Friday, April 7, 2017

Trump Signs, Women Die, and Nations Struggles. How the Mexico City Protocol Perpetrates Global Class Warfare

In spite of 3.2 million protestors (1% of the total US population) taking to the streets on January 21st in support of women's rights, and on the 44th anniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling on abortion in Roe v Wade, President Trump reinstated a particularly restrictive version of the Mexico City Protocol. Otherwise known as the global gag rule, the Regan-era policy ends funding toward organizations in developing nations offering abortion counselling or advocating for abortion rights within the country.

International condemnation that followed noted that restricting funding for family planning that counsels on abortion does nothing to eradicate abortion. Instead, it has the opposite effect: it ensures women will access unsafe abortion and, as is often the case with these types of policies, the entirety of family planning services will be affected. Importantly, The Helms Amendment already prevents American taxpayer dollars from funding abortion procedures outright. The Mexican City Protocol compounds this by additionally preventing family planning services from using their own money to advocate, counsel or speak about abortion. If American dollars were funding any other family-planning health services in that organization, those funds immediately dry up.


Mr. Trump has gone beyond this. He has increased the amount and types of funding that would be cut. No longer will this gag rule only apply to family-planning funding, but also to funding on HIV/AIDs testing and treatment, maternal health care, the prevention of malaria, zika, and more. In total, the Trump-expanded gag rule will affect $9.5 billion dollars in global health funding, compared to $575 million dollars in family planning funding under past Republican Presidents. The gag order will not only affect giant international women's health services such as Marie Stopes* and International Planned Parenthood*, but also UN agencies such as the UNFPA* which saw its global funding terminated on April 4th. *clicking the links will lead you to their donation page. 

The less women are able to access family planning services, the more unintended pregnancies will occur, and more women will choose unsafe abortions. Every time the global gag rule is enacted, more women in developing nations die or become disabled from unsafe abortions. It's not just abortions: women in developing nations have many more pregnancies over the course of their lives and each one increases their risk of disability or death as a result of complications from birth. On a global scale, the Mexico City Protocol and the Helms Amendment condemn the poorest nations to cycles of poverty, cutting funds from family planning delivered by NGOs or aid agencies, who are often the only providers of reproductive planning services, especially for the most disenfranchised in rural areas. It takes away contraception and abortion from those who need it the most, in countries that are facing the multiplying effects of overpopulation: no jobs, weak public services, no housing, water and food shortages, lack of education, violence, refugee crisis, severe effects of climate change... putting mile high obstacles to viable futures.

As one doctor puts it: "Abortion is a class battle." But when it affects women on and nations worldwide, it becomes global class warfare.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Women, Water and Pakistan: A Climate Change

After a short while in Pakistan, a few things are clear: in bustling Lahore, don't look out the front window and trust your driver, Islamabad is beautiful, calm and a delight, save for the traffic (again), and the brinksmanship between India and Pakistan is alive and well, although nowhere near the horrors of a few years ago. 

Those shows of force and the talks that ensue are increasingly about a resource that has both inundated and ignored Pakistan since before its inception. Indeed, water has either decimated lands and cities or fuelled their existence, dating back nearly 4000 years. The 2010 floods, the result of heavy monsoon rains, killed over 2000 people and affected the lives of 20 million more through their chaos and destruction. The combined waters from the rains and the Indus basin covered more than one fifth of Pakistan's total land, and it was estimated that the economic cost of the destruction was around US $43 billion. Unfortunately, little has been done since to shore up the collection of water through dams, or the reinforcement of a fragile water delivery system.


If the 2010 (and smaller 2011) floods are an indicator for times to come, Pakistan is undoubtedly a country suffering the most severe effects of climate change.  It depends almost entirely on the Indus river for water - a river seeing its source dry up from the rapidly melting Tibetan glaciers - and so the country has both a water shortage problem and a barely existing infrastructure to contain or exploit the power of severe floods. Earthquakes also form part of daily life: Pakistan sits over both the Indian and Eurasion tectonic plates, and as such lives with a regular stream of tremors (the country has had 10 earthquakes in the past 30 days). Certain ones, however, cause already stressed infrastructure to collapse entirely, as in 2005 where 80 000 people died and over a million lost their homes after a magnitude 7.6 hit the northern region of Kashmir. 

