In and beyond prison, reproductive justice is a State responsibility

Christiane Taubira the former French minister of justice likes to remind the public of the government’s responsibility toward the vulnerable.  She had to defend this position while trying to make the penal system in France more comprehensive. She was only partially successful. The state of vulnerability comes very fast when unwanted pregnancy starts. Even though such situations are produced by a man and a woman, the burden remains entirely on the woman. If we add another layer to the state of vulnerability, such as poverty, things become immediately more complicated for the woman.

In the United States, the state does not assume its responsibility toward the vulnerable, who are sexualized, racialized and declassified instead of being supported. The state uses the vulnerable as a source of surplus value through its imprisonment making the institution an industrial complex with contractors running the game. They even charge women prisoners for their basic amenities, such as soap. In this combination of neoliberal development of consumerism and unfettered capital gain, punishing women as members of the vulnerable combines growing inequalities with awesome wealth building.

Trump and his team have brought this idea to its paroxysm, but everything was in place before this election.

The right to abort is a constitutional right that should be respected everywhere, but the case of access to abortion points to the lack of reproductive justice, inside prison and outside. Women in need of abortion often experience stigmatization, reinforcing the sentiment of disqualification as full citizens. In prison, the challenge to wield this right to abortion is real, with enormous discrepancies from state to state and from county to county.

Worldwide, 33% of women prisoners are in the US, and so it is important to examine the reasons for the push to punish women with the detention conditions worsening the punishment itself. The number of incarcerated women in the United States has increased 700% between 1980 and 2014. Being poor is a condition for incarceration and particularly affects women. As the Prison Policy Initiative exposed in its latest report 72% of incarcerated women had an income less than $22 500 while the rate is 48% for non-incarcerated women, and for men 23% for non-incarcerated men compared to 57% for incarcerated men.

Pregnant women are sent to prison, jail, or immigration detention centers. In federal prisons 1 in 33 women and 1 in 25 in state prisons are pregnant. The number is hard to establish in other kinds of detention facility.

If women decide or are intimidated to pursue their pregnancy behind bars, they face harsh conditions with disastrous prenatal conditions in detention facilities in general. In 2011, 38 states had no prenatal policies and 41 states did not require prenatal nutrition. Children born in prison are removed from their mothers right after birth, which demonstrates that a child’s well-being has no meaning when the child is born in prison, another double standard.

In addition, there is no adequate health care for inmates in the United States, though, based on the 8th Amendment, prisoners are the only ones who have a constitutional right to medical care. Instead, medical care in prison is often decided through court orders by penal and judicial personnel who have no medical expertise, and so treatments are delayed, ignored, or never performed.

If women inmates don’t want to become mothers, although it is their constitutional right to have access to abortion, few states offer comprehensive solutions. In most of states, the women must deal with a hodgepodge of rules and regulations, all defined from the male-standard of incarceration. Generally, the hurdles are numerous, high, and burdensome. From having access to a clinic to payment to transport, every step is an “undue burden” for women prisoners in most states. As ACLU attorneys recall, the US Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision clearly said “laws that restrict abortion access cannot create an `undue burden.’”

The legal dispute around abortion in prison should be taken seriously by everyone outside of prison who believe that respecting the dignity of women as full citizens means ensuring they control their reproduction. Women have been sentenced to jail for the failure of the state to provide abortion or prenatal services to the vulnerable. The Purvi Patel case is one of too many cases that proves that the State is not concerned with women’s well-being, especially when in a state of vulnerability.

ACLU and other groups have called for more research on the application of reproductive rights inside the United States penal systems. Although this demand is important to resist the conservative anti-abortion wave, the invisibility of living conditions of women behind bars is full of lessons about the way attacks on women’s right and reproductive justice is waged in general and its social meaning. When state leaders are ready to fulfill their responsibilities to serve the vulnerable, often women and more often women of color and/or women prisoners, they will serve all women and the society better.

 

(Photo Credit: National Women’s Law Center) (Infographic credit: Prison Policy Initiative)

In Poland, women in black strike for women’s and human rights

In Poland last week women went on a general strike, dressed in black. Thousands demonstrated in the streets of cities to defend their remaining right to abortion as the government pushed for a total ban on abortion. The concept of women’s general strike was first used in Iceland on October 25, 1975 when 90% of women stopped working, taking care of children, cooking etc. They wanted equality and were fed up with low wages, low consideration, low everything. The entire country stopped. The effect was profound. The Polish women were after the same effect, fed up with seeing political and economic manipulations control their sexual and reproductive rights and putting their lives in jeopardy.

