“Mal-Veiling”

A reader brings this to my attention with a request I share it with the rest of our readership:

Recently, eight Iranian women have had acid thrown in their faces under the pretext of “mal-veiling”. This kind of attack is unfortunately not without precedent. The attacks, committed by a mullah-affiliated gangs, have incited the outrage of Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, whose Ten Point Manifesto for Gender Equality seeks to eradicate inequality and violence against women in Iran.

You can read more about this appalling practice and learn about how you can help to support Muslim activists working on the ground in Iran to put a stop to it and otherwise fight back against oppressive, fundamentalist interpretations of their religion here at the website of Maryam Rajavi.

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Now Available: IJFAB Special Issue on Transnational Reproductive Travel

By Françoise Baylis (Dalhousie University),
co-guest editor of the issue together with Jocelyn Downie (Dalhousie University)

Medical travel, and more specifically transnational reproductive travel, is a burgeoning practice—and an ethically controversial one because it so clearly capitalizes on differences in legal regimes, wages, and standards of living, as well as on cultural and ethical norms. It does so invariably to the detriment of the poor and the vulnerable.

This special issue of IJFAB makes a unique contribution, from an explicitly feminist perspective, to the ethical debates surrounding transnational reproductive travel. Specifically, it highlights some of the challenges with the cross-border movement of both reproductive material and people. This includes travel by reproductive laborers (i.e., women who provide eggs for third-party reproduction and women who provide gestational services), and intended parents.

The collection includes articles on the regulation of reproductive travel by Dominique Martin and Stefan Kane on “National Self-Sufficiency in Reproductive Resources: An Innovative Response to Transnational Reproductive Travel,” and G.K. D. Crozier, Jennifer L. Johnson, and Christopher Hajzler on “At the Intersections of Emotional and Biological Labor: Understanding Transnational Commercial Surrogacy as Social Reproduction.” These are followed by Angela Ballantyne’s “Exploitation in Cross-Border Reproductive Care.”

Also included is a series of practice-specific articles. Andrea Whittaker and Jennifer Parks consider surrogacy, the first in “Merit and Money: The Situated Ethics of Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in Thailand,” and the second in “Feminist Issues in Domestic and Transnational Surrogacy: The Case of Japan.” Chralotte Kroløkke writes on eggs for third-party reproduction in “Eggs and Euros: A Feminist Perspective on Reproductive Travel from Denmark to Spain,” while Françoise Baylis and Jocelyn Downie write on “Achieving National Altruistic Self-Sufficiency in Human Eggs for Third-Party Reproduction in Canada.” The final article by Raani Bhatia is on “Cross-Border Sex Selection: Ethical Challenges Posed by a Globalizing Practice.”

Together, these articles provide the reader with feminist insights into a range of issues and perspectives that warrant further debate and discussion as many among us navigate borders while participating in a family-making project.

PJW Note: Interested readers may find the full TOC here. Unless you or your institution subscribes, however, the content is behind a paywall with individual articles or the entire issue available for purchase.

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UN Investigation into Britain’s Violation of Disabled People’s Human Rights

Things have come to a dismal pass for disabled people in Britain. That this country, once seen as a pioneer in the promotion of human rights (admittedly you have to go back to the 1950s and 60s for that, but still) should be the first country to be investigated by the UN for infringing the human rights of disabled people is embarrassing enough.

That there should be so little outcry within Britain about it is even worse.

The background to this is a systematic attack over the last 4 years by Britain’s current coalition government on disabled people. This regime shows every sign of having consciously and quite cynically selected 3 or 4 groups of people – groups that tend not to have a lot of powerful supporters or a strong political voice — to act as targets for its programme of cuts to public funding and support. Disabled people constitute one of these groups. This government’s austerity programme has seen draconian ‘restructuring’ – or dismantling – of the social supports that enable disabled people, and their families, to live anything approaching decent and fulfilling lives. It’s important I think to emphasise that the cuts have affected not just financial support to people so disabled they are unable to work. One of the key schemes (disclaimer: it’s one I’ve benefited from myself) is called Access to Work, which as its name suggests involves government grants towards equipment or other measures that enable a disabled person to be employed. It is generally acknowledged that Access to Work is a financial success story: for every £1 paid out, the government gets back £1.48 in income tax from disabled people kept in work. Despite this, the scheme is under threat; and given that it is such a financial winner, it’s hard not to see this as motivated not by real-life economics, but by the ideological need to keep up a story of disabled people as social burdens.

