What are reproductive rights? Well if you ask the majority of women who are flying into New York to attend the #CSW58, the back-slapping festival hosted by the United Nations Commission On The Status On Women (UNCSW), the response would focus on making available family planning education and resources. Which by extension enables a woman to determine freely when to give birth and how many children she wishes. The consequences of such provision include improved health, along with economic and social benefits for women currently denied such choices, that access to family planning. Not only that but in providing family planning to women it seems we can also tackle the major environmental issue of climate change, a topic that has been woven into the reproductive rights argument at recent UN discussions, partly as a political move to enhance the arguments being presented and as an encouragement for further support from within the environmental movement. If you had any doubts at the global impact of family planning as a supposed panacea to the world’s primary challenge be convinced by the words of Huffington Post contributor Diane MacEachern.
“Because ensuring that women have full reproductive rights creates one of the most desirable “two-fers” on the planet. Complete access to voluntary family planning is among the quickest, simplest, and most affordable ways to improve women’s quality of life. It is also one of the most direct, immediate and cost-effective ways to reduce climate change. In fact, studies show that slowing population growth by giving women access to the contraception they already want could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 8 and 15 percent — roughly equivalent to ending all tropical deforestation.” (Source: Women Leave Rio+20 Motivated to Galvanize Sustainability Around Family Planning and Reproductive Rights. 7.02.2012
It is an attractive and persuasive argument and no doubt embraced with zeal by environmentalists and feminists, yet in the clamor to press the logic and justice of such reasoning the debates at UN forums, while articulating reproductive rights consistently fail to address a hugely important element of women’s reproductive freedoms, a woman’s right to be able to determine, without coercion, the spacing and number of children. Now this right (which was formalized at the ICPD and is reflected in CEDAW) is purely theoretical for the countless millions of women who suffer China’s forced sterilizations and forced abortions, for them there are no reproductive freedoms, only a highly draconian and totalitarian system that enforces a range of coercive measures upon women to make them comply with the dictates of the state. Should financial penalties, arbitrary arrest, confiscation of property or loss of employment and housing rights fail women face the horrors of forced sterilization.
Unfortunately, as occurs regularly at the UNCSW, this gross violation of women’s human rights remains a taboo subject, marginalized,evaded and callously ignored by women’s NGOs during debates on reproductive rights. Yet without ensuring human rights are central to the provision of population control policies and practice, arguing for greater reproductive choice and services is divested of credibility and ethical authority. Yes reproductive rights are advanced by providing family planning resources and associated education programs, but they must also include the right of a woman not to be viciously assaulted by the state, denied control over her own body and suffer harrowing medical atrocities under the name of population control. Nor is it enough to claim such rights are enshrined in international statutes such as CEDAW and the ICPD while China enforces a program that so violently trashes those principles, yet the champions of reproductive freedoms offered not a word of opposition or condemnation. Informed and free choice yes, education and access to family planning by all means, but should not those who campaign on such issues be demanding those freedoms and services are extended to women suffering China’s population control policies?