Application of Human Rights to Reproductive and Sexual Health: Recommendations

Friday, June 1, 2001
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

During the 1990s, a series of important United Nations conferences emphasized that the well-being of individuals, and respect for their human rights, should be central to all development strategies. Particular emphasis was given to reproductive rights as a cornerstone of development.

Reproductive rights were clarified and endorsed internationally in the Cairo Consensus that emerged from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. This constellation of rights, embracing fundamental human rights established by earlier treaties, was reaffirmed at the Beijing Conference and various international and regional agreements since, as well as in many national laws. They include the right to decide the number, timing and spacing of children, the right to voluntarily marry and establish a family, and the right to the highest attainable standard of health, among others.

What are reproductive rights?

Attaining the goals of sustainable, equitable development requires that individuals are able to exercise control over their sexual and reproductive lives. This includes the rights to:

  • Reproductive health as a component of overall health, throughout the life cycle, for both men and women

  • Reproductive decision-making, including voluntary choice in marriage, family formation and determination of the number, timing and spacing of one's children and the right to have access to the information and means needed to exercise voluntary choice

  • Equality and equity for men and women, to enable individuals to make free and informed choices in all spheres of life, free from discrimination based on gender

  • Sexual and reproductive security, including freedom from sexual violence and coercion, and the right to privacy.

Reproductive rights and international development goals

The importance of reproductive rights in terms of meeting international development goals has increasingly been recognized by the international community. In the September 2005 World Summit, the goal of universal access to reproductive health was endorsed at the highest level. Reproductive rights are recognized as valuable ends in themselves, and essential to the enjoyment of other fundamental rights. Special emphasis has been given to the reproductive rights of women and adolescent girls, and to the importance of sex education and reproductive health programmes.

UNFPA at work

One of the ways UNFPA can be most effective in protecting reproductive rights is by influencing policy and legislation. For example, the Fund works closely with parliamentarians and is involved in advocacy efforts to realize reproductive rights and the other goals set forth in the ICPD. In Guatemala, the Fund helped build consensus among a wide range of stakeholders that led to passage of a groundbreaking law that promotes better health for women and their families. In other cases, such as in Ecuador, UNFPA has helped enforce compliance of existing laws that protect reproductive rights.

UNFPA is increasingly active in protecting reproductive rights during humanitarian response efforts and institutionalizing them during post-conflict reconstruction, rehabilitation and peace building, as called for by UN Security Council resolution 1325.

The Fund also works to protect reproductive rights in the following thematic areas:

  • Improving reproductive health
  • Making motherhood safer
  • Family planning
  • Promoting gender equality
  • Preventing HIV/AIDS
  • Addressing gender-based violence
  • Supporting adolescents and youth
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Application of Human Rights to Reproductive and Sexual Health: Recommendations