Women's sexual and reproductive
health and rights in Europe

 
 

We have to act now

 

Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights. However, women in Europe still have these rights denied or restricted as a result of laws, policies and practices that ultimately reflect continuing gender stereotypes and inequalities.
States must resolutely commit to advancing gender equality in this crucial sphere of life. They have the duty to provide all women with accessible, affordable, good quality sexual and reproductive health care and services.

- Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

 
 

States' duty to women

Under international and European human rights law, European States have the duty to take effective steps to respect and protect women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).  
This means respecting a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health, to life, to be free from torture and ill-treatment, to privacy, equality and non-discrimination.  
States should provide all women with accessible, affordable, good quality sexual and reproductive health care and services.  
 
  • comprehensive sexuality education

  • modern contraception

  • safe and legal abortion care

  • quality maternal health care

 

Why care?

  SRHR protect some of the most significant and intimate aspects of our lives.

  Ensuring these rights for women is a vital component of efforts to achieve gender equality.

  Given resurgent trends to roll back protections in this field, a renewed commitment to these rights is essential.

 

Threats, obstacles and deficits

  • Retrogressive laws, policies and practices
  • Financial, social and practical barriers
  • Resurgent trends seeking to roll back protections
  • Harmful gender stereotypes, social norms and stigma
  • Violence, threats, hate speech and smear campaigns against people and organisations defending women’s rights
  • Lack of access to mandatory comprehensive sexuality education
  • Lack of access to modern contraception, including lack of subsidization or reimbursement, poor quality information and misconceptions, and requirements for third-party authorisation
  • Highly restrictive laws prohibit abortion except in strictly defined circumstances and often also criminalise abortion for women and those who assist them.
  • Even in some of the European countries that have legalised abortion on a women’s request, women still face barriers in accessing safe and legal abortion care, due to the state’s failure to ensure that women can still access abortion services in practice when medical professionals refuse care on grounds of conscience or religion. In some countries, procedural barriers include mandatory counselling and waiting periods
  • Lack of adequate standards of healthcare and respect for women’s rights in childbirth in several areas of Europe, including in some cases coercive and discriminatory practices in maternal healthcare
  • The infringements are particularly acute for marginalised groups of women, including poor women, Roma women, undocumented migrant women, women with disabilities.
  • Inadequate access to effective remedies and reparation for victims of sexual and reproductive coercion, including past human rights abuse such as forced sterilisation of Roma women in some countries.
 

How to ensure women's SRHR?

  • Eliminate discrimination in laws, policies and practices and guarantee equality for all women in the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights
  • Repeal laws, policies and practices that undermine women’s SRHR
  • Guard against retrogressive measures that seek to roll back established entitlements
  • Establish a health system designed to advance women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights
  • Provide mainstream and mandatory comprehensive sexuality education
  • Guarantee the affordability, availability and accessibility of modern contraception
  • Ensure all women’s access to safe and legal abortion care
  • Respect and safeguard women’s human rights and eliminate coercive practices in childbirth and sexual and reproductive health care