazir returned to Pakistan in an attempt to gain another leadership role, even though a two-term limit had been set for Prime Ministers.  At one point she was placed under house arrest but then freed after giving an interview about her situation to an American radio program.  She immediately resumed her campaign tour.

On December 27, she appeared at a campaign rally in Punjab.  As she was leaving, she stood up through the sunroof of her car to wave at the crowds.  A gunman opened fire on her while another person detonated explosives into the crowd, killing Benazir and twenty others.  Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the killings, although the Bhutto family believes that then-president Pervez Musharraf played a role in the assassination.

Benazir’s legacy is mixed: although she is lauded for breaking gender barriers in the Muslim world and for promoting women’s issues, her two terms and subsequent campaigns were tarnished by corruption.  Still, her home government chose to honor her by renaming the airport in Islamabad, the capital city, after her.

To learn more about Benazir Bhutto, please visit Benazir Bhutto's website.


Military hardliners called me a 'security threat' for promoting peace in South Asia and for supporting a broad-based government in Afghanistan.
~Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan

Action is the antidote to despair. 
~Joan Baez, Musician

I may be compelled to face danger, but never fear it, and while our soldiers can stand and fight, I can stand and feed and nurse them.
~Clara Barton, Founder of the Red Cross

This has always been a man's world, and none of the reasons that have been offered in explanation have seemed adequate.
~Simone de Beauvoir, Author

The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood. 
~Mary McLeod Bethune, Civil Rights and Education Activist

If there's specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies.
~Kathryn Bigelow, first woman to win a Best Director Oscar


Birth control has been used to prevent pregnancy for at least as long as human civilization has kept written records.  The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Indians used plants and gums as contraceptives and abortifacients (medicines to induce miscarriage).  In the more recent past, condoms were fashioned out of animal skins.

Today, women can choose from a variety of birth control options, though access to these methods can vary greatly for women in different locations and financial situations.  These include intrauterine devices, which are placed inside the uterus; diaphragms, which seal the cervix and are treated with a sperm-killing compound; condoms, which are worn by males over the penis; and various pills, patches, rings and shots that prevent ovulation.  For permanent birth control, women can be sterilized by having their fallopian tubes blocked or sealed off, or men can have their vas deferens severed (vasectomy).

Throughout history, various methods of birth control have been condemned or tightly controlled.  The Catholic Church has made opposition to artificial birth control an official stance since 1484.  In the early history of the United States, it was illegal to send birth control products through the mail, which made access to birth control difficult for many people.  In many parts of the world, it is still difficult for people to get accurate information about birth control.  Even in the United States, levels of information vary--in more conservative areas, for example, schools teach students abstinence-only curricula instead of presenting comprehensive information on birth control options.

For more information on birth control and it's effectiveness, please visit Planned Parenthood.

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