Last Tuesday evening, 31 July, there was a well-attended women’s meeting organized by the Muvman Liberasyon Fam in order to discuss the progress made during the past three years leading up to the partial de-criminalization of abortion. It was from 5:30pm to 9:30pm, following on the night sessions of Parliament that the women had attended during the voting of the new abortion law last month.
The meeting, chaired by Lindsey Collen, began with a brief history of the struggle against the draconian 1838 anti-abortion law, which was presented by Rajni Lallah, and followed by plenary discussion. A good deal of the debate centred around the philosophical and strategic distinction between “legalization” and “de-criminalization”. A demand for “legalization” implies a desire for strong State intervention in the ordinary lives of women, Rajni Lallah explained, regimenting when women can and cannot have children, whereas “de-criminalization” implies a somewhat opposing demand for the State to completely back off, and for women never to be confronted with the Criminal Code by the State on this issue at all (leaving only public health and medical practice laws and conventions to govern the practice of abortion).
Then Ragini Kistnasamy gave an analysis of the role of the women’s movement, in its broad sense, in the process of de-criminalization, paying tribute to women before the time of our own movement and to those in the neighbourhood Women’s Associations, with which we network. There was debate inter alia on the way in which quite marginal currents of opinion, like the right-wing Action Familiale, are given a great deal of space in mainstream media, while the 1,100 Women’s Associations were lucky to get three or four column inches after taking position at a regional, then national level.
The third speaker for MLF was Shabeela Kalla-Monasch who analysed the different political parties in Parliament on the issue. In particular, she showed up the MMM’s terrible position, when 9 of its MPs were in favour, 9 against, and 1 abstaining. She said not only was the party split down the middle, but the arguments of those against the Bill were so reactionary that it was impossible to believe the MMM had ever been a progressive party. She said that Alan Ganoo, who abstained, curiously told his own story of his treachery to women’s and other important causes, as if it were also the story of the MMM.
Debate ensued on the political parties and their stands, with women commenting on how LALIT was the only party to have consistently fought alongside the women’s movement fordecriminalization.
Debate then centred on the important role of the Unions, in particular the Nursing Association, but also the Government Teachers’ Union, and the Federation, the FPBOU, and the Confederation, the CTSP. It was grass-roots union members who had often put pressure over years and years on successive leaderships that finally allowed the Union leadership, at the key moment, to stand up for women’s rights in the way they did. And a good deal of debate was on the strong secular will in the country, contrary to what is generally put out as “the truth” on this.
The next key meeting will be the Common Front on Abortion, when all the organizations that supported the change in the law will be looking at how to continue the struggle for complete decriminalization.
Different elements of the women’s movement will also help to get the Sexual Assault Units of hospitals, to get their act together, and to thus prevent women having to go to Police Stations to give their statements.
A meal was shared, and debate continued informally.