Since the inception of time, women’s bodies have been politicised and weaponised as a way to keep everyone in “check.” Be it Biblical or otherwise, the bodies of women have always been a topic of debate, discourse and demonisation by those who are not women. Depending on the period in history – the pendulum swings in various directions. From being anti-abortion and anti-contraception particularly for women of colour in lower-income regions to slowly ensuring the elimination of certain groups of people. This concept then applied to white women in particularly the south of the United States, wherein the political arena needed to populate the white community, while simultaneously intentionally sterilising women of colour to control the population. In short: much of the politicisation of reproductive health at the hands of the patriarchy, simply serves as a way to sustain a level of political dominance through white supremacy and patriarchal structures. Throughout history, religion and patriarchal views imposed on the countries that have been colonised by European nations have been especially damaging and longstanding.
These systems and politics have impacted those worldwide, particularly in the Global South where healthcare systems and programmes are often philanthropically funded. The world often seems so massive and people tend to be flippant about laws in other nations, assuming that it has nothing to do with the experiences of women and gender minorities worldwide. When we consider the Global Gag Rule, otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy – a dangerous anti-abortion policy in the United States that affects and risks the lives of women and girls worldwide. This rule meant that any organisation that received funding from a United States health assistance from everything from providing information, referrals to abortion providers, advocating for safe abortions, etc even in countries where it is legal. Even if the organisation has some of its own money, the law prohibits them from any right to choose language and positions. One of the first things President Donald Trump did was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule.
Each time we take one step forward in Southern Africa, our continuous fights for advancement and access to healthcare get knocked back down by politics and choices made by white men in the Global North. While abortion is legal in South Africa, these funds and philanthropical institutions make it difficult to advocate not only for safe abortion and the right to choose. It also impacts the politics, healthcare and programmes that set out to provide contraception, sexual education, HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, and even maternal care and newborn care. These systems also extend into affecting gender minorities, LGBTQ+ communities and particularly people who are far from healthcare centres or impoverished and vulnerable.
The recent conversation worldwide about Roe v. Wade has been incredibly insidious, especially as we reflect on it during Women’s Month. It is hard to wrap one’s head around the fact that a precedent such as Roe v. Wade can be overturned in this day and age in a “first world country” like the United States of America. It is a terrifying notion that those who are already vulnerable and marginalised will only be further marginalised and disregarded. Leading many to seek out unsafe options, abortions will never be stopped and controlled – only safe and regulated abortions can be stopped and therein lies the problem.
Many things seem unclear and daunting, and some people may not understand how these policies affect our lives. One of the most important things we can focus on and continue to do is to seek information, have these conversations and advocate for those who are unable to do so for themselves. Shedding light on the fact that we should all be focusing on exercising our human rights – which include our sexual and reproductive health and rights, our bodily autonomy, and our rights to choose. The best way to safeguard our autonomy and to bring those most marginalised out of the margins and into the centre is to share information, have conversations, and challenge policies and governments whose main goal is to strip people from their rights. The important takeaway is that sexual and reproductive health and rights, including reproductive justice, are paramount. It is an important element for all of us to focus on this Women’s Month.
Now more than ever, we have to insist on establishing the fact that politics and patriarchal arenas do not speak for us or our human rights and cannot toy with it. We should insist on holding our government accountable so that the rights of marginalised women and girls are not neglected due to politics based in the Global North. Our bodies are not a political playground.