Tough Questions: On Banning Circumcision

Iceland is currently discussing a bill that would ban infant male circumcision and, if it succeeds, it will become the first country in the European Union to do so. I always knew that I would eventually comment on this most touchy of subjects, and in light of this current news I guess now is as good a time as any.

I am aware that for many people, this is not a “tough question” at all. Many have very strong opinions on the subject one way or another, whereas I find myself quite torn on the topic. I am also aware that, as someone who does not own a penis my opinions on the subject are somewhat less valid than someone who has more skin in the game, so to speak, but my current dilemma is mostly based on the science and the fact that both sides often exaggerate or twist it to fit their own notion.

Before we continue yes, I made a circumcision pun. I totally meant it. I apologize… kind of. Now let’s move on.

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A Bitter Sweet Victory

This week, a Salvadoran woman was released from prison after serving 11 years of her 30 year murder charge. So, why am I mentioning that as any kind of victory at all, let alone a bitter sweet one? Was it self defense? Was she innocent of the charges? The facts are much more convoluted and depressing than that.

She was convicted of murder because she had a stillbirth, and the courts decided it was all her fault.

You are certainly aware that women’s rights vary enormously across the globe, whether it be in regard to protections against violence, representation in government, or the right to bodily autonomy. In El Salvador, the abuse of women is reflected in the most draconian anti-abortion laws that can be conceived by man.

Not only is it illegal to get an abortion at any time and for any reason, but you will also be charged with murder not only if you seek an abortion, but even if you do not seek get enough prenatal care and have a stillbirth. I usually do not speak in black and white terms, but I literally cannot conceive of any way that they can make their anti-abortion laws even more extreme.

Luckily in the case of Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, she was not forced to serve the entirety of her sentence. I am happy that she is now free, but I am also deeply depressed as to the details surrounding her release, hence my description of the case.


A woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for aggravated murder after having a stillbirth has been freed in El Salvador in a case highlighting the dire consequences of the Central American country’s total ban on abortion.


Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, 34, was released on Thursday after serving almost 11 years for a crime she has always vehemently denied. Her sentence was commuted by the supreme court on the grounds that there was insufficient scientific evidence to determine that she had intentionally caused the stillbirth, but her conviction was not overturned.


She was not released because the government of El Salvador has budged an inch from their horrific laws regarding women’s rights, but rather because they decided that she was convicted on insufficient evidence. Activists must and are still appealing these sentences on a case by case basis in order to try to counteract this gross violation of human rights.


Vásquez is the 16th woman to be freed as a result of appeals and campaigns by reproductive rights groups and lawyers working under hostile conditions perpetuated by the conservative media and powerful anti-abortion groups. A 17th woman, Mayra Figueroa, who was jailed for 30 years in 2003, will be freed next month.


This story is both happy and tragic. Happy for Teodora and her family, but tragic for all the women who still have to suffer under these brutal laws.


Teaching Boys About Consent

We have often heard women saying, when talking about victim blaming and “rape prevention” pamphlets, that you should be teaching men not to rape rather than teaching women what to wear. Of course, to men who do not have any inclination to rape anybody, that kind of statement can come off as condescending. The idea is that obviously men know that they’re not supposed to rape women, but the ones that do are not following the rules, duh, it’s not like they are going to suddenly say “ooohhh! I didn’t know it was against the law! Shit my bad!” and suddenly stop being a monster.

While I get that knee-jerk reaction, it is also unfortunately a very simplistic reaction to what seems to be a simplistic proposal, but what is actually an important concept which is not given enough merit. But hey, don’t take my word for it, see this case study in Nairobi.


The highlights: in this community, where they have begun an active educational campaign about consent, rape was reduced by 50%, and bystanders successfully intervened and stopped assaults 75% of the time.

That’s amazing! Even I am shocked at what a giant impact this had is such a short period of time.

Of course, when people say “teach boys not to rape” they don’t mean wagging their fingers at young boys, tell them not to sexually assault their female peers, and then going back to their morning newspaper. It is much bigger than that.

