Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Taboo You: How Islamic Pakistan is the Christian Right Wing's Dream for America

by Nomad

When it comes to the reproductive rights of women, the ultra-conservative Christian Far Right in the US and the Islamic theocratic republic of Pakistan have a lot more in common than they are willing to admit.

In an ideal world, every baby born should be a wanted child, not stigmatized for being born from a mother out of wedlock and not a burden to parents too poor to feed their family.
Yet, in this day and age, it is still not an unattainable goal for most of humanity. Although we already have all of the resources we need, such as cheap, easy to use contraceptives, and the means for their distribution , we as a species continue to over-populate the planet.
To understand the reasons, we need to take a closer look at Pakistan.

Pakistan: The Land of Taboos
Pakistan is one nation where the population growth rate is high; it is in fact higher than average growth rate of all other South Asian countries. With over 180 million people, Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, .  

But why should a country be so crowded and so poverty-stricken and yet unable to do anything about it? For that you need to look at the majority-Muslim Pakistan's ultra-conservative social policies. Especially when it comes to attitudes to sexuality and women's rights.   

It's hardly an exaggeration to say that when it comes to sex, nearly everything- except marital sex- is taboo in Pakistan. Sex before or outside of marriage is strictly prohibited in this conservative country. And if illicit sex should lead to pregnancy then an unfortunate couple (but especially the women) will face the harsh punishments.  There is probably no bigger taboo than having a child out of wedlock.

The rigid sexual rules, coupled with the low status of women and the general lack of sexual education for boys, may also play a part in the nation's horrendous record of rape.
According to a study carried out by Human Rights Watch there is a rape once every two hours and a gang rape every eight. According to Women's Studies professor Shahla Haeri, rape in Pakistan is "often institutionalized and has the tacit and at times the explicit approval of the state." 

One Pakistani politician and the former Ameer (President) of Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami said that for Pakistani rape victims, it is in the best interest of the society for a woman to stay silent after being raped. She ought not report the incident to the police, or anyone else for that matter.  

Critics say that something is very wrong with a society when consensual sex is more taboo than rape. For that matter, something is wrong with any society that tacitly condones rape , 

Contraceptives and Abortion are Taboo Too 
Abortion, under Pakistan's law, is only legal to preserve a mother's health. (No allowance by law is made for rape victims.) Other than that, it is a criminal offense. However, like taboos against pre-marital sex, making abortion illegal does not make it go away. It only makes it more dangerous and more secretive.

According to estimates by the Guttmacher Institute, 890,000 women have will have unsafe abortions annually. That's around one abortion for every five live births.
An earler Guttmacher report noted:
Because access to abortion is highly restricted, the majority of these procedures take place under clandestine-and often unsafe-conditions. As a result, many Pakistani women suffer from serious health complications that sometimes result in long-term disabilities and death.
Indeed, of those women who have abortion, 800 women will die and a further 197,000 will be hospitalized due to complications. (Those numbers should definitely be considered a gross under-estimation.) 
A different research study found that in 2012,
nearly 700,000 women in Pakistan went to health facilities for treatment of complications resulting from spontaneous abortions or induced abortions using unsafe methods or with the assistance of an unskilled provider.
When it comes to contraceptives and any kind of family planning, Islamic authorities take an extremely dim view. NPR reports:
Clerics in religiously conservative Pakistan tell the Muslim majority that the Quran instructs women to keep bearing as many babies as possible. The message from the mullahs is that contraception is generally haram, or a sin.
As one Islamic official said:
"Family planning is wrong and un-Islamic if it is practiced routinely. If it permanently stops a woman from becoming pregnant, it is harmful and illegal."
So, even when basic contraceptives are available and even when they are affordable, their use is discouraged. As a consequence, Pakistan produces nearly 4 million babies annually and most of them are born into poverty. Well over half of all Pakistanis live on less than $14 a week. 

However there has been another effect to this policy, something even more horrible and inexcusable. This linked article from Deutsche Welle explains: 

Illegitimate newborns murdered and discarded | Asia | DW.DE | 22.04.2014
Even though abortions are illegal in Pakistan, that hasn't stopped them from being conducted. The procedure has simply gone underground, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of women at risk every year. (This is exactly what America was like before Roe v. Wade and cheap birth control changed everything.)

