WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

How Foreign Abortion Bans Hurt Children

SangerPostHow Foreign Abortion Bans Hurt Children

The following blog article and corresponding photo was posted on the New York Daily News, June 3, 2015 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

With Memorial Day behind us and summer here, most kids in New York are finishing school or preparing for camp or dreaming of pools and extended playtime.

But this summer will be very, very different for one 10-year-old girl in Paraguay. Because she’s pregnant.

The girl’s doctors discovered the pregnancy after she complained of a stomachache. But despite the fact that the girl is 10 years old and that doctors have identified the pregnancy — the result of the girl being raped by her stepfather — as dangerous and high-risk, the Paraguayan government has refused her access to an abortion.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, seven countries ban abortion under all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. Paraguay is not one of them. Even though the law of the land states that abortions are legal in instances that pose a significant threat to the health of the mother, the Paraguayan government continues to deny this child access to a potentially life-saving procedure. This constitutes a cruel denial of the girl’s basic human rights, tantamount to torture.

My grandmother, Margaret Sanger, founded the organizations that would become Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federation — to provide education and services to men and women in an effort to end injustices like violence against women and enforced pregnancy. She believed that providing access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare was integral in empowering women to fully engage and participate in their communities and live the lives they want. I followed in her footsteps and, as the head of Planned Parenthood New York City, heard from countless women who needlessly suffered before abortion became legal in New York.

Cases like this 10-year-old’s make it clear that that needless suffering hasn’t ended, especially if you look abroad. For instance, one out of every three women in Latin America is a mother before her 20th birthday. 20% of all adolescent pregnancies occur among girls younger than 15, and are often the result of sexual abuse within the family.

At IPPF Western Hemisphere Region clinics, we provide contraception and abortionblogpullquoteForeignAbortion services to women and girls who need them. What our clinic staff has seen firsthand is that blocking access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care doesn’t stop them from being needed, or even stop them from happening — it just keeps them from being safe. Due in large part to extensive abortion bans throughout the region, 95% of abortions in Latin America are performed in unsafe conditions that threaten the health and lives of women.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. Specifically, in Latin America, girls who give birth before the age of 16 are four times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s.

And yet politicians around the globe — including in Paraguay and the United States — have shut their eyes to common sense and public health by continuing to ban and criminalize abortion, even abortion in cases of rape or incest. Children should not be forced into motherhood and doctors should not be kept from providing life-saving care just because of political hurdles.

And in instances like the 10-year-old girl currently pregnant in Paraguay, government officials shouldn’t be able to act counter to the spirit of the law and put young girls in serious danger because of political whims or extreme beliefs.

That’s why a broad spectrum of human rights and international advocacy organizations are calling on the Paraguayan minister of public health and wellbeing, Dr. Antonio Barrios, to immediately intervene and grant the girl access to safe abortion services. By doing that, Dr. Barrios would be upholding Paraguayan law and following the advice of leading international medical authorities — and, potentially, saving the life of a very real girl who has already survived more trauma than a child of her age should ever be forced to encounter.

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

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#BringBackOurGirls

bringbackourgirls#BringBackOurGirls

More than two weeks have gone by since 276 young women were abducted from a high school in Nigeria,* and there has been relatively little attention to their plight from the international community and news media. These are young women who had returned to the school (which had previously been closed due to regional violence) to study for an important physics exam, the results of which could help them gain entry to a university and later into careers such as medicine and education.

Wellesley College, like many other colleges and universities in this country, has recently opened its doors to visits from prospective students--women from a wide range of backgrounds. As we share their anticipation and hopes, we might also take a moment to consider how in “one fell swoop” a group of terrorists, Boko Haram, violently intercepted the hopes of these young women who are of similar age. The other day, walking on our campus, I saw a group of local high school seniors in formal attire having their pictures taken by our beautiful lake, and I was touched by their pre-graduation excitement and, at the time, overwhelmed as I imagined the despair those young Nigerian women, aged 16-18, must be experiencing in the clutches of a depraved enemy.blogpullquoteBringBackOurGirls

Wellesley is one of the Seven Sisters’ Colleges--colleges with a historic commitment to the education and rights of women. If “Sisterhood” means something, then please lend your voices now; let the world know that this is unacceptable. Two years ago Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head and almost killed as a member of the Taliban opened fire on her school bus. Once again, young women risk annihilation in their effort to become educated. We are in a position to assert our voices on behalf of these “sisters.”

What you can do:

  • Use social media--hash tag #BringBackOurGirls Instagram posts and tweets in an effort to increase awareness.
  • Organize/ Attend Peaceful Community Marches.
  • Petition.
  • Raise public awareness and show support for these women in a peaceful, law-abiding and effective way.

 

Margaret Cezair-Thompson, Ph.D. is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department, Wellesley College.

* The actual number of abducted students has been difficult to confirm.

