Roger’s note: El Salvador has what may be the most repressive abortion laws in the Western world. There are cases of young women jailed for years because of a miscarriage. It is barbaric. And no one is more responsible for such barbarism than the Catholic Church. When I read that abortion is a sin, that there are campaigns to totally eradicate abortion in the struggle for good over evil, it takes me back to the Dark Ages. Such attitudes and laws reflect inhuman religious ideology in the service of patriarchy. It has been said jokingly, but I believe it literally, if men could have babies then abortion would be a sacrament.
The movement to decriminalize abortion in El Salvador described in the article below, if successful, would only eliminate the most Draconian elements of the anti-abortion legislation (abortion in the case of rape, for example); but there still would be a long way to go to reach the ideal of abortion being solely a matter between a woman and her physician.
“Is it the will of a compassionate God to mandate that young girls who have been raped carry to term resulting pregnancies?” asked theologian María Lopez Vigil at a talk organized by advocates.
In 1997, the legislature in El Salvador was considering a vote to criminalize abortion under all circumstances. Morena Herrera, a feminist activist, “was facing the legislature, alone, trying to defend and justify why they should not change the law,” recalled Mariana Moisa, communications director at the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto.
“They were transmitting live, and they shut off her microphone,” Moisa recalled.
The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly went on to ban abortion in all circumstances. In addition to making abortion illegal no matter what, this unjust law has been misapplied in cases of obstetric emergencies or miscarriages—leading to the imprisonment of dozens of women in the country because of pregnancy complications. Now, however, the legislature is considering a bill from Vice President of the Legislative Assembly Lorena Peña that would decriminalize abortion in cases of rape or human trafficking, fetal non-viability, or to preserve the pregnant person’s health or life. It would also legalize abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or statutory rape of a minor, with the consent of the minor’s parent or guardian. Although it would not necessarily shield women from prosecution when the law is misapplied, it effectively returns the law to its pre-1997 state.
On February 27, the legislature’s Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points, where the bill is being heard, convened a first-ever public hearing on abortion in response to the unexpected number of requests they received to present testimony. Twelve out of the seventeen organizations and individuals who testified spoke in support of decriminalization, including nationally and internationally recognized professionals in public health and law, representatives from two progressive Protestant churches, and a variety of activists.
Marcela Zamora, a well-known Salvadoran filmmaker, shared her recently published essay, “I Aborted,” a rare public statement in El Salvador. She recounted how more than ten years earlier, while living in a country that allowed abortion, she experienced a pregnancy with complications that threatened her life. Although she was able to obtain an abortion, she questioned what would have happened to her if she had been in El Salvador at that time.
Moisa said she was struck by the contrast with the tenor of the hearing in 1997. “This time, in 2017, they invited us to the legislature, and our voices were heard. They made clear that the discussion would be based on scientific and legal information. Morena was there again, [this time] with a whole panorama of diverse voices who stood up alongside her to express their support for a possible reform,” she remembered.
This change didn’t come out of nowhere. Activists on the ground have been working for two decades to engage allies and elected officials on this issue—and in the last few months, that momentum has ramped up on a number of fronts.
Abortion as a Health Issue
Those speaking out in favor of the bill are, for the most part, concentrating on the exceptions to the ban it enshrines into law.
At a January forum organized by the Alliance for the Life and Health of Women—a coalition in which the Agrupación is a key player—members of the medical profession provided the medical and scientific justifications for the proposed change to the law.
Gynecologist Guillermo Ortiz, currently a senior adviser for Ipas and formerly chief of obstetrics at the Women’s Hospital in El Salvador, said that physicians who support the proposal for reform “are in favor of saving lives. But there are conditions that make [abortion] necessary, and we are talking about those situations so that exceptions can exist within the law.”
As part of that convening of medical experts, seven nationally and internationally recognized OB-GYNs signed off on a memo to the Committee on Legislation and Constitutional Points. The memo, viewed by Rewire, says the society must “generate legal instruments that guarantee protection for [patients’] lives,” in at least the four cases defined in the proposed reform.
The memo cited the Ethics Committee of the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians: “There exists a broad consensus … that abortion is ethically justifiable when it is carried out for medical reasons to protect the life and health” of the pregnant person.
“It is fundamental to remember that the global experience shows that the frequency of abortion does not depend on legislation and that the rates of abortion do not increase with more liberal legislation,” the memo continued. “To the contrary, they can diminish, if at the same time other measures are adopted,” such as information and free access to highly effective contraception.
In a February 21 symposium on health and bioethics organized by the ministry, El Salvador Minister of Health Dr. Violeta Menjivar responded, “As the Ministry of Health, we consider it appropriate that the legislature and society together participate in a reflection and deliberation on the harm the absolute prohibition on abortion causes to the health of Salvadoran women.”
She supported the move to reform the law, noting that the United Nations had made a request in January 2015 that El Salvador repeal its broad criminalization of abortion under all circumstances.
