European & International News

Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights under fire

[Brussels, 11 July 2012] The EWL and feminist activists worldwide are increasingly concerned that women’s rights are falling foul to conservative and religious pressures. In particular, the absence of agreed conclusions on reproductive and sexual rights in the Rio+20 outcome document reflects the lack of political will at the highest levels to protect and promote women’s rights throughout the world.

In Rio, the Vatican and other states like Russia, Syria and Egypt joined forces to remove reproductive rights, such as family planning, from the final agreements. This backsliding has a huge impact on the ability of the world to meet the Millenium Development Goals, including by funding family planning.

The world summit for family planning held in London this Wednesay 11 July to source the need for actions to promote reproductive and sexual rights was a rapid casualty.

While the Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995) summit were seen as milestone summits protecting the rights of girls and women, Rio + 20 was considered as a harsh backlash. The pressure of a handful of States resulted in the publication of a very limited outcome document, only referring to reproductive rights as a “health” issue.

Last week, Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, accused world leaders of “backsliding on fundamental texts” in an interview for the guardian. This former UN High cCmmissioner and first female Prime Minister in Ireland strongly condemned the attitude of political leaders: “It is hideous. Instead of advancing women’s rights we seem to be rolling them back.”

Indeed, the growing influence of conservative and religious parties in international negotiations is threatening some of the most basic rights and liberties of women all over the world, including in Europe. The EWL is deeply concerned about the situation in several EU Member States where women’s rights are under fire from political leaders.

The new Constitution voted in Hungary last year is a striking example of this worrying trend. One of its provisions stating that “the life of the fetus is protected from conception” could pave the way for a severe tightening of abortion legislation. This not only threatens the right to abortion, but also questions the right to the morning-after pill.

In Slovakia, another EU Member State, modern contraceptive methods remain out of reach for most women, as they are not covered by the public health insurance scheme. These policies are a violation of women’s right to decide over their own bodies and reproduction.

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