Report on discrimination against women with regard to health and safety
Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice (in 2019 the name of this group became the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls)
To the Human Rights Council’s 32rd session in June 2016
The present report aims to clarify the meaning of equality in the area of health and safety, identify discriminatory practices, expose the instrumentalization of women’s bodies in violation of their human dignity and reveal the barriers to women’s autonomous, effective and affordable access to health care. Instrumentalization is defined as the subjection of women’s natural biological functions to a politicized patriarchal agenda, which aims at maintaining and perpetrating certain ideas of femininity versus masculinity or of women’s subordinate role in society.
In the context of women’s and girls’ health and safety, equality means the provision of differential services, treatment and medicines in accordance with their specific biological needs, throughout their life cycle. In many countries there is discriminatory exclusion and neglect of women in providing the highest attainable standard of health for women. Discrimination is particularly evident regarding women’s right to reproductive and sexual health. It is exacerbated in the case of women members of marginalized groups.
Discrimination against women and girls leading to the violation of their right to health and safety denies their right to human dignity. The Working Group found that instrumentalization and politicization of women’s biological functions in many countries subjects legislation and policies regarding women’s and girls’ health and safety to patriarchal agendas, especially regarding reproductive and sexual health and mental health.
Women’s access to health services in many countries is not autonomous, affordable and effective, elements which are essential for States to respect, protect and fulfil women’s and girls’ rights to life, health, privacy, equality and human dignity.
The report contains a number of recommendations to support States in developing and implementing comprehensive measures that are aimed at legal, institutional, social and cultural transformation, such as:
- Applying human rights standards and principles of equality, non-discrimination and empowerment of women as the framework for all interventions regarding women’s health and safety;
- Being guided by an understanding of women’s right to equality, which requires differential treatment in health, including and beyond their sexual and reproductive health, in designing policy measures and resource allocations;
- Ensuring that laws, policies and practices mandate respect for women’s autonomy in their decision-making, especially regarding pregnancy, birthing and postnatal care;
- Decriminalizing sexual and reproductive behaviours that are attributed exclusively or mainly to women, including adultery and prostitution, and termination of pregnancy;
- Preventing instrumentalization of women in the birthing process and ensure that penalties are incurred for gynecological or obstetrical violence, including performing abusive caesarean sections, refusing to give women pain relief during birth or surgical termination of pregnancy and performing unnecessary episiotomies;
- Recognizing women's right to be free from unwanted pregnancies and ensure access to affordable and effective family planning measures. Noting that many countries where women have the right to abortion on request supported by affordable and effective family planning measures have the lowest abortion rates in the world, States should allow women to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first trimester or later in the specific cases listed above;
- Providing training to health providers, including on gender equality and non-discrimination, respect for women’s rights and dignity and recognition of alternative medicine; and
- Providing age-appropriate, comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education based on scientific evidence and human rights, for girls and boys, as part of the mandatory school programmes.
To inform its thematic report, the Working Group circulated a questionnaire about non-discrimination and equality with regard to health and safety. The Working Group received responses from different stakeholders, including Members States, civil society organizations and other actors.
Access the questionnaire (English | Français | Español)
Responses from Member States:
Responses from other stakeholders: