Sexual and reproductive rights in South Korea
by Aurelie Placais – journalism student in China
Being a foreign student in China where 70% of the international students are South Korean, I have learnt some very interesting details about South Korea ; especially concerning sexual and reproductive rights in this developed country.
The first questions I asked were really simple to me, but the answers I got were quite surprising. Amongst the topics that come on the table, the conception of the wedding came first.
For the majority of the older generation, the arranged marriage was the norm. No matter if the married couple loved each other, they had to come from the same social background and it was usually chosen when they were only children. “My husband’s mother got married at 18 years old, she didn’t choose her husband and didn’t know if they would like each other; they never did and she has suffered a lot”; told me Jin Ya, a married woman in her 30’s with two children.
For the new generation things have changed, but not incredibly so: tradition is still a very heavy burden where marriage is controlled by the parents. If they don’t agree with their children’s choice, the wedding won’t happen. They also consider that there should be no sexual relation before marriage, let alone unmarried couple living together or having children. When I pop up the question, Han sounded so astonished: “of course your parents won’t agree if you live together before getting married! Maybe some people do so now, but it is a secret, they wouldn’t tell anyone.” She is 22 and has been with her boyfriend for two years now. He came to China with her and they want to get married but even thousand miles away from their parents, they don’t dare living together.
When it comes to sexual relations, things are a bit different. Although their parents would not tolerate it, most young students already had experienced it. Most of them already had several boyfriends and had sex with some of them. According to Han this evolution was made possible by the television that broadcasts series showing examples of young unmarried couple having sex: “it is very easy to know that you can do it and how to do it”.
I then asked for the contraception they usually use and this is where I was surprised: condoms are not easy to ask for in the pharmacy, birth control pills are “dangerous for the health” and they don’t trust them and last but not least they did not know if abortion was legal or not. Of course they cannot ask this kind of questions to their parents: “it’s very difficult to talk about this problem, we can only talk with our closest friends, and the information is so hard to get” told me Kim and Yu. Even at school, they don’t have any any available information.
Officially, abortion is legally permitted but only up to the eighth week of gestation, and only in cases of transmitted or genetically diseases, incest, rape or when the health of the mother is at great risk. However, abortion is routinely used as a form of contraception. Between 1.5 and 2 million abortions are performed annually; it is the second highest number of abortions in the world. That may explains why the women I asked didn’t know if it was legal or not. Legislation is disconnected from reality.
It is true that the other means of contraception are not as well spread as they should be, and some efforts to teach women about safe sex, condoms, pills and other birth control methods have to be made – especially since information on sexually transmitted diseases is lacking.
But more importantly, eighty percent of abortions are done for gender-selection purposes – to abort female fetuses:
Many women in South Korea are torn between demands of age-old social tradition that obligates them to bear sons and growing appreciation of females in Korean Society; approximately one of every 12 fetuses is aborted each year because of its sex (NY Times, reg. req).
South Korea indeed shares the same catastrophe as India and China: according to their tradition, women are better off giving birth to boys, and abortion is a very discrete way to get rid of unwanted female foetus. Currently being the opposite of what it is supposed to be, abortion is not a way to emancipate women and to give them the choice to decide by themselves wether or not they want to give birth; it is a way to perpetuate masculine domination through the control of the child’s sex.
Stop India’s Gender Cleansing
by Anindita Sengupta, freelance journalist and writer, India
There are plenty of murmurs but not enough people are talking about it. Something deeply horrifying is happening in India: Gender Cleansing. India is systematically wiping out her female population. This is not an exaggeration. This is not a joke. I am not being clever. According to a 2006 UNICEF report, 80% of India’s districts have recorded declining child sex ratios since 1991. Thousands of girl-children are killed before or at birth. The all-India sex ratio is 927 girls for 1,000 boys, which puts the country right at the bottom of the global charts, worse off than countries like Nigeria (965) and neighbour
Gita Aravamudan whose book Disappearing Daughters: The Tragedy of Female Foeticide has just been published talks in her book about how our hugely skewed sex ratio is due to advanced pre-natal diagnostic techniques. But the real revelation is that educated people are more likely to kill their female fetuses, not less. According to Aravamudan, two generations of girls in India have already been murdered in the womb. This is not “family planning”. This is organized genocide, aided and abetted by sophisticated medical technology.
“The only women likely to keep their daughters are the truly independent-minded women, not just the financially independent”, she told me over coffee when we met to discuss the book. “Often women have abortion after abortion, even when they don’t want to” she said, recounting her meetings with women in different parts of the country. Mostly, this is because of pressure from the husband and in-laws. Women are scared of facing anger at home. They are scared of being thrown out of their houses. They are tired, defeated and trapped by the need to retain a modicum of peace in their domestic lives. It is tragic that in a country where God is often female, there is no place for girls in the home. Dowry is a large part of the problem, but so are issues of lineage, family name, inheritance, social attitudes towards women and the deeply ingrained belief that women are inferior.
