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Choices – And Our World Of Possibilities®

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Monday, February 29th, 2016
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My title is adapted from the by-line of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, an organisation where I worked for 5 years.  The by-line, ‘From Choice, a World of Possibilities’ got me thinking a few years ago when there were internal discussions on if it was time to change it or not.  Those in opposition to it (have you not noticed that it is usually those in opposition to something who often speak out against what they do not like?) felt the by-line did not represent the work the organisation was trying to do – or more that when people read the by-line, they do not instantly identify with the work of the organisation.  The work of the organisation for those who do not know, is in making sexuality and its practice, sex; safe, pleasurable, based on choice and in advocating for governments to provide the tools for individuals to do so – contraceptives, sexuality education for young people, support for safe maternity, preventing unsafe abortions, but right of women to access  safe abortions, identifying different forms of sexualities and supporting them, as well as practising one’s sexuality without coercion.  But for me, a feminist, the more I read the by-line, the more I fell in love with it – how else can one express freedoms especially as a woman, if not through choice?

Choice and what it means is not what we always think about, we just make them – from the mundane, what to wear each morning, to what we want to eat, to more serious choices about the schools we would like to attend, choices about our careers, our life partners/spouses.  But the fundamental has always been that those everyday decisions, big or small, are often based on choice and the freedom to do so.  We often take those choices for granted – for most of us, that is just life.  But I wondered, looking at the by-line again, supposing we were not given the freedoms to make these choices?  What would have lives have been like?  And when we make those daily choices, free from coercion, do we ever think that there are others without the freedoms to do so?

Let me remind all of us with a few examples.  There are countries where women are not allowed to show their faces, their legs and pretty much everything else.  The choice we take for granted in choosing what we wear every morning then does not really apply to them.  The women often have to follow the dominant culture/law of their countries that  has already decided on their behalf, what they have to wear.    And of course there are the dire consequences for not following the ‘appropriate dress’  rules.  So what a lot of us debate every night and morning, moan over, but something we still choose to do at our pleasure, is really not a choice for a lot of women around the world.

There are families who do not allow their young people choose their life partners.  Marriage is seen as a way of cementing relationships and raising children.   Choosing a partner based on the right to look around, know someone, experiment with sex if you want, suffer heartache and decide on a life partner is not available to these young people.  In many countries, not only is sex outside marriage frowned upon, but in some instances, attracts very severe consequences including death.  So the rampant sex, and in some instances, pleasurable sex a lot of unmarried people I imagine are having everyday by choice in Nigeria and elsewhere is not available whether you would want to have sex before marriage or not.  And this is referring to adults with their senses intact.   The choice is not available.   Most of us do not even reflect on those denied sexual choices and rights when we are exercising our right to consensual, private sex.

We enjoy our choices and could not care less to be burdened by those who are different, those because of circumstances have less choice, those who do not have the freedom to choose – their partners, their clothes, all life choices. Do we ever think about those whose lives are altered even before they know what life is about?  Girls who are married off as young as 9 years old because their parents do not want them ‘spoiled’ (as if they were fruits, objects with sell by dates).  Girls denied not just childhood, but choices on how they want their lives to be – to dreams and hopes.  We consign them being illiterates, living in abject poverty with 10 children before 30 years of age, while glorifying their imaginary ‘glorious motherhood’ – a state that no one checked if they wanted or desired.  When we are thinking of world domination for ourselves, do we check in on those who have been left behind because of lack of choices?

And this brings me to an even more fundamental examination of choice – what if our choices are not really our choices?  What guides a real choice?  The ability first to discern that there are options, and an analysis to ensure that a decision is taken that presumably benefits the person making the choice.  What then do we perceive as benefits?  Societal acceptance?  Climbing up the social ladder?  Possibility of good health?  A happy life with a man/woman that loves us?    That is when we begin to see that on reflection, many of our choices are really not logical and often taken to satisfy society and escape collective punishment – in some instances, the law is used on private decisions, and in most cases, it is the collective scorn of our society, poured on us, especially as women, which often keeps us in line, as we make those ‘choices’.   The most poignant example I have is that of women who remain in abusive relationships, especially physical abuse.  When women are severely battered by their partners and they keep going back – those of us who are onlookers are often perplexed and even angry – why do they keep going back?  As we reflect on our own understanding of choice, we assume that everyone has those same choices.  Maybe the women keep going back because they were raised that to not be without a partner/husband makes them the most worthless of all women?  Or that a woman has to do all she can to please a man, and if he is abusive, it is because the women has not done enough?  Obviously these women are making ‘choices’, and in this instance, to keep going back to abuse.  Does this represent a ‘choice’?

This is why I look at that by-line, ‘From Choice, a World of Possibilities’, and I think how idealistic and fundamental that is.  How much more wonderful our world would be if we had true choices – to make decisions, to grow as we deem fit,  to make mistakes, to choose who we love, how we love as long as we are consenting adults, to go to school, to choose how many children we want, or that we do not want children at all, to travel, to live our lives, to explore all possibilities, while respecting others’ choices and decisions about their lives as long as they do not interfere with the enjoyment of our own rights and choices?

Funmi Balogun-Alexander is a women’s rights activist, researcher and social entrepreneur. She can be reached at Twitter: @funmiB


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