As we approach the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we want to reflect on how gender-based violence manifests itself through the restrictions that exist to limit our reproductive decisions.
The violence that women and people with the capacity to bear children experience is present in the lack of access to some of our most basic needs such as: economic stability, fair employment, and a healthy environment. It manifests itself by forcing us to prioritise needs as if they were not all equally urgent and relevant. This hierarchisation generates a false perception of what is a priority, favouring the postponement or denial of some rights that are interpreted as irrelevant or that may not even be understood as part of our human rights.
This is why it is essential to work within a framework of Sexual and Reproductive Justice.
Reproductive justice is a framework that goes beyond just the right to have a safe abortion, or to not have children if we don’t want them. It is also the right to have the children we want, and to be able to parent them safely.
A reproductive justice framework allows us to make visible how systems of oppression are linked, requiring intersectional efforts that support the right of people to live a life in which our decisions are not curtailed by the limitations that violence imposes on us, making it possible to decide on the basis of wellbeing, pleasure and desire.
Compulsory maternity as a site of symbolic violence.
The restrictions that exist at a global level to prevent women and others who can become pregnant from having abortions are based on a context that recognises us as people with rights based only on our reproductive capacity. We are expected to fulfil the role of mother (whether we are women or not) to sustain the capitalist and patriarchal system. This reduces us to the expectations placed on us by the gender binary, rather than everything we are and want to be.
This has an impact on our experiences and the possibility of accessing life options other than motherhood. Our identity becomes synonymous with social expectations linked to sacrifice, as well as the renunciation of pleasure and autonomy. Stigma inhibits us from choosing what we want and need or forces us to live our decisions from places of discomfort that hurt us.
Guaranteeing access to safe abortions makes it possible for all people with the capacity to bear children to exercise our reproductive autonomy. To have options to choose and the means to realise our choice in safe and dignified conditions.
It is not enough to get the State to stop criminalising abortion.
We also need communities that support us, institutions that are sensitised, and cultural narratives free of abortion stigma so that it becomes a real and safe option for all people.
Symbolic violence linked to gender roles impacts our mental health. When a person contacts us at Fondo MARIA to ask for support and shares with us that she feels conflicted about her decision, it is common that this conflict is linked to the social expectations of her as a pregnant woman. Refusing to continue a pregnancy can lead to various forms of violence, especially when support networks are scarce.
Abortion counsellors empower people to live free and joyful lives.
At Fondo MARIA we have accompanied thousands of people to make reproductive choices. This can include emotional support, but also logistical help with things like transport and being able to afford an abortion service.
Fondo MARIA’s model of accompaniment seeks to recognise our personal power to make decisions that bring us wellbeing and pleasure. Abortion accompanied by those who empower our knowledge and promote autonomy, care and integral health. Promoting abortion as a legitimate and dignified option is a way to eradicate the violence that is sustained as a result of social structures that erase our rights.
All of us are part of a community and we have to participate in the construction of the world we want to live in. We all have the power to contribute to the eradication of sexist violence, and fighting for safe abortion and supporting local support networks is one of the ways we can do this.
By Stephanie Lomelí Guerrero – Coordinator of Fondo MARIA, led by SAAF grantee partner Balance.