In March this year, an encounter with a 75-year-old Kashmiri woman left me shocked when she told me a story about a 20-something woman going through labour pain when she was cutting paddy crop in a far-off village in South Kashmir. With no one around, the woman gave birth to the child. Then she took out an iron knife from her pocket, cut the umbilical cord, wiped her blood, pulled up her salwar, and carried the child home in a willow basket.
Probably, there are many such stories around the world, especially in marginalised communities where women are looked upon as vending machines for rearing children.
This is precisely why Taliban spokesperson’s comment that women couldn’t be inducted as ministers in their government and that they should restrict themselves to producing children did not come as a surprise.
‘WOMEN SHOULD GIVE BIRTH TO CHILDREN’
Reacting to the protests and the outrage over the all-male government, the Taliban spokesperson Sayed Zekrullah Hashimi, in an interview with Kabul-based TV channel Tolo News, said, “A woman can’t be a minister. It is like you put something on her neck that she can’t carry.”
He went on to say that it was not necessary for a woman to be in the cabinet asserting that women “should give birth” to children.
Women’s bodies have served as age-old battlefields for men to settle scores. The abortion law in Texas, a US state, bans aborting the foetus upon the detection of cardiac activity in embryos, which usually occurs after six weeks of gestation—before many women know they are pregnant is no different from the Taliban spokesperson’s dictate. It tells women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.
THE NEW TEXAS ABORTION LAW
The new law called the Texas Heartbeat Act bans abortions if there is a foetal heartbeat that can be detected without specifying any time period. Medical experts suggest that this law would make abortions after six weeks illegal.
The law allows any individual to hold the abortion industry accountable for abortion after foetus develops a heartbeat. The law does not require state officials to enforcing the provisions. With this law in effect, any individual can sue abortion clinics or individuals who aid an abortion after the six-week deadline.
CAN WOMEN OWN THEIR BODIES?
The difference here is that women living in the first-world country may or may not face honour-based violence for indulging in consensual sex. However, South Asian communities and other third-world countries, in particular, are over-filled with stories of horror.
The stories speak of violence for asserting one’s sexuality especially in the cases of women and the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Life) community.
Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Vanja Hamzic write in ‘Control and Sexuality’, “A 13-year-old Nigerian girl a few years ago was found to be pregnant and was summoned to court.
She was sentenced to 100 cane lashes for having pre-marital sexual relations and 80 lashes for slander, as no witness could corroborate her claim that any of the three men she previously identified had fathered her child.”
“She remained detained throughout the remainder of her pregnancy. A month after giving birth to her child, the 13-year-old was given 100 lashes and soon after married off.”
Childbirth unfortunately across cultures and communities is made central to women’s existence. However, what comes as disturbing is the idea that everything ranging from consensual sex to bearing children has the power to alter not just the woman’s body but the very essence of her being.
As Makiko Minow-Pinkney puts it, “Can childbirth rupture the hymen outwards as the phallus did inwards?”
Taliban asking women to only produce children and Texas banning abortion can’t be viewed differently. Both stem from the centuries-old metastatic patriarchal tumour.