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Dispelling “violence against women and children” myths in human trafficking

handsreachingoutDispelling “violence against women and children” myths in human trafficking

New York Times columnist and anti-trafficking advocate Nicholas Kristof recently opened January’s Human Trafficking Awareness month with a Google+ Hangout entitled, “What does 2014 hold for the fight against modern-day slavery?” My answer is the need to dispel myths about sexual violence against women and children within the anti-trafficking movement so that we can all work effectively and sustainably toward ending exploitation. I hold little hope for truly ending human trafficking unless we understand the systemic nature of violence against women and children.

I strongly believe human trafficking and sexual slavery are a manifestation and continuation of interpersonal and systemic violence. For instance, the top two risk factors for sexual exploitation are a history of child sexual abuse and poverty. Yet, International Justice Mission founder and President Gary Haugen argued that an environment of impunity, not violence, is to blame:

[S]lavery is first and foremost a violent crime…and if you were to look at any other crime that would take place in our community that’s violent – let’s say rape – we would of course want to change those attitudes. We would of course want to make sure that the streets were well lit. We would want to make sure that women knew how to walk safely and avoid dangerous areas. But you would start, absolutely, that people who committed sexual assaults actually went to jail for it. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than go to jail for committing that violent crime.

blogpullquoteHumanTraffickingUtilizing such “rape myths” like the need for well-lit streets and women’s ability to walk safely perfectly illustrates Haugen’s limited understanding of sexual violence: the majority of sexual assault survivors know their assailants and most rapes occur at home.

“Law enforcement is absolutely a critical component,” said Rachel Lloyd, trafficking survivor and founder of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), “but it isn’t the only component…and it won’t be the thing that long-term changes the issue.”

We will not end human trafficking and slavery unless we understand the very nature of violence and how it permeates our culture. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the worst record of death from violence and child death from abuse and neglect. We have the second-highest incidence of child poverty. Estimates across various surveys suggest one in every four girls and one in four boys in this country are sexually abused, 90 percent of them by either a family member or someone they know and trust. We have created the “perfect storm” for trafficking.

We also must acknowledge how violence is perpetuated. We often overlook that most of the few exploiters who have been studied report a history of child sexual abuse. Men who buy sex also report histories of sexual abuse and describe themselves as “sex addicts.” Abused children can repeat the violation throughout their lives, often within gendered norms, according to trauma expert Bssel van der Kolk, M.D. Abused boys can re-victimize, thus fulfilling the masculine imperative of being dominant and in control, while abused girls can go on to form relational attachments with victimizing boys or men.

If we are to stop human trafficking we must prioritize healing the wounds of abused boys through comprehensive, trauma-informed care over jailing angry, isolated men who become traffickers. We must focus on ensuring abused girls have economic opportunity based on intellect rather than equating their worth with their bodies. I am not arguing we sympathize with offenders because they have been abused. However, I am saying that jailing exploiters and solicitors will not stop trafficking: cycles of child sexual abuse and poverty are the fuel that keeps the engine running. We need to empty the gas line.

Kate Price, M.A., project associate at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), is also a social scientist in the cultural construction of childhood. As a survivor of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), Price authored a chapter in the textbook, Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Europe, Latin America, North America, and Global (Lexington Books) and a JBMTI working paper, Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, examining CSEC through a Relational-Cultural Theory lens.

 

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Caution, White Knight

whiteknightCaution, White Knight

Half the Sky is a two-part documentary film that aired on PBS stations beginning October 1 and 2, 2012. The film’s themes are 1) the ubiquitous violence against women that is perpetrated throughout the world, especially during and in the aftermath of war, and 2) the efforts made by courageous women- many of whom have experienced violence personally, to overcome this oppression. The film features U.S. women with celebrity status – Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan among others – to draw attention to these themes. The inspiration for the film was a book with the same title, co-authored by the husband-and-wife team of New York Times correspondents Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and began with their efforts to explain the “disappearance” of thousands of girl babies every year in China, where traditionally boys are favored.

As a lifelong researcher in the area of the concerns of women in poverty I think this film has great value in drawing the viewing public’s attention to the oppression of women worldwide. However, as a social scientist and activist I have serious concerns about the ethics of making of this film, especially in the case of the two girl rape victims in Sierra Leone; Kristof’s so-called “encounter” with a three-year old girl rape victim and his interview with a 13-year old girl raped by her uncle. Both girls experienced traumatic events likely to leave profound and long-lasting effects on their lives. They are, as all trauma-informed literature states, vulnerable to being re-traumatized in any situation where there is a male and they feel insecure, and their experiences are complicated by cultural norms and deference to locally influential men. It was insensitive at best to have a white adult male taking the lead in talking one-on-one with these girls. Further, the lack of privacy -- showing the girls’ faces and broadcasting their undisguised voices -- likely endangered the girls and their families, if not immediately then at some point in the future. There are many ways in which the film’s message could have been equally well transmitted but with more consideration shown for the victims.

I recommend these readings to help shed light on the complex issues we should consider in aiding women and advancing their security:

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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