Sun | May 19, 2019

Maziki Thame | Denying women the right to terminate pregnancies is violence against women

Published:Saturday | February 16, 2019 | 12:12 AM
Dr Maziki Thame

Parliament is not the Church. It is a place where representatives of the people are supposed to represent the people.

Parliament is hardly representative of the people, however. It is dominated by men and they are mainly middle class. That men have had the power to declare what women should do with their bodies and make it into law is problematic. It is as problematic as the fact that men dominate Parliament and the male-led Church has an outsized voice on the matter of women’s right to terminate pregnancies.

Christianity and churches associated with it have a long history of domination of women and privileging of men. The patriarchal history of the Christian Church has been marked by various forms of violence against women and people of African descent and others, including sexual abuse, even when the clergy have taken vows of celibacy.

What authority does it therefore have to speak with moral fortitude about what women should do with their bodies? And why should Parliament give the Church significant attention on this matter?

While women may not be protesting in the streets, telling us that they want access to safe abortions, the data tells us that they seek abortion frequently and they do not have protections when they decide to do so.

The Guttmacher Institute’s data shows that between 2010 and 2014, Caribbean women terminated pregnancies at a rate of 59 per 1,000 women, higher than elsewhere in the region, at 33 per 1,000 women in Central America and 48 per 1,000 in South America.

Thirty-seven per cent of pregnancies in the region ended in abortion in the Caribbean. That is significant.

It is the duty of the State to hear these women, not to perform violence against them by denying them protections if they decide to terminate pregnancies or by persecuting them. Why is the State not hearing women?

COMPLICATED AND NEGATIVE ATTITUDES

The parade of ‘men of God’ to Parliament claiming to be ready to die for ‘our race’ as an alternative to giving women the right to decide what to do with their bodies was an addendum to the court’s recent demand of a payment of $16 million for defamation of character of a man of the church, from a woman seeking to protect other women who had been violated by men.

These occurrences speak to women about what they are allowed to demand and what kind of services they are expected to perform for the nation.

In The Gleaner article ‘Mother up! Most Jamaicans still opposed to abortion-on-demand and only want the law changed for special circumstances’ (May 13, 2018), we were told that a majority of Jamaicans give support to current legislation.

This is not an odd proposition since Jamaicans see themselves as Christians and keepers of Christianity’s moral codes, even while the contradictions of their behaviours are glaring.

Further, Jamaicans have complicated and often negative attitudes to women’s rights and freedoms, especially on the question of motherhood.

Jamaican women are expected to service the nation through all levels of economic production but mostly low – paid work, through their sexual labour, reproduction and mothering. They are valued for motherhood, but of the burden-bearing type.

The type that can solve the crime problem by reining in their men and boys, after having created it in the first place through ‘bad mothering’.

They are valued for holding up the nation as mothers without support, as minimum wage earners caring for families, as people with unequal responsibilities in the home even when they are married, as sufferers and strugglers keeping us on the ‘right’ path.

If they choose not to be mothers, they are mules. If they are mothers they are still mules – load bearers in that case. This is surely reminiscent of the plantation and ideas about the uses of black women’s bodies.

If women choose to terminate pregnancies, they are walking cemeteries. If they bring their children, they are cultivating death anyway, abusing their boys specifically and turning them into murderers.

What do Jamaican women get to demand? It is violence against women to deny them control over their bodies. The State, Church and all those people and entities that seek to deny women freedom and power over their bodies are performing patriarchy, and it is the fight against such oppression of women that should concern our parliamentarians.

Dr Maziki Thame teaches political science at Clark Atlanta University, Georgia, United States. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com