Recognizing Women’s Sexual Autonomy

By Sumanridhi Pathania

With the rise of feminism around the world, many positive changes can be visibly perceived in the society in terms of the general outlook on women worldwide. However, it still seems that the society as a whole has forgotten that women are sexual beings and still question what women do with their body sexually. An issue as pressing and worthy of widespread attention as sexual autonomy for women seems to be ignored in the grand scheme of things.

Our culture has always been male-centric; women and girls throughout history have been treated as objects of sexual pleasure and not as individuals who can have their own sexual desires and fantasies. When the topic of consent comes up, we spread awareness of it by using the common adage “no means no”. But what happens when a woman says yes? Why does society undermine her then? The general consensus of societal norms across the world for most of human history has been that the ownership of a woman lies with a man. This trend has only recently been addressed by world institutions and governments of Western and Eastern nations alike. We can see that throughout history and from the interpretation and application of religious texts, women are exercising their rights for their own personal reasons and now that it is has been universally recognized, some exceptional states notwithstanding, as their own choice, society still seems unconvinced by it.

In today’s time, seeing women struggle for their own sexual autonomy sets in the realization that, as a society, we are moving forward and allowing women their sexual freedom. But the reality is actually entirely different. Numerous women are forced into undesirable relationships and unwanted sex with men for religious, social, or monetary purposes by the methods of violence and social pressure. Women who do not marry are ostracized. Unfortunately, women are expected to take on household duties. As a result are not financially independent and are thus forced into marriage. This stems from a lack of interest from society at large to educate women since the general expectation is that the man will provide for the family while the woman will look after the children and the home.

To add fuel to the fire, women are punished for having relationships with other women. The system of coercive powers is such that it does not allow women to have opportunities to decide their sexual association with either men or women. Sexual orientation and body-based qualifications continue being perceived as the primary characteristics associated with a woman’s identity.

How can we allow the superiority of culture and religion to influence women’s right to sexual autonomy? Why do women belonging to either the heterosexual or homosexual orientation be forced to live with mistreatment and discrimination? There is a requirement for a dire change in gender norms. We need to instill an alternate sexual culture. As always, anti-feminist forces seem unconvinced by this. Women around the globe who believe in their sexual freedom are confronting developing fundamentalist powers that are using religion and culture to oppress women. The situation of the world seems to be such that we are regularly faced with what happens when small voices approach society for a big change.

The advantage of changing the debate around what women are allowed to do with their own bodies goes beyond the fight of equal rights; this would lead to the drastic change in the rape culture of today. The understanding that no one is allowed to touch your body without your permission, both in the cases of men and women, would lead more people to come out and say that ‘yes I have been raped’, as we recently observed with the large scale “ #metoo” movement on social media, which would then lead to them being granted justice. This also would be a significant change in our society, as being raped today is said to be the fault of the victim who has suffered such a tragedy, and not the perpetrator who always seems to get away.

The discourse regarding women’s rights requires a closer understanding of the various perspectives involved and the instilment of a general sense of empathy amongst those in power, who generally tend to be men.