Sunday, 12 March 2017

Texan Bill Undermines Female Intellect and Doctor-Patient Trust

Since the newly elected President Donald Trump came into power women's rights have been on a downward spiral across the USA. This week, while women all around the world marked International Women's Day, it was reported that Senators in Texan had other ideas for women's rights. Senator Brandon Creighton intends on introducing a bill which will permit doctors to withhold information about fetal deformities or disabilities from pregnant women, without the risk of being sued for withholding information from their patients. Shockingly, Blake Rocap, legislative director for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas stated that "we shouldn't have to stand up and say that it shouldn't be policy for the state of Texas to excuse doctors from lying to their patients, and that is what this bill does,"

There are so many reasons why this bill is unacceptable in the 21st century. Firstly, it is one step backwards for women's rights. Why should women's rights to autonomy be dictated by out of touch males hiding behind prehistoric religiously inspired policies? We all deserve the right to religious freedom, which should include not being subjected to religiously motivated policies & legislation. Everyone has the right to practice (or not practice) a religion of their choice. Nobody should be forced by the State into following religious customs, particularly when they could have such adverse effects on their future wellbeing. Allowing a couple to get excited about the birth of a child who is unlikely to survive is cruel. So is withholding information about potential disabilities, when the family need to decide whether they are in a position to cope. Yes, this may mean that a woman decides that a termination is right for her, or it could mean that she has time to learn to understand what support her and her future child may need. Removing both the right and responsibility from an expectant mother to make decisions is both patronising and disempowering. If the State can not trust women to make decisions about their own bodies and offspring, what hope do women have of achieving gender equality in the workplace, particularly during pregnancy?

I'm optimistic that most medical experts practice in medicine because they want to use their knowledge to both help and inform patients. A medical practitioner is responsible for providing a  patient with enough information to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing. It is not their place to make moral judgements. If you don't believe in abortion and contraception then you should practice in another area of medicine to avoid a conflict of your personal moral opinions and professional responsibilities. Allowing a medical practitioners religious views to take precedence over a patient's is as unacceptable and inappropriate as allowing a solicitor in family law to obstruct a client's right to a divorce simply because they do not agree with divorce. You would expect the solicitor to practice in an alternative area of law if there was going to be a clear conflict of interest between their moral opinions and their client's rights to access justice. This should be the same response when a woman (or a man) is accessing medical services.

Doctor-patient trust is vital for building a positive relationship. Trust is central to the practice of healthcare and medical ethics, without it diagnosis and treatment would become problematic. The purpose of visiting a doctor is to maintain your wellbeing and to obtain a diagnosis when there are complications. Therefore, if this bill is implemented, what would be the point of expectant mothers visiting a doctor for check-ups during pregnancy if they were not being informed of potential fetal risks.

This bill sounds nearly as dangerous for the future of the Texas medical profession as it is for a woman's wellbeing. Therefore, I struggle to understand why any medical expert would consider supporting this bill. What is the purpose of having knowledge if you can not act on it or share it? The moment you intentionally start withholding information from patients they lose trust in you. This will lead to a lack of patient confidence and consequently, patients will avoid visiting their doctors until it is too late.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

International Women's Day 2017

Over the past week, I have attended a few different events to mark International Women's Day (IWD). During the day itself (8th March 2017) I shared lots of posts within the spirit of marking the day and celebrating the strength and achievements of women. However, I was slightly surprised when an intelligent but young American male acquaintance asked why women were campaigning that day. If I didn't know him it would have been easy to assume that he was being sarcastic, another "whens International Men's Day" kind of guy. However, after pausing before I responded, I quickly realised that he was genuinely asking why women were protesting in the USA and why other women that he knew were marking the day worldwide. His question and my response inspired me to write this blog.

So what is International Women's Day? The official website defines it as "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity." The day has been marked since the early 1900's and the focus has frequently changed as consequence of political and social change worldwide. For example, this year there was an influx in support for IWD in response to the way the newly elected President Trump has both spoken and acted towards women. This includes the recent controversy over an all-male cabinet making decisions on abortion policy and his distasteful and misogynistic comments toward women such as "grab her by the pussy". 

IWD is an opportunity to come together and remember the strong women who have enabled many women to enjoy the rights and equality that we may take for granted day to day. From the more publicly and politically defiant women such as the Suffragettes to more discreet role models such as the Bletchley Code Breakers and Florence Nightingale. When you spend your whole life exercising your rights daily, it is very easy to take them for granted. However, we must remember that these rights are to the detriment of the battles of strong women. While this is obviously important as a mark of respect, it is also important to remind us of the importance of continuing the fight, in order to retain and improve our rights as women for equality. 

Therefore, the day can also be spent identifying areas where we need to continue to improve in society, in order to reach true gender equality. It is also a day for encouraging solidarity, confidence and empowerment amongst women. This can include acknowledging the role women play in both society and the family. Some people choose specific topics of interest and others embrace the day in a broader context. 

