Racism, reproductive (in)justice in Israel

by Jess McCabe // 15 January 2010, 11:57

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

Comments From You

Some Thoughts // Posted 15 January 2010 at 15:48

Ridiculous article.

You sound as if these Ethiopian women are *forced* to take contraceptives, when THEY_ ACTUALLY_ WENT_ TO_ A_ CLINIC_ TO ASK_ FOR_ CONTRACEPTION. That is why people go to family planning clinics, you know?

You also sound as if the contraceptive implant is some brand new and never tested method. In fact it has been around since the 1970s, and is not controversial, or unusual - I have a friend who has it. (Yes, she is white). She is bad at remembering to take pills. This is a fact, not saying 'womenz are too stupid/ irresponsible to take pills.
As for the claims that Depro-Provera can cause terrible side-effects - biased reporting. *All* forms of contraception *can* have side-effects.
The loss of bone density is only after use for more than 2 years, which is not recommended - the writer presents no evidence that this is being done.
It is *long-term*, yes - it needs to be administered quarterly, and it takes a few months to regain full fertility after stopping use. That is not exactly the same as forcible sterilisation, which has happened for racist reasons.

If Ethiopian women are really not being informed about other options and having depo-provera pushed onto them, and are returning to the clinic to report side effects and being dismissed, that is bad - but there is, again, no evidence this is happening.

'Ethiopian women make up 57% of users of long-term contraception Depo Provera, although they make up only 2% of the population.'

This doesn't tell us anything. There is no reason why the Ethiopian population *should* be the same as the general population. I bet you'd find that in virtually any country, poor, young, single women are the majority of implant users, because they don't want kids for the foreseeable future! Women who do want children, or might do soon, will choose other methods. This doesn't indicate age or class discrimination. Different does not mean unequal.

If more Ethiopian women opt for the implant, well, maybe that's *because* they are immigrants and poor, so don't *want* children? Particularly the single ones. If they are partnered or married, maybe their men won't use condoms, or don't want them to use contraception at all - and you know, even don't give them much of a choice about whether to have sex?
Almost *any* immigrant woman is not going to want to be burdened with several kids in few years, after all, she's just moved to a new country, presumably in some kind of search for a better future?
(I thought feminism was about, you know, reproductive rights?)

So maybe the implant is just the most suitable method of contraception for them.

As for the other claims, well, a day care centre owner *thinks* she observes something (anecdata? there aren't other possible reasons why she has had fewer children come to her, more competition, or you know, that not all Ethiopian women WANT children?)
She and a friend then interview an unspecified number of women and health care centre workers, and amazingly, the interviews back up their already-made conclusions. (No leading questions, I assume?) They *interpret* comments from 'officials' (who? how many? did they interview these officials, or are they

If the women really were pushed into having an injection they didn't want, they can just not go back to the clinic. You are not seriously saying that *all* primary healthcare providers are doing this? That women go to the doctor for unrelated reasons and are held down and forcibly injected? If so, by all means, do whatever it takes to stop this - it is an outrageous human rights abuse. I very, very much doubt that that is the case, though. Remember, these are women who actually request contraception.
I doubt the staff are even (intentionally, anyway) pushing this method onto women who don't really want it.

There is probably some nuance here - maybe a cultural misunderstanding between immigrant women, who weren't raised to be assertive, certainly not to question and talk back to doctors, nurses or other healthcare staff, who feel they can't say no or may even have no idea there are other contraceptive options; and Israeli staff who genuinely assume they are *offering* the implant (to a woman who has said she definitely doesn't want children in the near future, can't support them, etc. and maybe offered reasons that indicate other contraceptive options aren't suitable, see above) and she would speak up if she was unsure or had questions. This isn't to blame the staff for being 'pushy' (oh and nice word choice Jess McCabe, pushy Jews, stereotype much?) - or the Ethiopian women either, it's just a misunderstanding.

But no, any excuse to demonise Israel of course. The accusations of racism and virtually of deliberate eugenics are disgusting.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 January 2010 at 16:15

@Some Thoughts I'd suggest going back to the original report by the Israeli women's group Woman to Woman for answers to this, I'm simply looking at a news story based on that. (Note, I've not had time to properly look at the report, so as you can see quoted the news story about it.)

Also, I'm Jewish, and much of my closest family is Israeli. This story is based on reports by an Israeli feminist group. There's a difference between demonising and criticising, I'd suggest this is an example of criticising - not even by me, either, as I'm merely relaying criticisms by Israeli feminist groups who've of course got on the ground experience of this. I didn't describe staff as being "pushy" I said they appear to "push" the contraception, based on my reading of the news story.

Personally, I don't think the notion that Ethiopian Jewish women might be further marginalised in respect to their reproductive rights is not beyond the bounds of possibility, based on what I heard when I was doing interviews about the state of feminism in Israel for a piece a while ago, when I talked to women working at a wide variety of feminist groups in Israel, it seems like it's a well recognised issue.

It is hard to judge, given that the Israeli health ministry refused to comment to the newspaper.

