Machismo, Hand-shakes, and Angela Merkel

Since the US Republican Presidential debate in 2016, and more so since the entry of Donald Trump into mainstream politics, hands have played an important role in political discourse. “And he referred to my hands, ‘if they’re small something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem, I guarantee it,” Trump had said, in response to Senator Marco Rubio’s comment about him having rather small hands.

It has been more than a year since this adolescent-level display of machismo in a completely inappropriate setting. Yet, Trump’s hands, and jokes surrounding their size have remained a constant in political coverage as well as late night comedy shows.

This hand obsession followed Trump in his first foreign trip as the President of the United States. A video of Melania Trump swatting away his hand as they walked on the red carpet at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport went viral. Even as talks about the Trumps’ unhappy marriage were doing the rounds, Donald’s little hands got even more coverage.

Trump’s awkward style of shaking hands was in public focus long before he embarked on this international voyage. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expression after a painfully long handshake with Trump, Canadian President Justin Trudeau’s resistance to Trump’s awkward hand-yanking, Trump ignoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s request for a handshake, and French President Emmanuel Macron and Trump’s tense handshake were all widely covered, and spoken about. Newly elected Macron, who is seen as a counter against the wave of nationalistic politicians rising across Europe, explained his handshake saying, “One must show that we won’t make little concessions, even symbolic ones.”

Trudeau and Macron, both considered forward-thinking modern leaders, were hailed as the heroes who emerged victorious in this show of powerful handshakes, a topic that barely made news in the pre-Trump era.

Whilst the show of masculine prowess was still being discussed around the world, it took a woman, Merkel, to stand up and state in clear terms that Europe could no longer rely on their former allies, and had to take their destiny in their own hands. Some said that her actions may be poised for the upcoming German elections, where her opponents are taking a thoroughly anti-Trump stance, thus pressuring her to become more vocal about Trump’s policies. The need for a stronger, more united Europe after the shock of Brexit may also have prompted her actions. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-merkel-trump-idUSKBN18P0VV) Be that as it may, she was the first European leader to make a definitive statement about Europe’s opinions on Trump where others have only tiptoed.

Angela Merkel may have her own awkward handshake moments, where she appears to have dodged a handshake from our own Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a similar manner. But like the consummate professional that she is, never has she gotten into statements or discussions of meaningless one-upmanship. She may never have deemed that as necessary, being the leader of Europe’s strongest economy.

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Merkel at Trudering festival in Munich
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel toasts during the Trudering festival in Munich, Germany, May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

On June 1, 2017, Trump made the decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, which is a global agreement with 194 countries (including India), pledging to reduce carbon emissions and work towards a future with clean energy. While dismay at this decision was expressed by many of the developed nations bound by the agreement, Merkel was her usual composed but clear self, called the decision “extremely regrettable,” also saying, “I’m expressing myself in very restrained terms.”

Being a woman in a man’s world, perhaps she is not expected to participate in strenuous handshakes. But no one, not even Trump, doubts her great capability as one of the world’s most powerful leaders. Perhaps Merkel’s greatest strength is to speak clearly and consistently, nevertheless emphasizing on Germany’s willingness to co-operate with other nations. Then again, maybe her greatest strength is to act calmly and rationally, in spite of the constant show of machismo that surrounds her.

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The government thinks women need sindoor more than they need sanitary napkins

This article first appeared on http://www.feminisminindia.com. The link can be found here: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/23/gst-sanitary-napkins-sindoor/


As India braces itself to the new Goods and Services Tax rates that is to be rolled out on July 1, the GST Council declared tax rates for 1211 items on May 18.

Among these were sanitary towels, napkins and tampons. The tax rate on these goods would be 12% (this is the second lowest tax slab, the others being 5%, 18% and 28%). (https://www.scribd.com/document/348819852/GST-rates#download)
Superficially, this is an improvement since until now, sanitary napkins, which are considered a luxury item in India, were taxed 14.5%.
For comparison, the government has declared sindoor, bangles and bindis, which have no essential value, as tax-exempt. Also for reference, just some of the other items included in the same category as female hygiene products are drawing books, frozen meat products and cellphones.

