The political arena is always a space where ideologies are created or reinforced, and where thought leadership is initiated. Political campaigns, rallies, debates present the channels to do this. They bring citizens back to the drawing board, to reflect on successes achieved and gaps still existing. They are also avenues of connecting candidates with the citizens, giving them both an opportunity to reflect on issues together.
That is where, in my opinion, the excitement with the American debate is. The final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was last week. As they were trying to convince the American people who the better candidate is, people on the African continent were also watching in the wee hours of Thursday morning as if expecting to be convinced. Most of us non- Americans watch the American presidential debate because we frankly find it very interesting and we do wish for such an exciting and involving democratic process in our own countries. I have never at any point in my life thought the American election had a direct impact on our lives as Africans, or even as a Zimbabweans. Not even when Obama, whose African decent got most Africans excited, was running for the presidency. However, just as Hillary and Donald were responding to the second question I started to feel otherwise. I was affected at that moment as a woman because the issues raised in the responses to this question alarmed me to the fact that the fight to gender equality might not be a progressive as I might have thought.
The Second Question
The second question of the night was on abortion. The specific question to Mr Trump was on whether or not he would overturn Roe v. Wade. To shed a bit of light, Roe v. Wade is the historic Supreme Court decision overturning a Texas interpretation of abortion law thus making abortion legal in the United States. The decision of abortion, specifically when to have it during the pregnancy, was placed in the hands of a woman and her doctor. It made any other law in the US that deemed abortion illegal void. To this question, Donald Trump responded that he would like to see the Supreme court reverse this decision because he is pro-life, and that he would make sure to appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme court.
To Secretary Clinton, the question was on how far she believed on the right to abortion and why she voted for the ban of late-term abortion sometime. To this she responded, in a nutshell, that the government has no business interfering in decisions of an intimate nature that a woman has to make about her health care.
“Ripping babies out”: Misconceptions on late-term abortion
Like most people when confronted about the question of pro-life or pro-choice, Trump also used very harsh language when he responded to this question. To be exact he said it’s not okay, to ‘rip the baby out of the woman’s womb’ on the last day. Am sure most women (who are pro-choice) couldn’t help but be offended by this statement. Well, this is harsh language is not anything new of course, but hearing it come out of the mouth of a potential future leader blew the issue out of the proportions of our everyday private conversations. For most of us, it reminded us that the right to make choices about our body is a huge issue which we should continue fighting for.
Well, the pro-life argument, particularly in relation to late-term abortion, portrays women as irresponsible, reckless and selfish. What this argument says is that, there is not a single sensible reason in the world, not even from qualified doctors, not even risk of health, that could justify terminating a pregnancy at 24 weeks or after (which is late-term). It says, women make such a decision impulsively based on their mood of the day.
To debunk this, it is important to know that abortion, early or late term, is probably the hardest decision that a woman can make. In fact, according to Laura Kacere, in her article ‘The truth about late term abortions’ many late term abortions occur for wanted/planned pregnancies. Laura Kacere, goes on to explain that, late term abortions happen in most cases under medical advice either due to fetal anomalies or risks to the health of the mother, so these abortions can be a painful experience for the woman as they can feel at loss. The financial burden and the stigma that comes with the procedure also makes the experience extremely difficult.
The subjugation of women
The discussion on the right of a woman to abortion presents a bigger picture to the plight of women globally. Globally, most countries in Africa and South America are notorious for having restrictive abortion laws. What this speaks to, is that there still exists a group of people, or an ideology, that largely believes that women are incapable of making their own decisions, even under the best advise. The right to abortion, particularly late term is provided on terms that the women makes this decision under medical council. The right to abortion doesn’t mean giving a woman the right to kill (Abortion is not infanticide). It means protecting the woman by supporting and offering her the best safe and cheap options to health care, sexual reproductive health care to be precise. It means acknowledging her as a human being who knows what is best of herself. Denying her this right means oppressing her by making decisions on her behalf.
Agree with it or don’t, everyone is entitled to their personal beliefs. But before you punish her for her choice, be aware that, in Zimbabwe alone, at least 20 000 women are dying every year from complications associated with abortion while more than 80 000 terminate their pregnancies illegally. Globally, the statistics might actually be higher. In accepting these stats as our current reality, can we then at least protect her by ensuring laws are in place that provide her access to safe and affordable health care. Abortion does need to be allowed based on the possibility of medical complications, but also, it simply should be an option to an individual who is making a choice about their body.
“Belittling women makes him bigger”
Hillary Clinton said this in response to Trump’s allegations of sexual harassment. Though this sentence perfectly explains what sexual harassment is about, it also touches the general picture on why women are afraid to do anything. Women are often afraid to report sexual harassment or rape cases. They are reluctant to participate in politics or voice their opinions. If and when they do, their characters are attacked. Their backgrounds are investigated. They are belittled to being mere attention seekers or they are even brought down to socially constructed gender stereotypes and roles. President Buhari belittled his wife to her only belonging in the ‘household’ platform when she spoke out on mismanagement in the Nigerian government. Joyce Mujuru was belittled to her sexual history as a measure of her incompetence. Belittling HER makes HIM bigger, it’s a pattern of divisiveness. But SHE is not allowing it. Women continue to fight.
We need leaders who understand women’s issues!
No matter what country one comes from, the world needs leaders that understand key issues of minority groups and key populations. If our leaders are not speaking with one voice then how do we as citizens expect them to negotiate on our behalf in international platforms? How do we hope to have progressive international laws? Even when international laws are progressive and inclusive, how do we expect our leaders to domesticate or implement these laws and conventions they have ratified and committed to if they are ill informed on issues? Americans will vote soon, and though this decision might not directly impact the global south, the issues discussed are not far from our own realities. Events like these remind us of where we stand and alert us that the fight to true gender equality is far from being won, even in places and countries we deemed progressive. Lets keep engaging in these conversations until we are all on the same level of understanding that women’s rights are human rights.
Main Image taken from ww.theoracle.glenbrook225.org
Article written by Tendaishe ‘Tishe’ Changamire, a freelance writer passionate about gender, equality, politics and social development. She loves Africa and encourages Africans to own their narrative. Tishe is a hopeless food and book lover.