The Fem Spot

Bargaining with abortion

Posted in Politics by femspotter on March 20, 2010

March 20, 2010

In its 11th-hour, the health care bill is still in need of support from approximately 12 holdout Representatives, even after Dennis Kucinich’s recent high profile flip from “no” to “yes.” That has House Democratic leaders scrambling, reports The New York Times.

It was not immediately clear if the bill could win approval without some concessions to Democrats seeking tighter abortion restrictions.

In similar late-hour wrangling in November, Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, succeeded in winning approval of tight limits on insurance coverage of abortions in the House health care bill.

Mr. Stupak has said he would oppose the current measure without similar limits. Other Democratic opponents of abortion have said they are satisfied with the language in the Senate bill that bans the use of federal money to pay for coverage of the procedure, and they have pledged support for the package, expected to come to a decisive vote in the House on Sunday.

Mr. Stupak introduced a resolution on Friday that would add tougher abortion restrictions to the bill after it is approved but before it is sent to the president — a technique typically used to make minor or technical changes with the consent of both chambers, an unlikely prospect.

‘We don’t want another vote on abortion,’ said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and a champion of abortion rights, as she left a meeting Friday evening in the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. ‘We are not going to vote for a bill that restricts women’s right to choose beyond current law.’

I find that as a liberal and a feminist – not a Liberal Feminist, per se, I am torn: I want to see this hopeful yet insufficient stab at health care “reform” succeed, but I am not willing to sacrifice the already meager rights that women exercise in exchange for similarly meager reform. As the article points out, federal money will not be used to cover abortion procedures under this bill. What more – or less – do these opposing Democrats want? Do they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the historic “do with your body what you will” compromise that we all should be able to live with?

Up until now, I have avoided writing about health care reform because it seemed unlikely and because it didn’t strictly relate to my feminism. It is my belief that had this country elected Hillary Clinton to our highest office, she would have successfully banged the shit out of health care reform by now: no white glove summits coddling Republican misers and certainly no talk of making abortion the pigeon for her bill. But President Barack Obama has her safely out of sight and mind, tucked away in Moscow discussing diplomacy with Israel, where she can’t reach out and smack Stupak upside the head. Clinton is, after all, one of the most poised supporters of reproductive health rights working in the United States government today. So, were she installed in the Presidency, I probably would not have weighed in either.

But as a liberal – and one a stone’s throw away from embracing socialism, I have been ruminating about health care without specific regard to feminist issues like abortion or breast cancer, etc. I have thought about the Unconstitutional and unfair nature of our capitalist, for-profit health care industry and how it reflects our capitalist legal system wherein the rich get bigger and better services than the poor. And in these two systems, there’s money to be made at every turn.

Traditional moms and dads don’t want their sons to grow up to be doctors or lawyers, or their daughters to marry said doctors and lawyers, for the greater good; they want them to grow up to become doctors and lawyers because, in this country, that’s where there’s honorable money to be made – and by “honorable” I refer to money for service rather than money for little to no contribution to American Constitutional ideals. These moms and dads love to brag about Johnny Jr. and his impressive degrees from Harvard and Yale…oh, and by the way he saved a life today. It makes sense in America that if you educate yourself and work hard, you make money. That’s capitalism: the American dream. Of course, now mom and dad can also brag that Johnny Jr. is a pharmaceutical sales representative or insurance executive, because there’s “McMansion” money to be made there too.

The problem with capitalism is that it is not self-corrective. The American dream, once attainable by a strong middle class, has become perverted to the point where it is no longer readily attainable. Less and less, people are able to earn enough money to own their own homes and support their families without government intervention. Seen an ad for a multimillion-dollar home lately? The $20 million mansion has become the new American dream. Who needs it? Nobody. But there’s nothing in our capitalist system that corrects or reverses this economic flow, which pushes all the money in one direction: up. Capitalists believe that people charitably give their wealth proportionally, stimulating the economy from the bottom up, and that the system will work because of human compassion. Socialists know that people do not naturally want to share with each other; that’s why they build in sharing through centralized health care, etc. If you’re in the top 1% of the American population, you can afford great doctors to treat you when you’re sick and great lawyers to defend you when you’re accused of crimes. There are none to few “wealthy” people on death row. And I’d be willing to bet that there are no wealthy women contacting women’s welfare groups for abortion funding either.