Since Poland transitioned to a capitalist system, reproductive rights including the right to abortion have been the recurrent issue, and women have seen their rights steadily reduced. Women in Poland won the right to abortion for social reasons in 1956. Nina Sankari for 50-50 magazine, recounts the work of Maria Jaszczuk, the MP who sponsored the original bill. She put in the public debate the crude reality of women’s right to decide for their lives, breaking the code of silence. At the time, more than 300 000 illegal abortions were practiced a year with 80 000 of them ending up in the hospital leading to a 2% death toll. Thanks to this bill, Polish women had enjoyed this reproductive right for over 36 years. But the so called democratic process gloated about by the capitalist order demanded the end of this basic women’s right to decide for themselves. Nina Sankari recalls that in 2007 shortly before her death at 90 years old, Maria Jaszczuk expressed her sadness to see all these basic women’s rights being wiped out.

Nina Sankari notes the irony of the infamous democratic transition bringing the Catholic Church with its conservative neoliberal allies back to power. In 1989, when the new constitution was being designed, the Church vetoed the concept of separation of church and state, of laicity or neutrality of the church. The Polish Catholic establishment was ready to play a crucial political role in the country.

Consequently, in 1993 one of the most regressive anti-abortion laws in Europe passed, allowing abortion in only three cases: if the woman’s life is in danger, if the fetus has serious disabilities, and if the pregnancy is the result of a rape including incestuous rape. But that was not enough for the conservative forces led by Jarosław Kaczinski. He is the leader of Law and Justice party that won the elections in October 2015.

Currently, the xenophobic religious neoliberal right is looming large in Europe. The current Polish leadership is in line with Viktor Orbán’s leadership in Hungary proclaiming religious notions on family as divinely imposed and reducing public services, especially when women’s rights are at risk. These changes constitute a breach in European laws. Recently three cases from Poland have been challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. The latter found that women and girls in Poland “encountered unacceptable obstacles to access to safe and legal abortion.” It put Poland in violation with its responsibilities and obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Malta and Ireland are also in this position. Meanwhile, no official actions have changed this status quo. Only women and men’s street demonstrations have brought change.

This time, the Polish women’s strike defeated the bill that would have led to a total ban on abortion, including jail time for women seeking abortion and for doctors who would dare help them. As Gauri Van Gulik of Amnesty International said, “This is a huge victory for the millions of women and girls who mobilized, showed their fury, and successfully blocked a law which would have taken away their rights and endangered their health.”

This victory should lead to more actions in support of women’s rights and human rights. Each year in Poland, 1000 legal abortions are performed while an estimated 150, 000 clandestine abortions occur behind closed doors, not to forget that the lethal danger of clandestine abortion is spread according to social lines. The reduction of women’s rights accompanies many social and political restrictions. The women of Poland have shown the possibilities to counter the rise of the deadly combination of xenophobic, neoliberal and religious power.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Czarek Sokolowski / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

(This article is part of the on-going collaboration between Women In and Beyond the Global and 50-50 magazine. Click here for 50-50’s coverage of Poland’s women in black.)

The battle for women’s reproductive rights in the United States rages on!

The latest campaign against women’s health in the United States has taken place in the background of the Presidential Republican primaries.

Not surprisingly, the infamous videos filmed illegally in a Planned Parenthood office that spurred national propaganda against the organization were rigged. Amazingly, the anti abortion organization the Center for Medical Progress that released the videos with false assumptions claim, on their home page, to be a group dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances. They even claim to be concerned with bioethics and human dignity. In fact, their work is a distinct attack on women’s dignity and against all principles of ethics.

This group cannot produce medical progress and that is exactly the point. This imposture is inscribed in the larger project to eliminate and/or control a section of the population defined by gender, race and class. Low and middle-income women and women of color are the ones who are primarily going to be hurt. In 2013, 52% of all patients were Medicaid patients, 22% were Latinos, 14% African Americans. This campaign is formed in the political Republican discourse of discrimination.

This scheme is fueling the ongoing crusade against Planned Parenthood and against women’s health and rights in Republican states. We have already seen the consequences in Texas where 55% of women reported at least one barrier to accessing reproductive health care services including cervical cancer screening. Additionally, Bill HB2 has already effectively reduced women’s rights in Texas with only 6 ambulatory abortion centers left.

