When examining the restricted access to reproductive rights in Rabat, Morocco and St. Louis, Missouri, there is a common link: colonialism.
In the era of first world feminism, it seems that double standards feed deeper divisions more often than they cause compassion. The severity of a female’s struggle is too often compared to another female’s, rather than her male counterpart. For example, the burden born by a working mother in middle class Canada is trivialized in comparison to the wartime sexual violence experienced by a mother in war torn regions of the Middle East. It seems increasingly that in 21st century feminism, what unites us is the struggle against inequality, but what separates us is geography. Let’s begin to break down these geographical barriers.
It seems increasingly that in 21st century feminism, what unites us is the struggle against inequality, but what separates us is geography.
The gendered struggle faced by a woman depends greatly on her geography. Even in an era of globalization and economic and physical mobility, a woman’s birth place is a sizable determinant of the quality of her education, healthcare access, family life, medical condition and so forth. Across the United States, approximately 17% of women in the United States report rape or attempted rape. In certain regions of Southern Africa, such as the Gauteng township in South Afirca, more than half of men admitted to raping or assaulting women. It is not so much the difference in these statistics that should be emphasized, but their common cruelty. The frequency of sexual violence across the globe is a worldwide injustice. Broken down by country, the numbers are just as startling.
For few issues is this truth more severe than the battle for abortion rights. For a woman born in Montreal, the state presents no obstacles to accessing a safe abortion, amongst other forms of reproductive care. For a woman born in Rabat, Morroco, on the other hand, the state allows virtually no access to a safe abortion or many other forms of reproductive care. The injustice of this simply can not be overstated. For a woman experiencing a clinically unsafe pregnancy, access to abortion can be the difference between life and death. Even in less severe circumstances, abortion can be the difference between early pregnancy or continued academic and professional success for a woman.
The frequency of sexual violence across the globe is a worldwide injustice. Broken down by country, the numbers are just as startling.
A recent editorial in the New York Times brought to light a previously unseen facet of the abortion debate: colonialism. This piece used Rabat, Morrocco as a case study for abortion access in the developing world. Moroccan law was first drafted under the French colonial government to criminalize immoral activities which included drinking, drugs, homosexuality, and sex outside of marriage. In the eyes of the Moroccan government, abortion is almost synonymous with adultery and is prosecuted as such. This conservative, colonial structure stands in stark opposition to the accelerating liberalism in North Africa, accompanying globalization. As social progress spreads across Morocco and other North African countries, the postcolonial state struggles to keep up. Although most Morroccans participate in extramarital sex, this article identifies a large “chasm between social practice and the law means millions of Moroccans are sexual criminals.” This disproportionately harms women. Morrocan women like Hajar Raissouni are publicly shamed and legally prevented from recieving an abortion. African women are statistically more likely to contract HIV and AIDS because of the higher percentage of domestic and sexual violence in the region.
It is not to be forgotten that the democratic governments of North America continue to practice elements of colonialism. The Pro-Life movement in the United States, also called the Right to Life, has successfully lobbied for anti-abortion legislation across the country, launching especially harsh attacks at Planned Parenthood. Upheld by colonial practices at the state and federal level, this movement effectively eliminated abortion access across the United States. This past summer, state legislation which hacked away at safe abortion access across the Southern and Midwestern United States. Planned Parenthood was targeted for its abortion advocacy and educational policies regarding reproduction and safe sex. In St. Louis Missouri, only one Planned Parenthood abortion clinic remains.
The attack on abortion this summer in North America showed us that the division between developed and developing countries may be flimsier than we thought when it comes to reproductive rights.
The attack on abortion this summer in North America showed us that the division between developed and developing countries may be flimsier than we thought when it comes to reproductive rights. Anti-abortion legislation spread like wildfire across the United States and suddenly, American women faced the same obstacle which African women did: the state stood in the way of their healthcare access.
Very suddenly, the severity of the situation became clear. It is an understated injustice for any state, democratic or autocratic, developed or developing, to restrict the reproductive healthcare access of a woman. It is the most dangerous example of a double standard: the mortality of a woman increases in comparison to a man. As citizens of these states, we can no longer condone this. Perhaps if we stand together with fellow women in states very unlike ours this issue will become easier to solve.
Together, we can share common ground, rather than expropriated colonial land and the continued practices which condone it — restricted reproductive care included.
Edited by Sruthi Sudhir.
Photo credits: “STETHOSCOPE”. Published September 22nd, 2018. This work was sourced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International. No changes were made.
Maeve is in her fourth year at McGill, studying Honors International Development and Classics. She spent last Winter traveling across East Africa as part of the Africa Field Study Semester, and she spent most of this past summer learning to dive in the Great Lakes off of Northeastern Wisconsin (unsuccessfully, one might add).