Expose the attacks on the undocumented and on women in France


While in the United States, attempts to hurt, reduce and constrain women’s bodies are multiplying (as the recent bill in Virginia to impose vaginal sonogram on women who seek an abortion demonstrates), two recent developments in France show that the politics of constraint and control of the body and in particular of women’s bodies are also expanding in Europe.

In France, undocumented immigrants, “les sans-papiers” have access to health care, through “l’aide medicale d’Etat” or AME (State Medical Aid), if they have been in France for at least 3 months. While this seems to be better than many other places in the western world, some barriers that have been erected to divide and control immigrants and residents.

For example, it used to be that in order to register, people could go to any regular center of the national health coverage “les caisses d’assurance maladie,” and there were many of them. Recently, new rules have been introduced. Since the end of 2011, in Paris only two centers have been processing applications to be registered in AME. After two months, the Observatory of Foreigners’ Right to Health, ODSE, has reported a series of problems. These include long waiting lines, starting in the middle of the night, summary selection of applications, loss of applications, mounting administrative red tape. All these difficulties contribute to delaying indispensable coverage and access to health care for people who are already among the most vulnerable.

Another recent development directly affects women’s health and well being. In 2001, a bill was passed that gave women’s reproductive rights a great boost. The new law includes provisions for anonymous access to contraceptive and abortion services for minors and without parental consent. It also provides for an ambitious sexual education program, lately the distribution of money to enforce this law has been problematic. Recent reports have shown the importance of sexual education through school as well as free and easy access to centers where women and men can access information on the various questions related to sexuality.

The law itself is beyond repeal, but that does not mean it is safe from dilution. Although officially budgeted for the 2012 fiscal year and voted by the parliament, apparently, 500 000 Euros slotted sex ed programs has disappeared. The Sarkozy administration must have misplaced it!

So how are these two issues related? Both are about creating barriers for some women to access services that allow full social participation and meaningful exercise of their rights. They are about relegating to the back seat some selected populations who are excluded through constraining policies on their bodies, which are, thus, made invisible in body politics of the nation. The reshaping of existing social advances concerning reproductive rights, health care for all, has become the priority of neoliberal governments. It follows the pattern that has already been developed for emerging countries, cutting public services. It is important to identify policies that follow this pattern. It is important to expose them in order to lessen the impact of the US neoliberal transformation anywhere it is being exported.

(Photo Credit: Femmes En Lutte 93)

The babies’ give-and-take

Hillary Clinton visits Angola this week. The caregivers of Angola, the United States, and the world haunt her mission as they haunt this age.

Isn’t it curious that those who care for others can be called caretakers or caregivers? A caregiver is “a person, typically either a professional or close relative, who looks after a child, elderly person, invalid, etc.; a carer”. A caretaker is “one who takes care of a thing, place, or person; one put in charge of anything”. This explains why caregivers are mostly women, underpaid or not paid at all, who look after others in need: children, the sick, the elderly, you, me. This explains why there are caretaker governments and why there are no caregiver governments or States.

In Ireland, a caretaker is “a person put in charge of a farm from which the tenant has been evicted”. Angola is evicting thousands of people right now. 3000 family households were just bulldozed on the outskirts of Lusaka, to make way for gated condominium `communities’ and shopping malls: “`They arrived at around 3am,’ explained Rosa, a pregnant mother of five who has lived for three years in the area of two neighbouring informal settlements known as Baghdad and Iraq. “First came the police, and then the machines and they just started to knock down the houses. There was no warning, we had no choice but to leave because of all the police so we just grabbed what we could and then watched as they pulled down our homes,” said the 29-year-old.”

What happens to Rosa and her five children, what happens to that future child of hers, if it survives its birth? What happens to Rosa, now homeless, when she goes into childbirth? The maternal mortality roulette is now firmly stacked against her. And what happens then to the five or six kids?

Maki knows. Maki is a fictional character in “Porcupine”, the title story of Jane Bennett’s collection, Porcupine. Maki is Black, Zimbabwean, lesbian, a writer and student living in South Africa, and she knows: “The statistics have been stable for centuries; the babies of the caretakers died with much more frequency than those in the caretakers’ care. It’s not a riddle.”

Rosa and her children, the women, men, children of Baghdad and Iraq, in the southlands of Lusaka, they must just die. If that’s economic and social progress, if their eviction and death is part of community formation, then Angola is a proper Caretaker State.

And Angola is not alone. We are living in a Caretaker Era, on a globe of evictions in the name of progress, in a world of caretakers’ children dying. The statistics have been stable.

Take the United States, a wealthy country. With all its wealth, the United States health care system is “one of the worst of all the industrialized nations.” In 2000, the World Health Organization stopped ranking national health care systems, because the data, they said, became too complex. In their 2000 assessment, of 191 nation states, the United States ranked 37th, and this despite spending a higher portion of its gross domestic product on health than any other country.

So, what happens to the Rosa’s of the United States? What happens to their children?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development Health Data 2009 report, “Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades.  In the United States, life expectancy at birth increased by 8.2 years between 1960 and 2006, which is less than the increase of almost 15 years in Japan, or 9.4 years in Canada. In 2006, life expectancy in the United States stood at 78.1 years, almost one year below the OECD average of 79.0 years….Infant mortality rates in the United States have fallen greatly over the past few decades, but not as much as in most other OECD countries.  It stood at 6.7 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2006, above the OECD average of 4.9.”

If Rosa is a caregiver in the United States, she’s an underpaid woman of color. She’s Black, Latina, Native American, Asian. What happens to Rosa, to her children, to her next child, if she’s, say, Black?  “Black infants in the United States are more than twice as likely as white infants to die in the first year of life. In New York City, infant mortality rates were 3 times higher for black infants than for white infants in 2001. Neonatal deaths, that is, deaths that occur within 28 days after delivery, account for nearly two thirds of all infant deaths. Similar to the racial disparities in infant mortality rates, black neonates are more than twice as likely to die, compared with white neonates.”

These deaths are called amenable mortality. That means they are considered amenable to health care. That means, they could have been prevented. They could be prevented. They can be prevented. In the United States, the worst industrialized nation in reducing amenable mortality, Rosa’s death will be another `amenable mortality’. That of her children as well.

Prior to the recession, in the United States, women were foregoing health care, which is like saying that caregivers have been foregoing living in gated communities and shopping at upscale malls. Around the world, women are `foregoing’ needed health care. Rosa is, her five children are, her impending sixth child is. They are foregoing housing, health care, education, water, food. Whether Rosa lives in Angola or in the United States is irrelevant. She is meant to die, her children are meant to die. The statistics have been stable for centuries. It’s not a riddle.

(Image Credit: Case Western Reserve University Health Disparities Blog)