At the February 27 hearing, Sofia Villalta, a nationally recognized gynecologist with more than 40 years of professional experience, testified on the causes of unwanted pregnancies and emphasized the underlying role of the “subordination of women to masculine power.” She cited a study within the Salvadoran society of gynecologists which showed that 80 percent of them want to return to the prior legislation allowing abortion.
The Consequences of Criminalization
At the February 21 forum organized by the Ministry of Health, Dr. Virginia Rodriguez of the National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador posed the question, “If a woman has rights from conception, at what point does she lose her rights? When do the rights of the fetus in development take priority over her rights to life?”
Rodriguez was referencing a February 15 decision from the El Salvador Supreme Court, when it ruled on a 2007 case involving conflicting laws over when life begins and when the State must protect that life.
Although the Court agreed that the the El Salvador Constitution declares life as beginning at “conception,” it said “it is necessary to weigh each case.” It also stated that the idea of fetal rights does not “claim a duty of absolute and unconditional protection of life in gestation.”
Alberto Romero of the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Movement for Secular Culture wrote in a booklet published by the Salvadoran Foundation for the Study of the Application of Law, FESPAD, that the Court’s decision “permits a resolution of the vacuum that exists in the current legislation, which does not establish legal mechanisms to resolve the collision of rights that takes place between the [fetus] and the woman who is pregnant.”
On the day of the hearing, the nine-member National Committee on Bioethics in El Salvador—which also includes Morena Herrera and Margarita Rivas of the Agrupación—published a paid ad in La Prensa Gráfica, noting the ways in which existing law infringes on the rights of pregnant people and women in general.
The law has also, the committee said, generated legal conflicts whereby physicians’ responsibilities to protect doctor-patient confidentiality conflict with their mandates under the anti-abortion laws. Overall, the ad said, the broad criminalization of abortion violates the rights of pregnant people by treating their constitutional rights as equal to or subordinate to those of the fetus.
“The Alliance knew it was important to address religious concerns in a society as deeply religious as El Salvador, where almost 99 percent of the population professes a belief in God and about 91 percent belong to a religion,” said Romero, who researches secularism and social issues in El Salvador.
“For many people, both legislators and citizens in general, it’s difficult to reconcile [many religions’] mandate against abortion with the rational arguments for permitting it. It’s important to present a variety of interpretations that do not condemn and criminalize abortion,” he said.
Advocates noted that different religions take varied stances on abortion. “The Anglican Church here in El Salvador talks about abortion not being a theological issue, but a pastoral one of accompaniment of women,” said Alejandra Burgos, a member of the Agrupación and a progressive feminist theologian.
Indeed, during the February 27 hearing, Martin Barahona of the Anglican Church in El Salvador explained that “in this case the Anglican bishops consider that the only people who have the right to decide are the women who are pregnant.”
“Even Pope Francis, who maintains that abortion is a sin, mandates priests to have compassion and accompany women,” Burgos pointed out.
“It’s necessary in this society to provide alternatives to people who are living with these contradictions; to show that a religious believer can also support the right [to] interrupt a pregnancy,” she concluded.
In one talk, María Lopez Vigil, a Cuban-Nicaraguan theologian, author, and editor of the progressive Nicaraguan magazine Envio, proposed looking at abortion in a broader perspective, considering the realities of the country.
“Consider the commandment ‘do not kill’ with situational ethics. There is nothing more abortive than poverty,” she said.
In arguing for a compassionate, merciful view of God, she asked the audience of more than 300—many of whom had not attended Alliance events in the past—if it was “the will of a compassionate God that women suffer and die for ‘not having enough faith’ when they experience obstetric emergencies? Is it the will of a compassionate God to mandate that young girls who have been raped carry to term resulting pregnancies?”
She challenged structural injustices and spoke of “abortive societies,” in which countries obligate pregnant girls and adolescents to give birth, but after the birth do nothing to help them support and raise their children. That, she said, is a “structural sin.”
Responses to the campaign for decriminalization are diverse.
After the various hearings and forums, Legislative Representative Juan Valiente of the right-wing ARENA party spoke on a TV talk show supporting debate on the reform, going against his party’s stance.
In addition, he tweeted, “I’m against abortion, but I recognize that there is a collision of rights and it’s important to investigate and debate. I’m not afraid.” And to another constituent opposed to decriminalization, he posted, “I prefer to lose your vote than my conscience.”
Even with these sea changes in some public opinions and attitudes, there is still strong religious opposition.
A group of Catholic churches initiated “40 days of prayer” leading up to Easter Sunday with the goal of “ending abortion in the world and in the country” in a war “between good and bad.” Regarding the Ministry of Health position, prayer campaign leader Karla de Lacayo told La Prensa Gráfica, “it’s a lie” that women’s lives are at risk.
“With [medical] advances now, there is no way the woman is going to die. And, if it’s true, if the child dies in the process, then that’s what God wanted,” de Lacayo said.
