Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toronto's G8/G20 and women's health

I just spoke at a forum tonight on the G8/G20, and I thought I would try to recreate some of what I said because I think it is important. I spoke on women's health, and more specifically, abortion. Keep in mind that this is one small piece of the summit, and there were other presenters who gave much needed information on topics like the environment, indigenous relations and global capitalism in the context of the Steelworkers strike.

I started by discussing my experiences of reading about abortions on American bloggers websites. For example, Feministe, Jezebel and Feministing have discussed the Stupak amendment at length on many occasions, which makes abortion even less accessible to poor women by restricting the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. Recently, Louisianna passed laws requiring women to get ultrasounds before abortions. Nebraska has imposed confusing laws regarding women's mental health in relation to abortions, and Utah has essentially criminalized miscarriages. Reading this over the past few years, I have often found myself greatful to live in a place where abortions are free and largely unrestricted (although not always accessible).

When Harper announced that maternal and children's health would be a major issue at the summit, I was rather pleased... and surprised. Harper is not exactly known for his women friendly policies... actually, he thinks that we have already attained gender equality! Globally and historically, women and children have not had much acess to funding for their specific health care needs, as they have taken a back seat to issues that directly affect men's health.

Then, Harper announced that this initiative would not cover abortions (my reaction to this announcement here). He explained

"We want to make sure our funds are used to save the lives of women and children"

I always thought that this was part of the purpose of abortions, but I guess the life of the fetus is being prioritized over the health of the mother. The fact is that women and girls often die when they do not have access to safe abortions.

As a sidenote, the USA does plan to include abortions in their contribution for maternal and children's health, even though they have some very restrictive laws domestically.

Women's groups began to speak out about abortions right away, and within 2 days 11 groups lost funding. Within a month, 24 women's groups lost federal funding. These cuts undermine women's equality and democracy within Canada.

Nancy Ruth, a "feminist" Conservative Senator spoke out on this issue (previously posted here), saying that women need to
"shut the fuck up on this issue... Canada is still a country with free and accessible abortion. Leave it there. Dont' make it into an election issue"

So, we are to allow white male politicians to decide what counts as maternal health (See this post), even in countries they may never have visited. Colonialism is rampant within Harper's maternal health initiative.

And, for the bigger picture. We have to fight for our right to choose, and for women everywhere to have this right. But we have to make sure that this isnt' being used as a distraction. Saving abortions might distract us from fighting for more accessible abortions for women in rural areas. This issue, as important as it is in its own right, cannot distract us from the cuts to women's programs and social spending, lenient corporate regulations that lead to tax loopholes and lacking health and safety regulation, Israeli's occupation of Palestine, aboriginal treaty rights, or any other systemic inequality.

The moral right and neoliberal movements have political power in Canada. They also have corporate sponsorship and financial backing. The left typically does not have this type of money or power. What we have is our voice, and that is why we are being told to shut the fuck up. Because when we do come together and speak, we threaten the status quo.

As those of you who know me are well aware, I will not shut the fuck up.

Will you?