The new Global Goals for sustainable development set out a bold and exciting agenda for transformation. They are underpinned by targets that focus on specific change. These include important targets related to, if not explicitly supporting, sexual and reproductive health and rights; but some might maintain that these particular targets do not go far enough.
The Global Goals give inspiring backing to the need for intensified action on areas that affect the way people should be able to lead their lives. They affirm that women and girls everywhere must be free from all forms of discrimination; free from violence in all its forms; and free from harmful practices, including child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
They give backing to making universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, a long overdue reality. This is, of course, no more than what was agreed over 20 years ago at ICPD.
The reference to the ICPD Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform for Action and their review conference outcomes is very welcome; but there is perhaps less that reflects the developments in policy thinking since these conferences took place nor of the circumstances that continue to affect the lives of millions of women, young people and vulnerable communities when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
And referencing these - some might say now quite dusty - conference documents is not quite the same as giving explicit support for the goals and actions they agreed and to a more progressive agenda that reflects how people should be able to live their lives.
What is missing in securing the vision of a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination - and to a just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met – for sexual and reproductive health and rights?
The Global Goals targets do not explicitly endorse sexual and reproductive health and rights, and they shy away from sexual rights. Let’s hope they don’t leave governments at liberty to criminalise, stigmatise and discriminate people on the basis of their sexual orientation instead of calling for the removal of laws that, for example, criminalise LGBTI individuals as one of its targets. We would have liked to see a target to challenge and end criminalisation of LGBTI individuals.
The absence of a target specific to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, for example through comprehensive sexuality education, means that many – probably the most poor adolescents – will lack the knowledge and life skills necessary that could help reduce their vulnerability and protect their health and rights.
A lost opportunity, given the risks and challenges young people face when it comes to sexually transmitted infections including HIV, gender based violence, adolescent pregnancy and unsafe abortion. And a commitment to information, care and services for menstrual hygiene would help keep many girls in school and improve their health and well-being. We would have liked to see a target to deliver comprehensive sexuality education for young people.
The target on eliminating all harmful practices misses one practice that blights the lives of nearly twenty-two million women worldwide - 98% in developing countries - each year. Fewer issues than a woman’s right to access a safe abortion demonstrate more clearly the control women have over their own bodies and of the autonomy they have in realising other basic human rights.
Empowering all women and girls and enabling them to control what happens to their own bodies must surely include ending the harmful practice of unsafe abortion. Its exclusion as a target is tantamount to implying it can be tolerated. We would have liked to see a target to end unsafe abortion.
Accessing safe abortion care and services, and high quality services offering a choice of modern and effective contraception for all women, irrespective of marital status, are strategies that need to be supported and have been shown to be some of the most effective and cost-effective ways of delivering on women’s health, choice and rights.
The 8,000 civil society and grassroots organisations that have contacted AmplifyChange suggests a huge demand for change – for action on a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda and for progressive policies at country level. Unfortunately we cannot support all the groups we would like to. But we think this figure is a key indicator of the drive and determination of civil society to make change happen.
Governments, NGOs and civil society, global organisations, business and the private sector – all must play their part to support and get behind the new Global Goals. Supporting civil society to advocate for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights will help contribute to attaining the Global Goals. It will hopefully also help make up for the missing targets that could make such a difference to realising universal sexual and reproductive health and rights.
This blog is written by John Worley, Fund Director of AmplifyChange.
Statement and opinions expressed in this and other posts on this website reflect the views of individual contributors and not those of our partner or donor partner organisations