Many of the currently available brands of sanitary napkin are made out of plastic, which is non bio-degradable. Burning such products creates harmful toxins in the air. Sanitary waste, therefore should be considered as medical waste, since it also includes blood. One way to dispose them is incineration. As part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, two such incinerators were installed in two hostels in New Delhi. However, the movement failed to spread across the nation. (http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Chargesheet/why-we-need-a-proper-menstrual-waste-disposal-system/)
Feminism in India, along with Eco Femme, Uger Pads, SHE Cup, Boondh, Shomota and Saathi launched #ThePadEffect campaign to address this issue. This movement sought to create awareness about the harmful effects of sanitary waste on the environment, and also provided information about the various eco-friendly alternatives that are available in the market. (https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/16/infographic-what-thepadeffect/the-pad-effect-infographic/). This campaign will be culminated on May 28, which is celebrated internationally as Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Rohtak Rape Brings Into Focus India’s Troubled Relationship With Reproductive Rights

Note: This article first appeared on Feminism in India. The link can be found here: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/19/reproductive-rights-india/

 

The pregnancy of a ten-year-old girl from Rohtak, Haryana who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather has once again brought into public domain the topic of abortions in India. The question of termination of the girl’s pregnancy was in the hands of a panel of doctors.

According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971), a woman who is under 20 weeks pregnant has the right to terminate her pregnancy. However, Dr. Manisha Gupte, co-founder of the NGO Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), says that there is a difference between the MTP and an abortion.

“Abortion means that a woman can go to any clinic and get her pregnancy terminated. But India’s MTP act requires the woman to get the permission of a doctor to abort the foetus. It is dependent on the doctor’s individual opinion, which is a very subjective matter,” she said, in an interview with the writer of this story. Even though medical practitioners are referred to in such cases, there have been examples where courts have denied women the permission to abort the foetus.

 

There has been a rise in cases of women asking for the right to lawfully terminate their pregnancy. The law takes into consideration reasons such as rape, threat to the physical or mental health of the woman, or failure of contraceptive. In 2015, a Gujarat High Court judge rejected the plea of a 24-year-old rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy, stating that it would endanger her life.

INDIA’S MTP ACT REQUIRES THE WOMAN TO GET THE PERMISSION OF A DOCTOR TO ABORT THE FOETUS.

One of the reasons behind the 20-week limit was to curtail abortions based on gender-biased sex selection. According to the census, in 1981 and 1991, there were 933 and 927 females per 1000 males respectively. More than 20 years after the MTP act was passed, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques act was implemented. The aim was to stop sex-selective termination of pregnancy (As per the 2011 census, the sex ratio remains skewed towards males at 933:1000).

“The lack of knowledge about abortion rights is widespread. There’s also a huge social stigma attached to the act of abortion, and also to women’s sexuality in general. Women are often judged and mistreated at abortion clinics. This is why several of them opt for unsafe methods. In many cases, it is the family controls the woman’s reproductive rights,” says Dr. Gupte.

In India, 10 women die every day due to unsafe abortions according to experts, a report in January 2017 said. US President Donald Trump’s ‘Global Gag Rule’, banning federal funding for organisations that provide information on terminating pregnancy, is expected to reduce fund flows into India by at least Rs 68 crore. This action would affect rural women the most, a report by The Economic Times stated.

In 2003, the MTP act was amended to allow terminations of pregnancy only in clinics or institutions established, maintained or approved by the government. In spite of this, around 66% of India’s abortions are carried out through illegal methods, according to a study published the World Health Organisation and the Guttmacher Institute in 2012.

This writer also spoke to Dr. Suchitra Dalvie, Co-ordinator for the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership and former director of the Family Planning Association of India. “Women’s abortion is a challenging issue to deal with, because it’s an intersection of all the other issues that we refuse to confront. It involves women’s sexuality, contraception, socio-cultural conditions, and the patriarchal control over women and their bodies. The priority is always the woman’s health and well-being; the child comes later. Post 20 weeks of pregnancy, the abortion may or may not be dangerous, depending upon the situation and health of the woman. But Caesarean deliveries are much riskier,” she says.

According to data released in response to an RTI filed by activist Chetan Kothari, the number of MTPs carried out in Mumbai was 33,526, a 4% decline from the 34,790 cases in 2015-16. The biggest decline was in the 15-19 age group, showing a positive trend in teen pregnancies. However, experts are sceptical about calling it a healthy sign yet.

Who are we to be horrified 

It scares me that we are worried about attacks on minorities in the U.S.A, when we overlook, or quickly forget attacks on our own dalits and Muslims. Because the life of one Rohith Vemulla is nothing compared to the lives of hundreds of soldiers isn’t it?
That we are worried about the loss of press freedom in that country, when we allow our politicians to choose their own sycophantic journalists as interviewers, or when we allow them not to speak about issues that are uncomfortable to them.
That we are worried about women’s rights in the U.S.A when we pick and choose the female victims to feel pity for, based on their caste, their dress, their profession.

 

And that we are so outraged about an authoritarian anti-establishment Islamophobe, when we let the same happen to us more than two years ago. That we are so horrified whom Americans chose to vote for, when many of us didn’t even bother voting. Because politicians are all the same, aren’t they?