Women all over the world should have their sexual and reproductive rights protected by governments. However, this is not the case for most countries, even though in 1994, 179 governments (including all of the EU member states) agreed to adopt the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) agreement at the International Conference on Population and development, in Cairo (Shalev, 1998). SRHR sought to empower people, especially women, by protecting their sexual and reproductive rights, in allowing them to decide freely of their bodies. Another important milestone for equality of women was the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995, a United Nations (UN) world conference that was held for the ‘empowerment and advancement of women’ (Tarr-Whelan, 2010). However, many governments have failed to keep their promise to tackle these issues, women in developing countries experience this the worst. In Nigeria 60% of girls are married before 15, and on average women there give birth 7 times in their life (United Nations Children’s Fund, (2014). This is worrying when inequality is strong in Nigeria and so is the struggle for survival. Over 20 percent women in Nigeria have stated that they want access to family planning but cannot get it (USAID, 2016). These women should have the right to choose when they want to have children and start a family, not be forced into marriages. This affects the global economy as women here lack access to necessities like food or medication, or shelter, and therefore risk getting ill, as do their children.
The Beijing Platform for action required that women be given the ‘right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence’ (IPPF, 2015). But, women today still lack protection that guarantees their full participation in society and the economic sphere. Abortion is a highly contested legal, moral and a health issue worldwide, the legal regulation of abortion has an impact on women’s health when it is outlawed it leads to unsafe abortion which can result in deaths and morbidity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 22 million women worldwide undergo unsafe abortions, and 5 million experience complications causing more than 47,000 deaths annually (World Health Organization, 2008). WHO has advised for the liberalisation of laws, since restrictions do not deter abortion but they lead to clandestine practices. Most European countries and Canada, US, Australia, permit abortion on demand. Latin America and the Middle East women struggle to receive an abortion, not only on demand but also when their life is at risk. Although it is not just developing countries, Italy was condemned for lack of access to safe abortion procedure in 2016 by the Security Council of Human Rights, therefore, forcing women to go to private facilities or abroad, or undergo unsafe abortions (McHugh, 2016). The lack of access to legal abortion services means undermining women’s human rights.
Reproductive rights mean the right to life, security and privacy. UN has tried to enforce human rights treaties to deal with the challenges that women face such as violence, high rates of maternal mortality, child marriage. But more measures need to be put in place to address reproductive human rights violations. Governments who want to increase the birth-rate in unpopulated territories have denied women access to contraception (Human Rights Watch, 2005). In most societies gender determines the division of labour and the allocation or rights and responsibilities. Gender inequality is evident in every aspect of social life, resources, employment, freedoms. When women are powerless, rights do not mean much if they do not have the economic means to exercise them. Women rights activists in Sudan have tried to protest laws being put in place to punish women for ‘moral’ issues, but have faced repression and abuse by the authorities (Human Rights Watch, 2016). (Image available at:https://uk.pinterest.com/brittneyjasmin/reproductive-choice-rights/)
Governments need to invest more in order to meet the agreements made in Cairo in 1994 and Beijing in 1995. We cannot have gender equality or empower women and girls, without sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is difficult when culture comes in the way of human rights, for example, most African family values do not agree that abortion needs to be legalised in order to reduce maternal mortality. But nonetheless, women are speaking out on political, social and economic issues, as discussed, despite the oppression that women are facing in Sudan, there has been a rise in protest, even though the government has responded violently to the protesters.
By Sandra Xheleshi
Human Rights Watch (2005) Decisions Denied: Women’s Access to Contraceptives and Abortion in Argentina, Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2005/06/14/decisions-denied/womens-access-contraceptives-and-abortion-argentina (Accessed: 9 December 2016)
Human Rights Watch (2016) “Good Girls Don’t Protest” Repression and Abuse of Women Human Rights Defenders, Activists, and Protesters in Sudan. Human Rights Watch. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/03/23/good-girls-dont-protest/repression-and-abuse-women-human-rights-defenders (Accessed: 10 December 2016)
IPPF (2016) No gender equality without sexual and reproductive health and rights says IPPF report, IPPF. Available at: http://www.ippf.org/news/no-gender-equality-without-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights-says-ippf-report (Accessed: 7 December 2016).
McHugh, J. (2016) ‘Italian Abortion Law Update: Council Of Europe Slams Italy For Restricting Women’s Reproductive Rights’, IBT Times, 4 November. Available at: http://www.ibtimes.com/italian-abortion-law-update-council-europe-slams-italy-restricting-womens-2351734 (Accessed: 11 December 2016)
Shalev, C. (2000). Rights to Sexual and Reproductive Health: The ICPD and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Health and Human Rights, 4(2).
Tarr-Whelan, L., (2010) The Impact of the Beijing Platform for Action: 1995 to 2010. Human Rights, 36(3).
United Nations Children’s Fund (2014). Ending Child Marriage: Progress and prospects, UNICEF, New York. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/media/files/Child_Marriage_Report_7_17_LR..pdf (Accessed: 9 December 2016)/
USAID (2016) Family Planning and Reproductive Health in Nigeria. USAID. Available at: https://results.usaid.gov/nigeria/health/family-planning-and-reproductive-health#fy2015 (Accessed: 12 December 2016).
World Health Organization (2008) WHO: Preventing unsafe abortion. World Health Organization. Available at: http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/unsafe_abortion/magnitude/en/ (Accessed: 13 December 2016).