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6 obstacles to accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights

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After reading through, #ShowYourSelfie to tell world leaders you care about the rights of youth.

Getting sexual and reproductive health and rights into development agendas has proven really difficult over the years. The original Millennium Development Goals excluded these issues altogether until an update to achieve “ universal access to reproductive health” by 2015 was added years later in 2007! As we approach 2015, we’re far from universal access to reproductive health, so we need to get this issue along with sexual and reproductive rights on the future development agenda. However, there are some serious obstacles in the way.

1. Political Deadlock:

Source: Wikimedia

Nations can’t agree on whether to acknowledge, let alone how to deal with, issues like intimate partner violence and privacy for youth reproductive care. This has led to a standstill on addressing sexual and reproductive matters. At the Rio 20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the progressive members of the G77 bloc of developing nations couldn’t agree on terms for sexual and reproductive health and gender equality commitments, so most of the commitments discussed on these issues were left out entirely.

2. Negotiation Fatigue:

Source: Flickr: Africa Renewal

The players in the negotiations don’t change very much over the years. As a result, leaders know exactly which delegations aren’t going to budge on sexual and reproductive issues and often choose to skip over these matters instead of arguing the same points over and over. The EU, for example, has stepped back from fighting for sexual and reproductive rights for adolescents because of continued opposition from Malta and Poland. However, Poland has recently softened its position on access to abortion because of public pressure, opening up conversation in the area, showing that negotiation fatigue doesn’t have to be a permanent hurdle.

3. Development Priorities:

Source: Flickr: EnvironmentBlog

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are usually discussed at conferences covering a variety of development topics. In this setting, other development issues have a higher profile, so progressive leaders use sexual and reproductive targets as bargaining chips to get concessions on the other issues. At recent global conferences, environmental responsibility, economic justice, trade, migration, and intellectual property rights have all been prioritized over reproductive health and women’s rights. Widespread support for sexual and reproductive matters would demonstrate that these are issues that can’t simply be bargained away.

4. Closed Door Meetings:

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When meetings are held behind closed doors, nations can exert influence they wouldn’t be able to do in an open forum. Although negotiations go a lot faster behind closed doors, when it comes to sexual and reproductive matters, this means more conservative decisions. When the Economic Commission for Europe met last year, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity were discussed in depth, yet the matter was left out of the official summary after pressure from Russia behind closed doors. We need to let our leaders know that we’re going to hold them accountable to make decisions about sexual and reproductive rights in open negotiations.

5. Disconnect from Local Issues:

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Some diplomats, especially those based outside of their home countries, aren’t fully aware of sexual and reproductive practices and concerns. This disconnect is obvious during conferences such as the African Regional Conference on Population and Development, when much of the conference was dedicated to updating leaders instead of negotiating new plans. Disconnected representatives are especially susceptible to lobbying from conservative groups on how to uphold “family values.” Visible support for sexual and reproductive health and rights from their home countries would go a long way to ensure that these leaders are meeting the needs of their people.

6. Demographic Dividend:

Source: Flickr: Gates Foundation

Sexual and reproductive health is crucial for economic progress, since family planning allows families to have fewer children with longer life expectancies. These children become members of a larger working population, resulting in higher productivity. This process is known as the demographic dividend. While this is a great result of sexual and reproductive health, framing the issue only around economic growth limits the rights granted to women and youth. We need to make sure world leaders see that the sexual and reproductive rights of women and youth are just as important as the economic impact of reproductive health.

The only way to overcome these obstacles is to raise our voices. If we call attention to sexual and reproductive health and rights, decision makers will be forced to discuss and resolve the issues they would prefer to ignore.

To show your support for the sexual and reproductive rights of youth, be sure to #showyourselfie.


Jina John

Note: This article includes discussion of reproductive rights. The UN considers such issues to be human rights issues, but not all partners involved in Global Citizen agree with this position, and therefore this article should not be considered to express the views of all groups involved with Global Citizen.

TopicsJina John