In the legislature itself, there remains the fact that supporters of the reform must form coalitions in order to get the majority vote necessary to first pass the measure out of committee, and then win a majority of votes in the full body. Neither the right-wing ARENA party nor the left-leaning FMLN has a numerical majority in the committee or the full legislature.
Supporters hope for a positive resolution in the next few weeks, before the next election cycle gets underway. At that point, they say, chances of any substantive vote on any matter disappear.
As Sara Garcia, coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire, “This is a historic moment. International organizations such as the UN are speaking out. More and more social movements are making pronouncements. Professional medical organizations and the universities declare their support.”
“The government can’t keep ignoring the realities of women in this country,” she said.
Roger’s note: here are some funny and not so funny memes on the subject of religion. Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” is my Bible on the subject, and I recommend it highly. I have little use for organized religion and many of its beliefs. My cynicism comes out strong in what I have selected here. Enjoy.
Here we see the elegant and mocking fusion of science with Biblical history.
“Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” Bob Dylan
This is wicked. I love it.
Sometimes that which unifies ain’t that pretty.
This too is wicked, but a powerful arrow slung at the Church for its protection of clerical child abusers.
Roger’s note: last week we celebrated Helen Keller Day, celebrating the 136th anniversary of her birth. Like Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest mind of the 20th century, Keller’s disavowal of capitalist economic relations and her commitment to socialism and pacifism are virtually absent when her life and achievements are discussed. These are inconvenient truths that corporate media and educational establishments love to ignore. It is a phenomenon similar to the expunging of Martin Luther King’s biting anti-war and economic justice critiques and the beatification of Muhammad Ali absent any analysis of his anti-Vietnam war heroism as relative to today’s permanent wars and military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the globe.
Virtually all my adult life it has been evident to me that capitalist economic relations are unsustainable and responsible for massive economic and social injustice, immeasurable suffering and murderous warfare; and that the survival of the human race and the planet we inhabit depends upon nothing less than the creation of a New Society based upon communal values, once cancerous and voracious world capitalism is uprooted.
These are not new ideas, and it is comforting to know that they were held by some of our greatest humanitarians.
The name Helen Keller conjures up, for many people, a deaf-blind-mute girl learning to communicate via sign language. It is a scene straight out of “The Miracle Worker,” the biographical play recounting Anne Sullivan’s role in reaching young Helen Keller. However, the amazing part of Keller’s story is not that the way she learned to fingerspell W-A-T-E-R, but what she chose to say once she could sign, read Braille, write, and speak.
Helen Keller is one of the most beloved figures in American history. Few people, however, remember her as a socialist, pacifist, and activist. Wikipedia reports, “A prolific author, Keller was well-traveled and outspoken in her convictions. A member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism, and other similar causes.”
Keller was celebrated as a miracle, but her intelligent and articulate views and opinions were denounced as irrational, misguided thinking that came as the result of her afflictions. Keller railed against these charges. Responding to one attack in the Brooklyn Eagle, she wrote:
“At [one] time the compliments he paid me were so generous that I blush to remember them. But now that I have come out for socialism he reminds me and the public that I am blind and deaf and especially liable to error. I must have shrunk in intelligence during the years since I met him. … Oh, ridiculous Brooklyn Eagle! Socially blind and deaf, it defends an intolerable system, a system that is the cause of much of the physical blindness and deafness which we are trying to prevent.”
Keller was highly adept at connecting the dots between the issues, understanding the relationship of war and militarism to economic injustice and the abuse of women, workers, children, and others. She also understood the power of nonviolent struggle, noncooperation, and organized direct action.
In her famous 1916 “Strike Against War” speech, Keller said to the workers of the nation, “It is in your power to refuse to carry the artillery and the dread-noughts and to shake off some of the burdens, too, such as limousines, steam yachts, and country estates. You do not need to make a great noise about it. With the silence and dignity of creators you can end wars and the system of selfishness and exploitation that causes wars. All you need to do to bring about this stupendous revolution is to straighten up and fold your arms.”
Helen Keller Day commemorates her birth on June 27,1880. On this day, one way to honor her life and legacy is to share the story of her commitment to pacifism, ending war, equality, women’s rights, labor and workers’ rights, suffrage, and more. Remember her as a woman who understood the relationship between systems of injustice, and the challenges of being deaf, blind, or mute. Keller clearly saw that while she had lost sight and hearing through illness, many people were becoming deaf or blind through workplace injuries, poverty-related sicknesses, and lack of access to affordable healthcare. To honor and commemorate her life, find a way to work for social justice in your community, and tell her story wherever you go.
Rivera Sunis the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.
Roger’s note: President Obama, to his shame, has deported more refugees from Mexico and Central America that his Republican predecessors. This began under Janet Napolitano, now President of the University of California, my alma mater; and it has continued under her successor at Homeland (in)Security, Jeh Johnson. The bitter irony of this, apart from the de facto inhumane treatment and deportation of refugees, is that those we are expelling are for the most part escapees from Mexico and Central American nations (especially Honduras and El Salvador) where our stringent economic policies and support for murderous and corrupt dictatorial regimes, especially that in Honduras, have created the violent conditions that make life unbearable and provoke emigration.
