Today, March 8, 2019, the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation (CFPA) salutes all women in the Caribbean and joins the rest of the world to celebrate the achievements of women, recognizing their work for gender justice and equality.
International Women’s Day is also a time to reflect critically on the barriers that continue to impede women’s progress and society as a whole. This includes Sexual & Reproductive Health and Rights, which are essential to the health and wellbeing of women and girls, and for a fit and productive society. The struggle remains for women and girls to be empowered to make healthy and wise decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive lives, if the Caribbean is to advance in attaining its goals of sustainable, equitable development.
We must continue to press for progress even as we celebrate our gains.
In the Caribbean, women are still struggling for gender equality in a region that is culturally inclined towards heteronormative rigidity and toxic gender stereotypes.
We may have the right to work and vote but employers are still hesitant to hire a woman who might potentially take a few months of maternity leave while constituents are suspicious of a woman running for office who isn’t married with children!
We have high rates of teenage pregnancies and yet are opposed to introduce comprehensive sexuality education and family planning in schools.
We are constantly being reminded that our boys “are being left behind” in school, particularly at the tertiary level, even though managerial positions in most offices are still occupied by men.
We uphold laws that legislate the control over women’s bodies, except for two CARICOM countries – Barbados and Guyana where a woman’s right to decide on her pregnancy has been decriminalized. We stand with the campaign in Jamaica for a woman’s right to choose.
A cornerstone in the fight for gender equality in this region is undoubtedly reproductive rights. Gender equality is not possible when women are not able to exercise the fundamental right to control their own bodies. There is no gender equality in the Caribbean if Caribbean women cannot make their own decisions about whether they would like to have a baby or not!
When reproductive rights are acknowledged as human rights in the Caribbean, women will be able to control their lives. How does reproductive health support women’s rights? When girls are taught comprehensive sexuality education, they can make informed decisions about their bodies which leads to a decrease in the rate of teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions and an increase in the number of girls completing school. When women are able to deliver babies safely, families are more stable. When women and girls can enjoy relationships free from violence, they can make clear decisions about the best ways to live their lives. When they can access appropriate health care and family planning services, they can plan whether and when to raise a family or not raise a family but pursue a career instead, balance a family with a career, stay at home or anything in between.
What does sexual and reproductive health look like? It’s a state of mental, physical, emotional and social well-being related to all aspects of the reproductive system. Some examples include: satisfying and safe sex lives, safe reproduction, and deciding when and how often to reproduce.
In order to have good sexual and reproductive health, people need access to affordable services and accurate information about their status and options. At the Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation, we work to shore up national and community institutions in the region to be able to provide sexual and reproductive services that are high quality, economically accessible and free from discrimination. Our vision is a Caribbean where everyone has access to sexual and reproductive health commodities, education and counseling, especially adolescents and key populations.
Everyone has the right to determine his or her own sexual and reproductive health. This Women’s Day, CFPA calls on everyone to advocate for the advancement of sexual and reproductive rights in the Caribbean.
Sexual and Reproductive rights are human rights and elemental to #BalanceForABetterCaribbean!
Happy International Women’s Day!