This is the third part of a series of blogposts from our engagement with the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (#CSW62) taking place at the UN headquarters in New York City. Read the first part here, and the second part here.
While SRHR seems to be THE agenda least prioritised by the members states at the CSW62, as reflected in their country statements and commitments, women’s rights organisations and networks are determined to not let the agenda fall off the radar. We are taking advantage of every opportunity, despite shrinking spaces, to highlight sexual and reproductive rights issues that women and girls living in rural areas face to remind our governments and decision makers that no development agenda can be achieved without fulfilling SRHR for women and girls.
A parallel event organised by ARROW and Global Network for the Right to Food and Nutrition on 14 March was yet another reminder that although women living in rural areas are not a homogenous group, when it comes to subjugation, discrimination and violence – the experiences are similar due to patriarchal norms that are institutionalised. Women in rural areas bear the brunt even more as they experience multidimensional poverty that intersects the issues of educational status, food and nutrition insecurity, caste, class, race, ethnicity, language, among other factors including gender. A fundamental aspect of patriarchy, is the control of and undermining women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and women and girls living in rural areas have less agency and autonomy over their bodies and lives.
Examples from countries such as Nepal, India and Kenya at the parallel event further substantiated that violation of SRHR push women into further poverty with unintended pregnancies, poor health outcomes, increased impact on their health and well-being.
Women and girls living in rural areas in India experience multiple forms of human rights violations including food insecurity and poor maternal health services, despite various nutrition and maternal health schemes introduced by the government. Access to those schemes and to the sexual and reproductive health services in general are limited leading to high maternal mortality and morbidity specially among women living in rural areas. Women are unable to exercise their entitlement to these schemes also due to deep-set corruption within the systems.
Similarly, a presentation from our participant from Kenya allowed us to dive deep into the issues fisher women face in regards to their sexual and reproductive health. The presentation highlighted how sexual and reproductive health of fisher women is a key element in the sustainable provision of food and nutrition for herself, her family and community and that SDGs cannot be achieved without assuring, respecting and protecting women rights in holistic manner and rights of small-scale food producers.
An example from Nepal reminded us again that though policy and law reforms are the first step towards development, they are meaningless without effective implementation. Despite progressive laws and policies on safe abortion in Nepal, women and girls continue to experience unsafe abortion due to lack of effective implementation and monitoring mechanisms, lack of awareness and prevalent stigma and discrimination against abortion. This is worse for women and girls living in rural areas. Women living in rural areas have limited access to information including comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services. Practices such as child marriage, chaupadhi in rural areas are still prevalent despite that they are illegal.
It is critical to recognize related interlinkages in regards to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and to ensure that it is factored into addressing conditions of women and girls living in rural areas. Until women can enjoy their right and access to make decisions on their own body and sexuality, any development agenda remains unfulfilled. And women and girls living in rural areas will continue to be left behind!
Building New Constituencies for SRHR