Commentary Religion

A Pastor’s Daughter

Stigma Shame and Sexuality Series

How far would a father go in destroying his daughter’s life to save his reputation? Have his actions surely made his daughter’s life better? And finally, in this whole mix, surely didn’t Emily have a right to a say of hers?

This post is by Taonga Lisulo, and is part of Tsk Tsk: Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders and cross-posted with Rewire in partnership with Ipas.

*Original names have been changed in the story.

Emily is a good friend of mine, and a sister to my best friend’s boyfriend. She’s studying for her Diploma in Marketing. Like many other young people, at age 21 Emily has great dreams and ambitions of her own. She was raised in a Christian Family, her father a Pastor in one of the churches in Lusaka, and her mother a nurse.

Emily’s nightmare began in February 2011 when her father, who was at the time undertaking a forty day fast, told her that he had seen in a vision, a revelation that his daughter  had been fornicating and that she had fallen pregnant. Emily was quite shocked at that statement by her father and denied his allegations. Surprisingly he approached her the following day, insisting he’d had the same revelation again. He then dragged her to the University Teaching Hospital, Zambia’s largest hospital, for a pregnancy test.

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Emily’s fears were confirmed. Her fathers’ allegations were true, she found out that she was pregnant and that was the beginning of the torture she would go through. Her father was totally disappointed with her. He denounced her for bringing shame and disrepute to his name. He went on to announce her pregnancy to his church, and also that he would treat his pregnant and sinful daughter as he would any other church member, for the shame she had brought to him and the church.

Emily was humiliated in church by her own father, who deeply condemned her for getting pregnant. He dropped her from the choir, and fired her from the leadership position she occupied. She was directed to withdraw from all church activities, even giving offerings, and was told she could only attend church if she sat in the very back row and did not dare involve herself in any activities.

Meanwhile he put her under great distress to reveal the paternity of her pregnancy. She claimed it was her boyfriend, who didn’t want any involvement with the issue and had recently dumped her. Her closest friend Yvonne somehow went behind her back and blew a shell on Emily’s parents. Yvonne told Emily’s parents that a well known Bishop in Lusaka had actually gotten her pregnant. That just worsened the whole scenario.

Emily’s parents were furious, and pushed their daughter to admit it was the Man of God. She denied sexual relations with him and insisted again that it was her boyfriend. Her parents continued rebuking her and took her to a police station so they could squeeze the truth out of her. According to Emily, the policeman slapped her during the interrogation and warned her that she would face grave consequences if she ever tried to get rid of her pregnancy.

Left alone, after differing with Yvonne over her version of the story, Emily would visit me on often and explain her distress, telling me on several occasions about how she could not believe what her father was doing to her. She feared her child would suffer great rejection from her family because she was already being treated as an outcast. She was not even allowed to seek medical services from the clinic where her mum worked, because her mother feared the impression colleagues would have about her.

One day, Emily came over to my house and told me she’d had a miscarriage. Yvonne her friend again came up with a second story – that Emily had actually sought a medical abortion.

Hearing this, Emily’s father went wild, and he announced in his church again that his daughter was a murderer and that she had killed her own baby. Emily was seriously humiliated and could not bear the church’s reaction. Even when she sang along to hymns in the back row, some members would approach her asking how unashamed she was, being a murderer and singing in Church.

She had become the pastor’s demonized daughter, and when she couldn’t stand it any longer, Emily stopped attending church all together. Her father threatened to take her to the police, since he believed she had committed a serious criminal offence by abortion her pregnancy, and really wanted her to be punished for doing so. A policeman was assigned to monitor her and all her contacts. Emily would be stalked even when she went to school, a plan by her parents to trace her contacts. They announced to everyone that she had conducted an abortion and was a disgrace – something that Emily bitterly complained about to me.

Emily’s father also threatened to stop paying her school fees. She had totally lost her say in any family matters, and she was considered a rebel in the house, being used by the devil to undermine the church. It got to the point where she was totally stigmatized when it came to any benefits from the family and was asked to leave the house. Without much hope for improvement of the situation, Emily left her house to live with a friend.

Emily, broke and devastated, called me to say that her friend was facing trouble keeping her and she needed to find a place to stay. We could not help her since our house was fully occupied. I haven’t heard from her recently, but I know her father had told her it’s the last semester he’d pay for her education.

Sadly, the paternity of the child was never proven, but the whole ordeal has left quite a traumatic psychological impact on Emily. She has been a victim of profound stigma even though Zambia is one of the countries with the most liberal abortion laws in sub-Saharan Africa, allowing medical abortion even on socioeconomic grounds. Despite abortion being legal in a variety of circumstances, much of the Zambian community is not well aware of this fact, allowing stigma and discrimination to continue affecting women who abort, even when it they are legally eligible to do so.

This has really left me with a lot of thinking. Should the church doctrines be upheld to such extremes? How far would a father go in destroying his daughter’s life to save his reputation? Have his actions surely made his daughter’s life better? And finally, in this whole mix, surely didn’t Emily have a right to a say of hers?

Emily went through a tough ordeal during her pregnancy and the society around her did not offer to hear her voice. She may have even loved to carry her pregnancy to term, but the psychosocial circumstances around her seemed not allow it. Furthermore, she was really stigmatized over her abortion. Everyone continued to condemn her. This makes me realise that it is not be enough for policy makers to work out legislation, especially concerning sexual and reproductive rights, without society understanding them.

It is clear from Emily’s story that far much more harm could be done by infringing on someone’s sexual and reproductive rights. Very fortunately, Emily did not have a unsafe abortion, or the potentially fatal complications that can go with it. But I wish the story had a much happier ending, with everyone understanding Emily’s actions and offering her some social support, rather than the stigma she may have to live with for her life. I wish nobody had said all those demeaning words to her and I hope through her silent voice in the story, Emily will help everyone understand the true meaning and uphold human sexual and reproductive rights.

Taonga Lisulo is a second year law student at Cavendish University in Lusaka, Zambia. 


News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.