With limited access to birth control, and with abortion criminalized, desperate women often chose most morally-unconscionable alternative: infant murder. In this nation,  hundreds of illegitimate newborn babies are killed every day because women were denied access to any other means birth control.
Many of these infanticides go unrecognized in a nation where every year, 200,000 babies die in the first one month of their birth. 

Marriage for the Poor
Society dictates that marriage is the only safe place for a woman to be pregnant. Yet, even in marriage, women have no choice whether they actually want a child. A child must be accepted whether or not the parents afford or even want the baby. 

An unloved and unwanted children doesn't not make the world a happy place. Pakistan, by most estimates, is a failed state when it comes to children.
At present, nearly 31% of all Pakistani children under 5 years old suffer from malnutrition and are underweight. About 22,000 children die each day due to conditions of poverty. It's safe to say that increasing the number of poor children is not going to improve the nation. 

All of this, this national tragedy,  women's groups point out, is the natural result of women losing (or never having) the right to control their own bodies and make their own decisions.  

With such a wretched model, the most startling and horrific thing is that, left unchallenged, American conservatives would be overjoyed to impose the very same policies of Pakistan right here.

Defying God's Will
This deplorable state of affairs in Pakistan is, in short, exactly what the conservative Republicans in the US have been attempting to force upon American women for the last 40 years. And with Congress under their control, they are very likely to make significant gains. 

Like their conservative Islamic counterparts, American conservative Christian evangelists have, by and large, rejected the idea of contraceptives and birth control. Abstinence is the only acceptable policy for the Far Right Christians.
“Pro-life” doesn't simply mean "anti-abortion" but against anything means that could be used to prevent pregnancy. 

Not only evangelists of the Protestant faith but Catholics too. Staunch Catholics have long believed that anything that prevented children from being born was "a violation of God’s will."
This view has emerged in the political arena too. Consider this quote by the 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum:
"One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.... Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that's okay, contraception is okay. It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
Rick Santorum was, incidentally, the candidate that influential conservative Christian (tax exempt) organizations collectively supported in 2012.

The Shrinking Difference Between Us and Them
While we talk about the clash of civilizations, there are more than enough similarities between conservative agendas. However, there is at least one important difference. Women in the US still- for the moment- have access to services that Pakistani women can only dream of. One of those service organizations is Planned Parenthood. 

Planned Parenthood does much more than carry out safe legal abortions for women facing an unintended pregnancy. In actuality, abortion services comprise only 3% of all of its health services. 
In reality,a core principle is the belief that "all people deserve access to birth control and other preventive health care, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections." 

Let's look at what is on offer. The organization provides many critical services, such as nearly 400,000 Pap tests and nearly 500,000 breast exams each year and nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including 700,00 HIV tests. On top of that, Planned Parenthood provides sexual and reproductive health care, education, information, and outreach to more than five million women, men, and adolescents worldwide each year.

And yet, in state after state, conservative legislatures have stripped Planned Parenthood agencies of federal funding using the sensitive issue of abortion as the small end of the wedge. 

The Republican-dominated Congress of 2015 has made no secret about its desire to outlaw women's constitutional right to abortion. In other words it will be a re-run of 2014. Guttmacher Institute explains:
During the 2014 state legislative session, lawmakers introduced 335 provisions aimed at restricting access to abortion. By the end of the year, 15 states had enacted 26 new abortion restrictions. Including these new provisions, states have adopted 231 new abortion restrictions since the 2010 midterm elections swept abortion opponents into power in state capitals across the country.
As the Rolling Stone pointed out in a article early last year, the Far Right in the US is engaged in: 
"a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception."
The other day, various news sources were reporting that in the first week since returning to session, Congress has introduced six separate anti-abortion bills.
These bills would do a number of things, including instilling a nationwide 20-week abortion ban and blocking funding to Planned Parenthood.
These bills would join the 231 other restrictions that have been placed on abortion on the state level in the past four years. Now, over half of the U.S. female population live in abortion-hostile states.
More than any other country, Pakistan provides Americans with a clear example of the outcome of  such  short-sighted policies. Without any other options, young Pakistani women are dying from illegal abortions. In the name of protecting the unborn, the lives of more newly-born babies will be put at risk. And to those unwanted children that are born and who manage to survive, more than half will face a life trapped in a generational cycle of poverty. 

A pretty grim reality, isn't it? Why would any nation choose to be taken down that path? Yet, those are the stated goals of the conservative Republican party.

The real question is, why are we letting them get away with it?