Each state has contracts with Planned Parenthood. What is being done is to eliminate public state money that was allocated to the organization to provide public health services to women.

These multilevel attacks are well orchestrated. Blocking them demands much resources a great deal of mobilization. Numerous inspections and bureaucratic hassles are put in place. Florida redefine gestational age. Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida, Utah and New Hampshire plan to end their contracts with Planned Parenthood.

Clearly, the intent is to continue to make the safety net thinner for the most vulnerable.

Pregnancy is already a risky business in the United States since women, and again especially low-income women and women of color, are under scrutiny and may end up in prison as well as deprived of medical and social support.

Jeb Bush declared that half a billion of dollars on women’s health is too much. Then, he shared his vision of public responsibility when it comes to women’s rights, asserting, “But abortion should not be funded by the government, any government in my mind.” Meanwhile, US women’s life expectancy is only 32nd in the world.

Should the role of the state be to allow women to control their reproductive health by guaranteeing them access to reproductive health services? Remember, half of all pregnancies are unintended in the United States, and pregnancy services are not free of charge. Remember as well, women have higher quality of life and life expectancy in countries where the government funds abortion and where pregnancy services are free of charge.

How the “life” of the unborn has toppled the life of a woman is no mystery: a great dose of political cynicism serves vested interest and neoliberal economics to create a geography of increasing discrimination and vulnerability.

As for morality, these videos, falsified and published by a dubious organization, got more traction and visibility than the reality of women’s reproductive health and lives! Why? Why are women’s universal rights to reproductive health and health care being systematically erased?

 

 

(Photo Credit: Anne Savage / eclectablog.com)

Women are attacked in the mirror of reproduction, and where is the outrage?

 

I often hear women in France wondering how it is possible that women’s access to abortion or to safe delivery is so outrageously compromised and mostly a source of revenue rather than inalienable rights in the United States. The current political landscape might help them, and us, understand.

Once again women and their bodies occupy the center stage of the presidential elections in the United States. While the last attempt to defund Planned Parenthood failed to pass, there were still too many votes in favor. The issue continues to obsess the GOP candidates and allows them to stigmatize women. They used the usual recipe to fabricate a scandal, this time targeting Planned Parenthood. They made deceptive images in order to emotionally manipulate a large portion of the population, brush aside the truth and reality, and focus on the anti women’s reproductive rights credo. The videos were assembled to manufacture false images of the use of “for-money tissues” coming from aborted embryos; ironically these accusations came from the candidates who defend profiteering at any cost. Actually, women who had had an abortion donated tissues for research on diseases such as Parkinson, Alzheimer, or orphan diseases, but does it really matter? The press was reluctant to explain the scam.

Planned Parenthood provides health care to women. One out of five have had recourse to their services because nothing exists for them in a for-profit medical system. This is not only about abortion. Across the United States, pregnant women are also mistreated: sent to prison, denied basic rights, and having no labor protection and no legally supported maternity leave.

It seems that nothing can impede the United States Republican candidates from bawling out injurious slurs toward minorities and women, while keeping silent about the reality of the violence of their economic views. But this time the farce is grotesque as well as threatening. As witnessed by the first GOP debate, the current US conservative battle for the primaries sheds light on the debacle of “democratic” debates in the cradle of neoliberal conservatism.

I asked in France what if the shocking Sarkozy or the heinous Le Pen had said something similar to launch their campaigns. Most said that this would not be accepted, not that there is no anti immigration sentiments. They said it would have triggered more mockery as well as indignation. Additionally, the response coming from the numerous associations that work on immigration rights and immigrant women’s rights would have been strong and irrefutable and accompanied with legal actions.

The question of reproductive rights is also shaped differently as deliveries and abortions are free, and pregnant women’s labor rights are still guaranteed in France as well as in many other countries, and the commitment to these rights, in France and across Europe, is robust, and again a vast range of associations is watching.

For example, when the conservative Spanish Prime Minister attempted to reduce reproductive rights in Spain, women and men from all over Europe went to the streets in support of Spanish women’s rights, thanks to these very associations, and forced the withdrawal of the bill.

However, women’s rights have been threatened in relation to the restructuring of the European Union, as we saw in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and France. This signifies another form of violence against women’s bodies, taking the oppressed body, the migrant’s body, hostage.