Feel free to read the report and reach your own conclusions, however!

polly // Posted 15 January 2010 at 20:54

Ok, I've just read the piece above and it says this.

"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."

These women may well have asked for contraception, but they were only offered ONE option, and not told the risks. How is that informed consent?

Depo Provera has a long and nasty history of being used on 'undesirables' - the groups that the ruling classes in a society don't want to reproduce. And there's also always been a nasty eugenic side to most 'family planning' movements in virtually any country you care to name. Take a look at this for a start...


Jennifer Drew // Posted 16 January 2010 at 00:39

Sounds to me like a serious case of denial. Remember this report was written by Israeli feminists who not only live in Israel but have also spoken directly to the Ethopian women involved.

Polly is spot on - 'depro Provera has a long and nasty history of being used for racist purposes.' Depro Provera has been given and/or forced on to US women of colour who also happen to be economically poor.

Eugenics has not gone away - it just keeps reappearing in different guises. Depro Provera is one such method.

As regards informed consent - report itself states these women were not told about the very serious side effects. I wonder why? Perhaps these side effects were considered irrelevant. But not informing the patient of these side effects is a gross violation of ethical standards of medical practice, but that in itself does not prevent deliberate racism or attempts to enforce population control over a group/groups considered to be inferior to other certain groups.

spiralsheep // Posted 16 January 2010 at 00:42

Thank you for this post.

Some Thoughts // Posted 16 January 2010 at 02:27

Thanks for the reply. First, point taken regarding pushy/ specifically pushing something onto someone. I also did not mean to sound combative.

I understand that you feel you are just relaying information. I'm sure Israeli feminist groups do know what is going on better than we do, but this report is by just one group.

I noticed that the news story about this that you link to is published on the website of a UAE newspaper; hardly the most friendly nation in the world towards Israel (I am NOT, before anyone accuses me, saying that all UAE citizens, still less all people of Arab descent or Muslims are anti-semitic). I also found that David Icke's website mentions the story. As you are Jewish yourself, I am sure you're familiar with David Icke. The story only seems to have been picked up by certain sections of the media.

I agree that not all criticism of Israel's actions is anti-semitic, or wrong. I just wonder who has run with this story, and why.

I read the paper - thanks for the link (I did some googling, hence how I came up with the above info, but didn't find it).

It is hardly a proper piece of research. They cite an admittedly bizarre answer to a parliamentary question from Minister Yaacov Ben-Yezri. (Hardly damning evidence). They asked for data on women taing depo-provera. The Ministry of Health and HMOs mostly did not have data. One of them did. The table, oddly, doesn't show the actual numbers of users of dep-provera who are Ethiopian, but the paper says that 57% of users are (which, as I said in the original post, doesn't prove anything).

The daycare centre owner seems to have visited one clinic, and alleges that the manager said that his staff had been 'given instructions' to use depo-provera, but wouldn't say by whom. *One* clinic is not a representative sample; this clinic could simply have been prey to a drug rep for depo-provera, for example, or for some other explanation. The conclusion that this was some government instruction isn't warranted.

They interviewed 18 Ethiopian women using depo-provera - hardly a large sample (out of 4,000 ish users in Israel, iirc). Also, there is no mention of how they were selected. Self-selecting samples, e.g. responding to an advert in papers or community centres etc. can be problematic, as they are biased - of course women who are experiencing problems with depo-provera would be more likely to respond. Without an explanation of how the interviewees were selected, we can't know.

Some of the interviewees seem to say that they actively chose depo-provera over other methods, some didn't.

The women had gone to workshops, either in Ethiopia or on arrival where depo-provera seems to have been recommended. 'For instance one of the interviewed women said that "we were told, here in the immigration absorption center that there is not enough money for raising children"'. 'There is not enough money...' is a fairly vague statement. 'The interviewees said that at the workshops they were mainly taught how to raise their children and "that it is more important to take care of the children who were already born than to bear new ones"'. '"I wanted it to be easy for me to raise every child properly, not to give birth to them one after another"(Interviewee No.5).' I can't actually disagree with those statements. It is not a bad thing to advocate responsibility. It's not saying 'don't reproduce at all' but 'think whether having another child now is the right decision'. The intention seems to have been to tell these women that they do have choice other than to have child after child, not to stop them reproducing for racist reasons. Also, as the last quote indicates, it's not as if the Ethiopian women were mindless - one of the interviewees, at least, actively agreed that she didn't want more children at that time. Yes, women have agency, and they don't tend to use it to have 6 kids under 10!

On this point, the researchers note that the birth rate often falls in immigrant populations when they move to more developed countries, without government or any intervention. Is this not exactly what happened here?

As for the 5 women who apparently asked their gynaecologists for depo-provera and were refused - 5 is again, not exactly a large sample, and they were asking their doctors, not the same clinic (or clinics, the paper doesn't say) used by the Ethiopian women. Different doctors vary hugely in their willingness to prescribe.

The research is limited - it's certainly interesting, but doesn't prove that there is a deliberate racist policy.

That said, I absolutely believe the researchers mean well and I don't have an issue with their recommendations - I'm really blaming the media for misrepresenting their research.

