Trying to catch a deluge in a paper cup

The damage of the past four years on women’s rights has been severe. Yes, we might all be laughing at DJT’s unceremonious exit from the US presidency but the desecration that his administration has done is beyond the imagination. President-elect Joe Biden and his groundbreaking running mate Kamala Harris have their jobs cut out for them when seeking to rectify the many violations Trump and his cronies have committed against women and girls that have not only affected women in the US but have sent ripples across the globe.

Within his first 100 days in office, his severely right-wing administration gutted funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which provides family planning and reproductive services to more than 150 countries, citing the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which blocks US aid to any organisation the president deems being part of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation, of which there has been no evidence. And that’s not the worst he’s done.

In April 2017, el Cheeto signed a law that lets local governments withhold federal funding from health providers like Planned Parenthood that offer abortions, along with many other women’s health care treatments like breast cancer screenings. Just a month later, he proposed a federal budget that defunded Planned Parenthood entirely, which is already mostly barred from using federal funds for abortion services.

In September 2017, then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the reversal of a directive that required universities to investigate on-campus sexual assault in a timely manner. Former President Barack Obama had enacted the requirement, which lowered the burden of proof and cut federal funding if schools weren’t compliant. Trump also rolled back an Obamacare provision requiring employers to offer health insurance that covered birth control and quietly suspended the Obama-era White House advisory group council on women and girls. Trump also put the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau on the chopping block as part of his proposed 2018 budget.

And that was just the beginning.

Shortly after his inauguration, Trump instituted a policy known as the Global Gag Rule that forced NGOs receiving global health funds from the US prove they don’t use any other funding from any sources to provide abortions or even to talk about the option of abortion with patients. 

Obama created a rule to make companies track payment data based on race and gender, meant to help close the gender pay gap. Big surprise – Orange blip stopped this despite there being a pay gap of a woman’s 80 cents to a man’s dollar. In February 2017, he removed federal protections that let transgender students use the bathroom of their choice and went so far as to  declare that the Civil Rights Act, which prevents employer discrimination, doesn’t protect transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.

And that’s not all, folks. He reversed a 2014 law that required federal contractors to comply with labour and civil rights laws, without which employers no longer need to make their paycheques transparent, and women who complain of sexual harassment or discrimination can be forced into arbitration. Basically, they can’t take their complaints to a public forum, like the courts. Because why protect women from sexual harassment, right? After all, he would just grab ‘em by the pussy. 

To boot, laws blocking rapists from claiming parental rights have been delayed in Maryland, Alabama, Mississippi, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico. In North Carolina, it’s not considered rape if a woman withdraws consent during sex. A proposed bill to change the law is being stalled. Trump’s lawyer made a statement saying it’s legal to rape your spouse and while he backtracked on these comments, it’s telling as to how the administration views sexual assault when a man who has more than 20 allegations against him is at the helm. 

However irrelevent it may seem to the rest of the world, growing support from parties in Europe and certain leaders in developing countries that devalue women’s rights, family planning, and reproductive health means the likes of The International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International have lost US financing because they refused to accept the harsh abortion-related rules imposed by the Trump administration. Since he took office, HIV testing, cancer screening, and education about child marriage and human trafficking has dipped due to these cuts to sexual and reproductive health because it’s about more than just abortions. 

This global gag rule is not just about family planning, but also about safe pregnancy, sexual violence, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and more. These enable women to be more socially and economically empowered but Trump (surprise, surprise) treats women as second-class citizens and generally resist calls for gender equality so this makes perfect sense in the current administration. Making sense, however, does not help that despite countries like Kenya making headway in liberalising its own abortion laws, sucessful execution depended on having a slice of the $400 million the US used to provide in aid to NGOs in these countries. Needed clinics have closed. Family planning methods that were previously free or subsidised now cost more, forcing women to either switch to unsuitable methods or stop using contraception altogether. Women have had to choose between buying food for their families or paying for their contraception. By propagating fear and intimidation, Trump has taken away hard-won rights for women globally.

Right before the election, Trump and Senate Republicans installed on the Supreme Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who holds anti-abortion views and – deflections during her confirmation hearings aside – whose vote could help cement a majority to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would destroy a decades-long precedent for abortion rights in the US. This being not so long after the Human Life Protection Act, which bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalises the procedure for doctors. 

In October this year, the Geneva Consensus Declaration called on states to protect the health and “inalienable rights” of women, but appeared to be aimed at curbing global abortion rights and promoting heterosexual family units. It was co-sponsored by Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda, and the US, and was also signed by a host of autocratic countries including Saudi Arabia, Belarus, and the UAE. The declaration was opposed by many liberal countries and states, “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.” It adds: “There is no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of states to finance or facilitate abortion.”

The declaration shows yet another attempt to marginalise LGBT rights in these countries by conspicuously omitting any mention of gay rights or LGBT families, instead promoting the “harmonious partnership” between men and women and asserts that women “play a critical role in the family”.

The signatories on this declaration are countries in which women’s rights have been dubious at best and have mostly been either ignored or actively undermined. While Trump’s US joining these ranks is not entirely unexpected, it does spell trouble in an already precarious situation, where women and other minorities are having to fight for basic human rights amid the considerably larger issue of the world literally boiling up in a few hundred years. 

More than just atoning for these sins, the US needs to undo this damage before it snowballs, actively condemning Trump’s actions and the actions of governments who have been emboldened to follow in his wake. If the Biden/Harris administration fails to do so, it will be just another case of Republican government vs Democrat government rather than evil vs good, with no thought given to how it is perceived by the common man in what is truly right.