Jaime Todd-Gher is a human rights lawyer specializing in issues of gender, sexuality, and health. She is working as an Independent Consultant and a Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Fellow with the University of Toronto, International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program, Faculty of Law. She recently worked as a Legal Advisor and Strategic Litigation Specialist with Amnesty International. She has also worked as a Human Rights Advisor and Programme Officer with the WHO and UNAIDS, and in the Global Legal Program with the Center for Reproductive Rights. Jaime regularly engages in human rights litigation and advocacy before United Nations and regional human rights bodies. She has also served on the Board of Directors for the AIDS Legal Referral Program and the National LGBT Bar Association and is currently a sitting Board Member for Women Enabled International.
Jaime holds an LL.M. in International law and gender from American University, Washington College of law, a J.D. from the University of San Francisco, School of Law, and a B.A. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. I had the honor of interviewing her. I thank her for this meaningful conversation. The interview is transcribed below.
Question: As per your observation, do you feel women in today’s time are more aware and vocal about their sexual and reproductive rights? What do you think led to this change?
Answer: Yes, I do think that women in many contexts are more mobilized today. More and more women are completing primary, secondary and collegiate education, which is a significant source of empowerment. We are also seeing a rise in progressive movements. There is a collective energy around making change. However, what I really see as a key factor leading to an increase in mobilization is the retrenchment of women’s rights that we are witnessing around the world. This is compelling women to take to the streets, to file lawsuits, to go to the media, and to demand their rights. So, in essence, a lot of our mobilization is reactionary, which of course is necessary.
We are also seeing a rise in nationalism and anti-gender movements that ascribe to the notion that gender diverse individuals are destroying the nuclear, heteronormative family, a re-assertion of women’s purported “rightful role” as mothers and caretakers, and law and policy reform explicitly aimed at restricting access to contraception, abortion, and comprehensive sexuality education. All of this leads to a collective feeling of women’s rights being under attack. I really think that this has given women, especially younger women, a motivation to push back because this is not happening in just one country or one region, but worldwide. So, despite all the positive developments we have seen over the years, I do think there is a retrenchment of women’s rights which is significant, so we must stand up!
Question: Do you think the international norms and standards around sexual and reproductive health and rights are up to mark?
Answer: I certainly think that there has been a remarkable evolution of international norms and standards around sexual and reproductive health and rights in the past few decades. We are light years ahead, in terms of seeing an explicit articulation of sexual and reproductive rights as core human rights issues that implicate a wide range of states’ international legal obligations. But, of course, there is always room for improvement. Given that women’s rights were not originally conceived as human rights within the original treaties and instruments of the UN human rights system, it continues to be an uphill battle to convince people that sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. This is just the reality we are working in.
While progress has been made, a lot of gaps remain. For example, we still do not have an explicit recognition of personal, decisional and bodily autonomy in the realms of sexuality and reproduction. Our strongest human rights hooks continue to be the rights to health, life, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, privacy, and equality and non-discrimination. These are useful and compelling advocacy frames, but women’s rights movements will be stronger and more powerful once we can gain widely accepted recognition that women, girls, and all people who can become pregnant have full autonomy over their bodies, sexualities, and reproduction. Until that time, we still have a lot of work to do.
Question: Unsafe abortions are a public health issue. Why is there a level of insensitivity among policymakers and politicians around this issue?
Answer: Unsafe abortions is a significant health and human rights issue. It is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity, as well as preventable infertility. Unsafe abortion leads to significant physical and mental harm. One of the most unjust aspects of unsafe abortion is that pregnant individuals are often compelled to resort to unsafe abortions due to restrictive abortion laws around the world, and in many contexts, they can be thrown in jail for years for having an abortion. The same restrictive abortion laws can even lead to women who have suffered miscarriages and stillbirths to being arrested and prosecuted – based on the presumption that they had an abortion.
It is baffling to me that law and policy makers – many of which are men who have never experienced and will never experience an unwanted pregnancy – continue to address abortion with such great insensitivity. I still try to wrap my head around it, but I tend to believe that it boils down to a complete lack of valuing of women’s lives and bodies. I am also astonished by the mental gymnastics that people undertake to think that a pregnant woman and her fetus are separate entities pitted against each other, when, that is just not the case. Only a pregnant person can know and understand whether they are able to bear, birth and raise a child—something that has lifelong implications for their life, and the lives of their partners and families. It is also a matter of patriarchy, sexism, and a dehumanization of pregnant people, which translates to controlling people who do not want to be pregnant because they are “committing a moral wrong”.