From the March-April 2016 issue of
by Terry Moon
Managing Editor, News & Letters
Much of the women’s movement in the U.S. today seems unable to counter the juggernaut that the anti-abortion crusade has become. Now, perhaps the greatest challenge to these fanatics has been boldly and creatively given by Black women. In February, Black History Month, Trust Black Women offered their “formal solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” (See their statement on page 2.) That Black Lives Matter accepted the alliance was clear in a joint press conference where leaders from both movements spoke together.
Black women had already deepened the concept of abortion rights to that of Reproductive Justice. Alicia Garza, a founder of Black Lives Matter, spoke to that:
“Even though Black Lives Matter gets talked about as being primarily focused on transforming law enforcement, Black Lives Matter has always been an intersectional organizing approach and intersectional organizing project. Reproductive justice is very much situated within the Black Lives Matter movement…The way we talk about it, it isn’t just about the rights of women to be able to determine when and how to be able to start families, but also our ability to raise families.”
STOP THE SHAMING OF BLACK WOMEN
There was great anger at the anti-abortion zealots who not only targeted Black women for shaming, but also tried to appropriate the language of the movement. La’Tasha D. Mayes, founder and executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, said of a bill opportunistically called the “All Lives Matter Act,” which would declare a fertilized egg a person:
“We look at Cleveland where we see the death of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, and then to co-opt our language in talking about access to abortion is absolutely insulting. We believe it’s necessary to have a proactive approach in changing the culture and stigma around Black women and abortion.”
Racist anti-abortion billboards targeting Black neighborhoods with messages aiming to shame Black women like “Black children are an
endangered species” and “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb” also angered activists. Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong: National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Coalition, said:
“At the end of the day, no matter how one feels about abortion, there’s no question that these laws make safe abortion harder and is definitely harmful for Black women. Time and time again, politicians have tried to exploit and divide Black communities on these issues, whether by putting up billboards attacking Black motherhood, or even the latest attempt to co-opt Black Lives Matter language to justify their anti-woman agenda.”
WOMEN WILL CONTROL OUR BODIES AND LIVES
The moribund nature of today’s “pro-choice” movement is seen in the sad fact that so much seems to hang on a decision by the Supreme Court. Rather than being on the ground of freedom and the right to control our own bodies and lives, much of the more established abortion rights movement is arguing legalisms and doing damage control.
Some of that defensiveness may come from the fact that the war on women in the U.S. is most vicious around the right to abortion—now a “right” in name only. There is not enough space to go into the over 400 laws that were proposed in 2015 and the more than 100 bills already introduced in 2016 to shame, discourage and stop women from controlling their own bodies.
ULTRASOUNDS ARE NOW A WEAPON
Ultrasounds have become a club in the hands of Republican lawmakers who force women who want to abort to have them (and pay for them), to listen to a doctor forced to describe it, to hear a fetal heartbeat. Now ultrasounds are being used as a way to club doctors too. A new North Carolina law would force abortion providers to submit an ultrasound for every abortion and induced miscarriage performed after the 16th week of pregnancy, even though the procedure is legal up to 20 weeks. In arguing for yet another bill involving ultrasounds, Idaho Republican Representative Pete Nielsen blathered utter nonsense to offset criticism that his bill would further traumatize women who had been raped: “[I]n many cases of rape,” he pontificated, “it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the incident. That may be true with incest a little bit.”
Although the dishonest video misleadingly edited to show that Planned Parenthood profits off of fetal tissue has been completely discredited, that has not stopped legislators in seven states from defunding Planned Parenthood and thus denying poor women top-notch healthcare, and in many cases any healthcare at all.
After Texas defunded most of their clinics in 2013, a new study estimates that between 100,000 and 240,000 mostly young women tried to self-induce abortions using herbs, teas, and drugs from Mexico.1“Home Abortions Rise After Texas Law Closes Clinics,” by Reuters, Nov. 18, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/womens-health/home-abortions-rise-after-texas-law-closes-clinics-n465451.
Existing clinics have to contend with mobs of fanatics screaming at women going for healthcare. This so-called “sidewalk counseling” consists of zealots yelling “Murderer, murderer, don’t kill your baby!” trying to block every woman’s way, taking pictures and videos of patients, passing out literature full of lies, and much more.
