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25 October 2022

The importance of decolonising sexual reproductive healthcare

The latest episode of WORLD: we got this speaks with Dr Annabel Sowemimo about her PhD research looking at reproductive justice.

Abortion protest in New York

The first In Conversation episode of the podcast’s fourth series hears Annabel Sowemimo, PhD student, speak to Dr Rishita Nandagiri, Lecturer in Global Health and Social Medicine (Bioethics & Society), about how she first got into sexual reproductive health, her role as a Community Sexual Reproductive Health Registrar and why she founded the Reproductive Justice Initiative.

Sowemimo’s PhD research looks at the experiences of Black British women with fertility control methods in the UK. Through her medical background, she became interested in the topic and founded the Decolonising Contraception Collective – now called the ‘Reproductive Justice Initiative’.

In the episode, Sowemimo discusses the importance of analysing the colonial legacy of healthcare to ensure we are able to move forward and create a just healthcare system.

Cycles do repeat themselves. We see this slow creep into the contraception and sexual reproductive health sector of people that are very much vested in natalist policies.

Dr Annabel Sowemimo

"They want to see the face of their countries stay the same, they’re worried about migration or they’re worried about conservation issues and they think the climate is eroding so they’re like ‘Okay how can we stop more people reproducing.

"Rather than look at wider issues, they insert themselves into this sector when actually they have no interest in autonomy or the other aspects of sexual reproductive healthcare. They’re just really, really committed to the better breeding or the reduced breeding of certain people or people in general.”

She also explains the importance of ensuring people have appropriate access to sexual reproductive services – pointing out that the existence of the services themselves is not enough, they need to also take into account people’s choices and autonomy.

“The idea that you could choose to have an abortion and as long as we’ve provided services where people could access abortion care then people could have the right to not have or have an abortion, and that was limiting.

"Because, it wasn’t really incorporating all the other things that were going on in the world that mean that actually some people, they’re not really choosing to have an abortion. Because they might not have the financial support and security, they may be worried about the different outcomes if they do have a child – obviously things like police brutality disproportionately affecting black communities in the US and in other countries, such as England. You have the data to show that’s quite similar across the UK.”.

You have to think about what options you’re providing them with, but also what else affects people taking up or not taking up the options.

Dr Annabel Sowemimo

You can follow Dr Annabel Sowemimo and the Reproductive Justice Initiative on Twitter.

Read Dr Annabel Sowemimo’s article on Britain’s first Black physicians for the Wellcome Collection and her article for Gal-dem about her great, great grandfather, Dr John K Randle. Her book, Decolonising Healthcare, will be published in 2023.

In this story

Rishita Nandagiri

Lecturer in Global Health & Social Medicine