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LDS-sponsored U.N. event discusses helping women

Published: Wednesday, March 6 2013 11:26 p.m. MST

Sharon Eubank, Ambassador Charles T. Ntwaagae of Botswana and Dennis C. and Nancy C. Hughes participate in United Nations side event highlighting LDS Charities.

Sarah Jane Weaver, Sarah Jane Weaver

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.

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