CLINIC ESCORTS ARE HEROES
Heroes of the movement are the escorts, all volunteers, who show up early every morning the clinics are open, no matter how cold or wet, and put their bodies between the fanatics and women trying to access healthcare as they escort them to the clinic door.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia may mean the overturning of the Texas law requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and requiring clinics that offer abortion to have the same standards as hospitals. But if it is a tie vote, which is likely, then the Texas law and others like it stand. If that happens it opens the door for reactionary legislators to pass similar laws and savage any clinics left in their states.
WAR, TERRORISM DESTROY WOMEN’S LIVES
Women’s lives, worldwide, have gotten worse. International Women’s Day 2016, March 8, which will occur after this issue has gone to press, may well be one where women will, by necessity, be demanding an end to violence, rape, war, trafficking and murder, and will be fighting for freedom and a new society.
Terrorism and war have created some of the most brutally inhuman conditions women are now facing.
In South Sudan, war between the government and opposition forces run by the former vice president targets women and children for what has been described as an “unprecedented level” of violence. The UN charges that it amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity. It includes mass rape and murder, being burned alive after rape and torture, and children and women being kidnapped. It is estimated that up to 15,000 child soldiers are being used by both sides.
ISIS has helped turn Syria into a killing field. They also practically wiped out the Yazidi people in Iraq. Mimicking the Nazis, ISIS created an organized method for murder and for turning women captives into sex slaves. It includes buses with covered windows to move women and girls from place to place, camps to hold them, a method to distribute them to ISIS fighters, laws about how the “slaves” should be treated and mass graves of women considered too old to be sexually useful. It is dehumanization on a massive, meticulously planned scale.
Boko Haram, an affiliate of ISIS, is purposely impregnating women captives in Nigeria and surrounding countries. The 300 schoolgirls kidnapped into sexual slavery in 2014 have never been found. Boko Haram recently destroyed the village of Dalori, killing hundreds, abducting women and children, burning the village and incinerating people alive. Their use of girls as bodies to carry bombs is a measure of their depravity and their view of girls and women as dispensable things. In Nigeria as in Syria, Iraq, etc., women brutalized by the original rape are often rejected by family and friends if they are lucky enough to return home.
Thousands of women with their children are running for their lives from Central America—including 66,000 children in 2014. They are fleeing attacks by gangs, rape, killings, forced gang recruitment of their children and extortion. They also run from abusive partners and husbands who rape and beat them, sometimes almost to death.2“Refugee crisis grows in Latin America as women ‘run for their lives,’” Reuters, Oct. 28, 2015. The trip north includes the danger of rape, beatings, abandonment and death at the hands of those paid to guide them. In the U.S. they are often brutalized again, by the U.S. government, which locks them into detention centers—prisons run for profit—with no activities and food so terrible that their children lose weight and sicken. Women have attempted suicide in such places as well as staging a hunger strike at the Karnes immigration detention center. Rather than improving conditions, these private prisons try to rename themselves “childcare centers.” Women immigrants detained at Yuba County Jail staged a hunger strike, and women citizens in criminal custody in the jail joined the strike in solidarity with them.
Women of the world are struggling for a safe life with dignity—whether in Syria or Yemen suffering wars that are aimed at killing civilians (see p. 11), or in the refugee camps in countries such as Jordan and Turkey being sold off to men decades older, who use them for a month or two and then abandon them.
In El Salvador, Brazil, and Colombia, women are exposed to the Zika virus epidemic that likely causes birth defects and yet abortion and birth control are difficult to obtain or illegal.
WOMEN FIGHTING BACK
In some of the most oppressive of occupations, despite seemingly impossible organizing opportunities, women have made remarkable progress. One of those occupations is domestic workers. As we wrote last year at this time about women in Lebanon: “[D]omestic workers—mostly women from other countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Madagascar and Ethiopia—have organized themselves into a union two years in the making despite threats of violence from the Lebanese government. Such a union is unprecedented in the Arab world. The Minister of Labor tried to prevent their founding conference, directly threatening the organizers as well as saying the police would attack the conference. The workers held it anyway. Two hundred made it to the founding meeting.” (See “From Turkey to USA, women as force & reason fight inhumanity,” March-April 2015 News & Letters.)
