Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Our labour minister's cruel policy

If Labour Minister Chalermchai Sri-on has his way, all pregnant migrant workers will be deported to their home countries.

What would you do if you were one of these migrant women?

Imagine, when you have little bargaining power to ensure protected sex with your partner. Imagine, when life is dominated by oppression and fear makes you vulnerable to all sorts of sexual abuse and violence. When you cannot afford to raise a child, and returning home means facing hunger, harsh poverty and even political persecution.

Under these circumstances, what would you do if you became pregnant?

Strange, isn't it, that Mr Charlermchai's policy has come amid the public rage against abortion, following the gruesome discovery of some 2,000 foetuses at a temple morgue. Yet, the morally righteous people who are furious with women who seek abortion, see nothing wrong with Mr Chalermchai's move, which will cause a bigger rush to abortion clinics! Why is that?

Undoubtedly, the deportation policy will force countless women to face life-threatening risks from unsafe abortion. Many of them will suffer serious health complications. Many will die.

Yet we don't care. Why?

Mention abortion, and our usual tendency is to blame the women who end their pregnancies as being morally decadent and sexually loose. Using religion to condemn abortion as being a sin, we refuse to open our hearts to consider these women's difficult life situations. We also refuse to give any help in the belief that loose women should be punished.

Meanwhile, we embrace a myriad cultural values, social practices, and state policies which force women to choose the painful path.

Mr Chalermchai's deportation policy for pregnant workers is a case in point. Like him, many of us believe that migrant workers are a threat to our society. That their children _ if allowed to be born here to enjoy life's opportunities _ will overwhelm our society with social problems.

So we agree with Mr Chalermchai. But when our endorsement ends up pushing more women to seek abortion, does it mean we also have blood on our hands?

No, this deportation policy is not about our ethnic prejudices only. The problem runs deeper than that. It is about gender oppression which cuts across cultures. Women, Thai nationals or migrant workers, are trapped in the same sexual double standards which rob women of control over their life, their sexuality, their body.

That is why despite all the statistics showing how our draconian anti-abortion law has caused the deaths of many women and injury and pain to others, they have failed to stir our hearts and trigger change. It is estimated that around 400,000 women seek an abortion each year, judging from the number of women who seek hospitalisation for abortion-related complications. About 300 out of 100,000 women die from complications. This means illegal abortion _ as a result of the lack of safe and legal services _ causes 1,000 women to die every year.

But who cares?

It does not matter if family planning statistics show that only 1% of men use condoms, which explains the high rate of HIV infection among women as well as the higher incidence of unplanned pregnancy.

The fact is that 70-80% of women who need abortion are those who risk losing their jobs if they are pregnant, or are too poor to feed another mouth. Yet, the focus is always on "loose" teenage girls whose libido must be contained; the blame is never on the schools' heartlessness, on inhumane business practices, or on the lack of state services to give pregnant women more options.

In our gender-oppressive worldview, women will be bad if given the chance. That is why teenage pregnancy statistics are played up. The same with the number of aborted foetuses: the higher the better, to portray women's cruelty and the need to keep women under control.

Abortion fury over the temple morgue tragedy cannot make us see the cruelty in Mr Chalermchai's deportation policy. Can it still change the abortion policy?

Not when the blame is still put on the women.

Now that the headlines have moved on to "how to tame" the foetuses' haunting spirits, the coverage is drawing to a close. The shock has failed to shake the draconian anti-abortion law and sexual double standards _ just like a wave that hits the shore, only to subside, leaving nothing behind.


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