I am however very unconvinced that any evidence was found by them of a deliberate policy for making Ethiopian women use depo-provera.

It's important to note that racism doesn't even work in this way; there doesn't have to be a huge conspiracy, for racist bias to creep into medical practices.

I can believe that some women aren't being given adequate information on the possible side effects of depo-provera (and that these are not treatable, so if women get them they are stuck with it for 3 months); it's also obvious this population has cultural issues with embarrassment around discussing reproductive health, and so on, and that there isn't enough follow-up. I can also believe there is a rather patronising attitude on the part of some medical staff, to Ethiopian women. This is all wrong and should change, of course.

It is just the claims of a 'racist' conspiracy to stop black women reproducing that I find hard to believe. I also really objected to the 'OMG racist conspiracy!1!' tone in the National article.

I'm aware of the history of depo-provera, and unfortunately, that may make people react. I do think the incidents cited - such as requiring the injections in order to get food or injecting women without their knowledge - are evil and wrong. I just don't think the actions of Israel are on that scale.

Incidentally, I wonder, is depo-provera disproportionately prescribed to immigrant women and women of colour in the US and here in the UK? I suspect that it is. Is that because the health care staff are racist, or simply because those groups are disproportionately poor, and not in a position to want kids in the near future? The answer is probably both. I wonder why Israel alone comes in for criticism, then, and why the accusations of eugenics.

Some Thoughts // Posted 16 January 2010 at 02:45

Polly - sure. We live in a racist society, so the way family planning is implemented can certainly be racist. As you say, this happens in every country, so why is Israel singled out as evil?

I agree that there was obviously a lack of information about possible side effects, and perhaps of presenting other options. But this was a sample of just 18 women (attending, as far as I can make out, one clinic). It doesn't prove that this goes on throughout Israel. There needs to be more evidence for that.

@Jess, I would (honestly) be interested to hear about your experiences in Israel - you've obviously heard about this on the ground.

@both. I definitely wasn't saying that this isn't an issue, racism doesn't exist, there is no problem. I simply wonder why the exclusive interest in Israel. If the article included information on the use of depo-provera and ethnicity in the UK, and US, and didn't link to an article with a barely concealed tone of 'woohoo, an opportunity to bash Israel!' - I wouldn't have an issue.

(Oh, and The National ought perhaps to consider the treatment of imigrant workers, mainly Indian, Pakistani and Philippino, in the UAE. But I am digressing).

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 January 2010 at 09:53

@Some Thoughts Am about to go out now, but briefly on the point 'why talk about Israel'? The reason this post/story/report is about Israel is undoubtedly because it was an Israeli group doing the research, about, well, their own country.

Each country has its problems, I'd challenge anyone to find somewhere free of kyriarchy.

It's particularly interesting to me to hear about this issue, because I don't think we really hear about Israel much beyond the Israel/Palestine issue in this country, which, while important, is not the whole story.

Point taken that anti-Semites can and do twist criticism of Israel for their own purposes; but, also, while that's repugnant, we can't switch the other way and just not voice criticism of what goes on in Israel just in case that happens.

You're right that racism doesn't just operate as a form of conspiracy; however, I'm not sure that was the implication of the report at all. Can you truly say though, that the experiences outlined in the report match up at all to reproductive justice?

polly // Posted 16 January 2010 at 11:15

I think that feminists certainly do need to talk more about the eugenic backgrounds of a lot of 'family planning' pioneers - and the eugenic uses to which (forced) contraception is put today, but as Jess said, this report is about Israel.

Because a piece doesn't mention every single other thing that's happening elsewhere in the world, that doesn't mean that it's singling Israel out for some ulterior motive, it's about a specific report.

Criticising Israel, as a state, isn't the same as being anti Semitic. Any more than criticising Uganda as a state means you're racist.

As for the statement that poor women use Depo Provera because they 'are not in a position to want kids'? Isn't that for them to decide, not medical service providers? And Depo Provera isn't significantly more reliable than other contraceptive methods.

Do I think that health care staff in the UK are racist? I should think a lot of them are.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 16 January 2010 at 13:04

I think the major issue here is informed choice and consent, which it does not appear these women have. I was on depo provera for five years- I made the informed choice to use it, knowing what my alternative were. It is an injection given in the arm or buttock and last for three months (although fertility can take up to two years to return, as is the case with ALL contraceptions).

As far as I was aware, the side effects are much the same as any other contraception, except for the highter risk of osteoperosis (which should be explained with you, in case you have a higher risk of this anyway- other contraceptive also have unique side effects). And, I really liked it except that I put on a bit of weight. I only had to worry about my fertility 4 times a year (not every morning) and had no periods!! (FAB).

I had a bone density scan, as required after 4 years on the NHS and had no bone loss. But after five years, it was suggested I tried the implant, which lasted three years. I HATED this as it had serious horrible side effects, so had it removed after a year and went on to the pill, because I had lost quite a lot of weight and quite liked it.

The history of Depo and its use to remove contraceptive choice is pretty horrible, and makes this situation seem suspect, especially if they woman themselves don't understand what they are taking. But, as long as it works for your body, depo itself is not the problem.

