Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), Gender Equality and the Global Goals

June 20, 2018

“At the heart of people’s human rights, freedom, and dignity is the ability to decide what happens to one’s body.”

When sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are realised, the impact on girls’ and women’s lives is significant, transformative and lasting.

In our Global Goals Blog series, we have previously introduced you to the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and how they are linked to gender equality and women’s empowerment in Australia, and the world. In this blog, we’ll focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), which are critical to achieving gender equality and the Global Goals.

What are sexual and reproductive health and rights?

Sexual and reproductive health is the state of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being in relation to all aspects of sexuality and reproduction, as well as concerning disease, dysfunction and infirmity.[2]

Sexual and reproductive health can only be achieved through recognition of sexual and reproductive rights. This refers to the right every individual has to make informed decisions regarding what happens, and when, to their bodies. This includes choices about if and when to become sexually active, with who, and in what way; options and access to contraception and reproductive health care; partners and marriage, including whether and when to have children; and access to the information, services and resources to navigate these choices free from discrimination, violence and coercion.

SRHR are broad ranging. For example, IWDA collaborated with WaterAid and the Burnet Institute on The Last Taboo research project in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, which found that educating and empowering adolescent girls about menstruation can lead to more girls attending and completing school, and advancing their education. This can be achieved through work within communities to help break down negative attitudes and social norms surrounding menstruation; education and information for girls to understand menstruation and how to manage it; provision of quality toilet and wash facilities at school and in work places; and affordable sanitary products. When these elements are in place, girls are more likely to attend school and complete their education with their full potential.

As the example above suggests, SRHR can have significant positive impacts on gender equality across all aspects of life that in turn impact on community and social prosperity. These include women’s ability to access educational and employment opportunities, leading to increased individual assets as well as contribution to households and communities.[3] Through access to family planning services, lower employee turnover and higher productivity in both the public and private sector can lead to significant economic growth, demonstrated recently in Asia.[4] Teaching our youth about respectful relationships and consent impacts on gendered violence, and the ability of both men and women to own their decisions about relationships and health.[5]

Championing these rights is therefore critical to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, the Global Goals, and providing all the opportunities that come with this.

SRHR and the Global Goals: progress and challenges  

SRHR is a cross-cutting issue with relevance across the Global Goals. It is specifically addressed in three specific targets under three different Goals; Goal 3 on health, Goal 4 on education, and Goal 5 on gender equality.[6]

There has been significant progress towards SRHR in recent decades that contributes to achieving these targets. Efforts towards SRHR have almost halved the number of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth since 1990[7]; Southern and Eastern Asia have made incredible strides towards addressing maternal mortality ratios[8]; and new HIV infections worldwide have declined, particularly in the Asia Pacific region[9].  Contraceptive use has increased dramatically, worldwide and in our region[10], and global fertility has decreased[11].

However, persistent inequalities between and within countries, the SRHR of marginalised groups, and SRHR in the Pacific represent enduring concerns in the face of this progress. In our region, Asia and Pacific, women’s deaths relating to complications from birth, abortion or miscarriage make up just under one third of the global total, and newborn deaths in the first month of life account for over half the global total. Most of these could be prevented through provision of adequate medical care. [12]

The world over, but particularly in Asia and the Pacific, women not using modern contraceptives have indicated that they would like to delay, space out or avoid pregnancy, highlighting a significant unmet demand for SRHR. For example, women in countries such as Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste are less likely to be using their choice of contraceptive to delay or prevent pregnancy[13], and in 2015 Timor-Leste had one of the lowest levels of contraceptive prevalence in Asia, at 29%.[14]

Social attitudes and restrictions on sexual and reproductive health information predominantly affect adolescent girls, amplified in poor and or rural contexts, leading to the vast majority of adolescent births occurring in developing countries.[15]

Next steps

In order to address these challenges and enable further progress towards achieving the Global Goals and gender equality, funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services need to be increased dramatically. Full investment in contraceptive services and maternal and newborn healthcare in our region would reduce maternal and newborn mortality, unintended pregnancies, unplanned births and abortions by approximately three quarters.[16] The recently released Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All publication from the International Consortium for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights presents evidence that “for every dollar invested in family planning, the community could save between $4 and $31 in other areas like education, public health and water sanitation.”[17]

Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All

The International Consortium for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights is a partnership of Australia’s leading non-government organisations that together champion universal access to SRHR as a key contributor to gender equality. The Consortium has recently produced a joint position paper, Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All, to influence the work of the Australian Government in supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, including in the context of the Global Goals.

