While cases of the Zika virus are few and far between in the United States, thousands of people have been affected in Latin America.
The Zika virus is a short-term disease spread through mosquito bites. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, but with treatment, it can be resolved in a few days.
However, there is new evidence that suggests that women who are infected with the virus while pregnant can give birth to babies with birth defects, like microcephaly. Babies born with microcephaly have small heads, which is often associated with incomplete brain development.
Until the Zika outbreak dies down, women in Latin America have been cautioned against pregnancy.
Although this may seem like a logical solution, women in Latin America often have limited access and education on contraceptives and safe and legal abortion. In some Latin American countries, women suspected of terminating a pregnancy can even face jail time.
Latin America also has some of the highest rates of sexual violence, which means that many pregnancies that occur are nonconsensual. In nations that are so lacking in proper female reproductive freedom, it is impossible to ask women to avoid pregnancy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
According to the International Conference on Population and Development, “when sexual and reproductive health needs are not met, individuals are deprived of the right to make crucial choices about their own bodies and futures, with a cascading impact on their families’ welfare and future generations.” Particularly for women, the ability to have full reproductive freedom goes hand-in-hand with gender equality; it gives women control over their lives.
While governments in Latin America are currently recommending that women avoid pregnancy for health reasons, there are women living in those nations and across the world who do not want children for their own personal reasons.
By telling women that they should take caution to prevent pregnancy, governments are clearly demonstrating that the only reason they prohibit full reproductive rights in the first place is to exert control over women’s’ bodies. These governments are granting women the option to prevent pregnancy because it suits the government; it has nothing to do with the health and well being of women and their potential offspring.
A woman who is unable to control when and if she wants to have children is at the constant mercy of the men around her, which includes husbands and political representatives alike. This current outbreak of Zika has the power to prove to the world that full reproductive freedom for women is essential to the welfare of the individual, the family and the global community.