Allow me to start off by asking YOU the following questions : if YOU had a young daughter or granddaughter who falls pregnant, whatever be the conditions of the pregnancy – rape, incest, intercourse with a mature adult or even with her boyfriend etc, etc, would you happily encourage her to keep the child ? Assist in finding ways to support her and the baby ? Responses to these questions may vary according to our faiths and convictions but let us be honest with ourselves ; most of us would prefer seeing the young person go through a safe abortion. There has always been a lot of hypocrisy around the abortion question with the well-to-do, often preaching what they do not practice. The debate is certainly not about young girls only but it is important to pick on it, especially at a time that children are increasingly falling prey to all forms of sexual abuse and deprived of their rights.
The proposed amendments can therefore help to protect childrens’ rights. Victims of sexual violence and abuse should not be saddled with motherhood and be robbed of their childhood. An inclusive and just society should ensure that children, have the right to a lively, worry free childhood where opportunities to education and empowerment are not thwarted. Thank God Mauritius is not the DRC or Uganda where rape has become a weapon of war, unsafe abortions are rife causing the deaths of thousands of girls and women on a daily basis.
The UN Millenium Development Goals and Abortion
The legislation will not only protect the young girls but more mature women too. While little is said about women’s advancement and empowerment in the government programme, this progressive piece of legislation is refreshing and worthy of a congratulatory note.
There is enough evidence that MDG goal 3 -gender equality is the one making the least progress in the developing world, including Mauritius. Gains made so far can be easily eroded in these uncertain and globalizing times. Gender is a cross cutting issue and if poverty is to be eradicated, it is absolutely vital to understand the connections between womens’ micro worlds, the harsh conditions in which many of them live, the multiple risks and vulnerabilities that they are confronted with on a daily basis.
It seems as if the government has taken stock of these interconnections and has realized how important it is to address the questions of unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies, at least in certain specific conditions. This revolutionary piece of legislation represents an important strategy for achieving the Millenium Development Goals, to improve maternal health further, promote gender equality and reduce poverty.
Promoting Economic Efficiency and Women’s Rights
Safe abortions have the merit of producing a stock of human capital which is more healthy and productive. It is interesting that the World Development Report 2012, published by the World Bank has retained Gender as its major theme. The Report emphasises the importance of optimizing on women’s economic potential. Even if the sexual division of labour is to persist with women remaining largely homemakers in the private sphere, it makes more sense to have healthy and productive women. Stopping unsafe abortions can therefore promote economic efficiency and growth.
Legalizing abortion however should not be viewed as purely instrumental i. e it is not only about using women for the economy but rather an empowering tool – where voice is given to women to exercise their rights and ensure the promotion of their dignity. More importantly, women should not be perceived as criminals. Promoting the rights of women in this context can also assist with the ‘decriminalisation of poverty’.
The Crime and Punishment Model – a Colonial Bequest
The crime and punishment model is a colonial bequest that the colonizing countries, themselves, have long rejected so as to preserve the health and lives of women. Mauritius is striving to be modern, more equal and just, it cannot therefore cling to a bequest borne out of the centuries old ecclesiastical law largely inspired and dominated by masculine theologies which have depicted, portrayed and conceptualised women as procreative instruments rather than citizens with equal rights and dignity.
Mauritius is a signatory to the protocol of the African charter on the rights of women ; a protocol that deserves to be lauded for its substantive recognition of abortion as human right but it does not go far enough to the extent that it medicalises the grounds of abortion. Doctors become the gate keepers rather than the women themselves. But changes, albeit incremental, are always welcome.
Mauritius has also signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but in actual practice, women continue to be largely discriminated against. The political arena itself constitutes one such site of discrimination. But despite persistent discriminatory practices and embedded patriarchy, our politicians both male and female have contributed to passing a number of gender sensitive legislations for the advancement of women.
Legislations are Never Enough
Jurisprudence from United nations treaty monitoring bodies shows that liberalization of abortion law is not always followed by practical implementation and that abortion rights like other rights may exist only in documents. At the local level, despite having the Domestic Violence Act for instance, women continue to be battered on a daily basis. A lot more effort, attention and resources are required to ensure effective implementation. A holistic, well coordinated approach is necessary. This is where a women’s parliamentary caucus could have been pertinent. Let’s hope that this legislation provides an entry point for such a caucus and that together with the many well intentioned citizens as well as progressive civil society groups, the woman’s parliamentary caucus can truly move the nation forward.