We must be bold and vocal in promoting the rights of all people to make free decisions

10 December 2017

Statement of UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem for Human Rights Day, 10 December 2017

Today, as we commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we celebrate the foundations that the Declaration provides for the right to sexual and reproductive health, and the growing recognition that these are fundamental human rights. This takes these rights and freedoms to new levels. 

Recommendations on sexual and reproductive health by the Human Rights Council have doubled over the last few years. Specific references to reproductive right issues, such as family planning and teenage pregnancy, have almost tripled. United Nations treaty bodies and special procedures are also increasingly asserting themselves in this area.

These developments provide UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, with a solid normative, legal and moral foundation to be bold and vocal in speaking out when these rights are violated.

We are already doing this in many places in the world.

In El Salvador, a 2016 UNFPA-supported assessment on sexual and reproductive health and rights by the National Ombudsman shifted the way that teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence were viewed, from a public health challenge to a violation of the human rights of women and girls.

In Malawi, a UNFPA-backed public inquiry on sexual and reproductive health and rights by the national human rights institution provided the space for women and girls to speak up and disclose mistreatment, discrimination and violence they had experienced when seeking sexual and reproductive health services.

In Azerbaijan, a similar UNFPA-supported assessment by the national human rights institution unveiled gaps between laws and practice, and underscored the human rights dimensions of these issues. In doing so, we placed sexual and reproductive health and rights issues squarely on the national agenda.

So today, and every day, let us draw on this normative framework to be bold and vocal in upholding the rights of all people to be free to make decisions in all spheres of their lives, without fear, discrimination, coercion or violence.

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