Using Culturally Sensitive Approaches

Promoting Human Rights through Culturally Sensitive Approaches

Culturally sensitive approaches are a means by which UNFPA and its development partners can more effectively make basic human rights -- especially those dealing with reproductive health and women's empowerment -- a reality in the countries we serve.

The modern human rights system is based on a series of legally binding international treaties (see below) that make use of principles of ethics and social justice, many of which are directly relevant to reproductive health care. By emphasizing fundamental values, a rights-based approach can shape humane and effective reproductive health programmes and policies.

The following chart describes some of the fundamental rights that UNFPA helps to promote, and some of the interventions that we undertake to make those rights a reality. The publication, Culture Matters, describes in more detail how these rights were operationalized through case studies documenting projects in nine countries.

A training manual has been created by UNFPA to explain how to promote human rights, especially gender equality, in a culturally sensitive manner.

Human Rights Establishing Agreement Rights-Based Actions
Right to life and survival UDHR, article 3
ICCPR, article 6
CRC, article 6

Prevent avoidable maternal deaths

End pre-natal sex selection and female infanticide

Screen for cancers that can be detected early and treated.

Ensure access to dual-protection contraceptive methods

Right to liberty and security of the person UDHR, article 25
ICESCR, article 12
CEDAW. Articles 11, 12 and 14

Eliminate female genital cutting

Encourage clients to make independent reproductive health decisions

Right to marry and establish a family CEDAW. Articles 11, 12 and 14 Prevent early or coerced marriages
Right to decide the number and spacing of one's children UDHR, article 12
ICCPR, article 17
ICESCR, article 10
CEDAW, article 16
CRC, article 16

Provide access to a range of modern contraceptive methods

Help people choose and use a family planning method

Right to the highest attainable standard of health ICESCR, article 12
CEDAW, articles 12 and 14
CRC, article 24

Provide access to affordable, acceptable, and comprehensive reproductive health services

Rights to the benefits of scientific progress UDHR, article 27
ICESCR, article 15

Fund research on women's as well as men's health needs

Provide access to obstetric care that can prevent maternal deaths

Right to receive and impart information UDHR, article 19
ICCPR, article 19
CEDAW, articles 10, 14, 16
CRC, articles 12, 13 and 17

Make family planning information freely available

Offer sufficient information for people to make informed reproductive health decisions.

Source: Adapted from Culture Matters, page 4

The major treaties referenced in the table include:

For information on UNFPA's work to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples, see