Empowering Reproductive Health: Navigating Digital Frontiers in Bangladesh
School of Law, BRAC University
In the era of rapid technological progress, the convergence of digital innovation and reproductive health rights offers a transformative path toward societal advancement. The realm of Digital Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (DSRHR), where traditional SRHR frameworks face limitations, represents a nexus of human rights and artificial intelligence interests. Rooted in experiences within the legal landscape of Bangladesh, this exploration sheds light on the significance of leveraging digital platforms to enhance sexual and reproductive health services in developing nations. A comprehensive grasp of DSRHR and its potential to empower marginalized communities can be introduced by identifying challenges, assessing influencing factors, and emphasising transparency and accountability.
Overview of Sexual Reproductive Health Rights in Bangladesh:
Traditional SRHR constructs, while significant, have faced constraints in Bangladesh due to cultural, societal, and infrastructural challenges. These impediments hinder the comprehensive dissemination of SRHR information and services, prompting the emergence of digital SRHR as a potential solution. As the nation grapples with traditional SRHR limitations, the advent of digital platforms offers a new avenue to bridge existing gaps and ensure equitable access to essential health services.
Understanding Digital SRHR in Bangladesh:
At the intersection of technology and reproductive health, digital SRHR encompasses a broad spectrum of initiatives that utilize digital platforms to disseminate information and provide services. Digital platforms serve as potent tools to offer accessible and confidential SRHR information, empowering individuals to make informed decisions. However, this evolution presents a duality of benefits and risks, ranging from enhanced accessibility to potential breaches of privacy.
Experiencing the Digital Paradigm:
Personal experiences with digital health platforms highlight their capacity to close accessibility gaps for sexual and reproductive health services. In countries like Bangladesh, where cultural conventions can impede open dialogues, digital platforms provide a secure avenue for individuals to pursue guidance, information, and assistance. This experiential basis propels the investigation into the intricacies of DSRHR.
Transparency, Accountability, and Policy Frameworks:
A cornerstone of DSRHR is the transparency and accountability of digital health platforms. Scrutinizing existing mechanisms and policies governing these platforms, the aim shall be to assess their efficacy in upholding user rights and data security. By delving into policy intricacies, the regulatory frameworks can be better grasped, thus enhancing the safety and trustworthiness of DSRHR platforms.
Fostering Collective Participation:
An essential theme of the esteemed subject matter is the concept of collective participation. A sustainable digital health ecosystem necessitates collaboration among stakeholders- government bodies, civil society, technology developers, and healthcare providers. This includes the ways to channel this collective energy to develop a robust and user-centric digital infrastructure for sexual and reproductive health services.
Understanding User Behavior:
Delving into the realm of user behaviour and decisions within DSRHR platforms, it is critical to decipher the motivations, needs, and hesitations that shape interactions. By understanding user psychology and decision-making processes, it is possible to tailor digital health platforms to be more engaging, effective, and user-friendly.
Promoting Digital SRHR in Bangladesh:
The realization of comprehensive digital SRHR hinges on the formulation of robust policies and strategies that prioritize user’s rights and data security. The imperative of collaboration between government bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and technology companies emerges as a catalyst for effective implementation. Lessons gleaned from successful digital SRHR initiatives in other nations underscore the transformative potential of collective efforts in Bangladesh.
UNFPA’s initiatives, such as virtual reality training and augmented reality apps, exemplify the transformative impact of technology on sexual and reproductive health, emphasizing the need to bridge the digital gender divide and prioritize women’s inclusion in technological advancements. (UNFPA Bangladesh)
Challenges for Digital SRHR in Bangladesh:
Unveiling the multifaceted challenges encountered in the realm of digital sexual reproductive health, factors such as limited digital literacy, socio-economic disparities, and patriarchal norms influence the efficacy of these platforms. The road to digitized SRHR is paved with challenges, including limited internet access and digital literacy in rural areas, which threaten to perpetuate existing disparities. Addressing these hurdles demands multifaceted solutions encompassing infrastructural enhancements, targeted educational initiatives, and culturally sensitive digital content. Furthermore, the delicate task of overcoming deeply ingrained cultural and social barriers necessitates community engagement and tailored interventions. While technology can help and contribute to improving the rights of people, including the right to healthcare, it comes with risks. This is especially true if tech ‘solutions’ are not built with people’s privacy and real needs being prioritised, or if the motivation to build digitised systems, is improperly incentivised or is built by actors with hidden agendas to begin with (Privacy International).
At the same time, it’s important to highlight that women do not enjoy health rights equally. In addition to privacy concerns, women experience numerous violations in exercising their right to healthcare – as evidenced by unacceptably high maternal mortality and morbidity rates around the world (Privacy International).
Digital SRHR and Gender:
Digitalisation and the promotion of gender equality must go hand in hand. Digital tools and technology hold significant potential in advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) objectives, offering accessible platforms for reliable information and services. These tools address a wide spectrum of SRHR issues, from family planning and STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) prevention to gender dynamics and identity (Countdown 2030 Europe). With the rise in mobile health service usage, especially in developing nations, digital tools have become instrumental in reaching young populations, reducing stigma, ensuring confidentiality, and improving SRH outcomes through knowledge enhancement and service utilization. The European Commission acknowledges the transformative impact of digital transformation on healthcare access, particularly in remote areas. While digital solutions enhance SRHR, their effectiveness is maximized when they complement and augment physical service delivery (Countdown 2030 Europe).
The worldwide repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with lockdown restrictions, have adversely affected the accessibility of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, especially among marginalized groups (Countdown 2030 Europe). Concurrently, incidents of sexual and gender-based violence have surged globally. These circumstances underscore the significance of utilizing technology and digital resources to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of SRH services. Although initially employed as a temporary response to the crisis, the implementation of digital solutions has yielded beneficial outcomes, indicating the potential for a more enduring integration with the backing of international sponsors (Countdown 2030 Europe).
National Library of Medicine, An official website of the govt. of the United States suggested the following to implement while introducing digital technology in the SRH functioning in order to tackle the challenges (Bacchus et al.)-
Consider potential harms during intervention design,
Mitigate or minimize potential harms during the design phase
Measure adverse outcomes during implementation,
Plan how to support those reporting adverse outcomes.
In the crucible of Bangladesh’s evolving SRHR landscape, the integration of digital platforms emerges as a compelling solution to overcome persistent challenges. The fusion of traditional wisdom with technological innovation can foster a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to SRHR, transcending boundaries and empowering marginalized communities. This journey toward digital SRHR demands collaborative efforts, robust policies, and an unwavering commitment to privacy and inclusivity. As Bangladesh strides toward a future marked by progress and equity, the promotion and protection of digital SRHR stands as a beacon guiding the nation towards a more enlightened and empowered tomorrow.
Bacchus, Loraine J., et al. “Using Digital Technology for Sexual and Reproductive Health: Are Programs Adequately Considering Risk?” PubMed Central (PMC), 23 Dec. 2019, doi: 10.9745/GHSP-D-19-00239.
“Harnessing Digital Innovations and Technology to Advance Women’s and Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.” UNFPA Bangladesh, 9 Mar. 2023, https://bangladesh.unfpa.org/en/news/harnessing-digital-innovations-and-technology-advance-womens-and-girls%E2%80%99-sexual-and-reproducti-2.
“Health Tech in Sexual and Reproductive Rights.” Privacy International, http://privacyinternational.org/learn/health-tech-sexual-and-reproductive-rights.
“HOW DIGITALISATION AND SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS CAN STRENGTHEN ONE ANOTHER.” Countdown 2030 Europe.