Anniversary of Martial Law in Philippines

by Nadia Babar and Minahil Rafay

On September 21st, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entirety of the Philippines under martial law. Twenty-nine years later, we reflect on that period, especially within the context of the election season in the country occurring now. 

Marcos, a known kleptocrat, became president of the Philippines in 1965. The self-proclaimed “most decorated war hero in the Philippines” (a claim that was not only disproved multiple times, but thought to be a gross mischaracterization) initially oversaw a growing economy, but his 20-year tenure ended in poverty rife throughout the country, along with an extreme debt crisis. 

Seven years after his election, Marcos implemented martial law across the country. The declaration, entitled “Proclamation No. 1081”, lasted until January of 1981. The drastic action was supposedly in response to “various leftist and rightist plots against the Marcos administration”, as well as an existential “communist threat.” During this period, under the guise of martial law, Marcos hid money, embezzled from his government, and ultimately stole from the country and its citizens. 

The period was peppered with human rights abuses and the silencing of the media. Anyone who dared speak against Marcos was targeted and made quiet in some fashion. This included anyone from high-profile journalists to student activists. On the eve of Marcos’ declaration, he sent out armed forces to arrest 400 individuals who were deemed ‘priority targets.’ By the next morning, 100 of those 400 had been arrested. 

This was the beginning of Marcos’ 14-year long dictatorship. Even when the law was lifted in 1981, Marcos stayed in power for another five years until he was exiled. Remembered by some as the leader of the Golden Age, by most, he is remembered as a corrupt, violent, and unethical dictator. 

But his influence remained. In 1991, when the Marcos family was allowed to return to the Philippines, they were received with riotous welcomes. Within the next year, Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand’s wife, was running for the office of the Presidency. Several other members of the Marcos dynasty held positions of power in the Filipino government throughout the 90s, with two of his children becoming senators in the past several elections. Despite the atrocities committed during the period of martial law, their presence remains. The current Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, has come out in support of Marcos’ antics, a blatant display of anti-democracy. There is also an ongoing problem of historical revisionism regarding the period of martial law and the abuses committed during it. As we approach the anniversary of the period’s beginning, it’s even more pertinent to stay acutely aware of the country’s history and dark past under the Marcos regime. 

Suicide Prevention Week

by Hayaa Tabba

“Every year, more people die as a result of suicide than HIV, malaria or breast cancer – or war and homicide” (WHO). Suicide prevention week was created to spread awareness and educate people about the importance of mental health, with steps to eliminate the stigma, support individuals who have attempted suicide to seek mental health help, and support families who have lost a loved one due to suicide. This year, (2021) suicide prevention week falls on September 5 – September 11.

One of the main goals of the suicide prevention week is to spread awareness as well as show support and understanding of the difficulties of living with the burden of declining mental health. While some people show signs, oftentimes, others tend not to be open about their “sadder” side. This may be due to the stigmas attached around the larger conversation. It is important to point out that males have a tougher time opening up and seeking help – side effects of the patriarchy. 

During the week, many depression examinations are conducted by health organizations, which include self-administered and online assessments, and interested people are referred to a nationwide toll-free contact number. The week opens various opportunities for people who were previously too afraid to seek help or learn about a condition they may have from the comfort of their own bedrooms.

Another beneficial aspect the week brings is a sense of community. It shows victims that they are not alone. It brings people together to share their stories and listen to others. It proves that there is rehabilitation, and that life does get better. This can bring people an immense amount of peace or hope regarding their situations.

Overall, suicide prevention week is a way to learn about the topic that is slowly becoming prevalent. A week that we learn lessons that should be carried throughout the year. A week where someone who has felt alienated throughout their lives can feel like they are part of a larger community. And most importantly, a week that can save a life.

What’s Happening In Afghanistan?

by Fatima Malik

The Taliban Advances in Afghanistan:

The Taliban is a Sunni Islamic military organization that refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Multiple members of the Taliban are those who fought along the Mujahideen against the Soviets in the 90’s. The Mujahideen were supplied with money and weapons from the US, who was eager to defeat the Russians. Initially, the Taliban was seen as a positive change from the former commanders, since they managed to end some corruption and promised to end lawlessness. But the Taliban, even after taking over, did not ease on the restrictions placed to tackle war, and quickly began imposing more and more limitations, essentially telling people what to wear, where to go, and how to live their lives. They also began abusing ethnic and religious minorities.

