100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day

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By Greta Cobar

As we are celebrating the 100th Anniversary of The International Women’s day this March 8, let’s look around us and see where women stand this day and age in our society.

California Democrat congresswoman Jackie Speier gave an emotional speech February 19 in Congress against the amendment passed by the House to cut off all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Targeted because of the abortion services it provides, Planned Parenthood would be forced to cease all of its operations if federal funding were cut off. It might not matter that none of the federal funds are actually used for abortion services, that Planned Parenthood only spends three percent of its total budget (which also includes state funds) on abortions, or that 90% of its budget is used for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) testing, birth control, cancer screenings and sex education mainly geared towards low-income, minority women.

It’s sad to see our society going 40 years back in time and consciousness. And it’s sad to see an additional 12 states trying to pass similar anti-abortion legislation that would make women’s lives so much more difficult than they already are. On the other hand, it’s nice to see a woman being able to take over the House floor and speak her mind, express her own experience of having to go through an abortion when she was forty years old, 17 weeks pregnant and her fetus moved, according to her, from “the vagina to the cervix.” That type of move would be impossible. Although I don’t intend to minimize her greatness for making it that far into American politics and for having the guts to share such a personal story with the world in an effort to stop the amendment, I do have to say that it is somewhat embarrassing to see an educated, powerful woman not understand basic female anatomy and physiology.

Can we blame her and us women in general for our lack of comfort with certain parts of our bodies, or should we blame men instead, like we would ordinarily? According to Eve Ensler, author of “I Am An Emotional Creature” and “The Vagina Monologues”:

“Vagina is the most terrifying word, the most threatening word, in any language of any country I have ever been to. Even when the vagina is worshiped in theory, as the yoni is in India, it is denigrated in practice. It is more reviled and feared than words like plutonium, genocide and starvation. In many countries the word for female genitalia is so derogatory or disgusting, it cannot be spoken in public. In a few places, there is no word in the language for vagina at all.”

A similarly ignorant statement was made recently by (surprise!) none other than Sarah Palin. According to her, Michelle Obama needs to make breastfeeding pumps available because the price of milk is so high. Although I do pity women who look up to Palin as a role-model, it is a shame that she raised five children, the last one of whom is still a toddler, and failed to understand that feeding regular milk to infants results in failure to thrive, which is fatal. In my opinion she and all other women should be better educated when it comes to all females issues, from the position of the cervix to the need for baby formula in infants. And of course breastfeeding pumps should be provided free of charge instead of being secretly embellished into a tax deduction that the very vast majority of people do not qualify for.

Going back to the concept of blame, whom do we fault for our ignorance and discomfort relating to women reproductive health issues? Why not pick on education? Since the 70’s all High School students have been required to pass a Health class in order to obtain a High School diploma. Judy Elliott, Chief Academic Officer of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and School Support issued a New Reference Guide on May 7, 2010 stating that “High School graduation requirements were amended to provide students with an alternative to taking a Health class to meet the Health requirement.” By completing five hours of Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS instruction in Biological Science and Physical Education, all Los Angeles Unified School District students can now obtain a High School diploma without completing the semester-long Health class previously offered to them.

Of course this change comes about just as overweight and obesity rates are skyrocketing, with childhood obesity being the most alarming factor. Although we have a long way to go towards the attainment of our sexual revolution, sexual education provided both in the classroom and by Planned Parenthood did prove to be effective, as 61% of High School students reported having used a condom the last time they had sex in 2009, compared with only 46% in 1991.

The current amendments in our legislature are set to undermine instead of empower women. From denying us the reproductive health services provided by Planned Parenthood, which serves 3 million patients a year, to getting rid of High School courses that are meant to teach teenagers about things like menstruation and wet dreams, ignorance is promoted while power is taken away. Teacher unions are slaughtered in Wisconsin and slowly killed elsewhere with the unavoidable result of eliminating the middle class, which will affect women disproportionately more than men.

It’s always nice to recognize the advances that have been made concerning social status, income, education and so on. However, the battle for true gender equality is far from over: in 2009 women still earned 22% less than men. And it is discouraging to see rights that we have long fought for in danger of being taken away from us. What does that mean? That we have to fight harder! And that the battle should encompass external as well as internal forces. Some of our issues can be blamed on our patriarchal system, but at the same time we have to take charge of our self-confidence and grow from within as opposed to waiting for society to allow us to be who we are.

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