Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reproductive Empowerment Central To Gender Equality

Why were slaves needed?

"They were used to provide labor in agriculture, trade and industry. Some slaves were employed in the administrative sectors of the state, kingdom or empire. Other slaves served in the military; some performed domestic chores, a few others were sacrificed and some satisfied the personal needs of individuals."

This interesting article expands on the slave trade in pre-colonial Africa. Why am I wondering about the African slave trade? It connects to anti-abortionist activists here in America and everywhere who would try to change (and stop) women's individual reproductive decisions intrusively and aggressively. To achieve gender equality, women need some control over their futures -- as mothers, employees, and ultimately as human beings.

Anti-abortionists and anti-family planners in America have long puzzled me. But I see it is all about control of a woman through her fertility. Fertility is a fact confronted and shared by women everywhere and is a point of common ground for all women of certain ages. Control by men of women has long been achieved through physical strength combined with reproductive aggression and power.

Women should not have children simply to make the point that they can make them; they need to really, really want to look after them for a very long time. They should expect to do so with constant interruption of their schedules and should expect to live to serve the needs of their children. It may "take a village" to raise one, but women with contraceptives have freedom to decide family size if they seize the opportunity courageously and assertively.

Today, while getting a house appraisal for an insurance company, the appraiser happened to drop a nugget of information that stuck in my mind. He mentioned that a house on the oceanfront of Maryland had a slave room in the attic as we do (although that Maryland house has a thousand acres) and he said that the owners had kept a male slave in that room whose sole raison d'etre (reason for being) was to procreate with female slaves. Being from Canada, I found this idea both shocking and fascinating (out of ignorance). Curious to research this concept further, I also found another interesting article called "Reproductive Rights and African-American Women." It says that:

"In the course of U.S. history, white women have had to fight for their right to choose when to bear children, whereas black women have had to fight for their right to procreate at all. And while white women’s reproductive choices have been limited, black women’s choices have often been eliminated.

During slavery, a black woman’s reproductive capacity was treated as an economic commodity. Slave procreation increased slave owners’ free labor source so black women were turned into baby-making machines. Fertile women were often rewarded by slave owners with more rations and decreased workloads while less fertile women suffered increased abuse and were sold more often.

Then, in the early 20th century, the model of eugenics, which proposed that human perfection could be achieved through selective breeding, was used as evidence in legalizing the forced sterilizations of black women. Thus, when Margaret Sanger’s birth control movement allied itself with the eugenics movement, black women became suspicious of Sanger’s interests and the gap between white and black women widened."...

"Given this history, it is little wonder that black women remain suspicious about white-led reproductive-health campaigns and few have allied themselves with pro-choice organizations. The “choice” terminology associated with reproductive health and rights has not been easily embraced by black women, for whom the debate is about much more than the right to make a free choice about abortion. It encompasses issues of access to contraception, prenatal care, infant mortality and adolescent pregnancy. It means having the power to choose not only whether and when to have children, but to have healthy reproductive lives and give birth to healthy children. It is about equality and empowerment.

The contemporary feminist movement should expand its view of reproductive freedom beyond the concept of choice. Protecting our rights to safe legal abortion services is a critical component of a larger struggle for reproductive health and rights for all. History has shown us that women’s reproductive freedom is not just an issue of choice, but an issue of public health, of civil rights and of human rights

Family size decided consciously by the mother creates female empowerment. While it is true that contraception is about "equality and empowerment" it is also ultimately a personal matter for a woman. Some say contraception where available historically made family sizes smaller, while others say that enthusiasm for education and business did so. I do know that complex financial, social and physical influences determine family size. Women often have to think of not having children and must plan for it. Why women do decide to have children is an interesting question to ponder in another post.

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