YCSRR Member, Ivens Reis Reyner speaking at the World Leaders Consultation on Safe Legal Abortion – 25 March 2014
My name is Ivens Reyner, and I am part of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. The Youth Coalition is a youth-led organization comprised of young people from different fields such as lawyers, health professionals, and anthropologists. We work in different countries bringing together the perspectives of young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in different parts of the world.
I have been involved with sexual and reproductive rights issues since I was 12 years old. As a peer educator I would develop sexuality education projects in my school and in other schools that wouldn’t otherwise have sexuality education programs in my hometown, Lavras. Being a peer educator and activist made me a kind of a referral point person to my friends. They would come to me with all the kinds of questions related to sexual and reproductive health. Talking to them has given me a real understanding of what happens to women, especially young women, when they are denied access to sexual health information and services, either by law or circumstance.
Let me illustrate what I mean with two stories. Just last year, two of my friends approached me to share their situations. Helena is a 27 years old young woman that got pregnant by her ex boyfriend. Helena comes from a middle class family; she had access to information about sexuality, contraception and abortion. Helena decided to terminate her pregnancy. But as most of you may know, the right to women’s body autonomy is not recognized in Brazil; abortion is, for the most part, a crime and a woman that undergoes an abortion procedure can be sent to jail. So, knowing that and having already planned travel to England, Helena decided to have an abortion in a clinic there. Helena had a safe and legal abortion in England and went back to Brazil. She moved on, she continued to explore her sexuality freely and informed, she is still dating (although she’s single now!), her life didn’t stop.
Now let me tell you about Clara. Clara is 25 years old of African descent bisexual from a low-income family. Clara also faced a similar situation as Helena. She got pregnant by her ex boyfriend and again, since she had the same access to information, to comprehensive sexuality education as I did, she decided to terminate her pregnancy. Clara did not have a trip to England scheduled. So she had to look for a clinic in São Paulo for her to have the procedure. Clara had to pay 500 dollars for the procedure, which was pretty much all her savings. It was not a safe procedure and she had complications and had to go to the hospital. She called a friend to come with her because she would not be able to tell her family because of the stigma. Clara was forced to wait for hours at the emergency room, bleeding and in pain, while being harassed and questioned by hospital staff.
The stories of Clara and Helena happened 19 years after 179 countries committed to respect women’s human rights, particularly their reproductive rights. And after countries like Brazil had agreed to fulfill the rights and needs of women and young women.
Those stories show us that abortion is an issue that needs to be addressed with a comprehensive and egalitarian approach. Helena and Clara did have access to comprehensive sexuality education, they had access to information, but even with all of that, they had their sexual and reproductive rights violated. They could not exercise their right in their own country to obtain an abortion in a safe and legal manner.
This proves that we at the global level must choose a comprehensive approach as well. The United Nations are out there discussing what our world will look like in the next twenty years. They, in all their bureaucracy, give us an opportunity to think outside of the box, to consider a new more integrated approach to development — which can be challenging, as many of us are very attached to our siloed way of thinking. But look at the bright side; this is the key moment for us to advance the sexual and reproductive rights, particularly for young people. This is the moment for us to make the move, to help write the policies and goals that will direct investment in health programs and that will shape how our laws are made and interpreted.
We need to work with atypical partners, and by that I believe we must involve young people, and particularly young men. Men have historically created barriers to women’s empowerment and autonomy. It is about time we change that course of events and involve men in supporting women’s empowerment and autonomy, standing up for women’s human rights, and speaking out about women’s sexuality. Young men can be a powerful group to work for gender equality, for women’s access to safe and legal abortion. And by that I am not saying men should take over all over again, but should learn that a supporting role can also be an important and valuable role.
The Post-2015 discussion is shaping our future for the next two decades. It is our job to involve the stakeholders that will be affected by it. It is our job to go beyond the basics and see human rights as an integral part of our lives. To understand that human rights are indivisible and that the issues related to it are interconnected. That we cannot talk about abortion without talking about sexual orientation and gender identity, we cannot talk about abortion without talking about race, without talking about sexual rights of women.
So in twenty years we finally have the world we need and want.
I hope that in twenty years there will be no need for a meeting like this. I hope that twenty years from now, we look at the Airlie Declaration and we say, this is such an outdated document. I expect that in twenty years safe and legal abortion won’t be a discussion, but a consensus. That men instead of creating barriers to women’s access to legal and safe abortion will understand and support gender equality and above all they will respect women’s autonomy over their bodies and lives and support their decisions. I strongly hope that in twenty years, my kids, if I have any, will not have to hear from their friends that they had to go through an unsafe procedure, but instead that they made a conscious, informed, responsible and, above all, a free decision that they were able to carry out safely and without judgment. I hope, and by that I mean I will continue dedicating my life to this goal, that in a world with a new development agenda, gender equality will not be a just a mark in a check box, but a comprehensive approach that will ensure that women and men and non-conforming genders have the same rights and are able to fulfill their human rights. That we understand, and particularly our decision makers understand, that there is no possibility for development when sexual and reproductive rights are not respected, promoted and fulfilled.