And so it is: with a population nearing a staggering two hundred million (the current census, last taken in 1998, will surely add to this estimate), only 39% arable land, much of it overused and damaged, and with a heavy reliance on the Indus river for irrigation and a diminishing water supply, Pakistan is taxed by the effects of climate change and hampered by a stagnant political state that has so far failed to fix its systems of harnessing, processing and delivering water.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump's Muslim Ban: What is the Global Refugee Crisis?

Amidst the chaos surrounding the recent executive order on a 90-day ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries and an indefinite ban on those fleeing the Syrian conflict, a factual understanding of the global refugee crisis has been lost. Courts have begun placing stays on the ban, including a nation-wide temporary restraining order that has had the justice department scrambling for alternatives. Nevertheless, while many media stories have reported on the unjustified choice of countries, on the disorganized implementation process, on the tens of thousands of visa-holders affected, and on the unconstitutionality of the proposed ban, somewhere the stark face of a crisis affecting most of the world has been forgotten.

Let the controversy not overshadow this simple fact: the world is facing a refugee crisis unparalleled since the end of World War II. More than 65 million refugees (or 1 in every 113 people) are displaced around the world. While the trend has been growing since the Cold War, it has accelerated sharply in the past two decades, as new internal conflicts explode and past ones, such as the war in Somalia and Afghanistan, enter into third and fourth decades. Alongside Syria (in its sixth year of conflict), these countries produce the largest number of refugees fleeing persecution, the brutality of war or decimated cities with little to no remaining infrastructure, where tribal warfare and insecurity reign unbridled.

Refugees, defined as those who flee their homes because of persecution, war or violence, constitute about 21 million of the 65.3 million people displaced. The 40 million remaining are internally displaced persons, or IDPs, persons who remain in their country but have fled their homes for another location due to violence or persecution. Importantly, migrants are a completely different group, leaving for reasons such as financial hardship, and are mostly considered as 'able' to return - and therefore not as vulnerable. Because peace building efforts and conflict resolution processes have either stalled or failed increasingly since the Cold War, refugees have little to no chance of ever returning to their homes.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Donald Trump: Isolationism and the Long View

The current President of the United States may differ from his predecessor in many ways, but the most significant, and perhaps the one with the most repercussions, is the short-sighted nature of his decision-making. While President Obama was known and sometimes admonished for embracing Nobel Prize winner psychologist Daniel Kahneman's 'slow thinking' approach, the current President is reactive and impulsive, quick to throw punches with little regard for lasting consequences. While this has existed throughout Mr. Trump's electoral campaign, it is the groundwork he has begun to lay with not yet a fifth day in office. Strongly criticizing President Obama for having signed executive orders during his time in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump has begun his own term doing much the same and at a near hyperbolic rate.

An executive order to advance the Keystone and Dakota pipelines promises a quick fix for more American jobs, but these jobs are short-term, finished in the two to three years it will take to build the pipelines, with little to no personnel needed for oversight. Instead there emerge grave and lasting repercussions to the environment and to tribal lands, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Greenpeace, among others. As of yet, no federal agency has conducted an environmental impact assessment of the entire pipeline, and with Mr. Trump declaring that "environmentalism is out of control," expecting an impartial and comprehensive review seems a stretch.

On the anniversary of the landmark abortion ruling Roe v Wade, Mr. Trump re-instated the Mexico City protocol: a global gag rule on abortion, preventing any organization worldwide receiving American funds to perform or mention abortion as a family planning method for women. While every Republican president since 1984 has enforced this protocol and every Democratic president has had it reinstated, we now live in an era where America stands alone in the developed Western world in restricting funding for abortion and repealing women's reproductive rights. A quick pleaser to the Republican right, preventing abortion has the opposite effect than intended: it ensures women will continue to access unsafe abortions, currently at 21.6 million globally per year. Women who do not have the means for more children will be further impoverished and unable to access their economic rights. Women will be prevented from choosing how to live their lives, empower their livelihoods and will be at the mercy of their partners, especially in countries where women also have little to no access to birth control or sexual health education. Women will die because of this rule. In an era where women's rights have been directly linked to economic and social development, where women's reproductive rights are understood as fundamental human rights by the UN, both short and longterm effects are abysmal.