After January’s raids that tore teens from their families and plucked them off buses on their way to school, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is about to embark on a renewed quest to arrest and deport Central Americans who applied for refugee status in the United States in the summer of 2014. According to sources reported by Reuters on 12 May 2016 and confirmed by DHS a day later, the agency is sending Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents out on a second wave of raids against immigrants, this time with the specific aim of apprehending and imprisoning Central American women and their children, or “family units”, and unaccompanied minors.
An article by Julia Edwards published by Reuters on Thursday referred to internal papers that were revealed to the news agency concerning the upcoming operation.
“Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has now told field offices nationwide to launch a 30-day ‘surge’ of arrests focused on mothers and children who have already been told to leave the United States, the document seen by Reuters said. The operation would also cover minors who have entered the country without a guardian and since turned 18 years of age, the document said. Two sources confirmed the details of the plan.”
Despite assurances by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson that “we will offer vulnerable populations in Central America an alternate and legal path to safety in the United States,” the impending actions seem to be anything but.
“These military-style raids against mothers and children fleeing violence are reprehensible…. The federal government’s failure to address the violent conditions that are causing women and children to flee in the first place mean that these raids are a complete and utter policy failure.”
While January’s arrests were carried out in only three states (Georgia, North Carolina and Texas), the new raids will take place throughout the country. Though DHS avows it is only targeting dangerous individuals who have already been deemed deportable by a court of law, byzantine courts, nebulous immigration laws, lack of access to counsel, and pressure from bed quotas and private prison corporations such as GEO and CCA are placing mostly innocent and deserving people, including children, in ICE’s crosshairs.
According to the government’s own findings, as reported by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the agency determined that in 2015, the vast majority of asylum petitions, 88%, were found to be based on credible and reasonable fear, even including statistical juggling such as giving equal weight to a single closed case from Ethiopia. The percentage reached 100% for most countries in the second quarter of the year.
[caption: 88% of 2015 2nd quarter claimants have credible cases, 97% if you don’t count one closed case from
“While Johnson insisted that his department is focusing both detention and deportation resources on high-risk immigrants with criminal backgrounds, the evidence suggests otherwise. A National Immigration Council report found that, ‘between 2009 and 2011, over half of all immigrant detainees had no criminal records. Of those with any criminal history, nearly 20 percent were merely for traffic offenses.’
“An Immigration Policy Council report out this week found that ICE mostly deported immigrants who posed ‘a threat to no one.’ In fact, only one in five deportees qualified for a ‘Level 1’ priority, a category that once encompassed crimes like murder and federal drug trafficking, but now has broadened out to include ‘theft, filing a false tax return, and failing to appear in court.’ Other immigrants were deported for much less.”
#LetThemGraduate, Source: AltertaMigratoria NC
Community activists AlertaMigratoriaNC (NC Migrant Alert) have been working hard to spread the word about six teens who were arrested in January raids in North Carolina. Of the #NC6, three have already been deported, while Yefri, Pedro and Wildin languish in detention. In an unprecedented move, AlertaMigratoriaNC has published a flyer in response to the announcement about the new raids, delineating what to do if you are in a targeted group. Their message: MOVE!
“If you have a deportation order and live at the same address as when you arrived and your application began, you must move immediately as immigration will go to the address that was provided.”
Even though he was in the company of his father who has immigration status, Pedro Salmerón was picked up by ICE on January 26 as the two were on their way to the father’s job site. Pedro was a 10th grader but since he had already turned 18, his family thought it best to avoid school after learning about the raids. Speaking to reporters for The Charlotte Observer, family members recounted how a cousin had been castrated and decapitated in El Salvador, prompting Pedro’s departure to join his mother and father in the U.S. El Salvador has the world’s highest homicide rate, and the Peace Corps cited this fact when it decided to pull out from the country this year. Its violence is gang-related and young boys and girls like Pedro are its most likely victims.
But none of that swayed ICE. “My son was taken away with his hands and feet tied. We are not criminals,” Pedro’s mother says. “This has broken my heart to see him like this.”
Women and small children without deportation orders are also being treated like criminals and arrested in aggressive and inhumane fashion. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights centers on women and children in the Atlanta area who had not been determined to be deportable, who were in fact being processed by the courts, who had followed all the steps and attended all the appointments and were known to DHS to the extent that they were all wearing ankle monitors.
Yet they were rounded up by ICE agents, often in the early hours of the morning, without regard for their dignity or their basic human rights. Account after account in the report describes instances where women and small children were dragged out of bed, refused access to counsel or allowed to contact friends or family members. Children were not permitted to take any belongings or even change out of their pajamas. Inexplicably, in case after case, ICE agents used a photo of an African American man to somehow menace the women and children. From the report:
“ ‘We were treated like criminals. I don’t understand why. I had gone to my ICE supervision appointments, and even had an appointment scheduled in a few days,’ said Ana Lizeth, who is still detained.
