Women have been the worst sufferers of Covid-19 due to multiple reasons. The pandemic warrants a reminder that reproductive rights are human rights – they are essential and urgent
It may not be wrong to say that human rights were introduced in India right back in 1950 with the development of the Constitution of our country. The human rights movement has seen rapid progress and success, and many national programs and mechanisms have been introduced to complement the growing recognition of an individual’s rights.
Reproductive rights continue to be ambiguous in the Indian context. While the importance of the rights of both men and women to choose and control their own reproductive functions has gained prominence, the introduction of this concept is especially complicated in India given the complex social structures – procreation is often seen as a social expectation and an individual’s rights are overlooked. However, in recent times, reproductive rights in a more comprehensive sense have gained attention. This can, in some way, be attributed to the relentless efforts of civil society organizations that have reinforced the relevance of international treaties into the Indian context.
Experts have pointed to how reproductive rights form an integral part of human rights at a broad level and even of our Constitution at a national level, and therefore India’s obligations to them. There is reciprocity between reproductive rights and a larger human rights framework. Just as human rights cannot be realized without promoting women’s reproductive rights, reproductive rights draw their meaning and force from long-recognized human rights. However, the merging of the two in practice remains ambiguous. Indeed, the fact that reproductive rights apply to everyone – irrespective of age and marital status – is a concept difficult to get through to an Indian audience. It is no surprise then that reproductive rights have not been completely established despite being an innate part of every individual.
In India, one woman dies every 15 minutes due to lack of healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth. Although the country legalized abortion almost five decades ago, access is extremely limited, and it is estimated that one woman in India dies every three hours due to an unsafe abortion. Despite a national law penalizing marriage of girls below 18 years of age, in practice India continues to account for the highest number of child marriages; and despite policies and schemes guaranteeing women maternal healthcare, India accounts for 20% of all maternal deaths globally. Various states have enacted coercive population policies that exclude families with more than two children from welfare programs, government jobs, political participation, and access to education and health facilities – without guaranteeing couples access to a full range of contraceptive services.