Compiled by Samiha Hossain
Photo via AFP
Pregnancy guidelines published in 2019 on a government website by authorities in Seoul and which recently caught the attention of the public have led to backlash in South Korea. The guidelines are riddled with misogynist advice such as “Prepare ready-made meals for your husband, who surely “is not good at cooking”” and “After the baby arrives, keep a “small-size” dress in sight — you’ll need motivation not to take that extra bite”. Activist and politician, Yong Hye-in notes that if a woman were to follow the guidelines, her child-rearing duties would double by having to care for her husband.
Over 21,000 people have signed a petition calling for a public apology from officials and disciplinary action against those who released the guidelines. The public health division of the Seoul city government claimed responsibility for failing to review the content of the guidelines thoroughly. They said they will improve gender sensitivity training for all municipal employees. In addition, they have removed the most offensive portions - although some of the advice remains online. South Koreans on social media continue to express frustration at this oversight and the lack of action.
The government in Korea has a vested interest in incentivizing women to have children, as the declining population will negatively impact the economy. South Korea and other surrounding regions with an aging population and declining birthrates have widespread gender inequalities particularly relating to pregnancy. In China, women are facing a “parenthood penalty”, a term which describes how since the government’s incentivization of childbirth after the one-child policy was abolished in 2016, discrimination by employers has risen due to concerns over maternity cost. The results are a falling female labour participation rate, discriminatory job listings and hiring practices, and a significant gender pay gap. Though there are laws protecting equal employment, they are rarely put into practice.
On top of the routine misogyny women face, mothers and people who can become pregnant experience additional barriers such as workplace discrimination, high cost of childcare, disproportionate domestic duties, and pospartum depression.The government's ignorance, or let’s be honest, willful disregard of these issues reveals how the patriarchy views women as vessels of childbirth, labour and male sexual satisfaction. What does it mean when strategies for a supposedly healthier economy are at the expense of women’s rights? The social media outcry has made it clear that women will not accept this.
Collette Nilaulak, who is from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, gave birth to her son Cooper alone in a hospital room at Winnipeg's St. Boniface hospital last October. (Submitted by Collette Nilaulak/The Canadian Press)
Expectant mothers in Nunavut are routinely forced to travel south to access healthcare. Of the 25 communities in Nunavut, only the capital of Iqaluit can medically support child birth. As a result, women are removed from their loved ones and often have to leave their other children behind in crowded or food-insecure houses. The global pandemic has only exacerbated these issues.
Collette Nilaulak gave birth in October in a Winnipeg hospital about 1,200 kilometres from her home in Rankin Inlet. Due to pandemic restrictions, only one person was allowed to be with her - however, her partner had to stay at the hotel to look after their two-year-old daughter, leaving Nilaulak alone. She expresses how the labour, isolation, being away from her other daughter, and fears of contracting the virus were hard on her.
Every Inuk woman should have access to safe and compassionate pregnancy, birth and postpartum care, and they should not have to leave their homes and circle of support to receive it” - Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada
Silatik Qavvik, a Nunavut woman, died on January 2nd after contracting the virus while travelling for childbirth. After her caesarean surgery, she tested positively for COVID-19 and was put on a ventilator. This tragic and avoidable death emphasizes the urgent need for birthing services in every community. Every woman and person wh can become pregnant deserves accessible healthcare, but it is especially alarming that Nunavut, despite having the highest birthrates in the country, forces expectant mothers to travel thousands of miles away from home to give birth.
Not only is healthcare a basic human right for Nunavut women, it should be delivered in their own language and by culturally competent practitioners - the same applies to home birthing services. By neglecting northern communities, Canada continues its colonial legacy of violence towards Indigenous women.
People walk past an Oxfam sign in Corail, a camp for people displaced after 2010 earthquake, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
British lawmakers who discussed the abuse prevalent in the aid sector which they have called "the last safe haven for perpetrators". The International Development Committee released a report in which they found repeated cases of “abusers acting with impunity, whistle-blowers being hounded out of their jobs and victims finding it impossible to secure justice”. Furthermore, abusers are able to move on to new jobs unpunished, as allegations are not properly investigated or reported.
The aid sector should put these groups at the heart of developing programmes and reporting mechanisms and ensure communities know their rights - Stephanie Draper, Chief Executive of Bond
These issues rose to prominence in 2018, when it came out that “Oxfam employees, including former country director Roland van Hauwermeiren, used young prostitutes while based in Haiti after the earthquake.”
