Technorati href="http://www.technorProfile Thinking Nurse: The Twisted History of Margaret Sanger - Woman, Rebel, Nurse, Oppressor

Thinking Nurse

This blog will reflect my interests in learning disabilities, nursing, nursing theory, philosophy and politics and my general interests in the arts and literature. (Nursing is an art as well as a science!) Philosophy and nursing have been intrinsically linked since the days of Socrates, his mother was a midwife, and taught him everything he knew!

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Twisted History of Margaret Sanger - Woman, Rebel, Nurse, Oppressor

Margaret Sanger could have been everything I think a nurse should be.
She made a stand for birth control at the beginning of the last Century, and campaigned for the liberation of working class women, making direct links between their social and sexual oppression, and their health.

In the early part of the century, Sanger was inspired by revolutionary thinkers and activists like Emma Goldman, people who challenged the huge gulf between the classes that was opening up in the USA, and across the world.

Sanger was persecuted for her beliefs, and was no stranger to the law, which was used against her and her campaigns, particularly her brilliant publication 'Woman Rebel'.

Even so, the ideas about birth control that she advocated were enthusiastically taken up by the women themselves, creating an irresistable movement that considerably improved the lives and health of countless ordinary women.

Of course today, the multinational drug companies have realised that they can exploit women's need for contraception, in a big way.

Unfortunately for those who would wish to honour the first part of Sanger's life, in later years her enthusiasm for contraception led her away from liberation campaigns, and into the arms of reactionary eugenicists. Instead of campaigning for contraception as a method for working class women to take control of their bodies and their lives, Sanger campaigned for contraception as a method of preventing the existence of the 'feeble minded' - she helped turn birth control into a weapon for the oppression of people with Learning Disabilities (Intellectual Impairment).

I feel that there are many other issues affecting the health of oppressed groups that need to be taken up by nurses and campaigned on, with the same fighting spirit displayed by Margaret Sanger in her early career, before she succumbed to eugenics.

One example is the health of people with Learning Disabilities, the very people that Margaret Sanger felt had no right to existence, in her later chilling vision of 'a race of thoroughbreds'.

In the UK people with these disabilities have largely escaped the oppression of the large asylums and institutions to find their rightful place in the community (though there are important exceptions to this process), however this escape has actually been accompanied by a fall in their life expectancy, and an increased failure to meet the health needs of this socially oppressed group. Both mainstream 'generic' services and specialist learning disability services have reflected society's continued repression of this group, and colluded in denying them access to the healthcare that they need.

However pressure from the disability movement, particularly groups like 'People First' and 'Values into Action' as well as some health professionals is beginning to get some results in the UK. The inequalities in health experienced by people with Learning Disabilities has been highlighted in the government white paper 'Valuing People' (2001), but it remains to be seen whether these words will be turned into action.

Learning Disability Nurses, and other people who live and work with people with learning disabilities are beginning the process of getting every person with a learning disability a 'Health Action Plan' - but we need to make sure that this is more than just a piece of paper, but a challenge to those services that still exclude people with learning disabilities to think about how they can deliver the rights of this section of the population.

Here is a good link to an article that looks at the allegations of racism that surround Margaret Sanger (not without justification): http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/618
More on this to come...

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