Empowerment of women and girls means that they have power and the agency to make decisions over their bodies and reproductive functions without violence and coercion. Bodily autonomy refers to women’s right to make decisions involving their bodies including when to have sex and when to have children. However, bodily autonomy is never seen as fundamental right. Women and girls lack the capacity and ability to make decisions in regards to their bodies resulting to detrimental effects including sexual and gender based violence, unintended pregnancy, unsafe abortion, HIV/AIDs, harmful cultural practices i.e. Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage, Forced prostitution, maternal related complications and rape.
“The empowerment of women is about promoting their self-confidence, self- worth and ability to make their own choices.”
Women’s health challenges including unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions indicate the inability of women decision-making and control of their bodily autonomy. This cases are prevalent in countries where young women have unmet sexual reproductive health needs, For example when it comes to procuring an abortion the main decision maker is primarily the male partner who often press for the termination of the pregnancy indirectly by declining his financial or social responsibilities or directly by forcing their partner to have an abortion. Cultural and religious norms continue to inhibit young married women from utilizing contraceptives since decision-making primarily lies with their male partner while young unmarried women often face stigma while accessing reproductive health services including contraceptives. The COVID 19 pandemic has worsened the situation of women and the agency found.
“The denial of bodily autonomy is a violation of human rights as it reinforces inequalities and perpetuates violence arising from gender discrimination,” says Dr.Natalia Kanem (Executive Director UNFPA) “This is nothing less than an annihilation of the spirit and it must stop”
To address the gender related inequalities that have been exacerbated in our communities it is critical that women and girls are empowered to make decisions about their bodies. HerBodyHerChoice.
As a young woman I call upon individuals, civil society organizations, government, regional bodies and international bodies to ensure the following recommendations are implemented for women to enjoy and exercise their right to bodily autonomy:
- Women and girls empowered on their bodily autonomy to allow them decide when to have sex, if and when to become pregnant.
- Provision of education including comprehensive sexuality education which is an integral part of helping women and girls advance their sexual reproductive health and rights as it relates to bodily autonomy.
- Implementation of existing policies, guidelines and treaties that uphold the rights of women including African Charter For Human Rights(Maputo Protocol),ICPD, Beijing Declaration among others.
- Development of policies and programme of actions that will improve women’s access to livelihood and economic resources in order to address power relations that impede women’s attainment of healthy and fulfilling lives
- Provision of non-discriminatory, accessible, gender-responsive, rights-based, adolescent friendly and youth responsive sexual reproductive health services including safe abortion.
Without bodily autonomy women are not free! The time is now, for us to stand by her and uphold her rights. #women4change
Author: Abdiah Laikipian, Co-Founder Women for Sustainable Change.