Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Chipped and ready to go

So my little girl keep dancing
ID cards don't stop no hijack jet

Passports, visas, tickets… paperwork, all pretty expensive paperwork signed, sealed and delivered, we’re ready, we have lift off, thunderbirds are go! Well, just about anyway, the small fact of packing a house up and disarming ourselves of belongings has to take place as of yet, but, you know, we’re legally set.

Having spent the last few years on the other side of the fence, migratory speaking, I have begun to understand it’s not just the Mexicans who love charging for bits of paper, signatures and want countless photographs of me on file…. They’re all at it!!! and what a lucrative business it appears to be as well. An economic downturn will not be hitting the world of borders anytime soon, especially if one considers the amount of people trafficking currently happening, transmigrants going back home empty handed as their host countries fall flat on their faces. Returning costs money, they tend to forget that bit in the daily reports. Coming back home with a family in tow, increases the cost more so… no visa no entry, no visa fee or expensive sponsor’s evidence noooooo visa.

Thankfully offspring have full citizenship rights of both countries, Emilia can be oppressed, charged lots of tax in the future and generally messed about by TWO places at once!! Lucky girl..

She is now the proud owner of two passports, one saying she’s Mexican the other saying she’s British, will this cause an identity crisis later in life I ask myself?? I very much doubt it, just a confusing love of chili and overcooked vegetables.

With her British passport she has also entered the world of biometrics, Ooooh very space age, or in another’s opinion (i.e. her mother’s) a complete invasion of privacy for an 11 month old, her every toddle tracked by global surveillance systems. Apparently though, it will make her second country a safer place and stop the ever growing threat of baby terrorism. She’s now chipped and ready to go, there’s no slipping through the system for this little lady, or in fact ever actually finding out what info is kept on the bloody thing. Perhaps her taste in teething rings is essential to national security; maybe she’s classed as a subversive anarchist for using cloth nappies. Whoooo knows…. All I ask is: What’s the f###ing point people??!!?

It appears that I am the only member of my little family gang who isn’t biometric, somehow though, I’m not feeling left out and I don’t want to join in the game than you very very much.

When we journeyed north to Mexico City to apply for hubby’s visa, apart from many papers and big fee they also took scans of his eyes and fingers so he can join the biometric circus currently taking over the first world. Nonetheless, in true hypocritical style when humans get involved with the machines as they tend to do, the visa was sent back without any sign of chip, potato or otherwise. We do however assume that hubby’s iris and digit details are on file. It’s either that or like most things in this country, they haven’t been on the training course yet, don’t know how to use the machine and so just pretend to do something with it.

Why are we just expected to trust the random servants of the state to take records of your bodily prints? Would we happily tell then the code to our house alarm, pin numbers and most secret fantasies as well? Due to the decisions of some crusty men in suits we are being expected to hand over bits of our bodies for governments to do what the hell they want with them. Volunteers for a secret human cloning project anybody? Bit farfetched maybe, but how the hell do I know what they want to do with this info if a) they brush it off as a detail of national security and b) nobody’s ever actually given the chance to ask!!

How many politician sex scandals or celebrity deaths were on the front pages whilst they were sneaking this law in???

Apparently iris and fingerprint scanning are at the low end of the high tech security market, body odour, face, voice, movement, vascular and personality scanners are almost ready to leave the lab, but aren’t seen as people friendly enough pass into public use…. yet.

Think think of a number
Think and chose a number one to ten

If five five five's your number
Times that five by two to make a ten
Cause I I aint no number don't need no ID round my neck
So Mr number maker
ID cards don't stop no hijack jet

(that lovely poet Ian Brown)

The head pecking truth is without this biometric intrusion together with the legally obliged carrying of a pretty little ID card where copies if the information is stored, my husband will have no access to visa protection, employment, social security or healthcare. Oooh and on top of visa charges they make us tramp to Liverpool to an Orwellian style building and pay 30 quid for the pleasure… bless them!! One cannot help thinking of the word governmentality in its true Foucauldian sense. One of the features of Foucault’s governmentality is the autonomous individual’s capacity of self-control (and in broader terms civil obedience) and how this is linked to forms of political rule and economic exploitation. My own shaky interpretation of Foucault’s work on this aspect of governmentality sees his placing importance on the differentiation between power and domination. He insists that:

“..we must distinguish the relationships of power as strategic games between liberties – strategic games that result in the fact that some people try to determine the conduct of others – and the state of domination, which are what we ordinarily call power. And between the two, between the games of power and the states of domination, you have governmental technologies” Foucault 1998.

It admittedly takes me a long time to get my head round this French philosopher dude, bless him and his long words, but I know he’s fitting in here somewhere. And, most certainly making the point a lot more eloquently than I ever could.