When did our Constitutional rights to “general welfare” and “liberty,” i.e. health care and justice, get eroded away to the point where only the wealthy are entitled to them?

Health care reform measures are now in play to correct this Constitutional “welfare” discrepancy, but they have many conservatives crying “Socialism.” Gasp! “We can’t be socialists here. This is the United States of America, land of the pursuit of happiness.” Of course, that pursuit is short-lived when you can’t get chemo treatment or when you spend the first 18 years of your life as an unwanted child schlepping around in our child welfare system.

Health care becomes a feminist issue when abortion and mammograms – to name a couple of women’s services – become bargaining chips toward the long overdue, liberal end: medical coverage for all Americans. In November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women in their 40s should no longer get annual mammograms to screen for breast cancer, despite the rising rates of breast cancer in the U.S.: the current statistics are that 1. just under one in eight American women (12%) will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and 2. that the 39 million mammograms that occur each year in the U.S. cost the health care system $5 billion. Are those one in eight female lives enough justification for money that the war in Iraq surpasses in expense on a monthly basis? Mammography is highly controversial, with some arguing its benefits and others its harms. But it is a controversial issue that belongs mainly to women – who rally and march at countless fund-raising events for breast cancer research each year – and should not be evaluated strictly on a cost basis, which the task force said was not a consideration. Somebody calculated and reported the cost, however. Hmmm… Whatever you do, don’t think about the elephant in the room. The proposed health care bill will extend coverage to 32 million people at a cost of $940 billion over 10 years. At $50 billion (5.3% of the $940 billion), mammography might be poised to take a hit for the good of the many.

And if Stupak gets his way, reproductive rights will also take a hit. In 2009, Stupak introduced a successful amendment to the House bill, which restricts women who receive government-subsidized health insurance from choosing health plans that cover abortions – according to the National Abortion Federation, roughly two thirds of health insurance providers offer some kind of coverage for abortion procedures. In other words, he threw the bill into a morality crucible. No longer was the issue about women’s health, the issue became about restricting women’s choices on the basis of the opposition to abortion’s morality. This amendment reduced the bill to a coin on a string: We’ll give you money for health care if you don’t actually try and obtain the health care you need. Might this influence health insurance providers to stop covering abortions so women will elect their coverage with government subsidies? Stupak wants this clause put back in the bill owing to what he calls his strong Catholic faith.

The only reason I’m listening to Stupak is because he has a very big microphone in front of him, put there by the voters of Michigan. At the end of the day, I don’t believe that Stupak or any man should get a say in whether or not abortion is legal or afforded by tax dollars. It’s not their issue; it’s ours, women – whether we’re for or against legal abortion! We should discuss and legislate. Male legislators should shut the fuck up about it because they’ll never have need or want for abortion! (Similarly, I am completely silent about penile enhancement procedures and vasectomies.)

I can understand not wanting your tax dollars to go to something you’re morally opposed to; but hey, sack up – my tax dollars support the “war on terror” and I’m morally opposed to that! Bottom line: Stupak, this is not up to you and your penis. Abortion is an issue for womb-bearers only, unless said womb-bearers are in loving, committed relationships with men and seek male approval on an individual basis.

