No matter how much it tries to backpedal and reframe and rephrase, no matter how many soft words it puts around the conversation, the fact remains that this government, in the person of Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Welfare, has advocated adopting some sort of policy to prevent some women from having more babies. That’s the plain meaning of Paula Bennett’s words yesterday.
They scare the hell out of me.
What they suggest is a government that is happy to control women and to control women’s bodies. At present they only want to do it to “bad” mothers, people who have killed their children, or abused them so badly that the children have been taken away from them, or people who form new relationships with “bad” men who then abuse and sometimes kill their stepchildren. It’s all being done in the name of saving the children.
Of course we want to save children from harm, and of course, we can save them from immediate harm by ensuring they are not vulnerable to abusers, and of course, the easiest way to do that is to take the children away from the abusers, or scarily, to stop abusers from having children in the first place.
Therein lies the problem. This is the easy solution. The hard solution would involve trying to work out why people abuse and kill children. The thing is, we already have a fair idea about that. Aside from psychosis and revenge, it turns out that most killings occur when parents are down and out, when they have no hope and no resources, when they have given up, or been given up on, any hope of a life integrated into the structure of a community. A quick search on Google would have told Paula Bennett that. Reducing the number of children who are abused or killed won’t be easy. It will involve working closely with women and with families, helping women to become independent, ensuring that they live in meaningful and supportive communities, that they have secure incomes, that they can look after themselves and their children, trying to ensure that they are not under such stress and feel so hopeless that they take out all their problems on their children. But that would be hard work, and it would cost money. Much easier just to opt for the big stick of sanctions. This is a policy that fits all too comfortably with National’s policy on getting beneficiary mums and their daughters to use long term contraceptives.
In the name of pragmatism, and easiness, this government takes the shortcut of asserting control over women’s bodies.
What next? Is the government going to suggest that women on the DPB should be sterilised? Maybe women who drink while pregnant will have their babies removed at birth. Perhaps if you have a student loan, government will tell you that it isn’t wise to have children now, and it will “help” you to avoid having any.
And that’s exactly where the danger lies in this sort of policy that attempts to control women’s bodies. Today it’s women who harm, or allow harm to come to, their children. Who is it going to be tomorrow?
And that’s why, liberal dudes, I am so tired of hearing you say that this is all just a distraction. My bodily autonomy is at stake here, and you tell me that I should get to the back of the queue, because it’s just a minor matter, designed to get people to take their eye off the government’s woes in other areas. Because at the end of the day, women’s rights are always tradeable.
Thank you so very much.
And let’s not forget the racism underpinning this. We know that killing and abuse of children (‘though not sexual abuse, which seems to be classless) is much more common among the least privileged socio-economic groups, and we know that socio-economic groups are highly race marked in New Zealand. This is another move towards stigmatising people with brown skins, and controlling them, and worst of all, taking away their children. And we all know how well that kind of policy has worked in the past.
Update: One of those liberal dudes has since posted on the matter: A rancid style of politics. I think he’s right about the convenience of Bennett’s announcement. Many thanks for your post, I/S.