Since then, domestic workers in many countries have continued the fight. In Colombia and Uruguay women were helped by international agitation translated into laws and an International Labor Organization treaty which set standards for domestic workers. Now the struggle on the ground is moving towards enforcement since the standards are routinely ignored. Black Colombian woman domestic worker and union organizer Maria Roa said as much recently: “We are invisible; it’s as though we don’t exist.” Determined to show the world she and others do exist, she helped begin a social media campaign, “Let’s Talk about Domestic Workers.” In Uruguay domestic workers forced the government to raise their minimum wage.
Domestic workers in Mexico, like their sisters in Lebanon, have formed a union that was 15 years in the making, SINACTTRAHO. The new union—60 women strong—hopes someday to represent the two million domestic workers in Mexico. Their reach already goes beyond Mexico City, as workers from Colima, Chiapas, Puebla, Guerrero, as well as other areas took part in organizing. Isidra, one of the domestic workers who worked with the union, said, “I am very excited for today because it is a historical victory for the domestic workers in Mexico. From now on, we will have rights and no one will be able to take them away from us. Our rights will be respected, no more low salaries and disrespectful treatment. Our work is valuable.”3“First-Ever Domestic Workers Union Launched in Mexico,” by Tula Connell, Sept. 11, 2015, … Continue reading
Uganda’s recent ban on women going to Saudi Arabia to work as maids shows how intractable the problem is. An audio recording where young Ugandan women domestic workers in Saudi Arabia spoke of being tortured went viral, prompting the ban. A Human Rights Watch researcher explained some of the torture: women who “didn’t earn salaries for up to two to three years…couldn’t afford to leave…Some were physically abused or sexually harassed. Some worked up to 20 hours a day with no rest or day off. Others were subject to food deprivation.” The memo of understanding signed with Saudi Arabia last year that included worker protections was never enforced.4“Uganda bans maids from working in Saudi Arabia,” by Brenna Dalorph, Jan. 27, 2016, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, http://www.wluml.org/zh-hant/node/9916.
Whatever is happening on the international and national level will only mean something when the women domestic workers organize themselves. It is they who will make sure that laws on the books are translated into action on the job.
BLACK WOMEN AS REASON OF REVOLUTION
In the U.S. too, it is the self-organization of Black Lives Matter and Trust Black Women Partnership that can make a difference in the
struggle for women’s bodies and lives. Whether groups like NARAL or the National Organization for Women know it or not, this new development between the two is hugely important and not only because it creates a relationship between the struggle for reproductive justice and a movement of Black people that is challenging racism—the Achilles heel of American civilization. It is because what Black Lives Matter has established is a revolutionary movement founded by women, Queers and Transgender and disabled people who have refused to be erased as leaders of a movement, have refused to succumb to the appeal of “leaderlessness,” who insist on being who and what they are and are breaking new ground in the long struggle for freedom in the U.S. This alliance is just the latest step and it greatly deepens both movements.
Implicit in this new alliance of Trust Black Women Partnership and Black Lives Matter is that what they are fighting for cannot be realized under our present capitalist, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-trans system, a system which feeds on racism, sexism and hatred and which, by its very nature, has an anti-human direction. What needs to be made explicit is that the call “for the human right of every Black person, regardless of their gender identity or expression, to end a pregnancy, continue a pregnancy, build a family, raise children with health, dignity, and freedom from violence,” is a call for a deep and total revolution that has the power and vision to transform all human relationships.
|↑1||“Home Abortions Rise After Texas Law Closes Clinics,” by Reuters, Nov. 18, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/health/womens-health/home-abortions-rise-after-texas-law-closes-clinics-n465451.|
|↑2||“Refugee crisis grows in Latin America as women ‘run for their lives,’” Reuters, Oct. 28, 2015.|
|↑3||“First-Ever Domestic Workers Union Launched in Mexico,” by Tula Connell, Sept. 11, 2015, http://www.solidaritycenter.org/first-ever-domestic-workers-union-launched-in-mexico/#sthash.lQdyyQiC.ZKju4Y4i.dpuf.|
|↑4||“Uganda bans maids from working in Saudi Arabia,” by Brenna Dalorph, Jan. 27, 2016, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, http://www.wluml.org/zh-hant/node/9916.|