You want to bring Catholicism into this? That’s Unconstitutional, according to Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation of the First Amendment, but I’ll go along. According to The New York Times, “a group of nuns has once again exposed the long-running rift between liberal and conservative theology in the Catholic Church.” Progressive Catholics, including a group of nuns, have said that they would support the Senate bill while the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that it would oppose it. Nuns win in my book, not because I agree with their stance, but because…they’re women! Though it’s doubtful that these nuns will ever take advantage of abortions, they believe that the bill does not make abortion more widely available than it already is. (Shucks!) Regarding the 59,000 nuns who maintain their anti-abortion stance yet support the bill, Stupak told Fox, “With all due respect to the nuns, when I deal or am working on right-to-life issues, we don’t call on the nuns.” Instead, he turns “to leading bishops, Focus on the Family, and The National Right to Life Committee.” That’s right, you misogynist, self-important windbag: ignore the women and their views…on this women’s issue!

Interested in hearing Stupak duke it out with Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth – who notes that, under Stupak’s amendment, women would have “to plan for an unplanned event” – on “Hardball?”

Blah, blah, blah… Rachel Maddow and (female) guest are much more articulate, not to mention relevant.

This bill doesn’t satisfy me on liberal or feminist planes, but it’s a step in the right direction politically. When it comes to abortion, however, the bombast coming from male politicians needs to cease. Men, this is not your decision to make. You do not get to control what we do with our bodies for the sake of our health and the sake of our happiness. It is yes! Unconstitutional for you to think you can strip away our rights to life and pursuing happiness at the hands of abortion…or mammography or any other women’s health service you deem inconsequential. You can decide you’re the experts and tell us which brand of tampons to wear, but don’t expect us to listen. And if you take away legal abortions, women will go back to bleeding to death for our rights. Stupak, you want to threaten Nancy Pelosi with your 40 plus dissenting votes? We threaten you with dead pregnant women and their similarly dead unborn.

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The New York Times lament

Posted in media, Personal Essays, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on August 26, 2009
Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

August 26, 2009

Several weeks ago, The New York Times surprised me with a smug Saturday morning edition that bashed New Jersey in every way it could. The front page depicted a large photo of a junk yard in Hackensack – not attached to any story I could find. Another trash dump adorned one internal section, while still an even greater horror awaited readers on the cover of one of the Arts sections: a great white shark, mouth open under a headline that read “Ah, That Jersey Shore: The Fish Are Really Biting.”

That’s irresponsible journalism in my book. The article (online 7-31-09, in print 8-1-09) was announcing Shark Week on Discovery Channel and, though it alluded to the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 which were to be covered by programming scheduled for Shark Week, the photo (right) was taken off the coast of South Africa rather than New Jersey. Nonetheless, the editors at The Times decided they have the right to mock the people of New Jersey – 127,101 of whom subscribe to The Times daily edition, 182,557 to its Sunday edition, according to the New Jersey Press Association – with an incessant flow of visual insults in the wake of the great corruption scandal of 2009: 44 elected officials – the mayor of my town among them – and rabbis indicted for taking bribes and other corrupt acts in one sweep of the judicial net over the state that many already consider to be “the armpit” of the United States. I even got a letter from a relative in a seemingly moral part of the central U.S. remarking about what a corrupt part of the world I live in. (Ah, the Midwest… That’s where they kill abortion doctors, isn’t it?)

Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?”

I love my state! Sure, we have potholes and insane drivers – nobody knows what a yield sign means – and 4-inch acrylic nails and discordant accents galore. But we also have Victorian Cape May, beautiful beaches, great public education (including Rutgers University, my alma mater) and the Statue of Liberty. Many a talented celebrity has emerged from the smelly bowels called Jersey: Frank Sinatra, Judy Blume, Jack Nicholson, etc.

But, in reality, New Jersey doesn’t smell bad…at least, not outside of Hudson County.

