Amnesty Writers' Club: My Body, My Rights: A feminist call to action?

In this instalment of the Amnesty Writers’ Club, Charlotte Amrouche looks at Amnesty’s latest campaign on sexual and reproductive rights

In 2014/15 Amnesty International launched a global campaign on sexual and reproductive rights: ‘My Body My Rights’. This campaign called for fundamental human rights to be better protected across the world according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, highlighting a number of countries in particular, from El Salvador to Ireland. The ‘My Body My Rights’ campaign is reiterating the right we all have to live without fear, violence or discrimination; wherever we may live, and whoever we may be. This campaign calls on the importance of owning one’s own body and knowing one’s rights of it, and in many cases fighting for these rights. Its most recent spotlight in Europe has been on the proposal to investigate Ireland’s ‘mother and baby homes’. Amnesty Ireland is also collecting signatures to urge Ireland to urgently join the states that have signed and ratified the Istanbul Convention. Ireland should be independently striving to move away from the patriarchal shadow left by Catholic Ireland. We should not need the pressure of Amnesty Ireland to take these measures to ensure that past atrocities carried out to women and girls in Ireland are accounted for, and that the future for every women and girl in Ireland is one of equality, free from sexist oppression and exploitation. Most interestingly the call for women and men to take control of their bodies and its rights, does not include an explicit call for Irish women and girls to demand the reproductive choice of abortion. The ‘My Body My Rights’ campaign should be calling for immediate change so as to remove the barriers towards women’s rights to full reproductive health services, including abortion, in Ireland as an essential part of creating an equal society for men and women to live without fear.

The Istanbul Convention calls against the many “cruel and degrading behaviour that women experience”. It emphasises the violence that men perpetuate towards women as a method of sustaining male power and control, and therefore calls on states to ensure that they are not supporting this pattern of violent control. In short the Istanbul Convention is defending the rights of all girls and women to live free of violence. In light of the extent of  incidents such as stalking, sexual harassment, sexual violence it is essential that Ireland sign and ratify this convention immediately to ensure these methods of degradation and exploitation of women are not upheld by the Irish state. There cannot be true equality if violence against women and girls persists. We cannot fight against the wider patterns of discrimination and inequality without firstly fighting against these cruel methods of degradation. Support of the Istanbul Convention is paramount for women’s rights in Ireland today.

[caption id="attachment_35776" align="alignright" width="889"]A map showing reproductive rights globally, c. 2013 A map showing reproductive rights globally, c. 2013[/caption]

‘My Body My Rights’ is calling attention to the disregard of women’s rights around the world. Its call to end the ban on abortion in El Salvador is of immediate importance. In El Salvador it does not matter what the circumstances are to a woman wishing to attain an abortion, it is banned in all cases. Furthermore if you are found guilty of having an abortion you could be imprisoned for up to 12 years. And if you have a miscarriage you could be jailed for up to 50 years for aggravated homicide. El Salvador has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Latin America and shockingly more than half of all deaths of pregnant teens are due to suicide. El Salvador’s total ban on abortions has clear ramifications on the wellbeing of El Salvadorian women and girls. It is of vital importance that Amnesty International calls international attention to such violations of the human rights of women and girls. But with these values in mind we should also call attention to the ban on abortion in Ireland and focus on making barriers to women’s reproductive health and choice a thing of Ireland and El Salvador’s past. As human rights defenders we cannot call foreign states to make barbaric practices obsolete if we do not call our own state to the same values. The multiple cases over the years, from Ms Y to Savita Halappanavar show how barbaric Irish reproductive laws can be.

Is the ‘My Body My Rights’ campaign a feminist call to action?  If feminism is as bell hooks proclaims a “movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”, then ‘My Body My Rights’ campaign has many of the qualities of a strong feminist movement. If we are collectively calling for the “social, economic and political equality of the sexes” then are we by default feminists? The ‘My Body My Rights’ is highlighting the need for us all to individually and collectively take control of our bodies, but it is also provoking a discussion as to what role international human rights organisations have in the battle against sexist, patriarchal rule? Is their role to highlight the barbaric cases we’ve seen above in El Salvador? Or to push governments to be valuable political leaders by signing and ratifying essential conventions? Or should human rights organisations support grass root operations, such as ARC, to make changes in situations such as the abortion laws of Ireland? How far can feminism penetrate into all aspects of society and society’s development?

The question therefore arises “what can you or I do to collapse the patriarchy and attain a truly equal and respectful world”? To begin with we can support the actions of organisations such as Amnesty International. Drop this newspaper and sign some petitions, talk to your friends and family about what is happening in Ireland and abroad, take a moment to reflect on what you value and believe in. 2014 saw inspiring feminist actions spreading into popular culture, Beyoncé on stage with FEMINIST emblazed behind her, Emma Watson launching the HeForShe campaign. I am sure that many of us liked and shared these moments and felt proud to call ourselves feminists too. 2015 can be the year where we take action of our feminist values. Where you start taking part in movements that you believe in, from making sure that you are at the next Pro-Choice march, ensuring you vote in the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, and crucially making sure that you spread your feminist values to others. Amnesty’s ‘My Body My Rights’ campaign highlights just how cruel the world can be to women and girls if measures are not enforced to ensure they are seen as equal citizens, with equal rights. It is therefore paramount that this campaign is not just highlighted for 16 days in November, that after Amnesty International shines focus on another issue these conditions of women across the globe are not allowed to be forgotten, but instead that we act upon our principles whenever possible. Make some t-shirts/pamphlets/bumper stickers. Makes some noise. Make 2015 a true year of feminist action.

-End the ban on abortion in El Salvador:

-Demand Ireland signs and ratifies the Istanbul Convention:

-Join the Irish abortion rights campaign: