Morals, Choices and the Rainbow of Illusion – By Youth Champion Suhanya Naidu

rainbow tearsA few months ago, I happened to meet a young community leader in the eastern part of Sri Lanka, conducting awareness programs on child abuse. Despite being the sole breadwinner of her family, she still wants to share a little time with her community and empower the next generation. She is a courageous young lady who has had her own sorrows to deal with. Forced into marriage at 14, she knew nothing about the institution of marriage other than just following her 20-year-old husband’s orders.

By the age of 16, she was carrying a baby but she was unsure about being a teenage mother living in a war zone (at that time) with almost no support system to take care of herself or her to be born child. So one day, she mustered all her courage and stepped out of the house looking for a solution. She undergoes a back alley abortion and almost gets killed by the pain and the excessive bleeding. Luckily for her, with her body supporting to heal a little faster, she walks out of her worst nightmare. But she was being labelled “unscrupulous” for trying to take a stand on her own life because some of us are busy judging people through the bubble of morality but surprisingly forget everything about free will.

15 years forward, she is a mother of three wonderful kids and one of the leading ladies of her community, advocating for women and child rights. She is one of those few women who just happened to be lucky I guess. And there are plenty of young women who were forced to teenage marriages and may be to bear children regardless their will. And some of them might as well try to find easiest alternative, suicide or self-harm.

Government prescribed education system does not contribute much to establishing the fundamentals of sex education within the young generation. And the mere words “SEX” itself being taboo within our conservative (nevertheless “cultural”) societies, trying to reach information through books, Internet or even through movies are considered misbehaving. Consequently, young women without a hint of knowledge about reproductive health and contraception are just pushed in to a society that expects them to be everything else but not themselves.

Starting from the right to information, the right to make your own decisions are just ignored by the same society that claims to have moral values for everything around them. Led by natural instincts, when a young woman ends up getting pregnant since she might have never even heard about condoms, IUDs or even emergency pills, she is not given any options.

women sri lankaFrom the beginning itself, we were manipulated and yeah, of course programmed to believe a structure that speaks of morals, ethics and doing the right thing. A woman sacrificing her own life over a family or children would be considered an epitome of the womankind while taking a decision for her own betterment would mark her Immoral or even amoral. Standing on a moral ground, if society is ignoring a person’s basic right to take a decision to control her own body, despite knowing that she was never even given a fair chance, maybe it’s high time to question the brass tacks of “morals” themselves.

“Moral values” seem to be more like rainbows; they reflect the insight of white yet in reality, it’s a wonderful visual illusion just as morals.

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Celebrating Youth Power! #IYD2016

IYD2016The theme of the 2016 International Youth Day is “The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production”. This year’s Day is about achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It focuses on the leading role of young people in ensuring poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development through sustainable consumption and production.

SDG’s are important; they provide the vision and global development agenda for the next 15 years. They also spell out parameters for allocation of global financial and human resources for achieving a sustainable developmental global order by 2030. For the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), the SDGs include several relevant goals and targets such as those related to health, education and gender equality. The goals and targets encompass many key aspects of SRHR, including access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, comprehensive sexuality education and the ability to make decisions about one’s own health.

Today, people all over the world are unable to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights as they face stigmatization, discrimination, violence, and other barriers. Youth and adolescents are a group whose lives particularly gets effected by these barriers. According to WHO ‘every year, some 3 million girls aged 15 to 19 undergo unsafe abortions.’ The Youth Statement on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls upon Govt’s to acknowledge the SRHR of young people and adolescents worldwide.

