From the March-April 2019 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon
In a year marked by the contradiction between deepening women’s revolt and activism and neo-fascism rising across the globe, women participating in the Women’s Marches on Jan. 19 refused to let the anti-Semitism of some of the leaders stop their militant movement for a better world. (See “Anti-Semitism mars Women’s March,” Jan.-Feb. 2019, N&L.) Millions of women around the world—from Canada to Lagos and from Germany to Zambia—marched. There were over 80 marches in over 30 countries. In the U.S. thousands marched in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and hundreds in Louisville, Ky., Lincoln, Neb., Charlotte, N.C., Maui, Hi.—in cities across the entire U.S.
NEO-FASCISTS TARGET WOMEN
Women know that the world is becoming more dangerous for us as the first target of neo-fascists is often women. Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a reproductive fascist. He has destroyed Brazil’s department of human rights, as did Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, putting in its place a department for “family values” headed by an anti-abortion fanatic who vowed to fight against “gender ideology” and claims “the Dutch are taught to masturbate from the age of seven months.”1“Nationalist Strongmen Are Bent on Controlling Women’s Bodies,” by Afua Hirsch, The Guardian, Feb. 13, 2019. His education minister wants to destroy comprehensive sex education and narrowly define what is masculine and feminine.
In the Philippines, where divorce and abortion are outlawed and it is legal to marry 12-year-old girls, President Rodrigo Duterte’s blatant sexism has downplayed sexual abuse and rape, not to mention murder. Like “grab-them-by-the-pussy” Trump, “shoot-you-in-the-vagina” Duterte likes to threaten women. He has even jailed women human rights advocates. He joked that soldiers in Marawi, an area Duterte put under martial law, are “permitted to rape ‘up to three women’…and that he would claim responsibility for it.” It was no surprise then that women “who sought shelter during the conflict [in Marawi] were threatened by soldiers with rape.”2“Rodrigo Duterte’s Sexism and Its Impact on Filipino Women,” by Lyz Tab, Asia Dialogue, July 9, 2018.
Often the attack from neo-fascists is in the form of forcing women to have more children. Poland, under the Law and Justice Party, created a video urging women to “breed like rabbits.” In March 2016 thousands of women marched in the largest demonstration in Polish history to stop a draconian abortion bill so harsh that even miscarriages would be investigated.
Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s October 2016 statement reveals his fanatical position: “We will strive to ensure that even pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, is severely deformed, end with the mother giving birth so the child can be baptized, buried, and have a name.”3“Poland Is Trying to Make Abortion Dangerous, Illegal, and Impossible,” “Poland’s New Populism” by Dariusz Kalan, Foreign Policy, Jan. 8, 2019. Polish women have been marching in the thousands, once again, against a new bill that would outlaw abortions if a fetus is malformed or doomed to die at birth or soon after.
Kaczynski and other authoritarian leaders are trying to coerce women into having children to keep their cultures “pure.” Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso opined that the elderly are not causing economic problems, “Rather, those who aren’t giving birth to children are the problem.” High-ranking leaders in the Liberal Democratic party declared that childless couples are “selfish,” and that women should have “at least three children” so as not to be a burden on the state.
Hungary’s neo-fascist prime minister, Viktor Orban, flaunts his racism. He is eliminating taxes for mothers with four or more children, reducing mortgage payments, etc., to attack immigration: “We do not need numbers, but Hungarian children.” Reporter Afua Hirsch makes the point that “assistance for those in poverty [which] is conditional on obedient reproduction is verging on the dystopian.”4“Nationalist Strongmen Are Bent on Controlling Women’s Bodies.”
How close are these rulers to Nicolae Ceausescu, who, in the 1960s, banned all abortions and birth control and had his regime in impoverished Romania closely monitor all pregnant women in an effort to force them to give birth? Over 10,000 women died from butcher abortions in frantic efforts to avoid having children they either could not care for or, for very good reasons, did not want.