In his inauguration speech, Mr. Trump articulated the fraught statement that now will be an era of "America first, America first." Such an isolationist view began in the 1940's, when groups of traditionalist Americans engaged in language and activity to dissuade the United States from entering the Second World War. The statements were heavily anti-semitic, and it is with some shock that Mr. Trump continues to use the same language today (although it may be that he has neither the knowledge or concern for this history). International co-operation has been fuelled by the end of the Second World War, when America assumed the role of international peacekeeper. Although Mr. Trump has chosen to portray the current state of his country in dark and pessimistic terms, the years since 1949 can widely be seen as an era of great American growth. An 'America first' trade plan ignores America's own history, when closed borders in the early 1900's caused an American 'glut', as mass production in farming and industry led to an overflow of goods that Americans could not consume. While there is much to be said, possibly in a future piece, about keeping enough jobs in-country to put a society to work (especially given Mr. Trump's incessant attacks on China), international trade also breeds co-operation and trust, hallmarks of a peaceful global arena. Isolationism, although attractively packaged with patriotic slogans, leads to fear and uncertainty in an international arena that is increasingly struggling with the negative effects of globalization and capitalism. Historically, the more fear and uncertainty, the more conflict.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Women as Liars: Perpetuating the Myth of Female Deception

As Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton recently wrapped up another 11 hours at the House Select Committee for Benghazi, it has become difficult not to be skeptical of the underlying motives of Senate Republicans in their quest for what they have openly been calling their gotcha moment. After three years of unremitting questioning, what message are they really putting forth?

That message, developed since the 2012 attack in Libya, seems to be that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is lying, and inevitably the truth will out. Given enough time and enough harassment, another woman will be shown to be the untrustworthy liar that she is. Untrustworthy in her rank as one of the most powerful political figures in the world, untrustworthy in her ability to oversee difficult situations, untrustworthy in her ability to speak the truth to the American people, and untrustworthy in her ability to govern, given her candidacy in the upcoming election. The message, although cloaked in political subterfuge, is one that is all too familiar to women: women are liars that cannot be trusted.

While not all are subject to the same magnifying lens as Mrs. Clinton, we are aware of some pervasive beliefs about women as liars. Most prominently, perhaps, is the rape myth: that a large portion of women lie about sexual violence committed against them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Who Owns Public Spaces: How City Design Reinforces Inequality

Public bathrooms are just one in a series of unfortunate examples of the reinforcement of inequality by the design of public spaces that caters to men's bodies or ignore women's needs. Public city spaces should be equally accessible, useable and beneficial to both men and women. For this to be the case, the differences between men and women must be taken into consideration during the design of urban spaces. With widespread female migration to cities from rural communities, women's increasing participation in both economic and political spheres and the pledge to equality by many of the world's governments, cities must become safer, more equal places, and actively seek to avoid propagating structural inequality

Inevitably, where there are washrooms, their square footage is similar for both sexes. Differences in bodily functions, however, mean men's washrooms have more urinals per square foot than women's washrooms have available stalls, resulting in different experience and usability for the sexes. Women, because of cities designed primarily around men's bodies have far more needs for washrooms: menstruation and diaper changing, breast-feeding and more frequent urination due to smaller bladders and pregnancy, tending to both children and older, sicker relatives (as women take on the bulk of the care for both these groups more than men). 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Women in the Movies and in Literature: Where is the Female Experience?

What we watch and read invariably affects our thoughts and plays a part in shaping our opinions. The discussion has been, of late, on the effect media sensationalism and the dismal portrayals of women in the media has had on young women and their relationships, both with themselves and others, or their interactions within the workforce and workplace. Women as sexual objects, objectified to their bodies, removed of their experience and advertised as disposable has become the commodity of reality television shows, video games, news segments, women and men's magazines on fashion and health and in social media. 

