A Podcast on All Things Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights


SRHR, or sexual and reproductive health and rights, is the sum of rights and health issues that are related to human reproduction. Sexual health, sexual rights, reproductive health and reproductive rights are a complex and intersecting set of issues that address full control over individual’s sexual and reproductive lives and maintenance of a state of physical, mental and social well being. Nina Besser-Doorley from the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) explains the components of SRHR and how it is currently faring in the domestic and global arena.

Often, SRHR is seen as a women’s issue. While these issues are closely linked to women’s empowerment, they can’t be seen solely as a women’s issue. SRHR impacts all of us. SRHR doesn’t just refer to abortion and contraception, either. While these are important issues under the umbrella, they don’t make up the entire story.

The WHO defines reproductive health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This definition implies that all people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Therefore, access to safe, effective, affordable contraception and access to appropriate maternity care and prenatal health services is a MUST. Reproductive health includes accurate information about the reproductive system, menstruation and menstruation management, contraception methods and what works best for individuals, abortion methods, and information on pregnancy, delivery and fertility. It also includes access to different methods of contraception, abortion, pregnancy and delivery services, and fertility services. Reproductive health also means prevention, treatment, and care of reproductive illnesses and cancers

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (IDPC) defines reproductive rights as“…the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.” Access to affordable contraception is the key to reproductive rights, but reproductive rights also include issues of privacy, confidentiality, and informed consent. Reproductive rights are about the ability to make decisions about reproduction, free from discrimination, violence, and coercion.

According to the WHO, “sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” Examples of sexual health issues include prevention and control of HIV and other STIs, physical and mental health issues around sexual function, and issues of gender-based violence. Sexual health also includes access to education and information about sex, sexuality, safe sex practices. While sexual health and reproductive health intersect, it’s important to recognize the differences. In women’s health, it distinguishes women as more than reproductive vessels. Not all issues of sex are issues of reproduction- and that’s true for all people of all genders.

The WHO ‘s definition of sexual rights include critical components such as the right to be free from torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to privacy, the right to marry and to found a family and enter into a marriage with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, and to equality in the dissolution of marriage, the right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children, and more. In sexual rights, there is an emphasis on the human rights of all people to make decisions about their sexuality and their sexual life to the highest attainable standard of sexual health, and to the services, information and education they need to do so.

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) defined reproductive health and reproductive rights, and linked reproductive rights to established human rights and international law. A year later, the Beijing Conference added a level of recognition to what we understand to be sexual rights, although that term wasn’t explicitly used. These actions shifted the way SRHR was represented in the global sphere.

SRHR was included in the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda, which hopes to, by 2030, “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.” The SDGs also include references to other SRHR issues, like ending early, child and forced marriage, reducing the global maternal mortality rate, and ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Despite this progress, some areas have been made particularly challenging by right-wing opposition. Abortion is one of them; women around the world die when they don’t have access to safe, legal abortion. According to the WHO, 13% of maternal deaths are attributable to unsafe abortion. Other issues include the use of ‘sexual rights’ as a term, and the lack of inclusive language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. was an active proponent of many SRHR issues, and played a critical role in ensuring SRHR’s place in the 2030 SDGs. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has taken an unrelenting aim at SRHR on the global scale through foreign policy measures, attacks on funding for reproductive health programs, and assaults on the UN and global agreements on reproductive and sexual health and rights. At the annual Commission on the Status of Women, the administration has included delegates on the official delegation that are attempting to walk back commitments on these issues. The U.S. has become one of the most regressive countries in terms of SRHR.

How does this affect you personally? Every person has sexual and reproductive health needs and rights. 1 in 4 women in the U.S. has had or will get an abortion at some point in their lifetime. 99% of women between 15-44 who have had sexual intercourse has used at least one contraceptive method. Every day, people decide if they want to have sex and who with; they will choose if they will get married, who they will marry, and when they will marry; they will elect if, when, and how many kids they’ll have or how to prevent having children; they will seek medical intervention to prevent and treat reproductive health diseases or STIs. There are also people who are denied their SRHR, including people who are forced into sex, people who don’t have accurate SRHR information, people who are not able to marry (or are forced into marrying) a partner.Ready to take action?

Links from this episode
International Women’s Health Coalition
IWHC Twitter
IWHC Facebook
Sustainable Development Goals 2030 information

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