TRUMP PERFECTING FASCISM ON WOMEN
From the beginning of President Donald Trump’s reign, when he imposed an expanded global gag rule, he kowtowed to his fanatical evangelical base by attacking women’s right to bodily integrity. Statehouses across the U.S. followed suit, passing outrageous and unconstitutional abortion laws aimed at shaming women, making abortion inaccessible on the road to overturning legal abortion via the anti-abortion majority Supreme Court.
With his new federal rule that bars Title X funds for organizations that give women referrals for abortions, he’s created the perfect storm to destroy any reproductive rights women had left. The rule savages the requirement that clinics give patients a broad range of birth control options, subverting one of the reasons Title X was established: to ensure access to contraception and information about it.
Despite the fact that federal funds already cannot be used for abortions, clinics offering them and other services will have to have separate facilities for abortion care and separate books and employees. Clinics and doctors can now legally leave out information women need regarding reproductive options, and cannot tell women where they can get abortions.
The rule’s main target is to destroy Planned Parenthood and Title X by diverting Title X funding to fundamentalist Christian organizations that are hostile to abortion and birth control. Trump’s regime has funneled funds away from real birth control, from programs that have lowered teen pregnancy, into abstinence-only-promoting organizations and programs. Though the rule will be challenged in court, in 1991 the Supreme Court upheld a similar rule barring clinics from counseling women about abortions. When Bill Clinton took office he negated the rule. But with this president, and this Supreme Court, the outcome would most likely be horrifyingly different. Trump has already given health workers and others the right to refuse services—including birth control and the morning after pill—to anyone if their religion or morality (read racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQI+ people) is “sincere.” These assaults are devastating healthcare in the U.S.
These changes will destroy what women took for granted: that in the U.S. they would receive comprehensive healthcare from professionals who told them the truth and all their options. Those who will suffer the most—because Title X clinics are the clinics of choice for poor people and teenagers—will be poor women, many of whom in our racist society are women of color. Of the four million people who used Title X clinics in 2017, two-thirds fall below the official poverty line.
Of course women will fight back in the U.S. and worldwide, which will be apparent on March 8, International Women’s Day. (News & Letters goes to press on March 4.) Women have always fought back and, although the Women’s Marches have been the most visible expression, there has been much more.
WOMEN WORLDWIDE FIGHT BACK
Women in India, who have been fighting a brutal rape culture for decades, joined hands by the millions to bring in the new year with a chain 300 miles long—standing shoulder to shoulder against rape, child brides, bride burnings and other abuses. (See “Women WorldWide,” Jan.-Feb. 2019 N&L.) And, as we go to press, thousands of women are finishing their walk across India, 6,200 miles, to both raise awareness and demand an end to rape and rape culture. They called their walk “The Dignity March.”
Women in Sudan, where there is an uprising against poverty and the 30-year totalitarian regime of President Omar El Bashir, are in the front lines of the battle. The many jailed had their heads shaved. Upon release they returned to the struggle, inspiring the men. Women document police brutality and use social media to show the world what is happening, and that they live in a country where half of them are illiterate, most are victims of Female Genital Mutilation, and domestic violence is rife.
In Brazil, women who created the feminist news outlet Agência Pública are fighting Jair Bolsonaro, who is threatening journalists and independent media. Natalia Viana, a co-founder of Agência Pública, said: “We have decided to focus on investigating human rights issues…to pay special attention to what the government is doing and, more than that, how government actions are affecting people.”5“How a Women-Led News Organization Is Holding the Powerful to Account in Brazil,” by Sasha Chavkin, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, icij.org, Feb. 11, 2019.
This is a small snapshot of what women are doing worldwide, including in the U.S., where Black Lives Matter women are continuing their struggles against racism and sexism, domestic workers in hotels and homes are organizing into unions, the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements continue to deepen, and opposition to Trumpism and the struggle for reproductive justice are unending.
U.S. SELLS OUT WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN
The U.S.’s toxic reach is felt worldwide. In Afghanistan women fighting for their rights against a deeply entrenched sexist culture, in a country ravaged by war, also have to fight a U.S. administration bent on selling them out.
