Racism, reproductive (in)justice in Israel
Jess McCabe // 15 January 2010
Health clinics in Israel appear to be pushing a long-term and risky contraceptive on Ethiopian women in what feminist groups have called out as a fundamentally racist policy.
The National reports that the research, carried out by Haifa-based feminist group Woman to Woman, found that that Ethiopian women make up 57% of users of long-term contraception Depo Provera, although they make up only 2% of the population.
“This is about reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor,” said Hedva Eyal, the author of the report by Woman to Woman, a feminist organisation based in Haifa, in northern Israel. “The unspoken policy is that only children who are white and Ashkenazi are wanted in Israel,” she said, referring to the term for European Jews who founded Israel and continue to dominate its institutions.
Talking about how Woman to Woman found out about the issue:
Women’s groups were alerted to the widespread use of Depo Provera in the Ethiopian community in 2008 when Rachel Mangoli, who runs a day care centre for 120 Ethiopian children in Bnei Braq, a suburb of Tel Aviv, observed that she had received only one new child in the previous three years.
“I started to think about how strange the situation was after I had to send back donated baby clothes because there was no one in the community to give them to,” she said.
She approached a local health clinic serving the 55 Ethiopian families in Bnei Braq and was told by the clinic manager that they had been instructed to administer Depo Provera injections to the women of child-bearing age, though he refused to say who had issued the order.
Ms Mangoli, who interviewed the women, said: “They had not been told about alternative forms of contraception or about the side effects or given medical follow-ups.” The women complained of a wide range of side effects associated with the drug, including headaches, abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, loss of libido and general burning sensations.
Depo Provera is also known to decrease bone density, especially among dark-skinned women, which can lead to osteoporosis in later life. Doctors are concerned that it is difficult or impossible to help women who experience severe side effects because the drug is in their system for months after it is injected.
The contraceptive’s reputation has also been tarnished by its association with South Africa, where the apartheid government had used it, often coercively, to limit the fertility of black women.
Traditionally, its main uses have been for women who are regarded as incapable of controlling their own reproduction or monitor other forms of birth control, and for women who suffer severe problems during menstruation.
Woman to Woman draw links between the administration of Devo Provera to Ethiopian women, with the long-standing issues of racism in Israel between Ashkenazim and Sephardim (the two main ethnic groups in the Jewish community).
“The answers we received from officials demonstrated overt racism,” Ms Eyal said. “They suggested that Ethiopian women should be treated not as individuals but as a collective group whose reproduction needs controlling.”
When Woman to Woman conducted an experiment by sending five non-Ethiopian women to doctors to ask for Depo Provera, all were told that it was prescribed only in highly unusual cases.
Later on in the story:
Ms Mangoli said it was extremely difficult to get immigrant Ethiopian families to speak out because they were afraid that their Jewishness was under suspicion and that they might be deported if they caused trouble.
However, women interviewed anonymously for the report stated that officials at absorption centres in Ethiopia advised them to take Depo Provera because there would be no funds to support their children if they got pregnant in Israel.
(Via Womanist Musings)
Photo of Ethiopian family arriving in Israel, shared on Flickr by The Jewish Agency for Israel, under a Creative Commons license