reproductive rights

Another day, another massacre...

OK, here we go. Get ready for the tiresome semantic debate about whether the San Bernardino massacre was "terrorism," or not. As if that's the most important question we should be grappling with.... Was this yet another random "mass-shooting" motivated by some personal grudge and rooted in America's homegrown culture of vigilantism and personal revenge? (This kind of thing is so commonplace that the same day's shoot-up in Savannah, Ga., barely made the news because only four people were shot, one fatally, the WaPo says.) Or was it inspired or even directed by an extremist political tendency of one stripe or another? This question is pathologically politicized...

Peru: justice at last in sterilization abuse?

Peru's government on Nov. 6 issued a decree calling for an investigation into the forced sterilization of poor and peasant women under the regime of now-imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori. "Never again in Peru can we implement a policy of fighting poverty by violating the reproductive rights of poor families," President Ollanta Humala said in a televsised address announcing the move. Justice Ministry Decree 006-2015 orders formation of a National Registry of Forced Sterilization Victims and establishment of a "legal framework to implement" restitution, including legal assistance, psychological treatment and healthcare. Some 350,000 women and 25,000 men were sterilized as part of the mid-1990s program, although it is unclear how many of these were coercive. Government health workers went door-to-door to coax, cajole and bully women into submitting to sterilization, according to accounts from poor rural communities. Many survivors say they were threatened with a fine or prison if they refused to be sterilized. Advocates who have been pressing for an official investigation view the campaign as one of Peru's biggest human rights scandals. (Jezebel, Nov. 9; Peru This Week, Nov. 6; Reuters, June 7)

Burkina Faso: counter-revolution collapses

Burkina Faso's interim President Michel Kafando was formally reinstated Sept. 23, a week after he was ousted in a coup led by the presidential guard. The ceremony took place in the capital, Ouagadougou, in the presence of several West African leaders who helped mediate an end to the crisis. Coup leader Gen Gilbert Diendere admitted to local media that it had been "the biggest mistake... We knew the people were not in favour of it. That is why we have given up." (BBC News, Sept. 23) Among those involved in brokering a return to civilian rule was the Mogho Naba, traditional monarch of the Mossi ethnic group, whose kingdom dates to the 12th century. Baongo II has been king since 1982. The Mossi continue to have limited autonomy, although the authority of the Mogho Naba was significantly curtailed during the presidency of anti-imperialist revolutionary Thomas Sankara prior to his death in October 1987. (BBC News, Sept. 23) The Mogho Naba (also rendered Moro Naaba) is signatory to a manifesto issued by civil groups after last year's popular uprising calling for widespread social reforms with an emphasis on women's rights and reproductive freedom—including access to birth control and an end to child marriage. (Amnesty International, Sept. 24)

Peru: naked protesters storm congress

National Police troops used tear-gas and armored vehicles against marchers for abortion rights in Lima Aug. 13, who attempted to storm Peru's Congress building. Many of the hundreds of women at the protest were partially naked, with demands for reproductive freedom written on their torsos in red—symbolizing blood. Protesters were pressing for passage of a bill to remove penalties for abortion in the case of rape. A simialr measure was introduced to Congress last year, but failed to pass.

Iran: artist gets 12 years for political cartoon

The interminable cartoon wars now move back to Iran, where 28-year-old artist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison. Her crime? A cartoon that depicts members of parliament as animals—seemingly a ruse to avoid specifically identifying them, so as to avoid trouble. According to Amnesty International, she was charged with "spreading propaganda against the system," "insulting members of parliament through paintings," and "gathering and colluding against national security." The offending cartoon depicted parliamentarians as monkeys, cows or goats as they cast votes for proposed laws that would ban some types of birth control and restrict women's access to contraception.

Egypt: first FGM trial ends in acquittals

Two men in Egypt were acquitted on charges relating to female genital mutilation (FGM) on Nov. 27. Since the law banning FGM was amended in 2008, this is the only case of FGM that resulted in trial. The charges stemmed from the death of a 13 year-old girl who died last year of an allergic reaction to penicillin, after her father took her to a local doctor for an FGM procedure. The prosecutor charged the doctor with manslaughter and committing the practice of FGM, and charged the girl's father with endangering her life and forcing her to undergo FGM. While FGM is banned in Egypt, the practice continues due to a lack of prosecutions and investigations, in part due to the belief among local authorities that FGM is a private, family issue. In response to the verdicts, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report calling for Egyptian authorities to take clear actions to end the practice of FGM by enforcing the law, prosecuting and investigating those who carry out the procedure, and undertaking measures to increase national awareness of the harms of FGM.

India sterilization abuse: genocide by other means

A horrific case in India's impoverished Chhattisgarh state has won a modicum of international headlines. A surgeon has been arrested on charges of  "attempted culpable homicide" in the deaths of at least 13 women who underwent sterilization operations at a field camp in the village of Pandari. Dr. RK Gupta and his a team operated on 83 women in just six hours Nov. 8—in a filthy room, with rusty equipment. Gupta—who had performed over 50,000 sterilizations, and was awarded a state honor for his work—was arrested after initially fleeing, and remains intransigent, blaming the deaths on painkillers the women were given by a village clinic. The death toll may rise, as many women are gravely ill, apparently from infection. The desperately poor women were paid 1,400 rupees ($23) for the surgery. "Health workers" (sic!) also received payments for bringing women to the camp. 

Haiti: women protest 1835 abortion law

Some 30 Haitian women held a protest in front of the Ministry for the Feminine Condition and Women's Rights (MCFDF) in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 26 to demand the decriminalization of abortion. Under Article 262 of Haiti's Criminal Code, in effect since 1835, the sentence for a woman having an abortion and for anyone who helps her is life in prison. The law is apparently never enforced, but because of it all abortions in Haiti are clandestine and unregulated. The country has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the Americas, with 530 deaths for each 100,000 births; 100 of these deaths follow abortions. In a 2012 survey of 352 women who had abortions since 2007, 40% reported having complications. "Criminalization isn't a solution," the protesters, mostly young women, chanted. "We want to be educated sexually to be able to decide." The demonstration was sponsored by a number of women's rights organizations, including the Initiative for an Equitable Development in Haiti (Ideh), Kay Fanm ("Women's House") and Haitian Women's Solidarity (SOFA).

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