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Musings on the Value of “Awareness”

By
Leah D. Smith (Director of Public Relations, Little People of America)
and
Joseph A. Stramondo (Assistant Teaching Professor, Health Administration Department, Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions)

A middle-aged man who decided to commute to work through the city via his bicycle on a cool, autumn day casts a glance to the side as he is stopped at a red light. Out of his peripheral vision, he catches the tell-tale bulb flash from a cell phone camera, so this time he is certain of what has happened. The young man sitting in the passenger seat of the car next to him smirks and gestures with his friends as they laugh at being caught snapping the photo of the man with dwarfism astride his bike.

A busy, thirty-something working professional’s meeting schedule doesn’t allow her to take time in the middle of the day to see her primary care doctor for the symptoms of the ear infection she has been dealing with for a week, so she goes to a walk-in clinic in the evening. Before she is even able to describe her symptoms, the physician interrupts her with aggressive questions about her stature, which she patiently answers, explaining that she was born with achondroplasia and has seen some of the best geneticists and orthopedic surgeons in the country. At the conclusion of the consult, along with the antibiotics for her middle-ear infection, the physician writes up a script for blood work, telling the woman that she needs to get the function of her thyroid checked because that may be the cause of her short stature.

Both of these stories are true and have recently happened to people close to us. They are two of a countless number of similar stories that are constantly told and re-told everywhere from family dinner tables to cocktail parties. When we were recently invited to write a guest post for the IJFAB blog about Dwarfism Awareness Month, we thought it best to provide a signal boost to these sorts of stories, simultaneously providing context for the rest of our argument.

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“Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man”

I look back on all my strenuous efforts, because I really did try, I tried hard to be a man, to be a good man, and I see how I failed at that. I am at best a bad man. An imitation phony second-rate him with a ten-hair beard and semicolons. And I wonder what was the use. Sometimes I think I might just as well give the whole thing up.

I find the stuff on semi-colons particularly wonderful. Read more at Brain Pickings.

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Left Out in the Cold: Seven Reasons not to Freeze Your Eggs

By Françoise Baylis (Dalhousie University)

In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) lifted the experimental designation on human egg freezing. At this time, it was careful to indicate that freezing technology should not to be used for elective purposes, particularly as this might give young women false hope. A 2014 fact sheet prepared by the ASRM confirms that “Even in younger women (i.e., < 38 years old), the chance that one frozen egg will yield a baby in the future is around 2-12%.”

These professional cautions are of no consequence to Facebook or Apple, however. Both of these companies have decided to include egg freezing in their employee benefit package. As an alternative, they could have decided to improve the health benefits offered to all employees. Or, to stay focused on the issue of reproduction, they could have included a full year of family leave in the benefit package. Instead, they chose to pay up to $20,000 for egg freezing. Now call me crazy, but I think this choice just might have to do with their corporate priorities – which include keeping talented workers in their 20s to early 30s in the workplace, not at home caring for babies.

Sadly, from my perspective, some describe this corporate decision in positive terms. They congratulate the companies for “taking the lead”. In this way, they both endorse the decision and encourage others to follow this lead. Already, Virtus Health in Australia has announced that it too will pay for egg freezing for its female employees. According to the Medical Director of Virtus “… if it’s good enough for Apple and Facebook, it’s good enough for us.”

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Posted in Pregnancy, Reproductive Technology | 2 Comments

Sorting Through Mixed Reactions to Malala Yousafzai
(Or: A Brief Rant on the Centrality of the Humanities for a Flourishing Democracy)

Malala Yousafzai first came to my attention when a friend posted a link to a video of an interview she gave on The Daily Show. He is someone for whose intellect and soundness of judgment I have great respect, and he praised her in remarkably extravagant terms. Obviously I watched the clip.

It left a bad taste in my mouth.