This campaign is about tackling the problem on multiple fronts. It is about teaching girls about having self confidence, and self worth, and that they have agency over their bodies and their lives. It is about teaching boys different perspectives, and making them think about sex and sexual assault from a healthier angle. It is about reaching equality and mutual respect.

In short, it is about changing culture for the better. And it can work wonders.

Having to State the Obvious

Most of us live in a bubble of one kind or the other. Sometimes it is a cultural bubble, if the people that we interact with on a day-to-day basis were all born and raised in the same culture. Sometimes it is a class bubble, if we do not know anyone who makes significantly more or less money than we or our parents did. Sometimes it is a liberal or a conservative bubble, if all of the people that we speak to happen to generally share the same views.

Regardless of the bubble you live in, it is important to be aware of it as the limited view of the world that it is, and that many if not most people in the world do not share your perspective and experience. Sometimes, this means having to share and state things that seem so obvious to you that at first glance you think they barely deserve a second one, let alone repeating.

It is my liberal bubble that almost made me skate over a blogpost published by the ACLU entitled “No, Seeing a Transgendered Person Is Not a Reason to Call 911“. Yeah no shit, I thought, and kept scrolling for a few seconds before I recognized this for the nearsighted reaction that it was.

No. Most unfortunately, it is not obvious to many people. While that may be an incredibly sad truth, it is still a fact, as one Meagan discovered when someone called 911 and had her arrested for trying to check into a hotel on her way to a funeral while being transgender.

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Not Just For Brexit

This video was made specifically due to the surge of racist outbursts that many people have reported in the UK immediately after Brexit. Silently ignoring racist attacks normalize and embolden racism, so these are 5 ways that you can do your part to combat the systemic problem.


This video may have been inspired by Brexit, but it certainly is not specific to the UK. Everyone around the world can, and should, take this advice.

Racism needs to be confronted and challenged at every step, if we are to have any hope of seeing things change for the better. This advice is something that most people can take with virtually no effort on their part, out the effect of it can be enormous.

It may seem stupid, but the bit about speaking quietly and calmly to the victim (in the circumstance that you do not feel you can actively confront the attacker safely) really spoke to me. While the color of my skin has never labelled me as a foreigner to casual encounters on public transport in all of the countries I have lived in, I definitely have been yelled at and intimidated by groups of men because of my gender. Having someone sit next to me, and talk to me, and give me someone else to focus on would have given me immense comfort in such situations. It would have made me feel far more safe, and far less threatened, if I knew that at least one person acknowledged what was happening, and showed me that they did not accept what was happening as normal. Such a simple act of kindness would have meant the world to me.

Please spread this video, and keep it in mind if you ever witness such aggression and violence targeted towards another human being. I hope those who are disgusted by racism really start to break their silence, and that in doing so, they show that they outnumber the loud and vile minority.

Of course, that is also making the assumption that there actually are more people who are disgusted by racism than there are people who would attack someone because of the color of their skin. Here’s hoping that assumption is true.

“Be Brave” Would Have Been More Accurate

The ACLU is, by definition, very invested in educating the American public as to their rights. To this end, they have released another informative video as to your First Amendment right to photograph or record video in public places, and that includes the police.


The video explains what to do in the face of a police officer who is unlawfully attempting to restrict your First Amendment right to photograph or record them in a public area, including being polite, informing them that you are aware that they are not allowed to see your recordings or force you to delete them, and asking if you can leave. The video ends with the common phrase: “know your rights”.

“Be incredibly brave” would have been a more accurate way to end that video. I understand their frustration, and the need for more people to stand up for their rights and not allow the police to walk all over them. If you politely comply with their request to see the pictures or video, and agree to delete it, you can’t then turn around and complain that they violated your rights, after all you also have the right to choose to show your pictures to whomever you want, and to delete them if you wish. However, I also understand the fear that many people, especially people of color, would feel in such a confrontation with police officers.

