Yes! SheDecides: Affirming women’s rights to their own body

A panel of women's rights activists and global representatives gather at an event to commemorate SheDecides' first anniversary at Hotel Istana, Kuala Lumpur March 2, 2018. — Picture courtesy of Arrow
A panel of women's rights activists and global representatives gather at an event to commemorate SheDecides' first anniversary at Hotel Istana, Kuala Lumpur March 2, 2018. — Picture courtesy of Arrow

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — A group of stakeholders and global representatives came together today to express their support for SheDecides — a movement that promotes, provides, protects and enhances the fundamental rights of every girl and woman to freely decide about their sexual lives.

The discussion, organised in conjunction with SheDecides’ first anniversary, saw participations of regional non-profit group Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow) and representatives from Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland, among others.

In a statement, Arrow executive director and the SheDecides champion for Asia-Pacific Sivananthi Thanenthiran said the movement is critical to the region, citing the stigmatisation of abortion as one of the occurences.

She said although progressive legislations related to abortions exist in some countries, the stigma around the idea forces women to turn to risky procedures instead of seeking safe services.

The statement cited a Guttmacher Institute statistics which said that around 35.8 million abortions were performed annually in Asia between the years 2010 and 2014, but according to the United Nations, a staggering 2.3 million women are hospitalised each year due to complications of unsafe abortion.

“Every girl and every woman has the right to choose what she does with her body. Unfortunately millions of girls around the world and in our region are unable to do so.

“And that is why we need to come together, to stand up and speak out to say, ‘Yes! SheDecides’. Sexual and reproductive rights are integral to individual autonomy, to freely decide on matters of sexuality and reproduction, to have the right to consent and bodily integrity,” she said.

The Belgium ambassador to Malaysia HE Daniel Dargent said his government has fully supported this initiative from the very start and will continue to support it.

 ”SheDecides has helped a lot, not in the least with the financial support for sexual and reproductive health it has generated. But more will be needed in the coming years.

“Therefore we have to continue our efforts for SheDecides to enable more girls and women to make their own important choices on their health and on their future,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the designated ambassador of the Netherlands to Malaysia HE Karin Mössenlechner said her government supports the movement as it wishes to see girls and women across the globe being given the same rights as boys and men.

“Norms and values, laws, codes and habits are preventing many women from being who they can be, from being the masters of their own fate and their own bodies. This needs to change,” she said.

The Finnish Ambassador based in Malaysia HE Petri Puhakka echoed the same sentiment, adding: “SheDecides needs and deserves the time and commitment of all of us.”

The event at Hotel Istana today also featured a photo exhibition of young girls and women impacted by climate change, polygamy, patriarchy and child marriage in Asia-Pacific.

Fatima Parvin, one of the courageous women featured in the photo exhibition, is a child bride from Bangladesh who took the opportunity to share her story during the event.

“When I was just 13 years old, my father married me off due to his insecurities. A year later, I had a son and my studies were stopped. I was keen to get an education. I went through the dilemma of whether to continue studying or stay in my family.

“I even tried to commit suicide but luckily was saved. Then the doctor motivated me to live because life was too valuable to waste on anyone. After that incident, I bounced back and in 2012, I started to study again. Today, I am a student of law,” Fatima was quoted as saying.

A world café methodology discussion was also organised on topics including Child, Early and Forced Marriage, access to Safe Abortion, Comprehensive Sexuality Education access to contraception and non-discrimination and violence.

Issues like prevalence of gender-based violence, child marriage, Malaysia’s recent review at Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, challenges advocating on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression rights and accessing safe abortion services were also brought to light.

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