Alabama: War on Women

25 White men have voted out reproductive rights of women in Alabama making abortion illegal in all cases including rape and incest. Doctors who perform the procedure could go to prison for as long as 99 years – same as rapists and murderers.

This is a war on women.

Senator Clyde Chambliss, a sponsor of the bill claimed, “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s body, it is not our place to extinguish that life.”

This is 2019 America where being “pro-life” means forcing young girls who are raped by their fathers and brothers to birth, nurture and feed their own trauma. I am not sure I have ever seen a man buy even a shirt he doesn’t like. Yet, women can’t seem to avoid having unwanted children.

An abortion ban is also called a “heartbeat bill” which outlaws ending a pregnancy after six weeks. A pregnancy is not measured from when it actually begins i.e. when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus but is measured from a woman’s last menstrual period. So, if you were late for two weeks after the due date –  you have missed your chance for an abortion.

Two weeks. Many women do not even realise they are pregnant in such little time.

Seema Roy, a 26-year-old student in New York, says “I am often late for my periods. A year ago, I was late by around 17 days which I thought was a little weird. When I took the test, I realised I was pregnant. I was on the pill but it doesn’t always work.”

She was flying to India within a couple of weeks and had the procedure done in Delhi. “I wonder if I was in Alabama at that point, what would I have done. I didn’t even know I was pregnant and I would already have lost a chance to make a choice,” says Seema.

For Alabama’s case, it appears women are being asked to pay for the brunt of horrors like rape. To force sex upon someone is a horrifying crime. Period. To try and romanticise the idea of a baby by using terms like “heartbeat bill” not only sidelines violent crimes like rape, but mocks women for being helpless and essentially, plain murderers.

If Alabama was truly “pro-life”, why does it remain to be one of the least educated states in America? I wonder if those children who are unable to attend schools and get a better life are really God’s children after all.

Misogynistic politicians, who don’t have a uterus, appear to think of themselves as property managers of women’ bodies. They might keep pushing for an abortion to be illegal citing their pro-life agenda, but the same politicians are part of a government that has systematically cut healthcare for women and services for poverty stricken children.

The ban hurts women belonging to a lower socioeconomic strata the most. Those who have the means will be able to find services in another state or even another country. That said, money or freedom to move may not be the ultimate solution. There are women, rich or poor,  living in toxic households where patriarchy still keeps a clock on where they go, what time they come back and who they talk to.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Black and Hispanic women are more likely to get abortions. In 2014, the abortion rate for Black women was 27 for every 1,000 women of reproductive age, compared with 18 for Hispanic women and 10 for white women.

Nearly half of the women who have abortions live below the federal poverty line. Black and Hispanic women remain one of the least paid communities in America.

To force women to have a child while they deal with poverty and lack of healthcare is not only cruel to the mother but also to the future children set to born in unfavorable conditions.

When it comes to healthcare for women of colour, Alabama continues to fail. According to the World Health Report, Black women are dying at an alarming rate due to cervical cancer.  According to Human Rights Watch report, Black women are twice as likely to die due to cervical cancer than White women.

Alabama has one of the highest infant mortality rates in America. Recently, US News and World Report called Alabama one of the worst states to live in.

This is not about “pro-life”. Would the American government be willing to grant citizenship to undocumented immigrant women who are pregnant? With Trump’s MAGA campaign, that seems highly unlikely. Would miscarriages also be treated as potential murders? Well, women have been jailed for failed pregnancies, so this one is not too far from reality.

At a time when women around the world are breaking chains, from starting to drive in Saudi Arabia to winning LGBTQIA+ rights in India, Alabama is stuck in a time warp.

The appointment of sexual assault accused Brett Kavanaugh has started to show its effect and America is watching. While Trump has said he does not support the exception of rape, he is the one who appointed Kavanaugh to the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court amidst anger owing to Kavanaugh’s misogynistic approach towards women and their rights

The internet has broken on the story and one particular image that caught my eye said, “Alabama is “pro-life” unless the kids are brown, black or gay.”

It had 658 hearts. I double tapped for another one.

