Long Read

Bodily Integrity, ownership over your body

Simavi Bodily Integrity

Bodily integrity is the right to govern and control your own body. It is a human right, meaning that everyone can decide over one’s own health, sexual life and identity, without fear of coercion, criminalisation and discrimination. In the countries where Simavi works, socio-cultural and gender norms often limit the right of women and girls to make these decisions. This prevents them from enjoying a potentially healthy life.

Why gender inequality is linked to Bodily Integrity

Violations of women and girls’ bodily integrity, including Gender Based Violence (GBV), are often rooted in gender inequality. GBV infringes human rights and reinforces the inequities between women and men. Such violations include sexual assault, sexual exploitation and forced marriage. Therefore, bodily integrity is closely linked to our programmes in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). However, bodily integrity and GBV go beyond sexual violence and SRHR. Restricting women’s and girls’ access to resources (including water), education and the labour market are also examples of gender inequality which strongly influence bodily integrity.

Simavi’s approach and interventions on the right to govern and have control one’s own body

The barriers to bodily integrity vary by country, community, woman and girl. To understand what women and girls need, we work closely with our implementing partners, following a Women-Centred Approach.
Listening to women’s voices, the barriers they face, their needs and priorities is always the first step in the development of our programmes and interventions. Together with our partners we address girls’ and women’s challenges to bodily integrity and restrictive gender norms at individual, family and community level.

Information and skills are key to factors in making informed decisions about women’s and girls’ their bodies and health

Our programmes and interventions offer information and skill building to girls and women. By giving women and girls the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills they can earn an income that in turn enables them to make independent, informed decisions over their body and health. We also involve men and boys in order to encourage reflection on restrictive norms. This creates opportunities for dialogue, an essential first step towards change.

Women’s needs and interests related to their bodily integrity are different from those of men, and it is important that this is recognised when decisions on SRHR, as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are being made. With our partners we therefore invest in the position of women to improve their decision-making power. Furthermore, we train, through our partners, service providers and support communities to make facilities and services more women-friendly.

To sustain our work, it is important that policies give equal position to women and men. Our partners advocate for policies in support of women’s health and rights, and work closely with local and national authorities to support the implementation of these.

Having control and deciding over your own body, and the relation to Maternal Health

Bodily integrity is very important to Maternal Health. Women and girls have the right to decide freely on the number and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so. To be able to make these choices it is important to have knowledge on reproductive health and access to contraceptives. Pregnant women and girls have the right to receive quality antenatal care, delivery services and post-natal care. Being aware of these rights is essential for women and girls to have a voice and claim this care. Rejecting an arranged marriage or demanding contraceptives or quality services during childbirth is impossible without being aware of these rights.

Menstrual Health – the challenge women and girls face

In many cultures, menstruation is a taboo topic and it is accompanied with restrictive beliefs. This represents a challenge for women and girls to govern their bodies and health. They need access to menstrual products and WASH facilities that meet their needs during menstruation and to avoid discomfort. In the countries where Simavi works, these products and services are often not available, of poor quality or very expensive. Lack of products, water and sanitation, combined with restrictive beliefs makes it impossible for women and girls to manage their Menstrual Health in a dignified manner and maintain their bodily integrity.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is closely linked to Bodily Integrity. Lack of access to clean water, a decent toilet and hygiene influences how women can govern and control their body and health. Lack of water and sanitary facilities at home or in a public space pose challenges for women and girls.
No access to a toilet during menstruation creates stress and difficulties that influence women’s and girl’s freedom of movement and participation in social life, creating problems such as missing school or being unable to work. In addition, women and girls risk sexual violence and harassment when fetching water or defecating in the open, especially when gender norms force them to do this at night.

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