Dispatch

10 April 2014

Human Rights Essential to Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health Agenda

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Women queue for sexual and reproductive health services at Kanungu Health Centre IV in Uganda. Photo credit: UNFPA/Omar Gharzeddine

UNITED NATIONS, New York – Human rights violations are one of the main challenges to achieving equitable, universal and sustainable access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, according to international experts gathered at a side event of the UN Commission on Population and Development.

Co-hosted by the UN Population Fund, the UN Development Programme, the World Health Organization and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the discussion focused on emerging priorities for sexual and reproductive health and human rights and why they are critical to future progress.

“Human rights belong in all sorts of places. They are upheld in court rooms and are the subject of legislation, but they belong far beyond the court room,” said Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, in her introduction. “Human rights are not about endorsing behaviour; they are those things that no one can take away from you."

Marleen Temmerman, Director of the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organization, noted that even with an international push to adopt improved health standards, the delivery of quality sexual and reproductive health services is still heavily dependent on proper infrastructure, supplies, capacity-building and the ability of patients to fight for their rights.

“Guidelines are just what they are if you don’t have the right supplies or structures in place,” she said. “For instance, even if we push for delivery facilities, I visited places in which attendants had to wash and reutilize latex gloves”, Dr. Temmerman, a gynecologist, told participants.

However, lack of access to life-saving health supplies, inadequate infrastructure and faltering health systems are just part of the problem, the panelists agreed.

It is important to hold governments accountable for upholding human rights, said Noor Nakibuuka of the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development in Uganda. It is also essential to strengthen communities and ensure that accurate information is recorded and shared in a transparent manner, she added.

The discussion also pointed to the challenges of defining the needs of specific groups.

“In my region, many people still think that human rights are a Westernized concept. There is not even consensus on the definition of young people,” said Rachel Arinii, a Youth Coalition coordinator from Indonesia.

For Alessandra Nilo, Co-founder and Executive Director of Gestos, a Brazilian NGO that specializes in mobilizing civil society for more accountability, there is a long way to go until all groups are adequately represented in the international arena.

“Many of our gains in the past two decades are not taken for granted anymore. There is too much resistance and a serious risk that we might go backwards instead of moving the sexual and reproductive health agenda forward,” Ms. Nilo said.

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