The Hobby Lobby Saga Part 1 of 3 - CRAFTING OUT LEGAL PRECEDENCE FOR CORPORATE CONTROL OVER WOMEN’S BODIES
On 30th June the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 decision that employers are not obligated to provide insurance coverage for birth control where this conflicts with the employer’s religious beliefs. The ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. is the first of its kind that gives precedence to corporations, and is not just a setback for the Affordable Care Act, but fundamentally the autonomy over women’s rights as human rights.
The Affordable Care Act includes the provision that health insurance plans must cover birth control without cost-sharing. The provision provides a safety net for women, especially those of low income status where they would otherwise have to cover the cost of the pill which can run up to $25 a month and where an intrauterine device (IUD) can cost up to $900. For a minimum-wage worker this can easily take away a month’s income without such coverage. The legal position prior to the Supreme Court decision was that only religious institutions are exempt from this provision, as are non-profit organisations with religious affiliations where the insurer can provide coverage for workers without the organisation using its premiums.
The decision by the Supreme Court means that this exemption now extends to privately-held corporations, determining that to obligate employers to provide for contraception coverage would contravene their religious values where they consider emergency birth control, such as the morning after pill and two types of IUDs, a form of abortion. Avoiding this coverage would amount to $475 million penalty per year deemed a “substantial burden.” This argument was submitted by Hobby Lobby, a privately owned for profit corporation run by the Green family who are devoutly Christian. The decision will affect all of its female employees within its 13,000 workforce across 602 locations in the U.S.
The rationale behind the decision to find corporations as “persons” in order to rule in favour of religious protection, whilst ignoring women as such, is perplexing. Congress has previously decided on the issue by adding into the Affordable Healthcare Act, the Women’s Health Amendment, voting down the "conscience amendment," which would have enabled any employer or insurance provider to deny coverage based on its asserted "religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
As such, Congress confirmed the protection of “woman’s bodily choice” (Justice Ginsburg) superseding the expansion of corporate decision making of its employees. The all women justice dissent reads the case from the perspectives of the women employees, who are increasingly situated within a climate of corporate power utilised to achieve higher control over women’s bodies legitimated as religious rights.
Justice Ginsberg’s 35-page legal argument is a carefully crafted opinion, which is increasingly reflective of the wider cultural battle over women’s reproductive rights. Endorsing the all-women justice dissent, Democratic lawmakers in the Senate introduced a bill aimed at overriding the Super Court’s decision that would compel for-profit organisations with religious affiliation to provide full contraceptive cover and insulate the Affordable Care Act from further derogations. The lawmakers saw the Hobby Lobby decision as unprecedented and unwarranted intrusion into women’s lives. The bill was invoked to ensure that women’s private health decisions stay within their private remit, protected from corporate dictates over their rights and freedoms. The bill was subsequently voted down in July, unsurprising given the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. At a minimum, it will put senators on record for their support or opposition to universal reproductive health coverage.
The success to the Hobby Lobby decision could open a Pandora’s box of legal discrimination. Such cases and the issues within will most certainly arise is such circumstances as gender or sexual orientation discrimination where employers object to equal health coverage to same-sex couples justified through their religious beliefs. Justice Alito’s assertion that the case will remain narrowly defined is likely to be ineffective, given that lower courts have broadly interpreted previous Supreme Court decisions, which have cited narrowness. Behind the Hobby Lobby are forty eight ‘closely held’ firms waiting for the lower courts to rule on their case for religious protection over women’s reproductive choice. The slippery slope has been ignited by the Hobby Lobby decision.
As it now stands, the Obama administration has said they respect the decision of the Supreme Court, despite the dissent of its three women justices. Social media has galvanised around the issue through the hashtags “#jointhedissent” and “#notmybossesbuisiness” tweeting their support for the minority dissenting opinion. With 99% of sexually active women using contraception for various health reasons in the US the decision undoubtedly affects all women.
SHINE: 10 Women Strip Down & Share Their Thoughts On Beauty & Body Image
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Turkey’s first president to be elected by popular referendum. Three-time prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the past decade, Erdogan’s leading place in Turkey’s modern history is guaranteed. That should not obscure the fact that the country has seen a very real erosion of human rights and the rule of law over the past two years as Erdogan has consolidated power.
If the days of military tutelage in Turkey are thankfully over, that doesn’t yet mean that Turkey has a government that is fully accountable to the people or a justice system that is independent and can guarantee that the law applies to everyone.
Since a corruption scandal implicating government ministers and their sons broke in December 2013, Erdogan and his ruling party have sought to change laws to suit their own agenda and muzzle social media. They have interfered repeatedly in the corruption investigation, reorganized entire parts of the criminal justice system, and in the process pursued a politically polarizing discourse rounding on opponents and critics. All of that came on the heels of Erdogan’s demonization of the Gezi protestors last year and repeated expressions of support forviolent police tactics and a clampdown on demonstrations.
Photo: Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan addresses supporters during the celebrations of his election victory in front of the party headquarters in Ankara. © 2014 Reuters
Nigerian Troops Battle To Retake Gwoza As Boko Haram Kills 20, Kidnaps Women
Nigerian troops have massed around Gwoza to retake the town from members of the Islamist group, Boko Haram, military sources have disclosed. The battle for control of Gwoza rages as reports emerged that Boko Haram insurgents today killed 20 people in Doro Baga in Kukawa local government area of Borno State. The residents of the embattled village also disclosed that the militants kidnapped several women in an early morning raid.
Another Independent Texas Abortion Provider Shuts Its Doors
"Another independent Texas abortion facility has closed its doors just days before its owner returns to court to challenge part of HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion law that has shuttered more than half of the state’s legal abortion facilities since it went into effect last November.”