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban refused to immediately hand over Osama Bin Laden — the leader of Al-Qaeda and the mind behind the attacks on US soil. The US soon invaded and defeated the Taliban, swiftly re-establishing a new Afghan government under Hamid Karzai. After the Taliban was overthrown, it remained working in the shadows and recruiting soldiers.

In as little as a few weeks after the US announced the departure of their troops, the Taliban began taking over districts in the country. By August 13th, the Taliban had captured 18 provinces out of Afghanistan’s 34, including Kandahar and Herat, the second and third-largest cities in the country. On Sunday, 15th August, Taliban forces stormed the capital, Kabul, and succeeded in capturing it by the end of the day. This capture officially commenced the return of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. 

The now-former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has fled the country — relocating in the UAE. He has been denounced in his home country, especially as the Russian government has released reports announcing that Ghani escaped with four cars full of cash. Ghani denies these claims.

Although the Taliban claims to bring about Islam in Afghanistan, it is much more likely to enforce a severe, militant regime; using Islamic laws only when they align with the organization’s personal interests, and blatantly disregarding them in other areas, for example, in female education. As the US Department of State’s archive put it, ‘The Taliban is out of step with the Muslim world and with Islam.’

However, it is reported that schoolgirls in Herat have resumed going to school, a few days after the Taliban’s rapid-fire takeover. It is uncertain whether this is to continue, as is hoped, or whether this is just a ploy to improve the Taliban’s international image and current reassurances that they are ‘committed to letting women work in accordance with the principles of Islam’. Women have also been encouraged to join the government. But many remain disbelieving of this change in the Taliban’s ideology.

Another problem Afghanistan now faces is a severe drought, one leading to a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’, as the UN has warned. Many Afghans now have to add food shortages to the list of their current problems.

The US and its Decisions:

In April 2021, US president Biden released a plan for the departure of all US troops by September 11, 2021- ironically commemorating 9/11.

This marks the end of the two-decade war in Afghanistan, one initiated during the presidency of George Bush, which now is set to end during Biden’s rule.

 A war which, according to the Costs of War Project conducted by Brown University, the US has spent a total of 2.26 trillion dollars on. Yet, the situation in Afghanistan at the moment is almost no better than before all this money was spent — raising questions about the path of the cash. The training of the Afghan army sucked up a total of a little over 88 billion dollars, but the army succumbed to the Taliban astonishingly fast.

Critics question Biden’s seemingly comfort-lacking and indifferent speech and response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, as the President stated that it was never the US’ responsibility (or aim) to establish a liberal democracy in Afghanistan; rather, their goal was to ensure that all terrorist activities occurring in Afghanistan come to an end.

“Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building. It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy. Our only vital national interest in Afghanistan remains today what it has always been: preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland”, said Biden on Monday, adding that, “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

The US is also allegedly hosting talks with various countries, for them to temporarily accommodate Afghanis that have worked with the US military.

Pakistan’s Stance:

The US retreat from Afghanistan also put a lot of strain on the US-Pakistan relationship, since the US wanted Pakistan to put more pressure on the Taliban. On the other hand, Pakistani PM Imran Khan stated that Pakistan is only found ‘useful’ to the US when it needs to settle the military mess it has left behind. Pakistan has already stated that it will not provide any of its military bases for use against the Taliban. 

The country has loosened up on previous visa requirements for certain Afghans. Pakistan has recently declared that all journalists working for foreign media outlets in Afghanistan can apply for Pakistani visas, a measure put into place for the welfare of journalists. 

By now; 13,000 Afghan refugees have crossed into Pakistan through the Chaman border crossing, adding to the 3 million already present in Pakistan. Only around a million of these refugees are registered. The refugees now entering are to be relocated near the Afghan border, as opposed to their accommodation during General Zia’s rule in the 1980’s, when they were readily allowed, usually undocumented, all over the country.

Pakistan has also said that this time around it will not make an ‘isolated decision’ regarding the acceptance of the Taliban government, contrary to the last time the Taliban took power, when Pakistan was one of the three countries to accept the Taliban’s government.

 Responses from all over the Globe:

India, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and Finland are among those evacuating staff from and/or shutting down embassies in Kabul. To add to this, the UK and US are rapidly evacuating their citizens from the warring country, as well as the former promising to resettle 20,000 refugees. The US is yet to announce and implement a strategy for the protection of refugees, although President Biden has often talked about such a policy.

