- Sexual and reproductive health and rights underpin numerous Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- There cannot be universal access to healthcare without access to sexual and reproductive health services.
- Sexual and reproductive rights have major economic and development implications.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are a pre-condition for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); they underpin numerous SDGs that are not directly related to health. An obvious example – but there are others – concerns education. If girls drop out of school because of unwanted pregnancy, the best education system will not be able to provide them with the skills they need to succeed in life.
Twenty-five years ago, the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo affirmed the pivotal role of reproductive health in closing inequalities affecting women and girls in income, education, employment and other areas. Providing and realizing SRHR is challenging due to cultural sensitivities and attitudes. Many people who are most in need of access are living – sometimes for very long periods – in settings of conflict and violence, such as refugee camps. Such difficult conditions require special sexual and reproductive health services, especially since victims may have suffered above-average incidence of sexual or gender-based violence.
Development and humanitarian actors are responding to these needs by listening to those directly affected, for example in putting together dignity kits containing sanitary items for displaced women and girls that are adapted to their particular circumstances.
Sexual and reproductive health is not simply a human right. It brings massive benefits in terms of development, which means that financial support to sexual and reproductive health services should be seen as a long-term investment to unlock these benefits. Girls who remain in education rather than deal with unwanted pregnancy and childbirth stand a far better chance of overcoming poverty. In Rwanda, focusing on SRHR has helped the country achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
Even though these dynamics are well understood, there are still massive numbers of women and girls dying due to preventable causes, especially during childbirth. In many countries, they have unequal access to healthcare in general and sexual and reproductive health in particular. The quality of care remains low in many countries.
In response, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has declared the three zeroes as its overall goal: zero unmet needs or family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation. The EU has also made SRHR a focal point of its humanitarian and development assistance.
The development community has moved away from a tendency to view sexual and reproductive health and rights as a ‘women’s issue’ and now understands that men and boys must be involved as well.