The WRAP #90: Reproductive autonomy: a lesson in hope and intersectionality

The author, feminist and social activist bell hooks once said that if we only name a problem without a constructive focus then we take hope away. Sage advice when you think of all the issues the world is grappling with right now: should we, for example, only talk about police brutality or focus our efforts on ensuring that black lives matter? Similarly, we know sexism and racism are the problems but it serves us well to focus on achieving equity for all.

The same can be said for reproductive coercion, which only recently has been identified as an issue for women of reproductive age. If reproduction coercion is a behaviour that interferes with the autonomy of a person to make decisions about their reproductive health, then we need to be focusing our efforts on building reproductive autonomy. It’s not just about staying hopeful: it’s also about ensuring our approach to our work achieves social justice outcomes. When we promote reproductive autonomy we have a better chance of achieving reproductive justice.

A couple of years ago we highlighted the ways in which achieving reproductive justice is a case in intersectional thinking.  A sexual and reproductive health right and justice approach has a rich legacy in the reproductive activism of women of colour and draws on a political intersectional agenda. This approach more clearly highlights the issues at stake for migrant women when fear, power and control impact on their ability to make informed choices about her body.  For migrant women, freedom from coercion means having the freedom to plan all aspects of their lives in their country of migration. The fact that there are many migrant women who cannot access pregnancy-related care or receive appropriate and timely sexual and reproductive health information because of restrictive migration policy and inadequate healthcare systems is an injustice.

The Blueprint for Sexual Reproductive Health Rights and Justice (2019) outlines a detailed plan of action to advance reproductive autonomy in the US and the rest of the world.  It explicitly recognises that sexual and reproductive justice and health rights intersect with many other issues including migrants’ rights. The Blueprint also points out that those most impacted by policy often have fewer resources and the means to navigate systemic barriers.  This has certainly been the case for migrant women in Australia who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic because of what they do, where they live and the type of visa they hold.  We should remain hopeful that we can transform these hard lessons into policy action for migrant women: let’s ensure we keep talking about the need for reproductive autonomy.

The WRAP is a monthly newsletter about migrant women’s issues. Subscribe to our mailing list here.