The governmentality of populations using biometric technology, isn’t exactly a new thing. Like most questionable practices highly open to abuse biometric identification came to the fore in colonial history. Our beloved (ahem…) colonial administrators suffered from the technical problem of having to identify lots and lots of people under their (ahem..) care and jurisdiction. Some clever colonial administration man in India, probably one with a big moustache, first came up with the concept of fingerprints as an identification tool. This in turn developed into a utopian concept of a secure society, the developing world’s reason for wanting to be identified, where if everyone is counted then everyone exists and well is counted for. I can’t quite see how this fits in with Mexico though, yes they’re very big on fingerprints and ID Cards (doubling as voting card), but rather than being counted as a citizen, its used as an excuse to rig elections and deny people from accessing just about any public service they’re entitled to, it being accepted in most cases as the ONLY form of identification. This happens because the Mexican notion of a secure society as per usual doesn’t take in to account the social factors of the people not having access to voting cards, the ridiculous bureaucratic procedure of obtaining one, and the ability of state slaves to say the phrase “I’m sorry this doesn’t look like you… NEXT!!” . Secure society by left buttock!!

If we take account of the timeline of biometric identity use, with the first use as control of the other in their motherland by the state, leading up to today and the control of the other as immigrants in new lands, by the state… can we see an issue of uummm control? Domination verses liberty? State surveillance verses autonomy and peaceful life? Cameras on the heads of pigeons? (little special birdy ones of course).

My family do have the right to live with me in my country of birth, as long as they’re chipped and pinned that is… BEEP!

Of course in the case of the UK, it’s not just an immigrant issue, but it’s the obvious political starting point, moving straight onto all UK citizens would be far to obvious and may even sneak onto perhaps Oooo page 2 of a national snoozepaper. So just immigrants and new passport holders for now... nothing for us other humanoids to worry about then?

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Childbirth in Urban Chiapas (without footnotes)

The medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth, and the immeasurable dependence on technological knowledge rather than empirical has had grave consequences when filtered down through local systems, especially in areas of the world that are subjected to the “development” needs of the richer nations. Jordan in her explorations of obstetrical settings in lesser developed countries described a form of biomedical and technological imperialism that endeavours to replace local expertise (if it is recognised at all) rather than build upon it. In her cross cultural comparison of childbirth Jordan states: “Because of the substantial lag in the diffusion of innovation in medical practice, countries in the development backwaters of the Third World frequently practice a type of medicine that is outmoded in the very place where it was originated” (1993:185).

In all corners of the developing and industrialised world there has been a mass increase in the practice of caesarean section, more in Latin America than anywhere else, and particularly in urban areas of Mexico (Cardenas 2003). This increase falls in line with various neoliberal political economic and social factors such as more state control over individual life choices; increasing industrialisation; massive increase in urban migration (particularly in Chiapas since the mid-1990s) causing changes in customs and traditions; and unrestricted flows of information through media networks amongst other social influences. A statistical and literary study by Cardenas (2003) on the socio-demographic differentials and determinates associated with the use of caesarean sections in urban areas of northern Mexico, found that its regular practice in public hospitals may be connected as much to social political reasons as for medical pretexts: “The differential association between variables such as age, level of schooling, place of residence or ethnicity of the mother and the level of caesarean observed, such as an increase in its practice…suggest that the decision to carry [the caesarean] out doesn’t always respond to medical reasons” (Cardenas 2003:307). This observational analysis demonstrates that more qualitative research needs to be carried out with women and medical staff at all levels to shine light upon the decision making process and how this relates to political health strategy, education and human rights.

Chiapas, Reproductive Health and (Mis)Development

Chiapas has received much attention belonging to the traditional anthropological school occupied with such topics as indigenous kinship, ritual, belief systems and conflict; all essential information within its own realm but restricting discussion to a rural context and placing women as faceless, voiceless entities who are left abandoned in settlements whilst the movement and activity of men is understood through the human traffic of migration and employment statistics. Little attention (or funding) has been paid to understanding women in the rapidly increasing urban context, women of varying class and ethnic backgrounds, who, through place are experiencing access to the same health services, education and media influences. In terms of pregnancy and childbirth in Chiapas, much ethnographic information can be found about traditional practices of Mayan midwives and uses of the placenta in rural communities; but we know nothing about the urban experience of women, caught up in public health services, regarding the decision making process before and during parturition or the extent of material, physical and emotional support for the woman during pregnancy and labour (Jordan 1993). The repercussions of this lack of knowledge and misrecognition of women’s lives are played out on a grander scale through the political manipulation and misdirection of global health strategies which work to promote technological advancement as a way of population control and improving mortality statistics.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) define reproductive health as the opportunity for all people to live a satisfactory and safe sex life, and have the opportunity to reproduce to their full capacity: a couple can freely decide if they want to reproduce or not; when and how often to do so, and have access to services and appropriate healthcare so that the pregnancy results in the survival and well-being of the mother and infant (Rio et al 2003:182). This definition has been carried over to more localised development aims, such as the Panamerican Health Organisation’s Health Initiative for Indigenous Populations 1993 and National Health Programme introduced by each Mexican Federal government and that since the Fox government of 2001 has incorporated the global aim of reducing maternal and infant mortality rates related to pregnancy and childbirth. The objective of such programmes as Arranque Parejo a la Vida with its emphasis on early detection of complications through the use of technology have been translated and manipulated by health services on a local level to what is tantamount to what Castro and Erviti (2003) have described as serious violations of reproductive rights.