In the United States, the threat of these attacks against women persists in a distractive form. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has explained, energy is going to be spent fighting each scandalous initiative while the source of the problem will be kept blurred. The debt economy that works with violence, stigmatizing women and people of color and/or lower social status, is forgotten in these debates.

Women are particularly targeted. Many women in the United States, including in my own family, have struggled during pregnancy to keep employment, to have pregnancy health particularities respected, to keep 100 % of their salary, or to pay for delivery.

Where is the outrage? Where are the images of the united colors of precarity, of women living precariously?

The neoliberal order bathes in this spectacle, and the reality of life disappears. Let’s keep in mind that the state of the status of women and women’s reproductive rights mirrors the fate of most of the population.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Javier Barbancho / Reuters / Landov / AlJazeera)

(Photo Credit 2: Marlon Headen of Headen Photography / RH Reality Check)

Being sick is deadly for women

In Algeria, about 4000 women are repudiated by their husbands every year. The reason: they have contracted breast cancer! A third of Algerian breast cancer patients are thrown out and made precarious with no guarantee of treatment as they lose their social coverage. Additionally, they endure severe psychological upheaval.

Hamida Khatab, President of the Association El-Amel, which supports cancer patients, explains that many men refuse to accept the physical changes of their sick wives. She adds that these men consider that they cannot fulfill their conjugal duty anymore. There is a certain code of silence around the condition of women’s dependency. For instance, reproductive rights in Algeria are very limited; access to abortion is restricted to women whose lives are in danger.

Nonetheless, Algeria has been lauded for its progressive Constitution, especially with regards to women’s rights. The Constitution guarantees equal rights, mentions gender and includes a non-discriminatory clause. However, while the Constitution purports to give rights, laws and their application suggest something else. For example, there are no laws to protect women in case of domestic violence in Algeria.

The UN and the World Bank recently published data on women’s rights country by country. Reading the data critically reveals the difficulties of simply summarizing women’s rights. For example, on abortion rights, the data show that the United States guarantees access to reproductive services such as abortion, and yet we know that access is not only difficult to impossible in many states, but also prohibitively expensive.

The World Bank refers to Country as Economy, which makes the financial materiality the “raison d’être” of a country. In that logic, women become even more dependent. In Algeria, for example, women and men do not have the same inheritance rights to property, whether they are daughters, sons or spouses. Seen from the perspective of Country as Economy, the repudiation of women with diagnosed breast cancer is embedded in inequality and discrimination, the Constitution notwithstanding.

Hamida Khatab and her organization have demanded legal protection to shield women with breast cancer from being divorced, thereby maintaining access to free treatment through social coverage.

Meanwhile, in the United States, where profit runs the health system, there is no free treatment for breast cancer patients. Women depend on employer-sponsored health insurance through their spouses or their own jobs. According to a study that considered gender role in “partner abandonment” in the United States, “A married man is six times more likely to separate from or divorce his wife soon after a diagnosis of cancer or multiple sclerosis than a married woman in the same situation.”

Additionally, the out of pocket cost of treatment for insured women can easily reach $6000. For the woman who is uninsured, the numbers skyrocket. The single greatest factor of disparity in survival rates for breast cancer is whether the woman is insured or uninsured, and that is heavily determined by ethnicity, social and immigration status. This disparity is growing.

Women’s dependency is articulated around economic and cultural patriarchal polarities and carries deadly consequences for their lives. In a period of austerity and reduction of public services, women’s precariousness is racially and economically organized. The fight is broad and requires a larger sense of solidarity.

 

(Photo credit: El Mouajahid)

Reproductive Choice and Prison as Punishment: A Tale of Two States

Out West in California, incarcerated women are sterilized without their consent. Over in the Northeast in Pennsylvania, a mother was incarcerated for helping her daughter end an unwanted pregnancy. While these two stories may seem unrelated, at their intersection are important issues of freedom, choice, and women’s bodies.

As described in Women In and Beyond the Global last week, many women prisoners in California have been stripped of their reproductive freedom. The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that California prisons had been illegally sterilizing female inmates either through coercion or without informed consent, using procedures such as tubal ligations. While it is encouraging that in light of this horrific finding the governor signed a bill prohibiting forced sterilization, the fact remains that these women will never again be able to choose to become pregnant. That choice was already made for them by prison authorities.