My husband and I chose New Jersey over the cardboard box we could have afforded in Manhattan or neighboring Brooklyn, or the the relatively cheap spaces in the other three boroughs of New York City. In New Jersey, we’re property owners living close to jobs in Manhattan. We’ve lived in historic downtown Jersey City and loved it! We got married in Liberty State Park facing Lady Liberty herself. And if that weren’t enough to convince you that New Jersey is a fantastic state, check out this photo I took outside my condo – less than five miles from Manhattan – in the middle of August, 2009 – also known as just two days ago:

Canadian Geese Visit Beautiful New Jersey; Who Wouldn't Want to Be Here?

A New Jersey River Near New York City at Night: Who Wouldn't Want to Live Here?

So, suck it TNYT!

Your biased portrayal of New Jersey on Aug. 1, 2009 was at best pert and at worst cruel. A corrupt government does not a corrupt population make. We good citizens of New Jersey are the victims of this corruption, rather than the perpetrators of it!

I was just on the verge of canceling my subscription when I picked up the following week’s edition. There, a couple of pages in, was an Op-Ed piece by Bob Herbert entitled “Women at Risk.” In the wake of all of the critical and academic silence about misogyny in our culture during the Hillary Clinton campaign for President and the Sarah Palin campaign – such that it was – for Vice President; in the aftermath of a tremendous victory for the black man Barack Obama, who won our nation’s top office; on the footsteps of the Henry Louis Gates arrest fiasco in Boston that prompted the historic beer bash at the White House…here was a black columnist writing about sexism instead of racism. Did he miss the band wagon? Reacting to the recent slaughter of three women and the wounding of nine others by sexually frustrated assassin George Sodini in a Pennsylvania gym, Herbert had this to say:

We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.

Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.

According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

Well, thought I…I can’t give up my subscription now. It’s true that The Times has much to make up for. After all of feminist Maureen Dowd’s lazy and pointless columns and the make believe feminist insights of film critic Manohla Dargis – who criticized Pixar for taking until now to hire a female director (yeah, because Pixar is the real problem for feminist filmmakers in Hollywood, right?) and chastised people who point out that Kathryn Bigelow is a female film director who makes man movies (I think that’s noteworthy, don’t you? We expect women to make sappy, romantic movies. They do, but they also direct stylish horror films like Ravenous and visceral dramas about sexuality like The Piano.) – The Times owes all of its feminist readers, from New Jersey to Timbuktu, a real feminist thought or two to chew on. As it turns out, the best feminists over at The Times are men: A.O. Scott, Nicholas D. Kristof and Bob Herbert, to name a few.

Herbert’s column is opinion-based and he alludes to statistics that he doesn’t provide, which bothers me. I want him to make an argument about misogyny supported by facts rather than rantings. He writes “A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so.” Is it one every two minutes…every three minutes? That makes a big difference.

Still, I’m glad that somebody is getting angry about this besides the women who’ve been complaining to deaf ears for years. There are those haters out there who jumped all over Secretary of State Clinton a few weeks ago after she flew off the handle in the Congo when asked by a male student what Mr. Clinton thinks, “through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton,” about the World Bank tampering with Chinese contracts. The incident was met with eye-rolling from CNN “news” correspondents and a heap of criticism from columnists and comedian’s alike. But as this Times news blog points out, Clinton may have gotten a raw deal. She was, after all, standing up for herself and her position at the top, one she’s worked toward for many years. Additionally, she did what Herbert and others have done when something is wrong with the world: she got mad. It is unjust to be asked to speak for your husband when yours is the opinion that should really count. And we won’t right the world’s injustices if we don’t first get mad about them. (To be fair, however, a woman who once did cooking demonstrations on television, posing as Suzy Homemaker to get her husband reelected to the Presidency, doesn’t have a sturdy leg to stand on when it comes to declaring an independent, emancipated status!)

While I am angry at The New York Times, I forgive it because of its forward-thinking feminism. The Aug. 23, 2009 issue of The New York Times Magazine was centered on women’s rights with five major articles pertaining to the current status and potential advancement of women’s rights. “In many parts of the world, women are routinely beaten, raped or sold into prostitution. They are denied access to medical care, education and economic and political power,” it’s cover boldly reveals. “Changing that could change everything.”

