Malia Womack: The Rights of Women in Puerto Rico

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This morning, we just released a new podcast for Sinister Myth, and this one features an interview with Malia Womack, recorded at the end of last year when she was doing field work in Puerto Rico. I met Malia when she participated in my Sexuality and Violence course, and she shared quite a bit of her graduate work with me on the inequalities experienced by Puerto Ricans, and the US history of interference on the island. I think that this is a history that is not realized fully by the general public.

Listen on Stitcher.

Listen on Apple iTunes.

One shocking aspect of US interference in Puerto Rico is the testing of birth control on Puerto Rican women, and also the policy of sterilizing Puerto Rican women. Unfortunately this is not an aberration but a regular feature of US history, where populations of women, like black women and Native American women, have been singled out as not worthy of motherhood, and not capable of making their own decisions about their bodies. You can read more about this here in ‘The U.S. Government’s Role in Sterilizing Women of Color.’

Control of reproduction is still contested in the 21st century. Thinking about sterilization, in some countries and some US states, many trans people are faced with the choice about whether to take up identity confirming surgery but be sterilized at the same time. The only reason that this would be enforced is to control who is able to have children.

And of course, reproductive rights are not a given for cisgender woman, as has been shown in the numerous challenges to Roe vs Wade. Just this week, senator Ted Cruz started a campaign against the “abortion pill,” a move that conveniently ignores the crisis of maternal mortality in the US. As Amanda Arnold notes, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is ‘17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, by far the highest in any developed nation.’ Whichever way you look at it, patriarchal institutions are desperate to control the bodies of women and childbearing people, and that in itself should be extremely disturbing.

At the end of the podcast, Womack talks engagingly about what we could learn from Latin American feminist activists, for example finding solidarity and working together. Many of us are campaigning or doing advocacy work on different issues but Womack finds that Latin American orgs find common ground so they can work together to create change in a cohesive and cooperative way.