I would also add the depo is often 'pushed' as a the best choice as it is significantly cheaper than many other forms of contraceptive- and if these women do not have access to free contraceptives or have limited choice as they are use a 'charitable' service, this may explain high depo usage.

Anonymous // Posted 16 January 2010 at 23:16

I wonder why Israel alone comes in for criticism, then, and why the accusations of eugenics.

It doesnt.


My question would be why people are not aware of this.

Victoria // Posted 17 January 2010 at 01:36

The F-word has profiled injustices in countries around the world. I can only remember reading about Israel in two blog posts - this one, and one about IDF soldiers in Gaza who had printed offensive T-shirts about Palestinian women. In both cases, angry comments were made that asked why the bloggers were demonising Israel.

I haven't seen that happen on blog posts involving any other countries. Just Israel. The defensive question posed by the country's most ardent supporters is not so much, "Why do you criticise Israel?" but, "How dare you criticise Israel?"

Or, "Don't you know that if you criticise Israel without writing a litany of injustices that are going on elsewhere, complete with a disclaimer stating that Israel is nowhere nearly as bad, you are being ANTI-SEMITIC???"

'Anti-Semite'. That label is often misused as a gagging device. Fortunately, the gag is losing its power to choke dissent.

Discrimination against Mizrachi Jews in Israel is endemic. This is not a secret. It is well known and widely reported even in Israel itself. This discrimination has a knock-on effect on the family planning services that are offered to Mizrachim. And they don't have it anywhere nearly as bad compared to Palestinians of Israeli citizenship. It is notoriously difficult for Arab towns and villages to receive healthcare funding at the best of times, but one failsafe way of increasing your chances is to state that your clinic will provide an abortion service to local women. Dr Hatim Kanaaneh, who occupied a senior position in the health authority and has spoken widely about his experiences of discrimination in healthcare, has published a very well-researched and informative book on his findings, 'A Doctor in Galilee'. This issue is explicitly mentioned.

Then there are charities like Efrat, which uses the advertising slogan, "Help bring a Jewish baby to Israel!" This charity aims to provide financial and emotional support to struggling mothers-to-be - but only if they're Jewish. Arab women are excluded from the service. The whole purpose of Efrat is to help Jews outbreed Arabs. As they explain on their website:

"Arabs constitute 20 percent of the population. The Arab population is much younger than the Jewish population - half of the Israeli Arabs are under 18; only one-third of the Jews are - and has a birthrate twice that of the Jewish population. Demographically, the Israel's situation is even worse than that of Western Europe, which, at current rates of growth, will have a Muslim majority by the end of the 21-century. Despite the magnitude of the threat, the Israeli government has neglected the easiest and most obvious steps to increase the Jewish population. Each year an estimated 50,000 or more potential Jewish lives are aborted."

You see how it is. Arab lives are 'a threat'. The only way to face this threat is to bump up the number of Jews out there. Israeli Arabs allegedly hold the same rights and privileges at their Jewish fellow citizens, just as they ought to in the place that is trumpeted as 'the only democracy in the Middle East', but in practice they do not receive anything of the sort. Not in healthcare, not in housing, not in employment, not in education. This is justified on the grounds that they are 'a threat'.

Yes, that's racism. And it's not anti-Semitic to say so. It is also not anti-Semitic to say that the government behind these things is racist to its core. There is a reason why one of the most vocal opponents to Israeli policy is South Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and numerous other figures who were prominent in the anti-apartheid movement have spoken up about the parallels that they see, not because they're anti-Semitic, but because you can't recognise something like that and fail to speak out. Calling Israel's critics anti-Semitic makes it sound as though the criticism is motivated by the fact that Israel is governed by Jews. It isn't. It's motivated by the fact that people are suffering as a result of oppression. It is their suffering and not the ethnicity of the oppressors that matters here. Suggesting otherwise is actually very ethnocentric: "Of course it's about us, it must be about us! We're centre stage!"

You are digressing when you urge people to look at the treatment immigrant workers in the UAE receive. You are also making a false parallel. Mizrachi Jews are not immigrants to Israel, but citizens. The same obviously applies to Palestinians of Israeli citizenship. Before you imply that we should consider how the UAE treats its immigrants before we look at how Israel treats its citizens, you should perhaps consider that in drawing this comparison you are reinforcing the idea that Mizrachi Jews and Palestinians of Israeli citizenship are somehow less than the real thing. Outsiders. Other.

polly // Posted 17 January 2010 at 10:14

Thanks for the link Anonymous. I think Feminist Avatar has a point that its cheapness is one reason why Depo Provera may be recommended, but I don't think it's the only reason. Once you've had the injection, it is something you can't stop taking and get pregnant basically, so if its use is tied to receiving what you need to live in the form of welfare assistance, we're basically talking enforced sterilization, even if it is temporary.

earwicga // Posted 17 January 2010 at 12:08

@ Jess, thank you for writing this post. Ethiopian Israelis continue to suffer all types of discrimination.

