22 de Enero: ‘Blog’ por el derecho a decidir

Today, as many of you may know, marks the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in that country back in 1973.  To mark this historic date, each year, the U.S. organization NARAL Pro-Choice America asks members of the international pro-choice blogging community to blog about a particular question regarding abortion rights.  This year, NARAL asks us to remember Dr. George R. Tiller, the Kansas abortion doctor who was shot and killed in the church he attended back in June 2009.  In life, Dr. Tiller frequently used to say, “Trust women.”  So, for this year’s “Blog for Choice” day, NARAL asks, “What does trust women mean to you?”

You can learn more about “Blog for Choice” day, and see a list of participating bloggers, here.

As a segue into my posting for Blog for Choice day, I’d like to tell a brief story about the (rather new) significance of el 22 de Enero in Bolivia.  Earlier this week, Bolivians learned that today would be a declared a national holiday—everyone would have the day off from work and school, and this new holiday would be observed during each coming year.  Bolivia’s current president—and first-ever indigenous president—Evo Morales, has designated January 22 as a day in recognition of his administration’s founding of a “plurinational state” in Bolivia.  Morales’ plurinational state is one that ostensibly recognizes, celebrates, and incorporates into leadership members of the at least 55% of the nation’s population that is of indigenous descent (mostly Aymara and Quechua, but other groups as well).

The significance of Evo Morales’ leadership in Bolivia for indigenous populations is far too complex to explore here (and several brilliant and thoughtful sources have already done so).  However, a different question has been troubling me, which is, what is the significance of Evo Morales’ leadership in Bolivia for women, including indigenous women?  Last night, over beer and French fries, I asked my Bolivian, Quechua-descendent, feminist activist, 50-ish woman friend just this question.  Her response was, roughly, “My frustration with Evo is that he elevates one woman to the senate [Ana María Campero], and then asserts that men and women are equal—which is another way of telling us to be quiet, to quit organizing.”

Anyone who heard my interview on Radio Deseo “Trajines” (see earlier posting) knows that I am deeply wary of so-called feminist organizations that view indigenous culture—and indigenous women—as obstacles to the realization of the (implicitly western) sexual and reproductive rights agenda, including the right to safe and legal abortion.  The objective of organizing for the sexual and reproductive rights of women should be to guarantee women of all cultures and ethnicities the ability to define and to exercise those rights as they wish—even when the outcome bears little resemblance to the western feminist line.  U.S. feminists will find these debates very familiar.  Throughout that country’s feminist movement, women of color have often had to struggle to be recognized as women, often creating separate movements that would cater more directly to their interests.  (See for example the influential book by bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, 1981.)  In Bolivia, as in the U.S., this theme is not a simple one, and I expect it will come up time and again in this blog.

And so, somewhat circuitously, we come to our theme: trust women.  What does it mean to me?

Trusting women means listening to and believing in the indigenous, mestiza, and European-descendent women in Bolivia who have shared with me their experiences with unwanted pregnancy and abortion, even when—perhaps especially when—these experiences fly in the face of my own assumptions and beliefs about pregnancy and abortion:

The woman who sought out two illegal abortions, but refuses to refer to those pregnancies as “unwanted.”

The woman whose abortion provider, after telling her he was the only one she could trust, raped her in a Santa Cruz hotel room.

The woman who now adores her four children, but insists that each of them were once “unwanted pregnancies.”

The woman whose family doctor understood her and took care of her, providing her with three abortions and delivering her three children.

The woman whose Catholic priest has failed to help her come to terms with her own abortion.

The woman who referred to her pregnancy as an “illness” that had been “cured” by an abortion.

The woman who explicitly asked me not to judge her before telling me about her own unplanned pregnancy—and now beautiful baby girl.

The woman who takes oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, but lets her husband believe that she simply cannot become pregnant.

The woman who swallowed an unknown mix of herbs to terminate a pregnancy that her partner would not accept, narrowly escaping death.

The woman who thanked me for asking her about her abortion—

And the other woman, who asked me not to ask her about hers.

Although sometimes it is difficult, because our cultures clash or because my beliefs do not exactly match theirs, Bolivian women have taught me to trust them.  To trust that they know and can best explain their own experiences, and that their beliefs about the meaning of “abortion,” “pregnancy,” and “wantedness”—although perhaps different from my own—are no less “correct,” or “true.”  So, today, alongside Dr. Tiller, I also want to thank the many Bolivian women who, through their openness, persistence, and insistence, have taught me what it really means to trust.

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