Dear Under-Secretary General Bachelet,
We, the undersigned, are women’s health and rights non-government organisations and networks from the Asia and the Pacific, a diverse region that accounts for more than 60% of the world’s population and the world’s women.
We are excited and optimistic at finally having our own UN agency devoted to advancing women’s human rights and empowerment and sincerely extend our heart-felt congratulations for your appointment as the pioneering head of the UN Women.
We are glad to have you at the helm of the agency, and to hear that one of your four-point agenda is to engage with the constituencies that worked hard to establish the UN Women, including women’s NGOs and networks.
It is our sincere hope that UN Women will reaffirm the role of NGOs and social movements, including the women’s and SRHR movements, as equal partners in development. We urge you to establish mechanisms within the agency to ensure the involvement and participation of NGOs and social movements, particularly from the global South, and including Asia and the Pacific, to be actively involved in policy-making, strategising, programme planning and implementation, as well as monitoring.
We also respectfully urge you to include sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) into the agenda of the UN Women, as enshrined in the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as in different human rights treaties. We firmly believe that SRHR is central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and ultimately to development. We firmly believe that the ability and agency to decide what to do with our bodies is as important as, and cannot be separated from, issues of poverty, education, employment and political participation. We also firmly believe that all women—whether mothers or not—are important, and as such, access to sexual and reproductive health should be made universal.
Data from the region reveal the urgent need for access for all to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services that are gender-sensitive, rights-based and address social equity and justice. Comprehensive SRH services should include the full range of contraception; maternal health care and services, which includes emergency and comprehensive obstetric services; treatment for infertility, reproductive cancers and sexually transmitted infections (including HIV); safe abortion services; services to address gender-based violence; adolescent reproductive health services; and sexuality information and education, amongst others, and be available and accessible to all.
- 139,550 women die yearly from childbirth and pregnancy-related causes in Asia and the Pacific. One out of 220 Asian women and one out of 110 Pacific women are likely to die from the same causes. However, access to emergency obstetric care, post-natal care and the continuum of quality maternal health services are inadequate in many parts of the region, including South Asia. Anaemia, one of the major indirect causes of maternal health, is also a major problem, particularly in South Asia.
- Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in Asia, with as many as 24,000 women dying per year because of unsafe abortions in south-central Asia alone.
- An estimated 2.8 million women in Asia and the Pacific suffer from morbidity due to pregnancy and childbirth that in many cases remain untreated and cause lifelong pain and psychological suffering.
- Access to contraception and other reproductive health supplies, and the provision of services around informed choice, remain a challenge in many Asia-Pacific countries.
- Unintended pregnancies among adolescents and young women in the region are high, with some Pacific countries having the highest in the world and with almost 1 in 10 girls becoming pregnant by age 16 in South and Southeast Asia. A large number of youth (2/3 in some Pacific countries) are sexually active, but contraceptive use is generally low. Unfortunately, accurate, reliable, comprehensive, evidence-based sexuality information and education is unavailable in most Asia-Pacific countries, or if it is, not comprehensive enough or implemented fully.
- Every year, 265,884 Asian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 42,735 die from the disease. About 1 in 10 women are estimated to have cervical HPV infection. Meanwhile, breast cancer is the most common cancer and a leading cause of death among women. Yet, awareness-raising, screening, treatment and care of reproductive cancers are hampered in the region.
- As high as 71% of women experience gender-based violence in the region. There is a need to see the inter-linkages between this issue and SRHR.
- There is also a need to promote integration and inter-linkages between HIV/AIDS and SRHR: 1.2% of maternal deaths in Asia and 1.2% in Oceania are due to HIV, there is an upward trend in HIV infection among women, and women with HIV have reproductive and sexual health needs as well.
- Access to sexual and reproductive health care and services is more difficult for women who are discriminated against, marginalised and/or suffer from a variety of political, spatial and social exclusions—including those who are poor, young, less educated, internal migrants, non-citizens, displaced (due to conflict, ‘natural’ disasters or climate change), HIV positive, in sex work, from ethnic and religious minorities and indigenous populations and from lower castes, as well as those who do not follow gender and sexual norms, have disabilities, live in remote, rural or urban slum areas and live in conflict and disaster areas (among other intersecting aspects of identities and axes of discrimination and privilege).
- There is a need to address the social determinants of health, including eradicating poverty and investing in strengthening health systems. There is also a need to improve the overall health and nutrition of all women.
We thus urge UN Women to allocate financial, human and technical resources on SRHR, and work with other UN agencies such as UNFPA, the Human Rights Council and the UN Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, and with women’s groups such as ourselves, to further women’s empowerment and achieve their human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.
We would welcome further discussions on this, and would be available at your convenience for any consultations or dialogues.
Many thanks in advance for hearing our concerns and considering our recommendations. We look forward to your response, which can be sent to [email protected] and [email protected] on behalf of the undersigned organisations.
Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), a regional organisation based in Malaysia working with more than 30 partners across the Asia-Pacific
On behalf of the following:
Academy of Nursing Studies and Women’s Empowerment Research Studies (ANSWERS), India
Beijing Qianqian Law Firm, China
Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC), Nepal
Centre for Health Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness (CHETNA), India
Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP), Vietnam
Institute for Reproductive and Family Health (RaHF), Vietnam
Likhaan Centre for Women’s Health, the Philippines
Post-graduate Studies Department, National University of Laos, Lao PDR
Reproductive Health, Rights and Ethics Center for Studies and Training (ReproCen), the Philippines
Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), Cambodia
Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM), Malaysia
Research Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED), Vietnam
Rural Women’s Social Education Centre (RUWSEC), India
Shanghai Women’s Healthcare Institute
Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, Pakistan
Southeast Asian Consortium on Gender, Sexuality and Health, Thailand
Women’s and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC), Tonga
Women’s Health Foundation (WHF), Indonesia
Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan. Indonesia
Yunnan Health and Development Research Association (YHDRA), China