 

Fair Enough? The Desire for Lighter Skin

Graphics: Ayonti Mahreen Haq

For more than 40 years, Curry Corner, a tiny store in Melbourne’s CBD that specialises in Indian imports, has been selling spices and lentils. But what catches the eye almost instantly is the large collection of skin-whitening products in the front right corner of the shop. From a skin bleaching cream for “instant golden glow” by Fem to a whitening cream called “Fair & Lovely”, there is a chemical formula available for every part of the body. Yes, even the privates.

I looked at myself in the tiny mirror hanging on the wall and thought, “I love this chocolate flavour on me.” But I couldn’t resist reading the taglines on the products.

Growing up with a darker skin tone, I was often told lightening my skin would accentuate my features. Some comments were even more overt, simply telling me I would look prettier with light skin.

Before boarding my flight to Melbourne from Delhi last year, I stopped at the airport drugstore to buy myself lotion for the journey. Without knowing what I wanted, the shopkeeper pulled out a Nivea Skin Whitening Lotion which also offered a Nivea Underarm Whitening Deodorant for free.

Now, back in Curry Corner in Melbourne, the retail assistant watches me inspecting the cream. “Everybody buys them,” the assistant says encouragingly.

According to intelligence firm Global Industry Analysts, the market for such products is expected to reach US$31 billion by 2024. India alone has a $200 million strong skin-whitening product industry.

Cherry, a pharmacist at Priceline on Bourke Street, says light skin is considered “good” in Asian culture. “La Roche Posay does have a skin whitening cream, but we’re out of stock at the moment. I think the target audience is mainly Asian women in Australia. It could be cultural issue or personal preference, it’s hard to say,” says Cherry while putting other La Roche Posay products on the shelf.

But not everyone agrees that skin whitening products make huge sales. Sales assistant Narender Singh at ‘India at Home’ in Box Hill is one of them. “These products [pointing towards a shelf with skin lightening bleach creams] have been sitting here for a year, nobody is buying them.”

“Why?”

“Maybe people are getting over white skin,” Narender says, laughing. “Although, Ayurveda (natural) products for skin have been very popular, recently.”

“Do they promise fairer skin?”

After a long pause, Narender, seemingly surprised with himself says, “Well, yes.”

Even DIY skin care remedies, made famous by Instagram beauty gurus and social media influencers, reek of a strong desire to have a lighter skin tone. Articles like ‘How to whiten skin from kitchen supplies’ are wildly popular.

Lightening one’s skin is perceived to come with increased privileges and higher social standing. Hundreds of years of colonisation of People of Colour has led white skin to be linked to leadership or supremacy. Melbourne based spoken word artist, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa, believes that white has always been linked to purity, and that is a problem. “I think purity is a big theme in South Asian religious ideologies and culture has dictated that pure = white = clean, and impure = black/ darkness = dirty. Even if you ask young kids to draw “God” they will immediately draw an old white man in the sky/clouds. Why is God a white man?”

The desire to have lighter skin is normalised and sold everyday. From billboards to TV advertisements, we are bombarded with “revolutionary techniques” for skin whitening, often featuring a scientist in a white coat, mixing chemicals in a sterile laboratory.

In 2017, Dove received backlash after posting an ad that showed a black woman removing her shirt and being replaced with a white woman. The same year, an advertisement for skin-whitening pills with the slogan “white makes you win” made headlines. In the ad, Thai model Cris Horwang’s skin gradually darkens as she says: “If I stop taking care of myself, everything I have worked for, the whiteness I have invested in, may be lost.”

Racism in ads for skin whitening products is not new. Australia’s share of such ads dates back to early 1900s. The Nulla-Nulla soap ad with slogan “Australia’s White Hope, The Best Household Soap”, shows a seemingly black woman with word “DIRT” wrapped around her neck. A white hand can be seen hitting the woman on the head.

Wiradjuri author Kathleen Jackson writes that the most literal reading of Nulla-Nulla advertisement would be that it is a particularly good soap because it can clean even the dirtiest object perceived, which in this case is a black woman.

