Sexual and reproductive health and rights. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?
But without knowing it, you’re probably already familiar with several cases that have sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) at their core, such as Britney Spears wanting more children but being prevented from having her intrauterine device (IUD) removed, or the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US.
Encompassing everything from abortion access to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, SRHR are human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction — and like any human rights, they should be universal.
As core human rights, making sure everyone has access to their SRHR is essential to achieving gender equality.
SRHR includes family planning measures such as contraceptive information and services. Without them, families do not have the option to plan when to have children or decide how big they want their family to be, which can leave them trapped in cycles of poverty. An estimated 80 million people each year have unintended or unwanted pregnancies.
It’s not just that more children equals more mouths to feed. Unintended pregnancies take pregnant children out of school, stop pregnant people from generating income, and can lead to maternal ill-health (such as health problems from early childbearing in young children, or complications in pregnancies among older people).
So how would comprehensive SRHR help achieve gender equality?
Sexual and reproductive health and rights prevent unintended pregnancies, improve maternal health, and prevent and treat STIs including HIV/AIDS.
What’s more, when sexual and reproductive health isn’t restricted, nutrition improves and survival rates increase for pregnant people and their children. Having the option to decide when to have children makes girls more likely to stay in school, have more employment opportunities, and fully participate socially or politically.
Yet, shockingly, some 4.3 billion people of reproductive age will lack at least one essential sexual or reproductive health service throughout their lives and most of the people who are denied SRHR are women, men, and young people living in poverty in developing countries.
So we asked Global Citizens: What do sexual and reproductive health and rights mean to you? And why do you believe that decision-makers should invest in sexual and reproductive health and rights globally?
We received over 10,000 rallying cries from around the world telling stories of how SRHR has impacted you, urging world leaders to invest in SRHR, and spelling out why it should matter to all of us. Here are just a few of the things you told us.
Tanja, New Zealand
"Why should global leaders invest in sexual and reproductive health and rights? It's very simple: these are human rights.”
“Sexual and reproductive health is one of the crucial matters that our society needs especially our women because right from birth, the female child is exposed to a lot of sexual challenges such as personal hygiene and sexual harassment. During pregnancy, due to lack of knowledge and inadequate reproductive health education, women go through a lot of trauma and some end up experiencing miscarriages. The rate of maternal mortality is also high due to poor access to sexual and reproductive health services. Our leaders should implement policies that will help to educate society, especially women, on the benefits of reproductive health and also build well-equipped health centers and hospitals to help reduce maternal mortality.”
“Personal agency and choice should not be up to old Caucasian men to police women’s bodies.”
“Sexual and reproductive health rights are fundamental human rights related to sexuality and reproduction. These rights allow people to make informed and meaningful decisions about their own sexual well-being. I want leaders to take action on this because I want the world to understand that no person's life should be put at risk because of pregnancy, gender, or lack of access to health information and services.”
“Sexual and reproductive health and rights ensure people are empowered to make their own choices and live a more equitable, independent life.”
“Investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights should not even be a question if you actually care about the people. Everyone deserves health.”
“There can be no gender equality without sexual and reproductive rights.”
“For me, it means no taxes on intimate products, free programs to learn about sexual education. I want to have all the information regarding my body and how to take care of it. It means teaching girls how valuable they are and that nobody can hurt them. It means support programs for girls, teenagers, and adults that have been victims of sexual abuse and access to psychologists and gynecologists without shame. It means investing in the development of contraceptive methods that are less invasive. I think men should be conscious about their part and learn about sexual health, contraceptive methods for them, and they should have access to psychologists too to understand their own behavior.”
“Access to sexual and reproductive health and rights means as a woman I have full control and right over my own body. It means I am not subject to cruel and outmoded practices like FGM.”
“Women can contribute so much to the world through innovation, education, politics, economics, health care, and more. But, women will never make the contribution the world needs unless they are supported through sexual and reproductive health mechanisms and have autonomy over their bodies.”
“Reproductive rights are human rights, unequally affecting women, girls, gender non-confirming, LGBTQIA+ people, people of color, and disabled people. It is not a ‘women's issue’. Everyone should be concerned and engaged in advancing these rights.”
“I feel like we are at a time when women's sexual health and reproductive rights are being restricted and repressed more than ever. I was fortunate enough to live in a country where I had access to an abortion when I found myself in a situation where I was in no place to bring a child into the world. I believe that it should be a woman's right to choose what happens with her own body. And until world leaders can address problems like poverty, homelessness, and sexual assault, they have no right to limit women's access to contraception or terminating unwanted pregnancies.”
Daisy, Costa Rica
"Decisions should not be taken in the name of the ones that need to have control of their own bodies. Investing in sexual and reproductive education is a way to empower millions of women around the world.”
“Sexual and reproductive health upholds our autonomy as individuals in control of our bodies and futures, including our right to be free from sexual abuse, to choose who we marry, and to decide whether or not to have children.”
Dayanca, South Africa
“My body, my choice. Not only do reproductive rights affect women, they affect men, non-binary people, and everyone. This is a major issue and removing these rights is a regression of the society that we have worked so hard to achieve.”