Inside, “The Women’s Crusade” by Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tells us that “(t)the oppression of women worldwide is the human rights cause of our time.” Hey, if that’s the case, then why is Obama drinking with Gates at the White House instead of with Saima Muhammad of Pakistan, who “was routinely beaten by her husband until she started a successful embroidery business;” or Goretti Nyabenda of Burundi, who was also routinely beaten by her husband but who turned a $2 microloan into a crop of potatoes worth $7.50 and her resulting salvation. In fact, Nyabenda is a banana-beer brewer as well as a potato farmer. That would have been a better beer to choose than Bud Light, which, though American, is also the product of a large corporation wielding perhaps unfair tax breaks. Again I ask, why is Obama having drinks with cops and professors when he could be uplifting the impoverished, abused and uneducated women of the world?

Racism is a serious problem; but the cause to abolish racism isn’t helped when an affluent academic screams bloody racism and the media turns the spotlight away from the real injustices of the day to watch the President booze with the battered egos of the world. As far as I know, nobody at that round table has ever been raped or had their genitals removed because of the notion that their sex is inferior to the alternative.

Sharks don’t discriminate between men and women, but Peter Benchley did. He allegedly based his 1974 pulp novel Jaws on the 1916 shark attacks at the Jersey Shore. In reality, there were four victims of the attacks: all male. In the book, and subsequently the 1975 Steven Spielberg film of the same title, the first victim of the man-eater is instead a woman, and she is horribly de-sexualized in the process of her slaying. In the first place, she is swimming naked after dark as part of a sexscapade. Later, when her body is found, it is shredded in all the parts that physically distinguish the girls from the boys: namely her breasts and her womb. Benchley had said in interviews that he regretted writing this novel because it instilled a previously unfounded fear of sharks in the masses. Perhaps, he should have regretted his own misogyny and stuck to the facts: in 1916, three New Jersey men and one boy went into the water and were killed by a beast that didn’t seek to hurt or humiliate women. It was just hungry.

While The New York Times and I have made peace with each other for now, and I still get to look forward to reading the newspaper on Saturday and Sunday mornings in my bathrobe with a big mug of steaming coffee; I am forever wary of the verbal and printed slights marring my beautiful Garden State…just as I am of the general misogyny that pervades our culture.

That’s right: I’m a Jersey Girl now. And you don’t wanna mess with no Joysey Girl! POW!

Legal rape in Afghanistan?

Posted in Marriage, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009

When I go to bed at night, I have the luxury of falling asleep. I use the word “luxury” because this option is not always available for some women; and it looks as though married women in Afghanistan may be prohibited by law from falling asleep when their heads hit their pillows in the near future. There will be no “Honey, I have a headache” reprieve for these unlucky ladies, whether they have headaches or just say they do because they lack that special tingling sensation between their legs.

According to CNN and other news outlets, the Afghan parliament recently passed a bill – with good intentions – that may inadvertently harm the rights of women. “(C)ritics say the latest draft (of the bill) strips Shia women of rights as simple as leaving the house without permission from a male relative and as extreme as allowing a man to have sexual intercourse with his wife even when she says, ‘No.’

These critics wonder how what amounts to rape in marriage could be passed by parliament and signed into law by President Hamid Karzai.”

Last weekend, Karzai explained that key elements of the bill have been misinterpreted by western observers stating, “We understand the concerns of our allies and the international community. Those concerns may be due to an inappropriate, not-so-good translation of the law.”

That begs the question: what is there to misinterpret? Either husbands can rape their wives or they can’t according to law. There’s a clear distinction between the two.

Karzai also vowed to consider the bill against the nation’s constitution, which allegedly requires equal rights to both sexes. According to the Times Online, “(t)he Afghan Government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines equality in dignity and rights regardless of religion or sex. Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution also explicitly reiterates the equality of men and women before the law.”