“This is genocide. This is gender cleansing. There is no doubt about it,” said Donna Fernandez of Vimochana, an organization that works against violence against women, and a stalwart of the women’s rights movement in India. Fernandez believes that we need to begin by referring to it truthfully instead of euphemizing the problem. This does seem a necessary first step—to accept the magnitude of the problem and find the words that will adequately express the tragedy, evoke the horror and the devastation. This is as bad, or worse, than any holocaust that humankind has known. Why aren’t more people talking about it? Why aren’t world leaders declaiming it? Why isn’t there visible the shock, the fury, the sadness that usually accompanies any mass murder? Why is it important only to a handful of academics and development workers?
India needs to be taught, encouraged, cajoled, coaxed and, if necessary, compelled to value its women. It is imperative that we the Indian woman’s self esteem, her strength, her ability to feel safe, to live, to thrive is built. Every tool we have at our disposal—art, entertainment, popular television, media, religion, spirituality, law, policy and education must be marshaled to say just this: the woman is important. She is necessary. Value her.
India must be stopped from killing her women.
Anindita Sengupta is a freelance journalist and writer in Bangalore, India, and blogs at Noah’s Ark Broken.
Latina Reproductive Justice Activism, or How I Spent Valentine's Day in a Best Western on the US/Mexico Border
by Miriam Pérez, Advocacy Associate at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Note: As the recent decision by the US Senate to ban the so-called “partial birth abortion” procedure, many start to fear for the reproductive rights of women. Women’s sexual and reproductive health rights (SHRH) are too often used as a battleground for political ideologies. In reality, all governmental decisions regarding sexual health directly affect women, and especially those who cannot afford medical care. We would like to see bodies of governance worldwide making SHRC related decisions with women in mind. In this entry, Miriam Perez tells us why sexual education matters.
This Valentine’s day, instead of celebrating it with my girlfriend throwing a pity party with my single friends or even moping bitterly about not having plans, I spent it with my boss. With a run-down Best Western as our temporary home base, we spent five days with a group of 25 amazing women living on the US/Mexico border who face life with great strength, and taught me the real meaning of reproductive justice.
Our work in the Rio Grande Valley was enabled by an amazing group of promotoras (from Migrant Health Promotion) who work with immigrant women living in colonias on the border—small trailer parks with minimalist houses and little else. The women in these colonias face significant adversity: in addition to the realities of living in serious poverty, the families cannot even get the city to recognize their existence and provide the most basic of services: trash removal, sewage disposal and public transportation.
We began our time in the Valley in one of these colonias, at a weekly community meeting held on a front porch. The meeting included a visit from the head nurse of the Women’s Hospital in the area, who did glucose tests on everyone. These visits by health care workers are extremely important, since most of the women have no access to health insurance (being undocumented and impoverished) on top of their lack of access to transportation. Pregnancy is usually is the only time they do get regular care from a physician and even that care is minimal at best.
The reproductive justice training which began the next day, called Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy, was one that had been done five times before in five different cities, but we knew this one would be entirely different. We were unsure of the politics of these women—they were not the second generation openly pro-choice Latinas we were used to working with. These women were all mothers, mostly amas de casa, most likely religious and maybe anti-choice. Our training is primarily focused on reproductive health and rights, the history of abortion and contraception in the United States and Latina involvement in the fight for reproductive justice.
Despite the fact that day one ended with the worst nightmare for a pro-choice activist: a really frank and predominantly anti-choice discussion about abortion; those three days of training were probably among the most fulfilling I have had. We worried that we would alienate them by bringing up the topic, and half of us expected to show up to an empty room on day two. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone returned, ready for more, with a continued openness and desire for dialogue. While abortion itself continued to be a point of contention, there were many places where we did find significant common ground: particularly around contraception, sex education and gynecological cancer prevention.
We all agreed on a philosophy of women’s health centered around families making educated and informed decisions collectively. Abstinence-only was not their philosophy—they recognized the inevitability of their daughters’ sexual activity, and wanted to know how to give them the tools to be safe. The terminology of reproductive justice (which translated surprisingly well into Spanish— justicia reproductiva) seemed to make sense to them and they took to it with ease.
It was here, on the border, with these women, that after almost six months of working with reproductive justice, using the framework, speaking about it with colleagues and at trainings, that it really clicked for me. When we talk about intersectionality, we’re talking about these women’s lives—which are intensely impacted by their immigration status, by environmental concerns in their neighborhood without sewers or waste removal, by poverty and lack of education. With the well-being of women and families as our center point, we wove together these issues and it became clear that one could not be separated from another. These women understood this intrinsically, because it is the reality of their lives, and I was able to make sense of it through the short time I spent with them.
Miriam Pérez is the Advocacy Associate at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in New York City and blogs at Radical Doula.