Across the country, authorities sent a woman to prison for supporting her daughter’s reproductive choice. Jennifer Ann Whalen’s 16-year-old daughter was pregnant, but she didn’t want to be. When they looked up their options, the mother and daughter found that they didn’t have many. From where they lived in rural Pennsylvania, the closest abortion clinic was 75 miles away. According to state law, Whalen’s daughter was required to receive counseling at the clinic and then wait 24 hours before returning for an abortion. Furthermore, without health insurance, the procedure would cost more than $300. They were unable to make the trip because they couldn’t afford the cost, the fact that their only car was shared with Whalen’s husband who was unaware of the pregnancy, and because Whalen couldn’t miss multiple days of work. Without any other options, they decided to induce a miscarriage themselves. So Whalen ordered abortion pills online and her daughter took them. She had no serious complications or side effects, but they worried when she experienced stomach pains and bleeding. They went to the hospital, where Whalen was arrested, and ultimately charged with a felony for performing an abortion without a medical license. Whalen will serve 12-18 months in prison. If her daughter had access to a safe, legal, and affordable abortion, Whalen would not be behind bars today.

Some women are punished by prison and consequently denied reproductive choices; others are denied reproductive choices and consequently punished by prison. Both of these scenarios illuminate the various ways that women in America are denied the freedom to control their own bodies and, ultimately, their own lives.

 

(Photo Credit: Care2.com)

It is the responsibility of the State to defend reproductive rights and health

 


Twenty years ago the Cairo conference, also called the Cairo Consensus, stated that women’s reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, were the cornerstone of population and development programs. A few weeks ago, panelists at a conference in Paris agreed that the anticipated advances for women had not materialized. To the contrary.

The backlash against women’s advances isn’t a function of developing countries. For example, what is happening in the United States is remarkable. Women’s health and rights are now under the control, and at the mercy, of some powerful men, such as those on the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.

This past June two terrible bills were passed. The US House of Representatives passed a bill with the distorted name of “Pain-capable Infant Protection Act” (HR1797), banning all abortions for any reason including the health of the woman after 20 weeks. Then, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a state budget that restricted reproductive rights and defunded many women’s services, with the potential to defund poor children’s programs as well. Three amendments strategically embedded in the budget bill severely restrict women’s rights. Two of those amendments are part of the TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) strategy to impose constraints on medical facilities and providers that deliver abortion services.  These included banning public hospitals from making transfer agreements with abortion clinics, or requiring clinics to perform sonograms and make women listen to the iconic sound of a heartbeat, with criminal charges applicable.  The third amendment said that a state program “Parenting and Pregnancy” would be created and funded by public money and run by private organizations with the requirement that the word abortion not be used. This last amendment carries the neoliberal mark of transferring public money to private interest groups that work against women’s interests.

The ACLU Ohio has challenged the three Ohio amendments on the basis, arguing that they were tacked onto a budget bill in violation of the “single subject” rule of the Ohio constitution, meant precisely to prevent such practices.

Working on all fronts, the federal bill has just been introduced in the US Senate. It will certainly not pass with a democratic Senate. Nonetheless this ban has passed in 13 States. These bills are there to threaten women’s civil rights as they are devalued in comparison with the fetus they carry.

Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin recently warned against the legal implications of these series of bills (feticide bills and ban on abortion after 20 weeks). National Advocates for Pregnant Women has documented an increase of forceful actions against pregnant women. They report the case of a doctor who threatened his “patient” that he would send the police to take her to the hospital for a cesarean, if she didn’t go by herself that very day. These are not isolated cases. Across the country pregnant women report a climate of constant and intimidating surveillance of their pregnancy.

Whether the fetus is viable or not is not the issue. These attacks on women’s rights, using the threat of criminal charges against women, are not accidental. This type of legislative action is designed to bring women and civil society to its knees. It is designed to make them obey absurd authoritarian laws that only serve the neoconservative, religious fundamentalist neoliberal consortium, with its forceful and violent surveillance system of racialized and gendered bodies.

The threat is global and it is real. This is not only a problem for women. We should hear “clear and distinct voices,” to use Christiane Taubira’s phrase, to denounce and thwart the dehumanization process that is plaguing the American society.

 

(Photo Credit: RhReality Check)

 

Twenty years after Cairo, women’s rights are reduced around the world

Lise-Marie Déjean

Almost 20 years ago, the Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) took place in Cairo (1994). ICPD, also called the Cairo Consensus, declared women’s reproductive and health rights as fundamental to the well being of women and to the full political and economical participation of women.

