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The recent UN Population Fund Report 2021 has measured the autonomy women have over their own bodies, to make decisions about their own bodies, in different societies globally.
Translated from the original in Hindi by Sandhya Renukamba.
The freedom of women to take decisions related to their own lives is rarely seen. Women are still learning to fight for their rights, as they have only barely learnt to put forth their decisions; rarely can these women take decisions about their own health.
During the 2020 pandemic, there were many reports of increasing cases of sexual abuse of women, especially marital rapes where they were closeted with their spouses. Many women became pregnant due to the refusal to use condoms by men – men who were not ready to forfeit their pleasure, and the women did not have autonomy over their bodies, so any protestations were just brushed aside.
According to the UNFPA State of World Population Report 2021, women are not at liberty to take decisions related to their lives. There are many factors addressed in the report, but for the purpose of this article we’ll consider those about the health of women and specifically the right to an abortion.
According to the United Nations Population Fund Report 2021, in 57 countries leading the way in development, women are “not allowed to take decisions related to arbitration, contraceptive, sexuality, etc., because women are unaware of their own body, and when, what, which steps to take…”!!
This is just patriarchal infantilisation of women.
According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971, women reserve the right to give birth or to have an abortion, upto 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Following the changes in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, the a woman can go in for an abortion up to 24 weeks for rape survivors, disabled women and minors. It is now also applicable to unmarried women, who can avail of abortion in case of failure of contraception.
According to a report, in 2015, 47 out of 1000 Indian women in the age group of 15–49 had an abortion, out of which 81 percent abortions were done by the MMA (Medical Method of Abortion), a process in which abortion is done by drugs.
14 percent of abortions were via surgical procedures, and 5 percent of abortions were done without any medical consultation.
Surgical procedures for abortion were most commonly used in states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The surprising thing is that after 2015, the correct figures have not been released.
However, there are a large number of forced abortions in which women are not asked for their choice. Also, due to lack of sex education among girls, when pregnant, medicines are consumed without thinking.
The fact is that even where girls have to take a decision on abortion without much knowledge, the stigma of forced abortion remains hidden because women do not have information about their bodies. There is so much lack of awareness in them that they are not aware of their health, including laws related to their body.
An abortion can be a very traumatic incident in a woman’s life, so things related to their body should be known to every woman to take the right decision.
For example, MMA- Medical Method of Abortion with a combination of the prescribed drugs is considered effective and safe in abortion when it is taken under doctor’s supervision, and has proven to be 95-98% effective at 9 weeks of pregnancy.
Women living in rural areas are under family pressure to produce more children. In most places, people put pressure on women only so that after the children grow up, the children will also be included in the wages and they will also become the means of income.
In a society helmed by men like ours, sterilization is not acceptable as men are afraid of losing their masculinity, due to which women are also forced to give birth to children. Drugstores in most rural and semi rural areas are run by men, due to which women living there are unable to buy contraceptives.
The figures for abortion in rural areas are very low because there is a lack of awareness among women, which needs to make government facilities accessible to women to bridge.
In short, according to the UN Population Fund Report 2021, bodily autonomy is difficult for Indian women because no matter what the status of the woman is, most of her decisions, especially those related to her body are taken either by her spouse or her family. The body of a woman is not just hers, but the property of the whole family, who decide when she can have a child, when to have an abortion, if she can use a contraceptive or not, and which one – her life is not hers.
Image source: vinaykumardudam from Getty images Signature, Canva Pro
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