Our bodies, our lives on trial at UN

By Jackie Hansen, Major Campaigns and Women’s Rights Campaigner

Our health, our bodies, our rights, our future—in your hands now” is the message that Amnesty International sent to United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon during a handover of 281,102 petition signatures in New York today.

I like to think that my body and my health are in my own hands, thank you very much. My grandmother and my mother fought hard to make sure that I could grow up in a world where I can receive information about family planning, where getting married is a choice, and where I am in control about making decisions about my sexuality and reproduction.

But much as I like to think that I am the sole master of my destiny, I have spent enough time in the halls of the United Nations to know better. This week, governments from around the world have come together at the United Nations in New York at the 47th Session of the Commission on Population and Development. Throughout this week they will talk about big global issues like young people’s access to comprehensive sexuality education, and the many ways and forms in which people create families. They will leave New York with agreement on a document that will re-affirm the rights that we have to make decisions about our sexuality and reproduction. And that is no small thing.

Twenty years ago world leaders met at the Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and for the first time ever agreed that sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. That may have been revolutionary back in 1994, but it’s something we take for granted now. We challenge world leaders this week to be equally revolutionary and adopt an agreement that will set the tone for the next 20 years and move us forward globally in making sure that everyone has the right to freely make some of the most important decisions of their lives.

The lived reality of people around the world is sometimes forgotten in the airless meeting rooms at the United Nations where men (there are many women in the room but we are far from gender parity) in dark suits sit negotiating our future. It is important for us to inject some life into these meetings and remind governments of who we are and what we are calling for. The petition signatures that so many Canadians collected over the past year, and the photos that activists took on International Women’s Day this year, have been handed over to the United Nations Secretary-General, and presented to officials at the meeting to show them our names, our faces, and our stories, and remind them on whose behalf they are negotiating this week.

They are negotiating on behalf of women in Mozambique, whose government, the very government who is in the meetings at the United Nations this week, recently proposed a criminal code amendment that would allow rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victim.

They are negotiating on behalf of women in conflict zones, who experience sexual violence and do not have access to the full toolkit of information and services they need to make decisions that are best for them.

They are negotiating on behalf of you. And they are negotiating on behalf of me.

Thank you for adding your voice to our petition over the past year, and for sharing your photos. They have been seen and we have been heard. Stay tuned for updates—we will share with you the outcome of this week’s meeting in New York.

In the meantime, here are some actions you can take: