UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

State of World Population 2005



© Chris de Bode/Panos Pictures
An old woman prays for peace in the Oromo Camp for internally displaced people in Uganda. For 19
years the Lord's Resistance Army has terrorized the people living in the Northern provinces.

The Promise of Human Rights

-Human Rights and Poverty Reduction

-The Human Rights of Girls and Women

-Human Rights: Essentials for the MDGs

-Reproductive Rights in Practice

-Rights, Gender and Culture: Seeking Convergence

-Support for Disenfranchised Groups

Human Rights: Essentials for the MDGs

Among the core rights identified by the UN Millennium Project are the equal rights of women and girls, including reproductive rights and the right to freedom from violence (see Chapter 7).(33) Furthermore, the right to health, and the rights of people living with HIV, are critical. A rights-based approach to the MDGs can help bridge the equity gap that prevents disenfranchised individuals and groups from enjoying their fundamental rights.


The Latin American and Caribbean Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, established in 1999, is a youth-led organization with membership in 17 countries. It promotes a vision of development based on young people's perspectives, gender equality and human rights. In collaboration with the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, the Network has developed a groundbreaking manual on human rights treaties and gender equality. With UNFPA support, it has trained 100 young women leaders on human rights, preparing them to play a greater role in national and local policymaking.

THE RIGHT TO HEALTH. All human beings are entitled to a healthy and productive life.(34) The right to health(35) is central to several MDGs, including reducing infant and maternal mortality and combating major diseases. Because health-defined by the World Health Organization as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity"(36)-affects productivity, the right to health underpins all the goals for poverty reduction and development. Safe drinking water, basic sanitation, food security and adequate nutrition are necessary preconditions for preserving health. The ability to attain the highest possible standard of health also depends on the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of health services.(37) Poor and rural areas have few health services, and transportation can be costly or simply non-existent. Women and adolescents living in poverty are usually the least able to pay for services or medicines. Services available to the poor are often sub-standard, and discriminatory attitudes and poor treatment can keep impoverished clients from returning. Eliminating these biases, improving the quality of care, engendering health systems, and allocating resources in a way that provides more people the opportunity to enjoy their right to health- including reproductive health-are at the heart of efforts to meet the MDGs.

HUMAN RIGHTS AND HIV/AIDS. Over the last decade, the international community has called attention to the rights of people living with HIV to dignity and nondiscrimination. As the epidemic increasingly affects women (see Chapter 4), the rights of HIV-positive women and the importance of reproductive rights have become all the more critical to halting its spread. Rights to information and to voluntary family planning, as well as freedom from coercion, are critical in this regard.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has developed international guidelines to support countries designing national strategies and policies to reverse the epidemic.(38) Some countries have passed legislation to protect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, for example, to treatment and to nondiscrimination in the workplace. Many others have yet to enact laws: Almost half of sub-Saharan African countries and almost 40 per cent worldwide by the end of 2003 had no laws to prevent discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS.(39) Few laws address the gender dimensions of the epidemic.(40)


In Central America, more people living with HIV/AIDS are now aware of laws to protect their human rights through their national human rights institutions. Since 2003, UNFPA has partnered with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, the Central American Council of Human Rights Lawyers and parliamentarians to strengthen a rights-based approach to HIV/AIDS. Analysis of existing laws in the region showed that gender-differentiated needs, roles and responses to the epidemic were not adequately addressed. The initiative, jointly supported by UNFPA and the International Labour Organization (ILO), also assessed laws governing discrimination in the workplace in order to increase legal access for people living with HIV/AIDS. In Panama, the People's Council (Defensoría del Pueblo) is now included in the national HIV/AIDS programme. In Honduras, a network of human rights and HIV/AIDS lawyers has been created to fight injustice. In Honduras and Panama, a growing number of people living with HIV/AIDS are seeking legal counsel. In Costa Rica, campaigns on HIV prevention and human rights are changing perceptions and working to end stigma and discrimination. See Sources

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS. Reproductive rights, and their centrality to development, were clarified and endorsed internationally for the first time at the 1994 ICPD.(41) This constellation of rights, embracing fundamental human rights established by earlier treaties, was reaffirmed at the Beijing Conference and various international and regional agreements since, as well as in many national laws. The importance of reproductive rights has increasingly been addressed by the international human rights system. Reproductive rights are recognized as valuable ends in themselves, and essential to the enjoyment of other fundamental rights. Special emphasis has been given to the reproductive rights of women and adolescent girls, and to the importance of sex education and reproductive health programmes.(42)

If all individuals and couples could exercise their reproductive rights, progress toward the MDGs would accelerate. The ability to make informed decisions concerning reproductive health, marriage and childbearing without any form of discrimination or coercion is closely correlated with a country's prospects of reducing poverty, improving health and education, raising productivity and living standards, and achieving environmental sustainability. For example, reducing unintended pregnancies through access to voluntary family planning contributes to the reduction of infant and maternal mortality and of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Other ways in which reproductive rights advance MDGs are shown in selected examples provided in Box 9.



See Sources

In UNFPA's 2004 Global Survey on ICPD implementation, 131 countries reported adopting national measures on reproductive rights.(43)43 However, in many countries, national legislation is still silent and lacks specific measures to effectively safeguard them, with some commendable exceptions.(44) Recent examples of policies and laws, several of which are noteworthy for their comprehensive approach, include Albania, Argentina, Benin, Chad, Colombia, Guinea, Mali and Mexico.(45) Peru and Slovakia passed laws on access to voluntary family planning and guaranteed the right to informed consent regarding surgical contraception.(46) In 2004, El Salvador amended its Labour Code to bar pregnancy testing as a condition of employment. The United Republic of Tanzania's 2004 Employment and Labour Relations Act prohibits discrimination based on gender, pregnancy, disability or marital or HIV status, with specific provisions for paid maternity and paternity leave and breastfeeding breaks.(47) In some countries, the mandates of national parliamentary and human rights commissions have been expanded to monitor reproductive rights, and complaint mechanisms have been set up. In 2003, ombudsmen from Caribbean countries received training on how human rights apply to reproductive rights, an initiative co-sponsored by UNFPA.

Parliamentarians also have played a key role in keeping reproductive health and rights in the public spotlight through supportive declarations at international parliamentary conferences co-sponsored by UNFPA in Ottawa (2002) and Strasbourg (2004).(48)

"Reproductive rights.rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. It also includes their right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence."

- ICPD Programme of Action, paragraph 7.3

Reproductive Rights in Practice >>
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