@ Victoria, word on your whole comment! I was recently labelled an anti-semite on a post on this site recently then debate was shut down.

gadgetgal // Posted 17 January 2010 at 13:49

@Anonymous - thanks for the link, I realised there was a problem when I lived in the US and I noticed they were pushing for increased contraceptive use in third world countries, but I remember a lot of the debate seemed to centre on whether or not they should inform the people they were giving them to(!!!!!) and cost effectiveness (that's posh talk for "cheap") rather than the effects they might have on the women taking them.

@Some Thoughts - the F-Word is pretty good at not letting any of the big "isms" taint their debate. I don't follow the ideas expressed by Victoria of anti-semitism being used as some kind of "gag" - being Jewish and having been brought up in the States I can see how bad the anti-semitism is over here (this was the first country I ever saw anti-Jewish graffiti in and I was amazed at some of the things my colleagues said to me that simply wouldn't have been acceptable over there), and if you want more evidence of it from around the world then just read the comments section below the article - yes, most of them are highly offensive. So it's understandable that you may feel that IsraeI or Jewish people in general are being singled out, but I have to say that's not something I'd accuse this website of - they highlight anything that may be of interest to the feminist sphere, wherever it takes place, and things very rarely stray into opinions based on religion or political beliefs. If the information in this report is accurate, then I don't care where it's happened, it's still just as bad a problem! And the F-Word can't be held responsible for the comments found on the article - they have to link to where the info is, and unfortunately some websites aren't so great about moderating comments (see CiF!).

On the report - I read it and whether the methods used were good or not (I also found it had a bit too much self-reporting and it was quite a limited study) the conclusions they came to were still all good points, and worth taking on board. As I said above, it was a bit of a scandal in the states in the 1980s, and I think it's worth giving better training on the system of contraceptive prescriptions to doctors anyway - I've been given a lot of varying information over the years, and you have to wonder whether it's down to ignorance or that they simply didn't care enough to give me the whole story.

Good job on finding this Jess, probably wouldn't have heard anything about it otherwise!

Jess McCabe // Posted 17 January 2010 at 14:17

Thanks @gadgetgal, although props should go to Renee at Womanist Musings, where I found the story :)

IrrationalPoint // Posted 17 January 2010 at 20:30

At my university's medical center, longer-acting contraceptives are strongly pushed, especially Depo-provera, and a lot of the message behind that seems to be "young women are irresponsible and can't handle their sexual health properly" (as if there were no sexual health issues to worry about just cause you've been given Depo-provera. Heard of STDs, anyone?). I certainly had a very hard time getting good advice on non-hormonal options there, was told flat out that diaphragms could not be given to "young women because they're not responsible enough", etc. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the attitude motivating this was similar -- something along the lines of "Ethiopian women are too irresponsible to handle this decision or the alternatives, themselves".


NancyP // Posted 17 January 2010 at 22:05

I don't find this racism surprising, particularly if the Ethiopian women are seen as having difficulty with the Hebrew language, and thus easier to deceive. As for the question, "how common is this", we don't know. The function of the article was to raise awareness that this violation of medical ethics has occurred in at least one clinic serving a racial minority. Journalism by itself should not expected to provide the comprehensive survey on acts considered by many to be reprehensible. Sometimes it might be prudent to raise awareness immediately so more women aren't harmed.

That being said, depo-provera can work well for a percentage of women, and may be the only practical means of b.c. in situations where the men throw out the pills, diaphragm, etc in an attempt to control the women. It is not considered a "first line" choice of contraception in most instances.

Victoria // Posted 18 January 2010 at 12:43


I think you may have misinterpreted me. I didn't deny the existence or the seriousness of anti-Semitism, but made the point that some of Israel's more ardent supporters are keen to cry fire where there is none. It is an effective gag in this case precisely because anti-Semitism is so serious - if it didn't pose such a problem, then supporters of Zionism would not be able to discredit people simply by invoking it.

The bottom line is that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. It's disingenuous to conflate the two. In fact, this blog post can't even be properly called anti-Zionist - just anti-racist more generally, which makes the mentions of anti-Semitism seem even more odd. It disturbs me that a criticism of one manifestation of the well-known racism that Mizrachi Jews experience is automatically seen by some people as anti-Semitic, as if such criticisms can't possibly be motivated by anything other than prejudice towards Jews.

Cycleboy // Posted 18 January 2010 at 13:20

@Polly: "Depro Provera has a long and nasty history of being used on 'undesirables' "

Not sure that's a valid argument in this case. I'm sure you can find lost of examples of things being used by repressive regimes. Just being used for repressive purposes doesn't make them - ipso facto - repressive in themselves.

Of course, this does NOT mean there is not a case to be answered in this situation.