(Pause for hysterical laughter – the kind that makes you pee a little – and rolling around on the floor.)

Women do not exercise equal rights with men in this nation. If the Afghan government is even considering such a legal measure, then women are not on equal terms with men.

Let’s review the evidence, shall we? 

Under the Taliban regime (1996-2001), women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort and girls were not permitted to go to school. While some things may have improved for women since the overthrow of the Taliban, Amnesty International (AI) reported in 2005 that “Afghanistan is in the process of reconstruction after many years of conflict, but hundreds of thousands of women and girls continue to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of the state itself such as the police and the justice system. There are reported increases in forced marriages; some women in difficult situations have even killed themselves to escape such a heinous situation whilst others burn themselves to death to draw attention to their plight.” AI, which campaigns for universal human rights, found that violence against women in Afghanistan was widely tolerated by the community and widely practiced by men as recent as four years ago.

According to the Pajhwok Afghan News, as translated by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, in 2006 “(s)exual abuse, murder and other crimes of different types (we)re increasing in the Northern provinces of Afghanistan” where violence against women has reached levels as high as 80 percent of women being victimized.

Under the Taliban, women were required to wear blue burqas which covered their bodies from head to toe except for a net-like fabric that covered their eyes permitting them to see the world through a translucent barrier. According to the CNN article, those burqas are still worn today.

AI – which also proclaims on its Web site that many women’s rights advocates living in Afghanistan have faced death threats, kidnapping attempts, physical attacks and even death, while others have fled their homes – released a statement saying it is opposed to the “rape law” because it will “seriously undermine women’s rights for millions of Afghanistan women.” Reached for a comment, United States President Barack Obama called the law “abhorrent.” (I guess that lame reaction is better than saying the law is “really, really bad.”)

Considering the other side of this issue means wondering who are these men who would benefit from such a law. What kind of person wants to rape another person? Is it something men are capable of on a large scale? When I think again about my own right to sleep, I think about how the sexuality I’ve experienced has mostly been based upon mutual enjoyment. Do men in Afghanistan enjoy having sex with women who don’t also enjoy the experience?

In Saudi Arabia, men and women are prohibited from mingling in public. Apparently that hasn’t kept men from trying to interact with burqa-clad women by commingling their dogs. As of July, 2008, the selling of dogs and cats as pets, as well as the walking of such pets in public places, is illegal in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh. In March, a Saudi court ordered the lashing and exile of a 75-year-old woman for mingling inside her home.

Perhaps, in Islamic countries where men and women are kept entirely segregated or where men cannot even see women, their sexuality has been warped to the point where they consider themselves entitled to sex even when subordinate females do not want it too. I’m just speculating, of course. But we do know that some people in these countries have access to the Internet; and where there’s Internet, there’s the capacity for looking at and downloading pornography, some of which is very degrading to women. Often times, such imagery reduces women to the status of inanimate objects. Sexuality, when it is forbidden, can often become corrupted by pornography-fueled imaginations; imaginations that later create insatiable appetites for sexuality that can be unpleasant for some.

The bottom line is that Afghanistan is not a happy home for most of its women, especially those who find themselves beaten or burned when they disobey their husbands or fathers. Legalizing spousal rape is only one more step in the direction of the total annihilation of women’s rights in this country.

If you value your unburned skin, intact bones, revealing clothing or right to a good night sleep, then help the cause to stop violence against women throughout the world. Act locally by volunteering to help at a shelter for homeless or abused women and children, just like my friend M****. Donate food so that they can eat well while they recover. Or – if you’re a busy working woman like me – make a monetary donation to AI by visiting its Web site.

I just made a $20 contribution. It’s not much but I feel a little better.

By the way – as I just found out on Feministing – spousal rape only became entirely illegal in the U.S. as of 1993. This issue affects more women than just those in Afghanistan and other Islamic nations.

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