Voting Labour; even if your local candidate is a bit of a buckethead

My local labour candidate is a nincompoop. As 30 seconds perusing Gordon Munro’s election pamphlet would demonstrate. Not only does he include a rather unnecessary amount of information about his history of swimming and water polo at our local pool, he’s also included a huge photo of himself with George Clooney. Quite why no one questioned the relevance of that photo is anyone’s guess. It is not the worst election pamphlet I’ve seen this time. That honour goes to a UKIP candidate who is strangely obsessed with the types of metal used in a Robin Hood statue.

I’ve been involved in local community organisations in Leith for over a decade. It’s safe to say Munro’s questionable tendencies predate his photo op with Clooney. Munro is fairly well-known for supporting projects that increase his prestige and power – such as his insistence that the Duncan Place Resource Centre closure due to the building being condemned following years of council mismanagement isn’t really a big deal. And, that the programs offered by the DPRC could be transferred easily to the Leith Community Centre, despite it being a third of the size and involving only halls rather than community education classrooms and other specialist facilities. 3 guesses which community centre board Gordon Munro has been involved with over the years.

For years, I’ve been saying that I only voted for Munro because my former Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, could be trusted to squash Munro’s more eyebrow raising decisions. Chisholm retired at the last Scottish Parliament election and was replaced by a male SNP MSP who looks about 12 and has zero understanding of male violence (or even what his own parties policies were on this prior to the election). Since a write-in campaign to have Chisholm elected Prime Minister against his will isn’t an appropriate response to destroying the Tory party, I will be voting for Gordon Munro. I fully intend to be as big a pain in his arse when he’s an MP as he was as a local councillor, even though I appear to be permanently off his Christmas card list now.

I’m voting labour because I’m a single mother with 2 children, an obscene amount of university debt, and a disability that has severely curtailed my ability to work, even part time. Gordon Munro might not be my favourite politician, but neither are my other local councillors Chaz Booth (Green) and Adam McVey (SNP). I do trust Munro on a number of issues that are important to me and I’m perfectly content to spend the next 5 years campaigning to ensure that Munro changes his stance on other policies (provision of community centres, massive investment in the crumbling fabric of school buildings, 3 block radius ban on parking near schools for non-residents, the banning of all men from driving cars in my neighbourhood).

I’m voting Labour because:

I’m also a fan of Labour’s leaked policy expanding abortion rights to women living in Northern Ireland. I’d like them to go even further to remove the “2 doctor mental health’ rule for women accessing abortion in England and Wales (Scotland will be reviewing the rule during his parliament).

I’m going to campaign for Labour to do the following over the next few years:

  • Ban Trident
  • Stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia
  • Recognise that the child poverty is due to fathers refusing to pay maintenance, which is a form of child abuse
  • Ring fenced massive investment in schools
  • Ring fenced massive investments in the NHS
  • Ring fenced massive investment in community care
  • Fundamental changes to family courts and child access that recognise that viewing domestic violence against a mother is also child abuse. Children have the right to live free from exposure to violence and that includes violence perpetrated by their fathers
  • Higher corporation taxes
  • More post-secondary training programs for young people
  • End to housing refugees in detention centres (and increasing financial support for asylum seekers)
  • End to charitable status for private schools.
  • Expansion of right to vote to all 16 year olds.

 

I’m voting Labour because we cannot afford another 5 years of Tory rule. Too many people have already died because of Tory policy. My local Labour candidate might make me roll my eyes on a daily basis, but he isn’t creating policies that force people into poverty or supporting polices that actively kill people. Perfection is a goal, not a reality in politics. And, right now, we need a labour government more than ever, regardless of whether or not you actively like your local candidate or if you loathe Jeremy Corbyn.

We need a labour government now more than ever.

Britain’s Youngest Mum was 11 years old [content note for child rape]

(originally published at Ending Victimisation and Blame)

Tressa Middleton was only 11 years old the first time she became pregnant. When first reported, in 2006, the media repeatedly made statements about the father being a “neighbourhood boy”. The focus was on the girl; not the boy and not the circumstances in which an 11 year old child could find themselves pregnant. There was very little discussion about the fact that an 11 year old cannot legally consent to sex and that any sexual relationship with a “neighbourhood boy” older than her would have still been classed as a crime. There was very little discussion about why an 11 year old child was “having sex” or drinking alcohol. Instead, media coverage focused on shaming Tressa and her mother.