Some Thoughts // Posted 18 January 2010 at 14:14

polly - 'As for the statement that poor women use Depo Provera because they 'are not in a position to want kids'? Isn't that for them to decide, not medical service providers?' Yes, of course it is.
I think I said that poor women are *less likely* to want kids bc they may feel they're not in a position at the time. That is what I meant, anyway; perhaps I wrote hastily. (I am certainly not saying that poor women should never have kids, to clarify. It doesn't need a lot of money to give a child a decent upbringing).
Anyway, the report is about women who chose to access family planning clinic services, and requested contraception. So clearly, they *did not* want (more) children at that time. It's not really as if they did want kids, went along to the clinic for something else, and the healthcare provider gave them depo-provera without their knowledge.
I did not mean that healthcare providers should assume anything on the basis of a woman's ethnicity or income, by the way, but that *given informed consent* most women make the right choices for them. And usually that choice isn't to have several kids if they're young and poor.
I won't ever agree that churning out child after child is empowering for women, or something most women would choose to do if they actually had the choice (as in, freedom from patriarchal pressures to marry young and have kids, access to free/ cheap contraception, etc).
Healthcare staff shouldn't assume things about women, *either* that they do or don't want children at that particular time. It is their decision. Of course, this should always be an adequately informed decision, and it's clear this doesn't always happen. I think we both agree on these points.
I am just pointing out that it isn't necessarily indicative of racism that more Ethiopian women use the implant (and probably, more ethnic minority women in most westernised countries, if similar research was done). Or rather, it *is* indicative of racism in society, because people from ethnic minorities are disproportionately poor, but it's not necessarily because healthcare staff don't want them to reproduce.
'And Depo Provera isn't significantly more reliable than other contraceptive methods.' I didn't say that it was.
I disagree that depo-provera is 'enforced sterilisation', just because it is long-term contraception. Not being able to get pregnant for a few months after stopping taking it is not sterilisation. It takes, I believe, at least several months to be fully fertile after stopping the pill.

NancyP: of course, but see above, journalists have a responsibility not to actively distort / sensationalise research as well. 'One clinic is treating black patients of Ethiopian origin differently' is a very different thing from 'ISRAEL IS RACIST!!'. (And the article from The National isn't that bad compared to various disgusting links that come up if you google the issue).
'That being said, depo-provera can work well for a percentage of women, and may be the only practical means of b.c. in situations where the men throw out the pills, diaphragm, etc in an attempt to control the women.' Exactly. Thank you.

Victoria, I think it's possible for people to be immigrants and citizens - as in, move to a new country and *become* citizens, or of which they already have the right to be citizens. Also, to say someone is an immigrant is not an insult, but a statement of fact.
Of course it's relevant whether The National, a UAE newspaper, and the UAE media in general would publish articles on the appalling abuses that ethnic minority (i.e. not white or Arab, usually south or south-east Asian)immigrants to the UAE suffer. I have lived in the UAE. They wouldn't. They don't. So, er, yes it is deeply hypocritical to criticise *any* other country. And it's part of a pattern of demonising Israel.

@ everyone who responded: I was not, and do not, cry 'anti-Semitism' at any criticism of Israel.
In fact, I didn't even use the words 'anti-Semitism' in my first post. It was Jess who brought this up.
I have acknowledged that to criticise the actions of Israel is not necessarily in itself anti-semitic. In fact, there are many perfectly legitimiate criticisms that can be made. But a kind of anti-semitism, that is veiled in legitimate criticism, is increasingly common. There is nuance and it isn't always easy to tell one from the other.

I was commenting on *the way this story was being reported* by certain sections of the media. Not on the f-word and not on the research itself. The media reports with its own bias, as any feminist should realise.

I never said the f-word shouldn't cover this, and indeed it is an interesting story. I personally would have put it in the context of contraception and ethnicity and the way that this plays out, with the rights of women 'of colour' being abused worldwide, but hey, I don't write for the f-word.

I think *all* news stories ought to be in the context of the wider world, maybe not explicitly, but with an awareness that human rights abuses, of varying degree, go on everywhere. They don't even have to say so explicitly. It's more the tone that is used and the pattern of which stories get reported.

This is not the same as saying that one article has to cover every injustice in the world, ever. I have never said that.

In fact, I find it interesting how some commenters accuse me of saying things I haven't even said. That *all* criticism of Israel is anti-semitic. I didn't even use the words. I wonder who is really shutting down debate?

Eddie // Posted 18 January 2010 at 14:15

Cycleboy, practically every drug in existence (especially contraceptive drugs) has a history of being first tried out on "undesirables". Baby formula in Africa, the pill on Puerto Rican women, breast enhancement first tried out on Philippino women whose breasts were not considered large enough by US soldiers...the list is endless. There is a case to be answered in every damn situation.

Some Thoughts // Posted 18 January 2010 at 15:43

@ gadgetgal, thanks for seeing where I was coming from, and agree with everything you said.

gadgetgal // Posted 18 January 2010 at 16:01

I came across a blog by a female marine who commented on an article she read that was basically proposing the idea that Depo-Provera should be mandatory for enlisted women - apparently the feeling that controlling women's reproduction is more important than their health is a wider-spread notion than I knew! I've linked here to the marine's response rather than the original article - she includes a link on her page to it, but I just love the conciseness of how she deals with the author!


Why is it that any excuse, however blatantly disgusting (like racism) or fake well-meaning (like getting more women into the armed forces), can seem to end up yet another excuse to control women's bodies?

