Sexual and reproductive rights and the human rights agenda: controversial and contested

Reprod Health Matters. 2011 Nov;19(38):119-28. doi: 10.1016/S0968-8080(11)38574-6.


In this paper I share some of my experience and observations, as an advocate for women's rights, of the last 20 years of struggles for sexual and reproductive health and rights, carried out in many key places where these issues have been debated and decided. I do not aspire to be comprehensive about the current status of human rights related to sexuality and reproduction. Given that my expertise is of a practical (rather than theoretical) nature, the complexity of the topic and contradictory events with regard to it, which take place almost everyday, I will highlight some selected achievements and setbacks in this area, particularly regarding abortion rights. I will provide examples of how human rights related to sexual and reproductive health have been addressed in UN policy-setting bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women and Commission on Population and Development, as well as in the UN human rights system such as Treaty Monitoring Bodies and Human Rights Council. Given my work with European institutions, I provide examples of important decisions by the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. Lastly, I discuss growing opposition to a progressive human rights agenda and the universality of human rights. Despite significant successes, sexual and reproductive rights will long remain controversial and contested. Hence, it is crucial to try to find new ways to engage and new partners to work with.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Legal
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Health Policy
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • Reproductive Rights*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • United Nations
  • Women's Rights