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Take Your Hands off Women’s Bodies

By Wen Guan - M.A. in Sociology, George Washington University

Immigrant women detained at an ICE-contracted immigration center in Irwin County in Ocilla, Ga. have been performed hysterectomies without consent. First-hand accounts are now emerging from detainees, many of them who underwent the medical surgeries mentioned that they did not fully understand the specific medical terms and felt pressured to consent. Also, no one acknowledged them they have rights to raise questions. From the experience of one detainee, she said they had invasive gynecology procedures that they cannot understand in the first place and later learned that the surgical intervention might not have been medically necessary. Another woman has been performed hysterectomies simply by the menstrual cramping.

This not happened coincidentally.

Similar situations happened in Xinjiang, China. The Uyghurs women in Xinjiang re-education camps, likened to detention centers, are being operated forced contraception, forced abortion, forced sterilization and forced hysterectomies since 2016. According to an Uyghur doctor, who is currently in exile, has revealed that he was forced to perform operations on women in China as part of the country’s attempts to control its ethnic minority population. Another doctor revealed that she performed 500 to 600 operations on Uyghur women and she told the British news channel that "on at least one occasion a baby was still moving when it was discarded into the rubbish."

All of these notorious anti-human operations are under the name of medical care. It’s never been medical care, it’s body experiment, and with handcuffs and shackles in the meantime! It’s a power displayed over women’s bodies. When is the last time body experiments on a large scale practiced? Nazi concertation camp and Japanese troops performed massacre in China and Korea during World War II? The backlash of humanity is haunting again. Trampling a human body is a symbolism of subjugation. The dystopian story of forced surrogacy and the subjugation of women from The Handmaid’s Tale comes true at the center of the stage.

Who controls women’s bodies?

The state controls women’s bodies because the US wants to implement limitations on the immigrants and China wants to discipline Muslim population in Xinjiang.

The patriarchy-structured society medicalized women’s body and legitimate men’s rights over women.

Sexual politics, as the dominant power, wants to assert a claim on women’s bodies.

All the authority agencies mentioned above process political and social interest with the jurisdiction of the medical profession, and the ‘sick role’ could conditionally be legitimated that deviance termed illness. A political technology of the body, then, is a craft, system, or method for organizing bodies to produce specific effects that have a political value or purpose. As Foucault once said, controlling human bodies is to produce power and political authority; then controlling women’s bodies is to display the patriarchy power and authoritarian domination. The savagery approaches of invasive gynecological procedures are on the basis of political technology over the body, which shows off the power relations through women’s subjunction.

The state controls women’s bodies because the US wants to implement limitations on the immigrants and China wants to discipline the Muslim population in Xinjiang. Women in the detention center are vulnerable to an extreme degree as they are deprived of family contact and legal assistance. Then they become the targets. In a broader sense, it’s another way for patriarchy to frame what they’re doing is palatable for them. The structural and political dimension of gender violence is a ‘multiple benefits’ strategy for the dominant class. By displaying the forced surgical intervention, the Chinese government and Han chauvinism can show their full control of Uyghur women, interlocking with ethnicity, gender, economic status, religion, geopolitics and social control on ethnic minorities groups and society as a whole. It is not a medical incident, but a part of the political strategy for the religious crackdown, cultural suppression and political indoctrination. Crackdown Uyghur women’s body could be served as one way since China has exploited the discourse of the global ‘War on Terror’ and Islamophobia in order to legitimize its chauvinist policies on political, cultural and economic domination in Xinjiang. Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim ethnic minorities are targeted as the ‘other’ for their Muslim identity: this religious identity allowed them to be more easily associated with international terrorism. That’s why their bodies need to be ‘transformed’, and they should be locked up.

Similarly, ICE’s so-called surgical intervention is not only anti-human behaviors, but also perform to the world that how immigrants would be treated in the US. Invading women’s bodies is one of the expressions of persistent humiliation and community condemnation. Beyond the other egregious abuses that occur in the camps, depriving the rights of women’s decision in terms of their own bodies, it sent a message to immigrants both inside and outside that their identities and lives will not be fully treated like a human as a whole. It is symbolic violence that reproduces gendered control on both sides of the wall. A particular female role has been used to individualize and pathologize women in detention centers through medicalizing them and is linked with notions of ‘subordinated figure’ to her community.

Also, both China and the US authorities have framed ethnical minorities as biological threats to the society. All in all, no matter under what name, the invasion on women’s body needs to stop right now. Such control of women’s bodies by the state or communal groups in everyday social practice is mostly a reflection of the social structure. Symbolic significance interpreted as a dominated socio-cultural discourse in terms of punishment, power and social control. What we should do is recognize who holds the power to define and regulate the influential body of women and who draws on developments in the particular space with the exposure of prevalence of violence, sex politics, and gendered marginalization.

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