This narrow vision brought down from global analysis has quickly translated into coercive politics, numerous ethical violations and inefficient results for programmes (Rio et al 2003:181). The same reproductive health technology, such as foetal heart monitors and ultrasound, produce information used for analysis and over time to create ‘norms’ that women’s bodies (and the foetus) should conform to throughout the pregnancy and right up to the decision of birthing method. As shown through her comparative studies of childbirth in four cultures, in a North American hospital Jordan (1993) found through observations in labour rooms that such knowledge produced by technologies cannot be relied upon, and does nothing but work against experience knowledge of the (woman’s) body.

The focus on Caesarean Section in Urban Chiapas

In 2007 an explorative investigation into medical attention in childbirth affecting indigenous migrants to urban areas and public health policy was carried out by Nazar et al (2007). This study also makes comparison with mestiza women living in areas of social exclusion who are likely to be using the same health services. In the period of the study, alongside an increase in births attended by institutional medics, a decent in the frequency of vaginal births was registered in both the mestiza and indigenous population. Nazar et al state that in these two cities in Chiapas alone from the period 1979 - 2003 the practice of caesarean section has increased almost nine times (870.0%) in the mestiza population and almost four times (394.1%) in the indigenous population.

The authors question the fact that WHO initiatives working towards decreasing maternal mortality rates, are having little if no impact on a local level due to medical practices and attitudes towards women of particular ethnicities and social background. The results of Nazar et al’s paper indicate that a huge increase in the use of caesarean section (which according to Cardenas follows medical trends in the ‘developed’ world) and increases in the use of Government Health Sector Services are actually counteracting any effort to improve maternal mortality. As such, if the practice of caesarean has been adopted as a strategy to curb mortality rates, this makes very little medical sense whatsoever, let alone the ethical debate of violating women’s bodies in this manner.

Caesarean birth carries great risks for both mother and infant. Risk of death (for the mother) is higher in the case of caesarean compared with vaginal birth…and the health of a newborn also can be negatively affected…Studies carried out in India (…), Malaysia (...) and Nigeria (…) show an increase in post-birth and neonatal mortality in infants born through this method (Cardenas 2003:303-05). The data analysed by Nazar et al adds to the essential debate over women’s rights over their bodies, treatment by the medical sector of indigenous women and women of deprived social backgrounds, quality of reproductive health education and attitudes to the cultural cosmology of birth within ‘development programmes’ and neoliberalistic attitudes of the body, self and what constitutes as natural.

One can argue that the WHO’s mission to achieve equality for all people through social, physical and mental wellbeing is a political project within itself and is open to varying cultural definitions on a local level. Or alternatively, open to varying social, political and economic consequences out of which is then created the ‘norm’ in that specific society; that is to say on a service provision level which often clashes with actual daily cultural behaviour. Global health initiatives have allowed scientific knowledge and its associated technologies to dominate local cultural values, effectively removing natural phenomenon and infringing seriously on women’s rights. The very nature of medicine as a science allows this discreet domination of the masses to take place, as stated by Latour: “Scientific knowledge purifies the mobilisation of cultural values whether they be religious, political or economic” (cited in Ayora 2002:116). Although development initiatives often have the public face of taking into account or respecting local cultural values, within health service provision this is counteracted by the ability of (western) medicine to transcend cultural values and be transferred to any given culture at any given time, placing its own values as dominant.

Medic v’s Midwife

In their analysis, Nazar et al noted a large shift in confidence leaning towards the medical attention for childbirth rather than the traditional use of midwives: “…it is important to emphasise that 94.1% of the mestiza women and all of the indigenous women who were attended by physicians said they did so because they had more confidence in the medical training of the physicians than that of the midwives, which in conjunction with the tendencies observed, shows evidence of a displacement of values towards allopathic medicine as much with mestiza women as with indigenous” (Nazar et al 2007:769).

Unfortunately there is no analysis available to suggest how and when the reputation of midwives began to take a backwards turn, or as to what opinion the medical profession have on midwives. Under political consideration midwives are openly accepted in rural areas where the government or NGOs fail to reach with institutional medical care. They are however in these cases given medically designed training by government programmes to bring their practices ‘up to date’, registered into the system and generally told to refer ‘complicated’ pregnancies to urban clinics (Jordan 1993; Ayora 2002). This toleration of traditional practices within certain spaces still reiterates that contemporary medical knowledge is paramount and that there exists a huge power imbalance between knowledge practices. To date I am yet to find evidence of midwives and their essential skills being employed alongside medics within institutional settings in Chiapas.

