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Looking for Human Rights at the Family Planning Summit

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Written by Rajat Khosla for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Cross-posted with permission from Amnesty International.

See all our coverage of the 2012 Global Family Planning Summit here.

Arriving at the summit (organised by the UK Department for International Development and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) this morning I was reminded of the testimony of a woman living in Ouagadougou, interviewed by Amnesty International a few years ago:

“After seven pregnancies and five live children, I told my husband that I wanted to use contraceptive methods but my husband refused and told me that if I did this, I should return to my mother’s home. I therefore had to obey him.”

In Burkina Faso, Amnesty International collected numerous testimonies of women who were denied the right to decide on contraceptive use. In many cases husbands and male relatives opposed the use of contraceptives and criticized medical professionals for providing contraceptive products and advice to their wives or other female members of their families.

Amnesty International has documented similar experiences in other countries as well. In Indonesia, for instance a human rights activist told Amnesty International, “[It] is very taboo for an unmarried person to look for contraceptives… S/he will be seen as looking for free sex.”

Laws in Indonesia provide that access to sexual and reproductive health services may only be given to legally married couples. Unmarried individuals are simply denied access to these services.

Nearly 20 years ago, governments at the International Conference on Population and Development agreed by consensus that respect for women’s reproductive autonomy is the cornerstone of population policy. This was a vital step as this moved the debate away from a narrow focus on demographic targets and family planning methods towards a more comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health.

However, women and girls around the world are systematically denied the right to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives free of discrimination, coercion, and violence. As I listened to leaders from different countries express their commitments towards family planning and meeting the unmet need of millions of women for contraception, I was desperate to hear them reaffirm the commitment they made 20 years ago. I waited to hear them recognise the centrality of women’s human rights, their sexual and reproductive rights to this initiative. But disappointingly, although a few notable references were made to these issues by some leaders, women’s human rights were not appropriately addressed.

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