Major United Nations meetings must advance sexual and reproductive health and rights

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

UN logo with SRHR overlay

Both the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) meetings are important spaces where countries and advocates work to advance international human rights agreements, including those focused on sexual and reproductive rights.

This year, these spaces were more contentious than ever, fueled by the U.S. hardline opposition stance on abortion, contraception and sexual education.

During CSW in March, one senior adviser for gender equality and women’s empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) called the United States a “pro-life nation.” Throughout both meetings, officials from the Trump Administration focused on shifting international policy on women toward abstinence education and avoiding language about access to contraception and abortion.  

The two weeks of negotiations at CSW result in an annual UN document that sets global standards and outlines policies related to gender equality actions in all member countries. But at the meeting’s end, the final document “didn’t make major progress,” says Cecilia Espinoza, Ipas senior advocacy advisor. The language just reaffirmed commitments from 1994 that specify that member states must ensure universal access to access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action.

“Most members states’ governments already have national laws and policies supporting the implementation of programs on comprehensive sexuality education and the prevention of maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion,” says Espinoza, who attended CSW. Yet, she notes, the agreed-upon conclusions didn’t mention unsafe abortion at all—an issue that disproportionately affects rural women and girls, the meeting’s theme. Indeed, rural women and girls make up more than a quarter of the world’s population.

At CPD, which concluded April 13, U.S. representatives towed the same line and refused to come to consensus. “CPD must be a place where governments, UN agencies and civil society can review progress and strongly commit to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights,” says Jina Dhillon, Ipas policy manager.

The theme of this year’s CPD was focused on sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration. There are more than 60 million people—that’s roughly equal to the population of the United Kingdom, France and Thailand—living in crisis settings or are displaced due to conflict, natural disaster or other human rights abuses.

 “At Ipas, we know that sexual and reproductive health care, including safe abortion, is critical, particularly in humanitarian settings,” says Anu Kumar, Ipas interim CEO. “It’s shameful that efforts to include this topic in these high-level discussions were stymied by the regressive politics and policies of the United States.”