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Why Decolonization is Necessary for Reproductive Justice

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November 18, 2023

Content warning: This article mentions acts of reproductive violence and assault.

Throughout the past month our newsfeeds and timelines have been flooded with updates on the current humanitarian crisis in Palestine following Israel’s blockade of Gaza. People across the globe have been calling for the decolonization and liberation of Palestine, a nation that has been fighting against settler colonialism by Israelites since 1948

The number of casualties in Palestine over the past six days is horrific─Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has resulted in over 2,000 deaths and nearly 10,000 individuals wounded. Palestine and its allies across the globe are demanding an end to Israel’s occupation and decolonization: the process by which colonies become independent of the colonizing country. 

The Free Palestine movement serves as an important reminder for why decolonization is absolutely necessary for bodily autonomy, one of the key aims of reproductive justice. The destruction in Palestine has adverse effects for people bearing and raising children, as they are unable to meet their needs and the needs of their families in a safe, sustainable environment. 

The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) asserts that access to reproductive health care is limited for Palestinians: “as a result of the occupation, the Palestinian healthcare system is drastically under resourced, meaning access to adequate prenatal and postnatal care, treatment, and medicine is impossible for many Palestinian families. For instance, Palestinians in East Jerusalem only have access to 10 infant health care clinics, compared to 26 in Israeli West Jerusalem.” USCPR also reports that 1 in 10 Palestinian women are forced to give birth in unsafe conditions due to “massive restrictions on freedom of movement in the form of military checkpoints, closures, and a wall that cuts through Palestinian land and cities.” 

The human rights violations we are witnessing in Palestine demonstrate why decolonization is imperative for the global reproductive justice movement. Colonial powers have long committed reproductive crimes in the rightful land of Black and brown communities. Throughout history white supremacists have established power over others by stripping them of their reproductive and sexual agency. For example, sexual assault has been used as a weapon of war against indigenous women for centuries in the United States and internationally. 

Decolonization is not an end-all-be-all process─just as it has taken centuries for colonizing powers to establish and maintain control, it will take a great amount of effort and time to heal the deep wounds of colonization. Where do we begin, then?

Decolonization as a goal of reproductive justice first requires the decolonization of knowledge and research. Every individual deserves to be able to openly discuss and learn about reproductive justice issues─such as maternal health, sex education, menstrual health information, and more─without persecution. Additionally, research in efforts to implement health interventions should always prioritize the voices of the most affected. An article published by the National Library of Medicine claims that “to conduct relevant and effective research on sexual health in previously colonized nations, the needs of indigenous communities must be prioritized, which requires clear acknowledgement of the presence of colonialism and the ongoing ramifications…” No one is more knowledgeable about the ways they have been oppressed than the oppressed community itself. 

Also crucial to decolonization is expanding our knowledge on reproductive justice initiatives and policies by including global perspectives. The Medium published an article in 2020, “Two Eyed Seeing: Decolonizing Methodologies for Reproductive Justice,” in which they provide a number of recommendations for inviting diverse, representative perspectives into research. One of their most important suggestions is to “design, conduct, and analyze research in a way that doesn’t prioritize Global North knowledge and practices.” This is not only applicable to research, but can also be applied to news outlets, especially those that have the power and resources to manipulate facts. For example, there are little to no American news outlets that have reported on the poor maternal outcomes of Palestinians that are happening daily. The American media is choosing bias over transparency, consequently continuing to “colonize” reproductive justice.

Other actions to decolonize reproductive justice include advocating and supporting policies that redirect bodily autonomy to our communities, such as pro-choice advocacy and easy and fair access to contraception. Abortion and contraceptive justice are decolonization, as they demand reproductive agency and choice. Pro-life arguments rely on the traditional patriarchal understanding that certain groups of people are ill equipped to make decisions about their own bodies─that their choices are wrong because they are their own. This is the same rationale used to dominate entire nations. Being able to self-manage or receive a safe, affordable abortion is resistance to such oppression. Safe, affordable abortion options are decolonization in action. 

There is a lot to do to decolonize knowledge, resources, and policies. The first step is to recognize that most of our institutions and practices are the direct result of colonization and white supremacy. Much like it is for the Free Palestine movement, decolonization is a requirement to achieve reproductive justice.