Many feminist commentators and people involved in child protection clearly knew the story was far more complex. Those directly involved in the case knew it was more complex, yet could not defend Tressa from the media intrusion without putting her further at risk. When Tressa was 14, it was revealed that her older brother Jason, aged 16 at the age of the attack, was the man who raped her. Jason Middleton was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2009 and has since been released home to live with his mother.

Tressa, a child victim of rape, became pregnant. She also became addicted to alcohol and was eventually placed in a residential unit without her child and placed in a position where she had no choice but to sign adoption papers.

The original coverage of Tressa’s pregnancy was simply victim blaming. It was horrific shaming of a child victim of rape with no attempt to contextualise Tressa’s abuse. The case has once again gained media coverage due to Tressa’s new pregnancy with the Daily Mail publishing an article conveniently ignoring their original victim-blaming. The refusal to acknowledge their own responsibility in perpetuating the harm to Tressa by publishing salacious articles is important to note but equally so is the failure to place Tressa’s experience within a paradigm of male violence and our culture’s refusal to accept responsibility for not supporting Tressa.

Tressa was a child who was raped. Instead of discussing her experience as rape, which it clearly was under law as 11 year olds cannot consent, the media blamed Tressa repeatedly. Whilst I cannot comment on the specifics of the investigation into Tressa’s rape since that is not a matter of public record, I do want to make it clear that child rape is frequently not investigated properly. We simply do not know if the authorities involved in Tressa’s care realised they were dealing with a child victim of rape. The media certainly didn’t think so. If the authorities did realise it was child rape, did they ever investigate the brother as a possible perpetrator? Again, we cannot know that. All that we do know is that an 11 year old rape victim was forced to live with her rapist despite becoming pregnant (and the rape becoming known to the authorities). The reality is that most rape victims are raped by someone known to them yet we don’t publicly acknowledge the reality of rape by fathers and brothers. We talk about stepfathers and uncles but very rarely fathers and brothers despite this not being uncommon.

What the Daily Mail has also failed to make explicit is that Tressa’s daughter was placed for adoption because of the lack of specialist services for teenage mothers and for mothers with substance misuse problems. They failed to acknowledge the lack of adequate support for victims of child rape; for a child with a clear case of trauma. They didn’t investigate the poor provision for teenage mothers. They didn’t acknowledge how traumatic it would be for a young mother to be forced to live with her rapist; to have no safe space. Or, how traumatic it would be for a child to have her own child forcibly removed from her care simply due to the lack of resources to support both.

Tressa Middleton has had very little choice in having her story become public knowledge. We are doing her a tremendous disservice by focusing on her pregnancies without acknowledging that she was originally blamed for being a victim of child rape; that she has been publicly shamed and humiliated.

Tressa’s case is not an isolated one. We do not have exact figures for children who are raped within their own home by male relatives. We do not have accurate figures for children who become pregnant after being raped. We do know that it is not uncommon. We need to reflect on the treatment Tressa received and look into implementing victim-centred support so that no other child is forced to experience what Tressa did.

There are two separate required responses to this case:

1. The lack of services for victims

  • specialist rape support for children
  • better mandatory training for GPs, health workers, social workers, teachers, police and any other front line staff working with children to recognise the signs of child sexual abuse
  • residential units to support all mothers who are recovering from trauma and/ or substance misuse where the babies can live with their mothers
  • foster care for teenage mothers where the babies can remain in the primary care of the mother

2. Enforceable legislation guiding the publication of stories of male violence against women and girls. Guidelines already exist but they are not strong enough and the media ignores them.

We are complicit in continuing the abuse of Tressa by irresponsible reporting and denying services to victims.

We need to do better.

Abortion on demand is a mandatory requirement for women’s liberation

Whilst abortion is legal in the UK, it is not available on demand.* Abortion can only be carried out in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if two doctors agree that “abortion would cause less damage to a woman’s physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy”. That’s only if you’re lucky enough to live on the mainland. Abortion isn’t available in Northern Ireland. There are some obvious exceptions to the 24 week rule involving saving the life of the mother or preventing grave or serious injury to her; as well as the more difficult issue of aborting a fetus due to disability.**

I find any limits on abortion problematic. I think all women should have access to abortion when they want it without having to faff about finding two doctors who agree to the procedure. Having to find two doctors just extends the unwanted pregnancy unnecessarily causing added stress. The right to decide what does and does not happen to one’s own body is a fundamental issue of self-determination. I believe that women have the right to abortion at any point in their pregnancy; after all 91% of abortions in 2011 were before 13 weeks. There are very, very few abortions after the 24 week point and, no, the Sarah Catt case isn’t representative of anything. She was denied an abortion and therefore chose to self-abort. Catt was also not convicted under the abortion laws; instead she was found guilty of an archaic law from the mid 19th century. Women are perfectly capable of deciding if and when they need an abortion without having to discuss it with two doctors; doctors who may or may not be anti-choicers.

