Monday, June 22, 2020

US Sanctions versus Iran’s fight against COVID-19 pandemic

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Coronavirus patients at Imam Khomeini Hospital,Tehran | Source: Mohsen Atayi via Wikimedia

Iran is the hardest-hit country by the coronavirus pandemic in the middle east. The contagion was first detected on 19 February 2020 in the holy city of Qom, and thereafter spread quickly across the country. As of 18th June 2020, it had over 9000 coronavirus related fatalities. The virus attacked all the 31 provinces of the country not discriminating between the common man and the people at high places including the members of the Parliament, religious leaders and senior ministers. The crisis touched most parts of the country, but it most severely impacted working and the poor class. 

The Iranian government has been criticized for its response towards the pandemic. The health care policy, which has been politicized, has preferred denial and misinformation as a response to the crisis the pandemic brought with it. Questions have also been raised about the role of US sanctions in crippling Iran’s economy, public health facilities and public health facilities. All these factors, when combined, have disabled Tehran (the capital of Iran) from providing the best response to the pandemic. 

What do the sanction laws say?

According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US has “consistently maintained broad exceptions and authorizations to support humanitarian transactions with Iran.” The first significant sanctions were imposed in 1995 by Bill Clinton, and in 2001 exemptions for medical goods and medicine first came into effect. These sanctions have periodically widened the scope of products for exemption, and by 2012, the exclusions included agricultural products and most foods. After the world powers, including the US, reached a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme in 2015, the sanctions were lowered against Iran. This approach was abandoned after Trump withdrew the US from the deal and sought to force Iran’s leaders to change their anti-US policy. .

The US sanctions are enforced through a wide array of instruments. Financial sanctions prohibit US banks from transacting with Iran, which limits Iran’s access to dollar-denominated transactions. Secondary sanctions measures also target non-US entities that have dealings with Iran, thus at a risk of facing prosecution in the US. These sanctions make transactions with Iran lengthy and complicated, and even impossible in some cases

There are some exemptions from sanctions for humanitarian assistance (sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine and agricultural services). Despite these exemptions, sanctions have severely impaired Iran’s ability to be able to finance humanitarian imports. Given the volume of complexity and due diligence involved, most banks are reluctant to deal with Iran. This makes it difficult to find a way to pay for purchases difficult for Iran. Also many items require additional authorization because the US considers them as “dual-use” (the things might also be used for defence- for example, the sort of oxygen generators that are needed in life support machines used to treat coronavirus cases). Lastly, the sanctions on Iran’s oil exports led to a decline in revenue, further weakening Iran’s currency, which has left the country vulnerable and with fewer resources to pay for non-sanctioned items as well. 

All these put together have directly caused shortages of medical equipment and impacted Iran’s health sector negatively. This has also impacted the capability of Iranian healthcare sector to effectively manage the COVID-19 situation.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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