Reproductive Rights in Practice
Neglect and violations of women's reproductive rights often happen behind closed doors. Women and adolescent girls may lack the power to negotiate reproductive decisions with their partners and within their families and to navigate health and legal systems. The wider sociocultural and economic environment influences the opportunities and choices that men and women have in the realm of reproductive health and rights. Rights-based approaches take these factors into consideration. For example, rightsbased reproductive health programmes may encourage shared responsibility for reproductive health by counselling couples. They can mobilize communities to understand the risks of child marriage and too early or poorly spaced births, thereby fostering a supportive environment in which decisions are made. Rather than simply making condoms available, a rights-based approach will seek to empower women, to sensitize their partners and facilitate mutual cooperation and negotiation on condom use.(49)
Real progress on the right to health and reproductive rights often occurs when "rights-holders" (clients) and "duty-bearers" (health providers) work together on solutions. An early example was the International Planned Parenthood Federation's (IPPF) widely distributed Charter on Rights of the Client (1992) that considered quality of care from the client's perspective and provided education about rights to information and confidentiality. Informing service providers of their obligations is important as well. The Charter on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, issued by IPPF a few years later, encouraged their affiliates to ensure respect for reproductive rights and to hold governments accountable.(50)
Another good example is UNFPA-supported efforts in Ecuador to implement the 1998 Law on Free Maternity Care. This legislation, like a similar policy enacted in Bolivia, provides free access to a package of pregnancy-related services, family planning and health care for children under five. Though the Government allocated resources for its enforcement, challenges remain. In response, the government has set up local committees charged with managing local health funds in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, municipal authorities, the National Council of Women and community organizations. Service users' committees have also been established, and meet with women from the surrounding communities to raise awareness about the law and discuss and monitor implementation.
"The ability of women to control their own
fertility is absolutely fundamental to women's
empowerment and equality. When a woman can
plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life.
When she is healthy, she can be more productive.
And when her reproductive rights...are promoted
and protected, she has freedom to participate
more fully and equally in society. Reproductive
rights are essential to women's advancement."
- Thoraya A. Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director