rural women across asia pacific, africa demand sexual and reproductive health and rights for all

September 10, 2014 logo

The Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW)  and the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC) fully asserts that sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all be included in the post-2015 Development Agenda and that UN member states must uphold their commitment to recognise, respect, and fulfill sexual and reproductive health and rights. Almost 20 years after the landmark UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo—wherein 179 nations committed to protect SRHR as the cornerstone of women’s empowerment and as a key to sustainable development—sexual and reproductive health and rights for all remains a distant dream, especially for rural girls and women who live in the most marginalised communities.

ARROW, a regional women’s NGO with a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and ARWC, a movement of grassroots rural women organisations in 21 countries, collaborated on a second of its kind initiative, “The Travelling Journal on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights–Our Stories, One Journey:  Empowering Rural Women in Asia Pacific and Africa, < http://travellingjournal.asianruralwomen.net/srhr/ > that gathered the stories of rural women across Asia Pacific and Africa who are struggling for SRHR in a “travelling journal.” Through stories personally written in the journal by 17 rural women in Southeast & East Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Mongolia), South Asia (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan), and Africa (Senegal, Mali, Benin), it was affirmed that women remain largely unaware of their sexual and reproductive health rights, which are violated in every conceivable manner.

The travelling journal is an important testimony that in rural communities, the following violations to SRHR remain rampant: child marriage and early pregnancy; sexual rites of passage; female genital mutilation; gender-based violence such as rape and domestic abuse; sexually transmitted illnesses; unsafe abortions; deteriorating maternal and child health; malnutrition; closely spaced births; discrimination against girls and women in the workplace, school, and home; and many others. Suffering from these violations are the world’s food providers—landless peasant women, agricultural workers, indigenous peoples, and migrants—who are also the world’s most food insecure, living in areas of chronic poverty and underdevelopment. Many only had basic education or none at all; increasing their vulnerability to political and religious conservatism that has eroded their sexual and reproductive rights.

The stories collected in the journal only affirms and gives a human face to the troubling statistics that we have come to face with. In the Asia Pacific Region, the maternal mortality ratio remains high at almost 220 deaths per 100,000 live births. The death rates in Africa and Asia are still 460 and 160 deaths, respectively, per 100,000 unsafe abortions. One in five girls in developing countries get pregnant before the age of 18. Women also represent almost 35% of people living with HIV in Asia over the past decade.

Thus, in behalf of the millions of rural women across Asia Pacific and Africa, and together with our 15 partner organisations, we demand all the necessary reforms to achieve the following:

  1.          Ensure universal access to SRHR information and services. There must be a free and comprehensive health care system even in the remotest rural villages, which can provide maternal and child health care. Trained health care providers who can provide information and SRHR services must be available for women. Facilities for basic and higher education must be accessible to rural girls and women. Comprehensive sexuality education must be part of the education curriculum and taught to young people and adults alike. Family planning services must be made available at the village level. There must be expanded access to safe abortion; laws that criminalise women who undergo abortion must be repealed. Women with sexually transmitted illnesses must be given proper care and not be discriminated against.
  1.          Criminalise gender-based violence and provide emergency services for victims. Victims of gender-based violence such as rape and domestic abuse must be given immediate health and psychological care. There must be a justice system that criminalises sexual violence and delivers justice swiftly.
  1.          End harmful practices against girls. The practice of early or forced marriage must be eliminated. Female genital mutilation must be banned by states where it is practiced.
  1.          Respect SRHR within the workplace. Employers must respect women workers’ SRHR and provide leave and health care for pregant workers and nursing mothers. The law must guarantee such rights; and strictly applied, especially in migrants’ workplaces where violations are high.
  1.          Uphold food sovereignty for women. Food sovereignty—or the right of peoples and communities to decide and implement their own agricultural, labour, food and land policies—must be realised by rural women. The attainment of SRHR, or control over women’s own bodies and dignity, is inextricably linked to control over land and other resources. It will not be possible under a feudal land system, development aggression, or corporate agriculture system that often forces them into cheap and harmful labour that jeopardises their health and well-being.

From this travelling journal, we have come to learn that rural women have been far too marginalised for far too long. The current state of their sexual and reproductive health and rights is a testament to how little the international community has actually achieved in terms of responding to millions of women in their need for even the most basic human rights, such as health care, education, and freedom from discrimination and violence.  We also realise that rural women’s SRHR must be fundamentally linked to the struggle for ending poverty, gender equality, food sovereignty and justice for all.

Women on the ground have already spoken. As the United Nations General Assembly Special Session convenes to discuss the ICPD’s Programme of Action, we implore member nations to address these demands, in line with existing international commitments and conventions. Sound accountability mechanisms must be ensured, laws and policies reviewed and implemented, and increased vulnerabilities of rural women to climate change, migration, worsening poverty, and food insecurity immediately addressed.

It is only through these actions that the distant dream for sexual and reproductive health and rights for all can become nearer to the grasp.

Signed:

Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW)

Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC)

Collaborating partners:

Innabuyog-Gabriela (Philippines)

Yayasan Kesehan Perempuan/Women’s Health Foundation (Indonesia)

Migrant Assistance Programme -MAP Foundation (Thailand)

Centre for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population-CCIHP (Vietnam)

MONFEMNET National Network (Mongolia)

Centre for Health, Education, Training and Nutrition Awareness-CHETNA (India)

Sahayog (India)

Rural Women’s Social Education Centre-RUWSEC (India)

Women and Media Collective (Sri Lanka)

Naripokkho (Bangladesh)

Beyond Beijing Committee (Nepal)

Shirkat Gah (Pakistan)

Roots for Equity (Pakistan)

Pesticide Action Network Africa (PAN-Afrique)

University of Health Services/Ventiane Youth Centre -UHS/VYC (Laos)

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