In Paris last week, Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), Planning Familial and Equilibres et populations hosted a briefing, titled: “Access to contraception, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions:  the state of reproductive rights and health in the global South.” The briefing panel consisted of Margarita Gonzales and Catherine Giboin, both of Medecins du Monde; Serge Sabier, from Equilibres et Populations; Lise Marie Dejean from Solidarité Fanm Ayisyen, SOFA, a Haitian feminist organization; and Véronique Séhier, of French Family Planning. They all agreed that the global conservative turn has had tremendous and destructive consequences for women. Serge Sabier, who participated in the drafting of the Cairo resolutions, said that today it would be impossible to get 172 countries to agree to sign such a document.

Véronique Séhier added that these rights are still not considered fundamental. The goals have not been reached. For young women, access to reproductive health services, and to education and education about sexuality in particular, is limited. In many regions, and not only in the South, contraceptives are difficult to obtain or unavailable. Meanwhile, many countries oppose the right to abortion. In Europe, three countries officially deny access to abortion services, thereby defying European law.  Séhier insisted that no dissociation should be made between contraception and abortion; access to both is a fundamental right.

Catherine Giboin reminded the audience that data on reproductive health were almost non-existent until 1985. She then shared some data to show that evidence is not enough to have sound politics to support women’s rights. One fourth of women in the world have no access to contraceptives. In 2012, 73% of the women who did not receive the contraceptives they needed were in the poorest countries. About 40% of the pregnancies in the world are unwanted, and this rate climbs to about 60% in Latin America and the Caribbean. One out of ten births occur with girls between the age of 15 and 19. The ratio of unsafe abortions has increased from 44% in 1995 to 49% in 2008; 98% of unsafe abortions are in developing countries. In 2008, 47000 women died as a result of not having access to safe abortion and 8 million had complications. 40% of the world women live in countries that have very restrictive abortion legislations. Chile, Malta, Nicaragua, and El Salvador forbid abortion without exception.

Lise Marie Dejean put these data and numbers in the reality of Haitian women who represent 52% of the country’s population. Haiti’s high maternal mortality and high rate of complications after abortion have to be linked to women’s under-representation and invisibility in Haitian institutions and politics.  Dejean affirmed the crucial role that the colonial and post-colonial patriarchal power has played, reminding the audience that contraceptive pills were tested on Haitian women, who now have little to no access to those very contraceptives. She insisted that women’s reproductive health and women’s health in general, are interdependent with women’s levels and quality of participation, women’s poverty, and rape. As Dejean noted, in Haiti “our body doesn’t belong to us, the patriarchal system has profited from this body to establish places of domination (des lieux de domination).” Across Latin American and the Caribbean, women are organizing to demand that their right to control their body be respected as well as their right to have equal participation in the decisions of their countries.

France’s Minister for Gender Equality, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, presented the position of her ministry. Although France has some problems of access to abortion services, its situation is still one of the best in the world, with free-of-charge reproductive services, including for undocumented immigrant women. Vallaud-Belkacem insisted on the commitment of France and its diplomacy in asserting women’s rights and also more practically in supporting women’s organizations through its embassies. One NGO representative asked how activists from poor countries who are often poor themselves could have a voice in international instances. Vallaud-Belkacem replied that feminist diplomacy is there to facilitate their travel and to increase the visibility and real participation of those activists in international conferences.

The Minister’s language radically departed from the usual monolithic paternalistic language that often prevails in such meetings. She recognized the difficulties and said that while her action in promoting women’s rights and also participation of feminist organizations has been oriented to francophone countries, she also inscribed that in a broader feminist diplomatic perspective. For example, at the conference des ambassadeurs (ambassador conference) in August 2013, she argued for a new diplomacy for women’s rights. Additionally, according to Vallaud-Belkacem, France is the fourth country in terms of financial aid in the world and 500 million Euros were dedicated between 2012 and 2014 to support reproductive health initiatives around the world.

A member of the Greek’s family planning and the vice president of UNICEF Greek committee then made a striking remark that demonstrated once again that women are the first affected by the neoliberal order, which begets crisis. In Greece, women’s rights registered a major set back when austerity measures privatized public services and gutted the social state. And so now 40% of the population cannot access health services. While abortion remains legal, it now costs too much for many Greek women. The fee for an abortion is about half a minimum monthly wage, and contraceptives are expensive and hard to find. Greece, which had a good health care system, has seen a significant increase in infant mortality.

