Despite the various advancements in gender equality, women’s reproductive health rights remain a contentious topic. In spite of its prevalence, women’s ability to decide what happens to their bodies continues to be challenged, especially in light of the recently leaked decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. If the decision is finalized, access to safe and legal abortions in the United States may be restricted, if not banned, in numerous states.
Reproductive health rights go beyond access to abortions. Across the world, more than 60% of married women use contraceptives. In Thailand, the number is even higher at 75.5%. Nevertheless, challenges remain as Thailand still has an alarming birth rate amongst adolescents at “40.9 per 1,000 women ages 15–19 in 2017.” Studies have shown that the more access women have to reproductive health services, the better their well-being. Ensuring women’s ability to fully exercise their reproductive health rights is, therefore, crucial to their empowerment.
What are Reproductive Health Rights?
Having reproductive rights essentially refers to a person’s ability to make decisions regarding their body. In particular, this involves their freedom to choose whether or not to have children and, in turn, having access to the resources needed to support their decision. There are 12 main reproductive rights, most notably:
- The Right to Life: Considering the risks that come with pregnancy, pregnant individuals must be assured that their lives are provided safety by having access to necessary medical services.
- The Right to Health: Much like the right to life, the right to health ensures that a person can access quality health care.
- The Right to Liberty and Security of the Person: Individuals should not be forced to undergo pregnancy, abortion, or sterilization if they do not want to.
- The Right to Decide the Number and Spacing of Children: The decision to have children, when to have them, and how many to have – if any, at all – should ultimately be the woman’s decision.
One way in which reproductive health rights can be better exercised is through greater access to contraceptives. These can come in the form of birth control pills, condoms, and intrauterine devices (IUDs), amongst others. Although the use of contraceptives in developed countries is at 62%, the rate falls to 55% amongst married women in developing countries.
Everyone is entitled to reproductive health rights. However, the effects of restrictions on these rights are felt disproportionately by women and girls, especially those in vulnerable circumstances such as poverty. Regardless, reproductive health rights are ultimately rooted in human rights. These matters are not merely a women’s rights issue but one that must be advocated for by everyone.
How Do Ensuring Reproductive Health Rights Help Empower Women?
When women have greater access to health care and reproductive health services, their overall well-being improves. By increasing awareness of reproductive health services, individuals are able to make better-informed decisions regarding their sexual lives, such as using contraceptives more effectively. Research has also shown that greater availability of “family planning services” leads to women’s economic empowerment. Women are able to pursue higher education, hence, it enables them to contribute more to the labor force and work in “non-traditional jobs.” However, raising awareness of reproductive health rights should not be limited to women. In fact, receiving comprehensive sexual education at a young age is crucial. In doing so, children can be instilled with values that will reinforce their ability to make their own confident decisions regarding their bodies even before they experience any “major developmental milestones.”
How Can You Help?
Raising awareness of reproductive health rights can be as simple as sharing fact-checked infographics or research-based articles, such as the ones available on the Center for Girls’ (CFG) Instagram page. Another way is by donating to CFG, an organization committed to empowering women, adolescents, and children through various projects. CFG is also currently partnering with Khiang Rim Khong to remove the stigma surrounding sex education by promoting awareness of HIV/AIDS, safe sex, and providing health care services.
– Isabelle Amurao
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