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Throughout history, we have seen many people – including women, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations – denied our fundamental human and sexual rights. We were told, in ways big and small, that we lacked the capacity or privilege to make choices for ourselves. These abuses continue today.

Persons with disabilities, for example, are frequently denied their right to accessible sexual and reproductive health information and services. They are too often denied protection from violence; girls and boys with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence, with girls at the greatest risk. Some are even subjected to forced sterilization. People in detention may be subjected to rape or denial of health care.

Young people, too, are often considered incapable of making sexual and reproductive health decisions. Sometimes this means parents make life-altering choices for them, like marrying them off before they reach adulthood. Guardians have a clear obligation to make responsible decisions in the best interest of their children, but that doesn't always happen. International agreements respect the rights of older adolescents to participate in important matters affecting them.

Any concern affecting the welfare of half of humanity cannot be dismissed as a “women’s issue” but bodily autonomy does not simply affect women. Every individual should be empowered to claim their bodily autonomy. This includes men, women, boys and girls, people of diverse sexual orientations and different gender expressions. It includes people of all races, faiths, nationalities and disability status.

Research shows that men, too, can be subjected to violations of bodily autonomy, such as through invasive non-consensual anal exams. People of all genders can experience reproductive coercion – behaviors that interfere with the reproductive choices of others – and even rape.

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