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We need to stand up for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights

Women's Day
Strasbourg 07/03/2019
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We need to stand up for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights

Ahead of International Women’s Day 2019, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović issued the following statement today:

“Women’s rights are human rights and gender equality is a fundamental value of our societies, enshrined in human rights treaties. Nevertheless, progress in advancing women’s rights has not been straightforward. We need to stand up for gender equality and reverse any stagnation in its implementation.

Past advances in sexual and reproductive health and rights have been closely associated with women’s rights, and have enabled women to make autonomous and informed decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality and whether or not to have children. States have an obligation to ensure that women can access affordable, safe and good-quality reproductive health services.

However, many women in Europe continue to face denials and infringements of their sexual and reproductive rights. A few states still maintain highly restrictive legal frameworks which prevent or limit women’s access to safe and legal abortion care, and criminalise assistance given to it. In recent years, some countries have also adopted laws and policies rolling back previous provisions by introducing new preconditions for access to abortion care, such as mandatory waiting periods and biased counselling requirements. In addition, there have been attempts, so far unsuccessful, in a few countries to introduce near-total bans on abortion.

Refusals to provide abortion care by medical professionals on grounds of conscience have become a serious barrier in countries in Europe where authorities have failed to regulate this sector or to enforce existing regulation sufficiently to guarantee availability. Too many women also experience violence and abuse during maternal health procedures which is an affront to their human dignity. Women’s organisations defending sexual and reproductive rights and health professionals working in this field have been subject to violence, threats and hate speech. The high cost of contraception and lack of comprehensive sexuality education are further problems.

Women have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health without discrimination under international and European human rights law. Several countries are currently in the process of reforming their legislation on sexual and reproductive health to meet their human rights obligations. I urge all governments to uphold women’s right to self-determination about their sexual and reproductive health, and to ensure women’s effective access to health care facilities, goods, services and information. Instead of stagnating, we need to move forward on women’s sexual and reproductive rights.”