In a few weeks we will celebrate Independence Day. On the 4th of July, we watch parades and fireworks and have family barbeques by the pool. Rarely while eating a cheeseburger or drinking ice-cold coke do I contemplate the 50,0000 men and women who paid a price for my independence. It’s just too far away – they are too far gone in the distance. Now, mention 9/11 and immediately violent emotions are evoked as well as images of those planes slamming into the World Trade Center. Distance from an event can move us from somber reflection to eating cheeseburgers.
Truth be told, I’m eating cheeseburgers when it comes to next week’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The court case raises the question of whether a corporation has the legal right to refuse to comply with provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which would require it to provide contraceptive health insurance for its female employees. Hobby Lobby argues that it should be granted exemption from the law because it conflicts with the corporation’s religious beliefs. There are many nuances to the case and my point here is not to present or argue them, but rather to remind us that perhaps we should at least pay attention.
I grew up in a time when having a choice over our body was normative, especially in the area of contraceptives. I’ve been taking contraceptives for decades without any consideration of how we got to the point where it was a non-issue. Cheeseburgers. That’s why when I or other women I know hear about the Hobby Lobby court case, we yawn. “Are we really still talking about contraceptives?” It’s so passé’
At least that’s how I used to think…until I spent a summer in East Africa.
News in the village that summer morning of 2013 was that a woman had spent the night in jail because she told her husband he could not take another wife. Polygamy is normative in some countries like South Sudan. For instance, just this past month Kenya legalized polygamy. Although some women’s groups applauded the decision because the long fixed tradition now legitimized all marriages including customary marriages, they also acknowledge the law gives men the ability to marry other women without the consent of the first wife. Why anyone would want more than one wife is beyond me. Don’t those men know that women living together end up on the same menstrual cycle! Anyways, the woman in Yei, South Sudan was arrested because she violated her husband’s right to multiple wives.
Now, hang in there, because this does have implications to the Hobby Lobby case.
Unlike us American women, women in places like South Sudan have little if any say over their bodies. They can’t say no to polygamy or to sex if they are not “in the mood.” They can’t say no to marriage. Recently the Sultan of Brunei basically legalized “marital rape.” Article 375 of Brunei’s Penal Code stipulates that “sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under thirteen years of age, is not rape.” An estimated 14 million girls, child brides, under the age of eighteen will be married off without any say in the matter. And they have little or no say over family planning. Taking birth control even using the rhythm method is not acceptable by many husbands. While spending my summer in Yei, South Sudan, I learned that more women in South Sudan die from childbirth than in any other nation. Ninety percent of the women give birth away from medical facilities, and if they do come to the hospital it’s usually late, while already in the throes of difficult labor. I visited my friends at His Hope Hospital, a hospital dedicated to pregnant women. Most of the women who show up need blood transfusions, but the blood supply is minimal. I was informed that most husbands, for a variety of reasons, wouldn’t give their blood to save their wife and/or child. Hearing statistics is one thing. Lying on a table giving blood so that some women might live is a whole other thing.
My point? It matters that women have choice.
Betty Friedan who wrote, Feminine Mystique, a book that played a tremendous role in the second wave of feminism, fought for “the right of women to control her reproductive process.” Before my time there were men and women who fought for my, not my husband or the government’s, but my inalienable right to choose. Now I know that when I use words like “choice” or “choose” our minds immediately go to the issue of abortion. Just for a moment, however, I would ask you to lift your minds above that one volatile issue to see some broader implications of restricting, limiting or forbidding a woman’s choice.
Take a minute to reflect upon the atrocities done and being done to women solely because they are women. Here’s just a few statistics to ponder in case you can’t come up with anything on your own:
In Congo 1,152 women are raped every day – a rate equal to 48 per hour.
Demographers estimate that 117 million women are missing due to gendercide (also called femicide). That is as many deaths as those caused by WWI, WWII, and AIDS combined.
1 out of 3 women in the US will be impacted by domestic violence in their lifetime.
Now consider how power and choice play a part in these gender injustices.
Do we really want to eat cheeseburgers while our Supreme Court makes decisions about who gets to limit, restrict or impact our choices?
I don’t have the answers, but I do at least want to pause before my next bite. I want to consider how fortunate I am to have choices. I want to spend a second grieving for women around the globe who don’t.
And I at least want to contemplate what this court decision means on a broader scope for us as women, women who have had choice for so long we are eating burgers and drinking ice cold cokes while watching fireworks as those in power make powerful decisions – about me. A woman.