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Commissioner Nils Muižnieks: Protect women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights

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The Council of Europe, 22. 7. 2016

The Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks released human rights comment on women´s sexual and reproductive health and rights yesterday (21. 7.). We appreciate that among other, he refers to the research report elaborated by CDA WOMEN – MOTHERS – BODIES as well as concluding observations of the CEDAW Committee we contributed to.

In these times of resurgent threats to women’s rights and gender equality, we must redouble our efforts to protect women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Among the international and European legal instruments that protect these rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) guarantees women’s rights to decide freely and responsibly about the number and spacing of their children and to have access to information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are fundamentally linked to the enjoyment of many other human rights, as recently stated by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As widely illustrated by the case-law and guidelines of human rights bodies, sexual and reproductive health is often the context in which human rights are violated, including the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, but also the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment and the right to private life. The right to be free from discrimination on grounds of sex or gender is also at stake, as this right is breached when reproductive health services that only women require are not provided.

Access to sexual and reproductive rights is a precondition for the realisation of other human rights, including in the fields of education and employment. At the same time, impediments in access to sexual and reproductive health services are the result of violations of other human rights, not least the long-standing discrimination and harmful gender stereotyping against women that still need to be fully eradicated in Europe. I have expressed concern at the development in recent years of regressive trends and attempts to exert control over women’s bodies and sexuality which could further hamper women’s access to these rights and endanger progress achieved so far in the field of gender equality.

I have received disturbing reports of human rights violations in the context of maternity health care, as illustrated by recent NGO-led research on Slovakia. Patterns of segregation against Roma women in maternity hospitals in several countries are also an issue of concern. In recent conclusions concerning Croatia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the CEDAW Committee stressed the need to ensure adequate standards of care and respect for women’s rights, dignity and autonomy during deliveries, expressing concerns in particular at reports that childbirth conditions and obstetric services unduly curtail women’s reproductive health choices. The European Court of Human Rights has also made it clear that “private life” incorporates the right to choose the circumstances of giving birth.

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