Read more here: http://rhrc.us/1xK7cOJ
Culture: Excuses for Gender Inequality
Of all the many issues that face women of Africa, I would say that culture is one of the most difficult to overcome. Traditions in many countries have encouraged men to dominate and oppress women. Throughout the world culture is employed to justify discrimination and violence against women. ‘Culture’ is used to impose control over women’s bodies, sexuality, emotions, decisions and actions, preventing them from expressing their own free will and enjoying their fundamental freedoms and human rights. But fortunately, culture is not homogenous or static; it evolves and changes over time. One could argue that because of culture, violence against women exists. Specific to ethnic, linguistic or geographical groups, culture defines what is acceptable and what is not.
Many cultures around the world condone violence against women in numerous forms and to varying degrees. Heterosexual relationships are often strongly influenced by culture, which continues to dictate the social construction of many of the gender roles and mind-sets that are important in reducing the vital factors such as the spread of HIV. Throughout southern Africa for instance, there are numerous cultural practices, attitudes and beliefs that entrench gender disparities, subsequently disempowering women and predisposing them to HIV.
Culture continues to be the source of most attitudes and behaviours that promote the proliferation of the epidemic. In South Africa especially culture primarily exists to serve the interests of men, and to make women subservient to them. In other words, culture often perpetuates the notion that women are naturally inferior to men and should therefore assume secondary roles as their sisters, daughters, wives or co-workers. In practice, this perception has seriously undermined women’s capacity to take control of their own bodies and make informed choices on preventing the spread of HIV – either by rejecting sex completely or refusing to engage in it – if it is unsafe.
Mariella Frostrup who is the founder of Gender, Rights, Equality, and Action Trust, described the battle as follows “The challenges facing women living on the African continent are varied, complex, and every day. But one thing is certain: when women are excluded from social and political life, communities break down. Many problems that afflict Africa stem directly from women’s lack of position in society. When women have the status and power to engage; children thrive, communities flourish, and nations prosper” (Lee-Sang, 2011, p.90-92). Thus I argue in that in order for culture to change, culture must be included in discussions on violence against women and women’s rights.
Cultural change to eliminate violence against women needs to be a coordinated effort from the top down as well as from the grassroots to mainstream. To leave it out is to ignore the foundation upon which challenges to the realization of women’s rights exist. Another challenge is that those in positions of power, those with the loudest voice, usually men, dictate the trends of culture top-down. More women are needed in powerful positions in governments across the globe. For example in the US women make up just 17.2% in Congress, within the Fortune 500 only 15 women are CEOs and of course, we need more women at the top of mainstream media, for instance the big 6 media conglomerates are all owned and run by men.
Microsoft Excel took a turn for the explicit this week when the Internet learned the once-innocuous office tool was being used in a dispiriting new bro-trend: using the software to track of the number of times their partners refuse sex. Yes, #sexspreadsheets are a thing, presumably because some men still believe that owning of a penis entitles them to unlimited sexy times.
MY FRIEND RAQUEL MADE THIS, Y’ALL.
Due to continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) , rape has reached epidemic proportions. HEAL Africa Hospital supplies the immediate treatment women need, medically and emotionally, and follows up with years of counseling, literacy and job training, plus small business financing to help them begin life anew. Dr. Cathy is the only female fistula surgeon in DRC and her team work tirelessly to heal these women after they endure birth related injuries. These local providers are the true humanitarians in the field. Everyday working to heal their own communities, all of which creates a sense of dignity and self-worth, and elevates her status in the community.
For this is Rwanda’s big success story. It has the distinction of being the only country in the world with more female MPs than male ones, a statistic that has attracted a good deal of international attention, not least from the Zurich-based Women in Parliaments organisation, set up last year, which this week is holding its summer summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
Not surprisingly, many of those attending the conference are keen to find out how Rwanda has managed to reach the figure of 64% women in its parliament, which is unheard-of everywhere else.
Worldwide, women still represent under a quarter (21.9%) of all elected parliamentary seats, but in Rwanda the post-genocide situation, in which 70% of the country’s remaining population was female, and the introduction of quotas requiring 30% of political and government candidates to be women, have brought about real change, in national and local politics and across public positions.
Half the country’s 14 supreme court justices are women, for instance.
Boys and girls now attend compulsory primary and secondary school in equal numbers, and new laws enable women to own and inherit property. But this is not just about numbers.
The rebuilding of Rwanda’s public bodies was driven by a number of senior women determined that women’s gains in senior positions would not be lost as the gender balance gradually began to adjust. They include Donatille Mukabalisa, the speaker of the Rwandan chamber of deputies, who has been pushing reform over the past two decades.
Mukabalisa, whose keynote speech opened the conference on Tuesday, has said that while the quota system clearly helped speed up women’s participation in politics, women appointed and elected to a whole range of public positions have been so successful in making a positive difference that the country may reach a point where quotas are unnecessary.
There are other lessons to be learned from the country’s rebuilding process. One of those is about handling disputes, and the need to increase the participation of women in post-conflict societies.
There’s no point to a guy yelling, “Hey sexy baby” at me out of the passenger window of a car as it speeds past. Even if I was into creepy misogynists and wanted to give him my number, I couldn’t. The car didn’t even slow down. But that’s okay, because he wasn’t actually hitting on me. The point wasn’t to proposition me or chat me up. The only point was to remind me, and all women, that our bodies are his to stare at, assess, comment on, even touch. “Hey sexy baby” is the first part of a sentence that finishes, “this is your daily message from the patriarchy, reminding you that your body is public property”.