Right from the time we gain our consciousness, we are made aware of the idea of ownership. From the toys we play with, to the house we live in—we are made conscious of who owns them and how much power we have over them. We are asked to never tamper with our peers’ toys and our parents’ important belongings. We are told, what belongs to others is not for us to claim while we have the right to exercise autonomy over what belongs to us. But, how much do we learn about the rights we have over our bodies and that of others? How many people talk about body autonomy?
What is Body Autonomy?
Body autonomy, in the simplest terms, is our right over our own body—our right to govern and control what happens to it, who gets access to it and who does not. It is an extremely important concept to learn about and understand from a very young age but highly undermined and neglected in the society we live in. More often than not, it is too late when one finally learns about body autonomy. Every individual needs to understand and claim their right over their own body and set boundaries accordingly.
The idea of body autonomy should be ingrained right from childhood. The first steps can include teaching children the name and function of every body part, including the genitalia. It not only helps one grow up as a sound individual but, if and ever someone tries to violate them, they will be able to articulate the incident properly if they know the correct names of the body parts. Using proper names for body parts like penis, vagina and breasts can help one explain the incident of abuse properly, without any confusion and thus, prompt action can be taken.
The next step should be to explain the concept of good and bad touch. Individuals need to understand from a very young age that not every seemingly loving gesture is meant in a benevolent manner and not every adult is safe to be around. Children should not be forced to give up their power over their body, to yield to every adult who makes them feel uncomfortable. If a child does not want to hug an adult and shake their hand instead, it should be accepted with complete respect towards the child’s right over their body. This way, individuals will grow up with a strong sense of boundaries and body autonomy. This way, an adolescent or an adult, will be able to properly explain and articulate the limitations they willingly set in regards to their bodies without feeling guilty. Individuals should be encouraged to set healthy boundaries and they must understand that it does not make them hard to be around. If someone is uncomfortable with the boundaries another person sets, then, the problem lies entirely with them and their mentality.
Learning about body autonomy also helps one figure out how they want to be treated—how much access they want to give to another individual in terms of both, their mind and body.
Our body is our personal space
Just like breaching someone’s private property is an act worth penalizing, so should be breaching someone’s personal boundaries. Our body is our personal space and it is completely up to us, what we consider as breaching our privacy in this regard—it can be something as significant as physical abuse like slapping or groping, to something seemingly insignificant, like an unwelcome hug or an arm-squeeze.
Time and again we have seen women, adolescent girls and even children being exposed to unwarranted touching and groping in public spaces like parks, swimming pools, crowded streets, offices, schools, public transport like buses, trains and the list goes on. It has been going on from time immemorial and unfortunately, to a large extent has been normalised. It’s not rare for someone, especially a woman or a young girl trying to speak up about such physical abuse to be brushed off with insensitive comments like “I’m sure he did not mean it that way.” or, “You must have misunderstood.” or, even more devastating ”Boys will be boys. Not a big deal. Get over it.” Such reactions not only encourage abuse in work or academic environments and elsewhere but also invalidate the uncomfortable, horrifying and traumatic experience the abused goes through. It also invalidates the idea of one’s body being one’s personal space and their right and autonomy over their own body.
Our body being our personal space, it is also up to us, what we do with it. From the clothes we wear to the ways we want to take care of it, no one should be given the right to interfere with that. From body shaming, being called “too fat” or “too skinny” to being shamed and slammed for picking up clothes that are “too short”, “too revealing” or “totally out of fashion, ” society does it all. However, it is important to rise above that humdrum and take charge of our lives. What we wear, how we look and what we do with our bodies, is none of anyone’s business and a lot of people need to be reminded of that from time to time.
Importance of expression if someone tries to breach your body right
We live in a society where more often than not, the abused is blamed and questioned instead of the abuser even though thousands of cases of physical abuse take place each day in our country and most of them go unreported. The fear of being judged and not being believed is what keeps one from reporting and articulating an incident of abuse. However, one must understand that it is very important to express the discomfort one feels when their body right is breached by someone. It is hard owing to various factors. Other than the factors stated earlier, one might also fear aggression from the perpetrator that keeps one from voicing their disgust and discomfort.
Schools, offices and homes should be turned into safe spaces by providing children, adolescents and even adults with space to express themselves if someone tries to breach their body rights.
Children fall victim to bad touch, molestation and abuse more than we are aware of. From school, the playground to even their own homes and families, abusers might creep in from anywhere. Parents should assure them that they can be approached when they face anything that makes them feel unsafe or bad. A common reaction among elders when children try to articulate their experience of abuse is disbelief and that should be changed. A child should always be able to go to their parents regarding such matters or else, they might grow up as insecure, scared and vulnerable adults. Other than that, schools should have cells for students where abuse can be reported and there should be enough campaigns to make children aware of good touch, bad touch and molestation. They should also be encouraged to approach their trusted elders if they face anything akin to that. They should also be taught to take a stand against the elder who make them feel uncomfortable. This way, a lot of incidents of abuse can be stopped and can get reported on time ensuring that prompt action is taken against the abuser.
If you or someone you know have faced any kind of abuse or feel like your body autonomy has been breached, please feel free to approach someone you trust the most, who is preferably an adult and can take action against the person who made you feel so. It is only fair for the perpetrator to be punished for what they have done.
Know your legal rights
Various laws have been passed for the protection of children from abuse. They should be made aware of these as early as possible in their lives because knowing one’s rights can be empowering. If you are a student and are hearing about such laws for the first time, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.
CHILD PROTECTION ACTS: Various child protection acts exist in the constitution that condemns immoral trafficking of children, child labour, child marriage, abuse of children and so on. Among them, the POCSO act or PROTECTION OF CHILDREN FROM SEXUAL OFFENCES ACT that was passed in 2012 is of major importance. According to this act, any individual below the age of 18 is considered a child and this act define the different forms of sexual abuse. It is a child-friendly act and provides likewise aid, care and assistance to the children during the recording of the complaint, evidence, investigation of the case and dealing with it.
Thus, with such acts that aim to protect children from assault and abuse at various levels, one should not be scared to voice their experiences. It should also be kept in mind that abuse does not have a gender. Even though girls are known to face such atrocities more, it is not unlikely for a boy to fall prey to abuse either.
So, let us take the onus upon ourselves to sensitise people and raise awareness regarding body autonomy. Every individual must be aware of their right over their body and the legal actions they can take against someone who tries to breach their boundaries because every individual has the right to feel safe and at home in their own body.
– Aishani Chatterjee