The language around accessing abortion itself infantilises women. We can only have an abortion if someone else tells us we can. Not because we want one. Not because we need one. But, because someone else deems it medically necessary. Abortion should be available to women at any point in the pregnancy because the woman deems it necessary and not because someone else gave her permission to do so. I also dislike the rhetoric around “good” abortions for victims of rape versus “bad” abortions for women who have had the temerity to have consensual sex without wanting to get pregnant. Any attempts to create a hierarchy of acceptable reasons for women to have abortions just limits women’s choices. It is the heart of woman-hating. This is without getting into the fact that many women have to access abortions for financial reasons. It’s hardly a choice if you are having an abortion because you can not afford to feed a child. That is why we have a welfare state [or did before the ConDems destroyed it]. Limiting access to abortion gives others rights over women’s bodies. It serves only as a punishment for the crime of being born with a vagina.

Amber E. Kinser’s Motherhood and Feminism

History of motherhood starting at industrial revolution. In many ways, it is a ‘basic’ history of motherhood in the US. Or, at least, it should be a basic history but Kinser traces more than the usual history of white middle class women with its focus on Victorian values, Betty Friedan and the myth of suburbia. Instead, Kinser traces the real history of motherhood looking at how issues of class, race and homophobia/lesbophobia challenge the dominant discourses of motherhood.

Her inclusion of the history of reproductive rights and mothering of Chicana and African-American women is a much needed addition to the feminist movements understanding of history and the complexities of real reproductive justice in a culture where racism and classism create categories of good and bad mothers; which punishes women of colour for becoming mothers.

Kinser also examines radical feminist texts on motherhood and labels them as radical feminist. Usually these texts on women’s history and feminist theory try to erase the term radical feminist and situate women like Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde out with their theoretical heritage. Shulamith Firestone is simply dismissed. Kinser writes about the history of motherhood as a patriarchal institutional and the challenges to it through an intersectional lens actually addressing issues of race, class, gender, and identities.

Criminalising Pregnancy is simply Misogyny

(Originally published on Mumsnet as a guest post)

Right now, the Court of Appeal is deciding whether or not a council in the North-West of England can hold the mother of a six-year-old girl born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome criminally liable under the Offences against Persons Act of 1861.

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a number of diagnoses that result from prenatal exposure to alcohol. This exposure can cause problems with memory, attention, speech and language and behaviour, a weakened immune system, and damage to the liver, kidneys and heart. The long-term consequences include addiction, chronic unemployment, poverty, depression, suicide, and the criminalisation of the child themselves.

It is a horrible condition. I know, because my nephew has FASD. I have seen him struggle with his physical and emotional health. He finds everyday activities difficult, and his behaviour is very challenging. It is heartbreaking, watching him trying to navigate life with intellectual and physical impairments that could have been prevented. He finds school difficult because he cannot cope with unstructured learning, such as break time. He requires a very strict routine with clear instructions and finds choices difficult. He also has physical disabilities and needs a very strict diet – another control on his life that he does not fully understand.

As an aunt, I don’t want any woman to drink alcohol whilst pregnant because I worry about the consequences for their children. As a feminist, I am utterly opposed to the criminalisation of women’s bodies and any attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom.

Criminalising mothers who give birth to babies with FASD would do nothing to support women, and would make accessing services even more difficult. How many women would inform their midwife of their alcohol consumption if they believe they’ll end up in prison? Even if women were to approach their midwife or doctor, there aren’t enough programs in place to help them. How many beds are there in rehab facilities that are appropriate for women with substance misuse issues? How many are there that cater for women with other children? I refuse to believe that criminalisation would be followed by investment in mental health services. Already, a vast number of women in prison are there as a consequence of trauma, and criminalising pregnancy would increase that number.

As an aunt, I don’t want any woman to drink alcohol whilst pregnant because I worry about the consequences for their children. As a feminist, I am utterly opposed to the criminalisation of women’s bodies and any attempts to limit women’s reproductive freedom.