“Of particular importance to us as young people is the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). SRHR plays a central role in achieving sustainable development, as it cuts across all sectors with links to health and development, gender equality, human rights, poverty, migration, education, sustainable economies, security, climate change, and environmental sustainability. It is a fundamental human right for every person, including young people, to be able to have control over their own sexuality and reproduction.” Read full statement here

At Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP) we have been working with youth from across the region and building a group of sensitized and aware young people who are actively engaged in advocating for safe abortion as a right. ASAP provides small grants to youth champions for carrying on their advocacy work, though small in number youth champions have been able to launch some very meaningful and transformative initiatives through these grants. Read about them here- Small Grants . To know more about ASAP youth programs please visit- http://asap-asia.org

This International Youth Day our youth champions are sending out some very powerful messages calling to ensure access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive services that include access to safe abortion. The intention is to build awareness that abortion stigma is real and it hurts women and to underscore the importance of abortion as an essential social good and a human right in the 2030 agenda.

Share these messages and help us make some noise- #IYD2016

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Why Language Matters!

“Violent.” “Sickening.” “Disgusting.” “Inhuman.” These are all words regularly used by prominent media sources to stigmatize and mislead on the reality of abortion. Such words are often used to smear and shame women who exercise the right to an abortion. Language around abortion is important, it helps to place our conversations within a rights based framework and to combat abortion stigma perpetuated by popular Media. Re-emphasisng the significance of language in our discourse and advocacy; starting this month we will be re-posting an interesting series that our Coordinator Suchitra Dalvie wrote sometime back- the word of the month column. This column will analyze the significance of the words we use in advocacy. Here’s a blog about why she thinks Language matters!

Words are powerful. Language matters. What we say is shaped by our thoughts, ideas, attitudes, perceptions, reactions. In turn, what we say can shape our own behavior and actions and also influence that of others.

feminism_definitionWe need to articulate what we think and feel and want to do or want to happen. We need to respond to those who say things or do things that we oppose, object to or resent. We need to stand up for what we believe in and for this we need words. The right words– which define concepts, which name people and thoughts and deeds for what they are or lead us into awareness of what they ought to be.

All of us engaged in advocacy need to have our voices strengthened by the power of the right word. Language enriches and shapes our discourse. Language can be used to powerfully interpret laws and policies and judgments but it can also be used to hide, obfuscate and render them weak.

pro-choiceMoreover, the truth is the truth even if only one person is speaking it. So, we need a powerful language in which we can express this truth!

At ASAP we thought we would take a small step in exploring certain concepts which are key to our work in safe abortion, within the larger spectrum of sexual and reproductive rights, women’s rights and human rights.

These words are often thrown around by the media, by politicians, by other advocates and there are some words which we need to reclaim and redefine and empower ourselves with.

Do send  us a list of your favourite words or even better, send us a small write up ( just a paragraph will do), and we will publish it on our blog !

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There is a Moral Case for Abortion- A new book A new perspective!

Ann“Access to abortion is an integral part of women’s reproductive health care and women have the ethical right to receive this along with other supportive services”- Ann Furedi

Abortion has historically been a contentious issue on several grounds including moral, ethical, religious and legal. But seldom do we see the women’s right to abortion being debated on grounds of morality. The anti-choice groups frame the ethical debate over abortion in the context of the right to life of the fetus while the pro-choice groups respond with the women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.

Making a remarkable shift Ann Furedi Chief Executive of bpas, sets out the ethical arguments for a woman’s right to choose in her new book: The Moral Case for Abortion. Drawing on sociological thought and moral philosophy, Furedi argues that ‘there is a strong moral case for recognizing autonomy in personal reproductive decisions, and that supporting a woman’s right to abortion has ethical foundations and integrity’

Furedi argues that to prevent a woman from making her own choice to continue or end her pregnancy is to undermine the essence of her humanity. She asserts that true respect for human life and true regard for individual conscience demand that we respect a woman’s right to decide.

So often, the anti-choice movement gets to monopolize morality. And while there are myriad pragmatic arguments in favour of abortion, Furedi questioned whether this is enough. Instead, she presented the moral case in favour of abortion, arguing that an embryo is not yet ‘one of us’. Ending life means something different to humans, compared to a being that does not know it’s alive. We have aspirations; we have autonomy to use our minds. That is the real difference.

