Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem on Human Rights Day 2022

08 December 2022

As we mark this year’s Human Rights Day, we call on people everywhere to #StandUp4HumanRights. All 8 billion people alive today should enjoy all human rights, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other international agreements and national laws. This year, we at UNFPA applaud the strides that many countries are making in enacting laws and regulations that guarantee full and equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We know about this progress because, for the first time on a global scale, we can measure it under the Sustainable Development Goals. UNFPA has surveyed 153 countries with nearly 90 per cent of the world’s population. An encouraging 76 per cent now have laws upholding sexual and reproductive rights. The news is better on some issues than others:  Over 90 percent of these countries ensure confidentiality and services for HIV treatment, for example. Yet, one in five countries continue to require third party authorization, such as consent from a spouse or guardian, for women or adolescents to receive contraceptive services.

Laws, from international human rights laws to national and local legislation, provide a shield against harmful norms and practices, discrimination and violence. Yet laws are only meaningful if they are implemented fully and without prejudice, upheld in the courtroom, and monitored for accountability.

And it is not enough to enact human rights-centred laws. We must also work to remove discriminatory regulations that prevent individuals from making their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as requirements that women be married to use maternal health services or to choose to have sex.

Moreover, in a world beset by crisis and conflict, we must pay greater attention to upholding the basic rights of women and girls in humanitarian settings, who are at increased risk of gender-based violence, including rape as a weapon of war, and other human rights violations. Their safety, dignity and health must be protected at all costs.

New UNFPA research highlights key steps needed to move laws from paper to practice, including budget allocations, technical guidance and health worker training. All of these are needed to counter persistent reproductive rights violations around the world. Efforts must also be made to change entrenched gender inequalities, social norms that devalue women and girls, and practices that undermine bodily autonomy. This will require a range of interventions, including comprehensive sexuality education that imparts medically accurate, culturally sensitive and rights-based information; stigma-free health services; and gender-equal opportunities in the workplace and leadership roles.

Today, we celebrate the progress made through legislative changes, which brings us closer to the promise of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development and its call to put the rights of individuals, especially women and girls, at the heart of sustainable development. Now, our task is to accelerate the pace of change through continued, ambitious reforms, backed by more investment and greater political will. Sexual and reproductive rights, in their entirety, belong to everyone. All legal systems must stand up for that.

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