Updated: Sep 17
While reproductive justice has been an ongoing issue since 1994, when the term was first coined, the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. has sparked a new fume amongst advocates around the world. Due to the country's relevance and typically progressive stance on the matter, the media has been quick to turn attentions to reproductive justice in America and away from other countries. But this omission takes nothing away from the reproductive justice movement’s impact on the rest of the world and it’s critical that we acknowledge our own progression in other, under-represented countries.
Reproductive Justice Struggles for Ukrainian Refugees
One of the major setbacks in the movement is the ongoing effect of the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine. It is common knowledge that many Ukrainian citizens have now been forced into refugee camps and programs as a result of the increase in conflict and destruction in their home country, but what is less acknowledged is their experience as refugees. As millions of women have fled their homes for safety, they have been met with a different kind of danger, a kind based on sex and gender.
The United Nations’ Displacement Tracking Matrix estimates a total of 6.5 million displaced Ukrainians within Ukraine and with the chaos and lack of organization in helping displaced people, more and more women have been exposed to sexual exploitation. At roadblocks along the journey, displaced women have reported being stopped and told “We are not going to let you leave . . . Pretty women mustn’t leave” and can continue to be subjected to rape, coercion, sex trafficking, and more. Furthermore, Russian soldiers have admitted, in reports, to using sexual violence towards women and children as a war weapon, attempting to humiliate the country through rape.
Due to the covertness of the assaults, few victims are ever able to report the crimes or get justice for them. The lack of reporting has furthermore increased the difficulty of resolving the issue however Pramila Patten, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, has made significant steps in attempting to resolve the issue. Patten has signed a framework that supports priority interventions in justice and accountability as a cardinal step in sexual violence prevention and is attempting to integrate hubs throughout Ukraine where survivors of sexual and gender-based harm can report their experiences.
Development in Africa
On a more promising note, Africa, as a continent, has made exponential progress in its development of reproductive rights. After a history of paying little to no attention to reproductive justice, many countries in Africa have started to shift to a more liberal stance since the official beginning of the movement in the U.S.
In South Africa, for example, women suffered for years from illegalized abortions, instituted by a segregation system called apartheid. The system additionally made it a lot harder for women of color especially to find safe and reliable forms of abortion. However, after hearing of the protests and movements in America, women in South Africa were inspired to fight for their rights; in 1996, South Africa, a typically patriarchal Christian country, legalized abortion for all women regardless of race or any other potential factors. In addition, in 2017 the Africa Reproductive Rights Initiative (ARRI), joined 30 organizations and 13 different African countries in the fight for women of color’s reproductive rights. In 2022 Tanzania made a law that testing young girls for pregnancy in schools was in violation of their rights, and the High Court of Kenya confirmed the right to abortion.
Overall, countries in Africa have been known to have a high mortality rate but within just the 21st century so far, mortality for under 5-year-olds has fallen by 35% and maternal mortality went down by 28%. When the reproductive rights movement began in 1994, 17 countries in Africa had completely banned abortions under any cause. In 2022, that number has withered down to 6.
Although the movement has made extensive progress in many African regions, the fight remains. Countries in Africa continue to struggle with remaining health problems. Sub- Saharan Africa continues to have the highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 533 deaths out of every 100,000 births. It is now up to other countries around the globe to continue their reproductive development in order to influence and inspire African and Ukrainian governments.
Throughout the duration and post-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, inequity in health systems and political polarizations have risen to the light, setting the world a step back in the fight for reproductive health. Fortunately, plans have been set in motion by organizations including the UN and their Sustainable Development Goals. Previously the UN has influenced 193 countries to commit to developing access to reproductive rights and now as we recoup from the disruption that was COVID-19, it is crucial to hold organizations like the UN, who are responsible for reproductive development, accountable. Simultaneously, it is crucial to remember the positive development we have made in so many African countries and acknowledge the power that we, as protestors, have.
“Ukraine War: UN Signs Framework to Assist Survivors of Sexual Violence.” UN News, 3 May 2022, news.un.org/en/story/2022/05/1117442.
“UN Report on Sexual and Reproductive Justice Highlights Global Progress (and Lost Ground) | Columbia Public Health.” Www.publichealth.columbia.edu, www.publichealth.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/un-report-sexual-and-reproductive-justice-highlights-global-progress-and-lost-ground.
““Not a Single Safe Place” - New Report Reveals Dangers Faced by Displaced Ukrainian Women.” University of Birmingham, www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/2022/not-a-single-safe-place-new-report-reveals-dangers-faces-by-displaced-ukrainian-women. Accessed 17 Dec. 2022.
South African History Online. “A History of Apartheid in South Africa.” South African History Online, SAHO, 15 Mar. 2018, www.sahistory.org.za/article/history-apartheid-south-africa.
“Africa.” Center for Reproductive Rights, reproductiverights.org/our-regions/africa/#:~:text=The%20Center%20for%20Reproductive%20Rights%20Africa%20Program%20uses. Accessed 14 Feb. 2023
“Infographic: Abortion in Africa: 28 Years of Progress.” Statista Infographics, www.statista.com/chart/27472/abortion-legal-status-african-countries-timeline/.
Sadinsky, Sophia, and Zara Ahmed. “A Time for Change: Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in a New Global Era.” Guttmacher Institute, 9 Feb. 2021, www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2021/02/time-change-advancing-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights-new-global-era.