Sexual and reproductive health and rights
Joint Statement by UN human rights experts*, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Women and Human Rights Defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
* The UN Special Rapporteurs on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, on the situation of human rights defenders, on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice.
“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its implementation mark a unique opportunity to ensure full respect for sexual and reproductive health and rights which must be seized”
GENEVA, BANJUL, WASHINGTON D.C. (24 September 2015) – On the occasion of the high-level summit to officially launch the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a group of international and regional human rights experts* call on States, in implementing the Agenda, to seize the opportunity to recommit to and ensure the full respect, protection and fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights are based on universally accepted human rights standards, as codified in international and regional treaties, as well as in international political consensus documents such as the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, and the Platform of Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Yet despite clear obligations of States to respect, protect and fulfill rights related to women’s sexual and reproductive health, violations remain frequent and widespread across all regions in the world. These take many forms including denial of access to goods and services that only women require, subjecting women’s and adolescent’s access to services to third party authorization, poor quality reproductive health services, harmful practices, and performance of procedures without a woman’s informed consent.
We commend the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, which ushers in a universal and people-centric approach to sustainable development that is fully grounded in international human rights law. Central to the Agenda is combatting inequalities and discrimination, including the elimination of discriminatory laws, policies and practices, which often lie at the heart of violations against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. We note with appreciation commitments to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including family planning, information and education. However, we deeply regret the decision by States not to advance a more expansive and explicit recognition of sexual and reproductive health and rights, despite committing to implement the Agenda in a manner consistent with their human rights obligations.
A key lesson of the Millennium Development Goals has been in the area of maternal mortality. Today, we observe an increased understanding, including through work undertaken at the Human Rights Council, of the fact that tackling the crisis of maternal deaths requires action to respect, protect and fulfill the full spectrum of women’s human rights. According to the World Health Organization, every day approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, which violate their rights to life and to personal integrity.
We recommend that States utilize the guidance from the Human Rights Council in order to better protect human rights, and also achieve their commitments under the 2030 Agenda. Patterns of maternal mortality are not inevitable: this is the result of discriminatory laws and practices, as well as institutional arrangements that compound poverty, which are fundamental issues of rights and justice. Moreover, the cost of maternal mortality outstrips the cost of ensuring appropriate pre-natal and post-natal care.
Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. The criminalization of or other failure to provide services that only women require, such as abortion and emergency contraception, constitute discrimination based on sex, and is impermissible. We are deeply concerned by reports of women who have been imprisoned for seeking emergency health services, including due to miscarriages, experience institutional abuse and discrimination by health service providers as a result of public policies and laws or on grounds of social and economic status, or are reported on or denounced by their doctors to the authorities. We call on States to consider diligently the discriminatory and public health effects of laws which criminalize abortion in all circumstances, to remove punitive measures for women who undergo abortion, and at the very minimum, legalize abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the woman or the life of the woman. Moreover, women should always be provided with access to safe, quality post-abortion care.
Violence against women, harmful gender stereotypes and multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination based on sex and gender lead to the violation of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. In this respect, we are pleased to see commitments in the Agenda to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including all harmful practices, such as child and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. We urge States to take all practical and legislative measures to prevent, prohibit, and punish such acts and guarantee redress. States should also address acts of obstetric and institutional violence suffered by women in health care facilities, including with respect to forced or coerced sterilization procedures, refusal to administer pain reliefdisrespect and abuse of women seeking healthcare and reported cases of women being hit whilst giving birth. We are deeply disturbed by reports of women being shackled to their hospital beds whilst giving birth in prison, or when suspected of having had an abortion.
We appreciate the emphasis in the Agenda on the empowerment of women and girls and underline that this is key to the fulfillment of their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Respecting women’s autonomy, integrity and their capacity to make informed decisions about their health involves women’s equal rights in deciding freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights. Women should be able to exercise these rights with respect for their privacy and confidentiality. States have an obligation to take concrete measures to address barriers faced by adolescent girls in particular, such as harmful gender stereotypes, discriminatory attitudes and censorship, in accessing comprehensive and evidence-based information on sexuality and reproduction. This should include timely information and education on responsible sexual behavior, prevention of early and unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Adolescents need services that respond to their specific sexual and reproductive health needs, ensure that they continue and complete their education, and address the stigmatization and added health risks of early marriage to which they might be exposed.
Additionally, women human rights defenders should receive protection against gender-specific threats and violence they may face due to their work on sexual and reproductive health and rights and their challenging of deep-seated patriarchal structures and societal gender norms. They should also be empowered, through safe, enabling and supporting environments to hold States accountable to their human rights obligations and commitments under this Agenda. This must include meaningful participation in discussions on the accountability framework, as well as in the implementation and monitoring, of the Agenda.
We call on all States across all regions, in implementing this historic Agenda, to seize this unique opportunity to renew their commitments and ensure the full respect, protection and fulfillment of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.