Women’s rights, human rights

THE EDITORS (Against the Current)

Afghanistan. Iran. Poland. El Salvador and Nicaragua. Texas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi…

These are among the countries and states where ruling authorities take it upon themselves — in a variety of ways along a broad repressive spectrum — to curtail, suppress or outright nullify women’s rights if not their basic personhood. The ways and means of these attacks of course vary widely.

They range from legal and official discrimination, to gendered violence perpetrated with impunity, to rape as a weapon as in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Ethiopian state’s war in Tigray, and more. What’s common to each and every case is that degrading women’s rights — along with those of queer and non-binary people — is central to reactionary forces’ assaults on all human rights.

As for the United States itself, where the battles over abortion and gender are inextricably part of the swirling unresolved political crisis and potential Constitutional meltdown, we’ll also look briefly here at some too little-covered facts of how U.S. policies impact the rights and lives of women outside this country’s borders.

In Iran, the regime is in open warfare against the pop­ulation. The response to the murder of Mahsa (Jina) Amini has become an uprising against the entire apparatus of the “Islamic Republic.” Dictating what women choose to wear is basic to the drive for complete social control of what everyone, especially youth, are allowed to do or dream.

“Women. Life. Freedom!” is a women-led revolution that now engages the struggles of Iran’s youth, Kurdish people and strategic sectors of the working class. Will it triumph? Right now there’s no way to know. What we can say, even though the murderous brutality of the Iranian theocracy and Revolutionary Guards knows no limits, is that Iran will not return to society’s former half-voluntary compliance with the dictatorship.

In Afghanistan, the most vicious elements of the Taliban — who exercise decisive veto power over the regime —seek to nullify the very personhood of women. Deprived of access to university and even high school education, barred from employment in public service or by international aid organizations, they are left dependent or destitute. Among the results this winter are threatened deaths by starvation or freezing of hundreds of thousands of Afghans whom assistance can no longer reach.

This heartbreak and disaster are fairly well-covered in mainstream media. What’s too easily forgotten, so all the more important to recall here, is that “liberation” of Afghan women served as a pretext for the U.S. and allied invasion following the 9/11 2001 attacks — after imperialist interventions and rivalries from the 1980s on had already brought Afghanistan to the edge of catastrophe.

The delusion of liberating women — or anyone else — in Afghanistan from above and from outside played no small part in the development of the present tragedy.

In Ukraine, not only are rape as well as mass murders of civilians committed by Russian invading forces. Vladimir Putin himself calls Moscow’s war a defense of “traditional values” against such perversions as queer rights and the mythical “dozens of genders” supposedly recognized in the West. Putin’s ultra-reactionary ravings are the natural accom­paniment to the denial of Ukraine’s right to exist, with the genocidal implications of that doctrine. The invaders’ rape and massacre perpetrated against the people of Ukraine feed back into the savage escalation of the already intense repression of LGBT people within Russia.

Closer to Home

If the examples of Iran, Afghanistan and Russian atrocities in Ukraine are the most immediately visible cases of the extinction of women’s rights and the consequences, there are plenty of instances closer to our own situation. The point is not to identify the “worst” case — as such comparisons are essentially meaningless — but to examine some common features.

Take Poland, in the heart of Europe: Extreme restrictions on abortion access have been imposed by the rightwing “Law and Justice” party in alliance with the Catholic church. These measures are accompanied — not coincidentally — by severe weakening of the power of the judiciary to limit anti-democratic legislative extremism. That’s also occurred in Hungary’s self-declared “illiberal democracy” and is now well underway in the Israeli state.

Two-thirds of Polish citizens support abortion rights – very similar to the percentage in the United States. Women-led protests have taken to the streets in large numbers in Warsaw and other cities and towns, but so far failed to overturn the government’s measures.

The full toll in women’s deaths and permanent injuries remains unknown. Since 2021 at least two women in publicized cases, Anieszka T. and Izabela Sajbor, died after abortion care was denied even though the fetuses were either unviable or already dead.

In Ireland, popular revulsion over the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied a medically essential abortion until it was too late, led to striking the anti-abortion provision from the country’s Constitution.

In Israel, tens of thousands are taking to the streets weekly against the ultra-racist governing coalition’s move to strip the powers of the Supreme Court. Women’s and queer rights are relatively well-entrenched in Israel — for Jewish citizens — and less likely to be immediately on the chopping block.

The first casualties in this case are the already-vanishing shreds of court protection for Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the (limited) civil rights of Arab citizens including their parties’ ability to run in IsraeIi elections (which the Supreme Court has reinstated by overruling bans imposed by parliamentary decrees). There are elements in the “religious Zionism” bloc, however, for whom gender and especially queer rights are blasphemy and ultimate targets for extinction under the “Jewish state.”

Central America is a particularly gruesome arena in the women’s health battleground. The new government of president Xiaomara Castro in Honduras promised to loosen the country’s deadly abortion ban, but hasn’t yet succeeded. The situations in Nicaragua and El Salvador are grim: When leftwing governments were in power (the Sandinistas in 1980s Nicaragua, the FMLN party elected in El Salvador in the ’90s after the civil war), they failed to take anti-abortion laws off the books.

Nicaragua today is ruled by the rightwing presidentialist dictatorship of Daniel Ortega (see “Repression Continues to Grow in Nicargua” by William I. Robinson, ATC 222) and El Salvador by the reactionary government of Nayib Bukele. Women in El Salvador who suffer miscarriages are subject to prosecution and up to 30-year prison terms, provoking widespread outrage. Not coincidentally, under this repressive regime, water protectors are also being prosecuted (see page 2 of this issue).

The Not-“100% American” Scene

In our own partially democratic country called the United States of America, a woman’s right to control her own body is constrained legally by the state she lives in, practically by her county of residence — where abortion care may be unavailable even if legal — and financially by her capacity to travel if she needs to gain access beyond state lines.

Against the Current for more

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