Last week has been very interesting. On Friday, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America – a reality that affects the entire world and in this specific piece – women. On Saturday, Indian women organized multi-city marches across 30 plus cities and town in India saying #IWillGoOut and a global women’s march where about three million women came out to protest against Trump (P.S. The Indian multi-city march and global women’s march are independent marches and not chapters of each other).
On Monday, the newly-elected US President Donald Trump and six other old white men sat down in a room and signed a legislation about what women can do with their bodies, especially their reproductive organs. Trump reinstated a global gag rule that bars international health organizations that receive U.S. funding from mentioning abortion as a family planning option.
Trump had not just reinstated the global gag rule, but also massively expanded it. Suzanne Ehlers, president and CEO of the global reproductive health organization PAI, says to Slate, it’s the global gag rule “on steroids.” Trump’s version expands the policy to all global health funding. According to Ehlers, the new rule means that rather than impacting $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, the global gag rule will affect $9.5 billion.
It says a lot about Trump’s insecurity and fear – who is a billionaire and the President of the most powerful country in this world – but in his first acts as the president sought to control women’s bodies. It is fear of women’s sexuality that makes men control it even when they have no iota of an idea of what it means to be pregnant, raise a child or have an abortion. Trump failed to understand the golden rule – ‘no uterus, no opinion’.
Most of us would think why we – in India – are making a big fuss out of this, especially when there are other governments funding abortion-related work. However, Prabha Nagaraja of TARSHI, clarifies, “Needless to say, it is probably the biggest funder and a lot of private foundations that fund work in the global south are based in the US and will have to abide by these rules.” She continues to point out, “There are linkages with The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) rules too which prohibited NGOs getting PEPFAR funding in some key countries from using the funds for any sex worker rights work. There was a talk of PEPFAR being reinstated under Trump I think but the most recent development is the opposite.” Prabha remembers during the previous gag rule period their organization was rejected funding by an international NGO because of The Blue Book – a series of books on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) published by TARSHI – which mentioned abortion-related info.
I talked to three young Indian women who work on sexual and reproductive health and rights in India and whose work will be affected by a decision taken by seven old white (presumably cis and heterosexual too) men in the USA.
As long as you live you’ll never see a photograph of 7 women signing legislation about what men can do with their reproductive organs pic.twitter.com/dXjfVjnRiX
— Martin Belam (@MartinBelam) January 23, 2017
Jasmine George, Founder, Hidden Pockets
The recent global gag rule on abortion rights further stigmatizes the issue of the reproductive health of young women, and further makes it difficult for young women to access services. Various organizations have been doing the work that government should have been doing, by taking care of its citizens. The gag just shows, when it comes to issues of women’s health (sexual and reproductive health), it still not a priority. Women are already finding it difficult to have control over their bodies and rules like this further prevents the work being done by feminists. The rule won’t reduce abortions.
Ameira Sikand, Feminist Activist
The global gag rule puts the efforts by countless NGO’s and women health workers back by a decade in India. Would the number of clinics reduce maybe not by a lot, but information about these clinics, about HIV, about contraception about training health workers and doctors on making reproductive health services safe, accessible and judgment free will be reduced and will, in turn, create misinformation and unsafe abortions.
As someone who worked in an organization that ran projects on CSE with men and women across communities which were largely funded by US grant agencies, this puts a lot of that work in jeopardy.
Surabhi Srivastava, Program Manager, Love Matters India and Founder, Voice Your Abortion
The global gag rule signed by Trump although outrageous and regressive, is not surprising at all, given both the deeply conservative Republican Congress and Trump’s own (shifting) position on abortion. The implications are obviously grave for women, especially in countries already struggling with debilitating healthcare systems and restrictive laws and access to safe abortion services. Also, the move is very symbolic in terms of how the current Trump administration views women’s struggle to demand and access sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and prioritizes dismantling the rights that already exist (which is really scary).
However, this move also provides an opportunity for other country governments to step up and firmly stand for women’s rights to control their bodies and for access to safe abortion. The Dutch govt just did that yesterday and we also need a stronger collaboration at the civil society level and strengthen our transnational alliances to gear up for the fight ahead.
We can’t and won’t back down.