Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Prevention or Protection: Women's Reproductive Choice

Forced and coerced sterilisation: violating the rights of women living with HIV.(REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS): An article from: Sister Namibia

Despite Britain's fostering system being strained to breaking point in the wake of Baby P, more children are being put into care. But is prevention necessarily the answer? Or are we putting place an immoral notion, taking away the human rights of a mother? Project Prevention, a program introduced in America sees that female drug and alcohol addicts are sterilised for a mere $300 dollars in return. But as interest creeps into place with the aftermath of Baby P, is Britain going to follow the US Sterilisation system?

Project Prevention follows the philosophy that to reduce the number of substance exposed births to zero, sterilisation is essential. But as the organisation addresses on their website that this program will “reduce the burden of this social problem on taxpayers, trim down social worker caseloads, and alleviate from our clients the burden of having children that will potentially be taken away.” But how ethical can it be to reduce this issue of women’s human rights to a matter of taxpayer’s money and society’s choice to allow a woman to have a child or not?

Director and Founder of Project Prevention, Barbara Harris mentioned in a recent interview on ITV’s “This Morning” that originally, the US government wanted to bring legislation in to the matter. This meant that if female substance abusers did not comply with the sterilisation, then they would be incarcerated. However, this scheme is supposedly ‘voluntary,’ so how can it be a choice when one would either be imprisoned or given money to be sterilised. It is likely that women in this vulnerable position would choose the latter. Are we bringing the ideology of eugenics in to the system? We have reached the two extremes of the American spectrum; forced sterilisations by the government or prohibited abortions because of the Christian Anti-abortionists.

What this issue poses is the fact that these women are seen to be dispensable because of their vulnerability. According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of women dying from drug-related deaths in England and Wales rose by 17% in 2008 to 853. So why is there is no question about treatment earlier on in the process to stop substance exposed births from continuing to happen; as Project Prevention reveal on their site that they “do not have the resources” for rehabilitation services. But with introduction of money incentive sterilisation, experts have said it may only fuel already existing drug habits, and is clearly not substantial enough to provide for a child. If Project Prevention really wanted to accumulate money then why are they not looking for a long-term solution and putting money towards early rehabilitation?

Already 3000 women have been sterilised in America implicating that $900,000 has been spent on the scheme. The fact that only female parents will be sterilised but male addicts will not be receiving this treatment already suggests a double standard within the program. But as the British government have introduced both maternity and paternity leave, does the male partner have no responsibility towards the child to also withdraw from substances?

Even more so, as Denise Robertson, the current resident agony aunt on “This Morning” reiterated that “this scheme makes assumptions about addicts” and that they are seen as ‘dispensable.’ But what poses a terrifying question, with Project Prevention who states that they do “not have the resources to combat the national problems of poverty,” what next? Sterilise impoverished women or even neuter women with disabilities?

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

An Era of Anti-Wrinkling: Ageism or Age Resistance?

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women
In a recent article featured in the Times Online- “Girl frozen in time may hold key to ageing” made us question, so why is growing older such a pivotal issue for women and today’s society? In an age of anti-wrinkling products, Botox, and now, gene manipulation; is society trying to avoid inevitable mortality? Such research will be the focus of a conference at the Royal Society in London this week to be attended by some of the world’s leading age researchers.

The girl in question is Brooke Greenberg, a 17-year old; but at 16lb in weight and just 30in tall, she is still the size of a one-year-old. According to Richard Walker, a professor at the University of the South Florida School of Medicine, Greenberg has a mutation in the genes that control her ageing and development so that she appears to have been frozen in time. “If we can compare her genome to the normal version then we might be able to find those genes and see exactly what they do and how to control them.” I think people have forgotten a key point in this case. Why would one ‘mutate’ a healthy gene to achieve beauty? After all, age is unavoidable, unless we stop breathing.

Eline Slagboom, professor of molecular epidemiology at Leiden University, Holland tells us that “Such people simply age slower than the rest of us... their skin is better, they have less risk of diseases of old age like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension and their ability to metabolise lipids and other nutrients is better.” It is rather telling that her first mention of this therapy relates to changing superficially rather than the health benefits.

Although Brooke Greenberg has shown some development, including crawling, smiling and giggling when tickled but she has never learnt to speak and still has her infant teeth. And even more so, she has also suffered a succession of life-threatening health problems, including strokes, seizures, ulcers and breathing difficulties — almost as if she were growing old despite not growing up. So how does this mutation help society if she still suffers the health effects of ageing?

‘The Beauty Myth’ by Naomi Wolf, questions the idea of ageing as a form of control. Wolf argues that beauty is the "last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact". She states that anti-ageing is a key marketing strategy for cosmetic surgery — namely, classifying ageing as ugly, and ugliness as a disease for which cosmetic surgery practitioners had the most effective treatment. Wolf also questioned whether such exploitation of women's insecurities about their appearance was "subject to the ethics of the genuine medical profession". Subsequently, it is important to ask if there are no apparent health benefits from mutating genes, then why is there such a problem with ‘growing old gracefully?’

