What are Sexual Rights?

Although I really enjoyed reading Development with a Body, I was left with a lot of questions.  The book did not really specify what it meant by sexual rights; instead, it focused on how these rights could be used to achieve gender equality and development.  In order to answer these questions, I searched the internet.  I found answers from IPPF, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, “a global service provider and a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.”  They published a document which listed what they considered to be the ten fundamental sexual rights.  In this post, I want to explain what these rights mean and include some examples of how they are being violated today.

“Article 1: Right to equality, equal protection of the law and freedom from all forms of discrimination based on sex, sexuality or gender”  – I take this article to mean that all individuals are to be treated equally, under the law and by other members of their society, regardless of their sex and/or gender identity.

In China, there is a cultural preference to sons rather than daughters.  This has been true in China for centuries, but more recent technologies, such as affordable ultrasounds, are making this preference become reality.  China’s one-child policy limits parents: they can only have one child, with the exception of certain rural areas or parents going through particularly difficult times.  A general trend in child birth is that 105 boys are born for every 100 girls; in some parts of China, this figure is 135 boys per 100 girls.  This poses numerous problems.  It is wrong to discriminate based on gender and this procedure is clearly rooted in sexist, cultural beliefs.  However, women do have the right to choose if and when to start a family.  Is this right applicable in these situations or is this a violation of human rights?  I would have to argue for the latter.  Not only is the root of sex-selective abortion a problem, but it also leads to a wide gender gap.  One consequence of this gap is the trafficking of young females, even babies, from other parts of Asia into China.  These girls are raised in Chinese families and they are arranged to be married to Chinese men who would otherwise not get married.  Here, these young girls become commodities in a greater attempt to promote monogamy, heteronormativity, and the institution of marriage.  This leads me to another question; if these ultrasounds are causing such gender inequality, should parents have the right to know the gender of their soon-to-be child?  Some would argue that it is important because it helps them purchase clothing and decorate the nursery.  However, that only feeds in to the universal gender binary in which certain colors, objects, etc. are appropriate for each gender.  Also, this type of technology allows a woman to abort a child whose genitalia are ambiguous.  Perhaps if this was not possible, gender would not be so stressed within society.

“Article 2: The right to participation for all persons, regardless of sex, sexuality or gender” – I feel this is saying that all individuals have the right to be involved at their community.  Sexual and/or gender identity is not a distinguishing factor which would make a person more or less capable to fill a certain position.

Lindsey Van, a professional ski jumper, was not allowed to participate in the 2010 Olympics because of her gender.

All competitions at the Olympics are open to both men and women, with the exception of ski jumping.  If not a blatant act of sexism, then what is this?  According to Joe Lamb, “the U.S. ski-team representative for the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) ski-jumping committee,” there is not enough space to accommodate women.  Some argue that women’s ski jumping was not organized enough to be included in the 2010 Olympics, but athletes have “petitioned to join every Winter Olympics since Nagano in 1998.”  As strong as these arguments may seem in the minds of some people, I struggle to understand.  The Olympics are supposed to recognize the best athletes in the world, not only the best males; sex and/or gender should not be a disqualifying factor.  The Olympics has historically discriminated against women but has made great progress.  However, there are still many issues that need to be addressed (Check out my blog on sex testing).

“Article 3: The rights to life, liberty, security of the person and bodily integrity” – This is saying that a person’s identity should not be the basis or motivation for anything done against them which violates their rights to life and safety.  Their identity should not be used as cause for punishment, harassment, or violence in any situation.

In Somalia, homosexuality is illegal according to the law.  Punishments include years in prison, lashing, and even the death penalty.  Like in every other society, homosexuality does exist in Somalia.  If someone is suspected of being homosexual, it is often ignored.  Homosexuality only becomes a problem if a person decides to come out because it can no longer be cast aside.  Homosexuality is illegal in numerous countries around the world and the death penalty is becoming a more popular way for the law to address homosexuality.  Since last year, Nigeria has been trying to pass a law which would implement the death penalty for homosexuality.  International pressure, particularly from the  United States, is holding up this process.  However, advocates for the law continue fighting for it to be passed.

“Article 4: Right to privacy” – Each person has the right to autonomy over their own body and property.  No one should be allowed to interfere in another’s person life without consent.

Alabama is the only state in the United States to ban the sale of sex toys.  “Alabama’s law bans the sale — but not the possession — of sex toys, except for “a bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial, or law enforcement purpose.”  In order to get around this law, sex shop owners ask customers to sign a form saying that the purchase is necessary because of one of these reasons.  The owners’ justification is medical: a way to “improve sexual function.”  Although there are ways to get around this law, it is a violation of the right to privacy and sexual pleasure.  The government should not interfere in a personal’s sex life unless the person is posing harm to others or society.  That being said, owning/using a sex toy would only be a problem if the owner was forcing another person to use the toy.  I did not find any information on police arresting a person for using a sex toy, but the fact that such a law even exists is indicative of a greater problem.  I also wonder if an Alabama resident could order sex toys online and be punished by law.  Unfortunately, I could not find much information on the subject.

“Article 5: Right to personal autonomy and recognition before the law” – The right to “sexual freedom” in the form of sexual partners, pleasure, and bodily autonomy.

As I have written about previously, prisoners are often not considered worthy of having certain rights.  As I have also said, there is no way to justify violating the rights of another human being, regardless of their criminal history.  I strongly believe that we should all have the right to sexual pleasure, whether alone or in consensual situations with others.  In 2007, eight inmates in a Florida prison were found to be guilty of masturbating (in private), convicted, and punished by the law.  According to this article by Martha Nell, three of the convicted prisoners took plea deals and others were awaiting trial.  Since when is maturating some sort of criminal offense?  As Nell also points out, why are tax dollars being wasted in trials against prisoners for masturbation?  I find this particularly interesting because I lived in the county during this time and am disgusted that my parent’s money was used to support this human rights violation.

