February 12, 2021 - WomEnpowered international held our fourth biannual panel discussion: My body, My Choice, centred around the topic of reproductive rights. Reflecting on the latest developments in Poland and Japan, the event focused on the shifts in political standards and social perspectives regarding reproductive rights through the experiences of three expat women living in Japan. Our panellists Ola, Bonnie and Clara shed light on the political, legal and social landscape of reproductive rights through their personal involvement in the topic.
The conversation began with Ola’s introduction of the currently urgent
uestion for Poland: access to abortion. While she positioned the topic in a complex historical and cultural context, she highlighted, the issue is multifaceted: it is not just the right of abortion but indeed safe, accessible, not shameful abortion. Religion plays an important role in Poland
. It is used as a powerful tool for resisting legal abortion and in that way serves conservative politics
claiming to defend traditional values.
Although not related to religion, in Japan too, defending traditional values has a large influence on the continued resistance to allowing over-the-counter access to emergency contraception. The emergency contraceptive can be accessed in Japan after a doctor's prescription. Becoming an over-the-counter product, Bonnie revealed, would challenge the established gender order. Her research and work on the topic have shown her that it is often male-only panels making decisions guided by preconceived gender stereotypes, in some instances even doubting women’s ability to make appropriate decisions about taking the contraceptive. Moving the conversation forward would require some level of social acceptance which can be achieved through education about the need and use of the emergency pill as part of the wider topic of sexuality, sex education and safe sexual practices. Japanese NPOs have been taking an important role in raising voices and opening up a space for discussion. It is expected that this year the emergency contraceptive will be available over the counter. Clara connected both cultural contexts and their complexity by noting that it is still a global struggle to have policy truly translated into reality. She emphasized the power of women as agents of change, as educators and as allies by sharing solidarity. Especially in times of this global pandemic which has disproportionately affected women, it is crucial that safe spaces and health coverage for women are considered fundamental and are prioritised. For this, it is crucial to have women in decision-making positions, especially when the policy would affect women’s bodies and lives. Women should also have access to reliable information from a young age to be able to make informed decisions.
Key Insights from Panelists:
Culture and background matter
From family background to wider community norms, culture can determine how women are informed about their reproductive rights, how women perceive their own bodies, what women believe is shameful or right, what is legally and practically available. Different backgrounds can result in opposite dynamics. For example, although in the USA abortion has been stigmatized, over the counter emergency contraceptives are available. In Japan, there is less stigma around abortion but significant hurdles to allow easy access to the emergency contraceptive.
It is a web of issues, not an individual case
Our panelists stories showed that under the umbrella of reproductive rights, from contraceptives to abortion rights, there is a web of interrelated issues. For example, the lack of freedom of the press in Poland poses a significant obstacle to disseminating accurate information about reproductive rights and can misinterpret the motivation behind the protests against the abortion ban. The web of issues stretches to class, sexuality and other inequalities.
Personal autonomy - rewriting the internalized narratives
Shaming women for their sexual activity or choice combined with lack of sex education and stigmatization of topics such as menstruation and sexuality, contribute to women internalizing unhealthy narratives about their own bodies. It is important to question the element of taboo and shame that obscures our inner conversation and become aware of what guides our choices.
Calls to action:
Your voice matters. Advocate. Support women-led organization and self-organizing local networks. This is powerful. A bottom-up approach is important.
Your voice matters even if you are abroad. Amplify the voices of those who are fighting. Put pressure. Support international organizations.
Consider the topic from different perspectives: political, cultural but also health-care systems. Rethink your own values on bodily autonomy and access to health care services. How can health systems and delivery of such service be aligned with what different women need (in the complexity of their class, race, identity)?
We were pleased to see great interest in this event and hear illuminating comments from the audience. We hope you will continue to join us throughout our upcoming events! Watch for updates on our Facebook Page or website!