Monday, 10 May 2010

An Indian Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale (Everyman's Library)
When we picture Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction ‘A Handmaid’s Tale,’ a vision of a baby farm materializes. But how far is fiction from reality? Inside India’s international baby farm, an image of 50 expecting mothers catering for a foreign market is readily apparent. Since 2003, 167 surrogate mothers have successfully given birth to 216 babies at the Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Gujurat, run by Dr Nayana Patel and her husband, Hitesh. However, we have to question the moral ethics- after all ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ is not a utopian novel.

In 2002, the Indian Parliament passed a law declaring that “surrogacy is legal in India.” And already by some estimates, Indian surrogacy is a £290m-a-year business, so how are these women not being commodified for the purposes of their wombs? Akanksha Infertility Clinic claim that they “are not in the business of ‘renting wombs,’” as they allegedly ensure that the surrogate mother’s needs are all met during the nine months of their pregnancy. Yet, the 50 pregnant women at the clinic are mainly of lower caste and from impoverished nearby villages. Is this just another example of western foreigners exploiting the world’s poorest women?

The reasons behind making a decision to be a surrogate mother range from acute poverty, to wanting a healthier existence for their families. It raises various other debates regarding developing countries; are the west truly helping the poverty-stricken by paying money towards these endeavours or just continually driving exploitation of the East such as the child labour issue. Even more so, how much are these struggling women able to make an educated decision with the lack of choices presented to them?

In February of this year, an article in the Indian Express reveals that some of the ‘professional’ surrogates are paid between one and two lakh (between £1400 and £3000) but with clinics being paid triple that amount, it seems unfair that the women receive the bare minimum. A woman featured on that article says that “‘we earn anywhere between four to five thousand in 20 days’ time. Where will we earn money so quickly without doing anything immoral,’’ queries Geeta (name changed), one of the would-be surrogate mothers.

Atwood’s novel presents a similar narrative, the protagonist character Offred is one of a class of individuals kept as a concubine ("handmaid") for reproductive purposes by the ruling class. The complex laws play a key role in imposing social control within the new society and serve to distinguish people by sex, occupation, and caste. Are we recreating this dystopia within our modern-day society?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

2012 Olympics: The Rise of Tourist Trafficking

As South Africa braces itself for the 2010 World Cup, along with football fans; South Africa's Drug Central Authority estimates 40,000 sex workers will trickle in for the event as well. A reflection of what to anticipate for the 2012 Olympics held in London. Despite the negative outlook that South Africa promotes itself as a country that encourages sex tourism and prostitution, the Serious Organised Crime Agency SOCA expects similar circumstances in two years time.

The government has already expressed fear that the 2012 London Olympics could become a magnet for human traffickers bringing in prostitutes and illegal workers, according to the BBC. The Home Office's action plan says: "There is little doubt that there will be many who will seek to prosper from the Olympics being held in London...Criminal elements are expected to exploit the situation by establishing themselves in London from now on."

The Home Office estimates that there are between 6,000 and 18,000 trafficked women and girls being forced to work as prostitutes in the UK. But the statistics are erratic and it could be more in the region of 25,000 ranging from Eastern Europe, South East Asia and West Africa as reported by the Poppy Project.

With the expected rise in crime, the government are pressing ahead with a building programme which will create an extra 8,000 spaces by 2012. As stated in a 2010 publication, Tessa Jowell former minister for the Olympics: “Major sporting events can be a magnet for the global sex and trafficking industry, this is wholly unacceptable... collectively we are developing a comprehensive plan of action which will build on the considerable expertise the UK has in tackling human trafficking.”

However already, the number of prostitutes working near the main Olympic site in Stratford, east London, has reportedly doubled already since work began on the stadium. And figures from the time of the 2004 Athens Olympics show an increase of 95 per cent in prostitution, with the number of trafficked women increasing from 93 to 181. After the Games the figures in relation to both prostitutes and trafficking remained higher than before. And with an estimated 80,000 people involved in prostitution in the UK, anticipate an unyielding increase for the Olympics.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

India's Economic Segregation

As India continues to emerge as a superpower, we have to address how far has the country come in terms of aiding its rising population. As a recent Guardian article highlights that “the subcontinent’s elite have a huge market all to themselves – and a vast gap is opening up between rich and poor,” referring to India’s booming mobile telephone and energy markets planted on the FTSE 100 index.

Essar Energy now owned by the Ruias family, one of India’s most powerful dynasties is another name that prominently appears on the league tables of the wealthiest people on the planet. With a country that possesses 47 billionaires compared to 35 in Britain, it would be hoped that the entire population were reaping the benefits of India’s economic boom.

On the contrary, as West Bengal props up as a prime example; ruled as the world's longest-running democratically elected communist government by Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPM, a significant part of the state is still economically backward. West Bengal has the third largest economy (2003–2004) in India, Kolkata being a major hub for the Information Technology Industry; however, the rapid industrialisation process has given rise to debate over land acquisition for industry in this agrarian state.

