Wednesday, February 22, 2006

credit where it's due

It's reported in the US that because teenage sexual abstinence campaigns put such pressure on kids to avoid vaginal sex, an abstinence-pledged teenage girl is six times more likely to perform oral sex. This tallies with Salt Lake City's place in rock legend as the world capital of groupie blow jobs due to all those Mormons valiantly holding on to their virginity.

When abstinence pledgers do get round to vaginal sex they are a third less likely to use contraceptives because, as a Columbia University study says, they're not 'prepared for an experience that they promised to forego'. Which has the knock-on knock-up effect of a greater level of teenage pregnancy, the very opposite of what it purports to encourage.

And as George Monbiot's pointed out, it's the poor and the women that suffer for it.

Teenage pregnancies are overwhelmingly concentrated at the bottom of the social scale: the teenage daughters of unskilled manual labourers are ten times as likely to become pregnant as middle-class girls. According to the United Nations agency Unicef, women born into poverty are twice as likely to stay that way if they have their children too soon. They are more likely to be unemployed, to suffer from depression and to become dependent on alcohol or drugs.

Monbiot documents Bush's adherance to abstinence whaever its actual effect:

When his cherished abstinence programmes failed to reduce the teenage birthrate, he instructed the US Centers for Disease Control to stop gathering data. He also forced them to drop their project identifying the sex education programmes which work, after they found that none of the successful ones were “abstinence-only”. Bush should also hope that we don’t look too closely at his record as governor of Texas. He spent $10m on abstinence campaigns there, with the result that Texas has the 4th-highest rate of HIV infection in the Union, and the slowest decline of any state in the birthrate among 15-17 year-olds.

If they're so willing to damn their own people for being poor and/or female, it's not surprising the American government care even less about those abroad. One of the first things the Bush adminstration did was to issue the 'global gag' order, cutting funding to international agencies that offer support to women seeking abortion.

"We are facing a disaster," says David Adriance, a Nairobi health care worker with EngenderHealth, a US-based organisation that provides reproductive health care services for the world's poorest women. "We have the largest cohort of young people that the world has ever known. These kids are hitting reproductive age and we have nothing in place for them. No sex education. No contraception. Few services."

Preventing unwanted pregnancy and unwanted parenthood is not only empowering to the women directly affected, it has a role in helping those who are yet to be born. Once the decline of oil production produces economic collapse, we're going to have tremendous problems feeding the current population.

By the middle of the century there will be 40% more people than today, and climate change will have done away with a significant portion of our ability to produce food. We need less people fighting for the available resources, not more. Surely the best place to start with population control is those who aren't here yet and aren't wanted.

But a lack of contraceptive and abortion information and availability generates greater numbers of unwanted pregnancies. With the global gag, many women have to go for unsafe abortions outside of proper medical circumstances. According to a horrifying report by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, 19 million women will have unsafe abortions this year of whom 70,000 will die agonising appalling deaths. That's 200 a day.

Despite its importance, all this is old news. The reason I'm bringing it up is to give some credit where it's due. The IPFF report was produced at the behest of the UK government's Department for International Development. A department more used to forcing privatisation of essential services in poor countries, and a government more used to following the American lead have surprised me. In the light of the report, a fund called the Global Safe Abortion Programme is being set up specifically to replace the money lost from the Bush 'global gag'. The founder donor is the UK government's DfID.

It's only £3m - we spend a third of that amount every year just keeping Cabinet ministers (and the odd ex-minister) in limosines - but to the hundreds of thousands of women it helps, it will be invaluable.

Furthermore, on a political level it bodes well. As a donation to an anti-US cause from such a US ass-kisser, it makes it easy for any other prosepctive donor country to step forward.

I'm always sceptical when the government does something I wholeheartedly approve of, I always get the feeling I've been hoodwinked. Have I missed something?


Anonymous said...

No, I don't think you have missed anything, Merrick. This government has done a great deal to try to reduce the teenage pregnancy rates (Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, SureStart programmes and such like) but still needs to do more. Like some thorough sex education from an early age which is more than about just biology. More than anything, society has to stop hounding teenage women who choose to have their babies as 'irresponsible' or 'bad' mums. Just because they're young and made a 'mistake' doesn't make them bad mums. For many young women, having a baby is the only way can achieve something independent and worthwhile and gives them some kind of status.

