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Mónica Roa: Protecting Women's Rights Through the Courts

Mónica Roa

This article is part of the Heroes of Social Inclusion series from the Spring 2012 issue of Americas Quarterly. View the full list of heroes here.

I grew up in a family with no father. I saw the responsibilities that my mother had to take on alone to raise my sister and me. At the same time, I never had to obey a male authority, and I saw great differences in other families where the father was the absolute and unquestionable authority.

Mónica Roa with a book on legal modifications to reproductive rights in Colombia, January, 26, 2012. (Maria Elisa Duque)

In 2003, I became involved in Women’s Link Worldwide. Our strategy is to use the courts as a platform to promote social change, particularly on controversial issues that do not have political majorities in the congress but affect human rights. We start from the premise that democracy is not just a government of the majorities, but includes a guarantee of respect for the rights of minorities, and that the task of protecting them is the responsibility of judges. Judges are also the intermediaries between rights on paper and in reality. They can ensure that international human rights treaties and constitutional rights charters have a concrete impact on people’s lives. We see each lawsuit as an opportunity to position issues on the agenda, to change the terms of certain debates and to strengthen movements.

Advances in reproductive rights in the hemisphere have created tension. On one side have been the legal victories in recent years, in both national and international courts, which have established that women’s rights to life, health, safety, autonomy, and freedom from discrimination are the basis for demanding that the state provide dignified and safe abortion services. But these victories have fueled the determination of antirights groups to seek—increasingly radically, and at times successfully—the neutralization or complete nullification of reproductive rights. In all this, one basic contradiction remains: regardless of the law, women with resources can have abortions safely, and women without resources continue risking their lives in dangerous procedures.

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