Statement: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Upholding women’s human rights essential to Zika response

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
High Commissioner Zeid

Upholding women’s human rights is essential if the response to the Zika health emergency is to be effective, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Friday, adding that laws and policies that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health services in contravention of international standards, must be repealed and concrete steps must be taken so that women have the information, support and services they require to exercise their rights to determine whether and when they become pregnant…

“In Zika-affected countries that have restrictive laws governing women’s reproductive rights, the situation facing women and girls is particularly stark on a number of levels,” the UN Human Rights Chief said.  “In situations where sexual violence is rampant, and sexual and reproductive health services are criminalized, or simply unavailable, efforts to halt this crisis will not be enhanced by placing the focus on advising women and girls not to become pregnant. Many of the key issues revolve around men’s failure to uphold the rights of women and girls, and a range of strong measures need to be taken to tackle these underlying problems.”

“Upholding human rights is essential to an effective public health response and this requires that governments ensure women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, without discrimination,” Zeid said, noting that comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services include contraception – including emergency contraception – maternal health care and safe abortion services to the full extent of the law.

“Health services must be delivered in a way that ensures a woman’s fully informed consent, respects her dignity, guarantees her privacy, and is responsive to her needs and perspectives,” he added. “Laws and policies that restrict her access to these services must be urgently reviewed in line with human rights obligations in order to ensure the right to health for all in practice. Drawing on lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, another crucial element of the response should be the systematic dissemination of accurate information on how Zika spreads, how to prevent it and its health consequences.”

SOURCE: OHCHR, 5 February 2016