Why Trump's Re-instatement Of The Global Gag Rule Matters To South Africa

Funding that is helping South African women access healthcare where it isn't readily available is now under serious threat.

25/01/2017 04:59 SAST | Updated 25/01/2017 09:40 SAST
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up the executive order on the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy after signing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington January 23, 2017.

In a spate of executive orders, President Donald Trump confirmed suspicions this week that his administration will be a wild card in the international order for the next four years, as well as a threat to basic human rights. While pulling out of the Trans-Pacific-Partnership will take some time to topple the boogeyman of globalisation, the re-instatement of the Global Gag Rule will have more immediate effects.

The Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, has been instated and re-instated depending on presidential partisanship for decades. It was first enacted by Ronald Reagan in 1984, temporarily ended under Bill Clinton and later re-instated under George W. Bush during his first days in office in 2001.

As a piece of ideological legislation aimed at safeguarding Christian values in America, the Global Gag Rule ironically prohibits foreign governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from using US-aid money for abortions, contraceptives, providing information about reproductive health many millions of women around the world need and are entitled to. The rule goes so far as to stipulate that NGOs cannot even mention abortion without losing US aid.

Coming just days after women's marches around the country, one of the largest in the history of the United States, the re-instatement of this act will have a dramatically negative impact on women's health around the world. The move signals that Trump is focused on undoing some of the basic tenets of human rights, in favour of the impulse to satisfy the insatiable ideological 'principles' of his administration.

In South Africa, where medically sound information about reproductive health isn't readily available for those who usually need it most, US aid funds have an important role to play ensuring that women get the reproductive healthcare they require. In addition, because women experience exceptionally high levels of social inequalities like domestic abuse, sexual assault and rape in South Africa, their options for reproductive healthcare are not always satisfactory. Through the work of NGOs, US aid funds get deployed in South Africa, particularly in vulnerable rural areas and townships where services might be limited, as well as around the world.

To be a woman in South Africa is an unfortunately dangerous daily experience. South African women in general, and black women in particular, experience extreme levels of violence related to their sexual health and well being. In 2015/16 according to Africa Check, there were over 42,000 reported rapes in South Africa--or, about 115 reported rapes per day--and over 51,000 instances of sexual violence--or, about 142 instances per day.

When taking into account that contraceptives and proper information isn't always available in South Africa, many women feel compelled to have unsafe abortions, which threaten their lives.

When taking into account that contraceptives and proper information isn't always available in South Africa, many women feel compelled to have unsafe abortions, which threaten their lives. Studies estimate that around 20 million women have unsafe abortions each year, many of which occur in developing countries like South Africa, that lead to the deaths of nearly 50,000 women. In this kind of environment, the stigmatisation surrounding abortions and women's health more generally, makes it more difficult for women to receive the care they need, and more likely to seek out an unsafe abortion.

Studies indicate that the Global Gag Rule, when enacted, leads to millions of women having unsafe abortions around the world. Without access to contraceptives and basic information related to reproductive, women also face considerable stigmatisation, what Marion Stevens of WISH associates refers to as "a conspiracy of silence", related to the reality of rape, unplanned pregnancies and abortion.

This conspiracy of silence is given credence when politicians legitimise their ideological inclinations rather than the rights of women. For Trump to utilise his first days in office to enact legislation that will impact the lives of countless individuals around the world, sets a dangerous tone going forward for his administration.

The consequences of the re-instatement of the Global Gag Rule in South Africa will only make it more difficult for disempowered women in vulnerable circumstances to receive the correct information and treatment they need regarding reproductive health. Considering the extent of South Africa's dismal education rates as well as its levels of poverty, this human right to proper healthcare will only become more crucial as levels of inequality rise.

One only has to look around to see the kinds of reproductive alternatives women may be forced to turn to as a result of a lack of funding and, in some ways, for a lack of humanity exhibited by—largely male—politicians. Stickers advertising "safe and quick" abortions are commonplace on street corners and on trains. Perhaps it's their ubiquity that disarms us to the dangerous reality that they display. To think a young woman or girl may feel the need to visit one of these 'doctors' due to a lack of education and information, because an American president wants to reclaim the ideological trophy, is shameful.

As much as it may seem like the election of Trump is happening on a distant planet from the vantage point of South Africa, the effects of the Global Gag Order matter for many South African women. For an individual who ran on a platform in reaction to globalisation, the effects of his administration will be anything but.