The reproductive justice framework necessarily compels us to be anti-imperialist.
By Lily Bolourian
The framework of reproductive justice tells us that when we are looking to plan our families and choose our destinies, we have the inherent “human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” according to SisterSong. Imperialism is an important, although understated, intersection of reproductive justice. Due to Western imperialism and colonization, as well as the violent theocratic patriarchy that such intervention breeds, justice is out of reach for nations in the Middle East and North Africa. As the United States marches toward military intervention in Iran, Iranian families are once again being forced to live through war.
Western imperialism is nothing new to the region. My grandmother lived under the rule of Iran’s Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran, after which the British government replaced the monarch with his son. After that son, Mohammad Reza Shah, took power, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh chose to take back control of Iran’s oil fields and nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, splitting the profits fifty-fifty between the Iranian people and the British. This move resulted in severe backlash from the British government, eventually leading the CIA and MI6 to launch a coup d’etat known as Operation Ajax in 1953. The coup led to the imprisonment of Mossadegh in solitary confinement for three years and then house arrest until his death. The CIA officially acknowledged that they did so in 2013. Later, the United States in effect supported the overthrow of Mohammad Shah, ending 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy and establishing a theocracy. It is the very same government that the Trump administration is desperately hoping to take down 40 years later. The West has interfered in Iranian affairs for generations upon generations, each time propping up leaders just to take them down. The resulting misery is forever felt in the hearts of a vast Iranian diaspora.
When Trump hired John Bolton, an anti-Iranian demagogue, to serve as his National Security Advisor, the Iranian community braced itself for the worst. Less than one month later, the United States announced that it would be pulling out of the JCPOA or Iran Deal and re-imposing sanctions on a nation in compliance. When Trump and friends re-imposed crushing sanction after sanction after sanction, it became clear that the belligerence was intentional to provoke a military conflict.
These illegal sanctions, an unambiguous act of war, have had very real effects on the Iranian people. They have decimated the nation’s currency, substantially limited the ability of the oil-dominated economy to function, exacerbated poverty, and even cut off the materials needed to make things like diapers. This has forced a desperate diaper shortage for the Iranian people – making people reuse diapers or resort to using rags, putting children at risk of infection. People are being forced to go to progressively greater lengths to make ends meet after the nation’s economy was intentionally brought to its knees.
Sanctions can be imposed at-will and with little oversight from Congress. This means that when planning or raising their families, Iranians cannot predict whether their economic situation will shift based upon the day-to-day mood of a “very stable genius” 6,000 miles away in Washington. It is not safe or sustainable to have the destiny of your family determined on a whim. It is an injustice that election results in a nation in a different hemisphere determine who lives and who dies in Iran and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. It is further infuriating that both major political parties in the United States have been complicit in endless war.
The effects of imperialism on reproductive justice don’t end there.
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Environmental degradation is a consequence of the usage of weapons of war. Military activities in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere release vast amounts of greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere and it’s having an effect. Iran has experienced increasingly severe droughts in recent years; dust storms powerful enough to interrupt daily life in places like Sistan and Baluchistan are becoming more daunting, lasting longer than usual. The city of Zabol has been labeled the most polluted city on the planet. Drilling in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea is a constant threat to biodiversity and the water supply. Once Iran’s largest body of water, Lake Urmia has all but disappeared. We have evidence of the impacts of pollution from weapons and machinery in the skyrocketing rates of infectious diseases in U.S. soldiers returning from fighting wars in the Middle East, including during the Persian Gulf War in the 90s. This puts people – especially women who are charged with feeding and nurturing their families – in increasingly desperate situations. Without access to agriculture, clean water, health care, or food, families are strained, forcing folks to leave their ancestral homes and become climate refugees.
These tumultuous factors may cause pregnant people to consider abortion so that they are not forced to raise their families under these circumstances. Iran briefly legalized elective abortion in 1977 before the Western-backed Iranian revolution broke out in 1979, ushering in Sharia. Currently, abortion is prohibited after fetal ensoulment except under certain circumstances. Unsafe abortions are a leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide and it is estimated that 120,000 illegal abortions take place annually in Iran.
If folks in Iran want to escape the consequences of imperialism, they cannot even seek refuge in the nation provoking the violence because Iranians have been banned from entering the United States.
It is injustice to force people to raise families in a place where every moment presents a very real potential for foreign intervention. It is injustice for the military to pollute air, water, and land to harm the people they occupy for generations. It is injustice for people to have to watch their children grow up just to be forced to fight in another war that they can’t win. It is injustice for folks to have to go to extremes to obtain abortions because conditions for raising a family are unsafe. It is injustice to displace people from their ancestral lands because the war machine creates an unsustainable climate and destroys everything it touches.
The reproductive justice framework necessarily compels us to be anti-imperialist. If our praxis is truly intersectional, we must acknowledge imperialism as a vital hinderance to global reproductive justice. We must be willing to confront war with the same energy that we confront the other intersections of this movement.
Hands off Iran.
Lily Bolourian is an Iranian-American reproductive and environmental justice organizer, writer, and sociopolitical commentator based out of Maryland. Lily has done keynotes, panels, on-the-ground mobilizations, and workshops around reproductive, racial, disability, and environmental justice and Middle Eastern and North African feminism. Find her unimpressed with the world on Twitter @LilyBolourian.
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