What do we mean when we speak of reproductive and sexual rights of women, particularly in the context of extreme poverty and rapid social economic changes occuring in urban slums in Dhaka City? This article discusses some of the evolving factors which shape young women's reproductive and sexual health experiences in the broader conditions of rapid urbanisation and extreme poverty. The fieldwork was conducted in a Dhaka slum from December 2001 to January 2003 and included 50 in-depth interviews, eight case studies and observations and discussions with family and community members. The information gathered showed that there is a shift in the traditional marriage practices in urban slums, with 81 out of 153 young women having love marriages. Financial constraints compel many young women to work in garment factories to earn a living, which exposes them to men in the public domain and work environment. While on the one hand, young women have greater mobility and freedom to choose their own partners, on the other hand, the urban movement has resulted in greater social and marital insecurity. Married adolescent women, in the face of these insecurities, often rely on their sexualilty as an economic resource, to hold on to spouses or to attract potential suitors. The experiences of engaging in sexual relations with their spouses bring contradictions, as some women tolerate bad marriages and forced sex, which place them at risk of adverse reproductive experiences.
In IDS Bulletin Vol 37, No 5. 10 pp.