A perhaps more insidious and far more pervasive sexism is felt in the absence of female voices and characters within our libraries and on and behind our screens. If you were to take a hard look at your bookshelves and deep into your movie collection, what would the predominant authorship behind those mediums look like? Most likely, the fiction we know of, and the experiences therein, has been concentrated within the white male voice and opinion and has shaped our views and our thoughts a seemingly invisible but all too familiar way. Azar Nafisi speaks about this world of fiction as the ability to think beyond ourselves, to create and envision, to learn beyond borders, to speculate and dream and calls it the "republic of imagination." Unfortunately, I fear this republic is simply recreating the sexism around us, in far more subversive and deep-seated way. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

#MakeItHappen for International Women's Day 2015

Happy International Women's Day!
In a celebration of women in work, the pictures throughout this post are from a stunning set of 39 photos capturing women's work around the world.

Today's theme is #MakeItHappen. Today's post is on what it feels like for a woman navigating her way through some big cities in the West. It seems we've come to a point where, in the West, we think that gender inequality is elsewhere. I'm hoping this post will shed some much needed light on prevailing issues that continue to affect the way women experience their lives, and the negative effects of the inequalities they experience.

After reaching out to friends on social media and thinking over the conversations

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Patricia Arquette and Intersectionality: A Lesson

Patricia Arquette made an important statement during Sunday night's Oscar broadcast. While accepting her golden man, she advocated for wage equality, and from her vantage point, on the Oscar stage, that's both an admirable and an important thing to communicate (lest we forget we live in 2015 year where pesky wage inequalities persists). There have been statements that Ms. Arquette is both too wealthy or 'just an actress', and so should not raise her voice for this cause. Those comments are anti-feminist, infantilizing, and drenched in harmful classist and gendered stereotypes.

It is, however, unfortunate that Ms. Arquette did not choose to delve even just the slightest bit more deeply into her statement before going on stage, to avoid this embarrassing statement which she expanded upon in her backstage interview: "It's time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now."

Intersectionality. I'm still exploring understanding the full-depth of it myself, and as cross-cutting themes of race, disability, sexual orientation, class and the rural v urban framework continue to evolve and be explored, it seems almost impossible to encompass all experiences within an articulated statement for a social cause. And yet, Patricia Arquette has continued the structural erasure that white feminists have done for so long before her, and thus presents us with a learning opportunity (even though sometimes, we are tired of teaching).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Feminism in 2014: More than Beyoncé and Malala


This year saw the advent of a new kind of feminism on a truly global scale. Strong women were no longer afraid and weaker women were empowered. It was the year of sexual consent accountability, where enthusiastic consent was prioritized over force or disregard. It was the year where men were held accountable for the soft war zones that cities have become for women: where street harassment was called-out, and 'man-spreading' became illegal. Where women from around the world rose up for the education of young girls, led by a powerful young Pakistani girl who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for her efforts. Universities across the US and Canada were forced to acknowledge the rampant sexual violence prevailing on their campuses, and their befuddled and paltry handling of such a widespread crisis was exposed. It was the year where India faced its own sexual violence and sexism, and was held accountable. From marriage equality to both loving and questioning Sheryl Sandberg, prominent celebrities taken to court over sexual abuse allegations, photo hacking 'sex scandals' relabelled as the sexual abuse they are, the feminist movie Frozen breaking records at the box office, #YesAllWomen in response to the very real threat of every day violence against women, Lupito Nyong'o and Viola Davis brilliantly shaming white journalism, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaking to feminism as only she can - without a doubt, women's voices, through trial and struggle, were being heard, and their participation was more than a check-marked box; women found a seat at the table.

But that seat is tenuous, at best, and the risk comes not from the seemingly obvious, but rather, from within. 2014 was also the year when feminism saw gaping racial wounds re-opened, as social media divided feminists along historically privileged and racialized lines.  In a sad state of affairs, a flurry of female pop stars cried out that they weren't feminists at all, with a somewhat lacklustre opposition pointing to the inherent hypocrisy in those words. The integration of men into women's rights was globally celebrated - with the predictably unimaginative backlash that followed.