The Consortium makes three recommendations in regards to Australia’s Foreign Policy on SRHR:

  1. Prioritise the promotion of gender equality and human rights globally
  2. Champion sexual and reproductive health and rights as a core part of Australia’s agenda to promote gender equality
  3. Invest in the provision of sexual and reproductive health information and services to effective organisations.

To bring the recommendations to life the Consortium reaffirms previous funding targets for SRHR; the importance of funding organisations working on the ground, who have an intricate knowledge of the socio-cultural context and attitudes towards gender equality and their impact on realising SRHR;  and commends a focus on the most under-served in our region. Read the full paper here.

SRHR has a significant impact on gender equality and the rights of women and girls. By taking up these recommendations, and championing and resourcing SRHR, Australia can solidify its position as a global leader on gender equality and women’s empowerment as it works towards achieving the Global Goals.

 

 

[1] International Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Consortium, p 2.

[2] See Guttmacher-Lancet Commission Report, ‘Accelerate progress – sexual and reproductive health and rights for all: report of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission’, Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30293-9

[3] Gribble, J., Voss, M., 2009. ‘Family planning and economic well-being: New evidence from Bangladesh’. Population Reference Bureau. Available at: https://www.prb.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/fp-econ-bangladesh.pdf

[4] Bloom, D, Williamson J, 1998. ‘Demographic Transitions and Economic Miracles in Emerging Asia’. World Bank Economic Review, vol. 12, pp. 419–55. Available at: https://elibrary.worldbank.org/doi/pdf/10.1093/wber/12.3.419

[5] See Guttmacher Institute, 2018. ‘Accelerate progress – sexual and reproductive health and rights for all: report of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission.’ P.46-47. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30293-9

[6] Galati, A. J., 2015. ‘Onward to 2030: Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights in the Context of the Sustainable Development Goals.’ Guttmacher Policy Review, Volume 18, Issue 4. Available at: https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2015/10/onward-2030-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights-context-sustainable-development

[7] United Nations, 2015. ‘The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015’, pg. 38. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/2015_MDG_Report/pdf/MDG%202015%20rev%20(July%201).pdf

[8] Ibid.

[9] UNAIDS, 2018. ‘Fact sheet – Latest statistics on the status of the AIDS epidemic’. http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet.

[10] United Nations, 2015. ‘Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide’. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/family/trendsContraceptiveUse2015Report.pdf.

[11] Based on UNFPA data shared with key partners.

[12] Guttmacher Institute, 2017. ‘Adding It Up: Investing in Contraception and Maternal and Newborn Health in Asia’. Fact Sheet. (December 2017). https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/adding-it-up-contraception-mnh-2017.pdf

[13] UNFPA, 2017. ‘Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality’. State of world Population Report, 2017. Available at: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/sowp/downloads/UNFPA_PUB_2017_EN_SWOP.pdf

[14] United Nations, 2015. ‘Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015’. http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/family/trendsContraceptiveUse2015Report.pdf

[15] UNFPA, 2017. ‘Motherhood in Childhood: Facing the challenge of adolescent pregnancy’. https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN-SWOP2013.pdf

[16] Guttmacher Institute, 2017. ‘Adding It Up: Investing in Contraception and Maternal and Newborn Health in Asia’. Fact Sheet. (December 2017). https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/adding-it-up-contraception-mnh-2017.pdf

[17] Consortium, p5.

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