Another world is not only possible, she is on her way, on a quiet day, and I can hear her breathing: Arundhati Roy
Originally posted on : The ASAP Blog
Ever since my childhood, I vividly remember the subtle social differences that society had created for me. Among these, I remember being forced to give up my favorite sport—football, because it was supposed to be the game of my brother and not mine. I grew up and excelled academically and aspired to be a lawyer. I was objected to again. I was told that a profession which demanded leadership and knowledge on law and orders was not meant for me. I choose nursing instead.
Although equal opportunities were provided to study and to excel academically in home, there was a bias between my brothers and me. I was constantly groomed and reminded of lessons of how to behave like proper women viz the very etiquette of eating, walking, talking, laughing. Meanwhile, my brothers roamed around in the dark streets till late nights with no societal boundaries. The famous phrase directed towards us was “Girls should always take care of her lips and genitals” meaning they are not supposed to speak loud and rebellious and should stay virgin before marriage. The future role of me and my sisters were often shown or portrayed as weak and supplementary whereas my brothers were supposed to be strong and expected to lead the family in the future.
When I entered graduate school of Nursing with a major in women’s health and development, this is when the course of my life changed. This is when the existing differences in societal construct in terms of sex and gender were crystal clear. Gender roles were the societal expectation and were purely ascribed and in no way related to our biological differences. I slowly unraveled the origin and factors that perpetuated these roles generation after generation. These roles and their effect in women’s health and development was what interested me.
My knowledge was propelled further by the ASAP Youth Advocacy Institute which I attended 2 years ago. This institute helped me realize my new identity, “Feminist” (men and women who believe in feminism: a principle or belief that women’s have social, economic and political equality as that of men). It made me realize that I always had been a feminist even before I knew its literal meaning. What was lacking in me was that conviction and courage to speak for what I believed in and wanted for myself and for my future.
Since ages society has tried to keep women within predefined boundaries whereas men are set free. They are allowed to be as ambitious as they want, take their dream job and travel the world and most of all decide over their own bodies. However, when it comes to same access for women, they are labeled as antisocial and rebellious. In my view as a young feminist, the most powerful and the most liberating rights of women is freedom or choice to decide over her own body and her future. I truly believe that the power lies in choice. Choice to stay single or to get married, to remain virgin or to have sex before marriage, to choose one’s gender identity, to love men or women, to have or not to have children, to decide the number, timing and spacing of children, to keep the unwanted pregnancy or to abort it. And while doing so, they should have all the necessary information and means to make these choices in terms of sexuality and reproduction. These are our basic rights when we are being born as human.
When these rights are exercised by women then the new world will emerge……….
Coercion, discrimination and violence while making these choices are often seen in terms of discriminatory laws and policies of the states. Politics often ruled by men and women with patriarchal notion have always tried their level best to hinder liberation of women in having control over their own body. Freedom of bodily integrity is seen more dangerous than atomic or nuclear power. It is reflected in terms of restrictive and discriminatory languages in international dialogues and conventions. It is a known fact that sex and sexuality is very basic to being born as human. It lies in the fundamental needs in the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. However, talking about it or acknowledging the right of citizen towards sexual freedom is seen as threat to society in many countries in the world. Statistics of those same countries in the world reveals higher incidences of violence against women including rape and sexual violence, death of women during child birth and due to unsafe abortions as well. However, these societal gender inequalities affecting the health of the women are largely ignored in the national and international political as well as legislative framework.
A decade onwards now, when violence against women is slowly getting international attention as most of the states have ratified CEDAW (Convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women) and states are making laws and policies to address this issue which is commendable. Meanwhile, a fundamental question still remains unsolved. These countries in one hand are addressing violence against women but at the same time restricting women from terminating the unwanted pregnancies or providing limited choices on birth control. In doing so aren’t they perpetuating discrimination and violence against women? This indeed is violation of human right and violence against women. The state policies and laws seem hypocritical in this context.
A truly equal just world is only possible when half of the world population can live their life with freedom; decide over their future and their bodies without fear, shame, guilt, coercion, discrimination and violence. This is only possible when a state realizes sexual and reproductive health rights as fundamental rights of their citizen. And in doing so, they should empower young women and instill them with the power of choice. It is only through our power of choice over bodily autonomy we can truly enjoy other social, economic and political rights what so ever.
By Smriti Thapa