It will be good to be back in the gavel again on Monday. We talk a lot about the problems of the world in this group. Occasionally, we’ve identified the lack of gender equality as a big contributor to many of the world’s problems, like poverty and crime, or in certain parts of the world, like Muslim countries, etc. But, we have never tackled the sensitive topic of one of the main causes of that inequality: The lack of women’s reproductive freedom. Spurred by a great book I recently read, I’ve become a big believer that the two are inextricably linked – both here and abroad. If women are unable, under the law or in practice, to control the number and timing of their procreation, then equal rights mean a lot less, and often don’t mean much.
By “reproductive choice,” I do NOT mean just a code word for abortion, although our political dialogue often reduces it to that. It means that women have access to affordable
- Contraception and family planning services, which means basic health care;.
- The political power to get it and protect it
- Opportunities to do more with their lives than just bear lots of children – if they want to do more – and the education and access to jobs this requires;
- Protection from reproductive coercion by their husbands and family members; and, yes, Virginia
- Access to safe, legal, and affordable abortions in case of unwanted pregnancies.
In other words, to have reproductive freedom, women need to have it de jure (under the law), but also de facto (in practice, which means their governmental systems have to provide access, their political systems have to value it, and their cultures – the men, especially – have to support it, too).
Also, it’s a great time for us to have our first ever discussion of reproductive health and choice. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State made advancing women’s health care and access to reproductive services a major priority in our foreign policy and aid programs, and people are wondering if her replacement, John Kerry, will continue to do so. (The relationship between reproductive rights and gender equality and between gender equality and economic and social development have been a major focus of development theory for several decades now.) And, in the U.S., in case you’ve been living under a rock, Republican state legislatures have made restricting abortion access and reproductive services for poor women one of their top priorities.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What does it mean for women to have to have “reproductive freedom?”
- Why is reproductive freedom so important for gender equality and why is gender equality so important for a healthy democracy and for economic and social development?
- What are the obstacles to creating reproductive freedom abroad and protecting it here?
- Why do many people, including many good and well-meaning people, oppose women’s reproductive freedom? Is it just about protecting patriarchy and power, or are there other reasons?
- Are there downsides to achieving the reproductive part of gender equality? How do we address those problems?
- A 20-minute video lecture (on UCSD TV!) by the author of, The Means of reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World (the book I read). For my money, a must-view.
- Amnesty International [and international law, generally, BTW] says “sexual and reproductive autonomy” is a fundamental right.
- Contraception is really, really important to American women.
- How abortion – and family planning – changed the world. Recommended
- Your optional long read: More the need to view abortion in the larger context of women’s reproductive freedom. Useful for understanding the broader context of the pro-choice point-of-view.
- The other side: Well, more like the down side, and I’ll discuss it in my opening in lieu of linking. Reproductive choice has engendered a wave of sex-selective abortions in India and China, collapsing fertility rates in Europe and Japan, and the furious opposition of many people to legal abortion here and abroad. We have to acknowledge these aspects and decide what to do about them, if anything!
NEXT WEEK: Obamacare implementation update and issues. I’ll try to update us thoroughly while keeping it short. We’re on a real roll with timely topics!