Where do the rights of women and girls begin and end? Who sets what their rights are? Do women and girls have access to information about their bodily rights?
A woman or a girl has the right to choose what is done to their body – whatever it is, whenever they want to. Whenever there is another person’s intervention without consent in the choice of what’s done on her body – whether someone imposes what to wear, when to get married, the number of children she should bear – all these are forms of violence and are violations of her rights.
Why is it important to talk about bodily autonomy? This subject needs to be discussed with girls when they’re young so that they’re able to make their own informed choices and develop the ability to say No or Yes. Sometimes, our culture and beliefs teach girls and women that respecting an older person, especially a male figure, means agreeing to whatever they say. When it’s not done like this, the girl is considered to have no values or manners. Most of the time this develops fear in women and girls and lowers their confidence.
Whenever women and girls aren’t in control of what’s done to their bodies or are always ruled by culture or others’ opinions, this has multiple impacts on their lives. They often feel that someone else is in charge of making choices for them and this results in increased inequality among women and men. For instance, if men consistently hold the power to decide when to have intercourse, this may cause women to have sexual intercourse out of fear. This in turn can lead to sexual violence, early and unwanted pregnancies, contracting sexually transmitted infections and so on.
Many women grow up with certain norms in the families they are raised in and consider these normal. For instance, when to get married. Depending on where we grew up, there are some communities where there are pre-determined ages of marriage. If unmarried by a particular time, some women are forced to get married due to community negative pressure, against their will. Once, I asked teenage girls in the age range of 13 – 19 years when they would get married. Many responded that they would have to be married by 23 years, if not their families could reject them. What struck me was that these teenagers accepted that they ought to be married by any means, because that’s what society tells them. To those living with disabilities, exercising their power and right over what is done to their bodies is also difficult.
All this should be put to an end. Girls should be taught these rights from an early age. Further, ensuring the rights of girls and women are met will have multiple positive effects.