By Katie Bellamy Mitchell, Identity and Discrimination Unit Intern
This February 14th, I’ll spend Valentine’s Day with people I love. And when I say I love them — my friends and family — I mean I value them. I mean I have decided my life is better when they are a part of it. It’s easy to take for granted, yet people around the world are denied the right to decide the people they share their lives with—even denied the right to make decisions over their own bodies. They are forced to accept others’ decisions about their healthcare, their sexual orientation, and whether they get married or have children.
To live, love, and make decisions free from coercion and threat of violence is a human right. Love is a decision that always means respect: for my body, for my rights, and for the bodies and rights of others.
Today, we issued a new report that reveals many Indonesian women and girls, especially those from poor and marginalized communities, struggle to achieve reproductive health in the face of discriminatory laws, policies and practices.
The report, Left Without a Choice, describes how government restrictions and discriminatory traditions threaten the lives of many Indonesian woman and girls by putting reproductive health services beyond their reach.
The Indonesian government has pledged to enhance gender equality, but many Indonesian women still struggle for fair and equal treatment. A combination of unchallenged social attitudes, unfair laws and stereotyped gender roles often relegate women to second-class status.
Our research shows how discriminatory practices and problematic laws are restricting access to contraception for unmarried women and girls, and allowing early marriage for girls younger than 16. The law also requires a woman to get her husband’s consent to access certain contraception methods, or an abortion in the event that her life is at risk. Amnesty International also found that health workers frequently deny the full range of legally available contraceptive services to unmarried or childless married women.
Since July 2008, abortion in all circumstances has been banned in Nicaragua. The new law makes no exceptions for terminating pregnancies that endanger the health or life of the woman, or that result from rape or incest. Girls or women seeking or obtaining abortions are subject to imprisonment. Health care professionals providing abortions — or even unintentionally injuring a fetus — face jail time and being barred from practice.
A new Amnesty International report, The Total Abortion Ban in Nicaragua, details the effects of the new measures. Medical professionals are put in an impossible situation: they’re prevented, on pain of criminal prosecution, from providing essential medical services — in direct contradiction of best-practice guidelines from the Ministry of Health. Women who need abortions to preserve their health — or lives — have to find doctors willing to risk prosecution and suspension of their license, or seek out dangerous back-alley terminations.
The ban has a chilling effect, too, on women suffering obstetric complications: one woman admitted to a hospital following a miscarriage was so frightened that she would be charged with having an abortion that she asked doctors not to intervene. The rate of maternal deaths in Nicaragua has increased: Official figures show that 33 girls and women have died in pregnancy or childbirth so far this year, up from 20 in the same period a year ago.
Finally, girls and women who become pregnant as a result of sexual violence must either carry the pregnancy to term, or look for risky, clandestine abortions. Our researchers spoke with women, raped by relatives, who were forced to give birth — sometimes to their own brothers or sisters. In every case, it’s low-income women who are hit hardest — richer Nicaraguans are able to travel abroad to escape the ban.