This post is part of our "What Does Choice Mean to You?" series commemorating the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Knowledge. To have a choice, you need options and to have
options you need knowledge. Not just sex and sexuality education, but the knowledge
to weigh your options, to make reasoned decisions based on your socio-economic
circumstances, to understand the law, to understand your rights and what your
decisions will mean for you. Without knowledge, you have fewer options or maybe
no options at all, and with fewer or no options, there is no real choice.
It is knowledge that can stop peer pressure from being a
factor when a boy or girl chooses to have sex. It is knowledge that is the
starting point for arming teenagers with the means of avoiding unwanted
pregnancies and STIs. For a teenager who faces an unplanned pregnancy, she
needs to know whether she can legally obtain an abortion and what she needs to
do to meet the legal requirements, particularly as minor. To make an informed
choice, she needs to know what the procedure will involve, what the legitimate
risks are and when alleged risks are unfounded. With every piece of knowledge, a
woman is better placed to make a decision and depending on her choice, she is empowered
to either tackle the hurdles she might face in trying to obtain an abortion, or
ensure her well-being and the well-being of her future child.
Does a woman living with HIV/AIDS, who is threatened that
she will not be treated at a hospital unless she undergoes sterilization, have
a choice? Only if she has the knowledge of her own rights to dignity, to found
a family and to be free from discrimination, if she
knows she can walk away from the hospital and where she can go and receive
non-discriminatory treatment. And for a gay man who fears that his family,
friends, colleagues, employer or community will find out about his sexuality? He
needs to know about the acceptability of all sexual identities, so he can
choose whether or not he wants to “come out”. He needs to know that his
sexuality and sexual expression are neither “against the order of nature” nor “an
unnatural offense”. He needs to know that he has a right to non-discrimination
and to live with dignity, but also the legal consequences and risks to his
personal safety if he lives in a society that wrongly criminalizes
homosexuality. And his fears of “coming out” and the stigma that he may face should
not drive him away from obtaining essential knowledge about condom use and
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In the broadest sense, where women
and men have knowledge, they are empowered to fight for their rights. With
education and knowledge, women can fight for their rights to decent work, to own
property or to an inheritance, rights which women are frequently denied. When
women are educated, they have choices. And with choices, they are less
dependent on male relatives; they are less dependent on a system that denies
them their rights. With knowledge of their rights, women and men can educate
their children of the rights of all people to live equally and with dignity.
There are some decisions which can be only me made by us as
individuals. These are inviolable personal choices. These are the decisions
about our sexuality and how we will express it, about our bodies and what we will
and will not do with them. But to make these personal choices, we need
knowledge. And only with this knowledge do we really have the right to choose.