By Brenda Mutoni
Worldwide, women enjoy 25% fewer legal rights than men. Millions of women around the world are not able to make decisions about their own bodies.
According to research published in September 2021 by UNFPA titled “My body is my own. Claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination”, just over half of women and girls in middle- and low-income countries have the right to decide for themselves whether they have sex, use contraception or seek medical care. In some sub-Saharan countries, the figure is even below 10%.
Bodily autonomy is the right to govern your own body. This means the right to make decisions about your body without any influence or coercion. The right to not have your body unjustifiably interfered with is a human right. When your body is subjected to any form of degradation, or you are forced or denied health care, then your human rights are being violated.
The rights to bodily autonomy and integrity are recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many countries, including Rwanda, have laws that protect women and children. Nonetheless, women and girls are still denied their rights. To some extent, inconsistent legal systems are to blame. They let traditional and modern norms coexist in spite of their incompatibility.
For so many years, women’s bodies and their reproductive rights have been governed and controlled by patriarchal societies, giving men dominating roles and privileged power and choices over women’s bodies.
Laws, regulations, and norms that prohibit women from exercising full autonomy to their bodies are still in place in most circumstances. For instance, in Rwanda, issues such as access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services and products still hinder women’s ability to make related decisions.
Ignoring bodily autonomy in society pushes the gender inequality curve further, we cannot attain the desired level of gender equality without bodily autonomy. It is not simply about sexual choices and reproduction, it is also about one’s whole self, dreams, and aspirations in life.
The law legalizing safe abortion has put in the way conditions that still push hundreds of women to practice unsafe abortion or having unexpected babies. In Rwanda, approximately 26,000 women are treated in health facilities for complications every year and over 17,000 teenage girls prematurely give birth.
If women have the right to make decisions concerning their sexuality and reproductive health such as when to have children, how to space them, the choice of contraception when to terminate the pregnancy. This will in turn help them to take up leadership roles and dismantle social norms that still undermine women’s abilities.
Different organisations have been advocating for action against such issues. Some activists and organizations continue to advocate the importance of bodily autonomy using a rights-based approach because this goes beyond just health.
This is being done through advocating for access to SRHR services for adolescents and young people, eliminating stigma and discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, encouraging women and girls to make their own decisions about their bodies, using contraception, advocating for the change of laws which interfere with women’s right to make these decisions, among others.
The writer is the Executive Assistant to The Executive Director at Health Development Initiative (HDI).
Source New Times.