Kristin // Posted 18 January 2010 at 16:20

I don't know if it's true, but I heard or read somewhere that the Israeli army used to insist that all female conscripts took the Pill (or maybe they used Depo Provera on them!).

gadgetgal // Posted 18 January 2010 at 16:24

@Some Thoughts - s'ok. It's been tough coming over here and finding out things are different and not necessarily for the better - I live up north and a local phrase "don't be a Jew about it" is still pretty common here. Funny sometimes, though - a couple of my friends have said it to me without thinking, and the looks of horror that reached their faces as the word "Jew" left their mouths made me sorry I don't always carry my camera with me! It'll change, the way it's starting to with casual ablism or transphobia, and I find the F-Word to be a good starting place to get people thinking about what they say and what it means to others - I was definitely guilty of saying wrong things myself, and I learned a lot more reading stuff here!

@The F-Word - I think I've turned into a walking ad for your website, hope you don't mind. I just like to share the joy!

Victoria // Posted 18 January 2010 at 18:03


I have lived in three different Middle Eastern countries, and I know first-hand about the abusive situations that migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent and the Far East often find themselves in. But the point I made still stands: migrant workers to the UAE are not permanent residents. They are usually there to earn money to support their families, and they do not become citizens of the UAE. (Are they even permitted to apply for citizenship?) Mizrachi Jews are supposedly full citizens of Israel, yet they don't enjoy the rights of citizens. While the plight of immigrant workers in the UAE is a serious issue in its own right, it is not logical to try and dismiss this article by claiming that Emirati journalists cannot criticise the way Israel treats its citizens until the UAE has addressed the way it treats its non-citizens. Leaving aside the 'othering' sentiment that is present in this argument, by this logic the only people qualified to criticise Israel are those who come from perfect countries. As there is no such person in existence, no criticism is possible. If journalists are to be dismissed as hypocrites for critiquing the actions of any state but their own, there goes the international news industry out of the window.

It would be very difficult to place these findings in a global context without writing a book, and trying to fit this study into a blog post about the experiences of women of colour worldwide would oversimplify the issues at stake to the point of cariacature. While oppression may take identical forms in countries across the globe, the motivations underpinning it may be very different, and this is why we need to hear about specific issues in specific places. The global context can be a valuable thing, but it can also be a cop-out, a way of reassuring ourselves that such-and-such a place isn't so very bad after all, as similar things are going on elsewhere.

Shimona // Posted 18 January 2010 at 19:26

What an irresponsible article with a vicious agenda. Very reminiscent of Margaret Sanger's "Negro Project" in 1939. Now that was true racism.

Yeah, I guess we should send these women back to Ethiopia so they can partake in a progressive society, affording them all the rights, opportunities, and luxuries that they are presently denied by the zionist entity.

Howie // Posted 19 January 2010 at 00:48

gadgetgal said:

@Some Thoughts - s'ok. It's been tough coming over here and finding out things are different and not necessarily for the better - I live up north and a local phrase "don't be a Jew about it" is still pretty common here.


Just out of curiosity, where 'up-north' are you talking about? I've read the thread and can't make out what 'north' you are meaning.

gadgetgal // Posted 19 January 2010 at 10:31

@Howie - Hi there! By north I mean northwest of England - people call it grim up here but I must admit I kind of like that about it, there's a refreshing sort of honesty about the place, though possibly that stems from the fact that it's hard to pretend it's NOT pretty grim some of the time! :)

Denise // Posted 19 January 2010 at 11:57

gadgetgal, I was born and grew up in the northwest of England (in and around Liverpool), have family/friends there who I visit a lot. I never ever heard anyone use the expressions you describe.
I now live in Holland, where I have often heard people say things like 'that's a Jew tip', which always shocks me. Possibly because I thought Dutch people would be more tolerant and sophisticated than the gruff, grim, oop-north stereotypes you paint.

Rita // Posted 19 January 2010 at 12:24

This is so sad. There are so many incidents in history that would validate the fact that this is a racist incident. Even recent events. For anyone criticising this article and thinking it is not racially motivated could start with the Tusskegee experiment. Maybe it means nothing to you, but as a woman of colour, it means alot to me when i hear about these things. The worst bit is that they are done on purpose yet they keep the victims ignorant of the main intention. Saddens me.

Cycleboy // Posted 19 January 2010 at 13:03

Eddie said:
Cycleboy, practically every drug in existence (especially contraceptive drugs) has a history of being first tried out on "undesirables".

Not quite sure I understand your point. If it be the case that every drug we use was tested on 'undesirables' (I don't know, but can see it is quite possible) then if you condemn Depro Provera on those grounds you would have to comdemn every other drug that was similarly tested.

However, if you accept that a drug that has been so tested can still useful to society, then shouldn't you use the same yardstick for Depro Provera?

Victoria // Posted 19 January 2010 at 13:17

"Yeah, I guess we should send these women back to Ethiopia so they can partake in a progressive society, affording them all the rights, opportunities, and luxuries that they are presently denied by the zionist entity."

