CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: Politics of Population Control

Hello, Everyone!  I’m here at the last day of CLPP’s Reproductive Justice Conference at Hampshire College.  I’m live-blogging the Politics of Population Control workshop.  The panelists challenged “the resurgences of population control as a response to global economic crises, climate change and security fears.”  They covered controversial topics including eugenics, forced sterilization, racism and xenophobia.

Population control viewed as a historical campaign; but it’s more of a mindset.  It’s a language of colonialism and oppression. Conversations revolve around threat of overpopulation or threat of national security.  People look for scapegoats, using immigrants or impoverished women.  When there’s a wish to carry out legislation, it happens on the bodies of people.

Paris Hatcher, Interim Director at SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW, spoke about reproductive justice and oppression.  SPARK defines reproductive justice as systems of oppressions, institutional and social control, eugenics, medicalization and violence working to uphold and reinforce dangerous and negative policies, practices and cultures.  Oppression includes interpersonal and community violence.  We must look at school policies that ban sex ed or public health policies that prohibit black people from obtaining information.  Looking at ableism, white supremacy, sexism, classism heterosexism.  They involve medicalization and eugenics.  Medicalization is the industry behind the pathology of bodies, genders, sexualities, behaviors and health. Eugenics is the belief that some bodies and communities are more desirable. Belief is practiced as population control.  All of these systems oppress through social control; fear, shame, silence and stigma.  Hatcher emphasized:

“I want to hone in: population control is the belief that some bodies in the communities are more desirable.”

Indicators of population control as we know it: use of overt violence, an easily identifiable target (for example: the Puerto Rican government utilizing forced sterilization), happens outside of the U.S. (so we think that it’s something that has nothing to do with us).  Hatcher raised the question: So what does this have to do with billboards? How do billboards, race selection, immigration policy conflate population control?

“Putting forth idea of population control in every day life.  It can be through policies, media campaign, using fear, shame, stigma…they’re not rounding up black folks, well, they are…prisons act like that but not in this mass way. It’s not overt…billboards say “black children are an endangered species”…stereotypes of welfare mothers…[people saying] oh my god, they’re responsible for self genocide….By having abortions…black women are responsible for genocide…you either have too many children or you have abortion, that’s the situation.”

I know I’ve been writing a lot this weekend in my previous posts about the racist billboards, singling out black women seeking and obtaining abortions.  Subtle racism needs to be combated but it doesn’t surprise me.  But witnessing such blatant racism, asserting that black women are bad mothers or bad women, is shocking and appalling.

Gwendolyn Albert discussed her work in the Czech Republic.  She recommended the books Medical Apartheid and Fatal Misconception.  She said that forced sterilization was “pioneered in this country in the 20th century.”  It’s an attitude ingrained in our culture.  Until WWII, eugenics considered a valid strain.  Albert posed,

“All of the work that’s been done, all of the anti-racism work, all of the anti-misogyny work, has made it in polite society no longer acceptable for elite white society to accept white supremacy but those beliefs still exist.”

The Czech Republic targeted people in the Roma community.  Social workers incentivized people, threatening taking their children away if they didn’t undergo forced sterilization. “Dark side of European welfare state,” it happened in Sweden too.  People worried they would be accused of genocide.  Yet it all happened under the cover of law.  This was all legal, therefore this wasn’t a crime; a legal crime.  Albert said the views of the government was:

“The identity is that we are superior and we have these people…we need them to be inferior.”

It’s not conscious.  The Roma were not considered an ethnic group.  “The whole idea of ethnicity was a bourgeois notion.”  They were called “gypsies,” an offensive term; also called inadaptable and this is Nazi terminology.  Even when the incentive program stopped, sterilization still continued.  Roma women, when they went to hospitals to give birth, were told by doctors that they must undergo a C-section.  And then doctors tied their tubes without their consent.  Women didn’t discover this until they went to doctors again when they couldn’t get pregnant.  Elena Govolova took women back to confront doctors about this appalling genocide.  Albert said,

“This is the frustrating work in human rights: the damage is done.  We’re not going to return these women their fertility…it’s important to name the perpetrators…oddly enough, this gets lost.”

