Thursday, 12 April 2012

Obstetric Violence a contested notion?

   I recognise that I have a tendency to immerse myself in all thing Chiapas or Mexico but today I have been burst out of my little bubble. This can only be a good thing in terms of me becoming in danger of forgetting that a world exists beyond the Mexican/Central American border. I've been in that space for some time because without focusing on Chiapas as the centre of my little universe I cannot give it the attention it so rightly deserves. Instead I get distracted by the Global and begin to convince myself that its wrong to pay so much attention to one tiny place when there's so much more going on in the world! I have become strategic in my effort to study and obtain my Phd, I feel that in many respects the rest of the world can wait. Does that sound bad? Is it a mistake to think that way?

  But when I listen to the radio and hear programmes like Crossing ContinentsForced Sterilisation in Uzbekistan   I cannot ignore the world and what is going on in the realms of Reproductive Health Care and Population Control. My emotional reaction to this programme was tied to so many things - overall what hurts me most about my obsession of trying to understand life and how it is created is the DISGUSTING and UNACCEPTABLE VIOLENCE that women are subjected to in the name of 'protecting mothers and babies'

"They told her husband she needed to be stitched he signed a piece of paper the doctor gave him. But instead they gave her an aesthetic, cut her open and tied her tubes. When she woke up she didn't know why she'd been operated on. She's devastated, now she is sick all the time" (woman interviewed in programme).

This programme and the issues discussed are very distressing - even more so in that these woman are not alone in being subjected to the unnecessary opening of their abdomen and uterus, the insertion of foreign objects by coercion or more permanently the removal of the uterus - the sacred space where new life begins. 

Last night I lost some sleep... not because I had some magical foresight that I would here this provocative programme today but on a more selfish note I was dwelling over comments sent to me by an anonymous reviewer from one of my submissions as a fledgling academic.  Not unconnected to the story of these women and the many more I come across in my all consuming search for answers in fact it probably contributed to the emotional outburst I had when I listened to the radio. The reviewer in all gave me some excellent pointers as to how I should restructure a paper on Obstetric Violence and Unnecessary C-Sections in Mexico. In fact I should be relieved that for the first time my work wasn't completely trashed and sent back with a "thanks, but no thanks" message.... I have taken a step forward, I have reached the infamous rewrite and resubmit stage - the academic journal second chance! 

That is an improvement but I can't help but feel a little troubled by one sentence in my reviewers' comments. I was reminded (as apparently I should be very aware) that Obstetric Violence is a contested notion within feminism, critiqued for being a reactionary radical feminist thing. Firstly, HOORAY I'm categorised as radical haha! I didn't know that was bad, apparently in post modern feminism it is - Am I to understand by this that I going in the wrong direction to feminist obscurity? In quite a radical fashion I must say NO! nay, nay and thrice nay! I can swallow many a bitter review pill, but denial of Obstetric Violence as I took the time to define in my paper I cannot do. This calls for some deep consideration and philosophical pondering about the nature and representation of violence in cultural and global context!

Women's bodies Check! Internal Organs Check! unwanted physical invasion of both Check! threatening behaviour from people in positions of power Check! complicated by structural violence and population control strategies Check! Being told you cannot decide over what you do with your body Check! Religious overtones and appropriation over existential meanings in the name of Rights Check!..... Must I continue?? or can I just say = VIOLENCE within the practice and name of OBSTETRICS = OBSTETRIC VIOLENCE??!! a case where no, a rose by any other name WOULD NOT smell so bitter! 

In an insightful essay on Testimonies of Violence Philosophy Professor Ken Parson's writes:

"..a recognition of violence within philosophy must include that those occurrences or outcomes were avoidable or can be, or could have been, prevented. Restricting our thinking to a social understanding of violence may seem trivial, but the importance of analytic clarity of this conception has far reaching normative considerations." (my emphasis)

By treating violence as a social phenomenon and according to Parson's definition I can quite strongly defend that the appalling treatment of women around the world in the name of population control can be defined as obstetric violence. There are many steps along the social, cultural and healthcare path that make forced sterilisation, unnecessary caesarean, episiotomies, verbal abuse, permission to operate by proxy etc. COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE and PREVENTABLE. 

As one woman so eloquently puts it in the Crossing Continents programme:

"If population is a problem why don't they tell people - "Don't have babies" - why don't they educate us? No, instead they take our uterus' out!"

I am not making women out to be victims and therefore oppressing them by describing the nature of this violence, which on many occasions is also carried and out and supported by female medics. I am simply describing what I hear - VIOLENCE !! I do view all women of the world as constant survivors and champions over a strange, strange world where the joy of being alive is often peppered by attempts to CONTROL, Control and abuse physical and psychological movement.

I am someone who believes and interprets Foucault in a way that does not restrict docility to physicality as if psychology had no role to play. Resistance comes in many forms - but when you are over powered by a state structure,govt. policy and legislation, institutions, person in white coat with scalpel, removal of your body parts and later your husband because you are unable to have more children in a culture that prizes large families... I don't see that as docility in terms of laziness, I understand that docility as a survival tactic until some form of collective action can make change and make the sadness go away...