Saturday, May 17, 2003

Where are the feminists?

Seems to me that this question is asked nearly as much as the question "Is Feminism Dead?". In the vast majority of cases, these questions are asked not out of sincerity, but as a way to bash feminists. In addition, these questions are usually asked out of ignorance, not out of some special knowledge of what feminists are and are not focusing on. Amp, himself, recently exposed the ignorance of one person asking this sort of question.

Thanks to an e-mail from Stefanie Murray, I found yet another egregious example of this.

In a New York Times editorial, Nicholas D. Kristof described the tragedy of "a condition almost unknown in the West but indescribably hideous for millions of sufferers in the poorest countries in the world" known as obstetric fistulas. Indeed, this is a widespread tragedy which most of the Western world knows very little about, and it's admirable that he would take the time to write about it, as well as acknowledge the work of Dr. Catherine Hamlin, an Australian gynecologist who has helped tens of thousands of women with this condition.

Unfortunately, he goes on to add:
I know why most African governments have done nothing to help fistula sufferers: those women are the poorest, most stigmatized, voiceless people on the continent. But since it is difficult to imagine a more important women's issue in the third world than maternal health, I don't understand why most feminist organizations in the West have never shown interest in these women either.

Perhaps it's because Westerners can't conceive of the horror of obstetric fistulas (Americans haven't commonly suffered fistulas since the 19th century, when a fistula hospital stood on the site of today's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan). Or perhaps the issue doesn't galvanize women's groups because fistulas relate to a traditional child-bearing role.


One has to wonder if the author is deliberately manipulating the facts, or really is that ignorant of what American feminists are and are not doing.

I mean, in his own article, he points out the efforts of not only UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund), but also of the American women attempting to help raise the $34 million in U.S. funds for UNFPA that Bush cut in a temper tantrum over abortions in China. But he ignored other organizations, like the Feminist Majority Foundation or any of the thousands of other organizations and individual women working to prevent not only this particular tragedy, but similar tragedies -- not to mention the causes of this and similar tragedies.

Ironically, it wasn't feminists, but rather conservatives, who were arguing against the issue of maternal mortality and the underlying causes of such a thing. And here's the thing -- the underlying causes of and solutions for maternal mortality are the exact same underlying causes of obstetric fistula: poverty, lack of education, childbearing at too early an age, early or closely spaced childbearing, and lack of medical care.

Now, I will admit that not nearly enough people -- feminists and non-feminists alike -- are paying attention to all of these issues. But, when one looks at who is trying to work on the issues, one will see that the vast majority of these people are feminists, while the ones working against it are conservatives. Similarly, the lack of information cannot be blamed on feminists (as they are the ones, more often, trying to spread the word), but rather the conservative media who ignore the voices of feminists and spend far too much playing PR agents for the US military and government.

Update: Trish Wilson and Body and Soul have also written comments on Kristof.

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