February 20th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
That morning, my boyfriend had to go to work, but a decision on what to do had to be made quickly. So he stuffed a wad of Euros into my hand and put me on a train to the Netherlands, the closest neighboring country where the pill can be bought over the counter.
The need for women to cross borders, and spend beyond their budget, just to receive reproductive health care is nothing new. Northern Ireland—which, let’s not forget, is in the UK—has banned abortions, forcing women to travel to mainland Britain to terminate a pregnancy, an expense beyond many women’s means, or forcing them to buy drugs online to induce miscarriages, which can result in criminal charges. As I quickly realized when I bought travel insurance for my backpacking trip, women’s reproductive health care is rarely covered by any policy: birth control, pap tests, neo-natal care, abortions, maternity care, or any OB/GYN care is rarely covered. Even asking for it comes with social stigma and shame. When I asked why women’s health care wasn’t included in my policy, my insurance broker exchanged a look with his colleague, and the open-concept office burst into a fit of embarrassed giggles.
Travel for women is never simple. Women are at the mercy of the laws of the nation in which they travel, and just saying something like, “I’m a Canadian, you can’t do this to me!” won’t get you out of trouble. In many countries, there may not even be a Canadian consulate to assist you. Women must always double-check: Am I allowed to wear pants in this country? Am I allowed to show my hair in this country? If I am assaulted, will I be blamed for it in this country? Am I allowed to drink in this country? Am I allowed to drive a vehicle in this country? Will my marriage be recognized in this country? Am I allowed to travel with my same-sex partner in this country? Am I allowed to ride a bicycle in this country? Am I even allowed to enter the country at all without being accompanied by a man? The checklist is longer than a Gordon Lightfoot song.
Traveling within Europe for women is easy compared with other parts of the world, but there are still great social burdens in conservative regions that dictate how women in public must behave and dress. I found that out the hard way as I traveled through the Balkans and tried to go dancing, and also in Italy when trying to enter a house of worship.
This means women have to plan and budget for incidentals that men need not. Germany may be one of the most progressive countries in the West, but many times before this incident, I had to fly back to London where I’d been living previously, for trans-vaginal ultrasounds, pelvic exams, blood tests, and more just to figure out why I had been experiencing so much pain. Turns out it was polycystic ovarian syndrome. Anyone know how to say that in German?