The most frustrating thing is that there are so many other things we could do. Research has shown us how to minimise the effects of FASD. For example, we know that access to a healthy diet has a positive impact, which is why poverty remains a major risk factor. This isn’t because women living in poverty are more likely to misuse alcohol – it’s because a healthy diet can minimise the effects of alcohol on a developing foetus.

We know how to prevent FASD. It requires a properly funded NHS to provide support for women with substance misuse issues. Access to a midwife and GP who understand addiction and its causes is the most important prevention method. We can’t see alcoholism in isolation. Amongst women, it is frequently linked to trauma following male violence – and we need a social care network that understands the reality and consequences of this.

This is why criminalising women is not just nonsensical – it’s misogynistic.

Despite the fact that our economy would be destroyed if women withdrew all their labour, society still believes that women have less economic value than men. The control of women’s reproduction – from access to birth control to abortion, from prenatal care to maternity leave – is about controlling women’s labour. Preventing the “bad” women – the drinkers, the drug takers – from giving birth means that they are free to do low-paying jobs, rather than depending on the welfare state. Of course, criminalising them is much easier than fixing the root of the problem by providing better health and social care, and it suits those who should be stepping up to the plate: the local council, which is refusing to take responsibility for its failure to support a vulnerable woman appropriately during her pregnancy, and our society, which is refusing to take responsibility for the harm caused by misogyny and violence against women.

The only effective way to tackle FASD is to create a culture in which women have equal value to men, where male violence is eradicated, and in which women have access to free healthcare without judgment.

I don’t want any child to suffer the way my nephew suffers. I also don’t want to see women imprisoned for substance misuse. If we genuinely cared about women with substance misuse issues and children born with FASD, we’d be standing on the barricades demanding better investment in social care, the NHS and education – that’s where the support and intervention for pregnant women should be. They won’t get this support if they’re forced into the criminal justice system.

My nephew deserves better than the criminalisation of his mother. And his mother deserves better too.

A caesarean performed without consent

Originally published on a previous blog 2.12.13

As with everyone, I am horrified by today’s article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph about an Italian woman, in the UK on business, who was forcibly given a caesarian section and her child taken into care.

A woman being given surgery without her consent is assault. It is that simple. Women are not incubators and any society which sees women as human would not be forcing surgery on a woman without her consent; never mind a surgery which results in a child being delivered. Taking the child into care, without the woman being able to instruct her own lawyers, is disgraceful and inhumane.

But, and this is a huge but, reading Booker’s article, I have more questions that answers. I understand that Booker is limited in what he can publish due to the fact that family courts are closed for the protection of the children. Taking this into consideration, Booker’s article is still low on details.

Don’t get me wrong, there are serious problems within child protection due to chronic underfunding, massive caseloads and staff not being given appropriate training in dealing with sexual violence, male violence, and victim blaming. This is clear from the Rochdale and Oxford grooming cases for a start – and the sheer number of children who are forced to continue relationships with abusive fathers. Yet, child protection is more than just social workers [who inevitably get a bashing in these cases], there are medical doctors, psychiatrists, police, teachers, community support workers and any number of court officials involved in the decision to remove children from the home. Our culture treats children as possessions and we pay a very high price for the damage we cause them. In this case, it is clear that the police and medical establishment were involved before Essex social services were.

These are the questions that first popped into my mind when I read the article last night:

  1. Why hasn’t the Italian government been fighting this? They are certainly not bound by UK laws on child protection which keep family courts closed. Why hasn’t the Italian government gone to the EU Human Rights court on behalf of their citizen?
  2. I do not understand why the family suggested that the baby be adopted, in America, by the aunt of the baby’s stepsister (and does Booker not mean half sister rather than stepsister? If we’re talking about kinship carers, you need to get the relationship right). This isn’t the closest of kinship ties and I do think sending the child overseas is a drastic response. Was there no family in Italy who could care for the child in order to allow the mother to continue her relationship with the child? I support kinship adoptions because I do think they are the best outcome in such circumstances but not if the kinship adopter lives on the other side of the planet. The whole point of kinship carers is to try to continue the relationship with the birth parents, if possible. How would this continue if the child was living in the US?
  3. What on earth does Booker mean by panic attack and “bipolar” condition? These are medical terms which have medical definitions. A bit more detail to make it clear wouldn’t go amiss here.
  4. I want to know why the caesarian was preformed. This is an incredibly drastic move which only takes place, within normal circumstances when the mother can’t legally consent, if the mother’s health was at risk. Having bipolar disorder does not put the mother’s health at risk whilst pregnant. If the hospital performed the caesarian for any other reason than the baby or mother being in immediate risk of death, then they have committed assault. I would expect the Italian government, on behalf of their citizen, to being taking the hospital trust to court over this.
  5. I don’t trust John Hemmings at all. The moment he gets involved in any case involving social services, my brain starts screaming ‘ulterior motive’. Hemmings is never involved for the best interests of the child; he’s all about the publicity.
There are obvious constraints on the publishing of this case but Booker’s article is too full of holes to make sense of. If this is a clear case of the assault of a woman, then the there are a whole lot of people who need to be prosecuted and both the British and Italian governments are complicit in this abuse.
Forcible caesarians are violence against women.
Removing a child from their mother because the mother is bipolar is violence against women.
A society which treats women as more than incubators and believes children are not possessions would invest more money and training in the police, education, health, social services and judiciary to ensure that all have more than adequate training to support women who need a little extra help. A society which cared would offer more support to a pregnant women with a mental illness [and here the Italian government is just as complicit]. This is why we are supposed to have a welfare state: to help those in need and not punish them for needing help.

UPDATE:

Essex County Council have released the following statement in response to Booker’s Telegraph article. The obvious holes in Booker’s piece are clearly answered below. I still think the child should have been returned to Italy, even if the mother could not care for her herself but the case isn’t quite as cut and dried as Booker suggests but then these things never are.

Essex County Council responds to interest in story headlined “Essex removes baby from mother”

2 December 2013

Key Dates

There have been lengthy legal proceedings in this case over the past 15 months.
  • Mother detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act on 13 June 2012
  • Application by the Health Trust to the High Court 23 August 2012
  • Application for Interim Care Order 24 August 2012
  • Mother took part in the care proceedings ending on 1 February 2013.
  • Mother applied to Italian Courts for order to return the child to Italy in May 2013. Those courts ruled that child should remain in England
  • In October 2013 Essex County Council obtains permission from County Court to place child for adoption

Context

The Health Trust had been looking after the mother since 13 June 2012 under section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Because of their concerns the Health Trust contacted Essex County Council’s Social Services.
Five weeks later it was the Health Trust’s clinical decision to apply to the High Court for permissions to deliver her unborn baby by caesarean section because of concerns about risks to mother and child.
The mother was able to see her baby on the day of birth and the following day. Essex County Council’s Social Services obtained an Interim Care Order from the County Court because the mother was too unwell to care for her child.
Historically, the mother has two other children which she is unable to care for due to orders made by the Italian authorities.
In accordance with Essex County Council’s Social Services practice social workers liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby, to establish if anyone  could care for the child:

UPDATE 2:

The judge’s statement has now been released and is available here.

This is the first part:

NOTE BY MR JUSTICE MOSTYN (4 December 2013)

Although no-one has sought to appeal the judgment dated 23 August 2012 during the last 15 months, or to have it transcribed for any other purpose, I have decided to authorise its release together with the verbatim transcript of the proceedings and the order made so as to inform and clarify recent public comments about this case.

It will be seen that the application to me was not made by the local authority or social workers. Rather, it was an urgent application first made at 16:16 on 23 August 2012 by the NHS Trust, supported by the clear evidence of a consultant obstetrician and the patient’s own treating consultant psychiatrist, seeking a declaration and order that it would be in the medical best interests of this seriously mentally ill and incapacitated patient, who had undergone two previous elective caesarean sections, to have this birth, the due date of which was imminent (she was 39 weeks pregnant), in the same manner.

The patient was represented by the Official Solicitor who instructed a Queen’s Counsel on her behalf. He did not seek an adjournment and did not oppose the application, agreeing that the proposed delivery by caesarean section was in the best interests of the patient herself who risked uterine rupture with a natural vaginal birth. I agreed that the medical evidence was clear and, applying binding authority from the Court of Appeal concerning cases of this nature, as well as the express terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made the orders and declarations that were sought.

Although I emphasised that the Court of Protection had no jurisdiction over the unborn baby, I offered advice to the local authority (which were not a party to or represented in the proceedings, or present at the hearing) that it would be heavy-handed to invite the police to take the baby following the birth using powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. Instead, following the birth there should be an application for an interim care order at the hearing of which the incapacitated mother could be represented by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor.

