Friday, 13 April 2012

Why Feminism is Still Needed

Of course this is such a huge subject so I'm not going to address the full myriad of reasons in one blog post but I have noticed a few things this morning which really struck me hard.

Part of my professional life involves providing women with contraception and this will often involve dispelling some of the huge amount of myths attached to contraception use. One in particular that stuck in my head from many years ago was a young woman (not yet 20) from a deprived area of East London attending for an abortion. She knew she had been at risk of pregnancy but had decided not to take the emergency pill because she thought it would leave her infertile. Because of this belief she was risking her fertility by having an abortion. Obviously the risk attached to having one abortion is low but it's still far greater than the non existent risk of taking the emergency pill. I'm aware that these ingrained beliefs do not allow women to fully take control of their own reproductive process, especially when pressure is put on them by husbands and boyfriends who readily buy into the idea that contraception is not worth the perceived side effects.

Dispelling these ideas around contraception sometime feels a bit like an uphill struggle but I have realised that they are nothing in comparison to what women in a number of other countries are facing. And I'm not even going to get started on Rush Limbaugh and the current situation in the US.

The first thing I do want to talk about is information I received in an email from Avaaz. Apparently in Honduras they are very close to voting through a law that would make providing the emergency pill illegal. Abortion is already illegal in Honduras and women seeking abortions or anyone providing an abortion risks a jail sentence. With the new law anyone caught with the emergency pill will be considered as attempting an abortion and treated accordingly.

This seriously impinges on women's reproductive rights. An abortion is effectively a forced miscarriage. And it's the wording here that is important. Without carriage, there can be no miscarriage and the way that the emergency pill works effectively means that it cannot cause an abortion or miscarriage. When a woman takes the emergency pill it delays her ovulation or prevents a fertilised egg from implanting. If an egg is fertilised she is still not pregnant until it implants. If the egg is implanted the emergency pill will do stuff all and won't have any effect on the pregnancy and will not cause miscarriage.

Obviously it is worrying that such a law is at risk of being enforced in this day and age but it also opens the door to other and even more restrictive laws. The emergency pill only works in similar ways to other methods of contraception, many of which prohibit ovulation or prevent implantation and if Honduras bans emergency contraception is theoretically opens the door to them banning other methods of contraception. This could lead to a slightly less amusing version of Monty Python's Catholic paradise.

Uzbekistan has apparently been taking a far more invasive and permanent attack on women's reproductive rights and in quite the opposite direction. Whereas Honduras wants women to be unable to stop themselves getting pregnant, Uzbekistan wishes to permanently prevent pregnancies. Women have been having forced hysterectomies after having c- sections. Doctors and health professionals are given quotas of how many sterilisations they need to perform. Sometimes they berate women into having the procedure, other times they just do it without consent whilst a woman is anaesthetised. And in a country where c- sections are at an unreported but possible 80% that's a lot of women at risk of having such forced sterilisations. This is just so awful it doesn't need me to go into it more.

I will only say that all you need to do to encourage women to use contraception is make it easily and cheaply available and provide education for both the men and women in your country. I know from my experiences of working in a country where education and health care are free and available for all there are still people who don't use contraception or who don't understand it but at least we can correct that in a less drastic manner. What is happening in both Honduras and Uzbekistan is a tragedy and could be another nail in the coffin of feminism if we let it.

Sign the Avaas Petition.

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