Conclusion: Women, Pain and Modernity

To conclude I would like to consider a very complex side to the increase in caesarean sections in Chiapas: the issue of women requesting this surgical procedure themselves. Even without empirical evidence, one would be safe to assume that as well as not every birth in urban Chiapas ends in a caesarean section, neither are many of those that do forced against their will. Many women in urban Chiapas (and Mexico) actively request birth by caesarean for a variety of reasons; an important question arising from this is what is the woman’s rationality behind making this particular decision? And as I mentioned in the introduction, in the many cases where women opt for caesarean section when a vaginal birth is preferable, at what level are they complying to the maintenance of the systems of power that oppress them? I am aware that this question in itself is worthy of discussion in much greater detail than I provide here, my intention is to bring forth questions for further consideration and attention to an aspect that I believe plays a role the increase in childbirth by surgical interference.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Water, water everywhere and not a drop for washing!

Loads seem to have gone a lot lighter since we made a decision to move, Arturo has suddenly been offered more hours of work, the sun has started to shine, I'm dancing again and poor we may be...but happy we are. I am sufficiently pessimistic to think that things probably only seem to be improving because we are in fact leaving, and so for, I'm not thinking permanent survival at the moment. Perhaps I'm just thing where's our water??

I've been trying to potty train Emilia since the first week she was born, some successful but I think the time has come for some serious action, we have half a tank of water, and in my calculations, along with other stuff like pots and bathroom, thats probably enough to wash about another 2 days of nappies before we're completely buggered, if not very smelly.

Any normal person would probably just think, I'll pay my bill and water shall be forthcoming, that is I suppose if that normal person lived in a normal place! Bills are paid, by about just everyone in the city, what it seems is, its the local government who haven't got the cash. Having failed to switch on the radio over the last few days I'm a bit late catching on, when water doesn't arrive for a day or two I don't usually question it, here its quite normal. Now I find out that it will be more than just a few days, as the local government haven't paid the energy bill for the water pumps, the water company have basically switched the whole town off. Once more the big dudes play naughty and the little people suffer.

Why (or should) something that falls from the sky and gets swished around our dwellings, generally keeping us and our environments alive treated as a more valuable commodity than gold?? Or in fact human life in the case that without it, cleaning cannot be done, diseases get spread, the easily treatable ones live on, babies and weaker adults die etc etc. Lets forget about the importance of actually drinking the stuff, as in Chiapas if you did that you'd probably die or get a nasty illness if you did that anyway. Of course if you've got the cash you can buy a tank of water from a private company, schools, hospital and other people without that cash, well, we just go dirty. Thats for the unbottled sort I'm talking about, as far as we know.... and personally much as I love my baby, I can't afford to bath her in Evian!!!

That water falls from the sky is often taken for granted, attention more recently drawn to this earthly marvel via the damage to our world eco system and the highlighted dangers of climate change. However, we tend to pay less attention to the water that flows magically out of the tap at home, and more to the point, to the quantities we use. I never had a water metre in England, so it was certainly never much of a consideration of mine. I was constantly amused by the British govt. obsession with hosepipe bans if it fails to rain for 2 days in the summer. Also, the urban myths about water companies hiding water in higher reservoirs, never being proved but generally believed by conspiracy theorist such as myself. Whatever the point I’m trying to make, water just seems to always well…. be there.

Its only when I came to live in Chiapas, where water supply is often sporadic due to bad service, dodgy government or just plain mystery, did quantity and use become an issue. Whether its stuck in the 40 degree humidity of the capital city unable to shower, or, with a pile of dirty nappies and a house and baby to keep clean in the cooler highlands, lack of water is a big issue; especially when one is expected to use a chunk of the monthly income paying for the supposed delivery of it. When the sacred wet stuff doesn’t arrive, at the fault of the powers that be, I really start to count the drops. 20 litre bucket to wash an adult body, 3x 20 litre buckets to wash a weeks worth of dirty clothes (adult), 4x 20litre bucket to wash 2 days worth of nappies... just in case you were interested.

The other really big question around town is WHY haven't the local government paid the energy bill, where's all the money gone?? :0 Was it there in the first place?

I can't help feeling that this is a knock on effect from ths aparrent world cash crisis and global funding being pulled away from developing countries. Are lack of subsidies and aid begining to uncover what politicians have actually done with town budgets??? HHHmm like have nice big houses, lovely holidays and lots of other stuff trafficked through the country... maybe I've just sen two many films.....

We're currently on about 5 days since the last public water delivery... things may soon start to get very smelly!!!