By Jessica Kirby, Senior Editor of TheGreenGazette –
The Unites States under President Donald Trump is currently the most convenient place to look for evidence of a systemic movement to erode women’s rights. In just a few short weeks, President Trump has reinstated the global gag rule or Mexico City Policy, which blocks US federal international funding for NGOs providing abortion counselling or referrals, or who advocate for or work to expand abortion services internationally.
The US has not funded abortion services itself, internationally or domestically, since the Helm’s Amendment was implemented in 1973, but every Republican president since Regan has reinstated the Mexico City Policy assuming Helm’s wasn’t quite enough insurance of the federal government’s control over women’s reproductive rights. The Mexico City Policy will decimate funding to organizations that also provide HIV/AIDs services, planned parenthood, sexual health information, maternal health services, and malaria programming since they often overlap. The consequences of criminalizing abortions include high mortality rates due to unsafe abortions, disproportionately lower sexual health rates in women and girls living in poverty, and thousands of women jailed for being accused of having an abortion.
President Trump’s presidential budget is scheduled to exclude funding to 25 grant programs enacted in 1994 by the Violence Against Women Act to support women who are survivors of domestic violence. The funds are distributed by states to aide violence prevention programs against sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, and to subsidize emergency housing and legal assistance. There may have been more people protesting injustice towards women the day after the inauguration than there were people who attended the inauguration, but these issues persist in an unapologetic and blatant way, and it isn’t just local—consider Trump’s actions come on the heels of the far-right in Russia pressuring President Putin to decriminalize domestic violence, and that is only one example.
It is easy to look to these current events and point to Trump, especially considering while on the campaign trail he encouraged sexual assault, demoralized women, denied allegations of sexual assault by stating the women accusing him were not attractive enough for his attention, and settled a rape case out of court, according to some reports, with intimidation.
Given its status as the world’s most powerful country, the US has a far reach in terms of influence and example, which means, most importantly, acts like these fuel the on-going and systemic discrimination and gender inequality affecting women around the world. As long as seven men can stand together in a room in front of millions of media viewers and make decisions about women’s reproductive autonomy, the message persists that women are the lesser gender. As long as governments restrict women’s ability to control her own physical, emotional, and reproductive health under the guise of religious freedom, the sometimes-subversive but always pervasive idea that women’s rights are secondary carries on.
And now, the tricky part—creating real change. Women have come a long way down the road to equality, and although it is easy to do, demonizing one leader has never furthered that progress. If Trump had invented discrimination against women in an otherwise gender utopia, he wouldn’t be able to do the things he is doing with millions cheering him on. If we continue to look only at Trump, we take our eyes away from the deeper, root cause of gender inequality. Every minute we spend in the circus of reality TV politics, is a moment distracted from working towards meaningful change.
There are many political opinions in the world and each encompasses an intelligent, meaningful, and moderate argument. When we close the door on discussion and discourse, when we put all opinions different from ours into the same box, we deprive ourselves the opportunity to learn, grow, and connect. We trade coexistence and peace for anger and political xenophobia. There is a strong argument that the democrats lost this past election for exactly that reason—the right was tired of being demonized and tired of having its intellectuals, theorists, professionals, and families labelled fundamentalists and decided crazy right was better than being shut out completely.
This theory speaks to important decisions we can make in favour of equality moving forward. Violence against women and gender inequality are global problems, social problems, political problems, and both men’s and women’s problems. We must come together as social, political, and gender neutral allies in a global context and refuse to accept anything less than meaningful change. We need everyone’s engagement and action and most importantly, we need to listen. We need to open up and understand where these opinions and actions come from and meet there, in that uncomfortable and vulnerable place, where we can start to rebuild.
Can we admit that both ends of the political spectrum have moderate and extremist views? If we can’t agree on the issues, can we agree on autonomy? If we can’t clearly define oppression can we respect the right to choose? If we can’t support gender roles, can we support personal freedom and flexibility?
This Women’s Day, March 8, women, men, and children need to step forward together and look along the political spectrum for common ground, a place where we can see a future that belongs to all of us. We must keep marching, get stronger, build more alliances, sing louder, be prouder of our human family, and we have to expand our vision of equality to include all visions of harmony—it is the only way forward.