Forced sterilization is interesting because unlike police brutality that happens everywhere, the mechanisms are generalized.  With sterilization, you need very specific circumstances.  You need a trained surgeon, you need a place where the surgery takes place; you already need a lot of institutional capacity.  Albert wanted to confront the gynecological community…and say what are you doing?  She declared,

“You should never underestimate the power of being an outsider.  If you can find your ally, that’s a very powerful place to be…You have a right to be involved with these issues simply because you’re a human being. You don’t need to be an expert…The [unjust] systems work because we give them our energy and if we take our participation away, they cease to exist. “

Jaspreet Chowdhary, a reproductive justice fellow at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, shared how when she was in law school, no women of color or South Asians appeared in case studies.  It’s about power and knowledge; knowledge of how to use the laws the way other groups could.  She wanted to get voices of women of color into the dialogue to change the system.  The importance of voices in implementation and changing the laws.  Advocating for inclusion of API (Asian Pacific Islander) women and girls; battling xenophobia and cultural stereotypes and ensuring that they are a part of the discussion too.

Chowdhary discussed the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Pre-Natal Non-Discrimination Act (HR 1822) in Arizona.  It deals with not having abortions due to race or sex selection.  It’s invoking women’s rights and civil rights leaders.  Instead of saying a “woman” in legislation, it states “someone” so it’s passive; it focuses on the medical practitioner rather than the patient.  She asserts,

“A doctor needs to question a woman’s decision…includes profiling as only some women will be questioned, not everyone…no role for the woman to play except victim.”

In sex selection policies, the language of being of a certain culture has an incredibly negative connotation which is so fucked up.  Feminists have been advocating hard against forced sterilizations and infanticide of girls…”adding fuel to the international abortion fire.”  It’s not just about the option of having an abortion…but it’s the cultural structure where male children are seen as valuable and “female children are a cultural loss.”  We’re talking about the burden of daughters.  It’s trying to change coercive social forces so choice is a really salient thing.  Chowdhary shared how her mother wanted a daughter, even though people didn’t understand why she didn’t want a boy.  It involves the complexity of changing cultural norms for women and men.  But all of those things feel so different when these bans take place.  Puts people on defense rather than working towards coalition-building.

Anne Hendrixson talked about the “youth bulge theory” and why we should resist it.  The theory mandates that if the majority of your population is under 25, it’s an indicator of political instability.  Particularly looks at angry young men.  Suggested over-population poses such a threat that U.S. must implement population control.  Disproportionately affects women of color.  Jack Goldstone and others talk about the new population bomb.  But Hendrixson vehemently disagrees:

“I’m here to say it’s not alarming; it’s every bit alarmist…it stirs up fears of pop based on age…taps into stereotypes that views Muslims as volatile and as potential terrorists.”

More than 2,000 blogs and articles attribute revolutions in North Africa and Middle East to youth bulge:

“Without looking at racialized and gendered messages, as well as it’s crude stereotypes of men…always depicts young men…and brown men as the looming face of violence…young women disappear, erases any other genders or sexuality.”

Pop. control used to diffuse volatility.   Youth bulge asserts that we’re headed for disaster.  Hendrixson says you should care about youth bulge because not only shapes U.S. foreign policy but also reproductive health policy.  It uses language of reproductive choice; lowering birth rates as first priority.  Articulating for policymakers the relationships between pop dynamics and armed conflict can help secure funding for programs in family planning.  Youth bulge promotes young brown men as violent.  Hendrixson declares,

“Patronization of angry young men and absent angry young women…people must be respected as complex individuals with multiple identities, politics and passions.”

This panel was incredibly powerful and eye-opening.  We need to be vigilant, speaking up against and challenging racism, stereotypes and oppression.  We also must advocate for people to be able to assert their choices and lead their lives as they see fit, not as we see fit.

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s