Advocacy statements

SRHR and discrimination

  • Date / 2014
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights


United Nations Human Rights Council, 26th Session (10th – 27th June 2014)

Interactive Dialogue with WG on Discrimination against Women,

Discrimination against women and girls and the undermining of their SRH rights


We thank the Working Group for its report, and its admirable work in highlighting the many manifestations of discrimination against women.

There is an inextricable link between sexual and reproductive health (SRH) rights and gender equality[1]. This is clearly stated in CEDAW[2], which also affirms a woman’s right to reproductive choice. It has also been reaffirmed in ICPD as well as in Beijing[3].

The right to the highest attainable standard of health, includes access to SRH services[4], yet gender-based discrimination, manifested through poverty, coercion, and lack of access to education for women and girls can prevent SRH rights from being realized.

Discriminatory traditional and cultural practices such as early marriage and pregnancy, FGM and the various taboos or practices that prevent women from controlling their own fertility also contribute to the undermining of their SRH rights. Furthermore, women and girls are discriminated against directly within the area of SRH, for example, through forcible sterilization or virginity testing.

Every day, 800 women die from causes related to childbirth and pregnancy, girls continue to be forced to marry against their will and more than 200 million women lack access to effective contraception[5].

A direct example of the link between gender discrimination and the undermining of SRH rights can be seen in Nepal where hundreds of thousands of women are suffering from a reproductive health condition, uterine prolapse, which causes great pain, inhibits them from carry out their daily work and can leave them ostracized from families and communities[6]. Contributed to by harsh working environments, early marriages and having too many children, the condition is rooted in discriminatory practices that have severely limited the ability of women and girls to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives.

We argue that a multi-faceted approach from states is needed, complying with their obligations under the ICCPR, CEDAW and the CRC. This includes eliminating harmful traditional practices as recognized in CRC recommendations, and looking at better tying an enhancement of SRH to development policy. On this particular issue, we would highlight the work of the EU in its development of the AccessRH mechanism, and its funding of reproductive health projects from its Development Aid and Public Health budgets. We would also like to put on record our compliments for its rejection of the One of Us citizen’s initiative this month.

The lack of control that women and girls have over their own bodies and sexualities is an egregious violation of their rights. It often grows out of discriminatory practices and represents a fundamental form of discrimination in itself. It also accounts for some of the biggest constraints to achieving women’s rights and capabilities in other areas. We ask therefore whether the Working Group might consider how it could more explicitly and vocally incorporate the language of SRH rights into its concerns and actions on the issue of discrimination against women.


[1] Access to affordable and relevant health services and to accurate, comprehensive health information are fundamental human rights. International law guarantees the right of access to reproductive health information explicitly in articles 10(h), 14 (b) and 16 (e) of CEDAW. Article 19 of the ICCPR, article 19 of the UDHR guarantee the right to receive information.

[2] The link between discrimination and women’s reproductive role is recurrent in the Convention.

[3] Which also states women’s right to “decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality […] free of coercion, discrimination and violence”. See http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/health.htm, §96

[4] General Comment No. 14: The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health (Art. 12 of the Covenant)

[5] http://www.unwomen.org/ca/news/stories/2013/10/lakshmi-puri-speech-on-sexual-and-reproductive-96health-rights

[6] A UN estimate suggests that 10 per cent of Nepal’s 13.6 million women are affected, and this figure could be much higher in some regions. http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/nepal-widespread-gender-discrimination-has-triggered-sexual-and-reproductive-rights-crisis-2014

Suggested academic reference

'SRHR and discrimination', Humanists International

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