CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: Live-Blogging International Reproductive Rights Panel

Hi Everyone! I’m here live-blogging at CLPP’s Reproductive Justice Conference at Hampshire College.  I’m sitting in on an International Reproductive Rights Roundtable.  The anthropologist in me always wants to look at issues cross-culturally.

The panel consists of:

“Activists from different countries will present their diverse experiences promoting and defending reproductive and sexual health and rights around the world.”

Sex and reproduction are intimately intertwined.  One panelist raised the salient point:

“How do you talk about reproduction without talking about sex?…If you’re having sex, there’s the chance of getting pregnant or an STD/STI…There is no positivity around these things…if you’re talking about reproduction, you’re talking about reproducing only and not the whole spectrum.”

One of the panelists discussed how the conservative Right uses the argument of forced sterilization as an excuse to ban abortions.  Another panelist discussed how sterilization occurred historically to prohibit impoverished people from reproducing.  She said,

“It’s an intoxicating idea…bigoted and racist people hold onto these ideas…they’re perpetuating their grip on power.”

When you look at the Genocide Convention, the document does not contain anything about class.  But sterilization doesn’t always affect just women.  In India in the 1970s, Indira Ghandi’s son came up with the idea of incentivizing men to have vasectomies.  It’s not just a matter of controlling the number of people in a country; it’s about asserting power over another.

“Too little people have access to their rights.”

Tibet is another example as the Chinese government controls the number of Tibetans in the country.  There’s also sterilization of women living with HIV, using the argument of transmitting HIV to their children.  But a panelist argued that other ways exist to prevent transmission, rather than sterilization.  Another panelist posed that the Congo and Brundi, health centers receive extra fees if they use IUDs and other long-term birth control.  “Is that a choice?”  In the U.S., the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding of abortions but allows for medical sterilization.

The panelists talked about societies in which girls are forced into marriage, and ultimately sex.  Fistula cases and maternal mortality increase and spontaneous abortions occur.  When you’re born into a culture, you may not know any other way of life, of any other possibilities.  Regarding cultural norms and the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM), in Kenya, some have stopped circumcising girls but have retained the ceremony.  Many have found that it’s the ceremonial ritual they enjoy.

Someone in the audience asked about men in the reproductive justice movement.  She said that many in the audience were gender-conforming women and no men were sitting in this room.  So how do we get men interested since gender and reproductive health involves them too?  Panelists said that they have found men in the movement.  One speaker advised we must retain focus.  She also said,

“How do you respect women while educating men to be gender-sensitive?”

Being too Western or not culturally-sensitive came up in discussion.  One of the panelists told us how many programs where she works in India involve capacity-building and come from within the communities themselves.  You have to work with the local groups and communities, rather than with your own agenda.  Be self-reflective to make sure you’re truly empowering people.

Listening to the speakers, two themes perpetually arose: power and control.  It’s all about one group of people having dominion over others.  People across cultures often use morality, tradition and culture as reasons to oppose reproductive health (abortion, birth control, sex ed) but it’s more about control…controlling women’s bodies.

Read my other posts on CLPP’s 2011 Reproductive Justice Conference.

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