Worldwide women continue to suffer from injustice and struggle for equal rights. From access to education and child brides to FGM and right to autonomy. The list in itself would provide enough content to complete many blogs. While the struggle for gender equality within 'Western civilisation' may appear less trivial that in other parts of the world where women have little or no rights, the struggle for equality and justice is real. Particularly, for the most vulnerable female members of society. 

In England, on average 2 women, a week die from domestic violence and roughly 10 women an hour are raped, totalling over 85,000 rape victims per year (imagine the figures if we included children). Then there's all the women and girls who are sexually exploited, enslaved and subjected to FGM. Yes, some people still struggle to accept that females living in the UK are subjected to FGM. Nevertheless, government funding for vital services continues to be cut, resulting in significant strains and closures to vital services accessed by vulnerable women. Then there's the everyday misogyny, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, unequal gender pay and unbalanced gender representations in the workplace. Sadly, the list goes on.......and so must IWD and the fight for gender equality, social justice and adequate funding for vital support services which remain under threat. 

Challenging Discrimination and Inequality-Never loose Momentum

This blog is inspired by a combination of a talk from Peter Tatchell, a rise in hate crime post-Brexit and a need to find inspiration during politically and socially deflating times.

In October 2016 I met Peter Tatchell when he hosted a lecture for Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (NREC). During his talk, Peter explored various issues surrounding discrimination and inequality in society. The theme of his discussion felt very relevant in the current social and political climate. From the recent Brexit Referendum and the refugee crisis across Europe to the impending USA Presidential Elections and the upcoming Dutch General Elections, it is clear that human intolerance is prominent.

So it's understandable that Peter emphasised concerns over recent increases in hate crime, particularly against members of the LGBT community, Muslims and members of the BME community. If you are unsure of the definition of hate crime it can be defined as 'crimes that are hostile and prejudiced in their manner, when targeting a person merely as a result of their: disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender identity.'

Disgracefully, racially motivated hate crimes remain the most persistent, accounting for a staggering 42,930 (82%) of all hate crimes recorded in 2014/15. It has been reported that there has been a 41% increase in racially motivated hate crime, since the European Referendum. These statistics could be even higher as many victims of hate crime are reluctant to report hate crime. Also, the recording of hate crime can vary across different police forces and public bodies. This can be due to a variety of reasons including lack of training, resources and a failure by some to take it seriously or identify an act as a hate crime. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we should turn our backs and shrug our shoulders.

One of Peter's messages during his lecture was to speak up against inequality and hate crime. He explained that if enough people make a stand we can make any Government listen. He reminded us of our power when we come together to make a stand against injustice. He reminded attendees of our power when we made a stand together against the unfair poll tax,  which led to changes. (Ok so some of us, including myself, are too young to remember, but the momentum is not lost.) Peter suggested lots of different ways that we can come together including raising concerns with our MP.

Peter also explained that in order to improve equality & diversity you need to speak directly with the people involved to help identify practical resolutions. Anti-discrimination law alone (such as The Race Relations Act 1976) is not sufficient to prevent racial inequality. (I am currently gathering evidence of this through my research as the Project Manager of Race Act 40, a research project exploring local historic racism post-1967.) There must also be equal opportunities within education and the economy. Unfortunately, this is something NREC are very aware of through their day to day work supporting members of the local community. It was only last month that I spoke with a professional who had recently resigned due to institutionalised racism.

So what can you do to take a stand, in solidarity with those suffering from discrimination and inequality? Firstly, you have to remain strong and level headed, as the title says, 'never give up momentum'. You can then explore different ways of supporting victims and challenging injustice. This could include turning your back on everyday discrimination and offering victims support, to demonstrate disapproval of ignorant behaviour. Or you could challenge discrimination in the workplace and other public environments, by reporting incidents that you witness. You may wish to contact local Councillors and MP's to make them aware of your disapproval of incidents. Another method of challenging ignorance can be to encourage integration and debate as often ignorance can fuel intolerance. As Lester B. Pearson famously once said “Misunderstanding arising from ignorance breeds fear, and fear remains the greatest enemy of peace.” Alternatively, you can support the work of an anti-discrimination organisation or campaigner as a supporter, member or volunteer etc. What every you decide to do remember that "whenever one person stands up and says "wait a minute, this is wrong," it helps other people to do the same". (Gloria Steinem)

What is important is that you remain focused on what you want to improve and how it can be done. This will prevent you from losing momentum or focus which could lead to you giving up on fighting for what is right. Or it could even lead to you falling into a trap of behaving in a way which could undermine the cause and what good would that do? As Martin Luther King once said "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." I find this quote very appropriate when fighting ugliness and darkness, but the reasons are a blog in itself.