Roger’s note: The “radical” pope drew a crowd of a million in Guayaquil, that is nearly 10% of Ecuador’s population. Following this article on the persecution of women in El Salvador I have posted a critique of the hypocritical plea to end poverty at the same time as defending the Church’s misogynist ideology. My take on the RC Church, this anonymous quote: “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
For Immediate Release
July 6, 2015
Washington DC – Four activists will stand trial on July 7, 2015 at 9:30 am in front of Judge Susan Holmes-Winfield (Case# 2015CMD005708) on the charge of unlawful entry, which carries a maximum sentence of 6 months in prison. The four were arrested on April 24, 2015 at the Embassy of El Salvador where they staged a sit-in to call attention to a group of Salvadoran women currently serving extreme 30-year prison sentences for having had miscarriages. Protesters included Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of Latin America solidarity organization School of the Americas Watch; Ed Kinane, of Syracuse, NY, retired educator and nonviolent peace activist; John Honeck, a counselor and activist from Hamlin, NY; and Paki Wieland, of Northampton, MA, longtime peace and justice activist and member of the Raging Grannies. The group delivered a letter to the embassy to express their solidarity and to seek the release of the 17 women. Julienne Oldfield of Syracuse, NY, and Palma Ryan of Cliff Island, ME, also participated in the sit-in.
“The 17,” as they are now known in the global movement advocating their release, are 17 women in El Salvador serving decades in prison for having had miscarriages. A country with deeply conservative abortion laws, El Salvador has convicted these 17 and charged as many as five more. According to Amnesty International, the charges are for aggravated homicide and receiving illegal abortions, though there is little to no evidence as to the causes of their miscarriages. Cristina Quintanilla, sentenced to 30 years after she had a miscarriage, was released in 2014 by a court, which commuted her sentence to three years, amounting to time served. Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana made international headlines earlier this year as one of the 17 to be released. (El Salvador and ‘Las 17’, New York Times).
Mirian, Martiza, Marina, Salvadora, Ena,Teodora, Guadalupe, Mariana, Mirna, Cinthia, Verónica, Alba, Johana, Evelyn, Teresa, and María make up the remainder of The 17. Many are mothers of young children, and all have many more years to serve under their current sentences.
“This is a grave injustice. Where there is injustice, silence is complicity,” said Father Roy Bourgeois. “For that reason, we were at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, DC, to express our solidarity with these women.” The group invited the embassy staff to join the call for the release of the 15 women who remain incarcerated.
The extreme abortion laws in El Salvador were passed under the ultra-right wing Arena government in 1997. Embassy staff were concerned about the issues raised and informed protesters that the Supreme Court has the authority to review these cases.
Some of the protesters were part of a recent US Human Rights Delegation to El Salvador that visited five of the women in prison who are serving 30-year sentences for having a miscarriage. They have 22 more years to go before they are released.
Pope Francis this week embarked on a seven-day “homecoming” tour of Latin America in his unstoppable quest to defend the planet and the poor.
The continent—the most unequal region in the world, and the Argentine pontiff’s home turf—will likely provide fertile ground for more of his legendary sermons on poverty and inequality. After addressing a crowd of a million in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Monday, Francis is scheduled to attend a meeting of grass-roots political activists and visit one of the continent’s largest prisons, in Bolivia, as well as a slum and a children’s hospital in Paraguay.
While he advocates for South America’s impoverished and disenfranchised, its prisoners, its indigenous peoples and its children, one group is unlikely to feature in Francis’ apparently radical agenda: its women.
Despite his efforts to champion his constituency—the world’s poor, of which the vast majority are women—the pope tends to overlook the feminized nature of poverty and inequality.
Like the rest of the world -and the Vatican – Latin America is built on gender inequality. Important progress has been made in the region over recent decades, and the percentage of its overall population living in poverty had decreased significantly. But the feminization of poverty (an increase in the levels of poverty among women or female-headed households relative to the levels of men or male-headed households) increased from 109 percent in 1994 to almost 117 percent in 2013, according to the United Nations.
Women’s labor participation in the region remains more than a quarter less than that of men, at 52.9 percent, compared with 79.6 percent, as recorded in 2010 statistics. And while the wage gap has shrunk, women still earn a staggering 68 percent less than their male colleagues. South American women are also twice as likely as men to be unpaid workers.
As a public figure who frequently invokes “dignity” in appealing to the hearts and minds of his followers, the Catholic leader would do well to address the results of a recent poll in which Latin Americans were found to be the least likely in the world in 2012 and 2013 to describe women in their countries as treated with respect and dignity. A median of 35 percent of adults across 22 Latin American countries said their women are treated this way—about half the percentages in any other region of the world.
