Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. This statement is on behalf of Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), the Abdul Momen Khan Memorial Foundation, Asia-Pacific Women’s Watch, and Shirkat Gah.
“Nothing about us without us: women’s organizations and feminist organizations must have a seat at the CSW decision-making table and be able to participate in developing the policies that affect our lives.” This is critical to achieving gender equality, human rights and the empowerment of women and girls; in ensuring the relevance of the Commission in achieving its mandate; for the success of the post-2015 development agenda; and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Twenty years ago equality was identified as a pre-requisite to social justice, and upholding human rights of women and girls were seen as inalienable, integral, indivisible and universal. However, progress against these has been uneven. Today, we continue to make these demands with the call to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, if we are to ever attain gender equality in a just and equitable world. In doing so, the diversity among women has to be take into account and the challenges they face have to be addressed.
Over 900 million people, mainly women and girls, still live in poverty, while many are hungry and malnourished. Poverty limits access to resources, including sexual and reproductive health resources. Unequal access to education, limits potential and prevents access to information on sexual and reproductive health services. Lack of comprehensive sexuality education aggravates misconceptions around sexual and reproductive health and rights, leading to unwanted pregnancies, susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections, violence within relationships, and child, early and forced marriages.
Maternal mortality and morbidity is still high, caused by haemorrhaging, hypertension, abortion-related injuries, and violence as well as restrictive abortion policies and services, lack of access to contraceptives services, unavailability of skilled birth attendants, inadequate antenatal care coverage, and emergency obstetric care services. The lack of private sector regulation, privatization of healthcare, and high out-of-pocket expenditures limit access to health services, including women’s sexual and reproductive health services.
Child, early and forced marriages continue to prevent the rights of girls to bodily integrity. They are denied choices and rights including sexual and reproductive rights. Similarly, the extent of certain harmful traditional and cultural practices on women and girls and ways to mitigate them need deeper focus. Growth in religious conservatism and fundamentalism, which places controls over gender and sexuality, and curbs women’s also has to be challenged and addressed. Women are often considered the custodians of family norms and honour, and their bodies and sexualities become important sites of religious control. In contexts such as these, women and girls are often prevented from accessing sexual and reproductive health services and interventions, people living with HIV are prohibited from accessing treatment and services, and the use of and access to contraception is restricted and criminalised.
Finally, the increasing incidence of violence is concerning and while laws and policies on rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment have to improve, effective implementation of laws and policies is as important. Marginalised communities including people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and sex workers face additional vulnerability and effective anti-discriminatory laws and policies must therefore be enacted and implemented.
Given these challenges we call on member states and the international community to ensure and provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all including SRHR information and services and comprehensive sexuality education; provide adequate and affordable access to the healthcare; ensure resource allocation for health including sexual and reproductive health and rights as a major component; reduce out-of-pocket expenditure; ensure effective abortion laws and policies and safe abortion services; have sound laws and policies for the prevention of violence including sexual and gender minorities, effective implementation, and higher conviction rates; address effects of religious extremism and increased vulnerabilities to climate change, migration, disasters, poverty and food insecurity with a focus on marginalised groups.