Breaking Ground 2018

Posted by Maria Codina on February 21, 2018 at 9:33 am

Introduction: Reproductive Rights in Context 

Reproductive rights are essential to the realization of all human rights. They encompass a spectrum of civil, political, economic, and social rights, from the rights to health and life, to the rights to equality and non-discrimination, privacy, information, and the right to be free from torture or ill- treatment. States’ obligations
to guarantee these rights require that women and girls1 not only have access to comprehensive reproductive health information and services, but also that they experience positive reproductive health outcomes such as lower rates of maternal mortality, and have the opportunity to make fully informed decisions—free from violence, discrimination, and coercion—about their sexuality and reproductive lives.

This booklet summarizes the jurisprudence from United Nations treaty monitoring bodies on reproductive rights, particularly the standards on reproductive health information and contraception, maternal health care, and abortion. It is intended to provide treaty body experts and human rights advocates with succinct and accessible information on the standards being adopted across treaty monitoring bodies pertaining to these vital rights.

This section provides an overview of the legal and theoretical frameworks that treaty monitoring bodies have used to underpin international human rights standards on reproductive rights. These include substantive gender equality, the essential elements of the right to health, and reproductive autonomy.


I. Substantive equality and reproductive rights

Nearly all international human rights treaties explicitly recognize that gender equality is essential to the realization of human rights.2 However, traditional models of gender equality, which have emphasized equal treatment of men and women under the law and in practice, have failed to address the historical roots of gender discrimination, gender stereotypes, and traditional understandings of gender roles that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

Almost all treaty monitoring bodies have recognized the need to use a substantive equality approach to ensure gender equality in the context of reproductive rights. For instance:

  • The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD Committee), and the Human Rights Committee have urged states to address both de jure and de facto discrimination in private and public spheres, adopt measures to eliminate gender stereotypes regarding women, and address practices that disproportionately impact women.7 This requires that states take positive measures to create an enabling environment that ameliorates social conditions such as poverty and unemployment, factors which effect women’s right to equality in health care.8
  • Treaty monitoring bodies have also called on states to not only ensure access to reproductive health services but to also ensure positive reproductive health outcomes, such as fulfilling unmet need for modern contraceptives, lowering rates of maternal mortality, or reducing rates of adolescent pregnancy.9
  • Treaty monitoring bodies have repeatedly condemned laws that prohibit health services that only women need. The CEDAW Committee has stated that “it is discriminatory for a State party to refuse to provide legally for the performance of certain reproductive health services for women.”10 Furthermore, the ESCR Committee has made clear that equality in the context of the right to health “requires at a minimum the removal of legal and other obstacles that prevent men and women from accessing and benefitting from healthcare on a basis of equality.”11

Continue reading “Breaking Ground 2018”.

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