Women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis: UN experts

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The full enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health rights is indispensable to the ability of women and girls to exercise all other human rights and for the achievement of gender equality, the United Nations Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls say in a report.

The expert report highlights persistent gaps and challenges globally in the access to sexual and reproductive health services, goods and information, which it says are essential at all times.

The experts have urged governments to respond immediately to new threats and rollbacks to women enjoying their full human rights.

The Working Group examined a number of threats and risks posed to the sexual and reproductive health and autonomy of women and girls, before and during crisis-related events, which are underpinned and exacerbated by various forms of systemic disadvantages and discrimination.

It however noted promising practices aimed at addressing crucial gaps, which will require a radical shift in how crises are managed and addressed from the perspective of women and girls in accordance with their human rights.

According to the report, an estimated 810 maternal deaths occur each day globally, while 25 million unsafe abortions take place annually, resulting in approximately 47,000 deaths every year, primarily in developing countries and among members of socioeconomically disadvantaged and marginalized populations.

It notes that it is discriminatory for any country to refuse to legally provide certain reproductive health services for women.

The experts note that the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated the already dire crisis in sexual and reproductive health rights.

The report says the delivery of a broad range of essential sexual and reproductive health services and goods have been suspended or postponed during the pandemic, including contraceptive information and services; safe abortion services and post-abortion care.

“The Working Group emphasizes the crucial role of various actors in the provision of sexual and reproductive health care. All sectors of society – individuals, including health professionals, families, local communities, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, as well as the private business sector – have responsibilities regarding the realization of the right to health,” the report says in part.

It further urged countries to show more commitment towards the realization of safe sexual and reproductive health care.

“Unless women and girls are able to fully enjoy their sexual and reproductive health rights, they will not be able to make progress in other fields,” the Working Group says. “The sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls can and must be realized through coherent laws and policies that affirm those rights and stronger accountability and immediate implementation of existing human rights obligations and political commitments, which unfortunately continue to be ignored with impunity.”

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