Dr. Anu Kumar, India/USA
President and CEO
PhD, Anthropology, and MPH, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Dr. Kumar, an anthropologist and public health expert, joined Ipas in 1992 and now serves as President and CEO. Her wide-ranging roles at Ipas, a global health organization focused on safe abortion care, include leadership of technical innovation, development long-range strategy and oversight of global partnerships.
After conducting field research in Northern India as a Fulbright Scholar in the early 1990s, Dr. Kumar began her career in public health working as a social scientist at the World Health Organization. In that role, she provided technical support on gender, fertility and qualitative research methods to social science researchers in low- and middle-income countries. She later became a program officer with The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, where her work included developing the foundation’s grant-making strategies in areas including global reproductive health and rights.
Today she is recognized as a thought leader in the field of reproductive health and rights, speaking frequently at global forums and publishing in blogs and peer-reviewed journals. A 2009 article she co-authored a landmark paper that established the definition and framework for the phenomenon of abortion stigma, creating a new area of focus for scholars and advocates. She is also among those speaking out about the critical need to ensure that abortion and contraception services are available to women in humanitarian settings such as the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. And she is an unwavering and unapologetic voice for the human rights of women, which she believes are essential to a functioning democracy.
Dr. Kumar is a fellow of the Society of Family Planning, and has also served on their board along with the board of directors of IntraHealth International, Center for Women Policy Studies, and other organizations. She has degrees in anthropology and public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Mahmoud Fathalla Lecture
It’s 2018 and we’ve come so far in terms of medical advances, technology and recognition of women’s contribution to their communities, their families and the world’s future. Why then do 830 women per day die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, including unsafe abortion?
They are dying because, in 2018, women still lack power—particularly the power to make decisions about their bodies and their future. Sexuality and reproductive health are fundamental aspects of our lives. Without the ability to control and manage them, we have little power over other parts of our lives.
And it’s the world’s most vulnerable people—women and girls in the global south and who live in poverty, often in rural areas—who have the least power and face the highest risk of death from pregnancy-related causes, particularly unsafe abortion. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. Yet 214 million women of reproductive age in developing regions who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method.
When women have the power to prevent unintended pregnancies, we can reduce unwanted births and unsafe abortions, and improve maternal and child health. In turn, we increase education and fight poverty. We must continue to fight for the full recognition of women’s human rights, and that means giving women power to make their own decisions. It’s time to trust women.