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LDS-sponsored U.N. event discusses helping women

NEW YORK CITY — Violence against women isn't just physical, it can be structural, the executive director of LDS Charities said Wednesday during a United Nations side event featuring the humanitarian outreach of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to women worldwide.

"If women don't have access to health care because the roads are too dangerous, if they are turned away from care because they are too poor or too disabled, if there is no equipment to save their newborn, if no one believes girls need wheelchairs — they are bullied by a societal structure that is so much bigger and meaner than they have power to fight," said Sharon Eubank, the first woman to lead LDS Charities.

The LDS Church hosted the event as part of the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women. Featured speakers included Eubank; Ambassador Charles T. Ntwaagae, Botswana's permanent representative to the United Nations; and Dr. Dennis C. and Nancy C. Hughes, LDS humanitarian medical trainers. Anna Thompson-Quaye, deputy director of the GAVI Alliance, a Geneva-based agency that provides vaccines to children, was scheduled to participate but was delayed in Washington, D.C., by inclement weather.

Eubank expressed appreciation for those on the program, "who make the work of LDS Charities possible on both a national and grass roots level."

During the past quarter-century, the LDS Church has provided assistance to nearly 30 million people in 179 countries.

But Eubank began her remarks talking about a humanitarian effort that predates LDS Charities. She spoke of the Salt Lake Valley in 1870, when inexperienced midwifery and home births contributed to a high infant mortality rate. She said "a visionary woman named Eliza Snow" went to the territory governor with a plan, requesting that six women be sent to the Eastern United States and trained in medicine. They would return and train others.

One 28-year-old woman, Ellis Shipp, left Salt Lake City for medical school. She was expecting a baby herself, found a job guarding the cadaver lab at night and studied by candlelight.

"In 1879 she came back to Salt Lake City with a medical degree," Eubank said. "Over her lifetime she delivered 5,000 babies. And she trained 500 midwives to be certified and licensed. She was the beginning of the drop of the infant mortality rate in (Utah)."

That work completed more than 150 years ago — by women who were poor and had many barriers — became the underpinnings of the work by LDS Charities today, Eubank said.

She added that she hopes the discussion would be relevant "for all of you in this room, who are working on big important things that have a lot of barriers — and violence against women is one of these things."

Showing a picture of Shipp, Eubank said: "She does not look extraordinary. She looks like an ordinary woman of 1879. But she did extraordinary things for that time that are still going on now."

Eubank said LDS Charities' great strength — which may be unique in the world — is the organization's ability to combine big vision and strategic multilateral relationships with grass roots voluntarism to tackle intractable problems.

The work of LDS Charities — given in the form of emergency response after disasters and through major initiatives that provide, among other things, clean water, medical training, food production, vision care, immunizations and wheelchairs to those in need — "can not exist without local volunteers," she said.

During the program, Dennis and Nancy Hughes and Ambassador Ntwaagae focused on the practical application and impact of two of those initiatives.

Eubank said the work of Shipp has evolved into the modern-day work by LDS Charities on neonatal resuscitation training.

"There are more than 1 million infants every year that die of asphyxia," she said. Many doctors know how to save these babies but do not have the equipment.

To help address the problem, LDS Charities donates medical equipment to hospitals, and couples such as the Hughes train medical professionals. Last year, LDS Charities trained 28,000 medical professions in 48 countries.

During the event, Dennis Hughes, using a training doll, demonstrated some of the equipment and training given to these professionals.

"We know our work is very valuable," Nancy Hughes said. "The distribution of medical equipment through LDS Charities and the skills that are learned help babies live."

To those attending the U.N. conference, she added, "Our goals are your goals."

Ntwaagae said Botswana is one of the countries that has, over the years, benefited tremendously from the support of LDS Charities — especially when it comes to wheelchair distribution. Later this year, Botswana will be among the first African countries to implement the newly released World Health Organization wheelchair-training curricula. The multiyear effort between the Botswana Ministry of Health and LDS Charities trains physical therapists and technicians to properly fit wheelchair recipients and then provides a variety of mobility aids for distribution.

There are 45 million people in the world who need wheelchairs but don't have access to a wheelchair, said Eubank, adding that men and boys get 70 percent of this equipment. "When we distribute wheelchairs we look for partnering organizations that have a commitment to address this gender bias," she said.

Ntwaagae expressed appreciation for years of support from LDS Charities.

"This particular commitment has been very helpful in uplifting the lives of our vulnerable population, especially the women and children," he said.

He said, as a country, Botswana is committed to the concept of social inclusion and integration, including people with disabilities. However, he added, "we continue to face challenges in terms of a shortage of equipment."

He said he wanted to take the opportunity while participating in the U.N. side event "in conveying the deep appreciation of the government and the people of Botswana for the support LDS Charities has given to our country through the provision of wheelchairs over the years."

Eubank closed by asking those in attendance to work with her to "inoculate people at an early age against violence and the acceptance of violence because it is like a disease."

"We can commit that we will speak and learn ourselves and then train eight other people by our personal example," she said. "We can find ways for inclusion and rehabilitation to bring people back into the mainstream of society. It is only in those skills that we have a clear road to be able to go forward in this way. It is important for every person in this room."