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Her body, her choice, right!? Yes, but…

It sounds like a no-brainer. Of course every single person should have agency and the ability to determine what happens to their bodies and their lives. And yet, in nearly every country in the world (except you, Iceland!), women’s bodies are governed by culture, religion, entitlement, oppression, discrimination, inequality, violence…

I first read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when I was a teenager. This could NEVER happen, I thought, horrified. Well… let’s examine our present dystopian reality when it comes to women’s rights to their own bodies…

In Papua New Guinea, I worked on HIV and gender-based violence prevention, recognizing the disturbing link between the two. We promoted the ABC campaign – Abstain, Be Faithful, Use a Condom. It was naive. In many countries in the world, not just PNG, women’s first sexual experience is often forced. Women could not decide if/when/how to have sex. Being faithful also presented its own challenges. If the women were faithful, they certainly could not control their partners. I remember a Papua New Guinean man justifying his infidelity: I cannot eat in the same restaurant every night! The wife doesn’t know how to cook spicy!

And condoms. Well, those were also never up to the woman herself. Many men refused. The female condom is as comfortable as a grocery bag. And more often used for fishing than sex.

And in the Central African Republic, where hundreds of girls were sold as sex slaves, to be used by the commanders of this militia or that…

And in Haiti, where being a “man” entailed sexual prowess, and so younger and younger boys were using sexual violence to establish their masculinity…

And mass rapes with impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo… (and where all our outcries against impunity actually worked in favor of perpetrators because, well, impunity!)

And in Nepal where not even 24 hours after the earthquake, young girls were kidnapped and trafficked across the border to be sold in Indian brothels…

And in Lebanon where the 2014 domestic violence legislation could not include marital rape because it would, according to religious leaders, “destroy the social fabric of the family”…

And in Sierra Leone where it was believed that men with HIV could rid themselves of the virus by having sex with a virgin, and to be sure they sought younger and younger girls, and during my time there the youngest I saw was a 3-month old baby…

And where in nearly every country I’ve worked in, the groups tasked with coordinating an effective response to such atrocities spent just as much time fighting and competing with each other as they did supporting women…

Where do you begin to advocate for her right to decide when the world looks like that?!

Regardless, I’m proud, thrilled, comforted, encouraged, empowered by a movement that I am a part of – a movement forged from anger and resistance, and built on one key non-negotiable rule: SHE DECIDES.

The SheDecides movement was born in reaction to Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule and has evolved from a concept into a battlecry – a global, political movement guided by a Manifesto (which you now must immediately sign and share with everyone you know!) that seeks to build a world where every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, with her life, and with her future.

WITHOUT QUESTION.

#Haiti #Lebanon #CAR #SheDecides #SierraLeone #DRC #PapuaNewGuinea #VAW #Nepal #GBV

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