Sister: An Unflinching Look at Maternal Health Worldwide

Title still for Sister, showing the word "Sister" over a world mapby Roxanna Bennett

“Pregnancy is a normal physiological event,” states Goitom Berhane, a health officer in residency at a rural hospital in Ethiopia. “This is not a disease. It is only that society is not organized enough to handle it, to appreciate its risks. It has risks whether it’s in Europe or Africa. Wherever you are, pregnancy is always a challenge.”

An unflinching look at the stark and bloody reality of infant and maternal mortality, the new documentary Sister follows maternal health care workers in Ethiopia, Haiti and Cambodia. Beautifully shot, Sister captures both agonizing and ecstatic moments in birth and delivery. from a woman whose fetus is dead inside of her, to a successful emergency Caesarian operation.

In the U.S., one in 4,800 women die from childbirth-related causes. The statistics in other parts of the world are staggering. In Haiti, one in 48 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Cambodia, one in 44 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Ethiopia, one in 27 women will die of childbirth related causes – that’s 55 every day. Sister is the story behind the statistics, putting a human face on the very real suffering and death of women and infants across the planet.

Photo of Madam Bwa, maternal health worker in Haiti

Madam Bwa, photo by Alexandra Swati Guild

Madam Bwa, a 65 year old TBA (Traditional Birth Attendant), living in Haiti, started delivering babies when she was 12 years old.

“I have delivered about 12, 000 babies,” she boasts. While she has no formal medical training, she provides the the majority of primary maternal and prenatal health care and education in her community.

“God blessed me to serve the people in this community,” she says, “Mostly to prevent them from dying during delivery.”

“Shada is the most miserable part of the city,” Madam Bwa says as she navigates the narrow alleyways between rickety shelters, “It’s badly built. If you have to transport a sick or pregnant person there are no roads in Shada.” Read more

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism Leave a comment

Why Our Response to Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws Isn’t Working

Photo of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

by Arwen McKechnie

So, as many of you may know, after five long years of advocacy and international pressure against it, the President of Uganda has signed a bill into law which adds horrifically harsh sentences to existing Ugandan legislation criminalizing homosexuality.

The bill originally called for cases of “aggravated homosexuality” to receive the death penalty, but that has been removed. Repeat offenders of Uganda’s new law will instead be sentenced to life imprisonment, which I’m sure is cold comfort. First time offenders would receive fourteen years.

In addition to the increased prison sentences, the new bill also makes it a crime to provide any material or emotional support to LGBTQ people or causes.  Allies would face possible sentences of five to seven years for providing material support to LGBTQ causes or running a business or NGO which supports equality.

For actually “enabling” homosexual behavior – by marrying a same-sex couple, or by trying to aid or counsel a queer person – the mandatory minimum goes up to seven years.

This last clause is perhaps the most ominous, which is saying something, considering all of this legislation is a nightmare.

As a much cleverer friend of mine rightly pointed out, “aid and counsel” can be defined in any number of ways. If a lawyer represents someone accused of homosexuality and that person is convicted, is the lawyer then subject to prosecution herself? Will even the possibility of that happening have a chilling effect on who is willing to take on such cases?

I fear that the answer in both cases is yes – which means that whatever defence a person could offer against conviction will be weakened right from the start. This becomes an easy way for malicious people to ruin their enemies, creating an environment ripe for witch hunts.

These concerns don’t even address the fact that to identify as queer and do anything other than abjectly apologize for it is now a crime in Uganda. How can the Ugandan LGBTQ community do anything to repeal this law or advocate for basic human decency, when to do so is itself against the law?

The witch hunts have already begun: the day after the bill was signed into law, Red Pepper, a Kampala-based tabloid listed the names of “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos”, some of whom were known LGBTQ advocates, and some of whom have never before identified as queer, and, for all we know, may not still.

Red Pepper apparently has a history of homophobic attacks on people, and with the timing of this article, their intention seems clear. This is nothing less than an appeal to mob violence and vigilantism.

The last time such a list was published in Uganda, in 2011, a known gay activist, David Kato, was murdered, shortly after being granted an injunction preventing that paper from publishing the photos and names of any more gay people; his picture was one of the ones that had been published, under the caption “Hang Them.” Red Pepper’s editorial board has poured gasoline on a fire that will almost certainly result in the death or ruin of many innocent people.

Of course, by innocent, I mean everyone. President Museveni previously refused to sign this bill into law, back when it carried a death penalty for repeat offences, because he believed that sexuality was innate, and to penalize queer people so severely, beyond the existing penalties already in place, for something beyond their control was unjust. He’s apparently since been convinced otherwise by a team of Ugandan scientists who have all attested to the fact that homosexuality is a learned behaviour.