“Article 6: Right to freedom of thought, opinion and expression; right to association” – Each individual is entitled to think and speak freely about matters relating to gender and sexuality.  There is no right or wrong way to approach these subjects and no one should be punished because of their personal opinions.

Angie Jackson

Earlier this year, Angie Jackson made the decision to “live-tweet” her abortion on Twitter, a popular social networking site.   She has a four year-old son “with special needs” and was on birth control, but her IUD failed.  She chose to do this to destigmatize the medical procedure that is so common, yet so hidden, in the United States.  Following her live-blogging, she was harassed and received countless death threats.  Here, I am going to pose a question rather than take a stance.  Angie not only has the right to have an abortion, but she also has the right to publicize it in whichever way she wants.  Others have the right to form their own opinion and disagree with her decision.  However, how much can be justified under the basis of free speech?  She was never physically harassed, but she was the target of numerous death threats.  Are these individuals abusing their right to free speech or are their actions justified?

“Article 7: Right to health and to the benefits of scientific progress” – This means that each person should be able to access the best sexual and reproductive health care.  This includes access to contraceptives, safe abortion clinics, sanitary medical treatment facilities, etc.

Make abortion legal, safe, accessible, and affordable!

According to a report put out by the World Health Organization in 2005, nearly 18 million unsafe abortions are performed each year; approximately 68,000 of these women die.  This is especially problematic in regions where abortion is illegal, but often happens even when abortion is legal.  There are three main contributing factors: poverty, substandard health care system, and misunderstanding of the laws.  As WHO has found, legalizing abortion and modern family planning helps reduce maternal death and pregnancy-related complications.  Unsafe abortion has been a problem across cultures and time periods.  Back-alley abortions remain all too common, usually because of issues with affordability and accessibility. There are many myths surrounding the safety of abortion that need to be addressed.  Having an abortion (if performed correctly) is safer than carry the pregnancy to term.  Abortion is much more common than most people think – approximately one in three American women have at least one abortion before they are 45 years old; nearly forty percent of unwanted pregnancies are terminated.  Although social stigma still surrounds the issue of abortion, it is often being described in the wrong way.  Abortion may be the best choice, or it may not, but it is all a matter of circumstance and choice.

“Article 8: Right to education and information” – Individuals have the right to an unbiased, medically accurate information.  This education should give them the opportunity to make the best choices for themselves without coercion.

A law was just passed, and then vetoed, at the end of April which would allow doctors to withhold important medical information from patients.  When a pregnant woman goes in for an ultrasound, the doctor is not required to inform her about any potential health risks and/or complications.  Once a patient finds out about this, she cannot sue the doctor.  This bill was passed in order to reduce the number of abortions in Oklahoma.  Another law which I mentioned in an earlier post would require doctors to perform an ultrasound on all women seeking an abortion; the woman would have to watch the screen while the doctor gave an in-depth description of the fetus.  Both of these bills were vetoed and deemed unconstitutional.  Unfortunately, many people are in favor of these laws passing and these laws may be restored in the (near) future.  The bill I first mentioned would not necessarily be medically inaccurate, but purposely manipulates a situation to benefit pro-life doctors.  This would cause women to make choices they may not make if they were actually aware of the real circumstances.

“Article 9: Right to choose whether or not to marry and to found and plan a family, and to decide whether or not, how and when, to have children” – These rights pertain to marriage, starting a family, and having children. Individuals should be “free to” do all of these things but also “free from” them, if they so choose.  These rights would also allow individuals to do these things however and with whomever they so choose.

As I mentioned earlier in my post, children’s sexual rights are often considered to be a gray area.  It is impossible to attach an age to consent because each person has such different experiences and levels of maturity.  In April, Elham Assi, a thirteen-year old Yemeni girl, “bled to death shortly after marriage was tied down and forced to have sex by her husband…”  Nearly one-fourth of girls in Yemen marry before they turn fifteen.  Young girls are constantly being forced into marriage with older men so that their families can benefit financially, but many human rights violations come as a result of this, mostly pertaining to the child’s right to choose: when to get married, when to start a family, and when to have sex.  Cases of child brides are gaining more media coverage but legislation is still slow to pass.

“Article 10: Right to accountability and redress” – This includes the right to monitor how sexual rights are being upheld and demand that individuals take accountability for failure to uphold these rights.  If an individual’s rights were violated, they should be compensated in some fashion (ex. monetary, promise of improvement, etc.)

Constance McMillen, a high school student in Mississippi, was not allowed to go to her school prom if she was wearing a tuxedo and had a date of the same sex.  Instead of backing down, Constance challenged her school’s refusal to uphold her First Amendment rights.  She went to the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, and demanded that the school change it’s policies; the school, in turn, cancelled the prom.  The judge denied McMillen’s requests for injections against school officials which would have required them to organize another prom for that same night.  The judge told McMillen that parents were planning “a private event” that she would be allowed to attend.  However, this was not true.  McMillen, her date, and five other students were sent to a separate event while the rest of the school attended the event that was being planned by parents.  The school never took accountability for their failure to uphold her rights, but her determination paid off in that it raised awareness about homophobia and inequality in the United States.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Family Planning Contraceptives Wholesale
    May 07, 2010 @ 10:14:30

    Goldstein and other Florida lawmakers like her know full well the difference between the distinction of sexual offender and sexual predator.


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