Achieving reproductive justice: a case of intersectional thinking

Image//www.time.com

Image//www.time.com

The concept of choice, like the language of human rights, is essentially a good thing. Having choices (or rights) implies that you also have the freedom and ability to act on every option (or right) available to you. However, when it comes to women’s reproductive health the issue of rights, (just like choice), becomes decidedly tricky.

Today in many parts of the world it’s International Day of Action for Women’s Health (28th May). As with previous years, the call for action has focused on the need to uphold women’s sexual and reproductive rights. However, there has also been a marked shift towards using the term ‘sexual and reproductive justice’ in appeals to ensure women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health are upheld. Rights? Justice? Is there a difference? Over and above the dictionary definitions, the difference is unequivocally intersectional.

As with intersectionality, it is important to note that it was also black feminists who originally coined ‘reproductive justice’ as a way of highlighting the issue of ‘reproductive choice’ for women of colour. Women of colour who do not have the resources and who are not publicly supported to ‘choose’ their reproductive options.

Audre Lorde has highlighted that ‘there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives’ and this is exactly the case with women’s health. Women are not just biological bearers of babies- they’re also siblings, students, workers, leaders, lovers and many other things unconnected from their uterus. This is the meaning of reproductive justice: it shifts the focus of improving women’s health from one based solely on ‘choice’ and ‘rights’ to one that recognises the political contexts of women’s lives.

For immigrant and refugee women this means ensuring that public policy and institutions, such as immigration and health systems, uphold women’s rights to access good quality medical care, free from ill-treatment such as discrimination and forced medical intervention. The violation of immigrant women’s rights during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period has been described as obstetric violence, which is a form of violence against women that is often overlooked.

A reproductive justice framework can be a means for highlighting the intersections of different forms of institutional violence and violence against women. It’s a framework that includes a woman’s right to not have a child as well as her right to have children and parent them in dignity in safe and supportive environments. If we want to ensure these rights are upheld, the choice is clear: we should work towards achieving reproductive justice to fix the structural changes needed for addressing the wellbeing of all women.