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Global Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
The seven billion people sharing the planet face a number of global challenges that span economic, social, and environmental development. These include climate change, environmental degradation, food and water insecurity, state fragility, economic crises, poverty, and growing inequality. These challenges manifest themselves differently around the world and contribute to widening inequalities between and within countries. For this reason, sustainable development must be based on global solidarity, and fueled by principles of social equity that ensure policy and program approaches respect and protect human rights.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights cut across the three central dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental. Ensuring universal access to such rights should be an essential part of the global response to the challenges we face today.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights have profound implications for human development and economic growth. At individual, household, and country levels, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights enables people, particularly women, to participate in social life, attend school, and participate in the labor market. In some countries, the majority of women were married when they were still girls – 15 years or younger. They have no ability to decide their lives for themselves, which can have tragic consequences.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights also play an important role in delivering social equity and environmental protection. For example, access to these services allows women and men to make informed choices about their own futures and the futures of their family – including their health, education, and finances. These are all essential steps to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of poverty for the most marginalized groups.
Several of the world’s sustainability problems, including those related to the consumption of the world’s non-renewable resources, are related to lack of access to family planning for millions of women and men. It is no surprise that denying families the information and services to make self-determined choices about how quickly they grow their families can result in rapid population growth for communities and countries, creating undue environmental pressures. Reducing consumption, particularly by high-income countries, is the most effective way to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Yet, improving sexual and reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education are two additional factors that could increase sustainability. Many aspects of sexual and reproductive health and rights remain underfunded and underprioritized, and a lack of support can be seen in the discussion so far on the new sustainable development goals.
The current process of negotiating the post-2015 framework will result in an agreed universal roadmap to achieve sustainable global development. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are enshrined in a number of international declarations and agreements, including the Millennium Development Goals. They were also prioritized at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing.
There has been significant progress toward sexual and reproductive health and rights, but this was not prioritized from the start. Of all the Millennium Development Goals, the least progress has been made toward the one to improve maternal health. Every day, nearly 800 women around the world die because of complications during pregnancy and childbirth; 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries.
Some aspects of the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda are inadequately resourced and sorely neglected, including access to safe and legal abortion, access by adolescents, and access for the poorest and most marginalized groups. Many individuals and groups experience discrimination and stigma based on their sexuality, their gender identity, and their sexual and reproductive choices and behaviors. There is a strong imperative to promote the recognition of sexual rights, beyond increasing access to services.
Today, 222 million women want—but do not have access to—family planning, and the demand for family planning is projected to increase to more than 900 million by 2015. Globally, disparities in access to sexual and reproductive health are widespread and contribute to growing inequality between and within countries. If sexual and reproductive health and rights are not established as a centrepiece of the next global development framework, the gains that have been made will not be protected, progress towards other sustainable development goals will be compromised, and millions around the world will be unable to realize a range of basic human rights related to sex, reproduction, family life, and participation in social, economic, and public spheres.
We have a collective duty to ensure that the post-2015 goals support the progress made to date, as well as address continued gaps and failures. Guaranteeing sexual and reproductive health and rights for all must be at the heart of the world’s response to the challenge of sustainable development.