Strategies to Improving Maternal Health in Bangladesh
University of Delaware
Reproductive rights, including the right to respect for one’s physical body, the right to freedom from abuses such as unwanted sex and unwanted pregnancy, the right to autonomy and self-determination in matters related to one’s reproduction and sexuality, and the right to equal access to health services, are fundamental human rights. However, women’s reproductive rights have historically been undermined by donor-driven policies and programs to limit population growth in developing countries such as Bangladesh. While family planning programs in Bangladesh have substantially improved women’s access to contraception, the emphasis on controlling population growth has comprised women’s health and wellbeing. Furthermore, the context of male-dominance, traditional gender norms, and persistent poverty continue to constrain women’s ability to effectively make and carry out decisions concerning their sexuality and reproduction. Based on data from 12 in-depth interviews with married adolescent women in urban slums of Bangladesh, I aim to explore the factors that continue to shape and constrain reproductive rights. My findings demonstrate three main categories of constraints on women’s reproductive rights: 1) problems with family planning methods and services, 2) husbands’ authority in decision-making and women’s economic dependence on their husbands, and 3) the context of poverty and insecurity in urban slums. Overall, reproductive rights cannot be understood outside of the social, economic, and political context of women’s everyday lives, and reproductive rights for all will only be achieved through a global commitment to social and economic justice.