Of the little research that exists, the statistics on violence against women in Latin America are gruesome. A recent U.N. report published in the Economist found that a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. It states that in Colombia, “attacks in which acid is thrown at women’s faces, disfiguring them, nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.” Moreover, of the 25 countries in the world that are high or very high in the U.N.’s ranking for femicides (killings of women that seem to be related to their sex), more than half are in the region.
Research shows that when women have access to contraception and are educated to make responsible choices, their income, employment and education levels rise, as do their children’s. As women’s choices expand, they have fewer unassisted labors and backstreet abortions, meaning maternal mortality is reduced, and, depending on the type of contraception used, life-limiting sexually transmitted diseases are contained.
But because the Vatican considers women second-class citizens, it goes without saying that the pope will not mention abortion or contraception during his South American tour.
Figures show that of the 4.4 million abortions performed in Latin America in 2008, 95 percent were unsafe, and about 1 million women are hospitalized annually for treatment of complications from such procedures. In this context, it should be noted that the pope has described the abortion-rights movement as a “culture of death” and has opposed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s efforts to distribute free contraceptives.
Francis has shown himself capable of influencing policy (he was most recently hailed as instrumental in restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba), but as Jemima Thackray writes in The Telegraph, “the Catholic Church’s growth is coming from non-European countries where the so-called ‘liberal’ issues of sexual equality are considered less important.”
As much as he has advocated “rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world,” Francis has repeatedly embraced the traditional Catholic view that a woman’s role is in the home. Extolling the role of women specifically as mothers by declaring “the presence of women in a domestic setting” as crucial to “the very transmission of the faith,” Francis has said, “I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.” Although women may have lives outside the home, Francis has urged us not to “forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family.”
Given the pope’s outspoken views, we’ve been hoping he’d get around to addressing gender inequality eventually. But lest we forget, the Vatican is—and always will be—a patriarchal institution based on sexual hierarchy. Asked on two occasions about the possibility of admitting women to the ranks of the clergy, Francis has given a firm no. “That door,” he said in 2013, “is closed.” As Thackray explains, “this is not about having a Western liberal agenda for equality for its own sake, but about acknowledging that in allowing women into positions of influence in the church, this would raise their general status, reducing their vulnerability and poverty. Perhaps,” she continues, “it would also help shake up some of the closed male-dominated systems which have caused some of the other worst abuses by the Catholic Church.”
It would be no violation of doctrine to recognize women as equally and intrinsically valuable, regardless of their familial role or fertility. Until the pope’s vision of equality includes this, it’s incomplete.
A version of this article originally appeared in Truthdig.
Roísín Davis, originally from Northern Ireland, is a journalist with a background in social research and community work. She is an assistant editor at Truthdig. She now lives in Los Angeles.
Roger’s note: this article was published before the traitorous right wing Republican president Obama and the right wing Republican Congress aided by some twenty odd traitorous Democrats gave Obama the authority to fast track the traitorous Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. If you are observant you will have noticed my repetition of the word “traitorous.” However, if you somehow failed to notice this, let me repeat that Obama and the Republican and Democratic Party members of Congress who voted fast track are nothing less than traitors to American women and other working people as well as the environment and what little is left of democratic institutions in the country.
Women protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership during an international day of action in Seattle on Friday, January 31, 2015. “(Photos courtesy of Alex Garland Photography/cc/flickr)
The President is asking for “fast track” authority to let the White House be the sole negotiator on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a giant twelve-nation trade agreement between the U.S. and Pacific Rim nations. Fast track passed the Senate in May, and could come up for a House vote as early as this week.
Trouble is, the provisions are secret, and the Obama administration won’t tell Congress or the people what’s in it. But thanks to a few chapters released by Wikileaks online last year, we already know it’s a disaster for U.S. workers—especially women.
According to the Washington Post, around 600 corporations and a couple of labor unions have seen a draft. A few members of Congress have seen parts of it in a “secure soundproof reading room,” where cellphones and note-taking are not allowed. The majority of congressmembers and the public have not, and those members who have been given that extremely limited access are forbidden to discuss it with the public.
The so-called partnership is an insult to all U.S. workers, with many provisions that will hurt women the most. The Communications Workers of America says it will steal majority-female jobs from low wage workplaces like call centers, as well as higher wage sectors such as human resources. And according to Doctors Without Borders, the agreement may well cut off access to generic drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS—now predominately women and kids.
At the same time supporters in the Senate were beating their chests when they passed fast track for TPP claiming it will create jobs, they also passed a companion measure called the TAA –Trade Adjustment Assistance. And what would that do? Give assistance to U.S. workers displaced by free trade agreements. Huh? Didn’t they say the TPP would create jobs? Yeah, but they forgot to mention those much touted new jobs will be in low wage countries paying pennies per hour.
And then there’s the collateral damage. The TAA will be paid for by benefit cuts in Medicare, a program women depend on more than men do. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cuts will amount to $700 million. So add health care providers to the list of those against this rotten deal.
The final insult? Under rules, businesses incorporated in Trans Pacific Partnership countries would be guaranteed equal treatment with U.S. firms when bidding on government contracts. That means our tax dollars would be underwriting countries like Brunei, which imprisons unmarried women for getting pregnant and allows stoning of gays and lesbians.
If the President and Congress really want to help U.S. workers, why not start with something guaranteed to work quickly right here at home – like a higher minimum wage. But the Trans Pacific Partnership? Throw it overboard.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Is the March 19 murder of Farkhunda by a mob of men who beat her to death with stones and sticks, ran her over with a car, threw her body on the banks of the Kabul River and lit it on fire, a turning point for women in Afghanistan? Some are saying it is.
Farkhunda was a 27-year-old woman who was studying religion and thought she had a right to criticize mullahs selling good luck charms at a religious shrine in central Kabul. But then one mullah started screaming that she was an infidel and had burned the Koran. Even though Farkhunda had been at the shrine for hours castigating the trinket sellers as un-Islamic, the lynch mob believed the mullah and turned on her with inhuman fury.
Her death was captured by cell phones and projected on social media. The impact was profound. Nargis Azaryun, a youth activist and member of Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), expressed what many felt when she checked her facebook page that morning: “The first sentences I read about the incident left me in shock: ‘Today we killed a woman who burned the Koran. Allah Akbar.’… I cried for hours, thinking how helpless she was when they were kicking her. She kept screaming and saying, ‘I haven’t burned the Koran,’ but no one was listening to her….The police did not help her because everyone believed that she deserved to die, deserved to be burned to death….”
Because Farkhunda’s death was broadcast all over social media, because it was so horrific and because there was such an outcry—for once, instead of taking the man’s word as the unchallenged truth—her murder was investigated and she was declared “completely innocent.”
AFGHAN WOMEN STAND TALL
Then women did something unprecedented: they went to Farkhunda’s family and asked if they could carry her coffin, this in a country where women are often banned from attending funerals. The women who made this move were activists, belonging to groups like WLUML, Solidarity Party, Women for Women International-Afghanistan; others held professional jobs in the city or university.
There is no question that they were aware of what happened in Turkey in February at the funeral of 19-year-old student Özgecan Aslan, who was savagely sexually assaulted and murdered. Over 5,000 came to her funeral where women refused the Imam’s orders to step to the back of the crowd. Instead women stepped forward to carry Aslan’s coffin and bury her, vowing: “No other man’s hands would touch her again.” (See “From Turkey to USA, women as force & reason fight inhumanity,” March-April 2015 N&L.)
In Afghanistan at the burial the women chanted: “We want justice!” and “We are all Farkhunda!” A member of WLUML said that at Farkhunda’s funeral, “For the first time in Afghanistan we stood tall to say that no man will touch her burnt body’s coffin.”
It didn’t end there. On March 24 thousands of demonstrators marched on Afghanistan’s Supreme Court demanding justice for Farkhunda, the second protest in as many days. Organizers estimated that 3,000 marched—one of the largest demonstrations ever in Kabul. Demonstrators shouted, “Justice for Farkhunda” and “Down with ignorance.” Afghans in other countries have demonstrated too.
At the March 24 demonstration, the head of the Afghanistan Women’s Council, Fatana Gailani, expressed the hope that Farkhunda’s death would be a catalyst for change. Others thought the response to her death had brought people together who were sickened by the inhumanity of her attackers. Is this the beginning of a better life for Afghan women?
WOMEN AS FORCE AND REASON
If Farkhunda had burned the Koran, would there have been an outcry? When it was thought she had, the police stood by and watched her murder. A spokesman for them said that the killing of “an unbeliever” was justified. What of the women who are jailed for years for running away from home to avoid a forced marriage or those who die from honor killings? Who carries their coffins or demonstrates in the streets shouting for justice for them?
It means something that these women stood tall in Kabul. They took matters into their own hands and revealed their creativity through action, which is the way that genuine change comes about.
Azaryun made this clear, saying: “I picked up [Farkhunda’s coffin] because I wanted to tell the women in this country that if we want to achieve anything we should sit up and do what we want to do. Do it like a woman. And if we stick together, we break taboos. We proved it yesterday. No one could stop us yesterday from being by Farkhunda’s side because we were together and supporters of each other.”
Roger’s note: god forbid anyone should promote a rivalry between different groups of the oppressed; that is tantamount to divide and conquer, the oldest political trick in the books, one that predated Machiavelli by centuries. Nevertheless, as this article points out, there is a complexity about the different dimensions of struggles for justice. Homophobia, racism and sexism are pernicious; and, as the saying goes, no one is free until we are all free. Nevertheless, homophobia, racism and sexism seem to have taken root to different degrees in North American society. An example that has interested me relates to Vietnam War opposition; that is, the difference in attitude towards celebrity opponents Jane Fonda and Muhammad Ali. The latter has risen to iconic hero status, whereas Hanoi Jane remains a pariah to many. Does this mean that misogyny is deeper than racism in our society? I don’t think that is exactly true, although to some extent it seems that the liberation of fifty percent of the population poses more of a threat than any particular race. This is a raw observation on my part, not to be taken too seriously I hope; and this article goes into a more rigorous analysis in the treatment of gay and women’s rights.
