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Women: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Guided by our principles, Unitarian Universalists are called to advocate for international human rights; to be a voice for the voiceless by promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all living things. The Women’s Rights Initiative program raises awareness and encourages legal action for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Through this program, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) supports and advocates for the global implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions which call for a greater role for women in all aspects of peace and security, as well as other UN initiatives as described below.

In order to effectively accomplish our goals within this program, the UU-UNO is in coalition with progressive religious and secular groups within the NGO community that support women’s rights to SRHR. The coalition aims to ensure that all women have access to safe childbirth procedures, the ability to control when they get pregnant, and have access to sexual health education. 

About Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)

“Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights” is an umbrella term that encompasses many aspects of rights of women. This phrase represents four separate areas:

  • Sexual Health – Sexual health can be described as well being and safety on all levels in terms of sexuality. This can include protection from sexual illnesses and violence, as well as education on how to obtain this protection.
  • Sexual Rights – Sexual Rights are the ability to make your own decisions about partners, privacy, and protection. A major obstacle for sexual rights is child marriage. In developing countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching age 18. This causes girls to be unable to attend school, and contribute to their society on an economic and political level.  Additional impediments for sexual rights include sexual assault and rape, which are especially widespread within countries in the midst of crisis.
  • Reproductive Health – Reproductive health is access to healthcare, medication, and education, in order to ensure a healthy reproductive system and healthy pregnancies. There are numerous preventable diseases related to pregnancy and child-birth that women all over the world die from if they do not have access to the proper treatment.
  • Reproductive Rights – Reproductive rights includes the right to decide if and when to bear children, without discrimination, coercion, or violence. Unwanted pregnancies can be prevented through education of all members of society (not just women), as well as increased access to contraception.

Overview of Women's Rights at the UN

Ever since its founding in 1945, the United Nations has been a strong supporter of the rights of women.

  • Within the UN’s first year, the Economic and Social Council started the Commission on the Status of Women, dedicated to making policy that promotes gender equality and empowerment of women. This organization has had many accomplishments such as ensuring the use of gender-neutral language in the draft Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • In 1979, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
  • At the 1993 General Assembly, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women was adopted. It represents an acknowledgement of Member States’ responsibility to ensure that women’s right to be safe from violence is respected internationally and within their own borders.
  • On 31 October 2000, the Security Council adopted resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security. As stated by the UN’s Office of the special adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women: The resolution reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.  It also calls on all parties to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict.
  • On February 25 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched “The Secretary-General’s Global Campaign UNiTE to End Violence Against Women.” In opening the multi-year global campaign, he called violence against women an issue that “cannot wait”.

In July of 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. This marked a historic measure taken as part of the UN reform agenda. UN Women supports inter-governmental bodies in their formation of policies, helps Member States implement these standards, and leads the UN system’s work on gender equality.

UN Support for SRHR

The United Nations has taken a particular interest in promoting SRHR.

Guided by the principles set in the UN charter guaranteeing “equal rights for men and women”, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has drafted several handbooks including, “Reproductive Rights are Human Rights,” “Realizing Women’s Rights to Land and Other Productive Resources,” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” amongst others. The purpose of these handbooks is to provide background on reproductive rights and practical measures to uphold them to National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) around the world. These handbooks recognize the need for a different practical plan for each country and culture in order to effectively make a change.

UU Support for SRHR

The UUA has demonstrated strong support of women’s rights including SRHR, Violence Against Women, and Wage Discrimination. Most recently, this has been shown through the work done by delegates at the 2012 General Assembly. They chose Reproductive Justice as the next Congregational Study Action Issue (CSAI). This was chosen out of five potential issues to work on from 2012 to 2016. The Statement of Conscience, drafted in 2015, acknowledges the UU calling to help those in need in regards to their right to their own sexual and reproductive identity. An important summarizing quote from this statement is, “We as Unitarian Universalists declare that all people have the right to self-expression with regard to gender and sexuality and the right to live free from sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and exploitation including sexual and reproductive exploitation.”

Read a complete list of UUA resolutions in support of women’s rights issues (Word).

Women at the UN

  • In September of 2014, women filled over one third of seats on the United Nations Security Council. In the past, this council had been primarily filled with men. This historical event sent a strong message about women’s empowerment.
  • There are currently only 42 women ambassadors out of the 193 Member States of the United Nations. This is compared to 10 women serving as Head of State and 14 serving as Head of Government as of January of 2015. Although these numbers are increasing, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

For more material on women’s participation at the United Nations, please visit the information site for UN Women.

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For more information contact unitednations@uua.org.