Posted on: November 3, 2020 Posted by: Zara Azam Comments: 0

I’ve always known we live in a phallocentric world- I’d seen and drawn about a thousand penises before I ever took a good look at my own ladyparts. If I said to draw a cis-woman’s nether regions, most people wouldn’t even know where to start. And, if they did get anywhere, I can guarantee they’d draw a vulva (the part that’s visible) and shout something like ‘See! Vagina!’. Not a vagina. Vulva. 

Let’s face it, cis-women’s bodies are a complicated, wild, terrifying and uniquely fascinating topic. Our boobs grow then make food, we go through menstruation, menopause- and oh let’s not forget that we literally bring life into this world! It seems bizarre to me that everyone, worldwide, isn’t made to learn about the female body in immense detail- if not in the name of edification, then in the name of sustainability.

But alas. Around the world, women’s health is treated, for the most part, as literally some kind of joke. While men’s health is taken about as seriously as money. 

Healthcare and medicine has, more often than not, been dominated by and centred on cis-men. And if you think it’s not affecting women just about everywhere, keep reading. Here are just 3 examples of the ways in which women’s health is, indeed, a global shitshow:

Period Poverty

If the fact that we bleed from our vaginas isn’t enough of a bummer, let’s take a second just to consider the costs associated. Those of us who can afford pads, tampons or even contemporary products such as moon cups, often take for granted just how lucky we are. When people can’t access sanitary products or information about menstruation due to financial constraints, it’s called Period Poverty.

A survey conducted by Plan International UK (of 1,000 young women aged 14-21) showed that in the UK alone, about 1 in 10 girls can’t afford menstrual products, and 1 in 7 struggle to afford them. Yep, that’s in the UK alone. I won’t even get started on the statistics for other, less economically developed countries. But I’ll tell you this: it’s bloody devastating.

The impacts of this poverty go far beyond the obvious ‘destroying all my pants’ and ‘making me feel sticky and gross’. It can cause health issues like UTIs and reproductive infections. Girls are missing school, facing disastrous impacts on their education and future. Oh, and a little thing called MENTAL HEALTH! Just imagine the stress, anxiety, depression, and embarrassment of not being able to (literally or mentally) soak up something we have absolutely no control over. 

Harmful Practices and Malpractice

All over the world, women’s bodies are being mutilated against their will. Not a fun sentence to read, and not an uplifting topic to discuss, but frankly I couldn’t care less. 

If you haven’t heard about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation, sometimes known as female circumcision), here’s a quick summary: female genitals (usually with a focus on the clitoris) are removed or damaged, with hopes of reducing a woman’s sexual pleasure and desire. It’s usually carried out on religious or cultural grounds, preferably preserving the woman’s virginity for longer. The horrendous act is typically performed before puberty, sometimes on baby girls as young as one day old, usually without any anaesthetic. Sharp objects are used, which are rarely disinfected. These include knives, scissors, razors and pieces of broken glass.

Sounds too horrific to be real, or at least too depraved to be common. Yet, every single year, 3 million girls are at risk of FGM. It’s most common in Africa, but also takes place in the Middle East, South Asia – even immigrants in Europe. The World Health Organisation reckon 200 million women are affected by FGM worldwide, with 1 million in Europe alone.

Even in the USA, where such cultural practices are uncommon, women’s bodies are not safe from mutilation. Just this year, the “primary gynaecologist” at an ICE detention centre in Georgia was caught out for performing unnecessary hysterectomies on several women, claiming they had dangerous cysts (when they really didn’t). In fact, some of these women had absolutely no concerns about their reproductive health, and most were completely dumfounded to find that they would be undergoing surgery the same day! 

Why, might you ask, is this happening? It might be something to do with the fact that independent doctors, like Dr. Amin, are paid for the procedures they perform by the Department of Homeland Security. The procedures performed by Dr. Amin are typically billed at thousands of dollars each. 

Just think. These women, many of whom speak little English, wake up from the anaesthetic and ask ‘“Why’d I have this surgery?”. But, by that point, it’s too late. And they can say goodbye to any dreams they may have once had of bearing children. Gone.

Pro-Life, Pro-Housewife

And finally, I think we all know how people can get about the A word… 

Abortion. The word is abortion. 

There’s a whole kerfuffle about it at the moment in Rome, Italy. Women’s aborted foetuses are somehow being acquired by Catholic groups and buried at cemeteries, with the mother’s names on the tombstone. Yep, I’m serious. Women are literally rocking up to their loved ones’ funerals, only to stumble across what look like their own graves. Spooky, and messed up. It’s damn hard to get an abortion in Rome, with few hospitals providing the service and most healthcare professionals living on some sort of fabricated moral high ground. My question is, how are these Catholic groups getting hold of the foetuses, when hospitals require the mother’s permission for burials? 

If you’re wondering why I, and most women I know, are Pro-Choice, let me put it this way: pregnancy and motherhood are not easy. It’s not like taking up badminton or getting a tattoo. It’s time-consuming, world-changing, and sometimes agonising work. And if you’re not ready, or think you never will be, then you should have a choice- end of. Those who believe otherwise, evidently also believe that it’s a woman’s ethical duty to have children. And that assuming the role of a mother is far more important than their own personal fulfilment or joy. 

Therefore, I’m going to be bold and say that Pro-life is not so different from pro-housewife. Pro-female-oppression. Pro-shitshow-healthcare.

And that’s just scratching the surface…

The good news about all this, is that you can do something. Men, you can fight our corner and learn about our bodies. Stop being afraid! They’re not gross, they’re incredible. Women; we can insist on healthcare equality, and we can encourage our friends and families to talk openly about female reproductive issues.

Take away the stigma, take away the embarrassment, and bring in empowerment. It’s the only way.

For more information on period poverty, take a look at these:

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/period-poverty-everything-you-need-to-know/

https://www.actionaid.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do/womens-economic-empowerment/period-poverty

https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/

More info on FGM:

https://www.desertflowerfoundation.org/en/what-is-fgm.html

https://plan-uk.org/blogs/why-does-fgm-happen

By Zara Azam

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