A victory for women and girls in the sustainable development conversation

May 12, 2014

The acronym SRHR isn’t widely recognized, but a mid-April victory at the UN will, we hope, change that. Revisiting the revolutionary Cairo declaration at the UN’s Commission on Population and Development, nations from around the world called strongly for SRHR to be an essential component of the emerging sustainable development framework that is likely to determine development priorities for at a minimum, the next decade.

In case you’re still guessing, SRHR means sexual and reproductive health and rights, and it’s about the power of women and girls to exercise full and unconstrained choice in determining their own sexual and reproductive lives.

This recent meeting marks 20 years since the historic agreements made at Cairo in 1994, when the population and development conversations marked a shift to one about rights. And, despite considerable gains, we still have a long way to go to achieve equitable and universal access to quality, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services.

This meeting took place at a crucial juncture. The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015 and decisions are being made—now—about what the new post-2015 goals should represent in order to achieve truly sustainable and equitable health outcomes and development.

The fact is, sustainable and equitable development just isn’t possible without SRHR. Women around the world, including in the US, want and deserve the support and opportunity for empowerment that a comprehensive approach to SRHR provides.

Within this rights-based approach, we are encouraged to see the Commission’s emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality, as well as the need to address gender-based violence, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. We are excited by the inclusion of language recognizing the importance of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including for adolescents and youth with respect for their privacy and confidentiality free of discrimination. We appreciate the addition of language to intensify efforts to expand and achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment.

We also echo the call to governments to train and equip health service providers to ensure that abortion (where legal) is safe and accessible. It is imperative that these issues be integrated into the new development framework.

While many countries were vocal in their support of sexual rights during the Commission’s meeting, a small group blocked language on sexual rights from making the final agreement. That is truly a shame. But we will continue to advocate for those rights to be explicitly addressed in the post-MDG era.

Jonathan Rucks
Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, Pathfinder International