Equality for the unprivileged | Rachelle Deguara

The struggle of the unprivileged woman that had been through oppression shall not end with the shift of powers from men to women: that would hardly solve anything. What we need is the elimination of this imbalance of power and achieve equality for all genders

In the mid-19th century, men had once again in history negated the woman’s right to body autonomy when they campaigned successfully for the prohibition of abortion and conception.

Men may suffer from an envy of the larger role that women play in human procreation and in women’s natural advantage in knowing which children are genetically their own. As a result we can witness the patriarchal marriage, the sexual double standard and the subsequent ascendancy of males who write and approve the legislative process which determines the future of women.

Women’s reproductive autonomy cannot be secured through patriarchal suppression. On the contrary, suppression of contraception and abortion could virtually ensure the reproductive enslavement of women.

The new openness to the dissemination of information about relatively safe and unsafe sexual practices, prophylactics and the like is surely a positive development for women. One may ask whether it is coincidental that this public concern with safer sexual practices arose now for the first time, when perhaps more men than women were suffering some of the most lethal consequences of unsafe sexual practices.

Under the Criminal Code of Malta, abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. It’s commonly reported that Maltese residents travel abroad to perform this procedure. On the other hand, those who do not have the means are susceptible to unsafe abortions. Many unprofessional or self-induced abortions lead to serious infections, permanent damage and even death.

Harsh consequences can be avoided. The idea of making abortion safer is a legitimate public goal. This demand still meets strong opposition from religious conservatives and others who happen to be convinced more by dogma than by reason or science. Right-wing groups and sanctimonious individuals have long opposed attempts to ameliorate the harmful consequences of sexual activity. Some still believe that women who do not want to have children should either avoid heterosexual intercourse altogether or accept the consequences. Still in Malta, these punitive attitudes have a considerable influence.

In order to safeguard the safety of women, efforts in sexual education on STDs, prevention and contraceptives are not enough. Women’s safety also comes with the right to safe abortion and this kind of medical care should be available to all women, including those who are underage or unable to pay.

Currently in Malta, instead of discussing abortion as an issue, the conservatives are simply stigmatising the issue. Even if Maltese society has in some aspects become more progressive, with regards to abortion society has put strong barriers to decriminalise a medical procedure which ensures the safety of women, and that in most other countries, has been done, is being done, and will further be done.

In our society there needs to be a better understanding not only on sexual education but also on gender equality. Sex is a natural aspect of human life and arguments punishing this behaviour would negate our nature and feelings. However, as of now, in Maltese society, this concept is still privileged to men while women are expected to “keep their legs closed” if they don’t want to get pregnant. This is not to say that everyone should act instinctively, but rather that sex should not be considered a sacrilegious act that warrants castigation.

How will those implying that “abortion is murder” explain this to countries where abortion is legal? Today, we still see people in advanced political positions like the leader of the Opposition that refers to abortion as murder whilst Edwin Vassallo, another member of parliament, called people in countries where abortion is legalised “animals”. If these men come face to face with their European counterparts will they put forward their arguments? I bet they would not since they only hold their hypocritical moral high ground only in the local misogyny which provides the right conditions to flourish.

Still, a fetus does not have the necessary neuroanatomical system required to feel pain until 26 weeks of gestation. Besides, pain is a subjective experience and requires mindful development. The vast majority, 89% of abortions occur within the first 12 weeks of gestation. No one is refusing that a fetus is a living being. By definition anything composed of cells is alive. A fetus is alive, just like the pigs we slaughter to consume as food, the leaves hanging from a tree, and the yeast we use to bake bread, and the many viruses which threaten humanity: these are all living beings. The fact that a fetus may or may not have a beating heart, developing neurological structures, identifiable digits, or any other human quality does not equate abortion to murder.

The notion that women should be granted the right to decide over their own bodies and hence have body autonomy is still not ascribed to in our society. Patriarchal power is a poor substitute for social, economic and political equality and denying women’s right to safe abortions forms an integral part of this patriarchy. Women’s rights will not be granted solely through the cause of the male’s concern over his sexual health. As sexual awareness increases due to the concern of the male’s sexual health, the women’s right over her body will remain in the background unless women speak out. The struggle of the unprivileged woman that had been through oppression shall not end with the shift of powers from men to women: that would hardly solve anything. What we need is the elimination of this imbalance of power and achieve equality for all genders.

 

Rachelle Deguara is a student

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