Flickr: Bill Dickinson

I've heard the term sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) used a lot, but I didn't actually know what that meant until recently.

SRHR is an umbrella for various issues that affect men and women alike. It represents four separate areas: sexual health, sexual rights, reproductive health, and reproductive rights.

1. Sexual Health

Flickr: Brett Davies

Sexual health is physical, mental, and social well-being in terms of sexuality. This means safety from sexual illnesses and violence.

Today, young people do not have adequate sexual health. Over two million adolescents, between ages 10 and 19, are currently living with HIV. A further 500,000 young people contract an STI or STD each day. In Eastern and Southern Africa, where condom use is limited, 50 young people are infected with HIV every hour. Shocking as these numbers are, they make sense- less than 40% of young people in this region are aware of how HIV and other STIs are transmitted and how to prevent transmission. To combat this, young people need access to comprehensive sexual education to ensure they are engaging in safe sexual practices.

2. Sexual Rights

Flickr: Ed Yourdon

Sexual rights are the ability to decide on your own about sexuality. This means expressing your sexuality by making your own decisions about partners, privacy, and pleasure.

One of the major hindrances to sexual rights is forced marriage, which is typically an issue for young women. In the developing world, nearly 1/3 of girls are married before the age of 18. Of those girls, 1/3 are married before 15. At 15, most girls don’t understand their sexuality fully and are in no way prepared to make informed decisions about their sexuality.

A further obstacle to sexual rights is assault, including rape. This issue is especially prevalent for young women in crisis or conflict-affected countries. Half of all assaults worldwide are committed on girls under 16. In some communities, these girls are then forced to marry their assaulter, a decision most people would not make willingly.

Everyone deserves the right to make his or her own sexual decisions, something that is not possible without laws and public support to enforce these rights.

3. Reproductive Health

Flickr: hdptcar

Reproductive health ensures a healthy reproductive system and healthy pregnancies through access to healthcare, medication, and education.

In some nations, young people don’t have access to reproductive health care and end up with reproductive illnesses. Women are particularly susceptible to reproductive medical conditions. For example, women in the developing world are prone to develop dangerous obstetric fistula, a hole in the reproductive system, from lack of proper care. What’s worse is that 65% of women with obstetric fistula develop it during adolescence.

Another major concern of reproductive health is unsafe pregnancy. In many nations where pregnant women don’t have access to proper medical care and give birth at home, pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19.

Where I grew up in America, the most common pregnancy problems are aching backs and swollen feet. I can't believe such preventable deaths occur to girls who are perfectly healthy otherwise.

4. Reproductive Rights

Flickr: US Embassy, Jakarta

Reproductive rights include the right to decide if and when to have children. A couple should be able to plan and make a well-informed decision about having children, yet that’s not the case in many nations due to limited education and access to family planning tools. Across the world, 222 million women who want to delay or stop having children have an unmet need for family planning.

Reproductive rights also include freedom from discrimination, coercion, and violence when making family planning choices. Lack of access to contraception and family planning tools has led 2.5 million young women across the world to seek unsafe abortions each year. These abortions are incredibly dangerous and often result in women and girls dying as a result of unsafe procedures.

Every individual should have the right to control their lives by having children on their own terms.

Like me, you probably haven't had to think much about these issues, but for many young people around the world they are everyday realities. This is why we need to fight for all SRHR issues to be included when world leaders meet to plan the development agenda for the next 15 years. By addressing individual issues such as maternal health and HIV/AIDs separately, we risk addressing only part of the problem. We need to make sure all young people have access to education, family planning, and health services so that we can all lead happy, healthy lives, with enjoyment of all human rights.

Written by Jina John


Demand Equity

What is SRHR?