Language does matter: menstruation is not “transphobic”

UCLA student Zoey Freedman weighed in on the global debate around taxing tampons. Normally, I’m a huge supporter of any publication willing to print this: 

Aside from some forms of birth control or medical complications, nothing will stop a woman’s period. It’s a natural part of having a uterus that just can’t be helped.

Health care currently covers services such as sexually transmitted infection testing, birth control, abortion and even access to erectile dysfunction treatments such as penile implants.

Although erectile dysfunction is a problem, it is not one that all men are inherently born with. Menstruation, on the other hand, is something almost every woman deals with at some point in her life. It’s a bit ridiculous that surgeries for sexual needs are covered before everyday feminine hygiene products.

Unfortunately, the editors felt the need to include this statement:

This blog post refers to individuals who menstruate as women because the author wanted to highlight gender inequality in health care. We acknowledge that not all individuals who menstruate identify as women and that not all individuals who identify as women menstruate, but feel this generalization is appropriate considering the gendered nature of most health care policies.

It used to be that we couldn’t talk about women’s biology because it grossed men out. Now, we can no longer talk about women’s biology because it’s transphobic. Menstruation, FGM, vulvas, breasts, birthing a child, breastfeeding, infertility, menopause, and hysterectomies have all become banned topics for fear we cause transwomen ‘violence’. Oddly, I’ve never seen viagra, something widely available on health insurance in the US whilst birth control remains controversial, deemed ‘transphobic’. Vulva cupcakes, on the other hand, constitute ‘violence’.

Women have been fighting for hundreds of years to end real gender essentialism that is predicated on a hierarchical construction of sex. Now, we’re seeing a resurgence of reifying gender through an obsession with labelling brains ‘male’ or ‘female’. Recognising that a uterus exists only in a female body makes you transphobic and guilty of the murder of transwomen (despite the fact that it’s pretty clear that men are responsible for the physical violence that results in the murder of transwomen – not women’s words).

Women have been actually dying for thousands of years because of the denial of the reality of our bodies. Childbirth remains one of the biggest killers of women worldwide. Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, but we aren’t allowed to point that infections pass more easily during penis-in-vagina sex or that the vast majority of urinary tract infections are caused by a penis that isn’t clean. Instead, young girls are denied an education because menstruation is considered ‘unclean’.

Viagra is a medical necessity to ensure erect penises aren’t denied sexual pleasure, including ‘female’ penises. Tampons are classed as a luxury despite menstruation being a biological necessity.

The liberation of women from male violence and other causes and consequences of the white supremacist capitalist-patriarchy will not happen whilst we are banned from talking about the biological realities of women’s bodies. Discussing menstruation is not transphobic and it will not cause the death of transwomen.

Canada is not a haven for women & abortion isn’t available ‘on demand’

I support abortion on demand for the entirety of a woman’s pregnancy. It is absolutely unacceptable that women require permission from two doctors to make a decision about what is best for their body. Our abortion laws are archaic and misogynistic. And, we allow “protestors” to harass women accessing clinics despite serious campaigning from organisations like BPAS (and @extreme_crochet!)

I was nodding my head along to this article by Caroline Criado-Perez demanding a fundamental change to how we understand abortion taking it out of criminal and making it a human right. Then I read this:

In Canada, one of the few countries where there are no legal restrictions on abortion – where for nearly three decades abortion has not been limited by criminal law, but by the Health Act – women have not run rampant with their autonomy.

and winced. Legal abortions were brought in the Canadian Health Act in 1969 but only in select circumstances. All other abortions remained illegal until 1988 when Henry Morgentaler challenged the criminal law before the Supreme Court and won. Technically, there are no “legal restrictions” on abortion. That doesn’t mean all women have equal access to abortion. Health is a devolved issue to provincial governments and access to abortion is depended on provincial legislatures. We may have a law guaranteeing access to abortion but that only benefits women with access to a local service provider or those who have the financial ability to travel – the similarities to Northern Ireland are quite obvious.

Women in Prince Edward Island have no access to abortion within the province. They are required to travel – most to either New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. PEI healthcare will pay for the actual abortion but not travel to and from a clinic. Abortion is also restricted to 16 weeks and 5 days in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Women who need one after this date are forced to travel to Ontario or Quebec. Women in PEI must have a blood test and ultrasound performed before being referred to a hospital – and doctors are not required by law to refer to women further delaying the process whilst women access a GP who will refer them. Private clinics do not require this but provincial healthcare insurance does not cover their costs.

