In May 2011 I read about Tory MP Nadine Dorries’ attack on sex education via a private member’s bill. She was proposing that girls (yes, just the girls) be given “information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity” as part of their sex education. Let’s quickly outline the glaring problems with this proposal:
- Making abstinence education ‘just for girls’ positions women as the gatekeepers of sex. It positions men as having no responsibility for decision making about sex, or for understanding consent. It also supports an idea of women having no desire, and mens’ desire being uncontrollable.
- Existing Sex and Relationships Education in the UK is not statutory. That means that some schools, in particular academies, Free Schools and religious schools, are highly likely to not teach comprehensive Sex and Relationships Education, because they disagree with the apparently ‘unsavoury’ content. Therefore, if this bill passes, these schools could end up teaching only abstinence, and the biology of reproduction in science classes. I.e. not the useful bits of SRE.
- Now, abstinence education on its own doesn’t work. It’s been proven not to reduce STIs or pregnancy. A review of American sex-abstinence programs involving over 15,000 people by Oxford University found that they do not stop risky sexual behavior, or help in the prevention of unwanted pregnancy.
- The bill is heteronormative, assuming that the only sex likely to happen is between a male and a female.
- Comprehensive Sex and Relationships Education already advises on the benefits of abstaining from sexual activity.
The more I read about Dorries, the more I learnt about her multiple attacks on womens’ rights, such as trying to make counselling for women seeking abortion compulsory (we apparently can’t be trusted to decide for ourselves), and provided by religious anti-choice organisations, and trying repeatedly to reduce the time limit on abortions. A few days after the first reading of her abstinence education bill, Dorries went on the Vanessa Show and claimed that “if more children were taught to ‘just say no’ there would be less sexual abuse.” Seriously, she said that, on TV. This is blatant victim blaming.
Let’s examine Dorries’ motivations for a minute. It is clear to me that Dorries’ attacks are founded on her capitalist, fundamentalist Christian, ideology.
Firstly, her religion teaches her that sex outside of marriage is a sin – it’s wrong and shameful. Knowledge about sex is also dangerous. Her religion teaches her that abortion is immoral. Not only does that explain her direct and explicit attacks on abortion rights, but is relevant to this abstinence education bill, because she (wrongly) believes that abstinence education will reduce sex outside of marriage and therefore reduce unwanted pregnancies, therefore reducing abortions.
Secondly, her capitalist ideology relies heavily on the traditional idea of a nuclear family. For the ruling class, the family is a vital social and economic institution. It means married (presumed to be heterosexual) women being stay-at-home mothers and carers whilst the husband goes out to work – i.e. women providing unpaid labour. Capitalists have historically depended on the institution of marriage and the monogamy of women within the rules of marriage, to control the paternity of children for the purposes of inheritance of money and property. Dorries believes that any sex outside of marriage will lead to either abortions or single mothers on benefits. And she certainly doesn’t want the state to support either of those. A major contradiction of capitalism though, is that employers refuse to pay working class people a family living wage to one working parent as a sole breadwinner, forcing families into poverty and exploitative working conditions.
Dorries’ proposals, and the actions of her party, have nothing to do with helping women. The conservatives are responsible for pushing through cuts which disproportionately affect women:
- As women represent 65 per cent of the public sector workforce, they will bear the brunt of the estimated 400,000 public sector job losses over the next four years.
- On average women working in the public sector earn almost 40 per cent more per hour than female employees in the private sector. So even if replacement jobs were available in the private sector (which they’re not), it would represent a pay cut.
- Cuts to welfare will affect women twice as much as men because on average one fifth of womens’ income comes from welfare, whilst for men it is one tenth.
- £280 million of funding for a ten-year Teenage Pregnancy Strategy has been scrapped.
- While one in five women is likely to suffer rape or sexual attack during their lifetime, Government cuts to domestic violence and rape crisis services are averaging at over 40%.
- Legal aid cuts will make women in violent relationships particularly vulnerable.
- Lone parents, 90 per cent of whom are female, will be hit hardest by the spending cuts, losing 18.5 per cent of their net household income.
