The week of February 9th to 13th 2020 was one of the most powerful weeks for me as an advocate for the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of girls, women and transgender persons. It was my first time representing Forum for Dignity Initiatives (FDI) and Right Here, Right Now (RHRN), a global consortium working for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people at the 75th session of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) at the UN in Geneva as Pakistan underwent its 5th periodic review.
I was full of aspirations of meeting new people and finding likeminded groups advocating for the same agenda in their respective constituencies all over Pakistan. I was given the opportunity to make an oral statement alongside six other speakers. My statement covered Article 12 of CEDAW on the access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights of young girls and women, inclusive of both cisgender and transgender communities in Pakistan with inputs from the joint NGO alternative report by the RHRN Young Omang Pakistan youth network. In regards to the SRHR of young people, I spoke about comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), youth friendly health service centers (YFHSC), cost implementation plan for YFHSCs and access to safe abortion.
The group of NGO representatives worked in great coordination and there was a sense of unity as we discussed critical issues affecting Pakistani women including but not limited to; blasphemy, forced conversions, early and forced marriages, sexual and gender based violence, political participation, custodial torture and abuse by law enforcement agencies, sexual and reproductive and health rights, and the shrinking space for civil society organisations to operate in Pakistan. There were some stressful moments too where disagreements on principles led to heated conversations amongst fellow country activists, but it was empowering to see them reaching a mutual decision with consolidated positions and speaking with a single voice. I remember some activists sharing that they had goosebumps watching the Pakistani women’s group presenting their powerful oral statement.
It was a fulfilling experience for me as the language used in the NGO statement was inclusive of transgender women and girls. It was also highly encouraging to see a transgender woman being part of the state delegation representing the Ministry of Human Rights.
In a nutshell, I found this space very useful in the linking from global to local, as NGOs took home the set of recommendations for the state party to take measures to improve the gaps and ensure girls’, women’s and transgender persons’ rights are protected. The concluding observation captures some of the key asks relevant to SRHR and this includes references to CSE, abortion legislation and access to safe post-abortion care. It is a useful mechanism for country level accountability and it provides a good space for civil society organisations to lobby and make interventions.
by Uzma Yaqoob