Decolonizing sexual and reproductive health: A conversation led by the Period Priority Project

The Period Priority Project aims to breakdown and unpack the nuances of colonial period shame and start new conversations about reproductive justice.

Decolonizing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) is an initiative of Period Priority Project and a part of the SRHR Conversation series to promote discussion about how sexual and reproductive health practices have been developed from unethical medical research on previously colonized populations. Many of these issues still affect medical practice today.

The initiative sheds light on the ways that sexual and reproductive health practices have reproduced colonial narratives and structures; its effects on Indigenous women; girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals; and the actions we can take to repatriate pre-colonization Indigenous understandings of gender and sexuality.

Along with slavery, genocide and the theft of land and natural resources, colonization has destroyed languages, identities, traditions, spiritual practices and communities. The Period Priority Project asked the St. John’s Chapter of the Circle of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Students, an advocacy and resource centre for Indigenous students attending the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUNL), to discuss some of these issues.

In what ways do sexual and reproductive health rights movements and initiatives reproduce colonial narratives and structures?

For reproductive rights movements, people solely of European descent may have struggled to find resources to prevent pregnancy, for example, tubal ligation. But Indigenous women and other women of colour are often forced to have these kinds of procedures without their consent. Female bodies are treated differently depending on race and ethnicity. Indigenous women also face much higher rates of sexual violence. Much of this violence is institutional. This is combined with racist and inaccessible health care. Finally, we still don’t have equal access to period products; these basic necessities are much more expensive in (Canada’s) North and are exacerbated by the stigmatization of menstruation by colonial and Christian ideology.

What are the impacts of the colonial lens on the sexual and reproductive health rights and access for Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC)?

There is a lack of focus on the forced sterilization of BIPOC women. Many people of European descent are still surprised to learn about forced sterilization, highlighting the need to raise awareness of this issue. For Indigenous people, our moontime was seen as sacred. Indigenous women were seen as life-givers and it was believed that we were more powerful during our moontime. But due to colonialism, this perspective isn’t as widely held as it once was. We were taught that menstruation was dirty. We are starting to see a more neutral lens being taught, but very few initiatives regard menstruation as sacred.

What does it mean to incorporate decolonial lenses and practices to sexual and reproductive health rights-related work?

It would generally mean to have an open mind to different perspectives and cultures, rather than imposing Eurocentric ideals to every event and project.

How would you recommend aspiring youth leaders meaningfully contribute to decolonizing sexual and reproductive health rights?

Speak to Indigenous people and organizations and find out what is important to them rather than assuming our goals are all the same. Consult with members of many different backgrounds to get an idea of the variety of issues faced and if possible, consult with Indigenous elders about traditional knowledge regarding menstruation in order to incorporate that into your work.

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  • Huma Khurshid says:

    Interesting topic! How can we actively support decolonizing sexual and reproductive health practices?


Leisha Toory

Memorial University of Newfoundland
St. John’s, Newfoundland

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