Protecting reproductive health and rights

15 July 2020 | Columns

Florence /Khaxas

Namibia was built on the labour of black women whose bodies are often subjected to criminalisation and violence.

Why do women die? That is a question we need to continue asking, as we unpack how race, gender and capitalism continue to be the catalysts of reproductive injustice and the criminalisation of black women's bodily autonomy.

Communities need to unite to protect the lives of girls and women by promoting their human rights. Community decision-makers such as religious leaders should be at the forefront of promoting love and non-violent societies that prioritise the well-being of women and girls.

Poor and marginalised women are in great danger of the Covid-19 pandemic because they face greater difficultly in protecting themselves from transmission due to lack of information, resources and access to quality health and social services.

Now more than ever, we need strong unified voices of black women to speak out, hold space and start the conversation on Namibian women's bodily autonomy. Now more than ever, we need to listen to women and their rights and needs.

Govt failing women

The government is miserably failing women. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3, to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” sets the target of reducing maternal mortality to 70 deaths per 100 000 live births, with the belief that legislating for safe abortion access is central to reducing maternal mortality.

Reproductive rights are human rights and those rights include the right to safe, accessible and legal abortions.

About 40 million abortions take place globally each year, whether we like it or not.

The criminalisation of abortion simply drives the abortion market underground, which leads to unsafe abortions.

The severe trauma experienced under the criminalisation of abortion, and due to community-driven stigma, further impacts the mental health of girls and women.

Local communities can come together to participate in initiatives that strengthen the broad constituency of women mobilised to secure inclusion in decision-making regarding their bodies.

If local communities actively support women by promoting leadership to organise around reproductive health and rights, this will result in a dramatic improvement in women's health, which will lead to happier communities.

Lack of public knowledge

The lack of public knowledge about human rights and the law highlights the lack of community-driven responses that prioritise women's health and demands accountability towards Namibian women. Community organising strengthens active citizenship and political involvement towards reaching law reform to remove oppressive laws.

Namibia is a violent and unequal society. Communities guard culture that upholds gender inequalities. Political leaders continue to fail women, which increases stigma and violence towards women and girls.

Traditional leaders should be at the forefront of promoting women's human rights and dismantling how society views women, which also undermines autonomy and the human right to health.

A religious leader's role is building and uniting communities by promoting love and peace, however, the family values of pro-life campaigners further restrict women's rights to accessing healthcare services and promotes stigma and ignorance within the community.

Own bodies, own decisions

Women have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. Local communities need to start creating community-driven platforms for sharing accurate information about sexuality, reproduction and to address unwanted pregnancies.

Churches need to openly speak out about family planning and reproduction and respect a women's rights to make decisions about their own bodies.

Only when communities start engaging each other by promoting women's decision-making and leadership within their community, and the right to participate in political life, will we see a new day of reproductive agency for Namibian women.