The stories of shootings, beatings and unlawful detainment of US citizens pile up every week. There are so many that I wouldn’t even know where to begin in linking them. The recent shooting of a man whose car broke down, even though his hands were clearly above his head, for instance. Or the shooting of a therapist trying to calm down an autistic patient of his, even though he had clearly identified himself, what he was doing there, and also had his hands above his head. And those cases were not even people defying unlawful orders given to them by police. So many people rightfully fear the mere presence of police officers, let alone calmly and politely contradicting their orders and informing them of their rights. Many would, quite literally, be risking their bodily integrity, and their lives.

I can’t fault the ACLU for releasing these kinds of videos, for the more people who are educated about their rights the better. However, I also can’t fault those who are too afraid to follow their advice on how to deal with police in such a situation. It is sad that it has come to this point, but unfortunately it has. While I am sure that the ACLU is fully aware of the current situation, the video still gives the impression that the violation of citizen rights by the police is simply due to a polite misunderstanding, rather than a disturbing and violent trend. I’m not going to give simplistic advice as to how to resolve this situation, because I have none to give. All I’m going to do is suggest a slight modification to the ACLU’s message.

Know your rights, but know also that you need to behave in the way that you feel most safe. If you are willing to stand up for your rights in the face of danger, here is how to do so in the safest, most lawful way possible. We applaud those who lead, and fight, and stand up for those rights that we hold so dear, and we are here to help you in that fight. Together, let’s try to put a stop to the corruption and violence, and we do that by being united in the defense of our rights.

I Hadn’t Heard That Part of the Story…

A while back, video hit the internet of a police officer dragging a student out of her chair in class, throwing her across the room and handcuffing her. I had heard about it, heard the usual back-and-forth about how difficult it can be to make teenagers behave and sure but since when do we call cops to settle talking back in the classroom, and then waves of police brutality stories kept coming and this particular case was no longer in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

But then I came across this video released by the ACLU. It turns out, there was an extra level of gross to that story.


It turns out, the girl in the video was not the only one arrested in that classroom that day. Another classmate of hers spoke out, said “Y’all can’t do this!” and for that, she was also arrested and kept in jail that day. Arresting kids for misbehaving in schools, for misdemeanors as innocuous as “being obnoxious” and for children as young as seven, is now a thing in South Carolina. To say I’m disgusted is an understatement.

That black kids are arrested and criminalized for perfectly normal behavior at far higher rates than white kids goes without saying. But when it comes to how to fix it, to where to go from here, I honestly am drawing a blank. I can’t understand how it got to this point in the first place. The concept of arresting kids for talking back, that a culture could accept this, that any teacher would ever call in the police for such a thing and not be immediately fired and ostracized from their community, is all so alien to me that I don’t even know where to begin unpacking this mess.

Share the video and ask the ACLU how they plan to tackle this. As for me, I’m just going to make sure I never end up raising kids in South Carolina.

Ireland Accused of Human Rights Violations

For the first time, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has decreed that laws prohibiting abortion can violate a person’s right to freedom from inhumane treatment.

Ireland’s prohibition and criminalisation of abortion services violated the human rights of a woman living in Ireland and caused her “intense physical and mental suffering” according to a ground-breaking ruling from the United Nations Human Rights Committee—a first for any international human rights court or committee.

The U.N. committee found that Ireland’s laws subjected Amanda Mellet to severe emotional and mental pain and suffering by denying her access to abortion services in Ireland. Ms Mellet was denied an abortion in Ireland in 2011 after learning that her pregnancy had a fatal foetal impairment. She subsequently travelled to the United Kingdom to undergo the procedure. The committee instructs the Irish government to act promptly and effectively to redress the harm Ms. Mellet suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not face similar human rights violations and to guarantee effective, timely and accessible procedures for abortion in Ireland.

Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world. Abortion is permitted only when there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. In every other circumstance abortion is a serious crime. Since 1983, the Irish Constitution’s Article 40.3.3 has placed “the right to life of the unborn” on an equal footing with the right to life of pregnant women. 

