25 July 2017

SRHR and the 2017 High-level Political Forum – first impressions on “pluses” and “minuses”

The 2017 session of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF), the second to be held since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda), provided an important opportunity for the promotion of issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Now is the time to begin to assess the “pluses” and the “minuses” as they relate to SRHR in the reporting and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda, and to begin strategizing on moving forward.

In-depth thematic reviews of SDGs 3 and 5

The sustainable development goals (SDGs), as included in the 2030 Agenda, provide a unique opportunity for promoting SRHR insofar as there are two specific targets. With the first thematic reviews taking place, both SDG 3 and SDG 5 were considered in depth: target 3.7 on universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, information and education and target 5.6 on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, as agreed in accordance with the ICPD Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents for their review conferences.

During the session on SDG 3, it was heartening to hear Marie Hauerslev, a lead discussant from the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) referring specifically to SRHR, the importance of comprehensive sexuality education as being a culturally relevant approach and access to safe abortion. In addition, the Ambassador at large of the Netherlands, Jeroen Verheul, delivered a statement, related to both SDG 3 and SDG 5, on behalf of countries including Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands. He highlighted that women, girls and adolescents continue to be denied their right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, with their autonomy to decide freely on their sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as noting that progress is still much too slow in areas such as violence against women and girls, including child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Inclusion of SRHR in the national voluntary reviews

As has been reported by ARROW, despite 41 of the 44 countries mentioning goal 5 in their national voluntary reviews (NVRs), it is evident from the presentations that the main focus for gender equality has been on economic empowerment of women and gender-based violence. As to the countries that were likely to include SRHR, they can perhaps be described as “predictable” with such a contentious issue being addressed mainly by members of the “like-minded”. As commented on by some of those present, Denmark was strongest in addressing SRHR in their presentation.

Ministerial Declaration lacks inclusion of human rights for women

The Ministerial Declaration, which was negotiated for several weeks before the HLPF began and was adopted on the last day of the HLPF, included universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services in the health paragraph. The paragraph on gender equality and women’s empowerment, however, did not include any reference to child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) or reproductive rights. It did not move forward from the 2030 Agenda: in fact, it could be seen as stepping back. At its adoption therefore, the ECOSOC President emphasized that the Ministerial Declaration does not encroach on the primacy of 2030 Agenda with all its goals and targets which remains the foundation of the commitments to attaining sustainable development in its three dimensions. Strong statements were made by some countries and regions, including the European Union, and Australia and Canada both of which had “broken the silence” over the omission of child, early and forced marriage, FGM and reproductive rights.

There were, of course, numerous “side events” held during the week, the impact of which should be assessed at some point. The “minuses” to be considered obviously relate to the lack of inclusion of reproductive rights as well as child, early and forced marriage and FGM in the Ministerial Declaration. While like-minded countries and CSOs, such as IFMSA were clearly speaking out to support them, they were ignored, possibly considered to be too contentious. It will be important to ensure that they are included in the future in VNRs and are also referred to in the context of other thematic reviews. At the same time, the “open door” that can be pushed at, is access to sexual and reproductive health care services, which is not seen as being so contentious… This also provides an opportunity to add in, as included in the 2030 Agenda, “information and education”.

Marianne Haslegrave, Commonwealth Medical Trust (Commat)