Sexual and Reproductive Freedom - A Women's Right
San Jose, Costa Rica, 20 January 2012
In the mid-nineties a series of international United Nations, UN, conferences addressed the issues of Human Rights issues and this paved the way to international conventions and agreements signed and ratified by the UN Member States.
Among them, the most relevant conferences and the ones with a specific reference to the rights of women and girls, were:
the UN Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993 which addressed the Human Rights of women and the girl child stating that women's rights are human rights;
the UN Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 which included sexual and reproductive health and rights of women on the agenda of Human Rights, putting women at the centre of the population policies;
the Fourth UN Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 which stressed and gave even more significance and strength to women's rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, defining them as a critical factor for development.
These conferences resulted in an unprecedented commitment by most governments in the world, giving new impetus to the world's understanding of women's human rights.
The years ahead saw the flourishing of legislation on women rights in general and in particular on women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health, and these later became the pillars on which the Beijing Platform for Action focused its two principles: ‘gender mainstreaming in all policies and programmes’, and ‘the empowerment of women in all spheres of life’.
Unfortunately the first decade of the twenty-first century witnessed a backlash in the building of a more equal world: inequalities increased more and more due to adoption of neo-liberal policies by many countries, accompanied by a conservative backlash in policies regarding women's rights in general and sexual and reproductive rights in particular.
The consequences were manifold: projects on education and information, as well as counselling services on sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls were cancelled; support for programmes on contraception and family planning were heavily reduced; access to sexual and reproductive health services were made more and more difficult both financially and geographically; the principle of self determination was challenged or denied and the legislation on safe abortion restricted or disallowed; people living with HIV were discriminated and HIV transmission criminalized. The ratification of the Optional Protocol of CEDAW was considered by conservatives and fundamentalists as dangerous, a breach to legislation on abortion, and a risk for national sovereignty in favour of evil forces.
This is still happening in many countries in the world, from Central and Eastern Europe to Central Asia as well as in Latin America and Caribbean, mostly on the initiative of conservative governments, in some cases, unfortunately though, also on the initiative of, or with the contribution of, progressive forces, including member parties of the Socialist International. These countries are attempting to undo decades of women’s struggle to be recognised as individuals with dignity and rights to privacy and health, among other inalienable human rights.
The Socialist International Women expresses deep concern about this alarming trend, which is a clear manifestation of prevailing patriarchal cultures aiming at normalising and reproducing the subordination and discrimination of women in the area of sexuality and reproduction.
The Socialist International Women takes a clear stand against these developments and launches an appeal to stop this conservative and misogynous backlash, and invites all progressive people and parties, leaders and opinion makers, to join forces and stress that sexual and reproductive rights also includes the right to protection from traditional practises which are harmful to the physical and mental health of women. And while pretending to defend lives, the indirect result of the sharpened legislation on abortion often implies a death sentence for many women, which on the contrary, fair legislation on abortion reduces the number of deaths.
The Socialist International Women therefore urges all sides involved, in particular governments lead by socialist and social democratic parties and all member parties of the Socialist International to:
promote and protect women's and girls' sexual and reproductive rights by guaranteeing the adoption of laws and policies that promote sexual and reproductive health and rights at all levels;
prioritise the promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive rights by devising social and health policies and by strengthening and developing programs for all women and young people;
provide for comprehensive sex education and information programmes to promote sexual and reproductive rights, gender equality, and overcoming gender cultural stereotypes;
offer continuous support to women and men all over the world fighting for human rights, including women's sexual and reproductive rights; urge women and men worldwide to continue and strengthen the fight against practices which deny women's sexual and reproductive rights;
request the involvement of NGOs in the design, implementation and evaluation of public policies regarding women's sexual and reproductive health and rights;
request the access to reproductive rights for those who are infertile, taking advantage of the opportunities scientific progress can offer;
demand to end widespread discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and to call on States to apply the international legal framework to end these human rights violations;
increase accountability of governments to their commitments to international bodies and treaties on the issues of women's sexual and reproductive rights and obtain strong governmental commitment also through available funds;
ensure that young people between the ages of 10 and 24 have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and sex education, and devise policies needed for a safe and healthy life;
devise policies and allocate funds to provide for the prevention, treatment and care of people living with HIV, as well as other sexually transmitted infections and remove legislation criminalizing HIV transmission.