The embassies of Russia, Iran, and China are the only exceptions to the closures.

Meanwhile, France has offered visas to Afghan “artists, journalists, human right activists who risk their lives because of their commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and human rights.” Canada has also pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, with an emphasis on those who have worked with officials, such as interpreters; and minorities, female leaders, activists, and journalists. German Chancellor Merkel has also insisted that Germany is to evacuate up to 10,000 people from Afghanistan.

Contrastingly, Austria, Australia, and Switzerland are refusing to take in large numbers of refugees, keeping the influx to the minimum.

The US response to the situation is the most troubling, for it is one of the world’s most powerful nations, and had the ability to ensure the progress in Afghanistan would be permanent. It is true that when the time arrived, neither the Afghan military nor the Afghan government took responsibility, the former surrendering and the latter, instead of negotiating with the Taliban, taking off. It, however, should not mean that the Afghan people are to pay for the selfishness of their leaders.

The Hypocrisy of Priti Patel

By Nadia Babar

Priti Patel wants to have her cake and eat it too. 

Corruption and scandal from the UK government is nothing new. Those of us above the approximate age of 35 will remember it well from the pre-Tony Blair days as well. Despite Tony Blair being pretty conservative for a Labour party guy, he was hailed as a breath of fresh air after a period rife with smoke and mirrors, controversy, and acrid political corruption. 

Now, post-Brexit, mid-pandemic, the ghosts of the old Tory values of the eighties are afoot once again. It’s merely the faces that have changed. 

Priti Patel is one of them. 

Patel’s latest faux pas was her blatant display of hypocrisy in the wake of the Euro 2020 Finals. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll remember that England lost to Italy on penalties after a spirited, entertaining match and overall season, with arguably England’s strongest football performance in decades. The English national team won the hearts of the entire country and then some, and the heartbreak of losing on the last penalty was cushioned by the sense of national pride in the young, talented team. 

Back in the beginning of the Euro tournament, several of England team’s players decided to kneel in protest of global racism, an act we’ve seen take place all over the world, in all kinds of sports, by all kinds of athletes, for a couple years now. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Mind you, the players taking the knee during the Euros (which included several teams, not just England), didn’t kneel while any national anthems were playing, as other athletes have done in different sports. They simply kneeled for a brief moment before the start of the match. The move shouldn’t be controversial, nor should it have been surprising. 

Patel wasted no time in condemning the players who took a knee. She told GB News that “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics.” She was later asked if England fans reserved the right to boo players as they took the knee. Patel did not say no: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.” It’s important to note that even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who isn’t known for his anti-racism, said that the players should be allowed to “condemn racism in this country in any way that they choose.” 

It’s important to note at this point that Patel is no stranger to racism – I have no doubt that her claims of being racially abused as a young person in Britain are truthful. And my criticism of her is not meant to be dismissive of her experience with racism at all. But it makes her response to acts of anti-racism all the more shocking with the knowledge that she has firsthand experience with racism herself. 

Back to present day. In the last few minutes of the Euro Final, the England national team was set to take their penalties. Three of those penalties missed – those of Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho. All three of them are men of colour, and all three of them have extremely impressive football records, especially the 19-year-old Saka, who won the hearts of thousands of Brits this summer due to his stellar performance throughout the tournament. 

However, in the aftermath of the match, several “fans” began violent racial attacks against the aforenamed three men. One minute, they were diehard England fanatics, screaming their support, until they didn’t receive the outcome they wanted. They then turned to social media to spout racial abuse against Rashford, Saka, and Sancho. 

The sane remainder of the country responded accordingly, flooding the three players’ social media with messages of love and support to counteract the negativity. It was heartwarming to see how so many people rushed to defend these players against the racial attacks. 

Patel took to the stage as well. She expressed her ‘disgust’ at the abuse directed at the football players. But people were quick to call out her hypocrisy. Most notably came Tyrone Mings, Aston Villa player, who said “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘gesture politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens.”

It couldn’t have been said better. Patel is a caricature of modern politics, guilty of the very thing she accused others of doing: gesture politics. Her statement condemning racism had no weight behind it, and made her look all the more foolish considering her previous remarks. 

It doesn’t stop there. 

Despite being the child of immigrants herself, Patel’s latest piece of work is a harsh anti-immigration policy that criminalizes asylum seekers. Her plan states that only ‘the brightest and the best’ will be allowed into the UK. What does this mean? Any immigrant who doesn’t earn a salary of over £25,000 will be deemed ‘unskilled’ and unfit to gain legal residency in the UK.