Greece demonstrates the pervasiveness of the neoliberal order on women’s health and reproductive rights. The current reduction of women’s reproductive rights and health has to be recognized as part of a political and economic order rather than as some unfortunate situation.

 

(Photo and Video Credit: Daily Motion)

A gynecologist faces the epidemic of guidelines for teenage girls


In the United States, a recent set of guidelines for teenage girls’ reproductive health has been released, declaiming various ages for marketing “healthy reproductive practices”.

There is a burgeoning recently of updated guidelines that fix teenage sexual health and life. These include: Chlamydia testing advised for the sexually active adolescent starting as young as 10; LARC (long acting reversible contraception) recommended as first line contraception for girls as young as 14; Plan B available over the counter for 15-18 year olds; HPV vaccination beginning at 12 years of age; and delaying pap smears until the age of 21.

We should wonder: why teenage girls, and why now?  The answer is simple. Teenage girls are engaged, and embedded, in a range of ages and activities that make them targets for the for-profit medical industry.

Why does the Plan B over the counter availability start at the age of 15, while the newly designed, streamlined IUD chose 14 years for its recommendation?  Why is the newly patented DNA testing for Chlamydia, that is not perceived as sensitive as the old culture, being promoted as an inescapable test for girls on birth control for acne?  Meanwhile, pap smears that have proven to be the most effective method to diagnose HPV infection leading to cervical cancer are being withheld until 21 regardless of the woman’s sexual history.

Tests are being indiscriminately assigned by guidelines on a time frame with no connection to the needs of the girl.  Doctors are told to follow these guidelines that are based on studies with a positive cost/benefit ratio to the system. The underlying system is not driven by the art of medicine, which demands patients and doctors to talk to each other on an intimate level. Products, devices, and profit margins are the driving force. This epidemic of guidelines keeps teenagers disconnected, fragmented and voiceless.

Once again, in the great scheme of population control, privatization of services and a dearth of social protection, these guidelines have the greatest negative effect on the most vulnerable: teenage girls. In this scheme, girls’ sexuality is not linked to being or becoming a woman (and how is that defined?), but rather something comparable to a package.

The teenage girl is treated as a health package with no prospect of becoming a woman, and yet somehow is treated “like an adult” inasmuch as girls suffer restrictive reproductive health care and reproductive health rights. What does the future hold for teenage girls in this regime, that they are meant to become increasingly and more intensely marginalized women?

(Photo Credit: NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon / Facebook)

Revealing the code of silence that rules reproductive rights

In Algeria abortion is simply illegal. A woman can be punished by six months to two years in prison and a fine. The abortionist is subject to one to five years in prison and a hefty fine.

According to the president of a women’s rights association, as reported in the Algerian newspaper L’Expression, there are about 80 000 abortions a year for 775 000 pregnancies in Algeria. The police reported only 27 cases in 2012. So what is happening in Algeria?

The code of silence is the rule.

Women who seek help with unwanted pregnancies have few options and they all imply a sense of shame and fear. The rule is to use word of mouth information and have enough money, on average $400, which is high price in Algeria.

The journalist of L’Expression follows the same principle of word of mouth to investigate the providers’ identities, how women get information and how the procedure is performed. It leads him and his partner to doctors who are militant and outraged by the situation as well as to charlatans who take advantage of women’s desperate search for relief. In any case, women are ashamed, isolated and have no protection and no recourse as they face horrendous medical consequences.

The article sends a clear message that this situation is shameful for society and that it has to change. As the reporters note, there have been changes, especially with the advent of the Internet. Women in Algeria have begun to engage in a public forum to break the rule of silence. We have seen the possibilities of these strong women’s voices in neighboring countries.

The code of silence has become the rule as well for many women in the United States seeking reproductive services where, law after law, women’s right are being restricted, putting many women to precarious situations. In 42 states restrictions on abortion rights have already been anticipated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which will be enacted in 2014.

2012 has been the second year with the greatest number of new legislation to restrict access to reproductive services such as abortion, with about 122 provisions related to restrict access to reproductive health. Being a woman at the age of reproduction is a risky condition … in the United States as in Algeria.

Stop the code of silence, let’s hear women’s voices and respect their right to be.

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Zohra Bensemra)