Elevate Difference

Gaining Ground: A Tool for Advancing Reproductive Rights Law Reform

Any act, implicit or implied, that limits or refuses a woman reproductive self-determination is a violation of her human rights. Countries have begun to move forward on this issue via the reformation of existing laws and the implementation of new ones. While progress appears to be afoot, many women remain without access to a safe pregnancy and childbirth, the right to a legal abortion, the right to use birth control and the right to equal partnership within a marriage. The Centre for Reproductive Rights, however, does not condemn countries in their publication, Gaining Ground: A Tool for Advancing Reproductive Rights Law Reform. Instead, they focus on achievements and identify what can be done to ensure future successes.

The book examines nine areas in reproductive rights law from a human rights framework and gives nods to countries that have taken measures to prevent abuse towards women and grant them access to proper healthcare. It is acknowledged, however, that legal reform alone, even when accompanied with severe punishment, will not sufficiently grant women universal access to self-determination. Deep-rooted religious and social beliefs on the status of women can hinder progress substantially. This is exemplified through Mali, where, despite government initiatives to eradicate female genital mutilation, has a population in which 80% of circumcised women believe the practice should continue. Reproductive rights reform then, is not only about legal advocacy. It is a complex issue that needs to be tackled alongside sexist ideals. By focusing on positive achievements rather than condemning countries that have been lax on granting women reproductive rights, Gaining Ground creates a platform for open discussion and makes explicit the challenges some women face.

Founded in 1992, The Centre for Reproductive Rights remains true to their vision to restore “human dignity, self-determination, and equality” to all women with this book. Gaining Grou_nd is honest, compelling and clearly lays out the foundation for establishing reproductive rights reform in all nations. While _Gaining Ground might not be your ideal beach read, it is definitely worth looking into this summer.

Written by: Cheryl Santa Maria, July 5th 2007

I think it's important to recognize the agency that women should have in making decisions about their own bodies, even if it is a practice that one, from her or his own cultural standpoint, finds abhorrent – such as female circumcision. As Cheryl writes: 80% of women in Mali want the practice to continue. And this begs the question: who am I, as a cultural outsider, to make assumptions about what women in Mali do and do not want to do to their own bodies? This type of revulsion to female circumcision has “white man’s burden” all over it. If we are concerned about the conditions in which the practice takes place, why not focus on increasing the safety of the conditions in which it takes place as opposed to taking a stand against the practice altogether? It does a disservice to women to remove their/our own abilities to decide for ourselves what we enact on our bodies.Something else to think about: why is male circumcision, which is widely practiced throughout the (white) Western world, not thought of by feminists as equally disturbing as female circumcision?

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