Posts Tagged ‘Women’s rights’

Sterilising drug addicts

June 13, 2010

I once visited a residential unit for drug addicted mothers and their babies. The majority of the mothers were crack users. Some of them seemed emotionally detached from life in general, including from their children. It was pretty obvious raising a child in such circumstances was far from ideal.

I was therefore fascinated to read the article in the Guardian yesterday about an American woman making it her life mission to sterilise drug addicts. Cue liberal shock and horror. Actually, her organisation also pays drug addicts to sign up to long-term contraception programmes but that does not sound as dramatic as sterilisation and so did not receive so much attention.

On first glance Barabara Harris is inevitably going to upset liberal sensibilities. Her language seems to focus heavily on condemning women rather than acknowledging that it takes two to tango when it comes to getting pregnant. Plus the vast majority of people she targets are the poor and desperate and she is not actually doing anything to help them overcome their addictions. There’s no escaping that Harris’ work is judgmental of vulnerable mothers.

However, is it necessarily an anti-women position to acknowledge that women have control over their own bodies and to therefore work to persuade them not to have babies whilst they remain drug addicted? Furthermore, Harris also works on drug addicted men. It could be said that the social backgrounds of those taking up her offer simply reflect the demographics of drug users with the most chaotic lives and that the market is already saturated with various charities and agencies trying (often unsuccessfully) to help people sort out their addictions.

The contraception option, not being finite, is obviously more appealing than sterilisation. But should an individual’s right to parenthood take precedent over an individual’s right not to be born with an addiction to heroin? Without wishing to get too New Labour, the right to becoming a parent is less important than the responsibility of being a good parent.

Addaction has released a statement condemning Harris’ Project Prevention. I don’t find their moral disgust entirely convincing. Sure, contraception is already available to these people, but just as cash incentives have been used to encourage people to quit smoking why not use such incentives to prevent crack addicts giving birth to crack addicted babies whom they have no means of supporting?

Her mission is undoubtedly controversial and morally dubious, but  hopefully Harris will get more attention paid to the children of drug addicts – their rights and their welfare – and that at least is definitely a positive.


Enduring Freedom

August 16, 2009

Is this what we’re fighting for?

It’s a nice day for a segregated wedding

August 14, 2009

The Jim Fitzpatrick wedding walkout story is bizarre in many ways. It does not make much electoral sense for Fitzpatrick to hit the headlines like this – so who told the press about the kerfuffle? And why would the couple invite their MP and his wife to the wedding but fail to inform them about the strictly enforced segregation between the sexes?

The not-especially-happy couple have said that they are a bit miffed with Fitzpatrick’s behaviour. They claim that no-one has a right to dictate to them how to organise their own wedding. They then undermine that claim by saying they were obliged to segregate the guests out of respect to elderly and presumably very charmingly oldfashioned/horribly reactionary relatives.

Of course the situation of a young couple being bossed around by their families and having wacky cultural obligations thrust upon their wedding plans is not unique to the Muslim community. After all marriage – especially when it involves religious ceremonies – is fundamentally about securing social approval for a relationship through cultural conformity (ok, and maybe getting some juicy tax benefits). 

Kia Abdullah over at Comment is Free recalls her own (Muslim) wedding which somehow ended up being segregated against her will. She applauds Fitzpatrick for his stand. Perhaps she wishes she had done a better job of asserting control over events at her wedding and resisting her “in-laws’ expectations of demureness”.

Comment is Free is famous for attracting contributions from some certifiable loons and the response to Kia Abdulla’s piece is no exception:

“Jim Fitzpatrick is a product of a colonial mindset”.

“A poor article. A 4 year old could do better…Maybe you should have listened to your listened to your elders before showing your wrath and ignorance”.

Unsurprisingly, George Galloway (who will be challenging Fitzpatrick in his constituency at the general election) has opened his mouth and nasty gibberish has poured forth:

Mr Galloway called [Fitzpatrick’s] walk-out a “disgusting insult, cynically motivated by political opportunism.”

He said: “If you don’t want to go to a Muslim wedding, don’t go.

“But don’t turn up and then carry out a wholly artificial politically motivated stunt.”

He added: “I am amazed and astounded by this behaviour by a Government minister who represents a very substantial Muslim minority in his constituency.

“I honestly did not think anyone could stoop so low”.

Would that be stooping even lower than making a career out of sucking to up to numerous dictators around the world, George?

George likes to present himself as the lover of all things Islamic and the defender of the Muslims. Just don’t ask him to defend the Muslims in Iran being locked up or even murdered by their government.

As a society we would surely not tolerate (let alone ‘respect’) segregation at an event on the grounds of race. Pushing for segregation between men and women is not much different.

As usual, traditionalists present their actions as ‘protecting’ women and simply affirming natural distinctions between the sexes. Anyone who cannot see how this invariably leads to the dis-empowerment and marginalisation of women is a fool.

Whilst I feel somewhat sorry for the couple whose wedding has inadvertently attracted a lot of negative attention, good on Fitzpatrick for not putting up with this segregation nonsense.

You can’t opt out of equality

March 19, 2009

Michael Crick suggests that there’s a right brouhaha on the horizon in Airdrie and Shotts, the Scottish constituency of John Reid.

John is standing down at the next election, and a new candidate needs to be found. However, CLP Chair Brian Brady is warning of a “Scottish Blaenau Gwent” in the seat – a pretty safe one for Labour, with a majority of over 14,000 – if an all-women shortlist is imposed.

The reference to the identical case of Blaenau Gwent really turns the knife – the South Wales seat once represented by Nye Bevan and Michael Foot is still very much an open wound, for people on both sides of the row.

Yet for all of the bluster about “local party choice”, I cannot sympathize with Brother Brady. Our Party has decided that there should be more women MPs and candidates; that postive action needs to be taken to encourage this to happen; and that all-women shortlists are the way to achieve this.

This decision was reached democractically. In the case of Blaenau Gwent, I know because I was there – the Welsh Labour Party conference in 2002 voted more than 2 to 1 to have all-women shortlists, when I was a young and impressionable first-time delegate.

I was impressed by the arguments then – having been agnostic on the issue before – and I haven’t changed my mind since. However, once the party’s collective will has been expressed, what this is about is the ability to show solidarity with fellow members and adhere to collective decisions.

I’m sure Comrade Brady wouldn’t mind if there were any number of all-women shortlists in unwinnable seats in the South East – but what would be the point in that? The point in having them is to increase women’s representation in the House of Commons; to this end, it matters whether there is a woman candidate in Airdrie and Shotts or Blaenau Gwent in a way that it doesn’t in Surrey Heath or Witney.

This requirement to balance representation in the House, and not merely across all seats, requires central direction – particularly because, dare I say it, many CLPs in Labour’s heartland areas are far more traditional in their attitudes to candidate selection than are other seats.

As for Mr Brady’s bizzare conspiracy theory that there is some connection to Harriet Harman – I mean, come on! I’ll admit to not being the biggest fan of our deputy leader, but this stereotype of Harriet Harman as the great devil of aggressive gender equality is both wrong and uncomradely.

For all this, I hope that Airdrie and Shotts find a candidate they are genuinely happy with. However, they shouldn’t rule out candidates before the selections have even begun, and they should embrace our drive for greater equality in Parliament.