Women in PEI can travel to Nova Scotia. They used to be able to travel to New Brunswick but the Morgentaler clinic, the only abortion clinic in the province, closed last year due to funding cuts. Women living in isolated communities find it far more difficult to access basic healthcare, never mind abortions. For a woman living in a small community in Nunavut, Northwest Territories or Yukon, travel to a larger centre with a hospital that provides abortions can cost the equivalent of an international flight to the UK. Women on the Eastern seaboard are actually travelling to Maine to access their legal right to abortion under Canadian law.

Abortion tourism has not been sufficiently researched to assess the data but it happens to women whose legal guarantee to abortion is irrelevant in the face of other legal and financial barriers.

This is why i loathe the myths surrounding Canada being a haven for women. It’s just not true and it isn’t just intellectually lazy to employ, it’s actually dangerous. Reading Criado-Perez’s piece you would assume every single woman in Canada has access to abortion on demand and that the decrease in numbers of abortion is due to women’s choices rather than limited access to abortion.

Canada frequently makes the Top Ten of the UN’s human development index. That only works if you ignore the fact that Human Rights Watch had to investigate the disappearance of Indigenous women along the so-called “Highway of Tears” in British Columbia for the government to at least make a pretence of taking Indigenous femicide seriously.

Women’s services are being decimated by the national, provincial and local governments. The welfare state supports women in poverty even less than the government of the UK does. Access to healthcare is a postcode lottery as is access to child tax credits. Indigenous women are raped and prostituted by white men at statistically significant higher rates than other women but the various governments aren’t interested in actually stopping this racialised femicide.

Women across the world deserve access to abortion on demand. They deserve reproductive justice but comparisons to Canada will not get women in the UK these rights. Unless we want to continue a two-tiered system that only benefits white women living in urban areas.

Language Does Matter: FGM is not “cissexist”

These four tweets have been appearing in my TL for days.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 09.54.02Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 09.55.57Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 09.56.03

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 09.51.23

The term FGM is not cissexist. Female genital mutilation, as defined by the World Health Organisation,

“includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. … FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

This definition does not even begin to describe the actual practise and consequences of female genital mutilation. The long-term consequences of FGM includes: sterility, difficulty urinating, increased infant and maternal mortality, fistulas, bleeding, and infections. As an organisation, the WHO has serious problems with misogyny, racism, and classism. It replicates capitalist, patriarchal white supremacist controls over women’s bodies, an allegiance to wealthy industrialised nations and far too much investment from pharmaceutical corporations whose whole raison d’être is making money: not helping people.

Yet, even the WHO recognises that FGM is a form of violence against women and girls. It is only performed on girls. We need to be able to name this crime – just as we need to name every other form of violence against women and girls. We will not end violence against women and girls by obfuscating language.

We need to be able to talk about abortion, access to birth control, and all other forms of reproductive justice as women’s issues. We need to recognise and label these as forms of violence against women and girls. We need to be clear that male circumcision is not equivalent to female genital mutilation. It may not be medically necessary and it may cause pain to infant boys, but it does not maim and kill infant boys like the practise of female genital mutilation does. Circumcision does not cause sterility or result in difficulty in urination. It doesn’t kill.

It is not “cissexist” to talk about the biological reality of women’s bodies and the damage done to them within a capitalist-patriarchy. Frankly, even the suggestion that it is “cissexist” demonstrates a fundamental inability to actually understand the reality of lives of women and girls in our world. I am incredibly angry at living in a society in which identity politics have not only erased all political and theoretical understandings of the oppression of women as a class but that we have to see this type of bullshit bandied about as if it’s The Most Important Thing Ever Written. It’s not. It’s just the same women-hating shite that we have to deal with on a daily basis.

The term FGM is not “cissexist” and suggesting that it is is misogyny.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

I will be lighting my candle at 7 pm.

On this day, we would like to invite you to take part in the global ‘Wave of Light’ to remember all the babies that died during pregnancy, at, during or after birth.  Simply light a candle at 7pm and leave it burning for at least 1 hour.  This can be done individually or in a group, at home or in a communal space. Wherever you do this, you will be joining a wave of light uniting the world in honour of those babies who lit up our lives for such a short time.