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The private is political, but my body is not owned by the State

The last weeks have been restless in defending body’s rights, and it seems that politicians from all countries make themselves the wrong way the famous slogan “the private is political”.

In Turkey, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after having compared abortion to a murder, announced his will to restrict access to abortion to the four first weeks of pregnancy. It means de facto an abortion ban.

In the United States, the republican Primary gave rise to a ridiculous upsurge in conservative speeches, which Democrats quickly named as a “war on women”. Body’s politics at stake in electoral campaigns, it is unfortunately not new.

More recently, the UN conference Rio plus 20 failed at mentioning reproductive rights in its outcome document, in a battle which opposed the Holy See and its partners to progressive countries.

40 percent of the world’s population lives nowadays in a country where abortion is banned or strictly restricted. At the same time, 215 billion women in the world declare having an unmet need in family planning. It means that 215 billion women may have to face the dilemma between having an unwanted child or an unsafe abortion, with high threats on their live.

And yet, in 1994, 179 countries adopted the Cairo Plan of Action, engaging them to “use the full means at their disposal to support the principle of voluntary choice in family planning”.

After the euphoria of the years 1994-1995 when the international community adopted huge steps forward in the right to decide over our own bodies, there has been undoubtedly a backlash in the last years, the economic issues meeting the harshest conservative voices of those who refuse the rights of women over their own bodies.

Talking about development policies, sexual and reproductive rights are again and again neglected in favor of programs for “maternal and child’s health”, more consensual and o how carrying a normative view of women’s bodies.

However, the renewed popularity of family planning in the community of donors is not to reassure us. Because investing in family planning is the same as investing in girls, it is all-instrumentalization. From community-based DIU delivery to promotion of sterilization, family planning programs often tend to back the economical – or ideological goal of curbing the population growth in developing countries. What about women’s rights to choose what they want for their life – and for their body?

To caricature, donors finance family planning in developing countries whereas this right is taken off from women in rich countries, from where almost all the same donors come. Ideology and economy, the armed wings of political decision, lead to great aberration whom the victims are the women, all the women. I don’t believe in the thesis of a “war against women”, but I certainly believe in a “war on women”. It is simply about political or economic choices, where women’s body is the battleground.

Therefore, the first issue of the next months and years is the level of control by the States on women’s bodies.

Access to contraceptives, common acceptation of abortion, and information availability on sexual and reproductive health are many variable of the reproductive liberty, which public policies can either obstruct or facilitate.

There is an urgency to replace these issues in the human rights sphere.

It is the reason why I endorsed the civil society declaration for the forthcoming Family planning summit, held next July in London: "Women’s Human Rights Must be at the Center of the Family Planning Summit".

Sexual and reproductive rights, among them abortion right, should be clearly recognized at the international level as universal human rights and respected as such.

-- Blog first published on June 21, 2012 on --

Girl Power
Human Rights
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