This was confusing. I was (and remain) in unconditioned support of her cause. At 17, she has probably already done more good in the world than I can reasonably hope to accomplish in my lifetime. Her presentation in the interview was near flawless: poised, self-possessed, and with clarity of purpose enviable by people of any age. All of this I tremendously admire. So what, then, was going on?

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Posted in Academia, International Aid & Development, Popular Culture & Media, U.S. Politics | 1 Comment

“Sarah Silverman Fights the Wage Gap”

In case anyone could use a little dose of humor (or — hey! — the opportunity to donate to a fine cause):

Yesterday, Sarah Silverman helped launch a crowdfunding campaign, The Equal Payback Project, to raise $30 trillion. Yes, you read that right. It’s the amount of money the 69-million-strong U.S. women’s workforce will lose over the course of their careers because of the disparity in women’s and men’s wages. (Currently, women make 78 cents to a man’s dollar.)

In the campaign’s video, Silverman will stop at nothing to earn her full dollar, even if it means gender reassignment (i.e., adding a penis). She sizes up the different penis shapes and colors—ranging from “The Frat Boy” to “The Seinfeld”—like any conscious consumer.

I link below to Ms. Blog rather than directly to the video as it helpfully heads off one pointed criticism (yes, the piece is totally insensitive to the trans-community, and she’s genuinely sorry, but somehow just never thought about that). Their post also contains the four-minute spot, featuring Silverman’s characteristically irreverent comic genius in fine form.

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Advocate for Girls’ Education Wins Nobel Peace Prize

More than 30 million girls worldwide are unable to go to school either because of gender prejudice or poverty. Considerable research indicates that educating girls improves family and community health and reduces violence.

Two years ago on October 9, 2012, Taliban gunmen shot Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she was coming home from school, targeting her because of her advocacy for girls’ education.

She survived and founded the Malala Fund which invests in education for girls in Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, and Jordan.

Today Malala shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi, who campaigns against child slavery.

Congratulations to Malala and Kailash and to the Swedish Academy for recognizing their courageous work on behalf of children.

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Women and Responsibility for Health:
Food, Physical Activity, and Feminism

Consider this new Kitchen Aid ad from 2013.  Notice anything?  The ability to make your own healthy food—made of quality ingredients and preservative-free—is emphasized, as is preparation skill and social activity: “…new knife skills… a fish you’ve never bought before… host Moroccan night.”   Notice anything else?

We will come back to the ad in a moment.

With all the hubbub about obesity in America, there is a renewed focus on everything from increasing access to fresh vegetables to making sure that kids and adults get more physical activity.  Despite the many arguments that it is institutional factors such as access to poor nutrition and lack of access to physical activity at school, or built-environment factors such as outside areas in which it is physically unsafe to run or walk or play, the responsibility for health is placed intensely on individuals.  In part, this is because American society is highly individualistic.  This is part of the problem: that the responsibility for change is misplaced when it falls only on individuals’ shoulders.  Another part is upon whose shoulders it often falls.   Women—whether as mothers, wives, daughters, or partners—are far more likely than fathers to be held responsible for their family’s health status.  This is chronicled in a 2010 Time article called Lady Madonna and numerous other  sources.   Now think again about the Kitchen Aid ad.  Who is the only person seen preparing food?  An adult woman (it is a small miracle in advertising that she is a woman of color).  Men appear solely as consumers of the healthy, preservative-free, homemade food.

Consider now how truly misguided it is to place responsibility for nutrition, physical activity, or obesity primarily on any individual, much less disproportionately on women.

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Posted in Food Ethics, Public Health, Weight & Body Image | 1 Comment

“A First: Uterus Transplant Gives Parents A Healthy Baby”

In what’s being hailed as a huge step in fertility and reproduction science, doctors in Sweden say a woman has given birth to a baby boy less than two years after she received a uterus transplant. The new mother, 36, had been born without a uterus, so another woman, 61, donated her womb several years after she had gone through menopause.

Read about it at NPR.

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Posted in Pregnancy, Reproductive Technology | 1 Comment

Free IJFAB Content!

Readers who are not long-time subscribers may be interested to know that the journal makes select content available to read for free. This includes the entirety of our first issue, Doing Feminist Bioethics, and select articles from subsequent issues. You’ll find essays by some of our regular blog contributors as well as by other important scholars in the field. The links can be found at our webpage.

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