Zika. Sounds more like a videogame character than a mosquito-borne (and maybe sexually transmissible…) disease that may be causing microcephaly in infants, leaving devastating downstream consequences. Amidst echoes of criticisms it faced not too long ago in its (admittedly not-so-speedy) response to Ebola, the WHO has declared Zika a public health emergency.
The virus is spreading across the Americas and governments are taking interesting measures to control its spread and its consequences. Here is an example of governmental responses as voiced by the Economist:
“It started after a handful of governments advised women to delay getting pregnant. Colombia, which has the second-highest number of infections after Brazil, advised women to wait six to eight months. Jamaica issued a similar recommendation, even though no cases of Zika have yet been reported there. El Salvador’s government suggested that women should delay pregnancy until 2018. Panama warned women from indigenous communities, in which infection rates are high, not to conceive.”Ok so the bold formatting is mine, but I’m making a point here.Reading that, you’d think that women are the sole pro-creators of the species. I mean really… count the number of times the word women is used vs. men, or public or other non-gender-specific terms. We may need a retelling of the birds-and-the-bees story so that officials are reminded of how reproduction works (nevermind that unwanted sex and sexual violence run rampant).Accountability for the repercussions of lust and desire traditionally, and well… biologically (thanks mother nature), fall on women. It’s sexist, ineffective and limits our collective capacity to handle something like this outbreak. Gender-neutral public health messages are necessary to put the onus on more than just one half of the affected population to help mitigate the long-term consequences of this virus (of which there will be many given that we’re going to end up with pockets of rural areas with high levels of need for complex interventions that can support the surge in developmental disabilities).Meanwhile, in a similar vein, the CDC’s messaging around alcohol consumption by women of reproductive age who are not on birth control has gotten a lot of flak for, as this article so poignantly puts it, “slut shaming boozy women.” Amused. Thanks internet. I’d almost argue that the female-directed messaging around Zika control is more inappropriate in terms of gender equity than the CDC’s poorly worded yet well meaning headlines. Mostly because while the CDC could’ve been more sensitive in putting out its message, as far as Zika and pregnancies go… seriously, it takes two to tango.