Shimona, this is an argument that I hear a lot in relation to Israel, and it never fails to make me angry. These women may have a better life in Israel than they or their predecessors had in Ethiopia, but this does not mean that they should accept their status as second-class citizens on the grounds that at least things are better than they used to be in poverty-stricken Ethiopia. This argument denies them equality by reducing them to objects of charity, people who ought to shut up and be grateful for what they've got now. But they have a right to equal treatment with Ashkenazi citizens and they have a right to raise their voices if they aren't getting it. It's telling that these women were afraid to talk about the routine prescription Depo-Provera publicly for fear that their Jewishness would be called into question and they would be deported - a feeling that they probably wouldn't experience if they were enjoying equality in other areas of their lives. Fear of speaking out is a direct consequence of marginalisation, and the argument that you have just used is a marginalising tactic.

As for whether this racism is real or not, I think we should leave it to Ethiopian women themselves to decide that.

SomeThoughts // Posted 19 January 2010 at 13:18

gadgetgal - yeah, one of my friends was told by a housemate 'not to be such a Jew' when suggesting that he pay his rent on time!

Victoria - are you really saying that since migrants to the UAE are usually there temporarily and are not citizens, it's OK to treat them any way they like? Or that the abuse of their rights matters less than if they were citizens?
Do you take the same approach here in the UK; who cares if a kid who vomits blood in a detention centre doesn't get medical treatment, after all, he wasn't a citizen? (Yes, that happened).

As I said before, yes, it was somewhat hypocritical for the UAE journalist to criticise. I'm not telling them what they can and can't publish, I'm just pointing out it's hypocritical.

I am not making the perfect the enemy of the good. Of course there is no country in the world that has perfect human rights. I am not saying no country can ciriticise another unless it's perfect, that would be ridiculous.

I am simply wondering what the agenda is. Every media (including, no doubt, ours) has an agenda. Everyone has biases.
I think all journalists should think about this on occasion and ask themselves, hmmm, why am I writing this?

And no, writing a book isn't necessary. Awareness of context can be shown by an objective tone, or by a short paragraph indicating awareness that similar abuses go on in such and such other countries, too.
This doesn't have to oversimplify the issue at all. For example, not, 'gosh, racism exists, especially against immigrants' (duh) but 'the ways in which contraceptive implants can be misused'. Or, the specific issues of x ethnic minority group in y country. Such a context can actually make it seem like a country isn't being singled out.

(I'm talking very generally here, by the way, not picking on any publication in particular.)

kristin // Posted 19 January 2010 at 13:20

Don't mean to derail, but I must protest about gadgetgal's comments re. northwest England. I live there and I've never heard anyone make the kind of remarks she mentions! And if I had, I would exactly describe that kind of behaviour as 'refreshing honesty'.

Tama // Posted 20 January 2010 at 03:57


I noticed a mention in one of the comments above of Dr Hatim Kanaaneh and would suggest that anyone interested in the issues of reproduction and the state, particularly in Israel, read an ethnography written by his daughter Rhoda Kanaaneh.

It is called "Birthing the Nation" and is a really, really interesting read.

gadgetgal // Posted 21 January 2010 at 08:31

@Kristin - Hi again - I didn't mean the Jew comments are refreshing, I just meant the attitude to life in general is refreshing. I can't compare it to too much else in the UK, I've only ever really lived in the northwest of England and in London for a few years (not much of a comparison) but I still quite like it here (otherwise I wouldn't have settled here).

And I live in a not-very posh white working class industrial town (I really just don't know how to put that any differently, but there we go) and I noticed a distinction between how people who live around me speak and how people who live near my relatives (richer, posher, more mixed area in the city) speak, so I guess it's just where you live, really - the northwest isn't big, but it seems to vary a lot from town to town!

Rita // Posted 21 January 2010 at 10:49

@ Victoria, thank you for that post. Exactly what i was thinking. Just goes to show how easily exploitation has been done. You do not want to be in a disadvantaged or inferior position or else.
Plain sad.

kristin // Posted 21 January 2010 at 11:08

Hi gadgetgal,
Yep, sorry, I overreacted a bit (only one espresso for breakfast instead of the usual two!). The northwest can vary quite a lot according to where you live, that's true.
I really like most of the points you make in your comments, btw.

Jess McCabe // Posted 21 January 2010 at 11:10

@gadgetgal I've heard similar things said in London, actually.

SomeThoughts // Posted 21 January 2010 at 11:25

Yeah, the anti-semitic comment I mentioned was when I lived in London. :-) I've also lived in London/ the south-east and the northwest, and would pretty much agree with your comments.

gadgetgal // Posted 21 January 2010 at 11:32

@Kristin - cheers for the compliment, and I have to have two black coffees in the morning myself before I'm able to actually speak to anyone, so I know where you're coming from! :)

And with reference to the original discussion I want to thank Rita for mentioning the Tuskagee experiment - I'd never heard of it before you brought it up. It's really disgusting that after so many years people don't seem to have learned anything. Maybe the fact that I didn't know is part of the problem - bad things repeat time and again unless you're informed!

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