My first job in the UK amounted to the equivalent of £20,000. My friend’s first job – as an accountant for a bank, mind you – gave him a starting salary of £21,000. How is it reasonable for every immigrant, asylum seeker, expat – whatever term you prefer – to land a job in the UK on £25,000 right off the bat? It’s a ridiculous amount. Patel fails to notice that many ‘unskilled’ labor-intensive jobs – rubbish collectors, cleaners, gardeners, etc., jobs that make up the backbone of our economy – are just as valuable as £80,000 per year jobs. Many immigrants take such low-paying jobs as a means of surviving while they assimilate into the UK and learn English if they haven’t already. To dismiss this valuable sector of our economy as ‘unskilled’ and anything but ‘the best and the brightest’ is vile. 

Her questionable policies do not end here. She vows to crack down on crime while cutting police budgets across the country. In Essex, – her constituency, no less! – Patel backed the closure of a major police station, which is now being turned into offices. The lack of crime-respondent staff seemingly correlated with a 60% increase in violent crime in the area. 

The list goes on. Whatever your political views may be (and at this point I’d like to point out that this isn’t necessarily a scathing criticism of the Conservative party or Conservative values) the sheer hypocrisy from our Home Secretary – one of the most powerful seats in the UK – is undeniable. 

Now, as we stand on the cusp of a huge decision regarding the lives of thousands of Afghan refugees, I am scared. I am scared that Patel will, without a second thought, refuse Afghan asylum seekers, those who are seeking the most basic shelter and safety. I am afraid she will brand them ‘illegal’ – how fleeing to another country for your own life and those of your children can be considered ‘illegal’ is beyond me. I am afraid that her hypocrisy will continue, and she will refuse to offer sanctuary to Afghan refugees in the same country that once offered her parents sanctuary, back in the 1960s. 

The Evolution of Social Movements

by Sereen Yusuf

Social movements have certainly changed over time, along with the effect of supranational organizations on the nature of such conflicts. Historical and modern social movements vary in a multitude of ways: different rights are being demanded by the protestors, they face different challenges, the individuals taking part in the protests are treated differently and different groups oppose such movements. Two such examples that highlight the similarities and differences between the historical and modern social movements are the US Civil Rights Movement and the Human Rights Movement. 

The US Civil Rights Movement is an example of a historical social movement. This movement was a struggle for social justice which took place mainly during the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. It was a campaign led by African Americans and their like-minded allies to end institutionalized racial discrimination, disenfranchisement and racial segregation in the United States. In contrast, the Human Rights Movement is an example of a modern social movement. This movement began in the late 1900s and is still prevalent today. It engages in activism related to the issues of human rights and its foundationary aspects include resistance to colonialism, imperialism, slavery, racism, segregation, patriarchy and oppression of indigenous peoples. 

The Civil Rights Movement aimed to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans and secure legal recognition and federal protection of the citizenship rights enumerated in the Constitution and federal law. The protestors demanded equality for Whites and Blacks living in the United States. Similarly, the Human Rights Movement urges the recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights for all humans in the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. Similar to the Civil Rights Movement, the Human Rights Movement focuses on equality for all. However, unlike the Civil Rights Movement which focused specifically on racial inequality, the Human Rights Movement encompasses all aspects of equality from gender and race to ethnicity and religion. 

Historical social movements faced various unique challenges that many modern social movements do not. As highlighted by the Civil Rights Movement, connectivity was a key issue in historical social movements. Due to the lack of international communication, the Civil Rights Movement occurred at different times around the world. Different individuals led the movement in each region/country, their persuasive techniques working best for people in their respective regions. Contrastingly, rapid globalization has allowed the international community to become more connected than ever. Due to the introduction of the internet and social media platforms, individuals can easily communicate with one another from across the world and relay messages in a matter of seconds. Thus, the Human Rights Movement is an international movement and although much of the movement is local in nature, with the protestors being concerned with human rights violations in their own countries, individuals from around the world are working towards the same goals and rely on an international network of support. There are also many leaders that lead and inspire individuals from around the world, not just the country/region they are from. 

Individuals involved in the US Civil Rights Movement often faced threats and violence. Many were stoned or beaten with baseball bats and buses were bombed while the police looked the other way. During the Birmingham March in 1963 and the Selma March in 1965, protestors faced electric cattle prods, powerful water hoses, vicious dogs, tear gas and clubs. Thousands of the marchers were arrested and faced legal obstacles as the judiciary system was dominated by White males. Furthermore, federal ruling was often ignored as evident by the Central High School, Little Rock incident in 1957. Contrastingly, such violence does not often occur now. Many peaceful protests and marches take place around the world on a daily basis. While some oppose such displays, the protestors do not usually face violence. The opposing groups are aware that if they were to react to peaceful protestors violently, they would lose support as their actions would be broadcasted to the international community. In recent times, protests are joined electronically with support from around the world. 

Many groups oppose social movements, both historical and modern. One key group that opposed the Civil Rights Movement was the Ku Klux Klan. This was a white supremacist group that aimed to maintain white supremacy over black people and immigrants. Dressed in white sheets and hoods, they carried out violence and intimidation through whipping, branding, kidnapping and lynching on both blacks and whites who were seeking to enfranchise the African American population. Some groups, such as radical or extremist nationalist or religious groups also oppose certain aspects of the Human Rights Movement. 

The key supranational organization in place during both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Rights Movement was the United Nations, an international body that is still around today. Founded after the Second World War, the United Nations is committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the United Nations as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and nations. This document states human rights should be protected by the rule of law and the peoples of the United Nations are determined to promote social progress, human rights and a common understanding of these rights. It goes on to say that everyone is free and should be treated equally, everyone has the right to live in freedom and safety, everyone has the right to be treated equally. Although this was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948, they did not interfere in the Civil Rights Movement when protestors were facing threats and violence. Both the Civil Rights Movement and the Human Rights Movement strive(d) to uphold the terms laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but neither received aid or support from the United Nations. 

As made evident by the examples given above, social movements have changed drastically over time. Different rights are being demanded by the protestors of historical and modern social movements, they face different challenges, the individuals taking part in the protests are treated differently and different groups oppose such movements.

Safe as Houses

By Rania Hassan

Privacy is a thing of the past. At least, that is what we’ve come to believe. With giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple dominating the technological world, knowledge, and therefore power, has been consolidated. Personal data is a public swimming pool, with far too many questionable sources diving in with leisure. A few years ago, we were amazed at what a quick Google Search could yield about a person. Now, that’s the least of our problems. 

Tim Berners Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web we rely on so steadfastly today, presents a different vision for the future of the internet: personal data pods to counter the “silos” commanding the flow of personal information. Berners-Lee and John Bruce founded Inrupt to create a business ecosystem that could support Solid – a privatization project. Berners-Lee conceived of Solid as a means of ‘correcting’ the Web. Instead of entrusting large companies with personal data (including credit card expenditure, location, and internet history), they plan to hand the reins back to the individual. These pods, each “an individual data safe”,  allow one to store their own data in a tiny portion of server space and control who can access it. Granting access to another individual or company allows them to use or process the information, but not store it and use it for their own purposes as they can today. 


Gathering, storing, and exploiting users’ information without their express permission is much of the reason Inrupt began this undertaking. Many of us are aware of the easy access we grant major corporations, the windows and doors we leave wide open when we click “Accept”. Facebook, for instance, controls platforms like Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. And with all these major platforms under their ever-growing umbrella, Facebook is privy to all sorts of personal information. This data is liable to misuse or mismanagement; for instance, Facebook gathered private information such as the weight, blood pressure, and ovulation status of both users and non-users, and shared this data, along with much more contained in millions of Facebook profiles with Cambridge Analytica. The data analytics firm used this illegally-acquired data to create targeted ads for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. Advertisements intended to deter them from casting their vote found their way to Hillary Clinton supporters, while conservative voters were targeted with messages reinforcing their beliefs and policies to retain or gain their support. Another example of ‘an algorithm’ gone wrong came about recently, when Instagram began suggesting posts about diet pills and weight-loss content to users with histories of eating disorders, which could easily result in an individual relapsing.

A large reason why we are so complacent in regards to our data storage is due to the monopoly Big Tech has created over the services we use daily, to the point where there is no alternative. Since we are so far detached from the real-world effects of how our data is being harvested and used, it seems a small price to pay for the ease of using Messenger or Whatsapp. After all, if you are completely unaware that your data might be used illegally, and the results of such data analysis don’t affect you, why would you care as much if Facebook knows that you work in City X, take Bus Y, and eat at Restaurant Z every day?

Your data provides companies with a model of who you are – not just your name, age, and gender, but your beliefs, your views, your likes and dislikes, and it uses this information to their advantage. It may seem harmless, but we have seen the worrying repercussions of such a system. Facebook, for example, uses microtargeting—a technique that utilizes users’ data to tailor-make and deliver advertisements they will be receptive to. Often these ads play into our confirmation bias and, in Facebook’s case, political ads targeted towards certain people can spur on radicalization and the strengthening polarization of our society.

Solid walks a strange path between individual privacy and their own transparency. Though it is designed to help ensure the privacy of consumers, its own software is open source, meaning that though Solid is copyrighted under Inrupt’s name, it is available for anyone to use, examine, or edit. One can edit it for themselves to optimize how it works for them, or developers can modify the source code according to the terms of their license. Simply being able to view the source code, a practice not very common, allows the end user to ensure the software or program is not doing anything they don’t want it to. 

Since its conception, Solid was designed as a way forward, diverging from traditional data hoarding methods. Already, the software is being used by BBC, NatWest Bank, the National Health Service in the UK, and the Flanders government. But could Solid, for all its work, become just another part of the oligopoly that reigns over technology and data today? According to Inrupt, “No. Solid is not a company, it is an open standard.” Solid’s main platform is that it provides the ability to make informed choices about our data: with whom to share it, how much, and the option to revoke access. 

Ultimately, the choice rests with you. Data security and privacy are not impossible, but can only be obtained by the conscious decision to do so. You are at your liberty to choose control or to trust in Big Tech companies. But the World Wide Web needs change, is changing in front of us. The fork it follows, though, remains to be seen.

Works Cited

Birth Control & Other Things

by Aymen Haroon

I distinctly remember my first ever encounter with the concept of birth control. I was in fifth grade and we were learning about Population in my Social Studies class. One of the sections stated: population control is a massive problem in Pakistan due to the lack of birth control used in rural areas. Even at the age of eleven, I knew there must be a solution that’s easy to implement: birth control methods; and Pakistan would be rid of so many problems. At that age, we learned that the reason birth control is not popular in rural areas is that it means fewer offspring available to help work and do manual labour. 

What I didn’t understand then was the looming cloud of taboo, shame, patriarchy and politics attached to birth control. Pakistan is a heavily male-dominated country, with cherry-picked religious guidelines that mostly benefit men. I learned this as I grew older. 

When I entered my freshman year of college in the U.S, I was under the impression that birth control here was the most basic concept. This was strengthened by the knowledge that my roommate had an IUD and that there are more than the above-mentioned forms of birth control. If an eighteen-year-old has an IUD then birth control here, in a first-world country, means something has been figured out and there is easy accessibility. Perhaps the absence of stigma contributed to this ease. I went through the next two years of college under this impression, till one of my close friends in my senior year told me she wanted to be sexually active but was hesitant as she did not want to risk pregnancy. I naively asked her why she didn’t get birth control pills, to which she responded it was because it is expensive and that she would have to get a prescription. This was shocking for me, so I decided it was time to take this extended issue into my own hands and educate myself about women’s health. It felt like it was my responsibility to know my body and the laws that pertained to it.

I went through the archives of Purdue Library, where I studied, to look for documents and papers in hopes to find ideas of birth control dated back to the 1970s and 80s. It made sense to dive in somewhat deep. I wanted to compare the idea of birth control then versus now. I found more similarities in birth control culture than I should have. We have not moved forward much in terms of women’s health and more particularly in birth control, because all those in charge of our bodies have been men for so long. 

Some documents (given they are slightly old), were too amusing not to share: 

“Plug to be tested for Birth control”. This was the headline of a newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune published in 1977, about 44 years ago. The article was more like an advertisement for a new IUD rather than helpful information. The language used in the article was sugar-coated-in sweet things making the IUD sound like a revolutionary, life-changing, non-issue invention. It called for women volunteers willing to try the ‘plug’. THE PLUG. The procedure was described as non-invasive, very simple with little to no risk to the patient. Women were painted as test subjects and in one tucked away sentence, it even pointed out that this plug has worked on baboons and should work on women as well.

Dr. James Marion Sims was named the father of gynaecology. THE FATHER of gynaecology. He is said to have played a big role in the revolution of gynaecological tools and surgery, but let’s not forget, he practised and experimented on enslaved black women, many of which died under his care. 

