Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

Sexual and reproductive health are integral elements of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Many obstacles stand between individuals and their enjoyment to sexual and reproductive health. These obstacles are interrelated and entrenched, operating at different levels: in clinical care, at the level of health systems, and in the underlying determinants of health. In addition to biological factors, social, economic and other conditions bear upon a woman’s sexual and reproductive health.

The Special Rapporteur reiterates the importance of a “policy approach” to the right to health, especially in relation to sexual and reproductive health, and in poverty reduction (E/CN.4/2004/49, 2004).

Maternal Mortality

Many causes of maternal mortality are closely related to a failure to realize the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Properly integrated, the right to health can help ensure that the relevant policies to address maternal mortality are more equitable, sustainable and robust. The right to health also provides a powerful campaigning tool in the struggle for a reduction in maternal mortality.

The burden of maternal mortality is borne disproportionately by developing countries. In many countries, marginalized women, such as women living in poverty, and ethnic minority or indigenous women, are more vulnerable to maternal mortality. Maternal mortality and morbidity rates reveal sharp discrepancies between men and women in their enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health rights (A/61/338, 2006).

Restrictions on Abortion

The Special Rapporteur has considered the impact of criminal and other legal restrictions on abortion; conduct during pregnancy; contraception and family planning; and the provision of sexual and reproductive education and information. Some criminal and other legal restrictions in each of those areas, which are often discriminatory in nature, violate the right to health by restricting access to quality goods, services and information. They infringe human dignity by restricting the freedoms to which individuals are entitled under the right to health, particularly in respect of decision-making and bodily integrity. Moreover, the application of such laws as a means to achieving certain public health outcomes is often ineffective and disproportionate (A/66/254, 2011).

Adolescence

The nature of and challenges associated with sexual and reproductive health rights in adolescence have also been examined by the mandate. Healthy sexual development requires not only physical maturation, but an understanding of healthy sexual behaviours and a positive sense of sexual well-being. Sexual initiation can be a natural and healthy aspect of adolescence, and adolescents have the right to be provided with the tools and information to navigate sex safely. Sexual activity among adolescents is widespread, although rates vary significantly. Yet, adolescents around the world face significant discrimination and barriers in accessing the information, services and goods needed to protect their sexual and reproductive health, resulting in violations of their right to health.

States should adopt a comprehensive gender-sensitive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health policy for all adolescents. They should integrate the policy into national strategies and programmes. The policy must be consistent with the human rights standards and recognize that unequal access by adolescents constitutes discrimination (A/HRC/32/32, 2016).

Country visits, statements and press releases

In addition the thematic reports cited above, all reports of country visits by the Special Rapporteur on the right to health address aspects of sexual and reproductive health.

Statements

Press releases