Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Health
Secondary Theme: Human rights
Latin America is experiencing profound changes in gender policies with mass social mobilization occurring around the intersections of reproductive health, human rights, and reproductive justice. Researchers, activists, and researcher-activists studying these issues and those broadly related to them—social movements, socio-cultural transformation, and state policies—are conducting research in the context of this rapidly shifting socio-cultural terrain (Alvarez et al. 1998; Maier and Lebon, 2010; Richardson and Birn, 2012). For example, access to abortion has gained much scholarly, media, and political attention throughout Latin America as women’s rights organizations have made strong pushes to decriminalize and even legalize it. Mexico and Argentina have recently made abortion available under specified conditions as women are pushing for reforms (Singer 2016). Venezuela, Argentina, and Mexico have also notably passed anti-obstetric violence laws aimed at combating the use of medical techniques during birthing without the woman’s consent, as well as the lack of attention given to obstetric emergencies (Zacher Dixon 2015). Out of the work of feminist NGOs and the movement for the humanization of childbirth, Brazil has been able to raise public debates about obstetric violence at the national level (Pulhez 2016). Critical engagements with reproductive public health policies aimed at “women’s diseases” is also taking place as women are demanding that health care focus on eradicating structural violence and not on controlling the reproduction of marginalized women.
Movements to combat sexual violence have also gained momentum throughout Latin America and are inextricably linked with resistance to reproductive governance. Morgan and Roberts articulate this concept as “mechanisms through which different historical configurations of actors – such as state, religious, and international financial institutions, NGOs, and social movements – use legislative controls, economic inducements, moral injunctions, direct coercion, and ethical incitements to produce, monitor, and control reproductive behaviors and population practices (2012:1).” Ending sexual violence, obstetric violence, abortion restriction, as well as public health policies that focus on the regulation of women and motherhood also center reproductive politics as human rights in an effort of imaginative transformation for women’s dignity and lives. Indigenous movements led by women throughout the Americas have been at the forefront of these women’s reproductive/indigenous/human rights movements, even if the centrality of their activism has not been widely acknowledged. No discussion of imaginative transformation, resistance, and resilience can exist without bringing their voices from margin to center, as they also subvert the application of "generic" reproductive policies that ignore the diversity of interpretations that indigenous peoples offer (Moncada n.d.).
This session brings together scholar-activists working on reproductive politics/justice and indigenous/human rights in Latin America who seek to understand women’s bodies as sites of contestation around authoritative knowledge and bodily autonomy. In doing so, the papers presented here engage with intersections of race, class, and gender in analyses of obstetric violence, abortion, motherhood, sexual violence, zika, and public health policies targeting other “women’s diseases.” They collectively center reproductive politics as a way to imagine and to engage with transformations of women’s empowerment in Latin America.