The dilemma of women's sexual and reproductive rights in Zambia

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Shezongo-Macmillan, Joyce
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The purpose of the study is to understand the challenges women face in exercising their sexual and reproductive rights in Zambia and to see whether this class of rights can be exercised or enforced fully as individual rights by women. It seeks to answer the broad question, 'Are women's sexual and reproductive rights mere theoretical assertions that cannot be fully enforced or exercised by women in Zambia'? It addresses the following specific questions; a)Are women's sexual and reproductive rights a distinct class of rights that can be exercised or enforced as individual rights by women in Zambia? b)What challenges, dilemmas or unwanted consequences, if any, do women in Zambia face in exercising or enforcing their sexual and reproductive rights? The research is qualitative and is both descriptive and analytical. The theoretical and conceptual framework of the study is based on African Feminist thought, Legal Pluralism and Women's Law Approaches. The study found that women face several challenges in respect of access to the right to sexual and reproductive health care and services. They also face a myriad of social, legal, economic and political factors and suffer unwanted consequences for exercising their right to sexual and reproductive self determination; or for refusing to comply with strictures that violate this right. These factors ensure a sustained ignorance of rights and perceived powerlessness on the part of women. Women are not only unable to exercise their right to sexual and reproductive self determination in the privacy of their personal lives, but are further unable to contribute to the decision making processes in the public sphere that impact on their lives. Women's lives are thus characterised by a sense of powerlessness in relationships and in public life and different forms of subjugation or multiple manipulations. This milieu sustains an asymmetrical or pyramid model of rights with women's rights at the bottom and men's at the top, which ensures that women's duties and obligations as mothers and wives supersede their individual rights; leading to conflicting interests between women's rights and duties and rights and familial ideologies. Further, the State's compliance with its responsibilities to human rights under international instruments is also limited. There are thus inadequate health care facilities and services and a lack of appropriate legislative framework and enforcement mechanisms for these rights that constrain women's right to sexual and reproductive health care.
Women's sexual rights - Zambia