The media present marriage equality and reproductive rights as ‘culture war’ issues, as if they somehow went together,” writes Pollitt. “But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think.” (Image credit: Getty)
Why are reproductive rights losing while gay rights are winning? Indiana’s attempt to enshrine opposition to gay marriage under the guise of religious freedom provoked an immediate nationwide backlash. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has allowed religious employers to refuse insurance coverage for birth control—not abortion, birth control—to female employees; new laws are forcing abortion clinics to close; and absurd, even medically dangerous restrictions are heaping up in state after state. Except when the media highlight a particularly crazy claim by a Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, where’s the national outrage? Most Americans are pro-choice, more or less; only a small minority want to see abortion banned. When you consider, moreover, that one in three women will have had at least one abortion by the time she reaches menopause, and most of those women had parents, partners, friends—someone—who helped them obtain it, the sluggish response to the onslaught of restrictive laws must include many people who have themselves benefited from safe and legal abortion.
The media present marriage equality and reproductive rights as “culture war” issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think. Some distinctions:
§ Marriage equality is about love, romance, commitment, settling down, starting a family. People love love! But marriage equality is also about tying love to family values, expanding a conservative institution that has already lost most of its coercive social power and become optional for millions. (Marriage equality thus follows Pollitt’s law: Outsiders get access when something becomes less valued, which is why women can be art historians and African-Americans win poetry prizes.) Far from posing a threat to marriage, as religious opponents claim, permitting gays to marry gives the institution a much-needed update, even as it presents LGBT people as no threat to the status quo: Instead of promiscuous child molesters and lonely gym teachers, gays and lesbians are your neighbors who buy Pottery Barn furniture and like to barbecue.
Reproductive rights, by contrast, is about sex—sexual freedom, the opposite of marriage—in all its messy, feckless glory. It replaces the image of women as chaste, self-sacrificing mothers dependent on men with that of women as independent, sexual, and maybe not so self-sacrificing. It doesn’t matter that contraception is indispensable to modern life, that abortion antedates the sexual revolution by thousands of years, that plenty of women who have abortions are married, or that most (60 percent) who have abortions are already mothers. Birth control and abortion allow women—and, to a lesser extent, men—to have sex without punishment, a.k.a. responsibility. And our puritanical culture replies: You should pay for that pleasure, you slut.
§ Same-sex marriage is something men want. Lesbian couples account for the majority of same-sex marriages, but even the vernacular “gay marriage” types it as a male concern. That makes it of interest to everyone, because everything male is of general interest. Though many of the groundbreaking activists and lawyers who have fought for same-sex marriage are lesbians, gay men have a great deal of social and economic power, and they have used it, brilliantly, to mainstream the cause.
Reproductive rights are inescapably about women. Pervasive misogyny means not only that those rights are stigmatized—along with the women who exercise them—but that men don’t see them as all that important, while women have limited social power to promote them. And that power is easily endangered by too close an identification with all but the most anodyne version of feminism. There are no female CEOs pouring millions into reproductive rights or threatening to relocate their businesses when a state guts access to abortion. And with few exceptions, A-list celebs steer clear.
§ Marriage equality has cross-class appeal: Anyone can have an LGBT child, and parents across the political spectrum naturally want their kids to have the same opportunities other children have. Any woman might find herself needing an abortion, too, but she may not realize that. Improvements in birth control mean that prosperous, educated women with private doctors can control their fertility pretty well—certainly better than women who rely on public clinics—and if they need an abortion, they can get one. It’s low-income women who suffer the most from abortion restrictions—and since when have their issues been at the top of the middle and upper classes’ to-do list?
§ Marriage equality costs society nothing and takes no power away from anyone. No one has been able to argue persuasively that your gay marriage hurts my straight marriage. But reproductive rights come with a price tag: Government funding is inevitably involved. (“If you want to have a party, have a party, but don’t ask me to pay for it,” said one New Hampshire lawmaker as he tried to cut funding for contraception.) Also, contraception and abortion give power to women and take it from others: parents, employers, clergy, and men.
§In marriage equality, there is no loser. But many, including some who call themselves pro-choice, feel that abortion creates a loser: the embryo or fetus. You have to value women a lot to side with the pregnant woman, with all her inevitable complexities and flaws, over the pure potentiality of the future baby.
§ Marriage equality is a wonderful thing, an important civil right that brings dignity to a previously excluded group. Over time, it may subtly affect the gender conventions of straight marriage, but it won’t fundamentally alter our social and economic arrangements. Reproductive rights, though, are inescapably connected to the larger project of feminism, which has already destabilized every area of life, from the bedroom to the boardroom. What might women demand, what might they accomplish, how might they choose to live, if every woman had children only when and if she wanted them? “Culture war” doesn’t begin to describe it.