We must fight each and every attack on our rights or they will be taken away from us. Equality cannot be won under capitalism, but while we fight to change the system, we can’t let the ruling class destroy what rights we have won so far. So, back to Dorries and her abstinence education bill…
Not finding any focused campaign against her newest attack, back in May, I decided to set up a Facebook campaign: Stop Dorries’ abstinence for girls sex education bill. After a bit of tweeting, in two days the campaign had over 500 supporters. We’ve now got over 1,900.
We will be demonstrating against the abstinence education bill on the 20th January outside the Houses of Parliament, at 10:30am, Old Palace Yard, Westminster. The Socialist Party, Youth Fight For Jobs and Education, the British Humanist Association, Feminist Fightback, Abortion Rights UK, Queers Against The Cuts, Parents & Carers for Sex & Relationships Education, Education for Choice, The National Secular Society, Bristol Feminist Network, Left Front Art and Liberal Conspiracy are all supporting the demo. More information and the Facebook event are at http://on.fb.me/
Disclaimer: a shortened version of this post was previously published on The F Word.
5 responses to “Dorries’ attacks are founded on her capitalist, fundamentalist Christian, ideology”
No worries! Thanks for pointing it out though cos I do need to make sure I got my story straight. I think I was probably confusing the two myself to be honest, so it’s a good job I looked it up!
Oh right. Yeah I thought you meant the recent attempt in the Health Bill rather than the 2006 thing. The recent attempt was much more toned down. I guess as a policy focused person I tend to try and see what a bill or an amendment says and work from there. Thanks for following up. Much appreciated. L.
Hey Lauri, I found the evidence where Dorries proposes forced counselling – it was a separate bill alongside her attempts to reduce the time limits on abortion. It reads:
“to require the provision of counselling about the medical risk of, and about matters relating to, termination and carrying a pregnancy to term as a condition of informed consent to termination; ” See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/vo061031/debtext/61031-0003.htm#06103156000002
Found this via her Wikipedia page. So this was a different occasion to where she proposed abortion counselling be delivered by non-abortion-providing organisations. But overall my original point I think was correct.
Thanks for the info. RE counselling, I was sure I had read an article saying she wanted it to be compulsory, I will try and find it again. I can see on various articles online though she did say separately she didn’t want it to be compulsory (maybe she changed her mind?). But yes, her main point was to separate the counselling from the abortion providers, which I think is a terrible mistake because it would end up being provided by religious anti-choice organisations.
I don’t think I said she published her sex ed bill anywhere?
I agree a lot of what I’ve said above is speculation – it is my opinion mainly on her motivations. Also it doesn’t matter that she is not asking for abstinence only sex ed. She is trying to put into legislation that girls get abstinence sex ed. And because most of the rest of comprehensive sex ed is not statutory, the result is that some schools could end up only teaching abstinence. It doesn’t matter too much what she says her intentions are if this is the implication of her actions.
More info on the anti-choice organisations supporting the bill in this briefing from British Humanist Association: http://t.co/jG2PlMpo
It says: All 6 of Nadine Dorries MP’s co-presenters of the Bill are active in the socially conservative, Christian-dominated, anti-choice, All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, and outside of parliament the Bill is supported by the unrepresentative pressure group Christian Concern, and by the fundamentalist organisation Christian Voice.
Hey Beth, first let me say that a lot of whats in this post is good stuff, even if I disagree with lots of it. Well written and well argued! But I did want to clarify because there is a lot of misinformation out there about 2 things.
First Dorries never published the bill on sex ed, because she does not have to until second reading of the bill which might (and probably will not if procedure is to be believed) come up on the 20th, so much of what you may have read about her intentions is probably speculation and might be misinformation. She does speak about what she wants the bill to be about in the debate at first reading, but she does not go into enough detail to know she is asking for abstinence only ed. I will admit her tone is pretty nasty and that she is not generally trustworthy but lets not do the same.
Second the move on counselling was made through an amendment to the health bill in the commons. Because we know the text of the amendments we know also know what it is that she was doing, and it was markedly not forcing women to have counselling, but rather ensuring that every woman was given the offer of counselling if she wished to have such a service. It did other things as well, like seeking to sever the link between Abortion service providers and counselling.
If you would like me to supply sources for the above I can send you links to both. What ever side of this debate we are on, truth is important.
In solidarity with some of your aims. L.