The misogynist-to-the-core Taliban control 60% of the country; in October 2018, civilian deaths were the highest since 2014. In nine months over 2,800 civilians were killed and over 5,000 injured, and that’s not counting all those who died from illness and other problems endemic in wars. Despite the hype surrounding the education of girls, two-thirds are not in school; 87% of Afghan women are illiterate; and up to 80% are forced to marry, including many girls younger than 16.6“’We’re All Handcuffed in This Country.’ Why Afghanistan Is Still the Worst Place in the World to Be a Woman,” by Lauren Bohn, Time, Dec. 8, 2018.
The U.S. is pressuring Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to make a deal with the Taliban while, at the same time, Vladimir Putin—whose country invaded Afghanistan 40 years ago—is hosting talks with Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai, and the Taliban. Both sides claim the other does not represent the people of Afghanistan, and both are right.
During its 17-year involvement in Afghanistan, the U.S. pushed aside the freedom-loving people at every opportunity. (See “Afghan lives and freedom sucked into U.S. quagmire,” Oct.-Nov. 2009 N&L.) Then, their “leaders” were thrust upon them, their loya jirga’s—democratic regional meetings—were sabotaged by the U.S. Women were kept out by the U.S. and local warlords. The same is happening now.
No one believes the Taliban are now for women’s rights. They claim all they are doing is “pursuing an Islamist government ‘in consultation with all Afghans,’” but not only are all Afghans not Muslim, not all Muslims want a theocratic government. And when the Taliban opine that “we are committed to all rights given to women by Islam,”7“In Moscow, Afghan Peace Talks without the Afghan Government,” by Andrew Higgins and Mujib Mashal, The New York Times, Feb. 4, 2019. what is “given to women” by any religion’s sacred texts is up to interpretation. Weren’t the Taliban supposed to be practicing Islam as they killed women and girls, destroyed every school they could, beat women in the streets and imprisoned them in their homes, making it illegal even to look out the windows?
When Afghan women speak for themselves, they say what the U.S. and Russia do not want to hear. Jameela Naseri, who became a lawyer in order to help other women, says, “Afghan women need to take matters into our own hands. We can’t wait for the government and international charities to save or liberate us.”8Lauren Bohn, Time, Dec. 8, 2018. On Feb. 26 hundreds of women activists, youth and writers issued a letter denouncing exclusion of women and youth from U.S. talks with the Taliban and declaring that peace must not be at the expense of democracy.9“Atwood and Roy Back Call to Include Women in Afghan Peace Talks,” by Caroline Davies, The Guardian, Feb. 26, 2019.
Recently, Malalai Joya, famously thrown out of a loya jirga in 2009 for protesting the presence of warlords intimidating participants, said, “This democracy is false because the Afghan people had no say in how it was implemented as it was imposed on us…No nation can give liberation to another—there must be self-determination.” That the U.S. didn’t include women in 2009, and doesn’t now, reveals the talks with the Taliban to be one more betrayal of the people of Afghanistan.
THE POSITIVE IN THE NEGATIVE
The contradiction between women’s fight for a different, more human society, and a rising neo-fascism has a world-changing potential, because within it are the seeds of a new society struggling to be born. Women recognize that neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, Duterte, Orban, Trump, et al., are opposed to the very idea of freedom, which is why the struggle must be total from the start.
This needs to become explicit. The goal, a new world based on new, actually human relationships, is implicit in all the many struggles, be they against rape, poverty, racism, or for reproductive justice. That idea is trying to become explicit. That is the positive in all this negative of neo-fascism, wars and threats of more wars, including nuclear war, and the struggles against them. It can become a unifying banner for the movement as a whole.
Women have shown themselves as one of the “new passions and new forces” for the reconstructing of society that Marx wrote of. Our age has witnessed a whole new worldwide movement of women’s struggle for liberation, and they are looking for new forms of struggle and thought that will not separate their fight against repression from the total uprooting of this racist, sexist, exploitative society.