Reproductive Justice in Rural and Remote Manitoban Communities

The following is an article written by Youth Facilitator, Chris Romaniuk, for the Institute for International Women’s Rights MB
Reproductive justice includes equal access to safe and accessible abortion, affordable contraceptives, and comprehensive sex education. In Canada, we have the right to access each of these and make autonomous decisions about our bodies, including the decisions to have children or not, when to have children and how many, and choosing the contraceptive method that’s right for ourselves. Our rights include non-judgmental, unbiased care and accurate information about sexual and reproductive health. We also have the right to choose our sexual partner(s), or choose not to have a sexual partner, to decide when to have sex or not, choose not to marry or who to marry, to use the STI prevention methods that work for us, and choose our health care provider. Unfortunately, despite having these rights in Canada, we cannot always access them. Rights depend on where you live, the health care provider and access you have, and at times, your family and culture, which can act as barriers to accessing these services. As a result, not everyone can safely and reliably have their sexual and reproductive rights upheld.

Rural and remote communities are disproportionately affected by barriers and a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health. For example, abortion services are more accessible in urban centers than in rural and remote communities and travelling for these services creates an additional barrier. This can be addressed by providing lower barrier abortion options, such as Mifegymiso (medication for abortion), which can be more accessible, doesn’t require travel, and can be prescribed by a health care provider.

At the Sexuality Education Resource Centre of Manitoba (SERC), we provide sexuality and reproductive health education, information, and referrals. When providing referrals to folks seeking long-term contraceptives, we often experience challenges finding health care professionals who are willing to prescribe permanent birth control, such as vasectomies and tubal ligation.

Information on sexual and reproductive health has progressed substantially in recent years, yet access to education and training for health care providers is limited in this area specifically. Therefore, it is imperative that education and continuing education for healthcare providers include sexual and reproductive health, Indigenous health, and the specific reproductive health needs of rural and remote communities.

When seeing your doctor or health care provider, you have the right to be treated with respect, ask questions, and get answers you understand. You have the right to bring someone to your appointments, including physical exams, and make decisions about your health confidentially. You also have the right to change health care providers if your needs aren’t being met or if you otherwise wish to. Despite these rights, rural Manitoba is behind in providing comprehensive health care. Women and people with uteruses have the right to bodily autonomy, yet this is often ignored or neglected.

At SERC, there is a long history of giving people the knowledge and skills they need to drive change through education, support, and resources. This is critical to continue moving in a positive direction and reducing barriers that folks in rural and remote communities face. More needs to be done around advocating for better access and barrier-free sexual and reproductive health services in rural and remote communities; SERC and the champions that work hard every day cannot do it alone. Provincial leaders have a responsibility to address these barriers and continue to listen and respond to the reproductive health needs in rural and remote communities. Doing so would build on the successes of the past and lead to improved health outcomes for all Manitobans, not just those outside of urban centres.

For now, we must continue to stand up for our rights and build on the work that has been done. We must do so in order to progress past the barriers in our communities that limit access to sexual and reproductive health care – access to the services we have the right to receive. And, as we advance, we must work together and use our collective voice to influence health care providers and provincial leadership to meet the needs of rural communities, which will promote achieving true reproductive justice for all.

Chris Romaniuk (she/they) is a Sexuality and Reproductive Health Facilitator at the Sexuality Education Resource Centre in Brandon, MB. She is passionate about reproductive justice and comprehensive sexual health education – this extends beyond SERC into academics and personal life as well. She believes that education is one of our most powerful tools in life and we are forever learning and evolving.