May 28, marks the International Day of Action for Women's Health, a day dedicated to raising awareness of women's health and reproductive rights around the world.
The global day of action was first created in 1987 by a coalition of women activist groups and nongovernmental organizations, in order to draw attention to the myriad ways that women's rights to health, dignity, and bodily integrity were being, and continue to be, denied in many parts of the world.
The specific issues include lack of safe access to abortion, forced sterilizations, denial of access to contraceptives, and obstetric violence – when health professionals force women to undergo particular birth methods against their wishes.
These practices are not only restrictive, but in many cases put the lives of women and girls in jeopardy when they are forced to undergo clandestine and unsafe abortion procedures, or cross borders to seek safe abortion methods, for example.
“When it comes to the health of women and girls, why is it always someone else deciding what matters and doesn't matter, rather than the woman herself?” asks the promotional video released by the May 28 campaign.
This year, women's health activists have chosen to focus on institutional violence, raising awareness of the ways women's rights are denied by governments themselves.
“States are accountable for these violations when they condone or perpetuate gender inequality and patriarchal norms, when they uphold archaic and restrictive laws, and when they sanction negative attitudes and deny access to sexual and reproductive health information and services,” says Kathy Mulville from Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights.
Though some advances have been made in terms of women's health rights, many governments continue to restrict women's choice around their own sexual and reproductive health.
In Chile, for example – where it is illegal to end a pregnancy, regardless of the circumstances – a new ad campaign has recently been released telling women that if they want to have an abortion, they should consider falling from the top of a staircase. The commercial highlights the mental conundrum and dangerous options that women face when experiencing an unwanted pregnancy with no way out.
Activists behind the May 28 campaign also call on governments and the international community to make women's sexual and reproductive rights a priority in the United Nation's Post-2015 Development Agenda, after they were completely omitted by the U.N.'s initial Millennium Development Goals established in 2000.
Implementing legal and safe abortion methods is one of the main priorities of women's health activists, since it is currently illegal in many parts of the world or legal only if the woman's life is in jeopardy. The latter is the case in several countries in the Americas such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Barbados, Belize, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Saint Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
However, it has also been legalized on the continent without restrictions in Cuba, Guyana, Puerto Rico, and Canada.
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