Sexual and Reproductive Rights
As long as anyone’s sexual and reproductive rights are compromised, women’s equality will not be fully achieved.
Sexual and reproductive rights are an integral part of our health and welfare.
Sexual and reproductive health is about complete physical, mental, and social well-being in matters relating to the reproductive system and its functions and processes. It is also about being able to have a safe and satisfying sex life and the freedom to make informed decisions about if, when, and how often to reproduce.
- The rate of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) for young people under 18 is nine times higher than the rate for all of Canada, yet only 9% of youth under 18 say they got tested — that’s despite nearly half of them reporting they are sexually active.*
- Although abortion is fully legal in Canada, only 17.8% of Canadian hospitals provide abortion services, only six of the provinces/territories have abortion clinics, not all abortions are covered by government health insurance, and some areas place additional barriers in front of women to access abortion* (for example, New Brunswick requires the written permission of two doctors).*
- Young people in Canada had less sexual knowledge in 2003 than counterparts surveyed in 1989.*
- Rape and other forms of sexual violence are increasing, not decreasing, around the world.
- Of the 447,904 pregnancies in Canada in 2003, 39% (174,682) were unintended. That year, 103,768 pregnancies were terminated via therapeutic abortion.*
- Throughout the world, a pregnant teenager is up to five times more likely to die as a result of the pregnancy than a pregnant woman aged 18 to 25.*
Sexuality is still considered taboo in Canada.
Youth are particularly affected by the sensitivity of this issue. Often too shy to ask questions about sex, sexuality, or reproductive health, we can make poor decisions due to insufficient knowledge. And being too embarrassed to purchase condoms or dental dams — especially in small towns where there’s no such thing as anonymous shopping — can lead to unprotected sex. Small communities are also less likely to have sexual health centres or clinics where young people can access unbiased information and support.
We need to promote the legitimacy of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to safe and accessible (geographically and economically) abortion services.
Our educational systems, including curricula, must be improved so young people have access to clear and thorough information regarding sexual and reproductive health.
Much more must be done to ensure everyone has access to proper sexual and reproductive health care, especially those who are the most vulnerable when it comes to exercising their rights around sexual and reproductive health across Canada: those in rural areas, those living in the street, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, the LGBTQ community, Aboriginal people, and new immigrants are among the most disadvantaged.
When Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti said, “[w]omen should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized” during a January 2011 presentation about crime prevention at York University, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis were fed up with two major issues: first, the idea that how a woman dresses is an invitation to sexual violence; and second, slut-shaming — the idea that if a woman is sexual, she should feel guilty or inferior (there can be slut-shaming even if the term “slut” isn’t used). So they created SlutWalk — now a global movement with organized activities in countries around the world. Say Barnett and Jarvis: “Women are tired of being oppressed, of being judged by our sexuality, and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work.”
Have you ever felt ashamed or unclear about sex or sexuality, or had trouble getting information you need? Have you thought about whether or how to address your reproductive health? Have you ever heard young women shaming one another for their sexual choices? Contemplating your own experiences with these issues is an important step to becoming more engaged with the effort to promote women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
Break free. Why should there be any stigma surrounding sex and sexuality? If you can speak up and speak freely about it, others will be inspired to be courageous, too. Start a discussion circle, a Facebook group, a learning club … any forum that will get people talking about one of the most important subjects we all have to deal with.
Spread safety. Many campus-based women’s centres across Canada make free condoms available to students. If something like this isn’t available on your campus, it should be. Same with high schools! It would be so worthwhile and constructive to make this happen. A good place to start is a local women’s centre or health clinic — maybe there’s a Planned Parenthood office in your town, or a YWCA. Tell someone there about your idea and plan, and ask for help in acquiring the free materials. Then, either distribute them informally or, better yet, persuade your school to make it standard practice.
Make it mandatory. Lots of us don’t get adequate education on sex or sexuality, even though some variation of it exists in most school curricula. Sometimes, it’s taught by teachers who are uncomfortable with the subject matter, untrained on it, or, even worse, who provide biased or inaccurate facts such as those found in abstinence-only education. In some schools, sexuality education is no longer taught in a specific class. If your school lacks this important learning, why not organize a campaign to institute those classes into the curriculum? You’d be doing a tremendous service for countless students today and tomorrow who will be better equipped about sex and sexuality!