And the fact is, no-one is ever going to stop young people having sex.

merrick said...

Jane, I just wondered if I'd missed anything cos the DfID is for the most part a mechanism for fucking over the world's poor. Seeing something so benevolent made me wonder where the catch is. Rather like the 'debt forgiveness' that is actually just a lever to force open the markets of the poor nations to private capital.

I agree that teenage mums are not necessarily worse than other mums. What George Monbiot points out about them being more prone to drug addiction and depression is going to be at least partly caused by the stigmatising they receive. It's the stigmatising that wants addressing as much as anything.

But by the same token, I think we need to tackle the ideas and circumstances of those who see getting pregnant as their only way of achieving something worthwhile and having some kind of status.

And certainly, 'irresponsible' is definitely the word for anyone - teenage or otherwise - from our society who deliberately gets pregnant.

Anyone seen how overstuffed the world's orphanages are? To have a planned child is tantaount to abandoning an unwanted child that's already here.

Anyone think there aren't enough Western consumers yet? The meltdown we're going to get from climate change and the decline of oil production is going to make the second half of this centruy a very ugly place, with far too many humans in it. It is not an act of love to put someone you care about into that. Quite the opposite.

Jane Tomlinson said...

I agree wholeheartedly that 'we need to tackle the ideas and circumstances of those who see getting pregnant as their only way of achieving something worthwhile'.

I work for a women's organisation which is trying - in our own small way, one woman at a time - to do exactly that, but without tackling the overarching problem of women's poverty and lack of aspiration we're pissing in the wind to a certain extent. Still, any effort has to be worthwhile.

Ah, Merrick! don't get me started on the global overpopulation issue. It's terrifying and virtually no governments to dare tackle it.

merrick said...

Hey Jane, less of the self-depracation! One woman at a time is probably the only effective way of tackling this stuff.

Perhaps beyond that there's a place for the feminist consciousness raising group like in the 70s, but really anything that tries to do a load of people at once will, by definition, be impersonal and so disempowering for those who have a lack of individual worth.

The overpopulation issue isn't just something that governments fail to tackle. Hell, governments don't want to tackle anything except how to maintain their power. The really frightening thing is how *nobody* wants to mention overpopulation.

I know people who are committed lifelong environmentalists who worry about recycling every last scrap of paper, yet have deliberately had children. It's like worrying about switching off your lightbulbs whilst driving a fuckin Hummer!

And yet it's considered very bad form for me to mention overpopulation and its attendant overconsumption, I'm supposed to be happy for them.

We understand this idea with cats and dogs: if we give them great health care and a guaranteed food supply then they'll overbreed, so the responsible thing is to neuter them. Somehow we don't apply that to humans, yet the cats/dogs thing isn't a metaphor, it's a straightforward comparison.

People deliberately having babies are like people who won't neuter their cats and wanting me to be happy about them bringing new kittens into a world where there are too many cats fucking up our wildlife and we have millions of unwanted kittens already.

Climate change has been around in the background of public consciousness for a decade or two, peak oil has finally come through in the last year, but the other big imminent threat is overpopulation and it's just being ignored.

Perhaps its because they're figuring ways to make a business opporutnity out of the first two (at least in the short term, which is all business is interested in), whereas having less consumers cannot make business sense.

To have any serious chance of worthwhile survival then, we not only have to come up with solutions to these problems, we have to dismantle the paradigm that allows them to get so bad, we have to tackle and demolish capitalism, the concept of perpetual economic growth, and all large concentrations of power.

Enormous and impossible as it sounds, it's the only thing that gives us a fighting chance. Do recognise that empowering people individually - giving them a sense of control over their lives, of personal worth and of having the right to affect the things that affect them - is the key first step in this. So, like I say, less of the self-depracation Jane!

zoe said...

to highlight the us' relaxed and enlightened approach to sex education, abortion laws and the rest, south dacota have justtightened up their laws.