Nearing college graduation, I knew two things: I didn’t want to enter graduate school nor did I want to get a “real” job; so I joined the Peace Corps as an education volunteer. That amazing experience started my teaching adventures in Tanzania, South Korea, Egypt, Mexico and Honduras. It also opened my eyes to the reality of other women’s lives.
Until I’d taught in developing countries, I’d taken my formal education, reproductive rights and means to make money all for granted. Yet, time and again, those were the three common challenges I saw host country women toil under. An obstruction or lack in any one of those areas was enough to drastically lessen women’s autonomy, but usually those challenges existed bundled, especially for poor women.
Off and on, I spent eleven years teaching math, science and ESL outside the US prior to moving to Austin, TX in 2009. Although an American citizen from birth, I felt I’d emigrated from another planet. Austin persevered as a liberal island, surrounded by a sea of conservatism where the “separation of church and state” was not as clear as those words implied.
I marveled at how conservatives viewed big government and oversight regulation as plagues on the American way of life, except for in the case of women’s reproductive rights. In this instance, Texas state government bent over backwards, not only to shame and harass women for seeking abortions, but interfere with doctor-patient communication, demand unnecessary facility upgrades for places that provided abortions, and promote false information regarding abortions.
While Texan women’s health care centers were actively being defunded, regardless of the myriad of life-saving services they provided such as mammograms, so-called crisis pregnancy centers received increasingly more funding to continue their mission of dissuading women from seeking abortion care and disseminating medically inaccurate information.
Yet, women have agency, regardless of politics or religion. Freedom of expression guarantees we women have a right to voice not only our experience, but also the solutions we seek as we navigate through life’s challenges. We should not be regarded as perpetual dependents who need patriarchal policies, dictating morals nor blocking access to safe, legal, medical procedures.
The label “feminism” rolls in and out of favor over time. However, its ideology has had staying power. It’s generally accepted that girls should be educated, and women should have the right to vote, drive, and own property. In the US, these phenomena are no more acknowledged as “feminist” than fish acknowledge water. When one visits a country were these rights do not exist, then like a fish out of water, the gasping begins.
Unfortunately, one doesn’t need to go out of the US to discover developing-country quality women’s healthcare. Those conditions are being created in Texas, a state that has one of the largest economies nationally and some suggest would have the 12th largest GDP if it became a sovereign nation.
We must be vigilant and active to safeguard our reproductive rights as citizens of a prosperous, developed nation.