This has resulted in a greater amount of exports, having a first-come first-serve system catering to the West’s agricultural provision requirements whilst a rise in prices for locals on products that is regionally grown. Consequently, the already destitute can hardly afford food grown locally thus poverty rapidly increases; a little contradictory for a communist state-run government. More than three-quarters of the country's 1.2 billion people have to get by on less than £1.30 a day, double the level of poverty seen in China.

Kolkata’s skyline now fashions an uncomfortable and quite obviously discriminatory image. With the rise of property purchases by the elite in West Bengal, there comes a growth of shopping malls, high rise apartments and even English-styled complexes that are safeguarded from the ailing poverty that resides outside the barriers. The government have not stopped the construction of this new mangled city, despite riots occurring in recent years to protest it.

So the fact that India is a key member of the ostensible "BRIC" nations – representing Brazil, Russia, India and China as emerging superpowers according to Goldman Sachs – we shudder to think how much further can the rich get wealthier and the currently deprived become even more impoverished?

Friday, 7 May 2010

Election 2010: How far have we come for Women?

So its official, we are no longer 66th in the world behind Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. We are currently edging behind the two states of Pakistan and UAE at a comfortable 52nd in the world, still 30 places at the back of Afghanistan. Has Conservative played a part in this minor jump? I think not. Contributing only 32% of female constituents, it seems like we will be lagging behind for the next decade and a half.

Labour on the other hand has had a miniature success, holding 90 seats for women despite it only being 21.8% of parliament. Afghanistan held its last election in 2005, and still managed a successful 27.3% of the seats. Similarly, Iraq has a relaxed 25.5% in parliament holding its position firmly 37th in the world ranking system. Spot the fact that the United States of America is even further behind with an abysmal 16.8% of all voting Members in the House. Isn’t it a little hypocritical to put place a government in an apparently tyrannical country with more equal numbers of women than that of your own country?

On a more positive note, Caroline Lucas MP has had a breakthrough victory for the Green Party, becoming the first Green seat in a transformed parliament. Her victory reflects the changing face of politics (we hope) and the welcome of a more environmentally-friendly government. As Harriet Harman commented last night on ITV, that “it was positive to see so many new female constituents in the North East,” referring to Julie Elliot and Bridget Phillipson winning for areas in Sunderland.

As the Fawcett Society states: if we calculate according to the steady rise of 2% of women coming into parliament, it would take 15 years to achieve a quarter of women in parliament and a colossal 72 years just to reach an equal government despite receiving the right to vote a centenary ago. And with the imminent sexist parties coming into power, the rise may be even minute; as Boris Johnson overtly states that with a Ferrari "the whole county of Hampshire was lying back and opening her well-bred legs to be ravished by the Italian stallion". Indecent doesn’t cut it.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Election Night 2010

As the 2010 Election results unfold, it’s fairly certain to say the attitudes of the parties somewhat differ. Ranging from a bold statement from the Shadow Home Secretary, George Osborne that this is “a comprehensive rejection of the Labour government and a strong vote for change,” to a more subdued Labour to “have a more mature diplomatic decision-making approach” if there is a hung parliament.

It seems to be reflective of typical Conservative nature, and even more worrying of what is to come. As Anne Widdecombe, former Shadow Cabinet Minister commentates that this is the case and it is “pompous” of the Former Lib Dem leader, Lord Paddy Ashdown to state that “Conservatives should be more focussed towards the fact that no party is a clear winner,” than declaring that Labour had been outright defeated. Ironically, it is harder to tell who is more pompous with that proclamation, even more so that there has been no word about diplomacy and a united stable front to steer through the economic difficulties ahead.

Should we worry about an authoritarian Conservative government that reflects the Thatcher era of the 1980s? So what should we expect from a Tory lead government- reduced taxes indicating social benefits for work, health and education will also fall; more privatisation of schools, decreasing the quality of education for young people; doubling the operational bonus for troops serving in Afghanistan, ensuring that they remain there. But mostly, judging by the recent televised Election Debates; a policy to rubbish their opposition Labour and not really produce any ideas of their own is apparent.

Better still, ‘capping’ immigration including those coming from within the EU to half the amount that currently stands suggests deportation is imminent; refugee aid is non-existent. Especially as recent reports indicates that fascist party BNP has contacted Mr. Cameron expressing a wish for an alliance between the parties creating a majority parliament of right-wing parties. A member of the ‘non-violent’ faction of the Ku Klux Klan and a man who wants to put a lid on immigrants coming in to the country despite some being from the EU, results in an overall majority of racist despots.

So what should we expect from the day after the elections? Gordon Brown has signalled that he wants to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats creating a "strong, stable and principled" government. But that aside, anticipate an outcry from hundreds of voters who were turned away from various constituencies including Lewisham, Hackney as well as areas in Sheffield and Manchester, despite arriving before 10pm. An even more so, ‘grumpy’ Tory faces despite a so-called win, according to various tweeters. Who knows? It’s an unpredictable night for certain.