23 February 2011
The Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), which is a regional organisation working for women’s rights, believes that it is a woman’s right, and not any one else’s, to decide what to do with her body and her pregnancy. Women are capable, intelligent beings who make difficult choices everyday of their lives. They are half of Malaysia’s population, one third of Malaysia’s workforce, hold 13% of the seats in parliament, are an integral part of Malaysia’s development, and are the only ones who can get pregnant. Why should then we remove that belief in a woman’s capacity to decide, just because it has to with what is most intimately and integrally her business—her body and her pregnancy?Women must be trusted to make choices—whether that is carrying the pregnancy to term and keeping the child, adoption or safe termination of pregnancy. It is the responsibility of the government—which is a secular, not a religious body, and which has committed to gender equality by signing international agreements such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development—to enable and support women to be able to act on their decision safely. This means that women must be given accessible and comprehensive array of services that does not stop at adoption services and halfway homes, but includes access to all methods of contraception services (that empower and allow women informed choice on how to prevent pregnancies in the first place) and safe abortion services.
These services are especially critical for women who have lesser forms of social power at their disposal: the poor, the young, those less educated, migrants and refugees, as well as those whose pregnancies are unintended and the sexual encounters which led to these pregnancies may also have been unwanted. From a humane perspective, choices must always be available. If women choose not to exercise these choices according to their religious beliefs, then it is fine. But we should not let our beliefs colour and limit the choices available.
This letter was published in The Star Newspaper on 27 February 2011. The link to view it is: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2011/2/27/focus/8141787&sec=focus