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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reproductive Right and Justice

The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows:

Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

This is rather interesting and new concept to me. The concept is interesting because though I thought reproductive right should exists, I did not think it really existed and thus I am glad that one or more groups of people or organization (WHO here) thought that reproduction is not a private affair (for which no guidelines had to be defined).And it is new, because at least in the cultural circles I am exposed to, reproduction is more of a private and family affair that anything on which WHO-defined rights can be applied.Depending upon the socioeconomic status and education-level of a family, individuals and couples could be subjected to discrimination, coercion or violence and in most of the cases , it is easier to give in rather than resist and hold one's ground.

As is well-known, in Indian families , there is considerable pressure put upon a couple to deliver an offspring at the earliest possible. Most of my cousins (who stay with or within close vicinity of their family) have conceived within the first year of marriage itself . The pressure mounted upon a couple is so immense that there is hardly any scope to evaluate important things like financial feasibility to accommodate a new member,  mental preparation of parents etc. Anywhere after two years of offspring-less marriage , a couple esp. the wife could be subjected to vibes from anyone from a distant relative to the local house-maid, as a reminder that the individual/couple has yet not implemented the duty, that has already been delayed by a year.I am aware of many friends who prefer to remain abroad and not return to India fearing the period of harassment , associated with this.

I have been married for 4.5 years and am expecting my first born this May . And if someone asked me if WHO reproductive rights helped me, well..sorry I wasn't even aware of it.And even if I were aware of it, max I could have done is to have taken a printout of it and pasted it at the walls of different relatives and I am sure they would have used to clean up something.I went through 16 years of education and 7 years of work in a MNC and a total of 28 years of existence to have realized that a person like me could be as vulnerable to denial of reproductive right (or for that matter any other right) as an uneducated woman below poverty line. I vividly remember the horrible incident of visiting my in-laws a year back when I(and my husband) were put through verbal abuse and mental harassment for not having reproduced till then.I was forced to meet a gynecologist because my in-laws believed firmly that I was infertile and needed to be checked by a gynecologist of their choice immediately under their supervision , which I resisted and resistance is always met with further verbal abuse and emotional blackmail and my portrayal as a woman who doesn't even display the basic instinct of having children . To top it all, when I informed this incident to my parents, instead of extending support to my cause, I was advised to stop creating a raucous , forget about the incident and arrive at a compromise, because that was the most practical way to go forward.

 Well, according to WHO, I have the reproductive right to decide the timing of my children free of discrimination and coercion . If a person like me had to go  through such mental turmoil and harassment to  exercise my right, I don't see much hope for the millions or probably billions of women all around the women, who might not be able to hold their ground.