Furedi recognizes that women would have different views on this matter. But what is not debatable is that women themselves have lives, and the value of those lives does not lessen when they become pregnant. A woman’s value is in her biography, not her biology. A woman’s decisions are her own, and it is women who live with the outcomes of reproductive choices, not the politicians who seek to regulate them.

Fruedi’s arguments draws upon the Kantian imperative that people should not be regarded as a mere means to an end but an end in themselves. She draws upon the principles of bodily autonomy and associated decision making, and stresses that it’s morally reprehensible to deny this capacity for choice/ decision making to those who are the closest to the consequences.

This thought-provoking book provides a fresh perspective on abortion, which will interest both pro- and anti-choice individuals and organizations, along with academics in the fields of gender studies, philosophy, ethics and religion.

References
1. http://bpas1968.tumblr.com/post/147796326718/making-the-moral-case-for-abortion#notes
2. http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137411181
3. http://www.palgrave.com/gp/media-centre/press/the-moral-case-for-abortion/10263984

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Happiness Index and Women’s Reproductive Rights in Bhutan- By Youth Champion Wangchuk Dema

Y-PEER trainees watching video clips on safe abortion and gender equality

Y-PEER trainees watching video clips on safe abortion and gender equality

Bhutan is a country known for measuring its progress by the Gross National Happiness rather than the monetary index used the world over ! https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/01/bhutan-wealth-happiness-counts

While this is wonderful idea that has earned praise, there is still much to be done in terms of women’s health and rights issues to ensure their happiness……

The difficult terrain and simpler life means access to emergency healthcare is not always easy or prompt. This has led to an extremely high maternal mortality rate which hovers around 180 even now.

Currently 26% of its population is under the age of 25 and in this context Y-PEER Bhutan recently conducted a five-day National training of trainers. The discussions focused on sexual and reproductive health including safe abortion, fertility and pregnancy, and the challenges posed by sexually transmitted infections.

During the discussions on early pregnancy a major concern that emerged was the impact on the girl’s health as her body would not be prepared to deliver a baby and later, there could be post-pregnancy complications. Discontinuing studies, financial instability, abandoning of child by father, stigma from society, were identified as social and cultural issues that may even be a trigger for the girl to commit suicide.
These apprehensions then led to a discussion on access to safe abortion services. At present in case of an unwanted pregnancy, women and girls are unable to access safe abortion services since there is no law or policy document specifying if it is legal in Bhutan. In such a situation these women and girls are forced to cross the border to get an abortion done which could be unsafe and dangerous. Through the discussions the participants came to an understanding that Bhutan is no exception in terms of unsafe abortion and that unsafe abortion amongst young women is a major health risk.

On the fourth day of the training the participants discussed at length early pregnancies which are unplanned/unwanted pregnancies and their root causes – the most common cause identified by participants was the unmet need for contraception among the youth; even though contraceptives are available, they are not easily accessible. This means that young girls and boys are embarrassed to go and get the contraceptives, which largely emerges from the lack of comprehensive sexuality and reproductive health awareness.

The trainers recommended to the participants that they could either contact the Y-PEER in most parts of the country (in about 9 institutes) or else, there are three Adolescent Friendly Health Services in the country. The session ended with screening of a video on safe abortion and gender equality, which actually motivated a lot of them and helped them understand the importance of reproductive health and rights among young girls than boys.

The outcome of the sessions and discussions was that many of participants had come with the notion that abortion should remain illegal as it goes against the teachings of Buddhism. As the training proceeded, first discussion on abortion convinced a handful of participants that abortion should be legalized while others remained unmoved. However, in the second discussion, everyone was convinced except two. Fortunately, during the very last session on abortion, they also understood our perspective and the need for safe abortion services for women and girls as a health and rights issue.

We hope that soon the happiness index for women and girls in Bhutan will also include their happiness at being able to understand and control their bodies and their fertility!

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