Women’s empowerment in reproductive decision-making, the need of the hour

Q: The International Women’s Year was celebrated last week, with a focus on empowering women in all aspects of life, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

The Sunday Observer spoke with Saraji Wijesekara, Senior Lecturer in Pediatrics and Honorary Consultant Pediatric Neurologist, University of Sri Jayewardenepura / Colombo South Teaching Hospital, and former President of the Sri Lanka Child Development Association (SLACD), Dr. Saraji Wijesekara for more information on the set. issue of women’s empowerment, why it matters and how we should go about it.

Since an important aspect of women’s empowerment was related to reproductive health (RH), our first question was to define reproductive health and what it entails.

Her response was: “Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or physical or mental weakness, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and its functions and process.

When asked about the importance of reproductive health to women’s empowerment and how educating women in this particular area could help her, she said, “Educating women about reproductive health provides the opportunity to make one’s own choices, whether it’s decisions about and reproductive health matters, about nutrition, about family spacing – all of which would ultimately lead to one’s overall well-being.”

She said: “Reproductive Health provides comprehensive knowledge on the importance of girl nutrition, early pregnancy, infertility, birth control methods, pregnancy, post-delivery care of the baby and the mother. This spans almost the entire lifespan of a woman, making women’s empowerment in decision-making all the more important.

We then asked her about common health issues associated with HR. She said: “Any illness or problem that impacts her reproductive health in general, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) like syphilis, lack of proper birth control leading to less spacing between pregnancies and compromising both mother and child, low birth weight babies, physical abuse and rape.

When asked if there had been any studies on this aspect anywhere, including Sri Lanka, she replied: “The World Health Organization has taken an initiative on this and many experts have pointed out the need for data on this. In Sri Lanka, some organizations have shown interest in undertaking this task. Hopefully, in the near future, we may be able to see the results of much-needed research on reproductive health.

To another question from Medi Snip that studies have proven that intimate relationships frequently occur between people of very unequal power, yet traditional expectations and norms of women have negatively influenced women’s sexual power , limiting their sexual choices with male partners, she said: “The imbalanced power dynamics in a relationship can affect intimacy in a relationship with demand-withdrawal dynamics, long-distance pursuit and fear-shame If the power dynamics do not balance out, the relationship will break down and as a result we will see many divorces.

Was this a reason why many women, especially in Asia, lead less meaningful productive lives and are constantly exposed to fear of violence and intimidation? we asked.

“Yes, of course,” she replied, adding that recent data had shown that the underlying reason most women in our region were affected was largely due to social and cultural issues.

Invited to comment on new evidence from recent literature which has revealed that there is a considerable dearth of official measures for the empowerment of women, which is essential for observing universal progress towards Sustainable Development Goals 5, targeting “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls,” “Her response was.” I agree with that. However, key stakeholders have initiated pathways to achieve this goal and research has been implemented.

Starting from the World Health Organization’s definition that reproductive health and reproductive health care aim to ensure that people have responsible, safe and satisfying sex lives, and can decide if, when and how often to reproduce, we asked if family planning was part of this?

In response, she replied: Yes, family planning is definitely part of it. To give you an example, if a teenage girl decides to get married, it is always best to postpone pregnancy until she is physically and mentally fit enough to have her first baby. As she is still young and her body is growing, spacing between pregnancies is also important for improving the health of mother and baby.

Drawing her attention to what the WHO has described as unmet need for family planning and to elaborate further on this aspect, she said: “WHO has taken a lead in this regard by publishing a book in 1996 about the methods available and how to use them. them. In 2016, the coverage focuses on medical eligibility for contraception and the implementation of national programs

Which age groups and categories of women are most at risk of facing such unmet needs? teenagers? Teenagers? Middle-aged women? Married woman? Migrant women?

His response was, “I feel like it’s mostly teenagers, teenagers and migrant workers.

When asked if there was any evidence to prove this with studies done, she said,

His answer was: “Ad hoc studies have been done in different parts of the world. As a result, adolescent health has become a major topic in reproductive health.

What about sexually active women who are at risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) such as gonorrhea and syphylia? What guarantees are offered to them in our own country?

In response, she said: “Awareness programs about the symptoms and signs of STIs, the availability of treatment and the means of prevention are already in place for the public. Screening for STIs is done during the pregnancy clinic booking visit and treatment is offered. Anyone who wishes to enter an STI clinic is welcome in all public hospitals.

So do men have a role to play here to help women in their decision-making capacities? If so, how? We asked.

His answer was: “Yes. They could support their partners by allowing them to discuss their wishes on reproductive matters. Also to protect them from sexual abuse and promote the health of girls and women.

To our last question on a message to all women looking for ways to empower themselves, whether by improving their life skills or improving their reproductive choices, she said, “As women are literate compared to previous times, they should seek knowledge. on reproductive health and ensure their well-being which would in turn be passed on to offspring. In addition, they should empower themselves to improve their reproductive choices. Opportunities to improve their life skills are communicated to the public through the media, clinics and healthcare workers.

Mara R. Wilmoth