The U.N. authority found that Ireland’s abortion laws violated Ms Mellet’s right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The ruling also found that Ireland’s failure to provide services that Ms. Mellet required constituted discrimination. The Committee found that Ireland’s criminalisation of abortion caused Ms Mellet shame and stigma and that her suffering was further aggravated by the obstacles she faced in getting information about the appropriate medical options.

This is a big step forward for reproductive rights. This is the first time that any international human rights committee takes a firm stand on the issue, and I can only hope that it will lead to some progress in Ireland. I, for one, will never forget Savita.

Italy Squeaking Along With LGBT Rights

Once again, we take a step forward! But only just big enough so that we’re not condemned by the European Court of Human Rights anymore…

The  Italian Chamber of Deputies’ approval of the civil unions bill on May 11, 2016 is an important step toward equality.

But, when it comes to my country, there always has to be a downside

“The approval of the civil union law is a milestone in the struggle toward legal recognition for same sex-couples in Italy,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “But restrictive adoption provisions for same-sex couples deny some children the legal protection and security they deserve.”

The Civil Union Act is a watered down version of a bill first introduced by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party in 2014. While opponents introduced thousands of amendments, the most controversial provision in the original bill would have given a partner in a same-sex couple the right to adopt their partner’s children. In February, the Senate approved a compromise text that removed this option, paving the way for the vote in the Chamber of Deputies. According to article 73 of the Italian Constitution, the President of the Republic needs to promulgate the law. It is expected he will do so.

So there is still hope! We just have to wait… and talk about it… and wait…

In the last two months, courts have ruled that parents in lesbian or gay relationships are allowed to adopt each other’s children or a newborn child from a surrogate mother. In three separate rulings in March, the Rome Juvenile Court said it interprets the existing law on adoption in such a way that it should take into consideration social emergencies that urge recognition of new forms of parenthood. The court also urged the legislature to adopt more proactive adoption legislation, accommodating new family models.


Ah Italy, such a land of contradictions when it comes to rights. Did you know that Italy was the first country in Europe to elect an openly transgendered member of Parliament? One that, before becoming a politician, was known for cabaret performances and owning drag bars? At the same time, they’re hemming and hawing over giving their citizens full marriage equality. Since the 70s, abortion has been legal and women stopped taking their husbands name when they get married, and yet we’re still allowing doctors to “morally object” to providing abortions, and getting a divorce was a damned nightmare up until a couple of years ago.

The fact of the matter is, despite being a secular government, the Catholic Church has an annoyingly powerful sway over the people. It’s an insidious infiltration of the culture, so that people think these things are “normal”, and forget that it is officially a secular nation.

Well, at least we’re moving in the right direction. Keep going Italy! Keep fighting.


Not Just A Women’s Issue

Women’s issues are, and should be getting more attention and action. However, given the fact that patriarchal societies still carry with them a toxic masculinity which makes anything associated with women something shameful or embarrassing for men to admit to being a part of, it is important to not “gender” certain issues. One of these issues is breast cancer, and in Australia, they are finally realizing that these “pink” campaigns are marginalizing male victims of this disease.

Although breast cancer is usually seen as a woman’s disease, around 145 Australian men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, and around 25 died from it. A little under 1% of all breast cancers occur in men, so it is more common than most people think.

However, breast cancer in men is often diagnosed when larger and at a more advanced stage than in women. This is probably because it is not recognised for what it is, or perhaps because there remains considerable stigma around male breast cancer.

Part of the delay in identifying breast cancer symptoms could relate to men’s reluctance to seek medical care in general. However, there are likely to be specific additional issues related to malignancy in an organ that men are not meant to have and may feel embarrassed or in denial about.

Stigma is likely exacerbated by our many “pink” campaigns to raise breast cancer awareness and improve outcomes for women.

A two-pronged attack is needed to combat this issue: attack the stigma associated with anything considered too “feminine”, and spread awareness that this affects men too.

I recently posted a snarky video out of Argentina which used male breasts to spread awareness about how to check yourself for breast cancer, given the fact that female nipples are too “obscene” to be viewed on social media. Looks like this video is even more useful than I initially thought: men need to learn how to check for the signs too.