Feminism reminds us of the essence of justice in every sphere of life, be it political rights, equal participation, or reproductive choices. Feminism embraces our decision-making capability in the power hierarchy, access to all health services, including sexual and reproductive rights, and women’s sexual negotiations.
Sexual and reproductive health comprises the mental health and well being of an individual. Mental health status has defined the changes in sexual reproductive behavior and attitude of a person. They are an integral part of feminism. Hence, they are one of the emerging unbreakable bonds to bring justice in the reproductive arena.
“A knot of mental, sexual, and reproductive health to achieve reproductive justice is the tremendous bond of feminism, underlying the consciousness-raising groups in feminist politics.”
The feminist concern of human rights in women’s sexual and reproductive health highlights the issues related to the right to life, freedom from violence, health, privacy, education, etc. The committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) advocate for women’s right to sexual and reproductive health in the purview of women’s right to healthcare services and concern.
Despite all the international treaties and interventions, the violations against women’s sexual and reproductive rights are frequent. The violations are deeply rooted in societal values and norms. The value of women in the eye of a patriarchal society and the gendered nation is to reproduce more children. The unequal system wants to produce copies of patriarchal-fragile egos in the power structure. Reproductive justice is missing out in the policies, strategies, and reproductive sexual health interventionist programs.
The denial of access to health services includes the poor-quality services to women, subjugating their decisions and choices by the third powerful gendered nation state-interventionist programs to control women’s sexual and reproductive health without their consent. It includes forced sterilization, family planning policies, virginity tests, and forced abortions, etc. McClintock (1996, 260) theorizes that ‘all nations are gendered, all are invented and all are dangerous … [because] they represent relations to political power and…Technologies of violence’.
The feminism concern of mental health arises due to the outcomes of reproductive choices women made. Early childhood marriages, unwanted pregnancies, the pressure to produce male offspring have affected women’s reproductive and mental health and causes multiple fatal consequences.
“Feminism bond proclaims women’s sexual and reproductive rights as human rights in the purview of gender equality.’’
Research shows the data to give an insightful relationship between mental health and sexual and reproductive health. In developed countries, 10 to 15% of women and in developing countries, 20-40% of women are experiencing depression during pregnancy or after childbirth. The three strands of human life are mental, physical health, and social conditions. They are interviewed and interdependent.
Does a question arise of when to address mental health within sexual and reproductive health? Mental health includes suicide, prenatal depression, gender-based and intimate partner violence, HIV/AIDS, complications during and post-abortion, mental trauma, long-term consequences of miscarriage, premenstrual anxiety syndrome, postpartum psychosis, and social segregation because of infertility.
Mental health issues cause the decreasing ability of women to make rational choices. It increases the risk of sexual behavior and reduces contraceptives negotiation power. The increase in physical illness and higher mortality among women and children is associated with perinatal mental health problems.
Feminism’s unapologetic call agenda is to integrate mental health into sexual and reproductive health policies, frameworks, training, etc. Research shows the effects of mental health illness on women related to having more lifetime sexual partners, limited use of contraception, unwanted/unplanned pregnancies, and the risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
The feminism bond rights re-examine women’s agency as a factor associated with mental health and sexual and reproductive health. Agency means women’s independent capability to act and make choices. Feminist theories on power relations explore the agency and help understand women’s responses to reproductive health and the trauma that arises in the purview of reproductive justice.
An agency plays a very significant role in reproductive to mental health care. It associates an increase in family planning, sexual knowledge, and reproductive health decision-making process. Dr. Caitlin Gerdts’s work and research on unplanned pregnancies, abortion, and contraceptives are thought-provoking. Her assertion on reproductive health reveals that women have limited choices.
Women have the right to control their fertility, but the lack of access to resources and the patriarchal system that privileges men is a hurdle in health services. Dr. Gerdts also revealed the intersectional link between education, gender-based violence, and family planning. Women can not claim sexual and reproductive health justice without mental health. Multiple factors affected the lives of women all around the world. It contributes to disempowering women’s role, position, and freedom.
Mental Health is central to reproductive justice. The Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice Group, 2005 explained mental health in their definition of reproductive justice:
…the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social wellbeing of women and girls [that] will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.
The barriers come along in the path of many poor women while raising their children in poverty, illiteracy, lack of healthcare facilities, the bane of unplanned pregnancies, and mental trauma erupted from domestic violence, etc. The intersecting inequality among women visualizes the feminist demand to acknowledge mental health and health equity to bring reproductive justice. Reproductive justice demands affordable infertility treatments for everyone, affordable health care services in prenatal and postnatal care for women and children, and affordable contraception with safe birth assistance intervention services. Prenatal depression is one of the most common among women that leads to severe complications after pregnancy. Mostly, men avoid the reproductive concern of women because of their complete detachment to the process of reproduction. The mental issues arise due to the unintended pregnancies; excessive white vaginal discharge is always being ignored by society, family, and partners as they believe women are made for reproduction only without being taking care of their needs, freedom, and health so on. Equal freedom and power in intimate relationships will help to reduce violence.
Reproductive justice needs human reproductive rights, resources, and accessibility. Women cannot make decisions, choices, and preserve their mental health, physical, and well being, unless the prior three would be achievable. Women’s reproductive health issues must include gender and psychological aspects to bring reproductive justice. Collective action is necessary to establish the intersectionality between mental health and sexual and reproductive health. Feminism bond gives the vision to move beyond biology and look deep through the gender lenses and human rights perspectives.