EducationO.O.P.S.Sex & Gender

The Necessary Politicization of Reproductive Autonomy

Why we should create quotas for female politicians

This is essay is part of the OOPS course Law and Sexuality.

The historical and cultural oppression of women has been perpetuated and exacerbated by the restriction of access to health care. Women should be allowed autonomy over their bodies, not just to gain control over their reproductive rights, but also to elevate themselves in both cultural and political spheres. Childbearing, in particular, has kept women from entering and being successful in the workforce. One has to wonder if the lack of females in high-powered careers is due to this inability to control having children or if it is merely a symptom of a society that undervalues women and the reproductive work they perform. One of the very clear manifestations of this structural problem is the lack of female representatives in government. If governments were to enforce quotas, it would spur on the progression of females holding positions in congress that has been slowly plodding over the past two centuries.

Women’s reproductive rights lay in the hands of government officials, the majority of whom are Caucasian men. While I disagree with the concept that these very personal and life changing decisions should be dictated by the government at all, it is particularly disturbing that it would be left to people who have no personal – and personally political – connection to the issue. By allowing men — who, for the most part, do not consistently perform any kind of reproductive labor — to make decisions surrounding reproductive rights, we not only pave the way for a poorly informed decision, we guarantee an ill-fated one. Women should fill quotas within Congress in order to weigh in on a topic that affects them primarily; this would elevate women in the sphere of government and give their voices more validity.

Those who are not directly affected by its repercussions dictate the discussion surrounding reproductive rights. Due to the lack of understanding of the grueling decision-making process surrounding the topic of abortion, men are ill-suited to be making choices regarding it. Not only do men lack the experience required to make a case in favor or against reproductive rights, they also lack understanding of the many factors that go into women’s decision making regarding their sexual and reproductive practices. If more women held high-ranking government positions, they could offer a much-needed perspective on women’s reproductive autonomy.

While many women choose to have abortions because they simply feel they are not ready for motherhood or do not want children at all, many women make this decision because they cannot properly care for a child. Many women who have unplanned pregnancies are not in the ideal economic situation or the right time in their lives to have children. By outlawing and discouraging abortion, as many countries and states within the US have, the government not only forces economically stable women in committed relationship to have children, it also forces women who are very young, single, and economically unstable to have children. When we think about the argument surrounding abortion and reproductive rights, it is easy to vilify women by deeming them unwilling to raise a child and asserting they are taking the easy way out. On the contrary, not only is the decision to abort a child one of the most difficult and emotionally taxing that a woman could face, it is often one of the most selfless decisions a woman could make. By deciding to abort a child she may want to keep, but ultimately is unable to care for a number of reasons, many of which may be out of her control, the woman is committing the most selfless act of all. In addition to enforcing quotas for gender representation, the government should also make it a priority to hear the voices of women with diverse backgrounds who are equipped to be more sympathetic to women in difficult circumstances. They would be able to create legislation to benefit women who become pregnant unexpectedly or women who do not have a partner or family to help care for the child.

If women were to be forced to have children without the option to have an abortion or control their reproductive rights, they may end up regretting having their child, or worse, resenting the child. While this argument also places women under scrutiny for qualifying as what society deems a “bad mother,” it is an integral aspect of the argument for reproductive autonomy.  Stephanie Marsh‘s article for The Guardian, “ It’s the breaking of a taboo”: the parents who regret having children ” (11 January 2012), discusses parents who wished they had not had children. Attending to gender disparities inherent in parenthood, she writes that when women give birth they are “forced into the mother role, whereas men are still bankers, carpenters, doctors” (Marsh 7).

In our society, women are valued for their role in the household, as maintainer of the home and child-bearer, while men are praised for their accolades and contribution to the workforce. The lack of women in high-powered careers can be attributed to the imposition of the traditional gender roles that are perpetuated by the inability to access proper reproductive health care. Women are stuck in the role of childcare, which disables them from holding jobs, let alone fast paced careers, which contributes to gender inequality and can be used to explain the wage gap. When women are able to hold a job, they are given lower pay. Due to the lack of representation of women in the workforce, the issue of the wage gap continues to persist.

Other countries that enforce government quotas have shown that it is necessary to getting women elected into government positions. The Atlantic reports, “Iraq has a quota reserving 25 percent of parliamentary seats for women. Of the 86 current female parliamentarians, only 5 won enough votes in 2010 to be elected without the quota” (Atlantic January 11, 2012). If these quotas were not set in place, eighty-one of the eighty-six women elected for parliamentary seats would not have been elected, which goes to show the necessity for quotas in government. Although many would like to believe that progress can be achieved without affirmative action, this statistic proves that this is not the case. By enforcing government quotas, women would raise to positions of power much more quickly and would be given the voices that they deserve in government. Not only would more women in government positions allow more issues that pertain to women to be discussed, it would also contribute to changing the way women are viewed in society.

The restriction of women’s reproductive rights not only affects individual women’s lives, it also creates a chain reaction of gender inequality, beginning with the lack of representation of women in government positions, trickling down to their inability to defend their interests in the workforce. If women were given reproductive autonomy, there would be more people holding jobs, inventing new technologies, and inviting a perspective that is a minority in the career market. Women should be given total control over their own bodies simply for the reason of fairness and personal choice, but since this argument is easily contested by those making the decisions regarding it, they should seize political autonomy through equal representation in order to close the gender gap, create equality in the home, and mend a portion of the highly disadvantaged role that women have been assigned. One important and deeply consequential way to achieve this would be for women to hold positions in government, as they are the ones who would set legislation to benefit themselves and other women. If the government were to set quotas for women to fill, women would finally be given equal voice and opportunity in a relevant political arena.

Avery Felman

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