Dealing with sexual and reproductive health

Inclusive Economy,Poverty & Inequality20 Feb 2013Hilde Kroes

The post-2015 agenda needs to be adapted to address the inequalities, social exclusion and root causes of poverty that people are facing. If the principles of social equity, equality and human rights are not included, we will again fail to achieve sustainable development and to provide a pathway to a more just society. We may even exacerbate existing inequalities.

The most prominent inequalities exist in the area of sexual and reproductive health. This especially applies to girls and women who are systematically oppressed, unable to enjoy their human rights, and poor. Their access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, education and services is poor, even when these services exist. Access can be inequitable even within countries and within certain groups in society, depending on gender, age, religion, ethnicity, and social and economic status. This can be addressed by investing in the empowerment of women, young people, and marginalized groups and in the fulfilment of their human rights. At the same time addressing barriers in accessing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, education and services will contribute to turning the tide of increasing inequalities and inequities in societies. Among the most significant barriers are:

Social barriers: marginalized groups, especially women and girls, LGBTIQ, sex workers, and people with disabilities face barriers to exercising their sexual and reproductive rights based on social norms, stigma and discrimination.

Legal barriers: policy and legislation may be punitive or hinder people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services. Examples are criminalization of abortion, travel restrictions for people living with HIV, or the lack of punitive measures for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

Cultural barriers: cultural and traditional practices, such as early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour crimes undermine girls’ or women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In addressing the structural root causes of poverty and the slow progress in human and economic development there needs to be attention to inequalities, inequities and social injustices. Human rights are central in these discussions. Every individual has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health. Furthermore, a human rights framework allows for better implementation of agreements and better monitoring and accountability mechanisms if existing human rights instruments are used (such as CEDAW).

In the Inequality debate, it is necessary to firmly address sexual and reproductive health and rights, which includes:

  1. Comprehensive and equitable sexual and reproductive health services that are voluntary and respect freedom of choice, obtainable without coercion, discrimination or violence, and respect the right of people to make informed choices about what is best for their health and needs.
  2. Access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights information and education for all, especially for girls and young people, both in and out of school.
  3. Commitments to removing social, cultural and legal barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information by developing, implementing and monitoring legal standards and policies and programmes that promote equity and human rights.
  4. Eliminating the discrimination and exclusion of specific groups, such as young people and marginalized groups, in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information.
  5. Promoting gender equality, by investing in women’s empowerment and their human rights.
  6. Integration of the post 2015 framework with international legal frameworks and international agreements such as the ICPD Programme of Action, Beijing Platform of Action and CEDAW.

In conclusion, unequal access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services exacerbates the poor health, poverty and other inequalities experienced by marginalized groups including women and girls, adolescents and the poor. Every inequality in access, reinforces and exacerbates increasing social and economic inequalities between groups in society – particular between the genders. It is therefore necessary to focus on equal and equitable access, to sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post 2015 agenda.

This paper was submitted on behalf of Countdown 2015 Europe.