Social Structural Model of Women's Reproductive Rights: A Cross-National Study of Developing Countries

Article excerpt

* The authors acknowledge the comments and constructive suggestions on the earlier version of the article by Susan McDaniel and three anonymous reviewers.

Abstract: Using data from 101 developing countries, this study tests a theoretical model of women's reproductive rights in developing countries. The effects of modernization processes and family planning programs on women's reproductive rights are examined. It is found that family planning programs have no statistically significant effect on women's reproductive rights, although they contribute to the decline in population growth. The effect of women's education on reproductive rights is found to be negative. Gender equality is the most important factor that affects the achievement of women's reproductive rights in developing nations. Social and economic development does not directly influence women's reproductive rights, but functions through the attainment of women's education and gender equality. Policy implications are discussed.

Resume: A l'aide de donnees provenant de 101 pays en voie de developpement, cette etude met a l'epreuve un modele theorique des droits de la femme en matiere de reproduction dans les pays en voie de developpement. C'est un examen de l'effet des procedes de modernisation et des programmes de planning familial. L'etude constate que les programmes de planning familial n'ont pas d'effet statistiquement considerable sur les droits de reproduction de la femme, bienqu'ils contribuent au declin de la croissance de la population. L'effet du niveau d'education des femmes sur les droits de reproduction est negatif. L'egalite des sexes est le facteur le plus important affectant la realisation des droits de reproduction de la femme dans les pays en voie de developpement. Le developpement social et eonomique n'influence pas directement les droits de reproduction de la femme, mais il fonctionne a travers l'acces par les femmes a l'education et l'egalite des sexes. Une discussion des implications de certaines lignes d'action est incluse.

Introduction

The first formal declaration of reproductive rights appeared in 1968 at the United Nations International Conference on Human Rights held in Teheran, Iran. Reproductive rights were defined as the freedom of reproductive choice of "parents" who decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of children, and the right to adequate education and information in the respect. The World Population Plan of Action adopted in Bucharest six years later reaffirmed the rights to "individuals" who have the means to make reproductive decision making. The six-day debates at the Cairo Conference (1994) extended the definition of reproductive rights to include the freedom of choice and the rights of women to have control over their bodies. The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China reinforced women's reproductive rights, and called for the removal of gender inequalities in labour force participation and policy making.

The current views on reproductive rights were fueled by the ideological and structural forces during the course of the last centuries. On the ideological side, support for reproductive rights is founded on a number of broad philosophical thoughts. The concept of reproductive rights is ideologically embedded in the idea that all individuals have the equality of rights to enjoy freedom and happiness. The theoretical foundation for developing sociological explanations of norms, such as rights, is in general poorly organized in contemporary sociological literature (Benda-Beckmann, 1989; Simon and Lynch, 1989; Turner, 1993).

The emergence of women's reproductive rights was influenced by a number of policy measures during the last three decades aimed at constraining the unbridled growth of population in poor nations. The neo-Malthusian school views large population size and rapid population growth rates as impediments to economic growth and development. …

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