To millions of women all around the world, bodily autonomy is simply a notion unfamiliar to their real lives. Their entire existence has been policed by others – the clothes they must wear, the way they must carry themselves, even the topics of conversation they are allowed to carry out.
It is of paramount importance to, as a society, finally discuss women’s rights to their own bodies. Why is it that many shudder to imagine a woman dressed ‘scantily’ for her own pleasure but do not bat an eye when they are relentlessly objectified in media through a primarily male perspective? Why do the people who protest against women’s rights to birth control also shame teen mothers? In our systemically misogynistic society, being a woman truly seems like a double-edged sword. It is time that women take back the power of their own bodies and own lives.
Even though we continue to live in a world that takes away women’s autonomy, there are many who are fighting for change. One such incredible woman is Nigerian activist Lolo Cynthia — now an ambassador for UNHCR, she has been working with adolescents and women to educate them about their own sexual, community and bodily autonomy. She has used the powerful tool of social media and created a comprehensive sexuality autonomy toolkit to raise awareness about this important issue.
As a glimmer of hope, Cynthia is not alone. 18-year-old Paxton Smith from Texas gave a heart-wrenching speech at her graduation. Mere weeks before this joyous occasion of her life, the Texas Governor Greg Abott signed a bill banning all abortions after 6 weeks of conception. This would put thousands of women with unintended pregnancies at a high risk of financial instability, physical and psychological stress, and would upend their entire lives. In her valedictorian speech, Smith said, “I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you.” The video of her speech quickly went viral online and since then she has released a collaborative book A War on My Body chronicling the history of reproductive rights for women. All proceeds from the book will go to promoting reproductive health in women and girls.
With the efforts of these and many other women, the tide of women’s bodily autonomy is finally turning.
So, what can you do?
The most important thing that we can do is raise our voice. For too long have women been silenced, and for too long have they suffered quietly in the background while their rights and autonomy have been inhumanly stripped away from them. Only by finally letting our thoughts and opinions flow free can we dismantle the idea that a woman’s body is someone else’s property, and take back the power.