Some countries have taken steps to discourage skin whitening and the harmful advertising practices associated with it. Last year, Ghana banned the use of hydroquinone, the primary chemical found in skin whitening bleaches and creams. Ghana is one of the three African countries to regulate skin whitening products, along with Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa. The chemical is also banned in Europe, but Australia has taken no such steps.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) prohibited cosmetic brands from communicating any discrimination based on skin colour through advertising in 2014. Given how widespread the advertising for fairness and skin lightening products is and the concerns of different stakeholders in society, ASCI took the decision seeking industry and public feedback.

One of the main guidelines reads, “These ads should not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour. Specifically, advertising should not directly or implicitly show people with darker skin, in a way which is widely seen as unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned.”

Individuals are also working to change the culture of skin whitening. Indian activist Kavitha Emmanuel initiated a campaign in 2009 called Dark is Beautiful. It seeks to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin colour bias and celebrate the beauty and diversity of all skin tones. Kavitha says that even though banning these products might help, it is not the final solution.

“We need to change the mindset. If people won’t be able buy skin whitening products, they will experiment at home, the DIY way. As long as they believe whiter skin to be better skin, such bans can’t stop them. What we need to do is change the thinking, that’s the real fight,” says Kavitha, over the phone.

Almost a hundred years later and despite several awareness campaigns, the skin whitening industry continues to grow. Businesses avoid social responsibility by claiming they are simply exercising their right to do business. But in the process, they push a racist and anti-feminist system that forces one to confirm to Eurocentric standards of beauty.

After analysing all the products himself, sales assistant Narendar says, “They shouldn’t sell these anymore. It’s not a nice thing to do, is it?”

 

Open letter to an Indian Minister who trembles when girls drink BEER

Hello Mr Parrikar,

Hope you’re still basking in the glory of being the Chief Minister of Goa – the only place Indians can actually relax in – because, you know, you now have the opportunity to destroy something beautiful. From what I understand, that is the expertise of your party. And what is better for a party than to have Ministers who indeed thrive towards achieving the ultimate goal?

Last Saturday, you made headlines about a certain fear you have. As much as I encourage people to talk freely about their issues, I now believe it is, sometimes, alright to just…stay quiet. You went on stage and said, “I am scared because now even girls are drinking beer!

You are a Minister in India. A nation still developing, still struggling with issues like poverty and unemployment. A country with 1.3 billion people – still figuring how to fight problems (thanks to the Brits)… I have to say, out of ALL the things you could possibly be worried about, you are afraid of girls having beer? That is, well, hilarious to be honest.

Soon after you said it, Twitter was filled with Indian women taking selfies of themselves with beer and posting to you. With love, of course. Anger is something which has been gifted to the Indian men. Good for them, we like better presents. Presents like, hmm,  a slab of beers!

This letter is just another contribution from a brown girl who wants to call you out on your sheer hypocrisy. This letter is meant for you to put your head in the right place and stop sniffing what women have or have not been drinking. Why don’t you focus on what women have to go through, or don’t have to, because they meet death sooner than justice? Remember the 28-year British woman who was found raped and murdered on the beach in your very own Goa? Breaking News – Rape is scarier than beer.

You are in the Government, right? There is so much pressure on you darling, you seem to have forgotten the laws of the country. There is a legal age for drinking. FULL STOP. There are NO different legal ages for men and women. No one has to go to a bottle shop and when asked for ID card, show a dick pic. No, it doesn’t work that way. Dick pics belong in the ‘other’ inbox of messenger. Period.

The next time you see a girl drinking beer – know that might be just the starter. And that she will go on to have whiskey, vodka, whatever she is vibing with. And that she is a free woman, in a free country, and if you are a public servant, you better get to work and make sure no rapists map the road when my drunk sister wants to go home. It might be 3 AM or 10 PM – last I checked a girl was raped at 2 in the afternoon. Thanks but no thanks to your idea of ideal woman and when she ‘should’ be home.

We have no time for your patriarchal bullshit. We have some kickass careers and loads of beer to get back to. You, sir, please get back to serving us.
Thank you and cheers!

From,

A Brown girl currently drinking beer.