An internal Oxfam investigation in 2011 led to four people being sacked and three others resigning, including Mr Van Hauwermeiren. But a report published by Oxfam after the investigation failed to mention sexual exploitation.
Since then, there have been other high-profile investigations such as the New Humanitarian reporting in September that sex-for-jobs was a well-known occurrence during the 2018-20 Ebola response in Congo. Organizations have made pledges of action, however the key issues remain.
Of course, local women, feminists and activists have been advocating about this for years. As long as the aid sector plays the role of white savior and is entrenched in imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy, it will continue to hinder liberation for all. Time and time again we have seen the power of community-led action, especially those that centre the most marginalized groups in society.
A MAN READS NEWSPAPERS REPORTING ABOUT UGANDA'S UPCOMING ELECTIONS AT A KIOSK IN KAMPALA. PHOTO: SUMY SADURNI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
In Uganda, trans women are relying on their community rather than the healthcare system to administer hormones. Vinka Silk, a 20-year-old trans woman and sex worker, decided she wanted to start hormone replacement therapy after a traumatic experience with the police where they frisked and undressed her to check her genitals. A group of fellow trans sex workers have supported her through this process. Anna Xwexx Morana, another Ugandan trans woman and sex worker, runs the group. She started it because of the loneliness she felt during her transition journey.
It was like something was missing, like some part of me was missing. At first, I thought I was born alone, like me alone in this world. But coming to the community, I realised I am not alone, that we are many, [and that made me feel] good - Vinka Silk
It is advised that trans people see an endocrinologist before starting hormone replacement therapy and get a prescription specific to them. However, few trans women in Uganda do so due to how expensive it is, transphobia in the healthcare system, and a lack of support services for people transitioning. Thus, Morana’s NGO, Morana’s Anna Foundation, has to fill in the gaps. Aside from supporting people taking hormones, the 200 registered members can access trainings, routine testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and safe-housing.
Undergoing hormone replacement therapy outside of the healthcare system still poses challenges such as the risk of liver diseases, thrombosis and even heart attacks. Morana discusses an incident where she once became unconscious after taking hormones. She also mentions struggling with gender dysmorphia when changes were not happening as quickly as she anticipated.
It is heartbreaking that trans women have to navigate transitioning with such little support. And in the unlikely chance they can afford an endocrinologist, they risk experiencing transphobia. Nonetheless, it is inspiring seeing the trans community coming together despite the lack of options available.
Fatima Ali prepares cheese-plate takeaway at her home kitchen in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. After Iraq imposed a coronavirus lockdown in March, Fatima is among a growing numbers of Iraqi women who are finding some good under the movement restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic: They're starting their own businesses from home. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Several women in Iraq have used the pandemic restrictions as an opportunity to launch their own business from their home. For instance, Fatima Ali has started a cheese board business after the lockdown was imposed in Iraq in March and she had to stay home from her final year studying to become a medical analysis specialist. Now, she is earning a small but steady income with over 2,000 Instagram followers. She hopes to attend culinary school abroad one day and open a school in Iraq for women who share her passion.
Rawan Al-Zubaidi is a business partner at an Iraqi NGO that supports start-ups and young entrepreneurs and she has noticed a spike in home-based businesses by women such as food deliveries, sweets, accessories, crocheting and embroidering. She attributes this trend to the pandemic solving many of the challenges women face regarding working. Some women’s husbands or fathers may not allow them to find a job.
Some Iraqi women can’t find a job because conservative families or husbands consider that women talking directly with other men on the job will bring shame on them - Rawan Al-Zubaidi
At the workplace, many experience “unsupportive male colleagues, discrimination and lack of career growth opportunities”.
Sara al-Nedawi, 23, has been searching for a job for months after studying business administration. A company to which she sent a CV texted her asking if she was pretty and whether she wore a hijab. Someone from another company she applied to called her to get more information, then told her she has a lovely voice and asked for a photo.Although she has now started a home-based food-catering business, she lacks the capital.
The fight for better working conditions for women and discrimination-free workplaces is still on and perhaps more relevant than ever. However, it is uplifting to see Iraqi women find creative solutions and use their talents to support themselves amid a country-wide lockdown.
Online became the only way to reach clients, and they in turn became more loyal and more confident about my art, because they are buying something without trying it,..Corona is terrible, but for those able to take advantage of the internet and build connections with customers, it had its positive side - Mariam Khzarjian
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.