Alison Brysk on Global Reproductive Rights Regression

Professor Alison Brysk

On September 3, Alison Brysk, a leading researcher and professor of human rights, spoke at Occidental College on the topic of reproductive rights regression.

Brysk is a Mellichamp professor of global governance at UC Santa Barbara. She has published and edited a number of books on human rights, specifically on violence against women, trafficking, and indigenous feminisms. She has researched extensively in Asia and Latin America in an effort to unite academic research and justice.


This past fall, Professor Brysk completed a project on gender violence that speculated about the future of human rights. Throughout her research, she saw a theme of reproductive rights having a cause and effect in human rights. As Professor Brysk reflected on current reproductive rights in the United States, she began to develop her new research on global reproductive rights regression with a focus on abortion rights.


Professor Brysk is currently studying the global contraction of reproductive rights, as well as the ways in which this is contested by community groups. In her talk, she described gender relations as what you are supposed to do, feel, and say, based on if you are a man or a woman. The gender regime is a reproduction of gender relations in households, bodies, and institutions -- it is a social structure. The Politics of Sexual Self Determination is the degree of power you have to use your own body in ways that are under your own control -- your bodily integrity. Professor Brysk explained that reproductive rights regression is the ways in which Sexual Self Determination is attacked by perpetrators of conflict rape, intimate partner violence, unequal marriage rights to undermine women’s freedom, mobility, and education.


With a focus on abortion rights, Professor Brysk outlined key facts about abortion world wide. According to the World Health Organization, there are 22 million unsafe abortions each year. Globally, unsafe abortion results in the death of approximately 47,000 women. Finally, five million women experience disabilities and complications after abortion. Human rights organizations and researchers are just beginning to take abortion rights into consdideration.


Professor Brysk described the ways in which the status of abortion rights in a country mirrors the progress and deveopment of that country. Overall, Professor Brysk identified a modernizing trend of reproductive rights. However, in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Poland, Russia, Brazil, the Philippines, and the U.S. reproductive rights regression is rampant. Regression occurs across region, religion, perceived development, and is attached to pro-natalist ideas. Reproductive rights regression is intersectional in its effects. Using comparative studies of global reproductive rights, women’s health is understood as a development issue. In any economic system where women can advocate for themselves, reproductive rights are prioritized. Professor Brysk warns of authoritarianism in current US society, and encourages collective action, policy change, and solidarity.