When thinking about equal rights or women’s rights more specifically it’s easy to affirm one’s commitment based on the generic idea of it all. Most would agree that the basic principles of equality in terms of opportunity and access are minimum standards for application. The pursuit of equal pay, the elimination of violence towards women and girls and enhanced voice and influence at collective decision making level seem to be no brainers. These elements are by far the ones which gain the most airplay on the global stage, and perhaps that is so because they are the most palatable in the scheme of things. However, the issue that seems to be so blatantly neglected on a consistent basis is that of the pursuit of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and at the crux of this issue, abortion rights for women.
When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were being negotiated, advocates of women’s rights groups rightly pointed out that the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had failed to put forward a goal specifically on women’s empowerment an equal rights therefore successfully negotiating the addition of Global Goal 5: Gender Equality. An aspect of this goal focuses on eliminating the deprivation of women’s rights in regards to decision making around their sexual and reproductive rights.
Living in what is termed as a ‘first world, developed nation’ it’s easy to overlook how important this element is, considering that the majority of us have access to this not as a hard earned fight or achievement, but as a foregone basic human right. You would think that a woman would have the ultimate decision making capacity when it came to her body, but alas, in so many Global South nations this is anything but the case. I’ve come across so many stories where women with disabilities have undergone forced sterilisation due to ill conceived misconceptions about their impairments. In every one of these circumstances the ability to make decisions on the fate of their future is handed to those around them and decisions made on their behalf. Surely, being able to make a decision on one’s own fertility is the most basic of human rights to be afforded to an individual.
There is also then the question of what happens to a young woman who is humiliated, beaten and raped at the hands of an assailant who has subjected them to worst form of physical and sexual abuse. How is it possible that this woman can then be forced to have a resulting child without her consent? Who has the right to dictate to their fellow human being that the pain and torment of that assault means nothing in the face of being forced to go through with that pregnancy? What about young women being forced into marriage and bearing children at such a young age that their bodies can’t handle the stress and resulting in paralysing impairments and disabilities due to this act alone?
We seem to have come so far as a human race and developed in leaps and bounds to that beyond imagination. However, how is it possible that something so basic as being able to make decisions about our own bodies as women has been taken out of our own hands? How have we been forced into an existence whereby someone else dictates our fertility or our infertility and in some cases without our knowledge and consent? I find it mind boggling that we have come so far and yet still face such discrimination towards the decision making capacities of our own future…