What I think much more probable is that President Museveni recognized that this bill was enormously popular within Uganda and got sick of being lectured and threatened by the global North, and recognized that same outrage in most Ugandans. No one wants to be talked down to, or treated as less than, and the representatives of many governments made their views pointedly known on this subject, sometimes in distinctly unhelpful ways. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in LGBT, Politics, Racism 2 Comments

The Round-Up: Mar. 4, 2014

 

  • image of street sign reading "round up"Whether or not you made it through last weekend’s Oscars, you should check out this TIME article on Lupita Nyong’o’s Black Women in Hollywood luncheon speech on the conflation of light skin with beauty.
  • And Jenée Desmond-Harris at The Root puts Nyong’o’s speech into the bigger context and talks about how her win is only a beginning for breaking down colourism.
  • Also at TIME, why Jared Leto’s acclaim for his role as a trans woman in Dallas Buyers Club is misplaced.
  • The folks at Vitamin W have thought up some better questions for red carpet reporters to ask female Oscar nominees.
  • Anne-Marie Roy, president of the Students Federation at the University of Ottawa, experienced some seriously disturbing commentary on Facebook and is now speaking out about how it relates to rape culture on campus (links via The Belle Jar and Metro News, Trigger Warning).
  • This interesting and in-depth article at Collectors Weekly looks at the misinformation and whitewashing of history that visitors to Southern plantation museums often get (Trigger Warning).
  • Autostraddle has put together an “Epic Black History Month Megapost” of 100 LGBTQ black women to know.
  • A couple must-read responses to last week’s tragic announcement that Indigenous student Loretta Saunders, who had been researching missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, had been found murdered (Trigger Warning):
Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Round-Ups Leave a comment

Eating Disorders Affect Asian Women Too

Photo of mannequins in a store in Montrealby Sasha Fierce

This past week, numerous countries around the world, including Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, took part in the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAW). According to the website, NEDAW aims to “promote public and media attention to the seriousness of eating disorders and improve education about the biological underpinnings, environmental triggers, warning signs and how to help those struggling.”

This year, the organizers chose to focus on the theme “I Had No Idea” in an attempt to combat misconceptions about eating disorders. Although there are numerous misunderstandings about eating disorders, I find it particularly disconcerting that much of the discourse on eating disorders seems to focus almost exclusively on white women.

From the numerous conversations I have had with my friends and classmates over the years, I have come to the painful realization that many people simply and genuinely believe that Asian women are genetically blessed to be thin. As a female of Asian descent myself, I find it difficult to discuss my personal experiences with self-esteem and body image issues without hearing someone respond with an inconsiderate attempt to be funny: “But you’re Asian. Asians don’t get fat. You have naturally fast metabolism! You’re so small – what do you have to worry about?”

It is unfair that so many Asian women are faced with the unrealistic expectation to be naturally slim. There was a period of time when I did meet this expectation: growing up, I was always a skinny girl. No matter how much I ate, my grandmother would force feed me and ask me whether my parents were feeding me enough.

I was skinny until I entered high school, started birth control, and my body changed. At 5’2 and 115 pounds, my family and then-boyfriend began to “joke” that I was “chubby”, “fat”, and “porky”. I was no longer told to eat more, but was instead reminded to watch what I eat and to make sure I got enough exercise. I am always either too thin or too fat – there is no middle ground, no comfortable medium.

“For many Asian girls,” Noel Duan notes, “being thin is imperative; being a fat Asian—or even an Asian of “normal” weight—basically implies you’re a glutton who managed to out eat your own superfast metabolism. To be an attractive Asian girl, being thin is supposed to be a given.” Read more

Posted on by Sasha Fierce in Feminism, Racism 5 Comments

FFFF: More Historically-Accurate Disney Princess

Funny Feminist Friday Film square logoRachel Bloom’s cartoon points out being a Disney princess and finding a prince would be a lot less cool if it were historically-accurate.

Lyrics (after the jump): Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Tell the Government Your Views on the Future of Sex Work in Canada

Electronic red megaphone on standby Arwen McKechnie

More news on the Bedford decision! It’s been covered a couple times already here at Gender Focus, but if you missed the articles, let me recap: the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down all three of Canada’s existing laws pertaining to prostitution, on the grounds that they pose an unacceptable risk to the safety of sex workers by marginalizing and criminalizing their work.

As you might imagine, the current government was none too happy with this decision. Justice Minister Peter MacKay has promised to have new legislation on the books before the Supreme Court’s ruling goes into effect and the laws are officially struck down next December.

A more cynical person might take that to mean that the Justice Department already has some idea of how they want the new legislation to look, as a year is a relatively short period of time to create new legislation on such a complex and controversial social issue.

So, it is with some surprise that I can tell that the Justice Department is holding online consultations to get some public feedback on the Bedford decision and inform the new coming legislation.

Sounds good, right? Excitingly collaborative for a government that has frequently disdained the feedback of academics and interest groups alike, in favour of pushing forward their own agenda. There has to be a catch. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in Feminism Leave a comment

The Round-Up: Feb. 25, 2014

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Round-Ups Leave a comment