It’s quite convenient that there are no invasive devices that can be used on men, who should be equally responsible for birth control and family planning. A vasectomy is nearly 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and costs A LOT less than the cost of female sterilization, or even the long term cost of birth control medications for women. It’s also a low-risk surgery. 

Another statement that stood out in an article: 

“Women who have had children and think their family is complete.”

Birth control was and is still preferentially advertised to married women whereas it should be an option for anyone who takes ownership of their body and has the agency to do what they want with it. Why can you buy condoms at the corner store? There is no stigma attached to buying condoms, you don’t need a prescription, and you get the nod of approval. In Rome, you can buy them in vending machines. Condom advertisements are overly sexualized, which is a massive pandemic of its own. The disparity is very drastic and evident. This diminishes a woman’s sense of control of her own body and may make her think twice before being sexually active. 

Another newspaper article from Newsday in mid-1979 was titled “Contraceptive tied to Cancer”. The article highlighted the case of Depo-Provera, a contraceptive injection made of man-made progesterone that was linked to cancer in beagles during the testing phase. As many of 200,000 women in the United States had access to Depo-Provera by prescription from their doctors or by family planning clinics. There was an ongoing battle for the ability of Upjohn, the company that owned Depo-Provera, to make the product available in the market as a form of contraceptive. 

I am inclined to think that if this was the case and the drug affected men, they would not even think twice about taking it off the market. There has been an ongoing conversation for a male oral contraceptive to come to market but it hasn’t because it causes some of the side effects that women have already been dealing with because of oral contraceptives for years. The article even went on to suggest that the policymakers are not yet ready to put men through any kind of inconvenience in regards to birth control but are comfortable with the talk of cancer-causing contraceptives for women. 

It is a shame that we continue to work on birth control methods for women and do not put in an equal amount of effort for birth control for men. This inequality is very revealing of the need for equality for women in every aspect of life. We have still not moved forward in the last forty years.

The Vaccine Will Not Fix the World Without Our Help

by Hayaa Tabba

It has been over a year since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic and people everywhere are eagerly anticipating the day it ends. However, some people’s dismissal of the virus is a major reason it has persisted for so long. While the virus continues to spread, many improvements have been made since the day the world initially locked down. A majority of the population understands the virus, how to protect themselves from it and how to treat themselves if they were to get it. Because of this, the number of people contracting the virus and dying as a result has severely dropped due to a better understanding of how to fight it. Doctors and scientists have also started producing and distributing vaccines for the virus. But will the pandemic become a global crisis again because of the population’s misinterpretation of the vaccine as a cure?

Over the last three months, 345 million COVID vaccines have been administered around the world in numerous countries. Yet some who have gotten the vaccine are confused about how they still can test positive, despite being vaccinated. This is because the vaccines are not an outright cure, but rather lower the chances of a person being able to contract it. If people are still eager to jump back into their pre-pandemic lives, they will still have to respect the SOPs put out by their respective governments as that is the only way to permanently subdue the virus, or at least contain it. If this is followed, the vaccine will act as a tool to speed up the process of controlling the spread of the disease and allow individuals to live more flexibly around others without being a major threat to anyone’s health.

The release of several vaccines has brought hope to people around the world. It has led to a drop in the graph of death and destruction caused by COVID-19. Yet, like all the drops in cases we have faced in the past year, this drop also does not mean that anything is resolved. Whenever a country’s cases start to go down, life quickly resumes as it did before, which only leads to cases rising again, possibly even higher than the initial peak. 

Of course, it is not required for people to continuously lock themselves in their homes and isolate themselves from the world indefinitely. However, when cases start to decrease, the best way to keep them from rising again is to keep following the SOPs until there are little to no cases up to the point where it isn’t a threat anymore. Countries like New Zealand have managed to follow this procedure and are now one of the few countries where life is “normal” again.

Similarly, the vaccine will allow people to go out more comfortably and meet smaller groups normally. But the second SOPs are discarded because of the belief that we are now protected through the vaccine and big gatherings restart without people wearing masks or social distancing, then despite the vaccine, the cases will begin to rise again.

I believe that if one does get the vaccine, one can travel or go out, but always with precautions. The second people start acting irresponsibly, attending big events where SOPs are not followed, it will only help push the world further away from the normality everyone longs for. When things start to go in the right direction and the numbers start going down, why stop doing those actions that are working until it’s completely better? We should keep helping our world until the cases are completely gone and we can go back to the life we crave.