29 March 2018

SRHR in the 62nd CSW session Agreed Conclusions

There has been some discussion about the Agreed conclusions on “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls, adopted at the end of the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2017*. While the original draft did include sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in its wording, this was removed before the final text was agreed. Yet, there is wording in the text that strengthens the discourse on SRHR.

Many civil society advocates, according to Devex, felt that the Agreed conclusions fell short insofar as they were hoping for stronger language on both human rights and SRHR. And, in this regard, as in 2017, the United States delegation was “one of the most aggressive – and regressive players at the table”, with its team of negotiators including Bethany Kozma, known for opposing transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity and Valerie Huber, who opposes reference to women’s access to contraception in the context of family planning. Together with the Vatican, the US is taking positions that are to the right of those adopted by Russia and the Arab and African member state blocs. 

Nevertheless, the Agreed conclusions have some very useful language. For example it recognized child, early, and forced marriage as a barrier to education and pledges to empower girls and women. While the Agreed conclusions may not break new grounds, they firmly position sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights on the international women’s agenda. In addition to the recognition that “sexual harassment is a form of violence”, paragraph 46 uu is very important:

“Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences, including universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes, and recognizing that the human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, as a contribution to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and the realization of their human rights.”

Paragraph 46 uu brings together the content of target 5.6 with that of target 3.7 insofar as it addressed both SRHR and reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive health-care services, including family planning, information and education in the context of gender equality and women’s empowerment. With the addition of “all” in front of “matters”, the wording beginning “recognizing that the human rights of women” in the final part of the paragraph echoes the first part of paragraph 96 of the Beijing Platform for Action. This is the strongest agreed language relating to sexual rights and its inclusion greatly strengthens the paragraph. 

While CSOs would like to see the full recognition of SRHR, the international political climate is not sufficiently progressive at this time. Bringing the relevant targets in the sustainable development goals together with the language from the Beijing Platform for Action is a significant, albeit incremental, step forward. It is to be hoped that it is built on in the outcome of the UN Commission on Population and Development, which begins its 51st session on 9 April 2018.

* CSW62 agreed conclusions can be found here

This article was written by Marianne Haslegrave, member of the EuroNGOs Steering Committee and Director of Commonwealth Medical Trust (Commat).