I’m sure most of us here are onboard with the idea that women are people, deserving of rights.
My own background is in
reproductive healthcare, so I can see how women’s health and women’s rights go hand
in hand like Michelle and Barack. But even if I didn’t have a degree in
healthcare (and student debt to prove it), you don’t need to be a stable
genius to see the link between
human health and human rights. In a world with 195 nation-states, not a single
nation that fares poorly in women’s rights have ever fared well in women’s health.
In fact, a lack of women’s rights
is the most reliable predictor of failures in societal wellbeing. For instance,
I doubt anyone is surprised to know that Indiana, one
of the worst states in America for women’s equal pay, also
has one of the highest rates of maternal death and infant mortality in 2019. I doubt anyone is shocked that Indiana experienced one of the
worst outbreaks of HIV in the past decade under then-Governor
Mike Pence, a
misogynist who brags of denying opportunities to female staff for religious
But let’s think beyond Midwest
enclaves like Indiana, beyond the immorality of thugs like Pence. Let’s think
of the reluctant social
justice warriors like
Kathleen O’Donnell. She served in the National Guard and then tried living with
her wife in Montana, only to be told by her landlord, “Oh,
I don’t rent to your kind here”. Then she was terminated from her job at a car company for
being gay. If that sounds familiar, it’s because her case is now before the
Trump Supreme Court, which will decide if firing LGBT employees is constitutional.
I’m sure Kathleen will get a completely
fair hearing – just like Marie
Gallagher, whose school in New
York completely ignored her sexual assault on campus. Not even her family knew,
until last year a news crew filmed her confronting Senator Jeff Flake over his
vote for Predator Kavanaugh. You may remember she said to his face, “I was
sexually assaulted, and nobody believed me. I didn’t tell anyone, and you’re
telling all women that they should just stay quiet, because if they tell you
what happened to them you are going to ignore them.”
That, of course, is what the male
Senator did. Fun
fact: As of 2018, one-third
of men on the Supreme Court are now alleged sex criminals.
Ultimately, the impact of
state-sanctioned violence extends beyond American women. This summer, Yazmin
Juarez testified before
Congress about how the Trump administration detained her 1-year-old daughter
and left her to die from an infection she contracted in her lungs. As Yazmin recounted
to Congress, “Vinimos a Estados Unidos – we came to America, where I
hoped to build a better, safer life for my daughter… Unfortunately, I watched
my baby girl die, slowly and painfully.”
Look, these women I’ve
mentioned have never met. They have nothing in common, except for the human desire
to build a better future. In fact, I imagine none of them expected to face the assaults
on their dignity that they’ve endured since the aftermath of 2016. Whether it
was the Department
of Education repealing
Obama-era protections for campus rape survivors, or Predator
Trump authorising businesses
to deny birth control to women, I think all of us expected more from a society
that styles itself as a beacon for human rights and justice.
these women and their allies find themselves with targets on their backs, not for
what they’ve done but for what they’re not. They’re not straight, white males.
They don’t have Confederate statues erected in their honour. They don’t have
dirt to offer on the President’s opponents. In the American government’s eyes
in 2019, they’re nothing. In the words of the President, “These
aren’t people. These are animals.”
That’s the bad news for women.
The good news is that these women have allies. Those allies are each other.
They might not know each
other. Yet the movements that inspire them recognise the intersectionality
between their struggles. I remember in the mid-2010s as Title IX activists
across America pushed the Obama administration to hold over 500 universities accountable for their coverups and mishandling of
campus rape. You and I watched as that energy evolved into the #MeToo movement,
holding powerful men accountable for crimes they perpetrated against women for decades.
Today we watch as women candidates prepare to fight their way into future elected
office, in 2020.
Our strength as activists
arises from the knowledge that our struggle is shared. We know we cannot speak
of injustice against one marginalised group without speaking of how it
threatens the wellbeing of others. As reproductive rights activists in 2019,
for instance, we know the right to birth control is meaningless if someone can’t
earn enough to afford birth control, or if she’s fearful of violence from a
partner who opposes birth control, or if her boss threatens to fire her for
accessing birth control.
Everyone knows a woman who
lacks workplace protections is less able to close the pay gap with her male
colleagues, or to alleviate her student debt, or to leave an abusive partner.
We know that women of colour face greater burdens around economic and
reproductive health than white women. And we know that when poor, marginalised girls
are ensnared in emergencies like hurricanes and homelessness, they face the most
disproportionate disruptions to everything from their contraceptive access to their
safety from sexual assault.
Sometimes local friends ask what
the feminist groups with which I pal
around do in the community. What
we do is hardly ground-breaking. We unite allies. We educate colleagues on issues.
Some weeks our meetings are simply a bunch of us in the sitting room of a
retired grandmother, one who remembers the days before Roe v. Wade or Griswold
v. Connecticut, as we
strategize over effective ways to make one’s voice heard. Above all, we seek to
discover who else is willing to fight alongside us.
The things that make the most
difference don’t require millions of supporters wearing red hats or waving tiki
torches. They simply require
those of us who stand with women to be more dedicated than those who want women
to suffer. An administration that traffics in exclusion and appoints predators
will inevitably falter before a feminist movement which rethinks itself
constantly to include those whose backgrounds might be different but whose objectives
are the same: To bring equity and opportunity to all.