University News

Prof links reproductive rights to peace

Twelve gathered to learn about Japan’s role in an international feminist movement

Contributing Writer
Monday, March 11, 2013

International peace and birth control are more closely related than one would think, said Aiko Takeuchi, visiting assistant professor of American Studies.

Twelve people sat in a circle in the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center lounge Friday — International Women’s Day — to hear Takeuchi deliver a talk entitled “Transnational Reproductive Politics.” The audience included Director of the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center Gail Cohee, a professor of anthropology and a mix of undergraduate and graduate students with interests ranging from human biology to anthropology.

Takeuchi’s work focuses primarily on the issue of birth control and eugenics, which became a prominent component of the political relationship between the United States and Japan between the 1920s and 1950s, Takeuchi said in her talk. This transnational movement began when Shidzue Ishimoto, an early advocate of the birth control movement in Japan, and Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, met in New York in the early 1920s. After Sanger learned women in Japan did not have the reproductive rights she thought they should, she traveled to Japan in 1922 to advance the cause, Takeuchi said.

“Many white feminists didn’t necessarily want birth control to be included in their agenda with the exception of birth control abroad, specifically in Japan, when it became linked to peace,” she said.

Both white feminists in the pacifist movement and eugenicists endorsed the transnational birth control movement, she said. With overpopulation becoming a major problem in Japan, United States government officials believed it was necessary to implement population control policies in Japan to avoid the potential for another war, she said.

Though Japan legalized abortion in 1948, the country failed to legalize birth control until 1999, Takeuchi said, adding that abortion caused birth rates in Japan to go down and caused officials to lose interest in legalizing the birth control pill.

Takeuchi stressed her belief that the international feminist movement was limited in that it failed to address birth control as a women’s rights issue.

“When you’re talking about women’s reproductive rights and rights by other groups, they usually become coupled with other political motivations,” said Anna Makaretz ’13, who attended the talk. “In all these different countries, they’re all interconnected with transnational women’s rights, but there are also domestic forces at play within countries, which creates a lot of really complicated situations.”

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